QSFer Amir Lane has a new gay/non-binary historic fantasy out: “Let There Be Night.”
Monsters are real. The sooner Bertholdt accepts it, the better his chances of staying alive.
Four months ago, reluctant priest Bertholdt Kaufmann was charged with protecting the true identity Alois, a teenage werewolf rescued from vampires. Bertholdt believed they were safe. He couldn’t have been more wrong.
During tuberculosis outbreak that casts a cloud of suspicion over everyone, he sends away his young charge to protect her as witchfinders are called to their town. The witchfinders seek to prove the illness is linked to witchcraft, evidence of which could prove deadly for anyone accused.
At the risk of his own life, Bertholdt stays behind to ensure the innocent aren’t targeted. When suspicion falls on him, Bertholdt is placed under arrest. The witchfinders are convinced he holds dark magic, and they’re willing to torture him to prove it. The townspeople are against him. Evidence is piling up. With his execution drawing near, can Bertholdt convince them of his innocence? Or will his chances of survival go up in flames?
The path to the Neumann home was one Bertholdt was far too familiar with. The family had lived at the edges of town for as long as Bertholdt could remember. Though he rarely visited until becoming a priest, he’d seen the house often enough as a child. It was on the other side of the Geiger home. Friedrich had always loved to torment the Neumann chickens, something Laurentz had always been blamed for.
There were no chickens now. Manfred Neumann hadn’t been able to take care of them since his illness worsened some months ago. His wife Maria did her best, but she couldn’t manage both a farm and work as a seamstress, and the seamstress work brought in more money. They had one living child, who Bertholdt understood had no knack for either and spent most of his time taking care of his father while his mother worked.
It was Maria today who opened the door. Her hair fell from the bun atop her head, and heavy shadows circled her eyes. She looked to Alberta first, then Bertholdt. Her brow drew together in a concerned frowned, and she let out a defeated-sounding sigh.
“Has someone else died?” she asked.
Her voice was as tired as she looked.
Bertholdt shook his head. Alberta held up her hand and spoke before he could, saving him from having to think of what to say. He’d never been particularly good at this.
“No, no, Frau Neumann. We only wanted to see how Herr Neumann was doing.”
Maria shifted her eyes to Bertholdt.
“You brought him?”
Bertholdt couldn’t tell if it was supposed to be an accusation or not. He smiled, choosing not to take it personally if it was. The past year hadn’t been easy for her. Watching a loved one die wasn’t an easy thing. He knew that. He could give her some leniency for it.
Maria sighed and stepped aside to let them in.
“He’s awake now. I can’t promise he will be for long. Make it quick.”
“Thank you,” Alberta said.
Neumann certainly looked worse than last time Bertholdt had seen him. He’d always been a hearty man, bigger than Bertholdt was now. All that breadth was gone, leaving him a skeletal imprint of the man Bertholdt had once been so terrified of. Waxy and ashen skin sagged from his bones. Sweat drenched his dirty nightshirt and the thin sheet covering the bundle of hay beneath him.
Bloodshot eyes turned to stare Bertholdt down as Bertholdt crouched next to him.
“Here to give me Last Rites?” he asked in a raspy sneer.
Bertholdt gave his most comforting smile. Even though Neumann had never liked him, he still deserved whatever reassurance Bertholdt could give him.
“Not today, Herr Neumann, and hopefully not for quite some time. Unless you’d like me to.”
Neumann coughed. His body nearly folded in half from the force of it. Blood sprayed through his lips.
“I don’t want shit from you,” he hissed.
Bertholdt wiped the spot on his neck where the droplets had landed with his sleeve. His expression, he hoped, didn’t betray how his stomach churned. If he’d known how much blood he’d be forced to see as a priest, he might have reconsidered joining the military. At least in the military, it was expected.
Alberta paused her examination until Neumann stopped coughing and fell back against the straw. Her eyes met Bertholdt’s, and she gave a slight shake of her head.
“Are you in pain, Herr Neumann?” she asked.
His cough was smaller this time. There was no blood.
“Always, Frau Doktor.”
“I’ll have something sent up from the apothecary.”
Neumann’s lower lip trembled.
“We had to kill our last chicken this week.”
Bertholdt did the math in his head. He had never been good with numbers but he thought he could skip a few meals without Alois noticing.
“I’ll take care of it,” he said.
A shudder ran through Neumann. His eyes flew open, and he stared at something past Bertholdt with such intensity, Bertholdt twisted to see what was behind him. There was nothing but the wall and empty fireplace.
“Witch! The witch did this to me!” Neumann cried.
Bertholdt looked back to Neumann. Neumann was pointing past Bertholdt with a shaky hand.
“Herr Neumann, there’s nobody there,” Bertholdt said.
“You did this to me! Witch!”
“Herr Neumann, who do you see?” Alberta asked patiently.
“He doesn’t see anybody. There’s nobody there,” Bertholdt said, perhaps too quickly.
Neumann turned on his side to cough blood again.
“It wasn’t the twins,” he gasped.
He shifted enough to stare right up at Bertholdt with glassy and bloodshot eyes wide. The focused intensity of them made Bertholdt shudder. A bony hand shot up and grasped the front of Bertholdt’s cassock, pulling him down close enough that Bertholdt could smell the iron on his bloody lips.
Bertholdt should have been able to pull back with ease. A cold panic froze his limbs, making movement impossible, just as it had with the vampire.
For a moment, he didn’t see Manfred Neumann. He saw Friedrich Geiger, bony and bloody in the same way Neumann was now. He dug his nails into his thigh, but the image wouldn’t leave him.
There was anger in Neumann’s eyes. Cold, burning anger that made a hard lump form in the back of Bertholdt’s throat.
“You did this to me,” Neumann hissed, spitting blood and saliva through his teeth. “I know what you are. Witch.”
Amir Lane writes supernatural and fantasy with LGBT+ characters. From the frigid and mysterious land of Northern Canada, Amir is obsessed with loud music and black magic. They spend most of their writing time in a small home office or doing the circuit of local coffee shops. They live in a world where magic is an every day occurrence, and they strive to bring that world to paper.
When not figuring out what kind of day job an incubus would have or what a necromancer would go to school for, Amir enjoys visiting the nearest Dairy Queen, getting killed in video games, and watching cat videos.