|Author Caroline Barnard Smith|
Caroline Barnard-Smith has been writing stories since she was five. Having earned a bachelor’s in English Literature from the University of Portsmouth, she now lives in Devon, England with her husband and baby daughter. That's where she writes about ruthless vampires, lovelorn zombies and heinous blood cults!
Caroline's short stories have been published in numerous small press magazines, including Ballista, Hungur, Night to Dawn, and on the web at Dark Fire Fiction.
Caroline’s debut dark fantasy novel, Dunraven Road, was published by Immanion Press in June 2009. For various exciting reasons she’s since turned her hand to indie publishing. Jinn Nation is her first full-length independently published novel.
When she’s not writing, Caroline is busy running her handmade craft business, CazzCraft, selling both online and at craft fairs.
This (blog post and book excerpt) is the first time we meet Thad, a geeky, timid character from Jinn Nation who is nevertheless determined to become one of the jinn. He thinks Christa might provide him with some jinn-related answers when she breezes into his book shop one afternoon, little knowing the terrifying power she possesses.
New York City
Thad hummed as he wiped the tattered duster along the shelves. Cleaning made him feel calm and accomplished. It also prevented his thoughts from straying to the duties he was committed to carrying out that night. Sometimes he could work for an entire ten minutes without thinking about it. Then the cold, dread fear would flash through his mind again and he would pause, duster in hand, and tremble. When the bell above the shop door jingled to announce the first customer of the afternoon, Thad turned towards the sound eagerly, a practiced smile on his face.
“Good afternoon, miss.”
The woman nodded politely but declined to reply. She looked round at the shelves of books, hands thrust down into the pockets of her jeans. She was pretty, Thad decided, in a pedestrian sort of way. She wasn’t his type at all. The woman was far too skinny, too fragile-looking, and the hair straggling in unkempt tufts to her shoulders only made her appear wild and strange. Still, Thad was used to seeing unusual customers pass through the doors of Gorski’s Esoteric Texts and Occult Supplies. Strangeness was an inherent part of the job.
“Can I help you with anything?”
This time, the woman spoke. “No I’m fine, thanks. Just browsing.”
She smiled, making the corners of her eyes crease, and walked past Thad into the bowels of the shop. Thad tried to appear casual as he passed behind his desk and turned on the monitor hidden behind it. He didn’t like to spy on his customers but the very nature of a book shop, especially one with so many aisles of text for people to hide behind, made trust hard to come by. It was a lesson he had learnt through grim experience. He had once found a doped-up vagrant passed out at the back of the shop, laid out flat between ‘Power Animals and Totems’ and ‘African Tribal Magick’. The latter was an area Thad had to keep a particularly close eye on. He assumed the black and white photos of heavily breasted women in ceremonial dress had something to do with the loiterers he often had to remove from those shelves.
Thad watched the woman, small and grainy on the monitor, as she slowly walked the aisles, one hand running along the spines of the books beside her. When she stopped before a section entitled ‘Jinn – Legends and Mythcraft’, he swallowed thickly. It was a certain type of person who was interested in the dark legends of the jinn. He waited, his breathing becoming fast and irregular, wanting to be sure the woman was not simply bored or lost amongst the shelves. To his delight, she remained where she was, head bent at an angle as she read the names of the books. He ran a hand through his gently greying hair and followed in the direction she had taken, creeping up so silently behind her that when he spoke, she started with surprise.
“I don’t get much call for information on the jinn. Are you sure you wouldn’t rather see some books of love spells?”
The woman looked at him with distaste. “I didn’t come here for love spells. They don’t work, anyway. Those books only exist so that people like you can prise money from the lonely and the desperate.”
A strange headache started in the back of Thad’s brain. It buzzed and irritated like a trapped fly, momentarily robbing him of concentration. He nodded slowly, struggling for an answer. “I should have known you were no mere initiate to the world of the occult,” he finally said. “You have the look about you. A certain knowing in the eyes.”
The woman was staring at him, making him feel uneasy. “Why are you so fascinated by the jinn?” she said. “You’ve never even met one.”
“That’s true, but I would like to. I would like to meet one very much.” Thad felt as though some alien being had taken over his body. He could feel the floor beneath his feet, was aware of the breath entering and leaving his lungs and of the earthy, fresh smell of the many books surrounding him. He could feel these things, yet he seemed to have lost all control. He didn’t want to tell the woman about his fascination with the jinn. In his head he was silently screaming at himself even as the words passed his own lips; yet he was utterly powerless to prevent himself from speaking.
“It’s more than that,” the woman was saying. She paused, head cocked, wide green-grey eyes boring a path into the deepest parts of Thad’s soul. He thought he whimpered, but he wasn’t sure. After a few seconds, the woman smiled in triumph. “You want to be one,” she said. “You want to be turned jinn.” Her smile faded. “Why?”
Thad willed himself not to speak again, not to reveal his closest secrets to this petite yet terrifying stranger. He pressed his lips together and closed his eyes, sweat standing out along his receding hairline.
“Why?” the woman asked again.
White flashes danced before Thad’s eyes and his head began to swim. “Because anything has to be better than this,” he blurted. He felt as if the words were being forcefully torn from his throat. “Every day when I wake up I want to do something exciting. I want to have adventures. I want to travel and meet women and have experiences. But every day I put those thoughts out of my head, come downstairs and open the shop. I serve the customers, I sell them things. Every goddamn day is the same. I don’t know how much longer I can stand it.”
“So you think the jinn will offer you an adventure?” the woman said. “An experience?” Her voice had softened. “They’d probably just eat you.”
“So you do know about them.” Thad thought for a moment. “Are you one of them?”
His sudden sense of quiet awe at being in the presence of a jinn was squashed when the woman began to laugh. She lifted a hand to her mouth in an attempt to hide it.
“So what are you?” Thad was beginning to lose his temper. This was his shop, his property. What right did this strange woman have to barge in and cast some sort of truth spell on him?
“I’m not jinn,” the woman said. She studied Thad for several seconds before releasing him and turning away. “You don’t have the information I want. Your head is full of stories and fantasies.” She began making her way towards the door. “Stay away from the jinn,” she called over her shoulder. “They’re not nice people.”
Thad’s head didn’t clear until the bell over the door jingled again, signalling the woman’s departure. He lifted a hand to his chest to feel his heart beating so hard it threatened to splinter his rib cage. He had seen some spooky shit in his time as the proprietor of the shop, but nothing had ever shaken him up this badly. Thad walked back to his desk and collapsed on the chair behind it, content to spend the rest of the afternoon in quiet meditation. Strange people are par for the course, he told himself. This shop attracts all sorts, there’s nothing to be afraid of. He repeated these phrases many times, yet his quickened heart refused to calm down until he’d reached for the half-bottle of brandy hidden in a side drawer and slugged back two generous mouthfuls.
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