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A HAIR RAISING release day!

Published April 30, 2013 in Writing - 0 Comments

The third full-length Dan Shamble, Zombie PI novel—HAIR RAISING—hit bookstores today.  You could hear the howling from miles away!

This full-moon, crime gets a comb-over! The fur really flies when a serial scalper stalks the supernatural citizens of the Unnatural Quarter, targeting werewolves—and what’s sadder than a chrome-domed lycanthrope? Zombie P.I. Dan Shamble is on the case, trying to stop an all-out gang war between full-time and full-moon werewolves. As he combs through the tangled clues to hunt down the bald facts, things get hairy fast. Shamble lurches through a loony landscape of voodoo tattoo artists, illicit cockatrice fights, body builders assembling make-your-own-human kits, and perhaps scariest of all, crazed fans in town for the Worldwide Horror Convention. Yet the reign of hair-raising terror grows longer. If Shamble can’t snip this off at the roots, the whole world could end up howling mad!

On Day 1, the book received a starred review from Booklist:

“The first three Dan Chambeaux novels appeared in rapid succession 2012 (Death Warmed Over, Stakeout at the Vampire Circus, and Unnatural Acts). Now here’s the fourth book featuring the zombie private eye who’s better known by his moniker, Shamble. Ever since the Big Uneasy, humans have been getting used to sharing the world with all manner of once-mythological creatures, and Dan, being one of the walking dead (the first book in the series saw him solving his own murder), catches a lot of seriously odd cases. Like this one: someone is scalping werewolves. Is it some weirdo with a follicle fixation, or do the scalpings signal trouble between the two werewolf factions (full-time lycanthropes and those who get furry once a month)? As usual, Dan is also juggling a variety of other cases: a murdered vampire; a fellow zombie who wants his (mortal) ex-wife to give him visitation rights so he can see his son; a bodybuilder—and not the kind who lifts weights—who purchased a defective spleen from an online vendor. The Shamble stories are comedies, obviously, and very good ones, too. The characters are weird and wonderful; the environment is carefully constructed (it makes its own kind of logical sense); and there are plenty of high jinks (a werewolf expert named Walter Zevon, named, presumably, for the musician Warren Zevon, one of whose hits is highly relevant here). Fans of humorously handled urban fantasies, mysteries, and horror stories won’t stop laughing until long after they’ve finished the book.”

It’s been a good day for zombie detectives.  Suspense magazine just reviewed Dan Shamble’s second full-length novel, Unnatural Acts:

“Dan is a detective…and a Zombie. His world is filled with werewolves, ghosts, vampires, and all sorts of ‘unnatural’ creatures. Most work the night shift at dead end jobs just trying to survive while they suffer persecution. Senator Balfour is completely against unnaturals and is pushing the ‘Unnatural Acts Act.’  A stage for Shakespeare in the Dark is destroyed. Golems complain about sweatshop work conditions. An interracial couple is being discriminated against. These are just a handful of the storylines woven into one. Dan is juggling his caseload and trying to solve mysteries right and left. Just when he is close to an answer there is a twist that sends him another direction.

Witty characters and monsters with twisted up lives/deaths. The author does a great job of entertaining throughout the book.”

And don’t miss the other two adventures of Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I.—now available for Kindle and Kobo worldwide!

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Kobo Scholarship for SUPERSTARS WRITING SEMINAR

Published April 28, 2013 in Writing - 0 Comments

OK, here’s why it’s awesome to have sponsors. KOBO WRITING LIFE is funding *two scholarships* to attend this year’s Superstars Writing Seminar (May 14–16 in Colorado Springs, CO).  The contest is open to any user of their Kobo Writing Life platform (and you should be: it’s very easy, and Kobo is expanding significantly worldwide).

Time is short—the drawing will be Wednesday morning, open to new Superstars signups only. Kobo will provide two scholarships, valued at $899 apiece, for any Kobo Writing Life user (and if you’re smart, you can set up a new account in just a couple of minutes).

Fine-print terms and conditions at http://www.wordfire.com/images/stories/freebie/KoboWritingLifeScholarship.pdf If you win, you still have to cover your own travel, but tuition is paid in full.  Fill out the entry form at https://vrcoordinator.wufoo.com/forms/kwl-scholarship-to-superstars-writing-seminars/

We hope to see you there!


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Dan Shamble HAIR RAISING—Chapter 2

Published April 26, 2013 in Writing - 0 Comments

And, your second free taste of HAIR RAISING.  Preorder the eBook or print book now. It will officially be in bookstores on Tuesday.

HAIR RAISING

Chapter 2

Shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater is a well-known recipe for disaster.  Shouting “Cops!” in the middle of an illegal cockatrice fight is ten times worse.

Officer McGoohan—McGoo to his friends (well, to me at least)—reeled in surprise at the chaos his appearance caused.  His mouth dropped open as he saw dozens of unnaturals, already keyed up with adrenaline and bloodlust from the cockatrice fight, thrown into a panic.

“Cops!  Everybody run!” yelled a vampire with a dramatic flourish of his cape.  He turned and ran face-first into a hulking ogre. In reflex, the ogre flung the vampire against the pit ring with enough force to crack the barricade. Inside, the cockatrices still thrashed and hissed at each other.

Several zombies shambled at top speed toward the back exit.  The human spectators bolted, ducking their heads to hide their identities.  A bandage-wrapped mummy tripped and fell. Other fleeing monsters stepped on him, trampling his fragile antique bones and sending up puffs of old dust.  After the mummy got back to his feet, the clawed foot of a lizard man caught on the bandages, and the linen strips unraveled as he ran.

At the door, McGoo waved his hands and shouted, “Wait, wait!  It’s not a raid!”  Nobody heard him, or if they did, they refused to believe.

The skittish ogre smashed into an emergency-exit door, knocking it off its hinges.  The door crashed to the ground outside, and monsters fled into the dark alleys, yelling and howling.

McGoo waved his hands and urged calm.  He might as well have been asking patrons in a strip club to cover their eyes.  As I headed toward him, I saw that he hadn’t even brought backup.

Gangly Furguson ran about in confusion, bumped into unnaturals, and caromed off them like a pinball.  Scratch and Sniff looked at each other and shared a grin.  As Furguson ran within reach, they grabbed the skinny werewolf and used his own momentum to fling him into the newly cracked pit wall, which knocked down the barricade.  A blizzard of haphazard currency flew out of Furguson’s pockets.

The cockatrices broke free and bounded out of the pit, slashing with razor gaffs at anything that came near.  They were like hyperactive whirlwinds, flailing, attacking.  Sour Lemonade latched its jaws onto the shoulder of a zombie who couldn’t shamble out of the way quickly enough.  Hissy Fit swooped down and attacked a vampire that had been burned by acid blood; the vamp flailed his hands to get the beast away from his neatly slicked-back hair.

Taking matters into his own hands, Rusty grabbed Hissy Fit by the scaly neck, yanked it away from the vampire, stuffed the cockatrice into a burlap sack, and cinched a cord around the opening.  “Furguson, get the other one! We better get out of here!”

Furguson, however, flew into a rage at Scratch and Sniff for bashing him into the wall.  He bared his fangs and howled, “Shithead Monthlies!” Hurling himself on Scratch, the nearer of the two, he raked his long claws down the werewolf-pelt overcoat, ripping big gashes. With his other hand, he tore four bloody furrows in the biker werewolf’s cheek.

Sniff plucked Furguson away from his friend and began punching him with a pile-driver fist. Scratch touched the blood from the wounds on his cheek, and his eyes flared.  Oddly, the tangle of tattoos on his neck and face began pulsing, writhing, like a psychedelic cartoon—and the deep wounds on his face sealed together. The blood coagulated into a hard scab that flaked off within seconds, the flesh knitted itself into scar tissue, and the tattoos fell quiescent again.

I had never seen a body-imprinted healing spell before.  Very cool.

Amidst the pandemonium, I reached McGoo.  He looked at me in surprise. “Shamble!  What are you doing here?”

“Working.  What about you?”

“I’m working, too.  Just answering a disturbance call, Scout’s honor. Your friends sure have hair triggers!  Did I catch them doing something naughty?”

Rusty tore a two-by-four from the cockatrice barricade and waded in toward Scratch and Sniff. He whacked each of the biker werewolves on the back of the head, which left them reeling while he pulled his nephew from the fray. He shoved the burlap sack into Furguson’s claws.  “Take this and get out of here!  I’ll grab the other one.”

With the struggling, squirming sack in hand, the gangly werewolf bolted for the nearest door. Bills were still dropping out of his pockets as the poor klutz disappeared into the night.

The two biker werewolves shook off the daze from being battered by a two-by-four. They puffed themselves up, peeled back their lips, and faced Rusty, but the big werewolf swung the board again, cracking each man full in the face.  “Want a third one? Believe me, it’ll only improve your looks.”

I looked at McGoo. “We may need to intervene.”

“I was just thinking that.”  He sauntered forward, displaying the arsenal of unnatural-specific weapons that he carried on his regular beat in the Quarter.

Both biker werewolves snarled at Rusty.  “Damned Hairball!”  After another round of hypnotically twitching tattoos, the bloody bruises on their faces healed up.

McGoo stepped up to the troublemakers and said, “Say, know any good werewolf jokes?”

After a glance at his uniform, Scratch and Sniff snarled low in the throat, then bolted into the night as well.  Outside, I heard a roar of motorcycle engines.

The less panicky, or more enterprising, spectators scurried around and grabbed fallen money from the floor, before they, too, darted out of the building.  Rusty managed to seize Sour Lemonade from the zombie it had chomped down on and stuffed it into another cloth bag, which he slung over his shoulder. He loped away from the warehouse, exiting through the emergency door the ogre had shattered.

McGoo and I caught our breath, exhausted just from watching the whirlwind. He shook his head as the last of the monsters evacuated into the night.  “This place looks like the aftermath of a bombing raid. Mission accomplished, I suppose.”

“What mission was that?” I asked.

“One of the nearby residents called in a noise complaint. She’s some kind of writer, asked me to see if they could keep the noise down, said the racket was bothering her.”

“That was all?”

“That was all.” McGoo shrugged, looking around the evacuated warehouse.  “Should be quiet enough now.”

McGoo is my best human friend, my BHF.  We’ve known each other since college, both married women named Rhonda when we were young and stupid; later, as we got smarter, we divorced the women named Rhonda and spent a lot of guy time commiserating.  I established my private-eye practice in the Unnatural Quarter; McGoo, with his politically incorrect sense of humor, managed to offend the wrong people, thus derailing a mediocre career on the outside in exchange for a less-than-mediocre career here in the Quarter.  A good friend and a reliable cop, he made the best of his situation.

It took McGoo quite a while to learn how to deal with me after I was undead.  He wrestled with his own prejudices against various types of monsters, and, thanks to me, he could honestly say “Some of my best friends are zombies.” I didn’t let him use that for any moral high ground, though.

As we surveyed the aftermath, he said, “I’d better go talk to the lady, let her know everything’s under control.”

“Want me to come along?  I could use some calmer interaction after this.” I had, after all, solved the case of the missing money, but I decided to wait for the dust to settle before I presented my results to Rusty.

I found a twenty-dollar bill on the floor and dutifully picked it up.

McGoo looked at me. “That’s evidence, you know.”

“Evidence of what?  You were called here on a disturbing-the-peace charge.” As we walked out of the warehouse, I tucked the bill into the pocket of my sport jacket.  “That’s our next couple of beers at the Goblin Tavern.”

“Well, if it’s going to a good cause, I’d say you were doing your civic duty by picking up litter.”

“Works for me.”

Behind the warehouse, we found a set of ramshackle apartments; I saw lights on in only two of the units, though it was full dark.  A weathered sign promised “Units for Rent: Low Rates!”  Low Rates was apparently the best that could be said about the place.

McGoo led me up the exterior stairs to an upper-level apartment. When he rapped on the door, a woman yanked it open, blinking furiously as she tried to see out into the night.  “Stop pounding!  What’s with all this noise?  I’ve already filed one complaint—I can call the police again!”

“Ma’am, I am the police,” McGoo said.

The woman was a frumpy vampire, short and plump, with brown hair. She looked familiar.  “Then you ought to be ashamed of yourself,” she said. “The noise only got worse after I called!  It was a mob scene out there.”

She plucked a pair of cat’s-eye glasses from a chain dangling around her neck and affixed them to her face.  “How can I get any writing done with such distractions?  I have to finish two more chapters before sunrise.”

I knew who she was. I also knew exactly what she was writing.  “Sorry for the interruption, Miss Bullwer.”

McGoo looked at me.  “You know this woman?”

“Who’s that looming out there on my porch?” The vampire lady leaned out until she could see me, then her expression lit up as if a sunrise had just occurred on her face (which is not necessarily a good thing when speaking of vampires). “Oh, Mr. Chambeaux! How wonderful.  Would you like to come in and have a cup of . . . whatever it is zombies drink?  I have a few more questions, details for the veracity of the literature.  And you can pet my cats. They’d love to have a second lap. They can’t all fit on mine, you know.”

“How many cats do you have?”

“Seven,” she answered quickly.  “At least, I think it’s seven.  It’s difficult to tell them apart.”

I’d first met Linda Bullwer when she volunteered for the Welcome Back Wagon, a public service group that catered to the newly undead.  More importantly, she had been commissioned as a ghostwriter by Howard Phillips Publishing for a series of zombie detective adventures loosely based on my own exploits, written under the pen name of Penny Dreadful. The first one was due out very soon.

Ms. Bullwer gave McGoo a sweet smile, her demeanor entirely changed now.  “And thank you for your assistance, Officer—I’m sure you did your best, especially with Mr. Chambeaux’s help.” She cocked her head, lowered her voice.  “Are you working on a case?  Something I should write about in a future volume?”

“I doubt anyone would find it interesting,” I said.

“That’s what you said about the tainted Jekyll necroceuticals, and about the mummy emancipation case, and the Straight Edge hate group, and the attack on hundreds of ghosts with ectoplasmic defibrillators, and the burning of the Globe Theatre stage in the cemetery, and the golem sweatshop, and . . .”

I knew she could rattle off cases for hours, because I had spent hours telling her about them.  She had taken thorough notes.

“It’s nothing,” I reassured her.  “And we don’t even know if your first book is going to sell well enough that the publisher will want to do a second one.”

“They’ve already contracted with me for five, Mr. Chambeaux.  The first one is just being released—have you gotten your advance copy yet?”

“I’ll check the mail when I get back to the office.” I have to admit, I was uncomfortable about the whole thing. Vampires shun sunlight, and I tended to avoid limelight.

McGoo regarded me with amusement.  “I believe we’re done here, ma’am. Enjoy the rest of your quiet night.”

“Thank you, Officer.  And thank you, Mr. Chambeaux, for your help.”  She drew a deep breath.  “Ah, blessed silence—at last I can write!”

Just then, an anguished howl split the air, bestial shouts barely recognizable as words.  “Help!  Help me!  Help!

McGoo was already bounding down the stairs, and I did my best to keep up with him. We tracked the cries to a dark alley adjacent to the warehouse. A gangly werewolf leaned over a figure sprawled on the ground, letting out a keening howl.  Beside him, two squirming cloth sacks contained the captured cockatrices; fortunately, the ties were secure.

As we ran up, Furguson swung his face toward us, his eyes wide, his tongue lolling out of his mouth.  “It’s Uncle Rusty!”

I recognized the bib overalls and reddish fur.  The big werewolf lay motionless, sprawled muzzle-down in the alley.

“Is he dead?” McGoo asked.

Bending over, I could see that Rusty’s chest still rose and fell, but he was barely conscious.  The top of his head was all bloody, and it looked wrong.

Furguson let out another wail.

That’s when I realized that someone must have knocked Rusty out and then, using a very sharp knife, scalped him.

That’s all you get, folks! You have to check out the book to read the rest.

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HAIR RAISING: New Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I. Here’s a free taste!

Published April 25, 2013 in Writing - 0 Comments

Next Tuesday, April 30, the third full-length Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I. novel will hit bookstores.  Here’s another set of hilarious adventures from the detective who puts the P.I. back into R.I.P.  In chapter one, below, you’ll see illegal cockatrice fighting, werewolf gambling rings, voodoo tattoos, and more.  Even if you’ve never read a Dan Shamble adventure before, I think you’ll enjoy it.  Preorder the book now in print and eBook formats.

HAIR RAISING

Chapter 1

People do bizarre things to amuse themselves, but this illegal cockatrice-fighting ring was one of the strangest pastimes I had ever seen.

Rusty, the full-time werewolf who raised the hideous creatures and threw them together in the ring for sport, had hired me to be on the lookout for “suspicious behavior.” So, there I stood in an abandoned warehouse among crowds of unnaturals who were placing bets and watching chicken-dragon-viper monstrosities tear each other apart.

What could possibly be suspicious about that?

No case was too strange for Chambeaux & Deyer Investigations, so I agreed to keep my eyes open.  “You’ll have a great time, Mr. Shamble,” Rusty said in his usual growling voice. “Tonight is family night.”

“It’s Chambeaux,” I corrected him, though the mispronunciation may have been the result of him talking through all those teeth in his mouth, rather than not actually knowing my name.

Rusty was a gruff, barrel-chested werewolf with a full head—and I mean full head—of bristling reddish fur that stuck out in all directions.  He wore bib overalls and sported large tattoos on the meat of his upper arms (although his thick fur hid most of them).  He raised cockatrices in run-down coops in his backyard.

Cockatrice fighting had been denounced by many animal rights groups. (Most of the activists, however, were unfamiliar with the mythological bestiary. Despite having no idea what a cockatrice was, they were sure “cockatrice fighting” must be a bad thing from the sound of it.)  I wasn’t one to pass judgment; when ranked among unsavory activities in the Unnatural Quarter, this one didn’t even make the junior varsity team.

Rusty insisted cockatrice fighting was big business, and he had offered me an extra ticket so Sheyenne, my ghost girlfriend, could join me.  I declined on her behalf.  She’s not much of a sports fan.

In the cavernous warehouse, the unsettling ambient noise reflected back, making the crowd sound twice as large as it really was.  Spectators cheered, growled, howled, or made whatever sound was appropriate to their particular unnatural species, getting ready for the evening’s show.  Several furtive humans also came to place bets and watch the violence, while hoping that violence didn’t get done to them in the dark underbelly of the Quarter.

This crowd didn’t come to see and be seen.  I tried to blend in with the other sports fans; nobody noticed an undead guy in a bullet-riddled sport jacket.  Thanks to an excellent embalming job and good hygiene habits, I’m a well-preserved zombie, and I work hard to maintain my physical condition so that I can pass for mostly human.  Mostly.

Previously, the warehouse had hosted illegal raves, and I could imagine the thunderously monotonous booming beat accompanied by migraine-inducing strobe lights.  After the rave craze ended, the warehouse manager had been happy to let the space be used for the next best thing.

The center of attention was a high-walled enclosure that might have been designed as a skateboard park for lawn gnomes.  The barricades were high enough that snarling, venomous cockatrices could not leap over them and attack the audience—in theory at least. Although, as Rusty explained it, a few bloodthirsty attendees took out long-shot wagers that such a disaster would indeed happen; those bettors generally kept to the back rows.

While Rusty was in back wrangling the cockatrice cages to prepare the creatures for the match, his bumbling nephew Furguson went among the crowds with his notepad and tickets, taking bets.  Lycanthropy doesn’t run in families, but the story I heard was that Rusty had gone on a bender and collapsed half on and half off his bed. While trying to make his uncle more comfortable, Furguson had been so clumsy that he scratched and infected himself on the claws.  Watching the gangly young werewolf go about his business now, I was inclined to accept that as an operating theory.

The fight attendees held tickets, scraps of paper, and printed programs listing the colorful names of the cockatrice combatants—Sour Lemonade, Hissy Fit, Snarling Shirley, and so on.  The enthusiasts were a motley assortment of vampires, zombies, mummies, trolls, and a big ogre with a squeaky voice who took up three times as much space as any other audience member.

I saw werewolves of both types—full-time full-furred wolfmen (affectionately, or deprecatingly, called “Hairballs” by the other type), and the once-a-month werewolves who transformed only under a full moon but looked human most of the time (called “Monthlies” by the other side).  They were all werewolves to me, but there had been friction between the two breeds for years, and it was only growing worse.

It’s just human, or inhuman, nature: People will find a way to make a big deal out of their differences—the smaller, the better.  It reminded me of the Montagues and the Capulets (if I wanted to think highbrow), or the Hatfields and the McCoys (if I wanted to go lowbrow) . . . or the Jets and the Sharks (if I happened to feel musical).

Rusty had asked me to pay particularly close attention to two burly Monthlies, heavily tattooed “bad biker” types named Scratch and Sniff.  Even in their non-lycanthropic forms, and even among the crowd of monsters, these two were intimidating.  They wore thick, dirty fur overcoats that they claimed were made of Hairball pelts—no, nothing provocative there!—coated with road dust and stained with blotches that looked like clotted blood.

Untransformed, Scratch wore big, bristly Elvis sideburns and a thick head of dark brown hair in an old-fashioned DA hairstyle; apparently, he thought this made him look tough like James Dean, but it actually succeeded only in mimicking Arthur Fonzarelli in his later shark-jumping days.  His friend Sniff shaved his head for a Mr. Clean look, but he made up for it once a month when his entire body exploded in thick fur.  His lower face, though, was covered with a heavy beard; he had a habit of stroking it with his fingers, then sniffing them as if to remind himself of what he had eaten last. Both had complex tattoo designs on their arms, necks, and probably other places that I did not want to imagine.

Known troublemakers, Scratch and Sniff liked to bash their victims’ heads just to see what might come out.  They frequently caused problems at the cockatrice fights, but since they placed large bets, Rusty tolerated them.

In recent fights, however, a lot of the money had disappeared from the betting pool, as much as 20 percent.  Rusty was sure that Scratch and Sniff were somehow robbing the pot, and I was supposed to catch them.  Now, these two struck me as likely perpetrators of all manner of crimes, but they didn’t look to be the subtle types who would discreetly skim 20 percent of anything. My guess, they would have taken the whole pot of money and stormed away with as much ruckus as possible.

Furguson wandered among the crowd, recording the bets on his notepad, then accepting wads of bills and stuffing them into his pockets.  As he collected money, he took care to write down each wager and record the ticket number.  For weeks, Rusty had pored over his nephew’s notations, trying to figure out why so much money went missing.  He counted and recounted the bills, added and re-added the bets placed, and he simply could not find what was happening to so much of the take.

Which is why he hired me.

Suddenly, the Rocky Balboa theme blared over the old rave speakers that the warehouse owner had confiscated when the ravers stopped paying their rent. Eager fans surrounded Furguson, placing their last wagers in a flurry, shoving money at the gangly werewolf like overcaffeinated bidders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

Now, I’ve been a private detective in the Unnatural Quarter for years, working with my legal crusader/partner Robin Deyer.  We had a decent business until I was shot in the back of the head—which might have been the end of the story, for most folks. But me? I woke up as a zombie, clawed my way out of the grave, and got right back to work.  Being undead is not a disadvantage in the Quarter, and the number of cases I’ve solved, both before and after my murder, is fairly impressive.  I pride myself on being observant and persistent, and I have a good analytical mind.

Sometimes, though, I solve cases through dumb luck, which is what happened now.

While Rusty rattled the cages and gave pep talks to his violent amalgamated monsters, the Rocky theme played louder, and frantic last-minute bettors waved money at Furguson. They yelled out the names of their chosen cockatrice, snatched their tickets, and the bumbling werewolf stuffed more wads of cash into his pockets, made change, grew flustered, took more money, stuffed it into other pockets.

He was so overwhelmed that bills dropped out of his pockets onto the floor, unnoticed—by Furguson, but not by the audience members. As they pressed closer to him, they snatched up whatever random bills they could find. In fact, it was so well choreographed, the whole mess seemed like part of the evening’s entertainment.

Scratch and Sniff had shouldered their way to the edge of the cockatrice ring where they’d have the best view of the bloodshed. Despite Rusty’s accusations, I could see that the big biker werewolves had nothing to do with the missing money.  As the saying goes, never attribute to malice what can be explained by incompetence—and I saw the gold standard of incompetence here.

I let out a long sigh.  Rusty wasn’t going to like what I’d found, but at least this was something easy enough to fix.  His clumsy nephew would have to either be more careful or find another line of work.

The loud fanfare fell silent, and Rusty emerged from the back in his bib overalls. His reddish fur looked mussed, as if he had gotten into a wrestling match with the vile creatures.  The restless crowd pressed up against the fighting ring.  Rusty shouted at the top of his lungs. “For our first match, Sour Lemonade versus Hissy Fit!”

He yanked a lever that opened a pair of trapdoors, and the two creatures squawked and flapped into the pit.  Each was the size of a wild turkey, covered with scales, a head like a rooster on a bad drug trip with a serrated beak and slitted reptilian eyes.  The jagged feathers looked like machetes, and sharp, angular wings gave the cockatrices the appearance of very small dragons or very large bats.  Each creature had a serpentine tail with a spearpoint tip.  Their hooked claws were augmented by wicked-looking razor gaffs (I didn’t want to know how Rusty had managed to attach them).  Forked tongues flicked out of their sawtooth beaks as they faced off.

I’d never seen anything so ugly—and these were the domesticated variety.  Purebred cockatrices are even more hideous, ugly enough to turn people to stone.  (It’s hard to say objectively whether or not the purebreds are in fact uglier, since anyone who looked upon one became a statue and was in no position to make comparative observations.  Scientific studies had been done to measure the widened eyes of petrified victims, with a standard rating scale applied to the expression of abject horror etched into the stone faces, but I wasn’t convinced those were entirely reliable results.)  Regardless, wild turn-you-to-stone cockatrices were outlawed, and it was highly illegal to own one.  These were the kinder, gentler breed—which still looked butt-ugly.

One creature had shockingly bright lemon-yellow scales—Sour Lemonade, I presumed.  The other cockatrice had more traditional snot-green scales and black dragon wings.  It hissed constantly, like a punctured tire.

The two creatures flapped their angular wings, bobbed their heads, and flicked their forked tongues like wrestlers bowing to the audience. The crowd egged them on, and the cockatrices flung themselves upon each other like Tasmanian devils on a hot plate.  The fury of lashing claws, pecking beaks, and spitting venom was dizzying—not exactly enjoyable, but certainly energetic.  I couldn’t tear my eyes away.

Sour Lemonade’s barbed tail lashed out and poked a hole through Hissy Fit’s left wing.  The other cockatrice clamped its serrated beak on the yellow creature’s scaly neck.  Claws lashed and kicked, and black smoking blood spurted out from the injuries.  Where it splashed the side of the pit ring, the acid blood burned and bubbled.

One large droplet splattered the face of a vampire, who yelped and backed away, swatting at his smoking skin.  Scratch and Sniff howled with inappropriate laughter at the vampire’s pain.  The spectators cheered, shouted, and cursed. The cockatrices snarled and hissed.  The sound was deafening.

Just then the warehouse door burst open, and Officer Toby McGoohan entered, wearing his full cop uniform.  “This is the police!” he shouted through a bullhorn.  “May I have your attention—”

The ensuing pandemonium made the cockatrice fight seem as tame as a Sunday card game by comparison.

I’ll post CHAPTER TWO in my next blog.  You can preorder your copy now. The book will be released Tuesday April 30.

AND DON’T MISS THE OTHER DAN SHAMBLE, ZOMBIE P.I. ADVENTURES

***now available worldwide!***


 

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