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.

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Sample Sunday – Satan’s Mirror

This book is dedicated to Persephone,
my constant inspiration.

SATAN’S MIRROR

Prologue

Saint Augustine, Florida 1967

“No, Joey. I can’t.”

“Come on, Vanessa,” he said in a low voice. “You know you
want to.”

He swept back her hair to kiss the nape of her neck, and she
felt the familiar tingle, felt her resolve weaken. She stepped away.

“No. It scared me last time.”

“If it gets too scary, we’ll stop.” He grinned at her—a lopsided
grin that always turned her knees to jelly. “Come on, Vanessa.
You’re the only one who can do it for me.”

With a sigh, she looked at the abandoned house, resting her
hands on the wrought iron fence. A stray breeze chilled her cheek.
She knew the other kids were standing behind her, awaiting her
answer. “All right.”

“Yes!” Joey pumped a triumphant fist. He motioned to a boy
carrying a gunnysack. “They brought everything you need.”

Vanessa shook her head, her stomach already sick. “Let’s
just go.”

She led them along the fence, away from the old yellowed
street lamp. She entered a hollow between the houses, slipping on
damp grass, tramping toward a chain-link fence with a yawning
hole. Thrill seekers used this entrance so often a path had formed.
She stepped through to the yard. The fence snagged her long
skirt as if to hold her back. She waited for the group to catch up.
Eyes downcast, she sifted through several strands of beads to the
Maltese cross she wore about her neck.

Behind her, Joey said, “Wait until you see. It’s like looking
into hell itself. You can even smell the smoke.”

His words made her wince. Vanessa climbed through a broken
casement window into a dining room. The others clambered
after her. She walked through the dark with her hands stretched
ahead as she felt for psychic vibrations.

“We have to go upstairs,” she whispered around the lump
in her throat.

“Why?” asked Joey, sounding nervous. “Last time you did
it down here.”

“This time is different.” She looked at him, willing him to argue
so she could refuse and leave. The presence was strong. She
didn’t want to go up there.

He grinned his best grin. “Lead the way.”

They followed her through what was once a living room.
Large, empty windows looked out upon the front porch. The
street lamp spilled amber light over the bare floor.
Vanessa walked as if condemned, her limbs stiff, her gait
slow. Dust kicked up, tainting the stale air, and she wondered if
the stench of brimstone would soon replace such mundane odors.

She paused at the staircase, listening, gazing upward, drawn
like a dog to a harsh master. As if her sandals were mired in muck,
she climbed the stairs. No one spoke, but she heard quick breathing
and knew the group was excited, anticipating a great show.
She shuddered with an unwelcome thought—not all of them
would be leaving tonight. The devil was hungry.

At the upstairs landing, she hesitated. Joey slipped his arm
about her as if to keep her from running. She shrugged him off.
“This way,” she said, entering a room on the right. She glanced
about. Yes, this was the place. “Do you have the powder?”

The boy rummaged inside his sack, pulling out a pouch of
pickling alum.

Vanessa took a penknife from her pocket and punched a hole
in the burlap wrapper. She drew a large pentagram on the floor
with the powder.

Shoulders slumped, she held out her hand. “Candles.”

“Here.” The boy brought out a thick red candle. “I brought
a lighter.”

“It has to be wooden matches,” she told him.

“I’ve got some.” Joey rattled the box as he handed them to her.

She lit the candle. In its glow, she saw the rapt expressions
of the four newcomers—three boys and one girl, their hair held
back by beaded headbands, their clothing laced, not buttoned.
She didn’t know them. They were probably part of the multitude
of college kids who flocked to Saint Augustine each spring. She
wondered how much they’d paid to witness the ritual.

With the candle held sideways, she dribbled a puddle of wax
onto the floor and set the candle upon a point of the pentagram.
As the boy held out more candles, she set one at each of the other
four points. At last, she stood back to appraise her work.

“Hand me the offering plate,” she said.

He gave an excited giggle, and then pulled out an ornate
brass dish on a pedestal. The discolored center boasted of service
many times before. He offered it to her along with a final candle.

Vanessa knelt in the center of the pentagram. She lit the candle
and set the dish over it, allowing the meager flame to heat
the brass. Smoke rose, drawing leftover scents of incense and
soot and blood.

From his sack, the boy drew out a baby rabbit. She cradled it
in her hands, stroking it, feeling its tiny heart race in terror. She
looked up with a last plea—did they really want her to do this?

The boy tossed the sack behind him and lit a joint.

Vanessa closed her eyes, wishing she were anywhere but there.
She was innocent. Just doing as she was told.

The rabbit squirmed within her fingers. Nose wrinkled, she
cupped the animal on its back in one hand and grasped her penknife
with the other. She felt a pop as the point pierced its flesh—
then she opened the rabbit from groin to gullet. Blood dripped
down her wrist.

She held the creature over the offering plate and scooped out
its innards with her fingers, careful to include its heart so the legs
would stop kicking. The intestines sizzled as they hit the plate.
Silence filled the room.

After a moment, the boy who was passing around the joint
said, “Shouldn’t you say some special words?”

“Yes,” Vanessa whispered. A familiar coldness coursed
through her. “Be ready to run.”

The wall before her shimmered as if a portion had turned
to water. The patch solidified into an oval, shining like a silvery
mirror—Satan’s Mirror. A face grew within. Brimstone overpowered
the smoke of marijuana and entrails.

Someone gasped. “Wow.”

Lightheaded, Vanessa sat on her haunches. She felt both exhilarated
and disgusted. She had done it—she had called forth
the devil once again.

The face observed them malevolently. It looked like a caricature
from a comic book—red skin, yellow eyes. Its lips parted in
a sneer or a grin, showing sharp, needle-like teeth.
Vanessa froze as its gaze passed over her. Maybe if she held
perfectly still, it wouldn’t see her, wouldn’t know she was responsible.

“Is it real?” the girl asked, her words slurred as if she were
stoned.

The face in the mirror laughed and said in a voice that sounded
far away, “You are so weak, yet you come so willingly.”

Its words did not match its lips, and Vanessa wondered whether
it was speaking English or she was merely hearing English.

The others moved as if entranced, stepping to either side of the
pentagram. Vanessa looked up just as a second mirror formed in
mid-air behind the boy with the joint. A bright red demon leaned
out as if through an open window. It grabbed the boy before he
could turn and pulled him through. The window vanished.

The girl screamed. Vanessa covered her ears. The remaining
two boys scrambled around.

“What happened?” one of them yelled. “Where is he?”

In the mirror, the devil laughed.

The other boy ran toward the door. Before he could reach it,
a new mirror swirled into existence, and he ran straight into the
arms of a waiting demon. He struggled and kicked as it lifted
him from the floor. “Help me! Don’t let it take me!”

The third boy stepped forward then hesitated, his face stark
with horror.

“Help me! Please!” His friend reached as if across a great
distance.

The window closed on his cries.

“No!” The last boy rushed to where the mirror had been. He
stared at the doorway, his face echoing a longing to go through
it and a fear of being snatched if he did.

Joey leapt into the pentagram beside Vanessa, hunkering beside
her. He was not grinning now.

The girl stumbled away, sobbing. She fell over the sack the
first boy carried. On hands and knees, she crawled to the pentagram,
blowing out the candles and shoving them into the bag.

“Put it back,” she said. “Put it all back.”

Behind her, the air shimmered.

The boy yelped and ran out the open door, pelting down the
stairs.

She looked up, her long, blonde hair spilling over her face
just as the demon grabbed her. “Nooo,” she wailed, trying to run
away. “I’ll be good. I won’t do it anymore.”

The demon’s fingers raked her face, leaving dark trails. She
screamed, arms flailing as it yanked her through the mirror. The
window vanished, leaving silence.

Vanessa buried her face in Joey’s chest. She smelled the smoke
from the offering plate, smelled the stench of her fear. Her shoulders
trembled as if she were having a fit, but she looked at the
devil watching from the wall. With a bravado she could scarcely
believe, she said, “You were supposed to take only one.”

Its yellow eyes glinted. “Perhaps we should take you all.”

Her stomach leapt. “You cannot touch me here.”

“Do you honestly believe you summon me with your offering
of smoke and blood? Do you think you are safe in your drawing?
That mark is for me, not for you.” The face grew as if leaning forward.
“You serve us.”

Vanessa felt hot tears on her cheeks. She served the devil?
Shame overwhelmed her—a deep shame that made her feel unclean,
unworthy to walk the streets of decent people. How could
she face anyone, let them look at her, with this secret gnawing
her soul? Yet even as she cringed from her mantle of disgrace,
she felt something more—pride for being chosen.

She stared at the devil. Behind it, another image coalesced—
a figure running forward. The mirror popped out of existence,
but as it did, a red, raw-looking mass of flesh vomited outward
onto the floor.

Vanessa leapt to her feet, scattering the pentagram, spilling
the plate. She pressed her knuckles against her mouth.
Joey approached the thing before them.

“What is it?” she asked in a quavering voice.

He looked at her, his face ashen. “It’s breathing.”

ONE

Present Day

Emily shaded her eyes, trying to make out the creature in
the trees. It paused as if to allow her to catch up—and in that
moment, she glimpsed its face, pointed and upturned with two
long slits for a snout. It appeared she’d found what she’d come
to see—the Bat Boy.

“This way, Dan,” she called to her cameraman. “We’re going
to lose it.”

Dan Hart panted in answer, running behind her, carrying his
equipment. Perspiration mottled his denim shirt. He was a trim
middle-aged man, but he was city fit—more used to running on
a treadmill in a gym than traipsing the wooded hills of Pennsylvania.
She, on the other hand, had grown up in such an area.

She gave him a sympathetic smile before taking off again.
The Bat Boy glided through the trees, seeming to fly. Its dark
wings looked fluffy, not leathery.

Emily bounded after it down the root-strewn path. She felt a
thrill of anticipation. I’ll catch you, she thought. I’ll find you out.
That’s what was expected of her, after all—Emily Goodman,
host of Do You Believe It?, a small budget yet immensely popular
cable television program. She was known for her penetrating investigations
into urban legends. She’d exposed many hoaxes in
the two years she hosted the show. Not all her stories were perpetrated
by tricksters, however. Most legends were rooted in fact—
their explanations logical rather than supernatural.

Now she was investigating the Bat Boy, an enigma seen only
by day and blamed for the deaths of several local cows. Emily
thought the creature seemed more at home in the treetops than
in a pasture. But the question remained—what was it?

“Over here,” she told Dan. “I think it went— Oh, no. Where
did it go?” She spun about, searching the trees.

Dan trotted up behind her. “Gave us the slip?”

“We can’t lose it now. We have no story. Did you get any
shots?”

“Are you kidding?” he asked, gasping and holding his side.

Emily laughed. “Well, I thought that since you are a cameraman
and we are on assignment—”

Dan screwed up his face and gave a tremendous sneeze. “Sorry.
Must be roses around here.”

“What did you say?”

“Roses. I’m allergic.”

Grinning, she put her hands on his shoulders and turned
him to face the path. “Okay, bloodhound. Lead me.”

“No way. I run from gardens.”

“Roses don’t usually grow wild in the woods,” she said, “and
the Post Office didn’t list a residence out this far, remember?”

“So now our Bat Boy has a green thumb.” Sniffling and rubbing
his nose, he left the path.

Emily followed him into the brush. Twigs and dry grass
crunched beneath her feet. “Are you sure we’re going in the right
direction?”

Dan sneezed again. “Trust me.”

He stopped, and she bumped into his back. Over his shoulder,
she saw a sunny, green yard. It was so flat and precise it looked
cut out of the forest.

“Lovely.” She stepped into the clearing.

In reply, Dan sneezed three times straight. His eyes streamed.
She could see why. The yard held thousands of blooms. Roses
grew up trellises and cascaded from birdbaths. They lined a
winding walkway of garden stones. A whitewashed park bench
sat beneath an arch of flowers as if cued for a wedding.

Emily strolled over the lush grass. She noticed a small house
just as a woman stormed out a back door brandishing a broomstick.

“Get out! This is private property!” The woman stopped
dead. “Glory be. Are you Emily Goodman?”

Emily was used to being recognized. She stepped forward.
“Yes, I’m Emily. This is my co-worker, Dan Hart. We were following—”

“Sakes alive, I’m all a flutter,” said the woman, fanning her
face with stubby fingers. “I never miss a show. When Sheldon
told me he saw people in the woods—”

“Sheldon?”

“My son. He doesn’t cozy to people much. Mostly they throw
rocks at him and call him names.”

“Like Bat Boy?”

The woman glanced about as if casting for words. Before she
could speak, Dan gave a loud sneeze and blew his nose with a
honk. Both women looked at him.

“Nice garden,” he murmured, sounding nasal.

“It’s my Sheldon’s,” the woman said. “He has a lot of nervous
energy. I thought tending flowers might be calming. He started
with that little patch behind the house, but over the years his garden
has become a show piece.”

“I’d like to meet Sheldon,” said Emily. At the woman’s frown,
she added, “I hope to start my own garden someday. Maybe he
could give me some pointers.”

“Well, y-yes. I suppose that would be all right.” She stammered
like it never occurred to her they might ask to see him.
“Come in. The least I can do is to offer you something to drink.”

“Thank you.” Emily grinned, feeling a familiar dance of
butterflies in her chest. She was about to break the story wide
open—a story about a gardener, not a bat. This was what made
her job worthwhile.

She followed Sheldon’s mother toward a back porch.
Weathered, gray shingles paneled the house. The wood was
warped and cracked, and looked like it had never seen a coat of
paint. In contrast, fresh whitewash covered the porch and stairs.
Baskets of peach-colored moss roses hung from the railing.

Dan leaned toward Emily as they walked. “You live in a row
home. Where are you planning to grow a garden?”

“If you must know,” she whispered in mock offense, “I thought
I might grow flowers on my grandmother’s grave. Grandpa is
having trouble keeping up.”

Dan nodded then blew his nose again. Emily climbed the
wooden steps.

“Imagine. Emily Goodman in my kitchen.” The woman tittered,
holding the door open. “Make yourselves at home.”

Emily glanced about a cheerful, yellow kitchen. Checkered
curtains framed the open window. A round-cornered refrigerator
rattled in the corner. Emily thought it might be an antique.
She sat at an old-fashioned metal table with a silver-flecked Formica
tabletop and pulled a notebook from her bag. “Do you mind
if I take notes?”

“Of course not.” The woman drew cookies from a pig-shaped
cookie jar. “Do you want lemonade or would you rather coffee?”

“Umm, coffee sounds good,” Emily said.

“Coffee for you, too, Mr. Hart?”

“Yes. Thank you.” Dan set his equipment on the table, withdrawing
his favorite Olympus digital camera. “May I take your
picture?”

“Oh,” she said, blushing and patting her hair.

She wore her hair in a high ponytail tied with a blue bow.
Her shirtwaist dress was also blue. She seemed a well-preserved
fifty-plus, Emily thought and was suddenly reminded of her
grandmother.

Emily opened her book. “What is your full name?”

“Anna Kraft.” She set a flame beneath a percolator. After a
moment, she carried the plate of cookies to the table.
Dan leapt up, scraping his chair. “Here, ma’am.”

“No, no, you sit. We don’t get much call for extra seats around
here.”

“There’s just the two of you?” Emily asked. “No Mr. Kraft?”

Anna laughed. “My man ran out right after he got a good
look at his son. Ain’t seen him since.”

“I know what that’s like.” Emily nodded. “My husband left
when I told him I was pregnant. When I say left, I mean out of
the country. Turned out he wasn’t the responsible type.”

“Well, good riddance, I say. We can get along without them.”

Emily smiled. She listened to the sound of percolating coffee.
“Tell me about Sheldon.”

“He’s not part bat, I can promise you that. He was a breech
birth is all. Poor child. His spine got so twisted up his legs never
grew. And his face was kind of pulled.” She made upward movements
with her hands.

“How old is he?”

Anna looked away, her voice turning husky. “Twenty-five.”

“The farmers near here claim he’s killed their cows.”

“That’s ridiculous.” She poured coffee into three cups. “He
don’t never go out except to get the mail from the box out on the
main road. No. Sheldon’s a good boy. So smart. Home-schooled,
of course. I taught him the basics best I could, but he always wanted
to know more. ‘How does this work?’ he’d say. ‘What happens
to that?’ So when he got a little older he studied by mail. Sugar?
Fresh cream?”

“Cream, please.” Emily accepted the steaming cup. “You said
he took mail order courses. What did he study?”

“All sorts of things. He has a degree as a television repairman
and as a legal assistant. But it wasn’t until I bought him his
first computer that he found his life’s calling. It opened the whole
world to him.”

“I imagine so. Computers have changed the lives of many
disabled people.” Emily sipped her coffee. “Have you tried surgery
to correct his spine?”

“He was turned down. Not a good candidate.”

“Oh. I’m sorry.” She took another sip and set down her cup.
“It’s so nice here. You have a lovely home.”

“Thank you. It’s not much, but it suits us fine.”

“If you don’t mind my asking, how do you support yourselves
living way out here on your own?”

“I got a large settlement from the hospital,” Anna said, “which
I put into a trust fund for Sheldon. With the stock market being
what it is, he’s got himself a nice nest egg. We don’t need to
touch it much, though. As I said, my son’s found his calling in
computers. He’s started a computer debugging business that he
runs from his web page. People post their computer problems,
and for a fee he explains how to fix them.”

“Ingenious,” Dan blurted. “You’ll have to give me his website.”

Emily glanced at him, silently chastising him for the interruption.
“Your son sounds brilliant. May we meet him now?”

“Oh, I don’t know.” Anna became flustered. “As I said, we
don’t get many visitors. But he did lead you here instead of getting
you lost in the woods.”

“At the very least, my story can drive more traffic to his website,”
Emily said.

Anna sighed. “All right. He’s upstairs in his workroom.”

Emily set her cup in the sink and followed her through a
sparse yet comfortable living room. A single, overstuffed couch
faced a television. An aquarium of bright tropical fish bubbled
and hummed beneath a beautiful painting of trees and sunlight.

“Sheldon painted that,” Anna said over her shoulder.

“Be sure to get it,” Emily whispered without looking at Dan.
She knew he’d have his digital camcorder out, recording the room.

Framed certificates lined the stairwell, and as Emily climbed,
she read them: Presented to Sheldon Kraft for outstanding achievement
in woodwork, automobile mechanic certification, physical
therapist degree, septic tank conditioning. There was even an
award in journalism, she noted with a smile. Either Sheldon was
a true genius or these mail-order courses were way too simple.

She reached the landing and stood behind Anna who was
looking flustered once more.

“Sheldon?” Anna knocked at a door. “Emily Goodman is
here wanting to speak with you. She’s the lady from TV. You
know she’ll be fair.”

There was no answer.

Anna glanced at Emily as if frightened, then said, “We’re
coming in.” She opened the door and stepped inside.

Compared to the rest of the house, this room was in disarray.
Tables lined all four walls. They held computer monitors,
cables, and green circuit boards along with scattered pliers and
screwdrivers. In the center of the room, nearly hidden by a stack
of boxes, was a paper-strewn desk. Behind the desk sat Sheldon.
He held so still, Emily didn’t notice him at first.

His face seemed too high, as if it sat atop his head. A double
cleft palate split his mouth and nose; his ears were long and
pointed. He turned his head, watching her—his eyes were spaced so
widely apart, he could see out of only one eye at a time. He slid
his chair back from the desk, hopped to the floor and walked toward
her on his knuckles. His shoulders were thick and muscular,
his arms overlong. He wore a large, charcoal gray sweatshirt
that gave him the appearance of wings. His legs, or what Emily
could see of them, were shrunken, curled, and useless.

The Bat Boy. Another myth exposed. She’d have those farmers
eating their words.

TWO

“He’s intelligent,” Emily said to her managing editor, Ross
Devine, as they stood in his New York office. “He has this quirky
sense of humor.”

“Is that so?” Ross thumbed through the photos of Sheldon
Kraft. “Maybe we should change his nickname from Bat Boy to
Dream Boy.”

She slapped his arm, smiling. “Don’t get cute.”

“I’m not joking, Em. You’ve painted this kid with a pretty
rosy spotlight. You’re supposed to be impartial.”

“I investigated a Bat Boy who was accused of terrorizing a
community and sucking the blood of cows. As far as those allegations
go, Sheldon is innocent.”

“Just once I wish you’d find a real bogeyman.”

She laughed. “No you don’t.”

“You’re right.” He slid the photographs into an envelope.
“Have you turned in your expenses?”

“I was about to. I also want to stop by editing and check on
Dan’s video.”

“I’m the editor around here,” Ross said, smiling. “You’re always
pushing.”

“That’s because you have the cushy job.”

“You wouldn’t like it,” he said, sitting behind his desk. “Go
on home. Tell April I said hello.”

She grinned. “If you insist.”

He called to her as she reached the office door. “It’s a good
piece, Em. Well done.”

“Thanks. I just hope we can quell the sightseers and give the
man his dignity.”

“Me, too. Goodnight.”

Emily stopped at her office-slash-dressing room, chuckling
at a question her daughter once posed about whether she was a
reporter or a TV star. She picked up her purse and a copy of her
expenses and headed to Accounting.

“Here you are, Marge.” Emily placed the report on the elderly
woman’s desk.

Marge blinked, her watery eyes magnified by oversized glasses.
Wisps of white hair stirred around her face. Marge always
complained she was cold. The multitude of space heaters she hid
around the room warred with the air conditioner, making it seem
almost breezy. Emily often teased that between the space heaters
and the papers, the Accounting Department was a fire hazard.

“All right, honey,” Marge said. “I’ll take care of it.”

“Thanks. See you later.”

With her purse over her shoulder, Emily hurried toward the
lobby. Many of the offices were already dark, but the lobby was
bright and pleasant. She waved at the security guard sitting behind
the reception desk. “Hello, Frank.”

“Evening, Miss Goodman. How are you tonight?”

“Tired.” She sighed. “I’ll be glad to get home, put my feet up.”

“I doubt you’ll have time with that little one of yours.” Frank
laughed.

“How’s your family? Kids still have the flu?”

“Nah, they’re fine. Back to school.”

“That’s good.” Emily smiled. “Can you call a cab for me?”

“My pleasure.” He turned his attention to the desk.

A short time later, a yellow cab pulled up.

“Thanks, Frank,” she said. “Have a nice night.”

“You, too, Miss Goodman.” He locked the door behind her.

Emily settled in the cab’s back seat. It stank of mildew and
citrus air freshener. She gazed out the window at a waning sunset
and brightening storefronts. It felt good to be home.
But as she thought that, she recalled Sheldon’s roses and remembered
Dan asking where she would put a garden.

Emily lived in a brownstone—no real yard, one spindly tree
out front. She didn’t hate it there—it was close to the studio and
the neighbors were nice. But she often wondered if it was the best
place to raise a child. As a result, she took April on weekend outings
and spent as much time as she could on Grandfather’s farm.
When she was young, Emily spent every summer with her
grandparents. That was where she found her love of archery. She
wished her daughter could visit there more often.

The cab stopped at her house. She gave the driver a smile
and a generous tip. She always tipped well—Lord knows service
employees made little enough. And she found her reputation as
a healthy tipper brought better service.

Emily got out of the cab and gazed up the eight steps to
her door. She felt so tired they seemed insurmountable. But she
climbed and soon had the front door open. The wonderful aroma
of dinner oozed out—along with the song of a Strawberry Shortcake
video played at full blast.

“Mommy!” Her six-year-old daughter bounded down the
hallway.

Emily knelt and hugged her. “How was school?”

“Good,” said April. “I made you a picture. Esmeralda put it
on the refrigerator.”

“I can’t wait to see it.”

She cupped her daughter’s little face in her hands. April had
inherited Emily’s hated freckles and upturned nose. But she had
her father’s pouting lips, reminding Emily of him, even after six
years.

She kissed her forehead. “You’re getting so big.”

“Welcome home, Miss Goodman.” Esmeralda stepped into
the living room. Esmeralda was April’s nanny, but she also worked
as the housekeeper, cook, and household accountant. “We held
dinner for you.”

“Baked chicken,” April said. “I helped.”

Emily stood, smiling. “I’d better get washed up, then. Let me
see. Which way is the bathroom?”

“I’ll show you.” April took her hand and tugged her up the
stairs.

In the living room, Esmeralda turned off the video.

Emily tossed her purse on her bed as she passed the master
bedroom and allowed April to pull her into the bathroom. It was
the only bathroom in the house, much to Esmeralda’s dismay. Her
room was off the kitchen. April pumped a handful of soap from
a purple heffalump dispenser and helped wash Emily’s hands.

“Did you do your homework?” Emily asked.

“Yep. We had math today.”

“That sounds fun. You’ll have to show me after dinner.”

“All right.” April grinned. “Race you.”

They clambered downstairs and into the dining room. Esmeralda
gave them both a disapproving glance.

“This looks wonderful,” Emily said, hoping to distract her.

The table was beautiful. Esmeralda had brought out the good
plates and lit a tapered candle. The meal was one of Emily’s favorites—
baked chicken breasts with gravy, mashed potatoes, and
fresh green beans with mushrooms.

Emily helped April sit, and then pushed in the heavy, wooden
chair. “Napkin on your lap, please.”

She sat across from Esmeralda, who bowed her head to say
grace. Emily never discouraged this, although she didn’t join in.
She believed in God, but she felt religion was a man-inspired attempt
at social control. However, she wanted her daughter to make
up her own mind and encouraged her exposure to many beliefs.

After grace came the clink of plates as they set upon the delicious
fare. Emily was ravenous. She started on a second helping
before speaking.

“Any problems while I was gone?” she asked Esmeralda.

“None at all.”

“Tommy Bernstein chased me around the school playground
yesterday,” April said. “I told the crossing guard on him.”

“Really?” said Emily. “Why was he chasing you?”

“He wants me to marry him. Yuck.”

“Well, you did the right thing, going to the crossing guard.
Always tell a grownup.”

“I bet he wouldn’t chase me home if I had a dog.”

Emily and Esmeralda exchanged amused looks. This was a
popular dinnertime topic.

“I’ve already explained to you why we cannot have a dog,”
Emily said.

“But everyone else gets to have one,” April whined.

“Is that true? Everyone has one?”

Esmeralda cut in. “If you’ve finished eating, you may carry
your plate to the kitchen. Bedtime at nine o’clock sharp, young
lady.”

“Thank you for the delicious meal.” April slid off her chair.
As she passed them on her way to the kitchen, she muttered, “I
don’t know why I have to be the only person in the world…”

Emily stifled a laugh. “Maybe we should consider getting a
puppy for Christmas.”

“Don’t expect me to train it.” Esmeralda tossed down her
napkin and got to her feet. “You coddle her too much.”

“Maybe so.” Emily shrugged, and her smile faded.

She helped clear the table, and then sat on the living room
floor with April, doing simple addition. They were having so
much fun that when the grandfather clock chimed nine, Emily
was almost resentful.

“Come on, I’ll tuck you in,” she told her daughter.

“Can I sleep with you tonight? I don’t want to stay in my
room,” April said.

“Why, sweetheart?”

“Because there are monsters.”

Emily paused. For a moment, she flashed back to when she
was six years old. She had confided in a schoolmate that a monster
lived in her closet—and that friend promptly told everyone
in her class. Emily couldn’t remember the little girl’s name, but
her face still stung when she recalled the humiliation.

“Well,” she said as she guided her daughter upstairs, “what
do you think the monsters want?”

“I don’t know.”

“Not all monsters are mean, of course. Some of them want
to play.”

“They do?” April’s eyes widened.

“Sure,” said Emily. “The next time those monsters come to
your room, you ask them why they are there. I’ll bet they just
want to have fun.”

“What if it’s for the other thing? To bite me,” she whispered.

“Then yell for me, and I’ll come running.”

“To save me?”

Emily hugged her. “I will always come to save you.”

THREE

Emily woke smiling. She was in her own bed—not a hotel bed
and not, God forbid, another sleeping bag on assignment somewhere.
She breathed deeply of the fragrant, gingham sheets, and
then sat, dangling her feet to the floor.

Voices traveled up the stairs—April and Esmeralda were in
the kitchen. Emily caught a faint whiff of brewing coffee. Follow
that smell, she told herself. After she donned her slippers, she
went downstairs.

April sat at the kitchen table behind an enormous bowl of
Cookie Crunchies. She grinned. “Morning, Mommy.”

“Good morning, sweetheart.” Emily kissed the top of her head.

Esmeralda poured egg batter into a skillet, which sizzled
and hissed. “I wasn’t sure when you’d be getting up. I’m making
omelets.”

“Sounds good. What flavor coffee is this?”

“German Chocolate Cake.”

Emily poured a cup, chuckling. “You are such an adventurer.”

“Mommy, can you walk me to school?”

“I’m sorry, baby, but there isn’t time. I’m not even dressed.”

“You never want to.”

Emily sat at the table. “I’ll tell you what. I’ll hurry and get
ready, and we can share a cab.”

“Really?”

“Yes. Now if you’ve finished your breakfast, go upstairs and
brush your teeth.”

“Yes, ma’am.” April put her bowl in the sink and bounded
out of the room.

Esmeralda sniffed. “You spoil that child.”

With a shrug, Emily sipped the hot coffee. “This is really
good.”

Esmeralda placed two cheese omelets on the table and turned
to get the toast.

Emily took another sip. “So, what have you got planned for
today?”

“Groceries. Errands.” She sighed as she sat. “I expect you’ll
be out on the range.”

“I thought I might.” Emily dug into the omelet.

The range she referred to was Clive’s Archery Emporium.
Emily’s grandfather had started her bow hunting as a kid, and
she competed in tournaments through college. Let the neighbors
take up racquetball or golf if they like—she preferred the skill
and concentration needed for a good target shoot.

“Will you be home for dinner?” asked Esmeralda.

“That’s the plan,” she said between mouthfuls. “I doubt Ross
will send me out again for a few days.”

“I’d like this evening off, if you don’t mind.”

Emily grinned. “Got a date with Dan?”

“We’re just friends.” Esmeralda blushed, shrugging.

“Of course I don’t mind. It will give April and me some quality
time together.” She stood and rinsed her plate. “I’d better get
moving. Call a cab, okay?”

She rushed upstairs and dressed in jeans, T-shirt, and a wooly
cardigan she could knot about her waist later. She put on her favorite
hiking boots—squashed-looking but comfortable.

In the bathroom, she heard April singing Row, Row, Row Your
Boat as she washed her hands. The tap was open to full force, and
Emily imagined water splashing the mirror and down the sink.

“Better not be making a mess in there,” Emily called.

The water stopped, and April paused in her singing. “I’m not.”

Emily smiled. She stepped into her walk-in closet and drew
out a long, thin case from an upper shelf—a recurved bow and
arrows. She’d received it on her fifteenth birthday—the only gift
Aunt Lucy ever got right.

“I’m ready,” April said from the doorway.

“Just in time.” Emily slung the case strap over her shoulder.
“Want me to carry your book bag?”

“No. It’s not heavy.”

They went out into the bright morning. The September breeze
was cool, but the sun was still strong, making the weather perfect.
They were practicing hopping down the stone steps as the
cab pulled up.

Emily recognized the driver. “Good morning, Davis.”

“Morning, Miss Goodman. Where we off to so early?”

“First stop, Lincoln Elementary.”

The cab glided forward. Emily settled beside her daughter,
who looked mesmerized by their mode of transportation.

“What do you say we do something fun after school?” Emily
asked. “Just the two of us.”

“I want to go to the nature trail park.”

“I was thinking more like dinner and a movie. We could go to
that video-game pizza parlor you always like. What do you call it?”

“We can go there any time,” April said. “But pretty soon it
will be too cold to go to the park. I want to eat sandwiches on the
picnic table like we did before and watch the sun set.”

Emily hugged her, touched by her daughter’s values. “You
have a wise soul, and I love you very much. And you’re right; it
will be getting colder. Pretty soon it will be Halloween, and then
Thanksgiving—”

“I don’t want Halloween to come. I hate it.”

“You do?” she chuckled. “You don’t like candy?”

April stared out the window.

Emily nudged her. “You can’t get to Christmas without passing
Halloween.”

“I don’t care.”

Emily frowned, realizing her daughter was sincere. “Why
don’t you like Halloween?”

In a small voice, April said, “That’s when the monsters come.”

Emily swallowed a groan of exasperation. This monster fixation
had to stop. “But, honey, Halloween monsters aren’t real.”

“Yes, they are. I know they are—because that’s what you do.”

“What do you mean?”

“Your job. You find the monsters.”

Emily felt her jaw drop.

“Lincoln Elementary,” the driver called.

She glanced out at an expanse of chain-link fence and bicycle
racks—the school playground.

“My job,” she said slowly, “is to find monsters that people think
are real and prove they aren’t monsters at all. They’re pretend.”

“But what if one of those pretend monsters are real, and they
take you away?”

She held her. “No one’s going to take me away.”

“Don’t go today when Uncle Ross calls.”

“Ross won’t call. I just got back. Besides, we have a picnic in
the park to attend. Right?”

April smiled.

The cab stopped at the student drop-off in front of the school.
Emily got out, holding the car door open. “You have a nice day.
And think of somewhere you want to go after our sunset dinner.”

“Like roller skating?”

“We’ll have to talk about that one.” She gave her daughter a
quick hug, and then watched until she disappeared through the
school’s wide doors.

“Second stop?” the driver asked.

“Clive’s Archery Emporium.” Emily sat again in the cab. She
stared unseeing at passing traffic as they entered the freeway.
Was she to blame for her daughter’s fears? She had no idea her
job would affect her like that.

Twenty minutes later, they pulled before the archery range.
From the street, it looked like just another storefront, but Emily
knew the real action took place out back. She found the Emporium
shortly after she started at the station two years ago.

“You made good time, Davis. Thanks.” She paid him. Tucking
her bow case under her arm, she entered the building.

Clive was a muscular man a few years her senior. He wore his
dark hair tied in a ponytail and his bulging arms sleeved in tattoos.
He stood at the register with a customer, but when he saw Emily,
he flashed a smile and a peace sign with his palm facing inward.

That was his joke. During the Hundred Years War, the French
would cut off the index and middle fingers of any English archer
they caught, insuring they could never draw a bow again. So on
the battlefield, Englishmen flaunted their intact digits in an infuriating
gesture of a V with the palm inward.

The customer left with his purchase.

Emily crossed the room. “Morning, Clive.”

He clucked his tongue. “When are you going to upgrade yourself
to a modern bow? I have a nice compound on sale this week.”

A compound bow had pulleys at either end, allowing the bow
to be held fully drawn, giving more time to aim.

She laughed. “Not my style. I’ve carried a recurved since I
learned they’re the only bow allowed in the Olympics.”

“I didn’t know you were interested in the games. Ever try out?”

She nodded. “It was exciting, even though I never made the
team.”

“Let me see. That would have been the year archery was reinstated
as an event. Nineteen seventy-two, Munich.”

She slapped his arm, grinning. “I was born in seventy-six,
thank you very much.”

“You should try out again. You’re good enough.”

“I’ll stick to recreation. Do you have any room for me?”

“Sure. It’s been quiet this morning.” He checked a chart.
“Why don’t you take lucky seven?”

Emily grabbed a paper target from the counter and stepped
out the back door to the range. Clive wasn’t joking when he said
it was a quiet morning—she was the only person on the field.

She pinned her target face to a straw mat at 240 feet. The target
rings were gold, red, blue, black, and white, with ten points for
gold down to one point for white. She remembered target practice
as a kid—Grandfather would think of a number, and it was
up to her to score the right amount of points.

She walked back to the seventh slot and assembled her bow.
The ends of a recurved bent away from the archer in a gentle S
shape, making it easy to string. The shape also gave extra spring
to power the arrows.

A deep breath helped calm her mind. That was what she loved
about archery—you had to concentrate so fully on the target, you
couldn’t allow daily worries to intrude.

She took her stance, drew the bow, and let the arrow fly. It
was a good shot, perhaps even a bull’s eye. Emily smiled, thinking
that maybe she should try out again for the Olympic team.

The ring of her cell phone broke her thoughts. Emily cursed
and, for a moment, considered not answering. She checked the
number—it was Ross Devine. “Hey, boss,” she said into the phone,
“you can’t possibly be ready for my voice-over yet.”

“I’m not. I have another assignment for you.”

“What? No, no, I just got home.”

“Sorry. This can’t wait,” Ross said. “There have been disappearances.
I want you to follow up while they’re still fresh.”

“Recent? That means I won’t have any police support. They’ll
think I’m mucking up their turf.”

“They might not mind so much. Rumor has it there is sorcery
involved.”

“We’ve already done a piece on Wiccans.” She shook her head.
“We should leave them alone for a while.”

“This isn’t Wiccan. It’s haunted houses, devil worship, and
something called Satan’s Mirror. You need to get down there.”

“Where?”

“Saint Augustine, Florida.”

She groaned. Florida in September would be stifling. “Set me
up for tomorrow morning.”

“Today.”

“I’m not going today. I have plans that can’t be broken.”

“All right, then. In the morning. Good hunting, Em.”

Emily hung up the phone thinking about what her daughter
said in the cab—don’t go when Uncle Ross calls.

FOUR

Emily drove the rented van down Avenida Menendez beside
the Saint Augustine Municipal Marina. The Intracoastal Waterway
shone bright blue in the morning sun, decorated with white
sails and masts. She, Dan, and his camera equipment had arrived
at Daytona Beach International Airport an hour before. The drive
north gave her a chance to acquaint herself with the area.

“It’s beautiful here,” she said with more of a sigh than she’d
intended.

“Hot.” Dan scowled, adjusting the air conditioning vents.
His hair blew with the force of the fan.

She smirked, shaking her head. “I think I’ll stop here for gas.”

“We have plenty.”

“I know.”

She pulled onto a cracked driveway and parked the van beside
a pump with a Pay Inside First sign. Moist air and birdsong
flooded the van as she opened the door. With a groan, Dan followed
her out.

Lotto posters dotted the windows of the small building.
On either corner, wilted impatiens in barrels begged for water.
Bells clanged as she pushed open the heavy door and entered a
cramped room. A paunchy man in stained overalls looked up
from his crossword puzzle.

Emily smiled. “I’d like five dollars on pump number three,
please.”

His eyes darted from her to Dan, who stood at a display of
brochures. “Regular or premium?”

“Regular.”

“Five dollars won’t get you far, nowadays.”

She leaned forward. “What we’d really like is information.
The secrets of Saint Augustine.”

“Oh.” He brightened. “You want the St. John’s County Visitor
Center, sure as can be. Head east on State Road Sixteen to Ponce
De Leon Boulevard then turn right and go to Castillo Drive, the
second traffic light—”

“Thank you, but we’re not tourists. We’re investigators. We’re
here about the recent disappearances.”

“That senator’s kid and his girlfriend.” He sniffed, taking the
five-dollar bill from the counter and putting it in an old-fashioned
cash register. “Probably took his party down to Key West is all,
lapping up them margaritas. People disappear around here all
the time, only to show themselves elsewhere. It’s a tourist town,
after all.” He stared at her as if to say the subject was closed.
“Pump three is ready.”

“One last question. I heard Saint Augustine has a haunted
house.”

“Ghosts. You can’t spit but hit one. Half the residents hereabouts
will swear to one sighting or another.”

“You ever see anything?”

He shrugged. “Never tried to.”

“Thanks.” Emily stepped outside into the stagnant humidity.
She could almost feel her hair curl and frizz. “Strange he didn’t
recognize me,” she said when they were away from the building.

Dan laughed. “Do you expect everyone to know who you are?”

“I just mean—”

“When you think about it, our show might not be popular
around here. A lot of these people make their living exploiting
the paranormal. They wouldn’t be quick to support a program
that debunks their bread and butter.” Dan circled to the back of
the van.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“You paid for gas.” He took the hose from the pump.

Emily climbed behind the wheel. If he was right, the locals
might make their job that much more difficult. She gazed out the
windshield and noticed the gas station attendant watching them
from the window. He dialed the phone and spoke, still watching.
Emily was no longer certain she hadn’t been recognized.

“Where to now?” Dan slid into his seat.

Emily started the van. “We have a couple of suites at the
Please and Plenty Inn. It’s the bed and breakfast where Mickey
Raynes and his girlfriend were staying. Might as well check in.”

“Please and Plenty. I have something on that.” He pulled a
packet of brochures from his pocket. “It’s on Cedar Street. Supposed
to be one-hundred and ten years old.”

She laughed. “What are you doing with all those? I don’t think
we’ll find what we need in tourist propaganda.”

“Don’t be so sure.” He slapped pamphlets on the dashboard.
“We’ve got sightseeing trains, trolley tours, and horse drawn carriage
walkabouts.” He raised his voice over Emily’s scoffs. “We’ve
also got Ghost Tours of Saint Augustine, voted the number one tour
in Florida, horse drawn Ghost Rides, the Trolley of the Doomed—”

“I see what you mean about people making a living out of
this sort of thing. Any haunted houses?”

“Everywhere. There’s a haunted bed and breakfast, a haunted
lighthouse, the Old Drug Store, and the Old Jail complete with gallows.
And look at this, the Spanish Military Hospital was certified
as actively haunted by the Northeast Paranormal Association.”

“Sounds like we’re not the first myth busters in town.”

She merged into traffic and continued driving along the Intracoastal.
Ahead, she recognized the Bridge of Lions. Emily had
studied a map on the plane. When they reached the bridge, she
knew to turn the opposite way.

Dan tossed the pamphlets into the glove compartment. “What
I don’t understand is, with all the ghostly sightings, why weren’t
we sent here before now?”

“I never knew Saint Augustine was haunted. But I did a piece
on Cassadaga once. That’s a spiritualists’ camp not far from here.
I think that’s what landed me this job.” She turned onto Cathedral
Place. “What a pretty park. Oh, it has a gazebo. Maybe we can
have lunch there.”

Dan chuckled. “I thought we weren’t tourists.”

A flashing light behind them quelled Emily’s reply. She pulled
the van to the side, watching the squad car in her rearview mirror.
After several moments, a policeman stepped out and approached
the driver’s side.

She rolled down the window. “Is there a problem, Officer?”

“Driver’s license and registration, please. I notice you have
a brake light out.”

“I’m sorry, sir. This is a rental, and—”

“That’s not an excuse.” He glanced at the camera equipment
on the floor of the back seat. His eyes were dark and his skin
tanned. Curly, black hair showed around his hat. “Emily Goodman?
I thought I recognized you. I’ve never seen your show myself,
of course, but my kids watch from time to time. They’re five
and seven.”

“Oh.” Emily recognized the veiled insult. “I’m glad they enjoy
it.”

“You aren’t here about our missing Virginia College students,
are you?”

“Mickey Raynes and Renee Lambert. Yes, sir. Would you
care to comment?”

“It’s an ongoing investigation. One that doesn’t involve you.”

“And yet, aren’t there rumors that devil worship and haunted
houses are involved?”

“Sensationalism. Tabloid reporting.” He handed back her
license and registration. “Have that brake light repaired. This is
a warning.”

Emily watched him walk away in the mirror.

“I’ll bet it’s a warning,” Dan said. “We’ll have to be discreet.”

“I have a bad feeling,” Emily said, pulling from the curb.
“This assignment is going to be trouble.”

She drove slowly along Cathedral Place. Such a beautiful
city, she thought. Who would expect ghost lore to be a mainstay
of this community? And Dan was right—why hadn’t she heard
of it before now?

Dan let out a low whistle, motioning ahead at an ornate,
domed building. “Look at that.”

“Cathedral-Basilica.” She ducked to read the sign. “Established
in fifteen sixty-five.”

“There must be a heavy Catholic presence here. So why Satan
worshippers?”

“One doesn’t necessarily preclude the other.”

“Just seems strange.”

“These streets are strange. Half of them are one way. Check
the map, please, navigator.”

“Cardova takes us away from Cedar,” he told her, “but we
can use it to swing around Flagler College and come back via
Grenada Street.”

Emily grinned. “The old slingshot maneuver, eh?”

She wound around Victorian houses on narrow, brick-lined
streets. Many yards were overgrown and bound by wrought iron
fences and arched gates.

“This architecture is breathtaking.” She looked at a home with
a wicker veranda. “What era do you think that’s from?”

“I read that Spanish colonists settled the city over four-hundred
years ago, before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock.”

“I wonder how many of these buildings are original and how
many are made to look old.”

“Thirty-six,” Dan said, “and forty reconstructed.” He looked
at her and grinned. “You can learn a lot from a brochure.”

“Let’s hope we can put your trivia to good use.”

“There.” He pointed at a large, whitewashed home with overshadowing
trees and a white fence. “I think that’s our Inn.”

Emily pulled into the drive and parked in a small lot. “This
is lovely. How could a kid like Mickey Raynes afford a room in
a place like this?”

“His father was a senator, remember?”

“Right.” She hopped down from the van. “Let’s get our stuff.”

She slid open the back door, and then grabbed her old denim
duffle bag and her computer. She chuckled as she hefted them
onto her shoulders—she’d gone through the trouble of finding
the lightest laptop she could, and then packed it in a case that
weighed twice as much.

She looked at Dan, who had camera cases dangling from his
neck. “What can I help you with?”

“Here.” He slung the straps of his video camera and his digital
backup over her head. “Can you take a tripod?”

“If you can tuck it under my elbow.”

“Thanks.” He closed the door, and then picked up his own
duffle and three cases of lighting equipment. “Think they’ll recognize
us now?”

“Who knows?” She shrugged, walking with him toward the
house. “I’m sure lots of people come here toting cameras.”

They entered a large room with a sitting area. Doilies covered
the arms of the chairs. The antique furniture seemed in keeping
with the house’s ambiance.

A man in a Penn State T-shirt looked up from a desk. “Welcome
to the Please and Plenty. I’m Craig.”

“Hello.” She smiled, setting down her load. “I’m Emily Goodman,
and this is Dan Hart.”

“We’ve been expecting you,” Craig said, taking out a register.
“We have two suites available—the Comity and the Affluence. I’m
sure you’ll find them to your liking. All our suites feature fourposter
beds, whirlpool baths, and electric fireplaces.”

Emily signed the book. “Can you see the ocean?”

“Not even from the roof.”

“That’s a shame.” She motioned at his T-shirt. “I see you are
a Nittany Lion fan.”

“My alma mater.”

“Mine, too. Sometimes I miss it.”

Craig grinned. “I don’t miss the weather.”

“No. I imagine you don’t,” she said. “This is a beautiful house.
Are you the owner?”

“My family.”

“I’m pleased and a bit surprised you had two suites available
on such short notice.”

“Well, it’s not season yet. And we had two people leave unexpectedly.”

“Really?”

He gave a knowing smile. “I know who you are, Ms. Goodman,
and I can assume your purpose. You want to find the missing
students.”

“Not at all,” she said, raising her hands. “That is police business,
and I have no intention of getting in their way. I’m covering a
story about a haunted house and an object called Satan’s Mirror.”

“I’ve heard the term. Aren’t you supposed to be able to see
into hell itself?”

“You tell me. You’re the one living in spook central.”

“Actually, I heard about it while I was in Pennsylvania.”

“You did?” she said, taken aback. “Then Mr. Raynes and Ms.
Lambert never asked you about—”

“They asked me about normal things. The San Sebastian Winery.
The Saint Augustine Alligator Farm. I got them discounted
tickets to the Colonial Spanish Quarter. That’s a kind of living
museum where people dress as eighteenth century settlers and
show how they cooked, tended livestock, that sort of thing.”

“Sounds fascinating,” Emily said. “So you’re saying our missing
students never asked you about the ghost trade around here?
Haunted houses? Palm readers?”

“No,” Craig said. “Wait. Yes, they did. The girl, Miss Lambert,
was interested in seeing a psychic. I told her the best were
on San Marco Avenue.”

“Why did she want to see a psychic?”

“The most common reason is a person’s love life.”

“I see.” She picked up her duffle bag. “Perhaps the two of them
were having relationship problems.”

“That train of thought might impinge on the police investigation.”

Emily smiled. “Could you show us to our rooms, please?”

“Of course. Come make yourselves comfortable. I’m afraid
you’ve missed breakfast, but our chef has a delicious cake planned
for our evening treat.”

“Don’t get too comfortable,” Emily whispered to Dan. “We’re
going psychic hunting.”

Want to read more? SATAN’S MIRROR is available in print or ebook at Amazon.