paper background

The Thorns of Magic

 

The Thorns of Magic

Prequel Story for The New Supernatural Agent Series

J.P. Rice

 

 

Copyright 2019 by Jason Paul Rice (J.P. Rice)

All rights reserved.  Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, without prior permission of the author.

This is a work of fiction.  All names are made up and used fictionally.  Any resemblance to real people is completely coincidental.   Any resemblance to real events is only part of the author’s imagination.

 

 

 

CHAPTER 1

 

“Could be another dead end.” I mopped a glaze of sweat from my forehead.

“Could be,” Rufus agreed.  “Cain’s rock just doesn’t want to be found.”

I buried the shovel into the ground and tossed the soil aside.  The sun meshed with the peaks of the Appalachian Mountains in the distance.  The fierce pink skyline streaked with stringy clouds reminded me that we had to hurry.

We had already dug fifteen holes, and with daylight running out, we only had time for about four more.  When hunting relics and artifacts, the locations weren’t always exact.  Land shifts over time.  Water levels change.  Directions in my business were estimates and sometimes resulted in the type of excavation underway here.

It was shocking that something as powerful as this artifact could be buried in a desolate foothill of West Virginia.  My partner and I continued digging in the grassy field.  Our landscaping partners had cleaned up the high grass that came up to our thighs, creating the huge open area we were working in.

“You can feel that though, right?” I asked.

“Yeah.”  Rufus nodded and put his hand over his heart.  “It’s like a thrumming in my chest.”

“It has to be here.  Or something is here.”  I peered around the area, making sure we were still alone.

Rufus and I had been partners for twenty-two years.  The strapping lad was born in Aberdeen, Maryland, raised in Essex, England until he was nineteen, then returned to the U.S. of A.  He still spoke with a faint accent from his upbringing, normally calm and reserved.  But when push came to shove, I knew I could count on him.

My best friend had long dark hair streaked with notes of blond, usually pulled into a pony tail.  His close-cut beard was grey with specks of ivory and his face had become tight and weathered over the past few years.  His lively brown eyes and friendly charm made him a hit with the ladies.  He had an on-again, off-again relationship with a sorceress, and I wasn’t sure what their status was at the moment.

“Daylight’s running thin,” Rufus observed.

“Might have to come back tomorrow.”

“Hope not,” Rufus said and buried his shovel into the soil.

Rufus and I worked for an agency called the Cause.  When human law enforcement couldn’t handle cases involving the supernatural, we stepped in.  We weren’t recognized by any United States law enforcement agencies.  However, we had made plenty of friends in many departments from the local level to the F.B.I.

Some of the agents and cops had difficulty admitting they needed help.  When they had been faced with letting killers roam free because they couldn’t solve a case, they’d eventually broken down and given us a call.  After we’d helped solve a few murder cases that were out of their league, word started to spread that we were legit, and we were called to crime scenes and given information about pending cases.

Some members on the force thought our methods were outside the legal standard and disrespected the members of the Cause.  It came with the territory.  We also tracked down valuable items that could be used for nefarious purposes and put them away for safekeeping.  That’s the reason we’re here.

I pushed the shovel’s head down with the sole of my shoe and hit something solid.  I tapped the area a couple of times and dropped to my knees.  Using my bare hands, I swept the loose dirt off a curved yellow object.  As I cleaned it off some more, I noticed two holes.  For eyes.

I pulled the small gardening shovel out of my back pocket and dug carefully around the skull.  As I worked, I noticed it appeared to be still in one piece.

“Rufus.  Come here.”

My partner lumbered through the emerging darkness and leaned over me.  His sword pommel poked me in the back.  I said, “Easy, big fella.  Watch where you’re sticking that thing.”

“Sorry.”  Rufus backed up a touch and flicked my ear.  “Some of us follow protocol.  You know you should always have your sword on you.  Skull, huh?  Body attached?”

“Doesn’t appear so.  Though there’s something going on with this skull.  It’s almost buzzing with energy,” I said, chiseling away at the dirt where more bones from a full skeleton would be.  I couldn’t find any bones in the area, so I stopped and stood up with the skull.

“Still doesn’t help us find what we need,” Rufus said.

“No.  I’m just hoping this isn’t an ancient burial ground or a sacrificial location.”  I shook the dirt out of the skull and an object the size of a fist fell from the jaw and hit the top of my foot.

“Eureka,” I exclaimed.

My partner bent down and snatched up the plain object.  As he swept the dirt from it, he said, “Looks like we’ve struck gold.  Whoa.  This baby has some serious power.  Here.”

He tossed it to me, and as soon as it struck my palm, a ripple of magic lanced up my arm.  Visually, there was nothing special about the oblong, three-inch thick piece of slate.  The edges were mostly rounded with only a few areas that stuck out.  I didn’t see Abel’s bloodstains on the light grey rock.

“How did he kill Abel with only that?” I asked rhetorically and held it next to Rufus’s head.  “Dedication, it would seem.”

“So much for brotherly love,” Rufus commented.

“I can’t believe we have all the treasures,” I said trying to contain my smile.  “It’s been a long journey.  Forty years in the making.  I never would have thought that liberating the Grand Grimoire out of the Vatican basement safe would culminate here.”

“I’ve only been here for half of them,” Rufus said as we hugged each other in celebration.

“Hang on to this.”  I placed the stone in his hand.  “Time to get back home.”

I turned around to gather my things, and a gentleman holding a handgun emerged from the high grass.  How the hell had someone sneaked up on us?  Draped in all-black clothes including a ski mask, his gun hand was shaking.  That was good and bad.  He was nervous and I could use that to my advantage, but if he became too nervous, his trigger finger could slip.

“Give up the stone and the other items and nobody will get hurt.”  He spoke English with an Eastern European accent.  His hand wavered back and forth, the gun’s barrel shifting from Rufus to me.

“Oh, I’m not worried about getting hurt.  Thank you for the concern,” I replied casually.  Appearing calm, cool and collected with a gun pointed at you could really throw an enemy off balance.

“You should worry about getting dead, buddy.  Give up the stuff.”  He yelled, “Troops.”

“Here,” a call rang out in unison.  It came from all directions, and I circled around to see what we were up against.  About a dozen beings stood up, rising out of the high grass.  They were all dressed in black bank robber gear like the leader.  None of them had guns drawn, but I’d be foolish to assume they weren’t strapped.

“The game is over.  We know what you’ve been collecting.  Don’t be stupid,” uttered the man who seemed to be the leader.

I started to center my will and coalesce the raw energy inside me.  What spell could I use to get out of this?  The man in front of me appeared human, but with all his features cloaked, I couldn’t be sure.  The easiest way to spot a supernatural was looking at their eyes.  Almost all of them had vertical slits for pupils.

However, they could utilize various forms of magic such as glamor to make their eyes appear human.  With the sun disappearing rapidly, I couldn’t tell if there were any supernaturals surrounding us.

“Who you working for?” I asked.

“I hardly think that’s any of your business,” he said with a half snort.

“Why?”  I tried to stall with idle conversation.  “Maybe I like your employer and can help you out.  Never know.”

His eyes widened.  I’d knocked him off balance, but I still didn’t know how to get out of this.  We were in the middle of a big field in the middle of nowhere.  What could I draw on?

“Just…don’t…talk unless you tell me what I want to hear,” he said, flustered.

“You’re pretty.”  I smiled at him.

“What?” he yelled and drew back the hammer on his revolver.

Hmm?  Why didn’t he have a semi-automatic pistol with a magazine?  His weapon choice indicated that he took Rufus and me lightly.  Shame on him.

“I figured that was something you wanted to hear.”  I shrugged my shoulders.  “I mean, who wouldn’t want to be called pretty?  Take off the lovely ski mask and I’ll throw some more compliments your way.”

“What?  Who?  Why?”  The leader paused and sighed in frustration.  “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Making friendly conversation,” I said, looking casually at my fingernails.  “Your associates aren’t very personable.”

“Well, just don’t.  You should be more like your silent friend here.”  He thumbed at Rufus, then peered around nervously, his neck jerking left and right.  He seemed to be making sure his friends hadn’t left him.  His confidence was waning.

“Okay.  I won’t be friendly,” I said and took off the kid gloves.  “You got a better chance of seeing the devil than you do of seeing any of the treasures.”

“You’ll be sorry,” he warned, but the crack in his voice undermined his tough talk.

“I usually am.”  Dammit.  My sword was near my supply bag behind the armed man.

“I didn’t want it to come to this,” he said and paused, apparently giving me one last chance to come clean.  I crossed my arms over my chest.  The masked man shook his head, and cried out, “Liam.  Unleash the truth spiders.”

The what, now?

A voice sounded from behind me.  Someone was mumbling in a language I didn’t recognize.  I spun in circles, trying to figure out what this individual was setting off.  If the leader with the gun wasn’t confident that he could defeat Rufus and me, it had to be something wicked.

Then it hit me.  They didn’t want us dead.  They needed us to talk.  Killing us would actually be counterproductive to their plan.  I’m sure they had no issue with maiming or torturing us though.

In the burgeoning darkness, a small nebulous figure ballooned up near my foot.  I jumped back in reaction and noticed it was a spider.  The damn thing kept getting bigger and wider until it finally stood taller than my six-three frame.

The giant wolf spider leaned forward and peered at me with all eight of its eyes.  Its menacing fangs wriggled around, little globs of poison dangling from the ends.  Shades of brown merged with the dark fuzz covering its abdomen.  The beast reared back onto four legs and released a ferocious hiss.

Now I was really in the shit.  No sword, and giant spiders were popping up everywhere.  Eight, twelve, fourteen.  I spun around.  Twenty of them, at least.  Most were mammoth wolf spiders but I saw some red ones in the distance that I couldn’t identify.

Someone must have used a combination spell calling upon the arachnids in the area.  He’d said, “Truth spiders.”  I didn’t consider myself a genius, but I’d be willing to bet he had used a spell that would turn the spiders’ poison into a truth serum.  That way, if they captured us, we would be forced to tell them where the other treasures were.

Not on my watch.

The gunman backed away, squeezing between two giant wolf spiders and retreating with the rest of his troops.  They were going to leave it up to their eight-legged friends.  Cowards.  Wait a minute.  Two could play this game.

 

 

 

CHAPTER 2

 

“Rufus.  Cover me so I can get my sword.”  We made quick eye contact, and I pointed.  “Straight over there.”

“How many times do I have to tell you to keep your sword on you?” he grunted as two aggressive spiders closed in on him.

“Hopefully, at least one more time, partner,” I replied.

“Let’s go,” Rufus screamed and rushed at a spider taller than he was.

My partner ripped a horizontal stroke that took out four of the spider’s legs just below the patella.  The enormous body crashed to the side and created the small opening I needed.  I dashed to the left of the collapsing spider, slid on my knees and snatched the worn black leather grip of my sword.

I’m sure you’ve heard people say that their sword is an extension of their arm.  Mine was much better than that cliched phrase.  The blade was crafted with sapient steel.  It didn’t talk, but it basically had a mind of its own, allowing me to focus on other things.

The sword operated on its own accord and it was up to me to keep up with it.  And it didn’t come to life until it was in my hands.  Crafted like a classic great sword, it required both hands most of the time, but occasionally I could work it with one hand.  The ivory cross hilt and pommel sucked in the dim rays of the setting sun.

I called it the Dream Smasher.

I popped up to my feet, spun around, and spotted a red spider charging at me.  The sword sprang into action and I let it guide me.  Without much time to react, I jabbed at the spider’s fangs with the point of my blade.  It slid right between the closing fangs and the unforgiving blade plunged into its mouth, then out the back of its cephalothorax.

I yanked the sword out as the spider collapsed, its heavy abdomen landing harshly, shaking the ground underfoot.  I wheeled around a few times, surveying the scene.  We were surrounded by about thirty spiders.

Rufus and I were going to have to hack our way out of this and then fight a large group with guns.  My mind raced as I used an overhand strike to split an arachnid’s abdomen in two.  I dodged to the side to avoid the green liquid spurting from the wound.

Wait a damn minute.  I need to fight fire with fire.  Perhaps I could bring some more spiders to the party.  I couldn’t use any spiders on the surface since they’d already been bound to my enemy’s spell.  What about the big, bad, nasty spiders just below the surface?

A combination spell with the Mother of Spiders and…  Was Persephone in Hades right now?  Yes, she should be.  The only spider spirit more powerful than Queen Arachne’s was her mother’s, the Goddess of Spiders.  And with Persephone being underground and wanting to escape, this spell should unearth all the hidden spiders.

I called on spirits to help me in my spellcasting.  Strength in numbers.  My modus operandi used an energy transformation from the sponsor’s spirit to the caster’s body.  In this case, me.

Persephone’s spirit would push up the underground spiders and the Goddess of Spiders would help them grow into big beasts, turning the tide in our favor.

I gathered the spirits of the two women into me and personalized the spell for the current situation.  After only a few seconds, the energy became almost unbearable and needed to escape, so I dropped down and punched the earth.  The magic rushed down my arm and expelled everything inside me.  An eruption of light spider webbed in every direction, illuminating the drab atmosphere.

The spell had obviously worked, and I’d knocked the existing spiders off balance, but no new arachnids were showing up.  I lowered my head and noticed a bunch of earth worms had come up out of the ground.  What the hell?

The only thing I could think of was that the magic field around the stone had screwed up my spell.  The spiritual vibrations I’d received weren’t the ones I’d called on.  What the hell could I do with a thousand tiny worms?  Just about nothing.  Unless?  Wait a minute.  Yeah.  It’s just crazy enough to work.

I went to the tried and true.  A spirit I’d called on many times to get me out of a jam.  I’ve used it in combination with other spells too, so it should work here.  The only problem was that it carried some side effects.  With limited options and the clock ticking, I had to take a chance.

Balor had helped me inject size and strength into many things in the past.  The cycloptic Fomorian’s spirit always came when I called on it.  I’d talked to the giant a few times and a personal connection was beneficial in spellcasting.

I slipped in a little spider goo that was littering the battlefield and hope it wouldn’t soak through my shoe.  My arms felt like they were going to fall off as the Dream Smasher dragged me closer to another spider.  At least it allowed me to concentrate on the spell.

Before I could even begin, the giant abdomen of a spider rammed me from the side and I slammed down to the ground.  The wolf spider I had been engaged with seized on the opportunity and used its eight legs to scurry over to me.  As I scrambled to get to my feet, it swiped horizontally with a long, fuzzy leg and smacked me in the shoulder.

My sword flew from my hand, rendering it useless on its own.  The disgusting creature hovered over me, its fangs moving slowly toward my head.  Without warning, the spider seized up and released a hiss like a velociraptor.  The kind that made the hair on your neck stand up forever because it was too afraid to ever go back down.

I used my feet to scoot back away from the spider, and like a statue, it collapsed to the ground.  Rufus struggled to remove his blade from the thorax and abdomen.  He finally liberated his sword, smiled at me, then went after a dark burgundy spider.

I jumped up and let the Dream Smasher go to work again.  A quick peek around showed that I should be safe to focus on the spell again.

I gathered the spirit of Balor into my body and began to focus the energy into a personal spell for the current situation.  It wasn’t easy fighting off the arachnids and concentrating on the spell at the same time.

I let Balor’s spirit center in my chest, the darker energy buzzing through me.  A swell of power surged in my extremities, which meant it was almost ready.  I took out the two spiders closest to me and focused on the ground.

Through the descending dusk, I zeroed in on a couple of worms wriggling around.  I held an open hand above the little worms and directed my spell at them.  A surge of energy ran down my arm and exited my body through the heel of my hand.

At first, nothing happened, and I went back to recklessly hacking my way out of here.  Why hadn’t it worked?  An instant later, one of the worms distended rapidly, stretching out to about five feet long with a circumference of a telephone pole.  Then it expanded some more.

Seconds later, twenty or thirty more worms swelled to an enormous size.  They would still have trouble with the spiders, but the worms could distract them long enough to make it easy pickens for us.   Considering my arms were numb from the constant sword swinging, any help was welcome.

The worms stood at attention, towering several feet above me.  In the blink of an eye, a swirling white color pattern developed at the top of the worms.  As it took form, it appeared to be an eye.  Balor’s eye.

“Hail, Balor,” I screamed.  “Rufus.”

My partner repeated my words so that the giant worms knew not to harm us.

“We are the only two who have called on Balor,” I clarified, pointing back and forth between Rufus and me.

Several of the worms winked at me in recognition.  Or maybe they blinked.  Hard to tell with only one eye.

The worms sprang into action, looping themselves around the spiders and squeezing the life out of them.  Several worms spat a thick white liquid from their eyes that hit the spiders, who turned and shot silk webbing from their spinnerets in defense.   The milky substance tore through the spider’s abdomens and several of the arachnids began to flee the area, hobbling away.

The tide had turned in our favor in the great Bloated Creature War.

Then a gunshot rang out, loud and clear, reminding me that perhaps we didn’t have the upper hand.  More gunshots caused me to duck and cover my head.  A few seconds later, I got brave and peered around the battlefield.

The cycloptic worms were slaughtering the spiders at such a rapid pace that the bad guys had opened fire on them.  One of the men hidden behind a ski mask approached me with a pistol in his extended hand.  I peered left, and Rufus was locked in battle with one of the spiders.  I was screwed.

I dropped my sword and put up my hands.  A violent hissing from behind sounded like the words, “Get down.”  Without anything to lose, I dropped down into a catcher’s stance.  The liquid sailed over me and I barrel-rolled out of the way, then peeked up.

A steady stream of the white liquid blasted the gunman in the chest and tore into his flesh.  His gun fell harmlessly to the ground as he dropped to his knees.  The man yelped with carnal intensity as he fought against the inevitable.

I refocused.  Rufus was in trouble.  One of the spiders had overpowered him and drove him onto his back.  Rufus used his sword to fend away the beast, but the spider’s fangs widened.  I rushed to help him, but realized I would never make it in time.  Then, a worm slithered with tremendous speed across the field and attacked the hissing spider.

The worm worked its way around the body of the spider, putting the arachnid in a death lock.  The worm squeezed and the spider’s abdomen swelled, then exploded.  Green slime fountained up in the air, then came raining down, half of it landing on Rufus.

The worms had taken care of the spiders and now turned their attention to the group of men.  Some of the men ran, others sprayed bullets across the field, hoping they could slow down my assistants.  I noticed an overweight masked man running away and darted after him.

I caught up quickly and jumped on his back, sending us both crashing to the ground.  Using my knee, I rolled him over and landed two right fists on his left cheek to make sure he knew I meant business.

“Who do you work for?” I demanded.

He shook his head in silence.  I ripped off the ski mask and found a normal looking human sporting a shaggy beard.  He remained quiet so I unleased a few more straight right mitts, splitting his lip.

“Who do you work for?” I screamed.

“Barry, your six,” Rufus yelled from across the field.

I heightened my hearing, drowned out the area noise, and focused on the footsteps coming from behind, thumping toward me.  They were close enough that I didn’t have time to turn and face the opponent.  I rose slightly and uncorked a wicked left elbow.  It crunched into something solid resulting in painful groaning.

I stood up straight and spun around.  Another masked man was holding his face.  As I stalked toward the short, skinny man, the fat guy got up and hustled away.  That’s okay.  I could still beat some information out of his associate.  I pasted a big grin on my face to make him think I was enjoying myself.

The man staggered two steps to his right and took off at a sprint.  I went after him, but he was like a fucking jackrabbit, increasing his lead on me.  Instead of continuing to chase him, I spun around looking for more opponents.  They were gone.  They’d either hightailed it out of there or had fallen victim to the killer worms.

The sun crashed behind the mountains, and all the worms retracted to their normal size.  Thank you, Balor.  As the adrenaline of battle started to wear off, the rotten egg smell and taste attacked me.  Balor was a Fomorian, which meant he had demon blood in his system.  I’d allowed his spirit to pass through me to personalize the spell.

Some of that dark power stuck with me, polluting my insides.  I went down to one knee and threw up.  Still, the gag-inducing flavor persisted.  A chill ran through me and the associated headache had already started to set in.  Using Balor’s spirit carried side effects similar to the flu.

“Barry, I can’t feel my legs.  I can’t feel my fucking legs, man.”

“Relax.  There was probably a paralyzing agent in that goo.  You still have the rock, right?”

“I hope you’re right.  The rock should still be in my pocket.  Reach on in, buddy.”

“The things I do for this job.”  I rolled Rufus onto his back and thankfully I could see the rock in his pocket.  “I hope that bulge isn’t just your excitement.”

“Nope.  No danger boners for me.  I hope.”  He blinked dreamily and thought about it for a second.   “Hey, I just want you to know how much I respect you.  I love you, man.  Not in a sexual way, but you know.”

Apparently that truth serum was legit.  “I appreciate that, Rufus.”

“You all right?” he asked.

“I will be.”

“You called on Balor, didn’t you?” he asked, nodding his head.  “Hey, I can move my head.”

“Had to do something.”  I stood up and forced a grin.  “Knew you weren’t going to do anything.”

“I was in the thick.  With my sword, by the way,” he said, stressing the words.  “You were lucky you weren’t in the shit.  You going to be all right?”

“You know how it goes.  Give me about eight hours.  You’re going to need to drive while I deal with this though.”  As the words escaped my mouth, I realized we would need to wait a while before leaving.  Hopefully Rufus’s body control would return shortly.

“Not a problem once I regain my sea legs.”  Rufus stared off into the sunset.  “Never seen you summon giant worms before.”

“You know how it is,” I responded.  “By any means necessary.  Besides, I didn’t do that on purpose.  I think the magical field around Cain’s rock was messing with my spiritual vibrations.”

“I can see that.  Speaking of vibrations, the only thing I can feel is vibrations in my balls from the rock in my pocket.  Your wife is so hot, by the way,” he said as a lopsided grin developed on his face.  What a strange transition into that last sentence.

“Thank you, I think.”  I was tempted to ask my friend a few more follow up questions but resisted the urge.

“No, it’s a genuine compliment.  You have a wonderful family.”

“Okay, but why don’t we get back to business?” I suggested.

“You think they were following us?”  Before I could answer, he said, “Wait.  Yeah.  I can feel my legs again.  Arms too.  Tingly”

“Good.  I thought I was going to have to drag your ass out of here.”  I reached down and helped hoist him up.  A little goo dripped onto the back of my hand and I wiped it on my pants.  “Let’s get out of here.”

“So you think we were followed?”  Rufus staggered around on unstable legs and swung his arms in tight circles.

“Not sure,” I replied and started to gather our things.  “Looks like it since we’re in the middle of nowhere.  Somebody knew what we were up to.  And they said, ‘All the items.’  They know what is going on.  How?”

“I don’t know.”  Rufus scooped his carrying bag off the ground.  He slung the strap over his shoulder.  “I didn’t recognize any of their voices.  They seemed human, not supernatural.”

“Agreed.  We need to repurpose that stone fast.”

“We should take everything to the depository under Dragon’s Tower as soon as we get back,” he said as he yawned.  “It’s past time for that.”

The repository held the treasures of the deadly sins.  I just used little pieces of each item to fuel my magical goodies.

“We are storing the remnants of the originals in the Tower.  Plus, that’s the beauty of hiding something out in the open,” I explained and cracked a smile.  “I get that Dragon’s Tower is like Fort Knox, but everyone expects valuable things to be kept there.”

“I’m quite certain only a select few even know the location.”

“Like our friends back there.”  I thumbed back toward the battlefield.  “How did they know our location?”

“Valid point.”  He tossed his head from side to side.  “But the Dragon’s Tower is guarded by some of the finest warriors in all the lands.  Your shack is guarded by a threshold and magical wards.”

“Our wards.  And don’t forget about the reaction door,” I reminded him.  “It would take someone or something near the top of the food chain to get past our defenses.  And they would need a human and a supernatural to breach the shack.  Besides, nobody is looking there because it’s out in the open.  And we’ve disguised everything.”

“I just think it will all be safer at the Tower.  You can access them at any time.”

“Duly noted,” I said.  “First thing tomorrow, we’ll take everything to the Tower.”

“Wow.”

“What?”

“I was just expecting you to put up a much longer fight about it.”

“I’m nothing if not a party pleaser.”  I smiled.  “We still need to check in at HQ before heading to Pittsburgh.  If we hurry up, I could be home by dinner tomorrow.”

As we headed back to our vehicle, the side effects of the magic really set in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 3

 

My wife circled the table, serving corned beef and cabbage to our young ones.  Danny, Joshua and Anna told her when to stop.  The love of my life, Maria, sat down in between my daughter Caitlan and me.  My oldest son sat to my right.

“Caitlan, put the phone away.  It’s time to pray.”  I waited as my nineteen-year-old daughter rolled her eyes and stuffed her phone in her pants pocket.  “Our father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.  Lead us not into temptation, and deliver us from all evil.”

I peeked over at my daughter and caught her going for her phone.  “We’re not finished yet, Caitlan.  You know this.”  I waited until she folded her hands and bowed.  I closed my eyes again.  “Bless us, O Lord for these thy gifts and for the bounty which we are about to receive through Christ our lord, amen.”

The family blessed themselves and chanted, “Amen.”

I leaned over and kissed my wife.  “Thank you for dinner and all you do for this family.  I’d be lost without you.  Love you.”

“Love you, too.”  Maria passed the dish of roasted potatoes to Caitlan.

The kids began talking loudly, my wife struck up a conversation with my eighteen-year-old son, Ezekiel, and I leaned back at the head of the table, taking it all in.  This was my sanctuary.  I was so peaceful, I didn’t even yell at Caitlan, who was playing with her phone on her thigh.

Maria and I had met randomly in a supermarket when we had both reached for the same loaf of bread.  We had giggled, then chatted and decided to go on a date.  Five kids later, here we are and I couldn’t be any happier about it.

Her long dark hair, parted in the center, glowed like polished onyx.  Her bright blue eyes stole sun from the sky and always held a unique vibrancy.  She had a zest for life that I’d fallen in love with, and over the years, her perky attitude hadn’t slowed down one bit.

I was miserable when I had met her.  Everything had changed when I tried to grab that loaf of Wonder Bread.

I stuffed some corned beef into my mouth, and as I chewed, I stared proudly at Ezekiel.  He had received a full scholarship to the University of Pittsburgh to play quarterback.  I’d always imagined him going into the family business of fighting supernaturals, but maybe this was a better path for him.

My son had the sacred birthmark, which complicated everything.  He was kissed by dragon flame.  The circular brown mark on his right forearm indicated that he had the innate ability be a top-level magic practitioner.  Even more powerful than me.  Too powerful.

My people were born with magical abilities, but it was dangerous to tap into them until one reached full maturity.  I hadn’t started my training until I was twenty-two.

Emotion had a lot to do with magic.  A pissed off teenager full of angst was a recipe for destruction.  He or she could blow up the entire school because he or she got turned down for the dance.

It broke my heart to admit that I’d been holding my son back.  However, after he almost burned down a tree with a wicked fire spell when he was twelve, I knew I had to keep him away from magic.  He would have killed someone or himself.  So I placed a stagnation spell on him that I could lift at any time.

And now that he had matured enough to start practicing, he would be off to Pitt in the spring.  I didn’t want to mess with that.  Ezekiel had forged his own path, and I was proud of him for that.

Unfortunately for him, he got his looks from his father.  We shared bronze skin, a strong jawline and chin, brown eyes and dark hair.  I wore mine close cropped, and Ezekiel preferred the hair gelled, randomly spiked do.  We both had wide frames and broad shoulders, although it wouldn’t hurt my son to pack on a few pounds.  Or maybe it wouldn’t hurt me to lose a few pounds.

I planned to tell him the truth.  Soon.  It was time to come clean about my family history and let him know how special he was.  Soon.

I wanted all my children to make their own choices in life.  I raised them Catholic because I wanted to instill discipline in the kids.  However, I respected other religions because most of them shared the same core set of beliefs; they were just expressed differently.

With magic, I used assistance from any pantheon or culture that was willing to help.  Greek, Egyptian, Faerie, Fomorian.  I didn’t discriminate.  If a spirit was willing to help me, I accepted it graciously.

So if another religion spoke to one of my children, I would respect it if they chose to follow it.  I’d tried to teach my kids never to turn their noses up at anything different or exotic.  One never knows where help can come from.  The worms from yesterday would be the perfect example.

As I sat back enjoying my favorite meal, the guilt started to set in.  It hurt to lie to my kids.  Maria knew the truth of my background and what I really did for a living.  I told the kids I ran a landscaping company that had many jobs outside the city that would keep me away from home for weeks at a time.

I’d missed many family dinners during the years.  Too many.  If I told the kids about my real life, it could put them in danger.  I couldn’t do that.  Someday, I would come clean to the kids.  Just not now.

We finished eating and the kids dispersed.  I helped my wife clear the table and do the dishes.  Then I gave her a kiss and went out to the shack behind our house.

We lived in a suburb of Pittsburgh that was closer to the rural outskirts than the city.  We had an acre of woods behind our house.  I’d cleared out a little spot and built an outbuilding that I could use for my magic needs.  I walked through the back yard and into the woods.  The clearing with the shack appeared straight ahead.

Normally, I had to break the defense wards around the building and on the door itself, but Rufus was already inside.  I knocked so I wouldn’t startle him and entered the modest structure.

“How’s it going?” I asked.

“Just about done.  Two more buttons should do it.”  He was sitting on the couch in the open living room.  He had my magical cloak on the coffee table and was securing small pieces of Cain’s stone onto the cloak that would serve as buttons.

The shack consisted of a small kitchen, an open living room, a tiny gallery, a summoning room and a bathroom.  Nothing special.  Just a place where I can separate this side of my life from the family.  I knew Ezekiel spied on me, but I didn’t mind it.  I liked that he had an interest in magic.

I peeked into the closet that served as the Gallery.  It was a nervous habit.  I wanted to be sure everything was still there.  I saw the sword, the flying carpet, the spell book, the athame, the shifter bracelet, and the staff.  Check.

Rufus was right.  Keeping these valuable items here could put my family in jeopardy.  Locking them away in the depository of the Dragon’s Tower was the best move.

“Have you decided what you are going to do?” Rufus asked as he continued working on the cloak.

“You may want to be more specific.”

“About the contract,” he hinted.

“Aahh.”  I’d been trying to forget about it.  “Can’t believe it’s been a hundred years already.”

“If you don’t return, your sisters will assume the crown,” Rufus reminded me.

“I know.  I know.”  I leaned back on the counter in the kitchen and tried to stretch out my tight back.  “I can’t let those blood thirsty vultures take over.  But I can’t leave my family either.”

“You left almost a century ago.  Maybe they’ve softened over the years.”

“I’d bet the blood’s still cold that runs through their arteries.”  I paced around the little kitchen.  “After Patricia died, I didn’t have much reason to stick around there.  Maybe the fact that she couldn’t bear me children was a blessing after all.  I have every reason to stay here and never go back to that land.”

“So you’re staying here?” he asked, looking up from his work.

“Eh.” I shrugged.  “It would be an easy decision if I knew my sisters wouldn’t be cruel leaders.  I almost wish I hadn’t put that stipulation toward the end of the peace contract.  Just let the goblins take rule forever.”

“Don’t kick your own ass.  At that time, you didn’t know you’d be leaving the Grey Kingdom,” Rufus said and went back to work.  “And if the goblins weren’t so stupid, they would have read the entire contract before they signed it.  I’m still surprised the goblin hit squads have ceased in the past decade.”

“They’re stupid,” I agreed.  “But I think they finally realized that if they eliminate me, the crown falls into the hands of my awful sisters.”

“Lesser of two evils.  Ezekiel is the proper heir, though,” Rufus pointed out.

“I am not dragging him into a Faerie war.  My sisters tried to kill me countless times.  If I died, his time as king would be one assassination attempt after another.  I wouldn’t wish that upon him.”

“What if the goblins refuse to turn over power?” he asked.

“The goblins are a great many things.  Mostly awful.  But they will honor the contract, or the rest of the kingdom will band together.  The balance must be maintained.  It would send a message that all contracts can be voided without penalty.  Nobody wants that.  I would be worried that another powerful group will try to usurp the crown should I reassume the crown.”

“The example has been set by the goblins.  But none of it will matter if the prophecy comes true.  If the dragons return, no one will attempt a hostile takeover.”

“If.”  I pointed out the operative word.

“You have to believe,” Rufus said with a smirk.  “The prophecy said they would return in exactly one thousand years.  And it coincides with your peace contract, which expires in three years.  If the prophecy is correct, the dragons will come back three months after that.  So you only need to hold on to the crown for a few months.”

“What have I gotten myself into?” I asked rhetorically as I paced around the open room.

“You weren’t supposed to get attached to the humans.”  Rufus inspected the cloak.  “You knew that.  Dragons aren’t supposed to have feelings.”

“I didn’t.  At least, I thought I didn’t.”  I sighed.  “After Patricia, I never thought I would love again.  Then I met Maria.  And everything changed.”

“Don’t I know it?  I can’t blame you at all for it.  But you have a big decision to make.”

“Just something else hanging over my head.”  Thinking about my sisters reminded me that I had to take care of something.  “I’ve got to go see someone.  Make sure you lock up and set the appropriate defense mechanisms when you leave.”

“Just think.  Tomorrow, you won’t even have to worry about that.  Everything will be tucked away for proper safekeeping.”

“Anything to help you sleep better,” I said and slipped out the door.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 4

THE PRINCE

 

There was a loud knock on the door.  The Prince sat up straight in his throne-like chair, and yelled, “Enter.”

The door creaked open and his assistant entered.  “Your majesty, it seems we’ve run into a snag.”

“No.  No.  No,” the Prince said, disgusted.  “You are supposed to tell me that everything went off without a hitch and the treasures are on the way.”

“I wish that I could, your majesty.”  His diminutive assistant lowered his head.

“Well, then.  Get on with it.”  The Prince watched his assistant shift his weight uncomfortably from side to side.

The plain chamber contained only one chair for the Prince and something strange attached to the wall.  He preferred to make his audience stand.

“The first team failed,” the assistant reported, and the Prince rapped his fist on the arm of the chair.  “They couldn’t retrieve any of the items, nor could they detain the subjects.”

“I should have known they would fail.”  The Prince’s lips twitched and curled up in one corner.  “Stupid humans.  Send in the cleaners.  Have them eliminate the first team, then carry out our business.”

“Are you sure, my lord?” the assistant asked.  “Their time on earth is limited.  Perhaps we should focus on Baruch.”

“We need them eliminated so there aren’t any loose threads.  We will need one trusted human to go with them to pass through the thresholds.”  The Prince stood up.  “Make sure team two knows that they will be compensated with the bag of cash in the basement and the magical items in the little structure behind their house.  They can sell or barter them however they wish.”

“Are you certain you don’t desire the magical items for yourself?  I’ve heard they are rather useful.”

“We need to use them to provide payment.  They do no good for our current predicament.  We need the treasures, not toys.”

“What if he won’t reveal the locations of the treasures?”

“That’s what the truth serum is for,” the Prince reminded his assistant.  “Drug him, interrogate him, secure the treasures.  It isn’t difficult.”

“And as far as Baruch?” the assistant asked with one eye closed.

“Kill the dragon,” the Prince said void of emotion.  “Once we get what we want, end him.”

“Are we sure team two can handle this?”

“No.”  The Prince knew that he could only trust himself, but certain conditions were preventing him from being able to take part.  “That’s why I want you on standby.”

“Your majesty, I am humbled, but I only have a few minutes of accrued time to spend on earth.”

“You will only be summoned if they are in serious trouble,” the Prince assured him.  “It should only take you a few precious seconds to turn the tide in our favor.”

“Whatever you command, your majesty,” the assistant said and bowed.

“Dismissed.”  The Prince waited for the door to shut.  “First we gather the treasures, then we gather the three sons, and when we get to four, why then we have our fun.”

The Prince left his office and went down a narrow hallway.  He entered an empty room and stared at the lumpy wall.  There was a large male body encased in solid gold attached to the wall.  Openings in the nostrils and mouth allowed for breathing and IV units made sure he would receive enough nourishment and stay alive.

“You shouldn’t have crossed me, old man.  Looks like you might be spending some more time under there.”  Under his breath, the Prince murmured, “Then I can finally kill you.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 5

 

I pulled up to the Cool Shade Motel, got out and stretched my weary muscles.  The trip had taken just under an hour.  I hated driving.

It was basically a front for a brothel.  I entered the lobby and a competing scent of various incense sticks attacked my nose.  The drab lobby was a tiny area with a check-in desk, a couch.  It branched off to several hallways leading to the rooms.

I approached the desk and said, “I’m looking for a room with Annabelle.”

“Back again.  Just so happens she is free at the moment,” said the “hotel owner,” Paul.  “You want your usual?”

“Yes, please.”  I dug into my back pocket and pulled out my wallet.

“Forty dollars, good sir.”  He slapped an open hand on the counter, and I laid two twenties in his palm.  “And don’t forget to tip.  It is always appreciated.”

The bald man took my money, stuffed it into a makeshift register, and said, “Room 7.  Straight down the hall.  What am I tellin’ you, you know the way.”

I was a regular here.  Hopefully, it wouldn’t be too much longer though.

I knocked on the door with a crooked number 7 on it.

The door opened and the cloying scent of cheap perfume rushed out.  A short, Rubenesque woman in a red nightie with dirty blond hair smiled at me.  She beckoned me in with a welcoming finger and stepped aside as I entered the simple room with a king bed, two nightstands and a table.

“Long time, no see, stranger,” she said and gave me a big hug.  “Thought I might never see you again.”

“Don’t worry about me.  How are things with you?” I asked and handed her an envelope full of cash.

“Okay.”  She turned on another lamp and set the envelope on the nightstand.  “I signed up for those classes like we talked about.  I’m going to show everyone.  I’m going to get back custody of little Johnny.”

“I know you are.”  I leaned back on the cheap oak table.  “One step at a time.  What about Henry?  Is he leaving you alone?”

“Yeah.”  She put on a red terrycloth robe.  “Can’t believe he’s respecting the restraining order.”

I might have had something to do with that.  “Good.  You tell me if he breaks it.  Okay?”

“Of course, Baruch.  I don’t know where I’d be without you.  You’re the only person in this world that’s nice to me.”

I’d met Annabelle a few years back when I was working a case.  Her scumbag boyfriend had tried to run with the big boys and got into some trouble.  During the case, I’d talked to Annabelle and discovered that her boyfriend had been hitting her.

She’d left him under my advice and had fallen on some hard times.  She’d lost custody of her son and started working in this seedy establishment despite my objections.  I tried my best to make sure she wasn’t struggling.

“You staying clean?” I asked, lifting my eyebrow.  “No more candy, right?”

“Yeah,” she said with a sharp nod.  “Wait a sec.  I mean, yeah I’m staying clean and no more candy.  The meetings are kind of a bitch to get to, but I’m sticking to it.  The people are really supportive.”

“Good.  That’s what they are there for,” I said and laughed.  “And remember, you get Johnny back and fail one drug test, it’s all over.  You won’t get a second chance.”

Annabelle’s appearance reminded me of my triplet sisters.  They all looked almost exactly the same but had different colored eyes.  They also shared a burning hatred for me.

My family is the dwindling dynasty of Dragons from the Grey Kingdom.

It is true that the last dragon died almost one thousand years ago.  However, dragons had mated with sidhe and humans before becoming extinct.  They had produced a supernatural race of dragon people.  In the beginning, all my people had strong magical powers and could shift into dragon form easily.

As the years went on, some Dragons were born lacking magic.  Now, only one in five dragons carried strong powers.  We’d ruled the Grey Kingdom for fifteen hundred years, but our dynasty had been weakened.  All the battling races of goblins had banded together and become too powerful.  As King Baruch, I’d signed a contract for peace to save my people, much to the dismay of my sisters, who would have preferred to go down in a blaze of glory.

I’d slipped in a clause where the Dragons would reassume rule in a hundred years and the goblins could never move to usurp the crown ever again.  The greedy bastards had signed it.  I’d thought I was a genius at the time.  Now the crafty move felt like a tightening noose around my neck.

“If you want to stop working here, I can make sure you have enough to support yourself,” I offered, even though I was already giving her a hefty amount.

“I don’t really make a lot here,” Annabelle said and ran her fingers through her stringy hair.  “The guys seem to prefer the other girls, which is fine by me.  I like the security.  I gotta feeling they told Henry to stay the fuck away from me.”

I wanted to tell her it was I who had grabbed Henry by the throat, lifted him off his feet, and told him that if he even thought about going near Annabelle, he’d never walk again.  Maybe I’ll tell her next time.

“Hey.  It was good seeing you again.  Keep taking care of yourself.  Remember, you have to take care of yourself before you take care of Johnny.  And more importantly, you have to love yourself before you are ready to truly love your son.”

“Thanks for everything, Baruch,” she said and wrapped her arms around me.

“Don’t mention it.”

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 6

 

I went to unlock my car door outside the motel, and someone screamed for help.  It was more of a wailing screech.  I stuffed my keys into my pocket and followed the sound.  I sprinted down the sidewalk and rounded the corner when the person yelled again.

It was coming from an alley down the street.  As I hooked a left into the alley, a wave of magic hit me.  Ten feet ahead, three big guys had a little old lady surrounded and were yanking at her purse.

Unfazed by the signals of magic, I yelled, “Let her go.”

“You know what, I think we’ll do that.  Just for you,” a tall man with dark hair said and giggled.

“We’ll let her go and you can get out of here,” a bearded man said, and they backed away from the woman.

Something didn’t seem right.  I sensed magic coming from behind me and wheeled around.  Four humanoid creatures that stood almost as tall as giants blocked the entrance to the alley.  Oh, shit.  I turned back to the old lady.

She was no longer an old lady.  She had shifted into the same size and appearance as her faux attackers.  A quick pirouette showed eight men dressed in tight black gear.  Their graceful movements told me they were probably sidhe.

The sidhe were a supernatural race believed to have come from fallen angels.  They lived in the Faerie Kingdoms and had a great deal of magical ability.  They were master shifters and looked so similar to humans that disguising themselves wasn’t much of a challenge.

One key distinction was the eyes.  The sidhe had the vertical pupils, but masking them came rather easily too.  Who was sending a supernatural squad after me?

“Give up the goods, Baruch,” the man with dark hair said.  “Give them up and nobody will get hurt.”

“More like everybody will get hurt,” I clarified.  “No deal.”

“You’re being very stupid.”

“Not many people have accused me of being smart,” I revealed and started to hatch a plan in my head.  “So that doesn’t exactly hurt my feelings.  Sorry.”

“You think you’re funny.  Are you going to laugh when we skin your children alive?”  He looked around to his friends for reassurance, then continued in a somber tone, “Have you ever watched a flaying before?  It’s not pretty, I can assure you.”

“You’re first, green eyes.”  I pointed directly at his face.

“Excuse me?” he asked through a slight chuckle.

“When the inevitable fight breaks out, I’m going to kill you first.  Is there anyone else that would like to threaten my family?” I asked spinning in a circle.  No takers.  “You got anything else to say, big mouth?”

My stalling techniques were working beautifully, but it still left one question.  Why weren’t they attacking me with magic?  Then it hit me.

I would be of little use to them dead.  Using incapacitation magic at close quarters was dangerous and explained their indecision.  They needed information out of me, so they had to take me alive.  It seemed like I had a slight advantage considering I wouldn’t think twice to kill any of them.

Then, as my confidence swelled, each being in front of me pulled a gun from the back of his waistline.  Wait.  I peeked behind me to confirm, and yes, they were all carrying small caliber pistols.

In the shaded alley, I had to look closely to recognize that they were tranquilizer guns.  Not good.  They were going to hit me with the tranq guns, then inject the truth serum into me.  Hell, they might throw in a bit of torture too.

My offensive options were basically nonexistent.  I was surrounded by eight men with guns.  Ducking and dodging the projectiles seemed too farfetched.  How could I disarm them before they fired?

I moved from side to side in uneven movements, so they didn’t have a stationary target and wondered why nobody was taking a shot.  They had men on either side of me, which meant a miss could result in hitting an ally.

An idea popped into my head.  If I could form a magnetic field that attracted metal, I could pull this off.  I called on the spirit of Thor, asking him to send me lightning from Asgard.  When the lightning travels between the two worlds, it will pick up magnetism in space.  I could harness the lightning and a magnetic field internally and mold them to fit my current situation.

The lightning hit me first, coursing through my body, flashes of electricity pulsing in my chest.  Then the magnetism kicked in.  That wasn’t cool.  It felt like it was stretching my body from the inside.  My organs were under great pressure and threatened to explode as I continued shucking and jiving to avoid the tranquilizers.

A light drizzle started up, and when I peeked up at the sky, a flash of lightning that resembled a hammer appeared.  The spell was ready.  Just in time, as my body was about to explode.

Two men fired at my legs from point-blank range and missed.  A lot of people didn’t understand how inaccurate shooters could be when they were in stressful situations.  It’s hard to hit your target with a shaky hand and an unsteady heart, not to mention that the magnetism I’d called on was probably screwing things up too.

I held my right hand above my head and a sphere of silver lightning formed with little golden particles of Asgardian electricity bouncing around it.  Then I felt a strange pull in my chest.

“What the hell’s going on?” asked one of the men.

The magnetism had kicked in and the guns wanted to come to my hand.  Loose change jumped from two of the men’s pockets and raced toward my hand, hitting the electric ball and bursting into a million pieces of stringy filigree that fountained about fifteen feet high in the air and rained down on my attackers and me.

Three of the guns slipped from the men’s hands and raced toward my ball of lightning.  All three weapons hit the swirling mass in my hand and exploded, with silver and black sparks showering down with the light raindrops.  Several other men unloaded, but their wild firing missed me with every shot.

Two more guns flew through the alley and blew up on impact.  I spun around and realized two men at the entrance of the alley were still holding on to their guns.  One man slid on the asphalt, squeezing the gun with both hands.  He fired, but I was ready and slid to the left, avoiding the dart.

The dart zipped across the alley and lodged itself in an attacker’s belly.  The man clutched at the projectile and dropped to his knees.  I turned back to the gunmen in my Statue of Liberty pose.  The other guy pulled the trigger, and this time, I didn’t have time to dodge it.

The dart headed straight at my nose.  Right before it sank into my flesh, it seemed to bend around my face and whistled past my ear.  It sailed down the ally, missing the men behind me.  The extreme magnetism must have changed its trajectory.  His shot caused him to lose his grip on the gun and the weapon careened through the air, smashing into my field of electricity and erupting into tiny pieces, cluttering the already filthy alley.

Before everyone’s eyes could adjust from the latest glittery explosion, I dissolved the lightning in my hand.  Then, I heightened my vision, located the man with the final pistol and tracked through the lingering smoke toward him.  He moved the gun to his left hand and waved it around aimlessly as he tried to fan away the smoke with his other hand.

I tiptoed to the side and then pounced on him.  I grabbed his right wrist and transitioned quickly into an armbar, making sure the barrel was aimed away from me.  Placing my hand around the pistol, I bent his arm the wrong way and put tremendous pressure on his elbow.  He squealed and let go of the weapon.

The smoke had dissipated enough that I could see two men closing in on me.  Pew, pew.  I hit each one with a dart, stopping them in their tracks.  As they fell, I popped off two more shots, taking out two more men.  Four on one still seemed a bit unfair so I aimed at another guy and pulled the trigger.

An empty pfftt sound told me that the gun was out of ammunition.  I threw it into the open dumpster and took stock of the situation.  Three men were closing off the alley so I couldn’t escape, and one other man stood behind me.  I turned to the side and backed toward one of the buildings.

I didn’t have any weapons on me, so I hoped these bozos didn’t know incapacitation magic.  The fallen men were screaming at the others about what they should do.  The general message was, “Kick his ass, Seabass.”

One man got brave and charged toward me.  Although graceful in movement, he threw a slow right hand that I ducked easily.  As I rose, I clamped onto his extended arm, and using my hip, I flipped him over onto his back.  I adjusted quickly and drove my knee into his elbow, bending it backward.  With a stomach-turning crunch, bone burst through the skin and thick blood gushed from the wound.

The man screamed ferally and the desperate barking echoed off the buildings as he writhed around on the filthy ground.  Down to three on one.  My fearless display seemed to have robbed the remaining men of their confidence.  They just circled around me, no one interested in making a move.

A fireball appeared in one man’s hand, lighting up the grungy alley and grabbing my attention.  I backed away, navigating through the fallen men who were immobile because of the tranquilizers.  The man used a sidearm motion to fling his fireball at my chest.

I threw my body to the side and tried to get as skinny as I could.  The fireball zipped past, barely missing me and setting my shirt ablaze.  As I tore off the burning fabric, the fireball banged into the dumpster, tearing a hole in the green metal.  I tossed my flaming shirt aside and noticed the fireball had set the contents of the dumpster on fire.  That meant those flames were strong as hell since it had erupted immediately, and the rain hadn’t affected it at all.

The hideous smell of burning refuse caused me to cover my nose, but it didn’t provide much relief.  All three men rushed me at the same time.  I crouched down, and the men hesitated momentarily, then continued charging ahead.  This time, they were hunched over to account for my lower stance.

As they closed in on me, I jumped using my strong dragon legs.  I leapt high into the air as the men collided with each other, staggered backward and started cussing at each other.  This was going to be easy.

I landed and waited for Larry, Moe and Curly to regroup.  One of the fallen men said, “Someone needs to call on him or we are done for.  We can’t fail or the Prince will kill us.”

The three remaining men and I had a brief standoff.  They stood in front of me and they all smiled.  False confidence has killed more people than anything.  Fools.  How should I dispatch them?

A green fog entered my field of vision and the three men backed away hastily.  I felt drunk.  The men moved in slow motion as they moonwalked away from me.  My heartbeat slowed to a crawl.  My brain felt heavy.  All I could see was green.  My body numbed.  Then everything faded to black.

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 7

Zeke

 

A firm knock pounded against our front door.  I knew who it was without the obvious cop knock.  I wished that I didn’t as I rose slowly out of bed.  By the time I got to the door, the policemen were already talking, and my mother was already bawling.  My body thrummed with sadness, yet my chest felt empty with the confirmation.

I didn’t need to hear the words “almost unidentifiable” or “closed casket” to know that my dad was dead.  The goons who had killed him had come to our house last night looking for him.  At least, I assumed that was how it had gone down.  They’d roughed us up, robbed us and had set out to kill my dad.  Apparently, they’d succeeded.

“You all right, son?” one of the cops asked me.  I assumed he was referencing my black eye and the marks on my face from the beating I’d taken last night.

“Just got into a fight in school,” I lied.  I wasn’t going to expose my father’s secret life.

The cops came in and sat down at the kitchen table with my mom.  They tried asking her if there was anyone who wanted to hurt my father, but she couldn’t stop crying long enough to answer them.  I sat down next to her and hugged her for what seemed like hours, her tears bleeding into the fabric covering my shoulder.

“I can see that this isn’t a good time, ma’am.  You can stop down at the station if anything comes to you that you think might help.  We’re so sorry for your loss.  All of you,” the cop said, referring to me too.

I sat with my mom for a while and decided to go see if there were any clues in the shack behind our house.  I’d already found out that the robbers had taken the suitcase full of cash that my father kept hidden under the floorboards of the basement.  They’d known exactly where it was.  How?

The first thing I noticed was the door to the shack was open.  I approached the doorway and the place had been ransacked worse than our house.  The drawers and cabinets in the kitchen had been cleaned out and tossed everywhere.

The cushions and the back of the couch had been cut open, the interior cotton strewn about haphazardly.  I pushed open the door to my father’s magical gallery.  Empty.  They’d stolen my father’s magical items.  I’d been snooping on my dad long enough to know how much that stuff had meant to him.

The shock of the whole situation had my body in a constant state of panic.  I could barely think straight.  However, I knew one thing.  It might not happen today.  It might not happen tomorrow.  In fact, it might not happen for a long time.

“I’m going to find your stuff and bring it back here someday, dad.  And I promise you, mom and the rest of the family that I’ll find out who did this and serve up some righteous justice.  By any means necessary.”

 

 

 

 

I hope you enjoyed this short story prequel for the New Supernatural Agent Series.  Some of the material was purposely vague to leave some mystery but everything in this story will be explored fully in the main series where Ezekiel takes over as the main character.

 

 

Watch for Book 1, Dragged Into Magic, coming this fall.  And if you sign up for my mailing list, you will receive an exclusive sneak peak at Dragged Into Magic.

 

 

I really want to know what you thought about this and if you think it could be improved in any way.  Don’t hold back.  If you would like to submit feedback, please send it to twoheadstwospikes@gmail.com

 

 

 

Sneak Peek- Shifting Problems, Book 1, Bloodline Awakened Supernatural Thriller Series-December 5 Release Date

Shifting Problems

Bloodline Awakened Supernatural Thriller Series, Book 1

By Jason Paul Rice

 

 

 

Copyright 2017 by Jason Paul Rice

All rights reserved.  Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, without prior permission of the author.

This is a work of fiction.  All names are made up and used fictionally.  Any resemblance to real people is completely coincidental.   Any resemblance to real events is only part of the author’s imagination.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1

 

I heightened my senses to detect dark forces as I lingered in the lobby.  Satisfied the building was clean, I let my magic subside back down into the reservoir.

I entered the meeting room and guilt attacked me as I said hello to the other members.  I had sworn an oath in front of the Celtic Gods to protect Pittsburgh from demonic entities.  In exchange for my oath, the druidic physicians and healing witches had cured my lung cancer.  The Gods had also promised to turn me into a powerful wizard, awakening the bloodline I shared with Merlin, but I was only twenty-three, beginning a lifelong journey of magic.

As I sat down, my guilty feelings increased, knowing I had an underworld advantage in my battle, while the rest of the group was at the mercy of their insurance providers to stay alive.  I was a proud regular at the Cancer Support Group on Locust Street in Oakland.

We sat on folding chairs set up in a horseshoe configuration.  The early morning sun crept through a set of cracked blinds, casting long shadows across the burgundy carpeting.  A small table in the corner had a pot of coffee and pumpkin-spiced rice crispy treats on it.  The heat kicked on, creating a competing aromatic swirl of java, perfume and cologne.

A woman with a gaunt face and red handkerchief covering her bald head stood up.  “I’m Stacy and I’m a cancer fighter.”

We all rang out, “Hi, Stacy.”

Stacy scratched one of the moles on her pale cheek with a trembling thumb and sniffled through her flared nostrils.  “I’m doing better, but not out of the woods yet.  I’ve been given a forty-percent chance at survival.”  Tears formed in her reddened eyes and she produced a used tissue from her pocket.  She blew her nose and everyone waited patiently.  Her soft voice cracked as she continued, “I know that’s not the greatest odds, but I’m going to beat it.”  She barely got the last few words out.

The rest of the support group started clapping and I jumped up from my chair.  I took four steps forward and wrapped my arms around Stacy.  Her forehead hit my clavicle and her tears meshed into the fabric of my hoodie with the cursive writing, Merlino Detective Service, across the chest.

I hadn’t known her before she had walked through that entrance door about an hour ago, but when you’re fighting cancer, we all fight under the same flag.

I felt the warmth of her body, but it wasn’t complete warmth, almost an artificial heat.  She was in pain.  Her outer shell carried the heat and hid the icy glacier just beneath the surface.  Fighting cancer could do that to a person.  You could lie to everyone else about it, but deep down, you could never fool yourself.

It didn’t take a wizard to sense her pain.  The group leader, Sharon, cleared her throat for several seconds.  The stubborn phlegm didn’t want to come up.  It was like centuries of collected cobwebs that she wildly swatted away with a broom, only to create a tangled mess on the bristles and tire herself out in the process.

She finally wrestled the obstruction loose, chewed it up, took a swig of her Diet Dr. Pepper, and swallowed it.  I wanted to gag.  Sharon said, “Thank you for sharing, Stacy.  I know it’s difficult right now, but you have this group behind you.  If you ever need anything, we have a master list of everyone’s phone numbers that you can take with you.”

It’s hard to explain what it had been like to hear the diagnosis, once the words finally seeped through the thick layers of shock and denial.  Everything had changed.  I’d heard almost all those words during the diagnosis a million times before, but not in that particular order.  And not that one particular word.  Cancer.

I remembered what it was like at first.  Why me? What did I do to deserve this?  Everything faded, became dull, jejune, vapid, pallid.  Like there was nothing there.  Everything was stupid.  Everything sucked.  I was simply waiting to die.  A skeleton of bones waiting for the flesh to waste away.

It was important to have people invest emotionally in you when your head was in that state.  For me, it was Alayna, the wingless faerie, my savior, and my mentor.  I loved her more than my limited vocabulary could properly express.  She had taken me to the druidic underworld known as the Deep Burrow and introduced me to the Celtic Gods.

Some of these survivors didn’t have anyone to turn to, nobody to give a shit about them.  You needed somebody, and I wanted to be that somebody that everyone could lean on.

I had an amazing advantage fighting my cancer, and even then it was a great struggle.  I wanted to be there for the fighters who didn’t have a strong support system.  I let go of Stacy, looked encouragingly into her crying green eyes, and we both returned to our seats.

My phone buzzed in my pocket and I slid it out just enough to see who it was.  Lieutenant Gretchen Meyer of the newly formed Pittsburgh Police Department of the Occult.  I checked the message and it said she needed to talk to me.  Strange.  She never wanted to talk to me unless she desperately needed help.

I had been providing detective work, even though I didn’t fully understand the craft, for the past year to pay rent and bills.  Alayna hadn’t told me the whole truth when she had promised that I wouldn’t have to worry about money.  I thought I would get a rich benefactor to put me up in a mansion and give me a new car every week.  Wrong.  Wrong to the tenth.

I texted Lieutenant Meyer back and let her know that I was in a meeting.  My phone immediately buzzed again with one word in all caps.  URGENT.  Gretchen, who hated it when I called her by her first name, was never one for one-word messages so I had a good idea something big might have happened.  Finally.

I had taken on several cases over the last year, only to have them turn out to be paranormal hoaxes and the alien attack had turned out to be nothing more than a rabid barn owl, so I hoped I would finally have the chance to take on a real case.

I texted her back to pick me up at the meeting.  I had left a few meetings before they ended, but I always felt terrible about it.  These survivors were now my battle brothers and sisters and I wanted to be there for them, as they had for me, for the entire meetings.  Unfortunately, the meetings weren’t going to ward off my mentor/angry landlord, Alayna.

Ten minutes later, another text came through.  Gretchen was waiting outside, so I apologized and slipped out the gray door with a square slab of glass at about head level.  I stepped out into the chilly autumn day and secured the middle button on my leather jacket.

I opened the passenger door of the ’98 Jeep Cherokee.  Gretchen had never picked me up in a squad car.  I hopped in and was met by a stiff face and pursed lips.  G.M., another nickname I had given her that she hated, scratched her firm chin.  I assumed she was in her mid-forties, short and stout, filling out the black police uniform.  Her German roots had given her amber eyes, short, sandy-blond hair, bronze skin with light freckling, and a tough-as-nails attitude.

She barked, “You’re not carrying anything wet this time, are you?”

I turned away from her and looked at the sky.  A cerulean setting streaked with ivory clouds.  No gray ones to be found.  “What are you talking about?”

She spoke in a light German accent and a deep voice for a woman, “Look, it only takes one time.  I don’t know what to expect out of you.”

One time.  One time, I had been experimenting with potions and the process went a little haywire.  The tiny vial exploded in her car, soaking most of her vehicle and me.  In my defense, I did pay for her to have the entire SUV professionally shampooed.  I had hoped she would turn down the offer from a broke young man struggling to make his way.  I overestimated her.  She had told me I needed to learn responsibility someway.

“We’re all good this time.  What is so important?”

She pulled out onto the main road and jammed down the gas pedal.  “What do you know about animal shifting?”

Okay, this party just got kicked into overdrive.  “What is your real question, G.M.?”

She turned and stared at me as she flew down 5th Avenue.  “What did I tell you about that?  We’re not in some fraternity together, dude, so show me respect and call me Lieutenant.  All right now.  Who in this city is capable of shifting into a demon-like creature?”

Now we were getting somewhere.  Paranormal activity had been on the rise in Pittsburgh for the past decade, hence the new department that had been set up about a year ago.  “Off the top of my head, that’s a little difficult to say.  I’d first probably say it could be the McNights.”

“They are a huge family.  I assume the McNights from the goth bowling alley?”

“Those are the ones.  I’ve received a few stories that they are connected to demons from the Red Cavern.  Not sure if I believe it and I can’t get close to them because I don’t have any proof other than hearsay.”

Gretchen turned to me again and let the car veer toward oncoming traffic.  The blaring car horn alerted me to grab the wheel with some of my mental magic and jerk it back into our lane.

She peeked over a few times, trying to keep her attention on the road.  “Are you sure?  Any corroboration you could provide?”

She knew that the underworld of demons named the Red Cavern was real, but she didn’t want to believe it.  Nobody did.  Not even me.  For heading a specialized department dealing with the occult, G.M. hadn’t the slightest interest in the paranormal and taken the job for the pay raise only.  She remained focused on making enough money to start her own detective agency.  She hadn’t confessed the details to me, but I knew she hated working for someone else and really hated taking any advice from someone half her age.

I couldn’t argue with her on either measure, especially the latter.  I wouldn’t want to take advice from a ten-year-old in the same way that she wouldn’t want to take advice from a twenty-three-year-old know-it-all.  What could I say, I had a lot of knowledge in my head and was proud to share it.  I just needed to work on my delivery and sarcasm so I didn’t come across as such an asshole.

I knew it was a deficiency, but I was working on it.  Most of my time during my cancer recovery was spent with Mabon, the youthful God.  It had done wonders for learning new information, but little for my development as a mature adult.

I also suffered from social anxiety because I wasn’t fully comfortable with myself.  I was okay talking to people as a detective or once I got to know someone.

“Yeah, see, corroboration, see.” I mocked in a funny tone, like the bad guy from the Dick Tracy cartoons.  I used to watch them with my Mom.  “You know how I work.  Have any of my uncorroborated stories turned out to be false?  Give me the whole picture, G.M., not just little hints.”

“It’s Lieutenant Meyer, you dolt.  All right, tough guy, you ready?  We received a report about a board meeting in the PNC Building downtown.”

“Sounds pretty exciting.”  I jabbed at her.

She huffed, and cutoff another car to get into the right lane.  “If you’ll allow me to finish.  One surviving eye-witness said that Darren Danbergh suddenly changed into a dark, reptilian figure and used its massive claws and teeth to rip into, and devour everyone in the meeting, except for one traumatized eye-witness.  One of my colleagues said it was the most gruesome crime scene she has ever seen.  And she’s seen them all.”

“Okay, if that’s true, we seem to be driving away from the city.”

“Ahh, very good Einstein.”

“I’m smarter than you.”  Damn my childish nature.

“Not sure if you want to be bragging about that.”

“I’m smarter than you.”  I don’t know how the second one slipped out of my mouth again.  I needed to work on that.

“Focus.  We are going to the house of the shifter.  Scrounged up some quick information that he had a live-in girlfriend.  Thirty-two year old Ruth Westerhouse.  Quite a last name there.”

“Is she from, ‘The Westerhouses?’”

“The one and only.  Although it sounds like she was ousted from the good graces of the family.”

The Westerhouses basically ran the city of Pittsburgh.  You couldn’t walk more than two blocks without seeing a sign for one of their numerous businesses.

“The shifter.  What’s the file on him?”

“Darren Danbergh.  Up and coming Vice President at PNC.  Co-workers say he kept to himself.  Not much more information as of yet.”

“I can already tell you’ve visited the crime scene.  Where is this house?”

“Fox Chapel.  Should be there in about five minutes.”  She speeded up.

I wondered if G.M. knew that Fox Chapel was becoming a hotbed of paranormal activity.  I had several side jobs, separate from Gretchen’s work, which proved that a lot of rich people were suddenly dabbling in the dark art of magic.  Dark magic almost always carried a tragic cost.  Or so I had heard.

Being a novice in the game of magic was frustrating.  The one thing I had learned was that I hadn’t learned very much.  I had absorbed about two drops out of the ocean of magic.  I had the ability to harness more magic than almost anyone in the world.  The end-game potential was scary.  I had learned about the different nuances of magic, the threat of the Red Cavern, and how to use magic in the city with thousands of innocent people running around, but I still yearned for more.

We arrived at the house.

 

 

Chapter 2

 

 

I got out of the car and took a gander at the place.  Nice house.  Not Westerhouse nice, but I would have loved to call it home.

A two-story house, the bottom level made of brick that receded into the second floor covered with dirty white aluminum siding in desperate need of a power wash.  Two Doric columns held a rectangular roof over the entrance to the house and a walkway snaked around the yard, ending near the mailbox.  A Lincoln Navigator sat in the driveway.  The vehicle had the two driver’s side wheels in the driveway but the other two were in the grass.

Gretchen parked in front of the house and we made the awkward walk to the doorway.  I didn’t know what to say.  Oh, hey, sorry to bother you, but do you have a minute to talk about how your boyfriend turned out to be a grisly murderer?  Or, maybe you’d like to discuss how you were booted from the richest family in Pittsburgh?  Neither sounded like a good opening line.

I had experience in consoling people, but in those situations, I wasn’t trying to garner information.  Totally different ballgame when you were trying to pry information out of a traumatized witness.

We got out of the car and walked up the cobblestone walkway.  We were about ten feet from the entrance, when the glass screen door opened toward us.  Gretchen dug into her pocket to grab her badge as a woman came outside and held her hand up in a fist.

Disheveled, strung-out and tired were the first words to pop into my head.  The short woman with dyed bright red hair and black roots had freckles under a heavy sheen of makeup.  Her dainty nose and the complete package made me envision that Little Orphan Annie had grown up to be a stripper.

She screamed, “I told you we would have the stuff ready, when it’s ready.”  She stopped when Gretchen held up her badge.

“Ma’am, I am Lieutenant Gretchen Meyer of the Pittsburgh Police Occult Unit.  This is detective Merlino.”

I nodded my head, tightlipped.  “Ma’am.”

“What do you want with me?”  Her face went pale, and I realized she didn’t know.

What the hell, G.M.?  Being the first to talk to a witness is great, but I didn’t know we were rolling up Grim Reaper style.  I took a deep breath and hoped Gretchen would take the lead.  She didn’t.

“Ma’am.  I’m afraid we have some bad news for you.  Your boyfriend is suspected of some really heinous criminal behavior.”  I danced around the exact truth and had to be delicate.  I didn’t know how to say it.  “Multiple murders.”  I can’t believe those were the comforting words I settled on.

Her crying eyes rolled back in her head and she looked like she might pass out.

Smooth, real smooth.

I reached out, hooked underneath her sweaty armpits and held her up.  It wasn’t dead weight.  I helped straighten her out and rubbed my ridiculous mustache.  Not because I wanted to play with the ratty stash, I needed a quick sniff.

Body odor, yes, but body odor was drowned out by deodorant.  Not a clue, but this was a sign.  My suspicion had been raised.  I leaned in and hugged the woman.  I pulled her close and the shorter woman lay her head on my chest.

I silently sniffed fresh layers of makeup and stale whiskey.  I wiggled my nostril hairs.  Jameson Irish Whiskey.  Good taste.  Back to the makeup.  Although it had been smeared across most of her face, it had been applied within the last few hours.  I looked at the sun as Ruth bawled.  It couldn’t be past 8:30 a.m.

It didn’t add up.  Why would this woman put makeup on this morning unless she was expecting company?  Was she wearing an evening gown underneath the full-length red cotton bathrobe?  When I put more thought into it, her melodramatic performance seemed rather fishy too.  Her legs had given out, but not completely.  I didn’t know what was going on, but it didn’t seem right.

She added to the collage of tears on my hoodie as I rubbed her back.  I needed to know more.  “Would you mind answering a few questions, ma’am?”

She kicked her bawling up a notch, sending off more bells and whistles.

She looked up at me, lips quaking, and said, “I don’t think now is a good time.  This is all too much right now.”

I broke the embrace and took a step back.  Too much?  I hadn’t even told her about how her boyfriend ripped human beings to shreds—not to mention, he probably was a cannibal.  I remembered when my father had gone to jail and I had wanted to know every single detail.

Gretchen finally found her tongue and joined the conversation.  “Are you sure?  When would be a good time to come back?”

Ruth sniffled and wiped away some tears.  “Maybe tomorrow?”  She shrugged.  “I can’t really say after a tragedy like this.  We really loved each other, you know.  How do you put a time on something like this?”

Gretchen responded, “We understand.  Please let us know if you hear from him.  I’ll leave you my card if you want to talk sooner.  If not, I’ll be contacting you tomorrow.”

Ruth grabbed the card, but it fluttered between her fingers and fell in the mulch next to her sidewalk.  I reached down to pick it up.

I snatched the card off the cobbled walkway and stood up.  I held it out and made sure Ruth had a tight grip on it before I let it go and started to walk back to the car.

Acting quickly on my instincts, I turned around, “Ma’am, would you mind coming down to the car and getting my card too?  I live closer.”  That was stupid.  Not sure why I had said that.

The woman reluctantly followed us down the walkway, tightening the tie on her robe.  I needed to play this perfectly.  We got to the car and I opened the door, trying to angle it perfectly.  I ran my fingers over the mirror, closed my eyes, and said, “Videte omnia specula.  Videte omnia specula.”

I reached inside the vehicle, grabbed my imaginary card, and peeked back at Ruth.

Damnit.

I opened the door more, but I still don’t think I hit my target.

“I really don’t have time to be waiting out here.  Just wait till the neighbors find out about this.”

Seemed like a strange worry at a time like this.  I jammed the door open more, bending it outward.  The door creaked and I held my hand in front of the side view mirror.  “Here it is.”  I announced with my hand in front of the mirror.

She turned around, rubbing her eyes with one hand and holding out the other.

Damnit.

I said, “After all, it looks like I can’t find it.”

“Wasting my time,” the annoyed woman announced and turned to go back inside.

She took five steps and I screamed out, “Stop.”

The woman turned back toward me and I knew it was my last chance.  I waved my left hand like a crazy man in front of the door.  She squinted her eyes and focused on my hand.  I slid my hand to the left and had what I needed.  “I just wanted to say how sorry I am for your loss.”  That was stupid too.  He wasn’t officially dead yet.

She forced a smile, nodded, and turned to go back inside her house.  I jumped into the Jeep and Gretchen started busting my stones about bending her door too far open.  Then she started blathering on about how some people can get fragmentary PTSD and just hearing about gruesome details can warp their minds.  I agreed.  Only problem with her argument was that we had never revealed any gory details.

I wanted to yell at her about making me the bearer of bad news, but I stared silently into the side view mirror.

Nothing.

Not even my own reflection.  I was using it as a window, which was why I had needed Ruth to look into it, and in a flash, the magic kicked in.

The interior of a nice house appeared in the side view mirror.  A flash ran across the mirror.  Another flash of red fabric zipped by.  The mirrors inside the house acted like motion detectors to provide images.  Finally, Ruth stopped in front of one of the mirrors.  She stared into the mirror and I noticed a dresser with a hairdryer and makeup in the background.

Her image became distorted and she disappeared.  I realized she had opened a door with a mirror on it.  I waited, impatiently.

Nothing.

I knew it was a long shot, but worth a try.  I was about to divert my attention back to Gretchen when the distorted image returned and captured my attention.  The door closed and Ruth knelt over a two-piece wooden box the size of a small suitcase.

She disappeared for a few moments and returned with duct tape.  She began to seal up the opening around the box.  She put multiple layers of duct tape over the case and stared at the wooden object.  She tried to lift the heavy box by a leather handle, and struggled.  She propped it up on its side and I nearly suffered a heart attack.

The symbol.  If only it didn’t have that symbol, my heart might stop rattling against my ribcage.

Ruth Westerhouse dragged the brown wooden box embossed with the black symbol of the Dank Artistry out of sight.  She reappeared in the side view mirror, dragging the case through—her kitchen I presumed.  I noticed a refrigerator behind her.  How handy, a mirror magnet.  How vain were these people?

She opened the door, which led outside.  I had what I needed and started listening to Gretchen, who had been yammering on.  “Are you even listening to me?”

Damnit.  Busted.  “Of course.”

She barked at me, “Then what did I just say?”

“You were saying some stuff, you know, about the PTSD and such.”

Gretchen stopped at a red light.  “You weren’t even listening to a word I said.  You wonder why you’re the last investigator to get called all the time.”

I didn’t wonder.  I knew all the officers thought I was a prick.  “Detective,” I shot back in a venomous tone.

“What?” she asked with a sour look on her face, the tight skin on her cheeks wrinkling.

“I’m a detective.  We solve cases.  We don’t just investigate them.”  I don’t know why it made a difference to me.  It just did.  I desperately needed to ditch my pomposity for sagacity.  Alayna called me the idiot savant wizard.

“Is that so?” she asked.  I didn’t see it, but I knew she rolled her eyes.

“That’s how it is, I’m afraid.  New sheriff in town.  I’m kind of like a Psychic Detective.”  I grabbed the oh-shit bar when Gretchen gunned it to run a yellow light.  I’d like to see her out on the autobahn.

“More like a psycho detective.”  She chuckled.  I didn’t.  She continued, “Moving on.  Once they finish sweeping the crime scene, I’ll email you with the findings and pictures.  Don’t open them around kids, please.”

“Don’t worry.”  I wondered if Gretchen had kids.  She had never talked about her personal life except for her own aspirations a time or two.  She liked her private life to remain that way and I didn’t pry.

Gretchen dropped me off at my humble abode, and my mentor was waiting for me.

 

 

Chapter 3

Alayna sat on the porch swing, rocking back and forth.  I lived in a block of row houses that had been financially backed by the Deep Burrow.  All except for one.  The house next to mine was inhabited by Normals.

The rest of the duplexes were filled with gifted young people like me.  Ones that had shown an affinity toward magic in one way or another.  It was nice being around like-minded individuals.  We weren’t very high on the social ladder in Pittsburgh, but we had all taken an oath to protect the city, and needed to spend our time acquiring more magical skills.

I hopped out of the car, and as I crossed the street, Gretchen yelled, “Don’t forget to check your inbox for that stuff.”

I nodded, waved, and turned my attention to Alayna.  I made sure nobody from the neighborhood was around. “My lady.”  I bowed slightly.  She wore her signature glimmering purple dress that hugged her thick body and swept the ground when she walked.  I stood about 6’3, and although I’d never measured her or asked about an exact height, I’d estimate she was about three feet shorter than me.

There were only a few of us in the duplexes that could see the wingless faerie and I had suffered a few embarrassing moments talking to Alayna around Normals.

She smiled but the crow’s feet and narrow eyes made it seem unnatural and forced.  “Good sir, how goes the day so far?”

I titled my neck to the side and shifted to my serious face.  “Have you heard about the shifter murders yet?”

She spoke with an English accent, “Not yet.”

I loved when I got a scoop before her.  Even though Alayna had somehow arranged for me to be a consultant for the Pittsburgh Police, she didn’t find out information before they did.  Alayna had rescued me a few years ago when I was in a major downward spiral and wanted to die.  She had informed me that I shared a blood line with the Mighty Merlin, which meant I had a special capacity for magic.  The family had used the last name Merlinus, until they moved from Wales to Italy and changed it to Merlino.  Then the family moved to the United States and settled in the northeast.

I checked the sidewalk again and turned back to Alayna.  “Boardroom meeting at PNC Bank, so pretty highbrow stuff.  Boyfriend of Ruth Westerhouse.  We go to her house and I got her to look into a mirror so I could track her a little bit.  Turns out, she drags a wooden case marked with the symbol of the Dank Artistry out her back door.”

“Hmm.”  She played with her hair and constantly emitted an aura of enchantment.  Alayna had long, thick braids that alternated from platinum blond to obsidian black and hung to her midsection.  The two-colored hairdo had seemed strange at first, but I’d grown used to it by now.

I pushed my lips together and nodded.  “That’s what I said.  Now it could be any hooligan trying to stir up some dark powers or it could be a powerful demon.  Either way, something crazy is going on in Pittsburgh.  Not to worry my lady, I will take care of the problem.”

She frowned.  “And we were doing so well for so long.  I knew it wouldn’t last.  Therefore, I needed you to learn quickly.  What do you plan to do?”

I realized I only had one lead.  “We didn’t get to question Ruth Westerhouse, so I’d like to do that.  Later tonight, I’m going to go by her house and pick up that box she dragged out back if it’s still there.  I’m not going to let the garbage men beat me to it, that’s for sure.”  Maybe I had two leads.

“Be careful.  You never know how much dark energy could be inside that thing.  Exercise caution when opening it.  If you are going to open it, that is.”

I hadn’t thought about that.  I was just going to rip it open like a wrapped present.  Maybe that’s why Ruth Westerhouse had been duct taping it shut?  “It’s not even close to a full moon.  Who can shift without full lunar power?”

She pondered the question for a moment.  “Only higher-up demons from the Red Cavern.  You know, the demi-devils or an extremely powerful Chieftains.  Let’s see.  Spring-Heeled Jack, the Jersey Devil, Vlad Dracul of Wallachia, the Six Bend Serpent, Sabretooth Gilda and Hot Iron Indigo.  That’s just a few off the top of my head that specialize in shifting.  At least, to the best of our knowledge.”

It was much too early to peg one of the Chieftains of the Order of the Red Cavern as a prime suspect, but way too early to rule them out.  I wanted some action in Pittsburgh, but if it were one of the big dogs of dark magic, I would be rendered useless.

I had defeated the two-hundred-year-old warlock named George by pure luck, recklessly using magic.  I had learned over the past two years that I couldn’t do that again.  I had to play by the rules now.  And the book of rules on magic was almost as long as the compendium on magic itself.

One thing I had learned, wizards had to read.  A lot.  See that splendiferous vocabulary I’ve picked up.

I waited impatiently for the email from Gretchen and for a chance to investigate the dark box at Ruth Westerhouse’s place as my mind churned with fractions of puzzle pieces, not even the entire pieces.  Sometimes, a wizard has to construct the pieces before he or she can assemble the puzzle.

Sounds daunting, but on the flip side, if one created the best pieces, manipulating them to his or her advantage, building the puzzle became simple.

We went inside my hole of an apartment, a huge upgrade from the hole back in Prince’s Mountain, but not exactly a castle either.  It was a two-bedroom apartment, both on the second floor with a bathroom and a small attic.  We walked into the modest living room, couch against one wall, loveseat against another.  The rest of the room consisted of a rectangular coffee table, bookshelves and books.  Some were in piles on the hardwood floor, but I had a system, don’t you worry.

Alayna held her nose, although the smell wasn’t that bad.  Okay, it wasn’t that great either, but I hadn’t figured out what was causing that odor from the basement.  Because of the harsh stench, I used the stone basement as a short-term storage facility.  Mostly for books.  I had a lot of books.

Alayna brushed off the couch and sat down, her purple dress sparkling in the strained sunlight begging for permission to pass through my black shades.  I obliged it and cracked the blinds a bit.

She had a worried expression on her face.  Alayna never worried.  I asked, “Is everything all right or is this just the Lancelot thing again where you stare at me and make me nervous?  By the way, I saw a movie a week ago and he had black hair and brown eyes.”

Alayna had told me that she had met Lancelot from King Arthur’s court during her travels.  “I’m sorry that you look like him, but you do.  Most books and movies have gotten it totally wrong.  It’s not just the blond hair and blue eyes, but the strong chin and tight jawline.  And then you throw in the broad shoulders and it’s a perfect match.  However, that wasn’t what I was doing.”

What could it be?  Nothing ever got her down.  I said, “I don’t like seeing you sad.  I know what will cheer you up.  Beatles music.  We can even sing a song or two,” I offered.

She shook her head, and her long braids slithered back and forth on her shoulders.  “Maybe later.”

I thought about what she really liked.  “I know.  You can tell me about another crazy adventure from your favorite wizard in St. Louis.  You know, the one you have a big crush on.”

“I don’t have a big crush on him, although he is rather striking.  Powerful and gallant, sure.  Quite smooth as well.”  Her lips started to curl up and stopped just short of a smile.  Her face and eyes always lit up when she talked about him, but not so much today.  She loved to tell me about his wild times and I enjoyed hearing them.  Even though some of his outrageous missions seemed impossible, and I was extremely jealous of his financial situation, the man always came out on top.

The wizards from St. Louis and Chicago were legendary.  They had already attained what I was striving for.  They were Hall of Famers, where I was just a rookie entering the professional ranks.  I would have been the number one pick if there was a wizard draft, but I had no accolades to speak of.  I needed to prove myself in the field.

I’d even been hearing a lot of stories about an odd couple/dynamic duo in New York City.  I wanted people to start telling stories about me, but first I needed to create those legendary stories.  I’m inclined to call them tales, but I know they are true.

I gave up.  “What’s wrong?”

She wrung her tiny hands together.  “We have a problem.”

I was late on rent again.  She had every right to tear into me.  I tried for a preemptive strike to gain sympathy.  “Like you and me?  I’ll get the money from this work in less than a week.  I’ll be able to pay you easier if they would just give me more jobs.”  I didn’t think she would ever follow through on the threats.  Sure, I was late before.  Okay, I was late most of the time, but I always paid.  Always.

“It’s not that.”  She shook her head and closed her eyes.

I exhaled audibly, chest shaking, relieved.

She took a deep breath and continued, “We have a problem in the Deep Burrow.  Or more specifically, Clara Spiritus.  Mabon has disappeared.”

“What?  How?” I asked in shock.

“Obviously nobody knows.  One report.”  A look of great disgust came over her face and she buried her forehead in her palm.  “One report—saw him entering the Red Cavern.”

I defended my friend.  “No.  He wouldn’t do that.  By himself or was he being dragged in there?  Why would he do that?”

She threw her hands up dramatically.  “The only reasoning the Gods have come up with is that he was offered more power in the Red Cavern.”

That didn’t make sense.  “How can he get more power?  He’s already a God.”

“A God among many, and he possibly views himself at the bottom of that totem.  There are only thirteen devils that we know of.  The only line of thinking I can even begin to understand is that he saw more power in being a devil.  I really don’t know.  It’s all too confusing right now.”

I’d never seen Alayna like this.  The one-thousand-one-year-old woman, who would smack me for not saying she was nine-hundred-ninety-nine, was normally a happy go lucky faerie.  She had always been in complete control, especially when I was frazzled.

She hid it well, but she was clearly distraught.  Her ivory skin had red splotches rising to the surface in random areas and her glistening red eyes looked up at me.

I moved closer and hugged her.  More tears went into the collection on the front of my hoodie.  The news had rocked me, too.

Mabon had accepted me more than anyone else in Clara Spiritus, the home of the Celtic Gods.  That’s not to say I wasn’t accepted by the rest of the Gods, but the Young Son had gone out of his way to be nice and joke around with me.  He was also a member of the Golden Chamber, the panel of Gods that made all the final decisions of judgment.  I didn’t like where this train was headed.

Mabon had a thorough and advanced knowledge of shifting.  He could easily do it without a full moon.  I started to get a rotten twisting pain in my belly telling me that this was a powerful demon or rogue god, or a rogue god turned devil.  Even worse.

“I got the rest of the stuff you asked for to complete the potion for invisibility,” I hinted.

“You want to make the magic mist today?”

“We don’t have to, but it might take your mind off the other problems right now.”

“I suppose it shall, but I can’t guarantee any success from the state I am in right now.  If you want to heat up the cauldron, I need to grab a few things from the kitchen and I’ll meet you up there.”

I went upstairs, which consisted of two bedrooms and a small bathroom.  I closed the door to my bedroom so Alayna wouldn’t make fun of me for the mess and went into the other room.  I used this one for experiments and had blankets covering all the windows.

I lit the portable burner underneath the cauldron that hung from a tripod with a triskele amulet attached at the apex.  The black cast iron cooking device could hold about a gallon, but most of my tests involved much less volume than that.  Alayna entered the room with an armful of supplies that she dumped on middle of the table, next to the cauldron.

She dimmed the lights until they were almost out and laid out the ingredients for the magic mist.  She handed me a mortar and pestle with acorns in it from the Tree of Life.  I mashed the acorns around with the stone pestle as Alayna took the caps off the liquids.

She started with the vodka, which sizzled as it hit the red-hot cauldron and released a caramelized alcohol aroma.  She added still water and tonic water next.  Twenty seconds passed and she threw in some plastic wrap and broken glass.  I picked up the wooden spoon and gently stirred the mixture as Alayna tossed in some Granny Smith apple slices, the crushed acorns from the mortar and pestle, and some freshwater salmon oil.

The pleasing scent instantly took a fishy turn as I continued to stir the cauldron.  Alayna reached inside her bra and pulled out the secret ingredient.  She placed three pieces of mistletoe from the Tree of Life that had been cut away with the silver serrated knife on the seventh day of the new moon next to the cauldron.

I adjusted my necklace made from hemp from the Sacred Pages that always reminded me of my oath.  I grabbed the silver triskele charm that the druidic craftsmen had helped me make and pulled it out of my hoodie.  I thumbed the mother of pearl set in the center of the triskele and prepared to make the mist.

I picked up the piece of coarse rope on the table and tied a loose knot in it.  We each grabbed one end of the rope and Alayna positioned her free hand near the mistletoe.  She tossed in the mistletoe as we chanted in unison,

“Once, twice, and thrice is always nice,

See me now, then see me not,

In the cold or in the hot,

A sleight of shape to disappear,

And make my tint so crystal clear,

Respect I keep for the Sacred Pages,

Along with witches, wizards, and mages.”

We repeated the words six more times while pulling the knot tighter as we went along.  We finished and I turned off the blue flames to let the mixture sit for seven minutes.

After the short resting period, I stirred the liquid around and used a punchbowl spoon to scoop it into a strainer over a mason jar.

The potion was still hot, but I was very impatient as I carefully poured it into the tiny spray bottle.  I screwed the sprayer on tight and made the lights brighter.

I smiled at Alayna, and focused on her folded hands and FAB FOUR tattoos.  Seven of her eight fingers had a letter in between the second and third knuckles spelling out the nickname of her favorite band.  “Ready?”

She tried to match my enthusiasm with a smile and nod, but her reddened eyes indicated she was still perturbed about Mabon’s disappearance.  I seriously doubted this magic mist would work because of her mental state.

I sprayed some on my left forearm and immediately pulled it back from the hot splash.  I stared at my arms and waited for the mist to take effect.  After about thirty seconds, I could still see myself.

“I guess it was worth a try,” I mentioned to Alayna.

“It’s working.  I can’t see you.”

I looked down at my arms and the rest of my body.  “I can still see myself.”

“That is good.  You can control your body much better when you can see it and others can’t.”

About two minutes went by and Alayna said, “I’m starting to see bits and pieces of you again.  It’s rather freaky actually.”

I was stunned that the magic mist had worked.  My downtrodden mother figure decided to go back to the Deep Burrow, leaving me to clean up the mess.  I strained and bottled up the magic mist with a giant smile on my face.  Mabon’s news saddened me, but this had been the most successful experiment I’d ever pulled off.

I didn’t know when or where I would need this, but the ability to become invisible seemed like a great advantage to have in a fight.

 

This book will be released December 5th, 2017.  If you would like to receive an Advanced Copy in exchange for an honest review, please sign up here: ARC TEAM

 

Paranormal Romance Book Deals

Please enjoy this fine selection of Free and Discounted Paranormal Romance Books.  Be sure to check final prices on retailers before purchasing.

 

Whispers From Another World(Whitney Powers Paranormal Adventure #1)

Jason Paul Rice-99 Cents/Free on Kindle Unlimited

A strong-willed woman. A new cop on the local force. Two lonely souls find each other and embark on a paranormal mystery adventure.

AMAZON

 

Fallen Ashes: Fated and Forbidden

T.F. Walsh-99 Cents/Free on Kindle Unlimited

Magically-bound, determined, and both fighting an undeniable attraction, can Saber and Fallen work together to free themselves and save their world by defeating the Collector? Or will time slip out of their grasp and all will be lost?

AMAZON

 

The Dragonian’s Witch

Meg Xuemei X-$2.99/Free on Kindle Unlimited

He abducts me to find his fated mate, unaware that I am she.

AMAZON

 

 

A Magical Shift:A Hot Paranormal Fantasy

Vella Day-Free

A witch’s powerful presence brings this shifter to his knees, and his animalistic ruggedness has her panting for more. When Isadora Berta’s life is threatened, Alpha werewolf, Ryerson McKinnon vows to protect her, but can Izzy find real safety when love as magical as theirs can render her powerless?

AMAZON

 

The Edge

Fleur Camacho-99 Cents/Free on Kindle Unlimited

Hell exploded outside her door.

Jace emerged from the chaos. He was a gift from heaven.

AMAZON

 

Saved by a Dragon

Lauren Lively-99 Cents/Free on Kindle Unlimited

The doorways stand between two worlds – do they hold the keys that will unlock their survival as well as their passion?

AMAZON

 

 

Black Hellebore

Nicole Zoltack-Free

Between becoming a superhero, falling for his deceased girlfriend’s twin, and fighting a super villain, Nicholas Adams’ life will never be the same.

AMAZON

 

Shiftr: Swipe Left For Love (Olsen)

Ariana Hawkes-99 Cents/Free on Kindle Unlimited

He is a growly bear, who can’t locate his inner human. She’s a curvy lady, who has plenty of physical and emotional scars. Can he heal her?

AMAZON

 

Rune Sword

Amelia Wilson-99 Cents/Free on Kindle Unlimited

An ancient sword points the way to an ages-old conflict and eternal love.

AMAZON

 

The Vampire’s Bite

Laura Greenwood-99 Cents/Free on Kindle Unlimited

Tony never asked to be a vampire. He didn’t even know they existed until he interrupted the wrong man.

AMAZON

 

Creatures: A Limited Edition Boxed Set

J & L Wells and 23 More Authors

CREATURES is a collection of otherworldly tales from today’s indie-favorite New York Times, USA Today, and International bestselling authors! So curl up on your sofa with a steaming cup of tea and Creatures, if you dare brave the beasts!

AMAZON

 

Primal Desire

Olivia Harp-99 Cents/Free on Kindle Unlimited

Badass teacher from LA meets a Bear shifter who bends the forces of nature to his will. Will they succumb to their desire?

AMAZON

 

Lullaby

Bridgette O’Hare-Free

HELL’S MOST WANTED LIST just grew by one – good girl, Halle Michaels. Hunted by Hell’s elite and armed only with her dead father’s cryptic journal and a possible double-agent protector, who’s a reluctant prophet to trust?

AMAZON

 

It’s Raining Men

Jennifer Stevenson-99 Cents

Chloe’s favorite bartender Archie finally hits on her and claims he is a sex demon who has arranged for her to find love. “Just for you, for a limited time, it’s gonna start raining men.”

AMAZON

 

Golden(F’d Up Fairy Tales)

Stephanie Nicole Norris-99 Cents/Free on Kindle Unlimited

Queen Isabella appreciated her swollen belly. In just a few days she would be gifting King Eldridge something they both had been waiting for, a child.

 

AMAZON

 

The Golden Desires

Ann M Pratley-99 Cents

Through the magic of paranormal time travel, a man from our world and time begins to dream of a woman, as she dreams of him. Venturing on a trek of self-discovery, he discovers a village that has long since been destroyed. The strength of a bond that the two dreamers share eventually allow him to crossover into her world, leaving all that he has ever known behind as he finds a world he’s never even dreamed of before.

AMAZON

 

The Snow Patrol

Roz Marshall-99 Cents

Lost and alone at the end of a day’s skiing, White Cairns’ instructor Debbie McNeill is facing her worst nightmare – until a dreamboat ski patroller comes to her aid. But to her surprise, she discovers that this snowy equivalent of a knight in shining armour has a secret…

AMAZON

 

Secret Legends Boxed Set

21 Award Winning Authors-99 Cents

This must-read paranormal romance and urban fantasy boxed set is filled with tales of vampires, aliens, angels, witches, ghosts, shifters, sirens, and more, containing over one hundred hours of page-turning reads that will leave your heart pounding and your pulse racing.

AMAZON

IBOOKS

 

Roam Around the Earth(Whitney Powers Paranormal Adventure #2)

Jason Paul Rice-$2.99 on PreOrder

A newly engaged couple takes on government corruption with the help of the preternatural.

AMAZON

 

 

This Promotion has been brought to you by the Fire and Fantasy Boxed Set.

99 Cents for 22 Full-Length Books

Click on the Banner Image below for details.

Official Whitney Powers Page

Roam Around The Earth–Whitney Powers Paranormal Adventure #2

A newly engaged couple takes on government corruption with the help of the preternatural.

The most important case at the Bureau of Intelligence just landed in the hands of Whitney Powers and Trent Merrick.  The rookie agents are stunned by the magnitude and scope that seems to go straight to the top.

Whitney and Trent soon find out that this won’t be a simple open and closed case.  They have to fight against stonewalling politicians that will stop at nothing to keep their secrets hidden.

Will these historic crimes go unpunished or can Whitney and Trent overcome the mountain of obstacles to save the country?

Roam Around the Earth is the 2nd Standalone Book in the Whitney Powers Paranormal Adventures.  If you enjoy medium-spiced romance with aspects of mystery, suspense, magical time travel and crime solving in an urban fantasy setting, start your reading journey now.

AMAZON    AMAZON UK    AMAZON CA    AMAZON AU

 

 

 

Whisper From Another World-Whitney Powers Paranormal Adventure #1

A strong-willed woman. A new cop on the local force. Two lonely souls find each other and embark on a paranormal mystery adventure.

Twelve-year-old Whitney Powers looks at the books on supernatural phenomena in a dark corner of the Granny Larson Library. As she stares, the bookshelf begins to shake and a prism-like flash of light blinds her momentarily.

Whitney goes missing for the next three days. Finally, a local patrolman finds her a few miles from the library. Her explanation of the incident causes her to be ridiculed for the next eighteen years. Despite countless opportunities to leave and end the abuse, she’s stayed in this small town.

Why has she always remained close to the Granny Larson Library, which is supposedly haunted?

What happened during those three days that’s forcing her to stay back and work at the library?

Whispers From Another World is a gripping standalone short-novel in the Whitney Powers Paranormal Adventure Series. If you enjoy medium heat romance with elements of mystery, suspense, preternatural events and crime-solving in an urban fantasy setting, start this book now.

AMAZON    AMAZON UK    AMAZON CA    AMAZON AU

Whispers from Another World-Rough Draft Preview

 

 

 

Whispers from Another World

by Jason Paul Rice

PROLOGUE

Authors Note:  Unattributed/unmarked dialog is always Whitney Powers.

 

As Whitney looked at the bookshelf, a glowing blue light magically developed around the entire frame.

“Get away from those spooky books and go look at the normal ones.  There normal books for girls like you are over there,” Whitney’s mother said to her.

Ursula Powers grabbed the twelve-year-old’s hand and dragged her away from the corner of the Granny Larson Library.  Whitney’s mother pulled her to an aisle with books by her favorite author, Agatha Christie.  Her father, Robert, walked up and smiled at his daughter.

Ursula said, “Finally, there you are.  Keep an eye on her.  I found her over by the supernatural books again.  Take her to find books that little girls should be reading, please.”

Her loving father started to lead his daughter through the endless shelves of books and stopped.

He looked her in the eyes.  “Do you want to go look at the books that you like?”

Whitney eagerly nodded her head up and down and all it took was for her father to say, “OK.”

She smiled and darted for the corner that housed the paranormal literature and ghost stories.  She stared ahead and tried to pick out a title.  Suddenly, the shelf started to shake and several books fell to the floor.  She stepped back and the wooden shelf separated from the wall.  A forceful flash of light temporarily blinded Whitney.

She finally regained her vision and noticed the adumbration of a young boy through the crack in the wall.  The boy was gesturing with his hand for her to follow him and the inquisitive Whitney walked right into the small opening.  She entered a dark, tiny room with what looked like saw dust everywhere and blew some off a table.

A mesmerizing swirl of gold, silver, ruby and emerald dust danced in the stale air around the excited girl.  She followed the ghost-like creature into a tunnel that got darker and hotter as they went farther along.

She walked up to a strange-looking object unlike any she had ever seen.  It looked like an oval of swirling mass comprised of colors, letters and numbers that went in and out of focus and kept changing shades.  The boy ghost held his see-through ivory hand out and Whitney placed hers into it.

To her surprise, he had substance and it felt like a human hand.  He floated a few inches above the ground as they moved forward.  He looked back with a big smile and pulled her into the vortex.  She felt a strange sensation of pressure as she fell into complete darkness.

She could sense the boy ghost’s body pressing against her right side as they slid down a huge incline.  Their speed increased substantially until they were plunged into deep sapphire waters.  She swallowed some salty liquid and felt a little hand pulling her to the top.  She emerged and gasped for air as she splashed around on top of the calm waters.  The dark sky worried her until she noticed her new friend hovering on top of the water a few feet away.

The boy ghost helped her get over to a boat that appeared to have been crafted from metal and gilded with gold.  The ghostly figure looked like a boy wrapped in flowing robes who appeared to be about her age or perhaps a bit younger.  His face and body seemed to be composed mostly of flowing shades of gray, black and white.

However, he had brown hair, bright blue eyes and two red tattoos on the back of each hand in the shape of a seven-pointed-star.  When he moved, his skin took on a silver gleam that was a perfect foil to the gold boat.  He was unlike any ghost she had ever read about or seen in a movie or TV show.

He helped her get into the small vessel and pulled something from inside his robes.  It was a rectangular box that opened on its own and formed into an outboard boat motor.  The boy ghost attached it to the back of the boat and the tiny motor proved to be powerful as they moved along the still waters.

She peered through a rolling fog at the light coming from a full pumpkin-colored blood moon and wondered what had happened to the day.  The boat powered along a channel of water with amazing houses along both sides.  A small castle appeared in front of them and the boy ghost pulled the boat right up to the shore.

The boy ghost moved to the front of the vessel where he opened a security pad and entered a secret code.  A harsh grinding sound filled her ears as the flat hill that led to the castle transformed into a staircase.  They both got out and ascended the steps.  Whitney didn’t know what to expect as a shower of glittery purple dust came down from the sky. The boy ghost looked back at Whitney and pushed open the huge front door.

She stepped into the foyer of a gorgeous castle.  It was like the middle ages had a lovechild with the future.  Huge ebony columns emitted a strange sparkle and lined both sides of the hallway ahead.  Computer touch pads and call boxes adorned the walls with classic paintings from the Renaissance period.  It was quite a majestic sight for a twelve-year-old.

The boy ghost led her to a scarlet-colored rectangular stand that appeared to be hovering above the gleaming marble floor.  She stood on the object and the boy ghost joined her.  He put his hand on Whitney’s back as the hover board took off and quickly achieved a fast pace.

They zoomed down the straight hallway for a few minutes until the board came to a stop.  The boy ghost led her into a room in which a family appeared to be seated at a table.  The other people had the same hollow look as the young boy and wore nice robes and dresses.

The family all had blue eyes and brown hair of various shades.  They all had the red seven-pointed star tattoos as well.  Whitney thought this looked like a mother, father, daughter and son at the dining table with twelve burning candles in the middle of the table.

The woman said, “Come, sit.  We have many things to discuss.”

Whitney walked up to a chair and joined the rest of the people at the table.

The woman asked, “How are you, my dear?”

“OK.  How are you?”

The woman smiled, “You have good manners.  We like that over here.  You will come to understand a great deal about your life but this visit might also raise more questions than it answers.  You will probably leave here confused and wanting to know more.  However, we can only tell you a small part of the story because that is all we know right now.”

The father said, “We know you believe in ghosts like us.  Do we scare you?”

“No,” Whitney answered without hesitation.  “I’ve read books with good ghosts in them but they never looked like you guys.”

The mother said, “Good.  People like to think that all ghosts are bad, evil or possessed and want to cause them harm.  We ghosts are just like the living.  Some good, some bad, some awful.  What you see here is what you can accomplish when you put wars aside and everyone works for a common goal.  We are like an alien civilization that is so far ahead of the humans on earth, they couldn’t even comprehend some of these things.  We know when people are going to commit crimes before they are going to do it, so no uprisings or wars can ever start.”

Whitney wanted to ask so many questions, but she listened as the mother continued, “And while things are much more serious down here, you still have spirits that love to joke and play tricks.  We don’t have much time today, so we will be serious with you.  This is going to take a big commitment on your part.  This burden is unfair to ask of a young girl, but you have the opportunity to achieve incredible accomplishments with your life and possibly change the world for the better.  The ghosts and our spiritual friends will help you, but you must believe.”

“Believe what?” Whitney asked.

“You must believe in yourself first and foremost.  You are destined for greatness, Whitney Powers.  Then you need to believe in the ghosts or spirits, if you prefer.  Whatever you would like to categorize us as, the classification doesn’t really bother us.  You must believe that we will help you realize your dreams,” the father said.

“How could I not believe when I can see you sitting right here?” she asked.

The ghost that appeared to be the daughter moved to the front of her throne-like chair and said, “Yes, well, you’d be surprised at how many people still refuse to believe.  You must stay close to the Granny Larson Library until you are needed.  You must remain patient.  We can’t tell you when this opportunity will happen; we can only guarantee that it will definitely occur someday.  That’s why it’s important to trust us and stay close to the Library.  Do you understand?”

Whitney looked out the clear window and said, “I understand that, but how is the sun coming up already?  I came here in the afternoon and then it was night and now the sun is coming up already.”

The mother said, “Time goes much faster over here.  You see we are on a parallel planet that has the same conditions as your home but with a faster rotation than earth.  It causes our days to go much faster.”

“Wow,” was the only word Whitney could manage to get out.

“All your questions will be answered on your next visit.  Keep in mind, that might not come for many years, but when it does, everything you’ve ever wanted will fall into your hands.  You will be tempted to leave this town you live in and many opportunities will tantalize you, but you must remain steadfast and strong,” the mother told her.

A floating circular tray with drinks floated into the room and stopped in front of each family member who took his or her beverage from the flying machine.  She stared at the amazing sight as the metal tray disappeared out the door.

The boy walked over to Whitney and held out his hand again.

She said, “But there are so many questions I have for all of you.”

“Next time,” the mother said as the son pulled Whitney out the front door, down the steps, and back into the boat.

They went back over the enormous slide and Whitney wondered how they would get up the steep incline.  A great gust of wind hit her back and pushed her and the boy up the slide.  They got to the top platform and she saw the vortex again.

The boy stood and pointed as Whitney dove into the strange portal.  She felt the gripping pressure again and became very dizzy.  A refreshing wind helped her to refocus and when she opened her eyes, she stood on a mass of land in the middle of a huge public pond.

She looked down at a velvety purple dress that shimmered in the bright sunlight for what felt like forever, screaming for help.  Finally, she saw the flashing lights of a police car.  The officers called to get a small boat to get the girl off the tiny island.  She waited as the townspeople kept showing up and crowding the banks of the pond.  Everyone pointed and whispered and Whitney began to cry.

Finally, the little boat pulled up with her father, who grabbed his daughter and hugged her.  She felt secure with him and buried her head in his chest.

Her father kept telling her how much he loved her and how scared he’d been when she had been missing, but she didn’t hear any of it.  As they got closer to land, the only things she could hear were the whispers about how she ended up on the remote piece of land.

The word witch started to hit Whitney’s ear and she hoped everyone would leave.  She got out of the boat and her mother ran up and hugged her.  Ursula helped get Whitney into the car.

“I’ll meet you guys down at the station,” her father told the police as he got in the driver’s seat.

“What happened?  Who took you?” her mother asked.

“Nobody took me.  I went behind the bookshelf at the library and went to a magical world where I saw the nicest ghosts,” Whitney said.

“No, you didn’t.  You stop that right there.  I know whoever took you probably said that you shouldn’t tell us the truth, but you need to.  This is serious business, young lady.  The policemen are going to ask you a lot of questions and you need to tell them who took you,” her mom said.

“But nobody took me,” she replied.

“Just tell the truth, honey.  But if someone did take you, you have to let them know.  You’ve been gone for three days so they are going to ask you a lot of questions,” Robert said.

“I wasn’t gone for three days.  I was only gone for less than an hour.  Time moves faster over there,” Whitney said.

“You cannot say that,” her mother urged.

“She needs to tell the truth,” her dad argued.

Ursula immediately retorted, “Listen to me right now.  I am trying to protect our daughter.”  She turned around to face her daughter in the back seat.  “Whitney, you have a decision to make.  You can go in there and tell the police that you don’t remember anything that happened.  They will push you for answers, but you can say you don’t remember.  The other choice is to tell this story of ghosts and magic lands and face being made fun of for the rest of your life.  You already have a bit of a reputation for your strange taste in books and all that scary and spooky nonsense.  This is a small town, people won’t be very understanding of your story.  So you have a choice to make.  March in there and say I don’t remember or risk being the butt of all jokes.  The choice is yours, my dear.”

 

If you are already sold, you can get the book here:  WHISPERS

 

Chapter 1-18 Years Later

 

Whitney woke up in bed and peeked over at a familiar partner.  The hardback version of The Shining had taken on the look of a disheveled lover.  It had been caught in the blanket, folding some pages over and crimping the dust jacket.

“Sorry,” she apologized and massaged the imperfections until they were straightened out.  She had a signed copy in her collection, but she always tried to be respectful to books.  She showered and as she got ready for work, she looked at herself in the mirror.

Whitney Powers’ sharp blue eyes gazed at a reflection of beauty.  Unfortunately, her humility never allowed her to truly appreciate her own great looks.  She had soft brown hair that cascaded to the middle of her back, nice curves and ample breasts, although most of her outfits hid those features.

Whitney was about five and a half feet tall and looked to be in perfect shape although she hardly exercised.  She carried a serious look most of the time, and her friends affectionately called it resting bitch face, but her warming smile could always melt her father’s heart.

A knock on the door startled her.  She wasn’t expecting anyone and didn’t like people just stopping by.  She thought about her gun in the closet as she peered through the spy hole.

What is my mother doing here?

Whitney looked around her messy apartment and threw a towel over her Ouija board.  She opened the door to see a smiling Ursula Powers.

Her mother shared the same hair color, although her hair was cut much shorter and she dyed it black.  She had gray eyes, big, rosy cheeks and a dark complexion.  Her mother was a little taller than Whitney and carried more weight.  Her developing wrinkles and welcoming face made her look like a young grandmother.

“What do you want, mom?” Whitney immediately asked before her mother could get in the door.

“I can’t stop by to see my daughter?  I haven’t seen you since your birthday, that was weeks ago.  I wanted to talk to you.”

Oh boy, she has some sort of agenda.  I wonder what it will be this time.

“What do you want, mom?”

“Jeez, I just want to make sure you are OK.  I remember I got pretty down after my thirtieth and I wanted to see how you are handling it,” her mom said.

“Feels the same as 29, mom.  I know what you are driving at and I am fine being alone.  You and I are different.  I know the most miserable time in your life was when dad went away to college and you stayed back here.  I realize you had your husband and children by the time you were thirty and you think I can’t be happy unless I have that too.  Believe me when I tell you that great things are about to happen to me,” she explained.

“That stupid prophesy again.  All that did was make you the laughing stock of our town.  Not to mention the grief it caused me trying to explain it to everyone,” her mom said.

“You were caused grief?  Luckily I don’t care what these imbeciles think, but I’m known as Weird Whitney and you think you’ve been mistreated?”

“But it’s your story.  Whatever happened to you was because of that silly story you’ve been telling all these years.  I did nothing and still I had to hear about it nonstop,” Ursula told her.

“Alright, mom, let’s not go through this again.  Just tell me what you really want.”

“OK, you know my friend Gabby right?” her mother asked.

“Gabby Risnowski?  Of course I know her.”

“Yes, that Gabby.  Well her daughter, Angie, just got married to a guy she met on this dating service called Dating While Honoring Religion.  Or at least I think that’s what it’s called.  I know that’s not really your thing, but these are men who live in Pennsburgh.  I think you need to get away from this town to meet a good man is all that I’m saying,” her mom opined.

“There it is.”

“Oh my God, there what is?  Did you get a snake or something?” her mom asked as she grabbed her daughter’s arm.

“Mom, you know I hate snakes, why would you even ask that.  No, I mean it took a little beating around the bush, but I should have known why you are here.  You want me to marry a church going business executive, but I would never go to church.”  Whitney continued to get ready as her mom followed her around.

“So you believe in ghosts and aliens, but you won’t believe in God?” Ursula wanted to know.

“I believe in facts and scientific research and it is mathematically impossible that there isn’t another species of living beings comparable to humans.  God on the other hand, has very little evidence on his or her side.”

Whitney turned on her hair dryer to try to silence her mom.

Her mom shook her head and smirked.  She screamed over the hair dryer, “Funny to hear that from someone who sticks to a story that’s never been verified.  We can stop with our usual fights.  All I want is for you to be happy.  You’re thirty now, the clock is ticking.  My biggest worry for you is that you realize you want children when it’s too late.  Look at your sister.  Twenty-five and she already has her husband and two kids and that huge house to live in.  Now she can do whatever she wants.”

Whitney turned off the hair dryer and ran her fingers through her long hair.  She smiled in the mirror to make sure she didn’t have anything stuck on her teeth.

“No she can’t.  She has a husband and two kids to worry about constantly.  Anything she wants to do, she has to take them into consideration.  And furthermore, Victoria failed out of college.  If it wasn’t for her huge boobs, she’d be serving milkshakes at Big Boy Burger.”

“I’m just saying that the greatest achievement in my life has been my children.  You and I have had our problems over the years and still do, but everything I do is out of love.  I know you don’t always agree with what I tell you and sometimes I might come across as a bully, but it’s all out of love.  I want you to be happy and my ideas might not always be what you are looking for, but I’m never going to stop because I’m never going to stop loving you,” her mom said as she playfully poked her daughter.

“Mom, stop.  You’re gonna make me cry.  What will it take to convince you that I am happy?”

“Aaric is having a barbecue for the family at the castle in three weeks.  I want you to bring a man.  You got three weeks; that should be plenty of time to find someone.  And just in case, here you go.”  Her mom put a piece of paper on the table.

“What is that?”

“That’s the flyer for the dating service, just in case,” her mom said with a smile.

Whitney laughed as she put on her belt.  “Oh mom, leave it to you to have a full page flyer for an online dating service.  Look, I’m going to be late for work.  I will have to continue this talk later, okay?”

“You got it honey,” her mom said.

Whitney gave her mom a kiss on the cheek, wiped her lipstick stain off and watched her walk out the door.  She finished getting ready and arrived at the parking lot of the Granny Larson Library about ten minutes later.

The library looked like a spooky, old stone castle which only enhanced the rumors about the building being haunted.  She got inside and her co-worker Tara was sitting with her feet up on the main desk in front of the library.

“Excuse me,” Whitney said.

“Well look who’s late for the first time in like, ever.  This better be a good story,” Tara said and sat up in the chair.  She laid the latest issue of Hollywood Insider on the table and looked at her fingernails.

Tara had thick black hair and a dark bronze complexion with green eyes and freckles all over her face, neck and shoulders.  The freckles gave her tall friend an innocent look that Whitney knew not to trust.  She wore her hair in thick braids today and used her long, perfectly manicured nails to push two of them away from her eyes.

“It’s not a good story.  My mom ambushed me while I was getting ready and I lost track of time.  The end.  Sorry, no refunds.”

“Girl, you need to create some crazy adventures.  Go into the city and cause some trouble.  I’m sick of hearing these lame ass stories,” Tara encouraged her.

“Sorry to disappoint you.  My mom did throw down the gauntlet and basically demand that I bring a boy to Aaric’s party in three weeks.”

“Is it at the castle?” Tara asked.

“Yes.”

“Tell you what.  If you can’t find a boy, I’ll dress up like one just to get in that house.  That place is capital A, amazing,” Tara stressed the last word.

“Leave it to my sister to find a man who basically hit the lottery when his family firm was picked up for the government job.  Don’t even get me started on how he got that contract either.  Anyway, where was I?”

“Bitchin about your little sister,” Tara reminded her.

“Right, did they have to build the biggest house our town has ever seen?  Do they really need that medieval fortress?”

“Well I think it’s bad to the bone, girl.  Also, did you want some fries with that jealousy burger?” Tara asked.

“Shut up.  I’m not jealous of my sister.”

Whitney couldn’t admit it even to herself, but she was living in the shadow of her sister.

“Oh hey, I’m trying to get out of here early today and since you came in all late, this should square out right?” Tara asked.

“I don’t care.  What are you going to do?”

“My man is coming down after work and we don’t have much time, if you know what I’m saying.”  Tara looked at Whitney with her tongue out until a serious expression came over her face.  “Oh, sorry.”

“What, no.  Just because I don’t brag about my sexual exploits to you, doesn’t mean they don’t happen.”

It had been two years since Whitney had sex.  She had a few boyfriends over the years, but nobody that really excited her.  She was almost ready to give up on finding somebody.

Tara left at about three o’clock and Whitney looked at the local papers, in what had become a daily ritual.  The library was never really crowded and she had a lot of free time during her shift.  She read the headline, ‘Captain shot outside Jelly’s.’

She considered herself a local historian and knew that was a high-ranking member of the Dante Crime Family.  His name was Larry Laramie and the police had found him dead in the middle of a busy street with fourteen bullets in him.  She kept reading near the front of the library.

Susan Foley walked through the glass door and said hello to Whitney.  She had always liked the divorcee who was widely considered the most beautiful woman in Clearhaven, despite her advancing age.  The ravishing woman had always been nice and understanding to Whitney, something she always remembered.

“Hello there, gorgeous,” Whitney greeted her.

Susan Foley was an extremely tall woman with short, spiked, blond hair and haunting brown eyes.  Her left eye was tainted by a wide, dark bruise right below it.  She was a regular at the library and her ravishing body had its own reputation around the small town.

“And you wonder why I love you.  What’s cooking there, sister?” Susan answered with another question.

“Same old, I’m afraid.  What happened to your eye?”

“This, oh this is nothing.  I was mopping the kitchen floor and trying to watch TV at the same time.  By the way, I don’t recommend trying it,” she laughed.  “Anything new you would suggest?”

“Not really.  We’re actually getting a new delivery tomorrow.  Oh my goodness, I almost forgot, I am so sorry to hear about your son.  That’s just horrible.”

Susan had a serious look on her face.  “That’s what happens when you mix heavy drinking with frat boys and open windows.  They say he’s going to be alright, but thank you for the well-wishes.  If he loses that scholarship, I don’t know what I will do.  Ever since the insurance company screwed me out of the settlement, it’s been tough, but nothing you need to worry about.”  She smiled, exposing burgundy lip stick stains on her teeth and pain behind her brown eyes.  “I guess it’s time to do a little free shopping.  I’ll catch you on the way out.”

“Sounds good and again, I am so sorry about everything.  I wish I was more successful and could help.”

Susan replied, “Don’t be silly, darling.”  The woman disappeared into the aisle of books.

 

A few hours went by and Whitney was surprised that Susan was still in the library.  Most people didn’t like to be there past three o’clock because of the stories.  Several people had reported seeing strange occurrences, especially after dark.

Much to her dismay, Whitney had never seen any of these happenings even though she really wanted to.  She had spent many late nights in the library, hoping something would happen.  She wanted the ghosts to come back and explain how her life was going to be great.  She didn’t know how much longer she could live like this and planned to move away when her lease was up.

Whitney started her daily routine of checking the murder reports of Pennsburgh and all the surrounding areas.  She had been trying to find out who the family of ghosts were for the past eighteen years.  All the research had never revealed a viable comparison that made sense to Whitney.  She didn’t find anything today but she would check again tomorrow and every following day until she figured it out.

She started to walk around with the return cart and put the books back on the shelves.  She heard the front door open and close, and assumed Susan had finally left.  She kept emptying the cart and heard a car peel out in the gravel parking lot.  She didn’t believe that Susan would do it and thought it must have been the high school kids messing around again.  She picked up a book to put on the mystery shelf.

“BANG,” a gunshot rang out.

Whitney dropped the book and hit the floor.  She started shaking and her heart felt like it was going to explode.

What the hell is going on?  This must be a dream or something.

Whitney became even more terrified and looked down the aisle to see pinstriped dress pants and Corinthian leather shoes run by.

“BANG,” another shot sounded and the world went dark for Whitney Powers.

 

GET THE BOOK HERE:  WHISPERS

 

Group Author Viral Giveaways

These giveaways are run with KingSumo to maximize the viral sharing.  All participating authors share the giveaway with their newsletters and social media.  Then when people sign up, they are encouraged to share the giveaway with their friends to earn extra entries.  Each person agrees to sign up for each participating authors’ newsletter.  At the end, I gradually send around a CSV to make sure we don’t bombard the contestants with emails.  You will normally get the list within a week and a half or two weeks after the close of the contest.  Here are the upcoming giveaways.

 

KINDLE FIRE HD  APRIL 10 – MAY 10

Wow, I bought a bunch of these a while back for contests and this is the last one.  There isn’t much to explain on this one.  I think everyone knows what a Kindle is.

SIGNUP FORM

 

 

A GAME OF THRONES ARC   MAY 1 – JULY 1

 

 

As you can see from the pics, this isn’t a perfect copy but it was meant to be read and is over twenty years old now.   Most of the wear is on the gold sticker on the dust jacket of the front cover but you can see the rest of the colors still pop.  With that being said, this is an ultra-rare item that any hardcore fantasy reader would love to ad to their collection.  This should be a pretty epic giveaway.

SIGN UP FORM

 

 

LONGCLAW STAINLESS STEEL REPLICA(JON SNOW’S SWORD FROM A GAME OF THRONES)   MAY 25 – JULY 30

 

This is just what it says and looks like, a full-size replica of the sword from the books/show.  It’s a nice, big sword that one lucky person will be able to use on white walkers.

SIGNUP FORM

 

 

 

Group Author Promotion Opportunities

Hello fellow authors.  I am putting together some promotions to increase sales on Amazon.  I will set up a landing page to feature all the participating authors/books and all the authors agree to share it with their mailing lists and social media.  They will run for four days and you must share with your fans during the date range listed for each promotion.  There is no cost to join these promotions.

 

Strong Female Characters in Literature

April 3-6

LINK TO SIGN UP FORM

 

 

Royal Intrigue

April 20-23

LINK TO SIGNUP FORM

 

 

Books with Knights and Ladies

May 3-6

LINK TO SIGNUP FORM

 

 

 

Books Featuring Dragons

May 17-20

LINK TO SIGNUP FORM