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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

An Excerpt from Deep of the Sound

Okay-- so in the excitement about Immortal (which I still love!) and the hustle about RT, and then, hello, the frickin' plague, I haven't mentioned this book in a while.

But it's out in less than three weeks…

And it's… uhm…

Well, everybody remember Nascha? And people couldn't figure out what Nascha was doing in Lights, Camera, Cupid, the anthology from Bluewater Bay?

Well this book is the reason that story was in there.

And here we get to see Nascha from the perspective of Cal, his great-nephew, who really loves him.   And he needs that adorkable kid on the cover like he needs his next breath--and another fish like he needs a hole in the head.

Here's an excerpt from The Deep of the Sound:

“You going out today, Calladh?” Uncle Nascha sounded surprised. He’d slept in the battered corduroy recliner the night before, and the corduroy wrinkles obscured his face so much Cal hadn’t seen his eyes were open in the dark of the living room.
Cal had just come in from the boat dock to grab his forgotten lunch, and he didn’t state the obvious: he was wearing his hip-waders and old slicker, and it was five o’clock on a misty, freezing morning in February. There was nowhere to go but out.
“Yeah, Nascha—if I can catch enough freshwater cod, the chef at the Global’ll buy ’em from me.” Nascha knew this. Cal worked two jobs—one was as a busboy at the Global Restaurant and Casino and the other was his own independent fishing business. Between the two of them, he could just barely afford the payments on Nascha’s ramshackle beachfront house, and someone to come look after Nascha and Keir.
“Your brother will miss you when you’re gone.”
Cal closed his eyes. “I know, Nascha. But you need to make him take his pills anyway.”  Keir didn’t listen to Nascha quite like he listened to Cal, but Cal couldn’t help that.  Cal had set the meds out in the little weekly plastic thing, the white for day and the black one for night. God, he hoped he’d got it right. Adderall, risperdone, Cymbalta—ADHD, Aspergers, anxiety, OCD, possible bi-polar—it was a powerful cocktail, and they’d gone through . . . hell, vehicles, teachers, sheriffs, and half the kitchen to get it right. Keir was prone to hitting things with rocks and fire when he was anxious or upset. Nascha used to be able to deal with him, but Nascha had his own drug cocktail now, Exelon ranking high on the list. Nascha didn’t always remember that Keir needed his medicine—morning and evening cocktails—without Cal or a caregiver around. He also didn’t remember to turn off the stove or take the bread out of the toaster or to keep Keir inside the house.
Mostly, he didn’t remember that Keir was no longer a little boy running down the street screaming in a voice that would shatter glass. Keir was twenty now, with a powerful body and a fondness for all of Cal’s fishing knives (which Cal kept locked in the safe out by the boat), and a disturbing habit of tracking the girls in their neighborhood.
“Cherry’s rounding the corner, yellow dress, shows her ass when she bends over. Stop yelling, Cherry. Stop yelling, it leads to hitting.”
Keir’s fixation on girls wasn’t limited to the extremely young, but what was Cal supposed to do? He’d told the doctor who dispensed the meds, but his only response had been to up Keir’s medication.
Cal knew—just knew—that his parents would have been able to deal with Keir. His mother and father had been so capable, had such pure hearts and such practical joy in dealing with their fractious, damaged son. But they’d gone for a drive after heavy rains six years ago, and their battered pickup had been washed off the side of a mountain in a mudslide.
Cal’s dreams of college, of playing sports, of meeting a boy the way his mother had met his father—all of that had gone washing down the mountain too. At barely eighteen, he’d been left in charge of keeping things together, and part of that was making sure Keir had his medication, and Uncle Nascha got his too. And living with that gnawing worry, every day, from dawn until dusk, past dusk until he was just too tired to see anymore
 “I don’t mean go out to work,” Nascha said, snapping Cal back to the present through eyes gritty with lack of sleep. “I mean go out tonight. It’s Valentine’s Day this week, Cal—don’t you have a school dance to go to?”
Oh. Okay. So Cal was in high school now. He understood.
“No, Nascha—no dances for Cal. Cal doesn’t go to dances, remember?” Cal doesn’t go to dances because Cal doesn’t really like girls, he thought ironically. Yet one more thing he hadn’t been able to talk to his parents about since their car had gone tumbling down into the river.
“If Cal was on the reservation,” Nascha said, his voice ironic too as they spoke of Cal in the third person, “Cal could dance with the two-spirit children, and nobody would think the less of him.”
Yeah, sure, it always sounded like Mecca when Nascha talked about the reservation, but Nascha had left when he’d been not much older than Cal. Cal understood that Indian Gaming had improved things somewhat on the reservation—but that didn’t mean he was a fan of all the changes it brought about in the non-reservation parts of the state.
“Maybe I just want to be left the fuck alone,” Cal snarled, feeling bad even as he did. Nascha and Keir were his family—his only family. He couldn’t afford to piss them off, because they were all stuck in this tiny house together, and they were all each other had.
Cal would lie in bed awake sometimes, exhausted and aching because he needed more. 
“Maybe you just need to go dance,” Nascha said calmly, not taking offense. Just like when Cal had been a fractious kid, losing patience with Keir because he’d been fixating on the same damned cartoon for weeks, Nascha had never lost his keel.
Cal loved that about him. It was why, in spite of his increasing anxiety over leaving Nascha alone with Keir, he couldn’t bring himself to put Nascha in a home either.
But God, he was exhausted.
“Well, I’ll let you know if a dance opens up for me,” he muttered, swallowing against the tightness in his throat.
“Calladh!” Nascha spoke sharply, and the long ingrained habit of responding to his elders with respect crackled through Cal’s bones, snapping his spine erect and widening his eyes.
“Yes, Great Uncle.” His hip boots were clean, thank God, so he could walk across the worn brown carpet and into the living room. The old television—36”, but pre-flat screen, so it took up about a third of the space in the small room—was set low, but a parade of Viagra commercials and spoiled rich women reflected off Nascha’s face, even as he turned his attention to Cal.
“You listen to me. I know sometimes I forget—sometimes your mother is still alive, and your father, bless their hearts. Sometimes you and Keir are boys and your family is staying with me and I am so happy. But when I remember, I see what time has made of you, and you are old before your time.”
Oh. This was the Uncle Nascha Cal had loved as a child. The Uncle Nascha who had been young at heart, and kind, and who had offered patience and peanut-butter-and-honey sandwiches and native stories about the gods who fought each other while the people watched, leaving behind mountains in their wake. The Uncle Nascha who would wander away when his parents were having money troubles, and come back in a few days, smelling of cigars and whiskey, with more cash than should be legal in this world.
Cal kneeled in front of his great uncle’s chair. “It’s not so bad,” he said roughly, thinking that it wasn’t anything, any sacrifice at all, as long as Nascha could be like this, be the elder and the confidant and the grown-up all the time.
“You should sell this house, Cal,” Nascha said, and his voice warbled, became fractious. “The reservation would pay money for it, set up a casino and a marina—you could make enough money to put me in a home, to take care of your brother. You could go out and live your life.”
Cal took a deep breath, and then another, willing his face to stay stoic, willing his eyes not to burn. “But what is my life without my family?” he asked, trying hard to smile.
Nascha sighed. “Is that what I say to you when I can’t remember?”
Verbatim. “It’s what I know to be true,” Cal said, finding his feet again, remembering who really was the grownup. He bent and kissed his uncle’s forehead, hating himself for the brief moment of hope. “Dottie will be here at eight. She’ll feed you both. I’ll try to get her to remember the medicine.”
Dottie was in her sixties—which was good because it made her exempt from Keir’s pathological hatred—but she was also apparently from a time when healthy men didn’t rely on pills to keep them tethered to the earth. She was good at keeping them fed, at reminding Uncle Nascha he needed to use the john, at getting him out to walk around the neighborhood, and at not taking Keir’s shit—but she was just as likely to “forget” the meds and pretend they had no use at all. Those were the days Cal came home to find Keir banging his hand against the wall until it bruised and Nascha in tears because he didn’t know who the crazy man in the living room was.
It was really better for all involved if Nascha, when he was bright and alert in the mornings, could remember the medication for both of them.
“Cal!” Nascha called to his retreating back, and Cal couldn’t take it anymore.
What?” he demanded, losing control of his voice and his composure. “But make it quick, old man, because my fish today are buying our groceries, and right now there’s only about enough spaghetti left for lunch.”
Nascha’s look of hurt followed Cal out the garage door and into the dory rocking gently on the waters inside.
Some people kept their cars in a garage—but Cal’s battered blue Ford F-150 was parked in front of the mossy lawn of the house itself. His parents had been driving the same kind of vehicle when they’d fallen down the mountain, but Cal had long since gotten over his fear. The truck had been cheap, and it ran, and it was one of three reliable things in Cal’s life since that rainy April when half the mountain had slid away and carried most of Cal’s hopes with it.
The rest of Cal’s hopes—and his father’s only dream—sat in the little docking bay attached to the house. The covered bay protected much of the twenty-foot dory, and Cal hopped in with the ease of someone who had been steering such a vessel for most of his life.
The back end of the dory was flattened, to make the outboard motor effective and keep it going where Cal pointed it, and Cal handled the craft expertly—and with great wariness.
Even in the quiet waters of the sound, the unexpected could turn deadly. Given that Cal’s parents had been killed by a simple drive through the San Juans, Cal made that truism his mantra.
He navigated the boat steadily through the mist, grateful for his tightly woven wool sweater. It had been his father’s, purchased from one of the reservations in Alaska, and something about the small-gauged knitting of the high-loft wool made the zip-up sweater almost waterproof—and blessedly, blessedly warm.
Cal liked things old school—he wasn’t a fan of the casinos or the tourists or the television show, no matter how good those things were for the town. He really didn’t like all of the strange people mucking about in the pure vistas he’d grown up in. The way he fished reflected that. He didn’t have a fish-finder or sonar—just himself, and his nets and his little boat.
And the fishing territory his father had unerringly staked out, year after year. Just his. Cal knew the landmarks, the distance from his home shore, the line of sight to the Canadian shore, the dimensions of the rugged slopes of Mt. Olympus in the distance—Call knew the relation of all these things to the waters his father fished, and he knew that within these boundaries, there would, hopefully, be  fish.
Cal murmured a prayer to whatever gods his uncle prayed to—Musp the transformer, Bluejay the trickster, and whoever else might be listening—and cast his net. Count, breathe, putter through the black water and the mist until the cinch at the top began to close, and stop, allowing the boat to drift while he stood, minding the way the dory would feel like it was tipping over before it recovered.
Then, using a smaller net, he culled the fish, throwing out the salmon, because it wasn’t their season, and the hake because they were threatened, and hoping for cod or rockfish in the seine net.
His first haul he pulled in a couple of four or five pounders, and these he dumped in the center of the boat, knowing the dory was made to hold nearly a ton, and that odds were good he’d never fill it with that much fish in a day.
Still, he was making a good haul, sorting carefully, his fingers and arms aching with the work. It was good work, a part of him thought. Honest work. Somehow, when he was out on the sound, he never found himself wondering about the scholarships he hadn’t taken or the places he’d never seen. Somehow, on the bay, it was enough.
Cast, cull, haul, dump--back breaking and soothing, his day continued, until he thought he had time for two, maybe three more tries. He was just pulling the net tight, the better to cull the purse seine, when he felt it. A force—a terrific, muscular pull, lunging from the side of the boat. The net distorted and the dory leaned dangerously to the port side, and Cal cast about with the culling net, trying to fight off whatever had the seine.
Something huge—gigantic, too big to be in the sound, something that should have been in the open ocean—thrashed underneath his net, knocking it out of his hand. Oh fuck—he floundered, draped half over the side of the dory, trying not to lose a piece of equipment he couldn’t afford to replace.
By luck, the culling net had gotten hung up on the purse seine, and he snagged it, pulling the seine close to him and ignoring the perilous tip of the boat. The waters out here were freezing, deep, and unforgiving. If he went so far as to tip over the dory, the odds of getting it upright with him in it before he froze to death were sad and thin.
He fumbled with the net, trying to open the seine to set free whatever leviathan he’d accidentally caught, and found that it had cinched too tight to open, and the weight on the transom was making the bolts creak with the strain.
Holy fucking hell. He had to catch this fucking fish or it would kill him.
He tossed the culling net aside, grasped the seine net in both hands, braced his feet against the side of the dory, and hauled.
His back, chest, shoulder muscles popped with the strain, and still that thing fought trying desperately to escape, trying desperately to live.
Him or me!
Pant by groan, Cal hauled one hand over the other until most of the net was in the boat and the monster’s struggles echoed against the outside of the dory, banging a hollow, pounding tattoo across the rolling waters of the sound.
It made a sudden, frenzied resurgence, and Cal screamed, grabbing the fishing gaff, bunching his body to spear this fucker, still it, make it just fucking stop!
He wrapped the net around his forearm for stability and leaned over the side of the boat.
Oh holy God. It was huge, ugly, a primal vertebrate, a ridge of bone on either side of its body, and a sharp, pronglike snout—it must have been seven feet long, and oh, fuck.
The matte scales were unmistakably green.
Oh no. Not one of those. I can’t sell that!
He went to drop the gaff so he could grab the knife and cut the thing free, but it gave a seismic convulsion, dragging him up and almost over the side of the boat. For a moment he dangled, watching the fish submerge again, and behind him, he heard a bolt popping as the transom threatened to burst.
It was tearing his fucking boat apart.
Helplessly, he hauled back on the net and hurled the gaff at the thrashing sturgeon, stunning it. The gaff stayed stuck in the creature’s skull, and he was reaching into his pocket for his knife, thinking it was best just to cut his net and cut his losses, when the fish gave another titanic heave.
Cal was forced to grab the net with both hands again. The damned thing could still pull him over, even with a gaff in its head.
For a few moments all he heard was his own tortured breathing and the echoes of the giant green sturgeon pounding against the boat. With a groan, deep from his stomach, clenching every formidable muscle in his body, Cal hauled the fish over the side.
It wasn’t dead yet—in fact it threw itself around some more, the rough scales on the top of its body ripping through Cal’s waders and through a sizeable bit of flesh on his shin as well.
Cal’s scream and kick to the thing’s head had less to do with survival and more to do with anger and pain, but it wouldn’t have mattered. There was no way—not for one man—to free the fish from the net and keep the boat from capsizing. As it was, Cal finally had a chance to reach for the six-inch serrated fishing knife in his pocket. He unfolded the knife and hurled it with deadly accuracy, splitting the fish between the eyes and cleaving its prehistoric brain in two.
It continued to convulse in weakening cycles, and Cal stood over it, panting, until it finally played itself out.
Oh hell. This thing probably outweighed Cal two-to-one. 
Who in the fuck was going to eat this giant fucking illegal fish? 

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