Finally! I’ve finished work on Daemon Blood, the third book in the Daemon World series. The novel will go on sale March 8, 2022. Meanwhile, check out Daemon Blood‘s sensational cover, designed by Damonza.com. I think the image captures fully the tension and eerie atmosphere of this story about a looming daemon war. I hope you’ll read Daemon Blood when it becomes available, and let me know if you agree.

 

Our war will not unfold in your imaginary heaven. We will fight on Earth with human beings as pawns and weapons.

Lu Darlington is a seer, bound to the daemon Talion through ritual and blood. It’s not a role she enjoys, but she has little choice: daemons take what they want and destroy whoever stands in their way.

So Lu’s surprised when Talion doesn’t punish her for her newfound ability to keep him from possessing her whenever he likes. In fact he’s pleased. The stronger she is, he explains, the more powerful he becomes.

And he needs that power, because a war is brewing in the daemon world, a war that will be fought by—and through—humans.

Lu’s friend Lisa Duncan can’t see daemons but she’s seen what they can do and so has stayed far away from Lu for years. After a bizarre attack on Lisa leaves half a dozen people dead and she learns it’s just the first skirmish in the daemon war, Lisa realizes the safest place to be is with Lu.

Then Talion sends Lu away to teach her skills to another seer and Lisa must stay behind to look after Lu’s son Solly, conceived through a daemon ceremony with Talion. At four years old Solly’s seer abilities are already so strong Lisa is sometimes more afraid of Solly than for him.

As Talion’s enemies grow bolder, Lisa and Lu face attacks from every direction. There seems little hope any of them will survive—until Talion and his allies devise a plan.

The only problem is how much it will cost.

“With Daemon Blood, Mary Maddox has crafted a timeless tale of good against evil. With compelling characters and a keen sense of the darkness that lurks within us all, Daemon Blood will stay with you long after you turn the final thrilling page.”

— David Sodergren, Author of The Forgotten Island

 

If you aren’t familiar with the other two books in the Daemon World series, you can learn more about them by clicking the cover images below.

urban fantasy, horror, dark fantasy

Daemon Seer by Mary Maddox

 

Both the unnamed tortoise and I need your help. That’s why I’m holding a name-the-tortoise contest to find the cleverest, most apt name for Lu’s pet. You can find out more about the newest addition to Lu’s world when Daemon Blood comes out March 8, 2022. So, here are the contest details. If I’ve omitted something important or you have any questions, write to me at .

When and where should submissions for the name-the-tortoise contest be sent?

I’m accepting names throughout August 2021. Please send them to .

How many names may be submitted?

Please send up to five possible names for Lu’s tortoise. If you send more, I’ll accept only the first five names you listed.

Are there any other requirements?

Just one: sign up for my newsletter. Click the link or use the form at the top of the sidebar to sign up. You’ll receive an email asking you to confirm that you agree to receive emails from me. You can read my privacy policy here. And of course you may unsubscribe at any time.

What prize does the winner receive?

The person who submits the winning tortoise name will receive a $100 Amazon gift card. Everyone else who enters will be entered in a drawing, and three winners chosen at random will each receive a paperback copy of Daemon Blood, the new Daemon World book, to be released March 8, 2022. Whether you send one name or five, you’ll be entered just once in the drawing.

What happens if more than one person submits the same name?

The prize goes to whoever submits the winning name received first.

When will the winners of the name-the-tortoise contest be announced?

The first week of September 2021, I’ll choose a name in consultation with the tortoise. The winner will be notified and asked to confirm their email address. If I receive no confirmation within 72 hours, we’ll select another name. I’ll hold the drawing at the same time, using Random Picker. Again, the winners must confirm their email addresses within 72 hours of being notified. On or before September 15 I’ll announce the winners on my website, in my newsletter, and on my Facebook page.

Watch this site for more news about my new novel Daemon Blood. Meanwhile, check out Chapter 1: Born Victim. The chapter has undergone a bit of revision since I shared the first draft with you a while ago.

My thanks to Corey Keppel for an amazing photograph of a desert tortoise. You can see more of Corey’s photographs and videos on Instagram.

Dark and violent, but a love story nonetheless. “What Love Is” appears in Volume 2 of the anthology What We Talk About When We Talk About It, published last October by Darkhouse Books.

The inspiration for my love story grew from my early childhood in Soldiers Summit, Utah. The town was mostly ruins, the wooden husks and concrete foundations of railroad housing and a few commercial buildings, decaying in the dust and sagebrush. My father, like Dee’s, worked as a dispatcher at the railroad depot there. My brother and I played with two brothers who lived next door. Mickey and his brother are based on them. Our mothers became friends and stayed in touch after they left Soldiers Summit. Both women ended up divorcing their husbands. Although I saw the boys every so often, there was no puppy love between me and either one of them. Their mother died of cancer when the younger boy was seventeen, and he shot himself soon afterward. I can only guess why. Grief for his mother, feelings of abandonment and despair.

Soldiers Summit has kept a lasting hold on my imagination. For years I dreamed of the place regularly—lonely, haunting dreams.

Another inspiration for the love story was my strong emotional response to smells. Even after decades, certain smells evoke the circumstances around them—the catsup and eggs my father was eating when he quarreled with my mother at breakfast, the diesel fumes in the bus station when my brother and I traveled between one parent and the other, the alcoholic breath of a boy whose kiss I did not welcome.

I wonder whether love begins—or dies—with a response to the way someone smells and to other cues that register unconsciously. I wonder whether Evening in Paris, or any other perfume, can disguise the truth for long.

For those who want a sample, here are the opening paragraphs:

What Love Is

“I’m gonna marry you when we grow up.”

Even then Dee felt unsettled by Mickey’s eyes. They were blue, smudged with an emotion she couldn’t name. They demanded yes from her.

“Okay,” she said.

Yes was easy at age four, when every day went on forever and growing up was unimaginable. Their fathers worked as dispatchers at the railroad station in Soldiers Summit, Utah. A few years later, the station would close and the town would dwindle to a café and gas station on a secondary highway. It was already in ruins. She and Mickey explored the cellars of houses long ago demolished, rows of square cement holes ranked along a hillside fuzzed with sagebrush. They found dangerous things: two-by-fours with rusty nails hammered through them, shards of blue and green glass, barbed wire. And mysteries: a silver box without a lid, a book with its pages rotted away.

Dee would never forget the smell of those abandoned cellars, the open graves of homes. Spring after spring they collected snowmelt that soaked the remains and slowly dried in the summer sun and wind, seasons of decay like growth rings in a tree trunk.

Just outside town was the ruin of a restaurant, a long single-story building caved in at one end. The walls at the other end stood precariously beneath the weight of the sagging roof. Sections of the floor had been pried up, and the moldering breath of the cellar enfolded Dee and Mickey as they wound between the damage to the restaurant’s counter. Drilled holes with blackened edges showed where stools had been bolted onto the floor. But behind the counter was solid floor and an interior wall with shelves. This would be their house, Mickey said. On the shelves they arranged the silver box, the rotted book, and the shards of colored glass. Under the counter was their bedroom. They snuggled there, his breath warm and damp against her neck.

They were forbidden to play in the ruins, but it was easy to sneak away. Dee’s mom was usually busy with housework or laundry and chasing after her two-year-old brother. Mickey’s mom stayed inside their house, especially after lunch. When Mom asked where they’d been, Dee said the viaduct or the slope by the train station.

“Don’t go near the edge,” Mom would say, frowning. “Keep off the tracks.”

Dee shook her head in a solemn promise.

One day she announced that Mickey wanted to get married when they were grownups.

“There’s no way on Earth,” Mom said.

She was shocked by her mother’s vehemence. “How come? You like Mickey, don’t you? You like his mom.”

“You’re too young to think about marriage, little girl.”

The two families lived next door in the one row of houses still standing. At night she heard Mickey’s parents bumping into walls and screaming, and the next morning his mother came over to drink coffee and show Mom her bruises. Mom wheedled Dad to talk to Mickey’s father.

“It’s none of our business,” Dad said. “Stay the hell out of it.”

Read the rest of  my love story “What Love Is”—along with a diverse selection of other stories and poems on the theme of love—in What We Talk About When We Talk About It.

fiction anthology, stories about love

 

 

Imagine being wrongly accused, arrested and jailed for a crime you didn’t commit. Everyone—your colleagues, your friends, maybe even your life partner—assumes you must be guilty. After all, the police wouldn’t arrest you without solid evidence. Recently I read two thrillers based on this nightmarish scenario. The protagonists of both Rachel Caine’s Stillhouse Lake and Candice Fox’s Crimson Lake find themselves wrongly accused of heinous crimes.

Readers identify with a wrongly accused protagonist because the injustice appalls them—usually. They may lose their sympathy for a stupid or morally compromised character. Most of us harbor a deep fear of finding ourselves in a similar situation. It only takes bad luck—being in the wrong place at the wrong time or being targeted by a vindictive enemy—to place us in the crosshairs of the justice system. But when a character acts foolishly or has an unsavory side, we’re liable to back away. Not me, we think. I’d never be like that or do such an idiotic thing.

A naive woman wrongly accused of her husband’s crimes

wrongly accusedIn Stillhouse Lake, Gina Royal begins as a “normal” if overly docile housewife married to a man who’s oddly territorial about the garage, which he has converted into his personal workshop and keeps locked at all times. The reason for his secretive behavior becomes obvious when a driver loses control of her car and plows into the garage. The accident uncovers the hanging corpse of a woman, naked and showing obvious signs of torture.

Poor Gina stayed married for years to a serial killer without suspecting the truth. The police don’t buy her protestations of innocence. Her husband tortured women in the garage next to her kitchen. How can she be innocent? Either she participated, or at least helped cover up the crimes, or she’s hopelessly stupid—all reasons for withholding sympathy. Yet the author persuades me that Gina is wrongly accused. She became her husband’s doormat because she wanted to believe she had a storybook marriage. Many of us practice this sort of denial to the keep unbearable truths about our lives at bay.

Although a jury finds Gina not guilty, the families of her husband’s victims gin up an online mob to hound her. They find and dox her no matter where she goes or how many times she changes her name. They seem unbothered that her two children also suffer from the harassment. By the time she moves into a comfortable old house near Stillhouse Lake, she has changed her name to Gwen Proctor and is nobody’s shrinking violet anymore. She can never prove her innocence or clear her name, but she fights to protect her children and reclaim her life. She goes on fighting in subsequent books of the Stillhouse Lake series. In the end her grit earns my sympathy and admiration.

A cop ensnared by circumstance and wrongly accused of rape

wrongly accusedIn Crimson Lake, Ted Conkaffey has a respectable life as a police officer in Sydney, Australia until he faces trial for raping a little girl. His colleagues and friends abandon him and his wife soon follows. His prosecution gets put on hold for lack of evidence, leaving the terrible accusation hanging over him. Thanks to publicity about the case, the entire nation despises Ted. He flees to the remote area of Crimson Lake, seeking anonymity, but the locals discover who he is and begin a campaign of harassment against him.

Ted tells his own story, but some first-person narrators are unreliable. Could Ted be lying? His alibi makes sense even though he can’t prove it, but one detail persuades me that he’s innocent. Near the beginning of the story he rescues a family of geese and pays a ridiculously high vet bill to save the wounded mother. Okay, I’m sentimental about animals, but it seems unlikely that a character who rescues and adopts a family of geese would rape a child. Or anyone for that matter.

To prove his innocence and regain his reputation, Ted must track down the man who raped the little girl. He’s still searching when Crimson Lake ends. His story continues in Redemption Point, the next book of the series.

A woman wrongly accused of provoking her boyfriend to murder

It intrigues me the way innocent people get blamed for things they never did. They make bad choices like Gina Royal or they’re in the wrong place at the wrong time like Ted Conkaffey.

Kelly Durrell, the protagonist of my novel Hometown Boys, takes the blame after her long-ago ex-boyfriend murders her aunt and uncle. She might not be a criminal, but she’s held morally responsible. Gossip against her spreads through her hometown, fueled by some townspeople’s dislike of her and the expedience of a few others. Like Gina, she made a mistake. She dated the killer in high school.  The gossipers don’t care that she’s changed in the two decade since then. Like Ted Conkaffey, she must find out the truth to clear her name—to the extent it can be cleared.

Someone wrongly accused of a crime or even a peccadillo can never be altogether innocent again.

Thriller fans will enjoy Crimson Lake and Stillhouse Lake. And since both are the first book of a series, readers can keep the thrill ride going.

I wrote this review of Karen Marie Moning’s Shadowfever a few years back and rediscovered it a couple of months ago when I downloaded material from an inactive blog of mine before it went offline. The Shadow series holds a special significance to me. While reading the books I fell in love with urban fantasy. And the series influenced me when I set out to write Daemon Seer.

I spent all day reading an urban fantasy called Shadowfever, the fifth in a series of novels by Karen Marie Moning. The book is over 600 pages long. I’m starting to think readers perceive length differently with an ebook. They don’t feel the volume weighting their hands or the thickness of the pages yet to be turned. They see a number giving the percentage of the book they’ve read so far, but it lacks physical reality. Easy to glide through a novel as though sailing over a vast lake, glimpsing land on the horizon without a sense of its distance. I read and read for hours and hours and awoke the next morning with a migraine. Now that I’ve finished the story and know the outcome, now that the headache is fading, I can’t help reflecting on why I subjected myself to such a grueling read-a-thon.

The Shadow series tells the story of MacKayla Lane, a girl from a small town in Georgia whose sister is brutally murdered while studying in Ireland. Mac spends her time painting her nails, hanging out by the pool, and listening to tunes on her iPod. Then the death of her sister spurs her to travel to Dublin and ensure the killer is caught and brought to justice. There she discovers she’s a sidhe-seer, one of an ancient order of women who can see the Fae. To ordinary people the Fae appear human, but Mac sees the monsters hidden beneath their glamour. She becomes involved with a sinister and sexually magnetic man who—it becomes increasingly clear—isn’t human either and is searching for a mystical book that will prevent the Fae from destroying the world.

Mac makes one unsettling discovery after another about her sister and herself. Illusion, misdirection, and deception pervade the five novels. Repeatedly, she believes she understands what’s going on, only to have her reality shattered by some new revelation. What begins as a search for her sister’s murderer grows into a struggle to save the world and a quest to discover the truth about her origins.

Moning is skilled at springing surprises and ratcheting up suspense. The first four novels end in cliffhangers that compel the reader to reach for the next in the series. Here I should mention that the first one was a free Kindle download. Publishers occasionally bait the hook with a freebie. It sure worked with me. Though Mac is occasionally annoying, her character grows more complex and interesting from one book to the next. The fantastic worlds she explores are richly imagined.

The books have some great sex scenes—passionate and occasionally funny, and on one occasion harrowing as Mac is gang raped by Fae princes and left in a state of mindless, constant, sexual hunger. And, of course, there’s plenty of violence.

These attractions are counter balanced by writing that occasionally makes me wince. Grating, clichéd phrases (“to die for,” “getting on my last nerve”). Commentary or exposition that repeats almost word-for-word passages from earlier in the story, as if the writer had copied and pasted material. Some of this fits the first-person narration; people do use clichés and repeat themselves. Still, I’ve seen more artful techniques for creating a convincing narrative voice. And there are the overused dialogue tags. Even the inhuman characters do a whole lot of sighing and shrugging.

I finished Shadowfever feeling sated, as though I’d snarfed a whole box of delicious chocolates. (Hey, chocolates are rich in antioxidants!) Instead of a bellyache I had a headache from those frozen hours staring at the Kindle screen. Yet I’m not sorry. I’ve been gorging on novels since childhood, and without that pleasure I would never have come to love reading fiction. No way am I going on a diet now.

Finally it’s done! I’ve finished  Daemon Blood, the third volume of the Daemon World series. The first chapter, “Born Victim” appears below.

The first novel in the series, Talion, recounts how the serial killer Rad Sanders stalks and kidnaps fifteen-year-olds Lu Jakes and Lisa Duncan. Lu must turn to the daemon Talion for help. But he has a price. Ten years later, in Daemon Seer, he comes to collect payment. Lu must undergo a harrowing ceremony and bear a child who will eventually replace her as his servant. Helpless against the daemon’s power and determined to save Lisa from a new sadist’s grip, Lu surrenders to Talion. She submits to the ceremony and with his help rescues Lisa. Daemon Blood picks up their story five years later. 

Chapter 1: Born Victim

Panic wells in Lisa as the drugstore’s automatic door slides opens and winter air balloons against her face. The idea of stepping through the doors suddenly terrifies her. Post-traumatic stress, says her therapist, Sandi, as if naming a thing steals its power. A bearded guy in a camo jacket is crowding up behind her. She has to move. Clutching her plastic bag full of antidepressants and tampons like a talisman, she hurries outside.

A semi rumbles past on the two-lane highway beyond the drugstore’s narrow parking lot. Its diesel fumes trigger the usual nausea. The clouds disgorge the sun. She imagines getting in her beat-up Honda Civic, driving until it runs out of gas, and then walking until her legs buckle. Wherever she ends up will be fine with her.

“Hey, Lisa!” A gaunt man pops out of his SUV and trots across the parking lot. His glossy parka, unzipped despite the subfreezing day, bounces off his fashionably worn jeans.

He’s no one she knows or wants to know. Running for her car, she plunges her hand into her purse. Where are the stupid keys? She’s still groping for them when she reaches the Civic.

A hand seizes her shoulder and spins her around. The man in the parka presses her against the car, his groin against hers, and pokes her in the ribs with something hard. She looks down at a pistol with a short barrel, almost toylike. His open parka conceals the gun from anyone watching. Not that anyone is. The bearded guy is climbing into a truck jacked up on monster tires. She doubts he noticed her at all. “Sorry, Lisa,” the gunman says. “I know what you’ve been through and I hate—really hate—doing this. But we need to talk.”

Panic muffles everything but her thumping heart. She wrenches her gaze from the gun to his face and opens her mouth to scream, but his eyes silence her. Colorless irises encircle the bottomless wells of the pupils. Her scream drowns in their depths.

“Willard Steeples.” His grin displays a mouthful of capped teeth edged with black along the gum line. “Author of Professor of Death.”

Fucking parasite, feeding on people’s suffering. On her suffering. When she was fifteen a psychopath tortured her, disfigured her, and Steeples’ book made her into a freak show.

“You’re angry,” he says. “I get that. But your story doesn’t end with the Professor. There’s Grifford Riley, the bent cop from Chicago.”

She finally manages to speak. “What do you want?”

“It’s not what I want. The people cry out for the truth. I perform a vital service.”

In the five years since fleeing to Utah to escape Riley, Lisa has managed to recover a fraction of her life. She overcame an addiction to heroin. She fought the trauma of rape and torture and began to dream of a life not defined by the violence done to her. Now this ghoul wants to suck her back into the nightmare. “Please. Leave me alone.”

“Sorry. No can do. My publisher’s gonna cut me loose if I don’t deliver a book by the end of the month. She said it’s my last chance. You know what I’m saying? My last. Chance.”

His publisher. Like she cares.

He prods her with the gun, a reminder. Even years after the surgeries, her face aches in the icy wind. A frozen mask of pain, worse when she’s afraid. Steeples can have the story—some of it anyway—but the dread lurking in her gut senses that he wants more. A lot more.

“Okay, I’ll talk to you. There’s a coffee house on the Square.”

“No. Not after—” He glances apologetically at the pistol. “I couldn’t take the chance you’d say no.”

Another semi crawls past, picking up speed after the stoplight. If the driver looks their way, he won’t see any gun, only a man and woman beside a car, close enough to be lovers. Despair chokes her. “My mother—expects me home.”

“I’ll have you back in an hour.” He grabs Lisa by the elbow, jabs the gun in her back, and hustles her to his SUV, a gray Ford Edge. Scream, she thinks as he yanks open the passenger door. Last chance. But no one is close enough to hear or stop him if he shoots her and drives away. He shoves her onto the seat. The label of a car rental company decorates the GPS unit on the dash. It reassures her a tiny bit. Someone at the rental office can identify him, assuming he gives a shit about getting caught after he kills her.

Her hands are shaking. The other times she was kidnapped, she fought hard. This time, as Steeples gets into the Edge, she wonders if her life is worth the trouble. Then she hears her therapist’s voice reminding her how much she’s survived, experiences that would’ve broken a lot of people. She can survive Willard Steeples.

As he peels out of the parking lot, she glimpses a ponderous figure near the pharmacy entrance. Mrs. Arlow, overweight and asthmatic, squints at the departing Edge. She lives down the street from Lisa’s parents. She might notice Lisa driving away with a stranger and call her mother. But Mrs. Arlow won’t remember any important details—the nondescript gray of the SUV, the make or license number—nothing that could help the cops find Steeples.

He drives west, steering lefthanded so he can keep the gun pointed at Lisa. They pass the Seville Veterinary Clinic, Charlie’s Soft Serve Ice Cream, Morris Chiropractic, the Chevy dealership with its lineup of gleaming pickups beneath colorful plastic pennants, the First Christian Church with its sign asking, Will your eternal home be smoking or not smoking? It’s November and Christmas wreaths decorate the telephone poles along the highway. Cardboard signs nailed to the poles honor local the military service of local young people. Lisa recognizes a few names from junior high. She missed high school because of the surgeries. She got her GED back in the days when she dreamed of studying at the Art Institute in Chicago.

“Where are we going?”

Steeples’ eyes flick toward her then back to the highway. “There’s a few cabins on the lake. No one uses them this time of year.”

“You’re from around here?”

“Nope. I just do my research.”

A mile or so after they leave Seville behind, Steeples turns onto a county road that cuts a straight line through fields stubbled with the remains of corn stalks. The tires bump over rough spots in the pavement, but the SUV’s suspension softens the ride. At least she’s riding to possible death in relative comfort.

Whatever Steeples says about wanting her story, the vacancy in his eyes scares her. And an interview conducted at gunpoint? The whole situation radiates the weirdness of the daemon world. Lisa is wired into that world because of Lu, her closest friend. And someone she cut out of her life. Lu is a daemon seer. She possesses the talent to anchor daemons to the physical world and swore an oath to serve the daemon Talion. Lisa watched in horror as her friend knelt. She owes Lu and Talion for saving her life and she’s grateful. She just wants to forget about daemons.

For the past two years she ignored Lu’s telepathic calls. Several months ago Lu stopped trying and Lisa was relieved. Until now.

Lu! I need help!

No answer. Maybe the connection between them withered, thanks to her.

Lu! I’m with Steeples, he kidnapped me.

Steeples turns onto a narrower road. The flat fields give way to rolling meadows and stands of leafless trees, their branches clawing at the iron-gray sky, bird nests bulging from them like tumors. The SUV rolls across a rusted bridge that looks a hundred years old.

“You do keep getting kidnapped. This is—what—the third time?” Steeples flashes a wolfish grin, showing off those corroded capped teeth. “Only this time Lu isn’t here to save you.”

She tells herself it’s a coincidence, him tuning in on her thoughts. “What is it you really want?”

“I told you. Your story. Your whole story. And you’ll give it to me before we’re done.”

The road widens into a clearing and ends at a metal gate with a sign: CLOSED UNTIL SPRING. Steeples stops the Edge. “Don’t move.” He slides out and circles to the passenger side, keeping the gun on Lisa. “Now get out.”

She gets out.

“Give me your phone.”

“I didn’t bring it.”

He uses his left hand to pat down her pockets and then pluck the canvas purse from her shoulder. The purse is still open from when she groped for her keys. He dumps the contents on the ground.

Lisa squats and picks up her wallet and a ballpoint pen. She leaves an almost empty pack of Kleenex, a couple of receipts, a shopping list, and a cough drop covered with fuzz. Steeples returns the purse. She drops the wallet and pen into it and stands. “See, I told you. No phone.”

“Pick up those receipts and the paper with your writing on it.”

She gathers the muddy slips of paper and thrusts them at him. With a grimace he wads them up and stuffs them in his pocket. “Now you can shoot me or whatever.”

Willard Steeples giggles. “Leave your purse in the car. I’m not going to kill you, scout’s honor.”

She imagines him as a scrawny Boy Scout that the others picked on. She doubts he has any honor.

“Go around the gate post,” he says.

She squeezes between the post and the thorny branches of a bush. Steeples follows. She hopes the thorns will catch on his jacket, but he carefully avoids them. Then Lake Seville spreads in front of them, lapping the pebbly shoreline and reflecting the gloomy sky. The wind blows harder and colder over the water. Already shivering, Lisa zips her jacket. She’s dressed for a quick run to the drugstore, not a winter trek along the lake. Ahead of them a green prefab cabin sits on a slope overlooking a boat ramp.

“Is that where we’re going?”

He waves her forward. “Stay in front of me.”

As they walk along the shoreline, she concentrates on bridging the thousand miles between her and Lu with a strong and simple message. Help me help me help me. She half-heartedly thinks of running for the trees. Who can tell, he might be a crappy shot. But she keeps plodding toward the cabin.

Every nerve in her body screams for Vicodin. She stopped using almost three years ago, and with the exception of one slip, stayed clean. Most of the time she feels okay. But with the gun nudging her spine, time falls away and she’s raw again.

“I have codeine,” Steeples says. “You can have some when we get to the cabin.”

Again he tuned into her thoughts. From behind her, he can’t see whatever pain her face might be betraying, but he somehow knows. She reaches out to him with her thoughts. What’s the deal? Can you read my mind? Nothing comes back, but she senses an empty tunnel like the one where she and Lu communicate.

Beyond the lake, the distant treeline clings like gray lint to the water’s edge. No sign of human life. “What are you on?” she says. “Not just codeine.”

“What do you think I’m on?”

“You look like a tweaker. Or maybe coke.”

“Would you like some?”

“No. And I don’t want your fucking pills either.”

He chuckles. “You might change your mind.”

Her stomach drops. Steeples intends to hurt her.

They climb a dirt path to the cabin. The window beside the door is broken, the glass removed from its frame. Steeples scouted the location and already broke in. He opens the unlocked door. “After you, Sugar Pie.”

She enters the dim and musty space. Freezing wind from the lake howls through the broken window. The cabin is one room. A bed sags beneath a ratty quilt. A couch and two chairs huddle around a fireplace. Steeples prods her toward the couch with the gun barrel.

“I’m cold,” she says. “Can I get that quilt?”

“Have a seat. I’ll bring it to you.”

The odor of mold wafts from the cushion where she sits. He wedges the gun into the waistband of his jeans, raising Lisa’s hopes. With luck he’ll shoot his dick off. He fetches the quilt and covers her from the neck down, tucking its edges beneath her, pinning her arms. “There. Nice and toasty.” The quilt’s dampness leaches the warmth from her. She pulls it loose.

Steeples plops into a wooden rocking chair. He scoops his phone from his pocket and stabs his finger several times at the screen. The chair creaks as he places the phone on the low table between them. “Okay, let’s start with Grifford Riley. Tell me about him.”

Lisa will never forget the psychopathic cop who almost killed her, but she keeps her face blank.

“You know, I wanted an ‘after’ picture of you for Professor of Death,” he says. “Your bitch mother wouldn’t give me one, but now I can put one in this book. The main focus is Riley, but I’ll revisit your ordeal at the hands of Rad Sanders. People love that shit. I mean the parallels are dramatic. Twice you’re kidnapped and horribly assaulted. Twice you’re rescued by Lu, a mousy little girl in glasses. We’re talking best-seller, guaranteed.”

When Rad was finished with Lisa, her face resembled raw meat. Steeples, the piece of shit, wanted to display that ugliness to the world. Anything to make money. “So, what’s the title gonna be?”

“I was thinking Born Victim: The Unfortunate Life of Lisa Duncan. But my editor isn’t crazy about it.”

“Me neither.”

“Back to Riley. I need the whole truth, the untold story. He followed you to Park City and then grabbed you and drove to a motel outside Laramie. That’s where things get mysterious. Lu rescued you. How’d she manage that?”

“He went for cigarettes.”

“Bullshit. Only one place near the motel was open. A gas station. The clerk doesn’t remember Riley, but he remembers Lu buying snacks and bottled water.”

“That was later, after she got me out of there.”

“It doesn’t make sense, her stopping a couple miles from the motel when she knew Riley would be coming after you.”

“Ask her.”

“She won’t talk to me.” He shoots her a reproachful look, as if Lu’s silence is her fault.

Lisa wonders how he’d react to the truth. Lu ambushed Riley while he was on top of Lisa, shoved him into the narrow space between bed and wall, and stabbed him over and over and over with a sharp piece of metal. The hulking police detective broke Lu’s arm, but she blinded him and pulverized his testicles. Lisa’s breath snags as she remembers the viciousness of the attack. Lu was possessed by Black Claw, a daemon. But still.

“Let’s talk about the Ferrari you abandoned in Park City. Supposedly. How come no one saw it there and the cops never found it? It’s not the kind of car you overlook.” Steeples grins as if he hears her nerves shrieking. “Sure you don’t want a Vicodin?”

She has no name for the wrongness in him, a hunger that brushes past her on its hunt for the food it really wants. “I can’t tell you anything you don’t already know. Please. Take me back into town.”

All at once he leers. “What’s she up to?”

“Lu? I don’t know, we don’t talk.”

“You’re telling me they broke the connection?”

“Who’s they?” Her heartbeat speeds, pumping up her panic, and her head feels large and insubstantial, a membrane about to disintegrate. “What connection?”

No way can he know about the telepathy, but he stares at Lisa as though deciphering her secrets. “Don’t tell me the bitch let Talion cut you loose.” He breaks into a stuttering laugh—heh-heh-heh-heh-heh—a crowing voice that no longer belongs to him. A daemonic voice. “You’re dead,” the daemon says in a childish singsong. Standing, it draws the pistol from the waistband of Steeples’ jeans.

Her heart trips ahead of the frozen moment. She springs from the couch and darts sideways, holding up the moldy quilt like a shield. The daemon fires the gun and the world goes silent. The quilt is burning. She drops it and runs blindly. A bullet splinters the doorframe as she yanks the door open. On the porch a woman knocks her aside with the shotgun she’s gripping in both hands. Lisa stumbles a few steps before falling. Her arm and shoulder hit the frozen dirt with a jolt that snaps her teeth together. More gunfire erupts inside the cabin. The muffled pops seem miles away to Lisa’s stunned ears. She crawls down the path until shock overtakes her and she lies still on lakeshore, tasting blood from her bitten tongue. The world blurs.

Someone grabs her arm and pulls her over and up onto her butt. Stand, the woman who showed up with the shotgun says. Lisa struggles to her feet. The woman has on maroon yoga pants and an orange hunting jacket. Her face—puffy and creased and reddened by the cold—looks vaguely familiar. Someone glimpsed in the supermarket or the thrift store on the Square. Her eyes gleam like dark ice, inhuman. Why did you go with the journalist? Even the Flame is not reckless enough to kill you in a public place. Half-deaf from the gun blasts, Lisa realizes the woman is speaking in her mind. Not the woman, but the daemon inside her.

Who’s the Flame?

The daemon heads back toward the cabin, its stride hampered by the woman’s stubby legs. It wears her body like ill-fitting clothes. Lisa hurries to catch up. What’s happening? Is Lu in trouble?

The seer makes her own trouble.

Lisa follows her daemon rescuer into the cabin. Steeples’ body sprawls behind the overturned rocking chair, the face and chest like raw chuck. The stink hits her and sourness floods her mouth.

“Do not vomit.” Speaking aloud now, the daemon stoops and picks up Steeples’ gun. “Tell me what you touched.”

“Just that quilt.”

“Bring it. And the phone.”

Lisa grabs the phone from the table and checks the screen. “It’s recording us.”

“I will destroy it.”

“The recording could’ve been uploaded.”

The daemon gives her a razor-thin smile. “Perhaps you’re not altogether useless.”

“Thanks. I guess.” She hands over the phone. “Why did you save me?”

“Talion commanded it. I would have rather the Flame destroyed you.”

Careful not to look at Steeples’ body, Lisa follows the daemon out of the cabin and down the dirt path. She clutches the phone in one hand and drags the singed quilt with the other. The daemon points to the boat ramp. “Go to the end and toss the quilt and phone in the lake.”

“The lake’s too shallow there,” Lisa says. “The cops will find the phone. And the quilt’s probably gonna wash ashore.”

“It makes no difference.” The daemon stands on the path, hands on hips and elbows spread wide. “The water will destroy any trace of you.”

The cops might still find a hair or fingerprint in the cabin or rental car. “Why don’t you just burn down the cabin?”

“No. A fire draws too much attention. Do as I say.”

Lisa tosses the evidence in the water and returns to the path. “Now what?”

“I will drive you to your car.”

They hike along the lake, backtracking to the road where Steeples left his rented SUV. Water laps at the shore and their shoes crunch against the pebbles. Icy wind whistles in Lisa’s ears and makes them ache. At least her hearing has come back. She wonders if Lu heard her telepathic call for help and asked Talion to send this daemon, or if he was watching from the start. The daemon knew where and how Steeples grabbed her. “Why was that daemon after me?”

“The reasons do not concern you.” Her rescuer’s harsh speech is strange coming from the rural Midwestern woman cradling a shotgun, a nice lady who probably goes to church on Sunday and spoils her grandchildren with cookies.

“What’s gonna happen to the woman you’re possessing? Will she remember any of this?”

The daemon fixes its empty eyes on Lisa. “You are a parasite. Except for the seer’s pleas on your behalf, you would have been destroyed.”

Lisa feels herself contract like a turtle withdrawing into its shell. Only she has no shell. She’s at the mercy of this monster. She wipes her nose with her sleeve and trembles in the icy wind as they trudge along the lakeshore.

The daemon opens the door of a battered blue Toyota pickup parked beside the Ford Edge.

“My purse,” Lisa says. “It’s in Steeple’s car.”

“Get in the truck.” The daemon batters the SUV’s window with the shotgun stock until it punches through the safety glass. It reaches through the hole to unlock the door and retrieves the purse.

According to the clock on the dash, Lisa has been gone three hours. Way too long for a run to the pharmacy. She needs an excuse—a flat tire, an old friend who asked her for coffee, a spur-of-the-moment drive along country roads. The drive, she decides. Mom will yell at her for making them worry, but the other bogus excuses could be easily checked.

When they enter Seville she crouches out of sight and digs for her keys. Of course she finds them with no problem now that she’s not in desperate peril. The daemon stops in the drugstore parking lot and waits, silent.

“Goodbye,” Lisa says. “And thanks.”

“Get out.”

By the time she reaches her old Civic, the daemon is pulling onto the highway, headed back toward the lake. The possessed woman probably lives somewhere out that way. Lisa hopes she’ll be okay.

She clutches the wheel for several minutes, drawing slow deliberate breaths the way the biofeedback guy in rehab taught her. The odor of mold clings to her like guilt.

Other books in the Daemon World series are Talion and Daemon Seer.

The image remains among the most vivid of my early childhood. My three-year-old brother Steve stood in front of our house in Soldiers Summit, wearing one of my dresses as punishment for—something. I don’t recall much about the dress, just a general impression of frills. I’m pretty sure the dress had a sash that tied in a bow in back.

But I recall my brother’s face vividly, wet with tears, screwed up in anger, bright red with humiliation.

I carried the memory for several years without knowing how Steve ended up in the dress. I couldn’t ask him about a punishment so humiliating. He’d probably been too young to remember it anyway.

When I was twelve or thirteen, I asked Nana, my paternal grandmother, about the dress. She’d been living with us at the time. She said my mother put him in the dress and sent him outside to punish him for wetting the bed. I didn’t challenge this story—Nana wasn’t someone easily challenged—but I harbored doubts. Although Mom could become emotionally abusive when angry, this sort of cruel punishment seemed unlike her.

Many years later, when Mom was in her 80s, I told her about my memory of Steve wearing my dress and crying. I didn’t mention that Nana had blamed her. Mom remembered the incident. She said Nana had punished Steve for wetting the bed. Nana put the dress on him and made him go outside until Dad came home.

“I never saw your dad so angry,” Mom said. “He told Mabel to get that damn dress off Steve. He said he’d throw her out of the house if she ever pulled something like that again.” Mom still blamed herself. “He was my child and I should’ve protected him. I was afraid to stand up to Mabel.”

I believed my mother. It seemed likely that Nana would impose that kind of punishment. She’d grown up poor in the South and never finished fourth grade. She probably hadn’t known any better. But later she knew, and felt ashamed enough to lie about it.

I wonder about the effect of the punishment on Steve. He grew up around people who despised feminine traits in men. He became a man who felt compelled to answer any challenge to his masculinity with violence.

Once, while I was walking on a Salt Lake street with Steve and his second wife, a guy we passed said something. I didn’t hear the remark, but it sparked instant rage in Steve. He wanted to fight. His wife and I managed to calm him down and keep him walking. “Why bother with assholes like that?” I asked.

“You’re a girl,” he said. “You don’t know what it’s like, having to prove yourself all the time.”

I did have to prove myself, only not in the same ways, but arguing with him would have made things worse.

In his late twenties Steve worked in oil exploration, an outdoors job that made him physically strong. In his thirties he lifted weights to maintain his fitness. He was big and formidable, the kind of man who could and did mete out punishment to anyone who messed with him. With me and others he loved, he could be kind, generous, and forgiving. But that softness had to be armored, always.

Steve died of a drug overdose when he was thirty-seven years old.

I’m excited to announce that the next Kelly Durrell crime thriller, Hometown Boys, will come out on January 21, 2019. The novel will be available in paperback and ebook editions. I’m also planning an audio book edition sometime in the future. In the meantime, you can preorder the ebook from Amazon and several other online retailers

What happens in Hometown Boys?

Kelly returns to her hometown of Morrison, Illinois for the funerals of her murdered aunt and uncle. Her ex-boyfriend from high school, Troy Ingram, has been arrested for the crime. Nobody doubts his guilt. The police arrested him driving the victim’s pickup truck, his clothing splattered with their blood. Town gossips whisper that Troy did the murders because of Kelly. She broke his heart and ruined his life when she dumped him twenty years ago.

Kelly tries to shrug off the gossip and stay detached, but she finds herself inexorably drawn into the case. Troy’s attorney makes a persuasive argument that he wasn’t acting on his own. Someone paid him—or coerced him—to commit this vicious crime. If the attorney is right, the person who masterminded the murders is walking around free.

As Kelly digs for the truth, she unearths some of the secrets hidden beneath the surface in her hometown. Dangerous secrets that could get her or her family killed.

Hometown Boys unfolds several months after the events recounted in Darkroom. Kelly still suffers from the trauma of those events. But at least one good thing has emerged from the wreckage of her life. She and Detective Cash Peterson of the Boulder police department have begun a tentative romance.  Now their relationship is strained by Kelly’s emotional turmoil when she return home

Check out the eye-catching cover for Hometown Boys.

Created by The Thatchery, the cover captures the sinister and mysterious atmosphere rooted in the novel’s rural Midwestern setting. The abandoned farmhouse rising from the corn plays a key role in Hometown Boys. The old house is a place where the darkness from Kelly’s past spills into her present and threatens to overwhelm her.

Are you intrigued?

If you liked Darkroom or you enjoy thrillers with complex characters and well-drawn settings, pick up a copy of Hometown Boys. Order now and the book will be waiting for you after the holidays. The perfect time to settle in with a smart, tension-filled thriller that will keep you riveted until the surprising, satisfying end.

Order from Amazon.

Order from other retailers, including Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and iBooks.

I was recently saddened to learn that author Brian Sfinas had died after a short illness. Although I never met Brian face to face, I considered him a friend. He helped me redesign my old blog, Ancient Children—in fact, he did the heavy lifting on that job—and we worked together during the time that he managed Awesome Indies, a website supporting self-published authors. A talented writer with an exuberant, original, and fearless imagination, Brian published two speculative novels before his death, The Sexual Adventures of Time and Space and The Darkest of Suns Will Rise. I read and reviewed both books with much admiration. In memory of Brian and a brilliant voice that fell silent much too soon, I’m republishing my review of The Sexual Adventures of Time and Space.

 

In The Sexual Adventures of Time and Space Brian Sfinas has written an ambitious and compelling piece of fiction. The story centers on Michael Thorn, a twenty-something drug user obsessed with lucid dreaming. He and his friends devise a sensory deprivation chamber where, under the influence of sodium thiopental, they sleep for days exploring their private dreamscapes.

The novel is a cautionary tale of the lure and danger of solipsism.

It consists of a series of excerpts from Michael’s journal. A brief note at the start informs readers that the excerpts are evidence in the trial of his friends and the drug dealer who had supplied the sodium thiopental, so we know from the beginning that something has happened to Michael. We can only guess the crime with which the others are charged. The novel’s suspense grows from these unanswered questions and from our growing immersion in Michael’s inner life.

The journal provides the ideal narrative vehicle for this story. Not only do we experience events from Michael’s perspective, but the world is one step removed from his account. We aren’t shown his experience, only what he chooses to says about it. And the journal itself is incomplete. We are given excerpts, passages taken from a larger whole that are relevant to the upcoming trial. The journal creates the sense of a far larger world that we can’t see because we’re trapped in Michael’s head.

Even before lucid dreaming takes over his life, Michael is disengaged from the external world. Obviously intelligent, he harbors vague dreams of accomplishing something and making a contribution to the world, but he has no concrete goals. His job means nothing to him. People in general seem to bore or anger him. He does have a childhood friend, Kyle, and he’s on decent terms with Kyle’s girlfriend, Kate. These two share his enthusiasm for dream “vacations.”

Michael also has a girlfriend whom he meets after beginning his experiments in lucid dreaming. He conceals her real name and calls her Dorothy—not, he explains at length, after the heroine of The Wizard of Oz. Yet the connection fits his image of her. She’s a creature of fantasy, a figure from a dream. They are sexually intimate, of course, but they spend too much time asleep to know each other well. But Sfinas reveals enough about Dorothy to hint at her complexity, intelligence, and deep sadness.

At the heart of The Sexual Adventures of Time and Space is a tragic love story. Michael and Dorothy are young and lost and could have given so much to each other. If they only stayed awake.

noir mystery

Vu Tran’s novel Dragonfish combines a noir mystery with a family saga and adds a dash of ambiguity of the kind usually associated with literary fiction. Written in elegant prose, it begins as a familiar kind of detective story, the search for a missing person, but Tran seems more concerned with the mystery than its solution, with what cannot be known rather than what can.

Two husbands—or rather, three

Robert, an Oakland cop, and his ex-wife Hong a.k.a. Suzy are the story’s two first-person narrators. Hong abandons Robert for a man she met during her journey to America. Sonny has become a gambler and smuggler in Las Vegas. He’s a brutal villain but also a victim of his past. When Hong runs away from him too, he blackmails Robert into looking for her. The search leads Robert into a violent world that he doesn’t understand. The more he learns about his ex-wife, the more he realizes how little he knows her.

Not that he tries hard to know her during their marriage. He accepts her strange behavior without much caring what causes it. He calls her Suzy rather than her true name, creating a superficial American identity for her.

Her real name was Hong, which meant “pink” or “rose” in Vietnamese. But it sounded a bit piggish the way Americans pronounced it, so I suggested the name of my first girlfriend in high school . . .

It seems that Robert prefers his wife without the baggage of her past. Now, searching for her, he is forced to confront it.

Bad mother?

Hong is as much a mystery to herself as to Robert. In flashbacks she recounts her immigration to America and her deep ambivalence about motherhood. She gives birth in Vietnam while her first husband is imprisoned at a re-education camp. Although she loves her daughter, she feels alone and unable to be a good mother.

There are things that people do poorly for lack of talent, and things they do poorly for lack of desire. Then there are those things that all the desire and talent in the world cannot make fit, no matter how often you pray and how hard you pretend.

After the government releases her dying husband, he urges Hong to leave the country. She’s cast adrift on a crowded, barely seaworthy boat carrying her and her young daughter away from Vietnam. Two things that happen on the journey dramatize Hong’s ambivalence about motherhood. A woman thinks her son has fallen overboard. In a paroxysm of despair, she jumps in the ocean to drown with him. The boy is found soon afterward sleeping below deck. The woman’s devotion to her child backfires. It is extreme—and inept.

If the other mother loves her son too much, Hong fears that she may love her daughter too little.

The second incident occurs on an island where the refugees await sponsorship in America. Hong watches her daughter going into deep water, where she would likely drown, and does nothing to stop her. Hong cannot understand her own failure to act. It troubles her. These two incidents do not explain her ambivalence, but they suggest a disquieting answer—that Hong is incapable of the steadfastness and self-sacrifice that motherhood requires. She loves her daughter, yet leaves her to be raised by a relative.

Mysteries with no solution

Robert’s search for Hong brings him into conflict with Sonny and his clan, a conflict that ends in a violent resolution. But Hong remains in the shadows. She asks an ancient question—Who am I?—and cannot find an answer. Nor can the reader who wants to know how her story ends.

While the mystery of Hong’s character serves the plot and theme, the blurred edges of Robert’s character detract from the story. He’s not altogether believable as an Oakland cop, appearing remarkably untouched by a career full of stress and danger. Almost nothing is shown of his life apart from his marriage to Hong. True, the story isn’t about him, but as a major point-of-view character, he should be more fully developed.

Dragonfish does not deserve its low ratings on Amazon. Its combination of genres and ambiguous ending may explain the mixed reviews. Some readers apparently expected a more pedestrian novel. They complain that the plot moves too slowly and seem to resent the lack of resolution to Hong’s story. In another post I write about some readers’ dislike of ambiguity, a preference to which they are entitled. But plenty of other readers love Dragonfish and you can count me among them. I will not soon forget Vu Tran’s powerful novel.

Ever since I discovered the pleasure of listening to audio books, I’ve thought about making audio versions of my novels. But the high cost of production and my unfamiliarity with the process kept me from moving ahead.

Then, in mid-May of 2017, my thriller Darkroom won First Prize for Fiction in the IndieReader Discovery Awards. This honor may seem unrelated to producing an audio book. It’s not. The award renewed my faith in Darkroom. Like most writers I believe in my work. Otherwise I would not be writing. But the validation boosted my confidence enough to justify the substantial investment in an audio book production.

IndieReader invited to me attend a BookCon event in New York City to receive the award in person. Unfortunately, medical problems kept me from making the trip. Of course, I was disappointed. It occurred to me that I could use the unspent travel money to produce an audio book of Darkroom.

Choosing a production method

I could have read Darkroom and managed the studio production work myself—the least expensive option—and probably ended up with a substandard audio book. I haven’t worked in theater since college and I know almost nothing about sound editing. Sure, I could have learned, but experience has shown me that it takes practice to become competent at new skills. I chafed at the idea of delay. Even more, I refused to make the Darkroom audio book a learning project.

Another avenue of audio book production is through exchanges like ACX and Findaway, which allow you to bid for readers and hold auditions. I felt too inexperienced to sort through a slew of auditions—some by readers who might or might not have access to adequate sound equipment—so I searched instead for an independent studio.

After casting about for a few weeks, I settled on Spoke Media, a production company with a good reputation and a contact person who returned my messages within a day or two (as opposed to a couple of weeks). After listening reader auditions, I chose Alison Pistorius, a theatrical actor whose voice evokes my main character, Kelly.

A new cover for the audio book

I needed an audio version of my cover. Unfortunately, I’d engaged the cover artist through an intermediary, and this company no longer worked with him. I asked the company for help anyway, but received no response. So, I dug up contact information for the cover artist and wrote to him directly. Again, no response. I won’t name the cover artist or the company. I will only say that my estimation of them has taken a nosedive.

Damonza designed a compelling new cover for both the ebook and the audio book of Darkroom. Some readers say they prefer it to the earlier cover.

A few problems

Spoke Media worked fast. Maybe too fast. In three weeks, the audio files were ready for review. By and large the audio book sounded terrific. But I’m glad I listened to every file. Sentences were repeated in a few places, and worse, an entire page of Chapter 28 had not been recorded at all. Maybe you’ve encountered audio books with annoying and confusing mistakes—repetitions, obviously missing words, inconsistent chapter titles—mistakes the producer failed to catch. (And it’s the job of the producer—in this case, me—to catch them.) I’m glad Darkroom didn’t end up being that kind of audio book.

After Spoke Media completed the revisions, I set about uploading the files to my distributors, ACX and Author’s Republic. The ACX reviewer informed me that the files needed a couple of minor edits. The opening credits must be in a separate file rather than part of the Prologue file. Same thing for the closing credits, which were part of  the final chapter file. Making the changes was no big deal, but I could have avoided the brief delay if I’d known the formatting rules.

Success!

The audio edition of Darkroom finally became available in September of 2017. The sound quality is superb and Allison Pistorius does a terrific job of reading the story. I’m pleased with the final product and hope that you will be, too. You can order the Darkroom audio book from Audible, iTunes, and several other outlets.

Like millions of other Americans, my husband and I made a pilgrimage into the path of totality on August 21, day of the Great American Eclipse. Or rather, I made a pilgrimage. Joe came along to keep me out of trouble.

We live in Charleston, Illinois, a town where the moon would obscure 95% of the sun. Joe couldn’t see the point of traveling a hundred miles for that last five percent. But I’d done my reading. Everyone who had witnessed a total eclipse attested that it was a unique experience and that last five percent makes a tremendous difference.

Our journey: viewing the eclipse in comfort

We stayed at the Marriott Courtyard in Chesterfield, Illinois. The place was packed with other pilgrims and the occasional business traveler. I chose Chesterfield figuring it would be less popular than the prime viewing spots in Southern Illinois, where hundreds of thousands gathered to observe the eclipse. Also, Chesterfield was next to a wildlife preserve, which seemed like an excellent place to watch the eclipse.

Unfortunately, Joe refused to drive to the wildlife preserve. He gave several reasons. The traffic would be terrible coming back, and he didn’t want an extra five miles of it. Hundreds of people would crowd the preserve, and we wouldn’t find a good spot to watch. Besides, the trees would block our view. But it came down to this: he’d traveled this far and he refused to travel any farther.

Eclipsus interruptus: light pollution

We watched the eclipse from the hotel. They call the place the Courtyard for a reason. A cozy courtyard in the back was furnished with several cushioned patio chairs, a couple of tables with umbrellas, and an outdoor fire pit. We waited there with several other people too unmotivated to venture into the wild.

Joe brought me coffee. He had fun watching and talking about the eclipse and sharing his eclipse glasses with an attractive woman who didn’t have any.

The location disappointed me a little. I hoped for crickets chirruping and birds flying to their roosts as the sky darkened. I spotted no birds. And although a few crickets chirruped, traffic from the nearby highway almost drowned them out.

Worst of all, the lamps around the building next door, equipped with light sensors, switched on and diluted the dark.

Total wonder: the last five percent

But none of it spoiled the wonder of the eclipse itself. The moon covers the sun and the midday sky darkens. You gaze at the corona with naked eyes and connect to a long-ago time when humans experienced the magic in the world. For the one minute and thirteen seconds of the total eclipse, the heavens reigned. Nothing could kill the magic—not the traffic or the lamps or the sterile comfort of the hotel courtyard.

It ended too soon.

Joe allowed that the last five percent made the trip worthwhile. And to his delight, traffic was light on the drive home.