Andrea Speed is one of the judges for my flash fiction contest
. She also has a new book out, City of Monsters.
Which you need to read because it’s funny and terrific.
Blurb: Hunter is a human turned animal shifter in Nightshade, a literal city of monsters in a near-Earth dimension called Dev. All sorts of beasts reside here, unable to return to Earth, yet still plagued by the same jealousies, rivalries, and needs of any human. Resolving them is Hunter’s job.
Hunter faces supernatural perils at every turn: vampire debt collectors who most decidedly don’t sparkle, werewolfs who literally piss on everything you love, and surprise shifters. And just like back on Earth, there are mundane struggles too. Like paying the rent—which isn’t easy for a guy with more vices than virtues—and keeping his haunted blender happy with pricey produce. So he takes a job from a foul-mouthed reverse tooth fairy to find her missing twin.
Just when things seem like they couldn’t get any worse, Hunter meets Sakari, a hot newcomer to Nightshade with a taste for danger. Will Sakari change Hunter’s bad luck, or will he only mean more trouble? Can Sakari help him solve his case? And how will Hunter explain the new man in his life to his blender?
Excerpt: You know you’re in for a bad night when you wake up dangling ten stories above the ground. Somehow, the night gets worse when you realize an angry vampire is holding you by the ankle.
“Good, you’re awake,” Fang said as my eyes continued to adjust. My head ached, and I figured I’d been clobbered. Not that I could remember any of it, mind you, but that came with the territory of head injuries. “I was afraid you were gonna sleep through your death.”
“Fang, dude, let’s talk this out,” I said, hoping I didn’t sound as pathetic as I thought I did. The truth was, I bet I sounded a million times worse. “What is it you think I did?”
“You know what you did, you rat bastard.”
“Yeah . . . you’re gonna hafta narrow it down for me, Fang.”
He made a noise of disgust and shook his head, which I could feel in the slight tremor of his arm. “Mutt, even you can’t be this stupid.”
“I am not a mutt,” I protested, even though that was really just a guess on my part. You’d think after six months, I would have known what kind of were I was, but nope. I kind of didn’t want to know because with my luck, I was something ridiculous. A worm maybe, or a dung beetle.
He sighed; it wasn’t natural for vampires, so when they bothered to do it, they were being drama queens. “Did you forget about the wolf races?”
“No.” Although I quickly realized that, yes, I had. “Yes.” I’d really thought Silver Streak was a shoo-in to win the third race, but then he’d had to pull up lame. Just my luck.
“You now owe Mr. Deth two grand—interest added—’cause you didn’t show up Friday to pay off the fifteen hundred, and he figured you were trying to weasel out of your debt. Is that what you are? A weasel?”
“No. I genuinely forgot.” I had. It may have been related to a self-pitying, sorrow-fueled bender, but hell if I was gonna tell him that. He didn’t need to know about my personal life. Although the saddest thing was, I’d had so many interactions with Fang that he was kind of a frenemy. Personal life wasn’t exactly out of bounds. “I’ve kinda been . . . sick.”
“Ya mean drunk?” he asked, his voice dripping with contempt. “I can smell the booze coming through your pores.”
“Look, can you give me a break here? My head’s killin’ me, and if you keep dangling me, I’m gonna barf. Wanna find out what I ate last?”
He made a grumpy noise and roughly deposited me back on the roof, where I flopped down like a landed fish. The sky, a weird midnight blue with dark, flesh-pink tendrils at the very edges, spun as if it were on a broken turntable—too fast and a little wobbly. When my vision cleared, Fang was standing off to one side, arms crossed over his chest, looking vaguely disgusted. The fact that he’d given in so easily confirmed my long-held suspicion about him—that he felt sorry for me. And how sad was that? I’ve always depended on the kindness of enforcers.
His name, by the way, was actually Fang. He was an Asian American vampire. The Asian part was pretty obvious, but the American giveaway was his almost comically thick Minnesotan accent. The first time I heard him talk, I’d laughed, expecting him to ask me if I had a hot dish to pass, don’tcha know. He punched me into next week, and I’d never laughed at his accent anywhere near him again. It was still really funny, though, especially considering he made his living as a hired thug.
“Look, he’s extended all the credit he can,” Fang said.
“That’s bullshit, and you know it. He could do more if he wanted.”
“Yeah, but why would he for you?”
That was a damn good point. I would have agreed if I weren’t concentrating on not vomiting up my digestive track. Fang looked down at me, scowling with distaste, and finally rolled his gleaming copper eyes. “I’ll see if he’s willing to have you work off the debt. But how are you at shakin’ people down?”
“Depends. Actual humans?”
“Oh, hell no.”
“Not that good, then.” Finally the sky steadied, and I got brave enough to push myself up to my knees. Took a bit longer than it should have.
“Has anyone told you that even for a weird were, you’re kinda lame?”
“Don’t you start, Fang. I’m humiliated enough as it is.” I sat on the cool crystal roof and tried to mentally will myself into feeling better. It wasn’t working. Spirit wine was a fucking bitch. Brilliant when you had it, but later you understood why they gave it the name—it haunted you like a cursed graveyard. Also, it made you feel undead. In a bad way.
“I’ll talk to Deth. Don’t leave town. If you do, you’ll be sorry,” Fang said before stepping off the edge of the roof. He couldn’t fly—vampires couldn’t do that—but they were pretty indestructible, like most of the undead, and Fang’s legs weren’t natural. Oh, maybe they had been once, but his boss, Deth, had arranged for his number one enforcer to get legs made of that nigh-invulnerable black crystal stuff the bug people used for their buildings. I couldn’t pronounce their name for it, and frankly I didn’t care to, ’cause I wasn’t insectoid and it didn’t really matter. All I knew was, if you made Fang mad, he could easily kick a hole through titanium-plated steel. When he landed, he left two foot-shaped indents in the ground below.
“Where the hell would I go?” I shouted after him. Did he hear me? Didn’t matter. It was a rhetorical question anyways.
Still, at least he’d given me an out. Kind of. How pathetic did you have to be for a legless enforcer to feel sorry for you? I guess I’d just answered that question.
I’m usually not this sad, really. Or at least I hope I’m not. The name’s Hunter Burrows, and I’m a finder in the city of Nightshade. Never heard of it? Lucky you. It’s a city of monsters.
I’m not being fanciful or metaphorical. It’s literally a city of monsters. There are no humans here, or at least none that aren’t food. Zombies, vampires, and werewolves walk the streets, as do lizard men, insect men, and assorted other beasties and mutant abominations. I’m a were, so I’m in that category. Not a werewolf; there are a whole bunch of different weres. You name an animal, there’s probably a were for it. Problem is, I’m not sure what kind I am. I’m not a werewolf, ’cause they pee on all their stuff, and even in human form, they have this gamey, wet-dog smell about them. I don’t. But I only know I’m not a wolf—everything else is up for grabs. For all I know, I’m a werepenguin. I kinda hope not, because I’m pathetic enough as it is.
When I was sure I could move without barfing my head off, I got up and headed for the roof exit. Of course, me being me, the elevators were out, so I had to make the long climb down the stairs to street level. I was forced to take breaks along the way, with the way I was feeling.
Once I left the building, which was an apartment complex primarily populated by vampires, I sat on the sidewalk, trying to shake off my fuzzy headedness, and wondered if I should blame a hangover or a blow to the head for the fact that I couldn’t remember where I’d last been. Maybe it was neither—maybe it was just the city itself.
I’m not kidding. I have no idea how I was turned, or how I ended up here. I just woke up half-naked in an alley, my head hurting, gripped with a sense that something was wrong, though I didn’t know what. When I saw the first lizard man amble by, I’d thought maybe I was near a sci-fi convention or something. It was the sky and the buildings that eventually convinced me I was in another world, long before the zombies and werewolves. The buildings were made of the strangest stuff I’d ever seen, and the sky . . . well, it was a fleshy pink. I’d thought it was hell for maybe five seconds, but I’d never believed in that shit, and I wasn’t dead.
Somehow, I’ve figured out how to survive in this world. But it was all trial and error, and in many respects, I’m still trying. I never thought I was very good at improvising, but my continued survival seems to prove otherwise.
A werehorse pulling a pedicab clopped down the street, and I flagged him over and asked him to take me back to my place. He agreed with a neigh and a shake of his big roan head, and I stepped up into the cab. They’re a community service, mostly for thieves and other low-level criminals. The justice system in Nightshade is a patchwork of weirdness. There isn’t really a police force as humanly defined, just Sentinels who work for Medusa, the god who runs the dimension. In any other place, that all might seem super strange, but in Nightshade, it’s close to the most normal thing we have.
As I sat in the back of the cab and watched the city go by, it occurred to me that the existence of a mythological god no longer seemed weird. Then again, I was some kind of were. What was unbelievable anymore? There were no limits. And I was in debt to a were crime boss with vampire henchmen all because gambling and drinking were the only thrills left to me. Being in a city full of monsters seemed to have made me more jaded by the day. And maybe a bit depressed. I felt terribly alone, even though all of us former humans were in the same boat. And now I was in trouble with Mr. Deth. Terrific.
I live in an apartment building made of onyx and shaped like a dagger plunging into the heart of the sky. It’s officially known as Briarwood, but it’s called the Knife. In fact, this area is known, consequently, as the Knife District. Just ’cause it’s a city full of monsters doesn’t mean they’re any more creative than humans.
I gave the werehorse a friendly pat on the haunches as I got off the pedicab in front of the building—my version of a thank-you. Technically, weres don’t retain human intellect in animal form, but there’s a special kind of curse applied to those doing community service. No one but the Sentinels and their special Cursers (yes, that’s an actual job description) actually know how that works, but rumors about it run rampant. I try not to pay attention to any of it. I may not have been here long, but I’ve caught on to the fact that the truth is often too strange to properly tolerate.
Inside the main door of the Knife, I was almost instantly overwhelmed by the animal scents, which no amount of air scrubbers could take away. The Knife was mainly inhabited by weres, and while most spent at least part of their time in their human forms, the building still ended up smelling like a semi-tidy zoo.
I’d wanted an apartment on a lower floor, as I’m not a great fan of heights, but the best I could get was level twenty-two. So I took the elevator up, though it made creepy creaking and groaning noises that made it sound like it was two minutes away from gaining sentience and swallowing you whole. It wasn’t totally impossible. Nothing here was.
I staggered down the hall toward my door, which was painted red. On every floor, each door was a different color, making the dimly lit hallways look like a pride parade after the power had gone out. From the lingering scent in the hall, one of my neighbors was a werewolf, and another had decided six in the morning was the ideal time to make lasagna. It made the nausea I thought I’d shed come back big-time.
As I went in, I continued wracking my brain for what had happened last night before Fang had dangled me off a building. But it was a painful, blurry fog. I finally decided I’d sleep on it and see whether it came back to me. It was just a shame that, despite all this mystical stuff, you still had hangovers. Magical dimension, my ass.
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