The release of Fell Beasts and Fair is now two weeks away! I’m about 2/3 of the way through the anthology, and every story has been a winner. You can pre-order your (electronic) copy today—see my previous post for details.
To whet your appetite, here’s a snippet from my contribution, “The Pooka’s Day.”
Danny stopped cold as the end of the woman’s walking stick poked him in the chest.
“We don’t want any trouble,” she whispered. “You can just move along.”
He should have heard them coming—five of them all told, but he hadn’t been paying attention. Too much on his mind. He just charged across the cow path on his way back to the creek, and there they were.
As it was, he barely had time to throw on a decent husk. He was pretty sure they didn’t notice, though, when his ears and nose shortened to more human proportions and the glow faded from his amber eyes.
Whoever these people were, their leader meant business. One of the others sucked in a labored breath. Two more, children, whimpered in the dark.
“M-miss Claudia?” a different woman whispered, “Lige… he ain’t looking so good.” This woman was helping the only man in the group to stand. Danny sniffed the air. Amid the soil and grass and growing things was the unmistakable iron scent of blood. He spied a ripped and bloody trouser leg.
The first woman’s eyes blazed. She and her friends were dressed in dingy, patched clothes barely fit for a brownie. That and their dark skin was all he could make out.
He raised his hands. “Whatever you say, ma’am.” He wasn’t in a mood for any mischief. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. He still had three more farms to case before daybreak. But he didn’t have time for anybody else’s mischief. Not tonight. Not with him liable to show up at any minute.
“And not one word, you hear?” The rumble in her voice demanded Danny’s full cooperation.
He was about to say something when he caught the sound of dogs barking.
“Lord have mercy!” the other woman gasped. The younger child, no more than four years old, started to cry, but his big sister slapped a hand across his mouth.
The first woman spun and raised her stick horizontal to the ground.
“Head for the woods,” she ordered. “Go!”
Four shadows stumbled past.
“Those are my woods!” Danny’s throat went dry. Something settled in the pit of his stomach. He was fairly sure he shut the door…
“You want to make something of it, mister?”
“You don’t understand. You ain’t got no business poking around over there. It could be… dangerous.”
“It’s about to be dangerous right here, now that those slave catchers have caught up with us.”
Slave catchers! It suddenly made sense. He’d stumbled upon a group of runaways. Seems he’d overheard something about a new law the deathlings had passed. Folks at the Crawford farm were talking about it. Even in a free state like Indiana, runaway slaves could be rounded up and sent back down south.
There was no way they were going without a fight.
Two hound dogs burst into view. The woman, Claudia, held out her walking stick with her right hand and angled her body away from them. She let a worn leather satchel slip off her shoulder to the ground. Danny dropped to a crouch.
“If you know what’s good for you, mister, you’ll stay nice and still till I say differently.”
The dogs bounded forward.
The woman uttered a word. The nearest dog flew backward with a yelp.
Magic! Danny stood mystified as the woman trained her walking stick on the second dog. She blasted it just as she had the first one.
“You’re a witch?”
“Later,” she said. She held her walking stick upright. “They’re coming.”
Claudia was right; Danny heard the sound of approaching footsteps.
She began to chant a singsong tune.
“You find ‘em, boys?” a man said. He lumbered into view on the edge of the corn field—big and swaggering, with a shotgun in one hand and a lantern in the other. “Chief? Banjo? Here, boys!”
Something told Danny Chief and Banjo were taking the rest of the night off.
Two more shadows joined the first. The woman kept chanting. Her voice was barely audible beneath the cold autumn breeze.
The three men trudged forward a few more steps, but slowly. The closer they came, the slower they got.
The first man toppled to his knees by the time he came even with the first of the unconscious dogs. The second brought his shotgun to his shoulder… but wobbled backward with the effort. A minute later, all three lay on the grass, mumbling and snoring.
“That was some mighty slick conjuring,” Danny said.
“Not now,” the woman hissed. She had spun around to see where her friends had gone. She gave an exasperated sigh. “They were right there!” she said.
“Uh oh!” Danny said. The others were nowhere to be seen—and Danny had a sinking feeling he knew where they had gone.