October 25

bonescover

“bones” anthology with Eli Easton’s novella “The Bird”

Published by Dreamspinner Press Oct 27, 2014

BUY ON THE PUBLISHER’S WEBSITE

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Reviews & Blog Posts for “bones”:

My desktop post with the images that inspired this story

Eli’s guest post on RJ Scott’s blog about “bones

4 stars My Fiction Nook — “Lyrical, unsettling, provocative, passionate, with a brilliant, slightly ambiguous epilogue, The Bird is about the guilt and shame we bury within us, and about the letting go.”

4.5stars Love Bytes Reviews — “All [stories] were well written, creative, and enjoyable. Makes me want to go read the first book!”

5 stars for ‘The Bird” in “bones” from Crystal’s — “This story garbed me right from the beginning, and I didn’t stop reading until it was done.”

4.5 stars from The Kimi-Chan Experience — “The writing is very dark and evocative and quite unlike the previous books/stories I’ve read by Eli Easton. She always produces an amazing story and this is no different.”

Rainbow Book Reviews — “I liked this story, and the mysticism really grabbed, and held, my attention.”

A+ for “The Bird” in “bones” from The Book Pushers — “This story was definitely my favourite of the collection. I never wished so hard to see a chicken live in my life!”

4 stars The Novel Approach — “I really enjoyed many aspects of this short story.”

gothika: Volume Two 

Vodou. Obeah. Santeria. These religions seem mysterious and dark to the uninitiated, but the truth is often very different. Still, while they hold the potential for great power, they can be dangerous to those who don’t take appropriate precautions. Interfering with the spirits is best left to those who know what they’re doing, for when the proper respect isn’t shown, trouble can follow. In these four novellas, steamy nights of possession and exotic ritual will trigger forbidden passion and love. You cannot hide your desires from the loa, or from the maddening spell of the drums. Four acclaimed m/m authors imagine homoerotic love under the spell of Voodoo.

“The Bird” by Eli Easton
Colin Hastings is sent to Jamaica in 1870 to save his father’s sugar cane plantation. If he succeeds, he can marry his fiancée back in London and take his place in proper English society. But Colin finds more than he bargained for on the island. His curiosity about Obeah, the native folk magic, leads him to agree to a dangerous ritual where he is offered his heart’s most secret desire—one he’s kept deeply buried all his life. What happens when a proper English gentleman has his true sensual nature revealed and freed by the Obeah spirits?

“The Book of St. Cyprian” by Jamie Fessenden
“When Alejandro Valera finds a book of black magic in New Orleans, he ships it to his friend Matthew in New Hampshire so he can read it when he gets home. Unfortunately, Matthew’s dog, Spartacus, gets to the package first, and Alejandro returns to find Matthew locked out of his apartment by the suddenly vicious pit bull. The boys call on all the magic they know to free Spartacus from the evil spirit, but they might need to accept that they’re in over their heads.”

Uninvited by B.G. Thomas
When a hot tip leads Kansas City reporter Taylor Dunton to a series of grisly murders, his investigation points to Myles Parry and his vodou shop. Myles wants nothing more than to practice his religion in peace, and he hopes Taylor can help him show the community they have nothing to fear. The problem is all the clues point to Myles as the suspect and only Taylor can help him prove his innocence. However, this case has also caught the attention of the vodou spirits of the Lwa… and they’ve taken an interest in Taylor as well.

The Dance by Kim Fielding
After being surrounded by deaths and near-deaths, introverted chemist Bram Tillman wishes he could undo the past year. Then beautiful Daniel Royer shows up with a warning about more danger ahead—and a promise to use vodou to help Bram discover what’s trying to kill him. But while Bram’s attraction to Daniel grows, vodou spirits change Bram in unexpected ways.

Cover by Eli Easton

 

EXCERPT:

 

1

March 3, 1870

My Dearest Richard,

I arrived safely in Jamaica, and I write to you as my very first act at Crosswinds, just as I promised. The passage was eventful. We hit a storm that was so fierce I was convinced I was going to die. I was about to write that you would have laughed to have seen me on my knees, white as a sheet, and praying for my life as the ship rolled. But that isn’t true. You are so soft-hearted, you would never laugh at another’s distress, much less mine.

Remember when we studied the things soldiers think about before battle in our military strategy class? Well, I thought of you as I stood at death’s door, of how I’d miss our friendship. Happily, it was much ado about nothing in the end. As you may have surmised, I did not die.

Onward and upward and all that. I will write again as soon as I have taken the measure of this place. Give my good wishes to your family, and tell your brother that he owes me a pint, as I was not sick once, not even during the worst of the storm.

Your ever devoted,

Colin

 

March 10, 1870

My Dearest Richard,

I just received my first packet of letters from you. You must have written the day after I left London! It’s like a breeze from England to read your familiar script in this strange place. Please keep pen to paper, and I promise to do the same on my end.

I already have quite a bit to tell. Yesterday I was forced to fire Mr. Tuttle, our plantation manager. Everything Father had been hearing about him was true. He tried to put on a good face when I showed up, but it was clear he was a drunkard and a brute. The laborers hated him. I sent him packing and had a firearm at my side whilst I did it. He put up a fuss, and our argument was a fine spectacle for everyone on the plantation. I wonder if any of them wagered on the outcome.

The long and short of it is, Tuttle is gone. Which means I must run this blasted place. Father gave me two years to turn the plantation around, and I mean to do it if that’s what will get me home and back to you and to Elizabeth. I’ve been speaking to some of our neighbors. The plantation closest to mine is run by a man named Lester Pivot, the sort of devout church mouse who runs services in his house for the natives. He lives with his brother, Major Pivot, who is not altogether in his right mind, poor chap. Lester believes sugarcane is on the wane and bananas and coffee are where the future lies. Of course, you know how Father feels about sugarcane, but it wouldn’t hurt to diversify. I plan to convert several acres and see if I can impress Father with the return.

Now here’s the thing I’ve been itching to tell you about. After Mr. Tuttle left, I went to his quarters, which consisted of three rooms in the east wing of the house. I wanted to see if he’d done any damage to the place, he was so furious when he left. The drawers of the dresser and the closet stood open and empty, and he had, indeed, wrenched the door nearly off its hinges in anger. His mattress was bare and slightly askew. Suspicious, I turned it up. The mattress rests on a wooden bed frame. On the slats, just under where his head would have rested, was a bundle that included several chicken feet, the head of a rooster, twigs and dried herbs of some malodorous variety, and the whole bound in twine splattered with dried blood.

Remember old Dr. Hodgets? He’d get so excited when he lectured on what he called “primitive beliefs” that his neck would stretch up above his collar like a tortoise. I thought of him when I saw the bundle and how his eyes would undoubtedly light up at the sight of it. How he would love to be able to explore the native practices here. They call it Obeah, and it is a type of folk magic that has its ancestry in the African slave trade. It’s illegal in Jamaica, with a penalty of whipping if you are caught, but it’s practiced all the same.

Who placed the bundle under Tuttle’s bed? One of the household staff? One of the laborers? What was its purpose? Was he supposed to sicken? Die? Be driven away? And did I, by my own actions, fulfill the curse for the curse maker?

I can see you now, Richard, smiling your indulgent smile and shaking your head at my fancifulness. Well what, then, is a former student of philosophy to think about when in a strange land? Man does not live by sugarcane alone.

To be honest, I’m uneasy here. It is hot and windy, and I feel restless in my own skin. There’s a mystery to this place, a sense of being watched, of there being things hidden just below the surface of these smiling faces. Yet truly the servants have been nothing but polite and seem relieved that Tuttle is gone. I’m on probation, I think. Should I fail to live up to their silent demands, I shall no doubt be rewarded with a bundle of my own under my mattress. Perhaps they will curse me with gout or a fit of giggles. But no matter, there shall be no need for a curse, because I am determined to turn this place around and earn my father’s permission to marry Elizabeth and get on with my life back in England.

Assuming the young Miss Elizabeth waits for me. How is she? Are you keeping an eye on her as you promised? I know I can depend on you, even though you have never been fond of her. I hope the two of you will become friends in my absence—please try, for my sake?

Your ever devoted,

Colin

 

2

Jamaica, 1870

It was damn hot riding in the sun. The heat shimmered above the land as the laborers stooped, placing the short pieces of cane with a bud eye into the prepared planting rows. In the field next to them, the cane crop was already knee-high. My father had instigated rotational planting years ago, when the plantation had been like a new toy to him, and he’d spent several years here himself. As long as you avoided having the cane ripen during the rainy seasons—too much moisture could ruin the crop in its final days—you could stagger the planting and guard against market highs and lows. In theory.

Sugar, I could still hear him lecturing over the dining room table, will be money in the bank long after Entwhile has ceased to be. Sugar is a drug. The whole world craves it. And unlike opium, we don’t even have to feel guilty about it. Why, grandmothers give babes in arms something sweet to calm their fretting. But it’s a drug nonetheless. Never forget that.

Despite my father’s passion for sugarcane, my mother refused to leave England, and so he’d run the plantation by correspondence for years. Several lazy and unscrupulous overseers had turned Crosswinds from a productive enterprise into a liability. I knew that if I could turn it back from ruin, I would at last be the favored son. Let my older brothers, Rupert and Harry, toady along at my father’s side at Entwhile. Father’s heart was in Jamaica.

Tuttle had let the rotational cropping go, too drunk to rouse himself or the laborers more than once a year for planting. The field we were working now had been reclaimed by the wild grasses and ferns, and it had been an almighty struggle to plow it. It made me angry. Three months since I’d arrived, and I was still angry at how Tuttle had abused my father’s trust, claiming in his letters to be doing work that had never been done. And, from the whispers I’d heard, taking advantage of the laborers too. We paid them a pittance in wages since slavery had been abolished, but they still needed the money. There were few ways to earn your daily bread in Jamaica. A ruthless man could use that leverage to force the poor wretches to do whatever he wanted.

Looking at their bent bodies working away, sweating in the sun, the idea turned my stomach. The women came in all hues, from a medium caramel to nearly black. They wore full skirts in faded colorful cotton, tucked up to their knees to avoid the mud, billowy, long-sleeved shirts, and handkerchiefs tied around their heads. The cotton was their shield from the sun. I could not fathom wanting to rut with such bodies. The older men covered themselves too, but the younger ones… some of them tied the long sleeves of their tunics around their waist so that their sweat-slicked muscles were exposed.

I tried not to look at them at all.

I called a break at noon, and Sally and Morning went among the laborers, passing out buttered bread and fried plantains. It did not seem to bother the natives to sit in the sun, but my own head, accustomed to the English gloom, was spinning. I made for the shade of the trees that edged the field.

Crosswinds lay at the foot of a small mountain so that one could walk up into the forest and look down on the property and on out to the distant sea. The plantation looked perfect from up there—idyllic and green—until you got up close enough to see the neglect, to see the green was out of control and threatened to swallow us all up again.

I had just tied my horse and taken the water from my saddle when I saw a woman—Tiyah was her name—approaching the trees. She acted like she didn’t see me, her face fiercely intent on her internal thoughts. She disappeared into the forest.

I would normally have let her go, assuming she was going to relieve herself or spend the short break out of the heat. But the look on her face stirred my curiosity. And also, it was Tiyah. She was a tall woman, not young but not yet old, and handsome for her people. She had a commanding presence that, to be honest, intimidated me, though I would never admit it. I’d heard whispers among the servants in the house—about going to Tiyah for aches and pains, blessings or advice. She was an Obeah woman, a practitioner of that folk magic that so fascinated me. My mother would have been horrified at such heathen ways and refused to have her on the plantation. But I had the advantage of an education at Eton and Cambridge, where my mind had been opened to the wonders of the natural world, of travel and exploration. Oh, the long nights Richard and I had spent, up talking until dawn about distant peoples and places we’d read about in the tales of Marco Polo and lurid magazines.

This would make an interesting letter to Richard. That made up my mind. Leaving my horse safely tied, I followed Tiyah on foot.

She took a well-trod trail through the forest up the hill. I stayed as far back as I could, but she was oblivious to me. At times I caught snatches of her muttering. It was nearly a chant in a singsong voice, but I couldn’t make out the words.

The tree cover was thick and buzzing with insects, and I nearly stumbled right on top of her before I saw that she had stopped.

To the side of the trail was a small ridge where a narrow footpath edged out to a looming rocky face. There was a natural depression in the face of the rock that was the size of a large steamer trunk. It had been made into a sort of shrine. Tiyah knelt in front of it and lit a half-dozen candles. In and among the candles were a host of items—a bottle of rum, a beaded necklace, small bones, a loaf of bread, coins, scraps of brightly colored cloth, and a statuette of what looked like the Virgin Mary only with a black face and hands.

I watched from the cover of the trees, delighted to be seeing the native practice with my own eyes.

After lighting the candles, Tiyah spoke in urgent patois. I’d picked up a few words from hearing my servants speak. The patois the natives spoke was a mix of English words and African, though the pronunciation made the English words challenging to recognize. But there was no mistaking the pleading tone of her request, or the main thread of it.

“Erzulie, I beg you! Erzulie, save my daughter!”

Tiyah took a white handkerchief stained with blood from a pocket and placed it on the shrine. Then she removed a plantain leaf and carefully unwrapped it to reveal a small chunk of ice.

I knew there were ice ships from the north that visited the docks, but I could not imagine how she’d managed to keep such a thing from melting through her morning work. Perhaps it had been much larger to start. She offered it with both hands, placing it in front of the candles.

Ice?

I was still pondering it in my mind when she rose and turned toward me, done with her prayers. I started to dive back into the trees, but I realized it was too late and I would only look like a namby-pamby fool. So I straightened my spine and stepped out.

“Tiyah,” I greeted her firmly, not wanting to appear apologetic. “Get along back to the field now.”

She didn’t move. Her eyes stared into mine with both confusion and a kind of challenge. “You follow me, Missah.”

I thought of making up a lie, but such instincts had been beaten out of me in my youth. My father had never tolerated a liar. “I did. I was curious. You’re not in any trouble. Go join the others.”

She took one deliberate step closer to me and tilted her head, her eyes narrowing as she studied me.

I refused to be afraid of her, Odeah woman or not. I might be curious, but I was no gullible fool. Like many folk beliefs—curses, the “evil eye”—Odeah was based on sympathetic magic. As a man of learning, I knew it was all folderol in the end, even if it was rather fascinating.

Then I realized the look in her eyes was not threatening. At least not that way. She looked like she wanted to… lick me. I felt my body blush. I was no gullible fool for that either. I had no interest in picking up a paramour, as some of the English here did.

If she wasn’t going to obey my order, I’d simply turn and go myself, haughtily, as if I expected her to follow as a matter of course. As I started to leave, she spoke.

“You curious, Missah? About dis?” She waved at the shrine.

I raised my chin. “From a scientific standpoint, yes.”

She laughed. “Den ask what you will, young scientist.”

She was mocking me, but it didn’t feel ill-meant. And why should I not ask, if she was willing to tell me? I thought of what Dr. Hodgets would do.

“Why the ice?”

Her face grew grave, a shadow passing over her. “My… daughter. She very ill. Fever. Seven days now. If it do not break soon, she die. The gods burn her up.”

“So the ice is… a sign of what you want them to do—cool her down. Is that right?”

“Yes.” She looked at me fiercely. “I speak to de loa, but actions, tings, are better than words. Words!” She spit it out like it was poison. “Words make promises and break dem, like a lamp trown at de wall.”

I had nothing to say to that. It was true enough, I supposed. I wanted to ask more about the gods, about the shrine, but I could see she was troubled about her daughter and it was not the time.

“Has she seen a doctor?”

Tiyah shot me an angry glare. “White medicine—only for those with plenty white money.” With that she pushed past me and headed down the trail.