Saturday, October 4, 2014

Questions for Meghan, Cade, Fergus, and the Morrigan from Teshelle Combs' SOLE Release Bash

Hello Readers!  Oh, it has been far too long since I've posted anything here, and I do apologize for that.  In the upcoming months, I hope to share the first chapters of The Legend of Oescienne - The Ascending and Caelihn (when they are ready to go), so for now I offer you this.  These are the four questions I chose to answer for Teshelle Combs' SOLE Release Bash on Facebook.  I'm posting them here, in case you didn't get a chance to join the event and read them the other day.  I'd also like to thank Teshelle for including me, and I encourage you to go check her out on Facebook, or to take a look at her Amazon Page.  Hope these responses brighten your day a little and I'd love to hear what you think of them (or which of my characters you'd most likely behave like in these situations ;)).  Feel free to comment below, and let me know if you'd like to hear answers to these questions from some of the other characters from the Otherworld Trilogy or the Oescienne Series (again. let me know in the contacts section and I'll see if they are willing to sit down for an interview ;)).
-J.E. Johnson

1. Finally, a break! How do your characters blow off steam?

A) Meghan Elam – I like to relax in my room (the basement apartment in my parents’ house, usually blissfully free of my five little brothers) by kicking back on my bed and either reading a favorite book or listening to some soothing music and just letting my mind relax.

B) Cade MacRoich – I prefer long walks through the countryside of Eile, preferably around Luathara Castle or through the Weald.  If I’ve just gone through my riastrad (my battle fury), then holing up in Luathara and sleeping for several hours, and sometimes days, is even better.

C) Fergus (Cade’s spirit guide wolfhound) – I like to join my spirit ward, Cade, on his long walks.  Sometimes, I’ll go by myself and hunt for renegade faelah, the Morrigan’s demented creations.  It is so thrilling to run them to ground and crush them between my teeth.  Unfortunately, not too many of them are good to eat.

D) The Morrigan – being the Celtic goddess of war and strife, my rage is unfathomable and I find the need to blow off steam an everyday occurrence.  My favorite way to work out my frustration is by tormenting Cade, the Faelorehn Ehriad who is geis-bound to serve me, or by finding some stray Faelorehn or Otherworldly creature to sacrifice.  When I’m not plotting or resting, I’m working on building up my vast reserves of dark magic.

2. A stranger walks up to your characters and slaps them in the face. What do they do/say?

A) Meghan Elam – In all honesty, I would probably be too shocked to say anything.  Who would go up to someone and slap them in the face?  I would probably just grumble and curse them under my breath, and hope that my untrained glamour didn’t do anything crazy.  That happened once before, and I didn’t like it.  A mean boy at school said horrible things about me and I got so upset that I unwittingly hurled a pinecone at his head.

B) Cade MacRoich – Usually if I detect any menace pouring off of anyone, I give them a look that makes them change their mind very quickly.  If someone was unwise enough to slap me, it might just be enough to push my glamour over the edge.  I have pretty good control of my riastrad, but if I’m in a dangerous mood, and someone provokes me, the monster might just burst forth and severely injure them.

C) Fergus (Cade’s spirit guide wolfhound) – If someone slaps me in the face, I would bite them.  No question about it.

D) The Morrigan – The imbecile’s hand would never make contact.  I would use my glamour to stop the blow, then make them believe their arm was on fire as I ripped what pitifully miniscule amount of magic resided in their soul, before finally reducing their body to ash.

3. Surprise! Your characters somehow end up stuck babysitting a bunny for the weekend. What ensues?

A) Meghan Elam – I wouldn’t mind babysitting a bunny at all!  I’d just have to figure out a way to keep my brothers from tormenting it.

B) Cade MacRoich – I suppose babysitting a bunny would be far easier than my usual job of tracking down and exterminating the Morrigan’s faelah.  It might be a nice, relaxing weekend.

C) Fergus – Fantastic!  Will I be permitted to chase it and eat it when the weekend is through?

D) The Morrigan – Bunnies have very little glamour to harvest.  Thank you, ignorant mortal, for the donation of live game.  My hellhounds, the Cumorrig, need a little fresh meat mixed in with their mostly carrion diet.

4. Your characters are stranded on an island. What five things do they bring?!

A) Meghan Elam – One, my spirit guide Meridian, to keep me company.  Two, a journal to write my dreams in.  Three, the mistletoe charm Cade gave to me.  Four, can I count Cade as something to bring along?  Hmm, maybe he should be in the number one slot …  Five, a picture of my family.

B) Cade MacRoich – I would want Meghan to come with me, but just so I can make sure the Morrigan can’t hurt her.  Fergus would be a wonderful companion as well.  One of my daggers, for protection and to use as a tool.  My long bow and arrows for hunting what game might live on the island.  Finally, my good cloak in case the weather turns foul.

C) Fergus (Cade’s spirit guide wolfhound) – Cade would be my first choice (what sort of spirit guide wouldn’t want his spirit ward with him?).  Next, I would say Meghan Elam, since Cade would worry about her and miss her (he won’t admit it, but he pines after the girl).  Meridian, Meghan’s spirit guide merlin, would be a fun addition.  She likes to chase after faelah with me and is helpful in spotting things from the sky.  I would like Cade’s horse, Speirling, to come, too.  That way Meridian and I would have someone else to play with when Cade and Meghan get distracted by one another.  Finally, I think I’d like to bring along a long piece of knotted rope.  Maybe Cade or Meghan will play tug-of-war with me every now and then.  I love that game!

D) The Morrigan – I would never get stuck on an island because I would simply transform into a raven and fly away, but let’s say, for the sake of arguing, I somehow get stranded with no way to escape.  I would need my sacrificial knife, just in case I found something with glamour.  No warrior goddess can go anywhere without her spirit guide, so my white raven would be coming with me as well.  The island might be overrun by upstart peons who are beneath me, so I must bring my Cumorrig to fight off any annoying pests.  I’ll need to establish a new fortress on this island, so I’ll need the throne from my cave.  Finally, I’ll want to bring along my best dress made of black and red leather, the skirts an intricate weave of gossamer, glamour and death.  The best way to garner supplicants is through terror and intimidation, and boy do I look something fierce in that dress.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Special Interview with Michael Ferraiuolo, the Voice of Cade MacRoich

As some of you already know, I have finally decided to venture into the world of audio books.  With the release of the audio edition of Ehriad, I wanted to introduce you to the narrator, Michael Ferraiuolo.  He has done such a wonderful job bringing Cade (and Fergus!) to life so I invited him to answer some questions about his work.  I hope you enjoy this interview and that you'll check out Ehriad on Audible, Amazon, or iTunes. 

1.  What got you started in the audio book production business?

As a singer and a voice actor I find myself constantly finding new ways to utilize my voice. During a recording session I met a gentleman who narrates audio books and he suggested that I might be good at. Let’s hope he was right!

2.  You work for Iron Works Studios.  Tell us a little bit about what goes on there.

I am proud to say that I am the owner of Iron Works Studios. We specialize in the audio production of music and audio books. We also coach singers, songwriters and voice artists in their craft. It is our mission to advocate for the artist in everyone!

3.  Do you enjoy reading outside of narrating books?  If so, what genres do you like the best and do you have an all-time favorite novel?

I am a voracious reader! I enjoy all fiction though I do have a particular love of fantasy, sci-fi, and mythology.

4.  Are there any other narrators or book producers who have inspired you?

Yes! Voice actors and narrators alike have inspired me with their work.  Namely, the great Michael Bell, Jim Dale, Simon Templeman, the late Tony Jay, and Mark Bramhall. 

5.  Do you do anything else besides produce audio books?

I do indeed! I am a professional singer, songwriter, producer, and vocal coach.

6.  Have you produced any other audio books besides Ehriad?  If so, which ones?

I have had the pleasure of narrating the trilogy “The Chronicle of Benjamin Knight”

7.  You use an Irish accent for the character Cade in Ehriad, but do you have a favorite accent you enjoy using while narrating?

Accents are always fun and challenging (especially Cade’s)! One’s natural voice is always the easiest but I can’t truly say I have a favorite. 

8.  In your opinion, what’s the best part about being an audio book producer?

The best part of this job is being able to collaborate with authors and help bring their characters to a new kind of life. As artists we can live in our own creative vacuums and being able to work together to create something new is always exciting.

Thank you so much Michael for taking the time to speak a little bit about your work!  If you would like to learn more about Michael and Iron Works Studios, you can visit the website here:
Ehriad is now available as an audio book from Audible, Amazon, and iTunes.  You can listen to a sample on each of those sites.  Be sure to check out my NEW Audio Books page here on this website too!
Audio Books

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Faery Realms Guest Author: India Drummond

1. Quickly, give us the title and genre of your book and a 30-word or less tagline:

Blood Faerie is an urban fantasy that takes place in Perth, Scotland, where I lived at the time I wrote the Caledonia Fae series.

When police discover a mutilated body outside the abandoned church where exiled faerie Eilidh lives, she must choose: flee…or tap into the forbidden magic that cost her everything.

2. Who is your intended audience and why should they read your book?

The Caledonia Fae series is something of a mashup of genre. When asked, I usually refer to Blood Faerie as a “supernatural serial killer” book. I hope that readers who enjoy either crime novels or fantasy will find something about the story they enjoy and possibly a new twist on the themes they haven’t seen before.

3. How did you come up with the title of your book or series?

Caledonia is the old name for Scotland, where many of the characters in the series are from and where much of the inspiration arose for me. So it seemed natural to call it Caledonia Fae. “Blood Faerie” refers to the antagonist of the book, a dark, twisted faerie who uses blood magic to kill.

4. Tell us a little bit about your cover art. Who designed it? Why did you go with that particular image/artwork?

I design all my own cover art. When I first released the books, I had a picture of a character on the front. When I tested out this new style, my sales jumped dramatically and I noticed a lot more male readers subscribing to my mailing list all of a sudden. The symbology reflects the darkness of the themes, but I also liked the inclusion of the greenery, because not all is darkness. There’s growth, change, discovery, and even love.

5. Who is your favorite character from your book and why?

Probably the antagonist, Cridhe. It’s really fun to create a character who is completely mad!

6. Give us an interesting fun fact or a few about your book or series:

The entire story was first inspired by an abandoned church in Perth. Everything flowed once I asked myself what was really going on inside that forbidden, dilapidated old building.

7. Do you have any unique talents or hobbies?

Unique? I’m not sure. I think I like what a lot of people like: good food, new places, sunshine, meeting new people. I’m currently staying in Italy and learning to speak Italian. It’s not a talent, though! I find it really difficult to get beyond the basics, but I do enjoy it.

8. How can we contact you or find out more about your books?

Readers can find me on my Facebook author page and on my blog. For more about my books, check out my Amazon author page.

9. What can we expect from you in the future?

My latest book is an epic fantasy called Spirits of Light and Shadow. It’s the first in a planned trilogy and a bit of a departure from the faerie books in that it’s got a darker tone to it. Still, I hope readers who enjoyed the Caledonia Fae books will like this one too. I’m also in the process of co-writing a book called The Lies Dragons Tell with fantasy author K.C. May. I’m very excited about that project. I’ve never written with someone else before. It’s both challenging and inspiring!

10. What can readers who enjoy your book do to help make it successful?

Tell a friend! (Or share the link on social media.) Word of mouth is the best advertising. I know when a friend recommends a book to me, I trust that way more than reviews from strangers or blurbs from the author.

11. Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Thanks for hosting me today! It’s been a pleasure!

16. And now, before you go, how about a snippet from your book that is meant to intrigue and tantalize us:

Eilidh detected the greasy scent of evil moments before she heard the scream below. She perched in St Paul’s steeple, watching Perth’s late night pub-crawlers through rotting slats. The scurrying footfalls of humans did not hold her interest, nor did the seeping ruby blood that spread quickly over the flat, grey paving stones. Instead, her eyes turned north along Methven Street, seeking the source of that familiar smell.

Evil smelled like nothing else, worse than a rotting corpse, worse than sewage and disease, more vile than the fumes that billowed from modern machinery, more cloying than the shame of drunken whores. This particular evil was fresh, but not quite pure. It mixed with rage but was contained, refined, as though gestated in the belly of ancient hatred. This evil held promise, and for the first time in decades, Eilidh hesitated, slightly afraid.

Thank you India for taking part in my Author Spotlight interview! I hope your writing continues to flourish and we hope to see more of you in the future.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Faery Realms Guest Author: Dana Michelle Burnett

Hello Readers!

In celebration of the release of Faery Realms, I will be hosting some of the authors of this fabulous book bundle in the coming weeks and months.

The first author who has been so kind to share her time and thoughts is Dana Michelle Burnett.  Dana is the author of the novel Gypsy Faery Tale Book One.  Instead of doing a traditional interview, Dana thought it would be fun to put together a playlist she uses to inspire her work.  Music is such a wonderful way to feed the creative mind, and I'm glad Dana is willing to share her inspiration with all of us.  Enjoy!

To learn more about Dana Michelle Burnett and her books, visit her website at:

Play List for Once (Gypsy Fairy Tale Book One)

While I was writing my novella Once, I really wanted to surround myself with the look and feel of the world and culture that I was trying to create. To do so, I found music to be the perfect porthole.

The Celts by Enya

I Will Find You by Clannad

The Old Ways by Loreena McKennitt

Galaway Bay by Celtic Woman

Danny Boy by The Irish Tenors

Do you have a favorite Irish song or Ballad?

Friday, April 11, 2014

Faery Realms - Ten Magical Titles *AVAILABLE SOON*


A New Book Bundle Available Soon where Ebooks are Sold!

Hello Readers!
It has been so very long since I've posted on my blog, and I must apologize for that.  These past several months have been busier than ever, and I've been working on two major projects that have taken up much of my time.  The first project, of course, was finishing up Lorehnin, the latest novel in the Otherworld series.  Lorehnin is now available where ebooks are sold and I'm working on getting the paperback ready to go.  You can read an excerpt on my Otherworld Trilogy page and the links to where you can purchase Lorehnin can be found on my Reading Guide

My next announcement is about my latest collaboration project. I have teamed up with nine other fae-themed writers to put together a brand-new, mega bundle of faery books!  Faery Realms will be available next week and includes authors Tara Maya, Terry Spear, Alexia Purdy, Anthea Sharp, Rachel Morgan, India Drummond, Dana Michelle Burnett, Julia Crane, Talia Jagar.
Ehriad will be part of this bundle, so if you've been meaning to get around to reading those scenes from Faelorehn told from Cade's perspective, now's your chance to do so and get nine other titles for just $0.99!  Faery Realms will be on sale for a limited time only, so be sure to look for it this weekend and early into next week.
 FAERY REALMS: TEN MAGICAL TITLES (Multi-Author Boxed Set, novels & novellas)
*Purchased individually, these books cost over $15 – List price $9.99 – Save 90% – Now on sale for only .99 cents!*
Enter the magical realms of Faery with these ten award-winning, bestselling fantasy authors. Each title in this sampler collection offers a new and different world full of mystery, love, and most of all, fae enchantment~
Over 1400 pages of stories, with *exclusive* titles from Alexia Purdy, Tara Maya, and Anthea Sharp! Together, these books have over 250 5-star reviews on Amazon and 150 5-star reviews on B&N
~Best for ages 13 and up~

Kickbutt faerie Violet is about to graduate as the top guardian trainee of her class, but when an assignment goes wrong and the human boy she’s meant to be protecting follows her back into the fae realm, a dangerous plot is set in motion. (298 pages)

THE WITHERING PALACE (A Dark Faerie Tale 0.1) – ALEXIA PURDY *Exclusive Content*
Untold darkness rules the Unseelie realm of the Land of Faerie. Hidden in this vast area, Aveta, the future queen of the Unseelie Army, perfects her gifts over lifetimes. Learning that magic isn't the only way to manipulate the world around her, this naive girl grows into a woman of strength and cunning, ultimately becoming one of the most feared leaders in Faerie.

Rylie’s life is turned upside down when a stranger knocks on the door, claiming to be her real mother. Soon she will have to face the terrifying fact that not only is she a faery, but one that has been promised to the dark prince. (240 pages)

High-tech gaming and ancient magic collide when a computer game opens a gateway to the treacherous Realm of Faerie. Jennet Carter never thought hacking into her dad's new epic-fantasy sim-game would be so exciting... or dangerous. But behind the interface, dark forces lie in wait, leading her toward a battle that will test her to her limits and cost her more than she ever imagined. (65 pages)

Unjustly sentenced to death, Eilidh ran—away from faerie lands to the streets of Perth, Scotland. When she discovers a human murdered by one of her own kind, she must choose: flee, or learn to tap into the forbidden magic that cost her everything. (264 pages)

HOOD & FAE (Daughters of Red Riding Hood) – TARA MAYA *Exclusive Content*
Roxy Hood is just trying to make ends meet to pay her mom’s medical bills. Sure, Roxy takes on some jobs of, ahem, dubious integrity, like pretending that she can speak to the dead. But hey, that’s harmless. It's not like a malignant ghoul is going to attack her. Or a sexy billionaire will show up trying to buy her red jacket. Or a werewolf will attack Granny Rose. Because that would be whacked.

THE DARK FAETERRY SPEAR  USA Today Bestselling AuthorAlicia can recognize the mischievous fae when they show up to "play" with the humans. Only now she's faced with one highly annoyed dark fae and she's certain he knows the truth about her. She can see him, which means her life is forfeit. (184 pages)

Cade MacRoich is Ehríad, an outcast of Eile. While hunting Otherworldly monsters in the mortal world, he discovers Meghan, a young woman whose magic seems very familiar …

Three scenes from Faelorehn – Book One of the Otherworld Trilogy, told from Cade’s perspective. (84 pages)

Harmony's life will never be the same... Every day is just as normal, and just as boring, as the one before it... And then the Carnival comes to town. Suddenly, Harmony’s small town world is overtaken by the handsome Kieran and she discovers that not all fairy tales are pretend. (140 pages)

FAE HORSE: A Faery Tale – ANTHEA SHARP *Exclusive content*
Accused as witch, Eileen flees for her life. When a strange black horse appears, her only hope of escape, she mounts it—to discover the cost of her ride may be more than any mortal could bear. (20 pages)


“It was fast paced, entertaining, witty, and even swoon-worthy at times. Rachel’s characters were fun to follow, and Violet is sarcastic and strong and a force to be reckoned with—everything I love in a female lead.” –Cover2CoverBlog review of The Faerie Guardian

“Turmoil, heartache and unexpected romance - all three are immersed into this tale of the Fae.”— Craving YA Reads review of Dark Promise

“The plot was fast paced and interesting … I can’t recommend the rest of the trilogy enough.” –The Mad Reviewer on Feyland: The First Adventure

"All in all, this is hands down one of the most unique Fae stories I have ever read before- India Drummond has truly created a beautiful world." –Avery’s  Book Nook review of Blood Faerie

“Enter the World of the Fae: Magical worlds aren't just for young adults, I enjoyed this tale and look forward to reading the other books in this series.” –ParaNormal Romance Reviews  of The Dark Fae

“I thought this was a great, quick summer read! Great story combined with bits of mythology and Irish folklore. I read the entire trilogy in a few days.” –Kristin David on Ehriad

"Once I started this book I could not put it down, I had to know what happened next." ~ Amazing Book Come To Life review of Once (Gypsy Fairy Tale)

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Twelve Days of an Indie Author's Christmas: Year 3

It is becoming a tradition of mine to post this every year around Christmas, for both my fellow indie author friends and for my readers, just for fun ;).  Whether you celebrate Christmas, Winter Solstice, Festivus, Hanukkah or any of the other wintertime holidays, I hope this list brightens your day a little :).

The Twelve Days of an Indie Author’s Christmas

On the First Day of Christmas, my readers gave to me:
A fan letter with a smiley :)

On the Second Day of Christmas, my readers gave to me:
Two new blog followers

On the Third Day of Christmas, my readers gave to me:
Three website views

On the Fourth Day of Christmas, my readers gave to me:
Four compliments about my series

On the Fifth Day of Christmas, my readers gave to me:
A five star review!

On the Sixth Day of Christmas, my readers gave to me:
Six books shared with friends

On the Seventh Day of Christmas, my readers gave to me:
Seven likes on Facebook

On the Eighth Day of Christmas, my readers gave to me:
Eight Twitter followers

On the Ninth Day of Christmas, my readers gave to me:
Nine brand new readers

On the Tenth Day of Christmas, my readers gave to me:
Ten adds on Goodreads

On the Eleventh Day of Christmas, my readers gave to me:
Eleven friend requests

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas, my readers gave to me:
Twelve ebook sales

Monday, December 9, 2013

Lorehnin Cover Reveal and First Chapter!

Well, here it is!  The long-awaited cover reveal for the next Otherworld installment: Lorehnin.  I just read through the first chapter for the second time, and will be continuing with the rest in the upcoming days and weeks before sending it off to my editor and eventually my beta readers (so basically, don't be too terribly shocked should you stumble upon a typo or several).

Lorehnin tells Robyn's story, almost two years after graduating high school and saying farewell to her friend Meghan (whom you should all know from Faelorehn, Dolmarehn and Luathara ;)).  Robyn leaves her old life behind and becomes a college student, determined to make something of herself.  Unfortunately, her connection to the Otherworld didn't end with Meghan's retreat into the magical realm, and her neat little plans for the future will be tested as both enemies and allies from Eile invade her world . . . As you can tell, I still haven't written the blurb yet, but hopefully you get the gist :).

And now I present to you both the cover and the first chapter of Lorehnin.  Enjoy!!

-J.E. Johnson

Chapter One
I didn't hate my job at the Green Tea Leaf.  Really, I didn't.  But some evenings even waitressing in this little hidden gem of San Luis Obispo could be unbearable.  It was Thursday night, which meant the streets were crawling with people at the farmers' market, and it was rush week.  Every last perky sorority girl and conceited frat guy was out prowling the masses pressing all the young, impressionable people they saw into uncomfortable conversations complete with big, fake, bleached-toothed smiles and forced enthusiasm.  And for some ungodly reason, one of these girls was pestering me.
Okay, there were two things very wrong with this situation.  First, I was in no way, shape or form impressionable.  In fact, I think I was born with my opinions already intact.  Yup, I'd been forcing my independent nature on the world even before I could talk.  And secondly, anyone with half a brain could tell, on looks alone, that I was not sorority girl material.  My black hair was more than a dozen shades away from being platinum blond and the streak that was currently dyed electric violet only accentuated that fact.  Furthermore, if the small assortment of silver hoops in each of my ears didn't scream rebel, then my lovely little collection of tattoos sure did.  They had been a birthday present to me, from me, as well as a nice way to remind myself that, thankfully, I no longer lived under the tyranny of my rigid, stodgy foster parents.
That's right, the day I turned eighteen they'd met me in the living room with all my bags packed and ready to go.
"If you continue to live this ridiculous lifestyle of yours and refuse to accept our rules, then we can no longer support you," my father had said as my mother watched on in stone silence.
At least the woman had had the decency to look regretful.  Fortunately, I'd already enrolled in classes at Cuesta, the local community college which was much more affordable than the better-known Cal Poly, and had narrowed down a few possible apartments in San Luis.  Okay, they were more like economy sized closets than anything else, but they would suit my simple needs and that was all my meager student loan could afford anyway.  Finding a job had been tougher.  Just when my stubborn insistence to keep face started to falter, I'd stumbled upon the Green Tea Leaf and the help wanted sign.  It had been a gift from the gods of outcast orphans.
A bark of laughter from one of the tables snapped me back to the present and the grinning blond hovering in front of the serving counter.  I arched one of my eyebrows, the one not pierced, and drew in a deep breath that I hoped would encourage patience.
"So, I think you'd be a wonderful addition to Delta Sigma Lambda," the bright-eyed blond chattered.  "Here's a flier with a list of our upcoming activities."
Gritting my teeth and trying not to be rude, I reached out a hand and took the neon pink paper and skimmed it as the girl studied my black and silver nail polish and equally dark eyeliner.  For the first time since entering the Tea Leaf her lips twitched in uncertainty.
That's right Barbie, you picked the wrong victim.
My eyes raced across the list of vomit-inducing social events.  A barbecue with one of the frat houses, a themed pool party where the guests were encouraged to dress as movie stars from the fifties, a scavenger hunt that included visiting all the bars in town . . .
Ugh.  Not a single one of these "Nights of Fun" appealed to me.  I sniffed and snapped the flier back at the girl.  She actually squeaked and jumped an inch.  Time to turn on the famous Robyn Dunbarre charm I’d often used in high school.
"Thanks, but no thanks.  I'm a neo-pagan and I prefer to spend my evenings sacrificing small animals and chanting to the gods while drinking blood and dancing naked around a bonfire.  Unless you have some of those activities planned, I don't think I'll be joining you."
The girl's blue eyes widened and her jaw dropped open.
I simply crossed my arms and smiled as she made a beeline for the exit.
"Dude, Robyn," Jonathon, one of my coworkers, whispered, "I know Margie thinks you're the long lost troubled niece she never had, but one of these days she's going to hear one of your snide remarks and then you'll be busted."
I snorted and tossed my hair, cut shorter than it had been in high school.  Margie was the owner of the Green Tea Leaf.  A sweet, middle-aged woman who enjoyed a diverse work force and supplying the local college kids with something other than fast food and alcoholic drinks to keep them energized.  The Tea Leaf was an organic cafe as well as a gift and book shop, and much of its wares and fare leaned toward the more eccentric types, such as myself.
"You know, what I said was only half true," I responded with a sniff.  I turned and regarded Jonathon, his brown eyes skeptical behind tasteful, wire-rimmed glasses.  "I don't really dance naked or perform animal sacrifices or drink blood."
"Too bad," he muttered as he got back to making a cappuccino for one of our patrons.  The machine hissed, blasting steam into the decanter of milk, almost covering up his next words.  Unfortunately, I heard him.  "I wouldn't mind seeing that . . ."
"Jonathon!" I gasped, smacking him with a towel.  "There are rules in the work place about sexual harassment you know!"
Jonathon’s eyes widened in shock and I could have sworn he would've fainted had I not smiled and said, "I'm kidding!  I know you didn't mean it."
He cleared his throat and finished up with the drink he was preparing.  "Sorry," he muttered, trying to recover from his embarrassment.
I reached out a hand and squeezed his thin arm.  He towered over me, but then again, most people did.  Jonathon, however, was a beanpole: all height and no muscle.  And he was probably the only friend I had in the world at the moment, except for Margie and Kelly, the other girl who worked here in the cafe.
When Jonathon gave me a sheepish smile, I turned back to my work.  Now that the sorority recruiter was long gone, I went back to stocking the shelves.  Most people loathed this part of working in the service industry, but to me it was a nice reprieve from dealing with the public, especially if we had recently received a new shipment of books.  As the smooth new age music played in the background and mingled with the sputtering of the coffee machines and the chatter of warm, conversational voices, I let my thoughts wander.  Yes, I only had my colleagues to call my true friends, but that was because those I had known in high school had either gone off to college far away from here or, in the case of my friend Meghan, had gone to live in a different world entirely, and I mean that literally.
I paused in the process of placing a box of organic loose leaf tea onto one of the shelves and drew my hand down to touch the cool metal band around my neck.  The necklace, well, torque technically, had been a gift from Meghan and her husband, Cade.  I gave a short snort.  It was still hard to think of Meghan as happily married to the hottest guy I'd ever seen.  It was even harder to imagine she was living in the Otherworld, a place I'd been semi-obsessed with for years.  All throughout high school I'd been the one in our little group of friends that had been into Wicca and anything pagan.  Of course I had never really believed the Otherworld existed.  To me it was more of a spiritual place one might be able to reach in the afterlife.  Turned out I was wrong.
"Robyn, could you help me at the counter?" Jonathon called from up front.
I coughed and set the box of tea down.
"Yeah, sure!" I answered, brushing my hands down the apron I wore.
I glanced at the clock on my way through the small dining area.  Ten more minutes until the end of my shift.  Ahhh, bliss.
* * *
Downtown San Luis Obispo was still crowded when I left work.  There were always people out and about after dark, but with the new school year just around the corner, college students old and new were returning back to campus and settling in as they awaited the first day of class.  A large clump of young students, made obvious by all the Cal Poly gear they wore, stood in my way.  Gritting my teeth, I hiked my purse further up onto my shoulder, wrapped my arms around my torso and ducked my head, ready to burrow my way through them like a bull.  I managed to escape the press of fresh-faced incoming freshman with nary a bruise nor shout of irritation thrown my way and soon I was enjoying the privilege of personal space as the crowd thinned.
The night was chilly, but not unbearable.  Loosening up the death grip on myself, I glanced up at the banners welcoming the students back to school, their gold and green colors warped in the orange glow of streetlights.  Cal Poly was the local state college, a good school but way too expensive for my budget.  Cuesta was a better fit and my student loans took care of most of it.  What the loans didn't cover I had to work for, hence my job at the Tea Leaf.  I was all on my own after all, no proud parents willing to sacrifice some of their spending money so their daughter could improve herself by earning a better education.  I guess if I fit into their image of a perfect child, my foster parents would lend me the money I needed, but there was no way in hell I was going to change for them.  Not because I was stubborn or that I thought their own beliefs were ridiculous.  That wasn't the case, though they would never believe me if I told them so.  They thought I was a lost soul and the only way for me to be saved was to cast aside my 'sinful and heathen ways'.  Unfortunately, that's who I was.  I knew deep down in my soul that their way of life wasn't the one for me.  I only wished they could see it too.
Sighing, I tossed my hair over my shoulder and turned down a familiar alley.  My house was only six blocks from the Green Tea Leaf, but that distance was cut in half if I took a few short cuts and I had left my bike at home this morning.  Okay, technically it wasn't my house.  I rented out the basement apartment from the four girls that lived in the main building.  The space was small, but I made it work.  I had a bathroom with a shower, a spacious living room and a kitchenette off to the side.  I'd taken down the doors to the closet to convert it into a bedroom of sorts.  My twin bed fit inside the alcove perfectly and a set of drapes closed it off from the living room.  Heck, it wasn't a four star hotel but it was home.
I took one more street past one of the local high schools and spilled out onto a quiet street decorated with a variety of Victorian era houses, all of them in different states of decay.  None of the buildings were completely derelict, but a few of them could definitely use some fresh paint and a garden renovation.  A common problem in a college town.
The house I lived in was toward the end of the street, a pink, two-storey structure complete with lacy molding around the windows and a covered front porch.  My roommates, well, housemates really, must have been throwing a party because the door was wide open, the lights were on and rap music was blaring from the windows, making the panes of glass rattle inside their frames.  Three guys holding red plastic cups, undoubtedly full of beer, laughed and conversed on the path leading from the gate.  I cringed as I passed by them since every other word of the conversation was an f-bomb.  Lovely.  Made one question a society's education system.
Fortunately, the three vocabulary-challenged party-goers didn't notice me as I bypassed the porch and headed for the side of the house.  The door to my basement apartment was sunken into the side of the building and framed by an arbor of clematis.  The flowering vine, along with the side garden space, was what made me choose this apartment above all the others when I'd first looked.  There had been a few more that had extra space in them for the same rent, but none of them featured a place for planting flowers, herbs and vegetables, many of which were currently on the verge of being ripe.  I didn't hang out with my Wiccan friends from high school anymore, but I still needed that connection with the earth and growing things.  Breathing in the muted scent of flowers and spicy herbs, I let my purse drop from my shoulder.
I dug around for my house key in the semi-dark, gritting my teeth against the pounding music and continued crude conversation on the porch above me.
A rustling in the bushes at the edge of the yard drew my attention away from my task the way a gunshot spooked a horse.  The house sat not too far away from the dead end of the road, where the land sloped downward into a small ravine.  A seasonal creek cut through the gap and ran behind the house.  Above the creek an old road bridge stretched across the breach, creating a popular campground for some of the homeless people who called San Luis Obispo home.  In my experience, most of them were harmless and usually kept to themselves.  Unfortunately, there were still a handful who were dangerous.  Drug use and mental illness combined with desperation often stripped people of their humanity.  I hoped that the disturbance I'd heard just a few feet away wasn't someone looking for an easy victim.
Whatever had been moving in the bushes stopped and I quickly got back to my task of hunting for my keys.  Probably just another stray cat or dog . . .  A moment later my hand swept across something hard and metallic.  Aha!  There they were!
Before I could so much as pull my keys free, however, something crashed through the shrubs clogging up the end of the street about fifty feet away.  I jumped in surprise and dropped my bag.  One of the homeless men who frequented the campsite beyond the end of our street stumbled onto the pavement, his arms and threadbare jacket wrapped around something.  I squinted my eyes and tried to make out his features in the faint glow of the street lamp.  Despite his dirty clothes and shaggy hair and beard, I recognized him.  Jerry, an older man who had been living on the streets probably as long as I'd been alive.  I had talked to him from time to time and discovered that he was one of the kinder people who shared our city.  In fact, seeing him now, clearly trying to escape while hiding something, worried me.  As far as I knew he wasn't into the drug scene and he didn't waste what little money he managed to scrape together on alcohol.  He did, however, have a soft spot for the local stray dogs and cats, and that, at least, I could sympathize with.
Forgetting my desire to get inside and catch up on my favorite TV shows with a nice mug of tea, I turned back toward the street and headed to the edge of our fence.
"Jerry?" I called out.
At first Jerry didn't hear me.  He looked pretty distressed and my concern spiked.
"Jerry!" I tried again.
This time he jumped and turned to consider me.  The fear and anguish in his eyes melted away, but perhaps that was just the tears gathering in their corners.
"They got the rest of the litter," he rasped in that gravelly voice of his.
I furrowed my brow.
"They got the litter, and the mama cat."
Carefully, he pulled back his jacket and drew his arm out, two tiny kittens in his huge hand, both pale in color.  Suddenly, a bad feeling fell over me.
"Who has the other kittens?" I asked.
"Them punks who come down and try to take my Maggie."
Maggie was his dog, another stray he had taken in to keep him company.  What meager change he managed to coax out of the kindness of strangers he mostly spent on food for her.
"Wh-what do they want to do with them?" I murmured.
I had moved beyond the fence and was now much closer to Jerry.
"They is in some kind of cult.  They, they . . ."
He trailed off, but he didn't need to finish.  My heart dropped into my stomach and my skin began to prickle.  I had a pretty good idea what kind of cult he was talking about.
"Jerry, stay up here, I'm going to go check it out."
He shook his head vigorously, but I pulled out my cell phone.  "I'm just going to look.  Maybe it isn't what you think.  And here's my phone.  If it looks dangerous, I'll come back up here and call the police."
Jerry pulled the two kittens back in close and shuffled off to the side of the road.  Taking that as a sign to proceed, I headed toward the end of the street.  Yes, it was unwise of me to approach a gang of sadists who were probably getting their kicks by torturing a cat and her kittens, but the raw anger that boiled up in me refused to let it go.  I doubted a petit girl of five foot two could intimidate them into finding a less cruel hobby, but I had to try.  I had my waspish personality to arm myself with, after all.
When I reached the end of the street, I could just pick out the low voices of a few people muttering.  No, not muttering, chanting.  That was odd.  Most bored teenagers who took up animal cruelty in groups thought their actions were so hilarious.  I expected cruel laughter, not soft chanting.  Feeling a little bolder, I squeezed my way past branches and leaves and had to brace myself a few times as the rudimentary trail shifted downward.  A minute or so later I spotted the site where many of the homeless camped, a cleared out patch of land tucked beneath the street bridge and above the shallow creek.  What I saw next made me draw in a sharp breath.  Five figures, all dressed in black hooded sweatshirts with the hoods up and cinched tight around their faces, stood in a circle.  In the middle of the circle there appeared to be a small fire pit constructed of stone.  Instead of flames crawling around inside the stone circle there was something else . . . kittens.  A harsh yowl from the bushes told me where the mother was.  My heart clenched and I gritted my teeth.  Poor things.
The chanting stopped and I returned my eyes to those surrounding the fire pit.  The lighting down here wasn't that great, but there was enough streaming down from the road bridge above to make out a few details.  Their sweatshirts were all the same, black with a large, silver reverse pentagram emblazoned on the front.  Someone pulled out a cigarette lighter and a clump of something that looked like dried sage.  And that's when I figured out what I was dealing with.  Wonderful.  A group of neo-pagans who preferred to focus on destroying the gifts of nature instead of rejoicing in them.  I was ninety-nine percent certain that these lunatics weren't really pagan at all.  They just used the label as a cover for their carnage while making the rest of us look bad.
Silver flashed and I realized that one of them had a knife.  Okay, things were getting serious real fast.  Time to climb back up to the street and call the cops.  I didn't want these sick bastards seeing me.  I shifted my feet so I could turn around and head back up the trail.  Unfortunately, my movement caused a large rock to come loose from its resting place and slide down the hill.
The five dark figures forgot about the squirming kittens and turned to stare directly at me.  Well, at least I thought they were staring at me.  Hard to tell with those dark hoods pulled up over their heads.  Not bothering with stealth, I bolted forward, digging my feet into the loose sand of the steep trail and using the roots and branches on either side of me to heave myself upward.  The loud crashing of breaking foliage behind me announced their pursuit and my heart kicked up its pace.  Would these people be bold enough to murder me?  Did they want to risk being caught by the police?  Did they care?
Panting, I pushed myself harder.  Almost to the top of the trail, almost . . .  A hand grabbed my shoulder and I caught a quick glimpse of a tattoo between the thumb and index finger.  A skull with goat horns and sharp, elongated canine teeth.  The symbol was familiar to me, but before I was able to recall anything else about it, the fingers tightened, digging into my skin and I felt myself being yanked backward.  I couldn't freeze.  If I froze, then these people would have me and goodness knows what they'd do to me.  Of course, I couldn't help the small cry that escaped my throat either, but in the end I think it helped me.  My attacker eased up a tiny bit and I took advantage of the moment by lifting my leg and kicking back as hard as I could.  My foot made contact with something soft, the person's stomach or groin.  I was hoping for the latter.  Either way, his hand dropped from my shoulder and I could hear him falling back and crashing into his friends.
I dug my toes into the steep trail like a mountain goat and pushed with all my strength.  By the time I stumbled out of the brush and onto the street, I was shaking and nearly stumbled over my own feet.
Jerry came shuffling over, still holding the kittens.  "You okay?"
I gasped and continued to head further away from the end of the road.  Nodding, I breathed, "I think so.  I'm going to call the police, though.  Not sure if the kittens got away.  Hopefully I distracted them long enough."
Jerry looked nervous and I couldn't blame him.  The police officers might push him out of the place he called home.  I really didn't want to go through the hassle of filing a report, but maybe it wouldn’t come to that.  I pulled out my cell phone and dialed the number.  When I got someone on the line, I told them that I saw a group of people going down into the homeless camp near my house and that I thought I saw them carrying knives.  Not a complete lie, but it might encourage the cops to look into it.  Hopefully that would scare the bastards away and I wouldn't have to get any more involved than I already was.
I hung up and moved closer to my basement apartment.  If those idiots wanted to come after me, they'd have a hard time doing anything with the party raging in the house.
Five minutes later a police car pulled around the corner making my roommates' guests scatter like cockroaches.  The car rolled up alongside the sidewalk and I stepped out of my basement room.  Jerry had long since disappeared and I'd decided to play it safe by locking my doors.  I had spent the time it took the cops to get here thinking about that tattoo.  Back when I was still regularly attending outings with my Wiccan friends, they had warned me about a small gang around town who liked to dabble in black magic.  They called themselves the Noctyrnum and frequently practiced animal sacrifice.  And it was people like them that made ultra-religious people like my foster parents equate "pagan" with "devil worshipper".  And that tattoo on my attacker's hand was the spitting image of the small, black symbols I'd seen painted in random places throughout San Luis.
"Noctyrnum," Claire, the founding member of our group, had said with a grim expression.  "Do not mess with these guys.  They make the wannabe vampire crowd look like little girls having a tea party."
That had been over a year ago, right after I’d moved up here and enrolled at Cuesta.  At first I had been a regular member of Clair’s pagan group, Earth Bound, but eventually school and my job got in the way.  Gradually, my attendance tapered off until I stopped going altogether.  It had been three months since I'd last made it to a meeting and as I thought about that tattoo and what I'd say to the police, I realized just how much I'd missed going.  Maybe it was time to get back in touch.
Sighing, I walked down the narrow strip of concrete that stretched from my door to the sidewalk, my senses on high alert for any sounds coming from the bushes at the end of the street.  The window of the police car rolled down as I approached.
"Were you the one who called in gang activity in this area?" the officer asked.
I nodded.  "At the end of the street."  I pointed to where the asphalt came to an end some fifty yards away.  "A group of young adults dressed in black and wearing hoods went down that way.  I thought I saw one or two of them with a knife and I know that some homeless people sleep down there sometimes.  I was afraid they were planning on hurting some of them."
The officer turned his head and said something to his partner, then looked back at me.
"We'll check it out.  You can go back inside now."
"Thank you," I said as they turned off their car and started to clamber out.
Once back in the relative safety of my apartment, I put a kettle of water on the stove and prepared a pot of tea.  While I waited for the water to boil, I pulled my curtains to the side and watched as the officers' flashlight beams disappeared down the trail.  Good.  That should scare them off, at least for tonight.  If I was lucky, that would be the last I'd ever see or hear of them in this area again.