proof-iwhk-coverAn excerpt from If We Had Known

The Steady Drone of Silence
Danielle Ackley-McPhail

“Excuse me? Lieutenant Kolby…excuse me!” Christopher James spoke softly into the headset attached to the helmet the lieutenant had jammed onto his head before they’d left the transport. “I need to know what’s gone wrong…”

Just ahead, Kolby snapped around to look over his shoulder, his features hard-set and his gaze unyielding. His posture projected urgency.

Christopher fell silent as he felt his eyes widen and the rest of him go cold. This must be how a rabbit feels caught in a hawk’s sights, he thought as he swallowed hard and fought the urge to duck his head. Kolby looked away and continued his hurried, but methodical progress through the brush, his eyes continually scanning in all directions, even straight up into the sky.

A shiver ran over Christopher. Why would the lieutenant look up?

Clutching the straps of the rucksack holding his tablet computer, he did his best to move as quickly and quietly as the soldiers escorting him. Fat chance of that, though. He was a civilian contractor. An engineer. A tech head specializing in unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs. Two weeks ago he’d been pulled from his current research project with no explanation. Now he found himself on the butt end of Demeter traipsing through the wilds, destination unknown. He didn’t have to ask to know the soldiers escorting him weren’t any happier about it than he was.

Maybe he should have been paying more attention to where he was walking, instead of worrying over where he was going. Abruptly, his forward motion switched to downward as a root or something snagged his foot, tripping him. Christopher started to cry out only to find himself gripped by what felt like two steel bands, one across his mouth, the other around his upper arm. He had the vague impression the rest of the soldiers around him had dropped low to the ground and gone still. Christopher himself couldn’t help but tremble as he came eye to up-close eye with Lieutenant Kolby.

“Do you want to die?” The words were so low and emphatic Christopher questioned if he’d actually heard them, either way the message was clear in Kolby’s gaze.

Christopher shook his head.

Kolby looked over at the soldier to their left. Samson, if Christopher remembered correctly. Hanging from the man’s neck was an electronic device. Some kind of tracker-slash-monitor. All Christopher knew was the little green light on the top of the housing meant they were good. If the red one went on, they were screwed. The man nodded and Kolby nodded back. Only then did he release his grip on Christopher. One hand dropped to the rifle hanging from the strap slung across Kolby’s chest, the other rose slowly into the air in an obscure gesture Christopher had to guess meant ‘proceed’, because—as if they were guided by one brain—the six soldiers rose from where they crouched and continued through the brush with barely a sound.

Christopher couldn’t move.

The soldier behind him gave him a controlled shove. Not enough to make him fall, but enough to break the grip of the fear anchoring Christopher in place. He was terrified of messing up again. He was terrified of whatever was out there that had Kolby treading so lightly. He was terrified of never making it home.

Christopher had no place being on this mission.

Apparently the military felt otherwise. Or at least someone up the chain of command did.

Christopher just wished he knew what they were thinking because the only thing worse than being out here was having no clue why.



Danielle Ackley-McPhail

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.

She is a member of Broad Universe, a writer’s organization focusing on promoting the works of women authors in the speculative genres.

Danielle lives in New Jersey with husband and fellow writer, Mike McPhail and three extremely spoiled cats. She can be found on Facebook (Danielle Ackley-McPhail) and Twitter (DMcPhail).



cover-proofAn excerpt from The Awakened Modern

Little Sisters of the Hourglass
James Chambers

They’re coming.

Weaver closed his book and rested it on his lap. He finished the last of the scotch in the crystal tumbler on the side table, ice clinking against glass, then stood and replaced the book on a bookshelf.

“We knew they would. Where are they now?”

Next door. My sisters and daughters are watching them.

The prospect of confrontation excited Weaver. He relished the chance to further test his Awakened abilities. He had always planned to move against Cortez one day. The chaos of the two moons had simply brought that day sooner by tipping the balance of power and rendering the conditions ideal. Distraction. Uncertainty. Streets up for grabs. The sex trade, the numbers rackets, drug trafficking, smuggling—all of it in play after years of suffocating under the thumb of that arrogant fucker Cortez, forcing Weaver to pay for the privilege of doing business. The two moons had brought Weaver the devil, and now the devil demanded his due.

He switched off the light in his study and descended to the first floor.

Two armed men stood watch in the foyer by the base of the stairwell.

“Be ready,” he told them.

They nodded, hands on their weapons.

Two more guarded the back door, and another pair joined Weaver in the den. They sat with weapons ready, straight-backed, leaning forward, afraid to make themselves comfortable. None of them liked being in his house, but he paid them enough not to care. If his newfound power served him as he hoped, they wouldn’t need to fire a shot or raise a fist.

They wander in the dark. I don’t understand.

“Wander where?”

In the home beside this one.

“They hope to catch us by surprise.”

We have observed them stalking us for weeks and taken six of their brothers. We have watched them tonight since they came in their rolling shell.

“They don’t know that. They have no idea what they’re walking into. Our goal tonight is to make sure none of them leave to warn anyone else.”

None of them shall.

James Chambers_2017

James Chambers is the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of the original graphic novel Kolchak the Night Stalker: The Forgotten Lore of Edgar Allan Poe as well as the Lovecraftian novella collection, The Engines of Sacrifice, described in a Publisher’s Weekly starred-review as “…chillingly evocative….” He has also written the story collection Resurrection House and the dark, urban fantasy novella, Three Chords of Chaos. His tales of crime, fantasy, horror, pulp, science fiction, steampunk, and more have appeared in numerous anthologies and magazines, including Allen K’s Inhuman, The Avenger: Roaring Heart of the Crucible, Bare Bone, Chiral Mad 2, Dark Furies, The Dead Walk,  Deep Cuts, Gaslight and Grimm, The Green Hornet Chronicles, Hardboiled Cthulhu, Kolchak the Night Stalker: Passages of the Macabre, Shadows Over Main Street, The Side of Good/The Side of Evil, Qualia Nous, Truth or Dare, Walrus Tales, and the award-winning Bad-Ass Faeries and Defending the Future series. He has edited and written numerous comic books including Leonard Nimoy’s Primortals, Gene Roddenberry’s Lost Universe, Isaac Asimov’s I*Bots, the graphic novel adaptation of From Dusk Till Dawn, and the critically acclaimed “The Revenant” in Shadow House. He is a recipient of the 2012 Richard Laymon Award and the 2016 Silver Hammer Award from the Horror Writers Association.

His website is


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

Selk-Skin Deep

Kelly A. Harmon

Cade Owen stood on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Livingstone, watching the crew of an ammunition ship loading armaments on board. The night sea cooperated. Gentle waves in the Gulf of Tonkin lapped at the two navy vessels. Men from the other ship, the USS Redoubt, sent over bomb after bomb until a crewman from the Livingstone pointed to a large wooden crate and made a cutting motion with his hands, halting the transfer.

Cade itched to know what the man’s agitation signaled. But from this distance, and under these lighting conditions, he couldn’t make out the problem. The carrier needed those munitions. Without them, the fighter jets couldn’t make their ordered strafing runs north of Hanoi in the morning, and he couldn’t rendezvous with the other SEALs later in the week with the Biet Hai Commandos in Da Nang.

Thank Manannán mac Lir. And President Kennedy, he thought, who created the SEALs only recently. He hoped this special mission would grant him a reprieve from the boredom his nearly immortal life provided him, even if he had to live among humans to find surcease. Humans weren’t a bad sort; he just couldn’t fathom why they seemed to live their lives so intensely.

Didn’t they realize that life is a series of up and down cycles? What made it so hard for them to accept that and move on? How can there be anything worth fighting over—dying over—when all things circle back in the ebb and flow of life?

He would love to discuss it with Friedman, but that would mean telling Friedman his bunkmate wasn’t human. Perhaps they’d known each long enough to swim that current. Long days confined together with the threat of war hanging over their heads had shaped their friendship far more quickly than a casual friendship might have. He’d give it some thought.

Until then, he would observe their intensity first hand. For now, he was just another man on the ship. And if he died serving? More the better, for it gave his life a purpose: something more than living and dying with the sea; yet, still living and dying by the sea.

The trident insignia of the Navy SEALs on his lapel gleamed in the moonlight. The brooding look on his face took on a more thoughtful aspect. He reached within his coveralls and pulled a small, rolled fur from around his neck. Shaking out the seal-shaped pelt, he moved into the darker shadow cast by an F4 Phantom and stripped out of his clothes. He draped the skin over his shoulders, letting the length of it drape down his back. Then, he grabbed the edges, pulling and tugging, smoothing the skin around himself until it grew large enough to cover him, turning him into a seal.

In an instant, the darkness disappeared, and Cade could see almost as well as if there were daylight. He opened his mouth, tasting the salty tang of the ocean on his tongue. He drew in a large breath, savoring the smell. He had waiting too long to return to true form. It always felt this way to him, after the change, like the sea wooed him back. If he were his human self, he would have smiled from the pleasure of it.

He dove into the water, falling forty feet through the air, cutting into the sea in a graceful arc. He plunged deep into the water, then surfaced and made his way around the side of the carrier and closer to the argument.

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:,


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

The Natural-Born Spy

James Daniel Ross

Some things are too close for a normal man to focus on at the time. Only decades after November, 1944, can I look back and realize the small stones in the road that diverted our lives so immensely. I could never know that when I walked into the professor’s office at Boston College I was to begin a journey that would lead me to places I never imagined existed.

I was sitting at the desk, pads of paper thrown out across the surface like machinegun fire, books opened to select pages and marked with new pads, pens, and other books. There was a quick rap on the door, and then it opened with a swing that spoke of impatient authority.

The man who entered was tall and straight, or maybe pressed. Yes, that was it: The man gave out an impression that if he were rolled over Niagara Falls inside a wooden barrel he would come out with every bone broken—but every crease of his suit intact. The man practically had starch in his walk and his shoes were shined to blinding brightness. The instant he entered the room, his free hand snatched the hat from his head, exposing only a furtive bristle of hair. His lantern jaw screwed his teeth more tightly together and his eyes narrowed as they took me in. In the non-hat hand there was a book, which he now pointed at me in accusation. “You’re not Professor Levi Stein.”

I blinked at him twice, swallowing hard as his disapproval smacked me across the face. “Um, no. I’m sorry. I noticed the appointment in the book for you, Mr. Smith. There was no telephone number so I decided to wait here to explain why the professor—”

Smith ducked his head out into the hallway, scanning both ways quickly before retreating back into the office and shutting the door. Then he spun on me, his eyes as hard and cold as nails. “Where is the professor?”

I cleared my throat, fighting the tears trying to well up, “The professor is indisposed.”

“How indisposed?”

Then I had to grab a kerchief from my pack and dab at my eyes. “Permanently, sir.”

Smith glanced at the door darkly, but it was a moment or two before I heard a pair of shoes walk innocently by. He then turned back to me. “Who are you?”

“My name is Bruce Andrew.”

He tossed his Stetson on the desk and leaned on the free hand, looming over me and—now I am convinced—reading everything exposed in an instant. “You’re the professor’s star pupil.”

Maybe it was how quickly he dismissed the news of the professor’s death, or maybe how successful he was at intimidating me in a place I had come to regard as a home. Whatever it was, it gave me a little steel of my own, which I threw into my voice, waving my paring knife in front of his broadsword. “That’s right.”

He tossed the book, thick, heavy, and at least two centuries old, down in front of me. “Can you translate Occitan?”

“Of course.”

The grin on his face was not friendly or encouraging. “The pages are marked.”

“And why should I?”

He glared at me as if I were a toy poodle barking at him from the safety of a rich woman’s arms. Then he took out his billfold and pulled out five large bills as crisp as his pants. They fluttered to the desk carelessly, but when they landed they sounded like gold bars to me.

I only let them breathe there for a minute before snatching them up and stowing them in my front pocket. I opened the heavy tome, and saw page after page of pen-work easily dating back to the sixteenth century. Still his demeanor and the heavy bills in my pocket brooked no questions. I could only manage, “This will take a while.”

He leaned in the corner and crossed his arms. “I’ll wait.”

And wait he did, though the longer I moved words across time and languages, the more I smiled inside at his foolishness. It was well past midnight by the time I put down my pen and handed him the sheet. I allowed myself a little smile as he took it. “No hidden treasure map there, sorry.”

I started gathering my own papers into organized piles as he devoured every syllable I had recorded. Only once he was done did he refocus on me, eyes sharp. “Did you understand anything about this?”

I rolled my eyes and shoved my own books into my knapsack, leaving the one he had brought conspicuously alone. “I did an undergraduate paper on medieval belief in faeries and their ilk. They’re really little gods and every culture has had them, like the house gods of Roman times—”

Smith made a motion like swatting away a lethargic fly. “You’re an expert in myths and legends, then?”

I shrugged. “Myths, legends, and I read a half a dozen dead languages.”

His eyebrows shot up. “Star pupil, indeed.”

I nodded once, chin set.

He snatched up his book, translated pages folded within, retrieved his hat and nodded a thanks as he opened the door to leave. He paused. “Have you ever thought about joining the army?”

I hated that question, and it had been asked often the last three years. I did feel some need to go serve my country, and lord knows there were no more evil forces on the planet than Hitler and Tojo. Still, I was tall but thin, with an Adam’s apple of prodigious size. My eyes were more attuned to reading letters than searching out Nazis. In fact, if there was someone less suited to armed conflict than I was, I had never met him. I just was not a soldier. I didn’t know Smith, didn’t much like him, and I never planned to ever see him again. So I settled on a terse, “No.” without regard to what he might think of me.

Then he left, and I locked up the professor’s office for the night. I went to his funeral the next Sunday. He was buried next to his wife in a beautiful ceremony. I stood by his grave for a very long time after.

The next day I received my draft notice. I tried to argue the point to anyone who would listen, but all I got were disapproving looks and olive drab walls funneling me into boot camp, where time ceased to have any meaning. I felt extra eyes on me the entire time, and extra attention paid to my training.

If you are thinking loving, paternal attention, think again. I was horribly out of shape, grotesquely inadequate with a weapon, and almost died on the first three-mile run. I could never keep my uniform clean enough. I was never able to properly express my ferocity. I never knew the right answers. I once stabbed a dummy with a bayonet and immediately fell over backward. I once passed out doing push-ups. The ten-mile marches were almost a death sentence. Let me be clear: I was a fantastic researcher, and an excellent linguist, but at six feet and one hundred and ten pounds, a hard-charging, bullet-chewing, Nazi-throttling grunt I was not.

It was something my drill sergeant never let me forget. He called me Ichabod . . . as in Crane. I was just glad they never found a pumpkin to throw at me as I suffered through the five-mile runs. Then, one night, I was pulled out of bed without warning. My scream turned into a cough as someone lovingly toed me in the solar plexus, emptying my lungs in one, fell whoosh. I tried to call upon my inadequately learned training and lashed out with hands and feet, earning a slap. My head was spinning as they efficiently shoved a cotton gag in my mouth, trussed me up with rough rope, yanked a bag over my head, and hustled me into the frigid night.

A native of Cincinnati, Ohio, James Daniel Ross has been an actor, computer tech support operator, historic infotainment tour guide, armed self defense retailer, automotive petrol attendant, youth entertainment stock replacement specialist, mass market Italian chef, low priority courier, monthly printed media retailer, automotive industry miscellaneous task facilitator, and ditch digger.  

The Radiation Angels: The Chimerium Gambit is his first novel and is followed by The Radiation Angels: The Key to Damocles. He is also the author of I Know Not, The Whispering of Dragons(with Neal Levin,) and The Last Dragoon. Snow and Steel is his first sojourn into historical fiction. James Daniel Ross shares a Dream Realm Award with the other others in Breach the Hull, and an EPPIE award with the others appearing in Bad Ass Faeries 2.  

Most people are begging him to go back to ditch digging.


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.


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.