My name is Mike Raven, and for me the weird and supernatural is just another day at the office.
I’ve hunted nightmares all over the globe. Vampires. Shifters. Demons. Wraiths. I’ve faced them all. But the biggest threat turned out to be right in my home town, a cursed city sitting right on top of a portal to hell.
From the moment Celeste stepped into my office, I knew she was black magic trouble. Her father had sold her soul on the day she was born. Now, twenty-one years later, the forces of darkness were gathering to collect their long-awaited prize.
Guess who's about to pick a fight with hell itself?
IT’S OFFICIAL, Blaire thought. I hate camping.
Her teeth chattered in the frigid tent. No matter how much she tried to cocoon herself inside her sleeping bag, she couldn’t get warm.
The camping trip had sounded like a romantic idea when Eric first brought it up to her, three months earlier. Her mind had filled with visions of hiking through a fairy tale forest and snuggling up to her sweetheart under the stars. The reality was much less pleasant.
It had begun to rain as soon as they unpacked their gear and hit the hiking trails. Somehow they managed to set up their tent despite the biting wind and incessant downpour. Unable to start a fire, they snacked on tasteless protein bars, which she washed down with a bottle of wine. Talk about a classy combo.
Blaire was thankful she’d had the foresight to bring some alcohol along for the trip, despite Eric’s protests. He tended to be sober to a fault. The wine warmed her for a bit, but its soothing effects had long worn off.
Within minutes of slipping into the tent, Eric nodded off. Blaire wasn’t so lucky, and she’d spent the last two hours worrying about every random sound outside. God, what she would’ve given for the wail of a police siren or the sound of someone rummaging through the dumpster below their apartment. Unlike Eric, who grew up on a farm, Blaire was a true city kid. Her idea of roughing it was to take the subway instead of an Uber.
She tried to pass the time by reading a book on her Kindle, but the frigid conditions made it hard to concentrate. Besides, a horror novel was a lot more entertaining when you were safe and snug in your apartment. In the wilderness, stories of mad killers stalking innocent victims lost much of their appeal.
This was going to be a long night.
Making matters worse was her pressing need to relieve herself. She shuddered at the thought of untangling herself from her sleeping bag, leaving the relative safety of their tent, and finding some nearby tree under which to do her business.
She tried to ignore her physical discomfort, but after another restless hour of staring at the tent’s ceiling while obsessing over the latest hoot or cracking branch, she couldn’t hold it any longer. Either she braved the woods or she peed her pants.
The thought made her turn red with embarrassment and immediately unzip her sleeping bag. She would just have to be quick.
As Blaire crawled out of the tent, she promised herself that this would be her first and last camping adventure. If Eric wanted a girl who could tough it out in the wild, he’d have to look elsewhere.
The night air raked her exposed skin as she stumbled to her feet. Breath clouding before her, arms tightly wrapped around her chest, she scrambled toward the trees. The wet ground slurped under her shoes.
After a chilly minute of frantic searching, she located a spot that was private yet close enough to their tent. She took a deep breath, slipped her jeans to her knees, and dropped to her haunches. Seconds later, blissful relief followed.
For a moment, she blocked out the relentless cold and the sound of her emptying bladder drowned out all the spooky nocturnal noises. Mercifully. Once finished, she pulled up her pants and turned back to their shelter. About fifteen feet separated her from the blue tent, the only pale hint of color in the dark forest. Its trees cast menacing shadows as the pale moonlight shafted through the thick canopy above.
Blaire steeled herself for a quick sprint to the tent. Her limbs felt stiff from the cold, but she knew she could do this. She was just about to take her first step when a droplet of something wet pelted her face.
Oh great, don’t tell me it’s about to rain again.
When four more drops hit her in quick succession, she realized the liquid felt hot against her skin. She wiped away the wetness pearling on her forehead and studied her hands. Even in the dim moonlight, she could clearly see the crimson smeared across her fingers.
It was fresh blood.
Still too stunned to feel any real fear, Blaire looked up and gasped.
A few feet above her, the severed head of a deer stared back at her with empty eyes.