Monday, October 16, 2017

Random Paranormal Tales of 2017 Part 5

Quentin Heart, Vampire Bounty Hunter by Amber Kell
Quentin Heart is a magical genius with more troubles than three people his age. His mother is dying of cancer, a vampire master wants to own him and he has bone wolves deciding to be his new puppy protection detail.

When his friend, Glenn, is murdered Quentin Heart has to discover who attacked him and what happened to his body. Unfortunately Jakinson, the new vampire master, has decided to protect Quentin from himself.

Annoyed with everyone trying to kill or control him, Quentin has to push back against vampires, psychotic fae and more magic than he’s ever had to handle before. It will take more than magic to get him out of this one. It might even take love.

Dinner at the Blue Moon Cafe by Rick R Reed
A monster moves through the night, hidden by the darkness, taking men, one by one, from Seattle’s gay gathering areas.

Amid an atmosphere of crippling fear, Thad Matthews finds his first true love working in an Italian restaurant called the Blue Moon Café. Sam Lupino is everything Thad has ever hoped for in a man: virile, sexy as hell, kind, and… he can cook!

As their romance heats up, the questions pile up. Who is the killer preying on Seattle’s gay men? What secrets is Sam’s Sicilian family hiding? And more importantly, why do Sam’s unexplained disappearances always coincide with the full moon?

The strength of Thad and Sam’s love will face the ultimate test when horrific revelations come to light beneath the full moon.

First Edition published as The Blue Moon Cafe by Amber Quill Press/Amber Allure, 2010. 

I'm going to start by saying that immediate attraction bordering on insta-love is not for everyone and I understand that but when its done right than its amazing.  Well, for me Dinner at the Blue Moon Cafe is done right.  I say "immediate attraction bordering on insta-love" because I think it's pretty instant on Sam's part and for Thad its nearly there but he's afraid to completely embrace it.

I loved seeing inside the mind of the killer in this story, its not something that always works, it can distract from the couple at the heart of the story, but Rick R Reed makes it work here.  I get why Sam is leary to reveal everything to Thad and I equally get why this makes Thad hesitant to completely open his heart to Sam but more than once I just wanted to bang their heads together and scream "Communicate!".  Throw in Thad's new friend Jared, which some might call an obstacle to the couple being happy but I call just plain awesome.  Jared is a fun character that gives Thad some much needed companionship but it also gives him reasons to guard his heart, to grow, and gives his protective side reason to show.

All in all, Dinner at the Blue Moon Cafe is a brilliant read that ticked my paranormal, romance, mystery boxes and it also touched on my love of horror as well making this a perfect read for October.


Of Christmas Past by Teryn Day 
Jonathan Barthes has always been able to see—and speak to—the dead. Unfortunately, restless spirits tend to be somewhat needy, and his “gift” has cost him everything from a promising acceptance into med school to a long string of failed relationships. Unable to find a purpose after a terrible autumn semester, he accepts his aunt’s offer to become the caretaker of one of the estates his great-uncle left her over the holidays. He expected the restless spirits: the little girl, the mean governess, and he especially expected the ghost of the vindictive young man who calls himself Cecil.

Cecil's handsome enough when he’s not making the mirrors bleed or the radios speak in tongues. As the year crawls on and reaches its end, however, Jon begins to help Cecil uncover the mystery of his life—and his tragic death. Jon had a dream of helping the living—but maybe, just this once, when he helps a ghost, that ghost will help him back.

Original Review December 2016:
Of Christmas Past is a nice blend of holiday, friendship, historical, paranormal all factors that make a difference in the lives of Jon and Cecil.  The low sex drive being asexual was a little disconcerting that it was mis-researched but the characters are well written and the paranormal element difference from the norm in holiday romance made up for it for me as I like to look at the story as a whole when reviewing and rating.  I look forward to checking out more from Teryn Day,  another new one for me.  A great addition to both my holiday and paranormal shelves.


Magic Mansion by Jordan Castillo Price
Professor Topaz is tired of fending off advice that he should retire in Vegas where magicians his age have an easier time finding work.

Ricardo Hart's career has sunk so low, he's resorted to shaking his moneymaker at bachelorette parties.

But there's a casting call for a new reality show called Magic Mansion that could change everything for these two gay stage magicians, one recovering from the loss of his partner, the other awe-struck by the presence of his idol. Each is poised for a critical second chance: at fame, and at love.

Who will win? Step into the Mansion, and find out....

Hell-Knights by Hayden Thorne
Decima is a centuries-old Italian city on the water, a vanity project meant to be a fairy tale escape for the titled and the privileged. But something in the distant past had turned it into a murky, putrid dreamscape instead, a crumbling city haunted by a scourge of revenants whose origins and purpose now seem destined to be hidden in the shadows forever. Not even the brave, dogged attempts at fighting midnight creatures by the descendants of a select bloodline can rid the city of the near-daily threat.

Michele De Santis is a young minor sorcerer, a reluctant champion who, along with his twin sister and his cousin, has lost too much through the years and has resigned himself to a life of endless midnight hunts while selling healing and protection spells and artifacts during the day. A life of loneliness, of a forced solitude in a desperate bid at keeping collateral damage at a minimum appears to be his only future.

When long-dead corpses suddenly turn without vampire bites, logical patterns no longer hold true, leaving the weary hunters baffled and unsure for the first time. Decima's bronze guardians fall silent for no reason, a dark, binding spell muting their warnings. A long-abandoned church shows signs of life in the most grotesque ways imaginable. And everything seems to point to an unknown threat, one that's long lain dormant but has been awakened by the arrival of a young English heir and his amateur antiquarian uncle.

Romance and the gothic layer 'Hell-Knights' with the dark, rich textures of an alternate universe Europe, a nineteenth century world where magic reigns supreme, and love knows no gender.

Original Review September 2017:
Decima has not seen prosperity in quite some time but now there's an increase in vampire activity, but not just the normal vampires, these are turning without bites and not just the recently deceased but the long dead too.  Michele De Santis is one of the current sorcerers tasked with keeping the peace and safety of the citizens of the dying community.  Gabriel Latham has come with his scholar uncle to catalog intriguing history of the area.  When these two meet nothing will ever quite be the same, but will it be better?

Hell-Knights is an alternate universe historical paranormal romance, now I know what some might be asking: isn't paranormal already alternate universe?  Well, yes, perhaps but what justifies both labels is the historical part, more precisely the acceptance of LGBT relationships and the knowledge of otherworldly happenings as part of the norm.  Personally, none of that is really important when you have a story that is so well scripted from minor scene setting to huge angsty life-changing disasters by an author that obviously respects her readers and the power of words to pay attention to those details.

This tale is set in the same gothic universe as the author's Guardian Angel and The Flowers of St. Aloysius, now for me Hell-Knights didn't quite grab me with the same intensity as the others but that is not to say its not brilliant, because it is.  Michele and Gabriel are a perfect match even if they don't immediately jump at the chances at that "something special" in front of them.  Even though Hell may not have spoken to me the way the other entries to the author's AU I still felt as if I was there, everything is presented so intricately I felt as if I opened my front door, turned on my porch light I would be looking at the streets of Decima.

Such a wonderful blend of mystery, romance, paranormal, historical, and it's all wrapped up in a glorious gothic bow.  I can't wait to see what else Hayden Thorne comes up with for this AU.


Dinner at the Blue Moon Cafe by Rick R Reed
HE’S HUNGRY. He eyes the full moon above him through a caul of bloodred. The moon shines as brightly as the sun, warming and energizing him, heightening his senses. He “sees” with all of them, but smell predominates. Before him, the streets of Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood stand out in sharp detail, silvery and shimmering from the moon’s light, making it easy to track potential prey. And in the air, everywhere, are scents—beer, cigarette smoke, the pale fishy tang of Elliot Bay to the west, car exhaust. But underlying all this is sheer bliss. He lifts his snout to savor it: the aroma of human flesh… and blood. Blood pulsing in the bodies of hundreds of carousers out for a Friday night revel, coursing in and out of bars, heedless and unwary, celebrating the beginning of the weekend.

Their heat, movement, voices, and—most of all—scents give him a paradoxically hungry and deliciously tingling feeling of anticipation deep in the pit of his gut.

His leathery black nose quivers, pulling the scent inside, where he can savor it. His pale gray-furred ears point up to the moon, alert, alert for the sound of a man alone, one that’s ripe. He wants to howl but knows such a display will draw attention to him as he sits, panting, in an alley behind a Vietnamese restaurant shuttered for the night. Already a pair of men clad in jeans and tight T-shirts have wandered by and peered into the shadows the alley provides, wondering.

“Jesus!” one of them says. “Would you look at that? What is that? Some kind of dog? It’s huge!”

His friend leans over, farther into the alley, far enough for the creature to catch the scent of the man’s sweat underlying the cologne with which he polluted himself. The sweat makes his mouth water, his stomach growl, and makes him eager to pounce…. But he knows he must be patient. The night affords plenty of time to hunt.

Reward must always be balanced by careful calculation of risk.

“Yeah, dude. I think it’s a German shepherd… or a husky. Somethin’ like that. Come on, let’s get to the Cuff.”

“I thought we were going to Neighbours.”

“The Cuff has hotter guys.”

The men hurry off, unaware of how appetizing they are, how close they edged to their own demise.

He licks his chops and stares up at the moon as a cloud passes over, partially obscuring its radiance.

He has time to wait. Time to let the scents, sounds, and sights of the lively August night ramp up his hunger, his need, making the resulting feast all that much more succulent. There are practical reasons, too, for his patience. “In the Wee Small Hours” (as the song goes), there will be fewer witnesses to his impromptu alfresco supper of flesh and blood. The few people out—his prey—are more likely to be intoxicated and careless of heading down an alley just like the one in which he now crouches, waiting, every sense on alert.


Before dawn creeps up over the Cascade Mountains, he knows he’ll be intoxicated. That, and utterly satisfied. He circles a few times and lays down beside a dumpster.
He’s dozed off. When he awakens, the air is cooler and the night quieter. The sounds of traffic, laughter, and voices have diminished to almost nothing. The rush of wind ruffles his fur as he gets to all fours, raising his snout to test the air.

Yes. There are humans close by. Two. He smells their perspiration and, beneath that, their blood. Their warmth rides to him like a delicious current on the night breeze. He stands quietly, heart rate quickening, muscles tensing, tracking them. They are just outside the alley in which he waits and are making noises, not talking. But there are definite sounds. He moves forward, silent on black paws, to the alley’s mouth. In a darkened doorway, he hears the sound of human mating—grunts, groans, and sighs. He sniffs, calculating. There are two men, one of them older, not as healthy, and one young, vigorous.

Boldly he trots out of the alley and crosses the street to watch from between two parked cars. The men don’t even notice, they are so absorbed in what they’re doing, and he’s so full of stealth that he might as well be a ghost gliding through the night.

The pair occupies the doorway of a storefront, cloaked in shadow. Human eyes, passing by, would not even register their existence. But he can see them. The younger one, the one for whom he is already licking his chops, stands before the older one, jeans pushed down to his knees. His shirt is pulled up over his shoulders and behind his neck, exposing exquisite musculature and a constellation of inked skin. Throwing his head back, the young man whispers rapidly how “fuckin’ good” it all feels, while the older man kneels in front of him, his head bobbing up and down at his crotch.

The act takes fewer than ten minutes. The scent of sweat and semen hangs in the air. The older man rises, looks around, stuffs himself back inside his pants, and zips. He glances around again, although the creature can’t imagine why—there’s no one else to witness anything—and takes out his wallet. He digs in it, pulls out a few bills, and hands them to the younger man, the one with the shaved head, the bulging muscles, and the tattoos. The younger man snatches the money away and smiles. “Thanks.” He stuffs the money into his jeans pocket.

The older man begins to walk away, and the younger one grabs his arm. “No kiss good-bye?”

They both laugh. The older man pecks the younger on his mouth. At the same time, the younger man pulls him closer as if to embrace him and reaches back, smoothly pulling the wallet from the older man’s pants. The other man, unaware, hurries off into the night toward downtown.

“Muscles” counts the money, chuckling, then rifles through the wallet.

He hears the young man whisper, “What story will you make up for wifey about how you lost your wallet?” He throws back his head and laughs out loud at the thought. He pulls the remaining cash from the wallet, extracts a couple of credit cards, and tosses the wallet to the ground.

The creature takes him in with all his senses. He’s perfect.

He tracks his prey through the streets, uphill. He begins to question whether luck will be on his side when the man ducks into an alley. He follows, amused that, after all these blocks, the man has never once noticed him so close behind. The beast stares as his prey pulls out his dick and sprays a bright yellow stream on the brick wall before him. The scent of piss drifts over, ammonia-like, but it’s part of the man’s essence and his heat. Mixed in with the smell of it is also the scent of his semen, left over from his prior business transaction.

Drool runs from the creature’s mouth. He can wait no longer. He pounces, and without a howl, without a growl, without even a bark, he is upon him.


The man doesn’t even have time to scream.

Chapter 1
MUSIC FROM his clock radio woke Thad Matthews at 6:00 a.m. The song, “Smokestack Lightning,” yanked him from a heavy, dream-laden sleep. Its energy forced his eyes open wider, caused synapses, eight hours dormant, to tingle, and made him want to move. Nonetheless he slapped at the snooze button, silencing the bluesy wail, rolled over, and then pulled the comforter over his head. He was glad he had tuned his clock radio to KPLU, Seattle’s only all-blues all-the-time station, but he desperately wanted to recapture just a few more minutes of his dream, in which he’d found himself on the moors of England. All he could recall was that the moors themselves were appropriately fog shrouded and lit with a silvery luminance from above. Someone waited for him in the shadows and fog. And he couldn’t, for the life of him, know for certain if that someone meant to do him harm or meant to just do him.

He’d been having a lot of sexual dreams lately.

As much as he wanted to unravel the mystery of the dream—and to perhaps savor the vague sexual vibrations he was getting from it—sleep eluded him. He found thoughts of the day crowding in, preventing even the most remote possibility of a recurrence of slumber.

Thad sat up in the four-poster, rubbing his eyes like a little boy, and wondered why he bothered setting an alarm. He had no job to go to, no pressing engagements, no muse to answer to—hell, he didn’t even have an appointment for an oil change.

This day, like all his others, stretched out before him completely unmarred with obligations other than the requirements life imposed upon him, such as eating and going to the bathroom, which the erection poking up under his sheets compelled him to take care of. He called this morning wood a pee-on, because once he had put that particular need to rest, it most often subsided.

After stumbling to the adjoining bathroom and letting go with a flow that caused a mighty sigh of relief to issue forth from him, he thought once again that maybe today should be the day he looked harder into getting himself some employment—anything to put him into contact with other people and to fill his waking hours. Lord knew he filled out enough applications and answered enough Help Wanted ads on Craigslist to keep the officials down at unemployment sending him checks. But all his efforts, dishearteningly, were ignored.

It had been nearly four months since he had been laid off at Perk, the national chain of coffee shops headquartered in suburban Shoreline. Thad had been there for six years, in the marketing department, spending his days writing clever sayings for paper coffee cups and point-of-purchase signs for the stores. It was a tough job, but someone had to do it. And writing phrases like “Plan on Being Spontaneous” paid the bills, even if it didn’t provide much creative or intellectual challenge. It helped sell coffee, and Thad never kidded himself, that’s why he was employed there.

Except now they didn’t need him anymore. Who would write the signs for their special Iced Coffee blend?

He gazed down at the bubbling golden froth in the toilet and flushed it away, along with his thoughts about his former job. He turned and rinsed his hands under the sink, then splashed cold water on his face. Standing up straight, he stared at his reflection in the medicine cabinet mirror.

“You’re too young for a life of leisure,” he said to his reflection, rubbing his hands through his short, coarse red hair, which stuck up in a multitude of directions. People paid good money for products that would make their hair look as fetchingly disheveled as Thad’s did right now. He peered closer at himself, taking inventory of his pale skin, his gray eyes, and the constellation of freckles that spanned his nose and the tops of his cheeks. He flexed, thinking he was looking a little flabby around the middle.

“Workout day. I’ll head over to the gym today. I need it.” He sucked in his gut and let it out again, thinking it was empty and needed refilling. A Pagliacci delivery pizza only went so far. His slumber and active dream life, he supposed, had all but digested the pie.

Thad moved to the bedroom and began tossing pillows on the floor to make up his bed. He wasn’t sure why he bothered with this either, since it was unlikely anyone would see the military-neat bed except for him, when he would approach it once more this evening just to mess it all up again. But it was important to Thad to have a routine. Otherwise his days would blend into one meaningless chunk of time, formless, without definition or purpose.

It was becomingly increasingly hard enough to distinguish Tuesday from Thursday—or Sunday, for that matter.

Back when he was putting in forty-plus hours a week, he envied the increasing number of friends and acquaintances who had gotten laid off during the economic downturn. The money they made on unemployment seemed like enough—at least for him and his modest lifestyle in his Green Lake studio apartment—and the freedom they had seemed worth the cut in pay.

But now he wasn’t so sure. The uncertainty of what would happen if he still wasn’t working when the unemployment checks dwindled down to zero hung over him like a vague threat. And the freedom wasn’t really so great, when that same threat prevented him from spending much money, lest he should need it down the road for luxuries like food and a roof over his head.

Worst of all was what the job loss had done to his self-esteem. Thad needed some meaning in his life, a purpose. That much had been instilled in him since he was a little boy, back in Chicago growing up in the working class neighborhood of Bridgeport, where his father was a cop and his mother waited tables at a Lithuanian restaurant.

He pulled on a T-shirt and a pair of sweatpants, padded out to the office area of his apartment, and plopped down in front of his laptop. He planned to check out the classifieds on Craigslist, then Monster, then CareerBuilder. When he was first laid off, he looked only at writing and editing jobs but had lately broadened his search to include, well, just about everything. Thad realized he would work retail, man a customer service phone line, groom dogs, or wait tables, as long as he had a job.

Yet the rest of the world hadn’t gotten wind of his eagerness to accept any kind of employment. Or if they had, they weren’t saying.

Before he went through the often-depressing ritual of cyber pavement pounding, he would check out what had happened in the world since he had stumbled in last night from an evening of self-consolation and vodka on Capitol Hill. He hit the little orange-and-blue Firefox icon on the dock at the bottom of his screen to bring up the day’s online news…

And was jolted right out of whatever sluggishness he was feeling. He stared at the lead article for that day’s Seattle Post-Intelligencer. A chill coursed through him, and he slowly shook his head as he read the details of that morning’s top story, titled “Brutal Slaying in Capitol Hill.” The article described how an as-yet-unidentified young man had been killed in an alley in the Seattle neighborhood known for its heavy concentration of gay bars and clubs. Thad had to stop reading for a moment to close his eyes because the gruesome details were simply too much to bear. His stomach churned. The man had not just been killed but had been literally ripped apart. Very little blood was found at the scene. And forensics had already determined that there was no trace of metal found on the victim’s flesh, which meant that the deed had to have been done with something other than a knife. The worst detail of all was the fact that the remains bore definite signs that much of the man’s flesh had been eaten. Authorities are keeping details to themselves regarding who—or what—the perpetrator could have been. The story closed with the usual cautions about what to do—don’t travel alone, avoid strangers and unlit places—when something so unsettling and violent occurs.

Thad exited Firefox sooner than he had planned and stared out the window. His heart thumped in his chest. Bile splashed at the back of his throat and a cold sweat broke out on his forehead. He had been in Capitol Hill the night before, having a dirty martini or three at Neighbours, one of the gay ghetto’s most popular hangouts. He wondered if, as he had made his way back to the bus stop, he had passed the killer or killers. If perhaps the killer or killers had eyed him, wondering if he would suffice for their demented purposes. He could see himself through their eyes, being watched from the shadows of a vestibule or an alley as he made his way back to the bus stop on Broadway. He wondered if he looked appetizing. He had been told on more than one occasion that he was “tasty” and “delicious,” but those doing the describing were not thinking of him as dinner—at least not in the conventional sense. He wondered if perhaps the only thing that had saved him was the coincidental passing of a boisterous group from the University of Washington, coming up alongside him just as the fiend in the dark was ready to pounce. He shivered. For once, rejection was a comforting thought.

Rejection, under these circumstances, was the new “getting lucky.”

Still, some poor soul had not been as lucky as he had, and today forensics was probably busy trying to figure out just who this unfortunate soul was. From what Thad had read, it didn’t sound like they had much to go on. Dental records, maybe? What kind of animal would not only kill a fellow human being but also eat his flesh and drink his blood? Was this a human being at all? Thad had heard of bears occasionally making their misguided ways down from the mountains and into Seattle, but they usually got no farther than suburban parks and backyards. And the “bears” that routinely cruised the Capitol Hill neighborhood were of a much more cuddly variety.

Surely, though, an animal couldn’t have been roaming around busy Capitol Hill on Friday night. The neighborhood, on weekend nights, was a blur of barhoppers and partiers, its hilly streets filled with people and cars jockeying for position. Loud and well lit, it was the kind of neighborhood that would scare the shit out of an animal, at least an animal with normal fears and inclinations. This had to be the work of a person, or people, right? And whoever was behind such a thing had to be majorly warped. Thad had a quick vision of pale gray eyes and enormous canine teeth until he banished the imagery to the back of his brain, grateful for another kind of canine distraction.

That distraction had just sidled up beside Thad, her arrival signaled by a clicking of toenails on hardwood. Thad glanced down at his gray-and-white Chihuahua, Edith, staring up at him with her dark eyes. Her tongue stuck out one side of her mouth, giving her a both comical and wizened appearance. The dog was about a hundred years old, and Thad thought, for better or worse, she was his very best friend in the world. Edith got up on her hind legs to paw at Thad’s lap, indicating to him that he was not the only creature in the house that had to pee first thing in the morning.

Thad got up and, with Edith following impatiently behind, slid into flip-flops and grabbed her leash. “C’mon, sweetheart, let’s take a little walk down to the lake, and then we’ll see about getting us both some breakfast.”
SATURDAY PASSED much as Monday had, and Tuesday, and Wednesday, and so on. In other words, Thad cleaned his studio apartment that didn’t need cleaning; updated his Facebook status five times and his Twitter status three—stealing quotes from Lily Tomlin and Kathy Griffin to make himself sound more witty than he was; searched on Facebook for several hours for old friends, relatives, classmates, and boyfriends; made tuna salad for lunch—half the can of Chicken of the Sea went to Edith, who seduced him out of it with her eyes; and streamed three episodes of True Blood on his laptop.

By six o’clock Thad was staring out the window and thinking about counting his freckles, just for something to do. Perhaps he could shave the hair between his eyebrows? Do another online crossword? Google himself again?

“I gotta get out of here, money or no money.” He glanced down at Edith, who was lying at the opposite end of the couch. She looked up at him as if she understood and then glanced over at the door.

“That’s right, sweetheart. Daddy needs to get out… at least for a little dinner.” Thad had just gotten a flyer in the mail the day before, describing a new place that had opened on Green Lake Way called the Blue Moon Café. He had gone by it several times during his runs around the lake and watched as the restaurant had slowly come together: one day kitchen equipment was delivered, another it was dark cherry tables and chairs, yet another a shipment of beer and wine. Yet he had no idea, really, what kind of cuisine they’d serve.

But one thing Thad had loved about the Green Lake neighborhood when he moved in was its abundance of stores, restaurants, pubs, and cafés within walking distance. Thad had never owned a car and didn’t want one. So he liked to support the businesses there, even though many of them were more geared toward families and couples than the livelier—and gayer—Capitol Hill neighborhood, ten or fifteen minutes away depending on traffic.

After serving Edith her dinner of Thad’s own special blend of brown rice, chicken, and peas and carrots, Thad hit the shower. He took a long time under the hot spray, washing and conditioning his hair, soaping every orifice, and shaving the hair on his balls and adjacent to his penis, revealing his manhood in its most flattering light. Even in Green Lake and even on an outing for a quiet meal, one never knew whom one would meet. Besides, Thad had all the time in the world.

Don’t remind me, he thought, sliding his head under the shower to rinse the conditioner from his ginger hair.

He dressed in a pair of black jeans, combat boots, and a vintage Cockney Rejects T-shirt he’d found a couple of weeks ago at Value Village. He worked a dollop of hair wax through his hair, making it stand on end fetchingly and giving him that just-out-of-bed look. Although he hadn’t made it to the gym that day, the black made him look thinner and made his shoulders, naturally broad, stand out. The thin cotton fabric also clung alluringly to his pecs.

He thought briefly that he should head to Capitol Hill instead, or even the University District just east of him, but Thad was the kind of guy who, once he had made a plan, stuck to it.

He took Edith out for a quick bathroom break, kissed the top of her head, and set off for the Blue Moon Café. His step was light, and he’d set his status on Facebook to “optimistic.”

Who knew what the night would bring?

Of Christmas Past by Teryn Day
He saw the little girl, swathed in light, her tulle dress and her curls bouncing as she saw him. She ran and vanished around a corner.

In the bathroom, he took his contacts out. Now that night had fallen, he knew activity was likely to increase, and the musty smell of the house was getting to him more and more. I’ll get used to it, he thought, reminding himself that even if he didn’t get used to it, he’d be back in civilization as soon as possible.
Jon washed his face.

When he looked up, wiping the beads of water from his eyes, he saw a dark red stream slipping down his forehead. Taking in a quick breath, he felt his own forehead and found only clear water. He looked back in the mirror and saw another drip coming from the seam at the top. Then another, then another, until there was a red cascade down his reflection.

He yawned and squeezed water out of his eyes with his knuckles, before turning around to grab the towel he’d used when he showered earlier, only to see a latticework of scratches—as if by human nails, buried deep into the paint on the wall above the towels. He still reached for one, but the rack was torn off the wall just before his hand could touch it. It slammed into the ground violently, leaving two ugly gouges where it had been attached to the wall. Jon dried his face off with a washcloth instead.

He returned to his room. He merely glanced up as every painting on the walls began to rot—it wasn’t just that the oils seemed to boil, forming bubbles and flaking away, but each and every subject seemed to age before his eyes. Every ancestor lining the hall became elderly, then sunken, then rotted, and then a skeleton before Jon even had time to think to himself, Now, which one was that?

Just after he stepped through the bedroom door, it slammed behind him. The loud noise startled him and he jumped, then looked over to the opposite wall to see a single word drawn in deep crimson near the window. The whole room smelled like copper.

‘DIE.’ Simple, to the point.

“Please,” Jon said, “stop that.”

The entity froze in the middle of writing ‘KILL,’ leaving only the characteristic psychic hum of paranormal activity, of a spirit reaching out to touch the living world. The lights flickered.

When the light settled, a young man was standing in the room with him. He was only a little taller than Jon, with dark hair and eyes that might have been gentle on someone else. He was in a black vest, slacks, and white shirt. Not necessarily a modern look, so Jon suspected he’d been there a while.

Also, he was semi-translucent. Jon stared, unfazed, and resisted the urge to yawn again, for fear it would be just a little too dismissive of this spirit’s attempts to terrorize him. He’d seen it all before, and this one was a bit of a showy prick, so Jon decided it was best not to antagonize him. Excessively.

“It was a little much, don’t you think?” Jon asked, stuffing his hands in his pockets as he faced the ghost of the young man down.

The ghost moved left, then right. He ducked, then rose and jumped, eyes never leaving Jon’s, and Jon followed him as he did a full circle around him before finally stopping where he began, back straight and heels formally snapping into place.

“You can see me?” the ghost asked, although he somehow managed to make it sound more like an accusation.

“Yes.” Jon did yawn then. “Yes, I do. I’m very gifted.”

“It’s been a long time since anyone could see me.”

“I’m sorry,” Jon said. He probably should give this one more time, but he was tired and couldn’t help himself. “Can I go to bed now?”

Magic Mansion by Jordan Castillo Price
Chapter 1
Magic might not be as popular as it had once been, back in its golden age—but it beat watching soap operas or reading mangled comic books with missing pages, and nipples drawn in ballpoint pen on the costumes of all the lady-characters. And it beat getting your temperature taken, or your blood drawn. And it especially beat swallowing those big, nasty pills. 

The audience might not be enthusiastic, but they were there. And that was enough.

They sat in their molded plastic chairs, four children in all. A young boy, badly burned—something to do with crystal meth and a back door that was nailed shut. His pain was constant. A teenager who’d shattered his foot, and his clavicle, and five bones in his hand on a skateboard. He was too old for magic, or so he thought, but his bones knit faster when he was in its thrall. A boy whose brother had shot him in the leg with the family’s gun—a semi-automatic with its serial numbers filed off, which his mother said they kept for protection. And maybe they did. Their neighborhood hadn’t been fit to live in for years. A girl with pneumonia who’d had too many “uncles.” She was better off in the hospital. 

John—stage name, Professor Topaz—had carefully enticed the children to abandon their skepticism. First, he presented himself as a consummate magician: coiffed hair, immaculately groomed goatee, starched shirt, impeccable silk tie, and a spotless black suit—which was beginning to go shiny around the seams, though in the current lighting, it shouldn’t be detectable. He wooed them with a series of simple but rapid tricks so as not to lose their attention, a few solemn words, and the token discovery of a silver dollar behind each of their ears. He let them keep the coins, which cemented their interest. Now they’d been enthralled for the past fifteen minutes with nothing more than three lengths of rope. 

All three pieces began the act apparently the same length, and then, as he slid the knots between his agile fingers, they seemed to lengthen and shorten. Another slide, and all three were even once more. It was all a clever manipulation of one long rope and two short stubs, which appeared to be the ends of medium-sized lengths. But in John’s talented hands, the illusion looked quite real. 

“Tell me, young lady, is this rope intact?” My God. Far too many “uncles.” “Yes? Very good. Excellent. And now, you see….” A loop. His long fingers curled around a second, hidden knot as he slid the other up and down, to the delight of even the jaded teenager. 

“Now,” he said gravely. “Observe what happens…when I cut it.” He slipped the knot to the end, brandished a pair of scissors that had Pediatrics written in marker on the plastic handle, and snipped the rope. There were gasps, and four pairs of eyes went wide—because they’d seen him cut it, and surely that was no sleight of hand.

It wasn’t. But the few inches he’d trimmed off the yard-long length were hardly worth noticing. He palmed the rope stubs, then slid them into his pocket along with the scissors. “You have seen them grow…and shrink…and now, before your very eyes, watch…as three become…one!”

He snapped open the rope with a flourish—and even the teenager laughed. Good progress. The boy wouldn’t be in the hospital long, and if John could reach that part of him that was blighted, and bitter, and hateful, if he could reverse some small portion of the corrosion spreading over the poor child’s spirit, then there was still hope.

The rope-and-ring trick would be perfect—if the boy would be able to hold the rope in both hands, while John “magically” snapped the ring free. Unfortunately, with the shattered hand, he wouldn’t be much of an assistant. Unless the boy with the wounded leg held the other end—yes, even better. A symbolic gesture of cooperation, each holding an end of that rope. It would be the perfect first step out of the darkness and into the light, to have these two boys come together in the spirit of wonder…of magic.

“Observe,” John intoned. “A metal ring. Pass it among yourselves, go ahead, and verify that it is, indeed, solid.”

He handed a metal curtain loop to the burned boy, who passed it to the girl with too many “uncles,” who passed it to the ten-year-old gunshot victim, who passed it to the teenager, each of them turning the chrome ring over in their fingers with rapt attention.

It made its way back down the line to the burned boy, who returned it solemnly to John. “You have observed the solidity of the ring.” He pressed the ring into the rope and hitched it to the center with a simple slipknot. “You have watched as the three lengths of rope became one. Now, if you will assist me….” He handed the end to the ten-year-old first. Boys of that age still recognized authority on occasion. The boy took his end of the rope gladly.

“And another of you—because it will take the melding of all our minds to sever the bonds of the magical rope—and to heal them again, as strong as if they’ve never been sundered.” It might be heavy-handed on the metaphor—but so what? The burned boy had forgotten his pain, if only for a moment. And the girl with too many “uncles” was smiling. John held out the rope to the teenager. “We need someone with a strong mind. Will you do it?”

The young man wanted to scoff—because to do otherwise would leave him vulnerable. And a dollar and a few rope tricks shouldn’t be enough to buy his trust. Yet, as John looked into his eyes, he saw the boy wanted to believe. He reached for the rope.

“Okay, time for physical therapy.” The nurse’s voice was startling, and all the children flinched and drew back into their shells. The ring and the rope hung in John’s hand, and the magic fled from the props, leaving them looking cheap and common.

The burned boy whined, “I want to see the trick.” His pain was returning already.

John turned toward the nurse and said quietly, “I was told I could perform until three. It’s quarter to.”

She looked at him with hard eyes—she wasn’t quite dead inside, not like so many people were these days, but the hostility emanating from her was plain. “Tonio needs to get to physical therapy—and Jaimie’s grandma is here to visit. C’mon, kids. Quit dilly-dallying. Let’s go.”

Of the four children, the only one old enough to resist the authority of the hard-eyed nurse was the teenager. But he was also in a wheelchair, and when she snapped off the brakes and wheeled him briskly away, he chose to slump back into his state of dejection, rather than engage in a battle he had no chance of winning. John watched as the children filed down the hall to their rooms. The burned boy paused in his doorway and waved.

John lifted his hand solemnly, then turned to go. 

“Mister…Topaz?” the ward’s administrator called from his office. So much doubt could be inferred by that simple pause. Yes, Topaz was John’s legal name. His mother had shortened it from Topasna after the second World War, when she’d made the move, with him just a bundle of cells in her womb, from Guam to California. Sometimes John wished she hadn’t changed it. These days, too much showmanship made people suspicious. 

He loosened his impeccable silk tie, and turned to the graying man. “Yes?”

“If you wouldn’t mind, step inside and chat with me for a minute….” He was nervous. Why? “We really appreciate what you’ve been doing here….” Ah. It was time to go. Already. “…and you understand, it’s a nice perk to have a little entertainment, but what we’ve really got to focus on here is the medicine.”

Someone had complained. About what? John would never know. But he knew why. Spite. The ill-will that True magicians gathered as they made their ways through the world, like iron filings to a magnet. Even in places where one could attempt to demagnetize oneself from the malice, the envy, the inexplicable loathing, it still caught up with him, and it happened frequently enough that he could read it now in the set of the administrator’s shoulders. Thank you, but please leave. And don’t make me call security. Because that would only embarrass us both.

“I understand,” John said. He didn’t. But one thing they could never take from him was his ability to be gracious in the face of defeat.

He turned away, head high, and strode with dignity toward the door—but before he reached it, the administrator called out, “Wait.” John’s spirit leapt as if the clouds had opened and a ray of hope now shone upon him. Maybe he would be allowed to return in a few weeks, maybe at some other time of the day, when whoever it was that had hated him for no particular reason, but viscerally enough to complain…whoever didn’t want him there, was not working. If he could see the burned boy, at least. All of them needed to be healed in spirit as well as in body, but if he could help only one, it would be better than nothing.

He turned back, eager, heart filled with hope. 

The administrator held out his hand, and said, “We’ll need you to return our scissors.”
The stairs to John’s apartment seemed narrower than they had on his way to the hospital. The overhead lights, dimmer. The smell of cigarettes and sweat and cooking grease, more pervasive. Sorrow made the world a darker place.

Music throbbed from the apartment beneath his. He could knock and tell them to turn down the TV set…but what difference did it make? In the scheme of things, how much did the annoyance of a soundtrack blasting through the floorboards really matter? Besides, perhaps it was a comfort to know he wasn’t entirely alone—even if those other persons dwelled below him, and referred to him as “that asshole who should just turn up his own TV.”

He let himself in and hung his suit coat carefully in the closet, then slid the knot of his tie all the way down and stepped into the apartment’s living room. Framed posters in lavish colors filled the room—mere inches apart—so the slivers of wall that showed between them seemed more like an accent, disguising the fact that the rest of the place was painfully austere. Ringleaders. Clowns. Acrobats. But mostly, magicians.


Most of those from his mother’s generation, great showmen from the sixties and seventies, had passed. And most of those from John’s generation had retired. They encouraged him to do the same—and so he was unlikely to call any of them for moral support over the incident at the hospital. They’d tell him he was wasting his time, and that it was too expensive to live in California, and that if he moved to Florida he’d be deluged by wealthy widows who’d be so grateful for a private performance that he could start living the high life again.

He might remind them that while he had nothing against the company of ladies, he’d never been inclined to get romantically involved with them. And depending on which one-time illusionist or retired emcee he was speaking to, they would encourage him to stop being so picky—because at our age it’s more about the companionship than the sex, anyway—or they would drop the subject entirely and find a quick reason to get off the phone.

Even though he didn’t expect to hear anything that would lift his spirits, John considered who he might call and glanced at the phone.

It rang.

Providence? John crossed the room and looked down at his caller ID. No, not providence…his agent. He picked up the phone.

“Hello, Dick.”

“Guess who I just got off the line with,” Dick Golding said. John sighed, quietly, to himself. Dick didn’t wait for an answer. “Saint Mary’s. You know what they told me?”

“I’ve already spoken with—”

“They said you showed up today and talked the nurse on duty into letting you perform. Gratis.”

“I did.”

“Hell, John. Not only is this hospital circuit the kiss of death, but now you’re doing it for free?”

John considered the question, then said, “Apparently, not anymore.” A commercial, much louder than the TV program itself, blasted through the floor. Windows, siding. Tax incentive. Free installation.

“Look, popular magic, these days—it’s all about the young kids. The Criss Angels. The David Blaines. What you need is a steady gig with a more mature clientele. I’m not saying you’ve got to move to Vegas, but a long-term gig there, four months, might change your mind—”

“I’ve lived here all my life. I have no desire to move to Las Vegas.”

“The cost of living there, compared to L.A.—”

“No desire whatsoever.”

Dick sighed, then. And not to himself. “I’m not gonna lie to you, John. We’re pals, and I keep you on for old time sake, but you need to start living in the present. If you won’t take a gig in Vegas, and you won’t consider the cruise line I pitched last week, then you might need to look into something…edgier.”


“You and Casey—maybe it’s time for a book. A memoir. Casey Cornish and Professor Topaz: Behind the Curtain.”

John glanced at Casey’s last promo shot. Rakish, blond, sparkling eyes and a broad smile. He’d been sixty-two at the time—but he looked as dazzling as he had in his late forties.

“You two could be the next Siegfried and Roy,” Dick suggested.

“We never performed together.”

“So it’ll be a big revelation that the two of you were an item.”

“Roy Horn was mauled by his own tiger onstage. Casey was hit by a car on the way to the post office. I doubt that will sell nearly as many copies.”

“Focus on your love life. Cater to the gay crowd. I know you’re capable of stringing a few sentences together. Open up your word processor and just start anywhere—we’ll hire an editor to clean it up later. Easy peasy.”

The thought of parading his relationship with Casey in front of the world in print, especially for the sake of money, made John ill—even when he realized that Casey himself might have encouraged him to do it. Casey had been the affable half of the couple, and he’d always said that any publicity was good publicity. 

Unfortunately, the likelihood of Casey and John being the next Siegfried and Roy was minuscule. Siegfried and Roy were stunningly popular; they’d been top-ten in the highest paid performers in the United States when Roy had his accident. Casey had been unemployed and up to his neck in credit card debt when he was killed.

The downstairs TV noise grew even louder.

“Once that book comes out,” Dick said, “think of all the doors of opportunity that’ll open up to you. Piano bars. Gay cruises. You can make double, triple rates if you specialize—you’re still a good-looking guy, you’ll get top dollar.”

As distinctly as if the set had been playing in his own living room, John heard the words, “Lights…camera…magic.” He lowered the handset from his ear, with Dick still going on about how he should cash in on his homosexuality while gays were “hot,” and focused instead on the commercial downstairs. The voicework was hastily produced, a local spot with too much audio high-end and no background music, which made the words carry right through the floor. “Do you live in the L.A. area? Are you a professional magician? If so, Magic Mansion is looking for you. Call 888—”

The channel changed. An inane laugh track swelled, then fizzled. Theme music piped in. John could hardly pound on the floor and tell the neighbors to change the channel back. Not only would they misinterpret the knocking as a complaint about the noise level—the number would be long gone. John raised the phone to his ear again, and found Dick saying, “…you never know. If you start getting out more, maybe you’ll meet someone.”

“Dick,” John cut in. His agent fell silent. “What do you know about Magic Mansion?”

Click to Check Out Previous
Random Paranormal Tales of 2017

Part 1  /  Part 2  /  Part 3  /  Part 4

Amber Kell
Amber Kell has made a career out of daydreaming. It has been a lifelong habit she practices diligently as shown by her complete lack of focus on anything not related to her fantasy world building.

When she told her husband what she wanted to do with her life he told her to go have fun.

During those seconds she isn't writing she remembers she has children who humor her with games of 'what if' and let her drag them to foreign lands to gather inspiration. Her youngest confided in her that he wants to write because he longs for a website and an author name—two things apparently necessary to be a proper writer.

Despite her husband's insistence she doesn't drink enough to be a true literary genius she continues to spin stories of people falling happily in love and staying that way.

She is thwarted during the day by a traffic jam of cats on the stairway and a puppy who insists on walks, but she bravely perseveres..

She also writes under the name Mikela Q. Chase.

Rick R Reed
Rick R. Reed is all about exploring the romantic entanglements of gay men in contemporary, realistic settings. While his stories often contain elements of suspense, mystery and the paranormal, his focus ultimately returns to the power of love.

He is the author of dozens of published novels, novellas, and short stories. He is a three-time EPIC eBook Award winner (for Caregiver, Orientation and The Blue Moon Cafe). His novel, Raining Men, won the Rainbow Award for Best Contemporary General Fiction. Lambda Literary Review has called him, "a writer that doesn't disappoint."

Rick lives in Seattle with his husband and a very spoiled Boston terrier. He is forever "at work on another novel."

Teryn Day
Teryn Day belongs in the Pacific Northwest because she cannot stand heat but loves the woods. She has a deep and lasting fondness for the tales that history tells and believes we should maybe listen. She writes and edits.

Jordan Castillo Price 
Author and artist Jordan Castillo Price is the owner of JCP Books LLC. Her paranormal thrillers are colored by her time in the midwest, from inner city Chicago, to small town Wisconsin, to liberal Madison.

Jordan is best known as the author of the PsyCop series, an unfolding tale of paranormal mystery and suspense starring Victor Bayne, a gay medium who's plagued by ghostly visitations. Also check out her new series, Mnevermind, where memories are client at a time.

With her education in fine arts and practical experience as a graphic designer, Jordan set out to create high quality ebooks with lavish cover art, quality editing and gripping content. The result is JCP Books, offering stories you'll want to read again and again.

Hayden Thorne
I’ve lived most of my life in the San Francisco Bay Area though I wasn’t born there (or, indeed, the USA). I’m married with no kids and three cats and am a cycling nut.

I started off as a writer of young adult fiction, specializing in contemporary fantasy, historical fantasy, and historical genres. My books ranged from a superhero fantasy series to reworked and original folktales to Victorian ghost fiction. I've since expanded to New Adult fiction, which reflects similar themes as my YA books and varies considerably in terms of romantic and sexual content.

While I've published with a small press in the past, I now self-publish my books.

Amber Kell

Rick R Reed

Teryn Day

Jordan Castillo Price

Hayden Thorne

Quentin Heart, Vampire Bounty Hunter by Amber Kell

Dinner at the Blue Moon Cafe by Rick R Reed

Of Christmas Past by Teryn Day

Magic Mansion by Jordan Castillo Price
Hell-Knights by Hayden Thorne

Monday Morning's Menu: North to Zombieville by Meg Bawden

The year is 2028, and Dallas and Raleigh Jenson are torn apart when a worldwide zombie apocalypse ravages their home of Townsville, Australia. After a year of searching, Dallas, a former Australian army rifleman, finally reunites with Raleigh, but it’s not like old times. Not only do they have zombies to contend with, but also other humans, changed by desperation and willing to do anything to survive.

Dallas and Raleigh have changed too. So much so, that Dallas struggles with the idea that Raleigh no longer needs or wants his protection. But they will need to rely on each other and find strength in their love as they are forced to evade zombies and watch their friends die. As they fight for their lives in a brutal landscape where every supply and every step toward a potential cure is a battle to the death, only their trust in each other can keep them from perishing.

June 23, 2028
THE LAST rays of sunlight danced over the small waves in the ocean. The full moon hung halfway in the sky, and darkness crept up onto the beach. Sunset brought that extra bit of beauty to the Strand, and Dallas knew he’d made the right decision to come here with his husband. Dallas entwined his fingers with Raleigh’s as they slowly walked down the cement footpath beside the beach. Between the footpath and the sand was a stretch of very green grass where picnickers could set up a blanket and food, and there were plenty of times when Dallas and Raleigh had done just that. But not tonight. Tonight they were going somewhere else. And as much as he’d like to walk on the beach with Raleigh, with the soft sand between their toes, they were dressed to impress in suits and dress shoes.

“Where are you taking me?” Raleigh leaned into Dallas.

It was early winter, but cold didn’t bite the air. Townsville, North Queensland, didn’t get cold, unless you counted the occasional times when it’d get down to nine degrees Celsius at five in the morning. Dallas grinned, releasing Raleigh’s hand so he could wrap his arm around his husband’s shoulders and pull him in close. Dallas was wider and packed with muscles, but they looked around the same height, and only if someone looked closer would they see that Dallas was slightly taller.

“If I told you, how would that be a surprise?”

Raleigh chuckled. “Can I guess?”

“No.” Dallas laughed as he shook his head. It wasn’t hard to guess where they were going.

“Come on, let me try.” Raleigh pressed a kiss on Dallas’s freshly shaven jaw.

“No.” Dallas guided them toward the busy street beside the footpath. He waited until the number of cars dwindled enough for them to cross the road, straight toward their favorite restaurant. It had been a while since they’d been there, but it hadn’t changed much.

Colorful lights decorated the Strand Delight, bright and happy. It wasn’t unusual to see the restaurant at its full capacity, which was why Dallas had booked months ago.

Raleigh grinned toward the restaurant. “You, Mr. Jenson, are a charmer.”

“I know,” Dallas teased. He had to extract himself from Raleigh so they could dodge the tables and occupied chairs by walking inside single file and maneuvering themselves into the door. He grabbed Raleigh’s hand again when they made it inside.

Even though the dining rooms were at full capacity, it wasn’t as loud as it could have been, and that’s what Dallas loved about the Strand Delight. People in here had learned to respect others, knowing that a lot of people came in for dates.

Dallas guided Raleigh to the hostess and smiled. “Hi. We have a table for Dallas and Raleigh Jenson.”

The hostess smiled in welcome. “Good evening, sirs. Certainly.” She looked down at her large reservation book, scanning it until she reached their names. “Oh, I see you’ve booked a balcony table. Please follow me.”

Raleigh stared at Dallas. “You booked a balcony table, Dal?”

Dallas winked at Raleigh and dragged him toward a set of wide stairs. Couples and families dined on the top floor too, and the hostess led them outside to where two large tables were situated on the balcony with the view of the Strand. It was beautiful… and expensive, with an added fee for the booking of those tables. They’d only ever eaten once at that table, and Raleigh had firmly told Dallas that they were only booking that table again for very special occasions. Dallas thought that this was one of those occasions.

“Please take a seat, sirs.” The hostess waited until Dallas and Raleigh had sat down before she passed them menus. “Our fine dining specials tonight are our roast wild boar with chestnuts and our kangaroo goulash with spiral pasta and sour cream. Please take your time in deciding. Our waiter won’t be long.”

With a wink, she left them alone.

At that moment, they were the only ones on the balcony, but Dallas wasn’t naïve enough to think it would stay that way. It was a Friday night in one of the most popular parts of Townsville.

Dallas stared out at the small waves, listening to the laughter and loud voices that floated up to the balcony from the walkway below. As loud as it was on the streets underneath them, he loved hearing it.


Dallas turned to Raleigh, his lips curling. “Happy Anniversary, Leigh.”

Raleigh cocked his head. “Thank you, love.” He reached over and Dallas grabbed his hand halfway, entwining their fingers. “How was I so lucky to marry such a romantic man?”

“I’m pretty sure I’m the lucky one.”

Raleigh rolled his eyes but smiled anyway. It was a common “argument” they had and it was their little game. They had met at Dallas’s sister’s wedding, where Raleigh had tagged along with the wedding photographer for experience. Raleigh had accidently backed into Dallas while trying to take a photo, which resulted in Dallas’s beer spilling all over Raleigh’s nice gray suit. Being the gentleman he was, Dallas had helped Raleigh clean up. Well, if cleaning up meant hooking up in the bathroom. Sasha, Dallas’s sister, never let them live it down.

Dallas stared into Raleigh’s pretty blue eyes, his chest tightening at the thought of how much he loved this man in front of him. Raleigh was his world. Did that sound corny? “I love you, Leigh.”

Raleigh swallowed, his Adam’s apple bobbing. “I love you too.”

“Oh my God, do you have vaginas?”

The teasing voice jerked Dallas’s attention away from Raleigh. He turned to the lady who strode toward their table with a wide grin. It took a moment for Dallas to recognize her, but when he did, he laughed and stood, bringing her into a hug.

“Fucking hell! If it isn’t Janey Jones.”

Janey squeezed him tightly. She may have been a woman, but Janey had strength in her that some men could only dream about. She squeezed Dallas tight enough that his back cracked.

“Dallas fucking Jenson.” She pulled away from him but kept her grip on his upper arms. She shook him. “Damn, you’ve put on some muscle, boy.”

Dallas snorted and turned to Raleigh, who stared at them in confusion. “Baby, this is Janey Jones, the woman I used to work with in the Army a couple of years ago. Remember I told you about her?”

Realization dawned on Raleigh, and he stood, grinning at the dark-skinned woman. “Nice to meet you, Janey. I’ve heard a lot about you.”

Janey grabbed Raleigh’s hand and shook it. “Well, aren’t you polite! Now tell me, Jenson, who’s this sweet arse?”

Dallas sympathized with Raleigh’s apparent alarm at Janey’s rough nature. It wasn’t that Raleigh was always polite, but more that when he’d just met someone, he certainly wouldn’t call them a sweet arse.

“Janey, this is my husband, Raleigh Jenson.”

Janey took a step back, her eyes roaming over Raleigh’s very fine body. “Husband? Jeez, Jenson, when did you get married?”

“Two years ago. It’s actually our anniversary on Monday.”

“No shit?” Janey grabbed Raleigh again, crushing him into a hug. “Well, congratulations, sweet arse!”

Dallas grimaced at the sound of Raleigh’s bones cracking. When she let him go, Raleigh’s wide eyes turned to Dallas again, causing him to laugh.

“Thank you?” Raleigh smiled at her, seemingly unsure.

“No problem. So what’s with the same last name, then?” She switched her gaze between them, one dark brow raised. “I thought, when you gays got married, you hyphenated it or kept your own surname.”

As insulting as it sounded, it wasn’t meant to be taken that way. Janey was the most accepting person Dallas had met, other than Raleigh, but she took everything with a grain of salt.

Dallas hesitated. He didn’t really think it was his story to tell. Raleigh no doubt took his hesitation as a cue.

“Sometimes we do,” he said with a genuine smile. “Except me. I’m… not exactly a fan of my family. They kicked me out of home when I was fifteen, for being gay. So when I married Dallas, I wanted to take on his surname.”

Janey nodded with narrowed eyes. “Got one of those families, do you? Bastards, the lot of them. I married a bloke about five years ago, and his family didn’t like me one bit. It’s because I’m black and an aboriginal. Bunch of racist arseholes, they were.”

Raleigh frowned. “That’s terrible.”

“I know, right?” She shook her head furiously. “Anyway, we don’t need people like that in our life.” She good-naturedly slapped Raleigh on the arm. “If your family wants to kick you out just because you like some cock up the arse or your cock up an arse, fuck them, I say.”

Raleigh looked like he was trying not to laugh, but at the same time seemed mortified by her brash words. “Yeah, fuck them.”

Dallas wasn’t as successful, and he laughed. Raleigh very rarely swore in public, but it wasn’t exactly surprising that Janey had him cursing. She could have made a priest swear.

“Are you here with Roger?”

Janey growled, throwing her hands to her hips. “The bastard cheated on me. About a year ago. I threw him to the curb, literally. I’ve never seen a grown man cry until that day.”

“Jesus. Are you kidding?”

“Nope. Bloody bastard. He was doing the hanky-panky with the next-door neighbor. Bloody slut, she is. She’d do a tree if she wouldn’t be arrested for it.”

Dallas resisted the urge to growl as well. Janey had done everything for Roger, and the bastard had gone and done that to her. If he ever saw Roger again, he would be giving him a beating as well.

“Nah.” Janey shook her head as she continued, “you’re looking at the new owner of the Strand Delight, Jenson.”

Dallas’s eyes widened. “You’re kidding?”

Janey cackled, loud and boisterous as usual. “Not kidding at all.” She turned to Raleigh. “You see, I got out of the Army to start a family with Roger, my husband at the time. I joined my mum in her bakery. The kid thing never happened. We tried, but it just never came about, you know? I’m glad of that now, though.” She returned her attention to Dallas. “Anyway, after I left Roger, I knew I wanted to do more with my life. Mum passed away two years ago, and me and the bro sold the bakery. I didn’t know jack shit about baking. Neither did Nick. But I knew a fair bit about fine dining. Before I joined the Army, I was a chef down in a Sydney restaurant. All the fancy-pants people used to eat in it. You know the ones, with too much money. So when I saw this place up for sale, I thought why the hell not?”

Dallas chuckled. “Sounds like a bloody good idea to me.”

“Right?” Janey snorted. “Anyway, when I saw your name on our reservation book, I just knew I had to come over and say hello. And you—”

Raleigh swallowed noticeably when Janey turned her attention on him again.

“You weren’t the wedding photographer Dallas got it on with at his sister’s wedding, were you?”

A flush rose up Raleigh’s neck. He cleared his throat. “Yeah, that was me.”

“Oh sweet arse, we heard all about that encounter on Monday at work, from your husband here.”

Dallas choked on his own saliva. “Oi, Janey, don’t tell him that.”

She waved her hand at him impatiently. “That’s before he knew you were going to be more than a one-night stand, though. But anyway, you should have heard what sort of sex stories I used to tell Jenson. I’ve never seen such a big man like him blush before.”

It was true. Back in the day, before Raleigh, Dallas had been all about one-night stands. He was pretty wild in his early twenties, but it was nothing compared to Janey before she met Roger. Back then, she had Dallas blushing worse than a virgin meeting a porn star for the first time.

“Really?” Raleigh grinned teasingly at Dallas, who knew he was never going to hear the end of it. “Did I get good reviews?”

“Oh, honey, I vividly remember the words ‘I’d like to fuck that tight arse for a week straight.’”

“All right, Janey,” Dallas said loudly, very loudly. “Nice seeing you.”

Both Janey and Raleigh laughed, their faces filled with amusement, although Raleigh’s was covered with a blush as well.

“I should be letting you get back to your dinner. I’m sorry I interrupted, Jenson. I just wanted to come and catch up with you. For the interruption, your first set of drinks is on me!”

“No, that’s absolutely fine. We don’t need that at all, Janey.” That was his Raleigh, ever the polite man.

“Oh shush, sweet arse. What can I get you handsome blokes?” Janey winked at Raleigh.

“I’ll have a Tooheys Extra Dry,” Dallas said.

“Of course you will. You never change, Jenson,” Janey teased.

“I’ll have a Corona, please,” Raleigh said.

“See, you should learn manners off your husband, Jenson.”

Dallas snorted. “Go and get our drinks, woman.”

Janey’s jaw dropped. “Sit your arse down and be polite, bastard.” She slapped Dallas on the arse as she strode past him. She waved her arm without turning around. “Drinks coming up, sexy men.”

Raleigh watched her go, his eyes dancing in unadulterated amusement. “She’s… a character?”

Dallas snorted. “That’s Janey. Sit down, baby.”

They took their seats again.

“You didn’t tell me she was so hilarious.”

He shrugged. “That’s her. Funny, brash, and could probably take down any man she wanted. She’s strong. The strongest woman I’ve ever met.”

Raleigh nodded. “I like her. You’ll have to keep in touch with her.”

“Can you imagine Janey in our home?”

“That’s true.” Raleigh nodded with a grin. He gazed pointedly at Dallas. “She’s already accused us of having vaginas.”

“True. I imagine she’d be asking where our cocks were once she saw how… family orientated our home is.”

“At least she’s better than Richo, though. That man is a pig.”

Dallas rested his elbow on the table, pressing his face into his palm, his chest rumbling in amusement. Richo was his best friend, and he was a pig. Or at least by bachelor standards. Richo liked to play around with the girls, a lot, but didn’t care for having a neat apartment. Raleigh was a clean freak, so having Richo over was like starting World War III.

“Richo has his moments.”

“If by moments you mean putting his dirty feet on my clean coffee table, then yes, he has his moments.”

Dallas shook his head in amusement. “Baby, that was only once.”

“Or the time he ate chips on my lounge seat and left pieces on it everywhere.”


Raleigh paused, realization crossing his beautiful face. He seemed to recognize that he’d once more gone off on a tangent. Dallas knew that as much as Raleigh didn’t like Richo’s uncleanliness, he loved Richo himself. He was the perfect best friend for Dallas, as he always had Dallas’s back. Raleigh clearly liked that about him. Raleigh could trust Richo to take care of his husband. It’d been hard for Raleigh to admit that to Dallas, but Dallas was glad he had.

“Sorry,” Raleigh said, ashamed. He hated arguments as much as Dallas. “He just frustrates me sometimes.”

“I know, Leigh.” Dallas grinned at him, reaching for his hand again. He raised it to his lips, pressing a kiss on Raleigh’s palm. “But you don’t have to worry about him for two weeks.”

“Two weeks?” Raleigh frowned, his eyebrows doing a cute little furrow. Dallas always loved it when Raleigh frowned.

“I’ve booked a holiday for us.”

“What? When? Why? Where, Dallas?”

“Fiji. We leave next week.”

Dallas could almost see Raleigh’s mind ticking as his lips curled in thought, his nose scrunching.

“I already rang your clients and organized other photographers for them. Sean is doing a couple of weddings for you, as is Jessica. And David. I’ve got the leave off work. We leave on Monday.”

“Really? Dallas, please tell me you’re not joking.”

“Would I joke about this?”

“Dallas!” Raleigh shot up and rushed toward Dallas, seating himself in his lap. He pressed his lips against Dallas’s, hard, and kissed the life out of him. Their tongues collided, their hips gravitating toward each other. It may have become R-rated at one point.

A loud crash and screams from downstairs made them pull away. The diners on the top floor were glancing around worriedly, some of the men showing caution as they stood, but making no move to head downstairs and see what was happening.

Raleigh frowned toward the stairs. “What was that?”

Dallas narrowed his eyes and stood, taking Raleigh with him. The screams were filled with pure fear. It wasn’t just downstairs, though. Distant shrieks echoed through the street as well, but when Dallas glanced over the balcony railing, he couldn’t see anything odd. A crowd had formed on the sidewalk and they were peering around the street in confusion. Glass shattered, and then a rush of people scrambled out of the Strand Delight. One lady fell on top of the glass, her legs dragging over the shards, but whatever scared her was more important than the pain she obviously felt from the glass, because she kicked off her high heels and got to her feet to run again.

Car horns and crunching noises similar to pieces of metal colliding with each other filled the air. A car accident, maybe? But there was more than the sound of one accident. It put Dallas on high alert.

“Raleigh, stay here.” Dallas moved toward the stairs.

“Dallas, I’m coming with you.” Raleigh started to follow him.

“No! I said stay here, and I mean it.” It came out as an angry growl. He hadn’t meant to snap, but if something was going on downstairs, he didn’t want Raleigh in the middle of danger. He had defense training; his husband didn’t. “Please, baby, stay here,” he said, softer than before.

Raleigh hesitated and then nodded. He took a step back toward his seat. Dallas felt eyes on his back as he descended the stairs.

The sight he found nearly made him retreat. Tables were upturned, the glassware and utensils scattered over the floor. Bodies lay on top of each other, blood oozing from holes and torn skin. An older lady’s body was askew in the middle of the room, covering a young boy who couldn’t have been older than ten. His body was twitching, but his neck was in pieces, chunks of meat torn from his jugular. The people left standing were screaming or running toward the exit.

The people who had fallen didn’t look right. Their faces had deep gashes, with blood gushing from their cheeks and down their chins. With some, their mouths drooped on one side, their gums dark and bloody. Their eyes were lifeless, as though they were dead on the inside.

People on the streets ran into the restaurant, pausing as they saw the bodies on the floor start to move and shift as though they were puppets on a string, only missing their master. Upon taking in the scene, they’d run out again.

It all seemed absurd, like a B movie that didn’t even make it to the cinemas. Dallas frowned, taking a step up on one of the stairs, farther away from the scene. He stared at one of the women, who rose, her face scratched up badly.

“Ma’am, are you all right?”

She didn’t respond, only groaned in an animalistic way. She started to stumble toward Dallas, her left leg dragging behind her. Her foot was bent backward and she was putting all her weight on her very twisted and broken ankle.

“Ma’am, are you all right?” Dallas repeated, but she ignored him, continuing her walk toward him.

Diners from upstairs came rushing past him, shoving him roughly out of the way.

“No! Don’t go out there!” But it was too late. They weren’t listening to him—fear controlled their every movement.

This had to be a nightmare. It was the night before their anniversary, and he was still in bed, he had to be.

He wasn’t watching the lady, and she managed to catch him off guard and shove him to the ground. She slammed herself on top of him, her teeth bared as she dived toward his neck. He raised his elbow, slamming it into her face. She let out a pained squeal and her head jerked back, making her neck crack loudly. But that still didn’t deter her. This time, she went for his arm.

Over the lady’s shoulder, Dallas saw a man clambering out of a door. The man paused, glancing around the room, obviously searching for something. Survivors. Dallas opened his mouth to ask for help at the same time the woman grabbed a piece of wood from a broken table and slammed it against his forehead. Dallas’s head smashed hard against the floor, and his vision flickered for a moment.

By the time he looked again, the man was gone. Dallas would have to deal with the woman on his own. Using all his strength, he shoved at her twitching body, and she went flying backward into a broken chair. She shrieked as Dallas struggled to stand. His legs felt like jelly beneath him.

He stared at her in confusion. How did she keep getting up? It was impossible. But this entire thing was impossible.


Raleigh’s voice. He had to get back to his husband. He spun on his heel, but before he could get anywhere, a hand grabbed his ankle and he fell forward.

“Dallas, where are you?” Raleigh’s voice was on the verge of desperation. “Dal!”

“Raleigh!” Dallas called back, but the sound of a car horn close by drowned it out.

As he opened his mouth to call out again, whatever had grabbed him clawed up his trousers. He twisted and stopped in shock. A man this time, but he looked worse than the lady. He was older, with a receding hairline; his forehead was peeling and blood was cascading down the side of his head. Only part of his teeth remained in his mouth, and even those were halfway out of his gums. To top it off, he only had half a body. From the waist down, there was nothing but his insides dragging behind him.

“No, no, no. I don’t want to go!” Raleigh’s voice sounded distant among the screams from outside. “He’s alive! No. He’s alive!”

“Raleigh!” Dallas shouted again, but as before, his voice was lost in all the other noise.

Anger and anxiousness welled in his chest, and he let the emotions take over. He kicked at the man holding him, slamming his boot into his face. The man squealed as his skull shattered under the force of Dallas’s kick. His body went limp and he released Dallas.

Rising, Dallas quickly retreated back upstairs to Raleigh and made his way toward the balcony. He paused when he found it empty.

Fear curled in his belly, his skin tingling. “Raleigh?”

He was met with silence.


But still he got no answer. He spun around, surveying the dining room.

“Leigh, where are you?” He looked out toward the street. More and more people ran out of the restaurants along the Strand, and very quickly the streets filled with running, screaming people. He had no fucking idea what was happening.

Dallas ran to the railing, looking over the balcony. It was then that he realized there was a ladder leaning toward the railing. Raleigh must have climbed down it.

Dallas took two steps at a time. His feet hit the ground and he desperately scanned his surroundings. He pulled out his phone and rang Raleigh. It went straight to message bank. He angrily pressed the End Call button.


The scared crowd ignored him for the most part, though a couple shoved him hard as they ran past. Some tried to get into their cars, but with too many people in the streets, they couldn’t go far. A couple of drivers tried to nudge people with their vehicles, but it only had negative effects. Some of the people in the streets were just like the woman in the Strand Delight. Their eyes were dead, their faces and any other exposed skin bloody and scratched.

One of the men nudged with a car spun around, eyes flashing a dark red as he slammed his hands on the hood. The hood made a crunching sound, and the man screamed, spit flying from his mouth as he pounced on the crumpled hood. The woman in the car shrieked and jumped out, kicking off her heels and running down the street with the mobs. But the man obviously wasn’t going to allow that. He ran after her. He wasn’t fast, but he was fast enough to catch her. He grabbed her by the hair, jerking her backward. She screamed again, but he threw her on the ground and tore at her neck like a starving cannibal.

Dallas made to move toward them, but the woman’s scream turned into a gurgle and then nothing. It was too late. Dallas could have saved her life, but he hadn’t. He couldn’t. He needed to find Raleigh. He needed to protect his husband.

“Raleigh?” His voice cracked under the strength of his roar. Yet it was barely audible over the cries of fear filling the street.

The woman from the restaurant dragged herself out of the Strand Delight. She stretched out toward Dallas, a stupid grin on her face that caught bloody teeth flashing at him.

Dallas acted on adrenaline. He ducked beneath her arms, spinning until he was standing at her back, then grabbed her head, twisting it hard and quick until her neck snapped and she fell to the ground, lifeless.

He dropped to his knees, his stomach churning in fear and desperation as the need to vomit slammed into him. But he held it in.

“Raleigh…,” he whispered, biting his lip hard. He needed to find his husband.

Something shone in his eyes from under the lamplight and he immediately zeroed in on Raleigh’s phone. He grabbed it, tapping it desperately, but it was dead. “Dammit!” he growled. “Raleigh, where are you?”

He knew the next course of action, though. He needed to go home, except it wasn’t as easy as he thought. By the time he made it to the car, Dallas had seen more chaos than he had seen over in Afghanistan. People and those things were everywhere. Dallas used his stealth to avoid them as much as possible.

It wasn’t just at the Strand, though. Cars were crashed everywhere on the road, and trying to maneuver around them was difficult. He and Raleigh lived on the other side of the city. It took him two hours to reach it, when it should have only taken forty-five minutes at the most.

By the time he turned into their street, it was anarchy. As on the roads, there were cars parked all over the street. Front doors of houses were left open, and furniture was thrown over front yards. People were everywhere—screaming, running, and fighting. One particular car’s roof was packed up with luggage as though the people who owned it were ready to head out of town. The family had two kids, and the parents were herding them out to the Range Rover.

As Dallas drew closer to them, he lowered his window. “Hey, do you know what this is?”

At first the man didn’t answer. He reached into the open backseat window and pulled out a cricket bat, pointing it toward Dallas. “Get lost, mate.”

The reaction surprised Dallas, and he glared. “We’re all in the same boat.”

“The hell we are. You could be one of them for all I know. Now get lost.”

Dallas just shook his head. It was no use arguing. He barely knew the man anyway. He’d seen him, of course, but this wasn’t a small town where they held street dinners.

As Dallas pulled the car into his driveway, his neighbor came flying out of her house, dragging a small suitcase behind her. She was seventy, at least, and was as lovely as they came. When he and Raleigh first moved in, she’d greeted them with open arms.

“Mrs. Lopez?”

She glanced at him, then stumbled forward. Dallas was too far away to help her, but she righted herself before she fell on the ground. He walked toward her anyway, but she shook her head desperately. “Stay away.”

“What?” Dallas paused, shocked.

“My daughter is coming to get me. Stay away, okay? She said not to talk to any of you. You could be one of them. Mr. Roberts was!”

“Mr. Roberts turned into one of them?” Dallas exhaled and carded his hand through his hair. “Shit.”

A tiny two-door Toyota swung into Mrs. Lopez’s driveway, and her daughter hopped out. “Stay away, Dallas!” Rebecca snapped. She quickly grabbed her mother’s luggage and shoved it into the boot.

“Rebecca, running from this won’t help. You’re putting your mother in danger. It’s best to find a safe place to hide, with plenty of food and water, and hole yourself up there.”

Rebecca snorted. “Don’t tell me how to care for my mother. I saw them on the news, and we’re getting out of here.”

She guided her mother into the car and slipped back into the driver’s side. Dallas knew he couldn’t argue, so he watched as they left. Others in the street were following them. To their death, no doubt.

All that mattered was finding Raleigh and protecting him.

He unlocked the door to his and Raleigh’s house and ran in.


There was no answer. He searched the small home desperately, but there was no sign of his husband. He didn’t even realize that he’d left the door open as he collapsed on the couch in exhaustion and stared at their wide-screen TV. He could wait for Raleigh here, he supposed. Raleigh would come home, wouldn’t he?

An animalistic groan sounded behind him, and Dallas jumped to standing, his fists held in front of him protectively. It was another one of those things. What were they? It was taller and wider than the last two he’d encountered and appeared more human too. The only difference about this one was its very visible veins. Instead of the usual blue, they were black—a stark contrast against its pale white skin. The thing took a step forward. Raleigh’s china collectibles shuddered in their cabinet.

Dallas grimaced. If it broke Raleigh’s china, he would slaughter it without a second thought. That china was important to his husband, passed on to him after his grandmother’s death. It was the only thing he had left of her, and Dallas wouldn’t let this creature—whatever it was—break it.

The creature roared and ran at him.

Dallas spun, dancing out of reach of its outstretched hands just in time. Much to his surprise, the creature didn’t stop. It went straight through the wall of their brick home without so much as a cry of pain.

Dallas shook his head. This was all wrong. It didn’t add up. This thing—whatever it was—was a creature from literature, not real life. Yet here it was, shaking off the shattered brick on its clothes and spinning back toward Dallas, as if ready for another round.

Dallas needed more than his fists. He needed something bigger. When he found Raleigh, they would both need it. He could head to the Army base, pick up some guns and ammo. For now, though, he needed something else to take down this creature. Like an axe or a hoe… like his gardening hoe outside.

Dallas smirked at the creature and spun on his heels, heading toward the back door. He swung it open, hearing the creature growling right behind him. He reached his hoe and grabbed it, then turned just in time to slam it into the creature’s forehead.

It froze, eyes wide, as black liquid oozed from the wound. Then it fell forward, barely missing Dallas as it went.

Dallas swallowed and tugged the hoe out of the creature’s head. “Time to go get some real weapons and then find Raleigh.”

Author Bio:
Meg Bawden was born and raised in North Queensland, Australia. She’s loved stories since before she can remember and has always enjoyed creating characters of her own, even if it did begin with drawing faces on toilet rolls and giving them names. Writing has always been a passion of hers and she’s loved the M/M genre since 2004, the first book she read being Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez.

Writing M/M since 2007, Meg has never had the confidence to attempt publishing her own stories, but in 2015, she decided that it was all about to change thanks to the amazing friends she’s made in the M/M genre and their support and encouragement. So watch out, world, Meg Bawden is coming out to have some fun!