Tuesday, May 15, 2018

I WAS A TEENAGE WEREDEER excerpt


Here's an excerpt from I WAS A TEENAGE WEREDEER available in ebook, paperback, and audiobook formats.

CHAPTER ONE

    I was a teenage weredeer. Specifically, I ceased to be a teenager as of eight o’clock that morning. I was an adult, eighteen years of age. I couldn’t legally drink but I could vote and… Hmm, actually, that was pretty much it. I graduated from Bright Falls High School a year ago due to skipping my freshman year and started taking community college courses a month before. So my birthday was less of a rite of passage than it might have been.
    Mind you, I was glad none of my family was making a big deal out of my birthday. Being a shifter meant you went through a lot of rites of passage, especially in my family. Your first change, your first antlers (thankfully, I didn’t get those), when your Gift comes (mine was reading objects), and that thing that involved a sweat lodge I’m not looking forward to. I was Jane, Jane Doe.
    Which, yes, was probably the least imaginative name you could come up for a girl you expected to be a weredeer. Then again, my father’s name was John, and my mother’s name was Judy. I had a sister named Jeanine and a brother named Jeremy. So, really, I should be grateful I lucked out and got the name most identified with anonymous female murder victims.
    Yes, could you tell I was bitter? I was busing tables at my mother’s diner, the Deerlightful. It was a groan-worthy pun but far from the only one I’d had to deal with from my family. Most weredeer seemed to find them fascinating.
    My cousins owned the Deerly Beloved wedding supply, my uncle the Stag Party strip club, and my brother planned on opening a funeral home called the Deerly Departed. He was just dumb enough to believe this would fly. The Deerlightful was a 1950s-style diner that fits in well with the fact Bright Falls was stuck in said decade.
    Well, aside from most of the townsfolk moving out and drugs replacing lumber as the primary source of employment. It was two in the afternoon, so the lunch crowd had left. It meant I had a chance to think in between busing tables. Jeanine was cheerfully taking the order of two flannel-wearing lumberjacks at the end of the room as the song “Bad Moon Rising” by Creedence Clearwater Revival played in the background.
    My dad had thought it clever to make just about everything moon-related in our music selection. Other shifters in the town— and there were a lot— seemed to find it cute, so maybe there was something to it, but aside from this song and “Blue Moon” by Elvis, I wasn’t a fan. Jeanine was pretty much my opposite in appearance, being a tall and curvaceous curly-auburn-haired girl who resembled the weredeer ideal of beauty.
    I was thin, an A cup, and had flat black hair that I kept in a bowl cut. The fact that the Deerlightful’s yellow uniforms were made for women quite a bit more, uh, well, ample didn’t help my job. I’d said my mother shouldn’t try to make her own daughters into Hooters waitresses, but she’d said I’d fill in. Not what you wanted to hear when you were seventeen.
    Oh well, it was money for college and getting out of this one-Starbucks town. My dad pronounced it Star Bucks. Ugh. Hefting a bus box full of plates, I grumbled about the fact I could be writing my great American novel instead. It was a mystery-romance about my heroine caught between two handsome suitors in the unsettled seventeenth-century frontier.
    Alas, it was presently more Twilight than Catcher in the Rye. You could take the teenage weredeer out of the forest, but you couldn’t take the forest out of the teenage weredeer. “If at first you don’t succeed, give up and decide to sell real estate,” I grumbled aloud.
    Jeanine called over to me. “Oh, Jane, would you do me a solid and take the rest of my shift? Brad and I are going on a date and I need to get ready.” I stared over at her and wondered if my older sister was actually just going to dump all of her work on me. Oh, right, of course she was. “Do I get your share of the tips?”
    Jeanine frowned. “You know it is hard living away from Mom and Dad.” No, I didn’t, because I couldn’t afford to.
    “Sure, Sis, I will gleefully do even more work so you can mack with your incredibly rich boyfriend.”
     “Super!” Jeanine said, waving at me, then walked through the doors to the kitchen. I stared at her then followed.
    “Clearly, sarcasm is not my strong point.” The Deerlightful kitchen was a single large room with a walk-in fridge, bathroom on the other side of the room, office for my mother, and a series of fridges as well as stoves.
    There was a calendar and bulletin board to my right, listing all the various messages my mother tended to get for her other job as the town shaman. Jeanine was already skipping out the backdoor and I didn’t have a chance to correct her misassumption about my volunteering to cover for her. I guess I was stuck with it.
    I looked for my mother, but didn’t see anyone but Dad and Jeremy. Judy ran the Deerlightful while my father cooked. They were also weredeer or Cervid (I thought was a secret name for our kind until discovering it just meant “deer” in Latin) who’d married at eighteen in an arranged union. Both seemed cool with it and genuinely seemed to love each other.
    Thankfully, John didn’t seem too eager to follow in late Grandpa Jacob’s plan to keep the bloodline pure and hadn’t talked to me about any of that. John, a tall, broad-shouldered man with a brown mullet, was presently grilling three burgers while singing “Achy Breaky Heart”. I swear, I could hear him call it ‘Hart’ in his inflection.
    "And yet you do sarcasm so well,” my brother, Jeremy, said from my side. He was currently doing a fresh load of plates in the sink.
    Jeremy was more like me than my sister in that he was thin with short, dark hair. Jeremy was wearing a white apron over blue jeans and a House Baratheon t-shirt. He had a pained look on his face that never seemed to go away which had started when he hadn’t made the Change by eighteen.
    That was two years ago, and given that I’d made it by fourteen, it was pretty clear he was never going to be a weredeer and was just an ordinary human. Personally, I didn’t see the big deal, as it meant he didn’t have to do the family runs every full moon, but I could tell it bothered the hell out of him.
    “Yeah, you know me,” I said, putting the bus box by the sink. “I’m always trying to bring a little dry hipster sarcasm to our lives.”
    Jeremy half smiled. “You realize being a hipster is a bad thing, right?”
    “It is?” I asked.
    “Yes.” Jeremy nodded, sharing his sage wisdom of being two years older. Putting his arm over my shoulder, he said, “I’m afraid you have yet to realize you are not a sage source of post-modern ironic wisdom.”
    “I’m pretty sure those words don’t actually mean anything when strung together,” I said, smiling and hugging him back.
    “It means that I, too, am studying Mr. Jameson’s philosophy course,” Jeremy said, referencing our shared desire to go to college and escape Bright Falls. The chances of either of us escaping my small Michigan hometown were pretty slim, though. In 2008, the vampires had done all the world’s supernaturals a “favor” by coming out and revealing themselves to the world, which had resulted in all the others getting revealed in short order.
    While there were plenty of people who hated the undead for being blood-drinking parasites and almost, to the man, sociopaths, shifters actually got the worst of it. Of forty-eight states— Michigan and Vermont exempted— if you were shot by someone then all they had to do was prove you were a shifter for it to be justified as self-defense.
    Also, it was entirely legal to discriminate against shifters in the marketplace, so if I ever were to leave town then my options were to go to Vermont or Canada, and that felt like a lateral move at best. My cousin, Jill (God, what was it with the J names?), had moved to the newly revitalized Detroit, but that meant she was in the power of the vampires.
    Plus, she was a stripper and while that was her choice, it wasn’t a career path I wanted or was equipped for. I was going to try to find somewhere other than the shifter capital of Michigan to live, but that was going to take more than the education provided by Bright Falls Community and Technical.
    “Well, I suppose I should be grateful for the work,” I said, muttering under my breath. “It nicely avoids my parents having to pay for my college. Keep it all in the family. Specifically the money.”
    “Hey, maybe she’ll marry Brad and then his family will eat her and we’ll collect a big insurance payout,” Jeremy said cheerfully. I chuckled.
    “Yeah, I don’t think so. We can’t afford the insurance and the O’Henry family owns the insurance company.”
    The O’Henry family was one of the twelve shifter clans in the town, and by far the most powerful. They were actually powerful on a national level, with lobbyists in Washington working on shapeshifter rights (badly) and rich enough to own a senator or two. The fact that they chose to live in Bright Falls to lord over the few thousand shifters here rather than someplace nice told me everything I needed to know about them.
    “It’s a dog-eat-dog world with them,” Jeremy said.
    “Hey, some of them are nice,” I said, thinking about my friend Emma. “I mean, there’s Sheriff Clara, who hates me, and… uh, nope, can’t think of any others.”
    “Victoria is hot,” Jeremy said.
    “Ugh,” I said, thinking about her and trying not to let my blood boil. “Talk about a woman needing a silver bullet.”
    Victoria O’Henry was my own personal Mean Girl archnemesis and one of the chief reasons I was glad to have graduated from high school. She was a year older than me and one of the worst people I’d ever met. Werewolves were pack hunters and she’d assembled a little gang of her cousins around her to rule the school.
    The fact that her Gift had turned out to be able to learn people’s deepest, darkest secrets had made her the terror of Bright Falls as a whole. The fact I’d been best friends with her sister Emma growing up made her desire to ruin my life doubly strange, but I guess Victoria didn’t want her sister crossing the predator/ prey divide. Now Brad and Jeanine were seeing each other, which meant we might become sisters-in-law. Yikes.
    “You shouldn’t say that sort of thing,” John said, turning his head to look at us. “The O’Henrys are like royalty.”
    I rolled my eyes. “Dad, it’s the twenty-first century. No one actually takes the whole royalty thing seriously anymore.”
    “We do in this house,” John said, his voice low. “If they’re not royals then we’re not shamans.”
    That was another thing about shifter culture that annoyed the hell out of me. Every one of the twelve clans had a specific role assigned to them. The werewolves were the rulers, the weredeer were the shamans, the werebears were the guards, and so on. It was like any other caste system in that the modern world had left it behind, but there were shifters, like my dad, who took it way too seriously.
    “Mom’s a shaman, you’re a short-order cook,” Jeremy said, saying more than he probably should have.
    Dad stood still for a second and I thought he was going to blow up. “You just keep doing your job, son, and focus on what making a connection with your true self.”
    That was even worse because John was the only member of the family who still thought Jeremy had a chance of changing. I understood why Dad wanted it to be so: he was the one who believed most in the Old Ways, the old religion, and it was a stinging cut to know he didn’t have enough of a Gift to be a priest. But to sire a human? Someone without any Gift at all? That was bad. Made worse because I knew Dad loved Jeremy best. It sucked, but it was true.
    “That’s it,” Jeremy said, pulling off his apron. “I’m gone. You can find someone else to do your damn dishes.”
    “Jeremy—” Dad started to say before noticing the hamburgers were burning.
    “Dammit!” I sighed and watched Jeremy walk away before looking to Dad. “Please tell me you don’t expect me to do the dishes.”
    “I’ll do them,” John said, sighing as he started over the burgers again, tossing the burned ones into the trash. “I mean what I said about talking smack about the royals, though. They’re dangerous.”
    I blinked and sighed. “What, is Victoria going to have my head cut off?”
    John turned around and crossed his arms. “That’s not so farfetched an idea. You’ve grown up in a time when the supernatural was public. In my day, though, they had the power of life and death over their subjects.”
    “Which is creepy,” I said, looking out to the restaurant beyond and seeing if we had any new customers. Thankfully, we didn’t. It was a slow Thursday.
    “In any case, I’ve hated on Victoria for years and she hasn’t had my head cut off yet."
    “Yet,” John said. “The royals still have all their old authority. They don’t use it often, but most of the other clans respect it.”
    “Dad…”
    “Just cut it out with the silver-bullet threats. Please.”
    Seeing my dad was serious, I sighed and nodded my head before going to get a pad to take orders. That was when I heard thunder outside and my ears perked up. There was something in the air that made me uncomfortable and I couldn’t quite put it into words.
    Closing my eyes, I saw a storm coming and felt a terrible thing was coming. I’d only had that kind of impression of the future a few times, one of which had been right before the vampires had revealed themselves and the subsequent violence.
    All weredeer had the Sight, just varying degrees of it, with Dad having the ability to sense absolutely nothing more than his next dinner while my mother was able to see things years in the future as well as talk to the animals like Doctor Doolittle.
    I was somewhere in the middle and could pick up impressions from objects as well as get visions of the future on occasion. Knowing something bad was going to happen didn’t give me a way to stop it, though, and my stomach turned a bit. Should I tell my father? Tell him what— I have a bad feeling about this? My mother? Maybe.
    “Dad, where’s Mom?”
    “Off,” John said.
    “Off?” I asked.
    “Off,” He repeated. “Shaman things.”
    “Oh joy,” I said, knowing that meant she could be anywhere from the middle of the woods to selling scented candles at a party. I went back to work instead.
    As Jeanine’s and my shift finally came to an end, I was pretty tired on my feet and debated going out back to change so I could regain my energy. A rainstorm had already been going for the better part of an hour, though, so I didn’t want to.
    You’d think being part-wild animal I wouldn’t mind getting wet, but it turned out weredeer really resented thunderstorms. Heading to punch my time card— weird with a mostly family business— I watched the backdoor open up and my soaked best friend run through the door.
    Emma O’Henry was about six inches taller than me and gorgeous in the same way my sister was, except with bright-crimson-red hair. Emma was wearing a pair of cut-off jean shorts and an open flannel shirt over a House Stark shirt my brother had given her.
    A little silver locket was hanging around her neck in the shape of a wolf. I, personally, had never seen the need to advertise my animal type to the world. I was about to greet her warmly when I noticed she looked horrified. Her makeup was smeared and her eyes teary. I blinked.
    “What’s wrong?” My father looked over at us.
    “Are you okay, Emma?” Emma grabbed me in a hug. “It’s terrible. I came here right away.”
    “Eh?” I said, wondering why I was the crisis person all of a sudden before remembering my earlier bad feeling. “What’s happened?”
    “My sister has been murdered. They’re looking at your brother.”
    Okay.
    Crap.

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