My recently completed novel, The Mark of the Wolf, is a tale of supernatural horror and the occult, informed by my lifetime of magical practice as much as my love of monster movies and genre fiction. The story revolves around a high-school Pagan club from the late 1990s, and a young woman who comes to them for help when she thinks she’s been cursed. They agree to help her, if reluctantly, and find themselves drawn into the more dangerous regions of the magical world they had already begun to explore.
The passage below is an excerpt from the second chapter. I’m in the final stages of editing and only beginning to seek out publishers, but it’s never too early to start promoting.
THURSDAY, AUGUST 27TH, 1998
There were nine of them: three women and five men flanking a powerfully built man a few years older than the rest, all dressed in leather and steel. Black chaps and jackets studded and spiked at the seams and at the cuffs, heavy chains rattling at their hips. They tore down the streets of urban Chicago on their motorcycles, taking up both lanes, weaving in and around the cars of terrified local drivers, deeper and deeper into the old city, laughing and whooping back at the angry shouts and honking horns they provoked. Finally, they skidded to a halt in a mixed development neighborhood. One by one, they parked where they could. In between cars, on the sidewalks, in planters, in alleys.
Their destination was a hole-in the wall bar, visible from the street only as a neon blue guitar, an illegible wooden sign, and a flickering lamp over a set of precarious concrete stairs descending below the level of the sidewalk. The door at the bottom of the stairs bore another wooden sign, which proclaimed the establishment as the Blue Mojo Bar & Gril. A bouncer – a man of only medium height but with biceps as big as his thighs – sat just inside the blocked-open door, and let them pass without question.
The Blue Mojo was ill-lit by a half dozen blue-coated florescent lamps mounted above the bar and hanging from the ceiling over the pool tables at the back, and by three pillar candles at each table. The air was thick with smoke. The crowd was well mixed: artsy-looking white kids mingling easily with the working class Blacks and Latinos who lived nearby. The bartender was a hard-looking woman with a square frame, heavy gauge steel earrings, and tattoos instead of hair. An old, tinny recording of John Lee Hooker played while a half-dozen young men scrambled over the stage, setting up for the night’s performance.
The leather-clad gang radiated violence and hunger, and those they passed moved as far out of their way as they could. The leader – for he was clearly that – wore as much steel as the others combined: heavy links of chain wrapped around his shoulders and in loops around his writs and waist, spikes up the arms of his jacket and down the legs of his pants. Tattoos of flames crawled up his neck from under his stained A-shirt and the heads of wolves snarled from the backs of his hands. His short hair was going gray at the temples and in his thick beard. He sniffed like an animal at the smoky air, and his eyes scanned the room like he was looking for someone in particular. His gaze settled on a dark corner, where an old man leaned casually over an ashtray and a tall glass of amber liquor.
The old man was thin and small boned, darkly black-skinned, his tightly curing white hair cropped close to his skull, and his clothes layered and torn. The shadows seemed to cling to him, thicker at his table than in the rest of the bar, and his blind white eyes almost seemed to glow. The old biker gestured to his followers, half of whom went to lean on the bar while the others followed him to the old man’s table.
“Are you the one they call Django Bones?” He asked in a hard voice. He wasn’t angry, just unaccustomed to speaking gently.
“I am,” the old man answered in a thick drawl, turning toward him. The old man’s milky eyes were so penetrating that he had to remind himself that no-one could see through cataracts that thick. There wasn’t even the faintest shadow of an iris. “Sit.”
He sat, and one of the women who had settled at the bar brought him a drink. The smell of potent marijuana and good bourbon hung thickly around the table and the old man took a long drag off of his joint while the larger man took a long pull from his beer.
“I’m told you’re a powerful seer.”
“I am.” He wasn’t bragging, just stating the fact.
“Tell me what I’ve come for.”
“Testing me costs extra.” He might or might not have been annoyed, it was hard to tell.
“If you’re a poser it’s gonna cost you.”
“You didn’t come here to threaten me, Michael. Not all the way from Los Angeles.” The seer’s drawl clipped most of his words in half, but drug out Michael’s name and that of his city by an extra syllable each.
Michael paused. He hated mystics. It was bad enough that his pack even needed a shaman. They always knew too much and they never gave it to you straight.
“My shaman is dying and his replacement can’t find an heir of his own.”
“Can’t find or can’t make?”
“Either,” Michael growled.
Ruger had always served Michael well, but his Mark had twisted when it had touched Caleb’s magic and Caleb’s Mark always killed. Caleb had strong magic, but he was crazy and he wasn’t a feeler. Michael needed a feeler to pick the best vics and to screen new members for his club, make sure they were who and what they said they were and wouldn’t fuck things up by trying to take control from him. As far as Michael was concerned, taking in the warlock had been the worst of Ruger’s few mistakes, but until Caleb trained a student of his own or Michael found a witch he could trust, the fuck-head was all he had.
Those blind eyes were fucking creepy, and Michael used his drink as an excuse to look away. It wasn’t like the old man could see him break eye contact, right? Django Bones seemed to stare at him for several long minutes. He took another drag off his joint before answering in that distant voice seers used when they were putting on their show.
“In the morning, you and your pack will take I-55 south and my man will meet you on the road. You will know him. He will lead you to a restaurant in Kansas City where they will know you for what you are and make a point of leaving you alone. You will find a girl there, my man will point her out to you, and one of you will Mark her. Wait. Watch. Keep quiet and out of sight. Before three moons have waxed and waned, you will have the shaman you need.”
The stress on the last four words somehow conveyed to Michael that the old man knew exactly what he needed in a shaman. If the price didn’t turn out to be too high, this might work out alright after all.
“And your price?”
“Afterward, I will require one of your pack to serve me for a time.”
“When? Who? How long? For what?”
“In time. One of your women. For however long I need, for for whatever I may require.”
Michael laughed. “You think you can handle my bitches, grandpa?”
The corner they were sitting in brightened as all the shadows condensed into a glowing-eyed man-shape that grabbed Michael by the throat with a hand from which he could not pull away.
“I’ll not dignify that with an answer, boy. Show some respect.”
It had been twenty years since anyone had the stones to call him ‘boy’, but with those red eyes staring out of the solid shadow above him, Michael wasn’t going to make an issue of it.
“Whatever you want.”
“Be on the highway before noon.”
The dark figure vanished and the shadows settled back over their corner of the room. The old man was wearing a small, cruel smile as he raised his glass to toast Michael and his pack. Michael took the hint and went for the door.