Vipers

Book Two of the Veins Cycle

by Lawrence C. Connolly
Illustrated by Gerasimos Kolokas


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VIPERS Cover

Axle and Bird are back from the dead. No longer merely human, they must now work to further the oohaate—the spirit path. Whether they will like what they find at the journey’s end remains to be seen, but for now, there’s no turning back.

An explosion at Windslow Mine has set things in motion. The forest is crawling with snakes, driven from their nests by underground fires.

And the snakes are not alone.

Other forces are emerging, rising from the earth’s molten veins, preparing to reclaim a smoldering world. By daybreak, the residents of Windslow, Pennsylvania, will know that the world is burning beneath them.

By daybreak, the nightmare begins.

Product Details

Supernatural Thriller
276 Pages
16 Illustrations

Trade Paperback • 6" x 9"
ISBN10: 1-934571-03-2
ISBN13: 978-1-934571-03-3

For more information about the book, including a FAQ list with the author, check out the Veins Cycle Media Kit.

Reviews & Blurbs

“Add ambitious evil spirits to a marathon game of Grand Theft Auto and you have this breakneck made-for-the-movies celebration of bloody carnage and black scheming . . . fans of summer blockbusters will be happy to crunch popcorn through the car chases, explosions, and brutality.”
      —Publishers Weekly

“Lawrence C. Connolly’s Vipers is to his Veins what Coppola’s Godfather II was to The Godfather; he’s taken the dark, rich, mythological noir of the first novel and deepened its themes, expanded its vision, and reached near-operatic levels of grandeur, terror, and complexity. There is a brand-new and formidable mythos being created before your very eyes, and, stunned, we can only await with wonder—and more than a little awe—where next Connolly will take both it and us. Simply jaw-dropping, Vipers must be read by any serious follower of horror, crime, and dark fantasy who wants to see the next step in the cross-genre revolution.”
      —Gary A. Braunbeck, International Horror Guild and five-time Bram Stoker Award-winning author of To Each Their Darkness and A Cracked and Broken Path

“There’s always a worry when we read something new by an author whose work we both like and admire; what if the standards have slipped, and we end up disappointed? Should we be wary of Vipers, in case it turns and bites us? Thankfully, and emphatically, no: in this, his follow up to the award-nominated Veins, Lawrence C. Connolly shows us once again just how imaginative, intelligent and skilful a writer he is. Deftly weaving together mythology, edge-of-seat action sequences, more characters than most authors would dare try to control in a single narrative, terror and a real sense of an encroaching apocalypse, he delivers a novel that is at once gleeful, unpredictable and entirely ominous. Connolly shows us all how it should be done, using taut, graceful prose, vibrant imagery, glorious worlds-spanning ideas and well-drawn characters that we actually care about to deliver a book that he can be enormously proud of, and that the rest of us can read, love and be in awe of. And, maybe, be a little jealous of.”
      —Simon Kurt Unsworth, author of Lost Places

“Lawrence C. Connolly has the rare ability to completely transport the reader. Opening the pages of Vipers creates a doorway to the forested mine country of Pennsylvania. But beware—as you race along the dusty, backcountry roads with the characters, with the thrill of speed comes something else, something deadly and far from human. Connolly delivers a taut novel of horror and suspense that will have you reading chapter after chapter long after you meant to go to sleep.”
      —Alice Henderson, author of Voracious

Awards

Vipers appeared on the Preliminary Ballot for the 2010 Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a Novel.

Excerpts

Audio Button Click to listen to Lawrence C. Connolly read the prologue.

When his dead girlfriend's car broke down three miles from the West Virginia line, Dalton Davies got out, jumped the guardrail, and walked into the Pennsylvania forest.

He didn't have a plan, didn't know where he was going. He simply knew he needed to keep moving, putting distance between himself and the mess he'd left behind in Pittsburgh.

The sun was low over the hills as he entered the trees, shining yellow against the trunks and vines. It occurred to him that his clothes—T-shirt, cutoffs, and threadbare sneakers—were all wrong for a night in the woods, but he couldn't return to the highway. He needed to be elsewhere before the cops found the car. It would be simpler that way.

He came upon a coal-hauling road, humped in the middle, patched with weeds. He followed it to a ravine strewn with appliances, car parts, scrap wood, bottles, wire coat hangers, and something that looked like the rusted frame of a backyard swing set. It was Polly's kind of place. She'd been a junk artist before she went psycho, and he wondered if finding a dump on this particular evening was some kind of omen.

Dalton trusted omens.

Polly used to kid him about that, back in the days when she'd still had a sense of humor.

"You're a mystic, Dalton. A Sariputra in need of bodhi."

"Body?"

"Bodhi. It's like satori."

"The hell's that?"

"It's what you're looking for, my Sariputra."

"And what's a sorry poochra?"

She laughed. "That'd be you, Dalton." She punched his shoulder. "You're the sorry poochra. Definitely the sorriest poochra I've ever seen."

She had been like that when they'd first met, peppering her insults with Eastern mysticism, always talking in circles and jagging him around—but in good ways. Those had been happy times. Even now, after all the crap that had gone down, he cherished those memories. And now here he was, on the day of her death, running away and stumbling upon a cache of junk that at one time would have had Polly jumping with anticipation.

"Damn," he said, speaking to her memory. "Wish you could see this place, Polly."

Sorry, Dalton. I can't see anything. Her words seemed to come from outside his head, emanating from the hiss and babble of a creek running through the ravine. You killed me, remember?

"I didn't kill you."

You didn't help me. It's the same thing.

"What could I have done?"

Anything but run away. Damnit, Dalton. When things get tough, you run like a pustule.

"So what should I have done?"

The creek babbled, flowing south. No words now. No answer. Just the sound of flowing water. Maybe that was because there was no answer. Or maybe because the only answer was one he didn't want to consider: that it was time to stop running, turn back, alert the authorities. He'd been ignoring that answer all morning, telling himself that his only option was getting away to a place where he could forget he had ever had a relationship with a manic-depressive junk artist whose final work had been painting the floor with her open wrists. "Angels!" she had said, looking up at him from the stained carpet, blood smeared like red wings. "I see angels! What do you see?" That was it. Her last words.

What do you see?

"I couldn't stop you, Polly."

Angels.

"I couldn't save you."

I see angels. What do you see?

Maybe his only option was to return to the car, tie something white to the door, and wait for the cops to check on him. When they did, he could tell them how he hadn't really stolen the car, just borrowed it. He could explain that he hadn't meant to bolt without calling 911, it was just that he'd been confused. It was like something had snapped when he saw all that blood.

Whose blood? The cop would say.

"My girlfriend's."

What happened?

"It's complicated."

Wind stirred the trees. Dalton shivered, sunlight shifted, and suddenly, near the base of the slope, he saw Polly lying in a drift of rotting leaves.

"Jesus!"

He stepped back, heart racing. This was crazy. She couldn't be here. And yet—

What do you see?

He stepped forward again, squinting, focusing, determining that it really was there. But it wasn't Polly. It wasn't even a real body.

"A mannequin!" His shivers deepened. "A sign!"

This one had to mean something.

He descended the slope.

The painted eyes seemed to follow him, staring from a face that looked more like Polly the closer he got. Wide eyes, straight nose, high cheeks, narrow jaw—it resembled the woman she had been before her junk-art mania had succumbed to depression, before her features had darkened and her gaze turned toward the angels in her head.

I see angels.

The slope was steeper than it looked, and more slippery. Halfway down he lost his footing, fell, and slid the rest of the way. Rocks and junk clawed at him, scraping his legs, pummeling his butt, covering his cutoffs with a muddy smear before he careened to a stop at the edge of the creek. The mannequin was beside him now. He looked toward it, and that's when he saw the other set of eyes.

What do you see?

The other eyes were real, alive, and looking right at him. They peered from the shadow of the mannequin's head: fixed, unblinking—snake eyes.

"Aw, shit!" He leaned away.

The snake didn't move. It just sat there: body coiled, neck cocked, eyes staring. Its head wasn't much larger than the tip of Dalton's thumb, but the shape of its eyes and the banded colors of its body marked it as a copperhead.

He scooted away.

The snake moved now, turning its head, tracking his motion, tasting the air with its hair-thin tongue.

Dalton rose to his feet. He took a step backward, intending to turn and climb out of the ravine when something struck the back of his leg, thumping a few inches above the heel. He looked around.

A second snake recoiled behind him. This one was larger than the first. Had it bitten him? The thump hadn't felt like much, just a tap. Maybe it was a warning tap. Did snakes do that?

He moved away, sidestepping now.

Both snakes watched, eyes fixed, tongues darting.

A rotting log angled over the creek, one end resting in the water. Dalton sat on it, looked at his leg, checked the ankle. The bite marks were there, two of them. They were like pimples, beads of welling blood. He touched one. It broke and flowed, dribbling down, staining his shoe.

The big snake kept staring.

"You son of a bitch! I wasn't even bothering you."

The snake flicked its tongue.

Dalton's leg was hurting now, pain spreading in waves. He tried getting up. The leg cramped. He stumbled and went down hard. And suddenly there were more snakes, a nest of babies emerging from the log. They struck at his hands. He recoiled. One of the snakes held on, clamping the soft flesh between thumb and finger. He tried shaking it away. The ropy body coiled, flexing against his palm.

"Goddamnit!"

He slammed the hand against the log, rubbing hard, reducing the body to a pulpy skid. But the head held on, jaws pulsing, eyes staring as Dalton pried it loose. The fangs retracted. They were nasty-looking: curved, smeared with blood, dripping venom. He tossed the head away, but the other snakes were on him now, biting his limbs, riddling them with punctures that oozed and smeared as he crawled backward through weeds. And then he was up, on his feet, and running along the creek. That was what he did best. When things got crazy, when the world turned shitty, he ran. Get away, that was his strategy. But why was he following the creek when he needed to get back to the road, flag down a car, scream for help?

He turned toward the slope, threw himself against it, and started to climb. His throat tightened. He couldn't catch his breath, feared he might pass out, but then he emerged: out of the hollow and into the presence of . . . not an omen . . . but a miracle.

A farmhouse stood before him: gabled eaves, covered porch, open door.

"Hey!" He stumbled forward. "Help!" He fell. A shadow streaked the ground in front of him, racing away on a gust of wind. He looked up. Nothing there. No clouds. Only the sun resting low atop the trees.

He stood, winced at the fire in his foot, and resumed his stumbling gait toward the house.

The door was open. Someone had to be home.

"Hey! Help me. I've been snake bit!"

He fell toward the porch steps, grabbed the banister, and nearly blacked out as his bitten hand spasmed from the pressure. He fell to his knees, everything hurting now, pain burning inside him as he crawled up the stairs and onto the porch. Then he knelt, blinking, clearing his vision. He'd been wrong about the door. It wasn't open. Not in the usual sense. He forced himself to strand, lurching forward, past a pair of dangling hinges, looking inside to see the door lying on a rotting carpet, dusted with years of grit. Weeds had taken root, spreading onto the floor, rising tall and spindly beneath the exposed beams of a fallen roof.

The house was in ruin, deserted. But still he pushed forward, entering the main room where wood, shingles, and flooring lay in a massive drift against the parlor wall. And beyond the drift, framed within a water-stained arch, he saw another room whose walls bore the outlines of a stove, sink, and refrigerator. The appliances were gone, and now other things stood in their place: strange constructions—incongruous. They didn't belong in a kitchen.

Are they really there?

He blinked.

Please be real.

He fell to his knees, rubbed his eyes, looked again.

What do you see?

The constructions remained fixed in his vision. One was a collection of books stacked in a case of cinderblocks and boards. The other was a bed of newspapers and cardboard sheeting. No dust on any of it. No weeds. The space looked clean.

Someone lives here.

"Hey! Can you hear me?"

The flying shadow returned, streaking through the open roof, blurring across the floor.

Dalton looked up, squinting at an exposed patch of sky. Something was up there . . . flying . . . circling. Dalton tried standing, but pain pushed him down again, onto his back, flat against the fibers of the rotting carpet.

I'm dying.

He clawed at his throat, staring straight up as the shadow came again . . . only this time it stopped, landed on a cornice, and looked down. Its head twitched between curving wings. Its eyes glowed.

Not real.

Dalton blinked.

I see angels. What do you see?

The thing leaned forward, grunting as it slipped from the cornice and glided down to a second-floor beam.

It resembled a man . . . a winged man with legs bent in too many places. Dalton couldn't see its face, only its eyes—sloe-shaped, glowing from within. "Are you real?" Dalton asked.

The creature stepped from the beam and dropped onto the fallen roof. It was close now. Too close. But Dalton couldn't move. Couldn't breathe. He could only lie and watch as the creature leaned forward a final time, arched its wings, and dove.

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About the Author

Lawrence C. Connolly’s books include the novels Veins (2008), Vipers (2010), and Vortex (2014), which make up the three-book Veins Cycle. His short story collections, Visions (2009), This Way to Egress (2010), and Voices (2011), collect his stories from Amazing Stories, Cemetery Dance, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Twilight Zone, and Year’s Best Horror. Voices was nominated for the Bram Stoker Award, Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection. He serves twice a year as one of the residency writers at Seton Hill University’s graduate program in Writing Popular Fiction.

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