Always glad to have today’s Spooky Legend author visit the blog. Nancy Holzner, author of the Deadtown urban fantasy series, is celebrating the release of the 3rd book in that series, BLOODSTONE (available now from Ace Books). In her review, Julia said, “[Nancy Holzner] has an eye for daily details that add wonderful depth to her world, and preternatural elements aside, I can’t resist the scarily plausible political realities of Deadtown.” We get a glimpse into the characters and world from Deadtown along with a twist on a beloved children’s nursery rhyme. And to sweeten the deal, there’s a giveaway to win your choice of a signed copy of DEADTOWN, HELLFORGED, or BLOOSTONE. See details below.
Click to see the Spooky Legends Master List with links to all the previous posts and giveaways
Vicky Vaughn on the Little Bo Peep Halloween Massacre
When the phone rang, the last thing I was thinking about was Tina, the teenage zombie who used to be my apprentice—until she quit demon slaying to pursue a career as a pop star. But that’s who was calling. Her voice was excited, so breathless I didn’t quite catch what she said. Just that it was something about me and a job.
“Tina, I told you. I’m not taking you with me on any more jobs.” Back when she was still my apprentice, Tina had torched a client’s dreamscape with a flamethrower. She’d tried to drown another client in a bathroom sink. Not to mention she’d stolen a valuable sword from my arsenal. “That whole apprenticeship thing just didn’t work out.”
“You’re not listening. I don’t want to go on a job with you—although it’d be cool if you let me. I have a job for you.”
“You want to hire me? For what?” No way Tina could have a demon infestation. Most demons would run the other way when they saw her coming.
“I can’t explain over the phone. Can you meet me at Munchies in a couple of hours?”
“Tina, I don’t have time—” Wait. Tina had borrowed a jacket from me a couple of weeks ago, and I wouldn’t mind getting it back. “Okay. Bring my jacket, will you? I’ll meet you in Munchies at four.”
* * *
Deadtown comes alive at night, when the zombies and vampires can be out and about. Munchies was a zombie hang-out. Junk food heaven. Zombies are always hungry, but not for brains like in the movies. They prefer pizza, ice cream, chips, candy, hot dogs. Whatever the diet books say not to eat—that’s what zombies go for.
Tina sat at a booth in the back, working her way through a mountain of French fries. She wore a pink T-shirt that spelled out Flirt in rhinestones. It didn’t quite work with her gray-green skin and blood-red eyes, but that was Tina. I went over and sat across from her.
“Did you bring my jacket?” I asked, stealing a French fry.
“Um, no, I forgot. Sorry.”
For that, I stole another fry. Munchies does well with anything that gets plunged into a vat of hot oil.
“So what’s this about a job?” I doubted Tina could afford my rates. She lived in a group home for underage zombies and got an occasional spending money check from her guilt-ridden suburban parents. There’s a big difference between buying a pair of cute shoes and hiring a professional demon fighter. Still, I was curious.
“I need you to protect someone. A human. She was my friend . . . you know, before.” By “before,” she meant three years ago, before the fast-acting plague that turned Tina and two thousand other Bostonians into zombies.
“She has a demon infestation?”
“No.” Tina shook her head, her blood-red eyes wide. “It’s worse than that. My friend, Amy, she’s a freshman at BU this year. And she’s about to be targeted by a knife-wielding maniac.”
“Tina, I think you’ve been watching too many horror movies.”
“It wasn’t a horror movie! I saw it on Oprah. She was interviewing this psychic, and—”
“You couldn’t have seen that on Oprah. Her show is off the air.”
“Oh. Well, then it was one of those shows like hers. Ellen or Dr. Phil or whatever. What’s important is that the psychic predicted a massacre at a college in Boston on Saturday. She, like, saw the whole thing in a vision. Just listen to this: It’ll be in New England, at a college that’s named after the city where it’s located. A river runs past the campus. The psychic saw the number thirteen—she thinks it means thirteen people will be killed. Oh, and it’ll happen on the first floor of an L-shaped building.”
Tina pushed away her half-finished plate of fries. When a zombie loses its appetite, you know something serious is going on. “I’m scared, Vicky. Amy goes to BU. That’s Boston University, located in Boston. Right next to the Charles River. I looked up her dorm on the BU website. It’s L-shaped. And her room is on the first floor.” Her red eyes opened wide, pleading with me. “I know it’s not a demon. But you’re the only person I know who has weapons and might be able to protect her. I tried to call the police, but they hung up on me.”
“Tina,” I said, nudging her food back toward her, “that’s an urban legend.”
“One of those scary stories that make the rounds. Like the guy with the hook. Everybody’s heard it, but nobody’s sure where it started.”
“What guy with the hook?”
“Never mind. It’s not true. And neither is your TV psychic. You didn’t really see that on TV, did you?”
“Okay, I didn’t. But Jenna did—she told me.” Jenna was Tina’s zombie BFF. “It sounded better to say I’d seen it myself.”
“Which is exactly the same thing Jenna thought. Nobody saw that show, Tina. It was never on the air.” I shook my head. “That story has been around for years. I heard it when I was your age. And you know what? Nobody got killed then. Nobody will get killed now, either. It’s just a dumb story somebody made up to scare people.”
Tina picked up her fork and turned it back and forth in her hands. “Amy was my best friend since, like, before kindergarten. She doesn’t talk to me anymore, not since . . . you know . . . but I keep up with what she’s doing on Facebook and Twitter and all that.” She let the fork clatter to the table. “I’m not stalking her or anything. Sometimes I just like to think about stuff that maybe I’d be doing if I hadn’t caught the stupid plague.”
There was something sad in her voice, something Tina rarely let rise to the surface. She picked up her super-size Coke and slurped it down, as if trying to drown that note of sadness.
“Tell you what,” I said. “I’ve got a job in Brookline on Saturday. Give me Amy’s address, and I’ll swing by her dorm and take a quick look, make sure everything’s okay.”
“Thanks, Vicky!” Tina grinned and grabbed a handful of fries. “Oh, there was one other thing the psychic said.”
“Let me guess: The killer will be dressed as Little Bo Peep.”
“Wow.” The fries stopped halfway to her mouth. “Are you psychic, too?”
“I told you, I heard the same story years ago. Amy will be safe, but if it will make you feel better I’ll check the area for any suspicious-looking shepherdesses.” I stood to go.
“Wait,” Tina said, grabbing my sleeve. “So, like, how much will it cost?”
“Whew, that’s a relief. That’s why I didn’t have your jacket. I thought I was going to have to, like, hold it hostage or something to make you do the job.”
“I’m kidding. I really forgot. I’ll bring it next time—promise.”
* * *
The job in Brookline was fast and easy. A sweet old lady was troubled by a pod of Drudes, dream-demons that were giving her nightmares. A quick trip into her dreamscape with my pistol and a couple of magazines of bronze bullets, and I cleared out the Drude infestation. It was sweet dreams again for the sweet old lady.
A little before midnight, I drove along Commonwealth Avenue on my way back to Deadtown. It was Halloween weekend, and the street was filled with college kids in costume, going from one party to another. I spotted celebrity lookalikes, French maids, vampires (fake), zombies (also fake), a Darth Vader, a Cleopatra, and a couple of politicians. Not a single Little Bo Peep anywhere. I didn’t see any lost sheep, either.
I found a parking space a couple of blocks off Comm Ave and checked the campus map Tina had printed out for me. Amy’s dorm was about a block and a half away. I’d do a quick circuit around the building and then head home. By 1:00, I’d be happily unwinding at Creature Comforts, my favorite monster bar.
Apparently BU hadn’t gotten the memo about the knife-wielding maniac’s scheduled visit. Dorms and student apartment buildings were lit up, and music blasted from open windows despite the chilly evening. People laughed and shouted. It was enough to wake the dead.
Amy’s dorm was on a side street. The front door was wide open. Costumed partiers clustered outside, holding plastic cups of beer. A few were smoking. A cowboy leaned against the wall, chatting up Tinkerbell. Looked to me like a typical Halloween party. I could almost picture Tina here, laughing and flirting and hanging out with the college kids. She probably would have dug up a shepherdess costume—a pink, sparkly one, of course—to wear as a joke.
I circled the building’s perimeter. Aside from a hot-and-heavy couple making out behind the building, everything was quiet. Good enough. BU was safe from Little Bo Peep.
I was back on Comm Ave, heading to the car and wondering who’d be at Creature Comforts, when a drunken frat boy dressed as a football player staggered into me. He didn’t even say so much as “sorry” when my ass landed on the sidewalk. He trudged along, turning left into an alleyway that led toward Amy’s party.
“Hey!” I scrambled to my feet and ran after him. His red football jersey showed 13 in big white numbers on the back. As my hand connected with the guy’s shoulder, I noticed the name above the number: Bopeep.
The football player spun around. The helmet was empty. Bopeep had no face. There was nothing there but roaring silence, an endless, swirling void.
Oh, God. Bopeep wasn’t little; it wasn’t even a knife-wielding maniac. It was worse—far worse. I’d just tapped the shoulder of a Nihilum, a nothingness demon.
A Nihilum is like a black hole. It sucks the soul from a person, pulling out that soul through the victim’s eyes and sending it tumbling into the void. As I stared into the bottomless space inside the football helmet, pressure mounted inside my head. Needle-sharp pain stabbed my eyeballs.
I ducked, but the Nihilum grabbed my arms and pulled me to itself. The helmet lowered toward me, as though moving in for a kiss. Not a kiss, a negation. The terrifying emptiness tugged at me. My eyes felt like they’d explode.
I squinched my eyes shut, and the pain backed off a little. I twisted one arm away from the demon’s grasp and drew a bronze-bladed dagger. Flailing, I slashed at the demon. I heard its football jersey rip, felt the resistance of the cloth. But the knife sliced too easily; there was nothing inside the jersey for it to cut.
Opening my eyes, I tried to get a better hit. I thrust the dagger in just below where a living creature’s sternum would be and drove upward. The cloth tore, revealing nothing inside. Eternal nothing. Bronze kills demons, but it can’t touch Nothing.
Bopeep’s helmet advanced toward my face. Again, pain pierced my eyes. Instinctively, I drove my dagger into the approaching helmet. The knife slid from my grasp as the Nihilum sucked the weapon into itself. I yanked my hand back. The tips of my fingers were blurred, indistinct. They tingled and buzzed, dissolving into smoke that wafted into the helmet and disappeared. I was turning into Nothing.
The Nihilum clasped me in a bear hug. I couldn’t breathe. Wisps of smoke, like the ones from my fingertips, leaked from my eyes. The pull was unbearable. It felt like the Nihilum was a giant vacuum cleaner and I was a speck of dust.
They say nature abhors a vacuum. I wasn’t feeling too fond of vacuums myself right now.
But that gave me an idea. Maybe the way to fight Nothing was with . . . something. With lots of somethings.
I pushed into Bopeep, driving the demon backward. We tripped over a recycling bin and went down. The Nihilum flailed and lost its grip. I got my knees under me and grabbed the recycling bin. While the demon thrashed, trying to get up, I turned over the bin and emptied its contents into the helmet’s void. Then I threw the bin in, too.
Next was a garbage can. And another. And three more recycling bins. As more and more stuff tumbled into the void, a strange thing happened. The Nihilum got smaller. Another can of trash. A rusty, abandoned bicycle frame. A couple of worn-out tires. With each item, the Nihilum’s body of Nothing shrank and deflated. I looked around for something else to throw inside it. A discarded beer bottle. But when I turned around, the Nihilum was gone. A red-and-white football uniform, the jersey torn, was draped over a pile of junk. The helmet lay upturned on the pavement, rocking slightly back and forth.
* * *
The next night, Tina stopped by my apartment to return my jacket. “Sorry about the ketchup stain,” she said as she handed it over. “There might be a little mustard on the sleeve, too.”
“Um, thanks.” At least I had it back.
“Well, gotta go,” she said, waggling her fingers in farewell. “I’m meeting Jenna at Munchies.” She pressed the button for the elevator.
“Wait, don’t you want to hear about last night?”
“You hired me, remember?”
“Oh, that. No, it’s okay. I know nothing happened. I checked Amy’s Facebook page. She posted pictures of her dorm’s Halloween party this morning.”
“So you don’t want to hear about Bopeep?”
“Please, Vicky. I know I was being gullible. You don’t have to try to make me feel better by making up some story about Little Bo Peep running around trying to kill people.” The elevator doors opened and she stepped inside. “You’re the one who told me it was just an urban legend.” The doors closed.
Whatever. I went back inside the apartment and dropped my jacket on the dry-cleaning pile. It landed on top of the football jersey I’d kept as a souvenir, obscuring the letters that spelled out “Bopeep.”
About the author:
Nancy Holzner grew up in western Massachusetts. She majored in English in college and then continued her studies long enough to earn a masters degree and a PhD. She began her career as a medievalist, then jumped off the tenure track to try some other things. Besides teaching English and philosophy, she’s worked as a technical writer, freelance editor and instructional designer, college admissions counselor, and corporate trainer. Nancy lives in upstate New York with her husband Steve. She enjoys visiting local wineries and listening obsessively to opera.
Want to read more from Nancy Holzner
Boston’s diverse South End is known for its architecture and great restaurants, not its body count. So when mutilated human corpses begin turning up in the area, the entire city takes notice. The killer—dubbed the South End Reaper—uses a curved blade for his grisly work. And even though there’s no real evidence pointing to a paranormal culprit, the deaths are straining the already-tense relations between Boston’s human and inhuman residents.
As the bodies pile up, Vicky, her formidable aunt Mab, and her werewolf boyfriend Kane investigate, only to find that the creature behind the carnage is after something much more than blood…
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**Don’t forget to visit Dark Faerie Tales today for her Spooky Legends guest blog with Melissa Darnel, author of CRAVE**