Skim Blood and Savage Verse

by Angel Martinez

When a ferocious book attacks Carrington at his own birthday party, he believes it's an isolated incident. But similar books soon pop up all over town, menacing innocent people with harsh bits of poetry and blank verse that deliver damaging physical blows. It's a frustrating case with too many variables and not enough answers, and the stakes go up with each attack.

With the help of his misfit squad mates at the 77th and the public library's rare book department, the missing pieces decrease but not Carrington's vexations. His commanding officer rakes him over the coals at the beginning of every shift. His police partner has lost patience with what she sees as his delusional relationship choices and his inability to pick the right man in a vast field of two. City Hall demands that the books be stopped immediately. It's enough to put a nutritionally-challenged vampire off his skim blood.

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Not even the ancient oak tree behind his parents’ house afforded enough shelter from the sun. Carrington tipped his wide-brimmed hat back and dared a peek up through the thick filter of leaves. Definitely a mistake. Now he couldn’t see.

He didn’t dare move with his vision in polka dots and stood there with a vague smile, hoping no one would approach him while he tried to blink away the after-images burned on his overly sensitive retinas. He’d even worn his best sunglasses for the occasion, hoping they would be enough if the promised clouds cooperated. No sign of meteorological relief yet.

“Carr? You all right there? You look like you’re having a stroke or something.”

“Manda. Thank gods.” He groped around until his police partner caught his hand. “I can’t see.”

Amanda tucked his hand into the crook of her elbow with a little pat. “What’d you do, stare at the sun?” She paused a beat. “Aw, crap. You did.”


“I just looked up through the leaves.”

She didn’t quite sigh, but the long indrawn breath was half of one. “Okay. I got you. Mom harpy coming in fast at twelve o’clock.”

“Please don’t call her that.” Carrington knew his mother hadn’t heard, though. He could tell how far away she was by the miasma of perfume that preceded her.

The birthday party had been his mother’s idea, of course. How could he have even thought about not celebrating his thirty-fifth birthday? Especially if it meant it gave her an excuse to invite all the old money and local officials to the affair. And outside? Of course it had to be outside. The weather in June was glorious and Carrington always exaggerated the symptoms of his ‘illness’ for attention.

Mother was hissing before she’d actually reached them. “Carrington, you can’t simply sulk in a corner at your own party. Oh, hello, Amanda. What a lovely…tie.”

“I’m not sulking. I’m doing all I can to remain vertical and not embarrass you.” He blinked, bringing her disapproving, much-facelifted features partially into focus.

“There’s no need to be so melodramatic.”

His mother expertly performed an Amanda-ectomy and claimed Carrington’s arm for herself as she led him toward the long buffet table on the patio. The caterers had brought out the cake, several layers of rococo chocolate perfection he would’ve enjoyed if he’d retained the ability to eat. As the guest of honor, he was still expected to cut the damnable thing.

“Just make an effort, dear, that’s all I ask. You haven’t even said hello to the mayor or the police commissioner.”

“Could we move the table six feet toward the house? Or angle it so the cake is in the shade?”

She tsked. “Of course not. The caterers would have to remove everything first. The world doesn’t always revolve around you, Carrington.”

Fine. At least the headache wasn’t blinding yet. He would cut the cake, say a few hellos, then dive into the cool shadows of the house. He would manage. Amanda had been helping him practice at the end of their night shifts. Acclimation. That had to be the key. He couldn’t keep fainting every time he was in direct sunlight for more than a handful of minutes.

It was humiliating.

“There’s Junior!” Carrington Sr.’s slap on his shoulder was heavier than it needed to be, but he gritted his teeth and stood his ground. “Finally decided to join your own party.”

“I’ve actually been here since two, Dad.” Carrington flashed a bit of fang, not quite a threat but he knew it bothered his father.

Right on cue, his father’s smile vanished. “Try to be civilized, please. Your mother put an awful lot of work into this for you.”

You know this isn’t for me. I know. Mom knows. Why do we pretend? No, he knew the answer. He was the excuse du jour for his parents’ power socializing. As a good, dutiful son, he was expected to play his part. More accurately, as the son who had refused duty to live his own life, he was guilted into these things on a regular basis. He greeted the mayor and the commissioner and the other lords and ladies of prestige and plutocratic prowess…not bad. He’d have to remember that one. Kash would appreciate it, at least.

He had to fight against hunching his shoulders as the sun hammered at him. Stand up straight. Ignore the nausea. Smile. Smile. Try to look appreciative as cousin Tiffany sings happy birthday. Those voice lessons were probably expensive, after all. Pardon? Oh, yes. The caterer had handed him the beribboned sterling knife for him to cut the first piece. Tradition. Ceremony. Wave of dizziness.

Carrington gritted his teeth and willed the dark spots in his vision to settle down and come back when he had time for them. He frowned when one of the dark spots at the corner of his eye moved, though there was nothing when he turned his head. Concentrate. Smile. Under the caterer’s watchful eye, he managed the two cuts for the first modest slice before he handed the knife back with a shaking hand.

“Manda,” he whispered, and she was right there, ever watchful. He wished she didn’t have to be. The only reason she was here was that Carrington had been encouraged—nagged—to bring a non-male date. So he had, despite the fact that his mother despised Amanda and was icily condescending to her at every opportunity.

Amanda took his elbow and supported him discreetly as she steered him toward the patio doors. “Gonna make it?”

“Doing my level best,” Carrington murmured, spine still as straight as he could manage. Every step sent spears of pain through his head. Every breath made him wish he hadn’t had breakfast. An unrelenting hand squeezed at his heart while his vision faded in and out like a badly edited movie.

“I know, Carr. Almost there. Library?”

“Please. It’s always dark in there.”

Blessed, blessed dark. He made it to one of the absurdly large armchairs beside the fireplace—functional but never lit—and sank into the cushions under his own power, letting his head thump against the back as he removed his dark glasses and let his abused eyes bask in the gloom. The drapes were normally drawn here so the fabrics and portraits wouldn’t suffer from sun fading. It wasn’t as if anyone actually read the armies of books on the floor-to-ceiling shelves. Like the fireplace, they were mainly for show.

“Good job. Your cooler’s in the trunk?”

“It is. As always, you’re too good to me.” Carrington slumped in the chair. Why had he agreed to this birthday nonsense, anyway? His mother could have come up with another excuse for a garden party. “Manda…I’m sorry.”

Amanda stopped in mid-stride on her way out of the room and pinned him with her best glare. “Don’t start. If it’s about your mom, you’re not her keeper and you can’t make her like me. If it’s about getting me to come today, I had some great food. If it’s about not being the world’s best vamp and being a sucky partner again, shut it. Not doing this with you today.”

He almost apologized again but managed to clamp his jaw shut around the words. Ever sensible, Amanda didn’t allow him to whine and wallow, even though he could’ve done with a teensy bit of a whine that afternoon. Her more practical solution of going out to his car to bring him an insulated coffee mug of skim blood made more sense, of course.

Movement out of the corner of his eye startled him. A prickle of alarm skittered over his skin, the one that often warned him something not quite right was in his vicinity. When he turned toward the end table at his elbow, though, there was nothing, not even a bee or a moth. An antique lamp sat on the table, colorful dragonflies forever caught in stained-glass amber, and a book stood beside it. Odd. Someone had left the book partially open and standing on its cover and spine.

That’s no way to treat a book. As Carrington reached out to close it, intending to lay it down flat, the paranormal prickle intensified. With a rustling of pages, the book used its open cover to rock quickly back and forth, scuttling away from his outstretched hand. That was unexpected.

Recovering quickly, he withdrew his hand and whispered, “It’s all right, little book. I won’t harm you, or even read you if you’d rather I didn’t. Do you need help?”

If the book had some intelligence, it wouldn’t be the first thinking, animated object he’d ever encountered. One of his colleagues was a leather jacket with a dubious past and a wicked sense of humor.

The book rattled violently on the table in an imitation of a step dance and printed words leaped out of the pages at frightening speed. Just before they slammed into Carrington’s head, the flying words shrieked at him.

“You starveling, you eel-skin, you dried neat’s tongue, you bull’s pizzle!”

He had time for a split second of horror before the words rammed into him with the force of several fists.


About the Author

The unlikely black sheep of an ivory tower intellectual family, Angel Martinez has managed to make her way through life reasonably unscathed. Despite a wildly misspent youth, she snagged a degree in English Lit, married once and did it right the first time, gave birth to one amazing son, and realized at some point that she could get paid for writing.

Published since 2006, Angel’s cynical heart cloaks a desperate romantic. You’ll find drama and humor given equal weight in her writing and don’t expect sad endings. Life is sad enough.

She currently lives in Delaware in a drinking town with a college problem and writes Science Fiction and Fantasy centered around gay heroes.

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