Beldren on Smashwords!

BELDREN smallTales of the Executioners: Beldren is now available as a free read on Smashwords, with Barnes & noble, Apple, and Kobo to follow as soon as Smashwords ships it out to them.

The year is 1687 in the fourth Tale of the Executioners. Beldren, a former indentured servant, suffers the same fate as many others of his kind – the promised land and money never materialized, despite having done their time. When Matthias suggest they take their due, Beldren is skeptical, but what else does he have to do? It’s a choice he may live to regret.

This one is about twice the length of the usual shorts because Beldren had a lot to say, but when the price is set to FREE who can complain?

Get your copy today!

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Ark – Tales of the Executioners

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This is the second of the Tales of the Executioners, which I’ll eventually release as freebie short reads and then bundle together in a collection, much like Vampire Morsels.

The Executioners are the vampire’s equivalent of special police. They go on “assignments” that The Guild (the vampire government) sends them on, and they don’t have a reputation for being very nice. It’s a reputation that is often well deserved.

ARK

This story takes place in April, 1972.

Rain streaked the windshield and Ark stared through it to the dark landscape beyond. The world was colored in night; shades of blue and purple. It had been so long since he’d seen the sun that he’d forgotten the other colors. Vague memories stirred, over bright and painted in green, blue, and yellow. They belonged to another place and another time. Just like she did.

A sign went past. “Welcome to California”. The painted letters filled his stomach with lead. Unwittingly, his eyes were drawn to the manila folder in the passenger seat. He knew the contents by heart. The neatly typed papers outlined the terrible crimes of a vampiress and passed sentence on her. He’d read hundreds like it in the last two hundred and sixty years since he’d joined the Executioners – the elite police force of the vampires. He’d seen hundreds of pictures and hundreds of sketches. He had learned to take them with the cold detachment of someone with a job to do. They had broken the law. They deserved to be punished. But this time, when he’d looked into the dark Xeroxed eyes of the photo, his insides had turned to ice.

It had been so long since he’d seen her, and in that time a thousand different emotions had come and gone, until he’d thought he was indifferent to her. He told himself for the thousandth time that he could do this. He could do his duty, keep his honor. Even if she begged he would not be swayed.

She isn’t who the woman you remember anymore.

It was three in the morning when he stopped for gas and directions. The man inside was courteous but wary, as he should be. Though Ark was careful not to show his fangs, or do anything that would send the cashier into a panic, the man could still sense the unnatural danger standing next to the candy bar display. Ark knew because he could smell the man’s fear and hear his thoughts. It was a trait he’d inherited when he’d been turned into a vampire and he’d spent the last three-hundred-plus years perfecting it.

The man’s directions were good, and Ark soon parked in front of a stucco house on the edge of town. Yucca plants swayed in the dark and palm trees rustled above his head. He checked the time and logged it in his book, then grabbed the dagger from the glove box. By habit he pulled it from the scabbard, just enough to see the cold gleam of the clean blade. He snapped it back with a clink of finality, and forced himself out of the car and up the stone walk.

This is just an assignment. Like any other. She broke the law.

He didn’t knock, only threw the door open and strode inside. A guard sat on the couch wearing the customary gray uniform of The Guild. He jumped to his feet, magazine in hand and surprise on his face. His fear melted into terror and he snapped a shaky salute. “S-Sir. You’re early.”

Ark shoved a folded piece of paper at him. “Take me to the prisoner.”

The guard quickly scanned the contents. Underneath the pronouncement was Malick’s signature, and seal; A knot of three interlocking rings. It was the same symbol Ark wore around his neck, the sign of the Executioners and their authority.

The guard gave a stiff nod and mumbled, “She’s, um, she’s this way. Downstairs.”

Ark followed through the house and down the cellar steps. The basement was a single windowless room with a dirt floor. A pair of coffins sat against one wall, the lids askew. Guards were scattered around. Three played cards, one fiddled with a transistor radio. Two more were lost in conversation. In the midst of them all sat Dovina, tied to a chair, arms behind her back. She wore a pair of faded jeans and a loose, patterned top. Her long golden hair fell around her shoulders, a casual braid intermingled amongst the strands. Her pale skin was as flawless as Ark remembered and her eyes…

Ark’s escort cleared his throat. The guards jerked to their feet, their pastimes forgotten, but Ark barely noticed them. All of his attention was riveted on Dovina. He sought desperately for the cold indifference that had settled over his memories of her but in her presence it was gone, replaced with crystal clear moments that played like movies behind his eyes. She stood in the courtyard, bathed in golden sunlight, a pail in one hand, and a rough dress draped over her frame. As if she sensed his attention she turned towards him, and when their eyes touched, fire erupted in his chest and left him breathless.

He tried to swallow away his emotions and find his usual calm. The tinkle of piano played in his head and in his mind he saw her as she was when she was his, dressed in silk, her fingers trailing languidly across the ivory keys, the same way that she touched him in the dark. The pretty smile was on her lips and, though the other men stared, the gleam in her eyes said she only saw him.

Just as he only saw her.

“Ark. I hoped it would be you.”

Her voice brought him back to the present, and he jerked the paper from the guard’s hands.  Two of them hurried forward to untie her and pull her to her feet. One stood at each arm, holding her up, waiting for Ark to announce the sentence and carry it out. He was an Executioner. He had other assignments. He didn’t have time to linger. He would want to do it quickly.

And I should, he thought. Before it’s too late.

But it was already too late.

The guards looked at Ark expectantly, and he motioned them to release her. “I can handle this myself. I suggest you get started on the paper work.”

“We’ve already-” the guard faltered and broke off at one look from Ark. “Yes, sir. Of course.” He snapped a quick salute and motioned the others to do the same. Though the pair that held Dovina’s arms exchanged quizzical looks, they relented and followed their fellows upstairs.

The cellar door closed and Dovina remained standing, her ocean colored eyes locked with his. Though he couldn’t feel it, he knew she was in his head, sorting through his thoughts. Just as he could read minds, so could she. The product of sharing the same master.

“You might as well read the sentence. I know what it says.”

He drew a deep breath and looked away. Masonry crumbled in the corner and it held his gaze, as if it was the most interesting thing in the world. “I did what I could. I asked Malick for leniency.”

And Malick’s answer had been to give Ark the assignment instead of Phillip. “Since it so concerns you,” he’d said, wearing his cold, benevolent smile. Ark could see beneath the fake kindness to the darkness underneath, but there was nothing he could do. He had sworn an oath to uphold the laws and, as the head of the Executioners, those laws were at Malick’s whim.

He put as much authority into his voice as he could manage. “You killed an entire coven, Dovina. Why?” She stepped towards him and he looked to her, then back to the corner again.

“They killed Eric, Ark. What was I supposed to do?”

Eric. His name was like the dagger that Ark stuffed in his pocket. “And what did Eric do to them?”

“Nothing.”

She came to a stop before him. For a moment he could see their entire history written on her face, hear the echo of past laughter in her voice, the shadow of forgotten tears in her eyes. The world was old even then, but they were young. Constance was his aunt, or so she called herself, and he worked diligently at every task she set for him. When she offered immortality to her “pretty nephew”, he took it, and when she offered him a gift of anything he desired, he asked only for Dovina, the servant girl down the street. The one whose golden hair shone like a halo in the sunlight.

Constance acquired her, and Dovina came to him readily enough. Together they tasted the darkness and all it had to offer. It wasn’t the dark gift that changed her, rather time itself. A new century crept close and they left Constance for the New World. In the wilderness they spent nights lost among the trees, slipping into what passed for civilization and out again, like ghosts. They made love in the wilds with only the birds as witness, and danced naked under the cloak of moonlight. But eventually the siren call of humanity was too strong. It was harder and harder to leave behind the fire lit cities, harder to give up the taste of human blood for that of the beast. They rented a room above a shop, and paid their bills with coins taken from their victims. Dovina wore gay frocks and slippers, and he had a ridiculous wig that was the envy of half the township. They thought themselves dashing after the fashion, but privately laughed at the ridiculousness of it all.

Then the vampire came. In a single night he slaughtered the inhabitants of one street and started on a second. When he reached their room Ark removed his head and with trembling hands cut out his still beating heart. The Executioners arrived the next night, surprised to see their work finished for them. There were only two of them then and they were recruiting. They could use the help, and it would be good for him to do something useful; something besides wear silly wigs and buy silk.

Dovina watched as he bowed before Malick and swore the oath. The job was easy enough at first; mostly rogue vampires who thought a new world meant they could slaughter at will with no regard for secrecy, but as time passed the assignments became bloodier and more frequent. The territories continued to expand, and his absences grew longer. He rode away one too many times in the middle of the night, his orders clutched in his hands, Dovina watching from the doorway. One evening he returned to find the eyes of a stranger looking back at him. Dovina’s words were soft, but the meaning behind them hurt. There was someone else, and though she hadn’t allowed him to openly court her, she was considering it. She loved Ark, but she needed time to think.

She left in the rain, wearing a long hooded cloak that dragged in the mud. Ark stood silent in the doorway and cursed under his breath as the carriage drove away. He wished he could drown himself in drink and forget the world, but even feeding on the blood of drunks only did so much. His vampire physiology metabolized it too quickly and left him sober through the decades that followed. When seventy years had passed and he couldn’t contain his curiosity any longer. He went looking and he found her.

The memory popped to the surface of his mind, sharp despite the eighty years since. Red roses climbed the side of the house, and laughter tinkled through the open windows. He couldn’t see them, but he could smell them: Dovina and her Eric-

She stiffened in surprise. “Why didn’t you tell me you were there?”

“What was the point? You’d obviously made your choice.”

Her eyes moved up and down his lean frame before she brushed his cheek with her fingers. His breath stuck in his throat and for a moment he couldn’t move.  “You made the choice for me. You were always gone.”

He caught her hand and pulled it away. “Then why didn’t you ask me to quit? One word from you and I’d have left it behind.” He searched the depths of her sea colored eyes, pushing past them into the thoughts beneath, looking for an explanation, but there were only mismatched memories. “Dovina?”

“You swore an oath to them, Ark. You wouldn’t break it lightly.”

“I swore one to you first, or did our wedding vows mean nothing to you?”

“They were the promises of youth, Ark. A vow you gave before you had a chance to contemplate the long fall of the years. When you pledged yourself to me did you imagine what a hundred years would really mean? Two hundred? Three hundred? The changes they would bring?”

“Is an oath any less valid because it lasts longer than you first imagined? Are feelings any less…” He trailed off and looked away.

She pulled her hand free. “It doesn’t matter. You can see the truth in me, just as I can see your orders in you. Can’t we part as friends this time?” He didn’t answer, and she pressed on. “Read the sentence.”

He knew he should, but he couldn’t force himself to do it. She gently pried the paper from his fingers and read aloud, “Dovina, fledgling of Constance, on this day, the twenty-first of April, 1972, based on testimony and evidence submitted to The Guild, you are found guilty of coven slaughter without just cause, and are hereby sentenced to death, to be carried out by Executioner at earliest availability.”

She handed the paper back to him. “See? That wasn’t so hard. Do you want me to sit over there, or should I just stand here or-”

He grabbed her up suddenly and captured her lips with his. She stiffened and then flowed against him. Her lips parted and soft sigh escaped as her tongue darted into his mouth. Though he clutched her as hard as he could, the kiss finally ended, and she lay her head on his chest. “Do you remember the party Monsieur Pelotte threw? Before you joined the Executioners?”

He thought of her again, leaning over the piano, toying with the keys, but his voice wouldn’t work.

“He had that violinist, from Boston. What was the song he played?” She started to hum, swaying to the tune. “Dance with me Ark. One more time.”

She slipped her arms around his neck and he reflexively wrapped his arms around her as she continued to move to the music in her head. “It’s been a long time, Ark. But if you close your eyes, doesn’t it almost feel like nothing has changed? As if all the things in between never happened.”

He buried his face against her neck and inhaled deeply.  Beneath the scent of her shampoo she smelled the same as she had on that long ago night. Her body was as soft and yielding as it had been, and her hair as silky. But he knew better. Though she might appear the same on the outside, the blessing of immortality, on the inside she had changed. She was still the cold stranger he’d come in the night to find, and the sameness was an imitation, like a moment from his youth he was trying to recapture and live over and over. “Time won’t let me forget.”

“No, I suppose it won’t.” She released him reluctantly and stepped back.  Tears trailed silently down her cheeks, like the rain on the windshield. They both knew what had to happen; what was supposed to happen. He would jam the dagger through her heart, twist it once or twice for good measure, and then perhaps cut it out just to be sure she was dead. The guards would log the time of the execution, dispose of the body, and head back to the citadel in Iowa where they’d file the paperwork. Meanwhile he’d be somewhere else, killing someone else.

They broke the Laws.

The balm that usually soothed his conscience tasted like poison and he wanted to spit it out. His mind raced as he tried to find a solution, a way out, but there was none. Malick had passed judgment himself. There was no way to appeal. There was nothing to do except run until there was nowhere left to run to. And then – and then the other Executioners would come. They’d bring an army of guards and no matter how good Ark thought he was, he knew he would die. Maybe he’d get lucky and they’d strike him down first, or maybe he’d have to watch as they hacked Dovina to pieces.

“It’s not the ending I want.” She gave him a sad smile and he wiped away her tears. “This will be quick but that…they’ll make us both suffer, Ark.” She reached into his pocket and pulled out the dagger. “Just be done with it.”

He jerked the weapon from her hand and fell back.

“You don’t understand. You asked what Eric did to deserve death, and I told you nothing because it’s true. I’m to blame. I was the one who refused to leave. That other coven wanted our territory. First they asked, then they pushed, and finally Eric pushed back. He didn’t want to but I-I talked him into it. We were here first. We had a right to be here. They were the ones who should leave. So he went to their den and confronted them, and that’s when they killed him. Don’t you see, Ark? I as much killed him as they did. Had I left him alone we would have moved on and he’d still be alive but I had too much pride. This was our house. Our land. Our hunting ground. Our-” She broke off and gave a mirthless laugh. “They screamed, Ark. They screamed when I killed them. They were young and cocky, but when the moment came they were all cowards.” Her spine snapped straight and she met his eyes. “I’m not a coward. I accept the punishment, so do it and be done.”

The dagger was like a lead weight in his hand, too heavy to draw and lift. And yet…

“You can hear their thoughts, too,” she whispered. “Those guards. One is on the phone right now, reporting to The Guild that you’ve dismissed them, that they don’t think you’ll go through with it. You know they have orders to kill you if you don’t.”

“Let them try. I’ll-”

She laid a finger to his lips. “In the end you’ll die, too, like Eric, a second casualty to my pride. How many should lose their lives because I was here first? Think of it as just another assignment, like all the others.” She met his eyes.  “You swore an oath to uphold the laws. I broke them. I was found guilty. Keep your honor.”

Honor. It was a cruel word for her to use, and she knew it. He wanted to rage at her, demand to know where her belief in his honor had been when she left in the rain, but there was no point. They could talk in circles, still the end would be the same. Just as the past could not be unwritten, neither could he future they’d created.

He unsheathed the dagger and held it up like a macabre offering. Light glinted from the cold steel with a finality that cut through him. Somewhere deep inside a voice screamed that there had to be another way, that Malick would make an exception, even though he knew he wouldn’t.

Not for me.

He closed his eyes as the dagger stabbed into her. The force of the blow knocked her backwards and he looked to see her stumble and fall. She landed on the floor. Her golden hair fanned out around her head like a medieval halo. The dagger protruded from her chest, and crimson surged up and around it to soak the thin material of her blouse.

She choked a mouthful of blood, then met his eyes for a final time. “I…always loved…you, Ark.”

He dove to pull the dagger free, to stop it before it was too late, but she grabbed the hilt and rammed it the rest of the way. Her body seized and shuddered, then fell still. He landed on his knees and cradled her against him. Her blood gushed warm and wet against him and he buried his face against her neck. Even now she still smelled just the same; just the same as she always had.

His mind flashed back to that night. He climbed off his horse and strode to the house to find her holding a letter in her hand. “The messenger brought you orders,” she whispered. “But you’ve just come back.”

He took the paper from her hands and pushed back a weary sigh. “I swore an oath, Dovina. I must see it through.”

He turned to go, and she made a small noise in her throat. “Ark, there’s…There’s a man. A vampire. His name is Eric. He’s asked to court me.”

“But you’re already married!”

“Am I?” He stared at her incredulously and she spoke again, her voice trembling, “I need some time.”

Anger rose sharp and bitter. “It seems you’ve already had enough, haven’t you? Constance warned me time would change you, but I didn’t believe her.”

The memory faded and he stared into Dovina’s glassy ocean colored eyes and for the first time he realized that it wasn’t Dovina who had turned into a stranger and deserted him. He was the one who’d gone from a gentle lovesick fool to a pitiless killer with a job to do. He was the one that had abandoned her in everything but word. He was the one who had changed.

And there was no going back.

************

This version’s better than the one on my other blog, though it might still need a polish. I don’t know, maybe not.

Just a reminder, Legacy of Ghosts is still up for vote in the cover wars, so if you have a moment please stop in and cast your ballot. Thanks so much to everyone who’s done so already. you guys are awesome!

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Aine – Tales of the Executioners

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This is the first of the Tales of the Executioners, which I’ll eventually release as freebie short reads and then bundle together in a collection, much like Vampire Morsels.

The Executioners are the vampire’s equivalent of special police. They go on “assignments” that The Guild (the vampire government) sends them on, and they don’t have a reputation for being very nice. It’s a reputation that is often well deserved.

AINE

This story takes place during Heart of the Raven.

The phone reception was good, though background noise  of the bus made it hard to hear. Aine nodded to the man talking on the other end and added, “Right. You two keep looking. I think I’m in the last known neighborhood, or I should be soon. If you see him call.”

The male on the other end agreed and Aine hung up. The two were more than capable of handling things on their end. They’d been trained, just as he had.

He tapped an app shortcut and flipped through the information on his cellphone screen.  He’d memorized the photo and the details. The GPS map showed that he was right, he was only about half an hour from the guy’s den. Hopefully he would stick to his usual routines and it could all get sorted out quickly.

He stashed his cellphone in his coat and turned to the widow. The bus pulled away from the curb with a load of new arrivals. Not that there was room for more. Despite the late hour, the bus was crammed with people jostling, arguing, laughing, talking, and, in the case of the man next to him, drinking. Aine scanned the crowd, seeking the newcomers. His brown eyes moved from person to person and then-

“Hey! Watch it!”

Aine jerked away but didn’t avoid the splash of hot coffee. It soaked into his coat and splattered across his black t-shirt. He was still better off than the coffee’s owner, who now wore it on his pants and his heavy sweater.

“Sorry,” the guy said and mopped at the mess with a flimsy paper napkin. His eyes moved to the large, dark skinned man who’d nearly bowled them over. “Lousy drunk.”

But it wasn’t just a lousy drunk, not if Aine’s nose and experience told him anything, and a hundred plus years couldn’t be wrong.  It was a vampire. Or rather the vampire Aine was looking for. It was almost as if he’d stepped off the cellphone screen.

“Excuse me,” Aine murmured to his seat mate and then casually stood and moved towards the front of the bus. This wasn’t the place for a confrontation. Alone, he wouldn’t be able to manage the guy and the crowd.

The bus ground to a stop and Aine followed his quarry out onto the sidewalk. The vehicle had barely pulled away when the vampire glanced over his shoulder at his pursuer. Their eyes met and then he seemed to vanish.

Aine groaned. “A wind walker, great.”

He gave the darkened street a quick glance and then hurried after him, though he knew he had no chance of catching up. They might both be vampires, but their skills varied, and he was no match for the other’s speed.

He swung down an alley that was thick with the other vampire’s smell, and skidded to a stop as a large, hulking object seemingly appeared from the shadows.

“Who are you?”

Aine fingered the dagger in his coat with one hand, and with the other he flashed the silver medallion that hung around his neck. Made of twisted silver bands, it was more than just jewelry; it was a badge that identified him as one of the vampire guild’s elite police force.

An Executioner.

A quick hiss of breath and a step back showed that the vampire knew what that meant and all the shades of dark subtleties it implied.  “What do you want?”

“The Guild sent me, Tom,” Aine said and let the medallion drop back to his chest.

The reaction was slow, thoughtful. “What for?”

“You know very well, after the mess you left. If you’d like to come with me, we can do this the easy way.”

Tom snorted. “I don’t take invitations handed out by Executioners.”

“Look, just come with me and-”

Tom was gone before Aine could finish his sentence. Of course this had to be difficult. That was why he’d been handed the assignment. The Executioners with seniority didn’t want it, and they couldn’t hand it to the two new recruits, not that Aine had been an Executioner for more than a month and a half himself. He wished that Verchiel was back from his trip to Germany. He seemed like the kind of guy who would enjoy an assignment like this.

With nothing else to do, Aine turned and headed back to the street. The light above the bus stop threw flickering light over the bench and its two new occupants. The pair of teenage girls looked on their surroundings with wide eyes and nervous, drunk giggles.

Aine checked his watch and the faded bus stop schedule. It claimed another bus would stop within the hour, though he wasn’t sure if he should bother. He’d lost Tom, but it shouldn’t be too hard to find him, if The Guild’s information was correct.

And that was always a big if.

He leaned against the light post and waited. The teenage girls checked him out and giggled, at first obviously finding his young face and long, copper colored hair attractive. But, as moments passed and he remained motionless, not quite human but not quite something else, their approval slipped into dislike, and they shied away, sliding to the far end of the bench with apprehensive looks.

The Uncanny Valley Hypothesis. That was what one of his superiors had called it. That moment when you were too human, but still not human enough, and the mortals got scared.

He didn’t feel like messing with them, so he abandoned the wait and headed out on foot.  It would be easiest to go to Tom’s den and wait. There were only a handful of hours left until dawn, and no vampire would stay out after that. He tugged his cell phone from his coat pocket to check the map again, but the device was damp with coffee and when he pressed the button nothing happened.  It was just something else to make the night complete.

What have I done to deserve this?

He tried to remember the map, and came up with a vague, shadowy impression of it. The street names were a blur. He reminded himself that Executioners had survived without GPS for thousands of years. Surely he was as good as they were?

As he walked, he sniffed the air, seeking Tom’s scent. He picked up a variety of smells; sweat, paint, cinnamon, and something very much like old varnish. There was the scent of another vampire, one he didn’t know, and then, finally, there was Tom.

He wound down a dark street and an alley, until he came to a rusty door. Tom’s scent was strong; he’d been there recently, though whether it was his den or not was hard to say. There was only one way to find out.

The door wasn’t locked, so Aine opened it and peered inside. He sniffed again and came up with stale cigarettes, blood, and something else. It smelled vampirish and yet it didn’t. Another complication.

He couldn’t smell anyone else, so he pushed past the door and up a set of dark stairs. His vampire eyes could see in the gloom, but there was nothing to look at. The walls were bare and the hallway at the top of the stairs was empty except for another door at the end. The scent was stronger as he crept towards it, and he paused at the door and listened. He could hear something like soft scratching; perhaps someone moving around?

He gripped his dagger in his hand and threw the door open with a shout, “Executioners! Come out!”

No one replied to his call, and he stood tense and expectant as his eyes scanned the room.  It was dark and sparsely furnished; a folding a table, a chair, a broken couch and on the floor a well-worn book with no cover. A door on the far wall led to what he assumed would be a bedroom. Whoever had been moving had fallen silent now, but he could guess where they were.

He raised his voice and tried to sound scary and authoritative, like Senya did. The woman was a bitch, but she knew how to instill fear in others. “I said, Executioners. Come out, now!”

Nothing happened and Aine groaned silently. “This is your last chance!” He counted off the seconds and then charged the door. He kicked it open in a flurry of splinters and landed inside with a cry.

A low growl came from under the sagging bed and, slowly, a pair of glowing eyes emerged. Aine blinked in disbelief and lowered his weapon as a large, angry cat slinked into view; back arched and tail like a bottle brush.

Aine stepped towards it and the animal hissed and darted for the door. The Executioner was faster, and he caught the seething mass of fur behind the neck and hefted it in the air. It snarled and struck out as Aine sniffed it. This was what he’d been smelling. Had Tom…?

He could smell the immortality and knew it had to be true. A vampire cat. What in the hell was he supposed to do with that?

He heard the downstairs door open and close, and footsteps tromp up the stairs. He dropped the creature and hid just inside the bedroom, tensed and ready. Tom’s scent wafted to him as the vampire shuffled to a stop outside his door. Aine cursed silently; he’d left it open and now Tom knew-

“Executioner!” the vampire roared. “I can smell you. Come out!”

So much for surprise.

Aine debated for a moment and then decided he had had enough. He slid the dagger back into his coat and stepped into the doorway. He leveled his gaze with Tom’s. The vampire snarled and made to charge, but his body didn’t move.

“What in the hell?”

“We’ve already done the introductions,” Aine said coldly. “I am here to escort you to the citadel where you will stand trial for a long list of crimes, including turning an animal without due permission.”

Tom strained and snarled, but his limbs stayed stationary, held in place by Aine’s abilities. “You’re a puppet master, aren’t you?”

“Yes, actually. Do you have a phone?”

Tom looked puzzled. “No, why? Is that a crime, too?”

“No.” Aine pulled his cellphone out and pressed the buttons but it stayed dark. It would have been easier to call the guards and let them restrain the prisoner and haul him off, but it looked like he’d have to do it himself. “It doesn’t matter. Do you have an animal carrier for the cat?”

Tom adopted an attitude of fake innocence. “What cat?”

At that moment the animal strode out of the bedroom gave a loud “meow” and rubbed against his legs. Tom looked away and then muttered, “Oh, that cat.” His voice rose as he snapped, “It’s a bunch of bureaucratic nonsense, demanding that we ask their permission to turn something. They don’t care about making more vampires, but don’t turn your bloody cat immortal or the police come for you.”

Aine was inclined to agree, but he knew better than to say so. “I’m not here because of the cat. I’m here because you tore up a diner, killed two people, and left a score of witnesses to the fact.” Tom’s mouth opened and Aine quickly added, “Save it for the council.”

Tom fell into an unhappy silence, except for the occasional straining sound as he tried to force his limbs to move, while Aine searched the apartment for a box to cram the cat in. He wasn’t sure what would hold the creature; with immortality came increased strength, and he didn’t want it ripping its way out during transit and running loose in the city.

He found a metal safety deposit box under the bed that he thought would work. Like themselves, the cat wouldn’t need air. Tom gave another loud grunt and fought against his seeming paralysis. Aine’s head ached with the force required to keep the vampire immobile. He wasn’t sure how he was going to make him walk down the stairs and through the streets to the appointed meeting place. He’d have to deal with it when the time came.

He rubbed his forehead, then turned to the feline who was systematically shredding the book on the floor. “Here, kitty, kitty.”

The cat gave him a long, cold stare, and then in a single leap disappeared into the bedroom.

With a muttered, “God dammit, I’m ready for this night to be over!” Aine bounded after it. The thing tore around the small room, over the bed, halfway up the wall, down again, and around the floor. He finally managed to tackle the beast and force it into the box, howling, hissing, and slashing all the way.

“There,” he proclaimed to no one in particular and stormed back to the living room.  His head pounded and he was covered in long, angry scratches. To make his mood worse, he found that Tom had managed to raise his arms and spread his feet, though he still hadn’t actually moved from the spot. The prisoner stopped his struggles when he saw the metal box, and Aine had a sudden burst of inspiration. “You can cooperate or else I’ll incinerate this monster myself.”

Tom’s face went pale and his eyes burned with a mixture of fury and fear. “You wouldn’t. It’s not the cat’s fault.”

“You should have thought of that. If you think I’m in the mood to mess around, you’re mistaken. You will accompany me to the Guild, where you will stand before the council for your crimes and receive just punishment.”

“Sure I will. More likely you’ll cut off my head when I’m not looking and eat my heart for kicks. I know how you and your friends and your boss Malick operate.”

Aine began to slowly release his influence, watching for any signs of Tom’s fight or flight. “Malick isn’t in charge anymore. It’s Eileifr now, and the rules are a little different.”

Tom’s face twisted back and forth between surprise and bitter disbelief, and stopped on the latter. “If you say so. Just don’t hurt my damned cat or I’ll tear you apart myself.”

“You’re not in a position to call the shots,” Aine pointed out. “But if you cooperate I won’t hurt it.”

Tom growled low in his throat but, as Aine pulled away the last of his control, he continued to stand motionless. “So where the hell are we going?”

It was a long walk to the abandoned warehouse. Tom strode next to Aine like a thunder cloud, his glittering eyes mere slits that said he was going to grab that metal box and run for it at his first chance. Aine the unlikely prize in one hand, and his dagger in the other. He wished he had a more substantial weapon, but there hadn’t been any way to get something larger on the bus, and since The Guild’s intel said that Tom rode the bus every night…

The pair of guards was suddenly visible in a slice of streetlight. They stood like dark statues against the rusty, corrugated walls of the warehouse, barely disguised masks of irritation on their faces.

“I got him,” Aine called, just for something to say. “I would have called but my phone got coffee spilled on it.”

“Coffee?” one of the guards demanded. “Or did you just want all the credit?”

“Roger!” cried the other with alarm. “You can’t talk to Executioners like that.”

Roger rolled his eyes. “It’s not like it’s one of the real ones. It’s only Aine. For crying out loud, I’ve been a guard longer than he was.  Just because he’s got a title now doesn’t mean anything. Two months ago he’d have been in your place!”

“That was then,” said the other quickly. “Now he could kill you for talking back!”

Aine didn’t have time for this. He couldn’t believe Tom had cooperated as long as he had, and any moment he knew the vampire would decide to abandon the cat and take off. If he did they might not catch him. “Sorry to interrupt, but could you take the prisoner into custody?”

The nervous guard gave a high pitched “eep” sound, snapped a salute and muttered apologies as he ran to take one of Tom’s arms. Roger produced another eye roll, but did the same. They quickly bound Tom and hauled him towards a van that sat half concealed in shadows.

“We’ll take him in,” Roger said with no small amount of bitterness. “And I imagine we’ll do the paperwork.”

Normally Aine would have done it himself, but his head still hurt and Roger’s attitude annoyed him. “Sure, go ahead. You’ve had a lot more practice than I have, since you’ve been a guard longer.”

Roger scowled darkly. “The next time an Executioner spot opens-”

“You should put in for it,” Aine agreed. “You’re probably good at filling the application out by now.” He nodded to a black sports car that was parked near the van. “I’ll follow you in, unless they give me another assignment in the meantime.”

“Your phone would have to work for that.” Roger sniffed disdainfully.

Aine gave him a smile. “Then I guess I’ll get a vacation, huh?”

When Aine got back to the citadel he filed his report and turned his cell in for a new one. As he tested out the menu he asked causally, “So, the prisoner?”

“They, uh, took him to detention.  Looks like he’s likely to get ten years or more, if they go by the, uh, book.” He gave Aine’s paperwork a quick, nervous read through and stammered, “Uh, s-sir? You, uh, you mentioned a cat in your, uh, report.”

Aine wanted nothing more than a shower and a nice, big glass of blood. “And?”

“Well, beg your pardon, sir, but I, uh, you, you didn’t fill out an extermination request for the, uh, for the animal. I’m sorry, but you’ll need to fill one out and, uh, you’ll have to take the animal down to the basement to be destroyed.”

“Didn’t Roger do that already?”

“Roger? Uh, no, no sir, I don’t believe so. He did file some paperwork on the prisoner and such, but um, not, not anything on an animal.”

Aine rubbed his forehead with irritation. “He didn’t let the damn thing escape did he?” He suddenly narrowed his eyes and snapped, “That’s great. Now there’s a vampire cat running loose somewhere. Put him on report for negligence!”

The stammering guard gave a quick salute, and started to shuffle through papers. “Yes, yes, sir. Of course, sir. Right away, sir.”

“I’m tired of incompetence,” Aine added for good measure. “If there’s nothing further that Roger forgot to do then I’m going to my quarters.”

“Y-yes sir. Of course, sir. Have a nice day, sir.”

Aine took a shower, dressed in fresh clothes and fetched himself a large bag of blood. He dropped onto the sofa and poured some of the crimson liquid into a cup. It shimmered in the light and he reluctantly set it aside and turned to the metal security box at his feet.

“All right, monster. I’m going to open this, and if you try to take my head off I swear I’ll fill one of those forms out.” It was a lie. Evil or not, he couldn’t bring himself to have the thing destroyed.

He snapped the locks and waited for the cat to spring at him, but instead it sat hunched back in its box and meowed piteously.

Aine sighed and stuck his hand inside. “Come on, kitty, kitty. I won’t fill the form out. Come on.” He picked the cup up in the other hand and waved it towards the feline. “Come on and have some nice blood.”

The cat gave a long, low howl and leaped. He bounced off of Aine’s chest, pinponged off the arm of the couch, and pounced to a stop on the floor at his feet, expectant eyes peering upwards. Aine slowly set the cup in front of it, and drew back before the beast could tear him to shreds, but it only set on the blood like a kitten to milk, lapping happily.

Aine leaned back and sucked at his own dinner. He’d have to wait a week or two, but then he could put in a request for a cat. Everyone was so busy with construction and organizing new policies that he doubted anyone would oppose it. Though a cat was something he needed like a hole in the head, even if it was only for ten years.

Finished with its meal, the creature hopped up on the couch and settled itself in Aine’s lap, purring loudly. The vampire tensed for an attack, but when none came he relaxed and gave it a half-hearted pat on the head. Maybe having a pet wouldn’t be so bad, after all.  Even if it was immortal.

************

Aine had nothing to say, but I guess it’s a nice introduction to the group. Ark should be next if I ever get to it.

Have a good one and don’t forget about the Halloween sale. 😉

signature for white

Who is Your Audience?

My 101 Tips for Traveling with a Vampire is still free on Amazon. I’ve given away over 11,000 copies of it and though I know those numbers probably aren’t much in the scheme of “real” authors, it’s mind boggling to me. Up to now I’ve only ever managed to give away and/or sell 437 through Smashwords and all of its markets (Barnes & Noble, Kobo, etc). I guess this shows the importance of being on Amazon, too. That’s not to say that I don’t think Smashwords will catch up to those kind of numbers or that people can’t do fantastically well there, I just think that if you do minimum advertising (like I do) it makes sense to have the book in as many places as possible so  more people are likely to stumble on it.

Of course, with free has come the bad reviews, but they’re mixed with good ones, so not too big of a deal. The bad ones mainly seem to be from people who expected different genres (One lady has reviewed only romance novels besides that book) or else expected it to be longer, despite the fact that the description says it is exactly what the title implies.  No fault to them, though. They just didn’t like it. Not everyone can. But then, I’m not really writing for everyone, anyway.

Which leads me to a point – not “my point”. “My point” is right on top of my head, which makes wearing stocking caps hard – hahahahaha! Get it? See, now not everyone thought that was funny. But, I digress.  The point is that I’m not writing for everyone, I’m writing for “my audience” and, as Ruth pointed out in a post on SPAL earlier this month, that’s the most important thing. I guess I’m just lucky in the fact that “my audience” is probably ten eleven people.  So long as they like it, then I’m happy because they’re the ones I have in mind as I’m writing or editing.

Does that make me short sighted?

And who exactly is this audience of ten eleven people?

Without naming names, I will say that most (though not all) of them like anime. They also generally find my jokes funny, or at least pretend to.  And the female portion of said audience seems to like pretty boys. They also tend to like the alpha-get -your-hands-dirty-in-the-blood-of-your-enemies kinda guys.  It’s even better if they can be that AND pretty at the same time. Oh, and men who take care of their women (much to the chagrin of some of the more radical women’s rights kind of readers). I firmly believe that women can do anything they want to and are capable of the same things as men, but frankly, why should they spend their time doing it all if they don’t have to? If the guy wants to take out the trash – or protect the damsel in distress from a horde of blood thirsty killers – I don’t see how that diminishes her as a person. Let him handle some of it. We don’t have to do it all just because we can. It’s not a contest.

Also, my target audience of ten eleven people like some gore or violence in between their romantic moments, seem to enjoy stretches of conversation as well as the odd overly dramatic setting (the old warehouse I compared to a bloody eyed monster in book 1 springs instantly to mind) and they like vampires that don’t sparkle.

Frankly, they sound like a fun group. No wonder I’m writing for them!

So here’s a big thank you to my audience, I believe you all know who you are.  And also a thank you to those of you who are in my audience without my realizing it. After all, if you’d asked me last year I’d have told you my audience was only about five people, so there’s plenty of room for growth.  Heck, I’ll even say thanks to those people who aren’t in my audience at all and left scathing reviews on Amazon.  Some of those reviews are so bad they’re good. And isn’t that what we’re all striving for?

You can check out 101 Tips for Traveling with a Vampire on Amazon and Smashwords

(edited per the comments below – thanks Juli!)

Do you…..

Like polls? Yeah, I do, too. There’s something about voicing my opinion that just makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside. If you like it too, then read on, as there are not one but three chances for you to chime in!

I’ve been trying to decide whether to publish my short Vampire Morsels on Amazon or not.  So, I thought I’d get the opinion of the world at large about short stories and prices in general!

and…

and…

and…..

Thanks for stopping in and – hopefully – leaving your vote 🙂

Ashton Now on Smashwords

Now on Snashwords: Part of the Vampire Morsels Collection. Each short story is about a different vampire from the Amaranthine universe. After Ashton’s parents die it’s up to him to take care of his younger brother, Loren. he tries to escape the pressure by befriending the new guy in town, Jessie, and his dangerous friends. But drugs and alcohol are only the beginning and he quickly discovers that his new reality is far worse than the one he tried to escape.

Read Ashton for free on Smashwords!

101 Tips for Traveling with a Vampire Free on Amazon

Get 'er while she's free!

Amazon sent me a notice about this a few days ago and I completely forgot.  So, fast forward I hopped onto Amazon tonight to check my sales and had over 3,000 for 101 Tips. Considering I haven’t sold any of those for the last two months, I immediately though “this is a mistake”, and then I remembered the mail from Amazon and it made sense.

Of course, free means I’m not making any royalties off those sales, but I don’t mind since it’s already a free book at Smashwords, anyway, and would have been free on Amazon if they allowed for it.

Right now you’re asking yourself “WHat’s the point of this post?”  It’s to tell you that if you haven’t gotten 101 Tips for Traveling with a Vampire from Amazon, now is the time to do it coz it’s a freebie, and we all love a freebie!

If you don’t have a Kindle, you can still get it for free on Smashwords as a document or PDF. it’s only about 9,000 words total, including the preview of Legacy of Ghosts, so it’s not too bad to read on a computer screen.

Interview with Jorick

Hello! My name is Katelina, and welcome to Character Interviews. I spend a lot of time in the Amaranthine series quizzing vampires on what they’re doing, where they’re going and why, so Jo thought I would be the perfect interviewer.

The first victim – erm – interviewee is none other than my very own Jorick! If you’ve never met him I can sum him up for you in a few words: Dark, sexy and crabby. Oh, and he’s one of those vampires I mentioned earlier. You can find him in Both Shades of Gray and Legacy of Ghosts, as well as the upcoming Ties of Blood.

Katelina: So, hello Jorick! Welcome to the first Character Interview!

Jorick: Hello.

Jorick

K: Why don’t you tell me a little about yourself?

J: I believe you already know everything important.

K: I doubt it. Besides, the people reading this don’t. *jabs Jorick in the ribs*.

J: *sighs* fine. I’m Jorick.

K: Well that was informative. Okay, moving right along, would you say the book series you’re in should be classified as romance or thriller?

J: I think you modern people are far too concerned with classification. It has romance. It has vampires ripping one another to shreds. It simply is. Accept it, and move on.

K: That sounded surly. What’s the deal? Do you object to being the hero in a romance? If I didn’t know better, I’d think you objected to romance in general. *pauses* But of course, you’re the one who went to the trouble of finding me, not to mention all those old mementoes you saved of you-know-who-

J: *glares* What’s your point?

K: Only that you must be a romantic. But, you have a pretty violent streak, too, don’t you? I mean, you’re always fighting someone. There was Claudius, and then there was Kateesha and now Oren wants to fight The Guild (the vampire government).

J: If you haven’t noticed, there’s a common denominator behind all of those, and it starts with an “O”. Though, I’ve already told both of you I’m not fighting The Guild with him. If he would use his brain he wouldn’t, either.

K: You said that last time, too, remember? You’re always making absolute statements and then retracting them.

J: No, I don’t. Occasionally I change my mind given the circumstances. For example, I had every intention of ignoring Kateesha until her pathetic goons hurt you. After that I owed her.

K *giggles* That’s kind of romantic, you know. And since we’re on the subject, would you say I’m your girlfriend?

J: *clears throat* I’d say you’re ridiculously obsessed with labels. (Katelina narrows her eyes). For crying out loud, Katelina! I’ve rescued you, held you while you cried, risked life and limb, bled, and killed for you, and I’m even going to go meet your mother! What more can a woman want?

K: All right. I’ll take that. My mother’s really not that bad, you know. Where would you rather go?

J: Go? Nowhere! Why in heaven’s name must we always be “going” somewhere? Can’t we just stay home and have some peace and quiet once in a while? Is it really that boring?

K: You don’t even own a TV. You really need to catch up with the rest of the world. Sometimes, you’re like hanging around my great-grandfather and that’s kind of creepy.

J: *sarcastic* Thanks a lot. You know, sometimes you’re like spending time with a spoiled child, but I don’t point it out to you. If you think trying to adjust to having someone around the house after a hundred plus years isn’t difficult, the you’re much mistaken. Especially someone who is as fond of noise as you are.

K: Are you saying I’m noisy?

J: is that an official interview question? The answer is yes, by the way. *mumbles* like your great-grandfather…

K: Fine, I’m sorry. I retract that statement. But, you are, erm, crotchety. Why is that?

J: I’m not crotchety! I just have no patience for stupidity. It was always annoying, but after a few hundred years, I find it tedious and infuriating. You’d think people would learn but, no, they’re exactly the same now as they were four hundred years ago! They still do the same stupid things, make the same stupid mistakes and spend all their time either trying to get more or else trying to escape the fact they don’t have enough!

K: When will the third book, Ties of Blood, be out, and do you think it’s better than the previous ones?

by me

J: Hopefully this summer. I believe our… lovely… author is waiting on editing at the moment, or at least that’s her excuse. As for being better, who can say? There’s less violence than Shades of Gray, and there’s less romance than Legacy of Ghosts. I’d venture to say that there is more world building in this one, especially since readers will get to see The Guild’s Citadel and meet some characters that have only been mentioned before, like Malick, as well as some new characters . As far as what it’s about, some… beautiful, but insane little human decides we should go visit her mother. I am dragged against my will and, just as I predict, it is a disaster that ends at the police station. If that isn’t bad enough, there’s a red headed idiot that shows up and won’t go away! That clown is like a bad penny! Everywhere I look, there he is!

K: Yeah, yeah, Verchiel. Move on.

J: And then we go see Malick. *shrugs*. Seems pretty straightforward to me.

K: You didn’t mention Oren and his plans for the stupid war, or about that Traven guy who shows up. I know he’s up to something. And what about Senya? She’s still as evil as it gets! And-

J: Why don’t you just post an outline? Wouldn’t that be faster? You’re supposed to make it sound mysterious.

K: Like you did a good job of that! “And then we go see Malick”! What is that? Something like, “And then we are summoned by Malick, the most powerful vampire alive-“

J: he’s not, though. He’s just the most powerful one in the Americas.

K: Fine! “And then we are summoned by the most powerful vampire on the continent and taken to The Guild’s Citadel against our wills. Will we ever discover what the ancient master truly wants, or will his insidious scheme remain veiled in shadows until the next book?”

J: A little melodramatic, but it’s better than anything our author has bothered to come up with. I don’t think she’s even started to write up a blurb.

K: And with that we are out of time! Thanks so much for being my first unwilling victim, Jorick. As I mentioned before, you can find both Jorick and myself in Shades of Gray and Legacy of Ghosts, available as an ebook from Amazon, Smashworda, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and many other places, or as a paperback through Amazon.com.

  

If you’re an author and would like your character(s) to be interviewed by me, then check out this very cool page that has all the details:

https://joleenenaylor.wordpress.com/character-interviews/

And now, as a special treat, here is a (tiny) extract from Ties of Blood chosen by Jo’s brother:

(working cover)


“No!” Jorick shouted. “If it weren’t for you and your wife and your sister! We’re here because of your war with Claudius! Your sister started that war, if you’ll remember, because she couldn’t keep her hands to herself! And when the Executioners came, they killed your wife because of the Laws she broke! She trapped your son into eternal childhood and the youngest as a baby for eternity, Oren! A baby! How many hundreds of years would you want to live, trapped like that? It was Jesslynn and Torina’s self centeredness that’s landed us all here! I’ve stood by you because no one else would, but by God, Oren, I’ve had it with your inability to see your own faults! You’re so quick to blame someone else when the person you should be angry at is the one who looks back at you in the mirror! You allowed Torina to be out of control! You allowed Jesslynn to turn the children! You let the war drag on and on, and when Torina derailed your second war to fight Kateesha, because of a feud over yet another of her bedmates, you went along! It was your choices, and your choices alone that have landed you here and I suggest you use the time until we’re released to come to terms with that!”

Katelina stared at the wooden door, her eyes wide and her mouth open in shock. As if her hand acted of its own accord, she opened the door wide enough to see the pair. Jorick stood over the couch, his dark eyes flashing fire, his hands on his hips. Oren was still seated, his face white, his jaw clenched and his fists shaking at his sides. His earlier anger was nothing compared to what she saw on his face now.

Taking Over Reena’s Blog!

Okay, I haven;t really taken it over, but Reena Jacobs, author of the intriguing Shadow Cat, has been kind enough to feature and excerpt from Legacy of Ghosts on her blog.

pooling blood

By me

“It was a nightmare.

Blood; there was blood everywhere -“

To read the rest check out her blog and be sure to leave a comment! 

Also, look for an interview with yours truly on the fifth of this month!

Vampire Morsels: Elsa


As I prepped my notes for work on Ties of Blood, I noticed that I have a lot of side characters who, for one reason or another, don’t get any “me” time.  so, I’ve decided to remedy that in a collection of short stories called…

Elsa

 (You can find Elsa in Shades of Gray. She is the one who turned Michael. This story takes place in the early 1980’s.)

Elsa stared at him and he stared back. A long moment dragged past and then he gave what amounted to an apologetic shrug and strode away in the rain. She watched him go; watched him climb into his black car and disappear into the night, and then she went inside and cried.

She hated him, but she hated herself even more.

When the tears stopped coming she wiped her face and went to the kitchen. In movies people always splashed water on their face, but what was the point? It was damp enough. Though, that would be a good excuse if her parents saw her.

“Why is your face wet?”

“Because I just washed it.”

Yeah, right.

She opened the refrigerator and stared inside. Her eyes skipped from item to item again and again, as if they might conjure something new and infinitely delicious, but they didn’t.  There were vegetables and fruit and cold iced tea. None of it would help settle a broken heart.

But what would?

She closed the door and dropped into a kitchen chair. The coffee pot light blinked in the darkness and the rain splattered noisily on the window. It was just the kind of night to be miserable, wasn’t it? The kind of night that practically screamed for the company of the depressed and lonely. Even if it was their own fault. Which it was.

She knew he didn’t want anything serious. She knew he had a life that was as different from hers as night was from day, not to mention a girlfriend he’d never leave. Still, she’d hoped anyway, hadn’t she? Deep down she’d believed that he’d stay. That was why she was so shocked when he said goodbye.

“Bye, babes. It’s been fun.”

What fantastic parting words. Those were the kind of words you could frame and hang on a wall. As if. Couldn’t he come up with something better? He had enough practice that he should have a little speech memorized just for the occasion. Did he say that to all the girls, or was she just the one lucky enough for such a poetic verse. Didn’t immortality require something better from him?

Damn him.

She ran her fingers through her brown hair and took a deep, cleansing breath. She wished she could wash him away, the way she’d washed the blood from her skin after their first night. He’d shown her what he was and she’d accepted it; welcomed it. He was beautiful and charismatic, and when she looked in his eyes the world jumped.

And now he was gone.

She abandoned the kitchen and her silent coffee pot companion. The front room was awash in whispery shadows. She stopped by the tv and turned it on, but there was only static. It was too late for programming. It was as if the station managers were all saying in unison “Go to bed!”

She threw herself on the couch and absently picked up the phone from the stand. She stared at it. Nothing happened. With a sigh she snatched up the receiver and tapped in Jennifer’s number.  She was her best friend and this was the kind of situation best friends were supposed to be for.

Elsa counted off the rings. One. Two. Three. Four. They rang on and on, until she ticked off number eighteen.  That was when the line clicked and a sleepy voice muttered, “Hello?”

Elsa gripped the phone in a strangulation hold and tried to find words. “Jen-“ A thick sob cut her off and she broke down. “Tristan. He- he’s gone!” she wailed.

“What? Who’s gone?” Jen yawned and slowly came to terms with the conversation. “Elsa, is that you?”

“He’s gone!” she sobbed again. “He just left! God dammit, he just left!”

“Oh, that dude who thought he was a vampire?” Jen was suddenly awake and her voice dripped sarcasm instead of sympathy. “Look, he was hot – maybe not bringing back sexy hot, but still hot, I admit that. But, Elsa, he thought he was a vampire.”

“He was!” she cried. “Goddamit! He was! And he left!”

“Yeah, I get that he left. But you’re better off without the psycho. What would your parents say?”

Elsa watched the streaky shadows the rain threw across the carpet. This was all wrong. Jennifer was supposed to tell her it was all right. She was supposed to understand . She wasn’t supposed to lecture her. “I’m twenty. I can do what I want.”

Jen imitated her father, “Not while you’re under my roof.” When Elsa didn’t so much as giggle she sighed. “Okay, look. I’m sorry, all right? But there’s plenty of other fish in the sea.”

Elsa caught her breath and held it. Plenty of other fish. That was a line straight from the annals of cliché comfort, and so she quit listening, though Jennifer kept talking. And talking.

Elsa cleared her throat loudly, and cut into the rambling spiel.  “Yeah, you’re right. Thanks. I’ll talk to you later.”

“Elsa, wait-“

She didn’t. She hung up the phone and then, for good measure, she unplugged it.  Tears dripped down her cheeks like the rain on the window. She wished she’d done something besides stare at him. She wished she’d thrown herself at his feet – her pride be damned! Never, never give in. Never, never let something so important slip away.  Don’t just sit there and cry about your lost paradise. Get up and do something about it.

That was what she needed to do.

Elsa stopped in the bathroom and splashed water on her face. As she thought, it did nothing to help, and soaked her shirt. She changed, threw on her raincoat and, without leaving so much as a note, she slipped out the door and into the storming night.

She slid into her car and started it. The heavy engine roared to life and she wished for the millionth time that she could afford one of the cute cars. The radio crackled and Madonna bled through the static. Her tiny, high pitched voice was no comfort, so Elsa turned the radio off.

She turned on the lights and the wipers, put the beast into gear and backed out carefully. Under the streetlights the road was a glare of slick reflections that made it hard to see.  She navigated slowly, though she was only half focused on the task.  Most of her attention was turned on where to go.

Twenty minutes later she parked outside of the Roockwood Inn where Tristan had been staying. The vacancy light flickered eerily, and the raindrops echoed off the car; ping, ping, ping.  The darkness seemed to watch her like a tangible, malevolent creature. She shivered at the thought and climbed out of the car.

Room 622, around the back. That was where he’d been, but no one answered her knock. She pounded again and again, until someone in room 623 shouted at her to be quiet. She couldn’t give up, so she hurried through the rain and into the shabby motel office. The walls were stained with tobacco and smoke hung thick in the air. The bell was broken, so she banged on the counter impatiently.

A voice came from behind the nicotine tatty blanket that served as a makeshift door between the office and the back rooms. “Yeah, yeah, hang on.”

She didn’t have time. Each second might be taking him farther away from her.

The blanket was thrown aside and a short fat man dressed in a horrible Hawaiian short waddled out. He took a puff from his cigar and eyed her critically. “Yeah, what can I help you with?”

“I’m looking for someone. Tristan Shelby. He was in room 622.”

The attendant shrugged. “Room 622 checked out earlier. Sorry, sister.” He looked her up and down again. “Just as well. I’d let that one go, if I was you.”

“I can’t!” she cried passionately. “Do you know where he went?” Tears trembled at the edges of her eyes, ready to drop.

The attendant scratched his stomach thoughtfully. Indecision flickered over his face, but finally her tears swayed him. “I don’t know where he went for sure, but he was runnin’ with a local crowd. They hang out at the old fair grounds most nights, so he might be down there. But-“ he lowered his cigar and met her eyes. “I wouldn’t go lookin’ for any of them, if I was you. They’re not what you think they are.”

Hope blossomed inside her. The old fairgrounds were a popular hangout for teenagers and, having grown up there, she knew them well. “Thank you! Thank you so much!”

“Remember I warned you!”

His words were lost as she dashed out the door into the rain. If she could only catch Tristan and say all those things she should have said earlier, then maybe she could stop this.

The drive was short. The fairgrounds were on the edge of town, and had been abandoned since the late 70’s.  She parked in the overgrown lot and got out. The tall, wet grass wrapped around her legs like grasping hands. She shook it off and forced her way through it towards the peeling gates. A wooden sunshine cut out still hung above them. Its toothy grin was faded and chipped, and the colors were bleached almost gray. “Have a Happy Day” was just visible on the reverse side in faded rainbow letters.

The ticket booth was dark and silent. The windows were a spider web of cracks that told stories of bb guns and rocks. Scattered beer bottles glittered in the flashing lightning and weeds grew through the cracked pavement. The rusted Ferris wheel hulked to her left. Vines covered it and hung down in long, thick tendrils like something from a nightmare scape.

She could feel eyes in the darkness again; feel the night watching her. She forced the silly superstition away and told herself to grow up. There was nothing to be afraid of. She’d been there before.

But never alone.

Am I alone now?

“Hello?”

No one answered her except the rain. She pulled up her courage and walked deeper into the fairgrounds.  The carousel loomed ahead of her. The dirty mirrors still tried to glitter on the canopy, and the silent horses stood in a frozen circle, waiting for riders that would never return.

She stopped next to it and waited as a bolt of lightning sliced through the sky. In the instant of light, she looked around madly, but didn’t see anyone. Her heart sank as she realized that she’d missed him. It was too late. Tristan was gone.

Her body sagged and she used the nearest carousel horse to hoist herself onto the large, disc-like base. She felt too morose to do more than sit on the edge and stare at her dangling feet. What was the point? Maybe she’d get lucky and the carousel would get struck by lightning.

She glanced up to her silent, painted companion. Dark streaks ran down the horse’s face, like old tears.  Oddly, that made her smile. “You know what it’s like, don’t you? With no reason to go on anymore?”

Thunder snapped and she sighed. She should go home and have a cup of coffee. She should change into her pajamas and go to bed. In the morning she should get up and put on her make up and go to work. Again and again the same routine. Meanwhile, he would be doing what? Or who?

She heard something. Her head snapped up and she looked around, but there was nothing. Only rain and dark and rusted rides. It was probably just a rat, anyway. Yeah. A rat.

A rat with fangs.

A man stood in front of her. To her terrified mind he was only a black shape with snarled lips and long, pointed teeth. A vampire, like Tristan. But, it wasn’t Tristan. It was someone else. Someone she needed to get away from.

She gasped and tried to throw herself backwards, but the carousel horse blocked her escape. He was too fast and she was suddenly pinned down on the old carousel. He held her by her wrist and growled into her face. His eyes were strange, not human but more like a wild dog; a wild starving dog.

He didn’t ask who she was, or what she was doing. He only stared into her eyes for an agonizing moment and then tore into her neck.  She screamed, but the sound was drown out by the rolling thunder. Lightning sliced across the sky and in the brightness she could see the rain drops, suspended in midair and the sad, weather stained face of the carousel horse, watching with chipped eyes. The darkness crashed back, but the image stayed in her head, like a still frame. Perhaps the last thing she’d ever see.

With her last breaths she screamed for Tristan.

There was a blur of motion and suddenly she was free of her attacker. She tried to move, but she was too weak to do more than roll her head to one side. The carousel horse and its neighbors were broken and strewn in the mud. The dark vampire lay nearby, hanging half off the carousel, his face covered in blood.  From the shadows a second man stepped forward.  He had bright red hair, like a punk rocker, and though he was soaked he brushed at the mud on his long coat as he approached them.

“Sorry, Lennon.  But I think I need her alive.” The new vampire hopped lithely onto the carousel platform, stepped over the bloody and angry Lennon and came to a stop next to her. He peered down at her like a vulture, his brow puckered. “You are alive, aren’t you?”

Her answer was a gurgle. Terror engulfed her. She tried to raise her hands to her gaping neck, but her arms wouldn’t work. All she could do was plead with silent eyes.

Lennon stood and wiped the blood from his chin. “What do you need her for?”

The red head arched a single brow. “Unless I’m much mistaken, she was shouting for our friend Tristan who, if you’ll recall, I am trying to locate. It seems that if she knows him, she may well know where he is.” He narrowed his eyes at her. “Or maybe not.” He shrugged as if it was suddenly of no consequence. “It appears she’s useless to me, after all, so you can do what you want with her. Either kill her or turn her.”

“Turn her?” Lennon stared at him as if he’d gone crazy. “Why would I do that?”

The world shifted into shades of gray and Elsa choked. She tried to concentrate, but the conversation slipped through her fingers like tears.  Tristan. Where is he? Why isn’t he here?

“Why not?” the red head asked cheerfully. “She seems to know all about us already. That’s hard to come by in a fledgling, and it’s not like you have any, yet-“

Tristan.

“- Besides, it might be fun-“

Where are you?

“-Of course, it’s up to you. I don’t care one way or the other-“

Tristan.

“-better decide before it’s too late-“

Goodbye babes, it’s been fun.

The thunder cracked, but the sound was muted behind a wall of black. There was something in her mouth. The taste was bitter and sharp, like sucking a knife blade. She swallowed. It burned like fire. She swallowed again. And again.

It was an hour or more before she could move.  The first thing she did was sit up and touch her neck. The wound was gone. Even the blood had been washed away by the steady drum of rain.

Lennon sat nearby, his knees up and his eyes on her. “I’m Lennon,” he said pointlessly.  Then he half-lifted a hand in greeting. “Hey.”

Her eyes skipped around, but they seemed to be alone. “Where’s-”

“That red haired guy?” She nodded and Lennon shrugged. “Went back to work, I guess. He’s hunting them. Tristan and his partner. “

“Hunting them?” she echoed.  “He’s not going to – I mean he won’t…”

“Kill him?”

The words were too horrible to contemplate, but there they were, just the same. Lennon didn’t explain further, so she forced the question out, “Will he?”

Lennon’s expression softened. “Were you guys, you know?” The answer was in her eyes, and he suddenly looked away. “I don’t know. It depends, I guess. If he just goes quietly then probably not.”

Despite his attempt at reassurance, it was impossible to combat her panic. “But why is he after Tristan?”

“I don’t know. They’re wanted for something. Hard to tell.” Lennon fished a soggy pack of cigarettes out of his pocket. He tried to slide one out, but it crumbled in his hand. With a mournful sigh he tossed it away. “Maybe because the guy’s obviously telling humans about us.” She opened her mouth to ask what he meant and he added, “You are – were – human, and he told you.”

Elsa couldn’t argue with that, though the word “were” disturbed her.

Lennon threw the ruined cigarettes away and stood up. “We better go. I’ve got to find my brother, then we need to get back to the den before sunrise.”

“Where’s that?” she mumbled, still lost in the intricate twists of the night’s events.

“New York.”

Her attention snapped to him. “I can’t go to New York!  I have to go to work tomorrow-” The sentence died on her lips as the full realization of her new status crashed down on her. She struggled to come to terms with everything that had in the last few hours. Hours. Was that all it had been? A few hours had taken Tristan away and changed her?

Changed her like she’d once asked Tristan to do.

“Have fun with that.” Lennon stood and offered her a hand. “I hope you don’t act this stupid when you meet Claudius.”

A mixture of panic and elation coursed through her and she fought to master it. “Is Claudius your brother?”

“Hardly!” He snickered. “He’s the coven master. We’re supposed to get permission before we make fledglings.” He frowned. “I’m not really sure what to tell him.  I’m not really sure why I did it.” he squinted ta her. “You’re not bad looking, I guess, but we need to work on a better story that this.” He waved his hand around the abandoned grounds as if to indicate the truth.

She had no answer for him, though he didn’t seem to expect one. He tugged her to her feet and led her through the rainy fairgrounds towards the exit.

Vampire.

Somewhere in the back of her mind she could hear Jennifer’s voice echoing, “He thought he was a vampire.”

That’s because he is, and now so am I.

Vampire.

The sign over the exit made her giggle softly. “Have a Happy Day”. Bizarrely, she would never have another day again. There would only be night after night from now on. But it was all right; or it would be once she found Tristan. Never, never give in. Never, never let something so important slip away.  Don’t just sit there and cry about your lost paradise. Get up and do something about it.

And now she had an eternity to do it in.

**********

Next up is either Herrick or Jeda, depending on my mood. (Herrick is so minor that his only contribution is he dies and Jorick and Katelina inherit his coffin, so he may get skipped.)

  • Tales of the Executioners

    Short stories from the world of Amaranthine; a universe of blood and darkness where vampires don't sparkle and night is eternal. Each is about a member of the Executioners squad; the special vampire "police" force. Members both past and present share stories of assignments, origins, and more.

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    Joleene Naylor

    An independent author, freelance artist, and photographer for fun who loves anime, music, and writing. Check out my vampire series Amaranthine at http://JoleeneNaylor.com or drop me a line at Joleene@JoleeneNaylor.com

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