Penance

 

And now, for something a little different.

 

Today’s post is another piece of flash fiction, in response to a challenge on Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds blog. Basically, the assignment was to take a line created to be the last line of a story, and flip that idea on its pretty little head – making it the opening line of a roughly 1000 word story. So to see which line I chose, and to indulge in the rest of my creativity run amok, read on:

 

Penance

 

Truth be told, I’m not sure any of them are actually dead. It all looks so much easier in the movies, where the baddie is always a big, snarling monster and the good guys never run out of bullets. No one ever tells you that real monsters look remarkably similar to sweet, blue haired old ladies. Or that demons make a hell of a mess when you blow them up.

 

Damn it. I loved those shoes.

 

Sinking down into the massive wingback chair by the floor to ceiling windows, I slipped off my red patent leather heels and reached for a towel. Demon blood – thick, black and sulfurous – dripped down off of my pony tail and all over the snug designer jeans and black v-neck I’d thrown on earlier. I’d no sooner started to wipe copious amounts of viscous unholy innards from my favorite Louboutins than the knock came.

 

Great. Not even time to clean up first. Oh well, might as well get it over with.

 

“Door’s open.”

 

If I hadn’t been so damn tired, the look on the Council member’s faces would have elicited a chuckle from me. Then again, it’s not every day that you walk in on a well-dressed woman covered in coagulating demon guts in the middle of a high end Las Vegas hotel room. Still, you’d figure that the head of the world’s foremost paranormal council would at least try to hide his obvious disgust. Apparently it’s easier to pay for demon hunting services when you don’t have to come face to face with the evidence of it.

 

“We… we were looking for Nick?”

 

For one of the most powerful men in the country, Alex Ballard sure looked confused. His tiny blue eyes shifted nervously from one corner of the room to the other, obviously at a loss. Considering his standing in the magic community, I opted against my first inclination, which was to let loose a smartass answer. Instead I set down my ruined shoe with an exhausted sigh before leveling him with as serious a look as I could muster.

 

“I’m Nic. And here – “I fished the small silk bag out of my pocket and tossed it in his direction “ – is what’s left of your demon problem.”

 

Alex stared down at the tiny black parcel in his hands as if expecting it to burn a hole through his palm. He cleared his throat twice before addressing me again, tiny eyes still glued to the bag.

 

“You’re sure that they’re d-dead? Gone?”

 

Ok, now I was getting irritated. I wanted a hot shower and a rare steak. I wanted Alex Ballard to cough up my fee and then get the hell out of my room. I wanted to quit the demon hunting business once and for all and find a nice quiet office job that wouldn’t give me migraines and nightmares. Instead, I eased myself out of the chair and ambled over to the mini bar.

 

Ballard’s assistant – who, if it was possible, had even shiftier beady eyes than his boss – took two steps back and paled visibly as I walked by. Can’t say it didn’t sting my pride a bit. Sure, I was dripping with leftover demonic parts and probably smelled a little like brimstone. But come on, no girl wants to be the cause of a man’s obvious revulsion.

 

Pouring a hefty shot of bourbon for myself, I gestured at the two men with the bottle.

 

“No thank you, Miss –er – Nic. Now, about the demons. If you could explain exactly how you know –“

 

“I don’t. There’s no way of knowing that they won’t come back. Can’t even be sure that they’re all really dead at all.”

 

The heat from the liquor blossomed in my chest. It was a welcome, numbing sensation.

 

“The fact is, Mr. Ballard, that this kind of demon doesn’t belong on this plane. Someone, someone a hell of a lot more powerful than your average basement Satanist, summoned those demons with the intention of doing a fuckload of harm to the people of your city. I’d say they consumed three or four souls before I got to it. Teenagers, probably. Runaways or homeless folks. Anyway, I’d say your problem is bigger than the demons themselves. You’re going to want to figure out who did this, sooner, rather than later.”

 

“I don’t understand. How did you manage this? No one else has been able to locate the monsters, much less identify and vanquish them…”

 

I grinned at him over the rim of the glass before knocking back the last of the bourbon.

 

“I’m damn good at my job. Now, if we could arrange for payment, I’m sure you’ll understand that I’m a wee bit tired…”

 

That seemed to snap him out of his dumbfounded state.

 

“Of course. We’ll be out of your way shortly.”

 

Slipping the pouch into his suit jacket pocket, he nodded curtly at the beady-eyed assistant, who scrambled out of the room, hopefully to go get my hefty fee. Hey, fighting the undead is a dangerous job; what would be the point of risking my ass if it didn’t pay well enough to keep me in the lifestyle to which I’d always wanted to become accustomed?

 

I was halfway through my second drink when I noticed a subtle shift in the room’s atmosphere. Call it intuition, or instinct, or just a keen sixth sense developed over years of dealing with paranormal bad guys, but I knew something was about to go down.

 

Dropping the glass, I reached into the back waistband of my jeans and ducked low seconds before the screeching started. There’s really no mistaking the high pitched whine of a demon shaking off its human form. Son of a bitch, I should have known something was wrong the second Ballard entered the room. If I hadn’t been so damn tired…

 

Alex Ballard’s doughy face split down the middle, blood and sinew erupting in a lava-like flow as the grizzled demon that had obviously been inhabiting his body for some time revealed itself. Still screeching, it raised one of Alex’s hands in my direction. The stench of sulfur made my eyes tear as chunks of flesh melted away from the body that had, until quite recently, belonged to the chairman of the American Paranormal Council.

 

The demon charged then, its oily black skin melding with what was left of Ballard to leave a trail of soot, blood and slime on the pristine hotel carpet. There was no mistaking the look in his eyes – this demon wanted me dead.

 

“Not today, you bastard.”

 

Raising the retrofitted Walther PPK, I locked onto the demon’s snarling head and pulled the trigger just as it was rounding the side of the wingback chair.

 

A whole new layer of sludge rained down over me as I bent to gather the tiny black silk pouch from the bubbling pond of ooze that used to be Ballard’s suit jacket. I might not ever get my hair clean again.

 

The knock at the door from Ballard’s assistant came as I was looking around for something to wipe my face with. Apparently, this night was just not getting any easier. Raising the Walther, I called out as sweetly as I could.

 

“Come on in…”

On The Peculiar Pets of Miss Pleasance

Being a reader with lady parts, I’m not ashamed to say that I indulge in the occasional romance novel. In fact, I have often said that a well-written romance is my dream gig, and will most likely be the first thing I actually publish of my own. However, I will be the first to admit that I am all kinds of picky when it comes to my girlie reading. I’m all about a good plot first and foremost. I’ll take a little paranormal with my story, as long as it’s not all throbbing members and heaving bosoms. In fact, I tend to steer clear of anything that doesn’t have a modern setting, and have been known to toss aside a freshly purchased novel at the first sign of a heroine that can’t seem to find her own backbone.

Maybe that’s why I’d avoided the whole steampunk thing thus far. Hey, I’m not normally one to roll my eyes at an entire genre without giving it at least an honest to goodness shot first, but it all seemed a little out of my comfort zone.

And then, in the midst of my quasi Twitter stalking (Twaking?) swearalicious author Chuck Wendig and Stephen Blackmoore (who’s Dead Things I absolutely could NOT put down) I stumbled across another author with lady parts – Miss Delilah S. Dawson. If you’re the Twittering kind, I highly recommend you check all three of them out, as they are Twitterific. At any rate, it didn’t take long for me to develop a total word-crush on Miss Dawson. I figured if she could keep me chuckling and entertained and thinking with 140 characters or less, it would definitely be worth checking out what she could do with a whole novel.

As it turned out, her brand spanking new novella, The Peculiar Pets of Miss Pleasance was due out in 48 hours. I figured it would be the perfect gateway into the whole steampunk romance world, as well as a peek into her Wicked series of novels. Boy, am I glad I gave it a shot!

First and foremost – yes, it’s part of a series. But, I didn’t read anything that came before this, and I didn’t feel the least bit lost. I will say that I probably would have felt more “in the know” had I read Wicked as They Come first, but all in all, I had no trouble keeping up.

The whole tale takes place in Sang, a parallel world crafted by Dawson where live animals are a rarity, and living, breathing pets are rarer still. In the midst of this somewhat Dickensian London sits Needful Creatures – an actual pet shop run by Frannie Pleasance. Frannie happens across a needful creature in the form of Casper, a fellow that reminds her of her late brother. She gives the drunken cad room and board, and it isn’t long before he’s flirting away.

And then we meet Thom – a sexy Scottish fireman in a kilt. Think a love triangle is coming? Think again.

Soon, strange things start happening to and around Frannie, and it’s obvious that someone is out to do the feisty pet shop owner harm.

Dawson weaves an incredibly detailed story, making you feel a part of her world from page one. The character development is quick, which is important in a work this short. I found myself immediately drawn to Frannie, and relating to her – despite (or maybe because of?) the whole steampunk vibe. Oh and Thom? Totally yummy hero.

Five stars to The Peculiar Pets of Miss Pleasance, and I’ll definitely be reading more of Delilah S. Dawson’s work in the near future. Hey, who knows, maybe she’ll swing by and write a guest post? (A girl can dream, can’t she?!)