Category Archives: Free Fiction

NaNoWriMo – Chap 5, 6 & 7 Black Magic Bullets

Day three of NaNoWriMo and I’ve made word-count. Anyway, this is a very rough draft. Although I was trying to create a character arc, I came to the realization that my protagonist might not be a strong enough character for the genre. I attempted a slight course correction. Also, I write by the seat of my pants without an outline. I have no idea what’s going to happen from writing session to writing session. And as always, this is only a first draft with very light corrections. Feel free to let me know what you think. Don’t worry. I have a think skin.

BLACK MAGIC BULLETS

An Urban Fantasy

by

David North-Martino

Working as an Inhuman Resources Recruiter is no walk through the cemetery, especially when you’ve been cursed and your head is filled with stollen secrets from one of the most powerful occult groups in Boston. To survive, you might just need a few…

BLACK MAGIC BULLETS.

Chapter 5

“You’ll know what to do,” Stone assured me before we began. “I can tell you’re suffering a crisis of confidence. That’s not who you really are. I want you to think back to all the training you’ve had, not just in wizardry but also as a fighter”

Stone was right. I wasn’t feeling myself. I had let my life circumstances rob me of my mojo, let them make me feel less than. I knew who I was. I had fought full contact not just in the dojang martial arts school but on the streets, against bullies. Had I won all my fights? No, who could? But I had never backed down from a fight. Thinking back, I had logged plenty of ritual sessions, even if most of them took place in my parent’s unfinished basement. 

Feeling better, I nodded my head. 

Peal began the process, walking around the circle, lighting each colored candle with a matte-black Zippo, calling upon the creatures of each direction, invoking a pentagram by cutting each line in the air with an athame. 

Voice booming, Peal uttered words of power, infusing his thoughts, and his words, with his actions. 

When he had finished, We entered the center of the pentagram. 

“Computer,” Stone uttered the wake word. “Protection.” 

Tiny tubes in the circle of the pentacle released the creature of salt until the grove had completely filled. 

She spoke the wake word again followed by the word undine, and I watched a tile on the floor slide open to reveal a hole in the floor filled with water. I knew why but thought it odd. Never in all the rites, I had observed, had anything like this been utilized. 

“Ritual,” Stone said right after the wake word and the lights shut off leaving them with only the illumination and moving shadows cast by candlelight. 

“It’s time to enter the Collective,” Stone said. “Are you ready?”

I took a deep breath to slow my heart. 

“I’m ready.”

Placing the mask over my nose and mouth, my other hand worked the valve releasing the gas. The seal was tight, the gas did not leak, and I closed my eyes, breathed in deeply. 

When I opened my eyes, everything had changed. 

The mundane world had been replaced by what Stone called the Collective. 

I realized I was in the collective now. One foot in waking reality, the other in an interdimensional dream. 

“Can you see it?” Stone asked when she opened her eyes. She hadn’t relied on the gas to enter and neither had Peal. A meditative state allowed them passage. I longed for the ability to transgress from one waking world to another naturally. 

I nodded. 

By the green candle stood a diminutive being, a gnome. His eyes black, staring, perhaps dreaming, lending power to our rite. 

A sylph fluttered her wings as she circled the yellow candle in ecstatic flight. 

A floating orb of light, an elemental of fire, referred to in medieval times as a salamander buzzed the red candle. 

Finally, I looked to the small water pool which had been revealed by the blue candle. Up came the head and shoulders of a beautiful undine water elemental. I averted my eyes to keep from being transfixed by her radiance. 

Never in all the rites, I had witnessed had I observed the manifestation of even one elemental. They had been called upon and believed to be there to protect and empower. Yet, they remained invisible. Only their presence could sometimes be felt. Seeing them in their natural or unnatural form, I couldn’t decide which, was somewhat disconcerting. 

At each quarter a pentagram hung in the air. Peal had created each one expertly, the cuts as precise as any human could accomplish. 

Peal used the athame to activate the sodium in the grooves of the circle, augmenting the natural protective qualities of the ordinary substance. 

A blinding white energy beam shot down through Peals head and out the athame, alighting the salt as it burned like a white-hot fire. 

“Welcome to the collective, Mr. Thorne,” Peal said as he placed the dagger on the floor. “The test is about to begin.”

 

Chapter 6

“I don’t think I need to tell you,” Stone began. “Whatever you do, don’t break the circle.”

What did she think he was… new? That was the first rule of ritual magic. Breaking the circle could be dangerous, seeing into the collective sent the message home in a big way. All of this had been invisible to him for so long. 

“Are you sure you’re ready?” Peal asked, concern wrinkling his brow and the skin under his eyes. 

“You don’t need to worry about me,”  I said. I had once again found my place of strength Let it rip. Get this thing over with. 

Peal said the invocation. Nothing happened. 

For some reason, I turned. I can’t remember if I had some objective or reason, but I immediately regretted it. 

Just beyond the circle stood a being not quite dead, not quite alive. A state of being sometimes described as undead. 

The thing stared at me with dead malevolent eyes. I gasped, stumbled back. I heard Peal’s sharp call too late. I had stumbled outside the circle taking the ethereal fire and the elementals with it. 

The thing was upon me then constricting my throat with powerful hands, lifting me into the air as it screamed banshee-like, a primal fit of rage. 

Tunnel vision set in. The constriction deprived me of both blood and oxygen. Below, Stone and Peal screamed for me to do something, anything. The life was draining out of me along with my strength as the creature screamed, tossing me around. 

With only seconds left before I blacked out, I hissed words of power between clenched teeth allowing the white light glow into the crown of my head and into my hands filling them with what the Chinese sages call chi. 

I hit the blasted thing with a double hand palm strike, releasing stored energy, blasting the creature into the opposite wall.

Free from constriction, I plummeted back to the floor. Peal dragged me back inside the circle. 

Picking up the athame, Stone summoned energy, and then closed the circle–walling us off from the evil being. 

“What the hell was that?” I managed to ask. My whole body hurt and I rubbed at my throat. 

“Lemur,” Stone said. “And she hasn’t left yet. Can’t leave until we release her.”

I looked across the circle and saw the lemur crouched, ready to pounce if given the chance.

“I’ve never heard that name,” I said, and I hoped never to have to deal with one again. 

“The lemur is an angry spirit,” Peal said. “One who wanders without reason.”

“We give them purpose,” Stone said, crawling to the edge of the circle to confront the lemur. 

Tentatively, I followed, careful to stay well away from the edge of the circle. If there was a next time with this thing, I might wind up dead.

“Observe me while I negotiate,” Stone said. 

The lemur looked like some form a wraith to me, like she had clawed her way out of an early grave. Her clothing, what was left of it, hung off her body, reduced to rags, and her long hair appeared matted and as dirty as her clothing. 

A once handsome face had succumbed to sharp angels and distorted features. Bulging eyes accented milky white sclera as if the iris and pupils had sunk below the surface.  

“What was your name in life,” Stone asked, uncharacteristic compassion warming her voice. 

“Dedra,” the lemur said her voice raspy, her eyes vacant as if she could see back to another time before the endless cold and perpetual darkness. 

“Dedra,” Stone said. “A very pretty name. Would you like to be called that name again? 

“Yes…”

“We would like you to do something for us, Dedra,” Stone said, licking her lips before speaking.

“What…?”

“A client of the Dreadstone Corporation needs someone like you to guard their property. They would address you as Dedra. You must leave the client and their guests alone, but you can kill anyone not authorized to be on the property. Would you like that?” 

“Yes…” A cock of Dedra’s head let me know she wanted something in return. Stone picked up on this as well.

“Name your price?” Stone asked.

“My body…’ Dedra hissed. 

“If you’re willing to start now,” Stone said looking up at me. “You have a corpse to find.”

Chapter 7

Full death-cycle recruiting, from the grave to all eternity. That was the responsibility of an Inhuman Resources Recruiter. I wondered if I was up to all this. My whole perspective changed when the brunette who had given me a once-over walked into the conference room. 

I was immediately struck by her beauty, her sophistication. Her graceful confidence made me believe there was something more to her, something hidden under the surface. 

I had known men who exuded this type of confidence but rarely a woman. The look in her eyes was both alluring as it was dangerous. 

“Meet Kenzi Harper,” Stone said as we all stood in greeting. “During your probationary period you’ll be working together.”

“You’ll follow my lead,” Kenzi said by way of greeting. “This is a dangerous business and I don’t  need a wet behind the ears newbie getting me killed.” 

I didn’t like the idea of taking orders in the field. It had nothing to do with her gender. Perhaps I had a deep-seated distrust and dislike for authority. My poor grades in high school certainly spoke to that. It wasn’t that I couldn’t do the work, I just chose not to listen to those who considered themselves above me. 

I nodded, held my tongue. There would be plenty of time later to test my boundaries. Discretion, after all, has been called the better part of valor. 

“We’ll see about that,” I said under my breath. How about that? My mojo had returned. 

“What was that?” Harper asked. 

Well, at least somewhat.

I said nothing.

“Good,” Harper said. “Let’s get you to the storeroom. You’re going to need a shovel. 

 

 

NaNoWriMo – Chap 3 & 4 – Black Magic Bullets

This is only my second day working on my NaNoWriMo novel. I wasn’t sure about joining in on the festivities, but after writing a short 800 words yesterday, I felt like I might be on to something. Also, had an encouraging Twitter comment from a very kind reader comparing my scant pages to Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files. Wow! Those are big shoes to fill! Although very flattering, and it certainly made my day, I won’t let it go to my head.

200px-Skin_game_cover

I got up early and after helping my wife get off to work, and feeding our cat, I wrote the 1st draft of the 3rd and 4th chapters. I made word-count easier and quicker than expected. Sometimes it works out that way. I’ll take it. While I might write more later, I still have the 3rd draft edits of an 80,000-word horror thriller on my plate and some short story work I need to revisit.

award-honorable-mention-wotf

While I have you here, I  wanted to mention I’m now officially listed as receiving an Honorable Mention in the 3rd quarter of the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest. My story ended up in the top 2% of all submissions. This is one of the most prestigious contests in the Science Fiction and Fantasy genre with thousands of entrants every quarter.  A contest like this can make your career. If you write SF&F, you will be well served to enter this contest. Bring your A-game and strive to be better every submission. And like Han Solo famously said, “Never tell me the odds!” If you want to see all the contest winners along with the Finalists and Honorable Mentions, click the link here.

Never Solo

 

I know I owe you another The Scribes Arcanum blog, where I talk about short fiction sales, and I hope to post more shortly.

Now without further ado, the next first draft chapters of Black Magic Bullets. Click here to read chapter 1 and 2.  Let me know what you think in the comments or on social media. I wish you all the best with your writing.

BLACK MAGIC BULLETS

An Urban Fantasy

by

David North-Martino

Working as an Inhuman Resources Recruiter is no walk through the cemetery, especially when you’ve been cursed and your head is filled with stollen secrets from one of the most powerful occult groups in Boston. To survive, you might just need a few…

BLACK MAGIC BULLETS. 

Chapter 3

As I approached the elevator bank I caught sight of a young brunette, very well put together, very corporate, stepping out of the cab. She stopped for only three-tenths of a second. Gave me a once-over and then headed out to, I could only imagine, a trendy restaurant for her lunch break. Almost a full foot taller than me, I mussed that dancing might be out of the question. 

Feeling like a geek all my life, I was taken aback. Did that girl just check me out? I wasn’t used to it, but I couldn’t say I didn’t like it. Must be my new suit. 

They were waiting for me when I stepped off the elevator. It wasn’t the 666th floor but the ascent felt like it. My ears popped more than once on the way up. 

“Jasmin Stone, Executive Vice President of Human Resources,” the woman with the black silk skirt suit and the morticians smile greeted me with a cold handshake and spidery fingers. 

“Harrison Thorne,” I said

“Do you go by——?”

“Just Harrison,” I interrupted. Hate is not the word for what I think of nicknames. 

“I’m not a fan of names with three syllables,” she said with a wink. 

“Harris,” I said, trying not to sound exasperated. Seemed like a fair compromise. 

“Well then, Harris,” She said splaying her fingers palm up, directing them toward a man in an equally shiny silk suit. “This is James Peal III our Director of HR. We’ll be conducting the interview. Come this way please.” 

Instead of a cold clinical corporate headquarters, the expanse of hallways and offices exuded warmth and reflected the refined taste of the CEO and executive management. Yet, instead of classic prints or success platitudes, oil paintings that can only be described as ghoulish adorned the walls. I wondered if they had been purchased from a serial killer’s estate sale. 

The conference room held nothing out of the ordinary, a long mahogany table, set with a water pitcher and glasses on a tray in the center, with plush crimson chairs surrounding, and a 75-inch flatscreen obelisk hanging on the wall, as reflective as any mirror. 

They sat across from me, my puny resume placed in front of them. I had no experience to speak of and very little education. What did I have to offer? 

“We don’t care about your resume,” Jasmin said as if reading my mind. If the rumors were true about Dreadstone, maybe she could. She tore the paper in half leting it float back to the tabletop. 

I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing. My heart raced and my palms felt clammy. I placed my hands below the table to wipe them on my pants. 

“What Ms. Stone means,” Peal said interjecting to break up the silence. “Is we’re not interested in your previous work or schooling. We want to see if you can recruit for us. It’s a very special type of recruiting that only those who have spent time in the environments you have could accomplish successfully.” 

“How will you know?” I asked. It was no idle curiosity. I had a very bad feeling about what was going to happen next.

“We’ll test you,” Stone said, with a mischievous sparkle in her eyes. 

“How?” My mouth went dry and I found it hard to wrap my lips around the word. I pointed toward the water pitcher. Stone nodded. I waited a beat but when it didn’t look like Stone nor Peal were planning on playing gracious host, I reached for a glass and helped myself. 

She sat patiently until I’d hydrated before continuing. 

“There is a… place we call the Collective. The old joke is that you can’t get there from here. That is more than true. You can’t walk there or call an Uber. No bus, train, or plane can reach that destination.

“It says here that you have martial arts training,” Stone said, pointing to the ripped resume before her. 

Not having much work experience I had listed my black belt and assistant instructor status, but I was really pushing it with that. The assistant instructorship wasn’t anything formal.

 “Have you pursued mediation?” 

“Yes,” I said, then qualified, not wanting to oversell myself. “A little.” 

“Good,” Stone said, a smile coloring her voice. “The best and safest way into the Collective is through transcendental meditation, but it will take time for you to develop the skill.” 

“What do I do until I gain the ability?”

“I’m glad you asked that,” Peal chimed in. “You might not be, though.” 

With that, they led me out into a hall and to another room.

A placard read: RITUAL 667. 

What was I getting myself into?

 

Chapter 4 

The ritual room was more refined than any I had visited. In my teenage years, I hung out at The Chasm in North Hampton. Even in the wilds of Western Massachusetts, the owners went to great pains to hide the place from the inquisitive and the hostile. 

Normals fear what they don’t understand and during The Chasm’s early years someone threw a brick through the decorative plateglass window. After that, the owners had cast a masking spell around the store.

A friend I had met at another occult shop had given me the procedure to get in. 

I would pull up on the opposite side of the street, and shut off my mother’s Hyundai. Looking across the way, I’d see a cluster of businesses accordioning in on themselves. 

My retinas didn’t register The Chasm. It stood all but invisible until I closed my eyes and relaxed, pushed away my desire to visit, and remained still. 

As my mind quieted my body calmed, my heart rate slowed, and once I opened my eyes again, I’d see The Chasm as if it had materialized out of nowhere. 

Maybe I wasn’t giving myself enough credit. 

The ritual room in the basement had been outfitted similarly but was more utilitarian. I had only walked through the ritual space at the Chasm, never having the confidence nor the courage to do more than observe some basic wizardry or a local coven celebrating the change of the seasons during Samhain or Beltane. The sexually charged Beltane rituals were always my favorite. Can you blame me? 

Here the ritual room had been tiled, the same as the hall, in a rich black stone. A ubiquitous pentacle had been etched into the floor, porcelain white over ebony granite. 

Dim red recess lighting kept the place dark and reminded me of a photography darkroom. 

Yet, the glow remained bright enough to reveal all the tools of the trade: a small portable altar, stick incense–I could see that it had been hand-dipped, the kind of quality and attention to detail that relieved the inhaler of headaches caused by caustic additives–very expensive–a bakers dozen of double-sided antheme blades, a bowl for the creature of water, and another for the creature of salt. A solitary black candle waited on the alter for the creature of fire, and a red, blue, green, and yellow candle stood on pedestals at each cardinal compass point. 

A dozen-plus suit valet lined the far side of the room. 

Why are those here?

I didn’t have to wait long for my answer. 

“Undress,” Stone said simply as she and Peal to-the-third-power led me over to the valets. 

“What?” Had I heard her right? I didn’t see a changing room.

“What, are you that modest?” Stone asked before her crimson lips upturned into a devious smile. “I was under the impression that anyone who made time at The Chasm or Phantasmagoria would have no problem disrobing around others.”

My mouth went dry again and all I could manage was a nod. 

Sure, I had observed Beltane rituals, one of the few nights where outsiders to the covens were allowed to watch the Alexandrian or Gardnerian witches do their thing skyclad, but I had never been the one disrobing. 

When in Rome, I suppose.

Averting my gaze as much as my curiosity would allow, I tried not to stare at Stone’s porcelain skin or her chiseled curves. I didn’t want to embarrass myself. 

Now with all of us metaphorically clad only by the sky, Peal removed a portable breathing mask connected to a canister from a draw in the valet. 

“You’ll need this if you hope to enter the Collective,” he said, handing it to me.

“What’s in it?” I managed, not relishing the idea of inhaling some unknown substance.

“Ethylene gas,” Stone answered. “You’re holding a concentrator. Turn the valve one turn widdershins when you’re ready and breath deeply. No more than that at a time. This is the same inhalant, with a couple extra additives, used by Pythia the Oracle of Delphy. If you over concentrate you’ll end up babbling gibberish and will be no use to us. Not only will you fail the test, but you could end up dead. No pressure.” 

Yeah, no pressure. Sure. 

To be continued…

 

 

 

 

 

NaNoWriMo – Black Magic Bullets

While I’m finishing the 3rd draft of a horror thriller, I figured I’d add more to my plate and join the NaNoWriMo fun. The working title for this novel is BLACK MAGIC BULLETS and is an Urban Fantasy. I only have a little over 800 words drafted, but it’s a start. If you want to buddy up, I’m listed as dnorthmartino on the website. #NaNoWriMo

Meanwhile, here’s a first draft of the opening pages. It’s very rough but will give you a good idea of how my first drafts look.

 

BLACK MAGIC BULLETS

by

David North-Martino

 

CHAPTER 1

Everything was going wrong in my life. Magic is a more subtle thing than movies have led people to believe, and so are curses.

 First small things begin to break down, then large. Your car breaks down, you crack a tooth requiring a root canal. 

All of these things add strain not only on your finances but your relationships. Believing people you once loved would do something like this to you is hard so you push it all away unbelieving, chalking it up to bad luck. I believed it was all bad luck until I saw the demon standing in my magic room (come up with a name). Then I began to put it all together. 

To explain what happened I have to go back to the beginning. My stories always have to start at the beginning. That’s a family curse all its own, one that my father passed on to me. So settle in, grab a mug of coffee or a cup of tea and we shall begin. 

My childhood was spent reading grimoires both widely circulated, available at book stores and those that had been privately published. Sometimes, understanding my interests, my parents would bring one home to me. Mostly they found them at curio shops and the occasional flea market. The occult in all its forms fascinated me and this led me to delve deeper in my teenage years. At that time it was all academic, I never dared attempt a spell and I certainly never acquire the ingredients necessary to make one successful. 

School held no interest for me and I spent my days daydreaming. Being the geeky type, I suffered bullies relegating my nights to martial arts classes. I found a school teaching a combination of original Tae Kwon Do and western boxing mixed with more than a splash of Taoist philosophy and Yin & Yan (light and dark) magic.  

My weekends were spent at the occult shops in North Hampton and Amherst. The college towns were the perfect venue for the avant-garde and anything alternative to mainstream society. 

I still accompanied my father from time to time during a hunting expedition or a trip to the range, helping me keep at least one foot in the natural world. 

Once high school ended I found myself free and eager to begin my real life. The bullies had been beaten back, the classes survived, and the ink on my diploma had dried. Now what? I didn’t know what to do with the rest of my life. 

Returning to the mundane world, I only had thoughts of how I might eke out a living and get a place of my own. 

I began reaching out to my network at the occult stores and some friends who practiced shamanism and witchcraft put me in contact with the Dreadstone Compay. Dreadstone was looking for an Inhuman Resources Recruiter and they were willing to train. I was eager to learn. 

This is as good as anyplace for the story proper to really begin.

CHAPTER 2

The Dreadstone tower rose impossibly tall, dominating the Boston skyline. No one could remember when the building had been erected and although many considered it an eyesore it had become the type of anomaly that ordinary people forced themselves to forget. They knew the structure was there but they never talked about it, and if you happened to ask them about they would feign a type of absentmindedness where it was easy to believe they had never seen the building before, had no knowledge of its existence. 

Inside, the floors and walls had been decorated with a dark tile, immaculately cleaned and polished, that created a mirrored reflection that was easy to believe could transport you to another world. 

Security here was different than I had ever noticed before. I looked at the guards behind the reception desk with an unconscious understanding that something wasn’t quite normal about them. They dressed the part smiled and frowned at just the right moments but it was like the flesh that stretched over their frames hid something other than blood, tendon, and bone. 

Nevertheless, I sat in the lobby, balancing a clipboard on my lap while filling out an application as best I could. When I had finished scribbling on the form, wondering why they didn’t just let you use a computer, I returned the horrid thing to the first guard who smiled as he took it. 

“You can go right up,” he said handing me an access badge. “They’re waiting for you.”

To be continued…

 

The Language of Ice by David North-Martino

The Language of Ice by David North-Martino ©2011, 2019 

The Language of Ice originally appeared in Extinct Doesn’t Mean Forever.

She wakes while the rest of the tribe is sleeping. Yet she knows she’s in a dream. Lucid dreaming? Is that what they call it? But the world she has entered is so real, 360 degrees of sight and sound, temperature and smell. She huddles with the group, their body heat providing most of the warmth, while a low-burning fire, sputtering at the lip of the entrance, provides the rest. There is muskiness to their presence, but it is not an unpleasant odor, and she feels comforted by the fact she is not alone. 

Carefully, so as not to waken the others, she rises and stands above them. She has seen them before, but the symmetry of their faces and the angles of their bodies are so much more beautiful, so much more robust, than a modern human could ever imagine. In the dream, she realizes she, too, is one of them. She pads across the frigid rock, every muscle fiber speaking of the latent power coiled within her limbs.

 When she reaches the fire, she feeds a few pieces of wood into the flames; they pop and crack as the fire sears off bark, searching for the pulp inside. She does not want to leave the warmth, but something compels her to move on. 

Outside the cave, the winter stillness greets her. The bloated moon sits atop the hills. She has never seen the moon so large. 

Another crack, another pop registers in her ears, but not from the fire this time. Something or someone moves in the darkness, watching her from somewhere out of sight.

~~~

There is a moment between sleep and wakefulness when an alarm clock creates a vacuum, a ripple in time as the alarm prepares to sound. 

 Cassie opened her eyes at that moment, just before 6 AM, caught in the confusion between her dreams and waking thoughts. Then the alarm rang out, clearing the muddle as she scrambled to shut it off. She buried her face in her pillow, resentful at how exhausted she always felt after a lucid dream. It was like she lived a full day in her dream world and now, without rest, had to pull another shift in this one. 

She forced herself to rise and face the morning chill. The old brownstone could be a brick oven in summer and a freezer during winter. During the two years she had lived in Boston, she had upgraded the appliances and even had the floors refinished, but for heat she still relied on cast iron radiators. Since the chinked walls and single-pane windows didn’t retain heat, she was left with a symphony of banging and clunking every time the hot water flowed through the radiators. 

Like every morning, she showered quickly and ate a soggy bowl of cereal. The TV droned in the background. The weather reporter made her usual prediction for cold, and what else could there be in January? Cassie was just happy the snow had held off. 

~~~

No one looks at you in the city. Eye contact has been banned by some unwritten rule. During the walk to the T-station, she kept her gaze to herself — watchful but not focusing on anything in particular. She had memorized this walk; it was the same repetitive journey she could have traversed in her sleep whether her dreams were lucid or not. 

The trick to riding the subway, she’d found, was to pick a spot, any spot, somewhere between her fellow passengers’ heads or somewhere above them and stare at that location for the remainder of the ride. Today, she chose a spot above and to the left of a guy who stood in the stairwell and just a little to the right of a sign advertising Harvard Extension School classes. She’d tried other tricks, like the business woman, diagonally to her left, absently paging through a newspaper, or the young guy with his eyes closed pretending to listen to an iPod. But no matter what she did, she could never lose the uncomfortable feeling of sitting with strangers and pretending not to look at them. 

In the small town in Vermont where she grew up, the winters were colder but the people warmer. Here, people advanced and receded silently, like glacial ice. 

Once the subway train reached its destination, Cassie exited. The routine was so ingrained in her now she no longer saw the sign for Science Park, only moved like an automaton into the throng of morning travelers. 

The nameless, faceless people of the street became the nameless, faceless patrons of the Boston Paleontology Museum. The only difference Cassie could see was that she had a special duty to serve the ones on the inside. 

“I brought coffee,” Jonathan Frost said by way of greeting. He was a twenty-one year-old graduate of Boston College whom she had accepted as an intern mostly because he was intelligent but also because he was cute. He handed her a large, clear cup with a straw.

“Iced?” She arched her eyebrows and swirled the cup to emphasize the clacking of the cubes. 

“Everyone likes iced coffee,” Jon said, deadpan serious. She could never tell when he was joking or if he ever got her sense of humor. Not unusual for an anthropology major. Depending on her mood, she thought it either annoying or charming.

Armed now with caffeine, she unhooked the rope that kept the general public from entering the exhibit area and ushered him in. 

The rest of the day was filled with the final preparation for the grand opening of the Neanderthal exhibit. Through collaboration with the Boston Museum of Science, the pieces came on loan from the American Museum of Natural History, the Chicago Field Museum and the Natural History Museum of London. Two weeks ago, the crème de le crème had arrived: a complete skeleton of a woman from the Ice Age. 

That’s when my dreams began, Cassie thought as she touched the glass case that held the remains of a simpler time. 

“Did I tell you I’ve been having strange dreams?” Cassie asked, staring into the brightly lit case that cast harsh shadows in the half-light of the exhibit area. 

“I don’t think so, Ms. Caldwell,” Jon said absently as he arranged plant fossils in another case.  

She hated when he didn’t call her by her first name; it made her feel old. Plus, at twenty-nine, she was only eight years older than him. 

“Since the remains arrived, I’ve been dreaming that … that I’m a Neanderthal woman.” Cassie felt her cheeks redden. She tried to laugh it off. “Sounds kind of silly saying it out loud.” 

“Your mind’s been on this for weeks,” Jon said as he carefully arranged a delicate fossil. “Seems normal to me.” 

“These dreams are different. I don’t know how to describe it. They feel real.”

“The human mind can’t differentiate between what’s real and imagined.” Jon unpacked another fossil. Cassie looked at him. The low light pulled at his flesh adding, in that moment, ten years to his face. Sometimes she wondered who was older, who was more experienced. 

“Sometimes they feel like another reality.” 

“Your brain’s just sifting through all your short-term memories, storing them, trying to make sense of them.”

“Okay, professor.” Cassie tried to smile. This was one of those times when Jon went from charming to annoying.

“I took an undergrad psychology class,” Jon said as though that gave him all the authority he needed to render a diagnosis. 

“Well, you’re probably right,” Cassie said not wanting to talk about it any longer. “I’m going to head out a little early today. You mind finishing up?”

“That’s what you don’t pay me for.” 

She thought she caught a hint of a smile. 

“Hot date?”

“No. Unfortunately. I’m just tired.” She was tired, and distracted, and maybe it was more Jon than her dreams. She knew he got together with some of the other interns for drinks after work. She hadn’t been so lucky with her peers. It seemed when it came to working on a business level with colleagues things went pretty smoothly, but she had trouble bridging the gap between business and friendship. Her boss had told her she’d need to do that before she would ever be considered for a director position. 

On the way home she stopped into a Portuguese convenience store. Under the fluorescent lighting, the fruit looked darker, less appetizing, but she picked some apples and a bunch of grapes anyway. Experience had taught her they had some of the best fruit in the area despite the presentation. A box of ostrich jerky also went into her cart along with a package of trail mix. When work was busy, they could stand in for lunch — or even dinner. 

The Indian man behind the counter spoke to her as he rang her purchases. She smiled to feign understanding, even though his thick accent rendered his words unintelligible. 

~~~

Under leaden skies, she gnaws on meat from the bone of a freshly killed elk. The warm flesh tastes gamey but satisfies her hunger. Men, women and children squat with her, filling their bellies with life-giving nourishment. Some speak between mouthfuls or laugh in delight about the hunt. When she opens her mouth to speak only a shrill animal cry rings into the air. The others shuffle away from her, cocking their heads in confusion. Not knowing what else to do, she continues chewing and stares into the fire. 

She doesn’t remember beginning her meal but she does remember the hunt. The women who were not with child or had none to care for joined the men. They had trekked through the snow with spears at the ready, waiting for some creature to offer itself to them. 

A man they called Jimal had the gift of calling animals. He contorted his face and pursed his lips and made the sounds of prey. It was another language she couldn’t speak. She wished for the power of speech — not to call for food, only to call for a mate. She felt a terrible loneliness. Because she was not quite like them, her tribe kept her at a subtle distance, fearing what they did not understand.  

Jimal hunkered down pulling his furs closer to his skin and gave another call to the wind. Like magic, an elk appeared and snorted steam from its nostrils. They rushed it, impaling the animal with their sharpened spears. And they praised it as it wailed in its death throes, soaking the ground beneath in blood. 

Now, they treat the meat like the luxury it is and feel blessed that on this hunt no one has been injured. Many hunts ago, a man called Ugathar had been mortally wounded by a mammoth’s flailing tusk. They had buried him with all the items he loved in life to comfort him into the great sleep. 

Fresh meat is always welcome, but they have also mastered the art of smoking and salting so they can survive during times of least abundance. In milder temperatures, they pick berries and sometimes larger fruits, drying and curing them much like they do animal flesh so their skin does not turn yellow in the winter.

All her memories of the hunt flee when she hears the snapping of twigs and the rustle of something just beyond her vision. The others hear it too. The strong grab for their spears and prepare for whatever is about to come. 

~~~

Cassie opened her eyes. Not at the insistence of the jarring tone of the alarm clock, but to the sound of static buzzing over a talk radio personality, the white noise so overpowering it made his voice unintelligible. 

Impatiently, she shut off the radio alarm, thinking she must have hit the wrong button when she set it the night before. Looking around, she saw that drab walls had replaced the wide expanse of Neanderthal territory. But she was still cold.

Jon was right, it seemed. While the realization saddened her, it also left her relieved. Shopping for food yesterday had informed her dreams. No matter how real they seemed, that’s all they were — dreams. How long she would have them she didn’t know, but she could rest assured that her memory wasn’t regressing somewhere in time. She only had the real world and her real challenges and struggles to deal with. And wasn’t that enough? Did she really need more than her day-to-day life? 

Yet the emotional remnants of the dream, that feeling of icy loneliness, continued to haunt her. 

During the familiar bout with cold cereal, she tried to watch the morning news. Static whispered through the speakers. She flipped through every station — all the same. She couldn’t even listen; white noise captured all the sound. She worried about sunspots and mused to herself about Mercury going retrograde, but reasoned in the end that it was only the cable company messing up the signal again. 

The subway train shook and rattled, hummed and screeched, vibration communicating from the track into the passengers. This time Cassie found a spot above and to the left of a rider facing her. In her peripheral vision, his eyes appeared to be looking right at her even though they were not, yet she couldn’t seem to vanquish the feeling. 

At the exhibit, throngs of patrons entered while she watched from a dark corner. She buttoned her sweater; even all the body heat that radiated from the crowd couldn’t take the chill from her bones today. 

The cacophony of voices echoed off the walls and the ceiling. She couldn’t understand them; all she could do was watch. Children ran from mothers who scolded them, couples held hands and strolled through the bedlam trying to reach the brightly lit case, and all, no matter how bored some looked, marveled at the woman who had traveled from another age to be with them today. 

Jon walked over to her and gave her a knowing smile. 

“You were right,” Cassie tried to say over the din. 

Jon just motioned to his ears and shrugged his shoulders.

~~~

A group of five men more refined in their looks than the males in her tribe approach them cautiously. Like them, the strangers are similarly dressed in skins and furs tanned from animals that had provided them food and now provide them warmth. Their faces hold a regal symmetry and are painted with what her waking self would recognize as manganese dioxide — brownish-black streaks beneath each eye to catch the glare of the sun. They hold spears as agile as their bodies must be, and whether they are friend or foe, no one in her tribe can tell. 

They call out, but neither side can understand the other. That doesn’t matter to her, though, and for perhaps the first time in her life she isn’t afraid. 

One man stands out to her and his eyes compel her to approach. The others in her tribe call out to her. She hears them only dimly and can’t understand their words — but even if she could, she wouldn’t care. Dropping her spear, she trusts that simple act of supplication to convey the understanding that she means no harm. In acknowledgement, the men lower theirs as well.

The man with the compelling eyes watches her as she walks toward him, and she can’t tell if it is confusion or recognition that shows on his face. The same face with dark eyes; narrow nose; and thin, inviting lips that she, having now found, can’t imagine being without. And she finds the ability to say these words that mean nothing and yet mean everything that she has ever wanted to say and has ever wanted to express: 

“Unka sabo uv.” 

And all he can do is stare. 

~~~

She watches her life unfold from this moment as her tribe integrates with the early humans. Love blossoms in the spring and grows stronger in the summer. The birth of a new spring also brings the birth of her child — one, like so many others, that heralds the birth of the modern human race. For the first time, she is alive, so alive that the heartache intrinsic to a harsh existence is as fully realized as her new-found joy. She allows it all to wash over her; at least she isn’t cold anymore.  

~~~

Cassie sat, enjoying an iced latte in an outdoor café. Spring had arrived and today the weather was as idyllic as it had been in her childhood. She wasn’t cold or warm but in that perfect place between extremes. Looking out at the passers-by, she thought she caught a glimpse of someone familiar walking down the far sidewalk. But his features were obscured by distance, telephone poles and other walkers. 

Cassie left her cup on the grated metal table and walked past the partition that corralled the patrons who drank their drinks and continued their conversations. She hurried across the street, approaching the man at an angle. 

He dressed similar to her in a navy suit and dark shoes. In his face, she saw familiar dark eyes, narrow nose, and thin lips, although this face was slightly fuller and the beard had given way to a clean shave. And she found the ability to say these words that meant nothing and yet meant everything she had ever wanted to say and had ever wanted to express:

“Unka sabo uv.”

And the man in the suit could do nothing but stare.

–Fin–

 

 

GRAVEN IMAGE by David North-Martino

Graven Image by David North-Martino ©2004, 2007, 2019 

Graven Image originally appeared in The Swamp, and Afterburn SF 

“Our clients all have a peculiar fear. They’re not convinced their loved ones will stay dead,” the Director of Sanguine Mortuary said.  

Hatch fought for control, he thought he might go from smirk, to grin, to all-out laughter.  

The Director, his face as dead as any of the clients entombed in Sanguine’s walls, stared at Hatch from behind an expensive looking oak desk. The dire need for the job forced Hatch’s expression to the same state as the director’s name.

“Mr. Stone, I——”

“Jonathan, I know what I’m telling you might be hard to accept, but we provide a valuable service to our clientele.” Stone wrinkled his face into his best mortician’s smile. 

“Mr. Stone,” Hatch said. “I really need this job. Whether I believe or not, I can watch your building and everything in it.”

“You seem like a good fellow. Pity, companies will throw away employees after a decade of service.” Mr. Stone gently placed Hatch’s resume on the desk. “I’ll give you a chance, just keep your wanderlust to a minimum. The last guard couldn’t contain his curiosity. If he hadn’t up and disappeared, I would have had to fire him.”

Elation! At this point, any job was a good job. He made a mental note to pick up a bottle of wine on the way home. He and his wife would, at last, have something to celebrate. But behind the euphoria and relief, something nagged at him. Later, when he gave it some thought, after half a bottle of wine and with his wife in a satisfied sleep beside him, questions arose, questions he couldn’t answer. They chattered through his mind, lulling him into a troubled sleep.  

#

“Uh——what’s on the monitors?” Hatch asked. The surreal images were better than caffeine, no way he would drift off with those things staring at him. 

“Those? Oh go on, take a good look.” Michael Evans, the Second-Shift Sergeant, said. “What do they look like to you?” 

“Looks like dead people.”

“Those are our charges, three-hundred, and thirty-eight of ‘em.”  Evans seemed proud with the knowledge. “Oh, don’t worry, they ain’t gonna bother you much or entertain you for that matter.”

“Then why are we monitoring them?”  

“Just in case they wake up,” Evans said. Hatch felt a chill shoot into his groin. Soon he would be here alone——alone with them. 

Then Evans broke into a fit of heaving laughter. “Naw, they ain’t gonna wake up. I’ve been working here for five years, since I retired from the military, and I ain’t never seen a-one so much as wrinkle a nose.”

Hatch stared at the monitors again.   

“See, we have some very superstitious rich people around the world, and Sanguine helps alleviate their fear——and a good amount of their cash.” Evans shook his head back and forth in mock disbelief. “Got to show the client something right? Show the client that us security types are watching their loved ones twenty-four-by-seven. Kinda makes me chuckle. But it’s a good gig, especially on off shifts.  

“We don’t get no visitors, grieving family members or anything like that. We let the dead lay, play a little poker——you’ll have to play solitaire——and walk around a couple times. Make sure things are safe and secure——for the world outside I guess.” 

He laughed again as if the whole thing were ludicrous.

Evans showed Hatch around for the rest of the hour. He saved one piece of trivia for last.

“This is what I call the Bat-Phone,” Evans said, and Hatch understood why. The phone looked like an old model from the 1960s, rotary dial and all, and it was colored red like on the TV show. “In the unlikely chance that——something unusual happens——you pick up this phone and——well, after that I don’t know, but I’m sure you won’t find out. Damn thing probably don’t even have service.”

Evans had a pitying look on his face, like he was about to leave his favorite cat at the Vet to be euthanized. Hatch wondered if he could handle staying at Sanguine Mortuary alone for fifteen minutes, never mind eight hours.

“What happened to the last officer who worked the third shift?”

“Harold Drendle? Shoot——he’d worked here long as I did.  We used to talk a little at shift change, and he confessed to me he was having marital problems, problems caused by money, which by the way is how they always start, and then one day, I guess he was sick of it. He up and abandoned post sometime before shift change and he hasn’t been seen since. 

“He told me in confidence he was planning to go to Hawaii, had been socking away a little here and there. So, don’t you be letting your mind wander and go thinking nonsense. You’ll get used to this place soon enough.”  

#

Soon enough just wasn’t soon enough. Evans hadn’t been gone ten minutes, and Hatch was ready to abandon post. The ghoulish images only provided unwelcome company.  

Hatch turned his attention to the phone. He reached over, touched the receiver’s smooth plastic. Who was on the other end?

What was on the other end? 

The thought made him shudder. He withdrew his hand.  

He couldn’t just sit there with the monitors tuned to Dead-TV. He grabbed the Mag light, the weight comforting in his hand, and headed out for the first round of the evening.

Hatch’s footfalls echoed through the empty mausoleum. Every fifteen feet the wall receded to reveal a cluster of grave nooks. Accent lights reflected dimly off metal plates, revealing the names of the departed. They surrounded him. Outnumbered him. 

He rounded a bend and found the first key-point next to the chapel door. 

How long had it been since he had last attended church? He couldn’t remember. He touched the tour recorder to the plastic key, listened for the chirp, and then looked at the LCD screen. 

ChapHell, next key point inside.

Hatch shook his head, maybe when he got back to the command center he would fix the typo.  

Hatch flicked on the lights. The antiseptic nondenominational room radiated comfort, as if something from beyond could reach out and protect all those who entered.  

A feral cat’s mew? A crying child? A vocalized rush of wind raging through the hall toward him? 

Hatch crossed the threshold, pulled at the cherry-wood door and held it shut. The chapel shook and the doors threatened to pull from his grasp. Then the pounding shrill scream stopped, and Hatch stood in silence. 

“Damn trains,” Hatch said under his breath.  Then he remembered he was standing in a chapel. He looked up. “Sorry.”

Hatch continued with the tour. He came to a short stairwell that led down to the basement level. Cautiously, he descended. 

Hatch switched on the flashlight and adjusted the beam to full width. The key-point waited at the end of the hall surrounded by darkness. Hatch felt around for a light switch but found nothing. His pulse pounded in his temples.  

Making quick time, he passed closed doors on either side of the hall. He touched the tour reader to the key and waited impatiently for the chirp. 

A red door to his right caught his attention. He tried the handle. 

Locked. 

He glanced back toward the stairs, then back to the door. His curiosity got the better of him, and he tried his keys until one fit the lock. 

Match stepped inside a room filled with black metal file cabinets. The beam of light illuminated a unique cabinet——a red cabinet. 

He found a jagged hole where the lock should have been, as if someone had cut the mechanism out of the frame. Hatch opened the top drawer and then rifled through musty folders and yellowed papers. Most seemed to be nothing more than death records. Every soul buried at Sanguine must have been stored in that room. But then he found something else. 

A letter, age stained and watermarked, written on parchment with what appeared to be a quill pen, ignited Hatch’s curiosity. His eyes widened as he scanned strange sections:

Thank you again for taking this burden from me.  I am getting much too old to act as custodian any longer… 

The families absolutely insist on having guards. I know it sounds ridiculous, as if flesh and blood could really protect anyone from what is now in your possession… 

Feeding time is distasteful, but it lasts a relatively short time. I was lucky to only witness it for two full cycles in the twenty years since I acquired the collection. The dead must feed before they sleep… 

The dead must feed? 

What the hell did that mean?

A booming metallic reverberation made him jump. The sound had come from the hall. His mouth went dry and his throat tightened, but he had to check it out. That’s what he was being paid to do. 

Hatch cautiously stepped out into the hall. 

The reflection of his flashlight beam caught movement through a window in one of the doors. 

Anybody Home?

Hatch inched closer, shined the light inside——recoiled.   

A man stood, if that’s what you could call the thing that stood before him, dressed in a moth-eaten suit, bending over what looked like a metal cadaver table. 

The terrible thing that looked like a man chomped and smacked his lips as he devoured what remained of a body on the table. The head and chest were all that remained of the corpse ——everything else had been consumed. 

Hatch hacked and heaved, but nothing came up, as if his insides had turned to dust. He looked back at the window. 

The ghoul turned its head and looked at him, still stuffing flesh in-between the stitches that held his lips together. 

The ghoul grinned at him. 

Then came the screams.

Hatch raced through the halls double-time, the shrieks of the dead nipping at his ears. 

Which way out? 

He couldn’t remember. 

He passed the chapel. Sanctuary wouldn’t do, he needed the command center. 

He needed the phone!

Hatch slammed shut the command center door. 

No lock. 

The irony sent him into hysterics. 

Hatch turned around. The monitors were still trained on the coffins——some were empty. 

The cadavers that remained opened their eyes. 

Shit! 

Hatch reached for the phone——hesitated——picked it up. 

The phone automatically dialed. 

The ringing scratched in his left ear, the dead wailed in his right. 

“Pick up——damn it! pick up!”

The ringing stopped. 

A moment of hesitation on the other end of the line.

“I told you to curb your curiosity, Jonathan.”

The door buckled. Glass shattered. All went black.

***

Even with his eyes closed, Hatch could sense that Sergeant Evans stared at him, stared at the monitors. Curiosity could be a terrible thing, recognition worse.  

 The high-pitched chatter from the others Hatch only heard in a sanguine whisper, but he could understand what they wanted, what he also wanted. One last time before the sleep.  

The hunger rose in him—-in them——and in unison——and to the terror of Michael Evans——they all opened their eyes. 

-FIN-

DESPAIR by David North-Martino

DESPAIR by David North-Martino ©2006, 2019 

1st place winner in the 2nd annual Déjà vu Horror Contest at Dark Recesses Press. Originally published in their 4th issue. 

I awoke naked and in pain, pulling my share of covers off of Norman who had stolen them during the night. The cool cotton soothed my bare skin, especially where the diffused light, searing between the Venetian blinds, had touched my flesh. 

He didn’t know how fortunate he was to be with me. So many men longed to see the woman behind the voice. And they should, for even though I use many, my true name means desire. And it was in sleepy desire that I nuzzled against his nakedness. Ice.

Instinctively I recoiled—leapt off the bed—felt the wrath of the sun—and thrust the blinds shut. 

My eyes adjusting to the semi-darkness, I crept over the threadbare rug to the foot of the bed. Knuckles white, I grasped the end of the covers and whipped them to the floor. Norman’s naked body illuminated the darkness. 

Where had I seen that glow before? It brought on memories of paste-on glow-in-the-dark stars and oddly my parents and their untimely deaths.

The puncture wounds on his neck suggested what had caused his untimely death. Vampire!

Laughter threatened to escape my lips. An asylum of thought invaded my mind, straightjackets and Thorazine. My photo-toxic youth had been filled with vampire romanticism and blood wine eroticism, but I had never considered myself so foolish as to believe in the legend of the undead.

#

 

I don’t like to travel during the day, when the Sun spreads its wicked light throughout the world. Even though mid-September slowly crept toward October, the day wasn’t cool enough for my brim hat, opaque scarf, and trench coat.

The cabdriver didn’t give me a second glance; he called into dispatch, mumbling too close to the microphone.  An equally incomprehensible voice squealed back high pitched pain and I wondered how the driver could translate the squawk into speech.

We rolled lazily down route 119 passing the Entering Massachusetts sign. The driver didn’t speak and I didn’t encourage him. I needed time to think, time to decide if the coldness of my heart could mourn my dead lover.

The woods rolled by, a blur of green and bramble, as the meter clicked off the miles. 

Then, as the woods receded I saw it, the mansion, enshrouded by an emerald fog, superimposed on a hilly clearing.  The structure, a collage of gothic architecture, stood among homes of modern design. 

“Do you see that?” I asked the driver.  

He glanced to the right, where I had pointed, and then brought his attention back to the road. 

“See what?” 

“Right there—that mansion?” I was so sure I had never seen it before.  

“They all look like mansions to me Miss. You should see where I live.” 

We passed by in silence. The mist that encircled the manor radiated an electric white that mirrored the color of Norman’s corpse. I knew I would have to return, until then I would remain haunted.

#

 

When the sun fled the horizon, I awoke. Loneliness bled back into my reality. Norman’s passing brought more than the residual depression I always felt after a night of unemotional sex, it left me with a numbing emptiness.

I called Susan and let her know I wouldn’t be available for work. Usually when the men call me for phone sex I find it a great distraction, even a release. But tonight I couldn’t bear to talk dirty or fake orgasm. Tonight I needed to go hunting.

Leaving my apartment I walked through the sleepy darkness, the unnatural quiet of the quaint downtown.  Instinctively I knew I would see him—Norman’s killer—but I had no plan as to what to do when I found him.

#

 

St. Augustine’s church bell tolled out the hour.  

Midnight. 

I saw him. 

A beautiful man, he exuded glamour as much as the same haze that enshrouded the manor. I swooned, like a foolish schoolgirl enamored by a first crush, and I had no choice but to follow him. 

He darted into an alleyway. Fear followed me as I approached the darkness. His phosphorescent glow lit the passage a lighter shade of dark. I followed him to a fire escape. He lifted his arm, a stiff gesture, and the stairs descended. He climbed effortlessly. Unable to escape his thrall I followed him and found my ascent pure labor. 

He gestured again and a window opened. 

My foot slipped from the stair. I looked down to secure my footing and when I looked up again, the landing by the window stood empty.

When I reached the window I looked inside. His glow revealed a woman sleeping in the nude, the covers helter-skelter, and her body twisting as if caught in a lurid dream.

He savored her the same way I had once savored wine, taking a sniff of her scent before plunging his fangs deep into the soft tissue of her throat. Her unseeing eyes shot open. Her mouth bowed in either terror or ecstasy, perhaps both. Her pupils clouded, her lids slackened, the rosy hue of her mouth and nipples frosted white. 

He looked up at me, his mouth frighteningly attached to her ecstatic body. His lips drew up into a half smile, restricted as they were by the flesh of her neck. Laughter filled his eyes. He was not satiated, could not be even by a harem of blood slaves, and he wanted me next, I felt his need deep in my veins. 

Jagged panic cut the strings of his glamour.

Rusty rails burnt my flesh as I slid to my escape. The pavement came up fast, shocking the soles of my feet with an electric pain. Glancing back in horror I saw him smiling from the window, fresh blood giving him the countenance of a clown. 

The coldness of death chilled the air behind me. I didn’t look back, couldn’t bear to see his evanescent form, smell the sickly sweet odor of his recent meal.

The keys jangled their warning as I stabbed at the entry-way lock. Any moment he would be upon me. The bolt unbarred. I pushed inside, shut the door, and ran up the stairs. My apartment lock fought me for entrance, a battle I won out of sheer tenacity and will. 

Inside, I ran through the apartment, checked the window locks, and drew the blinds. His spiteful laughter echoed into my home as if no walls barred his entrance. 

“Come to me. You will come to me.” 

His voice, disembodied and ephemeral, ravished my soul that night, sent me into fits of hair pulling and maniacal laughter. For the first time I could recall, I welcomed the return of daylight. 

#

 

The next night I did return to him. He made it easy. Back on route 119 I let the twilight mist be my beacon and suffered the citrus face of an old cabby, once, when he saw I was carrying a wooden stake I had used as a prop one forgotten Halloween, and then a second time when I asked him to let me out on the side of the road with nothing around but the darkness and the music of crickets. 

After handing him a wad of cash, gleaned from my dead lover’s wallet above and beyond services rendered, his face turned alkaline and he made quick work of squealing the tires on the old converted station wagon. With fear betraying my footing I ascended the hill toward the mansion.

#

 

The manor door opened of its own accord the same way they always did in black and white horror movies. My trepidation was tempered only by my curiosity and desire to see this creature destroyed. 

“I told you, you’d come back to me.” He descended a fog enshrouded staircase, same out of date attire, same highbred bone; a handsome structure in which to hang the pale flesh of his face. With a twitch of his fingers the door, now behind me, slammed shut. Claustrophobia set in. The foyer in which I stood was enclosed by walls constructed of thought in a space that I instinctively knew was transcendental to time. 

I raised the stake, my mouth dry, my mind numb. A wave of his hand and the staircase evaporated. He stood what could have been no more than five feet from me, the walls shifting and swirling around us as if we had taken up residence in a cloud. 

“I see you have come to run me through with that splinter. Go on little girl tell me why.”

“Because you killed my lover.” For the first time I could recall, tears stained my cheeks.

“I don’t know that you can call it love when it’s paid for. But it was not I who killed your, as you say, lover. Let me show you something.”

I didn’t let him do anything. My hand slackened and the stake clattered to the floor. My spirit tossed and turned but my body wouldn’t obey.           

Frightening speed. An eye blink and he had bridged the distance between us. His mouth hovered agape, a mere inch from my vulnerable throat. I closed my eyes, anticipating the pain, the sweet release. I longed for him to take me then, to flow into his veins, to flood into oblivion.  A rage overcame my craving for him, for death, pulling my musculature, restructuring my bones. That part of me unbound, limbic, Precambrian, I pushed free of his will and tossed him into cumulous. 

The walls shifted again and he stood by a four poster bed which held last night’s victim, chained and helpless, enough blood left in her apparently for another night’s feed but now it was me who craved the blood that throbbed so close to the surface of her skin. A mirror faded into form over the bed, not for any Bathory pleasure but to show me what I had become.

A face stared back in that mirror, my face, hideous, sunken, fangs protruding over lip, the flesh wrapped tight around bone. 

“What have you done to me?”

“Nothing,” he said. “You’re a Defensive, a latent vampire. The legends speak about the Defensive’s ability to blend in with their prey, the necessity to kill only when provoked. That is, until they learn of their true selves.”

“I don’t understand.” I didn’t want to understand, I only wanted to run then, run and never stop.

“Remember when your parents punished you, and you killed them, drank their blood?” 

I didn’t need to remember, the image of them, of me, so young, so evil, projected now where the mirror had been. My tears continued to flow, every repressed memory breaking through the gates of my subconscious. 

“When you’re lover struck you in his drunken stupor…oh, but I see you’re remembering that too now. His blood allowed you to see the mansion, allowed you to see me. Oh, but I’m being rude, my attack has awakened your thirst. Maddening isn’t it? You need the blood of the living, yet I have none to give. No matter, I left enough in her for you.”

The woman screamed, her nails raking at my flesh, jangling the slack in the chains, but once I had wrapped my hands around her midnight curls and exposed her lovely throat she found it quite difficult to struggle.

#

 

He waits for me at a cheap motel in upstate New York. We’ve only spoken over the phone, if you call our conversations speaking. He wants to meet me, they all do.

I knock on the door to room 9. I listen as he hesitantly leaves the comfort of the bed and pads over to the door. The padlock clicks, he hesitates again, then with what I’m sure is all his courage he opens the door.

He’s not much to look at but I can see by the relief that floods his face he is quite pleased by my appearance. You never can tell what you’re going to get when you’ve only talked to the woman on the phone. 

He steps back to let me into the dim, dirty room. Inside I have no patience for words, I unbutton my blouse. His legs seem to give out and he quickly lowers himself to a seat on the bed.

He looks around the room, uncomfortable.

“What’s your name?” he asks.

“What name do I always use with you, you know it don’t you?”

“Tell me your real name, just your first name. I need to hear it, I’ll pay you more.” His nails-raking-on-chalkboard voice makes me want to shut him up.

Instead I smile bitterly at this poor wretch of a man. His facial expression seems to reflect some displeasure in what he sees in my smile. 

I will the change before his horrified eyes and now I’m sure he doesn’t like what he sees in my smile. He scrambles backward on the bed, hyperventilating, probably soiling his pants.

“My name is Desiree,” I say to him. “But all my lovers call me Despair.”

 

-FIN-

Wolves of Vengeance FREE today and tomorrow!

My novel is FREE on Amazon today and tomorrow. I’d love for you to grab a copy. Trick or treat? You tell me. If you read it, I’d love to know what you think. Honest reviews on Amazon and Goodreads are also welcome. Thanks for your support.

THEY ARE COMING…

In high school Jack was a bully, an alcoholic, and a drug abuser. As an adult, he’s turned his life around. But his past is catching up with him. His old friends are dying of a curse cast all those years ago. Now Jack must return to his hometown to stop an ancient evil that is hunting him.

THEY WILL SHOW NO MERCY…

Captain Amanda Rann has a failed marriage, two little girls that she loves, and the toughest black ops mission of her life. But Rann doesn’t run. There are creatures headed for Wellington Massachusetts, and when they come she’ll be locked and loaded.

AND BEFORE THE NIGHT IS OVER THEY WILL DRAG TWO OF THEM TO HELL…

Katty LaRocque played the tough rocker chick in high school. Now Fifteen years later she’s looking back on her dreams unfulfilled. Then Jack comes back to town and brings an excitement with him that she thought was gone forever. But it’s what else he brings that just might get her killed.

WHO WILL DIE?

Detective Adrian Callahan misses his wife and can’t find a new meaningful relationship. A young woman has disappeared and he’s determined to find her before the investigation goes cold. But then Jack returns, along with a string of wild animal attacks, threatening to take him off the case permanently.

WOLVES OF VENGEANCE

Free Anthology!!! Limited Time!!!!

Extinct Doesn’t Mean Forever is FREE on Amazon today!  Includes my story, “The Language of Ice.”

The Extinct Anthology will also be free on March 12th and April 10th 2012. Don’t miss out!

http://www.amazon.com/Extinct-Doesnt-Mean-Forever-ebook/dp/B004SUOWMU/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1329306095&sr=1-1

From Amazon:

Echoes of yesterday touch the lives of ordinary people in extraordinary ways in 18 provocative stories by some of the best up-and-coming authors of mainstream and speculative fiction around the world.

1. Jase was her ghost in the machine, a shaded memory captured in synthesized pixels. Near enough to see, too distant to touch. Could they still connect? – LAST SEEN by Amanda le Bas de Plumetot

2. She didn’t realize how deep her loss ran, until a saber-tooth cat helped heal the past and point her toward a future she didn’t know she needed – PAST SURVIVORS by Sarah Adams

3. Vesna discovers from an unexpected source just how old the dance of love truly is – FOOTPRINTS ON THE BEACH by Aleksandar Ziljak

4. John doted on the French touring car he’d lovingly restored. Can his dead wife teach him other things are worthy of his love too? – THE RESTORATION MAN by Simon John Cox

5. When a single mum returns home to Tasmania with her young son, her efforts to settle back in take a strange twist – A DARK FOREST by Jen White

6. Keeping a baby dinosaur secret from prying TV people and scientists is no easy task, except when your family have been keeping sacred traditions secret for generations – MY OWN SECRET DINOSAUR by Jo Antareau

7. When a Neanderthal skeleton arrives at her museum, Cassie learns a woman dead for thousands of years still has something to teach the living – THE LANGUAGE OF ICE by David North-Martino

8. With human hunters closing in, Kerg concocts a desperate plan for survival. Just one problem: he isn’t the only one looking out for family – TWILIGHT OF THE CLAW by Adam Dunsby

9. Lucia doesn’t believe in angels — but she might believe in a little boy cloned from a forgotten race – THE ANGEL GENOME by Chrystalla Thoma

10. Geri’s father finds the remains of an alien culture, proof we’re not alone. But he leaves Geri feeling more alone than ever – IN RING by Scott Thomas Smith

11. Had it been left to protocols rather than human ingenuity, Commander West’s expedition might have overlooked one of Mars’ greatest treasures – BONES OF MARS by D Jason Cooper

12. Endless Power, Inc prepared Angel for the physical dangers of harnessing a new energy source. But no one prepared him for how to cope afterward – HUNTING THE MANTIS by Adam Knight

13. Bridges of meaning built through symbols alienate as much as connect. But the Virtual Bridge Sri plans could reconnect the lost hopes of a dying civilization – CONNECT by Kenneth Burstall

14. Fleeing with the last remnants of the Oshen race, Indigo has only one chance to ensure his people are never forgotten – INDIGO’S GAMBIT by Adam Israel

15. When his pampered world loses the technology it depends on, extinction looms faster than lonely survivor Levo could ever expect – BLOOD FRUIT by Shona Snowden

16. When a new bio-weapon in the wars on drugs and terror gets out of control, can the supplier really be held responsible? – A THORNY DILEMMA by Rory Steves

17. Capturing mammoths was all in a day’s work for Deke. The saber-tooth cat, though, was going to require something bigger than an elephant gun – INVOICE H10901: 3 WOOLY MAMMOTHS by Robert J. Sullivan

18. After George makes a momentous discovery, the distractions start piling up. His wife cooks up a surprise to remind him love is always worth sacrificing for – DISTRACTIONS by Peter Dudley