Shotgun Sorceress - By Lucy A. Snyder

part

one

Suburban Outlaws

chapter

one

A Kick in the Head

The festering mob of meat puppets in their tattered Sunday best shambled aside as I rode Pal down Main Street toward the stark white columns and broad marble steps of the Saguaro Hotel. There had to be a thousand bodies in the stinking brown sea parting before us. My skull was pounding, the July heat and hard West Texas sun nearly unbearable. I tipped my straw cowboy hat forward in a futile attempt to get some of the weak breeze on the back of my head.

And in a blink, Miko was suddenly there on the steps, Cooper and the Warlock strung up naked and sunburned on rough-hewn mesquite crosses to either side of her. As a small mercy, their limbs had been tied, not nailed, to the twisted branches. Their heads hung forward, insensible, as their chests shuddered to pull in shallow breaths.

The devil kitten in my saddlebag was purring loudly. It could sense the impending carnage.

You ready for this? I asked Pal.

“Ready for a slow, bloody, excruciating death followed by eternal damnation? Of course. What fun.”

Ignoring his sarcasm, I drew my pistol-grip Mossberg shotgun and racked a cartridge into the chamber.

“Give ’em back, Miko!” My voice was tight, shaky, a mouse’s outraged squeak at a lion.

She smiled at me, and all at once her beauty and power hit me like a velvet sledgehammer. If I’d been standing I would have fallen to my knees. I hoped I wasn’t getting wet; Pal would know and it would be a sprinkle of embarrassment on top of the disaster sundae I’d brought to our table.

“You know what I want,” she whispered, her voice floating easily over the distance between us. “Give yourself to me, and your men shall go free.”

A tiny part of me—the part that was exhausted, weary of fighting, weary of running—wondered if giving my body and soul to her would really be such a bad thing.

Oh, fuck that noise, the rest of me replied. Fuck that long and hard.

But wait.

I’m getting ahead of myself … as usual.

I should have known my life would keep going merrily to shit. The previous Friday had been busier than a dam full of beavers on crystal meth. I’d run police roadblocks, battled dragons, and literally gone to hell and back as I rescued my boyfriend, Cooper, and his little brothers from a fate considerably worse than death. Every muscle in my body ached, and I was looking forward to getting some rest, if perhaps not much actual sleep. I’d seen some things that evening that would probably give me insomnia for, oh, the next decade or so. And there was the little detail that I’d put our city’s head wizard into a coma and killed a major guardian spirit. They both richly deserved it, but I’d broken about infinity-plus-one laws and surely the authorities were going to hunt me down with extreme prejudice. So I had prison and perhaps execution to look forward to as well. Yay, go me.

But, so far, it appeared I was safe for the night. I was definitely looking forward to the late dinner my witch friend Mother Karen was making for me and the other Talents who’d helped in the rescue. Whatever she had cooking in her kitchen smelled wonderful. And I knew my familiar, Pal, was plenty hungry.

I carried a platter of savory, steaming ham and a wooden bucket of water down Karen’s back steps out into the moonlit yard. It probably looked the same as most other backyards in the neighborhood: rattan furniture and a shiny steel gas barbecue on the brick patio, a wooden picnic table on the lawn, a scattering of oak and buckeye trees bordering the tall dog-eared plank fence ringed by softly glowing solar-charged lights. However, I suspected this was the only place in the entire state of Ohio sheltering a shaggy, six-foot-tall spider monster.

Who, based on the circles his clawed legs had torn in the turf, had spent the past half hour stalking his own posterior.

“Hey, Pal, I got your dinner,” I called.

He stopped going around in circles and blinked his four eyes at me, licking his whiskered muzzle uncertainly.

At least, I thought Palimpsest looked uncertain; as a ferret his emotions had been pretty easy to read. But now that his familiar form had become magically blended with his true arachnoid body … well, I didn’t exactly know what “happy” or “sad” or “puzzled” was supposed to look like on such an alien face.

“Having troubles over there?”

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