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    Volume 12, Issue 3, August 31, 2017
    Message from the Editors
 Karda Burns by Roderick Phillips
 Ada, or, The Limits of Logic by Robert Dawson
 All Our Goodbyes, All Our Hellos by David Cleden
 A Familiar and Her Wizard by Jeff Stehman
 Paper Walls by Matt Hollingsworth
 Editor's Corner: Featured Author Laurence MacNaughton
 Editor's Corner: excerpt from A Jack By Any Other Name by Lesley L. Smith


         

Special Feature: Excerpt from
A Kiss Before Doomsday

by Laurence MacNaughton

brought to you by Nikki Baird

Note from Nikki Baird: Laurence MacNaughton is an urban fantasy and thriller author. As a member of Laurenceís writing critique group, Iíve had the privilege of getting an inside look at the crazy characters and the adventures they have, and Iím excited to get this chance to share them with you. His recent books include It Happened One Doomsday and A Kiss Before Doomsday. Find out how you can get a free ebook at www.laurencemacnaughton.com. Laurence also writes and holds workshops on the art of writing fiction, so if you have interests there, you should check it out.

When an undead motorcycle gang attacks Denver's sorcerers, only one person can decipher the cryptic clues left behind: newly minted crystal sorceress Dru Jasper. A necromancer is using forbidden sorcery to fulfill the prophecy of the apocalypse and bring about the end of the world. To learn the truth, Dru must infiltrate the necromancer's hidden lair and stop the prophecy. But she needs to do it fast, before legions of the undead rise to consume the souls of everyone on earth...

A Kiss Before Doomsday


       The door stood not quite closed beneath a caged light bulb clogged with dead insects. The wooden frame was splintered, and the dented steel clearly showed the imprint of Rane's size 12 running shoe, still visible a week after she had kicked the door open.
       The abused hinges creaked as Dru eased the door open. "Hello? Anybody home?" Her voice echoed through the darkened garage. It was easily big enough for three cars, but right now it was empty. The smells of gasoline and road dust rolled out through the doorway.
       Opal stayed planted in the alley, eyes wide. "Dru, I don't like this. Maybe we should call the police."
       "And tell them what, exactly? We thought Greyson was dead in the netherworld, but now we've seen his demon car driving around, so maybe they could come check out his house for evil creatures?"
       "Maybe not in exactly those words."
       Without stepping inside, Dru reached in and flipped on the light switch. Carefully, she peered through the doorway. Long chrome bumpers and round air cleaners hung suspended from the walls, jammed between metal shelves packed with parts, spray cans, jugs of oil and antifreeze, and a million little automotive things Dru couldn't identify.
       A welding rig sat in the far corner, topped by a dark protective mask adorned with hot rod flames. Red tool chests lined one wall, chipped and grimy from years of hard use. The endless stretch of drawers was broken by colorful stickers advertising unfamiliar brands like Edelbrock and Summit Racing.
       Dru was about to step inside when something else caught her eye. Faint sparkling threads stretched across the doorframe. They swooped from the edge of the door up the side of the wall in a great glittering arc, like a giant necklace or net. The strands were so thin that they disappeared if she turned her head.
       Strange.
       "What?" Opal asked, backing up a step. "You've got that look on your face you always get right before everything goes bananas."
       "Not bananas. But I do need to take a closer look at this." Dru fished a frosty cube of ulexite out of her purse and lifted it to her forehead. Her vision swam at first, then steadied as she concentrated, letting her magical energy flow into the crystal.
       All around her, colors muted and shadows deepened as the crystal enhanced her vision. Everything around her lit with a soft, inner glow, revealing the ethereal auras hidden from ordinary sight. It felt like looking into a deep underwater cave filled with rippling, refracted light.
       She focused on the ghostly strands that stretched across the doorway. In her crystal-enhanced vision, they gave off an eerie glow, as strangely beautiful as they were creepy.
       "What do you see?" Opal asked, close behind her.
       "Well, it's not a spell." Dru peered closer. There was something everyday and familiar about the way the strands draped, but she couldn't quite place it.
       She closed the door slightly, so that the strands went slack. On impulse, she drew in a breath and gently blew. They rippled.
       "Cobwebs," Dru said with a sniff, feeling silly. "No big deal."
       Still, why were they radiating the cold glow of magic?
       She reached out with one finger to swipe the cobwebs away. But much to her surprise, they wouldn't yield. The webs were as tough as steel wires.
       "Huh," Dru said. "Opal, do you have anything to cut with?"
       "Besides my razor-sharp sense of humor?" Opal rummaged through her purse. "Hmm. How about nail scissors?"
       Without lowering the crystal from her forehead, Dru held out her free hand. Opal placed the tiny scissors in her palm.
       With some difficulty, Dru got the scissors lined up with the lowest-hanging strand and squeezed. It was like trying to slice through a cable. The scissors refused to cut.
       "Holy guacamole. What is this stuff?" Dru tried again, squeezing harder, until the handles of the scissors dug into her fingers. Just when she was about to give up, the strand broke in half with a soft ping. The severed ends drifted away like fine hairs, seemingly weightless despite their strength.
       "You sure you should be cutting those?" Opal asked, clearly worried.
       "Well, I'm not going to just leave them here and run into them later by accident." One by one, Dru cut through the strands of web. "The real question is, how did they get here?"
       "Unless it was a spell, must've been some kind of freaky-ass spider, I imagine."
       "Maybe. But there are other critters besides spiders that spin webs. There's also bagworms. Tent caterpillars. Bark lice."
       "Okay, now you're freaking me out. I am not setting foot in that garage. We just need to be clear on that. Just look at my new outfit. You know I'm not about to wreck this." Opal fluttered her hands down to encompass her shimmering purple top, pink velvet pants with pearl buttons, and sparkling purple platform mules. She sighed. "I can't believe I'm saying this, but we've got to get Rane down here. Fighting weird giant bugs is her thing, not mine."
       "I already called her, but Rane's a little upset right now. And I know from unfortunate experience that makes her likely to break something important. Besides, we don't know if we need to fight anything at all. Much less giant bugs." Dru cut through the last strand of web. After a moment's hesitation, she pushed against the dented door.
       It swung open, letting out a long, ominous creak. Cobwebs all along the edge fluttered free, like ghostly fingers beckoning them inward.
       Deep inside the building, something crashed and broke. Goosebumps stood up on Dru's arms. She waited, ears straining to hear another sound, but nothing else came. Everything was ominously quiet.
       "Don't worry, we're not going to get into any kind of trouble," Dru said. "We'll just poke our heads in for a minute and see if we can find any clues about Greyson. Right? We can handle this."
       "Why is it that every time I put on a cute new outfit, we end up doing something crazy?" Opal seemed more annoyed than worried. "There's super-powered spiderwebs on the door. You did notice that fact. And it's going to get dark soon."
       "It's okay. It's going to be fine." Deep down, Dru knew that Opal was right. They shouldn't go into the garage. Probably shouldn't even stand outside the open door.
       But she had to find Greyson and break his curse in order to stop doomsday. She couldn't just walk away. Beyond this door, there could be some kind of clue about what had happened to him. She had to look.
       Without the ulexite crystal, Dru couldn't see enchantments, but spotting any other kind of danger would be much easier. Eyes wide, Dru pushed the door all the way open. It creaked.
       Slowly, she stepped inside, looking around at the shelves crammed with spray cans of chemicals and jugs of automotive fluids. The chubby red cylinder of what she assumed was an air compressor. A half-rebuilt engine in the corner, red rags sticking out of its eight exposed cylinders. All of Greyson's stuff.
       But no Greyson.
       At least there were no other cobwebs, supernatural or otherwise, as far as she could see. Dru tiptoed to the center of the garage. "Okay," she whispered. "It's just a garage. Nothing to worry about."
       Opal crept up next to her, sequined heels clacking. She leaned closer. "Dru?"
       "Yeah?"
       "Why are we whispering?"
       Dru took in a deep breath, smelling the old oil and steel, and let it out. In a normal voice, she said, "Okay. There's got to be some kind of clue in here that will lead us to Greyson. I don't know what we're looking for, exactly. But something."
       "Well, that definitely narrows it down." Opal crossed to the door that led into the rest of Greyson's place. "You know what we should've brought along? Some red zincite. Help your intuition a little."
       "Yeah, that would've been a good idea, actually."
       "Or at least some staurolite. Know what I mean?" Opal drew a plus sign in the air with her finger, mimicking the cross shape of a reddish-brown staurolite crystal. "A little fairy luck never hurt anyone."
       Dru hadn't thought of that, either. She'd just been focused on getting over here as quickly as possible. "Well, I did bring my ulexite for vision."
       "Well, you better get on that again, then. Find out if there's any more of those super-webs lurking around. I'm not going to have any bark lice or hoodoo caterpillars dropping anything on me." Opal shot her a warning look, then opened up the door to Greyson's living room.
       And screamed.
       A withered skeletal figure wreathed in cobwebs lurched through the door. Its empty eye sockets turned toward Opal. Its bony jaw opened wide, letting out a bubbling screech as it raised its long arms.
       Still screaming, Opal pulled the tiny two-ounce bottle of holy water out of her purse and squeezed it at the creature. A thin stream of water shot out, zigzagging across the thing's web-wrapped torso.
       The holy water sizzled, releasing a curl of white smoke from the creature. But it didn't slow the thing down. It reached for Opal with long, skeletal fingers that ended in black dripping claws.
       Those claws were dripping with undead scourge, Dru realized. This was possibly the exact same creature that had attacked Salem. And the fact that he hadn't warned her would have made her furious, except that she was too busy being terrified out of her mind.
       Opal's bottle quickly emptied out, and she ran back toward Dru, her shiny heels clacking. "Dru! I'm all out of holy water!"
       "That's because it's only like a sample size!" Shaken into action, Dru fumbled in her purse for Greyson's piece of black Lemurian jade. She wasn't sure how much it would protect them, but it did have some effect against evil.
       And this thing was clearly evil.
       Just as her fingers touched the crystal, the creature aimed one palm at Dru and shot a stream of webbing directly at her.
       Throwing herself to one side, Dru managed to dodge the spray of webbing. But it caught her purse and ripped it from her grasp, flinging it across the garage and trapping it against the far wall under a splatter of webs.
       Dru and Opal traded frightened glances.
       "Run!" Dru yelled, pushing her toward the door.
       But Opal only made it two steps before the thing sprayed another stream of webbing directly onto her velvet pants and purple shoes, anchoring her feet to the floor.
       Opal struggled, but it was no use. Her legs wouldn't budge. "Dru, don't leave me!"
       "Hang on!" Dru ran over to the wall of black metal shelves, looking for a knife, a saw, anything sharp enough to cut Opal loose. With an inhuman hiss, the creature changed course and came after Dru.
       Frantic, Dru rifled through the shelves, but found nothing she could use to free Opal.
       "Toolboxes! Toolboxes!" Opal pointed toward the row of tall red toolboxes with their dozens of drawers. "Look for a knife, or a saw, or a blowtorch or something."
       But Dru wasn't fast enough. A stream of wiry webs shot from the thing's palms, wrapping tightly around her left leg. Instantly, Dru was stuck, as if her left foot were glued to the floor. She flailed about, but she couldn't lift her foot even an inch.
       Dru could only stare, speechless with horror, as the thing lurched toward her with jerky, lopsided steps. Deep within the layers of black-speckled cobwebs wrapped around its desiccated body, hundreds or perhaps thousands of tiny dark streaks wriggled and swam. It looked as if the scourge itself was controlling the creature's motion, pulling its arms and legs like marionette strings.
       Despite her terror, Dru watched with clinical interest as the creature approached. She had never seen anything like this before in person. She'd only read about it in her ancient, musty books.
       "Dru!" Opal waved her arms. "Stop studying it! Do something!"
       The thing lurched toward Dru with clawed fingertips dripping black, as if they'd been dipped in paint.
       "It's scourge!" Saying it out loud somehow made it even more frightening. She had seen firsthand how quickly the undead scourge had incapacitated Salem, and he was the most powerful sorcerer she knew. If it could overwhelm someone as capable as him, what chance did she stand?
       Stuck in place, Dru patted her pockets, hoping she had stashed a random crystal in there. No luck. They were all in her purse, which hung from the far wall, wrapped up like a giant insect lunch.
       Opal followed her gaze, then pointed to the shelves behind Dru. "Look behind you!"
       Dru pivoted on one foot and pulled everything off the nearby shelves. She dropped it all at her feet, desperate to find anything she could use as a weapon.
       Spray cans of WD-40. Sloshing blue jugs of windshield fluid. Plastic quarts of motor oil. A heavy sack full of something called Spill Stop. All of it was useless.
       The creature was almost on her. Her heart pounded.
       Wait, she thought, and grabbed the bulging plastic sack. The label proudly proclaimed, SPILL STOP: CLAY ABSORBS OIL, FLUIDS & LIQUID SPILLS. SO MANY USES!
       Dru was pretty sure this particular use had never been tried before. With trembling hands, she ripped open the bag and plunged her fingers into the dry, dusty clay. It felt just like fuller's earth, the same clay she'd used to soak up the scourge in her shop.
       She pulled out a handful of clay and flung it at the creature.
       It hit the thing's left elbow. Or where she assumed the elbow was, under the layers of black-speckled webbing.
       The creature stopped and turned its empty eye sockets down to stare at the clay. The spatter of ash-colored powder darkened around the edges as it absorbed the speckles of scourge from the webbing. With a crackling sound, the creature's arm stiffened and froze.
       This stuff seemed to work, but throwing one handful at a time wouldn't be enough. She needed to find a way to cover the entire thing in powder. Fast.
       Her gaze roamed the shelves and fell on the bloated red cylinder of the air compressor sitting on the floor nearby. Just above it, a metal spool bolted to the shelves held a coiled-up yellow rubber air hose. It ended in a vaguely gun-shaped attachment with a chrome nozzle.
       Pressurized air. Of course.
       Dru grabbed the nozzle and tried to tug it loose, but the yellow hose was hung up on its spool and wouldn't budge.
       Opal screamed. "Dru!"
       Unfazed by its paralyzed arm, the creature lurched at Dru, nearly smothering her with the stench of death. It swiped at her with its good arm, slashing at Dru with black dripping claws.
       Grunting, Dru bent out of the way. She yanked on the hose with all of her strength. It stretched taut, creaking slightly, and then something ruptured in the connection between the hose and the nozzle. Air escaped with an angry whistle. The spool popped loose from its mount, clattering to the floor and releasing curls of yellow hose.
       As the creature loomed over her, Dru jammed the broken nozzle into the plastic bag and squeezed the trigger. A whoosh of air filled the sack, inflating it to the size of a beach ball. Dru hefted it up, blocking the creature's next swing.
       The thing's claws slashed the bag. With an ear-splitting pop, it exploded. A blast of cement-colored dust rocked the garage, choking the air, making it impossible to see.
       Dru coughed and sputtered, feeling as if she was drowning in a cloud of atomized concrete. She blinked, trying to clear her eyes, but luckily her glasses had taken the brunt of the blast.
       She pulled them off. They looked as if they had been spray-painted in gray primer.
       At her feet, the creature lay flat on its back, completely motionless, arms outstretched. Frozen in powdered clay like a toppled statue.
       Gradually, the rolling clouds of dust started to settle. The clay coated everything inside the garage in the same thick layer of gray. Including Opal.
       She coughed and stared down at herself in horror. "Dru, what in the name of . . . ? What did you just do?" Clouds of elephant-gray clay shook loose from her hair as she spoke.
       Dru watched the undead creature closely to make sure that it didn't move again. But it was practically fossilized.
       Slowly, Dru grinned. "Check it out! We got it! Yay!" She did a little dance, which was really nothing more than a hip jiggle since her left foot was solidly anchored to the floor. "See? I told you we could handle this."
       But Opal paid no attention to Dru or the frozen creature. She just kept looking up and down the length of her body, her gray-painted face horrified. Her voice came out a strained squeak. "But this is my new purple outfit!"
       Outside, pounding footsteps approached.
       "D!" Rane bellowed. "Where are you?" Puffing, Rane jogged in through the door, wearing clingy pink short-shorts and a T-shirt that said FLIRTING WITH DISASTER. "Okay, I'm here. We can get this party start-- Uh . . ."
       Dru turned toward her and blinked, realizing that thanks to the protection of her glasses, she probably had raccoon eyes. "Hi."
       Rane started to say something, but a sudden bray of laughter burst out of her. She laughed so hard her entire body shook. She had to prop her hands on her knees to stay standing.
       Opal planted her hands on her hips, releasing twin puffs of dust. "This is definitely not funny."
       Which only made Rane laugh harder, until tears streamed down her red cheeks. "Omigod!" she panted, holding her sides. "Omigod, stop it. That's so awesome. You guys . . ." She couldn't finish.
       Dru tried not to smile, but Rane's laugh was so infectious she couldn't help it. "Are you just going to stand there, or are you going to help us get out of these webs?"
       Rane cleared her throat and wiped at her nose. "Sorry. Sorry." She cleared her throat again. "It's just, you guys are all--" And then her voice dissolved as another belly laugh rippled up through her and spilled out, unstoppable.
       Dru sighed. This was going to take a while.
       "Wait, wait. Omigod." Rane pulled out her phone. "I've got to get a picture."
       

       Find out what happens next in A Kiss Before Doomsday by Laurence MacNaughton.

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