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Excerpt from “Bright Lights, Dark Shadows”

Posted by Charles Gray on June 9, 2016

A writer’s work is never done, and so here’s an excerpt from the next book in the Guardian’s series, “Bright Lights, Dark Shadows.”  Our intrepid pair of teens have made it to Los Angeles, and even in the depths of the Great Depression, the lights of Hollywood shine very brightly indeed… and cast dark, dark shadows. There’s magic afoot in Tinsel Town, and it isn’t Tara’s… but it is lethal.


“It was a working of some sort,” Tara muttered in their room as she flipped through her notes. “It… I’m not certain what type. Oh,  Six Underworlds, if I’d only had my books with me when I fell through!” She ran one hand through her unbound hair, a quick, frustrated moment.

“It looked like he was dissolving,” Michael said. “That, and he was getting older.”

“Yes,” Tara muttered, “but it doesn’t make any sense.

“What do you mean?”  Michael asked, moving a stack of reference books off of the stool. Perching on it, he looked over Tara’s shoulder at her notes, some in English, some in her own language, with diagrams and symbols scattered liberally throughout.

“Remember? I felt his death, and the working from almost a block away. It wasn’t subtle… it was… it was like murdering a man with a sword in the middle of a market!”  She flipped through another notebook. “If they were trying to murder that poor man, why use a method that was so… obvious!”

“Tara,” Michael said, “I think you’re forgetting something.”

Tara looked back at him, her green eyes annoyed. “No, I know what I felt. It was obvious—”

“—To you.”  Michael cut her off as he gestured at her notes. “Because you can do magic. I didn’t feel anything weird, and I bet nobody else did either… except for you, and whoever killed that poor guy.”

Tara frowned, staring at her notes.  Michael didn’t say anything.  They’d only been together for a month, but he knew that expression. Tara was thinking and right now she didn’t need anyone else to interrupt her.

“Okay,” she finally said. “Let’s assume you’re right. Then why would they use magic so publicly?Tara gestured, her hand taking in the walls of the room and by extension the city beyond. “Your police aren’t stupid and this was unusual.  Even presuming they don’t believe it was a criminal act, it would certainly attract attention.”

“Yeah, I bet it’ll be on the front page tomorrow,” Michael told his friend. “But Tara, maybe this was an accident? He was trying to get to someone or talk to them…”

“Or it was a miscast working…” Tara muttered to herself.

“We need to find out,” Michael said.

“Oh? What happened to keeping our heads down?” Tara asked with a smile.

“Well, if you could see that they were working magic, couldn’t they…” Michael let his voice trail off as he held up one of the paper ads for the magic show.

“Oh.” Tara stared at the ad and then muttered something in her own language.  From the number of consonants, Michael figured it was a curse-word.

That and the fact that Tara blushed after she said it.

“You’re right,” she finally said. “I really didn’t worry about someone who was magically skilled finding out that I was using workings and rituals. I didn’t even think there would be anyone like that.”

“And they may be killers,” Michael pointed out. The teen looked grim. “I really think we need to find out who they are.”

“The newspaper will report his name, yes?” Tara asked. “Or we could go to the police station and…”  she shook her head. “A pair of teenagers asking about a mysterious death…”

“They’d chase us out, at best,Michael said with a wince. “At worst they might think we had something to do with it, and you know we really don’t need to get a lawman interested in us.”

“Yes.  And whoever made the working might also be watching…”  Tara nodded. “Yes. We can just find out his name from the newspaper, and work from there.” Tara fell silent for a moment, then shook her head. “I had hoped that I wasn’t going to be involved in anything like this ever again…not after the swamp.”

Michael put his arm around her. “You did your best,” he told her. And I won’t say it wasn’t your fault, because you’ll never, ever, believe that. “But who knows, maybe it was just an accident and we can help make certain it doesn’t ever happen again.”

Tara reached up and patted his hand with her own, the fake wedding ring gleaming in the light.

“Maybe,” she said. “Maybe you’re right.”

But she didn’t sound like she believed it.

If I’m lucky and the gods of writing are kind, this should be out by the end of August…but don’t hold me to that!


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