Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Resurrected - Chapter 2

While a good chunk of this novel wraps up Sam and Tiffany's story arcs, there's some other character threads that need to be finished. And then there's some returns as well...



The moaning of the damned never stopped on the shores of the Styx. If Ptolemy Antonius had one regret about the afterlife, it was the lack of his digital music player. That and a pair of earbuds could do so much to bring joy back to his life.

Or actually his death.

But then, the lack of comfort was the entire point of damnation, wasn’t it?

He perched on a boulder and watched the shades drift back and forth along the gravel-strewn banks. Some had been there so long they were nothing more than amorphous gray blobs. Most had gone insane millennia ago. Only a handful of souls had come to the dock since Hermes had deposited him here…

It could have been hours. Years. Centuries ago.

There wasn’t any way to know in the unrelenting grayness. No sun. No moon. No sleep. No waking. No eating. Nothing to mark the time.

And no way out. Not without a coin for Charon.

At first, he had been thankful it had been Hermes who collected his soul. If it had been Anubis, he would have been brought before Osiris and the forty judges, instead of being stranded on the shores of the Styx.

He would have been condemned for betraying his brother. His soul consumed by Ammut. His existence erased from reality for his sins. Even Hermes had stated he wasn’t sure which underworld was the worse punishment when he left Ptolemy here.

“Ptolemy, darling, why aren’t you hunting with Jubba, Alexander and the others?” Selene drifted closer. This time, his sister wore an ephemeral version of a Roman matron’s stolla and spoke Latin, which explained her question. Selene was reliving the past again.

“Too busy debating the merits of the Ars Amoratia.” He smiled.

She settled next to him on the boulder and clucked her tongue. “Which girl is it this time?”

“A Ptolemy doesn’t kiss and tell.” They’d have the very same conversation over two thousand years ago, and twice since Hermes brought her to the edge of the realm of Hades.

She’d been insane with fury when she arrived. What little he’d been able to glean from her was that her spawn, Duncan St. James, had tried to kill her lover before killing Selene herself and that two years had passed between Ptolemy’s death and his sister’s. He was a little surprised Caesar managed to hold St. James back for those two years. Or maybe he should be more surprised she evaded the Briton’s vengeance for that long. He’d told her more than once when they were both still alive that killing St. James’s Normal kin was unwise, but she took any rejection so personally.

Over time, Selene’s initial outrage sank into ancient memories as the mind-numbing drift along the Styx ate what little was left of her sanity.

“Come on. You can tell me.” Selene nudged his shoulder with hers. Or tried to. She didn’t seem to notice what passed for their bodies merged and parted, wisps of mist in the constant chill of the Underworld.

Grief as cold and gray as their surroundings filled him. Maybe her madness was a blessing. But how long would it be before he followed her? Before they both became as incoherent as the older shades drifting along the shore.

“Phillippa,” he lied.

Selene leaned back to examine him. “You can’t—”

He held up his hand to stop her usual lecture regarding the Amazon. “Like I could touch her even if I wanted her. She wields thunderbolts with the precision of Lord Zeus himself. The discussion was purely intellectual.” No one outside him and his siblings had known the truth about Phillippa at the time.

His sister’s ectoplasm morphed into something more recent. The suit she wore was from the middle of the twentieth century, her hair matching the style. “We need to kill her,” she whispered in English.

“How do you propose we do that?”

“We drink her blood while she sleeps.” Somehow, Selene’s dull ectoplasm managed to convey a maniacal gleam in her eyes. “If we don’t, she’ll burn us all.”

He would have sighed if he still could. This was a new take on Selene’s paranoia.

Before he think of an answer that wouldn’t set off her temper, her ectoplasm shifted again. This time, she wore jeans and a turtleneck sweater. “You’re in love with St. James’s brat!”

“What?” If he still had blood, it would have chilled in his veins. Had she guessed the truth, or was this part of her paranoid ramblings?

“You’re as bad as Alexander! Both of you let your dicks do all your thinking!”


“I’ll kill you for betraying me!” The edges of her ectoplasm blurred as her rage escalated. Her mouth opened, far wider and with far more teeth than her physical form had. She lunged for his throat only to pass through him. The rough gray blob, all that was left of sister in her mad fit, charged along the shore, shrieking incoherently.

“Well, that was an interesting performance.”

Ptolemy turned to find Lord Hermes floating a sword-length above the gravel. The wings of his sandals lowered him gently to the ground. He took the seat Selene had vacated.

“So how’s it going?” The Olympian looked distinctly uncomfortable.

A ripple of unease fluttered through Ptolemy. The gods were never uncomfortable around mortals, regardless of whether the mortal in question was Normal or supernatural. The dead were even less of a threat to them.

“May I help you, my Lord?” Hermes’s nearness made him acutely aware of his sister’s furious screeching along the banks of the Styx. Maybe there were worse things than going mad.

“I’m here to ask a favor.” The god twirled his caduceus in his hands. His two snakes hung onto the wooden staff literally for their dear lives. One glared at Hermes through slitted eyes, but she didn’t dare utter a word.

“While I am pleased and honored to assist you, my Lord, my skills are quite limited at the moment.” Ptolemy held up his gray misty hands.

The god stopped playing with his staff. His snakes looked relived, or at least Ptolemy thought they did. Hermes stared at him with an intense expression. “How would you like a second chance at life?”

The unease turned to full-blown panic. There was a reason the Mafia dons were referred to as “godfathers.” Like the Olympians, one simply didn’t say no. Not without severe repercussions. And saying yes often meant an even worse fate.

“What service must I perform in return for this…favor?”

Hermes’s face split into a wide grin. “I love a clever man.”

Ptolemy waited. Patience had been something he sorely lacked when he’d been alive.

And a hard-earned lesson on the shores of the Styx.

“You will need to acquire an object.”

Ptolemy waited and let idle thoughts drift through his mind. Was it summer or winter? On this side of the river, one never knew if the Queen of Hades was in residence.

“It’s a magickal object.”

Ptolemy waited. Another year could be passing on Earth. Had Tiffany gone to college and met a boy there? Maybe it was a good thing he had died. She was safe from his attraction to her. She had been coming into her own womanhood, oh, so beautiful, when Selene had shot him in the heart.

Finally, Hermes said, “You will deliver it to you by someone you know. Alexander Stanton.”

“Stanton?” He hated the enforcer with a passion. Stanton was blond, blue-eyed, and handsome with charm oozing from his every pore. He could attract any woman with a smile and a wink.

And worst of all, Tiffany adored him. They shared a passion for the idiotic sport of surfing. If one could call balancing on a wooden board among the ocean waves a sport.

“And how am I supposed to acquire this object of yours?” Ptolemy punched the boulder on which he perched. His fist passed into the rock. He yanked and gray ectoplasm rushed from the stone and reformed into his hand.

Hermes’s nostrils flared before he said, “You’ll have a body to use. The catch you’re looking for in our offer is that you’ll be living another man’s life.”

“Normal or supernatural?”

“Does it matter?”

Ptolemy waited some more.

Hermes sighed. “Normal, but he’s a part-time day enforcer with your old coven if that helps.”

The god’s lack of specificity worried Ptolemy even more. “Augustine Coven?”

“Um, it’s, um, no longer Augustine’s.” Hermes kicked at the gravel beneath his sandals.

“My brother’s dead?”

Hermes started twirling his staff again. “No. He’s very much alive.”

Ptolemy narrowed his eyes. “Then why isn’t he the coven master?”

The god finally met his gaze. “Because his wife found the cure to the V-virus.”

“Bebe found the cure?” If he had still been alive and actually had a body, he was sure it would have gone into shock. “How many years has it been since—”

“You died?” Hermes stopped spinning his staff. The snake that had been giving the god dirty looks stretch out and bit his thumb. “Ow! Stop that!”

“Then quit spinning us,” the snake hissed. Her partner nodded.

Hermes ignored the irritated reptiles, but he laid his staff aside. “It’s been almost nine years since your sister shot you.”

“But I’ll be living another man’s life?”



Hermes exhaled heavily. “Because the only way to return you to the land of the living is to put you in a vacated body.”

“A ghost can’t possess a body for long.”

“We would give you help to last long enough to accomplish your task.”

Ptolemy had to admit the idea was tempting. A short time to breathe again. Walk. Feel the sun on his face. Ghosts couldn’t last a week in a body. The gods wouldn’t break the rules of life and death. They may bend them, which meant he might have a few extra days before he died again.

Would it truly be worth it? Oh, Hades, he already knew his decision, but he needed more information.

Ptolemy snorted. “What’s the other catch?” He held up his left hand when Hermes opened his mouth. “Let me guess. I can’t tell my brother I’m back.”

Hermes waved his right hand nonchalantly. “Go right ahead. You may need his help.”

“With acquiring this object of yours?”

The smile Hermes gave Ptolemy renewed the chill of his ectoplasm. “No. With capturing a goddess.”

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Resurrected - Chapter 1

This is it! The end of the line for my first series I started writing, but not the first series published. I admit it makes me a little sad, but I've known for over a decade exactly how the story would end. Just remember--this is the raw, unedited manuscript.



Angela Penrose fingered her tarot cards. Last night’s nightmare had been unsettling at best. She would have blamed it on the latest Godzilla movie if it hadn’t been three months since she and her husband had watched it on Netflix. It also didn’t explain the recent spate of other weird dreams she'd experienced. Or the odd behavior of the animals at his job.

“Honey, I’m heading out to the aquarium!” her husband called. “You need anything from the store on the way home?”

“No, thanks! Love you!”

“Love you, too!”

The front door slammed shut. Now why didn’t she want him to see the spread when she hadn’t even shuffled the cards yet? She’d told him she was a witch on their third date, and that had been three decades ago.

She quickly rifled the cards, cut the deck, and laid out five cards. The same five cards she’d drawn for the last three days no matter which deck she used or how many times she shuffled the deck.

The Wheel of Fortune reversed. The Seven of Swords. Judgment. The Tower. Death.

Bad times. Betrayal. Incorrect decision. Destruction. The end of something, or someone.

The nightmares and repeated tarot readings said the same thing. Something awful was about to happen. Something big. And she’d give just about anything if the impending disaster didn’t happen in her own backyard.

Angela glanced out her office window. It was an unusually bright morning for the Seattle rainy season. The icy top of Mount Rainier gleamed under the sun's rays. She examined the cards again.

Only one suit card. The Seven of Swords could be the seventh week of autumn or seven days from now. She checked and double-checked her calendar. Either way of calculation placed the event three days after Samhain. Halloween. A shiver ran through her.

Too soon...

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Release Day!

Need something to do besides watching football on a Sunday? Ghouls in the Grocery Store is out! The penultimate chapter of the Bloodlines saga focuses on Tiffany Stephens and her daughter Ellie after the tragic events of Sacrificed.


After the murder of her husband by enemies of her uncle’s coven, Tiffany Stephens wants a normal life for her five-year-old daughter. But little Ellie’s blood hold the key to the vampires’ salvation or their destruction, and there are those who will stop at nothing to obtain the child.

Jake Wong will do anything to protect his best friend’s daughter, but can he convince Max’s widow second chances are the best thing for both of them as well as Ellie?

Amazon US
Amazon, all other countries
Barnes & Noble
Google Play

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Four Days and Counting...

Ghouls in the Grocery Store is available for preorder at most major e-book retailers. It's the penultimate story in the Bloodlines saga before the solid waste hits the spinning turbine in Resurrected. Reserve your copy today!

GHOULS IN THE GROCERY STORE - Coming September 15!

After the murder of her husband by enemies of her uncle’s coven, Tiffany Stephens wants a normal life for her five-year-old daughter. But little Ellie’s blood hold the key to the vampires’ salvation or their destruction, and there are those who will stop at nothing to obtain the child.

Jake Wong will do anything to protect his best friend’s daughter, but can he convince Max’s widow second chances are the best thing for both of them as well as Ellie?

Amazon, all countries
Barnes & Noble
Google Play

Monday, September 2, 2019

Ghouls in the Grocery Store - Chapter 3

This is the last sample chapter for Ghouls in the Grocery Store before it comes out in less than two weeks. I'm so excited that this is my sixth release for 2019. It feels like I'm finally getting my groove back.


All three of us dropped to the floor.

More surprised shouts echoed from the high industrial-style ceiling. The cries shifted to howls of pain and shrieks of terror. One last scream abruptly cut off. An occasional moan swept from other parts of the grocery store. Otherwise, it was eerily quiet.

“Shit,” I muttered. Ares!

Still no answer to my silent prayer.

“Mommy, language,” Ellie chided under her breath. I should never have let her watch Captain America movies. She was turning into a goody-two-shoes.

Waiting for my eyes to adjust, I wrapped my left hand around her right. We crept to the edge of the railing and peeked between the slats around the back wall of the café. Outside the main doors of the grocery store, the security lamps for the parking lot were off, too. Against the ambient light from the stores across the street, tall shadows shuffled in front of the glass. Whatever they were, they didn’t move with the speed and elegance of vampires or fae, nor with the purpose of healthy Normals.

“I count a dozen outside,” I whispered.

The warmth of Jake’s body against my back was comforting as he peered over my head. “Same. They probably have more waiting for you by your SUV and at the pharmacy entrance. What the hell are they?”

So he noticed the discrepancies, too.

“Don’t know,” I breathed. “Don’t want to find out either.” The emergency generator still hadn’t kicked on. Whoever was after us had done their research on the building’s power supply.

“There’s a door to the storage area in the dairy section,” he whispered. “Maybe we can go out the delivery bay.”

“If they have the main entrances and my vehicle staked out, then they’ll have someone watching the back.”

Ellie tugged on my hand. “Mommy, I don’t see any vampire eyes.”

She was right. Most of the rogues we’d encountered over the last few years were newborns, like the ones who initially attacked us. Baby vamps couldn’t keep their emotions in check while hunting. When my uncle Duncan was Turned in the sixteenth century, those glowing eyes caused terror. Now, the signature glow made the younger vampires a convenient target.

So either really old vampires stalked us with Murphy only knew what those shadows outside were, or whatever was after Ellie were things we’d never encountered before. I hoped, anyway. If they were dino demons, we were seriously fucked. “Dairy section then,” I breathed the words to Jake. “Ellie—”

“I know the drill, Mommy,” she whispered back fiercely. “Stay quiet and do what you and Uncle Jake tell me.”

The cavernous interior of the store was pitch black. We carefully backtracked out of the café. I crept down the closest aisle, trying not to breath too loud. Ellie’s damp hand clung to mine as she matched my steps. My boot brushed something, and it rolled away with a clatter that sounded obscenely loud compared to the silence of the rest of the store.

Dammit! Leave it to me to select the canned goods aisle in the dark.

Snuffling sounds came from all around us. My heart pounded.

“Up,” Jake whispered. He grabbed Ellie and boosted her to the top shelf. She kicked the shelf below her in her effort to climb up, and more cans hit the floor in a series of bangs and clangs.

A shadow slightly darker than our surroundings moved at the end of the aisle. It stumbled on other cans probably knocked over by panicked shoppers. And the monster reminded me of how I’d captured a certain red-coated, home-intruding elf who wasn’t as harmless on Christmas Eve as everyone thought.

I holstered my gun and ran toward the shadow, sweeping my left arm along the fourth shelf. More cans landed on the linoleum tiles, the sound reminiscent of a horrendous hail storm. The noises drew the shadow closer, and it sniffed loudly at the cans rolling toward it.

Taking advantage of the distraction. I scrambled up the shelving and reached the top. Teeth snapped behind me. I looked down, but I couldn’t make out much in the dark. It was about the size of a St. Bernard. Its smell wasn’t remotely canine though. Pulling up my legs, I knocked over some more cans. The monster below grunted when they hit it, but otherwise, the blows didn’t seem to faze the creature.

Instead, the thing raised its head, or what I thought was its head, and let loose a rising and falling whine that sounded suspiciously like an emergency vehicle siren. Snuffling from the other things got closer.

“Stay here.” The shadow that was Jake clambered to the top of the opposite shelving unit. His silhouette stood out against the red lights of a cereal display a couple of aisles away that must have been battery-powered. He race-walked along the narrow tops of the shelving units, trying not to knock anything over and attract the monster’s attention, before he faded into the rest of the darkness.

Below us, the creature leapt and snapped in Jake’s general direction before it resumed its call. Without knowing how to kill these creatures, shooting them could be a waste of bullets. Not to mention, the noise would attract the others, and we’d be surrounded within seconds.

“Mommy?” The one word from my daughter could barely be called a whisper.

“I’m right here.” I crawled toward her, desperately trying to think of a way to get her away from these creatures. I trusted Jake, but I’d learned a long time ago not to put all my faith in other people’s great ideas.

“We need to make it be quiet.” Ellie lifted a can and threw it in the direction of the siren call. Another grunt followed the dull thud, but it did stop its weird wail.

Instead of restarting its call, it jumped toward the source of the projectile. The shelving unit wobbled. A muffled shriek came from my daughter’s direction. But her action and the creature’s response gave me an excellent idea.

I reached for her, and she shivered beneath my touch. “You had the right idea, sweetie.” I didn’t bother keeping my voice down anymore and peered over the other side into the health foods aisle. Two darker shapes snuffled and prowled the floor. “Throw cans at the ones over here.” I drew her hand to where I wanted her to aim.

“But two monsters will knock over these shelves—ooooo! We jump to the next shelves and the other monster will get squished!”

“That’s my girl.” I squeezed Ellie’s hand and released it. A little prayer escaped me. Ares still didn’t appear. There was a time I would have banked my daughter’s life on a response from one of the gods in our lives, but not anymore. Not after what happened to Max.

“Ready,” I said. “Go!”

We threw can after can at the two creatures below. The grunts of pain turned to growls. At the same time, the first creature started its siren wailing again. Finally, the two we were trying to antagonize threw themselves against the unit.

The shelving started to rock, but it wasn’t enough. “Keep throwing, sweetie,” I ordered before I launched a couple of cans at the first creature. Its alternating howl cut off, and it leapt at me. The unit swung wildly. Ellie squeaked and I grabbed her.

The monsters after us must have instinctively decided to work in tandem to knock us off our perch. Or they were just dumb enough not to realize the units were close enough for a domino effect if one was knocked over. The shelves swayed with their rhythm as they took turns ramming the steel, each oscillation bringing us closer to our target.

I rose to a crouch and pulled Ellie to her feet. “When say go, jump as high and as far as you can.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Her palm was definitely sweaty, or mine was. Maybe it was both of us.

The unit hovered over the single monster in the canned good aisle before it did a slow swing back. Had I miscalculated? As the shelves became perpendicular with the floor, the other two creatures must have sensed they were close to capturing us. They slammed into the steel rack.


Cans rained to the floor. The single monster’s howl of pain abruptly cut off when the unit we leapt from slammed into its counterpart. Our landing spot slid away beneath our feet. The acceleration made us overshoot both the opposite side of the canned goods and the international foods aisle.

I curled around Ellie, hoping beyond hope I didn’t break any of my own bones or hers when we landed. We crashed into another rack before we dropped. Plastic bags and cardboard boxes exploded beneath me. The scent of wheat, corn, and sugar filled the air.

“Up, Mommy!” Ellie yanked on my arm once, but I couldn’t move fast enough. I covered Ellie as more cardboard boxes pummeled me from above. A series of successive clangs followed by a tsunami of products crashing to the floor rattled my eardrums as each row of shelves tipped over into the next.

When quiet settled over the store again, I relaxed my tight grip on Ellie and listened. No snuffling or siren wailing pierced the silence. It was too much to hope the monsters had been crushed under the falling debris, but we definitely couldn’t stay here.

“Follow me,” I whispered before I brushed aside boxes and loose cereal and crawled toward the reddish lights gleaming at the end of the tunnel formed by the tilted shelves. Glow-in-the-dark yo-yo’s hanging from the endcap marked the right side of the aisle. Those might come in handy for a distraction later if more creatures prowled the store.

A soft crunching came from behind me that sure as hell didn’t sound like it was caused by hands and knees. It was too…wet. I paused. Murphy, please tell me my baby wasn’t doing what I thought she was doing.

I didn’t want to ask, but I had to. “Ellie, are you eating cereal off the floor?”

“Just the pieces on top of the piles,” she whispered. “I’m hungry.”

Only my daughter would be worried about food while we were mortal danger. “If you’re too full of cereal to go to McDonald’s…”

The crunching stopped. “I’m not.”

“Follow me.” I gritted my teeth and crawled toward the red lights and glowing yo-yo’s again. I really couldn’t complain. I’d done far weirder shit when I was a kid. At least, my daughter wasn’t being raised by vampires.

A shadow appeared between the glowing cereal display and the yoyos. I stopped and drew my sidearm. We had no place to go if another creature stalked us from the opposite end of the makeshift tunnel.


I relaxed at Jake’s whisper and started to stow my gun when an awful thought occurred. The dino demons, the ones who helped the rebel vampire Giovanni beat Max to death and kidnap Ellie, could shapeshift beyond a were’s two forms. They could become anyone. And you wouldn’t know until they were ripping out your heart.

I aimed at the shadow. “What were you planning to help me with this weekend?”

The shadow shifted before he said, “Your damn garbage disposal. When was our first kiss?”

“You’ve never kissed me, asshole.” But I relaxed and holstered my weapon.

“I think you two should,” my daughter piped up from behind me.

Thank Murphy, it was dark. From the heat in my face, my lily-white skin would be glowing like the freaking cardboard tiger beneath the battery-operated Christmas lights.

“No one’s kissing anyone,” I muttered. I crawled toward Jake. “Why not?” Ellie asked. “You like each other.”

Jake helped me to my feet. “Yeah. Why not?” His dark eyes glittered red from the cereal display.

He was funny and cute, and he doted over Ellie. As much as I hated to admit it to myself, he’d replaced Gerard Butler in my fantasies. And with that silent admission, old guilt crashed over me.

“Don’t make me break my promise to Alex,” I hissed.

“And what’s that?” Jake asked as he pulled Ellie from under the fallen shelving and lifted her onto his hip.

Ellie cupped her hands around his ear, but I could hear her anyway. “Grandpa Alex told her she’s not allowed to shoot you.”

Jake’s teeth flashed scarlet in the light. “I’m glad Grandpa Alex is looking out for me. I wouldn’t want to be shot.”

She nodded solemnly. “I won’t let Mommy shoot you either.” She patted his cheek.

“I’m glad somebody has my back.” His voice grew serious. “We’re not getting out the rear entrance. There’s a dozen of those things prowling the unloading dock.”

“What about the, um…” I didn’t want to ask about the grocery employees who should have been in the store room in front of Ellie.

“There’s a lot of frozen pizza and sausage on the floor back there,” Jake murmured. “Nothing we could really use.” For an instant, I wanted to hug him for his discretion. Ellie didn’t need to see the mangled bodies of the employees. “So why haven’t they come in after all the racket we made?”

“Same reason the ones in the front haven’t come in.” His voice turned grim. “They got us trapped, or they think they do.” I glanced around us. Still quiet. “So what are they waiting for?”

“I don’t think we want to find out,” he said.

Faint snuffling came from a few aisles away, followed by the pop and crunch of a bag filled with more air than snack food.

Jake nudged me in the opposite direction. “Let’s head to the manager’s office. It’s defensible and we can call for backup.” He left out that the land lines had probably been cut the same time the power had been. But talking on a cell phone before we were out of the monsters reach wasn’t smart either.

The better question was whether my cell phone still worked after my awkward landing in the cereal aisle.

I grabbed a couple of the glow-in-the-dark yo-yo’s and shoved them into my jacket pockets before we crept through the dairy section, keeping low against the waist-high refrigerator units in the middle of the floor. Ellie stayed silent. If it weren’t for the adrenaline rush, my heart would have broken. I didn’t want my daughter to grow up like I had, her life in constant danger.

Max and I tried so fucking hard to give her a normal life. But here we were—hunted through the damn grocery store. Crawling behind the floor units in the dark kept Ellie from seeing the bodies. There weren’t many though, not for the amount of people in the store when we arrived. And they sure weren’t killed by falling cans or broken wine bottles. Unfortunately, the super-dim secondary emergency bulbs kicked on around the perimeter of the store as we neared the end of the dairy section. The battery-powered lamps were designed to give shoppers and employees enough light to evacuate the building in the event of an earthquake. It also meant the things hunting us wouldn’t have to rely on their noses anymore.

The shelving units we’d tipped over came to a rest against the first section of upright freezers. Movement flickered inside the endcap unit. I hissed, and Jake halted his crawl. Using hand signs, we argued about checking the unit. He wanted to take care of the creature inside. Logically, I pointed out why the hell would one of them open the freezer, much less crawl inside?

“It’s a kid,” Ellie whispered.

We both looked at her. Pantomiming us, she emphatically jabbed a thumb at her chest before pointing at the freezer. Jake and I exchanged looks. Something rustled a few aisles away. Cereal crunched and popped, followed by a snuffling sound. One of the creatures had picked up our trail.

Shit. We couldn’t leave a child in the damn freezer. The mom had probably shoved him or her inside before a vampire or a canine monster gutted her.

I ignored Jake’s gestures and crept around the corner of the floor freezer. His loyalty to Max meant he’d keep Ellie safe. Holstering my sidearm, I checked the dairy aisle. Nothing in sight. More crunching came from our landing spot in the cereal.

There wasn’t any time left. Condensation fogged the interior glass of the upright freezer. I eased the door open and laid my finger over my lips. The boy didn’t look much older than my own daughter. Thankfully, terror kept him from even whimpering.

I beckon for him to come out. He shook his head wildly. Even in the dim emergency lighting, the whites of his eyes stood out against his dark skin. I couldn’t leave him in there. He was dressed in a t-shirt and shorts. Even if the monsters couldn’t find him, the hypothermia would kill him.

From halfway across the store, the crunching came closer. Choosing your battles is part of parenthood, but this wasn’t a battle I could let the child win, even when the kid wasn’t mine. Not for the first time, I wished I was telepathic. I stuck my head in the freezer. The little boy tried to meld his back into the plastic shelving.

“I can get you some place safe and help you find your mommy and daddy.” My whisper turned into a cloud inside the unit. I hoped I hadn’t just lied to the kid. “But we have to go now.”

Finally, he nodded. The shelf creaked as he crawled out of the freezer. I took his chilly hand and turned.

A dark shadow emerged from the tunnel that used to be the cereal aisle. It immediately howled its companion’s siren-like wail. Or maybe it was the same damn monster.

Whatever. The fucking thing stopped calling for backup and barreled straight for me and the kid.