QSFer M.R. Graham has a new queer (ace/demi/pan) paranormal romance out, the first in their new “Van Helsing Legacy” series: “We Shall Not Sleep.”
The Great War is over, its fires quenched.
The guns are silent.
The Dead are waking.
Meg van Helsing grew up with a book in one hand and a wooden stake in the other, a crucifix always around her neck. But the world has changed, and the monsters she hunts with her friends are less frightening than gas burns and shell shock. The ghost of the War looms darker than Dracula’s shadow.
Until the night one of her friends disappears.
Now, they are under constant attack, beset by the blood-hungry corpses of un-dead soldiers at exactly the moment another monster appears: an incubus, lethally attractive. The young man offers help, and Meg wants to believe him. If only she could convince her friends she is immune to his spell.
Someone wants them dead at any cost. The answer lies in old books, dark sorcery, and a secret kept for twenty-five years, written in blood. If Meg wants her friends to live, she’ll have to open her eyes.
M.R. Graham is giving away an eBook copy of The Siren – for a chance to win, comment on the post below.
It sensed us. They usually did. It was dark, agonising emotion that raised them, and they were sensitive to the emotions of the living, wary of the determination and resolve that Chessie and I carried with us. It twisted in the shadows between the window and the nearest street-lamp, and I caught a glimpse of glowing red embers set deep into its hollow eye sockets.
Then it ran.
The stupid blighter was fast for something that had already begun to decay. Worse, it had abandoned both biology and physics equally when it decided to defy death. It made a few bounding steps and then launched itself into the air, striking the side of the nearest building with a dry sound like the rustle of leaves, and resumed its flight vertically, on all fours.
Chessie sighed. ‘Piss,’ she muttered. Then she took off after it.
I followed. She was much longer than I, and it showed in her stride. She pulled ahead almost immediately, leaving me to bring up the rear. It seemed to be my job to mumble apologies at the pedestrians she scattered as she ran.
There were an alarming number of them, but considering that I heard no screaming, I did not think that anyone had seen our quarry take to the walls like a gecko. And they probably wouldn’t. Chessie and I drew all their attention with our charging about.
I apologised to a round man whose ulster flapped as he had to duck out of our way. His eyes were firmly on me, and the noise he made drew the eyes of a cluster of younger men across the street. No one looked up at the thing scrabbling along just beneath the roofs. With visibility so poor, it would disappear into the rain, and they wouldn’t even be able to see it.
That was a danger for me, as well. I picked up my pace, feeling the contents of my pockets jouncing against my thighs, and struggled to catch up to Chessie. The rain blew up beneath the brim of my hat and froze my face.
I blinked the icy droplets out of my eyes.
And when I opened them again, the monster was gone.
Chessie pulled up short in front of me, and I skated to a stop a few paces behind her. She spun, staring up the street and then down, her teeth bared, then swore.
‘Did it go up?’ I gasped. ‘Did it take to the roofs?’
Her nose wrinkled. ‘If it has, we’ve lost it. Ugh. Maybe if it were clear out, but with the weather like this…’
At least most of the foot traffic had cleared out. The rain was intensifying, driving people indoors. I saw the faint outline of an umbrella turning a corner and vanishing into the depths of Barking, but there was no one else for as far as I could see.
Good. If the monster ran, there was no one to see it, and if it got angry, there was no one else for it to attack.
It hadn’t so far, though. I licked my lips.
‘Has it done any harm, actually?’ I wondered aloud. ‘Possibly not hostile?’
Chessie shrugged. ‘Possibly? But what’s the likelihood, honestly?’
Small, I had to admit. Sometimes the unquiet dead were very close to their old selves when they first rose. But the confusion and churning emotion of un-death had a way of warping them before very long. ‘It’d give us some extra time, at least. I wish we knew who it was.’
She glanced down at me, then went back to scanning the street for our quarry with a sigh. ‘At least we can stop running for a bit.’
It was true. I bent slightly, stretching as discreetly as possible, and set off again, gesturing for her to follow. There was no way to know whether the thing would have kept going or doubled back, and without knowing, I preferred to cover new ground. Chessie fell into step beside me.
And then she dropped away from me with a shriek.
A blur of tattered wool dragged her down, reeking of rot and something bitter-sweet. It resolved into the shape of a man, a broad hand forcing Chessie’s head into the pavement. She had fallen forward, and the cross she wore was pinned beneath her, useless. A gaping, jagged-toothed mouth champed in the air above her cheek, dripping gobs of gore and liquefying flesh. Its opaque, white eyes were wild with terror.
The emotion would make it stronger. But at least it was fear. There was nothing I could do about hate or rage, but I could at least try to do something about fear.
‘Please stop,’ I said softly. The words probably didn’t matter. I was talking as one does to a frightened animal, relying on tone. ‘It’s all right. It’s all gone wrong hasn’t it? I know. We’re going to try to help you, all right? You want to go back to sleep?’
Its teeth stopped their downward track, and its head tipped toward me, listening. Newly risen, then. Very new. Something in him remembered who he used to be and wanted everything to be all right. Chessie stayed very still, her profile resolute.
I kept talking as I reached into my coat for my billhooks. ‘What’s your name? Do you remember? Do you know where you woke up? Where you were buried? If you can show us, if you can take us there, we can help.’ If it was calm when I struck, it might take only one blow. But if it was still afraid, I might just make it angry, as well.
Its shoulders heaved in the memory of a breath. Had I said the wrong thing? Did it even know it was dead? I bit my lip and scrutinised the ruined face. He had been a man. Young, I thought, though his age was obscured by decay. His clothes were sodden with… It wasn’t dirt. Or not only dirt. Dark clay and blood. Some of it might have been his own, or all of it. There was no way to know. But he had been a person.
‘Sir? I know this is awful. I won’t say I understand, because I don’t. It’s scary. I think you know you’re not supposed to be here. Please let me help you.’
He raised his dull eyes to mine, and I staggered back. It wasn’t all grave rot. It was chemical burns. The right side of his face had been eaten away long before his death; the tattered remains of his cheek and eyelids were healed at the edges, everything else swollen and waxy-smooth.
Only a few feet to my left, a door flew open with a bang, flooding the street with light.
The monster screeched and vanished into the mist.
Chessie scrambled up, swiping her sleeve over her cheek, and took off at a sprint after the disappearing form.
A masculine voice roared in outrage. ‘Here, now! What’s all this? Are you all right, miss?’
I shouted a reply, I don’t know what, and tore after Chessie and the monster, realising a moment late that my reply could not have been terribly reassuring with a gleaming billhook in each hand. Dash it. There would be police soon, then. At least in the dark and the rain and the rush, above our scarves and beneath our hats, he could not have seen either of our faces well.
I quickly lost sight of the monster, but Chessie did not, and so I kept an eye on her, instead. She pelted along Upney Lane toward Longbridge, then ducked down a narrower side road. A frustrated shriek from further ahead assured me that we were heading in the right direction.
I saw our destination a moment before the creature jagged right and disappeared. Of all the little houses on that street, it was the only one without even a spark of light glimmering between closed curtains. And I understood.
‘Stop!’ I shouted after Chessie.
She stopped, steps away from the door, and turned to look at me.
I nearly bowled straight into her, and she caught me.
‘He wasn’t buried,’ I gasped at her. ‘He died in there and no one’s found him, yet. This is his grave. It’s his turf.’
Her eyes widened in understanding. Emotion would make the thing strong, but in its own territory, it would be all but unassailable until daybreak. This grave was more than a patch of earth. This was a home.
I thought of what I had told Mr Apostol, that hunting monsters wasn’t terribly dangerous if you knew what you were doing and brought a friend, and I had to bite my tongue against a nervous laugh. It was a dashed good thing we did know what we were doing, or we might have charged in there with nothing more than blades and relics.
‘We wait until dawn, then,’ Chessie said. She laid a hand on her hip, on the hilt of the sabre beneath her coat. ‘Don’t think he’s coming out of there again tonight, not after the fright he’s had.’
‘Well, yes… Only, I’m pretty sure someone’s probably got the police out looking for two madwomen with big knives running around…’
‘Oh. Oh, right.’
I could see her mulling it over. We could not stay, for fear of the police. If one of us left to find Mrs Harker and Uncle Joe, the other would be left alone. If both of us left together, the monster inside might notice us gone and disappear completely. Separated from his grave, he would be weakened, but he might risk it rather than stay where he knew we would return. An extreme solution would be to light the place on fire with him in it, but the rain was no guarantee that the flames would not spread to the surrounding homes. And while no light shone from within, there was no absolute certainty that nothing alive remained in the house.
‘Damn it,’ she breathed. ‘We’ve got to go in, haven’t we?’
‘Nothing for it, I don’t think.’ I shrugged and made for the door.
Chessie caught my shoulder. ‘If we’ve got to break in, I think we should go for the back.’
‘If we have to break in,’ I agreed. ‘But we may as well see if it’s locked, first.’
The hinges did not creak. The door swung open about a foot, then caught on the upturned edge of a rug. I struck a match on the sole of my shoe and lit my little candle stub. The entry was strewn with unopened post, addressed to Edgar Jackson.
USA Today bestselling author M.R. Graham is a native Texan who traces strong cultural roots back to Scotland, Poland, and England. A mild-mannered PhD student during the day, Graham transforms at night into a raging Holmesian loremaster and rabid novelist.
Though passionate about all scholarship and academia, Graham’s training and true love lie with anthropology, particularly the archaeological branch.
Their writing explores the uncanny, the mystical, the mysterious, and the monstrous, seeking to capture the beauty of strangeness.
Also, steampunk and vampires.
Author Site: https://quiestinliteris.com/