Cassandra Archer has faithfully served the earth Mother for years, rescuing kidnapped children from monsters—both human and supernatural—dwelling in the ruins of the Barrows District. But when two children are kidnapped under similar circumstances, all clues point to a cataclysmic event on the next dark moon. Now Cass must race against the clock and prevent a sacrifice that could destroy the entire town…
July 21st – Full Moon
Mama wanted me to be a veterinarian. She’d probably have settled for a nurse, teacher, or grocery store clerk. She never came right out and said, “Cassandra, you disappointed me,” or, “Cassandra, you have so much potential,” but I knew I’d let her down.
The idea of me running down a slimy storm sewer in the desolate, abandoned ruins of the Barrows section of Duivel, Missouri, probably never crossed her mind. The drugged, unconscious five-year-old boy strapped to my back and the angry monster with fangs and claws snapping at my heels were just part of my job. Maybe Mama was right—I’d made the wrong career choice.
I’m in good shape, but I’d run, crawled and slogged through the sewer for over an hour. My chest heaved in the moldy, moisture-laden air by the time I finally reached my escape hatch. The glow from phosphorescent lichen gave me enough light to see the manhole shaft leading out of this little section of hell. Claws clattered right behind me and the tunnel echoed with slobbering grunts. This particular monster was an ape-like brute with porcupine quills running down its spine and glowing green eyes.
Up into the manhole cylinder, two rungs, three…roars bounced off the tight walls…almost there…a claw snagged my slime-covered boot.
I jerked away and heaved myself out onto the deserted street.
Clouds covered the full moon’s silver face, so my vile pursuer might actually take a chance and follow me. The Earth Mother has no power here in the Barrows save her daughter’s light in the midnight sky. Maiden, mother, and crone, signifying the progression of life from cradle to grave, that ancient pagan female entity had called me to her service years ago. Now, in her name, I ran for my life. In her name, I carried this innocent child away from evil.
I’d managed to get off two shots and my bronze bullets hurt the ugly sucker, but a kill required a hit in a critical area like an eye. I could stop and aim or run like hell. I ran.
Its claws gouged out the asphalt as it dragged itself out after me.
Under usual circumstances, I wouldn’t have gone below the street. I’m good at kick the door down, grab the kid, and run. This time a bit of stealth was required since the door guards carried significant firepower. I was definitely outgunned.
Most things living in the storm sewers were prey. The small creatures ran from me. This time I’d crossed paths with a larger predator determined to make me a midnight snack.
I’d parked my car on the next block, so I sprinted toward a dark shadowed alley that cut between the three-story brick buildings. Derelict vehicles and broken furniture made my path an obstacle course as I threaded my way through the debris toward the pitiful yellow light of a rare street lamp at the alley’s far end.
A cough-like snarl came from behind. The creature would leap over things I had to go around. I wouldn’t make it, and if I did, those claws would tear the metal off my little car like I would peel an orange. I’d have to turn and fight soon. I hoped I could take the thing down before it overwhelmed me.
Halfway down the alley, a door suddenly opened in the building to my left. A Bastinado in full gang regalia, including weapons, stepped out. Though technically human, Bastinados are filthy sadistic bastards whose myriad hobbies include rape, robbery, and murder.
I had nothing to lose as terror nipped at my heels and gave me momentum. I rammed the Bastinado with my shoulder, knocked him down, and rushed inside. Drug paraphernalia and naked gang members lay scattered around the room. I’d crashed their party and brought a monster as my date. The Bastinado at the door certainly hadn’t stopped it.
The creature roared louder than the boom box thumping the walls with teeth-rattling bass. The Bastinados grabbed their weapons. They barely glanced at me as I crossed the room at a dead run. Two guards stood at the front door, but they had their eyes on the monster, too. I shoved my way past the guards. Screams and gunshots filled the night. Throw the door bolt and I emerged onto the sidewalk.
I raced down the street. I hadn’t gone far when the ground suddenly heaved and shuddered under my feet. The whole block thundered with a massive explosion. A vast wind howled, furious and red, and surged down the street in battering waves.
Tornados of brilliant orange fire blasted out the windows of the building I’d escaped, and washed over the street like an outrageous, misguided sunrise. A hot hand of air picked me up and slammed me to the broken concrete. I twisted and landed face first to protect the boy strapped to my back, then rolled to my side with my body between him and the inferno. I covered my face with my arms. More explosions followed and the doomed building’s front façade crumbled into the street while burning debris rained from the sky.
What in the Earth Mother’s name had been in there?
When the fury abated a bit, I forced myself to my feet and headed for the car. Was the pavement moving or was it me staggering?
The sound of the explosion still hammered my ear drums. I opened the back door, peeled away the straps and protective covering holding the boy secure against my body. I laid him across the backseat. He didn’t seem injured, and he still slept from the sedative I’d given him to keep him calm.
It wasn’t until I climbed in the driver’s seat and fumbled for my key that I noticed the blood—my blood—too much blood. Slick wet crimson streaked down the side of my face and soaked half my shirt. Shards of glass protruded like rough diamonds from my forearm’s blistered skin. It didn’t hurt—yet. Pain would come soon enough.
I turned the key in the ignition. Nothing happened.
Another deeper blast rumbled under the street, shaking the car.
Sirens sounded in the distance, police, fire trucks, ambulances, rushing to the scene. They rarely entered the Barrows, but the magnitude of the blast I’d lived through couldn’t be ignored.
I turned the key again. And again.
Last month I’d had to make a choice. Fix the car’s starter or buy special hand-loaded bronze bullets. I’d chosen bullets.
The fourth time I twisted the key the engine jerked to life. It sputtered twice, then smoothed. I popped it into gear and rolled forward, away from the fiery beast still raging behind.
Symptoms of shock crept in and pain found me. It rose by increments, increasing in intensity with every passing moment. My heart raced at a frantic pace and my arms shook so I could barely hold the wheel. Sweat formed an icy second skin as my body temperature took a nosedive. Sweet Mother, it hurt. The street blurred and shifted in my vision. Worse, though, was the feeling of pursuit. My little car chased through the deserted streets by some invisible, unimaginable horror. With considerable will, I kept my foot from mashing down the gas pedal.
Clouds drifted away from the cold, exquisite, full moon.
“Follow,” a soft voice whispered and urged me on. The white orb in the sky suddenly filled the windshield, rising to a brilliant mass of pure clear light. I drove toward the radiance, navigating well-known streets as if dreaming of driving. North, keep moving north. A stop sign? Okay. Don’t run that red light. If a cop stopped me, they’d call an ambulance, take me to the hospital, and I’d die. I was already beyond the skill of modern medicine’s healing.
The child in the back seat moaned, as if in a nightmare. I had to stay conscious long enough to get him to safety. I wouldn’t go down for nothing.
The guiding brilliance faded as I reached my destination. Control of the automobile eluded me, however, and the mailbox loomed. Before I could hit the brakes, I’d rolled over the box and the small sign that marked the home and business of Madam Abigail. The sign offered psychic readings, but gave not a hint of the true power and grace of the woman who dwelled and worked there.
I plowed through the flowered yard. Abby was going to be seriously pissed at me. Two feet from the front porch, the car jerked to a halt. Abby would find me. Abby would care for me as she always had. Luminous moonlight filled the night again, then faded, leaving only sweet smelling flowers that lured me into painless darkness.
August 5th – 8:30 AM
The pounding wouldn’t go away and I figured someone was beating on the apartment door and not my head. It couldn’t be the landlord because I was only a week late with the rent. The soulless bastard knew me by now and usually didn’t start harassing me until the third week. The utility company didn’t pound; they flipped a switch downtown, like the cell phone people had three days ago.
The air conditioner in the window hummed constantly, fighting to keep up with record heat washing in abundant thermal waves against the glass, even at the disagreeable hour of eight in the morning.
“Come on, I know you’re there,” a male voice shouted through the door.
I climbed out of bed, staggered to the door, then stopped. My long, mustard-yellow tee shirt had, Does This Shirt Make My Tits Look Too Big? printed across the front. Of course, it would take a lot more than a tee shirt to make mytits look too big. It smelled like a two-hour workout, but it covered my panties. I didn’t plan to let the door basher in, anyway.
He pounded harder and I winced. Each thud bounced around my skull and set my constricted blood vessels screaming.
Hell of a party last night. I’d gone out to celebrate my recovery from the injuries sustained at the last full moon. When did I get home? How did I get home? Something about my car… Damn.
I stuck my eye to the peephole, but all I could see was a warped, unrecognizable face.
“Who is it?” I shouted.
“Detective Flynn. Duivel Police. Open up.”
Police? Did I do something really awful last night?
“Show me your badge.”
He held what looked like a badge up to the hole. He’d made enough noise that all my neighbors were probably peeking out their doors to see if the cops were hauling me away in handcuffs—again. Living vicariously through my troubles brightened their ordinary lives.
I opened the door a few inches. Whoa! This was a nice one. He appeared around thirty, maybe a little older. His jet-black hair gently curled around his ears and he needed a shave, but he still looked yummy. He wore a rumpled jacket, tee shirt and blue jeans that fit a fine, strong body. Detective Flynn. Too bad he was a cop. I kept one hand on the door, but I doubted I could close it fast enough if he wanted to force his way through. “What do you want?”
“I want to come in.”
“And I should let you because…?”
“Because I’m a nice person. I had your piece of shit car towed off the sidewalk in front of Zeke’s Deli this morning. It’s downstairs. It could be at the impound lot.”
Zeke’s Deli was three blocks down the street.
Funny, he didn’t look nice. Sexy as hell—but not nice.