Michael Haspil - Tor/Forge Blog



5 Gaming Tools to Help Your Writing

Image Placeholder of - 36Written by Michael F. Haspil

Whether we’re neophytes, first touching pen to paper, or storied veterans with hordes of bestsellers on our trophy walls, writers are suckers for any kinds of tools to help us in our art. This is especially true when we feel like we’re stuck in the drudgery of the task. That’s the perfect time to spice things up and bring fun back into the process. Games can help us break stubborn blocks, avoid Gary Stu situations, develop plot points, and generate writing prompts to prime the muse.

I used to work in a tabletop gaming store–the truth is, I hung out there so much they gave me a job. I got exposed to lots of tabletop games which led me to two observations. First, there are a plethora of games out there that writers can hijack and convert into writing tools. Second, a surprising number of writers loiter around the friendly local game store. Speaking to said writers about games, I came up with a list of ones that were truly useful. Here are the top five.

Let’s count them down:

5. DIXIT from Asmodee

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This is a fantastic game for those times when the cursor just sits there blinking at you and your brain is mush. DIXIT is a quick storytelling card game for three to six players. The players all draw cards with dreamlike images on them. One player, the Storyteller, attempts to describe a card at random. The other participants each select one of their cards that they feel most closely matches the Storyteller’s description. The Storyteller takes all the cards, mixes them together (without the others seeing), and everyone tries to guess which card was the Storyteller’s.

Use it to generate writing prompts when the muse doesn’t want to help. Deal yourself a hand of cards, then lay them out and interpret them into a story. It’s guaranteed to get those creative neurons firing. The base game comes with eighty-four cards and numerous expansions exist to fit different themes, so you can get a lot of use from this one.

4. Rory’s Story Cubes from Gamewright

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The core set of Rory’s Story Cubes comes with nine dice with various images on them. The idea is to roll the dice and interpret the images, either literally or symbolically, into a story, much like DIXIT. I lean on Story Cubes a bit more because I prefer dice. Plus, they are easily portable and there’s even a smartphone app! Rory’s Story Cubes have several expansions that add dice for stories in different genres, like mystery, fantasy, action, and more.

3. StoryForge by B.J. West

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This isn’t really a game per se, but an outstanding tool to help with plotting and breaking through writer’s block. Imagine a set of Tarot cards, but instead of the normal arcana, you get eighty-eight cards labeled with Jungian archetypes, stages of The Hero’s Journey, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, etc.

This is amazing to use for solitary brainstorming in early stages of your work and for generating plot points and characters. You deal the cards out in “spreads,” much like the Tarot, and interpret them from there.

2. FATE Dice (sometimes called FUDGE Dice)

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These are fantastic gaming dice most often used with the FUDGE or FATE role-playing systems. Unlike the polyhedral dice we normally associate with role-playing games, these are almost normal six-sided dice. Instead of numbers or pips, they come marked with simple plus and minus symbols, which make them ideal for helping us avoid Gary Stu moments and adding a random element to help punch up a stagnating scene. Simply take four of the dice and roll them. Count the pluses and minuses. More pluses mean something good happens. More minuses are bad. Easy peasy.

FATE Dice came to my rescue in my novel Graveyard Shift. In my original draft, Alex, an immortal pharaoh and my protagonist, entered a convenient store occupied by vampiric thugs. He handled business deftly and like a pro, dispatching the vampires with righteous fury and efficiency. My beta readers didn’t like the scene. It dissipated tension and lessened the threat posed by my villains. A few rolls of FATE Dice fixed that problem. First thing that happened in the new scene, Alex got his gun knocked out of his hand. Then a slew of other things went wrong. I rolled poorly that day, but it made for a much better scene.

  1.   99 Chances from Gorilla Games


Last, but certainly not least, 99 Chances is a favorite of mine and is the perfect way to generate writing prompts, minor characters, or problems for your characters to deal with. It is a mandatory component in my writing toolbox. 99 Chances consists of a deck of ninety-nine cards, each labeled with a number, opposing sets of words (good/bad, strong/weak, rich/poor), and a genre (science fiction, action, musical). Players select a hand of cards and then must pitch a story combining two of the genre cards. (It helps nascent writers practice live pitch sessions as well). After that, players generate characters based on their resources (the positive words in the opposing pair) and other players pass them problems (the negative words), they work together to weave an interactive story.

Used solo, it is a fantastic brainstorming tool. If I’m really stuck and can’t get going, often I’ll shuffle and deal some cards from 99 Chances and write up a paragraph or two. After writing about a gothic alien invasion, I have no problem getting into the groove.

wp-image-31967Honorable Mention: The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen from Fantasy Flight Games

Okay, you got me. This one is a kind of cheat because a list of five things sounds better than a list of six. You won’t use Munchausen directly to help your writing. But it will force you to get the creative juices flowing and it’s great fun to play with fellow writers, especially at conferences. Participants assume the roles of eighteenth century nobles in a storytelling contest, each trying to best the others with absurd tales almost too farfetched to believe. Players confound one another by offering difficult story prompts, which they must spin into tales of high adventure. Consider this game a Stairmaster for your imagination. Play this enough and you won’t have a problem coming up with a story when someone says, “Tell us, Baron, about the time you saved Jacques de Molay from the fires of the Inquisition with only a straw hat and a purloined copy of the Necronomicon.” Once you can do that, coming up with stories that are actually supposed to make sense is a cinch.

I hope this list has delivered some fun methods of smashing through writer’s block, generating fun prompts, and brainstorming alone. The best part is when we’re done with our writing sessions (and only then), we can play outstanding games!

[Disclaimer. I am not affiliated with any of the games or tools discussed in this post.]

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Excerpt: Graveyard Shift by Michael F. Haspil

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Alex Menkaure, former pharaoh and mummy, and his vampire partner, Marcus, born in ancient Rome, are vice cops in a special Miami police unit. They fight to keep the streets safe from criminal vampires, shape-shifters, bootleg blood-dealers, and anti-vampire vigilantes.

When poisoned artificial blood drives vampires to murder, the city threatens to tear itself apart. Only an unlikely alliance with former opponents can give Alex and Marcus a fighting chance against an ancient vampire conspiracy.

If they succeed, they’ll be pariahs, hunted by everyone. If they fail, the result will be a race-war bloodier than any the world has ever seen.

Graveyard Shift will become available July 18th. Please enjoy this excerpt.

Chapter 1

No sign of forced entry.

Detective Alex Romer took in that detail as an afterthought. He pulled on the sky-blue Tyvek booties and crossed into the air-conditioned crime scene, his footsteps making muffled sounds on the Florida Tile flooring. People here had dollars, which meant they had influence, which meant scrutiny and associated headaches. Which told Alex he was making a start on ruining the new day.

This was Coral Gables, an affluent suburb of Miami, and it was too early to be investigating a murder. The house was just big enough that it might garner envy from most people, but it didn’t stand out in this neighborhood. A large central stairway dominated the foyer and wound its way upward. Alex thought there should have been skylights and massive picture windows framed by tall palms to offer a carefully calculated peep show of privacy. Hidden conspicuous wealth was an oxymoron.

The entire entrance should have been drowning in sunlight. Most vampires didn’t like that.

The place smelled pungent.

Garlic. Concentrated. Way beyond what anyone would use for cooking. And something else. Vinegar with a hint of baking soda.

Bright artificial light streamed from the next room, where people murmured in concerned voices. The forensic services unit had brought in portable lights and set up before they’d thought to call him. That was odd. They were moving very quickly, which complicated things. Now he’d have to explain everything to these kids like it was Day One.

With a grimace, he set off for the lighted room. As he stepped toward it, an impressive oil painting came into view. It was the ninth trump of the Major Arcana of the Tarot, The Hermit, holding his lantern aloft as a beacon encircled by encroaching gloom. The painting depicted the scene as if the lantern’s powerful beams were actively battling the darkness—not simply traversing it, but piercing it, lancing it . . . laying waste to it.

It was more than just a masterly rendition; it was a symbol. It was the sigil of the Lightbearer Society. Since the Reveal, the Lightbearer Society had purportedly been helping both established vampires and the newly turned integrate into mundane society. “The Reveal,” that’s what everyone called it. The global event when vampires had flung aside their cloaks of secrecy and darkness to brave the scrutiny of the proverbial light. It was just the Reveal. The Lightbearers were dirty as hell and had money and influence to spare. Headaches free of charge.


Well, now he knew why everyone was Johnny-on-the-spot this morning. That’s why they hadn’t waited for him to arrive.

A voice interrupted his thoughts. “When you’re done admiring the art, we could use your help with the vic. You know, anytime that’s convenient for you.”

Alex took in the man who’d spoken. Detective. Wearing a cheap suit off the rack. The suit implied professionalism, but Alex knew better. Still, it was more professional than the loose khakis and light green camp shirt he wore.

“You’re Nocturn Affairs, right?” The man barely hid the scorn in his voice.

Alex raised his eyebrows as if to say, “What do you think?” He held up his badge and ID.

“Nocturn.” There was that word. Since the vampires weren’t going away anytime soon, the politically correct folks wanted the V-word to become a no-no now. They’d come up with “nocturn.” A lazy truncation of Homo nocturnus. Alex didn’t like it. The word sanitized the reality. It was a kind of lie. He supposed that in some people’s eyes that made him a bigot. But he’d been in the business far too long to change his ways now, and despite all the Lightbearer Society’s propaganda, he knew vampires for what they were—ruthless and bloodthirsty.

“What’ve we got?” Alex asked.

“Female. Apparent age mid-thirties. She’s one of yours. Got herself decapitated.”

That was all the city needed right now. Tensions ready to bubble over and a high-profile vampire murder. Everyone would go ballistic.

There was a bit too much activity in the house right now. Alex needed to clear it out.

“Think I can get some time alone?” Alex asked.

One of the forensic techs, who was prepping a doorjamb to lift prints, addressed the cheap-suited detective. “Perez. Your scene. Your call.”

Perez hesitated.

“Ten minutes,” Alex said.

“Take five, guys,” Perez said.

The tech nodded and walked outside, sweeping up the rest of his team in his wake.

Alex looked at the doorjamb the tech had been working. They’d find nothing here. He formed a theory of events and knelt down. He felt the edge of a rug that led into the room. It was still damp.

He sniffed. Garlic and vinegar. Bingo, here was the source of that scent.

“You think you might take a look for yourself?” Perez prodded. “After all, you came all the way down here.”

Alex allowed himself a small laugh, answering sarcasm with sarcasm. “Yeah, what could it hurt, right?”

He stood and walked into the room, stepping over and around dried blood splatter. The pattern spoke volumes. There wasn’t nearly as much blood as one would presume from a decapitation, but Alex had been expecting that. Vampire physiology released blood rather reluctantly.

The room itself was more of a pass-through with a doorway at the other end leading farther into the house. A glorified short hallway. Choke point. There were two small tables against each wall at the midpoint. One still held a fancy white vase. Blue filigree swirled around it. Its partner hadn’t been so lucky, and shards of no doubt rare porcelain littered the tiles and the rug.

An investigator from the county coroner’s office leaned over a woman’s headless body. The woman had been fit. She was a vampire, after all. She was wearing a red power–suit jacket-and-skirt combination with designer boots to match.

“Cause of death?”

“Don’t be a wise-ass. It’s too early for your bullshit,” the investigator answered without looking up.

“Rivera, always a pleasure. Where’s her head?”

Rivera tilted his head in the direction of a covered mound a few feet away.

“Mind if I have a look?”

“Well, that’s why we got your happy ass down here, isn’t it?”

Alex stepped over the body, crouched down, and lifted the covering from the head.

He looked into the face of an until recently attractive redhead, her skin already turning waxy.

“Does she look familiar to you?” Alex asked.

“Yeah. Can’t quite place it though.”

“Maybe Lelith? She’s kind of dead ringer, right? Pun intended,” Alex said.

Lelith was the spokesperson for and figurehead of the Lightbearer Society. Very smart, very hot, and Alex bet she landed somewhere near the evil end of the whole good-bad scale.

“Now that you mention it, yeah,” Rivera agreed.

This woman wasn’t Lelith, but she sure looked like her. Alex was betting that was why they’d killed her, and more importantly, he guessed that was why she’d been here in the first place. Decoy.

He looked at the severing cut. Two strikes, three at most. Whatever had done it had been razor sharp.

“Machete?” Alex guessed.

“Yeah, or something like it. What makes you think that?” Rivera answered.

“It’s what I would have used. Common enough. Doesn’t mess around. They were scared. Couldn’t take chances. Had to do it quick.”

“They?” Perez asked from the doorway. “Multiple people did this. If I were to guess, I’d say three or four. You smelled that stink coming in, right? You think anyone cooks with garlic that concentrated? Especially her?”

“Hard to smell anything over your aftershave,” Rivera said.

Alex let the covering drop back over the severed head, stood, and gestured toward the far door.

“All bullshit aside, Rivera, you were in here before me. Let me run through it for you. They let her walk in and get far into the house. House like this is sure to have an alarm. So they disabled it and reset it so she could turn it off. Make her think nothing’s wrong. That tells us it was planned. But they killed the wrong lady, so that tells us it was a target of opportunity.”

“Wait. What? How is she the wrong lady?” Perez asked.

“They were going after Lelith. When we check, we’ll find this house belongs to the Lightbearer Society. That’s what the painting out there tells us. Lelith’s their grand pooh-bah. You know, from all the PSAs about ‘Truth Not Myth.’ ”

“Yeah, yeah, the whole superhelpful, ‘I’m a nocturn and I do blah blah blah’ people,” Perez said. The Lightbearers ran commercials day and night to improve the overall vampire image. Not that they really needed to; the last several decades of pop culture had done enough of that while vampires were still in the myth category.

“You got it. Technically, we probably need to inform Lelith her life is in danger. Make it all official-like. But she knows, that’s why she sent this youngblood. Hmm . . .”

Alex drifted off, caught up in his own speculations. That didn’t quite add up. If Lelith knew it was a trap, why not send enforcers in her place or a strike team? It didn’t make sense to let the double get killed. He was missing something.

Alex continued, “they let her walk in. Past here. She should have seen it coming, smelled them or heard them, but she didn’t. So we know she was a youngblood. An oldblood like Lelith would never have fallen for it. So, she sees something through there, scares her enough to try and run for it. Again, an oldblood wouldn’t have run and even a youngblood wouldn’t run from just one or two people. So we know there were more than that.” Alex stopped to see if the two other men were following his reasoning. They showed no sign either way. He continued to run through his idea of the crime.

“So she runs through here. Perfect choke point. One way in, but no way out. Because someone is standing right over there.” Alex pointed to where Perez stood framed in the doorway.

“They hit her with some O.C.-that garlic Mace. That’s what you’ll find when you get the carpet analyzed. Homemade, but industrial strength, is my bet. Anyway, they hit her with the Mace. But they can’t take any chances. If it really is Lelith, she can still tear them apart and be none the worse for wear. That’s when he hit her from behind.”

“Who?” Rivera asked.

“Whoever cut off her head. Strong too. He came up behind, grabbed her by the hair. And then . . .” Alex pantomimed the action. “One. Two. Quick. Room’s not quite wide enough for someone that big to fully swing a sword at speed. But with a machete, not all that hard.”

“Sounds like you could have done it yourself,” Perez said.

Alex ignored him. The man didn’t know how right he was. Alex had done it hundreds of times. For nearly three-quarters of a century he had been part of a secret program. The code names changed more often than he bothered to track. The operators all called it UMBRA, the original name from the aftermath of World War II, when it had begun. Project UMBRA. The name stuck. Alex had been part of a deadly hunter-killer squad the OSS, the CIA, and finally the National Security Agency employed to “neutralize” vampires. Once, that would have sounded crazy to civilians, but that was before Hemo-Synth, before the Reveal. That was before the Supreme Court had given thousands of vampires sanctuary and citizenship and the NSA suddenly had a genocidal embarrassment on their hands they wanted to erase. UMBRA went away in a hurry. So now, Alex worked vice, and occasionally, homicide.

Rivera interrupted. “That’s not how it went down. Blood-spatter is all wrong.” He pointed at the severed neck. “This wound was postmortem.”

“That’s ’cause you’re expecting arterial blood flow. Vampires don’t have that.”

“Shit.” Rivera leaned back from the body and nodded in acknowledgment. “You guys really need your own ME.”

“Yeah, I know. We need a lot. Let’s hope the whole bureau thing comes through, huh?”

Rivera ignored him. Instead, the man went over his notes, scratched out whole portions, and began making corrections.

“Not your fault, Rivera. How many of these have you worked?” Alex said.

“First one.” Rivera continued scrawling down notes.

It had only been two years since the Reveal. Alex could only think of three other local cases during that time where a vampire had been the victim. And one of those was all the way up in Osceola, so it hardly counted as local.

Perez stepped over the body and squeezed past Alex. “There’s something you need to see.”

Alex followed him deeper into the house. A crime-scene investigator took a series of pictures in the next room. Another bank of portable lights glared at a wall.

“We’ll be out of your hair in a sec,” Rivera told the man.

Alex looked at the subject of the photographs, a grouping of straight lines spray-painted in red across the bone-colored wall.

Two parallel vertical lines bisected by a single horizontal. Superimposed upon them were two Vs, one upright and one inverted—like a rudimentary Masonic symbol.

It was the calling card of Abraham, a notorious serial killer who’d left a bloody swath of vampire victims across Europe and three American cities.

Complications aplenty.

Shitstorms galore.

Day ruined.

No one had figured out how Abraham overcame the vampires. Now Alex had a pretty good idea. Abraham wasn’t just one guy.

“So, the Nocturn Killer has come to Miami?” Perez used the name the press had given the murderer.

Alex’s phone rang, the ring tone way too upbeat for the circumstances.

He didn’t need to deal with this today. The Lightbearers would have their people on it. Alex had problems of his own.

“No. See the false start on the paint line there?” Alex pointed to the top of one of the lines, where it was clear the painter had started again. “Who called this in? Money says it was an anonymous tip. Probably the killers themselves. They throw this up to muddy the waters and stir everyone up. I’m pretty sure it’s a copycat.”

He was pretty sure it wasn’t a copycat.

“Was this symbol ever released to the public?” Perez asked.

Alex’s phone, oblivious to the situation, continued jauntily whistling the main melody of the Bangles’ “Walk Like an Egyptian.”

Instead of answering Perez’s question, Alex answered his phone. The voice on the other end sounded panicked. Alex took the information and hung up.

“What gives?” Perez asked.

“Looks like this one is all yours. Nocturn Affairs will try and get another liaison officer down here. Between you and me, I wouldn’t hold your breath,” Alex said.

“So where are you headed?”

“Brownsville. Possible vampire in a blood frenzy.”

“Another one? Better you than me,” Perez said.

“It isn’t likely. Sun’s up. But, you know how it is,” Alex said.

“Yeah. Well, hope it’s a BS call for your sake.”

It wasn’t.

Alex manhandled the dark blue Explorer into a parking lot on the western end of the shopping plaza. In front of him, half a dozen cruisers formed a makeshift cordon, roughly twenty-five yards from the entrance of a small market and its shattered front window.

A gaggle of uniforms took cover behind their cars—a jumble of green-and-white Miami-Dade Police cruisers mixed in with the City of Miami Police’s blue-and-white livery. They pointed trunk guns—AR-15s and Mini-14s—and pistols at the doors. Off to the side, several cops held the press and other looky-loos at bay.

It was the standard goat rope whenever a vampire might be involved. The odds were low that there really was a bloodsucker around, since the sun was already beating down with full late-summer fury and it wasn’t even midmorning. While it was true that sunlight wasn’t as deadly to vampires as the myths implied, at the very least it made most of them severely uncomfortable, and some suffered third-degree burns with only slight exposure.

Alex parked the SUV and killed the cherry lights. He stepped out into what felt like an impossible hundred-and-fifty-percent humidity with heat to match. It wasn’t as oppressive as Kemet at this time of year, but Kemet’s was a blistering, drier heat.

Egypt, he reminded himself again. That was what they called it now. It had been more than two thousand years since the Greeks had renamed his homeland after a mispronunciation of a misunderstanding, and it felt almost as long since he’d been there. Re beamed overhead, charging Menkaure’s body with His invigorating light. The power coursed through him, raw and unchecked. As long as Re held vigil overhead, Menkaure was nearly invincible. It was darkness that held weakness for him.

Alex ran a hand over his dark, bald, cool head, wiping away a thin sheen of moisture, due solely to humidity, since he didn’t sweat. He wasn’t a vampire, but but his body, like a vampire’s matched the ambient temperature, in this case that of the air-conditioned interior of his SUV. He suppressed the urge to slam its door. Charged up as he was now, if he did, it might never open again.

“Who’s the primary?” He projected his voice, and with it, his authority, but it took an effort to keep the annoyance out of it.

One of the Dade cops muttered, “Guess the nocturn squad finally decided to show up. Took your sweet-ass time.”

Alex ignored the man and walked nearer to the line of police cars.

Ah, irony.

Once, Menkaure had been the Morning and the Evening Star, He of the Sedge and the Bee, Pharaoh of the Two Lands. Few men would have dared to speak to him without awe in their voices. Now, he walked the Path of Asar as penance, and though all of humanity owed him innumerable debts, he found naught but scorn in their tone.

Alex asked his question again, louder this time. “Who’s the primary?”

A middle-aged man with salt-and-pepper hair stepped forward. He wore the taupe uniform of the Miami-Dade Police and had a paunch that pushed his gun belt low.

“Right here,” he said. “I’ve got men watching the back of the store. It’s not coming out of there.”

“It?” Alex asked.

“Yeah, the vampire. I mean, the um, nocturn.”

“I’m fine with ‘vampire.’ Are you sure? Seems a bit early.” Alex pointed at the sun.

“Yeah, we’re sure,” the cop answered. “We’ve got four officers down on account of going in there and trying to deal with it—him. Couldn’t make an ID. He’s probably an undocumented nocturn. We think he’s in a blood frenzy. I’d just as soon not take chances.”

“What’s the deal with Miami PD responding?”

“New rules. Overwhelming force, plus they were close enough to augment. The way things are going, orders are we’re supposed to show the city no one’s sitting anything out.”

Alex shook his head in disagreement. This was all wrong. The leaders were making things worse. They should have been doing business as usual, telling everyone there was nothing to get worked up over. Instead, they were ignoring the storm surge that preceded the hurricane.

A younger cop spoke up. Alex made him for a boot—a rookie—instantly.

“He threw two officers right out the front window. At least twenty yards. The other guys barely made it out.”

Twenty yards? More like twenty feet. Maybe. With a running start and if the wind was right.

“Did they get bitten?” There would be some extra complications if they had. Mountains of paperwork. Immigration and Customs Enforcement would have to get involved. After the Reveal, ICE had caught the responsibility of keeping track of the newly turned. It was yet another impossible law to enforce, but looked good on paper, and politicians could jabber about it as if it would make a difference.

“No,” the senior officer answered. “We had a squad take them over to Hialeah to get checked out.”

“So they got lucky,” Alex said. “The guy in there is probably a good guy. Solid.” He didn’t keep the admiration from his tone.

“Wait, what? He almost killed them,” the rookie said.

“No, you’ve got it wrong. He saved their lives. He had enough control left to get them away from him.” Alex made the decision that killing this vampire wasn’t going to be an option.

“What do you have going for response?” Alex asked. “SRT on the way?”

“Just Nocturn Affairs—you guys catch all these calls now. Director’s orders,” the primary answered.

Alex sighed. One Nocturn Affairs cop instead of a Special Response Team. In his case, that certainly measured up, but they had no way of knowing that.

“Is he armed?”

“He’s a vampire,” the rookie said.

Alex let his annoyance show through. “Does. He. Have. Any. Weapons?”

“Not that we know of,” the primary answered.

Alex considered the men taking cover behind the police cars. The sun was doing more for them than those cars ever would if a blood-frenzied vampire decided to have a taste.

He looked around. Press trucks with long-distance mics listening to every word. That was a problem.

“So it’s my scene, right?” Alex made a show of surveying the area. “See you guys later.”

Alex walked back to the SUV.

“Whoa, you’re not going to deal with this?” the rookie shouted after him.

“In about eight or nine hours. Sun’s up. Even in a blood-frenzied state, he’s not going anywhere. That’s probably the only thing his brain can even understand right now.”

Let the press weigh that. Was it really worth sitting around all day to get some B roll of cops waiting out a vampire?

The younger man trotted after Alex. “Um, he might not be alone.”

Alex whirled back to the senior officer. “You didn’t evacuate the area?”

“The surrounding buildings, but not—”

“The store itself.” Alex shook his head in disbelief. “CCTV?”

“Nothing we can tap.”

Alex looked over at the press. They weren’t going anywhere. Time to get a bit fascist.

Alex raised his voice so everyone on the line could hear him. “Does anyone know if there are still civilians in the building?”

The response was a bevy of shaking heads and shrugging shoulders.

Alex clapped his hands over his face and rubbed his eyes.

“Unbelievable,” he muttered through his hands.

Menkaure could easily take a metaphysical look, but that took time, and there were too many eyes on him right now.

He remembered Salbatore, the man who had named him Alejandro and taken him in after he’d reawoken. Salbatore’s advice sounded as clearly in Menkaure’s mind now as it had one hundred seventy-odd years before.

Do what they do, talk like they do, think like they do. Or they will destroy you out of ignorance and fear. Salbatore had been right, and the locals in Cartagena had nearly gotten Menkaure because of his carelessness.

A duality flowed within him like the Asian concept of yin and yang. Alex was modern, a skilled operative who could kick ass and take names against the best wetwork teams the world had to offer. But he was also Menkaure, son of Khafre, son of Khufu. An ancient pharaoh who’d taken it upon himself to stand between humanity and the most terrible evil he’d encountered in all his long years. A king who’d made a pact with incalculable powers from far beyond the mortal realm for a chance to walk in Asar’s footsteps and wield immortality as a weapon.

He was Alex, a man shaped over nearly eighteen decades—vintner, explorer, scholar, soldier, spy, enforcer, assassin, and cop. He was the oncetime pharaoh Menkaure, a has-been deity. Now intimately bound to his direst foe, reliant on his brother god Re and the Path of Asar until his ultimate task was complete.

“Shit.” He pressed his hand against his forehead in frustration.

He was burning daylight. The sooner he was done with this, the faster he could get back to his own business.

“Okay, first things first. Get the press out of here. I don’t care how. We can’t have our TTPs showing up on the evening news. Next, get me a blanket out of one of the cruisers.”

“What? TTPs?” The younger cop looked perplexed.

“Don’t they teach you anything anymore? Tactics, techniques, procedures. Now, get them out of here.” Alex pointed at the press trucks and the civilian spectators.

“Um, they’re not going to want to go,” the young cop answered.

“If they’re not out of here in the next few minutes, you’d better be. Got it? Now, one of you get me a damn blanket.”

Alex stalked back to his SUV and opened the rear door. A blood-frenzying vampire was going to be a hardcase. No way to reason with it. Alex needed to take him down a notch.

Nocturn physiology precluded the use of a direct sedative. However, there was a loophole. The same traits that made a vampire immune to diseases and drugs also made the creature incredibly efficient at processing blood. And extremely fast at it, too. While the loophole wasn’t effective with diseases, blood collected from a human under the influence of some substances might have a similar effect on any vampire ingesting that blood. Bottom line, while a vampire couldn’t dope up on its own, a vampire drinking blood from a doped-up human would feel the effects of the drug. That fact alone had given rise to all the illegal blood clubs that dotted the city. With the help of vampiric sources within UMBRA, it hadn’t taken operatives long to use this trait to their advantage.

It wasn’t exactly on the up-and-up within the eyes of the law, post-Reveal, but then again, Nocturn Affairs, which was full of ex-UMBRA operatives, tended to fall on the shady, gray side of Legal Street in almost everything it did.

Alex opened a refrigerated case in the back of the SUV and pulled out a small vial. Its blood product had been extracted from a human who’d nearly OD’d. Alex slid the vial into a small handheld syringe gun, the same type used to administer vaccines to cattle, and loaded it with a CO2cartridge.

He walked back toward the barricade and the primary.

“Do you have my blanket?”

“Sure do. Much good it will do you.” The cop handed him the blanket.

Alex started walking toward the grocery store.

The older cop put a hand on his shoulder. “You’re not going in there, are you?”

“Sure am.”

“What exactly do you think you’re going to do with a blanket? Against . . . a monster?”

“Use his survival instinct against him. If he’s truly frenzying, there’s no talking to him. His cognitive mind is gone. It’s something they teach us over in Nocturn Affairs. It’s like bullfighting.” Alex nearly laughed. It was complete horseshit.

“You’re crazy.”

“Crazy is a requirement for Nocturn Affairs. Well, crazies and vampires. You ought to put in. Strikes me, you might be qualified.”

The older cop scowled and waddled back to the cover of his squad car.

Alex stopped at the entrance. The trumpets from a Celia Cruz salsa version of “Guantanamera” blasted their way through the otherwise silent store. The savory smell of fresh pastelitos mixed with the coppery scent of Hemo-Synth greeted him. If it weren’t for the Hemo-Synth, there’d have been no Reveal, and vampires would still be wetwork, covert ops, instead of a law-enforcement problem. If this blood frenzy was anything like the other two recent cases, it was likely this vampire had consumed some tainted blood product. If that was true, it wasn’t just a theory anymore. Someone was poisoning the artificial blood. If the vampires couldn’t trust the Hemo-Synth, then . . .

He stomped his way in, kicking around the broken glass and generally making his movements as loud as possible. He crossed the first aisle and knocked some cans onto the ground. There were no civilians. It looked like the store had emptied out the moment the vampire started to frenzy. Lucky.

Suddenly, streams of water burst from the ceiling, and the fire alarm began blaring.

Alex stopped and tightened his hand on the vaccine gun. Flashes of memory assaulted him. Cartagena. He really didn’t need a fire right now.

Forget flames. The vampire was overhead, crawling along the ceiling.

Alex pretended he didn’t know where it was. He moved halfway down the aisle, then bent over to examine the broken bottles of Sangri and Hemotopia that littered the ground. Both were popular Hemo-Synth products, and they came from different distributors. The contents formed a large pool of artificial blood. The combination of the store’s fluorescent light and the sprinkler water bouncing off the pool of Hemo-Synth made it look like it was raining blood.

Alex splashed down the aisle, continuing to make as much noise as he could. The forensics team would be hard-pressed to get much of anything from the mess on the tiled floor, especially now that it was watered down.

A slight rush of wind whispered next to him, as he’d expected. He turned, in time to catch one of the vampire’s arms as the creature pounced on him. The vampire reacted as Alex thought it would, lunging for his throat, piercing him with its fangs. It suddenly recoiled and gagged.

“Too bad, amigo. No lunch for you. I’m already dead.”

The vampire hissed and pushed at him in an effort to escape. Alex slammed the vaccine gun into the vampire’s neck and squeezed the trigger. There was a sharp pop-hiss as the device delivered its payload. The vampire reeled in surprise, but didn’t go down. Alex dropped the vaccine gun and grunted as he held the vampire with one hand and tried to maneuver the blanket into position with the other. The cops outside had been right. This guy was strong.

Alex flapped the blanket out onto the ground and switched his grip on the vampire. He pinned it to the floor with one hand and used the other to wrap the blanket crudely around it. It wasn’t pretty or neat, but it was good enough.

He grabbed the bundle of struggling vampire in a bear hug and shuffled to the front of the store. In the short time it had been on the ground, the blanket had absorbed a surprising amount of the Hemo-Synth, which was now seeping into Alex’s clothes.

Day ruined, shirt ruined. That was never going to come out.

Swearing under his breath, Alex reached the front of the store and tossed his burden out into the sunlight.

Immediately, the vampire freed himself from the blanket and stood transfixed, caught in the sun’s rays. It took some time for the pain to penetrate the fog of the blood frenzy and sedative. The creature screamed and darted back toward the front of the store.

Alex blocked his path and pushed him back into the sunlight. The vampire whirled, looking for any escape from the pain. Then he noticed the blanket.

“That’s right, buddy, there’s shade under there.”

The vampire snatched the blanket and wrapped himself in it. Before the nocturn could move again, Alex knocked it back to the ground.

“Get me some ties!” he shouted at the police line. None of them moved. Slack jaws gaped at him.

“Hurry up!”

Two of the braver officers responded, tossing him the plastic zip-ties they used to restrain problem suspects.

Alex linked some together and tied the straps around the blanket while the officers kept their distance. He could feel the vampire weakening, as the sedative finally kicked in.

“I’d have never believed it if I hadn’t seen it,” one of the officers said.

Alex affixed another strap. “Yeah, well, don’t try this at home, kiddies.”

“What now?” the same officer asked.

“I’m taking this big boy to holding so he can sleep it off and we can ask him some questions.”

Copyright © 2017 by Michael F. Haspil

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