Join me today for yet another book spotlight. This time I’m hosting, The Cull, by author Eric J. Gates. The author also included a few words regarding his novel, which I think is highly intriguing. What if vampires were real? How would we react? I have to admit that those simple questions have got me thinking…
Amy Bree’s reckless actions result in death and her dismissal from the FBI.
A visit from a mysterious priest propels her back into the fray, as she is partnered with an ex-spy, with fearsome computer skills, and tasked to hunt down and eliminate the serial killer known as the Blood Sucker.
Their quarry is not what they expect: old, very old, and needs blood to survive.
The body count rises…and the hunters become the hunted!
An excerpt from ‘the CULL’ by Eric J. Gates.
The cold in the panel truck had become almost unbearable for Amy. Amazingly, it did not seem to bother Thin Ralph as much. He was proud of having used his FBI credentials to obtain this vehicle from the Police impound lot when they had flown into Houston earlier that day. This small victory empowered him in his eyes and he was determined to enjoy it to the full. He had tilted the driver’s seat back several degrees, to observe the house better he had said, and was now semi-reclining with his head tilted away, resting on the doorframe. It would have been a sell, if it were not for the gentle snoring coming from his obstructed sinuses.
Over at the house, nothing had changed; or had it?
Amy wasn’t sure; it could have been a trick of the light. For a fleeting second, her own eyes not entirely focused on their target, something, someone had moved past one of the front windows. This in itself would not be unusual. On many occasions she had risen from a warm bed to visit the bathroom, or the kitchen for a glass of water, even some ice cream, in the middle of the night. Yet, in all those instances, she had switched on the room lights.
The house was still in darkness. If they had tried to have their vigilance sanctioned, maybe, perhaps, they could have brought some night-vision scopes. Instead she had her own binoculars, which she now raised to straining eyes.
The slight humidity in the air made the grey bricks of the dwelling shine in the moonlight. Could it have been the shadow of a branch from the trees in their target’s yard, caught in the moonbeams as some nocturnal bird made it move? Everything was possible; more so from the safety of Ralph’s sequestered panel truck. She dug Ralph in the ribs, eliciting a cacophony of grunts and gripes.
“I think I saw something. I’m going to take a look.” Her right hand went to the holster on her hip. Simultaneously, she tapped her left inside ankle with her right foot. Amy pulled back on the door handle. The roof-mounted courtesy light flickered on. She pulled the door closed; the light went off. Reaching up, she sought the plastic switch that killed the light, prepared to break the fixture if it became necessary. Her fingers felt the rough edges of the switch and pushed it to a position as far from opposite to where it had been. The door pull did not illuminate the panel truck’s cabin this time. She slid from her seat and stood outside. Ralph was now awake, watching her.
“I’m going to take a walk round the house; check if all the doors are locked. If I’m not back in a couple of minutes…” She left the phrase hanging. She had no idea what she expected Ralph to do, alone, if she did not return. Amy shook her head and took a tentative step toward the house.
As she crossed the street, she drew the standard issue Glock 22 from her hip. Despite the Firearms Instructor’s insistence that the gun’s three separate safety mechanisms meant she could, and should, have a round in the chamber at all times, Amy did not trust the weapon not to go off and injure someone. She remembered now to work the slide, forcing a round from the magazine into the chamber. She had never had to shoot in anger. Even on the four raids in which she had participated, she had been in the last contingent of agents, armed with repeating shotguns. By the time she had reached the fray, it had always been well and truly over. Now she was leading; her backup, pray he hasn’t snoozed off again, at an ever-increasing distance.
She could almost feel the adrenalin course through her veins. Her fingers and toes tingled. Her hands were shaking.
She reached the low wall and black-painted railings at the front of the property. Reaching out, she unlatched the metal gate that gave onto the path to the front door. The hinges squealed as she pushed it inward, just enough to slip through. Four steps. Five. Behind her the gate crashed shut. She spun round, her gun levelled as they had taught her in Quantico. Should have closed it herself.
All pretence of stealth was now a thing of the past.
She ran to the front door and pushed with her left palm.
It was firmly locked. Moving along the grey brick wall to her left, she reached the large window, showing the lounge beyond. The moon’s rays illuminated enough for her to make out the fireplace, with its dull red embers, and a large screen TV. To their right, a couch and a single cloth-covered lounge chair. All empty.
Amy kept moving reaching the end of the wall, peering around. Nothing. No one. She moved down the side of the house, passing a tall hedge. A few feet from the rear, a door with a single, broad, stone step. She peeked through a vertical glass slit set at head height. The kitchen. She could not see anyone inside. A big kitchen knife was lying on the central island. Its blade and handle shining in the light filtering through lace curtains.
Amy placed her hand on the doorknob and turned. She expected resistance; a locked door. The knob turned smoothly; the door swung toward her. She was tempted to go back to the panel truck; fetch Ralph. A sense of urgency filled her. If they were right; if it was here, now, the house occupant could be in deadly danger. Amy realised just how much Ralph and her had screwed things up. No one knew they were here. They had not even left a note for their bosses, or anyone in the BAU. That meant she was on her own… with Ralph.
Amy pulled the door wide and entered. She sniffed. Something in the air. A faint tinge. A slightly metallic odour. She stepped forward; her pistol held straight-armed before her; the smell stronger.
She traversed the kitchen, emerging on a short hallway that led to the lounge. Amy poked her gun around the corner and swept her arms from left to right. No targets presented themselves. Apart from the stench, now much more pervasive, all seemed in order. She crossed the lounge, stopping briefly to peer behind the couch, before leaving it behind.
At the far side, another hallway ran toward the back. She could make out four doors on the right, and one on the left at the end. Bathroom and bedrooms, she supposed. The occupier lived alone, so several of the bedrooms would be empty, she thought. Amy stepped across the hallway to the first door.
A doorknob; a quick turn; an explosive push: a bathroom.
Amy suppressed a cough. She had been holding her breath; since when, she did not know. She inhaled deeply, almost gagging on the aroma impregnating the air. What was that smell?
She forced herself to step down the hallway, nearing the second door. If this were my house, where would I sleep? Which would be my bedroom? Probably the closest to the bathroom.
Amy reached the door. She could hear her own blood booming in her ears, creating a hypnotic drumbeat inside her head. Her hands felt sweaty; her feet were ice cold. She held her breath again. The door was partially open; a few inches. She placed her left hand against the wood and pushed gently.
The door imploded. Something grabbed her extended arm and pulled. The force propelled her across the room, up against the far wall, a couple of feet off the ground. It was too dark to see who had attacked her. It might be the house owner. She raised her gun-hand. Shocked, she realised the impact with the bedroom wall had shaken her grip on the Glock. She tried to crouch, her right hand reaching for her BUG, the backup gun strapped to her left ankle.
Someone grabbed her throat. Pressure from immensely powerful fingers pressed on her trachea. Tears jumped into her eyes. She felt numb; could sense life sliding away.
Summoning her will to survive; she lashed out, scoring a solid kick against a well-muscled body. She felt herself lifted; her feet leaving the ground. More kicking. The attacker absorbed the blows without as much as a grunt. Amy tried punching ribs, just as Quantico’s Instructors had insisted. There, your opponent would release their hold and go down; here…
Amy felt herself thrown against the floor of the bedroom. Her hands scrabbled about, looking for something to use as a weapon. The attacker was on top of her. She could not reach her backup gun.
The attacker now used both hands on her throat. The pressure increased exponentially. Amy felt her neck would snap at any moment.
A yell. Far, far away. Receding.
Suddenly the hands were gone. She sensed movement. Fast, flowing; like a big cat.
She could hear the sounds of struggle from the hallway. A gunshot, loud in the narrow space. Something small thrown, clattering down the corridor.
Amy struggled upright, snatching the backup Glock 27 from its nest on her ankle. She commanded her trembling fingers to pull back on the slide. Stumbling. The bedroom door. More light. A crumpled figure, limbs strewn against the wall.
Outlined against the lounge doorway, a large shape paused, looking back, eyes seeming to glow. She raised her pistol and emptied the magazine; panic, fear, pulling the trigger until no rounds remained.
She peered through the smoky haze. The figure had gone.
She looked down. Ralph lay still. She saw his gun on the floor near the lounge doorway. Amy powered herself forward, scooping up the weapon, feeling Ralph’s warmth still on the butt, rushing into the lounge.
On the far side, the moonlight showed a huge figure. Her mind, assailed by unfamiliar sensations, multiplied its height and girth. It filled the passageway leading toward the kitchen.
She started pulling the trigger again; her training forgotten, her eyes closed; primeval hate for hurting Ralph drowning all rational thought.
Amy opened her eyes when the detonations stopped. There was no corpse on the floor, brought down by her reckless gunfire. The figure had left.
She reached to her left hip, extracting one of the two spare magazines in their belt support. Reloading was a series of clicks, familiar from the range, yet alien in this suburban home. She rushed across the space and emerged into the hallway. Running now. The kitchen empty. Its door hanging lopsided, hit with tremendous impetus.
Care to the wind, Amy charged outside.
Left. Right. Gun barrel seeking a target. God help anyone who came to see what the shooting was about. Amy was primed. She wanted blood.
A distant siren moaned. Then another.
Amy retreated inside, still gripping Ralph’s weapon. She hit the lights in the kitchen.
Spotless. Except for the blood-stained kitchen knife on the central island.
She entered the lounge. Lights on. Crimson footprints, two sets, traversed the cream-coloured rug before the fireplace.
She stepped into the hallway. Lights. Ralph’s body lay unmoving. Amy knelt alongside, feeling for a pulse. He was gone.
She stood, wearily. A couple of steps brought her to the bedroom.
The hallway light illuminated blood-soaked walls, smeared where her body had collided.
She stepped gingerly inside.
The smell hit her.
Amy spun, directing the vomit into the hallway, careful, as her stomach heaved uncontrollably, not to defile Ralph’s body.
The Birth of a …vampire?
Writers, as we all know, have overactive imaginations.
And they don’t just limit their cerebral gymnastics to their novels. The need to fuel the ‘little grey cells’ (with apologies to Poirot) resulted in typical multitasking for me. There I was putting the finishing touches to ‘Full Disclosure’ – where I had pitted the Chief of Police of a dying Texan town against professional assassins, covert agents, rogue military and a drug cartel against the backdrop of the US President’s decision to reveal Mankind’s Greatest Secret (and that’s just Chapter One! – remember the bit about overactive?) – and my febrile frontal lobes were toying with ideas for the next thriller.
I have my foibles (I keep them in a bag around slung my neck). One of them is that I carry a Moleskine notebook with me whenever I’m vertical (i.e. not resting). Archaeologists of some unknown future moment will uncover this and spend untold hours poring over the undecipherable script, seeking the wisdom of the Past. Have I got news for them! My first obstacle when reviewing the ideas for tales that I have jotted in the notebook’s pages is… my own handwriting. Many years ago someone told me that with my calligraphy, I should be either a Banker or a Doctor, so I chose computers instead – it’s only zeros and ones, you see. Amid the undecipherable scrawl, a short phrase came to my attention:
What if vampires were real?
An interesting hypothetical quandary. No, I’m not talking about the teen-angst-romance-related vampires that seem to dominate almost all fields of creative expression these days (does vampire music exist yet?), not that I’m disparaging this genre; no, not at all: I had in mind something else.
Now one other trait frequently found amongst writers is second-guessing themselves, and I’m no exception to this either. If I wrote a vamp tale it would be a serious departure from the themes of my previous thrillers. I needed some friendly advice from those I trust. Next step: a barrage of emails to friends and relatives in distinct parts of the Globe, where I tentatively mentioned my idea of writing a vampire novel.
The response was mixed.
“You must be mad!” “Another damn vampire novel! Don’t we have enough already?” “I can’t see an old bloke like you writing another ‘Twilight’” (That one hurt. I wouldn’t dream of going the teen-romance route! I’m too old to remember what that was about anyway). Then came the clincher…
One of my cousins responded asking if her teenage daughter, a fan of the aforementioned (and Vampire Diaries), could be a character in the novel. I liked the fact she didn’t question whether I should embark upon this project.
Now, how to start?
Back in the Dark Ages, as a youth, I remember watching the black and white film ‘Nosferatu’ and shrinking in my seat with genuine fear – that was what I wanted in my novel. I wasn’t aiming for a horror story, just that same feeling of terror that Stoker and Polidori’s novels created in Victorian society in its day, transposed to modern times. But writing the novel with just that difference from the teen-romance vampires was not enough. My take on the vampire myth was going to be completely original! I love a challenge.
Now, unless you are fewer than thirty years old, in which case you probably think it was Gary Oldman, you almost certainly believe the vampire was born as a societal meme by Bram Stoker. Some may know of the Transylvanian prince who, it’s said, inspired him: Vlad Tepes the Impaler. Well, we are all wrong.
I started to research the myths.
My initial discoveries led to the question of Why the vampire myth was prevalent in so many distinct cultures and different times, going back thousands of years, longer than even Gary Oldman’s fingernails. There were some common themes: the bloodletting, the stakes (iron not wood, usually), the religious persecutions, yet no fangs or morphing into bats, and certainly no teenage romance.
Through research I was accumulating a huge amount of data, yet my original question remained unanswered. So I took a metaphorical step back and came at the problem from another angle: one of those terrible words that haunt our formative scholastic years… Science! How could cutting edge 21st Century science explain the existence of vampires? And I came up with an answer – but if you’re expecting all to be revealed here, I’m sorry, you’ll just have to buy the book; I have a stake in it (sorry, couldn’t resist that one).
My vampires (who don’t like that label at all) don’t have fangs, or change into bats, or defy gravity, or have a supernatural influence over the fairer sex – and they are all the more scary for that. Literally they could be the person sitting next to you now – yes, go on, raise your eyes and look. Quickly, mind you; you don’t want to get on their wrong side.
Oh, did my cousin’s daughter make it into the tale? Yes she did; she’s Katie Lindon, a sixty-two year old ex-spy and computer expert, and someone you won’t forget in a hurry. (Yes I said sixty-two – could this explain why the real teenage Katie is not talking to me at the moment?) Since the novel came out I have received numerous emails asking for more of Katie and her ex-FBI partner Amy Bree, and they will be back soon – I’ve decided to turn ‘the CULL’ into a trilogy.
So if you are looking for something VERY different and original in vampire tales, are prepared to have coffee and tea go cold, miss buses and trains, forget to pick up the kids, etc, not to mention the odd nightmare, then maybe you should grab a copy and see what I’ve come up with? YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
About the author:
Eric J. Gates is an ex-International Management Consultant who has travelled extensively worldwide, speak several languages, and has had articles and papers published in technical magazines in six different countries as well as radio and TV spots.
His specialty, Information Technology Security and Cyberwarfare, has brought him into contact with the Intelligence community on several occasions.
He is also an expert martial-artist, holding 14 black belt degrees in distinct disciplines, as well as several International ratings in Self-Defence. He has taught his skills to members of various Police, Military and Special Forces units, as well as Private Security firms, Bodyguards and members of the public.
He started writing as a teenager, and in his own words, “has never stopped since”.
He is the author of several thriller novels, details of which can be found on his web, and collaborates with other authors and Writer Networks.
Author Website: http://www.ericjgates.com