Title: The Forest Bull
Author: Terry Maggert
Genre: Urban Fantasy/Thriller
Release: August 2013
Three lovers who stalk and kill the immortals that drift through South Florida (tourists are a moveable feast, after all) are living a simple life of leisure- until one of them is nearly killed by woman who is a new kind of lethal.
When Ring Hardigan isn’t making sandwiches for, and with, his two partners, Waleska and Risa (they’re cool like that), he’s got a busy schedule doing the dirty work of sending immortals to the ever after. Wally and Risa provide linguistics, logistics, and finding the right place for him and his knife- together, they’re a well-oiled machine, and they’ve settled into a rhythm that bodes ill for the Undying. Warlocks, vampires, succubae and the odd ghoul have all fallen to their teamwork. Life is tough, but they soldier on killing the undead, liberating their worldly goods for charity, and generally achieving very little.
-Until Ring wakes up after nearly dying at the hands of a woman who may or may not be the daughter of Satan. Ring’s a tough character, for a boat bum (killing immortals sort of rubs off on you that way), but twelve days of comatose healing are enough to bring out the ugly side of his temper. When a letter arrives asking for their help finding a large collection of stolen heirloom jewelry, they form an uneasy friendship with the last Baron of a family hiding in a primal European forest.
Cazimir, the Baron, has two skills: Jeweler and preserver of the last herd of forest bulls. It’s an odd occupation, but then, Ring, Risa and Wally aren’t your everyday career folks, and Cazimir’s lodge might be sitting on something that looks a lot like hell, which, according to a 2400 year old succubus hooker named Delphine, is currently on the market to the strongest immortal. The Baron’s impassioned plea to find the jewelry comes with some conditions- he doesn’t want the collection back as much as he does the thief, Elizabeth, who happens to be his daughter- and the woman who nearly sent Ring to his grave.
In a tapestry of lies, it’s up to Ring, Wally and Risa to find out what is evil, who is human, and exactly who really wants to reign over hell.
“You may kiss me now,” she stated in a voice devoid of music. The mirthless bow of her full lips betrayed her intent to me, but I knew the invitation, like my costume, was a lie. She was pretending to be human. I adopted the persona of just another lonely, awkward snowbird, my own illusion that had brought me to this intimate second with her, inviting me closer with a flicker of her brow. I bought in, leaning towards her in the alcove of a cheesy hotel that advertised in French and English. The boardwalk nearby was a haven for the Quebecois who fled the rigors of winter for the sun and crowding of Hollywood, Florida, squeezed between the fashion of Miami and the canals of Fort Lauderdale.
We were a mismatched pair because she saw what I wished: a slouching, whitebread tourist being rewarded by the gods of fate with the company of a pale, elegant woman whose body filled her sundress flawlessly. Other couples and groups passed us in a late night rush between the bars and gathering places of the beach. It was cool for November. Bursts of drunken laughter mixed with the quiet spaces surrounding lovers who walked, faces turned to the shushing metronome of the surf. A single set of footfalls clattered nearby, interrupting our moment of impending passion. It was a woman dropping her keys and swearing in lightly- accented French. With a metallic tinkling, she picked them up and moved off into the night, leaving us alone again.
Reaching out, I took the woman’s thin hand tentatively as she leaned into me with beautiful but shopworn looks, tired under her makeup. A halo of dark curls was pushed back from her oval face with hair combs that were deeply burnished red, gleaming like rubbed bone. They looked regal in the careless way that beautiful women wear trinkets with quiet entitlement.
She had approached me in a bar an hour earlier as I sat alone nursing a comical umbrella drink and reading a paperback. I dress with purpose when I become someone else, leaving a riot of clues about my weaknesses and desires scattered on me. I hunch. I become meek. I mute my ego and become subservient to an affectation of absolute mediocrity. A cheap, tacky sweatshirt and garishly new deck shoes completed my identity as a visitor, unsure of my surroundings and far from home. I added moping loneliness and an aura of desperation purely for effect. With my shoulders rolled in and my body language long on failure, women ignored me. I, in turn, avoided anyone who made eye contact until she sat down, sliding into the space next to me and settling quickly. She was very still except for her eyes. They were alive, but brittle and hooded.
Senya, she introduced herself when she calmly sat in my booth without invitation. There was no uncertainty in her motions as she drank one glass of wine while asking a mechanical litany of questions. Where was I from? Did I have family with me? Was I staying nearby? She delivered these in a throaty accent that was purely Eastern Europe, all while flirting with me in a listless way. I played the role of the flattered rube, and, when she asked me to leave with her, my eyes went wide, the shock of my good fortune lighting my face. I fumbled awkwardly to the door with her.
And now, here we were, in a shadowed place with the wind and water muted. Alone, or as much as you could be in public. She pulled me to her, and I inhaled her scents of red wine, foreign tobacco, and the lingering grit of the ocean. She opened her mouth and circled me with her arms, warming to the moment as we kissed. I felt her body begin to respond heatedly from our contact and winced with regret as my hand whispered upwards, burying the slim knife I had silently palmed deep into her ribs. She buckled and tried to pull back, but my arms locked on her like heavy stones resting in earth. Her eyes never opened as the poisonous blade wrecked her spirit, the silvered steel shooting through her without mercy, cutting the bond to her body forever.
Immortals are always surprised when they die. She was no different, judging by her open- mouthed, hiccupping sigh as I lowered her spasmodic body, eyes fluttering, to the concrete of the hotel patio. In seconds, she began to sublime, her ashes fleeing upward with tiny blue points of moonlight that left her dress an empty outline. I stepped back, looking at the dust of Senya, and began to turn away. In that instant, two obscenely fat moths fluttered down and began to delicately scatter her remains with their feet.
I have learned that killing immortals causes changes in my body. Maybe another executioner could learn how to fly, read minds, or bend a metal rod with their hands. I tend to think that each immortal death makes us better at what we know. For me, I grow faster, more confident. I know I am something more after fourteen years of killing their kind.
I still can’t fly, but one thing is certain. I’m very good with knives.
Poseurs. I should be in surgery; not standing here smiling like a simpleton among these people, thought Arnaud, although he was far too meek to say so out loud. His dumpy shape and thinning hair made him stand out in the midst of the beautiful, wealthy crowd around him. At the nexus of the room stood an auctioneer, his hair as slick as his delivery, droning in a playful British intonation under the enormous white tent. Thin, tanned arms glittering with gold rose to bid on more jewels all in the name of charity. It was a farce and Arnaud would not have attended were it not for the fact that these people funded his work at the hospital in West Palm Beach. His penance for offering his surgical skills to fix the broken bodies of women and children marred by abuse was to stand here, pretending as if he could afford the jewelry being offered. It was a display that was anathema to his personal morality, but he endured it in quiet misery.
He took a polite sip from his champagne flute and tried to focus on the object being held up by an auctioneer. The screen behind the podium displayed a ring of unusual beauty, setting the tent abuzz.
“Magnifique’” Said a soft voice at his ear. He turned, smiling to hear his mother tongue. He smiled wider when he saw the speaker.
She was young, perhaps in her late teens, willowy and Gallic in every way. Her close cut hair and eyes were black, her skin pale, and her countenance silky, a touch disdainful. Her eyes were even with his but he felt small next to her grace. Arnaud was instantly enchanted.
She pointed with her chin at the auctioneer. “Bid for me, please? I will pay as high as twenty thousand American dollars. I am a bit shy for this room” she concluded, with a glance from under her lashes. His arm rose, unbidden, to enter the fray of the auction. When her breath caught at his clear tone as he shouted above the others, he made his decision.
The girl will have the ring no matter what price, he thought, and maybe this time, I will get the girl.
“Look at the light in it. Like falling stars. So perfect.” Sandrine rested her hand on Arnaud’s thigh, his pulse racing higher with each miniscule motion. They sat shoulder to shoulder in the sand, the sun long since set. The crowd had dispersed in their fleet of cars, their collective social duty complete and their egos sufficiently caressed by the charity staff that had grown tired of pandering. It was quiet save the waves. She laid her arm over his shoulder and leaned to him, her lips curled in a smile. Arnaud sighed in pure submission. This is real. Not like emailing the prostitute from the advertisement and answering her questions, exposing my loneliness to a whore who would not even send me her picture until she could investigate me. I will never feel that shame again.
“How many surgeries will your hands do this year” she asked, close enough to kiss him. “They are so beautiful. Like an artist’s.”
“I hope to…well, I shall, as many as I can afford, we can afford, rather, so, three hundred, but more if I can. There are always so many, from so far away. There is so much violence, and I only have so much time” his voice fluttered away into her mouth, which met his softly.
She pulled back, the kiss still hot on his face. Her arm wrapped around his neck, hugging him with a possession he had yearned for. Her grip began to tighten. How can she be so strong? He mused, as spots flooded his vision, floating red starbursts of pain. Sparks. Shadows. A red curtain, descending.
“You are quite right. Our time here is rarely as long as we wish.” Laying his inert form on the soft sand, she began to drag him, his body leaving a furrow in the shells.
Arnaud awoke to the first steely gray hints of dawn. I am nude. And I am buried? In sand? He was still at the beach, but under a copse of trees. Above him waved palmetto fronds, a sea grape, and an oak. He felt air on his stomach and his face was clear, but he was held tight by the sand. Wriggling, he strained and groaned at the pain in his neck. A deep bruise from being choked. It was a miracle his hyoid bone had not broken. He sensed she was near, and then she spoke. He felt his first genuine whisper of terror, like a spigot being turned on slowly.
“I did not intend to kill you, of course. That would be wasteful, not to mention rude. I do love the ring so, and my mother taught me that I should reward the men who are kind to me” Sandrine said as she appeared above him, unbuttoning her blouse. She was very thin. Her skirt and shoes were gone. She straddled him, nude, her hands braced on either side of his head. Her pelvic bones pressed into his abdomen like spikes. Naked, he realized how angular her frame truly was. Sweat beaded her brow and lip. She was straining, but at what Arnaud could not guess. She gave him a cursory smile as she leaned to kiss him.
“I would like to give you a gift in return. It is only proper, since you would be most generous to my children. In fact, they could thank you for every meal” she murmured, raising her torso high above his exposed midsection. A clicking noise emanated from where her sex should have been, as a bone white appendage extended from her dark junction. It glistened malevolently in the growing light. She pressed in to kiss him, a fleshy dart under her tongue flicking forth and piercing his soft palate. Bitter venom flooded his mouth as he began to numb instantly. Arnaud felt himself deaden as the lassitude from her poison worked through his body.
I cannot move. Dear God I can feel but I cannot move. She is like a parasitic wasp. I am her children’s food. The scientist in him was dispassionate, even removed from her real nature, but observant of how she would bring death. The man in him screamed wordlessly in a helpless, piteous roar.
He felt the shock of her ovipositor puncturing his navel, but no pain. It pulsed once, and again, and then a last time, the sterile eggs spearing into his thoracic cavern to be enclosed in warmth, safety, and blood. They would yield no live births, but certain death for Arnaud. She withdrew from him, spent, her skin flushed with the effort of insertion. Arnaud could not even scream as she stood, brushing sand from her legs and hands as she reached for her clothes, hanging on a low oak limb. The sun began to warm his face and he became aware of an itching from within as his body went to war against the hostile invaders who would survive only long enough to kill, the egg cases rotting within him as he decayed under the sands of a picturesque beach.
Her heels now on, Sandrine kicked sand over Arnaud’s stomach and face, thinking to keep him hidden until he had been consumed.
As I was taught. A good mother leaves nothing to chance.
Born in 1968, I discovered fishing shortly after walking, a boon considering I lived in South Florida. After a brief move to Kentucky, my family trekked back to South Florida, and it was at this time that I made the first of my Big Career Changes, breaking from my daily fishing habit to play the saxophone in middle school. I took this leap of faith under advisement from my Consigliore/ Grandfather, who assured me that this was the way to impress girls.
In a rare occurrence, he was wrong. This isn’t surprising considering he had been a Big Band leader in the 1930s, which, I have since learned, was a certainty for impressing girls. Middle School saxophone played by a cherubic pre-teen? Not so much.
I had the good fortune to attend high school in idyllic Upstate New York, where I learned the meaning of winter-- and how to seize the whole of summer.
After two or three failed attempts at college, I bought a pub. That was fun, because I love beer. However, I eventually met someone smarter than me (a common event), but in this case, she married me and convinced me to go back to school - which I did, with great enthusiasm. I earned a Master’s Degree in History and rediscovered my love for writing. I had written for most of my life, but it was only fatherhood and a herd of dogs/cats/etc. that gave me the time management skills necessary to finish a novel, and actually see several more in my future.
I live near Nashville, Tennessee with the aforementioned wife, son, and herd, and when I’m not writing, I teach history, grow wildly enthusiastic tomato plants, and restore my 1967 Mustang.