Blood and Brimstone, Chapter 9 – 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.


Melissa locked the door to the bedroom and stripped naked. She pulled the page ripped from Katie’s journal and unfolded it, stared into the eyes of the man Katie called a demon. The man Katie called Samael.

She imagined the eyes turning to red orange, like twin match heads. She touched the fingers of her left hand to the demon’s lips. She licked the fingers of her right hand and reached down to touch herself. Her womanhood tingled as she massaged its lips. She fought the urge to close her eyes. Stayed focused on the face in the sketch. The eyes reddened. The flames in their irises began to sway. The fiery tips curled and trembled.


Dale continued to strum. Eyes closed. Lost in the music. He pictured his father seeing the man he had become. He pictured his father not being afraid to admit to dreaming of better things. Todd stood before him, wearing a dark suit and tie, his typical banker’s outfit. His short hair was thinning. A breath brought the scent of pungent, expensive cologne.

Dale continued playing, imagined looking into his father’s eyes. Blue, soft, as usual, but Dale noticed something different about them now. An intensity that he had never noticed in them before. They looked, for want of a better description, young, Dale thought.

The song looped back around. Dale played. More on beat, more confident. His father’s hair darkened. Lines in his face were smoothing out. He looked shorter, not looming over Dale the way Dale always imagined him. The black jacket started to fade, to tear.

“You came into my life,” Dale sang, “black-haired, blissfully damaged.”

Like Melissa, he thought and wondered how much his life mirrored his father’s. What had his father been like before becoming the man Dale knew? Who was he singing about? Dale and Katie’s mom didn’t have black hair, and she never struck her as damaged. At least not in the way worth singing about.

The jacket fell from his father’s shoulders like so many dirty rags, collected around his feet like dust.


The fire spread. Every row of books engulfed in angry red tongues. The top of the bureau burned. The floor turned to orange molten rock.

Katie sat up, drew her knees to her chest. The Cosmic Heart burned beside her, a pulsing flame, beating in time with her heart. The book that claimed to hold secret cures smoldered. Black smoke seeped from between its pages.

The woman spoke like a skipping CD.…blood is diseased…blood is diseased…blood is diseased…


Melissa’s sex dripped, making her fingers wet and sticky. Natural lubricant ran in channels in the lines of her hand. She thrust her head back, gritted her teeth against a moan that could draw attention from the rest of the house.

Someone whispered in her ear. Words indecipherable. Full of seduction, but not without menace.

Her breath quickened. A notion inside her warned her against proceeding. Against finishing.

But I’m too close now. I’m on the brink.

She kept her gaze fixated on Samael’s. Watched the flames dance in his eyes. His lips moved. She swore they fucking moved. His tongue slipped out, ran across his pointed teeth.

I’m imagining this, she thought, but knew she wasn’t. Warmth engulfed her. Her legs jerked. Toes made fists.

She couldn’t help herself, a whimper escaped her lips. The black and white sketch of Samael colorized. Flesh became flesh. Scars became pale and textured. The fire in his eyes swirled like spiral galaxies of burning brimstone. Her fingers slipped between his lips, into the warm wetness beyond the paper. The points of his teeth pressed into the pads of her fingers and drew blood.


The scream ripped away the image of his reverse-aging father. Dale opened his eyes and stopped strumming. He tore the headphones from his ears and set the guitar against the edge of the deck. The second scream tore him to his feet, sent him barreling toward the house. He jerked open the back door and entered.

The scream belonged to Melissa. He had never heard her outright scream before, but he had heard her yell, heard her cry. The sound from upstairs was a ragged, wet combination of both.

He bolted up the stairs, heart pounding heat through his veins. His foot caught on the top step, and he pitched forward. Held his hands out for balance and fell against the wall.

“Melissa!”

Opposite the hallway from his room, Katie’s door flung open. Dale and his sister exchanged wide-eyed, urgent glances. They met in front of his room. He fumbled with the door knob. It was cold to the touch like he held a block of ice. He withdrew his hand, paused for a confused split second.

“What is it?” Katie said.

Dale ignored her question, took the knob and cranked it over. A chill greeted him when he opened the door. Katie crossed her arms against the draft. The cold bit through his clothing, almost hurt, but subsided upon his entering the room.

Melissa was gone.

“What the fuck?” he said. “Where the fuck is she?”

Her clothes lay in a discarded pile beside the bed. The blanket was bunched at the footboard. Her head had left an imprint in the memory foam pillow. No other sign of her remained.

Dale crossed the room, peered under the bed, into the closet. Her name passed his lips at irregular intervals, a repetitive manic chant. He started pushing aside furniture, kicking walls.

“Dale,” Katie said, her voice a decibel above a whisper.

He ignored her. Started knocking books and framed photographs off the dresser. Stopped saying Melissa’s name, replaced it with angry curses.

Dale.”

He spun to face his sister. Tears blurred his eyes. He ran past her, into the hallway and scrambled down the stairs. Yanking the front door open, he stepped outside. His gaze flicked across the yard, across the street. He called her name. Listened for a response. Breath pulled in and out, turning his cries hoarse. His blood rushed and he started to shake.

A warm hand closed around his shoulder and he fell to his knees. He punched the air, mumbled another string of obscenities.

“We need to call the police,” Katie said, a single tremor breaking the otherwise level manner of her voice. “Let’s go inside.”

Dale clenched his fists, tried to slow his breath. The air outside was warm against his skin. He wondered where the frosty draft in his room had come from and how it managed to make the doorknob so cold.

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.

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.

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.

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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.