On a scorching hot summer day in Elkwood, Alabama, Claire Lambert staggers naked, wounded, and half-blind away from the scene of an atrocity. She is the sole survivor of a nightmare that claimed her friends, and even as she prays for rescue, the killers - a family of cannibalistic lunatics - are closing in.
A soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder returns from Iraq to the news that his brother is among the murdered in Elkwood.
In snowbound Detroit, a waitress trapped in an abusive relationship gets an unexpected visit that will lead to bloodshed and send her back on the road to a past she has spent years trying to outrun.
And Claire, the only survivor of the Elkwood Massacre, haunted by her dead friends, dreams of vengeance... a dream which will be realized as grief and rage turn good people into cold-blooded murderers and force alliances among strangers.
It's time to return to Elkwood.
In the spirit of such iconic horror classics as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Deliverance, Kin begins at the end and studies the possible aftermath for the survivors of such traumas upon their return to the real world - the guilt, the grief, the thirst for revenge - and sets them on an unthinkable journey... back into the heart of darkness.
July 15th, 2004
Everything is dead.
Naked, bloodied and stunned, the sun high in the cloudless sky and scalding her sweat-slicked skin, Claire Lambert nevertheless managed to note that the stunted, bone-white tree in the field to her right was the same one she'd commented on a few days, months, or years earlier, though what she might have said about it was a mystery now. She stopped walking--if indeed she'd been walking at all, for the sensation thus far was one of being still, spine bent, the road moving like a granite-studded conveyor belt beneath her torn and filthy feet--and squinted at the gnarled trunk, which looked like an emaciated mother with an elaborate wind-wracked headdress, twisted limbs curled protectively around its womb, knees bent, feet splayed and poking out from beneath the hem of a skirt that had been washed and worn a few times too often.
It fascinated Claire, and though she swayed as if she might fall on legs that had many miles ago ceased registering as anything but independent creatures burdened with her weight, she couldn't look away. Fire licked with cold tongues at her groin; the blood in her hair hardened, and whatever vile substance now lay in a gelid, solidifying lump in the hole which had once contained her right eye, ticked as if someone had replaced it with a watch to measure the time she had left. But still she looked, still she stared, as the merciless sun turned her scalp pink and cooked the flesh on her back. Sweat, cooler in the scant shade beneath her breasts, fell like tears. At length, she twitched, and her legs shuffled her toward the barbed wire fence that separated the field from the road. Cotton whispered in the breeze as her stomach met the wire, the barbs pressing deep into the skin; she felt nothing but an involuntary shiver.
A startled bird exploded from the cotton with a cry that dragged her attention to its whickering form as it soared high, then lost itself in the blinding blanket of the sun. Claire lowered her head, licked dry, cracked lips with a sandpaper tongue and pushed again against the fence, unable to understand why her progress was being halted. Surely no one would begrudge her a conference with that tree, a taste of the maternal comfort she felt it might offer. Again she pushed, and again she was withheld. This time the barbs pierced her skin. Troubled, she took a half-step back, the black wire thrumming like a guitar string strummed by the breeze. A single drop of her blood welled from the iron tip of a barb and hung, suspended in time, refusing the sun, before it plummeted and colored crimson a finger of grass. Frowning, she looked slowly from the wire to the tree, as if the blame might lay with that withered woman, and tried to speak, to beg. A thin whistle was all that emerged from her parched throat--Help me--and she swallowed what felt like a handful of hot stones.
She turned, reluctant to look away from the tree, but drawn by the only other noise she had heard thus far not immediately attributable to nature, or that soft voice inside her chanting incessantly and with tireless determination that everything was dead. A strand of her hair snagged on her lower lip, and stayed there, held in a fissure where the skin had split.
Raging white light thundered toward her. Of this she was only dimly aware, for between that light and where she stood swaying, was a man with no face or hands. No, that wasn't quite right. Daniel still had his hands, but they no longer had skin and looked impossibly dark and raw. This didn't concern her, for rarely had he held her anyway--a lapse in affection of which she had once upon a time hoped to disabuse him.
Why won't you hold my hand?
Because we're not kids anymore, babe.
But at the sight of that flayed skull, a tear, like the blood on the wire, defied the sun and spilled from her one good eye.
"We can hitch a ride," he told her, though his lips never moved. The raw ragged open wound of his face, topped by a nest of unruly brown hair, turned to nod at the glaring light behind him, which had grown closer still. The mirrored sun floated above shimmering metal, the wheels grinding up thick mustard-colored clouds.
She opened her mouth to respond, to tell her boyfriend that they really should wait for the others, but even had she possessed the voice to convey the words, a sudden bolt of dazzling pain tried to scissor her in half, forcing her to double over as she vomited into the dirt at her feet.
Everything is dead.
Her head swelled as she watched a dark red river flow from her mouth, turning dust to rust and spattering her ankles. The veins in her neck stuck out in thick cords, her ruined eye began to burn and throb, making it feel as if her brain was trying to force its way out of her, to distance itself farther from this confusing reality than she had thus far managed on her own.
Weakened, she dropped to her knees, felt the ground abrade the skin there. But there was no pain. Her flesh had become a thick heavy coat, and the many tears in the lining affected her not at all. Her palms slid into the dirt.
The sound of squealing might have been of old hinges in the doors of the earth opening to accept her; it might have been her own struggle to breathe against a torrent of vile regurgitated panic and grief, or it might have been the brakes on the car she'd seen coming because now a new voice, a strange voice, drifted down to her sunburned ears as a figure eclipsed the sun and a cool shadow was thrown like a blanket over her bare back.
"Jesus, Mary'n Joseph'n all the holy saints," it said. "What happened, Miss?"
It's them, she thought feebly. One of them come to take me back. To hurt me again. It was the same knowledge that had kept her going this far, the unmistakable feeling of being watched, stalked, hunted, meant to die but breathing still.
She shook her head to deny him. Opened her mouth to speak but only blood emerged, the river of sickness forcing her throat to swell. Still she tried to struggle, but when she raised her hands to protect herself, it happened only in her mind. Her limbs would not respond. The pair of dusty boots that had pressed into her field of vision moved away.
Good. Go. Leave me alone. You've done enough. Everything is dead. You killed them all.
"Christ, Pete, get me that 'ol dog blanket an' the flask. Move!"
At last the dizzying current ceased and she found strength enough to raise her head. The man was a wiry knot of shadow under a crooked hat, a scarecrow with a golden halo, trying to deceive her into thinking him salvation. Dread pounded at her chest, igniting further knots of pain that seemed to radiate from the core of her.
Another shadow sprouted from the man's shoulder, this one just as thin, but without a hat, just a fuzz of hair.
They're here to kill me.
"Oh God, lookit her eye."
"Shut your fool mouth, boy."
"What happ'ned to her? She ain't got no clothes on." The voice was filled with nervous excitement.
The hatless shadow was elbowed aside. The thin one flapped its arms until its chest became wings descending around Claire, swaddling her.
"Help me carry her."
She opened her mouth to moan at the sudden, terrible heat enveloping her and felt new warmth seep from between her legs. The dirt turned dark quickly.
"Pa she done wet hers--"
Before the arms could press their wings even tighter around her, Claire took a series of quick, dry, painful swallows, then drew in a breath that sounded like nails on a blackboard, and screamed for Daniel. But even as that tortured, awful noise poured out of her, and though she was surrounded by shadows that were lifting her up and carrying her back to Hell, she knew for the first time in her life that she was well and truly alone, and that no help was coming now, or ever.
Excerpted from "Kin" by Kealan Patrick Burke. Copyright © 0 by Kealan Patrick Burke. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.