It’s starting soon! The release of my vampire hunter series. I wanted to give you all the opportunity to read the first chapter today and offer you a free gift in celebration. See details below the post for the free offer.
The Dead of Sanguine Night is a free short story tie-in for Under a Sanguine Moon. Check out these great covers.
It was foolish to be out at night, Amaranth knew this; there were dangers both rumored and unknown. She quailed at the memory of the reports of vampires and ghouls. The ghosts didn’t bother her much. She’d been told there wasn’t a lot that ghosts could do to a person. Still, the thought of seeing a disembodied spirit was enough to send shivers up her spine. The vampires and the ghouls, along with werewolves and other terrors that lurked in the darkness was enough to keep everyone in Danthea locked behind their blessed doors, their windows locked with silver inlaid shutters.
No one went out at night, unless they were foolish, or a hunter…if those even existed. If she’d been smarter, she would have spent the night with her boyfriend, Jeremy.
Amaranth turned back, looking the way she’d come, wondering if maybe it was best to head back to her boyfriend’s home and sleep the night there. The problem was, she didn’t recognize any of the buildings or the roads in the darkness. It had to be the fact that she’d never been out at night that she didn’t recognize her surroundings.
Amaranth had to press on; keep going and she would find her way out of this haze of doubt and terror and she would make it home in one piece.
Far in the distance, she heard the bay of a wolf and stopped in her tracks. This was no ordinary wolf. Not in Danthea. In Danthea that was the call of a werewolf that had gotten separated from its pack. To her right, startlingly close by, she heard the answering call of the pack locating one another for a hunt.
Her heart hammered hard enough that it deafened her to nearly all other noises. She fled down the cobbled walk until she was sure she’d made her way far enough from the hunting wolves that they wouldn’t find her.
But they can find my scent, she told herself.
Amaranth pressed herself into the shadowy depths of a stone doorway, hoping that if the wolves came her way, they would not see her, or by some miracle of the Goddess, they wouldn’t smell her either.
She peered out around her. The full moon shone silvery red on the empty streets. On the corner across the way, a lamppost stood, casting its flickering flame into the night as if the paltry fire might offer some hope of protection. She knew there was no hope though, not on sanguine night; not when the blood moon rose high and those damnable beasts that haunted the streets by night gained power from the crimson rays of the moon.
Amaranth closed her eyes and tried not to think about what might be coming for her. Again, she wondered if it was too late to turn back, to go to Jeremy’s and whether the night.
She knew it was useless. At this point she was likely closer to home than to Jeremy’s, even if none of the surroundings looked familiar to her. She considered knocking on the door where she hid, hoping that someone inside might not confuse her for a ghoul or a hag, and let her in to stay the night. She shook her head to clear the thought. No one would ever be foolish enough to open their home to a stranger at night. Even her family might not open the door for her…who knew what could be taking her appearance to gain entry to their house?
Amaranth peered around her, wondering where the werewolves were. It was dead silent once more, the only noise she could hear was the distant whisper of the ocean, far off in West Shore.
In the ghetto of City Center, she thought. That was another danger. In the ghetto there had been a string of deaths. They hadn’t been confirmed as murders yet, and Amaranth wasn’t sure they could ever be confirmed either. People had gone missing from their homes, reportedly gone out into the night only to be found devoured by ghouls in some abandoned house.
At the memory of the reports, Amaranth crept away from the doorway she hid in. What if this was an abandoned home? What if she accidentally pressed too hard against the doorway and fell inside, only to be devoured by ghouls?
A side street, that’s what she needed…a side street.
A couple paces down the road, Amaranth found what she was looking for.
Boulva Street was just the shadowed side street she needed. There were few lights, and plenty of places to hide. She tried not to think that some of the beasts in the night could see better in the dark than in the light. Instead, she made her way down the street, avoiding puddles of light from the few lampposts that were actually lit. She hoped there was a corner of an overgrown yard she could hide in until the sun ruled Danthea.
The cobbles of Boulva Street were cracked with the occasional stone missing here and there, making walking dangerous if she wasn’t paying attention to where she placed her feet. The houses slanted toward one another on rotting foundations, like drunken neighbors seeking support. The yards were small and overgrown. For that she was thankful.
In the ghetto, she thought, where people go missing and wind up—
“Are you lost?” a voice asked behind her.
Amaranth jumped, barely keeping the scream behind her teeth from bursting out and shattering the stillness of the night.
Amaranth spun around to see the woman behind her. She was a short woman, clad in a long white dressing gown as if she’d been readying herself for bed. Her hair was blond and shined in the light of the blood moon. She was a pretty woman with a small nose and full lips the color of blood. Her eyes were ghostly blue.
“Are you lost?” the woman asked again, and smiled.
Amaranth nodded her head fervently. “Yes,” she whispered.
“Come with me,” the woman said, holding out her hand. “You can stay the night with me.”
“How do I know you’re not a ghoul or some other night terror?” Amaranth asked.
“How do I know you’re not the same?” the woman asked.
Amaranth didn’t have a good answer.
“My name is Lauren,” the woman told her. “What’s yours’?”
“Amaranth,” she said, slipping her hand into Lauren’s delicate grasp. Her hand was warm and welcoming. Amaranth was at once at ease.
“Well, Amaranth, come and sup with my family and I. We were just getting ready to eat,” Lauren said, turning back to the main street.
“It’s awful late to eat,” Amaranth said, at peace and emboldened to talk now that she was with Lauren. If this woman ventured out at night to save her, she must not fear the evil of Danthea. If she didn’t fear the evil, she must have some kind of control over it, or at least some way to ward it off.
“What can I say? We eat late,” Lauren said. She led Amaranth back down Boulva Street and around the corner to the house where Amaranth had hidden only moments before.
Lauren opened the door onto an inviting living room. Candles illuminated the inside. She rushed Amaranth inside. She took her cloak and hung it on a peg beside the door. A fireplace snapped and popped cheerily from the other side of the living space, and the security and safety it offered filled her with happiness.
A couch sat against the same wall as the door, and chairs filled the side walls. To the right of the fireplace was a doorway that led deeper into the well-lit house. To the left of the fireplace stairs ascended to the second floor.
“I would have knocked,” Amaranth said, turning to Lauren. “But I didn’t think anyone would have let a stranger in at night.”
“Most wouldn’t have, but my mother has the sense to know when a person is evil and when they aren’t. She saw terror in you, and sent me after you.”
“You’re brave to face the night alone,” Amaranth said.
Lauren smiled. “Follow me,” she said, motioning to the doorway to the right of the fireplace. “We’re just about to eat, and you are welcome to join us.”
Amaranth followed Lauren deeper into the house. The doorway opened up onto a small kitchen with tile counters on the left and right walls. Over the table hung a silver chandelier lit with multiple white candles. The rectangular table took up half the kitchen and sat close to the wall with just enough room for two people to sit behind it.
Around the table were various adults in the late stages of life. A grandfather, Amaranth suspected by his balding white hair and withered face, sat at the head of the table. A portly woman and a thin man sat close to the wall. They looked of the age to be Lauren’s parents.
“The rest of the family will be down shortly,” Lauren said.
As if in response to her words, thumping sounded from upstairs.
“Would you like some tea?” she asked Amaranth.
“Yes, please,” Amaranth said, sitting down across from Lauren’s mother. “Thank you for sending your daughter after me.”
The woman’s eyes were milky and didn’t seem to register that Amaranth was even there. Maybe she was in the grips of another vision or something. Amaranth couldn’t be sure. She’d never been around seers before.
“It’s very kind of you to accept me into your home,” Amaranth said to the grandfather at the head of the table. His eyes were dull, not quite as milky as the mother’s, but she bet his eyesight was failing. He stared straight ahead as well, taking no notice of what was happening around the table.
In fact, the entire family seemed to be vacant from their own bodies, poised around the table as if Lauren was a little girl who’d set out her favorite dolls for tea.
A moment of panic seized Amaranth. “Is there something wrong with your family?”
Lauren smiled and sat a cup of steaming water before her. The smell of jasmine filled Amaranth’s nostrils, and she took a tiny sip of the hot liquid. It soothed her throat and washed away the growing panic. She imagined there wasn’t anything so strange about the family after all. The grandfather might have lost his sight in old age, and the mother was likely still in a trance, trying to sort out if Amaranth was evil or not. Who knew what seers looked like when they were in a trance?
“Did your mother study her art at the Apothecarium?” Amaranth asked Lauren, who was busy at work behind her. Amaranth wasn’t sure that seers trained there, but with all the kinds of mancy they taught at the Apothecarium, she figured psychic forces would be among them.
“No,” Lauren said. “We don’t…agree with the Apothecarium.”
“Just personal issues with the headmaster,” Lauren said in a tone that said she didn’t want to talk more on the subject.
“This is a very nice home you have here,” Amaranth said to the father, hoping that she might engage him in some kind of conversation. But, like the mother and the grandfather, stared straight ahead. Amaranth had the chilling thought that there might not be anything there behind his eyes: no soul, no thoughts…nothing.
Amaranth shivered and looked away. “How long until sunrise?” she asked, suddenly wondering if she would rather be out on the street than inside this house with these vacant people.
“Long enough for a good meal and a nice, long sleep,” Lauren said. Again, there was something behind her voice that said more than her words did. Whatever it was she was trying to say eluded Amaranth.
A shadow passed over the mother’s eyes, but then was gone. Amaranth leaned forward, intent on her aged face, but the shadow didn’t return. Had she really seen anything?”
“Here you go,” Lauren said, setting a plate piled high with beef and potatoes before Amaranth.
Amaranth dug into the meat. Pink juices sluiced out of the beef, adding to the pool of gravy that dominated the plate. The smell was intoxicating: onions and garlic mingling with the aroma of butter potatoes and rich gravy. Her stomach growled. She bit into the meat and wondered if she’d ever tasted anything so amazing in all of her life.
The light flickered. Amaranth looked up, and for a moment there wasn’t a silver chandelier above her illuminated with numerous candles but a tarnished chandelier that hung lopsided from the ceiling. One of the two chains that had once secured it to the ceiling dangled down to the table and cobwebs linked the old, dirty candles.
Amaranth blinked, but the image changed. It was just her imagination. The chandelier was clean and bright enough to light the room with ease. She turned back to her meal, putting the thought from her mind. It was likely that she was distraught from being caught out in the night and rescued by a kind woman with a strange family.
“Is it good?” Lauren asked.
“Delicious,” Amaranth said, looking to Lauren. The woman was at the other end of the table from the grandfather. Her hands were folded before her, but she didn’t eat, she only stared at her mother and father.
Amaranth glanced at the mother. There was something at the edge of her nostril, wriggling around, trying to creep out of the depths of her skull. Before Amaranth could think of what it could be, or why it didn’t seem to bother the woman, a maggot plopped out of her nose and onto the table.
Amaranth gasped, but when she looked at the table where the maggot had fallen, there was nothing there. She glanced back at the mother, but she just sat there as if nothing had happened.
Maybe it hadn’t, Amaranth thought. She was growing more and more certain that she’d rather be outside, facing the terror of the night than in here with this strange family.
She trained her eyes on the plate, but the light flickered again and in the moment of darkness that blinked through the kitchen, Amaranth no longer saw juicy beef and buttery potatoes on her plate. Instead, before her sat a pile of moldy bread.
The light flared back to life and the beef and potatoes was back.
“Is everything to your liking?” Lauren asked, still not looking at Amaranth. “Do the potatoes need more butter?”
“No, it’s all very delightful,” Amaranth said.
The light failed again, and her cup of tea vanished in the darkness, replaced with a cloudy, unwashed glass filled with brackish water.
She jumped to her feet, the chair tipping backwards. In the gloom of the room, Amaranth saw the family truthfully for the first time.
Dead. They were all dead. Graying, molding, yellow blotches of skin stood out along their arms like bruises of rot. The mother’s blond hair was white and shriveled against her skull, her skin stretched to near cracking over her bones, like paper over a skeleton.
“I…I need to go,” Amaranth said. She sped from the kitchen before Lauren could react. As she did, the light flared once more, and the house was as it always had been: posh, polished, well lit, and welcoming. A comforting air suddenly surrounded her and she felt rather drowsy.
“Do you really need to go?” Lauren asked from the kitchen doorway.
The light faltered again, and Amaranth looked around her. The chairs and the couch sat half on the floor, their legs broken, their cushions dusty and moth eaten. The fireplace was cracked and cold. No fire burned from within. The room was gray, the paper peeling from the walls. The house was so ransacked that Amaranth wasn’t sure how she’d ever seen it as a welcoming home instead of a disaster with debris scattered along the floor and rat skeletons gathered in the corners.
At the base of the stairs stood three figures, all more rotten than the family in the kitchen. Whatever clothing they might have worn in death had long since faded away to dust. They were so far gone to decay that their skin was nothing more than blackened leather stretched over their bodies.
Amaranth was frozen in fear. She couldn’t move an inch. Somehow—she wasn’t sure how—breath still filled her body. She tried to will her legs to move, but they wouldn’t obey her.
“I don’t think you really need to leave,” Lauren said, leaning in the doorway of the darkened kitchen. “We haven’t eaten yet.”
Amaranth waited for the lights to come back, for the candles and the fireplace to flare to life and chase away the nightmare that she’d stumbled into, but it never came.
And then, jerkily, woodenly, the family from the kitchen joined Lauren in the doorway. Now their eyes did see Amaranth, and she wished they didn’t. Now their dead eyes stared directly at her and saw nothing else. The blackened figures at the base of the stairs seemed to come to life then. Slouching to the ground they crawled over the rotten floorboards toward Amaranth on all fours, like animals more than humans. The popping of their bones as they ground together and the crackling of their dry skin filled the room, and Amaranth screamed in terror, unable to do anything else.
She tried to move once more, but another power held her in place and wouldn’t let go. It wasn’t until the first of the dead fingers were tearing into her flesh, carrying away parts of her body to feed rotten mouths that Amaranth finally moved. She fell to the floor beneath the press of dead bodies.