Posts Tagged ‘The Gellboar’

Yes, it’s time for some mid-month marketing! The Gellboar is a stand-alone dark fantasy novelette. It’s set in a world where mages caused a traumatic dimensional battle in the recent past. As a result, men are not allowed to do magic. Not everyone is willing to live with that, and some of my characters take extreme risks to reach their dreams.

Interestingly, this is a story that began as a dream. “I,” in the dream, was a man cross-dressing. Not in drag, per se, but really trying to pass as female in his professional life. “I” was teamed up with a woman who dressed as a man. We were protecting a child from a strange monster.

It’s hard to remember much else of the dream, with so many years gone by. However, in any story process there are adjustments. Especially so when beginning with a dream, which very much follows its own logic. I decided that the Gellboar, my antagonist, was an alien refugee from that other dimension. And, just as Dan was male passing as female, I decided the Gellboar should be a female passing as male. Or as much as an alien might approximate, anyhow.

This is probably one of the oddest things I’ve ever written. It’s interesting, though, how drag performance and cross-dressing are so much in the news recently. This is as good a time as any to shine a light on my dark fantasy, The Gellboar.

The Gellboar

The Holy Mothers have decreed that only women can be trusted with the awesome powers of sorcery. But Dan can no more live without magic than he could go without breathing. Disguised as a woman, he struggles to provide for his sickly daughter through illicit magic. But his life of lies has drawn a darker eye than that of the Holy Mothers…

Buy it now on Amazon or Books2Read.

Have you read one of my books? Then it would be great for you to leave a review! Meanwhile, if you’d like to learn more about me and my work, check out my websiteFacebook, Instagram and/or CounterSocial.

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Bad Moon Rising is Teri Polen’s annual celebration of horror and dark fantasy fiction. She features a different author every day.

Today it’s my turn, and my book is a dark fantasy novelette, The Gellboar! I had a super fun time with Teri’s interview format. So hop on over to Bad Moon Rising and check us out.

If you’re a horror fan, keep visiting to discover tons of Indy horror fiction. The books are so good, they’re scary!

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Something I’ve noticed recently is how often the stories I write involve someone going on a journey. In Too Many Princes, the title characters went on a quest. In The Seven Exalted Orders, two of the characters were running away from the others. In the sequel, The Eighth Order, which the publisher has been sitting on forever, they also chase someone across the countryside. In The Grimhold Wolf, a character was abducted and the other ones went to rescue him. In Masters of Air & Fire, the characters’ home was destroyed and they had to search for another one. In The Weight of Their Souls, the characters were traveling home after a war. In The Tower in the Mist, soldiers are taking their prisoner to a special prison — on the other side of a haunted forest. In The Grove of Ghosts, the MC is traveling to break a curse.

Only in The Magister’s Mask, The Necromancer’s Bones, and The Gellboar did everyone basically stay at home and do stuff there. That’s three out of eleven tales involving some sort of travel.

I must confess, I feel like I’m starting to repeat myself with the journeys. My current WIP, Fang Marsh, starts with the main character on a journey. Now that I’ve thought about it, I’m going to have her arrive at a destination and stay there. This will make some other parts of the plot easier. For one thing, the villain and her henchmen will be able to find her!

What do you guys think — am I worrying too much about this?

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First, I want to thank David and Craig for responding to my initial call for feedback on what exactly my genre is.

When I reflect on the things my stories have in common, it comes down to two concepts: family and magic. Almost every one of my books has had some kind of family issue at its heart. After all, who knows you better than family? Who can hurt you with a word, or lift you up? In Too Many Princes, the brothers Brastigan and Lottres go on a quest, but the story is really about how their relationship is threatened by conflicting goals in adulthood. In Masters of Air & Fire, a sibling group of young dragons struggles to stay together after the death of their mother.

I get a lot into the magic with my world-building. If magic was real, how would that shape society? In The Gellboar and The Seven Exalted Orders, mages are separate from other people and there are restrictions on magic for the public good. In The Magister’s Mask and The Necromancer’s Bones, magic is common and well understood. They use it for things like preserving food, where we would use refrigeration technology.

In both of these, perhaps, I do follow more closely to High Fantasy than Low. Grapping with ideas and consequences around magic is High Fantasy. Family might not be as obvious at first, but you can’t deny the importance of family drama in series like A Game of Thrones.

So maybe that’s where I land — but I’d still like to hear from more of you. And if you’ve read my books, why not take a minute to leave a review? It will really make a difference!

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Looking for some spooky reading around Hallowe’en? Allow me to remind you about my 99-cent e-books!


The Gellboar, urban fantasy novelette.

The Gellboar

The Holy Mothers have decreed that only women can be trusted with the awesome powers of sorcery. But Dan can no more live without magic than he could go without breathing. Disguised as a woman, he struggles to provide for his sickly daughter through illicit magic. But his life of lies has drawn a darker eye than that of the Holy Mothers…

Get it from Amazon or your favorite e-bookseller. It’s also available from libraries on Overdrive!




The Weight of Their Souls

The Weight of Their Souls, swords & sorcery novelette.

The Weight of Their Souls

The epic war is over, the great Enemy destroyed. A ragtag band of survivors makes their way home, only to discover there were survivors on the other side, too. And even a lesser evil from that vicious host can still be a deadly threat.

It’s swords against sorcery, with more than just their lives on the line. The travelers, who barely know each other, must summon the courage to face one more battle.

Get it from Amazon or your favorite e-bookseller. It’s also available from libraries on Overdrive!


Read them already? Please leave a review so other readers can enjoy them, too.

Wyrmflight: A Hoard of Dragon Lore — $4.99 e-book or $17.99 trade paperback. Available at Amazon or Draft2Digital.

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I’m super excited to be making a blog visit today. C. S. Boyack is hosting me for an episode of Lisa Burton Radio on his blog, Entertaining Stories.

Well, technically, it will be Dan Forster, the main character of my dark fantasy novelette The Gellboar, who will be visiting Boyack’s character, Lisa Burton. They’ll talk about Dan’s situation, what exactly a Gellboar is, and much more.

I hope you’ll stop by Entertaining Stories and leave your comments and questions. Cheers!

Sign up for my newsletter and win a free E-book, The Weight of Their Souls. Just to go my Facebook page, AuthorDebyFredericks, and click the link on the left that says “Join my mailing list.” Easy, right?.

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I have my first response on The Gellboar! Jerome D. said by e-mail, “The Gellboar is a thrilling short story by a fantasy writer at the top of her genre.  By turns chilling, titillating and heart-warming, it is heartily recommended for fans of dystopian magical cosplay with surprise twists.” Thanks, Jerome!

If you’re enjoying the story, please consider buying the e-book. Just $.99 on Amazon or Draft2Digital. Get it now!

Part 7

Christine abruptly set down her glass. “Hey! Talk to me, pal.”

He shook his head. “It’s my business. My family. I’ll deal with it.”

“How can you say that?” She reached across the table, closing hard fingers over his clasped hands. “That thing is going to kill you. You have to get rid of it.”

“No.” He jerked away, putting his hands on his knees, where he didn’t have to look at the mark. “I’ll be fine.”

“Yeah, right.” She leaned back, folding her arms across her chest. “You’ll be fine right up until you keel over.” Then her harsh voice softened. “What’s going to happen to Grace when you die?”

“I’m not going to die.” He had to believe that. If he thought for a moment the Gellboard would win, he would borrow Christine’s gun and shoot himself. At least that way he could deprive the monster of his psais.

The woman propped her chin in her hand and added a bit more liquor to her glass. “So where’s your family? Or your wife’s family?”

“They’re out of town.”

Like Dan, Marilyn had been a runaway. She said her parents were in Yabble, but she wouldn’t even discuss contacting them and she wouldn’t say why. Of course, there were a few things Dan had never told Marilyn, either.

“Out of town, where?” Christine’s gentle tone unnerved him more than her abruptness had.

“Ettloes, in my case.”

She raised her brows. “That’s practically the Holy Mother’s backyard, isn’t it?”

“That’s why I had to leave.”

Her eyes suddenly took on a calculating expression. “That’s farmland, isn’t it? Ever worked with cattle?”

The sudden change of moods made him wary. “Dairy cattle,” he admitted.

“Can you buck hay bales?”

“Ladies don’t buck hay bales,” Dan laughed. To further his feminine persona, he strictly avoided any activity that might build muscle mass.

“Silly of me to forget.” But she was smiling. Dan just watched her, passively feeling with his psais for her motives. She wouldn’t be asking without a reason.

Christine took a sip of her drink, and then said, “If you don’t want to break the spell, maybe I can make you a better offer.”

“Like what?”

“Well, my brother runs cattle on a couple thousand acres in Ishe. He might be able to use a hand, especially if you can ride a horse.”

“I can’t ride a horse. Why doesn’t he find someone a little closer to home?”

She shrugged. “The local boys, they don’t want to stick around. It’s too quiet, and they don’t make enough money. So they leave for Yabble or Kroi, the bigger towns. There’s always work for someone who isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. And the locals, they love to see new kids in the area.”

Dan thought about that. It wasn’t like he wanted to stay in Chantain. The city was big and busy, but it drained your life while you weren’t looking. Still, that didn’t mean farming was what he wanted instead.

Christine went on, “My folks own the place, but my brother’s running it. I could call and ask him.”

“You hardly know me,” he pointed out. It was her turn to laugh.

“Pal, I know more about you than you’d like! What do you have to stay here for?”

“I couldn’t have left,” he answered evenly. “Grace’s doctors are here.”

That was only half the truth, of course. All his contacts were in Chantain. He would have to completely re-establish his career in a new place.

“What about my magic?” Dan asked. “I don’t plan to give it up.”

She sat back, sipped her drink. “Technically, it’s illegal, but there aren’t any neighbors close enough to snoop. Anyway, folks mind their own business, out there. Besides, Mike might be able to use another magician. I do the enchanting when I’m there, but I travel a lot, too. It would be good to have some backup.”

It might also give him something more satisfying to do. Dan hadn’t chosen stage magic because he enjoyed performing. Cheap illusions in cheap clubs — what was that worth? It had just been a convenient way to have magic without all the questions asked.

Of course, he could also go south, toward Chull, where the power of the Mother-God was weakest. The bog-witches were famous for their curses. That might be just the sort of thing he needed. But there would be a price for such power. Dan wasn’t even done with the Gelboar yet. He didn’t want to get tangled up in something else that might be just as nasty.

Christine lifted her cup again, waiting while he thought things out.

“It sounds good,” Dan admitted. Too good to be true, his mind amended.

“Smart boy,” she said, and there was a gleam of triumph in her eye. “I’ll call him tomorrow.”

A suspicion blossomed in his mind. “You just want to keep an eye on me,” he accused.

She didn’t deny it. “Someone’s got to. What if you can’t get rid of the life link when you want to?”

Dan glared at her, his earlier jealousy returning in a venomous rush. It was all so easy for her. Christine Cooper had never had to lie to protect herself. She had never held a loved one, so wasted she seemed nothing but bones and air, while her breath grew fainter, fainter. The Gellboar had to pay for what she’d done to Marilyn. Come to that, Dan didn’t know if Grace was really all right.

Still, he did have to think of the future. He’d had enough of his furtive existence, living hand to mouth and moment to moment. There was nothing wrong with moving on, especially if it meant securing shelter for Grace. If Christine was going to insist on interfering, he might as well use her. Dan had learned all about using people, these last few years.

Stiffly, he admitted, “The fresh air might do Grace some good.”

Christine set down her empty cup and smiled broadly. “Now you’re thinking.”

“I can go as soon as we’re done at The Cauldron. I’ll need cash for the road.” Dan forced a smile. “It’ll be just us girls.”

“An all-girl road trip!” Christine threw back her head and laughed, a response out of proportion to the weak joke. Relieved to end the confrontation, maybe. Or just thinking she had won. Like the Gellboar thought she had won.

Dan’s stomach tightened again, a bitter knot of guilt and rage. It wasn’t over between them. That filthy female was going to pay for hurting Marilyn and Grace. No one was going to get in the way of that. Not even the real Christine Cooper.

That’s it! The story you’ve waded through… uh, savored and told all your friends about. Check back next time for a return to my usual dragony goodness.

I hope you enjoyed my dark fantasy novelette. Comments and reviews would be much appreciated.

Meantime, I’m still running a subscription drive. Sign up for my newsletter and win a free E-book, The Weight of Their Souls. Just to go my Facebook page, AuthorDebyFredericks, and click the link on the left that says “Join my mailing list.” Easy, right?

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If you’re enjoying the story, please consider buying the e-book. Just $.99 on Amazon or Draft2Digital. Get it now!

Part 6

“Dan, are you nuts?” Christine demanded sharply. “Hold still,” she hissed, shoving at the Gellboar with her gun. “Dan, you can’t do that.”

“I have to,” he quavered, shoulders heaving as if he held back tears. “This is my daughter we’re talking about. She’ll die if I don’t.”

“You’re not thinking clearly. Look, Dan, we’ve captured the creature who’s responsible for her illness. All we have to do is call the police —”

“Now you’re crazy,” he retorted with shrill desperation. “Look at me!”

That gave her pause, as if she had somehow forgotten he was wearing pantyhose and a red satin dress.

Casually, as if she believed herself already triumphant, the Gellboar turned to remind Christine, “That would be most unwise. I, too, have forbidden knowledge. If I am accused, there is no reason I should not retaliate.”

“You won’t if you’re dead,” she barked, but even Dan could tell she didn’t mean it. And he didn’t have time to waste arguing.

“Look, I appreciate your help, but you’ve got to get out of the way.” Christine frowned dauntingly. “I’ll stand the risk, if that’s what it takes to save my daughter. It’s my fault she’s so sick. I have to make it right.”

“That’s a bunch of bull! You’re…”

“I know what I’m doing,” he insisted, hoping she would pick up the subtle message.

A low wail interrupted them. Dan turned to see Grace huddled against the head of her bed, as far from the tense tableau as she could get. Her eyes were dazed with interrupted sleep, the thin face striped with vertical tracks of tears. A soft doll was crushed against her chest.

A single step and Dan knelt beside the bed. “Grace, honey, it’s me. It’s Daddy. I’m here.”

He tried to take her in his arms, but she struggled and shrieked, panting with exertion her gaunt frame was not prepared to sustain. Her eyes remained fixed on the Gellboar. Seeing Daddy wear a dress and the strange woman with the gun didn’t frighten her, but the monstrous presence was just too much.

“It’s okay. You’re okay,” he murmured urgently, shifting his body to shield her from the sight. All that got him was a clout from a flailing arm. He rocked back momentarily, rubbing his chin, and reluctantly raised his wand. The sleep spell washed over her, and she fell back with a choked gasp. As her frantic pants gave way to even, deep breathing, Dan eased his daughter down gently.

“I’m sorry, darling,” he murmured.

“Allow me,” said a cold, grainy voice.

Dan tensed as the Gellboar leaned past him, but she merely touched Grace’s temple with a forefinger. The hand was humanlike, except there weren’t enough fingers and a cluster of tentacles curled purposefully against the wrist. Dan felt a flare of psais which quickly faded. He elbowed his enemy back and covered his daughter gently.

There was no need to fake a tremor in his voice as he stood. “Let’s get this over with,” he announced to no one in particular.

“Dan,” Christine started again.

“Shut up.”

He pushed past her and her arguments. The Gellboar’s heavy tread and Christine’s lighter steps followed him into the kitchen. The parchment was still in his purse on the sofa. He had to sign it before the creature noticed his revisions. Dan yanked the document out and whirled, slapping it onto the kitchen counter. Quickly he applied the marker to the stiff sheet.

A moment later he felt a strong tingling, as if he had lost circulation all over his body. Dizzy, he leaned on the counter. The sensation localized as a throbbing ache on the back of his left hand. Dan felt a momentary nausea as he realized what he’d done. The Gellboar was at his elbow again, and he shoved the page at her.

“There,” he said hoarsely. “Now get out.”

The creature took the sheet with an insouciance that made his blood boil. Her inhuman eyes gleamed with… what? Satisfaction? Contempt? Dan saw no mercy, at any rate. She carefully folded the parchment and slid it into the trench coat’s inside vest pocket. The door swung open and then shut. Just like that, she was gone.

Dan leaned on the counter for a moment longer, staring at the door. He absently rubbed the back of his hand, where the pain had died to a nagging itch. Under his fingers, he now saw, was a written mark, one of the runes on the  alien creature’s sheet.  The blunt lines were the vivid color of a new scab.

Beside him, Christine stood half-dressed, with her arms folded and the pistol lying over the crook of her elbow. She gave him a long, hard stare.

“What are you smiling about?”

* * *

While Christine was in the living room, finishing her change of clothes, Dan retreated to his bedroom to do the same. Tired as he was, he longed to wear his own pants, to put on a man’s shirt with the buttons on the right side. It was even more of a relief to get out of the lingerie. The padding, which created the illusion of a female form, was hot and sticky with sweat. The wig caught painfully in his natural hair as he yanked it off.

Dan wadded up the whole outfit and stuffed it into a plastic shopping bag. This he shoved on the upper shelf in his closet as far back as it would go. But he still felt the weight of cosmetics on his skin, clinging like the static in the dress. He hurried into the bathroom, and was jarred by his image in the mirror.

Even with his natural hair, a dark crew cut, he might have been looking at Marilyn. He hadn’t realized how much he patterned his stage persona on her, but it was true. He wore her clothes, did his makeup and wig just like her. It was as if, somehow, he was trying to keep Marilyn alive.

Dan could no longer meet his own gaze in the mirror. He looked instead to the rust-stained bowl of his sink and twisted the knob to turn on the water. In the coldest possible spray, he scrubbed until he felt breathless. With a towel pressed to his face, he slumped down on the toilet seat.

Everything was off tonight, his whole life turned upside-down. It was as if the interior landscape of his grief and fear distorted the mundane world around him. The unpleasant realities he had become immured to were suddenly intolerable.

His head pounded and his eyes burned, but Dan did not cry. He would not cry. Grace needed him. He had to keep going for her sake. He had let Marilyn down, failed to protect her from the monster that sapped her vitality. He couldn’t stand it if he blew it again.

There was a shuffle outside the bathroom door, and a fast, hard tapping. “You okay in there?” Christine asked from the other side of the door.

“Suck it up, Dan,” he said to himself, and stood. Aloud, he answered, “Fine.”

“Then get out here.”

A narrow silver band sat on the counter above the sink, just where he left it when he went to work. He slipped the cold weight onto his finger. With the towel draped over his shoulders, Dan joined Christine in the kitchen. It felt strange to be bare-faced, wearing men’s clothes and his own hair. He could see her pale eyes roving, taking in the details of his altered appearance. As for Christine, she had completed her transformation from glittering performer into everyday citizen by putting on a pair of blue jeans and tucking in the tails of her shirt. Her pale hair was pulled into a long braid, neat and tight.

She must have gone through his cupboards, because a pair of plastic juice glasses sat on the rickety card table in the kitchen. Ice glinted within them. An elderly folding chair creaked as Dan sat down. Christine casually drew a flask from her hip pocket and poured an amber liquid into one of the cups.

“Want some?” she offered crisply.

“No thanks.” He pushed the glass away.

Since Marilyn died, Dan was no stranger to drink. But being a cross-dresser meant never losing self-control, so he also had a good sense for when not to drink. Besides, his stomach still felt sour. Across the table, pale eyes narrowed.

“So this is it,” Christine said in the same flat, unfriendly drawl she had used earlier.

“What is what?” he asked.

“This is it,” she repeated. “The monster wins. You take the life link, it eats you up and makes more monsters. Then you die. The end.”

Dan stared at his left hand, where the dark sigil branded him as the Gellboar’s meat. He covered the mark with his right hand.

“It’s not the end.”

“Then what?” she demanded.

Dan shut his lips firmly. From his bedroom window he had seen the red glare of a neon sign, a brewer’s logo of fire. The sign stood in the heart of an alien enclave called Styggold. It was only about ten blocks away, an easy walk for the Gellboar. Trains ran night and day from Styggold Station, so it was too late to find his enemy there. She could be anywhere by now, and the life link would operate no matter where she went.

But, Dan thought with dark satisfaction, the Gellboar had accepted the contract without seeing that he’d added a clause. That meant this link wasn’t limited just to psais. Dan could cast any spell he wanted through the link, and the Gellboar’s magical defenses would not protect it. He just needed time to think up a fitting punishment for all it had done. One curse might not be enough.

To be continued…

More coming on Tuesday. Meantime, I’m still running a subscription drive. Sign up for my newsletter and win a free E-book, The Weight of Their Souls. Just to go my Facebook page, AuthorDebyFredericks, and click the link on the left that says “Join my mailing list.” Easy, right?

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If you’re enjoying the story, please consider buying the e-book. Just $.99 on Amazon or Draft2Digital. Buy it now!


Part 5

When he relaxed his concentration the car had slowed, nearly idling as Christine crossed a huge divot in the pavement. A moment later, they were on his block. The apartment building was a plain, eight-story cracker-box built of bricks. Its windows were uniformly dark.

“Pull into the lot here,” he pointed to his right. “I’ll get the parking.”

“Fine with me.”

Dan dug in his purse for cash while Christine turned into the parking lot. He was out of the vehicle before she even parked. Trying not to break an ankle, he jogged over the potholes and shoved enough money into the pay box for a whole day.

His companion joined him as he hurried to the front of the building. A low brick wall surrounded it, with a narrow strip of lawn pinched between. There was a yard light and a security camera above the main entrance, so Dan made an effort to restrain himself and walk like a lady. Meanwhile, Christine loped along beside him with an easy stride. It annoyed him that the woman made no effort to appear feminine. He tapped his security code on the keypad beside the glass door. There was a loud buzz, and he pushed the door inward.

If the security system was new, it was the only thing about the building that claimed such a distinction. The carpet in the lobby was faded, the wallpaper peeling, and the air held a cloying tang of mildew. The elevator groaned as it descended in response to their call.
The ride up seemed even longer than the wait for the elevator. Finally, they reached the sixth floor. The air was a little fresher in this corridor because one of the windows was stuck half-open, revealing the curt lines of the fire escape beyond.

Keys jangled as Dan turned the deadbolt, and then the knob. With the speed of habit, he turned on the lights and dropped his purse and coat on a ratty sofa, which crowded most of the tiny living room. Christine strolled in and he shut the door behind her.

“Nice place,” she drawled with unmistakable irony.

Dan frowned. Without Marilyn’s income, he could hardly afford even this dump. “Wait here. I’m going to check on Grace.”

“Sure thing.” Christine smirked at his annoyance and dropped her gym bag on top of his coat.

To the left of the living room was the equally cramped kitchen, and a darkened hallway parallel to the living room. Dan bent to take off his shoes before crossing the linoleum, and carried them down the hall. Grace’s bedroom was straight ahead. He stealthily turned the knob and eased into the room on stocking feet. A night-light in the shape of a yellow plastic moon gave enough radiance for him to approach the bed.

The little girl lay on her back, face half-turned toward the wall. Both hands were clasped behind her head, fingers tangled in a spray of dark curls. Her eyelashes made two crescent moons in reverse, and her mouth was like a budding rose. But she lay so still that for a moment he thought she wasn’t breathing. An instinctive, parental panic squeezed his guts. Then Grace sighed deeply, and one sleepy hand rubbed at her nose. The tight knot of grief and worry inside him eased.

Even in the dim light, he could see how thin she was. The bones of her wrist stood out from her arm. In recent weeks, Grace had become so weak that it winded her just to walk to the kitchen for breakfast. Now, he knew why.

Despite his resolve, Dan felt his lips tremble with emotion as he bent to kiss his sleeping daughter. But a muffled sound behind him made him tense. He straightened and whirled to confront a nightmare.

“You!” he gasped.

The Gellboar was in the closet. There was no mistaking the misshapen bulk among the child’s dresses hanging in the shadowed recess. It stepped forward with deliberate menace, and the hangers chimed plaintively behind it.

Gray lips grinned above the black trench coat. “Welcome home, Mommy.”

Rage filled him. How dare this creature, this monster, invade his home and make fun of him after what it had done?

“You… I’ll kill you!” Dan dropped the women’s shoes he was holding and planted his feet. With a snap he lifted his wand, summoning his psais.

He moved too slowly. The Gellboar charged, tentacles lashing out. One pinned his right arm to his side and another wrenched at his left wrist, forcing his wand upward. As it came at him, its weight threw him backward. Windows rattled as he fetched up against the wall.

“Chris —” he started to call, but a cluster of tentacles wrapped about his throat, squeezing, tightening.

“Not so loud,” the alien creature grated with menacing mockery. “You’ll wake the child.”

Dan’s head was swimming, and he could feel its power trying to subdue his will. He threw his head back and squeezed his eyes shut, hardening his psais in self defense. His mouth worked, but he could not draw breath to speak.

The Gellboar rasped, “Be still, and you will live.”

Dan fought anyway. His arms were caught, but his legs were not, and he flailed them wildly, beating against the walls and the too-soft mass of his enemy’s body. The hollow thumps, like a wildly beating heart, sounded muffled, ineffectual. Would anyone hear him?

The creature slammed him into the wall again. His head snapped back against the hard surface. The resulting thud echoed hollowly in his skull, and yellow lights flashed before his eyes.

He was faintly aware of a rustling nearby as Grace moved in bed but he could not turn his head to see her. Mother-God, please don’t let her wake. A child shouldn’t have to see her own father murdered. Creeping numbness infiltrated his limbs. It was all he could do to draw breath through the fiery bands about his throat.

“Do as I say,” his enemy growled, “or you’ll regret it.”

The door slammed inward. Light from the hallway flooded the room, blinding him temporarily. Dan felt a jerk as the Gellboar started to move and stopped suddenly. When he blinked his vision clear, it was to greet a welcome sight: Christine Cooper stood behind the Gellboar.

“I think,” she was drawling with grim sweetness, “that you’d better do what I say. And I say, the man breathes.”

“But I also have something you want, do I not?” It answered with a cautious defiance. Nevertheless, Dan was able to draw in a full breath for the first time in what seemed an eternity.

Christine had changed clothes, trading her flashy stage costume for a flannel shirt which hung loose about her lanky frame. A part of him couldn’t help noting that her legs were bare beneath the garment’s hem. The more important detail was a gleam below the brim of the Gellboar’s fedora, something dark and metallic: a gun. He hadn’t thought Christine would carry one, with her command of psais, but he was extremely glad she did.

“You willing to bet on that?” Christine pushed with the nose of the gun in a demonstrative manner. “Let him down now, nice and slow, and keep your hands, or whatever they are, where I can see them.”

Dan’s head was clearing, and he had a moment to think. The Gellboar could have strangled him or broken his neck, but it hadn’t. It wanted to coerce, not kill. As he’d hoped, the creature’s hunger for psais could be its weakness.

The alien must have decided Christine wouldn’t miss at that range. Dan felt himself sliding down the wall, his feet touching the floor.

“Very nice,” Christine said. “Now step back toward me. Slowly! What in the hells are you doing here?”

It answered without fear or shame, “Merely minding my own business.”

Did that mean killing Grace, hiding the evidence of its crime? Or had it really come for Dan, knowing he would check up on his daughter as soon as he got home? It sure didn’t expect Christine to come home with him. He was more than lucky she had.

Christine bristled. “Business? Look, you. We’re not cattle for you to feed on.”

“I do not feed.” It was the same unfeeling statement. “The energy is essential, and I do as I must to have it.”

Dan stared, feeling slightly queasy. He hadn’t thought there could be a motive besides vampiric survival. Not that he cared what it might be.

Christine wouldn’t let it rest. “Essential for what? What’s so important?”

For the first time, the alien eyes showed a trace of some emotion, dark and intense. It kept its lips shut, until she shoved again with the gun.

The Gelboar turned slowly, stared at her with its flat black eyes. “I want what any female wants, and there are no males of my kind here.”

Christine’s lips curled in a disgusted sneer. “You did this to… What, clone yourself?”

“It takes great power to fertilize eggs without sperm,” the Gelboar replied.

Dan wasn’t sure what offended him more, that this alien creature was a woman, or that she had murdered his family to create more horrors like herself. It didn’t matter. He had an opportunity to get revenge, but he had to move fast.

“I’m fine,” Dan interrupted. “Let it go, Christine.”

The two of them eased back, and the tentacles’ grip slackened. He threw them off with disgust. To the creature, he said, “I’ll give you what you want.”

The Gellboar had the nerve to grin at him.

Dan swallowed his hatred, using every bit of acting skill he had picked up to appear a distraught, beaten father. “I’ll sign it. I’ll do whatever you want. Just take the life link off Grace.”

“I accept,” the Gellboar smirked.

To be continued…

More coming on Saturday. Meantime, I’m still running a subscription drive. Sign up for my newsletter and win a free E-book, The Weight of Their Souls. Just to go my Facebook page, AuthorDebyFredericks, and click the link on the left that says “Join my mailing list.” Easy, right?

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Part 4

Carefully, Dan spread the parchment on his lap. His wand had been tucked beneath his right arm. He now held it with his left hand, point-down toward his lap, while his free hand steadied the document. On the road ahead of them, the broken line between the lanes came on in gleaming strobes.  Within that rhythm he released a slow breath. Psais, honed by years of furtive practice, responded at once.

With that sixth sense, Dan felt a ghost-sensation like the pricking of pine needles, smelled a phantom scent of turpentine or whiskey. Temptation tickled his mind, to probe more deeply and learn if Christine Cooper could be trusted. She had probed him first, and fair was fair.

But no — she was driving. She might crash the car if they got into a real fight.

Wan radiance outlined the shape of his wand, and the parchment’s pale face sprang up in the darkness. He blinked against the light, and for a moment it seemed the black runes were moving, swarming across the sheet like so many crawling things. He stared, and the markings became steady.

Still, Dan sensed a restlessness. The sheet was almost a living thing, though without true awareness. The writing must contain a spell, awaiting some action to bring it to life. As his signature would have done? Carefully, in case there was some hidden trap, Dan let his will sink deeper, sliding between the parchment and the lettering upon it.

The alien runes began to drift as if they floated on oil. Heavy lines narrowed and angular strokes grew rounded; words slithered across the page, changing sequence. Line by line, the translation flowed toward the bottom of the page. Dan’s ears rang slightly with the force of his concentration. Beside him, he felt a prickle: Christine watched, impatient.

“Almost done,” he muttered.

The swirling stilled and liquid lettering congealed into a familiar tongue. Well, not exactly. Technically it was English, but clumsily put together, and it was the kind of over-complicated verbiage intended to obscure meanings rather than clarify them. Dan held his wand steady and skimmed the document.

His eye caught on a particular word, vitalis. He read that passage carefully, and felt his heart grow cold.

“Well? What is it?”

In the quiet of the car, his companion’s harsh voice startled him. Numbly, he replied, “It’s to set up a life link.”

“Never heard of it.”

That surprised him, but the forced explanation was a welcome distraction. “It’s a spell to share psais between two people. I’ve seen it done before.”

Years before, when he first came to Chantain, there had been a couple he knew, Frankie and Tony. They were gay, but it hadn’t seemed to matter when they let him sleep on their sofa rent-free. Both men were cross-dressers, and they’d helped him a lot in developing his feminine persona. But Frankie got sick. It took too long for the cancer to be identified. After treatments failed, Tony insisted on establishing a life link, giving his own psais to prolong his lover’s life.

“I don’t get it. Why would you want to give someone psais?”

“It’s done as a life-saving measure.” Dan tried to speak crisply, as she did, to distance himself from his fears. “It doesn’t really do that. It just prolongs life until a cure can be found. If there is no cure, then it eventually drains the life from the donor. My friends who used it, they both died.”

Christine grimaced. “So it was shaking you down to sign your own death warrant?”

Dan winced from her callousness. “I guess so.” In the dim light, he could see her shake her head in disgust.

“It almost makes sense, doesn’t it? Take something that’s meant to preserve life, and twist it into an instrument of death. Seems totally his style.”

Dan swallowed heavily. “It gets worse.”

“How so?”

“I’ve seen that creature before. At least once, maybe twice.”

He heard a sharp catch of breath, and she demanded, “Did you sign something?”


“No,” she breathed. Then, “You said your daughter is sick and medicine isn’t working.”

There was a long silence as Dan tried to think how he could have missed something so obvious. The same mysterious wasting that killed Marilyn was what sickened Grace now. Yes, it had been years since he went to Tony’s funeral. Still, he should have recognized the symptoms.

“Didn’t you say that?” Christine insisted.

“Yeah. My wife, too.”

The more he thought about it, the more sure he was that he had given the Gellboar his autograph. People spoke carelessly of signing their lives away. Now Dan was haunted by the thought that he had done just that. Only not his own life.

His hand began to shake, and the light of his wand flickered out. There should have been a mark on her skin, the emblem of the spell’s potence. Grace had been in diapers when she fell ill, and even now he still helped her bathe. He should have seen the mark. But her hair was black, like his. If the mark was on her scalp, that might hide it. Even so, he should have known what it was. How could he not have known?

Christine interrupted again. “This is the Brambles, right? We should be getting close.”

“What?” Dan blinked. It took him a moment to orient himself. He had been watching the landmarks as they passed, and yet, he didn’t quite know where he was or how he got here.

The car sped southward, crossing the harbor on a low concrete span. Before them lay ranks of older buildings, wood and brick structures huddled like beggars in the shadows. Few lights showed there, and in long stretches the darkness was complete. Those were the areas never rebuilt after the Spellwar. Only the most impoverished humans lived there, or those like Dan, with something to hide. He hadn’t thought of himself as vulnerable, living in a blighted district. Perhaps he should have.

Hoarsely, he said, “Take the exit after this one. Turn right.”

Dan had been reluctant to let Christine see where he lived. Now, he couldn’t have cared less. All he wanted was to get home, to see Grace and reassure himself it wasn’t too late to save her.

“Left at the third street,” he said. “Straight ahead for two more blocks, then left again on Fafft Street.”


When they left the highway, they entered a murky realm of pitted asphalt and few street lights. No other cars moved at this hour. Christine slowed to a careful pace, frustrating Dan’s desperate need to reach his daughter.

“So your wife’s dead? Well, that explains one thing,” she remarked as the car bounced between potholes.Her lack of pity annoyed him.


“How a guy ended up with a kid. Usually it’s the woman who gets stuck.”

Insulted, he snapped, “I’m not stuck! She’s my daughter.”

“Fafft Street,” Christine interrupted again. “Left here, did you say?”

It was all he could do to answer. “Yeah.”

Turning the wheel, she said, “You know, it’s not your fault. That creature is preying on your family. You couldn’t know.”

The woman’s voice was bland, her expression dispassionate. Dan bristled at her insensitivity. Then he caught her quick glance, and realized she was just doing her best not to pass judgement, to respect his feelings and boundaries. Dan had no time for such niceties. The Gellboar had killed Marilyn, drained her psais, used her up. Now Grace was nearly spent, too. It was ready to move on to Dan, the last survivor.

Dan stiffened his shoulders, controlling a shudder. More important than blame was to remember what he knew about life links. He hadn’t cast Tony’s, but he’d watched the signing. It was so many years ago. Dan prided himself on his memory, that he could see a spell done and remake it himself. Now, when he most needed it, his memory failed him. He didn’t know how to break a life link.

There was one thing he could try, though. He concentrated, and his wand began to glow again. By its light he felt inside his purse and drew out a marker. Dan scribbled for a few moments, then capped the pen. He extended his psais again, willing the document back into its original language. Reversion was quick, and when he was finished his additions were indistinguishable from the rest of the page.

He let the light die, hoping he had done enough.

To be continued…

More coming on Wednesday. And when this link is active, you’ll be able to buy the whole book!

Meantime, I’m still running a subscription drive. Sign up for my newsletter and win a free E-book, The Weight of Their Souls. Just to go my Facebook page, AuthorDebyFredericks, and click the link on the left that says “Join my mailing list.” Easy, right?

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