Author Spotlight – Lori Drake

Introducing Lori Drake

Lori Drake writes from her home office and assorted coffee shops around Austin, Texas. When not busily writing or editing, she enjoys reading, video gaming, fiber arts, and playing with kittens. These are all mutually exclusive activities, no matter what the kittens would have you believe.

Why don’t you begin by sharing a little about yourself.

I’m a red-headed scorpio, so my mom had her hands full when I was a kid. Writing has always been a part of my life, though I went long periods where I didn’t write anything. I wrote my first novel in 2008, and I don’t know if I’ll ever go back and edit it for publication, but I’m still rather fond of the story.

I live in Austin, Texas with my husband and two full grown cats that we still think of as kittens. My husband calls them “kittens-not-kittens.”

I have no children, so my books are my legacy. Think about that the next time you dog-ear a page. Just kidding! Buy the books, and do whatever you want with them. But definitely read them. I do recommend that.

Could you tell us a bit about your latest book?

I just released the third book in my Grant Wolves series, Grave Threat. It’s my favorite of the series so far, and it really challenges Joey–the female protagonist–to step up to the plate while her Alpha is out of commission. Joey is such an interesting character. She’s not your average smart-mouthed urban fantasy heroine. She has a lot of attitude, but she’s still figuring out how to walk the walk as well as talk the talk. In book one, we found out that she was sheltered for most of her life, not even trained in fighting the way her older siblings were. Since then, she’s grown into an “heir apparent” role, but she’s never been truly tested until now. It’s a trial by fire, and she learns a lot of lessons about how hard it is to make those tough calls she’s always been so quick to criticize in the past.

Who is your intended readership?

My readers are those misfits that love a good werewolf story that doesn’t revolve around an alpha looking for a mate. They don’t mind profanity, and enjoy a diverse cast of characters. (While my protagonists are straight–as far as I know, anyway–there are gay & bi supporting characters.)

When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?

I’m not sure! It was never a big dream of mine. Writing was always something I enjoyed doing, but I wasn’t able to see myself doing it professionally for a long time. I always worried that if I did it for a job, I wouldn’t love it as much. It wasn’t until 2017, when I was preparing to launch my first book, that I thought, “You know what? I can do this.” I haven’t looked back.

Do you have a favorite author, or writing inspiration?

Music inspires me. I’m always listening to music while I write, and I make playlists for all of my books while I’m writing them. I fill them with songs that remind me of characters, scenes, or themes from the book. Once the book is released, I like to share those playlists in my newsletter. I like the idea of people listening to them while they read.

What advice would you give beginning writers?

Don’t be afraid to share your work with someone. Write in a vacuum, but don’t edit in one. My writing grew in leaps and bounds when I joined a critique group, and it also helped to boost my confidence.

Do you have any amusing writing stories or anecdotes to share?

My best friend is terrified of werewolves. Seriously, she won’t read books about them or watch movies featuring them because the whole messy in-between of bones cracking and human faces growing snouts just wigs her the hell out. I purposefully designed my werewolves as creatures whose transformation was magical rather than physical. There are no snapping bones, contortions, or half-man, half-wolf forms. The air shimmers, and poof! That human is now a wolf. Finally, a werewolf story she can handle.

I dedicated my first book to her. She cried when she found out.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing? Any hobbies?

Hm, what to mention that isn’t in my bio… tea! I love tea, especially loose leaf tea. The coffee shop where I frequently write won me over with their wide assortment of loose leaf teas. I prefer black over herbal, and nothing too fruity.

I’m also a bit of a weather geek. I took a few meteorology classes in college and I find it completely fascinating. I’d like to go storm chasing one day, and I don’t care what anyone says… Twister is a great movie. (Rabbit is good, Rabbit is wise.)

I also volunteer with my local animal shelter as a foster mom during kitten season, because KITTENS. Need I say more?

What’s your next project? Any upcoming book secrets you care to reveal?

Okay, just between you and me… I’m currently working on a spin-off featuring a popular side character from the Grant Wolves series. The only hint I will give is: He’s not a wolf.

I guess that was two hints.

Grave Threat

Mind control is a terrible thing to waste.

Joey and Chris are finally settling into something remotely resembling normal in their new hometown. It’s great, aside from being in separate packs.

But when Joey’s Alpha is kidnapped, it’s all wolves on deck, and what begins as a ride to the rescue devolves into the road trip from hell. The situation only gets worse when Chris, too, is taken.

Now Joey is left seeking allies in unfamiliar territory while the captives fight for their free will as well as their freedom. Can Joey reclaim her loved ones before they’re lost to her forever?

Grave Threat is the action-packed third installment of the gripping Grant Wolves series. If you like strong women, powerful magic, high stakes, and underdog tales, this is the book for you!

Buy Now: Paperback, E-Book

Author Pages:

Amazon

Where to find Lori Drake:

Website (Lori Drake’s Website), Twitter, Facebook

Subscribers to Lori’s newsletter receive exclusive sneak peeks, playlists, free books, release dates, and other insider info.

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Calling All Authors – “Featured Author” Spots Available On My Website

Here’s An Opportunity To Be Featured On My Website

Over my time as an author, I’ve had the pleasure of working with a number of really great authors. Most of these folks I met online through various social media platforms, and events. Others I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in person.

As a thank you for all the help and support I’ve received online, I’m dedicating this page to them. If you have a few moments take a look down the list, and pop in to say hi to anyone who’s work catches your attention.

Here’s How Your Entry Would Be Formatted

Timothy Bateson

Author Bio:
Timothy Bateson is a writer who broke into the market in 2014, with three short stories being featured in Halloween and science-fiction anthologies. In 2016, Bateson self-published a re-release of “Under A Hunter’s Moon”, the first of a several stories set in the “Shadows Over Seattle” world, which he co-writes with his wife, Sandi.
Bateson is also a blogger who often spotlights books and fellow indie authors, alongside his other interests, such as the Brain to Books Cyber Convention events, falconry, journaling, quotes, and reading.
Genres:
Paranormal, Urban Fantasy, Science Fiction, Short Story
Social Media Links:
Author Blog (Ramblings of an Author), Author Website (Timothy Bateson – Author), Newsletter (N/A)
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn (N/A), Google+
Author Profiles:
Smashwords, Amazon, Barnes & Noble (N/A), Kobo (N/A), iTunes (N/A), Goodreads

How Can You Sign Up For A Featured Authors Slot?

LearnMore_Normal_h250Click the button to the left, and you’ll be taken to the AirTable form (embedded on my website).

Fill out the details, and I’ll take care of everything else. Priority will be given to authors I’ve worked with on this blog, or online events.

 

31 Days Of Halloween – Happy Halloween

It’s Halloween At Last!

And, yes, this post is going live 4 hours earlier than usual, and you’ll see why shortly…

This month has been an amazing ride, and I’ve loved being able to bring so many authors, books, and stories to you all. (Click here for a list of everything that’s happened this month).

This entire month was about celebrating the 3rd Anniversary of “Under A Hunter’s Moon” being in print. So, don’t forget to get your FREE copy of “Under A Hunter’s Moon (Shadows Over Seattle: Prequels #1)” before the end of the night.

After midnight on Halloween night, the price will go back up to it’s usual $0.99 (USD). If you’re unsure this is the story for you, there’s a preview of the story at the bottom of this post.

So 31 Days, 31 Posts? Challenge Accepted… And Defeated!

When I first challenged myself to do this event, 31 posts in 31 days looked like such a daunting challenge. And there were ups and downs along the way. I had some posts planned with authors, which for didn’t make it into the line up, for different reasons. But there was always someone willing to step up and fill the slot.

I may have had to rush to make sure some of the posts went out on the days I’d promised, but I wouldn’t change a thing. Everyone I’ve worked with has been amazing.

Here’s To All My Wonderful Contributors, And Readers

I want to put out a HUGE thank you to all the authors who took part, without whom I’d have been writing a blog post every day for an entire month… And I suspect I’d have failed miserably…

I’d also like to thank everyone who dropped in, took the time to comment on posts, share them, and click those like buttons. It means a lot to me that so many people came by and helped make this a blog event I’ll remember for a long time to come.

As a surprise to the contributing authors, I wanted to do something special, and this video is my way of showing my gratitude. I dug deep into author interviews, websites, blog posts and more to find some things about them that may people might not know…

So take a peek behind the scenes of the event, and learn a little about everyone who helped make this such a huge success.

And that’s a wrap…

But, I wouldn’t have even DARED to try something like this, if it wasn’t for you, my followers and readers. So, as a thank you, I decided to do something crazy… “Under A Hunter’s Moon” is STILL free, until MIDNIGHT TONIGHT!

Grab Your Copy NOW!

Want a preview of what to expect? Then check out the preview below… And if you like what you read, PLEASE leave a review, and tell your friends how much you enjoyed it.

https://bublish.com/bubble/stream/14467?embed=1

Storytime: “The Iconic Face” by Ed Ireland

Bridget Moore was plain. There was nothing about her looks that might be called beautiful at all. She was a wonderful person, a good mother and up until six months ago, a dutiful wife. Her husband Nathaniel succumbed to smallpox, leaving her with seven children and twenty acres of good farmland.

Most of the people in the small town of Salem were helpful, but there were the schemers as well. One in particular, Ezra Barstow, needed the twenty acres of her farm to expand his own growing plantation. Her plot would bring in another small fortune with corn to fill the bellies of the people in Boston, New York and perhaps even Philadelphia. The bothersome trifle in his plan was the fact that Bridget had no desire to sell.

The time was February, 1692. Ezra was about to get help in taking Bridget’s farm in a way he could never imagine. Not far from him, in Salem Village, four young girls were set to create a series of events that would bring Ezra his prize and shame to the new country they lived in. Three women were arrested and charged with a singular crime.

Witchcraft!

They were accused of tormenting the girls, causing them to have outbursts of demonic influence. Within one month, four more women were arrested. Well, three women and the four-year old daughter of one of the other women. Ezra could see the hysteria rising among his fellow townsfolk and a sinister plan began to form in his head. While Ezra saw hysteria, Bridget woke one night to see a bonfire off in the distance.

In the village, Ezra began telling people about a deal he struck with Nathaniel about buying his farm. Unfortunately, the poor man became ill before it went past the handshake stage. He claimed to have spoken to Mrs. Moore, but plainly the distraught widow was not yet ready for her husband’s last memory to be sold out from under her. All around him, as time passed, the hysteria grew. By the end of April, twenty-seven people stood accused of the crime.

The time was ripe for Barstow to act.

He reached out to his old friend Jonathan Corwin, one of the local magistrates. He led him into the woods that bordered his plantation and the Moore farm. There, he showed Corwin a clearing where a bonfire clearly burned. The ground was littered with articles of women’s clothing, several packets containing bits of cloth, bones and feathers and several slaughtered chickens.

“I saw it with my own eyes Jonathan,” said Ezra. “It was the widow Moore and her two eldest daughters. They were dancing naked and calling upon Satan to bring harm to me and my family. They killed the hens you see here and drew strange symbols on their bodies with the blood. Without our strong love for God, we would be dead by now.”

Three nights later, Bridget sat in the lamp glow of her bedroom. She sat the bible she was reading from down and lifted her hairbrush. Her brush lovingly caressed the length of blond hair she wore, a gift from her Swedish ancestors. She paused, looking at her face. Her cheekbones were high and her skin fair. Her eyes were clear and her teeth strong, as were her bones. The long fingers that held the brush were elegant, the nails clear and manicured. She was plain but not so much that men would not be interested in her.

She thought that perhaps she would go into town on the next day. It had been nine months since Nathaniel died. It was time to let men see her again. Behind her, a soft rapping on her front door alerted her to callers. While she wondered who could be calling at this time, the gentle sound said nothing about danger to her. It would be the last bit of gentleness in her life. On the other side of the door, twelve men stood with torches and a warrant for her arrest.

“You are under arrest Bridget Moore,” said the gruff sheriff as he grabbed her arm. “And your daughters Amanda and Sarah as well.”

When another man roughly pushed past her, the poor woman did what any other mother would do to protect her children. She broke her grip and grabbed the man, desperate to stop him. In exchange for doing her duty, she felt a heavy club strike her head. Moments later, after the black swirl of unconsciousness claimed her, her hooded and bound body was lifted into a waiting wagon. Next to her sat the crying girls, caught between worrying for their mother and their own problems now. A second wagon took the remaining children to the Barstow Plantation. As a sign of his “godliness”, Ezra offered to take them in with him in exchange for the Governor’s Council recognizing his claim to the Moore farm should Bridget be guilty of the charges.

In the town’s jail, a groggy Bridget was pushed roughly into her cell. She opened her mouth to protest but a heavy slap across the cheek stopped the sound before it began.

“Right then,” said the man who slapped her. “Where’s your mark witch?”

“What mark?” she sobbed. “I don’t know what you mean! Why are you doing this? Where are my daughters?”

The man nodded to the other two men in the cell. They smiled cruelly as they reached for her, grabbing her and roughly tearing her sleeping gown away. The more she protested and tried to cover her naked body, the rougher they handled her. Their hands left deep bruises on her arms and legs as they pulled and twisted her until the other man found what he was looking for.

There, on the inside of her left thigh, a birthmark sat. It was an innocuous, small irregularity formed by a gathering of pigment cells. To the man who saw it, it was an open volume that spoke of clandestine meetings that led to a pact with the devil. It told the sheriff and his men that Ezra Barstow was truthful in relaying what he saw. Somewhere in the jail, the screams of her daughters echoed throughout the building.

Once more, Bridget was on her feet and attacking the men, trying to find a way out to help her children. One of the men grabbed a handful of hair and yanked her back. When she fell to the ground, he still held the locks, now with bloodied pieces of scalp still attached. The other lifted her and smiled as he allowed a knotted fist to crash into her face, breaking her cheekbone and cracking her eye socket.

Two more hard punches saw several of her teeth broken or knocked out while her cut lips immediately swelled. Blood ran from her broken nose while bruises sprang to life across her face. On her head, small patches of torn skin cascaded blood down through her hair.

“Confess to your wicked deeds woman!” shouted the man.

“God will save me,” she mumbled. “You’re a pig! God will…”

“BLASPHEMY!” yelled the sheriff.

Another hard punch, this time to her midsection, closed her mouth again. She slumped to the floor while the man admonished her to confess again. When she offered no words, heavy boots slammed down on her hand breaking three of her fingers. She screamed in pain as she pulled her hand up and saw the grotesque way those fingers twisted.

The men laughed as they left her cell. They would give her time to think about her situation. When they were done, she would confess. When she did, they would bring her to the magister for her sentencing. Outside, word was spreading of her arrest as the townsfolk woke. Just as with the others, many could not believe that the soft-spoken woman was a witch.

In the jail, away from the eyes of the public, Bridget’s beatings continued. Her attackers continued beating her body now, keeping her in a state of perpetual nausea. Her ribs were broken and maybe even her spleen ruptured. More fingers were broken and her face began taking on the hues of green from her nausea tinged with deep violet bruising around her eyes and cheeks, giving her a sullen, vicious look. Her broken nose swelled making it look twice its normal size as did much of her face.

Every move brought a grimace of pain, but still Bridget held to her belief. She was no witch and certainly no agent of Satan. It was then that they brought her daughters to her. They were naked as she was, but not yet beaten.

“If you won’t confess,” said the jailer, “then one of them must be the witch. Trust me lass, we’ll find who it is and free ya from her spell.”

Her heart broke as he spoke. She knew what he was implying and she knew there was just one way to save the two girls.

“No!” she said weakly. “I’m the witch! I’ll confess it if you let them go!”

The broad smile that crossed his face told her the deal had been accepted. He had the girls placed back in their cells in case Bridget failed to follow through in her confession to the magister. He had the wagon called for and Bridget dressed in rags.

As she was led into the blinding rays of the sun and put in the wagon, she knew the ordeal would soon be done. In just three days, they turned her fair complexion into the green-hued, savage look of a madwoman. They bent and twisted her body until it was unable to stand on its own. She held on to the bars of the wagon with the gnarled, broken fingers causing her face to contort exposing the broken teeth.

Her hair was matted with blood and dangled like the roots of a tree across her face. Her stooped, grotesque look shocked the neighbors that only three mornings ago said the jailers were wrong in arresting her. Now they proudly displayed her as a “witch that now shows her true guise”. They purposely took every bump and hole on their short trip to the magister so that all would see the horror of their captured witch.

The magister read the charges and the eye witness report of Ezra. He was shown the witch mark.

“I ask you now Bridget Moore,” he said sternly, “before God, are you a witch?”

Her eyes looked to the ground as she mumbled a “yes” bringing a loud gasp from those in the room with her.

“Will you repent?” asked the magister.

She shook her head no, bringing him to accepted her confession. Despite her cooperation, her daughters were taken away and three days later, she was taken to the gallows and hung for her crime. Her land was granted to Ezra Barlow who kept her children as indentured servants.

The passing time soon brought the nefarious deeds in Salem Village and the surrounding areas to a halt. Salem saw twenty-five people dead as a result of their hysteria, with Bridget Moore being the lone “forgotten victim”.

Her children were sequestered from the events and kept from the truth so long that they too forgot what happened. Amanda and Sarah were sent away and never heard from again. Everything about Bridget Moore was lost to the winds of time.

And yet her legacy remained however.

When children asked what a witch looked like, even long after the horrors of that time passed, it was Bridget that their parents and grandparents described. Her description was passed down from generation to generation. In the 1800’s, one such description reached the ears of an enterprising young artist. He drew a caricature of Bridget for the greeting card company he worked for. Even today, when people hang Halloween decorations, the sad face of Bridget Moore is there. She has become the iconic Halloween witch, resplendent with her green skin and dark matted hair. Broken and missing teeth show between her unproportioned nose and chin. She flies across the moon with gnarled, broken hands keeping her bent, twisted body on her broom.

Now, when you see this Halloween witch, remember to remember the pain and suffering it took to change a normal woman into the iconic witch and be sure to call her by her proper name; she is Bridget Moore of Massachusetts.

From the Author

Ed Ireland is a very proud product of the streets of South Philadelphia. He draws on his memories of people, places and events from his life there as well as the rest of the world he has known.

His list of home territories includes Pennsylvania, Nevada, Texas, California, Colorado, New Jersey New York, North Carolina and currently, Florida. He has been a sometimes frequent visitor of Virginia, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Arizona, and Maryland. Every one of these locations has provided him with people and places that inspire his work. Countless memories from them, some good and some bad, fuel his passion for building people, not just characters in his tales.

Confucius once said. “Wherever you go, go with all your heart”. It has become his mantra and an ideology he embraces fully. His age has not diminished his urge for wandering, although he promises his move to Miami, Fl is the last. He claims he will settle down for good in Florida. Maybe the spirit of Hemingway is calling…

Perhaps the people are drawing him. He has always been a people-person for the wealth of opportunity they provide. He says that “a good variety of people in one’s life is like a rich tapestry of inspiration to a writer. People come equipped with personalities, quirks and tales that keep writers in material for a lifetime.”

Ed was born in 1954 in Philadelphia. He is a doting father of two and is fiercely loyal to the Philadelphia Eagles, The Beatles and classic horror films. He enjoys time in the kitchen as of late, saying that cooking is fun for him now that he understands that it too, is an art. He enjoys photography, playing in Photoshop and he freely admits to his vice of being addicted to World of Warcraft. He is also a huge Walking Dead fan. His passion is animal rights and he campaigns to end the persecution of wolves. His religious and political views are private; nevertheless, they make themselves known throughout his work.

So, that is the author, for all it’s worth. He explains that his sarcasm is described as epic, but also that he is a caring and good man. He says that he’s not sure of that. He says this on the subject…
“I think a good man treats others well no matter what. I treat others as I want them to treat me, but if they don’t then I treat them as they treat me. I prefer to think of myself as a just man. Nevertheless, when we reach our end, what we think of ourselves is worthless. In the end all that matters is what our judges, whoever or whatever they may be think of us. In the meantime, I’ll live life the way I enjoy, I’ll write what I enjoy and I’ll be a smartass for as long as I like.”

Where To Find Ed Ireland

Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Website

Black Cats On All Hallows Eve by Suzanna J. Linton

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! No, I’m not talking about Christmas. I’m referring to Halloween! I adore everything about this holiday, from the costumes to the food, from the horror movies to the crunch of brown leaves under the feet of trick-or-treating children.

In late September, while driving to a friend’s home, I passed a house already decked out with grinning pumpkins: fake, real, large wooden cutouts, and hanging signs. It reminded me of the other common theme in Halloween decorations—black cats.

In the States, black cats are often associated with darkness, evil, and witchcraft. In fact, so deeply ingrained is this stereotype that many people believe black cats adopted in October will be used for ritual sacrifice or abuse.

Shelters like the Kentucky Humane Society are inundated annually with well-meaning animal lovers begging the shelter not to adopt out these coal-colored felines for their own good. In reality, there is no statistical evidence to support this urban legend. Also, black cats take longer to be adopted. Humane societies often use the Halloween season to push any such cats they may have.

Black Cats as Disguise

Black cats didn’t receive suspicion until the Middle Ages, when people came to believe they were witch’s familiars. In 14th century France, a group of witches were accused of worshiping Satan in the form of a large, black cat. Two hundred years later, people believed witches changed themselves into black cats.

In one English folktale, a man and his son, while walking home one evening, saw a large black cat. The son feared it was a witch’s familiar and threw a rock at it. The stone struck the cat in the left leg. The cat screeched and ran under the stoop of a house belonging to a woman long thought to be a witch. The next day, the pair met the old woman at market. She limped on her left leg, confirming to the local villagers that she was, in fact, a witch.

This shape-shifting ability carried over to the New World. During the Salem Witch Trials, everyone believed in the superstition and it no doubt played a part in the proceedings. The belief traveled from puritanical New England to the South, where people spread folktales about both witches and demons disguising themselves as black cats. A funny but spooky folktale called “Wait Until Emmet Comes” is one such example.

Superstitions Today

In modern England and Scotland, black cats are good omens. Finding a strange black cat on your front porch indicates coming prosperity. In the midlands of England, a black cat is considered a good wedding gift to a new bride! On the coast of Yorkshire, the wives of fishermen believe that by keeping a black cat, their husbands will come home safely. A black cat walking toward you is a sign of good fortune while a cat walking away means fortune will leave you.

In the United States, it’s still considered unlucky for your path to be crossed by a black cat and there remains an association of black cats and witchcraft.

Your Pet and Halloween

Because I’m an animal lover, I feel like I should slip in a “public service announcement” regarding pets and Halloween. As cited above, there is no data to indicate black cats are more likely to be killed, mutilated, or abused over this holiday. However, that doesn’t mean owners of both cats and dogs shouldn’t be vigilant.

When trick-or-treaters come to the door and you’re busy giving away Snickers bars, it would be easy for a pet to slip out. Always be sure to keep your pet secured so that Mr. Fluffy doesn’t bolt for freedom.

Also, chocolate is toxic to dogs, so make sure Bruno doesn’t get too interested in the goody bowl. In fact, be sure that your pet doesn’t become interested in any of the candy or Halloween decorations. Your vet should be able to give you a list of foods and items that are a danger to your four-legged companion.

Have a happy Halloween! And if you see a black cat, wish for luck.

Introducing Suzanna J. Linton

Suzanna J. Linton is fantasy and urban fantasy writer. She grew up in the swamps of South Carolina, where she learned the love of books at her mother’s knee. From an early age, she enjoyed scribbling in anything and telling stories about her imaginary friends. Now grown up, Suzanna continues to love scribbling and telling stories. She lives in Florence with her husband and their pets. Her first novel, “Clara” was published in 2013. Learn more about her and her books at her website.

Where to find A.L. Mabry:

Website (Suzanna J Linton), Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Blog (Suzanna J Linton), Facebook

Storytime: “Shade’s Shadow” by Assaph Mehr

I should not have been out that night.

I knew better, or at least I should have.

There are three unlucky nights in the year. Three nights where the stone slabs over the mundus cerialis stood open. An ancient tradition, whose reasons were forgotten but its ritual strictly adhered to, dictated that the stone doors to this hemispherical pit located in a declivity near the temple of Ceres be opened on three nights — even though they represented the gates to the underworld.

A night with the doors to Dis wide open.

A night with — according to custom — the shades of the dead free to roam about.

A biting November wind was chilling me to the bones. I was limping home from a rather nasty assignment, involving some of society’s undesirables, an orphan, an enchanted signet ring, and several pig carcasses. I wasn’t planning for it to go that way or for that long, but it did — and now I had to make my way home across the deserted city. The cruelest master would not risk slaves out on this night. Even stray dogs slunk away to their hiding holes, and the sliver of moon hid behind grey clouds.

I made my way home as quickly as I could in my battered condition.

I took shortcuts.

I made a wrong turn.

I faced a blank wall at the end of an alley, and had to turn back. At the opening of the alley, silhouetted against the sky, was a half-translucent grey shape. It advanced upon me, and I retreated the few steps I could. It advanced further, closer, closer.

I started to mutter prayers to all the numina I could think of, promising offerings if I lived to see the morning.

It stopped three paces away from me.

It raised its grey arm.

It reached with its grey hand to its grey mouth, and pulled out the coin that tradition dictated should be used to pay the ferryman to Dis.

“Payment,” it croaked, and reached out its hand with the coin towards me.

I stared at it, dumbstruck. The night was clear of clouds, and the stars twinkled above us. I could make out the shape of the shade. It was that of a woman, young, well dressed, high class — or at least wrapped in a rich woman’s funeral shroud.

I found my voice at last. “To guide you back to the mundus?”

“No,” it croaked again. “Revenge.”

***

By noon, I had almost convinced myself it was a dream. Almost – because the coin was sitting on my table, the profile of a long dead consul showing his disdain at my vacillations.

I went over in my mind about the details. I tried to avoid exactly how it felt when the shade of the woman — Licinia — had imparted this information, and concentrated on the facts.

The time was about fifty years ago, well before I was born. Licinia was just married to a senator’s son, part of her father’s political alliances. According to her, marriage was a short, brutal, hell. It ended when her husband strangled her one night, during what would have been referred to as rape were they not married.

She wanted me to bring him to justice.

A fifty year old case, with nothing but the say so of a dead woman’s shade.

And to complicate things, I knew the man.

Not personally, no. But I knew of him.

Just like everyone else in Egretia, I knew him.

He was a famed rhone, former consul, and current censor. Doesn’t get more famous than that.

After fifty years, there was no way I could find evidence to tie him to her murder.

Neither could I bring him to court for it, because as paterfamilias he was within his rights to treat her as he liked. Even kill her.

Which apparently he did.

But that coin, and that voice, and the memory of those haunting, luminous eyes in the grey face…

***

I had two options. I could try to bring him to formal justice — on Licinia’s behalf or any other charges that might get him exiled or executed — or I could exact a more direct revenge. Public humiliation in the courts would have been ideal, but I doubted my chances of successfully bearing suit against him.

I decided to get his measure first. ‘Start with the slaves; always start with the slaves’ was the advice I got from an old mentor. I found his domus, situated high up on the slopes of Vergu, and lurked about. There was plenty of traffic coming in and going out of the house. The hour was early afternoon. Slaves and freedmen were finishing up their errands and returning, messengers were going back and forth, and even some respectable citizens and minor dignitaries — no doubts clients of the master — were still coming and going.

I was munching on a squid-on-a-stick bought from a nearby stall, considering whom should I approach first, when I saw a muscular man come out of a side gate, pushing ahead a wheelbarrow containing some old sheets. He was accompanied by a slender girl, a slave as well by her short tunic. They never spoke, never looked up, just trudged along, slinking on the side of the street.

I have no idea why, but I felt a chill as they passed me. I was drawn to follow them, and I did. We walked down the mountain, the slaves leading in silence, and me following behind. They reached the Porta Alta, the gate in the city walls on the road that leads up Vergu. A short distance later they took a small track that branched left and led down the hills and towards the Fulvius river. It has fallen into disuse over the years, the majority of human traffic going through the city streets. They quickened their pace, and though the path was broken their steps were lighter. I had the impression they were glad to be away from other humans.

I kept a respectable distance as we walked, though they seemed to care little. When we reached the flat grounds closer to the river, I was not surprised they were not interested in any of the small gardens, minor estates, and occasional trade post that lay outside the sacred perimeter of the city. They kept going, avoiding people, heading to the river. We reached the Pons Mors, an old wooden bridge, with a foreboding name to match its history. They crossed it and started to trek up the hill toward the sacred hill of Libitina, where the records of the dead and the graves of the poor were.

They made their way to the lye pits, where unclaimed corpses are discarded. I took out a writing wax tablet I keep to take notes, quickened my steps, and got to them just as they stopped next to an open pit.

“Excuse me!” I said and put my hand out. The girl recoiled as if I struck her, while the man pushing the cart froze completely.

I softened my tone. “I didn’t mean to scare you. I just need to ask you a few questions.”

“Please, domine — my dominus instructed us to be quick about our task,” she answered without lifting her eyes.

“That’s alright, I just need a name and cause of death for our records,” I waved the wax tablet.

“She was called Victoria,” said the girl.

“Grand name for a slave.”

“Our dominus likes to name us after the gods.”

“And the cause of death?” I asked and flipped over the rags covering the body in the wheelbarrow.

And immediately wished I hadn’t. A short, curvy girl. Long, brown hair framing a face out of which brown eyes stared out unblinking, never to see again. The slave girl didn’t answer my question, but the scars were obvious. The poor girls has been whipped over the years, certainly, but that was not what finally killed her. On her fair skin I saw the same scars as I’ve seen before at military sieges, though these looked deliberate. She was slowly and repeatedly scalded by hot oil, the red burn scars snaking around her young body as someone flung the oil at her time after time. Her legs from the knees down looked like they have been boiled in the oil. I could not imagine the workings of a twisted mind that would do such a thing to a defenceless girl, though I would guess he was getting off by savagely attacking symbols for gods.

“And who shall I write as brought her here?” I asked after I covered the body back with the rags.

“He calls me Concordia. He said I am next,” she said without lifting her eyes, or showing any emotion.

***

It was almost a month later, when I had everything in place. On the start of the last nundinus of December, on the day and night we celebrate the mythic woman Acca Larentia for having nursed the three brothers who founded our city. This winter celebration is on the side of the ending year, and thus most offerings are for the dead.

I made her my own offering in advance, all as prescribed. I asked her a favour, to speak on my behalf with Dea Tacita, the mute one, goddess of the dead, for they share the same festival day. This matter concerned the Dea Tacita, for it was the shades of the dead girls that were denied their eternal rest, but I was not so rash as to apply directly to the mute one.

I had to organise things carefully. I had to coincide any ceremony I would carry out with general festivals, so as to hide behind the noise of public magia and escape notice of the Collegium Incantatorum. Understand, the times where everyone sacrifices for the gods, even when the magia is not properly directed and the public ceremonies are bordering more on superstition than on real incantation, still provide me enough background noise to mask any dark deeds.

On the celebration of the Larentalia the censor was invited to be present at the rites carried out just outside our walls, on the wide ledge where funerals are held. This was one of the progression of special events marking the end of the year. A necessary ceremony, to propitiate the numina, and ensure that a new year will start after the intercalaris, that countless period over the winter between December and the beginning of the new year on the first new moon of the spring solstice.

I was standing to the side of the sparse crowd of citizens, further up the slope and away from the city. The censor, resplendent in his white toga with wide purple stripes, the brass buckles on his crimson shoes flaring with the last rays of sunlight, was standing at the centre of the row of dignitaries as befitting his position, with a look of boredom and disdain that betrayed true feelings.

When the rites were over, I uttered a small incantation and spoke his name softly. The wind sighed, and carried it to his ears alone. He turned his head. Behind me, two girls — one dressed as Diana and the other as Fortuna — disappeared quickly behind a bend in the road. He stared at me for a moment, shook his head, and turned.

I signalled the girls, and spoke the incantation again. As he turned, the girls looked up, laughed, and ducked back behind the rock. I walked towards him, slowly, keeping my eyes locked on his, letting the crowd wend their way down the hill and leave us alone. He stayed, mesmerised, looking at me and the tantalising visions of girls in goddesses costumes peeking behind me, and dismissed his retinue with a wave. The men around us hurried down, before full darkness set in.

By the time I reached him, we were alone.

“I’ve heard you’re in the market for some slave girls. Particularly ones that know how to dress up and act like goddesses,” I said.

He stared at me for a moment, licked his lips, and said, “I’m not sure I know what you mean.”

“I have a young woman to sell. Well read, cultured, pretty. Her father was forced to sell the family into slavery to repay a gambling debt. Can recite Andronicus and Terentius. Likes to dress up as Diana the Huntress. Give her a bow, and she’ll look just like a temple statue.”

My sources and hunches were right, for I could see him waver. “I have her right here for you. You can check her out, sample her… recitation skills. It won’t take a moment.”

He followed me. We went just around the bend. “Just in here,” I pointed at a shallow recess. He just wasn’t expecting me to hit him on the side of the head with a leather pouch full of sand as I turned to show him the way.

I caught him as he collapsed.

I tied him down, with special leather tongs that have been inscribed with sigils marked by teeth.

I laid him neatly in the recess.

In the centre of a circle drawn in blood and bones.

We waited for the moon to rise.

He woke up.

He threatened.

He pleaded.

Threatened again.

Cried.

The waning moon finally sailed past the peak of Vergu to light our little hollow on the western side.

I chanted the necessary prayer. I made the right sacrifices. I gave it direction and focus, beyond mere superstition, yet without the callous hubris of an incantator channeling the magia.

I stood back.

We didn’t have to wait long. Deeper shadows amidst the scree shifted, morphed, advanced. With halting movements, in bursts that seemed always to be at the periphery of my vision, shadowy figures drew closer.

Until finally they resolved themselves into human shapes, rising from the rocks to stand around us. Against their grey skin I could make out the luminous yellow eyes, the webbed hands, the sharpened teeth.

They looked at me unblinkingly. I spoke the last words of the prayer, promising the Dea Tacita that which was hers, and backed away.

Their eyes shifted from me to the gibbering censor in the centre of the circle.

And descended upon him.

Beyond the circle of writhing bodies, I saw the grey shape of Licinia, looking emotionless at her killer being killed.

I took out the coin from the fold of my toga, looked again at the face of a long dead consul. I balanced it on thumb and forefinger, and flicked it above the circle and over the grey lemures at Licinia.

She caught it deftly, placed it in her mouth, and began to fade away.

I could almost hear a faint ‘thank you’ over the sounds of ripping flesh and crunching bones.

I turned away, and made my way down the mountain, back into our city and its lights, towards the nearest cup of wine, hoping that Licinia would now find peace across the river Styx.

From the Author

Assaph has been a bibliophile since he learnt to read at the age of five, and a Romanophile ever since he first got his hands on Asterix, way back in elementary school. This exacerbated when his parents took him on a trip to Rome and Italy – he whinged horribly when they dragged him to “yet another church with baby angels on the ceiling”, yet was happy to skip all day around ancient ruins and museums for Etruscan art.

He has since been feeding his addiction for books with stories of mystery and fantasy of all kinds. A few years ago he randomly picked a copy of a Lindsay Davis’ Marcus Didius Falco novel in a used book fair, and fell in love with Rome all over again, this time from the view-point of a cynical adult. His main influences in writing are Steven Saylor, Lindsey Davis, Barry Hughart and Boris Akunin.

Assaph now lives in Sydney, Australia with his wife Julia, four kids and two cats. By day he is a software product manager, bridging the gap between developers and users, and by night he’s writing – he seems to do his best writing after midnight.

Where To Find Assaph Mehr

Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Blog, Website

31 Days Of Halloween – Here’s What’s Coming Up

October is a month where I have a lot to celebrate. October 1st marks the anniversary of “Under A Hunter’s Moon” first appearing in print, and takes place on Halloween Eve itself.

This year the story turns three years old, so I decided to create a huge Halloween event, celebrating the work of my fellow indie authors. Everyone involved has submitted a Book Spotlight, Author Spotlight, Story, or Guest Post.

So What’s Happening? [updated @ 12:15 am (AKST) 10.30.17]

Here is a full listing of posts and events that are happening throughout the month.
The links in the Author column will take you to the individual author’s websites.
The links in the Topic column will take you to the posts, once they are live. Please note that posts will not be live until around 8am EST on the date of release. (This post will be updated as more authors join the event).

Date Author Topic
10/01/17 Anita Stewart Book Spotlight – “Horror Haiku Pas De Deux
10/02/17 Assaph Mehr Storytime – “Shade’s Shadow”
10/03/17 Anaïs Chartschenko Book Spotlight – “Bright Needles”
10/04/17 Stephanie Ayers Author Spotlight
10/05/17 Suzanna J. Linton Guest Post – “Black Cats On All Hallows Eve”
10/06/17 Angela B. Chrysler Event Spotlight – 4th Annual Brain To Books CyCon
10/07/17 Angela B. Chrysler Book Spotlight – “Broken”
10/08/17 Marnie Cate Book Spotlight – “Envy”
10/09/17 Angela B. Chrysler Book Spotlight – “Zombies From Outer Space… and Vampires”
10/10/17 Joe Compton Book Spotlight – “Amongst The Killing”
10/11/17 Kayla Matt Book Spotlight – “Hell Bent Arc 1”
10/12/17 Timothy Bateson “Asteroids In Film & Fiction”
10/13/17 Mackenzie Flohr Book Spotlight – “The Whispered Tales of Graves Grove”
10/14/17 Renee Scattersgood Author Spotlight
10/15/17 Timothy Bateson Top 10 Scary Superheroes & Super Villains
10/16/17 Heidi Angell Book Spotlight – “Elements of a Broken Mind”
10/17/17 K.N. Johnson Book Spotlight – “A Haunting Of Words”
10/18/17 Ariel Marie Book Spotlight – “Mating Two Dragons”
10/19/17 Timothy Bateson Top 10 Haunted Locations
10/20/17 Toi Thomas Author Spotlight
10/21/17 Catterfly Publishing Book Spotlight – “Mirrors & Thorns”
10/22/17 Ed Ireland Storytime – “The Iconic Face”
10/23/17 Ani Manjikian Book Spotlight – “Do You Believe In Legend?”
10/24/17 A.L. Mabry Author Spotlight
10/25/17 A.L. Mabry Character Interview – “Miranda Spencer”
10/26/17 Tiffany Apan Book Spotlight – “Descent”
10/27/17 Timothy Bateson Book Spotlight – “Under A Hunter’s Moon”
10/28/17 A.F. Stewart Book Spotlight – “Killers and Demons I & II”
10/29/17 Patricia Josephine Author Spotlight
10/30/17 Myk Pilgrim Halloween Movie Marathon
10/31/17 Timothy Bateson “31 Days Of Halloween – Happy Halloween”
10/27/17 thru 10/31/17 Timothy Bateson “Under A Hunter’s Moon (Shadows Over Seattle: Prequels #1)” will be FREE over on Amazon