Excerpt from Awakening: The Backwards Man


I’m almost through my revision/tightening of Awakening, the 2nd book of The Stream, which I’ve tentatively retitled Grandfather Time. Since I’ve reached it, I thought I’d share my favorite scene.

Behind them, approaching from the lighted room, was a bizarre vision of a man being led by twin horrors. The man was tall and thin, his features concealed by a loosely fitting, hooded tunic. He wore likewise loose-fitting pants tied with a rope belt made of twisted gold strands. Both the tunic and pants were amethyst, giving him the bizarre appearance of a purple monk. On his head he wore a wide-brimmed hat, despite already being shielded by the hood. The hat rose into twin peaks, as if the hard leather had been placed over horns. The round brim stood as wide as his shoulders. Though standing in the lighted room, his face was concealed in shadows. As he moved forward into the darkness, the shadows grew, seeming to envelope him, as though he had become one with the surrounding murkiness.

His head, torso, and arms all faced forward, towards the group of rescuers as they rounded a turn and out of sight. Grotesquely, his hips, legs, and feet faced backwards toward his group of sycophants. He led a strange cortege of hook-nosed women with aggressively protruding breasts; the too tall, too thin, or too bent; human pincushions; and the diseased, dripping with open sores. All wore brightly colored clothing that was covered in drab brown robes or shawls. These beings marched in asynchronous, ludicrous fashion behind a small company of addled bodyguards dressed as harlequins with capes and long baggy robes. The guards held long, bent spears that ended in razor-edged points. At purely random increments, they would slice or stab one of the followers, or each other, eliciting both yelps of pain and a tittering chorus. As a result, none of the followers seemed to be actually watching Charlie or the backwards man, but were engrossed with mindlessly torturing each other.

The backwards man strode in the direction of what should have been forward but which appeared to be rearward, in pursuit of Charlie and his group. The hooded figures bony arms were extended, restraining the two snarling beasts that tested their iron chains. Each monstrosity had a broad chest and sturdy legs that ended in wide, padded feet that allowed them to move silently across the concrete floors. Their chests were no more than eighteen inches above the floor, but due to their enormous frame, the beasts stood five feet at the shoulders. Their heads were equally massive, with reptilian features that ended in a wide mouth full of two-inch teeth. The beasts were dull brown, with red striations on the sides of their heads that made them appear even angrier than their snarling, drooling demeanor asserted. They looked as if some hellish breeder had managed to graft a small Tyrannosaurus’ head on an oversized, lizardized bulldog’s frame.

“Fetch,” the backwards man said, in a voice that was simultaneously deep and effete. He released the hellhounds from his scrawny hands, and they bolted in snarling pursuit of Charlie’s group, their chains clattering behind.