That’s how long it took from the time Benjamin X. Wretlind (Guild if Dreams member and iAi author) started writing his new novel, A DIFFICULT MIRROR, to its release today. That’s a pretty hefty amount of time…up here in Canada, his manuscript wouldn’t need fake ID to get into bars anymore (you can read the interesting story of how an author can write a novel in just under two decades here). I think that anything that took that much time to write must be pretty good, and I can say that with some authority as I had the privilege of lending Ben a hand by proofreading his book.
Don’ t take my word for it, though…have a look for yourself (then go get yourself a copy of it before Amazon sells out of electrons).
Four-year-old Justine has been lost to the world and with her an ability feared by many. But the balance of power has been shifting for years, and Justine may be able to tip those scales for good…if someone can find her in a pitiless place of sorrow and pain.
When Marie Evans meets a strange man on a deserted road and a body is found mutilated in the desert, a deep resentment teetering on the edge of release is about to explode. Someone, somewhere has drawn a line in the sand, and when Harlan Reese, Marie’s ex-lover, enters a forest in central Arizona looking for his daughter, that line will be crossed.
In a world between Heaven and Hell, the past becomes the present as Harlan and Marie find each other once again. Their journey across an unforgiving land to find a way home with Justine by their side will be wrought with both pain and triumph.
It is, after all, A Difficult Mirror.
“Combining horror, fantasy & mystery with elements of the traditional hero’s journey, A Difficult Mirror contains a unique & detailed plot, rich characterization & a very real sense of danger…”
– Michael K. Rose, author of Sullivan’s War, Chrysopteron and Darkridge Hall
“…Wretlind conjures visions beyond your wildest nightmares”
– Bruce Blake, author of the Icarus Fell series and Khirro’s Journey epic fantasy trilogy
The sun dropped from the sky at a snail’s pace, creeping past a few wispy cirrus clouds, past a small hill, a saguaro cactus arm and on and on. In time, the sky changed from a brilliant blue to a deep, blood red with spats of yellow and orange. The day’s heat remained, as it typically did in the rainy season of the Southwestern United States. It wasn’t quite official yet, but the seasonal shift of wind was only a few short weeks off and the humidity had already shown its ugly face. Off in the distance, a thunderstorm grew taller, its anvil transforming from bright white to orange to red as the sun finally disappeared without fanfare. Lightning flashed in chaotic patterns, stabbed at the desolate landscape and illuminated a torrential rainfall that flooded the land below.
Another thunderstorm moved closer, fed by the unequal heating and cooling of the mountains to the north and the valley to the south. Soon it would be overhead, and in the downpour, Stephen Casey would have a hard time examining the body of a young woman whose head had been crushed by a rock.
Yellow tape, strung between the giant cacti, lent surrealism to the otherwise mundane crime scene. A gentle wind blew the tape back and forth, making the cordon look fragile. On the inside of the taped perimeter, in an area roughly the size of a small house, officers dressed in khaki mixed with the blue uniforms of unneeded paramedics. The body lay in the center of the scene, as yet untouched, and bathed in the final light of the day.
She had been a young woman, about twenty, slender and medium in height. Her clothes were bargain brand, and her shoes looked a few sizes too big. She had no discerning features other than long fingers which ended in chewed-off nails. Her head had been crushed, not by a single blow, but by what appeared to be a methodic erasure of her identity. Matted blonde hair covered with blood and mixed with the dirt of the environment surrounded the remains of her skull like a sick halo.
As Casey knelt down, he covered his mouth with a handkerchief to mask the smell of the bloody corpse that had been sitting in the hot sun for a least a day. He examined the woman from the remains of her head to her feet, looking for a clue, looking for a reason or a method to the madness. His eyes wandered past the skullcap lying in several pieces mixed with brain matter, past what appeared to be eye sockets picked clean by birds, past a nose caved in about an inch. A small spider crawled from the remains of a nostril, zigzagged past a tooth, and left the scene via the remains of a crushed ear. Three earrings lay near the right ear, one of them torn off by the trauma. On the other ear, a single diamond stud remained intact.
Across her neck lay a gold-colored necklace, probably purchased from a street-corner vendor. Attached to it, caked in blood, was a small pendant that might have held some meaning, at least to the woman. The material was stone, like onyx, and possessed a white glow that shone even in the fading light of dusk. It was carved in the shape of two ‘R’s, linked together with a sword or staff through the middle. It seemed ugly, odd, and out of place. Casey scrunched up his nose in thought, grabbed his pen and made a quick sketch of the symbol.
A light flashed above his head. The crime scene photographer moved quickly, shooting pictures of the body, probable belongings and anything that didn’t seem like it was a natural part of the landscape. Casey looked up, pointed to the pendant, and asked for a close-up. Quickly, the camera rose, the picture taken, and the photographer moved away.
Casey continued his cursory examination. Writing rapidly, he noted the meticulous manner in which the victim had been placed—legs together, feet pointing up, arms crossed over her chest. In her right hand, the victim held a tiny yellow flower, dotted with blood. This wasn’t a haphazard murder, brought on by rage and carried out with carelessness. The body had been positioned, the flower planted and then—and only then—the head crushed beyond recognition.
“Peaceful looking, ain’t she?” The voice came from behind Casey, raspy and full of phlegm.
“From the neck down.” Casey stood He turned to the voice, grabbed a cigarette from his breast pocket and lit it. “Weird, though. What do you think?”
A small man—thin in the neck and face, with wire-rimmed glasses dangling on a pointed nose—cleared his throat, snorted once then spit out a wad of green phlegm as far from the body as he could. “Looks like the perp wanted a piece of ass, got pissed off when he didn’t get it, knocked her in the head once, got scared, then crushed her skull so no one would recognize her.” He looked down at the body.
“Lover? Pimp? Plumber?” Casey took a long drag of his cigarette. “Take a look at the clothes, Byron. Not from around here.”
“No, not from around there.” Byron pointed over a ridge to the brightening glow of million-dollar homes and upscale golf courses in the distance. “She’s from the city. Just look at the shirt.”
Casey looked down at the woman’s shirt, just below the crossed arms. A cheesy slogan from a local gift shop, black words mixed with stains of blood: “I survived 123 degrees . . . but it was a dry heat!”
Casey chuckled to himself. I have that shirt, too.
The photographer stepped up to Casey. “I’m all done here,” he said without looking at anything or anyone in particular. He turned and walked away.
Thunder vibrated the desert floor, muffled only by the humid air and the distance. To the west, the thunderstorm had grown in size and threatened to drown the crime scene. The sun had set far enough that the reds and oranges had faded to deep indigos and grays. Around the perimeter of the cordon, halogen lights illuminated the scene, and a crew of younger officers was busy unfolding a makeshift tarp over the victim’s remains.
Casey looked off in the distance toward the expensive homes and sheltered life of planned subdivisions. Just under the lights and on top of a small hill, he thought he saw a man observing the scene. Casey squinted and wished for a moment he hadn’t left his glasses in his car. He never wanted to believe his eyesight was failing him, but there were times he chastised himself for not listening to what others had to say.
Byron tapped Casey on the shoulder. “See something of interest?”
Casey thought for a moment of all the times he’d been at a scene and felt the stares of onlookers. He’d been told once to look at all the faces in the crowd; murder is an act, but evasion is a sport. So often, the demons would be there mingling with the anonymous, hoping to gain some insight into what others might find.
In this case, though, the murder was remote. Why would there be onlookers?
“Nothing, Byron. Just thought I saw something.”
“Kind of hard to do that without your glasses, isn’t it?”
Casey frowned and turned back to the scene. He walked slowly around the body, looking for something different in the artificial light, a tiny detail that might give him an advantage in this game of evasion. Watching where he stepped and avoiding the yellow evidence flags, he moved toward the woman’s feet. Once more, he looked at the placement of the legs, the arms, the flower, and the shirt.
He scrunched his nose. Something was wrong. From his vantage point at the woman’s feet, he saw just under the area where her arms crossed. Sure there was plenty of blood, but it almost looked . . .
“Byron,” Casey called while still staring at the chest. “Come here and look at this.”
Byron walked over. “What is it? More brains?”
“No. Take a look at the chest below the arms, and then the neck. Notice anything?”
Byron looked down at the victim and adjusted his glasses. He made a small noise of interest. “Move the arms out of the way.”
Casey walked around the other side of the woman, knelt down, and pulled a pair of latex gloves out of his pocket, snapping them over his fingers. Reaching over the body, he lifted the arms.
His eyebrows stood as his stomach sank. “Where’s her heart?”
With a flash of lightning and a clap of thunder, the rain fell. Instinctively, Casey turned back to see if there really had been someone on the hill.
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Benjamin X. Wretlind ran with scissors when he was five. Consequently, he likes llamas, although it’s widely known that llamas don’t care one way or another. He is the author of Castles: A Fictional Memoir of a Girl with Scissors, Sketches from the Spanish Mustang and Regarding Dead Things on the Side of the Road: Collected Stories.
He lives in Colorado with his wife and kids…but no llamas (yet).