A Gothic Recipe for Horror


The Thorne and Cross thriller, The Witches of Ravencrest, is the latest to come to audiobook and to celebrate, we’re sharing our recipe for Gothic horror. But first … a little about the book …

Narrated by film and voice actor, Nathan Foss, The Witches of Ravencrest is book 2 of The Ravencrest Saga, preceded by The Ghosts of Ravencrest (also now available at Audible.com) and followed by book 3, Exorcism – which is on its way to audiobook as I write this.

But wait … there’s more …

As of today, Shadowland, book 4 in The Ravencrest Saga, is complete – as in, we literally finished it today! – and it, too, will be available in all formats, including audiobook, very soon.

On a more personal note, The Ravencrest Saga is the first thing Tamara and I began writing together. It was this series that proved to us that not only were we compatible collaborators, but that we complimented each other as writers. We love this series and foresee no end to it – probably because it has everything in it that we love … which leads us to our Gothic Recipe for Horror …

Thorne & Cross’ Gothic Recipe for Horror

3 cups mystery
2 cups ghosts
1 cup romance
½ cup miscellaneous monstrosities
All the witches you want
A whiff of zombies
3 bleeding nuns
A half a cup of looming shadows
2 candelabra, with candles 
A pinch of hysteria
A dollop of sex
A few drops of blood

Sprinkle with a few demented harlequins, stir in an abundance of twisted family history, then mix all of it together in an old spooky mansion on a hill. Add an unsuspecting governess and a mysterious, handsome millionaire, and you’re on your way to creating a good solid gothic. That’s how we did it, anyway.

Gothic novels are all about atmosphere, and to achieve a perfect dish, you can’t just mix these things willy-nilly and expect them to come out gourmet-quality. A good chef – or writer – must use a deft hand to achieve the perfect flavor. First, you need strong characters, proper pacing, and a damned good story – then you stir in the eerie gothic atmosphere.

If you don’t mix your ingredients properly – or if you get creative and don’t carefully consider your extra additions, your cake – or book – may fall flat. Too much – or too little – of anything can ruin what you’re trying to create.

For example, if you add shadows to a sunny day, you must place them in the proper spot to achieve the eerie flavor you desire. Shadows under a tree in summer probably won’t work – unless the tree is situated correctly – perhaps in a lonely cemetery. What accents should you add? A freshly dug grave nearby? A mysterious mist hovering just inside the glass door of a nearby family mausoleum? Wilted flowers on a grave? Or are they fresh but sprinkled with blood? Or, did the flowers mysteriously appear when you turned your back? All these variations provide mystery. Who – or what – brought the flowers? Why is there mist hovering in a mausoleum on a warm sunny day? Is someone lurking? A human? A ghost? And what are their intentions? Your answers will affect just how atmospheric your story is.

Consider the definition of Gothic from dictionary.com: 
7. noting or pertaining to a style of literature characterized by a gloomy setting, grotesque, mysterious, or violent events, and an atmosphere of degeneration and decay.

This very definition screams for an old and spooky residence. For us, it’s a sprawling manor house built centuries ago in England. Already steeped in dark history, Ravencrest Manor was imported stone by stone to the California coast in the early 1800s. It arrived with its sordid past intact, and since then, it has accrued many more mysteries, ghosts, and family secrets.

While Ravencrest Manor is beautifully kept up, it’s still full of long halls and longer shadows – and if you dare enter the door that locks away the forbidden east wing, things intensify. Why the wing was locked up in the first place is a major mystery. Within, flickering lights, dizzying corridors, and some nasty – and nice – spirits all add to the gothic ambience. We’ve already seen a trio of horrible, bloody nuns, the ghost of a little girl, and a headless woman lurking there, just to name a few. The honeycombed rooms contain more horrors than even we know about yet; we feel the presence of spirits and more frightening things as we write and this adds a sense of foreboding for us. And because we feel it, we think our readers will as well.

And those are the most important ingredients in our recipe for ambience and atmosphere in The Ravencrest Saga. Our goal from the beginning was to pay homage to the gothics we teethed on – gothics like Dark Shadows and Rebecca – and in our series’ second full-length novel, The Witches of Ravencrest, we had a particularly good time with atmosphere because not only did we explore more of the mansion itself, but we took some of the story into the town of Devilswood, an old coastal village that serves as the backdrop to the saga.

But whether writing in the gothic genre or not, we’re firm believers that atmosphere is one of the most critical elements to a story. Atmosphere is a reflection of the characters, the locale, and a major influence on the plot itself, so – we believe – there should be no shortage of it.

More about The Witches of Ravencrest

Dark and Unnatural Powers


In a remote part of California just above the coastal town of Devilswood, Ravencrest Manor, imported stone-by-stone from England more than two centuries ago, looms tall and terrifying, gathering its dark and unnatural powers, and drawing those it wants as its own.


Murder Lurks in the Shadows


Governess Belinda Moorland has settled into life at Ravencrest, and, as summer gives way to autumn, romance is in the air. She and multi-millionaire Eric Manning are falling in love…but powerful forces will stop at nothing to keep them apart. And as the annual Harvest Ball is set to begin, evil abounds at Ravencrest. Murder lurks in the shadows, evil spirits freely roam the halls, a phantom baby cries, signaling a death in the mansion, and in the notoriously haunted east wing, three blood-soaked nuns, Sisters Faith, Hope, and Charity, tend to the demented needs of a maid gone mad.

Vengeful Spirits


Ravencrest has come to life. In the gardens below, granite statues dance by moonlight, and a scarecrow goes on a killing rampage, collecting a gruesome assortment of body parts from unwilling donors…. But Belinda’s greatest danger is the vengeful spirit of Rebecca Dane. Once the mistress of Ravencrest, Rebecca Dane has a centuries-old ax to grind with the powerful witch, Cordelia Heller – and Belinda becomes her weapon of choice.

The complete series … so far …


Witches, Ghosts, and Murder, Oh My!


Many of you die-hard horror fans out there will be familiar with Moonfall, Tamara Thorne’s Halloween-themed classic about witches, gargoyles, magick, and evil nuns – and now, for the first time ever, it’s available in audiobook at Audible.com, narrated by the inimitable Jamison Walker.

Moonfall is the first Tamara Thorne novel I ever read. This was back in the 90s when I was a teen who dreamed of one day being a writer myself – and Moonfall was one of the books that prompted me to put pen to paper. I was utterly taken by the atmosphere and so thoroughly immersed in the world she’d created that I wanted to one day have that same power. Tamara Thorne – anger book Moonfall in particular – is one of the main reasons I’m an author today.  I never would have dreamed that so many years later, I’d be writing books with her. 

Life … she’s a strange beast indeed. And speaking of strange beasts, here’s a little about Moonfall:

Moonfall, the picturesque town nestled in the mountains of southern California, is a quaint hamlet of antique stores, cider mills, and pie shops, and Apple Heaven, run by the dedicated nuns of St. Gertrude’s Home for Girls, is the most popular destination of all. As autumn fills the air, the townspeople prepare for the Halloween Haunt, Moonfall’s most popular tourist attraction. Even a series of unsolved deaths over the years hasn’t dimmed Moonfall’s enthusiasm for the holiday.

Now, orphan Sara Hawthorne returns to teach in the hallowed halls of St. Gertrude’s where, twelve years before, her best friend died a horrible death. In Sara’s old room, distant voices echo in the dark and the tormented cries of children shatter the moon-kissed night.

But that’s just the beginning. For Sara Hawthorne is about to uncover St. Gertrude’s hellish secret…a secret she may well carry with her to the grave.

“Tamara Thorne has become one of those must-read horror writers.” –Horror World

Behind the Book: Sleep Savannah Sleep


One night, days after finishing my novel Dream Reaper, I was in bed, staring at the ceiling, wondering what to write next. I considered going back to the Crimson Cove series but I felt like there was a different story in me trying to get out. The trouble was, I didn’t know anything about it yet – I literally had no other ideas – so I started asking questions. 

I’ve always believed it’s the writer’s obligation to push their main character as hard as they can – that just when the protagonist might crack under the pressures of their dilemma, it’s time to give them one more problem – so the question I asked myself that night as I sought my next idea was this: What’s the worst thing I could possibly do to my main character in this book? 

It took some thinking, but a short time later, I finally had it: the absolute worst crisis possible (which I can’t say anything about without spoiling the book.) Suffice it to say that even now, I can’t imagine anything more awful than what Jason, my main character, goes through in this book. Anyway, once I had that, I worked backwards from there, something I’ve never done before. 

I started outlining this book that night and I was so excited about it that I never went to bed – but by the time the sun came up, Savannah was plotted out in its entirety, from the opening scene to the last. While this isn’t how I usually do things, I will say that it makes for much quicker novel writing: Sleep Savannah Sleep was written in twenty-five days. The first draft, that is. Edits and revisions still took a few months – but I’ve never written a first draft that fast. It was both exhilarating and exhausting, and though I don’t plan to do again any time soon, I loved it.

Sleep Savannah Sleep was a slightly different animal for me. I knew almost right away that this was a murder mystery so my process was a little different this time around. Usually, I know about where I want to end up and I just start writing toward that, allowing the plot to go where it sees fit (within reason, of course). In a murder mystery though, you need to have a concrete end at the beginning. You need to know your ending well and work strictly toward it, all the while leaving subtle clues that become apparent to the reader only after they’ve finished the book. This requires lots of heavy plotting and lots of precision, and for those reasons, I’m especially proud of Savannah.

As any writer will attest, each book is special in its own way, and to me, the thing that really sets this one apart from my others is not only its style but what it did for me, personally: It proved to me that I could expand. And for a writer who’s always looking for the next fresh angle, that’s important.


P.S. – Sleep Savannah Sleep (narrated by Isaiah Fowler) is available now in audiobook at Audible.com. You can also get it in paperback and ebook at Amazon.

.99 Cents For Jim Morrison, Elvis, and Jack the Ripper?


Tamara Thorne’s ETERNITY goes on sale for .99 on Monday, August 1st! Get a copy at: http://tinyurl.com/hgo8xzw Read a review of ETERNITY at HELLNOTES: http://tinyurl.com/jktk5xm
 
Currently, she and I are writing a collaboration that takes place in Eternity, which is a sequel to CANDLE BAY and features Michael, Winter, Chynna, and Arnie from my novel,THE CRIMSON CORSET. It will be out later this year. Until then, catch up with the folks in Eternity for .99
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ETERNITY by Tamara
 
When Zach Tully leaves Los Angeles to take over as sheriff of Eternity, a tiny mountain town in northern California, he’s expecting to find peace and quiet in his own private Mayberry. But he’s in for a surprise. Curmudgeonly Mayor Abbott is a ringer for long-missing writer Ambrose Bierce. There are two Elvises in town, a shirtless Jim Morrison, and a woman who has more than a passing resemblance to Amelia Earhart. And that’s only the beginning.
 
Eternity is the sort of charming spot tourists flock to every summer and leave every fall when the heavy snows render it an isolated ghost town. Tourists and New Agers all talk about the strange energy coming from Eternity’s greatest attraction: a mountain called Icehouse, replete with legends of Bigfoot, UFOs, Ascended Masters, and more. But the locals talk about something else.
 
The seemingly quiet town is plagued by strange deaths, grisly murders, and unspeakable mutilations, all the work of a serial killer the locals insist is Jack the Ripper. And they want Zach Tully to stop him.
 
Now, as the tourists leave and the first snow starts to fall, terror grips Eternity as an undying evil begins its hunt once again…

THE CLIFFHOUSE HAUNTING is on sale NOW for .99!


Today through Saturday, The Cliffhouse Haunting is on sale for only .99 at Amazon! To celebrate, here is this week’s copy of the The Cliffside Weekly Chronicle! Just click the pic below to obtain your .99 cent copy!

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THE CLIFFSIDE WEEKLY CHRONICLE

Another Death at the Peppermint Stix Motel

Another body has been found in Cliffside. The unidentified male was discovered by Bernard Cox, owner of the Peppermint Stix Motel on Main Street. “I’ve seen a lot of disgusting things – I’ve been running this run-down piece of sh*t motel for years – but I ain’t never seen anything the likes of this!” Cox went on to describe the scene. “So this fellow – he was ripped apart. A leg here, an arm there. And there was water everywhere. And his intestines, or something like that, was pulled out of him and draped around like festoons on the fourth of July!”

The body was taken to the Cliffside Funeral Home where coroner Gene Holmes, M.D., was expected to autopsy it this morning. Police Chief Jackson Ballou refused to answer questions, saying it was too early in the investigation. “This savage murder is just the latest in a series of deaths that may or may not be related. We haven’t even ruled out a bear attack at this point.”

But Cliffside residents have theories of their own. According to young locals Belle Tabrum and Lacey Mylett, there’s “obviously a serial killer on the loose, you know?” When asked what made them so certain, they seemed at a loss and failed to respond. Tessa Cornhull, RN, also believes the murders are connected. “It’s practically common sense,” says Cornhull. “Each of the victims is torn apart, but that’s not even what kills them. They die by drowning. Water in the lungs. That sounds like an MO to me!” Neither the police nor the coroner would confirm Cornhull’s claims of water being present in the lungs of the deceased, saying only that “The investigations are ongoing,” though Cornhull retains her belief that murder is afoot.

But Walter Gardner, groundskeeper of the Cliffside Lodge, has a different theory. Says Gardner, “It’s the Blue Lady. She’s come back. And when the Blue Lady walks, death walks with her.” Maggie O’Connor, a maid at the lodge, concurs with Gardner, saying, “I saw her. In the mirror in a room on the third floor. It scared me to death and I almost quit my job until my boss talked me into staying.”

Unable to obtain any substantial findings, we contacted local doctor, Roger Siechert, who was physician to several of the deceased. When told of the locals’ speculations, Dr. Siechert gave a boisterous laugh, saying, “I don’t know about all that, but are you guys coming to Oktoberfest this year? I’m making my famous Weisswurst. I’m going to win the contest this year! You just watch and see!”

According to Pastor Harry Beaver of the Baptist church, that comes as no surprise. Says Beaver, “Dr. Siechert wins first place every gosh darned year. It’d be nice to see someone else take that ribbon for once.”

So Who is the Blue Lady?

Interest in Cliffside’s own local ghost, the Blue Lady, has increased since long-time Cliffhouse Groundsman, Walter Gardner, said that he thinks the latest murders in our town – specifically at the Peppermint Stix Motel – may be connected to the deaths. And he says his theory has nothing to do with the unverified rumor that the victims’ lungs are full of water.

The Blue Lady sightings date back to the late 1700s when a short-lived Spanish Settlement occupied the area, then reemerged in 1886 when the Cliffhouse Lodge was built. The Blue Lady is often connected to serial murders such as those committed by The Gaslight Killer in the 1880s and The Bodice Ripper of the Prohibition Era. Local lore has it that the Blue Lady, a vengeful spirit of unknown origin, is said to appear during times of violence and death, and that such sightings are a prelude to murder.

It is most commonly believed that the ghost makes her home in or near the water, hence the name of the small lake near the Cliffside Lodge, Blue Lady Lake.

Self-Proclaimed Psychic Signs at the Crystal Cavern

Psychic medium Constance Welling has written many books on the occult and will be at the Crystal Cavern Occult Book Shop this Saturday from 2pm to 4pm signing her latest book in the Crystal Method series, The Kiss of the Wild Crystal. She will also be a giving a talk on getting in touch with your inner spirit guide. Her own spirit guide, (referred to as Eliza,) has been with her since childhood, after a near-fatal accident. Welling says Eliza has given her insight and guided her hand while writing her many books, as well as “helping others with their spiritual needs.”

Welling is currently staying at the Cliffhouse Lodge and says it’s extremely haunted. The medium says she hopes that the owners, Adam and Teddy Baxter-Bellamy, will relent and allow her to hold a seance in the lodge to speak with notorious 1920s serial killer, the Bodice Ripper. She hopes to once and for all identify the Ripper so that, “his many victims can at last go into the light.”

Adam Baxter-Bellamy responded to this reporter’s question. “We want to reassure our guests – past, present, and future, that Cliffhouse is not haunted – except possibly by a friendly feline ghost – and that no ghost-hunting or seances will happen here.”

Ms. Welling vehemently disagrees, stating that most non-gifted persons are unaware of ghostly goings-on. According to Ms. Welling, she is the only member of her family to have inherited what she calls the “gift.” Says Welling, “I used to tell my older sister what her dates were going to be like, and I was always right.” Constance’s only sibling, Phyllis Stine of Snapdragon, California, refused to comment, saying only that she had to get off the phone as a pressing neighborhood matter required her immediate attention. “Just make sure she has the best of everything,” said Stine, “and she’ll make you a few bucks. She insists on dining and traveling in style.”

And Ms. Welling is not traveling alone. She’s brought a hired hand to “help her manage her schedule,” and to “keep the fans at bay.” When asked if he thought his employer was as psychically gifted as she claims, Welling’s personal assistant, Luke Donovan, abruptly excused himself.

Welling’s The Crystal Method Series, as well as her children’s book, My Crystal and Me, are published by Faerie Dust Press, a small publisher based in Bakerton, California, owned by Rodney Hicks. You can obtain copies of Ms. Welling’s ebooks through Amazon. For paperback copies, send self-addressed stamped 6X9” envelopes to Rodney at his mother’s residence at: 17 Peanut Berry Circle, Bakerton, CA. For signed copies of her books, Ms. Welling says, “You’ll just have to come to one of my signings.”

Sadly, Ms. Welling’s first book, Beautiful Cluster, has gone out of print.

Wine Tasting Weekend at The Cliffhouse Lodge

The Cliffhouse Lodge will host their bi-monthly wine tasting this Saturday evening from seven to nine pm. The event is free to guests of the lodge and open to the public for $10 a person. Chantrieri wines from California’s own Valentyn Vineyards will be served along with Cliffhouse’s own Blue Springs Sparkling Water and an assortment of o’dourves prepared at the in-house bistro, Le Chatte Rouge. The event takes place in Cliffhouse’s historic lobby and features Jordan Cartwright on the piano.

“Our evening wine tastings are very popular,” says co-owner Sara Baxter-Bellamy. “Cliffhouse is an amazing place, one of the first hotels ever built in the San Bernardino Mountains. The lobby is breathtaking and even has a natural brook running through it. Try it once, you’ll want to come again.”

Dinner will be served from 4 pm through 10 pm at La Chatte Rouge and manager Paul Butters says they will be featuring their own California cuisine, including Asiago and Kale pizza, Trout with Cranberry and Peppercorn Glaze, and Filet Mignon with Framboise du Congélateur.

Old West Days

Later this month, as part of Cliffside’s, Welcome to Summer festivities, The Cliffhouse Lodge will play host to Old West Days, a reenactment of the old west that’s been a popular event for over fifty years. “Back in the day, it was called ‘Cowboys and Indians Days,” explains local historian Stanford Swiller, “but we aren’t allowed to say that anymore. Nor are we allowed to depict battles but there will be a rodeo in the field by the Cliffside Stables near the lodge.”

On the Great Lawn, there will be native American dances and crafts, Cowboy crafts, including a class in whittling led by our own chief of police, Jackson Ballou, knot-tying classes, a reenactment of the Gunfight at the OK Corral and plenty of strolling, strumming, singing cowboys. The hotel will sponsor a barbecue in conjunction in La Chatte Rouge and welcome plenty of concession stands for food and libations. Other concessions will sell cowboy and native gear for young and old alike and each evening there will be square-dancing under the stars.

Admission to Old West Days is $15 per person. Cliffhouse Lodge will supply a free shuttle to ferry guests between the hotel and the stables.

Obituary

Services for Eliot “Rainbow” Nash, 43, will be held at the Cliffside Funeral Home Thursday at 10 a.m. Mr. Nash is survived by his wife, Myrna, and children Greenwich, Daffodil, Hoody, and Solstice. Mr. Nash was a locally famous glassblower whose Pine Street shop, Tinkling Things, was destroyed in the freak explosion that took Mr. Nash’s life. The family asks that in lieu of flowers, mourners donate to Old Seamen’s Retirement Home in Red Cay.

Film Festival Honoring Maisy Hart

Next Friday night, the Cliffside Arts Theater will feature an evening of films starring our own Maisy Hart. Miss Hart, who is a permanent resident at the Cliffhouse Lodge, was a scream queen back in the 1960s, starring in such films as Creature of the Indigo Swamp, Scream of the Shrew Monster, Screaming Girls of Calaveras County and Screams of the Sorority Sisters.

Miss Hart will be there in person to answer questions and autograph DVDs. Admission is $12. The doors open at 5 pm.

Person of the Week

We all know yearly Person of the Week, Noble Mason, who regularly helps Cliffside residents deal with everything from plumbing problems to choosing the right paint, but how many know about Pat Matthews, his righthand man and brother-in-law? This week, Pat is our Person of the Week.

Pat has worked for Noble Mason since marrying Noble’s sister, Taffilynn, fifteen years ago and they, along with their twelve children, are prominent residents of our fair village. “Pat’s a good guy,” says Noble. “He follows my orders with a smile and takes good care of my baby sister and all my little nieces and nephews.”

Pat, who hails from Twin Falls, Idaho, says he loves Cliffside and is glad to be a part of our town. In addition to acting as handyman, he likes to spend lots of time with his wife and children. “Taffilynn has one in the oven, if you know what I mean, and we’re hoping eventually to have enough kids to make two baseball teams. That would be great. Just great!”

Pat works full time taking care of problems for the town’s residents while Taffilynn is a stay-at-home mom who fills her days taking care of their children. “She loves it,” says Pat. “She was born to be a mom. And I was born to be a dad. It’s great. Just great.”

Taffilynn declined to be interviewed but Truthanne and Shrudilee, their twin girls, said of their dad, “He’s great. When Mom’s not home, he lets us watch The Walking Dead!

Police Blotter

Loyd McRoid, aka Loyd the Roid, was arrested for illegally occupying a hotel room and cleaning out honor bar at the Doc Holliday Inn. McRoid, 53, evidently slipped into the unoccupied room and spent the night. Hotel worker Felicia Hornblower found him passed out naked on the bed, the entire contents of the honor bar strewn about him. Everything had been consumed. Two empty bottles of whiskey were also found in the room, one filled with urine. The bathroom was untouched.

Harvey Tanbottum, 37, was arrested after throwing a barstool through a window at Bloodhound’s Bar Wednesday night. Tanbottum claimed a blue-skinned woman had tried to sodomize him in the bathroom. When other patrons disregarded his claims, Tanbottum “Just lost it!” says an anonymous drinker. Bloodhound’s – locally known as Boozehound’s – is next door to the Peppermint Stix Motel, but police say Tanbottum, despite staying at the motel, was not involved in recent deaths there.

Carlotta Wellbourne, 52, was arrested for shoplifting at Cliffside Market Tuesday afternoon after she was seen stuffing lobster claws into her blouse. The society matron is famous for her charitable works, particularly for her annual Scotsman’s Balls in which attendees come dressed in kilts and other Scottish attire.

 

Excerpt: The Crimson Corset


Following yesterday’s interview at Tamara Thorne’s Little Blog of Horrors, here is an excerpt from my upcoming novel, The Crimson Corset, which will be available in just a few weeks.

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Untidy, Ryan Closter had called it. The young deputy had a knack for understatement and when Ethan arrived at the scene, he was prepared to be put off – but this was downright ghastly. This wasn’t the way Ethan liked to start his mornings.

Blood was everywhere, a dried riot of red rust all over the floor, across the bed, and even on the ceiling. It was as if someone had put a bomb in a can of paint. And the smell was unbearable. Flies swarmed like a black cloud above the body.

Closter spoke at Ethan’s side. “A neighbor heard some noises last night. She informed the landlord this morning, and after knocking and getting no response, this is what he walked into.”

At the center of the bed lay the woman, face-down, in her own dried pool of fluids.

“Her name’s Rose Keller,” Closter said.

Ethan shook his head. “Day manager of the Black Garter.”

“You know her?”

“Our paths crossed recently.” Ethan wouldn’t have been surprised to hear the woman had overdosed on something, but would never have guessed she’d go like this.

“I’ve never seen anything like it.” Closter looked a little green, and his partner, Nick Grayson, gave Ethan an uncertain glance.

“Why don’t you go get some fresh air, Closter?” Ethan said. “We’ll be fine till the others show up.”

The deputy swallowed and nodded, his face clammy. The last thing they needed was for someone to throw up on the crime scene – not that it’d be the first time it had happened.

As Closter stepped out, Ethan heard the buzz of bystanders just outside the door. “Jesus,” someone said. “I’ve never seen so much blood …”

“I heard they can’t find her head,” said another.

The voices faded as the door closed. How eagerly people swarm to violence and death. Like ants to a piece of rotten fruit. It unsettled Ethan.

The room was hot, intensifying the reek of blood, of innards – of death. Dozens of flies crawled lazily over the body and more were landing. Ethan’s own stomach roiled a little. He hadn’t been sick at a scene since his earliest days on the force and he didn’t intend to buckle now, but it wasn’t easy. He’d never seen anything this theatrical; it looked like the police photographs from the Jack the Ripper crimes. But in horrible living color. He moved closer and stared down at the woman on the bed. Two stumps of spine, glistening white, jutted out of the mess that was the rest of her. It was as if someone had unzipped her skin, reached inside, and yanked her backbone out. And they’d managed to snap it in half in the process.

“Whoever did this was sending a message.” Deputy Grayson was crouched beside the bed, his gaze roving over the late Ms. Keller. A former quarterback in his early-forties with broad shoulders and the earliest beginnings of a beer gut, Nick Grayson was one of Ethan’s best.

Ethan nodded. “I’ll agree with you on that.”

Grayson’s gaze never left the victim. “A killer doesn’t cause a scene like this unless he wants to make a statement.”

The question was, who was the killer, and what was he trying to say? “No sign of any weapons?”

Grayson shook his head and Ethan noticed some graying at the temples of his deputy’s black curly hair. This was the kind of job that would do that. “Nope. Nothing.”

Ethan had figured as much. There was something about this scene that didn’t work.

The woman was tangled in white sheets reminding him, morbidly, of an old barber’s pole. Red and white, red and white, blood and bandages, blood and bandages. He walked around the bed, seeing it from all angles. Every crime scene told a story, you just had to know how to read it. And this one, Ethan was certain, was one hell of a tale.

The more he saw, the more certain he became of two things. One, Rose’s killer was not human, and two, it was not an animal. Not in the usual sense, anyway. He bent and moved the victim’s hair back, careful not to disturb anything. He saw the bite marks on her neck that confirmed his suspicions. He’d have them checked against dental records and if he was lucky – which was highly unlikely – maybe they’d catch the perp fast.

There were also several places along her shoulders and arms where the skin was torn. Someone went to town on her. The thick sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach went colder.

“I’ve been trying to figure that out, too,” said Grayson, watching him. “They’re bites.”

Ethan’s knees popped as he stood and moved to the window. He pinched back the blood-spattered white curtains and stared down. Outside, the Ivory Heights apartment complex was already surrounded by a swarm of onlookers, and it was only going to get worse. Rose Keller’s one-bedroom, second-story apartment would soon be a frenzy of technicians, detectives, plainclothes, more uniforms, a photographer, and probably even a man with a video camera. There was no dignity in death, he thought as he looked at the shredded body on the bed. Especially not when you die like that.

Ethan decided it was time to pay Michael Ward another visit.

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