Blog Tour: Bitten – Dan O’Brien

Welcome to the third day of the Bitten blog tour. It will run until July 16th and will feature excerpts, new author interviews each day, character interviews, and a casting call by the author. But first, here is the obligatory blurb about the novel to settle you into this dark world
A predator stalks a cold northern Minnesotan town. There is talk of wolves walking on two legs and attacking people in the deep woods. Lauren Westlake, resourceful and determined F.B.I Agent, has found a connection between the strange murders in the north and a case file almost a hundred years old. Traveling to the cold north, she begins an investigation that spirals deep into the darkness of mythology and nightmares. Filled with creatures of the night and an ancient romance, the revelation of who hunts beneath the moon is more grisly than anyone could have imagined.
A few questions for the author:
Do you ever write naked? 
I have never sat down and thought, “Man, it would be great to work on this novel naked.” That being said: yes.
Who would play you in a film of your life? 
I would love to say John Cusack, but he is older than me and it would be weird. Jack Black would make for a funny version, though he would suddenly have to decide he wanted to do triathlons.
What are the most important attributes to remaining sane as a writer? 
Knowing why you got into writing in the first place. Sometimes expectations are what drag you down. If you are writing because you want people to read your books and you love to write, then you will never be disappointed. If you expect to make a living wage right out of the gate, you might find that the fruit has soured. I have been at this for a little over a decade now and it finally feels like I am hitting some kind of stride.
Have you ever read or seen yourself as a character in a book or a movie? 
There is always a character in a movie who resonates me, though it is often the cunning villains and the loner-type characters. Perhaps getting into writing was the right profession? Californication on Showtime might be the closest thing to really connecting with a character, minus all of the character defects….

 

Here be an excerpt for your enjoyment:
Chapter III
Sheriff Montgomery looked at the frozen, mangled body of Madeline Leftwich and could not seem to conjure up remorse. Two grisly murders in the span of two days were enough to plunge the emotions of a small town into a nexus, a black hole of sorts. The woods seemed harmless during the day, better resembling a Robert Frost poem than a horrific murder scene.
Tufts of thick brown hair escaped from the wool cap he wore. A heavy face that was accented with a thick beard made him appear a lumberjack or dock worker as opposed to a civil servant. Pale brown eyes surveyed the scene with a kind of absent criticism. He knelt down, the heavy material of his pants cracking as if they were frozen solid, which was not far from the truth.
Reaching out with a gloved hand, he touched the ghastly face. Locke experienced a murder once a decade and often it was someone not from Minnesota, but some vacationer. Maybe they were from California or some damned warm place that didn’t have the decency to just appreciate the tall green trees that clouded the distance and the gripping cold that took the breath from you even in July. Shaking his head, he stood again. His heavy frame had begun to thicken in the middle with age.
“Sheriff, we got some tracks over here,” called out the young deputy, a thin reed of a boy. Everyone was a boy to Montgomery since the big five-zero had rolled around last spring. The young deputy’s hazel eyes were the kind about which women dreamed. Though what was behind them was little more than a vapid afterthought.
Montgomery walked over the frozen earth, making sure to walk around the partially covered remains of Ms. Leftwich, or rather what remained. The tall pines watched the sheriff pass, branches swaying slightly in the morning breeze.
The deputy was standing over heavy indentions in the earth. Matthews was the consummate northerner. Heavy Nordic brow and cheekbones made him look like a Viking warrior displaced. The sloppy grin across his face belied the gruesome scene he and the sheriff overlooked. “Looks like they might be from an animal, hey,” he mumbled, pointing down at the ground.
Squatting down, Montgomery touched the firm earth with his gloved hands. Already the soil was cold again despite the horror that had no doubt transpired hours before. “Looks like it could be bear tracks, but the narrow arch could be human. No claws, just heavy prints. Not definitive.”
“Could it be a monster, hey?”
Montgomery looked at him with a grim look.
“You making a joke, deputy?”
“Sorry, sir.”
Looking past the marks, there was damage to the brush as well. Pushing past hard spiny branches, the sheriff saw where Madeline Leftwich had hid before her assailant got the better of her. Part of her coat rested on the crawling, thorny brush that was located only a few feet from the murder scene.
“Looks like this is where the victim was hiding.”
“Hiding, Sherriff?”
Montgomery stood, surveying the scene with a critical eye. Pointing down at the brush, he began. “I believe Ms. Leftwich was out in the woods here for some reason. Walking home from the train station, I suppose.”
“She was a bit batty, hey.”
Montgomery did not bother to chastise his deputy with words. Instead, he directed a dark glare his way. It was sufficient. Walking forward, pointing farther down the trail, the sheriff continued. “For whatever reason, she felt compelled to enter these woods at night. Wild animals aside, this trail has proven dangerous in the past. Something or someone was waiting for her. Maybe she saw it coming, maybe it chased her.”
The deputy watched quietly.
“Either way she hid in this bush until whatever got her, dragged her free.”
Ms. Collins, local medical examiner, in all her burlesque glory on the cold bitter morning, walked over to the sheriff and deputy. Her hands were covered in black gloves. Bright orange lipstick accented her face; the bee hive she wore so proudly was streaked with black and white.
“I think your assumption might be correct, sheriff.”
Montgomery looked at her with a stone face. “Is that so? What makes you so agreeable this morning?”
Collins stiffened her back and walked toward the body. They followed, the three of them soon overlooking Madeline’s frozen corpse. “There are bruises along her upper arms, and if I am not mistaken, there is tendon and muscle damage consistent with a dragging scenario. We won’t know more until I get her on the table, but I think it is a reasonable assumption.”
The sheriff knelt again, this time inspecting the wound carefully. Tracing a finger over the gashes, he grimaced. “Strange wounds,” he began and then making hooks with his fingers. “Looks like a claw or some kind of garden tool.”
“So we’re looking for a gardener?”
Montgomery shook his head. “Perhaps his tools, deputy,” answered the sheriff sarcastically. Looking into the distance, he continued. “You think this is related?”
Collins raised a painted eyebrow.
“To the woman at the lake?”
The sheriff nodded.
Watching the still forest around them, he listened for an abnormality like a druid of the old world. “Two murders in the span of two days, similar conditions. Women alone attacked and left in the cold. Certainly something to think about.”
The deputy scratched his head in confusion.
“But the two crime scenes are miles apart.”
“Mile, maybe mile and a half.”
“Seems bit far for collusion between the two acts,” offered the deputy, looking away as the sheriff took note of his word choice. Even Collins in all her macabre glory looked at him with a skeptical eye. “What? I can evolve.”
Montgomery did not even bother commenting. “There are marks along her chest very similar to those of our Jane Doe in the morgue. What’s this?” Collins leaned in, the powerful grip of her perfume rankled the sheriff. “You mind taking a step back, Ms. Collins. For posterity, of course.”
She looked at him over dark-rimmed glasses and smirked. “Some men find me intoxicating, sheriff.”
“Not one of ‘em,” he replied. Pulling back the tarp, he continued. “She is missing a patch of skin.”
“What?”
The deputy leaned in, his eyes wide.
The remains of Madeline Leftwich were indeed missing a large piece of skin, the size of two hands just above her hips. Collins, despite the weight of her massive hair arrangement, ducked into see what the sheriff was referring to. The cold air embraced their collective breath, a strange orgy of evacuated clouds.
“Looks like it was ripped clean,” spoke the deputy in revulsion.
Collins reached down with a gloved hand, pushing in the skin and inspecting the wound with a critical eye. “Looks post-mortem. Could be unrelated, scavengers or another assailant perhaps?”
Montgomery shook his head.
“Unlikely.”
The deputy stood up.
He looked pale.
This was the first time in his limited service to the city of Locke when he had witnessed such heinous acts. The urge to vomit rose to the surface, stifled with tight lips and wide eyes. “There wasn’t anything like this on the Jane Doe,” he managed through clenched teeth.
Montgomery nodded absently. “We didn’t see anything, that’s true. Doesn’t mean there wasn’t anything there though.” He turned to Collins. “You notice anything like this on the other victim?”
“I wasn’t really looking for that. We still have her on ice. Toxicology is still out and swabs from the wounds were sent down south for processing. Gonna still be a little while yet, hey.”
The sheriff nodded, his mouth twisting.
“What do you think happened?” asked the deputy, taking a few steps back as the bag was re-zipped once more. The crime scene crew, which is to say Collins and an awkward intern, carried away Leftwich.
Montgomery stared at the wilderness again: stillness.
The bitter lethargy of winter was in full bloom: gray skies, salt and pepper earth. “I think whoever or whatever did this isn’t done.”
“Yeah.”
“And I think maybe things are going to get worse before they get better.”
*
Lauren opened her eyes slowly.
The night before had been a blur, drinks led to more drinks. She remembered Dominic, but not the events that led to her lying on her back as she was. White walls were marred slightly with yellowish stains from smokers past.
What did I do?
Her thoughts drifted as she rose, pushing back the stiff, yet warm covers that enveloped her torso. Looking to the other side of the bed, it was undisturbed. He had not come home with her.
*
It walked through the shambles of the shed that served as its home. Rusted implements of maim and death hung about it like ghoulish trophies of a world forgotten. The gray day lent little luminance in its shack.
The smell should have been acerbic, overpowering. Were it summer, the stench of the flesh would have overpowered the air for miles. Yet in winter there were no smells, locked up in a prison of the mind. Boards erected overtop one another in meaningless patterns; scattered holes that revealed the cold and gray outside.
It no longer felt the cold.
Its mind, as its body, was numb.
A table was at the center of the room, of its home. It reached out, grasping the two hands of flesh torn from Madeline Leftwich.
Not always had it been like this: the curse, the bite.
It was an animal.
Now it was forced to hunt, driven by the moon to kill.
A dead wolf hung in the cabin; the head was still intact. The body had been torn to pieces, fur and foot missing from the torso.
It walked past a gap in the walls, its arms revealed.
Wolf fur sewn into flesh. A piece of human flesh pulled and stretched like it wished to make leather, teasing the elasticity of it, testing it. Needles scattered about, bound already in flesh and blood.
Its face was shadowed, hidden from the world.
It had begun to fear men, fear their scent and judgment. Werewolf: the word floated through its mind like downed branches in a raging stream. Though there was little life left in its mind: madness, hatred, the hunt. That is what remained.
Wild hair pulled back from its scalp, long fingers; nails dirty and broken. It stretched the skin down on the table, pressing its dirty hand along the flesh; blood on the hand of the seamster and on the fabric. Its hand reached out and grasped the needle.
There was no noise in the morning air.
The trees remained silent in fear of what haunted the shack. It placed the skin on top of its arm. The first time through the blood oozed as the needle attached its trophy to its skin. It used wolf fur, drawn thin like fishing line to seal the wound, to make a quilt of its body: to become a monster. Each time through the flesh drew taut, becoming a part of the map of its descent into madness.
Soon, it had patched together what had once been Madeline Leftwich’s flesh into its own flesh, a coverlet work of insanity. It sat down on the floor. It looked up at the ceiling and into the gray sky above, waiting for the embrace of night when it would hunt again.
*
Lauren Westlake looked out at Locke, Minnesota and grimaced. She felt the slight grip of a hangover: heavy eyes, throbbing mind. The landscape was bleak. The gray skies looked as if they were ready to bury the locals in a distant, forever sleep.
Pulling her coat around her neck tightly and gripping the edges of her wool cap, she lowered her head into the wind. She recalled the map of the small town. The inn was very close to the cross street where the police station was located.
She hoped that she was not too late.
Before, the attacks escalated in quick succession. Where there was one, suddenly there were many until it culminated in a mass murder and then nothing; the balance restored, suburbia recalled.
The streets were clean, maintained in a way she was not used to. The storefronts were as bleak as the air around her. Stone-faced people, neither smiling nor courteous, watched her with suspicion as she passed. There were few cars; most were parked, only a rundown Chevy passed by. Its sputter could be heard far off in the distance. Lauren passed a coffee shop on her right with For Lease written crudely on a piece of white-backed cardboard.
The remnants of an auto mechanic shop; an old-time bed and breakfast boarded and rundown: Locke was not a booming place. It suffered as all small towns suffered. Tourism was fickle, even more so when the majority of people were broke and holed up in their shrewd lives.
The next corner retained the only stop light in all of Locke and it merely blinked red, cautioning the limited traffic to be wary of other drivers. A wind picked up, blowing against her slender frame. She cursed her persistence, her need to understand. Once again, it had driven her to the edge.
The police station came into view, or rather a stone building devoid of marking except a grouping of black letters that spelled out Locke Police Station. A lone patrol car was parked out front, a frost-covered monstrosity that looked as if it would need to be pushed to start.
The door was tinted, a strange thing to do in a place with no sunshine. Lauren pulled on the handle hard, grumbling as it was slow to open. The cold was bitter on her face, clawing at her lips and nostrils as she entered the building. The station was a long room cut in half by a plain counter. There was a distant desk and a glass door covered in blinds.
“Hello,” she spoke with slight irritation in her voice.
There was some shuffling. For a moment, she had the strange sensation to reach for her gun.
A woman appeared.
Huge hair, clear frames, and bright red lipstick announced her. She wore a pantsuit the likes of which would have been appropriate on a femme fatale half her age and size in a soap opera much dated. “How can I help you, hey?” she spoke with what could have been considered a completely different dialect.
Lauren took a cautious step forward, following the woman as she made her way to a part of the counter equipped with a blank clipboard and a rusted iron handbell.
She removed her identification while maintaining eye contact with the visual train wreck that was the receptionist. “Agent Lauren Westlake, I am here about the murder.”
“The murders?” repeated the woman, the parroting slightly odd.
Lauren replaced her identification and looked deeper into the station. “Where is the sheriff, Ms…?” Her voice lingered, searching for the woman’s name. They had spoken on the phone the day before, albeit briefly.
“Mrs. Meadows, if you please. And Sheriff Montgomery is at the crime scene. He will be back after a while. Can I offer you some coffee, hey?”
Lauren placed her hands on the counter. “Crime scene? I thought the Jane Doe had been removed already and was in the morgue. That is why I am here, to inspect the remains.”
There seemed to be sudden recognition in the receptionist’s eyes. “Right. You are that nice city gal who called yesterday inquiring about the murder. The murder on the lake.”
Lauren nodded. “Precisely.”
The receptionist’s heavily painted lips pursed. She leaned forward as if she were telling a secret. “We did bring her in, but there was another murder. A local. Sad story really. Sheriff Montgomery and the deputy are out there right now.”
Lauren leaned back.
Pulling off her wool cap, she allowed her hair to fall free, unrestrained. Despite sleeping off a rather interesting bender, she still looked more the part of prepared city girl than overworked country gal.
And the receptionist was quick to notice. “Damn girl. You look too good for it to be this cold, hey.”
Agent Westlake looked at her with an arch of her sculpted eyebrows. Naturally sculpted of course, she was lucky that way. “You said the Sheriff is out at the crime scene?” she asked, her attention only slightly affected by the strange comment.
The receptionist had already disappeared to the back of the station, where she busied herself making coffee. Lauren followed her along the counter. Mrs. Meadows returned, a coffee mug in each hand. Placing one down in front of Lauren, she cupped hers, snuggling with it really. “Sheriff is out there alright, must have been right after dawn. Poor thing got the call at home.”
Lauren moved forward as if to speak. Mrs. Meadows looked to the coffee mug and Lauren picked it up with a sigh. “Where did this happen?”
Mrs. Meadows sat into a comfortable chair, the heavy material of her pant suit making a mockery of her femininity. “Not that far from here, in the woods just the other side of the train station.”
“I know the area.”
“Really, I though you just got here.”
Lauren took a sip of the coffee and grimaced. “Do you have any sugar?” she replied. “I got in early this morning on the train.”
Mrs. Meadows nodded and made a funny little sound. Pointing to where she had retrieved the coffee, she motioned. “Help yourself, hey. Don’t get many female law types here in Locke. Not much girl talk in the station.”
Lauren smiled weakly and moved behind the counter.
“I guess if you consider all the shenanigans of the young boys around here, then there is some discussion about women. But certainly not in the capacity I like to have.”
Lauren tore open a packet of white sugar and poured it into the mug. Sticking in a long, slender finger, she stirred the hot coffee.
“So this crime scene, the one near the train station…”
Mrs. Meadows closed her eyes. Doing so made her appear both fearsome and festive. “Another woman, like I said. This one a local, a bit of a town personality.”
“A local?”
“Crazy woman, pardon me saying so. She didn’t have all her marbles, ya know.”
Lauren searched her mind and recalled distantly the run-in she had with the woman at the train station. Could that be the same woman? Her mind swam slowly as the hangover was proving to be a greater barrier than she had anticipated. “The other woman wasn’t a local? The one from the lake?”
“No, sugar. That one was a transient, a traveler through our wonderful green, cold country.” She leaned forward. “Maybe even one of our friends to the north, hey.”
Lauren pondered that.
The chime at the station rung; every sound crawled in the north. Montgomery entered, the deputy a step behind. They both looked the part of cold, grumpy men who had just come from a gruesome crime scene. “Darlene, any calls? We get anything back on…” He stopped in his tracks as Agent Westlake walked out from behind the counter.
“Sheriff Montgomery, I presume?” she spoke.
Montgomery looked at her, his uncertainty worn on his sleeve. “Yes?”
Lauren removed her identification.
It was an act to which she had not only grown accustomed, but she had as well begun to enjoy the confused response on men’s faces when they met a female agent. It was empowering and embarrassing in one smooth motion. “I’m Agent Westlake. I called about your Jane Doe yesterday.”
Montgomery looked at her. He was not used to assertive women in positions of authority. Not confidence in general, as he had seen many women who had found their aggressive nature amidst a bender.
Lauren waited a moment, watching the sheriff carefully. “I told your receptionist, Mrs. Meadows, that the preliminary report sounded very similar to a case I have been working. I was hoping I would be able to take a look at the body and maybe shadow you and your deputy for a few days, see what I can glean.”
“Glean?” echoed the deputy, his voice cracking.
Lauren’s gaze shifted to the tall, young deputy. “To learn by casual observation. I assume you are the good sheriff’s deputy?”
He nodded, his Adam’s apple bouncing comically.
Montgomery shook his head. Clicking his tongue, he wiped at his boot absentmindedly. “Shadow? You mean interfere with my investigation. There is no federal jurisdiction on this. I have received…”
Lauren stepped forward, placing down her mug of lukewarm coffee. “Nothing like that, sheriff. I am here in a personal capacity. There is no formal federal inquiry at this time. I was given a short leash to do some of my own investigation and that is what I intend to do. I am looking simply for some professional courtesy.”
Montgomery moved back toward his desk.
The deputy mirrored the movement, an exact carbon copy of the sheriff. Leaning back into his squeaky chair, Montgomery placed his dark boots on the table and thumbed his wedding ring. “I am willing to extend courtesy your way, if you are willing to send some mine.”
Already there was bartering; already the presence of her badge and authority alone was not sufficient to warrant his respect. She would remedy that before all was said and done.
“Anything I can do, sheriff. I would like to help with the investigation any way I can.”
Matthews looked at the large eyes of Agent Westlake and could not help but let the bright, boyish smile creep through like so much oil through cracks. Montgomery watched his deputy and shook his head. “You can begin by telling us why you thought our Jane Doe was a part of a larger investigation.”
Bio: A psychologist, author, editor, philosopher, martial artist, and skeptic, he has published several novels and currently has many in print, including: The End of the World Playlist, Bitten, The Journey, The Ocean and the Hourglass, The Path of the Fallen, The Portent, and Cerulean Dreams. Follow him on Twitter (@AuthorDanOBrien) or visit his blog http://thedanobrienproject.blogspot.com. He recently started a consultation business. You can find more information about it here: http://www.amalgamconsulting.com/.

 

 

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