I sit across the desk from Justin, hoping that he can’t sense the racing of my pulse.
He’s thin as a new grown willow, pale faced and straight lipped. His suit would be ordinary if it weren’t so well fitted, a softer and more presentable skin than the one beneath. His red tie is the only spot of colour. Red for passion. Red for roses. Red for a drop of blood.
His arms hang limp, fingers twitching in expectation. There’s something he wants to grasp, whether to rend or to embrace. The two are much the same with him. He cannot love without destroying, cannot destroy without holding that moment dear.
Not like me. I have to make a choice.
“I have a task for you,” he rasps. Does he sound inhuman, or am I just giving in to suspicion? “A place I need you to go.”
We’re well past the point where I could refuse. He’s owned me since he bought up my broken business.
The wooden stake up my sleeve, that’s all mine.
“What is it?” I ask, trying to sound friendly.
“I need you to carry a message.”
“Can’t it go by email?”
His lip twitches and a drop of blood oozes from the corner. That’s when I’m certain that the desiccated corpses in the news are real.
“This is personal,” he says, holding up an envelope. “You don’t mind, do you?”
“Of course not.” I force a smile, keep eye contact, and let the stake slide down my sleeve. “Happy to help.”
I walk around the desk and lean over. As one of my hands closes on the envelope, the other slams the stake into his chest.
The movement is easy as falling off a cliff. His suits tears, the red tie crumples, and the stake goes straight through into the chair behind. I had braced myself for the spatter and stink of blood, but I wasn’t ready for this.
His skin ripples and falls away.
A tingle runs up my arm, hundreds of tiny lips chewing on flesh. I jerk back and black dots tumble from my sleeve. Ticks. Hundreds of them. They run across my chest, probing, biting, feasting, a thousand pricks of pain.
I stagger back and fling off my jacket. So many bites now that it feels like I’m burning.
I stumble over a chair and fall to the floor. Buttons fly as I rip my shirt open. I see the ticks crawling past my waist and up my neck, covering every inch of skin.
There’s a mass of tiny black bodies where Justin’s face had been. They drip from a mimicry of lips, cascading over my face. I open my mouth to scream, but the ticks tumble in and I choke.
He crouches beside me and lays a hand on my shoulder.
“Don’t believe the stories,” he says.
My throat is swollen shut, my body parched. I want to struggle, but a terrible lethargy has seized me. All that’s left is the pain of my skin.
The last thing I see is Justin’s blood red tie.
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By Sword, Stave or Stylus
A gladiator painting with manticore blood.
A demon detective policing Hell.
A ninja who can turn into shadow.
Prepare to be swept away to worlds beyond our own in these thirteen short fantasy stories.
Action, art and mystery all feature in this collection, available in all ebook formats.
From reader reviews:
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‘There isn’t a single story in here I don’t love. All short and sweet (or dark), all fantasy with history woven through, all a slightly skewed perspective that will make you rethink assumptions. Totally worth a read.’