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The Mary Sue Exclusive: Chapter 2 of Michael Alan Nelson’s Hexed: The Sisters of Witchdown

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Fans of Michael Alan Nelson’s Hexed comic, it’s time to get hype! Nelson’s Hexed: The Sisters of Witchdown goes on sale May 15th from Pyr, but in the meantime The Mary Sue is pleased to present an exclusive peek inside the debut Hexed novel!

——

The sun was starting to set by the time Lucifer reached her apartment complex. It wasn’t in the best neighborhood, but she didn’t want to take any chances with a nosy landlord. And this was the only place a teenager could live on her own without arousing suspicion. As long as she paid her rent every month, no one ever asked any questions.

She took the stairs to the second floor, listening to the familiar creak of the steps beneath her feet. She moved past three older men having an argument about some sports game they had watched the night before. They were waving their hands about as they talked, not even giving Lucifer so much as a second glance.

As she was pulling her keys out of her pocket, she heard a CLACK! CLACK! CLACK! followed by giggling. Lucifer turned to see the Reneau twins playing at the far end of the hall. They were wearing brown paper shopping bags with holes cut in the sides for their arms and using wooden spoons as swords. Their mother, dressed in a tattered bathrobe and oversized slippers, came out of a nearby apartment. She saw Lucifer, gave her an apologetic smile then ushered the kids back into their apartment.

Lucifer opened her own door and walked inside. Her apartment was small. The only pieces of furniture she had in the main room were a leaking beanbag chair and a small desk lamp on a milk crate. The rest of the room was littered with stuffed toys, trinkets, and piles of books, several of them hundreds of years old.

Even though the place was cramped, Lucifer didn’t mind. It was infinitely better than living on the streets in the Brazilian favela where she spent her childhood. Here she had electricity, hot running water, and shelter from the rain. But most importantly, there weren’t any death squads hunting her. Or worse.

Though she could easily afford a better place, she knew a girl her age living that well would attract someone’s attention. Money always attracted attention, and the last thing Lucifer ever wanted was people noticing her.

She walked over to her little kitchenette and pulled an apple out of the small refrigerator sitting in the corner. It had been hours since she had eaten anything, and she could hear her stomach growling over the muffled voices of the men arguing in the hallway. Lucifer made her way to the beanbag and plopped down to finish her apple. She leaned her head back and stared into her small bedroom a few feet away. On the far side of the room, a tall, thin object stood draped beneath a faded blue bedsheet, the tattered edges of the sheet lightly flowing in the soft breeze coming from the tiny square-shaped hole in the wall masquerading as a window. If it wasn’t for the horrific thing hidden under the sheet, it would almost look pretty.

She turned her head away from the object under the sheet and took another bite from the apple. The day was too much of a disappointment, and she didn’t want to dwell on it anymore. No one knew how to remove her tattoo. But part of Lucifer had already known that, though it didn’t make it any less unbearable. For now, Lucifer was content to just listen to the world around her and forget the day’s failures.

As she wiped a drop of sticky juice from her chin, the men arguing in the hallway suddenly went quiet. All Lucifer could hear were the groaning creaks of someone walking up the stairs. But the creaking sounds were louder, more strained. Someone heavy was coming up the stairs. Someone so imposing the arguing men decided it best to finish their argument another time.

Lucifer put her ear to her door and listened. Whoever was coming up the stairs was moving at a quick, steady pace. Which meant they weren’t heavy from fat, but from muscle. The creaking stopped as the person reached the top of the stairs. When Lucifer heard the heavy footsteps start down the hall toward her apartment, she stepped back from the door and turned off the light. She thought she had lost whoever was following her at the clinic, but they must have been expecting her to duck out the back and followed her home.

For a moment, she thought she was overreacting until the footsteps came to a stop in front of her door.

KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK!

“Police. Open up,” said a man with a deep, angry voice.

Lucifer looked back at the open window. It was more than big enough for her to slip through, and it wouldn’t be too hard for her to scale the side of the building. But if she ran, she’d have to leave everything behind. And if this really was a cop, chances were good that all of her belongings would be confiscated. That could be a serious problem.

KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK!

“C’mon, I know you’re in there. Open the door.”

Lucifer stood stone-still. After a few moments, she saw the door handle start to move and jiggle as the person on the outside started to pick the lock. She could do it in a matter of seconds, so she knew it wouldn’t take him very long to get the door open.

She had played with the idea of developing her own security system to keep local burglars and curious neighbors away. But anything above a dead bolt would tell them there was something in here worth protecting. The best deterrent she had was that, to average eyes, she had nothing of value. Yet, to those who walked in the same circles as Lucifer, she was sitting on a gold mine.

Lucifer ducked behind the front door, squeezing her wiry shoulders into the corner and hiding in the shadows. The doorknob continued to wiggle and click as the man struggled to unlock the door. It was painful to watch. Whoever it was obviously didn’t have a lot of experience breaking into places. It was taking so long that Lucifer was almost tempted to reach over and unlock the door for him, but if he couldn’t get it open, maybe he would just give up and go away.

The handle clicked, and a thin line of light sliced across the room as the door opened. Lucifer pulled herself into the corner as tightly as she could. The man stood in the open doorway, his massive shadow stretching across the floor. He stepped into the apartment and slowly closed the door behind him. Even in the darkness, Lucifer could tell that he was one of the largest men she had ever seen. He was close to seven feet tall, and his muscles were almost comically huge. And he was most definitely a cop. The thick navy fabric of his South Haven police uniform stretched to near bursting across the bulk of his chest. His hand rested on the handle of the pistol holstered at his side, and his baton looked like a toy pencil as it clacked against the back of his heavy thigh when he moved.

Lucifer ran through the mental list of reasons the police might be after her. By the time she got to reason number 15, she decided it didn’t matter. She had to get out of there, even if that meant leaving everything behind. She’d stolen it all once before; she could steal it all again.

“Lucifer, I know you’re here. I’m not here to hurt you. I just want to talk.”

She wanted to laugh. Lucifer knew that “I just want to talk” was code for “Stand still so I can kill you without having to work up a sweat.” It was such a dead giveaway that Lucifer wondered why anyone would ever bother saying it. Abestado.
Fortunately, she knew how to take care of herself, even against bigger guys like him (though she had to admit she’d never seen anyone that big before). Most thugs would use their size to intimidate people, so they never really had to learn how to do anything other than growl and sneer. The threat of violence was enough. But this guy was a cop. Which meant that not only was he gargantuan, he was trained in hand-to-hand combat. That made Lucifer nervous.

Surprise was her only advantage. As quickly as she could, she shot forward and kicked him in the back of the knee, putting all of her weight into it. His knee buckled and he toppled backward, turning as he fell. Lucifer then made for the door but felt a hand as large as a dinner plate wrap around her arm. On instinct, she brought her free fist up under the arm that was holding her and hit the man in the armpit. Normally, his grip should have slackened, but he had so much muscle that her punch was ineffective. Without missing a beat, she took another swing at his head then buried her heel in his solar plexus. He let out a sudden, deep gasp that sent spittle flying in her face. But still he held on.

“Will . . . you . . . stop!” the cop wheezed. He twisted her arm, trying to force her to the ground, but Lucifer used the momentum to swing her body behind him and pull his own arm across his throat. She wrapped her legs around his massive torso and locked her arms under his elbow, pressing his forearm into his windpipe. He gasped, trying to say something but couldn’t get enough air.

Lucifer knew that she couldn’t hold on to him for much longer. He was too strong. Even with the right leverage, a girl as small as she was could only do so much to a guy as big as him. The cop suddenly jumped to his feet and grabbed Lucifer’s wrist with his free hand and used her own arm as a fulcrum to pull her grip free. He turned faster than a man his size should have been able to and shoved her back, sending Lucifer tumbling across the floor. She came to a stop in a crouch. The cop was blocking her way to the door, but she could easily make the window before he could get to her. And he was too big to follow her.

“Would you calm down! I’m not going to hurt you.”

“Oh, you’ve got that right.”

Lucifer pretended to make for the door, forcing the cop to move to block her. He was quick, but with all his weight it would take him longer to change his direction. She pushed off the ball of her foot, ricocheting back toward the window. The cop almost lost his balance trying to follow her movement.

“No! Wait, please!”

The curtain slapped her in the face when she dove through the open window, stinging her cheeks. Lucifer grabbed the edge of the windowsill to keep herself from falling to the alley below. She was about to climb down when she heard the cop say, “Lucifer, I need your help!”

She hung for a moment, motionless. She watched a balding cat jump out a nearby Dumpster with some sort of prize hanging from its mouth and wondered if it was an omen. If it was, did it mean that she was the cat or the dead thing hanging from its mouth?

Lucifer put that thought from her mind and looked down to the concrete below. All she had to do was climb down and she’d be gone. Disappeared. So then why wasn’t she moving? There had been something in the cop’s voice that she recognized: desperation. Unfortunately, it was a tone that she was all too familiar with. So she took a deep breath, gave the alley cat a withering scowl, then pulled herself up to peek through the window.

The cop was sitting on the floor with his legs splayed to his sides. He was hunched forward with his head in his hands, his police cap on the floor next to him. He was so lost in his despair that he didn’t notice Lucifer staring at him. He looked completely and utterly defeated.

Lucifer had a horrible feeling that she was going to regret what she was about to do. It was a feeling she’d had numerous times in the past, and every single time she had regretted it. Yet, for some reason, she always ignored the feeling, regardless of how much trouble she knew she was going to get into. Why should this time be any different?
She rested her chin on the edge of the windowsill and watched him for a moment. Last chance. All you have to do is drop down and run. But then she chided herself for even thinking it.

“What kind of help do you need?”

——-

Here are some more details from Pyr:

Luci Jenifer Inacio das Neves, Lucifer for short, isn’t your typical teenaged girl. She’s a thief who survives by stealing bad things from bad people in the magical and mystical underworld. So when a policeman’s daughter, Gina, is kidnapped by force he can’t explain, Lucifer is his only hope.

With the unsolicited help of Gina’s friends, including Gina’s boyfriend David, Lucifer discovers that Gina was taken to an otherworldly dimension by a creature of unspeakable evil: one of the Seven Sisters of Witchdown. Against all odds, Lucifer must use every magical tool hidden in her trick bag to steal her way into the Shade and bring Gina back before the Sister sacrifices her for her own dark ends. But the closer Lucifer gets to Gina, the closer she gets to David. And David to her. Lucifer must risk her life by confronting demons, witches, and the cruel demigoddess controlling her destiny – all to save the one girl who stands in the way of Lucifer finally finding love.

Michael Alan Nelson was born in Portage, Indiana and grew up in a small farming community before moving to Los Angeles in 2002. He is the winner of the 2004 New Times 55 Fiction contest for his short-short “The Conspirators” and was awarded the 2011 Glyph Comics Award for Best Female Character for the character Selena from his series “28 Days Later.” Michael is the author of the critically acclaimed comic series “Hexed,” “Dingo,” and “Fall of Cthulhu.”

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