Friday, February 20, 2015

I'm in Vegas, baby!

Seriously. As I have been saying, Denise and I are out of town, so today and Monday are going to be "reruns" such as it is. And since the new DEAD is right around the corner...why not revisit the new and upcoming Snapshot spin off.

Okay, this is not about people stealing other people's stuff. Instead, it is about the approach that I have decided to take as an independent author. Here is the reality, as a writer, I am employed by the thousands of people who buy my books (physical, e, or audio). (Did I just say thousands? Why yes...{pats self on back} my readership has actually risen to those lofty heights where my readers went from being counted in the tens, to the hundreds, and now...the THOUSANDS!!! Seriously hard not to say "suck it" to the haters, but I digress.)

As many of you now, the DEAD series is rolling into the final arc of the series. But this is merely "goodbye" and in no way should it be considered a farewell. I have already turned to you, my readers and asked for towns that you would like to see wiped out in my DEAD world. The first book, DEAD: Snapshot--Portland, Oregon is already in production. The second will be DEAD: Snapshot--Leeds, England, and it is on deck.

Additionally, I am working on Kevin's own series spinoff. Many who have already read book 10 will understand that there is A LOT to tell about what happened to him between books 9 and 10.

So, what does that have to do with today? Well, I have decided that my "That Ghoul Ava" fans deserve some special treatment. To that end, I have decided that my readers will be the ones to pick the "monsters" that Ava will face in her adventures. This one is submitted by Caroline Harmon. She submitted the "Lamia" to me. Now, normally, I post a sneak peek of the first few pages, but not this time. This time is special...


When the Children Cry

“Yeah?” I mean, seriously, what else was I gonna say?
“You don’t watch the news at all, do you?” Morgan said this with her normal lack of emotion, but the disdain was clear.
“Too depressing.” I gave a shrug.
Tell me if I am wrong here. Every time I turn on the local news, people are killing each other, abducting kids…or worse. And don’t even get me started on the politicians. I refuse to even turn the idiot box on during election stuff. Did you see the story about the little girl who wrote her local politicians—I think they were senators or something—and said that they made her sad with all the negative talk? Democrat or Republican or Independent…they all say what they need to to get you to like them, then nothing really changes no matter who you vote for.
All that said, I still vote. But it mostly because of ballot measures and stuff. And since I actually read my pamphlet, I don’t need a commercial to tell me what I think. Wow…how did I get here?
“Children are being killed.”
See? THAT is why I don’t watch the news. Who wants to sit down to dinner and hear that?
“When you say children…?”
“Seven so far.” Morgan actually had a tinge of emotion in her voice. “All no older than eleven. The youngest was three.”
“How do you know it is our fault?” I asked. “Last I checked, humans can be a pretty vile bunch.”
“Hey!” Lisa objected.
“Westley Allen Dodd…Albert Fish…Ian Brady and Myra Hindley…” I started to tick off on my fingers.
“Okay!” Lisa snapped.
“Can we get back to the subject at hand?” Morgan asked, breaking the locked glare between me and Lisa.
“Please.” I gave a rolling gesture with my hands.
“We know because we have an eyewitness.” Morgan did not say a word, but my front door opened.
“Aren’t you going to invite me in?” Belinda said with a lascivious wink.
“You have got to be kidding.”
Standing in my doorway was the blond-haired, blue-eyed vampire that became my first Supernatural nemesis. She was dressed like a hooker pretending to be a schoolgirl. Her hair was a pair of braids on each side with the part down the middle in a razor-straight line that only the OCD of a vampire would have the patience to achieve. Seriously, if you were to take a measurement, I am willing to bet that it runs exactly down the center of the top of her head.
My eyes only paused for the briefest of seconds on the adorable saddle shoes she was wearing. Instead of the standard black and white, they were an emerald green and ruby red to match her plaid skirt and cotton blouse.
“Well?” Belinda said with a hint of agitation. And if she did not think I noticed her eyes dart over to Lisa, she would be very mistaken.
A little while ago, Lisa was supposedly meeting “in secret” with Belinda. I still have no idea what that might be about, and since I am trying to mend the rift that developed between Lisa and I, it has not been something that I have brought up. When she is ready, she will talk to me about it.
“Fine.” I gave a wave with my hand.
“Belinda, please tell Ava what you saw,” Morgan said after what seemed like an eternity of very uncomfortable silence.
“I believe we had an agreement.”
Those words hung in the air with an almost physical presence. I thought I was the only one who gave Morgan a ration of grief. All the other Supernaturals that I had met up to this point had been very respectful and almost reverent when dealing with my regional Psychic (unless they were trying to kill her, but that was a rare occasion…so far).
“Now is not the time, Belinda,” Morgan said, her lips pressed so tight that they practically disappeared from her face.
“Now is precisely the time,” Belinda shot back. “You gave me your word.”
I was a little surprised. I tried to imagine a situation where Morgan would either offer up freely or be coerced into “giving her word” to do anything. She was boss, and in my world, that meant she told people what to do and that was all there was to it.
“Lisa,” Morgan said after what might have been just enough of a twitch around her eyes to count as a glare at Belinda, “Belinda requests for you to return to her residence to…work out the details of your agreement.”
The old Ava would have blown a gasket. However, I was not going to say a word.
Oh, who am I kidding!
“What the hell agreement are you talking about?” I exploded. It was actually a second or two before I realized that my fingers and toes had gone switch. Yeah…I was pissed.
“This is between the human and me.” Belinda gave a dismissive wave as she strutted past me and stopped in front of Lisa, her head tilting to one side like a puppy hearing a dog whistle.
I have no idea where it came from, but a growl escaped me that would have scared me if I had not been the one doing it. Faster than I think anybody gave me credit, I was between Belinda and Lisa, one switchfinger pressed into the soft spot under her chin.
“I don’t know if it would kill you, but I am certain that it would at least sting a bit if I push all the way up into whatever passes for a brain in your pretty blond head,” I snarled. Now, I know that word gets used a lot when people describe an angry person saying something, but I was seriously snarling.
“You think I’m pretty?” Belinda said with no more concern than if I might be simply offering her a cup of coffee.
“Children!” Morgan said with actual anger. This was out of character enough to make both Belinda and I turn to face her. “There is a monster in my district that is devouring children! Set your petty squabbles aside immediately and we can deal with all of this later.”
When she put it like that, I was actually a little bit embarrassed. She had a point. After all, she had led off with the whole thing about something killing children, and here I was getting into it with the fanged she-bitch. Although, to be fair, she started it. At least that is how I remember it.
“And I am not a bargaining chip!” Lisa snapped.
The nasty look she shot Belinda made me smile. Take that, Fang Face!
“I said enough!” Morgan turned to Lisa, however, she was back to her level, unemotional self. Apparently Lisa did not merit the wrath of Morgan.
“So what did you see?” I willed my switch digits to retract, but I still could not help but smile when I saw just the smallest drop of blood well under Belinda’s chin. To her credit, she did not even bother to wipe at it with her hand.
“I was up at Washington Park with my evening meal when I heard something from a nearby ravine. At first I ignored it, humans are always doing terrible things to each other, and I tend to make it none of my business. Only, despite what you might think, I will not ignore the cries of a child.”
Belinda paused and stared at me like she was daring me to say anything to the contrary. Actually, I was too surprised at the admission to speak. After I kept my mouth shut, she resumed her narration.
“I bespelled my meal and went to investigate. Sadly, I was too late. I arrived just as the two tiny feet were vanishing down the gullet of the bitch.”
If I did not know better, I would have thought that Belinda was actually just a bit upset. She sounded a little choked up and her voice had changed to that strangled rasp people get when they are talking and trying not to cry.
“I was not sure what I was seeing at first. Honestly…” she took another deep breath and I actually caught my hand halfway to her shoulder where I would have tried to offer a conciliatory pat or something equally out of character, “…I honestly did not realize what I was seeing until that upper torso turned to me and fixed me with her eyeless gaze. Then I knew.”
I heard Lisa gasp. I could see the grim expression that looked so out of place on Aoife’s face. Heck, even Morgan seemed to be a little bit upset. That meant that yours truly was once again the idiot who had no idea what in the blazes Belinda was talking about.
“She is what is known as a lamia,” Morgan said before I could ask my stupid question. “There are many myths about their origin, but the bottom line is this, they are the incarnation of evil. They are former women who were…indiscreet with married men who were fathers. According to the Grimoire, they made deals with a demon that would result in the man actually following through with what is usually the empty promise of leaving his spouse. They have their former upper body at its prime, but they are a serpent from the waist down.”
“Yes, and this one took off down a drainage pipe the moment that she realized she had been spotted.” Belinda actually shivered. “There was no way I was going to follow.”
This was a lot to digest. I was not sure where to start. The whole snake-lady thing, the fact that Belinda had said she arrived just as the feet were vanishing down this thing’s throat, or the fact that Belinda was too scared of it to pursue. We were not friends, but she did not strike me as a scaredy cat.
“Wait!” I said as my mind snatched at something else Belinda had shared. “You said something about eyeless?”
“A lamia is tormented by nightmares whether she is awake or asleep. Visions of the lives of the children that she destroyed and the children she would never be able to raise as her death in human form would come while in the act of labor in the birth of her first child,” Lisa blurted.
All eyes turned her way. She blushed at the attention, but after rolling her shoulders back, she seemed to rise up just a bit taller before she spoke again.
“The deal with the demon ensures that she will marry the man and that she will become a mother. What they do not know is that they will never live to see a single day of that child’s life. The nightmares and visions are said to drive them to the point where they gouge out their own eyes to try and avoid seeing the visions any longer. Unfortunately, that is when they discover that the visions will never subside as they play out in their minds. They eventually are driven to seek out and kidnap children, but they are so horrifying to look at that the children understandably scream and cry uncontrollably. They devour them, some say to keep their souls…much like a ghoul keeps other Supernaturals, in their mind.”
I looked around and saw the same open-mouthed stares that I know I had on my face. That was a feat considering the company. Oh, getting my jaw to drop is really no big thing, but when you have Morgan and Belinda both slack-jawed with wonder, that is saying something.
“And where did you get your hands on a copy Unnatural Grimoire?” Morgan eventually rediscovered her ability to talk. Personally, that was not the question I had; in fact, it wasn’t even in the top five.
“The only way Templars can effectively prepare for an enemy is to utilize every resource available.” Lisa said it with a lot of hesitation in her voice. I had a funny feeling that she was not supposed to share her source. Only, when you thought about it, it made perfect sense.
“We can discuss that issue at a later time.” Morgan was back to being as smooth as glass. “What else can you tell us?”
“Actually, there is not much more.” Lisa shot me a look, but I had no guess as to what it meant.
“Wait!” Now I was ready to wade back in to this little conversation. “You said that the lamia thing was just finishing with swallowing a child.” My attention was on Belinda now.
“Yes, the feet were just disappearing down her throat.”
“So she what…opens her mouth like a snake or something?”
“As far as I could tell.”
“And you are here sending me after this thing why exactly?” It was now time to poke Morgan for a few minutes.
“That is the role of a ghoul. You are, for lack of a better term, the hired muscle. Ghouls are responsible for eliminating rogues and anything that may bring harm to a region of the employing Psychic.”
I noticed her wording. She used the term “employing” because she had not claimed me specifically for her district. Of course, I was bothered at first, but I have learned why and am okay with it now.
“So you want me to…” I guess I still needed to hear Morgan say it in order to make it real.
“Hunt down and kill this creature.”
“No talking or maybe trying to capture her and maybe have Betty create a cell. Just—”
“There is no need. A lamia will not be reasoned with or convinced to do anything. They are mad with grief and anger.”
I guess that was it. Now for the ugly part of the business. Well, not actually ugly, but maybe uncomfortable would be a better term.
“And what does this job pay upon completion?” I had learned that it is best to get specific terms with Morgan. She is good at changing the game just when you think that you have crossed the finish line. “And by completion, I mean, when I kill this lamia, I bring you the head or whatever and you make the arrangements however you do them and this job is done.”
It might seem like I was being silly, but I’d been working with Morgan for a little while now and knew that she had a way of telling me that a job was still not finished when I would report in and tell her that it was.
“The head will suffice,” Morgan agreed with a slight nod. “And the pay will be a base of one million dollars, but that amount will be decreased by a hundred thousand with each subsequent child death that is reported and can be attributed to this lamia.”
That seemed kind of vague. I mean, how would she know if some child’s death could be pinned on this lamia. Obviously, that was written on my face.
“I am receiving…ripples would perhaps be the best way to describe it to you, each time a child dies. My only guess is that it is something emanating from the creature.”
Fair enough. Sure, some random tragedy could strike and she could deduct money, but that was definitely not Morgan’s style. I could at least trust her in this regard. She was always pretty generous with the payments. It was really always just a matter of her accepting my version of done.
With the details ironed out, I figured we were done. I stood for a moment waiting for Morgan and Belinda to leave. For several seconds, nobody moved.
“We can speak outside,” Lisa finally said, leading Belinda to the front door.
I wanted to protest, but I did not really have any grounds. Lisa could do as she pleased. Our issue had come down to my trusting her. Admittedly, that was difficult for me in any regard and with any individual before she became a Templar. Now that she was a member-in-training for the organization that had tried to eradicate all of ghoulkind that now apparently had a price on my head specifically, it was understandably strained.
Morgan stood motionless like a porcelain statue until the door shut, then fixed me with her gaze. “Lisa is obviously proceeding with her training.”
It wasn’t a question, but there was just the slightest lilt to her voice that might be her either asking me or showing some level of concern. Since I had no idea what she wanted, I stood quietly and waited for her to continue or simply leave in the blink of an eye like she so often did.
“And has Race been trying to put an end to this ridiculous bounty on your head?”
“As far as I know.” He was almost as bad as Morgan when it came to not telling me things. However, I was almost touched that Morgan said it was a ridiculous bounty.
“And we still have the Claude situation to deal with, but that all needs to be shelved. This takes priority,” Morgan said. When she took my hands in hers, I almost shed my skin. “I need you to make this happen quickly, Ava.”
Besides the fact that children were being killed, I’d heard enough to know that a lamia was nasty. Seriously, the whole having an affair with a married man was bad in and of itself. Breaking up a family was bad. But making a deal with a demon to ensure that the man actually left his family was abhorrent. And then to stack on having her own baby with the guy as part of the deal? Seriously, who does that?
Oh…wait. Lamia’s do it.
“I will handle it.” I wanted to have something snappy or witty to come back with, but I couldn’t think of anything.
I blinked. I swear that was all I did. And in that amount of time, Morgan was gone. I really wish that I knew how she did that.
If you ate her, I bet you would find out.
How long have you been out, Blodwen? I asked.
Long enough to hear that a lamia is loose. Nasty creatures those.
Then you also know I have been tasked to kill her.
I was growing to sort of like the old gwyll. Blodwen was settling in nicely as a permanent resident of my head. The fact that a ghoul absorbed the essence of certain Supernaturals and that their souls, or whatever you want to call them, took up residence in my head was something that I was starting to get accustomed to. Also, I was really getting the hang of being able to communicate with them without talking out loud…or looking like I was either constipated or trying to figure out a really hard calculus problem without a calculator.
The door opened and Lisa stepped back inside, patting her arms and I saw little flakes of white brush away. That could only mean—
“It’s snowing.” Lisa’s nose was a bright red and her cheeks were all rosy from the cold. Her smile was so warm that I did not think it was possible for a chill to reach her.
“Does it look like it is sticking?”
I felt just a little nibble of happiness fill in the cracks that had been etched on my soul these past weeks and months. I always loved snow. There was just something so peaceful and settling about it. Add in the beauty of a world blanketed in pure white, what was there not to like. Well, except for having to drive in it. The Portland-Metro area in Oregon is not really known for snow. Drivers all turned into absolute idiots whenever there was a drastic change in weather. There would be no way in hell I would take my precious Corvette out in this sort of thing.
“Yep. We should see a few inches by the look of things.”
Lisa walked past me and I could tell she had something on her mind. Still, she did not say a word as she went into the kitchen where Aoife had retreated and was currently making some sort of stew on the stove.
I debated for a few seconds and then finally followed her in. Screwing my mouth down so that, hopefully, I did not go too far, I slipped into a seat at the kitchen ‘s little breakfast nook and folded my hands in front of me.
“You ready to tell me what else you know about lamias?” I asked.
It was like I had flicked a switch. Aoife turned off the burner, removed her big pot and left the room. Lisa stood with her back to me, her face reflected perfectly in the window that looked out across a rolling hill of growing pine trees that would never see the inside of a house except maybe for firewood. I was not exactly sure what the faeries’ mindset was when it came to fires. And it wasn’t like I needed a fire to get warm, but they did look and smell nice.
“This thing has no known weakness. They die of grief.”
I heard what Lisa said, but I was not really registering it. There was something about her answer that gave me a chill. I was about to press the issue when she continued.
“The Templars have other resources besides the Grimoire. And one of the first things you learn is the weakness and how to kill whatever creature it is that you are looking up.”
It dropped like a lead balloon. She was telling me without actually telling me that the Templars knew how to kill practically everything they came up against. Considering the fact that ghouls were their number one target, that would lead me to believe—
“Ghouls, vampires,” Lisa turned to face me, “even psychics are listed. There is an appendix with a list of monsters that have no known weaknesses or sure methods of elimination. Lamias are on that list.”
I absolutely noticed the very slight pause before she said the word “elimination.” She was trying her best to be politically correct, or whatever this could be called. The problem with that was the fact that I do not follow those same conventions.
“So do you have all the ghoul killing methods committed to memory?” Stupid Ava! Why can’t I ever learn to keep my big mouth shut? To her credit, I barely noticed the flinch that passed over Lisa’s face.
“Can we worry about that later? Right now you need to know that you are going after something that nobody has been able to kill. We are talking about a creature that has records of existence going back centuries.” Lisa’s voice became strangled and I thought that she might break into tears. “And they are not a defenseless creature.”
“Obviously,” I snorted, trying to laugh off her serious tone and dire sounding warning, “they eat children. You really have to be something special to hurt or kill children.”
“They don’t seem to feel any forms of physical pain,” Lisa insisted, undeterred by my dismissive attitude. “There are reports of them being the second most resilient creature when it comes to damage.”
“Second to what?”
“See!” I pointed with one hand and touched a finger from the other to the tip of my nose. “That must mean that we are tougher.”
I will admit that my logic was faulty at best, but the last thing that I needed in my head when going into a fight was a big, Thanksgiving Day-sized scoop of doubt. I had plenty of that on my own without others feeding the monster.
“Just be careful.”
“Hey,” I tried to give a lopsided grin that would make Han Solo proud, “it’s me!”
Lisa left the kitchen. I could tell that she was unimpressed. And now that I was alone, I had to admit, she had done her job if her job had been to make me nervous. My mind drifted over to another track as well.
Morgan was never one who was not in the know. She seemed surprised by Lisa’s little dictionary recital on the lamia. Since I had no idea what the Grimoire said, I had to think that perhaps the Templars might have more of an inside track in the knowledge department on this particular beastie.
There was only one thing I could do. Pulling out my phone, I scrolled through my contacts. There it was: Race Mitchell.

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