A_latent_dark_cover

Martin Kee is an author, pseudonym, gamer, husband, Redditor, cyclist, paper-modeler, reader, and musician. He is the author of A Latent Dark (2012) and BLOOM (2013) He has also written numerous short stories and contributed to dozens of video games. He is perhaps most famously known for building papercraft Eve Online ships, which continue to haunt him wherever he goes.

He lives near San Francisco with his wife and their myriad of pets. He is a huge fan of technology, cats, dinosaurs, music, robots, bad science-fiction films, drum corps, humor, books, steampunk, horror, ravens, and strangeness.

A Latent Dark by Martin Kee

Skyla has lived secretly within the city walls of Bollingbrook for eleven years, playing among the airship factories and trainyards. As one of the Gutter District’s nameless destitute, it has gone undiscovered that she has a unique talent: when Skyla looks at a person’s shadow she sees through it and into another world. She can see people’s fears, desires, their past sins--all as swimming, living creatures.

Her mother has never told her the real reasons why they must remain hidden, never explained the true dangers that exist outside the city walls. But when her mother’s past catches up with them both, Skyla finds she must flee out of the city and into a world still recovering from a second Dark Age, a world of adults with secrets only she can see.

For a stranger has recently moved into Bollingbrook, a man some call the Pope of the South, a witch hunter to some and a hero to others. When more children begin to disappear, suspicions are raised and an unlikely search party is formed to find Skyla in the hopes that they aren’t already too late.

 

REVIEWS

  • "I have read a great deal of fiction in my time on this earth. Not since Tad Williams 'Otherland' have I been as riveted. Masterfully written, this story delivers on every level of story-telling...however, there is NO way I'm spoiling the story for you, so you'll have to take my word for it...I'm not saying a word about this great read. Pick up a copy and see for yourself! ;-)"

    Amazon Reviewer
  • At the beginning, A Latent Dark might seem like a Salem-like witch hunt (albeit a gripping one) set in some late-seventeenth-century parallel world. The witch is a young girl named Skyla who can see people's "other" shadows. Her pursuer, the Reverend Lyle Summers, is a very fascinating man as complicated as he is evil. However, as the story unfolds and more Steampunk elements are introduced, the complexity and originality of A Latent Dark are revealed. You'll also find out what being dead looks like. There are many characters whose destinies are linked with Skyla's, and all of them are interesting. They are well fleshed out, and the author succeeded in making you care for them.

    I thought the book was missing a more general description of the world at the beginning - some sort of establishing shot (to use a movie term) that would have given me a better feel of Bollingbrook and the other cities. That being said, it didn't prevent me from thoroughly enjoying a story that is rich in details thanks to the evocative writing, which manages to strike a perfect balance between style and substance.

    If you enjoy great stories where religion, science, witchcraft, and the fate of Mankind are closely intertwined, such as the classic Fritz Leiber's Gather Darkness, you'll love A Latent Dark. Highly recommended.

    Amazon Reviewer
  • A witch hunt with an amazing twist.

    At the beginning, A Latent Dark might seem like a Salem-like witch hunt (albeit a gripping one) set in some late-seventeenth-century parallel world. The witch is a young girl named Skyla who can see people's "other" shadows. Her pursuer, the Reverend Lyle Summers, is a very fascinating man as complicated as he is evil. However, as the story unfolds and more Steampunk elements are introduced, the complexity and originality of A Latent Dark are revealed. You'll also find out what being dead looks like. There are many characters whose destinies are linked with Skyla's, and all of them are interesting. They are well fleshed out, and the author succeeded in making you care for them.

    I thought the book was missing a more general description of the world at the beginning - some sort of establishing shot (to use a movie term) that would have given me a better feel of Bollingbrook and the other cities. That being said, it didn’t prevent me from thoroughly enjoying a story that is rich in details thanks to the evocative writing, which manages to strike a perfect balance between style and substance.

    If you enjoy great stories where religion, science, witchcraft, and the fate of Mankind are closely intertwined, such as the classic Fritz Leiber’s Gather Darkness, you’ll love A Latent Dark. Highly recommended.

    Goodreads Reviewer
 

BOOK PREVIEW

Prologue

“Does everyone have two?” Skyla asked, her eyes bulging with wonder.

She stared at the ground, at the shadows beneath people’s feet. There was one nestled inside the other—a secret shadow. She had only just recently discovered this and it amazed her, the stories she saw. It was as though the ground had become a thin veil. She was only five.

“Yes they do.”

“Even me?”

“Even you.” Her mother gave her a warm smile.

They were sitting on the porch, watching pedestrians walk by on a lazy Sunday morning. According to her mother, the two of them were invisible there at the house. This seemed silly to Skyla, who could see herself and her mother just as plain as day.

“Why can’t I see mine then?” she asked. “Why can’t I see my own shadow?”

“You see it all the time,” said Lynn. “You just don’t know it.”

Skyla’s eyes seemed to burst from their sockets at this revelation. Her mouth made a small O shape as she looked at the ground all around her, like a puppy chasing its tail. Her shadow lingered just beyond her vision, shimmering and ducking away playfully. Her mother smiled as Skyla turned in circles trying to see it before finally giving up and sitting back down, dizzy.

“Can they see their second shadow too?” she asked.

Her mother sighed. “Most of them can’t.”

“What about Aunt Rhia? Can she?”

Her mother paused and frowned, repeated herself. “Most of them can’t.”

Skyla stared at her mother a bit longer, her eyes losing focus. “You don’t like Aunt Rhia. You don’t like her at all.”

Lynn turned to her daughter and leveled her gaze, searching for the right admonishment. “It isn’t polite to read peoples’ shadows, Skyla. It isn’t nice and bad things will happen if you do.”

“What kinds of things?”

Her mother’s eyes held her fast. “Things become real if you look at them too long. Do you understand?”

The girl looked down at the ground. “Yes.” Her voice was almost a whisper.

Their home sat beneath the shadow of a great copper and brick wall, one of six that divided the city of Bollingbrook into sections. It was a wooden house with an upper bedroom in the attic, made of rotting wood and leaning walls. Vines had grown to consume most of the structure. It was a shanty, but it was home.

They stared out across the street a while longer before Skyla spoke up again. The darkness below people’s feet was too tempting not to look, every step a tiny window into their life. “Why can’t they see their own shadows?”

“Because they don’t want to.”

“Why?”

“Because they are afraid of what they’ll see.”

“But most of their shadows are so boring,” Skyla said.

“Maybe they are afraid of just that,” said her mother.

A fat man stumbled past the house, red-faced, shivering and crossing himself. He acted as though he wanted to look at them, but couldn’t muster the courage.

“But why?”

“Some people think they are clever, or popular or smart when they really aren’t,” Lynn said. “In reality, they are petty, and dull, and not very clever at all. Some of them have done bad things, things they are ashamed of or things they wish they could forget. None of them are who they think they are. And they are desperately scared to find that out.”

“Why?”

Her mother sighed. “Because we all see ourselves a certain way and the last thing anyone wants, is to be told they are wrong about themselves.”

A flock of mothers floated by, walking with other small girls the same age as Skyla. A blond girl with a red ribbon in her hair paused a moment, nearly turning her head toward the house until the mother tugged on her hand, pulling her along.

“You’ll be starting school soon,” Lynn said, watching the families pass. “You will get to play with girls your own age. Isn’t that exciting?”

“No.”

“Why’s that?” She looked at Skyla; her daughter’s eyes were still staring at the families, the other girls. She could see the way Skyla looked at them. It was inviting trouble.

“I don’t want to.”

“It will be ok,” said Lynn. “You’ll make friends.”

“I don’t want friends. I don’t want to go.”

“You have to, Skyla.”

The blond girl with the ribbon had stopped now with her head turned, looking at where Skyla was, but not quite seeing her. She squinted. Skyla began to cry.

“I don’t want to go. They’re scary.”

“The shadows...”

“Not the shadows,” said Skyla. “The girls.”

“Oh… “ She comforted Skyla in her arms for a while until the blond girl left. After a while Skyla became curious again, the fear all but forgotten.

“Why don’t people want to know what’s in the shadows?”

“Because it reminds them that this life is really all just a big carnival ride. They don’t want to get off the ride, because that means having to see what’s beneath it all.”

“But what’s beneath the ride?”

Her mother shuddered and ran a frail hand through her thick dark hair. “Oh, terrible things, Skyla. Terrible awful things. I hope you never have to see what lies beneath the ride, sweetie, not before you’re ready.”

“Is that why we pray?”

“Yes, my love,” Lynn said, stroking her hair.

They sat for a while in silence watching the men and women of Bollingbrook wander by, oblivious to the young woman and her daughter who peered at them from the corner of their eyes. The Industrial Wedge was a place few wanted to pass through, not knowing entirely why it made them so scared.

“Yes, my love,” said her mother again. “That’s why we pray.”



*



Now:

A train thundered into Bollingbrook station on the far side of town. Its oversized brass fittings and thick plates of armor glinted in the waning sunlight as it rolled through the tunnels and spider webs of rusted girders. The sound of its engine pounded and echoed through the walkways and platforms as it arrived lurching to a halt, a wounded beast of polished cogs and weaving pipes, pistons and naked wheels. It sighed in a cloud of steam.

The doors opened and several figures emerged to disperse throughout the platform, their footfalls drifting across the damp stone and metal. Among them was a man dressed in a suit of white linen, a battered leather suitcase carried in one gloved hand. He looked around briefly before stepping out across the cobble and steel.

He passed through the drifting steam like a specter, taking note of the station’s dismal condition, his polished alabaster shoes tapping catlike along the walkways and metal stairs.

He was there to find them for good, that girl and her mother. He had no patience for these games anymore, getting on in years as he was; it would be done by His will or not at all this time.

A taxi delivered him to The Sanders-Westmore hotel downtown near the hub of the city, dwarfed by a massive cathedral. He trotted up the steps, pausing momentarily at the concierge, who had already been expecting him even as he spoke his name, “The Reverend Lyle Summers.” She handed him a thin, polished brass card, a delicate filigree of punch holes dancing up its face.

The doorway to his suite and base of operations revealed rich red carpeting, oak furniture, and a small TickTalker waiting quietly in one corner. He spared no expense, especially when it was likely that he would be here for quite a stay.

He scanned the room from left to right, noting the corners where the shadows were darkest.

“No sense in giving the demons a place to hide,” he muttered to himself as he dropped the suitcase onto the bed and flipped the latches. He opened the lid and then paced the perimeter of the room, switching on every light. His suitcase contained a collection of smaller lamps should he need them. “At least the archdiocese allows them some electricity. You’d almost think they wanted demons in their city.”

When he finished adjusting the lighting, the room resembled a theater stage more than a hotel room, every corner filled with the warm glow of electric lighting. He gave the room one more glance and nodded, satisfied with himself.

From the suitcase, he pulled several large, gold-framed paintings, dark, vivid depictions of scenes from the Bible in raw detail, from the casting out of Adam and Eve to the crucifixion and the resurrection. There were over a dozen altogether. He laid them out on the bed and stood back thoughtfully, hands on his hips. Not satisfied, he grabbed a pair of paintings and swapped their positions, his lips pursed in concentration before changing the order of another pair.

Lyle performed this ritual for an hour until he was content with the sequence of images. Everything had to be perfect before he began to hang them on the wall. He was never without his mallet and nails. If the hotel complained, he would pay for the repairs.

“Jesus would have brought his own nails if he could have. That was how much he loved the world,” The Reverend Lyle Summers muttered. He hummed to himself as he hammered.

The last item sat untouched at the bottom, resting beside a roll of gauze. He called it his tool kit: a black leather case, held closed by a single strap. He placed it on the center of the bed, staring at it for a time before moving on. He never touched the tools. That was for other people. But it was sacred and that meant Lyle would carry its burden.

The TickTalker sat dormant on the far side of the room, its dark wax cylinder waiting patiently. Lyle turned the device on by flipping a thick switch on the side. It buzzed and he inserted the key card which the desk clerk had given him. The machine sucked the card into its casing. It brought a slow, bemused smile to Lyle’s thin lips.

The ancient, internal workings of the machine paused for a few seconds, a deep click-buzz, click-buzz coming from inside. The wax cylinder rotated once and then froze with a prompt.

Lyle entered text:

[Have just arrived] [Settled into hotel]

As he typed, the text appeared as silver words against the black wax background. As the conversation continued it would be rolled under and melted over. A filament somewhere deep in the machine glowed orange.

He sat back and waited, fishing in his jacket pocket for an ornate silver case. Taking a deep, tobacco-laden breath, he reclined in the chair, exhaling a slow plume of smoke.

The machine made a formal click and then came to life on its own:

[Events are already in motion] [You might be too late] [Can you purchase a vehicle?]

I’ll buy myself the whole factory if I need to, he thought.

Lyle smiled and held the cigarette between his pale lips as he typed:

[I can] [We’ll find them]

After a moment the machine clicked, signaling that a reply was received:

[You might need to purchase more than one]

Lyle typed:

[The house will be hidden] [If it is in fact here, I might need time to locate it]

The machine replied:

[We have taken care of that for you] [You will need to bring tools for this] [We may have a witness]

He blinked, staring at the message in the hardened wax.

[A witness?] he typed [Are you certain?]

[Very certain]

[Is the witness] He hesitated for a moment, considering the right wording. [legitimate?]

[She’ll tell you everything you need to know] There was a pause. [It may require some coaxing, however.]

Lyle grinned, glancing at the toolkit on the bed. Coaxing was his forte.

[We hired you for a reason. We do not wish to see the mother escape a second time]

Neither do I, he thought, frowning. Ten years is a long time to wait.

He had had success in the past tracking these sorts of people, but it was never this difficult. They were like demons in the fog, these two, their home shunted into the corners of the subconscious, invisible to anyone who didn’t know what to look for.

Others like the girl and her mother were much easier to find, but no less dangerous. Their deceit was unmatched, the lies they could spread were a cancer to The Church. With the fury and retribution of an archangel, Lyle had dispatched them all. There would be no mercy to the wicked, no matter how much they prayed and pleaded with him.

It filled him with the deepest satisfaction to see the witches burn, to see the lights flicker out in those dark eyes. It was a joy like none other, consecrating the soil with their screams, watching that last expression of regret an instant before the flames consumed their final thoughts.

The remaining drag of his cigarette glowed as he inhaled long and deep, burning the white away from the paper, leaving behind nothing but ash.