Blood and Brimstone, Chapter 4 – Free Serial Novel

The rented Ford Focus pulled up to the house where Dale grew up. He cut the engine and pressed his forehead against the wheel. The last time he’d been here, he told his father that he didn’t want his life, because his father’s idea of life was complete bullshit, a bad fucking play where the actors weren’t told they were acting but still faked every daily motion. Or at least that how he’d wanted it to come out. Wasn’t hard to envision his diatribe being far less eloquent. Probably a lot more vulgar. Now Todd had died without them ever reconciling.

“Well, here we go,” he said. He turned to Melissa. She had her feet propped up on the dashboard. Her phone rested on her knees and she typed a message to a guy whose name Dale didn’t recognize. Dale felt a flare of jealousy, but pushed it away. “Thanks for doing this with me.”

She finished the message and put the phone back in her purse. “You so owe me a trip to the beach after this.”

The beach was the only place he ever saw Melissa smile.

“It’s a deal,” he said.

“I can’t promise I won’t slap your sister or mom for saying something stupid though.”

“I’m sure it won’t come to that. Who starts a fight at a funeral anyway?”

“You don’t know my family.”

Dale didn’t pursue the matter further. They got out of the car and he slipped his arm around her shoulders. As they neared the front door of his old home, he felt nauseous, and his skin grew hot. He made himself ring the doorbell.

The door swung open. The woman on the other side couldn’t be his sister. She had grown up so much since he left. Her features held a weariness no amount of makeup could hide. He wondered what happened to her. He knew about the break-in, but not much beyond that. Katie had relayed only scant details. When he asked if she needed him to come home, she said not unless he was ready to talk to Dad. Fuck that.

Resentment toward their late father aside, he felt like a real shit right now. He and his sister fell into an embrace. The frame in his arms was thin and frail, as if it would break if he squeezed too hard. He almost cried, but he didn’t want to be weird. Especially not with Melissa standing behind him. She didn’t like oversensitive men.

They broke the hug, made introductions and went inside. Jake met them in the kitchen and offered them breakfast. The four of them sat down around the island in the kitchen. Katie took a gulp of black coffee, but didn’t touch her food.

“So did you lose your phone?” she said.

“What?” Dale said.

“You didn’t answer any of my messages.”

“Yeah, sorry.”

“I didn’t think you were coming.”

“He said he was sorry,” Melissa said.

A heavy silence full of shifting gazes fell upon the group. Dale’s face grew hotter.

“You’re right,” Katie said. “Let’s just…I’m glad you’re here. Both of you.”

“Thanks for reaching out,” Dale said.

Melissa gave a tight smile that held anything but warmth, nothing like her smiles at the beach. They finished their food and dressed for the funeral.

A Presbyterian pastor presided over the service, with most of the religious language removed. Katie was never clear on what her father believed or didn’t believe, and her mother was no help, so she went with something in the middle. She sat between Jake and her mother. Dale, Melissa, and Keith all shared the row with them. They showed solidarity, despite how fractured their family had become. The entire time, Katie felt as if she sat in a glass cage. The preacher’s words sounded muffled. Every few minutes, Jake tried to take her hand, but she kept her hands folded in her lap. She focused mostly inward, recalling the day her father died. She remembered the beaten expression on his face and the defeated words that conflicted with his determination to find some sort of answer for everything that had happened, to try to find Chloe.

She hoped he found whatever he was looking for, but resented him all the same. In his last few years, he seemed perplexed more than half the time, lost in his own thoughts, dreaming of that self-fulfillment he neglected for so long, perhaps.

She touched the scar on her cheek. It was mostly faded, but still rough to the touch.

“You okay?” Jake whispered. She lowered her hand and nodded. He tried to touch her knee, but she pulled away.

The pastor called Katie up for the eulogy. She left what she’d prepared in a folded paper stuffed deep in her dress pocket and improvised something formal, but sweet.

Dad was extraordinary. Blah blah blah. He was always a dreamer. Blah blah blah. I love you, Dad.

She finished, but felt no weight lifted off her shoulders. At her pew, she told Jake she needed some air, and she stepped outside.

A gray sky greeted her. She leaned against the cold brick wall and stared across the grassy acreage spread in front of the church. Thick woods surrounded the grounds and made her think of fairy tales and magical places, but there was nothing magic about this place. The preacher’s words rung hollow. Her eulogy, full of sweet words, came out cold. Headstones filled half the field around the church. This was a dead place.

She longed for the fire. At least it was warm.

As if in response, something pale and green glowed between the trees. The amorphous shape expanded and contracted. It floated some five yards into the woods.

Katie pushed away from the cold bricks and tromped down the chapel stairs. She crossed the headstone-laden field, hypnotized by each movement of the illuminated shape. Though she expected it to brighten as she drew closer, it seemed instead to grow dull. She got halfway across the field, and the light slipped behind a thick pine and disappeared.

She glanced over her shoulder. Part of her wanted to go back and write off the strange apparition as some trick of the light. Another part compelled her to move forward. She felt as if something awaited her in the woods she needed to see.

She reached the edge of the field and stepped through a carpet of undergrowth until she reached the tree the light slipped behind and peeked around its trunk. The light was gone. A bizarre scent drifted under her nostrils. It was milky and sweet and reminded her of her childhood friend Maddie. Something about that made her sad. Though she still kept in contact with Maddie, they weren’t nearly as close as they used to be. But it was more than that. It was her father. It was trauma that robbed her of a life without fear. It was something undefinable and very old, something that had been with her since she was born, or maybe even before that.

Her gaze scanned the expanse of pine trees, moss-covered rocks, and bushes she could never name. She heard no animal sounds. Usually the woods were full of life’s music: birds whistling back and forth, bugs click-click-clicking. But now she heard nothing, nothing but her thundering pulse.

Her father stepped out from behind one of the trees.

Blood and Brimstone, Chapter 3 – Free Serial Novel

Sorry this chapter’s a bit late. I had a lot of things due last week. Chapter 4 should be up Wednesday, and you can get caught up on previous chapters here. Another note: this chapter is when the story really starts to feel like a sequel. If you find yourself feeling lost, you may want to pick up the first book in the series, Flesh and Fire. I’ve posted the Indiebound link to support independent bookstores, but you can grab it on Amazon or Barnes and Noble, if that’s more your speed.

———————-

Katie didn’t remember much of what happened next, only that somehow she, her mother and father had escaped with their lives, while the strange, dark-haired girl had gone off with that monster to God knew where. Likely, she thought, they’d gone to somewhere God couldn’t reach. Almost six months had passed. A lot had changed since then, but she still dreamed of the man with the fiery eyes. In her dreams, flames engulfed her bedroom. Smoldering tendrils crawled up the wall like burning kudzu. Bright orange tongues swirled overhead, circling a black hole. He stood at the center of it all, as if the fire and the black hole all blossomed from somewhere inside him.

Now, she woke from another of these infernal dreams to find the spot beside her on the bed empty. Jake had been sweet enough to spend the night. But where had he gone? Had he gotten sick of how withdrawn she’d been, and decided to abandon her the night before her father’s funeral? Maybe the fire had consumed him and the black hole had swallowed his ashes.

Neither scenario seemed unlikely. Not after all she’d been through.

Katie sat up and checked her phone for messages from Jake, or from Dale, who swore he’d come home for the funeral. She dialed Jake’s number and gnawed her lip as the phone rang.

“Hey, I’m downstairs making you breakfast.”

“Oh, okay.”

“Bad dreams again?”

She pressed her hand against her forehead. Get a grip, Katie. You just have to get through today.

“Katie?”

“Yeah, I’ll be right down.”

She hung up and tossed the phone aside. She pulled on a pair of gray yoga pants and stumbled into the hallway, feeling hungover, even though she hadn’t imbibed since that night. In her experience, alcohol didn’t drown trauma. Instead, it it made trauma grow, the way water expanded those Grow-A-Boyfriends that cruel women bought for their single friends.

She paused at the base of the stairs and touched the doorway of what used to be her dad’s neglected study. It now housed miscellaneous clutter. The night before the demon came, she had taken a CD of her dad’s music, gave it a listen and returned it to her father the next morning, an act she felt set so many things in motion.

In the kitchen, Jake stood at the stove, already dressed in black for the funeral. Though his cleanly shaven face made him look boyish and soft, he still looked exhausted. Dark circles shaded his usual bright eyes. Being her emotional anchor had taken its toll on him. Yet, he remained, ever her anchor.

“How’d you sleep?” he said.

“Okay, you?”

“I didn’t.” “I’m sorry, baby,” she said. “Thanks for making me breakfast.”

Jake scooped some eggs onto a plate on the island. He pointed to the chair scooted next to it. “Eat. You may not get a chance until later.”

“I’m not hungry.”

“You’ll feel less like eating after the funeral.”

“Maybe.” Katie slumped into the chair and poked at her food with a fork. She pushed the eggs around her plate and sighed. “Fucking Dale.”

“You’re gonna drive yourself crazy.” Jake said and put a mug of coffee down next to her.

“I think I punched that one-way ticket a long time ago. I’m just pissed he hasn’t even called, texted, anything.”

“Look, he said he’d be here, right?”

“Right.”

“He had plenty of leave, right?”

“Right.”

“There’s still time until the service. Maybe he’s just running late.”

“Maybe you don’t understand how bad it got between him and my father.” Katie put down her fork and shoved the plate away, imagined she was shoving it into a black hole. “I can’t fucking eat right now.”

“Hey, come on. I’m trying to make you feel better.”

“Yeah, well…”

“Yeah, well, what?”

“Yeah, well, it’s not working.”

She held his gaze, watched him wince at the edge in her voice. She knew she was being a bitch and didn’t care. Everything hurt. Didn’t that give her the right? Especially today? She thought again of the black hole from her dream, flames encircling its perfect darkness. Is that where my father is now? Is that what Jake sees whenever he looks at me?

She lowered her gaze and tried again to take a bite of egg. The food had gotten cold.

Thirsty Thursday

At school. It’s drizzling outside. I started revising my romance novel, and I’m eager to get back to it this afternoon.

The first 5-7k words are so rough, I cut them, and wouldn’t you know it? The story is already stronger. Of course, now it’s a novella (I hate that word; I think I’ll follow Carlton Mellick III’s cue and say “short novel”). I’m weirdly okay with it.

20-30k words is plenty to tell a story. Start in medias res. Cross the point of no return. Reverse the goal at the midpoint. Reach rock bottom. Ascend to a satisfying conclusion.

I haven’t the attention span for subplots, and I will hereby stop trying, unless I really hatch some good ones, or get offered money to write a book of a certain length.

My model of storytelling comes from Star Trek (TOS) and The Twilight Zone. I’m serious. If you want to write a lean, mean story, analyze the fuck out of each of those show’s episodes.

Now, that said, if I want to make a living at this, that means I have to up my productivity. When Saint Sadist comes out on March 16, it will be my third this year. Not bad.

I want to do more, and I can do more. It may be tough to get more than one or two more releases out there this year, but we’ll see. I’ve been reading How to Write Pulp Fiction by James Scott Bell and getting a lot of inspiration.  I like this new productive me, and I aim to keep at it.

Look for my romance book to drop in May. I’ll be using the pseudonym Jamie St. John, but that’ll be our secret.

Blood and Brimstone, Chapter 2 – Free Serial Novel

Katie and her mother cuddled in the back of the car driven by the demon who injured and violated them. Night darkened the sides of the winding road. The woods, barely visible, appeared as a giant living creature as leaves and branches tossed gently in the breeze. Katie felt as if she’d been transported to some primordial darkness, a black dimension full of monsters like the fiery-eyed naked man who drove towards some awful, unknown destination.

The car drove from country to town to city, but though the light increased, Katie felt no comfort. She and her mother gave up on asking the man where he planned to take them and what he planned to do to them. He offered no insights, and after a time, it became obvious that whatever he had in mind would be something dreadful. Stories like this didn’t end happily. Ever.

They took a route through the seedy warehouse district. Long abandoned and dilapidated buildings only accentuated the gloom and Katie’s bleak outlook. She clutched her mother’s hand tightly and found she no longer knew who was comforting who. Both women had suffered tremendously at the hands of this monster tonight, and both likely had something even worse in store. One could argue that what they’d endured so far was worse than death, but not to Katie. Despite the horrors or the night, she needed to go on living. She had a future. She had friends. She had love. With those wonderful things in her life, she could process tonight’s trauma. She good go on. 

Her mother, on the other hand, might feel differently. Their family stood on the brink of ruin. Late-middle-aged, one could argue she had entered the twilight of her life. She had a decade or fifteen years left of work, tops. Her looks would fade soon. Immense trauma at this stage of her life could destroy her, even if this awful man didn’t kill her tonight.

Thinking about her mother this way brought new tears to Katie’s eyes when she believed herself all cried out by this point. Guess there are always more tears to shed.

The car slowed down when they entered a section of buildings converted into row homes. Katie’s mother looked up and glanced around.

“I think this is where your father used to live,” she said.

“That’s right,” the driver confirmed, his tone sinister.

This new information prompted Katie to renew her inquiries.

“What is this? What do you want with us?”

“All in due time, sweet girl. For now, let’s just say I need the two of you as bargaining chips.”

Katie and her mother exchanged glances. By her mother’s expression, Katie guessed the woman who’d birthed her had no better idea as to their fate as Katie did. They resumed cuddling. They couldn’t seem to hold each other tight enough. How fleeting, our flesh, Katie thought, more aware of her mortality than she could ever remember being, even more than as a child afraid of the dark, even more than the time she had a fever high enough to induce demonic hallucinations of giant wolf-faced spiders crawling around her bedroom.  

The car rolled to a stop in front of one of the row homes. Katie looked up and her chest clenched at the sight of her father, standing on the front stoop with a strange, dark-haired woman. Her mother followed her gaze and gasped.

“Chloe?”

Free Serial Novel – Blood and Brimstone, Chapter 1

The entry that follows is the first chapter to Blood and Brimstone, an apocryphal continuation of the story begun in my debut novel, Flesh and Fire. I would strongly encourage familiarity with the material before you embark on reading this tale. Otherwise, you may be a bit lost. Flesh and Fire is available on Indie Bound, Amazon, and wherever else books are sold, as part of a flip book with a zombie novella by Jonathan Maberry. Readers of FLESH AND FIRE may find this scene familiar. However, it should be noted that this time around, it’s told from a different perspective, and shows a piece not originally included in the manuscript.


Katie woke on a hard wood floor. Glass gleamed in shattered pools around her. She didn’t recognize the living room, with its lavish entertainment center, granite ledge, and leather furniture, but she felt like she should. The faces in the family photos hung from the wall were vaguely familiar. One of the faces maybe belonged to her.

I’m home. This is my house, but what the hell happened?

She tried to move and winced. Too disoriented by pain and confusion. Blood leaked from her cheek and splashed against the floor. Shards of glass dug into her palms. 

Gagging sounds drew her attention to the hallway. A lean naked man stood over a prone, kneeling woman. The woman wore a black blouse, its buttons torn open. The naked man had the woman’s dirty blond hair clenched in his fists. Her face was pressed against his pelvis, her cheek bulging with something.

This is my mother. And she’s blowing a guy with me in the room. Me in the room, injured and confused. Something’s not right.

Of course, Katie could be dreaming. Some feverish nightmare brought on by a looming illness, or something funny in Jake’s weed. Where was Jake? Hadn’t he been with her earlier in the day? She didn’t remember him leaving.

This wasn’t a dream. The pain hurt too much. Everything that didn’t hurt was far too tactile. Confusion still clouded her thoughts.

Her mother’s head lolled side to side, eyes closed, as if the man’s penis contained a powerful sedative. She’s not awake. He’s raping her.

And she remembered. This man had broken in and attacked them during a heart-to-heart discussion about the state of their family. They’d discussed sitting down with Dad and trying to rebuild something together. Katie had even floated the idea of Skyping with her estranged brother. After they agreed to work on the family again, Katie had seen this naked man standing in the window, and she had screamed.

Katie tried to call out to her mother now, but could only produce a wet croak. The man’s buttocks tightened and untightened as he thrust into her mother’s mouth. Katie’s hands brushed a larger shard of glass. She glanced from it to the man assaulting her mother. She hesitated, remembering how he had walked across the sea of shattered glass like some macabre Christ, jagged grin emblazoned on his face like he enjoyed the pain.

Doesn’t matter. He’s human. You can stop him.

Katie tried to rise again. She bit her lip to avoid crying out as she got to her hands and knees. She needed the element of surprise. Her fingers closed around the shard. She held it like a dagger. Propping herself up on one knee, she teetered and almost fainted. Biting harder on her lip kept her sharp. She stood and stalked toward the man fucking her mother’s mouth.

The hallway seemed to stretch for miles. Every step dulled the pain. With every thrust of the man’s hips, rage moved to eclipse her fear. She passed the closet on her right, the stairs on her left. She crossed the doorway leading to the dining room. She came to the foot of the stairs, at the edge of the foyer. On her left side, a bloody handprint marked the door to her father’s studio. In front of her, the man continued his assault on her mother, not noticing Katie advancing with the shard of glass.

Katie raised the sharp object. She pointed the tip at the man’s jugular. In the small windows at the top of the door, she saw the reflection of herself, about to become a killer. About to kill for her family. Maybe the only thing worth killing for. She cast a final glance down at her mother, eyes half-closed and rolled to their whites, lips leaking spit and pre-cum. The image tightened around her heart like a noose around the neck of a man condemned to die.

That moment’s hesitation earned Katie an elbow to the face. She fell backwards and lost the shard, heard it clinking against the floor somewhere nearby. The naked man collapsed upon her and pinned her to the floor. Katie’s mother slumped and fell in a crumpled heap, still unconscious, mercifully unconscious.

Katie tried to squirm free, but the man was too strong. She screamed in his clutches. She cried out to a god she didn’t believe existed. The man’s eyes turned to fire and her prayers fell silent. His face became a grimace. The fires in his pupils dimmed.

“Forgive me,” he said. “I know nothing else I can do.”

New Free Serial Novel – Blood and Brimstone

Well, gang sometimes you gotta know when to admit defeat. I’ve learned over the last year that I don’t yet have the reach, or the temperament to run a Patreon. But the good news is that the content I was posting there is now going to be available here for free! You can still donate to me if you’d like, but it’s not a requirement.

The entry that follows is the prologue to Blood and Brimstone, an apocryphal continuation of the story begun in my debut novel, Flesh and Fire. I would strongly encourage familiarity with the material before you embark on reading this tale. Otherwise, you may be a bit lost. Flesh and Fire is available on Indie Bound, Amazon, and wherever else books are sold, as part of a flip book with a zombie novella by Jonathan Maberry. Now, without further ado, I’m happy to present the opening chapter of Blood and Brimstone, entitled “Land of Shades.”

———-

Hell wasn’t so bad before the Christians came down. We didn’t even call it Hell back then. Of course, it was no Heaven (assuming there is a Heaven, and my guess is, if the zealots are here, there isn’t). It was simply the Place of the Dead, the Land of Shades. Not so different from the Land of the Living, really, just darker, a bit grayer. It was them, in wrath borne out of disappointment, who brought the fire, and made everything burn. Their philosophy: if they can’t have their promised salvation, then all must suffer.

I suppose I should introduce myself. My name is Windom. I’m one of the Devil’s sons. He has many children. Not for the reasons you may expect. He harbors no delusions of undoing God’s creation. He just likes to fuck. Fuck, and gamble, I’m told. I’ve never actually met him. He’s not what you’d call a present father.

But that’s all right. I’m provided for. There are homes across the world, run by a select few for the sole purpose of sheltering Satan’s children. The place I grew up is right outside Texarkana, smack dab in the middle of the Bible Belt. Imagine that. A bunch of demon hybrids coming of age among truck stop churches and pornographic megastores. Oddly fitting, I think.

Well, anyway, where was I? Oh, yes. How the Christians ruined Hell.

I suppose I should start at the beginning. This is no epic, so in media res is out of the question.

It all started with a doomsday preacher who was born of a virgin a little over two thousand years ago. His primary message, like those spoken by other prophets of doom, was double-sided. The end was nigh, and there would be a great day of reckoning, but for a select few, salvation was promised. Now, this fella was unlike others of his kind in that his message really caught on. Matter of fact, it still resonates with a great number of living souls, and I kind of understand why. It’s hopeful. People like hope. It’s the most powerful drug there is, and one of the few legal ones. Some of you reading this might even be on this particular strain of hope. I don’t fault you for it. Somewhere along the chain of evolution, guilt and shame entered into the equation. You, as a species, started feeling bad about doing what came natural. Well, according to this doomsday preacher, all your perceived wrongdoings could be taken away, you just had to (get this) believe that they would be taken away, and just like that: there you went into the arms of the Lord.

Unfortunately for this fella, the religious establishment didn’t much care for his message of forgiveness. For them, only strict adherence to religious law (which, if you think about it hard enough you’ll see, keeps them in control of your life) is the only way to salvation. What he was preaching, well, that could really screw with the power dynamic. So, they had him killed. Crucified. Fucking nasty, even for the ancients.

When he died, he came here. Crossed the Ruin into darkness just like everybody else. I guess he was disappointed.

Now, I don’t know if he was the Son of God, but somehow he brought fire to this place, and this fire was not like the fire in the living world. These flames never went out, and as more of his followers came down, they joined him in torching everything, and if a shade got caught in one of these fires, they either suffered or turned into a fucking demon.

That’s what happened to my father. Some say that in life he was a great warrior. Others say he was a hedonist. I imagine he was a little of both. Like I said, I don’t know all that much about him. There’s a lot I don’t know, I reckon. Relatively, I’m not very old. Something like seventy is my guess. I can’t be a hundred percent sure, because, well, after my fortieth, I just stopped aging altogether. Since I stopped aging, I stopped counting, but I think my guess is accurate.

So, that’s that. That’s how Hell became, well, Hell. At least that’s how it’s been relayed to me by the old timers. I’m telling you all this so that you’ll have context for the tale I’m about to tell.

It begins with a girl, and no, it isn’t that sort of story, though she was very pretty. Sweet, too, I suppose, but also, maybe just a tad too curious. Of course, I can’t blame her. Given how her story begins, well, let’s just say if the same thing happened to me, I’d want answers, assuming I didn’t know what I know: answers only exist to raise further questions. Such is our fate: to die wondering.

But I’m not here to share a philosophy. I only wish to tell you a story. After all, stories birth our dreams, and our dreams make the fire bearable.

Surrogate – Free Flash Fiction

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m taking a Creative Writing class this semester. The first project was to write a piece of flash fiction (the professor calls it sudden fiction). My story was rather well-received, so I figured I’d share it with all of you. It’s more on the literary side, I suppose, but I think it’s pretty good. It’s called “Surrogate.”


She waited almost three years to tell me the child wasn’t mine. I don’t know what made this moment the right moment to tell me, but she laid it out on a typical night. We were in bed, the lights still on. We had just put the little one down for night-night, and I was just about to open my fresh copy of Franzen’s latest doorstop of a novel. She didn’t cry then, but maybe she had run out of tears. I didn’t cry either. I’ve been told so often that I shouldn’t that at moments when maybe I should, I can’t.

“So, whose is it?” I asked. She shook her head. “I have a right to know.” She remained silent. “I’m not gonna hurt the guy. That’s not who I am. You know this.”

“It’s Drew’s.”

“Drew who? The kid? Your intern?” She nodded “I thought he didn’t like women.”

“He was conflicted,” she said. “And so was I.”

She gave no more details, but I guessed it had something to do with almost eighteen months of trying to conceive, dozens of tests, and one miscarriage, which halted our intimacy indefinitely.

I found his address and drove to confront him the next day. He lived in an apartment on the East Side. I knocked until he answered. When the door opened, we just stared at each other. Damn near thirty seconds went by. I opened my mouth to tell him that I knew, that I wasn’t mad at him, that I’d raised his child as my own and therefore believed I had certain rights, but instead of saying any of that, I reached for the sides of his face and pulled him in for a kiss.