For Dante Butcher, Los Angeles ghost hunting isn’t a business, it’s a pastime. Going to clubs, knocking back a few drinks, even taking the occasional punch are all in a night’s work. But cool confidence doesn’t prepare Dante for what begins in a piss-soaked bathroom. The Dead Side opens up a whole new world to him, and for the first time, it’s the ghosts that are hunting Dante.
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
The city of Los Angeles, all the old buildings and history mixed with the modern nightlife. It’s a perfect setting for a ghost story.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
I wanted these characters to feel like real people that you could meet out in the streets. No epic histories or anything, just people who want to hang out.
Like all dreams, it wasn’t clear if time had passed or if I just wasn’t paying attention. One moment we were talking and the next the room trembled, threatening to dislodge the glass mirrors from the walls.
I sensed the disturbance but didn’t know what to make of it. I had lived through several Los Angeles earthquakes before, and frankly, they were unnoticeable. Nothing but passing tremors. This incident had the same physical properties that a cartoon earthquake might. It was more foreboding, though. It wasn’t clear why until Violet spoke up.
I turned to the door and noticed the heavy metal frame wiggling on its hinges. The glass panel, however, revealed nothing outside but the desaturated gloom.
“Get out of here,” I commanded. Although I had visited this world many times, tonight was the first that it had solidified. That anything of consequence happened. Really, I was ready to expect anything, and I didn’t want Violet to be in danger.
The little girl wasted no time and banged at the elevator call button. The shaking grew worse.
“What is it?” I asked.
Violet just shook her head.
A loud ding announced the arrival of the elevator as the brass double doors slid open. “You should come too,” said Violet, looking concerned.
“Don’t worry about me.” The girl hesitated but I nodded her on. She stepped into the car and allowed the doors to close. That should have kept her out of it.
The trembling came to a head all at once, thrashing violently as if to collapse the building, and then silencing so quickly it seemed to have been nothing more than a hallucination. A complete stillness filled the dense air and I was completely alone.
And then the front door swung open.
“Dante Butcher, you say?”
I trained my eyes on the source of the spectral muttering. A lanky figure materialized on the threshold. It was a sad imitation of a human with ratty patches of orange hair and skin blotched with scabs. He was both flesh and ghostlike at the same time and had the urgent twitches of a heroin addict. I’d never seen this man in my life before, but I had felt him. He was instantly familiar.
A bothersome tick spasmed in the man’s left cheek as he tried to smile. “That name isn’t mine here,” he said.
Of course that was true. Soren was the name of the man this shade had possessed, the name of the man I had freed. This spirit was an entirely different person.
“Who are you then?”
“You can call me Nero.” The fiend spoke in a way that made it difficult to understand individual words. As if he was in pain.
“What do you want?”
“To dance,” he answered. “To drink. To fuck.” His words wheezed out of his skeletal frame. “To live.”
Violet had told me about the spirits, lost and wandering the Dead Side, usually unable to help themselves in death just as in life. When they broke down enough they became more like animals. Not even understanding their own desires, but fighting viciously for them as if it meant their survival.
In a way, it did. Try as they might, many shades never succeed in making a connection with the living. Of those that do, most have trouble staying for long. They inevitably fall back into exile on the Dead Side. Sometimes, however, they find a way to bond with a host, like Violet attaching to the pocket watch. In these cases, when the shades do lose their grip on the material world, they are sometimes able to reclaim their foothold. Again and again, they can return to the same human being. Coming and going as chance and pleasure allow. It’s the kind of fateful oppression that destroys lives.
Expulsion, however, disrupts the connection. Exsufflation results in a forceful split. Not only are body and spirit sundered, but the long-term bond is obliterated as well. Soren had sucked in the white sage, so any permanent hold this fiend may have had on him was gone. The living Soren was safe. More importantly, this desperate creature before me had been cast out. The sage had done its work; this shade would more than likely never see the material world again.
“It’s time to move on,” I told him. “This is all that’s left for you here.”
The man’s neck jerked before he recovered his composure and approached me. “I wanted to break you and you escaped me.”
Could I fight here? How would that even work?
“I was lost and desperate and wondered who you were,” he continued, getting closer. “And then, here you are.”
I backed up slowly, even if it made my position less threatening. This thing I was looking at wasn’t quite human. The thought of it close to me was frightening.
I could just wake up, right?
Nero’s eyes glazed over in a deathly white pallor. “You should never have come here.”
I felt stuck as I tried to step back again. My arms were at my sides and they wiggled like soggy noodles. I couldn’t raise them. The thing that had been Soren advanced and my entire body heaved in place.
I was stuck in water again, but that didn’t prevent the scabbed spirit from effortlessly gliding forward and snatching my neck into his long hands. Overgrown, twisted, and broken fingernails scratched my skin. I opened my mouth wide and let out an empty scream.
And then I was in my bed, convulsing. The comforter was wrapped around me snugly, and I had to wiggle back and forth to free my arms and roll over onto my elbows.
The sun was already up, although the shuttered blinds did a good job of holding back the day. My shoes, shirt, and jeans were where I had left them, right on the floor, and everything appeared normal.
I needed to stop drinking right before bed.
Like most authors, Domino Finn was once a kid. Instead of regaling you with a cute story about his early efforts at writing (actual title: Dinosaur Island), it might be more illuminating to explore his thoughts on pop culture. Domino grew up surrounded by fantasy. There was magic in his books, his movies, and his video games, and it was awesome. But the prevailing attitudes relegated all of it to kid stuff, and that didn’t sit well with this kid.
Domino strived to create aged-up versions of his favorite games, comics, and books. Eventually, his passions led to Los Angeles and a career as a video game programmer. But something was missing, and after a decade in the industry, Domino realized that his first love was telling stories. Just not the same kinds of stories.
No more simple good and evil. No more ancient powers bestowed upon reluctant children. The best yarns aren’t about saving the world, they’re about saving what the hero believes in. The most powerful fantasies aren’t just showcases for elemental power, they’re about the inner discovery that flourishes alongside the spectacular.
Now, as back then, Domino sees a void in the marketplace. Genre fiction where subtlety is applauded. The impossible presented in a plausible light. A melding of the real and unreal, driven by characters easy to care about. Fantasy for grown-ups.
Have you read this book or others by this author? Tell us in the comments how you liked it!