Excerpt From S’WANEE: A Paranoid Thriller by Don Winston

Sometimes I like to post excerpts from books whose authors were kind enough to visit with me on HumorOutcasts Radio.  I am excited to excerpt S’WANEE: A Paranoid Thriller by Don Winston. Even though this novel is not in the humor genre, I wanted to give it some space on HO.  Written by Don Winston, a screenwriter who grew up in Tennessee and  now lives in Los Angeles, S’wanee: A Paranoid Thriller  will make you doubt not only the main character’s sanity but probably your own.   At present, only the  Kindle version is available, but the print version will be out shortly.

You can find out about Don Winston and this wonderful novel below:

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Excerpt:  Later, Cody wouldn’t recall what woke him up. It wasn’t his alarm or any sound really; it was just a ransacking energy and sense of panic, like a fire, and he still felt fuzzily in a deep sleep, when in fact he was outside, walking fast, almost running, toward Abbo’s Alley with Banjo leading the way and Elliott bringing up the rear. “It came from this way,” Banjo said, huffing, and for once there was no sarcasm and no humor. It was still mostly dark, on the edge of dawn, and they were all barefoot and in T-shirts and underwear, having rushed right out of bed. Farther across the field, by an octopus-armed giant oak, a woman yelled, “Please! Please!” and then a string of words in Spanish.

She was standing alone, in her white food service uniform, less hysterical than desperate. On Banjo’s lead, they broke into a sprint across the thick clover and tall daffodils toward her, their calves and feet wet with dew. Elliott slipped and stumbled but caught up as they neared the live oak.

“You okay, ma’am?” Banjo called out, the first to reach her. Her long black hair was pulled in a bun, hair net–ready. She clutched the straps of her big brown purse and had stopped talking, just shaking her cell phone hand at the cluster of daffodils in front of her, like a scold. Cody wondered if she might be crazy.

“Can you tell me what’s wrong, ma’am?” Banjo asked, approaching her carefully, maybe thinking she was nuts, too. As if she’d been holding strong until help arrived, the servicewoman suddenly collapsed into sobs that were curiously mixed with high-pitched whines. Banjo stepped gingerly and followed her frantic pointing, Cody right behind. “Oh man,” Banjo said, had he finished his thought. Fletcher lay faceup in the daffodils, his head cocked back, his throat torn out through his neck.

Cody recalled, from nowhere, a term he had learned in high school biology and never thought of since: “viscera.”

“Geezus,” Elliott said, and Cody said nothing because he wasn’t entirely sure he was awake and had never seen a dead person before. Fletcher’s eyes looked up at the oak, and they were calm, and his tongue lay from the corner of his open mouth. The skin of his face and flayed hands was a shade lighter than Cody remembered.

Nesta lay next to her master, prostrate and agitated, whining as she pawed the ground, crawling in place and getting nowhere. The black fur around her jaws and chest was shiny with dew, and there was dull terror in her eyes, and between whines she pushed her snout against the ground and made a retching hack. She hoisted her hind legs, and her stomach billowed, but the retch was unsuccessful, and she went prostrate and ground-pawing again.

Strewn about nearby were dark and glistening clumps and shreds that Cody instinctively knew used to be part of Fletcher’s neck. Cody watched his step carefully.

Pearl was moving quickly toward them in silence, arms swinging, in her flowered robe and pink slippers. Her hair was coiffed as usual, but it sat crooked on her head, like an off-kilter hat. Behind her in a calm march came Dean Apperson, tied in a paisley robe over blue striped pajamas, his white hair disheveled and almost hip. The sky was turning a lighter blue, and a few birds had started singing.

“God help us,” Pearl said under her breath when she saw Fletcher and then instinctively turned to shield her boys. “You don’t need to see this. You don’t need to see this.”

“Well, now,” Dean Apperson said, calmly inspecting Fletcher from above. Pearl went to console the food service woman, and Nesta followed, stooped low with her tail down. The woman yelled “No!” and Nesta backed away and circled around to Cody. She nosed his hand, and he stroked her head without thinking. He was still mesmerized by the body and Apperson’s detached, analytical reaction. He might have been inspecting a flat tire.

Nesta lifted her head so Cody could stroke her jaw. His hand felt wet, and he looked down to find it coated in thin, watery blood. He yanked it back, and Nesta whined and backed away and ran in small, cowered circles.

“Nesta, Nesta, Nesta,” Dean Apperson repeated in a hypnotic rhythm, as the worried dog circled farther from him. “Come, Nesta. Stay, Nesta.” His voice carried a soothing command as he got closer.

Ross was running toward them across University Avenue, from the other side of campus. He had thrown on last night’s clothes, and Cody wondered if he had spent the night at the lab or maybe in Tuckaway Hall, even as his own hand still glistened dewy red. “I just got your message,” he called to Dean Apperson, who waved him away. He had cornered Nesta against the tree trunk. He grabbed the dog’s collar and yanked him up to his side and held him there.

“Be careful, sir!” Banjo said.

“Ross, get rid of them,” Dean Apperson snapped. With the dog in hand, he now seemed irritated and disgusted by the whole situation. He looked like he needed a cigarette.

“Let’s go, guys.” Ross herded the trio away from the tree.

“Pearl, please,” Dean Apperson said more gently, nodding toward the servicewoman. “Let’s take you home, child,” Pearl soothed, stroking her hair bun as she led her back toward her lodging beyond the woods.

Nesta opened her throat and, with a sharp hack, regurgitated a dark, wet clump onto the ground. She lapped her tongue through her mouth to clear the taste. “Just go now,” Dean Apperson ordered Elliott, who stood frozen. Banjo took him by the elbow. “C’mon, man.”

Halfway through the silent, wet walk back to Rebel’s Rest, Cody saw a white delivery van speeding down University Avenue. It detoured over the sidewalk and across Abbo’s Alley. Two men in blue surgical scrubs sprang from the cabin and hurried toward Dean Apperson, carrying a coil of rope and what looked like a noose on the end of a long pole.

“Cody?” Ross beckoned him.

Cody turned from the front porch. The men, under Dean Apperson’s direction, were carrying the bound and muzzled Nesta back to the van. She had given up thrashing, but her woeful squeals silenced the morning birds.

“Come on, Tiger.” Ross motioned him inside.

“What’s going on?” Sin asked in the foyer, still in her nightclothes and holding an empty coffee mug. Ross led her back down the hallway, talking in her ear.

From upstairs, Cody heard his iPhone beeping, waking him for his morning run.


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