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AMBROSIA: COMING 2024

Updated: Jan 2



“A riveting blend of horror and suspense anchors Bird’s mind-bending novel…a smart, discomfiting, ultimately satisfying horror tale.”

Kirkus Reviews


e-Book PRE-ORDERS AVAILABLE NOW

I am extremely stoked to officially unleash my new novel, AMBROSIA, into the world! It's a project that was many, many years in the making and, after so long, it actually seems unreal to finally see it in print.


And THAT COVER??



STUNNING custom work by illustartor Dan Liles (Dan Liles Designs), with lettering design (and fabulous interior design) by A.A. Medina (Fabled Beast Design). Couldn't have asked for a better pair of professionals to work with and manifest my inner vision.


As you can tell, I'm very proud of the kind review the folks over at Kirkus gave the novel. Professonial reviews can oftentimes be cutthroat, so I'm incredibly grateful to have gotten the thumbs up verdict. (For those interested, the full review can be read here—but caution, there are slight spoilers). Here's a quick synopsis of the story:


When Travis Barnes returns home following the unexpected death of his mother, leaving his career with the Seventh Naval Fleet, he hopes to begin a new chapter in life. Unbeknownst to him, a series of impossible coincidences soon draws the attention of the Bureau, a fringe government agency formed from the rubble of Projects Monarch and Stargate.

But when Lola Agnew, the Bureau’s genetically-altered ringleader—along with her erudite headhunter, Drexl Samson—confront him with a clandestine force with powers beyond this world, Travis must face a forgotten secret from his past. His partner Tara Fitzgerald, meanwhile, has secrets of her own, and when the couple are pushed to their limits, they must join together to overcome the darkness...


Needless to say, I'm as proud of this number as any that have come before—indeed, this is my most ambitious release to date. The themes run deep, things get weird, and, fair warning, there are some acts of violence, torture, and gore that may disturb the more delicate palates. That includes this opening chapter, published here for the first time, which I am humbly stuffing in your face on this, my birthday, during a year that I'm finally old enough to not take such a thing for granted.


Massive thanks to all for your continued support during this latest book launch, with hopefully many more to come...


HB



CHAPTER ONE


Cheyenne, Wyoming

1979


Soon after their nuptials—there had been no honeymoon—the Wards moved into a cluttered cubbyhole apartment just outside Seattle, a place they would remain for what they’d hoped to be a spell, but was actually more of a prison term. Those early days had been hard ones for Nathan and Francesca, each holding down crummy forty-a-week jobs, Francesca picking up occasional shifts at the coffee shop—and, later, a downtown deli—when she could manage. All this while both attended night classes at the community college, working toward slips of paper they one day hoped to put behind glass and hang on a wall and hope it made a better life for them.

Six years later it looked as if their gamble was finally paying off. They’d moved from their apartment, renting instead a comfortable flat in a new complex across town. Sheepskins in hand, Francesca had been hired by a start-up software company out of Bellevue, while Nathan was busy preaching physics to high schoolers in nearby Meadowbrook.

Then something happened.

They’d quit their jobs and soon after exited Seattle, settling on a good few acres in the High Plains of Wyoming. Theirs was a simple double-story ranch house, wood-sided with a wraparound porch, though considering the investments they’d had their fingers in they could certainly have afforded bigger, with a white picket fence out front.

Even without the fence, the Ward residence glowed as the picture of class and elegance against the late-winter sky. The house stood silent, and while on any other night the Wards would’ve been locked safely away inside, tonight was not like other nights and as it happened the Wards were away. And even had their neighbors been closer than a few miles down the road, they still would’ve been hard-pressed to notice the shadow shuffling stealthily inside.

The shadow, whose name was Drexl Samson, shook and zipped his pants, blowing a sloow breath of satisfaction before flushing the bowl. He’d started away when he paused suddenly, glancing to make certain the rest of his cigarette stayed down. Once upon a time he’d made the mistake of thinking little things like that didn’t matter—that he could come and go as he pleased, too smooth to ever be fingered—then one night a few years back he’d gotten sloppy with his menthols. And while there’d been no official investigation by the local blue boys after finding the bodies, he’d been made to understand there were more than a few curious minds wondering at how a random cigarette butt had found its way into a house of clean-freak health nuts.

So Drexl checked the damned bowl, giving a quick flash of his mini-light—the water was clean, pure as a river—before moving down the hall, the faint smell of peppermint trailing close behind. He came into the kitchen and gulped water from the faucet, and wiping his mouth Drexl caught a reflection of himself in the window over the sink: his shining blonde hair and endless dark eyes, the sharpened ears that had always seemed a bit too large for his head. Not the prettiest face in the world—sure, he’d admit it—but it was one he’d owned for some time now, and never once had he taken it for granted.

He moved around and took a seat at the fancy bar, some sort of marble-granite deal with fruit bowls and dainty little knick-knacks, all things which seemed particularly meaningless to Drexl. Marriage shit. He’d had a family once—nice-enough wife, couple of kids—but that seemed all so far away, in another lifetime, and the idea of ever going back sent a chill straight down his soul. He shuddered, drawing one massive hand down his face before lifting his leg and letting one go. The stench rose, momentarily clouding the mint-candy smell, and Drexl kicked back in the chair and made himself at home.

On jobs like this Drexl made a habit of raiding the bookshelves of whatever house he was in, perusing whatever looked interesting. Over the past few hours since arriving he’d worked through a couple novels, a history-type book on Caesar’s conquest of Gaul, a collection of O. Henry short stories. He’d then moved on to Yeats.

Strange cats, these Wards were. Real eclectic.

Drexl lifted the next book—Tuck Everlasting—and began to read, his curious eyes scanning the pages so quickly he appeared the victim of an epileptic fit. His eyes had always drawn attention, not just for being on the jittery side but mostly because of how damned black the things were. You’ve got the devil’s eyes, a teacher had told him once, so black you could get lost in ’em and never find your way out. He’d hissed at her then, drawing down his tongue, just funning, but Mrs. Abigail was not the funning sort, and after school she’d led him to the woods out back the schoolhouse and given him the privilege of picking his own switch.

He scrolled the pages, mind falling away and getting lost in Winnie Foster’s world, deeper and deeper until a cold finger touched suddenly on his spine and he stopped. Outside, a Chinook wind whipped riotously around the eaves, howling a lonesome note across the night; windows creaked, bowing to the pressure. Only it wasn’t just the wind he was feeling here, there was something else. Something else entirely.

Drexl closed the book.

Looking on, one may have assumed the man was simply bored, restless after a long night of lounging in a stranger’s home. Even Drexl himself may’ve assumed such a thing, way back when. But now he was older, wiser—now he knew better—and stood from his chair, walking to the library, returning the book to the shelf. He made a final walkthrough of the house, checking rooms, making sure everything was exactly so. Great Satan’s in the details, he told himself. Life’s a game of inches, he told himself, and moments later heard a buzz and felt the pager on his waist vibrate.

Drexl smiled, pleased with himself for having anticipated, for having felt it before Lola so much as dialed. Perhaps, he thought, they’d forged some sort of mystic mind-meld, something to do with the Procedure. It had clearly affected their bodies, no question in that; maybe it had affected their minds as well. Some unforeseen side-effect. He didn’t give one good shit either way, all he knew was that in ten minutes the Wards would come strolling through that front door and be damned if he wouldn’t be ready for them.

Reaching in his pocket, he retrieved a letter written no doubt by some desk jockey with a thing for stencils but that would pass under parental scrutiny as one written by Francesca Ward herself. He’d looked it over but there wasn’t much to it; the standard intimations of depression, private despair, a couple well-placed lines bordering on the paranoid. Drexl supposed it could seem cruel, to lesser minds, what he was doing here tonight. To lesser minds, the Wards were blue-eyed sparkly-toothed angels with nary a sin to their name. And for all he knew they were right—look at this house, after all, the furniture, look at that yard. Hell, another year and they’d probably have a rugrat running around, pulling down curtains and puking all over the place.

None of that concerned Drexl.

He did not bother himself with morals, and did not particularly care for the betterment of the human race. Far as he saw it, he was a man hired to do a job and he’d been paid well to do it. He was good at what he did—damned good, to be so bold—and the Bureau knew it. And you could bet your sweet bippy Lola Agnew knew it too, or else he wouldn’t be here right now—no way, no how.

Drexl placed the letter next to a wire figurine—looked like a gnarled coat hanger—and proceeded to the dining room, a tidy area which smelled faintly of lavender. Unlike some of the other marks he’d had the pleasure of hosting, the Wards believed heartily in the Second Amendment and were proud owners of a Mossberg 500. Presently the shotgun stood leaning against the dining room table; Drexl snatched it up now before proceeding to the foyer. Back in the Bureau’s earliest days, they’d taken another approach. Played it way different. He’d read stories. But it didn’t take an Einstein to realize the setup worked best when the ducks were sitting and didn’t see it coming and so he’d pieced together a life of squatting in darkness, biding his time reading Hemingway or Shakespeare or the Bible.

A sudden splash of headlights swept the windows and Drexl crept forward, watching as Lola’s familiar Cadillac pulled to a stop out front. Moments later the rear door swung open and the Wards climbed doggedly from the car—first Francesca, a tall goosey-looking girl with big brown hair and lanky arms, followed by Nathan, some twerp with glasses and a chest like a kindergartner. Even in darkness their faces looked ragged and worn, dug-up corpses who had yet to shed their flesh. They lumbered toward the porch, glancing occasionally to the car as it reversed and sped away, and it was all Drexl could do not to grin.

Sitting ducks?

Hell, they might as well be pulling the trigger themselves.

Nathan entered the house, pausing a moment for his wife to wander in trance-like behind him before shutting the door. He fumbled clumsily at the knob, twisting the various locks into place, and was turning to hit the lights when suddenly Drexl sprang forward, erupting like a caged animal from the darkness.

Nathan turned, startled, his whole world spinning to life but not soon enough and Drexl unloaded, the blast nailing the boy squarely in the chest and lifting him off his feet. He crashed backwards against the wall and Drexl fired again, this one going to the gut and some of the buckshot spraying wide, tearing at wallpaper. Blood spewed, rushing out of him like water from a twisted sponge, and by the time the man-child slumped forward and sprawled motionless on the classy Karastan rug, his heart was still.

Francesca screamed, and that was her first mistake.

Any sane person would have (a) ran for their life, or (b) rushed the shit out of him, ripping the gun from his hands. She had done neither, and her second mistake was in making the first all over again as he moved in and propped the muzzle snugly beneath her chin. He watched as her face tightened, eyes meeting his and dawning with realization as she remembered, as she realized who he was, and though she’d not exactly been thrilled meeting him the first time, this second encounter was proving the lick of her spoon.

He reached up, giant fingers wrapping her head and dragging her down the hall to the living room. This shot was crucial, and there came a moment—fleeting as it was—when he thought this girl might just grow a pair and fight back; but the element of surprise was simply too much for her, overwhelming her ability to think and reason. Struggling to speak despite the barrel squeezing in at her jaw, she said, “But we...we did everything...you asked...

Drexl gazed into her with his cold black eyes, realizing now the fear had taken her completely, possessing and reducing her to no more than a quivering pile of flesh and bone. For some in Drexl’s position, there was the temptation for such a thing to make them feel powerful, superior. But it wasn’t like that for him. And though one would never guess it looking at him, it actually saddened him in a way, seeing some poor soul reduced to this, seeing them humiliated by their own base emotions. But then the weaker ones usually were...

Not everything.”

He pulled the trigger and the top of her head opened, spraying a mash of blood and brain matter up and up, gumming the walls, some of it clunking the ceiling and dropping like confetti and flitting around him in a gory rainfall. Drexl groaned and propped Francesca on the couch, lifting the girl’s lanky arms and taking her hands and wrapping the gun, leaning the barrel just so beneath her ruined face and then standing back, correcting, all the while doing his best to ignore the sudden draft that had taken over the house and which he knew would forever stain its walls, because that was the way houses worked, capturing every idle thought, every emotion, harnessing and remembering them for all those who had come and gone and who no longer had any memory.

He reached down, scooping a small palm-size camera from his pocket and taking a series of snapshots showing the gruesome aftermath of the past sixty seconds. The Bureau was nothing if not thorough, and though admittedly he’d succumbed to a sick satisfaction from taking these pictures, at the end of the night it was still just business.

Always business.

He pocketed the camera and backed away, the cool rush of the encounter moving through him, thrilling him. His hands shuddered and by a force of will he stopped them, pulling them tight at his sides. Making sure to avoid the tapestry of gore and blood spatter across the floor, Drexl slid quietly through the kitchen to the back door, slipping out, using the key the Bureau had provided to lock up after himself. By the time Lola’s Cadillac appeared once more down the road, steering back toward him, the clammy feeling had left him and his heart had ceased to dance, slowing to a dry thump in his chest as he readied for the long ride home.



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