Unfinished, Unpublished, Unaccounted For (Part 2)

A few weeks ago, I published a post called Bibliography in which I listed every book I’ve ever had published, along with some notes about each piece. It got a nice response and got me thinking about all the projects over the years that I either finished but never published or completely abandoned during the writing process. For brevity’s sake, I think the only way to do this properly is to only talk about books. If I also went into short stories in this category, we’d be here forever. What follows is Part 2 of a list of all my unpublished or unfinished books, from the time I started writing up to the present day. The best way to do this, I think, is to divide this post into three parts. The first was my childhood works. Today’s entry will cover my teenage writings. Part 3 will be my adult pieces.

ARNOLD BANE: This was me writing a pulp hero before I knew what a pulp hero was. Probably obvious, but I got the name by combining Schwarzenegger with a Batman villain. In most of these stories, he fought to save his city from his seemingly immortal nemesis Nick Jackson (who I probably named after a bully). As the series progressed, I incorporated a revenge narrative where the hero loses his family and tries to find their killer, and a story in which he gets framed for something and works to clear his name. I don’t remember if I wrote any of these down, to be honest, but I acted them out in my backyard pretty regularly.

LIFE FORM, WHERE THERE’S SMOKE THERE’S FIRE, THE ALIEN WARS: These are three books that might not have been intentionally related, but could very easily have been a series. You know the deal. Alien invasion apocalypse. Starts small, escalates, lots of shit blows up. My attempts to write these down never really satisfied me, but I kept at them for years. I kind of want to revisit them now.

STEELTECH, TX-2000, DARK FUTURE: I remember no plot details, but I’m sure they were my attempts to ape what I liked about the first two Terminator movies (which was FUCKING EVERYTHING). I don’t remember how much I wrote down, but I did some cool drawings I’ve since lost. I know they were cool, because a kid in my sixth-grade class threatened to kick my ass if I didn’t Xerox some copies to give him. Hey… maybe he still has them. Maybe he has the originals. Jerk.

THE ENEMY: A court jester from medieval times that’s also a vampire wreaks havoc on a small Pennsylvania town for some reason. Two kids and a priest band together to thwart it with an ancient dagger.

CRIMSON FALLS: An ancient creature that’s lived under a town for so long that it’s part of the town takes the shape of a wolf/dragon thing and terrorizes a group of kids. I really fucking wanted to write IT when I was younger. Jesus.

NEON LASER X: This was my fucking epic. A prison of war in a dystopian/cyberpunk future joins a group of rebels to overthrow the tyrannical government. Followed by the sequels, NEON LASER XTREME (back off, it was the 90s) and NEON LASER X 3000.

Well, that was… a thing. I hope you’ve enjoyed laughing at my expense.

Blood and Brimstone, Chapter 8 – Free Serial Novel

Blood and Brimstone, the free sequel to my paranormal romance Flesh and Fire, continues below. You can get caught up on previous chapters here.


Dale dug through the closet in his old bedroom. He pushed aside creased and dusty boxes of books. He shifted all the hanging clothes he hadn’t brought with him when he left to one side of the closet. An earthy smell wafted from somewhere inside and took him back to his childhood. He expected to be nauseated, but instead he felt something entirely different. A strange serenity settled over him. He took a deep breath of the scent, and for the first time in a long time, he remembered his father in another light. When Dale was young, his father hadn’t been all bad. They played a lot together: music, video games, basketball. It wasn’t until Dale got a little older that his father started harping on him about choosing a career path. All that stuff Dale had enjoyed was just play, and playtime was over. It hadn’t been a gradual shift either. It had happened seemingly overnight. But before, during childhood, things had been pretty great.

“What are you looking for?” Melissa said.

He smiled at her over his shoulder. “I’ll let you know when I find it.”

“Oh, you tease.” She stuck out her tongue. It was a nice tongue. One he thought about often and one he’d tasted many times.

He turned and peered back into the closet and spotted the black guitar case leaning in the corner. Cobwebs hung between it and the wall. He brushed them off and lifted out the long-buried treasure. He stood it on the bedroom floor and leaned on it, grinning. Melissa frowned.

“I didn’t know you played.”

“I haven’t played in a really long time.” He felt himself darken. “My dad made me stop.”

“Surprised you let him make you do anything.” Her mouth went tight. She cocked an eyebrow. She was pure defiance, the type of bad girl he’d always wanted.

“Different time. Different me. Besides, it’s hard to bite the hand that feeds you.”

“Could’ve just run away like me.”

“If only I were so courageous.”

She shrugged, leaned back on the bed. “You gonna play me a song?”

“Not sure I’m ready for that. Besides, this probably needs to be tuned, maybe even restrung.”

“That’s fine. Was hoping to do some reading anyway. Still not feeling great.”

He felt a pang of concern. “Can I get you anything?”

She held up the glass of water on the nightstand. “I’ll be fine.”

“All right, well, I guess I’ll mess with this guitar in another room. Maybe even outside.”

She nodded, rested her head on the pillow. “Okay.”

Dale left the room, brought the guitar and his MP3 player with him. He had burned his father’s songs onto the device as soon as they got back from the storage facility. He was itching to listen to them again, after playing the CD in his car, and felt a crazy urge to learn them. Though he would never completely know this other side of his father, he thought learning the songs, hearing the words would at least get him close. At least enough to see there had been more to the man than the stuffy banker who seemed to love work and money more than anything else. Even family. Sure, as a child, Dale had seen those glimpses of the old man, but nothing like the passion in these songs. He didn’t understand it. They seemed to have been written and performed by another person entirely. The voice that sung over the bluesy chords didn’t sound anything like his father, at least not at first. Dale couldn’t even imagine his father expressing himself with such raw honesty, such energy, such vulnerability.

He went out to the back deck and sat on the edge of one of the loungers. He laid the guitar case across his lap and opened it. A thin layer of dust covered the frets and body, but otherwise, the instrument looked okay. He balanced the guitar on his knee and used the fifth fret harmonic to tune. Once the guitar was tuned, he put his earbuds in and started listening to his father’s album.

He leaned forward, closed his eyes, and let the music drift over him, let it carry him away. He skipped back to the first song, played it on repeat, until he felt comfortable strumming along. Nothing sounded right. He tried various chords until he realized the song was in a different tuning. He tinkered with the knobs until he thought he found the right pitch and tried strumming again. The song started to make sense.


When Katie got home, she went to her bed and opened The Cosmic Heart, but exhaustion weighed down her eyelids and she was asleep in less than ten minutes. The comforter embraced her. She sunk into the mattress. With each beat of her heart, she slipped deeper into oblivion. A woman whispered somewhere in the room. All around the room. Right in Katie’s ear.

“At the center of the universe one heart beats…now its blood is diseased.”

The voice spoke the words in sync with Katie’s heartbeat. It reminded her of some kind of weird experimental song. The voice was at times soft, and other times sharp, threatening. Katie’s eyes snapped open. The room around her was dark.

“At the center of the universe…”

Thud-thud.

“…one heart beats…”

Thud-thud.

“…now it’s blood…”

Thud-thud.

“…is diseased.”

The voice harmonized itself, speaking the same words, but in different tones, creating a wall of oppressive sound. Katie’s heart slammed. She couldn’t move. She tried to scream, but her breath caught. She felt like she was choking.

“…now it’s blood…”

Thud-thud.

“…is diseased.”

She turned to her book case. All the tomes were bound in old leather. Titles printed in old English, some in languages she couldn’t understand. Other titles were glyphs, symbols she had never seen before, but resonated within her. She felt lost, but like she should know where she is and what is happening. Sparks ignited at the base of the shelf and the first row of books caught fire.

Unfinished, Unpublished, Unaccounted For (Part 1)

About a week and a half ago, I published a post called Bibliography in which I listed every book I’ve ever had published, along with some notes about each piece. It got a nice response and got me thinking about all the projects over the years that I either finished but never published or completely abandoned during the writing process. For brevity’s sake, I think the only way to do this properly is to only talk about books. If I also went into short stories in this category, we’d be here forever. What follows is Part 1 of a list of all my unpublished or unfinished books, from the time I started writing up to the present day. The best way to do this, I think, is to divide this post into three parts. The first will just be my childhood works. Part 2 will cover my teenage writings. Part 3 will be my adult pieces.

THE SKELETON: I wrote this when I was seven-years-old after seeing Stephen King’s Silver Bullet on Halloween night, an event which made me fall forever in love with the horror genre. I don’t remember a whole lot about the plot, if there was one, but basically there was a castle in which a skeleton resided. The titular villain killed anyone dumb enough to trespass on his abode. If I recall correctly, the castle overlooked an old European style village. This leads me to believe that maybe Silver Bullet wasn’t my first horror movie, because aesthetically, I pictured this book looking like Dracula, specifically the version starring Bela Lugosi. Maybe I did see some of the Universal monster movies, but nevertheless, the King movie was what made me want to write horror. I took a stack of copy paper, folded it down the middle, and basically made a chapbook (before knowing what a chapbook was). I put a few sentences of narrative on each page, along with some ink illustrations. I’m pretty sure I tried selling copies of this chapbook to neighbors for a buck a piece.

THE SKULL: I remember this a lot less clearly, except that I was inspired by the VHS cover to the movie Graveyard Shift and it precedes what would later develop into an obsession with floating head movies (Cemetery Man, Zombi 3). Maybe also worth mentioning is the fact that it has no relation to THE SKELETON, though it definitely was the second installment of my chapbook series. I guess that technically means these books aren’t exactly unpublished, but whatever; they’re out of print and definitely lost to the ether.

*Note: The chronological order of these next three or four is unclear. I’ll do my best.

SOMETHING: I think this was my first stab at a franchise. I planned four entries in the SOMETHING series. They were about a giant squid that kept coming back to attack a small town. I was definitely inspired by what little I knew of the Jaws movies (I wasn’t allowed to see them, but I had a working familiarity), the movie version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Godzilla, and It Came from Beneath the Sea. There were submarines, cities leveled by tentacles, and damsels in distress. If I ever revisit this one (weirdly enough, writing this post makes me want to revisit all of this), I’d probably give it a different title. As before, the first book was released as one of my makeshift chapbooks. I don’t think the sequels ever got written, but I definitely drew covers for them. And no, I don’t have any of this artwork, unfortunately. Weirdly enough, I wanted to rework these a little bit after seeing the first two Alien movies. I planned the squids to evolve to also have arms and legs and heads that may or may not have been giant penises with teeth.

HAUNTED HOUSE: If you caught my interview on The Horror Show with Brian Keene, you already have a vague idea of what this book was about. Kids get caught in a haunted house inhabited by a clown that’s also a spider. The oldest kid starts dressing in black and wielding a samurai sword. The only original stroke I think I put was I had the clown bleed cotton candy. Still, this story captured my imagination for years, and it got me banned from show-and-tell in fourth grade.

SOMEONE WHO’S DEAD: Definitely one of my favorite titles I ever came up with. I don’t think I ever actually wrote this, so much as drew art for it. Basically, I had this guy who was like Freddy Krueger in that he kept coming back to kill new groups of kids, but for his look, I drew inspiration from the car accident victim on the cover of the original Pet Sematary film.

GRAVEDIGGERS: I don’t remember much except in the opening scene someone got their leg cut off and it upset my mom so I stopped writing it.

THE BOY AND HIS PET TIGER: I guess I wrote Life of Pi long before there was Life of Pi. It was definitely set in the jungle though, not on a boat.

VOYAGE OF A LIFETIME: A group of people travel to an island to explore and end up at odds with a reptilian guy who has an army of skeletons, zombies, and prehistoric crocodiles. Pretty cool.

WEREWOLF PARK: Jurassic Park but werewolves. No, I’m serious.

These were the standouts. I’m also pretty sure I wrote a sequel to The Blob called, IT’S THE BLOB! I know I wrote a shark story called IT (and proudly wrote a letter to Stephen King about my accomplishment). There was also a zombie story modeled after Night of the Living Dead, but the living souls were trapped in the undead bodies, and I had a lead zombie who looked like the grim reaper and carried around a cane. There was also a vampire book in there somewhere, but I don’t remember any other details.

This was fun. I think I may revisit these ideas now. Do a collection, maybe. Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3.

Blood and Brimstone, Chapter 7 – Free Serial Novel

Blood and Brimstone, the free sequel to my paranormal romance Flesh and Fire, continues below. You can get caught up on previous chapters here.


Katie loaded the last box into the U-Haul and sat beside Jake on the front porch. Dale wandered the yard, picking up the shattered remains of the guitar and throwing them in a paper grocery bag. The sun was on its way down, but the air was still hot. Dirty sweat had pasted Katie’s shirt to her skin. Jake tried to put an arm around her, but she leaned away.

“I need a shower,” she said.

He took a whiff of the air. “Damn, yeah you do.”

She punched him on the arm. He laughed. She tried to join him, but her own chuckles came out broken and dry.

A solid brown box truck turned off Route 32 and onto the dirt road. Katie stood as the truck parked behind the Uhaul. The driver hopped out, carrying a box in thick, hairy arms. He approached, set the box down in front of Katie and scanned it. He gritted his teeth, not quite smiling at her. He smelled like apricot-flavored tobacco dip.

“Need someone to sign for this. Is Todd around?”

The sound of her father’s name made Katie’s belly clench. “No, but I’m his daughter.”

“Good enough.” He held out the electronic tablet and handed her a stylus. She signed. The driver nodded. “Appreciate ya.”

She carried the box back to the porch as the driver returned to his vehicle. Dale walked up beside her.

“What is it?” he asked.

“I don’t know. It’s for Dad. From… Les, one of his friends.” Her brow furrowed. “He died a little while back, a few months before Dad.”

Katie knew more than that about Les. She knew Les had been the father of Chloe. He’d been killed by that demon. Bringing any of this up would open a can of worms she didn’t know how to close. If Jake didn’t already think she was certifiable, telling him what she knew about Les would leave no doubt.

“You gonna open it?” Dale said.

She looked from him to Jake. Jake nodded for encouragement. She dug her fingers under the flap and pulled, tearing tape and cardboard. Crinkled newspapers covered the box’s contents. She sifted through the packaging.

The first book had a worn, leather cover. Its pages were yellowed and gave off a dry, sweet smell like dust and old glue. The title, The Cosmic Heart, was printed on the cover in faded Old English. Katie ran her fingertips over the lettering, reached under the cover, and opened to the first page.

“At the center of the universe one heart beats, pumping energy into everything,” she read aloud. “In the beginning it was perfect, but now its blood is diseased.”

“What the hell kind of crazy shit is that?” Dale said.

Jake laughed at Dale’s comment and Katie remained silent. She flipped a few pages a head, skimmed more lines, but refrained from reading them aloud to prevent further ridicule.

“Some kind of religious text,” she said.

The Cosmic Heart,” Jake said. “Never heard of it.”

“Me neither. Must be from some occult religion or something.”

“Why would this Les guy want Dad to have it?” Dale said.

She ignored his question, dug through the rest of the packaging, and came up with another old text. This one had no title or even a cover. Instead, a symbol drawn in charcoal decorated the top page. Stars, animals and shapes spiraled into the central image. Her breath caught. Her eyes watered. She opened her mouth and tried to express what the symbol made her feel, a sense of familiarity and the sensation that she held something very powerful. She opened to the first page.

Within these pages, you will find the secret cures to cosmic ills.

She closed the book, taken with the intense urge to read it and the other tome from beginning to end. They’d drive the truck to the storage facility, then she would send Jake home and lock herself in a room so she could examine each book’s contents. The possibilities of what they contained, and curiosity as to why Les would have these sent to her father gnawed at her. Only the books and how they’d ended up in her hands mattered to her. Everything else, her family, re-enrolling in school, Jake, lacked such pressing importance. She knew then that she was on the verge of discovering something that would change her dramatically, even more than she already had in these last trying months. She wondered if anything would be left of her when it was all said and done.

Blood and Brimstone, Chapter 6 – Free Serial Novel

“What a fucking dump,” Dale said.

His father’s house stood at the end of a dirt road in the middle of a field off of Route 32. Though newly built, it had a lived-in, old homestead feel. Dale half-expected to see a couple of donkeys in the yard, along with some chickens and goats. He wondered how much of the field belonged to his father. He found it hard to believe the old materialist had traded a three-story, five-bedroom house smack dab in the middle of Suburbia, USA for a shotgun shack, unless the land was part of the deal.

“He wanted something as basic as possible,” Katie said.

“Hmm,” Dale said.

Katie told him their father had gone through some significant changes, but Dale still had a hard time letting go of the image of his father as a stiff banker who dressed in suits and bottom-lined everything. Could his father have changed that much? Was there a whole other side to him Dale had never seen?

As they got closer to the house, Dale saw splintered shards of wood and unraveled strings were strewn across the porch. He recognized the split remains of a guitar’s fretboard laying across the stairs.

“What happened?” he asked.

“Not sure. He broke it a little bit before he died. Can’t imagine why.”

Katie unlocked the door and opened it for Jake and Dale. Melissa had stayed behind, said something about not feeling well. Dale guessed she just didn’t feel like spending the day cleaning a dead man’s house. He couldn’t exactly hold that against her. She probably thought his obligation towards Katie was weird. She’d never met her mother and her father was in and out of rehab. She had no sense of loyalty when it came to family.

Funny thing was he didn’t think he did either, but when he saw Katie break down in the woods something shifted in him. He found himself wanting, more than anything, to help her. To salvage whatever pieces of his family remained. To try to reconnect.

Inside the house, a closet door was hanging open. Notebooks were stacked inside, some pages scattered on the carpet around the door. It looked as if his father had been going through them, maybe even moments before the heart attack.

Dale walked to the closet, picked up a notebook, and flipped to a random page. Song lyrics covered the paper, front and back. Even his father’s handwriting looked different than what it grew into. It looked less rigid, more flowing.

“I had no idea he wrote so much.”

“It used to be his life. Before us.”

“He can’t blame you guys for stopping,” Jake said.

“I second that, Jake,” said Dale and tossed the notebook back into the closet. “It was like he lived a double life. Remember when we were kids? He didn’t even let us in his study.”

“He barely let himself in,” said Katie. “And I’m not blaming him, Jake. There’s a lot about him we don’t know. Maybe we’ll never know.”

“Yeah, well, whatever,” Dale said. “Let’s just get this place cleaned up.”

Jake nodded. Katie wandered upstairs without another word.

Dale bent down among the notebooks and started organizing them, placing them back into their boxes. When he finished, he carried them, one at a time, to the Uhaul Jake rented and loaded them in the back. Down to the last two boxes, stacked on top of each other, he lifted the top one off and the bottom one’s flaps opened. He frowned, lowered the box in his arms, and approached the open box. Several CD cases were resting on top of everything. He grabbed one. The cover showed a much younger version of his father he wouldn’t have recognized had he not seen some old photos at the funeral. His father was holding a black guitar that looked like the one that lay in pieces on the porch. He gripped the CD tightly and hurried to the kitchen where Katie was boxing up some plates.

“Hey,” he said and she turned to him, her eyes pink with irritation from tears and lack of sleep. “I, uh, found one of these CDs. Do you mind if I take this one?”

Her face creased. She went pale, and Dale thought she might puke.

“Forget I asked,” he said and turned to put it back.

“No, I’m sorry. Go ahead. I just…it’s been a trying week.” “Well, I’m here for you, okay? I’m sorry I haven’t been.”

“What about Melissa?” “She’ll be fine. I’ll just promise her a trip to the beach.” They exchanged weak laughs. He held up the CD. “I’m gonna put this in my car before I forget.”

Katie nodded and Dale left the kitchen. He went outside and opened his rental car. He tossed the CD onto the passenger seat and stared into his father’s photographed eyes. He let them hypnotize him and tried to understand who the man used to be and why he changed. He wondered if it had anything to do with why his father died.

Bibliography

Yesterday, I went to the White Rose Comic Convention to see friends, and do an interview for The Horror Show with Brian Keene. Being on the podcast was a huge milestone for me, as I’m a longtime fan of Keene’s fiction and the podcast. However, something dawned on me while he was introducing me on the recording: despite my short career (and what the negative voices in my head say), I’ve managed to put out a lot of content. This got me thinking back on all my currently available books, so I figured I’d talk about them a little bit.

FLESH AND FIRE was my debut novel. It was released by Journalstone Publishing as part of their Double Down Series with a zombie book by Jonathan Maberry and Rachael Lavin, and described by Brian Keene as “SUPERNATURAL with balls.” It has a strong horror element, but at its heart, it is a love story. I suppose that makes it paranormal romance. I used to demure when discussing the book’s more romantic details, but no more. I’m owning it. FLESH AND FIRE is a paranormal romance. There, I said it. Even though it’s my first novel, I still have a deep affinity for it. I explored some themes that are near and dear to me, and many of the characters are based on either myself or people I’ve known.

BLOOD AND BRIMSTONE is the sequel to FLESH AND FIRE. It picks up a little after the first book’s ending, and mostly follows the hero’s daughter, as she tries to make sense of what happened to her family. Though FLESH AND FIRE is short by most novels’ standards, it has a deep lore behind it that I want to explore further. Good news for fans of the first book: BLOOD AND BRIMSTONE is being serialized for free here on my website. I talk about why in my podcast interview with Brian Keene, which you can check out later this week. There’s a new chapter posted every Wednesday, and you can get caught up at the above link.

MANIA was years in the making. I first got the idea for it in 2006 after I saw the John Carpenter movie CIGARETTE BURNS and didn’t finish it until early 2016. It’s my love letter to B movies. There’s some cool stuff in it. That said, it’s not really my favorite thing I’ve done. It was more of an attempt to write the kind of thing I loved, as opposed to writing something unique to me. That might have been because of inexperience on my part. Other people seem to like it though, and the Kindle edition is only 99 cents.

ENGINES OF RUIN collects nearly every short piece I’ve written from 2011 to 2018. The Crossroad Press edition contains 5 stories that weren’t included in previous editions (mainly because they weren’t done yet). Short stories are great. I love writing them. I love reading them. I love writing about them. Most, if not all, of the pieces in ENGINES OF RUIN have a sense of urgency and brashness that is usually only present in a young writer’s work. Included among these tales is “Video Inferno,” which remains my favorite thing I’ve written.

Back in early 2016, I went down a rabbit hole of supposedly true dark web stories. I found some of the material genuinely unsettling, and the presentation was reminiscent of that seen in cosmic horror tales. I wrote GODS OF THE DARK WEB in an effort to marry my current fascination with Lovecraft’s mythos. The book has some problems that I won’t go into here, but I think the good stuff in it is really good. Lots of others seem to like it quite a bit, too. It’s sold pretty well for a small press book and got mostly decent reviews.

A character in WE ARE THE ACCUSED says “All small towns are a little haunted, aren’t they?” If you’re a reader of horror fiction, you’d probably answer this in the affirmative. Small towns aren’t safe. Just ask Stephen King, Bentley Little, and Jonathan Maberry (to name a few). WE ARE THE ACCUSED was my small-town horror novel. It has some of my favorite characters I’ve written thus far and some of my most brutal scenes.

SAINT SADIST is my most recent book, and I really believe it’s the piece where I came into my own as an author. Sure, I still have limitations and things to learn, but aside from some of my short stories, it’s the closest thing to a purely Lucas Mangum piece I’ve done thus far. I started with a vague idea about a young woman who falls in with a cult, but beyond that, I just let my subconscious talk my way through it. I did no outlining. I didn’t care about whether or not I’d sell it. I still don’t exactly know what genre it is (though I’m marketing it as horror). I’m very proud of this book, and not just because it’s my most recent.

I’ve written many other pieces since picking up a pen at age six. Some are out for submission. Some have been temporarily abandoned. Others remain in the works. You’d think that with three books coming out in as many months, I’d be taking a break. You’d be wrong. This is just the beginning.

Blood and Brimstone, Chapter 5 – Free Serial Novel

Her father’s eyes held a vitality she’d never seen in them before. He looked much younger, almost her age. When he smiled at her, the expression didn’t look put on. It seemed effortless. He stepped towards her and a warm draft brushed across her face and encircled her. She relaxed in its embrace, feeling at ease for the first time since her world fell apart. Again, she felt removed from her surroundings, but not as she did in the church; she felt instead as if she stood in a different reality, a place behind the scenes of everything familiar.

Her father raised his hand. That strange green light glowed in his palm and he opened his mouth to speak.

“It’s okay,” he said.

“Dad?”

“Come here.”

He motioned for her to come and she approached belly aflutter, heart still slamming. He approached, too, moving far more confidently than she. They met and locked hands. She cried and felt no shame, because she and this apparition of her father were separate from the rest of the world. She could see it, but she didn’t acknowledge it and it didn’t see her. The veil only existed on their side, like a two-way mirror for the spirit world.

She drew closer to her father. He helped her forward and pulled her in for an embrace. Heat radiated from him. The closer she got, the less comfortable the heat made her. She felt like she did the time she fell asleep on the beach and got a terrible sunburn. He snaked his arms around her. She looked up at him. She needed to see him. She needed to know this was real. Maybe then she could ignore this awful heat.

He opened his mouth and leaned in for a kiss.

“Dad, no,” she said and tried to pull away.

The heat in his core increased. She squealed in revulsion and tried to worm her hands between them to push him off. Her father grinned. His blue eyes turned the color of burning coal. His mouth opened wider. A red tongue lolled between the lips and split in two, leaking yellow pus that dribbled down his chin. Finally, Katie kicked free and fell hard on her butt. Painful vibrations rocked their way up her spine.

When she looked up, she met the burning gaze of the monster that took everything from her. His hands were hooked into claws. Katie screamed and flailed and kicked, too panicked to regain her feet.

But then, something else broke through her fear: a pure rage unlike anything she ever felt in her twenty-one years, a rage she never before thought could live inside her.

She rose and tackled her assailant to the ground, screaming like a banshee with its hair on fire.

“Katie! Katie!”

The voice cut through her fury, distant and muffled. She swung her fists, pounding the face of the demon who had ruined her and her family. The voice crying her name took on a more anxious tone. A hint of pain slipped through. The face changed into Jake’s. He held her hands, but cringed against her.

“Katie?”

She jerked her head side to side, checked her surroundings for any sign of the demon. Dale stood at the edge of the woods, Melissa on his arm. His eyes were soft and wide. Melissa’s eyebrows were cocked.

“Jake, oh my God,” Katie said, and fell into his arms.

“What the hell was that?” he asked.

“I…I don’t know. I thought…never mind…I just…I think I need to lie down.”

“Sure. Sure. I’ll take you to the car.”

He took her to the black Corolla and she plopped down in the passenger seat.

“So, what was that all about?” Jake asked as he lowered the seat for her.

“Fuck if I know. Probably having a goddamn nervous breakdown.”

“Should we call Ruthanne?”

Ruthanne was her therapist, a middle-aged hippy with an office that smelled like cinnamon. The office was the only place Katie felt safe. She wanted to say ‘yes’ so badly, but there was still so much to do.

“I’ll call her, just…after today…after Dad’s house is cleaned up.”

“I can pitch in, too,” Dale said, coming up behind Jake.

“Sure Melissa will be cool with it?” Katie asked.

“She’ll have to be. I want to help you.”

Katie took her brother’s hand and squeezed it. After she released him, Dale and Jake rejoined Melissa and walked back to the church. Katie curled up against the passenger seat and watched the black, swirling storm clouds through the dirty windshield.