We’re now one week away from the launch of See These Bones and I’ve been counting down to the November 5th release date by sharing chapters from the book. In Chapter 1 and Chapter 2, we learned a bit about our protagonist and his not-so-stellar childhood. In Chapter 3, Damian tested his boundaries with the mysterious Mr. Grey and was reminded of how little leverage he has. Chapter 4 continues their journey.
There’s nothing to like about Bakersfield. Pretty sure that was true pre-Break, and it’s sure as hell true now. Balls-hot in the summer, foggy and moist in the winter, boring as shit year-round. The city’s a long way from the ocean, from L.A. or the Bay. It just sits in the middle of nowhere like a middle finger to the tumbleweeds.
No wonder Dad went nuts.
Not that it excuses what he did.
Anyway, Bakersfield; worst city in California, and probably the whole Free States. Used to be a lot of farms, I’m told, but it takes a full-fledged Weather Witch or Druid to grow much of anything these days, and Powers sure don’t want to live out there. Used to be oil fields too, but there’s not much need for the stuff anymore. Barely any cars and most of the country gets its juice from the grid, which is powered, in turn, by a few hundred Cat Two Sparks.
Powers; making the Free States better one lightbulb at a time.
Since the Break, Bakersfield’s population has been nosediving like a Flyboy on a joy ride. Two different attempts to rebrand—first as a tourist destination, then as the country’s new center for manufacturing—failed miserably way before my time, leaving behind only faded bulletin boards, looming over an increasingly empty skyline. The city is an old man getting older by the day, shrinking inward until there’s nothing but skin and bones, surrounded by the rubble of its own decay.
Hell of a place to be born, abandoned, and then sort of raised.
Worst city in the Free States still makes it a damn sight better than the Badlands, mind you, let alone anywhere on the eastern side of the continent, where life expectancies are dipping into the low-thirties. Still, can’t say I was sad to watch Bakersfield fall away in the passenger-side mirror.
I was pretty curious about where we were headed though.
I hadn’t seen the sun in a week—because it was the tail-end of winter, and winter in the valley meant fog, mist, and more fog until you wanted to claw your eyes out just to see something different—so I had no clue if we were going north or south. We’d left behind the tiny slice of Bakersfield I knew after only a few minutes in the Finder’s car. By the time we hit open highway, I was totally lost.
Got clued in about twenty minutes later, when we passed a couple of signs that hadn’t been stomped flat, lit on fire, or transformed into cactuses.
Yeah, cactuses. Crows get all the bad press, but Druids are the worst.
The first sign said I-5 South.
The second? Ninety-seven miles to Los Angeles.
* * *
The road south of Bakersfield is where happy thoughts go to die.
I can’t remember who said that, but they knew what they were talking about. Whole place is a wasteland; dirt, dust, and a scattering of scrub grass too dumb to know it’s beaten. No ocean, no vid screens, no net access… just miles and miles of empty, until you wish the mist would roll back in just so you can pretend something interesting is hiding out there.
As near as I can figure, the road south has only two things going for it. The big one, of course, is that it’s taking you away from Bakersfield. Almost as important is that it isn’t the north road out of town. Take everything I said about the south route and triple it for the long, long ride up to the Bay.
Now there’s a trip that can drive someone to murder.
* * *
We’d been rolling along for almost an hour when Mom decided to make one of her appearances. I glanced behind me to find her in the car’s back seat next to my bag. She looked the same as ever, a dark-haired woman in a knee-length, floral print dress. In life, that dress had been yellow, the flowers on it red. Now, the dress was as faded as the rest of her, nothing but a vague hint of color to go along with the increasingly vague hint of personality.
Mom didn’t speak. She never had, not since finding her way back to me. Given her murder, you’d have expected her ghost to be angry or haunted, but whenever I saw her, she was humming a silent, wordless tune, taking in the surroundings with a loopy smile on her see-through face. Was almost reassuring to see her always happy. Would have been better to have her alive, or at least aware of my presence, but you got to take what you can get.
“Who is it that you see?”
“How did…?” I stopped that question when it was only halfway out of my mouth, and went with one almost as stupid. “You know what I am?”
“Why else would I have come?” His voice remained absent of emotion. It was like he’d lost interest in the question even before he finished asking it, the last few words powered purely by inertia.
Yes, I know what inertia is. Fuck off with your whole poor dumb orphan bullshit.
“Since when do Finders bother with Crows?” A fraction of a percent of our country’s population had powers, and it was the Finders’ job to locate those individuals and make sure they were tested, trained, and employed. The bare handful who ranked higher than Cat Two made it into the pompously titled Academy of Heroes, where they were trained to be Capes.
Crows weren’t a part of that. The government had no use for Necromancers and the Capes damn sure didn’t want anything to do with us. So why had a Finder driven all the way out to Bakersfield to retrieve one?
The man’s voice was quiet, but his eyes glowed as he spoke. “Times are changing and we must change with them. War is coming to the Free States.”
“And you’re looking for another soldier?”
He shook his head. “We have soldiers. One more won’t change a thing.” The smile that spread across his nondescript face was every bit as empty as his voice. “What I am looking for is an army.”
On Thursday, I’ll be back with one last sample chapter. See you then!