Chris Roberson has been writing terrific alternate history books for years, in addition to his work on comics like iZombie and Superman. Now, he’s got a brand new supernatural thriller called Firewalk coming in October, and we’ve got an exclusive first look.
Below, we’ve got the first excerpt from Firewalk, in which FBI investigator Izzie Lefevre is still haunted by her encounter with a sword-waving serial killer, five years later. Now, she’s discovering that the coastal city of Recondito contains more than just human killers—there are supernatural monsters on the loose here.
But first, here’s the first look at the cover of the book, plus one of the cover designs that was considered originally:
And here’s that excerpt:
Five years ago . . .
The killer wouldn’t stop apologizing as he dismembered the corpse.
“I’m so sorry. I never meant for anyone to get hurt. One more and I’ll be done.”
Special Agent Isabel Lefevre lay on the rusted metal plates that formed the floor of the lantern room at the top of the lighthouse. It felt like there was a seam of burning ice on her leg where the killer’s blade had bit into her flesh, which only burned colder when Izzie tried unsuccessfully to stand.
“I’m sorry.” The killer’s voice was muffled behind the silver skull mask he wore and sounded labored as he wrenched the corpse’s left arm free of its socket. “It’s too late to stop now.”
Izzie had fired two rounds before the killer slashed the pistol from her grasp. The downward arc of the killer’s forward-curving blade had continued, cutting deeply into her leg, and he had kicked her gun away from her when Izzie had collapsed on the floor. She pressed her right palm hard against the cut on the back of her left hand, trying to staunch the flow of blood, but without much success. Her radio was smashed to bits on the floor beside her. She hoped that Detective Tevake and the others had heard the shots, but with the rain pelting hard against the windows outside and the discordant speed metal blaring from the speakers at the bottom of the stairs, it didn’t seem likely. She considered calling out for him, but there was the killer’s blade to consider.
“You don’t have to do this.” Izzie’s voice cracked as she spoke, and she tried again louder to be heard over the din. “You don’t have to do this, Nicholas. You’ve won.”At the sound of his name the killer paused, and his eyes shifted behind the mask as he looked in her direction. “What did you say?”
“You’ve won, Nicholas. Whatever your disagreement with the others was about, it’s over now. You got what you wanted. There aren’t any left.” Izzie made herself move her gaze to the mutilated corpse, the wide cut across the abdomen, the organs and intestines strewn across the floor, the severed limbs stacked like firewood. “Francis Zhao was the last one.”
Holding the handle of his curved blade with his right hand, the killer used his left to push the skull mask up onto his forehead. Izzie saw tired, haunted eyes in the face of the man the news reporters had dubbed “The Recondito Reaper,” but who she and the rest of the task force knew to be Nicholas Fuller, former researcher at Ross University. The dead man lying in pieces on the floor in front of him had been a coworker, years before.
“You think I wanted this?” There was a desperate edge to the killer’s voice. If he was surprised that Izzie knew his name, it didn’t show. “I warned them!”
“I know. The university administrators told us all about it.” She decided to try a different tack. “You have the power here.”
“The power?!” The killer stood up, gestured to the windows with the long, forward-curving blade, and then pointed to the floor. “The power is what I’m worried about! You think these will protect me for long?”
Intricate patterns had been inscribed on the thick glass with a black marker, a riot of mathematical formulae, tight blocks of text, strange sigils. On the floor a ring of salt surrounded pentagrams, hexagrams, spirals, and a confusion of other occult symbols etched in chalk, including a veve for protection that Izzie recognized from her childhood.
“They are out there in the dark. More of them. Waiting.” The killer pulled the skull mask back down over his face. “And I have to stop the ones that are already here.”
For a confused moment, Izzie thought that he meant the other police who were already on scene. Detective Tevake was downstairs and the other two Recondito police officers were searching the living quarters next door with Supervisory Special Agent Henderson. But the killer couldn’t have known about any of them. He was talking about something else. Something that had him terrified.
“I want to understand.” Izzie tried to shift into a sitting position, then slammed back hard on her shoulder when the cut on her leg objected. She was light-headed from the blood loss, and having trouble focusing. She just needed to keep him occupied until the others came looking for her. “Explain it to me.”
The killer knelt back down and grabbed the dead man’s hair with one hand, and started sawing at his neck with the other.
“Gravity leaks into other spaces, but doors swing both ways. They went down into the dark, and the dark came back with them. Ridden. Passengers. I saw it, even if no one else did. I didn’t understand it myself, until the old daykeeper gave me the key. He showed me how to walk through the fire, and see the shadows for what they are. But now he’s gone, and there’s just me. I only have one more to go and my work is finished. Just one more.”
The killer seemed to have forgotten she was there. His voice was little more than a murmur as he sawed and hacked at the dead man’s neck, and she struggled to hear him over the music blaring downstairs.
“One more what, Nicholas?” Had he targeted another victim? Was there a member of the university’s Undersight team that the task force had failed to identify?
The killer stood up, holding the dead man’s severed head by the hair.
“The student. I have to find him, and then I will—”
Detective Patrick Tevake stood on the top step of the spiral staircase, aiming his pistol at the killer’s back.
The killer turned, severed head in one hand, blade in the other. When Izzie had entered the lantern room he had been behind the door, catching her off guard, but now he was too far away for his blade to be of much use against the police officer’s semi-automatic.
“I said don’t move!”
“You can’t stop me now.” The killer took a step forward, bringing him closer to where Izzie lay on the floor. “It’s almost over—”
Five rounds slammed into the killer’s torso. As he staggered back, his blade fell and clattered on the metal plates while the severed head rolled across the floor, coming to rest at Izzie’s side.
“Almost—” The killer’s voice gurgled as blood welled at the corners of his mouth.
The killer fell backwards, shattering the window on impact. Broken symbols and ruined formulae rained down as he fell through.
Izzie looked over at the severed head on the floor beside her. The dead man’s eyes were closed, and his expression seemed strangely tranquil. She couldn’t help but gasp.
“Now it’s over.” Detective Tevake had crossed the floor to look down at the killer’s body on the white rocks below. He glanced over his shoulder at Izzie. “Agent Lefevre, you hanging in there?”
Izzie could hear her pulse pounding in her ears. Her head swam. Darkness crawled at the edges of her vision.
“Agent Lefevre?” The detective was coming towards her now, holstering his pistol. “Izzie?”
The dead man had opened his eyes and was looking directly into hers. Now his mouth began to move, lips clearly forming words, though with no lungs to push air through his larynx he made no sound. Then the darkness closed in around her.
“Izzie, can you hear me?”
Now . . .
“Can you hear me?”
Special Agent Isabel Lefevre sat at her desk in the Behavioral Analysis Unit at Quantico, holding the cold plastic of her phone against her ear, listening to a voice she’d not heard in five years.
“Yes,” she finally managed. “I can hear you.”
“You have to come back to Recondito, Izzie.” Patrick Tevake sounded stricken. “It isn’t over.”