I thought I would share a sneak peek at the project I’ve mentioned a little but never shared anything about except a few comments. So, here is a chapter from Spectre of a Chance, AKA my thesis project. My thesis advisor called this “a cool hybrid story, Southern fantasy/horror with a noir humor to it all. It feels cutting edge and modern. It reminded me of Men In Black, Harry Potter, True Blood, with some real Stephen King horror elements thrown in. That is memorable.” I call that amazing praise from someone I truly admire.
This is six pages (nearly 3,400 words) of unedited material from my manuscript. If you don’t wish to know anything about the work that has yet to be published, then please read no further. I feel I have to warn you that Hattie is a much darker character than Siobhan, she speaks her mind, and lives life on her own terms. Now, without further ado, I give you chapter one of Hattie Spectre’s world. I hope you enjoy it (If possible, I may love this character even more than Siobhan)…
The pungent aroma of rotting Chinese food, pounding bass of rap music, and the humid North Carolina summer night filled my senses where I hid behind a dumpster in a dark alley in Asheville, North Carolina waiting for my prey to arrive. Six men and women have disappeared near this club over the last few months, and my reconnaissance showed signs of demon activity in the alley earlier. The strong sulfurous odor and gelatinous puddles indicative of a Luxuria Demon’s feeding habits showed me that Cass, my PA, was right when she sent me the information packet in her last email. The missing had all gone out partying with friends, drank heavily, and had been looking for love in all the wrong places. Unfortunately, they found it in the form of one hungry Lust Demon looking for a meal. The human police didn’t have a clue. It was my turn to become the predator and stop the demon from preying on innocent humans. Most demons are smart enough to stay away from public areas when looking for prey. They target the people that society ignores. Not this guy, he decided to target the ones that society pays attention to the white suburban yuppies. Even the police would figure out something was hunting people eventually.
A movement at the mouth of the alley caught my eye. I perked up with the hope it was my mark and not some horny young adults looking for an alcohol-fueled quickie. When did I become so jaded? When was the last time I had sex that didn’t involve batteries? A man shoved a woman against the stucco of the nightclub as their mouths mashed against each other and their hands grasped at each other’s clothes and bodies…great, option number two. Why couldn’t the demon show rather than the sex-crazed couple? I avert my eyes and contemplate my life choices while the children violate public decency laws performing sex acts in public against the wall of the nightclub. Lucky for me, the man finished quickly. The couple adjusted their clothing into normality and scurried out of the alley like cockroaches when a light is turned on. Another movement at the mouth of the alley has me prepared to avert my eyes, but this was different. The people entered but move further into the alley away from prying eyes. Both are male, one is much larger than the other approximately the size of a small mountain while the other is petite and slender. I can hear one making nervous conversation.
“I’ve never done anything like this.”
The other man didn’t speak, but rather grunted in response.
Halfway into the alley, they stopped.
“You don’t say much, do you?”
The giant lifted the smaller one so they were eye to eye.
“Wow, you’re strong.” Unbidden my hand moved to the hilt of my katana, I slid out from my hiding place. My soft-soled shoes made no noise as I walked. The demon unfurled his wings, his prey began to scream. The only way to send a demon back to Hell is to remove its head and perform a minor ritual to send its soul back where it belongs. I couldn’t do that without hurting the human. I needed the demon to drop his prey, I was desperate for a distraction. Wing-clipping would work. I unsheathed the sword and drew it upward in the same motion, I swung it down swiftly separating one of the demon’s wings from his back. The beast howled in agony, dropping his prey.
“Go home, Keeper. This is no concern of yours.” The wing dissolved into a puddle on the ground at the Lust Demon’s feet.
“I’m not Keeper, I’m a demon hunter, and you’re breaking the rules.” I swung my sword in a wide arc toward his midsection. He dodged the sword jumping toward the opposite side of the alley. With his back against the wall, the demon realized his mistake and came out at a run knocking me on my back and my sword out of my hand. Air whooshed out of my lungs while the demon pummeled my head and chest with his gargantuan fists.
“When you get to Hell, tell Ephraim I said hello.”
My fingertips touched the hilt of my sword. The demon took another swing at my face, and I slid away. My fingers felt the katana closer and closed around the handle. I pulled it to me, swinging the sword wildly upward. The punches to my face stopped. I looked up to see the demon stared at me, missing half his face. I swung again, aiming for his neck, the well-honed blade separated the demon’s head from his neck, and he fell to the side off me. I rolled away. The smell of hot chocolate filled my senses. I crawled to the wall of the building to pull myself up. The song Demons by Imagine Dragons pierced the air of the dark alley. I leaned down and grabbed my pack from behind the dumpster. I pulled out my phone, spit the blood from my mouth, and answered the call.
“Hey, Cass. The demon’s dead. I need you to do something for me.”
“What do you need, oh Great One?” the voice of my best friend and personal assistant snarked in my ear through my cell phone.
“Look through my phone numbers and find one for my great uncle, Ephraim. When you find it, could you call him and see if he is okay? If there is no answer, contact Nettie Blackmoor in Shade, South Carolina and ask her to check on Ephraim Spectre, please.”
“Once you find out about Ephraim, call me and let me know—please. A friend on the local police force mentioned some other signs of demon activity that I’m going to check out before I head to the hotel for a much-needed shower and sleep.”
“Okay, Hattie. I’ll make the calls and get back to you ASAP.”
“Bye, Boss Lady.” I put the phone back into my pack and pulled out the supplies I would need to send the Lust Demon back to Hell and make sure there was no pesky body left behind to make local law enforcement ask any questions.
Monday was an evil day with a deviant sense of humor. First, I wake up next to man who appears to be half my age in a motel room that probably hasn’t been thoroughly cleaned since Eisenhower was President. After a perfect night’s hunt where I send a Lust Demon and a Wrath Demon back to their respective bosses in Hell that ended with a minor celebration in a sketchy dive bar with one too many body shots of tequila off my current bed partner.
I was lucky enough find all my clothing, put it on, and get out of the room to begin the walk of shame to my Ford F150 before Studly Do-Wrong woke up and wanted me to take another go on his purple-headed yogurt slinger. His words, not mine. Of course, Monday wasn’t going to let me get away that easily. With the sun overhead trying to make my eyes bleed, I barely made it to my truck’s door when someone yelled at me.
“Bitch, you killed my brother!”
Please, allow me to introduce myself, I’m Hattie Spectre. On January 17, 1981, when I was almost five years old, I had an unfortunate meeting with two demons in the basement of my great uncle’s house. They wanted to steal my life essence and take it to Hell to sell it and gain status within the legions of demons. Obviously, they failed. Now, I’ve made it my life’s mission to send as many demons back to Hell as I can.
There are seven species of demons, each species answers to a specific leader of Hell. Each of the species is tied to one of the seven deadly sins of Christian belief. That’s about where the similarities end. I’m not sure who this guy’s brother was, nor am I convinced that I killed him. It’s not like I’m the only demon hunter on the planet. I had sent more than my fair share of demons back to Hell, and if this guy thinks I killed his brother, he could be right. The demon in front of me was a Greed Demon, last night’s demons represented the Wrath and Lust side of the family tree. I hadn’t killed any other demons since I’d arrived in North Carolina.
“Unless you come from a mixed-race family and your brother was a Wrath or Lust Demon who died last night. I have no clue what you’re talking about,” I said.
“I know you’re the Demon Hunter, Hattie Spectre. You killed my brother when he had only been Earthside six weeks,” the demon answered. “He only wanted to get to know the locals and have a little fun.”
A slip of a memory tickled my brain from three years before. As my mind struggled to pull the memory to the surface, I cocked my head to the side and stared at the Greed Demon who stood in front of me dressed in jeans, a light blue button-up shirt, and the ever-stylish Chelsea boot. Greed Demons use a lure to convince unsuspecting humans that they can use the information the Greed Demon has to earn large sums of money. It’s like a mental pyramid scheme that never pays off. The demon feeds off the greed the human feels until the human is an empty husk. Eventually, the human dies. Greed Demons are rare Earthside, and in the twenty plus years I had been hunting, I had seen less than five.
In Miami, eighteen months earlier, I spent three weeks tracking a Greed Demon using his lure to prey on greedy real estate developers. He drained eighteen victims in six weeks where most demons feed on one victim every three to four weeks and rarely kill which keeps them below the radar as much as possible, this guy liked to make sure he killed which hit the news media. I remembered that Greed Demon very well, and there was a strong family resemblance.
“Maybe your brother should have learned how to feed without killing or feed less often,” I said. I dropped my leather duffel bag to the ground with my left arm while my right arm reached slowly behind my back for the gun in the holster at the small of my back.
“He was young! He hadn’t had time to learn everything he needed to know to live Earthside!”
“So, I should look the other way while humans die?” I asked.
“You could have explained that he was doing something wrong.”
“Do I look like I’m the professor of Demon 101? It’s my job to stop the ones who are preying upon humans, the worst of the worst. I was sent to Miami to stop him, not teach him what not to do. If you wanted him taught, then that was on you, not me.” My hand touched the warm metal of my Sig Sauer P226 semi-automatic pistol loaded with a clip of custom rounds. The bullets can’t kill a demon, but they will cause the guy extreme pain.
“Then maybe it’s time someone stops you.” He leaped forward, I pulled my hand out from behind my back and fired three rounds into his chest. The Greed Demon screamed in agony thanks to my custom holy water filled bullets. I grabbed my bag and rolled under my pick up, coming up on the other side, leaning against the front wheel. With my right hand clutching the pistol my left hand rifled in the duffel and came out with my kit I used from the night before and dropped it on the ground before diving back into the bag. The demon’s screams were less forceful. I yanked my arm out of my duffel dragging my katana out, looking around for one seriously pissed off demon. As the demon’s scream ebbed into silence, I pushed myself off the ground throwing the sling of the katana over my head and grabbed the small satchel of my demon-go-home kit. I duck walked between my truck and the car parked next to it as I listened for the demon’s next attack.
“Did you think bullets could stop me?” The demon yelled. His voice echoed around me and gave me no indication of his location. I moved forward slowly. My hair snagged on the dented fender of the car parked next to my truck. Temporarily immobilized, I reached back to untangle it from the fender and found my ponytail caught in the iron grasp of a fist. Some days it just doesn’t pay a woman to try to sneak out of a cheap motel room. I heaved a heavy sigh and let my hand fall to the ground.
“I don’t suppose you’d accept a heartfelt apology,” I said. The demon yanked my hair and pulled me up so that my head was next to his mouth.
“Do you think an apology would make up for the loss of my brother?” He asked. His mouth was next to my ear.
“Do you think I would apologize for sending a demon that killed sixteen innocent humans back to Mammon in disgrace?” I asked.
“I’m going to be a legend. I will be the demon who killed the demon hunter from the Spectre family. I wonder what your soul will taste like?” The demon turned me to face him putting my feet firmly on the ground. He leaned in to press his lips gently against mine. His tongue traced the crease of my lips, I leaned toward him. My right hand raised toward his chest. Eleven blasts filled the air. The demon dropped to the ground, air wheezed from his lungs.
“Rule number one: Remove weapons from your opponent’s hands.” I wiggled my gun in the air before putting it in my holster.
“Rule number two: Humans are not expendable food sources. Be sure to tell that to your brethren when you get back to Hell.” I slide my katana from its sheath. The blade shined brightly in the sun.
“Rule number three: Don’t interrupt a woman’s walk of shame when she’s almost made her escape. It’s rude, Asshole.” I glared at him as I swung the sword upward.
“One last thing, tell Mammon Hattie says ‘Stay in Hell.’” I brought the sword down, separating the Greed Demon’s head from his body. Black vapor ebbed from the neck of the demon’s body. I opened my Demon-Go-Home kit. I’ve known hunters that use all kinds of rituals to send a demon’s spirit home. Me, I like to stick to the basics; salt, holy water, a rosary, and a simple prayer. It hasn’t failed me yet.
I sprinkled salt over the body, clutched the rosary in my left hand, and began to pray. “St. Michael, the Archangel of God’s army, help me send this soul of the Fallen back to the Abyss where it belongs. Please make this body purified and untouchable by the denizens of Hell. Let it be cleansed by holy water.” I sprinkled it with water from the vial. “So that it cannot be used for evil work. I pray that if I have committed a sin in God’s eyes, I will be struck down and be stopped from doing this work now and forever more. For I would never want to do evil as those whom I have hunted do. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.” When I finish, the body sinks into the asphalt and disappears.
I’m not a particularly religious person, but that prayer is one that I believe in with every fiber of my being. I have seen the damage demons can cause first-hand. I never wish to become what they are. I gathered my gear and placed it behind the seat of my truck before climbing behind the steering wheel. The dulcet tones of AC/DC’s Highway to Hell stopped me from starting the engine and moving out of the parking lot. I dragged the phone out from the console and answered without a glance at the caller ID.
“It’s about time you answered. I’ve been calling all morning,” Cass Pendleton, my personal assistant and general pain in the butt berated me.
“I left a message after I had dealt with the Wrath Demon situation that I had found out about from my cop friend. I felt I deserved a little rest and relaxation.”
“You didn’t need to drink your weight in tequila or have sex with whatever hot bodied, no-brained, barfly you took to the motel room last night,” Cass said. She was right on that one. My head was killing me thanks to the tequila, and Studly wasn’t worth my time. I reached to the floor of the passenger’s seat and the cooler I kept there hoping I had some orange juice left in my beverage stash to help derail my hangover from last night’s celebration.
“Cass, I’m forty-two years old. I don’t need a mother,” I said. My search was rewarded with one bottle of nectar. In the console, I found my bottle of ibuprofen, and after placing my cell phone on speaker mode, I dumped two of the tablets into my hand, taking them with the orange juice. “I’m sure you didn’t call me to berate my lifestyle choices. Because if that’s the case, let’s discuss when was the last time you took a walk outside your apartment, my agoraphobic bestie.”
“You win. We won’t discuss our lousy life choices.” I could almost hear Cass’s lip jut out in a pout. I know I hit a nerve by touching on her agoraphobia, and I need to fix it—fast.
“I’m sorry, Cass. I shouldn’t have said that. Your agoraphobia isn’t a choice, my debauchery is most definitely a choice. Please forgive me. If there’s nothing that needs my immediate attention, maybe I could swing by for a while, and we could hang out. Order in some food, watch movies. Hey, I could even let you and your hairstylist have fun with my hair.” Cass would love to get her hands on my hair. I haven’t had it professionally cut in years, I just hack it off with scissors when it annoys me enough.
“I wish. Unfortunately, I called for a reason. I made the calls like you asked. I couldn’t get in touch with Ephraim, but I managed to reach Nettie Blackmoor in Shade, South Carolina. She wanted me to tell you that your Uncle Ephraim passed away. She also wanted me to tell you something else. She said I had to say this verbatim. I am supposed to tell you, “It’s time you stop running, child. You are the Spectre Keeper now, and you belong to the Spectre Estate.” What does that mean, Hattie?”
“It means nothing, Cass. If anyone from Shade calls again, tell them I have a different job, and they can damn well find a different Keeper. Do I have any hunter jobs that need my attention, or do I get to come to see my favorite person?”
“There’s no jobs, Hattie.”
“Good. Make some plans for us, Cass. I’m on my way to you.”
Damn it, Ephraim picked the absolute worst time to die! I finally had some spare time to go see Cass and maybe convince her to try therapy with a therapist who knew the world was filled with more than just humans. Cass shut herself in her tiny single bedroom apartment after being attacked by a Wrath Demon five years earlier and only had contact with the people who delivered things to her, her hairstylist, and me. Cass deserved more out of life than a few fleeting glimpses of the world through the monitors of her computers. It had taken me almost two years to find a therapist who knew about the supernatural world, lived near Cass, and was willing to make house calls. Now all I had to do was convince the patient to try therapy and pray they were a good fit. Decision made I point the truck toward Virginia, and I’m on my way to Cass in Richmond. Screw the family legacy, Cass came first, then I could sort the rest out.