This week, as promised, I’m giving you an early peek at my novel, Doc Wilde and The Dance of the Werewolf. This will be the third Doc Wilde adventure, and along with its two predecessors is part of the big Kickstarter project I’ll be starting on March 30th.
The past couple of weeks I posted excerpts from the other books, which you can find at these links:
The Kickstarter project will encompass all three of these novels. It will allow folks to help us produce some really nice books in exchange for perks ranging from having your name in the Acknowledgements up to autographed and numbered limited editions and exclusive editions of new Doc Wilde short adventures.
All three books will be released later this year, in both trade paperback and ebook formats, starting with Frogs of Doom in June. More Doc Wilde adventures will follow next year.
All the books will be fully illustrated and have gorgeous covers by Australian comic book master Gary Chaloner. I don’t have any actual advance art to go along with Dance of the Werewolf yet, but you can see some of his work in the Frogs of Doom excerpt linked above.
As you read the following, keep in mind that you’re literally reading the first draft. This book hasn’t entered the editing stages yet. But my first drafts tend to be pretty clean, so I’m comfortable sharing it with you…
Brian and Wren Wilde sat spellbound as their father touched the sun.
Which was slightly ironic, as it was the deep dark of night, and cold. A hard rain had fallen earlier, and probably would again, and the dense tree litter blanketing the ground was squishy and wet. The two kids hunched in dark rain gear, leaning against each other for warmth; in the fiery light they could see their breaths as puffs of white mist.
The only other warmth came from the sun, which was just a couple feet before them. Or rather, as their dad was explaining, a piece of the sun, released into the frigid Autumn night.
Doctor Spartacus Wilde, the world’s greatest adventurer, crouched at the other edge of that fire, passing his hand calmly through the flame. “You are the sun,” he said. “I am the sun. This fire is the sun.” His voice was deep, calming, like the rumble of a distant storm.
Brian, who was twelve, nodded. He was following his dad’s lesson easily; more easily, in fact, than some other lessons. His brain was wired a tad more for the metaphysical than for the concrete; matters of philosophy and spirit revved his mind.
His younger sis, however, was looking at their dad with deep concentration; Brian imagined the sound of gears and sprockets straining, but decided that wasn’t fair. Wren, like all living members of the Wilde family, possessed a high-genius IQ, and had an uncanny depth of understanding and knowledge for someone her age. She was also fascinated by the hard concrete intricacies of math and logic. But she was just ten, and sometimes had to work at a complex topic before it clicked for her.
“I understand that the sun is fire…” she said. “And that this fire is fire, and that’s a silly tautology. But I don’t get how we fit into it at all.”
Still crouched, Doc Wilde rested his forearms on his thighs and smiled warmly at his daughter. He was a big man, over six feet tall, broad of shoulder and long of limb; thousands of hours of physical training had given him a physique sculpted of firm muscle. Yet he didn’t look abnormally muscular, like a professional bodybuilder, and he moved with the speed and grace of a leopard. His hair was golden brown, his skin tanned an unusual golden hue.
His children shared his coloring, if not his relative size, for both were still small for their age. Even so, they moved with the same flowing sleekness as their dad, and their long limbs showed more rangy muscle than kids usually have. Like him, they’d been extensively (and intensively) trained from birth in all spheres of human ability: of the body, of the mind, of the spirit.
The most immediately striking thing about the Wildes was their eyes. They were large, with irises of glittering gold, as if formed of thin gold leaf; they peered at the world with such piercing intensity that even little Wren’s gaze could make a tough villain squirm. No one but the Wildes has such eyes…why that’s so is a story for another time.
Now, reflected firelight sparked in the Wildes’ eyes as Doc explained further. “The sun radiates vast amounts of energy in the form of light and heat. We feel it every day as the sunlight falls on our skin, warming us. It warms the Earth, keeping it a reasonably comfortable temperature for life to exist. But its importance to life goes far beyond that…indeed, it is life.”
He took a thick stick from the woodpile (birch; its bark is water-proof and keeps the wood dry, which was why Indians crafted birch bark canoes), and held it up for them to see. “This grew from a tree that soaked up sunlight, storing the energy in its cells. Its life-force was this stored sunlight.”
He poked the end of the stick into the flames. It ignited quickly, and he raised it like a small torch; they watched the fire eat the pale wood. “Now, when we burn the wood, where do you think the fire’s energy comes from?”
Brian saw Wren’s smile and let her answer. “Sunlight.”
Doc Wilde nodded, grinning. “Yep. Sunlight.” He tossed the half-burnt stick into the campfire, where it vanished quickly into the lava shimmer of the red coals. “By burning the wood, we release that stored solar energy, producing light and heat. If we hadn’t come out here and burned that stick, in time it would have decomposed, become part of the forest mulch. Its stored energy would be in the soil, ready to be absorbed by earthworms or grubs or baby trees and part of that energy would allow the animals to move and the plants to grow, but part would be stored again in flesh or wood.
“One day soon after, some skinny bear that just finished hibernating ambles through, and it’s hungry. It needs energy. So it claws in the mulch and finds some tasty grubs to eat. It digests them, absorbing their energy to move its muscles or to store, probably as fat it’ll need when it hibernates again. But it’s the same energy that poured from the sun, the same energy captured by the birch’s leaves and stored in its wood, the same energy released into the soil and eaten by the grubs…the bear is eating sunlight. The bear is sunlight.”
Wren laughed, clapping her hands with glee. “And we are sunlight!”
Doc grinned widely. “Yes. We are sunlight. We are all part of the sun.”
Brian was warmed as much by the sight of his sister’s smile as he was by the campfire. “So when people burn coal or petroleum, both of those are made of ancient plants…so the energy released from them is sunlight too.”
“Yes,” Doc said. “People who are sunlight travel in vehicles propelled by sunlight. They live in houses heated by sunlight. The food they eat is all sunlight. All life, all power, ultimately is of the sun. The sun is life.”
Just then, a not-too-distant wolf’s howl split the night, somewhere to the east. The Wildes looked that way, into the darkness beyond their firelight, into the vast forest, listening intently…and the first howl was answered. Another wolf voice rose in the cold night, and several more joined, these voices more to the north, not as close as the first.
Then the first howled again, joining its voice to the voices of the others, and their song filled the night, discordant, each voice shifting in pitch to keep its own sound, never blending entirely…and then they waned, as swiftly as they’d waxed, to silence.
“Wow…” Brian said. His eyes were wide and bright.
“That was beautiful!” Wren exclaimed, so thrilled she was on her feet, bouncing in place.
Doc Wilde came around the fire and put an arm around each of his kids.
“Yes it was,” he said. “Incredibly beautiful.”
But then the deep dark Autumn night was broken by another sound, one not as lovely, one not as soulful, and what had been a relaxing family retreat veered into what would soon be the stuff of nightmare.
To the east, a man screamed in agony.
And then, suddenly, did not.
Before the man’s scream broke off, the Wildes were sprinting to their tent. Doc raised the zipper of the mesh door; the kids literally dove through as soon as soon as the gap was wide enough, Wren, then Brian, rolling to their feet inside, pouncing on the gear laid out by their sleeping bags. Doc entered and stepped to his own.
The three adventurers stripped their rain-jackets, revealing white safari shirts underneath, and slipped on many-pocketed, brown utility vests. Their dark rain pants, made of a soft breathable material that wouldn’t rustle, remained on.
Instead of the rain jackets, they donned brown Wested flight-jackets, loose enough for free movement, the thin-but-strong goatskin a source of warmth and protection from the elements, but also a rugged extra layer of defense.
They slapped on wide-brimmed Aussie bush hats.
Strapped on holsters.
Drew and speed-checked dart pistols.
Leaped for the door.
Doc grabbed a sleek dart rifle as he went, slinging it over his shoulder.
Due to uncanny reaction time and precise actions, the Wilde family gathered again at the fire, fully armed, dressed for action, eight seconds after the scream had begun.
“Ready,” Doc said.
“Ready,” Brian and Wren said in tandem.
They went silent. Stealth was essential at times like this.
They drew pistols. Pulled on night-vision goggles from their vests.
Started east. The direction of the scream.
The night around them vanished. To their eyes, it was an overcast day, the colors slightly muted but visible. The rainwater dripping from the hemlock branches above fell in bobbled streams of quicksilver, its cool liquidity catching and refracting the invisible light strobed rapidly in all directions by the goggles. Light penetrating detail, vibrating through frequencies of color in the world around them. Light captured by their lenses to chase the night from their eyes.
To the modern military, a Category 4 NVD (Night Vision Device) was the height of NV tech. Put into proper perspective, the goggles now worn by the Wildes would have qualified at least as Category 6. They, and the rest of the Wildes’ gear, had been created by Doctor Spartacus Wilde.
Like many of his inventions, Doc kept the goggles for private use. He wouldn’t release any technology to the world, not even the American government, that would have primarily military applications, unless those applications were entirely defensive. These goggles could be used to deadly effect in midnight raids by soldiers on any side; while the ability to see better in the dark could make soldiers safer, he deemed the currently available technology sufficient for that purpose.
Wren half-sprinted to keep up with Brian and her dad. She was alert to everything around her, as she’d been trained to be all her life. Every movement, every shape, every caress of chill mist in the wind, every creak of tired trees. She saw a bobcat slip soundlessly into a thick patch of shrubs, glancing back at them; its eyes flashed the same preternatural silver as the dripping rain, then it was gone. She neither saw nor heard any other animals; the forest had heard the anguished scream and was afraid.
Was Wren Wilde afraid? Of course she was. She was a ten year old girl, smaller than most, rushing into the forest of the night to investigate what was surely the violent death of another human being. She had no inkling of what happened to the man, who or what might be stalking the wilderness ahead…how much danger there truly was.
But Wren was a Wilde. She’d been born to adventure, had been tried by the worst threats imaginable along every curve of the globe, and had survived. It’s often been said that bravery is not lack of fear, it’s going on in spite of it. Though her heart pounded in her breast, she was going on. And commingled with the fear was an electric excitement she could taste in her mouth. This was the kind of thing she was made for.
Besides…she was with her dad. Wren had always believed he could do anything, solve any mystery, defeat any threat, rise to any challenge. So far, she’d been right.
Brian Wilde observed the wilderness around them as intently as his sister. He felt the same fear, the same adrenal rush of excitement, electric. He was just as glad to be with his dad…but he’d been around longer than Wren, he’d seen some terrible things happen that Wren had not, and he knew that even Doc Wilde wasn’t above failure, even Doc Wilde might not get where he needed to be in time, even Doc Wilde couldn’t save everyone…
He squeezed the grip of his pistol, glad to have it. Not for the first time, he wondered if it might not be better to have one loaded with actual bullets rather than the paralytic darts his dad used because he would do anything he could not to kill.
Brian Wilde knew something, and he knew that his father knew it too: some things need to be killed.
Maybe something in the woods ahead.
They advanced through the misty wood, the ground under their feet a springy layer of evergreen needles and some leaves; in spite of its squishiness, their passage was soundless. The Wildes were highly skilled in shinobi aruki, the arts of silence; they’d been trained by a genial chiropractor in Noda City, Japan who was also the soke (grandmaster) of nine ryu of ninjutsu. Doc Wilde’s ability to sneak was second only to the soke’s, and the kids’ skills already superior to any elite military commando’s.
The scream had been somewhere to the east, but it was difficult to pinpoint any more than that. As amazing as the Wildes’ senses were (honed daily in complex training routines using incredible devices and meditative techniques), they still lacked echolocation like a bat’s. So Doc led them in a rapidly expanding search pattern, zigzagging north to south as they moved eastward.
The goggles defeated the darkness, but the density of growth limited their sight lines. More than half their focus went to hearing…if someone or something moved out there, they’d likely hear it easier than they’d see it.
Wren’s heart leaped as she spotted a blue-white glow in the distance, obscured by a quarter mile of latticed branches. She made a tiny clicking sound with her tongue, a sound like a sleepy cricket.
Her dad and brother froze, turned to look at her in silence. The night-vision goggles gave them an otherworldly look, the reflected invisible light turning the lenses into rippling pools of mercury.
Her right hand held her pistol, so she signed with her left: A light. Quarter mile. Two o’clock. The sign language was one developed decades ago by her Grandpa and known only by the Wildes.
They looked towards “two o’clock,” roughly 60˚degrees south of the direction they were facing, and seeing what she had seen, nodded.
Great spotting, her dad signed.
They moved quickly toward the light, stealing silently through thickets of hemlock and pine and beech, their boots touching the forest mulch so softly they seemed to float above it.
The staccato drip of water from the trees quickened, then swelled into a drumbeat of icy rain. Great. That would make it harder to hear anything.
They neared the light. All had already recognized it for what it was because of its bluish burn: the light from a fluorescent lantern. Now they could see it ahead, a small moon glowing about five feet off the ground.
The textures and hues of colors in their sight morphed as they closed on the light, the goggles automatically adjusting to changing light conditions. (You know how on TV, the hero sometimes flashes a bright light in the face of a bad guy using night-vision, temporarily blinding the villain? That won’t even work on someone using Category 4 technology, much less the superior tech of Doc Wilde).
Within the envelope of bluish light, a tent became visible. This was someone’s camp. The guy who’d screamed…?
Wren’s awareness had naturally focused in on the camp as they stalked nearer, and she jumped slightly when something touched her shoulder. It was Brian. With his free hand he signed:
She nodded. Letting your senses narrow in a situation like this was an invitation to ambush.
They reached the camp.
Wren’s trained eye took in everything. She saw the fluorescent lantern hanging from a branch. The tent, a large dome of purple nylon. A large black backpack with some kind of tools attached. A scraped-out fire pit holding only the black coal remnants of earlier fires.
And near the fire-pit—
Brian’s hands clasped Wren’s shoulders, and she let him turn her to face the way they’d come, away from the camp, away from the man. She didn’t want to look at the man. The man who was sprawled on the ground in a terrible broken-doll jumble.
She didn’t want to look at him.
She didn’t want to.
Because he was drenched in his own blood.
And part of him was gone.
Brian held Wren close to him, her back to his chest, keeping her turned from the awful sight in the camp. Not particularly wanting to look at it himself. The cold rain battered them, a slick susurration through the trees, a machine-gun thud on his hat. He felt her shudder; she made a choked gasp, then he heard a long draw of breath. Her breathing slowed, turned deliberate, meditative.
She’s trying not to lose it, Brian thought. Trying not to cry.
He held her there, knowing her awareness was sinking into the rhythm of her breaths, calm hopefully replacing any feelings of panic that had risen upon seeing the man’s savaged body. Looking down, he couldn’t see her face, all he could see was the rain-spattered bush hat on her head.
He settled into meditative breathing as well, wanting the unpleasant thump of his heart to subside, but he didn’t release his focus to the exercise. He remained hyper-aware of everything around him, in every direction. His dad was carefully skirting the edge of the campsite, looking for clues, for tracks…for the rest of the dead man. Brian had to stay fully alert while his dad did the detective thing. He had to protect Wren.
He knew his father would be just as vigilant as he investigated, that the investigation wouldn’t go on long, that he wouldn’t go far. This was a crime scene, and they all knew not to disturb anything in or around it if they could help it. Only Doc had the awareness and control needed to move here and not corrupt the site, and even he wouldn’t risk doing so beyond a cursory glance-about in the hopes of identifying who or what had killed the man, and determining if it was still nearby.
So Brian scanned the woods. In the odd cast of his goggles, he saw nothing but the trees and brush and a shower of streaming silver as the rain pounded down. That rain, and his own heart, were all he could hear…
Whatever it was couldn’t be far. The man’s dying scream hadn’t been that long ago. Out there, just beyond the view of these goggles, in the wild darkness between the trees, the killing thing could be prowling, silent and deadly. It might be looking at Brian and Wren right this second, planning its attack…
Brian had holstered his pistol in order to grip both Wren’s shoulders and turn her. Now he gently pulled his right arm from his embrace of his little sister, re-drew the weapon.
Around him, the forest. The rain. The night.
Behind him, blood. A man’s horrible death.
Out there…man or beast, the same word would apply:
Doc Wilde stood sentry, his rifle held ready across his chest.
On the wet forest floor at his feet, Brian huddled, holding Wren in his lap. Brian peered from under his hats’ brim, scanning the rainswept thickets; behind her goggles, Wren’s eyes were shut, her small form seemingly relaxed, but he knew that her ears, her nose, her skin and hair, even the cold taste of rain and evergreen on her tongue, all told her a lot about what was happening around her.
Like Brian, she still firmly gripped her pistol; as out of it as she looked, she’d be as swift as he would to whip it into use if necessary.
They were roughly one hundred yards west of the camp, the crime scene, the site of bloody murder. They hadn’t wanted to disturb it. They hadn’t wanted to see any more of it.
The kids hadn’t, anyway. Looking up at their dad, though, Brian could see he glanced back that way frequently. Watching for threat, certainly, but also thinking of what he could be doing back there.
A man of many astonishing abilities, Doctor Spartacus Wilde was a brilliant detective and one of the foremost experts in forensic science on the planet. Brian knew that if Doc had been alone, he’d have continued his examination of the area, carefully logging clues, tracks, signs of what had happened there, who was responsible, running through scenarios of possibility in his mind. He enjoyed this sort of challenge, but more than that he knew a killer was loose and needed to be caught, whatever its nature. In their father’s eyes, the man lying back there would deserve that, and so would any other potential victims out there. Time was of the essence, and Brian knew, as his dad knew, that the heavy rain would obliterate most of the site’s useful information long before the local authorities made it here.
But their dad had told them once that, on his list of “The Ten Most Important Things,” Brian and Wren would be the top thirty, at least. His priorities here would be their safety first, followed closely by protecting them from further sight of the man’s mangled body. So he’d brought them out here, leaving the site as undisturbed as possible, its future value to investigators a vexing uncertainty.
It was a choice Brian’s dad would not regret; his kids came before anything else.
The cold rain fell.
They watched. Listened. Sensed.
All the same, they were unaware of something racing toward them until it was nearly on top of them.