Friday, August 19, 2016

BOOK SPOTLIGHT + EXCERPT: Hunter of the Dead

Hunter of the Dead
By: Stephen Kozeniewski

Genre: Horror, Paranormal, Comedy
Publisher: Sinister Grin Press
Publication date: 8.15.2016
Pages: 314

Someone has begun targeting vampires.
            Vampire leaders of the thirteen Houses attribute the string of recent losses to over-zealous vampire hunters.  Only Cicatrice, the most ancient and powerful vampire in the world, suspects that the semi-legendary Hunter of the Dead may be the real culprit.
            Carter Prince, a vampire hunter who despises the way his profession is becoming centralized and corporatized, begins to suspect the Hunter of the Dead is back, too - and no longer distinguishing between vampire and mortals.  Against his better judgment, Prince agrees to work with Cicatrice.
            The uneasy allies attempt to uncover the truth about the Hunter, while a vampire civil war brews in the background.  But perhaps most difficult of all, they must contend with their new apprentices, who seem to be falling in love with each other against every rule of man and monster...

Miranda ran her hand over the creature's bald, scaling head to calm it.  In response, it moaned in hunger through its muzzle.
            "Shh shh," she whispered gently, almost as though comforting one of her own children, "soon enough."
            The sound of gruesome dismemberment and ravenous gorging drifted under the massive oaken doors to Inessa's chamber.  As usual, the master's favorite was taking her time devouring some morsel while Miranda was stuck waiting on her to be finished so she could clean up.  The midden-beast stirred again.
            "There, there," she whispered gently, scratching it under the ears.
            Miranda knew each of the midden-beasts by sight.  Secretly, she had a name for each, and though she had never been explicitly forbidden to name them, she had a strong suspicion the master would've punished her terribly if he'd caught wind of her naming the dumb brutes.  The one she held on a leash now she thought of as Snuggles.
            Snuggles was a gangly, hunched-over creature with only the barest scraps of sackcloth and burlap clinging to its thighs hiding its disgusting manhood.  Its skin was dun, approaching gray, and its limbs were long and gaunt, almost skeletally thin.  Its face was barely human, actually more mashed in like a pig's or an owl's, and only the barest hint of human awareness flickered in its sallow yellow eyes.
            Each of the midden creatures looked somewhat similar to Snuggles, though none were identical.  All were hideously misshapen in their own way, some sporting deformities and tumors, others scaling almost like fish or reptiles.
            The sound of smacking lips and crunching bone from within the chamber abruptly ceased.  Miranda straightened her back and tugged on Snuggle's leash to keep him from bolting when permission to open the door came.  A man on the other side of the door suddenly spoke out in a recognizably Scottish brogue.
            "Oy!  Who's that, then?"
            She took a deep breath and composed herself.  She wasn't that stuttering child anymore.
            "Miranda.  Uh...sir."
            The door opened, startling her.  Since being chosen by the master to receive The Long Gift, Inessa had grown noticeably surly and lazy.  As a result, she hardly ever opened the door herself.  A man emerged from Inessa's chambers, something that was not only strictly forbidden but was completely impossible.  Grown men (except the master, obviously) were not allowed on the compound.
            Wearing a ripped, sleeveless denim vest and sporting a bleached-white Mohawk, the man seemed like a reject from an '80s band.  Though he didn't seem like the type to join the military (far from it, in fact) there was something martial about him, from the combat boots he wore to the pins and medals that festooned his vest.  Like an extension of his Mohawk, a stripe of white paint bisected his face.
            Miranda cast her eyes down.  One of the rules of the compound was not to look at men.  That had only meant the master before, but...
            The Mohawk man grabbed her chin, nearly shattering her jaw with the strongest grip she had ever felt, and forced her eyes to come level with his own.  Her long auburn hair hung over her face.  She hoped it would hide the salty wetness of her eyes from his view, but a moment later he gently tucked her locks behind her ears and laid bare her weeping face.  He seemed to stare straight through her, as though searching for something at the bottom of her eye sockets.  His nostrils flared like a bloodhound's and she realized he wasn't concentrating on what he was seeing at all.
            "You've eaten garlic today," he stated with just the barest hint of a Continental accent.  "It's on your clothes as well."
            "Yes, she agreed."
            The sister wives who had not yet been granted the Long Gift had prepared spaghetti for supper and Miranda, like all the others, had done her part in the kitchen.
            "She's mortal," he finally decided.
            "Yes," she squeaked through pinched fish-lips, as though he had asked a question.
            He let go of her as abruptly as he had grabbed her.  Then his whole expression changed.  A smile spiderwebbed across his face and he clapped his hands together.
            "Italo Scavatelli," he said, bowing and doffing an imaginary cap, "at your service.  Oh, and who's this little fellow?"
            Scavatelli dropped to his knees and snatched Snuggles under the ears.
            "Scav!" the Scotsman within shouted sharply, "Who's there?"
            "Oh, it's just one of Ashley's disciples.  With a ghoul."
            Snuggles strained at its collar, eager to get into Inessa's room.  It obviously smelled something inside.  Miranda had never heard the strange creatures he called "ghouls" before but it seemed oddly fitting.
            "A ghoul?  Bring it in here."
            Scav sent the immensely heavy door flying open with a single tap from his pinky fingernail and gestured for Miranda to enter.  She obliged and immediately gasped.  The walls were painted with blood and a barely living person shivered on the banquet table set up in front of Inessa's tub, most of the flesh picked from his (or her) bones.  Shock or pain kept the nearly skeletal being conscious.
            All that was perfectly ordinary, though.  Miranda had gasped because the Scot was holding Inessa's jaggedly severed head by the spinal column, which dangled from her neck like soap on a rope.  A few vertebrae still clung to the spinal cord, but most had apparently popped off in the process of what appeared to have been a hasty decapitation.
            Snuggles must have felt the leash slacken and took advantage of her surprise, darting towards the half-dead person and snuffling at his exposed intestines.  The thing that had once been a man looked down, eyes still moving in his faceless skull.  Tongueless, an abortive moan rose from his gullet, as Snuggles disturbed what had formerly been his insides.
            "Snuggles!" Miranda cried out sharply, before covering her mouth in embarrassment and worry.
            The ghoul retired in frustration, unable to get any tasty viscera through its muzzle into its mouth.
            "Snuggles.  That's a hell of a name," the Scot said, and both of the intruders laughed.
            Miranda sheepishly took the ghoul's leash and presented herself to the two men like a schoolgirl ready to receive her punishment.  She tried not to look up, but it was hard to avoid staring at them.  Steading side by side they seemed a greatly mismatched pair.  Scav dwarfed his partner by a wide margin.
            As though he had stepped out of a photograph, the Scot wore a military uniform she would've guessed originated from some time closer to World War I than World War II.  He wore a nameplate which read "MacVicar."  Like Scav, MacVicar also wore facepaint.  A white stripe stretched from his forehead to the bottom of his neck where his throat disappeared into his blouse.
            "Name," MacVicar said.
            MacVicar shook the spinal cord in his hand, sending vertebrae flying and inspiring Snuggles to pounce on top of one that landed nearby.
            "Not your name.  Hers."
            Scav knelt down and grabbed Inessa's head, turning it so it faced him.  Her dead eyes were frozen, aghast with terror.
            "Inessa," Scav whispered, "What a gorgeous name.  And you are a thing of beauty."
            Scav kissed the corpse's upside-down lips.  Rankled, MacVicar shook the spinal cord to ward him off, and very nearly kicked him away like a dog.
            "Oy!  If you want to screw around with her the rest of her body's there."  MacVicar pointed at the ivory tub.
            Inessa's arms and legs hung splayed out of the tub, striking an oddly seductive pose despite what had been an obvious struggle.  Scav shrugged and walked over.  Dragging what was left of her out of the water, he took the body by the hand and the waist, and began to waltz, humming the tune to "I Could've Danced All Night."  There wasn't a drop of blood in the water or, it seemed, left in Inessa's corpse, judging by how pallid the jagged seam of her neck was.  Scav leaned down as though to dip her, and caught Miranda's panicky eyes as he did so.
            MacVicar turned back to Miranda.  "What was your friend's surname?"
            "She wasn't my friend."  It was clear from his look that he wasn't interested in extraneous information.  "I...I mean, we don't use last names around the compound.  We're all the master's children."
            MacVicar folded his arms in front of him, the dangling head still caught in his grasp.
            "The master, 'eh?  That'll be Cashley, then."
            Miranda swallowed a lump in her throat, not sure how to respond.  She nearly jumped as she felt a tongue tickle her earlobe and Scav's sonorous voice filled her ear.
            "Care to cut in?"
            "," she said, shaking her head sharply.
            "Then I suggest you be more forthcoming."
            As the pseudo-punk waltzed away with his gruesome dance partner, Miranda could tell that MacVicar was losing patience.  Suddenly, the half-devoured man on Inessa's dining board, with a feat of near superhuman strength, raised his head partway up and rasped out a few words.  Their exact provenance was unknowable, but the look in his lidless eyes was clear: he was asking for help.
            "Oy!  Will you let that thing off its leash?"
            She looked down, having totally forgotten about Snuggles, though the "ghoul" as Scav had called it, was whimpering and staring longingly at the mostly-dead man.  Miranda reached into her pocket, but when she brought out the key to Snuggle's muzzle, her hands were shaking so badly she dropped it.
            "Jesus suffering fuck," MacVicar muttered, walking over and easily wrenching the wrought-iron muzzle off Snuggle's face with his bare hands.
            MacVicar smacked the ghoul on the ass and it leapt up, but it hardly needed any encouragement.  With a mighty leap it landed amongst the agonized man's clump of intestines and began to greedily devour them, shit squirting out like filling out of an overstuffed eclair, as it fed.
            "Now then," MacVicar said, digging into Inessa's throat and brains like a kid searching for a prize in a cereal box, "you're telling me Cashley's calling himself the master.  Does he ever call you lot his 'House?'"
            Miranda pursed her lips, pondering what the "right" response was.  Scav was still off in his own little world, making a mockery of what was left of Inessa's corpse.  MacVicar pulled a raggedy chunk of brain from Inessa's head, and tossed it to Snuggles, who abandoned his still-struggling meal to catch it in midair.
            "Yes, Miranda said, "he speaks often of us as his House."
            "Ooh," Scav said, as though smarting, as he twirled Inessa's lifeless body in a surprisingly elegant pose, "this might be worse than we thought, Connor."
            "Well," MacVicar said, continuing to feed the eager ghoul, "the lepress thought Cashley was bringing immortals across without permission.  This Inessa here is proof positive of that.  You there, lassie.  How many other immortals has master brought across?"
            "You mean how many others has he granted The Long Gift?"
            MacVicar scowled, apparently not liking the fact she knew that term."
            "Aye, The Long Gift."
            "Six.  That I know of."
            "Fuck me in the arse."
            MacVicar turned and tossed Inessa's head through the window with a smash.  Scav dropped Inessa's corpse to the ground and Snuggles descended on it, ripping apart tendon, muscle, and sinew.  There wasn't a drop of blood in her whole body.  Scav walked over and placed a hand on MacVicar's shoulder.
            "This is bad," Scav whispered, though since Miranda could still hear him he probably isn't trying very hard to hide his thoughts.  "I always knew Cashley was looney tunes, but to form his own splinter House?  With six other immortals?  Maybe we should call for backup."
            "Backup?  No, I amnae letting anyone else share in this bounty.  This one was still eating flesh.  For all we know the other six are newborns, too.  You there, Miranda?"
            Miranda felt her heart race and the blood swished into her ear.
            "Those other immortals.  Did they eat meat the way Inessa did or did they drink blood?"
            Would lying help?  She couldn't say for sure.
            "They still people...the way Inessa did."
            MacVicar thumped Scav on his chest.
            "There, you see?  He's gone mad and gone on a siring spree, but only just recently.  Six newborns.  We can take them, and Cashley, too.  You finish this with me, my young get, and I'll give you my blessing.  That's a promise."
            Scav placed a hand on MacVicar's cheek.
            "You're too good to me, Connor."
            "Right.  Well, let's kill this mortal and go hunt down the others."
            "Wait!  I can take you to the master!"
            MacVicar smiled and snapped his fingers
            "Clever girl.  Right-o, lead the way, then."
            Scav gave Miranda what was probably supposed to be a playful shove, but turned out to be so hard her shoulder nearly popped out of its socket.  Rubbing her shoulder, she led the way out of Inessa's private chambers, only risking a single glance back to see how Snuggles was doing.  The ghoul was busy tearing into its double-sized meal for the evening.  In a way, she mourned, knowing she'd never see Snuggles again whatever tonight's outcome, but in another way she knew the dumb brute would never miss her so it hardly mattered.
            They stepped out into the chilly Nevada night.  The moon was full and she felt terribly exposed as she pattered across the compound.  She knew every inch of it by heart, but was terrified that one of her sister wives in the guard towers would spot her.  If they guessed her intentions, and the intentions of the men trailing her, would they hesitate to shoot her?  She suspected not.
            Each step roiled her churning stomach, but much to her relief they finally reached the small, unobtrusive chapel where the master spent his days and most nights.  Scav gave her a not-very-gentle shove toward the entrance.  Taking a deep breath, she raised her hand and rapped on the door.
            "I'm fine, thank you," the master's voice intoned from within.
            She looked back at the two men.  MacVicar nodded to her.
            "Master," she whispered hoarsely, then cleared her throat and repeated it, "master, it's Miranda."
            There was a prolonged pause.  Miranda was terrified of what would happen next, but then realized she had no idea what it might be.  When next the master spoke, it sounded like he was closer to the door.
            "You know you're not to be here, child.  Anything you need to say you should report to Inessa, and she will decide whether to inform me or not."
            Miranda paused and straightened out her grubby gray jumpsuit.
            ",,," she bit her lip and forced herself not to stutter, "that's why I'm here, master.  It's about I...Inessa."
            That was certain to get her attention.
            "Go back to your bunk," the master said sharply.  "I'll check on my beloved.  And consider an appropriate punishment for you."
            Miranda turned to look at her captors, her jaws wordlessly opening and clenching.  Scav gently pushed Miranda aside while, much to her surprise, MacVicar began singing.  At first he sang at a light, almost conspiratorial volume, but by the final word he was belting it out.
            "The sergeant, when he enlisted me, winked his eye and then says he, 'A man like you so stout and tall, can ne'er be killed by a cannonball!'"
            There was a pause.
            "MacVicar?" the master asked.
            MacVicar put his boot to the entrance.  The doors to the temple exploded inward right off their hinges, creating an unholy noise and knocking the master flat on his back.  Though Miranda hung back, she had still never been this close to the master before, and in a way the chance to see him up close - even laid low and humble - was too much to pass up.
            Scav quickly passed through the archway and stuck a boot on the master's chest.  The master smiled, displaying two deadly fangs.  His teeth were still sticky with plasma, and the vital fluid dribbled out of his mouth, leaving a mark around his lips and chin like a clown's goatee of circus makeup.  He wore a jumpsuit identical to Miranda's, though his was red instead of gray, not to mention clean and freshly ironed.  Square plastic sunglasses obscured almost the entire top half of his face, leaving him unreadable, despite his rictus grin.  His skin sparkled in the low neon lights overhead.  It made Miranda want to reach out and touch him.
            "Well, well, well," Scav said, "if it isn't the Profane Prophet of Pravo.  How's tricks, Cashley?"
            Miranda looked to the master for some clue what was going on or what to do.  His nostrils were flaring, but otherwise he made no move.
            "I'm afraid I haven't any change for you, Scavatelli.  My House makes do without the pettiness of money."
            "You hear that, Connor?  'My House,' he says.  You're House Signari, shit-eater," Scavatelli gestured at the white stripe down his face, "at least, you were until the lepress declared you persona non grata."
            MacVicar reached behind a pew and pulled one of the sacred texts out of the slot.  Miranda lowered her eyes at the sight of the familiar black book, with its depiction of two arms coming together to hold a red apple.  MacVicar tossed the book carelessly and it landed on the ground by the master's head.  Miranda stifled a gasp at the display of blasphemy.  MacVicar bent over and aran a pair of fingers across the master's skin.  He rubbed the two fingers across his thumb and held it up for Scav to see.
            "Glitter," Scav said with a laugh.
            MacVicar stuck his hand into the master's mouth, and though he instantly bit down, severing several of MacVicar's fingers, MacVicar struggled with him until finally wrenching his fangs out of his face and revealing them to be prosthetics.
            "Fake teeth.  Fake blood.  All this shit is a whole lot of smoke and mirrors for the mortals.  I always knew you were into some funny business with your circle, Cashley, but I never thought you'd take it to the level of treason."
            "I have every right to establish my own House.  I have been in the American West since before Brigham Young..."
            MacVicar stamped down on the master's face, squishing his head like a soggy pumpkin.  Miranda gasped, but then watched in wonder as the shattered chunks of skull and pulverized brain knitted themselves back together and his entire head reformed, like a balloon reinflating.  Only his thick plastic goggles didn't mend.  The pallid, white, pupilless orbs housed in his eye sockets and the wretched landscape of scars connecting them told the tale of why he always kept that half of his face hidden.
            "Pull the other one," MacVicar spat at him.
            "Please, Mac, Scav," the master whimpered, finally sounding as though he understood how precarious his position was, "you don't understand the danger.  There's something hunting our kind."
            "Oh, yes, I've heard the fairy tale.  There's a," Scav made quotation marks with his fingers, "'serial killer' taking out immortals."
            "Aye, I heard about that, too," MacVicar agreed, "Probably just some Inquisitors getting too big for their britches."
            The master shook his head wildly.
            "No.  You don't understand.  It's far worse than you can possibly imagine.  I need other immortals to help protect me, and Father Otto won't grant me permission to turn over a single get."
            "Knowing you, Cash," MacVicar said, "I wouldnae either."
            Suddenly the brass bell at the lone entrance to the compound began ringing.  Miranda looked up to one of the guard towers.  A spotlight shone on Inessa's chambers, illuminating the carnage within.  An instant later the spotlight turned its attention to Miranda.
            Dodging too poorly aimed rounds, she scurried into the chapel.
            "Well, that'll be the alarm," MacVicar said, "I'd been hoping we might get a decent scrap out of this shit job."
            The master took advantage of the distraction to reach up and twist Scav's leg, yanking it and wrenching it from its socket.  Scav tumbled to the ground and the master popped up to his feet with a single flex of his back muscles.  He stood now in the center of the aisle, backing away from the intruders and towards the altar, brandishing Scav's severed leg like a cudgel to ward them off.
            Scrabbling to grab hold of a pew, Scav pulled himself upright, balancing on his remaining foot.  Miranda stared at Scav's stump, wondering briefly if his leg would regenerate like a lizard's but it didn't.  It seemed that immortals were capable of healing almost any damaged flesh, but could not regrow lost parts.  No wonder, then, that their clashes descended into bouts of dismemberment.
            "Toss me the lad's leg, Cashley," MacVicar growled.
            "You have no idea what's coming, fixer.  You're going to wish you'd listened to me.  I've seen things.  Dreadful things hiding in the shadows.  Otto Signari won't be able to stand against him.  Not even Cicatrice will be able to stand against him."
            Suddenly a hole exploded in the wall behind the altar.  Perhaps sensing his distress, the master's six remaining immortal brides had eschewed the door entirely and simply punched their way in.  The chosen few wore scintillating white jumpsuits to signal their elevated status in the compound.
            "Ah," the master said with a grin, "the cavalry's arrived.  Seems I have a leg up at last."
            He tossed the full grown man's leg as effortlessly as if he were passing a Frisbee.  Scav snatched it out of the air.
            "Newborns, Cashley?" MacVicar said with a snort.  "Have you even weaned them off flesh yet?"
            "All that should matter to you, fixer, is how hard they'll fight for me.  I don't intend to go gentle into the abyss."
            MacVicar clapped his hands together.
            "I do so love my job.  Nothing like putting down a traitor as well as his Houseless bastards.  How you feeling, Scav?"
            Scav had reattached his leg to his stump, but the area where it had been torn away still seemed soft and scabrous.  Suddenly his eyes alighted on Miranda, and flashed with a bestial hunger.
            "Actually, I'm feeling a bit peckish.  Maybe I'll have a quick bite before this imbroglio."
            The pseudo-punk, with half his pant leg pooled around his ankle, lunged at Miranda.
            "Wait!" Miranda shouted, pulling down her right sleeve and showing her wrist.
            Scav paused, his head bobbing in the air like a bird's.  "What's that?"
            "Just a bit of cosmetics," she said.
            She pulled her wrist across her jumpsuit, rubbing away the foundation.  Underneath the makeup was a tattoo of a green double cross, with an olive branch to the left of it and a sword to the right of it.
            "Inquisitor!" Scavatelli hissed.
            "That's right.  I spent the last three weeks infiltrating this cult for a shot at that sorry son of a bitch."  Her finger shot out in Cashley's direction.  "After all the shit I've had to take from him and Inessa, there's no way I'm letting two low-rent fixers eat my lunch."
            She plunged her hand into her front cargo pocket, slipping her fingers between the pages of her hollowed-out copy of "the sacred text," and pulled out the Colt .45 hand cannon she kept hidden there.  With her other hand she ripped open the seam of her pant leg and pulled a long, wicked blade from the scabbard that ran practically the whole length of her thigh.  Thank God for Ashley's modesty rules.  She'd managed to keep it taped there for her whole tenure in the compound.
            Scav roared and charged at the vampire hunter, even as she filled the air with bullets.  Their stopping power wouldn't do much to harm a vampire, but if she was lucky and destroyed his eyes it would buy her the precious seconds she needed to sever his head.
            She managed to catch one eye, but not the other, and then when she took her stroke it went astray.  It was enough to move him out of her guard, but the vital moment of surprise was lost.  Now she would need all of her skill - and luck - to survive.
            "Bury that glog quick, Scav,' MacVicar shouted, bracing himself for the onslaught of  Cashley and his six brides, "We've got bigger fish to fry."
            Scav hissed and leapt at her.  As though she had been struck by a bolt of lightning, she was suddenly on her back, both hands pinned to the floor and her weapons clattering away out of reach.  The blow had knocked the wind out of her and as she fought the panic of being unable to draw in oxygen, she struggled, but she wasn't even a rag doll in his grasp.  She was like a butterfly, already pinned to a board.
            Then, like a tiny miracle, oxygen flooded into her lungs and she took a deep gasp.  It had seemed an eternity, though she knew it had really only been a few seconds, and her wits finally returned to her.  Looking up she wondered why the killing blow hadn't come.  But Scav wasn't even paying attention to her.
            The vampire was staring at the door.  She glanced back down the aisle and saw MacVicar, Cashley, and the six newborns all staring at the doorway, too, paused in mid-movement like a VHS tape.  That, more than anything, brought a sinking feeling to Miranda's stomach.
            The sound of a horse snuffling cut through Miranda's torso like a knife.  Defying all the boogeymen in her intestines screaming at her not to look, she turned her head toward the entranceway and caught sight first of the black hooves dripping a substance so dark it must have been tar, but she feared it was not.
            Over her head, in a child's voice, Scav whispered, "Il cacciatore del morto."
            Miranda blinked and strained her neck to see the rest of the dark figure.  The horse was black on black, with black eyes that didn't even seem to reflect the moonlight.  The man astride the charger was sealed in a wall of black plate armor, festooned with spikes and barbs.  No mortal could have carried such armor; it must have weighed two tons.  Like the horse's hair, the man's armor dripped with the dark, syrupy substance.
            The high helmet he wore had two long, curved horns, but otherwise it was nearly impossible to pick out any part of him.  He had all the appearance of a blog of fresh black ink that had somehow been smeared on the landscape.  He held a bastard sword in one hand, and in the other, seemingly defying the laws of physics; he had a long, pointed lance weighed down with what had to be a dozen corpses.  From the hilt tot he tip, stacked one on top of each other, each of Cashley's remaining wives and concubines, at least fifteen of them or so, had been pierced directly through the heart.  Blood soaked their grey jumpsuits.
            Their feud forgotten, Miranda and Scav rose to their feet.  The horse slowly cantered into the temple.  As it did, the knight merely shifted his lance, lifting it up into the air at a downward sloping angle.  Alice's body toppled from the lance first.  Peggy's followed.
            And with barely a shake, the bodies of a dozen or more of Cashley's followers fell from the mounted figure's lance and formed a trail behind him, like Hansel and Gretel's breadcrumbs.
            Cashley was the first to regain his senses.  He cowered, pushing his brides into a semi-circular shield wall in front of him.
            "I warned you.  I warned you, MacVicar.  Everyone's scared of a serial killer but now you see what's really happening."
            The knight raised his lance in MacVicar's direction, as though lining up a gigantic pool cue for a difficult shot.  Scav seemed to realize what was about to happen.
            "Scav, don't!"
            Scav flew through the air like a bird of prey dropping onto an unsuspecting rodent, but his trajectory was immediately arrested.  Without looking in his direction, the knight lashed out with his blade, and sliced cleanly through Scav's neck with a single stroke.  His head came to a rest, balanced on the outstretched blade, while his torso crumbled to the floor.
            "You motherfucker!" MacVicar roared, dropping to his knees.  "You cocksucking bastard!"
            His face remained dry, but Miranda could have sworn he was weeping.  He was unable to produce tears.  One of the many, dark in-betweens of being a vampire.
            The horse reared back on its hind legs.  Like a wave, the great darkling mass poured down the aisle.  Even with the preternatural speed of his kind, MacVicar couldn't get out of the way before the figure was upon him.
            The black knight's lance struck true, and the force of the blow impaled MacVicar practically up to the hilt.  Miranda had never seen a vampire actually killed with a stake to the heart.  It was nearly impossible - a joke.  Practically every vampire wore a piece of armor across their chest, and judging by the glint of metal around the hole in MacVicar's body, the Signari fixer had been no exception.  Miranda's mouth hung open as it occurred to her that the mysterious knight had pierced through an inch of plate metal and Kevlar, not to mention a man's ribcage, with a single stroke.
            There was no way.  Was it possible?  Was this really the semi-mythic Hunter of the Dead?
            The knight sat there astride his horse, holding up Scav's sire bodily, not half a meter from his featureless mask.  He seemed to be examining MacVicar like a diner looking at hair in his soup.  Then he lifted his lance over his head and snapped it forward like a bullwhip.  The crumpled mass that had been MacVicar flew off and smashed into the rear wall of the chapel, a few feet above Cashley's head.
            "Protect me!" Cashley shrieked, ducking down so that his brides formed a barrier in front of him, and stumbling off toward the hole they had punched through the brick wall.
            The bastard sword cut an arc through the air and bifurcated one of the brides through her waist, sending her torso toppling forward before the blade passed through the back of the crouching Cashley's head.  Cashley's corpse crumpled into a heap, his hasty retreat ended before it had even begun.
            The five brides whose legs remained attached to their bodies tripped over one another trying to flee through the hole in the back wall.  But that, too, was no avail.  The knight was upon them in an instant, skewering hearts and ripping heads from their bodies with only his gauntleted hands.  When those five were dealt with, he turned to look for the top half of the bride who had been split in two.
            She was scrabbling away on her palms.  The knight raised her lance.
            "No, no, no, no!" the bride began muttering.
            With a furious slam he brought the lance down through the middle of her chest, snapping the tip of the weapon with the force of the blow and sending it hurtling away to embed itself in one of the walls.  The lance was so heavy that when he let it go it toppled to the ground and raised the halved vampire off the floor.  She strained and struggled to pull herself free of the impaling lance, but her efforts were either in vain or too slow.  The knight dismounted, retrieved his bastard sword from Cashley's severed head, and lopped through her brainpan at nose level.
            Then, as if some eldritch and terrible god had cast its eye upon her, Miranda saw the horns of the knight's helmet turning in her direction.  In that instant, she became certain that this was the legendary Hunter of the Dead.
            Even weighed down with so much armor, The Hunter was upon her in a split second, and pressed his dripping sword to Miranda's breast.
            "I...I'm on your side," she said, holding up her wrist to display her tattoo, "I'm an inquisitor.  We hunt..."
            The blade drove into Miranda's sternum and exited just as quickly, drawing a trail of crimson through the air like an exploding firework.

About the author:
Stephen Kozeniewski lives in Pennsylvania, the birthplace of the modern zombie.  During his time as a Field Artillery officer he served for three years in Oklahoma and one in Iraq, where, due to what he assumes was a clerical error, he was awarded the Bronze Star.  He is also a classically trained linguist, which sounds much more impressive than saying his bachelor's is in German.


Monday, August 8, 2016

The Gal Got Hacked...

I'm sure a lot of you are wondering what's been going on with me and why there have just been a few random posts, but nothing like the content that I used to have going on.

After moving here to Pennsylvania a little over a year ago, I've been having problems concentrating.  I can't honestly tell you what my issue is because even I haven't figured it out.  It could be that I have a whole lot of stress lifted off of my shoulders... or that I have all new stress piled up on those shoulders... or the fact that, at home, my room had dried eucalyptus in it (which helps a lot with concentration) and here I do not.  Maybe it's just being free to be me.  I'll keep you updated...

Add to that the fact that I am now a full time employee at Macy's.  Yup, decided to take my knowledge of clothing and retail and go big.  I was hired a few weeks ago to be a Specialist in Ladies' Ready-to-Wear.  More specifically: Alfani, Anne Klein, and a mixed area that has a couple of collections in it.

Then we come to the last couple of weeks...

I went to check my emails... only to find that they would not give me access to them.  I then tried to do something on my blog... and found I had no access to that either.

Not cool.

This happened the day after a fellow blogger (one I had never heard of before) left a comment on one of my posts about how I had inspired him to become a book blogger and he loved what I was doing.  In the comment was a link to his blog.  I accepted it (you have to go through me to post on my blog), but got sidetracked and never went and clicked on the link.  Later, I received an email from a fellow blogger that told me something about the link didn't look right, and I immediately deleted it.

After two days of not being able to access my emails or blog - but seeing that my blog and Google+ was still there - I finally received an email from gmail asking me to contact them at an 800 number.

After giving my name and the code that was in my email, the person I was speaking to let me know that they were not going to ask me for any personal information - other than my name, blog name, and email addresses - and had sent out the email to let me know what was happening with my account.

It seemed that the blogger was not really a blogger, but someone who was impersonating this blogger, and they had tried to hack my blog.  Not my emails.  Not my computer.  But my blog.

How strange?

And they thought so, too.

They even asked if I had anyone who was upset with me, someone that had threatened my blog or me as a blogger in any way, shape or form.

I didn't know how to reply.

A few people popped in my mind, but I wasn't about to name names without any proof, especially since I had to "clear my name" a few months ago when someone was telling untruths about me.

For a few more weeks, they allowed me on for small bits of time, but pretty much kept me off of it to ensure that no one was messing with it while they were dealing with the hack AND increasing security on everyone who uses Blogger's blogs.

Finally, I regained access to everything.

I don't think I have been that happy in a long time.  The stress and unhappiness of not having something that brings me such joy was really hard to take.

It also got me thinking... about how much The Gal means to me.

It's not something I want to lose again.  

The Gal is here to stay.  

And for you, whoever you are, that decided to hack it.  It is quite easy to start your own blog.  If you need any help... well, you know my email.  Just jot me a few lines and ask me your questions and I'll get back to you as soon as I get a second.

But leave my blog alone.


REVIEW: The Best Seller

The Best Seller
By: Dina Rae

Genre: Science Fiction, Thriller
Publisher: Solstice Publishing
Publication date: 5.31.2016
Pages: 294

Recommended by: Worldwind Virtual Book Tours, Read to Review
Date read: 8.7.2016

Have you ever read a book that you both loved and hated all at the same time?  That is very much this book for me.

At first, the author completely had me captivated by the story of General Robert Andreas and Dr. Karl Jaeger, a military man who works for the government and a man who is described as "perhaps one of the Nazi's biggest monstrosities of the war."  Very science fiction.  Very Area 51.  I'm hooked.

Then, out of nowhere, the story changes to the story of Maya Smock and how her life intermingles with Jay McCallister, her favorite author, as she goes from a normal, everyday girl who works at a bookstore and dreams of one day being an author, to getting published and becoming one of those best-sellers she always envied.

Seems like an interesting story, right?  It is.  It really is.

And yet I couldn't help having so much frustration with it.

First, the book description gave away too much of what happens in the story, causing me to not feel that surprise and mystery that I usually get from a thriller.  The fact that her and McCallister have this connection - and what the connection is - is huge, and I would have rather found that out during the story instead of just waiting for that to come.  It took away a lot of my enjoyment.

Second, the lack of editing was very off-putting.  I'm not just talking about missing words in sentences (which is quite tedious when you're reading), but the fact that the author repeats information about these characters over and over again i.e. Maya's stay in different orphanages and homes until the age of seventeen, her promiscuity, Eric giving her a job.  

Third, my favorite character (Maya) was one that had a lot of depth to her, but she made some bad decisions, ignored all those gut feelings, and continued to abuse herself just as bad as the adults in her younger days did.  Hindsight is 20-20, I guess, because as she's telling the story, you realize that she probably would have done things differently, but with the strength that she had to do what she initially did, I found myself getting angry with her quite a bit because of her stupidity.  I honestly felt like I was reading a story where the main character was a teenager, and not someone who had gone through all of this stuff and was now a grownup.

Fourth, the side story of Claude the Jerk, his girlfriend, the money... blah blah blah... really took away from the two stories I mentioned above.  I wanted to know how they went together and how we were going to get to the whole Maya-McCallister connection, and found myself skimming through paragraphs in each chapter because I found them unnecessary.  I felt more like I was reading a YA Romance than a Science Fiction Thriller.

Fifth, the way that Andreas and Jaeger interacted just seemed... childish.  Maybe that's not the word I'm looking for, but I can't honestly think of a better way to put it.  This is a General in the United States Military and a Doctor, yet their conversations seemed very immature.  I just feel like something as secret as what they were dealing with would have been handled differently.  

Dina Rae is a good writer, and I really enjoyed the amount of work she put into her character development, but this book failed to live up to its potential.  As the two parts began to come together, the story got better and I could really see the talent that this writer has.  Unfortunately, the editor she had (if she had one) failed to point out some things that disrupted the flow and took away from the main point of the story.  She has written other novels that I may take a gander at, and I hope that she continues writing in the future, as I would like to see where her talent takes her.

About the book:
When Maya Smock writes her first novel, everything seems to go her way.  Her book practically writes itself.  She marries her gorgeous agent.  her name is on all of the best seller lists.  Billionaire author Jay McCallister takes an interest in her meteoric rise to fame and invites her into his world of alien-believing celebrities.  Her life changes forever when he tells her that they were both created inside of a laboratory.  These authors are embedding an alien genetic code within the pages of their novels that originated from Nazi Germany because...

The time has come.  They are here.

About the author:
Dina Rae brings an academic element to her novels by weaving research and history throughout the stories.  Big Pharma, Big Agri, Big Conspiracy is Dina's first nonfiction book.
            Dina lives with her husband, two daughters, and dog outside of Dallas.  She is a Christian, avid tennis player, movie buff, teacher, and self-proclaimed expert on several conspiracy theories.  She has been interviewed numerous times in e-zines, websites, blogs, newspapers, and syndicated radio programs.  When she is not writing, she is reading novels from her favorite authors Dan Brown, Stephen King, Brad Thor, and George R.R. Martin.  She also enjoys reading about religion, UFOs, New World Order, government conspiracies, political intrigue, and other cultures.  The Best Seller, her newest sci-fi novel, is released by Solstice Publishing. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2016


Paranormal Detectives 3:
Life Sentence
By: Lily Luchesi

Genre: Horror, Paranormal, Mystery
Publisher: Vamptasy Publishers
Publication date: 10.2.2016
Pages: 200 pages

She can fight evil, but can she fight the darkness in her own blood?
            After the disastrous events with Miranda have subsided, Danny and Angelica have to adjust to a  new kind of life at the Paranormal Investigative Division.
            Fiona is still on the loose, and she has all of Hell on her side.  Danny begins to enhance his psychic abilities with the help of a soul just like his.  Angelica is caught between a rock and a very dark place.
            Can their love survive these new trials, or will the past tear them apart?

Watch the trailer for Life Sentence, featuring the song "Together" by Matt Lande (used with permission).

"Well, well, little vamplet," the wolf growled.  "It is a true pleasure to see you in person.  I see you got my note."
            "Ever hear of email?" Angelica asked.  Danny felt the tension in her body flowing in waves.  She was just barely restraining herself from launching at the wolf, getting revenge for her fallen employee.  "You know me, eh?  Well, then you know what I'm capable of."
            "Oh, I do," it growled deeply, as if pleased.  "And I want to challenge you."
            "Challenge me?" Angelica asked.  "To what?"
            "A fight.  Just us, to see who can win in an old-fashioned, one-on-one brawl."
            "It's been awhile since I was challenged hand-to-hand.  You sure you're up for it?"
            Angelica's smirk was a little alarming.  Danny saw Brighton open his mouth to speak, but thought better of it because of the look on his face.
            Angelica was about to go one-on-one with a cursed shifter.  Any idiot could tell you that that was a bad idea, even for a full-blooded vampire.
            "Can you promise me that your male harem there won't get involved?  Because if they do, this whole thing is off the table," the wolf said.
            Angelica chuckled.  "They know better than to interfere."
            Brighton grabbed Danny's sleeve.  "Are you really going to let her do this?"
            "Do you think I can stop her?  Or even help her?  You know her, Brighton.  She'll incapacitate me in a second before going about the fight as if I never interrupted," Danny said.  "Stubborn as a mule."
            "I can hear you," she said as she began to remove her black gloves.  Her eyes never left the wolf in front of her.  "Tell me, why do this?  Your orders are to kill me, not challenge me."
            The wolf growled before it answered.  "I heard what you did to the ones who came before me.  They underestimate you.  The only way for me to get a real, fair fight is to challenge you head-on.  Why do you think I let that crazy witch turn me in the first place?  For the power.  I love the challenge.  You, Angelica Cross, are a challenge."
            Angelica turned around and placed her two guns on the ground as promised.  She had not brought her sword in her haste to catch the wolf.  "Then let's go - monster to monster."
            The shifter scoffed.  "At least I'm not still part human."
            Angelica's eyes darkened, turning blood red.  Her claws started to extend, something that had never happened when she was a vamplet.  Finally, Danny watched as her jaw became distended, and her fangs released.  These were not the two "Dracula" fangs she had had before: these were the long needle fangs every vampire had.  Each tooth became thin and sharp, while the canines on the top and bottom reached over two inches in length.
            "See, that's the thing: neither am I."

Lily Luchesi is a young author/poet born in Chicago, Illinois, now residing in Los Angeles, California.  Ever since she was a toddler her mother noticed her tendency for being interested in all things "dark."  At two she became infatuated with vampires and ghosts, and that infatuation turned into a lifestyle by the time she was twelve, and, as her family has always been what they now call "Gothic," she doesn't believe she shall ever change.  She is also a hopeless romantic and avid music-lover who will always associate vampires with love, blood, and rock and roll.
            Her interest in poetry came around the same time as when she was given a book of Edgar Allan Poe's complete work.  She then realized that she had been writing her own poetry since she could hold a pen, and just had not known the correct terms.  She finished her first manuscript at the age of fourteen, and was first published at twenty-one.
            Her debut novel, Paranormal Detectives 1: Stake-Out, was published by Vamptasy Publishing on May 19th, 2015.  Book two, Miranda's Rights, was released on January 18th, 2016.  Book three, Life Sentence, will be released on August 2nd, 2016 by Vamptasy Publishing, and book four (title TBA) was also just accepted by the publisher and will be released in January 2017.  She has a short story, "Undead Ever After," in the CHBB Publishing anthology Love Sucks (released on June 13th, 2015).  Her first erotic short story, "Have No Fears," was published in the Hot Ink Press anthology Naughty Bedtime Stories: In Three Words on October 10th, 2015.  She also has a short erotic horror story, "The Devil's Dozen," in the upcoming Hot Ink Press anthology Death, Love, Lust, which was released on February 4th, 2016.  Her horror short, "Too Young to Kill," was released in the CHBB Publishing anthology Lurking in the Shadows on June 28th, 2016.