Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Check it out! HIGH STAKES by Brandy Schillace! @bschillace #amreading #newrelease #Imnotavampire

Brandy Schillace

“I’m not a vampire,” insists Jacob Maresbeth, teenage journalist for the school paper. But what is a vampire, really? What happens if you have all the right symptoms, but are a living, breathing sixteen-year-old boy?

Diagnosed with a rare disease, Jake can’t help but wonder. After eight years in and out of the Newport News hospital, he’s had it up to here with doctors, diseases and dishonesty. After all, Jake’s father, respected neurologist Franklyn Maresbeth, has been hiding some of his more unusual symptoms for years… particularly that part about drinking blood.

In High Stakes, Jake records his summer vacation in the home of his maiden aunt, the bangled and be-spectacled Professor Sylvia. If that isn’t bad enough (and it is), Jake and his theatre-loving sister Lizzy must keep the “unofficial” details of Jake’s disorder a secret from Aunt Sylvia’s seductively beautiful graduate student, Zsofia. Will Jake survive a whole month pretending to be an invalid? Will Zsofia weaken his resolve with her flirtatiously dangerous Hungarian accent? Will Jake lose his heart–in more ways than one?

About the Author
Author, historian, and adventurer at the intersections, Brandy Schillace spends her time in the mist-shrouded alleyways between literature and medicine.

Brandy grew up in an underground house in abandoned coal mining territory near a cemetery. It does things to you (like convince you to get a PhD). It also encourages a particular brand of fictive output. HIGH STAKES, Book 1 of The Jacob Maresbeth Chronicles, came out in 2014 with Cooperative Trade Press.

Brandy is managing editor of Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry and Research Associate for the Dittrick Museum of Medical History. She is also editor of the Fiction Reboot | Daily Dose blogs. When she isn’t researching arsenic poisoning for the Museum, writing fiction, taking over the world, or herding cats, she teaches for Case Western Reserve University. Her non-fiction, DEATH’S SUMMER COAT, comes out with Elliott and Thompson in 2015.

Connect with Brandy:
Twitter: @bschillace

EXCERPT—Chapter 3:

Zsòfia left around 1:30, exiting through the backdoor—meaning I didn’t actually see her off. I just heard the ring of her bicycle bell as she rolled down the tree-lined street, the dock-rope braid swaying as she pedaled. She wasn’t looking, but I waved goodbye, and then forgot to put my arm down until my fingers got tingly. I also forgot to quit staring until she’d been gone about ten minutes. I swear, it was like being under a spell or something. Except I liked it. A lot. And, in the interest of getting more of it, I descended on my aunt like a ravenous dog when she got home.
            “But who is she??” I demanded, leaning on the back of a dining chair. My aunt was in the thick of dinner preparations—which is sort of demanding on someone who usually eats frozen-health-food-for-one (the equivalent, I think, of grass and dirt).
            “My research assistant, you silly boy.” She tasted a sauce of some kind and flipped a page in her cookbook. “You remember Leonard?”
            “She is not Leonard,” I insisted, and Lizzy sidled up to punch me in the shoulder.
            “What, you crushing on somebody already?” she asked, as if the experience of Zsòfia could be compared to anything so stupid.
            “No!—she’s, I don’t know—have you seen her yet?” I stammered. “She’s Hungarian.”
            “So?” Lizzy asked, and I decided to ignore her and turned my attention back to Aunt Syl.
            “How did she end up here, in Cleveland?”
            “She’s from Budapest, originally, though her father lives in Krakow, Poland,” Aunt Syl said, sliding by with plates (just two of them). “She studied first at Edinburgh—”
            “Right. But why is she here?” I asked. My aunt set the table and blinked owl-eyes at me.
            “Why not?”
            “Yeah, Jakey, why not?” Lizzy repeated, grinning like the she-devil she is. How was I supposed to explain that Cleveland was—to put it nicely—a bit of a step down?
            “Well, it’s a long way, isn’t it?” I asked. It was a good save. Lizzy looked disappointed.
            “It is, indeed—careful, careful, this is hot, Jacob!” Aunt Syl set down a crock pot that I was miles away from, shooing me as if I was about to stick my hand in there or something. “She has been tracking down some data at the medical library. And, of course, she is a wonderful student. Top of her class.”
            “Top of her class,” I repeated out loud, though I hadn’t meant to.
            “What’s she doing at the medical library?” Lizzy asked, sitting down at the long table. My aunt’s dining room is more of a hallway, long and skinny between the kitchen and the big front room. I slid around the back to make room for Syl and the salad.
            “Dissertations are complicated things!” Syl said, sitting—and for once, I sat, too. I normally try not to join these little dining parties, but I actually wanted to figure out what a dissertation was.
“She is working on vampires in culture, so she looks at psychology, medicine, literature, film. It’s quite an interesting process! Why, some graduate students compile data for years!”
            “She’ll be here for years?” I asked. “Like, every summer?”
“It’s certainly possible,” my aunt nodded happily.
“And she’ll be here, as your assistant? For years?”
It was at this point that Lizzy started giggling.
“What, you think you might eventually be old enough to ask her out?” she laughed. Lizzy has this funny way of sucking the fun out of life. She would have made a much better vampire than me.
“Wha—no—I was just. Curious.” I started fiddling with the breadknife. I think I was trying to trace the tablecloth pattern. Or mentally performing a lobotomy on my sister. Something like that.
“Well, Jacob, curiosity is a very good thing,” Aunt Syl said, smiling at me like I was four years old. “I’m sure it passes the time when you’re unwell. By the way, did you see I put digestive aids in your cabinet? For irritable bowels, you know.”
Yes. She actually said that.
Yes, my sister almost imploded from trying not to laugh.
Yes, I cut myself with the stupid bread knife.
This last bit, however, was a crisis of a different nature. First, I can’t even begin to describe what Aunt Syl’s reaction to blood is. Maybe she missed her calling—maybe she should have gone MD instead of PhD. She’s got some sort of obsession with doctoring, and she saves it up all year just for me. Naturally, I couldn’t let her see that I’d been careless enough to cut my thumb (and pretty deeply at that). But there’s another reason.
“Ah—excuse me,” I said, making a fist over the wound and backing away from the table.
“Why, Jake! What’s the matter!” my aunt was nearly out of her seat again, but Lizzy seemed to put the pieces together (spotting the red dots on the knife helped).
“Oh, well, it’s his digestion problem,” she said unhelpfully. I scowled at her, but really, I had bigger problems.
I scooted out of the dining room, my fist behind my back. Aunt Syl had resumed her seat and Lizzy had managed to get hold of and clean the bloodied knife before she saw it. As soon as I was out of sight, I had another look at the thing: I’d managed to slice it horizontally, and a trickle of blood had escaped to run towards my elbow.
“Crap, crap,” I grunted, slipping into the first floor bathroom. I managed to catch the drip before it got on my sleeves. Then, I waited. It took about seven minutes. In that time, the cut had closed back up without even a scar … which almost beats my busted knuckle record from last fall.
My dad calls it exceler curatio, which is some fancy Latin phrase for fast healing. Apparently they do studies on mice with fast-healer genes. I’m a lot bigger than a mouse, and I heal a lot faster. Beyond that I don’t know a whole lot about it. Lizzy thinks we should try cutting one of my toes off to see it if grows back, mutant style. (She’s loving like that.) Me, I’d like to think of it as a gift—except it’s ruined a lot of my high school career. Why? Because my mother refuses to let me play sports. Why? Glad you asked. I ask every year. But since this whole quick-healing deal is not part of the Maresbeth “official” description, I’m not supposed to let people know about it. My mother apparently thinks it would be hard to explain a disappearing abrasion to the football coach. If it was my dad, I could probably work out a compromise. But Mother Maresbeth is like a pit bull. If she gets hold of an idea, she’s not letting go of it. Period.
I licked my palm (no reason to waste it) and washed up. Then, though it killed me to do it, I flushed the toilet for cover. The only good side to this mess was that Aunt Syl might stop making remarks about my bathroom habits. Apparently the mere suggestion of digestive malfunction sends me running to the toilet.
I hate my life sometimes.
            When I got back to the table, they were partway through casserole. It was painful, the look of pity Aunt Syl was giving me, but I just had to find out more about Zsòfia.
            “Ahem,” I said, trying to act casual. “What did I miss?”
            Lizzy rested her chin on her hand and peered at me ever-so-sweetly.
“Well, Zsòfia is way too old for you—and she’s got a crush on someone else, anyway.”
            “Oh. Sure,” I said—at least I think I said that. I couldn’t hear myself because my heart had just exploded with a deafening bang. Zsòfia with someone else was horrifying enough—but I had just thought of something worse.
            “Not Leonard. Please.”
            “Oh, heavens!” Aunt Syl gave herself a little hug and grinned at me. “Hardly her type, I think. Lizzy is having you—what do they say? Over a barrel? It’s Bela Lugosi!”
            “Wait—the actor?” I asked.
            “Indeed! Zsòfia quite pines for him! Has seen every film, I’m quite sure. Many of them twice. Or thrice!”
            I restarted my heart. Zsòfia: not dating. Loves Bela Lugosi. It was only then that I had a chance to attend to the second part of my aunt’s comment. Frankly, does anyone say “over a barrel”? I sometimes wonder what century she lives in.…
            “So she likes movies,” I said, glaring at Lizzy. “I like movies. What else does she like?”
            My aunt tilted her head a little, unbalancing her bangles.
            “You know, my dear, she keeps very much to herself. It must be difficult adjusting to another university; she left the one in Edinburgh only a year ago. But she is a most excellent assistant, and really quite charming. Perhaps you can keep her company when she’s here.”
            Okay, I’ve never been super fond of Aunt Syl, but right now I could have kissed the woman.
            “Sure. I mean, you know, why not?” I said. Translation: Thank you, Lord Jesus, his saints, and angels, and anyone else listening up there, amen.
            My aunt winked at me and then started clearing the dishes away. Meanwhile, I was getting the stink-eye from my sister.
            “Are you that dumb?” she asked.
            “What’s the matter? For once there’s a girl research assistant. So what.”
            “So what? You idiot. First, she’s not into you.”
            “You don’t know that.”
            Lizzy raised her eyebrows in a pretty good rendition of our mother. Only my sister’s version said: don’t make me tell you what a dork you are.
            “Go away,” I said, heading for the stairs.
            “Hold it, mister,” Lizzy swung around the edge of the table and headed me off. “Listen, you big dummy, don’t go drooling over Dracula-lover, alright? We don’t know her. It’s risky.”
            “What are you talking about?”
“News flash: she’s not from around here! She’s from over there,” Lizzy said, pointing vaguely behind me.
“From the kitchen?” I asked. Lizzy leaned forward and gripped me by the front of my shirt.
“From vampire country!” she whispered.
“For the last time—I am not a vampire—”
“You drink blood,” she hissed, and I grimaced.
“Stop it! Dad wouldn’t let you talk like that!”
Lizzy let go of my shirt and crossed her arms.
“Yeah? Well, Dad’s not here, is he?”
 “I can take care of myself,” I snapped, and then I stomped up the stairs to—well, to drink blood.
There’s just no getting around that.
I sat on the edge of the bed, scrunching my toes in the carpet and drinking down dinner number two (and three). My notepad was open on the comforter: June 9th: Lizzy is a hateful brat. Followed by ten pages trying to accurately describe Zsòfia’s hair, eyes and accent—and one rather bad sketch. The trouble with Lizzy, though, is that she’s sort of right … so much of my life does seem to revolve around what I can and can’t say about what I can and can’t do. It’s worse than annoying. If it weren’t for Henry—who knows all about it, mostly due to an ill-advised attempt to become blood brothers when we were nine—I think I’d lose my mind. And of course, he wasn’t there. So, I dug through my bag and produced my cell phone.
“Hey, Henry,” I muttered when he picked up.
“Yo! What’s happening, Jakey?”
“Nothing. Well, mostly nothing.” I must have sounded pretty low. There was a pause as Henry switched ears.
“Syl’s making you nuts, right?”
“Yup. And Lizzy.”
“Yeah—she’s hilarious,” Henry laughed. I do not agree. But whatever. It was nice to hear a friendly voice. I described the disasters so far, and then went in for my real questions.…
“So, do you know anything about Hungary?” I asked.
“Tons!” Henry said, and I admit this was a bit of a shock.
“Duh, Jake. I’m hungry all the time. Went wind-surfing today, and I’m starving!”
I thumped the phone against my forehead.
“No, Henry! The country! The country of Hungary!”
“Oh. Nope. Why?” he paused. “Dude, did you meet some chick from there or something?”
“Uh,” I cleared my throat … technically we had met. I’d “met” someone.
“Well, yeah,” I said, grinning. “Graduate student.”
“A graduate! Holy crap! That’s like A-double-plus!”
All right. So I was letting Henry get the wrong end of the situation. So what? It felt great to be applauded for my as-yet-untried suaveness by someone who was spending his break wind surfing. It renewed my confidence. Tomorrow, I would be cool, and it would be awesome.
When I hung up, I pitched the empty container back in the cooler and slumped onto the pillows. Zsòfia. (I really liked saying her name.) She likes films. Check. She likes vampire stuff. Check. She likes mature-for-their-age high school boys…?
Man, I seriously hoped so.

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