Excerpts · Humor · Writing

When the Man Comes Around preview

Heya kids. Since I’m closing in on the halfway point of writing my new novel, I thought I’d share the first chapter of it with you to whet your appetites. Also, I like to be able to post things up and be able to say “No, really. I’m working. Lookit!”

Without further ado, enjoy!

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WHEN THE MAN COMES AROUND (book 1 of the Nine Shot Sonata series)
By Xero Reynolds
Chapter One-

I felt the glass give way across my shoulders, becoming shearing planes of makeshift cutlery that sliced neatly through my coat and bit into my skin. Following the blossoming lines of fire across my back, there was the sickening sensation of free-fall—the entire world seemed to turn a cartwheel or three just for funsies—and I had a half second to truly appreciate the subtleties of the situation. I digested them, categorized and weighed them, and finally came to what I thought was a scientifically and logically sound conclusion:

Wow. Getting thrown through a window sucks.

At the culmination of said brilliant mental thesis, I smacked onto the litter-coated ground of the filthy alley.

I lead a charmed life.

I didn’t have time to catch my breath, so I bit down on a choked curse, and rolled back onto my feet. There was no telling how close this thing was on my heels, and the last damn thing I needed was for it to come flying through the window and pounce me while I was prone. The inertia of my roll, combined with my general loopiness from the impact, carried me further than I would have liked. My back slammed into the brick of the far wall opposite from the building I had just been evicted from, and I got to experience a brand new point of unpleasantness to add to the growing list.

Again, ow. At least fun-boy wouldn’t be able to take another shot at me from behind, this way. Fool me once, et cetera.

I shook loose the cobwebs from the second jarring I had taken, and focused on the jagged hole of the broken window, and the gloom within. I expected the creature to come bursting forth any second. It wasn’t in the nature of his kind to give up the chase once blood hit the floor. I’d see it coming, this time.

My heart hammered in my chest, the amorphous echoing of Houston traffic filled the alley, and a nesting mockingbird awoken by the noise registered a complaint to whomever would listen. I watched the opening, and braced myself. Any moment now.

Nothing came through.

I gulped down some air, and my lungs both appreciated the gesture, and immediately regretted the act. The alley was a bouquet of burnt oil, old urine, and the kind of vintage sun-baked trash that only Houston heat really knows how to produce. Oh, and of course, there was the copper tinge of my own vital fluid overriding the ambiance. I’d probably need stitches if this kept up.

I watched the maw in the building, straining to see any change in the darkness beyond those glass teeth.

Still nothing.

My eyes darted around to get a better sense of where I was. The whole scene was practically a poster-child for gentrification advocates. I had entered the first building looking for this thing’s nest, but now I seemed to be in a section of the block that had once been a side street that was later blocked off as the buildings went up, or went through expansion. The multistory buildings around me threw everything into a deep shadow that was weakly fought against by a couple of flickering lamps set above back doors that had not been opened in some time by the looks of them. Rusting bars covered windows at the ground level. Old and faded paint denoting businesses long out of service still clung to the pores of brick walls.

It sounds more macabre than it actually was, trust me. It’s a Bayou City thing. The Montrose area was rife with such urban decay vignettes. They’re actually quite artistic in the daylight, but that’s not the best time for me to do my work.

There was a doorway through the wall at the end of the alley to my left, and some kindhearted hooligan had saved me the trouble by tearing the door off its hinges. Egress point one. Check.

My gaze snapped back to the darkened hole, and I began sliding across the wall toward the doorway. Bits of brick and old paint flaked off, and the ridges of the bricks tugged at the holes both in my coat and my flesh where glass and claw alike had scored hits. I was sure I was leaving behind a tasty smear of forensic treasure, but I doubted it would look out of place with the preexisting graffiti. Hell, I’d call it an improvement. Beat that, Banksy.

My progress was slow, and as quiet as I could make it. All the while, I kept my eyes on the other building. Worst case scenario, I would beat a swift retreat and come back ready for bear. It’s not like I needed to stick around for much longer, anyway. Someone could have heard the racket my fight had kicked up, and before you could sing the chorus of “Bad Boys” there would be rubber-neckers, flashing lights, and a shit-storm of very uncomfortable questions to compliment very uncomfortable handcuffs.

I know my area well. The average response time of Houston’s finest on the west end averaged at around ten minutes. Faster, if a gun was involved. I would like to say that it was just a tactical call on my part to leave my own piece at home, but it was more simple caution versus authority entanglements.

I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t missing the comforting weight of it at that moment. It’s not like I needed it for the job per se, but when you’re dealing with things that don’t necessarily speak human language you’ll take anything you can get that might serve as a translator. I’ve long since discovered that ‘click’ and ‘boom’ are universally understood, and get you results in a very condensed time frame.

Screw it. Right now retreat was the better part of valor. I’d pop back tomorrow with firepower on tap, and finish the gig. I seriously doubted the thing would vacate its precious hidey-hole before then.

First thing’s first though. I kept creeping along. My back was lanced with spikes of pain, my breathing was still ragged, but I kept up the awkward shuffle against the wall. My eyes tried to drink in every scrap of light available as I watched that hole, and the muscles in my legs clenched and flexed in anticipation, ready to make my break for the exit. That sweet, sweet point of escape inched ever closer.

Nothing stirred beyond the broken pane, but then came a sound I could have gone the rest of my life without hearing:

Laughter.

Slithering, chilling, creaking laughter. The kind of laughter one imagines sadists to have, mocking and delighting in the agony they’re dishing out. It flowed through the space where the glass had been, issuing from the dark like a predatory thing.

Okay. We’d officially hit full-tilt unnerving with that.

I couldn’t get a bead on where he was, exactly. The acoustics in that alley were even worse than the last venue my band had played at, and that place had been a sound engineer’s worst nightmare. All I could tell at distance inside this echo chamber was that Slappy was watching me, and delighting in my awkward two-step scuttle along the wall. Delightful.

Such a preternatural giggle-fest might prompt one to run for the exit shamelessly screaming like an asylum resident turned loose on the playground, but in this scenario that would be a very good way to get yourself on one of those “Have you seen me?” flyers. As far as classic blunders go, running or panicking in the presence of a predator rates just below getting involved in land wars in Asia, and contesting Sicilians when the stakes are life and death. Predators can’t help themselves. It’s hard-wired. If you run, they have to immediately chase you. Must be a union rule. So sprinting hell-for-leather at the exit simply wasn’t an option.

But I certainly couldn’t stick around when I was at such a disadvantage. Hell, I wouldn’t loiter even if we were evenly matched. Courage and fortitude are lovely ideas, but if you ever find yourself in a fair fight it only means that one or both parties royally screwed the pooch. Stick to the plan: get out, get strapped, and come back ’round for a reckoning on a better day.

I kept my movements slow, measured, and my eyes tracked the shadows of the other building. Let him stew in there for awhile. It wasn’t in his kind’s nature to risk the frontal assault, anyway. Just move calmly, ignore the pain—and the utter annoyance of having to buy a new jacket which would seriously put a crimp in my budget—and keep my eyes on that space. He wouldn’t risk a direct fight anymore than he would risk a public one once I made it to the street. Just a few more-

CRASH!

My head swung around so quickly that I could hear my spine crackle like bubble-wrap. Where there had been a nice and decidedly inviting opening in the wall was now a pile of boxes, garbage bags, and a very confused-looking cat.

“Oh, you have got to be shitting me!” I hissed.

The fuzzball got its wits about it, and became a blur that vanished nimbly over the obstacle. There was no way in Hell that I was going to clamber over that with as much grace in my current state. My point of egress was now a minor landfill that would give the creature more than enough time to filet me if I tried to push through it.

Okay. Prioritize. It was time to employ battlefield methodology. First, think of a way to turn things around to regain combat momentum. Secondly, if I could create such an advantage, I’d leverage it to eliminate the current threat to my person, and satisfy tactical necessity. Thirdly, if I actually managed to do any of that bullshit and survive this, I was going to hunt down that fucking cat.

More insulting disembodied laughter bounced around the decaying space.

Let’s take stock. I was bleeding, tired, stewing in my own juices thanks to the ever-present Houston humidity, and trapped in a fetid alley that ran between buildings that was an alternative music videographers’s minor Mecca with a smartass bogeyman right out of Chinese mythology.

What I’m trying to say is that my zen was well and truly shattered.

I had to change the rules; get it to come out to me, somehow. I adjusted my position, lowering myself slightly against the bricks, and moved further up the alley. I wanted plenty of distance between us when he came to play. I quickly reviewed what I knew so far about this goon.

He was a shanxiao; a mountain-goblin of sorts that rarely poses this much trouble. The shanxiao are to Chinese legend what folks that use “YOLO”, “Swag” and “Irregardless” are to the rest of modern society. Acknowledged, but largely ridiculed even as folks try to steer clear of them.

When I had first entered that building to track down his nest, he had suckered me in with a mannequin dressed up like a stereotypical transient, circa 1940’s. It even had the wool fedora. In the gloom it looked silly I admit, but normally the things I deal with don’t have Mensa memberships to begin with. Once I had approached it, he had blindsided me. Then it was all hard blows and tearing claws before he tossed me out on my ass into this alley like a nightclub bouncer working over a drunk frat-boy. Then? He had stayed put and belittled my situation rather than just hauling after me to deliver the coup de grace. Humiliating, yes, but also instructive.

This all told me that he was shrewd, patient, and freakishly strong. He wasn’t just a mongrel, or lesser beastie that had gotten a lucky shot in on me. He planned things out, and executed them with precision. That meant pure-blood, which was a whole other set of problems I hadn’t anticipated, but also gave me a new angle to exploit.

The things I tangle with come in the full spectrum of weird, and number into digits that even I can’t keep up with without a graphing calculator. But thankfully, to a one, pure-bloods come prepackaged with old-world ego. And of all the sins the world has known since its first day, Pride was definitely the heavyweight champion of the hubris circuit. He had thoroughly wounded mine, so it was time to return the favor.

“Look, buddy,” I called out, “I know what you are, and I gotta tell you that I’ve had my fill for the evening. I’m giving you a chance to clear out on your own terms, without repercussion. I’ve got no time to deal with a lesser spook like you. This is my area. Leave. Begone. Get thee behind me. Shoo.” I flopped my hands at the broken window in a comical brushing motion.

Nothing. Okay, sure, given that he had just won round one, my banter could be considered pretty weak. I upped the ante, and while I spoke I slid still further along the wall. Maybe there was something in that pile I could use for a bludgeon.

“Yo. The trash heap from The Fraggles called. Something about you being a little bitch, and stealing her look? I’m paraphrasing. Marjory sounded pretty pissed off.”

No response. I guess it wasn’t a Jim Henson fan. I quickly checked my path. There was nothing I could trip over, but I was approaching a window on my side of the alley, so I adjusted to avoid the protruding sill. I had enough bruises to contend with, thanks.

“Have you tried River Oaks?” I offered. “Or the Heights? Rich digs, those. Plenty of great trees for you to shack up in with a damn cornucopia of mouth-breathing hipsters beneath them stealing all the oxygen. It’s a veritable buffet of pretentiousness.”

Silence.

“Did you know that you’re only worth about fifty bucks when it came to the intel I needed to track you down?” I laughed. “I mean, yeah, you’ve pretty much cost me twice that by wrecking my coat, but in the end you only rated a family meal at Olive Garden. Dude, seriously. One of the proud and noble descendants from the days of the Xia Dynasty only worth a pile of shitty bread-sticks and limp salad. I’ll grant you that they’re ‘endless’, but so is purgatory and tax season.”

Not a peep. Maybe the thing only spoke a Chinese dialect. That would track. Unfortunately, I was in no mood to fire up the Rosetta Stone to find out. I edged around the splinter-laden window sill, and went for broke.

“Scared, you crab-munching jackass?” I roared. “You fucking better be! Leave it to the shanxiao to be all sucker-punch, and zero balls! I’m not just some traveler on the forest road, asshole! You got the drop on me, but I’m still standing! So, you just play it safe in your grungy spider-hole, pal. Were you to actually have the spine to step outside, we’d segue directly to ‘They Live’, and I’d be your Roddy Piper, sans gum!”

More of the cold shoulder. I was almost past the window, and just three feet away from the blocked exit. Perhaps the guy had more tolerance for insults than I figured he would? I could always save my breath. It looked like funboy wasn’t going to bite on my lures. I should have dropped the line of mocking him at that, and taken the high road to potential freedom.

Sadly, my mouth ran ahead of my brain’s maturity.

“About what I’d expect from some punk-ass American Born Chine-”

The window behind me exploded outward, and before I could complete the last word of that sentence, the overpowering stench of spoiled seafood, putrid sweat, and rancid blood flooded out. There was a blur of motion following the odor, and a greasy arm thick with coarse tufts of hair and ropy muscle wrapped itself around my neck, viciously crushing my windpipe. I didn’t have time to congratulate myself on finally getting under this thing’s skin. My field of vision narrowed, all black and red at the edges as my oxygen was cut off as the shanxiao lifted me off of my feet, and hauled me into the room like I was a sack of flour. More scrapes, more slashes, and a new appreciation for pro wrestlers.

Once through the window, I was hurled away from the creature and onto the dusty cement. I must have slid the length of the interior space, because the next thing I knew, I fetched up against the far side of the room, and was treated to a clattering shower of debris and grit from the moldering drywall. I sucked in a fitful breath just to get some air back into my brain, and got a mouthful of blood and dust for my trouble.

I tried to push the clutter off of me, and at least get upright, but the spinning room and the shanxiao were having none of that. There was another ugly laugh, another bout of stench, another blur of motion, and something collided with the side of my head and sent me sprawling back into the flotsam. I curled around my midsection by instinct just in case he decided to kick a few field goals with my rib cage.

Thankfully, the creature decided to let me writhe, and was content to loom over me and watch. I cracked one eye open, and tried to get the world to stop with the gymnastics routine for a second. During the interval, I finally got a solid look at my aggressor, and I was kind of sorry that I did.

In this field of work, you come across all kinds of unpleasantness. The things that exist on the far side of normalcy tend to favor the kind or aesthetic cribbed from the fever-dreams of makeup effects artists. Sure, there’s some that are all ethereal beauty and grace, but that’s a bit more uptown than what I get to deal with. Myself? I usually get served the ugly.

And this guy was ugly with a capital “Ugh. What the fuck is wrong with your everything?” I managed to suck in another lungful of air, and I regretted it instantly. This thing smelled like it had bathed in a sewage treatment plant after it had swallowed an ocean’s worth of rancid crawfish and human blood.

The odor was bad enough, but the shadows of that empty room did nothing to soften the shanxiao’s looks. It huddled over me, looking like an arthritic old man that had been hastily sculpted by a bored first year art student. The semi-transluscent skin over its frame was both stretched too thin and hung too loosely by turns, and it was all a riot of liver spots and varicose veins. Its arms were entirely too long, and the muscled forearms were dotted in patches of coarse, wiry gray hair. A bulbous, lumpy head sporting more fly-away locks teetered atop a flimsy neck, and eyes that were mismatched both in color and size gleamed with hate.

The shanxiao was wearing what looked like a few potato sacks roughly sewn together into a kind of functional toga, and bits of shellfish and droplets of blood were liberally sprinkled across the burlap. There were also noticeable clumps of pink and gray tissue that I really didn’t want to consider too closely at that moment. The posture it had adopted was that of something used to hunching over and scurrying about, but the shanxiao could have easily topped seven feet tall if he stood upright after a chiropractor visit. But true to the lore, the goblin’s left leg ended in a stump just above where the knee would be. At least that explained the freakishly strong arms.

I silently cursed both my luck, and the asshole that had given me the information about this nest in the first place. Instead of the easy mark I had showed up to deal with, I was fighting a full-blooded old world goblin; not just another one of the annoying ankle-biting descendants we usually get stateside.

Well then. That certainly changed the lay of the land quite a bit.

“You know,” I said while turning over to get my hands flat on the ground, “We got off on the wrong foot. Let’s try some politeness, eh?” I started to push myself up into a crouch. “I’ll admit that the last crack I made was a bit racist, but at least I didn’t call you a jiangshi by accident. I mean, with only one leg you must certainly hop around like one of those ridiculous zombies, and look just as stupid while doing so even without the ceremonial garb, and you truly smell as bad as a dozen of them, and you probably entertain sexual fantasies about them, but . . . huh. I actually had a point to all of that, but it’s gone now. Fuck you.”

That prompted another vicious blow from the shanxiao. My head rung like Big Ben, and I was slammed back to prone. I should learn when to hold my tongue, but this thing had pissed me off plenty. A huge weight crashed into my back, and drove me to the ground hard enough to knock the wind out of me completely. This was quickly followed by a frantic scrabbling of claw-tipped fingers at my back, and wet-sounding breathing so heavy and fast that it sounded positively aroused.

Here’s where foresight played into my advantage, for all the good it could do with me face down on the concrete with a preternatural psycho on my back. The coat was entirely too heavy for the Houston heat, but it did keep funboy’s claws from completely slicing me open. Its motions got more wild and agitated as it realized it couldn’t just pop me open like a bag of jerky, and it switched the attack.

This guy would make some serious bank if ever he got into the cattle-roping circuit. Gnarled hands clamped down on my shoulders, and I felt the inhuman strength of the thing as it flipped me over with a chittering cry to face it, thus giving me a first-hand introduction to what an omelet experiences on the morning griddle. He had tucked his good leg beneath him and across my thighs, hooking my legs together with his foot and keeping them immobile. Simultaneously, those horrific clawed hands seized my forearms, clamping my arms to my side. A ragged hole that I suppose passed for a mouth among the shanxiao’s kind opened it his face, revealing broken and jagged teeth the color of swamp water, and coated in thick, pink-tinged saliva. A drop of it hung ponderously from a long streamer that clung to his lip for a moment before snapping and plopping right onto my forehead.

Okay. Ew.

The smell got worse than I could have previously predicted, and he had a voice to match. “Tell me your name, stranger,” it hissed, and leaned closer. “Tell me your name, so you will not end up a nameless ghost!”

I had a brief moment of panic where my mind treated me to the image of the shanxiao using those rotten Scrabble-tile teeth on my face, and I crushed that terror beneath a mountain of anger. I had had enough of this day, this alley, and more than enough of this asshole. I was done with the foreplay.

The shanxiao liked to torment. They liked to trick and sidle and play with their victims. They delighted in a bit of the old petty torment when it came to dealing with others. They weren’t even the bullies on the schoolyard. They were the weird kids on the fringe pulling the wings off of flies while singing “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider”. It was only fair then, that I responded in kind.

“Okay. Fuck this noise!” I snarled.

I uncorked the metaphysical stopper, and let Hellfire, capital H, run rampant through my veins.

The air around us grew heavier, and slowly darkened until the world seemed to vanish completely, leaving he and I alone in the formless abyss. I watched with undisguised delight as shock, and then horror crept into the shanxiao’s ugly face. I knew precisely what he was seeing, having witnessed it all too many times myself. My eyes took on a warm glow, the amber-bordering-on-orange irises gave way to a swirl of molten reds with flickering embers of gold; the pupils enlarged, and trisected, and refused to reflect the light. Rather, they seemed to devour any illumination around.

You might ask why I didn’t open with this. First off, I had no idea I’d need it. Secondly? It hurt. Creator above, it hurt. My power surged through protesting veins; fire and ice lanced through with ten-penny nails made of pure agony. The human body just can’t take that much raw and undiluted spiritual nitroglycerin coursing through it for very long, and the immediate reaction is a crash course in pain tolerance as taught by the kind of professor that thinks that Vlad the Impaler was just phoning it in.

Normally, I would not have bothered juicing up like this against such a small fry. Normally, I wouldn’t have put the stress on my body that comes from this act. Normally, I would have been smarter, or more direct, and completely avoided the need for this kind of spectacle. I would have been the better man.

But, seriously. I really liked this coat. Fuck this guy, and the feline responsible for trapping me in the alley in the first place. Guilty by association, fuzzball. Shove it, PETA.

The spectral inferno chewed through my insides, and only long practice kept the discomfort out of my voice, which had now taken on a multi-tone quality, as though a chorus of individuals were speaking the words at the same time.

“My name, phage?” I crooned. The shanxiao flinched away. My lips quirked up into a mocking smile. “Simple. ‘For the providence that gave them the fifth pit to govern as the ministers of its will takes from their souls the power of leaving it’. Where there is one, there are many. Those that carry the name of Legion.”

My words hung in that darkness, and a flick of my power made sure it reverberated. The shanxiao lost all semblance of dignity in favor of blind terror. It released me, scrabbling back on its hands and foot as quickly as it could. Even an old-world badass like him understood instinctively what that phrase meant, and it had the desired effect of making him soil himself. It’s like when the robin goes after the worm, only to discover it has just sunk its beak into the tail of a python. Suddenly ol’ Slappy the One Legged Nightmare didn’t want to have anything to do with me, let alone know my name. Even the monsters have their own bogeymen, it seems.

Etiquette dictated that I had a question to answer. I cut off the flow of energy within me, and the void and my demonic physical display vanished. The foul reality of the disused room in that skid row alley in the balmy Houston evening snapped back into place so quickly that the shanxiao paused in its escape from sheer surprise and confusion. I took the opportunity to reach into the spacious inner coat pocket with one hand, and seize the dazed creature’s clothing with my other.

I had left my gun at home. But that hardly meant I was stupid enough to go into this completely unaware and unarmed.

“But you can call me Mal,” I finished, a heartbeat before I drove the crude wooden shiv into its side.

Blessedly, there is a lot of bleed-over throughout the world’s cultures when it comes to dispensing an old-fashioned mystic ass-whuppin’, even within the realm of just one country’s lore. Depending whom you ask, silver is as useful for vampires as it is for werewolves and faeries. Salt is a great kitchen staple that works on ghosts, witches, hell-hounds, and even the Devil himself. A fair bit of it is bullshit, but there are some bits of legend that hold absolutely true.

For instance, in Chinese mythology, the peach tree holds special significance. It represents the five major elements of Creation working in complete harmony. The wood of the peach tree also makes fine stakes, and right now those five elements were harmoniously wrecking shop on One-Leg’s innards like a turbo-boosted blender. White fire, threaded through with sickly green flames erupted from the beast’s wound, and quickly raced up and over the rest of its body. I rolled away from the bonfire as far as the filthy room would allow, and shielded my face from the thermal bloom.

The old boy didn’t even have a chance to scream.

The fel-fire quickly turned flesh and bone and sinew to ash, and then eradicated the ash for good measure. Nothing remained of the shanxiao but a few glowing motes, and a slight discoloration on the concrete where it had been. At least the fire had taken care of the corpse.

That’s the tricky part of dealing with the greater world of monsters and magic. You can usually track down any freak’s kryptonite, but they don’t all go up in a puff of smoke with a dramatic stab of organ music. Some even leave whole cadavers behind. Sure, the forensic guys and gals would always put their own scientific spin on whatever leavings they couldn’t automatically explain, but that still meant documented evidence. The last thing I needed, or wanted, was anything remotely resembling a trail of clues that would lead the authorities to some vigilante operating in the Montrose area. I doubt the judge would accept “Mythological Pest Control” as a viable reason for my antics.

I currently had more than enough trouble with the HPD, thank you very much.

I stood up and took stock of myself. Aside from having to buy a new coat, I was in pretty good shape, all things being equal. I’d need at least twenty showers and one sandblasting to get rid of the smell, some stitches and a whole roll of bandaging, but otherwise it was a successful hunt. I reached up to my nose and dabbed my fingertips at my nostrils just to be sure. The power takes a toll.

No blood this time. Small favors.

I got out of the building the way I had been dragged into it, climbed over the pile of trash at the exit, and left the decrepit block entirely. I waited a bit before I slipped back into the sparse lines of folks still milling about on the street at this time of night. They’d likely be at it until four or five in the morning, given that it was still the weekend. The threat of Monday just couldn’t put a damper on their fun.

Not a one of them realized that two storybook entries just went Mortal Kombat on each other mere yards away. Not a one of them would understand that their little hot spot of Houston just got a touch safer. Not a one of them would appreciate the fact that the chances of them being some crazy nightmare’s hors d’ouevre just got as likely as winning the Powerball. At least for tonight.

My empty stomach launched an “Occupy the Fridge” campaign. A wise one-hit man once said that “bustin’ makes me feel good”, but it sure as hell doesn’t fill your belly after such hard work.

The people wandered past me, oblivious. Not a one of them would be grateful enough to buy me dinner, either. Why did I bother at all, again?

Oh. Right. I wanted my last trip here to be a quiet one. Well, that was one small victory, at least. I tried to take comfort in that as I made my way through Montrose towards my apartment. Hungry though I was, I had wounds to tend to. A few hours horizontal before work the next morning would qualify as a minor miracle. The shop opened at ten in the morning on the dot. No excuses.

Rent was due, bills needed to be dealt with, and somewhere along the way I had to scrounge up a snack, at least. I thought I had one or two instant noodle packs left. Those things last forever.

Ramen noodles: the breakfast of horror-slaying champions.

No rest for the wicked, no good deed compensated. One might be feeling a bit sorry for me. Don’t. Though I hate to disillusion you, I didn’t make these nighttime treks to kill mythical creatures for the good of mankind. I’m just not that altruistic.

My name’s Malcom Coddaire, at least for this life. I live in Houston, Texas, I play in a part-time band, and I hunt monsters because I don’t share my sandbox with others. It just so happens that I too am one of those creatures you drabs use to scare kids into good behavior. I’m an honest-to-goodness Demon, the whole fallen bit and everything.

I also work in a flower shop to make ends meet.

What? I told you I lead a charmed life.

((All material presented is ©2016 Xero Reynolds. Please don’t reprint or reuse without permission. All rights reserved, all wrongs reversed.))

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