That’s right, Dead Silver is only $2.99 through December 25th! That’s 50% off! And if you were thinking about grabbing One Drink, well, actually wait on that one for another day or two. Amazon is being weird with the way its sales work.
Regardless, since they don’t do bundles, there’s no reason not to pick up Dead Silver right now if you haven’t, before Unusual Events comes along and steals your reading time! Step into the shoes of Shaman Hawke Decroux, humane animal control officer, as he heads out into sunny New Mexico to track down a particularly pesky chupacabra problem at the behest of his old friend, Jacob Rocke, only to find himself in over his head when Rocke disappears and the chupacabra attacks grow more violent than any he’s ever seen.
“I read this almost in one sitting … so that should give you an idea of how much I enjoyed it.” – Pat Patterson
“The plot is surprising and managed to subvert my expectations, even when I was sure I had the major points down … captured my interest from the beginning, holding it to the very end.” – Johannes Luber
“… a must read for any fan of the genre.” – Tobias Giehm
“An excellent supernatural mystery written with a very similar style to Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files. If you have read and enjoyed those you will like this.” – Dillon Dishman
Check out an excerpt from the story after the break, and then pick up your own copy while the going is good!
By the time I climbed back into my Land Rover for the short trip into Silver Dreams proper, I was feeling quite a bit better than I had an hour earlier. My long, black hair was clean and free of any tangles it had picked up on the drive out, hanging down the sides of my head in even lengths, and the faint traces of stubble on my chin were gone. I didn’t have to shave often thanks to my heritage, but a several-day trip in a car was more than enough time to give a faint five-o’-clock shadow time to develop. A splotchy five-o’-clock shadow.
I wasn’t quite entirely recovered yet, though. While I wasn’t sticky anymore—and I’d taken the liberty of switching over to some lighter clothing to try and keep myself that way—I could still feel the faint grit of sand behind my eyes and suffered from a lingering yawn that caught up with me from time to time. All said, however, I’d worked through much worse before. The only thing that was really bothering me was the pit in my gut, the sense that something was wrong. I didn’t like it.
Especially since this was supposed to be a vacation. I was halfway tempted to just ignore it, kick back in my motel room, and wait for Rocke to show up. Maybe take a nap and read one of the books I’d brought along for the trip. Instead, I’d decided to listen to my gut. After I’d gotten cleaned up and socially presentable, I’d grabbed my staff and wallet and headed for town.
From the look of it, most of Silver Dreams was just housing, with a central main street where most of the businesses seemed to be. Unlike New England, though, they were spread out, often with a hundred feet or more between them. Fortunately, I’d asked Larry for some directions before I’d left, so finding the bank wasn’t as much a matter of trial-and-error as it was looking for landmarks.
My wallet flush with cash once more, I spent a few minutes sitting in my Rover thinking up a way to run into Rocke before I hit upon an idea. He’d mentioned that the chupacabra the town was having trouble with had hit several places, which meant that if he was out and about, he was probably at one of those places doing some sort of sleuthing or whatever he called it. A quick question to the bank teller, and I had an address for one of the attacks, a place on the outskirts of town. So I plugged it into my GPS and followed the arrow.
I took a roundabout route, trying to get a feel for the town and its inhabitants. Silver Dreams had the usual set of civic buildings: schools, a combination police-and-fire station, a post office, and a few busy grocery stores. There was even a fast food joint with a bright red-and-yellow plastic sign, although the name wasn’t any brand I was familiar with. For the most part, things seemed pretty laid back. Traffic was fairly light, and mostly seemed to consist of battered farm trucks. I spotted a few kids riding bikes, and another group playing football in an open field between a hardware store and a gas station.
The central point of the town—at least as I saw it—seemed to be the large water tower. Unlike the rest of town, the tower was built on a small rise, so I changed my course slightly and put myself on a road that would take me past it. Once I was there, I had a somewhat better view of the town and the surrounding country, and I slowed my Rover, rolling down the window to give myself a better view of Silver Dreams itself.
My initial estimate, as well as GPS guidance, had been correct. The majority of the town’s large businesses and municipal services were all clustered in one area, albeit a much wider one than I was used to. The rest of town seemed to be a combination of smaller, suburban homes with a lot of land, and even larger homes with wide fields, probably for livestock or crops or something. I’d likely be able to tell what they were for once I was closer, but from the rise, all I could see was that they were using plenty of space.
To the south, the town gave way to what I assumed was the silver mine it was based on: a large, industrial-looking complex made up of dozens of buildings. I took my foot off of the gas and let my Rover coast to a stop. Over the idle of the engine, I could just make out the sounds of machinery echoing across the open space towards the rise. I couldn’t make out any details, but it was probably safe to assume that the mine was still running.
I put the car back in gear and felt a little more comfortable traveling at a higher rate of speed, now that I’d seen exactly how spread-out the town was. The house I was looking for was a good distance away, and now that I was driving there, I felt like it was all the more unlikely that Rocke had walked anywhere. He wouldn’t have been patient enough. I might’ve been—had I known I’d been able to handle the heat—but I wasn’t counting on that until I’d spent some time out in it. And maybe invested in a good water bottle.
It only took about ten minutes to reach the address I’d gotten from the teller, but navigating the home’s long, bumpy driveway took at least another thirty seconds, maybe more. I was used to having a long, unpaved driveway myself, but this one was easily four times the length of mine.
Still, it was nice enough property, with trees running down the length of the drive and a decent yard that was several notches greener than anything else I’d seen in Silver Dreams. A classic-looking red barn sat in a field behind the house, its cheery paint job in far better shape than my motel’s. A few goats were penned up nearby, most of which started bleating the moment they saw me. I pulled up in front of the house, cutting off my view of the white nuisances, and shut off my Rover.
The house itself was pleasant looking, easily two or three times the size of my home, with three stories and a wraparound porch that almost made me envious. The whole place was painted in bright, cheerful colors, light-blues with tasteful highlights that added to the home’s welcoming atmosphere. I’d always gone for a more earth-toned, relaxed color scheme myself—which had the added bonus of not needing to be painted as often—but I could see the appeal here.
I gave my head a shake and stopped gawking, putting on what I hoped was a pleasant smile as I made my way across the driveway, my staff swinging at my side. Normally, I’d have left it in my car, but I still couldn’t get the pit in my stomach to settle and I felt better having it nearby. At the very least, I knew from experience that it could serve as an early warning if anything nasty was nearby.
The front door swung inward as I made my way up the porch steps, the wood shaking underneath me. I came to a stop a few feet away from the still-closed screen door, raising my hand in greeting and giving the short, squat woman behind the mesh a moment to look me over. She didn’t seem that bothered by my sudden appearance, though her eyes definitely lingered on my staff. I couldn’t be certain, but she looked somewhat Hispanic, and for a moment I wondered if she knew any Spanish.
“Hi there,” I said after a moment. “My name’s Hawke Decroux. I’m a friend of Jacob Rocke?” At the sound of his name I saw a look of welcoming recognition come into her eyes, and she shoved the door open with one hand.
“Oh, hola!” she said, stepping out onto the porch and reaching up with an outstretched hand to give mine a shake. Unlike Larry, she didn’t wince when I took it, and I was pretty sure that I felt her trying to put a little extra squeeze into her grip as well. “Mr. Decroux, the shaman?”
“You can call me Hawke,” I said, nodding. “At your service, ma’am. And you are?”
“Maria,” she said, stepping back into the house and waving for me to come inside. I could hear a faint accent to her words, but I wasn’t sure if it was something that would count as a New Mexican accent or something else. “Maria Salas, or Mrs. Salas if you prefer.”
Well, I’d at least guessed her heritage somewhat correctly, although the dark hair and brown eyes had been a bit of a giveaway. I followed her into the house, past the living room and into the kitchen, where a whole host of pint jars sat on an island already half-filled with what looked like some kind of jam, probably apple judging from the pile of apple cores and peelings I in the sink and the rich, sharp scent in the air.
“I suppose you have questions for me?” she asked as she turned back to what I’d apparently interrupted her from when I’d arrived. “Or did Mr. Rocke find something?” I could hear the faint Spanish lilt in her voice with each word now.
“Well, not quite,” I said, choosing to sit on a stool next to the island so I didn’t feel like I was looking down at her. “I’m a friend of his, but I haven’t run into him yet and he doesn’t have his phone with him. I was actually wondering if you’d seen him today.”
“Oh,” she said, stopping her work for a moment. “No, I haven’t.” Her hands spun back into furious activity, glass jars rattling against one another as she spun them across the counter.
“Well, do you have any idea where he might be?” I asked, my enthusiasm sinking.
“You might want to look at one of the other places that’ve lost animals to this thing,” she said, putting a harsh tone on the last few words. “We aren’t the only ones who’ve been attacked.” Her eyes darkened as she slammed a jar down on the counter, steam boiling from its surface and leaving a faint wisp in the air.
“If you don’t mind me asking,” I said, suddenly curious, “how many animals have been lost so far?”
“Nine? Ten?” she asked. I felt my jaw drop in shock, and she nodded. “Maybe more? We ourselves have lost two goats!”
“That’s one hungry chupacabra,” I said, my mind reeling.
“Who says it’s one?” she asked as she began ladling clear jelly from a pot into one of the glasses. “If you ask me, there must be a dozen of those things out there, sucking our animals dry.”
“Did it take both of them in one night?” I asked, still trying to run the numbers in my head. A single chupacabra was estimated to need a few gallons of blood every few weeks, but two goats’ worth?
“No,” she said, sliding a completed jar out of the way and grabbing another. “At first it was just the one. We knew what it was. Mi abuela, she used to tell the stories. So we knew what to do. We contacted Mr. Rocke. While he was on his way down here, our neighbors lost their dog. Found it dried up in their backyard.”
“About how long ago was this?” I asked.
“Our goat? Or the dog?”
She shrugged. “Six, seven days ago?” She frowned for a moment. “No, seven days ago. The dog was six.”
“Holy cow,” I said without thinking. “What about the other animals? When did Rocke arrive?”
“On the third day,” Maria said, scraping at the pot with her ladle. She’d already filled almost a dozen jars. “The same night we lost our second goat.”
“So he called me three days ago, which would be the fourth day the town had been having problems.” I looked up at her, and she nodded. “And you said it’s taken two goats?”
“Two of our goats,” she corrected, waving her ladle at me.” And our neighbor’s dog. And two more goats from someone else down the road, and just the other night, a cow!”
“A cow?” I asked, my eyes widening even more than they had at the mention of the number of goats gone in a week. “You mean a calf?”
“No,” she said, her black braid whipping around her head as she shook. “A grown milk cow. About a mile down the road.”
I felt myself slump a little in shock. A grown cow? And, if Mrs. Salas’s numbers were accurate, four goats, in a week? Not to mention a dog, and…
“Have any other animals gone missing recently?” I asked, almost dreading the answer. Salas paused for a moment, resting her hand against her hip as she thought about it.
“You know, I did overhear my husband mentioning something a week ago. He works at the silver mine, and he said that he’d heard a few other people around town mention that there have been a lot less jackrabbits around this year. Huh …” She cocked her head to one side. “Could it be related?”
“I don’t know,” I admitted spreading my hands. “But it’s definitely worth considering. I’ll have to mention it to Rocke when I see him.”
“Yes, well, when you do, let him know that the rune he left at least kept our goats safe last night.”
“He put a spellrune out there?” I asked in surprise. Mrs. Salas nodded.
“Si, he said it would keep the chupacabra away,” she said, lifting the now empty pot and setting it in the sink with a loud clang. “And it didn’t come last night, so it must have worked. He said it would keep the chupacabra away until the rune wore out.”
“That’s pretty nice of him,” I said. I’d have to mention it to him later. If I ran into him. I was still feeling a little odd on that account. But since I was on the subject… “Do you mind if I take a look around outside?”
“No,” she said, as she flipped the sink on and began scrubbing the pot. “Just don’t let any of the animals out or undo what your friend did.” She tilted her head towards the back door, and I stepped towards it, my staff clutched in one hand.
“Is a shaman like a wizard?” she asked as I reached for the door. I came to a stop, my hand halfway to the door as I started to chuckle.
“I’m sorry if it’s rude to ask,” she said, her cheeks flushing with embarrassment. “We don’t have a problem with Unusuals, don’t get me wrong. I just saw your staff, and I wondered …” She seemed to be getting more embarrassed as her question went on, and I held up a hand to cut her off before she started into a nervous ramble.
“I’m not a wizard,” I said, shaking my head. “And from what I understand, staffs are kind of passé, anyway.”
“Oh, I didn’t mean to—”
“No, no. It’s fine,” I said. “It’s a valid question. I am holding a staff, after all. I should be the one apologizing, for not letting you know exactly what I could do before I came inside. Shamans are in tune with life.” I paused for a moment, but she didn’t say anything. “It basically means I can talk to nature.”
“Oh!” she said, her eyes lighting up. “Like the Dog Whisperer!”
I fought back the urge to sigh at the comparison. I really didn’t like that show. “Yes,” I said, nodding. “A little like that, except I can talk to most everything and it’s a little different than what he does. It takes a lot of concentration and focus.”
All right, so that last part wasn’t quite true. It wasn’t as hard as I was making it out to be, but I’d long ago learned that roughly half the people I met just saw me as a free pet translator. I’d gotten to the point where I’d started charging vet-like fees just for things like that.
“Oh, well, my dog—”
“You won’t like my rates,” I said with a shake of my head. “It’s not how you’d think anyway.”
“Oh, all right then,” she said, not even bothering to hide the look of disappointment on her face. “So, you just, uh, go do what you were going to do in the backyard, I guess. Mr. Rocke isn’t going to charge me extra because of you, is he?”
“No, ma’am,” I said with a smile. “I’m here on my own business.” I pushed the back door open and stepped out onto the small, wooden steps, my staff making a solid thump next to me.
“Business?” I heard Mrs. Salas say behind me. “What business is that?”
“I’m on vacation!” I called as I headed towards the barn, the door swinging shut behind me. She didn’t call anything back after that, so I figured that had ended the conversation for now.
The backyard was nice, with the wraparound porch coming about halfway along the back of the house. For a moment I wondered exactly why it hadn’t been extended the rest of the way to connect with the back door, but I pushed the curiosity out of my mind after a second.
The rest of the yard was pretty well kept. The lawn was decently green—though a little patchy here and there—and fairly well trimmed. It looked too even to have been the work of the three goats eyeing me from their pen, so I attributed it to a mower.
The goats, meanwhile, noticed me the moment I wandered out of the house and started bleating. Two of them had their front legs braced against the pen and were staring at me over the top of the fence, while the third had stuck its head between the wooden slats and was bleating along with its fellows. I opened myself to my talent as I walked across the lawn, curious to see whether these goats would be any different from some of the others I’d met over the years. It took just a moment’s thought—not nearly as much as much effort as I’d led Mrs. Salas to believe—and their long, plaintive bleats became something I could hear in my head; not so much words, but a mixture of images, thoughts, and emotions.
“Food!” they cried. “Food, food, food, food! Bring food!”
Nope, not so different from other goats. Almost disappointingly so. I’d been hoping they’d be a little more rational, but as I came up to the edge of the pen, my disappointment only intensified as one of them stretched out its neck and attempted to nibble at my hand.
“You food?” I heard it inquire, its tone almost put-out. I shook my head as it gave my hand a snort, then pulled my staff back as the goat switched its attention to that.
“No food …” it announced with even more disappointment. One of the goats turned and trotted off, deciding instead to look for food elsewhere. The other two, however, stayed and watched, though I was able to tune out their frequent chants thanks to the practice I’d had working with raccoons. I decided not to tip my hand that I could understand them, mostly out of expectation that they wouldn’t exactly be the most useful to talk to.
Instead, I pushed a little bit of life into my staff, watching as the faint whorls in the wood came to life with a soft, while glow. It was part of the reason I liked this staff so much. Not only was the wood good, hard, black cherry that could take a bit of a beating, but the rings and curls that had grown into it made some pleasant and eye-catching designs when I channeled my power through it. A lot of people assumed that I’d made the designs myself, but that was neither my style nor how my gift worked.
I was sort of feeling my way, since I didn’t know much about spellrunes past the basics, but I was hoping that whatever rune Rocke had carved would react when my own power activated. For a moment there wasn’t any reaction at all, but then I smelled the faint, acrid tang of active magic and saw a small flash from one of the boards that made up the pen. At the same time, the goats began to panic, rushing to the side of the pen opposite the rune, bleating frantically.
“Bad smell! Bad smell!”
I frowned as the goats shoved themselves into the corner of the pen, as far back as they could get from the protective rune. Why were they running from the rune? It was the thing that was supposed to be keeping them alive.
Then again, my knowledge of runes was so limited that I couldn’t even begin to guess how this one worked. I’d assumed that it was probably some sort of repelling barrier, but the way the goats were behaving made me wonder if it was something else entirely.
I let my staff go dark and the rune died down almost immediately, though I could still see the faint marks where Rocke had scratched it into the wood. The acrid smell began to fade immediately, helped along by a gentle breeze. With it went the goats’ panicked urgency, as well.
“Bad smell?” the bravest of the bunch asked, stepping forward and sniffing. I stared at it for a moment, waiting to see what it did next. “Bad smell gone?” it said, stepping forward again. Then it looked at me.
Yeah, it was back to normal, all right. Still, it was odd that they had reacted so negatively to the smell in the first place. Why would they have done that? It was possible that the ward was a double-barrier of some kind, one that kept them inside as well as keeping the chupacabra out. Maybe they’d associated the smell with it activating? They were goats, and goats were known to be stubborn. Maybe they’d tried a few times and learned from it.
Then again, Mrs. Salas hadn’t mentioned anything about the little rune doing anything to keep the goats in or them testing it, so that probably wasn’t it. I shook my head, catching the attention of one of the goats as I let out a sigh. I wasn’t nearly as good at figuring stuff out as Rocke was. The guy had a mind for it. He was a spook; I wasn’t. But I was a shaman.
“Hey, you there,” I said to the goat. I didn’t have to speak for my gift to work, but it made things easier, especially with skittish or unfocused animals. Technically, it wasn’t really my voice they heard. At least, I didn’t think it was. Somehow, in the same way that I could interpret their thoughts and emotions and build them into something similar to words, they were able to understand me. I didn’t know if they even interpreted it the same way that I did or if it was some kind of telepathy or what. My grandfather had described it as “letting life understand him.” Was he more right than I was? I had no clue.
In any case, the effect on the goat was immediate. It spun towards me, its nostrils and eyes widening in confusion as it saw who had addressed it.
“That’s right,” I said. “I’m talking.” For a moment the goat just stared at me. Then it hurried over to the pen’s edge and stuck its head through the slats.
“Food out there?” it inquired. “Out?” Well, at least I had its attention.
“No food,” I said, shaking my head. “Why bad smell?”
“Bad smell?” the goat asked, confused.
“Why is smell bad?” I asked, rephrasing my question. It was a bit like talking to a deer, but with a little less skittishness and a lot more hunger.
“Smell bad,” the goat agreed.
“Why?” I asked, hoping it understood me.
“Bad smell kill,” the goat said, shivering. I could sense the deep-rooted fear in it. “Bad smell kill.”
“How?” I asked the goat, kneeling down so I was at head level. “How?”
“Bad smell kill,” the goat repeated, backing away. “Bad smell come, death. Bad smell kill.”
“How many times has the bad smell come?” I asked. The goat gave me a puzzled reply that was less a word and more a total lack of understanding in thoughts and pictures. I shook my head and tried again. “Two bad smells? Two death?” Again, nothing but puzzlement. I might as well have been trying to explain tax math to a five-year-old.
“One!” the goat said proudly. “One dead. Bad smell many!” I nodded as the goat nickered, shifting itself with excitement.
“One death?” I confirmed.
“One!” the goat said. “Not many. One!” I nodded again. If my understanding was correct, they’d had the smell more than once, but only once had a goat died. But Mrs. Salas had said more than one goat had died.
“What about death without bad smell?” I asked.
“Bad smell death!” the goat said.
“No,” I said, trying again. “No smell, still death.”
“Not food,” the goat said. “Bad smell death.” I gave up, tearing a small tuft of grass from the lawn and giving it to the goat as a way of saying thanks but letting go of my link before its frantic, joyful cries of “Food!” became too annoying.
I checked over the rest of the barn but there wasn’t much there. Despite its clean outer appearance, the inside was filled with more tools and feed than livestock, although there were two empty pens. They didn’t appear to have been used recently, however, so I passed them by.
I did however spend a moment extending my senses, looking for any other signs of life that might tell me something. Then I stopped, puzzled, as my senses came back … devoid was the best word to describe it. I might as well have been in a city. I could sense the trees, the faint ebb and flow of plant life, but aside from myself, the barn was empty. I pushed out further, my staff lighting up as I pulled on its storage of energy, and then let go as I reached my limit, perplexed. There was animal life nearby, but the barn was completely empty. Why? Had Rocke left another rune somewhere? If he had, my staff hadn’t set it off. There were birds and mice all around the property, but none in the barn.
I left the barn and headed back towards the house, the bottom of my staff tapping against the hard earth as I walked. The door rang out under my knuckles, and I waited for Mrs. Salas’s cry before I let myself in.
“You find anything?” she asked from the island counter. Half of the jam jars were gone now, presumably packed up somewhere. She was loading the rest of them into a cardboard box, her skill and practice at the motion evident in her inattention to the jars while she did it.
“No, not really,” I said, shaking my head. “I had a question, though. You said you lost two goats?”
“Si,” she said, nodding. “Two.”
“Did you lose one of them after Rocke put the rune up?” I asked.
“Oh, you mean the defensive magic?” She shook her head. “No, we haven’t lost any since then. Why?”
“Just checking. I was curious.” What she’d said didn’t really line up with what had disturbed the goats. Unless… “Was there a strange, acrid, smell around after any of your goats died?”
“You mean the smell of magic?” she said, pausing in her work. She shook her head. “No, not that I remember. I didn’t even know it had a smell until Mr. Rocke put that symbol on the pen.”
“Huh,” I said. “Just a thought. Also, has that barn ever had any wildlife in it?”
“I think there’s an owl that sleeps up in the loft,” she said, shrugging. “He likes the mice that hide in the old caves out back. Why?”
“Just making sure I have a picture of everything,” I said, deflecting the inquiry. “Is it far to the other two places there have been attacks? I’m going to go see if I can find Rocke at one of those.”
“No, the Jefferson place is just down the road,” Mrs. Salas said. “I’ll draw you some directions.” A minute later, I was out the door with a simple, hastily scrawled map in my hand, a phone number for the Salas’s house in case I needed to contact her or her husband about anything, and a jar of jam “to enjoy my trip with.”