I’ll be counting down to the November 5th release date for See These Bones by sharing chapters from the book. Last week, we kicked things off with Chapter 1 and our first glimpse into the post-Break world. This week, Chapter 2 starts to fill in some of the details.
I bounced between foster homes for a few years after Mom died, never staying with any family more than a couple of months. Not until the Jacobsens—Norm and Sue, because apparently it’s a cosmic law that ordinary people have really stupid names.
For some reason, these two God-worshipping hero-vid junkies actually gave a damn. Wasn’t like it had been with my real parents, but Norm didn’t seem likely to up and murder Sue either, so I wasn’t going to complain. Norm, Sue, and little Damian… the perfect pretend family.
Yeah, Damian. It’s like Dad wanted to screw me over from the start.
Anyway, the Jacobsens spent six months tearing down my walls, six months sitting through night terrors and angry spells. Convincing me that they cared. That they’d be there for me through anything.
Then I turned nine.
Then Mom showed back up.
Then we all learned that Dad wasn’t the only Crow in the family.
Just like that, I was back at Mama Rawlins’ House of Unwanted Brats. Sue watched me go, peeking through her living room window from behind white, frilly curtains. I think she even cried. Which might have meant something if she and Norm hadn’t been the ones who called the orphanage in the first place, the ones who decided I wasn’t the son they’d been looking for after all.
I don’t blame them. Not really.
I blame myself. Should have known better than to get attached.
The Jacobsens were my last ride on the foster family merry-go-round. Word gets around, I guess. I spent the next eight years as the orphanage’s unofficial mascot, watching delighted little shits disappear into the arms of delighted older shits. And yeah, I bumped uglies with the slushy girl a couple times, so it wasn’t all bad. Say what you will about her—or don’t, unless you want an army of zombie rats crawling up your asshole—but she was warm, smelled better than I did, and didn’t care what I might one day become.
Also? Free slushies! Compared to the synth-food the orphanage fed us, a cup of flavored ice was almost as good as sex.
She’s dead now, of course. The slushy girl. I know what you’re thinking, but I didn’t do it. A year or so after we started seeing each other, she and her parents left Bakersfield. Went north to Palo Alto, to a sweet new job for her dad and an economy that hadn’t spent the last four decades in the shitter.
That was five months before Scarlet’s battle with the Capes from the North Star. In one afternoon, the Black Hat Pyromancer killed six hundred people and burned down half of Palo Alto. Everyone remembers the heroes Scarlet killed that day. Everyone remembers that Dominion responded by dropping a satellite on her head. Nobody remembers the people of Palo Alto.
I remember the slushy girl.
Alicia. That was her name.
* * *
I was seventeen when Alicia left town. I was seventeen when she and six hundred other people died. I was still seventeen—if only barely—when my life changed yet again. Three days from my eighteenth birthday, when I’d become an adult in the eyes of the Free States and my free ride at the orphanage would end. To say I was worried about where I’d be sleeping, what I’d be eating, and how I’d pay for either was the understatement of the decade. There are a lot of words to describe Crows but employable isn’t one of them.
I was trying to distract myself from impending doom by showing little Nyah—five years old, and a shoo-in to be adopted the next time a pair of needy parents wandered by—how to throw a punch, when the common room went dead quiet.
Mama Rawlins was standing at the orphanage door with a man.
He wasn’t much to look at. Average height, average appearance, and average-length hair that was—you guessed it—a thoroughly average shade of brown. A grey suit hung loosely on a frame as remarkable as a clothes hanger. He was the sort of person that would fade into a crowd, who seemed to fade into the background even as the only stranger in the room.
That all changed when I saw his eyes. They were flat and cold, like pennies that had been worn down by time, leaving only smooth metal behind. They glittered in the common room’s dim lighting.
Nyah shivered as those eyes focused on me.
Mama Rawlins escorted the penny-eyed man in my direction, a path through the common room appearing like it had been wished into existence. Ten of my fellow orphans, from Nyah all the way up to fifteen-year-old John, turned to watch the drama unfold.
The man’s voice was quiet and empty of emotion. “This is he?”
“Yup.” Mama Rawlins’ voice, by contrast, was a scratchy baritone, courtesy of the two-pack habit her state salary and some truly creative bookkeeping afforded her. “Damian,” she nodded to me, “meet Mr.—”
“Grey,” the man filled in smoothly.
“Mr. Grey. From the government.” Her eyes widened comically, as she added the words that would seal my fate. “He’s a Finder.”
I should have run. Young legs, not much meat on my bones… maybe I could have made it.
Instead, I let curiosity get the best of me.
I’ll be back Thursday to discuss See These Bones’ two release formats, related pricing shenanigans, the confusion of print proof copies, and more. Next Tuesday, I’ll share Chapter 3, in which Mr. Grey and Damian take a trip.