Stolen Souls should be out in the next week or two, but until then, here is the first chapter (unedited). If you missed it, HERE is another snippet I did a few months back. – – –
Evil swirled in warm currents through the night air. It burned the hound’s nose, watering his eyes with its intensity. Raising his head to the sky, he breathed deep, but couldn’t quite catch the location of the scent.
Alfalfa and wild cucumbers lurked behind the hints of foulness. Those were the soothing, normal smells for a summer’s evening. This other scent was most definitely not normal. Perhaps the monster had only passed through his territory, but he couldn’t take the chance. Heading west, Boomer broke into an easy lope that would take him quickly across field and pasture. He had to make sure his souls were safe. Worry furrowed his brow as he ran.
Birdsong had tapered off as dusk slid into night, and the darkness was filled with the din of cicadas. It had been hard for the hound to leave this evening. The girl had such soft hands, stroking and scratching all the best spots. She let him sleep in the bed snuggled up to her warmth. Boomer had lain there, his nose pressed to her side as she dozed, content. It had taken all his willpower to leave her and go out into the night, but he had work to do- souls that cried out for the release only he could grant. And now he was especially glad he’d stirred himself and ventured out. Something was very wrong.
There were twenty cemeteries in the territory he considered to be his own, not including the ancient farmhouse graveyards, where family members had been buried at home centuries ago, long before his birth. Most of those souls were in grace, having long departed this world, but the newly interred occasionally needed his help to move on.
It would have been quick work if all he had to do was visit cemeteries for the recently deceased. Instead Boomer needed to make the rounds of various farms, houses, and road-side memorials to check on the ghosts. Even if they’d been stubbornly remaining on this plane for centuries, tonight might be the night they decided to leave, and he needed to be there for them. It was the duty of a hellhound, his responsibility to ensure deceased humans made their journey to their afterlife.
Buffalo Road. The Methodist church sat small and proud, a white square rising to a steepled point in the moonlight. He hopped the five foot fence with ease, nose to the ground as he trotted line by line among the grave markers, casting about for scent and especially searching for any hint of the monster.
Humans didn’t always go easy into their death. The bodies failed, but the souls sometimes held tenaciously onto the flesh. Decades, centuries could go by before the spirit took the great leap away from a corporeal form into their blessed eternity.
The hound checked each grave, determining who had passed to their reward, and who held on. White wisps rose like fog from the grass, following him and watching his progress. Ghosts. Those who gave up the physical, but refused to leave. Most never made it to the graveyards, instead hovering where their dearest memories were, or at the scene of their death, tied to the earth by the power of emotion. The hellhound continued on, ignoring their ethereal presence. When they were ready, he was here to help them. It was always their choice.
But tonight they were agitated, upset, these wisps of human spirits. It could be the freshly placed grave, the new resident. A new arrival always caused unrest among the ghosts. Any change in routine, any new soul in their midst caused anxiety, but this seemed different.
Boomer paused at the new grave, wet nose against the ground as he snuffled for scents. Elderly man, cancer riddling his body. He’d made his peace; his family had lovingly interred him. He wouldn’t remain for long. The ones who struggled, whose families tied them to this physical plane, those were the ones who lingered the longest.
The wisps followed him, wringing their emotions through him. Worry. Fear. They wanted to hide. They wanted him to protect them.
Buffalo Road was clear. He trotted along, visiting several farmhouses and a church that had at one time been a drinking establishment. The ghosts there were equally upset, gesturing to him and imploring him to do something. He had no idea what they wanted. None were willing to move on to their afterlife, and he lacked the ability to communicate with them beyond his basic function.
A frown furrowed the velvet skin of his forehead as he increased his speed, eating up the miles to the cemeteries in the neighboring towns. All seemed stable, but the ghosts worried him with their anxious touch. Why were they disturbed? Was it the monster? He’d caught not hint of it beyond the initial scent just outside of his home.
Rounds made, the hound trotted back, detouring to one last cemetery that called to him. This one didn’t often have new burials, but clearly they’d made an exception for someone. As he neared, he felt the fur on the back of his neck rise, lips baring in a snarl. The foul smell, this time unmistakably strong – sulfur, hydrogen, and copper cut sharp against the faint scent of decay. But it was the other scents that brought the hound to full attention. Burned chalk, a whiff of incense and candle wax, and the unmistakable smell of magic – black magic.
The hound shimmered, not completely changing into his hellhound form but shifting energy enough to streak across the fields. The smell watered his eyes as he drew near, the billow of silver snaking across the ground confirming his worst fears. In his forty years he’d never encountered such a thing, but the recognition was instinctive, built into his very spirit. Who could have done such a thing? The hound moved faster, a blur of speed through the tall corn.
He was too late. An empty grave greeted him, dirt thrown thirty feet in either direction and the freshly carved granite stone split in two on the ground. He recoiled as he peered down the hole at the wreckage that had once been an expensive coffin, and whined. Lowering his nose to the ground, the hound breathed deeply, sorting the scents for the human that once occupied this grave. Sneezing to clear his nasal passages, he began to search the graveyard, hoping to find a path, a history of what happened here.
There were no other new dead, but the hound paused at several other gravesites, noting the trampled ground and dislodged markers. It was the other two graves that disturbed the hellhound the most. They were gone. Ghosts, both long-term residences of the cemetery, had vanished. He lifted his head, eyes glowing as he sensed their terror as they died a second death. The monster had torn through the small graveyard, knocking over stones and crushing the neatly mowed grass. Boomer felt the creature’s frustration. A rural cemetery wasn’t the optimal feeding ground for the newly risen. The scent tapered off as he followed it out toward the road where it dwindled to nothing.
The hellhound lifted his head to the sky and howled his misery. He’d lost two of his own– three if he counted the newly buried man. The failure weighed heavily upon him, but he could do nothing more tonight. Dawn approached, and all scents would vanish in the sunlight. He needed help. He needed to find and deal with this monster before he took another, but this task was beyond the abilities of a hellhound. Normally he would turn to his infernal mistress for help, but she’d been in Hel for over a month now. Who could he turn to? The girl was strong. In a few decades she’d be perfectly capable of assisting, but not now – not with fear and indecision gripping her heart. Still, she might be his only hope.
The sky tinted peach and lavender as Boomer trotted home. Home to the girl with soft hands and soft voice, the young one that would need to grow up fast and assist him before it was too late.