Please Help Support CTTA By Checking Out Our Sponsers Products

That’s the one thing I really hate about going to bars now-a-days… all the damn vampires!


Not Just Another Dead Guy


Richard Jones



“So,” I finally asked, “how long have you been dead?”

The dead guy rocked back on his barstool like I'd slapped him. He turned away from the Panthers game playing on television and stared across the bar at me. Without looking away, he fumbled for his shot glass and tossed the Jim Beam down his throat.

“How...” He swallowed the bourbon without so much as a grimace, “did you know?”

“You keep forgetting to breathe when you’re not talking.”

“Ah,” he said. “Gotta work on that.”

I gave him my most engaging smile, the tight-lipped semi-grin that says, “Hey, I understand.” Apparently, it didn’t say enough. He looked down and began contemplating the water stains on top of the cherry-wood bar.

Putting down the clean glass, I started drying another one while I studied him. I couldn’t tell for sure because he was sitting down, but he looked to be about average height. Brown hair hung limply past his ears. His average build fit loosely into a rumpled brown suit that was a size or so too large for him. He looked amazingly normal; the sort of person I don’t see enough of. Aside from being dead, that was.

Nice and normal wasn’t good enough. This dead guy had walked into a situation that was like juggling buzzing chainsaws. Blind. And drunk. Too many things could go wrong. I put too much effort into setting up the meeting that Nathaniel was late for. I didn’t need somebody mucking up all my hard work, inadvertently or not. This guy did not belong in Bloody Mary’s.

“All right,” I said. “You’re not in a coffin. What the hell are you doing in a bar slugging down rotgut? Especially this bar.”

“Don’t know. All I remember is seeing the sign and feeling like I _had_ to come in. When I try to remember more, all I get is that there’s something I’ve got to do. It’s just... Aw, forget it.”

The dead guy turned back to his drink for a moment, grimaced and slapped his forehead. His chest started rising and falling as if he were breathing. He caught my eye and held up his index finger. A thought occurred as I gurgled Beam into his glass.

“Does that still work on you in your, ah, condition?”

I swigged from the brown bottle of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale I’d been nursing under the counter for the last hour and watched a dead guy swill down Jim Beam. Watching, I thought about preconceived notions. Before I landed this gig, I thought the things that frequented this bar had only a single item on the menu. Turns out they like a good Bordeaux as well as the next fiend. Who knew?

The dead guy meditated on the amber liquid for a few seconds before looking back at me.

“I have no idea,” he said. He tried to smile, but his face was so full of twisted loathing that it rather spoiled the effect. The dead guy rubbed absently at a spot on his chest just below his breastbone. “But I sure aim to give it my best shot. No pun intended.”

The dead guy looked around. His gaze lingered on the wall full of framed photos. They looked impressive, just chock full of people with names that would sound good dropped into conversation. They had fooled me for about ten minutes, until I realized all the pictures were torn from the pages of defunct fashion magazines.

Bloody Mary’s is dimly lit and furnished with second-hand chairs and tables. I’m particularly proud of the television. It gives at least the illusion of a regular bar. When an outsider walks in from Mr. Chan’s Bar-B-Q next door, and it does happen, the place needs all the help it can get to look at least slightly normal. You just have to hope the person who walked in is and observation-deficient drunk. And doesn’t look tasty.

It’s not so much a bar as it is an idea. The place is an island of relative safety in a unique sea. Years ago, Mary struck a bargain with the locals. Her bar gets immunity and they get a place to gather without too much fear; let your fangs down, sort of thing. I’m not sure how Mary enforces the bargain or what keeps the locals from just taking her out. She won’t talk and neither will they.

I guess I’m the bar’s public face. Mary likes to stay in the background and needed an idiot as front man. Say hello to Lucas Barnard, part-time idiot, full-time peacekeeper. I wasn't the first person to work as Mary’s hands. Hell, the man who worked the bar before me just plain disappeared.

I wished I could disappear. No call from Nathaniel. No idea if he was even going to make the meet and he was already late. Sighing, I leaned to my right over the bar and tried to pry some more information out of the dead guy.

“What the hell you lookin’ at, meat?” The gruff voice whispered from just over the bar to my left. I stifled any obvious reaction. It’s a learned response when you spend your nights dealing with people who see you as a light snack.

“Him,” I said, putting just enough emphasis on the word that it might be heard as sarcasm. Or maybe not. I could argue both ways.

“What him? Meat, there ain’t no him. You losin’ it.” The voice laughed, sounding like the bastard offspring of a grinding gearbox and savagely beaten Wurlitzer.

I turned deliberately to my left, making shushing motions with my hand in the dead guy’s direction. Since I don’t like to take chances, I made sure to focus my gaze on the smashed, splayed end of the newcomer’s astonishingly ugly nose. Even without looking, I knew the whites of his eyes were enlarged, the black irises squeezed down until they were almost indistinguishable from his pinprick pupils. The vampire’s scraggly beard grew in clumps along his chin. Old acne scars pockmarked his face, going all the way around to disappear beneath a truly awful mullet haircut. His ever-present gimme cap bore a Confederate flag logo.

“Name’s Lucas. Use it. And what’s up with you, Bubba?” I asked. “Those funky looking eyes of yours finally get the better of you?”

Bubba snarled, turning an ugly face into something hideous.

“Meat, you walkin’ a bad road now,” he said. “You talkin’ to nobody then try talkin’ crap to your betters.”

He shoved his face closer to mine. Bubba’s slaughterhouse breath was a physical presence. Being dead, he didn’t have to breathe. Bubba knew his breath could defoliate a tree from twenty paces and used it like a weapon.

“You don’ wanna walk that road. Leads to bad places. Somethin’ gonna eat you up.”

I couldn’t believe it. He really didn’t see the dead guy. Well, the other dead guy. I held up a finger, making a wait-one-second gesture, and turned around to make sure the dead guy really was there. Yep. Still sitting on the cheap vinyl stool at the end of the bar.

“You, Bubba, are telling me you don’t see a guy sitting on that barstool?” I jerked a thumb back toward the dead guy. “Average-sized guy? Brown hair? Brown suit? You really don’t see him?”

Bubba looked straight, and obviously unseeing, at the dead guy and his face split into a smile. It wasn’t something you wanted to see coming from a vampire, especially one who didn’t believe in dentists when he was alive.

“Heh,” he said. “Meat, you done lost it. I’m gonna love watchin’ you fall.”

He started to move off, trying to whack my shoulder. It probably would have knocked me to the floor. I raised my bare hand in front of his face. Bubba hesitated. Actual physical contact with me tends to be rather ... strenuous. Then, I saw it in his eyes when he decided the pain was worth it. He drew back his clawed hand. Crap. I felt like the mouse flipping off the swooping eagle.

I was ready to leap – far away – when a voice came from behind Bubba. The voice was smooth and resonant, but something about it reminded me of a bad actor vamping desperately for gravitas.

“Now, now, Bubba. We mustn’t play with our food.”

Bubba stepped aside and I looked down. Way down. Standing behind the hulking vampire, was a great-looking miniature tuxedo filled out with a degenerate scumbag inside. Myron Deshale, the only dwarf vampire I had ever heard of. I sneered down at him, trying to look strong on the outside while praying Mary's truce would hold on the inside.

“Hello, Deshale. New shoes? They really give you a lift.”

He scowled and barely managed to repress a glance down at his thick-soled shoes. Deshale stepped around Bubba toward the bar, the dim bar lighting glinted off the enormous whites of the little vampire’s eyes.

“Ah, Lucas. You never cease to amaze me. So little wit and so great a capacity to display that lack.” Deshale smiled up at me, his tiny blue pupils fixed directly on my neck. His gaze flicked quickly to the dead guy and then back. “I wonder, Bubba, if Lucas here will find anything funny about...”

“About what, Boss.”

“Never mind. Come, Bubba. We have business to attend.” Deshale’s shiny, black shoes tapped out a merry cadence on the wooden floor.

I couldn’t help myself.

“Sorry your conversation was so short, Deshale. I’ll talk to you in a little while.”

I should probably learn to keep a tighter reign on my big mouth. Bubba whirled around and headed back for me before Deshale held up his hand to stop the big vampire.

“You gonna fall, Meat,” Bubba said. He raised one hand, made a whistling bomb-dropping sound and smacked his hands together. "Mr. Deshale been learning. Been teachin' some, too. Gonna be some hard lessons for you." He turned and waded back into the dimly lit interior of the bar. The links in his wallet chain clanked loud enough to be heard over the hushed conversation.

Learning? What could Deshale have been learning? It amazed me that he had managed to survive for so long, much less have the time to learn anything. He was a minor-league strength compared to the others. From what I'd seen of vampire society, Deshale seemed to have developed a knack for the underhanded gesture. I knew of at least three vampire deaths Deshale had to be responsible for, but I could never find _any_ evidence pointing to him.

Most manipulators operated behind one or two screens. I figured Deshale for at least six. In the back of my mind, something went _click_ just before the dead guy derailed my train of thought.

“What was that all about?” he asked. “That big guy blind or something? And that midget...”

“Never mind. Just some local color. They’re a bit... strange sometimes. Hey, I just realized, I never introduced myself. I’m Lucas. What do they call you?”

The dead guy’s eyes widened. His face became even bleaker and he started slowly banging his head on the bar.

“Hey, that’s no way to treat a dead head.”

“Just one goddamn thing after another,” he said. “I’m dead and I can’t even remember my own name.”

He wound down and laid his head in his hands. I thought he was trying to cry. I looked around. Still no Nathaniel. Dammit. It was his life, unlife, whatever, on the line. There was a pretty good chance somebody in Nathaniel’s nest wanted him back in the grave. Permanently. After Mary asked me to look into it, I’d found a few names I was supposed to pass on to the vampire leader. And the arrogant bastard couldn’t even be bothered to show up. It made me sick.

If I could think of a way to do it without bringing Mary down on me or endangering even more of the daysiders living in Charlotte, I’d sun every one of the bloodsuckers. They were all filthy bottom feeders who deserved nothing less than a good stake. Unfortunately, my life depended on dealing with them. Nathaniel was just the least worst of the bunch.

I did not need the extra complication of a dead guy trying to cry on my bar and giving me a very bad feeling. I needed more information. Dammit. I tried to smile encouragingly.

 “Well, have you looked in your wallet?”

Hope bloomed so bright it was almost painful. Quickly, he scrabbled in his jacket pocket. After some fumbling, the hope and expectation died an ugly death. He held up a couple of twenties folded over a paper clip. So much for the easy way out.

“I, um, I think I can maybe help you with that,” I said. “The name thing.”

The dead guy stared my way. I could see the grave in his eyes. Damn spooky.

“Really? You can? That’s great. That’s...” He frowned and looked at me suspiciously. “How?”

“Well... It’s kind of strange.”

The dead guy looked at me in a way that said, _“Hey, I’m a dead man walking around. Don’t talk to me about strange.”_

“Right. Good point. Ever heard of psychometry? Never mind. Hardly anyone ever has. It’s the ability to get information by touching something. Well, I’ve got it. I can do that.”

“So do it already.” He looked pitiful. The despair in his eyes tried to reach out and smack me into submission. In no way did I want to do this. Maybe I could just spook him out of the bar and my life.

“You don’t know what you’re asking. It’s hard, especially with people, or things that used to be people. It’s not so much painful, as it's agonizing to the point of wishing your hand would drop off so you could stop touching me. That’s...”

“The girls must love you.”

“You have no idea.” I had a wife. A life. One morning I woke up feeling crappy. Ally touched my forehead to feel for a fever. That touch combined with an unsuspected cardiac arrhythmia and dropped her like a stone. I don’t really remember very much about the next few years. Just squalor and an increasing sense of desperation.

I’ve never been very big, topping out around five-foot-ten and weighing about one hundred forty-five pounds. Near the end of my time on the streets, I weighed less than ninety. My red hair turned a disgusting shade of brown beneath the accumulation of dirt and scum. Even now, three years later, I still dream of stroking Ally’s cheek, feeling nothing but the satin smoothness of her skin. I tried to clear away the memories. It’s better to live in the present. Not nearly as much pain.

“Anyway,” I said. “The touch thing. The point is: I might be able to tell who you are, but it’s gonna hurt. A lot.”

“I don’t care.” He almost screamed. I hissed at him to be quiet, surreptitiously glancing around to see if we’d attracted any undue attention. Nobody so much as glanced in our direction. “I need to know what’s happening, who I am. Anything. Please.”

“Okay, but look. There might be a little feedback. I mean, you might start seeing a few things from me. Just ignore it. All right?”

He said nothing, just held out his hand. I took a deep breath. He didn’t. I knew what was coming. Again, he didn’t. I reached out my trembling hand toward his.


Oh, God. The pain. It blazed up my arm and straight to my brain. My muscles clenched, spasming into lockup. Fire danced along my nerves, burning through my consciousness. I willed myself to breathe. My eyes had squeezed shut at contact, so I forced them open. I knew the visions weren’t real, but I needed my eyes open to see. Just how it works.

A tsunami of agony washed over me. Hyperventilating, I surfed the pain wave, looking for a way into the dead guy’s past. With the suddenness of Montezuma’s Revenge, I saw the sign for Bloody Mary’s that hangs over the front door. A suffocating need to enter that door overwhelmed me.

_Harder. Push harder._ The vision fractured and reformed, showing me a small room, lit by flickering fire. The dead guy was alive, writhing on an altar, his limbs trussed like a Thanksgiving turkey. My body shook as the visions quickened, ratcheting the pain upward. A figure, wrapped in shadows, stepped out of the gloom and raised a foot-long piece of metal too nasty to be just a knife. The figure chanted softly, spitting out consonants like sunflower seeds. Interspersed throughout the unknown language was a word I recognized: “Nathaniel.”

The chanting rose to a crescendo as the figure raised the knife high above its head. The perspective weirded out, like the room expanded to enormous proportions as the figure came closer. For just a second, I glimpsed the figure’s eyes. They were terribly white: vampire eyes. The figure slammed the knife home, ripping and tearing through the chest of the man whose vision I shared.

I pushed harder, trying to get past the killing. For an instant, there was a feeling, more impression than sight, of a woman; blonde, with laugh crinkles around her eyes. Just the feeling of that hair and those eyes swept a clean breeze through the miasma of hate and fear. The feeling vanished. I tried for more, but it was no use. I was stuck, my psyche wriggling like a worm on a hook. The harder I fought, the higher the nerve fire blazed.

I tried to break contact as the dead guy crushed my hand. Locked in, my legs weakened and I almost smelled smoke from the mental heat. I groped along the bar to my left, my hand shaking like an epileptic in a grand mal seizure. _Got it._ Fumbling with the soda gun, I aimed at the dead guy’s face and spritzed.

With no change in expression, the dead guy released my hand. I nearly fell backwards into the muck behind the bar. Water dripped off his face, a look of surprise gradually overtaking his agonized grimace. I shook my hand out, trying to massage some feeling back into my abused fingers.

“God. That was awful,” the dead guy said. “I saw you fighting in some alley and... Wait. My name? What’s my name? What did you find out?”

I held up a hand, telling him to wait while I caught my breath. Vampire eyes flared up in memory. Crap. Once again, something in the back of my mind went _click_ and I had it all. The room in the vision wasn’t enormous. It’s just the figure was small: Deshale-sized small. I looked at the dead guy.

“You’re a goddamned gun.”

“I’m who?”

“Not a who, a what. You’re a goddamned gun, you poor bastard.”

“What are you talking about? What’s my _name_?”

“Look, I’m sorry. I couldn’t get it. Your name. There’s something blocking me. That doesn’t matter. We need to go. Now.”

I hopped the bar and grabbed the dead guy’s coat sleeve. He was thinner than when he first walked into the bar, which made sense. If he was a revenant, basically a dead person come back for a purpose, then he was burning up his body mass for fuel. At least, that's how I understood the thing, seeing as I'd never actually heard of a revenant existing in real life. If I was lucky, I could keep him out of Nathaniel’s way until the dead guy was nothing but a shabby suit. If I wasn’t lucky, I was looking at a bloodbath.

“No,” the dead guy said. “Not until you tell me what’s going on, why you’re so scared.”

“I’m not scared. I’m... Look, there’s three things you’ve got to know: One, vampires exist. Two, the only thing keeping this city from becoming a blood farm is an old vampire named Nathaniel, who has just enough sense to keep his kind in the shadows. Three, _you_ were killed and brought back to destroy Nathaniel. If that happens, as bad as Nathaniel is, the results will be worse. Plenty of civilians will get nailed in the crossbite.”

“What the hell are you talking about? _Vampires_?”

I sighed.

“Look. You’re dead _and_ walking around, right? So why’s it so hard to believe in vampires?”

Give the guy credit, he really tried to wrap his head around the concept. He was quiet for a few seconds then nodded his head jerkily up and down a couple of times.

“Okay. Fine,” he said. “I’ll buy that. But what does all that have to do with me?”

He nodded when I asked if he had seen the eyes on Bubba and Deshale, tiny pinprick pupils and irises and vastly expanded whites. I tilted my head back toward the door, where another of Deshale’s toadies had walked in. Tall, with dyed-black hair and purple lipstick, Carol Torbano looked more goth than vampire.

Torbano cruised past the bar, her eyes never leaving mine, those huge whites and pinpoint irises almost luminescent in the darkened interior. Despite almost bumping into the dead guy, Torbano never even glanced in his direction. Then she hissed at me. Really. She hissed. She must have watched too many Dracula movies as a kid.

“She didn’t even see me,” the dead guy said. “At all. It’s like I was invisible or something.”

“Yeah. Or something,” I said. “You know anything about sharks? Well they have a lot in common with vampires. Sharks have these things called the ampullae of Lorenzini all over their heads. I read where these things let sharks detect the weak electro-magnetic impulses given off by beating hearts. Well, vampire eyes are like that. Those whites of theirs. They can see everything normal people do, but those ampullae analogs rivet their attention to living beings. It's all about attention. They saw you. They just didn’t pay any attention to you.”

The dead guy shook his head, frown lines forming between his eyes. I wanted to help the poor guy, but my best hope was to get him out of the bar as fast as possible. He wouldn’t last long. All I had to do was keep him out of Nathaniel’s way until the dead guy kicked ash.

“So what does that have to do with…? It’s because I’m dead, right?”

“Yeah,” I said. “At least I think so. Of course, I’m basing all this on the one time I touched a vampire. That’s how I ended up here. I...”

Too late. Nathaniel walked in.

The old vampire inclined his head a bare millimeter in my direction, giving as much of an apology as he ever could. The dead guy’s eyes glazed over as whatever programming was keeping him going kicked in. He stood and strolled wordlessly toward Nathaniel.

“Shit. No, no,” I screamed, waving my arms. “Outside. Get back outside. Now. Go!”

From the back of the bar I heard chairs being pushed away from tables. The sound was easily audible over the sudden hush that took over the bar.

A puzzled look on his face, Nathaniel stopped just inside the front door. To him, the scene must have looked way off: He would have seen me jumping up and down and shouting, but nothing else. No revenant. Nothing but a human acting strangely.

But arrogant does not mean stupid. Nathaniel must have known something was wrong. He nodded again and turned around. That last move pulled the dead guy’s trigger. I grabbed at his arm as he started forward. The dead guy clouted me on the jaw, blasting me physically and psychically.

Stumbling up from the floor, I jumped on the dead guy’s back and wrapped my arms around his neck, the sleeves of my worn, green jacket protecting me from contact. The stranglehold would never work. He didn’t breathe. I dropped to the floor, kicked the dead guy’s legs and had the same effect as if I’d tried to batter down a redwood.

As Nathaniel paused in the doorway to look back, the whole plot unfolded in my mind with frightening clarity and my list of people who wanted Nathanial gone narrowed down to one. With Nathaniel back in the grave, Deshale would prop up a toady as leader of the Charlotte nest and control the whole thing from behind the scenes. And the only person who could pin anything to his stubby chest would be easily broken bartender Lucas Barnard. I would get dead, along with as many of Charlotte’s civilians as Deshale and his cronies could drink.


From the back of the bar came the susurrus of vampires moving closer to take in the action. Some of them – Deshale, Bubba, maybe Torbano – had to be in on the plot. The rest just wanted to see what was happening. Nathaniel looked at the gathering vampires and I saw him reach a decision. If he left, the nest would devour him. Arrogance became stupidity. The idiot shook himself slightly and stood straighter.

I decided to try something desperate.

Stepping behind the dead guy, I reached around, grabbed his face in both hands and yanked. I tried to rip his head clean off. The pain hit, draining my strength. I felt like I was trying to lift a boulder. Through mental flames, I saw understanding flood Nathaniel. He understood, and knowing, stepped forward. Fast as he was, the dead guy was even faster.

Nathaniel slammed into the wall, his arrival heralded by showers of plaster. A babble of voices came closer. The vampires would never interfere. If a leader couldn’t handle a simple challenge? Time to get a new leader.

Agony lanced up my arms. I screamed as the urge to kill surged into my brain. I needed to tear my hands away from the dead guy’s face, curl up in a corner somewhere and whimper for a decade or so. I held on, my fingers gouging for the dead guy’s eyes, but I couldn’t move the distance. I pulled, with all the effect of an ant moving a whale.

Through it all, through the pain and the rage, the dead guy screamed in my brain. His psyche was ripping apart. Crying inside, he was scared shitless because he couldn’t stop. In my mind, the dead guy screamed. In the night, he was quiet as the grave.

The dead guy drew back his hand and punched through Nathaniel’s chest. Ribs cracked and splintered, tearing gaping rents in the rapidly diminishing flesh of the dead guy’s hand. He was burning out. Fast. The pain was taking me with him.

After the first blow, Nathaniel was too weak to do more than bat ineffectually at the fists pulverizing his face. The vampire’s arrogance had been beaten out of him, along with most of his stolen blood. I couldn’t stop it. This bloody floor was just a foretaste of what would happen when the revenant finished off Nathaniel.

The dead guy’s elbows kept smacking into my face and shoulders as he drew back to hit again and again. In a haze, I realized that this really might work. Most of that invulnerable stuff was disinformation, along the lines of holy water. Vampires are tough, but they can be killed. Panting, I fought, hoping the dead guy felt something of my agony. An elbow clonked me between the eyes. The flashbulb pop brought with it an idea, but the pain was ruining me. I couldn’t tell if the idea was good or bad.

Some of me leaked into the dead guy the first time we touched. Maybe I could turn that leak into a flood. Calling up that fleeting impression of a blonde woman with laugh crinkles, I willed those thoughts to flow from my hands into his brain. The dead guy braced his foot on Nathaniel’s chest and wrapped his hands around the vampire’s neck. If this didn’t work, heads would roll.

The woman’s face became clearer and I saw her nose had been broken before. A small mole on her lower left jaw helped bring her into focus. I was getting feedback from the dead guy, helping to fill in the image I turned around and sent back to him. I concentrated harder, gasping through clenched teeth. The murderous rage dimmed. The red haze overlaying the revenant’s vision faded to rose.

_Now._ I pushed the vision of the woman into the dead guy, overlaying her face onto that of Nathaniel. Through my link with the dead guy, I saw Nathaniel’s sliver hair fade to blonde and his eyes morph to the emerald green of a perfect summer lawn. The dead guy stiffened, every muscle knotted. He jerked his hands up and stared at the bloody mess.

“No,” he moaned. “Not her. I’d never...”

Crap. His rationality another fast fade as the red haze darkened. I wouldn’t have long to work this last trick. If I couldn’t stop the rage, maybe I could redirect it. Grunting with the effort, I managed to turn the dead guy’s head toward the vampire congregation. _There. Deshale._ Through the agony veiling my thoughts, I stopped sending the vision of the woman and superimposed Nathaniel’s face over Deshale’s. I hurled that vision into the revenant.

The dead guy shook his head and snorted. I pushed harder, willing the vision to jump into his brain. He shook his head again. Screaming, the last of my strength surfed along the waves of pain and into the dead guy. He went rigid as he locked onto Deshale.

The pain overwhelmed me and gravity did the rest. I crashed to the floor, facing Nathaniel's already reknitting form. Suckers heal fast. Freed from the pain and my weight, the dead guy sprinted toward Deshale. The dead guy raced three steps and stumbled to a halt. The vampires gradually osmosed into the room’s far corners. Only Deshale and Bubba stood still.

Slowly shaking his head back and forth, the dead guy trembled, vibrating like a plucked guitar string. He took another step forward and stopped. Off to my left, a vampire glided toward Nathaniel, stepping daintily around the splashes of blood. The only sounds in the room came from my ragged wheezing. For some reason, I couldn’t take my gaze off a drop of blood hanging from the end of the dead guy’s right index finger. It slowly elongated, hung for a ruby second, then dropped to the floor. The sound of its impact onto the warped wooden floorboard was clearly audible.

The smell of blood saturated the room, lending a coppery taint to every breath. Gasping, I stumbled to my feet and reached out a hand toward the dead guy. Mere seconds had passed, but to my agonized senses it seemed like forever since Nathaniel walked into the bar. A voice mumbled something. It was the dead guy.

“No.” He clamped his jaws shut. His molars fractured with the effort of holding still. “R’member now. ’m a cop. Not a gun.”

Somehow the dead guy held off the programming. Deshale brought this guy back to a semblance of life for one reason, to kill and then die again. The only thing keeping him upright was the need to kill and somehow he fought it down. I couldn’t begin to imagine the kind of strength that took.

The dead guy ground out another step. I could almost hear his tendons snap as he tried to stop. Without thinking, I reached out and touched his hand. Agony beyond words blasted me to the floor. I didn’t understand how he fought it. Beneath the bone-melting anguish, he remembered. Everything. And still he would not kill.

Ponderously, the dead guy turned his head toward me. He smiled. Oh, God, he smiled. He stared at me from a hideously ravaged face, his body only a skin sack holding the bones together. His eyes locked with mine and then he collapsed; his body turning to ash. Tiny gray flakes drifted to the growing pile on the floor.

“Rest easy,” I whispered. “I’ll find her. She’ll know you loved her to the end.”

Sound roared back into the bar. Excited voices babbled and shouted. Cold winter air flowed through the open door as vampires rushed out like the hounds of dawn howled behind them. Another vampire, a woman I didn't know, stayed behind, hovering over Nathaniel. I guessed she was trying to help. I noticed this through my peripheral vision. I kept my gaze locked on Deshale. If only my thoughts could kill.

I watched raw hatred and naked terror war across his face. If he wanted Nathaniel dead again, he'd have to move out into the open. He stepped forward, hands curled into claws. From the corner of my eye, I saw Nathaniel twitch and watched it mirrored in Deshale. The manipulator shook himself and unclenched his hands. Even with Nathaniel broken on the floor, it looked like Deshale couldn't make himself act directly in front of witnesses.

He smiled, a sickening upward twisting of his lips that exposed fully extended, steak-knife fangs. Slowly and deliberately he mouthed: No proof. The little psycho sauntered toward the exit.

As Deshale passed by Nathaniel, the dwarf’s big eyes devoured every detail of the fallen vampire, sprawled in a pool of stolen blood. Deshale looked up from the carnage and stared at me.

“Imagine," he said, "when this blood is yours.” He turned and walked with Bubba out the door.

Nothing I could do. Physically, I was no match even for a punk like Deshale. Add in that sorcery garbage... Goddamn. I... Nathaniel. Maybe he would listen. If he recovered. I needed to be careful. I’d probably be just the thing for a healing vampire, pain or no pain.

I looked to where Nathaniel’s broken body slumped on the floor. The woman vampire bent over, reaching to help Nathaniel to his feet.

“Don’t.” Nathaniel’s voice bubbled, his throat and lungs thick with stolen blood briefly liberated. “Don’t touch me. I am still your master.” That vampire arrogance again.

A glacial age passed as Nathaniel pushed himself up from the floor. His right leg had two knees, both bending in different directions. I heard an awful crackling sound as the upper knee slowly straightened, the bones re-knitting in their correct places.

Standing, Nathaniel tottered for a second. He brusquely swatted the woman vampire’s hand as she tried to help. Nathaniel pulled himself up as straight as possible under the circumstances and turned toward me.

“You _will_ talk,” he said. “Later.”

The door slammed open on its own. Nathaniel creaked outside, the woman vampire walking alongside.

Well. So much for that idea.

I looked around at the empty bar. Jesus, the Panthers' game was still on. Looked like they were going to lose again. Typical. I had $100 on them to win. God, what a mess. I limped over to the pile of ashes and looked down.

“Gerard Stanley Kupchek. The strongest man I’ve ever known. You deserved better.” I made a promise to the pile of ashes that used to be a good man. “I will find a way to bring that monster down. All the monsters. Somehow.”

I walked to the supply closet for the mop, broom and dustpan. It was going to be a long morning.

A cat and her sorcerer, a beautiful dream weaver, an evil voodoo priest, a bunch of man-sized rats, an army of really big bugs, a crazed randy rabbit, some dwarves, dragons and angry three-toed sloths, New York City, the woods of Maine, the sands of Arabia and the mythic lands of Avalon all come together for the wildest most epic adventure you’ve ever read!!!!

The Sorcerer's Song and The Cat's Meow is an author's triumph and a reader's delight... What a wonderful, free-falling storytelling ride to get to the end of a fantasy that's about as close to purrfect as you can get.

M. Wayne Cunningham - ForeWord CLARION Reviews

A well-plotted story with vivid and riveting description of characters and settings, as well as an intense page turning battle, the book is a delight to read.

Tracy Roberts - Write Field Services

Available in these fine internet stores

Barnes & Noble
Books a Million