As part of the Funk-N-Fiction Halloween Flash Fiction Event, we’re showcasing a few of the participating authors who are also 2021 Coastal Magic Convention Featured Authors! Check out this short story bit from Tawdra Kandle’s from the Crissy Darwin, Shifter Slayer world… inspired by this image…
Don’t forget to check the info for the Rafflecopter giveaway below the story!! Print books, ebooks, and giftcards are all parts of SEVEN different prize packs!
A Short Piece from the world of Crissy Darwin, Shifter Slayer
“What are we doing here?”
Stretching my arms over my head, I wiggled to sit up and peer out the window of the car. The sun hadn’t come up, but it was just light enough that I could see a line of trees and mist rolling off the rich, dark loam beyond the narrow road.
Nash Gibson, my partner, pulled the keys from the car’s ignition and exhaled a long, tired breath. “We’re meeting someone here who says he has information on General Kaiphas.”
I blinked, trying to shake off the lingering effects of a long, deep sleep. “Since when? And who? And where exactly are we?”
His lips twitched, and not for the first time, I could almost picture feline whiskers on his face. “We are in Georgia, just across from the Tennessee border. Who we are meeting . . . he’s a double agent. Or so he claims.” Nash unfastened his seat belt. “The information came in after you’d fallen asleep. Or gone into the deep coma that passes for sleep in your case.”
“You’re just jealous that I sleep so much better than you do.” I yawned. “It’s early, isn’t it? When are we supposed to meet—whoever it is we’re supposed to meet?”
Nash was never a man of many words, but this morning—or was it still technically night?—he was even more taciturn. I decided to chalk it up to the fact that he’d been driving for hours, since we’d left Louisville after my gig last night.
“Okay. This feels very random. The double agent dude is going to just pull up alongside us right here?” I squinted through the grayness. “I don’t even see a mile marker.”
“We’re not meeting him here. This is where we’re leaving the car.” Nash opened his door, and whoosh of chilly, damp air rushed over my mostly bare skin. I’d been so exhausted after the show, and Nash had been in such a hurry to get out of town that I hadn’t taken time to change out of my short denim skirt and thin cotton tank. My clothes hadn’t been a problem in the cozy car, but now, I was shivering.
Still, regardless of the temperature, I couldn’t let Nash go wherever we were heading on his own. So I took a deep breath, opened my door, and climbed out.
“Holy freaking Moses, it’s freezing out here.” I chaffed my arms with my hands. “I hope we don’t have to go too far.”
Nash’s gaze slid down me, and although his face remained mostly expressionless, one eyebrow rose. “We have a fair hike. You’ll need your shoes, at the very least.”
“Oh. Yeah.” I’d slipped off my Keds before going to sleep, and now I had to grope for them on the floor of the front seat.
“You should probably find a jacket or a sweatshirt or something, too.” His voice was gruff.
“Damn.” I stood up, hopping on one foot as I struggled to put on my shoes. “All of my hoodies are packed. Can you pop the trunk?”
The growl from Nash’s throat was total male frustration. It didn’t scare me or intimidate me the way he probably intended.
“Your suitcase is underneath mine. And also under your guitar. Unpacking the trunk would cost us too much time—time that we don’t have.” He paused and then opened the rear passenger door, leaning inside and withdrawing something. “But you can wear this. I won’t need it. I’ve got considerably more clothes on than you do.”
I ignored the jibe and accepted his jacket. It was like Nash himself: solid, warm, and classically stylish. And as I slid my arms into the too-large sleeves, I caught a whiff of his unique, seductive scent. Only by the strongest will did I keep from burying my nose in the collar.
“Are you ready now?” Impatience and tension steeled his voice. “We have a long walk, and—”
“I know, I know. Time is of the essence, blah, blah, blah.”
Nash only grunted in response and turned toward the tree line. I pulled the jacket more securely around me and followed.
“All right. We’re getting close.”
The path—and calling it that was generous, because it was more like vague and unreliable break in the trees and underbrush—came to an end on the banks of large pond. It was surrounded by tall pines, through which the first rays of sun were just now breaking. The golden beams danced through the lingering mist rising from surface of the water.
A wooden dock rested on the bank nearest us. Or maybe it wasn’t so much a dock as it was . . . bridge, I thought as we paused on the edge of the wood. It was some kind of walkway that stretched clear into the middle of the water.
“This is a big pond.” I tilted my head, considering. “Or is it a lake? What’s the different between a lake and pond? I mean, I know a pond is smaller, but where’s the line? When does a pond stop being a pond and become a lake?”
“Slayer.” Nash rolled his eyes. “Now is not the time for your quippy banter.”
I snickered. “Quippy banter. You have such a way with words, Nash.”
“We have to walk into the middle of the lake. The pond.” He shot me a withering glare. “Whatever it is. The meeting point is set for the center of the walkway. Let’s go.” He gestured with one arm. “After you.”
“Do you think this was a good idea? I mean, is this an optimal spot to meet someone we don’t trust?”
He snorted. “I don’t trust anyone. I’d think you’d know that by now.” He heaved a sigh. “But you’re correct. This is not how I would choose to make contact, but the agent was insistent, and in the end, I thought between the two of us, we’d handle it.”
“And we will.” I tried to instill more confidence than I felt in my voice. “What kind of shifter is he, this dude we’re meeting?”
“Some sort of water fowl. A crane, I think.” He huffed out a humorless laugh. “Which means the water is his natural habitat and gives him quite the advantage.”
“Greaaat.” I puffed my cheeks and blew out a long breath. “I love it when the deck is stacked against us.”
“I didn’t say it was,” Nash retorted. “I only said that the water gives him a leg up. But you’re the slayer, and I’m . . . me, so the advantage is negligible.”
“Says you,” I muttered, but either Nash didn’t hear me or he chose to ignore what I’d said. Whichever, it didn’t matter, because we’d reached the midpoint of the walkway, where the boardwalk widened. It almost looked like a gazebo, but without the roof. I figured that was why it was appealing to the crane shifter.
And as if thinking about the guy somehow called him to us, I heard a loud whoosh of air above my head. Seconds later, a huge white bird with long, spindly legs glided just above the water and came to a graceful landing a few feet from Nash.
I felt rather than saw my partner tense next to me. His eyes never left the newcomer.
“Be ready,” he murmured. “Don’t turn your back on him.”
I wanted to snark at him that this wasn’t my first rodeo, but I knew better than to distract either of us right now. Both of us remained silent as the sea bird shifted into a tall, thin man with long arms and pale blond hair . . . who was, of course, nude as he strode toward us.
I focused on keeping my eyes on his face. Next to me, Nash groaned softly.
“Tell me you have clothes to put on. I’m not conducting business with someone who doesn’t have the self-respect to dress for a meeting.”
“Oh, relax, cat.” The crane grinned. “You felines are so uptight and proper. You could take a lesson from us aviary types—we’re free and easy.”
“Thank you, no.” From the corner of my eye, I saw the twitch in Nash’s cheek. “Let’s get on with it. We don’t have all day.”
“Fine, fine.” The crane dropped to his knees and reached beneath the wooden boards, feeling around until he pulled up some sort of bag. He unzipped it and shook out a pair of shorts and a shirt. I lifted my eyes to sky until he was covered.
“Better?” He held out his arms from his body. “All covered up and decent.”
“Fine.” Nash crossed his arms over his chest. “You said you had information.”
“And I do. Totally. Real good stuff, too.” He grinned. “But aren’t you going to introduce me to your associate here?”
Nash blinked once, slowly, reminding me again how much his alternate persona influenced his human form. “Slayer, snitch. Snitch, Slayer. There. Is everyone satisfied with the formalities?”
“She’s not very big for a Slayer.” The crane scrutinized me. “But if you say that’s who she is, cool. Also, my name’s Milo. Just in case you—”
“Talk.” Nash ground out the single word. “Talk now, or this temporary truce ends, and so do you.”
“All right, all right.” The crane moved from side to side, his eyes scanning the shoreline. “I have information for you. Details on location, movement, plans . . . I can give you everything I know.”
“That’s pretty damn vague,” I commented, hoping he picked up on my skepticism. “Information on what? Whose location, movement, plans?”
His pale eyes were uneasy, and he dropped his voice. “I’m not saying names. Not here. Not where anyone could hear. I’m taking enough of a chance meeting you, but there wasn’t any other way. All I’ll tell you is . . . the people you’ve been looking for, the problems you’ve been trying to solve—I can help you. I’m close to the leaders. They talk about what they’re going to do next, and I listen. What I hear, you will know.”
“Sounds perfect.” Nash’s voice was bland. “What do you want in return?”
Milo shrugged. “Maybe I’m just a concerned citizen.”
“And maybe you’re full of shit.” Nash smiled and cocked his head. “Come now. Spill. Tell me what you expect. Don’t be coy.”
The crane was silent for a long moment. “I can see the writing on the proverbial wall. I know what’s going to happen in the end. The general’s going to divide us as a people, more than he’s already done. Those who want the old ways, those pushing for the change . . . none of them see the truth.”
“But you do.” I smiled. “You’re quite the forward thinker.”
“I don’t claim to be a genius. I’m just smart enough to know when someone’s delusional. When he’s begun believing his own rhetoric.”
“Fine. That’s all you want, then?” Nash challenged. “Nothing more? Just the satisfaction of, uh, doing the right thing?”
He hesitated. “Maybe . . . there might be one more thing. See, I have this sister—and she’s involved in the—the general’s team.” He pressed his thin lips together. “She’s very passionate about the movement. Like, she’s a total believer. And when the shit hits the fan . . . what I want is your promise that she’ll be protected.”
I bit my lip. What Milo was asking for was complicated. If his sister was a leader, then there was no way she’d get off without punishment. But we needed information, and if he could give it to us—
“Done.” Nash interrupted my ruminating. “She’ll be taken into our custody. We won’t forget what you’ve given us, when the time comes due.”
Milo’s shoulders sagged in relief. “Cool. Thanks.”
Nash’s gaze flicked up to the horizon, where the sun rested now on its way to lighting the day. “Tell us what you know. Now. We don’t have much time.”
The crane nodded. “I can give you more specifics later, but for now, the most important thing you need to know is . . .”
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