Christmas Takeover 25 Pt 2: M. Ennenbach: Thanksgiving at the North Pole

M. Ennenbach is the author of our second Christmas Day story, and I know I know… it’s technically a Thanksgiving Day story, but here’s the thing… When I went to write my schedule for the Christmas Takeover, I decided to try something differently. I put everyone’s name in a bucket and pulled it out and, interestingly enough, two of my favorite newer-to-me authors were selected out of the bucket for today, so that’s how we’ve ended up with a Thanksgiving story on Christmas haha.

Thanksgiving at the North Pole

A Story by M. Ennenbach
1,686 words

“Fuck me.”

“Gladly my dear.”

“Funny. I need help here. You have another funny quip or you feel like getting off of your lazy ass and actually helping for once?”

“If I have a choice…”

“Never mind then. I can do it by myself.”

“I am just kidding. Calm down, we have tons of time. You always wait until the very end to start panic mode. Every year. What do you need me to do?”

“The elves are only working at ninety nine percent optimal speed. The reindeer have not tried on the new harnesses and my goddamned internet connection is slower than Krampus after a a second bottle of his nerve tonic.”

“So every thing is going just like normal?”

“Look, I love you. You are my wife and partner but sometimes I want to throttle you. Just a little.”

“Sometimes I want that too. Maybe you just need a little break to stuff my stocking.”

“Not right now, we are on a deadline here. And what the fuck is Rudolph doing? I swear if it weren’t for that shiny red nose I would put him down. With the advances in tech over the years he is not nearly as important as he likes to march around and act.”

“Leave Rudy alone you big bully. Did you see that? Jennifer just hit her brother. Again.”

“He deserved it. He has been calling her names all day. He thinks he is sneaky. He will know just how sneaky when he gets coal. Again. One more year and he goes in Krampus’s wicker basket.”

“Five years running and he still doesn’t understand you see everything.”

“Some of these kids never learn. Doug stole another issue of his dad’s reading material and blamed the mailman. He is going to go blind if he keeps doing that. Surprised his hands aren’t covered in hair by now.”

“I will head down and let the elves know they are behind production.”


“Yes dear, again. And then the reindeer will get fitted for the sleigh.”

“Next year we are going to get in touch with that Musk guy. We could retire the deer and use electric engines. There are enough solar panels that I could get him to put reactive pads on the sleigh and we could charge as I make deliveries.”

“What about in Africa? Or the more isolated areas in Asia?”

“Hybrid? Maybe give him a glimpse into the thermal tech we use to power the factory. If half of the elves used a quarter of their fucking brains we could have solved this years ago.”

“Years ago the kids around the world still wanted toys. Now it is all about electronics and cell phones.”

“Don’t get me started. Spent how much to renovate the production lines, to get up to speed on electronics instead of rocking horses and dolls. Surprised we haven’t had to install those suicide nets like in China.”

“The elves enjoy their work. And soldering is just as much an art as painting toys.”

“I guess. But where is the joy in it? Making a device that is basically already obsolete by the time it is unwrapped. Remember those goddamned Furbys? Demonic little shits.”

“Our business is happy kids, not telling them what they want or need.”

“Maybe their parents should be telling them less watching other people play games and more playing with toys.”

“You realize when you get like this it is impossible to have a reasonable talk, right?”

“I’m sorry.”

“I know. Eat those cookies I brought down for you. Take a break and watch the newest Mr Robot, the season is almost done already.”

“Elliot is on my nice list. Angela was but recently…”

“Darlene seems to be coming around though.”

“True. You’re right.”

“What was that?”

“I said you are right my love. I do need a break.”

“Well Mr Claus, it seems you are capable of learning after all this time.”

“Whatever. I am going to my study. One episode and then it is back to it.”

“I will see to the others dear. I love you.”

“I love you too Mrs Claus.”

“Presley, Martin, Rachael and Sherwin, I need a word with you.”

“Yes Mrs Claus.”

“We all know today is Thanksgiving in America.”

“Yes ma’am.”

“We also know how my dear husband gets at this time every year.”

“Yes ma’am.”

“So why in the fuck are we at ninety nine percent efficiency? Can someone explain why we would be running any less than optimally on this day?”

“Bad peanut brittle. Nearly ten percent of the workforce has been racing to the latrines.”

“Bad peanut brittle. You want me to explain to Santa that ten percent of you ate bad peanut brittle and because of that production is suffering?”

“It is the truth ma’am.”

“So the giant party last night had nothing to do with it? The fact that someone raided our pantry and stole all the powdered sugar is just a coincidence?”

“Well, see…”

“I told them it was a bad idea. No one ever listens to me ma’am.”

“No one like an ass kisser Sherwin. Rachael, is there any correlation between the sick elves and those that partook of the powdered sugar?”

“Possibly ma’am. I wouldn’t know. I was sound asleep by eight fifteen.”

“So you claim ignorance?”

“Umm, yes Mrs Claus.”

“Presley, let the workforce know until all the backlog is filled the cocoa will be sugar and marshmallow free.”

“But Mrs Claus!”

“Shall I explain to my husband that his production manager came to a meeting with powdered sugar all over his nose? Do you think sugar free cocoa will be his response? Remember last year when he caught Beauregard with pixie sticks? Has anyone seen him since?”

“My apologies ma’am. I understand Mrs Claus. We will work through the night until we hit our numbers. Though there is a problem with some of the chips out of India.”

“And I am hearing about this now.”

“I just found out myself. The failure rate has gone from two to four percent.”

“Still acceptable.”

“Yes but that has caused a back up in the screen department. We have had to go back and double check the last two weeks inventory.”


“It looks worse than it is. Just wanted you to know before it gets overblown.”

“Noted. Now get your magical asses back to work before my husband decides to come down himself.”

“Yes ma’am!”

“And someone call down to the stables, let them know I am on my way. And let them know my mood. Not time for fuckery today, not on Thanksgiving.”

“Consider it down Mrs Claus.”

“Dante, my friend. How are you today?”

“Doing well Mrs Claus.”

“Then explain to me why in the fuck the harnesses have not been properly fitted yet if you will.”

“But they have! We double checked them this very morning.”

“So then my husband is lying about it? What ever could he gain from that?”

“Did I say this morning? It was probably closer to noon now that I think about it.”

“Oh. So were they or weren’t they fitted today?”

“We can do it again if you would like to check them yourself ma’am.”

“Dante, if I wanted to get jerked off I would be in the den with my husband not down here where it frankly reeks of shit and sugar.”

“That is not, umm, I mean to say… yes ma’am. I apologize.”

“God damn it Dante, what day is this?”

“Let’s see the twenty third. Oh. Thanksgiving.”

“And who freaks out every year on Thanksgiving?”

“Santa does.”

“And why is that?”

“We have a month until the big night.”

“So when he asks if the harnesses have been fitted correctly what do we do?”

“We double check them and send our report in promptly.”

“And what the fuck is Rudolph doing?”

“He is upset with the other reindeer. He has been moping and sniffing glue all morning in his stall. Typical drama king, he gets worse as we get closer to the big night.”

“And why is he allowed to mope?”

“He leads the sleigh? A sense of entitlement? Who can understand why a reindeeer stuck in teen angst does anything?”

“No. Because you let him fucking mope and act like this is his big production.”

“He has become impossible ever since that claymation special and song.”

“Then teach him how important he is. Show him the sketches of the LED modules for the front of the sleigh.”

“Are you sure?”

“Dante, did I fucking stutter?”

“No you did not Mrs Claus. It will be handled.”

“Good. I expect a report sent in within the hour. And Rudolph to be on his best behavior. Santa is talking about Musk again. You know what happens then?”

“We are rendered obsolete.”

“And what happens to elves and deer that are rendered obsolete.”

“We are turned into coal for bad children.”

“You are this close to that. Do not make me regret sticking up for you.”

“Yes ma’am. Thank you very much ma’am.”

“Just do your fucking job and we will all make it through another season.”

“Yes Mrs Claus, my apologies. We will send the report directly to Santa asap.”

“See that you do.”

“How was your show dear?”

“Amazing. They keep me right at the edge of my seat. Brilliant as always. I need to send them something special this year.”

“You should dear. The elves have been spoken to. And the reindeer have been fitted.”

“And Rudolph?”

“He is learning an extra special lesson on knowing ones place.”

“Ho ho ho! Thank you my love. I couldn’t do this without you.”

“Does that mean you have a special treat for me?”

“And what does Mrs Claus want?”

“Let’s start with a candy cane, a special one…”

“Ho Ho Ho! A thanksgiving miracle indeed. And then some stocking stuffing.”

“And look at where I have hung the mistletoe.”

“You are being awfully naughty with it on your belly button ring like that. But rules are rules.”

“Indeed they are, now about that sweet treat…”

M. Ennenbach is a lot of things. Part time dreamer. Full time poet. Scribbler of tales. An Illinois yankee in DFW, but don’t hold any of that against him. A proud father of two that he loves more than life itself. His stories are written from a place of raw emotion, stripped pieces of the man himself spun into powerful trips through nightmare and daydream. Sometimes bleak, at others hilarious but always unique glimpses of another realm; his words will take you on a journey. His first collection, Notches, is available on Amazon and Death’s Head Press with more on the way.

Christmas Takeover 25 Pt 1: Chris Miller: Naughty Claus

Merry Christmas… from my family to you. Today, since it is such a special day, I offer you TWO Christmas Takeover stories from TWO really awesome authors with a lot of talent. This first one, Naughty Claus, is from Chris Miller.

Naughty Claus

A Story by Chris Miller
2,267 words

Caleb’s mother kissed him goodnight as his father stood by his bedside, beaming a smile of pride.

“Good night, baby,” his mother said as she rose next to his father.

“You go on to sleep right away now, you hear?” his father said, a humorous look on his face, his finger waving. “Santa’s going to be along any time now, and if you’re awake, well…”

He trailed off, shrugging.

“I know, I know,” Caleb said, nodding furiously, a deadly serious look upon his face. “If we’re awake on Christmas Eve, Santa won’t leave us any presents!”

“That’s right, pal!” his father said, giving him an affectionate squeeze on his shoulder. “Now, off to sleep.”

As his mother reached for the lamp next to his bed, Caleb asked, “You have to make sure Rachel goes to sleep, too! Tell her she can’t get up like she does all the—”

“Yes, yes,” his father placated him, waving his hands before him like a pair of palm branches. “We’re going to her next, don’t you worry.”

Caleb smiled—relieved now—and pulled his comforter up to his chin as the light was switched off. The soft glow of the moon filtered in through the crusted snow and ice outside his window causing shadows to dance across his walls. He could imagine Santa out there now, riding his sleigh, slipping down chimney’s and delivering joy the world over. At eight years old, Caleb had already begun to hear the awful rumors that Santa Claus wasn’t actually real, but he dismissed these claims outright. His parents had never lied to him, he was sure of it, and they said Santa was a real as they were. So, he had to be real.

He closed his eyes against the glow of the moon, his face nearly split in half with a smile as he heard his parents saying good night to his sister Rachel. He hoped she would listen and not get up. It would ruin everything if Santa didn’t leave them any presents because she broke the rules about getting to bed on Christmas Eve.

The door to Rachel’s room shut in the hallway with a quiet click, and Caleb peeked one eye open just a sliver. His own door hung open a quarter of the way, and he could see his mother coming down the hall, his father close behind.

“Finally,” his father was saying, a long sigh chasing the word. “Now we can get a fucking drink.”

“Richard!” his mother said, spinning around to face him. “Caleb might still be awake.”

“Are you kidding me?” his dad said. “Janie, honey, that boy’s so terrified of Santa not stopping by, he probably knocked himself out with a hammer as soon as we left the room, for Christ’s sake.”

“Well,” his mother said, resigning to his reasoning, “maybe you’re right.”

Caleb kept his body still in the dark room, his right eye the only giveaway that he was awake as he watched his parents interacting in the hall outside his door.

“You’re goddamn right I’m right,” his dad said. “So, let’s get those drinks, what do you say? Then I’ll show you why they call me Big Dick.”

Caleb’s mom was laughing softly now, her hand on his dad’s chest.

“Oh, I have an inkling as to why the call you that. Maybe, if you’re really nice, I’ll show you why I’m so…anal.”

Now they were both laughing as they moved on past the door and down the stairs.

“Ooh, you’re so naughty!” Caleb heard his dad say as their footfalls descended the stairs.

He had no idea what they were talking about. He’d heard his dad’s friends call him Dick plenty of times. Dick was short for Richard, after all. That’s what his mom had told him. And he had some faint memory of his father griping at his mother about how anal she was with the ‘damn hangers’. But what was shocking were the dirty words his dad had said. He’d never heard him talk like that before. Caleb had heard those words at school from some of the older kids, but never from his parents. Did they know those were bad words?

He didn’t know, but decided he’d let them know after presents and breakfast tomorrow. He didn’t want his dad to get in trouble for saying bad words.

Caleb rolled over and went to sleep. He dreamt of presents.

The white light reflecting off snow-covered rooftops lighted on his face and woke Caleb. He sat up in bed, rubbing his eyes and sluffing off sleep. Little crusty particles fell from the corners of his eyes as he did—eye-boogers is what these were called by the other kids at school—and then he was swinging his feet off the bed. He checked his clock and saw it was 7 A.M. Time to get up, get his sister, and get to opening presents. He couldn’t wait to see what Santa had brought them in the night. He’d awoke at one point in the night and thought he’d heard Santa down there, though he couldn’t be sure. Santa had seemed to be grunting loudly and making sharp “Ah-ah!” sounds now and then. It had almost sounded like two people, but Caleb knew Santa worked alone. He hadn’t wanted to make Santa angry, so he’d forced himself back to sleep.

He rushed down the hall and flung open Rachel’s door to wake her up. But she was already standing there, rubbing her eyes.

“Is it time for presents?” she asked through a yawn.

“Yeah! Come on!”

They both rushed down the hall and descended the stairs, their footfalls thumping loudly as they went. Their excited breathing heaved in and out loudly as they went.

“Mom!” Caleb cried out as they neared the ground floor. “Dad! Come on, let’s see what Santa—”

He stopped. Rachel was a second behind him and she ran face first into his back, right between his shoulders, causing him to stumble into the living room another step before righting himself. Then she was frozen next to him. Their jaws were twin, gaping yaws, reaching nearly to their waists. At least it felt like it. Caleb couldn’t believe what he was seeing. He was at first terrified, finding such a sight in his dad’s chair by the Christmas tree. But his fear quickly diminished as his young brain soaked in and began to process the information.

It was Santa Claus. He was sitting there in his big red suit, his white beard spilling down over his chest in wavy disregard. He held the glass of milk Caleb and Rachel had set out with the cookies before bed, and Santa was dunking a chocolate chip cookie into the glass. As he stuffed the dripping cookie into his mouth, his eyes flicked up as if he were only now noticing them, even though they’d been bounding loudly and shouting as they’d come down the stairs.

He took a big bite.

“Hey there, kiddies!” Santa said in a jolly tone, bits of cookie visible in his open mouth, his cheeks rosy with good cheer. “Caught me getting my snack!”

“Wh-wha—” was all Caleb could muster. Rachel continued reaching for the floor with her chin.

“You kids were my last stop of the night, and I thought I’d rest up a bit before heading back to the Pole,” Santa went on, taking another bite and eliminating the cookie. “Fine cookies, these are, I sure do appreciate you kids leaving these out for me!”

Caleb continued to stare in amazement, searching for his voice. Finally, he found it.

“Y-you’re really here?” he said in a wavering voice.

“Ho-ho-ho!” Santa bellowed gleefully, throwing his head back in laughter. “You see me sitting here, don’t ya?”

His voice was deep but soft, almost gentle. The voice of a loving grandfather. The light spilled in behind Santa, the white sheen of sunlight partially silhouetting him.

“Don’t snow much around here,” Santa went on absently. “It’s always nice to have a white Christmas, don’t ya think, kiddies?”

There were more ‘ho-ho-hos’ of laughter as Caleb and Rachel inched into the room. Where were their parents? How had they not heard all this commotion? Caleb wanted them to see Santa here, too. He couldn’t wait to tell the older kids at school about this. Their lies about Santa not being real were totally bogus, and he meant to set them straight.

“Snow is beautiful,” Rachel said through her missing teeth. It came out Snow is bootifall.

“It sure is, little lady,” Santa said smiling and leaning forward in the chair. “You should see my house, snow as faaaaar as the eye can see. You’re both welcome to visit any time. Mrs. Claus makes the best hot chocolate you ever did taste. You kiddies like hot chocolate?”

They both nodded emphatically, their eyes bright and wide.

“I’ll bet you do, ho-ho-ho!”

Then Santa’s cheery-red face grew serious.

“Have you kiddies been nice?” he asked in a flat tone. “Or have you been naughty?”

“Nice!” the both exclaimed in unison. Caleb’s breath had caught in his throat.

Now the smile returned to Santa’s face.

“Good!” he boomed cheerfully. “Well then, what say you open your presents, eh? I’ve got a few doozies here just for you!”

Caleb and Rachel both cracked smiles so wide it hurt, but they didn’t fight them. They ran towards the tree and Santa in the chair as he pulled a large red bag out from beside him and sat it down before them. He pulled out four presents, two for each of them. The paper they were wrapped in were bright, dazzling shades of red and blue and silver, with glittery bows adorning them all.

“Now, open these here first,” Santa said, handing over a pair of presents.

They tore into them with fury. Paper flew through the air like confetti and rained down all around them. Santa sat there, laughing loudly as ripped open the boxes.

Caleb had a Batman LEGO set he’d asked for specifically in the letter he’d written to Santa. His jaw fell open and he said ‘thank you’ somewhere in the neighborhood of forty-seven times within the space of two seconds.

Santa laughed all the more. “You’re welcome, Caleb!”

Rachel got the precise American Girl doll she’d asked for and similarly shared her thanks.

“Alright, kiddies,” Santa went on, handing over the other two presents. “These here are the big ones! You didn’t ask for them, but I sure think you need them.”

Confetti littered the air once more. Caleb noticed this new present was much heavier than the one with the LEGO set. He’d had to leave it on the floor instead of his lap, but that didn’t matter. He wondered what it could be as he got the bow and paper out of the way and tore open the box at the same time Rachel opened hers.

They both froze, the excited smiles still adorning their faces, but beginning to melt away like ice in rising temperatures. What Caleb was seeing simply couldn’t be. Santa had been right, he had not asked for this. But he hadn’t wanted it either. He couldn’t imagine how Santa could possibly think he needed this.

Rachel began screaming, the high-pitched shrill only a six-year-old girl can achieve. Caleb felt a similar sound building up from his stomach. Santa was laughing somewhere before them, though Caleb could not wrench his eyes away from the terrible present in front of him.

Their parents’s severed heads stared out at them from the boxes, eyes glazed and gray, tongues lolling out hideously. Blood smattered the inside of the boxes and there was an acrid odor now smarting Caleb’s nostrils.

Rachel was up and running for their parents’s bedroom. He was aware of the absurdity of this, as if there were anything in there that could do them any good, but Caleb found himself right on her heels all the same.

“Found ‘em being naughty, ho-ho-ho!” Santa boomed from behind them as they fled. “Ain’t that nice?”

Fresh guffaws of laughter issued from Santa as they burst into their parents’s room. Fresh screams of horror exploded from the children as they took in the sight.

Their parents’s bodies were on the bed, naked, their mother’s bent over on hands and knees. Their father’s headless corpse was locked in place behind her, his lap against her butt, hands gripped in a tight lock on her hips.

Blood was everywhere. It looked as though it had been slung about in strings and ropes, and it looked as though a bucket of the stuff had been dumped all over his parents and their bed.

Caleb and Rachel turned back out of their parents’s room and stopped as they saw Santa stalking towards them. He held something at his side, but Caleb couldn’t tell what it was at first with the light of the icy morning spilling in behind the jolly fat man.

“Naughty, naughty, naughty!” Santa said, chuckling all the way. “You know, it’s my job to check who’s been naughty or nice!”

Caleb couldn’t move. Couldn’t breathe. Rachel seemed to be similarly transfixed.

Santa moved in closer, revealing what was in his hand. A large, red axe.

It dripped with blood.

“And let me tell you,” Santa said, all cheer draining from his face and voice alike, “You’ve all been naughty little fuckers!”

Their screams lasted only a moment.

Chris Miller is a native Texan who has been writing from an early age, but only started publishing in 2017. Since the release of his first novel, A Murder of Saints, he has released a novella – Trespass – another novel – The Hard Goodbye – a single short story – Flushed – and has been inducted into multiple anthologies, including the acclaimed And Hell Followed from Death’s Head Press, where his story “Behind Blue Eyes” appears alongside stories from Wrath James White, Jeff Strand, and The Sisters of Slaughter, just to name a few. He has another new novel coming soon, the first part of a trilogy of horror, and will be featured in more anthologies throughout the year. He is happily married to the love of his life, Aliana, and they have three beautiful children.

Christmas Takeover 10: C. Derick Miller: Excerpt from Far From Home

Excerpt from Far From Home (Home Series 2)

By C. Derick Miller
6,550 words

A Curse Beyond Comprehension. A Power Beyond Belief. A Girl Far From Home.Katie Liberman is your typical eighteen-year-old college student…or at least that’s what her family thinks. Picking up five years after the events of A Taste of Home, Katie has dropped out of school and embarked upon a dangerous quest to find Kurt Jimmerson, the New York City attorney responsible for her family’s werewolf curse. Unknown to her, the attorney’s grip on the ‘City That Never Sleeps’ is tighter than imagined and she’ll need any and all help available to be victorious. But… where do you find friends when you’re Far From Home?

The bitter cold swirled around the young girl as the reflection of a billion lights glistened on the newly fallen snow. Since her arrival, Katie could only recall a few minutes here and there where there wasn’t some type of frozen precipitation pelting her from all directions. She was slowly getting used to it. Tonight, none of it seemed to matter much. It affected the mission in no way whatsoever. Besides, with her face covered in a light fur, it rarely touched the skin enough to make her aware.

The events of the previous evening had sent her reeling to the point she knew it was time to move on to the next level of the plan. As the day progressed, Katie had gotten little sleep due to the returning blurred memories of a sweaty night involving her new-found friend. Every time she closed her eyes, visions of

the beautiful, odd, young lady beckoned her to hastily conclude. Was this the most disgusting thing that ever happened to her or an experience altering her young life forever? Shaking the haunting visions from her head, along with the accumulated snow on her cheeks, Katie knew now was not the time to think of such things. Revenge and survival were to come first and they were jockeying for position of importance. Regardless of consequence, they were equals.

Her first stop of the evening had unfortunately been the Central Park Zoo. Animalistic hunger finally caused Katie to succumb to the unthinkable. In the early morning hours, subscribers to the local media would be slapped with news regarding the discovery of a slaughtered deer inside of its enclosure. She hated it, but the acts ranking would’ve been nothing compared to that of an uncontrolled transformation and similar treatment of an unsuspecting, innocent human being. It’s not like Manhattan could offer the comforts of home where Katie could just easily walk out the back door and run off into the woods. Necessity was a bitch.

The second stop of the evening had been to Saint Patrick’s Church to speak with Father McCormack again. With all destined to ensue, she wanted to make absolutely sure her soul was clean enough to endure her final moments with confidence and acceptance. Shockingly, he giggled at the misfortunes of the previous night and sent her away with his blessings. As a ghost, it wasn’t the first unexpected lesbian experience confession he’d bore witness to regardless of whether the poor soul offering up the confession knew he was even there and listening. Ultimately, it was the excessive drinking he’d had a problem with and offered up an ‘everything in moderation’ speech which sounded much rehearsed. The priest had become a good ally and an important part of her life. She hoped he’d be a shoe-in reference to the afterlife if things turned increasingly bad.

Finally, she’d stopped by her apartment to coax her mother into attending the night’s stake out. Sneaking around the normal people of this world undetected had become sort of a hobby for Katie, but werewolves were different. Only having to deal with one of them in anger before, she wasn’t aware of how easy or difficult this was going to be. For a fact, she knew all too well how easily she picked up on scents. Katie had also never been successful in sneaking up on her father after he had the curse bestowed upon him. This was a saddening part of her life. Gone were the days of creeping up to him in the shower to flush the toilet or cover him with a tall glass of frigid water. Toby’s senses were way more in tune than hers. More than likely due to age, she guessed. Unfortunately, someone had forgotten to include the handbook with the starter package when delivered. Jessica, as a spirit, would have a lot more luck sneaking amongst the unknown. She was a perfect scout for an imperfect situation. Although she’d never tell her, this was one of the main reasons Katie had brought her along to begin with. It was nice to have company from time to time who wasn’t going to wake up naked next to you with fuzzy thoughts about how it happened.

Following a set of familiar tracks around the Central Park lake, she now sat motionless and quiet in the tallest tree she could find a hundred yards from the entrance of Belvedere Castle. In the distance, children’s voices and laughter carried on the wind from the ice skating rink and Christmas tree lighting ceremony at Rockefeller Center. Unbeknownst to them all as they played carelessly, monsters of the night once thought to be imaginary figments in the minds of Hollywood writers lurked at the edge of the tree line of the darkened park in hopes they would come join them in eternity. If they only knew of the nightmarish fate awaiting them all upon the misfortunes of a nocturnal visit to Central Park. Other than the criminal element, they’d build a ten-foot-tall fence for their own safety. In the end, it was the criminal element who kept them all at bay and they knew nothing of the bloody myth that lay beyond the mental edge of their reasoning. To be young and uninformed was a luxury which no longer belonged to Katie Liberman. She was one of the monsters.

Jessica had been gone for nearly an hour with no sign of return. With little argument, she’d followed the

trail allowing her daughter to assume a more secluded position within the foliage. Ignoring her father’s teachings he’d passed along via the information from Jimmerson, Katie knew all too well any passing werewolf would be able to spot the ghost from a mile away. Jessica had gone invisible, which meant she could actually be sitting beside Katie on the tree branch at this very second. Katie knew there was no way possible her mother could’ve kept her mouth shut long enough to stay hidden for long. Would a passing pack of those like her just pass Jessica off as a random, wandering spirit? Did her mother even possess the stealth to talk her way out of a jam if she were to be discovered? It was a definite chance Katie was taking for sure! Detecting a cold spot in the weather of the evening was a useless gesture. As a matter of fact, with the time that passed in her absence, the once fresh trail leading to the castle had been long covered up by the celestial snowfall. This was going to make things difficult.

Willow mentioned Kurt Jimmerson was interested in the restoration of Belvedere Castle for quite some time, but Katie’s observation gave no signs anyone was there on this night. Research said nothing other than the fact it had been a museum and a weather station in its prime. Its beauty and grandeur was a heavily visited attraction during the hours of daylight. It was even used as a set piece in a few movies. Katie could guess of Jimerson’s obsession for restoration with this in mind. History and tradition seemed to mean more to those with wealth for some reason plus, being a well-known philanthropist would throw off the dogs or gain him sympathy with the media and public if ever his intentions were to be questioned. She couldn’t wait to meet him. For all Katie knew, she already had. She couldn’t wait to kill him. Sheriff Werewolf back home and his odd daughter would be making a return trip to normalcy when she did.

Seeing all was clear with the passing time, Katie closed her eyes in deep meditation. Her unusual abundance of hair began to retract into her body to reveal the image of a young girl once more. Claws returned to nails as a slight tingle of pain twitched throughout her fingertips and she could feel the itch of retracting skin on her ears as they rounded. She’d eventually grown to ignore the pain that went along with a slow transformation. It was the sudden, emotion fueled ones which were still excruciating. Nothing compared to the searing fire that accompanied the very first one that night in the Myrtle County Fairgrounds. Would she miss it when her power was gone? It wasn’t like it made her feel special or cherished among those around her because, unlike her father, she wasn’t allowed to reveal herself to anyone. Repeated reflection upon his reasoning had told her time and again it was indeed the proper thing to do when it came to the general public. Katie obeyed without interrogation. Sure, it was good for the tiny population of Twin Oaks, who couldn’t keep a secret if their lives depended on it, but in a city the size of New York? Katie could easily become a comic book worthy super hero the likes of which had never been experienced in reality. The fear that usually accompanied the unknown easily squashed the delusion quickly. For now, she was Katie Liberman, abused puppy extraordinaire, and it would have to suffice.

The crack of a crashing tree branch under the weight of the accumulating snow startled Katie back into her ‘on guard’ state but it all too soon returned to quiet. Since the werewolf’s hair was no longer a luxury to her body in human form, the cold seemed to sneak up on her suddenly. Pulling the hood from her sweatshirt over her wind-blown hair and giving the drawstrings a hard tug, Katie shut out the intruder swiftly. Sniffing the air around her, she detected no hint of anything unusual anywhere nearby. The constant noise of the city around her masked any hopes of catching approaching foot traffic.

“Damn,” she said aloud as she shuffled her butt along the tree limb for a more comfortable seat “Now I’m just bored!”

This was not the adventure Katie was promised in her mind’s brochure when she agreed to endure the burden of this trip.

“Katie…” came the soft voice attempting to remain stealthy.
“Katie…” came the whisper again.
“Kathryn Liberman!” came Jessica’s voice booming directly in the young girl’s ear.

Startled awake from sleep brought on by severe discomfort, Katie flailed her arms in an attempt to regain her balance. Nearly falling from her high perch, the young girl glared at her mother disapprovingly with fire in her eyes.

“Damn you, Mom, I told you to keep it down!” she scolded “I’m trying not to give us away!”

“Oh pipe down,” Jessica replied “Nobody but you has been able to hear a word I’ve said in five years! There’s no need to get all snippy!”

Katie grinned slightly with her head bowed in anger. Sometimes, she thought her mother didn’t completely understand the severity of her situation. The slightest miscalculation could end up in tragedy. Why would she? Jessica was already dead and had absolutely nothing to lose.

“You just don’t get it, do you?” Katie continued while brushing the snow from her sweatshirt “The people I’m looking for CAN hear you…maybe. I’m not sure. Anyway, there is a possibility they can hear you and I don’t want to take any risks. From now on, pretend as though they can hear you!”

“Look,” Jessica attempted to retort “You were the one asleep on the job while I’ve been out in the snow looking at footprints for an hour! You’re the one not taking this seriously!”

It was at this point Katie Liberman stopped caring about stealth.

“I’m not taking this seriously?” she stood in anger attempting to keep her balance on the frozen limb “Right now, I have a faceless nemesis who could be ten feet away from me or in the same room at any given time… and I’d never know it! I know he is my nemesis because I never think much about his demise or what he has planned for my ending if he were to ever get the upper hand. I often daydream about the battle, though. If this doesn’t qualify for the title of ‘arch enemy’, I don’t know what does. I’m not taking this seriously? Comic book heroes don’t have shit on me right now, Mom!”

The stinging cold burned her throat as Katie attempted to catch her breath from the argument as the winter steam escaped from flaring nostrils. She’d been trying to keep it together the best she could over the last few days but now it seemed as though the breaking point was in sight. So far, the only two good things that happened to her were soul preparation from a holy apparition and possible soul destruction from a bi-sexual Irish girl who may or may not be the new, proud owner of her virginity. Using those two examples on a sliding scale, the goodness factor was exactly where it started when she first reached New York. She’d gotten nowhere and she was getting desperate.

“Look,” Katie started again to remain calm “I’m not going back empty handed, Mother. I’m either going to be successful in killing this Kurt Jimmerson guy or I’m going to die in the process. I’ve just about blown every bit of money set back for my first year of college to get here, eat, and survive. I’m lying to the people who gave me the money by not telling them where I’m at. I’m too damn old to get grounded but Dad will damn sure try to make life difficult if I have to go back home and live under his roof, especially after he finds out what I’ve done. Most importantly, I refuse to spend the rest of my life cursed as a werewolf. I want to live like a normal girl, work a normal job, marry a normal guy, and have normal

babies. I’m never going to have any of those things if I don’t put a stop to it here and now. If I die trying, so be it. I’m no better off…”

“Oh, listen to yourself,” Jessica came at her “I’m Katie Liberman and I’m a werewolf! I’m Katie Liberman and I’m miserable! I’m Katie Liberman and I’ve got problems!”

Jessica’s mocking was beginning to anger Katie and she could feel the tingle of separating flesh around her fingernails. Unfortunately, there was nothing she could do to shut a ghost up.

Jessica’s rant continued.

“Regardless of how you may have to live out the rest of your days, at least you’re still alive. That is something I can’t say and will never be able to say again! I miss being able to touch people or speak with random strangers! I miss the taste of food and the smell of flowers! I’d give anything for a freaking cigarette right about now! You’ve got some kind of weird death wish ‘thing’ going on and don’t care if tomorrow ever comes. Baby, you don’t want this. You don’t want to exist this way. At least with the ‘family curse’ as you call it, you have choices in the matter. I have no choices left. My soul is scraping the bottom of the barrel and I’m not even sure how much longer I’ll be attached to this world. One day I’m not going to be able to jump to you when you need me. One day I’ll be gone for good. Your rule book can still be written. You can make yours up as you go. My pen ran out a long time ago.”

Katie couldn’t argue with the points her mother was making. Jessica was right. In the end, it all came down to personal choices on where she wanted her life to go and how she wanted to live it. There were ways around the werewolf issue. It was just going to make things a lot more difficult. She felt sorry for Jessica and everything she’d been through over the years but it was her fault. Most things wrong with Katie and the bad things that happened to the other people she loved were because of Jessica’s actions. With that, Jessica wasn’t going to be able to opt out of the conversation at hand easily. She wasn’t going to be able to play the sympathy card or gain victory in a mother and daughter disagreement. In life or death, Katie had to win. There was no way she was going to give up an ‘I told you so’ in this or reveal the epiphany of a life lesson to her mother’s satisfaction. Something had to be said to stop the direction of the talk. Something had to be said in order to slam dunk the point in a way her mother would treat her like an adult with her own agenda. Something had to be said to shut her up for good.

“Mom,” Katie sang sweetly “I lost my virginity to a lesbian last night!”

Game point.

The awkward silence was broken by the rush of rapid footsteps in the snow below. Jumping to the ground quickly, Katie inspected them closely to reveal they indeed didn’t belong to humans. The shoe prints were too far apart for a normal stride and the clawed handprint in every other indention was a dead giveaway. This was it! There was no time to finish the conversation.

“Mom, get back to the apartment and wait for me!” Jessica flinched, still in shock from the previous statement. “You had sex with a lesbian?”

Before Katie could even tell her to shut up, the ability to use her human voice disappeared and the painfully quick cracking of her tiny bones echoed through the nearby trees. She pursued the pack of fleeing werewolves with determination.

Dodging in and out of the coming trees, Katie flung fallen snow in all directions beneath her feet. The tracks were becoming much sloppier meaning they were now moving quicker than before. Either the pack knew someone was following them or they were getting in a bigger hurry to reach their destination. From what she could tell, there were four of them. Three sets of tracks were all that could be seen by the untrained eye but the middle set was much larger than the ones on the sides. It had been stepped through by the one following making it only look like three. With one in the lead and three following, it was a definite sign there was a leader present in the group. If it were truly the case, he’d be the worst to deal with and the first one she’d have to take out. Once accomplished, the other three would attack in unison or flee in fear of not having a leader anymore. It was a gamble but a gamble she’d have to take.

Slowing her pace, she noticed the prints had gotten closer together. Now, only shoe prints were visible because they’d returned to their human form and walked upright. Doing the same, Katie stood as tall as she could. She looked in all directions to see any sign of their presence. Slightly ahead of her in the distance, she recognized a large green set of shrubs which had no snow covering them amongst the white background. They’d been cleared. As she guessed, the shoe marks led directly to them. Katie snuck through the bushes quietly as they revealed a hillside clearing. Her targets gathered below.

Standing in a diamond formation around a park bench, four average looking young men surrounded what looked to be a fifth. Whoever this other person was, they showed no signs of fear or even any realization to the presence of the others. Either they were sleeping deeply or Katie had arrived too late. Patiently, she awaited the next clue looking down on the events about to unfold.

The four creatures of the night moved closer while remaining cautious of their surroundings. All of them seemed to be dressed the same with flannel jackets and torn blue jeans as though a clothing purchase hadn’t been part of their recent activities. Their long, straight hair showed darkness against the pure, white surroundings of the fallen snow. This was a pack like she’d imagined. They could’ve easily passed for quadruplets which was what had more than likely brought them together in the first place. They were moving toward the odd person out like a well-rehearsed team. It was as though they’d been through this ritual a million times before. Katie was starting to get nervous.

Just then, the person on the park bench came to their senses and screamed out in sudden terror. It was a woman! A homeless woman who’d been covered against the snow by newspapers and a tattered blanket now clung to the armrest of the park bench for dear life looking on to the approaching reapers in fear. It was a victim no one would miss, more than likely. This was it. This was how the packs in Central Park survived. Katie was sickened instantly at the realization about to take place.

In the grand scheme of things, this had little to do with the mission. She hadn’t come all this way to be the savior of homeless people. Katie came to kill werewolves. The dilemma banged around in her head until she could almost feel soreness against her temples. This wasn’t her normal line of thinking. No, this was the way of her father and his quest to defeat all forces of evil. Those that surrounded their home at any cost to keep his people safe and sound. Why was this happening? Why at this crucial moment of reckoning was Katie pausing in her efforts? Was her mother right? Was the family curse a gift in disguise? What if she did decide to live with this and use it to help others? What if it was fate?

Shaking her head violently, Katie removed the visions from her head and focused again on her prey. If she waited for them to attack, she could surprise them while they were feeding. But…if she could somehow delay their advance and give the outnumbered woman a chance to escape…

What would Toby Liberman do? What would Kurt Jimmerson do? What would Father McCormack do?

Giving into her final question, she exhaled deeply in disappointment.

Being a girl who never really cared much about the masses or how they perceived her, Katie was hesitant. The last few years, when she should’ve been socializing with other’s her age, she’d pretty much spent all her time caught up in her own little secret world held prisoner in her room for fear of how the public would react. Why would now be any different? Why protect those who would fear or harm her if they got the chance?

Walking up slowly behind the closest member of the greasy pack of men, the soon-to-be victim was the first to catch on to her presence. The homeless lady mouthed two tiny words through frozen lips that made Katie’s blood boil. ‘Help me’. Nodding silently in agreement, the would-be hero pulled the hood from her sweatshirt tight over her head to hide her face. It was time for the festivities to get underway once and for all. She cleared her throat aloud causing all four men to look her way in excitement.

“Don’t mind me, boys. I’m just here to watch the show,” she announced sarcastically “Proceed.”

Fanning out in a straight line in front of their victim as though they were protecting a meal from a stray dog, the leader stepped forward to confront the unexpected challenger.

“Leg it, you manky bitch! This doesn’t even concern you!” the leader spoke with a harsh Irish accent.

Giggling at the curse thrown her way, she began to pace back in forth in front of them in a gesture of taunt. Katie showed no fear. Her body was electric.

“Leg it, you manky bitch?” she inquired “I’ve only been in town for a handful of days and, so far, everyone I’ve met has either been Irish or fell asleep watching ‘Darby O’Gill and the Little People’ too many times.”

“Well then feel free to bugger off, young one, before you find out all too fast what thickness will get you in the wee hours here!”

“Hmm,” she mocked, still pacing “Well there lies the dilemma, boys. I’m all kinds of interested in what my thickness will get me in the wee hours in this city while facing down four leftovers from a 1992 Seattle grunge experiment… so I don’t think I’ll be buggering off anytime soon.”

Shocked at her defiance, the three followers looked on at their designated spokesman in confusion as though they’d never encountered anyone with the nerves to stand up to them. To Katie, this was pure gold. It meant they had little fighting experience underneath their belts and were used to overtaking their adversaries without much resistance.

“What?” she continued the taunting “You’re not scared of a little girl in a hoodie are you?”

Again, the other three looked at their leader for the answer he was obviously having trouble formulating. Finally, he managed to open his mouth.

“Not counting this morsel behind us, lass, I would say you were outnumbered four to one in a place where no one is going to come to your rescue. Why don’t you just go about your business before you get a bad dose of what we’re offering? Run off to your mama before you get grounded for being out past your bedtime?”

The four of them simultaneously broke out into hysterical laughter at the joke fired at Katie’s expense. Just for the sake of joining in, Katie began to laugh as well slapping her knee in delight at the fact a fight

was looming on the horizon. Finally, her chuckling ended and she glared at them seriously. Planting both feet firmly on the ground to prepare for a charge in their direction, she readied herself for the confrontation.

“What do you mean ‘the morsel behind you’?” she asked, “That bitch ‘buggered off’ just as soon as all of you started laughing. I guess she wasn’t a fan and didn’t care to hear the rest of your act.”

The four of them suddenly quieted their jesting and looked around at each other in confusion. The young stranger wasn’t lying at all. In the distraction, the unfortunate drifter had taken the first chance and ran for her life in an unknown direction. Katie could almost feel the sudden anger in the air as the four lined up facing her. These were definitely bottom of the barrel henchmen for a much bigger organization because they were far from being the brightest individuals imaginable. If packs were running unnoticed in a city this size, more intelligent people were calling the shots. Stepping forward from his cohorts again, the elected leader glared at her with eyes aflame.

“You stupid-ass hoor!” he cried in disgust “That piece of slime was ours fair and square and now we’re going to have to take down your scrawny bones instead!”

Fanning out again in a formation to encircle her, Katie knew she indeed had the upper hand. Not only did they not know what they were about to be dealing with, they were unaware their target was well informed of what they were. She’d been waiting for this moment for as far back as she could remember. It was as though a five-year addiction was about to be fed for the first time in ages. Katie remained calm and studied their movement for the precise moment to reveal all. Slowly, the three underlings sprouted their fangs and began to growl ferociously as they circled. A deep feeling of satisfaction came over her and she grinned in excitement. Katie had found her happy place again.

“Oh please, mister,” she mocked “Please don’t sick your puppy dog men on me! I promise I’ll be a good girl!”

“Keep cracking on, little one,” the man dared as he continued to circle with his minions “You’re only going to make things worse on yourself.”

Lowering her head even more and spreading her legs in a defensive posture, she locked eyes with the leader as his face covered itself in a fine, black fur. It was time to move.

“Oh, you think this situation is bad?” she asked sarcastically “Mister, you haven’t seen anything yet!”

As though a bolt of lightning had struck in the middle of the circle, Katie’s alter ego came to life with a deafening howl. Reacting in both shock and pain from the ear-piercing sound, the four of them focused on the spot it originated. It was already too late. The young wolf attached herself onto the neck of the closest adversary and ripped his flesh in a shower of blood with undiscovered strength. He fell to the snow with a deadly thud, lifeless. Readying herself for the inevitable attack of the other three, she spun around to face them with glowing eyes against the darkness of the night sky.

With their defensive formation broken, the other two followers lunged in unison as the leader watched on curiously. Their attack came suddenly from both sides as they attempted to overpower her. Taking a quick step backwards, Katie gripped their flowing hair with her clawed hands and slammed their faces together in a crimson explosion. Katie slashed their bodies with frantic precision as she spun to her knees. As they fell unconscious to the ground beside her, Katie sprang forward like an armed swordsman tearing their skin from bone to reveal the pink of their internal organs. The young wolf flung her arms in a ready

manner sprinkling the pure, white surroundings with fresh blood. She locked eyes once again on the only target that remained. In a gaze of what could only be interpreted as panic, he fled.

Katie followed, flying quickly on all fours through the trees and brush of the abandoned park. Leaping gracefully into the nearest set of trees, she listened closely for any signs of movement that would give away the presence of the fleeing monster. She concentrated on the various noises surrounding her with eyes closed. The sounds of laughing children and a thousand passing cars engulfed her senses as though she were standing among them. Blocking them out to the best of her ability, she focused on the direction of the castle on the lake near where she’d left her mother’s side. Momentarily, she picked up on the rustle of underbrush heading away from her current location. Katie jumped and judged the closest tree for strength. She landed with ease, sinking her blood-stained claws deep into the bark. Eyeing others in the area, she made another move…and then another as though she was scouring the woods of Twin Oaks again in search of prey. Was this any different? Smiling from pointed ear to pointed ear, she moved on into the night.

The falling snow had stopped long ago. Due to the circumstances, she’d barely noticed the calm which had taken over her surroundings below the glistening moonlight. She descended from her arboreal perch and landed softly on her feet in a mound of deep accumulation. Fresh, sloppy footprints of an individual running for dear life lay before her. Slowly, she hunkered down again to follow the trail and prepared for any type of trap the desperate man may have lying in wait. She was ready.

Staying to the thick foliage that lined the sidewalk of the park, Katie paused to gain clues to her surroundings. He was near. Heightened and uncontrollable breathing could be heard on the wind from the direction of the frozen lake that normally licked the walls of Belvedere Castle. Sneaking to the shore, a dark figure could be seen scooting carefully along the icy surface of the lake to throw off anyone or anything who would prevent his escape. Standing tall amongst the winter dead reeds which lined the banks of the lake, Katie withdrew her disguise.

“Hey!” she shouted “Where in the fuck do you think you’re going? You were going to teach me a lesson, remember?”

Realizing he was no longer alone and in definite peril, the long haired man quickened his pace in panic. He’d changed into human form from no longer being able to concentrate on his transformation. With an echoing smack against the ice, he lost his balance as his feet were taken out from under him. He laid motionless in agonizing pain and glanced at the approaching girl as she drew ever closer. Katie paused. She was going to draw this out as long as she possibly could to build the fear within. It would make for an easier kill.

“Ouch!” Katie exclaimed humorously “I guess it would explain why you have to eat homeless people in the park at night. The tryout for the all Irish hockey team didn’t work out too well for you, huh?”

“Stay the hell away from me, you gammy bitch!” he screamed as he began to crawl closer to the opposite shore “I’m not slagging!”

The young Texan couldn’t wrap her head around all the slang and wondered how these guys ever made it long in an intelligent conversation. Then again, it would probably explain why they were running in packs and feasting on anyone who didn’t have the good sense to stick to the streets after dark. It was almost as though they were orphans of the darkness with a speech problem. This last one was going to have to be dealt with quickly before he alerted anyone else to his problems or her presence. She was almost certain there were cops in the park at night who would come running to the type of disturbance he was making.

“If you mean ‘joking’ I don’t think there is anything I’ve shown you or your friends tonight that could be confused with anything funny,” Katie informed the frightened thug “I don’t know how long you’ve been involved in the whole lycanthropic lifestyle but you can’t just go around killing people at random to fit your needs!”

“Oh yeah, child?” he called back to her “Then tell me how you stay alive without taking the lives of the scum who litter the streets of this town! Tell me how you stay alive!”

Thinking back to earlier in the evening, Katie recalled the scaling of the Central Park Zoo wall to take down an unsuspecting deer in the safety and quiet of its enclosure. She shuddered slightly as the thought of the animal’s metallic tasting blood flowed down her throat quenching the feelings which had intensified since her arrival.

“That’s none of your damn business,” she told him matter-of-factly “and I would be more worried about my own survival right about now because I’m not really one to leave any loose ends.”

Exhausted and injured from the fall atop the ice, the man halted his journey toward safety and awaited his deserved fate. As Katie reached the edge of the man’s feet, she could tell he knew the end had finally come. She’d witnessed this look once before. This was the silent plea for life Jessie McGee exhibited on the rain-soaked grass of the Myrtle County Fairgrounds on that October night of destiny. She was tired of conversation. It was time to finish the job.

By the light of the moon, she could see the odd twist of the man’s ankle as he stared at her in agony. Breathing as though he were attempting as many as possible, savoring all for fear each one might be his last, he gasped loudly against the quiet of the night. Jerking suddenly as Katie reached toward him, he sighed in relief as he realized she was only going for his wallet chain. He broke his silence and peered at her in disgust… even if it meant his last vocal stand.

“Oh, it’s not bad enough that you’re probably going to off me in a bit but you’ve got to go and swipe my wallet as well?”

Removing the stack of money from its leather shell, she tossed the empty projectile straight back into the man’s face with a pop.

“Hey, gammy bitches have to eat too!” she whispered quietly.

Katie removed the sweatshirt’s hood from around her stringy, sweat soaked hair revealing the remainder of her face to the man in a show of finite. He braced for the worst as he sharply closed his eyes and tightened his body to the point of shivering. Katie finished counting the money and tucked it deep inside her back blue jeans pocket for safekeeping. Three thousand dollars was quite an amount for such a nasty thug and a haul for her. This would keep her afloat a little bit longer in the city and she was sure the remains of the other three creeps had a little bit of money on them as well.

“Wow, money bags!” she spoke surprised “If I knew you guys were rolling in it like this, I would’ve started killing you days ago!”

Her waiting victim found no humor in her discovery.

Without warning, a light came on in the opaque blackness of her head that nearly caused her to laugh

aloud. If she insisted on living every day from here on out as though it could possibly be her last, then she might as well give it a cause. Something to live for, so to speak. Something to strike both curiosity and fear into the hearts of those who were to oppose her. Suddenly, the internal conflict from an hour before faded away. Katie discovered her answer to the questions that clouded her young brain and it contained just enough purpose to keep her motivated to pull it off and keep her enemies guessing. Locking serious eyes with the freezing man one last time, he spoke for the sake of clarity.

“Who are you, girl? Are you the finder of the lost? Are you some kind of wayward hero who just hasn’t been unlucky enough to meet the right villain? Are you the savior of Central Park?”

“Not really,” Katie finally confessed “I’m not even from around here. I’m just a girl who was in the wrong place at the wrong time and I’m here to set things right. I know all too well who the villain is and I hope to meet him soon.”

Chuckling in discomfort, the man plead for one final bit of information before meeting his untimely end.

“I just wanted to know why I was lucky enough to fit into your story, love, and was I just in the wrong place at the wrong time as well? What do you call yourself?”

“No,” she replied “You were exactly where you needed to be when you needed to be there. They call me The Howler. You’re going to be my messenger.”

Slamming him hard across the bridge of his nose with her boot, he lost consciousness almost instantly. The board had now been set with its various pieces and the first chess move had been made. Katie’s pawn would soon be informing the other players of her existence.

C. Derick Miller is a dark fiction author, gonzo journalist, freelance A&E journalist, poet, ordained minister, and ASCAP songwriter born in the town of Greenville, Texas. A seasoned paranormal investigator and traveler for the art industry, his influences include Hunter S. Thompson, Kevin Smith, Shawn Mullins, and Del James. He is currently signed with Black Rose Writing and Death’s Head Press. Chad is also an active member of The International Thriller Writers Organization, The Horror Writers Association, the creator of Gonzo Wolf Press, and writer/co-host of both the “Butterflies Make Me Angry” and “American Justice” podcasts. He currently resides in the Bishop Arts District of Dallas, Texas and has a price on his head for his short story “Hell Paso” contained in the #1 Amazon Best Selling Death’s Head Press Anthology And Hell Followed.

Halloween Extravaganza: INTERVIEW: James Watts

Meghan: Hi, James. Welcome to the annual Halloween Extravaganza. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

James Watts: I am a 42-year-old father of one son. Bailey. He just turned 21 this year. I play a little trombone and love video games. RPGs are my fav as well as survival horror. The Legend of Zelda is my all-time top fav. I am a random person with a random sense of humor. I enjoy bowling, shooting pool, fishing, camping, baseball, and working with wood. I love Mexican and Italian foods the most and have a major sweet tooth. I also believe in having strong family bonds and honoring your family in whatever you choose to do. I love most types of music, my top favs being Rock, Heavy Rock, Alternative, Jazz, and classic rock. Movies: horror, sci-fi, fantasy, animated(anime), comedy, and westerns.

Meghan: What are five things most people don’t know about you?

James Watts: I play trombone (badly), I write my stories by the seat of my pants, I talk to my pets in baby talk, I have enjoyed a few soft rock songs, and when I was 12 I kissed a girl… and I liked it.

Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?

James Watts: It was a Hardy Boys mystery, but I cannot recall which case it was.

Meghan: What are you reading now?

James Watts: The Pleasure Hunt by Jacob Floyd.

Meghan: What’s a book you really enjoyed that others wouldn’t expect you to have liked?

James Watts: Peter Pan

Meghan: What made you decide you want to write?

James Watts: After Reading King‘s The Stand.

Meghan: Do you have a special place you like to write?

James Watts: Alone in my room.

Meghan: Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

James Watts: Music. I must have music that matches the mood of the genre I am writing in.

Meghan: Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

James Watts: Saying goodbye to a cherished character.

Meghan: What’s the most satisfying thing you’ve written so far?

James Watts: Fallen, a short story in the anthology And Hell Followed from Death’s Head Press.

Meghan: What books have most inspired you?

James Watts: The Stand, The Shining, Phantoms, 1984, Swan Song, and Boy’s Life

Meghan: Who are some authors that have inspired your writing style?

James Watts: King, Poe, Koontz, McCammon, Saul, Pendleton.

Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?

James Watts: Strong characterization and a solid plot. The story should be as a real as it can be no matter how far-flung it may be.

Meghan: What does it take for you to love a character?

James Watts: Any number of things. I never outline so my stories just happen as I go along and my characters grow naturally.

Meghan: How do you utilize that when creating your characters?

James Watts: I give them authentic dialogue and backstories. Or as authentic as I can.

Meghan: Are you turned off by a bad cover?

James Watts: I can be. I am a book cover lover. I am generally first drawn to a book by the cover art.

Meghan: To what degree were you involved in creating your book covers?

James Watts: As much as I can be.

Meghan: What have you learned creating your books?

James Watts: Do not rush it. Pace it and let the story tell itself.

Meghan: What has been the hardest scene for you to write so far?

James Watts: The death of Roy Sanders.

Meghan: What makes your books different from others out there in this genre?

James Watts: No zombies or vampires so far. Seriously, though, I do try and use things that are not overdone and mix it up a little.

Meghan: How important is the book title, how hard is it to choose the best one, and how did you choose yours (of course, with no spoilers)?

James Watts: Very, as it is part of the lure. Pretty hard, because you want to choose the best one to attract readers. I will get an image and research that image until I think I have and then start rolling the title over in my head, changing it just a little each time.

Meghan: Tell us a little bit about your books, your target audience, and what you would like readers to take away from your stories.

James Watts: I write horror. The horror fan. Family bonds are important.

Meghan: Can you tell us about some of the deleted scenes/stuff that got left out of your work?

James Watts: Really have not had to cut much out… yet. But the longer my books get, I know some stuff will be cut.

Meghan: What is in your “trunk?”

James Watts: Misguided Faith. It is not complete, yet, but is waiting for me to breathe some life into it.

Meghan: What can we expect from you in the future?

James Watts: A novel based on my short story Fallen and my short story Deranged Innocence.

Meghan: Where can we find you?

James Watts: Goodreads ** Facebook

Meghan: Do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you’d like to say that we didn’t get to cover in this interview?

James Watts: All I can really think to say is that I love all of my fans, present and future. It is for you that I strive to be the best I can be.

James Watts was born in Birmingham, Alabama in March of 1976. Growing up in the small town of West Jefferson, Alabama, Watts spent his days lost in his vivid imagination. At age 10, he discovered the Hardy Boys mystery series and fell in love with reading. By Age 12, the discovery of Stephen King‘s The Stand gave life to his need to write, to tell stories that he hoped the world would love. It would take twenty years of rejections and working low paying jobs, and going through two divorces, before he would see the publication of his horror novel Them through Fear Front Publishing. James Watts currently resides in West Jefferson, Alabama and has one 19 year old son, Bailey Watts.


In the small town of Maple Grove, Alabama, an ancient evil resurfaces to claim its right to life and the human race be damned.

When Ray Sanders returned to Maple Grove to attend his mother’s funeral, he never planned to have to overcome all of his insecurities in order to save the town from an evil as old as time itself. For over a hundred years, the town of Maple Grove has suffered from the deranged minds and unquenchable hunger of parasitic creatures not of our Earth. Once before in a sacrifice of blood, the forces from beyond were locked away presumably forever. Now they have returned, hungering for their chance to evolve. It will be up to Ray Sanders, his cousin Roy, and a woman either them recall to stop this evolution and prevent the reign of these ageless creatures before their evil can spread.

19 Gates to Hell

From the darkest places imaginable, both outside and inside the mind, comes 19 tales that will drag you into places you never dreamed of seeing, not even in your worst nightmares.Come along as these tales open up 19 gates into hell and experience the supernatural, the darkness of night, and the unimaginable like never before.

And Hell Followed

Seventeen authors re-imagine the biblical apocalypse and all the hell that follows in sixteen horrifying tales. What if the prophecies of Revelation hit today? What sort of craziness and evil would ensue? With this list of excellent authors contributing, it’s sure to be a Hell of a read! 

Wrath James White – Horse
Sam West – The Whore of Babylon
The Sisters of Slaughter (Michelle Garza & Melissa Lason) – Godless World
Jeff Strand – Outpouring
K. Trap Jones – Ham & Pudge
C. Derick Miller – Hell Paso
Christine Morgan – Censered
Patrick C. Harrison III – The Old Man & the Lamb
John Wayne Comunale – Apocalypse… Meh
Cody Higgins – The Unveiling
Delphine Quinn – Six Degrees of Separation
James Watts – Fallen
Wile E. Young – The Day & the Hour
Chris Miller – Behind Blue Eyes
Mark Deloy – Cult of the Angel Eaters
Richard Raven – Mark of the Beast

Shopping List 3

By popular demand, the third volume in our bestselling anthology series, twenty-one spine-chilling, terrifyingly creepy tales of terror by a bunch of the best independent horror authors writing today! 

Richard Farren Barber – Black Light
Mark Thomas – A Boy & His Turtle
Jeremy Thompson – An Opening
Steve Stark – Angel of Mercy
Jeremy Wagner – Dead Half
James Watts – Deranged Innocence
Kevin McHugh – First Do No Harm
Brian McGowan – Gotta Have Heart
Mark Deloy – Island Food
Jason Gehlert – Beaver’s Claw
J.N. Cameron – A Night Ride Through the Desert
Nick Swain – Recess for Billy
Nick Manzolillo – Saltwater Fish Tank
Dhinoj Dings – The Body Parts Gang
Richard Raven – The Butcher’s Return
Megan E. Morales – The Dead Boys

The Big Book of Bootleg Horror 4

Welcome to Volume Four of our best-selling horror anthology, featuring tales of terror and dark, slithering things to chill the marrow and keep even the most resolute of horror fans awake in the small hours of the night when the inherently evil and deliciously malevolent come out to explore our earthly realm

Erin Lee – Patient Virtues
Thomas S. Gunther – The Butcher Knife Kid
Shea Herlihy-Abba – If You Want To
Richard Raven – The Final Iniquity
Josh Darling – Moxie Proxy
J.J. Smith – Inhuman Exposure
Shawn Chang – Painsteakingly
Bill Evans – Poppo
J. Snow – The Theory of Divine Inventions
Tim J. Finn – The Last Wolf Pack Leader
James Watts – Scarlet Frost
David Clark – Unholy Trinity
Danae Wulfe – The Fisherman’s Wife
Kane Gordon – The Heads of Corpses
Shane Porteous – Torn Apart by a Toothpick
Feind Gottes – Inhuman Nature
Patrick Winters – Tempt Me Not

Halloween Extravaganza: INTERVIEW: Kenzie Jennings

Meghan: Hello, Kenzie. Welcome to the new Meghan’s House of Books. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Kenzie Jennings: I’m an English professor living in the humid tourist-hub of central Florida, and I keep wondering why I’m still here because I hate hot weather. It may have to do with having a job with benefits and time off to write, all of that sort of thing, but I’m not sure. I may need to get out more.

Meghan: What are five things most people don’t know about you?

Kenzie Jennings:

  • I’ve never had a single best friends. I’m a military brat (and was a military spouse), which might be the reason I’ve never had one.
  • I hate vegetables. All of them. I eat them only because I have to… because ADULTING, that’s why.
  • I was once a portrait photographer for a company that shall not be named due to its suckiness.
  • At one time, I lived not far from a sumo training facility and dorm – known as a “stable” or “beya” (I was living in Tokyo, and many people I know know this about me, but not about the sumo thing). The first hint for us (my ex and me) were the huge towers of empty pizza boxes we kept seeing that had been left outside the building for the garbage-men. No one else in Tokyo would’ve had an appetite quite like that.
  • My mom once hired a medium to communicate to the ghosts in our house, and my parents had bought a house with, obviously, a lot of history to it. My little sister had kept seeing an old woman in her bedroom, just watching her there, and years later, when another family was living there, the little boy who had that room said the same thing. So, naturally, the most logical thing to do would be to hire someone to have a nice chat and a cuppa with the resident “nanny” there.

Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?

Kenzie Jennings: L. Frank Baum’s Oz books (the creepiest children’s series ever, IMHO).

Meghan: What are you reading now?

Kenzie Jennings: Student essays

Meghan: What’s a book you really enjoyed that others wouldn’t expect you to have liked?

Kenzie Jennings: Around the World With Auntie Mame. I love the sour wit of the narrator and all the oddball characters… oh, and I loved the Rosalind Russell movie, too, by the way, so reading the novels was just… fitting for me.

Meghan: What made you decide you want to write? When did you begin writing?

Kenzie Jennings: I began writing when I was 9 or 10 when I was at my loneliest, if anything, to open new doors and make up imaginary friends to love and villains to fight.

Meghan: Do you have a special place you like to write?

Kenzie Jennings: I often wind up writing on my sofa in the living room, which is so comfy but, later, so bad for my back. It forces me to get up to go for a walk in order to stretch out the kinks.

Meghan: Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

Kenzie Jennings: I have a really mad collection of virtual Stickies all over my desktop screen, some for characters, some for plot turns, but most of them for continuity so that I don’t forget who did what, who has what, what happened at one point to whom, etc. Continuity is my weak point. I can’t remember anything.

Meghan: Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

Kenzie Jennings: Besides continuity, I find plot development especially difficult. I can come up with a great concept, but I can never seem to figure out what comes next. It takes me awhile— sometimes weeks, even months, to figure out where things are going.

Meghan: What’s the most satisfying thing you’ve written so far?

Kenzie Jennings: Jayne, Juxtaposed was the most satisfying work I’ve ever done. It’s a (and forgive the awful genre term) “chick lit” superhero novel. It took me 5 years to complete, and I wrote it during the worst possible time in my life thus far.

Meghan: What books have most inspired you? Who are some authors that have inspired your writing style?

Kenzie Jennings: Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, Jeff Strand’s Pressure, Bentley Little’s The Ignored & The Store, Natsuo Kirino’s Out, Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’ Diary, Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects, Jenn Ashworth’s A Kind of Intimacy, Jack Ketchum’s Off Season & Old Flames… (among many more)… have all inspired me. I don’t know if they’ve inspired my writing style, but they have certainly presented the kind of character development and storytelling I enjoy.

Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?

Kenzie Jennings: Interesting protagonists that change, strong dramatic tension (heavy climaxes help, too, and that just sounded really dirty of me), a good sense of description, believable dialogue, and a satisfying ending make for a good story to me.

Meghan: What does it take for you to love a character? How do you utilize that when creating your characters?

Kenzie Jennings: I don’t have to love any character to make me interested in her or him. Some of the most fascinating characters to me are the most awful “people” with complex motivations. I’ve more respect for authors who can make us root for the unpleasant ones as well as the usual suspects, those shiny, idealized heroines and heroes. One of the most common critical notes from male readers who’ve read my stuff is that I don’t craft “nice” or “(more) likeable” female protagonists, but it isn’t always necessary to do so. Female protagonists can be unlikable. I mean, authors like Ruth Rendell and Gillian Flynn created a whole collection of them, for shit’s sake, and I really believe that’s why we’re hooked by their work. Not only that, my characters must be—above all—complicated. They can be darkly funny, awkward, prissy, anxious, lost, silly, and so on, sure, but if they’re not complex, and sometimes even quite difficult, they’re not authentic to me.

Meghan: Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?

Kenzie Jennings: None of my characters are really like me, but they may have certain qualities, idiosyncrasies, or situations that mirror (or have mirrored) my own. For example, in Reception, the protagonist, Ansley Boone, suffers from benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome, something I’d been afflicted with for years having been overprescribed and then (horribly) weaned off lorazepam. I’ve used both my research and my own experiences with it to, more or less, craft what she’s going through. That said, she’s more impulsive than I could ever be, and she makes some truly horrible decisions along the way.

Meghan: Are you turned off by a bad cover? To what degree were you involved in creating your book covers?

Kenzie Jennings: I am utterly turned off by a bad cover. Who isn’t, really? Bad font style, outdated stock photos, busy-background-dark-font, all of it… Just no. I was incredibly fortunate to be invited to offer input for Reception’s cover. Not only that, Jarod and Patrick from Death’s Head Press hired a friend of mine, the immensely talented Lynne Hansen, to do the cover, and she definitely made it sing. It’s a glorious, gorgeous cover that grabs one’s attention. It’s also darkly funny too, and I love that sort of thing. (It’s purposefully made to look like a wedding magazine cover)

Meghan: What have you learned creating your books?

Kenzie Jennings: It’s okay to gamble some when writing. There are readers for everything. Not everyone is going to dig Reception because it’s gory and shocking in places, but I kept on telling myself it was okay for me to write what I actually wanted to write.

Meghan: What has been the hardest scene for you to write so far?

Kenzie Jennings: The last scene/ending of Reception. I completely rewrote that ending three times. The one I settled on will be the most polarizing for readers, but I don’t care. It’s how it HAS to end.

Meghan: What makes your book different from others out there in this genre?

Kenzie Jennings: The narrators’ voice(s). I’d like to say something more sophisticated than that, but that’s it really. Although, I’ve never read a cannibals-at-a-wedding novel.

Meghan: How important is the book title, how hard is it to choose the best one, and how did you choose yours (of course, with no spoilers)?

Kenzie Jennings: Titles are as important as the cover. I am not all that clever at coming up with titles. An ex-boyfriend (also a writer) came up with Jayne, Juxtaposed, which was brilliant and simple, but now if I continue it on as a series, each title will have to be like it, and now that the ex is not around anymore, I’m kind of unsure where to go with it. Reception was easy because… well, it’s about a wedding… and things go bonkers at the reception.

Meghan: What makes you feel more fulfilled: Writing a novel or writing a short story?

Kenzie Jennings: Writing a novel makes me feel more fulfilled. I am awful at short stories. I didn’t used to be. Nowadays, I’m so into long form that I’ve forgotten how to keep things to a minimum. It’s not that I ramble. I don’t think I do. But I like crafting connected scenes and developing characters that change slowly (and meaningfully) rather than rapidly.

Meghan: Tell us a little bit about your books, your target audience, and what you would like readers to take away from your stories.

Kenzie Jennings: Since I’m fairly new to this novel-writing thing, I’ll simply mention Reception. Its tag line is “A wedding already burdened with family drama goes batshit when, during the reception, the groom’s family reveals themselves to be cannibals.” I think readers who like their stories with some contemporary family drama and gore will love it. I don’t know what sort of target audience that is though. It’s for horror readers, for sure. As for readers taking away something from it, how about something like… I hope they simply enjoy the ride, and we’ll see how we do with that?

Meghan: Can you tell us about some of the deleted scenes/stuff that got left out of your work?

Kenzie Jennings: I made some cuts to some of the more frivolous set up scenes, like the one in the salon, which was a lot longer than I’d intended. Some of the more humorous bits were removed because they were silly and made no sense in the long run.

Meghan: What is in your “trunk”?

Kenzie Jennings: I have way too much in my “trunk,” some of it probably junk. Most are short stories I don’t know how to finish. One day though.

Meghan: What can we expect from you in the future?

Kenzie Jennings: I’m working on a psychosexual horror thriller titled Nice Girl about a woman who, to put it mildly, doesn’t care much for being rejected. I was inspired in part by an opinion piece I’d read in Medium about the Incel subculture that spawned the likes of Elliott Rodger and Alek Minassian. The general thesis of the piece was that women could never be Incels (even though the term was created and self-appointed by a woman) because we’re taught to blame ourselves when we’re rejected rather than blame the men who rejected us. I thought… well, I guess it’s time to develop a story about a female Incel.

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Kenzie Jennings: Website ** Amazon ** Twitter ** Facebook

Meghan: Do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you’d like to say that we didn’t get to cover in this interview?

Kenzie Jennings: To get in a celebratory wedding mood, have a glass of bubbly while reading Reception… and don’t eat anything too heavy. You’ll need to run at some point.

Kenzie Jennings is an English professor currently residing and sweltering in the humid tourist hub of central Florida. She has written pieces for a handful of news and entertainment publications and literary magazines throughout the years. Back when she was young and impetuous, she had two screenplays optioned by a couple of production companies, but her screenwriting career ended there, and she hasn’t looked back since. Reception is her debut novel.


While her rehab counselor’s advice replays in her mind, Ansley Boone takes on the role of dutiful bridesmaid in her little sister’s wedding at an isolated resort in the middle of hill country, a place where cell reception is virtually nonexistent and everyone else there seems a stranger primed to spring. Tensions are already high between the Boones and their withdrawal suffering eldest, who has since become the family embarrassment, but when the wedding reception takes a vicious turn, Ansley and her sister must work together to fight for survival and escape the resort before the groom’s cannibalistic family adds them to the post wedding menu.