Atheists are better Christians

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Admittedly, this blog title is inflammatory. The idea is not as simple, consistent or universal as implied. But this is a subject I feel needs attention.

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I am a Christian. I believe in a divine creator. Jesus was His son who taught that we should be kind to each other. I also believe in the Big Bang (though science can always convince me otherwise) and evolution. I support sex education, higher taxes, the right to choose, universal health care and LGBT rights. I oppose the death penalty, unrestricted gun rights, voting restrictions and attempts to undo social programs like welfare and unemployment. I say this not to proselytize about any of these subjects, but to illustrate that I am not the mainstream image of a believer.

It’s the conservative, largely Republican “Christian” image that drives me to write this blog. This image, a weird Frankenstein’s Monster combination of Jesus and Ayn Rand, holds many beliefs that I feel are contrary to Christianity. As such, I feel that many moral atheists act more Christian (IE are better people) than many Christians. And the two biggest reasons for this are the Bible itself, and forgiveness.

The Bible Justifies All

The Bible is a necessity for Christianity. It’s a combination of law, historical record, parable, allegory and general advice on how to live life in a moral way. The Bible is the backbone of Christianity and preserves the teachings, lessons and history of our faith.

The first problem arises due to the combination of goals. Like any work of literature, scripture has to be looked at in the context of the time it was written. The Bible’s goals, by nature, are affected by the time period. Genesis describes creation in terms the people of that time could understand, rather than opening up with a BCE-era crash course in physics. It wasn’t meant to supplant our human curiosity to find answers (what did let there be light actually mean?) or remain constant through the ages. We don’t stone adulterers or make slaves of people (atrocities notwithstanding), yet we hold sacrosanct other missives scattered throughout the Bible.The Bible doesn’t replace science, explain how the universe operates, or override our God-given curiosity.

Which brings up the second problem. With a book that spans millenia and has so many goals, one can find justification for nearly any belief if one looks hard enough, and find reasons to refute any contrary argument. These beliefs often don’t take morality into consideration and default instead to “the Bible says so.” The Bible has been used to justify genocide, slavery, segregation, sexism and racism, just to name a few evils done with claimed biblical backing. Today it’s used to demonize the poor and refuse rights to other humans who think, act or look differently. The Bible can be used, willingly or not, as moral armor for just about anything. The Bible never says God helps those who help themselves, or that we should shoot first so that He could sort them out for us.

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Moral atheists don’t have this problem. Morality is seen and identified by the individual, not through a book or sermon that can be gamed for one’s own interests. If you’re greedy, you can’t just say “God has blessed me.” You can’t bash away at homosexuality and conveniently ignore everything the Bible says about other sins. An atheist has to own his actions without a religious justification. A moral atheist decides if something is right or wrong based on morally, not on what they interpret the Bible to say (which may objectively be anything but moral). And an atheist never sees a conflict between the Bible and science. Belief in God is based on faith, and by definition is unprovable. But belief does not change, replace or trump scientific proof about our universe.

Forgiveness

This is perhaps the greatest gift God ever gave humanity. He made us with free will. We have the ability to not even believe in Him, for crying out loud. Knowing we have free will, He also knows we are going to fuck up from time to time. And if we see the error of our actions and ask forgiveness, He will grant it.

Damn, that’s an awesome Creator, IMHO.

But this isn’t meant to be a get out of jail free card. This doesn’t give a Christian license to act as they wish, knowing they can be forgiven later. Intent matters in forgiveness. We can’t be forgiven for actions we have every intention of repeating, or are insincere in our regret.

I don’t think most Christians actively think of forgiveness this way. But I do think it’s present at least subconsciously in our daily lives. And it makes us more flexible morally when confronted with a difficult moral dilemma. But when a moral atheist comes against such a dilemma, he has no escape hatch. He doesn’t believe there’s a Heaven he’s trying to earn or a savior he’s trying to emulate. He only sees what’s morally right or wrong, and he chooses with the belief that he has no do-overs or take-backsies.

Christians also have the promise of Heaven (and, implicitly, the threat of Hell) to keep them on the straight and narrow. I have trouble squaring my perception of Jesus, God and grace with the idea of Hell. It’s clearly referenced in the Bible (and not like the spurious interpretations that give us ideas like the Rapture), so I have no good way to reconcile. But my point is that being good for an eternal reward seems like a less pure justification than being good just to be good. This is another topic way over my pay grade to try to argue in detail (let’s leave that to a later blog), but I’ve decided to be good just to be good, not because it will get me into paradise or avoid an eternity in a lake of fire. That way, I don’t need to understand whatever God has planned. I’ll hopefully have lived a good life because it’s the right thing to do.

So Atheists have it right, then?

To put it simply: No.

I think the mainstream image of the conservative(R) Christian is wrong. I think Jesus wouldn’t like many things they support, and I don’t think they would like Jesus if He were to return tomorrow. But atheists, even moral ones, are missing the biggest, most important piece of existence.

God is Lord. He created everything, and the science and natural laws that run everything are a testament to his greatness. He made physics and biology and evolution in all their beautiful complexity to arrive at the exact beings He planned. (And the other beings I’m sure He planned in that infinite universe around us.) He can’t be proven, and depends on our faith to lead us to Him. The unprovable part is a huge hang-up for many atheists, but hey, that’s what faith is for.

I think God is way smarter than me, or anybody else. (Yes, including that moderately douchey guy on Scorpion.) And I don’t pretend to know what His plans are for moral atheists who, even though they don’t believe in Him, still live lives that are in many ways more moral than those who do believe. But judging people is not my job, thank goodness, or anyone else’s. Our job is to be kind to everybody. And if you’re not doing that, whether Christian or atheist or anything else, then you’re not a good person. EOD.

Hunters: Chapter Four

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Chapter Four of Hunters is live!. Warning: Adult content. Feedback is appreciated

Also, check out my short story Harsh Mistress, along with thirteen other great stories, in the Saints and Sinners Anthology. In this prequel to Hunters, the pirate Sebastian Essex sails his ship Harsh Mistress into Hell on a quest to save the woman he loves. On sale now at Amazon.com!

Hunters

Previous chapters can be found on the Hunters page.

 

Chapter Four

Compare the latest version with the first draft here!

Tricia

 

I said I was going to kill Sebastian Essex, but I really meant I’d try. I didn’t like my chances despite every weapon I owned crammed in the trunk of my car. Sebastian had at least two centuries on me. Age meant power for a Cursed, and even if I weren’t beat to shit from the Andrasi this was going to be a bitch if it came to a fight.

Lucky Sebastian hated physical confrontations. Might mess up his suit.

My puke-green Mercury Montego looked twice as shitty in front of Millennium Tower, a luxury high-rise where base floor studios went for a million. The hundred I handed the college-aged valet didn’t soften his horror at having to park the relic. Maybe he would at least get a contact high from the coke Gordon had snorted with the bill.

I disguised my limp as best I could as I crossed the lobby to the bank of elevators. Mirrors and brushed steel abounded. The staff were too fixated on my bruises and ripped clothing to notice my lack of reflection, but that wouldn’t last. I couldn’t risk staying down here.

“Can I help you, miss?” The clerk asked. His voice cracked on the last word.

“Sebastian Essex.” I punched the elevator button. The doors slid open in seconds.

“He’s on the-”

“Top floor, I’d guess.”

“But he had to buzz you in!”

“He will.”

The closing doors cut off any reply.

I pounded the button for the penthouse and waited.

The elevator buzzed and rumbled to life after a few seconds. No preamble, no questions. Sebastian knew who the elevator’s empty video feed wasn’t showing.

The doors opened onto a dim condo. A wall of windows looked out over the glittering night sea of the city, the glow painting in silver the modern lines and sweeping curves of the room’s stark embellishments. Leather couches and recliners faced a cold hearth. No artwork, no plants, no color but black and white. Even the granite, appliances and tile in the overlooking kitchen lacked any disrupting shade.

Two lean and severe bodyguards stepped out of the shadows as I entered. One held a metal detector wand. I was used to some level of desire fogging eyes that looked on me, but both their gazes were numb, lifeless.

“The hand comes off with that thing,” I said without looking at the one with the wand.

Both guards paused at my tone and shot blank glances toward the living area.

A flare of red – the tip of a cigarette – winked to life in the darkness.

“Patricia fucking Praest,” Sebastian Essex said, proper British weaved thick through his words. “Already threatening to remove limbs. You’ve been in America too long.”

“So have you.”

“I was keenly aware of that the second I got off my jet. Please, humor them. They’re only doing their vertical jobs.”

I glared the two monkeys away, then slid the kukri from their sheaths and dropped them on to the countertop. The machine pistol followed, then the pistol shotgun, knife and phosphorous grenades. Each landed in the pile with a hollow clang.

“Aren’t you the good little Yankee now? Ready to start a Goddamn war.” The cigarette tip floated across darkness as Sebastian stepped into the light.

Sebastian Essex might have been black in life, I’d never asked. The ages had scoured all color from his skin save alabaster and pale lead. The eye not covered by an eye patch shone dark as he regarded me. Black dreadlocks cascaded to his shoulders and a goatee the same color framed lifeless gray lips. A golden coin, its markings burning a dead orange, rested snugly in one ear.

I made a show of looking around the penthouse. “Nice place.”

“It will do. I refuse to live in squalor while in this shitpile of a hemisphere.” He made a slow, appraising circle around me. My gaze didn’t follow him. “You’re still the ray of sunshine I remember.”

“Fuck you.”

“Possessed of the same ten word vocabulary, I see.”

“Says the Cursed who swears every other word.”

“My dear, I am Shakespearian in my use of the profane arts. Your vulgarity seldom strays from the comforts of fornication and defecation.” He took another pull from his black Sobranie cigarette, let the pale smoke slither into the air. His eye lingered on my bruises and the blood on my clothes. “I thought you were the only Cursed in Seattle. Only you could manage to pick a fight here.”

“I just had the shit kicked out of me by an Andrasi.”

“And I assume said Andrasi got the shit kicked out of him in return.”

“He’s dead.”

“If you’re here, of course he fucking is. I would think pack demons would know to stay clear of you.”

“They came after me because you’re here.”

“Well, glad to be of service. If you need a topper, feel free to fuck one of my guards. They’re rubbish outside bed anyway.”

The bodyguards again gave no outward reaction. Sebastian had dominated every fiber of self out of them.

“Speaking of,” he continued, “how long has it been since you enjoyed a proper shag with a proper Cursed?”

Our eyes met, and his domination scraped my mind. Compulsions to submit, a succubus surrendering herself to the merciless fucking of a Pride Cursed. I slid off my jacket, shuddered against the temptation to drop to my knees before him. Jealousy swallowed the empty eyes of the bodyguards.

Then I realized what was happening. I sprang forward and grabbed Sebastian by the lapels. My injuries screamed, but my rage shoved the pain aside. I smashed him against the penthouse windows and pinned him in place with my forearm. The downtown lights sparkled along the cracks that spiderwebbed across the glass.

“Get out of my head,” I snarled.

He smiled. “You’ve let your mental guards slack over the years.” He shook his head at the two bodyguards, who had their guns out and ready to fire.

“Something that won’t happen again.”

“That’s lesson one. What’s the next one I should teach you, Tricia?”

The cracks in the windows squealed as they spread under my pressure. I snarled once, low, ominous, and threw him across the room.

Sebastian crashed to the floor. I pounced, pinning him under me. Even without his attempts to govern my will, the allure of sex with another Cursed was luxurious. I ripped his suit open. Tumbling buttons glimmered in the city lights.

“Don’t ruin a perfectly adequate fifty thousand quid suit,” he grunted. His glamour dropped, leaving his Belethi appearance unmasked. White skin, no blemish or variance but his black hair and goatee. His single eye burned a cold diamond blue.

“You’ll buy a new one.” I dropped my own glamour. “After I teach you a lesson.”

My body devoured him with such demonic Lust the entire tower came with us.

 

“That made the trip a bit less shitty,” Sebastian murmured, hours later when we’d finished. His dreadlocks spilled in a tangle across the white silk pillows of his bed. The slanting light of the overcast morning trickled through a break in the curtains to cut a colorless line across the room. The scent of sex perfumed the air.

I twined my fingers through his chest hair, black and wiry against porcelain skin. Ran them across the hairless swaths of scars from his mortal life.

“How’d you get the scars?” I had never thought to ask.

“Chasing the woman I loved.” He turned to me at my sound of disbelief. “She didn’t make the scars, if that’s what you’re thinking.”

The glint of the coin in his ear caught my eye. He had left it in the whole time. As I studied the unfamiliar markings, a faint, maddening babble brushed my senses, words I knew I could understand if I concentrated enough. I looked away and the sounds disappeared.

“It has been too long,” I said, stretching in the languid afterglow.

“It’s nice to have your partner survive coitus for once, I suppose.”

“Not as nice as you think.”

He let out a one-breath laugh. “Your pillow talk is still shit.” His hand moved to caress my breast and tease the nipple until it hardened. I moaned and swung myself up to straddle him, felt his cock respond under me. But his eye dropped to the cross dangling from my neck above him. “Do you ever take that off?”

“No.”

“Our Curse doesn’t allow us to change much over the years, does it?” He grimaced at the slash of light creeping across the floor. “Be a dear and pull the curtains shut, will you?”

I pressed my cheek against his and bit his ear, the one without the coin. “Let your goons do it.”

From somewhere he pulled a black cigarette and spewed smoke within seconds. “Their brains are still mush from the collateral of a succubus fuckfest.”

I shoved him away and glided across the room to the curtains. A Pride Cursed that hated the sun. Sebastian hadn’t changed, either.

“Finally got you to do something I want,” he said. “And without having to try.”

Less than five minutes after a night sex and I was already done with him. “Why were you checking up on me?”

He propped himself on an elbow and studied me. A grin, neither playful nor humored, crept across his mouth. “What makes you think I give a fuck about you?”

I couldn’t keep the surprise from my voice. “I’m the only Cursed you’d care about in Seattle. Maybe in the whole country.”

“You’ve gained that American arrogance, too.” He sighed. “You are a blunt instrument, Tricia. A comely one, true, even when it looks like someone worked you over with a sledgehammer, but no great mystery. The only way you could garner my attention is if you enthralled the entire city. Which, let’s be honest, would take a while even with the spectacular cunt you’ve got.”

Sebastian used degradation with such frequency that I hardly noticed anymore. “Then why are you here?”

“Because,” he said, taking another drag from his Sobranie, “Hinge is here.”

Holy fuck.

I snapped invisible out of reflex. My senses lashed out around the condo, hunting for the presence of my former master.

Sebastian grinned. “You think he stayed in the closet the whole time?” He swept his hand in the direction of the curtained windows. “I meant in Seattle somewhere. Even I’ve got difficulty feeling his presence, and he’s not hiding from me.”

I slipped back into visibility. “What’s he doing here?” The panic in my voice was humiliating.

“You’re his long-lost daughter. You didn’t think he would leave you alone forever, did you?”

“I’d hoped. It’s been decades.”

“Hinge had many irritating qualities, but the most vexing is his patience. Which runs contrary to his batshit insanity.”

I watched Sebastian’s face. His expression betrayed nothing, but I could feel it. “You’re scared of him.”

His gaze narrowed. He turned away from me, dropping back on the bed. “Let’s just said we notice when a five hundred year old Cursed picks up and runs to the New World.”

“‘We?’“

“The most powerful of us keep an eye on each other in case anyone gets up to truly monumental fuckery.”

“Why did they send you, then? Victorian and the Roman are older than Hinge, for Christ’s sake. Why aren’t any true elders here?”

Sebastian’s eye hardened. The reaction disappeared fast enough that I was sure it meant something. “No one sent me. And no one else wants to muck about with him. These days, even a mildly content Hinge is a disaster of biblical fucking proportions.”

“And this disaster is in Seattle. How powerful is he?”

“Powerful enough that mortals don’t even remember him. He can rewrite memories, even those of newly Cursed, with impunity.”

“Then he’s worse than I remember.”

“Hard to believe. But never underestimate the power – or arrogance – of a Cursed who Descended.”

I stared at him. “Hinge Descended.” It was as much a statement as a question.

“Get off. You didn’t know? He told you fuckall about anything.” Sebastian rolled his eye. “No one made him. Being an inquisitor fucked him up enough that Hell Cursed him all on its own.” He pointed his cigarette at the cross around my neck. “He must still have got some Catholic guilt knocking around for that thing to work.”

“I never knew,” I breathed. “If he Descended, his age is meaningless.”

“Not meaningless. It just means he’s got a metric fuckton more power than he should.”

“And you came alone to watch him? That’s stupid.”

“This from the blunt instrument.”

I glared at him. “I came here ready to destroy you. I still might. Don’t treat me like an idiot.”

Sebastian let a cloud of smoke stream from his lips. “You are definitely not an idiot.”

The clues began to coalesce in my thoughts. “You snuck in to Seattle. You didn’t think I’d find you. You meant me to be your bait.”

Sebastian shrugged. “That plan’s shit now. At least I got a night of succubus out of it.”

I ran a hand through my hair. I never expected Hinge to care about me, much less come after me.

“I can’t very well find him if he doesn’t want me to.” I reached down and started pulling on my clothes. They were in worse condition than when I came in. “What am I supposed to do? Wait till he comes after me?”

“I don’t care what you do. Flee him, fight him, fuck him, it makes no difference. I only care what his plans are for you.”

I was tempted to rip the curtains open and bathe the asshole in daylight, just to see what would happen.

My body tingled as my fingers cupped and tugged my breast. I moaned and started to slide my hands under my skirt, then swore and wheeled on Sebastian.

“Don’t fuck with me,” I growled.

“I just wanted to see if your aura was as potent when you masturbate,” Sebastian said. “I’m still up for another go.”

Rage burned my cheeks. I could never let my shields down even for a second around him. Or Hinge.

“Stay out of my way, Sebastian.” I headed for the elevator. “Or I’ll do worse than open your fucking curtains.”

“Tricia,” Sebastian said. I turned to him in surprise. For a second, his voice held a note of concern. “Don’t trust any memories of your time with him. There’s no telling how long he’s been fucking with any of us.”

“Hopefully that means my past was a lie.”

“Oh, no. You were a stark-raving bitch. You still need forgiveness for that.”

His words were thick with mockery. At the mention of forgiveness my thoughts skittered to Pastor Rosie. Worry started to prickle my spine.

“Stay out of my way,” I repeated, with even more venom.

“Oh, I plan to enjoy the show from afar.”

I couldn’t even muster a retort. I spun on my heels and headed for the door.

“I’m sure you’re off to do some soul-searching after murdering three rapists, killing a demon and fucking another,” Sebastian said from behind me. “Better not forget your guns. Who knows what shit you’ll manage to get into when you leave.”

Anger again swelled at my vulnerability – Sebastian had laid bare how out of practice I was at guarding my thoughts – and I stormed to the kitchen to scoop up my weapons. I needed to get out of here before I got into some shit right here in his penthouse.

 

Continue to Chapter Five

 

(c) 2015 by William Reid Schmadeka. All Rights Reserved.

Refine Your Prose: All writers are sadists

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Having worked as a freelance and content editor as well as an author, I have both made and seen many common storytelling missteps. I’ll post a blog each week about these issues and ways we authors can avoid them. The first piece of advice:

1. Be a sadist

Your characters are not your friends.

This is a difficult truth to accept. You care for your characters. You put hours into crafting their backstories and creating the world in which they live. You live, eat and breathe with them. When you put your tablet or computer away for the night, you feel like you’re neglecting your characters until you open your story to write again.

And your job is to make sure those characters hate your guts.

Think about some of the great characters in literary history and what they faced in their lives. Sherlock Holmes. Anna Karenina. Hamlet. Edmond Dantes. Jay Gatsby. All of them end their literary stories with wildly different levels of success, but the one thing they have in common is that their journeys are full of plenty of suck. If nothing bad ever happened to them, we wouldn’t care about them. I’m sure Holmes would have preferred he not be a drug addicted asshole, or Anna a social exile driven to suicide. But without the misery and tragedy in their lives, we wouldn’t care about them like we do.

You write to deliver your readers a great story, and that comes from tearing down the compelling characters you’ve created. Readers thrive on conflict, on their emotional ties to your characters. That requires a lot of collateral damage.  You need to make life suck for your characters at every turn. Otherwise, you’re letting your readers down.

Remember this golden rule: Whenever possible, make things worse for your characters. Much worse. Whether or not you build them back up again at the climax is up to you.

Ideas: Give a guy a break here

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Ideas beget ideas.

That’s probably the best reason to write all the time. When your mind is engaged and in writing mode, it doesn’t stop with what you’re working on. But this idea churn can be annoying, especially for writers like me.

I’m working on my novel, which is slow-going anyway being a stay-at-home dad with three kids. But when my muse (a mix of caffeine and insomnia) speaks up, she doesn’t contend herself with one topic. In fact, sometime the bitch needs Ritalin. During my time writing my novel, I have also written short pieces about demonic pirates, time dilation, colonization and jealousy via time travel.

A more disciplined writer would stick to her novel and file the new ideas under future projects. Unfortunately, I do not. Whether I’m right or not (usually not), I am convinced the new idea is amazing and world-changing and I must work on it immediately.

Take my latest story idea, which has nothing to do with the demonic urban fantasy I’m currently writing. I read the books Guns, Germs and Steel and 1491, which point out (in terms much more detailed than my description here) that a more worldly or advanced society tends to kill off one less so upon first encounter due to disease. Because of this, I’ve always held that War of the Worlds had it backward. I also believe that if time travel does exist, it can’t change history because history is already written and incorporates the results of the trip. (Sorry, that does mean every attempt on Hitler’s life has failed.) I combined these two ideas and realized that future time travelers could have sparked every extinction and pandemic in world history.

That idea at this point isn’t close to being a story. For starters, it lacks characters, situation or plot, which any idea needs before it can become a story. But I thought the idea was great. So great that, well, now I’m outlining it to get all the things that make an idea into a story. And temporarily derailing my work on my novel once again.

In the end, however, I think this subconscious idea factory is a good thing. It allows me to get a breath of fresh air from a longer work, which at least in my case is a good thing. I can experiment with different characters and different voices. Also, it keeps your creative muscles engaged. Either you’re working on multiple projects or you have a writing hopper to dig into when you finish your current project.

I wish I were a writer that could consign new ideas to the future. Meanwhile, muse, stay off the pharmaceuticals. Brew up another cup of joe. I’d rather have too many ideas, even crappy ones, than too few.

Hunters: Chapter Three

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Here is Chapter Three of my dark fantasy novel Hunters. As with all drafts, feedback is appreciated.

Also,the anthology Saints and Sinners is now available, featuring the short story prequel to Hunters, Harsh Mistress! A pirate captain sails his ship into Hell to rescue the woman he loves.

Hunters

Previous chapters can be found on the Hunters page.

 

Chapter Three

Compare the latest version with the first draft here!

Garrison Decker

 

“Why, Doctor Decker,” Lilly Rothschild said as the doorman stepped aside. “What brings you to the manor at such an uncivilized hour?” Her lazy southern accent held no displeasure at seeing me. Slim build, auburn hair pulled in a bun, milky face ageless and smooth. She wore a crisp blue business suit even at such an uncivilized hour.

I stepped into the foyer of Rothschild manor and felt two centuries crumble away. The perfect recreation in upstate New York of a plantation estate enveloped me in the feel of the deep South. The elaborate marble floor, inset with a coat of arms and a stylized R, reflected a cascade of light from the chandelier overhead. Carefully preserved furnishings and shelves of worn books filled the perimeter. Two broad staircases swept up to an overlooking gallery. Incense, leather and tobacco weaved their scents through the still air, accompanied by the steady rhythm of an unseen grandfather clock.

“Please, call me Garrison,” I said, letting the same long disused drawl touch my words. “I apologize, but I couldn’t let my concerns wait for our next session.”

Lilly’s dark eyes sparkled. “I never knew a psychologist who made house calls. Eduardo, will you kindly take Garrison’s coat so we can retire to my study?” Her eyes slid over me to emphasize her use of my name.

The butler didn’t reply. He stared at Lilly with an unfocused gaze.

“Eduardo?” Lilly repeated.

Eduardo crumpled to the floor.

Lilly gasped and started toward him. The moment her back was turned, I ripped the garrote wire from my jacket lining and looped it around her neck.

She wheezed and clawed at the wire. I planted my knee in the small of her back. She tried to scream but gagged on blood. A red fog sprayed out from her neck as I sawed the garrote back and forth. Razor wire shredded flesh.

She struggled, gurgled, went limp. The wire snapped free. Lilly’s head rebounded off the marble before disintegrating in a smear of ash. Her body imploded with the scent of sulfur and embers.

“Go back to Hell, demon,” I spat.

I stepped over Eduardo’s unconscious body and took the brushed metal canister from my satchel. A stream of gas rippled in the light from its top. I rolled the canister across the foyer and it spiraled to a stop in the middle of the marble R.

Any mortal staff in the manor would be unconscious within a minute. No one would remain awake but me and the three other Cursed I had yet to destroy.

I’d never taken on four demons at once. I slipped a worn flask out of my breast pocket, felt under my fingers the memories etched in each scar. The vodka within, thinned by holy water, aroused my thirst more than quenched it, yet still I stopped while it remained half full. Even washing away the bitterness of the anti-nerve agent couldn’t justify drinking more.

I drew my LeMat revolver, the stacked double barrel refurbished to hold modern ammunition, and scanned the foyer. I’d read the butler’s thoughts before he passed out and meshed his memories with what I’d read from Lilly during our therapy sessions. Demons seldom worked, let alone lived, together, but these four came from the same mortal family. The demonic heads of the Rothschild clan had bred debauchery in their descendants for centuries.

Lilly had been a young Greed demon new to her powers. She went to therapy sessions, conferences and any other meetings she could arrange in a search for corruptible souls. I was glad I had gotten her out of the way quickly. The Sloth demon Danforth was in a room at the top of the stairs. I would destroy him first. Lilly hadn’t ever seen inside his sanctum, let alone seen him leave it in years.

After Danforth, that still left the two most dangerous Cursed in the family to deal with. Each Cursed had unique vulnerabilities, based as much on their personality as the sin they represented. Most of the time I could exploit these to dispatch them. But even reading the Rothschild weaknesses from Lilly didn’t make this much easier to pull off.

Angus Rothschild was a Wrath demon who treated the manor’s mortal staff with slave master brutality. He killed anyone, family or employee, Cursed or mortal, who angered him, and it didn’t take much to do so. Lilly had been terrified of him. He was the eldest Cursed in the family, and might have been the patriarch if his grandniece Ashlea didn’t control him.

I knew well the power a succubus like Ashlea wielded. I itched at the scars in the crook of my arm and willed myself to hold together.

Stillness draped the mansion. I forced my heart to match time with the clock as I crept up the stairs to the gallery landing.

I took a moment to enjoy the silence within my mind. With no one nearby, no errant thoughts or images bombarded me. I had learned over the years to filter out the background noise that other minds created, but I seldom appreciated the effort it took until I could relax.

A faint scrape rustled from behind Danforth’s heavy door at the center of the balcony. I trained the LeMat on the door and pushed it open.

Decadence swathed the room. Its windows looked over the frozen grounds of the estate, sparkling blue and gray in the predawn cold. A well-stocked bar spread below oil paintings that would break millionaires. Fresh fruit and meat were heaped on the center of an imposing cherry desk. Greek statues stood vigil in the recesses. The excess was so great that it took several seconds to register the thick stench of excrement and death in the room.

Danforth Rothschild, a naked skeleton of emaciated gray flesh, lay on a leather chaise under the windows. His chest rose and fell with deep, even breaths. Glittering gold and jewelry dripped from the long fingers knitted over his concave belly.

Dozens of bodies, emaciated, dead and dying, covered in their own shit and piss, lay wreathed about Danforth. Dry tongues scraped over cracked lips. A few clouded eyes turned in my direction, but none made a move toward me, the door, or the food set out for them. Despite the misery of their condition, their faces and thoughts were calm, unpained. Restful. An air of peace and tranquility pervaded the room. No agony troubled them, no misery or hunger or thirst or anxiety or addiction or worry. They cared about nothing, and in this idyllic state died and gave their souls to their blessed God of Sloth.

I’d never experienced a Sloth demon before, but his aura was insidious. For the first time, my body didn’t crawl with the need to move, tremble with unrequited yearning. Release was but a few short, serene steps away.

I drew in a deep breath and choked on fetid air. Christ. I was sitting on the floor, when did that happen? I stood up and fished an incendiary grenade from my satchel. The grenade hissed as I popped the tab and tossed it onto the chaise where Danforth lay. Flames blossomed over the gaunt body in moments. The thing collapsed in on itself as the sprinklers in the room came on, extinguishing the flames before they spread to any of the mortals that remained alive. I slammed the door before the water washed rivers of filth onto the landing.

The stench of the room clung to me. I glanced at my watch and found that five minutes had passed. Christ, just sitting there for five minutes. Danforth had been no easy kill, and my disregard for the danger all Cursed posed had put me at the mercy of his demonic aura. I shuddered and turned away, and hands the size of turkeys clamped the sides of my head.

Angus Rothschild dangled me a foot off the ground in his crushing grip and stared at me with malevolent eyes. Then he threw me. I crashed into the balcony rail and cartwheeled over. Floor rushed at me. I tucked and tumbled onto my back out of reflex.

Angus smashed into the marble in front of me. His white hair and long moustaches glowed stark against skin the color of hot coals. Two wicked horns twisted up from his temples.

I lurched to my knees, struggling to breathe. My pistol lay on the floor a foot away. I grabbed it and trained it on the demon’s chest, then gasped. Bliss clenched my body. I dropped to all fours, trying to scream from the mind-splitting orgasm while my deflated lungs begged for air.

“Why, that just took all the fight right out of you, didn’t it?” A soft voice said from behind me, like chocolate melting on the tongue.

Ashlea Rothschild ran a delicate hand over the bannister as she descended the stairs. Her hair, cream streaked with bronze and gold, cascaded to her shoulders in graceful curls. The light passed through her gossamer white gown to reveal every detail of her slender body and delicate curves.

“Took the head right offa Lilly!” Angus snarled. His Appalachian accent was so thick I could barely understand him. “Burned Danny alive!”

“You could hardly call Danny alive. And you were going to kill Lilly anyway.”

I fought to move my sluggish limbs through the afterglow haze, made a clumsy swipe for my pistol. And another orgasm more breathtaking than the first flattened me. I felt cool marble slick with drool against my cheek as I writhed. Finally I screamed, halting and weak and ecstatic.

“Stop it, you harlot!” I felt the floor rumble, smelled brimstone as Angus neared. A growl like a roaring furnace churned from the depths of his chest. “I’m gonna kill him.”

“Don’t be jealous, Uncle. This doesn’t mean you don’t get yours.”

Angus stopped, his growl softening to a childish mewl. I felt the power Ashlea sated him with, many times more potent than what the bitch had given me. Jealousy flared. The LeMat lay right in front of me, and I tried to grab for it so she would subdue me again. My hand slid only a handful of slow inches toward the grip.

Ashlea crouched over me, and her scent pierced my mind. The pheromones the Cursed oozed sparked long forgotten emotions and cravings. She smelled like raw desire. She smelled like Helen. And in an instant it was two years ago, my wife still slaved me with her power, and I yearned for a new master.

“You respond to my powers as easily as my dear old uncle,” she said, and placed a warm hand on my cheek. The sensation was as intense as if she were stroking my cock. “You’ve been the thrall of a succubus before, haven’t you?”

My lips caressed her palm, tasted her silken flesh. My mind whispered to pull away before she killed me, to grab my gun and shoot her in her beautiful face. My body screamed to surrender to her. I raised myself toward her, my hands clutching to pull her close.

“Do you want another?” She cooed. “I’ve just given you a taste. You’re young, muscular, virile. Nothing like my uncle there. You deserve so much more.”

No, God no, get away from me, I thought. No words escaped my lips.

She patted my cheek. “Not yet. You did destroy my niece. Angus will make you pay for that.” She leaned closer, curling her finger under my chin. “But I will make you beg for every minute of his wrath.”

Our lips touched, first a casual brush, then deeper. My arms were around her, pulling her into an embrace. Rapture filled me with every touch.

Then her tongue crumbled to bitter ash. She screeched and tore away, smoke belching from the blistered flesh around her mouth. Her demonic form took hold as fiery red cracks spread over her black skin and a mane of flames consumed her hair.

“What did you do?” She shrieked. Her talons clawed at her sizzling lips.

Her aura faltered, and fury seethed through me. I saw what she planned for me, saw my own weakness through her eyes. My vulnerability disgusted me. I grabbed my gun and rounded on her.

Angus barreled into me. His movements were sluggish after the pleasure Ashlea had given him, but it didn’t stop his momentum. I smashed with him into the bookshelves against the wall. He clasped his meaty hands around my head again and squeezed. Pain exploded.

I fired the shotgun barrel of the LeMat straight into his heart.

Angus dropped me and stared at the burning crater in the center of his chest. The rock salt in the shotgun load chewed through his demonic flesh.

“Lilly knew your weakness,” I groaned. “She always kept a trail of salt around her room.”

Smoke and sparks vomited from Angus’s chest and he toppled backward. His body shattered like leaves against the floor.

Ashlea stood up, trembling from the pain. She had returned to her human form. Even with lips melted away, leaving behind a permanent tooth-filled grin, her beauty still made me weak.

“I saw your mind when we kissed,” she said. Despite the slur from no lips, her voice was still sultry. “I know your powers. I know your pain. And I know the one who corrupted your wife Helen.”

My breath caught. The image of a Cursed boiled out of her mind. Body rich with graceful curves, pale angelic face, black hair, burgundy eyes. I had never met her, never seen her in person, but I could never forget her.

Anger swept my budding lust aside. “Where is she?” I snarled.

Ashlea ran her hand across my chest, an enthralling pleasure rippling like the surface of a lake along the path of her fingers. “We can find her together.”

“You already know where she is,” I said.

Her brown eyes widened as she realized I knew now, too. She grabbed the back of my head and wrapped one leg around my waist.

I struggled against her grip. “How do you know her? Why do-”

A guttural howl drowned my words as another orgasm flooded me, then another, building stronger, stronger. My legs wilted and she fell on top of me, her smooth legs straddling me. She slid her gown up over her hips and reached down to free my cock.

I screamed with desire and pulled the trigger.

The ecstasy ended. She straightened and touched the red stain blooming across the chest of her gown.

“No,” I murmured, quaking, gasping. Somehow I pulled again. She spun off me with the impact. I emptied the cylinder, toppling her to the floor.

I pulled myself to my feet, sliding the LeMat back in its holster. Ashlea screamed and thrashed against the floor in an expanding puddle of blood. The wet gown was plastered against her body, revealing her small red nipples and the beckoning triangle between her legs, and I had to force myself to look away.

My jacket pocket ripped as I tore the vials of holy water free. I had mixed enough of it with the vodka I drank that I would consecrate every toilet I used for a week. I unstopped the vials and poured them over her.

The holy water fried gullies in her flesh, sloughed dissolving skin from bone. She shrieked and bucked on the ground. Horror consumed her beautiful eyes as her body dissolved into a smoldering scar across the floor, surrounded by a sea of blood.

Silence. Sweat drenched my face, my clothes. I fumbled the flask from my pocket and drained the holy vodka in one long swallow. God I needed to dose. My nails again dug at the scars at the crook of my elbow. It was the only way to quiet the yearning my wife Helen had awakened in me, rekindled by the succubus I had been on the cusp of surrendering to before I destroyed her.

I couldn’t dose here. The mortals would start waking up within the hour. But there was one thing I had to do while the images from Ashlea’s memory were still fresh. I dug through my satchel to find the folded square of parchment at its depths. Its creases were hard and set from years tucked away, discolored with spills and dirt and lint. I smoothed the page out on the antique secretary beside the door and steadied my hand enough to sketch the wooden cross that hung around her neck, and the outline of the Space Needle overshadowing her. The demon’s burgundy eyes, the two lone spots of color in the drawing, stared back at me with the same innocent malevolence I first glimpsed in Helen’s mind, and again in Ashlea’s.

Tricia Praest had destroyed my life and my world when she Cursed my wife. Now I knew where she was. And now I would destroy her.

 

Continue to Chapter Four

 

(c) 2015 by William Reid Schmadeka. All rights reserved.

All I want for my birthday is a beer that isn’t green

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Don’t get me wrong, I love having a St. Patrick’s Day birthday. It’s not a major holiday like Christmas, Thanksgiving or Easter that would overrun any other celebration. St. Patrick’s Day is basically a party holiday, and it’s great having a birthday that everyone celebrates. It’s especially poignant with this being my 40th birthday.

However, the one thing that irks me is the holiday’s obsession with green.

I want a beer that isn’t doused with food coloring. I want a cake that doesn’t have green frosting or feature a four-leaf clover. I don’t want to be asked if I’m Irish or if I’ve found my pot of gold or if U2 is my favorite band, too.

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And any soul who doth forsake my color green on my day, thou shalt kill.

I don’t wear green out of principle on my birthday. (And before you ask, not even my underwear. I go commando.) When I told my stepson this (who was seven at the time), he was horrified. “How do you avoid getting pinched?!” He howled.

That’s simple, I said. I go to HR.

Hunters: Chapter Two

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This is Chapter Two of my dark fantasy novel Hunters. Warning: the content is mature. Feedback is appreciated. I will post a chapter a week.

Also,the anthology Saints and Sinners is now available, featuring the short story prequel to Hunters, Harsh Mistress! A pirate captain sails his ship into Hell to rescue the woman he loves.

Hunters

Other novel chapters can be found on the Hunters page.

 

Chapter Two

Compare this latest version with the first draft here!

Tricia Praest

 

I stepped out of the private room, leaving crumpled rapist husks laying in the darkness behind. Constellations of body fluids flared across my body under the black lights of the dance floor.

It would be awhile before anyone found them. They would have made sure no one would interrupt their conquest of a drugged teenager. No rush to leave. But a club was a dangerous place for a Lust Cursed to be. The souls I just ate were sustenance, not enjoyment. Their memories of past conquests, their sadistic fantasies for me, stripped their souls of any purity. None of them were depraved enough to rise as Cursed after death, but that didn’t make their souls any less decrepit. I felt satisfaction ending their miserable lives. But holy Christ, I still needed to fuck.

Really fuck.

I closed my eyes. The dancers surging against me radiated heat, thundered with lust. Desire, everywhere desire, need. They were so embroiled with passion that I could walk into the crowd in full demonic glory and take every last soul in an orgy of desire. Yet their fervor was a mere whisper against the eternal hunger inside me that never died. Usually I could ignore it, often I had to subdue it, but not here, not now. Every doubt about coming here exploded. I wanted more. I wanted it all. My mind went numb.

I reached into the human sea, grasped the nearest person by the hair and spun her toward me. Her squeal of surprise cut short when I dragged her mouth to mine. At first she stiffened and pressed her lips tight. Then they quivered, opened, and we devoured each other. She tasted like spearmint, cigarettes, cum. Her embrace was sudden and fierce. Our hands explored each other with delirious intimacy. I felt her passion, her power, her eager soul as our bodies melted together.

Her mind opened to me the second we touched, and Stacey captivated me. Not like the worthless raping shits I ate earlier. Stacey was kind, she didn’t steal or lie, she didn’t cheat on her boyfriend Mark and wanted a family with him. My God, she was the purest, kindest, most delicious creature I’d tasted in decades, and I wanted her. Not to consume her soul like Derek and his minions, but to possess her, enslave her, savor her.

Stacey’s the kind of bitch I go for. Derek’s voice, weak and distant, slithered through my thoughts.

A chill gripped me. The echo of my victims’ unfiltered souls was the most revolting curse of feeding from the worst of humanity. Derek’s presence would linger in my mind for a few hours, sometimes even a day. But it reminded me of why I fed from shits like him. If I enthralled Stacey, I would damn the soul I struggled to redeem, if it was redeemable at all.

Fuck. I shoved Stacey away.

She stared at me, gasping. Her short-bobbed blonde hair curled over one eye, but the other stared, the thin rim of her dilated eyes the color of a winter stream. Her cheeks flushed fire.

“The fuck,” the guy next to her said, and wheeled her away by the elbow. The boyfriend Mark. His haircut was a brunette mirror of hers.

I turned my attention to him. Yearning mixed with his anger. Seeing me kiss his girlfriend again would shatter his resistance.

I stopped myself before I indulged the thought further.

“Thought she was someone else,” I said.

“She’s not. Fuck off.”

He strained as he held Stacey back from me. Her gaze never left me.

God damn it. I spun away and bolted deeper into the crowd. In a moment I couldn’t see them anymore.

Rapists and sinners deserved death, even if their souls were empty and ungratifying. But a feast like this club was too much temptation. A Cursed wasn’t built to cope with control, or a Lust demon with abstinence. I had almost enthralled Stacey and consumed her boyfriend’s soul just for the fuck of it. Had to get out of here before I did something I’d regret. I wouldn’t be able to look at Sister Rosie again if I threw away all my work now. I pushed my way toward the doors.

I felt its presence behind me an instant before its sword slashed at my head. I wheeled to the side. The black blade missed me by less than an inch and carried without slowing through two guys dancing in front of me. The music drowned their screams. Blood sprayed over me and the dancers around them.

An Andrasi Wrath demon towered behind me.

“What the….” A girl turned as blood slashed across her face. She stared in shocked silence at the two bodies on the dance floor, eyes wide and white in a mask of glistening red. Then she looked up into the empty stare of the Cursed that cut them down. She screamed.

The club went apeshit.

I was at eye level with the demon’s waist. No glamour to disguise its nature. Its bones glowed through its translucent red skin like a skeleton suspended in gelatin. Angelic wings draped its back in a shadowy cloak. Muscular arms as thick as my waist held a blood-stained sword as tall as me. Long hair hung to its shoulders like a tangle of wet eels. Its eyes blazed emptiness.

“You die, succubus,” it growled, straight into my mind.

A wave of humanity broke around me, scattering toward the exit. I used the chaos to crouch and draw the twin kukri sheathed at the small of my back. The curved blades were heavy and a pain in the ass to keep hidden, especially when people touched me. I hadn’t had to draw them in years.

Since the last time a Wrath Cursed swung a five-foot sword at my head, come to think. Good thing old habits were hard to break.

A bubble formed on the dance floor around us. Hentai sex flashed over the screens. Lasers rippled through the body of the Cursed as it glared at me with those empty eye sockets.

“You don’t want to destroy me,” I said, as calmly as I could. Despite my mental guards, the Cursed’s aura of rage needled my self-control. It smelled like blood and ash and mindless anger. The shouts from the fleeing patrons had turned guttural, frenzied, as much rage as fear. A quick glance at the brawls erupting around me confirmed that the mortals were as intent on fighting as getting away, all because of this fucker.

Its voice boiled into my brain. “You break oaths, you die.” Its laugh claws my mind with fury.

I skipped sideways, keeping out of sword range. “What oaths did I break?”

“You die, then I kill your friend,” it said.

Friend? Oh for fuck’s sake. I had to concentrate on surviving, not figuring out what the hell this thing was talking about.

“Fight me,” it said. “I like it when you fight.”

“Well, then.” I lunged and snapped invisible.

It was one of my tricks. Made up for not showing up in mirrors, cameras or video, which was a bigger pain in the ass than you’d think. I assumed this Andrasi knew I could do it, but I needed every moment of surprise it might give me.

The Cursed swung its sword across my expected path. I rolled under its arc and sprang at the demon’s exposed side. Kukri chewed crimson Jell-O. No blood from the cuts, they opened like raw steak. Streaks of chartreuse energy flickered from the wounds. I hoped that meant they hurt like hell.

Its elbow smashed the back of my skull. The world sparkled and tilted. I turned the fall into a sideways tumble away from the Cursed, cradling my head. Agony.

“I smell you,” it growled. Its eyes no longer followed my movement, but it charged straight at me.

I broke for the doors. But thoughts of escaping that way vanished. The front of the club was a pile of people tearing themselves apart, either to get out or because they were overwhelmed by the rage aura. The burn of mace started to fill the air, and I heard the hollow pop of a gun from the midst of the melee. Jesus, someone got a gun into the club. This was getting ugly.

“Fight me,” it said again. Its blind slash tugged the edge of my jacket.

I wheeled around and charged. I couldn’t take on a Wrath Cursed in the middle of innocents, or let its rage aura drive them to kill each other. Needed to get out in the open somehow.

I leapt over its next swing, somersaulting over its head and grabbing where its wings met its back. My momentum inverted him in front of me, and I smashed my shoulder into its back and sprinted.

It roared, wings and feet thrashing in midair. Screams shook my body. It felt like carrying a volcano. I hung on just long enough to plow it into the nearest wall.

Masonry and rebar exploded. A second crash, a second wall. The impacts knocked the air from my lungs, wrenched and shattered my shoulder. Brick cascaded over me seconds before we were in the alley and the Seattle mist was falling on us. I let go of the Cursed and collapsed on all fours. The Andrasi kept going into the opposite wall of the alley, cracking brick. The impact left a crater half a foot deep. The demon tumbled onto its back, its broken body arcing with internal sparks.

I willed myself to stand and pounced on the Cursed’s chest. It tried to get up but I hung on by its greasy hair, hacking the kukri across its neck. My arm screamed in protest with each movement. It howled and plunged its sword into my side. Agony exploded but I kept slashing. Its body glowed putrid with each cut.

I hit spine. The jolt traveled through my body. The demon collapsed back to the ground.

“Don’t die yet,” I groaned, my own blood hissing against its skin. “Why’d you try to kill me?”

I planted my lips on a mouth big enough to swallow my head. Flashing, discordant images tore through my thoughts. I shoved the Andrasi away with a gasp. My broken arm hung limp at my side. I lurched up and rammed the heel of my boot under its jaw.

Its neck shattered with a wet, ripping sound. The Cursed began to smoke. The smell of burning carcass filled the air.

I stumbled back on the surrounding rubble, hitting the ground hard. My entire body was pain. I probed where it stabbed me, confirming the sword dissolved along with its body, and focused my energies on mending my wounds. The power I got from the rapists ebbed, exhausted. My side and shoulder burned with any movement, but at least they were whole again. I wouldn’t recover fully for the better part of a week without eating anyone else.

Holy fuck. I lay in the drifting mist for what must have been minutes, still invisible. Andrasi pack demons hadn’t bothered me in years because we stayed out of each other’s shit. They kept out of Seattle and stuck to their outlying territory, and I let no other Cursed in. But this one tried to kill me in the middle of my city, in undisguised demonic form and in a nightclub full of mortals.

I sifted through the jumble of its dying thoughts and found out why. A pale man in a tailored gray suit worth more than a car, getting out of a limo at the most expensive condo tower in Seattle. Long black dreadlocks, goatee and eye patch, smoking a black cigarette. Just a momentary image, but one as painful as the Andrasi’s sword had been.

My end of the bargain was easy to keep since no one gave a shit about a city surrounded by roving packs of Wrath demons. Besides, I didn’t like my kind any more than the Andrasi did. But a Pride Cursed had come to Seattle. One shielding his presence from me or I would have felt him the second he entered the state. And one I knew intimately enough to loathe even after a century.

Sebastian Essex was going to tell me what the fuck he was doing in Seattle, or I was going to kill him.

 

Continue to Chapter Three

 

(c) 2015 by William Reid Schmadeka. All Rights Reserved.