I finally got word that the sequel to Swamp Baby will release July 15, from Tease Publishing! I'd hoped it would come out in June.
I decided I'm going to do something special! When you buy a copy of Spirit-Mother from www.allromanceebooks.com, I'll send you a free copy of Undead Requiem or Dark Consort, which are my short stories. Undead Requiem is published by Tease Publishing and Dark COnsort is part of DCL's Deadly Sins anthology. Just send me the reciept showing you purchased SPirit-Mother and I'll email you your choice of the stories!
Here's an excerpt of Spirit-Mother: Devotion.
The key wasn’t in his house. Anywhere. He’d searched it from top to bottom. Ripped out drawers and dumped them out in the middle of the floor. Empties cabinets and boxes, checked between the couch cushions. It wasn’t there.
The girl in the hospital had to have it, then. As much as Derry hated to go back, he needed that key. He needed Broken Drum’s dream journals. Maybe Broken Drum would have another key. Hertley’s Swamp was closer than the hospital. Check there first, and if that was a bust, then he would go deal with the crazy chick.
He forced himself to wait until mid-morning to drive the long road to Hertley. After flashing his ID as a resident of Hertley, the military guard let him through the gate. Every mile or so, the state had posted big warning signs on the razor-wire-topped, seven-foot-high fence that lined both sides of the road twenty miles from the swamp. Derry had heard rumors that the fence completely surrounded Hertley.
Nobody knew how many of the so-called ‘swamp cannibals’ lived out in the preserved land. The Swamp Baby had been shut down, like all the other businesses on that stretch of river. Even river travel was banned. Luckily, the river was small and not much more than a third-rate tourist attraction. He’d closed the Swamp Baby right after the government moved their armed forces in. Not being able to sell to his competition had burned him financially, but not so badly he couldn’t recover. The government had offered to buy homes and businesses in Hertley so the residents would move out, but only the younger residents had accepted the pittance and left. The older ones were stubborn old coots who didn’t care if the devil himself walked out of the swamp.
It was their land, their pappies’ land, their pappies’ pappies’ land, and they wasn’t leaving!
Broken Drum slipped under the radar, since he didn’t own property or have a driver’s license.
He still squatted on Suwannee’s land.
Main Street was quiet, nearly deserted. The salon was closed, the windows boarded over and bright signs warning against trespassing. The same went for the convenience store and the mini-mart.
The storefront daycare was still open, although when Derry glanced in the window as he drove past, he only saw a glimpse of a couple of kids with a single adult. The woman looked out as he drove past.
He saw her face for just an instant. At the moment he turned his attention to the road, a dog bolted in front of his car and met a painful death beneath the wheels of his Honda.
Two or three people emerged from the remaining businesses on Main Street. Grizzled old men came out of the hardware store and a middle-aged woman edged out of the diner. The woman came out of the daycare.
Grimacing, Derry got out and looked back at the mangled mutt on the asphalt. Blood spread in a crescent around its body, mingling with the oil and exhaust coating the dusty pavement.
Iridescent swirls glittered in the dark red blood. The dog’s hind leg twitched once, twice before going still.
“Damn it,” he muttered. He looked around at the few people on the sidewalk. They stared at the corpse, mesmerized. The blood spread further and further than Derry thought possible.
Everything was absolutely silent. Even the new dinging crosswalk signals that the town had put in six years ago were quiet. Nobody said a word.
“Um, anybody know who’s dog it was?” Derry asked. Chill bumps rose on his arms. The hair on the back of his neck stood up. Suppressing a shudder, he rubbed his hands up and down his arms briskly. “Anybody? It’s got a collar on.”
When no one answered him for the second time, Derry got a little freaked out.
“Okay, I guess I’ll just take a look.”
The five spectators inched forward, craning their necks so they could see from the curb.
Derry squatted next to the broken, dead dog. Poor thing. He wasn’t an animal lover, but nothing deserved to die this way, nearly bent in half at such an impossible angle. Sightless damaged eyes stared up at him. The guts hung out of the ruptured belly. Gingerly he reached out one hand for the gleaming silver tag hanging from the collar. A millisecond before he touched the metal, the dog snapped at his hand, the bloody teeth skinning the outer edge of his palm.
Derry hollered out in fright and scuttled backwards.
The dog was dead. Dead!
Yet it snarled and barked and snapped in his direction like it was rabid. It tried to twist its broken, twisted hind legs around, but something was wrong with its back as well.
Shit. Something was really, really, fucking really wrong with Hertley. The people on the sidewalk were watching in fascination. Even the kids in the daycare were clustered at the window, watching him with eerie cold eyes.
And that damn dog had managed to scoot six inches closer, leaving a trail of slimy, bloody, smelly guts behind it. The front legs had escaped traumatic injury, but from the middle of the animal’s back on, the hind legs were pointed at the sky, the back dragging on the ground. The split in the belly gaped open every time the dog moved.
Derry got sick on the road, puked up his breakfast and his lunch. Somebody laughed, a soft titter.
He felt a presence behind him and smelled a familiar perfume, one he hadn’t smelled in over five years.
Suwannee’s favorite scent.
Hands brushed the top of his head and squeezed his shoulders. Derry closed his eyes and inhaled her clean, sweet scent. Both of her hands were so warm through his vintage-wash t-shirt.
“Holata,” she whispered in his ear. “Holata.”
“What?” he turned around to see her, but there wasn’t anyone there, only the idiots on the sidewalk and the gruesome snarling thing a few feet away from him.
Derry clambered to his feet and sidestepped the dog. It snapped at him, frenzied. Ignoring it, he got in his car and floored it toward the turn-off that led to Suwannee’s. He glanced back in his rear-view mirror and thought he was going to get sick again.
They were eating the dog.
Eating it right where it lay in the street.
Fighting over the remains, the daycare worker handing out bits and bloody pieces to the children who had filed out of the center. Each one wore a gruesome grin.
Derry couldn’t hold it back anymore. He slammed on the brakes and leaned out the window, hurling up the remainders of what he’d eaten.
Dear God, he thought. It was a true prayer, wordless, fervent. Get me the heck out of here in one piece.
He sped through town, not stopping for anything or anybody. The turn-off came up quick and it felt like he took it on two wheels. The road out to Suwannee’s hadn’t been grated in a long time, so his car jounced around uncontrollably.
Duh, slow down, idiot, he thought to himself. It took a lot of pep-talking to get his lead foot to lighten up a little.
It had only been a year since he’d been back to Hertley. It had almost seemed normal then!
Nobody ate dead dogs. Nobody that he knew of, anyway.
He pulled up to Suwannee’s old house and jumped out of the car, not even bothering to shut off the engine. Broken Drum didn’t answer when he beat on the front door.
“Drum! I’m coming in.” Using his copy of the key, he pushed the front door open. The smell hit him first, the rancid, pungent smell of the freaks he and Michael had encountered in the swamp.
“Drum, are you here?” Terrified, lit by adrenaline, he grabbed the polished oak walking stick and hefted it to his shoulder. His bones seemed to tremble within his flesh. Okay, okay, calm down.
You’ve taken enough karate classes to know how to defend yourself.
Michael wasn’t here to beat the cannibals off with an old shovel. Cautiously, almost numb from the hormones racing through his body, he advanced through the living room.
Whatever had happened here had happened very recently. The feces on the floor looked fresh.
Grimacing, he stepped over the sporadic piles of crap as he made his way to the bedroom. Drum had left Suwannee’s room untouched and taken the tiny back room as his own. Bracing himself, he twisted the loose doorknob and pushed.
The old man was there, in the bed. A bloody sheet covered him from the waist down. Weirdest of all, an IV stand stood next to the bed, a bag of clear fluid dangling from the thin metal arms.
“Drum?” Derry asked softly, entering the room. “Hey, Drum?”
The old man moaned softly. He looked thin and weak, pale as the original color of the grimy, blood-stained bedsheets beneath him.
Derry’s blood thundered in his ears and he took a step forward and pulled the sheet away.
He gagged miserably and crouched on his heels, head in his hands.
They’d been at him, the cannibals. God, let it be the cannibals and not some psycho.
The IV bag loudly proclaimed it wasn’t the primitive swamp cannibals. Swamp cannibals didn’t know how to insert IV’s. They wouldn’t have used the figure-eight-shaped sticky pads to hold it in place. There wouldn’t be a blood pressure cuff on the floor by the bed, or a stethoscope hung over the headboard.
Derry managed to fight off his urge to puke and went over to the IV stand. Whatever was in there was helping to keep Drum alive, and hopefully sedated.
Terrible things had been done to his legs and his stomach. Derry gulped back a mouthful of bitter saliva and steeled his stomach. Quickly, he untied Drum’s hands from the headboard, noting how icy cold and gray they were. He’d been tied up for a long time, long enough to cut off circulation to his hands.
Derry folded them gently on the sagging barrel-chest and yanked a clean sheet out of the closet.
Nobody had messed with Suwanee’s clothes. The gust of air that whispered against his face when he yanked the thin wooden door open made his gut clench. It smelled like her, soft and feminine and sweet.
The odor of death and sickness hadn’t invaded that space yet. Derry closed the door.
A second later something heavy and hard slammed into the back of his head, not hard enough to knock him out, but hard enough to daze him. He bounced off the closet door and slid to the floor.
It was a struggle to turn around. “Doctor Reynold?”
The balding, ruddy-faced doctor, usually so jovial and friendly, sneered down at him. A mad light gleamed in his eyes. He had a baseball bat held against his shoulder, ready to swing again. Derry put a hand to the back of his head and felt the big bleeding knot.
“Doctor Reynolds, come on, put the bat down. It’s me, Derry.”
“I know who you are.” His voice was hoarse, like he’d been hollering for days on end.
Derry gripped his polished pine bough tightly, keeping it at his side and hoping the doctor hadn’t noticed it.
“Did-did you do that to Drum?” Derry pointed to the bed. “Why?”
“Meddling old man.” The doctor shrugged and tightened his grip on the bat. “And I was hungry. It’s a sickness, you know. We bathe in the river and she gives it to us.”
“That doesn’t sound real nice of her. Who’s ‘her’?” Derry tightened his own grip. A cramp shot through his palm, a reminder of what Suwannee had done to him five years earlier.
“Spirit-Mother. She’s taken Hertley. She loves us.”
“Michael’s back, too. Have you seen him yet?” The doctor let the bat relax. A shadow of his former self, mangled by whatever possessed him now, glimmered through.
Derry felt sick to the souls of his feet. “Michael’s dead, Doctor Reynolds. I saw his body myself. I saw Suwannee cut his throat.”
The doctor shrugged. “Spirit-Mother won’t let us die, Derry. Even when we want to so bad we can’t stand it.” He held his wrists out to Derry.
Deep, black-edged gashes loosely closed with butterfly stitches oozed dark red fluid. The stink of infection made Derry lean back, grimacing. “Leave, then. Get out of Hertley. Why do you stay here?”
The doctor moved like a whirlwind, fast and strong, picking Derry up and slinging him a few feet away. The pine bough rolled out of his reach.
Derry huddled against the wall, searching for a weapon. The doctor was going a little more crazy, bashing the drywall with the bat like he intended to tear down the house with just that one tool.
There! Under the bed was a hacksaw, the edge gleaming in the afternoon sunlight shining in from the single window. He wasn’t sure how much good a rusty hacksaw would be against a baseball bat, but it was something.
Just then the doctor whipped around and began to bash the crap out of the lacy shadows of leaves dancing on the wall. Derry snapped his arm out, painfully hyper-extending his elbow as he snatched up the pine bough.
On his feet, he was swinging the bough at the doctor’s head before the man could even turn around.
Derry hit him hard. Hard enough to slam the man against the wall, shatter his nose in a gush of blood, and knock him out.
Only after he’d slumped to the floor and Derry had delivered one more blow to the base of the doc’s skull did he turn back to Broken Drum. Before the doctor could awaken—if he was actually going to—Derry grabbed the clean sheet and covered Drum with it. The old man didn’t so much as twitch. After grabbing the IV bag, Derry braved the filth and slid his arms under his friend.
Thanks to the horrible things the doctor had done to him, Drum’s deadweight wasn’t unmanageable. Derry staggered out the front door, nearly falling headfirst down the narrow, shaky stairs.
A wild wind whipped through his hair and made the sheet hanging off Drum’s mutilated body flap and snap angrily. Over the roar of the wind through the pines and oaks, Derry heard a sound that chilled him to the core.
The low, rumbling growl blended perfectly with the sound of the wind.
Frantic now, Derry stumbled as fast as he could to the car. He got the back door open and pushed Drum in, hooking the IV bag on the hanger hook above the door. Straightening up, he scanned the woods surrounding the house.
The shadows flickered, driving him crazy as he tried to look everywhere at once.
“Just get in the damn car, idiot,” he grunted to himself. Derry slammed the back door after he made sure no part of Broken Drum hung out. Rather than walk around the car, he crawled into the driver’s seat through the passenger side.
The keys weren’t in the ignition.
He’d left the car running.
Damn that crazy doctor! He must have taken the keys.
Groaning, Derry popped his door open and scrambled back up the porch, into the house.
The doctor was awake, beating on the walls again. Derry ducked back out on to the porch. Silently he ran through every curse word he knew, hands fisted at his sides as he leaned against the side of the house.
He scanned the porch for a weapon that would be formidable against the solid-wood baseball bat.
There were the aluminum-frame lawn chairs, the wobbly pedestal table, and a crate full of whiskey bottles, ready for recycling. Drunk or not, Drum did what he could for the environment.
Derry stifled a hysterical laugh. Get it together, Leander. He shifted his foot. His heel touched something hard and cold, something that rapped against the wall behind him softly. He glanced down, his heart racing with expectation.
Hallelujah! A crowbar! Maybe somebody was looking out for him after all…
Derry picked the long heavy piece of metal up and hefted it. It disturbed him, just a little bit, that the thought of using it on a person didn’t bother him one bit. The muscles in his arms and back tightened, tensed.
He took a deep breath and reached for the crusty brass doorknob.
The doctor was in the living room, bashing the hell out of the walls with his bat. He looked at Derry, the crazy-light in his eyes blazing. With a roar, the doctor rushed him, the bat held out like a lance.