• urban fantasy,  writing,  Vestiges of Magic,  Short Story

    Short Story – A Thing for Elves

    Here’s a short story set in the Vestiges of Magic setting.

    Ever since she was a girl, Ilda had a thing for elves. She watched all the classic movies starring Helianthus Lindarien Variel—A Sword at Sunset, The Heroes of the Hawkbow, The Wanwood Queen—until her video tapes wore out. She collected inter-hominin romance novels, where an elf would take someone back to the treetop village and show them just how superior elves were to humans.

    She tried not to stare too hard at the elves when she saw them on the train, or in the many public parks, performing mysterious religious rites for their nature gods. They stood out amongst the humans—taller and more slender, androgynous, their hair often worn long and loose. They had high cheekbones and never went bald. There was just something about an elf that made them more appealing than regular human men. But they were in their own different world. Visible but remote.

    As a teenager, she had thought about exploring her thing for elves. Studying their language and literature at university or becoming involved in elven/human diplomatic relations. But Mother pointed out that jobs working with elves were limited (their clans were picky about the non-elves they worked with). Mother also drummed into Ilda’s head that she needed to focus on her Life Goals: to obtain a six-figure salary, an equally wealthy husband, and a house in the suburbs with two well-behaved children.

    And so, her thing for elves remained dormant until she met him.

     Tired of waiting for the IT support desk to install her new software remotely, she went to visit them in person. And her heart skipped a beat because the guy behind the counter was elvish. Not a full elf, but one of his parents had been. He had high cheekbones, pointed ears and long dark hair that he wore tied in a ponytail. But his face was rounded, and his eyes were a deep brown with visible whites rather than completely green.

    “Can I help you?”

    And his voice was warm honey.

    “Uh, I need GraphixChampionPro installed on my laptop.”

    “What’s your barcode?”

    Ilda read it off the back of her hand.

    “I’ll queue it up for installation now.”

    “Thank you,” she managed. “What’s your name?”

    Heart racing, she waited for him to pronounce his elven name in the mellifluous language of Kytharien.

    “I’m Ben.”

    Ben. Ben? Did he have a proper elven name, like Gladiolus Sevarien Kalpesh? What was Ben short for?

    She remained there too long, staring.

     Ben gave her an odd look. “Uh, you don’t need to hang around. It’ll load when you restart your machine. Do that when you get back to your desk.”

    She burbled something unintelligible and fled to the elevator.

    “Are you paying attention?” Sessi asked her at their morning coffee, snapping her fingers in front of Ilda’s dreamy face. Slightly older than Ilda, she’d been at the office for years and had far more boyfriends.

    “There’s this man in IT. An elf. Well, half-elf.” Ilda swallowed.

    Sessi nodded, familiar with Ilda’s thing for elves. “Blended. I hear no-one calls them half-elves anymore. You sure you want to get involved?”

    “Yes.” Ilda thought of Ben’s smooth voice. Despite years of progressive media and endless books and movies, the conservative elements of society frowned upon inter-hominin dating. But Ilda could handle anything for that voice and those eyes…

    “Then  ask him out. Before Anita from Sales does. She moves on to anything new in the company.”

    “He might already be with someone.”

    “He’s a man in IT. Not likely.”

     “I suppose I could tell him about some computer problem I’m having at home and then—”

    “He’s a man in IT, dear,” Sessi repeated. “Be direct. Otherwise, he’ll never get the hint.”

    When she got back to her desk, Ilda steeled herself and called IT.

    That voice. “Hello? IT Support.”

    “Ben? It’s me. Ilda. From earlier.”

    “Yes. GraphixChampionPro. Is it installed properly?”

    “It’s fine. What do you think of coffee?”

    “What about it?”

    Oh, stab it, I’m going to have to be super-direct. “Meet me at the work café at 3pm for coffee.”

    She got there at 2:50pm, hands sweating and staring at the flood of incoming people. She waited until 3:11, growing more certain with each passing moment that Ben had stood her up and—

    “Hi.” Ben arrived, out of breath. “Sorry, I just had to tell someone to reboot.”

    Ilda talked about the weather while Ben sipped at his expresso, fidgeting. He drummed his fingers and looked up at her.

    Ilda noticed his nerves with growing dread. This is where he tells me he’s not into human women, or already has a person in his life, or—

    “Do you like fantasy movies?”

    To Ilda’s relief, Krothar the Mighty wasn’t as bad as she thought it would be, and neither was Darkblade III: Vengeance Calls or The Labyrinth of Doom, where they kissed for the first time. Ben didn’t want to talk much about elf-stuff, and quickly changed the subject when she asked if he’d been to the legendary elven kingdoms of the Wanwood, or the Windward Isles. However, he ordered in the entire series of The Impossible Archer for her, which starred Phyllanthus Lenandrum Selvi performing endless trick shots as she defended the village of Grassholt from a new threat each episode.

    Their first formal outing was at ‘The Grand’, an expensive four-star restaurant which overlooked Shadow Bay. In turn, Ben arranged a surprise date where they bunjy-jumped off the giant historical statues of the Great Kings of Old that bracketed the Shatterwater River.

    She played console games with him, which were fun, provided that she could button-smash her way to victory. She took Ben on her weekend cycling trips, starting on the simple River Ride, with the goal of trying out for the annual City Cycle race. He was so different from her last boyfriend, Gary the Lawyer. Ben didn’t demand that she look a million dollars before she went out or spend all night complaining about his expensive clients.

    Ilda wouldn’t call things magical, or true love, but it was fun. Only, something was missing. The spark promised by years of soaking in elven-themed media wasn’t there.

    And of course, there as the Other Problem—that blended people weren’t fully accepted by modern society. A crazy fact given that the continent was full of socially integrated hominin subspecies, and countless movies and books spoke of romance and relationships.

    No one spoke about the real fact—that these relationships led to children, and that these offspring weren’t fully welcomed. Ilda hadn’t worried about it at first, given that they were living in the twenty first century.

    Only the universe disagreed. Some of her old, high school friends gave her odd, shocked looks when she introduced Ben. Occasionally waiters refused to serve them, and old people grumbled on the bus,

    “Does this happen all the time to you?” Ilda groaned as the rain battered down one evening after a movie date, when a cab driver with a ‘on duty’ light and an empty vehicle slowed down, and sped up when he had a good look at his fares.

    “Yeah.” Ben tucked his hands in his pockets. “But you can’t let it get in our way. There’s been a lot of civil rights victories in the past few years, but a lot more has to change.” His voice hung there: an invitation for her to talk about this with him. What it was like to grow up blended, the world of civil rights and social justice… But then a cab pulled up and they got in. And civil justice sounded too heavy for Ilda to handle.

    And the final straw was when Mother found out.

    “Your cousin tells me you’re dating a half-elf.”

    “Blended,” Ilda corrected. “No one uses the term ‘half-elf’ anymore.”

    “You can’t date a half-elf,” Mother insisted, her voice sharp over the phone. “You’re my only child. Half-breeds are sterile, and I want grandchildren.”

    “I’ve checked the internet, Mama. It’s a myth. There’s lots of blended families.”

    “Even if you have children, they’ll have all sorts of medical problems.”

    “That’s not true—”

    “They won’t get into good schools, that sort of thing. Your second cousin Pat—”

    “So what—”

    “She married a dwarrow. Can you believe it?”

    “It’s the modern age, Mama, and—”

    “The child, all sickly, poor dear. In and out of hospitals, and all covered in hair—are you listening?”

    “Do I have a choice, Mama?”

    “Imagine waxing while in primary school. The Precursor made us different species for a reason. We’re not supposed to mix in that way.”

    “We’re all subspecies, Mama—”

    But Mother wouldn’t stop. Ilda thought about it more—perhaps Mother was right. Ben was a comfortable, battered sedan car, but she needed an expensive sports model with fire in its engine. He wouldn’t help her achieve her Life Goals.

    Time to get rid of Ben.

    “It’s not you, it’s me—” she began, having chosen the work café for the ‘I’m dumping you’ conversation.

    “It’s your mother.” Ben stared at her.

    She shifted uncomfortably in her seat.

    “I thought you were ready. That you saw past society’s bullshit—”

    “It’s not that—” Ilda shook her head. “I want someone progressive, someone who’s going to make six-figure salary, and help me afford a house in the Diamond and—”

    “We had something good, and you’re killing it for something that doesn’t exist.” He got up and left, his untouched coffee curling steam in the air.

    I have my Life Goals, she reminded herself while hugging her pillow close to her chest that night and feeling like the worst person in the world.

    “Ben left me,” she told Sessi at morning coffee, giving her friend a fake version of events. After a few weeks, she had almost convinced herself that dumping Ben was her decision, and nothing to do with keeping Mother happy.

    “I’ve just dumped Kallen,” Sessi said. “No sense of fun. Listen, I suppose you’re over elves now—”

    “Well, no,” Ilda managed.

    “How about we have a holiday? See some real elves. How they’re supposed to be.”

    Sessi showed a website on her phone: “Elven adventure tour. Experience the traditional village of Illandrellan!” An elf dressed in robes aimed a longbow at some imaginary figure in the distance. A place that Ilda had always wanted to visit but never found the time.

    “Sign me up.” Ilda closed her eyes. She needed that elven fantasy, as way to wash away the grit of her relationship with Ben. A world where everything between humans and elves was accepted, rather than one where cabs wouldn’t stop for you and where mothers complained incessantly about your doomed offspring.

     Sweeping arches of ancient oak trees covered the forest road. As the electric bus rattled along, Ilda wished their blended elven tour guide didn’t remind her so much of Ben.

    Stop that, she told herself. You have your Life Goals. You are completely over Ben. Now shut up and enjoy your holiday.

    The guide wore traditional robes, woven from a shimmering white silk embroidered with tiny silhouettes of leaves. His badge announced his name as Laurel. “On your left, you can see the greeting tree.” He pointed to a flowering sapling festooned with garlands. “They act as guideposts to the settlements within the Wanwood.”

    The bus passed through a large clearing, and they were in the village. They parked and Laurel escorted the pool of tourists outside. “This is the gathering space the clan uses for cooking and social activities, but everyone lives in the homes above. Over there is the communal crafting area, where you can see people weaving.”

    Set up under the canopies were large wooden looms, where elves in their shimmering robes labored, producing intricately woven cloth.

    Next, Laurel pointed to the lofty treetop houses connected by walkways.

    “How do they get up there?” an old man from the Seastrider Islands asked. “My knees aren’t too good.”

    “There are rope ladders, or a basket we use for taking goods up.”

    Ilda struggled up the ladder (which looked suspiciously like nylon cord) while Sessi rode the basket, meeting her at the top. Did that pulley mechanism really exist in ancient times?

    A pleasant blonde, blended elf escorted them to the festival hall, where they were served setharies—elven mead, or honey water, depending on one’s age—and ornain, the filling food used in epic journeys in ages past.

    “The Heroes of the Hawkbow ate this as they crossed the plains to fight the Dark Emperor.” Ilda gestured at her bowl full of nuts, dried berries, and leaves in front of them.

    “It tastes like ordinary trail mix to me,” Sessi muttered. “I bet this all comes from the Cubermarket.”

    After morning tea, Laurel showed them an elven family house, and they watched a dance on the ground below. Before she boarded the bus, Ilda bought a souvenir tea towel from the gift shop.

    “This is so dull,” a bored ogre tourist complained. “I wanted to visit the Pits of Oblivion and the Stormfort—where Grimtusk had her last stand—but nooo, my wife had to see elves.” An ogre woman held up her elven silken scarf and smiled.

    “You can’t get to the Stormfort at the moment,” a human woman from the Lionmarches interrupted. “They’ve had to close off parts of the Volcanic National Park. Too many tourists.”

    Ilda wondered if the Heroes of the Hawkbow had known that the sites of their ancient struggle against the forces of darkness would become tourist attractions.

    After watching an elven bird-calling ceremony, Laurel head-counted the tour group and gestured at them to get back on the bus. As they drove away, Ilda peered out the rear window. The elves had stopped their industrious weaving and were sitting around, talking and smoking cigarettes.

    “How was the real elven village?” Sessi elbowed Ilda in the ribs as she stared vacantly at the forest outside. “Just like your books?”

    Ilda mumbled, “It was okay.” But no, it felt too touristy. Perhaps if she had ignored Mother, she could have studied Kytharien at university, and been one of the few humans invited to see an actual village. But that dream was distant, sacrificed to focus on her Life Goals. She closed her eyes and recited them but realized that she no longer cared. 

    * * *

     They spent the night at Far Point, the nearest human town to the Wanwood. A mix of tourists from all over the continent sat in the bar, drinking and chatting, sweat dripping down their faces in the muggy heat.

    Ilda couldn’t describe the emptiness within her. If her Life Goals were as hollow as the elven village, what was she doing with her existence? What did she really want? She tried talking about this with Sessi, but after several shots of elven brandy, neither woman could communicate very well. After Sessi nearly collapsed at the bar, Ilda dragged them both outside.

    On the porch, the air rippled in the muggy heat. Stars drifted overhead in the night sky and bird calls echoed from the distant bulk of the dark woods.

    A figure leaned against a beam—a full-blooded elf wearing only leather pants. Long dark hair, slicked back, hanging down to his waist. His eyes were a deep green, without sclera, and his abs were a lean six pack.

    “Hey.” Ilda could not stop staring.

    “You ladies after a good time?” the elf asked.

    “Sure!” Sessi burbled.

    “For you, five hundred,” the elf said.

    Five hundred? Ilda froze. She’d never been this close to an actual sex worker, let alone a full-blooded elf, before. Her desire for something genuinely elvish warred with her nervousness.

    “She’s game!” Sessi said.

    “No, I’m—”

    “Ilda, come on. You only live once. This has been your fantasy for years. She’ll do it! Who are you, elfie boy?”

    “Moonweaver.” Such a romance novel alias.

    “Are you licensed?” Sessi asked.

    Moonweaver flashed an ID card. Having one meant he passed a bunch of health and safety certifications. Ilda scanned the license for his real name, but there was only a barcode.

    Ilda dry-swallowed. Perhaps a fling with a genuine elf would reconnect her with who she was before she’d become obsessed with Life Goals.

    “No excuses, girl.” Sessi pulled on Ilda’s arm. “Let’s get some extra brandy.”

    Moonweaver was highly skilled, but Ilda was too reserved, despite the alcohol, to enjoy her time with him. The encounter felt like every other time she’d been with a competent lover. Good sex, and that was it. The romance of elven lovemaking died when Ilda lay back on the bed as Moonweaver counted banknotes and tucked them in his leather pants. A job, and nothing more. Ilda wondered how many clients he regularly saw.

    “Is the village real?” Ilda asked as he tugged on his boots.

    He smiled. “It’s for you. For the tourists. We can’t share a real Kytharien village with you, but this is a good compromise.”

    “I saw a lot of blended elves there.” Ilda whispered.

    “Yes. They had to fight with the clan elders to build their own place, but in the end, it has worked out well. The half-bloods have a purpose, and the tourism money has enriched our clan.”

    “They had to fight?”

    “Change requires struggle.” Moonweaver said. “Sacrifice, unhappiness—but all these can lead to good outcomes, in time.”

    Sessi called out from the next room. “You guys finished already? Moonie, can you do another round?”

    Moonweaver looked at Ilda with his liquid green eyes.

    She nodded, and the elf got up and left.

    Ilda had a long shower and wished the walls weren’t so thin.

    About a week after she returned from her holiday, Ilda packed up all her movies and books in a crate and took them down to the local charity store.

    “Thank you.” The old lady behind the counter pawed through the box. “Oh, Prince of the Treetops. I did like this one. This is a sizable collection. You must have a real thing for elves.”

    “Not anymore,” Ilda said. She left the shop and found a quiet space in the park, green leaves enshrouding her. Time to fight for what she wanted.

    She took a deep breath and called a number. “Ben?” she whispered, hoping he would answer.

  • Vestiges of Magic,  Revenant Records,  Short Story,  urban fantasy,  publishing

    Time to Live

    According to Harukka’s computer studies textbook, a data packet within a network lived only for a limited duration. A little counter kept track of how much ‘life’ the packet had left, which decreased each time it was processed.

    When the ‘Time to Live’ or value ran out, the packet died.

    Harukka snuck down the stairs, heart racing. Damn it, an ogre like her shouldn’t be scared. And yet, her life had been dominated by her technophobic grandmother, to the point where she could barely comprehend her college course. Still, little concepts like TTL made sense to her. If she was a data packet, the number would be high, as she’d never done anything dangerous or uncertain with her existence.

    Until tonight.

    A wooden floorboard creaked under her weight. Harukka swore and clamped her mouth shut. Stupid house, getting older and creakier with each passing year.

    “Girl?” Her mother’s voice cut in from the living room like an owl’s screech. “Come and pray with me at the shrine.”

    Harukka straightened her shoulders, heart racing. If she wanted to keep her life’s TTL counter from dropping, she’d stay away from strange networks and spend the evening with her mother.

    But that wasn’t the plan tonight. She was seeing Wenda and nothing would stop her.

    Taking a deep breath, Harukka descended the stairs and entered the yellow door to her left. In the room beyond, her mother sat like a depiction of a saint crouching before a candle-covered shrine in prayer. Besides their increased height and weight  compared to a human, ogres were rugged, with thicker bones and heavy brow ridges that protected their eyes. Harukka’s mother wore her traditional white woolen Perali robes, belted at the front.

    “I’m going out,” Harukka announced.

    Her mother blinked, confused. “You can’t leave,” she snapped. “It’s New Year’s Eve. The worst night of the year. Come sit and pray.”

    Harukka glanced at her jeans and t-shirt, which she usually changed into when she left the house, stuffing her robes into her backpack. She was sick of hiding. “Grandmother is dead. Everyone wears these clothes outside. My girlfriend invited me to a party.” Harukka took a deep breath. “I’m going.”

    She had hoped to get a rise from her mother, but the older woman didn’t pay any attention to her relationship. “It’s too late,” she intoned. “Darkness is abroad, and tonight the most wicked of spirits will ride forth.”

    “I don’t care.” Harukka walked to the front door. “I’m twenty. We’re ogres. We shouldn’t have to fear anything.” She pulled off the locks and chains and breathed in the fresh summer air.

    “Don’t leave me alone in the house!” Mother cried, rising to her feet.

    Harukka pointed to the dusty phone on the wall. “Call Auntie. The priest. Everyone that Grandmother cut us off from. It’s Time to Live.”

    With that, she opened the front door and shut it behind her, running from her mother’s frantic shouts.

    Harukka fled along the road, referring to the directions to Wenda’s house she’d written on a crumpled piece of paper.

    It was summer, Ringstone, the last month of the year, and just after 10 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. The sun had set an hour ago and she was horribly late.

    The party started at 6 p.m. Harruka had dithered all night. About whether she was going, what to wear, what to bring, and what to say to Wenda. Oh, she had put on a stern, confident face before mother, but that had been an act—a rush of bravado when she’d spent most of her life quivering on the inside, unable to resist her grandmother’s control.

    Now, buoyed by adrenalin, she raced through the streets. She needed to get to a house in the Redcastle district, which meant a good half-hour walk through the suburban sprawl of Stonefell.

    Summer heat drenched the air, and perspiration soaked her clothing. Damn it, she’d arrive at Wenda’s place looking like a sweating horse.

    Lost in her own misery, Harukka barely paid attention as a vehicle zig-zagged off the road near her and crashed into a pole.

    Harukka jumped.

    The car door thumped open and a human man staggered onto the street.

    “Hey, are you hurt?” Harukka wished she carried a cell phone. She should have bought one as soon as Grandmother had passed. “Let me go to a house and ask—”

    The man growled, drool running into his beard.

    “Sorry?” Harukka stepped backwards.

    His eyes glinted under the streetlights, the pupils wide like he was on medication. His lips curled back from his teeth as he snarled.

    The man lunged at her.

    Harukka shoved him away.

    As she did so, a screaming presence pushed against her thoughts. Wild, heedless, wanting to tear into her mind and puppet it about into crazy things like a teenager joyriding a car…

    A dark spirit! The man was possessed!

    She fled along the empty street.

    The old Perali religion was right. Grandmother had been perfectly justified to trap Harukka and her mother in the house for years and years. She should never have tried to see Wenda. Instead, she should have changed into her white homespun robes and sat by the shrine in prayer.

    What was the point of going to college and learning about computers and TTL values when ancient, malevolent spirits threatened the world?

    And while her thoughts wailed and blackened, her instincts kept her moving.

    Growls echoed behind her.

    Shrieking, Harukka sprinted on the sidewalk, ignoring the sounds of screeching cars, snarls, shouts and chaos around her.

    Most of the shops along the street were dark, except where light spilled from an open corner store with a large, welcoming entrance designed to accommodate ogre heights.

    Inside, people yelled and dragged shelves, forming a barricade.

    Harukka ran, shouting. “Let me in! They’re after me.”

    Voices argued, and then a burly, handsome ogre woman in a red checked shirt and baseball cap pushed a shelf aside and opened the door. Perhaps in her late twenties, she had dark hair, and a cardboard name tag pinned to her top pocket that said: ‘Elk.’

    Harukka sprinted inside, panting and wheezing heavily, comforted by the store’s banality. Bright light. Rows of shelves selling packets of chips, dog food, and many cereal boxes in the portions favored by ogres. Glass cabinets of bottled sodas. Her heart raced with pleasure at being here, even if the entire place needed a good mop and scrub.

    A human man, white bearded and sour-faced, skulked away from the door. A human woman, dressed too elegantly for a corner store, leaned against the counter.

    “Stop letting people in!” the old man snapped. “Don’t you understand? It’s a virus! The more of us there are, the more chance we have of getting infected!”

    “Virus?” Harukka asked, still wheezing from her chase.

    “Yeah, Feldspar’s Syndrome. You ignoramus!” he growled. He waved his hands about. “Gas boils up from the underground and makes people go crazy.”

    “We’re nowhere near any gas vents.” The human woman rubbed at a chipped fingernail. “Or the Volcanic National Park.”

    “There’s gas!” The old man pointed at the worn lino floor of the shop. “It blows in…”

    “Has anyone called the police?” Harukka asked.

    The others shook their heads. What had they been doing? “Let’s call them—” she began.

    A thump and smashing sound interrupted her. An ogre in a torn business shirt thumped against the glass doors. Blood masked one side of his face, while his single, visible blue eye gleamed with madness with its cavernous socket. An elven woman beside him, pointed ears sticking out of her wild hair, gave an ear-splitting shriek.

    “Right, let’s hide in the backroom.” Elk stabbed an index finger at the rear of the store like a dagger. “This way. Go! Go!”

    The glass doors cracked and shattered.

    Harukka sprinted to the back door and opened it to reveal a dark concrete room crammed with boxes. Despite the heat outside, the chamber radiated cold. She leaped aside as the human man and woman pushed past her. She snapped on the switch. A dim, yellow bulb clicked on, revealing a labyrinth of dusty cardboard.

    The two humans raced through next, followed by Elk. The big ogre woman attempted to close the door, only to be blocked as a huge, blood-streaked fist reached through the gap.

    Growls and shuffling sounds roared outside as more of the possessed entered the main shop through the broken glass doors.

    Harukka grabbed a nearby box and smashed it over the man’s protruding fingers. Cardboard tore, spilling cans everywhere, and the bloody hand retreated backwards.

    With a grunt, Elk slammed the door shut and held it closed with her body weight.

    Harukka helped the others barricade the doorway with surrounding junk—barrels, crates, tools—a small pile of holding back an army of the possessed.

    “Will that hold it?” the human woman puffed, her elegant dress stained with dust and sweat.

    “It better,” Harukka muttered. Her heart hammered in her chest, and she sank to the ground, panting. She’d never get to her party to see Wenda. And oh! Was Wenda safe? What about the others at the party? She bent her head in despair. She’d left her mother alone, too. Why had she done that? What if the possessed broke into her house?

    She twisted her fingers together until she realized that everything beyond the closed door was quiet.

    “They’ve stopped!” Harukka gasped.

    “For now. Why didn’t you close the front security shutter?” the old man complained, pointing a finger at Elk.

    “Rusted shut.” Elk checked that a heavy wooden crate was firmly in place.

    “You couldn’t get off your ass to oil it?”

    “I’ve owned this store for two days,” she grunted. “Nice to meet you, I’m Elkvar. Elk.”

    “Mr. Brown.” The man folded his arms.

    “‘Mister’ is your first name?” Elk asked.

    “It’s what I’ll give you,” Brown snarled.

    An awkward pause dragged out.

    “Zillian,” the human woman offered.

    “We need to call the police!” Harukka announced. “So they can rescue us and deal with the possessed people.” The authorities would help her go home, where she belonged.

    “They’re infected!” Brown snapped. “This is because of science, not superstition!”

    “Well, I’m not leaving.” Zillian checked her phone. “No service. Anyone else got one?”

    Elk snorted. “Mine’s on the counter.” She pointed beyond the door.

    “I only use landlines,” Brown said. “The radiation from cell phones cooks your brains alive.”

    Harukka didn’t need to be a computer science graduate to know that wasn’t correct. “I don’t have a cell phone. I mean, my mother is against—”

    “Perali, hey?” Elk asked.

    Harukka nodded.

    “But isn’t ‘no phones’ an extreme way to interpret your scriptures?

    Harukka folded her arms. “My crazy grandmother cut us off from everyone in the community and threw out any tech she didn’t approve. We could cook, but no television or so forth. She’s gone now, but my mother doesn’t act like it.”

    “My grandparents were Perali too,” Elk said.

    Harukka nodded, secretly delighted. It was good when someone else understood the old customs she’d grown up with.

     Elk continued: “But when they immigrated here, they—”

    “Sorry for interrupting this little soap opera,” Brown hissed. “But I notice that this isn’t only a storage room. It’s a garage with a roller door.”

    “If we can escape this concrete box, I’ll call for help!” Zillian waved her phone.

    “It won’t budge,” Elk explained. “There’s a motor, but it’s broken. My old man was a shit at maintaining things. I’ve spent my time cleaning the shop front.”

    Brown beelined to the roller door, tugging at it, while the others followed.

    “Mr. Brown,” Zillian began. “If an ogre woman can’t raise the door, a human man can’t…”

    “I didn’t ask for your advice!” Brown snapped, wrenching ineffectually at the garage handle.

    “If we can’t get out, they can’t get in,” Elk said.

    “Hmmph.” Brown folded his arms and stalked to the middle of the box-lined aisle.

    “We can’t stay here forever,” Zillian said. “I’m going on holiday to the Haven Archipelago next week.”

    “We don’t know how long the people will remain crazy for,” Elk said.

    “Usually about twenty-four hours, if you bother to read about Feldspar’s Syndrome.” Brown folded his arms. “Some recover with gaps in their memory, and others might never wake at all.”

    “In Perali folklore, ancient spirits can’t possess the living after midnight,” Harukka offered.

    Brown rolled his eyes at her. “Twenty-four hours,” he repeated. “And yet, what if it goes on for longer? What if we’re the only ones to escape infection? Outside, society could collapse.”

    “Let’s wait until morning,” Elk said.

    “What if we starve?” Zillian gasped, raising her hands to her face.

    “We won’t die of hunger anytime soon,” Harukka reassured the panicking woman. She surveyed the dismal garage. Cinderblock walls, concrete floor, boxes everywhere. “What’s in here?”

    “Haven’t done a complete inventory,” Elk explained.

    Harukka cracked her knuckles. “Perhaps we can find something to help us.”

    “I’ll keep watch,” Elk said.

    “Any tools?” Harukka asked, determined to be useful while Elk was watching over them.

    “There’s a toolbox there.” Elk pointed.

    Harukka sorted through the jumbled equipment. She found some working marker pens and a boxcutter, and started slicing through cardboard packaging, revealing cans of sardines, packets of chips, candy bars, dried noodles and far too many bottles of grapefruit-flavored Sodaza.

    “A lot of these are past the use-by date,” Harukka noted, labeling the outside of each box as she checked the contents.

    “Yeah, they’ll have to be disposed of,” Elk sighed.

    “Rubbish,” Brown interjected. “The government doesn’t want you to know that cans are perfectly good for years after the expiry. I’ve eaten five-year-old tuna that’s fine.”

    “There’s a crate of cheap wine here.” Zillian removed an ogre-sized bottle with two hands.

    Harukka found several taped-open junk boxes and extracted handfuls of laundry line. She threw it on the ground, frustrated to be tidying someone else’s garage. “Damn it! All I wanted to do was go to my party and see Wenda.”

    Zillian hefted her wine. “We’ve got enough for a celebration here. Especially if we’re waiting until morning. Except there’s no bottle opener.”

    “I’ll show you a trick.” Elk rummaged in the toolbox on the floor and removed a screw and screwdriver. “You twist this into the cork like so.”

    Zillian leaned forward.

    Harukka folded her arms, irritated that everyone was wasting time. And yet she couldn’t think of anything else to do.

    “Then—” Elk retrieved a hammer, hooked the back prongs around the screw and tugged, her hair sweating. With a loud pop, she pulled the cork free.

    Zillian shared the bottle with Elk, but Harukka refused alcohol on general principles. Instead, to attempt camaraderie with her fellow survivors, she sipped at the warm can of grapefruit Sodaza.

    “Want some wine, Mr. Brown?” Zillian called.

    “There’s an infectious disease being blown from the gas vents, and you want me to drink from a filthy bottle you’ve shared? No.” Brown leaned against the wall, staring at both doors. “Am I the only one with any common sense here?”

    “What else should we do while we wait until morning?” Zillian said.

    Brown scowled and moved to the rear door, tugging at it in vain.

    “Let’s talk,” Zillian suggested, sipping more wine. “Tell me more about your shop.”

    Elk pulled off her baseball cap and wiped the sweat from her forehead. “Thought I could make a few fast bucks tonight by opening. Bad idea.” She chuckled. “My old man died and left this place to me and a bunch of debts. I’m a truck driver, but I fancied a change. I play shopkeeper and then this happens.”

    Harukka found herself fascinated by the beads of perspiration running down Elk’s long, muscular fingers. She stifled her thoughts and tried to focus on something else. “This place needs a good clean.” Harukka gestured around the garage.

    “Yeah,” Elk said. “I hadn’t spoken to my father in years. Didn’t know he was so sick and that his store got so run down. If he’d bothered to call, I’d have helped. That’s the problem with some old folk, they cut themselves off to keep everything the same. The lawyer called me in and now I’m trying to figure out what to do with it all. Might be better to sell the place.”

    Zillian sipped from the ogre-sized bottle that she struggled to hold with two hands. “This is ironic. My husband ran off with my sister last month, and I grabbed the most expensive wine in his collection. Only, I couldn’t find anything to open it with, so I came here. I wasn’t expecting people to go crazy on New Year’s Eve.”

    “Infected!” Brown called.

    “Want some chips?” Elk asked.

    “No!” Brown snapped. “What part of ‘infection’ don’t you fool women understand?”

    “But you can have an unopened packet.” Elk waved a bag of Crispin’s Crispy Squares.

    Brown made a disgusted growling noise deep in his throat and faced the door. All was quiet behind it.

    Harukka closed her eyes, once again wishing she’d stayed with her mother. Her TTL counter was desperately low. Everything she had done tonight had weakened her.

    Brown coughed and gurgled.

    Harukka leaned forward. “Mr. Brown?”

    The old man turned, facing the group. His jaw worked silently.

    “Mr. Brown, are you all right?” Harukka asked.

    Brown surveyed his hands and feet and sniffed the air. He licked his lips and panted, his tongue sticking beyond his yellow teeth. With a sudden growl, he loped towards her.

    “They’ve got him!” Harukka shrieked.

    “Behind me.” Elk hefted the hammer from the toolbox.

    “Don’t kill him!” Harukka said. “He’s only possessed!”

    The old man charged, fingers outstretched.

    Elk dropped the tool in her hands and stepped into a wrestling crouch. As Brown lunged, she pinned him in a vice-like grip.

    Brown struggled and bit at her arms.

    “The cord!” Harukka raced to the box she’d opened earlier and grabbed the jumble of laundry line. Under the rope was a stack of yellowed manuals.

    With Zillian’s help, they tied Brown tight, binding both hands and feet. The old man continued to struggle and hiss, flopping on the garage floor like a landed fish.

    Blood dripped from Elk’s arms where Brown had bitten her.

    “Is there a first aid kit here?” Harukka asked.

    “Nope,” Elk said. “I hope it’s not infectious.”

    “Alcohol can clean wounds.” Zillian splashed the wine over the cuts

    Elk winced, grunting as Zillian cleaned and bandaged her wounds. “What if I’m next?”

    “What about the rest of us?” Zillian said. “Let’s tie ourselves up.”

    “If the infected get in here, we’ll be helpless.” Elk kicked at Brown as he snarled and flopped on the ground. “And now we’re trapped!”

    Without warning, the crack of breaking glass echoed from the shop area. Fists pounded on the door.

    “They’re back!” Zillian cried.

    “Maybe they only pretended to be gone, so we’d relax,” Elk said. “Now what?”

    Harukka rushed to the rear door, placing her ear against it. No sounds of anything beyond. Perhaps the possessed were only at the front.

    Elk joined her, listening intently for a few heartbeats and nodded. “We’re safe if we can get through there. Damn it.” She tugged at the bottom handle, but the door didn’t move.

    Harukka ran to the box from which she’d taken the cord and sorted through the pile of old books. Manuals for everything from dishwashers to televisions, and there, one for a roller garage door. She flipped through it. “Maybe there’s a trick to opening it. This is a stupid manual though—it’s all text, no graphics.”

    “My truck’s in the rear lot.” Elk straightened. “There’s no parking on the main road.” She craned her head forward. “What does that book say? I can’t read too well.”

    Zillian’s face widened. “Don’t you need literacy to run a shop?”

    Elk scowled. “It’s not that hard.”

    Harukka flipped through the yellowed pages, scanning through the text under the dim lighting. “There’s a manual release switch at the top.” She stepped on her tiptoes, running her fingers around the upper part of the bundled roller door.

    “You’re out late,” Elk noted after a few minutes.

    “Sorry?” Harukka cleared away dust and cobwebs, expecting to feel a sharp spider bite any second.

    “If you were going to a party.”

    “My grandmother was this controlling, paranoid bitch who kept my mother and I prisoner. And she died this year.” Harukka kept poking, her fingers coated with grease. “It’s really hard for me to leave the house. But I was going tonight. To see Wenda. And finally I go outside, and this happens. I should never have left home.” She touched a lever and pulled it. It didn’t move. “This is stuck. I need oil.”

    Elk dug around in the toolbox again and selected a tiny bottle of sewing machine oil. Her calloused fingers briefly brushed against Harukka’s as she oiled the lever. “If you don’t get out, you won’t have adventures.”

    “This isn’t an adventure!” Harukka’s voice cracked, wishing that Elk’s fingers had remained with hers for a heartbeat longer. No. This isn’t the place or the time for this sort of thing. “It’s a nightmare. My mother yelled at me not to leave after dark. I should have stayed home.”

    Elk oiled the switch, and Harukka jiggled it. “It’s moving.”

    “I’m glad I’m here with you ladies,” Zillian said. “Ever since my husband left, it’s been lonely. All the people I thought were my friends took his side. No one’s returning my calls. I was getting stir crazy. That’s why I came here for a bottle opener.” She checked her phone. “I’ll call the police as soon as we’re safe outside.”

    A sharp crack echoed through the garage as the opposite door groaned and shuddered under the weight of fists hammering on the wood.

    “They’re back!” Zillian cried.

    “Nearly got it!” Harukka gasped, pulling the lever.

    “Let me help.” Elk’s firm fingers gripped on top of hers and together, they tugged the switch into position with a click.

    “It’s not open!” Zillian wailed.

    The wooden door splintered. A group of howling, snarling people pushed and shoved at the box barricade.

    “We need to lift it up.” Harukka grabbed the roller door and pulled it upwards with a rusted screech, revealing a cracked, concrete driveway where a gleaming red truck cab waited. “Run!”

    Zillian darted under the gap. Harukka followed, while Elk came last, forcing the shutter closed behind her.

    In the distance, emergency sirens wailed into the late summer night.

    “Get in!” Elk held up her remote and with a beep, the truck’s lights flashed and the doors unlocked. “No one’s going to come for us in that, and if they do, I’ll knock ‘em flat.”

    Harukka sprinted for the passenger side door, flinging it open while Elk opened the driver’s.

    Harukka scrambled into the seat, turned to pull Zillian into the cab with her.

    Zillian bit Harukka’s hand.

    Startled, Harukka pushed the human away, sending her crashing against the nearby wall, into bags of garbage. “Zillian!” she shouted, but the woman only snarled in response. The rich woman’s phone dropped from her fingers, hitting the concrete. Harukka gulped, thinking of grabbing it, when Elk hit the accelerator and reversed the truck into the rear alley. Then she drove forward, connecting to the main highway. “The infected people are dumb, so if we keep moving at speed, they can’t drive after us,” she announced.

    Harukka stared at her bitten hand, now running with blood. One moment Zillian had been there, full of terrified life, and the next, something else had taken her place.

    “There are some wipes in the glove box,” Elk’s voice cut into her thoughts.
    Harukka opened the compartment and found a stack of sealed wet towels sampled from various restaurants and fast-food places. She cleaned her wound, wishing she’d been able to do more for Zillian and Brown. Why did she try praying to the Light to cleanse them? Find some salt and flowers? Unless it was an infection?

    “You did what you could,” Elk continued. “Look after yourself as a priority in situations like this. Don’t worry, when it’s over, we’ll check on them. Make sure they get to the hospital. Brown said some people recover. If they do, I’ll give Zillian more wine, and Brown all the expired tuna he wants.”

    “Let’s see what’s happening.” Harukka turned on the radio. They sped along the highway, listening to conflicting news reports of chaos. Gang violence, gas vents, ghosts—no one had any clear idea.

    Harukka recoiled from the outside horrors, briefly illuminated by the truck’s powerful headlights: smashed vehicles, dead bodies littering the streets, roving groups of infected people, faces masked with blood. She closed her eyes, burying her face in her hands, praying desperately that her mother was safe.

    “It’s okay.” Elk patted her arm. “They can’t get us here.”

    “I wish this would end,” Harukka gripped the dashboard, moving closer to Elk as they alternated between driving and parking to conserve the truck’s charge, listening to confused broadcasts, which gradually reported the madness ending as the night ebbed.

    Finally the sun lipped around the edges of the sky, and as Harukka twisted the dial and listened to the news stations, all she heard were reports of the aftermath rather than stories of more attacks or infections. New Year’s Eve had been chaos: people in comas or waking with no memory, dozens injured or dead, property destroyed and buildings set alight. “I need to check on Mom.”

    “I’ll take you home. I’m sorry you didn’t get to go to your party to meet your girlfriend,” Elk said.

    Harukka closed her eyes, admitting the bitter truth. It all seemed so trivial now. “It’s okay. I barely know her. She wrote the invitation on a whiteboard in class. I only wanted to chat with her for the first time. She probably likes men or something, and I’d upset her by saying the wrong thing. Or I would have sat in the corner all night with a cup of soda. I’m a failure at meeting people. Grandmother didn’t even want me to go to college.” Guilt wracked her. Her own woes were selfish and insignificant compared to the others who’d suffered tonight.

    Silence stretched into the cabin.

    Elk paused, then said, “There’s this great diner at Whiteriver. Does a mean steak and fries. You should try it sometime.”

    “Uh,” Harukka’s heart raced painfully, and she didn’t know what to do or say. “Are you asking me out?”

    “Maybe. We could do a few outings, see where it goes.” Elk turned and winked at her. “No pressure. I like a woman who can hold her cool under fire.”

    “Yeah, sure,” Harukka managed through her tightened throat. So used to being called ‘girl’ by her mother and grandmother, the fact that someone else thought she was grown-up gave her a strange, anticipatory shiver, like she was opening a new door to an unknown land. She was going somewhere unfamiliar, and she liked it.

    “I’ll be sorting through the store tomorrow if you want to stop by,” Elk continued.

    “I’ll visit,” Harukka promised. She rubbed at her wounded arm. Bitten, scraped, but alive. Her TTL counter had dropped massively, but she didn’t care.

    After all, that was the point.

  • Vestiges of Magic,  Revenant Records,  urban fantasy,  publishing

    Feral Night is upon us…

    A short, quick and entirely promotional post—my second novel, Feral Night—is going to launch next week on 28 November 2023. With this book, I set out to make it bigger, better and more intense than the first one! Lukie’s back with another edge-of-your-seat mystery…

    Lukie’s father is trapped in the Underworld and it’s all her fault.

    Return to Kell Shaw’s Vestiges of Magic world in a knife-edge sequel.

    Lukie’s father is trapped in the Underworld and it’s all her fault.

    Twenty years after her murder, Lukie has returned to life and is ready to go home, but her father isn’t willing to believe his beloved daughter is back from the dead. Before she can reconcile with him, a supernatural predator steals her father’s soul. One that she’s led straight to his door, after foolishly ignoring the signs that something was amiss.

    To get her father back, Lukie must uncover the true nature of the ancient horror haunting Thunderhead Ward before a spectral hunt of bestial ghosts is unleashed upon the world.

    And she only has until midnight on New Year’s Eve, when the borders between the dead and living lands seal, or her father will be lost forever…

  • urban fantasy,  Vestiges of Magic,  Revenant Records,  Short Story

    All That Left of Her

    The Revenant Records 1.5. This takes place between Final Night and Feral Night.

    Tamlyn surveyed his lounge room, cluttered with piles of CDs, vinyl records, and random pop culture magazines. Only a few hours ago, it had been tidy. He stifled an irritated sigh; everything had been neat in his residence during the period after his ex-wife and stepsons had left, and before Lukie had arrived.

    He cleared his throat.

    The seventeen-year-old undead girl turned from where she sat in front of the television, staring at him with her unblinking, red glowing eyes. Perfectly still, with pale, marble skin. Not breathing. At times, her body language was utterly unlike the person he’d known in school.

    “Turn that down,” said Tamlyn. “The neighbors will complain. I’m going to meet Cage.” He collected his keys from the hook near the front door.

    “Can I come?” Lukie slowly rose to her feet. Her voice was cracked and husky, a sharp contrast to the smooth-voiced girl he remembered. And her movements were slower and more mechanical than those of the twitchy, in-your-face person he’d known.

    “I got the impression he wanted to see me alone,” Tamlyn explained, like he’d done in high school. Sometimes you had to be incredibly obvious with her. At least that bit hadn’t changed. “I’ll get your photograph.”

    Lukie waved her hands in the air. “Do you understand what that photograph is to me? It came back with me from the dead, and unless I have it, I’ll starve to death—”

    “I know about cache objects,” Tamlyn reminded her. They’d defeated the Baron with one, after all. “And you’re not going to waste away any time soon.” She’d told him gleefully how she’d devoured the Baron’s soul, and she hadn’t picked up on how damn uncomfortable that made him. Souls were supposed to be immortal, intangible things, not candy. “Once I speak with Cage, I—”

    “Cage is a jerk!” Lukie snapped. “I’m perfectly in control of myself now, and he had no right to bind me like he did!” She stamped a foot on the ground. Luckily it was daylight and her supernatural strength hadn’t manifested, otherwise there’d be a holes in his floorboards.

    “Lukie, calm down.” Tamlyn had a sharp flashback to arguments with his stepsons who often though they could leave their surfboards, swimming trunks and sand-covered towels at random locations in his house. “You asked Cage directly and he refused. But he’s going to speak to me. He’s a reasonable man,” he ignored her red-eyed glower, “and I’ll sort things out. Please, trust me. Let me do my job.” He swallowed, aware of the chill, undead presence in front of him. When night fell, she’d have the power to snap his neck…

    Instead, Lukie sighed and flopped on the couch, throwing her hands up in the air. “Okay. I spent all those years being a shitty friend to everyone. I’m fixing everything now.” She patted the worn seat cushion next to her. “When you return, we’ll hang out and watch this brilliant TV station—it plays music all night! We need to talk, too. We’ve got a lot to catch up on.” At that moment, she was exactly like her old self, and his heart lurched with the buried emotion of losing his best friends to a serial killer two decades ago. Now one of them had returned. Then Lukie ran her fingers through her short, blonde hair—another unfamiliar gesture. He stepped back, uncertain again.

    “Perhaps.” Opening up was the last thing he wanted to do. Especially to something that may not have been the girl he’d known in life.


    Tamlyn had no idea how he agreed to it, but after an afternoon of driving Cage, the monster hunter (or ‘preserver’ as he styled himself; of people rather than horrors, Tamlyn assumed), out to the Pillars of Majesty, and back into town, they checked into a motel after sunset.

    Tamlyn’s stomach churned like helicopter blades. Two years since his last hook-up with the bald, pot-bellied truck driver late at night behind the public restrooms on Wharf Street.

    The elderly woman at the desk was reading a romance novel. She didn’t blink as Tamlyn signed them in. His sweating palms smeared the ink as he flashed through everything that could go wrong when a trans guy hooked up with someone he’d known for less than forty-eight hours. Cage was a complete contrast with the truck driver: athletic, handsome and looked twenty-something, even though he claimed to be over five hundred years old. Tamlyn had no idea why the monster hunter was interested in an overweight, middle-aged police inspector with a receding hairline. He’d resolved not to ask ‘why’ and enjoy the encounter, despite his growing anxieties.

    The clerk handed him the key and returned to reading her dog-eared book.

    The heat from the day clung to the motel complex. Sweat soaked Tamlyn’s shirt as they crossed the parking lot. To his left, a row of pines, black against the copper sunset, guarded the approach towards the twilight-touched ocean.

    Tamlyn unlocked the door. Inside was a stained linoleum floor, a double bed and cracked, cream-painted walls. He opened the shutters, trying to dislodge the musty smell and attract the afternoon sea breeze.

    “You look terrified, Detective,” Cage observed. “I don’t bite. Unless you like that sort of thing.” He grinned, showing perfect teeth. Despite having his legs in traction earlier, the monster hunter had now healed enough to walk around. Cage had simply ripped his plaster casts off as though they were tissue paper.

    “I haven’t done this for years.” Tamlyn ran his hands through his receding, sweating hair. “And it’s ‘Inspector.’ A ‘detective’ refers to—”

    “I didn’t come here to discuss ranks in your provincial police bureaucracy.” Cage pulled off his jeans and t-shirt, revealing a muscular physique covered in scars. “Last night you lived for the first time a while. Don’t lose that.”

    Tamlyn gritted his teeth, considering fleeing to the car and the undead girl in his now-cluttered, disordered house.

    “Oh, what the hell,” he muttered.


    An hour and a bottle of rice wine later, Tamlyn lay on the bed, watching the fan wheel overhead, unable to recall when he’d last been so relaxed.

    The heat from the day faded as the wind from the sea swept through the motel shutters.

    He was used to most guys leaving after the act was done. And if he met them at the mall with their wives afterwards, they’d smile, make eye contact but would otherwise pretend not to know each other.

    Instead, Cage sprawled on top of the worn, brown couch opposite the bed. Unable to stop fidgeting for anything longer than a few seconds, he now walked a coin across his knuckles. Left, right, left right… The harsh electric lights cast odd reflections on the preserver’s metallic silver hair, a trait indicating descent from ancient nobility. His features—tanned skin, dark eyes—suggested he’d come from the Jadetower region in the northwestern portion of the continent, but his accent was local. He could have been from anywhere.

    Tamlyn still had no idea why the preserver found him interesting—Cage could have cruised any ripped tourist or surfer in the holiday town of Breakwater Bay. Not that Tamlyn was complaining. He sipped from the wine bottle and relaxed, lethargy seeping over him.

    “It’s not too late.” Cage’s soft voice cut into Tamlyn’s thoughts.

    “Huh? What do you mean?” Tamlyn sat up.

    “For me to remove the revenant.” The coin blurred across Cage’s knuckles.

    “No.” Tamlyn’s good mood faded away. He’d seen the monster hunter summon a sword of golden light from nowhere. He understood what remove’ entailed.

    “You’ve noticed the differences now.” Cage gave a sour smile. “Fixated on petty things, obsessed with her own passions and nothing else.”

    “You’ve described every single teenager,” Tamlyn snorted.

    Cage shook his head. “Also, slower. Perhaps having odd gestures or mannerisms that you don’t recall from her in life.”

    Tamlyn tried to keep his expression blank, but his face twitched in fear and Cage nodded.

    “Is it really her?” Tamlyn voiced the secret doubt that had raked his mind ever since meeting the undead version of his old high school friend. It had been easy to accept her last night as they stalked the Baron, especially when she’d told him her existence was temporary. He’d treated it like a weird, once-off vision.

    Except she’d remained. She was here now. And despite his best intentions, Tamlyn’s doubts grew. He’d been at Lukie’s funeral, where her father Zeran had scattered her ashes on Breakwater Beach. Revenant Lukie looked like her old self, but enough things were off kilter that he wasn’t sure.

    Cage shrugged. “The Underworld is a place where ghosts consume each other to survive. The toughest ones become shades—patchworks creatures with different memories and identities. You could be dealing with something that’s only mostly Lukie.” Cage flicked the coin across his knuckles again and leaned forward. “This revenant will never age. Never mature into adulthood. As a child, she’ll bear a petty grudge for eternity. She’ll get hungry and have to feed on souls. She won’t die, and even if she’s destroyed, she’ll come back unless the right rituals are carried out.” He raised his hands, and a sparkle of golden light coalesced about them. “I’ve performed the correct ritual so the Baron will not return. I could do the same for the girl.”

    “No!” Tamlyn protested, sitting up.

    “This is not your childhood friend,” Cage said. “This may only be something that resembles her.”

    “Is there any chance that Lukie,” Tamyn avoided saying ‘real Lukie,’ “could be somewhere else?”

    “Who can say? The afterlife is fractured.” The preserver stretched his legs out. “We’ll never likely know while we walk the physical world. And I can’t leave a revenant alone to prey on innocent mortals, unless someone will take responsibility for the creature.” He gave Tamlyn a meaningful look. “Do you wish to spend the rest of your life being responsible for a selfish, undead being?”

    Tamlyn twitched. What was he going to do with a soul-eating teenager? “She’ll want to leave the house. The problem is, there are those who might remember her from twenty years ago, and ask questions.”

    “You have options,” Cage continued. “I could cripple the revenant. We could make a sanctuary in your basement. Without souls for food, she’ll grow weak and confused, and you could keep her existing for the rest of your life. Then, as you get too old, you could appoint a new caretaker.”

    An image of the Baron’s concrete prison flashed in Tamlyn’s mind. “No, I can’t do that.” He sat up. “My mother had early onset dementia. She…” He rubbed his face with the palm of one sweating hand, remembering the woman screaming at him. “I couldn’t come home to a place where I’d deliberately made her like my mother.”

    “Then let me remove the revenant.” Cage rolled the coin from across his knuckles.

    “No.” Tamlyn made a fist.

    “If you won’t let me cripple her, how do you intend to feed her?” Cage pointed his coin at Tamlyn like a dagger.

    “Lukie doesn’t want to eat people,” Tamlyn repeated. “She told me she can devour other undead, and…”

    “And how’s she going to find them and hunt?” Cage said. “I have to leave soon. I don’t have time to train or care for a monster.”

    “She fed on me before.” Tamlyn poked at the listless feeling in his mind that hadn’t yet gone away. “I could do it again…”

    “You’re missing a chunk of your soul,” Cage explained. “You probably feel drained, disconnected from everything. And you’ve only taken a light wound. If you do it repeatedly, you’ll become as hollow as the surviving Clearwaters.”

    Tamlyn recalled the Clearwater family after emergency services had escorted them from their decaying mansion. Dull and staring. Listless eyes. Trapped in their house, chewed on for decades by the Baron. Something that Ellie, the police social worker, was struggling with at the moment. 

    “If you can’t keep her hidden from the mundane Golden World, then you’ll be dragged into hers,” Cage said. “I told you there’s a supernatural world, the Indigo, alongside the Golden. If you stay with the revenant, and don’t conceal her, she’ll drag you along with her. Your connections to the prosaic realm will weaken. You’ll lose your friends, lovers and career. And you don’t have a vestige, so you’ll be prey for everything around you. Is it worth it all for a dead girl? One that you aren’t even sure is real or not?”

    “If I go there with her, we might find things she can feed on,” Tamlyn muttered.

    “Be very clear about this,” Cage said. “Enter the unknown, and ensure the revenant’s continued existence at the cost of all you have now. Or let me remove the problem.”

    Tamlyn swallowed. One word from him, and the undead creature in his house would go. He could resume his normal life. That was if the creature wasn’t Lukie. He thought of his mother in the nursing home, screaming at him, not recognising him. His brother had asked why he kept visiting, and he’d replied: “That’s all I have left of her.”

    Before the murders, his childhood had stretched like a perfect, endless summer. Days with the band, going to the beach after school, or sitting in the library for hours talking. Back then, Lukie had been so lively: twitching and bouncing around like an excited terrier dosed with caffeine. She’d interrupted conversations with her own announcement and observations, and composed music in her exercise books and been annoyed when the teacher asked her to repeat material from the actual lesson. So different from the slow, deliberate creature in his house.

    Two days ago he’d lived a simple, quiet life without close friends. And now, whether a blessing of the ancient spirits or a curse, one had returned to him. And if it wasn’t Lukie exactly, it was all he had left of her.

    He stared at his expanse of round, hairy belly and the thin line of surgical scars across his chest. He knew what he had to do.

    “I’ll be responsible for her.” Tamlyn’s throat tightened.

    Cage walked the coin along his knuckles again. “Can you survive an existence on the borders of the Indigo World?”

    “Yes,” Tamlyn said. “What do you need from me?”

    Cage flicked the coin. It landed on the back of his left palm. He clasped a hand over it.

    Please don’t tell me he’s deciding Lukie’s fate on a toss.

    Cage revealed the coin: a wolf’s head facing upwards. “All right.”

    Tamlyn relaxed, breathing outwards. “Give me her photograph.”

    I’ll do something that’s close enough.” The monster hunter smiled. “A decision, I feel, appropriate to yours.”


    Tamlyn arrived home early in the hours of the morning. Slightly drunk, and yet able to park his car at an odd angle in his driveway.

    He opened the front door of his house and fumbled for the light switch.

    Twin, red glowing eyes emerged from the darkness.

    Tamlyn’s heart thumped. He flicked on the lights.

    “How did you go?” The scarlet glow resolved into Lukie’s eyes as the undead teenager strode towards him, leaning forward, more lively than before. Then the familiarity was broken when she held her head differently than what he remembered. Another little thing that caused dissonance. Perhaps coming back as a revenant was like recovering from a stroke. Even if she stayed the same, forever, it had to be better than watching his mother slowly fall apart because of her dementia. One day forgetting things, and then getting confused at the shops, and several years later, screaming at him incoherently when he’d tried to visit her in the nursing home, begging to see a daughter who no longer existed.

    And what if that happened to him? From Lukie’s perspective, he’d age and wither. His hair would recede further and whiten. He might forget things. Perhaps one day he wouldn’t remember her name, and what would she do?

    But that would not happen immediately. “It’s all sorted,” Tamlyn said.

    “Can I have my photograph?” Lukie stretched out a hand.

    “I’ll explain later,” Tamlyn said. “Trust me on this.” He kept his face blank, already preparing for a loud, shouty argument like they’d had all the time in high school, followed by a tantrum when she didn’t get her own way, and a series of vicious recriminations afterwards. The sensible thing was to advise the obvious now: I don’t have it. But he was tired and emotionally drained, preferring avoidance to fighting. He fingered the leaden weight of the coin in his pocket. Guilt saddled him. He’d have to tell her. One day. Soon.

    She twisted, staring up at him. Perhaps about to challenge him for the photograph again, and he braced himself for another argument.

    Instead, she studied him, biting her lip. “Okay.”

    An ‘okay’ from Lukie? Backing down? Not pushing him for once?

    Deliberately, slowly she returned to the couch. “Are you all right? You were gone a long time.”

    He nodded, relief flooding his body. All throughout high school, he’d often felt like she’d only offered him a one-way friendship, but then again he’d been obsessed with being the strong, silent type, and blindly oblivious of the fact that this meant that people looked you over, put you in the background.

    “Everything’s fine,” Tamlyn repeated, on autopilot.

    She patted the couch next to her. “Let’s watch TV for a bit, like the old days. You can tell me when you’re ready.”

    Grateful, he sat next her, slumping backwards. He’d agreed to take responsibility for her, out of a sense of loneliness and duty, like he’d done with his mother, his career, his ex-wife. Burdens he’d taken on without an expectation of getting anything in return, apart from a vague certainty it was the right thing to do. But now this deal seemed better than those things. He relaxed, surprised at how good it felt to simply sit with a friend, and be.

    Of course, he would have to tell her what he was holding back. About that day with Karra on the beach, or when he’d swum far into the ocean on his brother’s surfboard and how the water had become like black glass around him. And about his mother, his ex-wife and the divorce, the broken relationship with his stepsons, his mediocre policing career, and his insignificant life. Later.

    Lukie gestured at the music channel, where dark-clad people leapt about the stage and flicked their long hair. “They’re called Miserica—amazing, huh? We could do some covers if we ever decide to pick up the band again.”

    “Yeah,” he said, and tried to remember what he’d done with his old bass guitar.