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Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble! As you can see, I’ve put my funny hat on and I’m ready to treat (or trick you!) for Halloween! I’m early – I know – but I’ve got a great recommendation and a special treat for you and I can’t wait to share! My recommendation is a Halloween-themed gem that’s just launched out of Amazon’s magic cauldron! I’ve had the rare pleasure to beta read Amy Vansant’s latest cozy mystery, Pineapple Mystery Box, and here it is, now available for download in time for Halloween:
When a giant inflatable Halloween witch goes missing in the Pineapple Port retirement community, Charlotte’s eager to nab the culprit. Before she can lift a fingerprint, someone threatens to kill a new neighbor who looks like an adorable Pomeranian but possesses a disturbing talent for revenge. Moments later, a stranger demands the return a mysterious wooden box… or else.
Charlotte’s boyfriend, Declan, isn’t having a great morning either. His calculating ex-girlfriend has returned to claim she’s the rightful owner of his pawn shop. She’s livid he’s found a new lady, too.
Eh. Things could be worse. At least Charlotte doesn’t know that a mojito-swilling killer who fed his grandmother to a cat is on his way to Pineapple Port…
I’ve read all books by Amy Vansant, or rather, devoured them, and I’m a big fan of her work, especially her Pineapple Port Cozy Mysteries. They are intriguing and the humor is plentiful. Howls of laughter guaranteed!
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Now, on to my special treat: a free short story that’ll spook you enough to get your heart pumping for Halloween!
If you’re an avid Twitter or Facebook user, you may recall author Danica Cornell of the Dark Star sci-fi series. Earlier this year, this talented author and blogger decided to let go of her pen name and to relaunch her brand, this time with her real name.
Nowadays, as Donna Manobianco, she works on a terrific short story anthology, Alternate Realities. I’ve had the honor and the pleasure to beta read this book and I can say this: Donna Manobianco’s scifi & fantasy short stories are a delightful mixture of intrigue, spookiness, humor, spicy romance and incredible twists. The anthology includes three bonus features: The first chapter of the first book in The Dark Star Series, a short story by the masterful scifi & fantasy author Nicholas Rossis, plus a short story by yours truly – my first attempt at writing dystopian fantasy/scifi! (Indeed, miracles never cease – LOL)
Donna isn’t ready to announce a launch date yet, but, being the sweetie that she is, she was more than happy to let me publish here one of her spookiest tales (a dark fantasy) to treat you for Halloween. As it’s longer than you’d expect from an average short story, grab a cup of coffee first, get cosy, and get prepared to come face to face with a demon, no less!
By Donna Manobianco
It has been said that within each of us lies a chamber of secrets. It’s a place where dark feelings linger. Where they fester and grow. Those who’ve made this journey into their own shadows call it a harrowing and crushing experience. They say it changes a person’s soul forever.
My name is Delilah Delaney. I took that journey into my own shadows one year ago.
It all began at 11:27 p.m. when a storm, made up of rolling balls of thunder and massive lightning bolts, ripped its way through a swollen, agitated sky.
Jolted awake by the ruckus outdoors, I rolled over and grabbed the TV remote off the nightstand. Just as I suspected, the weather radar indicated Los Angeles County was in for another hour of mayhem. Maybe two.
I clicked off the TV. Wide awake and with nothing to do, I threw my legs over the side of the bed. Next, I grabbed my robe and cell phone and headed downstairs. The first thing I noticed strolling into the kitchen was the familiar fragrance of cinnamon-scented pine cones. I switched on the lights.
It took a couple of minutes for the CFL bulbs to warm up and reach full lighting capacity. Even so, I was able to see enough to know everything appeared normal. The cookbooks remained just as I had left them. The fruit bowl on the far countertop still boasted an assortment of citrus.
I had always felt safe in my home. It was my sanctuary. I stepped further into the room. Something was different. A negative feeling nagged at me, prodded me. The sensation was powerful. Visceral. My pulse quickened. I wanted to run. Instead, I remained in place. A couple of minutes later, the lights in the kitchen ceiling blazed brightly. I carefully examined the room. The French doors leading outside to the pool were closed and locked. There were no footprints on the tile floor. All the windows were intact. No broken glass. No signs of forced entry anywhere. I looked back across to the opposite side of the room. The emergency light on the wall next to the refrigerator would have been activated by one of the guards outside in the event of a property breach. Much to my relief, it remained unlit.
Other than the storm raging outdoors and the violent thump, thump, thumping of my heart, nothing unusual appeared to be going on. And yet, I felt the need to look around the house. An uneasiness tugged at me. Something wasn’t quite right.
It was in the breakfast room where I discovered my original Andy Warhol remained untouched. Of everything in the house, I knew this painting would have been the first item to be stolen by an experienced thief. Despite this encouraging sign, a feeling of terror grew inside me. It gripped me. My mouth was dry. My heart punched me. Deep down, I understood my fear was primal. Maybe, even, irrational.
I stood for awhile at the far end of the breakfast room, studying the painting. Eventually, my eyes roamed back into the kitchen. Of the entire house, these two rooms held a special place in my heart. They were the center of my home. The place where family and friends gathered. And yet, at this very moment, this part of the house frightened me. Something simply felt off. I decided to continue my investigation.
As I entered through the arched doorway of the butler’s pantry, I noticed not a single thing was out of place. Not on the counter tops. Not in the glass-fronted cabinets. And definitely not in the stainless steel sink which had been polished to perfection. Stubbornly, my heart refused to calm down. Sweat formed on my forehead and just above my upper lip.
I went on to inspect the remaining rooms downstairs. Everything from the billiard’s room to the formal dining room to the library and the home theatre, were fine. Nothing was amiss. Afterwards, I returned upstairs and looked through the house’s eight bedrooms and their corresponding bathrooms. All the windows remained locked. Nothing had been stolen. Nobody had gotten into my safe. None of the towels were out of place. None of the other beds were mussed up. It was at this point that I had to face the fact that nobody else was in the house. And yet, my mouth was a dry as the Sahara. I felt a chill saunter down my spine. It did so repeatedly. Almost as if it wanted me to be certain something wrong.
Maybe what was wrong was the fact that I was alone. I was a thirty-two year old woman who lived by herself in a mansion in the Hollywood Hills. Maybe that was the real problem. Maybe I was finally reaching the point of wanting a husband. Of needing one.
“This is insanity,” I said out loud. Annoyed with myself, I made my way back into the kitchen.
No sooner had I fixed myself a cup of chamomile tea when, much to my astonishment, I heard the voice of an unknown man—an intruder.
“You know, Delilah,” the stranger said, “this situation of ours bears a striking resemblance to a revolving door, wouldn’t you say?”
I flinched and dropped my cup. It shattered into a thousand pieces. I spun around. Ignoring the mess strewn across the floor, I focused my attention on the tall, shadowy figure twenty feet away. He was standing at the edge of the breakfast room.
The man made his way towards the granite-covered island where I stood with alarming speed. A feeling of terror ignited inside me.
“Who—who are you?” I stammered.
“I’m glad to have finally gotten your attention, Delilah. My name is Daniel, but I can assure you that somewhere in the dark recesses of your mind, you already know me.”
My first instinct was to bolt out of the house, but I knew I’d never outrun him. I took a deep, wavering breath. “How’d you get past my security detail?”
Daniel’s eyes never left mine as he moved in closer. His stare was penetrating. The way he focused on me, it was as if he didn’t hear the crunchy, broken, bits of porcelain underneath his shoes.
“I understand how frightening this must be, but let me assure you, I’m not here to harm you,” he said. “If it makes you feel more comfortable, go ahead and frisk me—you’ll see I’m not carrying any weapons.”
What followed was an uncomfortable silence. Awkward as I felt, I forced myself to look at Daniel. I mean really look at him. His body language was relaxed. Based on what had been happening to other Hollywood actresses, I suspected he had stalked me—possibly for months. The longer I studied him, the more I realized he was as a cross between Jack Reacher and James Bond. He gazed at me in a manner which suggested this situation excited him intellectually as well as emotionally. I drank in his stormy eyes.
A flicker of empathy darted across his face. It was a brief flash—so brief that had I blinked, I would have missed it. Without warning, Daniel looked away and eyed the chocolate chip cookies on the counter. “Mind if I have one of these?”
“Take as many as you want,” I replied, confused by his sudden interest in food.
As he reached into the glass jar, my right hand franticly searched for the security system’s panic button located on the underside of the island. After a moment, I remembered it was a few inches behind where I was standing. As much as I wanted to step backwards, my intuition told me not to do anything which might rile this man up.
Daniel went in for cookie number two.
I nervously eyed the butcher’s block of knives on the adjacent counter. Far as I could tell, he hadn’t noticed them.
After he polished off cookie number three, Daniel grabbed a clean napkin, dabbed the corners of his mouth, and rotated back towards me. He cleared his throat. “You know how sometimes the one thing we’re looking for is the very thing we can’t seem to see?”
“Sure,” I said, wondering where he was taking this.
“Well, that’s what’s happening here—with you and me.”
A lump formed in the back my throat. “I don’t quite follow.”
“Look, Delilah. The way you and I have come full circle—it was never supposed to happen like this.”
“I’m sorry,” I replied, careful not to agitate him. “I still don’t understand what you’re saying.”
Daniel took three steps forward. He leaned over and brushed his lips against my ear. “Okay, let me put this another way. Over and over, you and I have stood the test of time. Surely you remember something—don’t you?”
His smooth, baritone voice reverberated in my mind. I slowly pulled away. One more time, I studied his face. That’s the moment when it happened, when I walked deep into Daniel’s eyes. The way the light glinted off the golden specks embedded within his slate-colored irises, left me breathless. In a flash, my memory was serenaded with fragments of a half-forgotten song. It was poignant. Bittersweet. Somewhere, somehow I already knew Daniel—knew him with every fiber of my being. I had recognized the sound of his voice the instant he’d first spoken. Now, I remembered what it felt like to be with him. The softness of his lips. The vigor of his chest. I was certain how he would respond as I reached up to run my hand across his five o’clock shadow. What I didn’t see coming was how my hand would go right through him. Shocked, I jerked back. “What are you?”
Daniel wore a slight smirk. “Probably the best way to think of me is as an inter-dimensional being.”
I was stunned. Floored. Suddenly, the passion I felt for this familiar stranger collided with a frightening, new reality. I wasn’t sure how to reconcile this situation. Wasn’t sure if that was even possible.
Daniel broke me out of my thoughts with, “I guess now’s as good a time as any to tell you why I’m here.” There was a discernible shift in his attitude. Instantly, the temperature in the room dropped twenty degrees.
I was cold. Nervous. “Go on,” I replied, teeth chattering.
“Very well, then. Delilah, I’m here to inform you that you’ve been living in a spiritually-devoid house. This has created far more problems than you realize.”
I blinked dumbly. “Spiritually-devoid—is that what you said?”
“Is this some kind of sick joke?”
“No, far from it.”
“Did my friends send you?”
“What about my agent. Did she send you?”
“Well then, I have no idea what you’re talking about. It’s not like I worship the devil or anything.”
Daniel yawned. “I realize from your perspective, this is all very strange. Nevertheless, what you’re living in is what’s referred to as a God-damned mansion.”
I was now ready to do battle. “I may not be religious, but that’s the most obnoxious thing I’ve ever heard.”
“Delilah, you need to take that fragile, eggshell mind of yours and accept the fact that God is spanking you.”
“Spanking me? You’re a liar!” I said pounding my fist on the island. “Do you even know how ridiculous you sound right now?”
“Of course I do. I get this reaction all the time.”
“It’s time for you to leave,” I said pointing towards the front door.
“Not gonna happen.”
“Of course it is! I own this house and what I say goes—period.”
“And just how do you propose to rid yourself of a demon?”
My body froze. I felt the color drain from my face. My legs wobbled like gelatin. “You’re a demon?” I asked.
A red light flashed in Daniel’s eyes. “As a matter-of-fact, I am.”
The lights in the kitchen ceiling flickered. Slowly, steadily.
That’s got to be an omen, I thought. Through the windows, I could hear the storm outside was gathering strength. It felt as though a magnanimous one was about to erupt inside as well. Even worse was the fact that I was fighting a migraine. Through my aching eyes, I could see Daniel was wearing a triumphant grin.
“Delilah,” he began, “I think it’s important for you to understand that demons are misunderstood by a large percentage of the population. Let me put it this way, calling the Ghost Busters won’t help. Neither will dousing your lips in that blood-red lipstick you’re so fond of.”
I wanted to get as far away as possible—needed to do this more than anything, but my feet wouldn’t move. I was cemented to the floor. Shaking all over, I responded, “This situation makes no sense.”
“Generally speaking, nothing does when you’re dealing with a demon. But then again, that’s the way the cookie crumbles now, isn’t it?” As soon as Daniel spoke, the chocolate chip cookies inside the glass jar disintegrated into crumbs.
My mouth dropped open. Presently, there was zero doubt in my mind about two things: Daniel was supernatural and I was completely at his mercy. My lower lip quivered. “I always thought demons were metaphorical. I had no idea you guys were real.”
“And yet here you are, non-metaphorically facing your very own and very real fallen angel. So, how does it feel?”
“Not great,” I sniffled. “I know I’m not one of those spiritually-enlightened types, but I’m not an axe murderer, either.”
Daniel let out a chuckle which made my skin crawl. “I know you’re not a murderer.”
“Let me guess—you were. Is that how you became a demon?”
“I didn’t kill anybody to become a demon. What I did do was believe in the Prince of Darkness.”
“Let me put it this way, when demons deal with the devil it’s always nasty business. But when demons deal with humans, it’s often nasty busy-ness.”
“Busy-ness? You mean, like right now—the way you’re eating into my time?”
“Yes, but let’s not forget the way you eat into your own time. Believe me, there’s a difference between being spiritualistic and wearing spiritual lipstick.”
“What on earth are you talking about?” By now I was sure this demon was insane.
“You and I both know that behind all that perfectly applied make-up is where the real Delilah resides.”
“Do you remember that party you threw last year?”
“Sure. I celebrated winning my first Oscar. I was on television that night. Millions of people all around the world watch the Academy Awards—hence all the make-up.”
“Indeed. That’s also the night when I first came to know you—through that cocaine-loving, drummer, ex-boyfriend of yours. The minute I sensed you, I knew I’d hit the jackpot.”
“Uh-oh is right. Physically, you’re the perfect woman for my kind of work. You possess a beauty from a bygone era. You come off as innocent, intelligent, approachable and sexually-charged—spiritualistic and spiritual lipstick, as it were. No wonder you’re raking it in with all those film deals.”
“I see. Ordinarily, I’d take that as a compliment, but seeing as you’re—”
“Not part of the God Squad—yeah I get it,” Daniel interrupted.
“I don’t understand why you’re making a big deal about this so-called spiritual lipstick. It’s simply part of my job.”
“We’ll get to that in a minute. But before we do, I think it’s important to reiterate that seasons aren’t the only things that change. Under the right circumstances, people change. And believe it or not, so can demons.”
“Seriously? Then why don’t you apologize to God and fly away to heaven?”
“Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.”
I looked at Daniel with folded arms and raised eyebrows. “Why not?”
“Think back, Delilah. Don’t you remember all those dreams where you gave yourself to me—where we gave ourselves to each other?”
And there it was—the reason why he seemed so familiar. The reason why I had experienced déjà vu. “My dreams are my own. They’re private,” I replied, trembling.
“I hate to tell you this, but our mattress boxing matches are not as private as you think.”
“Of course they are—they’re in my mind!”
“Not if they’re not a dream. Unbeknownst to you, you paired up with a demon—at least in a spiritual sense. That makes us not only spiritually-connected, but soul mates. But hey, like I always say, ‘If the spirit moves you, let me groove you.’”
Nervously, I reached into my robe’s pocket. “Okay, I’ve heard enough, I said, fumbling for my cell phone. “I’m getting a pastor in here—pronto.”
“Well, this is an interesting development, Daniel cracked. “Think it through carefully. Are you absolutely certain you want to go through the church’s pasteurization process? It can be a lengthy ordeal—not to mention, quite embarrassing.”
“Of course, I want to get rid of you. At this point, I’m prepared to do whatever it takes,” I snapped.
“Okay, fair enough. So, what are you going to tell the pastor?”
“The truth, of course.”
“What—that you made spiritual love with a demon? C’mon! Of course, if you want to chance it and go with the ‘dream theory,’ I suppose you could call your shrink. No doubt he’ll think your sanity’s hanging by a thread.”
“I’m not that weird,” I said.
“True. But if you open up that can of worms, you risk getting thrown into your local hospital’s psychiatric ward. Oh, and lest we not forget the field day the tabloids would have with a story like this.”
“So? What do you care?”
“Believe it or not, I see so much in you—so many things you don’t see in yourself. That’s originally why I was drawn to you. I wanted to keep you from reaching your full potential, but then—”
“I saw how you handled yourself when the world closed in on you—when you broke things off with your ex. The media was unkind, to say the least. I tried to overtake you then, but you were much stronger than I realized.”
“Listen, Delilah. Our worlds collided, plain and simple. If I have it my way, nobody will ever tear us apart again. As far as I’m concerned, the fact that we bumped into each other one more time, means you and I are fated to be together—forever.”
“One more time? Forever?”
“Don’t you remember? We were lovers over the course of several previous lifetimes.”
“What? No way!”
My face flushed. “Is this another one of your riddles?”
“Nope, no riddles this time. I guess when all is said and done, I’m a hard habit to break, right Sweet Lips?”
“I—I can’t believe this,” I stammered. “I mean, I have so many questions…”
“And as much as I’d love to take a stroll down memory lane with you, our time together—at least where you can see me like this—is limited. I simply wanted to make you aware of this situation, so you could straighten out a few things in your life.”
“I don’t want us to ever be apart again, Delilah. And based on our not-so-private moments together, I know you feel the same. That’s why I’m going to ask you to stay away from the likes of your ex-boyfriend. You need to understand that as your career continues, you’re going to be tempted and tested in all sorts of ways.”
I was exhausted and confused. “So, what happens next?” I said, sobbing softly.
The demon smiled gently. “Don’t worry, my dear. Daniel is never far away from his Delilah.”
Before I could respond, Daniel began swirling like a tornado. Faster and faster he went. His physical form faded. This was replaced by tiny, black pixels which flew past my robe and into my body. Eyes wide, I screamed, “What are you doing? Get out of me! Get out of my house!”
Daniel’s diabolical laughter rang inside my ears.
“It’s not so easy to get rid of a demon, Delilah. Haven’t you ever read the Scriptures? Oh wait a minute, of course you haven’t—you don’t even pray.”
All at once, I experienced a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. It felt rancid. Foul. Intuitively, I knew Daniel would do everything he could to control me. I recited The Lord’s Prayer three times.
“It’s amazing how quickly it comes back, isn’t it?” Daniel taunted. “Kinda like riding a bicycle—for all the good it’ll do you.”
“Why are you here?” I whimpered. “I’m not a bad person.”
“Isn’t it obvious? I came here to serve Satan. Don’t you remember inviting me in last year—at your party? Once I saw those long, luscious legs and that dazzling, party-girl smile of yours, I knew I was in for a really good time. In case you hadn’t noticed, I’ve been lurking around ever since.”
“I did no such thing as invite you here, you parasite.”
“You’d be amazed at the lengths some people go to in order to rid themselves of their loneliness, Delilah.”
“Wait a minute. Are you inferring you have the right to possess me because I was lonely?”
“I’m not suggesting it—I’m stating it outright.”
“Is it? Surely, you’ve heard the term emotional isolation before, right?”
“Well, it can make a person say, feel, and do things they might not ordinarily—even if they’re rich in social capital, or social connections, as you might like to call it.”
“Once again, I don’t understand where you’re going with this.”
“Listen and learn. You and I both know you didn’t want to do cocaine the night of your party. However, in order to fit in and connect with your ex and the other guests, you snorted that line like a champ. Then to make matters worse, you pulled out the Ouija board. You gotta be careful what you wish for, Delilah. Summoning spirits can get you into a whole heap of trouble.”
“But, I didn’t know—I honestly had no idea!”
“Precisely. And you know what’s even more interesting to me?”
“I’m amazed that none of your so-called friends in attendance that night had a clue just how lonely you’d been. Do you see the problem here?”
“Then allow me to enlighten you. It’s important to address the issue of emotional isolation before it has a chance to take root.”
“Okay, and how does one do that?”
“In your case, you shouldn’t have bowed down to your mother’s wishes. That’s the reason you’re facing a demon here tonight.”
I raised my eyebrows. “This sounds a little far-fetched.”
“Just hear me out. Going back in time, if you had chosen to pursue a career in journalism—like you originally intended—there’s a good chance you’d have made more genuine friendships.”
“So, you probably would not have been emotionally isolated. In other words, by choosing a different career path, you might have been able to avoid this entire mess altogether.”
Daniel’s words burned into me.
Finally, I responded with, “Once my first big film gig was booked, my mother wanted to be my manager. What was I supposed to do? She needed the money every bit as much as I did—except she was older. She lacked a college education. She didn’t have any work experience in a decent-paying field. I couldn’t just leave her high and dry. She’s my mom for God’s sake!”
“Do you see what happens when we allow people to take control of our lives? Bad feelings set in and before we know it—Poof! A demon appears.”
“But, I didn’t know anything about this stuff—at least not until now.”
“What’s a matter, Sweet Lips? Is the thrill gone?”
“Get out of me,” I hissed. “I mean it. Right now. Get. Out. Of. Me!”
“My, my. You sure are a fickle one, aren’t you? I distinctly remember how much you enjoyed my company the other night. What did you call it? Oh, that’s right—mystical. In fact, you went so far as to say you wanted to have my baby—which is interesting, considering how a pregnancy could impact your career.”
“I thought I was dreaming!”
“Not even close, Delilah. As such, let me be the first to welcome you into your real-life nightmare known as Purgatory. Now, let’s keep this train moving, shall we?”
All at once, I heard the familiar sound of cameras flashing. Click-click. They were snapping pictures of me. Click-click. Except there were no photographers in the house. Click-click. Every press of the camera was synchronized with each beat of my heart. Click-click. Click-click. Click-click.
Once again, Daniel’s voice rang inside my eardrums. He monopolized the conversation. “From here on out, with each individual picture anyone takes of you, I will control your heartbeat.”
I stood frozen in fear. Click-click. Click-click.
“You know what that means? Whenever a photographer snaps several pictures in succession—so will go the beat of your heart muscle.”
“It’s a pity you’ve taken such a liking to cocaine. It kinda makes me wonder how strong your heart muscle really is. Say, I’ve got an idea; let’s take it for a test drive!”
That’s when Daniel really let me have it.
My heart struggled to return to normal. I put my head in my hands and sobbed uncontrollably. I had always been afraid to die. Now, I almost welcomed it.
“Don’t get any bright ideas like summoning a priest for an exorcism,” the demon warned. “Because I can promise you this: I’ll do the same thing all over again—except I’ll do it for longer. And the minute you die, I’ll possess him and kill him, too.”
At this point, I did the only thing I could. I cried like a baby. Eventually, I murmured, “I thought you said you didn’t kill anyone.”
“The devil’s in the details, Delilah. What I actually said is that I didn’t kill anyone to become a demon.”
I stood silent.
Daniel continued with, “Unfortunately, in this particular situation, you really only have two choices: live with me or die trying to get rid of me. Either way, your career is finished. Oh, and don’t even think about enrolling in journalism classes. By the time I’m through with you, all of your hopes and dreams will be crushed. You’ll be homeless, penniless, and forgotten.”
“Get out! Get out of me right now you piece of garbage,” I yelled. “You’re not welcome in my mind, body, or soul. Get out of my house! Get off my property, and don’t you ever come back, you hear me?”
“Didn’t you know, Sweet Lips? Deliverance is never an easy journey.”
“I will not tolerate this. As of this minute, you and I are finished!”
Daniel was silent. He then resumed speaking. “Delilah, you should always, I mean always speak softly when conversing with spirits. We don’t take kindly to being screamed at. You’ve gotten off easy thus far, but believe me, now that Lucifer’s angry, that’s about to change.”
A cold sweat broke out all over my body.
Daniel continued to crow inside my ears. “Unfortunately, because of your latest screw-up, you should expect nothing less than all-out spiritual warfare.”
For me, that was the last straw. Without so much as missing a beat, I reached for the panic button under the island.
“I wouldn’t bother with that if I were you,” Daniel said.
“Why not?” I responded sharply.
“Because, I’ve disabled your security system. Also, in a manner-of-speaking, I own your security detail.”
“Get real. I hand-picked each of those men myself!”
“And to your credit, you did a fine job. Nevertheless, all three of them have weaknesses which have been easy for me to exploit.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Each of those men are as ethical as the day is long!”
“Okay, then. Let’s examine where each of them are at this very moment, shall we? As it turns out, Charlie is busy getting it on with your ex’s teenage daughter. On the other hand, Jack decided to hightail it to Vegas for an evening of black jack and slot machines. Oh, and get this. All it took to distract Van was a bottle of vodka. I guess the Twelve Steps are kind of meaningless when you’re staring at a bottle of Stoli’s.”
“You’re just trying to trick me.”
“I’m afraid that’s not the case. What I am doing is making the point that little by little, I’m isolating you—which has been surprisingly easy, especially considering how in-demand you’ve been over the last ten years.”
“Stop trying to scare me.”
“Notice how you broke things off with your ex? Now you’ve got no boyfriend.”
“I chose to do that. He was too wild when he was on the road. I didn’t trust him.”
“That’s because when you were sleeping, I told you about all those women in all those different towns. The very next day, you broke up with him.”
“You wish. And as for your mother, she’s currently out of town on vacation.”
“She hadn’t taken a trip in over two years. I told her to go.”
“Once again, I suggested this while you were sleeping.”
“No you didn’t.”
“Yes I did.”
“Well, you’re either lying, crazy, or evil. Frankly, I think you’re all three.”
Daniel chuckled. “I’m glad to see you’ve gotten your sense of humor back, Delilah.”
“Speaking of humor, I could go for a good laugh right about now. So, why don’t you tell me how you became a demon? You said you didn’t kill anyone, but still, you must’ve done something pretty horrific.”
“I should have you know your attempts at deflection serve no useful purpose.”
“I am not deflecting.”
“Sure you are. You’re stalling while you try to figure out what to do. Believe me; I see this all the time. It’s the same with all you humans.”
“I am not deflecting.”
“Yeah, well I happen to know better—not that I can blame you. Once we demons get a hold of you humans, we basically run you in circles. After awhile, your existence feels like it lacks any meaning. That’s when a lot of people decide to end it all.”
“I wouldn’t give you or Satan the satisfaction.” I said, reaching for my cell phone. “In fact, if the devil wants spiritual warfare, then that is precisely what he shall get.”
“Your wish is my command,” the demon said, floating out of me.
He resumed his former human configuration and pointed his index finger in the direction of the gas cook top. Flames instantly erupted.
“Welcome to hell, Delilah!” he said, pixilating himself and flying back into me. The demon somehow squeezed both of my temples. “Delilah’s gonna burn in hell… Delilah’s gonna burn in hell… Delilah’s gonna burn in hell on earth!” he chanted.
Struggling to concentrate, I charged past the blaze and out through the French doors. The storm was still pounding the city. Standing on the far edge of the patio and past the swimming pool, I frantically called the pastor from my mother’s church. I used my robe to shield my cell phone from the elements.
“Hello, is this Pastor Patrick O’Malley?” I said, struggling to catch my breath.
“Yes it is.”
“Pastor, this is Delilah Delaney—Sharon’s daughter.”
He let out a stifled gasp. “The movie star?”
“Well, my goodness. Hello, Delilah. It’s been awhile. Do you realize it’s almost 1:00 a.m.?”
“Yes. I’m sorry to call at this hour, but to be honest; I really need your help.”
“Go on, I’m listening.”
I went on to briefly describe my encounter with Daniel, including the highly personal things he had said. The pastor responded with, “I just need to clarify one important point here. Are you communicating with Daniel inside your head, or are you speaking to him out loud?”
“So, both sides of these conversations are not taking place inside your mind. Is this correct?”
“Okay, that’s an important distinction, because it rules out mental illness.”
“Pastor, I have no history of mental illness. I promise, I would tell you if I did.”
“I believe you. Listen, Delilah. Don’t say another word to the demon. Don’t engage him in any way. Just sit tight; I’ll be right over—and call 9-1-1. Get the fire department and an ambulance.”
“That’s right—while demons aren’t nearly as powerful as God, they aren’t to be taken lightly, either.”
“I understand—and thank you.”
I clicked off the cell phone and looked at my house. Despite the pouring rain, it glowed like a towering inferno. With my mind spinning, I quickly glanced away. Something was moving in the distance. A mountain lion? I squinted my eyes. My heart pumped wildly. To my surprise, it was my ex-boyfriend. He was sprinting in from the northern edge of the property. It was apparent he’d seen the fire from his house a few doors down. He was screaming my name over and over.
“Bob, I’m here!” I yelled, running. I desperately wanted to reach him before he went into the house.
Without warning, Daniel flew out of me. At this point, I was starting to get used to him using my body as some kind of door. Or gateway. As if by magic, he once again took on his human form. With outstretched arms, he set fire to the rain. The sky lit up. Ghosts of yellow-orange swirled. Dancing, twirling, they moved erratically, yet in parallel with the weather’s fury. The lawn seared. Trees and bushes burned. The scene felt Biblical. Fifteen seconds later, Daniel flew back inside me.
I stopped abruptly and scanned the property for my ex. I couldn’t find him. I removed my robe before grabbing one of the patio chairs. I used it to smash the family room’s window. I hit it several times. Eventually, I was able to break through. As I climbed into the house, shards of glass sliced deep into my arms. Streaks of crimson ran down my skin. The interior of the dwelling was wrapped in a dark, infinite smoke. I took several steps further into the structure. Black, rolling shadows lurked amongst raging, torrid flames. I was barely able to identify the faint outline of Bob’s body. He was ten feet away, partially crouched over the arm of the sofa.
“Bob, I’m here—I’m okay!” I yelled.
He couldn’t hear me above the roar of the flames. Never in my life had I felt so close, yet so far away from another person. I watched him go deeper into the house. He evaporated into nothingness. The scorching blaze melted the walls and floors, blending them into a thick, black, smoke. Everything felt charred. Lifeless.
Choking and wheezing, I screamed, “Bob! Get out!” Desperate for air, I dashed back outside. The sky continued to spurt fire. My only saving grace was that I was dripping wet from the rain a couple of minutes earlier. I watched the wind whip and whirl the flames. The scene was stirring. Haunting. I couldn’t live with Bob’s death on my conscious. There was no way that man was going to die. Not tonight. Not on my watch. I reached down and grabbed my robe off the patio’s pavers. It contained a few small burn holes from the fiery-rain, but it remained mostly intact. I sprinted several feet to the pool, dunked the robe, and placed it over my head and body. Tearing back over to the window, I once again climbed through the broken glass, its jagged edges wedging deep into my arms, adding to the existing wounds. I looked down. Blood was pooling on the hardwood floor. It was gushing from my arms. I caught a whiff of it. The metallic smell gagged me. I re-secured the robe and ran deep into the family room. The house was making strange, moaning sounds. It was as if the fire was causing the structure to feel physical pain. Beams crashed from the ceiling. Over and over I yelled, “Bob! Bob!”
There was no response. Several moments later, I heard someone scream. It was loud. Shrill. The sound repeated several times. Wait—no, it wasn’t a scream after all. It was a pack of sirens. They wailed endlessly.
Still nothing but sirens. My vision was blurring. Smoke was everywhere. It was acrid. Abrasive. It made my eyes tear. Nearly every corner of my home was being licked by flames. The kitchen was gone. The dining room—gone. The butler’s pantry. The bar. The living room and library. All gone. And now the family room was nearly gone as well. The flames were wrapping fast around me.
“Bob! Answer me!”
Still nothing. Suddenly, a violent rage grabbed hold of me. I sprinted through smoke and fire to the staircase located nearly at the other end of the residence. Gritting my teeth, I held back a cough welling up from deep inside my lungs.
“Bob! We’ve got to get out of here!”
I sprinted up the stairs. As I approached my bedroom, I heard Daniel’s thunderous laugh. I was now barely able to breathe. Noise and chaos surrounded me. My visibility was a couple of inches. In a moment of irrefutable clarity, I remembered how the pastor warned me not to directly engage the demon. I wanted to curse Daniel, but decided against it.
“Bob!” I spattered.
An explosion came from downstairs. The walls shook. The windows blew out. The floor creaked. And then the unthinkable happened. I experienced everything in slow motion. The walls gave way. Firemen shouted. Sirens blared. I slipped through the crumbling floor and into the flames below.
“Welcome to hell, Delilah,” Daniel bellowed.
I tried to scream, but nothing came out. Everything grew black.It was all over.
I awoke to my boyfriend saying, “Baby, wake up.”
He gently shook me.
My heart was pounding.
I opened my eyes and blinked several times. The lilac-painted room was filled with blinding sunshine. Disoriented, I remained lying against the pillows for several seconds. As the dream faded, I slowly sat up and placed my back against the headboard. Shaking my head, my gaze darted around the master bedroom of my Hollywood Hills mansion. To my astonishment, Bob was fine. My bedroom was intact. Everything appeared normal.
Bob’s expression was one of concern. “Delilah, that looked like one hell of a nightmare. Wanna talk about it?”
“No, that’s okay,” I replied, studying the front of my night gown. I was thankful the long sleeves weren’t ripped or singed—not to mention, blood-stained.
“Okay, well is there anything you wanna talk about?”
“Nah, it was just a dream. Everything’s fine,” I said determined to put the experience behind me. Without warning, my stomach protested. Loudly. I let out an embarrassed chuckle. “But what I would like to discuss is breakfast. I’m starving! Are you up for French toast?”
“Sure,” Bob answered hesitantly. “But if you change your mind, I’m here for you, okay?”
I swung my feet out of the bed. “Of course you are, silly goose. That’s why I love you so much.”
“I love you too, babe. By the way, I was thinking about having the band over for a cook-out tonight. Is that all right?”
I stood on my tip-toes and stretched. “You bet,” I said yawning. “Just do me a favor; no drugs and no more Ouija boards. Okay?”
“Yeah. Let’s mix it up a bit. How about martinis and jazz under the stars instead?”
Bob popped out of bed and kissed my forehead. “Mmm. You’re sexy when you take charge, you know that?”
I reached up and pulled him closer. “And you, Mister, are sexy when you play those drums,” I said, kissing him on the lips.
Bob beamed, warmly. “Uh-oh. Right now, I’m not sure what I want more. You or that French toast.”
I unbuttoned my night gown. “Really?” I said with a sly grin. “Okay, in that case you’re in charge of the coffee and strawberries.”
“I know that look anywhere. The beautiful and talented Delilah Delaney is once again trying to seduce me.”
I giggled. “Sorry to disappoint you, but not this time. Actually, I was thinking we’d go for a swim before breakfast. You don’t mind, do you?”
“No, but aren’t you hungry?”
“What do you think? Of course I’m hungry. I haven’t eaten since lunch yesterday. You know how Hollywood is,” I said, rolling my eyes.
“Oh, right. Heaven forbid you should put on two pounds.”
“Exactly. So, fifty laps and then I’ll get right to cooking.”
Bob shot me a flirtatious wink. “That assumes I can keep my hands off of you.”
I slid the night gown over my shoulders and grabbed my robe off the chair. “Oh, please. You’ll be too busy trying to keep up with me. They don’t call me the Cardio Queen for nothing, you know.”
“That’s true. Hey—what happened to you?”
I followed Bob’s gaze to my arms. I was stunned to discover they were both covered in abrasions. A shiver shot down my spine. The wounds appeared to be about a day-old. Many of them were shallow. The deeper ones looked like they could pop open and bleed without much effort. A feeling of light-headedness descended on me.
“Oh, those? They’re nothing,” I lied, slipping the robe on. “C’mon, let’s go.”
Bob didn’t budge. “They don’t look like nothing to me.”
I shook my head. “You’re making too much of this. You know what a klutz I can be—especially when we’re partying. Remember how I fell in the bushes a couple of nights ago?”
“You did this by falling into the bushes?”
“They’re rose bushes. They have lots of thorns.”
“I guess I’ll just have to limit you to two martinis tonight,” Bob teased, swatting me on my rear. “Besides, any more than that and you might have to jog a couple of miles.”
“Ooooo! You’re a rascal,” I squealed, chasing him out of the bedroom.
The light-headedness was quickly resolving. Even so, I had no illusions. Something was very wrong. With my right hand on the glossy, curved railing, I followed Bob down the staircase to the first floor.
We entered the kitchen. Everything was just as it should have been. Grapefruit and oranges spilled out of the oversized fruit bowl on the far counter. There were no broken bits of china on the floor. The cookies inside the jar seated on the granite island, were intact. I breathed a sigh of relief.
It wasn’t thirty seconds later when I heard Daniel’s booming voice echo inside my head. “Good job, Delilah. You really are a great actress. Now let’s make Satan happy and keep this train rolling.”
I halted. Leaning against the wall, I squeezed my eyes shut.
“What’s wrong, babe?” Bob asked. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“Oh, it’s nothing. I’m just a little hungry.”
“In that case, we’re eating and then swimming.”
All at once, I felt grateful for this man. “Okay, sounds good.”
Within a few minutes, Bob had ground the coffee beans and set-up the percolator. As he busied himself with washing off the strawberries, I reached into my robe and scrolled through my cell phone’s contacts. “I’m running to the bathroom,” I said. “I’ll be right back.”
Bob didn’t turn around. “I’ll be here.”
I scurried into the powder room, closed the door, and called my mother’s pastor.
“Is this Pastor Patrick O’Malley?” I asked.
“Yes. To whom am I speaking?”
“Pastor, this is Delilah Delaney—Sharon’s daughter.”
He let out a stifled gasp. “The movie star?”
I felt as if I were living in some kind of bizarre, parallel world. “Yes,” I answered.
“It’s been a long time, Delilah. Is everything all right?”
“No, it’s not. I was hoping to discuss a matter of great urgency with you.”
“Certainly. What’s going on?”
“I think it would be best if we met in person. I’d bring my mom, but she’s out of town on vacation.”
“Yes, she mentioned she was going away on an extended trip. Hold on a moment, let me check my calendar.” I heard the sound of paper in the background. He then resumed speaking. “Okay, it looks like I have an opening at one o’clock this afternoon—will that work for you?”
“Absolutely. Thank you, Patrick.”
“You’re welcome. See you, then.”
Bob and I finished breakfast an hour later, leaving the dishes in the sink. Afterwards, I swam, showered, and dressed for the day. I descended the stairs and cut through the kitchen. Bob was seated in the family room, busily looking over sheet music for his band’s upcoming tour.
“Honey, I’m heading out to run a couple of errands,” I told him.
“Good luck with that,” he said. “Hopefully the paparazzi won’t give you too hard of a time.”
“No worries,” I replied. “I’m taking my new car and going out the service entrance. Plus, I’ve got a wig and sunglasses.”
Bob looked up. “Hey, I don’t even think I’d recognize you dressed like that.”
“That’s the whole idea.”
“Promise you’ll call if you run into any problems. Those damn photographers are like a bunch of rabid beasts.”
I exited the house and made my way to the detached five-car garage. Typically, there were a half-dozen members of the paparazzi camped just outside the front gate. Today there were at least twenty. Everyone scrambled to their feet when they saw me, but quickly relaxed once they realized I was a member of the house staff leaving the premises. Must be a slow news day, I thought. I slowly drove down the driveway and out through the rear gate. After a half hour spent careening through the back roads, I pulled into the church’s parking lot. The time away from the press’ prying eyes had been exhilarating. Rejuvenating. After a decade of life in the public eye, I’d forgotten just how much I missed my privacy. I walked through the church’s heavy, wooden doors and met with the pastor. He listened patiently as I recounted everything that had happened.
“Delilah,” Patrick began, “is Daniel willing to speak with me right now?”
I paused and waited to hear from the demon. “I’m sorry. For whatever reason, he’s not saying anything. In fact, I haven’t heard from him since earlier this morning.”
“Okay. One thing I know from all of my years as a pastor, is this problem won’t go away on its own. Mind if I follow you home? I’d like to take a look around. We need to get to the bottom of this situation.”
“Of course,” I replied. “I really appreciate your help. Obviously, I’m worried about what Bob will think, but I cannot possibly deal with this on my own.”
Patrick and I both climbed into our cars and made our way through Hollywood Hills’ winding roads. The traffic had picked up considerably. Forty-five minutes later, we pulled into the service entrance of my property.
“Patrick, can I offer you something to drink?” I asked.
“Just some water,” he replied. “Thank you.”
I approached the sink and was stunned to find there were no dirty dishes sitting inside of it.
“What’s wrong, Delilah?” Patrick said, settling in beside me. “You look as if you’ve seen a ghost. Did the demon say something to you?”
There it was again, that strange, parallel world.
“No. It’s just that Bob and I left our dishes in the sink. He never does the dishes. Even if he had, he wouldn’t have dried the pan and put it away. This is totally unlike him. It just doesn’t make any sense.”
“How about we check the dishwasher?”
I immediately reached down and opened the door. To my astonishment, the dishwasher was empty.
The pastor took my hand. “How about we go and sit down?”
“Sure,” I said, feeling slightly faint.
We entered the family room. Sun was streaming in through the white, sheer, window treatments. Patrick glanced at the floor. “Is this Brazilian hardwood?”
“Sure is,” I said, my eyes firmly affixed on the cocktail table. “Wait a minute. Where’s Bob’s sheet music?”
The pastor wore a baffled look. “What are you talking about?”
“Bob was here this morning—remember how I told you about breakfast and swimming? When I left to come see you, he was looking over his sheet music.”
“Delilah, we need to sit down and talk.”
“Okay,” I said, sinking into the cool, white leather. I had the sense I wasn’t going to like what he had to say.
The pastor sat next to me. He then reached over to the cocktail table and lifted up a day-old copy of a popular tabloid. “Look at this and tell me what you see.”
I studied the picture of my boyfriend on the cover. After several seconds I said, “That’s Bob.”
“Exactly. Now read the headline to me.”
“Drummer Bob Patterson Caught Leaving Concert with Other Woman.”
I set the paper in my lap and burst into tears.
“Delilah, I think you saw this yesterday and afterwards, your mind started playing tricks on you. The brain is an amazing organ. It can do all sorts of things while we struggle come to terms with difficult situations. Let me see your arms again.”
Sniffling, I rolled up my sleeves. Patrick took hold of my hands and studied my arms. “I’m not a medical doctor, but if you ask me, it looks like those welts were caused by your fingernails.”
“Delilah, I think you scratched yourself in your sleep.”
All of a sudden, everything came flooding back. “Oh my God. Yesterday, the paparazzi bombarded me with questions at my movie premiere. One of them handed me this paper. They all started taking my picture.”
“Have you spoken with Bob?”
“No,” I sobbed.
“I think it’s important you find out the truth. Why don’t you call him and ask him if the photos were doctored? You know how the tabloids are. They lie all the time to make a few bucks.”
“Yes, but in my experience, they don’t always lie.”
“True. But Delilah, even if he did cheat on you, wouldn’t you rather find out now than after you got married? The only reason this story’s so big is because the two of you got engaged right before his band went on tour.”
I looked down at the ten-carat diamond on my left hand. “I suppose you’re right.”
“Even though I haven’t seen you for several years, I’ve known you since you were a little girl. I know what kind of person you really are. If it turns out this story is true, you are still blessed. Your mom loves you. You have a thriving career and a beautiful home. And from what I can tell, you and that actress—what’s her name?”
“That’s right. You and Kate Brown have become close friends. Am I right?”
“Yes. She played a small role in my latest film. She was quite brilliant, actually. By the way, for a pastor, you sure seem to know a lot about Hollywood.”
“I keep an eye on the tabloids. As you know, a number of our parishioners are quite famous. You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve counseled people in your situation.”
“You’re a good man, Patrick.”
“And you’re a very talented actress. I’ve seen all of your films.”
I managed a slight smile. “I appreciate that.”
“Listen, I’ve noticed one thing time and again with these kinds of situations.”
“Often, it’s the not knowing, that’s the hardest part. Either he cheated or he didn’t. Once you find out the truth, you can move forward.”
“Thank you, Patrick,” I said standing up. “I feel so much better. I believe you’re right. This has gotten way out of control in my own head. I started thinking back to all sorts of things that had been bothering me for awhile. It was just too much.”
“That’s not at all unusual. These situations have a tendency to unearth a lot of other unresolved issues. Best thing you can do is deal with this directly, forget all the other stuff, and move on with your life. None of us can change whatever has happened in the past. No sense dwelling on it.”
“That’s great advice.”
“So, do you want me to stay here while you call Bob?”
“No, I can take it from here, Patrick. Thank you, again for all of your help.”
As it turned out the tabloids had gotten it right. Of course I was upset, but I moved on from Bob—and much faster than I would have expected.
Today, I’m thankful for the people I do and do not have in my life. Also, whenever a difficult situation comes up, I now take a deep breath and remind myself that in the end, the only thing worth fearing is fear itself. For it was in my very own chamber of secrets—in my private hell of fear, that I came face-to-face with a demon named Daniel.
Who is Donna Manobianco?
Donna Manobianco is an American writer of suspenseful science fiction and fantasy. She draws upon her B.A. in psychology to develop flawed and complex characters, while her background as a nanotechnology start-up owner, serves as the foundation for her sci-fi’s futuristic technologies. Donna resides in New York with her husband John and their spunky, little dachshund Hugo, and is busily penning a science fantasy series known as DARK STAR.
So here you are, folks! And if the old hag’s face below doesn’t spook you, nothing will – LOL As you can see, I’ve been playing around with the free site, PhotoFunia. Highly recommended for your social media posts to make your friends giggle and get plenty of likes. If you’re an author, you’ll find there a host of images that will get your book cover a lot of attention! See? I can’t write a single post without giving a tip, but I thought you wouldn’t mind – LOL
Have a wonderful Halloween!
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