Author: Paul A. Destefano
Publisher: Wild Rose Press
Genre: Urban Fantasy / Paranormal Romance
Enrique Marin wants a quiet life after the death of his wife. Just one problem stands in the way–he’s possessed by the misanthropic English demon, Tzazin. A violent night under demonic influence accidentally leads Enrique to love, and it’s anything but quiet. Shy, autistic yoga instructor Elle thought allowing herself to be possessed by the very-not-shy sex demon Key would help her find love. She finds Enrique, but she didn’t count on coping with the anti-demon bigotry of society. Fate–and AA meetings for the possessed–brings them together, but hostile forces, demonic and human, fight to keep them apart. It might cost them everything to keep their love alive.
“DeStefano weaves a masterful tale of mystery using threads of horror, humor, and heat-filled romance. Teeming with snarky demons and one swoon-worthy hero, this is the perfect story for anyone who loves the supernatural.” – Author BB Swann
“He has always worn his love for SF, Fantasy & Horror on his sleeve. This is Dark Fantasy written with an immense knowledge of the genre, and it shows.” – Patrick Kennedy, host of The Literate Nerds Podcast
“The writing – it is amazing … it feels as if I was reading a Brandon Sanderson novel or a Patrick Rothfuss book.” – Battlecast Reviews
“Paul has a wonderful way of bringing a world alive so that you feel you can reach out and touch it.” – Jamie Jolly, Shadowborne Games
Release Date: April 18, 2022
Publisher: Wild Rose Press
Soft Cover: ISBN: 978-1509241231; 292 pages; $16.99; E-Book, $4.99
Enrique approached the church feeling more like a lost tourist from the Dominican Republic than someone on national watchlists. Peering up at the untended vines coating the wall, he ran a hand through his short black hair. He glanced back at the street and then followed Ebbs down the stairs to the basement side entrance.
“I don’t even think he’s a real priest,” came the familiar British tones in the back of Enrique’s mind. “He’s not wearing a collar. This is bollocks. He can’t teach you anything about controlling me you don’t already know, and I’m certainly not going to listen to some pudgy little unshaven monk or whatever he is. Don’t go in.”
Enrique stopped halfway down the cracked steps and bent, turning his back to Ebbs to tie a shoe that wasn’t untied. Ebbs waited by the door, gently humming to himself.
“Shut up, Taz,” Enrique said, barely above a whisper. “If you would behave in the first place, we wouldn’t have to be here.”
“Still bollocks,” Taz said.
Enrique stood and wiped his hands on his jeans before descending. At the base of the stairway, he stomped his work boot into the puddle that reflected a third figure only he could see pacing behind them.
Ebbs fished for keys in the pocket of his beaten brown leather jacket. He unlocked a door barely held together by decades of flaking paint. It swung open smoothly and silently. Stepping aside, he extended a hand and indicated Enrique should enter before him.
Enrique didn’t move.
“It’s a safe place,” Ebbs said, scratching the mottled gray of his unshaven neck.
Enrique had heard that before.
“Sometimes, that first step through the doorway is the hardest.”
Enrique looked to the source of the voice, a silhouette up the hallway that nearly reached the ceiling.
“I’m Dante Serrano,” the deep calming voice continued. “I moderate the group. Father Clancy here told me you would be coming. Enrique, right?”
Dante’s head nearly grazed the hanging fluorescents as he approached, extending a massive hand in greeting. Enrique nodded and stepped in, trying not to stare too obviously at Dante’s dark eyes, nearly a foot above his own.
“Tell you what,” Dante said with a bright grin. “I’ll answer your questions first, make you more comfortable. Come on, follow me. The answer to your first question, seven-foot one. Second question, no, I never played pro, got some bum knees. You know everyone sees a black man a head and shoulders over them, and they think, damn, that guy shoot some hoops. What you don’t hear is how much a damn problem it can be being so tall. Sure—never need a step stool, get to help all the shorter folk reach that top shelf in the grocery store. I’m not saying there are no perks. I’m saying there’s sometimes a hidden price. Considering where you are, I’m guessing you know that all too well.”
“You mean considering what I am?” Enrique said, following the giant man through a doorway.
Dante turned, shaking his shaved head. “No, man, no. Who you are. You got a problem? Okay. But that does not define you. A man is a lot of things—a plumber, a mechanic, a husband, a father. But you are never less a person before that. You are always you. Good man. Bad man. That’s not my job to tell you. But you. No matter what your problem. You are a who. Never a what. Just because a taxi picks up a bad passenger, that does not make that taxi’s a bad taxi. You get me?”
“Actually, you’re a pretty awful taxi,” Taz said.
“I get you,” Enrique said, shrugging and looking around. He stepped into the center of the circle of empty chairs in the small room. Beyond a table of coffee and doughnuts, a young woman with long blonde hair over a tight-fitting outfit standing with her head down and her hands clasped by her waist. She pushed dark glasses farther up the bridge of her nose but didn’t speak. Enrique looked to the ceiling.The lights were no brighter where she stood, and certainly not bright enough to warrant sunglasses.
“Well, hello, hello, what do we have here?” Taz said. “Perhaps this group isn’t complete bollocks after all.”
“That’s Elle,” Dante said softly. “Yoga teacher. She’s one of our members. She’s on the autism spectrum and sometimes needs a little time to adjust to new people in the group. She’ll warm up to you.”
“Hi, Elle,” Enrique said with a small wave. “I’m Enrique.”
“The others will be by in just a few minutes,” Dante said, pouring coffee into a cardboard cup. “Just like Elle needs some time, we’d like to get to learn a bit about you. Me and our very own Father Clancy Ebbs to start. Just to, you know, get comfortable.”
“Ex-Father,” Ebbs interjected. “In Coena Domini.”
“Excommunicated,” Dante translated. “But still good enough for us. And still always Father to me.”
“And there are two of you,” Enrique pointed out. “In case I’m more than one can handle.”
Elle tilted her head in curiosity.
“Can never be too careful at first encounter,” Dante said. “Coffee? It’s actually pretty good. Here, give it a try and grab a chair. Any.”
Enrique pulled off his light jacket and hung it on the back of one of the folding chairs. He took the offered coffee and added a sugar cube from the table. If Dante weren’t in the room with him, he would be considered tall. Enrique sniffed the coffee, blew on it, and sat, one hand rubbing the worn knees of his jeans.
“Want one?” Father Ebbs asked, helping himself to a powdered doughnut.
Enrique shook his head.
“You a talker or a listener?” Dante asked, leaving one empty chair between them when he sat.
“Truthfully,” Enrique said, “I usually don’t shut up. But I’m not, I’m not really…”
“Not comfortable talking about your passenger? I get it,” Dante said with a nod.
“I don’t like it either,” Ebbs said.
“You?” Enrique asked, turning to the ex-priest. “I would have thought—”
“Occupational hazard,” Ebbs said.
“Father Ebbs got his passenger right around when the rift opened, Dante said. “He’s an early adopter.”
“No one had yet come to terms with…you know.” Ebbs brushed powdered sugar from his lips. “The whole ‘demons are coming to our world and are real’ thing. It was before anyone knew what was going on. It was an exorcism of one of the first. A little girl. I invited her in. My passenger, not the girl. She took the offer. Violastine. Viola. And, as a result, I got excommunicated from upstairs.”
“And you damned yourself,” Enrique finished.
Dante ran a hand over his bold head. “Father Ebbs’ passenger is—”
“Fucking horrible,” Ebbs said. “Mostly controlled. Mostly. But when she breaks free. Trust me, you don’t want to be around.”
Enrique tensed. “Yours is a separate manifest? Like actually separate from you?”
Ebbs nodded. “I swear, she’s controlled. She’s not out. Like every precaution in the book. Meds, prayer, you name it, I got her on tighter lockdown than mother superior’s knees.”
“My passenger is named Brogado,” Dante said and took a sip of coffee. “Bro is a physical manifest through me. When he pilots, I get strong as all hell, literally. But human bodies just aren’t supposed to do that. So, I blackout, and Bro does his thing. I wake up like a train hit me.”
“Your bum knees,” Enrique said, piecing it together.
“Broken by my own muscles,” Dante said.
“Does he talk to you?”
“We communicate but not quite in words. More like hunches and feelings. When he’s mad, I can tell.”
Enrique turned to Ebbs. “Does yours talk?”
“She would love it if I listened,” Ebbs said. “It’s more like a constant distant howling. I’ve learned to box that out. Elle’s passenger is an entwined riftsider. They both exist in the same space. I’m sure you’ll meet her, too.”
“Tell us a little about yours,” Dante said and took a slow sip of his coffee.
Enrique slumped backward in the seat, looking to the ceiling with a chuckle.
“Yes,” taunted the lilting British accent only Enrique heard. “Do tell about me.”
“Tzazin,” Enrique said, staring into his coffee. “My demon is Tzazin Auropolus. I call him Taz. He, well, he’s kind of like me in that sometimes he just doesn’t know when to shut up. When I look at my reflection, I can see him. Always following me just behind my shoulder. Glass reflection doesn’t always work. Sometimes it does, and he insists it’s due to how natural or man-made the material is. The science of the other side doesn’t always make sense to me.”
“Now tell them how startlingly handsome I am,” Taz whispered.
“He looks like a man with gray sandpaper skin. And his eyes are this weird sickly off-yellow.”
“That’s not even slightly flattering,” Taz complained.
“But he’s got some sort of knowledge tap. It’s like having a running connection to an internet search engine.”
“I’m an archivist, you human nimrod. Show some respect.”
“Oh, he’s telling me right now I should tell you he’s an archivist.”
“And when Taz pilots?” Dante asked.
“When Taz pilots, I blackout. And end up in jail. I was told I can be out on probation if I come here to learn to control him.”
“You make that sound so one-sided,” Taz said with a snicker. “Whose fingerprints were there? Certainly not mine.”
Enrique set his jaw and placed his coffee cup on the floor.
“Yo, ain’t no one told me we got a newbie.”
Enrique turned to see a young girl with dreadlocks step into the room biting into an apple and letting the juice flow down her chin.
“Enrique, the rude teen girl is my niece, Yesania,” Dante said with a slight smile and a gesture. “You bring enough for everyone?”
“You got your doughnuts,” Yesania pointed. “Star pitcher on the softball team has to keep in shape. Not poisoning my body with more of that shit than I have to. Oh, sorry for the language, Father. No offense. Hey, Elle.”
Elle looked up and brushed her long hair aside, smiling with a wave.
“None taken,” Ebbs said, reaching for another doughnut. “Especially since that means more for us who know what good food is.”
Yesania pulled out a chair, and it screeched across the floor. She sat directly in front of Enrique, throwing her hoodie to the ground and pushing dreadlocks from her face. She leaned forward and stared into Enrique’s eyes. “Go ahead. Show me who you got.”
“Yesania,” Dante said, putting his hand on her shoulder to ease her away.
“No, Unc,” she snapped, shrugging him off. “Show and tell. You ain’t here for some small-time imp. Show me.”
“You don’t want that.” Enrique slid his chair back.
“She wants it,” Taz said, clearly with a grin Enrique felt in the back of his mind.
“She doesn’t want that,” Enrique said.
“You show me yours; I’ll show you mine,” Yesania said in a teasing schoolgirl voice. “Lookie.”
Yesania held out her palm and blew across it as if blowing flower petals from her hand. The room filled with the smell of lilacs. A sparkling yellow dust scattered from her empty hand and hung in the air in a vaguely feminine shape that bowed politely.
“Meet Cali,” Yesania announced.
Enrique reached his hand out, curious. The sparkling dust extended what would be a hand and settled on his. It felt mildly electric and warm.
“Caliosandra,” the dust shape whispered in introduction, appearing to grow less dense.
Yesania panted and watched the dust form fall, shimmering specks vanishing before touching the floor.
“You okay?” Dante asked.
“Yeah, letting Cali out is tiring sometimes,” Yesania said. “Long day of practice. That’s kind of why I’m here. Can’t get completely rid of her unless I just go to sleep for a long time. She’s not the prize I originally thought.”
“She means die,” Taz said to Enrique.
“I know what she meant,” Enrique said.
“Oh, you got a full-time talker,” Yesania said with a smile. “Come on. I showed you mine. You got some sort of manifest?”
“You don’t want to do that,” Enrique said.
“Too scary? I can handle it.”
“Yesania, stop,” Dante said flatly.
“No, Unc, I don’t think I will. If I gotta be in this room, I want to know who’s in here with me. Show me.”
“If he’s not ready, Yesania,” Ebbs said.
“I am not staying if I don’t know who’s here,” Yesania insisted.
“Reveal me,” Taz said. “It’s only fair if I make myself known.”
Enrique looked to Dante for help.
“Your call,” Dante said. “At your own pace.”
“Taz isn’t a separate manifest like that was. Like Cali,” Enrique said. “It’s more like what Dante said.”
“Brogado,” Dante supplied.
“It’s not pleasant.”
Yesania stared into Enrique’s eyes. “I got this. Show me.”
“She asked for it,” Taz chided.
“You asked.” Enrique reached out and placed two fingers on the back of Yesania’s hand.
“Sweet motherfucker!” Yesania yelled, jumping away. She looked at her steaming hand. “What the hell was that shit?”
“That was Taz,” Enrique said simply.
Elle stepped back with one foot, either a fighting stance or a position to run from. Ebbs doughnut hit the floor where he was standing with a tiny powdered sugar explosion. He ran from the room, covering his face with his hands.
“You bleeding?” Dante asked Yesania, both watching Ebbs’ retreat.
Enrique looked out to the hallway. “What happened to Father Ebbs? Did I do something?”
“Blood is a bad thing around here. It triggers Ebbs’ passenger, Viola.” Dante examined his niece’s hand. “He ran out for everyone’s safety.”
“Sorry,” Enrique said. “I didn’t know. She shouldn’t be bleeding.”
“Yo,” Yesania said, rubbing her hand. “That felt like fire.”
“It’s not heat. It’s abrasion. That was just a buzz. If I held it there, it would take your skin off like a band sander. I try not to let him do that.”
“You sometimes fail,” Taz reminded.
Enrique shifted in his seat and glanced up to a round-faced Asian man in an EMT shirt standing in the doorway.
“We good?” the man called, holding a hand toward Ebbs to keep him in the hallway.
“We good, Corey. Ebbs can come back,” Dante said.
“Corey Oshi,” Dante announced, nodding to Ebbs as he cautiously closed the door behind him. “New guy is Enrique Marin.”
“Don’t shake his hand,” Yesania warned, still rubbing her own.
“It’s not like that,” Enrique said, shaking his head. “That’s only when I let him out to play or something goes wrong. Sorry, but you asked.”
“Oh, you got one that bites, huh?” Corey said, gingerly taking Enrique’s hand. “Mine’s more fun. Check it. You ever play two truths and a lie?”
“Yeah?” Enrique said, not sure where the question was headed.
“Go,” Corey said with a grin, sitting across from him. “Hit me with some facts, guy I never met.”
“Um, okay,” Enrique said. “I was born in the Dominican Republic. That’s one. I carve and install wood for millwork. Wait, that one doesn’t count, I’m still wearing my work shirt; you could just read that. Instead, let’s go with I collect vinyl records. And my mom makes the best mac and cheese in the world.”
“Harry, talk to me,” Corey called. He waited briefly, nodding several times. “Last one’s a lie. Boom!”
Enrique laughed. “Yeah, my mom’s mac was crap. That was pretty cool.”
“Hariememnon—Harry for short—extends his greetings and welcomes you to the group,” Corey said after a pause. “My folks were killed in a construction accident. Crane fell. Left me kind of alone and weak, and Harry moved in.”
“Same, but mine was my wife, Sofia,” Enrique said, silencing the room.
“Operative word: was,” Taz said.
“Condolences.” Ebbs placed a firm hand on Enrique’s shoulder.
“Thanks, Father.” Enrique forced a fake smile. “It was years ago.”
“Doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt,” Ebbs said.
“Yeah,” Enrique said. “I’ve been kind of dating, but yeah.”
Elle suddenly stepped to the circle of chairs, looking Enrique up and down. “This a funeral or possession support group? Had we known we had a new guy, we would have baked a cake. Nah, that’s bullshit, neither of us can cook. Believe us, we tried.”
“Enrique, this is Elle and her passenger Key,” Dante said, over-pronouncing the word Elle.
“This rather nice bod might be Elle, but we share the attic,” she said with a wide smile, sliding easily into a seat. She removed her glasses, revealing large expressive eyes with irises of unnatural metallic green. Her long blonde hair landed on bare shoulders over a black, well-shaped tank top and form-fitting dark blue yoga pants, but Enrique didn’t look away from the captivating eyes.
“I’m Key,” she said, slightly tilting her head, scanning Enrique head to toe. “It’s short for Keostapholese. And you’re the new tall, rugged, and yummy that sits next to me in session.”
“Let Elle speak,” Dante said, somewhere between a suggestion and an order.
She closed her eyes and swallowed before looking to the floor. She spoke next in a much softer tone and continued to stare at the ground.
“I’m Elle. Not short for anything.”
“Dude, she’s hot,” Taz said.
“I’m Enrique.” He extended his hand.
“She won’t shake it,” Yesania said. “She’s autistic.”
“Elle may be on the spectrum,” Dante explained further. “Key, not so much.”
Elle turned, not lifting her head, and looked to Dante through locks of blonde hanging over her eyes, raising one hand with a middle finger held high.
“That would be Key,” Dante said with a sigh. “I’ve been trying to get them to identify separately.”
“No, that was from both of us,” Elle said with a grin. “With love. Confused yet, Enrique? See, Elle is fearless, but not with people. People are terrifying. Key, on the other hand, is not so good at keeping quiet and doesn’t get this whole morals thing you humans get caught up on. Life, death, sex, whatever. Together, we share this body. So, when you talk to us, use a plural noun as you would with a transgender friend. Both here, all the time. Sometimes we’re more one than the other. But it’s us. Like twins. Partner, not passenger. Sorry we didn’t say anything earlier. Elle wanted to try stepping up to you alone but needed help. The whole square jawed five o’clock shadow thing intimidates her. Needed a bit of a nudge. Now here we both are.”
“So,” started Enrique. “If you’re Elle and Key in there at once, why don’t you have everyone call you Elkie?”
She leaned back in her chair and looked to each of the others. “Yeah, guys, if this is all about acceptance and adjustment, how come you don’t call me Elkie?”
Dante’s brow furrowed. Yesania and Corey exchanged shrugs.
“Didn’t think of it?” Ebbs said.
After Dante gently moderated a ninety-minute discussion about media bias against the possessed and what they could do to change people’s perceptions, they set about grabbing more coffee and doughnuts from the table.
“You said, or rather, your shirt says you do commercial millwork,” Corey said, reaching in front of Enrique for a doughnut. “I happen to be a carpenter.”
“Carpenter EMT?” Enrique asked.
“Sue me, I have a few hobbies.”
“Which is the hobby—the EMT, or the carpenter?”
“That depends on whether I have a commission or I’m on a call. Whatever I’m doing is the important stuff. Commit to love what you do, right?”
“Well—” Enrique paused for a moment. “What I love is actual sculpture. Form work. Organic flow. I’ve sold three big pieces and a handful of carved masks. But what pays the bills is millwork in government buildings.”
“My thing is furniture,” Corey said and nodded. “Chests. Tables. I like lathing the legs. You know, that trying to make everything even and right. You take a two-by of oak and you give it that nice shape, make them all good and even. We should do some together. Get some ornamental hand carving added to my stuff. We can make decent bread, you know. Guessing you go oak and maple a lot.”
“Wenge and tiger when I can afford it,” Enrique said wistfully.
Elkie sidled between them to reach the coffee pot with a sideways glance and a smirk.
“What?” Corey asked.
“Oh, nothing,” she said, waving him off. “Just kind of interesting a new guy shows up and you immediately have to compare wood.”
Corey rolled his eyes. “That’s Key for you.”
“Tell me how your wife died,” Elkie said, turning her back to Corey.
“Seriously?” Corey asked. “That’s how you start a conversation? A dick joke and ask him how his wife died?”
Her strange metallic eyes sparkled. “Demon, remember?”
“Don’t worry. It’s fine,” Enrique said. “I actually kind of like the candor.”
“I thought someone said you were supposed to let Elle drive,” Corey said, gesturing to Dante across the room.
“Yeah, whatever,” Elkie said. “You eat all those doughnuts and don’t gain weight. You like that, don’t you?”
“Harry takes care of that,” Corey shrugged. “Housing him burns a lot of calories. Never need to take your yoga classes.”
“And Elle is not comfortable talking to strangers,” Elkie said. “So, she thought letting me forward to talk to the cute guy was a good idea. Riftsiders provide certain advantages. Her call, not mine. She wants us to appear polite.”
“Asking about his dead wife on your first unmoderated interaction isn’t usually considered polite,” Corey said. He then stopped and tilted his head, listening. “But Harry says you actually are trying to be nice. Not the smoothest move, though.”
“See,” Elkie said. “Probably not doing anything to fix it but noted.”
“Car crash,” Enrique said. “It’s okay, seriously. No reason to dance around it. She was coming home late. Worked at a nursing home. Never made it to dinner. Seven years ago.”
“Has it been that long?” Taz mumbled in his mind. “Seems so much more recent.”
“Condolences,” Elkie said flatly. “See, we can be nice.”
“Harry says Elle just told you to say that,” Corey said.
“If you would stop separating us like that, maybe the nice Mr. Enrique would simply notice how charming we are. How long were you guys married?”
“You’re seriously going to grill him like this?” Corey protested.
“It’s okay, I promise,” Enrique said, still watching the strange beetle shell reflections of her eyes. “Four years.”
“And that’s how you took on your passenger, Zach?” she said.
“Zach?” Taz shouted loud enough to make Enrique flinch. “Did this mingebag just call me Zach?”
“Taz,” he corrected, “And you just pissed him off.”
Elkie and Corey each took a quick step back.
“No, it’s safe,” Enrique said quickly. “I’m on Abyzone. Keeps him calm. I do it whenever I go out someplace new.”
“You mean keeps me weak,” Taz corrected.
Dante coughed and the room lights flicked off and on. He stood by the door and coughed again, gesturing to the hallway. “My, oh my, would you look at the time. Next week, guys. They need the room. You know how it goes.”
Corey grabbed another doughnut, heading toward the door mumbling, “For Harry.”
“Who’s up for a walk?” Elkie said. “The park across the street?”
Corey nodded. “Yeah sure.”
“We kinda meant new guy, but okay,” Elkie said.
“You weren’t specific.”
Elkie’s mouth trembled. She turned her metallic eyes to the floor. “We were being nice. Of course, you’re invited, too.” Her voice was decidedly softer.
Corey gave Enrique a knowing glance and nod. “Thanks, Elle.”
“Why not?” Enrique said. “I’ve got nothing else to go to. I can hang with some new friends. Let’s go for a walk. Just the six of us.”
“Harry thinks you’re funny,” Corey said, stepping with them to the hall. “But I think the jury is still out on that one.”
About the Author
After graduating from Hofstra University with a split degree in English and Acting, he worked in the board gaming and roleplaying industry for decades, including officially licensed projects for Star Trek and Lord of the Rings. He did not win the Origins Award for Best Miniatures Rules in 2004 and has forgotten that bitter defeat. When not playing and working on games, he is sometimes found touring internationally, giving lectures on worldbuilding and character design.
Being a professional full-time blacksmith for several years made him realize how much less painful it was to go back to writing. He’s been lucky enough to hold the Top Humor Writer badge at Medium multiple times and has had his work narrated by James Cosmo (Lord Mormont from Game of Thrones) on multimillion-dollar Kickstarter projects.
It is also worth noting that having never taken any bassoon lessons, he still cannot play one.
His latest book is the urban fantasy/paranormal romance novel, RIFTSIDERS: UNLAWFUL POSSESSION.