TA Moore has a new gay paranormal book out: Collared. Note: this novella previously appeared in an anthology.
When ex-priest Jack finds a dead man nailed to his bed, he knows it’s going to be a bad night. He just has no idea how bad.
Now he’s been recruited by his own personal demon to find the thieves who killed a man, kidnapped his family, and stole something of indescribable value from the demonic Math. To find answers he has to delve deep into the infernal underbelly of his town and face his own past.
Jack’s been promised his soul back if he succeeds. As local cop Ben Ambrose risks his own soul by following too closely in Jack’s footsteps, and with a child’s life on the line, Jack has to decide if it’s a deal he’s willing to make.
PEOPLE HAVE always said that the world was going to Hell. In the end it didn’t have to. Hell came to us.
THERE WAS a dead man sleeping in Jack’s bed. A red smile had been cut into his throat, deep enough to flash a sliver of stained bone in his spine, and his hands had been nailed to the headboard with thick iron railroad spikes. Flies buzzed blood-drunk circles in the air or crawled, too glutted to fly, over the pillows.
Jack poured himself a whiskey. It didn’t do much for him—his body had gotten used to harsher spirits—but it felt like an appropriate response to the situation.
He was going to have to get new sheets.
The corpse hadn’t put itself there. Jack had seen suicides cut their throats before—you had to really mean it, but some did—but never drive spikes through their palms afterward. So it was either a frame-up or a message. Jack went to the window and twitched the curtain back to look out.
The moon was bright and silver, and the sidewalks were lit with steady fluorescence from the streetlights. If he blinked, he could see the crimson shadow of Hell’s flayed-skin moon laid along the road, and the streetlights flickered with the lucifer yellow of old gas lamps.
Demons liked gas. It had so many… connotations.
The bloom of the Witching Hour had nearly reached the city. One way or another, pretty soon he’d find out what the corpse was there for. Jack sat down on the floor on the far side of the room, his back braced against the mold-spotted wall and his legs stretched out in front him. Muscle memory made him drink the whiskey as he waited, even though it sat sour and unappealing in his gut—like a childhood friend at a school reunion, not nearly as much fun as you remembered and prone to repeat.
Self-hatred turned belly-up in Jack’s brain and cackled at him. School reunion, it mocked in a scratched-out voice, like if any of your schoolmates were alive, they’d ask you to come?
Jack snorted and tilted his glass in a mute toast and then tossed back the last of the disappointing liquor. He couldn’t argue with that. Last time he’d seen any of his old classmates….
He felt the bloom of the Witching Hour against his shoulders, a tug at old hooks buried down under the skin.
On the bed the corpse gagged on a mouthful of flies and sat up. Ichor dribbled black from the corners of its mouth, and Jack could see the tendons and muscle in the exposed throat work as it struggled to speak.
For a second it was a horror, and then it folded beauty around itself. Dirt-matted gray hair turned to silver, the coarse drink-raddled features sharpened, and the death-bloated corpse tightened. As before-and-after pictures for damnation went, it was effective.
Jack grimaced and looked away. It had been a long time since the demon picked that body to wear, a long time since he’d had to see that face and that mouth. His own fault. It never did any good to think about the past. When would he learn that?
“What the hell happened to my hands?” Math complained. His voice sounded like an opera singer had gargled with ground glass, like a boy had breathed too deeply of hellfire. “Why the fuck am I nailed to the bed?”
“Maybe I’ve gotten kinky,” Jack drawled as he drew his legs under him and pushed himself up the wall.
The eyes should have been blue. That’s how Jack always remembered them. Instead they were black and glossy like jet beads. The smile was the same, though—slow and uneven.
Math pulled his hands free. The spikes sounded wet as they tore through skin, and the fine bones snapped like dry, brittle sticks. For a second Jack saw the rot beneath, and then Math’s skin stitched back together over it.
“What do you want?” Jack asked.
Math smiled a devil’s sharp smile. “Does it matter?”
It should, but they both knew it didn’t. The hook in Jack belonged to Math, and so, by extension, did Jack. He’d do as he was told, like a trout strung from the river on a line, but he didn’t have to be enthusiastic about it.
And if he asked, that small, self-loathing voice in Jack’s head mocked him, what would you do for him if he just asked?
TA Moore genuinely believed that she was a Cabbage Patch Kid when she was a small child. This was the start of a lifelong attachment to the weird and fantastic. These days she lives in a market town on the Northern Irish coast and her friends have a rule that she can only send them three weird and disturbing links a month (although she still holds that a DIY penis bifurcation guide is interesting, not disturbing). She believes that adding ‘in space!’ to anything makes it at least 40% cooler, will try to pet pretty much any animal she meets (this includes snakes, excludes bugs), and once lied to her friend that she had climbed all the way up to Tintagel Castle in Cornwall, when actually she’d only gotten to the beach, realized it was really high, and chickened out.
She aspires to being a cynical misanthrope, but is unfortunately held back by a sunny disposition and an inability to be mean to strangers. If TA Moore is mean to you, that means you’re friends now.