Wednesday, November 23, 2011

First Half of Limbo's Child - FREE!

As a way of saying "Thank You!" to everyone who has read and likes the book, I'm going to be giving away the first half of the book free tomorrow on Thanksgiving!  Share it with a friend and let everyone know.

Check back to this post tomorrow for updates and details!

J.

Update:

I'll be enjoying the Thanksgiving Holiday with family like a sane person, so enjoy this little gift, while I take the next few days off.

You can download the first half of the book here, for FREE.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Getting the Band Back Together

It's been a while since the last post and I since I will be kicking off for the next few days, (thanks to Thanksgiving, family and a desire to keep on track with Nanowrimo; I've already crossed 40k, but this is no time to get lazy) I thought I should give you something REALLY good.

So I decided to introduce you to three new characters of the second book, Silver Chains (which I'm almost ready to re-title "Silver Guitar" but I'm still on the fence on that one.)

This excerpt tells the story of three paunchy middle-aged definitely out of their prime vampire and zombie hunters, who decide, after twenty years, to "get the band back together" because strange things have been happening in Southeast Pennsylvania.  If you've read the first book, you know what those "strange things" are, Lucy and her new friends.

Currently this is the "Prologue" to the second book, but that may change.  It is very rough, but I thought it would be fun for those of you who have read Limbo's Child to review the first book from the faulty viewpoint of someone who wasn't there.

Should be fun, and as always, this is a bit spoilerish if you haven't read the first book.

Enjoy!



Prologue
Getting the Band
Back Together
The second he stepped into the bookstore, Frank Lewis was certain he was in the wrong place. It was the right address, and the brass bell the old glass and wooden door brushed by when he opened it had a familiar ring, but other than that, everything was different. The old Sophia Bookstore was a dark alley of a bookshop, made narrower and darker by tall bookcases, stacked floor to ceiling with used books, obscure and arcane ones, leather-bound, covered in dust and weighted down by authority. This looked more like a Starbuck’s.
There was a large modern counter with a glass case full of blueberry scones and bran muffins. Behind it was a stringy young man in Buddy Holly glasses and a black mock turtle and a white apron. He was tending a giant machine with more brass and valves than a steam engine. Behind that was a large chalkboard with the coffee specials for the day. Frank knew French, Italian, Greek, Latin and Romanian, but he couldn’t read most of the varieties of coffee they had up there. Elsewhere there were leather chairs, small tables and trendy carpets and vinyl lettering on the walls that spelled out inspirational phrases. And where had all the windows come from? Had they always been there, hidden behind the old bookcases? The sign outside said “Sophia Bookstore & Coffee Shop.” – the “Coffee Shop” part was new – but the only thing left of the “bookstore” was a couple of small waist-high bookshelves to the side that held glossy covered paperbacks.
Frank went over and picked one up. “Your Self-Image and You: A Christian Perspective.” Not exactly the Malleus Maleficarum. He put the book down. Whether it was the ten-hour drive from Kentucky or the nearly twenty passed years, he couldn’t believe he was in the right place, until he saw the man he had come to see, Archpriest John Markovich.
            He was sitting in the very back of the coffee shop at a small table in a cloud of cigarette smoke, the butts of a dozen or more cigarettes crushed out in one of three ashtrays or put out on the table itself. He was a big man with a broad chest and gut, with a long white beard and a full head of long white hair, pulled back into a ponytail. He had a large ornate silver cross on his chest, hung on a heavy chain. He was wearing the traditional black cassock, the floor length black robe most Orthodox priests wore, but under the cassock Frank could see the priest’s familiar black cowboy boots. Hung on the back wall behind him was a large black cowboy duster and a battered straw cowboy hat. The Archpriest had come to Pennsylvania by way of Oklahoma, Texas and Alaska. Frank didn’t see the shotgun but he knew it must be around here somewhere.
            Of all the things in the bookstore, the archpriest was the only one that hadn’t changed. Maybe the paunch was a little bigger, the beard a little longer and whiter, but other than that, the old priest looked exactly the same as he had the day they first met. It had been a heck of an introduction: Sitka Alaska, winter solstice, after midnight, twenty below. Frank had stumbled out terrified into the woods and fell down in the snow only to look up directly into the priest’s double-barreled shotgun. He would never forget the first word the priest had ever said to him.
            “Duck.”
Two shot-gun blasts later, and the two vampires chasing Frank had had their brains splattered all over the Alaskan snow by a couple of twelve gauge silver slugs. It hadn’t been an easy friendship. The Archpriest could be a difficult man to get along with. They both came from two different religious traditions and the two of them had had their arguments over the years: The Papacy, werewolves, the Fourth Crusade; but in the end, Frank had always appreciated the old priest, chiefly for two qualities: loyalty and good aim.
Archpriest John was so absorbed in his reading and smoking that he didn’t notice Frank when he came in. As he turned the page of the newspaper he was reading he peeked over the top and saw Frank for the first time. Frank smiled. The old priest only scowled.
“Over here padre!”
Frank looked down and made his way to the back of the coffee shop. He was always uncomfortable about people calling him “Padre” or “Father” or “Friar” when he wasn’t wearing his monk’s robes. Most people didn’t understand that Franciscan Friars could wear “civvies” when they weren’t on official business. It was just easier to avoid confusion by dropping the titles, but John, who was never out of his cassock, never missed an opportunity to rib Frank about being out of “uniform.”
“Hello John.” Frank said simply, pulling up a chair.
            John raised an eyebrow at Frank and eyed up his attire.
            “What happened? You get lost on the way from the luau?”
            Frank just rolled his eyes and looked down. Perhaps a Hawaiian shirt, shorts and Birkenstocks were not the best choice of attire, but John’s message was so urgent Frank hadn’t bothered with the robes and just got in his street clothes and came as quickly as he could.
            “I was on a spiritual retreat, John.” Frank remarked coolly.
“Where? The North Shore of Hawaii?!”
            Frank groaned, “Is this why you got me up in the middle of the night John? Cause if you made me drive all night from Kentucky just to criticize my wardrobe…”
John interrupted him, “What is it with Catholic friars these days? No one wants to wear the habit anymore! If you don’t want to wear the uniform then why bother joining in the first…”
Then it was Frank’s turn to interrupt John, “Are we really going to start on this again? It’s been seventeen years John, SEVENTEEN YEARS! and we keep coming back to the same old arguments!”
            “The clothes of the office matter Padre!”
            “Really John? Because I don’t think that ratty old duster or hat of your is exactly standard issue, or do you seriously think Jesus was a Texan?”
John got silent. For a moment Frank thought he had offended John, but then he narrowed his eyes and regarded the old priest carefully. The priest’s whiskers obscured any trace of a smile but it couldn’t hide the dimples around his eyes.
            “It’s good to see you too John.” Frank finally said.
            John seemed a little embarrassed by this sudden outburst of sincerity. For some people it was far easier to express affection through banter and insults than it was through a genuine compliment. And then the old priest did something Frank didn’t think he could ever do. He surprised him with a rare sincere moment.
“I’m glad you’re here Frank. This is big.”
Frank’s eyes widened at this unexpected earnestness on John’s part.
            “Nephew!” John suddenly bellowed, before the moment got too tender. The lanky kid tending the steam engine snapped to.
            “Yes uncle?” the kid replied.
“Get this man a coffee! He’s been driving all night.”
“Um…right, does he want a cappuccino? A latte? Or a macchiato? Or maybe a caramel half-caf esspressochino with a shot of…”
“Oh for crying out loud…just bring him a coffee! Willya?!” John bellowed again, exasperated.
They were the only ones in the shop. The kid looked disappointed that he didn’t get to at least fire up the fancy machine. It must have been brand new. Frank took pity on him.
            “Latte’s fine.” He said. The kid went right to work.
            “And make mine black!” John yelled after him.
            Frank raised an eyebrow. “Black?” he said curious. “What gives? You used to take yours with half a pound of sugar John.”
John grumbled under his breath, “Stupid diabetes.” Frank smiled but didn’t say anything. The years had put a few extra pounds and gray hairs on him too. He hoped he looked as good as John did at his age.
“You mind telling me what all this is about John?” Frank asked genuinely perplexed. That moment of sincerity earlier had unnerved him. “When the novice woke me up at the retreat he looked terrified.”
“In a minute…” John waved him off. His nephew was already approaching with their order. John obviously didn’t want to speak in front of anyone else.
            John’s nephew set the massive mugs in front of both of them. Frank’s had a heart-shaped dollop of milk floating on his. Kid knew what he was doing at least. John smashed his cigarette out on one of the newspapers on the table before picking up his coffee.
“Well I love what you’ve done with the place.” Frank said taking a sip of his latte. John looked back at Frank with a glare of pure venom before going back to his coffee. Frank had seen John gun down more than five vampires at once and face undead by the dozens, but that remark got him.
“My brother’s idea.” John grumbled. “He said we had to change or die.”
            Frank smiled to himself. He didn’t doubt which option John would have preferred.
            “Well…it’s actually kinda nice…” Frank said, not entirely unseriously, but he was mostly having fun ribbing the old priest.
“It’s an abomination,” John continued grumbling. “It’s practically….” John paused, “Protestant.”
            Frank sniggered and nearly choked on his coffee. “Well the old store never did turn a profit…” Frank offered helpfully.
“It never was about making a profit.” John replied testily, as he lit another cigarette and continued to puff on it angrily while he continued to peruse the news. John’s Nephew sighed angrily and emptied two of the ashtrays into the third and took it away.
John and his brother (and now Frank guessed the Nephew too) had inherited the bookstore from their first generation father, exile from the Ukraine. But the bookshop wasn’t the family business, killing vampires was. It had moved location more than six times, Kiev, New York, Tulsa, Texas, Alaska, but it was always the Sophia bookshop. It just moved wherever the trouble was. Harrisburg was simply the last location before the family business had dried up. Judging from the lack of customers, selling coffee wasn’t any more profitable. John ignored his coffee for a while, and took another drag on his cigarette and kept on reading. Frank leaned over to get a better look. He had a dozen newspapers from small towns all over southeast Pennsylvania. The priest was reading the obituaries and police reports.
“I didn’t know smoking was still allowed in public places in Pennsylvania.” Frank remarked looking over the pile of discarded butts and newspapers.
“It’s not, but the place is still half mine, and I’m too old for them to tell me what to do anymore.”
“Still…” Frank offered, not entirely ready to let John off the hook, “The smoking can’t help the diabetes.”
John rolled his eyes, “You’re worse than the Mormon.”
            Frank’s latte stopped halfway to his lips “The Mormon? You don’t mean…” but before he could finish, the bell to the door rang again and the “Mormon” walked in. He was still surprisingly baby-faced for a man in his mid-fifties, pale, blue-eyed and blonde with just a touch of grey. He was wearing a dark grey suit, crisp white shirt, simple red tie. He had a black briefcase in one hand and an incongruous black duffel over the shoulder. He had gained a lot of weight, but there was no doubt it was him, Alex Jenkins, a forensic pathologist out of Philadelphia, but John only ever called him “The Mormon.”
Alex had all the appearances of the stereotypical Mormon all right: polite, punctual, tidy, cheerful. He didn’t look like a stone cold zombie slayer. In fact, looking at him you wouldn’t think he could handle a room of kindergarteners, but you’d be dead wrong. During a zombie outbreak in Reading nearly twenty-five years ago, John and Frank had missed one of the contaminated bodies. When they found out it had been sent to Philadelphia morgue for an autopsy they feared the worst. A zombie in a room full of corpses? The outbreak could be enormous, but when the dead body Alex was working on groaned and got up off the autopsy table he didn’t panic at all. Instead he calmly and thoroughly beat it into submission with an aluminum chair. Then he dismantled it with a power bone saw. When Father John and Frank burst into the morgue to save him, he was already cleaning up. That was how Alex had joined the crew.
            He had been an invaluable addition. Alex had access to coroner’s and police reports, so he could keep an eye on any suspicious activity for the other two, but it was more than that. He may have been a Mormon but he was also a man of science, even-keeled and levelheaded. He had seen a lot in his career as a forensic pathologist, from drive by shootings to serial murder victims and mutilations. He wasn’t about to be put off his breakfast by a couple of zombies. To a guy who routinely testified in court against the very worst members of society, drug dealers, murderers, child abusers, the undead were just another collection of scumbags that needed to be taken off the streets. Frank and John’s fights, disagreements and religious differences had often paralyzed their efforts. Alex balanced out the two of them, got them to focus on the task at hand. And John was nearly always more irritated by Alex’s Mormonism than Frank’s Roman Catholicism, so Frank was glad to have the heat off of him at least. Now Frank was getting nervous. If John had called in the man he usually only called “The Mormon” it meant this was serious. It meant he needed the three of them to work together again.
            “Over here Mormon boy!” John called out. Alex didn’t even react, but just walked towards the back of the shop. As he passed the counter with John’s nephew, John barked an order to the boy, “Get the Mormon a coffee willya?” The old priest never missed a chance to rib Alex about his religion. The nephew paused, but Alex just leaned over and politely said, “Hot chocolate will be fine, thanks.”
Alex walked over to the table and pulled out a chair with a screech but didn’t sit down just yet. He set the briefcase gently on top of John’s newspapers, much to John’s annoyance, and then dropped the duffel to the floor. It fell with an ominous metal clunk. Alex held out his hand and smiled at Frank. Frank, a little chagrined, stood up to shake it.
            “It’s good to see you again Friar Lewis.”
Frank winced at the title, but the sentiment was genuine.
            “You too, Alex. It’s been a long time…”
            “Too long in fact.”
“Yeah, yeah, cotillion’s over Mormon boy, sit down.” John intoned.
Frank sat down quickly, but before Alex sat down he turned to the old priest and spoke in an utterly deferential tone, “Good morning, Archpriest Markovich, I hope you’re well today.” The old priest loved to needle Alex, so Alex responded in the only way he could to get back at John, with complete and total sincerity. “How’s the diabetes, Archpriest Markovich?” Alex was always certain to use the priest’s full formal title. You could tell it just galled the old priest endlessly. John just grumbled.
Alex turned his eyes to John’s black coffee and cigarette butts. “Archpriest Markovich, I thought we agreed you had to stop smoking and cut back on the caffeine.”
            “Don’t push that Mormon crap on me Mormon boy…”
“Archpriest, I’m not speaking as a Mormon, I’m speaking as your physician.”
“His physician?” Frank asked a bit surprised.
            Alex turned to Frank, “I can’t get him to see anyone else, and he won’t do a thing about his hypertension.”
“You can tell me to turn my head and cough later, Mormon, right now we have business,” but before the priest could continue the nephew came over with Alex’s order.
The nephew brought over a cup of hot chocolate that was piled four inches high with whipped cream and drizzled with chocolate sauce in a perfect spiral pattern. The kid obviously didn’t get a lot of opportunities to show off. Alex said “Thank you” politely but the kid stood around for a while, until it became apparent no tips or further compliments were coming. Alex stirred the whipped cream into his hot chocolate, while John dragged on his cigarette and waited for his nephew to leave. Both of them just stared at Frank in silence.
Frank looked back at both of their implacable faces not knowing what to say. Whatever this was, it wasn’t going to be good, so he decided to lighten the mood.
“Soo…a Franciscan Friar, a Ukrainian Orthodox Priest and a Mormon Pathologist walk into a coffee shop…” He finally said.
Alex jumped in first, “This is serious, Friar.”
“Well I sure hope it ain’t an intervention, because I’ve really cut back on the sweets lately.”
            “This ain’t a joke padre.” John gruffed back.
            “You didn’t tell him yet, Archpriest Markovich?” Alex politely asked.
“Tell me what?”
“No I ain’t told him yet, he just got here himself!”
            Alex and John exchanged nervous looks, then continued to stare down the poor friar.
            “What’s going on guys?” Frank said at last growing more concerned by the moment.
“Enlighten him, Doc,” the old priest put out his cigarette on the table and waved the floor over to the pathologist.
Doc, thought Frank, not ‘Mormon Boy’ or even just ‘Mormon.’ This was serious.
            Alex opened the briefcase and took out two manila folders. He flopped them down in front of Frank. Frank winced. Autopsy files were never pretty. As Frank flipped through them cautiously, Alex provided the commentary.
“Two bodies. Harold Vickers, twenty-four from Southwest Philadelphia, six foot one, two-hundred and ninety-four pounds, dead of multiple gunshot wounds and massive cranial trauma. The second one, Carl Bednarik, thirty-eight, University City, six foot five, one hundred sixty pounds, dead of multiple gunshot wounds and a stab wound to the chest.”
The photos were no less graphic than Alex’s descriptions. One of them, “Vickers” by the label on the file, was a thick brute with the top of his head missing just above his tip of his nose. The other was a thin and angular one, oddly dressed in hospital scrubs.
Frank just closed the folders on the disturbing pictures and shrugged. “So?” he said, genuinely perplexed.
“So!” John bellowed. “Haven’t you seen the news Padre?! It was splashed all over the networks months ago!”
Frank sighed, “You do know what a spiritual retreat is, don’t you John? No television, no news, no internet, no distractions…”
“Yeah and only one telephone in the office too!” John huffed. “It was nearly impossible to get a hold of you.”
“Speaking of which, what did you tell that poor novice John? You scared the living heck out of him! When he came to wake me up he was so upset. He was acting like it was the end of the world.”
            “I told him it was the end of the world! What else?”
            “John!”
            “I told him that all hell was about to break loose and that if he didn’t want to be responsible for it he better wake up the exorcist pronto!”
Frank put his head in his hands, exasperated. “John, no one is supposed to know I’m an exorcist! Not even the monks at the retreat. My own diocese doesn’t even know!”
“Oh really?!” The old priest leaned back and yelled at his nephew, “HEY NEPHEW!! YOU WANNA BRING THE EXORCIST HERE A MUFFIN? I THINK HIS BLOOD SUGAR MUST BE LOW, HE’S GETTING KINDA CRANKY!”
            “Uncle!” The Nephew replied embarrassed, “Will you please keep all that crazy ‘exorcist’ and ‘vampire’ crap down! What if we had customers?!”
            “CRAP?!! It’s not crap young man! And if your father wasn’t my brother I would show you such stuff that would make your hair stand up on end without all that fancy gel you put in it!”
“Uncle!”
            “AND WE NEVER HAVE ANY CUSTOMERS ANYWAY!!” John added pounding the table.
            “John!” Frank started in to defend the nephew but John turned on him abruptly.
“WHAT?!” The fury of the old priest’s response was only broken by the long hacking spell of smoker’s cough that followed it. The old priest had worked himself into a real fury.
Frank was about to get into it again when Alex stepped in.
            “Gentlemen, if we could focus on the matter at hand?”
The atmosphere cooled as Frank relented, and Alex patted the old coughing priest on the back, despite John’s protestations.
When the coughing fit was over Alex began again.
“Frank, what do you know so far?”
“I’ve been on a spiritual retreat for six months in a guest cabin at a monastery in the Kentucky backwoods, guys, let’s just assume I know nothing.”
Frank could see the retort forming in John’s eyes, Tell us something we don’t know! but for once the old priest was silent.
Alex went on. “Several months back, Vickers and Bednarik rammed a 1970s Chevy Impala into a Huntington Park Police Station in North Philly in broad daylight.”
            “North Philly’s a rough neighborhood.” Frank offered only half seriously, he was afraid he already knew where this was heading.
            John hmmphed under his breath and started coughing again, Alex just kept on talking.
“It was the final act in a two day crime spree that ranged all over southeast Pennsylvania. Kidnapping, destruction of property, assault, hit and run, child abduction and the theft of bodies.”
Frank looked up from the files. Those last two got his attention. “Child Abduction? Theft of bodies?
“A thirteen year-old girl was abducted from the hospital here in Harrisburg.”
Frank blinked. “That’s just right around the corner from here!”
“Fourteen bodies went missing from the morgue too.” Alex offered. “Neither the girl or the bodies were ever recovered. Authorities fear the worst.”
            Frank blanched for a moment at the unknown fate of the girl, but then shook himself and came back to the conversation, “How do you get a girl and fourteen bodies out of a city hospital?!” Frank asked perplexed.
“They had help, a woman. She was impersonating a lawyer from the hospital’s corporate headquarters. She violently assaulted a resident pediatrician in the process.”
John nudged Alex, “You’re getting ahead of yourself, Doc. Tell him about Bednarik and Vickers first.”
            Alex nodded and went on. “In the end. It took twenty bullets to bring down Bednarik. Vickers, fifty-four.”
“And a police cruiser!” John added helpfully. “It ran right over the big one’s head. Twice!” The old priest shoved two fingers into the air and coughed.
Frank remembered the photos. “That would explain why the top of his head was missing.” Frank said under his breath. He wasn’t enjoying where this was heading. “I’m guessing the police are blaming their phenomenal endurance on drugs?”
Alex slid another file in front of the friar in the Hawaiian shirt. “Toxicology report is negligible. Minor stuff. Some ecstasy, marijuana, nothing that would explain that kind of resistance to massive trauma. Both had criminal records, but they ran in completely different circles. Bednarik was a minor drug dealer who dealt dope to college kids, mostly to support his habit. Vickers was a gang member with a long criminal record of assault and armed robbery. As near as we can tell they never met each other before May fourth of this year. The press spun it as a cadavers-for-drugs deal gone wrong, but none of the bodies or their parts have ever turned up in any of the usual black market locations for body parts, not even in New Jersey.”
Frank looked up for a minute. Why did the worse elements always wind up in New Jersey? Alex went on.
“None of that explains what happened to the girl or the accomplice who are both still missing, or why Vickers and Bednarik decided to go out in a blaze of glory. That was May sixth.” Alex paused as if the import of this date should be obvious, but if it was, Frank didn’t pick it up. “But that’s not the most troubling fact.” Alex added at last.
“What’s the most troubling fact?” Frank said, idly paging through the toxicology report. It was gibberish to him but he wanted to look involved.
“Ha! Tell him, Doc.” John retorted.
“It’s where they met.” Alex tossed another pile of papers onto the desk. This one contained photocopies of the police reports and hospital records. Frank perused the police reports and medical records, but the facts didn’t line up with what Alex had just told him. Bednarik was stabbed in the chest after an altercation in Center City with one of his suppliers. That was late on May third. Vickers was shot in the head during a drive by shooting on Thirteenth Street in North Philly. That was early on May fourth. Both clung to life long enough to make it to Jefferson Memorial, but just barely. They died in the ER. Not long after which they were placed in the hospital morgue awaiting transfer to the Medical Examiner’s Office for autopsy, but they never made it.
Frank looked up slowly. “How did these guys wind up ramming into a police station on the sixth if they were already dead on the fourth?”
“Uh-huh…now he’s getting it!” Jon said laughing as he lit another cigarette.
“What’s the official story?” Frank asked still nervously leafing through the paperwork.
            “The official story is that they were misdiagnosed as dead when they were really in drug induced comas.” Alex took a breath and went on. “Then they woke up in the morgue, became best buddies and began their crime spree.”
The old priest in black just laughed. “Heh. Drug-induced coma! What a crock of…”
“Archpriest,” Alex interrupted mildly.
“Yeah I keep forgettin’ you and your Mormon ears. Well go on Doc, tell him the rest of the story already.”
Alex went on. “I spoke to one of the trauma surgeons on call in the ER that night. He never saw Bednarik, but he insists Vickers had a massive gunshot wound to the right frontal lobe. They never even got him to the CT scan or the craniotomy before he crashed. He’s adamant there’s no way Vickers could have survived. Of course that was before Vickers ever got to the official autopsy. There’s no CT scan or photos of the head wound, so the medical examiner’s office assumes that the physician on duty was mistaken and that the head wound was purely superficial.”
“Hmmph. Superficial.” John sneered. “Darn bureaucrats can explain away anything. They could explain away the sun if they didn’t want to believe in it.”
Frank looked at them both. He had a hard time believing it himself. It was next to impossible to believe that this was starting up all over again after so many years.
“Are you certain Alex? I mean are you absolutely sure?” Frank looked at him earnestly.
“I wasn’t at first. Overworked ER staff, lots of gun shot victims. It’s easy to make a mistake or confuse one shooting with another, but there’s more.”
“More?”
“The first thing Bednarik and Vickers did when they left the morgue at Jefferson Memorial was to kidnap an orderly working there, and then they forced him to help them steal the body of a woman that was also in the morgue.”
            “A woman?” Frank asked curious.
            “We’ll get to her in a moment, keep going Doc.” John interrupted, coughing after taking another long drag on his cigarette.
“It was the orderly’s car they crashed into the police station two days later. The police found him tied up in the trunk. I spoke to the orderly myself. His name’s Tim Riggle. He claims that they forced him to help them. The surveillance tapes seem to back up his account.”
“Seem to?” Frank asked suspiciously.
“Hold on, let the Mormon finish.” John jumped in.
Alex ignored the sleight as usual and went on. “He was pretty beat up. Dehydrated, frantic. He was a wreck, but here’s where things get fuzzy. He claims he doesn’t remember much of anything about that night other than getting abducted and being forced into the trunk of the car.”
But?” Frank prompted.
            “Several witnesses at the hospital claim that just before he disappeared, the orderly escorted a strange tall man to the morgue, but he says he has no memory of the man or the event. The psychological evaluation claims he has partial memory loss caused Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.”
“That’s interesting.” Frank said mildly.
“Or convenient,” John humphed behind them.
“He might be telling the truth.” Alex offered. “He could have been drugged, or compelled…” and here the pathologist paused, “by other means.”
“Other means?” Frank asked curiously.
“Ha! Here’s where it gets good!” the old priest remarked, practically beaming with excitement like a kid who was just waiting for Christmas morning.
Frank however was not beaming. He was sinking lower into his chair with encroaching dread, like a kid waiting for a dentist appointment.
Alex continued. “The orderly doesn’t remember anything, but the nurse on duty that night does. She even remembers a name.”
Friar Frank’s Lewis’ eyes widened and unfocused, his heart sinking like a lead weight into his stomach. He knew exactly what name Alex was going to speak before the two words even crossed his lips, but he waited to hear them anyway, just to make sure his horror was justified.
“Lazlo Moriro.”
Alex said the name softly but it still fell like a hammer blow on Frank’s skull all the same.
            Lazlo Moriro.
            It was not a common name. Latin surname. Hungarian first name. It was the name of a ghost, an enigma, a demon, an ageless Faustian figure of dark legend. It was the name that Frank had been chasing through ancient books and moldy records for nearly forty years. The name first appeared in the court records of Philip IV, a young man and personal doctor to the king. His talent was revered as near miraculous. After that, things became foggier. Moriro left for the Americas and disappeared into Viceregal Mexico, but the name kept popping up every few years or so in the oddest places: London 1666, Vienna 1683, Budapest 1718, Mexico 1821, Budapest again in1867. Everywhere the name showed up, death, famine, war and destruction followed. The last time the name appeared it was on a sales receipt at a Ford dealership in Philadelphia back in 1946. It was the name of a necromancer, a man who according to myth who could call up the dead, a man who stood at the head of nearly every legend of every vampire, zombie or dead thing unleashed on the earth in the last 300 years.
Most thought Lazlo Moriro was a myth. The Vatican had suspended Frank’s membership in the international exorcist’s association and banned him from the Secret Archives when he refused to let it drop, but all these years later the name still haunted him. Not many believed in the Necromancer anymore, in fact, most of those that still believed in him were sitting around the table in this very coffee shop. Frank looked around the table. Wherever the three of them had tracked down vampires, or zombies, or demonic possessions over the course of a decade, the name of Lazlo Moriro had been spoken in whispers. The trail had gone cold long ago, but not the anger.
Frank was so lost in thought, it took John’s overbearing voice to bring him back to himself.
“Yep! Didn’t I tell you that would get him Mormon?” John slapped Alex hard on the back and got up and walked around the back of the small shop. You could see that the old priest was practically bouncing on his toes with excitement. He was like a horse at the gates and he was ready to run.
Frank blinked for a moment and then looked to Alex. “I’d like to talk to this orderly…” but before Alex could speak, John was already answering for him.
“Ha! Ya can’t! He’s gone missing too!”
“Missing?”
“He quit his job citing stress and left his apartment with no forwarding address. Not even his family knows where he’s gone.” Alex explained.
            “Do you think he was involved?” Frank asked concerned. He was speaking to Alex but John answered.
“Who knows?! But whether he was in on it or not, someone’s trying to clean up their mess here padre. Go on Mormon! Put the pieces together for him!” John was practically beside himself with anticipation.
Alex turned back to Frank. “The woman’s body that Vickers and Bednarik forced Riggle to help them steal belonged to Margaret Miller from Ephrata, Pennsylvania. She died in a car wreck just outside Ephrata just before midnight earlier that night. She was airlifted to Philadelphia. She only had superficial wounds but she still died en route. Her daughter, Lucy Miller, was also in the car, but she was in much better shape. They sent her by ambulance to the hospital here in Harrisburg.”
“The same thirteen year old abducted from the hospital?” Frank said putting the puzzle together.
            “Now he’s getting the picture! Don’t stop now Doc, he’s almost there.”
Alex went on. “The nurse claims that that night, Lazlo Moriro came specifically to see the body of Margaret Miller. She even gave me a description, tall, gaunt, goatee, old army coat. He claimed to be Margaret Miller’s uncle.”
“Uncle?!” Frank said genuinely stunned.
“Oh it gets weirder, hold on to your hat padre, keep going Doc.”
“The same night that Lazlo visited the morgue, something strange happened upstairs in the oncology ward. A few of the people on staff claim they saw a man matching Moriro’s description wandering around the floor.”
“What would he be doing on the oncology floor?”
“Let the Mormon finish padre.”
“That same night, on that same floor, a near terminal cancer patient, Amanda Tipping had a miraculous recovery and checked herself out.” Alex dropped another sheaf of papers in front of Frank. They were the woman’s medical records. “The next day she shows up in Harrisburg, pretending to be a lawyer from the hospital’s corporate office.”
“The accomplice.” Frank said not looking up from the medical records.
“And Bingo was hi name-O” the old priest intoned sarcastically.
Frank poured over the medical records of Amanda Tipping. He didn’t want to know what Alex had to do to pull her private records, but they weren’t pretty. Advanced cancer. Every intervention had failed. Most of the lingo was over Frank’s head, but it was clear she was just days from death. What had Moriro done to the poor woman? Had she died and been turned into an undead slave, or was it something worse? What had he promised her in exchange for her soul?
“So what’s the scenario then?” Frank mused, “The Necromancer pressgangs these corpses and this sick woman into his service, steals the body of the mother…”
“Don’t forget the fourteen stiffs stolen from the Harrisburg morgue,” John added.
“AND the fourteen bodies from Harrisburg,” Frank added, sounding annoyed, “All to go after this kid?”
“That’s about the size of it padre.”
“But why? Why is she so important?”
“We don’t know exactly,” Alex shook his head.
“And then why go to all this trouble only to crash into a police station in broad daylight?!”
“Actually, they appear to have made a stop at a roadside diner near route 322 the night before then.” Alex went on, digging through his briefcase, searching for other documents, “But the details are bit murky. The car was definitely there, but no one actually saw Bednarik or Vickers at the diner. There also appear to be some other kids, teenagers, involved. Some claim they trashed the joint while others claim it was a feral pig or a flock of diseased ducks. All I really know about the incident is that two state troopers resigned immediately citing severe psychological distress.”
“Aw fer cryin’ out loud, what does it matter?!” John muttered, pacing, lighting his next cigarette on the stub of the old one, before tossing the butt to the ground and stomping it out with his foot. Looking down, there were several burn marks on the floor near this table but nowhere else. His brother and nephew probably decided to keep the damage to a minimum by confining the archpriest to this table. “All that’s important is that these dead things and this satanic sorcerer of theirs are still out there!” The old priest walked over and put his hands on the small table directly opposite the friar. “I ain’t gonna rest until Moriro is dead and that corpse-slave of his, Vickers, or whatever is animating him, is dead for the third and final time.”
“Third?” Thought Frank, but then Alex caught his eye before he even formed the question out loud.
            “After the incident at the police station, the body of Bednarik was cremated, but the body of Vickers disappeared from the Medical Examiner’s morgue.”
            John laughed a dry laugh that came out as more of hack. “Disappeared nothing Mormon boy! Escaped is more like it. And that’s only the beginning!”
            “Beginning?” Frank had hardly formed the thought in his head before Alex jumped in.
            “Since that time there has a been an increased number of unusual…incidents…in the region.” Alex said in his usual detached manner.
“Incidents?” Frank asked, knowing what the answer would be, but John jumped in before Alex could pull any more files out of that bottomless briefcase of his.
“Bloodlettings! Murder! Missing bodies! Graves wrenched open! Dark figures hunting in the night!”
            Alex returned with a more dispassionate appraisal, “They’re have been increased reports of grave desecrations and some reporting of fang-like bites on victims.”
“Strange wounds, mysterious deaths and disappearances Frank! Don’t you get it? The dead are up and on the feed!” John leaned in even closer to make his point. “We thought we had finished the job twenty years ago but we didn’t! We thought we had gotten them all but they just went underground. We always knew there was a big den of these vampires and dead things somewhere in the underbelly of Philadelphia but we never found it. Well it’s there all right and this proves it! We’ve never been this close before! Something big is going on, Frank! Something awful. These are dark ancient things, padre. They know how to hide. They never would have risked this much attention if it wasn’t really important. Well, now they’ve gone and slipped up, and now it’s our turn, to hunt these things down and put ‘em in the ground permanently.” Then the old priest John Markovich stood back with his hands on his hips and stared directly Frank. “So what is it Padre? You in?”
Frank looked form Alex to John and back again. He still had doubts. They weren’t exactly spring chickens anymore. Seventeen years was a long time. They were all far past their prime, if they ever had a prime. John could see the doubt in Frank’s eyes.
“Show him the kid’s picture doc.” He said over his shoulder. Alex slowly reached into the briefcase and pulled out one last file, a child’s drawing, but he didn’t lay it in front of the friar just yet, but held it close to his chest before he spoke.
“On the night Lucy Miller was abducted here, there was a near hit and run outside the main entrance to the hospital. It involved the aforementioned Impala and the woman Amanda Tipping. Accounts vary. Most say that the car barely missed her, but a few…” Alex paused, “A few say that the car passed through her.” Frank looked intently at Alex who looked far less placid than usual. “One of the witnesses,” Alex continued, “Was a girl watching from her hospital room window. She claims that just as the car was about to hit the woman, the woman transformed.”
“Transformed?” Frank asked, genuinely concerned. “Into what?”
Alex ignored the question and went on with his prepared statement, just like he would in a courtroom. “She had nightmares for weeks. She could hardly talk about it. Eventually the child psychologist got her to draw this.” And with that Alex carefully laid the crude drawing down slowly in front of Frank.
Frank looked at the drawing. It was simple and primitive, rendered in all black crayon. The artist couldn’t have been older than six, from the look of it. The lines were all over the place, crazy and jagged. The girl must have been terrified to draw it, but the drawing was clear enough. The picture showed a tall ghost like figure, white and terrifying. Over it had a large black flowing monstrous shape; hair or wings, maybe a cape, it was hard to tell, but beneath that was an empty face, with no nose or mouth, just two black hollows, pierced by two grey glaring eyes. It was the face of a demon. To anyone who hadn’t ever seen one before, it might just look like a kid’s nightmare or some Halloween spook. But Frank Lewis had seen one. You never forget a thing like that. And now he knew the girl had seen one too.
Frank pushed the drawing away from him, and Alex thankfully picked it back up, gathered the other papers and files and put them away out of sight in his briefcase.
No one said anything for long time.
            John broke the silence. “This is it padre. What’s it gonna be?”
Frank responded with silence, then John became uncharacteristically earnest. “I really need you on this one Frank. My own diocese thinks I’m a nut. I knew you wouldn’t believe me unless I brought the Mormon in on it. You don’t think I would call on a Catholic and a Mormon if I didn’t have a choice do you? You don’t think I’d go into a fight with vampires, zombies, werewolves and who knows what else if I didn’t absolutely need you, do you?”
“Actually Archpriest Markovich, as I’ve said before I’ve never seen any scientific evidence for werewolves.”
“What?! No werewolves?! Scientific evidence? What’s wrong with you Mormon boy?”
“Stop calling Alex Mormon Boy!” Frank decided to jump in before they got sidetracked on the existence of werewolves. Both of them looked to Frank. Frank bit his lip, then he paused and spoke, “You really serious about this John? You really want to get the band back together after all these years?”
John just smiled for a fraction of a second before bellowing out another command, “NEPHEW! Lock the doors! We’re closing up shop for the day!”
            The nephew nearly fell off his feet at the news. “But uncle!” he whined, “We’ll miss the afternoon rush!”
“What rush?!” The priest grouched back, “It’s just a couple of hippies who come in to use the wi-fi, they don’t even buy any coffee!”
“But uncle!”
“Just do it willya?!”
The nephew begrudgingly went off to lock the front door and turn the closed sign to the front, while the old priest put out his cigarette and went to the counter to get his answer to Frank’s question. He pulled out the familiar double-barreled shotgun, the one that had saved Frank’s life all those years ago in Alaska, the first time they met. Then he pulled out a box of massive twelve gauge slugs. He dumped the contents of the box out onto the counter. The slugs were custom, solid silver, each inscribed with a simple cross. The priest was a man of faith but he preferred his crosses to have as much stopping power as possible. He arranged ten of the slugs in a neat row and then cracked open the shotgun and loaded the last two into the chambers himself. Then he slapped the shotgun closed and cradled the now loaded weapon in the crook of his arm, but said nothing more. The loaded gun was his answer.
Frank looked back to Alex. Alex closed the briefcase and put it on the floor. Then he pulled out the black duffel he had dropped to the floor earlier with a metal thunk. He yanked open the zipper to the duffel and pulled out a battered aluminum baseball bat and a portable power bone saw and set them down on the table unceremoniously. Nope there was no doubting both of them were serious.
“How about it padre?” John said simply. “You in? Or did you leave your demon hunting kit back in Kentucky?”
“You know I’m not exactly on the Vatican’s official exorcist list anymore.” Frank said a bit sullenly.
John just laughed and held back another hacking cough. “When did that ever stop you before?”
Frank thought for a long moment, then he reached deep into one pocket and pulled out a small well-worn leather bound prayer book. It contained the three prayers against demons by St. Basil and the four by St. John Chrysostom as well as several others. The pages were yellowed and well-thumbed. Then from the other pocket he pulled a wooden rosary, with large beads made from olive wood taken from trees not far from the Church of All Nations in Jerusalem. The rosary was finished off by a simple silver cross of Ethiopian design. He laid that on top of the prayer book. Then from the same pocket he pulled out a small vial. It was made of lead crystal and had a lead stopper. It was filled with holy water, but the biggest secret was in the bell-shaped silver base, which contained a single knucklebone of St. Anthony of the desert, who had been assaulted by dozens of demons…and survived. But the old knuckle-bone was more than just a relic or a protective talisman. It was a demon detector. When it got close to demons, it rattled, like a bee caught in a silver bell. As he set it on top of the leather bound prayer book however, it was mercifully silent. Frank had only heard it ring a few times in his life, but that was enough to scare the living heck out of him. That was the whole kit. Unfortunately, unlike vampires and zombies, demons weren’t intimidated by bone saws, baseball bats or shotgun shells.
“Good!” Father John said brightly, like someone about to go on a fun camping trip. “It’s decided then.”
“Where do we start?” Frank said morosely, his gaze never leaving the holy water container and its secret knucklebone.
“There’s very few clues.” Alex said without emphasis. “All the principals are missing, Amanda Tipping, Vickers, the orderly, the girl, and none of the bodies have turned up yet. Someone found a torn jacket at the hospital with a name in it, a Miles Killam, possibly another victim, but there’s nothing much to go on. I suggest we concentrate on the girl, Lucy Miller. If we find the girl, we will find the den…and Moriro.”
“Right!” John said clapping his hands together with delight. “First find the girl – if she’s still alive,” Frank didn’t appreciate that observation, but John was on a roll. “If we find the girl, we find the den, find the den and we find Moriro.”
“Then what?” Frank said, almost afraid to ask.
            “Kill ‘em all. Burn the whole thing down to the ground, bring Moriro’s head back on a pike. What could be simpler?”
Frank looked up at John. He admired his enthusiasm, or more rather envied it, but in Friar Frank’s experience, these things were hardly ever simple.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Reviews Are In!

Well a review (singular) is in but it's a good one.

Check it out here, but I'm reposting it below too.

Wow! I liked the product description for Limbo's Child, and I figured for $0.99 I'd give it a try. It was definitely a bargain! Limbo's Child is a fun, intriguing book, with complicated, well-defined characters and a fascinating plot. I liked the dual story-lines alternating between Lucy's adventures in reality, and Nephys' adventures in Limbo. Jonah Hewitt has also created an interesting world, with vampires, zombies, necromancers, and other dead creatures roaming among the living in Reality, and a complicated afterlife/underworld consisting of Limbo with it's various levels of bureaucracy, and the surrounding swamps and further pits and levels with their variety of denizens, hinting at Dante's Hell. I had a hard time putting the book down, as I tried to figure out who the real villains were, who were trustworthy allies, and how everything was going to get pulled together.

There is a definite horror element to the book, since vampires and zombies and other creatures are characters, but the gore is pretty mild, which I appreciated.

This is a very good book! I'm going to read it again!

Thanks so much to the reviewer for the great review!  Please stay posted for more chapters and excerpts from this book, and the upcoming book, Silver Chains, on the blog.

And please...if you've read the book, make sure to put up your honest and heartfelt review on Amazon.com.  And tell a friend!!
 
Thanks again!!

J.

Update:

I got another one!!  Another Five STARS!!  Awesome.  Check it out here.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Cowboy

Many of you know that I'm in the middle of writing the second Novel, Silver Chains, due to be out next October.

I've been writing the thing as part of the NaNoWriMo Challenge. (You can follow my progress here.)

In the future, I will post excerpts of the upcoming novel here on the blog, but I'm just having such fun writing about a particular character I thought I would introduce him today.

This is a bit spoilerish below, but not too much.
He is known as "The Cowboy." 

He is an affable, handsome character, charming, gregarious, friendly, if given to an overuse of hoakey western colloquialism.  He's also a country-western music performer and an internet and YouTube sensation who's about to hit the big time.  He's got a huge loyal fan base and is taking the country by storm.

He's a really compelling character loosely modeled on some of my favorite contemporary country music stars.  If you want to get a sense of his looks, charm and style, just check out the awesome Josh Turner below. 



Oh!  And he's also a 500 year old vampire intent on enslaving the world and that he has to capture and torture the heroes of the first book in order to do it?  Did I mention that?  Hmmm. Must have slipped my mind.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Believe in Yourself

Photobucket

Just a little inspirational lift for your day.

Reading a Book!

Don't you ever interrupt someone reading my book.




From the always funny Julian Smith

It doesn't cross over into genius however until the bagpipes arrive. And as you know dear reader, we are always down with bagpipes.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

NaNoWriMo

No, it's not the name of some new alternative band, NaNoWriMo is the acronym for National Novel Writing Month!  It's a challenge writers to write a 50k word novel by the end of the month.  The rules are simple.  You can have notes, outlines and whatnot, but the actual text of your novel must be written during the month.

The prize is bragging rights and not much more, but it's a great way to get disciplined about writing.

Basically, if caffeine and lack of sleep were gods and they needed a ritual to worship them, this would be it.  Think of it as a marathon for writers.  Not for everyone but I thought it might be a fun way to meet some people and get a big chunk of the next installment knocked out.

As many of you know I started writing the second installment just a few weeks ago before I even heard about NaNoWriMo, (I wish I had known earlier.  I had already written 8000 words on the prologue just days before November started! Darn.) so I can't count that according to the rules, but everything I've written this month so far will be.

I'm already up to 12,000 words and you can follow my progress here.

They even have a great website with advice and forums of other writers to cheer you on. 

So ask yourself...do I really need sleep or rational thought or free time this month?  Of course you don't.  It's late to get started but it's not really about winning.  If the only people who ran marathons were those that were competitive enough to actually win, it would be a race between five guys and not the thousands who actually turn out.   It's more about the mental challenge and I just want to know if i'll collapse before the finishing line.

Wish me luck!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Like the Book? Tell a Friend!

First of all, let me say "Thank You" to all of my fans.

That wasn't big enough. 

Let me try again. 

THANK YOU.

Still not big enough.  One more time.

THANK YOU!!!


Now imagine that you are seeing that "Thank You" from space written on the North American Continent and that it spreads from Eugene, Oregon to Pennsauken, New Jersey.

Here's a map to help you visualize.

View Larger Map
Got it?  That's how much I want to say "Thank You" to my fans.  I really mean it.  You guys are great.

Ten people have bought the book online and thirty more downloaded when it was available for free.  Many more have read the snippets on this blog and elsewhere.  All of the response has been overwhelming positively.  I expect about one hundred people now have been exposed to the book and have read part of it, and most seem to like it.  About a dozen have actually read it cover to cover and they all seem to really love it.

I have really appreciated all the positive comments, and even more so, the helpful criticisms.  I really could not have come this far without my fans.

"Fans!"  the word still blows my mind.  There may not be many of you, but the fact that I have ANY fans is just incredible, and frankly, you're the most important part of this popsicle stand operation right now.

Let's face it, this book is still in "beta."

We (Travis and I) have great plans for this book.  I have an outline for a five-book epic series and Travis wants to see the book not just online, but in print in an actual bookstore, a special edition complete with glossy cover and full page illustrations.  I want to see that too.  Small problem.  This is not our day job.  We have bills to pay.  Travis believes so much in the book he has been willing to do the cover, the formatting and this webpage all on donated labor, but there's only so far we can go on the faith of our friends.  But there is no limit to how far we can go on the faith of our fans

Think about all the books you've read, all the books you've loved.  How many of them did you find out about from an ad in a magazine, or a TV ad?  Not many I bet.   You don't even get that kind of marketing push in traditional publishing until the book has already sold a hundred thousand copies.  Chances are you learned about your favorite books not from some ad, but from someone you knew and trusted who read it first.

Marketing, advertising, cover design, compelling life story, stunning good looks, world's largest collection of slime molds, none of the usual gimmicks will help you as an author if people don't like the book.  Books don't really sell on marketing. They really get sold by word of mouth.  Stephanie Meyer and J.K. Rowling wouldn't be anywhere if a small group dedicated fans hadn't recommended it to everyone else.

So please, if you like the book, get out there and tell your friends.  If you bought the book online on Amazon and have finished it PLEASE write an honest and heartfelt review.  If you have finished the downloaded version, share it with a friend and tell them about this website.

If you have a blog or a website, consider putting up the link to the blog here or to the book on Amazon.  If you are part of a book club online, or even better, in person, make a push to get the book on your group's reading list. 

Think about the friends you know who like reading and especially those that like fantasy.  Recommend the book to at least ten different friends.  Out of those ten, only two or three may actually read it, but if we assume that everyone takes a month to read the book and then they send it on to two or three friends, that's more than enough to double the fanbase every two months.  With that kind of arithmetic, the book will definitely be a success, and that means that I can afford keep writing and bringing you more fun stuff to read.

If enough of you do this, some day, not too long in the future, we will reach a tipping point and the whole thing will turn into a real phenomenon like Twilight or Harry Potter.

Is that possible?

I didn't used to think so, but I have discovered that you, my fans have even more faith in the book than I do!  So yes, it's possible and you can make it happen.

Thanks again for all you have done so far, and for making the book a hit in the future.  I know you can make it happen.


J.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Last Day to Get the Entire Novel of Limbo's Child for FREE.

This is the very last day to get the novel, Limbo's Child (The Dead Things Series) for FREE.

(Part II will be available for one week more for those that have already downloaded the first part, but this is the very last time I'm going to make the whole thing available for free online, though the first 15 chapters will eventually be posted on this webpage.  Chapters 1-8 are already available here.)

Download the entire novel, Limbo's Child, NOW for FREE! Why not?  It's a great book, a fun read and it's FREE.   Give it a shot.

Part I is here.

Part II is here.

After today, you'll have to get it on Kindle, but it's still only 99 cents.

And remember, you don't have to have a Kindle to read a Kindle formatted book.  You can get the book on your iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, PC or Mac.

Check out the multiple varieties of Kindle Readers HERE.

Here's the link for the Kindle version.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Chapter Nine: Meet Miles and Schuyler

Miles and Schuyler.

I've spoken of these characters before, here and here, and they are two of my favorites.  The two are a natural pair, but not like peas and carrots, peanut butter and jelly or Dr. Pepper and Evil.  They go together more like oil and water, fire and ice, cops and robbers, bare walls and graffiti or vampire goths and sci-fi geeks at a comic con.  Their innate qualities make them pair up, or throw them together, but not in a good way.  There is friction to say the least.  To say more, they loathe each other, yet inevitably, like washed-out pop stars and bad mug shots, you can't separate them.

Schuyler is, outwardly at least, the stereotypical teenage vampire: gorgeous, talented, charismatic, distant, romantic, but it's all an act.  Inwardly he's conniving, vicious, vain, self-absorbed and cruel.  Miles, is everything Schuyler is not.

If Nephys and Lucy are the main characters, Miles and Schuyler are their principle foils, the characters that reflect their inner desires, fears, doubts and motivations.  That makes them a bit more stereotypical, a bit cruder caricature of a person than an actual character, but it works, and you'll see why. 

(Oh, and as a side note, when you are more or less writing a parody of the stereotypical teenage vampire, you can't help but mention the elephant in the room.  This is the most direct jab in the whole book that I take at a certain sparkling elephant that will remained unmentioned for the rest of the novel.  It's a gentle poke really.  I had to do it, just to get it out of the way and get on with the story I wanted to tell.  I imagined that in my fictional universe, books about sparkling elephants exist, just as they do in our world, and of course if there were any actual real elephants they would read about the sparkling elephants too.  It says nothing more about my opinion of novels about sparkling elephants than that.  In fact, my whole family has read the entire series of sparkling elephant novels and quite enjoyed it, although to be honest we are on team "shirtless non-sparkling furry elephant."  So to all you sparkling elephant lovers out there, please don't stampede me!  I'm one of your tribe!  Honest!)


Chapter Nine
Miles and Schuyler
From there I got away, My spirits never failin'
Landed on the quay As the ship was sailin';

Miles Killam sang idly beneath his breath and kicked a can down an alley in the early morning hours, somewhere in the dark streets of Chester, Pennsylvania. He was looking for something to eat, a passed-out drunk or addict would do.

When I jumped aboard, a cabin found for Paddy.
Down among the pigs, played some hearty rigs,

He wasn’t having any luck tonight however, or on many nights lately. Widener University often had a few drunken frat boys passed out on weekends, you could always count on that, but some dumb girl had passed out at a frat party and nearly died of alcohol poisoning a few weeks back, so everyone had assumed a greater measure of self-imposed austerity. Fine for co-eds, lousy for vampires though.
The murder rate in the Philly area was high enough to mask a few unusual deaths here and there, but you couldn’t just run up to a drive-by victim and suck him dry before the cops showed up. So you took opportunities where you could, taking a little here, and a little there, the odd drunk or runaway, someone who wouldn’t be missed or noticed. You could get by quite well that way without killing too. Killing was just too messy. It drew too much attention. Any second-rate vampire could dodge a wooden stake, but twelve-gauge buckshot from a shotgun was another matter, and everybody seemed to have one these days. Vampires were fast healers, but they weren’t as fast as they were in the movies. Even if it didn’t tear your head clean off you couldn’t walk around with gaping holes in you. Even in the middle of the night, a walking piece of human Swiss cheese would be noticed. South Street was pretty wild, but it wasn’t that wild.
For all the vaunted advantages of being a vampire – greater speed, strength, agility – you just couldn’t beat the law of averages or dodge bullets forever. Sure, living people were scared of vampires, but they were also bloody crazy, and tended to run in mobs with torches and pitchforks. You can step on a single ant, but you can’t stomp out a million. And today the ants didn’t just have torches and pitchforks; they had shotguns and four ton Escalades. No, it was better just to lay low.
It was easy to lay low for a good vampire, an ancient vampire that knew all the dark arts and tricks. He could take a life, be stealthy, hide in the shadows and disappear into the night like a dream disappearing from memory when one wakes at dawn, but Miles wasn’t exactly a good vampire. He’d been at it more than a hundred years and he still tripped over garbage in dark alleys. Miles was lucky if he could stumble upon a heroin addict passed out in the alley, take a quick nip and be away. No addict ever noticed another couple of extra holes when they woke up anyway.
Tonight was different though. Wallach wanted fresh meat. Wallach was Miles’ bloody aster. Nearly all vampires had clans, safety in numbers you know, but democracy hadn’t exactly penetrated vampire society. They were all ruled by ancient and imperious masters – aristocratic, terrifying and barking nuts. Miles had been slacking of late, so tonight Wallach had up and demanded a token of Miles’ loyalty. He wanted him to pick up some take out and bring it back alive. Miles had been out all night and found nothing promising, and dawn was coming. So he was shuffling down his last favorite hunting ground hoping for a lucky break before daylight.

Danced some hearty jigs, the water round me bubbling;
When off Holyhead I wished meself was dead,

Miles stopped singing and looked around. He was sure he had heard something, but the alley was dead silent, not even a stray rat. Vampires had more enemies than humans, usually other vampires, who were as good at killing bloodsuckers as they were people, but there hadn’t been a turf war in Philly in decades. Miles paused and looked up and down the alley but saw nothing. He went back to idly kicking at the rubbish.

Or better for instead on the rocky road to…

WHAM! Something from above knocked Miles hard to the ground and then swept him aside as if he were an empty jacket. Miles scrambled to find the wall and pull himself up in the narrow alley, blindly swinging, but hit nothing. He stood up and looked around, but saw nothing, and heard only laughter.
“You stupid mick. You never look up, do you, Killam?”
Miles just sighed and leaned back against the alley wall, closed his eyes and thumped the back of his head on the wall in frustration.
“Schuyler!! Saints and angels!! Ya scared the livin’ piss outta me!” He looked all around and up this time but still saw no one. “C’mon out for cryin’ out loud!”
Instantly, a tall, thin and handsome boy dropped out of the early morning sky right in front of him. He had windblown, shoulder-length blond hair and a handsome, boyish face, aged permanently seventeen years. He wore crisp white jeans that never seemed to get dirty, checkered Vans sneakers (no socks) and a black silk blazer over his otherwise naked torso. He never wore a shirt. He liked to show off his lean and toned hairless physique at all times.
“Geez Miles, you’d think you’d learn something about being a vampire in what…a hundred years?” the vampire sneered around a large sucker. Schuyler always had a large lollipop everywhere he went, but he never put it in his mouth the regular way. Instead, he reached around the back of his head and stuck it in the side of his mouth. He had a lot of weird affectations like that. He thought it made him look cool or something.
“Hundred and two,” Miles said flatly, “And what in the blue blazes are ya doin’ here?! This ain’t your huntin’ ground!”
“No, I don’t usually go slumming it, it’s true,” Schuyler snidely remarked, “But luckily I wasn’t far. I got this honey up at Swarthmore College. Y’know, the lonely bookish type? Freshmen get real homesick, just dying for someone to listen.” Schuyler thought of himself as quite a ladies’ man. Miles just sighed and endured the tedious monologue of Schuyler’s exploits. “…I tell you, every teenage girl out there today has daddy issues. My dad used to beat me every night as a matter of routine, but one of these rich brats doesn’t get a pony on their sixth birthday and they have to spend the rest of their lives as grad students in Gender Studies to work it out in their head.”
Ugh. This was going to be a long one. Schuyler went on and on. Miles ignored most of the recitation until he heard something new.
“So after I give her the story of how my dad disowned me because I wanted to go to art school…”
“Art school?!” Miles interrupted. “You never went to art school!”
“Yeah, but she doesn’t know that.”
“But you can’t even bloody draw, Schuyler!”
“So what?! Neither can anyone else these days. Besides it’s not about rote mechanical draftsmanship anymore but inner expression.” Schuyler had spent a lot of time around Logan Square and the all-girl’s art college near there so Miles figured that’s where he had picked up that meaningless bit of lingo.
“Anywho, so after the sob story I give her the quiet far off stare.” He pursed his lips and widened his eyes to model the stare for Miles, then he went back to his banal smirk. “It totally sold her. I’m telling ya, I’m gonna be milking her for months.” He took the lollipop out of his mouth in his usual backwards way and passed it under his nose like smelling a fine wine.
Miles nearly retched. Schuyler always had some girl on the hook, but it never seemed to come to much. Still Schuyler wasn’t drudging around alleys for passed out addicts. Schuyler didn’t play as well as he talked, but he was rarely on the outs with Wallach and Miles had to admit, even though Schuyler was more than fifty years younger than him, he was a much better vampire than he was.
“And you just happened by my alley, did ya?”
Schuyler put the lollipop back in his mouth in an equally odd fashion and spoke around it. “Actually, truth is, Wallach told me to check up on you.”
Miles shoulders just slumped. In the clan hierarchy, Schuyler wasn’t exactly an A-lister, but he at least had proper vampire pride and ambition. Still, to have to be checked up on by Schuyler was pretty low.
Schuyler took out the lollipop and pointed it sternly at Miles, “Frankly you’re lucky he didn’t send Ulami or Forzgrim after you. They’d just as soon tear you apart as babysit you.”
“I don’t need anyone to babysit me,” Miles said sullenly.
“Really?” Schuyler put the lollipop back in his mouth, raised his shoulders and turned slowly from side to side. “Well excuse me, I guess I had a hard time seeing that through the enormous pile of victims at your feet.” And with that, he did a graceful back flip landing perfectly on the edge of the dumpster across the alley and looked down on Miles like a smirking cat. Miles had to admit it was an impressive move.
“Shut up,” Miles muttered.
“No you shut up. I’m not the one schlepping around alleyways at three in the morning, trying to sneak a bite out of passed-out junkies. I mean…come on! What’s the matter with you Killam?! You’ve been at this fifty years longer than me and you still don’t know the first thing about being a vampire. If you come back to Wallach empty-handed he’s going to stake you out ‘til dawn and use your charred corpse to roast marshmallows.”
Schuyler was right. Miles was almost out of time, and if he didn’t come back with something…someone…then he might as well be dead…well…dead again. Wallach didn’t take kindly to disobedience. Running wasn’t an option either. Wallach and his goons, Ulami and Forzgrim, had run down every vampire in the Mid-Atlantic from Baltimore to Newark and inland as far as Pittsburgh. Those that didn’t fall in line, he had staked out ‘til sunrise or worse. There just weren’t that many vampires anymore, and Wallach was the oldest and scariest on the east coast. Most vampires could expect to someday master stealth, mind hazing and enhanced strength and agility – well, most vampires other than Miles – but he’d seen Wallach inflict pain on a minion with a glance, enthrall a victim from across a crowded room with just his voice and leap so far he could practically fly. It was rumored that Wallach could even change forms. Wallach scared the living heck out of Miles and everyone else in the clan, including Schuyler. It was Schuyler’s dearest wish to reach the upper echelons of Wallach’s lackeys. He’d make it, thought Miles. He had the looks, the natural grace. Plus, he was a royal suck-up.
Schuyler hopped down from the edge of the dumpster quietly and crossed over to Miles. “Look…you need help, that much is obvious, but it doesn’t have to be a drag. I know you and I haven’t exactly been friends, but we’re in the same boat.”
Miles narrowed his eyes. “Really?”
“Really!” Schuyler said enthusiastically, “You think I want to come back to Wallach and tell him I couldn’t help you?”
Miles wasn’t so sure about that. He thought Schuyler would push you in front of a trolley if he thought you were between him and moving up the vampire hierarchy. Still, Schuyler had nothing to fear from Miles. Miles wasn’t exactly on the ladder ahead of him. Miles wasn’t even on the ladder at all.
“Look man” Schuyler began again. “Whatever it is that’s holding you back, we can work on it together.” His tone got soft and quiet, and he placed a hand on Miles’ shoulder and looked right into his eyes. “I want you to know I’m here for you, guy.” He took the lollipop out of his mouth, without any of the usual gymnastics, and gave Miles a friendly smile.
Was Schuyler serious? Miles let down his guard and decided to open up to him, “Ok, thanks brother… I really…” but before he even got two more words out, the friendly face turned into a smirk and Schuyler contorted with restrained laughter.
“You don’t think I really care do you?” Schuyler snorted.
“Bloody idiot!” Miles pushed Schuyler away from him in disgust and Schuyler laughed uncontrollably for a second. Miles started skulking off down towards the exit of the trash-strewn alley. Schuyler caught up with him and tried to put his arm around Miles’ shoulders.
“Now, now, now, don’t be that way!” Miles pushed Schuyler’s arm off and kept walking. “See! This is exactly what I’m talking about. Just then I totally played you. You’re so na├»ve, you dumb mick! You let everyone play you, even the dumb drunks, but here in this world WE are the players.”
Miles just rolled his eyes, not this speech again, but Schuyler kept right on going.
“You always have to have an angle see? You have to work these people, and then they will come to you.” Schuyler put his arm back around Miles as they were walking and stabbed the lollipop into Miles chest to emphasize the word “you.” Miles just ignored him. “True, we can’t all be blessed with good looks and natural grace. I mean…look at you. You’re short, dark, pimply, and you look like you’re thirteen.”
Miles turned angrily on Schuyler. “I was sixteen!! Sixteen when I got…” Miles paused and then whispered the word “turned” as if he were ashamed of it.
“Yeah, yeah…boyish good looks I’m sure, but see, that’s what I’m talking about. You have to work with what you’ve got…let’s take your hair, Americans like gingers.”
“Americans like red haired women, you dolt, not boys.”
“Hang on. Hear me out,” Schuyler sounded genuinely offended, “You have red hair, a temper and you’re Irish. Now you’re not much to look at, it’s true, but an angry, short-tempered, possibly alcoholic, sulky, Irish teenager? Oh…we can work with that.”
“Really?”
“Sure!”
“How?” Miles was genuinely curious now.
“All you have to do is go to an Irish pub, pretend to get drunk and start a fight. Win or lose, just make it about the honor of good ol’ Erin’s Isle. Afterwards, you find a lonely corner and sulk for a bit, and then, sure as anything, some Irish-American mick-ette or wannabe will come around to help you cry into your pint of Guinness.”
“Why would they do that?”
“Bad boys!! My friend. BAD boys.” And he thumped the lollipop hard into Miles’ chest. “Women love ‘em!”
“Really?” Miles was confused.
“Yep.”
“But…why?”
“Don’t know really,” Schuyler picked the lint off his lollipop it had picked up from Miles sweater. It wasn’t a real lollipop anyway, but a plastic one. Vampires couldn’t taste much more than blood anyhow and had precious little saliva. This one was one of Schuyler’s many props. He had them color-coded to match his outfits and moods. Today’s color was “saffron.”
“But I suspect women aren’t happy unless they’re meddling, fixing things, it’s the maternal instinct, and nothing’s a better project than fixing some broken boy. Plus, it gives them a little shot of adrenaline. They can stand close to the fire and try to see how close they can get and not to get burned. This is where you spring your secret weapon.”
“My secret weapon?”
“Yeah! You flash them the fangs, reveal your secret.”
“Tell them I’m a vampire?!”
“Of course! Just a taste mind you, just enough to let them know they are standing close to the fire.”
“Why?!”
“Don you get it?! Vampires are the ultimate bad boys!! You’d be an Irish Vampire! That’s like a double bad boy!! A bad boy squared. They’ll be all over you.” Miles looked at him incredulously. “Serious, dude. I’m telling you, it’ll be great. It’s a new era! The ground space has already been prepped for you by a thousand novels and TV shows. It’s all they read or watch anymore!! These girls would willingly give up buckets of their own blood for the chance to meet a real vampire. We just have to give them what they want, do the lonely moody shtick: brooding teenager with overpowering demons and secrets.” He said the last part with a wavering melodramatic vibrato. “Honestly, how do you think I manage to score so many victims?”
Miles narrowed his eyes at Schuyler. He couldn’t tell if he was being serious or if he was just messing with him again. “I dunno, sounds iffy,” Miles replied nervously. He had always been more of a scavenger and not a player, but Schuyler rarely looked hungry or haggard, and he never had to get a victim for Wallach.
“Dude. Ya gotta trust me,” Schuyler finally said.
“Yeah…like I trusted you the time you convinced me we should go back to high school?”
“Dude, that was a great idea.”
“It was bloody bollocks! That’s what it was.”
“I was just thinking it would be a great way to meet chicks.”
“Chicks? It was bloody night school! All we met were a bunch of middle-aged drop-outs trying to get their G.E.D.s!!”
“Ok, perhaps it was a bit poor in execution… but it was still a good idea.” Schuyler paused and looked down, “Still not giving up on that one. We just have to find the right venue.” Miles just rolled his eyes again and kept on walking. Their long, slow stroll had led them to near where the alley exited out onto a street corner.
“Hey. Listen to me.” Schuyler stopped and grabbed Miles lightly by the shoulder and turned to face him. Miles stopped and looked at Schuyler. “All I’m saying is that you have to be more flexible…change with the times, cause it sure doesn’t look like trolling for junkies is working out for you that well.”
Miles looked down slightly ashamed. He didn’t know what was worse, that deep down he knew Schuyler was right, or that in this messed up world, Schuyler was the closest thing he had to a friend.
“So, are you ready to let me help you yet?” Schuyler sounded like he was trying to sell Miles a used car. “Are you ready for help from the master?” And with the word “master,” Schuyler made a flourish with his lollipop hand over his naked chest. Ugh.
Miles sighed and put his hands dejectedly into his jeans pockets. “Yeah, I guess.”
“Good. Now I doubt we will find any honeys out her tonight, we’ll have to work on that later, so first thing’s first.” He clapped and rubbed his hands together. “Tonight we’ve got to find you an easy mark before Wallach turns your hide into a lampshade. It’s getting close to dawn, so let’s go.” Schuyler stepped back, reached into his pocket and took out a small aerosol can. He closed his eyes and sprayed the can generously over his naked chest, neck and face.
Miles wrinkled his nose. “What in the bloody heck was that?”
“Hmm? Oh that? Nothing…just y’know, some body spray. I want to stay fresh in case I run into any ladies. Just in case.”
“Ladies?”
“Yeah, so what?”
Miles quickly snatched the can from Schuyler’s hand and read the label. “Sparkleshot. Cologne with body glitter. Musk.”
“Gimme that!” Schuyler grabbed the can back and looked hurt for a moment before he put it away.
Miles looked up at Schuyler. “Body glitter? Seriously? You’re wearin’ bloomin’ body spray with glitter?”
“Well, y’know…girls today have…certain…” Schuyler looked up as if he were searching for the right word, “expectations.” And then he waggled his eyebrows at Miles.
Miles squeezed his eyes shut and pinched the bridge of his nose. However much he hated the situation, he was desperate. Schuyler was a much better vampire than he was and right now he needed Schuyler or Wallach was going to use him for a throw rug. “Can ya just get on with this please?”
“Alright, Alright.” Schuyler shook his arms loosely and then craned his neck from side to side. “First we gotta get loosened and up and get in tune with the inner sight, feel the victim’s pain.”
“Really? Ya can do that?” Miles had heard of vampires that could sense victims’ pain and suffering and hone in on it like a bloodhound following a wounded criminal or a shark following blood in the water. They had never said so, but he was certain Ulami, Forzgrim and Wallach could do it. However, he never expected that Schuyler could. He regarded Schuyler closely. Schuyler was stretching, rolling his head around on his shoulders.
“Oh, yeah. Just clear your head and get all the distractions out.” Schuyler shook his whole body and Miles tried to follow along but he felt silly. “Now take a deep breath.” Schuyler got very still and calm and held out his hands, palms up. Miles tried to ape Schuyler’s actions. “Now close your eyes and look into the darkness.”
Miles closed his eyes and saw nothing. “Bloody heck, I don’t see nothin’!”
“Ya gotta give it time, dude, just wait a minute,” came Schuyler’s reassuring reply.
Miles looked inward and saw only darkness, but the darkness turned into a fog…and then in the fog…something…a pig…a duck…what was it? He shook his head. It was nothing, he was imagining things…then something else, a girl in a hospital bed? No…a boy…with a yo-yo. He was seeing something…wasn’t he?”
Schuyler snorted.
Miles opened one eye. Schuyler’s smirk could hardly contain his laughter.
“Schulyer!! Ya bloody prick!!” Miles shouted.
“DUDE! You are SO gullible! I can’t believe I got you twice in like fifteen minutes!” Schuyler burst out laughing.
“You don’ actually have the sight, do ya?”
“Nah man, I’m just messing with you. I keep trying but I ain’t got nothing yet.”
“So ya don’t know where any potential victims are, do ya?” Miles asked.
Schuyler composed himself and wiped a tear of laughter from his eye, or at least pretended to – vampires couldn’t actually cry. Everything was an act with Schuyler. “Actually, it’s your lucky day. I saw someone from the rooftop before I jumped down and scared you out of your shorts.” Schuyler put his arm around Miles and dragged him to the edge of the alley. “C’mon let’s take a look.”
Schuyler walked to the edge of the alley and leaned against the corner of the building. Miles held back and peeked around Schuyler’s shoulders. There, across the street, underneath a dim yellow streetlight hanging from a dilapidated telephone pole, was a thin young man leaning against the fender of a 1970’s land yacht parked in front of a vacant lot.
“There you are, Miles. Whadiddisay? Easy pickings, huh?”
Miles looked over the man. He was wiping his palms over and over again on his pants as if they were sweating profusely. “I don’t like it.”
“Well woo-hoo. When did we get so high and mighty? Dude, you haven’t got time to be picky.” Schuyler was utterly too carefree and far too noisy for Miles’ taste.
“It’s not that,” Miles said hoarsely, afraid they were going to be overheard, “Sometin’s not right. I don’t like it.”
“Don’t like it?”
“Yeah, sometin’s fishy. C’mon let’s go find someone else.”
“Are you kidding me?!” Schuyler spat back at him. “We get lucky enough to have someone drop right into our laps and you want to keep looking?!”
“Yeah…there’s sometin’ up with him. We should go.” Miles began tugging on Schuyler’s arm.
UP with him? C’mon, he’s just a junkie out looking for a hit to take the edge off before he has to go to work, I mean…Just look at the guy.”
Miles did look. The young man did look awfully nervous and edgy like a junkie. Still, it didn’t make any sense. Miles knew most of the regulars in this neighborhood and he had never seen this guy before. On top of that, there weren’t any dealers out this time of the day, so why was he here?
“I’ve never seen him before.”
“So you know every junkie in the greater Philly area now?”
No, but I still don’t like it.”
Schuyler sighed.
“Look!” Miles said a bit too emphatically. He tried to calm himself. “I know junkies, and sometin’s wrong with this guy. Addicts are creatures of habit, they have their favorite suppliers and they just don’t change for no reason. This guy’s odd. Sometin’s wrong. I dunno, maybe he’s a cop or sometin’.”
OR… maybe his pusher got pinched and he’s desperately looking for a pop before the early shift. Don’t people come to this neighborhood to buy dope all the time?”
That was true, but there was still something off about the guy.
“So what’d he do? Come out here, park his car in the middle of nowhere, git out to wait and just hope a pusher would come by? It doesn’t make any sense, ya blighter. Addicts don’t park the car and wait for sellers to come to dem, ya bloody idiot. They drive around and don’ stop ‘til they find someone! It just doesn’t make any sense.”
“Dude, what doesn’t make any sense is that you are passing up an opportunity to keep Wallach from having Forzgrim turn you into his own personal doormat. He could have set up a meeting with his supplier and the guy is late, that’s all.”
“So what if his pusher shows up?” Miles was nervous.
“Big deal, so we bring two bloodbags back to Wallach – the horror,” Schuyler remarked sarcastically. Miles wasn’t buying it. It all seemed wrong.
“I’m telling you it’s just not right.”
“And I’m telling you, you think too much.” And with that, Schuyler put the lollipop prop back into his mouth and started walking casually out into the street.
“Schuyler, you bloody idiot, come back!!” Miles whispered hoarsely. Schuyler just nonchalantly turned around and kept walking backwards away from him while talking.
“REE-lax will ya?” Schuyler replied, “I’ll just go over…”
“No, don’t!”
“And have a little chat with our friend here…”
“Schuyler!”
“And bring him back over here to the alley where you can jump him, ok? I’ll even help you soften him up a bit before you have to bring him back to Wallach, have a little snack to tide us over. Ok?”
“No…don’t go…Schuyler? I’m serious! Git back here!”
“Dude, you owe me for this one, big time. Don’t worry, you’ll thank me later.”
And with that, Schuyler strolled out into the street and called out to the man leaning against the car.
“WASSUP!! Bro…you looking for a hit? Maybe a date? ‘Cuz, if so, we can set you up proper!” The young man hadn’t noticed Schuyler before this. His gaze instantly turned their way, his body stiffened. Miles ducked back into the alley out of sight. Something was wrong, very, very wrong, but he couldn’t tell what. He couldn’t make out the conversation, but he could tell Schuyler was already well into one of his monologues. He peeked around the corner of the building. Schuyler hadn’t been talking to the guy for more than a minute and he already had his arm around the guy’s shoulders. A minute or two later the man was even laughing, albeit a little nervously, as Schuyler gestured widely with his lollipop as if he was telling some fantastic story. At the climax, both he and Schuyler laughed enthusiastically.
A minute later Schuyler gestured with the lollipop towards the alley. Miles winced and ducked down a little. The guy didn’t seem so certain at first and kept looking over his shoulder. Schuyler just shrugged, said goodbye and started walking away, but the guy didn’t follow. Just when Miles was certain Schuyler had blown the sale, the guy called out to Schuyler and ran to catch up with him, shook his hand and followed him across the street towards the alley. Schuyler looked Miles’ way and winked. Sure enough, Miles had to admit, Schuyler was good at this.
Schuyler entered the alley first. Miles pressed himself against the wall and tried to disappear. Schuyler didn’t even acknowledge Miles as he passed him. The hapless guy followed him in, passed Miles and didn’t even see him. Schuyler was setting this up perfectly. Miles could jump him from behind and bleed him just enough to make him pass out. Clean and easy. Maybe Schuyler knew what he was doing all along after all. Miles wasn’t so nervous anymore; Schuyler seemed to have the whole situation under control.
Miles crept forward for the kill slowly, silently closing in to strike…and slipped and stumbled on a pile of loose newspapers.
“Bloody heck!!” thought Miles, couldn’t he do anything right? The man instantly turned around at the sound and looked terrified. Beyond him Miles could see Schuyler’s blonde head shaking in disbelief, the palm of his hand on his forehead. The man exchanged nervous looks between him and Schuyler and for a moment it looked like he was going to bolt. Fortunately, Schuyler stepped in to save the situation.
“No, no, no!! It’s okay, that’s just my associate, Miles.” He said the word “associate” with particular venom. “Miles, here, is my lookout, see, so we’ll take care of business down here, while Miles keeps a lookout down THERE.” Schuyler’s eyeballs frantically pointed towards the end of the alley. His look was enough to let Miles know he didn’t want his help anymore.
The victim’s face relaxed a little and Miles awkwardly nodded, turned around and walked over to watch the empty street and feel worthless. Miles folded his arms and leaned despondently on the corner of the building. As he did, he heard Schuyler behind him finish the sale.
“Right over here, we can hook you up…”
“Here it comes,” thought Miles, “Schuyler’s moment of glory where he pulls out one of his patented, corny catch phrases, gets the victim and then rubs it in my face for the next three weeks.” All that was left after that was the muffled scream, the sound of frantic thrashing cut short and the long haul back to Wallach with the comatose body.
Schuyler started up again, “Before we do business, my friend, are you hungry? Because if you are, I could always go for a quick…”
Miles groaned. Not that one. “Bite,” Miles completed in his mind. How corny. Only the awful pun never came. In fact, there was no muffled scream or thrashing either. Just silence. Miles was getting nervous again, but then remembered how Schuyler had played him twice already.
“I’m not fallin’ for it, Schuyler! If ya tink ya can trick me again, ya can haul the body back to Wallach by yerself.” He it said without turning around, but there was no response. He shifted uncomfortably. Sky was sure dragging this prank out. After a while he began to wonder if it was a prank, so he took a quick peek over his shoulder, just in case it was a prank he could shrug it off, but what he saw didn’t look like one of Schuyler’s jokes. The victim was crouched, sheltered against the close side of the dumpster nearest Miles, his hands over his head muttering “Man oh, oh man, oh man, oh man,” over and over again, but Schuyler was nowhere near him.
Instead, Schuyler was suspended in mid air by…nothing…or at least something Miles couldn’t see, like a black cloud holding Schuyler up by his throat. Miles was flabbergasted and didn’t know what to do.
He stood there dumbstruck for a while and then, somehow, found the strength to rush to Schuyler’s aid, but he didn’t get far. Before he had taken half a step, a huge hand came down, grabbed him by the neck, lifted him a foot off the ground and held him there, his legs running on air. He twisted around to look at who had him. It was an enormous man in a grubby sweatshirt with a ski cap pulled down over his eyes, but there were no eyeholes. He tried to flail and punch and kick the man, but his blows just bounced off him like he was concrete. “Oy! Sweet Brigid!” Miles cried out. It hurt! A lot. The thing didn’t even act like it had noticed.
He wrenched back around to see how Schuyler was faring. The smoke was gone, or rather it was coalescing into a man, a tall thin man wearing blue-green scrubs and a leather jacket. Schuyler was struggling to free himself with no avail.
“SCHUYLER!!” Miles screamed. The thin man turned his attention to Miles for a moment. Schuyler saw the momentary distraction as an opportunity. He swung his body around ‘til his feet touched the alley wall. In a blindingly fast instant, he ran up the wall to build up momentum and flipped his whole body around to bring both of his feet crashing down onto the thin man’s head. It was an amazing move, the kind that would have floored any mortal and most vampires. Unfortunately, the thin man obviously wasn’t just any mortal or vampire. He bent over backward, nearly in half, avoided the feet and then slammed Schuyler to the floor of the alley so hard it made the dumpster jump. Schuyler, without hesitation, then whipped one leg around in a spinning motion in an attempt to sweep his attacker’s legs out from underneath him.
It was a great move, and Schuyler doubled down on it by using the momentum to spin himself up and land on his feet. However, the man just jumped the leg sweep like an expert double-dutch jump roper, bent Schuyler over and rammed his head into the alley wall hard enough to break the bricks and scatter dust everywhere. But, Schuyler wasn’t done yet. He tried another move, and then another, and then another. Each full of unbelievable back-flips and incredible jackknife twists and helicopter kicks that came out of nowhere – each move more impressive than the last. Miles had no idea Schuyler was so good at this. He had always thought of him as a lover and not a fighter.
Of course, the other guy was still much better. He never let Schuyler land a blow and deftly stepped out of the way of each attack, only to redirect Schuyler’s momentum against him and slam him into another hard surface in the alley. On any other day, with any other opponent, Schuyler’s moves would have been as devastating as a wrecking ball, but today it didn’t look so much like some awesome fight scene in a kung-fu movie as an annoyed man holding an angry and snappy puppy safely away at arm’s length.
Schuyler’s last move was an incredible back flip over the top of his opponent’s head, only to be dropped to the alley floor face first and wind up with the other guy’s foot planted firmly between his shoulder blades. Schuyler lay there panting for a moment before Miles said anything.
“Ya finished Schuyler?” Miles said from his suspended position, feet still dangling.
Between breaths Schuyler forced out “Yeah…I think…I think I’m done now.”
“Ya sure yer ok?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
“Good,” said Miles. “Because if we ever get out of this bloody mess I’M GONNA KILL YA, YA BLOODY IDIOT!!!!”
“Look, how was I supposed to know the guy was a Renfield!! HUH?!!”
A “Renfield,” in vampire speak, was a human toady, a vampire groupie sent out to do tasks for them that they couldn’t do for themselves, usually during daylight business hours. They were a lot more common in the days before ATM banking and twenty-four hour drive-thru dry cleaning, but they still had their purposes. Every clan had one or two, but they usually didn’t last long. This one had obviously just been used as bait by these two vampires to set a trap for Miles and Schuyler.
“I TRIED TO WARN YA, YA IDIOT!! I KNEW SOMETIN’ WAS UP!! WHY DIDNA YA LISTEN TO ME?!! YA NEVER LISTEN!!” Miles screamed and flailed at his captor, but his moves were even more ineffectual than Schuyler’s had been. The young man crouching behind the dumpster stopped muttering and stood up and walked over to the man standing on Schuyler’s back.
“Hey don’t give me that, this…this is YOUR fault.” From underneath the foot of his victorious opponent Schuyler jabbed his plastic lollipop angrily at Miles. At least he hadn’t dropped that. The eyes of the thin man standing on top of Schuyler concentrated on Miles.
“My fault?!!! I’m the one dat told ya that sometin’ was fishy with this guy!! How in the bloody heck is this MY fault?!!!”
The eyes of the thin man in scrubs and the young man turned back to Schuyler.
“It’s your bloody fault BECAUSE I NEVER SHOULD HAVE BEEN HERE IN THE FIRST PLACE!!”
The eyes turned back to face Miles to see how he would reply.
“Oh yeah?! How ya figger dat?!”
The eyes turned back to face Schuyler.
“YEAH!! If you weren’t such a piss-poor vampire WE WOULDN’T BE IN THIS POSITION!!”
The eyes turned back to face Miles.
“YA STUPID GIT!! YA DUMB, ARROGANT PRICK!! I told ya not to do it, I told ya NOT to do it, if we had just done what I wanted…”
“If we had just done what you wanted WALLACH WOULD HAVE HAD OUR EYEBALLS FOR CUE BALLS, you stupid Mick!!”
The eyes turned quickly back and forth between Miles and Schuyler as they continued to trade insults and accusations.
“Ya right VAIN, POMPOUS SUCK-UP…”
“You worthless JUNKIE-SUCKING WANNABE…”
“STUPID GIT!”
“Pimple faced, spud-sucking LOSER!!”
“Manure’s got more brains than you!!”
“ALLEY LEECH!!”

Hokharty tried to take in the situation as the insults flew from one to the other. The one under his foot had given him more sport than he had expected. That was good, and the other short, dark one with the thick accent had senses of which he wasn’t yet aware. Both would make good hunters. Tim had played his part well, Hokharty thought. He had obviously underestimated the young man’s resolve.
From Tim’s perspective, it wasn’t resolve. He was just numb. Getting kidnapped by two re-animated corpses had pretty much buried the needle on his weird-o-meter hours ago, so he wasn’t about to get more upset over a couple of vampires. At this point, he wouldn’t even be fazed if a cat strolled into the alley and started bolting out show tunes. Graber just smiled that dumb smile of his and seemed to be happy. Tim was content that, for the moment, Graber’s huge paw wasn’t on his neck, so that was good.
“GODLESS SON OF A…”
“Blood-sucking REJECT!!”
“CONCEITED, BRAINLESS, STRUTTING PEACOCK…”
“IRISH EUROTRASH!!”
They seemed to have an indefatigable hatred of each other and an endless imagination for invective. Well, that could be made useful too. “Tell me, Tim,” Hokharty began in his usual calm, polite tone, “Is everyone in your time like…this?”
“Well…” Tim shrugged and waggled his head back and forth, “Pretty much, yeah.”
“DIRTY BLIGHTER!”
“Low-rent GUTTER PARASITE!”
This just wouldn’t do. The Necromancer would expect results in a matter of hours, not days, and Hokharty needed their full cooperation if this was going to work. “Gentlemen…” he tried to interrupt them.
“Filthy, Irish, acne-ridden, half-pint…”
“Shirtless emo-freak!!”
“Gentlemen, we have very little time…”
“Ugly, sawed-off, zit-covered, ginger, addict leech…”
“Blow-dried, goth-baiting, eighties-retro wannabe pig…”
“Gentlemen if I could have your attention please…”
“Rotten, mickey, methhead-sucking monkey…”
“Shove it up your arse…Edward.”
“Stinking, Irish…hey? WHAT DID YOU CALL ME?!!”
“KNOCK IT OFF ALREADY!! CRIMINY!!” Tim finally yelled in frustration.
Everyone fell silent. Of all the things that had happened in the alley that early morning, Miles thought this was the weirdest yet. It was really odd to see a Renfield lash out like that. Usually, they were submissive, whiny, little toadies that clung to the shadows and didn’t dare utter anything more than a “yes, master,” before skulking off to do some dirty work. And Tim wasn’t finished yet; he had a lot to say and was going to get it off his chest.
“Cheese and crackers!! I don’t give a rat’s if you’re zombies or vampires or demons or Amway salesmen!! JUST SHUT UP!! I’ve been kidnapped by dead guys, locked in a morgue and jumped by a couple of teenage emo-freaks and I’ve about had it with all of you!! No one is going to believe what I’ve been through tonight – heck, I’m not sure I believe it!! So, I’ll be lucky to get through this without getting killed or stuck in a mental institution!!! I’ve almost certainly lost my job, or any chance at getting accepted to any Physician’s Assistant degree program, let alone I’ll probably have to sleep with the lights on from now on and for the rest of my life, so I’m not in the mood to put up with any more crap!! I just want this day to get over as soon as possible so I can go curl up in the fetal position in my hovel of an apartment with a copy of Ultimate Avengers…and whimper for ten hours straight!! Now SHUT UP and listen! OK??!!”
Tim’s bellow reverberated down the encroaching silence of the alleyway. Miles meekly nodded his consent. Now he was even more scared. If the Renfield was this crazy, how hardcore were the vampires he was hanging out with? Who were these guys?!!
“Chillax, dude, it’s cool…” Schuyler began. Schuyler never did know when to shut up.
“DID I TELL YOU YOU COULD TALK?!! DID I?” The Renfield bent down to scream directly into Schuyler’s ear. “It is NOT ‘cool, dude.’ It is about as far from ‘cool’ as you can get!! Now SHUT UP!!” Schuyler put his plastic lollipop back in his mouth, folded his hands and twiddled his thumbs.
Hokharty regarded Tim with a faint air of admiration. “Thank you, Tim.”
“Yeah…well…you’re welcome,” Tim said angrily and rubbed his palms on his pants some more.
Hokharty spoke again, “And I promise you, Tim, that all that you have lost this day will be restored to you a hundredfold.”
“Yeah, how ya gonna do that? How ya gonna get my job back and convince them I didn’t steal three bodies or that I’m not crazy, huh?”
Schuyler and Miles raised their eyebrows. They had never heard a Renfield take a mocking tone with his master before. If the tall vampire in the leather jacket and scrubs was offended, he didn’t show it.
“Simple,” Hokharty replied, “I’ll tell them the truth. That you were acting under duress.”
Tim snorted. Miles and Schuyler exchanged glances again. A snort was enough to get a Renfield sucked dry in their clan. These were not your ordinary vampires.
“Trust me, Tim,” Hokharty continued, “I can be very persuasive. I can get your old life back…if that is what you want.”
Tim didn’t actually respond. He just kinda “hmmphed,” but Hokharty didn’t seem upset or anything. He just turned his attention to Miles and Schuyler. “Gentlemen,” he said crisply, “Now that I have your full attention, allow me to introduce myself. I am Hokharty, this is my associate, Graber.” Graber gave Miles a little shake at the back of his neck to let him know he was talking about him. “And, of course, you’ve met my friend, Tim.”
Tim nodded meekly. “Friend” was an odd word to use for a Renfield, thought Miles.
“But, of course, I don’t know your names. You are?” and he gestured to Miles. Graber gave him a little shake to prompt him.
Miles glanced nervously from side to side but eventually just blurted out “Miles.”
Hokharty nodded and then looked down at Schuyler underfoot.
“And your name is what? Edward, I believe?”
Schuyler groaned. “Actually, it’s Schuyler,” he mumbled around the fake plastic lollipop.
“From the Dutch for ‘Scholar?’ How interesting.” Schuyler wrinkled his forehead…was that an insult?
“Schuyler and Miles then. Now gentlemen, I think we’ve established that if we wanted to hurt you we would have done so by now. Agreed?”
Both nodded mute agreement.
“Very good,” Hokharty continued, “We have need of your talents and the talents of others such as yourself.” Hokharty paused to read their expressions carefully. “We mean you no harm, we just want to meet the rest of your,” he paused and chose the next word carefully, “family.”
“Family?” Tim said puzzled.
“Yes Tim. Every vampire has a clan, every clan has a master, and every master has a master, until there is, at last, a master who is master of all.” After this odd piece of exposition Hokharty turned his attention back to Miles. “We just want to talk to yours.”
Wallach? They wanted to meet Wallach? This was bad. Miles must have unknowingly given too much away with his panicked look towards Schuyler because Hokharty didn’t hesitate to follow up.
“You know where their keep is? Are they close?” Hokharty’s gaze was trained solely on Miles, and Graber gave Miles another little shake to prompt him. “Crap!” thought Miles. They’d marked him as the most likely snitch.
They wanted to meet Wallach, but that was impossible. There hadn’t been a vampire turf war in ages and Wallach was not one to be trifled with. Once, a rival clan had moved in to the Kingsessing area thirty years back. They didn’t last long. Wallach had made trophies of their master and heavies. Their skins were strung up as drapes. The underlings didn’t fare any better. They were staked out in the yard to await the sunrise. Real vampires didn’t just explode into clouds of ash when they were hit by sunlight like they did in the movies. It was more like putting a piece of overcooked meat under a heat lamp for too long. It started like a sunburn from hell­ – skin festering and peeling. Then the body dried up and began to smolder like a piece of fine, dry kindling under a magnifying glass. Eventually, it would ignite and burst into flames, but that was no relief. A mortal burned alive would succumb pretty quickly to smoke and heat, but this was one of the cases where a vampire’s added strength and endurance were a genuine disadvantage. A mortal would pass out and lose consciousness before too long, but a vampire felt the burn until it reached the bone and boiled its brains. It could take thirty minutes to die that way, and that wasn’t even the worst that Wallach’s twisted imagination could muster. And now Miles was being asked to reveal the clan’s secret keep to outsiders. Miles had seen many vampires die under Wallach’s hand for far less.
Miles looked to Schuyler who was chewing so far up the stick on his plastic lollipop that he nearly swallowed it. Schuyler almost imperceptibly mouthed the word, “No.”
Hokharty didn’t move his gaze from Miles once. “Or perhaps you would rather wait a few hours until the sun rises?”
Miles gulped. They couldn’t possibly be serious. If they did that they would burn up too, wouldn’t they? They were vampires just like them after all. No, they had to be bluffing, but then Miles took another hard look at Tim, their Renfield, and felt a twinge of doubt. These guys weren’t your typical vampires. He just knew that somehow, these guys had a plan that did not involve them getting burnt to a crisp. So, the choice wasn’t death or not death, but death now or death later. Wallach terrified Miles, but in the question of timing, later always seemed better when one was talking about painful, agonizing death. Who knows? Maybe he would get lucky and Wallach would be so disgusted by him, he would think it was beneath him to dispense with him himself and he’d have Ulami or Forzgrim just quickly tear him to pieces. Yeah, there was always that faint hope.
Miles swallowed hard, but it got stuck mid-swallow from lack of saliva; his mouth was so dry. “Y-yeah…yeah, I know where they are.”
Miles looked at Schuyler. Schuyler twisted up his face into a contortion of pure agony, and then thudded his head against the pavement several times. Hokharty smiled a faint smile.
“I can take ya there…but,” Miles hesitated, “they’re not goin’ to be happy about it.”
“They never are,” said Hokharty, matter-of-factly. He paused to look around and then spoke plainly. “Miles, Schuyler. I’m going to let you go now. Please don’t try to escape.”
Tim snorted a little and broke in and interrupted Hokharty very uncharacteristically for a Renfield. “He ain’t kiddng about that, dudes.”
Hokharty continued unfazed by the interjection. “I am on a mission of the most grave importance. I have much to do and no time for distractions. Just believe me when I tell you that if you attempt escape, it will be futile.” He paused and then tilted his head slightly as if thinking. “If you promise to do all that you are told, I can guarantee you that no harm will come to either of you and that you both be rewarded richly for your service.”
He sounded awfully certain of himself, but what were his promises where Wallach was concerned? As it was, it didn’t much matter. Even if they bolted, Wallach would hunt them down just for failing to bring in a victim for tribute. Either way, Miles’ long, slow, miserable slog as a vampire would soon be over. He honestly could say he had hated every minute of it. It was a fitting end to a lousy career.
Both Schuyler and Miles nodded in silence; what else could they do? Hokharty stepped off of Schuyler’s back unceremoniously. Schuyler laid there for a while, like a whipped dog, uncertain if he should get up or not. Then he performed an action like that dance move called ‘the worm,’ and worked the momentum forward into a handstand, and then, finally, a forward flip onto his feet. He didn’t quite stick the landing; he was still sore and put out from the lesson he had received from Hokharty. It was ridiculously over the top, but Miles didn’t blame him. He was trying his best to recover what was left of his dignity. He rolled his shoulders and stretched his neck from side to side just as if he were flexing before a workout.
“Vain prick,” though Miles, just before Graber dropped him hard on his backside. Miles’ recovery was far less showy. He brushed off his jeans and got up slowly. Graber stepped to the side and gestured out of the alley towards the street like a gruesome doorman. Schuyler followed with Tim and Hokharty taking up the rear. As they exited the alley, Schuyler’s eyes darted quickly down the street. He was contemplating making a run for it.
Tim caught the sideward glance and said, “Dude…don’t bother. Graber is faster than he looks, and the other one has eyes in the back of his head, plus he can turn into snake made of smoke and chase you down if he wants.” Schuyler raised an eyebrow at this as if he didn’t really believe it, but said nothing and continued his somber, casual saunter across the street.
Hokharty stepped into the lead, somehow confident his charges would not try to flee. He walked across the street to the car on the passenger side and motioned for Tim to follow. Tim fumbled in his pocket for the keys and went to the driver’s seat. Graber held the door open and practically shoved Miles into the back, but he waited for Schuyler. From inside the car, Miles could see Schuyler hesitating. All at once Schuyler’s shoulders slumped. The lollipop practically fell from his mouth. On his face was a look of utter disgust and resignation, as if he had finally been delivered the ultimate insult.
“An Impala? Seriously?”