eSpec Books is proud to present, The Die Is Cast (From the Archives Book 1) edited by Geg Schauer, a collection of short stories by Mike McPhail and Danielle Ackley-McPhail set in the Alliance Archive Role Playing universe. The book was funded through the Man and Machine Kickstarter campaign and is scheduled to release in March 2017. It will launch at HELIOsphere, a brand new science fiction convention in Tarrytown, NY where Danielle is one of the Guests of Honor, along with David Gerrold and Jacqueline Carey. There will be a launch party the Saturday of the convention, details to come.





eSpec Books interviews L. Jagi Lamplighter, contributor to The Best of Bad-Ass Faeries, edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail, currently funding on Kickstarter as a part of the #Make100 campaign.

eSB: What is your idea of a bad-ass faerie?

LJL: A fairy that has a noir attitude rather than the more delicate eerie mood common of folk tales.

eSB: Can you tell us a little about your story, “Not-So-Silent Night”, that was selected for The Best of Bad-Ass Faeries?

baf3front-smLJL:  A friend of mine was once at a book signing when a somewhat unkempt stranger came up and began regaling her with a story idea—I cannot recall if he wanted to write it himself, or wanted her to write it for him. The idea was Santa Claus in a dog fight with Nazis on Christmas Eve.

wacI loved the idea. When the time came to write a Bad Ass Faerie story, I remembered this charming idea and started doing a little research. The unheralded efforts of the WAC were being discussed at the time. The two ideas kind of clicked. From there, it was a matter of picking what kind of fairy to have join the fun. I love gremlins, but having them as the attackers seemed appropriate. Somehow Shauna O’Shaughnessy and Tom-O’-Thunder were born.

eSB: What would your fae character’s signature drink be and why?

Irish Whiskey, to be sure.

eSB: What do you like most about The Bad-Ass Faeries series, and why?

I like several things. One, fairy tales are a favorite story form of mine. This series provided a chance to put them before the reading public again. Two, there is a vibrancy and charm that comes from updating a classic and bringing it into a more modern way of thought.

eSB: What kind of challenges did you find writing for this series?

For me, the hardest part was the bad attitude. As a lover of fairytales, I like the eerie, mystical mood that comes with the genre. Making my fae loudmouthed instead of gracious and tricky was difficult.

eSB: What is your first recollection of faeries growing up?

It goes back so far, I can’t recall the start. But I have a clear memory of being seven years old and making a fairy house—the way other people make bird houses—out of old pie tins and other knickknacks. (In retrospect, I wonder why we thought a fairy would want to live in a metal house, even if it was aluminum.) We put it up in the woods, so faires or brownies could find it and make a home.

eSB: What interested you in writing for this series?

I loved the idea from when Danielle first mentioned it, well before she eve started on the first book. Urban fantasy had not even begun yet as a genre. It sounded like an idea that would resonate with readers.

eSB: Tell us something about yourself that is bad-ass.

Alas, nothing about me is bad-assed. ;-P

eSB: Do you have any plans to expand your story…or write in the same universe? If so, what more can your readers expect?

I have not thought of expanding this particular story. Though I do hope someday to write more about Santa Claus.

eSB: What are some of your own works readers can look for?

l-jagi-lamplighter-dreamlandThe Books of Unexpected Enlightenment have been described as “Fringe meets Narnia at Hogwarts.” The Prospero’s Children series is a modern sequel to Shakespeare’s The Tempest, with mystery and humor. A couple of my short stories that appeared in various Bad-Ass Faerie anthologies were set in this background.

I am in several recent anthologies including God, Robot, Forbidden Thoughts, Mythic Orbits.

lamp-text-3I also have an anthology of my own short stories—including some that first appeared in the BAF anthologies—called In The Lamplight. It is published by eSpec Books!

eSB: What projects of your own do you have coming up?

I am hard at work on The Awful Truth About Forgetting, book four of The Books of Unexpected Enlightenment. I am also working on several short stories.


L. Jagi Lamplighter is the author of the YA fantasy series: The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin. She is also the author of the Prospero’s Daughter series: Prospero Lost, Prospero In Hell, and Prospero Regained. She has a brand-new short story collection, In the Lamplight, out through eSpec BooksShe has published numerous articles on Japanese animation and appears in several short story anthologies, including Best Of Dreams Of Decadence, No Longer Dreams, Coliseum Morpheuon, Bad-Ass Faeries Anthologies (where she is also an assistant editor) and the Science Fiction Book Club’s Don’t Open This Book.  



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proof-tbobafThis is a part of our series of excerpts connected with our campaign for The Best of Bad-Ass Faeries. All of the authors have been selected based on fan and reviewer recognition as some of the best examples of Bad-Ass Faeries, representing over a decade of this award-winning series. If you are interested in learning more about The Best of Bad-Ass Faeries, please check out our Kickstarter. #Make100

Grim Necessity

Jeffrey Lyman

Featherlight and her partner, Remy, strode down the corridor of the pixie wing of the maximum security prison, boots clacking on the floor. Remy tapped his billy club against his hip as he walked, a nervous habit. Full-sized bricks, painted white and stacked four high, had been used in the construction of the walls, and there was iron plating behind those bricks. Iron didn’t bother Featherlight, but Remy said it felt like an uncomfortable itch.

“I can’t believe Clank’s getting a visitor,” he said.

“Happens to the worst of us,” she replied, keeping her eyes open for trouble. “I can’t believe the warden’s allowing her to see a visitor.”

The corridor ended and P-wing opened up around them. They were on the top floor of four stories of cells, wrapped around a central, open core. The core had been strung back and forth with steel wire to keep the pixies from flying.

There were a lot of pixies inside today. The prison was on semi-lockdown because of an outbreak of fighting the day before. The warden was limiting the number of races out in the yards. Right now the brownies and faeries were out, and the pixies, ogres, and most of the dwarfs were inside.

Featherlight and Remy stopped in front of a cell. “Clankerbell. You have a visitor.” Remy grunted.

She didn’t agree with the warden allowing Clank to have a visitor.

All evidence indicated that she hadn’t been in the fight, but Featherlight knew Clank had been involved somehow. She always was. Clankerbell stood from her cot, looking bored. Plastic dog tags hung proudly on the wall behind her. They were a trophy, taken from the body of the Rottweiler that had bitten off her right wing.

“My reputation must be growing,” she said, staring at Featherlight. “They sent the Big Pig to fetch me this time.” She fanned her remaining left wing like a butterfly and glanced at Remy. “Who is it?”

She had gotten a new tattoo on her arm, Featherlight noticed. An inverted rainbow, meaning something like an upside-down cross. No matter how hard the warden tried, he couldn’t keep the pixies from getting colors for their prison tats. They practically shat colors, so what was the use?

“I have no idea who it is and I didn’t ask,” Remy said. “He’s either a dwarf or a short, hairy man. You ready?” Clank nodded and Remy bellowed back down to the guardhouse, “Open up number seventeen.”

The bars of Clankerbell’s cell clicked and whirred on their servos and slid to the side.

Featherlight tensed up. “You know the drill. Keep your hands to yourself and I won’t crush you.”

“Chill, Big Pig. We’re cool.” Clankerbell smirked and stepped out of her cell.

Featherlight was a protean shapeshifter who could change not only her looks, but her size. She could swell up in the corridor and mash Clankerbell into the wall in a second if there were trouble. She could also close up her wounds if someone knifed her. The warden always sent her into the fights, and the prisoners respected her abilities.

Clank carelessly sauntered down the corridor, whistling the same cheery song all Pixies whistled. Featherlight heard it in her head sometimes after long days. Remy walked behind them both to stay out of the ‘crush zone’ should Featherlight’s abilities be needed.

They passed a smaller cell with a single bell hanging from the ceiling, and it rang off-key in time with Clank. An ugly gremlin peeked out below the rim and Featherlight pointed at him. “Go back to sleep, Smear.” The greasy head vanished.

They passed through security, where Clankerbell was searched from top to bottom. Featherlight then led her through a mouse hole and into the secure visiting area. Birdcages hung where pixies could talk to their visitors. More docile inmates were allowed out into the larger Visitor’s Room to meet with family members directly. Clankerbell had never been docile.


Jeffrey Lyman is an engineer in the New York City area. His work has appeared in Sails and Sorcery, Trouble on the Water, and in The Defending the Future anthology series, including the Best of Defending The Future. He was co-editor of No Longer Dreams and the Bad-Ass Faeriesanthology series. He is a 2004 graduate of the Odyssey Writing School and was a finalist for the Writers of the Future Award.



eSpec Books interviews John L. French, contributor to The Best of Bad-Ass Faeries, edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail, currently funding on Kickstarter as a part of the #Make100 campaign.

eSB: What is your idea of a bad-ass faerie?

JLF: My idea is something like Tolkien’s elves or Irish heroes like Cuchulainn and the Red Branch. A warrior race that prizes the literary, mystic, and scientific arts as much as it does the art of combat.  (Note: For truly bad ass, read The Raid by Randy Lee Eickhoff.)

eSB: Can you tell us a little about your story, “So Many Deaths”, that was selected for The Best of Bad-Ass Faeries?

baf3front-smJLF: “So Many Deaths” appeared in BAF 3 – In All Their Glory. I’m a crime scene investigator for an east coast city. I also started out writing crime fiction. So most of my stories, regardless of genre, usually have a crime element to them. Danielle knows this and for In All Their Glory she asked me to write a faerie story about a SWAT team. And so I did, setting the story in Baltimore and making sure it had both faeries and a SWAT team. When I sent it to her she liked it but … “John, what I really wanted was a faerie SWAT team.”

So I wrote another one, tying it into the first. The two stories were then combined and published as “So Many Deaths.” So Danielle, and the readers, get two Swat teams for the price of one.

angelThe names of the faeries in in the story came from two different sources. The male names were taken from Tom Holland’s The Forge of Christendom. The female names from my daughter’s fashion magazine. The name of the lead faerie detective and the style of his part of the story were inspired by the old TV series Dragnet. (art by Linda Saboe,

The name of the lead detective on the mortal side, Beth Steele, came from the Bethlehem Steel Corporation.

eSB: What would your fae character’s signature drink be and why?

Guardsman Fredag, appreciates good wine. However, being an underpaid law enforcement officer he drinks the cheap stuff.

eSB: What kind of challenges did you find writing for this series?

First there was an argument with Danielle, I’m sorry, a professional disagreement, about the spelling of the word “Faerie.” It ended the way all such discussions end with “I’m the editor and you’ll spell it my way.”

The part of the story set on Earth was not a problem. For the scenes set in Faerie I had to build a culture, a mythology, and a political structure to make the story work.

eSB: What is your first recollection of faeries growing up?

Tinkerbelle, and clapping my hands in front of the TV so she wouldn’t die. When the 2003 movie came out I found myself the only one in the theater clapping to save Tink when she was poisoned. (I clapped quietly so as not to embarrass my daughter.) I like to think I alone saved her life.

eSB: What interested you in writing for this series?

Danielle asked. When Danielle askes it’s hard to say no.

eSB: Tell us something about yourself that is bad-ass.

I work crime scenes. I’ve helped catch murderers, rapists, and serial killers. Plus I was in three Batman comics.

eSB: Do you have any plans to expand your story…or write in the same universe? If so, what more can your readers expect?

Detective Beth Steel has worked her way into my Bianca Jones supernatural mystery series. One day I might tell the story of what happened to her immediately following the end of “So Many Deaths” then send her and Bianca into Faerie seeking justice and vengeance.

eSB: What are some of your own works readers can look for?

John L. French Here There Be Monsters.jpgThere are my pulp fiction based books The Devil of Harbor City, The Nightmare Strikes, and The Grey Monk: Souls on Fire. And there’s the Bianca Jones series – Here There Be Monsters, Bullets and Brimstone, Rites of Passage, and Blood is the Life.

eSB: What projects of your own do you have coming up?

Along with Patrick Thomas, I’m currently editing Camelot 13, due out in 2018. And a new Bianca Jones collection, Monsters Among Us, should be out this spring, hopefully before the Memorial Day weekend.

eSB: How can readers find out more about you?

I’m on Facebook, and readers are free to email me at


John L. French has worked for over thirty years as a crime scene investigator and has seen more than his share of murders, shootings and serious assaults. As a break from the realities of his job, he writes science fiction, pulp, horror, fantasy, and, of course, crime fiction.  

In 1992 John began writing stories based on his training and experiences on the streets of Baltimore. His first story “Past Sins” was published in Hardboiled Magazine and was cited as one of the best Hardboiled stories of 1993. More crime fiction followed, appearing in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, the Fading Shadows magazines and in collections by Barnes and Noble. Association with writers like James Chambers and the late, great C.J. Henderson led him to try horror fiction and to a still growing fascination with zombies and other undead things. His first horror story “The Right Solution” appeared in Marietta Publishing’s Lin Carter’s Anton Zarnak. Other horror stories followed in anthologies such as The Dead Walk and Dark Furies, both published by Die Monster Die books. It was in Dark Furies that his character Bianca Jones made her literary debut in “21 Doors,” a story based on an old Baltimore legend and a creepy game his daughter used to play with her friends.  

John’s first book was The Devil of Harbor City, a novel done in the old pulp style. Past Sins and Here There Be Monsters followed. John was also consulting editor for Chelsea House’s Criminal Investigation series. His other books include The Assassins’ Ball (written with Patrick Thomas), Paradise Denied, Blood Is the Life, The Nightmare Strikes, and Monsters Among Us. John is the editor of To Hell in a Fast Car, Mermaids 13, C. J. Henderson’s Challenge of the Unknown, and (with Greg Schauer) With Great Power…  

You can find John on Facebook or you can email him at him at


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eSpec Books interviews Kelly A. Harmon, contributor to The Best of Bad-Ass Faeries, edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail, currently funding on Kickstarter as a part of the #Make100 campaign.

eSB: Can you tell us a little about your story, “Selkskin Deep”, that was selected for The Best of Bad-Ass Faeries?

baf3front-smKAH: In Selkskin Deep, you’ll meet Cade Owen, a selkie who is also a Navy SEAL. He’s deployed on the aircraft carrier USS Livingstone during the Vietnam War. During a routine delivery of munitions to the carrier, Cade notices the bombs they’re taking on board date back to the 1930s. It’s a recipe for disaster.

sealThe selkie bit is pure fiction, but the situation — old and degrading munitions delivered to an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War is history. The Livingstone, and the fire emergency onboard, is modeled after the 1967 USS Forrestal tragedy.

eSB: What would your fae character’s signature drink be and why?

KAH: As a seal, Cade definitely prefers a good single-malt scotch. But as a SEAL, he’s stuck drinking cup after cup of badly-brewed government coffee—probably from a tin mug. Poor guy…

eSB: What do you like most about The Bad-Ass Faeries series, and why?

 KAH:  I like the variety of fairies included in the series. I’m always surprised when I turn the page and start a new story—and with so many volumes in the series, I’m never at a loss to find a good tale to curl up with.

eSB: What kind of challenges did you find writing for this series?

 KAH:  The selkie bits were easy, but marrying the myth to American history created a small roadblock. I knew I had to have a Navy story, since the selkie is a water creature, but my knowledge of Naval history is sketchy. I had to do a lot of research.

eSB: What interested you in writing for this series?

KAH: I never bought into the “sweetness and light,” version of faeries as a kid. It might have been my dark nature, but it just seemed too Pollyanna. Faeries, in my opinion, were nothing more than little demons. So, when I heard about a series of books that was going to highlight bad faeries – the true nature of faeries – I knew I wanted to contribute.

eSB: What are some of your own works readers can look for?

kelly-a-harmon-stoned-in-charm-cityKAH: I write the Charm City Darkness series—an urban fantasy that takes place in Baltimore. 

You know that old saying, ‘No good deed goes unpunished.’?

Case in point for Assumpta Mary-Margaret O’Connor.  Her good deed gets her demon-marked, making her fair game for any passing demon (and a few specific ones). But she’s managed to survive—kelly-a-harmon-hides-a-dark-towerwith help from angels, ghosts, and witches—through three books so far: Stoned in Charm City, A Favor for a Fiend, and A Blue Collar Proposition.  A fourth book in the series about Assumpta’s best friend Jo, should be available in May.

For folks who love short stories, I’ve co-edited two dark fiction anthologies with Vonnie Winslow Crist:  Hides the Dark Tower and In a Cat’s Eye.  We’ll be reading for a third anthology in March, Dark Luminous Wings, which should be available in October.


Kelly A. Harmon used to write truthful, honest stories about authors and thespians, senators and statesmen, movie stars and murderers. Now she writes lies, which is infinitely more satisfying, but lacks the convenience of doorstep delivery. She is an award-winning journalist and author, and a member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. A Baltimore native, she writes the Charm City Darkness series, which includes the novels Stoned in Charm City, A Favor for a Fiend, and the soon to be published, A Blue Collar Proposition. Her science fiction and fantasy stories can be found in Triangulation: Dark Glass, Hellebore and Rue, and Deep Cuts: Mayhem, Menace and Misery.  

Ms. Harmon is a former newspaper reporter and editor, and now edits for Pole to Pole Publishing, a small Baltimore publisher. She is co-editor of Hides the Dark Tower along with Vonnie Winslow Crist. For more information, visit her blog at, or, find her on Facebook and Twitter:,  


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proof-tbobafThis is a part of our series of excerpts connected with our campaign for The Best of Bad-Ass Faeries. All of the authors have been selected based on fan and reviewer recognition as some of the best examples of Bad-Ass Faeries, representing over a decade of this award-winning series. If you are interested in learning more about The Best of Bad-Ass Faeries, please check out our Kickstarter. #Make100

Twilight Crossing

John Passarella

George Thorogood was playing on the jukebox when I tossed Ollie Janks out on his ass. Wasn’t the first time. Wouldn’t be the last. Or so I thought, when I said, “Nothing personal, Ollie.”

Little did I know everything was about to change.

The grizzled drunk staggered to his feet and made a half-hearted attempt to brush off the seat of his bib overalls. Lacking the coordination to complete that simple task, he decided to flip me off instead. “The fuck, Ray?” he shouted. “My money ain’t good enough for the Willowbrook Tavern?”

“Not when you confuse Shirley’s ass with the produce aisle.”

“Practically keep this dump in business,” Ollie said, “much as I spend here.”

“We appreciate your support,” I said. “But Shirley’s not on the menu.”

“And what do I get for my hard-earned dollars, eh? Watered down liquor and the bum’s rush, that’s what!”

“Time to walk it off, Ollie. Or should I call you a cab?”

“Need no fuckin’ cab,” Ollie said with a dismissive wave of his hand. He plodded toward the shoulder of the road. “Live three damn blocks away.”

Shaking my head, I returned to the dark confines of the Willow-brook Tavern. By morning, Ollie wouldn’t have the slightest recollection of the events preceding or following his unceremonious ejection from his favorite watering hole.

Something happens often enough, you begin to expect it. That’s when you need to worry.

Moments later, the door hinges creaked behind me.

I turned, bracing for round two with Ollie, but the drunk had stayed true to form. Instead, a slender young man with dark hair and a harried expression on his gaunt face brushed by me, tossing a mumbled apology in his wake. My first thought was: Underage. My second: Trouble.

The clock above the bar displayed midnight.

Then the red second hand began to descend.

Ignoring the social invitation of the bar stools or the shadowed privacy of the side booths, where most of the evening’s crowd were huddled, the young man chose the nearest of three unoccupied, wobbly tables, and dropped into one of the four rickety chairs that surrounded it. A hanging brass light fixture seemed to deconstruct his face into pale slivers of flesh and harsh shadows. Otherwise, he looked unremarkably ordinary in a green and tan Rugby shirt, dark jeans and black running shoes. One heel beat an insistent tattoo against the warped floorboards, as if he were keeping time with a frenetic drummer.

About ready to vibrate out of his skin.

Wearing her customary red-and-white-checked blouse, jeans, a beer-stained apron, and calf-high leather boots, Shirley strolled over to the table to take his order. She gave him a one-second appraisal. “There’s a law against serving minors.”

The young man looked at her, gauging, challenging. “Is that so?”

“That’s what they tell me,” Shirley said, punctuating the comment with a little chuckle. “So what can I get you?”

“Whatever you’ve got on tap.”

“Gotcha. Back in a jiff, hon.”

I shook my head in disbelief. She’s flirting with him! Ben finds out, he’ll break that kid in half.

“Thanks.” He tapped both index fingers against the side of the small bowl of pretzels in the center of the table, ran one hand through his hair, then heaved a sigh.

I drifted back to my regular booth, first one on the left, and picked up the well-worn baseball I’d snagged at a Phillies’ game over a year ago. Foul ball, unsigned, no sentimental value, but it helped me think. And I needed to understand what was happening.

From my booth, I could observe the entire front half of the tavern, and peek down the short hall to the back room, with its side-by-side pool tables. Only the modest kitchen, with its small grill and deep fryer, was hidden from me. Although, occasionally, through the porthole window in the scuffed kitchen door, I caught a glimpse of the bald head of Oscar, our night cook. With Ollie gone, the place was relatively calm, but I sensed trouble brewing, an inexplicable prickling of the short hairs on the back of my neck. Wasn’t sure from which direction the trouble would come. But I knew its target. Had since the moment he bumped into me.

I scanned the crowd, seeking anything or anyone unusual. The tavern was less than a quarter filled, all regulars, fewer than twenty people, huddled in the booths that lined the walls. A few pairs quietly conversed. Some loners scanned the sports pages or worked crosswords, while others watched the muted TV over the bar, tuned to ESPN’s continual stream of scores and highlights. Steady night, not too busy. Sometimes the back room could get rowdy. Tonight, there was a companionable game of eight ball in progress. Nothing more. As the Thorogood tune faded, the only sound rising above the whispered conversations was the muffled thwack of billiard balls colliding. An expression came to mind….

The calm before the storm.

Shirley delivered the young man’s draft in a stein. He paid attention long enough to hand her a five and tell her to keep the change. Instead of drinking the beer, he traced his fingertips along the surface of the glass, creating parallel trails in the condensation.

I was the Willowbrook Tavern’s resident bouncer. At six-one and less than one-hundred-seventy pounds, I hardly looked the part, but I maintained order with the fairly rough trade that frequented the place. I’d needed a job and convinced Quentin Avery, the owner, that I had mastered some inscrutable far eastern martial art whose name I’d made up on the spot and had since forgotten. Self-defense came naturally to me, on some instinctual level I was reluctant to question. In my first two weeks on the job, I proved I could handle the bullies and belligerent drunks, as well as the occasional knife wielders and those making death threats with the borrowed courage of a tire iron or baseball bat. Compared to them, Ollie Janks was a cream puff. Since then….

How long had I been rubbing my arm? Where the young man had bumped into me, my skin felt as if it had been charged with a current. The sensation was spreading, as if he had infected me with his nervous energy. I debated leaving my booth to have a little chat with him, to determine what the hell was happening, when the front door burst open.

Cloaked in shadows, I settled back into the booth and watched as three burly men in black leather garb strode down the length of the tavern, their boot heels striking the floorboards like a succession of hammer blows. Could have been bikers, but I would have heard motorcycles arriving. Two took positions around the nervous young man, one to each side, while the third, presumably the leader, stood in front.

Here comes the storm.

Behind the bar, Shirley tucked a bottled-blonde strand of hair behind her ear. Nervous gesture. She cast an expectant look in my direction. Hank, the greying bartender, stood by the cash register, drying glasses with a frayed cloth. Despite his casual pose, I noticed a slight tremor in his hands. Oscar cast a wide-eyed look through the porthole window, decided it was none of his business and ducked out of view. Most of the bar patrons darted curious but discreet glances at the three men, careful not to draw unwanted attention to themselves. Dan and Elaine, a young couple in thrift shop clothes but with no shortage of common sense, slipped from their far corner booth and practically tiptoed out the back room exit. Resigned to witnessing whatever mayhem ensued, the rest or the crowd seemed to lean a bit further away from the leather-clad trio. The instinct for self-preservation had begun to assert itself.

I leaned forward, my right hand pressing the baseball hard against the tabletop as I studied the new arrivals. All three stood several inches over six feet, had reddish hair and fine facial features, almost delicate in an odd way. Brothers, I thought. Though the leader’s hair was cropped short, the other two sported locks halfway down their back. Belatedly, I realized they were twins. All three had knives in scabbards looped through their belts. I wondered about concealed weapons.

“Well now,” said the leader to the seated young man. “Look what we have here.”

“Do I know you?”

Genuinely puzzled, I thought, surprised. He really doesn’t know them.

“Name’s Darius,” the leader said. “My brothers, Maleck and Mortenn. And you would be Kevin. Kevin Robb, to be precise. Correct?” The young man nodded nervously, as if confessing a felony to a police officer. “Don’t expect you know us, but….” He reached into the chest pocket of his jacket and took out a snapshot. After a quick glance, he nodded and tossed it on the table in front of the young man. “Bet he looks familiar.”

As the three brothers leaned forward, into the pale cone of light, to witness Kevin’s reaction to the photo—my breath caught in my throat. “What the hell—?”

At first I thought something dark and slimy crawled along their skin and clothes, but then I realized it was some sort of dark light or energy rippling around them, a visible aura, something malevolent, if my gut reaction were any judge. I scanned the bar, wondering if anyone else could see the strange phenomenon enveloping these men. Everyone seemed oblivious to it—

—except Kevin Robb. Something had rattled him. Sweat glistened on his brow. His lips trembled as he said, “That—that’s a picture of me. Dead. But that’s impossible.”


John Passarella co-authored Wither, which won the Horror Writer Association’s prestigious Bram Stoker Award for best first novel of 1999. Columbia Pictures purchased the feature film rights to Wither in a preemptive bid. Passarella’s solo novels include Wither’s Rain, Wither’s Legacy, Kindred Spirit and Shimmer and seven media tie-in novels: Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Ghoul Trouble, Angel: Avatar, Angel: Monolith, Supernatural: Night Terror, Supernatural: Rite of Passage, Grimm: The Chopping Block and Supernatural: Cold Fire.

He lives in New Jersey with his wife and children. Please visit him online at



proof-tbobafThis is a part of our series of excerpts connected with our campaign for The Best of Bad-Ass Faeries. All of the authors have been selected based on fan and reviewer recognition as some of the best examples of Bad-Ass Faeries, representing over a decade of this award-winning series. If you are interested in learning more about The Best of Bad-Ass Faeries, please check out our Kickstarter.

Within the Guardian Bell

Danielle Ackley-McPhail

Suzanne was worried. Very worried. Lance had never felt so much anxiety from a fae as what flowed through her now. Even though the pillion pad behind him was empty, Lance could feel her clinging to his right arm. Sparing a fleeting glance from the road, he looked down to where the black muscle shirt left his arm bare. The tattoo image of his lady had shifted as only magic could allow. A link to her soul, tied to his empathic gift, the tat reflected whatever Suzanne was feeling. Right now the skin art hid itself between his arm and the curve of his chest, all four limbs wrapped around his biceps as if it were a lifeline. It was the closest he’d ever seen Suzanne get to being clingy.

She might have been seamlessly healed after their encounter with the Dubh Fae, but her spirit bore the scars absent from her body. She worried about him, because the Faerie Court had decided he, a Halfling, was too much threat to let be. They’d hurt her to get to him, and she still wasn’t over it.

Neither was he.

It left him raw and sent him raging if he thought on it too long. This was the first time he’d left her side since he and the Club rode to her rescue a week ago. It couldn’t be helped…club business that couldn’t be put off, but she wasn’t handling the separation well.

Again: neither was he.

That was the reason his fool ass was out here, without gear, in weather even a SQUID would have more sense than to ride in. His teeth ground against one another as he revved his ’47 Knucklehead.

His business done, he now raced back to Delilah’s, where Suzanne waited for him, reasonably safe and surrounded by the other members of the club. He had to keep telling himself that. Though mindspeaking was not one of his gifts, Lance thought real hard at her. I’m coming, babe. I’m coming.

The power of his engine thrummed through him, making him one with leather and chrome and steel. If he listened real close, he almost dare believe he could hear a mad tinkling as Suzanne’s latest gift, a tiny pewter guardian bell she’d attached to his swing arm, was buffeted in the wake of his speed. Whether it was truly audible or not, he could certainly sense its magic, subtly flavored by Suzanne’s special touch.

Behind him, the hiss of four wheels on wet pavement blended with the muted rumble of some cager’s engine, a reminder he had to keep his mind on the slab. He wasn’t riding Front Door right now, with the club strung out behind him, and any biker going solo had to watch his own back.

As if to reinforce his thoughts, a Q-Tip in an equally ancient Buick passed too close on his left, sending him swerving toward a rainbow-covered puddle.

“Ah, crap!” Lance swore as his tires hit the slick and lost their grip on the road. The Knucklehead dipped sideways, surely setting the bell to ring wildly. His stomach clenched hard until he brought the bike vertical once more.

“Get some glasses or give up the license, Grandma!” he yelled after the oblivious old woman.

He fought the skid and won, but it was close. When he got back, he’d be sure to tell Suzanne how well her gift had protected him. Mostly potholes lurked in puddles these days. Helmet or no, hit one of those in this weather and he’d earn himself another set of broken wings. That settles it, he thought, time to get off the road a while. A quick glance down at his gas gauge confirmed it was time for a fluid exchange, anyway. Lance moved into the Bike Lane, triggering a string of horn blasts from the cagers to either side as he passed them by.


As the biker rode away down the center of the road, the puddle bubbled and seethed. Up from its shallow depth popped an odd, tiny creature, clutching at its ears. “Smear doesn’t like the faerie-man. Not at all. Or his bloody little shrill bell. Smear wants to grind his face, crush the bell.” Crouched upon the road, he slammed his thick, meaty fists against the asphalt. Microfissures formed: the conception of a pothole.

He was joined by another, and then another, crawling up through the fissures, expanding them, until the puddle was gone. Standing in its place was a troupe of inch-high gremlins, identical in every way: Skin as grey as asphalt, with an oily, rainbow shimmer. Hair long and thick and spiny, like a porcupine mated with a box of nails. A thick white line ran down the center of their faces, like war paint, and along their arms were thick, black squiggles. Like tats or tribal markings, only with the dull gleam of tar snakes. Each finger was like a spike, reminiscent of those found at toll booths and security gates, only jointed. The miniscule troupe rumbled and grumbled as they watched the bike speed away.

“Smear doesn’t like him, wants to snap his bones, crumble a fender,” one of them muttered. “Smear doesn’t like him, wants to bash his head, crack the tranny,” added another. Each of them offered up a world of pain they planned to inflict upon the biker and his cycle; each of them punctuated their threat by pounding upon the blacktop, splitting it further.

Why do you wait? a lethal voice hissed in each of their heads. It was beautiful and horrible all at once, leaving them as cold as icebound pavement. He escapes you!

“Why? Why? Smear doesn’t wait! We go! King-fae says we can; says we must. Smear listens,” they vowed in one voice. “But King should know, biker’s been belled.”

Go, now! I will take care of the bell, the King’s voice answered.

Cackling with as sound of shattering windshield, one gremlin grabbed the next, each of them melding until there was but one the size of a particularly ugly cabbage patch doll. It crouched upon the roadway as a Mustang went zooming by. With supernatural precision Smear reached out, his spiky digits piercing vulcanized rubber as if it were water. Swinging up, he perched on the rim of the wheel, his fingers still in place. It wouldn’t do to have the ride spin out…until after Smear reached his target, anyway.

As they sped away, the only sign the gremlins had been there was a scattering of nail-like spines and the crumbling edges of a pothole just waiting for the next car to come along.

Award-winning author and editor Danielle Ackley-McPhail has worked both sides of the publishing industry for longer than she cares to admit. In 2014 she joined forces with husband Mike McPhail and friend Greg Schauer to form her own publishing house, eSpec Books (  

Her published works include six novels, Yesterday’s Dreams, Tomorrow’s Memories, Today’s Promise, The Halfling’s Court, The Redcaps’ Queen, and Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn, written with Day Al-Mohamed. She is also the author of the solo collections A Legacy of Stars, Consigned to the Sea, Flash in the Can, and Transcendence, the non-fiction writers’ guide, The Literary Handyman, and is the senior editor of the Bad-Ass Faeries anthology series, Gaslight & Grimm, Dragon’s Lure, and In an Iron Cage. Her short stories are included in numerous other anthologies and collections.