New Release: Midnight Thirsts II

It’s out! Midnight Thirsts II, with my short story “A Living Specimen”, is available now through Lulu, Amazon, and the publisher, Melange Books.

Praise from author John Steiner for “A Living Specimen”:

First let me say I love stories with peculiar titles that have one wondering why they were chosen. As an author I strive for that in my chapter titles and, at times, the title for the whole story. The story starts with our confused and traumatized main character giving her best recollection of events. The workings of a necessarily short and brilliantly enrapturing prologue.
As the story goes on and we learn more of Trisha and her work in something called S.H.I.P. or otherwise referred to as the Society. Along the way my mind kept going back to that opening scene, and what the hell did just happen. Tori’s characters each have their uniqueness that is coupled with a surface impression from Trisha’s view and inner complexity that works itself out through the story.
Just when you think you’ve got things figured out suddenly you’re reevaluating everything you’ve seen so far. Then you’re hit again with surprises. “A Living Specimen” simultaneously drew me back to the vampire stories filmed by Britain’s Hammer Films in the 1960’s and 1970’s as well as to Josh Wheaton’s “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” television series, both of which I have fond memories for. There’s a homy feel to the collection of characters the relationships between them and a little Wheatonesque humor. Also enjoyable is the climactic scene with detailed description meant for revelation and heightened adrenalin.
For clever plot, well flushed out characters, pithy quips and good old fashioned nightcrawlers you would NOT bring home to meet your parents I give this a solid five stars.

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Thy Will Be Done — excerpt

The early summer night seemed unseasonably cold to John Hathorne, as he leaned out the back door to check that the path was clear. He grimaced at the chill in the air and clutched his wife’s woolen shawl more closely about him. His dismay when he’d found that the chamber pot was missing was doubled now, as his breath puffed out in white clouds and the bare flesh on his legs rose in goose pimples.
But the demands of his earthly flesh could and would not be denied.
The moon was high and full, lighting the garden path sufficiently that he barely needed the lantern. Still, he carried it high as a standard of godly light against the Devil and his kin. No wind shook the new leaves above, and the crickets were silent. He was keenly aware of the loudness of his breath and the drumming of his heart in his ears. No matter that the trials had ended, he knew that many more witches still remained free, still presented a danger to God-fearing men in their heathen alliance to the Devil — he could feel it. Hathorne pressed his lips together as he surveyed his property once more for signs of Satan before setting the lantern carefully on the ground.
His hand trembled slightly as he reached for the handle of the privy door. Shameful. Hathorne shook his head at himself, wiped his sweaty palm on his nightshirt, and reached back for the lantern once more. Then, whispering a psalm for courage and protection, he took a firm grip on the door and flung it open, thrusting the lantern before him into the darkened space.
No demon leaped from the inside to attack him; no spectral figure crouched on the sanded wooden seat, ready to pinch and claw his flesh. There was only a little empty room, emitting the usual offensive odours. Hathorne found that he’d been holding his breath and released it with a whoosh as he set the lantern back down, entered the small wooden closet, and shut the door.
He immediately regretted the loss of light. His internal organs seized up in utter and irrational terror. A bead of perspiration slid down his forehead, and his heart hammered against his chest. One toe snuck forward to open the the door a little and admit a shaft of warm yellow light. Pale moonlight poured in as well, and hating himself for allowing fear to battle propriety, he pushed the door open half-way.
There. Now, he could see the friendly glow from the kitchen fireplace through the glass window, and the candle he’d left on the table to light his way through the house.
After a few moments, his pulse slowed and the first trickles of urine promised the coming relief of his aching bladder.
A sudden gust of wind pushed the door the rest of the way open, startling him so he cried out; at almost the same moment, the lantern fell and rolled away in a half-circle, extinguishing the candle within. A great black shape stepped before him on four legs and growled. Hathorne’s scalp tingled as his hair stood on end and his bladder emptied in an unexpected gush.
The thing looked at him with eyes that glowed red, living coals of fury over a pointed snout and bared, glistening teeth.
And then it reached for him.
Hathorne’s throat closed even as he tried to call for help; gibbering madly, he pressed himself as far back against the wall behind as he could, trying vainly to avoid the thick, hairy limb. Rough claws found purchase on his calf. Hathorne felt splinters dig under his fingernails as he held onto the doorframe, resisting the pull of the demon with all of his strength.

Look for “Thy Will Be Done” in Dark Moon Books this fall!

Brain Games — excerpt

The small, brown-paper package, wrapped in string, is no bigger than my hand. The Florida postmark makes my heart beat faster.
I bolt up the stairs to my room.
Here, at last, is the perfect solution to my problem. Damien will be no match for a little voodoo magic!
“Rose may have you now,” I mutter, using nail clippers to cut the strings, “but that’s about to change.”
I glance lovingly at his picture, framed and hung in place of honour above my pillow.
I open the crackling paper to find a black box and a business card.
“Mama Jetti’s Traditional Haitian Magics” I read aloud. It lists her contact info, and then there’s a bunch of small print, probably a disclaimer or something similarly boring written in complicated legalese.
I set the business card on my bedside table, and return my attention to the box.
“Time for the big reveal.” I take a deep breath, and carefully remove the lid.
Inside, nestled in a bundle of shredded newspaper, is a single black vial. I can’t see the contents, but when I pick it up and shake it, I can hear powder shifting. Spotting a folded piece of paper tucked into the lid, I pull it out and read the instructions.

* * *

“Damien! I’ve got your drink!”
I watch Rose weave her way through the crowd, holding two brimming red Solo cups above her head. She’s wearing blue short-shorts and a yellow bikini top, all the better to show off the fresh tramp stamp on her lower back. Apparently, she’d had it done just that afternoon, but she hadn’t bothered keeping the ugly plastic wrap on it.
Yeah, I think bitterly. The infection that will set in by tomorrow will be sooo attractive…
I sip my own drink carefully, fingering the vial in my pocket and trying to ignore the churning in my stomach. It’s hard to be patient, watching his arm curve around her slim waist and trace the stylized butterfly tattooed into her skin. Clearly, he’s into ink.
It won’t be for long.
All I have to do is wait for the right moment. The tricky part is making sure that only Damien’s cup has the magic stuff…
Twenty minutes later, I realize that getting to it is going to be difficult. He and Rose are so into each other, it would take a fire hose to pry them apart. I grind my teeth, watching his lips nibbling at her neck. Okay. The hard way, then.
I dump the powder into my beer. According to the instructions, I’m supposed to put the powder in an open wound, but the best I can do is get him to swallow it.

Find out what happens next in A Quick Bite of Flesh — the zombie anthology lurches your way soon from Hazardous Press!

Let’s Get Interactive!

“Spellbound at Midnight” by Isabelle Kane & Audrey Tremaine — 
In the sultry Big Easy, Viole Godin is hired to restore Magnolia Place, an antebellum mansion which is crumbling under a mysterious curse. Marie Verret and her dangerously attractive grandson, Lucien, believe Viole is the key to ending the curse one magical Halloween night.

“Room 1309.5” by John M. Mecom — 
Inspired by the works of Poe and Stephen King, Room 1309.5 is a story of revenge and despair. It is the author’s first story to be published and received honorable mention in the Fifth Annual Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Awards.

“Mansion of Nightmares” by Walt Trizna — 
A mysterious mansion, long abandoned, harbors a past that claims those who enter. Then one day, by a stroke of luck, an intruder survives and uncovers its secret.

“Ghost Taxi” by Joanna Foreman
 — A man drowns heading for freedom in America, but his ghost is trapped. Washed up on the beach, the ghost is an illegal alien, not allowed to cross the street into Miami. A homeless man and a vacationing tourist search for his wife so the ghost can possess her.

“Uncle Vernon” by Jenny Twist — 
There’s something very peculiar about Uncle Vernon. Nobody knows what he does in the cellar. But he’s quite harmless, really. Isn’t he?

“Half Seen, Half Hidden” by John Steiner — 
Nine dead. One missing. No suspects and no leads. What happened in the cabin outside Wilson Wyoming? Where and who is Mason Oliver? Deep within ourselves rests a greater mystery. Half Seen, Half Hidden traces the last three days of Mason Oliver and nine hitchhikers. Offering them shelter, Mason takes them to a secluded cabin. There they all sense the others aren’t quite the strangers they seemed, and that they hold something extraordinary in common.

“Telltale Signs” by Tori L Ridgewood — 
Don’t stay in the Dark Lake Museum after sunset! But Kate Elliot has a deadline to meet. Working overtime, she realizes she’s not alone in the creepy old mansion…

“The Origin of Fear” by Tara Fox Hall — 
Four college friends mount an expedition to Latham’s Landing — an abandoned island estate infamous for mysterious deaths — to gather pictures and inspiration for a thesis on the origin of fear.

You can pick up a copy of Spellbound here: http://www.melange-books.com/authors/anthologies/Spellbound2011.html

Or, here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/spellbound-2011-a-halloween-anthology/17820391?showPreview

Excerpt from “The Origin of Fear” by Tara Fox Hall:

“You’ll have fun, I promise,” Nikki said, her eyes sparkling.
“This isn’t a trip to an amusement park,” Daryl replied curtly, leaning back in his chair. “We aren’t a bunch of teenagers out for a thrill. When I say no alcohol, I mean it.”
“Speak for yourself,” Sam said, laughing. “Sure, you’re going for some kind of research for your thesis, but the rest of us are going because we think it’s exciting.” He signaled the waitress. “Check, please.”
“I’m not sure,” Marie said uneasily, rooting in her purse. “Breaking into a house sounds like a bad idea to me.”
“If they’d let us go there legally, we wouldn’t need to break in,” Daryl said irritably.
“Like you told us, there have been some deaths out there,” Sam said with a shrug of his shoulders. “It makes sense the owners don’t want to risk any trouble for a little cash.”
Daryl scowled. “Even that damn old man who runs the docks refuses to cooperate. I offered him a hundred dollars. He turned me down cold.”
“You shouldn’t blame him,” Marie said defensively. “He’s just doing his job.”
Daryl grumbled something, then took the bill from the waitress.
“We’re going to have a blast,” Nikki said excitedly, throwing her money down. “The best part is that it’ll be close to Halloween.”
“We can’t do it that night,” Daryl warned. “They’ve got extra security on Halloween, because of past pranks. Police patrol in a boat on weekends regularly, or so the dock man informed me. It has to be a weeknight.”
Nikki laughed. “Everyone wants to visit a haunted house on Halloween, especially a real one.”
“Police have no sense of humor,” Sam muttered. “We can’t get caught, kids. If we do, we’re not going to get off with a warning.”
“I told you, I can get a boat,” Marie interjected. “My brother’s got one he’ll loan me. It’s small, but it has a motor and can fit four. The bigger problem is the currents around Cairn Isle. We have to be careful—”
“Cairn Isle?” Nikki laughed again. “Is that its real name?”
“That’s what the locals call it, because of all the deaths,” Marie said defensively. “But that’s not its real name.”
“What is its real name?” Nikki asked.
“Latham’s Landing,” Daryl said with relish, letting the name roll over his tongue. “It’s going to be crucial to my paper on the origin of fear for my psychology of mind class. With luck, I’m hoping to turn it into a dissertation.”
“How did you ever hear of it?” Sam asked. “I never have.”
“It’s not something the locals advertise,” Daryl replied. “They’re closemouthed about it, these farmers, and they don’t like strangers. Even the historical society that owns the house doesn’t promote it. Their website had almost nothing—”
“What did it have?” Sam asked, interested.
“Just that a man named Hans Latham got rich in the ship business, and that he built this home when he retired.”
“So why go there?” Sam persisted.
“Because it’s a focal point for so much intense fear,” Daryl explained. “Though the local sites didn’t have much to say, the haunted house sites had a ton on this place. Compared to the factories and monasteries those ghost hunters visit, this is the mother lode in term of attributed deaths—”
“Attributed deaths?” Marie said, arching her brows. “Real people have died out there. I know one personally: my cousins’ first girlfriend and her brother. They just wanted to have a look by boat before joining up with some friends on the beach to the west. Instead they capsized and drowned.”
“I didn’t mean that the fear wasn’t warranted, or that the deaths weren’t real,” Daryl replied hastily. “I’m almost out of money, Marie, and I’ve got to graduate this spring. I need a thrilling and controversial paper if I’m going to get a good job offer. I don’t want to have to go back in the Army for another tour. Latham’s Landing is also relatively close by, which is good for my limited funds.”
“I guess we’re not going to stay at the bed and breakfast,” Nikki interjected.
“We can’t,” Daryl replied. “We can’t question any of the locals, or go to the exhibit the bed and breakfast has, not yet. If we stay there, we’ll arouse suspicion.”
“Then what’s the plan?” Sam said.
Daryl looked at each of them in turn. “First, we’re going to the island, to take pictures of everything, and gather data relative to the deaths for which I have documentation. Marie will get us a boat, and we’ll meet two weeks from now on the shore of the nature preserve. That’s October twenty-seventh, at dusk.” He got to his feet. “We can question the locals and do the dry research later.” Daryl strode out, the others following.
“So long as there’s no wet research,” Marie mumbled worriedly, as she hurried after them.

And… Her latest! (At one time, we’d say “Hot off the presses…”)

JUST SHADOWS Anthology Post

From the murky depths of a summer lake to the echoing halls of an insane asylum, evil lies in wait for victims. Innocents might escape by a hair’s breath, if they’re lucky. Then again, they might not. The shadows are waiting. Dare you step into the darkness and be judged?

This will be publishing on 1-9-2012 from Bradley Publishing:
http://www.bradleypublishings.com/Home_Page.php
and should be available on Amazon by late next week!

Here is an excerpt from the title story:

Dawn was just breaking, fog rising off the small stream in misty tendrils that wafted through the forest glade The forest was dark and deep, still mostly silent, inky blackness. From time to time, rustling sounds issued from thickets, but it was the small rustling of rabbits and grouse, not the prey most men were after today. Suddenly, there came a sharp shriek of a scream owl, startling the man crouched waiting in the tree stand high above.
“They’re just shadows,” Lenny said under his breath to himself, shifting his weight. “How long you been huntin’ these woods? You know better.”
He looked down the barrel, checking the sight one more time. You couldn’t be too careful. It was easy to knock the sight off getting up into the tree stand. God knew, he wasn’t getting any younger. Still, for a man his age, Lenny was pretty limber. Smiling, he settled back, scanning the forest floor. The first day of hunting season was the best day of his year.
****
“Fucking amateurs,” Lenny said angrily hours later. “Assholes!”
The morning had been beautiful, the day creeping in quickly, illuminating the shadows. Like clockwork, a beautiful buck had come right to the stream to drink. Lenny had been squeezing the trigger when a rifle crack had shattered the moment, the buck bolting out of his sights, its flank bloodied. Lenny had cursed, then climbed down the wooden ladder quickly. The crackling of dead limbs coming his way was testament that the stupid ass who’d shot his buck was giving chase. Lenny reached the forest floor in time to stop the young punk in his tracks
“What are you, an idiot?” he’s shouted at the boy. “You can’t use a rifle on deer.”
“Who’s going to stop me, old man?” the punk said with a sneer. “There’s no DEC anywhere around here today. They’re all up there on the state land. It’s party time—”
“You get out of here before I drill your ass where you stand,” Lenny growled harshly. “This is my land. I pay the taxes on it, not you. Get out of here now.”
The punk glared back, but when Lenny’s eyes remained hard and unwavering, the punk’s gaze slid away, then lowered. “I know I hit the animal. I need to track it—”
“You winged him, is all,” Lenny interrupted, gripping his shotgun. “He’ll be fine. But you won’t be if you don’t shut up and get gone. Now.”
The kid turned and walked away, muttering under his breath. Lenny watched him until the boy was gone, then let his shoulders slump in relief. You could never tell these days if a kid was going to snap and start shooting, or if he’d been taught to respect his elders. A lot of men Lenny’s age had found the former true in recent years. It was a relief he’d been right this time.
But that hadn’t been the worst part; that had come later. Lenny had climbed back up into the stand, had lunch, then waited the rest of the afternoon without seeing a goddamned thing. Just as dark was falling, another deer came up, again a buck. Trailing him was a doe. Lenny got into position, and then suddenly, the bark of a dog shattered the stillness, making the two deer turn as one and flee.
Lenny cursed again. That damn neighbor of his, out walking her dogs. Didn’t she know today was the first day of hunting season? Yes, she did—there was her bright orange hat and vest. Christ, she even had orange vests on the dogs. He stayed silent, waiting for her to pass.
He’d waited until the shadows were thick, hoping for another chance, but no deer had come. Pissed off and dejected, Lenny began to reluctantly climb down. This was his first opening day in years that he had noting to show for his efforts. Now dusk was closing on full dark. Damn it, I should have left earlier…
There was a snap as the ladder rung he was holding onto gave way. The ground rushed up to meet him before he could yell.
****
Blinking his eyes, Lenny sat up, trying to ignore his throbbing head. Damn ladder. He was lucky the gun hadn’t gone off; he’d forgotten to safety it before starting to descend the ladder. At least there was a shiver of moon, just enough to illuminate the woods around him weakly. But the thickets and bushes were black as pitch, just shadows with no form.
He hadn’t fallen far, but he’d cracked his head good. The rest of him was just fine. With a groan, he got to his feet, feeling in his pockets for a flashlight. His wife Hera would be worried about him. She’d been telling him for years to get himself one of those new cell phones, complaining that when he was out hunting she had no way to contact him. He hadn’t listened, of course. The last thing he wanted was to have his hunting disturbed. Now she was going to bend his ear every chance she got, after hearing about this. Grumbling, he clicked the safety on, switched on the flashlight, and began walking slowly back to where his truck was parked.
There was a rustling in the thicket ahead. Lenny turned, curious. Maybe it was a deer? Wouldn’t that be funny, he thought sarcastically; a deer coming in so close now, when it was too late to shoot. He aimed his flashlight beam into the thicket, but the weak light wouldn’t penetrate the shadows. All it did was illuminate two eyes shining back at him.
There was a deer in there staring at him. Had to be. Well, there was no point in scaring it. Lenny began to back away slowly.
The eyes held on him, motionless, then very slowly rose in the shadow, until they were level with his height. Then they kept rising up, until they were near eight feet in the air. Again they held still, staring back at him.
Lenny’s skin crawled as he stared back, frozen in his tracks. Even a deer rearing on its hind legs wouldn’t be that tall. This had to be a bear, and the biggest goddamn one he’d ever seen.
The eyes moved in the darkness toward him, leaves rustling with each deliberate footstep.
A bear wouldn’t do that, Lenny thought, backing away. A bear couldn’t walk that far on its hind legs.
The eyes suddenly darted forward, twigs and branches in the thing’s path snapping. Lenny turned and ran, the fast crackling of broken branches coming right behind him.
With every step, he expected to be clubbed by a huge paw, or hear an enraged roar. Instead, the crackling noises just kept pace right behind him. Terrified, he refused to turn, unwilling to face those tall eyes again. But as his breathing turned ragged and his strength failed, Lenny knew he had to. He’d never outrun the thing. He had only one shot, and he’d better make it a hell of a good one.
Panting, Lenny swung around to face the thing, bringing the gun barrel up level as he clicked off the safety. He gaped, then lowered the weapon. The eyes were gone.
He stood still for a moment, fighting to control his breathing, to hear any close noises over the sound of his own racing heart.
There was the hoot of an owl. Nothing else broke the silent night.
Lenny retreated to his car, nervously scanning his surroundings all the way, his gun at the ready. He was badly startled by a raccoon en route, and just managed not to pull the trigger in reflex. When Lenny reached the edge of the woods and his car, he climbed in and shut the door as fast as he could, breathing a huge sigh of relief as he hit the lock button.
God, what had that thing been? Did I imagine seeing it? Maybe the eyes being that tall had been a trick of the light, a raccoon or some other animal climbing up a tree…
He could figure that out later. All he wanted to do was go home.
Lenny started the car, relieved all over again when the engine turned over easily. He put it in gear, then glanced up, letting out an instant yell.
There in his headlights was the punk from this morning. He was staring at Lenny with dead eyes. Part of his neck was missing, blackish dried blood and tissue clumped at the raw edges of the gaping wound.
This couldn’t be happening!
The kid smiled, baring human teeth coated with more of that blackish-red blood. Then he began to raise the gun still held in his hands.
Lenny put the car in gear, then stomped on the gas. The car shot forward, knocking the kid off his feet, the car lurching as it rolled over him. Lenny gunned the engine again, cursing at the slow passage of the car through the high grass of the field.
Damn it, why is this taking so long?
The car made it to the bottom of the steep incline that led up to the main road. Suddenly, the back tires spun, and the car shuddered.
Lenny eased off the gas, then tried again, gunning the engine. The wheels spun, the engine loud in his ears.
Damn it! Lenny thought. The underside of the car had to be stuck on something sticking up out of the ground, maybe the remnant of a fence, or some barbwire, maybe even a stump. He was just digging a hole, giving the car more gas. He’d have to get out and see if he could lever it off.
Lenny grabbed the flashlight, opened the car door, and got out, scanning around for eyes with the beam. Nothing gleamed back in the darkness. Relieved, he shone the flashlight at the car, gaped, and then swore as he inspected his vehicle from all sides.
All four tires were flat. That asshole kid had done it, before that thing in the woods had killed him. There was no way he would get up that incline with one flat tire, much less four.
A rustling sounded in the darkness. Lenny brought his flashlight up, aiming it at the approaching noises. Two familiar eyes gleamed back at him from high in the darkness at the forest’s edge. More horrifying, two more pairs suddenly sprang to life on either side of the eyes, all of them staring at him.

Available now! Midnight Thirsts, the anthology, through LULU.com

I’m officially published! Mist and Midnight is definitely in good company. Midnight Thirsts includes five fun short novels involving vampires, lust, magic, romance, LGBT, exotic locations, terrific characters… It’s a thrill to see it happen at last.

You can get a copy at LULU.com for download or order a paperback there. Please let me know… Thanks!

Check out Melange-Books.com, my amazing publishers…there is something there for everyone!

Writing difficult sections

I worked my way through a section of my new novel, piece by piece yesterday, stopping frequently to accommodate the demands — I mean, needs, of my five year old daughter. I think the breaks may have helped, though, because each time I came back to the part I was struggling with, I was fresh. I am in new territory, having moved past a previously drafted scene, and entering the high middle of the story. Here is the result; the part I struggled with came after the asterisks:

Her eyes closed as his mouth covered hers, yielding to the hand that cupped her face and tilted it back. Her fingers touched his chest, exploring the contours of the warm muscle hidden under the soft flannel work shirt, and heat blossomed between her thighs as she felt his heartbeat quicken. He moved closer, settling into the space between her legs as their kiss deepened. Rayvin released the wall, abandoning herself to his embrace and the pleasing shivers coursing through her body. Her skin tingled and flamed under his touch. She angled her head to open her mouth more for him, seeking his tongue with her own. Surrounded by the warmth of his light, she took as much as he was able to give, running her hand up the worn leather of his jacket to fist in his hair, encouraging him as sensation pulsed in compelling rhythm from deep in her centre. She savored his response, forgetting everything but the way he was pulling her tightly into his body, changing the angle of his head to plunder her mouth more fully, teasing her tongue with his own as his hands worked their way down the sides of her body, thumbs gently tracing the roundness of her swelling breasts under her sweater, following the curve of her waist to the hem of the garment, until she rocked against him and gasped. He released her mouth, looking at her for a soul-shattering moment of honesty and hunger and burning intensity, before ravishing her neck with burning kisses, using tongue and teeth to taste every inch of flesh from the sensitive lobe of her ear to the juncture of neck and shoulder, pulling her sweater away to reach further down. She couldn’t breathe, but could only hold him closer, putting one leg around his thigh and rock against him in a primal, instinctive move that she was powerless to resist. He was taking her, and she was willingly following – or was she pushing him, and he the follower to her desire? His hand was on the bare skin of her waist, gooseflesh rising in the contrast between the heat of his touch and the cold of the air. She wanted to feel his fingers move higher, was already imagining what it would feel like when they circled her nipples, wanted to push the jacket away and mould his own perfect body with her palms, wanted his mouth on her skin, could see them moving together, naked and sweaty with passion, driving each other to the limits of their bodies and beyond –
“Ahem.”
They sprang apart. Father Jonas, hatted, scarfed, and mittened in anachronistically baby blue, was standing a few feet away, turned in profile. A small terrier, in matching baby blue knitted sweater, had lifted its leg against the lamppost, and was watching him with disinterest as it urinated. The minister’s face, however, was clearly struggling between amusement and disapproval. Grant stepped back, coughing slightly, and buttoned up his coat. It wasn’t quite long enough to cover the bulge noticeable in the crotch. “Evening, Father,” he nodded, shoving his hands in his pockets.
The older man nodded abruptly, cleared his throat again, and clicked his tongue at his dog. “Any more news about those animal disappearances, Corporal? Some of my congregation are quite upset at the loss of their pets, and others are fearful of their own going missing.” He turned slightly, cocking a brow at Michaels. “I hope our tax dollars are going to good use in this matter? Whoever might attack an innocent creature of God might turn on children, or the elderly, next.” His eyes flicked toward Rayvin, before he turned to walk away. “Violence of this sort must not be tolerated in our community, my boy. We must all be vigilant.”
Rayvin was surprised to hear a low growl coming from Grant’s throat. She saw him clench his jaw for a fraction of a second. “Hold up, there, please. Patrick -” He strode forward to catch up with the minister, who halted for a moment to wait. They paced slowly down to the corner, speaking in hurried, harsh whispers. Finally, the blue knitted cap tilted once, in what might have been a nod. He continued on his way, while Grant turned back with a look of grim satisfaction on his face. And froze.
Rayvin was gone.

* * *

Rayvin was halfway home before she realized that she still didn’t have the necklace for Andrea.
“Damn, damn, damn,” she cursed herself, striding quickly up the steeply graded hill toward her block. She stopped, considering her options. The bleak light of the waning moon was swiftly disappearing behind scudding clouds, driven by a steady wind that had changed from refreshing to chill; the streetlights provided small islands of illumination which only served to make the darkness between them more total. Se did not feel safe, but she did not detect any threats around her. Certainly not of the power and intensity that had overcome her in the restaurant.
And damn that Grant Michaels! What was she thinking, kissing him? She’d practically thrown herself at him, after all that self-talk about keeping her distance, and in front of a witness who was no doubt on the phone right now, like the gossip he’d been when she was young. Rayvin’s nails bit into the flesh of her palms as she increased her pace, ignoring the burning in her thighs. Sweat trickled in a cold line down her back. Stupid man. Stupid woman, letting her hormones lead the way. She hadn’t made that kind of mistake since high school. She remembered the consequences of that little diversion quite well. So not only would she now have to be on guard against a vampire, she also had to watch her own emotions. She could not afford to be distracted. This time, the consequences would be a hundred times worse.
A cold gust sent icy fingers down her neck; she hunched her shoulders, breathing heavily as she trudged uphill. Her face felt hot. Her senses on high alert, her heart skipped a beat when, rounding a corner, a pair of ghoulish faces wriggled and danced before her. It took her a minute to recognize the cheap Hallowe’en decorations, dangling on fishing line from the bare branches of a birch tree. There was another layer to the problem — Samhain closing in fast, more conventionally Hallowe’en. It looked like the neighbourhood was expecting trick or treaters in a few days, though she hadn’t yet noticed any children. She shuddered, looking over her shoulder and hugging her jacket more closely. She didn’t want to think about the horror that could happen on that night, of all nights, if she couldn’t pull herself together and focus on the problem.
If this was a movie, she reflected, she’d already have a plan of attack, or a group of friends to help out. Then again, in a movie, the heroine would never do something so stupid as go for a walk alone, in the dark, with a monster on the prowl. She almost wished that she had waited and accepted the ride home from Grant Michaels. It was so cold, she could almost see her breath; her fingers were numb, though she could feel the beads of sweat on her forehead before they were kissed away by the north wind.
That night with Jason had been like this. Really dark, really cold, the scent of snow on the air. She didn’t want to remember. Gritting her teeth, Rayvin attempted to dodge the memories as she walked. She didn’t want to think about the past, but the visions were coming back in spite of her efforts to block them.
There was the old bus bench, for the now-defunct transportation service. That was where she had met Jason for their date.

She hadn’t wanted a guy coming to her door to pick her up; she is an independent woman at seventeen. She’d never had a boyfriend, or a real date for that matter, but her life is not going to be a cliche. Rayvin had chosen to wear her favourite pair of black jeans, a tight-fitting black turtleneck, and a delightfully thick blue woollen shawl she’d scored when rummaging around the Salvation Army store downtown, with Andrea. Rayvin had also managed to find gloves and a beret in a checked pattern, shot through with a blue that closely matched her shawl. She had left her hair down, and liked the way that the blues set off its red, auburn, and golden tones. She had even, at Andrea’s insistence, put on a little makeup, applying a hint of eyeliner and a dusting of shadow. She looks good, and she knows it, but it is still gratifying to hear Jason exclaim as he approaches, “Wow! You look gorgeous — sophisticated.” He is wearing his hockey jacket over a cream crew neck sweater, dark blue jeans, clean running shoes. He lifts his brown flat-peak ball cap off his forehead, feigning the need to get a better look at her. She knows it is silly, but she feels flattered, just the same. It is nice that a good-looking boy thinks she is pretty. At that moment, it hurts a little less that the guy she really prefers wouldn’t even talk to her. She preens as he whistles, uncrossing her legs and standing up to accept the rose he offers. Who cares if Grant Michaels isn’t interested, she thinks, inhaling the faint scent of the flower. She smiles at Jason over its red petals. The muted glow of the setting October sun softens the edges of the world, and for once she feels almost completely happy.

Lost in the ghosts of her past, Rayvin’s pace slowed. She dawdled at the playground at the next intersection, crossing the street to sit on a damp wooden swing. Fog was gathering from the shrubs and empty trees that bordered the small square lot; a few lights shone from neighbouring houses, friendly yellow glows that offered some comfort. This was the place where she’d first seen Grant, when they were children. It was also the place where, on the way to the movie, Jason had taken her hand and tried to kiss her cheek.

“What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. I’m sorry, I — I’m not used to this.”
He smiles and squeezes her hand, walking backwards in front of her. “I refuse to believe that you’re shy.”
She hangs her head, embarrassed. “Actually, half the time I don’t even know what to say to people. I start to speak and a frog comes out, my voice is all rough and sounds stupid. So I guess I am shy, a bit.”
“Well, you don’t have to be shy around me. I like you,” Jason offers, halting them both and coming closer. “I like you a lot. You’re so beautiful, way more than any other girls at school. Some guys are jealous that you’re out with me tonight.”
“Really?” Rayvin perks up. “Which guys?”
Jason puts a finger to his chin, considering. “Oh, man, you want a list? There’s Devon, Chris, Harley, Paul, Grant–”
“Grant has a girlfriend.”
“Naw, they broke up a while ago.” He moves in closer. Their chests are almost touching. She can smell the end of an expensive cologne on his skin. Mouthwash on his breath. But more, Rayvin feels his energy. It makes her shiver a little. Naturally, he misunderstands and puts his arm around her, thinking she is cold. She forces herself to relax under the gentle pressure of his embrace. He doesn’t know about her gifts, he is just trying to be nice. She is supposed to like being held by a boy, isn’t she? So why does she want to push him off, put a lot of distance between them, and end the date right now?
She decides to play it cool; she is probably over-thinking the situation.
“Really? Well, that’s too bad for her, he’s a great guy.”
“Yeah, he’s the best. Hey, you don’t like him or anything, do you?” Jason drops his arm and peers at her in the dusk. Rayvin is grateful for the lack of light, hiding the blush she can feel heating on her cheeks.
“I just know that you guys are friends, and that he’s always really nice. Let’s go, or we’ll miss the start of the movie.” And please, please just leave it at that, she begs inwardly, tugging on his hand.

Rayvin couldn’t remember why she’d even accepted his date in the first place. Her breath was starting to show now, in little puffs of smoky condensation, as she gently moved back and forth on the swing. In the daylight, you could see the highway bridge from here, with the walking path on its southern side. It crossed a dried riverbed that was a combination of rocks, shrubs, and muddy marsh; it flooded occasionally in the spring but was relatively dry for the rest of the year. She watched as a car drove over the bridge, its headlights washing the road with a broad cone of pale yellow light, briefly illuminating a couple locked in embrace. Rayvin let the swing still, alone in the dark and the cold. The wind moving in the skeletal trees was a faint sigh. The mist rose nearly to Rayvin’s knees, blanketing the smallest shrubs, the teeter-totter and the bottom steps of the long metal slide; shadows moved and drifted at the edges of her vision. Her fingers were so cold on the metal chains of the swing, she could barely move them. Dimly, as though from a great distance in her mind, she felt another hand touch hers. Someone peeling her fingers away from their hold on the swing, clasping them in a firm, yet gentle hold that chilled her to the bone. Slowly, she turned and looked up.
Memory swam up and took hold of her again, meshing with the shock of recognition that lasted only a moment as the man pulled her to her feet.
“Jason?” she whispered, unbelievingly. Was this real?

During the movie, which is more violent than she’d cared for, she’s disappointed and more than a little pissed when Jason removes a flask from his inner coat pocket and adds some of the contents to his pop. Then, to her intense disgust, he opens the circular plastic top of her drink and gives her a dollop as well. It smells like rum.
“Why did you do that?” she whispers, refusing to take it from him.
“Come on, relax,” Jason whispers back, grinning. He leans against her, putting his arm around her shoulders again. “You’re way too tense.” He winks, taking a liberal sip with the straw.
And then she understands. “You know, Andrea’s mom always tells me that I expect the best of people. She tells me that it’s not a bad thing, but that I need to be prepared to also meet the worst. And I have to tell you, I understand completely what she meant.” Rayvin shrugs his arm away, looking at him. “How much have you had to drink tonight?”
“Enough to have some fun…if you came out more often, you’d know that.” She catches the flash of a sneer across his face.
“Excuse me?”
“You know what I’m talking about, Miss High and Mighty, always thinking you’re too good to come down to the level of the ordinary people.” He laughs softly, his eyes narrowing. “People think you’re a hermit, you know. You never come out of your cave. This is how we have fun, Ray. If you want to have a good time in Talbot, this is it. If you’re too good for it, then no-one will ever want to talk to you, or ask you out again. Or maybe you like being alone all the time?” He leans in closer, pressing her back against the arm of the seat. She turns her head, but that is a mistake. He puts his lips close to her ear. The alcohol on his breath makes her head swim. “You think I haven’t noticed the way you look at me, the way you look down at me, and my friends? You’re gonna get cross-eyed, looking down your nose all the time the way you do.”

Rayvin’s head was swimming. Memories were coming at her, faster than she could process them.

Rayvin pushing him out of the way, leaving the theatre proper; Jason catching up to her in the lobby and grabbing her arm.

The hands on her arms felt too real to be part of her memory.

“I figured, enough was enough. You’re so hot, you drive everyone crazy, and all you do is walk around like you don’t even care. No-one else thinks they’ve even got a shot! Wait until I tell them I got you — I’ll be their hero.” Rayvin grows cold as she realizes that Jason isn’t drunk, not in the slightest. Her mother, long ago, might have termed it ‘warmed up’. He is still in complete control.

Rayvin’s fear was paralyzing her. Why was the smell of his cologne still so strong?

She breaks his grip and tears out of the lobby, blinding running down the street. She knows he is following her, has seen him running at track and field with Grant, on the basketball court, in soccer…she cannot outrun an athlete.

Rayvin’s eyes were open, but blind. The harsh breathing was not hers. The hands gripped her to the point of pain, pinning her arms to her sides.

Past the movie theatre, the stores are closed, and the street turns into local highway. She hears his pounding footsteps, outstripping the frantic beat of her heart. He is gaining. Maybe, if she can get to the bridge and over it, find a place to hide —

Cold breath raised goosebumps on her skin, as sharp nails dug into her sides. With a flash of insight, Rayvin wrenched herself back to reality. The physical sensations she was feeling were not in her mind. She shook her head, blinking, as her neck was nuzzled by something icy and foreign. Her gasp halted the movement, but the man held her even closer as he raised his head to look into her face.
This had to be a bad dream. She was still lost in time.
Jason.
She struggled briefly, not understanding. Jason was paralyzed, but he was standing right next to her. Jason despised her, but was holding her like they were lovers. The past and the present had meshed in some sick, twisted way that made her question her sanity.
And then, in the next moment, a flash of bright light illuminated the playground, accompanied by the low growl of an engine. Rayvin fell, whatever support she had been experiencing abruptly vanishing. The engine died, but the light remained, blinding her once more, until a familiar silhouette strode forward and crouched before her, shielding her eyes from the worst of the brightness.
“You left so fast, you forgot this,” Grant said, holding up a small golden charm on a matching chain. “Are you all right?”
Lying on the cold-hardened sand, bewildered, Rayvin stared up at him. “You followed me?”
“Well, yeah. It’s not safe to walk home alone right now, you know.” He offered a hand. Rayvin ignored it, rolling onto her knees before standing. “Why won’t you let me help you?” She heard the hurt and exasperation in his tone, which were harder to dismiss. Brushing the dirt from her clothes, she took a deep breath, thinking about how best to answer him.
“I think you’re right,” she finally responded, looking at him directly. “It’s not safe to be out here alone. And I didn’t mean to offend you just now. I’ve been on my own for a long time, I’ve had to take care of myself in a lot of ways. I’m not used to someone offering to help me.”
“And I know I haven’t made it easy for you, in the last twenty-four hours.” Grant paused, putting the necklace back into a small plastic pouch. He held it out for Rayvn to take. “Or for the last ten years. Maybe we should talk about that. I don’t want to fight. There’s been enough of that already.”
Rayvin exhaled. Whatever she’d just been through, mind trip or not, his presence was healing her. His gaze, his aura, told her that he was absolutely sincere. And that he was interested in her, in more ways than one. Her own body responded immediately to this discovery, a warmth spreading out from her centre that erased the lingering traces of an icy touch. Part of her hesitated, but another part wanted to take the chance. Maybe he was right — ten years was long enough to hold onto the resentment, hurt, confusion. If she was going to be able to save Andrea, she had to clear her conscience. That was the logical course. That could be her justification.
He held out his hand again.
Illogically, she just wanted to be with him.
“Let’s go to my place.” Rayvin offered, taking his hand. “But I don’t have any coffee.”

Intertextu-what now?

In my grade 10 English class, I like introducing the topic of intertextuality. I find it interesting to start finding the connections between and within various texts, film included. (It’s also a way to get them comparing Romeo and Juliet with Lord of the Flies.) I also find it comforting.

You see, years and years ago, when I was in grade 10, doing lots of writing but never actually finishing more than a few short plays, and pieces required for school (thanks, Grandma, for reminding me to keep all of my manuscripts!), I went to a family dinner and shared some of my work. At the time, I was working on an adaptation of Cinderella for the youth group I was in. My uncle, rest his soul, completely shot me down with these three little words: “It’s been done.” As a teen with low self-esteem, and undiagnosed depression, it was utterly crushing, and the adaptation was never finished. My mother told me on the way home not to listen to her brother, as he has always been pessimistic about her ideas too (my mother is very creative, makes beautiful clothing and paints wonderfully well). But I did mind. What was the point of writing if I could not come up with something original? For years I took this incident to heart, and it interfered with my writing. I would get a great idea, but oops — it’s already been done.

Then university, and then teaching. And deciding that intertextuality is part of the fun, the challenge, rather than something to avoid. I have been compelled to put pen to paper, to tell stories to anyone who wants to listen, since I was old enough to print. (My mother still has a story I wrote in kindergarten which was printed in the local paper — apparently I had to help Santa deliver a baby deer on Christmas Eve!) In spite of feeling discouraged by my uncle, I kept trying, and trying. And what I have found in the last few years that I need to focus on writing for myself, first. If I take the pressure off, and worry less about writing for others, I find the journey to be much more smooth and enjoyable.

Of course, some of the goals I set myself are unrealistic. The full novel to follow Mist and Midnight, I had wanted to finish by the start of 2011, then by June, and now by the fall. But I’m not permitting myself to be pessimistic. I finished my first, I can do it, and it was so satisfying completing Mist that I cannot wait to see this one done, and move to the second and third novels I am planning in the series. And if they make indirect reference to previous works, that’s okay — there are certain patterns in a romance, moments that we all recognize that make the reading even more interesting. I love making reference to pop culture here and there, too. It’s my story, as original as I can make it, and while I know there are other paranormal romances involving witches and cops, I like this one because of the direction it’s taking.

There’s another thing about intertextuality. Did you ever read something, and feel like you could do it in another way that could also be interesting? I really like the idea of responding to another text. I recently read Beauty Queens, which is based on Lord of the Flies but with teenage girls. It also mocks the reality tv world, and marketing corporations with a delightful tone. That’s something I would love to do.

So, this afternoon, after hanging out the laundry, cleaning the bathroom (maybe…hate cleaning the bathroom), and various assorted chores, I will continue working on Rayvin and Grant’s story. I last left her walking alone, on a darkened street, having run from a passionate embrace out of embarrassment and a mix of other emotions. Is the vampire stalking her? Certainly. She can’t completely defend herself, but neither is it her time to die. Grant will turn up, a modern spin on the knight on his horse, but he doesn’t have the ability to stop the fiend, either. He’s holding one of the keys, though he doesn’t know it. They are going to have a long conversation, discussing their past, and there will be more passion. Then there will be an argument. I’m not looking forward to that. But at the moment, my uncle’s words hold less power over me than they did when I was a teenager. I’m writing their story for me. When I’m finished, I hope you’ll enjoy it too. I also hope that the timelessness of it will come through, the fact that every story is really one story — what it is like to be human.