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Tall, Dark and Hairy

The Necro-Files

Etopia Press

Heat Rating: No Rating
Word Count: 44,551
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In the woods, no one can hear you sneeze…

Daisy Janney--college student and assistant mortician--can't wait to get out to the country to attend a music festival for spring break. Her favorite band Shizknit will be there. But so will the bugs. And the bathrooms at their campsite are just…wow. Then there’s the secret war being waged by the wizards of the council and a mysterious group of creatures that look a whole lot like bigfoots (bigfeet?). Whatever they are, they seem to know something about Daisy that she doesn’t, and they aren’t telling. Now she’s got to save an entire race of mythical—scratch that, very real but kind of smelly—creatures from the clutches of the deranged (and equally smelly) leader of the council, Caroline. If she plays her cards right, Janie might be able to stay alive…and she might even get to spend what’s left of spring break getting to know the bass player for Shizknit a little better...

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Excerpt

PROLOGUE



Night. The woods are dark with only a veiled moon struggling to shine through the clouds that block the stars. He runs because they chase him, crashing through the underbrush too fast to know where his next step will land. A creek appears, and he hurtles across, falling and clawing himself out of the water and onto his feet. Paws fill his sodden footprints—one of a shoe, one of a naked foot—a moment after he clambers away. His breath steams in the wintery air. He is a young man, fit and fast, but their hunger is far wiser.

A clearing emerges ahead, and he doesn’t have time to wonder if this will help him gain on his pursuers or vice versa. He has no weapons—he left his musket in the jaws of one of his pursuers after emptying it into another’s coat. He thinks he might pause long enough to pick up a stick if he sees one, but part of him wonders what good it will do. His clothes are in tatters, and he can feel the cool dampness of blood running down his legs.

He crashes into the clearing, looks for anything of use but can see next to nothing in the darkness, imagines—or hopes he imagines—the breath of the things on his back. He sprints across the clearing. He can hear them panting behind him, too tired themselves to howl. He pushes his muscles harder and actually gains speed across the mostly level terrain. He knows the teeth will come any second, but he is almost to the tree line again, where he hopes the tangle of native underbrush will at least give him an opportunity to gain a momentary lead, though the things behind him—he refuses to call them just wolves—will quickly destroy any true lead he gains.

The trees are a few steps away. He picks up speed, thinking he’s going to be eaten any moment, and then he is not alone.

A groups of shadows step from the tree line. He can’t tell anything about them other than that they seem tall. He certainly can’t tell if they are Protestant or Catholic, and he doesn’t care.

He doesn’t stop. He runs between two of them, expecting the sounds of battle or of anything, but stops short when he perceives nothing and falls to the mossy ground, his legs screaming with an agony he hadn’t noticed until this moment.

He turns. The figures are still—stone still—and silent. In front of them, he hears the barest growl of ferocity and recoils when he realizes it is being answered by these dark figures. The two lines stand, growling at each other, so quiet the man has to force himself to stop panting so he can even hear it, and then the growling stops. Somehow, though they left in silence, he knows the wolves are gone.

He struggles to his feet, immediately falls, and lies huffing for breath. The line of figures turn to him, and at that moment, the clouds part enough for the moon to lay its feeble light out upon the eyes of the forest, and he sees that these figures aren’t men.



* * *



He doesn’t know how he gets back to the stockade surrounding the settlement in St. Mary’s; his experience of the trip is odd, his awareness ebbing and flowing like waves coming into a beach. One of the beasts takes him into its arms, and then his awareness fluctuates as though one moment he is in one place and the next in another.

He finally arrives at the wall of felled trees surrounding the fort and is set down. He turns and sees clearly for the first time the things that have saved him, great, hairy beasts that resemble apes he’d seen on safari but stand tall like men. He nods to them and offers his hand. One—he can’t distinguish between them other than that this one has silver hair on its back—takes it. He forces himself not to flinch as it engulfs his hand in its own. When its furry palm touches his, an ocean of images, memories, wash over him: memories of his wife and child; his life back in England with his father, who is not so much a man as a living title; his new life, here, where he has become something of his own man. He jerks away, and the images cease. He’s not sure this even really happened.

Summoning up some of the presence of mind he’s witnessed so many times in his father, he speaks. “My name is Leonard Calvert. I am the governor of Maryland, son of the Lord of Baltimore, acting in my father’s absence as the Baron of Baltimore.” He adds mention of his father to legitimize himself, but then realizes how ridiculous this is, since his present company is unlikely to have kept up with English peerage. “I rule this territory. If you ever have need of me, you have only to ask. I owe you a great debt.”

The creature bows, and they are gone. He stands there a long time, trying to make sense of what he’s witnessed.



* * *



Months pass. The settlement at St. Mary’s grows to a true fort, and with its growth, comes violence. The once-friendly natives have fled from the encroaching settlers, and Calvert has seen no trace of his erstwhile saviors since that first night. A nearby settlement, founded by traders from the Virginia colony and ruled by a man named Claiborne, denies the Catholic Calvert’s claim to the land. They squabble over petty things: power, religion, trade, titles—always more titles—but Calvert suspects Claiborne’s true goal is maintaining his own power. Claiborne arms a ship and fires on the settlement, and Leonard Calvert flees for his life with his wife and children. He returns to the colony at the head of a small army, only to receive word that the leader of the rebellion has abandoned his men and fled back to Virginia. Calvert and his men return to St. Mary’s, and that night, Calvert finds himself restless, as he does many nights in this new world. Ignoring his own earlier edict against wandering off alone, he leaves the safety of the town walls and ventures into the woods, searching for peace, but led on by something more. It isn’t long until he notices the night is strangely quiet. He has been walking for several feet in the near silence when a creature appears in front of him.

Calvert is calm.

“I wondered if I’d see you again. Or one of you,” he corrects himself.

The beast nods and reaches one long, hairy arm out to Calvert, mirroring Calvert’s actions when they’d returned him before. The moment the beast’s fingers wrap around Calvert’s hand, his mind fills with images. He sees a small group of the beasts in the woods. Something makes him think that this is a family. The scene shifts. The youngest wanders off. The adults are foraging. They found a patch of wild raspberries and are busy filling a woven basket he senses was made by the creatures. Before he can investigate this further, the image follows the little one. These scenes aren’t as clear. The child encounters a small group of men. This shifts to the men carrying it away… The parents reappear—the image not fuzzy anymore—basket full, hooting for their child.

The thing lets go of Calvert’s hand and Calvert steps back, cradling his head as a bright pain flashes through it.

“Your child was taken,” he says, when he’s able to.

The beast nods. It reaches for him again, and Calvert flinches. Its eyes, though, hold such sadness, such worry, that he acquiesces. This time, he sees the water’s edge. These woods border a vast river, and he watches as the image moves over the water to a boat with the men inside. He realizes, though he hadn’t noticed before, that these men don’t have faces, and understands that he’s seeing a dream of what happened, which helps but doesn’t completely relieve his alarm. The scene skips forward and the boat docks on an island with a stockade. The men enter with the child.

“I know these men,” Calvert says.