A Deleted WIP Excerpt [fiction]

I do not usually share deleted parts of published works, but I had a lot of fun today reading this again.

Deleted from Night of the Hellhounds, © Steven L. Campbell.

Lenny Stevens had seen Vree Erickson chase after the green fog to a section of woods behind Mr. Evans’s barn. He entered the woods and followed the glowing fog past trees and brushwood until the fog halted inside an alcove not far in the underbrush. Lenny paused, then entered the alcove and quickly scanned the fog for any sign of Vree.

An insolent shout came from behind him. “Die, you bastard!”

Manara planted a wallop of magic against his back that shoved him off his feet and sent him flat on his stomach, his body sprawled across snow and prickly brushwood. The impact knocked the air from his lungs, and a raw scrape on his cheek burned hotly where his face had ground against the brush. He battled for breath against the crushing weight of Manara’s magic pinning him down.

“Don’t hurt him.” Vree’s voice came from a couple of feet behind where he lay. She sounded frightened but unhurt. Lenny saw her at Manara’s feet, sitting on the ground, her knees raised under her chin. Green coils of magic bound her wrists and ankles. Mud and twigs matted her wet hair, and her face showed red welts where Manara had slapped her.

Pinpoints of colored light were forming on Lenny’s retinas when Manara released her hold.

“Get up,” she ordered.

With a soft groan of relief, Lenny rolled over on his back, sucked in a lungful of air and discovered that his nosedive had painfully bruised his ribs. When the dancing spots clouding his vision faded away, he made a weak and painful attempt to sit up.

Manara trained her wand on him with her right hand and used its force to yank him to his feet.

Lenny protested but Manara’s wand kept most of his complaints under his breath.

“You’re going to suffer before I kill you,” Manara said. She studied Lenny with a sullen look. “I’m going to yank all your teeth out, one by one. Then I’m going to break every bone in your body, starting with your feet and finishing with your head. And finally, I’m going to tear each eye from its socket before you die. I’ll be the last person you’ll see. Then I’m going to feast on your blood and—”

“I never meant you any harm,” Lenny said. “You don’t have to—”

“Shut up!”

Lenny hesitated and looked at the magic wand pointed at his face.

“When I’m done drinking your blood, I’ll drink your girlfriend’s.” Manara laughed. She stopped suddenly and scowled. “Be quick about it,” she barked.

“What?” Lenny stumbled back a step. Then he realized that Manara was talking to her wand.

“Be quick. I command you.”

A green beam of magic shot from the wand and pushed Lenny back against a poplar tree. Coils wrapped around his head, arms and legs, and securely fastened him to the tree. The coil around his head pressed against his mouth and became a gag that kept him from speaking.

“Tell me one of your lies now, bitch.” Manara laughed. Her magic wrenched Lenny’s arms tighter around the tree. He struggled until Manara placed her wand’s hot crystal against his forehead. The boy looked sadly at Vree while Manara’s magic fastened him even tighter to the tree.

Manara laughed again before going to Vree and yanking her to her feet. She undid the restraints from Vree’s wrists and while waving the wand, screwed up her face in a frightening scowl. Her eyes rolled up in her head and her left shoulder twitched. She unleashed a barrage of profanity, then settled and aimed her wand at Vree’s ankles and removed the restraints.

“Hurry up,” she barked. She grabbed Vree’s hair and pulled her to Lenny. “I want you to see him suffer.”

Twigs and bits of branches and snow scattered overhead and fell as a shotgun blast sounded behind Manara. She whirled and saw Dave Evans aiming a double-barreled rifle at her.

“Raise that wand another millimeter and I’m going to blow a hole in your chest.” Dave motioned with the rifle for her to step away from Vree.

Manara released Vree’s hair, then quickly maneuvered around the girl and made her a shield. She pressed the wand’s crystal to Vree’s throat and summoned the portal.

The fog came quickly, enveloped Manara and Vree, and then whisked them away as it vanished.

Dave hurried to Lenny and tried to undo the coils.

“They’re on good and tight,” Dave said after several minutes had passed. “We need magic to undo magic.”

Lenny continued struggling to break free. With his head tightly fastened to the tree, working the coils around his wrists was extremely difficult. While he and Dave wrestled to free his hands, he chewed at the coil in his mouth. Threads of magic frayed and broke away and collected in the back of his throat, threatening to choke him. He fought the gagging reflexes in his throat and worked out a system of chewing and swallowing the magic fibers. He felt the bond loosen, so he pushed his head forward until the gag broke and he could push if from his mouth.

The coil fell and glowed at his feet.

“Strike the other coils with that one, before its magic dies,” he told Dave. “Hurry.”

While Dave began freeing Lenny, Lenny centered his thoughts and summoned for help. When the last magic coil fell away, a weak, yellow fog descended the alcove. Ademia stumbled when she exited her portal, but stayed upright.

“I tried to intervene,” she said. “I weakened Manara’s magic when she passed me, but she still was able to counteract and nearly destroy me.”

She rested a moment, caught her breath, and accepted Lenny’s embrace when he welcomed her.

“Do you know where she went?” Lenny asked.

“I think so.”

“Can you get me there?”

“Are you crazy?” Dave shouted. “It’s too dangerous. You’re just a mortal. She’s a witch … and a vampire and who knows what else.”

Lenny turned to Dave and said, “She’s possessed by a very powerful entity, a demon spirit, one I read about online. It’s a female demon called an estrie. And I bet that the estrie helped her become the hellhound that tried to kill me.”

“She’s a shapeshifter, too?” Dave asked.

“I think the estrie is a demon spirit trapped inside the crystal of her wand,” Lenny said. “If I can get her wand away from her and break the crystal, then I can save both Vree and her.”

“Are you crazy?” Dave said again. “What if you release this estrie demon when you break the crystal?”

“It’s a chance I’ll have to take.” Lenny turned back to Ademia. “Can you send me to where Manara and Vree are?”

“Yes,” Ademia said. “I see them.” She motioned with a sweep of an arm at the yellow fog. “Step into the portal and I’ll direct it to them.”

Lenny did. The fog brightened around him until he saw nothing but bright light. He closed his eyes and wondered where the portal would take him and how long it would take.

He did not have to wait long.

Hellhounds [book research]

My e-book Night of the Hellhounds (currently at Amazon) features dogs that are spirits, which friends referred to as hellhounds when they read my early manuscripts. But are they hellhounds?

A hellhound is a supernatural and ominous dog found in folklore around the world. My first encounter with the creature was during high school, in the Sherlock Holmes novel The Hound of the Baskervilles. Soon afterward, I discovered Cerberus, the three-headed hellhound of Greek mythology, and his brother Orthrus who had two heads. Both creatures were black, had razor sharp teeth and super strength, and guarded the gates of hell.

Even later, while living in Italy during an enlistment with the U.S. Navy, the topic of hellhounds came up when a neighbor from Suffolk, England, told me tales about Black Shuck, a notable hellhound of the sixteenth century that appeared at churches in Bungay and Blythburgh. On August 4, 1577, Black Shuck killed parishioners and collapsed the church tower at a church in Blythburgh. I later discovered the incident, written in 1577 by Reverend Abraham Fleming and described in “A Strange and Terrible Wonder” (ISBN-13: 9781437468755; ISBN-10: 1437468756). Whether true or not, the story was fun to share with my friends and raise goose pimples around campfires at night. This, in turn, led me to compose my own version of the creature, and by 1999, I had composed a vicious tale of a pack of murderous hounds.

Night of the Hellhounds began as early as 1971, although the dogs then were merely ghosts and nonthreatening. When I rediscovered the story thirty years later, I combined it with my vicious tale and turned it into the story here. However, “real” hellhounds have eyes that are a deep, bright, glowing red, have razor sharp teeth, super strength and speed, and have coal black fur that smells like burning brimstone. I have seen artwork depicting them with sharp horns growing from their forehead and chin. And I have read that they are commonly associated with graveyards and the underworld, and that wherever they go, they leave behind destruction of burned areas.

For now, my hellhounds in Night of the Hellhounds are simply troublesome spirits known as tricksters. But my friends still call them hellhounds. I can live with that.

A Story With Blemishes, With Love [fiction]

With Mother’s Day fast approaching, my thoughts are on my mother who is no longer with me, but whose spirit lives on in me. She was the one who introduced me to reading, writing and making art. And when I started writing stories in high school, she encouraged me to continue, even on those days when I felt unsure.

Kismet is a story I wrote for my mother many years ago. She encouraged my hopes and dreams, and that is why I wrote the story for her. In a way, Kismet is a Mother’s Day-type story filled with hopes and dreams, even when things go wrong.

Here, for the first time, is Kismet in all of its originality, written for my mom. Names and events are different from the published book at Amazon, and this version is free. With all its blemishes, I present Liam’s Kismet with love.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.