Wealthy couple drunkenly ditch their car and a strange tow truck driver regales them with off-putting stories, stories relating strangely to their personal lives. With short fiction by Stephen Graham Jones (Mongrels, Mapping the Interior, The Only Good Indians), Philip Fracassi (Behold the Void, Sacculina), and Renee Miller (Cats Like Cream, The One You Feed).
(review request submitted by Eddie Generous, the editor, for an honest critique)
I’ve tried to think of some witty, ingenious way to describe the stories in Midnight Exhibit. Then, I realized I could best sum them up by saying two words… fuck’d up.
Yes, every contribution to the anthology was disturbing.
Stephen Graham Jones – Too Little Too Late: Decomposing, coherent bodies… just eww. Cue the puke bucket!
Renee Miller – Another Pretty Face: This story will have men grabbing their junk for sure!
Philip Fracassi – My Love, Do Not Wake: The story started off reminding me of a scene from Harry Potter. The one where Lord Voldemort’s face is on the back of Professor Quirrell’s head. Anyways, it might’ve started off like HP but then it took a weird-ass turn into the land of fuck’d the hell up.
I’m still shaking my head on this collection. So disturbing it’ll stick in my mind for a long while. 🙂
All Nadira Holden wants is to preserve the last of her soul and create a new life free of magic, demons, and war.
Her involuntary bond with a succubus makes her desires impossible. The threat of this disgruntled demon possessing her urges Nadira to find the succubus’s missing body.
Nadira’s only hope of avoiding demonic possession lies with Derek, the only demon she can tolerate without slaying. Except his hands are full trying to secure his recently-inherited title of prince. Desperate, Nadira agrees to help Derek secure his title by experimenting with the deadly magic they once generated in exchange for his aid in her investigation.
To untangle herself from the evil that surrounds her, Nadira must be willing to betray her friends and get cozy with her enemies. She may even have to do the unthinkable: break the peace treaty that allows demons and humans to coexist. If she can’t toss aside her scruples, Nadira may not make it out of this ordeal with her soul intact.
Below is the first scene of That Night — book two in the Nadira Holden, Demon Hunter seres. Enjoy this sneak peek and pre-order your copy today!
Please note this writing sample is provide before the final round of professional editing.
He pressed his lips against hers. His were thin, chapped and puckered. He began moaning immediately. His head tilted from left to right and back again. His mouth opened greedily. Long, thin and forked, his serpentine tongue licked her face from lip to brow, cheek to chin. And, she allowed it.
Nadira looked away as her stomach turned. Despite the biting cold waiting for her outside, Nadira pushed away her full cup of hot green tea. Sadly, she realized she would have to find a new hangout spot or accept the fact that demons were now sought after as lovers to teenage bookworms. And with those two unfortunate choices, Nadira stood from her cushioned lounge chair, stretched, then began walking out of Great Escape—her favorite bookstore—with her coat in one hand and a small, hardcover novel titled A Little Princess in the other.
“Miss, miss!” Nadira heard someone shout from behind her. “You forgot your phone!”
She turned and came face to face with the reason she was leaving.
“Thanks,” she mumbled as she carefully took the phone, successfully avoiding skin to skin contact.
The tall, slumped demon narrowed his eyes when he saw her discomfort. His pale skin had a blueish-green undertone that became more apparent when he clenched his jaw in annoyance. When Nadira rolled her eyes and sucked her teeth at his attitude, he swiftly grabbed her wrist and pulled her in close.
Do not kiss me.
“You’re next,” he said. Then, he licked his barely-there lips.
Nadira jerked backward and accidently bumped into the arm of someone sitting close by. From the sound of dishes clinking, the aroma, and someone hissing in pain, she knew hot coffee was spilled.
“Geez, I’m sorry!” Nadira apologized quickly.
Before she could turn around to make amends, Nadira heard someone say, “Sanford?” in a soft, timid voice. The young woman that actually enjoyed making out with the snake-tongued Sanford approached them hesitantly. “What’s … Um. What’s going on, bae?”
They all stood in a line facing each other due to the narrow aisles caused by a small room filled with oversized armchairs.
Shaking her head, Nadira tried to walk away again. She was a hammer—ready to fix problems the only way she knew how—and Nadira saw all demons as rusty, exposed nails in need of a beatdown. As riled up as she was by his cryptic attempt to threaten her, she knew a fight in a bookstore was not the way to go. She reminded herself that she was retired now and demon hunting was illegal.
The strained moment was cut by an unlikely request, “If you bump me with your beautiful butt one more time, you’re gonna hafta gimme your number.”
This man with a coffee stained shirt and a half empty cup stood. The interruption somehow broke the tension and they all relaxed their rigid stances a bit. The flirtaious man’s commanding presence reminded them that they were in a crowded bookstore and had no business causing a ruckus.
“Let’s go,” Sanford said while roughly grabbing his girlfriend’s arm.
He pushed past the rest of them, and his girlfriend mumbled apologies in his wake as she was pulled along. A minute later, they were out of sight in the cozy, cluttered bookstore. Nadira hoped they were gone.
She felt an instant flash of pain in the palm of her hand in the same moment she heard the sound of her expensive phone’s screen cracking. Jaime is going to kill me. This made the second cell phone she would need replaced in the six weeks since she started using the minicomputers to make calls and look up “what would millennials do?”
Holding up her damaged phone, Nadira said to the guy wearing his coffee, “My number won’t do you any good today.”
She couldn’t hold back her look of utter frustration. He stood there looking at her, really looking at her, as if he could see her past and make sense of it. He nodded gravely, presumably accepting her—aggression, clumsiness, and all.
“I’ll go easy on you since you’re clearly not having a good day,” he offered.
Feigning a look of amazement, Nadira said, “That’s big of you after my blatant attempt to come on to you.”
Matching her mocking tone, he replied, “I can tell you’re clumsy as fuck.”
Nadira laughed. The sound erupted from her—loud and abrupt enough to turn a few heads. She quickly covered her mouth with her uninjured hand. Then, she dropped her hand just as quickly and allowed herself to continue laughing wholeheartedly.
“I—” She tried again when her laugher tampered off. “I think I needed that. Thanks.” She wiped tears from the corners of her eyes while smiling at him. She was intrigued now.
“What’s your name?” Nadira asked, genuinely curious about this twenty-first-century guy.
The animated face he made was filled with reluctant regret. “You’re gonna need to buy me a replacement cup of joe before this gets personal.”
“Done,” Nadira said decisively.
She swung around to face the front of the bookstore and headed for the makeshift coffee stand.
Nadira got in line to order Mr. Tall-and-Handsome whatever he wanted. She wasn’t sure if it was her hunter instincts or feminine intuition, but she knew he would follow her. In fact, she felt the exact moment he stepped in line behind her. The butterflies in her stomach fluttered and the goosebumps on her arms rose. Nadira’s full lips lifted into a satisfied grin. She was grateful he couldn’t see her face.
There was only one customer ahead of them. After the young woman in front of her with pink-streaked blonde hair ordered herself a five-word, over-sugared, over-foamed, over-caramelized drink, Nadira stepped up to the register. The cashier was running a one-woman shop as she took care of both book purchases and coffee orders.
To stay relevant with all the trendy cafes springing up, the owner of Great Escape added a high-end coffee maker next to the cashier’s stand. The big, shiny piece of machinery seemed out of place in the dusty bookshop lined with shelves that overflowed with classic literature.
“Hi, sweetie. What are you having today?” the cashier asked looking a little frazzled.
Nadira took a dramatic step to the right and presented her new friend.
The cashier paused as she visually devoured the well-toned man of Chinese descent Nadira had presented.
“You willing to share this one, hon?” she asked Nadira.
With a bashful look, Tall-and-Handsome interrupted, “Caffe Americano, please.”
“Not a problem, not a problem at all,” the cashier said while leaning forward and batting her eyelashes. “And, your name for the order?”
Nadira chringed, hoping she wasn’t coming on as overtly as the cashier.
“Shaun,” he answered. The flirtatious cashier then tilted her head to make eye contact with Nadira as if to say ‘now you know too.’
While Nadira and Shaun looked at each other, the cashier continued to try her luck, “You gotta number for me, handsome?”
Nadira couldn’t help the frown that appeared as she wondered why the eager cashier didn’t care if he was her boyfriend or not.
All three of them smiled in the awkward silence that followed the cashier’s question, but Nadira was sure it was for three very different reasons. Her smile was more of a baring of teeth as she subconsciously displayed a nonverbal warning. Shaun might have been enjoying the attention of two women. It was too soon to tell what his preferences were. And the cashier—plump, curly-haired, and older than them by at least ten years—saw nothing wrong with hitting on customers while working.
“Will this cover it?” Between two fingers, Shaun held up a folded five dollar bill.
That was Nadira’s cue to play the role of sugar mama for a moment. She stepped into his personal space, swung her hips, and gently bumped him out of the way. Shaun stepped to the left with a chuckle. Nadira quickly pulled out her wallet and slammed her five dollar bill onto the counter. The cashier flinched, her come-a-little-closer look melting away.
“Aren’t you an eager one?” the older woman asked, chidingly. In a stage whisper, she added, “It’s not that attractive, you know.”
Nadira simply let her eyebrows do the talking. Her look said ‘are you serious?’ with all the sass she could muster while biting her tongue.
Perhaps sensing that the lightheartedness of the moment was over, Shaun chimed in, “I’ll take it to go.”
Legendary demon hunter Nadira Holden paid the ultimate price to end the war between demons and hunters.
Resurrected in present-day New York, many years have passed, everyone moved on without her, and the demons she once battled have made peace with humans. Nadira no longer has a purpose here. Dying again might be her ticket back to that “next life” she experienced.
Except humans are disappearing, and Nadira’s father is one of the missing. Feeling a strong obligation to find him before sorting out her own fate, she begins investigating.
She won’t rest in peace unless she can prove the demons are behind the disappearances. But Nadira is running out of time. The darkness within her is causing her to lose her humanity while the rest of mankind is on the verge of enslavement to the demons they now worship.
Fight with Nadira in a new urban fantasy series that combines monster-slaying action, family drama, and simmering romance. Experience why not even death can stop her.
Azaaa Davis is an American author of urban fantasy and paranormal romance novels.
She fell in love with reading as a high school freshman and continues to read, write, and draw today. Her background in social work helps her portray realistic characters in otherworldly–and sometimes terrifying–situations. A New York native, Azaaa currently lives in New Hampshire (USA) with her husband and daughters.
She debuted with This Time, A Nadira Holden Novel, in 2018 about demon hunters, family ties and the magic of love.
Azaaa is working diligently to finish writing more fantasy novels while raising her daughters. Thank you for showing an interest in her stories!
New York Times bestselling author Jaci Burton is back with a friends-to-lovers romance sure to melt hearts as one smokin’-hot fireman turns up the heat on love.
Relationships. Firefighter Rafe Donovan avoids them whenever possible. He loves dating women, but he makes sure they know up front that he’s in it for fun, great sex and nothing more.
Fun. As an ER nurse and official caretaker of her disabled grandfather, Carmen Lewis doesn’t have time for fun. But Rafe has been there for Carmen–and her grandfather–time and again, and he’s clearly interested in her. She knows he’s a player, but she’s tempted by his charm and incredible body. And maybe a little fun isn’t a bad thing, as long as she keeps her heart away from this fiery game she’s enjoying with a very hot man.
Love. It doesn’t take Rafe long to realize that until now he’s only been playing at romance. With Carmen he feels searing passion and heart-tugging emotion for the first time. Now he has to convince Carmen that what they have together is the real deal.
Flames licked all around Rafe Donovan, the heat from the house fire causing sweat to drip down his face and inside of his SCBA mask. Since he couldn’t wipe his face, he blinked instead, clearing the perspiration from his eyes.
Rafe firmly gripped the lead hose to douse the blaze threatening to drop a fiery ceiling on their heads. Tommy Rodriguez had his back, feeding him more line. They soaked the flames in the living room, pushing through the dining room and into the kitchen, driving the beast back.
“It’s wearing down,” Rafe said, watching as the inferno tried to roar, then inched back into the walls as he blasted it with water. “You don’t win today, you bastard.”
“You tell that fucker, Rafe,” Rodriguez said.
Fire was his nemesis, the thing that had almost killed him back when he was a kid. It had also saved his life, turned it around and given him a new beginning. But it still had to die. Every day he faced it, it had to die.
When the blaze was finally extinguished, he exhaled. The Engine 6 team did a walk around, pulling down walls to make sure fire didn’t lurk in the Sheetrock, waiting to reignite. He made his way outside and pulled off his mask, sucking in a deep breath of Ft. Lauderdale’s hot summer air.
It might be humid as hell, and he might be drenched under his turnout gear, but he’d survived. No one was inside the house when the fire broke out, so he’d call this one a success.
He looked at the one-story ranch, charred but still standing. It looked a little beaten down, but the old house would come back.
“Nice job in there.” Jackson Donovan, his brother and his lieutenant, patted him on the back.
He grinned and headed back to the truck, elation blasting through him as it always did when they were successful.
He loved his job. If he could do it every day, he would.
They began to wrap up. They were folding the hoses and packing up equipment when smoke started pouring from the roof.
“Dammit,” Rafe said. How had they missed that? He heard Jackson’s voice ordering them to get back into the house. Rafe loaded a fresh tank of oxygen on his back and put his mask on, then waited for his backup.
Rodriguez was right behind him as they returned inside.
“Be careful in there, all of you,” Jackson said. “I don’t like the looks of that smoke.”
“Yeah, got it,” Rafe said. He didn’t like the skittering feeling crawling down his back. He had a sixth sense about fire, and which scenes posed a danger. This one didn’t feel right to him. Something was off.
Inside looked clear, which meant the smoke was hiding in the walls somewhere. Hendricks and Richards were inside, too, helping them inspect. They’d broken off, going in the opposite direction.
“There’s no heat, no smoke,” Rafe said as they made their way around the house, testing more walls for fire. “So where’s the smoke coming from?”
“Attic, maybe,” Rodriguez said.
“Already up in the attic and cleared it,” Hendricks said into his radio. “So whatever we saw, it isn’t up here.”
Damn. It wasn’t unusual for a fire to snake along the walls, lurking, moving from one location to another. Which meant they’d have to check behind the drywall in every room until they found it and extinguished it. Rafe used his drywall hook to cut open a section of wall, checking for smoke in one of the smaller back bedrooms.
“I don’t like this,” Jackson said. “Keep a sharp eye.”
Rafe was already doing that. The whole team was in here now, cutting through and dragging down sections of walls to search for smoke, looking for hot spots.
When Rafe got to the closet in the hallway, he felt the door. It was hot, and the paint on the outside of the door was bubbling.
“There you are,” he whispered, then turned to Rodriguez. “We need to vent this through the roof.”
He was about to notify Jackson that they were exiting when he was knocked back on his feet by an explosion.
And then everything went dark.
Busy shifts in the emergency room at Ft. Lauderdale Medical Center were Carmen Lewis’s jam. It was a big-city emergency room, serving a large population that made for demanding days. Carmen’s shifts went fast because she rarely stopped moving. She relished the fast pace, but even more, she loved helping the sick and injured.
She was charting in the station when her friend and fellow nurse Tess Blackstone stopped by. “The patient in room seven is ready for discharge according to Dr. Lange. Scrip for pain meds and a follow-up with his personal physician in a week. Room six is still waiting for someone to take her up for a CT scan. I just administered another bolus of morphine to room eight with Dr. Chan’s approval.”
Carmen nodded and updated the patient charts, signing off on the discharge for room seven. “Call CT—again—and tell them we’ve been waiting an hour and a half for that scan. What’s the status on the patient in room three?”
“Waiting to be taken up for an angiogram.”
“I’ll see what’s up with CT—again,” Tess said, picking up the phone and rolling her eyes at Carmen.
Carmen grinned, confident Tess would do her job. All her nurses did. She had the best staff in the hospital, in her opinion. As triage nurse and supervisor of the department, Carmen had her hands in everything in the ER, which meant she was always managing chaos. Just the way she liked it.
EMTs rolled in with a firefighter strapped to a stretcher, bringing Carmen to instant alert. She recognized Rafe right away since he and his brothers lived in the house next door to hers. As a nurse running an ER, she never panicked, but she hated seeing someone she knew on that stretcher.
His face was covered with ash and grit, but she was happy to see he was awake and seemingly alert as she directed the paramedics to take him into room five.
The attending physician came into the room at the same time to do an assessment.
“Explosion at a house fire,” EMT Miguel Acosta said. “He took a pretty good blast that knocked him unconscious.”
Acosta and his fellow EMT Adrienne Smith unstrapped Rafe and moved him from the stretcher onto the ER bed.
“But as you can see,” Rafe said, “I’m not unconscious now.”
“Patient was down for approximately three minutes but roused quickly,” Miguel said.
“And then he was a royal pain in the ass in the ambulance all the way here,” Smith said, glaring at Rafe. “So he’s alert and oriented times three.”
“Any vomiting?” Dr. Lange asked.
“None,” Smith said.
“Thanks, Adrienne,” Carmen said. “We’ll take it from here.”
Miguel smiled at Rafe. “Behave yourself.”
Rafe tried to sit up, but Carmen laid a firm hand on his shoulder. “Nope. Stay put until we assess you.”
Dr. Lange did a physical and neurological exam.
“No burns, but he does have a bump on the head. No external injuries. Get him set up on an IV and EKG and do his vitals and blood work,” Dr. Lange said. “Let’s order a CT scan.”
She nodded and Dr. Lange stepped out. Carmen went to the cabinet to get the leads and everything else she’d need, then alerted one of the other nurses to bring her IV fluids.
“I shouldn’t even be here,” Rafe said.
“You know the protocol, Rafe,” Carmen said, giving him her standard nurse stare. No one ever argued with her stare. It was pretty fierce.
Rafe, apparently, wasn’t fazed by her glare.
“Whatever, Carmen. I’m fine.”
“Sure you are. Let’s get you out of that turnout gear.”
He grinned. “Getting me naked. Now we’re talkin’.”
She laughed and shook her head. “Can you sit up?”
She held out her hand. He grasped it and sat up, much too fast for her liking.
She noticed he winced, and then he wobbled on the table a little.
He reached for his forehead, cradling it in his hand. “A little. Damn backdraft caught me unaware, and the door knocked me backward. And out cold, I guess.”
She’d known Rafe and his brothers since they moved next door to her four years ago. Rafe helped her all the time with her grandfather. Over the years, they’d grown close, and the thought of him being hurt made her hurt.
She helped him unlatch his jacket and slide it off. “You’re lucky it wasn’t worse.”
He shrugged out of his coat, and Carmen couldn’t help but admire his broad shoulders encased in his tight T-shirt, something she shouldn’t be noticing right now.
“Can you stand so we can get the rest of your turnout gear off?”
“Hold my hand.”
His lips curved, revealing his amazing smile. “Carmen, I never knew you were interested.”
She rolled her eyes at him. “Up. Hold my hand.”
He took her fingers and dropped his suspenders, letting the pants fall while he stepped out of his boots.
The hottest man she knew was undressing in front of her. At least partially undressing. Even in his T-shirt and standard uniform pants, standing this close to him made Carmen feel things she hadn’t felt since—
Longer than she’d like to admit. Which she wasn’t going to think about, because right now Rafe was a patient. And that’s all he was to her.
“Come on, climb back into bed. Shirt off.”
“See, you flirting with me like this makes my head feel a lot better.”
She shot him a look. “At least your sense of humor is still intact.”
He gave her a lopsided grin. “Always.”
He pulled his shirt off, and she refused to notice his wide shoulders and muscled chest, or the very interesting tattoo on the back of his right shoulder.
Okay, she did notice the tattoo, the Maltese cross with the three fists and the words “Brotherhood by Fire” surrounded by flames. She wanted to ask. She didn’t. He was hurt and she was his nurse and it was none of her business. She got him into a gown and hooked up to the machines so they could chart his vitals, all of which were ridiculously normal. She checked his eyes, which were dilating normally as well—a very good sign.
Amy, one of the nurses, brought her the fluid bag, so she started the IV. Rafe didn’t even flinch when she inserted the needle, which wasn’t a surprise. The guy was tough. She wet a washcloth with warm water and brought it over to clean the soot and grime off of his face.
“I didn’t know a bath was included,” he said, his warm brown eyes studying her the entire time.
Heat sang through her body. Normally, cleaning a patient was an emotionless task. She did it because it was part of her job. But with Rafe it felt . . . different. Intimate. Unnerving.
“I thought we might want to clean off some of this residue from the fire.”
“A nice hot shower would feel really good right about now.”
She swept his thick dark hair away from his forehead and finished cleaning his face. Such a gorgeous face, too, with angular lines and a very strong jaw. “Can’t do that for you, but does this feel better?”
He reached up and wrapped his fingers around hers. “You touching me feels good.”
That heat she felt earlier was replaced by an incredible tingling sensation that settled somewhere in the vicinity of her sex.
Whoa, girl, back up.
Which she did. “Okay, I can actually see your face now.”
He smiled, as if he knew exactly the effect he had on her.
She needed to remind herself that Rafe Donovan was a patient, and her neighbor, and that nothing was ever going to happen between the two of them.
No matter how many times she’d fantasized about him.
Swarms of powerful mosquitoes sucking victims dry. Insatiable horseflies feasting on living flesh. Huge roaches with a ferocious bite. No tent is safe at the Green Swamp Zip-Line Adventure and Campground. Camp manager, Casey Lovitt, and entomologist, Dr. Phillip Edwards, must go up against powerful business interests and cover-ups from the local sheriff’s department to stop the deadly infestation. And with the busy tourist season fast approaching, time is running out. Will Casey and Phillip stop the onslaught of hungry bugs, or will the bodies continue to pile up among the long-buried secrets of the Green Swamp?
(review request submitted by the author for an honest critique)
Besides arachnids, I’m not overly fond of most bugs or insects. Before reading Infested, I didn’t suffer from myrmecophobia (fear of ants), pteronarcophobia (fear of flies), or scolopendrphobia (fear of centipedes). I do have a fear of spiders, but arachnophobia is a pretty common phobia. However, after reading Infested, that’s all changed. I now suffer from entomophobia, fear of ALL bugs.
I don’t care if it’s a ladybug or butterfly, I’m going to be cautious of everything for a long while.
After you read Infested, and I implore everyone to read it, you’ll understand my previous statement. No insect should be the size of a teacup poodle. No gator should be taken out by an insect or multiple insects. And, no way should pests be the predator while the humans are the prey.
Infested will make your skin crawl, but that means Carol Gore completed her mission. She wrote a story that’ll leave a lasting impression with the reader.
Heart Rating System: 1 (lowest) and 5 (highest) Score: ❤❤❤❤❤
Carol Gore examines the absurdity of life on earth by writing horror and humor, sometimes at the same time. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the California College of the Arts in San Francisco. Her short fiction and poetry have appeared in Fourteen Hills, Punchnel’s, and Dark Moon Digest. Aside from writing, she’s a yoga enthusiast, a painting hobbyist, and a lifelong voracious reader. She lives in the rural south with her husband and two sons.