Authors: K.R. Thompson
Once upon a
Once Upon a Haunted Moon
Copyright © 2013 K.R. Thompson
All right reserved. No part of this work may be used, altered or reproduced by any means without the written permission of the author/publisher.
This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical or ethnic events/traditions, real people or locales are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual people or events should be considered coincidental as they are products of the author’s imagination.
Book cover design © 2013 Keri Knutson
Edited by Laurie Laliberte
Formatted by Polgarus Studio
For the Fans
Who asked for more,
This one is for you…
To my husband and son for their endless support, I love you both forever and back again.
To my amazing editor, Laurie Laliberte, for the countless hours you sacrificed so I would meet my deadline and also for your courage to tell me what and how I could change. This book would not be what it is today without you.
To my fantastic cover designer, Keri Knutson, who never ceases to astound me with her creativity and attention to detail on every project I’ve ever sent her. You are truly amazing!
To Lexie Brown, Chenoa Patton and Tearsa Edwards for the use of their beautiful names that brought my characters a sense of self.
To Casey Oliver, for creative inspiration in bringing a tiger tattoo to life.
To my sister, Kellie Honaker, for proofreading and support.
To Savannah Aust, for her description of Tori Creed.
To fellow author, Linda Hudson Hoagland, for her friendship and guidance in the literary world and for all of the help in marketing.
To Melissa Dameron Coltrane and the Shaws, for the adoption of Brian’s character into their family.
To the staff of the Wolf Creek Indian Village and Museum, who sparked my imagination in creating these books and brought history to life.
Thank you all from the bottom of my heart!
Welcome to Bland!
Don’t let the name fool you, it’s anything but dull here, except, maybe — if you are only passing through. But if you are here to stay awhile, then welcome! To find your stay more enjoyable, please remember to do the following —
Throw your cell phone out. It’s useless. (The magic here blocks all signals, so if you have an emergency…well, just don’t have an emergency.)
Enjoy the local trails and wildlife, but remember to respect them and they will do the same for you.
And most importantly — make friends with the local Indian tribe…they may be the only ones who can get you out of here alive.
Stryker’s Pass, Southwest Virginia
October 7, 1765
Her name had been Ella. Such a long time ago. But that was before she became nameless.
Before the Fire Witch came.
She shivered in spite of the heat from the nearby wagon. Flames licked at the hem of her calico dress.
The wagon burst into flame as something exploded and shoved a massive heat wave against her tiny body. Scorched bits of canvas flew over her head, floating like pitiful flags of surrender. Her cap flew off her small, blonde head, the wind blowing it end over end — a circle of seemingly impossible, pristine white that soon was engulfed in a choking mass of smoke.
She heard the screams. Hundreds of thousands of piercing cries that seemed to echo over and over, back and forth in her head. Pleading cries for mercy, of anger, of pain…a tiny part of her tried to reason against the multitude of voices, the shrieks and groans that seemed to go an eternity. After all, hadn’t there only been thirty-five people in their wagon train? Surely, it shouldn’t take so long to die…
A blast of wind sent putrid smoke flooding through her nostrils, and she gasped, breaking free of the trance that held her fast. It was then the smoke parted in a small path, as if in a bow to its master. Her blue eyes widened, and while a small part of her mind registered the deafening roar of flames, the sudden absence of scream, there was a dull feeling of certainty that she was alone, and that she knew what was coming next…
She had always known. It was that feeling you got sometimes a moment before something happened that should take you by surprise, but didn’t, because you knew it was going to happen. Not everyone could do it, her little brother Billy, and her papa couldn’t. But she’d always known things. Her mama always knew things, too…like when she was going to get sick, or her papa was going to bring home game from hunting. Papa had always grinned at them, and told her and Mama they were “canny” and “good at guessing.” She wondered why they hadn’t seen this coming, this gruesome, hot death at the end of a journey that had promised to be so rewarding. A new world, free for the taking for those courageous enough to seek it, who knew that courage would have been their undoing.
What she hadn’t known was that the woman who stepped through the walls of smoke was Death — and that she was beautiful. Firelight glinted of perfect, white skin, and long red hair — the color of blood, streamed back from a heart-shaped face. Ella had almost decided that this woman was the most beautiful person she had ever seen. Even more beautiful than Mama…until those huge, black eyes of Death stared at her. They were eyes that didn’t have any bottoms, like still, dark water.
And they tried to pull her under.
“Come to me, child,” the Fire Witch said in a musical voice that sounded like raindrops, and a smile that should have coaxed, showed sharp, bloodstained teeth instead.
Ella felt the pull of the Fire Witch’s eyes, drawing her closer. She pushed back, shaking her head emphatically, wisps of blonde hair stinging her eyes.
“No,” she said in a small, shaking voice, and started to back away slowly, her blue eyes locked on the black ones that bore into hers and continued their pull on her. She felt the drag of power, and she gasped, feeling as if she were drowning within herself, into the impossible, endless ocean that made an eight-year-old girl. She heard herself scream, a pitiful, raspy sound, full of smoke…
“Ellie?” A tiny voice trembled from its hiding place near the trees, bringing her back to the surface just as her curly-headed little brother toddled into view, wielding a branch that was nearly as big as he was, a ferocious scowl on his determined little face.
“No, Billy! Run!” Ella shrieked at him, and watched in horror, as he stopped and stared at her for a full second, bottom lip quivering, then dropped his branch and darted back into the shadows of the trees.
“Touching,” the Fire Witch sneered, “But you shan’t save him, any more than you shall save yourself.”
Ella turned to follow her brother, stopping just long enough to snatch the sycamore branch he had dropped. A cold hand gripped her shoulder, spinning her around so fast her vision blurred and her neck threatened to snap. Somehow, she brought the ragged, sharp edge of the branch up and shoved with every last bit of strength she had, and was rewarded with a sickening crunch that jarred her hands so hard they numbed.
The sound that came next was like nothing Ella had ever heard before. A shriek, a howl, a gurgling scream of hatred all mingled and washed over the little girl in a wave so strong that she turned loose of the branch that had pierced the Fire Witch’s side, and clapped her hands over her ears, shutting her eyes as tight as she could against the nightmare that stood inches from her.
Then Ella died.
The feeling of weightlessness felt odd, she thought, as she felt the air whoosh against her stinging face. Yes, it was odd, she decided, but then, she’d never been an angel before. She supposed it would take some getting used to.
The fact that she hadn’t at all died, but only had been backhanded by the furious Fire Witch and sent flying through the air, hit her when she tasted the coppery tang of blood that filled her mouth. That was a split second before she landed in the underbrush at the edge of the forest.
She lay dazed for a few seconds, her vision doubled. She struggled to her knees, ignoring the pain that shot through her tiny frame. The world spun once she tried to stand, so she dropped back to her knees until her vision cleared, then dared to look back at the Fire Witch, who had quieted.
A dozen or more crows circled the Fire Witch, flitting amongst the flames like black demons. The sycamore branch still pierced her body like an arrow, and the Fire Witch turned to and fro, as if trying to figure out how such a thing had happened. Each time she touched the branch, she’d scream as if burnt.
Ella hoped her crows would eat her, and that the branch was stuck in her for forever. Even though the Fire Witch appeared to have forgotten her, Ella crawled on her hands and knees through the thorns and bushes, and into the dark shadows of the forest.
A few moments later, she heard the sound of a little boy who had come once more to the clearing to save his big sister, “Ellieee!”
A shrill scream echoed through the trees seconds later, and crows filled the dark sky. She didn’t remember how long she had lain in the hollow log, or how she had even gotten there, but she remembered crying for what seemed forever. Knowing there was no one left to go back to, she stood, and after a few wobbling steps, ran deeper into the shadows of the forest, wondering if there was anyone left in the world, or if the Fire Witch had taken them all.
Bland County, Virginia
I wasn’t afraid of death.
Being what I was had sort of ruined that.
I knew that I could die, but I also knew that it would take a lot to kill me. But as I stared straight at those fangs poised right over my throat, and felt the growl that reverberated through the wolf planted solidly on my chest, it seemed like he was up for the challenge. He wanted to kill me, however hard that would be.
So why would it be so hard to kill me, you ask? I was one of the six chosen ones who held the magic of the Wolf, according to an ancient Indian legend. It was a special gift passed from father to son, from one generation to the next. We’re known as Keepers — protectors of the forest, Mother Earth, and all the good stuff in the world. Now let’s go back to the part where the lead protector of the good stuff in the world wanted to kill me…
“Nikki, get him off,” I warned the girl standing to my left, as I struggled to keep calm. I knew if I lost it, it would get worse. A black and white mist started to ebb around my sight, and my wolf crept hesitantly to the surface to stare at the huge black one that had us pinned. I felt him withdraw, going back down into the darkness.
Lucky for me, he normally wasn’t too eager to take on our Alpha, either.
Finally, her hoarse voice said, “It wasn’t him, Adam. Brian didn’t do anything. He just got here a second before you did. Let him up.”
With something that sounded like a snort of disappointment, he climbed off me and turned to look at the girl whose heart beat like a jackhammer. Fear pulsed from her and her big, brown eyes had a wild, panicked look to them.
Ignoring the tall Indian dude who managed to shift back into a human and made it to a standing position before I got off the ground, I looked back toward the girl who was the reason for my being knocked in the dirt.
“What’s going on, Nikki?” I finally made it to a standing position. I brushed at a patch of dirt on my clothes. “Don’t even bother telling us ‘nothing.’ Your heart is hammering a mile a minute, and for whatever reason, Adam thinks I did it.”
“Sorry,” she said, as she tried to concentrate on taking deep breaths and calm down. She looked over at her boyfriend who still had a black mist edging around him. “The attic. I was up there looking around and weird stuff started happening, so I came out here…”
“What kind of weird stuff?” Adam asked, turning to stare up at the attic, whose old, faded curtain picked that exact second to blow out and hover in the air.
“Hmm,” I said, watching it billow as if the breeze were coming from inside the house, “Is the window on the other side of the attic open?”
“No,” Nikki shook her head emphatically, “I only opened that window. But that isn’t anything compared to what I saw. I think my house is haunted or possessed or something…and it’s watching us now.”
As we watched, the curtain shifted to one side as if someone had moved it to look out, and a shadow passed by.
Adam’s eyes narrowed, “Are your mom and sister home?”
I knew as well as he did that Nikki was the only one home, hers was the only scent there. Everyone else had been gone for a few hours. But I was willing to go along with him and hope that we were wrong, because otherwise, there was something or someone else up there. And whomever it was didn’t have a scent.