As good times went, I had to say that getting knocked out was not in any way an enjoyable experience. As I slowly returned to consciousness, the painful throbbing of my head competed with a tugging sensation on each wrist to see who would win the contest of pain. For the moment, the head was leading, but my wrists were beginning to complain more urgently.
Blinking, I raised my head off of my chest and tried to bring a hand back to rub the knot on my head. When I couldn’t, I glanced to either side and realized why my wrists were hurting.
An unknown someone had zip-tied my wrists to the natural gas supply pipe that ran along the upper foundation of what I quickly recognized as the basement of my house. The cinder blocks of the wall were cool against my back, but whoever had secured my wrists to the pipe had spread my arms at such a great angle that my feet just scraped the floor. I strained to raise myself up on tiptoe to relieve some of the pressure, if only for a moment. It helped, but my fingers were already starting to tingle from lack of circulation. I eased back down to a flat-footed stance and winced as the tension returned to my wrists. The color of the zip-ties made me fairly certain that they were the ones I’d brought with me and used outside.
What goes around comes around, eh? “Asshole,” I muttered. Someone giggled in response.
I glanced up and realized that I had an audience. Back in the day, dad had finished the opposite half of the basement with linoleum and some built-in shelves. A throw rug and old sofa sat on the flooring, though my audience had reversed the couch to face in my direction rather than at the television.
I’d spent a lot of time in the basement playing Xbox as a teenager, but I assumed that the people who occupied it now weren’t liable to be there for that sort of entertainment. I shook my head, worried that I was seeing double, but I shouldn’t have concerned myself—the guy that I had Tased outside sat on one end of the couch. A twin in a slightly different outfit bookended him on the opposite side. They both glowered at me, but the young woman sitting primly between them nodded in polite greeting.
She rose to her feet with a broad smile. “Paxton, I’m so glad to finally meet you. I’ve heard so much about you.”
I blinked as recognition and understanding dawned.
You know, you hear ‘evil’, you think of something dark and Gothy. The last thing I expected was a mash-up of Legally Blonde and Pleasantville in a turtleneck sweater, plaid skirt, and sensible shoes.
Hey, sue me. I like Reese Witherspoon.
This, unfortunately, wasn’t Reese. It was Bobby’s sister. A knot formed in my stomach. Unless I missed my guess, her presence here meant that she was a member in good standing of the Professor Locke fan club. Which told me that the scene upstairs was her doing.
Random murder was one thing—but sacrificing your own family?
The synchronicity of the situation wasn’t lost on me, either. Was the scene upstairs what Mother had been trying to do with dad and me? A ceremony built around betrayal and death, stopped only by my last, desperate act?
As she stepped aside, I blinked again as another hulking figure entered the basement. Were the twins triplets? The cutesy blond smirked at the confused expression on my face. “Say hi to Mr. Locke, boys.”
Two of the three dutifully chorused a hello; the one I’d Tased just glowered and rubbed at his wrists. Cutesy waved a hand. “Meet Uno, Dos, and Trace. He’s the original. Maybe the first two are offensive but I couldn’t resist, considering my boyfriend’s name. And sometimes a girl needs an extra set of hands.”
The pain in my head was slowing me down, but her words rattled around until I saw the oddness in them. “Wait, what?”
Cutesy moved toward me, trailed closely by the triplet who’d just come down the stairs—Dos? I entertained a temptation to lever up and plant a kick in her face, but I suspected that endeavor would not end well for me.
“Oh, Paxton. I’m saddened that you haven’t taken the opportunity to further your studies. I dreamed of what was possible, ever since I read the stories about your Mother. The fact that dear old daddy used to work with her made things even better. You can’t imagine how excited I was when I found out he’d taken some things from her office! Well, I’m getting ahead of myself. The soul is infinite, of course, but intellect is not so . . . durable, shall we say? Pity, really. Trace was so bright before. But I have to say this, splitting him up three ways has made him so much more loyal and malleable.” She reached out and stroked Dos’ cheek. He grunted something. I realized in dawning horror that it was an attempt at speech.
What’s the average human IQ, 100? Let’s kick him up twenty points, since she said Trace was bright. Divided by three, now we’re down to 40. That’s far below what I’d call even a functional level.
“You magically Xeroxed your boyfriend and turned him into a moron?” Dos growled at me and I glanced in his direction. “No offense, man, it’s not your fault. Your girlfriend is nuttier than a squirrel with hoarding issues.” His growl raised in pitch. He stepped forward and slammed a fist the size of a canned ham into my gut. The impact blasted the air from my lungs and I was instantly grateful that I’d already lost my dinner upstairs because otherwise, I’d have spewed it out all over myself. Wheezing, I tried to draw up into a ball to ease the pain in my stomach, but the tension on my wrists was too much. I dropped back down to my tiptoes.
“We haven’t been properly introduced. My name is Melanie,” she said as she unbuttoned her sweater, folded it, and handed it to Dos. “But I’ve got someone else I need you to meet.” She was wearing a crisp, white button-down blouse under the sweater. She rolled up her left sleeve to reveal an incongruous, stylish tattoo like barbed wire wrapped around her forearm.
“Hey, listen, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. If we’re going to start sharing tats, I’m going to need my hands free, sweetheart.”
She met my gaze and smiled, but the expression didn’t touch her own eyes. Something told me somebody was home, but her crazy train was a few cars short.
“Now, now,” Melanie whispered, as the tattoo on her arm rippled. The ink flowed, as though still liquid, under the surface of her skin toward her hand. It split into a pair of streams and looped around her wrist, where it began to collect in her palm. She directed the palm toward me and said, in a husky voice, “Meet my newest and dearest friend.”
The ink on her palm swirled into something that looked not unlike an open eye. A chill went through me as something both more and less than human studied me.Hello, dear boy, said the voice. I felt it in my bones more than I heard it with my ears. You’ve grown so much, these past years.
Harry Dresden's sorcery goes on a Supernatural-style road trip. Cool car sold separately.
Paxton Locke is the son of a Witch.
Family drama is bad enough without adding human sacrifice to the mix. Ten years ago, his mother killed his father in a grisly ritual that Paxton interrupted. Now he criss-crosses the countryside in his RV working as a paranormal investigator while Mother languishes in jail. She’ll never forgive him for interfering...or for stealing her spellbook.
It started as a normal job for Paxton. At least as normal as speaking to ghosts ever was. But then the terrified ghost of a murdered boy warns him of a dangerous, newly-freed entity, and suddenly he has to talk to Mother again to save the day.
In a battle for his very soul, will he be able to endure - or simply fade away?
Dragon Award nominee Daniel Humphreys’ urban fantasy debut brings all the best elements of Supernatural and the Dresden Files, written with his typical engaging style and evocative prose. Even avid fans of the genre will be satisfied with the sarcasm, quips, and pop culture jokes found in Fade.
Don’t miss out on this tale of ghosts and magic. Buy it or read it on Kindle Unlimited now!