Caught in a maelstrom of black feathers and beady eyes, Bartholomew
tugged down his top hat and turned up his coat collar to a murder of
crows’ sharp talons and beaks. Black-winged bastards. He ducked the
raucous birds and continued along the murky Mulberry Bend as evening’s
growing shadows reached for him.
“I have some lovely calico for your lady, sir.”
Lady? A sneer curled Bartholomew’s upper lip as he continued past the
fabric shop’s proprietress. Though she bore a feminine and striking
form, his unwanted mistress Famine was far from ladylike.
Indeed her presence impelled Bartholomew to spend as much time as
possible in New York City’s infamous Sixth Ward—the Five Points.
Famine found its poverty pathetic, and her disinterest provided him some
small measure of escape. And so it was that Bartholomew Etienne
Pelletier had a strange affection for the Bend’s wretches and crooks.
“A fat duck for your dinner tonight, sir?”
Bartholomew skirted the butcher and the pale, plucked carcass that the
man had thrust into his path.
Crows. Doubtless they were haunting him for a reason. But after fifteen
hundred years of searching, it seemed too much to trust that they were
leading him to freedom.
“You look like a gentleman who appreciates fine tobacco, sir.”
Bartholomew glanced down at the tobacconist. Indeed he was one to
appreciate the finer, and coarser activities the Five Points offered an
Edwardian gentleman—he’d already been entertained by one of its
ladies that afternoon. But a practiced sniff brought the bitter stench
of tar across his palate, and Bartholomew strode onward. The rickety
shop was a charlatan’s abode.
The crows reappeared one, two, and three-by-three along his path. They
winged up en masse, wheeled about, and disappeared into a narrow alley.
Bartholomew scowled and stepped into the dank corridor but saw only
broken bricks, crumpled paper, and stagnant water—until he followed
the rustle of wings. The black sentinels stared down from the ledge of a
four-story, red brick tenement, and Bartholomew’s displeasure
deepened. He disliked the creatures—among them were spies. But he knew
not to ignore them. The crows were the Catcher's inhuman eyes, and there
was something she wanted him to see.
“By any means necessary,” he murmured. He pocketed his gray, kidskin
gloves and scaled the wall, finding handholds few men could grip. Once
atop the roof, Bartholomew straightened his black frock coat and brushed
dust from its folds. Exacting in appearance, manners, and most
particularly, revenge, he wore clothing the color of ashes and coal, and
bore the semblance of a man not yet in mid-life, but beyond the folly of
his twenties. Truth be told, he could still recall his boyhood on the
banks of the Rhine, though fifteen centuries had passed.
The crows skittered from his path as Bartholomew prowled the roof’s
perimeter and surveyed the cesspool that was New York’s Sixth Ward.
Built on reclaimed swampland, the ward hosted impoverished immigrants,
thieves, murderers, whores, and all manner of slumgullion. It also
sustained mosquitoes, lice, bedbugs, cholera, consumption, and an
ongoing turf war. Only the latter puzzled him; Bartholomew saw nothing
worth fighting for in the streets below.
He removed a silver cigarette case and a box of matches from his coat
pocket then extracted a cigarette and struck a match off the roof tiles.
The tang of sulfur was obliterated by the acrid, woodiness of fine
tobacco as he inhaled the flame into the tip of his cigarette. He held
the lungful of smoke, enjoying the warmth it spread through his body,
and flicked the match over the ledge to land in a puddle. He turned the
case, running his fingers over the lines and leaves that had been etched
into its silver surface.
At six-plus feet in height, Bartholomew was long and lean with a wiry
muscularity that belied his physical power. He wore his brown, wavy hair
to his collar, sported a trim beard, and didn’t care a whit for
current fashion. He smoked and drank, though he was incapable of getting
drunk, and Bartholomew cursed—in many languages. He was by many
accounts a handsome man, bearing the strong-boned features of the
As one, the crows peered over the ledge and up the Bend. Bartholomew
followed their gaze and spied a small figure flitting between horse
carts, tradesmen, and sluggards. A young girl, her blonde braids flying
and blue shawl clutched to her chest, was sprinting his way with a
larger girl and two boys in pursuit.Bartholomew slipped the case into
his pocket and crouched at the ledge. He dragged on his cigarette and
With her pursuers gaining ground, the urchin found her path blocked by
an overturned market cart. She ducked between two men and scuttled
around the corner into the dead-end alley below Bartholomew’s perch.
She ran to a door at the rear of the building and tugged on its handle.
But it didn’t give. With a little, high-pitched noise and a kick to
the door, she whirled, and found her escape blocked again.
“Gimme that.” The larger girl’s voice bounced off the grimy alley
walls as she shoved past the two boys.
Bartholomew surveyed the aggressor’s black eye and ratty, calico dress
and caught the sneer that curled her lips back from her broken front
teeth. He glanced at the crows. The Catcher wanted her? But the birds
squabbled, preened, and minced about the roof. They called insults at
him, arched and flapped their wings, and chortled as if sharing a good
laugh at his expense.
The word was clear and strong, and Bartholomew looked down, surprised by
The older girl stalked toward her defiant prey, hand outstretched.
“Gimme that or we’ll smash yer face.”
“No!” the little girl repeated. “This is fer Samuel. Get yer own,
Bartholomew leaned out over the roofline like a gargoyle as smoke
swirled around him and away. A small smile tugged up the corner of his
lips. He hadn’t missed how the little girl had twisted Catherine’s
name into an insult.
Neither had Catherine and her fist smashed into the little girl’s
cheek. The child crashed into the brick wall and landed in a slimy
puddle. Her head struck the bricks with a crack.
Catherine smirked as she yanked the bundled shawl from her victim’s
arms. “Now it’s fer me. Matilde.” She spat on the little girl then
marched back to the waiting boys.
Bartholomew’s fists clenched as Catherine unwrapped a small heel of
bread from the ragged fabric and doled out shares to her lackeys. Her
back to the little girl, the bully draped the stolen shawl over her
shoulder and shoveled bread into her mouth.
Matilde rolled over. She rose to her knees and looked around. She hefted
a chunk of red brick, and the smile returned to Bartholomew’s lips.
Her palm barely fit around the flat side, and the jagged, broken edge
jutted past her fingers. His smile became a wicked grin as Matilde
stood, clutched the wall for a breath, and turned to her attackers. She
stumbled toward them, her hand down and behind as she came upon her
The bully turned, and the little girl leaped forward. Her rock-filled
fist whipped around to smash Catherine’s cheek and nose. The bully
girl’s head snapped to the side. She staggered into one of the boys,
and they both hit the ground as the second boy stared at Matilde,
open-mouthed like a fish. He wore a swath of bright red blood across his
chest and face.
“Nobody steals from me!” Matilde fell upon her attacker, fist aiming
for her face. Somehow Catherine dodged the brunt of the blow, and
Matilde’s fist glanced off her cheek and ear and smashed into the
ground. But the pain of crushed, bloodied knuckles didn’t stop her.
Nor did the older girl’s sobs and pleas. As one boy stood staring, and
the other bolted, Matilde raised the brick once again.
A burly man pushed past a gathering crowd and captured Matilde. She
kicked, cursed, and twisted to see her new attacker. “Settle,
child,” the man said. “She got yer message.”
The girl jerked, blinked, and looked from the watching adults to her
prone assailant. Two women were bent over Catherine, who sat broken and
stunned, her face unrecognizable and her calico dress covered in blood
And the remaining boy still stared at Matilde with wide, reverent eyes.
Matilde. Bartholomew rocked back on his heels, twisted, and stood. He
slunk along the roofline, his focus on the retreating man and child. The
girl sobbed as the man carried her along the Bend, turned the corner
into a narrower space between two tenements, and ascended a set of
rickety, wooden stairs.
Bartholomew stuck his cigarette between his lips, trotted toward the
edge of the building, and leaped to Matilde’s tenement. He moved away
from the roofline then crouched, closed his light brown eyes, and
focused on locating the girl within the building. When he was certain of
her whereabouts, he crossed the roof, dropped to the rusty balcony
outside the child’s apartment and, melding with the shadows, beheld a
A gaunt woman stooped at a wooden washbasin, scrubbing clothes like she
was skinning a live cat. Her face, so similar to the girl’s delicate
countenance, had been beautiful but now bore the pockmarks of
disappointment and drink. “Where’s the bread?” she demanded.
The man put Matilde down, and the child scurried to put a table between
herself and the woman. “Catherine Connelly stole it from me, Mama.”
The woman jerked around to glare at her daughter. Water dripped from the
shirt in her hands, darkening her faded red dress and pooling at her
feet. The weight of the woman’s judgment slowed time. “I suppose
that’s yer excuse for losing yer shawl and soiling yer dress?”
She pinned the man with a withering glare. “I thought you showed her
how to fight, Pieter.”
“I did, and Tilde gave the Connolly girl a sound beating.”
The woman grunted. “Clean that blood outta yer hair, then bring Samuel
for supper. You’ll eat last since you’ve lost the babe his bread.”
She returned to the wash. “Maybe hunger’ll make you run faster next
“Yes, Mama.” Matilde disappeared into an adjoining room, and
Bartholomew shifted to peer through the grimy bedroom window. The girl
paused at a basin in the corner of the room. She scrubbed blood from her
cheek and blotted it from her scalp and knuckles. Her body trembled and
she swallowed sobs even as she cast an evil glare toward the door as her
mother lit into her father to get their bread money back.
A toddler boy sat on the bedroom floor, his leg tied to a bed frame with
a length of rope. He wielded a wooden spoon like a cudgel, and Matilde
endured several blows as she freed him, changed his diaper and clothes,
and cuddled him.
“I’m sorry I lost yer bread, Samuel,” she said as the babe
chanted, “Bed, bed, bed.”
Night came and Bartholomew held to the shadows watching the stars
brighten and a waxing moon on the rise. Back pressed to the cold, brick
wall, he turned a matchstick over and over, itching to light a
cigarette. But he dared not lest he draw unwelcome attention. Famine’s
soulless cadavers skulked around the Ward’s dark alleys and rooftops.
Her unnatural brood would love nothing more than to report his interest
in a certain small girl.
Excerpted from "Famine: Book One of The Apocalyptics (Volume 1)" by Monica Enderle Pierce. Copyright © 2014 by Monica Enderle Pierce. 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.