Little Redde

A work in progress.






This story grew out of a photoshoot, and it was an accident. There are more photos from the center of the story, because that’s the story that we sort of improvised after realizing the garb Elizabeth and Austin wore, by complete coincidence, made them look like Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf. One never knows where a story will take hold…. and one often doesn’t know where they might begin…..

This one begins right here…


Gee Gee


A single raven flew through a clear blue sky over the Deep Woods, a place where the branches grew so intertwined the floor lay dim on even the brightest days. For miles and miles all the bird saw was thick leaves and gnarled branches. Surely, a plethora of insects crawled in those dark, shaded limbs, but the bird had set its sights on something easier.

It passed over a clearing and circled. Below, a small cottage stood between a flowing creek and a disheveled garden filled with flowers and herbs and the start of some vegetables. It wasn’t a carefully pruned garden, the way folks grew them in the villages, but the woman who tended this garden would never be called carefully pruned, either.

Goodmother Greye stood in the center of her garden wrapped in several colorful shawls and scarves. She wore her grey hair in long, unruly braids that, today, she had simply tied back to keep them out of the way. She cocked her head and lifted her brown, shining face to the sky. Her eyes, blind and filled with white, closed as if she listened. She raised an arm.

The raven dropped from the sky and landed silently on her wrist.

Gee Gee as she was known to her friends and family, smiled. She held a number of wriggling caterpillars in her free hand, and the raven squawked once, gobbled down the tasty morsels one by one, then leapt into the air. Gee Gee treated the birds so they’d return. If they didn’t find her outside, they’d do their own hunting and that kept down the unfriendly insects.

“Damn caterpillars eating all my milkweed,” she muttered.

Today she gathered lavender. Several enormous bushes of the herb, almost as tall as Gee Gee, kept her in lavender all year long. She lifted her basket from the ground and settled it in the crook of her arm.

A jackrabbit stuck its head over the marigolds meant to keep it out of the vegetables.

“No carrots for you, you skalawag.” Gee Gee cocked her head one way and the other, once again as if listening. But it wasn’t really listening. Not really.

None of the village children, who sometimes snuck into the Deep Woods to spy on her, lurked anywhere nearby. Spying on a blind woman made them feel brave and heroic.

The villagers thought she was a crazy old witch. They said a blind woman couldn’t possibly survive on her own out in the Deep Wood without magic. For them, magic was always evil. And old? She was barely fifty.

Well, she didn’t look more than fifty.

“She controls the bears and wolves with magic,” more than one self-righteous villager had said, usually one of the Johnsons. “She consorts with devils and the Fae!”

Rubbish. Controlling bears and wolves with magic? Just because she was a blind woman out in the woods? She didn’t need magic to control the bears and wolves.

Her eyes sparked bright blue, and the rabbit’s eyes did the same. He hopped quite calmly into a nearby snare and hunkered down to wait until she would retrieve him and turn him into stew for little Redde, who always visited on Wednesdays.

Magic to control bears? Rubbish. She didn’t need magic to control the bears. They were smart enough to avoid the little clearing in the Deep Wood that Goodmother Greye called home.

Smarter than the villagers, at any rate.








Little Redde

The gardens in the Village had nothing in common with Gee Gee’s.

Redde hated them. Carefully lined rows of common vegetables with nothing but bare dirt between filled nearly every back yard. Each had a rough wooden fence around it and a scarecrow of some kind, even though the villagers hated magic, thought it backward and ancient. They were too “modern” for witchcraft.

Fah. What was the purpose of a scarecrow without a charm in it to keep away the birds? They all ended up covered in bird crap while the birds used them as perches to look over the garden and decide what to steal.

Gee Gee’s gardens were surrounded with marigold and other plants that rabbits didn’t like. She had herbs and mushrooms and… ugh… her gardens made so much more sense than the sterile swatches of dirt in the Village.

No matter. Redde traipsed along Main Street gently swinging the basket she carried, humming a tune her grandmother had taught her from the Before Time. Although the villagers would never know it, the tune carried a gentle spell that kept the mosquitoes and other bugs away.

She had the day off from work, as she always had on Wednesdays, so she was off to Gee Gee’s to learn her anatomy and herbs, and she knew that Gee Gee would love the cookies that filled the basket.

Well, the cookies that topped off the basket, anyway.

The cottages she passed were all uniform. Row after row of basic squares, some made of wood and some of stone with one window per room, and, unless the owner had rather more wealth than the others, rarely more than two, maybe three, rooms. Thatch roofs.

The entire village had been made by one family, the Johnsons, an old family of farmers and woodsmen, raising goats and trees alike. The goats kept down the underbrush and made the tree farming easier. In one way shape or form, everyone in the village worked for the Johnsons, whether it was directly working their fields or by providing the basic things every village needed. Mills, stores, bars.

The Johnsons had a mansion where Redde worked most days, helping in the kitchen of their homestead where they fed nearly forty or fifty people who directly worked the farm. She earned enough to keep her very own hut on the edge of town. While Goody Johnson occasionally reminded Redde that she was welcome to take a room in the house, her eldest son, Cutter, had a bit too much of a taste for wine and definitely kept his eye on the simple orphan girl who mostly stayed in the kitchen.

“Oh no, ma’am,” Redde lied every time. “I’m just a simple peasant, I wouldn’t even know what to do in a grand house like this… but thank you much for the offer.”

“Well,” Goody Johnson would say with a tight smile, “if you ever change your mind.”

It was a dance they shared. Goody Johnson had to know the reason for her refusals but felt the need to ask politely and to politely accept her refusal.

Polite. Everyone was always so damn polite. And ordered and clean.

Well, the clean part wasn’t really a bad thing, but Redde truly missed her day-to-day life with Gee Gee in the Deep woods where nothing was well ordered and anything like politeness came from sincerity, not façade.

“Little Redde!” Goodmother Gundersun waved from her front porch. She held her broom at ease and waved Redde closer. Hers was the only cottage that had a porch. She had seen Gee Gee’s and had fallen in love.

She had several strapping young grandsons to build it. They did whatever she said. Redde had known them her entire life.

“I’m nineteen years old now, and a father of three,” Gustov had told Redde one day, “And she’ll still expect me to drop trou so she can take a switch to my bare ass.” Then he’d winked. “Course, when the wife does that, I don’t mind so much.”

Redde had dumped a bucket of wash water over his head to cool him off.

They’d been friends their entire lives, so he took it as a joke as intended.

Redde was sixteen, now, and several of her childhood friends had married, but all that seemed ages away for Redde. She wanted to learn about science and magic both. She had so many things she wanted to do, so many places she wanted to see.

“Good morrow, Goodmother.” Redde dropped a curtsey, which was more respect than she showed most of the other elders, who treated Gee Gee like a pariah.

“Sweet girl.” Gunderson beamed. She stepped closer and gave her back to the street. “My, what lovely goodies you’ve made for your granny.”

Redde forced a smile. The old woman’s voice was so fake.

How could no one notice the acting?

Gunderson slipped a hand into the basket and raised the layer of cookies.

A human skull in clay gaped up at her.

“Yipes!” She jumped, then grabbed a cookie to try to recover. “Oh, my goodness, these look so yummy I can’t believe it!” She looked around to see if she had an audience.

Crazy Haddy was the only person nearby, and he only barely counted as an audience.

Gunderson raised a cookie. “Yummy.” She waggled it.

Haddy was too interested in his toes to notice. Then a butterfly fluttered past, and he leapt to his feet to chase it, laughing in his bright, sparkling voice.

“Bless his heart.” Gunderson turned back to Redde and held up the cookie with question marks in her eyes.

Redde smiled and nodded.

The older woman smiled and slipped the cookie into her apron.

“That’s a right fine sculpture.” She leaned on her broom. “Sure an Gee Gee will be proud.”

Redde pretended to be aloof and above things like praise, but she’d worked so hard to get the proportions right. Gee Gee was teaching her about anatomy, but all she had were ancient images from the Before Time for her rendering, so Redde did her best with what she had.

“Thank you, Goodmother. That’s kind.”

“Scared the daylights out of me.” She laughed and patted her ample bosom.

A hand slipped into Redde’s pocket.

Really? She could be subtle about payment?

“You’ll say hello for me, right?” Gunderson touched Redde’s hair and leaned in to kiss her forehead. “Let her know I’m looking forward to that new batch of lavender water.”

Lavender water. Code for anti-depressants.

Which contained so many things other than lavender.

Redde said her good-byes and ambled down the dusty street a bit slower now. Goodwife Gunderson always had a calming effect. Just her way…. Or……?

“Going to see your witch granny, as usual?” a familiar voice called out. “I swear, if Gunderson isn’t a witch, too, I’ll be damned.”

“Then I pity your soul, Greta.” Redde didn’t waste the time to give her a glance.

Greta Smithson was at the public water pump, holding a bucket. Her older sister worked the lever.

“Brave words from a damned soul like yours,” said Greta.

Redde stopped. Ordinarily, she tried to let things go, but Bianca, the older sister, had just visited Gee Gee to rid herself of a “trifling inconvenience” the week before.

Bianca, with her blonde flowing hair and readily untrussed bosom had needed to thus rid herself half a dozen times in the last two years. And she stood here silently while her sister insulted the woman who’d unburdened her without judgement.

Redde fixed the girl with a steely glare and raised one eyebrow.

Bianca’s eyes opened wide.

Really? Redde shook her head. Of course, she knew what her grandmother did to help.

Bianca smacked her sister’s head.

“What the hell?”

Redde resumed her journey.

“You say the exact same thing,” Greta complained.

“Behind her back,” Bianca hissed. “Behind her back…”

A shadow fell on Redde.

Oh! Crazy Haddy. He blocked her path and held out his hand.

A butterfly perched on one finger.

“Those girls are not nice.” He scowled his disfavor. Then he smiled. “To make you happy!”

The butterfly lifted from his finger and flew the short distance to Redde’s basket of goodies. It landed on the handle and slowly opened and closed its wings.

How did he do that?

“Your granny is a nice witch,” he said. “She tried so hard to help me.” He shrugged. “I am who I am. Have been for thousands of years.”

He turned on a heel and galloped away.

The butterfly fluttered after him.

“Bless his heart.”

The naked, crazy man ran back and forth across the street chasing whatever demons he saw. Unlike most crazy prophets, he kept himself clean bathing in the river almost constantly. The villagers took pity on him and kept him fed. On every full moon, they’d gather to hear him prattle on about the days in the Before Time.

If one insane man who didn’t look a day over twenty was to be believed, he’d been right there when the moon had broken. He’d been on the ground when vast shards of moonstone struck the Earth and ended everything known as “civilization.”

He was insane.

And yet….

And yet, Gee Gee swore he’d been there when she was a little girl, chasing butterflies.

Gunderson said the same thing.

All the oldest in the village knew him from their childhood. Unchanged and eternal.

So maybe his stories weren’t complete rubbish.

Maybe he was a thousand years old. More.

What had he said about Gee Gee? That she’d tried to help him?

Hm. Redde would have to ask about that.

The sun was bright. The Spring air was just the right temperature. Cool enough for her cloak, but not chilly. She crossed the bridge over the river that ran through the village, and, sure enough, Haddy splashed around in the waist-deep water. He paused his antics to wave wildly at her.

“Give Gee Gee a hug for me!”

Redde smiled and nodded back.

The road headed out of the Village and into the Deep Woods.

Most villagers would heave a sigh and steal themselves against fear of the unknown.

Redde smiled and sighed.

So much like home.

As she left the orderly, sterile Village and passed under the dark and mysterious trees of the Deep Forest, Redde relaxed. The sounds of the birds and squirrels, of the hidden creeks and shuffling trees, all of these sounds relaxed her. Where most Villagers held fear of the darkness, Redde felt the peace of nature.

She’d grown up in these Woods, raised by Gee Gee, taught to appreciate them.


“Why do you want to go to the village?” Gee Gee had asked when Redde had taken the job at the Johnson’s. “What do they have you don’t have here?”

“I’m growing up, Gee Gee,” she’d said. “Don’t I need to learn how to have my own life? You know I love it here, but I need my own home, my own job, my own life.”

And Gee Gee had held her tightly.

“You know I don’t agree,” her granny had said, “but you need to make these decisions for yourself now. Just always know I am here for you if you change your mind.”

And that had been that.

Redde had found a job with the Johnsons and had settled her own home.

But she still spent every Wednesday with Gee Gee, the woman she would always love as a mother.

She knew every bird that sang in the trees. Every squirrel, fox, deer, and lizard that crawled through the shrubs. A snake slithered across the path. Rat snake. Harmless and good to have around a house. Mosquitos buzzed overhead but maintained a respectful distance when Redde resumed her song.

She inhaled the damp scent of the moss that covered the fallen trees. It relaxed her further. If the walk from town to Gee Gee’s house wasn’t an hour, Redde would have stayed at the cottage and hoofed it every day.

Wait. Something was wrong. She closed her eyes and listened


A man. Just around the corner from her. But that wasn’t possible; the animals were all chattering away as if nothing mattered. Anyone other than her should render them all silent.

She set the basket on the ground and extended an arm, dropping a button into her palm. When pressed, the button would release a knife from her sleeve and into her waiting hand. Redde could slice an apple from the tree in the highest branches.

Opening her eyes, she inhaled a calming breath, retrieved her basket, pulled up to full height, and rounded the corner.

A man sat on a rock just off the path. Shaved head with a beard. He wore a brown fur cloak. Sort of heavy for that time of year. He had a sword on a belt and a flask made from some kind of antler. Redde didn’t know it. He had to be from far away. Redde knew every sort of antler in the Deep Woods.

She nodded as she passed, to be polite, but she didn’t smile. He was likely old enough to be her father, but for some men that would be a perk.

“Good morning. Lovely day for a walk.” He rose from his haunches and skittered along a fallen tree. “Should a young girl like you be out in the big, bad woods by yourself?” He smiled. “There could be monsters.”

He leapt like a dancer and landed squarely in the path, blocking her.

“I’m more afraid of the big, bad men…” Redde settled the basket in the crook of her right elbow, finger poised over the button in her left. “… than I am of any creatures of the forest.”

“My apologies.” The man raised his hands and stepped back. “I am only hoping to make sure you are safe on your journey. I… heard you coming up the path and thought I should wait to see if you’d like a guardian as you walked.”

“Heard me?” Redde didn’t believe him. “I’m wearing soft leather and there aren’t any leaves or twigs on the path.”

“It’s the big ears.” He flicked one for emphasis and grinned.

In spite of herself, Redde smiled.

No. He’s not endearing. He’s trying to get you to relax.

“Did you get them in a matched set with the big teeth?” she asked.

Another large smile.

“And the nose.” He tapped the side of it.

In point of fact, all of his features were the normal size, but he was quite endearing. Something about him felt comfortable.

No. Redde straightened up and held the goodies in front of her.

“I can protect myself,” she declared.

“Of that, I have no doubt, now that we’ve met.” He settled into one hip and rested his hand on the pommel of his sword. Not in a way that was threatening. Just casual. “Your fierceness sets my mind at ease.” He glanced at her left hand. “That and the dagger ready to drop into your hand.”

What? Redde lifted the hand to her chest. How could he know?

“Your middle finger is held close to your palm in a rather unnatural way. Some kind of trigger is the most likely explanation, and a knife hidden up the sleeve the most likely purpose.” He stepped to one side and gestured up the path. “Although, now that we’ve met, it’s going to be a bit awkward since we’re headed to the same destination.”

“What? You’re going to my grandmother’s house?” Damn! How had she let that slip so easily? What if he were merely baiting her?

She resumed her journey, and he fell in step beside her. He had a graceful loping stride.

“There’s really just the one path,” he said, “and nothing on it except Goodmother Greye’s house for miles and miles and miles.”

Well, if he knew her name, he must at least know of her.

“Why are you going to see my grandmother?”

“Oh? Only little girls carrying a basket of goodies for their granny get to visit?” He sniffed. “Ginger? One of my favorites.”

What? How on Earth could he smell the ginger?

He tapped his nose with a smile.

No. She wouldn’t smile. She turned and commenced to walk. Bother him.

“I’m actually going to see my father,” the man admitted. “He’s visiting the goodmother, and it’s been a while since I’ve seen him.”

“Your father knows her?” How interesting. “What’s his name?” In all likelihood, if Gee Gee knew him, then Redde should, as well.

“His name is the same as mine.” The man stopped and waved one arm in a flourish as he gave a formal bow. “Wolfgang Amadeus Karloff. Although he has a three after his name, and I have a four.” He rose from his bow. “And you are?”

Oh, how rude she was.

“Redde.” She automatically dropped a tiny curtsey as she said it.

“Just Red? Like the color of your hood?”

“It’s spelled R-e-d-d-e.” Hmm. “And the color of the hood is a coincidence, I assure you.” She did wear it a lot, though. Might be time to branch into other colors. “And Redde is enough for a complete stranger with overly large facial features.”

He barked a laugh.

“All right little Redde…” He resumed the journey. “With your coincidentally colored hood… you’re just visiting your granny in the Deep Woods to bring her a basket of goodies?”

Redde stopped. The jokes had been cute at first, but now he’d branched over into condescending. She twitched the gingham towel aside and lifted the skull out. She held it to him.

“Goodies,” she said, “And this.”

The smile slid off his face.

Good. That had been the point.

“Awfully small for a human,” he said.

“It’s made of clay,” she explained. “Gee Gee is teaching me anatomy. This is part of my training.” She pulled herself up. “I’ve made an entire leg, as well.” One day she planned to have a complete skeleton.

Confusion filled his face for a moment, then it sort of slid off as one side of his mouth twitched and then the other. His head dropped back, and he laughed so loudly a plague of grackles leapt into the air and flew away.

“Are you mocking me?” She stepped closer.

“No.” He chuckled a bit more. “I’m just delighted to meet someone who can manage to surprise me as thoroughly as you just did. Good for you.” He walked off. “And the model is excellent work. Excellent.”

Redde hurried to catch up. Again, while she pretended to be above such simple things like praise, Wolfgang’s compliment filled her with pride.

But wait… she stopped.

“How do you know what a human skull looks like?”

“I might ask the same question of you.”

Off the path, something stopped with them.

Redde avoided closing her eyes, even though it was easier to listen. People tended to notice.

Far enough to avoid detection but close enough to watch.

“What’s wrong?”

An animal? A very large animal or a man.

“We’re being followed.” She set the basket down. Blast it, she had to close her eyes.

“How do you know that?” Wolfgang asked.

“You know my grandmother.” She stepped closer to the trees. His energy. It was odd. Not quite human, but also not quite animal. “So you know what it means that I am of her lineage.”

“Oh?” One simple sound asked so many damn questions. “Her lineage? Pale and pretty you?”

“Don’t be stupid.” She opened her eyes. That was as much as she’d get. “When it comes to Gee Gee, one doesn’t need to be blood to be a part of her lineage.”

A jump. It raced away through the woods up the path.

“Oh, damn.” Wolfgang tensed. “He’s off like a shot.”

“How do you know that?”

“Don’t be daft.” He picked up the basket and headed off. “He’s with me. Let’s go. Something’s wrong.”

“Wrong?” What in the world could be wrong? “How do you know that?” She hurried to catch up. “And why was your friend following us?” It seemed suspicious.

“That’s a lot of questions at once.” He picked up the pace and handed the basket to her. “Look. Someone is at Gee Gee’s place, someone who doesn’t belong there, and voices are raised. I know this because while my pedigree is different from yours, mine also grants me certain abilities. My friend’s name is Telemachus, and he’s not travelling with us… well, partly to keep us safe from a distance, but mostly because he’s… not very social.” He glanced at Redde. “We should hurry.” His head turned up the path. “Wait.” He stopped suddenly, and an arm blocked the path.

Hurry up… and now wait. What in the world?

A man stepped onto the path. He had long, unruly black hair and he wore a cloak that he held closed as he hurried toward them. Bare feet and ankles.

The knife leapt into Redde’s waiting hand.

Wolfgang closed the distance, and the stranger circled Wolfgang twice, then stopped between them, facing her.

She crouched and held up the knife over her shoulder to let him know she meant to use it if need be.

He glanced from the knife to her face with bright yellow eyes that had almost no white at all, then he turned his back and enveloped Wolfgang in his cloak. He pressed his face close to the other man’s ear and sort of whispered, sort of whined. Then… oh, well then…

He licked Wolfgang’s ear. So likely not just friends, then. He nuzzled Wolfgang’s neck.

And when he’d turned his back to Redde, she’d seen his legs above the knees. Also bare. So… Curiouser and curiouser.

“Please, sir,” Redde said. “Telemachus. Is my grandmother all right?”

The man stiffened and pulled back a bit from Wolfgang.

“She’s fine for now,” Wolfgang answered. “A large, very loud man is there arguing with her.”

“Cutter.” He was one of the largest—and certainly the loudest—men she knew. He was the eldest son of the family where Redde worked. “Has to be. Trying to throw his weight around.” Redde tucked the knife into her belt. “Was he alone?”

Telemachus shook his head.

“Damn.” Alone, Cutter was loud and boorish, with his men he could cause trouble. “Please run up ahead and make sure my grandmother is safe.”

The man nodded and turned.

“Wait.” She touched his arm.

He turned to her.

“Please take care of my Grandmother, but also try not to get hurt. Those men can be dangerous.”

His face wrinkled in confusion. He looked at the hand then into her face with more confusion. He glanced at Wolfgang, who shrugged and shook his head as if to say, “You’re asking the wrong guy.”

Telemachus touched her hand. He took a couple of quick breathes as if readying himself for something difficult. His mouth opened and closed. Another breath.

“Thank…” he said at last “…you.” His voice was deep and gravelly, not at all what she had expected from such a slight man. He took a couple more preparatory breaths. “You… are kind.” He nodded and turned away.

“Please turn your back,” Wolfgang asked.

“What? Why?”

“Just do it.”

She threw up her hands and turned away.

“Okay. You can turn around,” Wolfgang said before she’d even turned completely away.

Telemachus had vanished.

Wolfgang folded the cloak over one arm and headed down the path, nodding his head to ask her to follow.

“How?” She searched the woods. “Where is he?”

“He’s reaching the place we should be going to.”

Right. Yes. Gee Gee. But what in the world?

“We’re werewolves,” Wolfgang announced.

“What?” Redde stopped so abruptly she stumbled.

“Is that a problem?” He raised an eyebrow.

“No.” She scoffed. “I’m just startled I didn’t…” Oh, hell. She thumped her forehead with the palm of one hand. “Pedigree. You didn’t say lineage. You said pedigree.” Could she burn off his face with her glare?

He smiled. “I like to have my little jokes.”

She scoffed again and surged past, hurrying to Gee Gee’s.

“Very little,” she muttered. “Tiny. Miniscule. Not funny jokes.”

Wolfgang caught up.

They moved quickly. Not quite running, but they kept a brisk pace. Most likely, Wolfgang would know if they needed to run. With Telemachus, a giant wolf, most likely, standing guard, Redde wasn’t as worried. Gee Gee could hold her own, and if Wolfgang the fourth was a wolf…

“You have questions,” he said. “I can smell it. Feel free to ask.”

“Is your father a wolf?”

“Yes. And his father before him. I’m fourth generation wolf blood.”

“Does that make you different from turned wolves?”

“Yes. I’m not affected by the cycles of the moon. I can change at will. I don’t lose myself in the wolf. I’m just a shapechanger.”

“Is that a wolf’s skin you’re wearing?” Because if so, wasn’t that kind of like her wearing a human skin suit?

He barked a laugh.

Barked. Oh, damn.

“Wolves are different. If you kill a wolf in righteous battle, you get to skin it and wear it as a prize.”

“Righteous battle?”

“He raped my daughter.”

What? Redde stumbled again.

Wolfgang nodded.

“We were all in wolf form, hunting deer. He led her astray, and when I found them, I clamped my jaws down on his neck and ripped out his throat. I wear the cloak to remember my daughter.”

Oh damn. She’d died?

“I’m so sorry.” What else could she say? “I’m sorry for your loss.”

“No.” He shook his head and raised his hands. “No, she survived. She’s alive.” He rolled his eyes. “She joined a pack of Ferals. I haven’t seen her in a few years.”


“She’s about your age, all things considered.” Again with the eye roll. “Ferals are wolves tired of the traditions, wanting to make a new way for us all.”

So. Even werewolves had rebellious teens.

Without another word, they resumed the journey.

“So…” He’d given her permission to ask questions, after all. “Is Telemachus a turned wolf?”

Wolfgang stuttered to a stop.

“From what I can tell, by the way, there’s just a lot of yelling going on.” He glanced up the path. “Telemachus is circling your grandmother’s house. She knows he’s there. She doesn’t feel threatened.”

Of course, that could change at any moment. Still…

“It’s funny you said it that way.” He shook his head. “Telemachus is, in fact, a turned wolf. Literally. He was a wolf bitten by a werewolf, who now transforms into a human.”

The wind stopped blowing.

The Deep Woods grew still.

“What?” She shook her head. “I didn’t even know that was possible.”

Wolfgang shook his head. He started down the path, but at a slower pace.

“No one did.” He folded his arms across his chest. “As far as we know, he’s one of a kind. And my dad and I, we’ve looked. Just… just to help him have a sense of community. I mean… I love him. He’s my world… but just like you can’t truly know what it’s like to be me and I can’t know what it’s like to be a witch, I can’t truly understand what it was like, on that first full moon, to wake up in a human body and scream in terror wondering why the pieces of the moon weren’t falling down.”

They walked in silence.

“Is that what really happened?” She asked. “I mean…”

“How could he even understand the first night?” He shrugged. “Who knows? But he did. All of a sudden, he realized that if those pieces of moon rock had been blown off the surface, why couldn’t they drop onto the Earth?” His face was so lined. What must he be thinking? “It’s like he suddenly turned human. He knew how to walk. He understood things. I mean, no one thinks to ask why can a bipedal human suddenly understands how to walk on four legs. Why wouldn’t a wolf suddenly have a basic concept of what it meant to be human.”

“But the words.”

“Yeah.” Wolfgang nodded. “Words are hard for him. We’re still figuring that out. Wolves have a language, but most of it has to do with movement and what your ass smells like, so words are sooo different.”

He stopped.

“What you said to him, when you asked him to be careful?” Was he about to tear up? “No one is that nice to him. Wolves resent the idea that they are one step away from being him, and humans… well, most of them just hear him stutter and pause and they think he’s…”

His head jerked towards Gee Gee’s house.

“Fuck.” He grabbed Redde’s arm. “We need to go. Now.”

“What? What’s wrong?”

“Gee Gee’s about to go all witchcraft on the big man’s ass.”

“Oh, shit.”

Confirming all their suspicions about her was not a good idea. And, not to put too fine a point on it, she likely could kill them all without breaking a sweat. The bears feared her.

She heard the argument before they even broke into the clearing.

“Just who do you think you’re talking to, boy?” When it came down to it, Gee Gee could be just as loud as Cutter. Don’t let her eyes glow. Don’t let her eyes glow.

“I think I’m talking to a crazy old witch who lives in the woods.”’ His voice had that haughty tone that would drive Gee Gee apoplectic. “Woods that my father owns, by the way. Just never forget that.”

“Your father owns these woods? Ha.” Don’t let her cackle. Please don’t let her cackle. “The Deep Woods own themselves. Your father has no right to this land.”

Redde hit the clearing.

Gee Gee stood a foot away from the big man, looking up at him in defiance.

Cutter, gods be saved, looked down at her as if she were a harmless old lady.

He had no idea how wrong he was.

A dozen men surrounded them, swords up, bows drawn.

“Dozens of settlers want to move into the area,” Cutter shouted. “They have every damn right to try to start a farm and make a life for themselves. They need farmland and they need lumber for their homes.”

Yeah, and his family wanted to arrange it so every settler owed them and paid them.

Well, as luck would have it, Redde knew exactly how to defuse the situation.

“Cutter?” Redde raised the pitch of her voice to sound like the village girls when they flirted. “What a lovely surprise.”

“Redde?” Wow. The shift from angry landowner to embarrassed schoolboy happened so fast. How did he not get whiplash? “What a surprise.”

The sword so recently gripped in his fist, slid calmly into its sheath. He gave a small vague shake of his head, glancing at the men around them.

Swords lowered to point at the ground.

Bows did so, too, suddenly no longer pulled taut.

Well, if it saved the day? She’d feel guilty about her behavior later.

“What’s going on?” Her basket held in both hands in front her of her, she ambled into the field with a flirty little walk she’d seen on the other girls in the village. “It’s so lovely to see you out here.”

“I’m trying to help your granny see reason.” He squirmed like a boy embarrassed when a girl he likes see him doing something stupid and boyish. “This old woods is a waste of space. No one lives here and nothing can be done with it. If we clear it, hundreds of families will have new homes and farmland.”

And his family would triple their wealth.

Not something to bring up.

“What about the creatures who already live here?” She sidled closer and lowered her voice. “Who call the Deep Woods home?”

Fortunately, Wolfgang seemed to understand her intention, and hovered at the edge of the clearing.

Cutter’s men broke out in laughter.

Cutter, too, then he seemed almost embarrassed.

“You sweet girl,” he said. “I see you’re still blinded by the old ways. If you listen to Reverend Paul, you’ll see. All those old myths… Just fairy stories to scare the kids into behaving.” He chuckled with his men. “Tell them about boogeymen to keep the teens from venturing into the woods to…” He blushed. “Well, I’m sure you can guess what folks do in the woods.”

Redde knew exactly what “folks” did in the woods. Nothing. They were too afraid of the boogeymen and true stories of people who had ventured into the woods and never returned. “Folks” found far less scary places for sex.

“With one breath you call me a crazy old witch.” Gee Gee pounded her staff on the ground, drawing attention back to herself. “With the next, you say there is no such thing as magic. I know the boogey man.” She pulled herself up as far as she could. “Make one more joke, and he’ll drag you feet first into a swamp.”

“Gee Gee.” Redde really didn’t need both sides aching for a battle.

“Just saying.” Gee Gee relaxed a bit and turned away from Cutter. She glanced at Redde in a way that told her she was only standing down for the sake of her granddaughter.

Good. Fine. Whatever worked.

“Cutter.” Redde pulled a cookie from her basked and held it out to him.

Food always helped.

A bit nonplussed, Cutter took the cookie. Of course, he did. He knew Redde’s cooking. The cookie was amazing.

“Gentlemen.” Redde moved from man to man, holding out cookies. Not one of them refused. “I know it’s hard to believe in the old ways when they haven’t been seen in so long… but that’s the point. You don’t want to see them. You want them to stay in the Deep Woods. If you start chopping down trees, you have no idea what might come out to complain.”

The men laughed around the ginger cookies.

“You know I have the utmost respect for you and your grandmother,” Cutter said, “But no one has seen any of these mythical creatures in generations. They’re just fairy stories to make bad children behave.”

“If only that were true.”

Oh, damn.

“Oh, Telemachus.” Redde felt it before it happened. Now that she knew the truth about Wolfgang and his mate, their energy was obvious. “I’m not certain this is the best idea.”

The trees shivered as if uncertain.

An enormous wolf appeared in the clearing behind Cutter and his men.


Holy mother of the gods.

He was enormous, an enormous black wolf, shot with grey, loping out of the forest. His shoulders stood high as a man’s chest. His mouth contained teeth longer than Redde’s dagger. His eyes glowed yellow.

All the jokes she and Wolfgang had shared about his appearance? Not even funny. now.

As he passed Cutter, the men all erupted in cries of astonishment.

Swords and arrows rose into alignment.

Wolfgang hurried across the clearing and brandished the cloak. As the fearsome wolf rose onto his hind legs, his mate threw the cloak around him, so by the time the wolf was a man, he was covered.

But they all saw it. They saw him change.

Not one of them could now pretend that magic didn’t exist.

“And there are creatures so much more deadly in the Deep Woods,” Wolfgang said. “We, the wolves. We can pass in your world. We can find a way to coexist. But others…” He held Telemachus closer. “Others are not so amenable. If you try to destroy their world, one of two things will happen. They will war with each other over territory, and your farmers will die as collateral damage, or they will simply strike back, and your farmers will die all the more.”

“You.” Cutter’s eyes had grown huge. “You’re a monster?”

“A werewolf,” Redde said. No more point in trying to finesse this day. “A person. Not a monster.”

“And both of you.” Cutter’s eyes flashed from one man to the other. “The same?”

“I am his mate.” Wolfgang lifted his chin in pride.

More murmurs. That was likely almost as objectionable as the fact they were werewolves.

“And you?” Cutter’s face fell ashen.

“For the sake of all the gods, no.” Redde shook her head. “No, I’m not a werewolf, but why does that matter? These are good and noble men.”

Mutters and sighs arose from Cutter’s men.

Cutter exchanged many meaningful glances with them.

Whelp. Chances are, Redde had just lost her chance at marrying the local rich man.


“Redde.” He would no longer meet her eyes. “I pray for your life and your soul.”

So much for an easy life as a brood mare for the local aristocracy.

Cutter and his men left.

Redde stepped to Telemachus first. She scratched him behind an ear.

“I understand why you did that.” He leaned into her touch. How adorable. “I truly do. But I’m not certain you’ve made your life any easier.”

“His life has never been easy.” Wolfgang made gestures with his hands. What did that mean?

Telemachus gestured back.

“This,” Redde asked. “What is this you do?”

Wolfgang stopped. “It’s a form of language using hand signs.”

“Speaking… hard,” Telemachus said. “Signs easier.”

“I want to learn this.” She settled her hands over his. “I want to learn your language.”

After a moment, he nodded.

She turned to Gee Gee.

Her face, as usual when she was angry, remained unreadable.

“So, just how bad is it?” Redde asked.

And then her face changed. Now that the bad men had left, she could be herself.

“First, I need to say hello.” She grabbed Redde in a fierce embrace. “Hello granddaughter.”

But then she released Redde and grabbed Wolfgang just as tightly. “Hello, son.”

“Hello, my other son.” She embraced Telemachus as well.

What the hells? She called them sons?

“Wait,” Redde demanded. “You know them that well? You call them your sons, but I’ve never heard of them?”

Gee Gee deflated a bit and exhaled. She looked down, then up at Redde.

“How old do you suppose I am?” she asked.

“You say you’re no more than 50.” Which was the truth.

She shrugged. “Do I look more than fifty?”

Nope. Not going to admit anything.

Redde shook her head.

“I knew Wolfgang’s father long before you were born.” She pinched his cheek with affection he tolerated, but which obviously embarrassed him. She turned to Telemachus. “And I was there when this one was birthed in his pack. I helped his mother learn how to feed her children.”

She hugged Telemachus.

“Wolfgang could have been my own.” She patted his head. “I could have chosen that path, but the universe had other plans for me. It brought me here. It brought me to you. But I was there for his birth, and I was there when this one was made.” She stroked Telemachus’ head. “It was a sad… confusing time. But we learned, and we helped Telemachus to learn. And we helped bring these two together.”

She held a hand to each of the men. They took her hands, and she brought them together.

“But all this was long before you were born, child.” She met Redde’s eyes. “Before your mother was born. We are all long-lived people, as will you be. You just haven’t seen that yet. You are still in a life that mirrors the life of the Known.”

The Known? What did that even mean, and how had Redde heard the capital letter?

“What are you saying?” she asked. “How old can I be?”

“How old do you want to be?” Granny touched her cheek. “There may not be a limit. Just ask Crazy Haddy.”



This is what has been written so far, but this is an ongoing project. Let me know what you think, and who knows what I might use!


Looking into the future!


View with a Room

2023-3-5 My Feet in the Water

I put my feet in the creek today for the first time. On the one hand, it’s kind of bizarre that I’ve been here more than two weeks and today was the first time. One the other, living in a land of rough terrain has proven to me just how unstable I have become from the weight gain and sedentary lifestyle. Even five years ago, I’d have jumped down into the water and wandered up and down the creek my first day here. Now? Well, let’s just say Jack ain’t so nimble.

The good news is, I climbed down into the creek anyway. I’m overcoming so many challenges here. (Climbed down is a bit of a stretch, says me from five years ago. Baby steps, says me today.)

Cold. Yes, the water is cold, which is why only my feet explored. It comes out of a spring fed down from the mountain. Not painfully cold, but cold. What an amazing feeling. The water pouring over my feet, the rock solid beneath me, the wind in my hair and the sun on my face. All four elements everywhere.

I settled into a meditation and pulled the energy into me. The stresses of the last few days melted away.

Stress is a relative term for me on my sabbatical. Getting consistent interwebs has been a constant struggle, but that is so first world problems. The folks at the company have been super helpful, even when not successful, and I think some of them have taken my cause as a personal one because they have no freaking clue why I am having such difficulties.

All that crap washed away with the water over my feet.


Here’s a little tour of my hideaway.

Does anyone know which Saint this is? I want to say Saint Francis Is A Sissy, but I’m not certain.

This is a fallen tree over the creek that one day I will cross. It’s not a great photo, but the creek is sort of across the bottom. You can kind of see the rock formations as the land rises away from the creek.

A tiny part of Dan’s garden. He has over an acre of land, and a huge gardening area I’ll photograph soon. This is the plot up against the house. I depict it here in winter, so you can watch as cool things happen over the seasons.

And this is the homestead itself. The place has a fascinating history, and I’m amazed at how much work Dan has put into restoring it. I saw it first back in 2012, and so much has improved. I’m impressed with his ability and dedication.

This is where I live halfway up a mountain.

2023-3-5  The Saga of the Stolen Shoe


This is Dan. I’m staying at his place in North Carolina for a while. He’s one of the people I call “brother,” but not in the new fangled version popularized with the diminutive version “bro.” There are a few folks who are my family of choice. To learn more about “Family of Choice,” read any of my novels.

We met freshman year of college because we lived on the same floor in the dorms. We didn’t know each other well, then, but a few years later, after we’d become best friends, I came across a Polaroid photo of him I’d taken in the back of my station wagon freshman year. He was from Oshkosh, so I likely drove him somewhere for some reason. Neither he nor I could remember that event. It’s interesting that someone who, at the time, was insignificant enough to me that I don’t remember driving him or taking his photo, is someone who cared enough to invite me all the way to North Carolina to hit a reset button on my life.

We drove around so I could take photos and stuff.

Which one do you like better? Why? Tap on image for full screen version.


I ask these kinds of questions to stay in touch with people. It’s a way to interact with the world at large when the world I now inhabit seems very small… well, these photos likely don’t make it seem small, but I think you’ll know what I mean.


Behind the scenes from Dan Kowal!

I see dead things.


And living things.

All kinds of things.

The above photo and the next set were taken at an artist retreat near where I live. Folks rent out cabins and focus on their art without the distractions of the outside world. Considering I had zero bars out there, they take their retreat more seriously than I.

An entire post will be devoted to the tragicomedy of my “Quest to Connect with the Outside World.”

I’ve decided that when I’m stupid wealthy, I’m going to create something like this place, but rather than charging, I’ll let folks stay for free and will also provide the bare necessities. Dan’s invitation to the side of a mountain is not the first time I have been provided such a sabbatical, so I want to pay it forward to other struggling artists, which includes dancers, musicians, writers etc etc.

I hope you especially enjoy the next image. See the very shallow depression at the bottom center/right? I had to pass through it to get to the perfect spot for the photo. What looked like wet grass was actually a demonic sinkhole that sucked my leg in to my calf and ate my shoe.

Note to self: “slip on” shoes are also “slip off” shoes.

I managed to retrieve my shoe from a watery, muddy grave, but only by putting my entire not-so-insubstantial weight into it.

So please enjoy the lovely, peaceful image.

Here’s another image of Dan. I’m quite fond of this one. I’m pretty fond of the man, as well.


2023-2-21 Holy crap, holy crap, holy crap!

Last Saturday, Dan brought me to a meeting of the local NAACP. What delightful people. Considering I’ve moved into a rural area that skews, shall we say, a bit more conservatively than San Antonio, I enjoyed hearing a group of folks speak with passion about Black History month and a movement to remove all the queer books from the Macon County library and pull it out of a larger governing body. I didn’t really understand the details on that situation, but it would effectively kill the library.

The folks were not happy.

After the meeting, they offered sandwiches and snacks, and I sat with a diverse group of women chatting. It was lovely. Really.

Then Dan and I explored Sylva, which is just over the mountain, and that’s a normal thing to say around here.


He introduced me to a nice book shop where I met the manager who wants copies of my books and tarot cards to sell, and we’re going to see about having a book signing there. So that was cool, too. And I met a lovely Wiccan woman at a monthly street market where she was selling her fun witchy wares. Tables there are only $25, so hoorah for that. Less than a week in, and I’m already making sales connections and meeting cool people.

I also met some chickens.

Thanks, Dan, for a delightful morning.

Then he decided to show me a lovely view.

“There’s a great little spot on the top of a mountain,” he said.

“It’d be a great spot for meditation,” he said.

“You’ll love it,” he said.

Apparently, there’s only one way to drive up the side of a mountain, and it includes about a thousand hairpin curves with nothing but a sheer cliff on one side of the road.

Holy crap! Holy crap! Holy crap!

I would have taken video if I hadn’t been clutching the seat and the handle with both hands all the way up the mountain. Okay, remember my little experience that first day where I briefly found myself on such a road? Yeah… I had no idea.

Every turn was at about a six-degree angle, and by the end it was literally one lane. We had to pull off the road when someone wanted to go down the mountain. Since we were on the inside, we hugged the mountain while they rode the outside track. Fortunately, none of them took the short cut.

Every time I flinched especially aggressively, Dan would say, “We’re almost there.”

He said that all fifteen hours we drove. (That’s hyperbole.)

When we arrived, it was indeed beautiful.

That’s Dan. I’m not there because all the shiny, slippery rock that looks like it angles up is lying to you. That’s a downward slope to the edge of oblivion, which would make a great title for a song.  I meditated while sitting on a handy fallen tree trunk. Far, far away from the ledge.

Life in the mountains will take some adjustment. 😮

Addendum: A Fed Ex truck just pulled into the driveway of the house across the creek.

First of all, I like being able to say, “Across the creek.”

Secondly… nope. Just nope.




2023-2-20  Front Porch Office

I left San Antonio one week ago today.

Why did I move to North Carolina? I have given several answers to that question. The truest one is that I moved four times in the space of a year and needed to move a fifth. Long story. This time, Dan invited me to live with him in NC.

“First of all, thank you,” I said, “but I have the kind of job that it can take six months to a year to build enough of a clientele to survive.”

He didn’t say anything.

I chuckled quietly.

The truth is I haven’t been earning enough to survive since the Pandemic hit. Sure, the country, in general, pretends it’s over, but the truth is I’ve not been able to rebuild enough of a business to pay the bills. And I’m not looking for sympathy, because it’s all worked out for the best. (I just knocked on wood.)  Had the last year not been so extreme, I’d never had taken the leap of faith. Taoists call it “the empty-handed leap into the abyss.”

The goal is to create online income streams through teaching, editing, tarot readings, etc that allow me to live comfortably. Then, when I return to Texas, I can do the things I love to do in person (teaching dance and taking pictures) more for fun than to pay the bills.

The return is almost inevitable.

One reason: snow.

I’m not a winter person.

Sure. Those icicles are pretty. But… they’re ice.

Wandering lazily towards March, we’re likely also heading into Spring. We might get some snow, but it’s not an entire long cold winter.

I also plan to use this time to heal. It’s been a harsh couple of years for all of us, and I know several people who’ve had it much worse than I, but since I made the leap, I figure I should use the time to shed some of the bad habits I picked up as coping mechanisms.

Visiting places like this helps tremendously. More on that journey next time. 😉



This the view from my front porch. Technically, the porch belongs to the house, and the house belongs to my brother Dan, but he invited me to live here, so I think I get to kind of see it as mine as much as anything really belongs to anyone.

2023/2/17  Sometimes, the tea just isn’t enough.

Day three in the mountains. Dreams last night. So many dreams.

The first I remember was unusual even for me. Pretend you’re a college student studying early film. Stuff like Nosferatu and Metropolis. You’re also fond of Dada and Film Noir. You decide to create an homage to all those styles and make it as random and disturbing as possible. Lots of crosscutting, modern CG to transform people into abstract creations. Random dialog is a must. Can’t have anything make any actual sense. And make it black and white… of course.

Then figure out how to plug it directly into my brain.

I never dream in black and white.

And that was just the beginning. I don’t remember the next series of dreams as well, but there were ghosts slamming lockers open and closed in a high school, and the noise really annoyed me… something about the spirits being trapped in there by some sort of vines inside the wall. I reached into the lockers, like through them, to pull out all the vines to set the spirits free so they’d stop slamming the dang lockers. It was pretty exhausting because the vines kept growing as I pulled other vines free.

Of course.

So… today I’m a little more subdued than I have been. I also think the adrenaline is finally wearing off. Originally, Dan had invited me to check out the music scene in Ashville tonight, but I think I might stay home and work on edits and writing.

Ashville is the Austin of NC. They seem to have a thriving dance scene and lots of hippy dippy tree hugging pagan folks. You know, my peeps. 😉

There’s what seems to be a cool techno party/art exhibit next Friday in Franklin itself, and I hope to attend.

Tomorrow I’m going to explore a bit more, so expect more photos when I’m able to get back to the library.

The view from my new “office,” otherwise known as the Macon County Library. That’s it on the left. I don’t have internet or phone service at the house, yet, but think I will continue to work from here when that gets sorted. They have “tuuoring rooms” that will be perfect for all the online services I plan to provide! Ten minutes from home.



The roads from Dallas to wherever I was shortly before crossing into North Carolina were primarily flat to wavy. That was 8:20am to about 10pm on Tuesday. Sure there were some pretty large hills leading up to the final kick, but there were also enough cars ahead that clearly defined the hills and curves.

In the black of night, I crossed into the leading edge of the Appalachian Mountains, and nary a car was in sight. I was on my own. In the mountains. On curvy roads.

Very curvy roads.

Most of the time, a clear cliff face rose to my left and nothing but trees to my right… that I could see. All I could see was in the narrow beams of my head lights. Other than the road and the cliff on one side and the trees on the other, nothing existed. At the time, it was rather unnerving.

Somewhere before entering the curves of the mountains, I had been pulled over by a cop. That had been fun. He said I was speeding, but I had been going flow of traffic, and several people had recently passed me, so I suspect it was the Texas plates. He gave me a warning and told me to slow down, and I thanked him and now, at 10pm, my heart was pounding because I’m from Texas and you never know when a speeding ticket you forgot to pay means going to jail. This has happened to friends.

While waiting for the shake of my hands to reduce, I noticed that Dan had left a message asking my whereabouts. I responded that I had no idea, but had been pulled over by a cop, then I hit the road, afraid that if the adrenaline crashed, I’d be too tired to make the last leg of the journey.

The phone pinged messenger, but that was likely Dan commenting on my message and the road had gone curvy, so I ignored it. Then my phone made the texting ping. And again. And again.

Oh. Dan might have worried about me and switched to text. So I found a place to pull over. Nope. My phone uses the same ping to tell me when I have service, or when I don’t. It had gone back and forth several times.

And the message I had sent to Dan hadn’t sent.

I had no service at all.

Sooo… Middle of the night. Curvy mountain roads. No cell service or interwebs.

Wait… would the Google directions lady keep giving me directions if I had no cell service? Would I end up twenty miles from my destination at 1am with no way to find it? Dan had warned that I would have no service at his house.

Well, it was what it was, and the next hour was all one road… So…

That takes us back to me on the dark, very curvy roads, but now we’ve added that I don’t know if the Google lady will keep assisting me at the end of that particular road.

She did. I made it safely. Hoorah.

The next morning, I headed out to find cell service so I could check out the local library which would be my interwebs haven until I sorted out my own. Since I couldn’t Google from home, I figured I’d just backtrack to the last bundle of chain stores that would likely have service.

Then two large pickups ahead of me turned to a kind of side road with much verve and vigor. “Oh, I thought,” maybe that’s a way to civilization, too. They certainly seem confidant about—

Holy F-ing sh#$!

I said that four times.

Yeah, the road switched back about 160 degrees and dropped down to two feet for either lane. It immediately switched back again, this time at about 270 degrees and the road narrowed to one foot for both lanes. The downward edge of the road? A clear cliff face approximately ten centimeters from the pavement. It dropped further than the waterfall to Land of the Lost.

I cussed some more, pulled into the first driveway I found and headed away from that deathtrap with my tail tucked between my legs. Yipe, yipe, yipe.

So… I’m now kind of glad I drove that last two hours of curvy, windy mountain roads in the dark.



Capes. They came out of nowhere. Criminals who normally used handguns and AR-15s now used fireballs and teleportation. Then the good guys showed up, trying to foil the supervillains. Except… well… the heroes’ powers had shown up out of nowhere, too, and they weren’t… well, they weren’t very good at it… at heroing… but they had Powers!

They were Capes! They had to do Good.

So people died.

There were heroes and villains before the capes appeared. Few and far between, but perhaps if we know more about the superheroes who were born before thousands of people gained powers out of nowhere, maybe we can understand the entire phenomenon a little better.  Before the capes, nearly all origin stories were tragedies. Maybe that’s why they were better heroes?



Channel’s origin.

“I died,” Morrison says, very effectively bringing me out of my reverie.

“Excuse me?”

“That’s when it started for me,” he explains. He doesn’t move, just stares up at the passing clouds. “I was in this car accident? Drunk driver. I was, like, fourteen. Splat all over the place. Nine other kids died and stayed that way. My liver was in three pieces, and when they stitched me up, I died on the table. Stayed that way for two minutes.” He sort of glances at me.

“It was pretty cool,” he adds, “being dead. I sat in the car, and then my Tia Sophie opened the door and invited me to get out, which I thought was kinda weird since she’d died when I was ten. I didn’t really know I was dead. We talked a long time.  She told me not to worry about my dad, that he was a stupid son of a bitch who didn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground.”

He stops and laughs. “Sophie was always the best. Don’t know how she and Dad came from the same family. Anyway, I don’t remember most of what she said, but when I came to in the hospital a week later, she stood there for ten minutes. She faded away.” He stops and stares at the clouds, tying to remember something. “They started working me that same day. At first it was just once in a while. Last month, it all went crazy. Now, they won’t leave me alone. Sucks shit.”

I wait for him to say more.

“The weirdest thing she said to me was, ‘You know, Morrison, when you think about it, no one really needs thirty-one flavors of ice cream.’” He laughs. “Not that I remember anything else we talked about.  Just that.” He looks at me. “Isn’t that the strangest thing for a dead aunt to say to a person?”

I chuckle and nod. I do that a lot.

Some days later

Up on the rooftop, click, click, click. . .

I’m waxing melancholy. The night is cool, but my leather jacket keeps me warm. I suppose my feet wouldn’t be so cold if I weren’t barefoot.

The wind tugs at my ponytail. The past tugs at my mind.

Seems to be an awful lot of that lately.

A year ago, it all seemed so clear. My fear of getting someone killed convinced me not to let anyone close enough to get hurt. I wonder now, who I was afraid would get hurt.

The punk kid sits in the living room with Trish. . . no, the other punk kid, Morrison, working on his blocks. Coming along well, too. His energy leaks through the walls. Warm.

Something catches my eye in the night sky, a movement that shouldn’t be there.

I blink a few times, focus on the vague motion. . . and whoopdie-shit if I don’t land meself in the middle of Poltergeist Parts I, II, and III.

An entire caravan of dead people floats outside my apartment. I can’t even begin to count them. They float and glide and shit. You’ve seen the movies; use your imagination. I watch them for a while, rather comforted that my shield keeps them out.

I have never in all my life seen anything even remotely like this.

Uh, Trish? I send.

? she returns.

Please join me and keep the kid occupied.

She sends me another ? but gives Morrison a couple of tricks to play with before wandering onto the balcony.

I lift her carefully from the patio and fly her to my side on the roof. She carries an intense residue from Jake. Wow. She’s really in love with him.

I forget my original purpose. “Do you realize how serious you are about my roommate?” I ask it out loud because I don’t much like two-way psychic conversations.

She smiles, and her energy radiates.

“Does he know?” I ask.

She shrugs. “I’m not sure. I keep forgetting how sensitive you are.” Her blocks go up. I don’t tell her that they wouldn’t even phase me. “Is that what you wanted?”

“No, no. . .” I say, turn and point. “You see that?”

She nods.

“What the fuck?”

Ester William’s ghost follies swim in unison above us.

“They want Morrison.” Trish watches them far too calmly.

“You’ve seen stuff like this before?”

“You haven’t?” she asks.

“Uh, no.”

She looks up into the swirling cloud of dead folks. “Morrison must be opening you. It’s what he does. Maybe through me, actually.”

Which makes sense. He’s a medium for spooks, and she’s some kind of catalyst.

 “You’re in touch with the dead on your own?” I ask.

She nods. “I’m in touch with most of the universe, I just can’t do anything about it the way you can.” I watch her watching them. “It’s actually rather beautiful.”

Yeah. So’s the sun, but I don’t want one hovering over my house. “They can’t get in?”



Morrison strolls onto the balcony to see what’s up. Well, this could be interesting. He swings into view and scrambles onto the roof.

“You guys talking about me?” He crouches a couple of feet away, smirking, notices Trish’s gaze, follows it. “Whatcha looking at?”

“Ghosts,” she says.

“Yeah?” So he can’t see them either. Hm. “What do they look like?”

“Have you seen Poltergeist?” I ask. “Same thing.”

He laughs. “What are they doing?”

“Waiting for you,” Trish says.

“I think I’m getting the hang of blocking them,” he says.

“Yep,” I encourage.

Morrison sits beside me, his shoulder brushing mine.

“Is Jake almost done with work?” Trish asks.

I reach across town. “He’s on his way.”

“I have to go to school tomorrow,” Morrison says. “There’s a big test in Physics.” He searches the sky for some sign of the threat there. “Will I be able to keep them out?”

“No worries,” I tell him. “I’ll shield you until you can do it yourself.”

He brightens. “You’re coming to school with me? Can I use you for show and tell?”

I laugh. “I don’t need. . .”

There’s something funny about the van pulling into the parking lot.

“. . .to be. . .”

There’s a block on them.

“. . .right there with you.”

Trish taps my shoulder and points into the sky.

Uh-oh. A new ghost has joined the Twilight Zone parade. Call him Casper. I make out a face, eyes red and burning; it’s the spirit who spoke through Morrison the night before.

The other spirits prance around the new guy like pups around their mother. He doesn’t move, just hovers there, watching. Staring.

“What do you think he’s up to?” I ask.

“I don’t know,” Trish says.

“What who’s up to?” from Morrison.

I ignore him for the moment and slide into the spirit’s mind, figuring it should be the same as sliding into anyone’s mind.


Hatred. . . Anger. . . killed by. . . by the state. . . by the giant. . . by the boy. . . a murderer, killed children. . . hated children. . . boys. . . didn’t die. . . shouldn’t have died. . . wasn’t his fault. . . his fault. . . pain. . . more hatred. . . wants the boy. . . must have him. . . must stop the pain. . .

“Angel, we have company,” Morrison grabs my arm, his touch burns me like fire.

I jerk away, glaring at him, but it’s just residue from Casper’s mind. . . or whatever that was that I read. I touch Morrison’s shoulder to let him know he’d just startled me.

He points at the ground below, but I’m caught in his eyes, a glow there, his warmth.

Wow. Fuck that. I shake my head and look down.

About a dozen Army-looking guys swarm out of each van toward the back door of our building. They don’t see us on the roof. Well, who’d think to look on the roof, anyway, but there are lots of branches, it’s dark, and the lights down there let us see them without being seen.

I sweep their minds. They want the kid. They’re supposed to take him to. . . shit, can’t see where.

Which is when I notice the guy in the trench coat staring right at me. He’s the one who has the Army guys all blocked up. Strong empath, psychic, clairvoyant, no psychokinesis, but advanced in his field. Name’s Yareth. I don’t read it, but I’ve heard about him. He helps the government nail unsuspecting psychics. He’s a bad guy.

His goons swarm up the stairs, so he doesn’t bother to tell them where I am, figures they’ll figure it out, decides to. . . shit!

The block closes around me before I can set up against it. The guy is good.

It only lasts a split second before I break through. . . but it’s enough.

See, Yareth set up a block around me to cut me off from the goon squad.

Consequently, he also cut me off from Morrison.

It only lasts a fraction of a second, but the ghosts move really, really fast. . .

Morrison screams.

The goon squad bursts into the apartment, and I thank God I’m not a stereotypical queen since the place is still a shambles. The embarrassment would destroy me.

Morrison turns to me, smiling, eyes all aglow, the air around him crackling with life.

He rises, keeps rising, until he hovers about a foot above the roof.

Yareth’s jaw drops and bounces around on the pavement. Sure, he’s good in his field; however, this brand of paranormal is not his field. Dumb shit.

Casper lifts Morrison’s hand to point at me. “You,” the voice from hell says through Morrison’s mouth, “are an annoying pain in the ass!”

His ghosts swarm me but are held at bay by my personal shields.

Meanwhile, back in my apartment, the soldiers tear the place apart looking for us. They do the backs slamming against the wall, “Fan out, boys,” bullshit you see in movies. . .

Then one of them hears Morrison scream. He holds up a hand to stop the others. They stop. He points up to the roof real serious-like.

His second-in-command thinks, “No shit. We all heard that scream.”

I try to find a way inside Morrison.

Casper notices the soldiers and decides for a little revenge or something. Seemed like he was killed by the state. Not sure of the details. Ghost brains are fuzzy.

Morrison turns his back on us and floats off the edge of the roof and down.

Inside: A young Luke Skywalker type awaits orders in the kitchen. He and three other soldiers stand poised for battle. The scream unnerved young Luke. This is his first time in the field, and he doesn’t really know what to expect, figures they’re after drug dealers or something. Wow. What a little kid.

One of his buddies taps his shoulder and points behind him.

Luke turns around, rifle ready, only to be blinded by a pair of my skivvies. He grabs the cloth from his face, looks down at it, notices the Calvin Klein label then looks up in time to see a closetful of dirty laundry swarming him.

Before he can shout, a turtleneck wraps itself around his head and chokes him. My Levis bind his legs, and several pair of dress pants wrap up his arms. His gun falls to the floor as my wardrobe buries him.

The three other soldiers struggle just as hard against their own fashion issues. As they bobble about the kitchen, the fridge starts to shake. It rattles away from the wall and the door shudders open, throwing a dazzling green light across the linoleum.

Half a dozen condiments soar into the room and squirt their contents all over the struggling goons. As the ketchup hits the floor, Luke’s boot strikes it, and he does a perfect Home Alone spill, sliding into one of his buddies and toppling over the rest of the guys.


The other soldiers fare no better. All through the apartment, they battle vacuum cleaner attachments, cutlery, and vibrating dildos.

Their leader shouts instructions which no one hears.

Screeech. . .

Even the captain or whatever stops trying to restore order when the ceiling fan pulls itself from its roots and chases him up the stairs.

Which is the scene Yareth finds when he pushes the broken door out of the way and enters the battle zone.  Doing a good job of feigning calm, he picks his way through the bedlam, appearing ever so official with his trench coat flapping around his legs.

See? I knew the trench was a good idea.

He steps over a guy wrapped up in duct tape and makes his way to the living room just as Morrison pauses outside the plate glass balcony door.

Yareth stops, meets Morrison’s fiery gaze, smiles. This is the kind of thing he joined the FBI to do. What a nut.

The rest of the ghosts, daunted by Yareth’s blocks, ignore him.

Casper just gets hot.

Knowing what’s about to happen, I wrap everyone in the living room with a solid wall as Morrison raises his arms. The waves of energy which surround him crackle into bolts of lightning and sweep out from his entire body.

The glass patio doors explode across my living room.

The guys who can, throw themselves to the floor and wonder why they are still alive as the shards careen away from my shields.

Yareth, impressively, stands his ground as a tornado of glass surrounds him, wheels about him, and subsides to the floor.

Morrison floats into the apartment through the new hole in the wall. How in God’s name am I going to trick the insurance company this time?

I shove the soldiers out of the way into the corners where they can say Hail Marys.

Yareth’s shoes crunch on the new glass carpeting Casper installed.

The ghost floats Morrison to the center of the room, his attention on Yareth.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m still trying to find a way into Morrison’s mind. It’s going to be a lot harder to fool Casper a second time.

“What do you want with this boy,” says the voice from hell.

“My employers want him,” Yareth says, “for study.”

Casper laughs. “I need him for a much greater purpose.”

Yareth tries to read the ghost. Doesn’t really know how.

Meanwhile, Trish and I climb down onto the balcony.

The soldiers push to their feet.

“Get out,” Casper screams, pointing at the broken door behind Yareth, and the sound shatters whatever glass had been left intact.

“I’m afraid I can’t do that,” Yareth says.

I love to watch idiots dive in way over their pathetically bullheaded heads.

Casper laughs a sinister, ghostly laugh.

The debris on the floor shivers and shakes.

Oh. crap.

“Get the fuck out of here,” I shout.

The shields around the goons redouble as my entire apartment explodes into a typhoon. This time, the furniture leaps into the action, and let’s not forget millions of shards of broken glass added to the mix.

“You have no idea what you’re dealing with here,” I shout. Not that I do, either.

Soldiers scramble for the door.

Trish touches my elbow. “Use me. While it’s entertained by Yareth, use me to get to Morrison.”

I don’t have time to wonder whether she is ready for this. I dive into her mind, feel a rush unlike any I’ve felt in years. The air hums with energy. My mind blows open more than I’ve ever dreamed possible.

Without a second’s thought, I swoop into the eye of the hurricane, and, now that I have all this additional power, I find Morrison easily and slip my block around him.

Something is wrong though. . . the cyclone doesn’t stop.

Morrison falls to the ground in a heap, but the room keeps on spinning.

“Get them out of here,” Trish shouts at me.

Which is a good idea, but first I lock the ghosts in with a shield designed to keep them from escaping the apartment. I think I know where this is heading, and I don’t want all this pissed off ghost energy loose in the neighborhood.

Then I fly the soldiers through the air with the greatest of ease. I even yank Yareth out of the apartment. I carry Trish and Morrison to ground, wrench a plunger from the maelstrom, grab it with both hands as if it were a trapeze, and head for cover.

Inside the apartment, Casper has come up with a new definition for the word “merry-go-round.” Like psychotic fish trapped in too small a bowl, the spirits flash and dart and bump against the walls and shields.

Casper screams in rage. The hatred and power inside him build, spinning out of control.

On the ground, I plumb new depths of power with Trish at my side, double, triple, quadruple the strength of the bubble protecting the rest of the world from the hell inside my humble abode.

The energy builds way beyond Casper’s ability to control.

Or mine.

This is bad.

Very bad.

“Get down!” I shout and throw to ground anyone who doesn’t obey immediately.

I cover us all in one shield.

Wait for it. . . wait for it. . .


Fuck me! Too much energy. Too much boom.

I have to open the bubble around the apartment.

I barely manage to shield the inside walls, protecting the rest of the building, but the shields on the outside walls go “pop.”

My home of the past two years blows into the sky like so much confetti and dust shot out of an incredibly huge canon.

Ash falls from the sky like rain.

I black out.

I come to a minute later, roll onto my side, and check on Trish. She’s sitting up, rubbing her head with headache #202, but basically all right.

“You all right?” I ask so she knows I care.

She nods. “Where’s Morrison?”

“Being taken to that truck,” I tell her, nodding in the direction of a cluster of goons.

Luke Skywalker bends down, offering a hand to each of us. His mind reads friendly, so I take his offer and scramble to my feet.

“Thanks,” I mutter, already on my way to help Morrison.

His hand stops me, and I answer his question before he can waste my time asking it. “Yes, it was me saved your ass up there. You’re welcome, and if you want my advice, request a transfer away from Yareth. He’s an idiot and will get you killed.” I stomp my way to Morrison.

Two soldiers try to stop me, but I slide them a few feet away and keep moving.

Pissed off doesn’t even approach my current feelings.

I reach the group with Morrison at its center in cuffs, check that Trish is still with me, and push a few more soldiers out of the way.

I touch Morrison, turn him to face me. He’s pretty pissed off, too. The handcuffs drop to the ground, and he rubs his wrists. He looks at me, up at the charred mess which was once my home, then back at me.

“I got distracted,” I tell him. “I’m sorry.”

You’re sorry?” he asks. “I get your home disintegrated, and you apologize to me?”

I grab his shoulders. “Don’t waste your energy feeling guilty. It’ll just annoy me.”

Yareth stands behind me, now.

“Besides which,” I add, “if Barney Fife here had the least fucking clue what he was doing, this wouldn’t have happened.” Are the soldiers loyal to him or are they as disgusted by his incompetence as me?

“You are interfering with a federal arrest,” Yareth says. He’s a cocky son-of-a-bitch, even for a G-man.

I turn to him. “What are the charges?”

“Running away from home. His father has been searching—”

A quick scan of Yareth’s mind lets me interrupt. “He didn’t cross state lines, so you don’t have jurisdiction. Don’t bullshit someone who can read your every thought, Yareth.” I let that sink in, then add, “Don’t waste your time with blocks. You can’t compete.”

“We’re taking him in.” Fists on his hips apparently let me know he’s serious.

Laughing, I point up at the apartment. “I wasn’t scared by that, Yareth, what makes you think you scare me? Your men can’t touch me.” Calling them goons wouldn’t win friends. “Get the fuck out of here and leave me alone.”

“I could arrest all three of you—”

“On what grounds?” I shoot back loud enough for all his men to hear. “This whole thing was your fault! You knew exactly what your men might run into.” I wave at the cluster of soldiers. “Did they know? Did they know you had no way to protect them from this kind of paranormal activity? I had that fucking ghost completely contained until you cut me off. When you blocked me, the ghost hacked Morrison and blew my apartment to smithereens, endangering the lives of everyone in this building.”

I do a quick check. “That’s one hundred civilians right now. They’d all be dead if I hadn’t blown all that energy straight up, protected them from the devil you unleashed. You caused this. You did, and if you really think you can pin the blame on me, you must have ignored the basement full of papers which is my file at the Pentagon. The cops in this city know me. The fucking President knows who I am, as does the managing editor of fucking Newsweek.”

I pause for a breath and drop my voice to something quiet and menacing. “If I don’t have a check at the studio covering damages and then some by tomorrow afternoon, I’ll go to the press and straight to the Pentagon.” There are times when the little brush I had with fame pays off. “You aren’t going to get him this way, Yareth.” I put my arm around Morrison. “Go home.”

We turn and walk to the curb.

Trish joins us as we sit. Is all that true?

If it works, does it matter?

She chuckles.

Yareth’s men wait for an order.

He knows they believe me, that they realize I saved them and that Yareth walked them into a deathtrap. He was in such a hurry, he didn’t think it through. A professional at his level should have done a hell of a lot better.

Police sirens approach, as well as fire engines and ambulances which, thankfully, will have no use here.

Yareth tries to read me. Fails. Decides to check my file more thoroughly before trying again. Tries really, really hard to keep me from reading him. Fails. Decides to get the hell out and regroup outside my range. Which would mean a trip to San Marcos, but he doesn’t know that.

Without a word, his men pile into their vans and take off just before the police arrive.

Luke Skywalker stands to attention before entering the van. He salutes me.

I need to remember him. He deserves my respect. I place a fist into the opposite palm at chest level and bow a salute Jake taught me in martial arts training. I’m not sure if it’s kosher for a civilian to salute a soldier; I don’t care to offend the nice young man but I want to show my respect.

Yareth doesn’t blow me a kiss goodbye. That’s okay as long as I get a check to cover the damages.

Damages. . .

Holy shit. Everything in the world I owned is sawdust.

Well, this has happened before.

Trish takes my hand. “You okay?”

I nod. “Just pissed off.”

Police cars scream around the corner.

The residents of the complex finally decide it’s safe to see what happened. They swarm out of the buildings full of questions. My tired mind blocks them out and keeps them away.

“What do we do, now?” Trish asks.

“I say we get the hell out of here,” Morrison suggests.

I shake my head. “I need to make sure the cops who know me find out what really happened, otherwise I don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting the Feds to pay up.” I push to my feet. “You two stay here.”

I spot Ricardo. He heard the address on the radio and worried all the way here. How sweet. I open my mouth to give him shit about it. . .

Then I don’t. That’s part of what Morrison said about me keeping people at arm’s length.

I hold out a hand that Ricardo only glances at for half a second before taking. I pull him into a one-armed hug around the shaking hand. “Thanks for rushing over. We’re all okay.”

As he pulls away, I see the relief. And a bit of intrigue over the first hug I’ve ever given him.

I’m halfway through the report when Jake shows up. All things considered, he takes the news pretty well. Sort of stands there staring up at the smoking hole, asking, “You’re sure someone’s going to pay for all this?” again and again.

Oh, yeah. I’m sure.

Soon enough, the fire and EMS folks realize they aren’t needed. They make like a baby and head out.

The cops keep nosing around questioning witnesses for the look of the thing.

Marcus shows up, all concerned and shit. He shouts my name before I notice that he’s there.

I wave in his direction, and he runs over, folds me in his arms, which, truth be told, feels good.  For the first time, some part of me maybe almost wants to react.


Instead, I go find Morrison. I sit beside him on the curb. “You okay?” I ask.

He smiles. “Never a dull moment.”

“Need a doctor or anything?”  He shakes his head and watches the cops. They make him nervous. It’s weird to him to be able to sit here with them so close. He’s not used to someone protecting him.  Hm.

“Look,” I say, “I have a couple questions.”

He cringes. “Yeah. Sorta figured.”

I give it to him. “You told me all this started when you were hit by a drunk driver and died.”

He looks at the ground, and I read everything I need to know. There was no drunk driver. Morrison died in a neighbor’s tool shed, tied to a table with a map of Texas carved across his abdomen. The neighbor’s wife had gone looking for wire clippers while her husband washed up at the garden hose. She called 911.

Morrison hadn’t lied about everything, though. He did die.

He did see his aunt.

And he wasn’t the only one to die. There were nine others.

The neighbor went to jail.

Where he died, too.


Morrison will hate this.

“You don’t want to hear this,” I tell him, “but you knew this guy when he was alive.”

Morrison folds his arms over his stomach and hunches over. “He’s back.” He shivers.

There were heroes and villains before the capes appeared. Few and far between, but perhaps if we know more about the superheroes who were born before thousands of people gained powers out of nowhere, maybe we can understand the entire phenomenon a little better.  Before the capes, nearly all origin stories were tragedies. Maybe that’s why they were better heroes?

Catalyst’s origin.


Happy New Year’s Eve and shit.

I’m out on the balcony, watching the clouds wander overhead and worrying. Orange juice and rum are thrown haphazardly together in a cold glass in my right hand. My left hand works the muscles in my right forearm.

Call me Angel, which is what most folks call me because I told them to. My name is really Danny Angelo, but only my roommate and my boyfriend call me Danny.

Three stories below me, the deserted parking lot glistens from the recent rain. The air smells clean and wet. The sound of some famous idiot cheerfully extolling the virtue of this year’s inane pop icons reaches me through the glass doors from the belly of my living room.

I feel Jake in the doorway. The best friend-slash-sidekick.

“You gonna watch the ball drop?” he asks quietly. Ice tinkles against the glass in his hand. He drinks.

My eyes are trapped in the clouds. “Yeah, sure.” I try to sound enthusiastic. It just doesn’t work very well.

A van full of revelers pulls loudly into the parking lot.

The screen door shushes open, and Jake pads quietly to my side, leaning against the railing, looking at me.

“You want to go?” It’s the first time he’s asked tonight. I’m impressed at his restraint.



“We’re not going.”

“Okay. Then come inside, get drunk with me, and watch the fucking ball drop in Times Square.” He smiles a lot, trying to cheer me up, to get my mind off what might happen downtown.


“Okay,” I say.

We turn to go inside. . .

And there she is in the doorway. Trish.

“Holy shit.” I have no clue which of us said it. Could have been either.

Every muscle in Jake’s back twitches, and I hold out an arm to restrain him.

“What the fuck do you want?” I ask.

She’s not there. There is no trace of her energy. It’s the exact opposite of the dream I had. . .

Fuck. That’s how she tricked me the first couple of times. Like a dope, I’d expected the dream to be an accurate threat. Duh.

“Never trust a woman,” she says. “Especially when it comes to your dreams.” She’s in my mind. Fuck. “Such language from the self-proclaimed savior of all mankind.” She clucks her tongue.

I repeat, “What the fuck do you want?’

She moves to the end of the balcony, her back to us, and leans casually against the railing, watching the drunks tumble out of the van and toward our apartment building.

I try desperately to not think about the van people.

“Are you afraid for them?” she asks. “Afraid I might hurt them?”

I don’t respond. What does she want?

Jake’s chest presses against my arm. His breath slips in and out in little hisses.

“To answer your question, I’d like a drink.” She turns to us, smiling. “Whatever you’re having.” Her eyes shine bright and clear. Her dress is almost sheer and billows around her legs. “You like it?” She touches the fabric of her skirt. “I figured a dancer would appreciate a dress with movement.”

Unable to think of a thing to do, I mix her a drink.

She feels things moving in the kitchen and smiles. “Ice please.”

I pull ice from the freezer and drop it into the glass. We all wait while the glass wanders through the open kitchen window and into her waiting hand.

She sips, sighs, and places the glass on the balcony ledge. “It’s just like an episode of Bewitched.”

I try very hard not to notice the folks hanging out in the parking lot, trying to open the door to the building. It takes them far too long.

“I’m not letting them in,” she explains.

“Why not?”

She shrugs. “It amuses me to watch you squirm.”

Jake finally speaks. “Has anyone ever told you you’re a bitch?”

She drinks. “You’re just mad because you didn’t get a chance to fuck me.”

The pressure against my arm increases.

“What do you want with me?” I spit out.

“Well, at first I thought maybe we could work together,” she says. “I saw you in the papers and thought, ‘Hey, we could do some serious damage together,’ then I realized you were a do-gooder and thought, ‘Well, maybe I can seduce him,’” She laughs. “Fat chance. So, I figured I’d come check you out, see how strong you are, see if maybe I could make you realize how boring it is to do good, that whole dark side of the Force thing.” She shrugs.  “No go, so I’ve decided you have to die.”

Screams from below as all six van people are swept into the air and tossed around like rag dolls above the parking lot.

I close my eyes.

She’s still not there.


Jake pushes past me and throws himself at her.

Which is when the sky falls down on Chicken Little.

Keep in mind that for five years, I’ve been in tune with every living creature for anywhere from one to five miles of me, depending on the stage in my development. Imagine suddenly having water in your ears, smoke in your eyes, and cotton up your nose.

She shuts me off. It’s like having a pillow shoved over my face.

Jake flies into the air, and I cannot hear his mind cry out to me, telling me not to worry about him, just to stop her. For the first time in five years, the only reason I know what he’s thinking is that I know him so well.

 She doesn’t move. . . not that she needs to. All the hand waving and facial grimacing in movies is bullshit.

Time slows down.

I test the shield around me.

I nab one of the van people as he starts to fall from the sky, then catch a second, then a huge knot of pain hits my forehead as I grab the third. The first slips, and I actually need to concentrate to hold up all three at once.

Her grip on my mind tightens, and I engage a huge amount of will to set up a block against her. . . a tiny block, but enough to catch a fourth victim before depositing the first.

Oh. . . this is all happening very fast. Very, very fast.

I hear a scream and have to physically look to see the van lifted into the air.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

Okay, there is nothing, nothing in my best shape, I could do about that van. I can’t even let it concern me unless I need to jump out of the way.

Which is when the railing splinters, and Jake flies out into space and drops out of sight.

The sound of the railing sickens me.

I’m blind. I can’t hear a thing.

The last two van people drop out of the sky.

The van hurtles at the apartment building across the lot.

And what’s-her-name’s glass makes a beeline for my face.

A lot of shitty things happening at once.

I catch the van people, which just about exhausts my energy and hits me like a metal pipe to the forehead.

She tries to clamp down harder, but now that I’ve felt what it’s like to be attacked like this, I can keep my head at least as open as it is.

I am stretched so thin with this that I can’t find Jake. I pray very fast and keep telling myself, “He’s a gymnast, that’s like being a cat. It’s only three stories. This is exactly the sort of thing he warned me about. Don’t freak out.”

The van impacts. Several very disturbing noises happen. Does anyone need my help? Don’t know, and there isn’t a damn thing I could do, anyway.

For the first time in years. . . I duck.

The bitch’s glass shatters somewhere behind me.

At the same moment, I throw my own glass, relying on my hands for the first time in a very long time.

The next moment:

The van people touch down.

About a dozen alarms go off in the building behind me.

Jake hits the ground, and I don’t allow the sound to register.

My glass hits her square in the forehead.



Holy shit!

I hit her!

Wait. Did she block it? Her face registers nothing. Nada.

Then she crumples. . . just falls into a heap with a red spot in the middle of her forehead.

Just like that. Kapow.

Was she stretched too thin to do a thing about it? Lifting the van must have tapped her out. She couldn’t even see it coming. . .

Except that there was nothing wrong with her eyes.

She didn’t even react. . .

Her stranglehold on my mind isn’t instantly released.

Wait, is something even spookier going on?

She didn’t duck because she couldn’t see it. Couldn’t see anything.

She didn’t react to the blow because she couldn’t feel it.

Oh, my fucking God.


“Trish” had nothing to do with it, which is why she was invisible psychically.

She’s not psychic.

Someone else has been using this woman like a puppet the whole time.

My head hurts. There’s this woman laying on my balcony all crumpled up with a red stain on her forehead dripping down her temple. She’s breathing.

I still can’t feel Jake, so fuck it. I tap all my energy, pull my board from the apartment, and sail to the ground.

I push through the crowd that has gathered around him.

He lays on his back staring up at the trees, unmoving.

Not moving…

Is he even breathing?

Oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck. . .

No, no, no, no. . .

I drop to my knees.

He turns to look at me.

I breathe.

Thank God.

I really thought he was dead for a second there.

He sort of smiles. “Hey, shithead, is she dead?” From the way his face is all tight and stuff, he’s in a heck of a lot of pain. Normally, he doesn’t much respond to injuries. Bad childhood.

I shake my head.

“Too bad. She could use a serious case of rigor mortise.”

“How’re you?”

“Hurts like hell. I think I broke a rib.”

“I thought gymnasts always hit the ground rolling.”

“We do. It’s just a matter of what we roll into.” He glances sideways at a nearby tree. “I bounced off that sucker. It’s really solid.”


“You didn’t freak out?”

“Nope. Just beaned her in the head with a cocktail. Knocked her cold.”

“Cool,” he says and winces.

“It hurt a lot?”

“Oh, yeah.”

“I couldn’t find you. She had this block around me.”

“I figured. Is there an ambulance coming or something?”

I don’t know.

This lady next to me says there is.

Jake’s face changes, curiosity overcoming pain. “Wait a minute. She’s knocked out, right?”

I nod.

“So why are you still blind?”

“It wasn’t her,” I tell him. “There’s someone else controlling her.”

“Oh, fuck.”

“My thoughts exactly.”

His face twists.

 I take his hand. “Just try not to laugh or anything.”

“So tell me a joke. That’ll do the trick.”


We wait in silence. Every now and again, his grip on my hand tightens, probably whenever he tries to breathe. . . probably. Shit.


“Mm-hm?” I hear the EMC sirens.

“I’m glad you didn’t freak out. I was afraid she’d get you.”


“Yeah. I’m a gymnast. We know how to fall. You’re just a superhero geek. She might have messed you up.” He starts to laugh, swears instead.

“Serves you right.”

Which is when the ambulance arrives.

I glance up. The arm hanging over the edge of our balcony tells me Trish is still there. Good. “Jake?”

“I’m fine. Go check on her. Find out what’s going on. . . and Danny?” I let the ambulance guys in to check Jake out. “Don’t forget to report in, right?”

“Right.” I squeeze his hand one more time.

The ambulance guys tell me they’re taking him to St. David’s.

A bunch of cops mill around.

“Hey, Danny,” Jake says as they load him into the ambulance. “So it wasn’t really Trish, then?  I mean, she wasn’t in on it?”

I shrug and shake my head at the same time.

He smiles. “I hope she isn’t.”

I try to laugh, almost succeed. As the doors close, I call out, “Thanks, buddy!”

He’ll know what I mean.

To avoid drawing further attention to myself, I slip through the crowd and to the door rather than gliding up on my board. I run up three flights of stairs, open the door before I arrive, and hit the balcony toot sweet.

She’s still there. Good.

I take her pulse. It’s strong. She’s just asleep, now.

She pulls away from me, rolls over, and curls into a ball.

Carefully, I lift her into my arms, carry her into the apartment and lay her on the couch. She doesn’t awaken. What the hell do I do next?

I stare down at her, listening to the shouts and sirens outside, testing the walls of the block around me, trying to find cracks or holes.

What do I feel? Besides wondering whether Trish had anything to do with this misadventure or whether she was a pawn, I’m pissed. I work very hard to keep my anger under control. That’s what this week’s mystery guest wants: me angry and guilty so I screw up.

Fuck that. Jake’s right. I’m just pissed. Guilt and shit have no place in my life.

This block in my head is bizarre though. It’s gotta be how the real villain kept me from seeing Trish. It’s folded inside my head, blocking me in and keeping the world out, but I’d never in a million years notice it from the outside. It’s almost like a sponge.

“He?” a voice says from behind.

I don’t move.

My heart beats like a son-of-a-bitch, though.

“You assume Trish was being controlled by a man? How sexist of you, Angel.”

“My apologies, Ms. . .?”

“Turner. Elizabeth Turner.”

“My apologies.” Hm. Sponge. I push my energy out and then squeeze back on myself. Ouch. Energy bleeds through, though. I use it to squeeze harder. Double ouch.

“Clever man.”

The block vanishes. The world roars back so hard my knees go weak, and I stumble to get my footing back. My mind does a full speed ahead catalog. Everything seems in order.

My adversary chuckles.

Trish’s mind is still closed to me. It’s there, though.

Did Jake feel me come back on-line?

“You should be dead,” she says.


“Hitting her with your martini was a fluke.”

“Rum and orange juice.”

“Whatever. It was a fluke. You got lucky.”

Hm. “You were at your limit. Lifting that van was a nice parlor trick but it tapped you out. You didn’t even see it coming.”

She chuckles. “You’re not going to get my goat that easily, Angel. And I’m not going to be led into divulging my limitations.”

I shrug. “Had to try.”

She tests my barriers.

“You let go too much,” I tell her. “You aren’t coming back in.”

She laughs.

“So do we do the whole, ‘What the fuck do you want from me?’ thing again,” I ask, “or are you just going to tell me this time.”

“Aren’t you curious to see my face?”

It unnerves her that I don’t look at her, so I don’t move. “You’re the psychic. You tell me.”

She laughs. “No matter. You’ll be just as dead.”


“Why not?”

Okay. Psychic battles are boring. Two people standing motionless in the middle of a room with a death grip on each other’s brains.

We start out testing each other. Her power is vast compared to mine, but I’m using a lot more of my brain. I’m faster, my strategies are much more complicated. I can pull almost all of her attention to one line of attack then sneak in around the back without her noticing.

What exactly are we trying to do? I’m not sure. . . overload a synapse, close off some central functions—like heartbeat or breathing. Really, it’s pretty fucking stupid, but throwing shit at each other in the physical world is even more pointless.

Here at least, we have a shot at turning our opponent into a vegetable.

Which is about the time her sponge invades my head again. It soaks my energy.

Slowly, I draw my sensors in to keep up my defenses. I lose the city, am reduced to the apartment complex then start shutting down lines one by one, until it’s just me and it’s just her.

The rest of the world vanishes.

I’m trapped in one tiny corner of my mind, lashing out at her, chipping away uselessly at her defenses, pissed off that it happened so fast I didn’t think to try my last trick again until it was too late.

“You’re not as strong as when I first found you,” she says. “A month ago, this wouldn’t have even made you flinch. Has it all been too much? All that senseless death, your boyfriend in danger, your sidekick, your friends. . .”

She’s right. I am weaker. I haven’t been sleeping. . . have been hyper vigilant. “So what’s your point?”

“I misjudged you. I thought you were stronger.”

“Sorry to disappoint.” Without allowing myself to realize why, I focus my whole attention into one thought, let the rest of my mind fall open to her as if I were giving up, and when she closes in for the kill—I blast her.

My knees go weak. I drop to the floor, pouring all my power into one tiny part of her mind, the part that is connected to Trish.

Huh. Any chance this can work? I crash through the blocks around Trish’s mind, dive into her thoughts and make my own sponge to protect her—within seconds, my enemy is blocked from her puppet by her own little trick.

The world goes cloudy. I don’t know what the fuck she’s doing to me, but it hurts. . . a lot. My own blocks crumble, and I taste her assumption of victory.

She completely ignores her hold on Trish so she can attack me directly. . . wisely realizing that if I’m drooling in my own vomit, I’ll let go.

That doesn’t happen though.

Someone screams.

Really loudly.

And again.

The hammerlock on my mind weakens, shudders, and shatters.

I am free.

I stumble forward and catch myself with both arms and one knee, still half-blind. What happened? Who screamed?

Did my gamble pay off?

Slowly, I turn around.

At first, my eyes tell me it’s Trish lying there in a pool of blood. . . but a younger version with brass in her hair kneels beside the corpse, curls hanging over her face. And the corpse is darker, her hair long and straight and black.

Holy crap. The gamble some part of me took by freeing Trish came up with blackjack.

Trish holds a very big knife. She looks up at me. “She was going to kill you,” she says, but I can tell it’s a question.

I nod.

“And she tried to kill your friend.”

I nod.

“But he’s all right.” Her voice is little-girl.

“He’ll be fine.” I fucking hope.

Trish looks down at the dead woman. “She’s killed a lot of people.” She’s piecing together lots of half-memories, trying to put her mind back together. Mind control leaves a person discombobulated.

“Do you know why?” I ask.

She looks at me, at the woman, and she wipes her face with the back of one sleeve. “I think she was insane. The things she could do with her mind, I think they drove her mad.”

Boy, can I relate. “What did she want with me?”

“You?” Trish says at last. “She was afraid of you.”

Wow. “Of me?”

Whooops. She’s going into shock. Carefully, I set up a couple of blocks to keep from peeking accidentally. Even the least brush could send her out for good. Her mind has been ravaged. It’ll be months before she’s back to whatever rates as normal for her.

I dial 911 on the phone in my pocket and type in an address. They’ll send someone up.

“You’re so much stronger than she is,” Trish says.

I don’t bother to respond. The woman obviously has no clue about what’s been going on.

“Don’t say that,” she responds quickly.

Holy shit! She reads me.

I throw up a block.

Her eyes go wide and scared. “I’m sorry,” real fast. “I didn’t mean. . . it just happens. . . I don’t have any control, really, not since she took over. . .” She sucks in a deep breath and lets it out.

Now that I know she is psychic, the look in her eyes means something totally different.

“I don’t have a lot of power,” she says. “She could take my mind and use it to. . . make hers more.” She shakes her head, trying to clear things. “She wanted to do the same with you, but you were too aware, too strong, there were too many twists and turns in your brain. . .”

I chuckle.

“So she was going to kill you,” the young woman told me. “She knew you’d eventually notice her and try to stop her.”

“Stop her from doing what?”


Hm. How hard is blood to remove from a carpet?

“She liked being all-powerful, didn’t want anyone around who might be more.” Trish looks down at the corpse. “She was awfully vain.”

“So she was using your powers to stop me?” I ask.

“She used me to amplify herself,” she says. “Like a catalyst. It’s what I do.”

“Wow.” For several reasons.


“A friend of yours?”

“She’s my mother,” spills out before it connects, then, “was my mother.” Which is when Trish notices the knife, drops it. “Oh, my God.” She looks up at me. “Did I kill her?”

“Yes.” Well, what do you expect me to say?

She looks down at her mother. “We should call the police.”

“Already done.”

“Angel?” she asks, her eyes still glued to the carpet. “If she was my mother, how could she make me do those things?” Our eyes connect. She really expects me to answer. “How could she do that to me?”




Capes. They came out of nowhere. Criminals who normally used handguns and AR-15s now used fireballs and teleportation. Then the good guys showed up, trying to foil the supervillains. Except… well… the heroes’ powers had shown up out of nowhere, too, and they weren’t… well, they weren’t very good at it… at heroing… but they had Powers!

They were Capes! They had to do Good.

So people died.


The sky was blue with just a few white puffy clouds to keep things interesting. San Antonio traffic was light for midday, so the noise wasn’t bad. The food truck selling Korean tacos, mercifully, had no line. As Moriarti ate, and ignored the juice covering his fingers, his sister paid for her own meal.

“Just fucking talk to him!” Sarah shouted in her I-don’t-care-what-people-think voice. She tended to loud.

The taco salesman maintained an unexpressive face. Behind him, the silent TV showed a LIVE report. Some cape in blue spandex had robbed a bank and some equally lame poseur, this one in green, chased him through the city streets, stopping traffic and causing a fender bender. Fucking capes.

Sarah followed Moriarti’s eyes to the TV. “If someone doesn’t get these capes under control…” She bit into her taco. “Someone is going to get killed.” That part had been spoken around a vast quantity of pork, and Moriarti had only understood her because he was her brother.

She raised a finger at him and glared. “You will not redirect me. Just fucking talk to him.”

Moriarti took another bite and considered his options. He started down the street, and she fell in beside him, the queer bars they passed kind of sad and desolate in the unforgiving Texas sunshine. Moriarti was decidedly straight but spent time wherever folks were less judgmental.

And what the hell did he have to say to his dying father anyway? The cancer would take him in the next few months and good riddance.

“What do I have to say to him?” Moriarti demanded. “His son is dead to him, I thought. How does a corpse make conversation?”

“Ugh!” Not as eloquent as her usual, but expressive.

Brother and sister made an unlikely pair. Although about the same height, Sarah had long, straight brown hair of a decidedly unimportant color. Brown eyes. A body that was athletic and an aura of, “Go fuck yourself, I hate you,” that tended to drive men away from her otherwise attractive features.

Well, that was the one thing they had in common: the “Go fuck yourself, I hate you” vibe.

Moriarti’s manifested in a body nearly completely covered in tattoos and piercings, hair that was Crayola red and eyes that lived a permanent squint. Today he chose shirtless to point out to his sister just how far he’d journeyed since telling his father to fuck off at the age of sixteen when he’d first realized that the compound where they lived without internet, television, or, well, pretty much anything from the 21st century was not, in any way…. Normal.

“And if he asks me to apologize for escaping,” Moriarti insisted, “I will deck him.”

“Oh, don’t get me wrong,” Sarah countered. “If he asks you to apologize, I will deck him myself.”

Which was exactly the point.

“Then why visit him at all?” Moriarti asked.

“What if he wants to apologize to you?”

What the ever-loving hell? Really?

Sarah stopped. She bent over and laughed so hard the word “guffaw” came to mind.

She laughed some more.

So did Moriarti.

“Okay… Okay… That is never going to happen.” She straightened up. “Just wanted to say it to see how I reacted.” She shook her head. “Whew. That was hysterical.”

Her hand took his arm, turned Moriarti to face her. “Look,” she said, “if you won’t do it for him, do it for me.”

Which was far more likely to work. Sarah had always been his best friend. Dad had taught them how to fight using pretty much every weapon imaginable, and they’d been the perfect sparring partners for all the long years after mom died and dad devolved into what Moriarti had later learned was called a conspiracy theorist.

After Dad closed off the outside world, apart from the wackos who came to the compound to listen to Dad’s end of the world as we know it bullshit, Sarah was the only one in his life who’d ever made any kind of sense.

“It means this much to you?” He asked.

She nodded.


“Because I know you,” she said, “you want to come across as this hardass, but five years from now the guilt will hit you and you’ll be a whiny little girl, and guess who will have to deal with it.” She made a big thing about looking around before pointing at her chest with both thumbs. “Me.”

Nice. Moriarti chuckled. “Okay, okay,” he said. “For you… for no other reason, I will visit the old fucker before he dies.”

Her hands opened in supplication. “Thank you.”

And then a bizarre blue blur shot between them.


A hand.

It hit her chest and pushed, speedster momentum and all.

She fell backwards.

In Moriarti’s memory, it was like distinct images of her falling away… stumbling off the curb… falling on her ass on Main Street… tucking into a ball. Years of training kicked in, and she rolled over her shoulder into a crouch.

A semi horn. Loud.

Sarah rose to one knee and prepped to leap back to the sidewalk as years of training had instilled in her.

Then another blur. Green this time.

From the sky to the street beside Sarah.

She glanced over to see what it was.

“Don’t worry, miss,” a nasal voice shouted, “I’ll save you!”

A cape. Some idiot in tight green spandex that revealed way too much.

He planted himself between Sarah and the oncoming semi.

It was one second.

But it was all the distraction needed to freeze her.

One second.


Then the semi hit them both, horn blaring, and it blew past.

A blur of enormous motion.

A semi. A fucking semi, horn blaring and brakes screeching.

Sarah and the fucking cape just gone.


Wait? What just happened?

The semi eventually ground to a halt half a block later.



Where was Sarah?

The semi stopped half a block away, a bright red steak extending behind it.

“Oh, shit,” someone said. The cape. He stepped out from the front of the semi. Perfectly fine. His hair wasn’t even mussed.

“I didn’t think…” He met Moriarti’s eyes. “I just got my powers last week,” he said. “I thought… why didn’t it stop?”

Why didn’t a semi speeding at least forty miles an hour just stop for you?

Because physics, you idiot!

Sarah! Moriarti ran to the side of the semi, but a huge pair of arms stopped him. “You don’t want to go there, buddy.”

“My sister!” It finally hit him. Sarah! Was that red streak because of her? “Sarah’s under there!”

Strong arms held him back. “Holy fuck, that was your sister?”

Was? What did he mean was?

Moriarti struggled against the arms. “I need to see if we need to call an ambulance.”

The arms tightened. “You don’t want to see that. You don’t.”

“But what if she needs help?” Moriarti screamed.

The fear hit him. The pain.

The arms held him tight. “Nothing can help her, man. You don’t want to see her…”

The asshole in the green spandex, he crouched down by the semi. He looked. “Oh, fuck me.” And he puked buckets.

A red streak spread out behind the semi.

That was Sarah.

That red streak was all that was left of Sarah.

Moriarti’s knees gave out.

He fell to the sidewalk.

Someone screamed so loudly it fucking hurt.

Oh wait… that was him.



Yorktown Memorial Hospital

Standing outside the hospital, it seemed less than I had expected. It’s two doors down from a Dollar General where I bought smokes for Jaime because he didn’t have his ID.  He took the following shots while I was on my mission, so these are photo cred Jaime.

He found the place for me. I told him I was looking for weird, funky, bizarre places to shoot. He said, pretty much, “Hold my beer.” He contacted Stephanie Mayfield, the current curator, and a fun negotiation started….. eventually ending in an invitation to hear her story and check the place in prep for a full photo shoot. More shots by Jaime.






He makes shit spooky, right? So…. originally, we thought she was going to hold our hand through a tour, but she unlocked the building, set the lock and chain on a counter and said, basically, “Lock up when you’re done. Don’t die.”

Yikes! And….. also…. coooooooool. Jaime and I have both had our share of supernatural shite… soooo….. bring it on!




Okay…. focus was a BIRCH! Which is a thing there, I’ve learned. Seriously, the camera did not love Jaime, and normally, it does.


Who could not love that face? Well, apparently folks there were unimpressed. Sorry Jaime, I think you’re all right.














Curious to see more? So are we! Keep checking back for the full experience!

Deleted Scene


Austin, Texas

Thursday, 8:00pm


Spook was dead.

He’d been killed back in 1961 at the age of seventeen but never stopped walking around and shooting off his mouth. Or so his brother, Ross, liked to say. For the record, Spook hated the word “zombie.”

He’d recently started studying witchcraft and had learned how to summon a demon. How cool was that?

He had a Booke of Shadows from none other than Merlin himself! And a local witch, totes powerful and the real deal, Dina had assured him it was the perfect book for someone of his “extraordinary ability.” Well, she’d pronounced it kind of funny, but English was not her first language. Who knew what you could find on Amazon!




He stood in his basement, arms raised and eyes closed, reciting a spell of demonic summoning. “O Fortuna. . . velut luna. . . statu variabilis. . . semper crescis. . . aut decrescis.” Dust motes sparkled in the light of blood-red candles and swirled inside the arcane containment circle painstakingly inscribed on the bare concrete floor.



Spook’s “Ye Olde Booke of Shadows” had called for “thee blude of a styll-brything mongrel poured unto the colde, colde stone whilst it screamed its fynal cries of terrour after its throat was verily slitte.” But that was impossible, since an animal with its throat slit couldn’t cry out in terror anymore. Spook had a deal with the butcher down the road who sold him farm animal blood at cost, just to get rid of the stuff. Close enough.


Spook continued his spell as he dribbled the cow’s blood into the concrete, which ate it up greedily with faint suckling sounds.



Spook hung out with a Goth crowd that’d taught him how to dress the part at a place called Bitter Sweets on Austin’s east side. All these years of spell casting and hunting creatures of the night, and Spook had never realized the importance of image. His short black hair rose in a spikey mess. His normally dark, Mexican skin was made up pale and kohl surrounded his eyes. He wore black leather pants, a black shirt, and a burgundy cowl with the hood down.



Who’d have known it’d take so much effort for an actual life-challenged American to blend into the death-becomes-us crowd?

He opened his eyes and raised his voice. “Vita detestabilis. . . nunc obdurate. . . et tunc curat. Ludo mentis acie. . .” His voice dropped an octave and reverberated with a cavernous echo. “Egestatem. . . potestatem. . . dissolvit ut glaciem.”



The dust motes swirled into a vortex within the protection circle and a column of light ignited, bright enough to drive away the shadows and expose the clutter in Spook’s basement.

The illumination revealed the usual assortment of old—but still perfectly serviceable—chairs and tables, a collection of demon banishing swords laid out for easy access, boxes of clothes bound to come back into fashion someday, a standing mirror of soul capturing, and a Hello Kitty lamp.





An ethereal breeze stirred the various sheets that covered the furniture. Faintly, in the background, a chorus in three-part harmony rose up to support Spook’s voice.

The spell was working.

He could feel it.

The power started as a tickle at thebase of his spine and spread through his nervous system, which was nothing more than a conduit for magical energy since his death and reanimation. Warm. Tingly.

Oh yeah, it was working.


“O Fortuna. . . velut luna. . . statu variabilis. . . semper crescis. . . aut decrescis.” Soon, the gate would open and his own personal demonic companion would step through the dimensional rift and shuffle up this mortal coil to keep him company.

Perhaps, a trifle extreme, but Spook missed Ross.

“O Fortuna. . . velut luna. . . statu variabilis. . . semper crescis. . . aut decrescis.”

“What the hell are you doing?” someone shouted nearby.

What the shit? His house was protected through six dimensions!

The chorus cut out.



“Blast!” Spook’s voice still held all the reverb and echo of a demonic overlord.

The maelstrom in the center of the room suddenly and rapidly swirled down into a tiny spot on the floor like water down a toilet in fast forward. The last of the magical energy disappeared into the concrete with a pathetic “thwip.”

Spook looked up.




A middle-aged man in a trench coat regarded Spook with what could only be labeled contempt. He looked Spook up and down, and then his eyes settled on Spook’s face with an expression so utterly blank, it was worse than scorn.


[Maestro looking blank. Spook POV.]


In the dim light of a basement in a mid-century modern home and surrounded by furniture from the last fifty years, the burgundy cloak and boots were possibly a trifle excessive. And how much make-up had Spook actually applied?


[Spook closeup.]


Emotionless, the stranger extended a business card. “I just happened to be passing through your neighborhood and thought you might need some help controlling the demon you’re trying to summon.”

Spook sucked in a quick breath. How did he know? He grabbed the card. It read:


[Shot of Meastro handing card replaces below card.]





Spook glanced from the card to the man. “What. . . demon. . . what?” He floundered. “Do I look like someone who would try to conjure—?” He glanced at his reflection in a nearby mirror, suddenly embarrassed at the get-up. With the crowd at Bitter Sweets, it had seemed restrained. Hadn’t it?


[Spook in fancy mirror. Reflection of Maestro in background.]


The stranger, Maestro, spoke gently. “You look like a reject from a Goth Hello Kitty convention.”

Spook wanted to disagree but searched Maestro’s eyes. He was definitely a fellow mage. Sorcerer? Witch? A powerful one, whatever he was, from the complete sense of control he radiated. Other than the power in the man’s eyes, though, he was so bland he’d be nearly invisible in a crowd.

Oooh. Was that just how he liked it?


[Maestro looking bland. Spook trying to look impressive.]


Spook drew himself up. “How did you know I was summoning a demon?”

Maestro pointed at the floor. “Anyone in at least ten dimensions could feel that spell… not that it would have worked.”

“What?” But Spook had followed the Book of Shadows to the letter.

“This?” Maestro took two steps to the podium holding Ye Olde Booke of Shadows. He held it up with two fingers as if it offended him. “If you tell me you got this on Amazon, I am going to hit you with it.”


[Maestro with Ye Olde Book.]


It’s like the guy read his mind! Spook had done all the research, though! “Dina promised me—”

Argh. Ach! Ah, damn. Dina was a bitch.

Well, she was a witch, but she was a bitch, too.

Double damn.


[Spook with hands up in disgust. Maestro in background touching things.]


“Dina promised you what?” Maestro replaced the book and moved around the basement touching things and being all judgy-looking.

“You really don’t want to know,” Spook said, hands covering his face—wait! Makeup!

“No. I really, really do.” The man held up a Hello Kitty lamp with that same blank expression that utterly judged Spook.


[Maestro with Hello Kitty lamp. Spook deflated.]


He stood there, waiting.

And waiting.

“Fine.” Spook snatched the lamp and returned it to the spot his niece had put it. She’d said his basement was too dark and gloomy. She’d been six at the time. Ten years ago. He traced the cartoon cat with one finger, missing his family but not wanting to watch them die. How old was Ross, now? He had to be at least seventy.


[Spook with hello kitty lamp.]


“She said it was the perfect book for someone of my extraordinary skill.” Nope. Not going to look at him. “Except she didn’t pronounce it that way, she pronounced it extra-ordinary.” Damn it. “Except close enough that I misunderstood.” Or he’d just heard what he’d wanted to hear.

But he could do stuff! He spun to face Maestro, this total stranger who had broken all of his enchantments and kept looking at him as if he were nothing. He lifted one hand, palm up, fingers curled. “Lorem Ipsum sit amet.”


[Spook with fireball.]


A fireball spun into life and burned merrily. Spook tossed it from hand to hand a few times then brought his hands together to extinguish the flame, then opened them. Would Maestro be impressed?


[Spook playing with fire.]


Without a word, the other mage stepped into the containment circle Spook had inscribed into the cold, cold earth, taking a very high step over the inscriptions. He turned a complete circle, obviously examining it. . . and judging it.

“Well?” Spook asked.


[Maestro judging containment circle.]


Maestro’s trench coat barely moved, the shrug was so small. He stared at Spook, with those empty eyes. They made him feel like the smallest, most insignificant. . .

“Well?” Spook repeated.

“I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy,” Maestro said casually.

Fire engulfed his entire body! Holy crap!


[Maestro on fire. This should be a challenge.]


Spook jumped back and stumbled into a couch. Held on for dear life.

Holy crap! Holy crap! Holy crap!

Fire! On his entire body! The heat was incredible.


[Spook hiding behind couch.]


The flames swirled, now, slowly at first, like a slow-motion tornado of fire.

“A Yankee Doodle, do or die.”

The fire swirled faster and contracted inward, more closely following the shape of his body.

What was burning? What was being destroyed?

Wait. Nothing. Nothing was on fire. But Spook felt the heat!

No? It wasn’t real? This man could make him feel the heat. Heat that wasn’t there?

Spook reached out.

Yikes! Fucking ow!

He sucked on his fingers.


[Spook sucking on fingers.]


“A real-life nephew of my Uncle Sam.” Maestro raised his arms. Below, the containment circle glowed bright purple.

So did his eyes! By all the gods and a goddess or two, his eyes glowed purple!

“Your eyes. . .”

The glowing purple containment circle lifted from the ground and rose into the air. Purple smoke wafted from it.


[Maestro lifting the containment circle while on fire.

Seriously. How the fuck am I going to do this?]


“Really,” Maestro said in that completely judgmental voice. “Body on fire. Levitating containment circle. . . and it’s the purple eyes that you notice.” He crossed his hands over his head, drew them to his chest and thrust both arms quickly toward the floor. “Fuck off.”

All of it: the fire. . . the containment circle. . . it all blew down and out with an impressive and heartfelt FOOM!


[Maestro making everything go foom.]


And the man hadn’t even broken a sweat. “Throw the book away and stop trying to summon demons or I will return, and the fire will be real.” He left the circle and approached the podium.

Okay, fine with the dire warnings, but. . . “Fuck off is a magic spell?”

Maestro closed his eyes for a second. “Did you hear what I said?”


[Maestro and Spook on opposite sides of the podium.]


“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” Spook closed in and waved it off. “No more demons. Got it, Daddy-O.” Who needed lame-ass demons with a guy like this in town? “Wait,” Spook asked. “Do you live in Austin?”

Someone nearby cleared a throat. Rather pointedly.

Now what? “Did someone plan a party in my own basement and not invite me?”

Even Maestro’s head snapped to one side quickly. Surprised? Him?


[Maestro looking surprised.]


Um. Wow. Interesting. . . dude. . . in the containment circle. A shirtless dude with skin that. . . well, sort of. . . shimmered? Or something? Bright red hair. Dark eyes. . . And what?

Spook sniffed. Sulfer!


[Collin looking sexy.]


“So sorry for the delay,” the demon said in a refined British accent because the scene wasn’t surreal enough without it. “Here I am.” He gestured broadly. “How may I be of service?”


[Collin gesturing broadly.]


Maestro dropped into a crouch and a fireball appeared in both hands. . . without a verbal spell of any kind! What the what?

“Ipsum lorem,” Spook intoned. A sort of lighter-sized fireball ignited on one finger. Fine. “Sit amet.” The fireball grew to a respectable size.

Damn it!


[Collin holding up hands to slow them down. Spook and Maestro with fireballs.]


The demon held up both hands. “Gentlemen. No need for unpleasantries. After all, you did summon me.” His eyes narrowed, and he drilled Spook with a gaze that was the opposite of Maestro’s, full of avarice and greed. “Well, one of you summoned me.”

What? Ha! Suck it, judgy Maestro! Spook had his own demon, now!

But before Spook could perform the requisite happy dance, Maestro looked the demon up and down, glanced at Spook, then gave the demon his full attention, fireballs glowing from yellow to white.

How did he do that? Most humans got all tired and shit if they did too much magic. Spook had never figured out why he didn’t—

“No,” Maestro said flatly. “That spell he did. That did not compel you to appear. Not you.”


[Collin with his mouth open to speak and greatly enlarged.]


Collin opened his mouth to speak. . . or perhaps to swallow a cat, because it opened a bit more than it should have.  His mouth closed into a grin. So, he was going to lie, but changed his mind, right? “Well, that’s kind of you.” He crossed his arms. “And. . . No. Well, no it did not, did it?”
[Collin grinning. Arms crossed unless that will hurt the makeup,

in which case he can do something else. Maestro and Spook with fireballs.]


What? But he was right there in the contain—

The demon left the circle and dropped into a comfy chair sideways, one leg over the arm. Huh. Spook liked to sit in it that way, too.


[Collin in chair.]


“No offence, kid,” Maestro said. “It wouldn’t have summoned a fluffy kitten.”

“Offence taken, Daddy-o,” Spook shot back. “Enough with the Hello Kitty jokes!”

Again with the blank stare. “Oh, dear gods.” Maestro turned to the demon. “Why are you here?”

The demon’s leg swung a few times. He regarded his fingernails, which, against all odds were not long and pointed. Spook had battled a few demons over the years, and most of them had sharp, deadly—and often poisonous—fingernails. This guy looked like he spent a couple hours a week with Asian women buffing them.


[Maestro and Spook with fireballs.]


“I need your help.” He met Maestro’s gaze. Wow. That had to be hard for him to admit.

“And who are you, exactly?” Maestro asked. “And how did you get past my cantrips?”

What? He’d put up even more defenses?

But the demon springing to his bare feet distracted Spook. “How extraordinarily rude of me.” His smile said that he ate babies for breakfast. “Collin de Plancy. . . at your service.” He rose and extended his right hand.

Maestro glanced from his fireballs to the hand extended.


[Collin extending hand, Maestro looking judgmental.]


With a sigh, he shook out the fire and gripped Collin’s hand.

Collin sucked in a surprised breath and his eyes widened and flared orange. “You’re unexpected.”

Maestro’s eyes narrowed, and he yanked his hand away. “What do you mean, unexpected?”

Collin sucked in a breath. “I… I’m not going to play that one off, am I?” But. . . he didn’t actually explain it either, did he?  He turned to Spook and extended the hand. “And you, sir. . . Who are you, exactly?”

[Collin and Spook shaking hands.]


Well, Spook wasn’t going to be out-cooled by Maestro. “Call me Spook.” He grabbed the demon’s hand.

What the fuck! Hellfire and brimstone, armies in battle, demons and angels waging an all-out war!

[Shot of Indi Gogh as demon.]


Rages and rages of demons, and this. . .  Collin in command. . . but not really in command. Somewhere in the middle. Balancing outcomes. What the hell? Literally.

Maestro moved closer. No! Spook could handle this. He pushed against Maestro’s chest.



[Spook stopping Maestro, who has a “oh, really?” expression. Collin looking bemused.]


The demon smiled. “My, my, my…. I guess the banal pleasantries can be abandoned.” He released Spook’s hand. “My goodness, neither of you is at all what you seem, are you, and yet…. I don’t already know you.”

What did that even mean?

Maestro’s eyes narrowed. Would the fireball make a return visit? “I’m afraid you have us at a disadvantage.”

“No, he doesn’t.” Maybe Spook knew something Maestro didn’t know, after all.  “He’s a demon.  Middle-management demon… an Earl or something. What the hell’s an Earl?”

Maestro scoffed. “A demon named Collin?”



[Collin and Spook facing off. Collin disgusted and pissed. Spook self-satisfied.]


The demon scoffed as well, but his face screwed up into a look of pure disgust. “I command twenty-nine legions of demons,” he insisted, glaring at spook with smoldering eyes, and not in a figurative way.  “Middle management, indeed.”

Ha. Spook had gotten to him. “A title doesn’t make you cool, dude.”

“Neither does a hip, petulant attitude.”

“Says you.” Spook straightened his cape. Having this Maestro guy at his back meant Spook could go for broke, right?


[Spook with Maestro’s hand in his face.]


A hand in his face told him otherwise. Really? Spook smacked Maestro’s hand away.

“What are you doing here?” Maestro asked the demon.

Collin met Maestro’s gaze. “I need your help.” His face portrayed far too much innocence to be real. “You do that right? Help people.”

Maestro cocked his neck to one side. It cracked. Same on the other. “People.”

Oooh! Burn!

Collin closed his eyes. “Ah, prejudice. Nice. And against your own kind.”

Maestro stepped closer. Anger radiated from him. . . um, once again, literally. “I might be many unsavory things, but I’m not a demon.”


[Maestro facing Collin, glowing, Spook in background.]


Collin raised an eyebrow. “But not really human, either. Are you? Not anymore.”

What the heck did that even mean? But Spook kept his mouth shut. This demon seemed to know more about the other intriguing stranger than Spook could divine with a week’s time and a Ouija board.

Maestro gave Collin his empty face. “How many times will I need to ask?”

“I can pay you.” Collin held up a bracelet dripping with enormous diamonds.


[Collin holding fancy bracelet. Fuck… where am I going to get one of those?]


Holy shit!

Wait? “You get paid to help people?” Spook asked. What an idea!

Maestro looked at him with disgust. “Why else would I do it?”

Well, Spook was a sucker doing it all those years just to, oh, who knew, save innocent lives, maybe?

Maestro rolled his eyes.

Was he reading Spook’s cauliflower mind?

The mysterious stranger pulled out his i-phone and pointed it at the bracelet. It made noises. Wait, was that a Supernatural ghost detector app? Bwa ha ha! “Those things don’t work, daddy-o.”


[Maestro pointing his phone at the bracelet.]


“This one does.” He made some adjustments.

“On what planet did you find that?” Collin asked.

“It’s just an i-phone,” Maestro said in all sincerity.

Ha! Nice. Wait, was that a dig?

Collin did a very exaggerated nodding thing. “Oooh, I get it.” He winked. “You don’t want the sidekick to know you’ve been to other planets.”


[Collin nodding. Maestro and Spook looking at each other like neither of them wants to think of Spook as sidekick.]


“I’m not his sidekick,” Spook said.

“He’s not my sidekick,” Maestro said at the exact same time, but the way he said it made it mean.

“Wait a minute,” Spook said, “Have you been to other planets? That’s a thing?”

“No,” Maestro said. “He’s full of shit.”

Yeah. Spook didn’t buy that. “So, aliens are a thing? That is so cool!”

What would aliens look like?


[Image of what Spook thinks aliens would look like.]


Maestro deflated a little. “Really not something I ever wanted him to know.” He squinted at the demon. “How could you possibly know?”

Collin shrugged with an innocent face.

Maestro stuffed the jiggety-whatsit from another planet into a pocket.

Spook made grab for it. What could it do?

Before he could snatch it though, Maestro managed to slide it away and grab Spook’s wrist. Hard. Ow.

His eyes burned, and, also, not metaphorically.


[Maestro holding Spook’s wrist, eyes ablaze.]


“If you ever try something like that again, I will melt you.” His voice was low and icy.

Hyperbole? Possibly not.

Spook yanked his hand away and rubbed his wrist. “I wouldn’t want to be your sidekick. You’re a dick.”

“And you’re a seventy-year-old child.”

“Well, they do tend to get stuck at the age they died,” Collin added.

“You’re also a dick,” Spook told him.

Collin’s hands sort of displayed his demony form, as if to point out that he was, after all, a demon.


[The trio, with Collin displaying himself.]


Maestro took the necklace. The thing he had must have convinced—

Maestro startled as if he’d been hit by an electric current.

“Maestro?” Spook moved in, but the other man held up a hand.

“Mary?” He held up the necklace, drilling the demon with orange, glowy eyes. “This was hers?”

Collin gave a Cheshire grin.


[Maestro looking pissed. Collin grinning. And Spook looking clueless.]


Mary? Spook’s ex was named Mary, the one who’d killed him and turned him into a zombie. Had to be a coincidence. Had to be. Right?

“Who the fuck are you?” Maestro said with more emotion than would have seemed possible ten seconds earlier.

“Someone who has come to collect a debt.” He settled into one hip and gave all his attention to Spook. “I may not have been summoned, but it seems a trifle foolish to drunk text someone who owns your soul.”

What the hell did that even mean?


[Collin looking sexy and self-satisfied. Maestro looking worried. Spook still clueless.]


“Drat.” The way Maestro said it made it sound like the worst expletive ever. Then he turned to Spook. “Hey, Spook, smile for the camera.”


Maestro held up his phone and it flashed.

Wait. Really? Photo opp, now? Spook was so surprised, he pretty much froze.

Maestro turned back to Collin and touched his arm. “Doohickey,” he said, “teleport to back yard.”

And they vanished.

What. in. every. hell. ever. imagined?

[Spook by himself.]




Maestro immediately released the demon. “What are you doing here? You’re not here for my help.” He knew why the demon was there, but he wanted to hear it say the words.

“Collecting on an old debt.” Collin smiled.


[Maestro and Collin in back yard.]


And there it was. That evil witch, Mary, had tortured Spook for sixteen hours, vivisecting him like a frog in a junior high science class then putting him back together so she could do it all over again, just to drive him insane so a demon could drop by when he died and devour his soul. Well, the insanity thing, and she’d also performed a very complex sex ritual. . .

Sigh. Maestro had also been forced to attend that as well out of fear of discovery.

“You know I’m not going to let you do that,” Maestro insisted. Just don’t think about it.


[Maestro and Collin in Anime battle stances, hai!]


“I assumed you’d try to stop me.” Collin grinned. The energy from him amped up. The waves washed out like a tide. “Do you really think you can stop me from collecting your pet?”

“He’s not my pet,” Maestro said. “He doesn’t even know I was there.”

“Really?” The demon’s energy slithered away to a neutral position. “Color me intrigued.”


[Collin and Maestro facing off, but relaxed.]


No one but Maestro’s old friend Percy, who’d ended up taking the boys in when Morri didn’t die, knew what had happened. Would it help the guilt to tell someone? Like a demon he was about to kill anyway?


[Maestro and Collin almost casual.]


“Mary ripped Morrison apart a hundred times for you,” Maestro said, “to break him down. I was there. I had to listen to his screams because I was so outclassed by her at the time. I didn’t know a millionth of what I know now.” He’d cowered in the choir loft of an abandoned church while that bitch had tortured Morri for hours and hours and hours. And he hadn’t been able to do a thing. He’d been too afraid.


[Maestro, looking pretty much like he does now

backed up to the usual couch, looking scared.]


Collin smiled. “So, she inspired you?”

Fuck him and everything like him. . . but don’t let it show.

“She used voodoo to keep him alive while she did it,” Maestro said, “then left him there to die.”

Realization dawned across the demon’s face. “Oh! But you were there. You stitched him back together. That’s why the little bitch didn’t just die for me.”

“I literally put the lad’s intestines back in his abdomen.” The thought of it still made Maestro nauseous after everything he’d seen before and since. “His heart back in his chest. Added my own gris gris, a tattoo on Spook’s chest to keep him alive long enough to go home and see his parents one last time.”


[Spook with Ankh on his chest.]


“And you did all that why?” The demon crossed his arms.

“Because I’m a parent,” Maestro admitted. “And I never got to say goodbye.”

And that, more than anything that had ever happened to Maestro, made him who he was.

Collin stared at him.

Well, fine.

“So. . . . you don’t get to touch the boy,” Maestro said.

And Collin looked over Maestro’s shoulder with a raised eyebrow.

Drat. That only meant one thing.


[Spook in socks standing nearby.]


“You. . .” Spook said. “You turned me into a zombie?”

Of course. An undead brain wouldn’t be affected by the stasis app on his Doohickey. Drat! He’d have to adjust the settings. “Spook.”

“No. Don’t even try.” He moved around Maestro, into his field of vision. “You came into my house today as if I was a total stranger, but. . .” His face showed revulsion. “You’ve handled my intestines? Who does that without mentioning it?” He flinched. “Ew.”


[Spook and Maestro facing off.]


The guy who kept him walking around and shooting off his mouth.

But saying that would not be productive.

“I know I have a million questions to answer,” Maestro said as calmly as possible, “but there is a demon here who wants to devour your soul.”

Collin did an appropriately timed finger wiggle.


[Collin wiggling his fingers.]


“So perhaps we deal with that first?” Maestro suggested.

Morrison opened his mouth and raised an accusatory finger, but he paused.

The finger dropped, and the mouth closed.

“Point taken,” he said, and the finger now pointed at Maestro. “But you and I will still have words, young man.”

Oh, dear gods, he was such a child. Thank the same gods Maestro hadn’t been rendered immortal until he was almost forty.


[Spook pointing with one finger. Maestro looking annoyed. And Collin looking amused.]




Since there was still a demon who wanted to take Spook’s soul, maybe he should cut Maestro some slack until they’d vanquished the bastard.

But. . . still. . . he’d put Spook’s intestines back into his body? How the fuck did he not remember that? Well, he had been in shock and possibly kind of insane at the time.

Maestro cleared his throat.

Yes! Focused.

Spook called up a fire ball and threw it.

Collin batted it away like a cat with a crumpled piece of paper.


[Spook and Collin with fireball.]



“Is that the best you have?” Maestro asked. He settled down, held one hand out and a sword appeared in it.


[Maestro with a sword. Spook looking surprised.]


Holy shit! How did he call up things out of nothing?

“Banishing sword,” Maestro said as the blade sailed Spook’s direction, hilt first.

He caught it, flourished it a few times. Nice! Perfect balance.

“Wait.” Spook faced the creepy stranger, the one who wasn’t a demon. “How is this perfectly balanced for me?”

Again with the blank look. He held one hand out to the side. A second blade appeared. “Please, continue to make me regret reassembling you after the vivisection.”


[Spook holding sword. Maestro looking nonchalant with second sword.]


Collin struck at Spook with a blade of his own.

Spook blocked it. Wait. Where the hell did he get a blade?


[Spook blocking Collin.]


Spook kind of had to pay attention to the melee. The demon was freaking fast, and despite his being outnumbered, he held his own.

“You don’t completely suck at melee,” Maestro said, his eyes drilling Spook.

“Well, Percy drilled us every day.” Yikes. Hopefully, everyone ignored the obvious double entendre.

“He learned swordsmanship from King Arthur,” Maestro said. “I’d hope he knew what he was doing.”

What? Spook’s guard dropped, but Maestro covered him until he got his point up again.


[Maestro and Collin parrying while Spook drops his guard.]


“What the fuck does that mean?” Spook demanded, blocking a low blow and spinning for his own gambit while Maestro kept Collin occupied. Nice. They actually worked well together.

Would he counter?

Spook struck low.

Yes! Maestro feinted high to draw Collin’s attention.


[Maestro slicing high, and Collin parrying while Spook strikes low.]


Spook’s blade sliced the demon’s leg.

He hissed, danced out of the way.

“Percy,” Maestro said. “Percival? Have you read no Middle English?”

What? Holy shit! “Percy was Sir Percival?”

And suddenly a million odd questions made sense.

Including the way Spook and Maestro had managed to corner the demon.

“He taught you,” Spook said, menacing a cringing Collin. “Percy taught you, too.”


[Spook and Maestro menacing Collin by the pool.]


Maestro grinned in what had to be the most honest expression of emotion so far.

“He was my first,” Maestro said. “But I’ve also learned from some of the deadliest badasses in the galaxy.”

Holy spit! “I will never try to outcool you.”

“Aargh!” Collin shouted.

Oh yeah. Deadly battle with a demon who wanted to steal Spook’s soul.

Spook and Maestro menaced him identically. Nice.


[Battle scene.]

“Wait.” Collin held a hand up.

“What?” Maestro demanded.

Collin snapped his fingers. He smirked.

Half a dozen identical demons appeared to flank him. The smell of Sulphur was overwhelming and obvious.



[Shot of lots of Collins. Damn, I wish I had a tripod. Collin 1 is pointing at Maestro.]


Collin pointed the snapping fingers at Spook and Maestro.

Maestro raised a hand. “Wait,”

Collin raised an eyebrow. “What?”

Maestro snapped his fingers and held out his hand. An amber crystal appeared.


[Some sort of crystal in Maestro’s hand.]


Really? He thought a new age-y thing like that would—

“Fuck me!” Collin rushed toward Maestro, then pulled back. “Wait. I’m not stupid, either. I’m not touching that thing.”


[Maestro holding crystal. Collin hanging back, Spook reaching for it.]


“What is it?” Spook asked, reaching out.

Maestro smacked his hand. “Soul cage.”

Oh? What was that? “Whose soul is in there?” No way would he let either of them know he’d never heard of a “soul cage.”

“There’s more than one,” Maestro said.

Wow creepy.

But Collin seemed close to orgasm over the thing. “You would give me this to save the boy?”


[Collin on his knees to be at eye level with the crystal. It should glow a little.]


Boy? Spook was. . . well, compared to these two. . .

Maestro held it out.

Collin snapped, and the demons vanished. Wow. He made a yanking motion and the cage flew from Maestro’s hand to his.

He made a little sort of orgasmic noise.



[Collin with soul cage.]


And Maestro just handed it over? This thing that had a sort of big-time-ish demon close to jazzing? He gave it to Collin to save Spook’s soul?

“You must have very strong feelings for this one,” Collin said.

Which mirrored Spook’s thoughts. Sure, the decades of stranger danger stalking creeped him out, but. . . he had to really—

“His soul,” Maestro said, “and your silence.”

“Excuse me?” Collin asked, obviously as confused as Spook.


[Spook and Collin regarding Maestro in confusion.]


Maestro sighed. “I give you the soul cage, and his soul is free, and you don’t ever speak about it again.”


“I see.” The raised eyebrow had to mean something. But what?

“E-ver,” Maestro added mysteriously.

“I see.” Well, the way he said that carried busloads of meaning right along the overpass above Spook’s head.

Double damn them both! What did all that mean?


[Collin holding up crystal with a raised eyebrow. Maestro looking stern. Spook looking annoyed.]


Collin held up the crystal. “It has been a pleasure doing business with you.” And now he wouldn’t even meet Spook’s eyes, as if he suddenly didn’t matter.

“I assure you the pleasure was all yours.” Maestro’s smile was a complete fake.

And sure, maybe falling off this demon’s radar was a good thing. . .  but who wanted to feel. . . inconsequential?

Collin vanished.

Damn it. What had just happened?

Maestro sighed. “Morrison.”


[Spook with hands on hips. Maestro looking down.]


“What was that thing?” Spook asked. “And how do you know my real name?”

“You really don’t want to know.” He turned Spook to the house and moved him forward.

“Oh,” Spook said, remembering their earlier exchange, “I assure you, I really do.”

“Fine,” Maestro said, opening the back door. “I don’t want to tell you.”


[Maestro pushing Spook along.]


And he wouldn’t break the way Spook had. Fine.

They made their way through the house to the basement stairs.

“So—” Spook started.

“Don’t.” Maestro pushed him gently down the stairs.

Gently was good, right?

“What he said about—”

“Don’t.” Maestro kept a steady pressure on his back as they descended.

“I was just going to say we make a pretty good team, right?” Spook turned to face the unusual stranger in the middle of the room. “I mean, he knew he had to summon those demons to defeat us, right?”


[Spook and Maestro over circle. Spook hopeful. Maestro resigned.]


Maestro stood silently.

“We both learned sword-fighting from a freaking knight of Camelot.” That would take Spook several weeks and numerous bottles of magic-enhanced wine to process.

Nothing. No reaction.

“Look,” Spook said, “You just saved my freaking soul, okay. So, thank you for that.”

Maestro nodded. “You’re welcome.”

Well, it was something.

Could he push it? “But the whole creating me in the first place and sort of stranger danger stalking me all these years…” Spook shrugged. “It’s going to take me a while to get my head around that.”

Maestro brushed past him. “No. It’s not.”

What did that even mean?

“Come on.”


[Spook and Maestro back in positions from first meeting.]


Spook followed Maestro to the edge of the containment circle where they had first met. “You can’t drop all this in my lap and expect me to pretend I don’t know about it. And space witch? Just pretend. . . .” He put his fingers in his ears. “La, la, la. I don’t know anything.”


[Spook with fingers in his ears.]


He pulled the fingers out and shrugged. “What am I supposed to do with all this? Pretend I know nothing?”

They stood there in the spot of their meeting.

Maestro’s face had gone all neutral again.

Really? After all the revelations and vanquishing a demon, sort of, he was going to pretend it had meant nothing?

What the hell?

Then Maestro’s face beamed. Really, this guy could beam?


[Shot of Maestro smiling way too much and pulling Spook in for a selfie.]


“Celebratory selfie?” He reached toward Spook.

Really? Well, sure, this was more like—


Wow. Bright.


[Closeup of Spook, flashed way bright.]




Damn it. What had he been thinking?

“You won’t have to pretend you don’t know anything,” Maestro said, moving away. Idiot.

He’d adjusted his app to make sure it worked on the zombie. When he awoke, Spook wouldn’t remember anything.


[Spook looking dazed, Maestro back to Maestro.]


“It’s time to intone the spell,” Maestro said.

Morri stood there frozen. If only Maestro could keep him that way like a bug in amber. He’d interfered because the whole summoning a demon out of loneliness seemed. . . well. . . desperate and dangerous.

If the stupid ghoul was heading down that path. . . well, Maestro wasn’t even sure what to do with him had he gone that far to the Dark Side.


[Maestro leaning a bit oddly close to Spook, maybe reaching out to him.]


Nope. Not going to get involved.

Too dangerous. Too many dark options for the future.

Too many chances for this part of the planet to get flash fried.

Okay. Time to go. No room for sentimentality.

As Maestro climbed the stairs, Spook started the demon summoning spell.

Nope. Way too dangerous to contact him. He couldn’t summon a demon, anyway, and Collin wasn’t a danger for the time being.

Maestro would leave well enough alone.

No reason to contact Spook, after all.


[Maestro in front yard with swords, walking toward street.]


He left the hideously tacky house and headed to his van, a classic from a simpler time.

He threw the swords into the back of the VW Microbus.

Wait. Why was his van flashing purple and green? And at that obscene hour of the morning, why did neighbors in house coats dot the curb, staring in the direction of Spook’s house and pointing?


[Maestro in street with purple and green lights.]



Double drat.

Maestro looked up.

Yep. A giant hellsmouth swirled over Spook’s home.


[Hellsmouth over the house.]


He may not have figured out how to summon a demonic version of My Little Pony, but he’d opened that?

Neighbors gathered, most of them likely assuming this was some sort of publicity stunt for the latest reality show.

God damn Austin, Texas!

What to do? Allow hundreds of civilians stood to die so Maestro could prevent Spook from possibly annihilating the state in a few years.

Godsdammit, time travel was a bitch.

Maestro stomped back to the porch.

He hit the doorbell.

He hit it several times more.

[Maestro at front door.]


No. Screw it. Too dangerous.

Every time he’d tried to alter the timeline, he’d wound up exploding the fucking planet!

Why would this be any different?


He turned to leave.

The door opened.

“You better have pizza!”


[Spook shouting in doorway.]


The little twerp’s voice still reverberated with demonic overtones.



[Shot of Maestro over Spook’s shoulder.]

What does it really mean to be a Christian? An outsider’s perspective.

ZEN-MONSTER-LOGO-copy.jpg (2560×752)

What does it really mean to be a Christian? The word “Christian” essentially means a follower of Christ, which comes from the Latin word “Christus” (Greek=Χριστός) which derives from a Hebrew word rendered into English as “Messiah.”

Whew. That was complicated. (And I left out a couple of steps.)

So what does the word messiah actually mean? Well, it doesn’t mean someone who was sent by God as the savior of humankind. It means someone who has been anointed with oil. That’s it. Who was anointed with oil? Kings, Priests and Prophets. Think of it as someone using a sword to tap someone’s shoulders and make him a knight. Same idea. Pouring oil on someone’s head dedicated that person to God and made their position official.

The Old Testament calls Aaron and his sons messiahs. They were anointed to become priests. Saul was anointed when he became king, and he turned around and anointed David, thereby making him a messiah, since the word means “anointed person.” I could make a long list of the others in the Bible who are called messiahs.

So, technically, Jesus Christ means Jesus, someone who had oil poured on his head

And Christian means a follower of someone who had oil poured on his head.

That’s all it means.

And I hate to have to add this, but in case you missed the memo, no, Christ was not his last name. He would not be referred to as Mr. Christ in a formal setting. It was his title, like Joe the plumber or Sally the doctor.

A lot of Christians will accuse me of being flippant about the most important aspect of their religion, and… well… I am, but with good reason. If we want to talk meaningfully about the message of Jesus the messiah, we need to know what that word meant.

A lot of Christians understand Jesus as THE Messiah, as THE Christ. The one and only forever and ever amen. Well, the fact is there were lots of messiahs/christs. The fact that you use the word for one person and one person alone doesn’t change the indisputable reality that lots of people had the exact same title. Just adding a capital letter to the word doesn’t change any of that. (Don’t get me started on the arrogance of a god named God. That’s a different debate.)

Now, we can have a discussion on whether Jesus was the best messiah, or the messiah who actually sorted things out so we didn’t really need any more after that. That we can discuss, but first you need to let go of the lie that he was the only one ever.

Take Batman. A lot of comic book enthusiasts will argue quite vehemently that Bruce Wayne is the ONLY Batman. If someone points out that, for instance, Richard Grayson wore the cowl more than once, the Only One Batman crowd will say, “No, that was just Dick in a suit. He was never REALLY Batman.” They get upset if you try to contradict them. Really.

But that’s a problem. See, there have, in fact, been a number of people called Batman. So we can discuss who was the best Batman, who is the most important Batman, the Batman who most closely conforms to the Platonic form of Batman-ness… but if the fan insists there was only ever one true Batman, then we can’t even talk about it in any meaningful way.

So who cares?

When Christians claim that Jesus was The One and Only True Messiah, there’s no way to talk about it. He wasn’t. There were lots of messiahs. There were even a number of competing messiahs at the time who had followers just like Jesus. And, just like Jesus, most of them died horribly at the hands of the Romans.

So what makes Jesus stand out? For whatever reason, that particular messiah is still interesting to a lot of people to this day. He’s the only one still worshipped and adored by millions. THAT, to me, is interesting. What about this particular messiah, as opposed to all the hundreds of other messiahs, made him stand out? What made his message last to the modern era? (How much of his actual message has survived is also a topic for another time.)

If a Follower of Someone who had Oil Poured on his Head wants to discuss why Jesus’ message is so important, I’m willing to listen. But Christians who attack my ideas without knowing things like the origin of their own name need to back off. If I know more about your religion (and your Bible) than you, who is really the better Christian?

Still feeling blessed.


A little over a month ago, I made my latest empty-handed leap into the abyss. I decided to leave Virginia and return to Texas. No job. I’d decided to sell my truck and fly, so no car, either. All I knew I’d have was a roof over my head, so better than a lot of folks, aight?

Only after making the decision did I learn how to create a fundraiser to help me get there. My friends were very generous, and I managed to fly to Texas with enough cash to buy a moped and toddle around for the first month or so. Beep, beep. I can’t express n carolina 477how grateful I am to my friends for helping to make this happen!

I had fears. I’d been gone for over two years… would my friends have room for me in their lives? Would my new roommate and I get along? What would I do for work? I left behind a very welcoming family who I loved a lot… would the leap be worth it?

These are many of the same questions I’d asked before moving from TX to VA.

The wheel she spins round and round.

Fear, in general, can be a good thing. Sensible fear is what keeps us from casually playing with pissed-off rattle snakes or climbing tall metal towers in the middle of an electrical storm. It’s only a “bad” thing if we let ourselves be controlled by it, to avoid all risks.

I sit here in San Antonio, looking out over a lovely yard where the sound of the rain makes me need to pee. I have a roof over my head and food in my stomach. My friends have welcomed me back into their lives with open arms and lots of hugs.

And lots of exercise. I’ve lost almost twelve pounds already!

10557412_10202426384487301_5647414913172544961_nWhen I moved to VA three years ago, Ryan’s family welcomed me into their home and made me a part of that family, giving me the opportunity to write six novels during my sojourn.

I have been so fortunate I have no choice but to use the word blessed because I don’t so much buy into the pure luck and happenstance thing. I mean, sure, shit happens, but after making that empty-handed leap into the abyss yet again, I am so grateful to have landed on my feet with love and support surrounding me.

Are you afraid of making the big decision? Would you be grabbing the rattlesnake by the tale, or just petting him while a trained handler held him tight?

Feeling blessed


I hate the word “blessed.” I spent over two years in Virginia Beach where retail clerks, heedless of the possibility of my beliefs would wish me a “Blessed day” after taking my credit card in pure violation of several Biblical restrictions. <I wait while you research obscure Biblical passages to justify your addiction to the plastic.>

Gay-kissUgh. I mean, just like conservatives don’t want to see me schmecking my theoretical boyfriend in public, I have no issue with the clerk’s devout faith, but does s/he need to wave it in my face all the time?

Then there’s the Pagans. Don’t get me wrong. I’m one. The multiplicity of my faith encompasses Wicca, Taoism, Hinduism blah, blah, blah. I read tarot cards and won’t touch Ouija Boards because I know they work .The only reason I don’t consider myself a witch is I don’t have the chutzpah or patience to learn true spell casting. But if I hear one more well meaning but clueless “Blessed blessed13Be” I’m going to hex someone for the hell of it.

Heh. Heh.

The thing is… the biggest reason I hate the word is it applies so accurately to my life, and all those posers who use it have no fucking clue what they mean. They don’t understand what it truly means to be blessed. To have the utmost sincere belief that someone out there, whoever that might be, holds an umbrella over his head and throws down a safety net every time he jumps off the metaphorical cliff into the abyss.

I’ve made that leap into the unknown more than once. The kind of leap where I sold everything, jumped in my car or most recently onto a plane) and left everything behind based on a sign (define that how you will) that I needed to do so. Terrifying? Yes.

Deadly? Not so far.

The first time I did this, I was living in Appleton, Wisconsin, and my life had flipped upside down. Also, I’d visited Florida in the winter and realized I needed to live someplace without snow, somewhere I could plant a palm tree or a cactus in my back yard. I’d had my first experiences since childhood with the supernatural, and I sat on the floor with my back against my bed.

I closed my eyes.

Where? Where do I go? Where should I be?

And I felt pulled. A strange line drawing me forward and to the right… I raised a hand and pointed to make sure I knew exactly what I meant. What the hell? I wanted  a voice saying, “Go to South Beach Miami… the men are hot and they like to get naked.”

No. I got a pull. Well, fine. I dug out a compass and a map. (This was pre GPS and internet.) What direction was that?

Texas. As soon as the map was laid out, and I drew the line, I knew the pull was to Austin, Texas.

Seriously? Texas? Nothing in my experience wallpapers-to-go-austin-texasever would have led me to Texas.

But I went. And it worked. It was the best decision I’ve ever made, and it led to the formation of one of the most important friendships/family memberships of my life. I can never overstate the importance of the guy who was a new friend who moved to Texas with me, and is a huge part of the man I am today.

I can never understate how much the whole thing could have sucked.

My first day in Austin, Texas, I returned to the campsite where we’d pitched a tent on a fire ant mound because that’s all we had, Ryan was working on his resume on the computer on a picnic table plugged into the outlet under a tree.

I’d already had a job offer and found an apartment.

Day one.

If you haven’t lived in Austin, TX, you might not realize what a miracle that was during the height of the boom when no one could find an apartment anywhere in the city.

Someone, somewhere, had my back.

That’s blessed. Suck it.

Religion: Debate vs Discussion


The Bible: Debate vs Discussion

I debate a lot of Christians, not because I am, by nature, argumentative, although that’s debatable. It’s because I know more about the Bible than many of them and it irks me when they make broad proclamations about the Bible that are patently false and discount my ideas with the ever-so-productive, “Well, if you aren’t a man of faith, you’ll never see the truth or understand the reality.” The problem with such statements is they fail to account for the difference between a discussion and a debate.

We can’t debate faith. I believe what I believe and you believe what you believe. We can discuss our respective faiths, hopefully respectfully, and we can try to persuade one another, but we can’t, really, debate. A debate requires logic and evidence with debatable levels of provability. It’s the provability that’s at the core of the difference.

If you believe, on faith and from your personal experience, that every word in the Bible is true, that is wonderful and honorable and I have every respect for your faith. I believe, on the other hand, that not every word in the Bible is true. My belief is also based on my faith and on my personal experiences. I hope you can have as much respect for my faith as I have for yours.

I’m not coming into this as a godless heathen. I truly respect the sincere faith of devout Christians. . . but I expect that if we are going to enter into a debate or a discussion that my faith is not discounted because it differs from yours.

For example, the Flood.

Let’s say you state that the Flood happened, and I ask you what evidence you have to support that assertion. You tell me it’s in the Bible, so it has to be true.

Okay. . . now the conversation just changed from a debate to a discussion. When your source is the Bible, we need to take a step back. Before we can discuss or debate the Flood, we need to approach the source of your information: the Bible. Is the Bible the unshakable Word of God? Is everything in it factually true? That is a separate issue.

Why do you believe the Bible is the Word of God and that everything in it is true? Faith. The Bible has had a huge impact on your life, on the lives of people around you, on the lives of billions worldwide and throughout much of human history. You pray and God answers your prayers. You apply the Bible to your life and miracles occur. You read the Bible and it’s like a veil is lifted from your eyes and everything just makes so much more sense.

I sincerely believe every one of those statements is true. Absolutely factual. I have no argument with any of it, and I say so with all sincerity and in no way do I mean to tease.

Unfortunately, nothing in that paragraph in any way demonstrates a reason, other than faith, to accept the Bible as the literal Word of God. I myself have great faith, but faith is not proof. It is not evidence. You can’t weigh it or debate it.

You believe that the Bible is the Word of God.

I believe it is the inspired work of a great many men over many generations.

We can discuss our beliefs. You can point to the evidence that Jesus really existed, that the locations in the Bible have been archaeologically confirmed, but it will never shake my faith that the Bible is the work of men, not God. I can point out what I see as internal inconsistencies and errors, but that will not shake your faith that the Bible is the Word of God.

Okay, so we can have a lively discussion, as long as we remember we’re discussing differences in faith, not in fact. You will never prove, to my logical satisfaction, that the Bible is the Word of God, just as I will never prove to your logical satisfaction that it is the work of men. So be it.

Back to the Flood.

If the Bible is your primary source of information on the Flood, we can’t debate it. You accept the Bible as the only source necessary and I don’t accept the Bible as a source of reliable historical information at all.

Here’s the thing. We can have a debate without ever using the Bible as a primary source. Nearly every culture on the planet has a flood story from antiquity. Water levels do rise and fall dramatically. Mass extinctions have, in fact, occurred. All these issues can be debated. All this evidence can be weighed. So we can have a friendly debate over whether the Flood happened. You may be rather more convinced because of your faith, and I will likely skew to the side of skepticism because of my faith. But we can debate the likelihood that a Flood occurred

What about Noah and the Arc?

Here we’re back to faith. There is no realistically provable way Noah could have built an arc large enough, no way he could have fed all those animals for forty days, and no way the world could have repopulated with only one male and one female of every species. Not without God and a miracle. Not by a long shot.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in miracles. I sincerely do. But whether or not God played his hand here isn’t a matter of debate. It’s a matter of faith. Do you believe God saved the planet with Noah and the Arc? Okay. That’s cool.

What about possible remains found on the side of a mountain that fit the description? Okay, maybe there was a boat. Now lets go back to billions of species repopulating from a genetic base of two each. See, none of this debatable science really matters to most Christians. That’s not why they believe in God’s miracle. They believe because of their faith in God.

This is the part that makes me cranky. None of the science really matters to most Christians entering into the debate. Not really. They believe in something like Noah’s Arc based on their faith, and they’d believe just as much without a boat on the side of a mountain. Well, if the archaeology is factually irrelevant to them, why try to convince me with it?

They should just say they believe it on faith and leave it at that. There’s nothing wrong with faith. Faith is awesome.

Here’s the thing. I believe in miracles. I really do, but I don’t believe in that particular miracle. Why not? What a lot of trouble to reboot the planet. If God is all-powerful and he really wanted to smite all the sinners, why not just send a host of angels? Why destroy and then miraculously restore it all—every plant, animal and person—when it’s just the sinners he wanted to kill off? It doesn’t even make sense to me as a matter of faith. Not to me.

See, that’s why we can only discuss faith. We can’t debate it. Faith is never based on logic or proof. If we knew for an absolute fact that God existed, we wouldn’t need faith. If God invited me out for scones and told me, “Yeah. I wrote the Bible. It’s all true. Here’s the rough draft.” Well, then it wouldn’t be a matter of faith.

Faith is only necessary for something that isn’t factually provable. If you need to resort to your faith in something, like the Truth of the Bible, then you can’t really use anything in it as factual evidence in a debate. You can discuss your faith in it, and we can perhaps even debate whether your God is the sort to wipe out the planet with a Flood or isn’t He. . . but that discussion is like the debate over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin: philosophically interesting, but not based on the physical world in any way, shape, or form because it can only happen conditionally. If we take it as a given that God exists, for the purposes of this discussion, then is he the kind of God. . .

Please trust your faith enough to rely on it. If you’re discussing any aspect of religion, spirituality, the Bible, or moral decisions based on any of those topics, please let your faith in God shine through. Don’t throw out the latest evidence hitting the internet if you don’t really care about the science, anyway.

Just say, “I have faith in the Bible, and that’s good enough for me.”

All right. Now I know not to waste our time with scientific evidence or logical arguments.  We can discuss our beliefs respectfully and perhaps each of us will walk away a little more informed. We can agree to disagree, and if I end up damned for all eternity because of my faith, that’s between me and God. You and I can still be friends and neither of us needs to get snippy with the other.