When I asked Jeff if he had an excerpt to share his response was. “Sure. And just like the cover of the book, it’ll give you a good idea of whether the novel is your cup of tea… or not.”
Caution: The below excerpt is horror and may be to graphic for the squeamish.
The walk to the CTA Red Line Subway Station at Balboa only took six minutes for LaRissa Devine, from leaving her classroom seat to thrumming down the subway steps. If she was lucky, and the train was running late, she could catch the 10:37 and get home to her mom, grandmom, and three siblings and be in bed by 11:30. She needed all the sleep she could get. The manager at the El Taco Loco branch knew damn well that she was one of the few employees he could trust completely, and needed her to get there early to start the prep work.
When she wasn’t selling tacos and burritos that made a mockery out of Mexican cuisine, LaRissa was a student at Harold Washington City College, and her night class had just finished. She carried a heavy backpack; she always took every assigned book to every class. Her notebooks were filled with nearly every word out of her teachers’ mouths, and color-coded with neon highlighters. Post-it notes stuck out of the pages like some kind of medieval defensive castle architecture. She never missed a class.
She knew that some of her classmates whispered among themselves, wondering if she had some kind of obsessive-compulsive disorder. She didn’t care.
She slipped her card through the automated gate in the subway station and pushed on through. It was late, and no one was in the booth. She went down another flight of stairs. The escalator that rolled upstairs was frozen. It had been broken for almost two weeks.
She walked to the center of the station and sat on a bench, taking off her backpack and sinking gratefully against the wall. She was exhausted, but kept her eyes open. This time of night, it was better to sit where you could see anyone approaching you. The Balbo and Roosevelt subway stations were the end of the line for the whites, and the beginning of the line for a lot of blacks. This borderland effect could sometimes lead to trouble.
Anybody who said that Chicago wasn’t segregated wasn’t paying attention, or they were full of horse manure. They’d never ridden the Red Line south of Jackson, that was for sure.
Another reason her backpack was so heavy was because LaRissa carried her cousin’s U-shaped bike lock in the outside pouch. And it wasn’t just for looks. She had no problem jerking it out and using it any fool dumb enough to try and mess with a studious black girl. Tonight, though, was quiet. She thought for a moment about whether she could take out her biology homework, and thought tonight it might be okay. Sometimes she worried if she looked vulnerable if someone saw her with her face in a book. Since most of the shooting and problems took place when the weather turned much hotter, she thought it would be okay. She wanted to get a head start on her homework.
She did not put in her earbuds. She wanted to keep her ears wide open, and looked up from the text often to make sure she was alone. She did not, however, check under the bench.
The bugs came bubbling through the cracks where the concrete floor met the tiled wall like clotted oil escaping from a pressurized pipe. They had smelled her breath from inside the wall, and it was nearing time for another molt. Obeying an instinct older than man itself, they surged up the wall, looking for a chance to feed. Their excitement released pheromones that signaled a food source, and more bugs flooded to the surface.
LaRissa scratched her ear absentmindedly. She couldn’t wrap her head around how these protein chains were supposed to function, but her report was due next week, and she would just as soon start stripping than wait until the last minute to start the paper.
By the time she looked back down at the book, it was too late.
The bugs were already flowing up her legs like some sticky, viscous liquid. They poured over her shoulders from the wall, slipping inside her collar. She screamed then, and her cry bounced off the concrete and tile of the subway station, but no one heard except the rats.
She jerked to her feet, hands flailing at the bugs, but it was like was trying to swat snowflakes away in a blizzard. Her backpack fell on the concrete with a thud. She spun, slapping her chest, her neck, her hair. The bugs were everywhere.
LaRissa stumbled forward, feeling them invade her mouth as she kept screaming. The momentum carried her to the edge of the platform. Bugs crawled up into her nose, across her eye sockets, tiny legs struggling to find purchase on the slick surface of her eyeballs.
She kept spinning, flailing, until her left foot stepped off into space and she tumbled over the edge. She landed facedown, arms outstretched. Her right hand flopped against the third rail. Electricity rocketed through her, jerking and sizzling her small frame.
The lights in the subway station dimmed for a moment, then returned to normal.
Smoke curled gently from the body. The bugs that had survived the electricity dropped off and shuffled away, not liking the taste of cooked blood. The rats however, did not mind, and started gnawing at the body.
They had eaten most of her face and torn into her stomach, dragging her entrails across the wooden cross ties between the steel tracks when the next southbound train roared into the station. The driver was half asleep, and did not spot the body on the tracks until it was too late. He hit the brakes, but the train’s momentum carried it across LaRissa’s corpse. Over the scream of the brakes, he felt, rather than heard, the wet crunch that split the body into five pieces. He stared at a single drop of blood on the window and trembled for a moment, then vomited over the controls.
Within half and hour, the station was full of emergency personnel, cops, and equipment. The light and noise drove the bugs back into the darkness, back into the cracks in the wall, until it was as if they had never existed.
Jeff’s book will be available in retail markets on August 6,2013. That’s next Tuesday for those of you counting down. :