Monday, October 24, 2016

Monday's Montage Mantlepiece: Creature Feature 2

Two Men. One Apocalypse.

Rise of the Revenants by Poppy Dennison
Vampyres are on the loose in Detroit, and novice hunter Taz Cohen is on the job. The mission seems simple: stop the vamps. But Taz knows nothing about the mythical creatures, so he’s in for the fight of his life. Then he meets insanely attractive construction worker Darren Foster, who jumps into the battle with both feet. Sparks and bullets fly as they struggle against the vampyre horde and their attraction to each other. Avoiding gruesome death from the undead might be easier than shielding their hearts from each other.

Legacy of Blood and Death by Rhys Ford
For Javi Navarro, Detroit will become another blood-splattered city in his rearview mirror after he puts its dead back into the ground. Expecting an easy hunting job, Javi instead finds a kiss of ancient vampyres on the hunt for a descendent of their long-dead creator.

Reclusive Ciarnan Mac Gerailt abandoned his family legacy of blood and death magic after it nearly destroyed him. Unfortunately, the Motor City can only be saved if Ciarnan resumes his dark arts and joins forces with Javi Navarro, the hunter who brought the vampyre apocalypse—and hope for the future—straight to Ciarnan’s front door.

Rise of the Revenants by Poppy Dennison
Chapter One
“YOU HAVE reached your destination.”

Taz pulled to the curb and put his black Challenger into park. The car rumbled beneath him, preferring the high speeds on the interstate to the stop and go of city driving. And in this neighborhood? He’d be safer going ninety on the highway than parked along this stretch of Detroit’s inner city.

Nothing to do about it. With the vampyres seeking their prey throughout the city, Taz’s only hope was to find the missing descendant and pray the mystery man could put a stop to his ancestor’s machinations.

Taz turned off the engine and glared at the dilapidated excuse for a house across the street. Only a couple blocks from the remains of old Tiger Stadium, the property looked deserted. He climbed out of the car and stretched. This was his fourth stop of the afternoon. Why the hell John Chapman’s name was on over thirty properties in the city, Taz hadn’t figured out. Time was critical here. He needed to find the man.

Task in mind, he ventured across the street just in time to see a delicious excuse for a man staring at a map. Hottie glanced up at the house, then back to the map, before frowning and shaking his head.

That wouldn’t do. Such a gorgeous face shouldn’t be frowning. Sated and exhausted would be a much better look. Taz pretended questioning the hottie about his interest in the same house he was interested in would be critical to his search. In reality, not a single light shone in the house, and from the looks of the place, no one had lived there for a very long time. Taz predicted another dead end.

Hottie glanced up when Taz stepped onto the sidewalk in front of him. He scurried back a couple paces, his hand going to his side.

In Detroit? No telling what that could mean. Taz might have taken the opportunity to slip into his protective gear, but that didn’t mean a bullet to the chest wouldn’t hurt.

He held up his hands and took a step back.

“Easy. Just wondering what you were doing here. I’m looking for the owner of this place. Thought you might know him.”

While hottie glared suspiciously at him, Taz took a moment to admire the view from a closer distance. A little shorter than Taz’s own six foot, the guy had the broad shoulders and muscled arms of someone very familiar with the gym. Dark hair slicked back over a pale, clean-shaven face, deep brown eyes that looked almost black in the evening light. Mmm-mmm good. Just Taz’s type.

“I don’t know who owns the place.”

But that was a lie. Taz recognized the signs from the slight hitch of breath and downcast glance.

“Oh really? Hmm. ’Cause it looked to me like you were here for a reason. Wonder what that reason could be?”

Hottie moved his hand away from his hip and let it dangle by his side. He had a set of keys clenched in his fist and a familiar black tube. Pepper spray. Taz hated pepper spray.

“It’s none of your business.”

“Huh. That’s funny, because I’m thinking it might be.” Taz crossed his arms over his chest and glared. The look crumpled many a stoic stance. At six feet tall, it wasn’t his height that was so intimidating, but the broad stretch of his heavily muscled arms and shoulders. His dirty blond hair brushed his collar, and with his beard full and thick, his leather jacket black and heavy, Taz looked intimidating as hell. Not many people stood up to him.

Hottie was the exception.

Taz really didn’t have time to argue, no matter how big the guy’s package appeared to be in his fit-just-right jeans. He wanted to know why the guy was at this house, maybe get his number for when he got the vampyre problem taken care of so he could work in a little stress relief, and then he needed to get into that house and make sure it was as deserted as it appeared. And he really didn’t want a face full of that damn spray. He’d have to tread lightly to get his answers.

That wasn’t going to happen. Over hottie’s shoulder, movement of the unnatural variety. He’d not actually seen one of the creatures at the construction site, but he’d definitely seen what they were capable of. He needed to get this guy out of here, and fast.

“So, my name’s Taz. What’s yours?”

The guy arched a brow but answered, “Darren.”

“Okay, Darren. I’m going to reach into my pocket for a second. Don’t want you freaking out on me and giving me a face full of that pepper spray.”

Taz paused for a second for his words to sink in, then reached into his pocket and pulled out his keys.

“Now, I’m going to toss you my car keys. I want you to go get in my car. It’s the black one just behind me. You be ready to get the hell out of here, okay?”

“What?” Darren stepped back, but Taz tossed the keys anyway. Darren caught them one-handed.

“Darren, go!”

The vampyre had gotten closer. Taz couldn’t see much of it, but he didn’t need to. The stench of death filled the night air. Fuck, that thing reeked.

Darren caught the scent at that moment and spun around in a move that would impress an NFL running back. He ended up behind Taz.

“What is that thing?”

“Darren, get into the car.”

The vampyre didn’t move toward them, but Taz had no doubt it was very aware of their presence. As he and Javi suspected, it had a target in mind. It was hunting its prey, the mage.

Taz reached up to his neck and grabbed the handle of the machete he kept hidden beneath his jacket. His dad had it custom made for him on his eighteenth birthday. When the weapon slid from its sheath with the smooth rasp of blade against leather, Darren gasped behind him.

“What the hell? Who are you?”

“Darren, get in the goddamn car!”

“Fuck no. I’m here to find out what’s going on. What is that thing?”

The vampyre reached the porch and slithered closer. Watching its movements sent a sliver of fear down Taz’s spine. He’d been hunting werewolves for years, and not much scared him. This thing? It scared the shit out of him.

The urban legends were right. These vampyres had to be created from magic. In his years of hunting, Taz had come across a vampyre or two. None of them smelled this bad or moved like this. Yeah, they wanted blood. Were driven by a hunger lust so strong they were pretty much senseless. But the way this one moved, glided along, a bloodhound on the scent….

Taz held the machete in front of him and took a step back.

“Darren, you know how to shoot a gun?”

“Yeah. Not a marksman or anything, but I can shoot.”

“Good.” Taz reached into the shoulder holster under his arm and removed his Beretta. He handed it behind him to Darren.

The safety clicked, and Darren chambered the next round.

Good. He really did know what he was doing.

If he didn’t have a civilian huddled behind him, Taz would go on the offense. He’d seen the damage one of these things could cause. It had to be stopped.

Problem was, the only way to stop a vampyre was to sever its spine. The myths about chopping off their heads were one of the few accurate ones out there. Taz could shoot the wings off a fly if he needed to, but a bullet would only piss this creature off. However, it might give Darren enough of a head start to get away. It was really the only glimmer of hope Taz had to protect him.

“What’s the plan?” Darren didn’t seem nearly as terrified as he should.

“I’m going to cut the vamp in half, then put my machete through its head for good measure.”

Darren gulped.


“As for you, you’re going to stay out of my way. If it gets past me, you shoot it and get in the car. You head down to the precinct and tell Detective Nuñez what happened.”

The vampyre slithered its way up to the front door and sniffed around the doorframe. It tracked by scent. Taz had suspected as much, but it was good to have his theory confirmed. His experience with werewolves would help; they tracked by scent too.

Fortunately, the wind was blowing their way. Unfortunately, Taz had no doubt that the vampyre was already aware of their presence. It was focused on its task, however, and until it determined that the mage wasn’t here, they were safe. When it did? It would make its next meal out of them and use the energy to continue its search.

Taz took a moment to assess his surroundings. The sidewalk in front of the house was cracked and old. Not the best place to fight for his life. The yard didn’t look much better, but it didn’t have jagged edges of concrete to trip him up, so Taz stepped forward into the slightly overgrown grass.

The vampyre’s head twisted toward him.

Taz couldn’t fight the shiver of revulsion that flipped through him.

The creature clearly hadn’t seen the sun since it had been locked beneath the old speakeasy. Its pasty skin wrinkled as it moved, loose against the protruding bones Taz could see beneath the rags covering the rest of it. The clothes were old, nearly eaten away by time and decay. Flashes of skin showed through the holes, bright white against the dark fabric.

Its face held the true terror. Cold, dead eyes and fangs unlike any Taz had seen before.

Its teeth were dark, whether from rot or something else, Taz couldn’t tell. Normal vampyres had the stereotypical fangs on either side of their mouths. Every single tooth in this damn thing’s mouth was sharp and deadly. It hissed at Taz, drew up from its earlier position, and crouched.

“Be ready,” Taz warned.

Within seconds, the vampyre pounced. Taz could barely make out its movements, but years of fighting creatures with preternatural speed had taught Taz how to anticipate their actions. He stepped to the side and swung. His machete swashed through the air and caught the vampyre’s arm with a thunk. The withered limb hit the ground a moment later.

It did nothing but piss the vampyre off. Taz scrambled back a step and prepared his stance for another, stronger swing. The bang of the gun shattered the night, followed by the vwoomp as the bullet pierced the vamp’s flesh.

The vampyre recoiled slightly, then turned to hiss at Darren. Taz used the distraction to his advantage and swung again. This time the vampyre ducked. The blade nicked the side of its head before bouncing off its skull in a shower of blood and ooze.

“Fuck,” Taz screamed and retreated another couple of steps. At least he had its attention again.

Darren defeated that advantage by scurrying a couple of steps to the side and firing again. At least he’d moved enough so the bullet wouldn’t go through the skin and bones of the vampyre and hit Taz.

When its head spun to Darren, Taz struck. This time he hit gold. The back of the vampire’s neck split beneath the sharpness of his blade, and its head fell forward a moment later. The rest of the body collapsed as if in slow motion.

“We need to get the hell out of here,” Taz shouted.

Darren didn’t seem as perturbed. “Taz, we’re in inner-city Detroit. A couple gunshots won’t even wake the neighbors, much less get the cops called.”

“Are you kidding me?”

“Well, the cops might get called, but the response time isn’t what it used to be. I’d be more worried about bystanders showing up to find out what’s going on.”

“Fuck. We’ve got to do something with this thing.”

“Can we put it inside the house for now? No one will be here for a couple weeks, so you’ll have time to get rid of it.”

Taz crouched in the grass and wiped the blood and gore from his machete. He’d have to clean the remaining ichor off later, but for now it would do. He glared up at Darren and pointed with the blade. “I knew you were here for a reason.”

Darren shrugged. “I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours. Starting with what the hell that thing was and how you knew how to stop it.”

Moving the decapitated body to the house was a grisly task. Taz wanted nothing more than to take a hot shower and get the remaining gore from his body. He’d had to pick the lock on the house to get the vampyre’s body inside. It wasn’t much of a challenge. The house was old, nearly falling apart, but with the charm so many old houses had. It broke Taz’s heart a bit to see it in such bad shape. Of course, then the dust made him sneeze.

“Fucking dust.”

Although the house was empty, there were tracks in the dust that showed recent activity. Someone had been through the house in the past few weeks, but Taz didn’t know why.

Darren assessed the room with an interested gaze. He thumped his fist gently against one of the walls, then went back to the porch. “We should get out of here. Or do you think more are coming?”

Taz really couldn’t say. He’d kill the vampyres if he saw them, but he couldn’t risk losing the mage. He had to find John Chapman and see if he could perform the same magic as his ancestor. He and Javi hadn’t thought of another way to stop them without a lot more lives being lost.

“Let’s head out,” Taz said. He glanced around the room one more time, but from the still-stale smell in the air, the house was as abandoned as it seemed from the outside. The vampyre had been drawn here, and John’s name was on the deed.

Darren engaged the safety on the gun and handed it back to Taz as they walked across the street. “I need food, and we need to talk.”

Taz stared him down. Darren walked to the passenger side of the car and looked across the hood at him.

“What the hell?” Taz muttered. Not like he had anything to lose but time. He climbed into the Challenger and waited for Darren to settle before heading back to his hotel.

Darren didn’t speak for several minutes. Taz focused on the turns, retracing his steps to the highway and the hotel he’d checked into, just off one of the many exits.

“Where are we going?” Darren’s shock seemed to have worn off.

“My hotel. I’m covered in vampyre guts. Can’t exactly go eat like this, not that I want to. Can’t imagine what I smell like.”

Now that he thought about it, the whiff of death and decay filled his nose once again. Darren gagged in the seat next to him. “Why’d you have to remind me?” he complained.

“So, you going to tell me why you were there?”

Taz pushed the car a little faster along the interstate. He flew past other vehicles, enjoying the power and speed.

Darren reached into his jacket and pulled out the map. “Okay, so clearly you knew exactly what that thing was.”

Taz nodded.

“Well, I didn’t. But I knew one of the guys killed the other day. I saw him… it wasn’t a collapsed wall, like they told us.”

“No, it wasn’t. Wait. You saw him? What do you mean?”

Fucking hell, if they had a poltergeist on their hands because of this magic bullshit, Taz was going to call every other hunter he knew to get to Detroit for backup.

Darren sighed. “I was listed as his emergency contact. I had to… identify him.”

“Oh fuck. I’m sorry, man.”

From the amount of blood Taz and Javi had witnessed at the scene, Taz could imagine what the remains had looked like. He’d seen a vampyre attack before, but these were more vicious, more feral than anything he’d ever seen. They’d been ravenous, trapped for nearly a hundred years beneath the building, if the legend could be believed.

Darren’s breath hitched a moment before he continued. “So I had to wonder. What had really happened?”

“Makes sense. What led you to that house?”

“Well, yesterday, when I got to work, the guys were complaining that something had gotten into the house the night before. I didn’t think much of it. Then we heard that one of the guys at another site had been killed. You heard that expression ‘once is an accident, twice is a coincidence’?”

“And three times is a pattern. Yeah, I’ve heard it.”

“Well, we’ve got a pattern. All three properties were owned by John Chapman.”

“Wait. You said you were at work. You work for him?”

“Yeah. He remodels houses. I’m an electrician.”

Taz pulled off the interstate and waited at the light off the ramp. He shook his head. “You’re an idiot. Something rips apart a bunch of guys, then kills another, and you show up to investigate? What the fuck were you thinking?”

Darren slammed his hand against the dash and glared. “I thought that I was an idiot, that there couldn’t possibly be anything to it. Just a coincidence. And fuck you. What was I supposed to do? People are getting killed, and the cops are treating it like nothing.”

“The cops did what they needed to do. They called in people who know how to handle this type of situation.”

“How was I supposed to know that?”

“I guess you weren’t. ’Course, I didn’t know they’d started identifying the bodies. They should have taken a lot more care about that.”

“Oh shit. You said vampyre. Is… is he going to come back?”

“No,” Taz said. He fought back a laugh. Damn Hollywood and its nonsense. Next thing you knew, Darren would be asking him if he needed holy water and salt to block the doorways. Those hunter brothers might be hot, but the hunting they did was definitely for show. “It doesn’t work like that. These guys are more like revenants than vamps.”

“What does that mean?”

“Think zombie.”

“Are you sure he won’t come back? Won’t turn into… that thing?”

“Positive.” Although, now that Darren mentioned it, they were dealing with vampyres made purely from magic. The rules could change a bit on them. Fucking hell.

By the time they made it to the hotel, Taz had his mental Rolodex out to see if anyone he knew had more dealings with magic. So many hunters were specialized, he couldn’t think of anyone offhand. Taz fired off a text to Javi to get his thoughts, then stripped off his foul-smelling clothes.

Darren’s breath caught when Taz finished taking off his clothes. Taz had been so lost in his thoughts he’d forgotten the other man’s presence. But at least Taz now had confirmation that the attraction was mutual. Darren’s gaze was caught on Taz’s dick, presently flaccid and hanging thick and solid between his legs. It wouldn’t take long for that stare to change its status.

“You need a shower too?”

As far as come-ons went, it wasn’t Taz’s best effort. Darren jerked his gaze up to Taz’s and shook his head.

“No. I’ll wait. Here.”

“Whatever makes you happy.”

Legacy of Blood and Death by Rhys Ford
Chapter One

She’d been dying for a while now. Lots of things had brought her to the brink. Everything from corruption to selling herself cheap, the lady’d done it. She’d done it all. Now the wrinkled, rattling carcass of her used-up body stood on the street corner of life hoping for that one last car to roll out of the darkness—hoping for that one true Golden Trick who’d see her beauty and take her home.

There were a lot of people who weren’t quite ready to let Old Dame Detroit slip off gently into the night. Despite the decay and dissolution, pockets of resistance were growing—tiny hubs of humanity clinging like lichen and barnacles to the slumbering, aging behemoth whose bones were too brittle to hold up her weight.

Evidence of the ragtag groundswell shone between the death shrouds the city’s caretakers pulled up around her. A massive gardening effort where a foundry once stood. A spot of brightly painted, refurbished houses on a street more cracks than solid asphalt. A three-block-wide field with partially erect brick walls and chain-link fence holding Bob’s Chicken Output Consortium, where if he wanted, Javi could pick up his own twelve eggs for a dollar.

The smell and sound of the chicken ranch was overwhelming, powdery and bitter with an occasional storm of clacks and clatters more in tune with an arriving train than any fowl. Still, it was a sign of life on the old girl—a flush of young skin peeking out between the tired feathers of her plucked-thin boa.

Of course, he’d probably feel a hell of a lot more optimistic about the Old Broad if he wasn’t cruising through her deserted, seemingly war-torn streets looking for the undead.

But if he was going hunting for bloodthirsty rabbit during duck season, he needed to know who else was out there in the field with him.

“So, let’s go find out what Fong is up to.” His phone wasn’t happy about searching through business listings in Detroit. Javi wasn’t all that thrilled either, since it seemed like the old Cantonese moved around more than a popcorn kernel in a pan of hot oil. After getting the fifth address hit, Javi growled, “Would you fucking stay in one place, you sneaky bastard? And fuck me hard and call me a squeegee. You were sitting right on top of them.”

Fong’s seemingly permanent address was less than three blocks away from where the legendary mages battled themselves to extinction, and a group of innocent construction workers became take-out sushi because they broke through one little wall.

The Challenger rumbled throatily as he drove slowly through the beaten-down neighborhood, its engine’s growl echoing off brick and cement. His car glided over the rough street, its suspension taking the hit for the road’s uneven surface. He’d paid a lot to upgrade its undercarriage, and during times when the road was pocked like a stressed-out teenager’s face, Javi was glad he’d eaten vegetable ramen for three months to pay for it. The 1970 Dodge was his biggest expense, but since he spent more time in it than most people did in their own houses, he figured it was a good trade-off.

“At least it’s easy to get parts for.” He patted his car’s dashboard. “That’s another thing that pisses me off about that show. How the fuck do you repair an Impala on the fly like that? Shit, there’s only so much OEM to go around.”

He was tracking mostly by instinct. The revenants’ last feeding off the construction workers was hours past, but the blood they’d gotten probably would sustain them for a little while longer. Trapped for decades in a tomb with only rats and unfortunate strays wandering in from the sewers, they’d woken to the delicious feast of very muscular and fatty men. And from what he’d seen of the workers once the vampyres were done with them, there hadn’t been enough left of their meat and bones to make a hot dog.

But the blood and flesh would only go so far, and the creatures would have to hunt again—preferably some place they could hide, snatch their victims off the street, then drag them off to feed on their prey without interruption. A vampyre hunted more like a wolf spider, driven by instinct rather than intelligence. Any will left to them was purely primal. What made this pack extra deadly was no one knew how many they were or if they’d truly imprinted on the mages’ remains, their arcane-constructed bodies shaped and molded by the years spent in the resonating throb of their last meals—their creator and the life mage who’d taken him down.

He was driving into an area with a bit more mix of residential and small businesses. Laundromats and bodegas were stacked underneath layers of small apartments, with thick iron grates on every window. The landscape ran to grays with small tints of washed-out color coming from curtains nearly hidden behind windows layered with dirt and grime. Most of the businesses were shuttered for the night, but a few stalwarts were open, a worn-out bar called the Diamond Kitty and a couple of pool halls with more lights on than people inside their walls.

The streetlights were intermittent at best. Some flashed on and off, filaments battling to survive decay, while others had already succumbed, the streets below them shadowed and menacing. Anyone walking the sidewalk would be forced to play a hurried, uneven hopscotch from one circle of light to the next—and probably hoped death wouldn’t reach out and strike in the spaces in between.

A flicker—a tiny shift of black on black—caught Javi’s eye.

It was the slightest of movements, more… something than a human would move, and he slowed the Challenger, then slid it to the side of the road in front of Fong’s place. After shutting down the engine, Javi sat in the odd, heavy silence and waited—waited for the black to come at him.

The flicker happened again, shorter this time and a few feet from where he’d seen it last.

That meant nothing. He could be looking at one or three. Hell, he could have even been looking at seventeen gray cats dancing to “Mambo Number Five.” But just in case, Javi reached for his shotgun.

Because nothing said hello like a good shotgun blast.

He’d have known Fong’s even without the hanzi sign on the front of the building—mostly from the smell of the man’s sweaty-gym-sock tea leaking through the brick walls. It was an old structure, three stories tall, and its main entrance cut across the outer corner to capture now nonexistent walk-in traffic. The windows above the shop were empty of curtains and dark, showing no sign of anyone living in the spaces. For all he knew, Fong broke down all of the walls so he had a place to store contraband. It wouldn’t have been the first time in the old man’s life he’d run something illegal out of his place.

Hell, Javi wouldn’t have been shocked if he found out the ancient Cantonese was running a moonshine business with unicorns making daily deliveries to monasteries. And knowing Fong, the man would offer to cut him in on the action within five minutes of Javi walking through his door—then run off with the money before Javi even left the building.

The butterfly flick of shadow caught Javi’s attention again, and he took the shotgun with him before he locked the car up behind him.

He’d taken three steps across the night-shrouded street when the creature finally emerged.

It slithered closer, its dry, acrid odor carrying on the wind. Oddly enough, of all the hunters he knew, it only bothered him, leading Javi to believe he might actually be allergic to the damned things. Whatever the reason, they made his nose twitch, and it was useless as a superpower, because by the time he could smell it, the vampyre was already upon him.

Much like it was right then.

The extinguished street lamp above him rippled, then shook as the creature fell on him, its limbs akimbo as preternatural joints bent in ways a human was never meant to function. Javi only caught a glimpse of its gleaming stare as its eyes caught the dim light coming from the pool hall’s neon sign. Then the creature blinked, more to hide its location than to moisten its eyes.

His mentor, Howard Dempsey, could have told him the former human’s race and probably economic class, but in the end, none of that mattered. All Javi was focused on was keeping the thing’s gnawing, worn-down teeth away from any part of his body and blowing it out of existence.

Problem was, not only could the damned things bend and twist like a yoga master with no spine, they were also fast—much faster than the average human being. So by the time someone actually saw one, it was already too late, and that unfortunate person was being made into bologna by the vampyre’s blunt teeth.

He let loose his first round while the thing was still in midair. Even with his quick reflexes, the damned creature got the jump on him, and Javi was going to have to play catch-up.

The sharp scent of the shotgun’s blast covered the creature’s roasted-aphid stink, but that was the extent of the damage. Although reduced to an animalistic intelligence, vampyres still recognized known threats from their past lives. Shotguns apparently played a pretty big factor in where this one came from, because nearly as soon as Javi brought his muzzle up to fire, it was twisting away, a tumbleweed of dry, flapping skin and bones.

Whoever he’d been in life, he’d been big, because now the vampyre’s desiccated body had large flaps of skin connecting its arms and legs, a wing suit of dried membrane it could use to glide on if it got high enough. The street lamp was certainly high enough, because it caught a small breeze and floated for a moment before it tucked its limbs in tight and plummeted to the street.

A few pellets might have hit the thing, but Javi wouldn’t know until he’d downed the creature. It landed a few feet away, its back to the ground and its limbs folded into a complex origami resembling a badly thrown game of pick-up sticks. Twisting its head around, the vampyre growled and snapped its teeth, skittering on its broken fingers until it was away from the light.

“Fucking thing,” Javi spat as he checked his shotgun.

He’d meant to only let off one round, but it was always good to check. Getting jumped by something that would rip out a throat with dull spoons was enough to get the blood pumping, and adrenaline sometimes made people do stupid things. Like fire twice and empty their shotguns when they really needed that second round to finish the job.

He reloaded the spent chamber, then snapped his weapon back up and realized he’d taken his attention off the creature at the wrong moment. Torn between knowing he had ammo and tracking the deadly revenant, he had to divide his attention, and the vampyre had slipped away into the shadows in the second he’d taken to crack his shotgun open.

“Clever boy.” Javi slid around an abandoned Monte Carlo, careful not to topple it from its brick and wood risers. Stripped clean of anything useful, it lay beached against the curb, a rusting steel cetacean much like the city it’d been dumped in.

Sidling up against the back quarter panel, Javi peeked around the corner to watch the shadows for movement when the vampyre’s drawn-back mouth must have caught a strong breeze, because a telltale keening ululated through the street, the mimicry of a child’s toy gone wrong.

He’d been nineteen when he’d first heard that horrific screeching whistle. Hunting with a few of Dempsey’s friends, they’d all frozen up when the brittle, rolling noise filled the air. The wind grabbed at them—Chicago, if Javi remembered correctly—and the large men he’d been taking shit from all evening suddenly turned into little whiners, shivering and quaking.

The lone woman of the bunch grabbed Javi and pushed him forward, matching his stride with hers as they went blasting through the kiss descending from the train tracks. It was later when she told him what made those eerie, spine-wrinkling sounds—the wind forcing through the vampyre’s peeled-up lips and over its teeth to any holes it might have in the back of its head.

A Blood Mage’s Whistle, she’d called it and told him to use it to hunt the damned things, because if you could hear it, then the vampyre was close and usually really fucking hungry. She’d been saying something about how far back the creature’s mouth was wrapped made the sound louder, but Javi never got to hear the rest of it. One of the creatures they’d been hunting snapped her neck straight off her slender body and began to chew it open like it was a particularly tasty cherimoya.

That’s when he’d learned the creatures were also very deadly silent and that a shotgun blast aimed just right—at the join of the throat to the head—would kill a vampyre in midbite.

“Now or never, Navarro,” he told himself. “Go kick some ass.”

He stood at the moment the vampyre struck. Too close to get a shot off, Javi was pushed back by the creature’s surprisingly heavy weight. The momentum of their collision sent him barreling into the building—right through one of the long glass windows of Fong’s shop.

The iron bars across the glass were rusted through, crunching and folding over him as the window gave. Javi fought the creature’s attempts to latch onto his face, instinct driving him as he shoved down the fear burbling up from his tucked-in balls. Kicking at the thing, he rolled sideways as the window gave under their throes, and he shoved the creature away as hard as he could as they went in.

One thing about Fong, he was a hoarder. And apparently in this incarnation, operating a pawn shop of some sort, because a bank of metal shelves filled with everything from baby doll heads to rubber boots caught Javi before he could go any farther into the shop. A stuffed turtle bounced down on his head; then something plastic with a bunch of arms tangled in his hair. At some point he’d lost his hair tie, so the topknot he’d pulled it back in was gone, and he fought to figure out what was cobweb, toy, or hair and get it out of his face so he could see.

Unlike the street, the shop was lit up—mostly. It was also full of screaming and teeth-gnashing and hot Cantonese curses, most of which were being laid down on the vampyre, but a few were definitely aimed at him. Standing up was a challenge. The floor slid out from underneath him, an insecure mess so slippery he half expected a pair of droids to be querulously asking him what level he was on.

“No! Not him! He’s a good customer!” Fong’s heavy round voice crackled with anger. “Damn it! What you bring in here? Why?”

From what Javi could see, the vampyre’d landed on a too-skinny black man dressed only in a torn wifebeater and jeans. Most of the tears appeared to have happened before the creature lit on him, but Javi couldn’t be sure. The blood, however, was fresh and bright on the man’s washed-with-something-dark shirt.

“Shit, where’s my shotgun?” Digging through the debris of Fong’s shop had him coming up empty. The weapon could have been anywhere. Hell, it could still be outside if he’d dropped it before going through the window. Grabbing an old lawn sickle, Javi jumped over the fallen shelves and merchandise to get into the fray.

It was too late for Fong’s customer. His eyes were already milky and dead, and his throat’d gone gray where his flesh’d been ripped out. Flaps of skin jiggled over thin layers of fat, and something resembling a white starfish opened and closed as the vampyre gnawed through the man’s neck. Clutching its prey in its cadaverous hands, the creature dragged the dead man back until it was partially hidden behind a glass-topped counter filled with costume jewelry. More intent on keeping Javi from its meal than worried about being killed, the vampyre took large bites out of the man’s exposed flesh, jerking its head back and forth to get the meat loose.

“Bah, he owed me money, Navarro.” Fong’s wrinkled face barely seemed to have space for his eyes, and Javi wondered how the man even saw. “Five grand! Who is going to pay that now? And look at my shop! Do you think insurance is easy here? They no pay! Shit, they think we go around smashing our own places up to get the money!”

Fong was built like a nautilus, folding in on himself until his head was lower than his shoulders, and a thin copse of gray hair shot out of his chin in a wild attempt at a beard. He had a better result with his mustache, a nearly comically black Fu Manchu Javi half believed the old man grew only to enforce a pre-War stereotype of wisdom and cunning.

The truth was, Sam Fong was about as Chinese as a hot dog and about as human. Javi didn’t know what the old man was, but human certainly had no part in it.

“You got a gun, old man?” Javi lunged at the vampyre. “Bitch at me after I kill this thing!”

The sickle was flimsy, made more for weeds than sawing apart human jerky. Something larger would be preferable, but he knew just by glancing at them the katanas lined up above the top shelf were cheap knockoffs usually sold three for ten dollars at a swap meet.

As Javi swept the partially lit room for another weapon, the vampyre broke free of its prey and jumped, skittering across a glass case—directly toward him.

Its hands clacked on the smeared glass, either from its nails or, more likely, finger bones broken through the dehydrated flesh on its hands. It had the sound of a thousand wooden pegs hitting a tin roof or how Javi imagined a spider sounded to a fly trapped in a spit-honeyed web.

As the vampyre barreled for him, Javi got his first good look at it—if staring at a mindless predator covered in shit and blood as it ran to tear out your throat could be considered getting a good look.

It was gray, a monochromatic study in battleship and dead. Moving on all fours—normally this time—the up-down motion caused the skin flaps at its sides to billow out as if they were sheets hanging on a clothesline on a breezy day. In life, the man might have been hairy. There were certainly signs of a pelt along its belly, shoulders, and back, dark splotches much like the worn nap of a child’s ancient teddy bear.

Any resemblance to a beloved toy were lost as soon as anyone saw the thing’s face, because that certainly was enough to put anyone off ever sleeping with the lights off again.

Death and a blood mage did a good job at making a horrific monster. Shorn of any hair on its skeletal head, the vampyre’s pasty gray skin was sucked clean of any moisture and spread tight across the bone, highlighting every ridge in its skull. Its nose was gone—a sunken tangle between its magic-infused yellow eyes. Cartilage didn’t last long after death, and a blood mage certainly wouldn’t waste the effort to have the creature’s features remain plump and healthy. They were made to be killing machines, and monsters were best when they were frightening.

This one certainly got high marks in that area. Even more so when its long, thin lips peeled back away from its jaws and Javi caught a glimpse of the speckled tongue still lying in the creature’s mouth. He suspected it was actually covered in minute suckers, a way for the vampyre to feed off the blood it got from spurting veins and chewed flesh. Luckily, he’d never had a chance to test that theory, and now certainly wasn’t going to be the time he started.

Not when he was armed with a fucking gardening sickle barely thick enough to cut down dandelions at a petting zoo.

It hit hard, heavy, and fast. Even as prepared as Javi thought he’d been, the vampyre took him down. They tumbled over, smashing through stacks of Beta cassettes, with Javi landing on his back. The videos scattered, and Javi slid with them, carried into Fong’s checkout counter. The cash register rang out, and a flood of key chains, mint tins, and multicolored Koozballs rained down on his head.

But he was still holding the sickle, and Javi had it at the ready when the vampyre pounced.

It landed square on his chest and groin, nearly missing catching him in the jewels. Twisting around a bit, Javi fought with the strong creature to get to its neck. The revenant thrashed about, confused at its prey’s attack but determined to consume Javi anyway. Its hands raked a stinging line across Javi’s cheek, he felt the tip of a nail puncture his lower lip, and Javi tasted his own blood.

Something in the vampyre’s makeup must have hit on the scent of blood in the air, because the thing stiffened and went in for the kill.

Up close, the thing was even more terrifying, and its mouth reeked of offal and shit. A piece of intestine dangled from its lip, one end hooked around one broken molar. The vampyre’s hands scrabbled to get a good hold on Javi’s leather jacket, and he felt one of its feet digging into his shin, slicing through his jeans. Shoving up with his shoulder, Javi got the sickle angled up and under the creature’s elongated jaw, feeling its skin give slightly when the blade touched its tough flesh.

It was like sawing through one of his Tia Nina’s pork chops—tough and unwilling to give way. The thing’s skin tore slowly, agonizingly so, and a few inches away, the vampyre’s teeth gnashed at his face. A piece of chewed meat flew out from its gullet, hitting Javi square in the forehead, and he jerked his head to the side to avoid the splatter.

“Screw this,” he grunted as the vampyre tried to carve his face off with another swipe of its mottled fingers. “I’m using the wrong fucking end.”

It was a battle to keep the vampyre under control so he gave up. Kicking the creature as hard as he could, Javi got some distance between them and flipped up onto his feet, gaining his balance back. The creature recovered, landing on its hands, then turned, falling onto all fours to navigate the debris-laden floor.

Javi feinted at the last moment, hooking the sickle blade into its neck. Lodging the blade in deep, he held onto the wooden handle and slipped around the vampyre’s thrusting body, using the creature’s momentum to push it forward. The blade came loose at the right moment, just as Javi was able to get behind the lunging creature and straddle its bony back. Grabbing the sickle’s handle from the front, Javi anchored his feet against the vampyre’s sides and twisted, wrapping the thing’s neck around the thick bamboo handle.

“Gonna kill you like one of papi’s chickens, you fuck,” Javi cursed at the vampyre. “Die, you motherfucking thing. Die.”

It snapped, unable to withstand the torque of Javi’s strong, jerking yank. Its neck bones gave one by one, a crackling, frenetic sound. Then its head popped off, flying clear of the vampyre’s withered body. It arched up and over the clutter in Fong’s shop, its trajectory uneven and wobbly. A second aloft, and then it landed, crashing into a display of robotic unicorns in shiny purple boxes before rolling to a dead stop against the still closed front door.

The vampyre’s body was slowly shutting down, its limbs hammering the floor in soft buffeting strikes before finally going inert. It sagged inward, then crumbled in, magic no longer holding its tendons and ligaments fluid along its bones. Panting, Javi stood slowly, wiping the sweat from his forehead as the scattered unicorns giggled and whinnied about cupcakes and lollipops. A noise behind him jerked Javi around, and he raised the damaged sickle, ready to pry another vampyre.

Fong emerged from behind the counter, holding his hands up in surrender. One of those hands held a sawed-off shotgun, and Javi growled at the quivering man.

“Found the shotgun,” Fong squeaked, his mustache dancing about his face. “You want?”

“No.” Javi straightened, then advanced on the man. “What I want is to know where the hell I can find a blood mage here in Detroit—and they need to be related to the Mac Gerailt.”

Author Bios:
Poppy Dennison
Add two parts sass and one part sweet and you have Poppy Dennison to T—sweet tea that is. Raised by a gaggle of Southern women who love reading and have backbones of steel, Poppy was brought up to see the best in people but always speak her mind. Mix it all together, like Grandma’s famous cobbler, and you get a sassy, Southern lady with a quick wit and loads of charm, who will soften any blow with “Bless your heart.” Her books reflect her small town roots, are filled with all the comforts of home, and come with side dish of spicy, because that’s the way she likes it.
Rhys Ford
Rhys Ford was born and raised in Hawai’i then wandered off to see the world. After chewing through a pile of books, a lot of odd food, and a stray boyfriend or two, Rhys eventually landed in San Diego, which is a very nice place but seriously needs more rain.

Rhys admits to sharing the house with three cats of varying degrees of black fur and a ginger cairn terrorist. Rhys is also enslaved to the upkeep a 1979 Pontiac Firebird, a Toshiba laptop, and an overworked red coffee maker.

Poppy Dennison

Rhys Ford


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