Sneak Peek Friday

The Monster in the Lake

Chapter 3

by

Johi Jenkins

The Girl

The vast lake was nestled in the valley between three mountains and the rocky plain where Amka’s ancestors had first settled. As the lake level had risen over the last hundred years or so, her people had relocated farther up into the plain, but still close enough to the lake that Amka had practically grown in its clear waters. She had always thought she knew this lake so well, and yet, she had never even imagined that an underwater cave existed at the base of the mountain across from her shore. Thal had claimed he’d lived there all his life. Amka tried to picture the underwater cave as she stared at the lake but she couldn’t. It was almost impossible to believe.
“Oh, it’s there,” a voice said behind her. “I could show it to you, if you’d like.”
Startled, but thrilled to hear him, Amka turned to see Thal walking toward her with an easy smile, dripping wet. She ran to him, embracing him despite his soaked condition. She felt she’d waited all day for the sun to begin its descent, and she had been finally on her way to the mountain cave to meet him. There was still some daylight left but she had wanted to be early at the cave. She’d only stopped to admire the lake and ponder its secrets.
“Hi,” she said in his arms, looking up at him. Then she sort of froze.
Out in the open, with some light left, she could see him clearly for the first time. And she couldn’t look away, mesmerized, seeing how handsome he truly was. She’d thought he was beautiful before, but in the light she could genuinely appreciate his beauty. He had cut and brushed his hair. His eyes were a clear green; his pupils were contracted and his eyelids slightly narrowed at the moment, possibly because of the evening light. And his skin—when she first met him she’d been shocked by how ghastly pale he was, yet now she saw only beauty in the alabaster-like texture of his skin. It looked almost as though it had a green tinge to it.
He bought up a hand to her cheek. While she was busy admiring him he’d been doing the same.
“You’re so beautiful, Amka. I never thought I’d feel this way toward a sun dweller. Your skin …” he brushed her cheek lightly with his thumb, “… it glows in the light.” He bent down and kissed her cheek.
Amka felt heat rise to her face where he touched her. Her gaze shifted down as she voiced one of her doubts. “There are plenty of girls like me. You’ve just never seen any others.” He had told her that he’d been raised by his mother, alone; he was twenty years old and had never met anyone else.
He shook his head. “Last night I saw other village girls, and none came close to you.”
At the mention of other village girls Amka felt a little prick of jealousy in her chest. “You did?”
“Yes. While everyone was busy discussing the events of last night, I watched from your hunter’s hut.”
After her confrontation with Torren and Aruk, she’d gone back to brief her parents and the village elders on what had occurred, while Thal had stayed nearby in her late uncle’s hut. There had been immediate commotion in the village; surprise, disbelief, and also some anger mixed with shame from the attackers’ families, who then took the bodies away for burial. Amka’s parents had defended her, praised her fighting skills (she was embarrassed, well aware that she didn’t deserve the praise), and everyone sort of agreed that Torren and Aruk had gotten what they deserved. It was not unheard of to have fatal disputes amongst people, but everyone saw the injustice of two against one. Everyone commended Amka’s skills and shrugged off Torren and Aruk’s deaths as unimportant. Yes, they had been training to be hunters and the village needed hunters, but the village didn’t need fools, and they had been fools for going after Amka.
Then after a few hours everyone had gone back to their homes, and Amka had returned to her uncle’s hut with the pretense of getting her weapons. Thal healed her cut, they kissed again and then they parted ways. She went home to her parents and he went back to his underwater cave.
“I was curious, so I listened during the commotion. I noticed two other village girls and couldn’t help comparing them to you,” Thal explained now. “They didn’t come close to matching your wits or your intelligence. Or your beauty.”
Amka smiled. She knew which two girls he must’ve seen. They were younger than her and solely interested in boys. Amka was sure they’d been heartbroken about Torren and Aruk. Come to think of it, they probably didn’t like Amka so much now, for taking the two boys from them.
Thal laughed. “Yes, they weren’t happy. They had ugly thoughts. So you see,” he said, kissing her lips briefly, “there is no one like you.”
His laugh and kiss made her want to kiss him again. Their last kiss in her uncle’s hut had left her wanting more… and now she thought of other things to do with him, as new feelings surfaced in her body which she longed to explore. She looked around. There was no one nearby but she wanted to go somewhere where she could be truly alone with him.
“Amka,” Thal said now, his voice low and intense, evidently knowing exactly what was on her mind, and probably having some of those same ideas. “Do you want to see my home?”
His mysterious underwater home? “Yes, I’d love to, but …” She looked again toward the lake, trying to imagine a way in for a human like her. The lake was deep. It seemed impossible. “How?”
“I can swim very fast. I’ll take you out there”—he pointed towards the lake—“then you take a deep breath and I’ll convey you underwater.”
Thrilled, Amka smiled. “Okay. Let’s do it,” she said, trusting him completely. She had seen firsthand his strength and speed.
He grabbed her hand and they walked to the water together. As they went deeper and the water reached her torso, she trembled, but not just from the cold. When the water was up to her neck Thal pulled her close. His eyes were almost shining, reflecting the water around them. She clung to him. She wanted to be with him now.
“Soon,” he said, as moved her to his back. Then he swam to the middle of the lake while she held on to him with her arms around his neck. She enjoyed touching him a little too much.
“This is it,” he said, as he stopped in some nondescript spot in the middle of the lake. He pointed to the mountain in front of them. “The base of that mountain is below. Ready?”
The deep blue beneath her was daunting, but she refused to be scared. “I’m ready.”
She took a deep breath and covered her nose and mouth with one hand. Thal didn’t miss a beat. She felt a rush of movement around her, and the pressure of the water increasing as he pulled her down, down, down. She tried to keep her eyes open but after a few seconds she couldn’t see anything anyway, so she closed them. Her lungs were just starting to protest the lack of air when Thal shifted course; a second later they surfaced in a pool in complete darkness.
“Wow!” Amka cried as she took a deep breath.
“Are you okay?” Thal asked, worried, while holding her.
“Yes,” she said, just as she started to notice that she was really cold.
“Sorry—I didn’t think of that! Let me light a fire and get you to warm up.” He carried her out of the water and placed her on what felt like smooth stone while she tried to lessen his worry by assuring him she was alright. But he still sounded nervous when he announced he’d be right back.
And he was—Amka didn’t have a chance to even guess what her surroundings would be like based on the echo of their voices, when a light appeared from deeper in the cave and Thal came back, holding a torch. Then he lit a fire in a pit a little further inside the cave, and Amka gasped in awe.
The cave didn’t look like her mountain cave at all. The walls were arched, perfectly polished, except where decorated with etched patterns. She walked up to the nearest wall to touch it. It was rock, but it was impossibly smooth.
“My mother did most of the work. She came across this cave while pregnant with me, fleeing from a raid. Once she made it her home, she began working on it, and she never stopped. All my life I remember she was always weaving, making blankets out of pondweed, or carving and shaping the cave walls.”
Thal had mentioned the raid before. Was that only yesterday when they had talked for hours in that cave? Now, after seeing his strength and speed in person, it was hard to imagine a group of mere humans had been able to kill an entire family of blood-drinkers. Thal had simply said the humans’ greater numbers and advantage in the day had been underestimated by his people, and his people had paid the price twenty years ago, right before Thal was born. Thal’s mother had escaped the raid, pregnant, and travelled north to these colder lands where the snow blanketed the ground year round and humans were less in numbers. She had found the cave next to the small lake and turned it into a home for her and her baby. But several years later the entrance to the cave had been covered in water as the snows melted and the lake level rose. Amka’s people called that year the Great Spring, when the lake level rose suddenly and they had had to relocate uphill where they currently lived.
“To find this place and create this home, alone, she must have been an amazing woman,” Amka said. “You can tell she was really dedicated.”
“She was,” Thal said with somber reverence. Then he laughed. “But also, there wasn’t a whole lot to do down here, after I was grown and she’d taught me to hunt, and the old history of my people.” Then he grabbed Amka’s hand and pulled her deeper into the cave, holding the torch before him. “Come, I’ll get you some dry clothes and show you the rest of the cave.”
“How far does it go?” she asked.
“Not far.” He pointed to a large open area off to the right of the main hallway. “We shared this area back here for sleeping for the longest time, until I carved another room for myself. My mother slept here and kept her stuff here.” He let go of Amka’s hand and rummaged inside a pondweed basket. Then he handed her some folded garment.
“You can have this, to change out of your wet clothes. It was my mother’s.”
“Thank you. It’s so soft.” She ran her hand over the material. It was made out of a hide she didn’t recognize.
“It’s a winter seal skin,” Thal explained. “They used to grow as long as me and twice as heavy, and in great numbers. But they have now mostly gone, and the ones left are much smaller.”
Then he pointed to a hollowed out section of rock across from his late mother’s sleeping area. Its opening had a large reed blanket over it that was presently draped off to the side, and she could see inside. The room wasn’t large but it was twice as high as Amka was tall, taller than the rest of the cave. It had a large cot in the center that appeared to be stuffed with muskgrass and covered in a blanket made out of the same hide as her dress.
“This is where I sleep. You can change in here,” Thal offered. “I’ll hang your clothes by the fire pit.”
“Thank you.”
She took off her wet leggings, breechcloth and tunic, and handed them to Thal, while she unfolded the dress and examined it, trying to determine how to put it on.
“Wait,” he said.
She looked up to find him looking at her in a way that made parts of her body flush with heat. Being naked was very normal for her, but Thal’s expression made her suddenly self-conscious.
“Yes?” she breathed.
But he was just standing there holding her clothes, staring at her with an expression of wonderment. He blinked and appeared to be trying to speak. “Amka, you’re … I mean, I’ve never seen … I mean …” he mumbled.
Adoration rushed through her. This boy who could do all the things he could do … he couldn’t form a sentence as he stared at her. She took a step toward him until she was right in front of him, and placed a hand on his chest.
“Your clothes are wet, too.”
His breathing was ragged. “Yes.”
“You’d better change out of them, too.”
“Yes.”
And he did, then they stared at each other for a second before succumbing to the desires that had possessed them.

***

The air was different in the underwater cave. After spending a few hours with Thal, well into the night (not that she could tell how late it was, since she couldn’t see where the moon was in the sky … but she guessed it was well into the night), she felt she could use some fresh air. It obviously didn’t bother Thal, who had lived his whole life in this cave; but then, he didn’t need to breathe as much as Amka did. He took breaths, Amka noticed, but when he’d swum out to the center of the lake with Amka on his back, his head had been underwater most of the time. He must not need as much air as she did. The underwater cave air was fine for him, but not for her. She felt she needed to go back to the surface.
Thal stopped mid-sentence and turned to examine her. He had been answering her latest question—were there any other exits out of this cave besides the underwater entrance? (No, but at some point he had considered creating one by digging his way back into the mountain and then up)—when her thoughts about fresh air had made her take a deep breath.
“Amka, we need to go up right now.”
She shook her head a little, to dismiss his worry. “I’m fine. I was just thinking that I could use a little bit of fresh air.”
But he had already gotten out of bed, and started putting on clothes. They had been lying next to each other on his bed, talking about anything and everything, naked and content. Yet now Thal was distraught and afraid as he picked up her clothes from the floor.
“I’m so sorry I didn’t notice before. Your breathing is different now—you’re taking longer breaths and taking them more often. You’re drowning down here. Your body is telling you that you need fresh air, so we’re going up—now, please.”
Drowning? She thought he was exaggerating, but she found it endearing, so she let him scoop her out of the bed and carry her to the pool at the entrance to the cave. She could’ve walked, but she loved being carried by his deceivingly strong arms. She loved …
As she dressed in her still damp clothes, she watched him pace the cave floor, worrying over her. But she couldn’t share his concern; she was feeling something else altogether.
Love.
She loved him. Or maybe she just loved being with him like this. Or maybe it wasn’t love, just something like it. After all, she didn’t really know what love was supposed to be like. But this was definitely something, something she’d never felt toward anyone before. Yes, she had only really met Thal the day before, but she knew she wanted him to be her mate for the rest of her life.
He stopped his frantic pacing and stared at her, stunned for a moment, then his expression was replaced by a look of sincere reverence. As she finished tying the knot on her leggings, he closed the distance between them and put his arms around her. His eyes, which she knew were green, glowed almost orange reflecting the light of the fire with an intensity she had never seen before.
“I love you, Amka,” he said, his voice full of emotion. Then he brought his lips down to hers.
She readily welcomed the kiss. She tightened her arms around his lower back, pressing against him. She could tell he was hesitant, that he wanted to end the kiss so he could take her out of the cave, but she also felt his need, his love and his devotion. And she wanted to give him more. So she slowly traveled her lips to his cheek and down his jaw, and finally down his neckline, offering her neck to him.
This time he didn’t fight her.
The bite stung but she didn’t feel any pain. Somehow it felt even better than it had the previous day, the first time she had given him blood back in the cave. She felt a great pleasure, her senses full of him, and a moan escaped her lips. Thal, Thal, I love you. I want to stay here forever.
But he pulled back too quickly, healed the bite marks, and again scooped her up in his arms.
“Thank you for that,” he said, bringing his forehead down to hers briefly. Then he kissed her quickly. “It’s time. Ready?”
“Ready.”
The ride back seemed quicker than the way in. She surfaced in Thal’s arms and took a deep breath in the darkness of the night. A chilly wind felt abrasive on her cheeks, surprising her.
“Amka, are you alright?”
“Yes. I’m alright.” Amka smiled as she shivered. He had asked the same question when she surfaced in the cave, but it seemed that now he was even more worried.
The night was cold and she was wet. It was about a half an hour to swim to shore and walk back to her village. She was pondering where she could keep a stash of dry clothes near the shore for future visits, when Thal interrupted her planning.
“I don’t like that you’re cold. I’ll carry you to the village. I’ll run and be there quickly.”
She had barely assented when he began to swim faster than she had seen any living creature swim. She held on tightly to his back, and as they reached the shore in no time, he didn’t stop and only ran faster. They reached Amka’s uncle’s hut at the edge of the village before she could even decide whether the ride had been thrilling or terrifying.
“It is too dangerous to take you to my home,” Thal said as he started a fire while Amka removed her wet clothes for the second time that night. “But I want to see you every night, so I’d rather visit you instead. I want you in my life, Amka.”
“I want you, as well. I don’t mind the danger.”
“But I do.” He paced around the room and found a blanket to cover her in, then wrung her clothes out while she warmed up. As he worked, he added, “I think I’ll dig out a room in the cave where you first trapped me, so I have a place to stay above. Does anyone else know about that cave?”
“No one but me,” she replied, thrilled. “And I would love that.”
That cave was farther than Thal’s underwater home but Amka saw the advantage of having a place where she could meet him whenever she wanted. There was no way she could go to the lake cave by herself.
“I’ve never spent a night above water,” he said, “but I don’t want to spend another night away from you.”

***

“What’s his name?”
Amka looked up sharply at her mother’s question. Mayna had been quietly working on her pottery as Amka folded her clothes, but now those shrewd eyes trained on her daughter.
“Whose name?” Amka asked, feigning confusion.
Mayna sighed, but her lips were turned up slightly, as if amused at Amka’s poor performance. “Amka, you can be honest with me. I can tell there’s something going on with you; a mother knows when her daughter’s heart is happy. And I know it’s not just that Torren and Aruk are gone.”
Amka laughed, wishing she could tell her mother the truth. But the truth was out of the question. Her people were not fond of outsiders, let alone blood-drinking monster ones. She settled for an evasive truth. “Life is much better without those two, I do have to admit. The youngsters’ training is going well. I never knew how much Torren was holding them back.”
Several weeks had passed since Torren and Aruk’s deaths. Amka, as the village hunter, was in charge of protecting the village and hunting animals for food. Prior to taking over this role, when her uncle had been alive, she had been training the younger hunters; this role had then gone to Torren, as the second oldest. (Apparently he hadn’t liked this role and had decided to challenge her). Now with Torren gone she was back to training the younger kids on top of her usual hunting duties. It would’ve been too much for one person, but she had Thal. Unbeknownst to everyone, Thal had been the one feeding the entire village these past few weeks. In her spare time during the day Amka trained the young hunters, who were happy to confess they didn’t miss that one chaotic month they’d had Torren as trainer.
Mayna simply replied, “Hmm,” and continued working on her pottery.
Amka knew her mother suspected something, and she felt it was wrong to pretend to deceive her. So she added, “I really don’t like any of the village boys.”
A look Amka couldn’t decipher crossed her mother’s face. It was gone as quickly as it came, though. “I see,” Mayna sighed. “There’s not a whole lot to choose from here, I’m afraid.”
There were four younger hunters training with her, of which only two of them were boys, and the oldest of them was fifteen years old. There really was not much for her to choose. The village population had been decimated some ten years before, when most of the hunters and older boys had died in an expansion campaign gone wrong, clashing with another clan. The few survivors had come back weary and with no intention of ever engaging in war again; they chose the peaceful life, farming the land and taking care of the youngsters who were the future of their people. Amka had lost her father and older brothers; her mother had then coupled with Tahik, who had lost his mate in the same conflict and needed a mother for his two young children. Amka’s uncle had been the only experienced hunter left and had taken on the role of village hunter. A role which was now Amka’s.
“This morning your father and I had talked of traveling south to our neighboring clan three day’s ride from here, to find a mate for you,” her mother finished, with a curious, probing look, as if trying to gauge Amka’s reaction at the news.
“That’s not necessary, Mother. I’m not interested.”
“And there’s no one else?”
Amka gritted her teeth. “There’s nobody here,” she insisted.
Her mother’s features twisted painfully, as if in anticipation of dreadful news. “Then … the child … is Torren’s?”

To Be Continued…

Find & Follow

⇓⇓⇓

Johi Jenkins

Need to Catch up on Monster in the Lake?

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Sneak Peek Friday Night

The Monster in the Lake

by Johi Jenkins

Chapter 2

The Girl

He didn’t kill me, Amka thought for the hundredth time that afternoon. She sat cross-legged on the floor eating supper with her family, but her mind was back in the cave. He could have killed me, but he didn’t.
The monster had grabbed her arm, easily, yet he had let her go when she pulled back. She had known he was deceivingly strong, and very quick; yet she had let her guard down. He could’ve killed her, but he hadn’t. At the very least he had a conscience. He wasn’t a vicious demon.
And also for the hundredth time, she looked at her forearm and wrist where he had touched her. The rich color of her skin had looked so sharply contrasted in his pale, grayish hand. He had looked so … so frail.
He could be dead by now, she thought as she ate a piece of bread. The thought was upsetting.
She was worried about him!
She stood and excused herself. “Mother, Father, I must go prepare for the hunt.”
Her mother smiled. “Amka, you looked worried all supper. Do not fear. You are the best huntress we have. You will find this creature, and kill it.”
Amka felt blood rush to her cheeks and looked down. She tried to keep her voice from betraying her. “Thank you, Mother.”
She walked to her late uncle’s hut. It was the farthest hut from the village; he had used it as a sentry post. He’d had no wife and no children, so when he died Amka had taken over it. She still lived with her parents, but often stayed here, especially of late as she had been hunting the monster.
The monster …
The sun was still up. About six hours had passed since she had left him tied up and bleeding in the cave. He might be dead already, she thought again. The notion gnawed painfully at her insides. She tried to shake away the unwelcome commiseration as she prepared her tools and hunting gear. She needed to focus and bring food to her family today. She shouldn’t care for a murderer.
And yet she found herself leaving the village away from her usual hunting grounds, her feet taking her along the lake toward the secret cave, walking at first, then running. By the time she reached the entrance to the cave her heart was about to burst, and she finally slowed down. I just need to know what became of him, she told herself as she walked the passage to the spot where she had last seen him. She would be cautious. But her heart raced on. She couldn’t tell if the apprehension she felt was the dread of facing a blood-drinking monster again, or the idea of finding him dead.
The answer was obvious as her heart swelled with relief upon seeing him sitting up against the wall of the cave. He was now deeper in the shadows, away from the light coming down the opening above, but her eyes had adjusted to the dark and she could see him. His wrists were still tied and he looked worse than he did the last time she had seen him. Except … the expression on his face. She didn’t understand it. There should have been concern for his own wellbeing, or anger at her, or distrust at the very least. After all, she was to blame for his current predicament.
But his face, trained on hers, was lit with something like … happiness?
“Hello,” she said awkwardly, standing about ten feet from where he sat.
“Hello,” he repeated.
She smiled despite the circumstances. He had repeated the greeting in her language. Then she remembered she had resolved to be cautious, and immediately dropped the smile. She cleared her throat.
“Um, I came back to help you. I feel … sorry … for doing this to you. So I will bring you an elk for you to … drink.”
He just looked at her, curious or confused, she couldn’t tell.
“How much … blood do you need? A big elk”— she motioned wide with her hands—“or something small, like a goat?” She brought her hands closer together.
He shook his head. “No kill … animals.”
“What! Why not? You drank from all those animals before, didn’t you?”
“You …” he shook his head and said a word in his language, while feigning an angry face, “before. I feel … sorry.”
I was angry before when I called him out on killing the animals, and he’s sorry, so he doesn’t want me to kill an animal for him? Was that what he was saying? She was shocked. In the short time that had passed he’d somehow picked up enough words to communicate with her.
“I didn’t understand then,” she explained. “That you needed blood, I mean. You need to eat what you need to eat. So I’ll hunt something for you.”
“No kill,” he said again.
“I can’t just persuade an elk to come here willingly!” she cried, exasperated—and at that moment a new thought occurred to her. A dangerous one. “Wait. Would you have to … kill … the elk, if I bring one in here alive?”
“No kill. Drink … a little bit.” He held his thumb and first finger close together, as he had earlier that day.
Here goes, she thought. “Then … I can help.” So much for being cautious. She ignored her inner voice of reason and grabbed her blade from its sheath in her boot. She pointed the tip at her wrist; the same spot he had bit on his own wrist hours before. “Take a little bit.”
Shocked, he shook his head. “No.”
“It’s fine, I won’t die,” she insisted.
He shook his head again, and lowered his head, looking away from her. But not before she caught a glimpse of something—hunger.
Although he resisted, she could see the need in his eyes, in his demeanor. And she felt responsible for it, for weakening him. So she ignored him and brought the tip of the blade to her flesh. She took a second to take a breath, steeling herself.
But the blade disappeared from her hand.
“No,” he said again, and was suddenly standing next to her, his restraints snapped without effort. He held the blade in one hand in the air above her, the other hand around the wrist she had intended to cut.
What … what just happened?
Even earlier, the first time he’d grabbed her hand, he hadn’t been in this close proximity to her. Now his body was mere inches from hers, and her free hand rested on his chest pressed between their bodies. The scales on his clothing were a thing to behold; but she couldn’t spend the time examining them as she would’ve wanted, because her whole attention was engaged elsewhere. On him. On the feel of his fingers around her wrist. And his face, his eyes. The irises were a clear, green color she’d never seen in a person before.
Amka’s heart beat erratically. His closeness forced her to acknowledge the feelings she’d been feeling all day, but that she hadn’t had the courage to admit to herself.
That she was attracted to a monster.

The Monster

Thal had meant to push her away. He had underestimated his hunger before and killed a man; he wouldn’t let that happen again. He was famished now, and weak; an immense threat to the girl. He didn’t know if he could be able to stop after a little bit, as she was offering.
But when he held her wrist and felt her warmth so close to him, and her hand on his chest, it was much, much harder to resist her. He might have fought the attraction he felt, though, except that as he looked into her dark brown eyes he saw her thoughts were aligned with his.
Against his better judgment he released her wrist and dropped her blade onto the cave floor, then brought his arms around her. One hand at her lower back pulled her body against his, and the other one traveled to the roots of her fierce black hair, gently turning her head to expose her neck.
He lowered his face to her soft skin. Then he bit her.
“Ah,” her little whimper escaped her lips.
Her blood touched his tongue and his life wholly shifted before him. His arms tightened around her, pulling her even closer. The person he thought he was, and everything he’d ever thought he wanted, all disappeared; he wanted nothing except this girl and her sweet blood, and her supple body in his arms. Her mind opened to him, and he felt her great pleasure past the brief shock of the bite. Her mind was full of him. Her face lifted to the cave ceiling.
If this is dying, I don’t mind so much.
Her thought sobered him up and broke through his stupor. He forced his head up. It was over too soon.
“Why did you stop?” she asked in a daze. He understood the meaning of her words exactly.
“I … good,” he said, testing the words. In his own language he added, “Thank you,” and stepped back to give her some air.
But he saw her neck was still bleeding. Tentatively, he reached a hand up to her neck where he had bit her. He could heal her, but he felt he ought to ask her first.
“May I touch?” he asked in his language.
She didn’t understand the words, but she grasped the meaning well enough. She nodded.
So he brought his finger to one of his fangs and bit, and a bright red drop of blood appeared as she watched with wide eyes. He spread his blood over the two small puncture marks, and heard her surprised thoughts as her wound healed and the pain receded.
She touched her neck. “It’s all healed,” she said, rubbing her fingers over her smooth skin. “No pain. No wound. How did you do that?”
“My blood healed,” he said, extending the finger he had bit, showing her there was no wound there anymore, either. Then he lifted the hem of his now tattered garment and showed her his side where her spears had pierced his skin. “No pain. No wound.”
He heard both her gasp and her internal exclamation of surprise upon seeing him fully healed. And then her silent regard: He is so beautiful.
As his mind automatically added the words to his growing list of her vocabulary, he was thrilled to discover that particular one—beautiful. Excitement over learning the word—and the context in which she had thought it—made him smile.
“You heal so quickly,” she said in awe.
“You feed me. I healed.”
But her pride in helping him turned to guilt in the next instant, as the family person she called Uncle appeared in her mind. Thal had seen this thought before. He stepped back from her and looked down, ashamed.
“I’m sorry for … uncle,” he said.
He felt her surprise. For the first time, she wondered if he could read her thoughts. It was a strange thought to her, the idea of hearing thoughts. Thal realized humans didn’t have this ability. But she didn’t ask him about it—yet. Instead, she thought of her uncle again. She had cared for him deeply.
“Why did you kill him?” The night of her uncle’s death, a month ago, flashed before her eyes. She contrasted what she’d then called the monster with the monster before her now. She didn’t think of him as a crazed animal anymore; she looked for an explanation in her mind. She remembered he had run away limping when she had approached. She wondered if he’d been hurt, then.
He nodded at her unspoken question. He bent and grabbed her blade from the floor where he’d dropped it. “I killed elk. Uncle …” Thal mimicked tiptoeing.
Snuck up on him, her mind provided, understanding him.
“… and then he … hunt me,” he finished, and he mimicked stabbing his back. He didn’t have a word for stabbed yet.
Realization hit her. There had been a dead elk next to her uncle’s body, she remembered. And that explained the monster’s limping—her uncle must have stabbed him. “Oh,” she said.
“I hungry,” he recounted sadly. “I drank from uncle. I take … not a little bit.”
It had been an accident. Thal had been raised with a healthy fear of humans, the sun dwellers. After leaving his underwater cave he’d hunted animals easily enough, but he’d been careless. He’d left the carcasses for the wild animals to feed—it didn’t occur to him that humans might find them and wonder who or what was behind the animal killings. When the man attacked him, he had defended himself, and drawn blood. Blinded by hunger, and perhaps fear, Thal drank until the man stopped struggling. Only when he heard shouts behind him did he remember that engaging with humans was something he should avoid at all costs.
He’d fled and retreated to his underwater cave, and only returned to the surface when he strictly needed to, once a week when he was hungry; and even then, he’d hunted far from the village. But he didn’t realize someone had been hunting him.
“I’m sorry that I hurt you, too,” the girl said, and he could see she was remembering their first encounter two nights before; how she had attacked him while he’d been looking down at her, distracted. She was embarrassed that she had attacked him without provocation, as her uncle had done.
And yet Thal didn’t blame her. He understood now that it was her duty; she’d thought she was protecting her people from a monster. When he’d heard the footsteps behind him as he had tried to free the little goat, he’d realized another human was trying to kill him, but he hadn’t expected it to be a girl. He’d been mesmerized by her beauty. As a true hunter, she had used his weakness against him and stabbed him. He’d run away, but instead of staying out of sight he’d come back like a fool the next night, hoping to see her again.
Instead he’d almost met his doom.
“But you … came back to help me,” he pointed out. “And you … feed me.”
He heard the embarrassment in her thoughts again and saw her blood rush to her cheeks. Her skin color was so warm and exquisite; he yearned to touch her again.
“I had to,” she said, and in her mind she added, I wanted to.
“Wanted to?” he repeated.
She looked at him curiously. How does he know what I’m thinking? “Can you hear … what I’m thinking?”
“Yes,” he said. “I can hear.”
Impossible, she thought, in denial. But then she thought of several times he’d answered an unspoken question. “How?”
“I just do,” he said in his language, shrugging, as he had no explanation either in her language or his. Hearing thoughts was as natural to his people as hearing sounds, or speaking.
He is so different, she thought. What an odd creature. Her eyes traveled over him. His height, his long arms—then they fell on his wrists. Specifically, on what was left of the ropes that adorned his wrists.
“You broke my restraints so easily,” she pointed out. “But why didn’t you, earlier? You could have gotten free anytime. You could’ve walked out of here anytime.”
He shook his head. “No walked out. Night creature,” he attempted to explain, pointing at the light coming from the opening above. He was weak and the sun was still out. But he could have broken her restraints. He didn’t though, because they were hers. He looked down at his wrists with affection. “You restraints me,” he answered.
I restrained him, her mind understood his faulty use of her language. “I only tied you up because I thought you were dangerous. I’m sorry.”
“No sorry. I’m not dangerous to you.”
Again she looked at him in awe. “How are you learning my language so quickly?”
He didn’t know how to answer that exactly. He could hear the thoughts that accompanied the words she said, so he very easily grasped the meaning of each word or group of words. And he remembered every word that she said. “I learn quickly.”
“Well, then,” she said, sitting down on the cave floor, “now that we can talk, tell me who you are. And … your name. My name is Amka.” She placed a hand on her chest, pointing at herself.
“Amka,” he repeated, instantly loving the sound of her name. He sat down across from her, then pointed at himself. “Thal.”
“Thal,” she repeated.
They both smiled.

 

The Girl

Amka had grown up hearing tales of blood-drinking demons that some remotely ancestral tribe had encountered ages ago. Children told the stories to scare their younger siblings; they were supposed to be just that: children’s tales. But after talking to Thal for several hours, engrossed in the history of his people, Amka realized the stories were likely based on real events that had been downgraded to fiction over the last hundred years. The more he talked the more she wanted her time with him to never end; but unfortunately the sun had other ideas. She kept glancing at the opening above them, getting sadder by the minute, until Thal noticed.
His thought-hearing ability was quite handy for their communication, she noted, but it had its disadvantages. Such as then, when he heard that little voice she had been ignoring for the last hour telling her she had to go back to take care of her hunting duties. She’d come back empty-handed two days in a row, and the village jerks would be sure to point it out if she didn’t bring something today. And for that she needed daylight. Which was quickly retreating.
“You have to go back home,” Thal surmised, in his newly-learned language of hers. He only had a tinge of an accent. “Don’t be sad. I’ll come back tomorrow and meet you again. And as for today, don’t worry. I can help you catch anything you need.”
“Oh, that’s … thank you,” she accepted his offers, trying to hide the excitement from her voice at the thought of seeing him again the next day.
So very reluctantly they left the cave together. If the amount of light left bothered him, he didn’t show it. He brought down a boar for her easily enough, an animal she rarely hunted because they were huge and their tusks were dangerous. Thal even carried it for her. They continued their talk until the path they walked along the lake turned inland toward her village. There they stopped to part ways. He had to go back to his underwater cave, he’d told her, and he couldn’t very well walk her to the village. People would faint.
Very carefully he slung the boar over her shoulders, and as he stepped closer to her the excitement and awe that had filled her most of the afternoon talking to him, and later witnessing his hunting skills, quickly dissipated. Gloom crept in again over their impending separation, despite his assurance that he would come back. What if he didn’t?
“As soon as the sun sets,” he promised, “I’ll be in the cave.”
“I would like that … very much,” she admitted.
She didn’t know how to part with him, because she’d never needed to part with a guy she liked; and also because most of her physical faculties were presently occupied holding the boar steady over her shoulders.
“Until tomorrow, then,” she said.
“Until tomorrow.” He was smiling as he turned and walked into the water.
Amka smiled too as she watched him dip underwater with a final wave at her. Then she walked the rest of the way home with the smile plastered on her face. She barely felt the weight of the animal slung over her shoulders. She went straight to her house, getting cocky when passing villagers commended her for a kill that wasn’t hers, but that no one knew it wasn’t. She dropped it off outside her hut on her father’s stone slab. Her mother and father always dressed her kills and took care of the other nasty details.
After freshening up she returned to her late uncle’s hut to return and clean all her hunting gear. She dropped off her weapons, then grabbed a water basket and walked to the well. Her mind full of Thal, she didn’t notice Aruk casually leaning against a nearby tree until he spoke. The sun had gone down already and it was getting dark very quickly, but she still kicked herself for not seeing him there as she approached.
“That monster looked quite like a pig,” he said. “I thought it was supposed to be a giant fish?”
Amka had no intention of letting the little dung ruin her mood. “You’re more than welcome to join me in the hunt one day, if you and your pal Torren want to learn how it’s done.” She couldn’t help the biting sarcasm in her voice.
“I don’t think so,” he said slowly.
Her body immediately shifted into defensive mode. Aruk’s tone had changed—her mind took note of several details all at once: his body language, his stance, the size of the tree he was next to, which could hide a number of threats to her. And something else, perhaps most significant of all: Aruk was never one to initiate a provocation. That was always—
She whipped around almost too late. She ducked, avoiding being nearly skewered by Torren’s spear. She kicked out at him as she ducked, but only managed to push him away a few feet. And piss him off.
“What the hell?” she asked them, needing an explanation. They were jerks, yeah, but she never expected Torren to attack her. And with a freaking spear! And yet she saw Aruk had grabbed his own spear as well.
So this was how it was going to be. Two armed against one unarmed. Attacking her from behind, too. Cowards.
“Good evening, huntress Amka,” Torren said. His voice was malicious and full of hatred. “I hope your day has been pleasant so far. It won’t be so pleasant now, I fear.”
Again she wanted to kick herself. This level of dislike coming from Torren must have been brewing in him for a while now, and yet she had never noticed. She always took his taunts as just harmless jealousy. Clearly there was something bigger going on. How had she missed the signs?
“Why?” she asked him, circling around him, placing both of them in her line of sight.
“The hunter must be the strongest,” Torren said simply. “And you’re not the strongest.”
Amka cursed silently. She should’ve known. She was older than him by a few years, and throughout their childhood she’d always been bigger and faster than him. He was still young, around seventeen, but in the last few years he’d caught up with her in size and was now taller. She was still faster and a better hunter, though. Or so she had thought.
They charged. Aruk circled around her, trying to flank her, while Torren thrust with his spear, over and over again. She danced out of the way, while simultaneously analyzing their moves and looking for an opportunity to grab either of their spears; but after not even a minute of this, Aruk, so impatient, decided to just barrel toward her. She side-stepped at the last second and managed to land an elbow to his temple … but the distraction was all Torren needed, and he rushed at her again; this time, the spear caught her arm as she wasn’t as fast to side-step the charge. The cut stung but it wasn’t deep. Yet, it was enough to incite them further. And worse: break her confidence.
She stumbled back, and as they both looked at her savagely, she knew she would not be able to dodge their next charge. Anger filled her heart as she was forced to accept her imminent fate.
But a strange new sound broke through the darkness. It was like the sound of waves crashing against the shore, or wind howling through a narrow crevice. In an instant Amka’s anger vanished and she smiled. The two sadists in front of her didn’t even have a chance to see the blur that came barreling toward them from behind, but she did.
Thal crashed against Aruk, and the vile young hunter went flying into a tree with a sickening crack that no human could ever survive. Amka cringed at the sight of him, at the same time that she heard a whimper. She turned to the sound—and saw Thal had grabbed Torren by the neck, and had forced him down on his knees, choking him.
She had the pleasure of seeing Torren’s eyes filled with a savage fear. “See … he’s real,” she couldn’t help but say.
Thal looked into her eyes, and into her mind and her darkest thoughts, probably, because he nodded almost imperceptibly right before he turned back to the whining Torren in his hand. He squeezed, and Torren’s neck snapped with a satisfying crunch. Then he let go, and her enemy’s body crumpled to the ground.
Amka ran to Thal, and he pulled her into a tight hug. The confrontation and the terror of what had just happened finally caught up with her, and she shook and gasped, clinging to her savior. She had never felt so vulnerable as she had moments before Thal had appeared; and now in his arms she felt the safest she’d ever felt, despite learning that he could crush her into pulp if he so desired. His speed and strength had taken her by surprise.
After another moment she calmed down. Then she realized she was … wet? She pulled back, puzzled, and noticed Thal was wearing a tunic that was plastered to his chest and dripping with water.
“I came directly from my home,” he explained, still holding her. “I felt something was wrong, almost as if I could hear your thoughts from far away.”
“They jumped me. And it took me by surprise. I feel so … stupid.”
“Don’t,” he said, and brought her close to him again. “You’re clever. You trapped me. You could’ve killed me. They were just … cheaters.”
Cheaters. Anger flashed again in her mind. She looked down at Torren. They got what they deserved. And yet, they hadn’t. Aside from a quick moment of fear, they had died too quickly. They deserved worse.
“Drink him,” she offered, nodding at Torren. She knew Thal hadn’t drunk nearly as much from her as he could have. He had to be hungry still. And there Torren was, perfectly good food about to go to waste.
Thal looked hesitant, but he did a little shrug, agreeing with her. He finally let go of her and took a step back. “You’re right. No need to waste.”
He grabbed the body liked it weighed nothing, and sliced the neck open with a fingernail. “So it will look like it was a spear,” he explained, before he covered the cut with his mouth, drinking deeply.
Amka didn’t flinch.
When he was done, he dropped the body to the floor again, then turned to the well behind him and cleaned his lips and mouth with water, as if washing away something distasteful.
“Was his blood as revolting as he was?” she asked.
Thal laughed, returning to her. “No. It was alright. But I had your blood, and that was heavenly, so I’m ruined forever to the bland blood of others.”
She smiled, his laughter and his compliment improving her mood infinitely. She couldn’t resist him anymore. So she reached up and kissed him.
She felt his momentary surprise, then his immediate response. His arms went around her again, and he kissed her back. Slowly, but deeply.
Oh wow, she thought. This is better than I imagined.
She had to wake her parents, the elders, and maybe a villager or two to explain what had occurred with Torren and Aruk. But it could wait a bit. As Thal’s lips moved over hers so sweetly, everything else could wait. She was content to just drift in the surge of feeling that engulfed her.

To Be Continued. . . 

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Read The Monster in the Lake–Chapter 1

 

Nightmareland

Happy Halloween Horror Lovers!

From the creators of the #1 bestseller The Box Under The Bed horror anthology and its #1 bestseller sequel Dark Visions, comes Nightmareland . . .

A horror anthology with 23 stories from 14 authors!

In a rundown shack deep in the woods, a high school girl dares herself to try the strange new drug all the kids are talking about. One injection of “Nightmareland” is all it takes to unleash a person’s biggest fears to them – and then they are on their own! But rebellious Jessica thinks she will prove herself to her peers and parents.
Tremble along as she is strapped into the chair and becomes a lost child on a Florida party island, an investigator looking into a circus’ bizarre side shows, an abused prisoner locked away in a desolate concrete cell, and much more as Jessica faces the most terrifying ride of her young life.
Compiled by USA Today bestselling author Dan Alatorre, this anthology of horror once again unites the minds and pens of more than a dozen amazing authors.

Nightmareland will send you into the foggy twilight of the eerie and macabre, with heart stopping stories from:

USA Today bestselling author Dan Alatorre (The Navigators),

award-winning bestselling author Robbie Cheadle

award-winning bestselling author Ellen Best

award-winning author Kaye Booth

award-winning bestselling author Betty Valentine

award-winning bestselling author Alana Turner

award-winning bestselling author Christine Valentor

award-winning bestselling author Nick Vossen

award-winning bestselling author Alana Turner

award-winning bestselling author Victoria Clapton

award-winning bestselling author Anne Marie Andrus

award-winning bestselling author Adele Marie Park

award-winning bestselling author Barbara Anne Helberg

award-winning bestselling author MD Walker

award-winning bestselling author Dabney Farmer

award-winning bestselling author M J Mallon

Perfect for Halloween or any time, these stories will make you think twice before spending the night alone, watching TV with family, or even going on a casual boat ride.

 

CONSIDER YOURSELF WARNED!!

Read Now!

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Short Story Friday Night

Under The Square

by
Anne Marie Andrus

chicory, humidity, decadence

 

Trickles of murky water danced between shadows and fractures on the underground wall. Flickering candles twisted wilted blooms and innocent stone angels into a jungle of goblins.

“If you’re still fussing, you should have started earlier.” A redheaded vampire flashed through the arched doorway and scowled at his watch. “This space will never be anything but a tomb disguised as a fancy courtyard.”

“Like the desolate streets above us, masquerading as our city?” A man in a tuxedo slicked his mohawk straight up and adjusted his bow tie. “I thought you said rebirth was near, Mister Steven.”

“It’s so close, I can taste it. You’ve followed my instructions to the final detail?”

“Haven’t I always, sir?”

“As much as humanly possible, I guess.” Steven pointed to a steaming carafe. “Pour.”

The man’s shoulders slumped. “What am I now, your waiter?”

“I didn’t mean…that came out all wrong. Pour me a taste, Zachary. Pretty please.” Silence and a smirk followed his lingering sip. “Ah, silky smooth with a viper’s bite.”

“One coffee blunder was humiliating enough.” Zachary tipped his chin in the air. “That other swill tasted like it was blended with the ashes of the dead.”

“Sure wasn’t chicory.” Steven shuddered. “Ick.”

“Don’t worry. The tool who sold it to me, is at the bottom of the river.”

Steven planted one hand on his hip. “So, where did this brew come from?”

“Cross’ the lake.”

“Hope you’re taking my bodyguards when you leave the French Quarter.”

“So much gloom, even your soldiers can’t tell where the safe zone ends and enemy territory begins anymore. Sun hasn’t come out in years.”

“Yet, the dreadful humidity remains. Just to remind us we’re home.” Steven snapped the cuffs of his dress shirt. He inspected the linen tablecloths, uncovered serving dishes, smiled at the scent of peppermint and turned his nose up at licorice. “My chocolate?”

“All your favorites.” Zachary bowed in front of the dessert tower. “Amaretto, raspberry, almond hazelnut…but, the hazelnut still sucks.” He tapped the artery in his neck. “How bout’ a taste of this?”

“Later. Be available,” Steven said. “Eat a little cinnamon.”

“You…are damn bossy.”

Steven waggled his finger. “Leaders delegate, Zach.”

“Oh well, excuse me.” Zachary plucked a sugar cube from the pristine buffet and dropped it on his tongue. “Will it be the usual guest list tonight?”

“Yes, and I’m sure you’ll hate them all.”

“They turn the room frigid. Swear I can see my breath.” Zachary pointed to the fountain. “Your snooty, light-up water feature was frozen solid after last week’s festivities.”

“There’s a method to my madness. We’ll need the allegiance of all the coven leaders, from every corner of the globe—even the villains—to take back New Orleans.”

“Hmph.” Zachary crossed his arms. “Bastards do seem impressed. You’re still the king of decadence, like in the old days.”

“Just wait for the new days.” Steven leaned over the pastel bubbles and watched glittery fish spinning in circles. “When our family is back in power, all this melancholy will be a distant memory.”

“What about that man with the sapphire eyes?”

“You mean the warrior?” Steven sighed dramatically.

“He’s more than politics to you, isn’t he?”

“Is that a hint of green demon I hear in your voice?”

“After so many years of us…” Zachary shuffled his feet and stared at the fish. “Never mind.”

“His fire, his army—that blood.” Steven spun and pumped his fists. “The warrior is our savior. He holds the keys to an empire.”

Zachary stepped back, but not in time to avoid Steven patting his cheek as if he were a petulant child.

“My empire.” Steven flashed back through the arch. “All mine.”

♦♦♦

This story was originally written for the “3 Word Challenge” on the blog Bonnywood Manor, home of fabulous writer and friend Brian Lageose.

Check him out!

Short Story Friday

Spooky Babysitter

by 

Christian Terry

Ashley’s fork cut through what was left of her tiramisu. Her client’s daughter had been put down for almost an hour. The silence of the house meant that she should be studying but the tiramisu was so delicious. After finishing her dessert Ashley opened her laptop double clicking on her document files.

Now that she had the freedom she was sure she would have the rest of the night to herself to finish her project. As she opened the documents pictures of various newspaper headlines flashed across the monitor. Her assignment that her professor gave would have her follow the trail of supernatural happenings in neighboring towns. Things like “leprechauns in trees” to “ghostly images and sounds ” “unexplained disappearances”.

The point of the assignment was to find why are people wanting these “tales of make believe” to be real? Ashley wasn’t sure what to make of all of this. She believed that if she could see it she would believe it for herself. Her computer monitor flickered for a second before completely darkening. A sharp squawking from upstairs made her blood run cold. It also reminded her that the only person up the stairs was Lauren, the child she was sitting.

The family had no pets, a fact that ran through Ashley’s mind as she grabbed the fork she used to eat her tiramisu. She scampered up the stairs tightly gripping her silverware weapon in her fist. Once she reached the door she flung it open to see little Lauren asleep in the same position she had left her in. Perched at the foot of the bed was a blood red cardinal bird with a thumb sized roll of cotton in between its beak.Ashley flung her arms at the bird predicting that the bird would fly outside of the window across the room in which the bird did flapping its wings through the night air.

Lauren gave a yawn before speaking. “I had the weirdest dream miss Ashley. You saved me from a gigantic female pterodactyl and it was red!” She yelled in excitement rolling over on her pillow which she now found with a gaping hole in the center. “Miss Ashley…” the girl let out.

Ashley grabbed Lauren by the hand and stormed out of the house.

 

♦♦♦

 

Find & Follow Christian Terry

 

Monsters & Angels: The Series

 

A lone soldier on night watch. A single bullet through the heart. Every light in Paris flickers—the city’s thundering silent scream.
When Commander Raimond Banitierre was assassinated, French Revolutionaries lost their gallant leader. After a villain’s offer of eternal life condemned him to slavery, Raimond rebelled again, driving his vampire comrades to freedom.
Raimond escapes to Savannah, Georgia where his dream of becoming a doctor comes true. During his trial-by-fire residency on the Civil War’s battlefields, he discovers his true calling—the power to preserve memories and dignity in the face of death. His chance meeting with a beguiling mortal nurse ignites passionate nights and a long overdue crack in the door to paradise.
Vicious flames and an unholy miscalculation deliver Raimond back to the depths of hell. Being arrested for treason makes him wish for death and the arrival of Prince Draven Norman appears to be the final nail in Raimond’s coffin. Will the prince’s eccentric judgement grant Raimond a true reprieve? Is Draven’s invitation to join New Orleans mystical royalty an extension of his own treachery, or the next step in Raimond’s miraculous journey?
Has the legendary Crescent City found a spirit noble enough to protect her future?

♦♦♦♦♦

 

Fledgling nurse Sorcha Alden knew she had the skills to save lives, but she never dreamed that her own life would be the one in danger.

Driven by tragedy to honor her family name, Sorcha embarks on a journey that takes her from the bleak but familiar streets of New York, through the sultry and seductive city of New Orleans, and into the brutal jungles of Nepal. Forging friendships and carrying on her mother’s mission of healing was her dream. Plunging into a love affair with the mysterious Dr. Ashayle, could have been a fairytale.

Being murdered and waking up as a blood-thirsty monster—became her living nightmare.

Torn away from a life that had just begun, Sorcha returns to New Orleans as a newborn vampire, forced to start over in a cutthroat underworld of devilry and decadence. Complicated politics, bitter rivals and jealous ancestors stand between her and the promises she’s still determined to keep.

In a realm where the boundary between good and evil is as murky as the Mississippi River and immortal does not mean invincible, will Sorcha ever risk her shattered heart and love again? Can the magical harmony of the Crescent City give her enough courage to fulfill her eternal destiny?

Sorcha’s final word will make your jaw drop!

 

AnneMarieAndrus.com

 

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A Strange Request at a Piano Bar

A STRANGE REQUEST at a PIANO BAR

a short story by Elizabeth Lemons

 

~Introduction~

Good Evening. I’m Lorraine. I moonlight on weekend nights at a world-famous restaurant and piano bar that is found on the corner of St. Peter Street in New Orleans. It is a heady, two-centuries-old location, surrounded by ivy-covered brick walls with fountains kissed in patina of verdigris oxidation. Verdant fronds of fern drape lazily year-round over cast ironwork. Intricate, black lace designs twirl abundantly, dressing the galleries and gateways here and all over the French Quarter with elegance rarely seen in modern day construction. At this little meeting and eating house amidst tourist bombardment, I have determinedly shared my talents and heartbreak, laughter and tears by taking song requests from others for what seems like a hundred years.

Pungent gaslights flicker overhead as endless stories and scandalous rumors continue to be born here in this very courtyard. My favorite in-house tale is the true retelling about my fellow showman friend Eddie, another musician who worked and played here for over 67 years. Gumption hitched a ride in Eddie’s back pocket on the day he entered this bar, sat down and began to play at the corner piano. He was hired just a few hours later when the boss man saw him pick up a tray and begin to clear tables, all on his own merit. Eddie needed a job. So, impressing the owner with his ingenuity, Eddie was hired, and he played music and filled in when the help was scarce on late nights for almost 7 decades, until he drowned in the flooding of Katrina at the age of 95. I felt a close kinship to him and befriended his gentle spirit. I miss Eddie and his quick wit when we together played piano duets. His perseverance still encourages me to carry on when the noise and vulgarity of entertainment in a riverboat city overloads my gentle music- loving heart.

Over the many years, I have seen all types of folks walk through the red-bricked archway of this establishment for dinner or drinks. Always around are the raucous college party-kids, attracted to the larger-than-life Hurricane rum drinks. These juveniles with cash who push and shove their way in to sit near the flaming fountain possess large amounts of laughter and little good sense. When only pirated rum was plentiful in the time of Prohibition, our establishment made a living serving this same unique passion fruit cocktail, in single servings. Now it can be bought in an obnoxious oversized Hurricane glass that comes with a multitude of straws and mixed with 2 bottles of rum. These good-time kids would find a better spot for their “getting-plastered” intentions over at the Apple Barrel Bar on Frenchman Street with its cheap drinks and loud bands rather than hanging here in this laid-back piano bar.

More about finding an eating place that fulfills their desire for New Orleans cuisine but still able to supply the kids with burgers, are the “tourist” families, who’ve come out with their small kiddos after inhaling the online reviews on Trip Advisor before their arrival. They want everything to be conveniently located to the “must-see” attractions so they can hurry and get back to their hotels and put the kids to bed.

Of course, locals have always been the ones drawn here time and time again throughout the years by the sweet sassafras aroma of Gumbo simmering in our back kitchen which always fills the courtyard, and its beckoning siren aroma filters out into the street with whiffs of shrimp, chicken, and the sautéed holy trinity. Despite this heaven in a pot, and endless over-the-top hospitality that has been afforded to regulars in recent years, the locals have sadly trickled away as the growing tourist business has overpowered the sumptuous leather hunter green booths and chairs that line our dining rooms. These long-timers live amidst great controversy as wealthy outsiders slither in to gentrify the French Quarter, they annihilate the old while insisting on bringing in the new. Like oil in the gulf stream, the two just don’t mix. Locals despise this gentrification and loss of the music and culture as well as raised exorbitant rents. Thankfully, some of the locals are just creatures of habit, despite their legitimate gripes and thus, a few regulars continue to support us at the bar. Simply put, they ignore the out-oftowners as much as they can but certainly not their money. This is where I come in.

∼Play Me a Song∼

Tickling the eighty-eights each Saturday and Sunday evening, I take requests and play from 9 pm until 2 am for the generous tips that grow in a brandy snifter atop my made-here-in-New-Orleans Werlein piano. Over time, it has become a game with me to guess by appearances only who I think will request a certain kind of song. Believe me, my repertoire includes hits from Fats, Professor Longhair, Irma Thomas then makes its way through Buddy Bolden, Jellyroll Morton, Louis Armstrong, and further through the years to Allen Toussaint, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Dr. John, the Meters, and brother Aaron Neville. Occasionally, I even share the mike with Grandpa Elliot on rare nights when he is up for a song or two. When it comes to sizing up people and their song requests, I am a good guesser.

So, I was not at all surprised about a month ago, (it was Epiphany night, January 6, the official end of the Christmas season, the night that kicks off Carnival Season in New Orleans), when a tall, mysterious man wearing a sumptuous cobalt blue suit and ornate feathered mask proceeded to make himself comfortable at the bar right next to my piano. That night, (and every other Sunday leading up to Mardi Gras), he always sat beside me and ordered a Sazerac. His credit card told me that his name was Remy Mikhael. From first appearances, he looked like a jazz man to me, so I waited for him to request a song which reflected his persona. But no. This time I didn’t win at my own internal guessing game. Remy brought with him quite the veiled illusion. Even after he had removed the mask and laid it atop the bar, he maintained an intriguing otherworldly aura. Each time he visited me, he wanted one song, one drink. Tonight, he had arrived 10 minutes before closing time.

I had recently severely sprained my left ankle as I took a harsh twist on the winding back staircase that leads upstairs to a sumptuous lady’s lounge. Being so richly appointed, I love to spend quite a bit of time there in between sets. Unfortunately, the twist to my foot had me bandaged on this evening and I was gingerly using my awkward right foot as I pumped the pedal beneath my instrument.

After settling in after his subtle arrival, Remy spoke up in his powerful but quiet voice, “play me something,12-bar, please play “Dead Man’s Blues”, chere? He had requested this song, and ONLY this song every Sunday night for the past 4 weeks. I thought it was a bit strange that he always asked for the same tune but, whatever…he was a good tipper. As I wound down the final arpeggios from an old Beatles tune, I changed my tempo and demeanor as I completely altered the mood of the bar with the first few somber notes. He closed his eyes and reached for his glass, and took a comforting sip of his nightcap, seeming to be reminiscing as the song unfolded. I did my best to please him with my musical rendition. Across the bar from me, on this cold February night, Remy had a secret plan.

~Walking me Home~

New Orleans is a dark city, with its pungent nuances, unique culture and unsolved mysteries. People come here to lose themselves or lose their past. There are hidden doors, secret rooms, and forever unsolved sinister crimes with no clues on each and every corner. Sinners and Saints abide side by side. And, of course, I hear these stories as I nightly sit behind my piano in this rowdy river town, tales that give my arms gooseflesh shivers as I later recall them while walking cautiously to my own rooms in the early dawn hours after work.

My set tonight ended with Remy’s chosen mournful tune, and so I bid he and 2 other late-night patrons a good evening. I watched him as he tossed a $20 bill into my tip jar.

“Thank you, kind sir”, I acknowledged his appreciation. He rose from his bar stool, leaving his feathered mask behind, as I emptied the brandy snifter’s contents into my across-the-shoulder bag. I began to hobble walk on my damaged foot back through the restaurant section, towards the exit of our bar on St. Peter Street, saying goodnight to the few co-workers who remained.

“Catch you next week”, I said to Jerry, who maintained the inner courtyard bar. He was drying and putting away glasses. “G’night, Lorraine,” he answered. It was then I realized that Remy was right behind me, a dark shadow in mimic of every step I took.

“Sweet Lorraine, please let me offer you a gentleman’s arm as you head home. New Orleans is not the place for a beautiful woman such as yourself to be walking alone so late at night, please allow me to protect you”. Remy’s polite offer rolled off his charismatic tongue.

I hesitated, for I didn’t know anything of this man, other than his peculiar taste in music, but he was dressed so nicely, and had such genteel manners that I thought, well, what could it hurt? I don’t want to be rude. I was not picking up on negative vibes about this man, so I replied, “Thank you, Remy, I appreciate your kindness.” With a glance down towards my injured foot, I acquiesced, “I AM moving a bit more slowly these days”. We began to stroll together towards my upstairs apartment that was just a bit further than a block away. It was two nights before Mardi Gras so it was no surprise when a small group of costumed revelers, still out and about, (probably also heading home themselves), passed us by on the opposite side of the street. We arrived in front of my home in just a few minutes, when Remy spoke.

“Are you familiar with Voodoo, Child?”, his unexpected question made me giggle.

“Stevie Ray Vaughn song, right?” Of course, I love Stevie Ray Vaughn!”

“No, chere. I am referring to the religion brought here to your fair city with the slaves hundreds of years ago from Haiti” he explained.

“Well, no, not really. I have read a few things about how Lwa (pronounced Low-ah) represent Catholic Saints. The correlation to Catholic saints was the way the Voodoo religion here in New Orleans was acknowledged, presented publicly, with each saint representing an ancient Lwa before the average citizen, with none being the wiser. Practitioners could display, for example, a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, when all the while possessing actual intentions that the revered figure represented Erzulie. I have read a couple of books”, I said, and “I went to the Voodoo museum with some friends a while back but no, I can’t say that I really am all that knowledgeable when it comes to Voodoo”. It was a strange conversation to hold at 2:30 in the morning down on St. Peter Street and I was tired and ready to say goodnight.

“I can see you are exhausted, Lorraine Laurent”, he continued with an eerie understanding in his voice.

How does he know my last name? I frantically searched my silent brain to figure out where he could have learned this information. As a single woman, it was something I rarely revealed to anyone.

“Yes, I am”, was my curt reply as I turned the key into the cast iron door lock. I suddenly felt a need to free myself from Remy and this suddenly chilling night.

“There is no need for angst, chere. I know you are afraid. Let’s end this game of pretend. It is time for you to come with me, as you do nightly, and have been doing so for the past 93 years. My dear, you must be ready to come home and leave New Orleans forever behind. Eternal stagnation is not advisable. Submit to me. I am here to guide and protect you until you let go of the life you knew and loved. I am known as Agarou Toume, your intermediator. Do you remember how you died, Chere?”

“What? No!!!” You are not! Stop this now! You are Remy Mikhael! Please do not speak to me this way, I can’t be dead!!!,” I shivered beneath the light of a gas street lamp as it flickered in the dark, foggy night.

“Hush, child, and try to remember. You died suddenly without warning, it was 1926 when a fire brigade wagon ran you over in this very street on a night just like this one as you returned home from your performance at the piano bar. Your leg was severely cut, an artery was sliced, and your ankle was crushed. I held you in my arms as you stopped breathing. I am only sorry that I could not prevent this tragedy, but it was, as they say, it was your destiny. And this I could not change. And now, please recognize for once and for all that I have come to take you home, Lorraine, your true spiritual home, not this weekly farce of a life that you have chosen to relive, over and over. Let me guide you.”, he spoke firmly.

“Get away from me, Remy Mikhael! I don’t know you, I won’t go with you!”, I practically shouted as I looked left and right for rescue. No one was near now, no one celebrating Mardi Gras came to my aid. What could I do? I felt trapped, I felt betrayed. I just didn’t understand.

But it was then that I saw for the first time ever great silver wings manifest behind his cobalt blue suit. From out of nowhere, there appeared a mighty sword in his hand and I immediately knew fear like I had never known, because he was…. he was…Mikhael. Oh, my god. Archangel Michael. In the world of Voodoo I knew that he is also called Agarou.

He had visited me for weeks at the bar, making friends with me, having a drink, allowing me to gain some semblance of trust. Why had he delivered such a strange request at a piano bar. My piano bar? It must be that he came for this one final moment, for me, to at last bring me home, to let me know…I am no longer alive, and I am no longer destined to play away, consuming endless hours and endless years without rest.

This time, somehow different than ever before, held me captive. I whispered inwardly to myself. “I hear you, Remy, Michael, my fierce warrior guardian angel” …. For I am done now, with Remy’s final request, his very strange request. He had asked one final time for me to play and to finally truly hear… the Dead Man Blues.

 

Stay tuned for more short stories from writers you need to know!

 

Excavation Murder!

 

From the #1 Best-Selling Horror Anthology, Dark Visions, comes Excavation Murder from award-winning author, Victoria Clapton!

 

Without a word we followed Eugene down into the darkness as the cellar doors closed behind us. We were forced to creep in the silent oppression, listening only to the sounds of our racing hearts and ragged breaths while smelling what surely was the awful, unmistakable scent of death. Along the way, I had begun to beat myself up for not having the foresight to put a stop to this charade earlier. We should never have followed him down to this pit. I’d had a bad feeling from the beginning, and now, we were underground in the middle of nowhere, walking into what I imagined would be a horrific death. I opened my mouth to shut this mission down. For the first time ever, I did not care what waited in the unknown. I did not even care if my suspicions were unfounded. “It’s time we…”

“We’re here.” Eugene’s excitement filled the cold space. “This isn’t the way I’d hope you’d discover my treasure trove, but, Ally, I’m so glad it is you. I’d always hoped your parents could come here. But alas, they were the ones who got away. Not you, Ally. I knew I could depend on you.”

Darkness thickened around us, and I fought an urge to tell my crew that I was sorry, though I didn’t know for what, when Eugene struck a match and lit a couple of old oil lanterns, casting an eerie, dull light around a large chamber illuminating an unimaginable sight…

♦♦♦

I know you’re intrigued!

 

 

27 Authors!

34 Stories!

Get Your Copy Of Dark Visions Now!

If you liked Excavation Murder, you’ll love Victoria’s Clapton’s work!

I am a huge fan of The Binding Series!

Amazon Author Page

Victoria Clapton Author Website

 

 

 

 

If You Dare…Dark Visions!

Featuring

Where The Power Hides

&

A Glimpse Of The Monster

 

From the creators of the #1 bestseller The Box Under The Bed horror anthology comes Dark Visions, 34 horror stories from 27 authors.

Tag along on a con man’s New Orleans vacation where he gets more than he bargained for from a mysterious voodoo shop. A collection of family photos reveals an eerie secret about a beloved grandmother’s true nature.

A child’s horrifying memories haunt her into adulthood. A new camp counselor learns that the camp has secrets she might not live to reveal.

Edited and compiled by Amazon bestselling author Dan Alatorre, this anthology of horror brings together the minds and pens of more than two dozen amazing authors. Dark Visions will take you into the realm of the eerie and macabre, with thrills and chills!

Get Yours Today!

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Dark Visions Anthology

 

 

It May Feel Like Summer…

…Halloween is just around the corner!

 

I know this blog has been quiet lately, but that’s all about to change.

So much exciting news on the way from the friends and family

of

Monsters & Angels

 

                                                 

Monsters & Angels