Category Archives: Blog

Kickstarter Update #8: We Made It!

We’re excited to announce that we exceeded our Kickstarter funding goal for Firebringer Take Two thanks to the following generous donors:

Lewis G. Aide
CabbitCommando
Michael Critzer
Tony Fucci
The Creative Fund
James Gallahan
Allyn Gibson
Jack Hillman
Madelyn Jackson
Heather Mikkelsen
Omar Padilla
Leeon Pezok
Susanna Reilly
Renfield
Ann Stolinsky
Sharon Miller VanBlarcom
Lee Vierling
Judith Waidlich
Howie Weinstein
Cindy Woods
Evon Zundel

We appreciate your generous support and will continue to keep everyone updated as the book nears completion and rewards are ready to ship (paperbacks) or claim online (ebooks).

 

Kickstarter Update #7: Presenting the Cover Art for Freedom’s Blood!

As promised in a previous update, we are thrilled to present Caio Cacau’s finished cover art for Steven H. Wilson’s vampire novella, FREEDOM’S BLOOD! Since our double novella will be formatted in the style of the classic ACE Doubles, the book will have two front covers. The cover art for LIKE MOTHER, LIKE DAUGHTERS was created by Laura Inglis who also produced  the covers for Phil’s previous paranormal mystery novels, Testing the Prisoner and By Your Side.

There is still time to donate to our Kickstarter to help us bring the paperback to publication. We appreciate your support for small press authors!

 

Freedoms Blood Cover Art by Caio Cacau
Freedoms Blood Cover Art by Caio Cacau
Like Mother, Like Daughters Cover Art by Laura Inglis
Like Mother, Like Daughters Cover Art by Laura Inglis. Title designed by Chris Winner.

Firebringer Take Two Covers

 

Kickstarter Update #6: “Don’t Go In The Barn, Johnny!” (Excerpt)

Each week during our Kickstarter campaign, we will bring you updates from the project, including excerpts from both novellas. For the past three weeks, we presented the opening scenes from Phil Giunta’s novella, LIKE MOTHER, LIKE DAUGHTERS, and Steven H. Wilson’s vampire tale, FREEDOM’S BLOOD

One of the books we’re including in some of our Kickstarter reward levels is the speculative fiction anthology, Somewhere in the Middle of Eternity, published in 2014. This brilliant collection brings together thirteen imaginative tales of SF, fantasy, and the paranormal by Daniel Patrick Corcoran, Michael Critzer, Phil Giunta, Amanda Headlee, Susanna Reilly, Stuart S. Roth, Steven H. Wilson, and Lance Woods. Cover art and interior illustrations by Michael Riehl.

We’re proud to share Steven H. Wilson’s story, “Don’t Go In The Barn, Johnny!” complete with its introduction. Read on!


“Don’t Go In The Barn, Johnny!” Introduction
by Steven H. Wilson

There’s a barn—or there used to be—in the cornfield next to the house where I grew up in Clarksville, MD. I don’t know how old it is, or was. It stood until sometime in the 1980s. I know I have pictures of it somewhere.

Here’s the thing… I loved that barn. It stood, from my vantage point in the back yard of my parents’ house, right on the horizon line. The sun set behind it. When night came to Simpson Road, she came from that barn. At least, that’s how it looked to me.

It stands to reason that that barn was where Night spent the day, sleeping. Don’t know where she sleeps now that it’s been replaced by brick-and-vinyl palaces decked out in shades of builder beige. Perhaps the urban planners provided her with a condo under Section 8.

I’ll tell you a secret: I never went in that barn. It was abandoned the entire time I knew of it. The cornfield around it was one of my favorite places to play. We played hide and seek among the rows when the corn was high. When the corn was harvested, leaving the fields mud-caked and barren, I would go alone and pretend I was exploring an alien world on which some ancient disaster had wiped out all life. Cheerful cuss, wasn’t I? But I never went inside that barn, at least not that I remember. Some little voice in my head always called out, “Don’t go in the barn!” Well, after all, Night was in there, waiting to claim you. Truth be told, I was probably just afraid of snakes.

But here’s an update of a story I wrote in 1983, inspired by my beloved barn that I never dared enter, about Johnny, the wind, and how Night decided to take a bride… er, groom.


“Don’t Go In The Barn, Johnny!”
by Steven H. Wilson

“Don’t go in the barn, Johnny!”

The phrase had echoed in his head down through the years. They had taunted him with it, when he stared at the old building.

“Why not?” he would ask, and they would only say, “Because you’ll never come out again.”

Stupid kids. It was just an old empty barn. A barn on which the sun set every night, dropping, orange and swollen, behind the rotting, gray timbers. Once the sun entered the barn, night came. That was all. What was there to be afraid of?

But Johnny never went in… not then.

Johnny was afraid. Fascinated, but afraid. He couldn’t look away from the barn, but he didn’t dare go near it. The other kids picked up on this, and they made the taunt a condemnation of his fear:

“Don’t go in the barn, Johnny!”

Meaning, you won’t go in the barn, Johnny! You won’t, because you’re afraid. But what was there to be afraid of?

Blackness. Darkness. Death. A chasm of inky black that swallows you whole, swallows your soul. In the dark, you can’t see, you don’t know what’s touching you. You can’t see your own hands in front of your face, don’t know if you have hands anymore.

In the dark, you go mad. It steals your mind. It steals your soul.

So Johnny didn’t go in. Not then. Then he’d been afraid of the dark. That was before.

And now he drew his light jacket up around him and swore at the flashlight as it struck him. Its batteries dead, the useless instrument, lodged in his pocket and weighing his jacket down banged painfully in cadence against his hip as he ran against the fierce, icy wind.

Why had he carried it? Old habits. He didn’t need light. The night was perfect and black.

No moon shattered the darkness of the old road, nor paced him as he jogged. Only the wind followed him, chased him. Rude and forceful, it threw branches in his path, tossed dust in his eyes. It howled through old trees and shacks by the roadside, making Johnny wonder briefly if the wind had a voice it was even now struggling to make heard.

Everything was alive tonight, a paradox. The road and all around it was dead. The only sign of life and warmth the sweat forming a sheen beneath his hoodie and track pants. The wind sang in atrocious harmony with itself. The trees, old and cynical, laughed wildly at his youth.

But no bats cried for attention; no black cats dove for shelter in rotted sheds. No rats or possums came from the ancient, secret places to claim any portion of their meager rations.

Apart from himself, there was only one kind of life afoot tonight, the kind that was fit to live no other night, the kind whose existence depended upon belief, upon the imagination. Ghosts, phantoms, spirits, demons…you could only believe in such things on a night like this.

It was these kinds of creatures that Johnny preferred. He had grown up with them. They clung to the shadows, hid in the darkness, watching, waiting. He had always known they were there. He had been afraid. He wanted to know them, wanted to know what they wanted. But he didn’t dare go near the places they would be, the dark places.

It was talked about, Johnny’s fear of the dark. He slept with the light on. He wouldn’t go in the basement. He wouldn’t go in any dark place.

“Don’t go in the barn, Johnny!”

Oh yes, the other kids had noticed, of course. Kids notice everything. They haven’t yet been trained not to notice. They notice the dark things, waiting to feed. They notice who’s afraid of the dark things. Some kids, like Johnny, react to fear by staying away. Some try to make peace with fear by offering sacrifices. Give the darkness someone who’s afraid, and maybe the darkness will leave you alone. Maybe you’ll look strong.

They made Johnny a sacrifice.

It was just a closet at school, a closet with two doors that opened in two rooms. They’d gotten on either side and shut him in, holding the doors shut. An old school, with old doors, it didn’t have lights in the closets, or louvres in the doors. It was pitch black in the closet. Johnny was alone in the dark for a lifetime.

Thinking of it, he felt the rawness in his throat from the screaming. The bite of his nails in his palms. After a while, the wetness, as his nails pierced the skin and blood flowed. He’d begun to tremble and shake. His throat had closed up. His chest had seized in pain. He didn’t remember the teacher opening the door, or the ride to the hospital. He’d woken up on a table, with his mother watching him, eyes red.

It was a problem, now, his fear. His parents were scared, and the doctors had scared them more. It was a problem, so they’d fixed it. They’d fixed it with a new technique in deep brain stimulation. “Less invasive,” they’d called it. Surgery without incision. They hadn’t even had to shave his head, they’d just put him under and injected transmitters into his brain.

And now he wasn’t afraid anymore. Now he loved the dark, and everything that lived in it. The doctors had told his parents not to worry that he now stayed up at night, or when he’d taken up midnight jogging. “Carry a flashlight at least, Johnny!” So Johnny carried a flashlight, even after the batteries in it had died.

Now, Johnny lived for the darkness.

Though the ghosts of the dark still made him uneasy within himself, he felt truly alive in their presence. They didn’t speak. They didn’t show themselves. He knew they were there, all the same. Defiantly, silently, he would state the case for his kind of life to them. Always they would listen, offering him no understandable verdict. Perhaps the song of the wind held the answer, if only he could discern its music.

Ahead of him now was the barn, which he passed every night as he jogged the old road. In Johnny’s eyes a dignified residence, its original owner and its former bestial occupants were a century departed. Now it was a place for that which governed the night.

Its rotting planks, the gaping holes in its walls like worn holes in the knees of jeans, frayed and ragged, marked it a truly sacred place. He took particular notice of the song the wind sang about it. It was a different song than the song for the trees or the song for the road. It had no tragic tone of melancholy. The wind held no pity for this place, only the deepest reverence. The song proclaimed the untarnished beauty and withstanding dignity of the spirit within.

He’d passed the barn every night since he’d come home, since he’d started jogging this road. He had not gone inside. Despite his newfound love of the dark, the remnants of old fears had lingered, keeping him from within.

But tonight, the wind sang. Chilling, icy, it numbed his ears, squelching earthly sounds, but letting him hear in a new way. He heard the call from within the ancient walls, an alluring siren’s song. A generalized eroticism swept over and past him and drew him in.

Tonight, tonight he would go inside.

“Don’t go in the barn, Johnny! Don’t go…”

The voices of the past, of the earth, of the living, faded.

He would go inside.

He moved toward it. It was a masterwork of the horrible. In the radiant black-blue of the sky he could see the overgrowth, all of it dead, which blocked the path, warning away the living, the heretics who would not pay the homage this sacred place deserved. Sharp broomsage and wicked briars conspired together to protect their charge.

Ahead of him, the darkness had laid a trap for the unwary. A hole, a threatening pit of black, yawned before the maw of the building. Johnny halted, peering in. Was it bottomless, endless? Within it, was there a vacuum of blackness, waiting to dislodge his soul and claim it as a prize?

Fear flitted about him, darting like an insect, trying to annoy, to draw a reaction. A traveler, alone with no source of light, should beware such a hole, should fear it.

Fear held no power over Johnny. His driving need now was to enter the place of shadows, to discover the secret Night was keeping only for him. And so Night revealed the truth about the hole to him. It was merely a shallow pit of rotting timbers and blackish mud, a dugout place where once there had been a well, now filled. Her ebon veils had made it seem so much more. He knew, should she have so chosen, she could have made the pit bottomless. It could have swallowed him forever. Any other it would have swallowed, but Night wanted him to come further.

The song grew louder. Another voice had joined the wind in its chorus, a light voice, a voice from his oldest dreams. It touched his ears. It drifted, weaving and dancing, from within the barn. The song touched every part of his body at once, exciting every nerve. Ahead, through the black of the doorway, Night smiled seductively.

He caught the briefest, most furtive of glimpses of her… or was it a glimpse at all? Was it not something his eyes had witnessed, something objective, but just a phantom from his own subconscious? Seeing her, seeing her smile, he still could not describe her.

Whatever it was, it was enough. Now he new what was inside: inside was his goal. The shadows held her in waiting. He plunged into the massive cavern of the opening, almost leaping into the dark. He searched, not with his eyes–which were of no use here–but with his being.

In the corner was the voice, the one that danced on the wind. It beckoned from above, drawing his eyes upward. Night was perched atop the loft, waiting.

Night was not dark, far from it. She had skin like the milky surface of the moon and hair pale gold as the haze which adorned the moon on misty evenings. He realized that this was what he had expected. Her ethereal white robes blew around him on the wind, entangling him.

Night smiled. She was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.

He was cold no longer.

In fact, he found he was uncomfortably warm. Night nodded, and he tore off his jacket, flinging it away. The weight of the dead light carried it to the corner. His t-shirt, slick now with sweat, he peeled off. He kicked away his shoes. The clothes were things of the day. He rejected them.

Naked he stood before her, and the dark reflected off his skin. He had not known dark could reflect, but it did, no doubt on wavelengths the human eye could not detect. But Johnny saw the reflection. In Night’s gaze his body was smooth and young and perfect.

She held out her arms, causing her robes to flow and billow and engulf him. He was lost within their folds, and she drew him closer.

And Night smiled.

There was no heat, only a passion cold, but fierce. Night, as incredibly old as he was young, drew him to her. He gave himself entirely, unthinking, un-sensing, only feeling in a way he had never known.

His breath grew short, and stopped completely. Night smiled.

***

As he woke, it was light. The wind had gone. He shivered, feeling the absence of true life around him. Straw pricked his naked flesh, and he felt the coarseness of the old floor boards with every nerve in his back and legs.

He wanted to get up, to stretch, but the girl was nestled against his shoulder. Her breath, even and perfect, tickled his neck and riffled his hair. Pinpoints of light shone through holes in the old walls and painted patterns on her ivory flesh. Just pinpoints, like starlight. Not enough to disturb her. Not enough to burn away the perfect flesh.

Last night, her flesh had been icy. To him, she now felt soft and warm. He pulled her to him; and together they slept, waiting until the time was ripe for them to come alive again. It was not so very long from now, before the other kind of life would walk: Ghosts. Phantoms. Demons. That would be their time, the time after the sun went away.

For now, Night had no place in the world. In this dead world.

In the daytime, they would try to find him, the living. They would not. He was not there, not in the light, no longer in the light. After days they would give up, the living would. After years, they would tear down this shrine, where Night and her consort slept the day through. It did not matter. They would find another place. Night slept in many places. Night never went away.

And he was hers.

Because Johnny wasn’t afraid of the dark anymore.


Somewhere in the Middle of Eternity is available in eBook and paperback from most online booksellers, but you can also obtain a copy by donating to our Kickstarter campaign for our double horror novel, FREEDOM’S BLOOD by Steven H. Wilson & LIKE MOTHER, LIKE DAUGHTERS by Phil Giunta coming in November 2018 from Firebringer Press. Donate to the Kickstarter now! 

Kickstarter Update #5: By Your Side (Excerpt)

Each week during our Kickstarter campaign, we will bring you updates from the project, including excerpts from both novellas. For the past three weeks, we presented the opening scenes from Phil Giunta’s novella, LIKE MOTHER, LIKE DAUGHTERS, and Steven H. Wilson’s vampire tale, FREEDOM’S BLOOD

By Your Side
Cover art by Laura Inglis. Title designed by Chris Winner.

One of the books we’re including in some of our Kickstarter reward levels is Phil Giunta’s paranormal mystery novel, By Your Side, published in 2013.  This story marked the second appearance of psychic-medium and single-mom Miranda Lorensen, introduced to readers as a secondary character in Phil’s first novel, Testing the Prisoner.

As with Like Mother, Like Daughters, Miranda is front and center as the protagonist in By Your Side.

While haunted by visions of her brother’s suicide, Miranda is called to Lancaster, Pennsylvania to investigate a series of bizarre deaths–some of which are also suicides. Miranda and her team of paranormal investigators quickly find themselves confronted by a vengeful spirit awakened thirty-three years after a bloody family tragedy. Miranda realizes that only she can stop the entity before it claims its final victims, but will her obsession for saving lives redeem her for the brother she failed?

Below is an excerpt from By Your Side. We hope you enjoy these story samples and deeply appreciate your support for small press authors!


By Your Side (Excerpt)
Phil Giunta

Three hours later, after her guests had departed, Miranda rinsed off the last plate and slipped it into the dishwasher. After pouring detergent into the dispenser, she closed the door and noticed a blurred reflection in the stainless steel door. It moved from left to right before coming to a stop in her peripheral vision. It made no sound as it moved on the tiled floor of her kitchen, which suddenly became cold under Miranda’s bare feet.

She ignored the presence at first, continuing with her chores. She had learned years ago not to be frightened by the sudden appearance of spectral visitors nor would she simply drop everything to attend to them. Death should not give license to be discourteous. Miranda wanted to help them, of course, but she would not allow them to disrupt her life either. She was a single parent with three children, a career, and a home to maintain. These were her priorities.

Still, the kids were away for now and if this gentle presence was the little girls she’d seen earlier this evening, then Miranda was all too happy to give them her attention despite the late hour.   She dried her hands with paper towel as she turned to address her guest.

“Yes, what can I—”

Miranda froze. She felt her heart leap. The tall, gaunt man who stood before her was someone she hadn’t seen in twelve years, since the birth of her twin boys. Before that, it had been the birth of her daughter. He hadn’t come to her wedding. Miranda’s mother had joked that he probably didn’t approve of Brian.

“Dad,” she breathed.

“How’s my Randy Panda?”

Miranda struggled to find words, but all she could think to say was, “You haven’t called me that since I was eight.”

Her father shrugged. “I miss my little girl.”

“I miss you, too.”

“The kids are safe with Brian. Nothing to worry about. He’s a good father.”

“Yeah, he is.” Miranda nodded. It occurred to her that he looked exactly as he had the last two times he appeared, as he had in the months before his emphysema—healthy and robust—and only a few years older than Miranda was now. He was clean shaven and his light brown hair was spiked as it had been since his days in the Marines.

“How are you?” Miranda asked.

“Wonderful.”

“I’ve been having visions of Colin.”

“I know.”

“Is he OK?”

“He’d be better if you’d move on.”

“How can I? He took his own life, and I could have saved him if—”

“Depression took him. It wasn’t his fault.”

“Then why am I having—”

“Guilt is what you’re having. Needless guilt. Let go, Randy. Give him peace.”

Miranda felt tears welling up in her eyes as her father continued. “I know what you’re about to do. You’re going to help those people that your friend called about, but you don’t realize how dangerous it is.”

“My ability is dangerous in and of itself. I never know who’s going to show up or when. The things I’ve seen…” Miranda trailed off. It had always been pointless to argue with him. “If I can’t help people what is the point of it all?”

“You can’t save the world, Randy.”

“No, but I can damn well try.”

“At what cost?”

The tears were running down her face now. “We’ve both seen the cost of not trying.”

Her father shook his head. “You didn’t know the depth of your brother’s depression. No one in the family really understood it.”

“You did. If you could come here tonight to warn me about going to Lancaster, you could have warned me about Colin.” Miranda turned away and reached for a piece of paper towel to dry her eyes. “I could have helped him.”

She crossed her arms and glared at her father, but he was gone. “I could have saved him,” she whispered.


By Your Side is available in eBook and paperback from most online booksellers, but you can also obtain a copy by donating to our Kickstarter campaign for our double horror novel, FREEDOM’S BLOOD by Steven H. Wilson & LIKE MOTHER, LIKE DAUGHTERS by Phil Giunta coming in November 2018 from Firebringer Press. Donate to the Kickstarter now! 

Kickstarter Update #4: Freedom’s Blood Cover Art In Progress

Renowned comic book artist Caio Cacau is creating a fabulous cover for Steven H. Wilson’s vampire novella, FREEDOM’S BLOOD. Caio has done cover work for two previous Firebringer Press titles:

Sacrifice Play: A Tale from the Arbiter Chronicles

The Arbiter Chronicles Vol. 1: A double novel adaptation of the first two audio episodes from Steven H. Wilson’s award winning podcast drama!

We will bring you the finished cover for FREEDOM’S BLOOD in a future update. For more of Caio’s brilliant artwork, visit his website!

Kickstarter Update #3: Freedom’s Blood (Excerpt)

Each week during our Kickstarter campaign, we will bring you updates from the project, including excerpts from both novellas. For the past two weeks, we presented the opening scenes from Phil Giunta’s novella, LIKE MOTHER, LIKE DAUGHTERS.

Now, we are excited to release an excerpt from Steven H. Wilson’s vampire tale, FREEDOM’S BLOOD. We hope you enjoy these story samples and appreciate your support for small press authors!


FREEDOM’S BLOOD – Excerpt
by Steven H. Wilson

I knew it was a bad idea all along. Well, all right, I should have known. I’ve been kicking myself for weeks now, because I should have known. I’ve successfully avoided this kind of situation for over 250 years.

Any idiot knows that a person contemplating suicide is, by definition, not in the best frame of mind; but I really believed the kid when he said he wanted to die. He was going to get what he wanted out of the deal, and I was going to get what I needed. Isn’t that what makes a fair contract?

Perhaps I should back up a bit and give you the particulars. To understand the quandary I got into, and how I got into it, you first have to understand what I am.

I am a vampire. That’s right – vampire. Blood-sucking. Undead. Turn into a bat and everything. Perhaps you expect a disclaimer about how I actually can walk in sunlight (can’t touch the stuff) or how I’m not actually supernatural but just maladjusted and blood-loving. Nope. Drink it. Gotta have it. Live forever as long as I do – well, if I stay away from wooden stakes and get back to my coffin by curfew. I am not myth. The blonde kid on TV that makes vampires disappear in a cloud of ash? She’s your myth. Never met the human who was my equal. Rarely have I seen one of my kind get staked. Certainly not while they were awake and could do something to prevent it!

Most of what you’ve heard is true. Garlic affects me the way tear gas does you. A stake through the heart will kill me. Won’t do you any good either. Crucifixes? Uh uh. Yes, they’ve tended to scare our kind over the centuries, because those who wear them have tended to try to kill us over the centuries. I’m too intelligent a beast to say that all those who worship at the sign of the cross are murderous bigots, but I can see why less intelligent beasts could draw that conclusion. There’s just so much evidence.

Holy water? Look, be realistic. My body chemistry is different from yours. Some things that hurt me don’t hurt you and vice versa. Superstition doesn’t enter into it. It’s all about science. Your dog doesn’t get sick from eating chocolate because Hershey was a cat person, he gets sick because the stimulant it contains cannot be quickly processed by his digestive system, and builds up to a toxic level in his blood. Your system processes theobromine, the stimulant, quickly, and so you do not get sick from eating chocolate. Your immunity and his vulnerability exist no matter what religious ceremonies are performed over the chocolate.

So why would a little glass of water that was muttered over by a sexually frustrated cleric give me gas? If water doesn’t hurt me, the ritual won’t change the fact. And water doesn’t hurt me. In fact, I can walk on it – or under it – with no troubles. I suspect that, at some point during the Spanish Inquisition days, one of their bright boys took it upon himself to put some corrosive agent or other into holy water, and happened to fling it in the face of a vampire who (surprise!) felt pain.

Oh, and if my ability to walk on water causes you to feel the need to worship me, I have no objection; but a shrine in your home would have little meaning for me. If you’re so moved, send ten per cent of your pre-tax earnings to me care of this publisher, and I will transfer to you, faithfully each night, intangible religious benefits. I further promise you that, should I ever meet any being approaching omnipotence, I will put in a good word for you with Him. Or Her. Or It.

Fair deal? No pressure. Think about it. I have lots of time.

Now that you’re clear on what a vampire is, you’ll of course want to know how I became one. It was the usual way: I was bitten by another vampire and I tasted his blood – my blood in his veins, to be precise. It happened like this…

Oh, before I go further, I would like to make it clear that this is my story, and will not now devolve into a history of the person – creature – who sired me.

The creature who made me a vampire is not interesting, continental or a good model for a hair gel commercial. In fact, he was an accountant with bad breath. And yes, halitosis is offensive, even to vampires. Especially to us, as what is more distasteful than one who plies a trade but does not keep his tools of that trade well maintained? Even an unwilling victim deserves some consideration, don’t you think? Would you want to be bitten by fangs caked with traces of many blood types – some horribly diseased! – which had little bits of venous tissue lodged between them? I should say you would not!

An odious creature. I burned him three days later because it was cold. Oh, vampires don’t get cold you say? And you may be right. But I’ll never tell.


Read the full story in FREEDOM’S BLOOD / LIKE MOTHER, LIKE DAUGHTERS coming in November 2018 from Firebringer Press. Donate to the Kickstarter now! 

Kickstarter Update #2: Like Mother, Like Daughters (Part Two)

Like Mother, Like Daughters CoverEach week during our Kickstarter campaign, we will post updates from the project, including story excerpts from both novellas. This week, we present the second part of the opening to Phil Giunta’s novella, LIKE MOTHER, LIKE DAUGHTERS. Next week, we’ll bring you scenes from Steven H. Wilson’s vampire tale, FREEDOM’S BLOOD.

We appreciate your support and hope you enjoy these story samples!


LIKE MOTHER, LIKE DAUGHTERS – Excerpt Part Two
by Phil Giunta

Miranda sighed as she gazed down the empty hallway. She called out to Andrea and Wendy, but there was no response—which only meant one thing. “These kids have no damn patience.”

Carefully pushing aside a haphazard stack of notepads and index cards, Miranda placed her laptop and mini-DV camera on Wendy’s desk. She made her way toward the back door, hoping that the girls were merely waiting outside.

A distant, terrified shriek told her otherwise.

Miranda threw open the storm door and bolted across the yard. “Andrea!”

She stepped on something solid that rolled under her foot, sending her stumbling forward. Snow-patched earth rose up to meet her. Miranda yelped as her chest landed squarely on another piece of firewood. She pushed herself up just enough to slide it out from beneath her and push it away.

“Mom, where are you!”

“I’m here,” Miranda croaked. Wincing against the pain, she rolled onto her side and wrapped her arms around her chest, forcing her breaths into a calm rhythm.

When she opened her eyes again, two people stood above her a few feet away. The closest was a tall, stocky man wearing a leather jacket and baseball cap. He turned away just as Miranda gazed up at him, making it impossible to see his face. The girl, however, was unmistakable.

Wendy.

She cradled a few pieces of firewood in her arms as she stared wide-eyed at the man who was shouting at her. He was young, judging by his voice.

“You’re fucking with the wrong family, bitch! You better keep your goddamn mouth shut.”

“I’m not talking to you about this.” Wendy held up a hand as she sidestepped him and made her way toward the house. “Just get the fuck out of here, before I call the—”

“Lying whore!” In a blur of motion, the man grabbed her arm and jerked her backward toward him. He brought his other hand up to her chest and shoved her effortlessly into the rack of firewood, knocking several pieces to the ground.

Miranda reached out to the chain link fence and pulled herself to her knees, all concern for herself forgotten. No one turned to look at her. This was a vision of events that must have occurred shortly before Miranda and her daughter arrived.

Wendy cried out as she crumpled to the ground. The young man moved in and grabbed her by the hair. She picked up a hefty piece of firewood and swung, but he anticipated her. He caught it easily and yanked it from her grasp, then raised it above his head. “You’re not calling anyone, bitch.”

“Oh, God, no…” Miranda could only watch in disgust as he clubbed Wendy in the stomach. She groaned and doubled over, but that wasn’t enough for him. He continued his assault, beating her in the back of the head even after she collapsed into the snow. He stopped only when her body began twitching.

Seconds later, that stopped too.

Still on her knees, Miranda leaned forward, holding onto the fence for support. She wanted to vomit.

The man tossed the firewood aside. It landed exactly where Miranda had tripped. Despite the pain in her chest, she forced herself to her feet and spoke through gritted teeth. “You son of a bitch.”

He lifted Wendy over his shoulder and carried her out through the fence and into the woods. Miranda watched until they vanished into the darkness.

Wendy’s words from earlier came back to her. You need to be here. Tonight of all nights, I need your help.

***

“Andrea!” After following what she hoped was the right path through the woods, Miranda spotted the boots first. She slid to a halt in the snow and traced her flashlight along the body. Wendy’s face was obscured by her thick mane of saffron hair, made crimson by congealing blood.

Andrea knelt over her friend. She looked up at Miranda. Her mouth hung open in confusion and horror. Tears fell from her face. “Where the hell were you? I was calling for you!” Struggling to catch her breath, she held out her hands above Wendy’s prone form. “She’s…”

“Dead, I know.”

As Andrea broke down into quiet sobs, Miranda moved beside her and took her into her arms. “Honey, I’m so sorry. I would’ve been here sooner, but when I stepped outside, I… I had a vision of what happened.”

Her daughter pulled back. “Tell me.”

Miranda wiped the tears from Andrea’s face. “It can wait. We need to—”

“No, I want to know who did this!”

Miranda hesitated. “The guy driving that truck killed Wendy in her backyard and dumped her out here just before we showed up. Problem was, it was too dark to see his face.”

Andrea fell silent as she began to tremble, eyes wide. Miranda could only watch helplessly as cruel realization seized her daughter. “That means we were talking to her ghost the entire time?”

“That would explain a lot, like why I felt such heightened stress and fear when we first arrived, and why Wendy was so cold to the touch.”

“Oh, God.”

Miranda remained silent as Andrea stood and turned away. She leaned against a tree until she regained her composure. “At first, I thought she just tripped and fell, but I would have heard that. Then I saw the blood on her head… and she wasn’t moving and…” Andrea doubled over, gritting her teeth. “Damn it.”

Finally, she stood and ran a sleeve across her eyes. “We saw the orbs. Wendy said they were there for her.”

“It’s possible. They could have been the souls of just about anybody who lost their lives in these woods. Maybe they were here to shepherd Wendy to the next life, I don’t know.” Miranda glanced at the sky, but saw only the stars. “I really wish you’d waited for me before venturing out here.”

“You’re going to start on me now? It’s not like I was expecting this to happen.”

“Exactly. You’re not experienced with the paranormal and even if you were, investigators should never go anywhere alone because you never know what to expect. You’ve heard me say that more than once when I bring new members onto my team. At minimum, we work in pairs.”

“I can handle myself, and Wendy was with me… sort of.”

Miranda held up a hand. “We’ll talk about this later. Right now, we need to go inside, put the equipment back in the car, and call the cops.”

Andrea shook her head. “I’m not leaving her.”

“You don’t have to. I’ll go to the house and call from the landline. There’s no cell signal out here.”

“What are we going to tell them?”

“Well, they’re not likely to believe that her ghost led you to her body. It’s probably better to say that the house was wide open when we got here. We noticed the firewood in disarray and the back gate open so we went looking for her.”

“And tell them about Ross.”

“We’ll tell them about the truck.”

Mother and daughter shared another embrace before Miranda started back toward the house.

***

Andrea dropped to her knees and closed her eyes. “I’m so sorry we were late. Please forgive me. It was my fault we got lost. I’m sorry.” After a silent prayer, she opened her eyes and reeled back as a bluish-white sphere, no larger than a child’s fist, hovered over Wendy’s body.

“Wendy?” Andrea slowly reached out, but before she could touch it, the orb floated skyward and eventually joined two others that materialized above the trees. After a few seconds, all three faded into the night.

***

Four hours later, Wendy’s body had been removed and the property cordoned off with caution tape. In the backyard, the cops had found blood on a loose piece of firewood. It had been bagged as evidence. In the living room, Miranda sat with one arm firmly at her side and the other around her daughter. In keeping her hands away from her head, she hoped to stifle her hair-twirling habit in front of the sheriff as he reviewed their statements.

Of course, that didn’t stop her from fingering a lock of Andrea’s hair instead.

Finally, the sheriff nodded grimly and closed his notepad. “Well, thank you both for your help. We’ll contact her family tonight. I’ll be in touch if I have more questions.”

“Absolutely.” Miranda and her daughter rose from the sofa. “Whatever we can do, please let us know.”

“Actually, sir,” Andrea spoke up in a timorous voice. “Before we leave, would you mind if we feed her cats?”

“Unfortunately, ma’am, this is a crime scene now. I’m not supposed to let you touch anything,” the sheriff tapped his notepad against his other hand, “but you ladies don’t seem like killers to me. Just make it quick. I need to go talk to my deputy. I’ll be back in a few minutes to escort you out and lock up.”

***

In the kitchen, the women kept their voices low as they filled food and water bowls and cleaned litter pans.

“You didn’t tell him about your vision in the backyard,” Andrea said.

“That would only have complicated things. Besides, I didn’t see the guy’s face. We told the sheriff about the truck. They found the firewood. Let them do their jobs. I’m more concerned about you right now.”

If you only knew… “I’ll be all right. I just need time, and I think I owe you an apology.”

Her mother frowned. “For what, sweetie?”

“All these years listening to your ghost stories, I never really knew whether to believe you or not.”

“Oh, I know, and now that you’ve had your own experience, you’re finally convinced that your mom isn’t an embarrassing whack-job.”

“Something like that.”

“If the spirits know you can see them, more will come. Most will be like Wendy, innocent lost souls just looking for help.”

“Most?”

The sheriff stepped through the front door.

“We’ll talk more about it later.”

“Do you think I’ll see her again?” Andrea whispered.

As if in response, a single, gentle strum startled both women. They turned to look at the guitar in the far corner of the living room. Even the sheriff was startled.

“I think you just got your answer.”


Read the full story in FREEDOM’S BLOOD / LIKE MOTHER, LIKE DAUGHTERS coming in November 2018 from Firebringer Press. Donate to the Kickstarter now! 

Kickstarter Update #1: Like Mother, Like Daughters (Part One)

Like Mother, Like Daughters CoverEach week during our Kickstarter campaign, we will bring you updates from the project, including excerpts from both novellas. To begin, we are pleased to present the opening scenes from Phil Giunta’s novella, LIKE MOTHER, LIKE DAUGHTERS. This will be a two-part update with the second half posted next weekend. We will then follow with an excerpt from Steven H. Wilson’s FREEDOM’S BLOOD.

We hope you enjoy these story samples. Thank you for your generosity and support.

 


LIKE MOTHER, LIKE DAUGHTERS – Excerpt Part One
by Phil Giunta

Andrea Lorensen considered giving a whole new meaning to the term “touchscreen”—with her fist.

Instead, she restrained herself to a sigh as the dashboard GPS announced for the third time that it was “recalculating”. Sure, get me this far then screw me over… bastard. She knew it was just embarrassment and frustration getting the best of her, especially since she was now 20 minutes late. The fact that her mom was with her didn’t help.

“Lost in the woods on a frigid February night. Not how I prefer to start a paranormal investigation.” From the passenger seat, Miranda Lorensen glanced at her daughter. “Just saying.”

“I can barely see the street signs, okay? It’s pitch black out here.” Andrea pulled her mother’s SUV onto a dirt road and turned around. “We must have passed it.”

“Again.”

Andrea rolled her eyes. “Don’t be a smart-ass.”

“Takes one to raise one. I thought you knew how to get there.”

Andrea turned left onto what qualified as the main road in this podunk town, probably because it was the only one that was paved. “I’ve only been to Wendy’s place once for a Halloween party and I had a hard time finding it then. Can’t your psychic mojo give us some direction?”

Miranda nodded toward the GPS. “That’s what he’s for.”

As if on cue, the British baritone voice spoke up cheerfully. “In point one mile, turn left onto Pine Swamp Road.”

Miranda snickered. “Now that’s a name that inspires confidence. Just take it slow and let’s keep our eyes open.” In unison, both women perked up and pointed ahead. “There!”

The tree line parted just enough to reveal a narrow gravel road.

“Turn left,” the GPS instructed.

“Now you tell me.” Andrea swung the vehicle hard.

Miranda gripped the door handle with one hand while pressing her other palm against the dashboard. “Jeez, girl, who taught you how to drive?”

“You did.”

“It shows.”

Ahead of them, the high beams bounced and shook as they illuminated a well-traveled path of dirt and stone bordered by patches of snow and dead grass. Beyond that, more impenetrable darkness.

“And Wendy lives all alone out here?”

“Her parents own this little one story ranch. It’s a tiny place, two-bedrooms, one bath. They use it as a summer getaway, but Wendy lives in it during the school year. It’s haunted, or so she says.”

“Right, you told me. She hears voices and her cats get spooked.”

“More than that. She also sees lights in the woods behind the house, and not flashlights either. They’re up high near the treetops. They just float around and then vanish. She’s dealing with it, but I think she’s freaked—”

“Slow down.”

“Why?”

“Something’s coming. I can feel it.”

“Where?”

Following the curve in the road, Andrea turned the vehicle slightly to the right—and screamed as a pair of headlights suddenly flashed on directly ahead of them before swerving to the left. Andrea was momentarily blinded as she veered the SUV wildly to avoid a collision. Just as quickly, she straightened out the wheel, narrowly missing a cluster of pine trees. Finally, she stomped on the brake pedal, propelling both women toward the windshield. Andrea’s seatbelt sank into her chest before her body snapped back into the seat. She turned to her mother. “You okay?”

“Fine.” Miranda nodded, pushing disheveled blonde locks away from her face. She reached over and did the same for her daughter. “You?”

Andrea slapped the steering wheel. “Bastard!” She threw open the driver’s side door and leapt out.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” Miranda muttered. She followed Andrea’s gaze to the fading red glow of taillights. “They’re already gone. Nothing you can do now.”

Using the flashlight app on her phone, Andrea inspected all four sides of the vehicle before climbing back in. “No damage that I can see. Friggin’ redneck was driving with his lights off!” She sighed and sat back in her seat. “Sorry about this.”

“Not your fault. That was some quick thinking behind the wheel.”

“I had a good teacher, remember?”

“Did you happen to see what kind of car it was?”

“I think it was a pickup. I caught a flash of silver.” Andrea narrowed her eyes. “I wonder if that was Ross.”

“Ross?”
“Wendy’s boyfriend or maybe ex-boyfriend by now—you never know with her. I only talked to him once at the Halloween party, but he picked Wendy up from campus a few times. I remember he drove a silver Chevy truck.” Andrea exhaled sharply and frowned. “Mom, are you sure you’re fine?”

“Yeah, why?”

“You’re twirling your hair. You only do that when you’re nervous. I know, because I do it, too.”

Miranda dropped her hand. “Like mother, like daughter.”

“I think we’re both a bit rattled. Let’s just get there and have a good night of ghost hunting.”

As Andrea turned the SUV back onto the gravel, Miranda put a gentle hand on her forearm. “I can’t pin it down, but something’s wrong. I’m getting that old familiar pressure behind my eyes.”

“The tunnel vision, too?”

Miranda shook her head. “Not yet, but the feeling is oppressive. The driver of that truck was running from something. Whatever it is, it’s expecting us and it isn’t very happy.”

Andrea’s shoulders slumped. “Thanks, mom. You’re giving me my second scare of the night and we’re not even there yet.”

***

Wendy was waiting for them. She stood just outside the front door in a loose-fitting sweatshirt and jeans that hugged the curves of her full figure. The cuffs were tucked into thick plush boots that were all the rage with young women today. Miranda never saw the appeal in them. The girl’s fiery red hair spilled around her shoulders and chest from beneath a gray fleece cap complete with earflaps and tassels.

Even as Miranda and her daughter approached, Wendy didn’t smile. Standing beneath the exterior light, she regarded them with a detached expression, her hazel eyes glazed and distant.

“Hey.” Andrea threw her arms around Wendy and pulled her close, yet the other woman’s posture remained rigid as she returned a tepid embrace.

Andrea pulled back. “Are you okay?”

“I have a skull-splitting headache after dealing with my ex. You just missed him.”

“Only by a few inches. He damn near ran us off the road. Didn’t even have his lights on until we almost collided head-on.”

“Doesn’t surprise me. We ended up in an argument. It was an ugly scene.”

“If he was angry, that would explain his reckless driving,” Miranda chimed in.

“Oh.” Andrea stepped back and gestured to Miranda. “Wendy, this is my mom.”

“Nice to meet you.” The girl smiled wanly and extended a hand. It was gelid to the touch and for a moment, the pain behind Miranda’s eyes flared sharply. It subsided as soon as their hands parted.

“Sorry if this is a bad time.”

Wendy’s gaze snapped into focus as she looked from Miranda to Andrea. Wincing slightly, she raised a hand to her stomach. “No, you need to be here. Tonight of all nights, I need your help.”

Miranda and her daughter exchanged puzzled glances.

“Uh, sure,” Andrea said. “Has there been more activity lately?”

“You could say that.” Wendy opened the door. “Come on in, I’ll give you a tour, although there isn’t much to see. This place is just one giant box.”

The living room was a narrow rectangle that spanned the entire width of the house. An entertainment center and sofa took up the left side. Behind the sofa, a vase filled with tiger lilies sat atop a half wall that opened to a small kitchen. To the right, in front of a cluttered desk, one of Wendy’s cats was curled up on an office chair watching the visitors as they entered. The other cat was likely hiding elsewhere in the house.

Andrea pointed to an acoustic guitar suspended upright in its stand beside a small brick fireplace. “Oh, cool. When did you get that?”

“My mom brought that with her the last time she visited. I played a lot in high school. Don’t get as much time with it anymore, but I wanted to get back into it.   Actually, since it’s been here, it strums every so often by itself as if someone’s lightly running a finger across the strings. It only happened a few times, but I can’t explain it.”

“I suggest we leave a digital voice recorder on the floor in front of it,” Miranda said.

Wendy led them down a narrow hallway toward the back of the house. Silhouettes of the women reflected in the glass of the storm door that opened out to the backyard and woods beyond.

Just past the bathroom, Wendy stopped and waved to her right. “I occasionally hear voices in this bedroom, which is why I sleep in the other one. I can never make out what they’re saying and when I go to the doorway to listen, they shut up.”

“Sounds like another candidate for a voice recorder,” Andrea said. “What about the activity outside? You mentioned seeing lights in the woods?”

The color vanished from Wendy’s face as she turned to gaze toward the back door. When she spoke, her tone was pensive. “Yeah… there was activity out there earlier tonight, in fact.”

Miranda could sense Wendy’s mounting fear. Whatever awaited them, it was in the woods—and Wendy knew it.

Andrea stepped up beside her friend. “You okay? If you don’t want to go outside, it’s fine. My mom and I can—”

“No.” Wendy lowered her head and massaged her temples. “It’s just this damn headache, but I want to show you where I see the lights.”

“Take your time,” Miranda said in a soothing tone. “Is there something about the lights we should know?”

Wendy didn’t answer right away. With a sigh, she leaned against the wall.

Miranda looked at her daughter. Andrea shrugged and shook her head. Apparently, Wendy was not normally so withdrawn. From what Andrea had told her on the way here, Wendy was known to be vivacious and cheerful. Recently, however, something had changed. Andrea didn’t know what.

After a moment, Wendy raised her head. “This is going to sound crazy, but I think they show up specifically for me. That’s just an impression I get because my parents and brother never see them when they stay here.”

“You think they’re trying to communicate with you?” Andrea asked.

“I’m not sure. Maybe you can help me figure that out tonight.”

“What do they look like?”

“Small bluish orbs that hover above the trees. They never make a sound. Eventually, they fade away. It’s comforting but eerie at the same time. You know this area is haunted for miles around. People have seen spirits of American Indians and Civil War soldiers. Twelve years ago, two hikers were murdered on the Appalachian Trail not far from here. Their souls are supposedly still roaming the woods. It’s a very active area.”

“I can feel it,” Miranda said. The pressure behind her eyes returned, blurring the edges of her vision. “There’s definitely something here.”

Andrea pulled a small LED flashlight from her coat pocket. “Let’s go then.”

Miranda held up a hand. “Hold on. Before we explore the woods, I want to get a few things from the car.” She nodded toward the spare bedroom. “Andrea, can you please leave your voice recorder in here? I’d like to put the mini DV in here, too. Wendy, would you mind if I set up my laptop on your desk?”

“No problem.”

“I have a night vision camera we can take with us outside.”

“Do you need help?” Andrea asked.

“No, I’m good. Just stay put. Don’t venture out there until we’re set up in here. We’ll all go together, okay?”

***

Andrea waited until her mother was out of earshot. “Wendy, are you sure you’re all right? You’ve been down for weeks and I’m really concerned.”

Wendy turned her head slowly, her expression inscrutable. “We need to go out there now.”

“You’re starting to freak me out. Can we just—”

Wendy gripped her hand with surprising strength. Andrea drew in a sharp breath. “Your hand is freezing. Don’t you think you should put a coat and gloves on first?”

Wendy moved toward the door, dragging Andrea behind her. “Wendy, what the hell? We should wait for my mom. She’s psychic or a medium or whatever. If she thinks there’s something wrong—”

“She’s right,” Wendy opened the door, “but it can’t wait any longer.”

Andrea glanced over her shoulder to the front door. “Fine,” she relented. “How far into the woods are we going?”

“Not far at all. He didn’t have much time. I told him you were coming.”

Andrea frowned. “What are you talking about?”

Wendy said no more as she stepped outside and strode across the small yard. Andrea followed her and noticed several pieces of firewood scattered across the frozen ground. She brought her flashlight to bear on the scene and noticed a half-cord of wood stacked neatly in a rectangular rack against the fence. It was obvious that one side had been disturbed.

“What happened here?”

“I was gathering wood for the fire when he showed up. I dropped some pieces during our argument. Come on.”

Wendy opened the gate and hurried into the thicket.

“What’s the rush?”

“You’ll see.”

Andrea weaved and ducked her way around bare branches while ice-frosted snow crunched under foot.

Wendy needed no illumination to make her way. For a minute, Andrea lost sight of her until the path curved to the right. There, Wendy stood with her back to Andrea, peering up into the sky.

At the lights.

Andrea gasped. “No shit.” Two bluish-white orbs hovered above their heads. They seemed to pass through the branches as they glided among the trees. “Oh my God, they’re just like you described.”

Wendy didn’t respond immediately. She seemed to be mesmerized. “They’re here for me.”

“What?” Andrea pulled her phone from her coat pocket and aimed it at the orbs. She took several steps forward, tracking them as they began to move out of view. When she spoke again, it was in hushed tones. She was afraid of scaring them off. “Damn it, mom, get out here with that camera. My mom got this cool night vision camera for Christmas. This is our first ghost hunt of the year and we were hoping to test it—”

Andrea turned around. Wendy was gone.

She aimed her flashlight along the path behind her. “Wendy?”

Click here to read Part Two!


Read the full story in FREEDOM’S BLOOD / LIKE MOTHER, LIKE DAUGHTERS coming in November 2018 from Firebringer Press. Donate to the Kickstarter now! 

Our Kickstarter Campaign Has Begun!

Ghosts, Vampires, and American History… brought to you by Firebringer Press!

Steven H. Wilson and Phil Giunta are excited to announce the upcoming combined release of Steve’s vampire novella FREEDOM’S BLOOD with Phil’s paranormal mystery, LIKE MOTHER, LIKE DAUGHTERS in the format of the classic ACE doubles (read one story, flip the book over and read the other). Today, we launched a 30-day Kickstarter campaign to help bring this book to fruition by late November 2018.

LIKE MOTHER, LIKE DAUGHTERS sees the return of psychic-medium Miranda Lorensen from Phil’s novels By Your Side and Testing the Prisoner while FREEDOM’S BLOOD introduces a vampire like none you’ve ever encountered.

Please click here to learn more. Our goal is only $750 to cover the cost of cover art, editing, set-up fees, etc. We’re offering several reward levels including ebooks, signed paperbacks (including backlist titles), story critiques, and a membership to the Farpoint SF convention in February.

Please spread the word to anyone who might be interested. Thank you for supporting small press authors!

Like Mother, Like Daughters Book Cover

The Fandom Fifty by Diane Lee Baron

The Fandom Fifty by Diane Lee BaronFirebringer Press is proud to bring you Diane Lee Baron’s upcoming collection of interviews and anecdotes from many of the organizers, guests, and attendees of Maryland’s SF Convention scene. The Baltimore region is home to a number of popular and enduring SF cons that include Farpoint, Balticon, Shore Leave, and others. The Fandom Fifty will be published early 2019.