Sunday, January 19, 2014

Cover Art Alert

I have a confession to make.

(Note: If you are impatient, like me, you can click here to go ahead and check out the fricking amazing artwork for the cover to my new novel Grudgebearer...)

(Additional note: If you love me or are as excited about the new series as I am, you can preorder it from Amazon here or from Barnes and Noble here... I'd be happy to link to other preorder sites, but those are the only two of which I am currently aware.)

Are you back now? Isn't it great?!  :)

Now back to our story...

Long before the idea for Void City landed in my addled noggin, the first book I can remember buying with my own money was the Hobbit. I remember it so distinctly because I used my lunch money to buy the book and kind of had to smuggle the purchase into the house. I still got into trouble (not much) and I will never forget the look on my mother's face when I said, "I know that money was for my lunches. I'm not asking for more lunch money; I'd just rather have books than food."

I was nine.

My opinion on the matter has only slightly changed.

What attracted me first to The Hobbit was the 1982 cover by Darrell K. Sweet.

Much like Derek Riggs's cover art drew me to Iron Maiden, Darrell Sweet's cover art drew me firmly into the world of fantasy literature via the Hobbit and then The Lord of the Rings. I bought and read the Silmarillion that same year, but that another story for another time.

Covers draw in the reader. It's not about making the author happy, so much as it is about catching the eyes of internet denizen's and book store browsers. Making people pick up the book and flip through it... or click download a free sample to your e-reader of choice.

When an artist does both, it's a kind of magic.

Now on to the confession... eventually.

I love the Void City books. I want to write more of them, but long before the vampire-novel-which-shall-remain-nameless angered me to the point that I threw it across the room and started penning Staked, I wanted to write a fantasy novel. I simply didn't know how to go about it.

The world-building for the Grudgebearer Trilogy started in 1997. I started writing it the same year and failed. I wrote two and a half novels in the process of figuring that out, one set in the future and the other a kind of urban fantasy thing I'd like to revisit eventually. First I started with the wrong character. Then I started in the wrong part of the story... Then I had to do more world building...

It took writing well over a million words before I was ready to write the Void City novels and it took that million plus the roughly half a million word that comprise the Void City books to date before I could write a fantasy novel. Along the way, I have fantacized about having an awesome cover.

I got one.

Cover Art by the incomparable Todd Lockwood for Grudgebearer by J. F. Lewis
(Yet Another Additional note: Did I mention you could preorder it from Amazon here or from Barnes and Noble here... ? Oooh! I bet you could ask your favorite local indie bookstore to order it for you, too. One of my favorites is http://www.mystgalaxy.com )




Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Void City Halloween

Because it is no longer available in broken up format, I hereby present A Void City Halloween. Maybe I will have the follow up ready for next Halloween.

 

Enjoy!

 

A Void City Halloween

By

J. F. Lewis (copyright 2011 by J F Lewis)

 

(A Chronological Note: This story takes place between the events of ReVamped and Crossed.)

A Void City Halloween - Part 1

Eric:

 

I'm wasn't happy with the costume and everyone could tell. Even if I tried to tell them who I was, half of them have never heard of the show or never seen an episode. Yet there I was dressed as... well, who I was dressed like, and standing in front of my strip-club-turned-bowling-alley, the Demon Heart, waiting for the others. People were staring.

Grrr. See, for me, Halloween is just one more reminder that I can't eat any fucking jelly beans. Before I had Greta, I'd convinced myself that all future Halloween would revolve around watching my girls take off various slutty costumes to the sound of holiday appropriate novelty songs like "Monster Mash". Greta changed all of that... and it's safe to say that, if not for my homicidal daughter, I would not have been wearing the damn costume I was wearing. And none of these assholes would have been gawking at me.

Fine, I thought, I can gawk, too.

It's not something I do a lot, but I checked to see if any of the lookie-lous were thralls. Any vampire who's made a thrall can do it, but I have to remember to check and remembering things wasn't my strong suit even before I became a vampire.

A glowing stylized "P" blipped into existence over the forehead of a middle-aged woman dressed as a Ghostbuster. Fair enough, Lord Phillip wanted to keep and eye on me. Void City, except for my little corner of it, is his city. I can deal with his wanting to keep tabs on me. After all, every now and again I go on a tear and start killing people and blowing up cars in the middle of the street.

I spotted a teenaged boy and girl, both dressed in Battlestar Galactica Flight suits who belonged to Phil as well. Triple coverage. How nice. If I were paranoid, I'd suspect that Phillip knew something was up and wanted live coverage of the event. I saw other thralls as well, though, so I put that I idea out of my head. A glowing rose, showed that the Marie Antoinette who'd circled the block twice worked for Lady Gabriella. The others, I didn't recognize and to be honest, I didn't care to know them, even though I did raise an eyebrow at the guy with glowing ankh dressed as Slave Leia. His vampiric master must be an interesting fellow. In all, I counted twelve different thralls spying on me and by Thrall number nine I started to get torqued off about it.

As vampires go, I'm one of the ones you don't want to piss off. We come in four different varieties. In Halloween Candy terms the breakdown goes like this: the lowest level, Drones, are peppermint, still candy, but not what you want to find in your bag at the end of the night. They count as vampires, but can be killed just like a normal human. Soldiers are the bulk candy: Toostie Rolls and Sweet Tarts, festive enough, but not the cream of the crop. Being a Soldier isn't bad, but the normal vampire methods will take them out. With Master vampires, we jump up to the miniature candy bars: Kit Kats and the like. The candy that makes a little kid smile and brings out the little kid in grown-ups. Killing a Master is harder and their powers are better. Often, they have one traditional vampire weakness that doesn't affect them at all. Last up (or almost last) are the Vlads. We're talking whole candy bars: Snickers or Hersey's special dark, maybe even cool import stuff or dark chocolate with bacon. Generally there is only one way to kill Vlads, a special way unique to them, and most of them have a rare power or ability that makes them stand out from the pack. Last are the Emperors. They're so rare that it's hard to even put them in candy equations... like you knock on the door and the little old lady hands you a hundred dollar bill and a bag of imported chocolates or Summer Glau answers the door and invites you to join her special Halloween party.

I'm not bragging when I say that I'm an Emperor, but it explains why, when I do take the time to notice the thralls and announce myself psychically (think of it as the way a lion might roar to mark it's territory) they're willing to concede the point, bow, and get the hell out of Dodge. If it was just me, I wouldn't care, but I was taking my little girl trick or treating and I didn't want an audience.

Greta showed up wearing a late seventies outfit. You wouldn't know who she was if she wasn't standing next to me. My costume served as little more than a prop for hers. She'd dyed her hair brown, but she still looked gorgeous... a tall powerful woman of amazonian proportions and despite my stupid costume and how much I hated it, the look on her face, the way her eyes sparkled when she saw me made it worth while. I'm a monster (in real life, not my costume), but I love my little girl. I rescued her from a bad situation when she was nine and refused to turn her until she turned twenty-one. I wish I'd left her human, but I can't say no when someone I love asks me turn them. I try, but I always cave.

"Hi, Dad!" Her fangs peeked out from her gums a little, a visual sign of her already obvious excitement.

I mumbled something in response.

"Cheer up!" She hugged me, then stepped back to admire Magbidion's handiwork on the costume, "Your costume is awesome! Mags did a great job!"

I shrugged. Mags is one of my thralls. Technically I'm against the whole idea of thralls. It seems like human slavery to me, but I keep winding up doing it to either save someone's life or protect them. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a hero or anything. I did save the world once, but it wasn't habit forming. I mean, I frick'n eat people and I'm not sorry about it, but I draw the line at the whole slavery thing and at hurting children.

"I would have rather gone as Pee Wee Herman..."

"Dad!"

"Or Wonder Woman."

"Wonder Woman?"

I nodded. "She's the most powerful hero in the DC universe."

"I thought that was Superman... or Batman."

"Nope."

"But Dad," Greta crossed her arms, "Superman can-"

"Wonder Woman has almost all the powers that Superman has."

"Heat vision?"

"She doesn't need heat vision or super breath, she's got boobs."

Greta snorted, her amusement prying a smile out of me, too. Like we haven't had this conversation before. Yeah, but some things I remember and some things a father knows. My little girl was just doing this to cheer me up, I knew it and she knew it, but it was working anyway.

"Breasts beat heat vision and super breath?"

"Her's do. Besides," I rolled my eyes. "Look at the facts. Superman is vulnerable to Kryptonite and magic. So, Wonder Woman shows up with a green K bracelet and he's toast. She also has a magic lasso, so she can rope his alien ass and he's suddenly powerless and has to tell the truth."

As we talked, Talbot came walking up dressed as a MIB. He's taller than me, more muscular too, but he's a Mouser not a vampire, so I like to think I'm more powerful than he is, even if he does look better in a suit. Hell, Talbot manages to do bald, black, and dangerous better than Samuel L. Jackson. "Are we-?" he began to ask.

"Wonder Woman," Greta says with a grin.

"Well, Batman has a bat cave and Alfred and all his bat gadgets, and Superman has the Fortress of Solitude." Talbot chimed in. He'd heard this before as well and the smile on his face portrayed the same kind of rapt amusement cats might display while playing with string... if they had more emotive faces.

"Fuck the Bat Cave and The Fortress of frak'n solitude!" I was in the zone, smiling so much that I barely noticed the weird symbol on my chest as I glanced down at the street then back up at him in a sidelong glare. My white gloves hardly bothered me at all.

In that slight lull between exchanges, I heard the heartbeats of my other thralls gathering up against the door behind me. Listening. They hadn't heard this before.

"Wonder Woman," I continued, "has frick'n winged armor, a golden sword, a damn invisible jet and, as if that weren't enough, she has a whole magic island full of magic lesbians all almost as powerful and attractive as she is who are willing to don their armor and open up a can of whoop ass on 'man's world' if their precious princess gives the word. Oh. Oh. Oh. And who is their mighty princess?" I snapped my fingers as I answered my own question. "That's right, it's Wonder Woman herself."

A crowd of folks I didn't know, patrons taking part in the beer crawl sponsored by a few of the bars in Void City, had begun paying attention to the exchange, milling around at the edge of things. I'm still not sure if the Beer crawl itself was a good idea. Beatrice signed up the Demon Heart to take part because we have a liquor license, but I was more happy about the Cosmic Bowling. I'd started to wonder if I should start shooing the norms away when Tabitha, my fiancée, arrived at the edge of the onlookers.

As if to prove my point, she wore as Wonder Woman. Unlike the one other Wonder Woman I'd seen so far that evening, Tabitha's costume didn't need any padding. She even had the right hair. In some ways she was the perfect woman for me: she looked great and was foolish enough to put up with me. I guess I loved her, but really, I think I proposed just to prove a point. That she said "Yes" is a sure sign that she has issues. Then again, I was the one wearing the silvery boots and the red uniform.

"But Superman can fly around the world at super speed and back up time," Tabitha chimed in.

THe resulting explosion was not her fault. She had no way of knowing that's one of my buttons. To be honest, I was surprised she'd even seen the movie. But the moment she said it, my eyes glowed red and my claws came out. Have I mentioned that I have serious rage issues?Chapter 2

Tabitha:

 

If Eric screws up my Wonder Woman costume over a silly comment I made about a stupid movie, I didn't want to see in the first place, I thought to myself, I'm going to be pissed.

He won't actually claw me, the thought ripped through my head before I consciously realized how true it was. A hungry Eric might bite me. If I took the first swing, Eric might fight me, but even then he'd be focussed on restraining me and figuring out what was going on... If I've been drugged (which happened once), has he done something stupid, is some witch using magic on me? That sort of thing. I don't think he realizes how hard it is to find a guy like him.

Instead of dodging away, I used my special gift: seeming human. Most vampires can't do it, but it's my Vlad-thing and I turned it all on, heartbeat, body heat... if there were a mirror around, I'd have even shown up in it. I'm still too chicken to see if I can fool the sun, but I like to think that it might work.

The group was painted crimson by the light from Eric's eyes. I smiled at him anyway, not looking at his claws or flinching away. Never flinch away from an angry vampire, it heightens the predator/prey response. If you have any chance at calming a vampire down, it has to be done up close and personal with no sign of fear... unless, of course, you want to bitten.

"Don't make me use my golden lariat on you," I said stepping in close, my breath hot against his neck. And that's all it took. Like magic, he was in control again and if his red space uniform was pulled a little tighter in the crotch, so what then. That's the kind of reaction I liked getting from the man I planned to marry.

"Guys!" Greta broke in, the tone in her voice that of an embarrassed teen even though I know she was human for twenty-one years and had been a vampire for at least twenty years on top of that. "No sexy stuff until after we trick or treat."

Eric mumbled something, but I couldn't make it out. Seeming human dulls my vampire senses, just like it makes my other vampire powers harder to use. It was worth it though for the way Eric unconsciously took my hand as he whistled for the car. Vampires are drawn to body heat.

I watched the humans eager to see their reactions when a 1964 1/2 Mustang convertible pulled out of the parking deck across the street and idled next the curb waiting on us. Driverless. I caught Talbot's smirk as the humans asked Eric questions like "How did you do that?" and "Where's the remote control?" I doubt if the Veil of Scrythax, the magical ward Lord Phillip has placed over the city, even had to work at all to make the mortals explain away the magic, like it had already made them ignore Eric's claws and glowing eyes.

Greta called shotgun, already climbing into the passenger's seat before I could protest, leaving Talbot and me to ride in the back together. Marilyn Manson's cover of "This is Halloween" played on the radio as the engine roared and we pulle away. Eric hammed it up, not bothering to touch the steering wheel as we drove away, eliciting a chorus of whoops and cheers from the drunken crowd. How they would feel if they knew the car had a name (Fang) and would eat them if Eric let it, their flesh strips from the their bodies and their bones entombed in its trunk.

"How does this work?" I'd never been Vampire Trick or Treating. When I'm seeming human, I can eat food, but I still can't taste it, which is why the whole voyeuristic eating thing other vampires do just pisses me off. I hope Eric isn't expecting me to eat all the candy for them...

"How does what work?" Eric asked.

"Are we actually trolling for candy or...?"

"Why the hell would we want candy?" Eric scourges me with an over the shoulder glare ignoring the road.

"This is Vampire Trick or Treating, Mom," Greta said, her tone implying if I'm the cutest little moron on the planet. I hate it when she call me "mom" too. Greta is disturbing.

"So... no candy?"

"Nope," Talbot answered, his hand touching my leg and my false heartbeat speeds up. I'd been with Talbot before, when I was fighting with Eric over his infatuation with my little sister Rachel. My body remembered what it was like and wasn't shy about the desire for another helping. "While I wouldn't mind a Three Musketeers..."

I stopped listening, watching the world go by outside the car. A Jack-o-lantern, supported by a dark nebulous form, flitted through the night on another street and I wondered if it's a good costume or something supernatural, like me. In a way, I guess I'm both.

Fang crossed over to Northside where all the trendier bars and clubs are found. The lights from The Iversonian broke the sky, the spotlights on the roof glaring out in contrast with the night, but we don't go there. We headed further in only to be greeted by the flashing blue lights of a VCPD police car. Captain Stacey, a tall tawny haired mouser, stood next it. As we pulled up slowly, he raised an eyebrow, straightening his uniform as if by reflex when he recognizes the car.

"Now I know you aren't out Trick or Treating," he purred.

Eric shook his hand. "We are."

"Damn it, Eric," Stacey spat. "We already have enough trouble tonight covering up for the usual vampires who think it's funny to show up and play costume bingo, without you-"

"Greta wanted to go," Eric said firmly. "We'll pay the Fang Fees in advance."

"Let's call it a deposit," Stacey eyed Greta, "you've got that one with you. I keep half expecting to have to cover up a slaughter of animals at the zoo because she fancies a lion or elephant for dinner."

Lord Phillip owns the VCPD. Fang fees are the price supernaturals have to pay for body disposal or memory alterations that the Veil of Scrythax doesn't handle well enough. They're called fang fees, because it's those of us of the bloodsucking persuasion that have to pay them most often. On Halloween, most kills invoke a Fang Fee, because technically, we're all supposed to "eat in".

"Fair enough." Eric reached into the glovebox for his check book and wrote a check with more zeroes than he seemed happy with... a look one might see on the face of any parent taking the whole family to Disney World or the Bahamas... except this check is bigger. "Bill me for the rest."

And off we went into the flow of part-goers and revelers. If I'd thought there were a lot of people hanging out near the Demon Heart, the crowd downtown proved me wrong. There's a cop on every corner and some of the people out here are younger than I'm used to. Tweens mixing in amongst the grown-ups. Eric shakes his head when he sees them.

 

"One last time, so there are no misunderstandings," Eric tells us as we move. "No one under eighteen. Costumes must be called in advance. And once you call a costume, you're locked in."

 

"One costume swap an hour?" Greta asks.

 

"We're going to be out here a whole hour?" Eric is aghast.

 

"All night maybe," Greta twirls in a circle. "It's Halloween, Dad." Her faces goes serious. "That's okay isn't it?"

 

"Fine."

 

"Who picks first?"

 

Talbot raises his hand. "Since I won't be 'playing', I'll referee. Point out a target and say, 'Trick or treat.' I'll verify the age and the costume. If you can feed, I'll say 'Treat' and you're clear to hunt. If I say 'Trick', then you have to do a dare."

 

"Anyone who takes a victim without Talbot's go ahead, gets staked," Eric adds.

 

"Most bingos tonight wins?" Greta asks.

 

I raise and eyebrow when Eric agrees. He's not big on games.

 

"Then on that note," Talbot spreads his arms, "you first."

 

"Sexy Big Bird," Eric says without hesitation.

 

"I thought you preferred Wonder Woman." I give him a mock pout offering him my neck with a smirk, but he waves me off with a shake of his head.

 

"Maybe later."

 

Then I get it. Eric doesn't want to win. He doesn't want to be out here at all. He'd rather be bowling and watching me or one of his thralls eat pizza for him. He's here for Greta. It's almost... sweet.

 

Greta picks "Black Cats" and I go with "Harry Potter" because that's still big, but when Greta takes off at a run to find her first target, I take Eric's arm and lean in close. "I know what you're doing."

 

"Huh?" He sounds distracted, looking away from me completely, first to the left and then to the right.

 

"With the whole 'Sexy Big Bird' thing."

 

"Uh-huh." He steers us across the street to where an old chinese take out place sits abandoned on the block. "Can you hear that?"

 

Talbot is sticking closer to Greta, but when I glance his way, i can see him eyeing Eric intently, eyes narrowed, mouth slightly open in anticipation.

 

What am I missing?

 

"Son of a bitch!" Eric shouts and takes off at a run, hitting vampire speed so quickly that he essentially vanishes from view, but as he does, I catch another glimpse of the flaming Jack-o-lantern, only this time, it has blood trailing from its open mouth and a child's tennis shoes wedged between it's sharp orange teeth.

 

 

A Void City Halloween - Part 3

ERIC:

 

My silver space boots are made for walking (at best), but I'm running. Running toward the sound of a child’s scream. It's not the sound of a kid who dropped his ice cream, it’s the sound of absolute terror, terror beyond an adult’s comprehension. If I had to guess, I'd say it belongs to a boy, maybe eight or nine years old.

 

My conscience is like an old bone worried by toothless dog. It takes a lot to make an impression, but there’s just no way I can ignore this feeling. A sharp pang of anxiety lodges high and tight in my chest, but also low and thrumming in my gut. I guess human men might call what I'm feeling The Daddy Switch, but whatever it's called, I hate it.

 

It’s time to give Void City a refresher course in Don’t-Annoy-Eric-ology. I’m angry, ornery, and damn hard to kill… and that means I get to make my own rules, at least about some things. Everybody in Void City is supposed to know to stay away from me, away from my home, away from my business… and on Halloween, they’re supposed to make sure the kids stay safe. I don’t care how many adult humans die. Kids stay safe. It’s all a part of my non-aggression pact with this god forsaken town.

 

Orange.

 

I glimpse it on my right as the world blurs around me from the vampirically enhanced rate of speed I'm traveling. My powers can be finicky, but they seem to work better with Fang nearby. He's my memento mori. Normally, I can kind of explain what that means a little, but not now. Now, I'm busy and not thinking straight.

 

Heat.

 

I feel the flame before I see it. A long jet of fire engulfs me and all I can think is: Did a mother fucking pumpkin just breathe fire on me?

 

It did.

 

Tendrils of lovely bright flame wash over my face, torching my hair and set the red cloth of my costume alight. It stings like a bitch and the way it grabs my skin and clings spells magic. It's supposed to stop me, make me stop-drop-and-roll. Instead, I pop my claws and lunge blindly at the source of the flames, bulling onward. My eyes cook in their sockets and I go blind, but in my head, the screams of the anonymous little boy have begun to sound like Greta's screams, the night terror kind that I'd hear in the night for years after I rescued her from her foster dad. They'd send me running down the hall to her bedroom where I'd rock her back to sleep. It's like I'm in that hallway again, only I haven't killed this monster yet.

 

I will.

 

My claws pass through something cold and immaterial, almost like a ghost, but not quite... and I know what ghosts feel like. All Emperor level vampires like me have technically risen as two kinds of undead at once… it takes massive amounts of weirdness like curses, magic, bad luck, and murder combined to make that happen. I rose as a revenant - an angry ghost, after being murdered by my best friend- while a family curse simultaneously turned me into a vampire. It's a weird death I'm living.

 

I swing two more times, feinting low then high. The boy isn't screaming anymore, but I think I hear his heartbeat. Then it stops. And I roar, striking out wildly. I smell meat and blood and burnt flesh, then my claws connect with something cold and wet, but warm on inside. There's a dull hollow sound as I give it a glancing blow, then the liquid rip of a shredded gourd as I get in a solid claw. A scent like rotten fruit suddenly overpowers the scent of fear. My hands are wet and cool. It feels like I've smashed a rotten pumpkin.

 

The fire loses its hold and in minutes I'm whole again, staring down through regenerated eyes at a fist full of black and orange pumpkin innards, the stringy light orange strands hanging down from my claws. On the ground, the smoking remains of a pair of kid's tennis shoes seem to glare up at me from the sidewalk alongside a green candle. I feel like Brad Pitt at the end of Se7en shouting, "What's in the box?” but I know. I'm too late.

 

Tabitha and Greta are at my side.

 

"Did you see it?" I ask.

 

"I saw something," Tabitha offers, "like a flaming Jack-o-lantern, but-"

 

Another scream. A new one. A little girl scream. Then Talbot's at my side too.

 

"I take it we object to whatever is killing the children?" Talbot looks at me, intently trying to make sure I understand that he really wants an answer.

 

I show him my fangs.

 

"I'll take that as a 'yes'."

 

"Greta," I point past the frue-frue of an upscale restaurant that used to be an Original Pancake House, toward the source of one of the new screams, "Evil Fire-breathing Pumpkin thing. Find it. Kill it. Do not eat the kid."

 

She's off like a shot without a pause or any questions, a smile on her face and afraid of nothing. That's my girl.

 

"Tabitha," I point back the way we came, toward Morne Park, "Same deal. Take Fang if you want."

 

"Why can't I take Talbot?" she asks.

 

"Because I need Talbot. Call your sister and tell her and Magbidion to get their magical asses down here in case we can't kill these damn things with brute force."

 

"Fine." She trudges off. I shake my head.

 

Talbot is smiling at me like I just turned into Santa Claus for kitty cats. Then, I hear the little girl scream again. The revelers around us don't appear to hear her. Several of them are staring at me, making comments about what drugs I'm on and how drunk I must be. I wonder what the Veil of Scrythax is actually letting them see.

 

"You go ask Captain Stacey, 'What the hell?'"

 

"Exactly that?" Talbot chuckles.

 

"Yes, exactly that."

 

"Okay."

 

He doesn't move. "Mork calling Orson," I say, "Come in Orson. What are you frick'n waiting on, man." I’m sure it's the remains of the costume I'm wearing that has the phrase in my head, and I know I look and sound silly, because Talbot's smile broadens so much I'm afraid the skin will tear.

 

"That," he says as he turns and heads for Stacey's squad car.

 

I start to run toward the scream I've assigned myself, but suddenly my speed won't kick in. I give up on it and let myself begin to change. If I can't go super-speed, then I'll just have to wing it. Vampires can change shape. Some of us can only do animals. Some, like Winter and Lord Phillip, can turn into mist. I'm the only vampire I know who can go uber vamp, though I’ve been told that any Emperor can.

 

Black wings rip out of my back as my body grows in height and girth. A color wave of coal blackness washes over me. My clothes go away and my fangs and claws extend. Once upon a time, changing into the uber vamp made feel bloated, like a balloon filled with too much water, but now it feels normal. When I'm finished, I bear a striking resemblance to Chernabog, the massive demon from the "Night on Bald Mountain" sequence of Disney's Fantasia only my eyes glow purple, and I'm way more detailed, and... anatomically correct.

 

The crowd applauds. They think it's a frick'n costume. Their heartbeats ring in my ears more loudly than the applause and I remember that I haven't fed. It would be so easy to unleash my frustration on the crowd and drink my fill, but I hear the girl again and push the thoughts of blood away. It can wait a little longer. I mean the little girl's got have a grown up with her to be out so late. Maybe her guardian’s wearing a Sexy Big Bird costume.

 

What? I said I don't hurt kids. I didn't say anything about not making orphans out of them.

 

When I spread my wings and fly, the applause almost drowns out the little girl I'm trying to save. In the distance, the "Airwolf Theme" plays on Fang's radio as I take to the air. The view from higher up isn't what I'd hoped. I see the little girl. She's got to be thirteen. Maybe that's what's kept her alive long enough for multiple screams. She's dressed in a costume I don't recognize, but I'd bet it's from an anime. It's some sort of Japanese school girl outfit and she has orange ribbons in her hair.

 

The thing chasing her is orange too, a Jack-o-lantern with a jagged fire-filled maw, sitting atop a body that looks as if it might be made of equal parts smoke and shadows. Worst of all, as I continue to gain altitude, I spot Greta's monster, Tabitha's and more besides. There aren't just three of these things. It looks more like a dozen. I could go home, go to another part of town to Trick or Treat… forget all about these kids. Thirteen is really a teenager and not a kid. I should walk away, but I can't. Greta looked thirteen when she was nine.

 

Okay, I really can’t. Why the hell can't the evil pumpkins things be hunting college kids? A Void City Halloween - Part 4

Tabitha:

 

On the one hand, it's kind of sweet that Eric wants to stop whatever these evil pumpkin things are and save the children. On the other hand, he seems to expect me to help. Unlike Eric, I am not used to being on fire. But I hopped into Fang, Eric’s undead classic Mustang, and headed off as directed… because I can't think of a way to say no without coming off like a total bitch. Fang is doing most of the driving, so I guess it’s okay that I’m looking down, dialing someone who is definitely not on my “favorites” list.

 

"Hiya, slut," my little sister Rachel says when she answers her cell. "Are you calling because you've finally decided to let me and Eric-"

 

I pull the phone away from my ear and stab several buttons with my finger. She's still cursing when I put the phone back to my ear.

 

"Shut up and listen," I say, speaking right over her. "Evil fire-breathing pumpkins."

 

"Huh what now?"

 

"Evil…" Fang pulls up onto the sidewalk and drives right over an older teen dressed like somebody from the Jersey Shore. "Shit!" A horrendous ripping sound erupts from underneath the car as Fang feeds. I don't know how the car does it, but I hear the tinkle of dry bones raining down in the trunk and I know that if I went back there to check I'd find the skeletal remains of a Snooky lookalike. "Sorry. Fang just ate somebody. Um... shit. um. Right. Evil fire-breathing pumpkins."

 

"Seriously?"

 

"Yes, Rae! It's like ‘It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown’ meets ‘Pete's Dragon’ or something."

 

Rachel laughs at me. "That's such a crap analogy, I don't even have words."

 

"Just tell me if you've ever-"

 

"Slept with one?" Rachel interrupts. "Nope. I'm a tantric witch, Tabs. I know my fair share about demons, but I really can't think of any that..." She pauses. "Wait, does it really have a Jack-o-lantern face and a dragon body, because-"

 

"No, more of a smokey, see-through, human-y body with a flaming Jack-o-lantern for a head."

 

"Ask Magbidion."

 

And then she's gone. The bitch hung up on me before I could tell her that Eric wants her down here to help. Given that I don't actually want her down here, or anywhere too near Eric before she plays the maid of honor on my wedding day, I call Magbidion instead of hitting redial.

 

"Ew!" Magbidion has his phone set up to play music while you wait in place of just ringing and I'm momentarily taken back by the sound of P!nk's cover of "I Touch Myself". As the song plays, I remember to scan for evil orange flaming death monsters. I see two of them, in the park. One is chasing down an old woman in a track suit and the second is pursuing five kids, maybe nine or ten years old, in Harry Potter school uniforms.

 

They run past a statue of some famous guy, making for the newly refurbished park benches the city put in. The kid in the back of the group has a weird look on his face, like either because of the Veil of Scrythax or because he's so young, he still believes this might all be some Halloween prank.

 

"Hello." Magbidion says into the phone as he answers.

 

As I open my mouth to answer, the kid at the rear of the pack, stops, turns, brandishes a fake plastic wand with a light up tip, and shouts, "Expecto Patronum". When Eric and I watched the movies together he always shook his head at that one. He told me it means "I await a protector”. A drop of blood ran down my cheek (because when you're a vampire all of your bodily fluids are replaced by blood and I only cry real tears when I'm seeming human) and just like that I'm committed to the cause. I can't let these little kids get eaten and burned. The jogger is on her own, but... those kids are awaiting a protector and it’s looks like Wonder Woman is about to answer the call.

 

"Evil," I'm vaulting out of the mustang, "Fire," I'm moving at top speed, the woods blurring around me as I run, "breathing", my claws come out sending bursts of pain through my fingertips, "Pumpkins".

 

My hands are on the kid and I'm jerking him out of the way as a blast of fire from the pumpkin’s gaping mouth strikes the ground where he was standing less than three seconds earlier. The cell phone is still in the car. With my vampiric super-hearing, I hear Magbidion say, "I'm on my way" as the phone hits my vacant seat. Then I'm dodging fire again as the pumpkin chasing the jogger peels off and heads for me.

 

I'm a Vlad, I think to myself. Burning probably will not kill me. What I wouldn't give for Super Breath.

 

GRETA:

 

"Halloween fricking rocks!"

 

Another pumpkin breathes fire at me and I spin out of the way, letting flames hit the concrete and some human in an Optimus Prime costume who looked much cooler before he caught fire. Poor food. I wonder if his blood tastes funny now. No one moves to help him when he falls. Somewhere in the back of my psyche, it seems like there's something else the other foods should be doing.

 

"Did my dad say I had to save the kids or just kill you pumpkin things and not eat the kids?"

 

I get another blast of fire as my only answer, but it doesn't hit me. I'm way faster than these things.

 

"So... I guess you prefer your vampires, slow-roasted," I roll under the pumpkin to my right. Cold rushes through my body where the thing's spectral body overlaps with me. I punch up through the bottom of the pumpkin and my hand touches something hot before the pumpkin's flame goes out with a hiss, leaving me with a pumpkin on my arm. I fling it off, leaving a trail of slimy pumpkin guts down my right arm and a mundane-seeming smashed pumpkin with an extinguished green candle in its center.

 

"If I kill enough of you, I can make a Smashing Pumpkins joke," I say as I spin, expecting to find the remaining pumpkin, but I don't see it. Instead, I see the charred remains of Optimus Prime. Crap. Well, at least I didn't kill the food, because I did not pick a transformer costume for my pick in Trick or Treat and I would hate to lose on account of-

 

I lose the thought when the pumpkin rains fire on me from higher up in the air. My Mindy costume catches fire as I change shape, dropping out of the clothes. Some vampires, like my dad, can take their clothes with them when they change or somehow create new ones, but I didn’t get that particular bit of fluff. When I change, I leave my clothes behind and when I reform I'm all nudified. Thank god dad made me loose all that weight before he turned me! Flying isn't fair, so I turn into a Zorro Volador Filipino, a giant golden-crown flying-fox. Since they’re the biggest bats in the world, with a wingspan of at least five feet, turning into one doesn’t actually hurt much.

 

Dad can change into almost anything he wants and I can only do a few, but the few I picked were chosen carefully, and I'm saving one of them as a surprise.

 

I take to the air and suddenly can't think of a more awesome way to spend Halloween than to be dogfighting a fire-breathing jack-o-lantern on Halloween. I fly over the top of it and pull off the cap, where whoever carved these evil things made the initial cut so they could scoop the guts out. I pull an Immelman Turn to come flying back at the pumpkin when it goes to chase me.

 

At the last moment, I throw the pumpkin cap with deadly aim. I squeal when it flies straight in through the mouth hole and extinguishes the green candle within the pumpkin head. With the flame gone, the jack-o-lantern drops to the ground with a gourd-y crunch, but try as I might, I can't think up a good Smashing Pumpkins line.

 

I look around to see what I should kill next… and I see dad all uber vamped out and fighting a growing number of other pumpkins. This is the best Halloween ever! The only thing that would make the night better is if dad would start putting swim trunks on the uber vamp, because, seriously- I do not want to be staring at my dad's gigantic thingy.

A Void City Halloween - Part 5

ERIC:

 

I've just split my eighth pumpkin when I see a lightning bolt hit a giant frick'n bat. I know it must be Greta even before I feel her pain. A sire is linked to all his offspring and I'm linked to Greta more closely than most. I feel her pain like a migraine spike behind my eyes and for the first time tonight, I'm not just put out, I'm furious. I turn in the air, trying to see where it came from, but the Great Pumpkin wannabes are swarming me- which is a good thing for the kids I'm trying to save, but pretty lousy for visibility.

 

When the hell did their number spike again? I swear there must be a two dozen of the damn things now.

 

"Greta?" I shout as I swat another pumpkin aside.

 

Greta’s flaming bat form thunks into the pavement below me, but between the waves of nefarious gourds and the pyrotechnics being generated,, I can't see well enough to tell if she's regenerating. At least when I'm uber vamped, I'm hard to burn. I'm not a bad flyer, but I work better when I'm smaller, dealing with wingbeat cycles as a bat rather than massive sweeping flaps of giant ubervamp leathery wings. The uber vamp flies more like a raven than a bat. I prefer bats.

 

The sound of pumpkins surrendering their structural integrity is all around me. Each wing flap takes out at least one or two and their innards are beginning to coat my wings, arms, and torso. Where the hell are they all coming from?

 

"Greta?" I shout her named again, focusing my hearing on the sound of her voice. Instead, behind the thrum of the dance music from the surrounding clubs and amused cries of the onlookers, I hear Talbot say the words "Sexy Big Bird" and Captain Stacey talking to someone from the Mage Guild, asking them to get down here. Then I realize I don't hear screams. Flaming Pumpkins are falling from the sky and hitting cars and occasionally people, but they aren't panicking, running, or taking cover. The Veil of Scrythax wouldn't stop that it. If a person is in danger, the ward doesn't hide the danger... it makes the danger seem mundane, but people still know to run. The people below are still trying to party, and they aren't helping the ones who get hurt.

 

"Great, now I'm dealing with some bippity boppity butt fuck." I call Greta's name a third time and then I stop flapping.

 

Note to self: The ground is frick'n hard.

 

If I'd hit it in my human form, I'd have broken bones, but as the uber vamp, I'm just brought to my knees atop a medium-sized crater. Out the corner of my eye, I see a green candle floating through the air, but I'm focused on Greta. I find her next to a pumpkin splattered Prius and quickly slash my wrist with my long black talons. The blood that comes out looks normal, but when I put it to the lips of "Bat Greta" her healing accelerates so quickly for a moment, I suspect her of faking the severity of her injury so I'd have to come to her rescue. Surely she wouldn't do something like that... Nah.

 

"He was on the roof!" Greta says. She's naked, my blood dripping from her lips, and she's drawing the attention of the crowd. Fine. They want to play with my daughter? They want to ogle her? Not okay with me.

 

"Talbot," I yell, "TIme Out!"

 

"Time out!" he shouts back.

 

I point to the drunks in their various costumes, realize some of the people are staring at my equipment more than hers, and say two words that will bring a smile to my daughter's lips. "Get dressed."

 

She spies her costume a little ways away, covered in pumpkin gore. "But they're all gooey."

 

"Take your pick," I say still pointing at the people.

 

I see the implication set in even as the swarm of pumpkins hits me from above.

 

"Your clothes," Greta says in her best Schwarzenegger impression, "Give them to me. Now!"

 

I hear "Ring of Fire" playing on Fang's radio before I hear his engine. He's got it right, the pumpkin's have given up on getting close and are bathing me with fire from all directions. It's all I can see or feel. Wave after wave of heat and light and...

 

"Eric!" Tabitha is shouting to be heard over the whooshing sounds of pumpkins breathing jets of flame. "Magbidion says he's on his way, but it may be a little while."

 

"Well, call him back and light a fire under his ass or I'm going to rip one of the green candles out of one of these damn pumpkins and shove it right up his ass just as..." like one of those damn police procedurals on television, images pop into my head between words, a green candle with a little flame on top, "soon..." the flame going out,"as..." a smashed pumpkin on the ground, "he..." a green candle flying through the air, "gets here.” Green candles. "Shit!"

 

I fly straight up, grabbing blindly for a pumpkin, but when I smash it, I feel around inside. For a split second, I'm free of the waves of fire and sure enough, the candle in my hand is green, just like the one I've seen in every smashed pumpkin. Just like the one I spotted flying through the air. The pumpkins aren't magic... but the fricking candles are. You probably picked up on that already, but you'll have to pardon me. I've been embalmed. You go get embalmed and then we'll see how well you add up the clues under fire.

 

Great. Now that I have a green candle, what should I do with the stupid thing? With my luck, breaking one would just... to test the theory, I break the candle in half and watch as the wax goes melty and each of the two pieces, bubbles up, expanding into two full-sized candles. "Shazbot!" Then then pumpkin swarm is on me again, but this time I have... well, I wouldn't call it a plan... an idea? A hope?

 

I spread my wings, using the heat from the flames to rise higher and faster until I've pulled away and I can't help but think how much more fun this would be to watch on television than it is to actually live through. An anime would be good. Studio Pierrot maybe? Flapping in ernest, I dive. This works in movies all the time. Fang is heading toward me. Tabitha seems to realize I'm actually headed for them at the last minute.

 

"Fang! Sit!" I shout the command as I throw the two candles I'm holding at the ground in front of him. Technically Fang is a part of me, so it's no surprise that he's figured out what I'm doing. His rear bumper hits the ground with the shriek of metal on asphalt and a horde of evil jack-o-lanterns in hot pursuit slam into his undercarriage as Fang's front wheels rise into the air. Twisting my body like a pole-vaulter trying to clear a hurdle, I try to go up and over... and fail, clipping the front fender and in effect managing to hit myself with my own damn car.

 

He doesn't get all of them, but more than half the flying orange bastards slam into the metal undercarriage of my classic Mustang, flatten, and vanish, sinking into the metal with the same sort of flesh-peeling-off-on-hot-plastic sound Fang emits when he eats people. My shoulder aches and I can feel the bones trying to pull themselves back into shape.

 

The last dozen or so jack-o-lanterns seem angry. They rise, mouths gaping wider, preparing to vomit fiery death on my Mustang and on my fiancé, who is still riding in the front seat. Greta comes out of nowhere and I can't help but think how much better she is at pulling off the whole Slave Leia thing than that fat thrall outside the Demon Heart. The fire extinguisher is a truly inspired touch.

 

Foam and fury rule the day as Greta, Tabitha, and I rush in amongst the sputtering nightmare pumpkins and hurl them under my patiently "sitting" car.

 

"Too bad the damn magician probably got..." and then I hear clapping, "away."

 

Tabitha, Greta, and I turn in unison. And there he is, dressed in hobo chic, hands blazing with lambent purple light and eyes ablaze with madness: the mage. He smiles, exposing stained teeth, and spewing rancid breath that I can smell from where I'm standing because it's tinged with blood. "Trick," he says, "or Treat."

 

Fangs switches songs to Stroke 9's "Kick Some Ass". Like the singer in the song, I totally want to kick some. Unlike the singer, I'm really not a sensitive artist.

 

 

 

 

 

A Void City Halloween - Part 6

Tabitha:

 

Eric leaps into the air, wings spread. He sails overhead and the view is enough to give a girl ideas. It's not as if Eric is small, but the uber vamp... is getting struck by purple lightning. The creep with bad teeth and worse clothes cackles as his magic plays along Eric's obsidian skin, revealing the uber vamps inhuman bone structure.

 

"Dad!" Greta charges too and the sizzling smell of burning meat joins the more ashy odor of cooking uber vamp.

 

Creepo the Magnificent holds father and daughter at bay, the strands of coruscating energy twisting and turning with violent unpredictability. Eric has been forced to the ground, but is still standing, while Greta is curled up in a little ball on the asphalt. I look at Eric's car.

 

"Fang?"

 

Fangs's engine revs, but a cloud of green smoke vents out of his exhaust pipe in a thick plume. As I watch, his head lights flicker and I hear his engine sputter. I guess the pumpkins are disagreeing with him.

"Talbot?" I spy him perched on the edge of the rooftop and he waves, enjoying the show. I've never understood how he picks his fights, but it's clear Talbot hasn't chosen to participate in this one. "You're seriously not helping?"

 

"If a demon shows up," he calls back, "I promise to take care of it. Besides, you don't seem to need my help. The pumpkins are down and that mage only has two hands..."

 

"Me?"

 

"You're the only person here wearing a one-piece battle-swimsuit and matching boots, Wonder Woman."

 

"I swear I have to do everything myself."

 

I hope he falls off the damn roof.

 

Hmmm...

 

I hear Eric call me a name when I walk away from the two of them in the street and leap up onto the roof and crouch next to Talbot.

 

"Hey," his brow is furrowed in that same way all men get when they don't understand a woman's actions. Even though he's a mouser, he still gets it.

 

"Hey yourself." I settle in. "When Eric said that whole bippity boppity thing, do you think he was making a crack about gay people or-?"

 

"No," Talbot says, still suspicious of me. "He was just being crude. Eric doesn't care what people do as long as," he glances back at Eric in a way that makes me believe Talbot's intentions toward my future husband are not entirely honorable. Which makes it easier for me to grab Talbot by the arm, rotate in place like I'm hurling a discus, and throw him at the bad guy.

 

"Only Eric gets to do that!" He yells, but he's transforming even then. If Eric's combat mode makes me want to bed him, Talbot's makes me wish for a plush chibi version. White light washes over his suit and skin, leaving sable colored fur in it's wake and metallic sliver claws at the tips of his paw-like fingers. He sports a glowing silver mane and equally illuminated star emerald eyes.

 

"I'm not getting electrocuted in these boots, Talbot!"

 

ERIC:

 

I knew there was no way Tabitha was going to risk those boots. She said she wouldn't even consider wearing them in the bedroom until after... never mind. TMI. I think Hobo Mage's energy blasts are futzing with my brain.

 

Talbot flies through the air in a perfect arc. Tabitha has better aim than I do, not that I've practiced throwing Talbot at things. It was just the one time really. Her plan is a simple, but good one. Unfortunately, it's predicated on the idea that the mage can only throw generated two streams of energy at once. Turns out, that's not the case. A new beam streams from the mage's eyes, catching Talbot in midair and slamming him backward into the wall of the dance club Tabitha is still perched on.

 

The sound shows up as a synesthesic blast of greens and yellows that sets my whole visual reality wobbling. Vertigo rears its ugly head, too, only the world doesn't start spinning, it goes ass over tea kettle. Marilyn's scent, the heady combination of smoke and sex fills my nostrils. The waves of pain flip and become the feel of her touch. Marilyn died in an explosion back at the Demon Heart, when it was still a strip club. She's the love of my life and my death and no one gets to use her memory like this.

 

I hate turning into a ghost. It feels like my body is coming apart when I do it and the world becomes a cold place rendered in watercolor visuals. But maybe this mage's magic energy beams don't work on ghosts. I let go of my body and the cold snap makes my teeth chatter even though they aren't physical anymore. The lack of spinning knocks me down flat, but it fades quickly. After all, my equilibrium isn't handled by my inner ear anymore. A line of ice spreads out across the road from me, a sign that, though a spectral presence, I can still touch the physical realm.

 

"Oh-ho!" The Mage is smiling. In the spirit realm, he and Talbot are the only two creatures that aren't blurred. They are both rendered with crystal clarity, but while Talbot's form is the same here as it was when seen with physical eyes, the mage is not. He wears white robes adorned with symbols and markings I've never seen. His hair braids are even more elaborate, decorated with pins and combs of jade and gold and ivory. "My eyes see in many wavelengths, little emperor. You cannot hide from me."

 

Most people would ask who he is or what he wants, but that's the thing about me. I don't care. I want him dead and gone and if he had some greater purpose, some puppet master pulling his strings, then either they'll get the message when I kill him and decide to leave me alone or they'll try again until eventually I've killed enough of their goons that they have to confront me themselves and then I'll add their deaths to the thousands already on my tally.

 

I see the beam begin to change, turns blue as if he's focusing it to better affect Ghost me. Screw that! I go physical, manifest my clothes. I'm not paying attention, so instead of my burned up Mork from Ork outfit, I get my default "Welcome to the Void" t-shirt, leather belt, jeans, and combat boots.

 

He adjusts, slowing my progress, so I switch again, feeling my hunger grow with each transition, but not worrying about it enough to stop. I'm gonna beat this asshole, even if I go on a rampage after. It's the clothes that cause the problem. Recreating them over and over again uses up blood and I was already hungry.

 

"Don't you want to know which one of them sent me?"

 

"Which one of who?" I ask before I catch myself.

 

"So you are curious." He sounds pleased with the idea of my curiosity. "Which one of the other seven."

 

"Other seven what?" I ask, trying to buy time before I have to go ghost-mode again. I'm almost to the building upon which he is standing.

 

"Emperors."

 

"So... you're an assassin?" I ask.

 

"No. I'm a test."

 

"What? Like a stress test? A pregnancy test? Couldn't they have me fill out a questionnaire online?"

 

He opens his mouth to answer and then I see Magbidion. He's a seedy-looking reed thin pervert with greasy hair, but he's my seedy-looking reed thin pervert with greasy hair. I don't why, but I'm not surprised at all that he's dressed as the mage from that really cool-yet-short-lived mage detective show that used to be on the Sci Fi Channel, back when it was the Sci Fi Channel. I'm pretty sure that mage didn't carry a gun though. He rises up over the rooftop behind my attacker and fire three rounds from my service revolver.

 

The bullets don't get him. Hobo Mage stops them in the air with a wave of his hand. I don't get him either. Neither does Talbot. The two of us are still trying to think about how to react when Slave Leia Greta rockets past me in the night and sinks her fangs into Mage Boy's throat. He vanishes in a puff of pink smoke, but Greta got a piece of him, biting deep into his aorta and her throat neck and bosom are slick with his blood. She's even holding...

 

"Is that?"

 

"I got his nose!" She giggles like a school girl and waggles it at me between her fingers like a kid might do with their own thumb. I can't help but laugh.

 

If he comes back, it won't be tonight and maybe he found out whatever his bosses wanted him to find out about me and he won't be back at all. Hard to say. We all gather together in the road like the walking wounded and Captain Stacey meets us, hands me back my check, and walks away.

 

"Can we go home now?" I ask, looking at Greta.

 

"Sure, Dad."

 

"Yes, please," Tabitha adds with nod.

 

We all pile into Fang and by the time we get back ti the Demon Heart, Fang is running smoothly again. Mags promises to give him a thorough looking over in the morning to make sure that his mystical case of indigestion is all that remains as a result of the whole Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater bit. My thralls are all waiting for me when I walk into the bowling alley and Greta scowls when I thump Talbot in the shoulder and say, "Time in."

 

"Time in," he agrees.

 

Standing in front of me are six very attractive women and every last one of them is dressed as Sexy Big Bird.

 

"Dad!" Greta says in mock objection. "Talbot cheated."

 

"I did indeed." Talbot bows. "But I only did it to prove a point."

 

"What point?" I ask.

 

"That this is a short story, because in the novels, you never get off this easy."

 

"Novels?" I ask. "Short stories? What the hell are you talking about?"

 

"Don't worry about it Eric." Talbot turns and waves as if there is someone unseen watching in the distance. "Have a Happy Halloween, Internet."

 

"Are we on a webcam or something?" Greta asks. "Because vampires don't show up on film."

 

"You know how cats can see things other beings can't?" Talbot looks at her expectantly.

 

"So can mousers." And with that he walks out of the Demon Heart, whistling to himself.

 

"Dad?" Greta.

 

I shake my head. "No clue, but I know what Mork might say."

 

"What?"

 

"Nanu nanu."

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Corpse of Mistaken Identity

I can't tell you exactly how the word Zaomancer first popped into my head, but I can give you a good idea.

Usually those moment of character creation happen very much on the back burner for me. Eric Courtney, from my Void City series, came from some point between High School and college when I was playing in a friend's roleplaying game. Eric's mad, murderous daughter Greta just showed up on the page as I wrote, but the protagonist of my new novella happened on a three-way call one afternoon.


I'd just heard about the death of a very cool guy in fandom. Giving his name might be a little disrespectful as I'd just met him and spoken with him for all of thirty minutes (valuable minutes I hope readers will find once they see the epic fantasy I've had lurking on my WIP list for the past several years). My friend Rob and I were talking about random stuff and my friend Richard cursed.

"What's wrong?" I asked

"I have to resurrect a database," he grumbled.

That's all it took. One nanosecond I had no idea for a character who could use the breath of life to raise the dead, imbue life into inanimate objects (aging himself in the process)... and the next second he sprang to life fully formed with not only some truly long reaching implications for the Void City gang, but a slew of novels, novellas, and short stories to adventure in all on his own, too.

What I said out loud was, "That's what we need: a resurrectionist."

But... I didn't like the sound of resurrectionist and neither did my wife. Thus Zaomancer.

I can't wait for folks to see how Richard a.k.a. Marlo Morne gets along with Greta when they eventually have their big adventure, but if you'd like to see a glimpse of him in his own little pocket of the Void City universe, just a short side trip away in Birmingham, Alabama, you can check him out in A CORPSE OF MISTAKEN IDENTITY.

 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Con Schedule

I'll be at the Alabama Phoenix Festival this weekend and Con Carolinas next weekend.

 

Here is my schedule for the Alabama Phoenix Festival:

Personal Event Schedule

Fri 12:30 PM Room 4 Balancing Humor and Seriousness
Sat 10:00 AM Room 4 Hero Smackdown
Sat 11:30 AM Room 4 What’s Mind is Mine
Sat 7:00 PM Room 4 Dead Authors' Society
Sun 2:30 PM Room 4 What editors look for





And my schedule for Con Carolinas:





Friday 09:00 pm to 10:00 pm

Event Title: Gender Roles in Sci-Fi and Fantasy

Location: Lakeshore II - Programming 2



Saturday 06:00 pm to 07:00 pm

Event Title: Urban Fantasy

Location: Lakeshore II - Programming 2



Saturday 07:00 pm to 08:00 pm

Event Title: Killing Friends and Enemies

Location: Lakeshore II - Programming 2

You are moderating this panel



Saturday 09:00 pm to 10:00 pm

Event Title: Vampires: Have They Lost Their Bite?

Location: Welwyn - Programming 6




 

Friday, March 23, 2012

Midsouth Con Schedule 2012

Midsouth Con Schedule:

Friday, 3/23 7:00 PM - Raising a Child in Fandom Cartoons to comics, movies to literature: Raising a family in the world of fandom.

Friday, 3/23 9:00 PM - A Bigger Slice Discuss breaking away from licensed characters and creating your own

Friday, 3/23 11:00 PM - The Scoop on Sex Is it a romance novel without it? How much is too much? And do I have to
use flowery euphemisms? Come with your questions on how to craft convincing carnal knowledge.

Saturday, 3/24 10:00 AM - Webcomics Are paper comics going the way of the dinosaur, newspapers, and other print media? Discuss webcomics with the artists.

Saturday, 3/24 8:00 PM - Bad Guys The villains we love, hate, and love to hate.

Sunday, 3/25 11:00 AM - Guide to Writers' Groups How to find or form a writers' group and get the most out of it.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day Vampirism: For Want of Chocolate

On Valentine's Day it's customary to I've chocolates or candy. Instead I give you chocolate and vampires. ;)


For Want of Chocolate

A Void City Short Story

© J. F. Lewis

Nobody warned me about chocolate, which is why I was standing in the mall right outside Godiva, and to be honest, I thought I was going to go berserk. The luxurious bitter scent of dark chocolate mixed with other odors that I'd never noticed before: a spicy flair, a fruity bouquet...

When I was human, those odors never sang to me the way they did now that my olfactory senses had received a mystical boost. Of course, no matter how good it smelled, I knew I couldn't have any. Vampires can't eat... and I'd known that. Hell, I'd been dating one, for over a year. But in the moment, when I got the news about mom's illness and Jason made his offer, I hadn't been thinking about food, my job...anything.

My boyfriend Jason laughed at me. He leaned over the fourth floor balcony rail, by the DVD store next to the escalators. His long black hair cascaded past his hard muscled shoulders, and he tossed it back as he laughed. He whispered his words, but I heard him clearly. "What? You forgot vampires can't eat?"

An older woman brushed past me, purchase made. She didn't wait until she was out of the mall to open her chocolate. She discarded the bag, removing the multi-colored ribbon from the matte gold box. I felt like that rat in the Pixar movie, the one that can cook, because when she opened the box, the world faded away and the scent canceled out everything else. The nearby food court, the woman's own body odor, even the siren call of blood itself, were replaced by this cornucopia of rich, dark wonder.

I'd always laughed at Jason for the way he'd stared at me whenever I ate a bag of Cheetos. He'd focused on every nuance of what was such a simple action, eyes locked in on each individual Cheeto as it went into my mouth. Now I knew how he'd felt. The sensation was overwhelming, like hang-gliding... or really good sex.

Jason laughed again as I began to stagger, but I didn't look up at him. My eyes were on the chocolate. I recognized each piece, from the Coffee Feather to the Raspberry Caramel Duet. My fangs came out, tearing through my gums. It was only the second time they'd ripped free of their hidden sheaths; already the pain was more tolerable.

"Careful." Jason was next to me in a blink, right hand on the back of my neck. He forced me back against the glass of the shop, left hand on my abdomen. "Just watch."

I'd have gone for the Dark Ganache Heart, the Pecan Crunch, or the Dark Mint Medallion, but she didn't. She sat at an abandoned table at the edge of the deserted food court, the metal chair's creak inaudible to humans, but loud as the clatter of high heels on tile to me and to Jason. She lifted a brown square, the 72% Dark Demitasse, and unwrapped it with blasphemous abandon.

I wanted her to break it in half to savor it, but she chewed it recklessly, without thought, without care.

"She's not even tasting it," I said with a snarl of outrage.

The woman glared up at me with a scowl, her lips drawn up into a look of porcine self-importance. What must I have looked like to her? A skinny little bitch,dressed in black? Did she envy my hair, my pale perfect skin? Or did she look at the blue lipstick, the eyeliner, the tiny gold stud in my nostril and dismiss me as trash? Jason laughed again, a gentle laugh, a pitying laugh, and I could see it in the woman's eyes... she thought he was laughing at her.

As if to spite me, she grabbed the Pecan Crunch and stuffed it in, staring me in the eyes. I willed her to stop, screamed it in my head. To my surprise, she froze, gaze locked with mine and I felt our minds touch. She was a petty little thing. Her thoughts thrashed against mine, but there was no real fight in her, no spark.

"Did you just lock minds with her?" There was wonder in his voice, tinged with fear.

"She does not get to hork down the Pecan Crunch without even tasting it."

Jason's eyes narrowed. "Is it possible you're a Master? Most Soldiers can't instinctively lock minds with a human."

There are four levels of vampire, and Jason is only a Soldier, second from the bottom. If I turned out to be a Master, I'd be more powerful than him. But I didn't care about that; I cared about the woman and the woman's chocolate. Her green eyes were still locked with my brown eyes. I smiled.

"If she eats the chocolate and then I drink her blood...?" I let the question hang.

"It doesn't work that way." Jason released me and I took one step toward the lady with the chocolate. "I tried it with Cheetos and this homeless dude outside my old apartment. Even after I made the guy eat eleven big bags, I couldn't taste a thing."

"Damn it!"

But there's more to chocolate than the taste right? I told myself.

Layers of chocolate melted in the woman's mouth, revealing the pecan pieces within, the nuggets of crisped rice, and I watched as a bead of brown drool escaped the edge of her mouth and slid down her chin. An urge to leap upon her and lick the drool from her face roared up from deep inside me and I looked away.

In that instant, she was in control again and she threw herself away from me with such force that she fell out of the chair. I wanted to walk across the dull tile and lift her over my head, break her, smash her, because she could have what I craved and she didn't even have the decency to savor it. As if stuffing her face with fine chocolate was acceptable.

Jason was restraining me again, but not for long. I elbowed him hard and he went flying, arms and legs stretched out in front of him, his face a comical mask of surprise as he hurtled toward the glass window of the Godiva store behind me like an umbrella caught in the wind.

I'm strong.

He caught himself at the last possible second, hands flat against the marble above the window. Using the momentum of my blow, he rolled backwards up the wall, caught the iron rail behind his head, and hung there for an instant before dropping back to the ground. The funny thing was, no one noticed it happened except for me, Jason, and possibly the woman. It had all happened that quickly. Vampire speed.

Whether she'd seen Jason's vampire-acrobatics or not, the woman was preparing to make a break for the parking deck. And taking her chocolate with her. There must have been forty bucks or more of Godiva's finest, and she wasn't just going to leave it behind. As she looked toward the escalator, I tested my own speed, appearing before her in a blur, head cocked to one side. Our eyes met and before she could look away, I had her again.

Sit. Back. Down. I thought at her. She followed the order. Again the metal of the chair creaked beneath her weight. I looked beyond the extra pounds, beyond my own casual, judgmental assessment, and really saw her. She was pretty in her way. Her make-up was inexpertly applied, but she was trying. With a better dye-job and a few make-up tips she'd be cute.

"What are you doing, Haley?" Jason whispered.

"I just want her to do it right," I hissed.

My name is Haley, I thought at her. Say it. Say hello.

"Hello, Haley?" she asked in a weak, frightened, yet pleasant voice.

I'm not going to hurt you, I thought at her again. Not if you follow my instructions.

"Can you do that?" I asked aloud.

She nodded, and I crossed the space between us and sat in one of the two unoccupied chairs at the food court table, resting my leather-jacketed elbows on the smooth, whitish surface.

"How can you do this?"

"I'm a vampire," I told her. My fangs were still out, and she started to draw away from me. I caught her wrist in a grip stronger than Mike, my trainer at the company gym, had ever had.

The company gym. I went to work on Friday, still human. Today is Saturday and I'm undead now. What do I do about a job? I work mornings! Who has time to worry about chocolate?

I did.

Nothing was more important to me right now than chocolate. I couldn't even muster the effort to lie to myself about it. Nothing, not Jason, not the woman across from me, not my mother in the hospital bed back home in Utah. Nothing was more important than the chocolate!

"What's your name?"

"Liz," she said. Her eyes were locked on my painted blue fingernails, which dug into the skin at her wrist. I let go.

"Liz." I rolled the word around in my mouth, feeling the strangeness of the fangs there, listening to odd way they affected my voice. "That's a pretty name." A bit of red spittle hit her cheek as the fangs slurred my sibilant. I wiped it away.

"Sorry, Liz." I handled the sibilants more carefully that time, speaking the words in a slow measured cadence. "Blood is the only fluid I have now and I'm not used to speaking around the fangs, yet."

"You're really a vampire?"

"Yeah."

"I don't believe you. This is some kind of trick."

Believe me, I thought at her, catching her eyes with my stare again. Her panic almost forced me out, but my personality, my will, was stronger than hers. You'd think a vampire would win a mental contest automatically, but we don't. Jason had once described it as the undead version of the old Jedi Mind Trick: it's only one hundred percent effective on the weak-minded. After a second, after my mind had forced hers to submit, she believed me.

"Are you going to eat me?" She blinked back tears.

"Oh, come on," Jason whispered, the soul of impatience. "I thought you might want to go to the mall, buy some new boots or something. Eat a tween. I didn't think we were going to get stuck here all night messing around with some middle-aged office chick. I still want to see what kind of animal you can turn into."

In the presence of the chocolate, the idea of turning into a bat lost its appeal. I wanted to fly, true, loved the idea of soaring on wings of my own. It had even been part of Jason's pitch. And it had hit home at the time, bringing back memories of hang gliding with my dad, out at The Point back in Utah. Flying had been the only thing the two of us had ever really done as a father-daughter activity. It had been years, but I could still close my eyes and feel the freedom of gliding through the air. The idea that of doing that, flying, without gear -- truly soaring -- was a dream come true. But the chocolate... to give that up to be a squeaky little bat? I had serious buyer's remorse, and undeath came with no right of rescission.

"So go eat a tween," I told him.

He cursed, threw his hands up in the air. I could smell his frustration, but he wasn't angry.

"Just hurry it up, okay?"

"I'll make it up to you," I told him and he softened, grinning the grin that make him look like a dark angel, the grin that had talked me into joining him in undeath when I got the word about mom last night.

"Cool," he said. "We've got about thirty minutes before the mall closes. I think I'll go check out the video games or maybe the roleplaying game store." He'd gone from upset to realizing he could go to all the places I thought were a waste of time. He walked away, whistling the theme to The Andy Griffith Show like a True Nerd.

"What do you want from me?" Liz asked.

"I want you to eat a piece of chocolate." Her eyebrows raised and she opened her mouth to interrupt. But something stopped her. The fangs or the angry look in my eye, I don't know which. I said, "I want you to eat it properly. Enjoy it. Savor it."

"And then?"

I laughed. "And then, I give you some make-up tips and I let you go."

She laughed with only the slightest touch of hysteria, trying to roll with it, to keep calm. Liz had a pretty laugh, a high pitched but pleasant titter. She wasn't a snorter like me. "Don't get me wrong, Haley, but you and I don't exactly have the same fashion possibilities. You're gorgeous. You look like that Trinity woman from the Matrix movies, but with better hair and nicer features."

"I also used to work the make-up counter at Macy's."

"Really?" Her eyes brightened and her voice only cracked a little when she spoke.

I nodded. "Yes. So please, do this for me. Take a piece of chocolate." Her hand moved toward one of the Dark Mint Medallions and I realized that I'd kill her if I had to watch her enjoy that particular piece.

"No!" I batted her hand away with such force that it brought tears to her eyes. "Sorry." I took her hand. Pressed my cold hand against her warm one. The warmth of her body was like a beacon. If I hadn't eaten before the mall, I'd have been at her throat. "Please. Let me pick."

I let my hands linger on the pieces, caressing the molded chocolate shell of the Open Oyster, the rich brown profile of the Dark Lion of Belgium, the sinuous curves of the Midnight Swirl, before settling on the 50% Dark Demitasse. That, I could bear to watch, I thought. I removed the light brown wrapper and held the hard square of chocolate between my thumb and forefinger, its shiny gloss smooth beneath my fingers. A scent like toasted bread wafted up to me. Unable to resist, I put pressure on the chocolate and it broke clean with a crystal-clear snap.

Liz was mesmerized. "You're serious about chocolate."

I handed her the larger of the two pieces. "Smell it."

She did.

"Put it in your mouth, but don't chew it. Let it melt." Liz did as I commanded. Her eyes closed, but mine widened, watching her for every little twitch.

"Wow," she said after several seconds had passed, "And you gave this up?"

"Don't push me, Liz."

I slipped the other half into the pocket of my jeans and we headed to Macy's to give Liz the tips I'd promised. I stumbled slightly as we walked and leaned against her for support, my legs trembling in the same way they might after flying, or sex. The only thing missing was the racing of my pulse, the pounding of my heart... which no longer beat.

Changing Liz's look took no time at all. She'd been using the wrong foundation and concealer for half a lifetime. That by itself made a huge difference. I said goodbye to Liz and went back to the Godiva store, feeling empty. I watched through the window as the employee counted down the till. When Jason caught up with me, he was swinging a GameStop bag in his hand.

"They had the new..."

I kissed him, stopping the flow of words. I didn't care what new video game they had, even if it was one that I'd want to play, too. I didn't care. I was hungry. I wanted food. I had a sliver of chocolate in my pocket and it wasn't melting because my body wasn't warm enough, and I knew that if I put it in my mouth not only would I not be able to taste it, but it would make me sick, very sick, and have me vomiting blood all over the tile floor of the mall.

"You said we can turn into animals," I said, breaking the kiss. "How? What kind?"

Please let it be more than bats, cats, dogs, and rats.

"Well. Drones can't turn into anything and Soldiers usually only get one. Masters and Vlads can do several..."

"I don't care about all that, Jason." I squeezed his arm. "Just what kind and how do I do it?"

"You concentrate, picture yourself as the animal, but be careful. I think you're a Master, but if you're a Soldier, then the first one you pick might be the only one you ever get to choose." His eyes crinkled in amusement. "There's a stripper I heard of who can only turn into a frog."

"I didn't know vampires could turn into frogs."

"Oh, yeah, we can turn into anything pretty much. But choose wisely," he said the last part with an accent, trying to mimic the grail knight from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

The mall was closing, but I didn't care. I was going to turn into something with feathers. It didn't matter if the bird was sensible for a nocturnal predator or not. I just needed something, a guilty pleasure to replace the ones I'd lost. I perched on the metal rail of the balcony and pictured myself as a hawk, a bird of prey. I might not be free to eat, but I would be free to fly. Flight would be a consolation.

The transformation hurt, like I was being forced into a tiny rubber ball as my bones twisted in on themselves, poking my insides, but then I had feathers rising out of my skin. The pain stopped and I fell. I was a red-tailed hawk and I flew, my cry echoing through the mall.

Gliding to the top of the five-story atrium and down again to brush my wingtips against one of the mall's fountains, I re-evaluated my choice: I didn't give up chocolate to be a vampire. I can't think of it that way. I gave it up for wings -- real wings, with rich brown feathers streaked with tan; tail feathers a deep rich red, dotted with dark black bars. That trade I can deal with. It still hurts, but with every wing beat, I know that it's enough.

Barely, but it's enough.

---

If you enjoyed that little taste of Void City, be sure to check out my novels set in the same universe: STAKED, ReVAMPED, CROSSED, and BURNED.