Samuel Beauchamp has been dead for twenty-seven years, but that hasn’t stopped him from living…
“Dazzling! Hard to put down, absolutely gripping. Highest recommendation.”
“…brilliantly complex characters…”
“…Could be Siemsen’s best book to date.”
In this prequel to the highly acclaimed novel A Warm Place to Call Home (a demon’s story) by Michael Siemsen, the bestselling author turns back the clock–from post-WWI California to late 1950’s New York City.
For reasons unknown to him, Samuel’s essence remained after his body was killed, and he discovers that the living emit an irresistible force, drawing him inside where he has the power to take over.
After surviving the great depression in the body of a young hobo, Samuel spends years studying the history of his condition, moving from body to body when necessary, and finally settling in New York City in the late 1950’s. Following a few years of relative serenity, his beautiful and brash girlfriend disappears, and his search for her uncovers answers to questions he never asked.
Early on, I’d lived as a young hobo named Rip whose life had simply been too difficult for me to endure. In his body I had been beaten, robbed countless times, forever walking a thread between hunger and true starvation. There was something about Rip’s slight body, or perhaps some aspect of my personality, that drew abuse to me. It was as though I exuded weakness.
In Cheyenne, Wyoming, I (Rip) had joined a band of younger ‘bos (short for hobos) who, like me, had no families. We’d been waiting in the trees to board a freight, watching as a bull (railroad guard) walked atop the boxcars with a pistol in his hand, searching for folks between the cars. When they were gone, we rushed the tracks and climbed aboard, but the bulls came back.
“C’mon down now, you little shits!” one said, banging his club against the side of a car.
It had probably been a trap, but either way, we were yanked off at gunpoint and walked to the edge of the rail clearing. We sat for a moment while the other bulls hurried to come have a look at us. We could tell right away which one was the leader, because right after he stepped up to us, the other bulls’ postures improved and they started chuckling to themselves.
“You search ‘em yet?” he asked, floating a lantern across each of our faces.
“Not yet, boss.”
“Well, strip ‘em then,” he said, and walked off.
“You heard my Pa, you tramper shits! Strip!” This bull was a fairly young kid. He couldn’t have been much older than me, three whiskers scattered across his ruddy face and a uniform that hung off his shoulders.
The four of us stripped down to nothing, terrified of what might come next. “Fortunately,” all they did was go through each pocket and hem, extracting coins and bills from every hiding place. I had thought for some reason they would forget about our shoes—the toe of one of mine held twenty-eight hard-earned dollars. They didn’t forget about our shoes.
When the bulls were done searching our clothes, they stuffed all of our money into a coffee can and threw our clothes back at us. The two grown ones walked off cackling, leaving the young mean one to “send a message.”
While he beat us with his club, he called out, “Tell m’Pa to wait up fer me, all right! I’s almost done!”
His name was Aaron Fuller, age nineteen, and he didn’t beat or rob any more hobos after that day. Not after I jumped in there. That’s the optimistic outlook on leaving Rip, but I’ll share more about him later.
Despite occupying a taller, thicker body, I hadn’t quite escaped the torment of others. Aaron’s father was an extraordinary contradiction: loving and proud, yet rageful and volatile. One day he would embrace me and kiss my head and tears would well up in his eyes as he choked out doting, often poetic words, like “Yer better’n me, boy. Yer gonna be sump’em. Yer love is like a mountain on m’chest, boy.” Other days it was as though a feeble dam held back a lake of wrath. He never balled a fist to me, but the rapid-fire slaps from his meaty hands nevertheless painted bruises and rattled my skull. He would scream, “Yer just gonna leave me! After everything I’ve done fer you! You never cared a lick about me!”
When I left, I was somehow able to slip from Aaron’s brain without tearing his consciousness out with me. It might have had something to do with never quite feeling at home in him. I had always been aware of his presence there with me; he was a sleeping predator in the darkest corner of its den. I used this technique from then on when borrowing bodies, ever mindful of the other one with me. Aaron awoke in his home, frightened and confused, but then rapidly accepting, as if awakening from a too-real dream wherein he was beating a group of young ‘bos. I was just relieved to see him awaken, and I didn’t stick around to witness any revelations of missing time.
Another big rig roared past me on the side of the highway. I tossed Tinker’s greasy dull switchblade and stuffed the Buck knife into my pocket.
Rubber-banded stacks of notes and letters, my Kodak 35 Rangefinder camera, the Mason jar full of coins and keys and trinkets. Everything had some level of sentimental value, but I needed to select a few choice irreplaceables that would fit, and then move on.
I was Jerome Johns for the early half of the 1950s, and it was as him that I lost my virginity, began my education, and enjoyed a few years of relative serenity in Colorado before events took a turn and an accident forced me to leave. My friend and mentor at that time, Quincy Holbrook, had given me many books: Graves’s Goodbye to All That, Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Descartes’s Meditations, Sartre’s Being and Nothingness, among others.
I generally prefer not to think of Colorado. While I can attribute some of my highest highs to that period, the converse is also true. I would gladly give up many of the good memories of that place if the bad ones went with them. But this is not how memory works, is it? And so I do my best to bury the bad, highlight the good.
Over the years, fortunately, I had managed to disconnect my books from their associated memories. No longer did they trigger a series of recollections, but for the longest time I couldn’t even look at them without succumbing to the weight of the past. They would just reopen wounds. I flipped to a dog-eared page and found a scrawled note: “Strip everything else away … what do we know for sure?” Quincy loved Descartes.
I don’t want to talk about Quincy right now.
I closed Meditations and spread all of the books out side by side in the dirt next to Tinker’s motorcycle. My fingers had flipped each of these pages multiple times, wishing I had a hundred more. I couldn’t bring all of my books, nine total, so I selected four, wincing at the other five while consoling myself that many other copies existed in the world and one day I would have them again.
I opened my canvas bag and picked through the articles of clothing I had collected over the years. A hand-painted tie, an austere work shirt from the early 40s, coveralls. During World War II, I lived in a commune in New Mexico where we made clothes and repaired vehicles for the nearby town’s residents. There I learned to ride and refurbish motorcycles. It was a peaceful pocket of land in a chaotic world, where no one exactly admitted they were avoiding the draft, but observing men forgetting their assumed names had become a regular occurrence.
“Hey, Bill, you on kitchen duty tonight?”
(No response, “Bill” keeps walking.)
“Uhhh … Bill?”
(“Bill” stops, looks around, remembers these people call him “Bill.”) “Oh, hey! What was that you were saying?”
(“Bill” acknowledges he’s on kitchen duty tonight.)
I can’t tell you how many times I witnessed this exact exchange, with only a simple change of name and subject matter. It was actually rather humorous.
At the commune, I was a recent German immigrant named Anton Wiltzcheck. Ironic, no, that I was surrounded by others with assumed identities? It felt good to not feel like the only liar in town.
Apparently, Anton had not ranked high on the U.S. list for service, as they never called for him. We had no radio on the commune and were therefore successful in ignoring the imploding outside world. While it was peaceful, though, I do not look back on it fondly. The people there I considered friends were, in fact, just friendly. I was always an outsider, kept at arm’s length and never truly trusted. Perhaps I shouldn’t have worked so hard perfecting my German accent.
Despite the heartache, delicious foods were prepared in abundance there, and I had grown fat as Anton. Bread was my biggest weakness. I could eat it all day, and still do. And so began a pattern of my host bodies slowly swelling.
I had kept a pair of wide-waisted trousers I’d sewn there, and decided I would still keep them. At least one item from each life, I determined, and rolled the trousers, gathering a few more knick-knacks before returning everything else to the well. Perhaps one day I would return here. Maybe my valuables would lay safe long enough. The good weather would certainly continue for a couple months.
But I never returned, and rarely looked back.
With the motorcycle loaded, I gazed once more down the highway, started the engine, and rode south. I continued on until I reached Oklahoma, then turned toward my true heading: east to New York City.
The warm wind at my cheeks and hair, the smells of hot soil and big bluestem grass basking in the afternoon sun, I felt alive and … almost free. There was only one problem—one sour nut in the bowl.
Like young Aaron Fuller, Tinker was a furious, powerful presence in the back of my head. I had hated him within a minute. I didn’t like what I was thinking about doing to him, but the more I considered it, the more reasonable and appropriate the idea felt. In my early days, “wiping” a person’s consciousness had been an inevitable, unintended result of leaving their bodies. Later, I had learned to exit bodies “gracefully,” keeping the original consciousness intact, and they had been able to resume their lives (albeit with some memory loss).
I pulled off the highway and found a quiet spot to park for a moment.
I’m sorry, Tinker.
Review by Angela
This book……Where do I begin? I’m not sure how many of you know, but I’m kind of a big Michael Siemsen fan (and stalker). I have read all of his stuff and I have enjoyed it. I am in love with his demon Frederick (and no that is not a dirty joke!) and can’t wait to read more about Matthew Turner. I was VERY excited about reading Samuel and did my fair share of heckling him to get it. Now that I have read it, I’m sad. But in a good way.
I love Frederick the demon. He is funny as hell, witty, ornery, has a wicked sense of humor and is fairly carefree. He’s the “fun” one. Samuel is the male best friend you love (but not love THAT way) that you want great things to happen to and for him to have his happy ending, but he just keeps getting dumped on. He’s like your favorite distant cousin, who is pathetic, has no nerve and gets walked all over and you just want to scream at him to stop being a wuss and stand up for himself. I love him, but in a different way. Make sense?
It wasn’t like that in the beginning. I wasn’t sure how to feel about Samuel. I was indifferent to him and I wasn’t sure how this was all going to play out. It wasn’t until the latter 3rd of the book that I realized that I did actually like him and that I cared about what happened to him. I “got” him. I knew where he was coming from (literally and figuratively) and I felt a connection to him. I was truly heartbroken for him when he was trampled on and pissed off when someone was cruel. There aren’t many funny or lighthearted parts like in Frederick. There may only be one or two things that make you chuckle. This book is definitely darker than A Warm Place to Call Home (a demon’s story). But don’t let that be a turn off. It is definitely a heartbreaking book, with drama, drama, and more drama. However, it does have a happy ending (if that stuff is important to you).
This book is full of surprises that even I, a Michael Siemsen aficionado (aka stalker) did not see coming. I did not have this book figured out until it was revealed to me. THAT is a tell-tale sign of a good book in my opinion. Michael Siemsen did this in the Frederick book and he was able to do it again this time with Samuel. And THAT is why I have read everything he’s written and will continue to read anything that he writes. As long as he is able to keep surprising ME then he’s going to have a lifelong reader (stalker).
**P.S. Mr. Siemsen and I kid about the stalking thing. It is not intended to be taken literally in that creepy, peeking through the curtains and digging through the garbage kind of stalking. It is, in his words, “benevolent stalking.”
***P.P.S – I was part of the beta reading group that Michael Siemsen uses before his books get published and received an unedited copy of the book for review purposes.
Purchase on Amazon
About the Author
Michael Siemsen grew up in Venice, California, the second son of a Vietnam veteran turned policeman. Initially focusing on performing arts, Michael attended the prestigious Alexander Hamilton Academy in Los Angeles.
After serving in the U.S. Army as a tracked vehicle operator, he returned to civilian life and began writing short stories and screenplays, and directing short films and music videos.
Moving to Northern California in the late ’90’s, Michael met his future wife, Ana. The two now live near the San Joaquin River Delta, with their three equally-adventurous children and Brody, the ever-gaping Lab.
Michael is currently at work wrapping up the third book in the Matt Turner series. It should be released in early 2014, depending upon Brody’s seemingly endless need to urinate or engage in exercise.