Mark your calendars: February 29 is the date! Jericho is back and he’s brought Hell with… Oh wait, someone already made that line famous. Anyway, it’s probably a little more accurate to say he’s trying to keep Hell from coming. Either way, Phantoms of Phoenix is up and running, and on February 29, it will be available for full order. You can get in early, though, just by clicking the picture below!

Rolling into Arizona following a rumor about the Surgeon, Jericho finds himself facing the denizens of the local graveyard, raised from their slumber as the invading army of a necromancer bent on revenge. Jericho will need his quick wits and lightning gun hand as he teams up with a local preacher and a spectral restaurant owner to save an entire city from a legion of the dead.

Intrigued? Don’t wait! You can pre-order it at Amazon. Click the pic and reserve your copy for only $0.99!

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“It’s the third time it’s shown up, and I’m worried about what’s coming.”

“It’s a tarot card reading, Anna. It isn’t real.”

“Not real for you, maybe, but I’m not you.”

“Damn right you aren’t. That’s a big part of your charm.”

“Ha, ha. Very funny.”

“I thought so.”

“Think again.”

“Fine. Tell me about it, then. Why is it bugging you?”

“You can’t keep an open mind, Derek. Don’t even bother.”

“I will! I promise. If I don’t, then – “

“If you don’t then you and I are going to have a problem.”

“Indeed. So spill.”

“It’s the Tower. It signifies disaster and sudden change.”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know. That’s the scary part. It could be physical, or spiritual, or anything.”

“So it’s not something you can anticipate, right?”

“Not necessarily.”

“Then why worry? Put on a kettle and sit back. Whatever it is, it’ll happen. After that, we can adjust as needed.”

“Right. That’ll work. Let’s look at it: I go broke ‘cause it was a financial disaster. What then? The house burns down. What then?”

“A meteor hits, Anna. What then? You can’t prepare for everything. If it’s financial, we hawk some of those paintings you’ve been hoarding. That Pickman guy’s been dead a while, right? His stuff’s gotta be worth more than the cotton it’s painted on.”

“It’s canvas, and no. I’m not selling.”

“You’re creating your own nightmares, then. If you can’t adapt to the coming circumstances, you better believe that that Tower card is coming for you.”

“You’re a lot of help, Derek.”

“I’m a realist.”

 

Elements: tower, kettle, hawk, charm, cotton

“This is the worst shit I’ve ever read,” JB said as he waved a thin book over his head. “Who wrote this?”

“The author’s name is on the front,” replied his wife. She scarcely looked up from the trigger assembly she was polishing.

“Listen to this drivel, Sheila,” JB said. He opened the book to a random page. “The train rolled into the night as he sat and sipped at his tea. He loosened his tie while watching television and thinking about the tiger he was to capture.”

“Sounds like a busy man,” she said.

“Sounds like an eight-year-old wrote a homework assignment.”

He stomped his way into the kitchen, muttering mockingly as he went.

“Ooh, look at me. I wear ties and hunt tigers. I should drink tea!”

He pulled a box of tea from the cabinet and waved it as he had with the book. “Oh, yay, I have tea now! I can hunt tigers on television if I put on a tie and ride the night train.”

“Hey! They got it wrong!” he called to Sheila. “It wasn’t the train rolling into the night, the author was drinking Night Train! Cheap-ass wine will tie your brain to a jackhammer.”

“What’s all the noise?” asked his daughter, poking her head around the corner of the kitchen door. “I’m trying to watch television.”

JB pointed toward the family room. “If there are tigers on that show – “

She jerked her head back in the face of his vehemence. “What? No. No tigers. I’m watching The Midnight Meat Train. Tell you what: you make some of that tea and I’ll go pause the movie. You can come watch with me.”

 

Elements: tea, tiger, night, train, television, tie

Yeah, I exaggerated this one. It was fun, though.

The classroom was silent, awaiting the arrival of its occupants following their break for summer. Rows of desks sat patient; the blackboard was scrubbed clean.

Jordan stood in the doorway, taking in the sight and smell of it. He let himself drift back in memory to the time when he was a child and a room like this was his own sanctuary. A smile ghosted across his face as he did so.

“So now it’s your turn?” asked a voice. Jordan looked back over his left shoulder, letting his body turn lazily with him.

“Mister Devereaux,” he said with a grin. “It’s been a while.”

“I saw your name on the faculty list.”

“Yes, sir. I wanted to give something back to Edison Junior. Well, honestly, to you,” he added. He pointed to the sign above the teacher’s desk. It was of wood, with letters not an inch in height engraved upon its surface. All men are made one for another; either then teach them better or bear with them.

“Marcus Aurelius,” Jordan said. “When I was a kid I wondered what it meant.”

“And you have discovered what?”

“That it is the duty of every man to help others. That I can, with the abilities I have, teach another generation to respect and follow those teachings. If I am capable, should I not assist?”

“Every man makes his own choices, son.”

Jordan nodded. “I choose to teach.”

 

Elements: contains a line from a famous diarist.

She had a beautiful hibiscus tattooed on her left shoulder, and Synn sighed as he saw the exquisite artwork. Delicate petals and vibrant colors made an image that was the kind of thing he would normally have enjoyed looking at from a closer, more personal, angle, but the woman being dead rendered that train of thought completely moot. One hand was still clutching at the cluster of carbon-fiber needles in her neck. They were centered right above the marks left from the violent removal of her string of pearls – pearls which even now lay strewn about the scene of her demise.

In the old world, they would have tracked her killer with satellites. Before that, maybe with a basset hound or other sniffer dog. Now, they sent Synn or one of those like him. Gengineered for tracking and combat, Synn was agile and strong. His enhanced senses could follow a scent trail or see clues others would easily miss, and decades of training and deployment – both real and hypno-sim – made certain he knew how to interpret the results of what he found.

“She reeks of gin,” he said. A microphone link carried his words to a monitoring computer to form a journal of his observations. He wore a series of small video links as well, and when returning from his mission he could hook straight into that computer to build a more complete document.

 

 

Elements: gin, delicate, hook, basset hound, pearls, hibiscus

 

Marion glared at the surface of the tablet. The screen was filled with letters and words that ultimately formed a sonnet, but he was utterly unsatisfied with the result. He highlighted the entire entry. His finger hovered over the delete switch. A part of him wanted to stand and fling the device into the lake.

“You all right, man?” asked a voice. He looked up. Hot pink shorts over some kind of skintight spandex suit thing. Well-worn shoes. Long dirty blonde hair tied back in a ponytail. Shining eyes and a friendly smile. She had a wireless speaker setup connected to her left ear. Soft strains of Billie Holliday drifted from it.

“What?” he asked. He shook his head as if clearing a fog. “Oh, yeah. I’m just… I’m trying to write this sonnet and nothing seems to be coming out right.”

“Write it wrong, then,” she said with an arch of one delicate eyebrow. “You’re not an astronaut. It’s not like writing it wrong for the content and fixing the patterns later is gonna crash a spaceship.”

He sat staring at her for a moment, unable to form words. He was reminded of standing on stage with his friend when she suggested he try karaoke. After half the song had gone by and he was unable to speak, he had simply handed the microphone back and walked away. There was no microphone today.

“Sorry, pal,” she said a moment later. “I’ll leave you alone.”

“Wait,” he called as she turned to jog away.

“I… Look, I’m not used to, you know, like, having someone to, I don’t know, help me and stuff.”

“Is that code for ‘stop offering your opinion, Amanda’?”

He chuckled. “No. More like, ‘he don’t get out much.’ I’m Marion, by the way. Marion Devilbiss.”

Her eyes widened. “The guy that wrote the book about the cheese?”

“Everybody remembers that one,” he said with a chuckle. “Stories about sentient Gouda have a way of sticking with you.”

“Dude, no way. Glitter sticks with you. That book is a dozen times more. I’ve got three copies and they’re all so dog-eared it isn’t funny. I’ve read that, like, a hundred times.”

“One day you should let me give you a new one. I’ll even sign it.”

She smiled and pointed up the trail. “There’s a coffee shop up there. You bring the book, and I’ll buy the coffee.”

He cocked his head to the right by a few degrees, looking at her with an expression of curiosity until it suddenly dawned on him what she was suggesting.

“Oh! Oh. Umm… Tomorrow, then? Say, at three?”

“Three is good.”

Elements: sonnet, astronaut, cheese, glitter, karaoke

Carver had hands big enough to wrap around the neck of a bear, and that’s why I chose him to go with me to meet with Drixxical. Oh, my mistake. Let me rephrase that: ‘Lord Drixxical the Golden, He of the Mighty Gaze’.

Not sure what in the Hells a ‘mighty gaze’ is, but this idiot claimed it was part of his name. Pretty mild name for a wizard, but whatever. All I wanted him to be was ‘Rich Drixxical of the Overflowing Purse’. Fat monkey owes us for a load of loot, and if anyone can collect the due, it’s me and Carver.

So I handed the sack to Carver, and he tied it to his belt like it was his purse.

“Don’t lose that,” I warned him. Looking up at his scruffy face makes my neck feel like it’s gonna seize up.

“It’s the head bag?” he asked. Gotta give him points: he’s not usually that observant.

“Yep. And the tail thing too.”

He grinned past broken teeth the size of flagstones and batted at the bag like a cat with a toy.

“And don’t break it!” I said, poking at his iron-hard skin with a finger. “There’s glass in there.”

Of course, if the glass bulb breaks we’re screwed anyway, what with it containing the baby ochre jelly. That one cost us Kincannon. Mommy Jel ate him smooth up. Still, his distraction bought us the time we needed to snatch up the babe, so I’ll raise a glass to him later.

I don’t expect much of a fight, but I make sure Carver has his knife (or as I call it, “that bloody big sword”) and I’ve got the axes. He’s wearing the piecemeal leather jack we’ve put together (Give us a break – it’s tough to find armor to fit a half-giant!) and I’ve got the wyvern-scale coat that’s seen me through all the stupidity of the last four years. Between us, we should be able to handle anything that magic-boy wants to hand us.

Unless he’s got that stupid dancing spell ready again. I swear, next time that one comes out, I’m shanking him and just taking what I want from his corpse.

 

Elements: mild, ochre, bulb, tail, scale

“The full moon is tomorrow,” Andrea said.

“I’ll be ready,” came the reply. His hands were busy working at the project he had been occupied with for the past month.

“Are you sure?”

“It was ready three days ago. I’m just polishing and making it all pretty. The more I put into it, the more I get out of it.”

She nodded and turned to leave the confines of the little building. Constructed from a garden shed kit they had found on sale, it had become Keith’s workshop. On the table was the suit he had begun last month, and she had to admit it looked good. By the time they began the dance tomorrow, Keith would look the part of the Horned One, from the furred chaps all the way to the antlers attached to the ornate headpiece.

 

Elements: garden shed, moon, antlers

There are crows in the tree outside my kitchen window. There must be a dozen of them there. I can hear them there, talking to one another in a cacophony that I try to tune out.

I am reminded that a gathering of crows is called a murder. Makes me wonder who decided that was a cool name for a sleek black beast that looks at you like it can see through your soul. Whoever he was, dude was an asshole.

All I wanted was a glass of milk, and yet when I look out the window, there are black eyes staring toward me. They’re still talking. I kind of think it’s about me. I can imagine what they’re saying, and with my imagination, that’s not a good thing. Those cawing sounds are declarations of malicious intent. They’re plotting how best to kill me, and I fear the day they discover how to create fire. My house is not exactly flame-retardant. One little fire and I’ll be out there, throwing wet sheets on the flames while being dive-bombed by feathered assassins bent on reducing me to little more than a dinner treat in fuzzy slippers.

Stop looking at me, crows. Just stop. I don’t know what your natural enemy is, but I bet I can go on the internet and buy a bobcat or cougar or something, and then convince it that crow is like some kind of feline happy meal. That’ll show you. Creepy-ass talking birds.

 

Elements: wet sheets, fire, corvids, milk

They had picked up a tail. Kirby spotted it at the corner of Eagle and Tenth.

“Red Hyundai. Three back and left side,” he said in a casual tone.

“Got it,” Davis replied, glancing out of the corner of his eye into the mirror. He pressed a little more firmly on the gas, edging the Buick out and around an elderly man in a hat driving a gleaming Cadillac.

“I’ll let him know,” Kirby said.

“I’ll lose this monkey.”

“No. You know the rule.”

Kirby flicked out his phone and his thumbs worked like mad assembling a text.

>Klingon in the Gamma Quadrant< he typed. He nibbled the corner of a nail for a moment until the response popped up with a chime.

>Warbird?<

>Bird of Prey< Kirby replied. This was a hunter that had found them. If it had been one of the big vans used by SWAT he would have already panicked.

>Rendezvous in Sector Seven. Escort ship awaits.<

>Aye, Captain<

“There’s an escort waiting for us outside the Walmart in Sector Seven,” Kirby said.

“Second unit.”

“What?”

“Brown Ford. Obvious Fed behind the wheel. Bitch drives like he’s straight outta Quantico.”

“Damn,” Kirby said. He sent another text.

>Federation reinforcements.<

>Make for the Romulan border. Dispatching Scorpion craft.<

>Aye<

“Change of plans. Percival has bikers waiting. Cut up through Midtown and lead these assholes straight into Chrome Lord territory.”

Davis chuckled. This would be fun.

They drove for a while, Davis checking occasionally to see if their tails were still present. He muttered something under his breath as they broke to the north on Flagler.

“What?” asked Kirby.

“They switched out. I can’t tell who is back there now unless we get really messy.”

Kirby thought about the contents of the trunk for less than a second. “Keep to the plan. They’re back there and the Chrome Lords can deal with them.”

>Klingon has cloak< he typed.

>No visuals?<

>Sensors are blind<

Percival wasted no time questioning whether his men had seen what they said they had seen. No courier of his would react without cause.

>Maintain sweeps in stealth mode.<

>Not liking this< Kirby replied. The phone showed a symbol indicating Percival was forming a response for nearly a full minute. At last it chimed and Kirby looked down.

>Like one, that on a lonesome road doth walk in fear and dread, and having once turned round walks on, and turns no more his head; Because he knows, a frightful fiend doth close behind him tread.<

“He’s doing the poetry bullshit again,” Kirby said. Davis spat into the floorboard and wished he was holding a MAC-10.

“When all this is over,” he said, braking and turning them toward the line of leather-clad riders on rumbling iron steeds, “I’m going back to work for folks who actually do the job and don’t spend their days watching science fiction and reading. I miss old school mobsters.”

 

 

 

Elements: contains a line from 18th century poetry

Excerpt taken from “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” – Samuel Coleridge