What’s a guy to do with a monster in his living room?

I don’t ever work on one project at a time. Even while pounding out the daily word count for The Lightningfall, I’m outlining or taking notes or writing snippets for other stories.

Here’s a sneak peek at the opening to a novel I’ve got in the works. Doesn’t have a title yet but the project name is “Starspike,” after the weapon wielded by the hero.

Mercury Hale is a young man living in the city of San Camillo, earning a paycheck from the shadowy Procyon Foundation by banishing trans-dimensional creatures called astral fiends.

Check out the first chapter, albeit in rough form. (The language is rated PG-13. Fair warning before you proceed beyond the concept art.)

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Mercury Hale uses the starspike against an astral fiend. Note the mushed pizza box at bottom right – hence our hero’s vexation.

Chapter One

I was eating a pepperoni pizza when a monster crashed through my apartment wall.

Pepperoni’s one of mankind’s greatest achievements, right up there with nuclear power and the Moon landing. You give me a stick of it, plus a bottle of water, and drop me in the Sierra Madres, I’d walk out whistling a cheesy tune from a terrible commercial.

But back to the monster.

It cracked the drywall and splintered studs. A white cloud billowed across the room, scratching at my eyes and making me miss one of the best parts of the giant robot movie on TV. Ripped apart my favorite poster, the Cowboy Bebop leftover from college.

The monster looked like he could have stepped off Mars before stopping by the lovely city of San Camilo. Gray tentacles swirled around black core speckled with starry spots, which swirled like a disturbed snow globe. Its “head” was only called that because “big lump of slobbering fangs and three glowing red eye-balls smack in the center of the core” was less concise.

Right. So much for rooting against fictional kaiju. I had the mini version in my living room.

I kicked off my coffee table, spilling the last half of the pizza. It squished face down onto the wood floor. Dammit! My chair tipped back, greasy cheese smeared on the right arm. Being as it was powdered blue, that was a dandy of a stain. Wasn’t going to come out any time soon.

Halfway through I wondered, Should I close the curtains? There’s probably a shit ton of people in the buildings across the way getting a great view of my acrobatics and a nightmare creature. Not my problem, my brain reminded. Good enough for me. I had more pressing concerns.

My tumble carried me clear to the back wall, where a bookshelf teeters on a pair of broken legs. They were reinforced by duct tape. I was going to need to buy more of that. Without turning my gaze from the monster, and remaining crouched in my battle stance, I picked through a lopsided row of Tom Clancy paperback novels.

The starspike was tucked behind them.

Why not? A safe would be impractical. Have you ever tried to unlock one while fending off astral fiends? I have. So, no safe.

The monster slashed through the room. Tentacles lined with shimmering, razor-edged claws disemboweled the chair. White stuffing exploded. The eyes pulsed with fire, and though the beast couldn’t speak, it let loose a shrill hiss that digs through my head.

I whipped the starspike in front of me, and twisted the center with both hands. It was a dull brass cylinder, two feet long, riven with dents and inlaid with boxy patterns. Both ends separate into two segments. They leapt apart. Brilliant white light tinged with yellow ignited between all five sections, and stabbed out from either end.

The whole thing hummed, a subtle vibration barely audible—though with the monster caterwauling in front of me you’d have been hard pressed to hear it. But I felt it. Every molecule of my body trembled in sync.

“You should’ve knocked,” I growled.

Tentacles lashed out. I rolled aside. They snapped the left side of the bookcase, splitting the supports. Edgar Allen Poe took a header, with Jack London plummeting right after.

I brought the starspike down on the nearest appendage. The aim was dead on—the blazing energy between the top and second segments seared the glistening skin. Flesh sizzled, and the smell accompanying the smoke made me wish I’d quit eating two slices ago.

The monster was pissed. Understandably so, when you consider his primary weapon got turned into a shriveled, blackened stump. Served him right, for being a terrible guest.

Bastard broke my favorite chair.

I know, it’s petty, and you’re thinking, Dude! There’s a monster in your living room and you’re whaling on it with an enchanted pike! Forget the chair!

Problem is, you cling to normalcy in my line of work. Overemphasize it even. Otherwise, the nightmares come back.

And trust me, they suck.

The monster barreled for me as fast as an airline. His tentacles pounded at the floor which, thankfully, held up way better than the stupid bookshelf. I planted the starspike on the floor and vaulted over his back, twisting my body through the air. Always nice not bashing one’s head on one’s ceiling.

I landed behind him, and jabbed the spike deep into the swirling mass of his—well, his ass, I suppose. Don’t ask me about the bodily functions of an astral fiend.

Flashes of light rippled up his hide. Sparks spit from his tentacles. The monster flailed about, chipping bricks with those damned tentacles. I swore they’d doubled in length. One of them speared the TV.

Bad news for my movie marathon. Good news for my general health and well-being. More flashes poked through its hide, like sun peeking between the blinds on a morning when you just don’t want to get up.

The monster reversed himself—and I do mean reversed, not doubled-back, not flipped over. One second he was facing away from me, and the next, his whole body inverted so the front replaced the back and vice versa. Nice trick.

The remaining three tentacles slammed down on me with the force of a collapsing building. Only the starspike kept me from getting mashed potato-ized. A crack of thunder accompanied their impact on the weapon, and the burst of light left me nauseated. The monster’s eyes dimmed a bit, even if that was a product of my imagination.

I gritted my teeth. Sweat slicked my hair to my forehead. I could smell it, too—my fear, present as perspiration and B.O., mingled with the aroma of salty cheesy crust and the sour, tickling the back of your throat gagging nastiness of the fiend. Kept this up any longer and I was going to hurl.

Good thing I’ve got two weapons.

I slipped down onto both legs, letting the monster’s tentacles drive me closer to the floor. A quick yank was enough to pull the center of the starspike apart, breaking it into two halves comprised of three segments crackling with their peculiar power. My left arm wielded one in the interest of me not getting pasted. The second I brought around in a sweeping arc, channeling all my determination into one blow.

Sounded like a gunshot in a closet. The monster’s hiss mutated into a gut-wrenching scream. A sudden wave of cold washed over me, as tangible as if I’d been dropped into a frigid bath. Tentacles broke free from the starspike, and finally found me.

The freezing sensation intensified. My breath came out in feathery gasps. Frost crept up my arms, and my fingertips turned blue. What would it feel like when my heart stopped? The beat was already way too slow.

Not going to happen.

I drew as much power as I dared off the starspike, letting golden energy shoot into my arms. Heat tingled through every pore, fighting every square inch against the cold. I didn’t dare remove my half a weapon from the monster’s gut. It was the only thing keeping it from shattering me into a thousand pieces.

Can’t. Let. Him. Win.

It takes every ounce of my concentration to shove the upper half of the starspike forward, grimacing with each inch gained, until its glowing top edges into the monster’s maw. Is the thing glowing? Blue flickers deep in its gullet can’t be good. It signals to me, Your ass is about to get flash-frozen.

Too late for that. I will the starspike to rejoin.

White-gold energy scythes down into the fiend’s mouth, and up into its torso. They collide in that blue light. Everything goes silent—no hissing, no screaming, no crackling, not even our breathing. Dead air.

Then it explodes. A great blue flash, followed by a sound like ­snap-boom, and the astral fiend dissipates. And when I say dissipates, I mean pops like a soap bubble. Bits of swirly fiend hide splatter my walls, my floors, my broken chair, my books, and worst of all, my face. It’s as if—well, it’s just nasty. Gooey gray bits, dripping blue liquid that dims from LED bright in the seconds to follow.

The spike’s energy fades, too. It’s going dormant. I get it. I twist the halves and the segments clank back together.

“Okay.” My voice sounds as if I’m talking through a megaphone. “That was terrible.”

I slump down in what’s left of the chair. The final bits of stuffing wheeze out, coating me with man-made snow. My phone’s under the crushed pizza box. I strip a slice of pepperoni off the screen. Tastes fine. Takes me a few minutes to order a replacement poster.

The living room is trashed. Plus side, the astral fiend didn’t make it into the bedroom, or the kitchen, or the bathroom. Still, this meant I was never getting the security deposit back. And I really, really didn’t want to move again.

What was it going to be this time? Fire department? Police? Maybe the super would just stomp up the stairs and tell me to shut up. Someone was bound to notice the hole in the wall. Gave me a great view of the hallway.

My phone rang. The number came across unidentified, a series of numbers I’d never seen before. Could’ve been a telemarketer.

Sure. One with impeccable timing. I answered. “Mercury Hale.”

“It’s banished.”

“You’re not supposed to call me.”

“Just answer the question.”

“First off, not a question. Second—seriously? How about, ‘Oh, Mercury, I’m so glad you’re alive!’ Right?”

“Oh, Mercury, I am so glad you are alive.”

I rolled my eyes. “Thanks, Laura. How’s it going? Having a good Friday night?”

“I am monitoring astral incursions.”

“Did you happen to monitor the fiend that just ripped a hole in my wall and crushed my pizza?” I found another slice under the chair. With the fight over, my absent appetite returned with a vengeance. I took a huge bite and kept on talking, mouth half-full. “Yeah, he broke a lot of stuff.”

A deep sigh. Normally, I hear a woman’s voice on the phone, and I’m a happy camper. This, though, was as much fun as getting a late night call from my supervisor. Oh, wait. I was getting a late night call from my supervisor. “We can have you moved in 24 hours.”

“Nuh-uh. Not this time. You’ve got the time. Get someone over here to fix up the place. You’ve got to do your usual hiding and explanations and shit.”

She was quiet so long I thought she’d hung up. “Fine. Stay inside. Proceed as if your evening went as planned.”

Then he really hung up. Which left me with a blank phone in my right hand, squashed pizza in the left, and a gaping hole where a perfectly good movie was supposed to be playing.

“Yeah,” I muttered. “Great evening.”

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