Of Musings and Wonderings











I’m looking for beta-readers. Basically, I’m working hard at the moment to get some work out there. I’m looking to enter competitions and submit various pieces of work to places. But what I really need is a pair of (or a few pairs!) critical eyes, to look over my work and let me know if it’s any good.

What I’m looking for is honesty. Even if it’s just “Well, this is crap, because of x, y and z.” Thoughts on plot, characters, grammar…anything! Even from people who might not consider themselves to be experts. I want to know how my writing would be perceived.

I’m not looking for editors. Just people willing to give time and impressions. The way I’d like it to work is maybe, every so often, I ping off an e-mail to anyone willing, let you know the word-count, what sort of story it is, that sort of thing. Then, if you have the time and want a read, I can send it over. And of course, I’m not expecting anyone to do this without something in return. I’d be happy to beta-read for people, or to read something of theirs (short stories, novels, anything!) and give an honest review. There’s also the opportunity for guest blogs or interviews, whatever it is you may be looking for at the time. (For example, if I give a review and you don’t currently have anything else you want me to review, but you are willing to read something of mine, we could set up a guest blog or something.)

So if you think you’d be interested, drop me an e-mail at gracebunting@hotmail.co.uk or leave your e-mail in the comments below.

Thanks!

 

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{November 22, 2013}   NaNoWriMo 2013: The Road So Far…

It just fits, okay?

Mason Crane

Mason’s life turned upside down when his parents were attacked by vampires. Taken in by Diane and Jefferson, he soon agrees to join them and become a hunter, seeking out the creatures that lurk in the darkness and wish for nothing else except to kill. In his early twenties, Mason starts dreaming of a girl in Cardiff, and knows he has to help her. Addie, living a normal life, is starting to see ghosts, and without someone to guide her, she’ll lose her mind.

Mason has to help her come to terms with what she sees, while trying to work out if the vampires who slaughtered his family are still out there. But, with every question answered, a new one rises.

That pretty much sums it up. Oh, and so far, there’s been exorcisms, a summoning of an angel, ghosts aplenty, and a very pissed off Celtic goddess. And with over 40,000 words written, the story is nowhere near finished. To be honest, it’s been so much fun to write, jumping back and forth between the two main characters and fleshing out the world around them. As well as that, there’s the other hunters. Including Fox, with severe scars, Ali, a wizard with technology, and Holly & Seth, who have their own short story that you can read here. But I can feel my energy beginning to run low, can feel an urge to work on something else and I’m very much looking forward to the end of the month. Hopefully, I’ll hit 50,000 early and try to get a lot more written before midnight on November 30th. But I’ll keep you updated on that next week.

So, any one else doing NaNoWriMo this year? How’s it going for you? What’s your book about? Feeling a little burned out yet, or still feeling love for what you’re working on? Let me know.



Prologue

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

“He’s kind of cute.” Lucy’s drawling voice broke me out of my thoughts. I turned to see a guy, dressed as Rocky from Rocky Horror, staring over at me. She nudged my side, wriggling her eyebrows, and I forced myself to smile at her as I turned away from the guy.

“Luce, I’m really not interested.”

“Aw, babe, come on! Those dreams haven’t got you that freaked out, have they?”

The dreams.

They were getting worse. A lot worse. Not really dreams, either. More like nightmares. All the kind of crap you see in horror flicks. Monsters and ghosts. Made me shudder just thinking about it.

“I just don’t feel like it, Lisa.”

It was Halloween, and Cardiff was packed. Down on Mill Lane, I felt totally out of my depth. These were not my kind of people. People riding the waves of cocaine, people willing to chuck over six quid on a double and mixer. I just couldn’t deal with it. But the guy Lisa was interested in, dressed as Dracula, was inside and she had wanted to go here. So, I wasn’t going to complain. But I was going to desperately try to get hold of the girls I knew would be down on Womanby Street, dancing to ska and punk and classic rock. That was my kind of music, my kind of people and my kind of prices.

Soon as she found this guy, I was off.

Lisa grabbed my hand and yanked me in past the bouncers. I glanced behind me, down towards St David’s, and spotted a figure down the road, just standing there as others went past them. No one brushed against them or knocked into them, but groups seemed to part without giving the figure a second glance.

“I.D, girls.”
I turned to flash my driver’s licence, and when I looked back, the figure had gone.

“Adelaide,” Lisa drawled, stretching my name out as much as possible. “Come on!”

She yanked me in, and we handed our cash over to the girl and got stamps on the back of our hands. Lisa, dressed, of course, as a cat, was practically skipping up the stairs. No idea how she could do that in heels.

I followed slowly, cringing at the heavy thumping music from upstairs. I didn’t get the whole dressing slutty thing on Halloween. I never did it, though buying a costume always meant there would be some element of sluttiness to it. Tank tops and leggings came in handy for that.

This year, I’d got myself a dead Snow White outfit. Blood splattered the yellow skirt and blue top, and I’d added some fake blood gel on my arms and face. I loved the stuff. Looked awesome once it dried, caking over the skin for that added effect.

Lisa glanced over her shoulder at me, grinning as I came up the stairs. They circled around to another flight, before we came into the club itself. A bar stretched across one wall, with archways either side leading off into further sections of the club. Around us, people grinded against each other. Guys sucked the faces off girls, moving back and forth and knocking into other dancers.

She pulled me through the crowd to the bar, eyes scanning the people around in an attempt to find this guy.

“What do you want?” she asked, shouting to be heard over the God awful music.

“Vodka and coke.”

She nodded and turned back to the bar, leaning over it to show the barmen her cleavage. I backed up a little, giving the people around the bar a little more room. I loved Lisa, I really did, but sometimes she just got so wrapped up in herself, and in guys, that it felt like I became little more than an accessory.

I glanced around.

There was a raised platform nearby, with booths for people to sit down. All of them except one were full, and there were people standing there not dancing, so why weren’t they sitting in the practically empty booth?

There was a girl there, with no drink, long blonde hair shining as it caught the light. She wasn’t looking at anyone, just staring at the table.

She raised her head slowly, lips parted, and turned her head in my direction. Her eyes widened when they locked on mine. She opened her mouth further, stood up, and took a step towards me.

“Here you go!”

I turned to Lisa, accepting the drink she held out to me. Her eyes were still darting around, and I glanced back over my shoulder. Not even sure why I did, but something about the girl just seemed to draw me.

She was gone.

I scanned the crowd. Nowhere to be seen.

“Addie? Are you okay?” Lisa’s hand fell on my shoulder and I jumped, blinking at her. “You’ve gone really pale.”

“I’m fine,” I muttered, though my hand was shaking as I plastered a big smile on my face. “Just fine. You seen the guy yet?”

She pouted, shook her head.

“Well, let’s dance,” I suggested, taking her hand and leading her through one of the archways and onto the dance floor.

Most of the guys had gone for some kind of gory or creepy look. Most girls were dressed as slutty versions of something or the other. Witches, vampires, cats. Then there were the maids, fire-fighters and prisoners.

Yeah, real terrifying.

We danced to some remixed pop song, Lisa’s eyes never staying locked on one place for long. Eventually, we finished our drinks, and Lisa gestured to the bar. I nodded, followed her back through and bumped into her back when she came to a complete standstill.

“Oh, God,” she muttered, voice wavering. She turned, looking desperate for an escape, and only then seemed to realise I was there.

“Lisa? What is it?”

Tears shone in her eyes. Her mouth opened and closed and the tears won out, tumbling down her face as her shoulders began shaking.

Looking back to where she had been staring, I thought I could the see source of her sudden change. Between the bar and entrance was a tall, good looking guy wearing a black cape. His body was angled so I could just about see his face as he pulled away from the girl he had been kissing. He brushed her hair back and smiled down at her.

And I was filled with a deep seated rage. I wanted to pummel the guy, wanted to storm over there, grab him and just land my fist directly in his face for making Lisa look like that. Instead, I calmed my breathing, knowing getting pissed off wouldn’t help any of us, and turned back to Lisa.

“That the guy?”

She nodded, lips clamped tight as a small whimper came out.

“Come on,” I said, grabbing her hand. “We’re going somewhere much better.”

“Can’t we just go home?”

“Nuh uh.” I shook my head and began pulling her towards the door, skirting around dickhead and the slutty bee. “We’re going to have a good night, Lisa. Promise.”

“Okay.”

Back down the stairs, back out into the cool, fresh night air. I checked my phone, glad to see the others were where I thought they’d be. Lisa didn’t say anything as the bouncers wished us a good night, and she remained silent as we headed down the street and turned onto St Mary Street.

It was Lisa who grabbed my arm when I almost fell, attention locked on the middle of the road, currently blocked off from any cars. There was a man there, tall and wearing clothes that were more than  few decades out of date. It was Halloween, so maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised by the gaping head wound. He was just standing there, not doing anything, and like the figure I had seen on Mill Lane, people seemed to just about be missing him.

But as I watched, he faded completely from view.

I rubbed my eyes, turning to Lisa. “Did you see that?”

“See what?” She pushed her face close to mine. “Addie, you really don’t look well.”

What if I was going crazy?

No. No, that couldn’t be it. I was not going down that path. I was not the same person as her and I was not going end up like her.

It was just lack of sleep, that was all. The nightmares had buried themselves into my mind and sheer tiredness, mixed with the alcohol, was making them come to life before me.

“I’m fine,” I reassured her, another big smile on my face. “Really. Come on, let’s get to Womanby.”

She nodded, though her gaze didn’t leave my face as we carried on walking down St Mary Street,  me desperately focusing on the road ahead and not daring to glance anywhere else.

Womanby Street was packed. A long queue stretched from Welsh Club, and there was a massive crowd smoking outside Full Moon and Fuel. Everyone was dressed up, and this time, it was more gore, more creepy. A guy in a Jigsaw mask wandered about. A girl who looked creepily like a china doll stood talking to a guy with elaborate wounds all over his arms and neck. I smiled to myself as I spotted dead Jack Sparrow, a zombie and a nurse wielding a big hatchet, blood all over her costume.

The zombie spotted us first and waved.

We headed over, the nurse turning and flashing a big, red lipped grin. Fake blood smeared her face, making her look eerily pale.

“Addie!” she called. “Lisa!” She jogged the few paces to us and threw her arms around my shoulders, hugging me tightly. “I love Halloween,” she squealed, before moving back, hands still on my shoulders as she looked my costume up and down. “You look awesome.”

“Thanks, so do you.”

She winked at me before turning to Lisa and flashing her the same friendly smile.

“Very sexy.”

“You think?”

“Oh, hell yeah. Please tell me you’re still single. There’s a guy inside the boys were talking to and I think you’d totally love him.”

Lisa and Nikki had only met a couple of times before, but they’d always hit it off. And Nikki was a born matchmaker. Nothing made her happier than setting people up.

“Really?”

“Sure thing, hon. Come on.” She pulled us to the zombie and pirate, the guys greeting us happily before dropping their cigarettes to the floor and putting them out under their shoes. Together, with the guys complementing our outfits and us responding in kind, we headed inside.

Lisa’s eyes lit up when Nikki introduced her to the guy. They were soon chatting away happily, standing close together to be heard over the music. Nikki stayed close to me, the pair of us dancing and enjoying the looks of the men around us watching.

I caught the glimpse of something not quite solid over Nikki’s shoulder. It disappeared and I swayed, Nikki’s hands landing quickly on my shoulder.

“Addie?”

“She’s been off all evening,” Lisa said, suddenly in front of me. “Come on, babe, let’s get some air.”

“The guy…” I muttered, head spinning, feeling faint.

“He can wait.” The girls took me outside, one either side, and led me away from the crowd. My breathing was coming heavy and I soon moved away from them, finding a spare space on a nearby wall and leaning against it.

This really couldn’t be happening to me.

The girls caught up to me, were saying something I couldn’t quite hear as my head kept spinning, the sounds becoming muffled as, suddenly, the crowd doubled. They’d come from nowhere. Most just stood around, staring around blankly, while others stood close to people, to real, solid people, seeming to overlap against them and looking like guardian angels or something else ridiculously not real.

Some were solid, blending in with everyone else but with an odd glow to them. Others were pale, including their clothes, or just white. I shuddered, turning my head to stare at where the street connected to the road by the castle.

Just outside Dempsey’s, I saw him. The boy from my dreams. The boy who always arrived at the last second as the monsters moved in for the kill. His eyes were locked on me, and I knew he was there for me. There to help me.

I opened my mouth to say his name, the name I had said so many times in my dreams that even before tonight he felt real. I stepped forward, but removing myself from the wall turned out to be a bad idea.

Lisa screamed my name and I felt Nikki catch me as I fell, eyes rolling into the back of my head as I blacked out.



Prologue

Chapter One

Chapter Two

The boy was sitting up in the bed, legs crossed and a manic grin stretched across his face. He turned his head to the side, until it was a ninety degree angle, and studied me with a pair of crimson eyes.

Rule to live by – if it had any kind of unnatural eye colour, it’s a monster. Maybe not evil, but not human. Red, black, purple, yellow.

“Mason Crane,” it drawled, in that rasping smoking too long voice. “How nice of you to come.”

“You made one hell of an entrance.”

It moved its head up, hands going to rest on its knees. “Your mother’s one hell of a fuck.”

“Aw, dude, come on. You can do better than that.”

It blinked. Good sign.

“I mean, every single exorcism I’ve been to, they’ve said that to me.” I moved forward, slowly, didn’t want to scare the dickhead. “But you, well, you’re one of the higher ranking ones, aren’t you? Don’t you have something more original in your pocket? I mean, no one ever mentions fucking my dad.” Another step, hand on my belt, just in case I need the holy water holstered there. Water pistol. Very useful. “Or are you lot just that homophobic?”

The demon cringed, twisting the boy’s neck as he turned away from me. “You want the truth, Crane? Even the most powerful of us are too scared of your daddy to slight him. Too much respect, too.” Turned back to me, quick and sharp.

My family was rarely a topic of conversation among the hunters. I knew both parents had been hunters. They’d turned away from the life when I was born, wanting me to have a normal life. But you didn’t walk away from it, and your kids sure as hell wouldn’t escape it either.

I knew Dad had been good. But good enough to scare a demon, even now?

“It was misfortune that killed your papa,” the demon said, twitching, gaze leaping around the room. “But you ain’t him, Crane. And you got a long way to go before you are.”

It lunged.

Too sudden for me to do anything.

I slammed against the wall, and something shook above me. The demon had me pinned, feet planted on the wall either side of waist, hands by my head. It bared its teeth, eyes locking on mine and I had to wonder, what did he see in there?

“You want to join them?” he said, running a finger down my cheek. Where his skin met mine, mine ran ice cold, like it was freezing under his touch. “Want to go visit Mummy and Daddy and your ickle sister down in Hell?”
“She’s not in Hell. I know that for a fact.”

“Do you, now? Tell me, Mason, you’ve seen enough to know Hell exists, but have you ever seen anything that hints towards Heaven?”

“Yes.”

Stupid prick hadn’t even trapped my hands.

I lifted the pistol up and fired, jets of water spraying his face. He scrambled back with a screech that wasn’t human or animal, and I kept squirting as, with my other hand, I pulled the cross out and started saying my prayers, like a good little boy.

Recoiled, screamed, leapt back onto the bed. But prayers, holy water and the cross would only keep him back for so long.

“Grey!” I yelled, between lines from the Bible. “Grey, get your damn arse up here!”
The demon crouched on the bed, looking ready to spring again. I squeezed more holy water out, listening to the feet hammering on the stairs.

The flesh on the boy, where the water had hit and burned, was healing, and too fast for my liking. His eyes fell on my cross and before I could aim the pistol, it was on the wall beside the window, then on the ceiling before lunging down. Fingers grabbed at the chain as the door slammed into the wall. A crack, on the cross was thrown across the room, sinking down behind the headboard of the bed. The demon slapped the pistol from my hand and punched, sending me reeling backwards.

Father Grey stepped into the room.

Miracles can happen, okay? And they do, but there usually has to be a very righteous man present. A man whose faith goes beyond anything else, beyond any earthly love or temptation. A man who has never stepped a toe out of line and who, despite seeing the crap we see day in day out, still has an unwavering faith in God.

Grey was one of those men.

At times I didn’t like him, but he was backup and I trusted him with my life and tonight wouldn’t be the first time I’d been shown why I and the others did.

Grey’s voice rose loud and clear. The demon screeched, turning his attention on the priest. It inched towards him as Grey moved further into the room, keeping his focus on the demon, backing up towards the wall. His eyes never switched to me as I crouched down and grabbed the chalk from my belt.

I began to draw, whispering a chant to myself as I did. The demon was drawn to Grey, too focused on him to notice what I was doing. And a man like Grey would keep his attention for ages. Demons always looked for something they could use against you, some historical misdeed, some sin or something, but Grey had none of that.

When I was done, Grey stopped, still clutching his Bible as the demon became still.

Finally, it hissed. Lunged again. And I went at the same time, diving forward and grabbed the boy around the ankle. He was already in the air, and all I had to do was yank him back.

I landed with the boy demon on top of me, in the middle of my chalk drawing, arms wrapped around him as he struggled.

“Help him!” Grey barked into the doorway.

I was strong, but demons were stronger. Luckily, Ma and Pa came rushing from the doorway, both falling to the floor beside me.

Well, it would have been lucky, but neither of them did a damn thing. They glanced down at me, with my arms around the waist of their son as he thrashed about.

“Pin him down!” I yelled. “Don’t worry about me!”

It was the mother who moved first. She leant forward, putting all her weight on the boy’s arms, leaning across his body. Her eyes locked on mine and I spotted the tears shining there.

“He’ll be okay,” I said, as the dad moved down, pinning down his son’s legs. “Grey’s good.”
“Why us?” she whispered. She was shaking, the tears threatening to roll down.

“Because demons are attracted to good people,” I said, and spotted something flicker through her eyes. “It sucks,” I grunted, twisting my body as the demon tried to roll off me. “But nothing you can do.”

Father Grey began, stepping forward and standing over us. He sprinkled holy water over the demon and the boy screeched, swearing at the good priest.

“Jesus,” I muttered. “Think they’d know the swearing don’t fucking offend us anymore, wouldn’t you?”

Despite everything, or perhaps because of it, the woman laughed. I winked at her, as Father Grey began the exorcism ritual.

The demon tried to lunge up, pulling me with him, but I snapped him back down and he turned his head, teeth gnashing at the air as he tried to bite me.

The ritual went on, the demon twisting and turning but with the weight of three people, he was pretty much trapped. The woman’s eyes kept flickering between me and her son, and I knew what she was looking for.

“He’s in there,” I said. “I promise, he is in there.”

More holy water. Salt, sprinkled up and down the boy’s body. The demon screamed.

Then spoke.

“They’re alive!” it cackled, smoke rising up from every inch of flesh. The father’s eyes widened, the woman recoiled.

“It’s just hurting the demon,” I explained, rushing the words out. “Not your son. It’s…”

“The vampires,” the demon said, laughing now. “Poor little orphan Mason. Always hoping they were still out there. They are, Crane. They’re out there and they’ll be coming for you.” It kept laughing, and over his shoulder my eyes connected with the dark brown eyes of Father Grey.

Something unspoken went between us. Over the years, the other hunters had come to learn who my parents were, but they were under strict orders not to let it out. Didn’t want my family by blood coming looking for me. Didn’t want the authorities to know who I really was.

And Grey knew about that night, about Jefferson saving me and beating himself up because he couldn’t save my family.

And we both knew a damn demon, just before it gets thrown back to Hell, wouldn’t lie about a thing like that.

It really had no reason too.

“Aw, mate,” I choked out, “just fuck off already, all right?”

Grey finished the ritual, and the demon’s back arched, palms flat on the floor.

“Get back!” I yelled, watching as the parents scrambled away from their son. I let go, wrestled myself out and crawled away, turning back just in time to see thick black smoke engulf the boy.

When it disappeared, the kid lay flat on his back, eyes closed and chest rising up and down, steadily. I moved forward, grabbed his wrist and flashed Grey a big smile.

“Strong pulse,” I said, tapping the boy’s cheek. “Strong kid,” I added, before climbing to my feet and stretching my neck. “Well, that was exhausting. You going to stay?”

Grey nodded. He’d sit at that kid’s bedside all night, tapping cool flannels against his face, there to reassure the boy when he woke from his nightmares. There to explain what had happened to him.

Both parents looked from Grey to me.

“Well, I would say it’s been a pleasure…” I left the rest of the sentence hanging in the air, as I moved to the bed and reached down behind the headboard to retrieve the cross. There was an extra chain in the car, but I wasn’t going to put it back into my pocket. Instead, I clutched it in my hand. It got torn from my neck more times that I would have liked, but so far I’d always managed to retrieve it.

He picked his son up and put him on the bed. She grabbed my arm as I went to leave.

“How can we thank you?”

“No need to.”

“Please, just…money. You must take money.”

“Talk it over with him,” I said, nodding my head towards Grey. “He’s always looking for church donations.” I flashed her a winning smile, before ducking out the room and heading down the stairs. I could feel the shards of glass in my arms and back, but it didn’t matter. Not really. I’d done my job.

Now all I wanted to do was go home and sleep.

Total Word Count: 7,856



Prologue

Chapter One

He always called it my baptism by blood. Always tried to smile when he said it, too, but Jefferson, as I would learn, was terrible with kids. Didn’t know how to handle them. Especially not a traumatised kid who had seen his whole family slaughtered by vampires. Vampires that, by all right, should have been under the ground with stakes through their hearts and their heads cut off.

Still don’t know if they somehow managed to survive the fire. Still don’t know the bastard that brought them back to life.

But yeah, Jefferson. Terrible with kids, despite the fact that I wasn’t the first orphan he’d come across to have witnessed their whole family torn apart. Part of me always wondered if that was why he worked with Diane, as much as possible. Now she, she was good with kids. Maternal instinct and all that crap.

She was the one who soaked me in the bath for hours as I slept, trying to get the blood off. Kept my head above the water, drained and refilled the tub whenever the water went cold. Carried me to a bed with fresh, clean sheets, sat there and watched over me as I woke screaming and thrashing. Calmed me down, made sure I slept, and went through the whole routine again.

It lasted for days.

I had an aunt and uncle, somewhere up north. People who knew nothing of my family’s secrets, who could have taken me in and brought me up with a normal life, like my parents had wanted for me.

Diane had posed the question to me, when I was awake and lucid. Asked if I wanted to live with them, or stay with her and Jefferson, learn the tricks of the trade so to speak.

My first question had been to ask if those things were still alive.

She admitted she didn’t know. Unlikely, but possible. In their world, nothing was impossible.

Second question. If they were alive, and I stayed with them, would I face them again. Would I get the chance to do to them what they had done to my family.

As soon as she said yes, I was in. And Jefferson, not being the tender loving kind, wasted no time. Taught me how to move, how to fight, how to use weapons that probably no eleven year old should know how to use.

Diane taught me lore. Sat and went over old books with me. Not just vampires, either. Made sure I said my prayers every night. Made sure I knew enough Latin to speak them. Fed me, clothed me, made sure I washed and brushed my teeth.

In the big house, the kind that as I kid I only associated with fiction, where rich people lived or where magical things happened, we lived mostly alone. Other hunters came and went, though for a while I was kept out of sight of them, unable to sit in as they told their stories and caught up with Diane and Jefferson.

Part of it was because they’d told people I’d died with my family. First name stayed the same but when I was old enough I was allowed to give myself a second name.

For some reason I can’t quite remember, I settled on Crane.

Jefferson went out on hunts every so often. Diane less so, and they never hunted together. Not back then, not when I was still new and slightly traumatised.

The rest of it came later, and it started when I was fourteen.

Middle of winter, not long after my birthday. Waking up in the dark sucked. The sun going down early sucked. And I didn’t like the dark. Slept with a nightlight, because in the dark, everything came out to play.

Not that I had seen anything. Not since my parents died and Jefferson set fire to the house. But I knew enough. And I knew in the dark spaces the light couldn’t quite reach, there could be anything.

So when I woke up in the early morning darkness and saw a girl, completely white in a tank top and jeans, I screamed. The girl flickered, almost faded and came back, stronger, colour filtering in like someone was using crayons on her.

The door slammed open. Jefferson stood in the doorway, gun out, eyes scanning the room.

“Mason? What is it?” His eyes fell to the window, before he looked to me. I was pointing at the wall, where the girl stood.

“You can see me?” she said, a grin stretching across her face. “Awesome!”

“G-g-girl,” I said. His eyes looked right through her. His face relaxed, he lowered the gun and ran a hand through his hair.

“Damn kid,” he muttered. “With everything you’ve been through, I was really hoping you wouldn’t get this.”

Diane appeared behind him, peeking into the room before Jefferson moved out the way and she scrambled to the bed.

“What is it?” she asked.

“Kid can see Cassandra.”

“Cassie, actually.” The girl rolled her eyes. “Never get it right, do they? Tell them, kid. It’s Cassie. Not Cassandra. I hate that full name shit.”

I screamed. Again. To my horror, Diane laughed.

“It’s okay, Mason. It’s okay.” Even though I was fourteen, she still wrapped me in her arms and drew me close to her like I was a kid. “Cassandra means you no harm. She actually helps us.”

“Hell yeah I do! Been watching you for ages, kid.”

The girl glided forward.

“Just glad to have another resident of the house be able to see me. I think we’re going to be great friends.”
“F-f-friends?” I pulled myself out of Diane’s grip, rounded on her. “Why can’t you see her?”

All of them looked at me, eyes wide and full of pity.

“Some of us aren’t as sensitive,” Jefferson said, finally. “Your mother could see them. Your father couldn’t. Guess we were hoping you’d follow after him.”

“And you never thought to, you know, tell me? That this might happen?” My voice was all over the place. Bobbing up and down, cracking. Ah. Fear and puberty. A bloody great mix.

They looked at each other, as if to say, ‘oops. My bad.’

“We’ll have to call Sheps,” Jefferson said, more to Diane than me. “He’ll need to train the boy so he can control it.”
“Yes!” The girl fist bumped the air, winked at me. Taking a good look at her, I realised she was around nineteen, maybe twenty. Hard to tell when she died, though. Could have been anytime in the last thirty years.

“Go back to sleep, Mason,” Diane urged. “We’ll talk more in the morning.”

“Nuh uh. Not with her in the room.”

The girl held her hands up. “All right. All right. You were fine with it when you couldn’t see me.” Another eye roll, before she faded out of view.

“Never mind,” I said. “She’s gone.”

Diane nodded, smoothed my hair back and kissed my forehead, before leaving with Jefferson.

“Most ghosts won’t hurt you, kid,” he said, over his shoulder. “But some are downright dangerous. Sheps will go through all that with you when he gets here.”

Sheps, a thin, weedy man with thick black glasses, arrived a week later, and the second part of my training began.

The end of the cigarette glowed cherry red in the dark. Knowing how much it pissed off the man next to me, I took great pleasure in blowing the smoke out slowly, relishing every second of the scowl on his face.

We were standing at the end of a long driveway, staring up at a neatly kept two up two down house. The only lights that were on were in one of the upstairs bedrooms, and even they were flickering.

“You sure, Mason?”

“See those lights, Father Grey?” I said, nodding my head towards the house. “Yeah, I’m sure.”

The house pulsed with energy. A fair few hunters would have picked it up, and I was surprised Grey couldn’t. Not much longer and it would grow stronger. He’d feel it then. Grey wasn’t his real surname, just what we nicknamed him. Something to do with being wise like Gandalf or something like that. Honestly, I thought the guy was an idiot. But every group of hunters needed a priest and, bless him, he was ours.

“It’s a pretty standard one, mind,” I said. “Not killed or maimed or anything serious. Yet.”

Father Grey sniffed, glancing up and down the street.

“Have you spoken to the family yet?”

“Nah. Spoke to a few of his teachers though.” I flicked the cigarette butt away, watching as it spiralled through the air before landing on the road, still glowing, wisps of smoke rising up.

“You can be fined for that, you know.”

“When they put more bins out, I’ll stop dropping them on the floor.”

Grey rolled his eyes. “What did the teachers say?”

“That up until about three weeks ago, he was a very mild mannered, intelligent student. Started acting odd, then acting out. They called it disruptive behaviour.”

“Could just be a normal teenage thing,” Father Grey said, though I doubted very much he actually remembered what it was like to be a teenager. Hormones and shit all over the place. Not that I knew what being normal was like, not for twelve years. I could understand some of the kid’s behaviour. Like getting caught shagging one of the girls from his English class behind the bike shed. Hell, I’d almost slept with Cassie before we realised that couldn’t even happen.

We were better off as not quite friends, anyway.

But there was other stuff, stuff that didn’t make any sense. Yeah, it looked like a typical possession, but we had to tread carefully. Like I’d told Father Grey, nothing too serious had happened yet.

Except…

“He tried to set his teacher on fire,” I explained, glancing up towards the house.

“Three weeks ago,” he muttered. “The same time as the storm.”

“Yep. And the fish turning up dead in the river, cows keeling over and birds dropping out the sky.”

He nodded. “Jefferson’s been waiting for the demon to crop up, hasn’t he?”

“Yep.”

“All right. Let’s go talk to the family. And, Mason, let me do the talking.”

“Aye aye, Captain.” I saluted him, my grin widening as his scowl deepened. Man, it was easy to piss him off.

Grey led the way up the path and I followed, hands stuffed in my pockets and head kept down. Families didn’t tend to like seeing a young kid entering their house to take care of a possessed family member. Tended to value age over experience. But I’d seen people start out as hunters in their fifties, and I’d been the one to take them to their first hunt. Just goes to show, I guess.

Grey pressed his finger against the doorbell, taking a step back once he’d rung hard enough. No lights were turned on, but footsteps clomped down the stairs and a figure appeared through the frosted glass. The figure opened the door, just an inch, leaving the chain on, and half a face appeared, green eye staring at Grey.

“What do you want?” the man growled.

“To help,” Grey said. “My name is Father Grey. This is my associate, Mr Crane.”

“Help?” The man’s eye widened. “A priest?” Didn’t say it like he was suspicious or confused. Actually, the man sounded almost glad.

And yeah, Grey used his fake name when dealing with normal people. Made it harder for them to track him down.

“We heard you’ve been having trouble with your son,” Grey said. “And if there is anything we can do…”

“God be praised!” the man cried, before shouting into the house. “Kate! Kate, there’s a priest here!”

He unhooked the chain and stepped back, waving his arms.

“Come in, man, come in!”

And people thought faith in religion was declining.

Father Grey only took a quick glance around the room, as a pretty woman in her forties came down the stairs. She stopped about halfway down, leaning over the railings to look at us. Pretty, but tired. Black bags sat under her eyes, her skin was pale and drawn, almost grey, and she had the look of someone who hadn’t eaten in weeks.

Possibly sensitive. Not as strong as me, or even Father Grey, but to have the look she had, she’d probably sensed the demon in her house before shit started getting really weird.

There was a clatter and bang upstairs, and Father Grey’s fingers tightened on the handle of his bag.

I could feel it.

Some possessions, the demon wasn’t evil. Same with some hauntings. You got ones that just wanted to cause mischief. They could, as long as they weren’t too bad, be quite funny. Demons who you could actually just sit and talk to, have a laugh with. Odd, right? But they existed. And on those cases, I didn’t have to bring our resident priest in. I could get them out myself.

But the severity of the storm had told us enough to know this wasn’t a run of the mill mischief possession. This one wouldn’t settle with just trying to sleep with everything in sight – though it would try to do that – and sending things flying across the room like a poltergeist. This one would want everything around it to die.

And it would succeed, unless we acted fast.

“Where’s the boy?” Grey asked.

The woman gestured up the stairs. Grey glanced at me, nodded, and I moved past him, past the father and towards the mother.

“I’m going to explain what we will do,” Grey said, gesturing to the sofa. “You may wish to sit down. I will detail exactly what may or may not happen to your son, and the risks involved. Whether we continue down the path is totally up to you.”
“Where’s he going, then?” the father asked.

I stopped, halfway up the stairs and past the mother. Glanced at Grey.

“Mr Crane is just going to see what sort of, well, state your son is in.” He said state delicately, the same way a doctor would say cancer. “Just so we know where to stand.”
The woman looked me, locked her eyes on mine.

Even just a hint of sensitivity, and some people could pick up on just a tiny bit of what I’d seen, what I’d done. Sometimes, though, all they had to do was look into my eyes.

She just nodded at me, one dip of her head, slow, and I could read it in her face.

Do what you have to do.

                I continued up the stairs. Another crash, followed by laughter. Not a teenage boy’s laughter, either, but harsh, raw, sounding, perhaps, like I might, if I survived another seventy years and kept up the thirty a day habit.

Most hunters had their vices. Stuff to help them relax, either on the job or when the hunt was finished. And it didn’t matter what it was, as long as it wasn’t going to kill you before the monsters did. No one cared that I smoked. No one cared Jefferson drank or that Rich gambled, that the Vampire’s Terror, a man I had never met but had heard a shit load about, slept around. If you were a good hunter, you did what the hell you liked. I’d be dead before lung cancer got me. Jefferson would be six feet under before the alcohol destroyed him.

It was all relative.

If it helped you relax, helped you keep focus, it was fine. Accepted. Embraced.

I turned the corner, finding myself opposite a neat looking bathroom. The sounds were coming from the room on my right, but the bathroom was always a good place to check, just to see how bad things were.

Inching forward, I brushed my finger against the cross hanging on my chest.

It hadn’t helped the night my parents died. The vampires were so old, so very undead that it just hadn’t affected them. But since, well, since then it had saved my life, more than once.

The light in the bathroom flickered before coming on fully. It was nice, clearly kept very clean with every surface gleaming. Some people liked to clean when stressed, so maybe that was what she did.

Opposite the toilet was a shower slash bath. Against the wall, under the medicine cabinet with mirrors on the doors, was a basin, toothbrushes and toothpaste in small cups resting on it next to the taps. I stood in front of it, feeling a surge of energy from the next room.

I ran the tap.

Wondered how long the water had been running black.

Demons don’t like water. Not just holy water, but any sort of pure water. Holy was the best, of course. It burned their skin. But pure water could work in a pinch.

So whenever they went somewhere, they’d ruin the water supply. I’d put money on the idea that the whole street had been frantically phoning their local water department.

I knew I had to be careful with this one. Tread lightly. It was powerful and I didn’t need to actually see the possessed kid to know that.

Stepping back into the hall, I glanced at the photographs on the wall. The boy was an only child, and probably spoilt because of it. Not always a bad thing, not if the parents could push the kid towards a decent life. Photographs on the wall showed Mum, Dad and the kid, neat haircut, winning smile, good looking. Did he have a girlfriend? Was there a girl, breaking her heart over what he had been caught doing?

The teachers had said he was quiet, mild mannered in class, but always hung out with the same people outside of class. The kind of kids who always did their homework. Because demons love the good ones. They like people noticing the changes. No point riding a kid who sleeps with everyone in sight, drinks to excess and does any drug they can get their hands on.

Time to face the demon.

The door shuddered as I stepped towards it, and I knew in an instant that the bastard knew I was here.

Pushing the door open, I moved into the room we’d seen the light flickering from. The bulb exploded the moment I was over the threshold, sending shards of glass everywhere.

But I had a job to do, and a damn demon wasn’t going to stop me.

Word Count: 4,034



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