Yes, Another New Cover

Greetings! Okay, last cover redesign for a while, I promise.

I failed with this book. When Pestilence Rising first came out back in 2014 (wow, has it been that long?), I concentrated most of my promotional efforts on getting reviews. I got a few, nothing crazy. I sold like no copies. Even to this day, it isn’t selling squat. I have literally sold 2 digital copies of this book. 2.

The new cover is an attempt to fix that. I’m also revamping the description, recategorizing it, and implementing advertising.

The first cover was…not that great. This is it.

Pestilence Rising jpg cover

I guess it could’ve been worse. It could’ve been one of those horrible covers I sometimes see that look like someone took a bunch of tiny, random pictures and made a half-ass collage with them. Oh, if you’re wondering why my name is “L. Ryan” on this one, it’s because at the time, I was reading about how people would rather read books by men, so some ladies use initials instead of their first names like JK Rowling.

Ahem.

Anyway, so the second cover was a little better.

new PR cover

Still not fantastic or great for the genre, but at least it looks more…artsy?

With the new push comes the new cover. This is the one I’m going to use from here on out.

new pestilence rising cover

I still might monkey around with the font a bit, but I am pleased with it overall.

Hopefully, this new push will help. I dropped the ball with this book, which is dumb because I really did like it. I still do.

I was also thinking about doing an audiobook version after I finish Beneath Oceans of Sky and Love and the Dark. That might be weird, because the main character is male. My voice isn’t overly girly, though, so I might be able to pull it off.

Tune in tomorrow for a super creepy fish post. The fish is creepy, not the post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Everything Updates

Hi! I know I haven’t been around much. I thought I’d pop on and offer some updates.

I should have at least 1 book out in the next couple of months and then another one a month or 2 after that. I promise I don’t write that quickly; I just have things that seem to be wrapping up somewhat close together.

One is the 2nd Desmond book. There is no cover art yet. There is a sketch for the cover art, but no actual, real life cover at this time.

The other is a novella currently titled Wild Blood of the Hollow. It’s a shortish fantasy thing that still needs some tweaking. I should finish the first read-through tomorrow if nothing gets in the way. I have a nice cover in mind for that one.

The Beneath Oceans of Sky audiobook is coming along, somewhat. I’m up to editing the 4th chapter. I know, I know. I’m slow like molasses in winter. I’ve been kind of lazy/tired lately, which hasn’t affected the pace of my writing too much, but sometimes, I just really don’t want to edit audio. Most of the time, really. It could be worse, but it is not my favorite activity.

I’m finding that working on the audiobook has changed me in a couple of ways. Listening for my recording/editing mistakes has given me a kind of habit of listening for mistakes in other audiobooks and podcasts. I didn’t really want that. Now I hear every sinus click, every turn of the page, etc. It’s like a really annoying superpower.

I also find myself paying attention to how what I’m writing or proofreading would sound if I read it as an audiobook. I make minor changes that I wouldn’t have made previously. That’s okay because it means that I’m paying attention on another level. I don’t want to notice that when someone else is reading. I just want to hear the book.

Current reading material is the magnificent beast below. The gods really liked to turn people into trees, flowers, animals, and various other nature things. Really, really, really. It is pretty cool, though.
IMG_20171114_194523692

 

That’s all I have at the moment. TTFN.

Rapid-Fire Randomness

Hey, what’s up! I’ve been sick for about the last week because my husband decided to bring home the plague. I haven’t had much energy for blogging, but apparently, that won’t stop me from posting words on the internet.Today, I have some random bits and bobs about what’s been going on.

Current writing project: Desmond Winters and the Ghosts of Arbolettis (middle-grade book), word count – 24231, a little over a third of the way complete if I hit my 60,000-word goal.

Most recent books read:
Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger – meh
The Bell Jar by Syvlia Plath – slightly better
Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet – pretty good

Currently reading:
Shadows of the Dark Crystal #1 by JM Lee and Brian Froud

Also about to start:
Splintered by AG Howard

Most recent movies watched:
The Magnificent Seven (2016) – very good
Don’t Breathe – not bad
Star Trek Beyond – decent

And here’s a picture of my son’s new snail. Its name is Larry and it is slightly larger than a quarter. Every time someone sees this picture, they ask me how big it is.

img_20170101_020241

The Contestant by CJ Lea

Hey there! One of the very talented people in my writer group recently released her book and you should definitely read it! I had the opportunity to check it out a couple of weeks ago, and I can tell you it’s very good. Lots of action and intrigue and not very nice people doing not very nice things.

the contestant

For Raymond, the online contests were only ever about the money. A brilliant and resourceful serial killer, a hit-and-run accident five years ago left him confined to a wheelchair, and he now makes a humble living pursuing prizes under stolen and fake identities, and selling them online.

But when a $10 million treasure hunt comes up, Raymond begins to realize just how small and insignificant his life has become. This treasure hunt could be his salvation—the perfect opportunity to recoup a standard of living he once enjoyed, to regain the respect he once garnered as a behavioral analyst and profiler.

The moment Raymond registers for the contest, however, the first email arrives. Someone out there knows him, knows his past, knows details he thought were long buried. Now, there’s only one way for Raymond to find his blackmailer and put an end to the threats: Play the game and follow the treasure hunt clues.

And this time, it’s not about the money.

Also available in the Kindle Lending Library for Prime Members.

Link to the book on Amazon

Iyrico, Part Seven

Friday is here! Yes, indeed. Ok, here is the last part of Iyrico. This one is kinda long because there really wasn’t any good spot to split it.

If you’re new to the Iyrico party, links to the previous posts are below.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

Part Six

If you aren’t the patient sort, you can access the story in its entirety at:

Scribd

Wattpad website and the app

iyrico cover2

The wind shifted direction, pelting the house with sand, rattling the gutters. It was stronger than usual, Levi thought, angry.

His heart in his throat, he entered the room.

It moaned. She moaned. Whatever lay beneath the bed let a mournful, otherworldly sound he couldn’t definitively identify as male or female. Could Nessa make a sound like that?

“You aren’t scaring me.” He insisted.

He glanced back to see the faithful hound had refused to follow his master. The dog hung his head shamefully, but the fear in his eyes was unmistakeable.

“Don’t tell me she’s got you fooled.” Levi knealt next to the bed to move the bed skirt away.

Too much light. That was his first thought. The room had no windows. No lamps pushed back the shadows. The only illumination came from the hallway behind him. Yet, he could see the patch of floor under the bed as easily as if the daylight had somehow traveled in from the front door, slithered down the hall to coil beneath this piece of furniture, the death bed.

Enveloped in the stark illumination, a long cloud of brown smoke swished back and forth. It swirled to form fleeting shapes, a hollow-eyed face here, a skeletal hand there, and they vanished so quickly Levi could barely make them out before they were gone.

Terror riveted him to the spot. He couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe. It had him, this mass of disease, and it moaned again. The outline of a hand formed once more, the smoke stopping its ebb and flow motion to build solidity, and the color of it darkened. Smokey tendrils became dense tangles of flesh, fingers spreading. Then came a shoulder, neck, and chin. It grabbed Levi’s wrist.

He got hold of himself and kicked away, hitting the closet door behind him. He scrambled for the bedroom door, and he didn’t need to look to know it was following.

Hound dodged his clumsy retreat, and they both made for the front door. It swung open easily to fresh air and sunshine, a world where the Iyrico didn’t exist. He bolted out into the yard, stumbling onto the grass, blind until his eyes adjusted to the day. He landed on his hands and knees.

Between him and the driveway, a line of menacing dogs sat. They growled a chorus of malice, drooled at the prospect of tearing into Levi’s flesh. The largest of them, a black mutt with a white stomach and a war-wounded face readied himself for a pounce.

Here, faced with his own kind, Hound found his courage. He put himself between Levi and the dogs. He crouched and growled louder than the rest. This was him giving his master a chance to escape.

Levi turned and struggled to his feet as he ran, around the side of the house where the shrill cries of dogs in battle collided with the roar of the ocean far below. His shoes slid in the soft mix of dirt and sand. He rounded the corner, and the endlessness of the ocean stole his breath. White-blue sky stretched before him, the void more terrible than ever. Death awaited there on the jagged rocks and the depths beyond.

Levi had nowhere to go. The demon inside. The dogs and the ocean outside. He wheeled in a circle, considering the woods to the side of the house. Maybe he could climb a tree.

A thump, a pulse trembled the ground, shook Levi down to his marrow. He froze, trying to figure out the direction from which it had come. It thumped again, a thing so deep, it moved the soil. Cracks formed from the base of the house, dark lines reaching for Levi’s feet. He backed away, closer to the edge of the cliff.

A larger version of the same swirling cloud he had seen under the bed pushed against the windows. It stretched from one end of the house to the other, forming faces, then letting them go.
Pebbles crumbled from the wall. They tumbled down the stone, around the door straining against its latch. Pressure was building inside.

An explosion of darkness threw Levi to the ground. He landed hard on his back, near the edge of the cliff, in the dirt. Debris rained. He curled into a ball until the shower waned.

Feeling the expanse of ocean, the wide open space about to swallow him, he scooted away, through shards of glass all around, far too much glass to have come from the house. He hastily brushed it from his hair and the folds of his shirt as if it might bite him. He got to his feet.

The dark cloud had escaped the confines of Cliff House. It smothered all detail from the land and eddied around him, alive and coiling, twisting into shapes, then losing them just as easily. It smelled of sulfur, he thought, of campfire and rich, wet dirt.

Hound howled somewhere in the distance. It struck Levi, not as a sound of distress, but one of searching. The dog was lost in the fog on the other side of the house.
Aside from the howl and the crunch of his shoes on shards of glass, Levi could hear nothing else. The ocean had fallen silent, and no breeze whispered in the trees. The rest of the world had gone to sunnier places.

Cliff House always had an abandoned look to it, the way it slumped against the cliff and sagged in the middle. But with the windows gone, it had taken on a new level of dilapidation. The back door hung off to the side by its bottom hinge. Intense darkness lurked inside, like an inky curtain draped over all indications of human presence.

He stepped onto the back stairs. Inches away, he still could see nothing of the kitchen. He reached for the blackness. His hand passed through the veil of night with no resistance. He stepped inside.

The temperature dove to a dead cold. Once he crossed the threshold, he could make out a black and gray version of the interior of the house. The furniture, stripped of color, seemed false, like a mirage of itself.

The walls creaked. The floor hummed, a vibration coming from the junk room. He followed it to the source.

Grandma Mola had buried the demon’s prison in mounds of junk. It was the same room from which she’d pulled the top she gave him. Had she known the Iyrico was there all along?

Everything rattled and clanked and shook in the vibration. He moved closer, sticking to the path, stepping over whatever had fallen in his way.

Then he saw her.

Nessa in her dress, her eyes rolled back into her head, her mouth hanging agape, levitated inches above the floor. She was a ghost in the night, as pale as any corpse could strive to be. And though she remained perfectly still, she made a noise that was a mix of crying and shivering. Inky smoke coiled around her wrists.

“Nessa?” He asked, “Can you hear me?”

On the floor in front of her, he found the wooden planks broken away. A hole gaped. He looked inside.

A round, metal plate lay askew – the door to the demon’s prison. The monster had opened the portal, but it didn’t yet have the strength to step out completely. This manifestation of its spirit was a part of the whole. The rest, the full horror, waited to break free. He felt the Iyrico staring up from the void.

A voice, a wheezing sound from a throat choked with rocks, told him, “Choose.”

Memories flooded his mind, a slightly younger version of his cousin getting him in trouble, the current version of her snipping, snapping, tattling, and locking him out for the stray dogs. She taunted him. These visions were intended to rile Levi. The demon forced an image of Nessa’s face contorted in anger. She screamed at him, told him how much she wanted him to die.

The haze constricted around them. His thin view of the house vanished.

“Choose.” It spoke again.

The Iyrico was a monster conceived in a moment of hatred. It sought the same emotion from Levi. It needed hate to escape its curse.

Levi threw his arm around his cousin’s waist and twisted away. She was lighter than he expected, and she broke free easily, and then he was running though the house, dragging her by her arms while she leaned on his back for support.

Cliff House shuddered down to its frame as if an earthquake had taken hold. He pushed through, kept his feet moving against the buckling floor. An avalanche of dishes slid from the cabinets to break on the counter and the floor. Levi dodged the table. He cleared a chair with the demon on his heels. Its exhalation, the rage pouring from its mouth, infected the air. It screamed in the voices of many, and the house went black.

Levi lost his bearings, so he stopped running. He turned in a circle, looking for some sign he was still part of the living world and still in Cliff House.

“Levi?” Nessa awoke. She stood on her own, “What is this place? Where are we?”

Hound barked in the front yard. Levi grabbed her hand. They followed the sound for a distance that seemed too long. Without seeing his surroundings, he began to doubt they were heading the right direction. He stopped. Hound continued to bark, but now the sound seemed to come from all around.

The floor shook harder, too violently for them to continue to run. Nessa clung to him.

“Why is this happening?” She asked.

A glimmer of light shone in the direction from which they’d just come. It twinkled like a star, its rays stretching toward them. Illumination spread along the floor to reveal a clawed monster in silouette, dragging itself toward them. Nessa screamed.

He turned to try and run again but the pitch of the floor sent him sprawling. It slanted, back toward the approaching demon.

As the light beyond swallowed the darkness, it took on the white-blue of the sky. It consumed the floor, now crumbling away from them, into the ocean far below. The walls of Cliff House reverberated with a sound like the roar of a train growing closer, and the light grew brighter. The Iyrico shrieked.

Again, Levi made for the front door, the direction he hoped was right. He hauled Nessa along with him, tripped, and ran again, until he struck a hard surface. He felt for the knob and found it. The door opened. Hands gripped his arms and the front of Nessa’s dress, and hauled them the rest of the way through.

Levi’s mother and Nessa’s father scooped them up and ran with Hound alongside them. The ground dissolved, taking the house with it and the grass and the well. They passed the car for the driveway where leaves rained from shaking trees.

And then, all of a sudden, the world went still. The five of them fell into a heap, everyone holding each other as they waited to see if the disaster had passed. In the silence that reigned, the only movement was the last of the leaves fluttering to the pavement.

Levi stood. He started toward the new edge of the world.

“No. It’s too dangerous.” His mother held his hand.

“I have to see.”

She let him go.

The collapse had stopped several feet out from the car. He looked over the side.

A pile of rubble lay at the bottom of the cliff. He made out shingles from the roof and wooden beams. The house had become part of the Iyrico’s prison. Afterward, he would wonder if Cliff House had developed some sentient desire to hold the demon, or if the earth sought to keep it from claiming any more victims. It was an unnatural thing. Mankind had no need of more evil.

“What if it gets free?” Nessa appeared next to him.

Levi shook his head, “It’s too weak. It needed hate to build strength.”

“It was the Iyrico, wasn’t it? I saw it in my dream.”

“Yeah.”

His mother and his Uncle Dean joined them, as did Hound, who sat at Levi’s side.

Dean said, “I don’t suppose that offer for us to stay with you is still on the table.”

Levi was okay with the idea. He didn’t mind his cousin so much anymore.

Iyrico, Part Six

Here we are at Part 6! This week has been pretty busy and cold, definitely cold outside. We’ve already had snow here, which is crazy business. We don’t usually get snow so early in the year.

If you’re new to the Iyrico party, links to the previous posts are below.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

If you aren’t the patient sort, you can access the story in its entirety at:

Scribd

Wattpad website and the app

Part Seven should be the last part of the story.

iyrico cover2

“You kids can play outside today.” Dean said absentmindedly without looking up from his pancakes. “We have to go into town to make arrangements, but when we get back, you can go out.”

Nessa executed the same posture as her father. She didn’t reply to the offer.

“Why can’t we go to town with you?” Levi asked. The last place he ever wanted to be was Cliff House, especially alone with Nessa.

“Don’t do this today, honey.” His mother ate her breakfast in a similar manner as the others, occasionally wiping a tear from under her eye. It was a morose scene that made Levi glad he hadn’t seen his dead grandmother’s body. She added, “The process will go more smoothly if you two stay here.”

“Okay.” He conceded, mostly out of sympathy for her.

“We should be gone a couple of hours. You’re mature enough to handle yourselves.”

No problem. He would barricade the door with a chair or the chest of drawers.

Later, through the front window, he watched the car until it disappeared down the driveway and into the trees. The place felt wilder, then, he thought, with Hound as his only companion on the cliff.

He headed back toward his room to carry out his plan of self-isolation. To his dismay, he found Nessa sitting on his bed turning over the battered top in her hands.

“Get out.” He told her.

“It’s my house. I can do whatever I want.”

“I’ll call my mom if you don’t leave me alone. I don’t want to talk to you.”

She gave him an awful grin, “You’re going to play with me.”

“Unlikely.”

She hopped down from the bed, placing the top on the bed as she went. She paused next to him, “You won’t have a choice.”

He shut her out with the door and then with the chest of drawers. Hound whined at the sight of the barrier.

“Sorry, boy. Trust me, it’s worth the trouble. We’ll both be safer this way.”

Ten minutes later, a knock at his door broke the stillness. It was a gentle rapping, almost innocent. Levi knew better.

“Go away.”

“Time for a game.”

“Time for you to mind your own business.” He kept his nose in his book, which he had started for the second reading since leaving home. He should have brought more books, or a longer one. He had underestimated his need for escape.

“Okay, well, I hate to see anyone get in as much trouble as you will.”

He rolled his eyes, “I’m not interested.”

“You should be. You’re going to get blamed for stealing again.”

Levi groaned, “I don’t care. Get lost.”

“Have it your way.”

He listened to her walk toward the kitchen. He would’ve given almost anything to be rid of her. She made him glad he didn’t have any siblings. If that was how other kids acted at home, he wanted no part of the nonsense. Hound was far better company. Levi went back to his book.

For a time, all was right with his world. He began to think this plan of his might actually keep him safe long enough for his mother and Dean to return. Who cared what Nessa planned to blame him for? No matter what that trouble happened to be, he was safer on his island of solitude.

Then, just when his stomach began to rumble for lunch, Hound rose from the rug, lumbered over to the door and whined at his master. Levi had barricaded them in as long as his appetite and the dog’s patience would allow.

“Guess we can’t be chickens forever.” He reluctantly put down the book. “We’ll still avoid her.” He assured the dog as he moved the chest of drawers from the door.

Nothing stirred in the hallway. Hound went outdoors for his business and returned without incident. The day, while bright and sunny, still possessed the same tense mood it had when the pack of stray dogs circled, but no hostile wildlife emerged from the woods, and Hound returned in a happy gallop.

The kitchen, too, was free of Nessa. Levi made a sandwich. He fed his dog the decidedly less appetizing dogfood, and he opened the window before sitting at the table so he could enjoy some fresh air. He had begun to wonder if Nessa had gone outside when she entered from the rear section of the house. Taking that as his cue to return to his room, he moved to place his dishes in the sink.

“You won’t be welcome back when they see what you stole.” She sat on the counter and folded her hands in her lap.

“Good. I don’t want to come back, anyway. I hate this place.”

Nessa leaned forward until her face almost touched his, “But it likes you.”

He turned to walk away.

“You can’t leave until you find it.”

“Find what?” He tossed the inquiry over his shoulder without looking.

“The treasure my dad will have to get back before they’ll let you go anywhere.”

She wasn’t going to leave him alone until he engaged her on some level.

“What?”

“My dad’s Saint Christopher medallion.”

Levi rolled his eyes and continued into the hallway toward his room, “Why should I care if he loses a necklace?”

“He usually doesn’t go anywhere without it. He’s real superstitious. But today, the Iyrico made him forget, and he left it on his dresser.”

He resisted the urge to turn back. He plowed ahead to his bedroom with Hound at his side. He wasn’t going to let her coax him into the game. He closed the door and leaned against it. Her voice on the other side startled him.
“Dad will go crazy when he sees it’s gone, and he’ll blame you because you stole before.”

“The Iyrico isn’t real.”

She said in a sing-song, “Yes he is.” She hummed as she skipped away from the door, pausing to add, “The medallion is near the demon’s door. He dares you to come get it.”

The house went quiet too suddenly. She hadn’t gone far enough to reach the front door or the kitchen. He got the idea she was standing somewhere in the hallway, waiting for him to emerge, so she could run off laughing. Hound gave an uneasy whine.

Levi cracked the door enough to look out. The hallway was empty. The air there felt hotter than seconds before.

“Nessa?” He hated how weak his voice sounded.

The frame of the house creaked as the wind whipped up from the cliff. He stepped into the hallway.

“Iyrico.” A voice not unlike that of his recently deceased grandmother moaned from the bedroom in which she died. “No, please. Release me.” It was her voice but much fainter.

He knew the joke, then. Nessa would lure him to the bedroom, and jump out from the shadows. He shook his head. Too easy.

Bolder, now, he approached the doorway to the death room, stopping at the threshold when the bed came into view.
“I’m gone. Release me.” The words, the voice almost wheezy, came from under the bed, still distant, and he wondered how Nessa was making the sound. It was so eerie and real.

Maybe she’d recorded their dying grandmother. Was Nessa capable of such cruelty? All for a prank she planned?

The dogs. He reminded himself. She had tried to get him killed. She was capable of anything.

“I know it’s you. Come out. I’m going to tell Uncle Dean.”

Iyrico Part Four

Monday, Monday, Monday! Part Four of Iyrico is here.

But first, Pestilence Rising is now available for Nook HERE.

If you’re new to the Iyrico party, links to the previous posts are below.

Link to Part One

Link to Part Two

Link to Part Three

If you aren’t the patient sort, you can access the story in its entirety at:

Scribd

Wattpad website and the app

iyrico cover2

“The Iyrico supposedly began with a curse, brought from the old country by a woman called Esma. Legend says the family she lived with, her parents and her siblings, were lazy, horrible people who lived off family money. She, on the other hand, was hardworking. One night, she grew tired of keeping the house clean.”

“Like Cinderella, Daddy?” Nessa interjected with a bat of her eyelashes.

Levi glared at her and shook his head in disgust. She stuck her tongue out at him.

“Yes, Pumpkin. A blizzard had them all in the house for days. They kept her running just as long. She lost her temper at dinner, tossing dishes at them and food, and telling them exactly what they were. The father grabbed her by the collar and tossed her out into the driving snow with nothing but the clothes she wore.

When she rapped on the window, they shut the curtains. They had no nearby neighbors. Esma had no way to make a fire.

She huddled in a corner of the porch and slowly froze to death, but as she did, she devoted all of her thought and will to revenge.”

“They left her to die? How cruel.” Nessa feigned sympathy.

“Don’t get any ideas.” Levi couldn’t stop himself from snapping.

“Levi!” His mother was both shocked and appalled.

Dean continued, too engrossed in the tale to notice, “She remembered a book she’d found in a trunk when they moved.

It contained ancient poems and riddles and the like and one in particular had grabbed her attention.”

“About the Iyrico.”

He nodded, “A poem about disease and famine brought by a malicious spirit. She had always thought her piggish family could use some misfortune. They’d had it too easy. She recited the poem over and over as the snow blew around her and the others extinguished the lights. Her hatred gave the Iyrico the life it needed to terrorize not only her family but an entire village a mile away. The spirit traveled from house to house, killing a man here and a woman there.
Then, it made the mistake of entering the church.”

“You’re scaring the kids.” Levi’s mother protested as she set down her fork.

“Nonsense. Am I scaring you?” Dean asked Levi.

Levi shook his head no. Nessa concurred, and the story went on.

“The priest, being close to God, saw what the thing truly was, and he came up with the plan to trap it.”

“Grandma Mola said they put it in the ground.” Levi said.

“Yes, they did. They lured it up to this very cliff and the priest prayed it into the ground and sealed the hole with a blessed medallion.”

“Have you seen it?” Nessa asked. “The hole in the ground?”

“It isn’t real.” He stuffed the last piece of bread in his mouth and headed for the living room. “If you will excuse me, I’m going to watch television for awhile.”

Nessa followed Dean to the living room located just around the corner. Levi’s mother returned to Grandma Mola’s room.

Levi had no desire to be with any of them. He returned to his room to read.

Back in the quiet, he relaxed. While he closed the blinds, Hound took up his usual post on the braided rug. Levi spotted an object in the shadow of the bed. He dropped to the floor to retrieve it.

The top his grandmother had made him dig out of her collection room had withered to an even greater state of decay than when last he saw it. The chipping paint was almost completely gone, the metal beneath dented and pitted and scratched in places, as if someone had beaten it against the stone repeatedly in a fit of rage. He inspected it, listening to the ocean rush against the cliff and Hound begin to snore. A sensation of being watched swept over him, much like he’d felt with the dogs stalking him from the woods.

No one had opened the door. He’d seen Nessa follow her father to the living room to watch television.

Levi’s room was small, with nowhere to really hide. It had no closet, no other doors. He looked up to the brass air register grate near the ceiling. It was too small for any person to fit in but not too small for a rodent.

The general, primitive disposition of the house allowed the entry of some of the smaller members of the local wildlife to come in. He’d seen Grandma Mola catch errant bats with pots and set them free. She’d talked about having mice and how they chewed through boxes. Anything small enough to fit into the vent probably couldn’t hurt him.

He let that idea ease his mind, and he went on about his business, reading, coming out only when his mother told him to shower.

He locked the bathroom door to keep his cousin out, which seemed the best idea, especially when he heard someone rattle the doorknob. He smiled to himself as he rinsed his hair. When he was finished, he dressed himself behind the locked door and headed back for blessed solitude.

Hound stood in the hall, which was strange because Levi had left the dog sleeping on the braided rug. He faced the direction of the front door, growling a low sound deep in his throat. The hall appeared empty, except for moonbeams reaching through the windows.

“What’s the matter, boy?” Levi touched the bristling hackles on Hound’s back.

The dog almost never got worked up. He rarely barked, never chased squirrels or cats. He didn’t care for other dogs.

Guests at their front door received little concern from him. Yet there, in the night, with death so close, the old boy was on edge about something.

Grandma Mola’s door stood open. Levi didn’t want to be any closer to that situation than he had to. He coaxed Hound back into his room. Nessa appeared behind him, from the direction of the bathroom and her room.

“Cousin.”

He nearly jumped out of his skin at the sound of her voice. He said, “I’m not interested in talking to you.”

He stepped inside his room and began to close the door. She stopped it.

“Not even about the Iyrico?”

“No.” He closed the door the rest of the way and waited there in case she attempted to follow him.

She spoke from the hallway, “It’s real, you know. I found the hole. I know where it is.”

Liar. He restrained himself from stating the accusation aloud because he didn’t want to invite further conversation.

“I’ll show you tomorrow.”

Her footsteps receded in the direction of Grandma Mola’s bedroom. He let out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding.

He hung out in his room for the remainder of the evening, and when he was ready to go to sleep, he did one final check of the room – under the bed and the dresser. Again, he evaluated the darkness in the vent. Unable to escape that nagging feeling that he was being watched, he continued to keep an eye on it as he pulled the covers up tight.

“Iyrico, Iyrico.”

He dreamed of the door, alone in a sea of darkness with his dying grandmother’s voice warning him from the shaft of light spilling from the room beyond. If his room was an island, hers was the ocean of death lashing its beaches with waves of eternity. He didn’t want to be so close.

“Iyrico flies
On wings of hate
Curse thick as shadow,
Pools as blood
The strike is slow,
Progression pained
Suffer the demon
Serve your penance”

Esma recited, no – chanted, this poem on the porch as snowflakes clung to her hair and frost sprouted from her mouth and tears froze to her cheeks. Her skin had gone blue, her eyes faraway, but she still found the words.

“Iyrico flies
On wings of hate
Curse thick as shadow,
Pools as blood
The strike is slow,
Progression pained
Suffer the demon
Serve your penance”

Levi sat up in bed, gasping for air, broken from the dream that had him spiraling away from everything warm and good. It had dragged him away from the light, into the depths of despair where lost souls roamed. He wiped the sweat from his brow. Again came that disturbing sensation of being watched, only now the invisible eyes had moved closer.

His skin prickled with goose flesh, and he swore he detected an odd smell, a kind of metallic odor, akin to blood but not blood, exactly.

His curtains, which he had earlier closed, were wide open to let in the full light of the moon. Tentatively, he rose from the bed, checking the floor to be sure no rodents scampered there. Hound kept on sleeping. Ocean waves kept rushing. The only disturbance to the quiet was his. He crept silently to the window, grasped the curtains to close them but hesitated.