This is Brian Harmon's personal blog about writing, publishing and life as a writer and stay-at-home dad.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Sneak Peek - RUSHED: HEDGE LAKE

The fourth book in the Rushed series is here December 11!  





When a terrifying dream leaves Eric with a familiar, urgent compulsion to get up and leave his home, he fears that he’s in for a frightful case of déjà vu. But what he finds waiting for him at the end of his long drive north is unlike anything he's yet seen. The Hedge Lake Triangle is a hotspot of paranormal activity claiming everything from mysterious disappearances and hauntings to UFOs and monster sightings. He’ll need all his wits and then some, because something unthinkable lurks beneath the surface of the lake and he only has until the rain falls to navigate the endless horrors and face the evil that awaits him at the bottom of the triangle.

Read on to preview the entire first chapter!





Chapter One

Eric’s eyes flashed open.  He was lying in bed, clutching the sheets to his bare chest and staring up at the familiar, white ceiling of his bedroom.  The morning sunlight poured through the window blinds and painted brilliant stripes across the wall.  He could hear birds singing outside, but it was otherwise quiet.  Peaceful.  Deceptively calm.  As if all were well with the world. 
He was trembling.  His heart was racing.  He struggled to catch his breath.  A strange terror was welling up within him, slowly overwhelming him.
Don’t let it take me!
His cell phone rang.  He snatched it off the nightstand beside him and held it to his ear. 
“You can’t ignore it,” said Isabelle. 
He ran a hand through his tousled hair and groaned.  “I know.”  He pushed aside the covers and sat up.  “Damn it…”
He’d prayed that it was only a dream when it woke him the previous morning.  But the fact was that he didn’t have very many dreams that he could actually remember in any detail.  Not anymore.  What little he could recall was usually nonsense.  Most mornings, he woke up with no memory of his dreams, only a curious feeling that he’d been dreaming of something very profound.
But this dream had not only been incredibly vivid, it had come to him two nights in a row.  And it left him feeling oddly restless…as though he had somewhere he needed to be…
“It’s a lot like the first dream you had,” Isabelle said.  “The one that brought you to me.”
It was.  It wasn’t as strong, but he felt that same, irrational compulsion to get dressed and go somewhere.  The difference was that he hadn’t been able to remember that dream.  Not until he set out to silence it.  This one, however, he remembered quite clearly. 
It was deep winter under a gloomy, gray sky.  A thick blanket of snow had settled over the floor of a naked forest.  The wind was blowing stiff and cold.  He could remember precisely how it felt, biting his skin right through his clothes. 
Except that they weren’t his clothes.  It wasn’t even his skin.  It wasn’t he who was out in this bleak wilderness.  It was someone else.  A woman, he thought, though he couldn’t be entirely sure.  It was bizarre.  He seemed to be inside her skin, feeling the wind that stung her face, struggling through the snow, gasping for every icy breath.  He could feel her pounding heart as if it were inside his own chest.  He saw the frozen wilderness with her eyes, felt the gripping terror that was rapidly swallowing her.  And yet he also felt as if he were miles away, like he was looking up from the bottom of a deep, dark well.  
Something was in that forest.  Something terrifying.  He could hear it.  She could hear it.  Behind him.  Behind her
Eric rubbed at his eyes.  It was all so confusing.  It was only a dream, but it was so vivid.  So real.  He was still tangled up in those emotions. 
He remembered a steep slope.  He—no, she—stumbled and fell, sliding through the snow, scraping the numb flesh on the palms of her bare hands.  He looked down at his own hands now.  It felt so real, even now, that he was surprised to find them unblemished. 
Great, rocky bluffs rose up on either side as the woman fled deeper into the thickly wooded gully.  Then she went too far.  The ground vanished beneath her.  She dropped twenty feet and landed hard on the ice. 
So much pain…
“You know it won’t stop,” Isabelle reminded him.  “You’ll live through that every night until you go.  It’ll drive you mad.”
He wanted to argue that they knew no such thing, but he would only be stalling.  Deep down, he understood.  It was too much like the other dream.  He knew it the first time it woke him, if he were to be honest.  It was why he’d gone to sleep with his phone on the nightstand, with Isabelle only an arm’s length away. 
He was being summoned again.
“You already know where you have to go.” 
He sighed and stood up.  “North,” he said.  He scratched his neck and shook his head, frustrated.  “I go north.”
“I’ll be with you the whole way,” promised Isabelle.  “Like always.”
“I know.  Thank you.” 
He hung up the phone and turned off the alarm that never had a chance to wake him.  Usually, he wouldn’t even hit the snooze for the first time for another twenty minutes yet. 
He dressed himself as his mind circled around the awful, lingering dream.  He couldn’t stop thinking about the end, those last few moments before he was mercifully torn from the nightmare and returned to consciousness.  Through tears of terror and agony he saw a wide, frozen lake stretching out from the narrow cove where the woman lay broken upon the cracked ice.  Above her, high bluffs and crowding trees.  And something else, too, something big moving through the trees.  A burning glow high up in the branches.  An awful shriek. 
Then chaos. 
And more pain. 
She cried out for help, and although he was sure she must have been crying out to God on that bloody ice, a final, desperate prayer, he could’ve sworn that she was speaking to him
Don’t let it take me!
He shuddered hard at those words, the final thing he’d heard before the dream shattered and ejected him back into his peaceful bedroom again. 
It wasn’t just a dream.  It was real.  That woman was real.  The thing that was chasing her was real.  Her suffering was real.  But those events didn’t happen recently.  That lake was deeply frozen.  It was the middle of winter.  It was now late April. 
That left one important question:  Had the awful scene taken place in a winter past…or in a winter yet to be? 
He made his way downstairs, where he found Karen in the kitchen, already busying herself with her baking.  She had four hundred cupcakes to bake for a wedding the next day.  For most people, waiting until the morning before would be pushing it, but Karen was not most people.  She was ridiculously talented in the kitchen and made a considerable amount of spending money as a freelance cake decorator and caterer.  She was perfectly content to simply rise a little earlier than usual. 
“You’re up early,” she observed, barely sparing him a glance as she poured sugar into her mixer. 
Holly sat at the table, separating paper baking cups and slipping them into muffin pans.  She turned and looked up at him, brushing her long, red hair from her pretty face and offering him her usual, sweet smile.  “Good morning!”  As always, she was exceedingly cheerful, as if she’d never been dealt a single reason to be anything but optimistic and full of hope.
“Good morning,” he said to both of them as he poured himself a cup of coffee. 
“Did you have the dream again?” asked Karen.  It wasn’t a secret.  He hadn’t kept it from her.  He never kept things from her.  Not for long.  He might occasionally downplay just how much peril he’d found himself in, like that time he was shot at by a fat, psychotic cowboy.  (It was better that she not know just how narrowly he’d escaped that encounter.)  But he always told her the rest of it, regardless of how frightening or disturbing (or unflattering or embarrassing) his exploits might be. 
They were always honest with each other. 
“I did.”
“So you’ll be leaving again?”
“Looks like it.”
To anyone who didn’t know her, she would have looked unnaturally calm, as if the idea of him venturing off on another of his weird adventures wasn’t the least bit terrifying to her.  But Eric knew her far better than anyone.  She wasn’t comfortable expressing her feelings.  She bottled them up inside and put on false faces.  It was an old coping mechanism that had served her through some rough adolescent years, and an apparently unbreakable habit even after all this time.  Right now, she was feigning disinterest and a little bit of annoyance.  He was about to go off on another stupid road trip to get himself hurt again.  A silly boy and his silly adventures.  But he knew that deep inside, in that fragile part of her that she kept locked up tight, she was very much afraid. 
“Do you know where you’re going?” she asked as she started up her mixer. 
“North,” he replied. 
“Just north?”
“Just north.”
“That’s not very specific.”
Eric took a sip of his coffee and then cocked his head thoughtfully.  “It’s pretty specific.  When you get down to it.  I mean, it’s precisely as specific as a compass needle.”
“How far north?” she pressed.  “Like, up north?  In Northern Wisconsin?  Upper Peninsula?  Or are we talking Canada north?  Or Santa’s workshop north?”
“Can’t say.  I guess I’ll know it when I get there.”
“The lake,” agreed Holly as she continued prepping the muffin pans.  “Where the people in the mist wander.  With the beast with many names.  And where the funny space men play with their toys.”
Eric and Karen both looked at her, but she kept her eyes on the task before her, as if she hadn’t said anything strange at all. 
“Right…” said Karen.  “There you go.  Just look for all that stuff.”
Eric nodded.  “Yeah.  That should narrow it down for me.”
Holly smiled her sweet smile. 
“What does Isabelle say?” asked Karen. 
“That I should hurry.”
“Definitely,” agreed Holly.  “Something’s going to happen there.  I can’t see what it is, but it’s going to be bad.” 
Eric had been lifting his cup to his lips, but he lowered it again without sipping.  “How bad?”
“Way bad.” 
“Can you give me an example of what ‘way bad’ might entail?  I’m still a little hazy on just how bad things can actually get.”
Holly set aside the prepared muffin pan and reached for the next one.  She seemed surprisingly casual for someone discussing dire portents about his eminent journey.  “It’s hard to say for sure.  But I’m certain that anyone near that lake is in terrible danger.”
Karen frowned at Holly.  “One of your spells told you all this?”
She nodded. 
Eric met Holly Shorring the previous summer.  She was a member of a coven of witches who had sought his help against a powerful and murderous wizard who was hunting them down one by one.  Although he hadn’t believed in magic when he met her, she and her sisters had thoroughly convinced him otherwise. 
(He didn’t understand it, but he absolutely believed in it.)
Holly was young, only twenty, and strikingly beautiful.  She also possessed a remarkably endearing personality.  She was sweet, kind, resourceful and clever.  Everyone who had met her since she moved to Creek Bend adored her. 
But when he first laid eyes on her, she was dancing provocatively on a stage in a nude bar in rural Illinois. 
Karen had been understandably irate about him returning home just prior to their wedding anniversary with a gorgeous, young stripper.  And she still hadn’t let it go.  Nor would she.  Ever.  She had no intention of letting him forget it as long as they both lived, regardless of how and why it happened.  And he could hardly blame her.  He knew perfectly well how fortunate he was to have survived that ordeal, and with all his bits and bobs intact, no less. 
At the same time, however, Karen had managed to harbor not a single ounce of ill will toward Holly.  In fact, like everyone else, she’d quickly grown quite fond of the girl.  She’d taken her under her wing and treated her like a member of the family almost from the start.  Hardly a day went by when she wasn’t here in this kitchen, helping Karen with her baking, or out assisting with a delivery.
Eric had long ago stopped trying to point out that if he’d never brought her home, Karen would have missed out on having such a dear friend enter her life.  That was not the point.  That had nothing to do with it.  His crimes remained unforgiveable, regardless of her fondness for the very object of her insatiable wrath. 
(He’d also long since stopped trying to makes sense of the situation.)
It didn’t hurt that Holly and Karen had turned out to have a lot in common.  They were practically made to be best friends.  They could’ve been long-lost sisters.  For starters, Holly was a skilled baker in her own right.  She had a particularly special talent for making cookies. 
Also, Holly had a peculiar way of encouraging people to be nice to her.  It was a gift she possessed, a sort of psychic power of suggestion.  She was a sweet girl who wanted everyone to like her, and so almost everyone who met her found her instantly endearing. 
(But Karen insisted that this curious ability had nothing to do with it, of course.)
“Did your spells tell you anything else?” asked Eric. 
“Not that I could really understand,” she told him.  “Not yet, anyway.  Just random images.  Nothing that makes much sense.”
“I guess that explains the funny space men.”
She shrugged her shoulders.  “It’s all a little wonky.  Maybe once you’re there it’ll be clearer.  I’ll call you if I see anything else.”
Karen cocked her head and tucked a strand of her brown hair behind her ear.  “Wait…  You’re not going with him?”
“Not this time.  The spell said he has to do this on his own.” 
“Oh…”  Karen hadn’t intended to let her go without a fight.  She’d made it her business to take care of the girl, after all.  But she hadn’t expected to win that argument, much less that there would be no argument at all. 
Eric nodded.  “Then that’s settled,” he decided.  He was relieved, actually.  As helpful as she’d be if he took her with him (she had saved his life more than once) he was thankful to not have to worry about her getting hurt.  Especially since people always managed to get hurt on these weird adventures.  “I should get going.”
“Oh, and stay away from the water,” added Holly.  “At least until I know more.” 
“No swimming,” confirmed Eric.  “Got it.” 
“What’s wrong with the water?” asked Karen. 
“There’s blood in it,” replied Holly. 
Karen shook her head.  “Why do I ask these things?”  She turned to Eric, looking him over.  “Maybe I should go with you.”
“You’ve got too much to do,” he replied quickly, gesturing at the cupcakes.  The last thing he wanted was for her to tag along.  He’d never forgive himself if anything happened to her.
“Jess would take over for me if I called her,” she reasoned. 
“You’d never trust anyone to take over one of your jobs,” he challenged. 
“Jess is very talented.  I know she could handle it.” 
“You’d worry about it the whole time you were gone.”
She knit her eyebrows.  He was right, of course, but she wasn’t about to admit it.  She took an enormous amount of pride in her work, especially when the job was for something as special as a wedding.  It had nothing to do with how much she trusted anyone else to do the job.  Once she’d made a commitment to do something, she always saw it through to the end. 
(Like when she committed herself to never letting him forget how he mucked up their last anniversary weekend.)
“He has to do it on his own,” Holly explained.  “Neither of us are supposed to go.”
“There you go,” said Eric, trying not to sound too relieved.  “Can’t argue with magic.”
Karen fixed her eyes on Holly for a moment.  Although her expression was only thoughtful, he thought he could almost see the real emotions swirling behind her dark eyes.  She knew he was right.  She couldn’t just abandon her responsibilities here.  It was her job to make sure these cupcakes were finished, were beautiful, and were on display in the church before the guests began arriving tomorrow afternoon.  It wasn’t even about the money she’d already been paid.  It was about keeping her word and ensuring that her part of someone’s beautiful day was as perfect as she could make it. 
But she also didn’t care for being told what to do.  If she wanted to accompany her husband into the unknown, why shouldn’t she be able to?  It was also her responsibility to take care of him, to make sure he was safe.  What kind of wife would she be if she didn’t do everything in her power to protect him?  And this self-proclaimed witch had no business telling her otherwise. 
Yet the deepest truth of all was that while she was afraid for him, she was even more afraid to go with him.  The things he’d described to her, the terrible things he’d seen…  She was too cowardly to even sit through a horror movie, much less to live through one.  The first time this happened, she didn’t believe it.  She thought it was some kind of early mid-life crisis kind of episode, that he’d subconsciously begun to feel trapped in his mundane, English teacher existence and realized that he was only getting older.  He just needed a little adventure to make him feel young again.  Even when everything started getting weird and he began describing the insane things he was seeing over the phone, she didn’t really believe it.  Not even when he began sending her pictures.  She told herself it had to be a prank of some sort.  At worst, she feared that he might be suffering a serious psychological break, but that was even more terrifying than the idea that all these things were real, so in the end, she’d just gone along with it, almost numb to it all.  But it was real.  And she had no idea how he kept doing these things.  If she’d been with him when that first golem burst from the old wardrobe in that empty house…  Well, she doubted very much that she would’ve handled it with half the bravado as her courageous husband (and he’d confidentially admitted to her that he pretty much just ran away screaming like a girl). 
And now Holly was telling her she wasn’t supposed to go… 
Finally, she let out an exasperated sigh and met his gaze again.  “You be careful out there.”
“I always am.”
“No, you’re not.  You’re always getting yourself bitten by things and falling from high places.”
“I wouldn’t say ‘always’…”
“Or getting sliced up by something with huge claws.”
“But I always come home, remember?”
She did remember.  It was the one thing he brought back from his time with Holly’s coven that hadn’t earned him her fiery wrath:  A prophecy of sorts.  A magic spell had given him an assurance that although he would continue to be called away on these strange journeys, he would always return to her.  It was a heartening message and it helped to ease her fears.  But only a little.  “I still don’t know how much I trust this witchcraft stuff,” she told him. 
Eric glanced at Holly.  He recalled his brief time with the coven the previous July, all that he went through, all that he saw.  “I trust her magic,” he told her.  And it was the truth.
Karen stared thoughtfully at him and said nothing.  Though Holly had offered to teach her to use spells, too, she’d refused.  In fact, she’d discouraged the girl from using any magic while she lived in Creek Bend.  It wasn’t that she disapproved, exactly.  After all, this magic had saved her husband’s life.  But she found the very concept difficult to handle.  It seemed so unnatural. 
Holly hadn’t pushed the matter.  After all, she hardly needed to rely on witchcraft in her everyday life.  A man she called “Grandpa,” but who wasn’t a father to either of her parents, had long ago taught her that magic wasn’t something one relied on for just anything.  It was only for emergencies.  Or special circumstances.  Like these dreams Eric was having, for example. 
“Paul won’t be able to help this time,” said Karen. 
“I know.”  Paul was his older brother.  Usually, Karen would call him soon after Eric left and send him to keep an eye on her wayward husband.  But today Paul, his wife, Monica, and his son, Kevin, were in Minnesota for a wedding.  “It doesn’t matter.  He wasn’t much help last time, remember.”
“That wasn’t his fault.”
“I know.  But I still don’t need him.”  In fact, he’d prefer that Paul, like Karen and Holly, stay well away from whatever bizarre trouble he was heading into.  It was hard enough worrying about his own ass out there, without having to be concerned about someone else’s safety. 
“Have Isabelle keep me posted.”
“She will.”
She gave him a kiss and then turned back to her mixing bowls.  “Well, get going.  You wouldn’t want to be late for whatever trouble you’re about to get yourself into.”
She was good.  He could almost believe she really wasn’t concerned about him. 
Eric snatched up his keys.  “No.  I guess I wouldn’t.”
“I love you.  Be careful.”
“I love you, too,” he assured her.  He headed for the door. 
“Good luck,” said Holly. 
“Thanks.”
As he opened the door, Karen added, “And try not to bring home any more strippers, ‘kay?”




Rushed: Hedge Lake is available for preorder at Amazon and Smashwords.

Get the whole book on December 11!

Monday, April 21, 2014

By the Pricking of My Thumbs...

Something Wicked this way comes!  Look for the third book in the Rushed series to be available around the first of May!  This time around, Eric finds himself summoned to the aid of a coven of witches who are being hunted by a murderous magic man.  The usual monsters and mayhem are waiting for him in the rural farmlands of Southern Illinois, but the real peril may lie at home, because if he's not back in time for the anniversary getaway Karen has planned for them, he's going to learn the true definition of terror...



Continue reading for a sneak peek of the first chapter of
 
Rushed: Something Wicked


And if you haven't checked out the first two books yet, look for Rushed and Rushed: The Unseen wherever you like to buy your ebooks!  



 
Chapter One

 
“I want to go to that seafood restaurant again.  The one with the all-you-can-eat crab legs?”

Eric nodded.  “I remember it.”

“It was so good.”

“It was pricy.”  He sat at the table, finishing up his coffee and watching his wife as she fluttered around the kitchen, cleaning up after breakfast. 

“It was worth it,” she purred.

He supposed it was.  Karen loved crab legs.  It was one of her favorites.  It made her happy.

“And that little fudge shop!”

“Can’t miss the fudge.”  He finished his coffee and handed her his cup.  He didn’t offer to help.  He knew better.  He’d just be in the way.  The kitchen was Karen’s domain.  She’d long ago claimed it as her own and now ruled it with the authority and grace of a queen.  He’d given up trying to be helpful in here.  No matter how hard he tried, he just couldn’t seem to get the dishes clean enough to please her, or put them away in just the right places.  Everything had to remain immaculately clean and tidy.  There was a place for everything and everything was always in its place.  Though you wouldn’t know it by the state of her disorganized closet or the chaotic mess that was her bathroom counter, in this room, nothing short of perfection would do.

He was equally useless when it came to cooking.  He could barely make toast right.  Any attempt he made to help her prepare food only slowed her down.  The only thing he was good for in this room was retrieving things off the high shelves where she couldn’t reach.  (And being somewhat shorter than average, he couldn’t even do that half the time without a stepstool.)

If he was a good boy and just sat quietly and stayed out of her way, she’d let him stay.  Otherwise, she was likely to shoo him out of the room like a troublesome child until she was done. 

Luckily, he remained useful throughout the rest of the house.  He did a satisfactory job with the laundry and could fix most things when they broke.  He managed the bills and mowed the lawn and shoveled the driveway.  He earned his keep. 

And of course he was the killer of the spiders.  If nothing else at all, she’d keep him around just for that.  Although she occasionally reminded him that lots of younger, fitter men could kill spiders too, just to keep him on his toes. 

“We should take one of those dinner cruises on the lake, too,” she sighed.  “Doesn’t that sound nice?”

“Sounds expensive.”

She shot him a sour look.  “Don’t be cheap.  It’s our anniversary.”

“I’m not being cheap.  I’m just being realistic.  We spent a little extra last year because it was our ten-year anniversary.  I don’t think we should get too carried away this year.”

She turned and leaned her back against the counter, pouting.  “Eleven years is better than ten.  Why shouldn’t we do it bigger this year?”

Eric smiled and let his eyes wash over her.  She was wearing an oversized Packers tee shirt that barely covered her bottom and nothing more.  Her long, brown hair spilled down over her shoulders, still disheveled from bed. 

Eleven years ago, when they walked down the aisle, she was much slimmer, but he didn’t miss that tiny silhouette one bit.  Borderline anorexic, she’d spent the previous seven years starving herself and desperately trying to climb out of her popular, prom queen older sister’s shadow.  About the time he proposed to her (never because she was thin and beautiful, but because she was simply beautiful inside and out) she began to accept who she was and that she didn’t have to be anyone else.  She allowed herself to gain back some of that middle-school weight that she’d hated so much and the result, Eric thought, was breathtaking.  To this day, she remained exquisitely curvy and, in his opinion, extraordinarily sexy. 

And as he sat staring at her now, he found that he really didn’t want to discuss their upcoming romantic getaway. 

“What do you want to do?” she asked him. 

Eric stood up and strolled around the table to where she stood.  “I just want to be with you,” he told her, and then kissed her lips.

“Charming,” she said, smiling.  “But you can be with me any day.  What do you want to do this weekend?”

Eric kissed her cheek and then her neck.  “I’ve got a few ideas,” he assured her as he slid his hands down the sultry curves of her waist and slipped them under the hem of the tee shirt. 

“Whoa,” she said, pushing his hands away.  “Down boy.  We’re talking about our anniversary trip now.”

“We are,” he agreed, nipping at her ear.  “It’s just a little preview.” 

She pulled away from him and pushed his hands out from under her shirt again.  “We’re not spending four hundred a night just to stay in the hotel room and play naughty nurse.”

Eric stood up straighter, his eyebrows raised.  “Naughty nurse?  Did you buy a new outfit?”

Karen pushed him, barely stifling a smile.  “I was being sarcastic.”

He frowned.  “So…no naughty nurse?”

No.  I’m not going away for the weekend just to play dress up for you.”

“I don’t understand.  We’ll pay four hundred a night just to sleep somewhere, but not to—”

“Exactly.  Yes.  So no naughty anything.”

Eric kissed her again.  “Well there’s always the French Maid.”

“I never should’ve let you talk me into buying that.”

“But you did.”

“I did.  But I’m not packing it.”

“Aw.  Why not?”

“This is our anniversary weekend.  It’s not about you.”

He leaned back and looked at her, his eyes narrowed.  “Not about me, huh?”

“Not about you,” she insisted.  “It’s about me.”

“Why is it about you?”

“I’m your wife.  That’s the way it is.  Ask anyone.”

Again, he kissed her on the neck.  This time she didn’t pull away. 

“We still have to decide what all we’re doing this weekend.”

“We will.  It’s only Wednesday.  We don’t leave until Friday.”  He slid his hands up under her shirt again and grasped her naked hips beneath it.  She didn’t push his hands away. 

“But I have so much to do before we leave,” she protested, even as she lifted her chin to let him kiss her neck.  “I promised to make cookies for the church ice cream social.  And I promised Shana Lesternap a dozen pies for the firehouse picnic.”

“Plenty of time,” Eric assured her. 

“I have to get it all done by tomorrow evening.”

“No problem for Creek Bend’s resident culinary genius.”

“Now you’re just sucking up.”

“Maybe.  But you’re still the most talented woman I’ve ever known.”

Karen made a fair amount of money as a freelance baker and cake decorator.  It was rare for a social event to take place in this town without something delicious made in this very kitchen. 

“You promise to help me plan?”

He continued to kiss her neck.  “Of course I do.”

“You’d better.”

Eric kissed her lips again.

She kissed him back. 

He thought it was going to be a very good day. 

Then the damn doorbell rang. 

“You’ve got to be freaking kidding me,” grumbled Eric, his voice muffled against his wife’s probing lips.

She giggled and kissed him again. 

He didn’t want to stop.  He squeezed her bottom and pulled her closer, kissing her harder. 

Again, the doorbell rang. 

Karen laughed.  “Get the door, stud.” 

“They’ll go away.”

She pushed him away.  “Just get the door.”

Eric sighed and turned away. 

Whoever was at the door began knocking. 

“This’d better be really important!”

Behind him, Karen laughed again. 

When he opened the door, Eric found a teenage boy with tousled black hair and hauntingly dark eyes staring back at him.  He was dressed in a too-big tee shirt, torn blue jeans and worn-out tennis shoes. 

“Are you Eric Fortrell?” the boy asked. 

Eric wanted badly to lie, but he nodded. 

“I’m Jude Thorngood, sir.  We need your help.”

I’m sure you do, thought Eric.  These kids tended to show up several times a year, typically selling candy bars, cookies or coupon books.  Occasionally magazine subscriptions.  Usually not so early in the day, though…  He never bought anything.  He was a teacher at the local high school.  He already participated in more than his share of fundraisers.  “Sorry, this really isn’t a good time.”

But the kid was more persistent than others.  He stepped forward, his hand outstretched, pleading with him.  “There isn’t any more time, sir.”

Dramatic, he thought.  This kid really took his fundraising seriously.  “Maybe you could come back later.  I’m in the middle of something really important right now.”  He glanced back toward the kitchen.  He really wanted to be in there with Karen. 

This is important.”

“I’m sure it is.”

“Just a few minutes of your time.  Please.”

“I’m sorry, but I’m really busy.”

“You have to listen…”  But Eric was already shutting the door.  He had no intention of listening to a teenage boy try to convince him that his football team needed new practice jerseys (or whatever it was he was out begging for).  He volunteered for enough bake sales and dances and car washes that he did not feel the need to humor these kids on his own front porch. 

And yet, they still always managed to make him feel guilty when he said no.  He stood there for a moment, his hand resting on the doorknob, annoyed.  Then he turned away from the door and started across the living room.  He’d gone as far as the couch when he heard Karen scream in the kitchen, startling him.  As he bolted from the living room to see what was wrong, he heard her shout again, this time shrieking his name. 

He’d always had a very vivid imagination.  It was the foundation on which he’d built his love of reading that turned into a love of literature and led him to becoming an English teacher.  He could always slip into those other worlds, immersing himself in Tolkien’s Middle-earth or Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County.  Unfortunately, it had a side-effect of offering him the most terrifying of scenarios during moments like these.  As a result, it was far too easy to picture Karen in the kitchen with her hand lodged in the garbage disposal or her foot crushed under the weight of a frozen turkey. 

How a bright woman like Karen might come to be in such situations was well beyond him, but he never claimed that his too-vivid imagination was in any way logical. 

Fortunately, Karen was not in mortal peril.  He burst into the kitchen to find the boy he’d just closed the front door on sitting at the table, staring at her, a bright smile on his face.  She stood with her back against the sink, her eyes wide.  She was pulling down the hem of the Packers tee shirt with one hand and covering the more than generous amount of cleavage revealed by doing this with the other.  She looked both mortified and infuriated. 

Eric didn’t take the time to wonder how the boy had managed to get inside the house.  He rushed to the table and hauled him out of the chair by his arm. 

“Ow.”

Who the hell is he?” demanded Karen.  Why is he looking at me half naked?”

“I don’t know!  I didn’t let him in!”

“Get him out!”

“I am!”  He was already steering the boy down the hallway as Karen bolted out of the kitchen and up the stairs, slamming the bedroom door behind her. 

Jude craned his neck as far as it would go to watch her leave and then looked up at Eric, grinning.  “Your wife’s really pretty.”

“Shut up, you.  I ought to kick your ass.”

“I need to talk to you.”

“I told you I was busy!”  Although he wasn’t likely to be busy now.  Thanks to this stupid stunt, he was sure he wasn’t going to be “busy” for quite a while.  “I should call the cops is what I should—”  When he looked down, however, he realized that he was no longer holding the boy’s arm.  He was gone. 

He turned and found him sitting in the kitchen chair again, his arms folded casually on the table, smiling back at him. 

“How the hell…?”

“You can’t get rid of me.  We need your help and I can’t leave until you’ve heard what I have to say.”

Upstairs Eric heard the closet door slam.  He needed to get this kid out of the house now or they were both going to catch hell.  “Fine,” he sighed.  “But outside.”

That, it seemed, was satisfactory.  Still smiling at him, the teenage boy who ruined Eric’s perfectly nice morning stood up and followed him out onto the porch. 

“Now what the hell is so damn important that it just couldn’t wait?” snapped Eric.  He wasn’t remotely concerned about offending a student.  It was clear by now that this had nothing at all to do with any kind of school fundraising. 

The boy didn’t waste any time.  “It’s my mom.  Someone’s trying to kill her.”

Eric stood there for a moment, staring at him, trying to wrap his head around what he’d just heard.  What?”

“He’s already killed Grandpa.  We didn’t think it was possible, but he did it.”

“Wait…  Somebody killed your grandpa?”

The boy nodded.  “And one of the girls, too.  Regina.  He’ll kill us all before he’s done.  We need your help.  Desperately.”

Eric felt a hot lump forming in his belly.  Was this kid really talking about murder?  Was somebody hunting down members of his family?  “Shouldn’t you be talking to the police?”  But he found that he already knew what the boy’s response to this was going to be. 

“Police can’t help.  If Grandpa couldn’t stop him, they wouldn’t have a chance, even if they would help.”

Eric knew the answer to his next question, too, but he asked it anyway:  “Why wouldn’t they help you?”

“They’d never believe us.”

Of course they wouldn’t.

“He won’t stop until he kills all of us.”

“Who’s ‘he?’” 

“The magic man.”

“Magic man?”  This all sounded crazy, but the craziest part was that it all made a certain kind of sense.  None of this was any less believable than some of the things he’d already seen.  He sat down on the porch steps and ran his hands through his hair, frustrated.  “And you think I can help you?”

Jude stood over him, staring at him with those dark, pleading eyes.  “You’re the only one.  Mom said so.  And she’s never wrong.”

Now Eric’s palms were firmly planted against his eyes.  It was happening again.  And just before his wedding anniversary, no less. 

“She sent me to find you and bring you back with me.”

“Where?”

“We’re hiding out on a farm in Illinois.”

“Illinois…” sighed Eric.  “Fantastic.”

This had happened twice before.  Not exactly like this, of course.  But it had happened.  Once last summer and then again just last month.  He already knew that much more than just his morning had been ruined.

“Please,” begged Jude.  “You have to help us.”

Eric dropped his hands and stared up at the boy. 

“We don’t stand a chance against him without you.”

 
 
 
Look for Something Wicked at your favorite ebook retailer on May 1st!
 
Happy reading, everybody!