Hi folks! J.K. Here! I’m here to talk about my new project (you know, in addition to all of my traditional WIPs) called STRAY. Stray is a book I’m releasing by the chapter, free on my website (think fanfiction, but not). It’s a bit of a deviation from my normal M.O. of contemporary with a side of mental health issues, delving farther into world-building, futuristic tech, and combining human lore with paranormal fantasy. This story is purely for my own—and hopefully your—enjoyment. Read on for an excerpt!
Stray (excerpt) by J.K. Hogan
(Available chapter by chapter online at http://jkhogan.com/about-stray/)
Sebastian lingered on the street corner beside the club entrance and lifted his nose to the night breeze. A mist was in the air, and it held the crisp, loamy fragrance of new rain. From the park down the street came the scent of grass and soil, with a fecundity that hadn’t been present since the last purge.
He caught a whiff of something else. A bouquet of old cedar and clean soap, with a thread of fear laced throughout. Sebastian refocused, this time with his human sight, just in time to see someone coming down the sidewalk, passing right in front of him. It was a human male, likely in his late teens, dressed in tattered jeans and a threadbare pullover—not nearly enough protection against the autumn evening chill.
Sebastian was struck with the same sense of familiarity he had that night a week ago, when he’d seen the group of homeless across from the club. It shocked him to realize that this was the same young man. He carried a pack on his back, and while he moved casually enough, Sebastian noted the way his slender fingers gripped the straps. Like he was nervous. As if to confirm Sebastian’s suspicion, the boy cast a wary glance over his shoulder.
He crossed the street diagonally at the intersection, and Sebastian was prepared to let him go on his way when he suddenly picked up on something else. It had a bite to it, this essence, the malefic odor of something ancient and very evil. Sebastian inhaled through his nose even as he pushed away from the brick wall to cross the street after the boy. Unmistakable. Vampire.
Sebastian stayed hidden by the slithering shadows, choosing to walk along the edge of the park instead of on the sidewalk. He wanted to see if the boy was being followed, but not to be seen himself. After three blocks, the boy stopped at a bus shelter and took out his phone, frowning as he concentrated on the screen. Sebastian wanted to scream at him—why was he ignoring his earlier instinct that he was in danger?
It finally occurred to Sebastian that since the young man couldn’t smell the threat, he likely thought he’d just been paranoid. As the streetlamp above the bus stop blinked out, Sebastian’s body coiled with tension. Everything in him sensed danger, and this boy, this fragile human, was completely incognizant of what lurked in the dark.
Shadows swirled and flickered, and eventually coalesced into the shape of a man. That is, a man who was not a man. The creature stalked Sebastian’s young charge while his back was still turned. He was pale of skin and fair of hair—his tresses nearly as light as Sebastian’s own—but his eyes were dark, black even, swallowed completely by pupil. He was in his extasis, a trancelike state that allows the Vampire to manipulate the human mind, bend it to his will. There was no time to lose, for Sebastian knew who he was looking at. One of the oldest, most opprobrious Vampires he’d ever heard tell of, Solomon Rydic was more like a cat than Sebastian was, insomuch as he liked to toy with his victims for sport before he drained the life from them. He drank for the kill, not just for sustenance. He was one of the few infamous Supernaturals that Sebastian would recognize on sight, and apparently Sebastian’s current “jurisdiction” had become the vile creature’s new hunting ground.
He had to make his move. The boy had no more time.
Sebastian darted out onto the sidewalk with a swoop of his coat, placing himself bodily between the Vampire and his prey. Solomon snarled when he realized his stealth attack had been thwarted. It didn’t mean he wouldn’t still attack, though, so Sebastian crouched into a fighting stance and bared his teeth, as the boy whipped around with a gasp.
“Stay back,” Sebastian growled without taking his eyes off the menace.
No doubt realizing he was rather evenly matched, Solomon adopted a nonchalant affect. He gave Sebastian a lazy smile and his black pupils widened, nearly obscuring the whites. “Would you kindly move aside? You’re keeping me from my meal.”
“Your tricks won’t work on me, Rydic.” Sebastian began the transformation into his mediforma—his pupils dilated to slits and his canines elongated. If Solomon hadn’t pegged him as Feliscindae from his scent, he’d know now.
Sebastian felt a tug on the sleeve of his coat.
“E-Excuse me… What is happening?”
“Not now,” Sebastian said, shaking him off with a rough jerk of his arm. “Your dining habits are not welcome in my city,” he said to Rydic.
Solomon cocked his head and stroked his chin with long-nailed fingers. Then his expression changed to one of recognition. “I know who you are, Sebastian the Lucent. What are you doing down off your mountain?”
“I live in Beltrane, not Roth, and I am charged with protecting its residents.”
“Ah, you’ve joined the Sentinel, then, have you?”
Sebastian didn’t bother to answer. He knew that engaging conversation was a diversionary technique that Vampires often employed to get their way. He stood his ground, arms crossed, glaring at Solomon.
The façade crumbled quite quickly, the Vampire’s face morphing into a wicked scowl. “Move aside, cat,” he said, his voice now garbled from his fangs punching through his gums. The sound he made was deep, resonant, almost demonic.
If Sebastian had been a human, he would be terrified. But he was neither.
Solomon surged forward with a hiss, obviously intent on ploughing through Sebastian to get at his prey. But Sebastian was as immovable as a brick wall. His hand shot out, seizing the Vampire by his throat. He extended his claws so that they stabbed five punctures into Solomon’s neck. It wasn’t enough to kill him—he regenerated, of course—but it was just enough to inform him that Sebastian could rip out his gullet in an instant. That, most certainly, would kill him.
Solomon hissed and spat as he clawed at Sebastian’s arm. His feet, which now dangled a few inches off the ground, flailed about in a futile attempt to dislodge himself. His eyes glowed red as he gnashed his teeth in impotent rage. Sebastian merely smiled.
“You will leave Beltrane. If I smell your rotting carcass again, I will find you and end you.” He tossed the Vampire into the shadows of the park, and he disappeared before he hit the ground. Breathing hard from the exertion of fighting the Vampire’s Supernatural strength, Sebastian turned to face the wide, frightened eyes of the boy.
Like Ethan, this one was more of a man than a boy, but Sebastian guessed he was an older teenager—considered an adult by post-purge humans. He hadn’t run or fainted after witnessing the fight, even though he’d no doubt realized something horrible had nearly happened to him. That, more than anything, impressed Sebastian.
As the streetlamp flickered back to life, bathing them in a pale artificial glow, Sebastian could see him clearly. Warm brown eyes stared at him from within a golden-skinned, round face. The boy’s dark brown hair was shaggy, curling at ridiculous angles like it hadn’t been combed in a while—and Sebastian found it strangely endearing. Now that he’d gotten a good look at him, Sebastian didn’t think he was homeless. A little bedraggled, yes, but too clean and fresh not to have a place to shower and get some decent rest.
Sebastian should tell him to run along home and not stop until he was safe inside. “What’s your name?” Sebastian’s voice sounded gritty and underused, even to his own ears.
The boy’s tongue darted out to wet his pink lips, a nervous action that drew all of Sebastian’s focus.
“Noah. Noah Cowan. Um…Thanks for, uh, running that guy off. I didn’t even notice him behind me.”
“That’s because he made sure you didn’t. Take heed, Noah Cowan. The streets are dangerous at night. You should hurry home.”
Noah glanced at his feet. “Sometimes home can be dangerous too,” he murmured. Then he looked up, and said louder, “You talk funny.”
One corner of Sebastian’s mouth curved up, flirting with a smile that hadn’t quite bloomed. “I suppose. I’m not from around here.” Sebastian looked over his shoulder, half expecting Solomon to come charging at him again. “You should go. It’s not safe here.”