No, you’re not getting more Artifacts of Awareness today. Sorry! I really intended Free Fiction Friday for short stories, not for novels. Novel Monday is for releasing chapters of novels. I probably will release Artifacts of Awareness chapter by chapter but not until after I’m done with Fitting In. Maybe. We’ll see how it goes.
So what are you getting today? The first six chapters of my latest novel The Nature of Beasts. It was released on Wednesday and I’m very happy with it, thus I’m sharing part of it to promote it a little bit. Here we go!
Which was true: Desire or Fear?
A generation ago America passed a law allowing a bankrupt person’s debts to be bought by rich Masters. The debt slaves then belonged to their Masters for the duration of the debt. Kaleb Macintyre had been a Master, leading Macintyre industries with a strong hand. Then an abusive relationship drove him to abandon everything he had ever cared about, including the city he called home.
Fifteen years later, Kaleb returned. All he wanted was a quiet life far from the high pressure politics, corporate espionage and decadent sex clubs he’d once known so well. His former haunts held nothing of interest to him, especially given that his former lover Todd had claimed them as his own after Kaleb’s departure.
A chance encounter with his young neighbor Nenne made him question whether the instincts that had served him so well years ago could ever truly be set aside. Saving Nenne from his abusive Master was a good deed that Kaleb couldn’t regret. Mentoring Nenne as he began to explore his submissive nature was as natural as breathing despite the nightmares that haunted Kaleb’s dreams.
But time heals all wounds and as Kaleb watched Nenne bloom from a frightened and abused boy into a confident and mature young man, Kaleb wondered if his own scars would ever heal. The past with Todd was still painfully present for Kaleb. Despite that, Kaleb found himself turning more and more to Nenne as his soul healed from the past and sought to return to the way’s that had once served him so well.
The possibility of a relationship with Nenne both terrified and enticed Kaleb. The more time passed the more he questioned whether his fears or his desires were wrong. Deciding what to do might take more than Kaleb had, especially with the threat of Todd still lurking in the very clubs that Nenne began to frequent.
Please note that this story centers around themes of abuse and recovery from abuse. Very little is seen on screen but there is past sexual, physical, emotional and mental abuse of several characters. It’s also set in the Debts to Recover verse so there are persistent themes of slavery, terrorism and other dystopian things. Please read with caution if you have any issues with these themes.
The Nature of Beasts
By Meyari McFarland
1. Returning Home
Kaleb hummed as he carried the last box up the stairs to his new apartment. The hallway smelled of dust and the faintest traces of urine but Kaleb didn’t care. In the next month or so the carpet would be ripped up and replaced, after the roof had been repaired. He was pretty sure that the windows would all have to be switched out as well. They were simple tempered glass with no laminated plastic or other security features if there was an attack in the area.
None of that was a surprise given how old the apartment building was. The stairwell up to the third floor showed the age of the building. Drab walls that had once been white were stained gray from time, punctuated by scuff marks and the occasional water stain under the window. It was an old building which suited Kaleb to the core. After all, he was an old man, or at least he felt like one.
The fire he’d felt in his twenties had long since burned down, leaving only embers behind. Part of that was the military contracts he’d worked on for the last fifteen years. Kaleb shuddered, one hand on the door knob as he tried to banish the memories of twisted bodies and burnt faces. Maybe he had made the world a safer place like General Reyes had shouted when Kaleb announced his retirement but Kaleb couldn’t keep doing what he was doing.
“Mostly it’s Todd,” Kaleb whispered, a wry, exhausted smile twisting his lips. That mess had been what sent him into the military’s arms nearly sixteen years ago. “Ah well, I still have a few boxes to unpack. No reason to keep woolgathering.”
After all the moving around he’d done in the last fifteen years, Kaleb had gotten used to living from boxes and keeping the absolute minimum belongs. It made for easy moving but he was looking forward to collecting things now that he was back in his home town. He’d already gotten his library out of storage. Having books around him was a joy that he’d found hard to live without.
“Have to call the contractor about getting the wiring checked,” Kaleb muttered as he let himself into his apartment.
The light outside flickered randomly, apparently in response to the wind. Inside, the walls were freshly painted in a soothing creamy white. He’d had the carpet ripped up and wood floors put down before he moved in. The kitchen was tiny, barely big enough for one, much less two, but the appliances were relatively new. His whole apartment smelled new. It was something he looked forward to fixing once he was able to do some cooking. A nice spicy chili verde and some bread would do wonders for his apartment’s scent.
Kaleb deposited his last box on the steel counter and smiled. Yeah, it was a good apartment, not the best in the city but also not in a terrible neighborhood. His neighbors on this floor looked to be reasonable, with a young family, an older man and then the mystery neighbor that he had yet to see during the two days he’d spent moving in. None of them seemed to be the type for loud parties or fighting, making them ideal as far as Kaleb was concerned.
He stretched and quietly cursed the fact that he was getting older for perhaps the millionth time. Five years ago he would have been able to carry all the boxes and still have energy to spare. Kaleb huffed a laugh, shaking his head at himself. His aching back would just have to be endured.
“I sound like my father,” Kaleb said as he headed back down the three flights of stairs to his borrowed truck. “Well, not really. Father wouldn’t have sold the company and gone to work for someone else but still. Now I know what he meant about the pain of getting older.”
The drive across town highlighted the changes that had happened while Kaleb was gone. Not one tree stood on the streets. They’d all been cut down when Black started his terrorist campaign. Every window had bars. Most had steel shutters that would slam into place at the first sign of trouble. The cars that Kaleb passed were mostly armored and the big bus that carried the poor people around town looked like a tank, not a civilian vehicle.
Kaleb’s car, left at his friend Jack’s home during the move, was far more discreetly armored, as well as more effectively. Despite his certainty that his car could survive several direct rocket blasts, Kaleb hadn’t wanted to risk that it would be stolen. Reclaiming his car was the work of minutes despite Jack’s attempts to invite Kaleb in for dinner and romp with his long-time submissive debt slave Alice.
Of course, Kaleb refused politely. The offer had been more of an offer to let them share Alice than it was to share a meal. It was a long-standing one that Kaleb tried not to resent as he thanked Jack again before he left in his own car. They had stayed friends despite Kaleb’s long absence and his inability to talk about the projects that he’d been working on for the military.
“Still don’t need a slave,” Kaleb grumbled as he waited at a stop light for a dozen or so heavily armored police trucks to barrel down the crossing street, sirens wailing and lights flashing. “And I don’t like the idea of sharing Alice, sweet girl though she is. She deserves his undivided attention.”
He drove onwards once the lights changed. One of the other drivers at the stoplight gave Kaleb an odd look. It was only then that he realized that he’d left the window open and that he was talking out loud. Kaleb rolled the window up again, chuckling at himself. Military bases were so much more secure that he’d gotten out of the habit of taking precautions all the time. The issue of talking to himself was never going to be solved; that was a facet of his personality that had been there since he was tiny.
“Home is such a nice word,” Kaleb mused as he headed back into his apartment after locking his car in its secure garage in the basement. “About damned time I let myself have a home again.”
For the first time, when he entered the hallway to his apartment the door that led to his mysterious neighbor’s apartment was open a crack. Kaleb smiled at the thin sliver of young black man that he could see, jumping when his mystery neighbor slammed the door and threw the locks in quick succession. Kaleb raised an eyebrow at the severity of the response but it was hardly his place to be upset by another person’s nervousness. For all he knew the boy was an agoraphobe who couldn’t stand being around strange people.
The next week, spent unpacking boxes, rearranging his apartment and fielding calls from old friends delighted to hear that he was back in town, gave him more opportunities to wonder about his neighbor. Between trips down to the dumpster to get rid of empty boxes, Kaleb caught glimpses of the young man.
Approximately twenty years old, with sable brown skin, a shaved head and wide dark eyes that got wider whenever he interacted with Kaleb, his neighbor had the sort of skittishness that screamed abuse and stalking. His clothes were clean but threadbare and his shoes looked as though they were about to fall apart at any moment. Worse still, he was so thin that Kaleb was tempted to introduce himself just so that he could feed the boy.
It took three weeks before he actually held a conversation with his neighbor. Late one night, after cooking dinner and realizing that he had to take out the trash or the apartment would smell of salmon and spinach for days, Kaleb opened his door to find his neighbor almost directly in front of his face. His neighbor had several new bruises around his mouth and neck as well as a pathetically small bag of laundry in his arms.
“Sorry,” Kaleb said with a polite nod and a wry smile. “Just running the trash. I can go first if that makes you more comfortable?”
“Uh, yeah,” the young man said. “Please.”
Find the rest of The Nature of Beasts: