Out today in the urban fantasy anthology Flights of Fantasy, I’m proud to present the opening to my short story, “Dark Side of the Sun.”
June 20th, 2025
Eliana pulled her sedan up to the curb, right under the biggest oak she’d ever seen. Its canopy cast welcome shade from the scorching mid-day sun. Ahead, an ambulance was pulled under a mansion’s porte cochère. Four black-and-whites were also present, their lights twirling madly: one behind the ambulance, the others scattered along the curb.
A young cop was putting up barricades, while another was stringing crime scene tape between them. Another pair was gently encouraging five curious neighbors to back away. By the look of it, the gawkers were nannies and housewives, each with an obligatory kid or two in tow.
Eliana pulled her too-big jacket on. Simple, lightweight, and cut to hide the full-size Sig Sauer 1911 behind her right hip, it was still another layer of clothing she’d rather not have on in suburban Phoenix’s triple-digit heat. She pulled her purse to her shoulder and stepped out. The car door slid shut and she made her way across the just-watered grass. It left drops on her flats, but even those were sucked dry by the greedy heat of day.
She showed her credentials to the middle-aged cop who barred her way. It wasn’t exactly a badge, but the Order of Soteria was well-known and respected. His gaze flickered back and forth as he compared her photograph to the one on the card. When the picture had been taken, her pale, blonde hair had been short and curly. Now that she’d let it grow out, it was straighter, and she wore it in a tight bun at the back of her neck. Body guard work didn’t exactly pair well with flowing anything.
Besides, there was an appearance code. It could be summed up as “understated.” Armed nannies didn’t need to stand out. And they didn’t need to give wives any reason to worry that their husbands might find them interesting either. That’s why the Order went out of its way to emphasize the Bible’s version of Soteria as salvation from penalty, power, presence, and most importantly, the pleasures of sin.
Hence the flats. The lack of makeup. The conservative suit cut not just to hide weapons, but de-emphasize a woman’s shape. And a vow of chastity. The idea of mortal sin had regained its power when the supernatural had become less “super” and more “natural.”
There’d been a reason why the myths and legends of old had seen a rebirth during the last part of the twentieth century. The world was being prepared for the mainstreaming of vampires and shifters and witches. With the death of privacy, with the ubiquitous monitoring of everything, it had been inevitable. Science had tried to explain it all using reason and logic, but the world had been so ready to embrace the supernatural that it hadn’t mattered why things were. For most, accepting reality was easier than qualifying and quantifying it.
Some had feared the world would fall back into a dark age of superstition, but it hadn’t happened. Science and technology still had their uses. In truth the supernatural had always co-existed quite nicely alongside science and reason in most men’s minds.
The cop used the mic at his shoulder to verify that she was expected and handed back her card.
“Go on in, Sister, they’re expecting you.”
“Thank you, Officer.”
She crossed the cobblestoned driveway. The mansion was not the biggest in the gated neighborhood, but it was in a cul-de-sac, which were usually prime lots. The owner had obviously chosen it for privacy. It didn’t back to any other homes and it had been placed as far away from the neighboring properties as possible. Every single window had roll-down shutters masterfully made to look like anything but. And there were cameras everywhere, some better hidden than others. The cameras were not that unusual. The shutters were.
The entryway’s double doors swung open and an EMT backed out, dragging a gurney with a body-bag strapped to it.
His partner, a woman, was pushing from the other end. By the look on her face this might well have been her first day on the job. She looked more than a little green.
“A moment please,” Eliana said and showed her ID again. The EMT pulled at the body-bag’s zipper. It parted to reveal a woman’s face. Her eyes were closed, her face pale, her lips blue. She looked about forty, with gray in her short, wispy hair. Forty was about fifteen years too old for this to be Sister Isadora Conley.
There was one way to be sure.
“Would you mind turning her head so I can look behind her right ear?” Eliana asked. No point in getting gloved up when the EMTs already were.
The rookie EMT complied, gently nudging the corpse’s head and folding her ear. A laurel wreath crown was inked into the skin. Eliana fished her UV flashlight from her purse and aimed it at the tattoo. There was enough shade under the porte cochère that a barcode was revealed within the circle of the wreath.
Definitely Sister Conley. Eliana sighed as she put the flashlight away.
The fact that Sister Conley looked forty meant that she hadn’t just died because she’d been shot. She’d died because someone had drained her anima. According to her file, she was magic sensitive, but not a magic-user. Not all of the Sisters were witches. But even the sensitives became users in the face of a powerful enough threat. Which meant Sister Conley had been in a desperate fight for her life even before the bullet found her.
Eliana nodded at the EMT, who pulled the zipper shut. They loaded the gurney into the back of the ambulance, grunting as they lifted it.
One of the cops was holding the mansion’s front left door open, and Eliana stepped into a foyer. Staircases curved upward on the left and the right and a chandelier hung from a heavy chain above.
Underneath it, three men and a woman with “forensics” stamped on their jackets were busy taking photographs, measurements, and bagging things handled with tweezers. Blood pooled on the floor and numerical tent markers littered the marble tiles.
Two sets of couches that could each seat six filled the large room beyond the foyer. Its tall, wide windows were sealed against the sunlight by the rolling shutters. If it hadn’t been for the portable lights that the forensics people had set up, the house would be pitch black.
Sweat trickled down Eliana’s back. No air conditioning.
“Power’s out,” a voice from behind her said.
Despite the heat, her skin pebbled. Her heart skipped a beat and then sped up. Thorne’s voice descended—as it always had—right past her brain, to her stomach, sending it, and lower things, aflutter.
Even now, even here, with the stench of death still lingering in the air. Even after all these years. Would it ever lose its power? Would she ever be able to purge him out of her system?
She swore under breath. He was the last person she wanted to see or deal with in the whole world.
“The bloodsuckers’ bloodsucker,” she said. “I should’ve known.”