Erin Allridge is a modern woman, with modern ideas about relationships and a painful personal history she has no intention of repeating.
When terror and tragedy strike the small town of Oberon, the pair are forced to re-think their visions for the future.
In this world of form and spirit it can be hard to find balance and harmony, but sometimes, particularly when the veil between the worlds is at its thinnest, love can find a way to bridge the gap.
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Visions Before Midnight is not my creepiest book, but it probably comes in second. Part of the reason for that is because the villain from the next book–my all-time “Big Bad”–made an unscheduled appearance in this book. If you enjoy creepy Halloween stories, then this excerpt is for you. If you don’t…well, then, I apologize.
The Moon of the Dead
Through all the hills and forests that surrounded Oberon spirits roamed the night. The long dead, the newly dead, those who merely craved death, either for themselves, or for others; the energy in the area seemed to draw them all.
It was the ‘tween of the year. The time when veils grow thin and worlds collide. It was a night made for dark deeds, for desperate measures and dire undertakings. There were rituals to enact, on nights like these, and sacrifices to be made.
It was a good night to pray. A good night to cast spells. And, in a small corner of the local cemetery, it was a good night to party until dawn.
The graves, and all the paths that led to them, had been strewn tonight with marigold petals; to help the spirits of the departed find their way back. Booths, set up along the narrow roads, sold food and toys and flowers. A Mariachi band was playing. People danced and sang. Families made picnics on the grass. Children ran among the markers, laughing and shouting, chasing after each other. And everywhere you looked, it was plain to see that, even in the face of death, life would always go on.
For all those who celebrated the Day of the Dead as a joyous occasion––a family reunion, of sorts––tonight was a social event. A chance to visit with those of their kin who’d moved on, as well as those who were still in body.
“I can’t believe your brother is missing this,” Camille complained. “I really expected to see him here tonight.”
I don’t know why, Chenoa thought; he hasn’t been in years. El Dia de los Muertos was not a holiday Chay had ever really enjoyed. She counted out change for a customer who’d just purchased a dozen churros for his family, and then turned to her aunt. “I told you, Camille, Chay’s off on a vision quest. He’s trying to sort things out.”
“Sort things out?” Camille scoffed. “What things does he have to sort out? He has responsibilities right here, doesn’t he? I would have thought that would be enough for him.”
Really? I would have thought it was too much for him, myself, Chenoa thought to herself. But, then again, what do I know? “I think maybe it had something to do with the pipe.”
Pipes were more than mere tools, even she knew that. They were not just sacred objects to be used during ceremonies. They did more than carry prayers to Creator. They were teachers. And, one of the main things they taught, was discernment. Insight. Understanding. The ability to see things as they really are.
That was something Chay could use a lesson in, all right. Maybe a few lessons, in fact.
Camille nodded thoughtfully. “That may have been a mistake.”
“What was? Giving him the pipe?” Chenoa looked at her aunt in surprise. “I thought that’s what Paco wanted? I thought that was why he gave it to you? To give to Chay.”
Camille shrugged. “Well, I thought so, too. But, it’s possible I was wrong.” She smiled at her niece. A surprisingly bland smile, Chenoa thought, considering the bombshell she’d just dropped. She’d gifted Chay with the pipe by accident? “Now, if you’ll excuse me dear,” Camille said, still smiling, “there are some people I have to see.”
Chenoa watched as her aunt disappeared into the crowd, struck dumb by a sudden revelation, something she’d never once stopped to consider. She’d underestimated her aunt all these years. Camille was every bit as Heyoka as her father had been.
* * *
At the edge of the cemetery, far from the lights and the music and the safe crush of the crowd, two figures sat alone in the shadows, sharing a late night meal.
“So, this is your idea of dinner, huh?” the girl asked, picking moodily at the edges of the Carne Asada burrito she’d been given. She’d been invited to go out and eat—his treat, he’d said, making it sound like something she wouldn’t want to miss. She’d been thinking a diner or a hotel bar, an after hours club; something noisy and crowded. Exciting. Expensive. He looked like he could afford it. Some treat, she thought now, looking around, seems more like a trick.
“Actually, it’s more like lunch,” her companion responded, sucking noisily on a jalapeno. “I’ve only been up a few hours, after all.”
“Oh.” The girl considered that for a moment, and then asked. “Why’s that? Do you, like, work nights, or something?”
He shook his head. “I don’t work, at all. How about you?”
“Me?” She looked at him, surprised. “I’m in high school.”
He shrugged. “That doesn’t mean anything. You could still be a working girl, couldn’t you? What high school?”
She frowned, caught off-guard by the working girl remark. Had she just been called a whore? “Our Lady of the Angels,” she replied, smiling wide-eyed and innocent, hoping to embarrass him for his presumption.
Instead– “No shit? Oh, that’s perfect,” he crowed with laughter. “Just perfect. You just made my night complete. Nice look, too, by the way.”
“Look?” Chagrined, she pretended not to know what he meant.
“That whole innocent routine? I really dig that.”
“Oh.” She felt her eyes narrow, as understanding dawned. “I get it. You’re one of those.”
“One of which?” He was smiling as he put his food down, and then laid hers aside, as well. He took the scarf from his neck and slipped it over her head.
“You like the schoolgirl thing, don’t you? Tell me, would it turn you on if I wore my uniform while we did it?”
“Hell, yes,” he whispered, leaning closer, smiling brighter as he twisted the ends of the scarf around and around until it was snug against her neck. “But what I’d like even better is to do you here—right here in the cemetery, so the dead can see us. Can you feel them? Watching? Waiting for us? Hoping that we’ll come and join them soon?”
“Not really.” She looked around again, shrugging a little, as though he’d said nothing creepy. “It’s okay here. But, you know, it’s a lot better during the day. These stones get kinda cold at night.”
“Too bad.” He pushed on her shoulders until she was on her back, lying sprawled across the granite slab, staring up at the sky. “Because, what I’d really like,” he murmured, as he covered her and pinned her there, as he pulled the scarf taut across her throat, “is to take you now, and fuck you ‘til you’re dead.”
She frowned, caught by the hard glint of something deadly in his tone, something she hadn’t heard there before. Alarm flashed through her. She bucked a little, in an effort to dislodge him. “Is this a joke? Are you trying to scare me, again?”
His eyes glimmered as he shifted once more; bracing an arm across her chest, leaning just a little more of his weight against her throat. A cruel smile curled his lips. “No. It’s not a joke.”
* * *
The ‘tween is an endless mystery. A world of secrets and sorcery. A place without time or space. Ordinary rules do not apply here. Anything might happen and, all too often…it does. The gods of the ‘tween pity no one. They favor no one, either. And, anyone foolish enough to think they do, is doomed to disenchantment.
Throughout the long night, vigils were kept. Candles set in pumpkins, in paper lanterns, in little glass jars, all burned slowly down, winking out like the stars, like the night itself, as dawn filled the sky.
The party in the graveyard burned slowly down, as well. Singing gave way to storytelling. Laughter became the soft murmur of voices talking. Children fell into their parents’ arms and were rocked to sleep.
Finally, the sun began to rise. The spell the night had cast upon the world was broken. Another day was ready to begin. And, ordinary life…resumed.