December/Christmas Promotion – The 12 Terrors of Christmas : A Christmas Horror Anthology

Today’s promotion is for The 12 Terrors of Christmas: A Christmas Horror Anthology by Claudette Melanson, with a bonus story by Lynn Lamb and an excerpt from The Price of A Christmas Wish.

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Award-winning author Claudette Melanson offers eleven new and original stories to make your skin crawl at any time of the year. This horror anthology also includes an original short by Amazon International Best-Selling Author, Lynn Lamb, titled “Bring Me Flesh and Bring Me Wine.” A special bonus story is also included by Melanson, “Mislead,” previously published only on the Halloweenpalooza blog. Grab a cup of cocoa and make sure the windows and doors are locked tight as you settle in by the fire to enjoy these tales of terror, but be warned…locks have never succeeded at keeping Santa from gaining entry. If you enjoy a slice of horror with your holiday cheer, this collection of Christmas horror shorts will satisfy all your dark cravings during the holidays…and beyond.

Terror One: Who is Santa really? Does something sinister lurk beneath the red suit and apple-cheeked visage? More importantly, what does Santa want for Christmas?
Terror Two: It is said that every wish bears a cost…even a wish of good intent. What do Detective Talbot and his son, Mallory, stand to lose when the pair seek to right a wrong on Christmas Eve?
Terror Three: Christmas can be a time for great joy…but also for heart-wrenching regret. Can the magic of Christmas Eve turn back the clock before time runs out for Morana and her family?
Terror Four: Snow falls white and clean, seeming to purify the small town of Moon, Pennsylvania, but the woods behind Vaughn’s home have taken on a sinister cast. The snow keeps falling in record-breaking depths, but does evil lay hidden beneath its seemingly-innocent luster?
Terror Five: As his elves scurry to fill the toy orders for the busy season, unknown terror creeps toward the workshop intent on releasing an evil meant to cancel Santa’s yearly deliveries forever.
Terror Six: A well-meaning elf casts a spell which could inadvertently reveal the dark truth about Santa’s workshop and its inhabitants. The world’s children may end up paying a terrifying price, proving that the path of good intention oftentimes does indeed lead to hell.
Terror Seven: A scary twist on a classic Christmas poem
Terror Eight: Santa’s sleigh plummets to the ground, tearing all hope of a merry Christmas to bits and pieces. Will the elves be able to employ enough magic to stitch together some sort of solution? Or will their efforts only deliver greater horror and loss?
Terror Nine: Trinette is preparing to celebrate her first Christmas in love. Her boyfriend says he found the perfect gift for her, but beneath the shiny red paper and ribbon lies a secret he’s kept hidden during all the months of their courtship…
Terror Ten: The world’s population explosion means business is booming at Santa’s workshop, with the need to expand making a difficult excavation below the permafrost necessary. But the elves should use caution lest they dig up an evil best left buried.
Terror Eleven: A special holiday treat for Maura DeLuca fans! Riptide ended on a happy note, but how did Maura’s extended family celebrate Christmas? Could it be that the holiday didn’t quite play out the way the vampires planned?
Terror Twelve: It’s a dangerous time to call oneself a non-believer. Those who scoff at Santa’s existence are melting all over the world. But could the benevolent head elf turn out to be the murderer?

Vampires, ghosts, demons, elves, werewolves, serial killers and a rampaging Krampus are just a few of the monsters creeping amongst the pages of The 12 Terrors of Christmas. Are you brave enough to venture inside to experience the flip side of the typical Hallmark-themed Christmas?



This is from the story: The Price of a Christmas Wish

“Stop right there!” I called in my most authoritative tone. “Don’t you move!”

“Let the boy go,” my fellow officer added, his voice bereft of the ringing confidence mine carried. “No one has to get hurt.”

*Oh, but someone must.* The gruff voice, heavy with dark intonation, didn’t sound in the air around us. It seemed to originate from inside my head. I turned my eyes to my impromptu partner, his gun shaking in his hands, but he gave no indication he’d heard the words as well. His eyes remained locked on the hulking figure who dangled the boy in front of his body, gripping the lapels of Colden’s coat while the poor kind kicked frantically, wailed pitifully.

*This has to happen, Detective.* The growling string of words bounced and echoed off the bones inside my head once again.

That time, I had to question the existence of the voice aloud. “Did you hear that?” I asked the kid beside me.

“What?” If possible, he looked even more distressed, horrified by the idea of being forced to take his eyes off the monster before us so he could focus on what I was saying. “Hear what?”

“You didn’t hear anyone…around us…speaking?”

*He cannot hear me, Devlin.* At that moment, the head of our child abductor turned. His features were entirely hidden within the massive hood trimmed in sooty fur which hinted at being white once upon a time. Strands of long, matted hair streamed out on either side like perverse renderings of mutant starfish. In the dark space where one might find a pair of eyes, two blood-red embers smoldered. The eerie light they cast seemed to dribble and drip to the ground, snaking through the dirt so that the crimson fingers could claw their way up the trunk and out each skeletal stretch of bare magnolia branch. Before my eyes, the barren tree burst into full bloom, fat white blossoms exploding along the tree’s arms with a sound like the popping of corn.

“Mike…” I reached out to shake him gently by his upper arm. “…are you seeing this?” But he didn’t answer me, didn’t even turn his head toward me. He didn’t blink an eye…or move in any other way. I shook him harder, but he stood as rigid as if he’d transformed into a life-sized action figure.

*Do not bother with him. He cannot hear nor see you. I have frozen him inside his own little pocket of time and space.* As his unspoken words echoed through my skull, the blossoms around him began to shine as if they were, in actuality, flower-shaped Christmas lights. Each and every one became infused with the scarlet glow, the blush spreading to darken their snowy-white flesh until it dribbled from each petal’s edge. I blinked, disbelieving, even as the tree bled out onto the snow-covered ground right before my eyes, the plump crimson drops sizzling on impact.

My mind felt as though it were stretching…filling in some empty, meaningless expanse of uncharted horizon as I tried to make sense of the unexplainable playing out all around—and within—me. *Am I dreaming?* I asked the internal workings of my own mind.

*Wrong answer,” the gruff voice informed from within. One of the blood droplets—*Oh, god, it smells just like blood*–fell onto the back of my gloveless hand where it sizzled just as had upon the snow, burning with an intensity that convinced me of my state of wakefulness immediately. Though I shook my hand violently and bent to clean my skin in the snow, the blood left behind a misshapen star I could tell would scar, to forever remind me of that Christmas Eve…although I felt certain I needed no prompting to call the night to mind. The memory would forever haunt me—in ways I would’ve never imagined.

*How do I convince him to release the boy?* I was doing the math in my head. My partner stood immobilized by some method not of our world, and even without such an insane factor coming into play, this guy…*This thing,*my mind whispered…had a foot and at least a hundred pounds on me easy. He must’ve lived at the gym. *Demons possess no need to frequent the gym…*

“Let him go!” The shrill voice sounded behind me, and I could hear a much deeper one calling from the distance behind it. My eyes closed in a split-second of defeat and utter terror when I heard Hank shouting, “Mallory! Come back here, now!”

My beautiful, kind, golden boy ran into the blood-spattered half-oval beneath the macabre canopy—I’d suddenly stepped into the production of my own personal horror movie.  “Mallory, NO!”

When the fiend reached for him, his paw??? broke free from the sleeve of the ratty coat, narrow claws like skewers thrusting their way out toward my son, and I reacted on autopilot.  A succession of rapid-fire bullets broke the peace of the Eve, but they fell, as impotent as the rookie at my side, without traveling more than a few inches beyond my pistol’s barrel. The next slice of awareness came with the crunch of my shoulder against tree, one a frightening distance away from the spot where my child was standing. When my eyes wandered to the right to focus on a large object, out of place under one of the path’s lampposts, I realized Hank had been rendered inert in the same impractical manner as Mike.

“Please,” I called out in a last-ditch effort. “Just let my boy walk over here to me. I only wanted to bring that other boy home to his mother for Christmas. Can’t you do that? Let those kids go home to celebrate Christmas? Please…” I knew I’d never beat this guy in a fight, much less move close enough to flick him playfully on the arm. All I could hope for was some shred of decency he might carry inside that gargantuan frame of his…and it was a scrap of hope left weak by all the holes of doubt the job-weary cop in me had punched through it. Hell, as I clumsily gained my feet, I realized I couldn’t even move my injured arm. In my own way, I’d been rendered just as harmless as my backup.

*Believe me; you do not want this one to go home to his mother.* A laugh that sounded more like a snarl ripped its way through the space between my ears.

“What? Is that some kind of threat? Let me guess; you want to play some twisted game where you let me take Colden, and you take my son instead, right?” I’d borne witness to this kind of manipulation before, and the last thread from that scrap of hope fell away from me as I realized I must be dealing with a psychopath…*Or a truly evil creature from another realm He did stop your bullets telekinetically.* My brain just wouldn’t shut up.

*I have no interest in your boy. I only seek balance.*

“Balance? What you’re doing is evil. Taking a child from his family, especially at this time of year. And I can sense with every instinct I have that you mean to do him harm…”

*Oh yes, I do. And you should thank me.*

I felt my eyes bug in disbelief at his words. “Thank you? You’re even more far gone…” I fought to bring my temper under control, so I could at least try to bargain with whomever…*whatever*…this was conjuring up my absolute worst Christmas Eve ever—hell, more like the worst night of my life in general.

The grip of the incapacitating horror tightened, constricting my body further, when Mallory leapt toward Colden, securing his tiny hand around the other boy’s and attempting to drag him free from his abductor.

Mallory must have shed his mittens in the car. Colden’s little fingers locked around the skin of Mallory’s bare hand, and Mallory’s small form stiffened like he’d grabbed a live wire instead of another human boy. Each strand of fine blonde hair stood on end, and his limbs splayed out from his body in the most unnatural way. His eyes lost their color as the irises rolled upward to drain toward the back of his head.

“Stop it! What are you doing to my son…?” I screamed, the last couple of words losing the force thrown behind them as the change being visited upon the abducted boy bled into my child. Colden’s pallid face darkened to sooty ash, his eyes becoming antithesis to the white inside Mallory’s sockets. They glinted just as cold, just as dark, as the surface of coal. Ebony streaked across his cheeks, reaching up from his forehead to touch his dark hairline, like poisonous fingers of lightning. The creature—I accepted that was what he’d become—poured his hateful malice into the child he still grasped…and that toxin found its way to my Mallory, using Colden as a conduit. I was powerless to stop his assault, finding the rest of my body as immobile as my shattered arm. The words I’d planned to shout next clogged my throat, choking me, refusing either to find their way out or slide away and die inside my chest, unspoken.

I expected Mallory’s purity to become lost in the darkness infiltrating the other boy at any moment, but instead, the two boys’ hands fell away from each other. Mallory’s whole body slumped earthward in relief, and I hoped he might turn and run to me…even if I were incapable of protecting him. But he didn’t. He stood his ground and turned his green-again eyes on their tormentor. “Please, let him live,” he said, barely loud enough for me to hear.








Halloween Promotion – Riptide by Claudette Melanson

My first Halloween promotion of the month is for Riptide by author Claudette Melanson.  Claudette has also given us an excerpt, enjoy.




In order to tear herself free from the deadly pull which is drawing her under, Maura must enlist the help of her preternatural family, exposing her newfound friends to a danger none of them have ever had the misfortune to face before. Can she be saved or will the riptide drag Maura under…along with those she loves the most…


“Maura! Drop him,” growled a voice saturated with darkness. I obeyed. Gavin crumpled to the ground, lacking the strength to remain upright.

“Millicent!” I was beyond relieved to find it wasn’t her fair-haired sister. Her brow drew in and downward with anger, but she still allowed me to rush into her arms. “I got my elixir!” I announced, like a child who’d earned an A on her test. “And look at my fangs! They’re huge! They came in all the way, and that has to mean I’m soooo close to the final change.”

“And what if you had changed?” Her tone was full of scolding, and she held me at arm’s length so as to drive her warning home with the obsidian daggers that were her eyes. “You would have eaten him up, like a big, bad w…vampire. And stop looking so proud of yourself! You obviously require more supervision than previously considered. Honestly, can you not keep yourself out of trouble?”

I felt the need to defend myself just a little bit. “I’m a vampire changeling with no training.” I shrugged in helplessness. “And I’m still a teenager. With no parents around to help me.”

That visibly softened her up. “Well…you do make extremely good points.” Her eyes had shifted heavenward but fell on me once more. “But you must understand that with every foolhardy, immature move you make, you only reinforce Aldiva’s opinion of you and add merit to her solution.”

“What solution would that be?” I asked meekly, fear invading my voice.

Gavin groaned, offering her the opportunity to easily sidestep my question, not that I believed she would have been truthful with me anyway…and did I really want to know? Surely my father would never let her do away with me?

We stood over the other teen, slumped drunkenly against the building wall. “Do you have any food in your pack? Preferably juice or sweets?”

“No…that’s kinda what caused all this. I went all day without eating.”

“Foolish!” Her loud sigh was rife with agitation. “Why would you… Oh, never mind! Does he?” When I looked confused…“Oh, for god’s sake, Maura. Search his pack for food.”

Why was she being so mean? She’d seemed to be on my side during my encounter with Aldiva…which could only mean either my father or Aldiva herself were exceedingly enraged by my latest blunder…and she feared for me more than she was angry…which was somehow far worse. I concentrated on trying to distinguish between the individual contents of the pack in the diminishing light. “I found an energy drink,” I offered, holding it up.

“Well, they are full of sugar. It will have to do for now.” She took it, cracked the top and held it to his lips. At first, the liquid ran over them and down his chin, but Millicent pried his mouth open further, placing a finger against his bottom teeth. He began to drink on his own. “That is promising.”

“Thank goodness,” I breathed.

“Can I ask you something?” The lecture had returned to her tone, and I wondered what level of tongue-lashing I was in for.


“Just how did you plan to make your friend here forget this magical evening? Hmmm?”

I smiled self-assuredly at this. “Compel him.”

“Com…wha??” Gavin was becoming vocal. Progress. Maybe I hadn’t drained him to the point of death after all. That was certainly a relief.

“And…has that always worked out for you?”

I felt my cheeks start to burn. “Well, no…but…” How could she know that? The only explanation I could think of was Val’s blabbering mouth. He’d witnessed my failure at compulsion firsthand—on more than one occasion.

“And what if it had failed this evening?”

“Well…I would have just…ummm…”

“Yes, just as I thought. You would have been in even bigger trouble. See now why you need to think things through, Maura?” Her tone sounded more pleading than harsh.

I really hadn’t thought about the conclusion at all. I’d just been hungry. So hungry. “I’ll eat next time, I prom-om-ise.” My words ended on a sob.

Although Millicent came across as a total badass most of the time, anyone who got to know her even a little could see what a soft heart she actually had. “Oh, Maura…. Now, you stay here,” she told Gavin, her eyes locked on his. She came to me and folded me into her embrace. “Poor sweet girl. I know it must be hard. You just found your father, only to have him torn right back out of your life. And it is the first time in your life you had to be without your mother, no?”

“Yes. I miss Caelyn,” I admitted into her soft black hair.

She ran with the opportunity to lighten the conversation. “Oh, but would you not be in the worst trouble if she heard you call her that!” Oh great. Everyone was telling secrets about me. What else had Millicent learned about me that had, perhaps, even been shared with the others? “Come now,” she cooed at me, “let us take care of your little problem. After, I will take you home, and from now on, I promise to spend more time with you. Whether Aldiva or Maxwell approve or not!”

I knew the smile spreading across my face was heartfelt despite the fact I could feel the dried blood cracking around the outer edges of my lips.

After making sure Gavin was still immobile, she turned back to me. “Okay, so show me these full-grown fangs of yours.”








Halloween Promotion – Rising Tide:Dark Innocence by Claudette Melanson

Today’s Halloween Promotion is for Rising Tide:Dark Innocence, book one of The Maura DeLuca Trilogy by fellow author Claudette Melanson.  It took Gold for YA Mystery in the Readers’ Favorite competition this year.   Claudette has given us an excerpt with a taste of what is to come.

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Could Maura’s life get any worse? …turns out it most certainly can.

Isolated and sheltered by her lonely mother, Maura’s never been able to make friends. She seems to drive her classmates away—except for the odd times they pay enough attention to torture her—but she doesn’t understand why. Maura considers herself to be a freak of nature, with her unusually pale skin and an aversion to the sun that renders her violently nauseous. Her belief is only worsened by the fact that almost everyone around her keeps their distance.

Even her own father deserted her before she was born, leaving Maura alone with her emotionally distant mother, Caelyn. Even though Maura is desperate for answers about her unknown parent, Caelyn remains heartbroken and her daughter can’t bring herself to reopen her mother’s wounds. Or is there a more sinister reason Caelyn refuses to utter a word about her long-lost love?

When a cruel prank nearly claims Maura’s life, one of her classmates, Ron, rushes to her rescue. Darkly handsome & mysteriously accepting, Ron doesn’t seem to want to stay away, but Maura is reluctant to get too close, since her mother has announced she’s moving the two of them to Vancouver…nearly 3,000 miles away from their hometown of Indiana, Pennsylvania.

If life wasn’t already challenging enough, Maura begins to experience bizarre, physical changes her mother seems hell bent on ignoring, compelling Maura to fear for her own life. Vicious nightmares, blood cravings, failing health and the heart-shattering loss of Ron—as well as the discovery of a tangled web of her own mother’s lies—become obstacles in Maura’s desperate quest for the unfathomable truth she was never prepared to uncover.



There were people packed in from wall to wall of the frat house basement. I immediately felt uncomfortable. So many people and so much heat… I wasn’t completely confident with my new outfit… Where was Ron?… *I’m so hungry!* my stomach roared to my brain. I felt slightly nauseous and swayed a bit on my feet.

Strangely, Merina picked up on this. She put a steadying hand on my shoulder. “Hey! You okay?” Her brow furrowed the way Caelyn’s did when I was sick.

I blinked and tried to focus on keeping to my feet. My skin felt clammy and slick, but very cool on the surface, and I wondered briefly if I might be coming down with something. “I think so.” I tried to flash a very convincing smile at her. “Just too much excitement, probably. Remember, I don’t get out much.” I was immediately embarrassed at this unexpected revelation and put my head down.

But she seemed to understand and patted me gently. “Yeah, I know what you mean. I feel a little dizzy myself! I’ve never been to a frat party before!!” She whispered that last part, conspiratorially, and I felt better. It was a wonder what real friends could do for your self-confidence.

I resigned myself to Merina’s wisdom. It must be the overexcitement, probably coupled with the fact we hadn’t eaten, and it was nearly 8:00 PM. We’d been here almost an hour, waiting for the guys to get their gear set up, so we could talk to them before they went on.

Merina grabbed my hand again and pulled me toward the stage area. She reminded me of a playful, eager puppy when she went into motion, wanting to be somewhere. I loved it. Her enthusiasm was absolutely contagious. I had another rush of regret, tinged with the desire to stay put in the town I’d lived in all my life, but only now begun to enjoy. I wondered if there was any way to talk Caelyn out of the move? I set myself the goal of at least one valiant attempt, tomorrow when I got home.

“Hi Shane.” Her whole being lit up as he turned toward her. “Maura isn’t feeling so good, so we’re going to go scout some chow, okay?”

Ron was standing beside Shane, plugging his guitar into his amp, but his ears pricked up at Merina’s words. He immediately turned and grabbed both of my hands. “You okay, Maura?” His eyes grew deep with concern flooding them.

I felt all warm and melty inside from his attentions. “Oh yeah. I’m just kinda hungry, that’s all.” That was a gross understatement. I was starving, my stomach growling in werewolf proportions. “And it’s really hot in here.”

“It’s definitely not an ideal Maura environment.” He winked in a knowing way. “I really appreciate the effort.”

“It’s nothing! I’m dying to hear you guys play!”

“By the way,” he added, eyeing me up and down, so that my cheeks grew hot. “I love the new outfit.” He winked at me, making my blush deepen.

“It’s Merina’s,” I admitted, looking down at the toes of my black Mary Janes.

“Well, Merina’s good taste looks great on you.” He grinned and squeezed my hands.

I felt Merina tug at my hand again. “Come on, Maura. Let’s get some food in you so you don’t pass out before the first set!”

“Okay,” I said, still not able to tear my eyes away from Ron’s. My mind flashed a brief picture of red, raw meat at me, and my stomach growled aggressively in response. I didn’t know quite how to feel about that, but I turned away, somewhat reluctantly, and let myself be dragged up the staircase, through the living room and into the small kitchen of the frat house. There was pizza on the table, along with several bowls of chips and dips. My stomach flip-flopped with joy as I inhaled the scent of cheese and pepperoni deeply. I’d had always been a hearty eater and refused to apologize for it!

I was wolfing down my fourth slice before I even looked up at Merina again. She was staring at me a little wide-eyed. “Wow…you are hungry.”

I looked at her sheepishly, unfailingly tearing away at the slice. “Sorry, when I get nervous, I get hungry.”

She laughed it off and picked up her second slice of vegetarian. “I’m just envious; that’s all. If I ate that much, I’d gain a zillion pounds!”

I took it easy after that, casually picking at the chips, though I felt like burying my head in the bowl. I used the distraction of the guys coming upstairs to wolf down another two meat-laden slices. Merina was busy lock-lipped to Shane and, as far as Ron was concerned, this was the first pizza I may have eaten. An image of me with snout and curly tail flashed in my brain, making me smile up at Ron a bit more feverishly.

“Wow, you’re really happy tonight…and somehow different,” Ron remarked.

“Too much excitement!” I was going to play that one for all it was worth.

There were two others standing with Ron now. I’d noticed the lead singer and bass player putting all of their equipment into place, but I’d never met either. Ron noticed them, following my stare.

“Maura,” he indicated the first of the two, moving up toward the spread of food, “this is our lead singer, Chad.”

Chad wasn’t as tall as Ron, but he had a huge smile and mischievous green eyes. His dirty-blonde hair was long, hanging far past his shoulders. “Hey!” was all he got out before shoving pizza in his mouth.

“And our bass player, Mike.”

Mike was tall and very quiet. He merely nodded in response to Ron’s introduction. He had a vicious look about him, and his profile somehow reminded me of the velociraptors from Jurassic Park. I felt glad, while I was shaking his hand, he couldn’t read my thoughts. His short-cropped black hair and small, darting blue eyes had a somewhat dangerous feel about them.

A tall, lanky frat boy—Greek letters displayed across his chest—approached us and tapped Ron on the shoulder. “Hey, guys, it’s time for you to go on.”

“Showtime!” Shane declared loudly. Ron sighed and pressed his full lips together, tightly. I guessed he was committing himself to the performance, ready or not.

His hand clamped over mine and pulled me along. The part of me that wanted to stay and wolf down more protein-covered pizza warred with the other, eager to see Ron’s band in action for the first time. I honestly couldn’t believe how hungry I still was. My stomach growled again, as if attempting to convince me to stay put.

It was loud enough for anyone around to hear. Ron laughed lightly and said, “Don’t worry, Maura. We’ll come get some more food after the first set. And if your stomach roars like that again, I’ll even take us all out after the show’s over.” He grinned and poked at my belly through the roughed-up cotton texture of the shirt. I rolled my eyes in mock annoyance in response.

Once down the stairs and in the basement, the guys took the makeshift stage. I felt little flutterings of butterfly excitement in my gut….or was that too much pizza? No, definitely the band. In an instant, the small, overcrowded space came to life with the music. When Ron started strumming his electric guitar, I felt myself go weak in the knees. He almost seemed like a different person. There was no self-doubt now, only unshakeable confidence and undeniable skill.

Most of the songs were familiar. It was clear that Death Moon, was predominantly a cover band. They also played three original songs, impressing me, and everyone one else in the room it seemed, with their talent. Their first song was a Muse cover—one of my favorites, in fact. I felt lost in the music, noticing that Ron really opened up when he played.

They all put on a good show. Chad’s voice was perfectly suited for the music they chose. He sang high and strong, pushing the crowd into a near frenzy. Shane kept perfect time, and Ron played up his role to epic proportions, causing the girls in the crowd eye him in a way I couldn’t help but feel uneasy about. But who could blame them? So, I focused on being the lucky one he would walk over to, after all the rock star stuff had come to an end.

Merina was squealing excitedly beside me throughout the set. She was obviously enjoying watching Shane play as much as I was Ron. I couldn’t fathom what he’d been worried about. They were truly amazing. And the crowd at the frat house party thought so too. After every song, raucous applause and shouting filled the room. After a couple of songs, I happily noticed Ron really start to relax and become completely overtaken by his role as lead guitar.

I felt someone bump me from behind. I half-turned and did a face plant into the chest of a boy I didn’t know.

I looked up…way up… He must have been at least six-foot-seven. His lips parted in a drunken, silly sort of way, and his words slurred out a “Hey, want a beer?” His arm extended too far to offer the beverage, and it sloshed over the lip of the clear plastic cup making a large, alcohol-soaked spot on Merina’s borrowed shirt. I was horrified. I hoped she wouldn’t get in trouble because of me.

“You’re soooo pretty. Wanna beer?” he slurred again.

I had no intention of adding underage drinking to my list of crimes tonight. “No, thanks.” I took a step back from him.

“Awww, com’on.” He slung a big, heavy arm across my shoulders and pulled me to him. I could see Ron stiffen on stage, as my eyes darted to his position instinctively.

“No!” I pushed with all my might, but he was bigger and much stronger. He dragged me along with him as he shuffled toward the stairs. Merina seemed to be frozen in place, her face a mask of panic.

“Stop it!” He’d moved his arm down around my waist, so that he could haul me up the stairs. My brain started to become as panicked as the expression I’d seen on my new friend’s face.

“Let’s get some air.”

That’s what I thought he said as he dragged me across the kitchen. Even in my state of fright, I could smell the pizza, distinctly picking out fragrances of bacon, ham, pepperoni and beef, as we moved past. *How can you possibly be concerned with food right now??* I thought to myself, incredulously.

Once out the back door, I began to be genuinely afraid. We were out of sight of all my friends, and even if we hadn’t been, Ron was trapped playing a set. Not that I would want to wreck that for him. His first gig… I gathered my resolve to handle the situation as efficiently as possible, by myself, so I could get back inside and save the moment. *He’s obviously drunk; how hard can this be?* a voice inside my head asked.

That was about the time I comprehended this guy was completely harmless. Other than practically kidnapping me from the party, he really didn’t mean any harm. His blue eyes widened innocently as he released me, offering his beer again. “Wan some?” He smiled in a hopeful manner.

“Ummm, no, thanks. I’m really not old enough to drink.”

“You sure?”

“Quite.” I watched him shrug his shoulders and chug half the beer. I took a couple of steps back, and he didn’t try to stop me. I was pretty certain he’d gotten caught up in the moment, wishing for someone of the female persuasion to drink with.

“Hey, my boyfriend’s playing in the band. And…he looked pretty worried when you hauled me up the stairs just now,” I explained.

“Oh, wow…sorry.” He lifted the cup to his lips again, but lowered his eyes repentantly.

“Sooooo, I’m just going to go back downstairs again, okay?”

“Sure.” He kept drinking, and I turned to go.

“Wait!” He reached out to grab my wrist as I walked away. He probably just wanted to put in a last ditch effort to keep me there, but after being forcibly taken up the stairs, some instinct in my body took over.

“Let me go!!” I didn’t speak, but roared at him. I slid my arm forward through his grasp to push his chest and throw him backward. In that moment, I was infuriated. Angry beyond reason. Even though I knew down deep he hadn’t meant any harm, I was incensed that he had brought me outside against my will, worrying Ron and Merina. Some part of me, as if looking at the moment from outside my body, was horrified that I wanted to actually hurt him. But that part of me was small and powerless to stop what happened next.

I gnashed my teeth together, so hard it hurt, with the force of my rage. I realized a second later, the pain stemmed from my lower lip, into which I’d sunk my left canine. The rich taste of blood flowed over my tongue, doubling the anger exploding through my head and branching down into my chest.

The coppery scent of blood hung thick in the air, as well. I realized I’d shoved the boy so hard, he’d cracked his skull against the stone walkway at the back of the house. The right side of his head bore an ugly gash, at least three inches long. Typical of most head wounds, it bled profusely, the boy left unconscious. Instead of reacting with horror, as I should have, my stomach cramped sharply with insatiable hunger once again.

I felt horrified then, but only with myself. I wanted to consume…to consume him! I’d never wanted to eat so badly before….ever. My thoughts, not borne of my own will, turned from the food in the kitchen. My mind rejected it, like some auto-pilot impulse. I found my eyes pulled, by animal instinct, to the boy lying on the ground. My stomach flip-flopped with desire when I watched the blood slide onto the ground beneath his head.

If anyone had asked me to explain what I felt I’d ask them to imagine being hungry. As hungry as they’ve ever been in their life. As if they hadn’t eaten for days. As if their favorite dish was laid out before their starving body, tempting every sense, uncontrollably.

This was how I felt as my eyes fixated on his seeping wound. My brain pulsed, flexing like a muscle and sending a memory burning through my head. It was a picture of that night in the shower, when my own blood had flowed into my mouth from an injury hauntingly similar to his. I recalled the perfectly-satisfying flavor, the ravenous way it had twisted my stomach, before the shock of what I’d been doing had taken over.

There was no shock strong enough to stop me now. Just a greedy, driving impulse pounding through every cell. I was hungry, and I wanted beyond all wants, to eat. A red film pervaded my eyes, turning the world crimson. My pulse screamed inside my head, exiling all other sound. And the boy’s blood called to me, drawing me down to my knees on the ground beside him.

“Maura!” From somewhere very far away, part of me acknowledged Ron’s voice. It was enough to draw me up, up, up from where I was now, drowning in gluttony at the taste of blood. Not quite enough though; I continued to lap at the side of the nameless boy’s head.

“MAURA!!” Ron’s voice was much more forceful now—a force to be reckoned with—and rife with shock. But he didn’t settle for shouting at me. I felt him behind me, hooking his hands under my shoulders and jerking me to my feet in an instant.

He whirled me around, roughly, and I found myself staring blankly into his face, trying to focus. “My god! What are you doing?!!” He was shouting at me, his face not an inch from mine, but I still couldn’t come around from my bloodhaze completely. I wanted to shove him away….violently…and reattach my mouth to the bloody wound at my feet.

“Stop! Leave me alone!” I fought against him, until I saw Shane coming through the door after us. He stopped short and looked at me, his mouth gaping open with shock, fear in his eyes. Ron pushed him back inside, slamming the door in his face.

He turned his attention back to me and shook me forcefully. “Maura.” My name came out a rough whisper. “What’s wrong with you?!!”

He wiped the back of his right hand across my mouth. The left came up right after to cover my mouth and nose, attempting to sweep away the bloody mess with his fingers. I heard from that small, not-in-control part of my mind again. A tiny voice wondering exactly what was happening. The part in control didn’t care about anything except his exquisite scent. He smelled better than the pizza, better than the boy’s blood… I struck at him, precipitously, like a viper. He narrowly avoided the sink of my teeth into his skin.

I’ll give Ron credit; he only looked frightened for a moment. In the slice of an instant, he composed the look on his face, bravely took another spit-laden swipe at the corner of my mouth and jerked the door back open.

He hauled Shane out by the front of his shirt, and then slammed it shut—this time in Merina’s astonished face—once again.

Shane’s eyes slid toward me, then flicked quickly back to Ron’s face. They stayed there.

“Shane.” Ron said his name with calm and quiet. “This guy fell and hit his head.” He inclined his own toward the figure sprawling before us. “Maura was trying to help him by cleaning up the wound.” He said these words with such weight, as if he were burning them into Shane’s head with a branding iron. “You got that? She was helping him.” When Shane didn’t respond he shook him firmly, as he had me, before. “Do you understand?”

Shane snapped out of the trance he’d seemed trapped in. He looked from Ron’s face to my own, blinked a couple of times and then nodded his head. He licked his lips before he spoke. “Yeah. Yeah, I ‘ve got it.” He shook his head to clear it, and Ron released his grip on Shane’s shirtfront.

At that moment, my head snapped around to the left corner of the house at the sound of approaching footsteps. Caelyn glided into my view, as smooth as silk in her tight black-leather jacket. The expression on her face was enough to render my knees incapable of supporting my weight. I slid toward the ground, but Ron hauled me back up immediately. I tried to form words, but my vocal cords didn’t seem to be working. My head was starting to clear to the fact that Caelyn was going to kill me, slowly, painfully… I looked up to Ron, fully mindful he had no power to save me.