Sample text for Esperanza / Trish J. MacGregor.


Bibliographic record and links to related information available from the Library of Congress catalog


Copyrighted sample text provided by the publisher and used with permission. May be incomplete or contain other coding.


Counter

ESPERANZA

Book One of The Hungry Ghosts

_

PrologueTHE CITY OF ESPERANZA, ECUADOR

Dominica watched the pretty young woman standing on a dark, windy corner in the oldest section of the city, known as El Corazón, the heart. She liked what she saw. A foreign tourist, mid-twenties, beautiful figure, pale, flawless skin as smooth as a river stone. The woman's colorful skirt rustled in the chilly breeze, her fingers fumbled with the zipper on her jacket, then tucked her thick black hair behind her ears.

Dominica wondered if the woman knew that in 1530, on this very street, the last emperor of the Incas had marched against the Spanish. The colonial buildings behind the woman covered an Incan site where Inti, the sun god, had been honored with daily sacrifices. The restaurant where the woman had just eaten had been built over an Incan altar used for divination during ayahuasca ceremonies. Did the woman have any grasp of this?

Well, it didn't matter. Physically, she fit Dominica's needs--young, attractive, foreign, and probably healthy.

Dominica moved toward her. Most people couldn't see a bruja, but because human awareness varied widely this woman might be an exception. If she perceived Dominica, it would be as a shadow in her peripheral vision. So Dominica approached her slowly. Sudden moves could startle her or prompt a hasty retreat back into the restaurant.

As she came up behind the woman, Dominica's eagerness to feel the physical world again was so great that she struggled not to rush. Up the street, people emerged from a hotel, their laughter drifting in the night air. Headlights from approaching cars washed over the woman, revealing the angular flare of her hips, the tumble of her beautiful hair past her shoulders. Steady, steady. Then Dominica summoned her strength and swiftly seized the woman's body.

She gasped and staggered back, aware that something had happened to her, but what? Dominica worked quickly, adjusting her essence to the size and shape of the woman's body, taking control of her brain, her organs, limbs, even her voice. When a scream was about to explode up the woman's throat, Dominica stifled it so it emerged as barely a hiss.

The woman's heart and lungs pumped furiously. As oxygen flowed into the body, Dominica gulped at it. That first delicious breath shocked her. It always did. Then she tasted dampness, a promise of rain, and smelled flowers, grass, earth, exhaust fumes, and the woman's perfume. Then the rhythmic beating of the woman's heart and the rushing of blood through the body's arteries and veins empowered her. Dominica was fully in control of the woman's body, and the sensory feast of physical existence was now hers again and she drank it in.

The colors. Even at night, the colors she now saw were radiant compared to the grayness in which brujos existed. The vibrant greens of the pines looming in the park across the road looked as if they had spilled from an artist's palette. The glow of the street lamps was the color of melting butter. The blues and violets in the woman's skirt reminded Dominica of a dusk in Spain, where she had been born centuries ago as Dominica de la Reina, the only daughter of a wealthy landowner. In that life, she had died of a broken heart at thirty-six.

The sweet chill of the high mountain air smelled of pines. Stars burned like tiny suns in the black sky. Music pumped from an open window somewhere and Dominica tapped her foot to the rhythm, three quick beats, then two, then four. She held out her arms, turned her palms upward, flexed her fingers, then ran them through her hair. This body felt magnificent and Dominica fit into it perfectly, as if it had been created for her. An ideal host.

Claire: the woman's name was encoded in her body's cells.

Dominica now felt Claire's essence recover from the shock. She started struggling, twitching, jerking, creating spasms in her muscles as she screamed to go one way and Dominica forced the body in the opposite direction. Quick. Around the corner, where the shadows were thicker, deeper.

Claire's essence shrieked. Dominica quickly formed a metal box in her mind, shoved the woman's essence into it, slammed it shut. Only now was the body wholly hers.

Dominica walked rapidly, deeper into El Corazón, where Esperanza's history was also her own. Each block held a memory. Here at the corner of Trujillo Avenue and Francisco Street she had seized a man in Pizarro's army as the Spanish had surrounded Atahualpa's army and forced him to flee. And over there, in 1862, she had seized a local woman, a peasant, and spent wondrous days on horseback, riding through the countryside outside of the city. In 1918, on the corner in front of her, she and Ben had seized an Asian couple. And so it went, block after block of memories, every step a glorious celebration of physical life.

Outside the Internet cafe; where she was supposed to meet Ben, she paused. People with laptops and BlackBerries occupied the sidewalk tables, sipping their fancy coffees. Tourists. The locals knew better than to be out on the streets this late, when her kind was likely to attack.

Were any of them the friends or family members of brujo victims? Rumors swirled that a massive retaliation against brujos was being planned among such people. But there were always rumors. Even if this rumor was true, it would take tens of thousands of human beings armed with flamethrowers to overcome her tribe, the largest in all of South America. She reminded herself to check the Internet for the genesis of this rumor. But not right now. Ben first. Then everything else.

Dominica sensed Ben's presence nearby, but couldn't see him. Her perceptions were now connected to this body, limited in its ability to perceive brujos, but enhanced in so many other ways. She didn't have to see Ben to know he was surveying possible hosts. She knew that he would choose a young man, virile, healthy, someone she would find irresistible.

She pulled out a chair at a vacant table, eyeing three men who would fit Ben's desires. Black, Asian, Caucasian. She felt attracted to all of them and smiled, wondering which he would select. Surprise me, she thought.

Deep down in her metal box, Claire's essence kept screaming and shrieking and banging her puny fists against its walls. The turmoil distracted Dominica. She pressed an imaginary button and, in the blissful silence that followed, checked out the woman's health.

During the centuries of her existence, Dominica had learned much about the human body and its physiology. She had once spent a year using the body of a physician, her essence dispersed throughout his cells so that she could absorb his knowledge. Claire's body felt in excellent health. A nonsmoker, no addictions, heart and lungs perfect. Claire's pancreas seemed a bit off, due only to all the alcohol she'd been drinking since she arrived in Ecuador five days ago. Kidneys worked well, liver and stomach in good shape. Allergic to codeine, didn't eat red meat, took a lot of vitamins.

Suddenly, a man barreled around the corner, shouting, "Claire, hey, Claire."

It took a moment for Dominica to find his name in Claire's memories. Lewis. Her husband.

He stopped at the table, breathless. "My God, Claire, what're you doing here? I thought you were going to wait for me just outside the restaurant."

Down in the metal box, Claire's essence went ballistic, screeching for help, hurling herself against the walls. Dominica tightened her control. "Calm down, Lewis. I just came here to get a couple of coffees. The hotel restaurant is closed now."

"You should've said something." He jerked out the chair across from her, sat down. "I didn't know what the hell had happened to you. Did you order yet?"

Just then, a muscle tick appeared under one of Lewis's blue eyes and his shoulders jerked, as though his shirt were too small for him. Ben obviously had arrived.

The twitching and spasms lasted for another minute. When Ben fully controlled the husband's body, a kind of bliss settled across his expression. "My God," she heard Ben whisper. "I always forget how incredible it is."

Dominica reached across the table and touched his hand, the first time she had felt the skin of another in more than a month. "We chose well this time."

He clasped her fingers and brought her hand to his mouth, kissing each knuckle slowly, his eyes never leaving hers. "Where're they staying? This guy is blocking that information."

"Posada Andres, three blocks from here."

They stood at the same time, their hunger for each other urging them on. Dominica tugged back on his hand. "Let's slow down a little. We don't want to attract attention."

She feared the locals knew what to look for--erratic, jerky movements, twitches and spasms, uneven gaits. There hadn't been a full-scale brujo attack here for several months, but people remained wary. And with good reason. For ten years, Dominica and her tribe had terrorized this city, using bodies in a frenzy of sex and excess. Her tribe occasionally attacked en masse, moving within the fog that rolled in from the countryside. But mass attacks led to great precautions, giant fans to keep the fog away, shutters slamming shut across windows and doors, the locals disappearing into tunnels and underground bunkers. So now her kind usually attacked in small groups or pairs, as she and Ben had tonight, seeking the pleasure that only physical life could provide.

For five hundred years, since Esperanza had become a physical place, the prize that brujos sought had not existed here. Before that, the city and every place south of it to the Ri;o Palo had been an etheric construct for the dead or the near dead. Souls had journeyed to Esperanza to learn about the afterlife. Those in comas or who were nearly dead could decide whether to return to physical life or to pass on. In those days, brujos had seized souls whenever they wanted to, claimed those souls' bodies, and lived out their natural lives. Compared to that, her brief excursions into the physical were paltry. But it was all she and Ben could have for now.

Their dream was to claim Esperanza and every place southward to Ri;o Palo by seizing every resident and tourist, man, woman, and child. A city of brujos, living out the mortal lives of their hosts. But if they attempted this, Dominica felt sure the cazadores de luz, the light chasers, would intervene and the battle that ensued would be far worse than the battle five centuries ago. So for now they satisfied themselves with these small forays, hesitant to do anything that might prompt the chasers to get involved.

"I'm going to devour your body," Ben said, drawing her closer, nibbling at her ear.

"Maybe we should take it easy, draw out the fun so these bodies last us a while."

"No, it's been too damn long for that."

He pulled her into a narrow, dark alley and they pressed back against a wall of stone, hands and mouths everywhere at once, their lust like that of some starved beast. They broke apart at approaching footfalls and voices, and stood motionless against the wall, his hands trapping hers against the stone, his mouth at her neck. When the passersby had moved on, she and Ben hurried on toward the inn.

A few hours, that was all they would get with these bodies. As they neared the inn, Ben ran his fingers through her hair. "You're beautiful, Nica," he said, and kissed her, and they staggered back against a wall.

She and Ben, like all brujos, could make love, but it was smoke and mirrors, as was their entire existence. Nothing they could do really equaled this, the raw physicality of lust, passion, and sensuality that humans experienced. His hands were now under her skirt, her breath came in short, staccato bursts, and she kept murmuring, "Not here, Ben, not here." But she didn't push him away.

The street suddenly lit up like high noon, sirens screamed, a high-pitched, terrible bleating followed by explosive shrieks. Like air raid sirens during wars, these sirens warned that brujos or the fog in which they often traveled had been sighted and shelter should be sought immediately. Tourists who had no idea what the sirens meant panicked and rushed into buildings. A fortunate minority followed locals into the underground shelters.

She and Ben leaped apart, fumbling with their clothes. Certain they would now be hunted down by bands of men armed with flamethrowers, they had to either vacate these bodies or hide. They looked around wildly. But shutters rolled across windows and doorways, sealing up buildings, closing them out, giving people inside time to get into the tunnels and bunkers where brujos loathed to venture.

Ben grabbed her hand. They raced across the road, plunged into the park, and ran beneath the tall pines, the monkey-puzzle trees, into and out of the brilliant glare of the lights. Around them, panicked pedestrians tore toward the public shelters, cars screeched to a halt. Drivers and passengers leaped out and loped toward the nearest building before shutters clattered closed and buildings went into lockdown.

Dominica realized that the chaos worked to their advantage. People were so terrified, so concerned for their own safety, that no one paid attention to them. They would not be robbed of their communion. Ben read her thoughts and they ran toward an abandoned car, scrambled into the back seat, locked the doors, slid down against the cool fabric, and surrendered to their hunger.

Within minutes, their violent lovemaking taxed the bodies they'd borrowed and Ben's beautiful blue eyes leaked blood, the beads of sweat on his face turned red, and blood oozed from his nostrils, the corners of his mouth. Her body's heart stuttered and strained. She felt blood rolling down the sides of her face and the back of her throat, and started choking on it. These bodies were used up, bleeding out. Lewis was losing consciousness with shocking swiftness. Unless Ben escaped Lewis's body before that happened, he would be obliterated.

"Now," she gasped, and leaped from Claire's body, then pulled Ben free.

For moments, they drifted inside the car, nothing more than puffs of smoke next to Claire and Lewis, who twitched and jerked, dying in the back seat. She and Ben were too depleted to move away from the car. Sirens kept shrieking, security lights still flashed and strobed, and tomorrow morning the authorities would find the bodies of Claire and Lewis, and would dispose of them. The true cause of death would never be revealed.

More rumors would circulate on the Internet, on conspiracy and travel sites, and for a while, tourism in Esperanza would drop. But in the twenty-first century, where news consisted of sound bites, memory was short, Dominica thought. Eventually, tourism would pick up again and Claire and Lewis would be forgotten.

Dominica melted into Ben and together they moved through the windshield and out into the bright, empty road. They lifted above the tall pines and drifted off into the darkness, hungry ghosts once again.

_

Copyright © 2010 by Trish J. MacGregor

All rights reserved.




Library of Congress subject headings for this publication:
Government investigators -- Fiction.
Journalists -- Fiction.
Supernatural -- Fiction.
Ecuador -- Fiction.
Ghost stories. -- gsafd
Love stories. -- gsafd