At the peak of a rocky red outcropping, Draven paced, sat, leapt up to wander again and shouted into the empty darkness. “I should have saved you.” He stumbled, grabbed fistfuls of his blond hair and threw his head back to shout at the night sky. “I accept that I’m a failure.”
The only answer was the desert wind’s drone.
“Tonight, was my last. I’m done. I’m ready.” He spun to face the brightening horizon and stripped off his shirt. “I’m coming to join you, my beloved Gwynevere.”
Dawn’s light lingered below the jagged crests, slicing through the landscape one ray at a time. Pinholes of smoke erupted across Draven’s skin like a spray of bullets.
Gritting his teeth to muffle a scream, he stared at the patch of ground a few feet away, already bathed in killer sun. After a long exhale, he took two strides toward instant death. The final step was cut short by a missile dressed in a royal guard’s uniform. Two vampires tumbled down the back side of the butte into the cold safety of shadow.
“What the bloody hell?” Draven clawed his way back up the red rock, only to be yanked into a cliffside cave. He narrowed his eyes to focus in the pitch black. “Ronald?”
“Your highness.” Ronald bowed.
Draven lunged for the cave’s mouth and was knocked down again. “Have you gone insane?”
“Have you?” Ronald rolled a boulder across the opening. “On second thought, don’t answer that. When did you last feed?”
“What concern is that of yours?” Draven turned up his nose at the flask Ronald offered.
“It’s my job to keep you safe.”
“Then, you’re fired.”
“Unacceptable.” Ronald plunked a silver flask on the stone floor in between them.
“This is not how it works.” Draven charged toward Ronald and landed flat on his back. “I’m a damn prince!”
“Tackling you now, and on top of that rock,” Ronald dusted off his palms and held out a hand, “was easier than knocking a child down on the playground.”
“Blood would be wasted on me.” Draven swatted him away. “Doesn’t matter where I’m going.”
“And, your highness, where is that?”
“Not sure, exactly.” Draven puffed his cheeks and exhaled. “To find my beloved Gwyn.”
“I’m so very sorry for your loss.” Ronald rested his hands on his knees. “But burning yourself up in the desert isn’t going to bring her back.”
“I hate myself and I’m broken beyond repair.” Draven wrapped his arms around his chest. “How did you find me out here, anyway? I covered my tracks.”
“We’re blood.” Ronald dug through a canvas bag and tossed him a wrinkled shirt. “Can’t hide from me. To your credit, the search did take weeks.”
“I never really thought about that…your direct lineage, I mean.”
“If I remember correctly, you turned me vampire as a stunt to impress Sorcha.”
“I was rather taken with her back then. But the reason doesn’t matter.” Draven pulled on the shirt and buttoned it without looking down. “As my sole heir, when I’m gone, you’re next in line for my father’s throne. Should it ever come to that.”
“Well.” Ronald swallowed hard. “There’s extra incentive to keep you alive—”
“If you dare call me Daddy, I’ll rip your face off.”
“It will only grow back.” Ronald held out the flask again. “Sire.”
“I never believed in hell, but I’ve been there every night since Gwyn died.” Draven grabbed the flask and gulped. “Every damned night. Can’t you see that?”
“Yes, and I don’t pretend to know the pain of losing a fiancée.” Ronald settled down with his back against the cave wall.
“I remember saying something very similar once.” Draven sat down across from him, leaned his head back and closed his eyes. “To Raimond, after his Emily was murdered. He certainly handled it better than I have.”
Ronald rubbed his neck. “About Raimond—”
“I left my guards in Louisiana to watch over his house full of fools.” Draven looked up when Ronald didn’t answer. “What?”
“At first, I tried to find you…unsuccessfully. When I returned, it was too late.”
“I don’t understand.”
“After you left, there was an attack.” Ronald stared at his hands. “They burned it.”
“Who?” Draven tilted forward. “Who burned what?”
“The Victoires and others, foreign soldiers, witches. An army of mercenaries.” Ronald lifted his eyes to meet Draven’s. “Your royal guards are dead. Normandie Hall is ashes.”
“You must be mistaken.” Draven shook his head violently. “They were all upstairs—”
“After Sorcha and Vir crashed through the window, the entire house imploded.” Ronald bit the inside of his cheek. “Rumor has it that Steven Banitierre survived. I do know that Miss Rayna is on your island. I’ve spoken with her.”
“Julia?” Draven rubbed his face with both hands. “Lily?”
“Both dead.” Ronald frowned. “We should go back to New Orleans.”
“Raimond will be furious with me.”
“Never mind the house, though he did restore it from a ruin into a fortress.”
“But, his family is his whole life. Those girls—”
Draven froze in Ronald’s vacant gaze.
“I’m sorry, sire, about Raimond—”
“No.” Draven’s jaw dropped and his body convulsed. “No, no!” He stared at the flask in his hand and hurled it with enough force to cause a shower of rock dust to fall. “Not Raimond. He would have escaped the fire.”
“Not if he was murdered.”
Draven’s eyes flew open and he flashed in front of Ronald. “By whom?”
“Nicholas Victoire.” Ronald grabbed Draven’s quaking shoulders. “That criminal has seized power in New Orleans. We need to go back.”
“Sorcha will never forgive me. Never. She’ll try to kill me.” Draven staggered again. “Raimond. Are you sure? He’s the strongest…my best—”
“Sorcha won’t try to kill you in New Orleans.”
“She should!” Draven shivered and landed on his knees. “I left her and the whole…all of Raimond’s family to die?”
“Sorcha and Vir escaped, and haven’t been seen since. Rayna said they had help from locals, Crescent magic.” Ronald reached out but pulled his hands back. “Normandie Hall was an ambush. You couldn’t have known.”
“Murder, murder.” Draven slammed his head on the stone floor. “Failure, failure.”
“I want to die!” Draven flew into the jagged rock wall, fell and leapt up to do it again. “Why can’t I die?” He spun to Ronald with black blood streaming down his face.”
“You don’t look right, sire. A little rest, maybe?”
“Such a good man.” Draven patted Ronald’s cheek. “My blood…my son.”
“Whoa.” Ronald flinched. “Take it easy with the crazy eyes.”
Draven grabbed Ronald’s gold dagger and scampered back into the shadows.
“All right.” Ronald reached for the gold and fell back at Draven’s maniacal howl. “Enough of this nonsense. Hand it over.”
“I told you I was done.” Draven’s body shrunk. “It’s over. Put me out of my misery or I’ll do it myself. I swear on the souls of all the deaths I’ve caused.” He collapsed into a writhing heap with the dagger pointed at his own heart.
“I’ll help you, I promise. Just put it down.”
“Make it quick.” Draven nodded, squeezed the blade to his throat hard enough to draw blood, and handed it over. “I’m a coward.”
“You’re no such thing.”
“Don’t tell my father.”
Ronald spun the blade in his fingers.
“Though, we really should tell—”
“Save that thought for later.” He snapped Draven’s neck with military precision. “I’m sure you’ll be a royal pain in my ass when you wake up.” Ronald tucked a blanket around the limp body and drew a ragged breath. “Heal quickly, my prince. Raimond’s family desperately needs you.”
Like this sneak peek from Book 3 of the Monsters & Angels series?
Leaves of orange and gold litter the ground beneath a lone Copper Beech tree, the only semblance of life at the entrance of this desolate landscape. Thick at the bottom and bushy at the top, shaped a bit like broccoli, this thick tree a reminder that someone once hid from life here..
Dilapidated and askew, the wooden house breathed against a sky of watercolor hues. Once occupied by a washed out politician whose relativity had run dry, he’d moved to this haven away from the land of the living, preferring the limited life that Nowhere had to offer.
His years of solitude affected him deeply, giving him the solace that the cruelty of government never had, and now, he lingers in this house of rotten boards leaving nothing behind of his once witty arsenal except a solitary silver cufflink wedged between a buckled oak floor.
Aguaclara sat down on a wooden bench under the shade of a beautiful tree whose name she didn’t know. A man rode by in a weird-looking bicycle, but no one appeared to question his transport. Along the boardwalk people walked with careless abandon, looking for all the world like this coastal town in New England was totally normal. It totally wasn’t. What the sign on the road had advertised as a charming little town, had actually turned out to be a ridiculous parade full of crazy characters.
She tapped her forehead in frustration. “We should’ve gone to Hawaii instead,” she bemoaned.
“Agreed,” a voice said above her. She looked up to see Laster as he sat down next to her. “Although all twenty islands are just one giant tourist pit, I’ll take a Hawaii sunset over this weird town and that awful storm that came out of nowhere on the way here.”
They had flown in from California, but as they had descended over the Appalachian Mountains they’d barreled through a thunderstorm that no weather monitoring bot had predicted.
“That storm was awful, right?” Aguaclara agreed. “And this town … yeah. Everyone talks so funny and acts so strange. I think they’re going for quaint, but it’s remarkably archaic.”
“Yes! Oh my gosh, this place is nuts!” Laster held up his hands in frustration. “The people are crazy! Just now, I saw a balding man asking for money. He said he didn’t have anywhere to live.”
“What? Where does he sleep?”
“I don’t know! It doesn’t make sense, but I didn’t want to pry. Well, I tried to give him money, and he didn’t have a scanner. He even asked me, ‘why would I have a scanner?’ What! How does he expect people to help him? Can you believe that?”
Aguaclara nodded sadly. “Laster, I believe you, but only because I went into a little store where a woman was selling handwoven goods, and she also said she didn’t have a scanner. She did have a hand computer that looked like a scanner, but when I waved my wrist over it nothing happened. She took back the scarf I meant to buy and said she didn’t weave for free. I said I didn’t want it free; I meant to pay but her scanner didn’t work! And then she acted really confused and said her computer was a phone and not a scanner. Okay, crazy lady, bye. I left.”
Laster shook his head. “This whole town is crazy. While you were shopping I went by the beach. I stopped to watch a small group of people stretching in unison. I wondered out loud why they would do that. A woman next to me heard me and said they were doing yoga and that it was a great way to keep their bodies flexible.”
“Why would they need to exercise for that? That’s why we have metaxalone in the water. Ooh …” Aguaclara snapped her fingers. “Maybe these people drink untreated well water. So they’re all stiff. That’s crazy.”
“Right? But that’s not as crazy as the other thing she said.”
“What else did she say??”
“She said she was a better teacher than the guy teaching the class, and had more experience. But she quit when she found out that he made more money than she did.”
“What! How come? If she was better, she must have been getting paid more.”
“I asked the same question, and she just shook her head and mentioned the gender gap.”
“The gender gap in population? What has that got to do with salaries?”
“No clue. She was wearing tight pants printed to look like leopard spots, though, so I just assumed she wasn’t right in the head.”
Aguaclara shook her head. “These people are crazy.”
“Definitely,” Laster said. “Maybe we should just head back.”
“I’m hungry, though. Let’s find some food. Someone is bound to have a scanner.”
“Let’s hope. I’m hungry, too.”
They walked along the boardwalk until they reached a small shop with a sign that read: All forms of payment accepted. They walked up to the counter eagerly and read the menu. Attempted to, anyway.
“I have no idea what any of this means,” Aguaclara confessed after a minute.
“Me neither,” Laster said. “Bacon, ham? Drumsticks? What’s that?”
“And what about this chicken, fish, lobster? Why call food after an animal?”
At that moment a young man came out of a door in the back and smiled at them. “Hi, welcome to Ed’s Lobster House. What can I get you?”
“Um, we’re not sure yet,” Aguaclara answered.
“How ’bout our famous lobster? Ed just brought them in this morning and they’re super fresh.” Seeing their confused expressions, the young man added, “Ed’s the owner and also the lobsterman.”
Laster frowned, extra confused. “You mean like a superhero? Like Spider-Man?” He’d heard of Batman and Spider-Man, but not Lobsterman.
The boy looked confused. “No…? I meant like … a lobsterman? You know, a person who catches lobsters?”
“Why does he catch lobsters?”
“Uh, maybe to serve them—” he said in an infantile tone, as he pointed to the restaurant sign “—in his Lobster House??”
Aguaclara and Laster looked at each other in horror as the light bulb turned on in their heads. And they ran away. Out of the town and across the road, and into the clearing where their monojet was parked. Only when they were back inside their jet did they stop to catch their breath.
“These people eat animals, Laster.”
“What crazy town did we stumble into, Clara?”
But Aguaclara’s gaze had drifted to a banner that was hanging from a tree. The large, bright letters were printed over depictions of fireworks. She read the words, but they didn’t make sense.
Happy New Year! 2020
“Gosh in Heaven, Laster,” she finally whispered, horrified. “You know that crazy storm we went through on the way here?”
But Laster couldn’t answer, because he had too seen the sign, and had lost his voice.
“I think it warped us back through time,” she concluded miserably, “… to the 21st century.”
A collection of short stories from your favourite authors who have come together to deliver you a Christmas read with a twist.
With true war tales that will break your heart, gritty Christmas crimes that will shake you to your core, and heart-warming tales of love lost and found, this anthology has something for everyone. And, with every penny made being sent to support our troops, you can rest assured that you’re helping our heroes, one page at a time.
From authors such as Louise Jensen, Graham Smith, Malcolm Hollingdrake, Lucy Cameron, Val Portelli, and Alex Kane, you are in for one heck of a ride!
When Stars Will Shine is the perfect Christmas gift for the bookworms in your life!
As the blurb tells us, When Stars Will Shine is a multi-genre collection of Christmas-themed short stories compiled to raise money for our armed forces and every penny made from the sales of both the digital and paperback copies will be donated to the charity.
Working closely with Kate Noble at Noble Owl Proofreading and Amanda Ni Odhrain from Let’s Get Booked, I’ve been able to pick the best of the submissions to bring you a thrilling book which is perfect for dipping into at lunchtime or snuggling up with on a cold winter’s night. I have been completely blown away by the support we’ve received from the writing and blogging community, especially the authors who submitted stories and Shell Baker from Baker’s Not So Secret Blog, who has organised the cover reveal and blog tour.
There isn’t a person in the country who hasn’t benefited from the sacrifices our troops, past and present, have made for us and they all deserve our thanks.
It has been an honour working on these stories, and I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I have.
Fredrick Snellgrove, Private 23208 by Rob Ashman Four Seasons by Robert Scragg The Close Encounter by Gordon Bickerstaff Believe by Mark Brownless What Can Possibly Go Wrong? by Lucy Cameron Mountain Dew by Paul T. Campbell The Art of War and Peace by John Carson A Gift for Christmas by Kris Egleton Free Time by Stewart Giles Died of Wounds by Malcolm Hollingdrake The Christmas Killer by Louise Jensen The Village Hotel by Alex Kane A Present of Presence by HR Kemp The Invitation by Billy McLaughlin Brothers Forever by Paul Moore Girl in a Red Shirt by Owen Mullen Pivotal Moments by Anna Franklin Osborne Uncle Christmas by Val Portelli Time for a Barbeque by Carmen Radtke Christmas Present by Lexi Rees Inside Out by KA Richardson Penance by Jane Risdon New Year’s Resolution by Robert Scragg Family Time by Graham Smith
It was the night before Christmas
And all through the house
Were remnants of spillage
Nog all over my blouse
For while I was chilin’,
Feet up by the fire
A deer crashed the window
Wearing sleigh-bell attire
He stomped and he slipped
He knocked pie to the floor
He licked it all up
Then looked to me, wanting more
Being pregnant, I moved slow
But tried to reach a broom
Ripping apart a pillow
White feathers he consumed
I coaxed and I yelled
I pleaded and I cried
While shaking straw broom
My pleadings still denied
When suddenly, on the lawn
My husband arrived home
He walked through the door
While this beastie still roamed
With one powerful yell
Hubbie threatened with all might
Get out of my house, deerie
Or there will be a great fight!
Large, puffy cumulus clouds rolled across the sky and the golden rays of the sun pierced through the cottony fluffs mocking the somberness that had settled upon the day.
A genesis, a new beginning, to be a pioneer in someplace new–that is what my grandmother hoped for when she made the rash decision to sell our two-hundred plus year old family home where generations had lived.
I looked back one last time at the stately Georgian dreamscape, the only home I’d ever known, and listened to my grandmother’s pitiful attempt to convince her family that selling this part of our legacy was a good decision. I locked the beauty of our home into my mind, the pristine condition of the gardens before I jumped into my mom’s red truck, mashing the seat-belt into its locking mechanism, hoping I could erase the negativity brought on by this tragedy of a day and one day only remember my childhood home with fondness and not loss.
“I’m home!” Love closed the front door behind her and shrugged off her school backpack and coat, then she jumped in fright as she noticed her parents standing five feet away, staring at her. “God, you scared me,” she said, adjusting her volume.
“Hello, Love,” her mother said, a worried frown clouding her usually perfect face.
“Hello, Love,” her dad said, looking equally worried. “We have some news.”
“Okay,” Love said. “Give me a sec, I need to plug in my phone; it ran out of battery.”
“This can’t wait. Let’s sit down,” her mom said, and she motioned to the adjacent sitting room.
“Oh-kaay…” Love had no idea what this was about, but she knew it was going to be bad from her parents’ expressions. She sat down in the closest armchair. “Alright. What’s up?”
Her parents sat in a lounge chair opposite of her. Her mom took a deep breath and said, “Love, honey … we’re moving.”
Love just stared at them, trying to determine if she really heard what she thought she’d heard.
“We’re so sorry about what this will do to you,” her dad started to say, and was joined with similar apologetic words by her mom, until Love finally found her voice.
“We’re moving out of Woodstock?”
Her mom frowned in anticipation of dropping possibly the most unwelcome news. “Darling, we’re moving out of the country.”
“Are you kidding me!” Love almost yelled in happiness. “This is the best news! I hate my life here. I hate my school. And the country currently sucks too. I’d rather be anywhere else. Anywhere!”
Again her parents exchanged a look. “You hate your life?” her mom asked.
Love shifted in her chair. “I mean, it’s not like I hate you guys … just my school and its stupid backwards mentality. I told the counselor I wanted to be an engineer and he said I should try a career more geared towards women. What the hell? And I also hate the idea that any one of my ignorant classmates could be a potential shooter and he could just walk into a store and buy whatever weapons he wanted, and nothing is being done about it. Oh, and I hate the stupid soda machine that never works. High school sucks.”
“That’s all … very …” her mom started to say, but didn’t finish.
“Awful, yeah. I know. So … moving is the best news I’ve heard all day. Where are we going? Why are we moving?”
Love could tell her parents were ill at ease; they were shifty-eyed and looking suspicious. They didn’t answer right away, so she became apprehensive. After another few seconds of silence she all but shouted, “What’s going on, guys?”
“Hold on, sweetheart,” her mom said. “This is very difficult for us to say. We haven’t been honest with you about our … parentage.”
Her dad tried to explain. “Our family … which we’ve always said were dead, they’re now really dead, and we have to go back home to take care of … it.”
“What!” Love asked, totally confused. “Who’s dead? Who’s not dead? Take care of what?” She flipped her hand palm up in sign of questioning. “Can you be any more cryptic? Please explain.”
Her mom looked at her dad, then back at Love. “Okay, we’ll tell you everything. It might be very upsetting to hear,” she warned.
“I don’t care. Just tell me.”
Her mom took a deep breath. “First of all, we are … not human. We are fae. Faeries.”
Love’s jaw dropped. No words came out, so her mom continued. “We came from another place, the faerie world, where we lived under the rule of our father …”
“Did you say faeries??”
“Yes. And I know it might be hard to substantiate that claim without some form of proof, so look.”
Her parents held an open palm toward the other and held them a few inches apart. Before Love’s very eyes, a ball of light appeared between their hands. They held it there for a few seconds, then, with a quick burst of light, it vanished.
Love’s jaw dropped. “What was that?”
“Our magic,” her mother said. “It works much better back in our world.”
There was a moment of silence while Love’s brain tried to make sense of what was happening. It sounded crazy, but it also seemed very true. And it was … kind of exciting. Actually, really exciting. Her favorite comic book had always been one about faeries—she had been captivated by them for years and years. And to learn that faeries were real? That there really was a magical faerie world … and her family was going back to it?!
Her mom looked anxious. “We know this might be difficult for you to grasp—”
“That’s where we’re moving to? The faerie world?” Despite her parents’ apprehension, Love could not contain the excitement in her voice.
“Yes,” her dad answered. “We just learned that our father passed away. He wasn’t a nice person, which is why we never wanted to talk about him and pretended he was dead, and why we were so eager to leave our home and live here amongst humans. But … he was the ruler of our kind back home, and now that he’s gone, we have to go back to take care of our family and our people.”
“Your father was a ruler?” Love asked. “You mean like … a king?”
Her dad nodded. “Yes, a king—”
“Oh my God.” They were royalty.
“—and now that he’s gone, we have to go back to take our place in the realm,” he finished.
“So you get to be king now?” Was she going to be a princess?
Her parents exchanged a worried look again. “Maybe,” her dad said. “Maybe I’ll just be a prince, and Aurelia will be the queen. We don’t know yet.”
She looked at her mom, Aurelia, who closed her eyes; and before Love could form a question in her head, her dad spoke again.
“This might be a little disturbing to you,” he warned, “but I’ll just go ahead and say it. Your mother and I are twins, firstborns of our royal parents, King Razel and Queen Ashelia. We hated the royal world and our father’s tyrannical rule. We always relied on each other for strength; we were inseparable. After our mother passed away, our father only got worse; he forced Aurelia to marry an awful prince of another kingdom without caring that he was a known sadist; so Aurelia fled the night before the wedding. In his arrogance our father never expected her breach of duty and obedience, so it was easy for her to escape. I went looking for her and a month later found her here, in the human world. We stayed hiding, and we never meant to go back. But as of this morning, we’re both feeling a strong magic pulling us back home, as though something inside us has been activated with the passing of our father. It seems we can’t escape our blood.”
“I know this is a lot to handle, my dear,” her mom said. “Ash and I never meant to return, and we thought it would be extremely dangerous for you, so we never wanted to tell you. But we didn’t know about this magic that would call us back home.”
“Oh God!!” Love didn’t know what to think. She could handle having a tyrannous grandfather in a magical kingdom that she’d never been told existed before … but her parents, twins? This was some incestuous Lannister shit. Oh God. She was afraid she might puke. “You … is this normal in the faerie world? Brother and sister … relations?” Gross.
Her parents looked at each other and immediately started talking at the same time.
“No! It’s not like that—”
“We’re not lovers, no!”
“We love each other, but not like that.”
“We’re just best friends …”
“Wait, what?” Love was confused. “But you sleep in the same bed,” she pointed out.
“We’ve slept in the same bed since we were born, honey,” her mom said. “We’re like two halves of one soul, and we sometimes joke we’re the same person in two bodies, male and female … but that doesn’t mean we’re involved romantically.” She laughed awkwardly.
“But then … how did you have …” me, Love trailed off and couldn’t finish her question. Because all of a sudden a lot of little things that she’d noticed or questioned about her life, but always mostly ignored, started popping up in her head. First and foremost was that her parents were impossibly beautiful and she looked nothing like them. They both had fine blond hair that matched their bright golden eyes, and yet somehow had managed to produce a daughter with brown hair and brown eyes and average looks.
“You’re not my father?” Love asked, looking at the man that she called her dad. She was starting to question who her real father might be when her mom spoke.
“Our dear daughter,” Aurelia said with a deep sigh, “Ash and I are not your birth parents.”
“Whaaat …” Love started. She took a minute to let that sink in. So many signs pointed to it, yet it wouldn’t sink in. She was adopted? She knew a girl who was adopted. That girl knew she was adopted. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Her parents looked very uncomfortable and took a few moments to form an answer. Finally her mom spoke.
“We’re faeries, dear. I didn’t know what to do when I found you. You see, your birth mother—I was hiding in this world, living in the woods, learning to live on my own, when I heard a human shuffling around. I could tell it was a woman, but she didn’t say a word; she left as quickly as she came in, got in a car and drove off. I didn’t follow her; I didn’t think much of the odd, brief visit, until some short time later I heard a baby’s cry! I just rushed to the noise and found the most angelic thing I’d ever seen. I picked you up and decided to keep you safe. I joined human civilization for the first time. I stole infant formula to feed you and clothes to dress you and keep you warm. I left my crumbly shack in the woods and moved into an apartment in this small town. By the time Ash found me and told me I wasn’t supposed to just keep an abandoned baby, that I should’ve taken you to the human police, I loved you more than I could ever describe, and I couldn’t give you up. I had named you Love.”
“So naturally I stayed here with my sister, and we raised you together,” her dad concluded.
“So let me get this straight,” Love said. “You’re faeries, you can do magic, you’re royalty, and we have to go back to your faerie world for you to rule now that your father is dead?”
“Yes, Love, that is correct,” her mom said.
“But I’m just … a human someone abandoned in the woods?”
“Well, yes; but you’re not just any human; you’re our daughter and we love you so much—” her mother replied, not seeing the problem here.
Love burst into tears. “That is just the worst news ever!” And she ran up the stairs to hide in her room.
A wiry man crossed the avenue and limped under City Park’s arched gate to admire fresh holly wreaths. Gravel crunched under his pointy black boots. “This could be fun.” He raked one hand through the platinum streak at his temple and plucked a glittery ornament from the winding path. “Hard to believe so many rotten children don’t believe I exist.” Behind him, impending sunset glowed through tangled boughs and draped Spanish moss. “In exactly one week, their nightmares will come true.” He crushed the cardboard Papa Noël in his fist. “Yessss…positively jolly fun.”
“Halt, beast!” Cloaked in a flowing sapphire habit, the figure emerged from an ancient grove. She strode through the cathedral of sweeping oaks and blocked his progress. “Not in my city, sir.”
“And who’s going to stop me? You?” The man snickered and offered his bony hand in friendship. “I don’t think we’ve had the pleasure.”
“I’m Charmaine Roussel.” She flicked her gaze to his mock greeting and then locked her eyes with his. “I’m aware of what you are and you know bloody well I’m not alone.”
“Do I?” The man turned and doubled over with laughter. “So, your back-up appears to be a nurse who has clearly never held a pistol before and a crone waving her crooked stick. With all due respect, Mademoiselle Charmaine…” He struggled to compose himself. “You don’t stand a chance.”
“Shoot it.” Charmaine glanced at the trembling nurse. He might look like a normal man, but it’s a disguise. “Shoot now!”
The first bullet flew wide but the next two rounds blasted through the man’s ribs. He dropped to one knee as the swamp around them swallowed the sharp noise and spat back pulsating silence.
“Leave now and I’ll spare your life.” Charmaine gritted her teeth. “You’ve been banned from this city for a century.”
“Oh, the mighty New Orleans…how she has fallen.” The man shrugged a heavy cloak off his hunched shoulders. His fingers plunged into the wound, ripped out the bullet and tossed it into the underbrush. “Seven years of mourning and seven years of weakness after an incompetent fool killed your Duke. Once a coward, always a—”
The elderly woman wailed, stood straight and wielded her cane like a sword, blasting a ball of blue fire that ripped the man from the ground. He slammed back down in a smoldering fractured heap.
Charmaine crossed her arms with precision. “You were saying?”
The groan that escaped his twitching lips descended into a growl as black hair twisted into horns. For a few seconds, the misshapen head of an animal loomed in blue-grey smoke. “Savior of the soldiers, defender of the innocent, care-giver to the hopeless…” A human face fought back while the figure staggered. His eyes glowed a crimson hue only found in the deepest embers of the devil’s fireplace. “I think your Duke was a fraud.”
“Demon!” The nurse tossed her gun aside and grabbed the old woman’s cane, waving it at the beast’s face as if stoking the flames in his skull. “Show yourself!”
Invisible ripples of power exploded through the emerald canopy while the sky beyond plummeted into deep purple. At the moment of sunset, a vampire with tasseled gloves stepped from behind a massive tree trunk and fired her crossbow. A solid gold bolt lodged in the man’s neck. His body twisted and swelled until the fabric of his clothes ripped free revealing the coarse fur of a demented goat. He pawed one cloven hoof and bared warped fangs before lunging at his attackers.
Charmaine took two steps, reached under her habit and drove a swirled blade into the beast’s heart with her final stride. Time flickered and the ground thundered as the creature collapsed to the muddy pebbles, swirling his split viper’s tongue around her ankles.
Four women—a nun, a nurse, a witch and a vampire—stood over the writhing body. In unison, they grabbed the blade’s carved hilt and twisted until the demon disintegrated.
“I’ll take back the Duke’s knife.” Charmaine plucked her weapon from the ash. “Bonne nuit, Monsieur Krampus.”
If you enjoyed this Holiday Lagniappe from theMonsters & AngelsRealm, catch up on the saga...
A light tapping on the screen door awoke James. He had checked his alarm clock to confirm that it was way too early in the morning for any company to come over. Besides, he wasn’t expecting anyone in the first place. After a loud yawn and a bone cracking stretch, James shot out of his warm bed and immediately wrapped himself in his bright red house coat and made his way down the stairs to the screen door.
To his surprise there were eight neatly wrapped boxes with fancy bows on the tops of them. This puzzled him. Christmas was three months away and he had just moved into this home two weeks ago. This had to be a mistake. James decided he would investigate by inspecting the stickers on the boxes.
When he did, his name was written there in bold blue ink and no hint on who it was from. He tore into the box only to find small birch twigs bundled together by red wire. He opened another one and another to the same results: twigs. Angry, he dumped them all in his garbage to await pick-up on Friday. He closed the porch door and began to make his way up the stairs. Before he could make it midway up there, a sharp knocking made him stop. James made an about face and sped to his porch door.
Once he opened it, there were several more wrapped boxes in front of him. He tore through them only to find the same twigs in the same bundled pattern. This had to be the work of the teenagers who lived a couple of streets over. He couldn’t see them, maybe they were camouflaged in the bushes laughing at him.
“You’ve got the wrong one today. Do it again and you’ll be sorry!” James barked as he stormed in the house.
He made it to the top of the stairs when a knock at the door made him dive under his bed to grab his rifle. Once again he opened the porch door. This time a small man with pointy ears and a light green coned hat stood with his arms folded.
“Ummm…can I help you?” A confused James asked, scratching his head. The little man cleared his throat. “James, I’m Wrinkles, we have a mutual friend in the north pole. Those gifts were to send you a message that you’re on the naughty list. Do you understand?” The elf asked as James nodded with his mouth agape.
“Good, you need to get your act together or you’ll be using twigs to build yourself another house, ya hear me?”
“Loud and clear. “
“Good. ” The elf snapped his fingers then vanished into the morning air. James shook his head in disbelief. No one would ever believe that this had happened. He then used his phone to search for the nearest soup kitchen where he could volunteer.
~a silly story about a great kingdom and the power of love~ aka: another tale of Luke and Laura
by Elizabeth L. Lemons
WORDS TO USE: Avalon lake crossbow comrade corruption enfold disgraceful grass orphan list
Once upon a time, in a groovy era filled with free love and flower power, Woodstock and presidential corruption, there existed a tiny yet lovely island known as Avalon. Surrounded by shining blue lake waters, this petite fantasy island was known by most households during the 1970’s due to the quotable declarations of a small man on television as he exclaimed, “The plane, the plane!” Anyway, known in the royal history books as “the age of Court Charles”, here on this wee island great meetings were held in the Mouse Castle, where the King’s knights would sit around a custom-created round table made entirely of driftwood and beaver boards. This particular legendary table had been built by one of the local area river rats’ finest artisans whose name was Lucky Charles. To commemorate its creator’s name, the legendary Court Charles Round Table gatherings were born. This fine table was a representation of the King’s intent to bar corruption as had been witnessed in previous disgraceful reigns. The extraordinary table’s design allowed that no one sat at the head of the table, that no one creature was head over another, that each voice garnered equal merit, and even the King himself included his own decisions to be discussed and voted on by his respected rodent Knights that sat round in advisement. This new-fangled practice allowed justice and fair treatment to all the mice of the land. The desire for a better kind of kingdom where every teeny voice could be heard was the brainstorm of the goodly mouse-king known as King Robert Scorpio.
The king was a jolly good and just mouse and was, (as an older, ordinary looking mouse-man with both idealistic and romantic plans), still filled with unfulfilled personal longing. King Robert had his visionary crossbow hairs focused on wooing and marrying the fairest maiden mouse in all of Avalon. When he found her, she was both wise and beautiful, with the softest of grey fur and a comely tail. Her name was Laura Vere. Laura Vere’s tiny mousine countenance was like the golden sun, her smile filled all the good people of Avalon with hope and cheer in the days that were plagued by war, tie-dyed clothing, music by Jimi, Janice and Jim, and bra-burning. Still, Lady Mouse Laura Vere knew a good opportunity for stability and loads of mouse munchies when she saw them, and so, despite the difference in their ages, and lack of any physical attraction, she consented to marry good King Robert. She did truly admire him, and they enjoyed the dancing and the music of the castle, as well as squirrel-back riding on warm days. They had fun and laughter and often exchanged wit and private ponderances, but these alone moments were not the kind of romantic escapades that Laura Vere had dreamed of as a young mousey girl.
It didn’t take very long before the Queen’s days in Court began to grow long, they became a total bore, and without any challenge whatsoever. Being Queen allowed Laura Vere and her maidenly mice maidens lots of room to roam, to venture across the island with complete freedom. It was on one of these daytime excursions that Queen Laura Vere took notice of a very charming and handsome knight. Luckily, on that day, longing for some Queenly solitude, she had decided to leave the ladies behind ashore for a quick solitary row for a bit of quiet. The mouse maidens constantly chattered too much and would eat all the cheeses that Cook had provided in the basket way before lunchtime. Queen Laura Vere found their unladylike greediness to be quite appalling, so on this day, she set them and a few provisions on the bank and paddled away. Her solitary adventure began as a fine sunny afternoon, filled with hopes of tranquility, until a westerly wind picked up suddenly, as a summer storm blew in. Laura Vere became frightened as she had floated a bit too far away from dry land and her leaf was teetering in the wavy water. She panicked. Just when she thought she might burst into mousey tears, Sir Luke-alot paddled up gallantly beside her on a large piece of whitish driftwood. Wearing a long forest green morning coat, he reached for her teeny ivory lace-shrouded mouse paw and helped her board his vessel. Sir Luke-alot had saved Queen Laura Vere!
“Queeeeeeeee-nie!” He said, much too familiarly. He held her delicate paw, as he simultaneously and suggestively used his masculine body to closely enfold her as he pretended to steady her stepping aboard.
She trusted him implicitly, because Laura Vere had heard a great many complimentary words spoken by King Robert in regards to his own admiration of this Knight. She knew Sir Luke-alot was her husband’s closest comrade and confidante as he performed his honor-sworn duties. Still, Sir Luke-alot was also known by all the ladies of the kingdom to be a bit of a rogue with a sullied, “ladies-man “reputation. Laura Vere generously allowed a coy smile at him as she said a silent goodbye to her rocking leaf. She decided to be lenient with him, for surely, he couldn’t help his lack of proper manners as her husband had told her that he was an orphan, and could call no other place other than this kingdom his home. That didn’t mean he was not beguiling. He was and he knew it, scoundrel or not. Overly-confident, he certainly was, but Laura Vere fell for it all… the looks, the laughter, the twinkle in his itty bitty mousey black eyes. And he smelled so good!
As Queen Laura Vere made herself comfortable upon the curved inside of his driftwood boat, she laid back in an enticing fashion as she watched him first roll and then smoke some grass with his right paw while his left paw guided them along in the lake. Sir Luke-alot was famous, seriously, he was Mouseketeer famous. Everyone knew him, everyone loved him. He was smart, quick, knew countless ways to avoid traps, water poisons, cats, and he could wield a thorn sword better than any other mouse in the land. He feared nothing and no one. It was this complete confidence that was Lady Laura Vere’s undoing.
Nature, of course, followed its destined course (as you knew it would!), and soon, the unexpected afternoon outing became a looked-forward-to daily pleasure that Lady Laura Vere and Sir Luke-alot partook of in great secrecy and lustful happiness. They were made for each other and Luke-alot (sadly) was everything that poor old King Robert was not. And you also know as well, that, now, just as it was then, there were sneaky spy rats (who were, for some unknown reason, called “Cassadines”) hiding everywhere on the riverbanks and amongst the tall weeds just waiting to uncover a tainted tidbit to tarnish the good Queen’s image and her honored place next to the King. Whether the motivation was just plain devilment or jealousy, a sordid rodent or two always seemed covetous of what someone else had, and Queen Laura Vere was blessed with all the riches of the kingdom and now, love. Soon, she and her secret lover were revealed!
Without going into all the sordid details of this long-tale extramarital affair, it is needless to say that King Robert felt betrayed when he was given the shocking news. It was quite a harsh blow of deception that brought him to his trembling old mousine knees. Yet, he could find no real fault with his beloved and kind Laura Vere. Being a wise old King, he contrived in his mousy mind a list of all the good qualities and traits that he admired about his gentle Queen and he determined in his heart that she ably fulfilled all her wifely and courtly duties to him but one, and it saddened him greatly that he was not physically able to fulfill hers. He knew he was too old to maintain her physical happiness and so he forgave her and also Sir Luke-alot. In fact, he felt a great deal of relief after the initial embarrassment of it all. Sir Luke-alot had assumed the role of lover, thereby letting the King off the hook, so to speak. But forever and ever, the betrayal and story of Sir Luke-alot and Queen Laura Vere and their tumultuous tryst would be told throughout history. King Robert actually felt quite proud of himself for being so gracious and accommodating.
And so, on a morning soon after the revelation of the affair, when interviewed by the daily newspaper, aka The Gouda Gazette, the good King seemed comfortable in trying to put the sordid incident completely behind him as he commented, “What’s done is done. I really don’t want to talk about it, actually, I’m pretty tired. Disappointments happen from time to time, but the truth is, you know… the kingdom will persevere…I’ve simply just had a bad knight.”