I read somewhere recently that Buffy the Vampire Slayer and attendant mythology is some sort of pop culture barometer, particularly in the world of paranormal romance authors. I have forgotten what loop or blog I saw it on, but one author joked about how far into each book, provided it was a "hip" contemporary, one would have to wait to get a Buffy reference. (If you are that person and you happen to visit this blog, please speak up!)
In the story below, I toy with this concept in ways that will not be fully apparent until later in the piece, so I guess my question is: are readers going to keep reading or put this down because it sounds like another author attempting to coopt Whedon's 'verse for her fiction? Not that I think that's what authors DO, but nevertheless.
Zeke hated it when the dreamers were Buffy fans. Based on the pixel-perfect accuracy of the vampires she’d unwittingly conjured, vamps who were now attempting to eat her, this one had memorized the show, the DVDs and even the books the popular program had spawned.
Cursing, he flung his knife at one of the oncoming vamps and whirled to stake a second. The ugly mother snarled its way up the wooden crate slat before exploding into a million particles of dust. How the hell many were there? The density of the pack wasn’t a good sign.
The dreamer they were here to collect huddled in the alley behind him brandishing her gigantic pocketbook like a flail. Blood from a small wound at her throat trickled down her skin, stained her collar. He had to hand it to her. She had moxie. And a seriously overactive imagination that had to be harnessed before it got her and everyone else killed.
“Zeke, five o’clock!” his teammate Reece called. The vamp with his knife sticking out of its shoulder barreled into him, knocking him down and attempting to sink jagged teeth into his throat. They grappled. Litter and broken concrete dug into his back. He grabbed its head, pushed, but it was stronger. Yellow, goat-like eyes gleamed in the shadows of the buildings that lined the alley.
The rest of the team was seconds away. His arms trembled with the strain, and his vision tunneled as he concentrated on keeping himself alive until they arrived.
“Shut your eyes,” commanded a female voice. Had to be the dreamer.
“Stay out of this!”
She didn’t. A hand clutching pepper spray shoved between him and his attacker. A noxious blast spewed the vamp in the face.
With a howl, the vamp convulsed, clawing its head. Zeke shoved it off and rolled the other way, but he wasn’t quick enough. His eyes watered and fire bloomed in his throat and lungs.
“Excuse me, ma’am!” Reece thundered up, huge feet kicking gravel every direction, and pounced on the monster. Zeke heard growls, curses. Over the sound of his own hacking, he detected the tell-tale whoomph of a vamp getting dusted.
The dreamer, her voice anxious, blurted out, “Are you okay, sir?”
No thanks to you. Zeke blinked rapidly, coughed, and dabbed tears on the cuff of his jacket, careful not to smear the oily residue of the spray. With blurred vision, he glanced up to see his team’s target extend her hand to help him up.
After a second’s hesitation, he accepted, though she’d been more than enough help already. He wasn’t surprised when his palm tingled with the contact.
She tensed, perhaps feeling the zing as well, and hauled him to his feet. The process was complicated by the fact his eyes dripped, his lungs burned, and he couldn’t see straight. Once he was upright, she sidled away, rubbing her hand on her pants.
He copied her gesture, trying to wipe away the delicate feel of her bones, the potency of the connection between them. Walking someone’s dreams occasionally formed a perceptible link that could mean a number of things, none of which he could address in a dark alley with an excess of wraiths on the loose.
“What were those guys?” Her chest rose and fell rapidly, and she clutched the pepper spray in defensive position. “Vampires?”
He was thankful she didn’t carry a gun. A lot of dreamers did, their unsettling nightmares driving them to protect themselves from horrors they couldn’t yet name.
His teammate answered for him. “Not exactly. We’ll explain everything once we take care of any stragglers.” Reece clapped Zeke on the back. “Will you live, little man?”
“Yeah. I just caught the back draft.” He flicked on his walkie talkie, stifling another cough. “Secure the area.”
Though he couldn’t see them from his position, his other teammates would fan out, casing the intersecting streets for more corporeal wraiths. The creatures were attracted to the dreamers who’d fashioned them, but that never stopped them from assaulting passers by.
When everyone reported the area secure and witness-free, Zeke coughed one last time and turned to the reason for his current suffering.
The alley where she’d been attacked was a gravel track separating two rows of historic buildings with tiny back yards. Open concrete carports and rubbish bordered narrow lane.
Enough light filtered in that he could distinguish her features and form. Young but not too young, thank God. The cut on her throat looked like a failed bite. It would sting but wasn’t dangerous. She was pretty in an understated way, with long, disheveled hair, dark eyes, a round face, and generous curves. So many curves it would be easy to forgive her for spritzing him with capsicum, but as a newly awakened dreamer, she was more dangerous than his whole team combined.
The only way they were going to get through this alive was if she cooperated, immediately and completely, with everything he and his team required.
“Lady,” he said, stalking up to her, “let’s get one thing straight. If you want our help, you have to do everything I say. The pepper spray was a bad move. We were on top of things.” Zeke might have wound up with a few lacerations before Reece dusted the vamp, but he’d had worse.
“The way it looked to me, the thing was on top of you.” Her words were confident, but she fiddled with her aerosol can, indicating nervousness.
“You put us both at risk when you incapacitated me.” He snatched the pepper spray out of her hand and shook it. “What if that hadn’t been the last wraith?”
She studied the bottle, then him, and her eyes narrowed. “Are you going to spray me now?”
Ah, hell. A mouthy one. Probably uncooperative, too. This was going to be a long night.
A SPELL FOR SUSANNAH--Available now from Samhain Publishing
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