Friday, January 30, 2015

Guest Blog and Giveaway: Blood and Spirits by Dennis Sharpe

The Life and Times of a Modern Bloodsucking Sex Worker 
– or – 
"Why is Veronica a Madam?"

By Dennis Sharpe

The voices in my head have names. No, really. They do.

I hear them as loudly and clearly as I hear anyone who talks to me from outside my own mind. My characters talk to me in their own voices. They have their own accents and a tempo to their speech. They are fully formed, very real, people… who just happen to exist only in my head (and then by extension in my works of fiction). It's my madness. Does that mean that I can't distinguish fantasy from reality? No. I just have characters who tell me their stories… and I write those stories down.

Veronica Fischer – or "V", as she prefers to be called – is one of those characters. And like all of the characters in my fiction, she is a person first, even if she doesn't happen to be human. She has a solid core. She had a childhood, with parents and problems. She has wants, desires, needs, likes and dislikes. Like every other character that talks to me – be they aliens or monsters, astronauts or politicians – she is a person, she has a soul.

I find far too many fictional characters (in printed words or up on a screen) are only what they are – vampire, robot, or what-have-you, or they are only what they do – a pilot, detective, or whatever the plot or setting call for, they aren't people outside of that. That seriously limits where their story can take them, and it seriously limits my interest in their story. I think that means I'm an elitist. I don't know. I've never been too keen on labels… especially the ones I'm given.

See, I make things up. Sometimes I write those things down, or type them up, so that other people can read them. I'm happy when those things are read by others. I'm even happier when people have an emotional reaction (positive or negative) to the things I've made up; because it means that I've connected to that person in some way. I like the idea that people I've never met – may well never meet—are experiencing an emotion because of me. I think the label for that, in my mind, is legacy.
I'm drifting from topic…

Characters. I was talking about my characters. I was talking about V. When I begin to tell a story I always have to look for a window. A way in, if you will, to the story that I can use to show my reader what it is I need to show them. I have no less than one hundred stories in my head that I'd like to tell, I just haven't yet found the window through which to tell them to my readers. The best window for the way that I write is generally the main character.

With V my first window into telling her story was the fact that she was afraid of crickets. No lie. Spider crickets, actually. Back in 1997 she told me (in my head, not out loud) that she was afraid of spider crickets because of the ones in the basement of her house on Summit drive, in Pekin. I started asking her questions about that, and she began to tell me more of story. Her childhood became my way in, and thus the way I could tell her story. A lot of that got moved out of the first book, but it's still a big part of her story… part of who she is. That informed so much of the way the story unfolded. Knowing all about her made it a lot easier to explain what she was going through to other people, to write it out for other people to read. Ya know?

So when I was asked, during the release of Blood & Spirits, "why is Veronica a madam?" it seemed like an innocent question. In fact, though, the answer is a little more involved than can be explained (or even summed up) in a tight one sentence answer.

V came to me as a fierce and strong voice. She was independent, self-assured, vulnerable at times, but always in control of her life. She suffered nothing stupid lightly, and she was a very feminine and sexual creature. I was not at all surprised when she told me she was a madam. I was equally unsurprised when she told me about her childhood, and her mother being a working girl who was a little too pushed around by the men in her life. V just made sense to me, and the fact that she was a madam was such a small part of who she was that I never gave it all that much thought, really.

As I said, V’s mother was a sex worker, and she saw a lot of what can go wrong when she was growing up. She started in the industry as a worker as well, and fought her way up to a place of control even before she was made an all new and different kind of ‘creature of the night’ by Jules. It, for her, was all too logical a next step that she should seek out other girls in the same line of work and offer them the protection that she could, once she was relocated out of the city. In doing that she was befriended by Lucy, a ghost who had also worked in the sex trade back in the 1880s.

If I had to venture a guess, and really you’d have to ask V about it, I’d say that she does what she does because A) she enjoys it, and B) because she’s a bit of a control freak. Being a madam affords her an even more elevated control over what goes on with her, and with the girls in her house. Men, being so easily led around by their sexual needs and desires, are usually all too happy to give her the control she seeks (and pay well for it) without a problem because of what is being sold. Talent, skill, and enjoyment… right? Men who aren’t happy with the arrangement are free to move along, or be dealt with swiftly. Again, she suffers nothing stupid lightly… and she can flip trucks, being a bloodsucker and all… so…

I could get more in depth, I suppose, on the psychology of V… or on my own, as she came from my mind… but I really don’t see how much good that would do. She is what she is. She enjoys it. She owns it. I’m not complaining. So there you go. As it turns out, Vampires make good madams. They can give what’s paid for, and ensure that nothing happens that a girl doesn’t want to happen… and they can do it without guns, goons, thugs, or being out more money. A good fit, for a great character, in my opinion.

Blood and Spirits
The Coming Storm
Book One
Dennis Sharpe

Genre: Paranormal Thriller

Publisher: Booktrope Publishing

ISBN: 978-1-62015-595-0

Number of pages: 220

Cover Artist: Shari Ryan

Book Description:

Small-town life can be hard for a dead girl…

For Veronica Fischer the night to night life of a bloodsucking madam in Middle America is tough enough before she adopts Rachel Gregory, an eight year old ghost.

After her house is set on fire and Rachel disappears, all signs point to foul play. When she finds herself with a hit out on her unlife and warrants for her arrest, it becomes clear she’s going to need help.

Now she has to contend with horny zombies, violent spirits, and murderous grave robbers if she’s ever going to find Rachel and discover the awful truth of the coming storm.

A raucous ride through the dangerous lives of the lecherous undead.

Chapter 1

I’m told it’s an oddity that I still sleep.  It only comes in short bursts, no more  than forty-five minutes at a time. Most others with my condition, and I have only known a handful, tell me they don’t sleep anymore. Some of them haven’t in more than five decades. I can’t imagine the hell that must be. Even in my brief moments of rest, I still dream and in that I find relief. Even if the dreams aren’t what I like, they are still an escape.
The soft thickness of my comforter envelops me as I relax back into bed. Before I’m completely awake, my mind begins to unfold, opening to the world around me. In the distance, the fog is rolling in off the river, dense and blanketing, its vaporous fingers right there on the edges of my consciousness. The night is cool, and the last lights of the dying day dance across my ceiling, reflected from the crystals hanging in my window. The light tinkle as they sway into each other is a reassuring sound; the beautiful prisms they cast, a blessing. Not one night comes that I don’t wake to thank Jules for having the windows in this house ‘treated’. I can actually see the sun, even if I can’t be out in it.

I am now completely aware for miles around me. I’m awake, and not even grudgingly so. Not tonight. He’ll be here soon. I look forward to it and fear it all at once, but I ask myself ‘why dwell on what we can’t change?’
A soft breeze blows across me as I slip out of my bed, making the hairs on the back of my neck stand out. My mind recognizes the sensation as a chill, even if my dead flesh can’t feel as it once did.
Rubbing a hand down from the base of my skull, in a futile attempt to warm myself, I open the lid to the old steamer trunk Julie brought up from the basement today. She aired out everything in it while I slept, and the interior smells as though she even put some of my perfume on a few of the choice garments. I breathe in deeply and can the corner of my mouth turns up slightly. Time may have dulled Jules’ scent, but it’s still unmistakable, mingled in with the fragrance in the clothing.
Clothes have always held memories for me. The crimson silk of a dress drops down over me and it’s as though his eyes were on me again. The mirror reveals the garment to be no more out of place, for its slinky cut or lack of length, than it did when I first wore it a  lifetime ago, when I could still remember being a girl. I first put it on in front of him and twirled around to raise the hem, hoping to entice and astonish with my feminine wiles, foolish enough back then to believe that because I loved him, a creature like him was even still capable of love.

I’ve learned from his example and years of my own mistakes – emotion is a weakness to be managed.
Yet, here I am, slipping into this dress that I haven’t worn since he left, simply because I know he’ll remember it.
Stepping out into the thick evening air, the raw power of the river hits me with the force of a freight train. Even from this distance, the power is unmistakable. Tonight, though, it has an odd feeling, as though it were restrained.
Standing still with my eyes closed, I concentrate and listen to the pulse of the water rolling heavily over the rocky bed, feel the lapping, almost angry waves against the shoreline. I don’t know why closing my eyes helps me bond to my surroundings, it just always has. It must be another facet of my insanity.
I’ve never met someone with my affliction that was as sane as they had been when they were alive. I wasn’t ever all that sane, either, but I’ve grown more detached as time has gone by. Too often these days, I feel like a spectator. Maybe that’s just my ‘coping mechanism’. My therapist would love to know about this fabulous train of thought. Prick.
As I enter the garage, it occurs to me that I’ve only got two cars at this house. Frank was to take Julie back to town with the Charger this afternoon to keep up the appearance that everything was normal. I’m certainly not taking my old Volkswagen Beetle to go bar hunting, so the flat black Eclipse will get a work out tonight. I hate this car, but she’s been fast enough to outrun a lot of demons I didn’t feel like facing.
Pulling out of the driveway, I already wish I’d stayed at the other house today. The drive into town is only thirty minutes, but I’m tense enough tonight and don’t need the wait. Telling myself that I needed to be here, for safety’s sake, only makes me feel more upset at my fear and lack of control.
Six months ago, I’d have talked to Lucy; she’d have taken the edge off. If she were here, though, I’d have had no need to contact Jules. Now I get to feel like a failure and look like one, too.
The tires scream as I kick the car almost sideways, narrowly avoiding a deer. My lack of focus is getting worse. As much as the idea repulses me, tonight I’m actually going to have to go look for food instead of letting it come to me. I haven’t had to do that in years. On one hand, it’s a fitting start to the night, but on the other, I had really thought I’d outgrown eating out.
I always forget how much sensory input I lose when I spend time around all the steel and pavement. The dark moonless drive down rural roads is a blessing, putting me more in tune with the land, at once one with the leaves on the trees, the bats overhead, and the rocks around the base of the roadside.
The sound of the insects in the high grass is comforting. Their flittering finds my ears even over the engine noise. They are mine as much as everything else here; as much as I am a part of them. It took more than twenty years to reach this level of awareness, and I’m still not foolish enough to believe I’ve mastered it.
I used to be able to spend time expanding my mind. I used to do a lot of things I haven’t been able to do lately. Everything has devolved so fast and I’m  still reeling.
The past year I’ve been so caught up in the life of a dead girl, I’ve dealt with little else.
Rachel died eighteen months ago at the ripe old age of eight; I met her after that. She was hanging around the Jefferson House, where my girls work. If she hadn’t picked that place to haunt, I doubt I’d be in the mess I’m in now.
The town springs up slowly. Houses begin to sit closer together, then nearer to the road. Side  streets appear, and businesses start to intersperse among the spider web of tight residential development, obviously undertaken with no real planning or forethought. Then, at last, the glow of the streetlights tells me I’m back where I’m in control. This is the town I run, inside and out. Or I did.
Passing the street that leads to the Jefferson House, it takes will not to turn. I want to check up on things, but personal priorities come first and I  have to trust Julie has everything well in hand.

The dulcet tones of a southern rock cover band blare from six blocks away tingling my eardrums. The music is louder than usual. It should be a fun night, or at least a packed house. Either way, I’m content.
The transmission voices its complaint as I downshift onto the access road. I’ll never really like this car, but she does get from A to B more quickly than most. I still wish I’d driven something nicer tonight, something with a top I could put down. But, in the end, the car I’m in is the least of my concerns right now.
The lot isn’t full yet, leaving plenty of  good spaces, but rock star parking wasn’t really a concern of mine to begin with. This just means that after I eat and pick him up, I should be able to get back here to a manageable crowd.
If I’m lucky, he’ll want to be social tonight. If not, then I’ll be too busy to make it back here at all. I really want to show him that the biggest part of my life is still under control, so he won’t only see the little girl that has to call him in as her savior. Again.
Why do I need so badly for him to be proud of me?
As I cross the parking lot,  the lingering scents of sweat, cheap beer, and longing hang heavy in the air already. This might be a little too easy. Though catching a fresh meal has never been really what I’d call difficult. That’s why the small town, Midwestern life suits me; I usually get what I want and rarely have to work that hard to have it. Hopefully, years of having my food delivered hasn’t left me too out of practice.
Someone sees me coming and opens the door and holds it for me. That’s the thing about being a regular in a small town rural bar – you are a known commodity, more or less. This helps and hurts when you have to hunt for food where you also gather socially. Like a balancing act. Some are good at it; some are not. Those who have been less than good at it around here, I’ve had to deal with. No one pisses in my pool even once and gets to do it again.
There’s a big cowboy at the end of the bar, a couple bikers near the pool tables, and a few burly construction workers at a table. After only the briefest pause, my route is clear in my mind. The first taker is my next victim. I really love playing this game. Maybe I’m not so rusty, after all.
I don’t get the chance to make it very far. As I pass the bar, in my peripheral vision, the dark brown of the cowboy hat moves in my direction.
“Now this is why I came out tonight. A good looking girl in tight fitting dress!”
The booming words come projected from the stout bear of a man standing at the end of the bar undressing me through his beer goggles.
The cowboy it is; he’ll make a full meal.
I do my best to fake a blush, while acting interested  and  offended  all  at  once.   Pretending  to care what men think is an art. It takes moments to learn, but lifetimes to master.  I’d like to believe I’m an expert.
I walk over to him smiling but with my eyes downcast. “My name’s Veronica. Who are you, handsome?”
He puffs up in his detail-stitched denim shirt, pushing out his barrel chest in a vain attempt to hide his well-tended gut. He’d be fairly good looking if he didn’t obviously take such pride in how good looking he thinks he is.
“They call me Buck, and if I could I’d like to do a lot more than buy you a drink.” he slurs slightly at me.
He motions to the bartender for another round and I do my best to blush again, this time giving a halfhearted laugh at his insipid comment.
“Here ya go, darlin’.” He hands me a Jägerbomb and tries to force it to my lips “Bottoms up, baby!”
He reminds me why I live in a small town; this corn-fed hick really thinks he’s irresistible. Well, who am I to disappoint? I down the drink like a good girl going bad, exhale deeply, and lean over into him, letting my neckline plunge as it was designed to do. As old and tired as this dance is, I really do love his eyes on me.  Some things never change.
“Now, that was worth it, wasn’t it?” he asks me proudly. “Buck won’t steer ya wrong.”
“We can go somewhere more private if you’d like…Buck,”  I  whisper  softly  in  his  ear,  pulling back almost as slowly as the wicked grin spreads  across my face. His perverse smile hides nothing. I have him now – hook, line, and zipper.
Money changes hands as we exit the bar. I laugh a little out loud while remembering the lack of faith I’d had in my abilities. I try to lead him to my car, but he’s intent on going to the alley behind the building. I try to convince him, sliding my hand slowly down over the large oval belt buckle with his name on it. But he’s convinced the alley is what excites him, and I don’t want to take the time to change his mind so I follow along.
It begins subtle and playful, but it’s clear that’s not what he’s in the mood for. He pushes me down onto my knees in a matter of seconds, quickly wrapping a hand in my hair and beginning to jerk my head back and forth violently.
He couldn’t hurt me if he tried so I let his game continue on his terms. Using my mouth like a cheap sex toy is a bit insulting, I guess, but I don’t need to breathe so I’m not gagging or choking. As always, I’m here to get what I need, and so I’ve gotten used to allowing them what they need. I look at it like my public service, or my good deed.
I could just take what I want and be done, but that generally leads to more problems than I want to deal with. I’ve even grown bored with the games of superiority and subservience. I let them feel dominant, and powerful. It’s the least I can do, really.  Besides, the heightened state of arousal makes them taste better, even if most of them could use a lesson in hygiene.
It’s been so long since I did this in public. It might even be a little exciting if I weren’t so anxious, or if Buck were more attractive.
I’m only vaguely aware of the fact that he’s calling me a dirty whore. A little laugh flitters inside that he would call me dirty; the irony is lost on him but not me. I’ve almost completely tuned him out, focused on the job I’m here to do.
And then he makes a mistake; he hits my face, hard. If I were still alive, it would have done some damage, broken bone, maybe even knocked me out.
This isn’t playful anymore – this bastard actually likes to hurt women – now, I’m done playing.
I pull back slowly from him, looking at his fist wrapped around what looks like a roll of quarters. He’s using every ounce of strength and leverage he has to try to hold me on my knees. He has no more effect holding me down than the weight of my clothes. His eyes begin to widen and he lets go of my hair as I rise slowly and determined. His fist is still drawn back, but we both know he’s not going to swing. I’m going over all  the painful ways I can drive home the point that he doesn’t get to hurt the girls he plays with, all the while considering  how much I love this dress and don’t want to ruin it.
Standing in front of him I wipe his liquid from the corner of my mouth and stare deeply. I can see the panic in his eyes. I can smell his fear, deep, rich and growing, and for the first time tonight, I’m actually aroused.
“Now, Buck, what could possibly have made you think that was a good idea?” I ask in a cool and controlled voice.
“Get back on your knees whore! I ain’t paying you to fucking talk!” He spews the words out loudly, in a vain attempt to regain control as he tries to force me back down with one hand, while still menacing with his fist. He only succeeds in ripping my dress.
Not this dress, not tonight. He’s decided it for me; tonight is the end of his story.
“I’m used to the rough stuff, Buck.”
In an instant, I have his throat in my hand and his back against the wall. He’s beginning to shake as he draws back to swing.
“I was just going to let you off with a little pain and a warning about hurting working girls, and look what you’ve done.”
The fear pours off of him in waves as I disregard his raised fist and calmly show him my torn dress. It’s enough to make even my body react involuntarily to the stimulation. “You want a pretty girl to throatfuck, you pay for it. We’re all good. You like it a little rough, that’s fine. But slapping a girl around hard enough to actually hurt them? We just don’t do that,  Buck.  You’re incredibly lucky I don’t bruise easy.”
 I flash him a smile and for just a moment I can see he thinks it’s all going to be okay.
“We had a perfectly good deal worked out, and now you’ve ensured that I’m the last thing you’re gonna see, and given me the extra work of dealing with your corpse.”
He shudders and wets himself.
It really is dirty how hot this has gotten me. I’ll blame it on my state of mind, certainly not wanting to give this bastard any credit.
I peer deeply into his eyes, and his mind unfolds to me. I see all that he had planned for me; I know all that is ‘Buck’. The last restraint I had left is gone. He’s from out of town, no one here knows him, and only his trucking company will miss him.
I apply just a touch more pressure, and  with a flick of my wrist, he goes limp. I let go and he crumples to the ground in a heap. Quick and painless is better than he deserves, but I’m pressed for time.
I drink from him what I need and leave him piled up behind the dumpster. At least he’s served his purpose, even if he was more trouble than I’d planned on.
Why this dress? Any other dress he could have ripped and he’d still be breathing. Clearly, I’m too stressed out.
I dial my cell and wait, more than a little irritated when  I  get voicemail. “Frank, you  really  need  to call me back. I have a pick up for you and it’s time sensitive. Remind me again why I keep you on payroll?”
I walk back up to the end of the alley and wait for my phone to ring. The straps on the left shoulder of the dress are ripped completely out of the back and there are two deep tears where they had been attached. This is what happens when you have to rush. Things don’t go as planned, and then shit gets broken.
“Can I help you with that?”
His voice is steady, soft, and scares me almost out of my skin. This is why I pay him so well.
I turn to face him and am a bit taken aback to see him dressed in jeans and a wife-beater. He’s never this down-dressed, even when I tell him to be.
“Not with my dress, but you can wrap that up,” I fume, nodding my head back down the alley to what remains of Buck. “And make it disappear.”
Frank O’Leary looks like what a Greek god should look like. Chiseled out of stone; an example of everything that makes a man attractive. His mane of auburn hair, always perfectly messy, hangs down between his shoulder blades. Like all men who look this good, Frank has no interest in women. He also has very few morals, a deviously creative mind, and an unequaled love for money. That serves to make him an irreplaceable asset. I keep telling myself I can never trust him completely, but he’s too smart to bite the hand that pays for his lifestyle.

Also, despite my attempts to keep him at arm’s length, I’ve grown attached to him over the years.
He stares, one eyebrow raised, at the boots jutting visibly out from behind the dumpster and nods. “Any particulars on how he disappears or just ‘out of sight  out of mind?’”
“Just make it fucking happen, Frank! I don’t have time for bullshit tonight!” As soon as the words escape me, I’m aware they’re harsher than he deserved.
The look on his face says it all. He understands. He’s not happy about it, but he knows why I’m stressed and he’ll accept it for now and hope that things will get better.
“He is coming in tonight, then?”
“Should be here in about an hour.”
I really have to get back to the old me, and soon. I know better than to kill this close to where I go to relax. I know he knows that, too. It felt good to destroy that piece of shit, and save generations of women from having to deal with him, but I still know better.
Frank looks down the alley again, then back to me and holds out a set of keys with a silver skull keychain. He knows me too well. I take the keys to the Charger and hand him back the ones to the little flat black speedster.
“How much gas does she have?” he asks, still looking down the alley, sizing up the job.

“You need to get some.” I call back at him, already walking toward the emerald-green muscle machine. “You’re on fumes.”
He’s muttering under his breath as I get in, but his voice is less than a whisper and it gets lost under the deafening roar of the engine coming to life. I put the top down and back her out slowly while checking my watch. Not much time left.
I leave the lot and the mess behind me, able to count on Frank. I have to get to the airport, and make sure everything is secure before his plane lands.

About the Author:

Born and raised in the middle of the American Midwest, Dennis Sharpe has been a writer as long as he can remember. His mother has told many people about the fantasy and science fiction stories he'd write on scraps of paper, and staple together as his 'books', before he'd attended his first day of formal education.

He has spent many late nights at diners and dives, drinking coffee with a tattered notebook to put a voice to his feelings of himself and the world around him, and other worlds that can exist only in fiction. The voices in his head don't ever stop talking to him, and so sooner or later he has to get out onto a page all that they've filled him up with.

Inspired by Neil Gaiman, Kurt Vonnegut, Frank Miller, Chrissie Pappas, Charles Bukowski, Stephen King, Issac Asimov, and countless classic literary influences, Dennis continues with the ability to write what at a glance might seem absurd, but quickly begins to resonate with our own thoughts and emotions. He writes people we know, love we've known and lost (and found again), and places we've been in our lives and in our heads. Even his fictional characters and worlds carry enough of the grey areas we experience in day-to-day life, to let us find the truth in his words, no matter how fantastic.

These days he can be found still writing, drinking coffee with friends, or spending time with his children (the true joys of his life), in Western Kentucky.

Twitter: @witlesslackey

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