Alex McKenna is the new Special Agent in Charge of the Chicago office of the Bureau of Paranormal Investigations—the division tasked with investigating crimes involving shades.
Or vampires, as they’re more widely known.
Children have been going missing, and agents are routinely being slaughtered. It’s up to McKenna, and some unlikely allies, to get to the bottom of the problem, and find the kids before it’s too late.
Melissa F. Olson’s gritty new urban fantasy, Nightshades, is available July 19th from Tor.com Publishing—we’re excited to share a preview below! This deleted scene didn’t make it into the novella, but it’s an excellent prologue to this supernatural procedural.
Bethesda, Maryland, 2018
At two in the morning, a halfhearted patter of rain began on the roof of Demi’s little cottage. She grunted with annoyance and stopped typing long enough to rub her eyes, smearing makeup across her fingers. The gutters were full of last fall’s leaves, which meant the rain would soak into the lawn and flood the basement again. She’d meant to go buy a ladder and clean them out herself, but she’d gotten distracted. Again. God, she missed the city.
Demi glared down at her black-smeared fingers, grabbing a tissue to wipe off the makeup. Now in her late thirties, Demi was aware that her days of black eyeliner and combat boots were numbered, but she was stubbornly holding onto the lifestyle as long as she could.
And to her baby, one of any number of dirt-poor, idealism-heavy “real news” sites that had sprung up in the years after The Smoking Gun and its ilk. Technically her site was third-gen ATG, after the gun, as her Darknet friends called it. Unlike TSG or many of her contemporaries, Demi refused to sell her well-respected but always on the verge of bankruptcy business.
She went back to her email, a message to her favorite LA reporter, who was about to break a story about the California governor’s promise to crack down on employers who hire undocumented workers. The reporter claimed to have found an undocumented maid in the Governor’s Mansion, but Demi wasn’t about to let him go live with only one source. There was a loud clapping outside, and for a moment Demi’s hind brain just dismissed it as thunder. Then the sound came again, and registered it for what it was: someone slapping a frantic palm against her front door.
Demi froze, her fingers resting on the much-abused keyboard. Her real name was out there, if anyone looked hard enough, but this house was never connected to her in any legal sense; it belonged to a friend of her favorite aunt, who preferred the climate in Tempe. No one but her parents and the aunt knew exactly where she was.
There was a thud from her bedroom, and her deaf Chow mix Carl came plowing into the living room, barking furiously at the door. That was weird, too—he rarely woke up from noise, even vibrations in the house. For the first time, Demi wished she had taken her aunt up on the offer of an inexpensive shotgun “for protection.”
The clapping sounded on the door again, and Demi pushed her chair back hesitantly, cell phone in hand. She couldn’t call the police just for a knock. There was nothing to do but go answer it, and hope that Carl would eat anyone who threatened her.
In the foyer, Demi went up on tiptoes to squint through the peephole. A wet and irritated-looking man in his early fifties stood on the other side of the door, wearing a cap and one of those denim jackets with shearling on the inside. As Demi watched a thick line of blood oozed from a long cut on his forehead, and was washed away by the rain, which had picked up. The man shot a nervous look over one shoulder. Demi relaxed an inch. He’d probably been in a fender bender or something and needed a phone. Carl was still barking his head off, and she made no attempt to silence him, glad for the threatening sound. Holding onto the Chow’s collar, she cracked the door open. There was a pickup truck in her driveway, with a massive dent in the front grill, which certainly lend itself to her theory—as did the man’s hand, which he was clutching at the wrist as though he’d sprained it. “What is it?” she shouted over Carl’s barking. “You need a phone?”
“That’s up to you,” he shouted back. Without another word, the man turned and began trudging back toward his truck, jerking one impatient hand for her to follow.
Demi was pretty sure she’d seen this horror movie, and there was no way in hell she was going out there in the rain to be ax-murdered. Journalistic curiosity or not, she would call the police, thank you. Demi moved to close the door again, but sensing her intention, Carl bellowed and twisted out of her grip, sticking his nose in the crack and wiggling out before she could do more than flail helplessly at him. “Goddammit, Carl!” she yelled, but of course he couldn’t hear her. She swung the door open to see the dog flashing around the side of the pickup truck, and a moment later a man’s loud yelp.
Oh, shit, did Carl bite the guy? Cell phone in hand, Demi ran outside in her bare feet, hurrying as much as she could across the gravel driveway. As she reached the pickup truck she opened the flashlight app on her phone and held it up, hoping the rain wouldn’t get past her hard plastic case.
To her relief, the man was just standing there, still holding his injured wrist, at the corner of the truck. He was fine. But Carl was losing his shit, barking and scrabbling furiously at the pickup bed, trying to climb the narrow ledge and get inside, where there was a tarp draped over something large. She’d never seen him so worked up. Had the man hit a deer or something? Demi rushed to grab the dog’s collar, but Carl saw her coming and dodged away, spinning to make another attempt on the truck bed. Still reaching for the dog, Demi shouted, “What’s in there?” to the man, who just rocked back on his heels, shrugging. Curiosity got the better of Demi and she gave up on corralling the dog in favor of holding up the glowing cell phone. She leaned over the gate and tugged the tarp aside. And screamed. There was a man in the truck, bucking wildly against the thick cords of climbing rope that encircled him from just beneath his nose all the way down to his ankles. He snarled at Demi, who fell back, intending to race in the house and call 911, Carl or no Carl. But then lightning really did light up the night sky, and in the instant brightness she saw the thing’s eyes. They were red.
Not like the irises were red; that would have been weird enough, but everything inside this guy’s eye socket was a dark, terrible red, like a congealed puddle of blood. He bellowed at her, bucking supernaturally hard against the climbing ropes, and even over the sound of the rain Demi heard them creak against the pressure. She shrank back, turning wide eyes to the truck’s driver.
“I didn’t know where else to take it,” he yelled.
“What is it?” Demi said again, her voice gone empty with fear.
The man shrugged. “I have no idea,” he called back, “but it really wants blood.” He held up the injured hand, and for the first time Demi could make out the blood staining his free hand. When he took it away a worm of red blood immediately surged out of the wrist, running down the man’s arm.
The thing in the pickup cab began to writhe. Like a man possessed was the phrase that popped into Demi’s head, and she realized how appropriate it was. The guy—the thing?—looked like he’d stepped out of one of those old exorcism movies.
Demi turned back to the injured man. “Who are you?” she shouted. “How did you find me here?”
The man’s face crooked in a half smile. With his good hand, he reached into a pocket and showed her a small leather item. Despite herself, Demi stepped closer and held up the cell phone light so she could see. It was a badge, with the words Federal Bureau of Investigation carved on the top. Demi gave the man a puzzled look.
“I won’t tell you my name,” he yelled. “Don’t bother asking. But if I give this”—he kicked lightly at the tail gate—”to my superiors, it’ll just disappear. That what you want?”
“No,” Demi said instinctively, then again, loud enough for him to hear. “No.” She bent down and grabbed Carl’s collar firmly. “You’d better come inside.”
Nightshades © Melissa F. Olson 2016