Burner’s world revolved around three things: protecting the wolf pack of Maine, keeping an eye on his best friend Aaron, and helping prepare enough summer food to take on the long road to Quebec for the winter months. But in the ruins of an old shopping mall on a hot summer night, his world crashes.
Now Burner has to face monsters he thought were just stories told to scare pups, and he must traverse a world he’s only seen in old magazines. Meanwhile, his best friend Aaron is dealing with monsters of his own and Burner will do whatever it takes to keep them both safe, even if it means finally admitting how he really feels.
|Publisher:||Ninestar Press, LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.81(d)|
About the Author
J.M. Goguen is a pen name for a Canadian author. A graduate of Simon Fraser University, The Writer’s Studio, and a current MFA creative writing student, she is known to spend more time world building than writing. Growing up with a love of paranormal, horror, romance, and speculative fiction, she will happily chat about topics ranging from interstellar ark ships, werewolves, the zombie apocalypse, and the dangers of lightsabers and space lasers. Her previous work has appeared in Micro Madness and Emerge 16, and she does manuscript consultations. She lives on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia, Canada. In her free time, she plays video games, takes too many photos of her cats, and watches the local wildlife.
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EAST COAST OF MAINE, SUMMER, TWENTY YEARS AFTER THE DARKNESS
Crickets chirped in the background of the campfire's light. The aroma of hot, dry grass, charred fish, and wild dill filled the air. Five boys ranging in ages from four to eight sat huddled together, watching intently as scarred fingers expertly checked the skewered fish. It was a simple lesson; an easy cooking strategy when out in the wild. Eating raw fish could result in sickness, or worse, death. Teaching the boys early on how to cook would save them trouble later should they get separated or wander off.
It was one of the first things Fern taught me, and he was teaching the boys of the pack. Without burning his fingers, Fern squeezed the sides of the fish, and the boys shifted, glancing at each other. They were hungry, their stomachs grumbling loud enough that even I could hear them from my spot several feet away, but Fern needed them to focus before they ate, as sleep would come too easily with a full belly, and they needed to learn the dangers in the world.
"Do you know who the Deadwalkers are?" Fern's voice rumbled up from deep in his chest. With his scarred face, straggly white hair, opalescent yellow eyes, and broken-fanged grin, Fern looked frightening, at least to the young pups. They just hadn't seen him fight yet.
"They aren't real," Riley said. His gaze was fixed on the fish, and without looking, he shoved another boy who had crept closer to the fire away. Riley was a young pup, new to our pack this summer, and the first time away from his mother too.
A smile spread across Fern's face, the sight of his fangs causing the boys to inch away. "Oh, but they are. You see, they live in the old cities, in buildings taller than the water tower in the Old Town, and they devour everything in their path ..."
"Mom always told me they weren't real," Aaron whispered to me.
Aaron and I were several feet away from the boys to the side of the campfire. Close enough to see clearly, but far enough that the boys ignored us. We weren't as nearly as interesting as Fern or the food, but we were to set an example to the boys on how to behave. At least, that's what Fern had told me when I made the fire while Aaron cleared the area for us to sit.
I glanced at Aaron. He was curled in on himself, his knees drawn close to his chest and his arms wrapped tightly around his legs. His black hair was peppered with white streaks as the result of a sickness he'd had before he turned Wolf. "Mom told me they were stories to scare the new pups, to keep them from wandering off at night," he murmured.
"You didn't wander." My fishing net was on my lap. I was trying to fix the large hole a lobster had made that morning with some cord I'd found in one of the nearby huts. It seemed like something was always breaking and needing repairing. Thankfully the moon was almost full, and the additional light helped me to see what I was doing.
"Burner, you always wandered," Aaron said, and for the first time in two months since his mother passed, he chuckled. "Fern always had to go hunt you down, and then Den Mother would be pissed off at him for losing you."
I tried not to smile because it was true. I'd wander off to the Old Town and when Fern would catch up to me, we would walk around the buildings and houses. He would tell me stories from his childhood, about the old world.
I always thought it sounded like a horrible, boring, dead world.
"Fern told me once that most of his scars came from Den Mother," I joked. I twisted the cord and net together with practiced ease, tying them in a knot.
Aaron laughed, really laughed, the sound carrying into the sky and echoing amongst the silent trees. I was glad to see a part of my friend was still alive inside. It made me smile too.
"Do you two think Deadwalkers are a joke?" Fern demanded.
The young pups were watching us, their trance on the fish, and Fern, broken.
Aaron and I shared a look.
"No, Alpha, they are as real as you and me," I said. There was no laughter in my voice. No humor, just the firm, unquestioning tone Fern expected me to have when we spoke of pack matters.
Satisfied, Fern nodded. He picked up one of the skewers, examining the fish closely. The pups returned their attention to Fern, or rather, how he was testing the fish. He started speaking again, and Aaron waited a few moments before he leaned closer to me, his breath tickling my ear. "Do you think they are real?"
"I don't know. I've never seen one, not even in the Old Town." I ducked my head, pretending to pick at the net.
Aaron stared at the fire, falling into silence. I peeked sideways at him when he suddenly sniffed, hot tears spilling down his cheeks. "I miss Mom," he choked and buried his face in his crossed arms.
I looked hopelessly at Fern. When he saw Aaron, he motioned for us to go. Net in hand, I stood up and squeezed Aaron's shoulder.
"C'mon, I'll walk you home," I soothed.
"I don't want to go home." Aaron stood. His right hand was cupping his eyes, his lips downturned.
Wordlessly, I let go of his shoulder and took him by the hand. Together, we left the campfire and slipped into the dark of the night.CHAPTER 2
THE KITCHEN WAS alive with Den daughters hustling back and forth, shouting at each other in their own unique languages, and cooking enough food to feed a hundred normal men in a room barely large enough to hold twenty. I'd arisen before them at dawn to catch the morning light, and to snag a part of the long kitchen table to try to fix my net. But as my frustration grew, and the morning turned to afternoon, I was forced to admit that it was completely, and utterly, useless. The hole was bigger, and the knots I'd made snapped under pressure, or refused to tighten.
I sighed, sitting back in the wooden chair and stretching my arms above my head, trying to pop my back and ease the cramped muscles. I yawned, then sagged forward, my arms dropping to my sides as I finally noticed the cup of cold elk tea, and the two young daughters, roughly four and five, sitting across from me, staring at me.
I stared back at them and glanced at the others. Nobody was paying any attention to us, so I stuck my tongue out and blew a raspberry at them. The two daughters looked at each other before they stuck out their tongues at me. Suddenly they froze, and like frogs who'd caught a fly pulled their tongues back into their mouths and sat up in their chairs.
The heady smell of cooked lobster caught my senses before a chipped white platter was placed next to my cup. I grabbed the armful of heavy netting, pulled it off the table, and kicked it beneath.
"Do you want my crochet hooks?" a soft and lyrical voice teased. My cheeks heated.
I blamed the growing heat from the two ovens.
"Nah, Jess, I think I'm good." I pulled the platter closer to me.
Jess, or Jessica as the others called her, was wearing a white cotton dress that ended just above her knees. Her long red hair was tied back into a messy bun, with wisps of red escaping. Her skin was milky pale and caused the heavily inked black "M" under her right eye to seem bigger then it was.
"I'll ask Fern if I can head into the Old Town to find another net." I picked up the lobster, testing the strength of the shell before I turned it around to face me. It had been a big one, at least four pounds. Even in death the little bastard somehow looked victorious. Gripping the claws, I broke the shell at the joints and scooped out the meat. The two daughters gasped. I stretched across the table to hand it to them. They squealed, sharing the meat between them.
Jess hummed in response. "You should take Aaron with you; let him visit his mom." Her soft copper eyes watched my every move.
"You think Rock will allow it?" I took the other claw and cracked it in half. I offered it up to her.
"I think Fern should have killed Rock years ago." Jessica plucked the entire claw from my hands. "Just take Aaron with you. If Rock comes looking, my girls will cover for you."
I grabbed the tail of the lobster and pulled the shell off. I shoved it in my mouth and chewed slowly. "Your girls?" I mumbled.
Jessica smiled. "Trust me, Burner." She picked up the platter with the lobster remains on it while I licked my fingers clean. She tsked, shaking her head. "See that, Emily? Misha? What do we do with dirty fingers?"
"Wash them at the sink," the two girls chimed.
I rolled my eyes.
As the room grew hotter, and the two daughters were tasked with removing the ends from a pile of green beans, I took my cup and quietly left through the back door. One of the daughters would find a use for the netting. Maybe a sewing project, or to help pea shoots climb in the garden. I didn't know, but stepping out of the kitchen was a relief. Even though it was late summer, it was much cooler outside than inside. I took a moment to savor the sunshine, leaning my back against the white peeling paint of the house.
"Chatting up Jessica?" A sly and tired voice broke my moment of quiet.
"Not the way you want to." I held up my mug at the two sun-bleached figures approaching me.
Albe and Danbe were identical twins with dirty blond hair and canines a bit too long for their mouths. They wore ripped jean shorts, moth-eaten tank tops, and were an inch or two taller than me. Both of them carried three medium-sized codfish in their hands, no doubt caught without poles. I waved my free hand at Danbe's catch. He flashed back a toothy grin. I'd never heard him speak, and he couldn't hear us speak, but he was our finest fisherman.
"Looks like a good catch."
"Really good," Albe agreed. "Fern told us to start salting the fish tomorrow, says we're going to head inland earlier this year."
"Is everybody at the beach?" I made an ocean wave-like motion with my hand before closing it then opening it to point at the path toward the beach.
Albe frowned. "Not entirely sure." He turned to Danbe, shrugging.
Danbe thought for a moment before he readjusted his haul of fish and mock combed his hair before digging at the air.
"Eric's digging for clams." Albe glanced at me, confused. "Why?"
"Got to speak to Fern, you seen him?"
"Fern? I saw him by the pier, he's trying to teach the new pups how to fish." Albe nudged Danbe's side and walked past me. He disappeared through the open kitchen door. Danbe gave me another smile and followed.
I finished my cup and leaned down to leave it safe in a tuft of grass away from any chance of it being kicked and broken. I pushed off the house and followed the worn path that Albe and Danbe had taken, walking past the herb gardens loaded with bees buzzing madly toward the pier.CHAPTER 3
THE WOODEN PIER was a remnant of Fern's old world. He'd patched it over the years, cannibalizing the outer walls of nearby houses to use as new decking. Flecks of multi-colored paint would stick to wet feet, and the wrong step could result in splinters. The pillars that supported the deck were made of concrete that was home to generations of mussels. Fern told me once that people would scrape off the mussels to keep the concrete clean. I thought that was stupid. Why give up a good meal? Fern just laughed in response.
I spied Fern and the pups from last night at the end of the pier. They watched him with rapt attention as he demonstrated how to properly hold a fishing rod, how to tie off the weight and bait. Mindful of splinters, I approached them.
"Fern, do you have a moment?"
The pups turned at my voice and Fern handed the rod to a tall, skinny pup with dark skin and black hair. "Here, Danny, show the others how to flick the rod, just like I showed you." Immediately, the boys clamored around Danny, focusing on his hands. Danny stood taller, puffing out his chest as he demonstrated the movement to the others.
Fern loomed over the boys and me. Technically he was one of the tallest wolves I'd ever met. "What's up?"
"Remember the lobster I caught yesterday?" I crossed my arms.
"The one that destroyed your net?" Fern frowned. "You were working on it last night at the fire."
"Yeah, I spent all morning trying to fix it, but short of cutting apart another net and sewing it together, it's not going to work." I sighed.
"What's your plan?" Fern turned to watch the pups and make sure they didn't hurt one another. Danny was leading the boys, giving each of them a chance to cast.
"I was wondering if I could head into the Old Town and try and find another one."
"On your own?" Fern's focus was still on the pups.
I hesitated, turning my gaze to watch the pups too. "I was thinking ...I'd take Aaron with me. I got a laugh out of him last night. I thought it'd be good to take him away for a day, or two," I added the last part. It was late in the day and getting to Old Town would take a while.
Fern was silent, watching the pups with a critical eye. "Do you have Rock's permission to take Aaron with you?"
Fern turned to me. His eyes glinted in the sunlight. A knowing smile drifted across his face. He knew I was lying.
"Just make sure to be back by tomorrow's sunset. I don't need Mother scarring anymore of my handsome features. Make sure to take the Old Cemetery Road, understand?"
"Good luck with finding a new net." Fern walked back toward the pups. He patted Danny on the back before kneeling. "Now, can any of you tell me how to use the pop-top of old beer and soda cans as fishing hooks?"
Quietly, I left Fern and the pups. I just had to hunt down Aaron.
Aaron and Rock lived in a separate house from the central pack, just a few minutes' walk through the woods along an overgrown mossy trail. They didn't live near the waterfront like we did, and Rock kept their doors locked at all times. We barely closed the doors in the main house because it got too hot in the summer, and the cool breeze off the ocean at night was a relief, allowing everyone to get a decent night's rest.
I sidestepped a pile of broken liquor bottles, mindful of the sharp tinted glass. That was another difference between houses; alcohol was banned in the main house, but Rock drank freely and often. I pushed aside some hanging rotting branches decorated with goat's beard and made a mental note to clear the path in the next few days. Rock could suffer, but Aaron would appreciate the help. Surrounded by old tall trees, the little blue house with peeled blue paint was shaded from the sun. Yelling from inside made me slow my pace.
"You little shit, come back here!" Rock roared.
The front door slammed open, and Aaron raced out into the yard. I hugged a nearby tree, watching as Aaron spun around on his heel, taking a few cautious steps back, and Rock stumbled out the door after him. Rock was old and tall, like Fern, but that was where the similarities ended. Rock had short-cropped, gray and black hair, and was as vicious as a wounded mountain lion. Jess compared his scent to that of a dead, week-old skunk.
"You leave me alone!" Aaron screamed. He was trembling, his hands curled into fists.
"Don't you take that tone with me, boy." Rock snarled. He tried to take another step forward before he fell to the ground. He shook his head, waving at imaginary flies. "You're just like your mother," he spat, "useless and a waste of air."
Aaron stopped trembling. Instead, he growled low in his throat, his curled fingers turning to claws, his muscles shifting underneath the slightly tanned skin of his back.
Aaron wouldn't stand a chance against Rock, even if the man was drunk.
I searched around my feet until I found a small copper-colored pebble. I picked it up, testing the weight. Not too big to leave a bruise, but small enough to fly forward. I chucked it at Aaron's back. Startled, Aaron glanced over his shoulder and I stepped out from behind the tree. His shoulders sagged when he saw it was me, and his face started to crumble. He hated it when I saw him and Rock fighting.
The tension escalated a hundredfold.
"What are you doing here?" Rock sneered. He struggled to stand on unsteady legs, finally succeeding, somewhat. He was balancing his hands on his knees, his face purple while he tried to catch his breath.
"The Den daughters need Aaron and me to help them. They said they wanted to make clams for supper." I kept a careful eye on Rock. I could fight him, land a few punches and bites, but then I'd have to face the Elders for my actions. I could be banished as a threat to the pack. Or worse, wear the traitor's name of Lee.
Rock stared at me stupidly before he burst into laughter. It echoed in the clearing. Aaron bowed his head, trembling once more. "Doing woman's work? What'd I tell you, Aaron? Fern's gone and made bitches out of this entire pack!"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "All the Dogs are Dancing"
Copyright © 2018 J.M. Goguen.
Excerpted by permission of NineStar Press, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
All the Dogs are Dancing,
About the Author,