A paranormal, modern fantasy, urban fantasy, mystery, detective.
Rated PG16 - adult.
Published by Dark Dragon Publishing in trade paper back and e-book.
ISNB-13: 978-0986763366, eISBN-13: 978-0986763373.
20 chapters + epilogue, 245 pages, ~80,600 words.
Location: Canada - Toronto, Hamilton, McMaster University, St. Catharines and Niagara Falls, Ontario.
Available from Dark Dragon Publishing.
Amazon on line booksellers, and the Kindle Amazon store.
Barnes and Noble
Indigo and Chapters on line, Canada
and can be ordered from your local book seller.
Nukekubi means headless.
From ancient times nukekubi have haunted the land of Japan. Living as men by day, these beasts slip their heads free of their flesh at night and go in search of human prey. These hapless souls are driven into a terrified madness that results in their death.
Ray McAndrues, a modern-day wizard, must neutralise a nukekubi that is feasting on the people of Toronto. He is aided by Cathy, a sorceress of numerous charms, and Toshiro and Kunio, two, Japanese, martial artists who have made hunting nukekubi their lives' work.
As the quest plays out, questions arise. Who is hunting whom? How can you slay the beast that stalks the night without slaying the man who walks the day? What is the strange, millennia-old connection that binds Ray to the beast, and will it help or hinder the quest?
A new drug named Terror has hit the city streets, claiming its victims by causing them to die of unspeakable horrors.
Ray McAndrues, a lifeguard by profession, is not what he appears, for he can sense energies and perform magic. While doing a favour for his girlfriend and fellow mystic, Cathy, Ray discovers exactly what is causing the gruesome deaths of innocents when he witnesses a friend succumb to Terror's destructive effects.
Horrified, Ray believes he is the only one who can stop this ancient evil, for a Japanese goblin - a Nukekubi - has come to feast upon those Ray cares about.
In his pursuit, Ray is joins by two allies who have come from Japan to hunt the Nukekubi. With Toshiro and Kunio, Ray discovers he does not have to fight alone.
Will Ray be able to find and destroy the Nukekubi before it can consume him and those he loves?
|Nukekubi Chapter 1
||Interview & background information
MY HEART LURCHED at the sight of Cathy's robed, slender form, hurtling towards the apartment's balcony and a five-story drop. She was chanting frantically, trying to ground out the thing pushing her.
Helping her out, at that moment, wasn't easy! I was busy keeping the furniture on the floor. Flying chairs can be hazardous to your health.
We were trying to break a poltergeist's link to Elisabeth, a thirteen-year-old disabled girl. The spirit was using her as a power source. It wouldn't have been so bad a job except the girl's mother wouldn't let us get close to her. Religion is great unless it becomes an excuse for hate and fear. So, there we were, in the apartment above said girl's, at the invitation of a friend who was tired of having her furniture attack her.
Just another day in my life.
Gods, I need to get another hobby!
By the way, I'm Ray, wizard, lifeguard and general poor bastard. How do you do?
Splitting my attention, which resulted in a pressboard end-table slamming into the ceiling, I put my hand in the salt dish on the altar in front of me and tossed a handful of salt at Cathy.
"Ground by Hapi's power!" I commanded. The energies carrying Cathy were drawn into the earth. Unfortunately, the momentum didn't dissipate so quickly. Cathy hit the sliding glass doors hard enough to crack them before she crumpled to the floor.
"Ow! Son of a bitch!" Cathy has a way with words.
"Enough!" My bellow shook the room.
There is power in a wizard's yell, if he knows how to use it. The furniture, which consisted of a love seat, two armchairs, end tables and a coffee table, stopped bouncing and the end table crashed to the floor allowing me to refocus my thoughts.
"Cath, circle now!" I picked up the crook and flail, the main tools of my trade, and started walking around the altar. Cathy tried to stand, gasped in pain, and then crawled across the carpet to sit in front of the altar. Her job had been to keep the poltergeist occupied while I set up for the ritual. She'd done pretty well; I was just about ready to close the circle when Tartarus came calling. Cathy is no slouch in the zap the baddy department, but sometimes life gets interesting.
"By the power of the crook and flail, I do hereby set these wards that none of ill intent may enter here in." I circled the room once focussing my energies through the blue and silver banded wand with its looped end that was my crook and the multi-tailed whip with a gold and blue-banded shaft that was my flail. The couch began to tremble on the floor. The blast of energy my yell had released only dazed Mr. Spook. Shit!
I could see Cathy's brows furrow in concentration as she tried to ground out our foe's energies.
I moved faster, circling the room once more, repeating the charge. A stuffed animal flew at my head. I felt it hit the ward where it stopped and fell to the floor. I circled once again. A plate from the kitchen hurtled down the apartment's hall, corrected course and came straight at me. The mystical energy stopped at the ward but momentum carried it through. I dodged the plate and it fell to the floor breaking in two on the other side of my circle. I walked the ward a fourth and final time, completely closing the circle. Another plate hit it. This time its momentum was stopped as well. One circle for each element. Fire, air, water and earth. Earth deals with physical energy, like momentum.
"Got it." I took a moment to breathe. The room beyond my circle looked like a Disney movie on crack with dancing furniture and household items. A Barbie doll flew into the air and started doing something with a pair of GI Joe action figures I'm sure the toy manufacturers wouldn't have approved of.
"That is sick! Possibly fun, but still." Cathy sat in front of the altar and watched the dolls for a moment unconsciously toying with a lock of her shoulder-length, red hair. "I'm not that flexible." She turned to me. "Ray, can we get on with this. Some things I just don't need to see." Cathy shifted position and grimaced. She was holding her ankle and in obvious pain. That put steel in me. Cath... Cathy is special to me, nuf said! That damn poltergeist hurt her, and by my Gods, it was going down.
"Right." I watched an armchair lift into the air and ram against my wards. "Damn, I wouldn't mind having this guy around the next time you move."
"Ray." Cathy rolled her eyes.
"I'm just saying, that sofa bed of yours is heavy."
"Incoming!" Cathy held up her hand, projecting energy out of her palm to reinforce the ward as a kitchen knife flew straight at me. It stopped at the ward, hovered for a moment then fell. It may have stopped anyway, but I wasn't going to gripe about Cathy's reinforcement.
"Gods!" So I'm not as colourful as Cathy, sue me.
"Can we get this done?" Her voice was strained and I could hear the fear in it.
"On it. Can you help?"
"As long as I can sit."
"Good." I focussed on the altar where a poppet, a magic doll for the uninitiated, lay with a lock of Elisabeth's brown hair tied around its neck. Inside it were some of the girl's nail-clippings. Getting the hair and nail clippings had been Sue's, the apartment's tenant, part of the job. A bit of Elisabeth as a focus. How Sue got the hair and clippings, I don't know. I don't want to know. What I did know is with them the poppet could stand in place of Elisabeth. I picked it up.
"By the powers high and the powers low, by the elements four, in the name of Ra, the flaming sun, by Lady Isis, Mistress of Sorcery. I say this is not a thing of rag and stuffing I hold, but the nature and essence of Elisabeth Jane Montgomery. What is done to one is done to both. So mote it be!"
I passed the poppet to Cathy who held it up before the altar.
"This is Elisabeth Jane Montgomery I hold, by Lady Bast, Mistress of the dance eternal, by Lord Thoth, God of wizardry, by the elements four and the powers low and high. So mote it be!"
Cathy is good. I could see the poppet begin to glow in her hands. To one without the sight it wouldn't look like anything, but to me that bit of rag shone, and, more important, it became Elisabeth in our minds. More items slammed into our wards. I could feel the wards trembling with the impacts. Circles are strong, damn strong, but nothing human-made is indestructible. I also feared for Elisabeth. The more energy the poltergeist drew the less she had. I was sure it was at least partially responsible for the severity of her handicap.
In a worst case scenario a poltergeist can drain a person dry, killing them, before it moves on to another vulnerable individual. I have sworn before my Gods that I won't let innocents suffer because of that kind of crap. I -- it hurts too much.
I laid the poppet on the altar, focussed my will, and then picking up the salt dish poured a circle of the crystals around the doll.
"By the power of earth and the purified soul of man, I hereby seal Elisabeth Jane Montgomery. No force or power may intrude upon her. I break all ties around her."
"Ray." Cathy pointed to the circle's edge. A glowing face with long, brown hair and a sweet, sad smile appeared. It was Elisabeth's face.
"You're hurting me, you're hurting me," wailed Elisabeth's voice.
You'd have to be a rock not to be affected, but Cathy and I both knew that the face wasn't Elisabeth. It was the parasite that fed off her, enhancing the girl's suffering for its own ends.
I turned back to the poppet. Picking up a consecrated knife I scribed a circle around the doll with the blade.
"By the power of spirit and the will of the Gods. I hereby seal Elisabeth Jane Montgomery. No force or power may intrude upon her. I break all ties around her."
I felt the wards shudder and a throw cushion broke into the circle to bounce off my head.
"We better speed this up." Cathy knelt in front of the altar at my side.
"Right." I held my hand palm open over the poppet, Cathy laid her hand over mine and we focussed. How to describe working together? Souls join, the boundaries we normally have dissolve, especially if you work together often, especially if you share other intimacies. Especially if you lo-- If you're close. At that moment, I knew Cathy as well as I knew myself, and she me.
Our energies combined surrounding the poppet and reaching out from that to surround Elisabeth. We felt the energy ties the poltergeist put on the girl snap like over-stretched elastic. The furniture crashed to the floor and silence filled the room.
"I think we got it." Cathy slumped back then hissed as the movement flexed her ankle.
"Almost." I stood and picked up the crook and flail.
Opening my mind I imagined a glowing, white tunnel piercing the vale between our world and the next. I thrust out with my tools and swept them in a circle pointing to all sections of the room. "By the power of the flail that commands, I order thee to return to thy proper plane and place, never to trouble the world of man again. So mote it be!"
I felt more than saw a wave of energy lash from my flail catching a pulsing ball of light. Bereft of its energy source and tie to the mortal world, the poltergeist was lost. It fought the energies I sent towards it to no avail. It didn't belong here, and the natural flows of the universe carried it through the glowing tunnel I'd called taking it to where it did belong. That done, I sat on the floor next to Cathy with my eyes closed as my breathing steadied. My sweat-soaked, white robe clung to me like a second skin. A cold, wet second-skin. Magic is hard work; anyone who says differently has never done it.
After a time of wondering if I'd ever have the energy to stand up again someone started pounding on the apartment door.
"Keep it down in there! I've called the police! I won't put up with this! I have a sick child at home!"
The shrill voice of Elisabeth's mother penetrated the wood. I ignored it. Her seeing "those horrible Pagans," in Sue's apartment wouldn't help the situation any. The quiet returned interrupted only by the sound of retreating footsteps beyond the door.
"Bitch." Cathy shifted so her side pressed into mine.
"She did complicate things." I shifted so my body became a backrest for Cathy. She pressed into me comfortably. She fits; I just wish I could convince her of that.
"Good thing Sue's place was close enough to Elisabeth for the spell to take."
"Close enough to be in the poltergeist's field of effect too."
"Maybe that's why she got it, to guide us here." Cathy grinned at me and looked up.
I cupped the side of her face feeling the dampness in her hair and kissed her. It was an old debate between Cathy and I. She thought the Gods were more involved in our day-to-day lives than I did. I believe in coincidence. I figure Ra is pretty busy keeping the fusion rate of the sun constant, so we don't freeze or fry here on Earth. That's why there are mystics. We're the oversight committee, cleaning up the messes that slip past the big guys. Yeah, my mother would be so proud, I'm a janitor.
I grunted, too tired to debate.
Cathy looked up at me and smiled then, adding a tone like warm honey to her voice, said, "It's over now. You okay?" I could listen to her talk in that tone all day and not have a single thought I'd rate as PG or below.
I smiled back at her. "I'll live, but tell me again why I let you talk me into these things?"
"You live for it, admit it?" Cathy was half right and I damn well knew it.
"How's your leg?" I shuffled over and examined her ankle. One thing about working as a lifeguard, you have first aid up the wazoo.
"Ow! What do you think? Of course it hurts! ... Sorry, I'll be fine."
I shook my head. "Are you hurt anywhere else?"
"Ray, I'm fine. It's just a sprain." She tried to smile at me then hissed as I shifted her ankle.
"Right, Cath, I think your ankle's broken, and, as much as I'd enjoy doing a full-body exam on you, getting you treated should come first. Now tell me if you're hurt anywhere else, so I know whether I can properly close out the ritual, or if I should just rush you to the hospital."
Reaching under the altar, I pulled out the canvas toolbox that held my first aid kit. This wasn't my first time at the dance. I'd learned to come prepared. Using a cushion and triangle bandages I splinted her ankle.
"I don't need-" Cathy pursed her lips and looked petulant.
I locked gazes with her. Gray-blue eyes stared into emerald and for once emerald looked away first. It doesn't happen often, I normally let her win.
Cathy sighed, she knew better than to argue when I was in first aid mode. "I don't hurt anywhere else. You know you are a party poop. You're going to make me go the hospital, and I had plans."
"Oh, what?" I finished securing the splint.
Cathy smirked and it made my heart lurch, as well as other things. "All I'll tell you is it involved you, me, my see-through, red lace nightie and chocolate syrup."
"Oh Gods!" I'm only human and an imagination is a horrible thing to waste.
"Rain check?" She smiled at me then hissed in pain as her ankle shifted.
"Rain check." I kissed her then went to work closing out the ritual.
I didn't bother with the mess in Sue's living room. I'd done my job. The spook was gone. She could clean up as well as I could.
I did take a moment to throw my gear into a duffle bag and pull on my standard uniform of jeans and a T-shirt. A woman can wear a robe in public and pull it off as a long dress, especially when she looks like Cathy. No guy is paying attention to the robe. A guy, unless he's in circle or the Society for Creative Anachronism, looks like an untalented transvestite in denial.
In less than ten minutes I carried Cathy down in the elevator with my duffle dangling off my arm. She's about as heavy as air, and I'm in pretty good shape from swimming literally hundreds of miles every year. A twenty-something woman stood blocking our exit at the elevator door when it opened on the ground floor. I noticed because she noticed us. I'm just under six foot, heavy set, muscular with rugged features. Not model material, but I do all right. A fact that I'm glad to remind Cathy of on occasion. Despite her leg, this was one of those occasions. The girl stared at me like I was a steak. Cathy glanced at her then tightened her grip around my neck and leaned into me. Ah, possessive displays. Cathy insists on an open relationship, or just being casual. I'm working on her.
Exiting the building, I walked to my car. The crisp autumn air helped drive away the last of the fatigue the ritual had left me with. I had to set Cathy down while I fumbled out the keys to my battered, Hyundai Accent. I was glad it was a four door. Once Cathy was settled sideways in the back seat I dumped my duffle in the trunk, climbed into the driver's seat and pulled away.
My car may look like something from a wrecking yard, but under the hood it's magic. I do my own work. Actually, I'm pretty good with a wrench. Magic has its place, but it's not auto-mechanics. Not in anything you can do any way else, really. The reason mystics don't use magic to do mundane things is it takes a lot more effort than doing it the mundane way. Sure, I can start a fire with my mind, with an hour's preparation and about twenty minutes focussed effort that will leave me with a blistering headache. That's assuming the tinder is dry. I use matches. We have a physical body to deal with the physical world. We have a soul to deal with the spiritual world. Where the mystic comes in is where the two worlds overlap.
After an uneventful drive, aside from Cathy's obligatory teasing about my "go cart with an attitude," I soon had her at the hospital. I carried her in. Andrea, Cathy's mum, stood in the waiting room talking to what were probably some patient's family members. She went pale and raced up to us.
"Oh my God! What happened?" Ms. Fitzpatric is like an older, brown-haired, blue-eyed version of her daughter. She made her nursing scrubs look good, which is no mean feat. Hell, she could still pull off a bikini. Not bad for late forties. If I hadn't met Cathy first, our relationship could have been more complex. I like big cats.
"Oh crap, Mother, relax. I forgot you were working tonight or I'd have made Ray take me to St. Joes." Cathy twisted in my arms so she could more easily look at her mother.
"The hell you would. Ray, is it serious?" Those blue eyes bored into my own.
"Probably a simple fracture of the ankle."
"I'll get a wheelchair and rush the X-rays. Go to the waiting room so you aren't blocking the hall." Andrea strode past the glassed in reception station and disappeared through a door.
"Great, what am I going to tell her?" Cathy bit her lip.
"You fell, it's kinda the truth." I walked towards the widened section of hall where the walls were lined with attached plastic chairs.
"Like she'd let it go at that. Look, just smile and nod. If she thinks you agree with me, she'll buy anything."
"Why not just tell her the truth? You're out of the broom closet with everyone but your mum."
"Right, you know how scared she is of anything mystical. She'd tell me I was delusional and no such thing existed, and then worry herself sick."
I had time to shrug before Andrea was in the waiting area with a wheelchair. "So how did this happen?"
I lowered Cathy into the chair and stepped back while her mother examined her ankle. Cathy hissed in pain. "Mom, go easy."
"It's a break, good diagnosis, Ray. Now can someone tell me why my daughter is in the emergency room?"
My perspective narrowed to the two women, excluding the dingy hallway and other people around us.
"Fine, if you must know, I was at work. Ray was taking me out after my last set. Good thing too. Some drunk spilled his beer on the stage and I stepped in it. Next thing I know, I'm on the floor with Ray checking me over."
Andrea's lips narrowed in an expression that Cathy had made her own. Looking between them it was like looking through time.
"I don't like you doing what you do. Ray... You poor thing, you put up with so much from her." Andrea patted my hand. I struggled not to laugh at Cathy's disgusted expression.
"Mother, I am right here! We've been through this. The money's good and I can schedule around my classes. Ray doesn't get a say in it. It's my life."
Andrea sighed and rolled her eyes. "You should go home now, Ray. I'll look after Cathy. I'm sure you have work at your real, respectable job tomorrow."
I looked at Cathy who gave me a nod. My work wasn't as provocative or lucrative as Cathy's, but I did have rent to pay and a cat that liked to be fed regularly. Bending down I kissed Cathy then slipped away as her mother warmed up for another futile attempt to get Cathy to quit dancing, move back home and finish her doctorate in a "respectable way." I wasn't sure how long it would take the robe Cathy was wearing to register and had no idea how she would explain it. I did know better than to get between a mother and daughter. I made it to the exit before being called back for an opinion that could only cost me.