Today sees the publication of Cynthia D. Witherspoon’s new title, The Fanatic. It is the second book in The Oracle Series. Cynthia has kindly allowed us to share an excerpt with you and so we are proud to allow you a first look at The Fanatic! Enjoy.
We are all looking for someone to save us. Fairy tales promised us white knights on gleaming horses who would ride in, slay our demons, and sweep us away to our happily ever after. But nobody ever told me what would happen if the white knight didn't show up. And there are no fairy tales that talk about what happens once the demons take over.
But I know. I had learned real quick to rely on the one hero who had been here all along. The one person I'd always been afraid to believe in.
I was going to create my own happily ever after, and my enemies would be damned for it.
I lit the final candle before I stepped back to inspect my deathbed. I had set everything up in the center of my living room. Three red candles flickered on the headboard. Two black ones gleamed at the foot. The sheets had been soaked with as much kerosene as I could legally buy here in Los Angeles. Perhaps it was the fumes affecting me, or perhaps I had finally gone over the proverbial edge, but I smiled. Within the hour, all of my problems would disappear. If my work here was successful, the one person responsible for my life falling apart would be damned along with me.
I wanted to die. I wasn’t afraid. I had spent my life trying to discover all I could about what lay on the other side of the Veil. After all, death was my business. Spirits were my passion. I’d been obsessed with the grave for as long as I could remember. When I was little, my momma tried to replace my obsession with the grandeur of heaven. If only I would give my soul to Jesus, then I would be alright.
I wasn’t alright. I never would be again. My work - my very purpose here on Earth - had been stolen from me. No longer would the world learn about the afterlife in a sensible way. No longer would science and reason be used as a weapon against our ignorance towards death. There was nothing else I could do. I had fought to keep my work in the limelight. I begged for them not to take my audience away from me. No, my time had run out. My work had faltered. And the world I tried to teach had rejected me.
Besides, Heaven wasn’t meant for the likes of me. I was going to hell.
And I was going to make damn sure my enemy joined me there.
Yes, tonight was my night. I had been preparing for this moment since I had been fired three months earlier. See, I had been one of the lucky ones. I was once a presenter on the highest rated show on television. I traveled the world, studying the paranormal with a passion unmatched by anyone else. I had money. Fame. Fans.
Until the ratings started to fall. I glared at the photographs scattered among past due notices and the eviction letter received just this afternoon on the floor around my bed. Once again, I muttered curses at the face staring back up at me. I had been replaced by a stupid girl who claimed to have abilities no one could actually possess. Eva McRayne's Grave Messages hit the airwaves and shoved me out of the job which had been my calling. Now my show was nothing more than a DVD box set. All of my hard work forgotten thanks to a blonde idiot who would prance around, call out to Apollo, then pretend to pass on the last words of the dead.
I hated her. I hated everything about her.
It was true that Grave Messages hadn't been her idea. In the interviews I had seen, she would laugh at the idea of being on television. McRayne would give the credit to her co-host, Elliot Lancaster, but he was nothing. He was worthless.
I had studied the tabloids which carried the pictures of them together. There were headlines boasting the two of them were still in love despite breaking up within a month of filming their show. It was unprofessional and sickening. But the knowledge I had gained from those articles would come in handy tonight.
McRayne and Lancaster had met at the University of Georgia some five years before. When Lancaster had graduated, his daddy gave him a television show and of course, the blonde tagged along after him. The facts got hazy from there. McRayne's bio online said she had been forced into her role as the Sibyl during a conference. It was a good story, but I had once been a headliner for those conferences. No one in their right mind with any sort of power would give it all up to a stranger. Not when there was money to be made. Why give up your livelihood to a stranger who didn't appreciate it? No, her story didn't make any sense. She was the lie. She was the fraud.
But I wasn't. And I would make damned sure she knew it.
I watched as the shadows cast across the floor by the street lamps outside shift and knew it was time. I suppose I should have been more sentimental. Someone with more sense than me would have taken one last look at the world they were leaving behind. I tried to think of my mother. I wanted to shed a tear or two over what might have been if Eva McRayne had never surfaced. It was far too late for such thoughts.
I was ready. More than ready. I picked up one of the photographs and clutched it to my chest as I laid down.
The kerosene fumes were overwhelming. I coughed, relishing in the lightheadedness I felt.
"Erinyes of old, Blessed Judges of Fate," I called out to my empty apartment between gasps of breath. "Athena's own mistresses of justice, come to me. Take my spirit as your own. Take my soul as payment for the deed you will do for me."
I felt the air growing colder despite the flames I had surrounded myself by. I wiped away the tears from my eyes as I continued.
"I seek justice. I crave vengeance against the one who stole my life away from me."
The flames above me flared. I wondered if I would be able to finish the spell before I was consumed by the fires I had set. So I closed my eyes to the fumes and focused on the darkness in my heart. I held up the picture as I hurried to continue.
"Eva McRayne, Sibyl to Apollo will fall. She, and she alone, is responsible for stealing my audience. Before she came along, I was cherished. Now, I am forgotten just as you have been. Unknown to her and a world that craves knowledge of the afterlife. No longer. After tonight, Eva McRayne will know who I am. She will suffer for the crimes she committed against me. Great Erinyes, aid me. Give me the vengeance I seek."
The bed began to shake as I touched a single corner of the photograph to the tip of the candle flame. It ignited with a flash. I screamed as the flames traveled downward to the sheets I had prepared. I had only a moment left; a single breath to curse the bitch who caused my downfall.
"Eva McRayne will suffer."
I found myself embraced by a darkness I could revel in. I blinked, confused as I took in my new surroundings. There was no golden gate. No avenging angel to approach me with a book of blessed names to see if I was listed among those worthy enough to enter Heaven. No, there was nothing like that at all. I was standing in a great hall lit by green fires. Shadows flittered around me like butterflies; each one a blur as they rushed to destinations I would never understand.
I whirled around to see a thin man cloaked in black studying me. After a moment of silence, he clicked his tongue and checked something on the small clipboard he carried.
"I'm sorry, I don't understand." I turned my attention back to my surroundings. "Where am I? How did I get here?"
"Come with me."
The man gave me no answers as I followed him. I couldn't concentrate, but I tried to remember. There was a fire. I remembered it well enough. Had I died? Surely not. I was petrified of fire. I would have run the moment I smelled smoke.
Wouldn't I? It seemed like the most logical thing to do. But logic had never been my strong suit. Even so, there were no answers to be had unless I followed the stranger. We walked for what seemed like an eternity through barren halls until he stopped before a pair of impressive doors.
"This is where I take my leave. Your presence is required inside."
"Wait," I swallowed, finding the habit useless in my present state. "Can you tell me what is on the other side of those doors?"
The man smiled for the first time, tapping his clipboard against his side. "Why, your vengeance, girl. Isn't that why you are here?"
My vengeance. When he spoke the word, my hatred flooded back and with it, my memories. I stepped forward, shoving the double doors open with a renewed determination. This is the moment I had died for.
May the gods be praised.
The large room inside was brighter than the halls leading up to it. The green fires lined the walls on torches of marble. The floors gleamed with a shine any housewife would have killed for. I would have been astounded by the beauty of this place, but I caught sight of the large table in the very center. Three little girls were playing with dolls and chatting amongst themselves. So I did the only thing I could think to do.
I approached them. I started to speak, but the child in the center lifted up a single hand from the blonde doll in her grasp and my words faded in my throat.
"You are the human who called to us."
The one who silenced me turned her face so I could see it and I cried out despite myself. Her eyes were red, lined with streaks of blood. I managed a nod as she continued.
"Allison Thomason, then." She tapped her thin fingers against the table before her. "Sisters, help me recall. This is the one who offered us her soul as payment, correct?"
"Yes." The girl to the right nodded with a grin I found unsettling. "This one seeks vengeance against the Sibyl. For what purpose, human?"
"She stole my life away." I found my voice, surprised at how steady it sounded. "I was once in the spotlight. My work was regarded as the pentacle in paranormal research. But I lost my audience. I lost my show because of her."
"What would you have us do?" The one to the left piped up with a frown. "Your human trials are petty ones. We have no time for the likes of you."
"Ah, but perhaps, we do." Their leader giggled as she placed her hand over the other child's wrist. "It is a terrible thing to be forgotten. We know this all too well, sister."
The other two murmured as child in the center continued. "We will take a page from Apollo's own strategy. He uses his Sibyl to gain followers, even in this advanced age. Indeed, the wraiths have been whispering about how his temples are overflowing with visitors now that this Sibyl has begun to spread his message across the world. Perhaps she can do the same for us."
I froze as she stood, passing through the table as if it were nothing but air. The strange stopped before me.
"But," I shook my head. "I thought...I wasn't expecting..."
"Tell us, what were you expecting?" She tilted her head as she watched me. "The Sibyl's death upon your own? We are not stupid, human. There are consequences to be had for such actions and we do not wish for Athena's wrath just because you gave your soul to us."
"Surely there is something you can do." I clutched at my hands. "The old books said you were the goddesses of vengeance. They said if I sacrificed myself, then you would be required to help me, even if you are just..."
"Children? I suppose we are that." The girl giggled again as she clutched at her doll. "Who is better suited to judge the damned than the innocent? Athena was right to choose us. We serve her well."
The other two murmured their agreement as they came forward to join their sister. I had to believe them. I had to believe they were the beings I had called forth with my suicide.
I had no choice.
So I knelt down to bow my head before their leader. "What do I have the power to do, Erinyes? How can my vengeance come to pass?"
"You may return to the world of the living. Watch the Sibyl and report back to us her actions." The girl grinned as she leaned forward, pressing a single finger into the center of my forehead. "When the time is right, we will put her on trial and find her guilty of the crimes you accuse her of. But the price is far greater than your soul. You will take the current Sibyl's place to serve us, not Apollo. You will tell the world the Erinyes still live and our judgment is eternal. Be assured, human, we will not be forgotten again."
I would be the Sibyl. My work could be restored along with my audience. I felt a sense of joy I thought lost forever and I smiled.
I repeated the words back to her as the room around me shifted. The girls disappeared when the shadows surrounded me once more, but her words remained.
We will not be forgotten.
*** End of Excerpt ***
Cynthia D. Witherspoon is an award winning writer of Southern Gothic, Paranormal Romance, and Urban Fantasy. She currently resides in South Carolina, but spent three years in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Always an avid reader, she began writing short stories in college. She graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in History from Converse College, and earned a Masters in Forensic Science at Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences. She can be found on the Internet in the following places:
If you missed Cynthia’s Twelfth Night Interview you can find it here.