All Valley Tournament
When creatures go bump in the night,
He bumps back.
(But in the sort of respect-your-space, you're-a-person-too, you-do-you way.)
Every day, new possibilities of this shadow world emerge; wonderous, unexpected, and, honestly, a bit horrifying.
Secrets abound as more factions choose sides in a war to come. The Fallen are using the Chosen to do their will and release the Ancient Ones.
It all kind of makes him miss the chicken costume.
When a mysterious invitation reaches Jonny's door in the form of a cryptex the plot thickens.
A supernatural tournament hosted by the family Grimm is about to take place and the prize this year could swing the balance of power from heaven to hell.
With the help from his team of a gangster pixie, Victoria Frankenstein and whatever Teri is, he'll have to go all-in to win and stop hell on Earth.
OK, kids, grab your war hammer and take a double hit of snuf. This one's going to get worse before it gets better. Fans of KF Breene, Orlando Sanchez, and Shannon Mayer–this one was written for you!
Release date: May 6, 2021
Publisher: Archimedes Books
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All Valley Tournament
“Listen, I’m not saying we’re above any kind of work. I mean, six months ago, I was twirling a sign wearing a chicken costume, but a bigfoot, really?” I said into my earpiece, which actually kind of itched. “I’m having second thoughts here.”
“Stay off the channel unless you see something,” Shannon growled in my ear, her voice deceivingly low and steady for how pissed off she sounded. “This is a paying gig. Besides, Deloris is a—we go back.”
I caught the near slip-up; was Shannon about to call her a friend? That would have been a first. I met Deloris at WA, also known as Witnesses Anonymous, via Shannon. They were a small group of people who had experienced the supernatural and were trying to find meaning to it all. In Deloris’ case, the woman had a run-in while camping with who she believed to be a bigfoot. Now she was paying us good money to track it down. Not Michael good money, mind you, but enough for us to spend a cold, long night in the Angeles National Forest.
It was hard to believe that a nature preserve like this could be a mere hour out of the City of Angels, but I was getting better and better at believing hard things these days.
Our meeting with Deloris played back in my mind as I sat hunched on a dark hill waiting for any sign of our prey.
“I know what you’re going to say, but you weren’t there,” Deloris pleaded with us as she handed us steaming cups of coffee in her one-story home. The place was clean besides the herd of cats living there who all looked at me licking their lips as if they were expecting me to die at any moment and begin their human buffet. “I know his intentions weren’t to hurt me. There was kindness in those large brown eyes of his. I could see it. I know it’s the truth.”
Shannon and I looked at one another before taking seats on the couch. One particularly fluffy cat lay in the sofa looking up at me with those large feline eyes, refusing to move.
“Mr. Biggelsworth,” Deloris admonished to her cat. “Move, scoot your boot. We have company.”
Mr. Biggelsworth yawned something hateful my way and hissed a curse before jumping down from the couch.
I took a seat, pretty sure I would be looking like a sasquatch myself by the time I got out of there. Cat hair was so thick, it already clung to my pants and shirt in clumps.
Deloris was a nice lady. She’d always been kind to me and Shannon since we’d known her from Witnesses Anonymous. That was one of the reasons we agreed to talk with her. But I was having a hard time swallowing this pill.
“Deloris, I believe you, I really do,” I said, sipping on the dark roasted coffee. “I’ve seen my fair share of crazy things. I’m just wondering if your run-in is what you think it was and not just a supernatural creature looking for food.”
“Well, he was looking for something all right, but food wasn’t on his mind,” Deloris said, fanning herself as she thought back to the night of her encounter. “I’d recognize that look of lust anywhere.”
“Can recount your story for us, Deloris?” Shannon asked, cupping her mug of coffee in both hands. “Try not to leave anything out. Give us all the details.”
“Maybe not all the details,” I muttered out of the side of my mouth.
“I go camping by myself a few times out of the year at Angeles National Forest,” Deloris said as a fat orange cat jumped onto her lap and began to purr something fierce. She stroked the cat with long, gentle motions as she recounted her story. “Some people think that’s strange. I mean, going camping by yourself and all, but it’s freeing for me. It’s nice to get out, and there are other campers around, of course, if I were to have any issue. It’s something I look forward to year after year.”
Deloris paused her to gather her thoughts, leaving room for the many cloaks on her walls and tables to fill the silence with their ominous ticking. Seriously, I wasn’t sure if Deloris had more clocks or cats. There were round clocks on the walls, cat clocks on the tables, and even a massive standing clock in a brown wood and glass case.
“The fateful night was last summer. Love is always meant for summer, my mother used to tell me,” Deloris said, moving from stroking the cat on her lap now to stroking her own neck. “It was just after midnight. I heard rustling outside my tent. A first, I thought it might be a squirrel or raccoon, but then a shadow splayed across the fabric of my tent, something much too large to be any kind of rodent. I unzipped my tent to see if it might be another camper needing supplies. That’s when I saw him.”
“How do you know it was a him?” I asked suspiciously. I wasn’t trying to be rude here, but neither did I want to go on a wild goose chase for what might have been a bear or her imagination.
“Oh my,” Deloris said, still stroking her neck. She looked over my shoulder as she recounted the memory. “The broad shoulders, his large feet and hands, not to mention how well endow—”
“Right, right,” I said before things could get any stranger in the case of the bigfoot romance. “I should have seen that one coming.”
“He saw me then and it was something like magic,” Deloris went on, ignoring my comment. “The silver moon shining through the forest canopy… our eyes locked, and it was as if time stood still.”
I thought Deloris was going to keep going on with the story, but it seemed the woman was actually in some way very really replaying the event in her mind and reliving the experience. Delores brought in a quivering breath.
“Can you give us an accurate description of what the bigfoot looked like?” Shannon asked, trying to reel Deloris back to the conversation. “Height, color, weight?”
“Oh yes, of course,” Deloris answered, fanning herself for the dozenth time since she started her story. “I’ve thought about this a lot. He had to be near seven feet tall, built like a brick house, maybe four to five hundred pounds. The color of the thin coating of fur over his body was a rich dark chocolate.”
The way Deloris let the word “chocolate” drip slowly off her lips was enough to push me over the edge of weirded-out to downright uncomfortable. I just wanted to get out of there at that point. I could feel a dozen pairs of feline eyes on me, watching me squirm.
“We shared a moment then,” Deloris continued. “I don’t know what prompted either of us, but I stepped out of my tent, and he moved in closer. We both reached out a hand to one another as if we were under some kind of spell. There was intelligent kindness in those big brown eyes of his. I know there was. His hand was rough and warm, his arms so strong as he explored my body and I his.”
I looked over at Shannon wide eyed and panicked. She could make fun of me being a prude all she wanted later. I was not comfortable where this story was headed.
“But then noise from one of the other campsites startled him and he ran,” Deloris said, shaking her head, the trance-like state of her memory wearing off and bringing her back to the real world. There was a deep, very real sadness in her words now. “I should have tried to run after him. I’ve been back to the campsite so many times, but I can’t find him. I know he’s out there. I know he’s looking for me. Will you help me find him?”
“No,” I said, shaking my head.
“Yes,” Shannon said at the same time.
The memory of the events leading me to this moment ended there as the night’s cold pressed icy fingers to my nose and ears. I know I was being a baby. Forty degrees would be nothing to people living in other states, but here in California, where I’d been born and raised, forty degrees was cold.
I shrugged deeper into my black jacket, wishing I had brought a beanie or gloves. I sat behind a boulder-sized rock on a hill overseeing the same campsite Deloris had stayed at the year before.
Both Shannon and Deacon held similar vantage points around the camp, forming a rough triangle as our perimeter. I couldn’t really calculate the odds of the bigfoot coming back to the same place this night. The one thing we did have going for us was it was the same time of year Deloris had run into the creature before.
If it had habits or this was some kind of foraging season or even route for it, then maybe we could catch it. The ace up my sleeve was the hellhound sitting next to me panting into the dark.
Odin’s ebony fur cloaked him almost perfectly. Long pink tongue and yellow eyes were the only things I could clearly see from the wolf dog now. Odin looked over to me with a smile as he waited patiently for something, anything to take place.
Past the cold in the night air and the sounds of late night camp life echoing below, I tried to tune in to my senses. I understood very little of what was happening to me, but I did realize a change of my own was taking place. I knew I was some kind of hybrid, that much was clear. However, not a whole lot was known about my kind. It seemed hybrids were looked down on as some kind of mutt mix. Without any kind of pack or coven to call their own, they were left to fight off whoever might come along.
Lucky for me, I wasn’t alone. The family that Hunters for Hire had become was one I was pretty sure would go to war for one another. I wasn’t worried about being alone; I was more concerned about figuring out what I was. I could only learn so much from books. I needed to actually talk to another hybrid to get the answers I wanted.
I did know I was faster and stronger than before. My senses worked on overdrive now, and while I didn’t heal Wolverine fast, my body did seem to recover quicker than it used to and with less pain.
After I fried myself thanks to Blood Rage, the crispier parts of me had healed within a few days’ time. I should have been in bed for weeks.
My phone buzzed in my pocket. A text from Doctor Mallory Muffin read, “Hey, Jonny, going to put on a poker game next week if you can make it.”
It wasn’t that I didn’t want to hang out with the doctor for the supernatural by night and OBGYN during the day. It was just that hunting, training, and running the company had me so busy. It also seemed like Mallory had a knack for reaching out when I was on a hunt or in the middle of a training round.
I hesitated answering now, knowing if I did, I was about to get sucked into a long text exchange or he might even call. I was torn between trying to be a good friend and remaining vigilant on tonight’s mission.
Thoughts like these had to take a backseat to the events beginning to unfold in front of me. My first indication that something was afoot was Odin’s ears perking to attention. The black triangles stood straight up as the hellhound caught a whiff of the supernatural.
I wasn’t sure if it was my imagination because I saw Odin perk up or if I did actually catch something as well. It smelled like the odor a skunk would leave behind but just not as sweet. Deloris failed to mention any kind of stench coming with the bigfoot, if that was in fact what I was smelling.
Deep guttural hooting like something between a gorilla and human sounded from down the hill to my right. Odin and I both jumped to our feet.
“You two hearing that?” I asked over the comm line that connected me to Shannon and Deacon.
“I’ve been thinking the same thing,” Deacon said over the channel in his gruff cowboy twang. “The music coming from the campers is more like noise. I don’t know how in tarnation they endure just sound. I know I’m still new to the music scene, but at least put on some Johnny Cash or Tom Petty.”
“No, not that,” Shannon answered for me. “I heard it too. It’s stopped now.”
The channel went silent as I stood waiting to hear anything else. Deacon wasn’t wrong about the music coming from the campers below either. It sounded like fifty percent of the music was one line just repeating and the singer was mumbling the words more than actually enunciating them so they could be understood.
I listened past that now for the sounds of the non-human throat, but that was gone. What wasn’t gone was the stench. Odin trotted to my side and growled.
“Easy, boy,” I cautioned the hellhound that stood up to my chest. “We don’t want to scare the bigfoot away; we just want to talk to him. I can’t believe I just said that.”
I checked my load out one more time. It had to be the eight or ninth time I did so, but both Shannon and Deacon had drilled readiness and preparation into me over the last few months like a religion.
While I had never been the best shot, Deacon had taken it upon himself to switch out my Smith and Wesson .500 Magnum for a sawed-off double-barrel shotgun. The weapon was better suited for my up close and personal approach to combat. With Blood Rage as my go-to, I just needed something to use as I closed the distance to my target.
The power and scatter ability of my weapon was awesome. Right now, the cartridges held heavy doses of elephant tranquilizer instead of anything fatal. When I asked Evan where he had procured said elephant tranquilizer, he just gave me a shrug and told me it fell off the back of a supply truck.
Along with my new sawed-off shotgun and a belt full of ammunition, I carried Blood Rage on a sling on my back. I still had to figure out a better means of transpiration for the angelic weapon. I knew it could shrink and expand to size. When I was first gifted the weapon by Mrs. Grundy and the Court, it had fit in a gift basket and grown to its actual width and length when I picked it up.
I was still understanding the weapon and all of its capabilities, like how it was able to grow and call down heaven’s wrath. That was a skill I wish I had known about before it lit me up like a fire-hazard-adorned Christmas tree.
Something moving down the hill to my left caught my attention and urged me to draw the double-barreled shotgun from the bulky holster on my hip. I squinted into the varying shadows the trees and branches allowed.
Not only my sense of smell and hearing, but my eyesight had been improved as well. Even with the enhanced vision, I couldn’t pick up where the noise was coming from. It sounded like heavy footfalls, the cracks of twigs and branches being broken and pushed to the side.
Then I saw it. I wasn’t sure how I could have missed it before. Deloris’ description might have been tainted with her rose-colored glasses. This thing was massive. Not seven feet tall; closer to eight. I had to do a double take to make sure my eyes weren’t playing a trick on me.
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