Barely Human

Eirelander Publishing

Heat Rating: No rating
Word Count: 96,000
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Now you see her. Now you don't.

Recently promoted, Jessie is struggling to get into the groove of things alongside her edgy and more experienced partner.

Lately she’s found it increasingly difficult to hide an ability she can’t control, and doesn’t understand. While investigating the murder of a local teen, she discovers the shocking truth about what she really is. Worse, she suspects the killer that continues to hunt teenage girls is closer to her than she could ever have guessed.

As she delves deeper into a world where demons, vampires, and werewolves not only exist, but are all around us, unlikely friendships blossom as a group of misfits band together to put a stop to a madman’s murderous rampage.

Barely Human
0 Ratings (0.0)

Barely Human

Eirelander Publishing

Heat Rating: No rating
Word Count: 96,000
0 Ratings (0.0)
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Cover Art by Buffi BeCraft
Excerpt

Chapter One

Jessie

“Poke her, I dare you.”

“No way! I’m not doing it, you do it.”

“What if she’s dead?”

“Maybe we should take her wallet. If she’s dead she won’t need it anyway.”

“She doesn’t have a wallet. She’s only wearing a t-shirt. Where would it be?”

The fingers of sleep began to loosen their grasp on me. I’d read myself to sleep last night. The last time I’d looked at the clock, it was two, maybe three. I shivered. Must have left the window open. Normally I loved the crisp autumn air, but this was ridiculous.

Off in the distance, a couple of kids were arguing. Their voices had pulled me from my dream. Damn, why did they have to be so loud? They could have been in the same room with me. Excited about going back to school, I guessed. Yawning, I shifted my hips and felt my t-shirt snag on ...Rocks? Crap!

I listened while the boys continued to argue about which one should do the poking. “If either of you poke me, I’ll arrest you both,” I muttered after a moment.

The boys gasped at the sound of my voice. I squinted and looked up at the bright blue sky. Crooking my stiff neck, I checked out the kids, dressed in their new hoodies and jeans. They looked so warm. Lucky brats. I sighed. They get to leave the house dressed all warm and cozy, while I pop out in just any old thing.

“Lady, whatcha doing sleeping in the alley?” the tallest boy asked.

“Where’s your clothes? You trying to get yourself pneumonia?” asked the younger would-be assailant.

The taller boy leaned over and held out his hand to help me up. I waved it away and slowly got to my feet, feeling my joints snap into place. Nothing like a night on the asphalt to make you feel your best. I groaned as my lower back protested its new position.

“My great aunt got pneumonia last year and she nearly died,” the smaller boy offered, obviously feeling the need to enlighten me.

“Shut up, Charlie! No one wants to hear about your stupid aunt. She got pneumonia ’cause she smokes those cheapy cigarettes.”

“Hey!” I snapped at him while brushing bits of gravel from the hem of my t-shirt, “I don’t like the way you’re talking to him. And what’s this business about taking my wallet?” I stared at them with my best tough cop glare.

I tried to swallow, but my tongue stuck to the roof of my pasty mouth. If my breath smelled anything like the inside of my mouth tasted, I felt sorry for these kids. I took a step away.

“L-lady? What’s wrong with your eyes?”

Crap, my contacts.

As an infant I’d been diagnosed with a condition called essential iris atrophy, or ICE Syndrome, a very rare and progressive disorder that causes distorted or misshapen pupils. Not the worst disorder to have, I suppose. However, it did tend to unnerve people, which was why I normally wore contacts. “I had a late night, that’s all,” I lied, flinging my hand to my forehead, pretending to shade my face from the bright morning light. “Stop trying to change the subject. You were about to take my wallet?”

The boys exchanged an uneasy glance. “W-we weren’t really going to take it—right, Sam?” Charlie looked to the taller boy.

“Right. Nope, we would never do that. We were just kiddin’ around to see if, you know, we could get your attention.” Pleased with himself for his quick thinking, he shot the smaller boy a grin.

“Yeah, well...” I paused and scanned the alley. It was, thankfully, just the three of us. I refocused my attention on the boys. “I better not catch you two sneaking around here again. Now get to school!”

The boys dipped their heads, muttered, “Yes, ma’am,” and sidled off, leaving me alone in the alley.

Now I had to figure out how to get up to my apartment without being seen. Explaining to the neighbors why I was outside in my underwear was a task I could live without.

This was the third time this week that I’d flickered while sleeping—at least, that’s what I called it. It had started when I was thirteen.

I’d gotten my first period, and that same night I awoke in the tub, with no recollection of walking there. For the next few years, every once in a while I’d wake up somewhere other than in my bed. My mother chalked it up to sleepwalking until she came into my room to say good night to me, and watched in astonishment as I vanished. One moment I’d been in bed and the next I was gone, no walking involved. I could still hear her, “You just sort of flickered.”

For the most part, it was harmless. I’d wake up in my closet or in the hall just outside my room. But one frosty night in the middle of January, I flickered into the attic. My mother, thinking my dad had driven me to school early, went to work without a second thought. The small access hatch to the loft above the second floor of the house had been latched; trapping me for the entire day in the frigid, dark space. By the time Mom returned home and heard me banging on the hatch, I had frostbite on most of my toes. Luckily, there was no permanent damage. After that, my mother removed the locks from everything—just in case.

Two years ago last month, my mother passed away from an aneurysm. I found myself alone with my secrets, which up until a couple of months ago had been relatively easy to conceal. Easy because I kept to myself and, other than work, very rarely interacted with anyone. But lately, the flickering was becoming more frequent, the distances greater. Until recently, I’d never flickered beyond my own apartment. Last week I’d awakened downstairs in Mr. Murphy’s living room. I narrowly made it out of that one. I still have the scratches from his homely, one-eyed cat to prove it. Monday I’d ended up in the basement laundry room. And today...today I’m outside! In my underwear! I’m so screwed.

I climbed onto the dumpster and jumped up to grab the fire escape then hung, bare legs dangling, as a woman passed the alleyway. She looked up at me, expressionless, and kept going. Maybe climbing the fire escape in your underwear isn’t as unusual as one might think. The taste in my mouth was starting to make me feel seriously sick. What had I eaten last night?

I hauled myself up, then crawled under Mrs. Wang’s window, not up to hearing her lecture about the ticking clock. My clock wasn’t ticking, it was frozen in time. I like kids. Kids are okay. Truthfully, I’d not had much experience interacting with them, and they made me sort of nervous.

Children seemed much more intuitive than most adults. Whenever I was around them, I always felt as if they knew I had a secret. It’s not that I didn’t want children, but how could I, in good conscience, ever have a child without knowing what was wrong with me first? Besides, even if one day that changed, I’d have to find a man. Someone really, really understanding, who wouldn’t have a heart attack when his wife disappeared and reappeared like some freak straight out of a horror movie. Pfft, like that’s going to happen.

I climbed the short length of metal stairs to my kitchen window, and peered through the glass at the latch. I exhaled, relieved to find I had forgotten to lock it. I tried not to acknowledge the withering geranium in the flowerpot I moved off of the sill, but as I set it down on the landing it drooped to one side, sad and neglected.

Guilt surged. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d watered it, and I was pretty sure I should have taken it inside before the nights turned so cool. Like I’d ever be able to take care of a kid. I can’t even keep a plant alive. My chest clenched and I blinked against the prickle of tears. Then I resigned myself to my solitary existence and refocused on the task at hand.

A tacky decorative spike declaring that GARDENERS TEND TO SOIL THEIR PLANTS was the only thing still standing in the flowerpot—a gag gift from last year’s Secret Santa at work. It was stupid, but I’d kept it anyway—I didn’t get many gifts. I yanked it from the pot and forced the spiked end under the window as a lever. With a bit of effort, the pane lifted enough for me to squeeze my fingers in and push it up the rest of the way. A rush of warm air wafted over my chilled cheeks and I inhaled the familiar aroma of my apartment, a mixture of old plaster and Chantilly, my mother’s perfume. Occasionally, when I was feeling really lonesome, I’d spray some around the apartment. It always picked up my spirits.

I climbed awkwardly over the sill, knocking over a stack of my favorite self-help books. They didn’t seem to be helping me, but I couldn’t stop buying them. Maybe I could find a book to help me beat my book-buying addiction. I scooped them up, dumped them in a heap on the small kitchen table, and shut the window. A quick glance at the wall clock made me curse under my breath. It was going to be close. I started toward the bedroom but paused in mid-step and turned back to the window. I opened it a crack—just in case.

A long hot shower took the chill out of my bones and I was good to go. I left my apartment and entered the stairwell when my cell rang.

“Jess, where the hell are you? I’m your partner, not your mother, you know,” Ray chewed loudly on the other end of the line, completely devoid of any recognizable manners.

“I’m out the door. In the car, even. I’m practically there.” I jumped the last four steps to the lobby.

“Get a move on, will ya? Sarge’ll be handing out cases in twenty minutes and I don’t want to get stuck on bum clean-up again.”

I laughed. Ray was crude, and she never ceased to shock me. “Bums are people too, Ray.”

“Yeah, smelly people.” Without warning the line went dead. Typical Ray, no time for the usual niceties of civilized society.

I snapped my phone shut, stuffing it into my jacket pocket as I hurried out to the street where my Jeep was parked. I caught a break yesterday and garnered a space almost in front of my building. The driver’s side door screeched in protest as I yanked it open. The smell of moldy oranges smacked me square in the face.

Last week I’d picked up a fruit smoothie for Ray on my way into work, and had to stop a little too suddenly when some crazy woman cut me off. That had been the end of Ray’s fruit smoothie, and the beginning of the entity known as the Citrus Stinker. The juice and cream that soaked into my carpets had soured in the heat from the fall sun. I really had to take it in for a cleaning.

It was old and tired and I loved it—it had belonged to my dad. I knew it looked like it belonged in a junkyard, but I thought the wear and tear gave it character. I was usually the only one who thought so.

I’m on a parking streak, I thought as I slipped into a slot just vacated by an Explorer in front of Manny’s Deli. The prime spot meant Ray would be getting a full side view of my car, and I didn’t want to hear about it; my morning was already stressful enough. The familiar jingle from the bells hung on the deli door smoothed away some of my tension, though. My first steady partner—in or out of work, for that matter—was waiting inside. I had recently made detective and been assigned to work with Ray. Since I lived such a solitary life, I was really beginning to enjoy the closeness generated by spending large quantities of time with the same person.

“Gawd, can’t you even use a freakin’ alarm clock?” Ray blurted around a mouthful of bacon. She waved her empty coffee mug at the young waitress, making an obvious show of her impatience. The girl rolled her eyes on the way over. Ray was almost ten years my senior, but the way she acted you’d think it was closer to twenty—most of the time she was downright crotchety. She had made it abundantly clear to any cop who’d listen that she wasn’t too happy about being stuck with a greenhorn like me.

**End Excerpt**

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