Cries from the Lost Island - Kathleen O'Neal Gear
I owe special thanks to William Michael Gear who is the joy in my heart and light of my world.
My editor, Sheila Gilbert, is simply the best in the business, and the incredibly talented people at DAW Books are amazing professionals.
Thanks hugely to Betsy Wollheim who continues to publish innovative and thought-provoking science fiction and fantasy. Some of my favorite books of all time have been published by DAW Books. It is an honor that my books are part of that legendary publishing house.
Lastly, Matt Bialer has been a friend for twenty-eight years, and he is the finest literary agent on the planet.
Thanks to you all. Literature is richer because of you.
By the time I was thirteen, I knew that the girl of my dreams was not what anyone would call a sane child. My first hint came on a bright autumn afternoon when Cleopatra Mallawi was helping me rake up mountains of fallen maple leaves from our front yard in Georgetown, Colorado.
At around two o’clock, Cleo took a break to lean on her rake and stare up at the mountain peaks visible through the branches that spread across the blue sky. Straight coal-black hair hung to her shoulders.
“Look, Halloran. A demon.”
My full name is Halloran Justin Stevens, but pretty much everyone, except Cleo, calls me Hal.
After I’d combed blond hair away from my blue eyes, I glanced around the leaf-filled yard. I’ve always been overweight, and exertion really gets to me. My hooked nose was dripping sweat down the front of my denim shirt, so I wiped it on my sleeve. All I saw was another two hours of work.
“I don’t see anything.”
“Oh.” She sounded disappointed. “That’s okay.”
She quietly returned to raking leaves, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the place near the maple where she’d been looking. After a couple of minutes of examining every pile of leaves for hidden claws or fangs, I shrugged and started raking again.
Cleo was definitely the most interesting person in Georgetown. She’d been born in Macedonia, but grew up in Egypt, was fluent in nine languages, and had been orphaned during the revolution that rocked Egypt a few years before. She’d studied ancient Egyptian history—claimed she’d been Queen Cleopatra in a former life—and said she’d personally met a variety of Egyptian gods and demons. Not only that, Cleo had supposedly shot a demon with her father’s pistol at the age of ten. Right after her parents’ deaths, the demons had invaded her home, wearing gas masks, and she’d barely escaped with her life.
Hypnotized by the idea that a demon might be standing there—a demon only Cleo could see—I stopped raking, and asked, “Which demon?”
I’ve won the Colorado Classics Award three times—which is the state record. It’s an award for young ancient history scholars, so I take this stuff seriously.
Cleo turned toward the maple. “A huge one with the head of a crocodile, the front legs of a lion and the hindquarters of a hippopotamus. She is known as Ammut, the Devourer of the Damned. Today she has turquoise skin. She and her earthly priests have kept me from reaching the Island of the Two Flames for over two thousand years.”
The Island of the Two Flames was one version of the ancient Egyptian land of the dead. There were several versions. After all, Ptolemaic Egyptians were way more creative than modern people.
“Where do you see her exactly? Where’s she standing?”
As though the famed demon from the Egyptian Book of the Dead was right there, only a few feet away, dread filled Cleo’s eyes. “She’s leaning against the maple with her arms crossed. Don’t you see her at all, Halloran? Not even her shadow?”
I looked. “No.”
“Well, she sees you. She’s watching you.”
Naturally, my blood had turned to ice.
You have to understand, I’m a true fear fanatic. I’m the happiest when I’m scared to the point of filling my Levis, which was one of the reasons I found Cleo so fascinating. Every time she talked about the demons that chased her, I had spectacular nightmares where I found myself running headlong down the streets of ancient Alexandria with giant lion-headed beasts bounding after me. The honking of horns on the Colorado street outside would metamorphose into court trumpets, the traffic on the Interstate became the roar of cheering crowds, and the shadows of tree branches cast upon my bedroom wall by the moonlight became gnarly demonic arms reaching out for me. Cool stuff.
Even more wonderful for my overactive adolescent imagination were the stories she