Valentine’s Day Special: The Gooey Center

I’ve been writing some micro-fiction this year, and thought you might enjoy this candy-sized treat. Enjoy!

The Gooey Center

“How is a girl like you alone for Valentine’s Day?”

He was average-looking, with dark brown hair just a bit too long, eyebrows a smidge too low, and a body that probably hadn’t seen a gym since the last time he had a girlfriend. Not usually Jessie’s type, but traffic had been slow, and it was getting late. Melanie would come looking if she was gone too much longer.

“I could ask you the same thing, except the girl part,” she replied, looking him up and down. “How do you know I’m not waiting for someone?”

He smiled slightly and looked down at his drink, conceding the point with a slight nod. The humility was attractive, though he’d regret that soon enough.

She flashed her no-fail Burgundy Wine smile. “Buy me a drink. Something sexy.”

To his credit, there wasn’t any hesitation. He signaled to the bartender, and glanced at the empty glass on the bar. Vinnie winked at Jessie before she asked the man what she could get him.

“A huckleberry martini for the lady, please. And another beer for me.”

Vinnie moved off, and Jessie raised her eyebrows.

“Interesting choice. Huckleberry? Not something more traditionally V-Day like strawberry or chocolate?”

He shook his head, and she thought maybe she could make out a slight blush on his cheeks. “Nothing common or plain about you – your drink shouldn’t be either.”

“I like the way you think.” She crossed her legs, moving slowly on purpose in case he wanted a peek. He glanced down, and then quickly back up. As expected. Men were boringly predictable.

Which is how he ended up strapped to the table in Jessie’s basement just an hour later, eyes wide and blood pumping so fast through his straining veins she could almost hear it. She held up the special wavy-blade dagger with rubies sparkling along the ornate hilt, handed down through her family for generations by the few women tough enough to survive.

Straddling his thighs and holding the dagger high in both hands, she finally answered his question.

“Men tend to think a lone woman on Valentine’s Day is desperate, which makes it easy to get what I want. I’ve been craving something – someone with an ooey, gooey center. Like you.

That’s why I was alone.”

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Tastes Like Pork: On Hold

As you may have guessed by now, I’ve bitten off more than I can chew with the serial novel. I had a technical glitch with the dictation software I use to write my first drafts, and haven’t quite been able to recover from that just yet.

So, as difficult as it is, I’m going to put this serial story on hold until sometime in January, when I will return, hopefully with a fat buffer that will allow me to be more reliable with the weekly installments.

The non-fiction posts will continue next Wednesday as usual.

My apologies to those of you reading along, and thank you for your patience.

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Beautiful Poison…or Just Beautiful?

Isn’t it fascinating how many beautiful plants are poisonous? Oleander, Datura, Foxgloves….

Poinsettias are some of the prettiest plants out there. The way their tiny yellow blooms are surrounded by gorgeous colored bracts is just incredible, and they bring a bright spot of color (or colors) to our homes in the deepest part of winter.

My mom used to buy them every year when I was a kid, and our cats would chew on the leaves here and there. They never seemed hurt by it, but we did have a couple develop liver problems eventually. Was it the plants or something else? We’ll never know.

The Latin name for Poinsettias is Euphorbia pulcherrima. Most euphorbias have a milky white sap that is mildly poisonous, but it’s more likely to burn than to kill. I grow a great many euphorbia at home, and while I’m very respectful of the sap, I have survived pruning and repotting them for many years now with nary a burn – though my long-gone pencil cactus did do its best to hurt me.

Interestingly though, there’s no actual evidence that euphorbia sap is toxic enough to kill. I was doing some research in preparation for a potential Christmas story, and came across some information on that belies the old adage that Poinsettias are highly poisonous.

Apparently, while the sap is irritating to the mouth and skin, there’s actually no evidence whatsoever that it will kill you (or your cat), and researchers can’t even find a dose that would be fatal.

As you might imagine, this was not good news for the story I’d been considering. But it is good news for those of use who like to keep euphorbia and pets in the same general vicinity. I also found another article on the toxicity of the euphorbia family as a whole at Dave’s Garden, which I’ve linked here for your perusal as well. Note that there are certainly some more potent than others, and pencil cactus (otherwise known as fire sticks for a very burning reason) is not one to be trifled with. But for the most part, they’re mildly irritating, and that’s about it.

Don’t get me wrong – I may still find a way to write a story where poinsettias are the cause of someone’s death. Sadly, it won’t be because they ingested the sap or leaves. Apparently I’ll need to get a bit more creative if one of my characters will use this particular plant to kill.

In the meantime, I bought a couple of these beauties – the one pictured above for my dining room table (looks a bit like blood splatter, don’t you think?) and a blood red one for my desk at work.

Will you be buying a poinsettia this year?

Bonus question: If you buy one, how long will it take you to kill it? (It normally takes me a few months – three, tops.)

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Tastes Like Pork, Chapter 11

New installments of this serial novel are posted every week. Need to catch up? Use these links:

Ch. 1 | Ch. 2 | Ch. 3 | Ch. 4 | Ch. 5 | Ch. 6 | Ch. 7| Ch. 8 | Ch. 9 | Ch. 10 |

Chapter 11

“Can I watch?”

Silas looked at Wentworth, who until then had been silent for the last two and a half hours as they drove back to Montana. The man had been sullen since Silas had forced him from the homestead. He’d left Wentworth shackled in the truck while he dropped Mabel off at a nearby farm and called <owner name> to let him know. When he’d gotten back, Wentworth had succeeded in getting himself stuck half-in and half-out of the passenger-side window, having figured out how to roll it down with his bound hands. He’d been too tired and sore to put up a fight after that, and he’d been alternately dosing and staring out the window ever since.

“Watch what?” They were nearing the cabin where Silas preferred to work, and he pulled off the main road onto a dirt one, going slow over a cattle guard through the fence.

“When you eat my flesh,” Wentworth said. “I want to watch.” There is no real emotion in his request, and Silas wasn’t really sure how to answer. He had been planning to force Wentworth to watch, as he’d forced his own victims to, but if it would give the man pleasure, then Silas wasn’t sure that was how he should proceed.

Silas chose his words carefully. “I’ll think about it.”

He turned off the road into a group of large boulders, and then took a sudden turn to the right, and then left, into a horseshoe-shaped space that almost looked like it had been dug out of a butte. Near the back and to one side sat a run-down shack that Silas had built far too long ago to remember. He’d let it rot outside on purpose, wanting it to look abandoned, and also like it would fall on anyone who dared step across the threshold. Inside, it was supported by a few sturdy beams that he kept covered in old bark and dead moss, to keep the ruse up as much as possible should anyone stumble on the place when he wasn’t using it. It was unlikely, as they were on Dawson land, but one could never be too careful.

Pulling around back, he parked under a rotted-looking lean-to with its own door access into the cabin. He got out, went around to open the passenger door and leaned in to cut the ties he’d used to bind Wentworth’s feet in the truck.

“Standing’s gonna be a bitch,” Silas warned as he pulled Wentworth out of the truck. The man stumbled, but to his credit, didn’t say anything. Just went with Silas into the building, and didn’t fight when Silas cut the bindings on his wrists and then locked him into shackles bolted into one wall of the cabin.

Most of his supplies were already there, but Silas still made a couple trips to the truck to get the last things he needed. When he was done, he lit a match and threw it on the firewood already laid out in the fireplace, watching to make sure flames started licking at the logs before he turned away.

To the left of the fireplace, the short-end of an L-shaped counter ran to the corner. The long end ran along the west wall and served as a kitchenette, with cupboards below and on the wall above, and a small sink inset in the center. A rickety wood table stood like an island near the counters, with one equally rickety-looking chair at each end.

He’d already laid out the items he needed to start on the counter by the sink. A cast iron skillet, spatula, metal tray, metal plate, metal cup, metal fork and knife, and a larger hunting knife. Picking up the cast iron skillet and the hunting knife, he took them to the fireplace. There was a cooking rack suspended above the fire, and he set the skillet there to heat up. Then he took the knife and laid it on the hearth with the blade resting in the flames.

Turning to Wentworth, he gave the man a brief nod.

“I will honor your request. Not because you asked, but because the retribution must be complete, and you forced your victims to watch as you mutilated them and consumed their flesh. Therefore you must watch as I do the same to you.”

He turned back to the fire, and retrieved the knife, holding his hand near the blade to test the heat. Satisfied, he crossed the room to stand in front of Wentworth, his pulse picking up and excitement building, though he tried to tamp it down. Giving his prey no time to react, he shoved his free hand into Wentworth’s open mouth, grabbed his tongue, pulled it taut and sliced as much of it off as he could reach in one motion.

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Tastes Like Pork, Chapter 10

There will not be a chapter posted on November 25th.
The next chapter will be posted on Dec. 2nd.

New installments of this serial novel are posted every week. Need to catch up? Use these links:

Ch. 1 | Ch. 2 | Ch. 3 | Ch. 4 | Ch. 5 | Ch. 6 | Ch. 7| Ch. 8 | Ch. 9 |

Chapter 10

Wary, Silas moved out into the clearing. He scanned the immediate area for weapons, and then gave Wentworth a good once over to check for telltale bulges under his clothes as well.

“You just going to give up now?”

Wentworth nodded. “No point in running, right? Rachel said you wouldn’t stop until the task was complete. Seems like I would just be wasting both of our time if I tried to get away.”

Silas shrugged. His targets had said they wouldn’t run before, and they all seemed to change their mind at the last minute. So he’d reserve judgment until this one was safely restrained and under control.

Nearly a century in the Gully, and you still don’t get it, do you? Where did you find your victim?

Wentworth shrugged. “Just someone I grabbed off the road. No one anyone will miss.”

Silas nodded. “I hope you’re right, but I can’t take any chances anyway. Where’s the body?”

Wentworth grinned and rubbed his belly. “I took care of it. It won’t be a problem.” He held his hands out to the side and looked around, head tilted back. “This place is even more beautiful than when I first built this cabin. The way that it’s grown and matured over a century is just amazing. If I have to die, I’m glad it will be here.”

Silas approached, slowly, his plastic wrist binders in one hand. “I need you to put your hands behind your back now.”

Wentworth sighed and turned his back to Silas, placing his hands behind his waist and grasping one wrist with the other. He stood calmly as Silas tied his wrists together tightly, and he never saw it coming when Silas hit him on the back of the head with the butt of his hunting knife. Wentworth went down, and Silas tied his ankles together as an added precaution while he cleaned up.

By the time Silas was done scrubbing as much evidence of Wentworth’s presence from the cabin as he could, his target was just coming to. The sun had crested and was moving downward, and Silas wanted to get back to the truck before dark. He slipped a rope around the man’s neck before he fully came to, a leash of sorts that he knew Wentworth wouldn’t appreciate having to wear. It was the same rope-leash he’d used on his victims, stained dark in places with their blood.

“Good, you’re awake. I wasn’t looking forward to having to haul your ass all way back to the truck.” He pulled his pack back onto his back, cut open the bindings at Wentworth’s ankles and helped the man to his feet. Wentworth looked confused.

“Where we going?”

“You didn’t honestly think I was going to dispatch you in the same place that you killed all those people. Retribution is not about you being comfortable or happy with your last hours here on this earth. It’s about you feeling and experiencing similar things to what you made your victims feel. Which means you’re coming back to a place I’ve already prepared for us.

Silas grabbed the rope leash and tugged, forcing him to follow as he went over and untied Mabel’s reins, and then led both man and beast out of the valley.

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Break Time

I’m taking a little break from non-fiction blogging for the rest of the month, so the next non-fiction post here will be December 7th.

This week’s serial installment will be up on Friday the 18th as usual, but will skip Nov. 25th, as that’s a holiday weekend here in the states.

See you in December!

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Tastes Like Pork: Chapter 9

New installments of this serial novel are posted every week. Need to catch up? Use these links:

Ch. 1 | Ch. 2 | Ch. 3 | Ch. 4 | Ch. 5 | Ch. 6 | Ch. 7| Ch. 8

Chapter 9

Silas considered trying to track Wentworth on horseback to prevent him from actually kidnapping anyone. But he had a full day’s head start, and he’d be able to travel in a more direct path, so driving was probably still the fastest option. The old homestead was in east central Wyoming a hundred miles or so over the state line and according to the internet, there wasn’t a road all the way back, so Silas would have to hike in from the road anyway. The sooner he got to that point, the faster he’d get to whoever Wentworth decided to take as his last victim.

He drove through the darkness toward the state line, watching for deer and antelope a few hours later as the dawn started to break on the horizon. Coming down out of the mountains, he left the beautiful fall colors behind in exchange for the late season browns and grays of prairie grass and sage brush, with only the occasional lone tree to break up the fields and fenced off pastures. Tumbleweeds blew along the road as the wind kicked up, and the occasional herd of cattle grazed peacefully behind their barbed wire.

It was mid-morning by the time he turned onto the gravel road in the middle of nowhere, followed it three miles back, and finally found a place to park just off the road roughly a mile out from where Wentworth’s old homestead should be. Satellite images showed a building of some sort nestled in one of the shallow valleys nearby, and Silas hoped like hell that was the right place. He put his pack on the tailgate of his truck, converted the straps to backpack style, and then backed up to slide and tighten the straps over his shoulders and around his chest. He made a point of being prepared for any situation while on dispatch duty, so the pack had everything he could possibly need. He closed up the truck and locked it, checking his GPS unit one more time before setting off in the general direction of the cabin.

He’d been hiking for ten minutes or so, long enough to get to the top of the first hill when he smelled smoke. Lifting a hand to shield his eyes, he scanned the hills and valleys that surrounded him, all brown and practically crackling from the dry summer, until he saw the plume a little to his left. Adjusting his course, he moved faster, picking his way through tall grasses, thick bushes and dry downed limbs – the whole place desiccated by drought. Hoping the smoke was Wentworth’s pit and not a forest fire, Silas took the most direct path forward that he could, thankful that he didn’t smell anything cooking.


When he finally crested the last hill before the smoke, he slowed. There wasn’t much in the way of cover, so he crouched low behind the crest, lowering himself to the ground and army-crawling forward just until he could peer down into the valley.

The gray and rotting cabin had obviously seen better days, but it was still standing, barely. Rotting remnants of fence posts dotted the area around it, and a sleek quarter-horse was tied to one of the still standing posts just outside the door. Mabel, Silas presumed. Tall grasses covered most of the area, and a hedge of low bushes probably planted by Wentworth long ago formed a windbreak of sorts on one side. And directly behind the house was the infamous pit area, containing a firepit at one end topped by a long spit with a handle for rotation, and a the other end of the area, a flat area now covered in lush grasses and wildflowers where he’d buried the remains of his victims once done with them.

Not seeing any sign of Wentworth or his unwilling guest, Silas backed away from the crest of the hill and started around the north side, thinking to use the few trees at the front of the house as cover for his approach. But as he rounded the side of the hill and began weaving his way through the trees, Wentworth stepped out of the cabin, wiping his bloody hands on a rag and peering in Silas’ general direction.

“I know you’re out there, Dispatcher. I’ve had my last meal. Now come and have yours.”

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New Release: Death by Veggies: The Collection

We hit a few snags along the way and had to make time to scare the neighbor kids (’tis the season!), but Death by Veggies: The Collection is finally available in ebook format! This collection contains the first four DBV stories – Lettuce Prey, Sprouted, Jack, and Beet It, and also the very latest story that you can currently only get in this collection – 24 Carrots!

Get your copy today for $4.99 at any of these online stores (and probably a few more), or read on for an excerpt from 24 Carrots, and then go get your copy!

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Smashwords | Google Play

Will there be more DBV stories? Absolutely. This is only the beginning – I have an entire produce section to work my way through. But I’m going to finish this juicy Gruesome Gully novel I’m working on first. Priorities.

Read on for an exclusive excerpt from 24 Carrots – arguably one of my best DBV stories yet!


Kira Featherstone stood at her kitchen sink washing her breakfast dishes, watching the late August sun rise through the window overlooking her backyard. Her 60-year-old joints complained a bit, but the warm water and rote motion was good for keeping them flexible.

It looked to be a beautiful day as she watched the wild gray rabbits who lived under her shed graze peacefully in the backyard. She loved watching them and encouraged them to stay by tossing feed pellets out in the lawn, and the occasional salt lick that she’d found at the local feed supply store. Every morning and evening she sat with them on the back deck, sometimes chatting with them about life, but mostly just enjoying the presence of such innocent, endearing creatures.

She’d “retired” three years ago to the sleepy town of Meadowlark Montana, mostly because it was so remote that if you didn’t know exactly which back roads to take and in what order, you probably weren’t going to find it. It was small, with a population of a few hundred souls with a “to each their own” attitude, and life was slow and simple. Cell service was spotty and not really worth dealing with, and internet service was about the same, dependent on satellites that may or may not be in range.

All of which made it easy to keep a low profile, for those who preferred to do so.

And then Ted Halverson had moved in next door. Ted was a gardener. A very good gardener, or so he claimed, and she’d never met anyone so proud of growing the perfect cabbage in her life – he had a banner to that effect hanging on the front of his house. He’d moved in a year ago last spring, and had torn out most of his backyard for garden space. And then the rest of it this year, right up to the edge of Kira’s property line. Which is when the trouble had started. At first, it was seemingly good-natured comments about rabbits and their propensity for eating green things. Then frustration and polite requests for her to stop feeding them. Then the less polite insistence that she pay for half of a fence to separate the properties, and keep “her bunnies” out of his garden.

And then, the nastiness.

He had threatened several times to get rid of the rabbits himself. She had warned him every time that if he did there would be repercussions. But he didn’t seem to think that the threats of an older woman were very frightening, and sometimes he laughed at her warnings. Other times he said he’d take care of “anything with gray fur” that encroached on his prize-winning produce.

She saw him now as she wrung out the dishcloth and hung it to dry. He was moving along his side of the wood plank fence, probably weeding or harvesting. And possibly plotting the demise of the poor innocent animals having breakfast in her backyard. Or maybe the not-so-innocent one watching him from the house.

Moving away from the window, she refilled her coffee cup and went to the back door to put pellets out for the rabbits and enjoy their company for awhile. She had just put her hand on the door knob when she heard a knock at the front door.

Scowling at the sound, she turned to go back through the kitchen and living room. There wasn’t a single soul in her life who would show up unannounced at seven in the morning, which meant her neighbor was probably looking for a fight again.

When she opened the front door, there was no one there. Frowning, she stepped out on the front porch and looked around, but saw no movement anywhere. Turning to go back inside, she saw a document taped to the front of her door. Taking it down, she felt her blood pressure rising as she realized it was an invoice for all the produce supposedly ruined by the rabbits she’d harbored last month. Apparently she owed Ted two heads of cabbage, five heads of lettuce, 10 beat tops, and 24 carrots.

Shaking her head and willing herself to calm down before she did something stupid, she took the note, went in the house, and closed the door somewhat more forcefully than necessary. This needed to stop, and she was going to put the fear of something worse than God in him…after she finished her coffee.

Leaving the note on the counter and taking a deep breath, she went to the backyard and got a scoop of pellets out of the bag she left by the back door. She set her coffee on the wrought-iron table, and stepped off the deck to spread the pellets in the lawn.

That’s when she noticed the first dead rabbit. It was laying on its side and she leaned over for a closer look, noticing its neck was bent at an impossible angle. Straightening up, she looked across the yard, and saw more rabbits laying unmoving in the grass – five of them in all. She walked through the yard, checking each one, but they were all the same. All dead. All with broken necks.

Then she noticed Ted.

He was standing at the gate at the end of the fence, holding another rabbit up by the ears. His eyes met hers, and he smiled, twisting the poor bunnies neck and throwing the carcass to the ground.

“I told you if you didn’t stop feeding them, I was going to take care of it. I’ll expect payment for the produce they ruined by tonight. You got my invoice, I assume?”

Kira nodded slowly, not trusting herself to speak. Goddamn him. For killing innocent creatures, and also for ruining the good, quiet life she’d built in this quaint and near-perfect place.

He turned and walked away, swaggering with the confidence of a prison-yard bully. Kira watched him go, her mind spinning up with all sorts of sordid ideas that would probably make a normal person sick, but…she was who she was. Three years was a long time to keep one’s baser nature locked away, and a part of her was excited for the opportunity for one last grand hurrah.

The man had no idea who he was dealing with. But he was about to find out.


Find out how Kira gets her revenge in Death by Veggies: The Collection!

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Tastes Like Pork: Chapter 8

New installments of this serial novel are posted every week. Need to catch up? Use these links:

Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7

Chapter 8

As Silas slid behind the wheel of his truck, a thought occurred to him. Wentworth had been consigned to the Gully nearly a century ago. In the late 1800’s, the automobile had just been invented, and wouldn’t have been common out west. Even the gears on a modern bike would be different now than they were in his time, which meant the only reasonable form of transportation for someone like Wentworth would be a horse.

Getting out of the truck, Silas strode quickly back to the bar, pulled the door open and stepped just far enough in so he could see and be seen.

“Hey,” he said loudly enough to get both Emily and Vinnie’s attention. “Either of you heard of a horse being stolen in the last twenty-four hours?”

Both women bobbed their heads. “Just yesterday.” Emily said. “Maude Cummings said a horse was stolen right out of their barn late last night or early this morning. You know where their ranch is?”

Silas nodded. “On it. Thanks.”

Silas went back to his truck for the second time, and got in, pulling out of the parking lot and onto Main Street. The Cummings ranch was just outside town, which made it the first place Wentworth would have passed after leaving Magpie behind. It didn’t take Silas long to reach the town boundary, and once he passed the sign, he turned his headlights to bright and slowed, scanning the fence and road shoulder to his left for any signs of a breach. When he saw scuff marks in the dirt close to the barbed wire, he pulled off to the shoulder and cut the engine. Getting out of the truck, he walked across the road for a closer look. In the distance he could see the tall, dark outline of the barn over the night sky with a single light on in the front. This would’ve been the spot where Wentworth entered the property, and he considered following but he didn’t want to disturb the Cummings for a second night in a row. He also had a good idea of where Wentworth was headed.

“You should know that there is a rifle trained on your chest at this very second.” The voice came out of the darkness somewhere ahead of Silas on the other side of the fence, and he nodded, making sure to keep his hands out from his sides in full view.

“It’s Silas Dawson, Mr. Cummings. I heard you lost a horse, and I’m looking for the man who took it.”

There was a rustling in the tall grass about fifteen feet away, and Ed Cummings stood up and walked to the fence, holding a friendly hand out to Silas.

“Well I sure am glad to hear that,” he said once they’d shook hands. “Any idea what the thief wanted with our Mabel?”

“Just transportation.” There was no need for Ed to know that a cannibal had his horse. Or that there was a very dangerous criminal on the loose. “He is a bit addled in the head, and a bit faster than I gave him credit for, but I can assure you I’ll do everything I can to get Mabel back to you safely and soon.”

Ed looked back at the barn, and then gazed out at the night sky. “I’d be happy to help, if you’ll let me. Do my best not to slow you down.”

“Thanks, but I work better alone. I can tell you right now though, he’s not coming back. So you can rest easy in that regard. I’ll call you as soon as I have something.

You just sit tight and wait for my call. Can you do that?”

Cummings nodded. “Well, I don’t want to be in the way, so yeah, I can do that. What are you after the guy for, anyway?”

“Can’t say,” Silas replied. “But he’s not a nice man, and it would be in all of our best interests to apprehend him sooner rather than later. So call me if you see him, or can think of anything else to share, and I’ll get to work.”

“Will do.” The rancher touched his hat as Silas turned and went back to his truck.

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Tastes Like Pork, Chapter 7

New installments of this serial novel are posted every week. Need to catch up? Use these links:

Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Timothy Wentworth had only one real desire, and the challenge to fulfill it before he met his maker was exhilarating, making him feel alive in a way he hadn’t felt in…well, he couldn’t remember how long. He’d been trapped in The Gully for over a hundred years, and aside from the first few, he’d felt like a ghost, just floating in negative space and occasionally picking a fight just for something different.

He’d thought it would be a free pass of sorts. When they explained the rules to him, he’d been excited at the prospect of being able to eat his chosen food every day for however long he had, honing his hunting skills and preying on…well, everyone else. Dismembering and eating one of the other occupants while listening to them scream? That had been his idea of heaven.

Until he’d made his first kill.

Two things about The Gully that he hadn’t really thought through before signing his life away were that no one can die, and everyone knows that no one can die. Which meant that yes, he could dismember and eat as much human flesh as he wanted while he was there. It also meant that no one who had been there any length of time was scared, so there was no screaming, no pleading for mercy, no wide eyes brimming with pain and tears. Just mild acceptance, often accompanied by a promise to use his body as a means to their own end once they regenerated overnight.

The only way to get the thrill of an actual hunt and a real fear reaction from prey was the first time a newcomer was tossed down. They’d been given the rules, but something about the human mind kept them from accepting that it was possible until they’d regenerated once or twice. So whenever there was a shift in The Gully’s energy and someone happened to see the Gully Master standing up on the bluff, occupants all converged quietly underneath, waiting for her to toss the fresh meat down so they could get that rush from seeing the newcomer’s fear. The group would converge and capture, and then take turns performing all manner of unspeakable acts on them until they were unconscious and completely incapacitated until the next day.

The torture cycle would continue until the newbie stopped struggling, and then life would go back to normal. Everyone pretty much left everyone else alone, or traded “torture days” to keep what little seratonin flowing they could.

Wentworth wanted to experience the thrill of a real hunt one last time. He’d been a slave to his animal nature once upon a time, hunting down prey, force-feeding them to bulk up the meat, and slaughtering them slowly over the course of several weeks, eating their flesh as he made them watch. Sometimes even feeding them with themselves. He loved the meat, of course – it was similar to pork in taste, and he’d made some pretty incredible bacon from some of the fattier people he’d caught. But the real thrill was the abuse and torture. It made him feel powerful and alive, like an apex predator who couldn’t be stopped.

Of course he had been stopped, by that witch, Belle Dawson, who his own mother had hired to find and stop him. Just thinking about it made his blood boil, and he really wanted, more than anything, to go after the witch. But supposedly she was gone now, and going after the daughter would require him to return to the mountain.

He wasn’t that stupid.

Instead, he’d stopped by The Prairie Dog long enough to leave a message at the bar for The Dispatcher, and then he’d gone in search of a horse. As he’d walked through town, it struck him how much things had changed. Boardwalks and wooden buildings replaced largely with concrete paths and stone structures, electric lights keeping the dark at bay and curious three-colored lights hanging over the roads. Metal contraptions reminded him only faintly of the cars that had been in development the last time he was free, and he briefly wished he’d learned to drive one, as they seemed to have taken over the town, with not a single horse in sight.

The town was still small, and when he reached the farthest edge, he kept walking into the night, relieved to be rid of the harsh fake glow and walking under the stars again. There was a chill in the air and he welcomed the breeze across his cheek, not having felt it in over a century. He smelled clover, apples and a hint of snow, and knew that winter was gearing up to make a grand entrance.

Just up ahead on the left, there was a large barn, and he was fairly sure he smelled manure from somewhere in that direction. Carefully going through the barbed wire fence, he set off across a clover field. If he was lucky, there’d be a horse in the barn for him to steal.


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