It is October 1st,
time for the FIRST Day Blog Tour! (Join our alliance! Click the
button!) The FIRST day of every month we will feature an author and his/her
latest book's FIRST chapter!
This month's feature author is:
and her book:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Tosca Lee received her BA in English and International
Relations from Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. She has
also studied at Oxford University.
As a Leadership Consultant, Tosca works with managers and leaders of
organizations throughout the Pan-Pacific region, Europe, and the U.S.
Tosca is a former Mrs. Nebraska-America 1996, Mrs. Nebraska-United States 1998 and
first runner-up to Mrs. United States and has been lauded nationally for her efforts to
fight breast cancer.
In her spare time, Tosca enjoys cooking, studying history and theology,
and traveling. She currently resides in Nebraska with her Shar Pei,
Visit her at her website and
NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
It was raining the night he found me. Traffic had slowed on
Massachusetts Avenue, and the wan light of streetlamps reflected off the pavement.
I was hurrying on without an umbrella, distracted by the chirp of a
text message on my phone, trying to shield its illuminated face from rain
and the drizzle off storefront awnings. There had been a mistake in my
schedule, an appointment that I didn’t recognize and that I had stayed
late at the office for — until six forty-five — just in case. Our
office manager was texting me from home now to say she had no idea who it
was with, that the appointment must have belonged on Phil’s calendar,
that she was sorry for the mistake and to have a good night.
I flipped the phone shut, shoved it in my bag. I was worn out by this
week already, and it was only Tuesday. The days were getting shorter,
the sun setting by six o’clock. It put me on edge, gnawed at me, as
though I had better get somewhere warm and cheerful or, barring all else,
home before it got any darker. But I was unwilling to face the empty
apartment, the dirty dishes and unopened mail on the counter. So I lowered
my head against the rain and walked another two blocks past my turnoff
until I came to the Bosnian Café. A strap of bells on the door
announced my entrance with a ringing slap.
I liked the worn appeal of the Bosnian Café with its olfactory embrace
of grilled chicken and gyro meat that enveloped me upon every arrival
and clung to me long after leaving. That night, in the premature
darkness and rain, the café seemed especially homey with its yellowing
countertops, chipped mirrors, and grimy ketchup bottles. Cardboard shamrocks,
remnants of a forgotten Saint Patrick’s Day, draped the passthrough
into the kitchen, faded around their die-cut edges. A string of Christmas
lights lined the front window, every third bulb out. On the wall above
the register, a framed photo of the café’s owner with a local pageant
queen, and another with a retired Red Sox player, had never been dusted.
But no one, including me, seemed to mind.
I stood in the entry waiting for Esad, the owner, to notice me. But it
was not the bald man who welcomed me.
It was the dark-haired stranger.
I was surveying the other tables, looking for inspiration — chicken or
steak, gyro or salad — when he beckoned. I hesitated, wondering if I
should recognize him, this man sitting by himself — but no, I did not
know him. He impatiently waved again, and I glanced over my shoulder, but
there was no one standing in the entryway but me. And then the man at
the table stood up and strode directly to me.
“You’re late,” he said, clasping my shoulder and smiling. He was tall,
tanned, with curling hair and a slightly hooked nose that did nothing
to detract from his enviable Mediterranean looks. His eyes glittered
beneath well-formed brows. His teeth were very white.
“I’m sorry. I think you have the wrong person,” I said. He chuckled.
“Not at all! I’ve been waiting for you for quite some time. An
eternity, you might say. Please, come sit down. I took the liberty of ordering
for you.” His voice reminded me of fine cognac, the Hors d’Age men
drink aboard their yachts as they cut their Cohíbas.
“You have the wrong person. I don’t know you,” I insisted, even as he
steered me toward the table. I didn’t want to embarrass him; he already
seemed elegantly out of place here in what, for all practical purposes,
was a joint. But he would feel like an elegant fool in another minute,
especially if his real appointment — interview, date, whatever —
walked in and saw him sitting here with me.
“But I know you, Clay.”
I started at the sound of my name, spoken by him with a mixture of
familiarity and strange interest, and then I studied him more closely — the
squareness of his jaw, the smoothness of his cheek, his utter
self-possession — wondering if I had indeed met him before. But I hadn’t, I was
certain of it now.
One of Esad’s nephews arrived with a chicken sandwich and two cups of
coffee. “Please,” the stranger said, motioning to a vinyl-covered chair.
Numbly, stupidly, I sat.
“You work down the street at Brooks and Hanover,” he said when the
younger man had gone. He seated himself adjacent to me, his chair angled
toward mine. He crossed his legs, plucked invisible lint off the fine
wool of his trousers. “You’re an editor.”
Several thoughts went through my head in that moment, none of them
savory: first, that this was some finance or insurance rep who — just like
the pile of loan offers on my counter at home — was trying to
capitalize on my recent divorce. Or, that this was some aggressive literary
agent trying to play suave.
Most likely, though, he was a writer.
Every editor has stories to tell: zealous writers pushing manuscripts
on them during their kid’s softball game, passing sheaves of italicized
print across pews at church, or trying to pick them up in bars,
casually mentioning between lubricated flirtations that they write stories on
the side and just happen to have a manuscript in the car. I had lost
count of the dry cleaners, dental hygienists, and plumbers who, upon
hearing what I did for a living, had felt compelled to gift me with their
short stories and children’s books, their novels-in-progress and rhyming
“Look, whoever you are — ”
I meant to tell him that I was sure we didn’t publish whatever it was
he wanted me to read, that there were industryaccepted ways to get his
work to us if we did, that he could visit the website and check out the
guidelines. I also meant to get up and walk away, to look for Esad or
his nephew and put an order in — to go. But I didn’t say or do any of
these things, because what he said next stopped me cold.
“I know you’re searching, Clay. I know you’re wondering what these
late, dark nights are for. You have that seasonal disease, that modern
ailment, don’t you? SAD, they call it. But it isn’t the disorder — you
should know that. It isn’t even your divorce. That’s not what’s bothering
you. Not really.”
I was no longer hungry. I pushed away the chicken sandwich
he had ordered and said with quiet warning, “I don’t know who you are,
but this isn’t funny.”
He went on as though he hadn’t heard me, saying with what seemed great
feeling, “It’s that you don’t know what it’s all for: the hours and
days, working on the weekends, the belief that you’ll eventually get
caught up and on that ultimate day something will happen. That
everything will make sense or you’ll at least have time to figure it out.
You’re a good man, Clay, but what has that won you? You’re alone,
growing no younger, drifting toward some unknown but inevitable end in this
life. And where is the meaning in that?”
I sat very still. I felt exposed, laid open, as though I had emptied my
mind onto the table like the contents of a pocket. I could not meet
his gaze. Nearby, a couple — both of their heads dripping dirty blond
dreadlocks — mulled over menus as the woman dandled an infant on her lap.
Beyond them, a thickset woman paged through People, and a
young man in scrubs plodded in a sleep-deprived daze through an anemic
salad. I wondered if any of them had noticed my uncanny situation, the
strange hijacking taking place here. But they were mired in their menus,
distractions, and stupor. At the back counter, a student tapped at the
keypad of his phone, sending messages into the ether.
“I realize how this feels, and I apologize,” Lucian said, folding long
fingers together on his knee. His nails were smooth and neatly
manicured. He wore an expensivelooking watch, the second hand of which seemed
to hesitate before hiccupping on, as though time had somehow slowed in
the sallow light of the diner. “I could have done this differently, but
I don’t think I would have had your attention.”
“What are you, some kind of Jehovah’s Witness?” I said. It was the only
thing that made sense. His spiel could have hit close to anyone. I
felt conned, angry, but most of all embarrassed by my emotional response.
His laughter was abrupt and, I thought, slightly manic. “Oh my,” he
said, wiping the corners of his eyes. I pushed back my chair.
His merriment died so suddenly that were it not for the sound of it
still echoing in my ears, I might have thought I had imagined it. “I’m
going to tell you everything,” he said, leaning toward me so that I could
see the tiny furrows around the corners of his mouth, the creases
beneath his narrowed eyes. A strange glow emanated from the edge of his
irises like the halo of a solar eclipse. “I’m going to tell you my story.
I’ve great hope for you, in whom I will create the repository of my tale
— my memoir, if you will. I believe it will be of great interest to
you. And you’re going to write it down and publish it.”
Now I barked a stunted laugh. “No, I’m not. I don’t care if you’re J.
Again he went on as though I’d said nothing. “I understand they’re all
the rage these days, memoirs. Publishing houses pay huge sums for the
ghostwritten, self-revelatory accounts of celebrities all the time. But
trust me; they’ve never acquired a story like mine.”
“Look,” I said, a new edge in my voice, “You’re no celebrity I
recognize, and I’m no ghostwriter. So I’m going to get myself some dinner and
be nice enough to forget this ever happened.” But as I started to rise,
he grabbed me by the arm. His fingers, biting through the sleeve of my
coat, were exceedingly strong, unnaturally warm, and far too intimate.
“But you won’t forget,” he said, the strange light of
fanaticism in his eyes. His mouth seemed to work independently of their stare,
as though it came from another face altogether. “You will recall
everything — every word I say. Long after you have forgotten, in fact, the
name of this café, the way I summoned you to this table, the first prick
of your mortal curiosity about me. Long after you have forgotten, in
fact, the most basic details of your life. You will remember, and you
will curse or bless this day.”
I felt ill. Something about the way he said mortal . . . In
that instant, reality, strung out like an elastic band, snapped. This was
“Yes. You see,” he said quietly. “You know. We can share now, between
us, the secret of what I am.”
And the words came, unbidden, to my mind: Fallen. Dark
The trembling that began in my stomach threatened to seize up my
diaphragm. But then he released me and sat back. “Now. Here is Mr. Esad,
wondering why you haven’t touched your sandwich.” And indeed, here came the
bald man, coffeepot in hand, smiling at the stranger as though he were
more of a regular than I. I stared between them as they made their
pleasantries, the sound of their banter at sick odds with what my visceral
sense told me was true, what no one else seemed to notice: that I was
sitting here with something incomprehensively evil.
When Esad left, Lucian took a thin napkin from the dispenser and set it
beside my coffee cup. The gesture struck me as aberrantly mundane. He
“I feel your trepidation, that sense that you ought to get up and leave
immediately. And under normal circumstances, I would say that you are
right. But listen to me now when I tell you you’re safe. Be at ease.
Here. I’ll lean forward like this, in your human way. When that couple
over there sees my little smile, this conspiratorial look, they’ll think
we’re sharing a succulent bit of gossip.”
I wasn’t at ease. Not at all. My heart had become a pounding liability
in my chest.
“Why?” I managed, wishing I were even now in the emptiness of my
apartment, staring at the world through the bleak window of my TV.
Lucian leaned even closer, his hand splayed across the top of the table
so that I could see the blue veins along the back of it. His voice
dropped below a whisper, but I had no difficulty hearing him. “Because my
story is very closely connected to yours. We’re not so different after
all, you and I. We both want purpose, meaning, to see the bigger
picture. I can give you that.”
“You don’t even know me!”
“On the contrary,” he said, sliding the napkin dispenser away, as
though it were a barrier between us. “I know everything about you. Your
childhood house on Ridgeview Drive. The tackle box you kept your football
cards in. The night you tried to sneak out after homecoming to meet
Lindsey Bennett. You broke your wrist climbing out of the window.”
“I know of your father’s passing — you were fifteen. About the merlot
you miss since giving up drinking, the way you dip your hamburgers in
blue cheese dressing — your friend Piotr taught you that in college. That
you’ve been telling yourself you ought to get away somewhere — Mexico,
perhaps. That you think it’s the seasonal disorder bothering you,
though it’s not — ”
“Stop!” I threw up my hands, wanting him to leave at once, equally
afraid that he might and that I would be stuck knowing that there was this
person — this thing — watching me. Knowing everything.
His voice gentled. “Let me assure you you’re not the only one; I could
list myriad facts about anyone. Name someone. How about Sheila?” He
smirked. “Let’s just say she didn’t return your essage from home, and her
husband thinks she’s working late. Esad? Living in war-torn Bosnia was
no small feat. He — ” He cocked his head, and there came now a faint
buzzing like an invisible swarm of mosquitoes. I instinctively jerked
“What was that?” I demanded, unable to pinpoint where the sound had
“Ah. A concentration camp!” He looked surprised. “I didn’t know that.
Did you know that? And as for your ex — ” He tilted his head again.
“No! Please, don’t.” I lowered my head into my hand, dug my fingers
into my scalp. Five months after the divorce, the wound still split open
at the mere mention of her.
“You see?” he whispered, his head ducked down so that he stared
intently up into my face. “I can tell you everything.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I’ve made a pastime of studying case histories, of following them
through from beginning to end. You fascinate me in the same way that
beetles with their uncanny instinct for dung rolling used to fascinate you. I
know more about you than your family. Than your ex. Than you know
about yourself, I daresay.”
Something — some by-product of fear — rose up within me as anger at
last. “If you are what you say, aren’t you here to make some kind of deal
for my soul? To tempt me? Why did you order me coffee, then? Why not a
glass of merlot or a Crown and Coke?” My voice had risen, but I didn’t
care; I felt my anger with relief.
Lucian regarded me calmly. “Please. How trite. Besides, they don’t
serve liquor here.” But then his calm fell away, and he was staring — not
at me but past me, toward the clock on the wall. “But there,” he
pointed. His finger seemed exceedingly long. “See how the hour advances
without us!” He leapt to his feet, and I realized with alarm that he meant to
“What — you can’t just go now that you’ve — ”
“I’ve come to you at great risk,” he hissed, the sound sibilant, as
though he had whispered in my ear though he stood three feet away. And
then he strode to the glass door and pushed out into the darkness,
disappearing beyond the reflected interior of the café like a shadow into a
mirror. The strap of bells fell against the door with a flat metal clink,
and my own stunned reflection stared back.
Rain pelted my eyes, slipped in wet tracks through my hair against my
scalp, ran in rivulets down my nape to mingle with the sweat against my
back. It had gotten colder, almost freezing, but I was sweating inside
the sodden collar of my shirt as I hurried down Norfolk, my bag
slapping against my hip, my legs cramped and wooden, nightmare slow.
The abrupt warmth inside my apartment building threatened to suffocate
me as I stumbled up the stairs. My ears pintingled to painful life as I
fumbled with my keys. Inside my apartment at last, I fell back against
the door, head throbbing and lungs heaving in the still air. I stayed
like that, my coat dripping onto the carpet, for several long moments.
Then a mad whim struck me.
With numb fingers, I retrieved the laptop from my bag and set it up on
the kitchen table. With my coat still on, I dropped down onto a wooden
chair, staring at the screen as it yawned to life. I logged into the
company server, opened my calendar.
There — my six-thirty appointment. It was simply noted:
Sample from Demon / ISBN
Copyright © 2006 NavPress Publishing.
All rights reserved.
To order copies of this resource, come
back to www.navpress.com.