November 7, 2013

Try Not to Burn: an excerpt of Michael Matula's debut novel

About Try Not to Burn: Shot to death in the line of duty, rookie cop Brandon Morales awakens in a much darker world than the one he left. Trying to make sense of it all, Brand stumbles across Sam and Jane, two women simply struggling to survive. With their souls hanging in the balance, and eternal damnation never more than one wrong turn away, these three strangers will need to put their trust in one another in order to stay one step ahead of the flames of Hell. But when enemies pose as trusted friends, when lost loves crumble the will to continue, and when hidden desires threaten to tear allegiances apart, it will take more than faith and determination to pass God's final test. It will take a miracle.

Try Not to Burn
an excerpt
by Michael Matula

“What’s she doing?” Brand asked Jane. The girl, lying on her side now, allowed the metal barrels of Sam’s gun to rest on the dusty floor.

“Getting changed. We do this every single morning. My clothes are too small for her, but I understand why she feels more comfortable in them. Orange is really not her color.”

Soon after, Sam walked back in, shutting the door behind her. The prison uniform was nowhere to be found.

“Your clothes are not too small for me,” Sam informed her friend, having overheard her comment.

“I’m five foot four, you’re five seven. Do the math,” Jane teased.

Brand smiled. They almost reminded him of his sisters.

The smile faded much faster than it had grown.

He was dead. He would never see his sisters again. Or his parents. His dog. His friends. The guys down at the station. He was dead.

He had known it before, but this was the first time it truly began to sink in.

“What’s wrong?” Jane asked, seeing his expression, after relinquishing the gun to Sam.

“I’m dead,” he answered, looking at the floor, as if to find answers in the dust.

The dust was undisturbed except for where Sam had walked toward the door and then back. Obviously the dust went back to normal every day too.

Both of the women stayed silent, knowing he needed some time to think. They must have known exactly what he was going through. They’d once been exactly where he was.

It was one thing to be alive and mourn for someone who had passed away. But it was another thing entirely to still feel alive and know that your family, everyone you loved, everyone you knew, was mourning over you, and there was nothing you could do about it. There was no message you could give your family, no means by which you could keep them from crying, or make them feel better. Let them know you were still somewhere. That you still loved them.
But for Brand, there was something else. Something just as horrible, just as difficult to swallow.
The serial killer, Victor Gregory Rellik, had shot him dead and gotten away with it. Brand had the perfect opportunity to stop him, a routine traffic stop that could have nabbed one of America’s worst mass murderers of all time. And he blew it. Royally. He didn’t even swing and miss. Nope, never even got that far. Brand never f***ing swung.

Even now Rellik was probably counting Brand in his list of victims, a notch on his sadistic bedpost, and plotting his next victim. If he hadn’t struck again already. All Brand could do was hope someone stopped him soon. Hope that bastard was caught.

Brand had blown his chance to end it without further bloodshed, but that f***er would get caught sometime. They always were. Those sick bastards had a need to kill, and sooner or later all of the dead bodies and evidence caught up with them.

Didn’t it? Or was that just what people like Brand told themselves to help them sleep at night?
Brand looked up from the floor and saw both of the women standing near the other wall, looking at him with concerned faces. Even Sam, surprisingly.

“Sorry,” he said.

“No need,” Sam told him softly. “We’ve been there.”

“You wanna’ talk about it?” Jane asked.

“I think I just need some time. This is all a lot to digest. Finding out I’m dead is bad enough. But that I’m in this place...” He sighed and took a moment before speaking again. “But like you said before, I’ll get used to it because I have to.”

Sam nodded, and after a long pause said, “I had a brother I was really close to. Me and my parents never got along very well. They were real conservative, and as you might be able to see...” she pointed to the tattoo adorning her neck, “I went through a period of rebellion and we haven’t talked since then. And...I guess I’ll never have an opportunity to ever again.” She shook her head and looked aside for a moment. “I don’t know why I’m tellin’ you this. I don’t even know you.”

“I had two older sisters, Eleanor and Maria,” Brand said, hoping to make her feel better about confiding in him. It was much easier for him to try to comfort someone else than worry about himself. “And a sweet little dog named Oddjob.”

“Oddjob?” Jane asked, eyebrows raised.

Brand smiled. “I know. I always loved James Bond as a kid. For some reason my dad let me name the dog. The name could’ve been much worse, I guess, if you think about it. Oddjob was a great dog, though. Probably gonna’ miss that little guy the most.”

“I was an only child,” Jane said. “My parents were always workin’ or traveling, so I’m used to not seeing them. I do miss some of my friends, though. But even if I hadn’t died, my parents probably would have moved soon anyway, and I would’ve had to make new friends.”

Samantha walked over to the window and looked out through the dirty glass. She cradled the gun in both hands, holding it as though it was her security blanket. He didn’t blame her. From what he’d heard so far about the city, he’d glue the gun to his hand.


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