MIDNIGHT ETERNAL

When San Angeles’s greatest protector, Midnight, squares off in a fight to the death against his archenemy, Old Scratch, a lightning strike triggers the impossible.

Midnight awakes in the demon’s body, and he is soon hunted by a group of superheroes led by his ex-lover Catfight. His erratic behavior also sparks a mutiny within his own evil empire.

Trapped in an insane new reality, he devises a reckless plan to eradicate crime in his beloved metropolis, but can he survive long enough to see it through?

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PREY FOR THE DAMNED

Squatting in the alley’s neglected gloom, Grace reached into her oversized, lemon colored purse. Ignoring the departing footsteps of her latest customer, she retrieved a shiny metal flask and took a healthy swig. She swished the liquid around her mouth, enjoying the mild tingling sensation. Spitting out the mouthwash, she also parted ways with the salty aftermath of another satisfied john. She spit again, then swiped across her mouth and chin with a moist baby wipe. Happy endings were worth an extra twenty-five bucks per blowjob, and that translated into more than a month’s worth of gas for her scooter.

She freshened her lipstick with a lighted compact, then checked the time on her phone. She had an hour before her weekly hook-up with Mr. Winters at Italy’s Best, a neighborhood Italian place. A seventy-something widower, Mr. Winter always reserved the cozy couple’s booth at the back of the restaurant. In the romantic lighting, she would slide into the booth next to him and they would chat briefly about the events of the day. He would take a sip of his wine, and she snuggle up against him. A well-rehearsed routine, she would casually slip a hand under the table, deftly undo his belt and zipper, and give him a hand job. Prior to their first session, he’d shared that his much beloved Madeline had performed the same wonderful duty during their weekly visits to the restaurant. Cancer had taken her life almost a decade ago, but several months back he swore his beloved had come to him in a dream and told him it was okay for him to re-create their decadent dates at the neighborhood’s favorite Italian eating spot.

Grace enjoyed making the elderly man feel good, and he always slipped her a crisp fifty dollar bill for the brief encounter. He’d smile and thank her for her time, and pronounce he’d look forward to seeing her the next week. Grace knew their weekly date was an open secret amongst the staff, but no one ever gave either of them a judgmental or disapproving look. Mr. Winter was the respected, retired personal tailor of the small-time, local mob. Grace Perkins was the former local prom queen and honor student left to struggle through her final year of college after the death of her parents in a tragic car accident.

Grace straightened her clothing before walking the opposite direction from her trick. She maneuvered through the dark passage like an alley cat, comfortable in the shadows. She knew the alleys like the back of her hand; just one of the many great lessons she’d learned running the streets with the Crows. The clinging smells and gathering trash was just a natural part of her city, like dirty cops or a woman’s period.

A few steps from the Pacific Street sidewalk, she heard a noise. She froze. She couldn’t place the sound, but recognized it was unnatural. Still cloaked in shadows, she listened. Quiet wrapped itself around faint dialogue. She couldn’t make out the words, but instinct told her to stay out of sight.

Shakedown. A hitter from one of the local silk purses collecting a late payment from some Joe in the darkness of the continuing alley across the street. She eased her hand into her purse and withdrew her glasses. She’d been told they didn’t diminish her attractiveness, but her ego wouldn’t accept the truth. She couldn’t afford contacts until she finished school and landed a good job.

She looked across the street, beyond the rear of the furniture store delivery van. There was a bright yellow light illuminating the loading dock half way down the alley, but the action was happening closer to the street lit end. She blinked. Instinct barked at her to drop her eyes and back away. This was none of her business, and, after dark, downtown Pacific Grove became a whole different kind of work place. There’d actually been a murder two nights before of a teenage couple returning home from a movie date at the Broadway Theater. Details had been sketchy, with the deaths described as “unnatural?in nature. Neighborhoods had closed just a bit more as police continued to investigate. Grace was relieved there was no mention of gang violence. She’d heard the Crows were having a tough enough time dealing with political volleyball of “Colors for Careers?gang dissolution program.

But what was happening across the way was too startling, yet too captivating in its break from reality for her not to watch.

There were two men and a young woman half in and out of the shadows. Grace recognized one of the men immediately, and would had even without the simple black leather vest displaying his gang affiliation, making the scene all the more fantastic. The man pinned to the furniture store brick wall was Stallion, a member of The Crows, Pacific Grove’s white hat street gang. The muscular, blonde maned gang member towered over the man who, with one hand, had the former eighteen and under California light-heavyweight Golden Glove boxing champion held in check. Stallion struggled, unsuccessfully using both hands to pry the smaller man’s hand from his throat. The muscles in his arm flexed and bulged with his effort to free himself. In high school, those impressive arms circled the shoulders and waists of countless drooling female students.

Grace might have been seduced, but his ego was even bigger than his biceps. Plus she’d always thought BAM’s arms were bigger. She’d always favored The Crow leader, Wallace Thornton, known as Breeze. He was better looking, wasn’t conceited, and had the best set of abs in Southern California. He’d also been pretty funny, in a sneaky, subtle way. Looking on was Stallion’s flavor of the month, a pretty dropout named Cassie. No, Sissy. Red hair flowed to her waist, with legs sprouting from under a mini skirt just below her perky, braless breasts. She was still wearing the same stoplight red lipstick she had as a cheerleader. She sounded close to tears as she pleaded with the aggressor to stop, but he appeared completely focused on Stallion’s helplessness. Grace’s mind kept skipping back to the smaller man, unable to accept what was happening.

Timothy Doleman was the assistant manager down at Finnigan’s Deli and Bakery. He was a quiet guy, nice enough. He was thin with a pasty complexion, but he never seemed weak or sickly. She couldn’t remember seeing him with a girl, not even back in high school, but he didn’t put out a creepy loner vibe. She’d once called him Tim, but he’d pushed his glasses back up his beak-like nose and pronounced his name was Timothy, after his great grandfather. He hadn’t been a jock in school, and as far as she knew, he hadn’t taken up any sports since. But now he was displaying a stunning feat of strength. She didn’t know how much Stallion weighed, but it was clearly much more than Timothy should have been able to lift with one hand. The sight was insane.

As was Timothy’s other hand, if it could still be described as such. His fingers looked way too long to be human, and even at this distance, she could see the nails ended in wicked, bird-of-prey talons.

When Grace’s flight instincts barked at her nervous system again, she listened. But even as her body flinched to turn and run, the scene across the way changed. It snared her attention so dramatically, it drew her out into the dim light at the alley’s.

Stallion’s struggles became more frantic and Grace could see Timothy’s fingers burrowing into the flesh of the gang member’s throat. Sissy screamed at the savage invasion. As casual as swatting a gnat, Timothy backhanded the redhead across the face, tossing the young woman into the middle of Pacific Avenue. Sissy’s body flopped to the pavement with a sickening crunch. Grace flinched, thinking the woman’s head had struck the road. But that wasn’t right.

Entranced like a sleepwalker, Grace stepped to the edge of the street.

Sissy lay in a heap. Stomach down, her four inch heels pointed toward the night sky. So did her bloody, misshapen face. The blow had caved in her cheekbone and the side of her skull. Her head sat backward on her broken neck like a mistreated doll. Her death stare cursed the universe for its cruelty.

The sudden screech of car brakes broke the spell. Grace heard men shouting profanities from the car, and then they spilled out from the vehicle, questioning and threatening in a jumbled tirade.

Grace moved without thinking, dropping to a knee by Sissy. One of the dead girl’s eyes bulged obscenely from the socket, threatening to burst. Grace felt a jerk in her stomach, and then she was twisting away from the sight and heaving up the chili cheese dog and French fries she’d had for an early dinner. Then more screaming filled the air.

From all fours, Grace looked up through her dark bangs at the horror show. Stallion was on the ground, clutching at his ghastly throat wound, blood gushing from between his fingers. Timothy had punched his fist completely through the chest of the driver of the car like cardboard. The man’s body trembled at the impalement, shock and disbelief causing a cartoonish expression.

Waving a small souvenir baseball bat, the car’s passenger charged the deli manager but was dismissed in a crimson spray of blood. The man sank to his knees as if to pray, then pitched to the side, his face cleaved by jagged gashes. His body jerked as his life drained away.

Timothy stared into the face of the man hanging on his forearm. The man tried to speak, but dark blood replaced his voice. Timothy studied him for a long moment, then stepped forward, forcing his arm further through the man. Timothy smiled like a serpent, and then his mouth opened as if he was yawning. Grace couldn’t take her eyes from the man’s shark-like maw. Jagged teeth filled the cavity, and his mouth stretched to impossible proportions. Choking on his own blood, the impaled man couldn’t scream. Timothy struck at the man’s throat with impossible speed, teeth disappearing deep into the man’s flesh. His victim’s body seized and became rigid. Timothy hugged the man to him, an embrace so ghoulish Grace retched.

In the distant, a siren wailed faintly. The police would have no idea what kind of abomination they’d be up against.

Grace glanced at Timothy, who was still chewing on the man’s neck. The slurping sounds were obscene. She crawled across the pavement, skinning her palms and knees until she managed to scramble to her feet. She ran blindly back into the dark alley she’d been drawn out of. Her panic engulfed her so, she couldn’t feel her feet touch the concrete.

She dodged around a set of garbage cans and glanced over her shoulder. A figure stood at the end of her alley. She knew it was him. A voice - his voice - spoke to her. It sounded like he was right there beside her, whispering in her ear. It was cold and emotionless. It teased her with the truth.

“There’s nowhere to run, Grace.?br/>
Part of her wanted to glance again, but fear of him giving chase like a demonic cheetah after a gazelle across the Serengeti only fueled her sprint.

When he spoke next, it was a horrible, deafening shriek. She winced at the words, and an underlying inhuman hiss accompanying them. And somehow she realized Timothy’s voice was not filling the air around her, but dominating her thoughts from inside her mind.

“You’ll beg to die before I’m through with you, bitch!?br/>
She sobbed at the threat, and shook her head to rid the voice like a bug clinging to her hair. The violation was worse than anything she’d ever experienced. Worse than Mr. Stagg in P.E. class the infamous day of rope climbing. There was no shower hot enough to rinse away the filthy residue inside her head. She screamed from fear and disgust.

She’d run out of her shoes, and she took no notice of the jagged glass from a shattered beer bottle. Pieces bit through sheer black stockings and into her feet, but the pain couldn’t pierce her terror. She hadn’t thought about The Crows for a long time, but damn if she didn’t wish Breeze and BAM and Nature Boy and Cartoon weren’t there to kick Timothy’s boney, freaky ass.

Grace stole a last desperate look behind her as she neared the end of the dark passageway. Timothy’s silhouette was gone. She burst blindly from the alley’s other end, from shadowy darkness into a well-lit thoroughfare. The moving traffic was no concern. Terrified, she was three blind, breakneck strides into the busy avenue when the blare of car horns startled her. It took an instant to realize where she was, and a split second later she ran headlong into the side of a breaking commuter bus. Her living nightmare went black.

Old Mr. Winter would wonder and worry about his missing dinner companion.
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