After discovering that all she fights for is a lie, a young commander joins her arch nemesis to defeat her king and save the three realms.
Cahya is a commander in the army of Refulgent. Her mission is to defend Hikari, the Light Realm and defeat the Soul Smite army of Kurai, the Dark Realm. Yet, Cahya has a secret, and her world unravels on a chance meeting with the King of Kurai where she discovers she may have helped fracture the realms.
Releasing today, June 24th!
Find and Follow
She’s hiding from a past she can’t escape. He’s running from the past he can’t forget. A lover of sand and surf, Meri has spent too long lingering in the law firm where she works, bogged down from a nightmare she can’t seem to escape, but that all changes when her best friend, who also happens to be her boss, insists Meri must take a break and get away from the humdrum of life. While rediscovering her passion for ocean conservation, Meri happens upon a despicable act that forces her to step in and stand up for an innocent sand shark, but she is deterred by a rake of a man who tosses her over his shoulder and takes her away from the scene. From their first encounter, Tobias is a rakishly handsome thorn in Meri’s side that she can’t quite bring herself to hate no matter how hard she tries. As their secrets unfold, their connection grows, and Meri finds herself forced to make a choice. Will she choose a new path or stick to what she knows?
Find and Follow
Most villains meet a likely doom by the end of their book… most villains are not Enders.
With the power of the codex, the Wanderer sends most of the Golden
Recluse into their books and Laney must rush to save them from their own writing. With William, she crosses the page into a horror novel filled with bloodthirsty birds, a romance paperback where, to their dismay, they become the main characters, and a children’s picture book that’s not as innocent as it seems. With each second that passes, the threat of the Wanderer’s pen threatens to end the Weavers.
With everything at stake, Laney realizes that she’s part of something bigger, and it all comes down to a choice that the Wanderer has always wanted her to make:
Will she save the man she loves, or the family she’s only just discovered?
The Final Chapter of The Weaver Trilogy!
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Find and Follow
The Governor climbed out of his crystal casket and crashed to the floor. “What was in that stupid plum?
“Seven years of poison.” Victoria met his mahogany eyes as he silently mouthed the word seven. “It was an emergency.”
–Gotham on Pause by Anne Marie Andrus
Find this story and more
A horror anthology with 27 stories from 16 authors…
The Box Under the Bed Book 4
Redemption doesn’t come easily…
Now that his head is finally clear of Dionysus’ manipulation, Adonis is left with many regrets. Only Hermes knows where he is hiding or has any sympathy for his plight, but when the god goes missing, Adonis has to find a willing partner before his curse takes away his sanity and makes him into the very monster he barely escaped becoming months before.
Sage is a witch. What else could explain the strange abilities that manifested a few months ago? When she comes across a ritual to summon a mysterious lover, she’s far too intrigued to pass it up. Sage doesn’t actually expect it to work—until a sexy satyr emerges from the trees and enters her summoning circle, and all her wildest fantasies seem to be coming true—except he won’t touch her.
Passion and pride clash as the extent of Pan’s curse becomes clear, and Adonis is reluctant to let Sage leave his side until Hermes or a better solution is found. Elsewhere, another satyr seeks revenge, and chaos is unleashed on Savannah in the days leading up to Halloween. When the dead walk, can a satyr forsaken by both Satyroi factions be the key to saving the city? What’s more…can he save himself, or will it take a young woman more stubborn than Adonis to set him free?
Find and Follow Rebekah Lewis!
From the creators of the #1 bestselling horror anthology Nightmareland, the follow up to the #1 bestseller Dark Visions, and the #1 bestseller The Box Under The Bed comes a new collection for your darker tastes:
Spellbound – a horror anthology with 27 stories from 16 authors
* A young man is given a family heirloom at his mother’s funeral, but her protection can’t save him from himself.
* A sailing ship takes a journey to the new world and discovers horrors along the way.
* A young girl seeks a connection with her parents but learns she isn’t magical enough.
* And many more!
Spellbound will take you into the shadowy world of the eerie and macabre, with heart stopping stories from:
USA Today bestselling author Dan Alatorre (The Gamma Sequence)
award-winning bestselling author Roberta Eaton Cheadle (Through The Nethergate)
award-winning bestselling author Ellen Best
award-winning bestselling author Alana Turner
award-winning bestselling author Christine Valentor
award-winning bestselling author Nick Vossen (The Eldritch Twins)
award-winning bestselling author Anne Marie Andrus (Monsters & Angels)
award-winning bestselling author Adele Marie Park
award-winning bestselling author MD Walker
award-winning bestselling author Dabney Farmer
award-winning bestselling author M J Mallon (The Curse of Time, book 1: Bloodstone)
award-winning bestselling author Ernesto San Giacomo
award-winning bestselling author Betty Valentine (A Twist Of Starlight)
award-winning bestselling author Geoff LePard (The Harry Spittle Sagas)
award-winning bestselling author Frank Parker
award-winning bestselling author Joanne R Larner (Richard Liveth Yet)
Perfect for Halloween or any time, these stories will make you think twice before borrowing a book, giving away jewelry, looking into a mirror, or going out on a moonlit night.
CONSIDER YOURSELF WARNED!
The Gates of Guinée
(The Casquette Girls series, book 4)
As the Ghost Drinkers seep into the crevices of the Crescent City, leeching the French Quarter of magic, the local witches are consumed with a new fight for survival. Adele has one chance to save everyone she loves, but it will mean breaking away from her coven and trusting a vampire.
For the first time in four hundred years, Niccolò Medici feels on the precipice of finding his stolen grimoire. But in order to restore his family’s legacy, he’ll have to succumb to his darkest desires.
New York transplant and first responder Isaac Thompson will stop at nothing to protect Adele, even if he has to give in to his Spektral magic to unearth the truth about Nicco’s monstrous past.
For those who choose to pass through the Gates of Guinée, the rules of the Afterworld are simple: Don’t eat the food. Tell no lies.
In a whirl of lucid dreams, fetish markets, and ancestral reunions, only those who bare their souls will survive this ghostly hunt, or else they’ll join the land of the dead permanently.
Teetering on the razor’s edge between everything she desires and utter madness, only her heart and her magic can lead Adele back home… if only Callisto Salazar hadn’t stolen her Fire, and the most secretive one of them all hadn’t stolen her heart.
Read the Full First Chapter…
LINK TO RUE MORGUE MAGAZINE TO READ FIRST CHAPTER:
Pre-Order The Gates of Guinée Now!
Coming this October… Spellbound!
I am participating in another Box under the Bed series anthology of horror stories, edited by Dan Alatorre.
I have participated in two previous anthologies in this series. Dark Visions, published in 2018, had my stories The Willow Tree and The Haunting of William.
Nightmareland, published in 2019, features three of my short stories, The Siren Witch, Death Without Honour and The Path to Atonement.
The new book is called Spellbound. It is available for pre-order here: https://www.amazon.com/Robbie-Cheadle/e/B01N9J62GQ
I have two horror stories in this book, Death is about Choices and Glass Mountain.
From the creators of the #1 bestsellerThe Box Under The Bedhorror anthology and its #1 bestselling sequelsNightmarelandandDark Visions,comesSpellbound
– a horror anthology with 20 stories from 15 authors.
A young girl and her mother seek out a mysterious sorceress to guide the child in developing her powers…
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The conclusion of The Monster in the Lake…
The Monster in the Lake
Thal punched through the last inches of limestone with his clenched hand, then watched as the first trickle of water from the river outside poured down the small tunnel and into the pool he had carved at the bottom of his new hollow in Amka’s cave. He raked smooth the perimeter of the final length of tunnel with his fingers as the water started filling the basin. Then he stood back to admire his work. He had worked for the last few days on this new addition: a chest-deep pool that channeled water in from the river outside, and drained to the same river some distance downstream once it was full. The pool would provide a place where he could bathe that was not out in the open; and, more importantly, it would give him back a connection to the water. He had been missing that since leaving his underwater home; but then, he would give up everything, if it meant being with Amka.
As if he’d called her with his very thoughts, he heard her approaching some distance away. He was expecting her much later in the evening; the sun was still high in the sky, and she would’ve assumed him to be sleeping. He’d gotten up earlier to work on his bath, but Amka didn’t know that.
Then, as he focused on the sounds that announced her approach, he distinguished her breathing was quick, her heart agitated. And it wasn’t just from running.
Amka was scared.
He ran out, eyes shut to avoid the glare, ignoring the pain in his hands, face and other exposed skin not covered by his scale armor that immediately reacted to the harsh sunlight. The sun didn’t light his skin on fire, but it nearly felt like it. His eyes were the most sensitive to sunlight and suffered the most damage; with enough exposure they could get destroyed completely to the point that he would be fully blind. Luckily, they would eventually heal. So he was counting on his body surviving the sunburn as he ran outside sun toward Amka, eyes closed, guided by her scent and the sound of her heart. He reached her in no time and wrapped his arms around her.
“What’s wrong?” he whispered urgently. He tried to open his eyes to see her, but the ruthless glare made it impossible.
“Thal! What are you doing out in the sun? I’m fine—go back inside immediately!”
Relieved to hear she was alright, and realizing he had completely overreacted, he lifted her off the floor and ran back to the cave. Once safe inside his skin started to heal, and he opened his eyes and finally managed to look at her. Her face had that subtly darker color that he knew came from the blood that flushed her cheeks; her heart still beat rapidly as though she was afraid. But her thoughts were a rush of excitement, not fear. She was thinking of him, and simultaneously thrilled and nervous for—
“A child?” he asked in a whisper, shocked.
“I-I think so,” she replied breathlessly. “I wasn’t sure, but my mother knows the signs, and she’s convinced.”
“Wait—your mother?” Thal said, not recovering his voice. “She knows?”
“Come inside,” Amka said, tugging his hand and pulling him further down the passage. “I’ll tell you what she said.”
As they walked deeper into the cave to his new home, Amka detailed her conversation with her mother, Mayna. Her mother had noticed the changes in Amka before Amka herself had; Mayna attempted to get her daughter to reveal with whom she had mated; but Amka, not wanting to risk the village learning of Thal’s existence, had denied there was anyone in her life. Mayna had then assumed that Torren had raped Amka and that’s why Amka had killed him, and now Amka was carrying Torren’s child.
“And I didn’t deny or care to correct her because, well, I don’t really need anyone asking me questions about you. So let them assume what they may,” she concluded.
How was it even possible?
Thal’s people were similar to humans in some ways, but they were two very different species. Would the child drink blood? How could there even be a child? According to his mother children among them were very rare. His people lived much longer lives, but didn’t reproduce as quickly as the humans did.
“Thal?” Amka asked nervously.
He realized he’d been rendered speechless by the news and hadn’t answered her, and her thoughts had turned fearful about his reaction. He quickly embraced her. “Amka, these are amazing news. You don’t know how happy I am. My people—the unk-ga—we don’t often have children. Your people, the sihg-zhe—sun-dwellers, that’s what it means—have the advantage, being able to reproduce so well by comparison. Babies and children are sacred in our history. That’s why my mother escaped at the first sign of trouble, because she was carrying me.”
“Well, my people’s child-carrying abilities are at your disposal,” Amka joked. “We will see what a half-unckga, half-sig… um, half-sun-dweller looks like.” Then with the cutest little frown, she asked, “What does the name of your people mean?”
Thal smiled. “Unk-ga means ‘the children of the gods’ … which should be ironic, since we have so little children. But that’s the name the sun dwellers called us, when our people all lived together, hundreds of years ago.”
Amka raised an eyebrow playfully. “Children of the gods, eh? And here we sun dwellers were calling you merely blood-drinkers.” She laughed. “But I can see why my ancestors would call you that. You’re so strong and fast, you heal so quickly, your blood heals us, and you say your people live such long lives. If we do have this baby, I hope she or he has your abilities.”
“I hope she can walk in the sun, and carry children of her own, if she’s a girl.”
“Carry children?” She crossed her arms over her belly protectively and turned away from Thal, with a teasing scowl. “Let her be born first, and live a long life before having to worry about having children.”
Thal embraced Amka from behind, placing his chin on her shoulder and his hands over hers. “Of course. I only meant that she’d be able.” Then he quickly added, because he saw in her mind that she was about to laugh and say she’d been joking, which he already knew anyway, “But Amka … are you worried about having this child?” He voiced his fear out loud. That Amka would be scared of having a little half-monster baby.
She freed one arm and brought a hand up to his check, tenderly cradling his face. “Never. This child is a blessing, Thal.”
“It is. I can’t imagine being happier than I am right now. I love you so much, Amka.”
“And I you.” Then she thought of something. “How long do children of the gods gestate?”
Thal laughed. “Real children of the gods, I have no clue; but my people gestate for a year, according to my mother.”
“We only carry babies for nine months. Let’s see what this one decides to do.”
Eight months later Amka no longer cared about what the baby decided to do. She wanted that baby out. Thal felt simultaneously guilty and amused by Amka’s wavering thoughts.
“Thal, you’re doing it again.” Amka’s attempt at a reproaching tone was canceled out by the mirth in her manner.
“Oh, I’m sorry, my love,” he said as he brought his head up from the water, pulling away from her belly. He’d been entranced yet again listening to the baby’s thoughts, his head underwater pressed against her skin, as she rested lazily in the cave pool after making love for the second time that afternoon. (Amka had requested a second time. She was really demanding in that department lately).
“What’s there that could be possibly so interesting, anyway?” she asked.
“I don’t know why I find it so fascinating; there’s hardly anything to hear. But just now I believe the baby was thinking about his or her leg.”
“Her leg? Aww,” Amka crooned, rubbing her bulging belly. “Is she wondering what is that thing that she keeps kicking me with?”
The baby didn’t have real, definite thoughts, but there was something there, flickers of feelings about his or her little home. It was mesmerizing to Thal, trying to decipher what those little thoughts meant, and he often spaced out with his ear pressed against Amka’s belly. So much so that he forgot to reply to Amka. Again.
“Well, I should be going,” Amka said after another minute, standing up in the pool. “These walks have become more and more tiring … even though I don’t do the actual walking myself.”
Thal always carried her on his back to and from the cave and her village, using an underground tunnel he’d completed months ago. Recently, he knew, even though she never complained out loud, she would become uncomfortable when he ran too fast; but on the other hand, if he walked at human pace it would kill one precious hour of the little time they had together. So he’d found an in-between pace where he walked fast but slowed down when she he could tell she needed a break.
He would’ve preferred for her to stay with him, of course. But Amka was convinced that she needed to live with her people a while longer, as long as she could manage the travel, so he had carved this underground tunnel connecting their secret cave and her hunter’s hut.
“I know what’s on your mind, Thal,” she said later, as he carried her down the tunnel in silence. “I just don’t know how to do it—how to tell my mother that I have to leave. I wish I didn’t have to. I wish I could tell her the truth. I want to tell her the truth; I want to raise the baby with my family. But I don’t know how.”
“I know, Amka.”
Of course he knew. He knew her dreams and her fears. He knew how much she loved him and how much she wanted to be with him, but he also knew how much she loved her family and how much she feared the thought of leaving them. She wanted to raise her baby with them, especially with her mother. She also felt bound to the village by her hunter duty; she didn’t want to leave her people to fend for themselves, not while the four young hunters she was training weren’t ready to take over her role. They weren’t good at hunting on their own just yet, and Amka (well, Thal) was currently providing meat for the entire village. Amka felt she would be abandoning them, if she left the village for good. Her oldest sibling was only twelve years old. She couldn’t just leave her family and her people on their own.
But Thal also knew that Amka had given their situation much thought, and that deep down she knew her only choice was to leave her village, eventually. She was just putting off the inevitable. It was a hard choice, he knew, so he never pressed her. And he couldn’t object to her wish to remain in her village for as long as she could because he knew his experience was wildly different than hers. He didn’t have a family he would miss. He wouldn’t—couldn’t—make a decision for her because he wouldn’t know what it was like, leaving family.
And there weren’t really any other options. Thal couldn’t possibly live in the village with her. Even if her family embraced an outsider with pale skin and pale eyes—assuming they never found out that he was a blood-drinking monster—Thal couldn’t live in a human village, or near one, if the humans knew about him. There was always a risk of the wrong type of human finding out what he was. Despite his strength and speed, he was too vulnerable; he was useless in the sun, and there were far too many more of them. His people had made that mistake before, attempting to live with humans, and had ultimately paid with their lives. Every one of them. Including his mother.
Still quiet, saddened by their uncertain future, Thal reached the circular stone door that marked the entrance to the basement he’d dug under Amka’s hut. After confirming there was no one around he set her down and rolled open the door. It was meant to be a deception; a heavy stone wheel hiding within a rectangular frame that resembled a doorway, one which a human intruder would find almost impossible to open unless they knew where to look. There was a locking pin out of sight near the base of the wheel; when removed, the door would easily roll to its hidden pocket in the wall. When in place, the wheel couldn’t move, and the doorway appeared to be a solid stone rectangle. It was just one of Thal’s many projects he’d worked on while Amka slept.
He helped her through and then pulled her up through her trapdoor to the hut’s floor.
“Thank you,” she said, without letting go of him. She pressed her cheek against his chest. “And please don’t be sad. We’ll figure it out. If I have to go, I’ll go. No matter what, we’ll be together, the three of us. I love you more than them, you know.”
He tightened his arms around her. “I know. And I love you—which is why I stand with you, whatever you decide, whatever you need.”
“Whatever I need?” She stood on her toes and leaned in even closer, and whispered in his ear seductively. “Well … we forgot to do something in the cave today.”
“We did not forget,” he corrected her, pulling her back. His eyes traveled to her neck, where her vein was bulging with all the extra blood she carried. He bent down slowly and brought his parted lips to her neck, then gently nipped her skin with the tip of his fangs, as she held her breath. “We … just don’t do that, now.” He kissed her neck instead and pulled away from her, with some effort.
“Thal,” she complained, breathing again. “It just feels so good. You don’t know how good it feels; no one’s ever done that to you.”
Thal laughed. From her thoughts when he drank her blood, he did have an idea. It was as good for her as it was for him. Just thinking about it made his fangs ache, and had his blood rushing to the most responsive parts of his body. “I want to—so much—but you and the baby need all of your blood.” He had stopped drinking Amka’s blood only recently, one day when he’d seen her a little too pale after drinking from her. He’d felt so guilty ever since.
“Come on. It’s been one week. I won’t ask for another week, I promise. I’ll just ask for regular lovemaking.” Slowly she reached down between their bodies and placed her hand over his bulge.
He forgot why he was resisting her. He only sort of remembered he shouldn’t give in. “Amka,” he chided.
“Thal,” she replied in the same tone. Then, very gently, she squeezed.
Whatever semblance of restraint he had up until then disappeared. He scooped her up and placed her down on the tangle of blankets she kept in her spare hut. He removed his and her clothes from the waist down in the same swoop, knelt in front of her, and in the next second he was inside her, pushing into her, while she dug her nails into the back of his thighs. Amka, Amka, Amka, he cried her name in his mind with each thrust, her own exhilarated thoughts answering him, her building passion fueling his. Her ragged breaths became panting moans as they neared that glorious peak together; then Thal bent over her and sank his fangs into her neck, her galloping heart pumping her delicious blood into his mouth, taking over his senses until nothing existed but Amka and the eruption of pleasure that she was experiencing. And together they came undone, their thoughts a jumble of ecstasy and bliss.
“Ahh …” Amka sighed contentedly beneath him.
Regaining some sense, he managed to stop drinking her blood and quickly healed her wound. “Oh, Amka,” was all he said, still holding her close.
“You said whatever I need, Thal,” Amka reminded him, her eyes closed, a genuine smile plastered all over her face. “And all I need is you …”
How could he deny her anything that made her so happy? He lay down next to her and kissed her cheek.
“Rest a while. I’m going hunting for you; I’ll be back soon.”
Thal did the business quickly, hunting in the woods nearby where he could still feel Amka sleeping. After dropping off the animal outside her home, Thal went back to her hunter’s hut and gently woke her up.
“Let me walk you home,” he offered as she stretched away her short nap.
“Nah, thank you. I’ll be fine,” she said, declining his help. She always did. She liked walking through the village on her way back. When he walked her home they had to take a path on the outskirts of the village.
And that was the path he took, alone, following her home as he always did. The walk from her hunter’s hut to her family’s hut wasn’t long, but still he always lingered near to make sure she made it home safe. Tonight she was greeted by a disapproving Mayna. Clearly he wasn’t the only one who worried about Amka.
“It’s late,” Mayna said, and Thal could easily picture her disapproving scowl.
“I’m alright, Mother,” Amka attempted to pacify her mother as she came in. But as it had been these past few weeks, it didn’t work.
“You are less than a month away from giving birth, yet you insist on going hunting. Stop that. Medda is old enough; he and his sister can take over for you. They and the other young hunters will have to, anyway, for several moons after the baby is here.”
“I can hunt elk in my sleep, Mother,” Amka joked with an inward nod to Thal, knowing he was listening. “I had no trouble at all bringing in this guy outside. And I mean no trouble. At all.”
Thal laughed silently from the copse of trees behind Amka’s hut where he presently sat.
“It’s still too much work for you,” Mayna insisted. “I don’t like how flushed you are. Your hair is a mess; your clothes aren’t even tied correctly. Come, I’ll prepare a rosemary bath for you before supper.”
Amka’s thoughts shifted to the reason why her clothes weren’t tied correctly and Thal suffered the entire length of her bath, wishing he was there with her. He suffered, but he loved it. He could stay hours on end just listening to Amka interact with her family, at supper, at story-telling, or even at bedtime when they got ready to lie down for the night. And he often did, now that his cave and tunnel were mostly complete and he had not much to do.
Tonight after their supper Amka chose for her siblings a story about the unk-ga, referring to Thal’s people as “children of the gods” instead of as “blood-drinkers”. In the story, the unk-ga and the humans lived in harmony. The children were fascinated by the beautiful creature Amka described.
Thal smiled. She was doing her part to change their perception of his people. He only wished it was enough.
But his smile disappeared as Amka’s father uttered words that sent a terrible chill to his heart.
“Amka, don’t romanticize those blood-drinking demons,” the man said with disdain. “You may believe these are only stories, but these monsters are real. It’s time you knew that. And you all need to be scared of them, not worship them.”
“Father,” Amka said reproachfully.
“Don’t scare the children, Tahik,” Mayna scolded her mate. “There’s no need. They’re just stories.”
“I’m just telling them the truth, so that they don’t get confused with the idealized creature from Amka’s story. Children … the demons are real. Your birth mother was killed by one of them. A blood-drinking monster.”
Everyone gasped and uttered exclamations of surprise and disbelief. Amka said, “What? No, she wasn’t. Their mother was killed by a rival clan in that ill-fated expansion campaign, along with my birth father and my brothers. Right, Mother?”
“Tahik, we don’t know that for sure,” Mayna said. “We weren’t there.”
“But Malkon was, and he told me what really happened,” Amka’s father insisted. “It wasn’t the northern clan as everyone believes. It was one of those demons. Only one of them, and she killed, what, about twenty of ours? Malkon saw her with his own eyes. Pale and ghastly. He said they found her buried in the earth but when they dug her out she was alive—she was a demon! So they killed her … or so they thought. Malkon said he only survived because he was hunting for the party when she woke up. He came back to find everyone dead and the demon missing; he knew right away what had happened. But the few others who came back from that expedition never knew; they never saw her, they were further south when it happened. Malkon was the only one who knew, and he kept it a secret.”
The children erupted with follow-up questions to satisfy their wild curiosity, but Amka was frozen. Outside, Thal was frozen. Mayna spoke over the children’s questions.
“Tahik, you first told me this story when Malkon died and Amka believed that she had seen a scaly monster over his body. But she never found it. I tell you now what I told you then. I can’t believe this version of the story. Malkon, my own brother, wouldn’t have lied to me.”
“But he did,” Tahik said. “He lied because he was the only hunter we had left and he didn’t want to admit that a single woman had killed our best hunters in a single blow. But he confessed to me months later, after you and I had coupled and he had become my brother. He said it once, and we never spoke of it again.”
“I just don’t know …” Mayna said.
“It can’t be,” Amka whispered.
But Thal, alone in the dark, knew without a doubt that Tahik was telling the truth.
When Thal turned ten years old, his sweet mother Yamhi decided that they needed to relocate. She had seen the trend of the animal population decreasing, and she had also noticed a slight change in the temperatures of the lake. But she wouldn’t leave blindly with her son; she had to find the perfect location first. And, more importantly, she wanted to find their people. She wanted Thal to have company other than her. Throughout his life she had gone outside for short expeditions looking for any other unk-ga, perhaps any survivors of the raid that had forced her to leave her home, but had always come back at daybreak, exhausted and empty-handed. Thal promised her that he didn’t need any other company, but she had persisted.
So on that last excursion Yamhi promised her son that she would come back within two nights. And she did. But she came back wounded, and died within the day. With labored breaths she told him that she had journeyed north, searching, listening, until the sun came up. She had dug a hole to sleep in for the day where she thought she’d be safe from the sun, but hadn’t counted on humans finding her. These humans had been exploring on their own, looking to expand their domain, when they came across the newly-turned earth and discovered her. They’d immediately thrown their fishing net on her and attacked her—with no motivation other than the fact that she looked different—and nearly killed her. She had escaped by pretending to be dead so they would stop assaulting her. They were bringing her body to their village, she understood from their thoughts, and, thinking she was dead, removed the fishing net so they could fish. Once free she had remained there motionless, her skin badly sunburned, her deep wounds barely healing … listening to their thoughts, waiting for the right moment. And it had finally come, when the ones on watch were distracted. One by one she managed to kill the whole lot of them. She sustained more wounds, but eventually escaped and managed to return to young Thal. Unfortunately her wounds were too great and she didn’t survive.
Now Thal knew why Amka’s uncle, the man named Malkon, had attacked him unprovoked. He had recognized what Thal was; he had known the unk-ga weren’t just tales of old. He had come across one before and likely thought of Thal’s people as a threat. But if he knew of the unk-ga’s strength and speed, it didn’t make sense that he’d attack Thal on his own that night, unless he really thought he had a chance while Thal was distracted with the elk. Or maybe the survivor guilt he had possibly carried these past ten years had made him act recklessly. Whatever the reason, it made more sense that he attacked Thal believing Thal was a blood-drinking monster than attacking an unarmed boy for no reason other than for hunting an elk. Amka had always thought of him as a kind-hearted person.
Thal’s heart was heavy. The fact that Amka’s people had been the ones that killed his mother hurt more than he could bear at the moment. Maybe it was just bad timing; Thal had recently considered living among these people to make Amka happy, despite his mother’s constant warnings against living among the sihg-zhe … only to find that his mother had been right, and that the sihg-zhe could never be trusted.
Or maybe it was just bound to hurt, no matter what, learning who his mother’s killers were.
“Thal? Thal, are you there?” Amka murmured from her cot. Please, if you’re there, I need to talk to you.
But he couldn’t.
He would, eventually, but he needed time tonight. With sadness in his heart, Thal retreated to the safety of his solitude.
But when he opened his eyes the next evening, it was still early afternoon, and something was horribly wrong. Amka’s pain had woken him. He ran to her in his tunnel, faster than he ever had before, and came out at the base of her hunter’s hut. He stopped to consider the best way to reach her—burn his way through the town? Or burn longer but take the safer path in the outskirts of the village? (Why didn’t he ever connect his underground tunnel to her family’s hut?)
But Amka, as if she knew Thal was listening, suddenly projected her thoughts to him, somehow so clearly that he could hear them in the hut where he stood. I’m okay, I’m okay, she grunted. I’m—okay—the baby’s—early—coming—NOW!
He heard her final long, driving scream. A moment later Thal heard the baby’s first cry.
He sank to the floor.
A boy, he saw in somebody’s mind. He froze for a moment, for an eternity—then he heard Amka’s cry again—but this was a gentle sob, a combination of relief and joy—and he realized he could move, because she was okay. Then he stood again and stepped to the doorway. He steeled himself, and pushed the heavy drape aside, daring to look at the sun.
Pain shot through his head as his eyes burned and then attempted to heal, but he memorized the position of the sun in the sky to mark the minute of his son’s entry into this world.
“Oh, Thal … he’s perfect,” Amka said, the face of their son cradled in her mind by a blanket of devotion.
“Thal?” repeated Mayna.
“Thakal,” Amka replied to her mother. “His name is Thakal.”
Then she whispered for Thal’s ears only, “I’m so sorry … about your mother.”
Of course she had figured out that the woman in her father’s story last night was Thal’s mother, even though Thal had never told her how Yahmi died. Amka was just that perceptive.
It doesn’t matter, he thought to himself. Nothing else mattered now except Amka and Thakal.
Then he fell back, excitement and fear consuming him.
On the eve of Thakal’s hundredth day on this world, Thal made the biggest mistake of his entire life.
Amka had remained living with her family while the baby was newly born; Thal visited and held him at night, allowing Amka to rest while he did so. He was entranced by the little person in his arms and spent most of his waking hours with him. He’d carved another branch of his underground tunnel leading to the woods behind Amka’s family’s hut to be as close to her and Thakal as possible.
And while spending so much time in the vicinity of Amka’s people, he had learned some terrifying things that he chose not to share with her. He should have, but he didn’t.
He just didn’t want to trouble her. Her heart was already so full of worry—love, primarily, but also constant worry. She worried over every little thing about the new life in her arms, and Thal didn’t want to add more trouble to the list. And anyway, he felt it ultimately didn’t matter because Amka was leaving the village soon. On Thakal’s hundredth day, she meant to present him to the village for the first and last time. She would announce that she was moving away. It had taken a toll on Thal, not being able to live next to his son, and Amka was finally ready to leave.
But the villagers, unbeknownst to Amka, had an ongoing favorite gossip—the mystery of the child that had been born to the village huntress. Of special annoyance to Thal were the parents of that dead cretin Torren, who were convinced that Thakal was their grandchild, for they believed the rumor that Torren had forced himself on Amka on the night of his and Aruk’s death. Torren’s mother had tried to see Thakal every day since she heard he was born, but Mayna would not let her in.
On that day, while waiting patiently for his turn—waiting for Amka’s family to finish supper and go to bed so Amka could come out with Thakal—Thal heard two villagers gossiping. He usually ignored them, but Amka’s name caught his attention: two women were discussing that Mayna had been acting strangely, keeping well-meaning townsfolk away from Amka, as if Amka were some great deity that would not grant audience to the regular folk. It was unfair to Torren’s mother, they said, not allowing her to even meet her grandson. Mayna would not even wash clothes at the river with the rest of the women anymore; she was evasive and guarded when asked about Amka and the baby. And they had seen Mayna packing clothes and food—they concluded that Mayna and Amka were planning to leave the village, and that they were hiding something—something related to the baby—from everyone.
The distrust in their voices and the even uglier thoughts that accompanied their spoken words had Thal’s blood boiling with rage. But he couldn’t do anything about it, he thought, so he tried to let it go.
Had Thal mentioned his concerns to Amka, maybe things would have turned out differently.
Thal woke to her soul-splitting scream.
It was very early in the day but he was instantly awake, instantly afraid. The fear clouded his mind and didn’t let him see past his immediate need to run to her aid—if he had, he would’ve taken an additional minute to dress in his scales which would protect him somewhat from the sun that he knew, based on his internal clock, was still high up in the sky. But she was his greatest weakness—he couldn’t stop to think, to plot, to come up with a feasible strategy. She was in danger so he just acted. He ran in her direction, outside toward the lake.
The sun burned his skin, but he ran. And in the few minutes that it took him to reach her, even before his eyes registered the patch of red that stained the water where she’d been so violently assaulted, the darkest part of him already knew he was too late to save her, and that he would kill everyone in sight.
They didn’t know he existed, so the monster part of him delighted in seeing the fear in the thoughts of that first man who carried the spear that still dripped Amka’s blood. Torren’s father. As he killed them, all eight of them, the ones that fought and the ones that ran, he was able to piece together from their final thoughts what they had done, led by the savages that had spawned Torren.
Torren’s mother had shown up at Amka’s hut demanding to see the baby, but Mayna had again refused, yelling that the child was not Torren’s but an outsider’s. Incensed at this, the woman had shoved Mayna aside and barged inside to take the infant by force … only to learn there was no baby, but a pale demon thing at Amka’s bloody breast. It was drinking his mother’s milk and her blood.
“Abomination!” she had cried.
This despicable woman then ran to her mate, a creature even more awful than her, and the two of them had quickly gathered a small mob to come in and take the small monster, ready to kill anyone who stood in the way. They had to keep their village safe, the man yelled, and several more agreed. Among the mob were the parents of the other hunter, Aruk.
They returned to Amka’s home and found the hut empty. Amka had fled, but they followed her trail to the lake, where they found her already rowing the boat out into the water. But two of the aggressors jumped in and swam after her, taking her oars, and overcoming her who wouldn’t give up her son. They dragged her down into the water but she fought them, yelling and cursing, until the accursed man stabbed her and she stopped struggling.
They were now all dead.
Thal had been heavily injured by several men he couldn’t see while attempting in vain to revive Amka at some point after killing Torren’s father. And now, after the fight was over, he didn’t care to inspect his wounds because he was still half out of it, coming down from the blinding rage that had taken over him. He was in denial as he approached the water again, turning his back on the bloody shore. The sun, his damaged eyes, and the glare of the water made it impossible to see, but she knew exactly where she was, her body floating serenely in the lake.
As he picked her up again he detected Thakal’s scent and his mind seemed to restart. Thakal was here, with Amka. He thrashed his way to the boat, looking for any signs of his son, but the boat had capsized, and Thakal was nowhere to be found. His scent was gone as well. Desperate, he felt around, and dove underwater, but his senses didn’t tell him where Thakal’s tiny body could be.
“I’m sorry, Amka. I’m sorry, Thakal,” he cried in his native language. “I have failed you.”
He couldn’t open his eyes. He wasn’t sure he had any. He had lost most of his blood so he knew he wouldn’t heal now. He was dying, and he didn’t have the strength to look for his son’s body. But he had Amka’s. With his last bit of strength he swam out to the middle of the lake holding what remained of the girl he loved. He embraced her, and then he died, sinking to the bottom of the lake together.
Across the lake, the woman skipped down the rocky shore to where the shape was squirming. She wouldn’t have believed it was alive, but she had heard its cries.
“I’m coming, Thakal,” Mayna said, her eyes brimming with tears. “Your grandma is coming, and we’re going far, far away.”
Catch up on The Monster in the Lake….