Shivers rides into Geyser Falls, a town beset by beings out of myth and legend and run by a smirking sheriff who mistakes Shivers for a real judge of the legal variety. Shivers’s first trial involves a blue-haired, free-spirited witch sent back in time by the rogue wizard.
In no time at all, Shivers is mired in murder, deceit, and treachery, all complicated by a tribe of angry cannibals with a grudge against the people of Geyser Falls. The future looks very grim for misplaced wizards of the 21st century, and Shivers is caught between protecting the beleaguered townspeople and the need to get back to his own time.
Release date: November 28, 2023
Publisher: Red Adept Publishing, LLC
Print pages: 290
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Iclocked a measured pace across wet asphalt. Not slow, not fast. My boot heels tick-tocked in four-four time, a solitary march at a funereal tempo. I tried composing a ditty to go with it, something like
I’m off to kill the wizard, a beardless wizard with flaws
Because, because, because, because, because
The horrible things he does.
The song didn’t work for the mood or the tempo. I needed something dark and broody, not skippy and frolicky. I have been told it is in bad taste to be frivolous about the ways to kill somebody, no matter how much they need killing, and the zen of my mission focus denied me a single frolic or skip.
It was time to be grim. As in reaper.
Cold rain spattered drizzly wetness on and off. Trash stuck to the wet pavement, stirred by the rain-swollen breeze.
From a few blocks eastward, stadium lights bloomed yellow fog over rooftops, and an announcer’s voice echoed, “Marcus Attleboro for a two-yard gain. Williams on the stop.” High school football night in suburban Ohio pricked my heart with a sensation something like nostalgia as memories flickered of a different life in a distant place. I recalled scuffed helmets gleaming under the bright lights, the clack of plastic pads, the smell of sweat and grass and popcorn and Gatorade.
To the west, yellow luminescence painted the underbelly of black clouds. Lights from the distant Columbus. Or was it Cincinnati? Cleveland?
An aircraft ascended into the night sky, red flashers marking its passage into the low-hanging clouds. The rumble of its passing faded.
I paused at the fence and peered through the dripping links. The building inside the enclosure was once a shopping mall, now defunct, a derelict assembly of blocky sections with papered-over glass doors. A ghost image of old lettering on the buff-colored wall read Dillard’s.
For an evil wizard steeped in power and the cosmos at his fingertips, this guy’s lair needed a makeover. Queer Eye for the Mage Guy. But come to think of it, it was Ohio. How many mist-shrouded towers or brooding castles could there be? A Magical had to make do with the lairs available, and one named Dustin? Seriously? Surprised he wasn’t holed up in a Chuck E. Cheese.
Six days after driving in from Montana, there I was. In Columbus, definitely Columbus, delivering a FedEx package of whoop-ass on Dustin Birnbaum, “Crazy Conjurer, Misfit Magus, Curse of Columbus.”
I had tailed him here, to this mall, a couple of days in a row. It wasn’t hard—the guy
traveled via skateboard. Skateboard. Seriously, what’s next? Dragons on bicycles? Vampires on pogo sticks?
“A freakazoid up to some strange shit,” Jurgens had said.
By itself, being a freakazoid up to any kind of shit would not warrant execution under the laws of the Codex Magica. Only if a Judge investigated and found just cause that said strange behavior harmed innocent civilians or called undue attention to the use of magic—and yes, that last bit is ambiguous as hell, ain’t it?—and said judge became convinced beyond a reasonable doubt (or a close approximation of reasonable doubt), then said freakazoid could be designated thereafter as persona nonbreathing and rendered habeas corpus and meatus deadius. Amen and pass the ammo.
And as it turned out, this freakazoid really was up to some strange shit, shit strange as pastel turds. Twisted enough to earn an unfavorable judgment and scary enough to warrant a death sentence, even after applying my relatively high bar. Now all I had to do was stalk Birnbaum into his ugly-excuse-for-an-evil-wizard lair and zap him before the young knothead could up and commit even more crazy shit, thereby endangering innocent Columbians. Columbusites?
The chain-link fence wasn’t much of a deterrent, as proven by the tagger decorations coloring the mall in spray-painted immortality: AQ, TAZ13, some Jackson Pollock scribbles as indecipherable as a doctor’s handwriting. I could scout around a couple of miles of fence and find how the taggers got in or climb it, juggling a backpack and stabbing the toes of my cowboy boots in the gaps. But why bother? Having magic meant doing cool stuff in a mysterious and mystical way.
With a concentrated effort, I tapped my magic and focused on the fence, removing the heat from a section of links about head-high and shoulder-wide—all the heat. Frost formed with a crackle, and the links iced over, frozen at the atomic level. A swift kick of a size-ten boot, and the metal shattered in a cascade of glittering shards. Voila! A gate!
I stepped through the gap, careful not to snag my black shearling coat. A breath of chill air
brushed my cheeks, and a flurry of snow swirled around my legs. Every fourth parking lot light was on, so I walked through long pools of darkness cut by fuzzy globes of misty light.
At the Dillard’s entrance, I tapped magic again and slagged the locking bolt on the exterior vestibule door. Ditto the interior door.
And I was in.
“Follow the yellow brick road,” I sang, sotto voce. “Kill a magical toad.”
Six days earlier
Ilounged with Jurgens on the deck of the Jurgens’ ranch. Majestic purple mountains defined the horizon. Amber grain waved in the foreground. I wanted to take a picture... or salute.
Administrator Jurgens handed me a thick file folder. “This one’s a freakazoid. Up to some strange shit.”
For an Admin, Jurgens was pretty cool. Six-two, broken nose. Spent some time in the Marines before he found his amulet and discovered magic. Most Admins spoke in commandments rather than sentences and pretended their farts smelled like cherry blossoms. Jurgens at least acted human, more often than not.
I took the file and tapped magic to force a light stream of air across my face, pushing away the burned-skunk smell of Jurgens’s cigar.
“Has a fetish for horror movies big enough to crush Tokyo.” Jurgens snorted and spat a bit of tobacco off his bottom lip. “The guy has done some shit, though, I’ll tell you. Managed to figure out an energy-time connection. Can you believe that? Twentysomething-year-old video gamer finds his stone, and within a year has done what no Magical has done in... well, in forever.”
“Wow,” I said with all the enthusiasm of a teenager handed a mop. “His name Zuckerberg by chance?”
Jurgens grimaced and nodded toward the file. “The guy’s pretty young.”
After a long pause, Jurgens said, “Well? You have any problems with it?”
“No.” I bit a scrap of dead skin from the corner of my thumbnail. Spat it out. “What difference does it make, how old he is?”
“That’s the Calico Shivers I know and love. Grim as stage-four cancer and twice as relentless.” Jurgens grinned around the cigar clamped in his teeth and added some scotch to his crystal tumbler. There was no ice. Jurgens was known to inflict bodily harm on people asking to pollute his Macallan Rare Cask with ice.
Jurgens turned serious. “How’s your sister doing?”
I opened the case file. “Dustin Birnbaum?”
“I would help if I could. You know that, right?” The Admin watched me for a few long heartbeats. Cigar smoke curled around his narrowed eyes. He sighed and leaned back in his chair. “Dustin Birnbaum has gone rogue.”
“Needs to work on his
villain name.” I skimmed through the summary sheet and tripped over a land mine buried in the dry prose. Subject has mastered the art of time travel and has retrieved from the future items of gross danger to the general public. Subject has used these items in a manner which violates the Magical Code as it relates to doing no harm to the general public. “Time travel? Now, I know you’re shitting me.”
“Nope. That’s what I meant when I said he’d figured out the space-time continuum. Try to keep up.”
I cocked an eyebrow. “Can we be a little less forthcoming? Or does too much information violate the Codex Magica?”
“Some things even Admins don’t want to write in a report. Too crazy.”
Jurgens’s four-year-old Dalmatian trotted over and planted his chin on my thigh. Play? Play? His tail flapped against the patio table, rattling the glasses.
I concentrated on the dog’s brown eyes. “Huck, go find your ball.”
The dog bounded away and dove into the tall grass, a dog on a mission. He reminded me of me.
“Dr. Doolittle,” Jurgens said. “Amazes the fuck outta me every time I see you talk to an animal.”
“My superpower.” I twitched a shoulder in a mini-shrug. Talking about my ability to communicate with animals inevitably led to the revelation that I preferred talking with four-legged critters more than I did most humans. A girl I dated briefly said I was emotionally distant. Well, dear, I kill wicked people for a living. Go figure.
I followed Huck’s progress as his black-spotted tail swished above the grass like a floppy periscope. Then more words came out of my mouth: “I’ve done it since I was six. My mother claimed it was because I’m one-quarter Comanche, and my dad said it was because I’m a quarter Chinese. But it’s not ‘talking’ the way you and I speak to each other, Jurgens. Animals don’t talk in words. More like mental pictures. Vague impressions, most often. Pictures, smells, feelings. Pretty easy to tell what a dog’s thinking. Not so easy to tell them what you want.”
“What about cats?”
“Cats pretend they never heard you in the first place.”
“Still. Pretty cool. Remind me: what’s your other quarters? Quarter Comanche, quarter Chinese...?”
“Black and Irish.” I yawned and closed the file. “What’s the crazy shit he’s up to?”
Jurgens sipped his scotch before replying. His craggy eyes squinted into the sun as it settled into the Beartooth Mountains. “The boy is making monsters.”
Huck had recovered his once-yellow tennis ball and dropped it at my feet. Play? I picked up the dog-slobbery ball, flecked with bits of grass, and heaved it across the yard. Huck bounded away, tongue trailing from one corner of his mouth. “Monsters, huh? I call bullshit.”
Jurgens held up a finger. “Just a sec.”
The sun sank behind the Beartooth Mountains, and we paused in admiration. The sky melted into a canvas streaked with red and gold strokes, brushed by thin, high clouds, contrasted by a purple landscape that faded to black. I toasted the scene with the two fingers of scotch in my glass and tossed it off in one gulp.
“God, you’re a heathen,” Jurgens groused. “Savor it, don’t slug it.”
I pulled a face. “Eh. Got any Wild Turkey?”
Jurgens made a puking-his-guts-out face. “What do you know about DNA?”
“Is that a metal band?”
“At some point in our future,” Jurgens said, “it appears we’ll have the technology to gene splice just about anything. Make pets or people or people-pet combinations. Design ’em on a computer, grow ’em in vats. Our informant says little Dustin Birnbaum has retrieved a set of these Tinkertoys, and he’s creating anything his imagination can devise. And based on the reports, Dustin is one truly disturbed fuck, so his imagination is skewed to the perverted and puerile.”
“Big words for a Marine.”
“I’ll spell them for you.” Jurgens blew a ragged smoke ring then tossed out a comment that sent electric tingles over my skin. “Another thing this new tech can do... it can grow replacement organs for you.
Lungs, kidneys, hearts... livers.”
My heart stutter-stepped as his words settled into me and the implications became clear.
“So.” Mouth suddenly dry, I snagged the bottle of Macallan and tipped a splash into my glass. “Monsters, then.”
Huck trotted up and plopped his slobbery ball in my lap, leaving a wet, gooey spot on my jeans. Ick. His liquid-brown eyes begged for attention, and my heart unfroze a couple of degrees.
I threw the ball into the grass, and Huck scrambled away again, all happy paws and flapping tongue.
“Okay, I’ll bite, said the vampire.” I wiped my fingers and picked up my highball glass. “How does this mad scientist make monsters from future tech using DNA?”
“We’re not sure. The local wizard who was sending us reports went dark before she could give us much in the way of details. She caught on to the problem when the news in Columbus started going nuts over a rash of disappearances. At first it was homeless and hookers and transients, so no one noticed. Then housewives and mail carriers and, you know, regular citizens started disappearing, and things got real.”
“You think your local wizard got zapped by this guy?”
Jurgens shrugged and pulled a face. “Do the math. Even for an Army puke, it should be easy enough.”
“Army Ranger, jarhead. Anybody seen these monsters?”
“Some wild reports by hysterical citizens. Nothing we can say for certain.”
“Such as?” I asked after Jurgens appeared unwilling to say more.
“Ahh...” He shifted in his seat, pulled at his nose, cleared his throat... and in all other ways
acted like a man who smelled a fart at a dinner party but didn’t want to be the first to call phew. “Something that looked kind of like a werewolf, maybe. Some other people saw some weird things, too, like maybe... what’re those things from Lord of the Rings? Ugly bastards that make up the bad-guy army?”
I envisioned a movie poster—Coming soon from director Peter Jackson... Orcs Attack Ohio!—then let it flicker out and knocked back another dose of Macallan. It really was quite tasty. “You know what this needs?” I held up the glass in the fading light. “A splash of Pepsi.”
“I hate you.”
“Most people do, once they get to know me.”
The Dillard’s store had been stripped to bare walls. Not so much as a single rack remained inside the cavernous space, leaving behind a dark and gloomy horror movie set from a film I had seen before: a bunch of teenagers break into a deserted mall to drink beer and have sex. Next, a monster drags one off into the darkness, and the hormone-rattled teenagers do world-class stupid, antisurvival-oriented things, thereby reinforcing the stereotype that all teenagers are idiots. I rarely watched slasher flicks—enough of that in my real life, thank you very much—but when I did, I rooted for the monster.
The far side of the place was invisible—nothing in front of me but a solid wall of black. Creating light by burning magic was contraindicated, as the smart guys would say. Using up my store of magical energy early would leave me short when it came time to snuff out Birnbaum’s menorah. I had drained a fair amount of magic so far, which was what I got for being too lazy to climb over a fence.
“Hello, darkness, my old friend,” I sang under my breath. “I’m here to stalk in you again.”
From my backpack, I pulled a two-foot-long D-cell flashlight, a magic wand all by itself, made by Maglite, of anodized aluminum and heavy enough to knock the snot out of King Kong. The beam stabbed the gloomy guts of the store, revealing rows of support columns and cables dangling
from open ceiling tiles.
I crept along, murdering Simon & Garfunkel in a subvocal singsong. Making up song lyrics was something I did when my nervous energy needed a place to discharge safely. “I’m a killer softly seeking... a bad little wizard creeping... something, something, forgotten lyrics... Umm. ’Neath the beam of my Maglamp... I shiver from the cold and damp...”
Ugh. Needs work.
I’m more of a player than a composer, anyway.
I had memorized a layout of the mall from an obsolete website. Dillard’s anchored one end, with Sears on the other. Between the two, a long central corridor was lined with shops. In the middle, the corridor doglegged to the left then right again. Two other department stores anchored each end of the dogleg. A food court filled the central section, complete with tables and a fountain.
A roll-down gate, glittering silver in the beam of my flashlight, blocked the Dillard’s exit into the mall. I switched off the light as I approached then pushed at the gate to get a feel for it—heavy with thick links of steel. Freezing the metal like I did to the outside fence would not have been a great solution. The tinkle of metal shards on the tile floor would have been too loud.
The last thing Jurgens had said before I drove away: “Watch yourself on this one. The Mage who reported Birnbaum’s activity has dropped out of sight. No contact in two weeks, so the kid has probably nixed one wizard already.”
When approaching a Magical with imminent bodily harm as your goal, second punch is first dead. From that point on, a silent approach was best.
Channeling magic into heat configured as a narrow beam required intense control, not my specialty. I was more diesel rig than sports car, more broadsword than rapier. Fine control of magic took oodles more concentrated effort for me than it did for others, but I could manage it when motivated.
A line glowed red along a thin vertical strip from the bottom of the gate, as though being struck by a laser beam in a spy film. I called it my James Bond death ray. I brought it up, turned it left, went sideways for two feet, then down. Molten metal splattered the floor, hissing and smoking. The top corner of the cut section sagged, and I caught the middle with
one hand before the whole chunk of flexible mesh fell. I continued the cut to the bottom then eased the section to the ground. It rattled and clinked, but not as much as would a million shards of broken metallic links.
By the time I’d finished cutting an opening, sweat soaked my armpits and dripped from the tip of my nose. My magical charge was low, maybe down to a half or less of what I wanted in the tank to go up against a fully functional nut job like Birnbaum.
Time for a break.
I moved away from the hot metal stink of the smoking gate and put my back against a support pillar. I rested my butt on the cold floor and set my backpack between my feet. In case it proved to be a long night, I’d brought snacks, PowerBars and bottled water—nutrition for wizards everywhere.
I was unwrapping a protein bar when something wicked from the darkness my way came. ...
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