All posts by JMR

Jim Hines’ Terminal Alliance

If you’ve read any of Jim Hines’ books, then you know to expect the unexpected.  Here, he steps up and joins the likes of Douglas Adams and Kurt Vonnegut. Terminal Alliance takes absurdity and hilarity to the next level. Every time I thought I knew what was coming, I was wrong. This is a book in which this scenario can take place:

“Relaying to Private Wong’s monocle.”
Wong whistled a Krakau curse, something about tentacle incest. A saucer-sized shard of metal protruded from his back, just below the rib cage. Black blood crusted around the wound. “Did I say I was lucky? I’d like to change my answer, sir.”

The novel takes place at a time when humans have gone feral, and an alien society has figured out a way to rehabilitate them and wake them up. They give them a rebirth, and the new humans  get to pick names they find meaningful, like Fred Rodgers or Wolfgang Mozart.

We open on a ship, the Pufferfish, where our heroes are janitors. These janitors, for Reasons, wind up having to clean up a big mess and save the day, and with frenaliens (think frenemies but with aliens) like these, that is is a very complex problem.

PIck up Terminal Alliance today.

Is Negative Self-Talk the Hallmark of Writers Everywhere

Last Sunday, I was pondering going back to work. beating myself up for not having written more words over the weekend, and literally whispered to my husband, “I can’t do this.”

He didn’t know what I thought I couldn’t do, but being the man he is, he took me out for an adult beverage and let me vomit all my insecurities and craptastic fears while he quietly drank a warm mulled cider with rum.

This morning, a friend of mine, also a writer, told me she feels unfocused, and unhappy with herself, though I see her as a successful woman and writer, who raised kids despite the odds and was published by a major publisher and had a new book out this year.

My Facebook feed is full of writers discussing their woes, concerns, self-doubts and self-criticisms.

We say things to ourselves that we wouldn’t say to our worst enemies.

Is this a hallmark of creators? Artists from various crafts?

I’ve come to think it is. I’m not talking about clinical depression or diagnosed anxiety disorders, panic and compulsions, which are illnesses and yes, are prevalent in artistic communities, but probably not statistically more so than other communities. (With the one exception of bipolar disorder. See The Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jaimison.)

I’m talking about the pervasive nature and practice of self-flagellation, negative self-talk, professed insecurities and expressions of anxiety that pervade the spaces where writers meet and that weigh on the shoulders of those that pursue the written word.

So, here is my question to you:  Is this partially cultural? Do we reinforce this mindset with each other, by enabling it,? By coddling it? Mind you, I acknowledge these feelings are REAL. I certainly know that my feelings are real, and I try not to complain and whimper, and get on with things, but my question is about the culture of writing and writers. Can we work together to minimize it?

Interested to hear what you think.  Please leave comments.

The Tragic Tale of Abby Campbell, Part 5, THE END

The Tragic Tale of Abby Campbell, Part 5 for October Frights Blog Hop.

Final section…we’ve reached the end for Abby…

Park rangers and police organize into two search parties. They peer at a map, dividing the search and rescue perimeter into two parts. Rob peels in and parks behind a police car.  He dashes to the rangers, waving his arms to get the attention of the authorities, while another cop chases him, demanding that he move his car.

Rob arrives at the rangers’ ad-hoc central command out of breath, sweating and teary.  His sadness for whatever has happened to Amy is compounded by the fact that he dismissed his suspicions about Amy immediately and now another baby is at-risk.  But if he is right, the Abby he knew was gone and an evil version of Abby had taken her place.

He relays his concerns to the rangers who immediately set out to search the blue trail and march to the cottage. They find the stroller and an alarm rings out.  Rangers, police and citizens charge up the blue trail. The police try to pull the residents back, but it is too late. The witch hunt is on.

Abby hears the cacophony surging up the blue trail. She is feeding the baby a bottle but the little girl is used to breast feeding and is having trouble grasping the nipple. The interruption angers Abby, who wants to feed the baby in peace.  The trail is closed, she thinks. These people shouldn’t be here! They needed to leave her alone!

The discordant clanging in Abby’s brain becomes louder and the steady hum grows sharper until it shrieks like a badly-tuned violin. She snatches the baby up, runs back in the house and lays her in the box near the bed, placing a blanket loosely over the top.  The baby will be safe there while she spies on these interlopers.

Abby sneaks out the front door, circles around the trail and hides from the mob storming up the trail toward her house. She climbs a tree and manages to crawl from its longer branch to a different oak, just barely keeping balance as the bough narrows out. Up here, she can listen to the crowd below and observe the people who have invaded her space. A dry twig snaps as she belly crawls along the branches.

It is Rob who hears the noise overhead and looks up.  As soon as his head turns, others note and look in the same direction. They spy Abby, wild-haired and filthy, hanging from the tree limbs above.

Rob pushes to the front of the pack and holds the locals back.

“Abby!” he pleads.  “Come down and lead us to the baby. We know you don’t want to hurt her, but that baby doesn’t belong to you!  Her mother is scared.  You know what that feels like, don’t you?  You can’t take another woman’s baby.”

Abby screams, “She took my baby!  That baby is Holly and she belongs to me! This trail is closed.  You shouldn’t be here!  Leave me and Holly alone!” Abby swings from one branch to another like a squirrel, leaping from a larger branch to a smaller one in order to get away. She has this overwhelming urge to hide.  She crawls out on the narrower limb until she overhangs the lake.

Rob entreats, “Please, Abby, come down and show us where the baby is. Her name is Melinda, not Holly and her momma wants her back.  I know this is very confusing for you right now but we can straighten this out when you come down.”

“No!  The baby is safe and she is mine.  You want to get me, you come after me.  All of you blamed me for killing Holly and the truth is that you hid her from me the whole time.”  Abby’s voice rises. “How could you?  Why would you?” Abby wails.

Rob can no longer hold back the crowd or police. Men push through the vegetation mad as hell and looking to lay down some pain.  The police swarm after them, pulling irate citizens back to the trail, herding them back down toward the campground.  One officer shoves his way through the undergrowth and trains his gun on Abby.

“NO!” yells Rob, as he struggles against the tide of people and police.  “Don’t shoot her”

Abby’s world goes strangely quiet.  In what feels like slow-motion, she looks from the gun to the lake. She sees Holly’s face peering up at her from under the surface, and with an unexpected clarity realizes that her Holly is gone. The lake took her. The baby in her house isn’t hers after all.  She reaches out one hand toward Holly’s visage.

The cop sees her arm move and fires twice.

Abby’s body tilts on the branch as she loses her grip. She rolls over as her strength leaves, dropping into the lake, bleeding from her shoulder and right side. The lake swallows her whole, accepting its final tribute.

The crowd watches in silence, until her body is under the water. Then, a shout goes up. The baby is fine, safe in the cottage.


No one else truly remembered the story of Abby Campbell, but her death left a hole in Rob’s life.  Twice a month he found himself watching the door, expecting her to walk in, but there was only a blank space where she once stood.

Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

Other blogs participating in the blog hop:

Why no one would publish the Tragic Tale of Abby Campbell

For the October Frights Blog Hop, I’ve been sharing a tale I wrote a long time ago, that has never been published.


Because I kill kids.

Not gruesomely, but two babies die.

In Dark Fantasy, and even in Horror, killing children and pets is verboten, or at least, is considered serious taboo. Just ask my friend David B. Coe, who killed a dog in one of his books.

Here is my problem with this rule, and why I still wrote and published on this blog, the terrible story of Abby Campbell. Serious psychological horror has to be willing to look at everything.

My friend, John Hartness, wrote his ‘scariest story‘ and it is indeed scary. But it is frighting from his perspective. It didn’t even ping my buttons. He’s not a woman, and he’s not a parent, and my nightmares are quite different.

With Abby, I hoped to bring some sympathy to a main character in a psychological horror who is suffering from delusions, severe mental illness, and living in her own hallucination, a hellscape that none of us could withstand.

Tomorrow, read the end of The Tragic Tale of Abby Campbell.

Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

Other blogs participating in the blog hop:

The Tragic Tale of Abby Campbell, Part 4 for October Frights Blog Hop

The Tragic Tale of Abby Campbell, Part 4 for October Frights Blog Hop

Abby removes the baby from the backpack and takes it inside. “I’m sorry, Holly. I didn’t know they had you or I would have come and gotten you sooner.”

Abby rocks the baby. The baby coos and smiles but then starts to cry.  The baby keeps crying.  Abby thinks hard. What do you do to keep a baby from crying?  You hold the baby.  She’s doing that but the baby is getting annoying with all that crying.

You check its diaper.  The baby is wet.  She needs a diaper. Abby doesn’t have one so she pulls the baby’s diaper off and stuffs some paper towels in the baby’s little leggings.  The baby starts to wail.

You feed the baby. That’s right!  You feed the baby. Abby struggles hard to remember what you feed a baby.  She can’t remember. It is all so jumbled and Holly isn’t whispering anymore. She is crying and crying and Abby doesn’t know what to do to stop it. The crying echoes through the little house, reverberating down the hallway and back in a kaleidoscope of sound.  The baby is her baby and it is her job to take care of the baby. The baby is hungry. The baby is crying. The baby is hungry. The baby is crying.

She walks around with the baby, jiggling it up and down.  The baby just keeps screaming louder.  Abby grabs the new jar of peanut butter and stuff some in the baby’s mouth. The baby moves her mouth around the peanut butter and stops making sounds.  Success!  Abby shoves more peanut butter in the baby’s mouth.  She keeps shoveling peanut butter in the baby’s mouth. The baby starts to make noise again, like a sputtering noise and she gasps like she is going to cry again so Abby puts more peanut butter into her mouth, and more, and more and more. The baby stops making noises.

That is so much better, Abby thinks. She is a good mother, feeding her baby.

She takes Holly outside. Abby rests against a tree, sits with her legs spread and puts the baby up against her stomach.   She puts a nearby pinecone in the baby’s hand.  The baby doesn’t want to play.  The baby slumps back against Abby and won’t grab the pinecone. Abby loves the feel of the baby resting on her tummy.  She closes her eyes and hums a tune she knows Holly likes.  Abby falls into a trance, lulled by the sweet scent of the baby’s hair.

When Abby opens her eyes, the sun is going down and dusk is upon the forest.  The baby is still sleeping so Abby gently picks the baby up and takes her inside the house. She places her in a large box and covers her with a blanket.  It seems weird to her that the baby is still sleeping but Abby knows that Abby is a good mother and helped the baby rest by feeding her.  Abby eats some canned soup directly from the can and stares at the baby the whole time. It is good to have Holly home.

She puts the baby’s box next to her bed and sings another lullaby. She goes to sleep, sleeping peacefully for the first time in a long while.

At first light, Abby leans down to see Holly.  Holly doesn’t look right.  She picks Holly up and notices that Holly smells different. Maybe she has a stinky diaper?  Abby checks the paper towels and finds no poop or wetness.  Somewhere in the back of her head, a thought breaks through the static.   Maybe this baby isn’t Holly.  Maybe this baby is dead, not sleeping.  She needs Holly back. This dead baby isn’t Holly.

Abby takes the baby outside and places it in the lake. Once again, the lake accepts the gift.

Abby paces same circle repeatedly. From the kitchen to the living room, down the hall, around the bedroom, back down the hall, to the kitchen.

Something was wrong with Holly. Abby did something wrong, but she couldn’t figure out what it was.  That baby wasn’t Holly. That must be the problem. Abby needed to find the real Holly and then everything would be okay.

When Abby was little, her goldfish died and her parents bought her another goldfish. They told her “that goldfish wasn’t the right one.”  Holly whispers that it is time to find the right Holly.

“I know, Holly. I’m coming for you.”

The next day, Abby manages to stretch normal face over her real one and drives into town.  She stops at the Convenience Store.

“Surprised to see you here today, Abby.  It isn’t your normal day.”

“I wanted to know if anyone heard anything about the missing family?”

“No,” said Rob.  “They haven’t.  The police stop by your house?”

“Yes,” said Abby, holding on tight to normal face.

“No one knows anything about the missing family. As for the baby, they think maybe the parents know more than they are saying.  Maybe they killed the child.  People around here are questioning why they would take a one-year-old camping.”

Abby ponders what an appropriate answer might be.  She manages to create a frown with her lips and cheeks.  It is hard. She furrows her brows and says, “It is a shame.”

“I guess you know what that is like,” Rob says gently.

“Yes.  Yes, I do.”

Abby walks around the store while Rob takes care of another customer.  Babies need formula, she thinks.  Babies can’t eat peanut butter.  I know that now, she reminds herself.  She seeks out the baby section and swipes a tin of powdered formula and a bottle. She hides behind the shelving, sticks them in her bag and walks out of the store, not speaking another word, but notices Rob watching her as she leaves.

Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Other blogs participating in the blog hop:

The Tragic Tale of Abby Campbell, Part 3 for October Frights Blog Hop

The Tragic Tale of Abby Campbell, Part 3 for October Frights Blog Hop

Abby walks out, places the bags in her truck, climbs in and releases normal face.  She is hyperventilating with the effort of that simple interaction.   Her next stop is for gas, and while she doesn’t have to talk to anyone, she does have to hand the attendant some money.  In this small town, you can’t pay by credit card, but the attendant will wash your windows.  Getting gas requires normal face again but no conversation, so it isn’t as tiring.  Finally, errands done, she drives back to the cottage. She unloads the groceries and collapses on the couch.  It is getting harder. Holly fades away. Whisper Holly is nice to have around, but she wants real Holly back.

She wakes an hour later and hears people talking. She looks outside and sees some hikers with a baby strapped to the father’s back hiking the blue trail.  The blue trail was closed, not simply re-routed, closed.  She should not have to deal with people again so soon.  Being closed means she shouldn’t see people on the trail. They shouldn’t be making noise and coming near her house. They should GO AWAY. The static humming in her head grows louder.  She isn’t prepared to see people. She can’t hear anything but the buzz in her head.

Abby walks out and picks up a branch she sometimes uses as a walking stick. She doesn’t even try to put on normal face. These people shouldn’t be here.

“Hello!” the mother calls out.  “We’re a little lost. Can you help us get back?”

“We’d really appreciate it,” says the Dad.

Abby walks closer and sees the baby’s face.  It’s a girl.  She looks to be about six months old and has no place hiking in the woods. Stupid parents.  The baby has large blue eyes and a downy head of light brown hair, tinged with gold.

Abby’s vision telescopes down to the baby’s face.  She can hear the baby cooing as if she were holding her to her own shoulder. The baby’s drool spills delightfully down her face and Abby moves to wipe it off.

“Your baby looks like my baby,” she whispers to the parents. She stares at the child.

“Oh, you have a little girl? How nice.  We didn’t know anyone lived back here. We’re glad to see you because we sure got turned around. We meant to go on the green trail, but took a wrong turn somewhere,” said the Mother.

“You shouldn’t be here,” says Abby.

“Well, okay, we know, but it was an accident. Can you point us back?”


“Can we use your phone?”

“Don’t have one.”  Abby steps forward, removes an old tissue from her pocket and wipes the drool from the baby’s face.  The Father steps back. Abby takes another step forward.

“She has blue eyes like my daughter.”

“Well, that is great.  We are going to be turning around and following the trail back now.  Thanks for the…help.” Dad and Mom back away.

Abby takes another step toward them. “She has the same hands.”

The Mom and Dad tiptoe backwards, concern on their faces.

“Why do you have Holly?” Abby whispers.

The humming in Abby’s head is so loud now that she can’t think at all.  Something inside Abby shatters.  How is it that these people have Holly?  Then another thought, I need to rescue Holly.  These bad people have Holly!

Abby lifts the walking stick and trips the Mother.

“Hey! What the hell was that for?” exclaims the Mom, just as Dad exclaims, “What the fuck?!”

Abby watches the Mother get up and wipe her hands on her pants.

Abby pushes her back down, hard.

The Father steps in, “Stop it, you crazy lady!  Leave her alone. What the hell is wrong with you?”

Abby cocks her head, swivels it and stares at the father.  He isn’t Stephen, she thinks.  At least I’m pretty sure he’s not Stephen.  He shouldn’t have Holly either.

The parents are running away now.  Something must be done, Abby thinks.  She sprints toward the Mother, raises her stick and smashes the Mother in the head. Mom falls down bleeding.  Dad turns, cries out, and squats down to see to his wife.  Abby sweeps the stick against his lower legs and he falls on his ass.  He manages to keep balance enough not to fall backward on the baby.

Abby drags the Mother to her side.

“Take Holly off your back.”

“What? Who’s Holly?  What are you doing?!”

“Take the baby off your back or I smash this stick into your wife’s skull again.  She’s a bad mother and shouldn’t have Holly.”

“Don’t hurt my daughter.  Don’t hit my wife again. We are sorry we trespassed. We didn’t know!  It was an accident. Please, for God’s sake, stop!”

Abby holds the stick a few inches from the mother’s temple. “Take. Her. Off.”

The father takes the baby backpack off and places the backpack gently on the ground.  He holds onto it with one hand and reaches for his wife with the other.

Abby takes a huge swing and bashes the father in the head.  She takes another swing and smashes the mother in the head again. She drags the dead mother and the unconscious father to the lake and pushes them both in.  The lake swallows the offering.

Read Part 1 and Part 2.

Other blogs participating in the blog hop:

The Tragic Tale of Abby Campbell, Part 2 for October Frights Blog Hop

The Tragic Tale of Abby Campbell, Part 2 for October Frights Blog Hop

If you walk to the beginning of the woods in Silverdale, Maryland, you will find several signs that indicate various trails for hikers.  The red trail is several miles long and has steep inclines. The yellow trail is a little less hilly and about a mile shorter.  The green trail is an easy and relaxing hike that circles a large lake and is suitable for children. There is a family campground there as well, with a small sand beach.

The blue trail is closed.

The blue trail was closed five years ago at the request of Abby Campbell’s extended family.  Abby lives in a cottage deep in the woods that somehow managed to stay within the Campbell family estate when the land was sold for the creation of the reserve.  Abby is the only non-ranger with a permit to drive the back road that winds through the woods and intersects with the blue trail where her house is situated. She lives completely alone on the acre that comes with the residence on the lake. Sometimes the rangers check on her. Most of the time they leave her alone.  She has made it clear they are not welcome.

Twice a month, Abby drives her old blue truck into town to buy supplies. She lives off of a modest allowance from her brother, who manages her share of the estate sale but never visits.

Going into town is a trial for Abby.  She has to first put on her normal face. She has to focus hard to cut through the constant buzzing in her brain and pretend that she’s normal.  She knows she’s not, which she believes must be a mark of some sanity, but doesn’t want to alarm anyone. Putting on her normal face takes a lot of effort, total concentration and leaves her exhausted.

Right now, she’s just about to park in front of the Stewart’s Convenience Store and Farmer’s Market. She stopped at an ATM prior and used the buttons the way her brother showed her to withdraw one hundred dollars in cash. She memorized the pattern of card, access number, and withdrawal button to get the money she needed. She never takes more; never takes less.

She takes a deep breath and locks her normal face into place.  Now her splintered brain has to control the buzzing, keep her normal face steady, and make conversation with Rob Stewart.  She sweats with the effort. Holly whispers in her ear, “You can do it.”

She walks in and recalls how to smile.  Cheeks puff out, teeth showing just a bit. She practiced before she left the house.  Whatever she is doing must be working because Rob calls out to her.

“Hey Abby.  Thought it was time for your regular shopping trip!  Good to see you.”

“Hello, Rob.”
“What can I do you for, Abby?  Want me to help you get those supplies together?”

“Thank you, Rob.”  Just the two sentences are a tremendous struggle.

Rob’s face falls when he sees what Abby has become. Abby used to be a bright and sunny girl, but when her husband, Stephen, was killed in combat, she became more reclusive and stayed home with her toddler daughter.  The townspeople resented that she didn’t let them cluck and coo over her. They wanted to continue to wring every emotion possible out of the story and wring Abby out with it.  The sympathy was real, for the most part, but once the tragedy of the story was absorbed, it simply became another story for re-telling and bragging about a hometown hero.  It took on a life of its own and wasn’t Abby’s story anymore.

Then, the accident happened.  Abby took little Holly for a walk along the river that led to the lake on the blue trail. She turned around to lay down the picnic basket and blanket.  The stroller, which was not fully balanced on the grass and gravel incline, rolled off the bank and into the river. A huge wind swept the baby away before Abby could even turn back around.  Holly’s body was still strapped in the stroller when it was discovered two hours later in the lake.

For Rob, who had known Abby since childhood, the worst part was the reaction of the town.  The tongues wagged.  All of the goodwill and kindness shown to Abby when her husband died simply vanished into thin air.

What kind of mother lets her daughter roll into the river?”

“Maybe she pushed her in.”

“She’s clearly not fit to have children.  Either she’s a murderer or stupid or lazy or all three.  I certainly wouldn’t let something like that happen to my child.”
“I hear they are investigating.”

“Couldn’t have been an accident.  We’ve all been down to that spot on the river.  No way does a baby just roll off.”

“They should arrest her.  Killing her own child! She didn’t deserve Stephen.”

Rob stops the run-on negative thoughts and asks, “Need anything special today, Abby?”

“Uh, no.  Ummm, just the usual?”

Rob places some fresh fruits and vegetables in a bag, some WD40, a couple of boxes of pasta and two jars of spaghetti sauce.  Two loaves of bread, a fresh strawberry jam, one canister of peanut butter, a large bag of M&Ms, canned tuna and soups finishes it off.  Just for kicks, he throws in a box of cereal and a quart of milk.

“Does that look good to you?”

Holly whispers, “Yes,” so Abby nods and hands him the one hundred dollars in cash.   Rob carefully draws up a receipt and hands her the change.

Abby retains a stiff hold on her normal face and gathers the bags. Just as she reaches the door Holly reminds her of something.

“Thank you, Rob.”

“You’re welcome, Abby.  See you in two weeks.”

Read part 1, here.  Part 3 tomorrow…

Other blogs participating can be found here: 

The Tragic Tale of Abby Campbell, Part 1 for the October Frights Blog Hop

The Tragic Tale of Abby Campbell, Part 1 for the October Frights Blog Hop

Leaving is hard.  Being left is harder.

Leaving takes you to places where things are new or weird or different and you are distracted from the odd feeling that something is missing.

Being left leaves you exactly where you are, but there is a hole now, a blank space where someone else used to be. A silence where there was once music.  A dullness where there was once perfume.

Parents feel it when children marry.  Spouses feel it when wives and husbands leave for business trips or military duty.  Siblings feel it when brothers and sisters leave for college. Friends feel it when other friends leave for jobs or graduate school, or just to try a new place.

All of these reasons are part of the natural flow of life. The blank space can be filled with other people, activities, phone calls, texts and emails.  It isn’t the same.  It is different, but it is bearable.

The most final and cruelest form of leaving is death.  When death comes at a natural time, at the end of a long life, the hole is unfillable, but predictable.  There is a certain rhythm that makes sense.

When the death is a child, nothing makes sense, and if the one being left is a parent, then the world twists into a position that cannot be named.  The bluntness of living is tragically not numb, but exquisite and unending.

It creates madness. And the one who holds the madness is driven to find something — or someone — to fill the void.

This is where Abby Campbell exists.

READ part 2 tomorrow…

Other blog stops:


Tom Petty, The Traveling Wilburys, and a Girl Named Jess Friedman

We lost Tom Petty this week, only a few days before my new series, Monster Hunter Mom comes out with the first novella. The title of the first book is Tweety and the Monkey Man, a play on the Traveling Wilburys song, Tweeter and the Monkey Man.

In fact, all of the MHM books are titled after Traveling Wilbury songs. The second is called Runaway. The third is Handle with Care, and the fourth, End of the Line.

I chose these titles months and months ago, so to have Tom Petty pass away now is, well — unsettling, but also, I’m glad my books are coming out as a tribute.

The Traveling Wilburys was a super-group featuring Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, and Tom Petty. They got together and jammed, in the old-fashioned sense of the word, writing lyrics on note-pads, gathering around one microphone to blend their voices.

They created their first album, Traveling Wilburys 1, released in 1988, and then released volume three in 1990, which was a joke because there was no volume two!

If you want to learn more about this flash of greatness, that can never happen again now that Ray Orbison and Tom Petty are lost to us, take a look here: and I highly recommend watching this video featuring the band members themselves.

Make sure to watch some of their videos. Just Google and you’ll find them. They are fun to watch because you can feel the the joy and energy in the room as these great musicians simply hung out together and did what they do best.

RIP, Tom Petty. I wish you could have seen my series. I like to think you would have liked it.

Souls Rise, Chapter 1

Souls Rise, chapter 1:

Gaspard’s boots crunched on the icy snow as he walked through the 11

Gaspard’s boots crunched on the icy snow as he walked through the 11th Arrondissment, the Jewish sector of Paris. The reek of fear was thick and the shadows so dense they were permanent fixtures, impervious to even the sun. The sidewalk’s stains hit Gaspard’s nose with the telltale stink of old blood, punctuated by motes of new blood, the only remains of residents picked off one-by-one. The sun sank behind the Paris buildings and Gaspard pulled his hood up as he traversed Parmentier Street, mulling how the world had gotten so ugly.

Thud. Gaspard heard what had become an all too common sound. The sound of a boot hitting the abdomen of a man. Another thud. Laughter from onlookers.

“Please, stop! He’s my husband! He’s done nothing!” cried a woman. She carried bread and cheese and proffered the rarities on bended knee to the soldiers. A second soldier snagged the food, then put out his right hand and strong-armed the woman back.

“You will be beaten, too, if you interfere! Step back, old woman. Your husband is a traitor and a spy.” Another woman, who had the sagging skin of someone who’d lost a lot of weight too quickly, hauled the crying woman into a shop doorway, saying, “Don’t be stupid! Your children need you. They can’t lose you both!”

One last kick to the head finished the fun for the German soldiers who withdrew several yards to lean against their car, a German-registered Peugeot, and to share the bread and cheese. No one dared approach the bleeding man in the street who lay there, unmoving.

Gaspard could hear the man’s heartbeat slowly fade. Compelled by the blood scent and his revulsion of the man’s mistreatment, he strode into the street and cradled the man as one would a baby, carrying him off.

“Halt!” came the order from behind him. Gaspard walked toward a nearby alley.

Gaspard heard the clicks of rifles being readied. From the corner of his eye, he saw the remaining townspeople scurry into their homes and lock their doors. Gaspard, three soldiers, and a dying man were the only ones left in the mouth of the alley, hearts either pounding or failing.

Gaspard lowered the dying man onto the concrete, rose to his full height, and pushed back his hood.

“Who the hell are you?” demanded one of the soldiers looking at Gaspard’s sharp features, pale skin, and reddened eyes.

Gaspard took a step closer. “I’m hungry.” He lunged for the soldier, cracking his neck with one twist, sinking his incisors into the carotid artery to drink while the blood still pumped. He hadn’t swallowed much when the next two soldiers were upon him.

Gaspard swung one arm and backhanded the shorter soldier smack in the face, dropping him unconscious on the ground. The third, back-peddling as fast as possible, raised his gun and took a wild shot, which went over Gaspard’s head. Gaspard reached him in the blink of an eye, pressed him up against the alley wall and pulled his head to the side, stretching the man’s neck almost to the breaking point. Taking his time, Gaspard bared his fangs at the soldier, letting the man see what was to come. He was rewarded by the sound of urine hitting the street.

Gaspard broke the skin on the soldier’s neck, sucking like a lover, making sure the man stayed conscious throughout. Gaspard took only enough to weaken the soldier but not enough to kill.

He straightened the soldier’s neck and placed his mouth at the man’s collarbone, drawing his tongue up to the ear in one long blood-scented lave, allowing his breath to wash over the man. When he was certain he had the soldier’s undivided attention, he whispered, “Tell your superiors what happened because I’m declaring it open season on Nazis.” He pushed the man out onto Parmentier Street and watched him stumble to the Peugeot.

Gaspard turned to the beaten man who lay on the ground. Gaspard held his head and drank deeply, not the cause of the man’s death, but hastening its arrival. He briefly considered turning the man, but relinquished the thought as fast as it came. It would be cruel to doom a man to eternity in the hell that now lived on Earth. Better for him to take his chances with whatever lay beyond.

He left the unconscious soldier where he was and turned to leave, catching a swift movement in the corner of his eye. The movement came from above and Gaspard looked up at the fire escape, wondering who had been there. He climbed the fire escape, scanning the rooftops. He saw no one, but he felt someone there.

“Come out!” Gaspard yelled. “What is it you want?” His voice echoed in the darkness.

Silence. The snow swirled from the parapets in clouds of pure cold. Even Paris’ pigeons were hiding, although Gaspard couldn’t imagine where the birds could roost in safety. Icicle teeth grew long and pointy from the gutters, threatening impalement to those below, and the moon was a wan, joyless scythe in the sky.

Gaspard didn’t wait any longer. He leapt to the ground and returned to his apartment, where he sat in his chair and waited for the inevitable. The inevitable came a short ten minutes later. Word traveled fast, Gaspard thought.

The vampire thugs threw the door open, hauled Gaspard up by the shoulders, and marched him into a waiting car, throwing a hood over his head like they were starring in a third-rate gangster movie. Resigned to what he knew was coming, his stomach in knots, Gaspard bit his tongue and stayed silent, swallowing the snarky remarks that floated through his brain.

Numerous twisty turns later, the car stopped somewhere in what Gaspard guessed was the fifth arrondissement, the Latin Quarter. He could smell the Seine and hear the noisy clatter of bistros serving what limited food remained. Still blinded, he stumbled down dank stairs permeated by the odor of yesterday’s garbage and was shoved into a cold room with a concrete floor.

He felt the Master’s presence. How could he not? The Master’s aura filled the room and pressed against Gaspard’s resolve. Someone removed Gaspard’s hood, man-handled him into a chair placed above a drain in the center of the room, and tied his hands behind him.

“Arnaud. You could have asked me to come. Politely. I would have. There was no need for all of this subterfuge.” Gaspard crossed one leg over the other to appear casual.

The Master of Paris held silent, but his long, lithe body was shaking with rage. He wore a fine suit, unusual in fabric-rationed France, with flat front trousers cuffed at the bottom. The material was a suitably somber grey with white chalk marks and a double-breasted blazer. He’d removed his Fedora and placed it safely out of the way on a hook installed on the back of the door. Gaspard glanced at Arnaud’s feet, expecting to find two-toned spats and was shocked to see that the vampire wore what looked like black leather German military boots.

Finally, Arnaud spoke, almost a whisper, as if he was hanging onto his temper by a thread.

“Did you or did you not send a message that it is, how did you say, ‘open-season on Nazis’?”

“I did.”

Gaspard didn’t see the blow coming. One moment he was in the chair, the next on the floor, chair broken, blood streaming down his face from his forehead and nose. Since he had drunk his fill earlier, the blood was rich and red.

“They were beating a man, threatening his wife, and laughing openly about it. Germans. In your city. Why do you let them? What happened to you, Arnaud, that you would let them invade Paris unchallenged? Your forces are formidable. You could beat them!”

Arnaud’s long fingers reached for Gaspard, pulling him to his feet only to launch a vicious attack of fists and feet until Gaspard was down and stayed down, the blood from his body flowing out as fast as he had gotten it, down the drain for the city’s rats. Gaspard could hardly see by this time, his eyes were so swollen, and his ears rang from the repeated blows. But he heard Arnaud hissing at him in anger.

“You ibécile! We could beat them, some of them, but more will come. They are like cockroaches, scuttling in and out, hiding in the corners and cracks of the city. We cannot take on the entire German army, so I brokered an agreement. We don’t bother them. They don’t bother us. We co-exist, exactly as our former Prime Minister Reynaud intended, that chicken shit coward.”

“It is our current Marshall Petain that is the coward,” countered Gaspard, through swollen lips. “He’s the one who invited the Germans in.”

“Doesn’t matter. French government is all the same, whether republic or monarchy. Weak. Shallow. Without pride or dignity. We would have fought beside French forces if they had stayed true. Now the Germans hang swastikas from our buildings and ransack our art.”

Gaspard wiggled himself to a seated position on the floor and pushed back until he could lean on the wall, his hands still tied behind his back. “Then why are you working with the Nazis? Why not help the Resistance?” he said, eyes flaming despite the injuries.

“It is better to co-exist than start a vampire hunt in the city. We have lasted this long. This too shall pass.”

“Are your people helping them?”

“No. We neither assist nor hinder.”

“Semantics. If you aren’t fighting them, you’re enabling them. They have overpowered the great Arnaud? What has this world come to?”

“You have no right to judge.”

“Are you having me followed?” asked Gaspard, changing the conversation’s direction.

“No, but maybe I should.”

“How did you get the news about my actions so fast?”

“A member of the seethe saw you and reported back.”

“Incredible coincidence.”

Arnaud leaned down into Gaspard’s face. “Let me be clear. We are waiting this one out, and you don’t get to change that by issuing threats! You do not speak for me. You do not speak for Paris, and so help me, if any of mine are killed because of your stupidity today, I will hunt you down and behead you myself. Am I clear?”

Gaspard nodded, struggled to a standing position, and wiped his bleeding nose on his right shoulder. “I’ll remember, Arnaud, if you’ll remember that I took this beating out of respect for your position as Master of Paris.” Gaspard broke the ropes that tied his hands with one twist, stepped into what was left of Arnaud’s space, held his hands up, and brushed both of Arnaud’s shoulders, as if he was dusting off his best man’s suit before the wedding.

Gaspard pivoted to leave, staring the guards down until they moved out of his way, got halfway up the stairs, and said, “I wouldn’t be too sure some of your seethe aren’t helping the Germans. That vampire that reported to you? If he wasn’t there to spy on me, why was he there?”

Gaspard was indeed in the Latin Quarter, and he was beaten, swollen, and weakened with blood loss. Soldiers filled the coffee shops, drinking the only real coffee left in Paris, studying the French waitresses with half-lidded eyes. When he saw one of the soldiers slap a waitress on her derriere, he had his mark. The waitress grimaced at the slap but didn’t protest. Gaspard swore he would do the protesting for them both.

His opportunity came when the soldier needed to relieve himself. The soldier sauntered to the back of the shop, unbuckling his belt and trousers before stepping into the loo. Gaspard had stolen into the alley behind the bistro and slipped in the back door. Once the soldier entered the lavatory, Gaspard followed, locking the door behind him.

“What the fuck!” was all the German got out. Gaspard pulled the man toward him and in one motion, sunk his fangs into the man’s neck and lowered him to the seat of the toilet. He drained the soldier dry, taking pleasure in the thump of the heartbeat and how it dwindled to silence. Gaspard left the soldier on his throne, exiting as silently as he had come. Already healing and high on the caffeine-laced blood, Gaspard stole away into the night.

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