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!

Interview, Guest Blog & a Video!

Yeah, this post has it all goin’ on! Mainly because I’ve been behind and now have to cram it all into one post. Erm, no, no, I mean, uh, I planned it that way. Yeah. That’s right.

*cough*cough*

Linda S. Prather, author of the Jacody Ives Mysteries, was kind enough to Interview me for her new blog.  And I’m not the only one. She’s on an interviewing roll, including Larry Enright and Al Boudreau.

Reena Jacobs, author of Shadow Cat, was also nice enough to allow me to do a guest post for her blog about turning your eBook cover into  a paperback cover. She is featuring guest posts from authors every week in her Authors Helping Authors series. There’s a lot of good information, there.

And now for the video. It’s not actually a video. I mean it is animated, and you have to hit a play button, but it doesn’t require any sound because it’s actually a collect of vampire jokes that are so, so bad they’re funny.

Aren’t you glad you stuck around for that?

Now on Smashwords….

The final version of the short story Adam, the first of the Vampire Morsels, is now available as a freebie on Smashwords. Check it out!

Vampire Morsels – Benjamin

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…

Benjamin

(You can find Benjamin in Shades of Gray. This particular story takes place in 1972)

The Roockwood Inn was a roadside motel. The town around it had once been vibrant, but was looking forward to its demise. Somehow, the occupants hadn’t caught on yet, and still thought they had a corner on the tourist market. Even Benjamin seemed to think so.

The motel office was newly retiled, but no one had bothered to repaint. Behind the counter stood a doorway, closed off by a tatty blanket that served as a curtain. The smell of whisky and stale cigar smoke oozed out around the edges and left the office ceiling stained a permanent brown.

Through that door was a room as disheveled as its occupant. Though Benjamin called it his “living space” it was really a jumbled, windowless room with a dusty bathroom off to one side. There actually were windows, but they were hidden behind layers of cardboard, newspaper and masking tape. He was planning to renovate as soon as he got the money saved up, and when he did, the windows were going. Mei, the Chinese girl who looked after the place in the daytime and served as a part time housekeeping, couldn’t understand why he wanted rid of them. She argued more than once to save them, but he only shook his head and said the sun was bad for his complexion.

Benjamin sat in his usual spot. The ratty arm chair smelled like it should have been left on the curb, and looked like maybe it had been. The TV was as close to his lap as he could get it without having to hold it, so that he had one foot propped up on the table on either side of it. He watched the screen with an absorption born of years of television viewing and didn’t even seem to hear the first knock.

“Goodnight, John Boy. Goodnight, Grandpa. Goodnight-“

Benjamin clicked the knob and the television went off with a hiss and fizz of static. He cocked his head to one side and listened. The knocking was repeated.

“Who the hell is that?” he demanded, but the stale air didn’t answer him. There was only one way to find out. Using obscenities like booster fuel, he heaved his bulk from the chair and shuffled towards the side door. He had to stop and kick boxes of empty whisky bottles out of the way. No one used this door anymore, or at least no one was supposed to.

They knocked again and he grumbled a loud, “yeah, yeah,” as he unbolted the locks and jerked the door open.  The outside light was burnt out, but he could still see the two figures, their expressions carefully neutral.  The one in the front had short, cropped hair and dark skin, while his companion was a slender, willowy male with a reddish auburn mane. Benjamin surveyed them both and then demanded, “Eh? What do you want? Can’t you read that sign?”

“What sign?” asked the dark one.

“The one that says ‘use office door’!” Benjamin barked.  “You want a room, you go around!”

“We’re not here for a room,” the visitor purred. Then, he smiled, flashing a pair of silvery fangs. Benjamin drew back a step, and the visitor took advantage of it and was quickly inside, his companion on his heels. “You know what we came for.”

Benjamin met the dark vampire’s eyes. They stared at one another; a contest of wills, and then Benjamin declared, “Look here, poker night’s Thursdays, Des.”

There was a moments silence and then Des rolled his eyes. “It is Thursday, old man. Check your calendar.”

They stepped smoothly around their baffled host and headed for the couch.  Des tossed a week’s worth of mail out of the way and took its place. Benjamin trailed after them, ticking off the days of the week in his head. Thursday? It’s not Thursday – wait. The Waltons was on. Damn. The son of a bitch is right.

The bell over the office door tinkled, and with a few healthy curses Benjamin diverted himself in that direction. It wasn’t customers though, just Herrick and a bald guy that Benjamin didn’t recognize. Two strangers in one night. Ah well, their money spends the same.

He led them through the blanketed door and pointed in the general direction of the couch and some folding chairs. They seated themselves while he set up the card table and gathered up the cards, an overflowing ashtray, half a bottle of whisky and a beat up metal bucket that smelled like alcohol. Finally, he tugged his tatty chair into place and dropped into it.  “We ready to play, or is there anyone else comin’ I should know about?”

“Nah, this is it.” Des shuffled the cards with a little too much expertise. “By the way, this is Marcellus. I said last week that I was bringing him.”

Herrick nodded, but Benjamin just shrugged. “Eh. If you say so.” His eyes landed on Herrick’s companion; a bald vampire who had a tattoo down one side of his face. “And who’s this?”

“Micah,” Herrick explained, as if the name meant something. “He’s what you’d call a new recruit.”

Benjamin lit a cigar and blew put a cloud of thick smoke. “That’s just what we need.”

“You’re not so far past new recruit yourself there, old man.” Des commented.

Benjamin snorted an answer and took a healthy swig of whisky. He swooshed the amber liquid around his mouth thoughtfully. He’d been one of them for damn near two years, now. That was enough time to lose the new recruit status as far as he was concerned.

Des dealt the cards and Benjamin spat the whisky noisily into the bucket.  Marcellus cringed visibly, and Des shrugged. “I warned you he has some pretty bad habits.”

“Just because I can’t drink don’t mean I can’t still taste it,” Benjamin grumbled. “You got a problem with it…” he left the sentence unfinished, but the meaning was clear and it went something like “get the hell out, then.”

Micah fanned his cards casually. “I wondered how you planned on drinkin’ that. I learned the hard way that doesn’t work out.”

“Got sick, did you?” That was a mistake they said most newbie vampires made. Hell, he’d made it himself. You could get the stuff down, but you couldn’t keep it down. It was the same as when a kid swallowed something out of the cleaning cabinet.  Your body knew it wasn’t good for you and sent it back where it came from.

“Fuck, yeah.” Micah offered a toothy grin. “That was one helluva night, though. A couple of ladies, a bottle of scotch and a jar of honey.”

Herrick surveyed his cards, his brow wrinkled. “Honey? What was the honey for?”

Micah’s grin widened. “If I gotta tell ya’, then it takes the fun out of it.”

“For the girls,” Benjamin explained. “But sounds full a shit to me. This loser couldn’t get two chicks if he waved money in front of their faces.”

Micah cocked an eyebrow. “How would you know? Bet the last time you even saw a chick was in 1965.”

Benjamin ignored him and went on. “I get losers like him in here all the time. They show up on the make with a couple of stoned out girls and act all macho. Nine times outta ten they pass out in a puddle of their own puke in the john.”

Micah opened his mouth to argue, but Marcellus held up his hand. “Is an evening of negativity necessary? Let’s just play cards.”

“Negativity?” Micah snorted. “You sound like one of those dali-lama-guru Buddha heads. We here to play poker or talk about the meaning of the universe?”

“We could do both,” Herrick suggested. “As long as someone else deals.” He glared at Des who only snickered. Knowing him, he’d dealt the cards on that way on purpose.

But, Benjamin’s hand wasn’t half bad. He traded in two cards and quipped, “There’s no meaning to the universe. It just is.”

“I disagree.” Marcellus fished a wad of money out of his pocket and counted out the opening bet. Benjamin tried to mentally calculate how much he had on him, but he wasn’t fast enough before the money was stuffed back into his pocket. “There must be meaning, or else there wouldn’t be organization.”

“You see any organization around here?” Micah waved his arm to indicate the room. “It’s just like us. There’s no order, or reason, it’s just chaos and you pretend there’s a plan behind it to keep yourself sane.”

“Us?” Des asked, as he counted out his own money under the edge of the table.

“Yeah, us. You know, vampires.” Micah rolled his eyes. “If nothing else, we’re proof that it’s all just random shit.”

“I disagree,” Marcellus said again. “Our very existence proves that there is order beyond the seeming insanity of the cosmos. You can’t imagine that we, as a species, just appeared by accident? We were crafted for a particular purpose.”

Micah folded his cards, the game momentarily forgotten. “What, like the next evolutionary step? You don’t buy into all that monkey crap?”

Des glanced up from his cash. “How can you argue against both evolution and intelligent design?”

“Because I ain’t from no ape. You can be if you want to-”

Marcellus cut him off. “No, we’re not the next evolutionary step. Vampires have been in existence since the dawn of creation. As old as man, if not older. And that is the proof of the design, and the proof against the chaotic evolution theory. If it was all an accident that hurtled forth from chimpanzees to modern man, then why has the vampire not changed, too?”

“Maybe they have?” Herrick suggested. “It isn’t like there’s anyone from that time left.”

“And how do we know that? Because you haven’t seen one?” Marcellus eyes shone with some kind of victory and he folded his cards as though settling in for a long discussion. “When was the last time you saw the sun? But you still know it exists.”

Benjamin didn’t bother to comment or interrupt. He just took an impatient swig of whisky, swished it around his mouth, and spit it loudly into the bucket. It failed to get their attention.

“That’s different. I’ve seen the sun,” Herrick argued.

“When? How do you know you really saw it and don’t just think that you did?”

“And how do you know that any of us are real?” Des added, amused. “Maybe we’re all just figments of a hamster’s imagination.  Enough existential stuff, huh? Whose bet is it?”

“I bet I can prove who’s real,” Micah said with a broad grin. “Gimme your arm and we’ll see if you feel this.” He snapped his teeth together in imitation of a savage bite.

Marcellus smiled tolerantly, but made no move to return to the game. “Pain is only an illusion and proves nothing.”

“It can prove that your god damn foot’s been cut off!”

“No. First there is the pain and then you look and see that your foot is cut off, so the pain proves nothing, only draws your attention.  However, there’s no evidence that what you see is real beyond your own experience, or that your reality and mine are the same experience at all.”

“Memories are like that,” Herrick agreed slowly, drawn in despite himself. “One person may remember that it rained, while another says ‘no, no, the sun shone’.”

“Exactly.” Marcellus tapped his cards on the table.  “Each has a separate reality that is just as true to them as the opposite is to the other.  If reality is not to be trusted to the eyes or the senses, then that leaves us with only the emotion.”

“Ah, but emotion is nothing but an illusion, too,” Herrick argued, getting into the swing of things. “It is true that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.  However, your actions don’t necessarily correspond to their feelings. If I pick up this bucket.” He seized the bucket and Benjamin made a low, warning noise in his throat. “-and I toss it out the door, you may feel relieved to be get a break from the alcohol regurgitation, however, Benjamin will be mad enough to break my nose. To him, my actions are evil, but to you they were merciful. Meanwhile, the reality is that I neither planned to make him angry, or spare you, I simply acted.”

Benjamin jerked the bucket away and snarled. “Yeah, yeah. And there’s no ‘I’ in team. Can we get on with this, or should I kick the whole bunch of you out?”

“Your friend doesn’t like a thought provoking discussion?” Marcellus asked Des, half joking.

“No,” Benjamin answered for him. “I don’t.  I like to watch TV, which is what I was doing before I got interrupted by a bunch of idiots who wanted to play poker. Only, we haven’t done much playing yet! So either get with it or I’m gonna go watch Ironside.”

The conversation died down after that.  The cards were dealt, the bets were placed and by two am they were all sick of each other’s company. Micah and Herrick made their excuses first, followed shortly by Marcellus. Alone, they counted their money, and then Benjamin moved the furniture back while Des lounged on the couch.

“I assume you didn’t like Marcellus?”

Benjamin kicked an argumentative folding chair and shrugged. “Eh. I don’t care either way. He loses pretty good. So long as he shuts up and plays his cards.”

Des nodded and they lapsed into a thoughtful silence. Finally, he broke it. “You don’t suppose there really is some intelligent design behind everything? That there’s some kind of fate that made us all what we are?”

Benjamin rolled his eyes and plopped into his armchair, now restored to its rightful home in front of the television. “How should I know? It was a trucker woman with eyes like coal and nails as red as blood that made me what I am.” He glanced to the darker skinned vampire. “And I can’t say what made you the way you are, now, but I doubt it was God.”

“No,” Des agreed. “It was my mother.” He fell silent again, and Benjamin turned the television on. The stations were off for the night, so there was nothing but static. They sat there, lit eerily by the light from the television, both lost in their own worlds until Des snapped himself back to the present. “It’s been fun. See you next Thursday, old man.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Benjamin waved him off, and the dark vampire disappeared out the door. Benjamin stared at the television screen and watched the static bounce around, like ant races, some said. It never looked like ants to him. More like a blizzard. It was the same kinda blizzard that had brought that trucker gal into the motel. With her red nails and her black eyes. She’d been wearing skin tight jeans and been so full of pent up energy that she looked like she’d burst right out of ‘em. That had been one helluva night.

“And I didn’t even need any honey,” Benjamin commented aloud. He took a swig of whisky and spat it into the bucket. “Amateur.”

Vampire Morsels: Ashton

*warning – violence, bad language*

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…

Ashton

(You can’t actually find Ashton anywhere, except as a mention in Legacy of Ghosts, but I wanted to see what he and Loren were like before, so he got a story. This takes place in the mid 1990’s.)

“Hey, dickhead, get up!”

Ashton jerked awake to find his younger brother Loren glaring at him from the doorway. “Huh?”

“I said get up, dude. It’s after six. We need to get some shit from the store-”

Loren went on, but Ashton ignored him and swung into a sitting position on the edge of the bed, his head in his hands. God, I’m tired. I’m so fuckin’ tired! I thought I was supposed to feel like fucking superman now?

“Are you listening?”

He wanted to Loren to go to hell, but he held back and muttered, “Yeah, sure. Look, go to the store and get whatever we need, a’ight? I got some shit to do.” With too much effort he climbed to his feet and rifled through the rubble of his bedroom for something to wear, his back carefully placed to his brother.

“You’ve always got shit to do!” Loren snapped. “How about look for a fucking job? We’re almost out of money and-”

“And you’re still in school, blah, blah, blah.”  Guilt washed over him the moment the words left his mouth, and he forced his voice calm. “Look, I’m sorry, a’right? I know this shit’s hard on you, it’s hard on me, too. If we run out before I get a job we’ll just pawn some of Mom and Dad’s stuff.” He turned and met his brother’s dark eyes for a moment, then turned away again. “A’ight?”

Loren seemed to shrink from the idea. “I don’t wanna pawn their stuff.”

“I know, but they don’t need it anymore, and you need to eat.” He shrugged and went back to dressing. “I’m gonna go up and see Jessie and the guys for awhile.”

There was a moment of silence and then Loren said quietly, “You’ve been off with them every night for like a month. You’re different since they showed up. I never see you anymore. It’s like you’re avoiding me.”

“You’re seein’ me now.” Ashton tried to sound casual. “Don’t turn all girly on me.”

“I’m not turning all girly! I was just saying, you know…” he trailed off.  When Ashton didn’t fill in the silence he sighed with resignation. “All right. I’ll go get the stuff. But, I’m taking your bike.”

Ashton cringed, but didn’t argue.  When Loren sensed his victory, he disappeared, but Ashton didn’t relax until he heard the door shut, and the motorcycle roar to life.

“Fuck,” he muttered to thin air, as if he thought it might answer him. “What am I gonna do?”

It was a good question, and one he’d been working on for three weeks. Loren was right, he was avoiding him, but how could he face him – really face him – now? How was he supposed to explain that he really was different?  Fuck, how did he tell his kid brother that he was a vampire?

Vampire. Yeah, that’s a word that makes a lot of sense.

“Fuck.”

The moon hung heavy in the sky, and a chilly wind blew across the beach. Ashton took notice of neither as he tugged open the torn screen door and slumped inside the dilapidated house. The rooms were cluttered with broken furniture and old junk. The floors crunched under foot with a mixture of garbage, bits of plaster, mouse droppings and the occasional hardy roach.

He paused in the doorway of what had once been the living room. A single hurricane lamp splashed wavery light over a stained mattress and two ratty chairs, and threw twisted shadows across the walls. Despite the gloom, Jessie sprawled in one of the chairs, as though he were the king of a grand castle, and warbled a terrible attempt at a song.

“Well if you feel the wanderlust, just grab a car or hop a bus. In every town there’s excitement to be found, so much is happening-”

Ashton flopped into the other chair sand snickered. “What the fuck are you singing?”

Jessie’s head snapped around instantly. “Spring Fever.” When Ashton only blinked, he nearly exploded, “Elvis Presley, man! The King! What’s wrong  wi’ you, huh? You never heard a’ it?”

Ashton’s hands went up and he drew back involuntarily. “Sorry, dude. Sorry.”

“Yeah, sorry. You always sorry. You come in here, interruptin’ my vibe, man, wit’ your dumb ass questions. Don’t you know nothin’? And call me Master, fucktard. Remember your place, huh?”

Ashton rolled his eyes, but let it go. Jessie was in one of moods again. Great.

Jessie went back to his song, and the other guys started to trickle in. They were all smarter than to comment on the music, even as Spring fever gave way to Teddy Bear. But Wesley, Jessie’s “right hand man”, didn’t have a problem kicking Ashton’s chair and snapping, “Hey, get outta my chair, loser.”

“Fuck you.” The words were brave, but all it took was one fanged snarl from Wesley and he stood up. “It’s fuckin’ uncomfortable, anyway. And it smells like cat piss.”

“That’s you, man.” Wesley laughed and smacked him in the back of the head, then dropped in his newly claimed chair.  “Yo, Jess, cut the concert and let’s do something, huh?”

Ashton moved away to slouch in a shadowy corner and glare. This was why he didn’t want to tell Loren about what he was. The first time Wesley smacked his little brother in the back of the head like that, he’d have to break his wrist, and then he’d be in the shit.

The singing stopped and Jessie slowly rolled his head over to face the newcomer. “And what we gonna do, huh? You got any ideas?”

Wesley smirked as if he’d been waiting for this. “Yeah, I do.” He raised his voice and shouted to unseen vampires, “Yo, bring her in!”

The screen door banged open and closed, and feet shuffled through the house.  Ashton peered around the others curiously as someone whimpered; a soft, high sound, and then two of the guys appeared through the doorway, lugging a fourteen year old girl between them. Her hair was strawberry red and hung around her face like it had just fallen out of a ponytail. Her clothes were rumpled and dirt stained, and she had only one shoe. Tears and dirt streaked her face, and traces of blood were smeared under her nose. It would have been bad enough if Ashton hadn’t known who she was, but knowing made it worse.

The guys dumped her on the floor in a heap in front of Jessie. He gave Wesley a look of surprised approval, and caught the girl’s head under her chin, forcing her to look at him. “Well, look at this.”

The girl’s eyes darted fearfully around the room and Ashton hid in the shadows. Don’t see me, Jenny. Don’t see me.

It seemed to work.

“Please,” she whispered, her voice tiny, even as she begged the whole room. “Please, just let me go home. I won’t tell. I promise. I won’t. Please.”

“You won’t tell, huh?” Jessie mused. “I tell you what, honey. You be a good girl and maybe you can go home in a little bit. How’s that sound, huh?” His lips curved into a smile and his fangs glittered in the light.  At the sight, Jenny’s eyes grew wide, and then she screamed and tried to get away. Wesley grabbed her and hauled her up into the air, her legs kicking furiously as she shrieked.

Ashton shuddered and tried to disappear into the wall. If he just closed his eyes this would all go away. Go away. Go away. Oh God, make it go away!

But, when he opened his eyes, he was still there. Wesley had Jenny pinned to the floor and Jessie and a couple of other guys were hovering over her, their lips drawn back from their fangs as she flailed and pleaded.  Goddammit  He had to do something.

“What the fuck?”

At his words the room went silent, and everyone turned in unison to look at him. He suddenly wished he’d stayed quiet, but it was too late, so he pressed on. “What the fuck are you guys doing?”

Jessie straightened up and eyed him with semi-amusement. “What’s it look like to you?”

Ashton forced back the fear and took a step forward. “Christ, man, she’s like fourteen. That’s just sick.”

“You think so?” Jessie asked in what seemed like a reasonable tone, though something in his eyes was off kilter. “Anyone else think that’s sick? Huh?”

No one moved.

“Looks like it’s just you, loser.” Wesley snickered, but Jessie silenced him with a gesture.

“Maybe he’s right.”

No one knew what to say, Ashton included.

“Maybe he’s right,” Jessie repeated. “Let her go.”

Wesley started to argue, but then he held up his hands and backed away, smirking. Jenny jerked to her feet quickly, swaying in place as she stared uncertainly from one face to another. Her gaze brushed over Ashton and he saw recognition in her eyes; recognition and fear.

Jessie laid a hand on her head, ignoring her whimper. “I say you’re right, man. She’s just a kid. A fucking little kid!” He snapped her around and put her in head lock. Her eyes went wide with terror as he shouted. “Just some fucking little kid you’re soft on. You too soft to watch, huh? You too soft to join in and have some fun? You know what? You piss me off. You always comin’ around here, ruinin’ the vibe, man! The vibe! You’re such a buzz kill, and I’m fuckin’ sick of it. We’re all fuckin’ sick of it, man!”

He paused for them to agree, but everyone was speechless, so he bellowed, “You don’t want us to have some fun wi’ her, then we gonna have some fun wi’ you, you get that, shit face? You get that?”  There was a loud crack as he snapped the girl’s neck, then he flung her aside. “You got a five minute head start, then we comin’ after you. We gonna hunt you down like a dog, and if we don’t find you, then we gonna hunt down your brother instead. You read me, man? You better get runnin’. Run, bitch! Run!”

It took Ashton a moment to digest the words, but once the meaning slammed home, he did just what Jessie said: he ran.  He pounded out of the house, and across the beach as fast as his legs could carry him. But, no matter how fast he ran, he couldn’t get the picture out of his head of Jenny standing there, her eyes wide with accusing terror.

He got to the house just as Loren was pulling in. He climbed off the motorcycle and unstrapped the bag from the back. “Hey, I thought you-” but Ashton grabbed him.

“We gotta go. We gotta go now.”

Like the ever annoying sidekick in an action movie, Loren blinked stupidly and asked, “What?”  But, unlike the movie, Ashton didn’t have time to explain.

“Just get on the fucking bike!”  And before Loren could argue he was in the saddle and pulling his brother on behind him.  He turned the key, flipped the kill switch, and kicked the bike into gear while Loren grabbed onto him.

They pealed out of the driveway, Loren clinging to him and screaming, “What’s going on!” but Ashton still didn’t have time to answer – or was it that he didn’t have the words?

The road sped away beneath them, and the dark trees were a blur in their peripheral vision. Loren soon traded questions for screaming at him to slow down, but he ignored that, too. As he drove, one thing became apparent to him: he was going to have to tell Loren. No, not only tell him, he was going to have to change him, too. It was his only chance. There was no way he could fight them like he was. The change would take a full twenty-four hours to finish, but after that he’d be better. He’d be stronger. Faster.  They just had to get through those twenty-four hours.

Ashton pulled off the road into an abandoned lot and parked the bike behind a dilapidated shed. The skeleton of a burned house squatted nearby, but it offered no protection.

He swung off the bike and Loren did the same.  His brother stared at him, eyes wild and his curly mop of hair a windblown mess. “Can you tell me now what the hell’s going on?”

Ashton glanced over his shoulder, paranoid, but there was no one there. “Look, I gotta do this the fast way. Jessie and the others… they’re not what you think.”

“You mean they’re not a bunch of asshole tweakers?” Loren asked sarcastically.

“Okay, they’re a bunch of assholes, but they’re not tweakers. They’re not… they’re not even human.” Loren started to interrupt, but Ashton went on quickly. “Look, Loren, I’m sorry about this, a’ight?  I never meant to get you involved. You know I’ve done my best since Mom and Dad got killed, but I fucked up. I fucked up bad.” He shifted from one foot to the other, and sought for words. “Jessie and the others, they’re-”

“Holy shit! What’s with your teeth?”

Ashton froze, his eyes wide. His first reaction was to hide it, but he knew he couldn’t. Not this time. “It’s part of what I’m trying to tell you. Jessie and the others – and me – we’re vampires.” The word sounded much sillier than it felt. It failed to pack the punch of cold terror that was twisting in Ashton’s gut when he thought about them.

“Vampires?” Loren echoed cautiously. “Dude, what are you on?”

“I’m not on anything!” Ashton insisted. “You have to listen. You know Jenny Willinger from down the road? They got her, dude. They got her tonight and they fucking killed her. I told them not to. Jessie was already pissed at me, and now he wants to kill me, and he wants to kill you, too.”

Loren didn’t believe him. “Seriously? Look, let’s just go home and you can sleep this off.”  He reached for his brother, but Ashton didn’t have time to convince him. No time, No time. No time!

With a roar that was half anger and half impatience, he grabbed Loren and spun him around, so his back was against him, then he forced his head to one side, exposing his neck. His brother shouted something, but he didn’t listen. He couldn’t. He had to act.

Loren screamed when he bit him. He struggled, at first, but slowly he grew still and his body sagged back against Ashton. His blood was hot and coppery, and Ashton gulped it as though his life depended on it. He was doing it fast, maybe too fast, but he didn’t know, and he didn’t have the time to find out.

No time. No time. No time.

He lowered Loren’s slack body to the ground and quickly searched his pocket for a knife. Fuck! He didn’t have one! And then he thought of his teeth. It took him a moment to work up the courage, but then he tore into his own arm.

“Fuck!”

It hurt more than he thought it would, but there was nothing else to do. He tried to duplicate what Jessie had done to him; what he’d seen Jessie do some of the other guys, but Loren was too out of it to take his arm willingly, so he crammed it in his mouth.

“Fuck,” he muttered. “Come on Loren, drink. Fuck, drink! Drink!”

Like he’d done before to the family cat when he’d given it pills, he pressed down on Loren’s adam’s apple, forcing him to swallow. Forcing the blood down his throat.

Loren’s eyes popped open, like someone on the cusp of a seizure. He gasped around the arm in his mouth and choked on the mouthful of blood. Something shifted in his eyes, something that made Ashton think of Jessie, and suddenly he clutched his brother’s arm and sealed his lips around the wound.

Like the bite, it hurt more than he thought it would, but he endured, until he started to feel light headed. He had to wrestle his arm away from his brother, but it had been the same with everyone else when they were turned. After that first taste you never wanted to stop.

Loren fell back to the grass and lay, gasping. His eyes slowly cleared and then he murmured, “Oh shit.”

Ashton dropped into a sitting position next to him. “You alright?”

Loren wiped his face, and stared at the blood on his hand. “I don’t know. What – what just happened?” he swung his gaze to his brother.  “What was that?”

“You’re one of us now,” Ashton said with a sick sort of finality. He pulled off his flannel shirt and used it as a makeshift bandage for his wounded arm and stood. “Just rest for awhile. They’re a lot slower than the bike, so they’re probably not even halfway here. We’ll wait awhile, then we’ll head back the long way, grab our stuff, and then we get the hell outta Dodge.”

Loren nodded and rolled over onto his side, too tired to argue. Time was short, but they couldn’t move now. He had to wait.

Fuck.

They pulled into the driveway two hours later.  The house was dark and the bag of groceries still lay on the pavement, the contents scattered. Ashton shut off the bike and motioned to Loren to stay put. He approached the house cautiously, but didn’t hear anything.  It’s okay, he told himself. They’re not here.

The front door was locked and he’d left the keys in the bike, so he went for the attached garage. He threw up the door and took two steps inside.

He never saw what hit him.

Ashton opened his eyes slowly. The light was bright and made his head hurt. He tried to raise a hand to block it, but he couldn’t. His hands were tied uncomfortably behind his back. Tied?

“Hey, shit face is waking up.”

The voice belonged to Wesley, and so did the face that leered over him. The rest of the room came into focus, and Ashton realized he was in his own garage. Jessie was there, as were some of the other guys and Loren, who was covered in blood. Ashton didn’t know if it was fresh, or if it was left over from the turning. Regardless, his brother stood on shaky legs, held upright by two others.

Shit.

Jessie stood over him, something large and bulky in his hands. “Good evenin’ sunshine. Nice job wit’ your brother.”

Ashton spit blood out of his mouth, and tried to sound brave. “Just leave him out of this.”

“Maybe, maybe not.” Jessie nodded to someone and the thing in his hands sprung to life, whirling and roaring.  It was an electric drill. “Now it’s your turn to entertain us.”

Ashton screamed and bucked as the drill chewed into his leg. Shreds of his jeans wrapped around the bit and burned. He thought he heard Loren screaming, but he couldn’t be sure. There was too much noise in his head. Too much noise. Too much pain.

Then it stopped.

Jessie stood back, a frown between his eyebrows. “Nah.” He threw the drill aside and it landed on the floor with a clatter. “What else you got?”

Wesley answered him from further back in the garage, probably at the work bench. Dad’s work bench. “We got a sander?”

Jessie snorted. “Nah. Fuck that. Fuck this pussy shit. We want something heavy duty, man.”

“Chainsaw?” Before Jessie could answer Wesley suggested, “Lawn mower?”

Jessie’s face lit up. “Oh yeah, man. That’s the fucking ticket. That’s just what we want. But not in here.” He motioned to the others. “Bring ‘em outside. We gots to do this right. Time to mow the yard!”

Someone grabbed Ashton under the shoulders and dragged him outside, leaving behind a trail of blood from his damaged leg. He struggled, but he was too weak to really fight them. If he hadn’t changed Loren he might have been strong enough but, if he hadn’t changed him, Loren would be dead already.

They threw him to the ground, and he caught a glimpse of his brother. They’d dropped him in a heap on the ground. Too weak to stand, he wasn’t a threat to them, or they didn’t think he was. Maybe he could get away and get help.

The others were busy trying to get the old lawn mower to start, so he took the opportunity to catch his brother’s attention. Loren started to crawl towards him, but he shook his head no. Run, he mouthed. Run. Loren shook his head, but Ashton just repeated it and added, find help. Though where he could find it was the million dollar question.

Reluctantly, Loren started to crawl backwards towards the beach.  Yes. Yes. Go. Get the fuck outta here! Go! If he could just save his brother then it wouldn’t all be a waste, would it? If only he’d been more like Loren after their parents died and put himself into something productive instead of running away and hiding out in drugs and alcohol.  Jessie and his crowd seemed so extreme. They were the ultimate high: blood, danger, death.  Like the death that was waiting for him. Fuck. If something didn’t happen soon he was gonna get the biggest high ever. That one that ended in a bright light.

The mower choked and he felt hopeful, but then it roared to life, amid cries of surprise and rough laughter. Wesley ran it over the grass a couple of times and then he and Jessie exchanged a meaningful look.  It only took one of them to lift it up. Ashton squinted up at the undercarriage, but there was no high. He was just numb. Odd bits of grass stuck to the inside and the blades spun so fast that they were a blur. They whipped up a miniature hurricane that blew his hair and threw old clippings in his face. No high, just grass in his mouth and in his eyes. Just the taste of dirt and fear. Just the sight of Loren slowly backing away on his hands, his eyes wide and terrified.

And then they lowered the mower.

No! God, No!

Ashton screamed.

Help! God, help! Help!

And then everything went black.

There was no light.


Six Sentence Sunday

It’s time for Six Sentence Sunday, the blog group where participants share six sentences of something they’ve written, whether it’s a work in progress, something that’s published, or something that will never see the light of day.

I used the ultimate in random, again, and this week’s sentences come form Legacy of Ghosts:

Setup: Katelina and Jorick are discussing vampires and sex, and she says the wrong thing….

“Slurp?” Jorick cried, offended. “Now who’s disgusting?”

She rolled her eyes. “Sorry, do you have a better word for it?”

“Yes, I do, actually,” he retorted. “’Sharing blood’ is much nicer, or even ‘exchanging blood’. Of course there’s always ‘coupling’ or the far more picturesque ‘making love’, which I happen to prefer.” He sniffed. “Slurp, indeed!”

Be sure to go read the other participants! Six sentence Sunday is a great way to find and meet new writers.

Vampire Morsels: Arowenia

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…

Arowenia

(You can find Arowenia, Claudius, Michael, Patrick and the whole assorted gang in Shades of Gray. This story takes place just shy of four months before the opening of that book.)

Arowenia stared at the reflection in the mirror. The child like face that stared back held large, liquid blue eyes and an expression devoid of any feeling. Above her, she could see the fluttering redheaded woman who hovered and primped, trying to tame Arowenia’s long blonde hair into an elaborate updo that would suit Claudius.  A second woman stood behind her, handing out strings of pearls and bobby pins as needed.

“You’re going to look simply lovely when we’re finished,” the beautician-by-assignment cooed in her soft, honey southern accent.

“Like a doll,” the other agreed with a wistful sigh that betrayed her jealousy. Yes, she was jealous. Truth be told, both of the women probably were. The grass is always greener on the other side, but sometimes it isn’t easy being green. Sometimes, playing the porcelain doll was a cold amusement, if amusement it could be called.

The last string of pearls was threaded, and the women stepped back to admire their handiwork. Arowenia glanced into the mirror, but felt neither pleasure nor dissatisfaction. She only noted whether or not it would satisfy Claudius, and she believed it would.

“If you’re ready, my lady?” The redhead asked. A dimple at the corner of her mouth betrayed her opinion of the antiquated title, but there was a system to everything; rules, regulations and formalities. Without those things the system would break down and there’d be only chaos and a group of power hungry vampires vying for control. Too many covens were already like that, or so Claudius said.

Claudius. Claudius. Claudius. It always came back to him, didn’t it? The leader of the coven, the master of their futures, her mate in immortality whether she wished it or not.

Arowenia followed the two women through the hallway and then down the ornate, curved staircase into the marble foyer. Guests and coven members alike mingled in small groups, chatting and laughing politely, their tones as tinkly as the crystal chandeliers above their heads.

Despite the crowd, her eyes sought him out, almost unwillingly. He stood in the center of the largest semi-circle, his blonde hair pulled back into a tidy ponytail. His dress was as opulent as ever. A white shirt bore ruffles at the neck and wrists, and an ornately embroidered vest matched the cold green shade of his eyes. In one long fingered hand he gracefully held a golden goblet whose contents were a rich crimson.

As if he felt her gaze, he turned and a smile snaked over his boyish lips. Though he looked no more than sixteen, untold years hid in his eyes and revealed themselves in the steady strum of his aura. He mock toasted to her and held out his free hand, waiting for her to claim it. She understood the gesture, and moved to stand next to him.

“Arowenia,” he murmured, and brought her hand to his lips. “You look lovely.” He broke off and a tiny frown formed between his eyebrows. “Though I wonder that they chose peach instead of green. Hectia knows I prefer that we match.”

“Yes, of course,” she agreed tonelessly. “Shall I change?”

“No, no.” He brushed it aside carelessly. “I’ll speak to her later.” He turned back to his companions. “Come, I believe the music should be starting slowly.”

Arowenia took the arm he offered, and allowed him to guide her through the French doors and into the lavish ball room. A small orchestra was gathered in one corner, their faces hurried and pale as they arranged themselves. One long wall of mirrors reflected back the dazzling chandeliers and the array of well dressed guest. In the middle of the room stood a large carved fountain. In the center, a deep basin was balanced on the heads on three bat winged cherubs who each poured a pitcher of red tinted water into the pool below. Inside the basin, two naked teenage girls lay, half conscious, and packed in cubed ice to keep them from going into shock. Their bodies were curled around one another like a yin-yang, and each had one wounded arm extended over a trough circled the edge of the basin. Blood dripped from their rent limbs into the trough and collected in the crystal bowls that were set into the four corners of red tinted pool.

It was to this fountain that Claudius led them. He dipped his golden cup into one of the crystal bowls, then took a sip and sighed with appreciation. “You can’t even taste the drugs any more. Modern pharmacology has done wonders.”

His companions took cups from a nearby table and dipped a sample into their goblets. Heads bobbed as they swallowed, each agreeing that the flavor was unaffected. Arowenia let her gaze fall to the girls. Their pale skin was goose pimpled and their pink nipples stood cold and hard.  Their heads were thrown back so that their long, pale throats were temptingly exposed. One of them moaned softly and her eyes fluttered open. For a moment, she held Arowenia’s gaze, and something flashed in her eyes; something pleading and desperate, but it disappeared under the influence of the drugs and her body fell limp again.

“Take a taste,” Claudius ordered and, without thought, Arowenia complied. She, too, nodded vaguely, though no one cared about her opinion, and then the group moved on.

The music started low and soft, then swelled to fill the room. Not too loud to drown out the discussions, but with enough volume to cover the sound of their shoes on the hard wood floor.  Claudius discussed business, and Arowenia let her mind wander.  Around them, couples danced, some like silk butterflies and some like bumbling raccoons. There would be no dancing for her, unless Claudius could separate himself from his business long enough, because no male was allowed to touch her. That was one of the endless rules and regulations that kept everyone in their proper places.

Claudius suddenly released her arm, and offered a polite, “You’ll excuse us, I’m sure?” Though he spoke it as a question, it was really a statement, and she only nodded wordlessly. He gallantly kissed her hand again. Then, he and his associates disappeared, no doubt headed for the library where they could sign away some part of their souls to him.

Alone, she drifted towards the row of opened French doors that led to the veranda. Vampires flitted in and out, and each took their time to show their proper respect to her as they passed her.  Some simply nodded, while others went for a full out bow. With no real conviction, she acknowledged each in turn. Neither an inconvenience nor a pleasure. Like so many other things it simply was.

Outside, the night was deep and dark. The stars above glittered like a thousand diamonds and Arowenia gazed at them and thought about what lay beyond the sky. They said it was outer space, a never ending black ocean with planets instead of islands, but she couldn’t understand it.  It was like China; something “they” said existed, but which she’d never seen with her own eyes. How was she to know that any of it was real?

She leaned delicately on the veranda railing and closed her eyes, savoring the early summer evening. The smell of fresh cut grass wafted on the breeze, and she could hear the bugs and the bullfrogs calling to one another.  It reminded her of another time and another place; a world before Claudius and his “brothers” stormed her father’s castle and butchered everything in their path.  Sometimes, in her dreams, she could still hear the guards’ screams, but she was numb to them now. It was so very long ago, and time healed all, or how else could they continue living year after year, century after century?

“Oh, uh, hey.”

She looked up sharply to find Michael, Claudius’s newest toy, standing next to her.  He’d been the human hired to take care of the lawn until he’d gotten too nosey.  Now he was one of them, though not quite. Less than the least of them, he was on the same tier as the humans servants Claudius kept, including Michael’s rather bizarre, but thankfully silent, brother.

She didn’t deign to answer him, only arched a cold eyebrow. Michael cleared his throat and shifted uncomfortably. She could smell his fear and hear his heart pounding.  When he didn’t speak, she finally demanded, “Yes?”

“Um, like, Claudius wants you.” He jerked his thumb in the general direction of the house.

She turned back to the stars and sighed inwardly. What did he want now? Hadn’t he just gone to speak privately with the other men? Why did he need her?  Surely a porcelain doll on his arm wouldn’t help seal the deal.  But, regardless of what he wanted, it was best not to keep him waiting.

Without a word, she turned sharply for the house and strode through the doors and back into the brightness of the ball room.  Guests bowed and scraped, and Michael scrambled to catch up, but she ignored everything except the doors at the far end of the room. One room at a time.  One step at a time. Never contemplate the final destination, just the steps that take you there, or you might go mad.

Michael’s all too human brother was waiting in the foyer, his blonde hair disturbingly messy despite the formal engagement. He drew no more notice from her than a mosquito, and she passed him by and walked towards the library.

“Um, uh, hey” Michael said quickly. “He’s, uh, in the sunroom.”

She didn’t bother to acknowledge him, only turned abruptly and headed in the opposite direction, towards the back of the house. The sunroom was a large glass enclosure filled with as many tropical plants as Claudius could get to grow.  Gold bird cages peeped out from the foliage, and occasionally a bird would twitter or call, seeking comfort from its fellow prisoners.  Many of the vampires found the sunroom a pointless addition, which was exactly why Claudius had added it. He wanted everyone to see that he had so much wealth that he could afford to spend it on trivial, outlandish things. Even after all these years, he was still desperately trying to prove that he was worthy; though, she didn’t know he was trying to prove it to.

The sunroom had a row of artificial lights just inside the door, but the rest f the room was thick with shadows.  Her vampire eyes could see through the gloom, and she moved silently through the whispering plants, one hand holding her skirt above the floor, and the other gently folding back the larger leaves.

She reached the far side of the room, but Claudius wasn’t there. She turned back, a frown on her face, and found Michael and his brother so close behind her that she nearly crashed into them. Surprised, she jumped back into a large potted palm. Her arms flailed as she fought for her balance. It was the human brother who caught her under the elbows . For a moment she hung suspended, like a water drop ready to fall, but he righted her. She saw something flash across his face; some kind of regret, and then she remembered the hands on her arms.

She pulled away, and he jerked back, as if he’d been burned. “I’m sorry,” he said quickly. His panicked eyes skipped around the room as if they sought something, and his nervous hands dived into his pockets. He pulled them out again and shoved a crinkling plastic bag at her. “Gummy shark?”

She drew away, confused. “What-” but she didn’t get to finish before someone grabbed her from behind.  She struggled against constricting arms and opened her mouth to scream, but someone silenced her with a wad of perfumed silk that burned her tongue.

Michael and his brother drew away as she choked and gagged, both wide eyed and terrified. She tried to motion to them to do something, but realized the futility when she saw two more figures emerge from the shadowy plants. One was a dark skinned woman attired in a long, shimmery gown, and the other was a pale man with long golden hair and amber eyes.  She’d never seen them before, but their expression told her that they weren’t going to help her.

The dark woman smiled cruelly and lifted what looked like a sack. Arowenia struggled, but she couldn’t stop her from putting it over her head.  The world was lost to darkness and the thick stench of old dirt.  On the other side of the sack, someone bound her wrists too tight and the woman’s voice purred, “There’s no time to be squeamish now, boys. You’ve both done very well.”

Arowenia was lifted and unceremoniously draped over someone’s shoulder, no doubt the man who’d first grabbed her. The only sound was the faint whisper of the plants as they moved through the sunroom. A door opened, and she realized they were exiting through the sunroom’s side entrance.  She kicked her feet and made soft, muffled pleas, but no one seemed to hear her. Where were the guards? Why weren’t they at the door? There were always guards – guards everywhere waiting, watching. Where were they now? Where were they?

She squealed and squirmed, but they were outside and there was no one in the back gardens at this end of the house.  These were the autumn gardens, and they wouldn’t bloom until September, so they were left shrouded in darkness and alone.

Her captors stopped, and she could only conclude that they’d reached the back wall. The man who held her muttered, “You first, and I’ll pass her over.” Whoever he spoke to obeyed, and she was handed up, wriggling and kicking, to another pair of hands. Her new captor grunted and swore under his breath, but he pulled her to the top of the wall and held her there, face down, while he waited for his companions.

She wondered who these vampires were, and why they were taking her. How had they gotten past the guards? How had they gotten in the house and out again without being observed? Why weren’t they being stopped now?

She was hauled down the other side of the wall and to a waiting vehicle. They dumped her in the backseat between the woman and the human. She could smell them both, something she should have done in the sunroom.  But there was no reason to be on guard, then. Or at least, she hadn’t thought there was.

The ride was long and quiet. Her captors rarely spoke, and when they did their words meant little to her.  Trapped between them in a car, she could do nothing about the bag or her hands, so she concentrated on spitting out the handkerchief. One step at a time.

By the time they reached their destination, she was free of the perfumed gag. There was no point in calling attention to it, so she stayed silent as she was heaved out of the car and carried inside another building. The footsteps of her captors echoed, and she guessed it must be a large room, possibly like the foyer at the mansion they’d left behind.

Another door opened and she was carried down the stairs. She felt the cold damp of a basement wrap around her, and heard the sound of stone grinding against itself.  She was dumped to the cold floor, and then the stone ground again and snapped shut; a concealed door.

The chamber behind it was small and Arowenia shifted so that she lay on her side.  The cold of the stone floor seeped through her light summer gown. The gown that was the wrong color. Why had they dressed her in pale peach?

She listened to the darkness and felt it listening back. Upstairs someone moved, footsteps across a floor, and hushed voices whispered. Who were they? Why had they taken her? She didn’t understand what she’d done, but she soon came to realize it had nothing to do with her. It was something to do with Claudius and one of his feuds.  Though he didn’t discuss them with her, she knew he had many.  None of them had ever touched her before, and she still didn’t understand how this one had.

But contemplating it was pointless. There was nothing she could do except wait for Claudius to come for her, leaving a bloody path of destruction in his wake, like he had before. For a moment, fear fluttered in her chest, a wild, forgotten emotion. A flash of the girls in the fountain came to her mind, and she could picture the one who stared at her, with terrified eyes, but, like Arowenia’s own fear, it hadn’t lasted, and the girl’s terror had dropped away into nothing. Yes, she was like them, only her drugs were the long, tired years that had drifted past, while she’d watched from a gilded window, never touching or being touched, until she no longer cared.  And now, alone in the darkness of the secret chamber, with only her thoughts and her memories ,she found they were all  cold and numb, like the ice that had chilled the young girls in the blood fountain, and she suddenly wasn’t sure whether she wanted to be rescued or not.

Vampire Morsels: Adam

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….

ADAM

(You can find Adam briefly in Legacy of Ghosts. I thought he was older than this, so I was quite surprised to find out he wasn’t. This story takes place in 1952, one year before the Korean War ended.)

 

 

Adam leaned back in the barber’s chair and closed his eyes. The buzzing clippers moved slowly over his scalp and sent a rain of brown curls falling around him.

“So you’ve joined up?” old man Winslow commented from his chair. “You gonna go over there and kick some Commie ass?”

The barber coughed loudly, and his eyes skipped to the girl who stood near the counter, wearing a too proud smile and a poodle skirt. “There’s a lady present.”

Mr. Winslow snorted, but amended the question. “So when you shippin’ out, boy?”

Adam opened his eyes and tried not to sound too excited. “I have to go through Boot Camp, first.”

“Ah, just don’t mess around and get there too late, eh? Wars only last so long.” The old man winked.

The buzzing stopped. The barber brushed away the loose hairs and spun the chair towards the mirror. The new hairdo was a shock, and Adam ran his hand over his nearly bald head. But, even in the wake of surprise, his chest puffed up with pride. He had a man’s haircut; like his brother Randy’s, and in a few months he’d get to join him over there in Korea.  Yeah, a real man.

Adam stood and paid the bill while the pretty girl by the counter gushed and giggled. Susan Harley was his steady, and though he’d been afraid she’d be mad about him joining up, she’d taken the news well. He wondered if it was because it hadn’t really sunk in. That was part of why he’d been in a hurry to lose the “civilian cut”.  Let her get a good look at the reality of it and see if it was still as appealing. But, the gleam in her eyes said it was.

He offered her his arm and they strolled out of the barber shop and headed towards his dad’s grocery store. He’d been working there as a clerk since his graduation three years ago, but he spent more time hauling boxes than running the register because he was “built for it”. Tall and broad shouldered with thick arms, he stood out in a crowd and more often than not found himself carrying heavy items, or reaching high places for other people.

“I think it’s so romantic!” Susan prattled, and he realized he hadn’t been listening to her. “And when you get back we can get married!” She grabbed his arm and nearly swung around it like a kid on the monkey bars.  “We can get that little house on the edge of town, you know, the one with the big elm in the front yard?”

He made a non committal noise and she went on as though he’d agreed. Susan had their lives all mapped out. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to marry her. If he had to marry someone it might as well be her, but he just couldn’t settle his mind to it, yet. Maybe he’d feel more settled when he got back.

They reached the grocery store, and Susan peeled herself loose, all batting eyelids and suggestive giggles. “I’ll see you tonight. Meet me the beach at eight and-“ she broke off and drew closer, her voice dropping low. “-If you’re a good boy maybe we’ll go for a swim in the ocean.”

She hurried away, her hips swaying just because she knew he was watching.  He briefly imagined her walking towards the water wearing nothing but the skin God gave her, then shook it off quickly. He had to get to work.

By late afternoon storm clouds rolled in, and a low, angry thunder rumbled across the sky.  Adam tried to ignore the darkening disappointment in his gut, but by closing time his dreams of a late night swim were pretty much gone. Still, they could huddle in the shelter and neck. That would be better than nothing.

It was seven o’clock when his dad closed out the register for the night. “You about done stacking those cans, Adam?”

There were only about six left, but he needed a moment of quiet.  “Yes, sir. Just a couple more rows.”

As predicted, his father called back, “All right. You go finish up, and I’ll head home. You know how your mother gets if dinner has to wait too long.”  He chuckled and added, ”Someday you’ll have the pleasure of a nagging wife. That little Susan seems like the kind who’d expect you right on time.” Adam didn’t respond, so he gathered up his things and left with the final order, “Lock up on your way out.”

Adam sighed in relief. It wasn’t that he didn’t like his old man, but sometimes he just bugged him.  Always wanting to know what his plans were. How could he have plans yet? He was only twenty-one. There were guys his age that were still in college. He bet no one hassled them about what they were going to do, or whether they were going to get married.

He finished the cans and deposited the empty box in the storeroom. He had an hour until he had to meet Susan, so he popped out the back door for a smoke.  Though it was just after seven, the sky overhead was black. Lightning sizzled across it, and thunder growled back, as if defending its territory from the dazzling intruder.  Adam leaned against the building and watched the smoke curling up and away. There was too much to think about, so he let his mind drift to images of Susan waiting on the beach. Then he imagined her waiting with her sister.  Oh yeah-

He jerked from his thoughts and stared at nothing. He’d heard something, but he didn’t know what, only that it had been something; something that shouldn’t be there.  The tiny hairs on the back of his neck stood up, and a sudden, unexplained chill danced down his spine. He suddenly wanted to run back into the store and bolt the door.

A fat raindrop splashed past him to die on the pavement. “What the hell is this?” he whispered to himself.  He stabbed his cigarette out and straightened his shoulders. He was the biggest guy in town, or damn near. What did he have to be afraid of? The rain and some shadows?

He walked towards the end of the alley where he instinctively felt the noise had come from.  A row of weather stained garbage cans were illuminated by a flickering light above them. The effect was eerie, but there was nothing there. And then the light went out.

In the darkness, strong arms wrapped around Adam and pulled him down. He fought back, but blind and surprised, his reaction was too slow.  He was slammed to the ground, and his head bounced off the pavement. Dazed, he blinked against the fuzziness that filled his skull. The cold rain splashed on his face and pulled his back to the world. And then the light came on and he saw his attacker.

Adam screamed.

It was a man, if man it could be called. The features were once human, but were so inhumanly twisted as to look like a beast. A pair of shining fangs gleamed in his mouth, and dirt streaked his face. Fury and burning need blazed in his eyes.  He slammed Adam’s head into the ground again, and set upon him, fangs slicing through his neck; shredding and rending.

Expletives rolled out of Adam’s mouth as he tried uselessly to pry the monster loose.  The rain picked up, and the sound drowned out the slurping noises as the creature drained him. Adam kicked and tried to roll away, but the thing only growled and bit deeper, so that blood ran around the edges of his mouth and over Adam’s shoulder in a warm, wet trail.

Blood. The word vampire flitted through his mind, but was lost to the fight for self preservation. Adam thrashed and bucked, but it did no good. He could feel his limbs weakening, feel his thoughts slowing. The light seemed to dim, and the sound of the rain roared louder and louder in his ears.  Just as he was ready to give up, he saw a broken piece of wooden pallet. He could just reach it with his fingertips and slowly, he worked the slippery object closer until he could grip it firmly in his hand.

Weapon in hand, he gave a final cry and slammed the board over the monster’s head. The thing shrieked and let go, more from surprise than injury, and Adam used that second of imbalance to fling it away from him.  He tried to leap to his feet, but his legs were too weak, so he settled for a half lunge in the thing’s direction. He crashed on top of him, knocking him to the ground.

“How do you like it, now?” he shouted, as he beat the monster in the face with the broken board. “How the hell do you like it?” The creature howled, and slammed a fist into Adam’s face. He and the board flew backwards and landed apart on the wet pavement.

The monster was suddenly straddling him, his dirty, blood streaked face pressed close to Adam’s.  In seeming slow motion, his lips pulled back, his mouth widened, his fangs seemed to grow larger…

Adam wanted to fight him, but he didn’t have the means. The board was too far away and he was too weak to do the thing any harm.  But he couldn’t die. Not here, not now. He had to go to Korea. He had to show everyone he was a better man than his brother. He had to meet Susan at the ocean.

With a final, savage cry, he used the last weapon he had; his teeth.  He bit into the creature’s shoulder with all the force he could muster.  Something warm splashed on his tongue. The flavor was strong and gritty, like a dirty penny.  Adam’s first instinct was to pull away, but there was something about it; something that made him want more. It was as if his weakened, dying body was screaming for it.

The thing shrieked and tried to recoil, but Adam hung on like a tiny dog to a mailman’s leg. He gulped the hot, thick liquid in mouthfuls. As it filled him, his strength seemed to return, while the monster grew weaker and weaker and soon sank to the ground, his arms flailing uselessly.

Adam let the thing go and leaned back to stare at it. Conquering pride swelled through him and intensified his righteous fury.  He grabbed the broken board that lay nearby and held it aloft, ready to strike.  Unbidden, that word vampire returned to his mind, and he heard himself laugh maniacally as he slammed the sharp end of the board through the thing’s chest again and again.

Suddenly, he fell back and half lay on the cold ground, soaked, bloody and exhausted. His heart pounded in his ears like an evil drum, louder and louder, and the world’s focus grew too sharp. For an instant he could see every rain drop suspended in midair, as though someone had stopped the world.  He blinked at the horror of it, and then everything rushed into a too fast tumult that made him sick. He couldn’t focus; couldn’t concentrate, and inside, low in his belly, a burning started. It spread through him, gaining momentum as it raced down his limbs, into his fingers and toes, and slammed into his brain.

Adam clutched his skull and writhed on the ground. It felt as though a thousand, red hot knives were slicing through every inch of him, and the wounds ripped into his neck and chest were on fire. He clawed at the mess, and then rolled onto his stomach and desperately tried to splash rain water on it to quench the imaginary flames, but it didn’t help.  The pain was nearly unbearable. Then, it stopped.

Shaking and exhausted, Adam rolled over and slowly climbed to his feet. His head swam and all he could think about was getting away from the dirty alley and the dead guy with the big teeth. He needed to go… go… where?  He thought of Susan and the beach. He thought of the course sand on her soft skin, and the light in her eyes. He had to find her. Something was wrong with him, he was sick, and he had to find her.

His vision flickered off and on; sometimes bright and startling, sometimes black. He stumbled and weaved his way out of the alley, like a drunk. His feet dragged on the pavement, too heavy to lift. Even his arms seemed to be made of lead. And then, the pain returned and he fell to his knees.

He didn’t know how long it took him. His rational mind had deserted him and left him with only a strange, base instinct that pulled him towards the beach. More than once the searing pain overtook him, but then it would leave, and each time he felt a little stronger afterwards.

At last, he could hear the roar of the ocean waves. He stumbled through the thick sand, and found the shelter that he and Susan usually met in. Despite the rain, there she was sitting on the bench, her ankles crossed and her impatient hands in her lap. A folded umbrella leaned next to her, along with a soggy dime novel.

Lightning cut across the sky and she saw him. Her eyebrows shot up, but she hadn’t had time to take him in before the blackness blotted him out, again. “There you are!” She stood and marched towards him, hands on her hips. “Where have you been? I’ve been waiting and waiting. I thought maybe you’d changed your mind because of the storm,” she broke off and stopped a few steps away from him, her posture suddenly alert. “Adam? Is that you?”

He tried to speak, but his voice didn’t want to come, so he nodded mutely. She couldn’t see him, so he forced the dry words out. “Yes, it’s me.”

She drew back and looked towards his silhouette warily. “Adam, what’s wrong? You don’t sound right.”

“I- I don’t feel right,” he croaked, his voice gruff and somehow dark.  “Susan.” He moved towards her, his hand outstretched. “Susan, something’s wrong.”

Instinctively, she moved just out of reach of his fingers. “Adam, maybe you should go home?”

“I can’t. Not like this?”

At his words, her body stiffened. “Like what?”

The lightning flashed again and revealed his disheveled state. He was soaked to the skin, and his clothes were torn and bloody. The wound in his neck gaped red and angry like something from a horror movie.

She screamed.

Adam grabbed her.  He didn’t want to hurt her, only make her stop before someone heard her.  He pinned her to him with one arm, and muffled her mouth with his free hand. “Susan,” he croaked. “Susan, listen, shhhh. Be quiet.  Don’t scream, honey, just-“

And then she bit him. He swore loudly and released her. She staggered backwards, her terrified eyes wide. “What’s wrong with you?” she cried. “Just stay back, Adam. Go home.  Go home- No!” He lunged towards her. “No! Adam! No!”

He tackled her to the ground, fury twisting his features. His brain slid and he didn’t recognize her anymore. She wasn’t a person, she was a thing. Something he needed to silence. Something he needed to bite. Something he needed to feed on. Bite. Drink. Feed. Bite. Drink. Feed. Bite-

He came to his senses. Cold rain pounded into his back as he lay over a prone female. The girl’s neck was torn and bleeding. Something inside him rejected the picture and he pulled back and closed his eyes. But he couldn’t hide from it, and slowly he opened them again and peered at the girl’s face. It was frozen in fear; a terrible, horrible kind of fear that made his guts twist. It was Susan’s face.

With a cry, he flung himself off of her and shook her violently. “Susan! Susan, honey! Susan! Oh, God damn it! Susan!” But she didn’t respond, only stared at nothing with those horrible, vacant eyes.

Adam fell back on his knees and held out his hands. The rain pounded the blood away, but it couldn’t wash them clean. It couldn’t fix this. It couldn’t fix him. What had he done? What had he become?

The pain came again, only less terrible this time. He crawled to the shelter – their shelter – and curled up under the bench. Sobs racked his body as he fought to claw the image of Susan’s face from his mind. He couldn’t have done that! He couldn’t have! He wouldn’t hurt her! He loved her! He loved her!

The storm raged. The night passed, and soon the sky over the ocean lightened. Slowly, the sun crept up. The light moved across the beach like syrup, reaching ever closer to Adam in his hiding place. He sensed the morning on some primeval level and moved towards the opening of the shelter, away from the protection of the bench above him.

The sunlight burned and he screamed and drew back into the cool shadows. He could smell something; like cooked bacon, and gingerly touched his face.  And then He was there. The man was dressed in a long, hooded black cloak. Only with his back to the sun did he open the cloak to reveal a smooth, pale face and flashing, hypnotic eyes.

“Come, young one,” the man whispered softly. “You must get away from the sun.”

Adam stared openly. Despite all the questions burning through his brain he asked the most obvious, “Who are you?”

The man smiled, revealing a set of pointed fangs. “My name is Demetrious, child.”

He rejected what he was seeing. None of it could be real. “Susan,” he croaked.  “Where is Susan?”

Demetrius sighed. “I can only assume you mean the young lady on the beach? She is of no consequence at the moment, young one. The earth belongs to the living, not to the dead. Now come quickly, before it is too late and you join them.”

Adam wanted to argue, but something in the other man’s voice made him obey. He shuffled quickly under the protection of the cloak, huddling against the stranger’s body. “I don’t understand,” he whispered to the darkness inside the cloak.

“Don’t worry,” Demetrius answered as he snatched up the abandoned umbrella and opened it, using it as a sun shade. “You will soon. “ And then, slowly, he drew them both away; away from the beach where Susan’s mangled, bloodless body laid spread eagle beneath a flock of hungry seagulls. Away from boot camp, and Korea, and marriage, and all the things that had made up Adam’s life before. Away from the orb of the burning of the sun and into the shadows.

Lost Beginning

I’ve started working at Ties of Blood (book three in the Amaranthine series) and here is where I reveal the dark truth: there is a very, very rough draft of it and the fourth book written – as one giant LONG book that will have to be broken in half (long story) and large portions rewritten. Personally, I think rewriting is harder than writing it the first time!

In the course of my reworking (okay, let’s be honest, in the course of my opening the document and looking at it) it’s become apparent that the opening paragraphs have to change because – drum roll – I used the same kind of intro for Legacy of Ghosts, and so I need something new. But, it was pretty snazzy, so I thought I’d share it, anyway.

WARNING: SPOILERS

If you haven’t read Legacy of Ghosts yet then read at your own risk.

Okay, I’m taking out the one sentence that is the hugest spoiler. There’s still little ones though.

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

Blood.

Blood and fire.

A silver sword flashed and heart stopping screams rent the air, cutting into Katelina’s ears.  Jorick held her hand but when she looked again he was gone. Faces leered at her from the shadows; the ghosts of those now dead.  Michael, Patrick’s vampire brother, screamed death threats while Claudius, the former leader of a vampire coven, taunted her with all the things he could do to her and had already done.  Adam and Nirel, henchmen of a dark vampiress, waved a bloody knife and demanded that she scream for them while a vampire child watched from the heart of flames. His sorrowful eyes luminous and quiet. In front of them  stood the dark, ebony skinned Kateesha, laughing. Her voice was honey as she hissed, “Where is Jorick to save you now?”

“Katelina?”

The voice that cut through the nightmare was deep and soothing, like being wrapped in a warm blanket after you’d been outside in winter’s chill too long. But, it wasn’t enough to end the dream. Kateesha laughed and the fire disappeared, morphing from the basement of the small house where Katelina had first met Jorick and into the final, subterranean strong hold of Kateesha.  ….

“Katelina,” the voice was louder, more insistent. “We’re almost there.”

The dream drifted away like a vaporous fog and left behind a sticky residue of unease.  Slowly, the backseat of the small car came into focus, and she found herself staring into a pair of deep, dark hypnotic eyes.  Jorick sat next to her, one arm wrapped around her shoulders, the other hand resting on her arm. Despite the fact that it was December one of the car windows was open and the chilly wind played in his long raven hair, the locks dancing casually behind him. His eyes, so dark they were almost black, were rimmed in thick lashes and accented by a pair of heavy, perfectly arched brows. His smooth skin was pale and flawless and had the look of finely chiseled marble while his full lips were drawn back in a smile, revealing a pair of gleaming vampire fangs. He was beautiful and perfect; her immortal lover.

“What?” she muttered sleepily, stretching her arms and battling a yawn.  Reality and the world of dreams were still a disjointed mixture for her.  It didn’t help that her dreams were twisted memories of the past all tossed together into a terrifying jumble.  The cold air caressed her cheeks, coercing her into wakefulness. “Sorry, I must have fallen asleep.”

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

Hyum. Now to come up with something different that has fewer adjectives….

Lost Chapters 6: That Would Be Cheating

Why should DVDs get all the fun? now presenting the deleted scenes* from Legacy of Ghosts! In other words, The Lost Chapters. – click the link for more info.

More info

Of course, since these are little snips, you don’t need to have read Legacy of Ghosts to enjoy them.

(Insert this at the end of Chapter Eighteen.)

Katelina stared at the window where light leaked around the dressers.  Despite the precautions, the room was far from dark, and whether because of the light or her nerves, she couldn’t find sleep.

Jorick stirred beside her and murmured, “You should rest, little one.”

“I know, but I can’t.” She stopped short of mentioning why; the panic, the worry, the hovering thoughts of certain death. He’d know them all, anyway.

A sudden wave of relaxation crashed over her, and she could hear him soothing her, “Sleep. Everything is fine. Everything will be fine. Sleep-“

“No.”  Despite the good intentions, she didn’t want him to use his mind tricks on her.  “You know I don’t like that.”

He sighed resignedly. “Yes, I know. But, I thought rest was a higher priority, this time. You’ll need your strength tomorrow, and it seems a waste for you to ignore the resources available.”

“Resources?” she echoed incredulously. “I hardly call you ‘enchanting’ me to sleep a resource!”

“Why?” He rolled her over to face him and met her eyes with a challenge. “If you were tired and had sleeping pills then you’d take them, wouldn’t you?”

She knew where this was going, and she refused to play into it. “Maybe.”  He narrowed his eyes, as if reading the truth from her, and she relented. “All right, fine. If I was tired enough, then yes, I would. But,” she added quickly. “I’m not that tired right now.”

“If you say so.”  His shoulders moved in an almost imperceptible shrug and he rolled onto his back. “But, I did offer.”

“I know.”

They fell into silence and she stared at the dressers and the light leaking around the edges. Maybe she should take him up on it. After all, they’d have a fight tomorrow and-

And why didn’t he just use that mind control to win? “He could just take them over and-”

“Wouldn’t that be cheating?” he asked to her unspoken thought.

She started to chastise him, then let it go. What was the point? “Not really. If you got it, use it.”

His amusement was palpable. “Yet you just said-”

“That’s different,” she interrupted. “That’s on me. I’m not trying to kill you.”

“Really? It often seems the same.” He suddenly turned serious. “No, but they are, and that’s the problem. Influencing someone does require a certain level of concentration, and it’s rather difficult to concentrate while you’re fighting.”

“Well, yes, but you could stand off to the edge, couldn’t you? And do it that way? Or do you need eye contact or something?”

“That helps, yes. But, it’s faster to just kill them.”

His cavalier attitude struck her as wrong. “But what about someone strong,” she argued. “Someone you can’t beat easily?” Like Kateesha.

“If they’re strong enough to pose a challenge, then their minds are probably too strong. As for Kateesha,” he broke off and pulled in a tight breath. “I’ve told you before that I can’t read her mind. If I could, I’d have known what she was up to before she ever betrayed us.”

She didn’t remember the conversation, but he had a valid point.  “Why can’t you read her mind? I thought you could read everyone’s?”

“No, not everyone’s. There are those who are far older and more powerful than me, and those who are stronger, and those who have a natural immunity.  I imagine Kateesha falls into the latter category, or perhaps it’s because we had the same Master.”

Katelina shivered as she thought about the dark demoness and her vengefully gleaming eyes. That was something she didn’t want to think about, so she asked instead, “I don’t suppose you can read his mind, either?”

“Malick’s? No. And I doubt I’d want to.” Jorick changed the topic with an attempted smile. “But all of this talking isn’t leading to sleep. We can talk tonight. In the meantime-”

“Yeah, yeah. I know. I’m just… wound up.”

He gazed at her sympathetically, then drew her to him and held her close. His familiar scent filled her nose and his strong arms chased away the imaginary phantoms. “It’s going to be all right, little one. Trust me.”

Despite the comfort of his presence, she wasn’t convinced.

*However, unlike deleted scenes, these were actually written later, for fun, so I could pull off the whole “Lost Chapters” gag. None of the Lost Chapters were ever in the original manuscript, nor were they ever deleted. Thank you for reading the small print.
  • 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

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