Book Review – Monster Hunter International

Monster Hunter International (Monster Hunter International, #1)Monster Hunter International by Larry Correia

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Imagine that monsters were real. Every fairytale. Every horror movie. Every Lovecraft creature. All of it. Real. And imagine that they were out to get you. Who are you going to call? Monster Hunter International, of course. They’re like Ghostbusters only with really big weapons.

Monster Hunter International by Larry Correia is a fun book about Owen Pitt who joins the ranks of a monster hunter after killing a werewolf with his bare hands. As a character, Owen is rather abrasive and unlikeable. The book is written entirely without contractions, which doesn’t feel natural and was at times difficult to read. It gave Owen a stilted, somewhat standoffish vibe. But the story was entertaining enough to make up for it.

I recommend Monster Hunter International to readers who enjoy a lot of action and gore.

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Book Review – Spellbound

Spellbound (Grimnoir Chronicles, #2)Spellbound by Larry Correia

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Spellbound, book two of the Grimnoir Chronicles by Larry Correia, is an alternate history story that takes place around 1930. It is an age when part of the population has magic, such as the ability to teleport, to turn gravity on its head, or to start a fire with a thought, but the majority of the population does not, leading to distrust and prejudice.

In Spellbound, my favorite character, Faye, returns home to face the demons of her childhood and finds a literal demon who is out to kill her. The demon/villain was chilling, and the climactic battle had me on the edge of my seat.

Spellbound is funny and engrossing. It goes directly to my favorite books shelf. I know I’ll return to it whenever I need a pick-me-up.

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Book Review – Hard Magic

Hard Magic (Grimnoir Chronicles, #1)Hard Magic by Larry Correia

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hard Magic by Larry Correia takes place in an alternate dimension Earth circa 1930 in which a portion of the population can perform varying degrees of magic. Many of the events from our history books occur in this dimension albeit influenced by magic, and it’s fun to anticipate the deviations. In addition, there are cameos by famous people of the time, such as Herbert Hoover, who does not have magic, and Babe Ruth, who does. The story touches on themes of prejudice and redemption, but mostly it’s a rip-roaring race against a space alien who wants to eat all the magic and destroy Earth.

But the best part of the book is the characters. Jake, Lance, Delilah–they’re all funny and heartrendingly believable. But my favorite character, indeed my all-time favorite of any book I’ve ever read, is Sally Faye Vierra. Pure genius. Literally. Yet she is as humble and insecure as anyone could be.

I cannot recommend Hard Magic highly enough, and I’m sure once you read it you will become a fan as well.

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Book Review – Mostly Void, Partially Stars

Mostly Void, Partially Stars (Welcome to Night Vale Episodes, #1)Mostly Void, Partially Stars by Joseph Fink

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Welcome to Night Vale is a darkly humorous podcast about the Twilight-Zonian happenings in the small desert town of Night Vale. Mostly Void, Partially Stars is the transcript of the first season of episodes. Why read a book when a podcast is meant to be heard? For one thing, each episode is prefaced by personal insights and commentary by the producers, Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor. I loved getting a behind-the-scenes look. Also, by reading at my own pace, I was able to pick up nuances and references I missed while listening. I was able to page back at will and avail myself of the many inside jokes.

Mostly Void, Partially Stars is a worthy addition to the weird-book nook of your bookshelf. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys conspiracy theories and tongue-in-cheek sci-fi.

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Book Review – The Wrath of the Revenant

The Wrath of the Revenant (The Adventures of Tremain & Christopher, #3)The Wrath of the Revenant by Terry Marchion

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Adventures of Tremain and Christopher are short, fast-paced books meant for young teenagers. I don’t fit within that demographic, but I still enjoy them. The Wrath of the Revenant is the third book in the series, but don’t let that keep you from picking it up. The author lays enough groundwork to keep the reader from being confused even if they haven’t read the first two.

In The Wrath of the Revenant, Tremain and Christopher encounter an ancient, all-powerful being who threatens the colony of New Earth. The storyline hearkens back to Saturday afternoon sci-fi, and as I read, I could see myself with a bucket of popcorn curled up in front of the television.

The story was engaging. The characters not so much. I was disappointed in how different they were from the first two books. I can see Christopher changing. He’s getting older and even has a new girlfriend. (That seems to be the theme of the book–Tremain has an unexpected girlfriend, too.) But Uncle Tremain was noticeably subdued. I missed his wacky antics, dry wit, and forgetfulness. I hope he’ll be back to his eccentric old self in the next book.

That said, I enjoyed The Wrath of the Revenant and recommend it to anyone who wants a quick, fanciful read, whether you’re a teenager or not.

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Book Review – The Missing Yesterdays

The Missing Yesterdays (The Adventures of Tremain & Christopher #1)The Missing Yesterdays by Terry Marchion

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In The Missing Yesterdays by Terry Marchion, Tremain, a lovable and eccentric scientist, is up to his armpits in wacky experiments. When one goes wrong, it causes an entire civilization to disappear. It’s up to Tremain and his nephew, Christopher, to set things right. But how?

The machine that seems to be at the heart of it all sends them to realms unknown. They must unravel the puzzle of where and when they are and restore the course of time before they too wink out of existence.

I love time travel stories. I love the inherent paradoxes. The Missing Yesterdays is a good introduction to such stories for young readers–the story is not too technical and the paradoxes are not overly convoluted. There’s just enough adventure to whet young appetites and open the door to more. Recommended for Middle Grade and up.

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Book Review – Christmas Eve in Bangkok

Christmas Eve in BangkokChristmas Eve in Bangkok by Morgan McFinn

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Christmas Eve in Bangkok by Morgan McFinn is what you get when you take six diverse, well-drawn characters and lock them in a room together. The short story is told from the viewpoint of a cynical, snarky writer who has volunteered with five other people to answer phone calls from depressed Americans on Christmas Eve. Despite the solemn subject matter, the story is laugh-out-loud funny.

My only complaint is that it ended rather abruptly. I would have liked to have seen the group breakfast together on Christmas morning and make their farewells–but that might be because I didn’t want the story to end.

If you would like a quick read from a masterful author this Christmas, I highly recommend Christmas Eve in Bangkok. (And although the author never said so, I totally believe the story is true.)

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Free eBooks Now Through Cyber Monday

Middle-Grade kids read a lot in school, but that can seem a chore. They need to be able to read for fun.

If your child loves magic, I have two books on Kindle they will enjoy. FREE THIS WEEKEND. The Adventures of the Power Girls takes place on an island in the Florida Keys. There are magic stones, friendly dolphins, and a castle made of chocolate. But beneath all that, the books are about believing in yourself and standing up for what you believe is right.

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In KEEPERS OF MAGIC, Emma Rose is ten years old. She has four best friends and an older sister who loves to play pranks on her. She is as normal as a girl can be. Until the morning when she wakes up with blue streaks in her hair. At first, she thinks it is another of her sister’s pranks. But when she gets to school, she finds out that her friends have streaks in their hair, too. Red, green, purple, white. What’s worse, they all have magical powers. Emma has to get to the bottom of this. An old book leads her and her friends to a secret island in the Florida Keys. There they find a queen in a chocolate castle. The queen agrees to teach them about their new powers. Little do they know that this is just the beginning of the adventures of the power girls.

Get the eBook for free on Amazon.

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In ISLAND OF MAGIC, Emma Rose and her best friends are leaving for boarding school. This is no ordinary school, and Emma and her friends aren’t ordinary girls. They have magical powers. The Academy of Elemental Magic will teach them how to use their powers. It lies inside a sleeping volcano on the Island of Magic. But when Emma and her friends arrive, they find that the island is being poisoned. The magical fog that protects it from prying eyes is disappearing. Some of the students have gotten sick. Some have even lost their powers. Emma has to find out why. However, when her investigation uncovers a conspiracy among the students themselves, no one will believe her—not even her best friends. Emma is on her own. Her only hope is to heal the island. But the poor island’s weakening defenses has allowed enemies to reach its shores. Her powers are not strong enough to battle an evil sorceress who can control the weather. Can she foil the plot in time to save the Island and the girls who live there before more enemies appear?

Get the eBook for free on Amazon.

You might notice that the book covers look like they were drawn by a ten-year-old. That’s because they were. I wrote these books with the help of my two young granddaughters. They dictated. I typed.

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If your child’s tastes run more toward puppies, I have an excellent read for them. VIOLET AND THE MISSING PUPPY is my most popular middle-grade book. It teaches the danger of judging people. When her friends lose their puppy after only one week, eleven-year-old Violet thinks they are irresponsible. But as time goes by, she realizes the puppy is in real trouble. She needs to put aside her feelings and solve the mystery or little Snowball might die. The book is also about family values. Violet never wants to include her little sister, but in the end, she must rely on her help to save the puppy.

Get the eBook for free on Amazon.

How to Format Your Novel

Also free this weekend is my popular tutorial, HOW TO FORMAT YOUR NOVEL FOR CREATESPACE. Formatting your novel for publication can be a maddening experience, but it’s not nearly as difficult or time-consuming as writing the book in the first place. Just follow these steps and before you know it, you will be a proud author. And you should be proud. You’ve accomplished something amazing. HOW TO FORMAT YOUR NOVEL FOR CREATESPACE is a writing tool to help you self-publish with Amazon. The step-by-step guide will take you from MS Word to published author—and you don’t have to be a Word power user to understand it. Note: This guide is written for CreateSpace, but it will help you format for other platforms as well. Also, while the tips cite MS Word, they work with most word processing programs.

Get the eBook for free on Amazon.

And don’t forget my science fiction trilogy for teens, COLONIAL SCOUTS, is on sale now through the end of November for only 99 cents each. The Colonial Scouts are an elite group of teenage explorers who seek out habitable planets for the Colonial Expansion Board. They travel through space via programmable wormholes.

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In ALIEN WORLDS, a brilliant girl with a dark past dreams of escaping the streets by becoming a Scout. Because she is homeless, she feels she must study twice as hard to get into the program. The day before her final exam, however, a transporter malfunction sends her jumping uncontrollably from planet to planet. Although the error could be corrected from inside the wormhole, the Board decides she is too young to understand that level of tech. Will she prove them wrong? Or will she die on an alien world?

ALIEN WORLDS is about trusting yourself and others.

Get the eBook for 99 cents on Amazon.

Alien Jungle Kindle Cover

In ALIEN JUNGLE, a new Scout wants desperately to prove himself to both the Board and to his girlfriend. But when he leads a rescue party to a failing colony, everything goes against him. His estranged father turns out to be the leader of the settlement. The colonists think he is inept because he is a teenager. And his disgruntled teammates think he was named team leader because of his dad. He can tell no one about his secret mission to save only fifteen of the seventy people. Will he follow orders, leaving the rest of the colonists to die? Or will he find a way to save them all?

ALIEN JUNGLE is about accepting yourself and others.

Get the eBook for 99 cents on Amazon.

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In ALIEN SEAS, a girl who is drowning in siblings hopes that if she becomes a Scout she will rise above her brothers and sisters and shine. But when a man dies because of her mistake, she leaves the elite program and returns home a failure. Her homecoming is even worse than she imagined, however. Her twin brother is missing. Despite warnings from the authorities, she searches for him and embroils herself in a growing mystery with far-reaching consequences. Will she save her brother from himself? Or will he save her?

ALIEN SEAS is about forgiving yourself and others.

Get the eBook for 99 cents on Amazon.

These eBooks are on sale for a limited time, so don’t delay. I hope everyone has a wondrous holiday season. Keep on reading!

Book Excerpt – The Amazing Wolf Boy

What happens when a bumbling nerd becomes a werewolf and finds he has superpowers? Listen here and find out!

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That’s right! The Amazing Wolf Boy is now an audiobook at Audible. You can get it free with Audible’s 30-day trial membership.

Here’s the story: Cody Forester plans to become a doctor. Instead, he becomes a werewolf. The first time Cody shows fang and fur, his parents ship him off to live with his black sheep uncle. His revised career choice is social hermit. As the new kid, he makes more enemies than friends. His high school teachers label him a troublemaker. The whole town hates him.

Except Brittany. She’s beautiful, with her eyes painted black and her lips dark purple. When Brittany discovers his secret, she tries to cure him using crystals, candles, and magic potions. Cody falls head-over-tails in love, but he can never tell her. Girls like her aren’t for him. He’s the amazing wolf boy. Astound your family and mystify your friends.

While Cody moons over Brittany, a murderous pack of lycanthropes howl into town. They want Cody to join them. When he refuses, they kidnap Brittany and threaten to kill her at moonrise. Cody must master his untried superpowers or the girl he loves dies. Can he defeat the pack and save both their lives?

The Amazing Wolf Boy has been described as cute, sweet, and funny, certainly not your average werewolf story. Give it a try on Audible.

Or if you prefer print or eBook, you can find it on Amazon. Or look for it at these fine bookstores. Here’s an excerpt to get you started.

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THE AMAZING WOLF BOY

by Roxanne Smolen

CHAPTER ONE

I’ll never forget the night my life ended.

It was Christmas Eve, 2007, and I was in France with my parents at Maison Kammerzell, one of those fancy historic restaurants. The room glowed with plastic icicles. Ropes of apples and mistletoe hung from the ceiling. My tie felt like a noose and my suit coat a straitjacket.

We were dining on le Reveillon, a holiday feast of roast capon, which is a castrated chicken, and boudin blanc, which always tastes like vanilla pudding to me. My mother waved her hands as she described in detail the Christmas decorations at the Charity Ball she chaired. I love my mother, I really do, but give her a glass of wine and she can outtalk an auctioneer. My father listened with a rapt expression, letting her build up steam. I thought about my DS back in the hotel room. Out the window, beyond the reflection of red and gold holiday lights, I saw a full moon.

As if someone threw a switch inside my head, my senses came alive. The room rang with the clink of china and crystal. The string quartet, whose Christmas Carols had gone all but unheard in the hectic atmosphere, now played sharp and clear.

Scents rose from my table and mixed with those from surrounding tables. I put down my fork, staring at my plate. My nose told me that the poor, mutilated rooster I’d been eating was stuffed with rosemary. The bird reeked. I couldn’t believe I’d put that in my mouth. It made my skin crawl. For real. I could see the hair on the back of my hands stand up.

Hair on my hands? When did that happen?

Before I thought of a satisfactory explanation, agony gripped me. I clutched the sides of my head. It felt as if my skull cracked open as if someone pulled off my face. My teeth ached so bad I couldn’t close my lips. Drool dribbled down my chin. I covered my mouth with my hands and froze.

It didn’t feel like me. The nose was flat. The jaw protruded. I ran my tongue over my teeth. They were long and sharp. Like fangs. I leaped to my feet, almost knocking over my chair. While my mother prattled on about the ball, I rushed from the table.

My only thought was to hide. It might have made sense to yell for help, both my parents are doctors, but I didn’t want the other diners to see me. So I zigzagged through the tables with my napkin to my face, dodging curious stares. Panic churned the over-spiced food in my stomach.

I reached the lobby. A couple came in arm-in-arm through the door, and another couple greeted them. They laughed and shook hands, blocking the exit. A man stepped out of the men’s room, while two others went inside. Couldn’t hide there. Too busy. The smell of leather and fur radiated from the coatroom. When the distracted coat-check girl turned her back, I ducked inside.

Excruciating pain wracked my body. Every muscle clenched and twisted. I felt as if my bones shrank and elongated at the same time. Sweat poured from my skin. I tore off my suit coat and unbuttoned my shirt, gasping as cool air hit my chest. Trapped in a sort of mental haze, I climbed behind the mink and sable wraps.

My father’s voice snapped me to wakefulness. “I’m looking for my son, Cody.”

It sounded like he was at the front desk. I could walk that far. Still sweating, I got to my feet.

All four feet.

I yelped, and the sound that burst from my throat was not human. I stared at sleek silver paws. As I stumbled forward, my pants slid from my hindquarters.

“Cody? Are you in here?” my father called.

Before I saw him, I smelled him—from his shampoo to his shoe polish to the residue of dinner that clung to his pores. He stood in the doorway of the coatroom, his face unreadable. Then he said, “For crying out loud.”

Not knowing what else to do, I barreled past my father into the restaurant lobby. My paws clattered on the smooth floor, and my hind legs skittered sideways. I saw wood paneling and spiral staircases. People stood everywhere. Someone screamed. The maître d’ shouted something I couldn’t understand.

Then I caught a puff of chilled, fresh air. I scraped and skidded toward the door, trying to spread my weight over four legs, and accidentally slammed my shoulder into a man’s hip. He fell, and the impact bounced me into a twenty-foot Christmas tree. One of my hind feet snagged a strand of holiday lights; the tree swayed and tinkled.

I bounded out the open door, leaping for freedom, and hitting the pavement on all fours. Lights flashed and dazzled my eyes. The sound of traffic roared. The stench of motor oil and hot rubber rose in swells. Pedestrians came from all directions. They trampled me and cussed, or jumped back like I was rabid. I scrambled to get out of the way.

I scented water and remembered passing a fountain on the way to the restaurant. I headed toward the smell at a trot, thinking it would be quieter there, and caught my reflection in a storefront window.

I was a dog. A large, silver dog with a short yellow tail. How could it be true? It had to be a dream.

Keep to the sidewalk. Try to look inconspicuous. Just a big fluffy pet wearing a necktie. My tongue lolled to the side. I closed my mouth but it dropped open again as if my teeth were too large to contain.

The fountain was not as deserted as I hoped. It was a meeting place for lovers. Some of the girls squealed and pointed. Several couples hurried away. Maybe they thought I had rabies. I stood there, not knowing where to go or what to do. I felt scared and confused.

But also intrigued. I smelled fear on the people who stared at me, tasted their mingled scents on the breeze. I wanted to chase them just to see how fast they’d run.

What was wrong with me?

The wail of sirens rose over the street noise. Weird sirens, not normal ones like in Massachusetts. I never missed home more than at that moment. If I could just wake up, I knew I would find myself in my own bed. That thought held me, and I must have spaced. A moment later, two cars screeched to the curb. Several uniformed men hopped out. One held a lasso on a stick. They walked in my direction.

“I need help,” I shouted. “Something’s wrong.”

Only, that’s not what came out. I frowned, replaying the rough sounds that burst from my throat. The men surrounded me, holding their arms from their sides like they were fences. I decided to try talking again. Maybe if I said something in Dog it would come out as English.

“Woof,” I barked. “Woof, woof, woof.”

The nearest guy tried to loop his lasso over my head. I dodged. He swung again, and I backed into one of the men. He wasn’t a very good fencepost—he went down beneath my weight.

I spun about, intending to speed away, but my hind legs ran faster than my front. I skittered around the fountain like I was running on ice. The bystanders scattered. The men spread out, cornering me. A growl rose in my chest; my teeth bared themselves. Without thinking, I jumped. No, I soared. Right over their heads. Came down running and didn’t stop.

I heard shouts and the thud of heavy footsteps, but after a while, the sounds faded. I didn’t slow down. My nose led me to a brick-paved alley, and I tore through it, trying to catch up with myself. It was like if I could run fast enough, far enough, I might leave the nightmare behind.

After a time, pain overcame my horror, and I limped to a halt. My overexerted muscles screamed, and my paws felt raw and stone bruised. I was still in the labyrinth of byways, enmeshed in the rich odors of garbage. I saw recessed doors and bicycles leaning against walls.

Townhomes. Everyone asleep. Visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads.

My holiday dinner curdled in my stomach. I was thirsty. Someone left out a dog bowl, and the water was almost irresistible. I refused it. I would not drink like an animal.

With an almost drunken stagger, I continued to walk. The alley was bright. I looked up at the brilliant, full moon.

Tears burned my eyes. I wanted to cry. But I was sixteen years old. I hadn’t cried since I was a kid. Besides, if I started, it might sound like I was howling, and I couldn’t handle that.

In a doorway, I curled into a ball and put my paws over my muzzle.

* * *

I awoke to a frigid dawn. I was human. I was also naked. All I wore was my necktie from the previous night.

My body convulsed with shivers as I stumbled down the alleyway. I had to get to my parents before I died of exposure. There was no traffic so early in the morning. The street lamps were still lit. I stood in the shadows, searching for a signpost, a landmark, anything familiar. I didn’t know Strasbourg well, although I’d visited before.

While I considered how to get from point A to point B, a squad car pulled up the alley behind me. Some early riser must have seen me streak past their window.

I raised my arms over my head and shouted, “I’m an American,” as the police officer stepped toward me.

His eyes were amused. At least, he didn’t draw his gun. “You look cold,” he said in a thick French accent. His gaze settled on my shriveled shrinky dink.

I dropped my hands, covering myself. “I was…I am…” I wanted to tell him I was mugged and my clothes were stolen, but I was shivering so hard, I couldn’t get the words out.

He opened his trunk and removed a long, heavy coat. Perhaps he didn’t feel it was cold enough to wear such a garment. He tossed it to me, and I put it on. The coat was as icy as the air. If anything, I felt colder. He ushered me to the car and opened the door. I balked. I didn’t want to go to jail.

“My parents are staying at the Sofitel,” I managed to say.

Oui. Your family contacted us regarding your disappearance and your mental aberration.” He pushed me inside with a practiced hand atop my head and slammed the door.

The car was so small I had to slouch to fit. The backseat smelled like vomit. There was no heat. The officer got in front and spoke French into his radio. I hugged my arms and puzzled over his previous words.

Mental aberration? Is that what happened? Had I only thought I was a dog? That would explain my father’s annoyed reaction when he saw me in the coatroom. The idea comforted me as if being crazy was better.

By the time we reached the police station, I felt warm within the coat. The officer helped me out of the vehicle and up the stairs. Noise burst to greet us as he opened the door. The station was crowded despite it being dawn on Christmas morning. I walked at his side past the front desk, garnering more than a few stares. He led me down a corridor decorated with a line of threadbare tinsel taped to the wall. The floor was gritty and cold. We stopped at an office with Captain Jean-Luc Boudreaux stenciled on the window. Inside, I saw my parents get to their feet. My mother’s eyes were puffy as if she’d been crying.

“Mom.” I wanted to go to her and hug her, but the look she shot me was not inviting.

My father handed me a fleecy jogging suit. I slipped on the pants, and then passed the coat to the officer. He accepted with a nod.

A bald man I assumed was Captain Boudreaux stood from the desk. “So we find the little boy and all is well, no?”

Wincing at the words little boy, I sat to tie my shoes. I felt invisible. No one spoke to me. My father signed a pack of paperwork. I imagined it like a receipt, like he was pulling a wayward puppy out of the pound. And just like that, we were free to go. Before I knew it, we were back at the hotel.

I wanted to talk about the night before, wanted to figure out what had happened, but I was still getting the silent treatment. My mother paced the room, avoiding my eyes. I stood at the door, wondering how to broach the subject.

At last, I said, “Am I crazy?”

“Don’t ever think that,” said my father.

“I must be.” I took a step into the room and held out my hands. My palms were raw from a night of running on all fours. “I thought I turned into a dog.”

“A wolf,” my mother snapped. “You turned into a wolf.”

Her tone was both disgusted and accusing, as if it were my fault, as if I’d been playing around. I was so taken aback it took a moment for her words to sink in.

“Wolf?” I remembered the full moon. “As in werewolf?”

But aren’t werewolves vicious monsters?

She stopped to face me, straightening her shoulders. “Your father and I have talked it over, and we feel it would be better for everybody if you went to live with your uncle in Florida.”

“What?” I stood there, dumbfounded. “I can’t live with him. I only met him once.”

“It’s for your own good.”

“But what about my life? What about school?”

“They have schools in Loxahatchee,” she shouted.

Loxahatchee. As if there were such a place.

Tears filled my eyes for the second time in as many days. “I can’t believe it. I can’t believe you’d send me away.” I expected them to take me to a doctor, or even a psychiatrist. But this?

“We already have your ticket,” my father said. “We’ll arrange for a car to pick you up at the airport and take you to Bob’s house.”

Uncle Bob. The black sheep. The only thing I knew about him was that he sometimes hit my mother up for money.

“You aren’t coming?” I said, sounding like the little boy the captain had branded me.

My parents turned away.

So there you have it. My life was over. Not literally, of course. But as I stared out the window of the jumbo jet at the spreading void of Everglades below, I knew nothing was going like I planned.

CHAPTER TWO

I stood on my uncle’s porch, suitcase in hand, and pounded the door. No response. I felt like an idiot. Guess I wasn’t expected. Or maybe this wasn’t the right place.

My car and driver were gone. There were no other houses in sight. What looked like solid jungle bordered the yard. I walked along a wooden rail and peered through a curtainless window. The shadows inside were still.

With a groan, I sank onto a porch swing that hung by rusted chains. I was tired, and I hadn’t eaten since the capon the previous night. The jogging suit made me sweat in the Florida heat.

Miserable, I looked at an orange and purple sunset. It would be night soon. Would I change into a wolf again? I winced and pushed the thought from my brain. Where was my uncle, anyway? Probably at a party. It was hard to remember it was Christmas Day.

Maybe he hoped to avoid me. Maybe I wasn’t wanted.

Daunted by that thought, I walked around the side of the house. A window was open. Pale curtains fluttered like ghosts. I leaped for the frame and caught the sill, but couldn’t pull myself up. Grit stung my hands. I returned to the porch, stomped to the door, and knocked until it rattled. In desperation, I tried the knob. It was unlocked.

“Hello?” I stepped inside.

The house smelled like a dog. I wondered if my uncle had a pet. One look around the dim interior and I realized why he hadn’t locked the door. There was nothing to steal.

A battered recliner sat in the middle of the living room. Beside it was a metal TV table with a twelve-inch television on top. Probably black and white. I longed for the forty-two-inch plasma in my room at home.

On top of the TV, a large jawbone gripped a stack of newspapers. Like a freaking paperweight. I wondered to what animal it had belonged. Maybe an alligator. My shoulders sagged. I dropped my suitcase, closed the door, fumbled for a light switch and found one that turned on a chandelier in an empty dining room. Only two of the bulbs lit.

A note was stuck to the television screen. It was addressed to me.

Cody, I couldn’t wait any longer for you to arrive. I have somewhere to be tonight. I know you understand. Your room is to the right. Make yourself at home. We’ll talk in the morning. Glad to have you here, boy. — Uncle Bob

Relieved, I picked up my suitcase and went to my room. I hesitated at the door. There was a wrought iron bed. No sheets. No pillows. No blinds on the windows. I sat on the mattress. My mom said she would ship my things when she got back from vacation. I hoped she wouldn’t, hoped she would reconsider my banishment.

Besides, where would I keep anything?

With a sigh, I peeled off my soggy sweatshirt and put on a tee with Recycle America printed on the front. The closet had no hangers, so I hung the sweatshirt on the bedpost to dry and set off for the kitchen. It was easy to find—I just followed the draft. The window above the sink was open. Beyond it, the sky darkened. My stomach did a somersault, and I wasn’t sure I could eat.

I needn’t have worried. The cupboard held a couple of mugs and a large jar of instant coffee. There was a white Formica table in the corner. It had four chairs, two of them tucked against the wall. There were coffee-ring stains on top along with a chromed, old-style toaster. Maybe there was bread. I searched the cupboard again, and then turned to the refrigerator. It held three beers and a bottle of ketchup.

“Cripes!” I slammed the refrigerator and stormed into my room. I decided to call my mom, had the cell phone in my hand. I didn’t know whether I would beg her to take me back or tell her off for sending me to Podunk land.

A sudden sharpening of my senses stopped me. I froze. I heard crickets and birds, smelled dust and the rich damp earth. Muscles squirmed beneath my skin. It was happening again. Oh, God, I couldn’t stand it. Frantic, I yanked open the bedroom window, climbed outside, and sprinted for the line of palm trees. My legs felt like they shattered with each step. I dove for cover, and then writhed in agony. I thought it would never end.

Then it did. I looked at my silver paws, and then placed them over my eyes. I needed help. But there was no one. There was nothing I could do.

A breeze ruffled my fur. I smelled flowers, stagnant water, and rabbit spoor. I heard insects in the brush and opossums in the trees. A bird let out a screech that made me feel I was in Africa.

The wind invited me to run with it. I refused. I didn’t want to wake up naked and lost again. Drenched in sweat, I stood and stepped out of my shoes. My bulky jogging pants slipped off my narrow hindquarters. Then I realized I still wore my T-shirt. I tried to grab it with my teeth but only succeeded in spinning. I tried again and spun the other way.

A snarl twisted my muzzle. This was ridiculous. I threw myself onto my back, then wriggled and kicked, my hind legs digging my chest. The shirt would not come off.

I sat defeated in my Recycle America tee. The amazing wolf boy. No wonder no one wanted me.

The tears started. I couldn’t stop them. I cried like I hadn’t a friend in the world. It sounded like I bayed at the moon.

* * *

I awoke in the bushes, covered in dew. The sky was a soft gray. Birds sang in the trees.

My eyes burned, and I rubbed them as I looked toward the silent house. A blue pickup truck with an extended cab sat in the gravel driveway. I wondered if it belonged to my uncle. I had heard that my mother sent Bob money to buy a truck. I’d assumed it was a tricked-out show vehicle. This one looked like it was accustomed to hard work.

I dressed in a hurry, and then crossed the yard and climbed through my bedroom window. Noise came from the kitchen. My stomach fell. I was almost as apprehensive about seeing my uncle as I was about turning into a wolf.

I went to the kitchen. Uncle Bob stood at the sink making a cup of instant coffee with hot tap water. He had steel gray, over-the-collar hair and a thin build.

I cleared my throat. “Good morning.”

“Cody. Good to see you, boy.”

He held out his hand, and I shook it. His palms were heavily calloused. I wondered what he did for a living.

“Hey, you got tall,” he said with my mom’s smile.

I tried to smile back, but it felt like a grimace. Yeah, I got tall, seeing’s how the last time he saw me I was four years old.

“You have grass in your hair,” he said.

My hands jerked up, and I stammered, “Oh, I was, ah—”

“Want some coffee?”

“No, sir,” I said, and then blurted, “There’s nothing to eat.”

He slurped. “What, you didn’t eat last night?”

I frowned. Had he expected me to exist on airline food?

“I ate.” He patted his stomach. “Had me a nice rabbit dinner. Nothing better than fresh caught.”

“You like to hunt?”

“Sure. Don’t you?”

I’d never been hunting in my life. But I hoped to fit in, so I said, “I fish.” Although I hadn’t since I was ten.

“Fish?” He scrunched his face. “To each his own, I guess. Why don’t we go into town and get some breakfast.”

“Can I go like this?” I indicated my damp sweatpants and stretched out tee.

He shrugged. “This is South Florida. You can go in your skivvies if you want.”

We walked together into the gray morning. My nose twitched with flower-scented humidity.

“This will give me a chance to show you around.” Uncle Bob circled the cab of his truck.

I sat shotgun and buckled in. The first thing I noticed was the truck didn’t have a radio. The second was a baseball bat on the floor. I didn’t think it was there for sport. A knotted leather cord dangled from the rearview mirror. Feathers and animal fangs decorated its length.

“What’s that?” I motioned.

He winked. “Trophies.”

I nodded like it was normal to keep mementos of road kill. I saw why my parents considered him a black sheep.

We lurched along the rutted roads that led out of the neighborhood, and finally pulled onto asphalt where we picked up speed. Outside my window, the landscape turned alien. It wasn’t like I’d never been in Florida. I visited Miami Beach plenty of times—blue water, white sandy beaches, high-rises. This was nothing like that. One minute we’d be in a jungle so thick you couldn’t see past the trees. The next, we’d be in a flat expanse of scrub and sawgrass that stretched for miles.

As if he sensed my bewilderment, my uncle said, “This here’s the northernmost tip of the Everglades. We got our share of ’gators. They’re surprisingly fast on land so don’t antagonize them. We’re also getting a nasty population of Burmese pythons.”

“Snakes?” Was this a joke? “I thought they lived in the rainforest.”

“Well, people think they can dump any old thing.” His voice trailed.

“Like that urban myth,” I said. “Alligators in the sewers.”

“Except this ain’t no myth.” He grew quiet for a moment and then said, “It’s happening all over South Florida. People take things as pets and then tire of them. I heard they’re finding Japanese lionfish off shore. They’re that fish you usually see in home aquariums. If they don’t get them out of our waters, the buggers will ruin the reefs. They’re vicious predators.”

I added to the short list of things I knew about my uncle. He liked to hunt, he was an environmentalist, and he didn’t listen to music.

We passed a few crossroads. None had street signs.

Uncle Bob motioned toward one. “That way takes you to Belle Glade and the sugarcane fields. When they’re harvesting, it smells like burning syrup. If you go down that road, you’ll run into the back end of the safari park. It’s a four-mile preserve, sort of a drive-through zoo. All kinds of animals.”

“Do they ever get out?”

“I never heard of a lion getting loose, but you’ll see a runaway monkey from time to time. And their peacocks are everywhere. You probably heard them last night.”

I winced. I’d heard plenty of strange sounds last night, but I hadn’t been myself.

Bob pointed down another road. “That way leads to the Sunspot nudist camp.”

I sputtered. “As in no clothes?”

“They’re nice people. I don’t want you bothering them.”

I shook my head. “Never met a nudist before.”

“They’re like anybody else.” He grinned. “Only nekked.”

We stopped at a traffic light. There weren’t many other cars.

“This is Southern Boulevard,” Uncle Bob told me. “You’ll find most of what you need along here.”

I nodded and hoped I wouldn’t be around long enough to need anything. He was right, though. There were stores and chain restaurants I recognized. It was like a regular city, only in miniature.

We pulled into a parking lot for the Coffee Café. The pavement was cracked; foot-high grass sprouted through the fissures. There were only two other cars. One of them was a convertible with leather seats baking in the heat. The other had Sheriff stenciled on the side.

I hopped from the truck and circled around. If this was anything like home, cops usually knew the best places to eat. Uncle Bob seemed pensive as we approached the door.

Almost as if he’d waited for us, the sheriff came out of the diner. He had white hair and a mustache. “Morning, Robert. Who do we have here?”

“Hello, Brad,” my uncle said with no trace of a smile. “This is my nephew, Cody. He’ll be staying with me.”

“How do you do, sir?” I said.

He looked me up and down, ignoring my outstretched hand. “Well, young man. Let me know if you have any trouble settling in.”

“Thank you, sir.” I moved to step around him.

He blocked the door. “We like to think of Loxahatchee as the town that doesn’t ask too many questions. But that’s not to say anything goes. I like to keep things quiet, you know what I mean?”

“Yes, sir. I do,” I said.

“Excuse us, Brad,” my uncle said. “The boy here is mighty hungry.”

We stepped into the café. It smelled of coffee and pancake syrup. The room was dim compared to the bright morning.

I stood in the entryway and replayed the conversation with the sheriff. I had the impression Sheriff Brad didn’t much like my uncle—and by extension, me.

From across the room, a waitress called, “Bobby, nice to see you, hon. I have a table for you over here.”

We squeezed into the booth she indicated. It was by a window that overlooked the street. Stripes fell through the slats of the blinds, the light tinted pink by a transparent Santa Claus painted on the glass.

“How was your birthday? Good?” She poured my uncle a cup of coffee.

“Wonderful. My sister surprised me with the best gift ever.” He gave her a wide smile. “Anne, this is Cody. He’s staying with me. I want you to set him up with a tab, anything he wants, and I’ll tally up at the end of the month.”

They both looked at me as if I should gush with enthusiasm over my uncle’s generosity.

“Umm. I don’t really like coffee,” I managed to say.

Uncle Bob laughed. “Then get him chocolate milk. What kid doesn’t like chocolate milk?”

“One chocolate milk coming up,” Anne said over her shoulder as she hurried away.

They looked so pleased I didn’t have the heart to tell them I didn’t care for milk either. I rarely ate breakfast at home, just grabbed a Dew on the way to school.

When Anne brought my food, however, I was ravenous. I had eggs, sausage, pancakes, and a bowl of white soupy stuff my uncle called grits. It all tasted great. I couldn’t get it in my mouth fast enough.

My uncle chuckled as he snagged a piece of my toast. “I guess I forgot what it’s like to be a growing boy.”

I nodded and polished off my milk.

“After winter break, we’ll take you over to Seminole Bluffs and get you signed up for high school,” he said. “It won’t be like those prep schools you’re used to, but it has a good reputation.”

I set down my fork, suddenly losing my appetite. My prep school, as he called it, was going to get me into Harvard. I planned to become a doctor like my parents. How would that happen now? How could I go to a normal high school, act like a normal kid?

I sensed his eyes upon me and scrambled to hide my emotions. “Do they have extracurricular activities? I was president of the Science Club at home.”

“Sports.” He shrugged. “Home of the Hawks.”

My shoulders deflated. I liked sports, but I’d never be mistaken for an athlete. Too thin. And in spite of my dad’s assurances that I would grow to be taller than him, I was average height. Still waiting for that growth spurt. Uncle Bob stared at me, so I cast about for something else to say. “Will a bus pick me up?”

“Don’t think it comes out my way, now that you mention it.” He rubbed his chin. “Do you have a driver’s license?”

“I have a learner’s permit,” I told him.

“Good.” He stretched and draped his arm over the back of the booth. “I saw something the other day you might like. Hope it’s still for sale.”

I looked at him, my stomach doing a little flip. Was he buying me a car?

“Finished?” He motioned at my empty plate. “Let’s go have a look.”

CHAPTER THREE

We left the café and drove along a side street lined with pink and aqua houses. Icicle lights hung from the garages. Deflated plastic snowmen lay puddled on the driveways. A flock of wild parakeets flitted from tree to tree like a green cloud.

Uncle Bob pulled the truck up to a house with a yard sale out front. Rows of folding tables filled the lawn. Grass grew around their legs and gave the impression that the tables were permanent fixtures. They were piled with everything from clothing to dishes.

A man came out of the garage with yet another box of stuff to add to the disorder. He wore cut-off jeans and a Dolphins football jersey. His dark hair hung in a long ponytail down his back. I thought he looked Native American.

Uncle Bob got out of the truck and slammed the door. The man glanced over, and his broad face broke into a smile. He hugged my uncle like a brother. They slapped each other’s backs.

“Open for business the day after Christmas?” Uncle Bob said. “Aren’t you cutting the holidays a bit short?”

He shrugged. “Ah, well, it’s not my religion.” Then he looked at me. His eyes narrowed.

“Cody, my nephew,” Uncle Bob told him. “He’s down from Massachusetts.”

“He has your aura.” The man nodded as he circled me. “Yes, indeed.”

Uncle Bob draped his arm across my shoulders and dropped his voice. “Cody, Howard here is a friend. Best friend you can have. If you ever get in trouble, anything at all, he’s the man to see.”

“Day or night.” Howard raised his hand in a solemn promise.

I nodded and wondered how friendly either of them would be if they knew my secret. “Thank you, sir.”

“Welcome.” He glanced about as if he just noticed his yard. “I’d like to chat, but I have more junk to display.”

“Need a hand?” asked my uncle.

“No, I’ve got it. Why don’t you two look around?” Howard returned to his garage.

As if that were his cue, Uncle Bob set off through the cramped rows. It wasn’t easy to keep up. I couldn’t imagine why we were there. Howard labeled his wares junk, and he couldn’t have been more right. He must have an army of kids to accumulate so many cast-offs.

My uncle cocked his head as he peered beneath the tables. At last, he said, “Here it is. This is what I was telling you about.” He pulled out a rickety bicycle.

I took a step back. “It’s a bike.”

“Yeah. You’ll need something to get around on.”

“But it’s a bike. I don’t need a driver’s license to ride a bike.”

“You need identification. I don’t want you to pedal around without ID.” He rolled the bicycle back and forth. Both tires were flat. “Hey, Howard. How much?”

“Twenty-five dollars,” Howard called back.

“No, no, no. How much for me?”

“Thirty.”

Uncle Bob sat on the bike. It gave an ominous creak. “I’ll give you ten.”

Howard raised a hand in acceptance and disappeared once more into the depths of his garage.

With a wink and a grin, Uncle Bob handed me the bike and slapped me on the shoulder. “What else does he have around here? Do you need anything?”

I could have laughed. What could I possibly need? Here I was in South Florida with a suitcase full of winter clothes. “Hangers. For the closet.”

Bob slung a thick, red blanket over his shoulder. It looked hand woven. He peered into a box. “Ah, bed sheets. How about these?” He pulled out a set of mustard-yellow sheets printed with Scooby Doo.

I made a face. No way would I sleep on something like that.

“Come on.” He laughed. “What kid doesn’t like cartoons?”

We ended up with quite a haul. Besides the bike and bedding, we picked up some bowls and plates for the kitchen and some extra towels for the bath. I found a decent pair of jeans and a few T-shirts.

Howard claimed we owed eighty-eight dollars, but Uncle Bob talked him down to twenty-seven. We packed everything into the back of the pickup and said good-bye.

As I climbed into the truck, I felt dazed. Everything happened so fast. It was like if I bought those few things, I was agreeing to stay. Only I couldn’t stay. I wanted to go home.

“Just one more stop.” My uncle smiled as he drove back toward Southern.

I bit my tongue. My frustration erupted in an overwhelming anger at Uncle Bob. Deep down, I knew it wasn’t fair. He was trying to be nice. My exile probably messed up his life as much as mine. The people I should be mad at were my parents—but every time I tried to be, I saw my mother’s puffy, red eyes. I couldn’t blame them. I couldn’t blame anyone.

Uncle Bob pulled into the lot of a Walgreens Pharmacy. Red and green bells hung from the streetlights, and silver tinsel decorated the window. He backed into a spot, parked across the line, and took up two spaces. It didn’t matter. No one else was around.

“Coming in?” he asked as he hopped down from his seat.

I shook my head. “I’ll stay and keep an eye on the bike.”

He thumped the car door as if soothing a rhinoceros. “Won’t be but a minute.” He hurried into the store.

I unlatched my seatbelt and slouched. Sweat trickled down my back. It was hot and humid. The morning haze burned off and left the sky a brilliant blue. I glanced at my watch. It was still set for France. Six o’clock. My parents would be getting ready for dinner. I took out my cell phone. The screen said it was twelve noon.

Without really planning to, I dialed my mom’s number. It rang four times. When it went to voicemail, I said, “Mom, this is Cody.” Then my voice failed. I hung up without another word.

Tears burned my eyes, but I blinked hard and nurtured my anger. I leaned out the window toward the lazy flow of passing traffic and listened to other people’s music. I wished I’d put some tunes on my phone, wished I had my mp3 player. When I packed for France, my parents told me I could bring either my iPod or my DS. I chose the DS. Now I rued the day. Total ruage.

Down the street, a Volkswagen Beetle pulled into a shopping center. I noticed it because Beetles weren’t common anymore and because it was painted lime green. The car parked and a girl got out. She wore black and white striped tights, a purple miniskirt, and a black tee cut to reveal her midriff. Her hair was short and angular. She was the most interesting thing I’d seen in this backwoods town. She went into Video Stop, a store where you bought and traded used videos.

My uncle wrenched open the driver’s side door. It startled me. He flipped his seat forward and piled some bags into the backseat. I glimpsed a box of Cap’n Crunch cereal and a jug of chocolate milk.

He climbed in and started the truck. “Anywhere you want to go while we’re out?”

“No, sir,” I said, my thoughts still on the girl.

“Then we’ll head home.” He beamed at me like it was a special treat.

We took a different route back. This time, we passed through orange groves. Fruit filled the trees. Their branches drooped. It smelled phenomenal, like perpetual breakfast. Then we reached a patch with the trees picked clean. They appeared diminished somehow.

Uncle Bob slowed to get around a pair of horses. “We’ve got some nice stables here. That’s how the Council hopes to lure more residents. Like it isn’t crowded enough.”

I looked in the side-view mirror at the girls riding the horses. They wore shorts and tank tops in spite of it being winter.

There were worse places to be exiled. But none of the girls were for me. I was the amazing wolf boy. Astound your family and mystify your friends. I wasn’t the kind of kid anyone would date. I thought about Video Stop girl.

Minutes later, we pulled onto the gravel drive of my uncle’s house. Trees rustled in the breeze. Birdsong filled the air.

“Do you own this place?” I asked.

“No. I rent. You know how it is. I don’t want to be bogged down if I have to move on.” He pulled the bags from the back. “Get the door for me, will you?”

I skipped up the steps and opened the front door. Unlocked again. Bob carried the bags into the kitchen and set them on the table. He’d gotten other things to eat—Spaghetti-Os, bread, peanut butter. He also bought a dozen coat hangers and a couple of twenty-six-inch bicycle inner tubes.

“You’re probably used to a live-in housekeeper to cook and clean for you,” he said as he put the food into the cupboard.

“No,” I said. “Mom handled everything.” I didn’t add that we had a cleaning service come in three times a week.

“We don’t have anyone on staff here, either.” He looked at me. “We don’t even have a dishwasher. So here’s the thing. You clean up after yourself or you don’t. Whatever. But the rule is, you don’t complain about it. The place gets to be a mess, you don’t complain. You want something, you either get it or you don’t complain. You need help, you ask or—”

“Don’t complain,” I said. “Got it.”

“Good.” He clapped me on the back. “Let’s go get the rest of your stuff.”

We went to the truck where he loaded me up with clothes, towels, and bedding. The blanket made my nose itch, and I wondered if its last owner had been a horse. I carried everything inside. But as I reached my room, I stopped.

Evidence. That’s what I held in my arms. Physical proof that I lived there. If anyone saw this, I would be lost. I sat on the edge of the bed, afraid to set the stuff down, and thought about running away. My dad always gave me my allowance via a debit card. I had enough in the account for a bus ticket home. I could live in the bathhouse. My parents would never know I was there.

Until my friends came calling.

I groaned and thought about my friends, all of them enjoying holiday break with families who didn’t want to send them away, all of them looking forward to nighttime without worrying about what kind of monster they might become. This was a nightmare. How could anyone turn into a wolf? It was impossible.

I sat up straight. Yes, it was impossible. This couldn’t be real. And if I was stuck in some sort of dream, all I could do was keep moving forward until I woke up. In the spirit of my new resolution, I made my bed with the Scooby sheets and placed the thick, red horse blanket on top. I stared at it and hoped no one would ever come into my room. Then I went outside to look for my uncle.

I found him in the backyard by a tool shed. The bike was upside down. Uncle Bob knelt beside it. He grunted as he tightened the chain. He’d repaired the tires. I also noticed his shed was better stocked than shop class when I was a kid. There were three cabinets on wheels, each drawer labeled, and racks of wrenches on the walls.

I crouched at his side. “How’s it going?”

“Almost done,” he said.

I tried to picture myself wheeling up and down Southern Boulevard. “Maybe we should have bought a bicycle lock.”

He smiled. “No one’s going to steal this beauty.”

I thought he was probably right.

He set the bike erect and bounced it a couple times. “Want to take it for a spin?”

“Maybe later,” I said. “It’s not really my thing.” I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been on a bike.

He turned away with a sigh. I recognized the sound—I’d stretched his patience. I wasn’t being the appreciative guest.

Keep moving forward, I told myself.

He wiped his hands on a shop cloth and put away his tools. Then he locked the shed with a heavy padlock. It figured he would lock his tools but not the house.

“I keep the key here.” He showed me a notch in the roof. “In case you need anything.”

“I don’t know much about tools,” I said. “But I’d like to learn.”

“I’d like to teach you.” His face eased into a smile. “Are you hungry? I make a mean grilled peanut butter sandwich.”

I nodded. “Sounds good.”

We ate our sandwiches in front of the television as we watched women’s volleyball. I didn’t know they televised that sport. Despite the spectacle of bounding booties, however, I couldn’t keep my mind on the game.

I worried about the coming dark. Would I change again? I thought werewolves only changed during the full moon, but last night was the day after. Would I change every night for the rest of my life?

I needed more information. If I had my computer, I could surf the Web. But, no, I was out here in the Everglades with nothing and no one. I would have to do research the old-fashioned way. Tomorrow, I would look for a library.

First things first. I couldn’t risk shape changing with my uncle around. I had to either find an excuse to leave the house or get him out of the way.

So it was a relief when, later that afternoon, Uncle Bob said, “I’m going out tonight. Would you like to come along?”

“Ah, no. Thanks,” I said.

“Come on. It will be great. I’ll show you a good place to fish.”

“No, really,” I said. “I think I’ll hang out here and relax.”

“Another time, then.”

And just like that, he was in the truck and down the driveway—and I was alone, sitting before his flickering black-and-white TV as I awaited the night.

Do you like what you’ve read so far? The Amazing Wolf Boy is available in print and ebook at Amazon, or you can get the three book box set everywhere else. And don’t forget, if you prefer audiobooks, it’s on Audible for your listening enjoyment.

Book Excerpt – Werewolf Apocalypse

When a villainous lycan takes a young witch as a thrall, a headstrong teenage werewolf comes to her rescue and inadvertently leads his pack into the fight of their lives.

Cody Forester is an average sixteen-year-old boy. All he wants is to sleep late, listen to his tunes, and go out with his girlfriend, Brittany. However, he’s also a werewolf with burgeoning supernatural powers that make even other werewolves uneasy. To his dismay, he has been named pack leader of a misfit group of six werewolves, three witches, and a pair of Native American shamans who can turn into bears.

His nemesis, Vilk Bodark, is a powerful werewolf with both hands in the criminal underworld. When Bodark expands his territory into the Blue Ridge Mountains, taking over small towns along the way, Cody vows to stop him.

But when Cody and his pack arrive at McCaysville, Georgia, they find a vast network of werewolves and enslaved thralls. His pack wants to flee, but headstrong Cody leads them deeper into danger. Will his rash decisions leave them enthralled to Bodark’s will? How can they survive a werewolf apocalypse?

Werewolf Apocalypse is the fourth book in The Amazing Werewolf series, the story of a teen werewolf growing up in South Florida. I hope you enjoy this excerpt.

ApocalypseNew

ONE

 

June 27, 2008 Loxahatchee, Florida

 

I ran through the sawgrass, my sleek, silver paws eating the miles. Ayanna stayed on my flank. Perhaps she thought I planned to ditch her in unfamiliar territory. True, alpha werewolves tended to kill other alphas, but I wasn’t going to harm Ayanna.

I was her pack master. Even thinking the words made my stomach ache. I didn’t want to be responsible for anyone. I didn’t want to boss anyone around. I couldn’t imagine why the pack would want to follow me anyway. I was just a sixteen-year-old kid. All I wanted was to listen to my tunes and spend time with my girlfriend, Brittany. I wished things could go back to the way they were.

But I was pack master. A kind of mental web connected me to the others: five werewolves, three witches, and two medicine men who could turn into bears. I felt their presence in the back of my mind. Always there.

And just like that, something twanged in my head, and I knew William was nearby. I pulled up short, bristling. It was the middle of the night in the middle of the Everglades. What was my apprentice medicine man up to? I turned in the direction of the link, Ayanna trotting at my side.

We came out of the trees into an area of scorched land. I recognized where we were. I remembered this place as a sea of sawgrass—until a brushfire destroyed it. Acres of sweeping yellow-tipped grass became clumps of misshapen charcoal. Ash made me sneeze. As I stepped, puffs of black dust rose around my feet. Ayanna hesitated. I nuzzled her to keep moving. My responsibility.

Ahead, I saw the charred remains of a fishing cabin. William’s campfire flickered. We crossed the basin of a dry pond, the mud scarred and cracked. William’s voice drifted on the breeze, some sort of incantation. Then the breeze intensified.

Crap. I knew what he was doing.

The unnatural wind rose to a whirlwind of soot. Ayanna huddled against my side in the screaming air.

William’s voice bellowed, “To me.”

The wind dropped, ash bouncing down. William stood with his arms raised. Three golden panthers stood outside his conjuring circle. They snarled. William’s eyes widened as they attacked.

With a maddened roar, I leaped onto the panthers. They were quick, but I was bigger. And I had Ayanna, the she-devil. She fell upon them, all fangs and claws. We pulled them off William and chased them away. Ayanna wanted to pursue, but I called her back.

William was bloodied. He staggered to his feet. As he did, I shifted into my human form. That used to be a painful, drawn-out process, but now I could transform with barely a grunt. I stormed toward him. I don’t think I ever felt so angry.

“What did you think you were doing?” I yelled. I’d seen him conjure before, but smaller animals—like bunnies.

William’s eyes flashed. “I had it under control.”

“They would have killed you. Are you an idiot?”

“I was summoning,” he shouted. “I’m trying to learn.”

“Yeah, well, maybe you should ask your dad for help instead of winging it alone out here in the middle of nowhere.”

Howard Shebala, William’s father, was a Navajo medicine man. I knew he wouldn’t approve of what William was doing.

“His talents lean in a different direction,” William said. “He has no interest in controlling nature.”

“Maybe you should listen to him. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.”

“And who are you all of a sudden, my second father?” he yelled. “Cody Forester, our great pack master. You think you can lord over me, tell me what to do?”

“I’m trying to help.” You’re my responsibility. I sighed and rubbed my face. “Look. Next time, wear your hide belt so you can transform into a bear if you get into trouble.”

He looked like he wanted to argue. Then he dropped his head. “Yeah.”

I put my hand on his shoulder. “What do you say you go home now?”

“Perhaps you should go home as well. And put on some pants.”

My stomach sank with dawning realization. I was naked. I looked over at Ayanna. She gave me a doggy grin. Crap. Why did everything happen to me?

It hurts to become a werewolf. Your bones shift, your joints pop. A tail grows out of your spine. Because of that, I learned to transform quickly. Much faster, in fact, than any of the other werewolves I knew. It still hurt, but then it was over.

Without looking at Ayanna, I changed into my wolf form. I didn’t want her to know how embarrassed I was that she’d seen me naked—but she probably knew. The link again—the pack could sense my emotions. I shook myself from snout to rump, then glanced over my shoulder. William climbed onto his dirt bike. I heard the whine of its motor and smelled a gust of exhaust.

I trotted across the charred land into charred forest. The trees were black and broken. There were no raccoons, no armadillo. No wildlife at all. It struck me how far those panthers had to travel to answer William’s call. No wonder they were testy.

Even amid so much destruction, however, there were sprouts of green. Mother Nature was reclaiming what was hers.

Abruptly the forest became lush again, as if a line had been drawn. I nipped Ayanna’s ear and loped ahead. I would have loved to play tag, but it was getting late. I had to get her home.

By the time we reached our clothes, the sun was rising. All it meant to us was that we might be seen. Ayanna and I were both alphas. We could shift our forms even without a full moon. Ayanna’s father, Dick Richardson, crowed in delight at her abilities. In contrast, I think my uncle was a little leery of mine.

Ayanna stepped behind some bushes. She coughed and gagged as she shifted back into a girl. I quickly transformed and put on my pants. I’d hung my shirt on a branch as a sort of marker. I pulled it down and popped my head through. Ayanna stepped out of the bushes fully dressed as I was tying my shoes.

“That was exhilarating.” She grinned. “I never met a bloody cat like that.”

“Florida panthers,” I said. “Big ones, too. I don’t know what William was thinking, summoning them all by himself.”

“I think it’s brilliant he can do it at all.”

I nodded. It was kind of amazing. Maybe I should tell him that the next time I saw him. “Let’s go home. Your mother worries.”

“That stroppy cow. I’ll not have her squashing my fun.” But she followed me through the woods anyhow.

Her parent’s ranch wasn’t far away. It was only a ranch in the technical sense—there were no horses. They planned to renovate the vacant stable into a home for Uncle Bob, Rita, and me. I hoped they wouldn’t go through with it—I didn’t want to live within shouting distance of the Richardsons.

But as we stepped from the trees onto the wide expanse of yard, I saw a large dump truck pulled onto the grass and workers buzzing around the structure. My shoulders slumped.

Ayanna laced her fingers with mine. “It will be okay.”

We walked together past empty corrals and the fake baobab tree her father had made to mimic the ones at Animal Kingdom. Water danced in the waterfall my uncle and I built—but I couldn’t hear it over all the pounding coming from the stable.

Ayanna’s father stepped around the corner. Tall and dark, dressed in a bright African dashiki, Dick Richardson looked as out of place as his baobab tree. “Haloo,” he called to us. “Back from your midnight run?”

“You’re up early,” I said.

He rubbed his hands together. “First day of construction. I thought it best if I supervise.”

“I’m sure they appreciate that.” I winced at the noise. A worker came out the wide door carrying a load of wooden planks that he tossed into the dump truck. I shook my head. “I hate to see good wood go to waste.”

“Bah. It reeks of horses.”

“Maybe you can have them build a deck in the back. Rita would like that.”

Dick bowed. “As you wish, young sir.”

“Please don’t call me that,” I muttered, but he was already striding away into the stable.

Ayanna said, “Will you come in and break your fast? I’m sure Concepcion can fix us something.”

Concepcion was a great cook, and I was starving. But I didn’t want to watch the dreaded renovation. “I have to get home.” I led her to where I’d left my bicycle propped against the waterfall. “You did good today. Thanks for the help with those panthers.”

“My pleasure. Shall we go out again tonight then?”

I hid a grimace. I was responsible for her training, but I didn’t want to spend every night with her. “I’ll let you know.” I climbed on my bike.

As I pedaled across the grass, Dick called after me, “We shall have to get you a motorized bike. It is unseemly that our illustrious leader should pedal in such a manner.”

I raised a hand to let him know that I heard, and continued riding down their long private road.

When I got home, I was drenched in sweat—even seven o’clock in the morning was hot in South Florida. I dumped my bike in its appointed spot and skipped up the porch steps. My uncle and I rented a two-bedroom house that was set back from the street. It was similar to a shotgun house because the front door and the back door were in a straight line—you could shoot a shotgun through and not hit anything. I figured that was a Southern thing. We didn’t have houses like that in my old home in Massachusetts.

As usual, the door was unlocked. But I was surprised to find it was cool inside. Uncle Bob had turned on the air conditioner. I wondered if he would have done that if Rita hadn’t started living with us.

They were both still asleep, so I went into the kitchen and poured a tall glass of chocolate milk. Haff came around the corner, nails clicking on the tile. Haff was Brittany’s dog, but he was staying with us while he recovered from a beating from a nasty werewolf named Bodark. I patted his head, then filled his bowl. I sat at the table, drinking my milk and eating a red Pop-Tart.

Someone knocked at the door.

“Who could that be so early?” I asked Haff, who perked his ears and wagged his tail.

I walked to the front room and caught a whiff of a familiar scent a moment before I opened the door. “Dad?”

“Hello, son.” My father smiled sheepishly. “Your mother and I have separated.”

 

TWO

 

Brittany huffed out a breath. “Dad? My dad?”

“And your ma,” Lynette told her.

“But why would they come to dinner today? It’s Saturday.” She sighed. “Will Butt Crack be with them?”

“’Fraid not. He’s found himself a little playmate and he’s spending the afternoon on a real live fishing boat.”

Brittany sank onto the bench behind the kitchen table. It had been little more than a week since her mother and brother moved to West Palm Beach to live with her father. Brittany missed her little brother terribly and worried about him all the time. Who would have thought? He was always such a butt crack. “What are we going to eat?”

“I plan to have us some country ham and hushpuppies.”

She perked up. “Grandma’s hushpuppies?”

“The very same.”

“That ought to put Dad in a good mood.” Although she wasn’t certain he had a good mood. “I suppose I’ll have to tell them I quit my summer job.”

“That will be a problem. We can’t very well tell them we decided your time was better spent studying to be a witch.”

Brittany smiled, then fell silent at the sound of footsteps coming down the stairs.

Eileen came in, mussed and naked. “Good morning.”

Eileen was a nudist and a member of their witch’s coven. She was also Brittany’s best friend—but being friends and living together were two different things.

Without looking at her, Brittany said, “You’ll have to put on clothes today. My parents are coming for dinner.”

“Oh. Okay.” Eileen poured herself some orange juice.

Just then, Lynette’s cell phone rang.

“Who could that be so early?” Lynette said. “Hello? Blessed be. Myra? Here, let me put you on speaker.” She set the phone on the table. “It’s Myra.” Myra was Lynette’s ex-girlfriend and a member of Lynette’s old coven.

“Hi, Myra.” Brittany grinned. “How are you?”

“Hi, Myra. It’s Eileen. Remember me?”

“Of course, I remember,” Myra said. “It’s so good to hear everyone’s voices. All together.”

“This here’s the beginning of my new coven.” Lynette nodded at them.

“Oh.” Myra sounded surprised.

“I miss you,” Brittany said.

“We all do,” Lynette told her.

“Oh, Lynnie, I miss you, too. It’s so beautiful in the mountains this time of year. Remember how we used to hike? And the mornings would be all misty? And that time we found a field of wildflowers? And remember the deer?”

“How’s the candle shop?” Lynette asked.

“Fine. About as well as can be expected. Of course, without you here to keep us in line—”

“Glad to hear it.”

There was a pause, then Myra said, “So tell me, what’s happening with that werewolf problem you have down there?”

“All resolved,” Lynette said. “There are no more hostiles about.”

“Really?”

“Yes’m. Brittany’s beau really came through.” Lynette smiled at her. Brittany smiled back.

“Oh.” Myra sounded perplexed again.

Brittany laughed. “Don’t sound so surprised.”

“It’s not that, it’s just… There were rumors, but…” She sounded like she was starting to cry.

“Myra,” Lynette said, “what’s wrong?”

“Werewolves are in McCaysville,” Myra blurted.

Eileen gasped and covered her mouth.

Brittany’s eyes widened.

Lynette said, “But that’s why we moved the coven there. To get away from them.”

“I never thought they’d come this far up the mountain.” Myra sniffled. “The scuttlebutt is that the head werewolf, Bodark, is no longer making a move on Florida. He plans to go north into Tennessee.”

“And McCaysville is smack dab in the middle.”

“They’re here, bold as you please, hanging out on street corners, hassling our customers. I don’t know what to do.” Her voice rose to a squeak. “There are reports of people gone missing, and I just know it’s them taking thralls.”

“That’s horrible.” Brittany remembered her encounter with thralls—they were Night of the Living Dead-ish.

Lynette stiffened. She folded her arms.

Myra cried, “Please, Lynnie. Please come home. We need your help.”

“I can’t,” Lynette said. “I have responsibilities in Florida. But you can come here if you like. We’d love to have you.”

“Sure,” Brittany said. “You’ll be safer with us.”

“No.” Myra took a shuddering breath. “This is home. I can’t leave my sisters.”

“The offer stands if you change your mind,” Lynette told her. There was a lengthy pause. “Myra?”

“Lynnie, please,” she whispered. “I’m so afraid.”

“Talk to the others about everyone coming down.”

“All right.” Myra hung up the phone.

Lynette returned her cell to her pocket.

Into the silence, Brittany said, “I feel responsible. If we hadn’t booted Bodark out of Florida—”

“Don’t think that way,” Lynette said. “He must’ve been planning to go north all along, or he wouldn’t have gotten his men in place so quickly.”

Eileen said, “Maybe it was Plan B.”

“We couldn’t have let him stay here in any event,” said Lynette.

“But what do we do, now?” asked Brittany. “We can’t just leave Myra to—”

“She left me,” Lynette said. “I just hope she has the sense to come back.”

 

 

THREE

 

I gawked at my dad. “You’re back?”

He raised his eyebrows. “May I come in?”

“Oh, yeah.” I opened the door wider. “Come in.”

As he stepped into the house, Haff circled him, sniffing his shoes and smiling in welcome.

“You have a dog,” Dad said.

“That’s Haff,” I told him, not wanting to get into the particulars. “He seems to like you.”

Dad set a suitcase and a computer case inside the door then embraced me. “It’s good to see you.”

I relaxed into his warm arms in spite of myself. “What’s this about Mom?”

He pulled away, looking chagrined. “We’ve separated. Actually, things have been a bit rocky between us ever since you moved down here. I didn’t agree with the way she treated you.”

I groaned. Great. Something else I was responsible for.

A bedroom door clicked, and Uncle Bob strode down the hallway. He was dressed, but his gray hair stood up at all angles. He did a double take. “David. This is a surprise.”

They shook hands.

“Didn’t mean to barge in on you so early,” said my dad.

“Nonsense. Come into the living room. Have a seat.”

We stepped out of the doorway and into the house. As usual, Haff stretched out in front of the television.

My dad sat on the red couch. “The old place is looking like a home.”

I winced. He’d sent a bunch of furniture down after he lost the custody battle. Uncle Bob didn’t approve, although he never said so. I knew he liked to live light in case he had to get out fast.

“What brings you to sunny Florida?” my uncle asked.

“I was just telling Cody that Marie and I have separated.”

Uncle Bob blinked. “I’m sorry to hear that.”

The bedroom door opened again, and Rita came down the hall. “I thought I heard voices.”

“Oh.” My father stood. “I didn’t know anyone else was living here.”

“Yeah, this is Rita,” I said. “She’s great. And this is my father, Dr. Forester.”

“David.” He stretched out his hand.

She flashed him one of her dazzling smiles. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, David. I was just going to make some coffee. Would you like a cup?”

“I would. Thank you.” He sat back down.

“So, where are you staying?” Uncle Bob asked.

“Nowhere, yet,” he said. “I don’t want your sister to track me down. I was hoping you could give me the name of a local bed and bath. Just until I get on my feet.”

Uncle Bob stroked his stubble. “I can ask around.”

“You can stay here,” I blurted. “Take my room. I’ll sleep on the couch.”

“I wouldn’t want to put you out.”

From the kitchen, Rita called, “David, don’t be silly. We’d love to have you.”

Uncle Bob gave a strained smile. “Until you get back on your feet.”

Or until we have to go live in the horse barn.

“All right,” Dad said. “But I take the couch.”

“We wouldn’t hear of it,” Rita called.

“I insist.” He thumped the cushion. “Me and this couch go way back. I’ve spent many a night on it.”

That was news to me.

Rita brought in a tray with three cups of coffee and a refill of my chocolate milk. “So, which one are you, David? The heart specialist or the brain surgeon?”

“I’m the heart specialist.”

“You must have built up quite a practice. What are you going to do with it if you move down here?”

“I sold it to a colleague.”

She snuggled next to my uncle in his big old recliner. “That must have been a tidy sum.”

Oh-oh. I could see where this was heading. I shot Rita a disgruntled look then cleared my throat. “Ah, Dad, what happened to my support payments?”

“What do you mean?” He set down his coffee and looked around at us.

Uncle Bob said, “I haven’t received a cent.”

“That’s impossible. I know they’ve gone out.” He retrieved his computer case from beside the door.

We sat in silence as the laptop booted up. My cheeks heated. I shifted in my seat. I hated bringing up the subject of child support so soon after he arrived. Hated having to bring it up at all. But I knew Rita was about to say something. It was a sore spot with her. Then Uncle Bob might have gotten mad at her, and my dad might have gotten mad at everyone, and—

“Here.” He showed me the computer screen. “Right on time.”

I goggled at the numbers on his bank statement.

“Wait a minute,” he murmured. “It appears they’re being diverted.”

Uncle Bob gave a mocking laugh. “My wonderful sister.”

“I’m sorry, Bob. I had no idea.” He tapped the keyboard. “Yes, here they are. She set up a trust fund for Cody. Everything’s going in there. I suggest we just let that ride. Make a nice nest egg for you, right son?”

I frowned. Didn’t he understand? “We need the money now.”

“And you’ll get it. Bob, if you’ll give me your bank account number, I’ll set up the payments from my personal account.”

Rita leaped up. “I’ll get the checkbook.”

“And of course, I’ll pay you for the use of your couch.”

“David, no.” My uncle looked embarrassed. “Really. Just bring in a little food now and again.”

My father smiled. “That’s a deal.”

“Here you go.” Rita came around the corner and handed him the checkbook.

He leaned over the laptop. “First I’ll transfer the funds you are owed. It might take a couple days to settle.” His fingers tapped loudly in the falling silence.

“Um, Dad? While we’re on the subject of money, I had to buy a new phone a little while ago, and there was still cash on my debit card.”

“Of course.” He kept working on his computer. “We never stopped your allowance. You’ve accrued a nice balance.”

“I wouldn’t know. I don’t see the statements.”

He looked at me. “Then we should fix that. Do you still use the same email account? I’ll have them copy you in.”

I grinned. “That would be great.”

“I think I’ll make some pancakes. Is everybody hungry?” Rita bustled from the room.

Dad said, “Done and done. The full amount has been credited to your account and new payments will start on the first.”

Uncle Bob sighed and spread his hands. “I don’t know how to thank you.”

“No thanks are necessary. I’m just sorry it took so long to straighten out. Marie can be…”

“Domineering?” my uncle offered. “Aggressive? Reactionary?”

“Sometimes I wonder if she has a bit of the wolf in her.”

“She’d tack it up to PMS.”

Both my father and my uncle laughed, but I was alarmed. I’d heard of people who weren’t full-fledged werewolves. They never transformed, just got achy and grouchy with the full moon. Did my mother wish she were a true werewolf? Was that why she hated me so much?

 

This ends the excerpt of Werewolf Apocalypse. If you liked this excerpt, you’ll love the book! Buy it now on Amazon.