Hey ghouls! Critters from the Poo Lagoon, the latest novella in the 24/7 Demon Mart Stories series launches Oct. 19. Woot!
(Here’s the Amazon link if you need it:https://amzn.to/2SWISgt)
So, as promised, here’s a sneak peek at chapter 1!
Hello. My name is Lloyd Wallace, and it’s party time. Time to lounge by the pool, sipping fruity cocktails. No monsters, no demons. All fun. Wait. What’s that in the drain? Uh oh…
Mom’s busted-up minivan emitted a high-pitched squeal, then stalled out. Again. She pressed the clutch all the way to the floor and prayed, “Come on, baby. You can make it,” as she steered us across the parking lot, aiming for a spot.
Um. Yeah. Mom’s car was in bad shape. It had been for years. But Jennifer Wallace, like any good Midwestern Mom, was determined to make it last because it was paid for, free and clear. So she carried on, dead-engine rolling, burning oil, belching blue smoke while not-so-secretly hoping someone, someday, would total it so she could get a new car for free. Don’t judge. We’re on a budget.
Normally, it didn’t bother us. We weren’t the only people stalling out at Walmart. But this time was different. Because we were at the Country Club, and every single person outside stopped to watch our hunka junk death roll through the lot. Yes, I said the Country Club. As in, THE Country Club. Caroline Ford Vanderbilt’s Country Club. Kill me now.
“Jennifer needs to pray her way to the auto shop. God isn’t a mechanic, you know. Miraculous tune ups are low on His list of priorities.” Angel eight ball somehow managed to roll right into my cup holder, triangle pointing straight at me. Of course. “Quick question. How many cheeseburgers do you think you’ve eaten in your life? I need a rough estimate.”
“Are you serious right now?” “Sadly, yes. Pravuil is the new head of accounting, and boy, that angel is a stick in the mud. He’s making us update all the sin sheets to include everything listed in Leviticus. Can you believe it? I’m drowning in paperwork. I have to work all weekend. FYI, eating meat and dairy in the same meal is technically a sin, and it counts now, so plan accordingly.”
“Oh, they’re serious, all right,” Mom said. She thought I was talking to her.
“Well, la di dah. I’m sorry you’ve never had to live on a budget before. This is the real world, honey.”
She said it to all the fancy ladies in their pristine white tennis skirts whose jaws dropped in shock when they watched our minivan, which also tilts down slightly on the driver’s side, roll to a stop in the space closest to the front door.
Ha. The joke’s on them. I can’t wait to see their faces when they figure out we aren’t here because we need a tow. We’re here on purpose. Tonight, Mom’s hosting the first annual Charity Ladies’ Auxiliary Volunteer Appreciation Potluck. Mom had dubbed it “Paradise by the Pool,” and declared it a ladies-night luau. Free food, open bar, and Mom’s signature mix of nineties dance grooves from eight ’til midnight. No husbands, no kids allowed.
Except for me, but I didn’t count. I was here to help. The ten trays of tiny party sandwiches Mom cut into little triangles this morning weren’t gonna carry themselves inside. Neither were the giant inflatable plastic palm trees with the beer coolers built into the bottom. Or the two hundred fake flower leis and matching plastic pineapple drink cups she’d bulk ordered from the party store during a wine-fueled midnight Internet shopping spree.
Did I mention my Mom goes all out for theme parties? Like ALL out. The word low-key isn’t in her vocabulary. But, hey. It’s for a good cause. These ladies volunteered, bake saled, and fundraised all year long, because they legit, honestly wanted to help people. They deserved a daiquiri-fueled night of no holds barred, tiki tacky revelry.
“As long as no one eats any pork. That’s a sin again, and if they’ve got bacon-wrapped scallops? Forget it. Pravuil makes us count by the bite. I do not have time for that,” Angel said.
Yeah. Me either. So I threw Angel into the back seat. What? This was the first Friday night I’d had off in months, and I wasn’t gonna let him ruin it. One night floating in a pool, drinking margaritas, with nary a demon or monster in sight—and no judgmental angels—wasn’t too much to ask for, was it?
Mom kicked the van into park and hopped out while I locked Angel eight ball inside. I met Mom by the trunk. She unhooked the bungee cords holding the door down, and as soon as it flew open, she grabbed a pool float shaped like a unicorn, looked at me, and said, “Lift.”
I lifted my arms, and she shimmied it down around my waist. She pushed and squeaked three neon glitter inner tubes down around herself. Then she looped about ten pounds of plastic flower leis around each of our necks. The food came next. She shoved a two-liter bottle of Ohana—Hawaiian Punch was too rich for our blood—into each of my armpits, then stacked a dozen foil trays of homemade cocktail sandwiches in my arms. They were so heavy, I had to use the unicorn head for extra support.
So of course, that’s when Angel eight ball escaped and rolled directly into my feet, throwing me off balance. The tower of foil trays teetered. Holy crap! No no no! My feet shuffled, but I somehow managed to stay standing and slide the trays back against my chest. Phew. Sandwiches saved.
The Ohana didn’t fare as well. The bottles slipped out of my armpits. Apparently, my arms flap like chicken wings when I’m about to fall over.
The bottles plooped to the asphalt, then rolled right onto the big rusty grate over a storm drain.
Stupid angel. “What do you want?”
“Is your shirt a cotton/poly blend or just polyester? Apparently, it’s a sin to wear two different fabrics at once. Again,” Angel said. “Honestly, I don’t know how Moses kept up. So many rules! Hold on. Do you smell that? Something stinks. Is that you?”
“What? No! Can’t you see I’m busy? If you really want to help me, grab the Ohana.”
“We have been over this before, Lloyd. Magic 8-Balls don’t have hands, and I only commute if it’s an emergency. Do you know how far away you are?”
“Don’t worry, honey. I’ll grab it.” Mom thought I was talking to her. Again.
Angel was always getting me in trouble like that. I kicked him under the wheel.
Before Mom could take a step, a tiny orange sports car that was so exotic it looked like something out of a Fast and Furious sequel pulled in next to us. It parked diagonally across two spots. Gee. How polite. Even worse, the back tire stopped right on the Ohana, which erupted in a red syrupy explosion. Shards of plastic flew in all directions. The caps popped off with such force that we had to duck for cover. One hit a light pole, bounced off, then flew straight down into the storm drain.
“Ow! This is an outrage! The time for negotiation is over. We must dispense with them, posthaste.” A small, angry voice shrieked. “Wait. Do you smell tuna? Mmm. I am famished. Who has the snack bag?”
“Be patient. We stick with the plan,” another voice said. “We’re almost there. Look at this map. Our exit is up ahead.”
Uh, that wasn’t me talking. Or Mom. I looked around. It wasn’t the snooty ladies eyeballing us, and it wasn’t Angel eight ball, who had rolled out from behind Mom’s tire to survey the mess. “You humans with your litter. You’re disgusting. You should have seen how amazing the ocean looked on day three. THE day three. Pristine. Until people like you ruined it.”
“Me? It’s your fault I dropped the bottles!”
Mom stared at the crushed remains of the Ohana, genuinely distraught, and not just because her two dollars literally went right down the drain. “This goes straight to the river. I just hate all that plastic pollution in the water. Have you seen the videos of the whales choking on it? So sad. I’ll ask them to move the car so we can pick up the pieces before they fall in.”
Just then, the expensive orange door popped open. A long tan leg with French-manicured toes in a slinky high-heeled sandal stepped out of the car. When the owner of that leg slid out, my heart sunk. Nope. Not going to move the car. Definitely not. Because that leg belonged to Caroline Ford Vanderbilt. Unfortunately, it was attached to the rest of her. Apparently, she’d upgraded her ride after the possessed snowmen destroyed her Porsche at the Christmas Party.
Caroline rose from the car, wrapped in a long, vaguely flower print, definitely designer dress. She glanced at the gawking crowd, and they immediately scattered. As in, legit ran out of there, terrified. Dude. I get it. I wanted to run, too. Just standing next to Caroline raised my blood pressure. My palms had already gone sweaty.
Caroline’s head snapped, like she’d caught a glimpse of something scary in her peripheral vision. She did. It was Mom’s outfit. “Why, Jennifer. All dressed up for the big night, I see.” She eyed Mom’s day-glo party store kitsch ensemble with a big ultra-white faux smile. All teeth, all gritting. “You have such a unique interpretation of theme.”
“That woman could sing Happy Birthday and make it sound like an insult.” Angel rolled his triangle.
Suddenly, she turned to me and her lips pulled into a kissy pout. Uh oh. Run! Too late. She grabbed my Hawaiian shirt and began smoothing the wrinkles with her manicured claws. “Are you Mommy’s big helper tonight?” She tapped the tip of my nose with her finger. “I bet your Mom is so proud of you. You’re such a special little man.”
I froze, helpless, clinging to my foil trays like life preservers. Did I mention that Caroline, for some reason, thinks I am special needs? Yep. Even though I’d saved her many, many times. Like that night she was possessed by a suicide cult leader in the housewares aisle. And that time the blood-thirsty ghosts of the van load of escaped convicts she’d run off the road wanted to kill her. And how about that time I stopped the zombie apocalypse she accidentally started? But who’s keeping track? Okay, I’m totally keeping track.
As she pinched my cheek and fake cooed, I retreated to my happy place. I fantasized about what life would be like if Caroline knew monsters were real. Or if she knew I was responsible, in part, for saving her. She certainly wouldn’t talk down to me anymore. I bet she’d be nicer, too.
“Nicer?” Angel eight ball said. “Don’t count on it. You should see her spreadsheet!”
Well, a man can dream, right?
Caroline turned to Mom, who said something about moving the car to clean up the crushed bottle teetering in the storm drain, but I don’t think any of that sunk in. Caroline was too focused on the three six-foot inflatable palm tree beer coolers Mom pulled out of the trunk. When Mom lifted a dolly out and loaded it with boxes of plastic pineapple drink cups and faux flower leis, and said, “How do we get to the Presidential Pool? We need to set these up,” Caroline went green and wobbled like she was about to faint.
She pointed to a gap between some bushes at the very end of the parking lot. “Take the service entrance.” Then, without another word, Caroline cat-walk strutted in the opposite direction, up the white marble steps, through the front door, head high, like we didn’t exist. She didn’t look back. Not once.
I’m not proud of it, but for a split second, I wished bad things on Caroline. Because maybe a little near-death experience at the hands of a grizzly supernatural creature would scare the mean out of her. If that didn’t do it, nothing would.
Critters from the Poo Lagoon is available in ebook format Oct. 19, and is out TODAY in paperback! (Here’s the Amazon link if you need it:https://amzn.to/2SWISgt)