BONUS: Raised in Fire Deleted Scene

Smokey & The Aswang

The hot, sticky New Orleans air covered Smokey like a blanket. His clothes clung to his boney frame and the collar of his cotton shirt pinched slightly where it was buttoned high on his neck. There was no way he’d open that button, though. Given what he’d seen in the world—hell, even the neighborhood—an exposed neck was not the way to go. He’d long suspected that immortals walked the earth, preying on the weak and sucking blood for sustenance, but it wasn’t until two months ago that he’d seen proof of their existence.

He’d seen a man move faster than any human should—faster than the mind could even think. The man in question had run out of Reagan Somerset’s house, opened the door of a waiting car, and paused right before getting in. In that moment, he’d looked back at Smokey, his flawless face devoid of sweat despite the warmth of the air and the full tuxedo he wore, and winked. That was when the most amazing and terrifying thing happened—fangs dropped down from the man’s gums. Elongated, like out of a movie. One minute the man’s teeth were normal; the next, Halloween had come early.

Now that man, and several others like him, regularly hung out around the neighborhood.

Smokey shivered despite the heat.

Reagan’s friend moved like a dancer, still gliding when at inhuman speeds. He was inhumanly handsome, too. Smokey wasn’t in the habit of judging men’s appearances, but sometimes things like that stood out.

The man was fast, he was handsome, and he had fangs.

Vampire. Obviously.

Smokey didn’t care that no one believed him. He’d seen what he’d seen, and that was that.

Then there was Reagan herself. Of all the people in the neighborhood, it made sense she was the one who’d hang out with vampires. There was something not right about that girl. She was too strong, for one. He’d seen her carry a giant rock down the street—one no man would be able to lift, let along nonchalantly carry. She’d called it decoration for her newly landscaped though tiny backyard, but Smokey called it a demonstration. He heard her loud and clear.

Then there was her utter fearlessness. There was courage, and then there was a complete lack of regard for one’s own mortality. Half her house had been torched a couple months ago, and she’d slept in the ruins despite her door being off its hinges. Anyone at all could’ve walked right in—and had, which was why the house had been vandalized in the first place—but still she’d hung around.

No, something was definitely up with her. She wasn’t a vampire, though. Despite the strength issue, she did not move like a dancer. More like a freight truck. And while she was super strong, and pretty damned attractive, she roamed around in the middle of the day. Everyone knew vampires couldn’t handle sunlight.

So if not a vampire, what was she?

A shape caught the corner of his eye. He turned only his head, knowing that a larger movement might draw unwanted attention.

A man moved slowly at the other end of the block, his gait lopsided, hinting at an intended sort of swagger. A common thug, probably, and not very bright. He couldn’t even get the walk down.

A stranger, though. Maybe a tourist, checking out the cemetery at Smokey’s back?

As the eyes and ears of the neighborhood, Smokey knew all of the thugs in the area, and they knew him. People up to no good avoided him, because that meant, in essence, they were also avoiding the neighborhood muscle, No Good Mikey.

Nobody wanted to mess with Mikey.

The wannabe thug glanced Smokey’s way. His head stayed turned as he slowed, watching Smokey watch him.

Not wanting to invite a challenge (he couldn’t fight for shit, and it could very well kill him to run in this heat), Smokey averted his gaze for a moment, monitoring the situation out of his peripheral vision. He knew very well that he looked dirt poor and possibly like a junkie. Only a complete fool, or a real junkie wallowing in desperation, would try to shake Smokey down.

Turning away did the trick. The man resumed his pace and stayed on course, straight ahead.

Smokey exhaled in relief and resumed his omni-directional surveillance. Almost immediately, he caught another shape slipping into the cemetery down the way.

It was late evening, nearly dusk, so he wasn’t sure if his eyes were playing tricks on him, but it had looked like the person was carrying a cross-body bag. Wannabe witches wore bags like that. Or what if it was one of those voodoo people who still did live sacrifices? They made an awful mess. No one bringing their tourism dollars into New Orleans should have to deal with blood stains in the historic cemeteries. That wasn’t right.

Of course, it could be a supernatural…

A surge of adrenaline had Smokey pushing off the wall.

It was a long shot, sure, but he’d chosen this neighborhood because of its proximity to the cemetery, and he’d already seen a vampire! It was only a matter of time before he caught sight of another type of supernatural being. Where there were a couple supernaturals, there were bound to be more.

He kept his pace measured as he walked up the street toward the cemetery entrance where the shape had slipped in. He paused, listening. A train whistle blew in the distance, a solitary, forlorn sound. Nothing moved in the dense, Louisiana heat.

Two steps in and a rustle halted his steps.

No. Not a rustle.

He tilted his head, listening.

Was that…flapping?

A swarm of birds descended out of nowhere, the feathery black bodies clustered tightly together. They swirled around him, their wings flapping against his face and shoulders. He cried out and ducked, covering his eyes from the sharp beaks. Hunching down onto himself.

A foul-smelling wind beat on him. The scrape of claws dragged across his skin.

Almost as one body, the swarm flapped into the sky. The cloud of black, so completely unlike any birds Smokey had ever seen, swirled over the cemetery before descending again, toward the church.

Shaking, not thinking, he lurched after it with his phone held up. Maybe to call someone. Maybe to take a picture. His brain couldn’t connect the dots.

A scream rose above the tombstones.

Smokey turned the corner and tripped. Cement skinned his knees. His phone clattered to the ground.

The lingering scream ended in a gurgle.

A creature leaned over a writhing shape against the backdrop of a large tombstone. All that could be seen of the victim was a pair of twitching human legs protruding out from under the creature, whose top half looked like a leathery, nude woman. The bottom half, however, could’ve belonged to an animal. Large, muscular legs covered in patchy fur slimmed down to wolf-like feet ending in talons. Small, thin wings spider-webbed with veins spread out from the creature’s back. A gruesome hook-like claw topped each wing.

Smokey got to his feet, dripping sweat, shaking with fear. He was no hero. He needed to get the hell out of there!

As if hearing the hard hammering of Smokey’s heart, the creature startled and its head jerked up. Glowing red orbs stared at him out of the ghastly human face. Blood dripped from an extended jaw stuffed with jagged teeth. An intestine slapped the ground with a splat, having just dropped from the creature’s mouth. It was still attached to the mutilated body on the ground, and Smokey’s gaze lowered to the horrible hole in the victim’s stomach.

The creature was feeding on human flesh.

Smokey swallowed past the lump of bile in his throat. This was not what he’d had in mind when he’d gone looking for another supernatural being.

The creature screeched like a bird of prey. It straightened and launched into the sky. Once airborne, its body burst into a swarm of tightly packed birds.

Smokey was already running.

Adrenaline fueling his movements, he tore out of the cemetery. The flapping of wings sounded behind him. He sprinted down the street, barely registering the approach of the wannabe-swagger guy from earlier.

“Run,” Smokey panted, waving his arm for the man to turn and get moving. “Run!”

Sharp claws scratched at his cheek. He ducked his head and staggered, the air filled with the drum of hundreds of tiny wings. The cluster swirled higher as Smokey got in range of the stranger. “Run!”

The stranger grabbed him by the front of his shirt and swung him around, bashing his back against the stone wall around the cemetery. With barely a glance at the crazy avian phenomenon, the man leaned into him. “You got a wallet, son?” a rough voice said.

The swarm of birds changed direction. It flew off like it had come, fast and sporadic. In a moment it was gone.

Rhythmic thrushing filled Smokey’s ears in the sudden silence, matching the frantic pace of his heart. He could’ve been dinner.

“I said, you got a wallet?” A knife point dug into Smokey’s neck.

“Take it. Take whatever you want. But hurry. I gotta call Reagan!”


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