Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween fluff with Duke & Viola

Happy Halloween, y'all.
I have my devil horns headband, the tail that attaches to the back of my jeans, my black cat socks, and a big bowl full of Snickers. Tubular Bells and the theme from Psycho have been playing on my computer speakers all day. It's like Christmas round one. My co-workers don't necessarily share my enthusiasm (though they don't mind the candy or the pumpkin cupcakes).

Here's a little Duke and Viola backstory to celebrate the Wfsals' favorite holiday.

October 2001

The Ashwood house wasn't on his way home, but Duke veered off course just to check. He'd been stuck helping Sebastian and Viola clean up after the two little McClary bastards down the street had papered and shaving-creamed the entire house. If a five-minute detour meant he didn't have to waste an entire morning picking up soggy toilet paper, then he didn't mind in the least.

Of all the things he expected to see when he drove by the red, two storey house, the blazing porch light wasn't one of them. Sebastian had been bragging about his invitation to some fancy Halloween party for weeks. Olivia lived on the Rice campus and rarely returned to the house during the week. The littlest Ashwood hadn't said much about her plans, but he'd assumed she had a rave or party or séance penciled in her date book.

He parked his truck in the driveway, grabbed his leather jacket to fight off the early fall Canadian cold front, and jogged to the front door. A grinning skeleton pointed a bony finger at the doorbell. He rolled his eyes at Viola's obvious handiwork and rang the bell. A tone that reminded him of the Addams Family echoed from inside the house. He heard the slap of bare feet on a tile floor seconds before the door opened.

"Happy Hallo-- oh, it's you." The orange melamine bowl of Snickers and M&Ms was replaced by a cotton-candy pink frown and pale, wrinkled nose. Silver-lined hazel eyes studied him critically. "Nice costume. Almost didn't recognize you. Tracker was a good choice. I especially like the authentic Mokiis stench."

"What are you doing home, Shortcake? Would have thought you'd be out somewhere with the rest of your kind. Isn't this your national holiday or something?"

Pearly white fangs peeked out from under Viola's lips. "Bite me."

Duke took a step back to take in her short, pink skirt, matching t-shirt and the tiny pink flowers clipped in her short, dark hair. The light, pink-themed makeup and long, pink fingernails were something he expected to see on Olivia and not the normally Goth-centric Viola. "Vampire cheerleader?"

"Bunny the Brainless Vampire," she corrected with a fangy grin. She pulled the door all the way open and jerked her head inside in a wordless invitation. "You're scaring away all the trick-or-treaters."

"Seriously, what are you doing home?" Duke's eyes fell to her feet. Neither of her ankles looked swollen and the scratches that had covered her a week ago seemed to have faded. "Still sore after the Graca attack? Bas didn't say anything about you hurting."

Viola waved a hand dismissively. She let the door swing shut and led the way into the living room. "I'm fine. Spent four days in the training room and three days getting my ass chewed by Coach, but I'm fine. Bas grounded me, that' s all."

Duke arched an eyebrow. She'd never let a little thing like being grounded stop her from going out when she wanted. She was sneaky as a cat-burglar. He couldn't count the number of times he'd caught her slipping in or out of the house past her curfew.

Her grin broadened. "It suits my needs to be at home tonight."

"I don't even want to know." He sniffed the air as the mouthwatering aroma of freshly baked cookies wafted from the kitchen. His stomach grumbled. "Are those Granny's snickerdoodles?"

"Yup," she said, popping the p and bouncing on her toes. "She dropped 'em off this afternoon."

"What was she doing here?"

"A favor for me." The smug twinkle in her eyes made it more than clear she wasn't going to expand on the type of favor or the details of his grandmother's visit.

Two minutes later, Duke was in the Ashwood breakfast nook seated across from Viola with a plate of his grandmother's warm, buttery cookies between them and an ice cold glass of milk by his elbow. Every time the doorbell rang, she popped up like a sparkly, demented jack-in-the-box and he stole another cookie.

"So what are you in for this time?" he asked when she returned from yet another doorbell run. He brushed stray crumbs off his lip and nudged the half-empty plate towards her.

"Nothing, yet. Do you know how utterly unfair it is to have a psychic as your guardian?"

Duke chuckled. He did, in fact, know what she meant. His future-seeing grandmother had often punished him for transgressions he hadn't committed. "What'd the wonder weenie see?"

"A's girlfriend is going to dump him in the quad next week. She's been seeing Frankie behind A's back. For weeks. Apparently, I'm going to kick Miranda's ass in the parking lot after track practice."

"Sounds like something you'd do, Via-mia." If this Miranda really was cheating on the nice but freaky dude with the Mohawk, Duke felt sorry for her. He'd watched a nine-year-old Viola verbally emasculate a boy who'd slighted her sister. The girl who’d broken up with Sebastian in college had wound up with slashed tires and a car filled with creepy clown statues.

"Yeah. 'Cept now Miss Miranda and I are going to have a long talk after school tomorrow. I'm not going to wait for her to humiliate A in front of the entire senior class."

"Grounding you didn't do much good, did it?"

"Nope. But double jeopardy means I can't get grounded twice for the same ass kicking. Captain Justice can’t argue against that, can he?"

They shared a laugh. Had Duke been in Sebastian's shoes, he would have kept the details of the vision to himself and punished Viola after she got in trouble. Sebastian still didn't understand how his baby sister's devious mind worked. He kept trying to treat her like she was a carbon copy of himself or Olivia.

Just as they were set to battle over the last cookie, the sound of a bell chiming came from the vicinity of Viola's waist. Small fingers wriggled under the waistband of her skirt and retrieved a small, rectangular box. She shushed Duke with a glare and waited for the bell to chime a second time.

With a manic, gleeful grin, she pressed the button with her thumb. Twin howls filled the air. Duke dashed to the front window. Viola followed at a more sedate pace. Two soaked sheet-clad figures raced off the Ashwood lawn in the direction of the McClary house. Clumps of sodden toilet paper trailed behind them like breadcrumbs.

"Granny warded the yard and I grabbed the remote for the sprinklers." She bumped his hip with hers and dangled the remote under his nose. "Told you I had a good reason for staying home. Wanna make fun of that Ghost Gabbers Halloween special?"

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Mistress of Mercy and Malice preview

Do you know how hard it is to write with a cat in your lap? Especially one who digs her little claws into your leg if you stop petting her for too long? I am busy finishing up Mistress of Malice and Mercy as well as Sometimes it is Rocket Science inbetween work headaches and actual headaches (who knew a toothache could be so bad??)

Now for what you really came here for: a MMM preview

- - -

Six of Bert’s bullets bounced off the demon’s scaled chest. One ricocheting bullet narrowly missed Viola’s thigh. The streetlamp and telephone pole weren’t as lucky. Struggling to resist the temptation of Viola’s black energy, Duke covered the older man while Bert reloaded. He aimed his gun between the Aspisia’s eyes, but the demon’s yellow gaze was locked on Viola’s scarred arm. He took advantage of its distraction and slipped inside its mind.

“It wants to rip you apart because you killed its mate,” he said once he translated the demon’s thoughts. He slowly inched towards Viola careful not to make too much noise or move too swiftly.

Viola tilted her head. She recalled setting ablaze several Folists. “I’m familiar with the feeling.”

“It’s torn between tearing off your head and taking you to Elrachaim. Right now its fear of Elrachaim is trumping its need for vengeance.” Duke eased out of the Aspisia’s mind. He glanced down at Viola’s discarded knife. The mustard-yellow blood dried onto the blade would be nearly impossible to clean off. “How’d you kill the male, Vi?”

“Slit its throat from ear to little ear.”

Duke grimaced. There was no way he was letting her get that close to the female. He struggled to remember the best way to kill a fully-grown female Aspisia. There was a weak spot, but since they rarely ventured out into heavily populated areas he couldn’t…

“Under the chin!” Bert called out from the other side of Viola.

Duke fired first. Three bullets pierced the thin, pale blue skin beneath the demon’s chin. Two of the bullets exited through the top of the demon’s skull. The third took out the Aspisia’s left eye. Brain matter and bone fragments splattered across sedan parked behind the demon. Duke ducked to avoid the stream of thick, yellow blood. It smelled worse than the venom and would make him break out into a rash if it touched his skin.

Drenched in Aspisia blood and skin, Viola jogged to the downed demon’s side with her gun in hand. She checked for signs of life, but the Aspisia was dead. With a sigh, she holstered her gun. She shook her head the same way Finn did after a bath. Yellow liquid splashed Duke’s shirt.

“Thanks, sweetness.”

She opened her mouth to apologize, but snapped her jaw shut when she got a good look at her grinning, almost completely dry husband. “How is it I’m soaked and you don’t have a drop on you?”

“Better reflexes?”

Her left eye twitched at the jab. There was no way his reflexes could be better than hers. She eyed him coolly before breaking out in a beaming smile. Arms flung open, she stalked towards him. “Aw honey, you killed the big, bad demon for me. Let me show my… appreciation.”

He didn’t trust her sugary tone of voice or the mischievous glint in her hazel eyes. As soon as he picked the word ‘hug’ out of her jumbled thoughts, he hastily backed towards Bert. The other man’s dry chuckle implied Duke would get no help from that corner.

“Lady Viola!” Pip’s high, clear voice cut through Viola’s laughter and Bert’s chuckles.

“Saved by the munchkins,” Viola said, stopping an arms’ length from Duke. “This time.”

“Phew,” Pip moaned, waving a hand under his nose. He and his brothers had returned to their normal size but regretted the action. In their natural state, their senses were more sensitive than when they were transformed. “That’s nasty, Lady Viola! It’s worse than Finn farts!”

Duke scooped the three Wfsals off the ground and settled them on his shoulders. He fished his cell phone out of his pocket. Even with his truck and Bert’s, there was no way they could haul two Aspisia corpses and two blood-drenched Trackers. Calling in a team to pick up the second corpse took less than a minute.

“Nicholls and Spitzer are on their way. Spitzer’ll take the female to the work shed. Spitzer will drive Bert’s truck with the male to the house, too.” He braced himself for the explosion his next statement was sure to cause. “I’ll drive you two to the nearest car wash for a quick rinse before we head home. I’ve got a few towels and a bottle of shampoo left over from the last time I had to give Finn a bath.”

Rather than jumping all over him like he’d expected, Viola shrugged and scrubbed at the thin layer of blood dried on her cheeks. “Is it that rosemary flea stuff or the mint shampoo Granny made?”

“Mint, I think.”

She shrugged again. “Works for me. The flea shampoo makes me itch.” She narrowed her eyes at Duke as she remembered the last time he’d taken her to the car wash to clean up after a demon attack. “I’m controlling the hose this time, Tobias.”


“You nearly peeled my skin off last time!”

“Oh? Now who’s exaggerating, sugar?”

Viola stomped towards Duke, lifted the hem of her wet shirt, and pointed to thin, pink line parallel to her navel. “That’s where I hit the muffler of your damn truck when I fell because you hit me so damn hard with the water.”

“Oh no, sweetness. I’m not taking the blame for that one. You slipped because you refused to take off those ridiculous boots and then you insisted on prancing around like an idiot. You’re lucky you didn’t break your neck.”

“Some days I’d like to break yours.”

“And I’d like to see you try.”

“Children!” Bert grasped the squabbling couple by the elbows and dragged them towards the cars. Abelardo owed him at least a case of beer for forcing him to take on the Dukes by himself. A rotation with a coughing, phlegmy partner would have been a less irritating experience.

“Sorry, Bert.” Viola craned her neck to stick her tongue at Duke behind Bert’s back. “We get a little carried away sometimes.”

Bert grunted in agreement. He supposed it could have been worse. They could have been an overly affectionate couple. He’d rather listen to a quarrel than watch the mating habits of adrenaline-hyped Trackers.

“Karma will get you both,” he said. “Good Lord willing, y’all will have a passel of kids to drive you up the wall like you’ve done to the rest of us.”