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Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Book Blast Blitz: Halfway Dead by Terry Maggert


Halfway Dead
(Halfway Witchy Series #1)
by Terry Maggert

Blurb:

Carlie McEwan loves many things. 

She loves being a witch. She loves her town of Halfway, NY—a tourist destination nestled on the shores of an Adirondack lake. Carlie loves her enormous familiar, Gus, who is twenty-five pounds of judgmental Maine Coon cat, and she positively worships her Grandmother, a witch of incredible power and wisdom. Carlie spends her days cooking at the finest—and only—real diner in town, and her life is a balance between magic and the mundane, just as she likes it. 

When a blonde stranger sits at the diner counter and calls her by name, that balance is gone. Major Pickford asks Carlie to lead him into the deepest shadows of the forest to find a mythical circle of chestnut trees, thought lost forever to mankind. There are ghosts in the forest, and one of them cries out to Carlie across the years. Come find me. 

Danger, like the shadowed pools of the forest, can run deep. The danger is real, but Carlie’s magic is born of a pure spirit. With the help of Gus, and Gran, and a rugged cop who really does want to save the world, she’ll fight to bring a ghost home, and deliver justice to a murderer who hides in the cool, mysterious green of a forest gone mad with magic.



Available for purchase at 

    




Excerpts


With a swinging dismount, I rolled my bicycle to a stop and looked at the vague trail before me. To my eyes, the path was clear; to a tourist, not so much. Footfalls had scraped and cleared a distinct runnel through the late summer flowers and weeds, which were the same thing if you thought about it. Sometimes being pretty made people find pests less offensive, I guess. That was a common theme in my line of work. Or, to clarify, my other line of work.

I live one block from my paying job, which isn’t just convenient, it’s a necessity; and possibly lifesaving, given my hometown location. Here are a couple things to know about the Adirondack Mountains. They’re beautiful to look at, and magical in every way. Except in the heart of winter, which is actually all of winter, and at least a third of the year. It gets cold, stays cold, and then it gets colder. That’s why living a block from the diner I work at isn’t just a time-saver, it keeps my toes and ears from turning purple.

Scratch that, it keeps them from falling off.

My family would say I live in town because I have a slight problem with cars. To clarify, I don’t have a problem with cars, they have a problem with me. I can kill exactly two things in the world: magical critters and cars. Pick a car, any kind, even brand spanking new and filled with that beautiful smell of carpet and leather, and I can turn it into scrap metal inside of a day. It might be a breakaway truck wheel, a pothole, or a rogue moose, but trust me, I’ll find a way to smash that shiny new beauty, and that’s why I cadge rides with my neighbor’s kids. Tristan, the seventeen-year-old boy, hustles me for gas money, and his sixteen-year old sister, Julia, shakes me down for clothes. They’re both criminals who I happen to live near, but, until I can afford a tank or a hovercraft with no moving parts, I’m stuck with them and their mafia tactics.

I leaned my bike against an alder that curled out over the creek like it was an elephant sniffing for a drink. After loosening my Doc Martens, I placed them next to the front tire and let my feet get to know the sun-warmed grass. No one would be here, and theft wasn’t an issue, so I walked on without another thought, enjoying the scenery and merry burbling of the creek. It was quiet, but busy, just like the woods always were when humans moved through. We never see all of the commotion that nature has to offer, just glimpses. Maybe we can’t be trusted with the whole story. For me, that’s good enough.
The smell hit my nose before I ever saw anything; an odor of cloying roasted meat made my stomach flip with indignation. I stopped instantly and took in my surroundings with great detail. Under my bare feet, I felt a variety of smooth stones worn to oblong perfection by the cool water of the river. The trees rustled with the protests of late September, their colors flaring into glory as the days grew short and light grew more precious. The river was low, due to the dry weeks of August piling on without mercy. Soon, it would rain, but for now, my ankles were barely covered with the waning shallows that would ordinarily be under several feet of water. It was late afternoon, and silence closed in around me. I drew a long, deep breath, and let it trickle from my lungs as I centered my thoughts. Details. Consideration. Meaning. These were the words that I shaped into emotion within the quiet harbor of my mind. The words gained weight, and then outlines. I nudged them like soap bubbles; my touch practiced but firm.
Under my small right foot, I detected an unusually round pebble. I knelt quietly and plucked it from the water, then held it up to my face in the warm golden light that was spilling through the boughs of the trees lining the creek. The stone was two inches across, nearly round, and beautiful in a workmanlike way. Flecks of glittering quartz, polished by time, winked at me, and I smiled back at the cheerful little rock. This one, then, I thought, placing the stone carefully on a dry section of the bank that was just at arm’s reach. The poisoned scent of cooking intensified as the breeze shifted, and I began to move with more purpose.

I lifted my shoulder-length black hair and looked intently at the odd lock that sprang from a scar hidden behind my right ear. There were red, white, gray, and blonde hairs sprouting wildly from the rugged band of flesh. I plucked a white hair and began wrapping it around the pebble—three loops to the left, a pinch, then three loops to the right. With the tip of one finger, I drew a glyph, compact with power and meaning. Where my skin touched, the stone warmed and then shimmered with a delicate light. My will, gently insistent, negotiated with the rock, and the two reached an accord in seconds. The stone became lighter, started glowing softly with the light of a sunflower at dawn, and shrank to fit perfectly in my small palm. My spell complete, I lifted a foot and began to step upstream, silent and focused.
The fire was small and bright, and a thick, green pine limb hung over the flames. A sizzling piece of meat crowned the pointed end of the stick, and the combined stench of meat and pine sap made my eyes water. Anger flared within me, hot as the fire I approached. I held the stone as a talisman against the truth of the scene and waited. A grunt rattled from a pile of stones that were cleft deeply enough to be a small cave near the outer edge of the riverbank.

And on that note, the object of my intentions stepped out into the light.

With a shambling gait, the creature slid down the detritus of its lair and reached for the pine bough. It was tall, emaciated, and colored like the underside of a wet stone. Flaps of skin hung from under its ropy arms, its eyes flashed with the red of lust and hunger, and greasy talons twitched in anticipation of its meal. I thought it was more corpselike than alive, but its fangs were real enough. I knew why I’d come here.

“Ahem. If you could turn this way, please?” I asked in my most polite tone.

The Wendigo—it could be nothing else, it was too gross to be a mummy—whipped its diseased head to me and hissed. I saw its eyes widen upon measuring me. I have that effect on critters that need killing, and this guy, wherever he’d sprung from, was no different. What the beast saw walking calmly toward it was a petite woman in her twenties, with black hair, a broad smile, and a small round rock in one hand. What it should have noticed was my eyes; they’re iron gray with flecks of blue and, when I draw upon my power, they light from within. They would also happen to be the very last thing it saw on this earth. Seeing that I was rather small and barefoot, it opened a mouth full of diseased teeth and cackled, sounding something like a dying car horn plugged with chicken feathers.

“No time like the present,” I said, drawing my arm back and throwing the rock unerringly to strike the Wendigo midway across its leathery, putrid chest. My spell unwound like a hyperactive spring as the magic punched down and through the wide ribcage, blasting outward in a shower of intense golden light and what I sincerely hoped were fragments of the leather rags it had worn. Some things are simply too disgusting to consider for more than a moment. The lanky monster, now sheared nearly in half, wheezed once, folded like a forgotten accordion, and slumped sideways into the cool creek with a modest splash.

I smiled because the spell was perfect, and I do enjoy a well-thrown rock. There was something satisfying about building a nice, simple plan and putting it to work. I may have even let a small laugh bubble up, which wasn’t the smartest thing I could have done, because that was when the Wendigo’s girlfriend hit me from behind. Trust me, I was more offended that the Wendigo had a date while I was single, but as I rolled to the grass with a surprised oof, I heard my grandmother’s voice saying that old chestnut about every pot having a cover. Fortunately, the lady Wendigo—who was even more disgusting than her erstwhile lover, somehow—chose not to bite me at first, proving that a swift kill was always best. Not tearing me apart with her mouth full of fangs was a mistake. Her last one, in fact, but she didn’t know that just then.

I considered all these things while rolling over the sweet grass with the sun flicking across my vision, felt a pain in my lower back, and decided that maybe the newly single Wendigo had bitten me after all. One of the benefits of being small was that I didn’t take long to stop moving once I started, so when I trundled to an inglorious halt, only a few seconds had passed.

The Wendigo got right to work. Her disgusting arms were thrown wide as she crabbed after me in a bizarrely hunched shuffle, and I noticed that there was a necklace strung tightly around the gray column of her neck. Something glittered at the end, but I saved that for later because I got suddenly busy when she darted forward and closed her hands on my ribcage to begin shaking me like a martini with feet.
I was not pleased. In fact, I was so disturbed by this new development that I kicked one tiny, hard foot into what would have been a navel on anything human. Since Wendigo aren’t technically born, my calloused sole drove into the soft flesh of her stomach as she uttered a squawk of protest that gave me a front-row view of her truly grotesque dental situation. Wherever Wendigo live when they aren’t eating people, they don’t have dental floss. I can tell you that for sure.

She wrapped her vise-like arms around me and began to methodically squeeze the wind out of my lungs. I decided that maybe it wasn’t the best idea to let her continue that line of activity, so I took both thumbs, jabbed her in the eyes, and brought the point of my elbow down on her nose with a resounding crack.

“That’s the stuff,” I said mostly to myself as her arms faltered. I whipped one hand up and under her sloping jaw, while the other grabbed a hank of her greasy hair—I swore it would take a week of baths to get rid of that feeling—and twisted her noggin with everything I had. What would kill a human tended to kill a Wendigo, and there was a distant pop in the region of her neck. She sagged to the ground with her eyelids fluttering wildly, and the sweetest rush of Wendigo-scented air you can imagine flooded my lungs as I was deposited roughly to the ground. Okay, I bounced ass first, if you must know, and I swore that little birds were circling my head for a minute. But the fog cleared, and I seemed to be in one piece, if a little covered in whatever it was Wendigo gave off. I surmised I was bruised, but alive, and more than a little stinky. After pushing the long form of the second beastie into the creek, I limped over to the fire where the creatures had been hosting their nasty barbecue. Cold water can solve all manner of problems.


“And . . . we’re done here.” I swiped my hands together in celebration, while kicking the bough into the river. I didn’t want to know more about what the beasts had been cooking, nor did I want to have any more interrogation than was necessary when I got home. It was a long bicycle ride, the light was fading, and I realized that I was intensely hungry, despite the scene before me. As the bodies of the Wendigo broke apart in the cool water, I gave my shirt an experimental sniff. Crap. Extra gross. I reeked of . . . whatever was going on there, and that meant that I was going home to endure the Dais of Judgment. Until I learn to crawl in through my windows, there’s no getting around it. It occurred to me that it was Tuesday, one of my regular days off, and nothing good ever happens on a Tuesday. With the trudge of the weary, I turned back downstream as the claws of the Wendigo tumbled over the smooth rocks that had helped to kill it and, in seconds, they too were gone, and the creek ran clear under the afternoon light.



I speak four languages. English, naturally, then Latin, and the Lingua Arcana. The language of magic is not my most unusual language skill. That honor goes to my fourth tongue, the curious shorthand diner pidgin that has evolved in the Hawthorn since before I was born. Our waitresses speak it; so does Louis, and both of the other cooks, and all of the former waitresses, too. We don’t have waiters; the ladies who wait tables would sooner die than allow their jobs to go elsewhere, which is usually the way a position opens up. My mom told me that nearly every job goes from family member, to daughter, cousin, or niece. I know one thing; they handle the front of the diner like a finely-tuned engine, so whatever system they have for finding new staff once every five years, works.

The diner seats about forty if they know each other, and twenty-five if they don’t. It’s a basic rectangle, with the kitchen in the back, tables to both sides, and a middle counter where the serious caffeine addicts like to park when they read their phones or newspapers. To the left is a small bakery case standing next to the cash register. Bathrooms are along the far right wall, and our décor is so Adirondack that you expect a moose to come walking out of the hallways at any moment. Every single thing in the diner is locally made, and there are panels on the wall where people can leave a business card, or something declaring that they were here to visit. The layer of cards is five deep in some places, and I’ve seen names in over fifty languages. What can I say? People love diners.

This morning, I was joined by Louis, as I suspected, who spent the bulk of his morning baking furiously to produce over a hundred pusties in both chocolate and vanilla varieties. Before you ask, of course I tested the custard. I care too much not to, and you’ll simply have to accept the fact that my sacrifice to quality knows no bounds.

Mallory and Pat were waiting tables and making chaos into order, usually by the simple act of refilling coffee cups. Before Pat could hang her ticket in the window, she squawked an order while pouring chocolate milk and refilling a jelly caddy. She was in her late forties, rail thin, and pretty if you ignored a long nose that gave her a faintly sad expression until she smiled. Her dyed-blonde hair was in the requisite net, and she had the hands of a pianist, which she was at her church on Sundays.

“Rasher dasher and a Carlie, you stay here,” Pat said before pinning the ticket to the stainless steel wheel and whirling back to the front. For people other than the fifteen or so who speak Hawthorn Diner, that was a bacon sandwich wrapped in foil and a half stack of waffles. Yes, we stack our waffles; it’s sort of our thing, and my recipe is stellar because it was a gift from my Gran. Upon retiring from home waffle preparation some years earlier, it was generally known that she was a ninja with anything that required batter. The half stack is in honor of my lack of height; it seems that whoever is the shortest staff member gets the honor of having a small portion of waffles named after them. Until we hire someone under five feet tall, three waffles on a plate will forever be known as a Carlie. I can live with that. Waffles are amazing. I looked out to see who ordered it, and met the eyes of a tourist who’d eaten the same thing every day for the past week. I gave him a friendly nod and bent to the griddle; even short timers in Halfway sometimes learn that routine can be beautiful.

Looking out from the diner, I can see the main road in town, and it’s usually clogged with traffic that alternates between cautiously optimistic and the border of open revolt. If a moose or deer comes wandering along the road, which they do almost every day, people love to slow down, take pictures, and generally back traffic up to the border of Pennsylvania. It doesn’t really matter what day of the week it is; tourists are the lifeblood of my little town, and they’re present seven days a week. This morning was no different. I glanced out at the slow procession of family cars and SUVs, wondering if any of the drivers would get off the main road and really see what they were passing by. I hoped so. It was too beautiful to miss.

The honking was what drew my attention, and I felt a chill that had nothing to do with scooping ice into a bin that held pats of butter. Outside, a low-level buzz was building as people began to walk off the sidewalks toward a forgettable silver sedan that may as well have been emblazoned with a sign that read rental car. The driver, a man of middle years, was slumped over the steering wheel, causing the stoppage of traffic. As I saw this detail, one of our patrons leapt to his feet and ran outside; he had the build and haircut of a firefighter. A woman reached in and put the car into park, then opened the door, and in seconds the crowd was laying the man gently onto the sidewalk mere feet from our door.
He was dead. I could tell at a glance that he was completely, spectacularly dead. Whatever killed him had been instantaneous. His eyebrows were furrowed slightly in concentration, and his brown eyes stared up and beyond the shoulders of the people circling him. We have one police officer who works our town; he’s a sheriff with the county, and I saw his lean frame wedge through the group of onlookers to take control of the situation. He spoke quickly to the man who’d left our diner in such a rush. An older woman who oozed competence knelt by the body, too, placing her fingers expertly to verify that there was no pulse. I saw her give a short, definitive shake of her head, wipe something from the man’s mouth, and then slowly stand. She never took her eyes from the man’s face. The sheriff, Hugh, searched the body and produced a wallet, then flipped it open while speaking into his radio. This all transpired in a matter of moments; the eggs I’d been cooking weren’t even finished when Hugh began waving people along. I looked down at the cheerful yolks and wondered what the man’s name was. It was incredibly sad, and I felt a tear slip down my cheek without permission. I’ve seen death, and I prefer life. I flipped the eggs and plated them on golden toast, marveling at the normality of people returning to their coffee and breakfast. I hope that when I die, people can go on as quickly. The nameless man had just slipped beneath the waves like a mortally-wounded ship, leaving nothing but ripples soon to be consumed by the winds.

The firefighter type returned to his seat after a few more minutes, and I heard his terse, professional report as he told the men sitting around him at the counter. “Aneurysm or something like it. Instantaneous. He’s not a tourist, his ID reads Department of Forestry; he’s a fed of some sort.”


Eventually, the excitement faded and I was caught up in the bustle of my shift. Before I knew it, it was three in the afternoon and I was walking home in the sun, alive but more than a little sad, and not entirely sure why.





Halfway Witchy Series


Halfway Bitten (Halfway Witchy Series #2)

Available for purchase at 







About The Author


Born in 1968, I discovered fishing shortly after walking, a boon, considering I lived in South Florida. After a brief move to Kentucky, my family trekked back to the Sunshine State. I had the good fortune to attend high school in idyllic upstate New York, where I learned about a mythical substance known as "Seasons". After two or three failed attempts at college, I bought a bar. That was fun because I love beer, but, then, I eventually met someone smarter than me (a common event), and, in this case, she married me and convinced me to go back to school--which I did, with enthusiasm. I earned a Master's Degree in History and rediscovered my love for writing. My novels explore dark fantasy, immortality, and the nature of love as we know it. I live near Nashville, Tennessee, with the aforementioned wife, son, and herd, and, when I'm not writing, I teach history, grow wildly enthusiastic tomato plants, and restore my 1967 Mustang.




You can find Terry at 

            



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2 comments :

  1. I have not read this yet but I think the cover is amazing!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Loved the blurb and look forward to reading this book...

    ReplyDelete