The Laughing Corpse (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, #2)The Laughing Corpse by Laurell K. Hamilton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don’t do a lot of traditional book reviews and this isn’t going to be one of them, I guess, more like thoughts on the book while explaining why I think it’s so great. Maybe that is a traditional review. Whatever. It’s morning and I’m not awake yet.

A little bit of background:

The Laughing Corpse was published back in 1994 and is the second book in the Anita Blake Series. I first picked up Guilty Pleasures, book 1, with my high school bestie in 2002.

At that time the only other horror literature I’d been exposed to were the classics: Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. I’d read Anne Rice but found Interview with the Vampire too serious (much like Louis himself). Reading Anne Rice, for me, is like reading Herman Melville. I love it (some of it in Anne Rice’s case) but I have to be in the mood for long, plodding tones and slow, plodding plots. I’d also read Amelia Atwater-Rhodes and found her books entertaining and the characters compelling but they were very light and fluffy for me.

When I was on a summer job, one of my coworkers suggested I read Bloody Bones. Bloody Bones is book 5 so when I picked it up I was totally lost. But then my high school best friend bought a copy of Guilty Pleasures and said I needed to read it. So I did. And here’s why I loved it: Anita was real. I could hear her, see what she saw, smell what she smelled, feel what she felt. Laurell K. Hamilton makes her books like you’re plugging into the matrix. You get to live the book right along with the characters.

This was pre-Twilight. This was before everyone thought vampires and black nail polish was cool. I was more of the stereotypical goth girl than my friend but where I’d always been an “outsider” at my school, all the “cool kids” avoided her because she was new, she’d just moved to Arkansas from Florida and, as Southern preppy high schools are also incestuous institutions that follow the “keep-to-your-own-kind” paradigm, no one wanted to hang out with her except the other “outsiders.” This was before facebook took off and this was before anti-bullying regulations were set in place. We were no strangers to harassment and discrimination.

We weren’t accepted in our limited version of society, we had family problems at home, we struggled with addiction and alcohol abuse, we had unreliable boyfriends, but we could escape into books.

Here’s an image for you: underaged teenage girls sitting on a balcony overlooking a dark forest and the Arkansas River beyond, smoking cigarettes and reading Guilty Pleasures aloud to each other. At night. She was team Richard, I was team Jean-Claude. Guess who won 😉

I felt like Anita was someone I could look up to and maybe even be friends with, she struggled with thinking about religion and spirituality the same way I did. I wanted to be just like her and have a job when I graduated college. I wanted to have meaningful relationships and a solid sense of self. I found Anita and the rest of Hamilton’s cast of characters more real than any other characters I’d read at the time.

Thoughts on The Laughing Corpse:

In The Laughing Corpse, a killer zombie murders two families. But it doesn’t just kill them, it rips them apart and eats them.

You see a child with its stomach and intestines torn out. You see another child’s severed hand. You see a blood soaked baby blanket and possibly the little blob of meat that was left over from the baby.

You see ribs, you see ball joints, you see organs.

And that right there is my bread and butter. Because it’s real. When someone is murdered it’s not pretty, it’s not neat and tidy; it’s visceral and in-your-face. Showing this in literature, and the characters’ human reactions to this violence, are extremely important because somewhere in the world, this scene has happened. Minus the killer zombie, of course. But out here in the real world, a very unfortunate person met an extremely unfair end.

Daily life, for most people, is not filled with violence and death. But there are other bad things out there. You know the saying, “Everyone is going through something.” Hamilton not only gives me an escape from my “something” but makes me feel normal for having “something” to go through instead of feeling like a weird freak who can’t get her shit together (that’s another story for another time).

In the afterword to The Laughing Corpse, Hamilton writes, “Once upon a time it bothered me that I don’t think like the majority of people. That I walk through a world where the worst can happen, and often does. That I see danger where most people see nothing.”

This isn’t about being an alarmist or living in fear of all the things that can kill you, this, I feel, is about acknowledging and respecting the nightmares and, most importantly, showing that you can live through them.

When I re-read this book I’d forgotten that Anita was almost raped. Not by a vampire or any other supernatural creature, but a person. A human bodyguard for a human villain. Thankfully though, she wasn’t raped. She got free and kicked the shit out of that guy. But it still happened. A man put his hands on her.

I’m going to say something that you might not like. That attempted rape scene was important.

Not just for character development or plot, not because I like reading the horror genre, but because atrocities need to be looked at and acknowledged.

I didn’t like seeing Anita in that situation. I cheered when she got out of it. Anita was also tortured (physically beaten as incentive to do what the bad guy wanted) in that scene and yes, Hamilton could have chosen to not go that far–or faded the scene to black the same way romance authors will sometimes do sex scenes–but she did and I’m glad she did because, again, telling stories where REAL things happen is important.

I could look at Anita and say, “Wow, bad things happened to her.” Bad things happened to me too; making a connection with a character through a shared experience like that helped me not feel so alone, helped me function as a real human being.

In interviews and at book signings Hamilton talks about how fans will come up to her and say “Thank You” for making role models and heroes for them to look up to. She’s had people tell her that if Nathaniel could get therapy then so could they. And that’s a beautiful thing. And that probably wouldn’t have happened if Hamilton didn’t write the dark aspects of the human condition.

But it’s not all gloom and doom. Anita has loving relationships with people, Anita is happy with herself (most of the time) and if she can do that then so can I.

The Laughing Corpse ends with the bad guys defeated but the mystery of life is still sitting there waiting to be solved. Anita solved one problem but she has others to deal with in book 3. That’s life too. Even when things are going good something will happen to turn things upside down. Anita handles those things like a human. She gets pissed off, she gets sad, but she always solves the problem and carries on with her life. Even when it hurts.

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And a little about world building…

My writing friend Lily Hammer made an interesting point on Instagram the other day:

“I love world-building, and I love unique worlds that other authors create. I personally walk a fine line as a reader between how much world-building I can handle. If an author introduces a ton of strange concepts, I can’t relate to or I can’t see clearly in my mind, I immediately disconnect from the book… For example, when authors create their own curse words, or use a normal English word as a curse word in their world. That immediately takes me out of the story.”

This made me think about how I present my Void-side/Void-Born citizens of Dark Home. 

Language and People of Dark Home

Since the 1800s, Earth-side humans from the hyper zealous religious hunting organization Sanctum have tried to “colonize” Dark Home. I use the word colonize loosely because they have been, in the last 300 years—give or take—very unsuccessful. It’s hard to expand when monsters eat your troops. And in the 1970s, Hyperion’s Fury began sending hunters into the Void as well.

Because of this Earth-side presence, many of the Void-Born picked up English from the HADES hunters and Latin from the Sanctum hunters. But they have their own language and their own alphabet. In the early drafts of Book One I was taking the soft fantasy route and using just the backstory of the two Earth-side forces to excuse the fact that the Void-Born humans of Dark Home speak perfect English.

Well, that isn’t good storytelling, is it?

Where things are now

Fast forward a few drafts and I have pieces of the alphabet and some of what I call the English translation of Dark Home words for decorating magical items and fleshing out the magic system.

I don’t have the linguistic expertise or the imagination of Tolkin.

I don’t want to copy another language structure, tweak a few things, and call it my own.

I don’t want to disrespect other cultures by appropriating something I have little or no knowledge of.

So what will you find when you read my books?

Two groups of people who speak different languages. There will be translation errors and miscommunications. There will be all kinds of technical issues that will give the plot flavor.

As a child, I lived in Panama on and off for a few years. My Spanish was passable, but I did not have strong communication skills. I struggled through school and though a lot of my classmates helped me; I got to experience firsthand how a non-native speaker has to adapt to a different culture.

Now, years later, I get to use some of these experiences as inspiration for my writing.

So what does all this have to do with vulgarity?

My books have mature language in them. I enjoy using mature language. My characters enjoy venting their frustrations with expletives.

I do not use slurs… unless I introduce a fictional all female pagan punk band called Burning Bitch. Because they are the shit. And it’s an example of reclamation. (They have since been taken out of my current draft because they were taking up words and not moving the plot along. You can read the deleted scene here.)

And Void-Born characters have a unique set of profanities than the Earth-side people.

So, when coming up with swear words for my fantasy population, I wanted to use the element of realism and come up with words that they would naturally use as curses or view as insulting based on their historical and cultural experiences.

The Void-Born humans of Dark Home are very into their gods. Gods being Void Creatures. Dark Home is itself a god, the principle god of the Cloud City. The citizens of the Fire City worship another Void Creature, so much so they procreated with it and filled the city with its human-hybrid Mage descendants.

So they center their profanity on what will make their enemies angry, curses directed toward other peoples’ gods.

There is a bit of crossover. Void-Born humans don’t use Earth-side swear words, but a few of my Earth-side characters use Void-side swear words. The most notable is Theodore Thane because he spends most of his time in the Void, interacting with the Void-Born. He prefers the Void-Born over Earth-side humans, so he subconsciously picked up a few of their mannerisms.

The problem with language like this is semiotics (the study of signs and symbols and their use or interpretation). You might read the word and interpret the context of its use one way, and another reader can make a completely different and sometimes opposite interpretation.

For me, there is a big difference in quality when an author takes the time and care to make up their own swear words that make sense with their fictional population. I do not particularly care for stories whose authors use their fictional language as an excuse to mince oaths instead of dropping the f-bomb like any sensible person would. Like, if it makes little sense contextually, and the author wants to be profane without using vulgar words, I feel sad for the missed opportunity there.

Character Development

Regina gathered her catalog of swear words from adults she listened to as a child. People she was imprisoned with at the HADES black site, for example.

I struggled a little with whether I wanted her to use religious profanities because she’s not a religious person, but she heard words like dammit enough times that saying them became a habit. And also, as a young child, nothing would have pissed Regina’s mother off more than hearing her daughter say “damn.” So Regina’s most frequent swear word is turning out to be “damn,” where other characters might choose more intense vocabulary. It works with her personality.

She lay on her cot and pretended the bullet hole in the glass above her was the eyepiece of a telescope, and the ceiling was the sky of a strange alien planet with a dozen rectangular, daytime, fluorescent-light suns. The daytime moon was the Exile’s Moon, cold and barely alive in an ocean of cloud-choked blue. Forever alone and abandoned by the shield of night and the unconquerable legion of stars. A sky where day was not separated from the night, and the Exile’s Moon wasn’t alone anymore and her sisters, the Dead Girl Moon… and Havoc’s Moon, the patron saint of troublemakers, prisoners, and hopeless little girls, was almost full.

from Dead Girl Moon, Pulling Teeth and Other Stories of The Slaughter Chronicles

Regina cast a suspicious glance upward, through the canopy of bare oak branches and prickly pine boughs to where the moon hung and the stars twinkled. Overhead, the moon was one week from full. Havoc’s Moon, she thought. Patron saint of best laid plans and miscellaneous fuckery. The tall pines of the forest were stalwart sentinels, their branches were spears and their needles were beautifully crafted rapiers battling the terrors of the night in the sway of autumn’s bonfire smelling breeze.

from Havoc’s Moon, The Slaughter Chronicles Book One

What inspired The Slaughter Chronicles titles?

In case you haven’t noticed in The Slaughter Chronicles series list, all the forthcoming novels have titles that involve the moon. Book one is Havoc’s Moon, book two is Exile’s Moon. Book three… you get the idea. So, aside from the whole werewolf aesthetic, what’s up with all the moon stuff?

Regina Slaughter, my main protagonist, was just a child when her biological father accidentally contaminated and transformed her into a werewolf. In the years before and the two years after, Regina received zero formal education. Before her parents met their tragic end, Regina was homeschooled by her mother. Regina’s mother was a religious zealot who did not believe in Sesame Street, or that little girls needed the same learning opportunities as boys. She taught Regina how to read so she could read the Bible and other religious texts, but she was not allowed to write, sing, play, or do math. Or watch TV.

Regina’s mother… how can I say this nicely?… was a terrible person who should never have been allowed to reproduce and be responsible for children. But if she wasn’t, we wouldn’t have Regina so… *shrug*.

And then, after Regina’s mother (thankfully) died, Regina was kept in a secret laboratory for two years, where she also received zero formal education. But she had a lot of time to think by herself and, as a coping mechanism, she came up with her own unique version of numerology in which she tried to predict the fortunes of her fellow prisoners based on the time displayed in the laboratory’s big digital clock.

Also, in the laboratory, Regina was heavily sedated and given drugs to keep her, and the other adult prisoners, from using their supernatural abilities to escape. (Keeping a bunch of werewolves in cages without sedating them is not smart.) Because she could no longer connect with her werewolf-self, Regina also fabricated her own phases of the moon, based on how she was feeling physically and mentally as the doctor in the laboratory experimented on her werewolf strain.

After she and the other prisoners were liberated, Regina continued to refer to her own moon phases. And that is how the titles for my books were born.

Each moon phase coincides with the theme of the book. For example, the novella Dead Girl Moon is about Regina’s time in the laboratory and the days leading up to her escape.

Havoc’s Moon is the waxing gibbous moon, the phase immediately proceeding the full moon. Havoc’s Moon (also my principal work in progress) is about building conflicts and finding order in the chaos. But the next book, Exile’s Moon, is the daytime moon, the moon of loneliness, defeat, and despair. I don’t want to give too much away, but if everything worked out at the end of book one, there wouldn’t be a need for a book two.

Also, I AM writing grimdark fantasy so expect that if there is a happy ending, it won’t come right away.

Question for writers: How do you come up with your book titles?

Question for readers: What makes a good title? What are some of your favorites?

Please feel free to share your answers in the comments.

Some context and backstory

This scene originally took place in the middle of Havoc’s Moon, as a break between a minor action scene leading up to the big boss fight.

My goal was to build more drama and increase the tension between the characters but the more I revised it and the surrounding scenes, I felt it more dragged the plot down than helped anything. I hated making the decision to cut this scene because this fictional band has been with me forever and I really wanted to plug them in somewhere. This scene might turn into a stand alone Slaughter Chronicles short story later or I might move it over to my Heart of the Forest Cycle universe. It’s about Regina meeting one of her idols, a fictional lead singer of a fictional band I wrote into my very first NaNoWriMo manuscript all the way back in 2005.

As always, this is a deleted scene so it did not make it to the final editing stages. There will be grammar mistakes and the writing is not as polished. Please keep that in mind as you read and don’t judge me too harshly 😉

There are some “spoilers” but nothing that gives away key plot points.


(Context from a previous chapter)

On the wall by the door was one lone Burning Bitch poster.

Burning Bitch was a local punk rock group and, while the band toured all over the East Coast, the lead singer, Lorelie The Siren Sierra, was coming here, to Silver Wolf Stills, for her Halloween solo-tour show. Lorelie’s solo stuff was more acoustic, more folk-rock, than Burning Bitch’s usual repertoire. But her punk roots pumped new life into sea shanties and pirate ballads that Regina could not help but love.

It had taken Regina a solid year of begging Atlas to ask Tony, the Beta and distillery manager, to reach out to Burning Bitch and book a show. She would have asked Tony herself, but she knew he would automatically refuse any request that came from her because that’s how he was.

A dick. About everything.

Atlas said Regina was too judgmental, that Tony might surprise her and say yes. But Regina knew better. The feud between Regina and Tony was older than the malice she felt for all of Atlas’s girlfriends.

Before Regina went back to Dark Home this last time, Atlas finally had enough of her whining and gave up on trying to teach her about diplomacy and positive communication. He asked on her behalf. Sadly, Burning Bitch was booked solid until next summer, but The Siren herself agreed to play the Halloween Special of her solo tour here, at Silver Wolf Stills.

(Fast forward to the night of the show)

The singer on stage wore a red dress and a half-mask of black feathers, just like the girl she sang about. She was in the middle of Regina’s second favorite song. It was about a ghost ship and the ghost captain’s ghost daughter venturing onto land once a year to meet up with her still living lover at a masquerade ball. Regina was almost sure ghosts weren’t real—she had seen none yet—but the melody was soothing, as only an acoustic banjo could make it, and Lorelie Sierra’s voice was melodic and mournful.

The stage wasn’t really a stage, just a stack of wooden pallets bolted together for stability, but Lorelie The Siren Sierra of Burning Bitch rocked the precarious structure as if it were the grand stage of Carnegie Hall. A tight cluster of humans and werewolves—all in costume—crowded the back half of the bar. A few outliers, mostly pack members, sat at the bar content to just drink and listen.

Regina hovered by the front door, hesitant to go in. She was muddy, bloody, and pretty sure she’d make everyone high from the gasoline fumes wafting off of her person. Her (right) eye swelled shut, but pink fluid still leaked out of the corners. That whole side of her face was a bruised dark red and there were red pin-pricks where each of the Vermin’s twelve little legs dug into her cheek.

She had never been more thankful that tonight was Halloween. Her bloody clothes and well-chewed face could easily blend in with the Instagram-ready ghouls and devils and kitty cat faces of the bar’s patrons.

I am a Deadite, Regina thought. I am a zombie. I am—

“What the Hell are you doing here?” A sharp voice tore Regina out of the song like a fish snagged by a hook.

Fuck.

Tony’s nose wrinkled, “You smell horrible. What did you get into? Is that gasoline? Regina, I swear if you ruined another vehicle I’ll put you on administrative leave for a whole year.” There was more hazel than blue in his eyes.

“Calm down,” Regina snarled, more angrily than she intended. “There was a Vermin infestation. I had to set it on fire.”

“Did any get away?” Tony asked, suddenly all business.

“No, I made sure.” Regina held up her arm for emphasis. Tony frowned at the red bite marks and inflamed flesh.

“You can’t come in here like that,” he said.

“Oh, thank you, Regina. I appreciate you taking care of a threat to all my human patrons, Regina,” she mimicked. “Why, no problem at all, Tony old pal.”

“What happened to the wards in that area?” Tony asked.

“I don’t know,” Regina said snarkily. “What happened to the vampires promising everything was clean?”

“Don’t mention our neighbors.” Tony glanced behind him, clearly more worried about any humans who might have overheard than her actual injuries.

“It’s Halloween, they’ll think were talking about ordinary people,” Regina said. “Now excuse me, I’ve been looking forward to this show for three months.”

“Oh no,” Tony barred the way. “You’re not going in there like that. You’re a mess.” 

“Come on! No one else can tell,” Regina said. “There’re no rules against me watching the show.”

“There are when you’re covered in mud and blood.” Tony said.

“It’s Halloween,” Regina repeated, exasperated that he was still talking while Lorelie was finishing up possibly her last song. “Let people think it’s a costume.”

When Regina watched previous concerts in other states on the Burning Bitch live feed, Lorelie always ended her solo sets with the ghost song. But the audience could sometimes persuade her to do an encore. And Regina would not miss it just because Tony didn’t like how she looked.

“You know the rules,” Tony said. “No one allowed up here unless they look presentable.”

“I didn’t have time to change,” Regina begged, more tired than angry. “Come on, you know how much I love her.”

“No.” Tony insisted.

“I’ll stay out here then, just shut up and let me listen to her. The show’s almost over, anyway.” Regina took two steps backward and leaned against the outside of the doorframe. From this angle she could only see half of Lorelie’s head and her hand on the banjo’s fret board. It would do.

The crowd at the stage cheered. Regina lost sight of Lorelie as she took a bow.

“Alright guys! You’ve been great! Since it’s Halloween, I’ll play one more song.” Lorelie tuned her banjo to the sound of applause.

“Yes!” Regina gave a triumphant hop and stumbled sideways when her ankle rolled. “Fuck,” Regina muttered. She cast a quick glance at Tony, but he appeared to not have noticed. Still too busy scanning the crowd for traumatized humans.

“Please be the death song, please be the death song,” Regina chanted under her breath as she bounced unsteadily on the balls of her feet with nervous excitement despite the pain. If she could just keep moving, her system would work itself back to normal and she’d finally start healing properly.

Tony was silent for a moment, his lips pressed in a frustrated line. “People are going to see you there when they leave. Come here.”

“Where?” Regina took a panicked step back. If he pulled her into the light, he’d see her face, see the rest of the damage. Little granules of bloody mud scraped against the raw skin of her arms as she crossed them protectively over her tattered chest. “I’m not missing the encore!”

Tony let out a frustrated growl, “Just come here. You can wait over by my office. You’ll get a better view too.”

“Wow,” Regina didn’t bother hiding her shock. “That’s really nice of you.”

“I’m not doing it for you. Now come on, before she starts,” Tony moved away from the door. Regina pressed a hand over her swollen eye and followed.

Lorelie launched into the story of the song she was about to sing, giving the crowd teasing tidbits without telling them the song’s name. Regina loved that about Lorelie. Not only was she a wicked musician and a brilliant lyricist, she was a master storyteller. Even though Regina re-watched every recorded show on YouTube at least a hundred times and could recite every single one of Lorelie’s stories by heart, Regina never tired of them.

She ran her tongue over her teeth and fought the urge to spit bloody saliva on the floor. Excitement bubbled in her chest and took some sting of her punishment away. Yes, she missed the concert, but at least she got one song. One and a half songs, really. She could be happy with that.

Tony moved through the press of human patrons and members of the werewolf pack effortlessly. Regina had to work not to bump into people. The humans were oblivious to who she was, but the werewolves she passed gave her more room. Regina was an unfamiliar sight this far out of the woods, and their expressions ran the gamut from curious to cautious. To them, usually her presence meant trouble. 

But that night, Regina had taken care of all the trouble. She even repaired the ward Thane crushed at the beginning of her punishment. And she was just in time to hear her favorite Burning Bitch song.

“The Death Song!” Lorelei growled huskily into the microphone.

“Yes!” Regina pumped her fist in the air. The motion almost sent her stumbling into the path of two unsuspecting humans on their way back to the stage from the bar, full drinks in hand. Tony grabbed Regina’s arm and pulled her the rest of the way to his office. He let her go when they reached the door, his hand almost throwing her arm away instead of just letting go. Regina staggered and had to hop a step to catch her balance.

“Are you drunk or something? What’s wrong with you?”

“Nothing.”

Lorelie started playing and Regina forgot all about Tony. She let her attention float away with the music. Her blurry vision darted from the light fixtures above Lorelie’s head to the silver statue of the wolf on the bar. As the song continued, Lorelie’s voice brought Regina out of her daze and she started scanning the crowd. Regina could identify the humans but didn’t know if they were bar locals or just here for the concert. The bar wasn’t her territory.

Then her slow healing gaze fell on Atlas. He tucked his bulky frame away at the corner of the bar. Regina raised her hand to wave at him but then saw Marianna glued to his side and she lowered her hand quickly, brushing her fingers through her dirty, tangled hair to hide the gesture. Tony noticed.

“You don’t like her?” Tony asked as if he read her thoughts.

Regina snorted. “Nope.”

“Tough shit. She’s not going anywhere.” 

Regina couldn’t tell if Tony was being sarcastic or harsh. “Says you,” she spat under her breath. “They never last longer than six months.”

“She’s different.” 

Was it Regina’s imagination, or was Tony’s voice a little kinder? A little sympathetic? Nah. “You’re so helpful. You gonna watch my back on missions now, too?”

“Just stay here and don’t come out until everyone leaves,” Tony stalked toward the bar. “I don’t know why I bother with you.”

“Neither do I, fuck face.” Yes, I am the pinnacle of Void hunter maturity.

The Death Song ended and Regina clapped and whooped with the crowd, leaning on Tony’s doorframe for support. The werewolf staff herded the humans out and Tony took the drawer out of the register. Regina slid along the wall, away from his office door so she wouldn’t have to talk to him again.

She was so focused on keeping her eyes on Tony, she didn’t notice the stage and cracked her left knee into one of the pallet’s corners.

“Ouch,” an amused contralto voice chuckled, and Regina came face to face with The Siren herself. “You okay?” Lorelie asked.

“Y-yeah,” Regina’s hand flew over her eye again, hiding the wound. “I’m good.” Her leg from her knee to her hip was numb and tingly. The knee itself screamed as if caught in the claws of the Volcano Scorpion again.

“Great costume,” Lorelie said, oblivious to Regina’s pain. “I love zombies.”

“Yeah, me too,” Regina cautiously dropped her hand from her face. “That’s why I dressed like one. Hissssssss,” she raised her arms, pantomiming the movements of a hungry, dead thing. Lorelie laughed as she bent down to lay her banjo in its case. 

Regina cast a nervous glance over her shoulder to see if anyone else saw her being silly. And, of course, there was Tony with his jaw clenched like he was trying to bite through steel, gripping the edges of the register drawer like he wanted to throw it at her.

“Do you need help with anything?” Regina asked, ignoring him. “I’m the owner’s sister.” It was one of her cover story lies that actually had some truth to it. Or would have if Tony wasn’t such a dick.

“Oh, that would be great,” Lorelie smiled, showing off her dimples. “It’s just me tonight, as you can see, and these amps are kind of a bitch to wrangle.”

“Bitch! Because of your band,” Regina giggled. “I gotcha. No problem!” She followed where Lorelie pointed and started picking up equipment. “Your set was really awesome, I’m sure. I only got here at the end, though. I had to work.”

“Aww,” Lorelie pouted. “Sorry you missed most of it. But thanks for coming at the end when you could have just gone home.”

“I will literally drive up a river and through a blizzard to get to the last five seconds of one of your shows,” Regina hoisted an amp.

“Okay, crazy zombie.” Lorelie laughed again.

“Sorry, that came out wrong,” Regina blushed and was thankful neither Lorelie or anyone else could see it under the congealing blood and dim lights. “I just really like your music. And Burning Bitch too. You’re my second favorite band.”

“Who’s your favorite?” Lorelie asked as they walked out the back entrance and crossed the employee parking lot.

“Bowie!” Regina beamed. “He’s my—uh—dog’s favorite, too. We can listen to Bowie for hours every day.” (Author note: the “dog” is Squee)

“That is so sweet,” Lorelie smiled back at her. “Can I see a picture?”

“Of what?”

“Your dog?”

“Oh! Right,” Regina palmed her back pocket. “Oh man, my phone’s in my car. Sorry.” In reality, it must have lost it when she was digging up Danny or setting the Vermin on fire. That last involved a lot of running around and whacking things with a flaming tree branch.

“Next time,” Lorelie shrugged. “Well, this is my rig. Thanks for your help.”

Lorelie’s van was a beat up blue monstrosity covered in stickers that ranged from political slogans to music brands and coffee companies. There was a glittery pink mermaid stuck to the driver’s side window and a silver trident above it. Regina gathered herself to spew fond farewells all over her musical idol.

“Regina,” Tony’s voice rose sharply behind her. Regina turned and wobbled again as her abused ankle twisted yet again.

“Hey, Tony!” With supreme effort, Regina plastered the fakest smile known to man across her face and willed her open eye to stop watering. No matter how she felt about him, she still followed pack rules. And pack rules said never fight with each other in front of the humans. “What’s up?”

“This gracious lady needs her cut for the night. And there’s one more speaker by the bar. Go get it, please,” Tony said.

“Sure thing.” Regina tried her best not to limp. Damn fucking ankle, she whined to herself. Damn fucking paralysis.

Inside, the bar was pretty much dead. Atlas and Marianna moved to the middle of the bar now that there were no more human patrons to worry about. They filled their glasses with one of Tony’s seasonal, flavored moonshines left over from Summer, Peach Lemonade. 

The solid silver wolf dominated the bar. If any of the humans ever asked, Tony would joke that it was hollow, and not even silver-plated, but none of the werewolves would ever touch it. Silver burned worse than fire. Almost worse than Volcano Scorpion blood.

Regina hauled the remaining speaker toward Lorelie’s van and passed Tony coming in as she was going out. She smiled at him, just in case Lorelie was watching, but didn’t speak. And the smile dropped as soon as he was behind her. All the way down the hallway and in the silent bar, Regina heard him sit down heavily next to Atlas, and the low hum of their conversation faded into the background as Regina stepped out the back entrance again.

“Thanks a lot,” Lorelie said as Regina loaded her speaker into the back of her van. “This is for you,” she tossed a small white bundle at Regina. “For helping me pack up.”

Regina caught the bundle and shook it out. It was a Burning Bitch t-shirt with Lorelie and the rest of the band posing in a punk version of the Artemisia Gentileschi painting Judith Slaying Holofernes. Lorelie was Judith, of course, wearing a red tartan corset, a spiked collar, and safety pins in her ears.

“Thanks!” Regina waved as her second favorite singer hopped into the driver’s seat and backed out of the Bar’s parking lot. “Next time bring the whole band. We’d love to have you back!” Regina kept on waving as she drove down the highway, into the crisp Halloween night.

Satisfied Lorelie was truly out of sight, Regina locked the back door with the chain and padlock the bar staff hid under a plastic bucket behind the air conditioner.

*

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

A BIT OF BACKSTORY

The Slaughter Chronicles takes place in a fictional universe where there is the “everyday world” (which 21st Century humans on Earth are familiar) and then there is another reality underneath that called, by some, the Void where giant creatures and celestial monsters float around in “space.” 

The bigger creatures are home to Void-Born humans and smaller creatures. Sometimes these smaller creatures exist in a symbiotic relationship with the larger ones, other times it is a parasitic relationship. The largest of these is a giant snail-like creature the Void-Born who live atop it have named Dark Home (because of the shell…there’s no light inside the shell and the snail’s home is the shell…accept my giant space snail!).

THE MAGIC SYSTEM

In the Void, Magic is the actual manifestation of one’s intent. Depending on the intentions, everything will have a different outcome based on what type of catalyst you are using and what strain of contamination you have.

The most efficient magic users are, of course, Mages. Two mages casting the same intention will never have the same result because of their Void Creature strain. Life experience influence the intentions which influence the results of the magic.

Mages can generate energy internally or externally, depending on their strain.

Internally, the energy for the magic comes from within the Mage themselves. Externally, the Mage must draw on the energy of the thing/person they are trying to effect.

CATAYSTS

Mages can use catalysts instead of their internal or external resources, however, catalysts are not preferred because the intent of the catalyst can influence the results of the magic. If the catalyst is a living organism, that organism will influence the magic. If the catalyst in not living (a magical item) it has to at least be organic, be organic. Anything like metal or synthetic cannot be a catalyst.

The non-living item carries the intent of the living thing it was made from. Sometimes they carry the feelings from the day that they died and using them can be pretty traumatic.

Practice and intense training can force false intentions or intentions contrary to the Mage’s or the catalyst’s personality/character. But these efforts always yield mixed results.

MAGIC FOR NON-MAGES

For the Void-Born werewolves and vampires, using magic takes years of training and grueling effort. Because their Void Creature strains are not innate (not born with Void Creature blood) non-Mages have a harder time successfully manifesting their intent. Instincts gained from the experience of contamination can affect the vampire or werewolf’s intent in negative ways. Sometimes a non-Mage user dies if they try.

But it can be done.

A GENERAL WARNING

When ego warps intention, there are disastrous consequences.

SYLLABARY

Magical items and non-Mage magic users can employ special symbols to focus and manifest their intent. Their internal/external energy fuels their intent and their intent psychically activates the symbols of their everyday language and can turn their words into tools or weapons.