AWAKENING MACBETH

 

Tomorrow is another day. Unless she dies in her sleep.

 

University of Virginia professor Brodie Macbeth is shattered when her father, head of the school’s history department, kills himself by jumping out of a hotel window hours before delivering a lecture at Harvard.

Nothing about his death makes sense, including his strange will.

Brodie must read his collection of British history books and use the license plates from his car or else forfeit the inheritance that will make her rich. Confused and shocked, she signs on the dotted line.

As she begins to read her father’s books, Brodie has terrifying nightmares. In her sleep, someone with corroded eyes threatens to kill her unless she tells them her father’s secret.

Of course, there is no secret. It’s grief, her best friend says. Or anxiety caused by being ambitious Dr. Stanton Sloane’s trophy date for too many university events.

Hoping for answers to her father’s suicide, Brodie flies to Scotland to see her aunt. The man in the first class seat next to her is Joe Birnam, a decorated Iraq War vet who lost a leg and a best friend in combat.

Meeting Joe could be the start of something special, but Brodie gets another shock instead. According to her aunt, Brodie’s father killed himself because he was desperate to be reunited with the wife who died in her sleep years ago.

As the murderous nightmares grow more terrifying, Brodie finds a hidden stash of journals that prove her aunt’s theory and show a side of her father she never knew. With her questions finally put to rest, Brodie turns to Joe Birnam. He’s a strong man who won’t accept anything less than Brodie’s full commitment, but Joe has his own demons to deal with.

Despite his frightening flashbacks of the war, the passion between Brodie and Joe ignites. She’s the girl of his dreams and for the first time in her life, Brodie realizes the power of true love.

Coincidentally, she’s now sleeping like a baby. No more cold sweats. No more corroded eyes.

Yet when her father’s old friend reveals his true identity and demands the secret, Brodie realizes those nightmares aren’t over.

They’re a real and deadly contest.

The prize?

Joe Birnam’s immortal soul.

Excerpt

The dream was real and vivid. Brodie was surrounded by men, all dressed as she was in the linen shirts, weskits, and hose of the Elizabethan middle class. Some, including Brodie, wore rough cloaks fastened around their throats with a crude metal clasp.

She looked around. She was standing on the stage of the Globe Theater. The many-sided building was familiar; she’d gone to a play in the rebuilt Globe in London just last year with her aunt Kay. The wide stage was bigger than it had looked from the galleries where the audience sat. Grease lamps burned brightly on the edge. Two fancifully painted wooden pillars on either side held up a canopy decorated with stars and planets.

Dad is here. Brodie didn’t know why she knew he was there, she just did. She was in the Globe to find him and make him answer all her questions. Tell her why he killed himself and  left her such a puzzling legacy.

“Dad,” she called, straining to see into the darkness beyond the guttering flames of the grease lamps.

“Burbage.” A man stepped closer. “Are you daft? Say your line.”

Brodie turned to look at the others on the stage. One man had a fabric horse head under his arm. No, not a horse head, a donkey head. “Is this A Midsummer Night’s Dream?” she asked. “Are you rehearsing the play?”

“You’d be rehearsing it, too, if you weren’t being so bloody daft,” one of the men grumbled.

Brodie turned away impatiently. “Dad,” she called again. “Dad!”

“Burbage, you daft bugger,” a man complained.

“It’s tha’ doxy down ta Pig and Whistle in Hog Lane,” another hooted. “She’s fair addled his head.”

Dad,” Brodie shouted.

One of the men grabbed her arm.

She swung her gaze to him in distracted irritation and recoiled in horror.

His eyes were white and diseased. The man wasn’t blind, however; the cankered irises registered amusement and impatience at Brodie’s reaction.

“Welcome to the game,” he said.

“Shit,” Brodie gasped, trying to pull back.

“Do you know who I am?” he asked, not letting go. He was in his mid-30’s with flat brown hair and a trim beard. An unremarkable man except for the vile eyes and a grip like the bite of a horse.

“You’re . . . you’re Shakespeare,” Brodie stammered.

He smiled icily. The effect made Brodie want to vomit. “Wouldn’t it have been ironic if we’d been rehearsing Macbeth?” he asked.

“You know my name?” Brodie blurted.

“I know everything,” the man said. The white eyes glinted in the yellow light of the grease lamps and he licked his lips. “Everything except what he told you.”

“Let go of me,” Brodie said and strained to pull away.

He hung on but his face tightened. The white eyes assessed her with a glazed, predatory quality. “You’re staying in the game until I get my answer. You might get your answers, too, but I really don’t care about that.”

“The game?” Brodie looked around wildly for help but the actors on the stage ignored her.

“Let me put it simply,” the man said, tightlipped against the effort of holding onto her. “Your father knew something about me and I’d like to know what it was. Because it helped him cheat the game. I had to take him out of the game because he cheated.”

“Game?” Brodie asked in utter confusion.”

“He made a sort of whistling sound as he fell.” The man grinned, the white eyes full of evil humor. “Twenty stories, wasn’t it?”

Brodie stopped pulling against his grip, too stunned to resist. “What?”

“Suicide, right?’ The man licked his lips. “Not murder at all.”

“Are you saying my father was murdered?” Brodie rasped.

He cheated me,” the man shouted unexpectedly. “For too long. And you know how.”

Let go!” Brodie shouted back. She heaved away from him, finally breaking his hold. She spilled herself over the edge of the stage, and ran across the empty pit where people paid a penny to stand and watch the plays.

You’re going to tell me, bitch,” the man screamed after her. “Or I’ll take you out, too.

Brodie flew through the theater, the cloak streaming behind her as the men on the stage shouted for Burbage to return and finish the rehearsal. She found a door and shot out into a dank London evening.

The smell of London’s Southwark district hit her hard; urine and manure and a too densely packed population. Brodie’s heart pounded and her boots made a smucking sound as she headed for the river and the venerable section of Mayfair where she’d stayed a dozen times, the map of modern London in her head at variance with the scene in front of her. Shops and alehouses and stables and smithies and more shops lined the narrow streets. She was jostled by women in flounced dresses, apprentices in blue, children in rags, and men in doublet and hose or leather breeches. The sound of the city was like the raucous hum of bees; the rattle of wagons, the clop of hooves, the squalls of street vendors, and the murmur of beggars. Brodie reeled from the sensory input.

Passersby frequently greeted her by tugging at their hairline and saying “Burbage.” The men in the theater had called her that, too, and she realized people were taking her for Richard Burbage, Shakespeare’s fellow actor and part owner of the Globe.

Evening lapsed into solid night. Brodie was scared and cold and lost in a city from the pages of history. The compunction that her father was near had gone. Over and over, Brodie tried to make herself wake up, but to no avail. She walked the filthy streets for what seemed like hours, feeling trapped, her desperation growing.

She found herself on the banks of the Thames, under the trestle of a bridge. There were a few other people there, thieves and beggars and the destitute. They all stared at her sullenly. But Brodie was too exhausted to go on. She curled into a ball on the ground with the rough cloak around her legs. Several ragged people came toward her and she prayed they’d leave her alone. They passed, but then an old crone darted forward and grabbed Brodie’s cloak.

Stunned, Brodie snatched at the woman’s hand and suddenly they were rolling on the ground, locked together with the cloak twisting tighter and tighter around Brodie’s neck. The woman’s eyes were the same white as Shakespeare’s.

Fear surged through Brodie’s veins and she fought back with all the strength she could muster, even as her breath was choked off. Mud sucked at her and the river was too close.

The malevolence of the beggars and thieves watching the fight was like a tangible thing.

 

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© 2017 Carmen Amato.

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I'm author Carmen Amato. I write mystery and suspense, including the Detective Emilia Cruz police series set in Acapulco. Expect risk, power, corruption. And relationships with heat.  More

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