Happy Birthday, Blood Child

Signing a book for the lovely Squeaker.
Signing a book for the lovely Squeaker.

One year ago, Blood Child was officially released.   It has been a great year.  Thus far, little Blood Child has earned 8-5-Star reviews and spend sometimes on an Amazon top-ten list.

Thank you once again.   Enjoy chapter 1 of Blood Child.  The complete novella is available on Amazon for only .99 cents.

Chapter 1

“I am not drunk enough to talk about it now.”

The interview I had lobbied over six months for just turned on her heels and walked back into the shadows of the house, leaving the door wide open and giving me an excellent view of her curves. My appreciation for them was short-lived, since cool air slapped me as I hesitated on the threshold, trying to take in the house’s details. The ten-foot walk from the car had broken me out in a sweat, making it difficult to concentrate. It wasn’t even May, and already Florida was managing to melt British tourists and small yippy dogs into smelly, sticky puddles. Since I was British born myself, it was only being raised in the United States that kept me from disintegrating.

As I watched the current Countess Bathory return, it occurred to me that she was nothing like her infamous blood-bathing ancestor. She had no aura of power or authority. She was, in fact, a wino, judging from the bin overflowing with bottles on the front porch. Albeit, an incredibly attractive one.

Technically, she wasn’t a countess, having renounced the title but keeping the money she had inherited along with it. Only people in fairy tales give up both, and usually for love. As far as I knew, Ms. Bath was single.

Nothing about Emily Bath made sense. She was richer than Donald Trump and had more degrees than Neil Degrasse Tyson, yet she lived in a tiny orchid-colored house in a mismatched Orlando neighborhood. She taught high school—not even a regular high school, but an alternative one for students who had been kicked out. She could have done anything and willingly chose to work in high school hell.

The interior was incredibly modest, if not a little old-fashioned for a thirty-something heiress or anyone in her thirties. The floors creaked with each step. There was no TV in sight, just bookshelves and seating. All the furnishings looked like they were hand-me-downs from someone’s long-deceased grandparents. The sofa engulfed me in patterned floral pillows. The countess smirked as I struggled to right myself. At least she had a sense of humor.

Still nothing about the home spoke of the mounds of wealth she had; it was all understated and sadly normal. I expected more—craved it, to be honest.

Emily Erzabet Bath was the survivor of a modern-day murder mystery. Nine years ago she and her three older brothers spent the weekend at their late father’s estate for his funeral in upstate New York. Her brothers died, along with twenty other souls.

The manor had been drenched in blood, literally. It dripped off tables, pooled in puddles on the floor, and had unartfully spattered the walls. The first officers on scene inched their way around the edges of each room as they searched for survivors. They weren’t trying to preserve evidence. No one wanted to step in that much blood. It was inconceivable that anyone could have survived the carnage. Pieces of victims were carried out bit by bit for nearly a week. The local police chief was one of the dead, along with his wife, so state police were immediately called in. They in turn called the FBI. It was a forensic nightmare. It took years for them to sort everything out, and then the picture that the evidence painted didn’t make any sense.

People were found at nearly all the exits, but no one made it outside before being killed. No one tried to call for help. All the phones at the estate were working, yet no one used them.

The officers who found Emily broke into her room after following a blood trail, only to find her cloistered in the back of the closet beneath a bunch of old musky coats stained with her blood. The combination of the smells—musky fur, stale blood, and human excrement—remained with the two men. Their stomachs emptied upon seeing Emily broken and begging for help with her eyes. Ten years later, even mentioning her or her condition made the two turn green. They thought she was dead until her bloodshot emerald eyes opened. She was severely dehydrated, with deep bloody scratches that had turned her flesh into ribbons; her wounds would seep blood for days after her rescue, confounding the medical staff. It was months before she was released from the hospital.

Emily allegedly had fled to her room and remained there the entire weekend. She couldn’t explain how she had gotten there or what had happened. Her story just didn’t hold up. Many believed she was at least partially responsible for the deaths of the twenty-three people in attendance. Maybe she really didn’t remember? It was possible, but why did she hide instead of calling for help or attempting to leave the estate? There were more questions than logical answers in the bloody tale of Emily Bath. The tabloid media had attempted to keep the story alive, supposedly to get answers, even after the relatives of the deceased pleaded with them to stop. A couple of lawsuits, combined with the complete unwillingness of law enforcement officials to contribute to the macabre circus surrounding the case, finally brought things to an end after about three years.

Now, as the ten-year anniversary approached, interest in the case was reemerging, making this interview priceless. And I was the man who landed it—the first and only person to speak to the reclusive Ms. Bath on the record. Persistence, charm, and just a bit of cyber stalking had won the day; being unemployed finally had a benefit.

No evidence was found linking Emily to the deaths, according to the investigator’s report in my satchel. No evidence was found linking anyone to the crime. The report had cost a pretty borrowed penny. Now I was wondering if the expense had been worth it. She was just so ordinary. So painfully ordinary.

Emily returned from the kitchen carrying two glasses of deep-red wine. When I started to protest, she informed me that I would need it.

“Mr. Clark, please…humor me.”

“All right, Ms. Bath. Do you mind if I record this conversation?”

“Not at all. I would appreciate a copy. Also, my attorney, Mr. McNeal, would like you to

sign this disclosure agreement prior to us continuing.”

“I don’t think my editor would approve any agreement that limits or restricts the content of the article.”

“Let’s be frank, Mr. Clark. You don’t have an editor. And you haven’t had one for the last six months. Your freelance opportunities have dried up, along with your hope and savings.”

I wanted to protest, but she was telling the truth. I had been let go from the Times six months ago. Budget cuts or some other bureaucratic nonsense was the official reason; sleeping with my editor’s grandson was the true cause of my separation from the nation’s foremost paper.

In my defense, Philip was twenty-one, and I had no idea that he and my editor, Ashley, were related. She wasn’t amused to find us cuddling in the afterglow on her $1,500 sofa. It probably didn’t help that I was also sleeping with her and was too intoxicated to notice where I had passed out. In the paper’s defense, I was only great at my job when I was sober, and I was rarely sober. Drunk, I was just OK. Sad, but true; I could do my job intoxicated and get away with it for the most part.

Looking over the agreement, I was surprised to see that it didn’t restrict what I wrote—only that I share any new information I found with Ms. Bath and her attorneys, as well as proofs prior to publication. If I had an editor or had been attached to a company, I would have had them research it before signing, but I didn’t, and Emily had called my bluff.

“Why do you think I have access to information that you don’t have?” I asked.

She sighed, reaching for my satchel. Before I could protest, she pulled out the investigator’s report and tossed it on the ottoman.

 “You purchased that from Detective Anderson two months ago. My sources weren’t able to get a full report. They didn’t think to approach him directly, a misstep on their part.”

Her smile was the first hint that she wasn’t entirely innocent; I didn’t think she had killed anyone, but that still didn’t make her guilt-free. She just didn’t seem capable of mass murder. Still, everyone is guilty of something. It just might not be illegal. “Of course, your copy doesn’t include all the crime scene photos. I am willing to share if you sign.”

“Touché, Ms. Bath.”

“Sign and you can call me Em.”

I shook my head as I signed it, just to be dramatic. The wine was beginning to look more and more appealing.

“Anything else, Em?”

“No, the floor is yours. Let the inquisition begin.”

I had to glance down at my notebook to be sure where to start. Em had thrown me off more than the past six months without meaningful work. Or maybe it was everything that was riding on this interview going well. I was pretty sure Ashley had started to use her connections to blackball me when I didn’t appear to be suffering enough to satisfy her. Even Cat Fancy’s editor refused my calls. Pulling off this story would make me instantly marketable again.

Looking at Em, I realized she could have been her ancestor’s twin, except she was most definitely curvier. She had the same delicate almond-shaped eyes, china-doll skin, and brunette hair so dark; at first glance it appeared black. She leaned back into the plush sofa as if she were having a conversation with an old friend. Smiling, I began…

Five hours, two bottles of wine, and ten pages of notes later, I departed the tiny orchid house, making it back to the hotel as quickly and safely as possible. Luckily, I had experience driving during these conditions. Becoming inebriated in the course of an interview is never recommended or suggested, but Em had been right; the wine was necessary even for this seasoned drunk. I knew I could count on the recording to help me where my notes trailed off. Experience had taught me well to always have a backup plan.

If you’d like more information on Lucinda’s work subscribe to this blog, follow her on Twitter or like her page on Facebook.  Her new novella, Blood Child is available on Amazon.

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Scattered

There are clothes tossed about the floor. My clothes, my floor,my bedroom floor. This isn’t the way things should be. This isn’t how I live or how I have been living for the last three years. Things get picked up and put away. Everything in order. My sleeping chamber a place of peace and tranquility. My haven within a haven.

Now everything is scattered about. Trashed. It isn’t so much the clothes. Although they are annoying, more annoying are the shoes. How is it that shoes never make their way back into my closet. They have homes there. Each and everyone of them a place, a home of its own. Still they are constantly wondering about. Just like the clothes now adorning the floor.

But I just can’t think with the smell you create. It makes me want to flee every time I come home.Into the room, I dash as soon as I get home spaying air freshener and get out of my work clothes. Then I drag  myself back out to the shed and get the machete.

Everyday, I chopped another bit of you off.  It has been quite difficult to dismantle you this way. I’ve had to boil some of you and break the bigger parts down with a hammer. Most days I am so tired afterwards, I barely have time to scrap you out from under my nails before bed. But rest assured, you won’t be a bother for much longer another couple weeks and I will have my room back and you will be returned to the earth. One doggie bag at a time.

Blood Child

Preview: Blood Child Chapter 3

Blood Child
Coverart by Steven Warrick

Chapter 3

Atalik’s body, according to the county records, was interred on his estate in the family mausoleum. The magnificent mausoleum rivaled that of Heinrich Schliemann’s in Greece, shaped like a temple with marble columns and carved reliefs. It wasn’t an original part of the estate but had been built shortly after the property was purchased.

The architect, Matthew Rodriguez, worked on many of the renovations made to the estate. The mausoleum was one of his last projects. He was fascinated with secret passages and giving his clients a little something extra in each design whether they requested it or not. He died in a car accident returning to the city one weekend after a party at the estate. His will, which was immediately contested by his family, left everything, including his portfolio, to the count. It even when so far as to say that Atalik was the sole executor, which gave Atalik the right to dispose of his body however he choose. Knowing Matthew’s mother was old-school Catholic, he had the body cremated and the ashes mixed in with the cement for a planned extension to the house’s foundations. Atalik had everything in it shipped to the estate.

Atalik liked to infer that he came from old money, so the deceased members of the Bath family were moved from their original resting places to the mausoleum after its completion. It cost him a pretty penny in bribes to move the bodies and begin a cemetery on private land. At one moment he even thought of abandoning the project due to cost, but being defeated by a penny was not something he could allow. Eventually the site was even sanctified by a member of the local clergy to ensure the peaceful rest of its inhabitants. He had never had close relations with any of his family after he graduated from high school. The few living relatives he did have stayed as far away as they could. None of them ever seemed tempted to ask their cousin for a favor beyond being left alone.

According to Em, her father had a secret crypt built in the basement of the house for himself and his “special” wives. It was for the three women who gave him a child. Each one received a cash payment of a million dollars and a swift divorce, and died within two years.

Each was brought back to the estate and interred. All total, Atalik was married seven times, but only three of his wives survived him. Helena Jacqueline Antoinette Bath was in the process of divorcing the old scoundrel when he died. She left the house prior to the funeral, taking her small spending allowance with her. Her refusal to stay and see him buried surprised no one, once she knew the contents of the will. In the nearly decade-long marriage, he had never changed his will. It hadn’t been changed since the year after Emily was born. Her allowance was a provision of the will that allowed for her to receive a cash disbursement of three thousand dollars once a month for five years after his death; after that time the amount would be cut in half. The money was less than a third of what Antoinette spent in a month on clothing, beauty treatments, and entertainment. It was her entertaining of young men that incited the divorce proceedings.

The first time Em saw the crypt was when she was six years old. The youngest, most precocious of the children, she was always wandering away or, in the words of the nannies and tutors, sneaking off. It truly wasn’t malicious. She was just a naturally curious and restless child. Mihaly called her Houdini because of her repeated seemingly impossible escapes from their lessons and training. One moment she was working quietly alongside her brothers, and the next she was gone. It didn’t seem to matter who was watching her; there was always a moment when no one was looking, and she knew how to take advantage of it.

She was smart enough never to explore when her father was in attendance. More than one nanny was fired for failing to keep an eye on little Em. It was impossible in his mind that she could be so clever or they so absent-minded.

It was late in the evening when she slipped out of her room and made her way to the basement. Like the rest of the estate, it was unbelievable huge and mostly off-limits to the children. The buildings were under constant repair and renovation since its purchase. In her young mind, the basement, with its stone floors, timbers, and dust, was King Minos’s labyrinth beneath his Cretan palace, where Athenian youth were sacrificed to the bloodthirsty Minotaur.

Em was pretending to be the hero, Theseus, who saves the princess from the beastly Minotaur, when she heard the rhythmic sounds of footsteps hitting the stone floor in unison. She swiftly moved behind one of the wine racks. Her father, his manservant, Gerald, and four robed men came into the chamber. The men, who worked in various positions on the grounds, were carrying a long ebony box. The party came to an abrupt stop at the far end of the room. It seemed like they would have continued to walk forward into the stone wall if Gerald’s arm had not flowed up as a signal to stop.

Fear and intrigue held her tightly in place. She thought they would merely be depositing the crate and returning momentarily. After all, there was no place for the men to go except the way they came. She crouched as low as she could while still keeping an eye on the strange group.

Her father raised his arms and began muttering in Latin. When he finished, a section of the wall slid back, and the ensemble entered the newly formed doorway. Em nearly snickered at her father’s horrid elocution; had she demonstrated such poor pronunciation, she would have received a beating that would continue until she corrected the error. Consequently, she and her siblings practiced continually, drilling one another until they had mastered each lesson. Mihaly led his younger siblings in these drills. Sometimes they sneaked into one another’s rooms to prepare for assessments. No matter how intensely they practiced, their father and the tutors always found a reason to punish them.

The door closed as quickly as it had opened. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it didn’t deter Em. This mystery was too much for her to pass up, so she waited, watching, shivering on the icy floor. The Minotaur was safe for another night.

By the time they came out of the chamber, Em had nearly fallen asleep; only the return of rhythmic footsteps sounded just in time to keep her from nodding off completely and banging her head on the floor.

She waited until after the stomping sound had ceased to echo before she moved to investigate. It didn’t take her long to find the floor latch and open the crypt’s door. Secretly, she praised the Hardy Boys novels she had recently finished for helping her quickly locate the trigger for the door. Not that she would ever tell Mihaly, who had suggested the series. It just wasn’t proper to let your big brother know you thought he was cool or appreciated his advice.

The chamber was lit from an aperture running around the perimeter between the wall and stone floor. A shiver dashed down her spine when she noted the eerie similarity of this chamber to the one in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum.”

In the center was a stone sepulcher with her father’s name etched into it, along with his birth date and an epitaph—the date of his death waited to be carved. Along the walls three ebony boxes exactly like the one she had seen carried in were standing on end facing the sepulcher, except these boxes appeared to have glass fronts. There was one for each of the three walls before her.

Had Em been a fearful child, she would have run from the room and not taken another step. However, the physical and emotional abuse she had endured prevented her from experiencing the normal fears of a six-year-old child; she had seen too much and knew it wouldn’t kill her.

The boxes were like shiny bobbles left out for a magpie to snatch; the least she could do was inspect them. Em moved towards the one on the left for no other reason than her eye had turned in that direction. As she advanced on her target, an unexpected queasy feeling built in her stomach. She attributed it to the cook’s latest experiment, not knowing any better.

There are some things in this world that every child should be prevented from seeing, but Em continued forward, as she always had and always would. It only made sense in her mind to keep moving. She had no way of knowing what the crypt truly held or how similar its contents would be to one of Poe’s chilling tales.

The faint light caused her eyes to strain; however, the figure of a woman was becoming clear. Forward. Always forward. A foot away from the glass, details came into focus. Another chill ran through Em. The woman’s face was obscured by a veil, so Em tried to balance on her tiptoes for a better look. Her failure landed her face first on the frigid stone floor.

Her head ached, but her eyes widened when she read the name—Marcella E. Bath, her mother’s name—etched on the base in golden script. To her credit she didn’t scream or run from the room. She did crawl to the next black casket and then the last, reading the names of her brothers’ mothers.

Making her way back up to the main house, Em began to build a wall between her consciousness and the new knowledge, trying to shred apart the carefully constructed mental configuration that kept her young mind from collapsing in on itself. Children, after all, are the ultimate survivors. Forward, just keep moving forward. Back out of the basement, through the kitchen to the back staircase, up to the second floor, and down the hall to the nursery.

At six years old, she still slept in the nursery and would continue to do so until she turned eleven, when she had her first period. The decor of the nursery reflected Atalik’s predatory nature. The furnishings were all dark wood, and a mural of a jungle took up the largest wall in the room. The animals weren’t cute or cartoony, but realistic. In two of the corners, a hunter was positioned with rifle in hand, aiming toward the animals in the center. The opposing walls contained trophies from Atalik’s various hunting expeditions. A pair of kudos with their stately spiraled horns took up positions on either side of the door, with a lioness positioned directly over it. A few of the nannies interviewed by Atalik declined the position after seeing the room he had so thoughtfully decorated for his children.

The light flicked on as soon as she entered; Atalik sat on the bed, patting it slightly. His face wore its usual sinister smirk, a forewarning of his intentions. Em didn’t even freeze for a single moment. Hesitation would only make things worse. Forward she walked, taking her place beside her loving father and silently sliding the last brick in place. She had learned not to flinch when her father reached for her.

His hands gently brushed the hair away from her forehead. The grin dissolved when he noticed the mark blooming on her temple.

“Tell Papa how this came to be.”

“I was playing, and I fell, Papa.”

“And where was Ms. Kasik?”

She tilted her eyes down, trying her best to appear demure and innocent; manipulation was a survival skill she had learned early.

Mmm,” she said as she bit her lips slightly, “I went into the cellar when she wasn’t looking.”

“The cellar is out of bounds, young lady.”

“I know, Papa. I apologize for breaking the rules. I wanted to play where the boys wouldn’t hear me. They think playing Theseus and the Minotaur is moronic.”

“I see. And that is how you got the bruise, fighting the Minotaur again?”

Em nodded a shy affirmation. The wicked grin returned as Atalik tucked her into bed, placing a tender kiss on her forehead. Exiting the room, he chose the door leading to Ms. Kasik’s room.

As much as he relished disciplining his offspring, he never tolerated anyone else doing so without permission. The offense was especially odious if a visible mark resulted. Ms. Kasik was clearly guilty of neglecting and thereby injuring her charge.

The next day Miss Amber Russo, the nanny for her brothers Andras and Sandor came in to prepare her for breakfast. Em asked about her nanny and was dismissed quickly. The next week a new nanny was hired, a Ms. Ingrid Picador from Newark, New Jersey. She would remain with the family for three years before exiting in a similarly mysterious manner.

Atalik had a hedge maze built on the property for the amusement of the children. Em was allowed to play in the maze without her brothers under the supervision of her new nanny. She never went into the basement again to play.

The fate of Ms. Andrea Kasik is unknown. No record could be found of her being employed after her dismissal. She wasn’t the first or last employee to go missing over the twenty-five years that Atalik lived at the estate. Detective Anderson told me when I spoke with him that there wasn’t anything they could do. No one could find anything substantial to link the estate with their disappearances—no bodies, no evidence, no crime. Strangely enough, very few missing persons cases were filed. They just vanished. Charges couldn’t be filed based on rumors and speculation.

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Blood Child

Preview: Blood Child Chapter 2

Blood Child
Coverart by Steven Warrick

Chapter 2

Em and her brothers were born and grew up at the New York Bathory estate. Their births all took place in the house itself, attended by a midwife and a physician in a room built specially for the receiving of Bath heirs. Their father, Count Atalik Hedrick Bath, insisted on having access to all four children. As a result, they would be homeschooled so he could guide their education. This guidance included beatings if they did not perform up to his expectations.

Beginning at six o’clock each morning, Monday through Saturday, their daily lessons included Latin, Greek, arithmetic, literature, history, music, and science. They took a break about eleven for lunch and athletics, returning to their studies no later than two. All the Bath children were excellent equestrians, among other things. The youngest boys, Andras and Sandor, were accomplished fencers as well as fraternal twins. Mihaly, the oldest, was a skilled marksman who had turned down the US Olympic team. His father would never have let him out of his sight long enough to train, so why entertain the idea?

Atalik wanted his children under his complete control. His mind was the only mind allowed to influence them. The various nannies, tutors, and coaches over the years never said a word about the abuse the children suffered. Money lined pockets and sealed their lips.

On Sundays the family, along with the stepmother of the moment, would head into town to attend the First Methodist Church of Wanaka. It was a forty-five-minute drive that took place in complete silence. Atalik insisted that the time be used for reflection. Once there he would lead the family to the front row, never speaking or greeting anyone along the way. They would retreat in the same manner back to the estate and spend the rest of the day in yet more silent contemplation. Often the children would read passages of the Bible to their parents in the evening. Atalik would then give his own unique biblical interpretation, sometimes lasting for three or four hours, depending on the quality of the liquid fuel he ingested during his personal contemplation time in his study. A Ms. Emma Cathill was fired from her position for suggesting that it wasn’t right for him to get drunk on a Sunday. Her firing was one of the few that didn’t result in a mysterious accident or disappearance two or three months later.

The presence of the eerily stoic family unnerved the rest of the congregation to the point that when Em was ten years old, they were asked to leave. The Bath family was infamous in the small community even before the massacre. Interviews I had conducted prior confirmed the family’s banishment. The current minister hadn’t been a great deal of help, but his secretary, a lovely woman named Glenda, had all sorts of juicy information. The story was pretty much the same except for rumors about an affair with several of the ladies on the church board. The last lady reported to have been disarmed by Atalik’s charms had been the former minister’s wife. Each of the women had approached him seeking a donation for one committee or another and always ended up receiving more than just funds.

Margret Mitchell Hanopy was one of those women. She had been married for twenty-five years to the chief of police in Wanaka. Never strayed a day in her life, and looked down on any woman who spent just one moment longer than she deemed necessary with a man who was not her husband. Her pride made her the perfect target, and she fell hard and fast for him. For a split second, she thought he might leave the wife du jour for her. Her breakdown was public and cost her husband the next election. Not surprisingly, someone more suitable to Atalik’s needs was elected the next go-round.

Em didn’t step foot in the village of Wanaka until four years later, when her father’s car stopped to get gas before taking her to college. One of her stepmothers convinced Atalik it would draw unwanted attention to the family if she didn’t attend school. It was a good thing that online school wasn’t big at the time; otherwise, Em might never have been allowed to leave home.

At nineteen she was tall, shy, and awkward, but smarter than any of her future classmates hoped to be. She slipped into the store to get a soda to wet her dry throat. When Atalik discovered her absence, he strode into the store and dragged her out by her hair. The soda was still on the counter when they sped away. Em said she thought it would be OK, given the freedom she would enjoy at school.

A police report was filed; however, the case was never pursued. The owner of the gas station confirmed this version of events. He also admitted to altering his account after receiving a check from Mr. Bath, or Count Bathory, as he insisted on being called. The check paid for his son’s entire college tuition.

The count liked to pay for things. He found it far easier to give someone who had nothing a check than to waste other resources on that person. His charisma in the beginning was not strong enough to talk a dog into a walk. It would grow and grow over the years, but the easiest way to get what he wanted remained through purchasing it. The title he tossed around was also purchased from a relative, despite it having no meaning in this country. Em renounced it upon receiving her inheritance. It was her way of distancing herself from his legacy—a legacy that Em assured me was going to be far bloodier than her infamous ancestor. I inquired how that could be, since the Countess Bathory had a death toll estimated to be close to six hundred and fifty.

It was then that I received a history lesson. She explained that the Blood Countess was only convicted for eighty deaths, and reports of her bathing in the blood of virgins were added later after Bram Stoker published his famous tome. The countess, like most of the aristocracy of her day, disciplined her servants harshly to prevent any sort of uprising and to maintain total supremacy. The countess excelled at keeping those she considered hers in line; the occasional death was not uncommon. The death of a peasant was not considered a capital offense. It was only when the countess began to discipline the daughters of minor nobles that any sort of fuss was raised, and that was only after her political usefulness had been depleted by the crown. Her objection to paying her share of the crown’s debts owed by her and her family was also a factor in her being brought to trial.

Still, the countess hadn’t acted alone. She had a little gang of cronies who carried out her will and in some cases enforced it without the countess ever having said a word. They would end up betraying their mistress at the trial, saying she ate bits of her victims’ flesh. Their testimony would serve as the basis for bloody tales in the future. Then, as now, people wanted to cash in on whatever was popular to make money. It worked, and the infamy of the countess grew while her cronies disappeared into the fabric of history.

If I didn’t believe her, I could read her translation of the countess’s diary. She would happily give me a copy.

The diary mentioned in the trial had been lost or, more accurately, misplaced by the countess’s castellan, Imre Vasvary. He was in charge of her affairs after her arrest and managed her personal papers as well as her husband’s. Her beloved count had died in service to the emperor. It was his death that truly spelled the end for the countess. Emperor Matthias II sought to take control of the vast holdings that had been created by her marriage to the count. Vasvary lived for many years after his mistress’s death and served her son, Pal (Paul), and the other Bathory children until his death.

Atalik found the diary on one of his trips to Hungry. It had been authenticated using letters written by the countess, but it had never been released to be authenticated by the academic community. Atalik didn’t want to share his prize with anyone. Emily opted to keep it a secret because its release would do nothing to repair the tarnished reputation of the countess and would also bring the connection between Bath and Bathory into the public’s eye. One branch of the family choose to change the name shortly after coming to the U.S. It was common for new arrivals to change difficult names or in the case of the Bath family make a break from the past.

While the journal was recovered, the final resting place of the Infamous Lady was never found. It was reported that she was buried at the church at Cesjthe in 1614, only to be moved three years later to the Bathory estate. The crypt there and at a family estate in Nyirbator had been opened at various points; neither contained her remains.

The manner in which Atalik Bath passed from this life to the next was just as mysterious as his infamous ancestor. Atalik died in his home, attended by no one. He, like the Countess Bathory, was found dead at two in the morning after complaining that his hands were cold the night before. His death certificate listed the cause of death as heart failure. Atalik was just sixty-four years of age.

Atalik’s methods of research were unorthodox; he used psychics and thieves. Psychics were used to locate leads genealogists couldn’t, and thieves were used to steal artifacts buyers wouldn’t part with, sometimes even resorting to grave robbing. Everything was verified by a separate set of genealogists or psychics, depending on how the information was originally obtained. The results they yielded were still questionable, but Atalik was confident his money had bought him the truth. A lack of confidence was never his weakness—perhaps a tragic flaw, if there had ever been an ounce of goodness in him.

Emily’s father was far more discreet than the countess ever had an occasion to be. People didn’t die; they simply vanished or died with a reasonable explanation as to the cause. Atalik’s abusive nature intensified after his banishment. He had always been a sexual sadist, but the number of former employees increased exponentially afterward. Court records from his five divorces confirmed that all of his wives accused him of various degrees of sexual deviance. All but one of them recanted their accusations after receiving a generous settlement.

Marcella Bath, Emily’s mother, died in a car accident prior to any agreement being made. Her parents claimed that Atalik was responsible, but no connection was ever found. They died in a house fire six months to the day after they had buried their daughter. They would never see their granddaughter.

Em agreed to give me the names and contact information for some of her tutors growing up; she wasn’t sure they would talk to me, but there was a chance, now that her father as well as the New York statute of limitations on child abuse had expired. She produced two of her father’s scrapbooks, which contained photographs and notes on his sexual encounters with two of the tutors.

The first scrapbook documented five years of his relationship with Martha Vane, the Latin tutor. The first page contained a copy of her resume and a photograph of Ms. Vane. It was black and white and faded. She looked like June Cleaver, with her permed hair and a carefully tailored suit. Before turning to the next page, Em finished her glass of wine and returned to the kitchen for the bottle. I finished my glass in one swallow after seeing what those pages contained.

“You looked at these?”

            “Yes, of course.” Her tone was oddly down-to-earth, but she didn’t offer to explain.

            “All of them?”

            “Yes, all twenty-seven.”

            I nearly choked on the next sip of wine. Why in God’s name would you look at all of them?”

“To prove to myself that it wasn’t just a bad dream. My therapist said I needed to confront my past in order to stop living in it. So yes, I looked at every single page and photograph.”

            “Are there pictures of you?” My words stumbled out of my mouth, trying to shake the images of bodies tangled. The reality that some of the young faces staring feebly back from the photos were Atalik’s own children. He had molested his own kids, taken pictures, and then lovingly created twenty-seven albums. “But why keep them?”

            “Proof that my father was insane. That my siblings and myself were victims not complicit in his crimes. I know that doesn’t necessarily mean they were innocent as adults, but I know in my heart they weren’t evil like him. As we continue, my brothers’ innocence must be maintained. I can’t bear the thought of their memories being dragged through the muck. They deserve better.” Em’s eyes watered, but she didn’t start to cry. She took several deep breaths and regained her composure.

“Is this why you didn’t have them buried with your father at the estate?”

“Yes, but my father isn’t buried there either.”

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Blood Child

Preview: Blood Child Chapter 1

Blood Child
Coverart by Steven Warrick

Chapter 1

“I am not drunk enough to talk about it now.”

The interview I had lobbied over six months for just turned on her heels and walked back into the shadows of the house, leaving the door wide open and giving me an excellent view of her curves. My appreciation for them was short-lived, since cool air slapped me as I hesitated on the threshold, trying to take in the house’s details. The ten-foot walk from the car had broken me out in a sweat, making it difficult to concentrate. It wasn’t even May, and already Florida was managing to melt British tourists and small yippy dogs into smelly, sticky puddles. Since I was British born myself, it was only being raised in the United States that kept me from disintegrating.

As I watched the current Countess Bathory return, it occurred to me that she was nothing like her infamous blood-bathing ancestor. She had no aura of power or authority. She was, in fact, a wino, judging from the bin overflowing with bottles on the front porch. Albeit, an incredibly attractive one.

Technically, she wasn’t a countess, having renounced the title but keeping the money she had inherited along with it. Only people in fairy tales give up both, and usually for love. As far as I knew, Ms. Bath was single.

Nothing about Emily Bath made sense. She was richer than Donald Trump and had more degrees than Neil Degrasse Tyson, yet she lived in a tiny orchid-colored house in a mismatched Orlando neighborhood. She taught high school—not even a regular high school, but an alternative one for students who had been kicked out. She could have done anything and willingly chose to work in high school hell.

The interior was incredibly modest, if not a little old-fashioned for a thirty-something heiress or anyone in her thirties. The floors creaked with each step. There was no TV in sight, just bookshelves and seating. All the furnishings looked like they were hand-me-downs from someone’s long-deceased grandparents. The sofa engulfed me in patterned floral pillows. The countess smirked as I struggled to right myself. At least she had a sense of humor.

Still nothing about the home spoke of the mounds of wealth she had; it was all understated and sadly normal. I expected more—craved it, to be honest.

Emily Erzabet Bath was the survivor of a modern-day murder mystery. Nine years ago she and her three older brothers spent the weekend at their late father’s estate for his funeral in upstate New York. Her brothers died, along with twenty other souls.

The manor had been drenched in blood, literally. It dripped off tables, pooled in puddles on the floor, and had unartfully spattered the walls. The first officers on scene inched their way around the edges of each room as they searched for survivors. They weren’t trying to preserve evidence. No one wanted to step in that much blood. It was inconceivable that anyone could have survived the carnage. Pieces of victims were carried out bit by bit for nearly a week. The local police chief was one of the dead, along with his wife, so state police were immediately called in. They in turn called the FBI. It was a forensic nightmare. It took years for them to sort everything out, and then the picture that the evidence painted didn’t make any sense.

People were found at nearly all the exits, but no one made it outside before being killed. No one tried to call for help. All the phones at the estate were working, yet no one used them.

The officers who found Emily broke into her room after following a blood trail, only to find her cloistered in the back of the closet beneath a bunch of old musky coats stained with her blood. The combination of the smells—musky fur, stale blood, and human excrement—remained with the two men. Their stomachs emptied upon seeing Emily broken and begging for help with her eyes. Ten years later, even mentioning her or her condition made the two turn green. They thought she was dead until her bloodshot emerald eyes opened. She was severely dehydrated, with deep bloody scratches that had turned her flesh into ribbons; her wounds would seep blood for days after her rescue, confounding the medical staff. It was months before she was released from the hospital.

Emily allegedly had fled to her room and remained there the entire weekend. She couldn’t explain how she had gotten there or what had happened. Her story just didn’t hold up. Many believed she was at least partially responsible for the deaths of the twenty-three people in attendance. Maybe she really didn’t remember? It was possible, but why did she hide instead of calling for help or attempting to leave the estate? There were more questions than logical answers in the bloody tale of Emily Bath. The tabloid media had attempted to keep the story alive, supposedly to get answers, even after the relatives of the deceased pleaded with them to stop. A couple of lawsuits, combined with the complete unwillingness of law enforcement officials to contribute to the macabre circus surrounding the case, finally brought things to an end after about three years.

Now, as the ten-year anniversary approached, interest in the case was reemerging, making this interview priceless. And I was the man who landed it—the first and only person to speak to the reclusive Ms. Bath on the record. Persistence, charm, and just a bit of cyber stalking had won the day; being unemployed finally had a benefit.

No evidence was found linking Emily to the deaths, according to the investigator’s report in my satchel. No evidence was found linking anyone to the crime. The report had cost a pretty borrowed penny. Now I was wondering if the expense had been worth it. She was just so ordinary. So painfully ordinary.

Emily returned from the kitchen carrying two glasses of deep-red wine. When I started to protest, she informed me that I would need it.

“Mr. Clark, please…humor me.”

“All right, Ms. Bath. Do you mind if I record this conversation?”

“Not at all. I would appreciate a copy. Also, my attorney, Mr. McNeal, would like you to sign this disclosure agreement prior to us continuing.”

“I don’t think my editor would approve any agreement that limits or restricts the content of the article.”

“Let’s be frank, Mr. Clark. You don’t have an editor. And you haven’t had one for the last six months. Your freelance opportunities have dried up, along with your hope and savings.”

I wanted to protest, but she was telling the truth. I had been let go from the Times six months ago. Budget cuts or some other bureaucratic nonsense was the official reason; sleeping with my editor’s grandson was the true cause of my separation from the nation’s foremost paper.

In my defense, Philip was twenty-one, and I had no idea that he and my editor, Ashley, were related. She wasn’t amused to find us cuddling in the afterglow on her $1,500 sofa. It probably didn’t help that I was also sleeping with her and was too intoxicated to notice where I had passed out. In the paper’s defense, I was only great at my job when I was sober, and I was rarely sober. Drunk, I was just OK. Sad, but true; I could do my job intoxicated and get away with it for the most part.

Looking over the agreement, I was surprised to see that it didn’t restrict what I wrote—only that I share any new information I found with Ms. Bath and her attorneys, as well as proofs prior to publication. If I had an editor or had been attached to a company, I would have had them research it before signing, but I didn’t, and Emily had called my bluff.

“Why do you think I have access to information that you don’t have?” I asked.

She sighed, reaching for my satchel. Before I could protest, she pulled out the investigator’s report and tossed it on the ottoman.

 “You purchased that from Detective Anderson two months ago. My sources weren’t able to get a full report. They didn’t think to approach him directly, a misstep on their part.”

Her smile was the first hint that she wasn’t entirely innocent; I didn’t think she had killed anyone, but that still didn’t make her guilt-free. She just didn’t seem capable of mass murder. Still, everyone is guilty of something. It just might not be illegal. “Of course, your copy doesn’t include all the crime scene photos. I am willing to share if you sign.”

“Touché, Ms. Bath.”

“Sign and you can call me Em.”

I shook my head as I signed it, just to be dramatic. The wine was beginning to look more and more appealing.

“Anything else, Em?”

“No, the floor is yours. Let the inquisition begin.”

I had to glance down at my notebook to be sure where to start. Em had thrown me off more than the past six months without meaningful work. Or maybe it was everything that was riding on this interview going well. I was pretty sure Ashley had started to use her connections to blackball me when I didn’t appear to be suffering enough to satisfy her. Even Cat Fancy’s editor refused my calls. Pulling off this story would make me instantly marketable again.

Looking at Em, I realized she could have been her ancestor’s twin, except she was most definitely curvier. She had the same delicate almond-shaped eyes, china-doll skin, and brunette hair so dark; at first glance it appeared black. She leaned back into the plush sofa as if she were having a conversation with an old friend. Smiling, I began…

Five hours, two bottles of wine, and ten pages of notes later, I departed the tiny orchid house, making it back to the hotel as quickly and safely as possible. Luckily, I had experience driving during these conditions. Becoming inebriated in the course of an interview is never recommended or suggested, but Em had been right; the wine was necessary even for this seasoned drunk. I knew I could count on the recording to help me where my notes trailed off. Experience had taught me well to always have a backup plan.

Blood Child is being released on February 13th, 2015. Friday the 13th. 

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Book Review: A Short Story with an Excellent Vintage

MH2The Corpse Of Madeline Hill By Edward Medina

I love plays on words and people who play with them as well, which is why I always jump at the opportunity to read something by Edward Medina. So when he said he was coming out with a story for Valentine’s Day, I was ready and waiting for the Corpse of Madeline Hill to be released and late last night it was.

So here we are back reviewing new releases on Friday’s.

And what a lovely place it is.  A quaint grave yard at the end of a quiet lane. Elites buried next to no bodies with as Medina writes “No walls nor fence or gate encircles it. Whatever unrest exists here is free to come and go at its pleasure.”  And on the top of hill buried here is the tale of Madeline Hill. A tale that every ghost lover must read. It is the tale behind a mystery. One forgotten over the years not due to the weight of time, but because the story was really too horrible to retell. It was easier to try and bury it then deal with the consequences of looking the other way.

But, Madeline Hill is not a woman to be ignored.  It doesn’t matter that she’s dead. She will be heard and her revenge felt long after her death.

Edward’s classical storytelling style with its lyrical style is at  play through out the tale, although there are a few tiny bumps. This story continues his recent trend towards dark and sexy storytelling.  I love the references to wine making as well as the historical ones to the Civil War and classical themes; honor and loyalty versus self-interest and greed.

I encourage you to read this story,  because it is honestly one of the best short stories that I have read in a long time and reading it will encourage him to write more like it.  I for one would like to see a novel written with the same skill, passion and artistry that this story was written with, because honestly this story like his last short story release left me begging for more.

His decision to release it on Valentine’s Day makes it the perfect gift. You can pick up this wicked little Valentine for only $0.99 on Amazon.