Book One; Bad Moon on the Rise; Part 7

The doors opened soundlessly onto a dark empty space. The lowlight of the hallway didn’t persist in this gloom. The windows all appeared to have their shades drawn. Bentley bounded off into the dark as soon as the doors were opened. It took Brian a moment to find any kind of light switch. It took a few minutes more than it should have as he obstinately refused to step into the room without the lights on, and had to stand just outside it, fumbling around the door frame, hoping he could find something. He did eventually get light into the room and moved into it shutting the doors behind him as he did, not particularly wanting any…thing to be able to get in after him.

It was, as he’d anticipated, a large empty room. Half the room was made up of a large, shiny wooden dance floor, relatively unscathed. The other half had once been covered in a beige carpeting which had since been all pulled up and piled against the far wall. It wasn’t very hard to tell why. Even from this distance, Brian could see the brownish-red stains that had soaked through the beige quite distinctly. He walked into the room on the floorboards where the carpet used to be, but even here, the tan lumber was discolored by splashed of rust red stains. The walls were all a blinding white, the color of primer. It was all painted in a hasty way as trying hard to hide something before anyone noticed. Brian had a crude suspicion, even more stains were waiting underneath the white brightness.

Bentley was already bouncing around the room sniffing hurriedly at the pile of ripped up carpets on the far side of the room. He was emitting soft whimpers as if trying to find the source to a smell that was eluding him. Brian was making his way over to Bentley’s side, when something crunched unpleasantly underneath his boot. Lifting his shoe he looked down to see a small human molar under his foot. With a large pronounced gulp, Brian backed up and around the tooth, making a wide circle to avoid it. He couldn’t take his eyes off of the tooth, it seemed to be the whole world. He was so fixed on the tooth, he didn’t notice the pile of carpeting behind him until he bumped into it. Screaming slightly he jumped and turned around. Seeing he was safe, Brian forced himself to relax. Bentley helped somewhat by pushing his shaggy head underneath Brian’s fingers. He squatted down before the dog ruffling his fur.

“So what was the point of coming here?” He said smiling into those bright golden eyes. “Did you get this out of your system.”

Bentley said nothing, he simply gazed in placid interest into Brian’s eyes. It’s was nice to see that one of us still has his nerve. Brian though the simple motion of petting the dog helping ease his agitation somewhat. It was rather hilarious for someone who scoffed at the mere existence of ghosts and monsters little over a day ago, to be squatting here to scared to really investigate. Brian had to laugh at himself. It was just, when he thought about exactly what had been found here…it was enough to unnerve anyone. Finally he was able to stand and continue looking around the room.

He didn’t find much. Not that he’d really expected to, what with the half dozen investigation teams who had gone over this place with a fine toothed comb before him. He had hoped, however, that maybe an outside perspective more open to less…traditional culprits would be able to see something the others had overlooked. He was wrong however.

Jesus H. Christ, He thought bitterly. I steal cars for a living! Why am I up at four in the morning playing mother fucking Ghost buster!

His eyes were itching the tiredness one usually experiences in the wee hours of the morning, his head was beginning to throb with all the facts he’d crammed into it in the last few hours, and both fear and exertion had left him a sweaty mess. He ran his fingers through his shaggy hair, a gesture of stress piling high. He closed his eyes and tried so hard to calm himself down.

A long low guttural scream rang out in the distance. Brian and Bentley’s heads snapped toward the sound. They both flew to the door looking up and down the hallway. After a moment of searching, Bentley shot off again, this time back the way they had come. The dog was growling now, bearing his teeth and looking quite frightening. Brain, Barely keeping up with him enough to see this change in demeanor, was wondering what had happened to make him suddenly so upset. They kept running along growing closer to their suite as they did so. When they were only a hallway or two away. Brian heard the scream again, much much closer than before and suddenly his blood turned to ice. Sharice! She had been alone and asleep when they had left and they had left her completely without help. Brian’s legs pumped with sudden terror. Bentley wasn’t even wasting breath to growl, just powering forward with a single minded fury. They turned a corner and sprinted to the door of the suite. Brian slammed into the wood with the force of a stampeding bull. He had meant to wrench the door inward but had forgotten about the key card. The breath went out of him in a huff and the arm that had struck the door went briefly numb. Forcing his now bruised arm to obey him, he shoved his hand into his pocket, fished out the key card and slapped it against the little terminal on the side of the door. With a small beep, the door swung inward almost depositing Brian on the floor.

“SHARICE!” He screamed with unnecessary force staggering to the dark outer room and taking a step towards her door. “SHARICE!”

With a deafening slamming sound, her bedroom door was kicked open. Sharice emerged carrying a long dark object Brian couldn’t quite make out. Judging by how she hoisted the object to one shoulder and began to look around the room with it, Brian guessed it was a gun of some sort. The way she handled the gun was a mite threatening even though she was wearing not much more than a white undershirt and a pair of baggy blue sweatpants.

“What’s up?!” She called. “Where is it?! What is it?!”

“I don’t know,” Brian managed to gasp. Seeing she was safe, he collapsed to the floor and knelt there coughing for a moment, completely convinced that he would throw up this time. Sharice lowered the gun slowly and walked over to him. Bentley bounded up to her, panting and nuzzling her knee.

“What happened?” She asked kneeling and helping Brian back to his feet.

“I’m not sure what it was but something was making this awful sound.” Brian was slowly getting back to his feet, still coughing slightly. Sharice helped him by slipping a hand under his arm and lifting him back up. “I sounded like it was headed this way.”

When he was back to his feet, Brian watched Sharice cross to the doorway. She looked both ways out of the door and looked back at him questioningly. Bentley was at her heels sniffing again and getting more agitated by the moment. Sharice walked out into the hall, gun hoisted back to her shoulders. When he had stopped wheezing quite so much, Brian went after her.  While Sharice was scouting the left side of the hall, Brian combed the right. There was nothing to be seen. He could only see long empty dark hallway.

“Nothing here.” Sharice whispered. She took the gun down and let it hang limply by her side. She was looking a bit agitated, as though she didn’t really believe him.

“Something was definitely here.” Brian protested hands flung wide in annoyance. “Do you think I flew back here on a wing and a prayer because I was scared of the dark.”

“Maybe you just heard some noise from the highway?”

“Come the hell on!” Brian said, getting deeply angry now. Instead of the heat he usually felt when angry the hall was seemingly growing steadily cooler. He supposed his body temperature was just normalizing after his headlong flight. “You’re supposed to be the witch here! I’m telling you there’s something here.”

“Of course there’s something here!” Sharice said getting a little more annoyed. “But we can’t go around jumping at shadows till we find it. What the hell do you think we are?! We need to be professional, we’re not some piss ant ghost hunters jumping’ at every breath of wind.”

Sleep deprivation had eaten away at Sharice’s normally mocking but amiable nature but it was nothing to what fear and exhaustion were doing to Brian’s temper. He slammed down his foot as hard as he could. He had had enough, dragged over half the country to go look for monster that tore people apart with a little brat who slept through the parts she was supposed to be working on. All for the sake of convincing a witch to let him live till the end of this year. Some part of him had been frayed when they started the journey and now it snapped under the increased strain. A torrent of indignation came pouring out of him and he didn’t seem to be able to stop himself.

“Jumping at shadows?!” Brian yelled so fiercely that he didn’t even notice his breath steaming before him. “There was something walking the halls with us it was making it’s way here! Bentley felt it too! And I am pulling my ass back her at break neck fucking speed, to make sure your ungrateful ass doesn’t end up in bloody chunks somewhere.”

Sharice had noticed the steaming breath however. She watched it rise from Brian’s screaming mouth in billowing clouds. She had also begun to shiver in the sudden cold. A strange fierce look came over her face, cutting off Brian’s tirade more effectively than a punch to the gut. Bentley was growling again, a deeper and more threatening growl than Brian had heard him make thus far. The shaggy hair on the back of his neck was standing on end and his hackles were raised to show fangs that had been bred to rip out a wolf’s throat. Sharice slowly turned and looked behind her, scanning the darkness with her dark fierce hunter’s eyes. She couldn’t help but hug herself now, the air had grown so cold. Brian himself, who was still wearing his motorcycle jacket, was beginning to shiver a little.

Then a sound began to surround them, as if it were a pack of jackals. It was a dry rasping sound, almost like a human cough. It was as if the sound was from a human throat that hadn’t seen water in a hundred years. Rasping wracking coughs echoing out of the darkness seemingly all around them. Sharice had hoisted her gun to her shoulders and was taking aim. In the dim red light cast by the emergency exit sign, Brian could see a double barreled shotgun pointing into the darkness. They waited for a few moments, the coughing growing louder and more frequent. It seemed to grow into a low raspy growl that emanated from everywhere and nowhere. Brian was shaking, sweat beading on his forehead again. He wished he had thought to ask Rhonda for something to defend himself with, a gun perhaps. As it was he reached for the only weapon (and he was using the term liberally) he had on him. He pulled a large pocket knife out of his back pocket and opened it with flick of his wrist. The handle was plastic painted with wood grain and it’s pommel was a stainless steel wolf head, tarnished with age. The blade however was clean and sharp, Brian had been very sure to keep it so in his travels. He’d had to depend on it to keep him alive before.

He gazed with Sharice and Bentley into the darkness, scanning for the slightest movement or noise.

“I didn’t think they’d show themselves so soon.” Sharice was hissing. “Thought they’d want to stalk us first. I guess their hungry.”

Brian shook from head to toe, not really able to say a word. He felt small and terrified and had to fight every second to keep from sprinting away.

As abruptly as it began, the rasping noises stopped short. The cold stayed but with the sourceless angry rasping went the fear that something was looming directly above them. Bentley never stopped growling however, his shaggy fur still on end. Sharice, however, took the gun from her shoulder and let it hang by her sides.

“Well that was anticlimactic.” Brian said dryly, almost giddy with relief. Sharice turned back his way with something like the beginning of a smile on his face. That is, until she caught sight of something over his shoulder. Bentley too, had spun and was growling in Brian’s general direction. Sharice’s eyes were as wide as dinner plates and full of shock bordering on fear. With the most profound sense of dread he had ever felt, Brian turned around.

Book One; Bad Moon on the Rise; Part 4

Brian woke from a brief nap an hour or two later, feeling warm and sleepy still. Something about sitting in the passenger seat on long trips usually knocked him out cold. Up until he had fallen asleep he had been smiling in wonder at the many capabilities his new phone offered. He had even sucked up his pride enough to call his mother and let her know it was alright.

“I even found a job.” He said to her after they had exchanged less than warm greetings.

“A real job?” She responded, her voice dripping with suspicion. Brian was slightly annoyed by her question but he supposed he had been in enough scrapes in his lifetime that he couldn’t expect much less.

“Yes a real job.” He said exasperated.

“What kind of job?” She asked, still with that edge of disbelief. Brian looked over at Sharice, who smiled at him. Like him, she was wondering exactly how to describe this job.

“Security work.” He decided on finally. “I follow some brat around and keep her from getting killed.”

He laughed when he felt Sharice’s admonitory punch on his arm. He stopped laughing, however, when numbness spread from the point of impact. Pulling the phone away from his mouth he hissed:

“A dead arm…really?!”

She gave him nothing but a side long glance and smile in response.

“You’re alright though?” His mother’s voice came back over the speaker. She sounded more anxious now, like she had legitimately been worried.

“I’m better than I’ve been in a long while.” Brian had replied sincerely and she had seemed very pleased. She didn’t say anything about the curse, maybe she didn’t want another fight. No matter the reason, they managed to have civil conversation for the first time in years, it had been worth the trip just for that really.

He had fallen asleep not long after that and had awoken to a bass thunder clap that was Bentley’s bark.

“Bentley, cut that out.” Sharice called back to him. “Those squirrels are outside. You ain’t getting at them.”

They were flying down a highway blanketed on all sides by trees and wilderness. The radio was emitting a low volume version of “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and Sharice was even singing a few bars before she notice Brian wake. She had a good voice deep and smokey for a woman, it made him want to hear her sing some blues. But she stopped once she saw his eyes open.

“Finally with us again, huh?” She said.

“How long was I out?” Brian yawned, stretching as best he could in the confined space.

“An hour or so. You didn’t miss much.” She sighed grabbing a piece of beef jerky from the bag in the glove compartment and ripping off a large piece of the tough meat. The rest of her sentence came through as a garble of chewing and speaking simultaneously. “Not unless you’re really into construction.”

“Can’t say that I am.” Brian rubbed his eyes for a minute, sighing as his body returned all functions to awakened state. He could feel his body cramping, begging him to get out and move for a little while, but he didn’t want to be the first one to call for a pit stop, especially so early in the trip.

“So I’m guessing you’ve got a screwed up home life too?” Sharice pondered, looking at him briefly out of the corner of her eye.

“I guess that’s a good way to put it.” Brain sighed, not really wanting to discuss his past.

“Your dad died too, didn’t he?” It seemed that no matter how much Brian wanted to avoid the subject, Sharice would not be deterred.

“Yes.” He said reluctantly. “I never knew him though. I was only a couple years old when it happened. I wouldn’t even remember his face if my grandma didn’t have pictures.”

“You’re mom didn’t keep any?” Sharice almost gasped shocked.

“Mom got remarried about a year or so after Dad died. The asshole she married wasn’t very happy about her keeping her first husbands pictures so he made her throw them all away.” The memory of it still rankled. When he strained his memory he could come up with the vague memory of a male face in a picture frame hanging in their living room. It had been gone within a year and the last vestige of Brian’s father had been gone.

“At least your Grandmother got to tell you about him.” Sharice said awkwardly. It was as if she couldn’t imagine anyone just throwing away the picture of a deceased loved one and given her own hardships in the last year, it wasn’t hard to see why. Her eyes were distant and sad as they watched the road.

“I had to find her first.” Brian chuckled bitterly.

“Find her?”

“New step-daddy wasn’t to keen on raising another man’s child. He had some big stupid macho complex about it. So if he was going to be a father to me, not that he ever really was, we were all to pretend like I was his kid.”

“He said that?”

“Not out loud, oh never out loud.” Brian scowled bitterly at the dashboard. “No, admitting you have a problem is a sign of weakness…hell to him breathing was a sign of fucking weakness.”

The sound of a leather belt snapping as it hit flesh seemed to echo through the intervening years, along with the screams of a frightened child. He could here the pain and anger in his own voice, and feel both emotions boiling in his heart. He decided to press on.

“Anyway, he didn’t want me or my mother to have anything to do with my father’s family.” He continued in a much more calm voice. “He kept turning them away and telling my mother not to take their calls and eventually they just stopped trying.”

Sharice was silent, she looked ashamed for some odd reason. Bentley let out a cautious whine from the backseat and Brian put a hand on his head to comfort him.

“But I was fifteen and getting more rebellious by the day, and I wanted to know where I came from. I had already learned some tricks from my stepbrother and it was far to easy to slip into my mom’s filing cabinet take a good long look at what information she still for dad so she could still get his insurance and it lead me to my grandma.” He paused to retrieve a piece of jerky from the plastic bag, at which point Sharice’s hand shot out and smacked the back of his. The gesture was so very similar to her mother that Brian couldn’t help but smile. Sharice pointed to the second bag of jerky unopened behind the first and her rummaged to fish it out. “Grandma was the one who told me about Dad, and the curse.”

He fiddled with the claddagh ring on his finger for a moment, remembering his grandmother’s face when she was talking about the curse.

“Did you believe her?” Sharice asked.

“Not at first,” He replied, eyes fixed on the tarnished silver heart. “But she seemed to believe in it so much and…it seemed like too much of a coincidence them more I found out about it all.”

They lapsed into silence for a few minutes while Brian fidgeted absentmindedly with the ring on his finger.

“Did she give you that?” Sharice asked nodding at it.

“How could you tell?” Brian said in surprise.

“It’s older than you, I’d say.” She said smiling at the road before her. “Looks like something that would get passed down.”

She held up her hand wiggling the finger bearing the U.S. Navy ring. Brian understood suddenly.

“Yeah, she passed it on. She said it had been getting passed down from father to son for the longest time.” He had loved this ring from the instant he’d received it. The band ending in a pair of upraised hands lifting a crowned heart. It felt like…seeing his father again when he slipped it about his finger. He had always felt better with it securely around his finger.

“I’m sorry about your dad.” Brian said suddenly. An old ache was inside him again, the old longing for home and happiness. He couldn’t really tell why but the recentness of Sharice’s tragedy might have been pushing it out onto the surface. Or maybe, he just was used to being miserable and didn’t know how to cope with the fairly decent situation in which he found himself.

“I am too.” Sharice almost whispered after a long sad sigh. But to her credit, she smiled sadly at the road and said no more. No tears, no crying, just the passive sadness that comes with a loss never quite forgotten.

And so, they sat. The silence never felt awkward, never hostile, it was companionable. It was as if both of them had learned to find peace in the silence by themselves, and now it could be just as friendly as a conversation. Brian wasn’t sure just what it said about his mental state that he had so much rapport with a seventeen year old girl. Maybe living the life he’d lived had kept him a little emotionally stagnated. Maybe the life she’d lived had caused Sharice to grow up a little faster than most her age. Whatever the reason, they both sat in relaxed silence, listening to the oldies station, feeling no need what so ever to break the silence. Except when they would sing a few bars of a good song, before lapsing again into thoughtful silence.

A few hours later, both Brian’s and Bentley’s bladders were crying for relief and Sharice had no choice but to pull of at a rest stop to accommodate them, though she had no qualms about insulting their manhood’s as she did so. She got out and stretched, watching Bentley sniffing at trees, as Brian sprinted to one of the public bathrooms. He had to stop his headlong rush however and dodge off to one side, avoiding a particularly burly pack of what looked like bikers but Brian could tell better. When you spent a decent portion of your adult life sleeping in rest stops and visiting roadside bars, earning a living through picking people’s pockets, you learned to spot real bikers and the guys who bought themselves a Harley and took it for a Sunday drive. These three were the latter. They had no tattoos or rings, no insignia’s on their jean jackets (except for the fairly recognizable one of a TV biker gang), he could see the didn’t have much in the way of beards either. Not all bikers had one, as a rule, but most did. As they nudged past Brian, one of the men knocked into him as hard as they could. He caught the whiff of alcohol coming from the pack, strong as if they’d had opened a beer under his nose. He didn’t much care as it made his revenge all the easier.

“Watch it, fucker!” The slightly slurred words came.

“Sorry,” Brian called, apologetically over his shoulder. He could hear the three drunks making disparaging remarks about him as they walked away. No doubt they trusted the menacing visages they seemed to think they had to protect them from any rebukes he might levy. It was a shame as it made it that much easier for Brian to conceal the black leather wallet he’d snatched from the man when they made contact. There wasn’t much in the way of cash, maybe only fifty or sixty dollars in it’s folds, but it was the principle of the thing really. So he pocketed the paper money, before throwing the wallet (complete with ID and credit cards) off into a nearby bush.

When he had finished his business and washed his hands, Brian emerged back into the sunlight to the sounds of drunken yelling. Feeling somewhat apprehensive, Brian rounded the corner of the building that housed the bathrooms to find the three drunks he’d passed earlier. They had formed a threatening looking circle around a girl. It was Sharice. She was several yards away and he couldn’t hear more than the tone of their voices. He heard one of the drunks make, what sounded from this distance, like a clumsy come on. He grabbed his crotch with one hand while a chorus of laughter went up from the two men on either side of Sharice. He could hear her answer cooly, and the instant angry uproar that followed. Brian began running forward. He combed the parking lot for Bentley and to his chagrin saw the wolfhound locked in the car, barking his head off silently through the glass of the back window, his fangs bared. Another cool toned response from Sharice prompted Brian to run just as fast as he could. What was she doing? Pissing off three drunks, each of whom weighed about two of her, was a very bad idea. He knew she was tough but tough and stupid were two separate things. Finally he saw one of the men fix a vice-tight grip on her upper arm, a gesture surely meaning her no good will. Brian was still too far away, he was about to open his mouth to distract the drunks, but then Sharice moved.

She seized the hand that held hear, using a pressure point in the webbing between the man’s thumb and the rest of his hand. The man screamed in pain as his hand released against his will and was wrenched in a direction it was never intended to go. Sharice let his arm and punched him full in the face, putting all her weight behind the blow. The man took the blow just below the right eye, several gashes opening in his face from the rings Sharice had not taken off, finally he toppled backwards onto the ground ans lay still.

Brian watched in awe as he ran. Sharice was facing him looking down at the man before her. A scuffling of boots on gravel told her the man to her left had recovered from the shock quickest. She dropped to her hands, spinning as she did so. She swept the man’s legs out from under him with one sweep of her long leg. He hit the gravel hard and didn’t move. The last of the drunks was moving to her unprotected rear, but she spun, rising from the ground in an elegant corkscrew and upper cut the man with, what looked like, the force of mack truck. He too, fell backwards onto the ground, moaning and prone.

“What took you?” She said smiling wickedly at Brian. He had no words, he simply stared, skidding to a halt, his boots digging into the gravel. She turned her back on his panting and went back to the car, stepping on her would be assailant as she went. Brain, panting and wheezing, had no choice but to follow her.

Book One; Bad Moon Rising; Part 3

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       Brian awoke the next morning, feeling better than he had in weeks. The bed Rhonda had offered him in the guest room had been fluffy and soft. It had utterly outdone the various places of respite he had been using. To his joy, he noticed that the raw abrasions on his knee had healed completely over night. He ran his fingers over the new fresh flesh with a feeling of astonishment. He saw that someone had done him the courtesy of taking the dufflebag, containing his clothes and toiletries from the back of his motorcycle and left it just inside the closed door. He grabbed a shirt with an image of Optimus Prime on it, as well as some fresh jeans and underwear and sneaked into the bathroom to take a long very hot shower. He emerged from the bathroom twenty minutes later cloaked in a cloud of steam, feeling cleaner than he had in a week. Sharice leaned against the railing that ran the length of the hallway, overlooking the dining room. He jumped slightly at the sight of her, not expecting anyone to be up this early.


     She was clad in a green army jacket, worn threadbare through the years. Another pair of tight jeans encased her lower half as well as a thick black leather belt to replace the ornamental gold one. Her hair was the same as was her head band. But her shirt was a brown t-shirt emblazoned with the image of a desert landscape with a lone cactus. Underneath this white bubble lettering read “Lou's Barbeque”.  She laughed when he started.


     “Took you long enough.” She said when he had recovered.


     “I didn't know anyone was waiting for me.” He gazed down at the watch on his wrist. “It's only seven in the morning. I thought you'd still be asleep.”


     “Nope, I rise with the sun.” Sharice stated cockily getting off the railing and smiling at him. “I've been up since five thirty getting everything ready. Once you're done getting dressed grab some breakfast and meet me outside.”


     “We've got a job already?” Brian croaked, rather taken aback.


     “Of course!” Sharice trilled excitedly. “Been staking out this job for a week now, I can't wait to start.”


     Brian felt himself wither under her excited stare. He didn't understand how anyone, much less a teenage girl, could get excited about going off and hunting monsters. But Sharice was definitely a different kind of girl than the one's he'd known in his teenage years. All confidence and cockiness bordering on arrogance, with none of the crippling self-doubt girls her age had in television and movies. He had a feeling that he would have to be the cautious one in the days to come, and the knowledge only increased his sense of foreboding dread.


     He finished getting dressed as quickly as he could and descended the stairs. He could smell something glorious coming from the kitchen and let his nose carry him into the room. Rhonda was working diligently at the stove, making batch after batch of large perfectly fluffy chocolate chip pancakes. His mouth watered at the sight of them and he felt himself creep furtively to the ever-growing stack, making sure Rhonda's back was turned. He reached for the top most one, his hand trembling with anticipation. Quick as a flash, a hand shot out and smacked his hand with a sharp slap. He withdrew his hand and met the steely, amused gaze Rhonda was giving him.


     “Get yourself a plate!” She chastised going back to her work. “I know you know better than that.”


     He followed Rhonda's pointed guidance and grabbed a plate from the corner cabinet. In moment's his plate was loaded with a huge stack of perfect pancakes. A quick slathering of syrup and butter later and Brian was in heaven. The fresh mouthfuls of pancake making him groan and sigh with pleasure.


     “Lord, Boy!” Rhonda cried, sounding amused, placing the last pancakes on the stack. “You'd think you hadn't seen food before.”


     “Sorry,” He apologized after swallowing a particularly large mouthful. “I don't usually get to eat like this. Normally I have to pinch a wallet for a few McDonald’s meals before they cancel the credit cards.”


     “Now, none of that while you're with Sharice. That girl don't need anymore bad influences.” Rhonda remonstrated gently, sitting down next to him at the large wooden table. “Lord knows her father was bad enough.”


     “Where is her father?” Brian asked. “Divorce?”


     “I wish,” Rhonda sighed. A pronounced sadness crept into her words but her eyes stayed quite dry. “No, my David died last year. He had a bad heart attack and died before I could get to him. They said he didn't even make it to the hospital.”


     “I'm so sorry.” Brian whispered. He felt profoundly awkward.


     “It's alright, Cherie.” Rhonda said with a small sad smile. “'C'est la vie' as they say down here. But Sharice took it very hard. The testing time's been one of the few things I've seen make her happy in a long while.”


     They ate in silence for a while, Brian not really knowing what to say and Rhonda lost in her own thoughts. They only really came to their sensed when the front door slammed shut and the sound of boots and claws on wood announced Bentley’s and Sharice's arrival. Sharice threw herself into a chair and smiled at the stack of pancakes now in the center of the table, while the big dog curled up on a dog bed in the corner of the kitchen. She began to eat with almost as much gusto as Brian had, shoveling forkfuls into her mouth with occasional “mmmmmmm”'s and “mmmmmhmmm”'s. Rhonda smiled shaking her head indulgently at her daughter.


     “Is the car ready?” She asked Sharice.


     “Ready, willing, and able.” The girl managed through a large mouthful. “I just ran over all the systems with a fine tooth comb, we ain't breaking down anytime soon.”


     “You know cars?” Brian asked, impressed.


     “Better than I know my own face.” She explained excitedly, waving her fork around to point at him dramatically. “I could build one myself if you give me the parts.”


     “What about supplies?” Rhonda cut in.


     “We're good. Clothes are packed, we've got enough money for food for the next few weeks and some spare just in case we run into trouble. And the items of more...sensitive nature are in their hiding spot.”


     “Good. You know where you're going?”


     “Yes, Mama” Sharice said somewhat exasperated. “I've checked the directions like a million times.”


     “I just want to make sure. Michigan ain't no Sunday drive.”


     “We're going all the way to Michigan?!” Brian coughed, having breathed in a piece of pancake in shock.


     “One of my older friends owns a casino up there that needs looking into.” Rhonda said casually. “It's not too bad a trip, only about fourteen hours or so.”


     Brian supposed she had a point, he had made worse road trips in his life time. Hell, half of those had been conducted while flat broke and starving. He could stand a lazy drive with food, supplies, and the prospect of not having to sleep in a thorn bush. The issue was not really the drive itself but what came after it.


     “So when we get to this casino, what are we going to be doing?” He said. Then, seemingly unable to contain his sarcasm, he added: “Are we exorcising the spirits of dead gamblers desperate for one more crack at the black jack table?”


     Rhonda and Sharice shot him identical looks of disdain, before going back to their food.


     “Truth be told, I'm not sure what you'll find.” Rhonda said, a vindictive glint in her eyes. “They've just been finding rooms full of blood and bits.”


     Brian felt his fork fall from his hand to clatter against the nearly empty plate. He didn’t really remember dropping it, but that wasn’t the paramount problem in his mind. Sharice had gone back to her breakfast, no fear or horror in her face. Rhonda however was giving him a satisfied smile. He could feel the blood drain away from his face.


     “Wait!” Brian cried, desperate to bring the situation back onto a logical plane. “This thing has been leaving behind nothing but bits of people, and we’re somehow supposed to take care of this.”


     “I think the two of you will be more than enough.” She said with a nod, getting up and taking her empty plate to the sink. The mood of the room was oddly mismatched to Brian’s feelings. The two women were sedately eating and cleaning as if they were embarking on nothing more difficult than a long road trip. Brian sunk back in his chair pushing his plate away. He had lost his appetite in one brutal reality check.


     He and Rhonda ended up doing the dishes while Sharice packed his duffle bag. Finally with nothing left to keep them, Brian, Sharice, and Bentley left the comfortable confines of the house for the muggy morning outside. A bulky tan Honda CR-V sat in the driveway, trunk popped open and gear visible. The gear had been stacked in a little square around a large dog bed.


     “Bentley’s coming with us?” Brian asked, not willing to admit it but a little relieved all the same.


     “Oh yeah, I’d never think of leaving him behind!” Sharice cried, squatting down and scratching behind the dogs ears.


     “I this okay though?” Brian asked.


     “Very,” Rhonda answered, walking out the front door and walking down the steps to meet them. “Animals are a huge asset on testing times. They usually can feel things humans have forgotten how to feel.”


     She was carrying a black case which she handed to Brian with a smile before turning to hug and kiss Sharice. Confused, Brian opened the case. It contained a thick black leather wallet, a Louisiana state I.D. made out to him, a credit card in his name, and a new cell phone.


     “Woah” Brian gasped as he opened the wallet to see two hundred dollars in cash. “This is…”


     “Expensive, But it’s worth it.” Rhonda said. “I need to have you look legitimate at least. If I had you wandering off with no license no cash and no phone, well you’d be conspicuous.”


     “How’d you get a legit state I.D. with my picture?”


     “I know someone at the DMV and I found your mug shot easy enough on the web.” She said watching him tuck all the money and essentials away in his pockets. “Now that’s all for essentials. Paying for gas and food and anything else you might need in your travels. The phone is to keep you in touch with me and Sharice. Don’t go calling Tanzania or somewhere similar.”


     Not having anyone in Tanzania, or indeed anyone anywhere else in the world to contact Brian simply nodded and tucked a phone away in his jeans pocket. He could barely stutter out his thanks but he think Rhonda understood. Her look was less severe anyway. He went to the passenger seat and threw his motorcycle jacket over it. Turning he saw Rhonda squeezing Sharice to her once more, tears were spilling from her eyes onto her daughters shoulder. Sharice wasn’t crying but her eyes did look overly bright. Brian felt ashamed of his trepidation in that moment. The hesitancy he’d faced this whole situation with now suddenly seemed like base cowardice and selfishness. He wasn’t the only one with their life on the line here. He suddenly wished desperately that he had not left things on such a hostile note with his mother. He almost wished she could be here to give him and equally tearful goodbye.


     He felt a cold wet nose brush his hand, and he smiled as he looked down into Bentley’s gentle soulful eyes. Brian squatted down to pet him and the wolf hound licked his face with his big tongue. After fending off the beasts wet and amorous affections, Brian had to admit, he felt a lot better. The fear was something that would return in time. But at the moment he was ready to do this, not only for himself. He would do this for his family, for any children he might someday have. He would do it because Sharice needed someone to watch her back, and being a thief, no one could spot trouble quite like he could.


     Sharice finally broke away from her mother, who followed her over to the car dabbing at her eyes with a tissue. Sharice jumped into the driver’s seat and Brian took that as his cue to hop aboard.


     “Now!” Sharice said Speaking through the open passenger window. “Y’all keep yourselves safe, watch each other’s backs, and above all don’t go taking no risks you don’t have to.”


     “I promise, Mama” Sharice assured her.


     “Just get back in one piece.”


     “I love you, Mama.”


     “I love you too, darling.”

      And with that, Sharice revved the car into life and began to back out of the drive way. Rhonda climbed the steps and waved at them as they drove away. They rounded a corner and left the cul de sac behind. Brian made himself relax into the seat. They had a long drive ahead of them, and at the end of it something dangerous, spooky, and possibly lethal waited for them. Still, he thought as he took out his new phone and gleefully began to check the internet, he’d had much worse road trips before.

Book One; Bad Moon Rising; Part 2

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      As if compelled by some alien force, Brian felt his leg lift and beginning to carry him along the way to meet the woman on the stoop. He was sweating with nerves and heat, and the amused look the woman was giving him made him all the more nervous. All the while he walked, he wondered why he didn’t turn tail and run. He felt real, honest intimidation flow from this short motherly woman and he couldn't really place just why. He knew deep in his soul she was more than she seemed. He knew without having to ask that this was Rhonda. He suddenly knew why everyone who even knew her name, spoke it in a hushed tones.

    When he was finally standing beside her, he could do nothing but look nervously away. With surprising strength she reached out a mahogany colored hand and grasped his chin, forcing his powder blue eyes to meet her deep forest green ones. She seemed to be looking for something in the icy depths of his eyes because after a moment she nodded, apparently satisfied and released his chin. She then took a moment to look him up and down. Her eyes alighted on the rip in his jeans and the blood slowly soaking the denim.

    “Boy, you resemble nothing so much as cat in a thorn bush.” She said laughing warmly.

    “Story of my life.” Brian managed to sigh looking away again.

    “Don’t I know it, Honey.” She chuckled grabbing his wrist gently. “Now come on outta the heat and I’ll see what I can do about that leg.”

    Brian had no choice but to follow into a surprisingly bright foyer. A Beautiful mosaic of a green tree growing in a green circle on a backdrop of white was picked out in white and green ceramic tile all along the left wall of the entryway. He didn’t have long to stare as Rhonda dragged him relentlessly onward, through an old white wooden door into the living room. It wasn’t exactly “witchy” in it’s decor. The hardwood floors stretched all the way through the living room and across under a white arch separating the dining room. The windows facing the front of the house were letting in some late afternoon sunlight through the translucent purple curtains draped artfully around them. There was a large purple sofa against the right wall along with a large beat up brown leather armchair, set slightly away from the wall as to allow the chair to recline. A table sat before the sofa made of a dark brown wood, decorated in excellently rendered golden scrollwork, on top of this sat a single purple and white tiger lilly in a white vase. A huge rug covered most of the floor in the living room. It was largely white with a green encircled tree in the center. At the base of the tree was a smiling mask.

    This mask caught Brian’s attention. He was so fixated on it that he hardly noticed Rhonda had released his wrist and strode off into the kitchen beyond the dining room. There was something about the mask he liked yet, found unsettling. The face was ovular with tribal markings around it’s eye holes. Its mouth was split in a wide grin but the whole picture wasn't exactly inviting. It was more like someone trying hard not to start laughing while playing a particularly cruel joke on someone. It was the face of someone you knew you couldn't trust. It was a trickster’s face.

    The sound of clacking broke into Brian’s thoughts, making him jump about a foot in the air. It was the unmistakable sound of claws on wood and, sure enough, less than a minute later an enormous smoky grey dog came bounding down the stairs. Without a single sniff or bark, he leapt up and placed his forepaws on Brian’s shoulders. He began licking his face with a single minded intensity. Brian didn’t mind too much. He loved dog’s, the bigger the better, and this guy just about took the cake. Removing the paws from his shoulders, he squatted down on the floor to look the dog in the eyes. Not that he needed to get that low. Standing on four paws the dog was about four feet high, and he was taller than Brian when standing on two. He looked the dog in his honey colored eyes and scratched him behind the ears. The dog’s mouth lolled open in contentment. Judging by it’s size and the shaggy smoky hair in it’s coat, Brian decided he was looking at a particularly large Irish Wolfhound. His tag hung from a brown leather collar about his neck, reading “Bentley”. Brian read this and looked again into the Bentley’s eyes. He loved those eyes, they were a translucent gold and flavored with a warm genuine kindness he had never seen in a dog before.

    “You must be special.” A voice said, forcing Brian to look away from the dog. “He doesn’t usually come see strangers without me at his side.”

    A young woman was standing at the base of the stairs, one fist resting on a cocked hip, and the other on the bannister. She was tall, at least six foot probably taller, and she looked so different from Rhonda. She had no make up on, not that she needed it; with full lips, large beautiful eyes, and a strong jaw, she could captivate most people’s attentions without any artificial help. Her hair was natural to, Drawn back into a bun at the back of her head, the rest of it was covered by a headband made of what seemed to be bits of braided fabric. She was wearing a light sleeveless top in a dark rich purple color that matched the sofa almost perfectly. He lower body was encased in faded jeans tucked into calf-high boots. A gold medallion belt glimmered at her waist, drawing attention to the curves in her lithe frame. The most striking thing about the girl was her resemblance to the mask on the rug. Not in aesthetics but in expression. Again he saw that look of someone trying to hide laughter at a cruel jest.

    She strode forward. Again, unlike Rhonda she didn’t dance across the floor. She seemed to move like a stalking beast, all predatory grace and slow movements. She extended a hand to Brian as he stood. He took it, noting the golden bracelet in the shape of coiling snake around her wrist, as well as three separate rings on her right hand, one a wolf’s snarling face, one a triangular shape that Brian didn’t recognize which looked almost like a sailboat, and the last being an old ring with the crest of the U.S. Navy on it. Brian felt himself run his thumb along the band of the claddagh ring on his right hand, feeling somewhat under-ornamented.

    “I’m Sharice” She said, her voice was deep and unabashed. “You must be Brian.”

    “Uh, yeah.” He said taken aback. “Everyone here seemed to know I was coming before I did.”

    “Well you were asking after me, Honey” Rhonda said coming back into the room grinding something with a mortar and pestle. “Ain’t Nothing calls down a witch’s eye faster than saying her name.”

    “So you are a...?” Brian trailed off, not really wanting to sound rude.

    “Of course I am.” She said slightly exasperated. “Now I know it’s been a while since you’ve seen anyone genuine, but the soul knows a witch when it sees one.”

    Not really knowing what to say to that, Brian kept his mouth shut and allowed himself to be steered to the sofa. He allowed himself to be steered down onto the purple cushions while she gave the concoction in her hands one more grind and mix. It smelled disgusting to Brain, like ginkgo trees and birch sap and when Rhonda removed it from the small bowl it was in, it was a foul dark green color. He had a shrewd idea where that paste was intended to go and was tempted to head it off before she could put it on his skin. He restrained himself. If this lady was as much of a witch as she claimed to be, he wanted to see a little of what she could do. Not only that, but if she was as genuine as she seemed to be, he didn't want to risk offending her.

        Rhonda sat on the edge of her table, coated her fingers in the mixture and slowly began smearing it onto Brian's abused knee. Screaming was the first action that occurred to Brian. Whatever she was rubbing on him felt like liquid flame. It made him grit his teeth and roll his eyes in an effort to contain a wail of agony. He gripped the couch with all his strength and occasionally sputtered when the pain took an especially nasty upswing. But for all his pain, he sat as still as stone. Brian was used to pain.

    “I'm impressed,” Brian barely heard Rhonda say. “I've seen grown men behave like children when confronted with this mess. Burns like the dickens especially on a big ole cut like this. Most of them go to pieces; stamping their feet, screaming, hands in the air.”

    She turned an amused green-eyes smile on him, almost as though she knew the effort it was taking him to keep from stamping his feet and screaming. When she was done applying whatever it was, the burning resigned itself to a dull agony, and Brain was able to devote some brain cells to speaking once more.

    “Nasty stuff!” He managed to gasp out wiping sweat from his forehead with the back of a shaking hand. The two women laughed, and there was a sudden resemblance between them, Brian couldn't tell why he hadn't seen it before. When they had stopped laughing, Rhonda stood up and crossed to stand next to the young woman.

    “I'm afraid everyone here knew you were coming, Brian, but let me make the formal introduction as best I can.” She stood up a little straighter with a smile on her face warm and charming as always. “My name of course is Rhonda Wright, resident witch of the bayou. But you can call me Miss Rhonda.”

    She placed her hand on the shoulder of the girl standing next to her. The girl made a joking curtsey and smiled at him.

    “This right here is my daughter, Sharice.” Rhonda said. Brian attempted a smile and waved weekly at her. “And of course you've met Bentley.”

    The wolfhound was nudging Brian's elbow with his nose, trying to get him to pet him. Brian finally relented and the dog sat on it's haunches to enjoy his ministrations. The pain in his knee was subsiding somewhat and Brian was able to lean back and relax just a bit. He suddenly realized how exhausted he was. Sleeping in his car, the back of a bus, then on road side ditches covered in leaves and trees had not lead to any sort of particularly restful respite. This was the first time he'd had any sort of chance to sit and rest and realize how poorly he'd been sleeping. It must of showed on his face because Rhonda crossed back across the room and took her place on the edge of the table again.

    “Well let's get to business, you didn't drive all this way just for pleasantries.” She had lost her warm smile and instead had adopted a fierce penetrating glare. “You want to know if I can get this curse off you.”

     “Yeah,” Brian nodded. “Sorry we don't have more time, but you were a hard lady to find.”

    “All part of the territory, Mon Cher. Can't have it getting too easy, else every Tom, Dick, and Harry with a stubbed toe would come a-knocking.” She leaned back, her palms spread wide on the table and kept looking at him critically. “I might be able to get this off of you, that still remains to be seen. But you need to understand that whatever I do, comes at a price.”

    “I've heard that.” Brian said, smiling at her darkly. “I'm guessing you know what the curse does? I hit twenty five and I'm a dead man. I don't have any money to pay you with. But I have a feeling your not asking for that. I'll pay you whatever you want.”

    “Think careful now, Cherie.” Rhonda cautioned, cocking an eyebrow. “The things I ask for aren't things most part with easily.”

    “There's nothing I have I wouldn't gladly give to keep breathing past my birthday.” Brian's eyes were locked on Rhonda's, once again the light powder blue met those forest green ones.

    “Well if that's the case, Darling” She said sitting forward again. “We can save the discussion of payment until after the primary consultation. Let's see if I can do anything for you at all.”

    Without another word, Rhonda placed her left thumb on Brian's forehead and her right above his heart. He stood stock still not really knowing how to react. He glanced around Rhonda towards Sharice but she simple shrugged and shook her head. He could hear Rhonda whispering under her breath, her quiet mutterings sounded almost like a quick chanting song. It proceeded to increase in tempo, volume and intensity for a while. Rhonda kept repeating the same lines of the song over and over again, faster and faster each time. It was strange and musical, in a language Brian didn't know. He couldn't even tell what language it might be. As the chanting continued, Brian began to feel dizzy, his vision blurring and his head starting to spin. He was tempted to shake his head to clear it of the strange drumming that seemed to be filling it but the thumb on his forehead held him fast. The drumming went faster and faster beating louder and louder, keeping pace with Rhonda's chanting. When the drumming had reached a crescendo, Brian felt her thumbs press hard against his heart and head, pushing both away.

    All at once, Brian was gone from the living room, gone from the purple couch. He was lost in swirling colored mist. He seemed to flying through it at great speed his body awkwardly held still in the same sitting position. The mist was resolving itself into something more solid, he could see it taking the forms of trees and patches of grass. Finally he sat awkwardly in midair above a field of scorched earth. Blood splattered the ground in sickening puddles around the fallen bodies of men, women and children all in clothing native to a more ancient time. Broken shields, plows, carts, chariots and all manner of wooden objects littered the ground. What seemed to be the remains of a village lay smoking and destroyed several yards away, several of the buildings still on fire. He could smell, the sickening metallic stench of blood, pervading over carnage like smoke after a firework.

     A woman stood on the edge of the field in a white dress, billowing in the fierce cold wind. She screamed a terrifying scream of utter loss, despair and rage. Wordlessly she cried her fury onto the world. She fell to her knees beside a heap of corpses, touching the face of one, desperate to feel warmth in the flesh. She hung her head in deepest despair. The sound of hooves rang out from behind Brian, but he couldn't move his head to see who was approaching. The woman seemed to notice him then. She locked eyes with him, and he could see the boundless pain and fury she felt reflected in them. She stood up, ignoring the crimson stains that had soaked into her virginal dress. She whipped back her raven hair in a gesture of furious defiance. It billowed about her head as if she was underwater, seeming to be another expression of her grief and promised revenge. Eyes still on Brian's, she snatched a dagger from her belt and pointed it at him. He felt sudden fear turn to bile in his throat. She was going to stab him and he couldn't move. He didn't have any idea what was happening and he desperately struggled against whatever force was holding him.

    She did not stab him. She pointed the knife at him in dire accusation. She began to scream in a language he did not recognize, though he could tell that the words were tinged with fury. Her whole posture screamed retribution, and all he wanted to do was back away from it. The same sense of primal power that exuded from Rhonda flooded the field now. It swept over him like a wave of heat, making him itch and tingle. The woman was still screaming but her words had an echoing, repetitious quality to them. They became a furious keening chant, that repeated over and over and over. Finally the woman uttered one last phrase, gave Brian a viciously hate-filled look, and dragged the dagger across her own throat. Blood poured from the gash like dark red wine. It ran in rivers down her front soaking easily into the white fabric. She stood stock still as the blood ran out of her, the hatred in her eyes fixed and unchanging. Brian had never seen someone with their throat slit before, but he was fairly certain she was staying on her feet an unnaturally long time. Finally she coughed, blood bubbling out of her mouth in another gout of red. Without a single change in expression, her eyes rolled up into her head and she crumpled to the earth.

    Brian wanted nothing more than to scream, to run, to find somewhere dark and hide. He shut his eyes as hard as he could and let out one hoarse shout of fear and discomfort. A dog barked in answer. Brian's eyes flew open and to his wholehearted relief, he was back in Rhonda’s living room. He leaned back against the cushions and lifted a shaking hand to cover his face. Bentley jumped up on the couch beside him and nestled down, his big head in Brian's lap.

    “That was...educational.” Rhonda said, standing and beginning to pace. “Someone in your line pissed off the exact wrong person, Cherie.”

    “What was that?” Brian asked, taking the hand away from his face.

    “Well it was a look into the past, I suppose you could say.” She gave grudgingly. “What's on you boy is worse than most people ever see in terms of curses, but it doesn't change the game too much.”

    “Can you help me?” Brian said intensely. The pure ferocity of his gaze seemed to make Rhonda stop her pacing and consider him coolly.

    “I can help you, Cherie, but it wont be easy for either of us.”

    “Tell me what I have to do.” Brian was ready. He was certain now that she could help. He believed wholeheartedly that she was what she said she was and he was ready to give up anything she asked of him, in order to stay alive.

    “Well, this is a blood curse. Someone had to die to lay a curse this strong on your entire male line.” She began, pacing again. “We have two methods for getting it off you. Number one, we do it all at once.”

    “Whats the catch?” Brian asked, knowing there was most definitely a downside for this all too easy option.

    “Well the it would probably require just as much life to break it as it did to bind it. So I would more than likely drop dead. As sweet as you are, Darlin', I am not prepared to die for you.”

    “So what's the second option?”

    “A blood pact,” She said as if explaining where to find peas in the grocery store. “You form one with me, and you work for me for a year. All that time and energy would build up and I could use it to fuel the spell, as opposed to my own energy.”

    “Okay...” Brian said slowly, again this sounded far too easy. “Again, what's the catch?”

    “Just so happens.” Sharice said, speaking for the first time in her mother's presence. “My Testing Time's drawing close.”

    “Your what?”

    “My testing time.” She said, shooting him a cocky grin. “I go round fixing things that have gone screwy in the paranormal department, basically to see if I'm a witch or not.”

    “So you, what? Read palms, ghost hunt, take pictures of Bigfoot?” Brian's cynicism had been battling against his common sense the whole time. It seemingly won out and the temper of the room changed with a strange rapidity. Rhonda's warm smile faded and her emerald eyes flashed. Sharice crossed her arms across her chest, cocked a hip and raised an angry eyebrow at him.

    “This isn't television, Boy.” Rhonda hissed in a deep threatening voice. “There's no safe ground for her. Do you know what a wendigo is?”

    Brian shook his head with a sinking feeling that he was about to find out. Rhonda lifted her skirt several inches above her ankle to display her left calf. Five thin pale lines marred the otherwise flawless dark brown skin. The scars had a painful jagged quality about them. Brian felt his stomach contract at the sight of it.

    “That thing got a hold of me, during my own time. And I only got out of it alive because I had my mama's knife on me.” She dropped her skirt and locked eyes with Brian. She radiated power once more. Like waves of heat that were also chilling. Goosebumps rose on Brian's arms and the sparse hairs on them stood on end.  “Make no mistakes with me, boy. There are things that go bump in the night, and half of them would kill you for nothing more than the pleasure of it.”

    He was pressed so far back into the couch, he thought he might become one with the upholstery. Seeing her point was made, Rhonda strode away.

    “And it's my job to hunt down the nastiest.” Sharice chuckled, cocky smile back in place.

    “And you don't even know?” Brian questioned. “Wouldn't it make more sense to wait to know if your a witch before wandering the country fighting monsters.”

    “That's the whole point.” Sharice piped up smiling. “I throw myself at everything dangerous for a year and if my powers don't show up after all that, I'm not a witch.”

    “That's where you come in.” Rhonda said, she had a slightly evil smile on her face as she said it. Brian felt his stomach clench again, this time it did not unclench. “Going alone into the deadliest of situations is not healthy for a young girl. I want someone there to watch her back. Someone who will do her best to keep her out of trouble.”

    “And you want me?!” Brian exclaimed, he was tempted to break into hysterical laughter. “My whole life has been nothing but trouble!”

    “So who knows better than you how to handle trouble once it finds you.”

    “You're just gonna sign some random stranger up to go around the country with her? I could be a monster for all you know, what if I hurt her or something.” At this both women looked at each other with identical looks that said only too plainly 'not in a million years' and began to laugh.

    “Cherie, I would be very surprised if you could over power Sharice. She might not look it but she knows how to hurt somebody in more ways than I have teeth. And for another thing, I took the measure of your character the instant I looked in your eyes. You might be lazy and a touch sarcastic, but you'll look after my girl as best you can, for her sake as well as your own.”

    “Okay then,” Brian said running out of counter arguments and running his sweating hand through his hair. “So then what's the deal.”

    “You make a pact with me, for one year you travel with Sharice, you do your best to help and protect her, you keep her alive no matter what, and when that year ends I lift this curse before your twenty fifth birthday.” She was intense again, power and confidence wrapped around her like a cloak. “You wont have to worry about clothes, food, lodging; I have plenty of money set aside for that. You go where the problems are and sort them out, get her out in one piece. Do all that and your a free man come midnight on your twenty fifth year.”

    “Deal.” Brian grunted, standing to face her. Rhonda held out her hand and Sharice pulled a knife from a sheath behind her back. She slapped it handle first, into her mother's hand. Rhonda drew the blade across the palm of her hand, eyes fixed on Brain the whole time. Her face never changed expression even as a red line of blood welled in her palm. She clenched a fist and handed the knife to Brian. He felt like objecting, complaining about blood-borne diseases and how unsanitary this was, but one look at the intensity in Rhonda's eye reminded him of the power she could wield. He readied the knife above his palm, breathing heavily. He screwed his eyes up and drew the edge across his own palm. He grit his teeth to fight against the yell of pain fighting to escape as a white hot line of fire traced itself through his hand. Finally done he removed the knife, ignoring the blood spilling from the wound into his palm. He blinked tears of pain out of his eyes and met Rhonda's furiously. She held out her hand palm up to him. He placed his palm down on her's. She began chanting again. This time it was short staccato phrases. She sang them out in harsh sharp shouts. Finally with a last word and a feeling like an electric shock, their hands parted.

    Brian shook his hand vigorously to rid it of the stinging pain the shock had left. Looking back at his palm, he saw that the cut had healed already, the skin perfect once more. The only thing that marred it now was a deep black mark in the form of an ovular laughing mask. Rhonda wiped the sweat from her brow and sighed deeply.

    “Well that's done at least.” She said her warm smile back in place.  “Sharice, go set the table for dinner, I'm gonna eat like a starved dog after all that.”

    “On it, Mama” Sharice said and she walked to the kitchen. Rhonda began to follow her and Brian began to follow Rhonda. However when she reached the narrow doorway that led off the dining room, Rhonda turned sharply and gave Brian an intense piercing stare. She seemed more dangerous in that instant than she had at any point earlier in the day. Brian stopped his blood running cold.

    “I wasn't playing, Cherie.” She said, voice a deadly whisper. “If she dies, you die. One way or the other.”

    And without another word, she strode into the kitchen, leaving Brian standing there wondering just what he had gotten into.

The Bad Moon Band; Book One; Bad Moon Rising; Part One

It was the curse, Brian knew. The iron taste of blood flooded his mouth as his lip broke on the inside of his helmet. The wild scraping of metal and plastic rang through the twilight air mingled with the screams of the children he had swerved to avoid. The impact his helmet made against the ground caused lights to dance before his eyes. He could feel the ground tearing at his torso and arms. Luckily his tough leather jacket took most of the impact with little damage. His jeans however were not as sturdy. Brian could feel the serrated knife of the ground rip through the denim like paper to rip the flesh of his knee. The metallic whine of his skidding motorcycle was like a dirge to his ears. Out of the corner of his eye he could see sparks flashing from the skidding metal.

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