Writing Excerpt: The Ice Diver.

I’ve been playing around with this story. I like it. I like it so much I made a little cover for it, just so it looked fancier on my page. What do y’all think? Basic premise: Aunat of High House lives out a bleak exile on Falen Island, where folk of the Warm World banished her ancestors over a hundred years ago on counts of treason and sedition. When a mysterious young man is shipwrecked on the island, Aunat begins to question her place, not only on the island, but in the Warm World denied her people. If she makes the decision to leave, however, she’ll find that there’s much more keeping her on the island than bad weather and tradition.

I’ve always been fascinated with traditional hero’s journey type stories, and have never understood why the traditional hero’s journey couldn’t be made to apply to a woman. The ‘heroine’s journey’ you see offered as a consolation sop is mostly a sad and boring story of self-sacrifice and self-discovery: well, fuck that, I want ladies with swords earning respect and place in society. I don’t understand why that’s apparently weird.

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Photo by Rajmund Barnas, at freeimages.com. Ruined by myself.

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AUNAT OF HIGH HOUSE

There was a house on the side of the mountain, beside the rocky hills known as the Jaggers. It was not a remarkable house, being roofed in turf and built of stone just like every other house on the island, though it was a little bigger than some of them. The only thing that made it interesting, in fact, was that it was over an hour’s walk from the village, and therefore the house of an outcast.

The folk of the village stuck close together. It was, after all, a matter of them against the icy wind and frozen tundra of Falen island. There were perhaps a hundred people in the village, and there wasn’t a one of them who didn’t have some dealings with the other ninety-nine. The village loomed below the caverns, humped turf-roofed houses and the mead hall and the flat postage stamps of farmland, icy white in the winter and green only for a short time in Scythemonth. The villagers were a hard people, low-slung and hearty and always working. They had a smithy, for the land of Falen Island had proven rich in iron ore, and when it was especially cold the whole village would cluster around it, cheeks pinking in the white-hot fire of the forge.

The owner of the house by the Jaggers had not been born in the village. She had been born in this house, High House, as had her father, and his father before him. The people in the village did not remember why this was so, but so had it always been–there was always a Lord in High House, or, at least, there had been until Karmike Redshouldered had the bad grace to die after issuing only a girl. Now they treated her with a sort of benign neglect, visiting only to trade: no one was sure, really, what to do about Aunat of the High House.

They did not quite trust her: she was not, strictly speaking, of the village. But it was a small village, and there was no one else, so they were obliged to have some dealings with her. She was an ice-diver, the best in the settlement, and when a village family had ikli on the table it was like as not because of her diving.

So they said this about her: you cannot trust Aunat of the High House, but her ikli are fresh, and she does her part.

It wasn’t a compliment, but it was as close as they were going to come.

*****

It was strange, Aunat thought, how human memory worked. From what she had observed in the village, folk had two types of consciousness–extremely long term, and extremely short.

The extremely long term consciousness remembered the sagas of the Elders, the pain and agony of the Naysayers cast from their home in the Warm World. It remembered the ancient smithing songs, the chant of harvest, the slow and seeping ancestral guilt of a castoff people.

The short term remembered, more or less, what the person possessed of said consciousness had been doing five minutes ago. It remembered such a thing for just long enough to complete the task. It remembered precisely what was in the storehouse, but not how it had gotten there, or what trades had been made to get it.

What was missing in the village, Aunat thought, was the middle ground. For instance–when Sevil the Icebreaker owed her trade for threestone of ikli from last winter, Sevil the Icebreaker was likely to forget until some divine agency, such as herself, reminded him.

Right now, he was looking around her living area, at the tall black hearth and the skins on the floor and the battered shield over the hearth, the only ornament Aunat had allowed herself to keep. He was thinking, doubtless, this is a rich house, richer by far than mine. He would be bitter, deep down, over the high portion of wood this single woman claimed when it came time for the lumber expeditions to the spruce islands in spring. He would not remember why, by Naysayer law, she was allowed to claim such a portion.

“I have to get by too, you know,” Aunat said at last. “It gets cold up here. No more until you pay me, Sevil. I am sorry, but you know the law.”

Sevil sighed. “Each has his own,” he recited. “And no one else’s. Yes, Aunat Icediver. I know. But I have no memory of such a debt. If, perhaps, there was a record–”

Aunat smiled at him. She smiled mostly because, if she didn’t smile, she would be rushing for the big sealskin book in her trunk, and she would shove the written record of his debt under his nose until all he could smell was cloudberry ink.

But that would do no good, and she knew it. Sevil was illiterate, like most of the village: as a rule, only those in the High House and the priests of the Watcherblad knew their letters.

So she smiled. And smiled. And smiled. And she reached for the whale vertebra she used as a stool, and pointed to where the three carven lines of Sevil’s debt had been engraved on it with a knife and sealed, in the style of the Naysayers, with three drops of his blood.

“See,” she said. “Three lines, put there last Frostmonth. One for each stone.”

“Ah,” Sevil said, as though that proved everything. “Yes. I remember. I apologize for forgetting–the frost-sickness touched me earlier this winter, and I’ve yet to quite recover. I’ve some seal fat frozen at home–would twostone of that and a pebble of salt be equal payment?”

“It would,” said Aunat, knowing she could expect no better. Besides, she was low on salt.

It was a delicate dance, with the villagers. They didn’t trust her any more than she trusted them, and they were always testing her–forgetting their debts, packing light stones, performing payment tasks poorly or not at all. She had learned to account for herself, up here. She had to, to keep her life comfortable.

“Then the debt is washed away?” Sevil asked, a note of hopefulness tinging his voice.

“It will be washed away,” Aunat said, emphasizing the important parts, “when the fat and salt are delivered to my door.” It was a poor trade, but the villagers had not done as well this last Scythemonth as they often did, and Aunat did not wish to be unfair. Every steading needed nourishment and warmth. Otherwise, all suffered.

“It’s a long walk up here,” Sevil said, wheedling. “Cold and rocky.”

“It would be the same for me, coming down to the village. It’s your debt, not mine.”

Sevil sighed. “As you wish. Look for me tomorrow, during the suntime.”

They shook hands, in the manner of the Naysayers of old: palms stiff, fingers extended, only thumbs locking over each other. A fair deal, the handshake was supposed to embody. Nothing hidden.

Nothing, Aunat reflected wryly, except years of animosity and necessity.

“Would you care to stay for a cup of tea?” Aunat asked, as the ritual required. “I have golden root, left over from last Scythemonth.”

“I shouldn’t wish to deprive you,” Sevil said. The politeness ritual required, and no more.

He left quickly, and Aunat watched him began the downhill journey from her stone porch. He moved rather quickly, she thought, for a man whose excuse for an unpaid debt was frost-sickness in the limbs.

It was pleasant, standing outside. The sea breeze pinched at the small strip of her face left exposed, and each breath was like ice crystals in the lungs. Not very many people, perhaps, would have thought it pleasant, but Aunat knew the secrets of such a day: blue porcelain sky, clear and hard as an upturned bowl. Snowcapped rocks of the island thrusting up to meet it. The sealine below her was quiet, a deep and brooding blue. The village beside it, turf-humped houses clustered fearfully together, didn’t bother her one bit.

It was a good day for ice-diving. If she went in before the sun set, there would be many ikli. They liked this sort of cold, dry weather, where there would be little sediment stirred up on the ocean floor.

If the ikli liked the weather, Aunat liked it, too. Such were the lessons of life in the High House: men were fickle, prone to schemes and betrayals. Only animals spoke the truth, with their movements and habits, and the truth of animals always led to food.

Fright Week Flash Fiction 1: The Web

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THE WEB

Whenever I see a spider now, I think of Nana Bailey.

She wouldn’t let you harm them. If you were on her property it was her rules, and her rules were emphatic. Say please and thank you. Eat with your napkin in your lap. Leave Nana alone when she’s knitting–Nana loved knitting, churned a sweater out for each of us Christmas, Easter, and birthdays unfailingly.

Her cardinal rule, however: never harm a spider.

We spent a lot of time at Nana Bailey’s in the summer. All the Bailey kids: a passel of us, a congregation, a pack. We had a pecking order, oldest to youngest, and Nana Bailey was our venerable alpha.

She was good for exploring the woods with us, even though she must’ve been seventy or eighty. She knew the name of every tree, every berry, every rock. She would braid her long white hair into two plaits and cover it up with an old plaid kerchief, trade out her housedress for a pair of worn-in slacks. Nana Bailey never wore jeans–such a thought was sacrilege. But when we saw the slacks and the kerchief, we knew she was fixing to show us something in the woods on the edge of the property.

Usually, it was some new variety of spider.

They’re good creatures, she would tell us. Out there in the woods, in the brown silence of fallen leaves, every word she said was gospel. We were willing disciples of twilight and the trees.

She showed us the banana spider, black and yellow, constructing her web of golden silk. The wolf spider, a fat hissy fellow who made his home on the ground in the leaves. Even the common brown wood spider had a place in Nana’s pantheon–big specimens were caught in Nana’s always-handy plastic tumbler and passed around for our admiration before being deposited once more safely in the bushes.

If  it wasn’t for spiders, we’d be up to our hineys in bugs, she’d say. Nobody wants that. Far too many bugs in the world already, buzzing around, taking up air for the rest of us to breathe.

Nana was always right. Even when she got older and went a little kooky, if you just listened hard enough, you could pick out the sense in her.

So now that I’m grown, with my own home and my own little parcel of land, I weave my webs. I weave them at night, in the basement, under the light of a single lantern–golden wire, like the banana spider’s silk. Patterns in them, like those of the writing spider. Sometimes, if I’m feeling real fancy, I’ll dig a hole in the earth, like the wolf spider’s tunnel home.

And there are bugs, oh yes. Bugs for a right thinking lady to put out of commission: buzzy bugs, whiny bugs, bugs that plead and scream and whimper. They ring the doorbell, their cars out front full of religious tracts and cheap makeup and the stench of desperation and broken homes. I give them sweet tea with a little something extra in it, and the bugs stop their buzzing for a while–for a while.

It takes the webs to silence them forever. Webs of wire, the silence of the basement. It takes a woman’s weaving, deft and sure.

When I go to sleep at night, if they aren’t too weak, I can hear their whimpers. I don’t mind: I think of it as the sound nature makes when it does its business.

Nana Bailey would’ve approved. I like to imagine her standing in my kitchen, her tumbler in her hand, arms crossed, smelling of yard work and Chanel perfume.

You’re a right spider, little girl, she says to me. It takes a brave lady, to kill a pest. Why, when your Grandpa died, I had to learn to kill bugs in the kitchen all on my lonesome. Lookit you! You do it without batting an eye!

So the bugs in my basement moan and whine and whimper away. And here I sit, in the sweet silence of a summer night: alone on the porch, knitting a scarf, drinking a tall glass of sweet iced tea. When I’m done with my scarf, I’ll go and check the webs to see which bugs are ripe for the plucking.

Even a spider needs something from its prey. I’ve got the breading ready, the oil poured, the knife sharpened, the cutting board clean. I’ll dice the onions soon and make a gravy.

Spiders might eat straight off the web, but not me. I’m a civilized lady, and I have Nana Bailey’s secret recipe.

PHOTO CREDIT: Melissa Stratton. Freeimages.com.

FRIGHT WEEK!

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Lovely original image by jaime cooper, on freeimages.com.

Okay, I have a real post coming up for you, but I’ve been writing a lot of flash fiction lately and I have a project to tell you about. And I am JUST. SO. EXCITED. And full of coffee. AND EXCITED.

Anyway.

This is like my favorite time of year ever. Working retail has effectively ruined Christmas for me, and has also effectively meant I rarely get home for Thanksgiving. My birthday is boring, and I’m not religious, so Easter doesn’t mean much. Valentine’s Day is overhyped.

So that leaves me with Halloween. Which is all right, because I can’t think of a holiday more meant to fit me–we can wear a lot of black, talk about serial killers, and not pretend to be thankful for things? ALL RIGHT. That’s like the best holiday an Emily could ask for. AND I get to dress up like a zombie? Megasweet.

AND I GET CANDY?

You’re fucking kidding me!

Anyway, with that said:

I’m going to do something a little different this year, and celebrate this lovely holiday with SEVEN DAYS OF FLASH FICTION. Yes. For the week leading up to Halloween (starting tomorrow, 10.24), I’ll post a mini horror story (1,000 words or less) with fun overfiltered horrorshow graphics ONCE A DAY. (Isn’t that font just full of camp?) Why, you ask? What good can this possibly do?

Probably none. But it’ll be fun.

An advanced warning, just in case you don’t usually follow this blog and don’t know me: none of these stories will be appropriate for little ones. Unless, of course, you take a laissez-faire view of parenting, and your bitty monsters have already seen Texas Chainsaw Massacre, or heard you drop the f-bomb in traffic. In which case, bring ’em on. 

We’ll see how I do. I don’t usually write a lot of horror, so this might be pretty terrible. But that’s what this blog is here for, right? Experiments. On you, my captive audience. Muahaha.

Bonemaker

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Just wanted to let you Aurian and Jin loving kiddos know, I wrote a companion piece to A&J a while back. It’s about Morda, Bonemaker and Emperor, and his rise to power through, well, what winds up being a lot of blood and gore. I’m posting it in installments on Wattpad, for your free and fancy enjoyment. If you miss Aurian and Jin, you might want to have a looksee.

You should also read The Antidote. Because Jin.

This is Bonemaker. THIS IS SPART–wait, no it isn’t.

Excerpt: Little Bird Prologue

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Little Bird, sequel to Aurian and Jin, is out soon. Are you excited? Eh? WHY THE HELL AREN’T YOU?

I mean…something non-caps.

Figured I’d be a sneaky creature and post the prologue here, because, you know, three of you might want to read it. (A note: the first part of the first chapter is posted in the back of The Antidote, the Aurian and Jin novelette closing the gap between A&J and Little Bird, which you’ve totally read, of course. This prologue is before all that noise.).

You guys remember Beauland, right? That kid who healed Jin? Well, here’s what became of him.

PROLOGUE:
The Beans of Mantic Fortitude

Thirteen Years Ago

Beauland Bornsson, newly returned from the Aithar Smiles Blessed Healing and Conscious Loving Coven in Kartok, was
about to become a coven master.

He was, in fact, sixteen days away from it–give or take a day, with an eighty four percent chance of relative accuracy (and barring, of course, Unforeseen Dimensional Flux (UDF)). He had it marked on his calendar with a little red star.

The current master of this coven–the coven, as it happened, formerly known as the Coven of the Ursine Shattermath–had seen this outcome as well, at seventy eight percent accuracy levels, and this was so close to certain that he had done Beauland the immense favor of getting the garden servantry to go ahead and dig him a grave, which he was currently napping in until teatime.

The grave, the coven’s current master had informed Beauland, was nice and cool and quiet. Dark, even in the daytime. Much more pleasant, in fact, than the shit Beauland would presently have to deal with–this last bit being said, always, with an old man’s knowing quaver.

Beauland was fairly sure the Coven Master had seen more than he had. He was all right with that–it was better not to know everything.

Beauland had spent the last few years of his life at the Aithar Smiles Coven, learning that the healing arts were, profoundly, not for him. It was strange to be back here, after so long away–the multi-dimensional effects of the place were even wearing on him a little, the constant white of the Gauntlet was blinding and mind-numbing. Yesterday he had caught himself trying to brush his teeth over the wash basin–which was a mistake, as every boy raised in the Shattermath should have known. The wash basins liked to bite. It was far safer to do it over your dresser, and trust the Spit Sentinels of Gorshdrkr Dimension to redirect as necessary.

Today’s multi-dimensional failure had occurred only seconds ago, in the lunch line. It was simply enough expressed, though it was having disasterous consequences:

Beauland had gotten the beans.

He sat now in the dining hall, fork raised, next move uncertain. The damage had already been done: he had eaten a few of them. They were Xyclian beans: he could tell from the meaty aftertaste. And Xyclian beans, for a fellow of his delicate constitution, meant gas. And ever since that Evinanjin woman had destroyed the Astartian Pact a few years back, magic was intense and unpredictable, so who could tell what else they’d mean?

Beauland liked exploring new dimensions. He liked the power-pinnacle destruction of the Pact had lifted him to. But there were nevertheless times when he missed knowing that the limits of a magical reaction were, in fact, limited.

His fellow Sights sat clustered around him, pity evident on their faces. Every single one of the bastards had gotten the cabbage.

In the dining hall’s high narrow windows, scenes from the streets of seventeen separate cities flashed, in twelve separate dimensions. With the strangely meaty bean taste still in his mouth, Beauland watched a merchant in the Xolitol dimension crash a cart drawn by two snail creatures into a tea shop nestled inside a hollowed out mushroom. As much as inter-dimensional episodes could seem like something, it didn’t seem like a good sign.

“This is going to be bad, isn’t it,” Beauland said.

“I wouldn’t say bad, exactly,” said the woman next to him, waving her fork. She had the facial tattoos of the North Darklands all over her cheeks and brow, and the bone rings of a Far North Headsplitter braided into her hair. This costume, when combined with pointed teeth and the bloody mess on her plate, did nothing to console him.

“Pardon me,” he said delicately. “But aren’t you a Darklander? Don’t you people like cannibalism, and violence, and such? Why’re you here, in a Sight coven?”

“Right in one!” The woman smiled. “Without violence, how’re you supposed to solve your problems? But that’s all neither here nor there. This Darklander is also a pretty talented Sight. And this Darklander says the beans aren’t bad for you.”

“If not bad, then what?”

“Interesting.” She extended a hand for him to shake, nails rimmed in something dried and black that Beauland did his very utmost not to turn his sixth sense upon. “Dax the Destroyer loves interesting, and those beans are from an interesting dimension. You’re about to fart so hard your parents’ll feel it.”

“My parents are dead.”

“I know. S’what I meant.” She pointed a grimy finger to her robes. “Sighted, remember?”

“Could you…could you be a little more sensitive, maybe?”

“Nope.” She picked up a piece of whatever the red stuff on her plate was and gnawed it. “Name’s Betz, by the way. They tried sensitivity training when I got here. I ate the instructor.”

“Oh.” Beauland looked back down at his empty fork. Aithar only knew how long it would be until the beans caught up with him–or how much of a warning he’d have. Just thinking about it caused an ominous growl to rise from his abdomen. “I’m Beauland.”

“I know. You’re the man who’s going to lead the Coven.” She rolled her eyes. “Apparently, I’m not a good choice, even though my accuracy rating is two and a half points higher than yours. Old Master seems to think I’m going to tear down the coven and eat all the apprentices, or something. Lies and calumny, o’ course. I never eat where I shit.”

Beauland, who was beginning to feel an unpleasant pressure building in his stomach, shook his head. “Higher than mine? Impossible. Mine’s the highest since Riktau Gaugh founded the place four hundred years ago.” Sights, who for obvious reasons weren’t fazed by much, got awfully shirty over accuracy ratings. It was the first thing Beauland had been asked, along with his name, when he returned. He had taken to the practice wholeheartedly–easy to do, as his was exceptionally high.

Beauland’s overall accuracy rating was, in fact, eighty-nine percent. The current Coven Master, napping peacefully in his grave, stood firm at eighty-five. Ratings in the seventies were considered respect-worthy, ratings in the low eighties impressive. High or mid eighties were the stuff that set Sights to whispering in the hallways. Close to ninety earned you instant forgiveness in the Shattermath Coven if you should, say, go off for a few years to study Healing, jump dimensions at night more or less just to explore what was around now, and come back, shrugging, claiming it hadn’t ever been serious, really.

Not that Beauland had done that.

But, if this Betz was two and a half points higher accuracy than he was, then…

…then she was in the nineties.

It was unheard of.

Literally. No one had ever heard of it.

“Quit gawping,” Betz said, not unkindly. “At any rate, all that’s about to change.”

“Eh?”

“You’re about to have your anal awakening.”

“My–”

“You heard me.”

Beauland was about to ask the fatal question–what precisely constitutes an anal awakening?–when he found out.

The gas, which had been building relentlessly in his intestine, released itself with dimension-bending vengeance.

It was funny, he thought vaguely, as the gale-force winds blew his chair out from under him. This hadn’t happened before, but he got the strangest feeling it had. Perhaps, in some other close continuum, he’d been doing this from birth. Perhaps, in that continuum, he’d eaten Xyclian beans every day. Perhaps, in that continuum, he was Xyclian.
He made a mental note to visit Xyclia, next chance he got, and find out. It was fairly rare, for a Sight to find a double of themselves in another dimension, but it wasn’t unheard of. He’d rather like talking to himself a little. He might be able to give himself some good life advice.

His attention meandered back to the present, where strange things were going on. For one, everyone in the dining hall was staring at him–their upturned faces, hovering over their blue Sight-robes, wore almost identical expressions of horror. Betz herself, who didn’t seem like she’d be scared of much, had her mouth half-open.

Beauland realized, suddenly, that his chair had blown out from under him, but he was still very much in a seated position. Hovering, somehow, three feet over the Dining Hall floor. He had spilled the beans, and the grey goop of them had turned the floor underneath him into a legume murder scene, an edible splatter painting of considerable scope.

“Don’t freak out,” Betz whispered to him, “but you’re glowing a little.”

Beauland opened his mouth to tell her he felt fine, he was fine, this was probably just some weird side effect of being Sighted and eating Xyclian beans.

Instead, he spoke in a deep gravelly voice and an ancient tongue. Or, well. The voice came from somewhere, and that somewhere was loosely around him.

It said:

When the King is a woman and then is a man,
The looming red light spreads over the land.

One becomes two and two becomes one,
Brother and mother, mother and son.

Backwards and forwards, black and white.
Grow it in darkness. Kill it with light.

The mage’s bright promise to end with the king;
A song, a fine hat, and a bird on the wing.

For a few minutes, there was crystalline silence in the dining hall. Even the extra-dimensional scenery in the windows seemed to be waiting for Beauland’s next move.

The Darklander, Betz, was the first to recover. She grinned, shook her head a little, went back to her horrifying plate of near-raw entrailery. She slurped up some small creature’s liver: the sounds of her enjoyment echoed throughout the quiet room.

“Nice,” she said, dabbing her lips with her napkin.

Beauland said the one thing left to say, in such a situation: “excuse me.”

The room dissolved back into its previous chattery atmosphere. The intrusion of prophecy, Beauland remembered from his youth here, was a regular fixture in the Coven of the Ursine Shattermath–though, to be fair, it wasn’t usually paired with indigestion. Young Sights interrupting a Maths lecture with rolled back eyes, a blue glow, and utterly useless information about the winners of a pigskins tournament fifty years in the future hadn’t been uncommon.

He’d done it himself, once or twice–faked it once or twice more. The problem with faking it, of course, being that someone in the Coven had doubtless had a mantic episode previously that foretold your faking. And, more than likely, it was the Coven apothecary.

This wasn’t fake, however. This had felt, in fact, very strange.

“I’d remember that prophecy, were I you,” said Betz. She had finished her plate, and was now sopping up blood with a crust of bread. “In thirteen years, there’s a high percent chance it’ll be important.”

“I guess I should listen to you,” Beauland muttered. “You’re in the nineties.”

“So’re you, now. Tomorrow, you’re going to check up with the accuracy reader. Mantic gases unblocked, you’re running at about ninety four.”

“No,” Beauland said weakly. “That’s impossible. That’s almost–Aithar bless, that’s almost one hundred percent accurate.”

Betz winked. “Yes, my friend. You’re very good. Of course, there’s still the occasional hitch–”

She was interrupted by three mournful horn blasts, some minor hubbub near the doors, and the appearance, in soil-stained blue, of an out-of-breath messenger.

“Hail,” the messenger panted. “Sad tidings, Sights of the Shattermath! Our Master, Rectix Vlarsson, has died! Nice and tidily in his grave, with a will left right next to the tombstone. Thank Aithar it happened before teatime. Oh–and long live our new Master, Beauland Bornsson.”

Beauland blinked. “But–”

“Remember,” said the Darklander. “Not quite a hundred.”

The King’s Might: Excerpt

Here y’go, first part of TKM for you. In case you’re blind or you don’t usually follow me, this story will be available on Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, and All Those Other Places very soon (7/21/15). It’ll be free to start out with through Smashwords, and .99 on Amazon until I can make it free there as well. Hrmmhrmmm. My gift to you.

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*PROLOGUE*

The girl had been down in the earth for a long, long time.

She had once–weeks ago, months ago, maybe even years ago–been a bright and chubby little thing, full of laughter and smiles. But they had been traveling through the Mountains of Vigilance–her parents had turned away, for just a moment, to consider the crossing–and she had fallen, playing on an outcropping of stone.

She had fallen into a ravine. She had fallen father, deeper. She had fallen into this place, this sunken city, cold and dark and lonely. There had been dead brush, to save her from the worst injuries, but there had also been silence, and limitless dark.

She didn’t know if they had tried to find her. They probably had–she had been well loved.

There were mushrooms and lichens to eat, glowing faintly in the dead libraries and bedchambers of the swallowed city. There were pools of water, dripping from cracks in the wall and forming in buckets and plates from long ago. There was a constant filth, a mixture of soot and new soil that wouldn’t scrub off. There was the sound of her own voice, echoing down the endless stone halls.

There was nobody else.

She was sure of it. Looking and calling had been the first things she had done. Her mother had taught her this, to look and call if she got lost. No one will hurt you, her mother had said. You’re only a child. They will help you find the way back to us.

The little girl remembered her mama, and her papa, and in this dark place, lit only by phosphorescent fungus and the eyes of sightless creatures, she wept.

There was nobody else, and no way out. All the paths curved downward. All the doors led downward.

She didn’t know how many tons of rock were over her head. She had walked down many hallways here in the dark, gone down many flights of stairs. She could feel the weight of it all above her–crushing weight, impossible to lift or navigate.

All paths led down.

Even when she tried to turn around, go back the way she had come, all paths led down. 

Which is why, when she woke in this dark place at some unspecific time–it could have been midday, for all she knew, and she could have slept a hundred years–she was surprised to hear voices.

They were indistinct, these voices. Gauzy shreds of whispers. Barely real. She had to strain her ears to catch them, and her hearing had become very keen indeed.

But they were voices. Up ahead.

She ran. She left her tattered cloak and the handful of mushrooms she had planned for breakfast behind her.

Down, down, down. All the paths went down, but the rock overhead didn’t seem quite so crushing, the place quite so airless.

Voices!

And, like her mama had taught her, she called. Her own voice seemed deafening in the darkness, a thing meant for the world of light and movement.

“I’m here!” she screamed. “I’m here! Here!”

The echo came back to her: here, here, here.

The voices–were they louder now? Sibilant whispers. They might have scared her, if she hadn’t been scared for so long already.

“I’m here!”

Here, here.

Her little boots were loud against the paving stones, flap flap flap. She ran through what must have once been a great hall, its ceiling extending neverendingly up into the darkness, ornate columns receding with each footstep to her right and left. She passed through a meaner hall, its columns plain, its ceiling low.

The voices were almost deafening now, hissing, whining, cajoling.

There was a door in the hall. There was frieze on the door, a hunting scene, figures so worn they were barely visible. The voices came from behind the door.

“I’M HERE,” the girl shouted, with all her might.

From below–though how there could be more below, with all she had traveled, she was not sure–there were cracks and scrapings, as though something vast had stirred from its sleep.

The door creaked open.

Inside, in a room that was dark but not quite as dark as it should have been, it was very cold. The girl wished instantly for her forgotten cloak, for the stout fur vest that existed somewhere above with her parents. Frost coated the walls and the flooring, turned the few furnishings remaining into half-visible lumps.

There was a man in the room, lying on one of the tables. She thought he was asleep, until she crept closer–though he lay very still, his eyes were open. They were the color of old blood. His breath–so shallow it might have almost been her imagination he breathed at all–let wisps of white frost into the air.

She might have been afraid of him, in the world up above. He lay so very still, and the face underneath his long pale hair was as cold as the room around him. Here, he was the only other person she had seen.

She jumped into his arms, buried herself in the ancient blanket someone had wrapped around him. He blinked, once, twice. He raised himself a little off the table. His movements were slow, careful, and filled with terrible certainty.

“Hello, child,” he whispered. “Are you, then, the one the earth powers have chosen to wake me?”

“Help me,” she said. “You’ve got to help me. We were going through the pass–through the mountains. I fell. I can’t find mama. You’ve got to help me find my mama.”

“Shh,” the man said. “Shhh.”

There was calm to him. Terrible calm. Though she should have felt comforted, should have been overjoyed, she felt only lightness, only unending cold. His hand twisted through her hair–a hand nearly skeletal, white as frost, thin and long-fingered. She didn’t want him to touch her, but it had been so long since anyone had held her, had comforted her.

“I’m looking for someone, too,” he said. “A boy. He’d be–about your age, perhaps a little younger. A golden-haired boy.”

“I want my mama,” said the girl.

The man smiled. It was not a comforting smile, and there was little pity in it.

“Your mama is long gone,” he said. “There is no time, in these deep places. There is only the earth.”

She began to cry. She had forgotten why, precisely–she had forgotten why she was unhappy. The tears froze to her cheeks. The pale man picked them off, his spiderlike hands gentle.

“Your home is here now,” he said. “You are the Waker, and for you to be the Waker there must be something of the old powers in you. Did you hear the voices, little one? Did the earth speak to you, as it speaks to me?”

She nodded. She remembered, vaguely, thinking the voices were something else–human voices. The memory was tinged with white, as though seen through a thin sheet of ice. It was silly, to have thought they were human voices.

They were the voices of the earth–of the hefenta, of the deep powers of earth. And this man–this man was their creature. She knew it, somehow, though she did not know why or what precisely it was she now knew: the earth was a part of her people, the Norchladil people. The cold was in the bones and the blood.

She shuddered.

The man wrapped the blanket around her. She noticed, distantly, how very old it was–the threads breaking with the gentlest touch, something staining it that may, long ago, have been blood. The man’s robes were stained as well, their style ancient. Even as she watched he drew the robes closer to him, and they brightened and whitened, as though touched by frost.

“Who are you?” she asked. Though she knew the answer–though her bones, and the ancestral memories inside them, knew the answer.

“I’m a magician,” the man said. His mouth twitched. “A Northmage. A relic of a time long before. A ghost. The worst sort of ghost–a ghost that knows your name.”

And, bending to adjust the blanket–bending so his cold breath blew right in her ear–he whispered it to her, in the old language of blood and death and the angry earth.

And she was no longer what she had once been.

Some things are that simple.

“Come,” the man said, standing and stretching his ancient bones. “If we’re to find the boy, we’ve much work to do–and you’ve much to learn. Macher tanith ii, they will call you–she who is servant of the dark world.”

Twisted up in his hair, a white comb winkled–the warrior’s comb, malat ma’a. The man withdrew it, held it out to her–its teeth were sharp and long, and its weight was cold and deadly in her hand.

“You shall hold this, for a time,” he said. “You shall learn of its power. But don’t grow used to it, for it must go to the boy. We shall pass it along, when the time comes for me to deploy you.”

He was almost handsome, creature of ice and frost that he was. His hair like white silk, his eyes the same blood burgundy as the eyes of the carving on the comb.

She could almost love him, almost. After all, who else did she have to love?

“Papa,” she whispered. The word died unheard in the airless dark. The man had turned, begun to walk. He didn’t turn around or even pause to witness its death.

Her last thought, as the final pieces of her mind that belonged to her dissolved, came to her in a strange woman’s voice, a voice she no longer recognized or cared for.

No one will hurt you. You’re only a child.

It’s Night Time, And Things Keep on Bumping.

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I know, I know, It’s so CHEAP how I do these excerpts instead of writing a post when I’m tired. But I don’t want you guys to forget about me. And you seem to be enjoying this story. So. More Day Brothers for you. The story is beginning to come together, so hold on to the seat of your pants, or whatever it is you do when a story comes together.

If you missed the earlier parts, here they are:

TTGBitN I
TTGBitN II
TTGBitN III

Woo! When I do the next one, I can use a V! Excitement!

*****

“I don’t know if this is such a great idea,” Derek said, as they frantically piled the dirty dishes in the sink. “I mean, he’s a giant, and he’s got pointed teeth. Does that sound like one of the good guys, to you?”

“Of course it doesn’t. I’m not stupid, Der.”

“And the house is filthy.”

“Well, we can’t help that. As long as Dad’s around, it’s never going to be clean and we might as well not bother. Besides, Mom said to do this. And Mother,” he added gloomily, “always knows best.”

“Course she does,” Derek agreed. “It’s hard not to, when you’ve seen it all play out. But she doesn’t always mean what we think she meant, you know? Remember Alston Street?”

“Ugh,” said Deacon, finding a stash of forks in the living room with week-old mashed potatoes still clinging to the tines. “We really need to get working and clean this place for real, at some point. And yes, Derek. I remember Alston Street. But we still did exactly what Mom said, and it still worked out. Sort of.”

“I almost lost a finger.”

“Well, that’s what you get when an unquiet spirit’s throwing knives. She never said it would be easy.”

“She never does,” Derek said gloomily.

There was a thunderous rapping on the door.

“That’s him,” said Derek, shoving a dirty dish towel into the overflowing trash can. “He’s about knocked the door off.”

They left the filthy kitchen for the unswept and unmopped foyer. A vase of yellow roses, left over from Madame Day’s passing, sat calcifying on the side table, still whole under a layer of dust.

“Hmm,” their visitor said, as they both moved back to accommodate his bulk. “I take it your business doesn’t do well enough to account for maid service.”

“Yes,” Deacon said. “Well. We’ll take some tea on the porch.”

Derek led the large man back out onto the porch, and would, Deacon fervently prayed, let him have the sturdiest of the old rocking chairs. Deacon made tea in Mama Day’s old kettle and poured it into the only three clean mugs he could find. After a moment’s thought, he grabbed a box of crackers from the pantry and emptied it onto a plate.

The cabinet door, which he had left open, abruptly slammed shut. Deacon’s sixth sense began to tingle unpleasantly.

“Shit,” said Deacon.

The doors of all the cabinets began slamming shut unaided, in an odd synchronized flow of noise. One of the clean mugs lifted itself up and slammed abruptly back to the table, sloshing steaming tea all over Deacon and the newspapers piled beside him.

“Dammit, Dad,” Deacon ground out. “We have a client in the house. Stop it.”

The mug lifted up again. This time, it slammed down so hard it shattered.

“Dad,” Deacon said.

Neither Day brother knew how they knew the old house’s poltergeist was their long departed father. Maybe it was the slamming sounds he made on the staircase late at night, reminiscent of their father’s heavy tread. Maybe it was the way he had found the old box of seventies Playboys up in the attic and dumped them all over the sunroom floor.

Maybe it was the scent that lingered after his apparitions–a combination of sweat, English Leather, and drain cleaner. It was their father’s scent, a smell Deacon associated with childhood Christmases and going to the fair. With childhood.

It was not, however, something he liked associating with mischievous ectoplasmic manifestations in his own home. Especially not ones that made more of a mess than he did.

Deacon and Derek’s father had died fifteen years ago. A heart attack at night, sudden and unexpected. He’d been fairly young–only forty eight–and Deacon imagined he’d left a lot of things unsaid and undone.

Whatever he’d left unsaid and undone, however, he’d seemed perfectly fine with–at least, until Mama Day passed away. Deacon supposed he, much like his sons, had been willing to wait until the afterlife to venture forward, when the coast should’ve been clear.

The sugar bag hovered above the table.

“Don’t,” Deacon said. “Jesus. Please don’t–”

The sugar bag upended itself.

“Dammit, Dad.” He went for the broom and the dustpan.

When he came back, a single word had been traced in the sugar with an invisible finger.

DANGER.

“Huh,” said Deacon. He’d never tried communicating with it before, other than yelling when things started slamming and getting spilled. Mom had always said there was no reasoning with poltergeists, and there had never been any reasoning with Donald Day, anyway.

Maybe it was time to try.

“The man out front,” Deacon said slowly. “Is he what’s dangerous?”

There was silence in the wrecked kitchen. Deacon’s sixth sense, cultivated since toddlerhood, informed him something was waiting, gathering its strength.

Slowly, a shaky line appeared under the word DANGER.

“Should we help him? C’mon, Dad. Give me something I can use here.”

But there was no answer. The spirit, Deacon’s sixth sense informed him, was gone.

Sighing, Deacon swept up the sugar and deposited it, after some consideration of the overflowing trash recepticle, in the sink. He ran the water until it was gone, gone, gone.

He went back outside, balancing the plate of crackers on top of the two remaining mugs of tea.

To his surprise, his svelte brother and the overtattooed giant seemed to be having a pleasant conversation, sitting side by side in their rocking chairs. The giant had his phone in his hand, and was showing Derek something on it.

“Ah,” Derek said, when he saw Deacon. “There you are! Took you long enough. Pass me one of those mugs, and take a look at this. Ivan, d’you need cream or sugar?”

Ivan. Of course the seven foot tall bald man was named Ivan.

“I take it plain,” Ivan said. The man’s voice, though deep, was strangely mild, strangely cultured. “Thank you, Mr. Day.”

“Just call me Deacon,” Deacon said. “It gets confusing, otherwise.”

“Ah. Yes.” The man fiddled with his phone. ‘At any rate, Mr…Deacon. My organization and I have been in pursuit of an item wrongfully stolen from us for quite some time. We tracked it down, a few days ago, to a small independently run convenience store downtown. We sent one of our best young men to claim it. This is the video his spotter sent me of what happened.”

Deacon watched the video. He blinked, watched it again.

It made no more sense the second time around than it had the first. A middleaged woman, cheeks obviously over-rouged even in the grainy video, got out of her car in a faceless dim alley. She was carrying a lockbox under one arm. A young man–Ivan’s ‘best young man’, he assumed–approached her, holding a firearm that looked like it belonged in a dystopian science fiction flick. He gestured at her, yelled something. The woman, surprised, dropped the lockbox.

And that was where it got weird.

A door behind the woman’s car opened. The woman whirled, stared, just as though there were something in the empty doorway. She yelled something.

And then, like a cherry on the chocolate sundae of weirdness he was observing, the young man began to float a few feet in the air. He shook, dropped his weapon. Looked like he was about to beg for something.

And, promptly, imploded.

It was the only word Deacon could think of. Something blurred, violent, and too quick to see clearly happened, and then the young man started shrinking, like a sponge ball crammed into something entirely too small to hold it. His features underwent several physically impossible transitions, mouth twisted in agony, until they were at last obscured by a fine fountain of red.

In the end, there was nothing left of him but dust.

“Jesus,” Deacon whispered. “What the fuck was that?”

“Language, Mr. Day,” said the seven foot monster currently stuffed into one of his rocking chairs.

Deacon kept watching, fascinated. The woman, with shaking hands, lit a cigarette. She was talking to someone, someone it looked like she trusted.
Talking to someone who wasn’t, for all practical intents and purposes, there.

Deacon watched it one more time. On the third try, it sunk in.

“Vampires,” he breathed. “Holy…heck. You guys found a vampire.”

“You sound very surprised.”

“I am. Vampires’re tough to catch in the wild, and they generally don’t like to be found, which makes it even tougher than it is already.” Deacon paused the video at a spot where the young man was dangling in the air, feet limp, staring with eye-popped terror at something none of his observers could see. “They’re not as evil as their reputation, maybe, but they’ll fight hard to protect their privacy. I don’t mean to question your credentials, Ivan. But whatever group you’re a part of, are you sure you’re ready to mess with vampires?”

Ivan pointed to something on the screen. His finger was about as wide as the phone itself, so it was hard to make out precisely what he was pointing at.

“Erm,” said Deacon. “You might have to…narrow things down for me.”

Sighing, Ivan plucked a pen from his jacket pocket and pointed with that. It wasn’t the young man, and it wasn’t his weird gun, glinting forgotten from under a dumpster.

It was the lockbox.

“There’s something in there,” Ivan said slowly, locking eyes with each Day brother in turn. “Something extremely dangerous. I’ll admit, my dear friends, that we aren’t precisely a charitable organization–I’ll admit that my employers are far from charitable men. But the thing in this box must not find its way out into the population. Charity or no, my employers recognize full well when they are part of an ecosystem, and do not wish it to change.”

The giant’s eyes were utterly sincere. It was frightening, Deacon reflected, what fear in the eyes of a seven foot tall man could mean.

“Unfortunately,” Ivan continued, “it would be…somewhat difficult…for our men to approach this vampire, given the nature of our employment. But you, perhaps, could do it. And the vampire is not, we think, a full vampire–we think he is a fledgling, one not yet born into the full ways of the undead. We do not particularly care if he lives or dies. We only want the box.”

“Have you considered just asking him?” Derek asked. He didn’t look any happier about this than Deacon felt.

“That is,” Ivan began. Deacon got the distinct sense he wanted to finish with the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard, but was far too polite. “Impossible.”

“Of course,” Derek said. “You can’t ever just ask for something.”

“The thing in the box,” Deacon said slowly, ignoring his brother. “I suppose we can’t know what it is, then?”

The giant’s smile was surprisingly gentle, for a smile full of pointed teeth. “No,” he said. “It’s better, we think, if the world never knows.”

Deacon looked down at Ivan’s phone again. He had frozen the video in such a way that the young man seemed suspended in midair by a cloud of pure violence, energy and dust and gore.

He then looked up. He looked at the porch with its peeling paint, the weathered old rockers, the front door bowed half out of its lintel, its cracked panes of Victorian glass. He looked at his brother, whose sweater could use some darning and whose jeans were developing holes. Whose coffee mug was chipped, and from a thrift store and said ‘#1 GRANDPA’ in patchy block caps.

DANGER, eh?

Well, they were used to danger.

“What,” he asked, “is in it for us, if we do this?”

Ivan seemed to have been expecting this question–he smiled slightly, waved for momentary patience, walked back out to the driveway at the side of the house, where Deacon assumed he had parked.

He returned with a black leather briefcase, of the variety Deacon usually associated with drug deals in nineties action movies. He balanced it on the porch railing and popped the locks.

He lifted the lid.

“Holy shit,” Derek said softly.

Inside, packed in neat little wrappers, were row after row of hundred dollar bills, from one end of the case to the next.

“Once we’ve discussed terms,” Ivan said, “would you like a ten percent advance?”

EXCERPT: All These Things Just Keep On Going Bump in the Night.

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Next little bit for you. In chapter two, our story shifts from John Fowler, Convenience Store Clerk Vampire Extrordinaire, to the Day Brothers, Shit Psychics. Have fun. If you’ve missed the first two parts, here they are:

TTGBITN, I
TTGBITN, II

2
DAY BROTHERS

“DAY,” the barista bellowed, over the ambient industrial noise throbbing from the speakers. “DAY, DEREK. DAY, DEACON. SMALL ICED AMERICANO, RED EYE CHAI WITH SOYMILK. DAY, DEREK. DAY, DEA–”

“That’s enough, thank you,” said Day, Deacon. “I’ll take those.”

But it had already begun. The coffee shop denizens, previously hunched over their laptops and smart devices, were peering at him disbelievingly. And, worse still, their eyes drifted immediately over to Derek, who, after all, looked exactly like him, and was therefore impossible to mistake for anything but his identical twin brother.

“Wow,” the barista said. “Are your names really–?”

“Yes,” Deacon said, preemptively striking. “Our mother was crazy. Thanks.”

He didn’t tip.

When he approached their table, Derek was already engaged in the standard conversation, with the standard petite and awed-looking college girl.

“A psychic,” she was breathing, right on cue. “Wow! Like, a real psychic? Like, she could actually see the future?”

Under his breath, Deacon repeated the next line in the conversation, matching his brother syllable for syllable.

“Yeah, she could. She even saw my future wife, can you believe it? Blue eyes, brown hair. She said…oh, wow. What a coincidence. She said she’d look exactly like you!”

And, in spite of the lameness of the line, the girl laughed. She was twenty, maybe. Far too pretty, and far too young, for the likes of the Brothers Day.

And she laughed.

Deacon puttered around by the coffee bar, examining the condiments and packs of sugar while his brother worked his magic. When he saw the number change hands–and Derek, ever the organizer, snapped the obligatory selfie of himself with his arm around the girl’s shoulders, for later identification purposes–he sidled back over.

“Ah,” Derek said, attaching the girl’s picture to her contact information in his phone. “Thank you, Gerard Manley Hopkins College. Your fount of wisdom is ever-flowing, and such beautiful flowers grow on your grounds.”

“Are you done?” Deacon said. “If I hear you wax rhapsodical one more time today, I’m going to be sick.”

“She was a lovely creature,” Derek purred, closing his eyes and steepling his fingers. “A woodland sprite from the pastoral lands of Aycock Dormitory. A veritable nymph of the liberal collegian Hesperides. An–ow!”

The ow was because Deacon had plunked his red eye chai down in front of him, and managed to spill most of it in his lap.

“How do you do it?” Deacon asked. “I mean, we have the same face. Pretty much the same hairstyle. But I haven’t gotten laid since we graduated.”

Derek smiled. “Simple, dear brother,” he said. “I work with what I’ve got.”

Deacon rolled his eyes. “Anyway,” he said. “I put the fliers up on the bulletin board. Hopefully, someone’s seen Beelzebot. He’s pretty hard to mistake.”

“It’s the eyes. How many wall-eyed cats do you know?”

“True.”

There was a faint cough from beside the table. Deacon looked over to find the barista standing there.

“So you’re the Day brothers?” she said.

Deacon steeled himself. Derek, who would hit on anything with legs, performed a comical seated half-bow.

“We stand accused, madam,” he said.

But the barista didn’t proceed with any of the normal remarks about their stupid names. She didn’t ask if they were teased as children, or if they had any sisters named Diane or Danielle.

“There’s a letter for you guys here,” she said instead, proffering a much-crumpled envelope. “A lady dropped it off about seven years ago. We kept it around more as a gag than anything else, but, well–I guess if you actually exist, we should give it to you. Have a nice day.”

The envelope, in Mama Day’s spindly hand, read: Derek and Deacon Day, care of Cafe Colossus. Derek, wipe that grin off your face!

Derek’s grin disappeared.

“Not another one,” he said.

Madame Dorothea Day–the mother, as it happened, of Derek and Deacon Day–had indeed been a real psychic. She had achieved moderate fame in the sixties following supernaturally inclined rock bands, telling them which shows would sell out and which drugs would result in overdose. She was, some said, the sole reason all the Stones were still alive.

She had dropped off the face of the celebrity map in the mid seventies. She had married a plumber from Portsmouth, bought a ramshackle old house, started her own little family. The house had undergone constant and mostly ineffective renovations. She’d had some money, and it had lasted.

Sort of. The twins got a monthly pension. It was, combined, just enough to pay the electric bill.

Dorothea Day had been the bane of her sons’ combined existences for twenty-five long and prescient years. She’d been dead for three of them. Somehow–even beyond the grave–she managed to nag.

“Just open it,” Derek said, sighing.

Deacon popped the familiar blue waxen seal and unfolded the letter, which had obviously been composed on Mama Day’s ever-present and painfully anachronistic typewriter, and which was now yellowed with age.

Boys–

The man who is about to talk to you is not to be trusted. Take his proposition anyway.

Love,
Mama

PS–Derek. The girl you were just flirting with has chlamydia. Your Mama raised a smarter boy than that.
PPs–Deacon. Those glasses make your face look fat. Why don’t you go get a nice set of contacts, like your brother?

Both brothers, in unison, groaned.

“These do not,” Deacon said, removing the trendy tortoiseshell frames he’d bought two weeks ago and glaring at them, “make my face look fat.”

“Chlamydia,” Derek moaned. “My sweet collegic flower has chlamydia?”

“I wonder,” Deacon said, “what it’s like to have a mother who wasn’t a fucking psychic, and who doesn’t nag you from beyond the grave. It must be so fucking nice. It must be so nice to be cooking an omelette, and not find a note next to the red pepper flakes telling you it’s going to burn–”

He trailed off. His sixth sense, carefully cultivated, was beginning to tingle. Bad things happened when his sixth sense tingled, not the least of them being, as this sense was attached to no visible organ, that he had nothing to scratch.

He scratched his nose anyway, in hopes, just this once, it would do the trick.

It didn’t.

“Excuse me,” said a deep voice to their left. “Are you the Day Brothers, of Day Brothers Exorcisms and Psychic Investigations?”

Deacon sighed. They had just wanted some coffee. Why did every tiny outing turn into a full-blown excursion?
“Whatever it is,” he said, “we’ll do it. But we don’t trust you.”

The man blinked at them. It was only then, craning his neck to meet their visitor’s eyes, that Deacon noticed: he was about seven feet tall, and three hundred pounds if he was an ounce. His arms and hands were covered in snaking black and red tattoos, and a similar design was blazoned proudly on his cheeks and forehead. His head, from which every hair had been carefully shaved, was about the same size and shape as a bowling ball, and was polished to the same high sheen.

He was wearing, to make matters worse, a suit. It must have been custom-sewn for him–they didn’t sell XXXXXL suits off the rack–and his red silk tie was held in place by a silver tie pin that looked antique.

It was a rooster, Deacon realized, after staring at it for as long as he thought he could without getting the shit kicked out of him. The silver likeness of a rooster, with two tiny red jewels for eyes.

“…sir,” Deacon added. Reluctantly.

The man pulled up a chair and sat down across from him. The chair, one of those spindly things popular in trendy coffee shops everywhere, groaned audibly under his weight.

“Don’t you want to know what I’m asking you to do, first? Or what I’ll pay you?”

“Yes,” Derek said smoothly, shooting Deacon an exasperated look. “Of course we do. We’ll discuss payment after hearing our task, and we’ll send you an invoice as soon as possible. But we will do it. Just so you know.”

The man smiled. His teeth, Deacon noticed, were filed to blunt points.

“That’s wonderful,” he said. “My organization is very glad of the help.” He stuck out a hand larger than Deacon’s forearm, and both brothers shook it. Had they wanted to, both brothers could have shaken it at the same time without touching.

“Is there some place more quiet we could go to discuss this?” The man continued. “There is information of a…graphic. Nature. That I must show you.”

The Brothers Day were pretty used to graphic. It came with the exorcism business–Deacon reckoned that, in his lifetime, he’d been covered in more types of slime than the props department had manufactured for Ghostbusters.

But it was true, college kids studying for exams in a coffee shop weren’t used to it. And, worse still–they might get curious. What Derek and Deacon did wasn’t illegal, but it certainly wasn’t normal.

And they both knew it.

And Deacon, at least, clung to what shreds of normalcy remained to him with the tenacity of a drowning man.

“Come back to the house with us,” he said at last. “We can discuss it there.”

Things That Go Bump in the Night Some More

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More of this nonsense. Now featuring a Vampire Visigoth, kitty issues, iron bullets.

****

The rest of his shift–the night shift, of course–passed uneventfully. John got the stockroom in some kind of order, turned the radio on, sold a few sodas and packs of cigarettes. He mopped up the blood in the alley and returned the lockbox to its spot under Marlene’s desk. He whistled along to ‘Stand By Me’ and ‘Under the Boardwalk’ on the muzak with centuries-long disregard for tune or pitch.

When no one was around, he poked the hole in his chest idly. He could feel the bullet rattling around in his lung like the last gumball in a fleshy vending machine.

It was awfully irritating. It would be, he decided, his first order of business upon returning home to remove it.

Which is why, with dawn looming on the horizon, the vampire John Fowler could be found in the bathroom of his basement apartment with a thin magnetic grabber he usually used for retrieving awkwardly dropped car keys, a pair of flat-nose pliers, and the roll of duct tape he’d borrowed from the store laid out on the hideous green formica countertop in front of him.

Doing self-surgery as a vampire, he’d discovered, was more like playing the board game Operation than it was like undergoing an actual operation. There were little pieces, irritatingly shaped, rattling around inside you. They tickled you a little when they brushed up against something that still moved. They had to be fetched out with a painstaking amount of care–not because it hurt if you did it wrong, mind, but because the holes were so damn small, and one’s inner organs were actually surprisingly large.

He wondered what his lungs looked like, at this point. He’d seen human lungs, of course–in almost a hundred years of draining the blood from people, you saw some shit. Weird blobby things, filled with funny little nodules that reminded him of baby’s breath.

He tried to picture his own, and couldn’t. All he could imagine was paper bags. Paper bags and dead flowers, dried and preserved for some special occasion.

He shrugged off his work shirt, tossed it onto the toilet seat. He looked, out of habit, into the mirror, but there was nothing there, and of course there wasn’t. He hadn’t had a reflection for ninety-nine years.

Which just made this that much more difficult.

You could sleep on it, John’s inner voice wheedled. You’re a vampire, it’s not like it’s going to kill you. You’ve got the night off tomorrow. Plenty of time to mess with it then.

Except he didn’t want to use his day off fishing a bullet out of his own lung.

Sighing, he picked up the magnetic strip and began feeding it into the hole in his chest.

He fed it a little deeper, wiggled it around some.

Clunk.

There it was.

He readied the pliers in his other hand, squinting down at his own chest until he was almost cross-eyed with the short focus effort.

The hole was pretty big. What kind of gun had the thief been using, anyway? This wasn’t the typical .45 hole, or the petite little puncture of a .22. He could almost wiggle the bullet out without the pliers.

He gave it a try, heard the telltale rustly thump of the bullet disconnecting from the strip. He picked it back up, tried to wiggle the pliers in around it lefthanded.

The bullet fell again.

He left the pliers jammed in his chest and wiggled the magnetic strip. Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle. Catch.

There it was.

He tried to force another quarter inch of open space from the pliers.

Did it hurt? A little. Pain was no surprise, these days. It was just another feeling.

Someone knocked on the door.

“Shit,” said John. He called out: “one minute.”

He gave made one last attempt at fishing out the bullet. It clattered off the magnetic strip and back into the lifeless tissue of his lung.

Sighing, he removed the pliers and shrugged on a t-shirt. He could feel the bullet rattling around inside him with every movement.

He answered the door.

“Hi,” said the vision outside. “Um. I’m your new upstairs neighbor. Is this…is this your cat?”

John had never, in the roughly one hundred and thirty years of his existence, owned a cat. He didn’t like cats. He didn’t like their aloof ways, their claws, the necessary litterbox and the miasma it created. John, in his delicate undead condition, was sensitive to odors, and a litterbox, well. It was an odor.

He especially didn’t like this cat. Cats were, in general, unclean–John felt sometimes like the only person on the planet who understood that licking a paw a few times did not a clean creature make–but this one was downright scuzzy.
Matted fur, heavy hanging belly, twin runnels of black goo leaking down from watery eyes.

It meowed at him, pinned against the sizeable breasts of John’s new upstairs neighbor. It probably had some sort of contagious kitty condition, John decided. Even its meow sounded broken.

However, John’s new neighbor–John’s incredible looking new neighbor–was holding this no-doubt-heartworm-positive lump of mange out with an expression of such fetching relief and happiness that John could not, could not, say no.

“Yep,” John said. “That’s my cat.”

The cat–miserable ball of whinge that it was–meowed piteously, as though to corroborate his story.

“He’s a sweet little guy,” said the visionary neighbor. She giggled. “Where should I put him?”

John gestured, aimlessly, to the wood-paneled musty space that served him as a living room. He kept it pretty neat–he was a neat creature–but he wished he’d had time to dust, or something. “Anywhere you like.”

The vision entered, brightening up his space with beach blonde hair and smooth tanned skin and that almost imperceptible glow that accompanies the extremely healthy. She bent down, placing the mangy cat on John’s beaten brown sofa. The cat, after turning around a few times, promptly began to pee on a throw pillow.

“Erm,” said John. But the girl, turning around to face him, hadn’t noticed.

God, she was beautiful. Smooth skin, a petite upturned nose, thick-lashed movie starlet eyes. She smiled at him, revealing small white teeth.

John’s heart, which hadn’t beaten for almost a hundred years, let out a single uneven ka-thunk.

“Thanks for inviting me in,” she said. Which seemed like a funny thing to say.

Or did it?

Her face was a little too perfect. A little too starletesque. Could have, in fact, been the face on the cover of a magazine or on a movie poster.

Probably was.

“Dammit, Aleric,” John said.

The beautiful visage in front of him lengthened, broadened, rippled and shimmered. The body lengthened and broadened also, the waist and shoulders thickening, legs lengthening. The luxurious blonde curls retracted some distance…

“Heh,” said the girl. “Hahaheh. Hee. Oh my God, John. Your face. Your fucking face, man.”

For the girl was no longer a girl. Was certainly no longer terribly attractive. Was, in fact, now a man in the first flush of his youth, some Germanic ideal of old–broad-shouldered and firm-jawed, hair brushing his shoulders in old-fashioned ringlets. This was a face John knew well–it belonged to Aleric Ulrich, messenger vampire of the Blood Reckoning coven, John’s assigned Brethren Watcher, and, he supposed, by default, his best friend.

This ancient tribesman, this vampire Visigoth, continued to chuckle. He was wearing a Slayer t-shirt. His long powerful feet, the pride nine hundred years ago of a hard-walking warrior, were encased in grungy leather flip-flops shiny with long wear. One of his toenails, for some incomprehensible reason, was painted purple.

“Meow,” said Aleric, picking up the motheaten cat and waltzing it around. “Me-ooooow.”

John, who generally tried to look on the bright side of things, said: “So I don’t have to keep the cat.”

“Hell, no. Have it for dinner, if you like.” Aleric made what John supposed was a cat-face, scrunching up his nose and pawing imaginary ears with one white hand.

“Whose face was that?”

Aleric shrugged, collapsing neatly back onto the couch. “I don’t know. She was on the cover of Cosmo last month. Thought she’d appeal to you. You like the beachy ones.” He winked, and for a moment the lost vision’s beautiful features were visible, superimposed over his own. “Gotcha!”

“Very funny.” John crossed his arms. “Why’re you here, Al?”

“You know why I’m here.”

John saw the other vampire’s eyes flicker over to the television set and sighed. The coven of the Blood Reckoning wouldn’t pay for cable, and didn’t want to bother learning how to install flatscreens in the underground crypt system they called home. As a result, John had spent more nights than he cared to admit hosting Aleric, and had seen more episodes of Friends than was altogether good for whatever remained of his soul.

But, apparently, this wasn’t the reason for Aleric’s visit. He shook his head slowly.

“As much as I want to find out whether Ross and Rachel finally get together,” he said, “I think I’ve gotta do my messenger stuff first.”

Which meant he was here on coven business. Which was never a good sign.

“As you probably know,” Aleric said, “you’re coming to the end of the first hundred years of your life as a vampire.”

John was aware. He was well aware. Had thought, for that matter, of very little else for the past year or so. The coven masters called what he was in a ‘fledgling state’, a time when a vampire wasn’t quite grown into his full powers, or over those nasty human habits like eating occasionally, drinking, and giving a shit. The official reason for this state was that it took a hundred years, give or take, for the body to truly die, and the blood that had kept him sustained as a human man to leave it. The real reason, John suspected, was actually to give the coven a big fat margin of error, so they could kill him if they felt they’d made a mistake.

Many fledglings, Al had told him cheerfully in between episodes of Iron Chef America, chose not to take the plunge into full-fledged vampiredom. Sixty percent, he guessed, maybe more. Why? Well, it wasn’t for everybody, being a vampire.
Not even the people the coven had hand-picked for their high vampire likelihood.

Why did so many choose to die the final death? In spite of immortality and awe-inspiring powers, it was a lonely eternal life. And one with little promise of release–not much could permanently kill a full-fledged vampire. Even sunlight, which would turn a fledgling like John into a small strawberry-jamlike explosion wherever he stood, was only a mild annoyance. Those coven members who wished to die had to work for it, and work hard.

Then there was the little matter of the Blood Price. But that–Aleric shrugged every time it was mentioned and went back to the T.V.

That, he’d say. You got used to it.

“The coven is still awaiting your decision, John.”

“I know,” John muttered. “Hey. Before we get into this, could I at least fish this bullet out of my…”

Aleric sighed. “Christ, John. D’you need help?”

Before John could even say no, Aleric waved a desultory hand. John’s stagnant respiratory system suddenly felt a good deal more comfortable.

Aleric opened his fist, dropped the bullet onto the counter. “There y’go,” he said. He examined the bullet for a minute, the powdery black remains of John’s blood covering his fingers as he turned it. “That’s…interesting,” he murmured. “An iron bullet. That’d wreck hell on most gun barrels. Did you have some crazies after you, or something?”

“No. Some kid tried to hold up Marlene at the store tonight. I got lucky, came out in time to stop it.”

“And he shot you with an iron bullet.”

“A little.”

Aleric squinted at the bullet again, the dark casing grooved and glinting. After a minute, he raised an eyebrow and slipped it in his pocket.

John supposed he shouldn’t ask. After all, it wasn’t like it was his bullet. It’d just lived inside him for a while.

But he couldn’t help it.

“Is that not what bullets are usually made of?”

“No,” Al said. And then–oddly enough, for Al–he didn’t say anything more about it.

“You know,” he said instead, “If you paid the Blood Price and joined the coven, you could do stuff like that too. Move fast and take bullets out of people.”

“I know.”

The two vampires looked at each other. The mangy cat, making itself at home, climbed on top of the kitchen counter and began to shed there.

“They’re serious,” Aleric said. “You’re almost out of time.”

“How long do I have?”

“A month. Maybe a month and a half. But they’ll come for you before that. And if you don’t make the decision, they’ll make it.”

“And it won’t be in a way I like.”

“And it won’t be in a way you like,” Aleric agreed. He pulled out one of the bar stools John had beside the counter and sat down on it. He shooed the cat away. “John. Buddy. What can I do to help you? I’ve given you all the time in the world, told you everything I can to help you make a decision. What’s the problem here? What’s giving you so much trouble?”

“Really? It’s the rest of my life. And, I mean, come on. My choices are eternal nothingness or eternal…everything. Ness. Die finally or live forever. How is that an easy choice?”

“It isn’t,” Aleric said quietly. “That’s why they give you a hundred years to make it.”

“How’d you make it?”

“I’m not supposed to tell you.” Aleric looked left and right, looked back at John. “But if you really want to know–I didn’t.”

“They made it for you?”

“They did.” And John saw something in his face–a flicker of something mysterious, some ancient and terrible sadness. He usually found Aleric a little ridiculous–certainly no more the stereotypical vampire than he was–but for just a moment, looking at the frown on his friend’s ageless face, he believed it. Believed, utterly, that this sloppy creature in a Slayer t-shirt and Birkenstocks was over a thousand years old, and had been, by his own admittance, a tribal prince.

“Trust me,” Al said. “Don’t let them choose for you.”

John pulled out the second bar stool and sat on it. He had bled a little, he noticed, with the removal of the bullet–two small drops of dark blood, drying even as he touched them.

How many more drops of blood, he wondered, did he have inside him? A tiny number, he was certain. Maybe a one digit number. And every drop he shed–every drop was gone from him forever. There would be no more blood. And, when the last drop was shed–there would be a choice.

From this point on, there was only death and decay.

Death or decay, he reminded himself bitterly. And the death bit was sort of a given.

“This is the last time it’ll be me asking you, John,” Al said. “Next time, it’ll be the High Master. And after that–well. If you’re lucky, I’d say you have three weeks until they take you.”

“I know. You think I don’t know this?”

“I think you don’t care. At least, not yet. Not as much as you should.” He sighed. “I only want to help you, before it’s too late. It’s a tough choice, yes. But the only thing less pleasant than making it is having the coven make it for you.”

“I know!”

“Then sleep on it.” Aleric glanced out the window. “You’ve got about thirty minutes to get to sleep before sunrise, anyway. You shouldn’t be up this early. Don’t worry. I’ll be back tomorrow to watch TV.”

“Great,” John said darkly. Al touched his shoulder.

“If you decide–when you decide. Call on me. Whether you believe it or not right now, John–I am your friend. And, should you choose the long death, I’d. Well. I’d miss having you around.”

“I know,” John said, for the third time. “I’ll make the decision. I promise. Okay?”

“By the way,” Al said, grinning. “You really do have a new upstairs neighbor. I saw the lights on when I walked up.”
And with those words, he disappeared.

And even though sudden mysterious disappearances were pretty much Al’s calling card–his favorite part, he often confessed, of having full vampire powers–John still wasn’t expecting it. Nor was he expecting him to leave the mangy cat sprawled out on the sofa.

The cat looked up at him and gave a single little mew, soft and piteous. The thing was wall-eyed, John realized. He didn’t know there could be such a thing as a wall-eyed cat.

He debated eating it. However, it looked like it would taste pretty horrible, and who knew? It might belong to someone.
Sighing, he went to fish a can of tuna out of the pantry.

That day, mangy cat curling up on his chest, John Fowler dreamed of iron bullets.

Excerpt: Things That Go Bump in the Night

image

Did I tell you guys I was fiddling around with a vampire story? No?

Well, I am. It’s, erm. It’s not exactly Twilight. It’s more one of my gross goddamn stories with a vampire in it. I think–and I know a lot of you guys’ll disagree with me, but you know–I think that, as overplayed as the vampire thing is, there’s a lot to recommend it, especially in our modern age.

If you haven;t figured it out yet, I play with a lot of stories all the time. Not all of them get finished, or even get very far. But I like y’all’s input. Helps me know when I’m doing something right. Write. Whatever.

This is the story of John Fowler, ordinary dude and night clerk at a local corner store, at the close of his first hundred years as a vampire. He’s been, thus far, in a sort of vampire larval stage, possessing neither the Full Thirst nor the full powers of his older brethren. The question later in the story becomes, does John really want to be a fullblown vampire? And if he doesn’t, what the hell are his alternatives?

There’s also fun stuff about a vampire coven without cable, lesbian marital disputes, twin vampire hunters who call a poltergeist ‘Dad’, and a lockbox that may or may not contain the morning take.

May set records for the oldest coming-of-age MC ever written. Take that, frat pack bro comedies about men who can’t grow up.

THINGS THAT GO BUMP IN THE NIGHT

*****

As John fingered the bullet hole in his chest, Marlene the day manager lit a cigarette.

“Jesus,” she said weakly. “You gonna make it through your shift?”

John prodded the hole experimentally. The edges of the wound were crusty already, hardening. He withdrew the finger, blew away the dusty black blood that clung to it. He resisted the urge–a grossout kid urge, unworthy of a member of the eternal undead–to stick his finger in it, wiggle it around a little, and make a face.

“I should be all right,” he said. “It’s just a little uncomfortable. Do we have duct tape in the back? I think I need to make a patch.”

Marlene, a thin stream of smoke curling through her carefully painted lips, stared at him.

“On my desk,” she said. “It’s either on my desk, or it’s on top of the 7-UP crates. John.”

“Yeah?”

“What does–” she gestured with her cigarette to his chest, to the neat black hole, still smoking, in his work polo. “What does it feel like?”

“It hurts.” He shrugged. “What d’you think getting shot feels like? Just because I’m a vampire doesn’t mean I can’t feel pain, you know. I’ve just felt a lot more of it.” He poked at the hole again. “I’m used to it. Do we still have some of the old aprons back there? I should cover this.”

“Hm? Yeah. Oh. Of course.” She opened the back door, leaned in and reached around with the cigaretted hand still held outside. She returned with a work apron and tossed it to him, watching as he tied it around his waist and adjusted the front to cover his wound. “You’re sure you’ll be okay, though.”

“I’ll be fine, Mar. I’ve got spare shirts at home. Go on your damn date with Astrid and be happy you’re alive.” He winked at her. “Don’t waste all that makeup on me.”

“If you need me, I’ve got my cell.”

“I know.”

They stood for a few moments, looking at each other. The back alley was silent, a silence punctuated only by the shouts and music of the Pizza Palace kitchen pulsating dimly across the way. There was no sign anything untoward had just taken place here, let alone an attempted robbery. The small pile of dust which had once been Marlene’s assailant was already blowing away in the breeze.

No sign, of course, except for the blood. And the lockbox, tipped on its side against the dumpster. John could handle this much. He could mop up the blood, carry the lockbox inside. Eating humans was such a waste, always–way more blood than you could handle. You left evidence.

This one, though. This one had deserved it.

John wouldn’t particularly say he enjoyed looks of ultimate terror being flashed in his direction. He was a benign sort of guy. He didn’t particularly enjoy killing, either–the vampire bloodlust was a myth, or at least was a myth in his particular chrysalis-like stage of vampire evolution.

But this guy.

You didn’t point a gun at an innocent middleaged lady coming back from the bank. You just didn’t. John was a vampire–if anyone was supposed to enjoy separating innocent women from their lives, it was him–and even he thought it was monstrously bad form.

He liked Marlene. She was nice.

The peeling door across the way cracked open, and the sounds of a remixed Katy Perry song translated into Spanish saturated the alley. Javier, one of the chefs from Pizza Palace, poked his head around.

“You guys okay?” he asked. “Thought I might’ve heard a gunshot a while back.”

“Slow on the uptake, ain’t you?” Marlene snapped.

“Well, shit, lady. I didn’t wanna get shot or anything.” He peered around. “Is that–”

“Lockbox,” John said. And, because it was the only thing he could think of at the moment: “it landed on a cat.”

A man, John reflected, was a remarkable thing. When provided by a trusted person with an explanation–no matter how strange–for an unlikely event, he stopped asking questions. If the explanation wasn’t reasonable enough, he started providing details of his own.

Javier, case in point, chuckled. “You and Mar so bored you’re throwin’ the lockbox around? All right. That’s fuckin’ crazy. Let me know next time and I’ll bring the guys out.” His moving eyes plotted out the lockbox’s trajectory. “You got it pretty damn far, man. You got an arm on you. Were you guys aiming for the cat, or–”

“JAVIER.” Mr. Palace’s voice boomed from the kitchen. “JAVIER. I’M NOT PAYING YOU TO CHITCHAT.”

“Motherfucker,” Javier mumbled. “See you guys later.” The door slammed shut, Katy Perry reduced once more to a tolerable volume.

Marlene, whose fingers were gripping the cigarette so tightly she’d almost broken it in two, gave John a look. “It landed on the cat,” she repeated. “Christ. You’re a genius.”

“Just experienced, thank you,” John said. He took her, gently, by the shoulders, stubbornly refusing to inhale against the olofactory orchestra that was Marlene’s use of drug store body spray. Of course, since he hadn’t drawn a breath that wasn’t for show or for the sole purpose of sighing in a hundred years, this was easier for him than it was for some people.

He wondered, briefly, how Astrid dealt with it. Of course, Astrid smoked a pack a day, so there was plenty Astrid couldn’t smell. Maybe it was a sultry hint of warm vanilla to her, as opposed to the entire birthday cake.

John sighed, his breath whistling from the hole in his lung. He turned Marlene, as gently as he could, back towards her Accura. “Go, Marlene. Enjoy your date. Make her buy you some lobster. You’ve been talking about wanting lobster for like a month.”

“It is lobster night at Crabby Chic,” Marlene said, thoughtful.

“And you’ve been wanting a night off with Astrid since she started working the new shift.”

“Well, yeah. But–”

“No buts. I’m a vampire, Marlene. I can handle a little blood and a hole in my lung. You go and have fun.” He patted her shoulder. “Just try check out the alley before you get out of the car next time, okay? You known thieves like to wait out here much past sunset.” He picked up the lockbox, gingerly, so none of the blood that now painted it got on his shirt. “And maybe it’s time to just start using a deposit bag. Toting this lockbox makes you look less safe, not more, okay? They can see the lockbox. They can’t see a deposit bag. And your life is worth more than the morning shift’s take.”

Marlene smiled a little. John smiled in return–he was worried, at first, he had traumatized her a little. He would’ve hated to do it. Marlene was a nice lady.

Of course, she’d also been working with him for four years. She was used to his shit. Had, in fact, long since passed the point where ‘they were delicious’ wasn’t an acceptable answer to the question ‘what happened to our rat problem in the back room?’.

And even now–even after witnessing firsthand her employee feeding on a human being–Marlene was still a nice lady. And the feeding–that could be a disturbing sight, John knew. The Jackson Polluck effect of the blood spatter sent most people running permanently in the other direction.

Of course, he’d also taken a bullet for her. Little bastard had been packing, which he hadn’t been expecting when he came to Marlene’s aid. Then again: that was another thing easier for him to deal with than it was for most people. And no one–no one–should have to die or fear for their lives because of the morning’s take from a shitty convenience store.

John wasn’t so ancient he had forgotten what fearing for his life felt like. In fact, it was a condition so hardwired into the human brain that he still did it occasionally. He felt silly when he remembered, of course, but it was still a default reaction.

“Go,” John repeated. “Have some fun.”

Nothing a little duct tape couldn’t patch up.