Ghosts Of Winter:
Half-demon supernatural hunter Skriker and his lover, the Nephil huntress Rose, are looking forward to nothing more than a little downtime for the holidays. But when an urgent call comes in from Skriker’s checkered past, hopes for a quiet Yuletide are quickly buried by a desperate request for help…and the hunt is on. The notorious pair travels to Lund, Sweden to battle an ancient and angry force haunting the rural property of a retired hunter who once ran with Skriker in his youth. There they will discover that the ice holds many secrets…and sometimes those secrets can be deadly.
**Publisher’s Warning: This ain’t your grandma’s Christmas tale! Contains foul language, violence, and sex so steamy it could melt glacial ice!*
And now for the Character Interview!!
TIL DEATH DO US PART: An Interview with a Half Demon and His Nephil Bride
Greetings, dear readers! As summer approaches and temperatures rise (in the Northern Hemisphere, at least), we often catch ourselves dreaming of such things as submerging our pasty bodies in kiddie pools filled with ice as cold bottles of beer bob merrily around us...er...at least I do. We seek the cooler recesses of our homes and workplaces, and when it gets really scalding during August and September, perhaps--just perhaps--we begin to dream of when the snow will once again fall and a lights will wink merrily in the frosty night.
My most recent tale, GHOSTS OF WINTER, takes place during that magical time that surrounds us each December, and I'm sure that even my dear Aussie fans who enjoy the warmer weather during Christmas waaay down south enjoy no less magic despite the lack of snow. To celebrate this icy adventure tale, I have invited its hero and heroine, my cult-followed mismatched couple, to share details about their most recent adventure...including a very special event that many fans have been waiting for for a long time.
DANI: Skrike, Rose, welcome back.
SKRIKER: Always good to see you, Dani girl.
ROSE: Hi, Dani. Glad to be back.
DANI (taking Rose's left hand and examining the silver and opal ring shimmering on it): Well, well...it looks like you two have certainly been busy!
(Rose blushes and Skriker beams.)
ROSE (laughing shyly): Yeah, we have. I'm sure everyone is going to say, "It took you long enough!"
DANI: Skriker, your Nephil girl finally followed you to the altar. I can't imagine how you are feeling right now.
SKRIKER (wistfully): Ohhhh, Dani, I am on Cloud 9. I had almost given up...but a very good, very old friend insisted I try one more time. And it worked. I could not be a happier man.
DANI: For the readers who are joining us for the first time, give us a bit of each of your backgrounds.
ROSE: I'm a Nephil, the offspring of a male warrior angel and a human woman. My mother was an artist...sadly, she isn't with us anymore. My father is chained to Earth now, with no wings. He taught me to fight as only one created for the Heavenly Army could, and I have made it my life to hunt down all that breeds evil in the world.
DANI: Do you possess any special powers?
ROSE: Yes. Not as many as my father, of course, but I can speak telepathically to other angels and animals, exorcise, and create and command angelic fire.
DANI: Super cool. I'm jealous. What about you, Skrike?
SKRIKER: I'm what you would say is the opposite of my beautiful girl here. I'm a Halfling, son of a demon popped out of Hell's very flames, and his human lady love. Mom was a stripper with gorgeous brains, and dad fell loop-de-loop in love with her. She warped his evil and made him one of the good guys. He taught me some pretty cool shit before he and my mom were killed by his fellows. I have some spiffy powers of my own: I can climb up walls like freakin' Spiderman, morph into something fierce--claws and all--, and command demonic fire. (He wraps an affectionate arm around Rose.) We're the whole package here.
DANI (chuckling): I can see that. Tell us a little bit about your latest adventure.
SKRIKER: I got a call in from an old hunting buddy of mine--and I'm sure you all know what kind of hunting. Older guy, retired from the scene, living among these reindeer herders in the far north of my mom's old homeland. He's having an issue, see, with a spirit haunting his property. Needs our help to beat it. So I jet Rosie here off to Sweden and, well...it was one freaky time. And I'm not just talking about the fun we had in the sauna...
ROSE (jabbing him playfully in the ribs): You dog! Yeah, Dani it got pretty rough out there.
DANI: What did you think of Sweden, Rose?
ROSE: It was stunning. I insist that anyone with a thing for travel go there--even if it isn't to hunt a ghost in the ice. The Northern Lights took my breath away, and also ended up being helpful to us on our journey.
DANI: How did the aurora borealis help you?
ROSE (winking): You'll just have to read the story to find out. Just know that it ended up being, well, a life-saving situation.
DANI: Skriker, Rose finally agreed to marry you. How does that make you feel? What was it like to finally have a hunt end with her walking down the aisle toward you?
SKRIKER (sighing): Can't describe it. Maybe 'blissed out'? I was a naughty boy before I met my Rosie--but she changed me, made an honest man outta me. Now that has finally come full circle. Watching her walk toward me in that gorgeous winter wedding dress...wow. I could not be a happier man. Being that I almost got my ass creamed for real on this hunt...well, what a great resolution.
DANI: What's next for you two?
ROSE: Adjusting to married life. We can't live together yet--too risky for Skriker. Our marriage has to remain a secret for a while.
DANI: So...you aren't going to live together?
(Rose hugs her new husband tenderly; Skriker leans against her, looking like a big tattooed teddy bear).
ROSE: No, not for now. I have to keep Skriker safe and make sure that no angels that want him dead, including my own father, know that we have tied the knot. Being what we are, we have to beat the odds in some pretty tough situations, and that means being apart more than we'd like until I figure out how to ease my father into the idea of us marrying. It's hard, but worth it.
DANI: I'm happy for both of you. Many blessings, always. Are you planning a family now?
(Rose giggles and blushes; Skriker smirks hugely.)
SKRIKER: Not yet. One thing at a time...and that means honeymoon. I'm gonna jet this gorgeous gal off to Italy for a month or so, have some real down time. No hunting, no bullshit. Just me, Rosie, lots of champagne, and hotel sheets.
DANI: Oh, we can't wait. Congrats again to you both. Until the next story?
ROSE: Yes, until then. We have a plane to catch. Hitting the Amalfi Coast first...then, Rome.
SKRIKER: Hopefully no gremlins on said plane. With our luck, there will be gremlins.
ROSE (laughing): Shut up, Skrike, you fool. Don't jinx us.
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The ice holds many secrets.
Dolph knew this well, remembered it well as he stood in his doorway, watching the snow tumble, glittering, from the winter-black sky outside his house. Six months of almost no sun—darkness ruled the far Northern lands this time of year, enveloping both icy countryside and glittering cityscape, and dark things dwelled in winter’s frigid grip. Snowflakes tumbled and whirled downward in a silent death’s dance, catching in Dolph’s hair as he watched the shiny jet black snowmobile come up the candle spruce and birch-lined road.
Snow sputtered and flew, glittering, as the machine glided smoothly up to the simple red-stained log house that Dolph had built a year and a half ago when he had chosen to move from the bustle of Stockholm to the remote tundra and woodland of Jokkmokk, near the Arctic Circle in the far north of his country. Two riders, clothed in black snowsuits and glossy black helmets, sat astride the snowmobile’s saddle. The driver stood up and dismounted, lifting his helmet off. An incredibly pale young man, his white-blond hair stabbing at the eternal night sky in high chunky spikes, his green eyes glinting impishly as he strode toward Dolph. The older man grinned hugely, the crinkles around his eyes deepening as he smiled.
“Äntligen hemma,” he said in Swedish, taking the younger man’s hand and shaking it roughly. “Home at last. Skriker…it’s been too long.”
Skriker laughed delightedly. “Hell, yes. It’s good to see you, too, you old wolf.”
Dolph looked beyond Skriker and at the other rider, who had dismounted and was walking slowly toward them. “You bring a friend with you?” he asked, smiling and winking.
Skriker grinned bigger than Dolph had ever seen, nodding. “Ja,” he said. “Någon mycket speciell. Someone very special.”
He winked roguishly, and Dolph grinned.
Dolph watched as the other rider removed her helmet; wild raven hair blew out into the wind, pristine snowflakes catching among the corkscrews and curls. A stunning face, made no less comely by the scars that marked each rosy cheek; strange eyes that evoked both fertile earth and windswept sea. The young woman nodded shyly and put out her gloved hand. Dolph, a big man despite his age, took it gently; as if afraid he would break her beautiful frame if he dared shake her hand too roughly. Only later would he learn how strong she truly was.
“Hello, Dolph,” she said softly. “My name is Rose.” She spoke in shy, hesitant Swedish, and it charmed the hell out of the older man. Dolph grinned hugely.
“You are both welcome,” he said in English. “It has been a long time since I saw my young friend here, in his mother’s homeland, especially during this time of year. I see that he has much to tell me. Come in, and bring your belongings.”
Rose followed him into the house as Skriker pulled their packs from the back of the snowmobile, stamping the snow from her boots and removing them. A crackling fire blazed in the big stone hearth, keeping the frigid cold at bay. The furnishings were streamlined and minimalist, much in the Scandinavian tradition: rugs of thick ivory sheepskin lined the polished wooden floors, and the house had been decorated merrily for the encroaching holiday. The walls were hung with brilliantly colored red, blue, green, and yellow weavings of the Sámi, the ancient native reindeer herders whom Dolph had chosen to spend his twilight years amongst, as well as the white, silvery grey, and grey-brown skins of reindeer harvested by his indigenous neighbors. The Christmas tree standing smartly in a windowed corner of the room filled the space with the spicy scent of pine. It was decorated merrily with what Scandinavian custom called for: brightly colored paper crafts, ribbons, straw Julbockgoats and ornaments, candles, and white lights that twinkled like stars among the branches. Many of the frost-tinted windows were decorated with candles and white hyacinths, and an electric star lantern hung in the window nearest the front door. Dolph directed her to a guest bedroom that had been prepared just for them; here she removed her snowsuit and aired out the dark blue knit sweater and black trousers she wore beneath it. Skriker came tramping in just as she emerged from the room, stamping the snow from his boots. He dumped their two packs by the door and removed his boots, sticking them neatly next to Rose’s before peeling his snowsuit off right there in the doorway. He shook his head like a dog, playfully, the snowflakes tumbling from his pale hair to melt upon the floor. Dolph laughed as he came striding in from his kitchen, carrying a bottle of vodka and three glasses.
“They still call you the Black Dog over there?” he asked as he sat down on the smart, contemporary sofa in front of the hearth, placing the liquor on the small coffee table. Rose moseyed over and sat down on a white padded chair just opposite the sofa, accepting her glass of vodka with a nod. Skriker shrugged as he strolled to the sofa and seated himself next to Dolph. The two men raised their glasses. “Skål,” the chimed together before sipping the clear liquor.
“Yep, and no better name for me,” Skriker said. “Still fighting, still hunting. Just like I always did.”
Dolph grinned and looked to Rose, his glacier-blue eyes thoughtful. “No, not the same,” he said. “That is obvious.”
Rose blushed, smiling shyly as she sipped her drink.
“My girlfriend,” Skriker said. “We met on a hunt, and that was it—lightning struck. Rosie’s the best hunter I’ve ever met. She can beat even me any day. I’m glad I finally got to bring her along on a hunt in the old Motherland.”
Dolph nodded to Rose. “Indeed. So, you hunt the Darkness?”
Rose shrugged. “I’m known to now and then.”
Skriker snorted. “Modest, my dear.”
Dolph chuckled and poured himself more vodka. “Good. I will need all the help I can get with the problems I have had here. I cannot thank you enough for coming…I know the journey was long. It has been unseasonably cold this year; the snow came early, even for a place this far north. I wanted to bring the best. Skriker, your man, is the best that I know. When I hunted, long ago, I had never seen a man to match him. You honor me, coming here.”
Dolph rose stiffly—he was, after all, almost sixty five, and the winter was colder and crueler every year on his aging bones—and strode up to the fire. The blazing hearth cast flickering orange light over him, turning his lined face to a ghoulish mask as he stared into the twisting flames. His long white hair shimmered like snow on his shoulders.
“I bought this land and built this house so that I could retire in peace and quiet,” he said softly. “Hunting in Stockholm was becoming weary work—I am merely human, after all, and my years grow shorter with each season’s turn. Chasing vampyres, dark faeries, elves, and trolls in and around the city was becoming too much; urban life was too much. I thought to be here would mean solitude and relaxation, a return to my youth—”
“Lagom,” Skriker said softly. Dolph chuckled, and his smile broke up some of the flickering orange-and-black mask that his face had become.
“Ja, lagom,” he said quietly. “Just enough. Nothing extreme…I have had enough of extremes to last me a hundred lifetimes. I came here, to Jokkmokk, to enjoy solitude and simplicity. Reading, drinking coffee, enjoying the hearth. Walking among the Sámi and their reindeer,leaning[EF1] from them. No hunts, no dark things coming from the long winter nights.”
“You know better than that, Dolph,” Rose said quietly, her half-drunk vodka glass warming between her long hands. “You were a hunter. You saw too much to ever believe that there is peace in any long night, even when you seek to forget what’s out there.”
Dolph shook his head doggedly and downed the rest of his drink. He came back to the sofa and sat down beside Skriker, filling the younger man’s glass again, and then his own.
“It is my humble belief, lovely Rose, that there is still a peaceful night to be had. I remember many from my childhood, and some from my adulthood, before the night that I lost my wife.”
Rose leaned forward, her dark brows furrowing, her expression pained. “My God, Dolph…how terrible! How—”
Dolph raised a hand to silence her, not unkindly. “A story for another journey, when you return someday. What I have here now, haunting this land surrounding my new house…that is what we should discuss. Past is past.”
Rose averted her eyes and sipped her vodka.
“So what’s the story, Dolph?” Skriker asked. “You told me on the phone that it was in the house itself…you think you have a ghost on your hands?”
Dolph nodded. “Ja. Something that rattles at the latch and the windows, howls on the wind all around the house. At first, it was only the howling, doleful and chilling. The people who tend the herd near here have spoken of it to me as well. Soon, I began to see strange…how do you say...mist. Vapor. It crept in one night, floating across my floor…I saw it only that one night, not since, but it frightened me greatly. It broughtice into this house. Cold, deep and biting, unlike any I have ever known…I have tried to warm the house despite it, make it more cheerful. I even put up my tree quite early this year, if only to raise my own spirits.”
He turned his pale icy eyes to Skriker, and his aged mouth was a thin trembling line.
“People have died, out on the tundra,” he said quietly. “Only a month ago...they found one of the herders, dead among the reindeer. His body had been torn to shreds, as if by a huge and powerful beast. Blood frozen into the very earth. I feel in my bones that these acts of terrible violence against my neighbors are the result of what is haunting this property and the land surrounding it.”
Skriker was staring into the fire, his thick pale brows deeply furrowed; the look on his face was disturbingly pensive as he listened to the old Swede’s words. Rose leaned forward, setting her glass on the table as she stared at her companion, her face suffused with concern.
“Skrike, honey, what is it?”
Skriker shook his head slowly, his mouth a knife slash as he stared into the fire. Dolph set his hand on the younger man’s shoulder.
“Nothing…yet. Let me mull over this tonight and I’ll have some idea of what we’re looking at.”
Dolph lifted his glass one last time and tipped the remaining vodka down his throat. He harrumphed hoarsely, as old men do, and dug into a pocket of his sweater, pulling out a pack of cigarettes. He offered it around; Skriker accepted, Rose did not. She gazed at Skriker for a long tense moment before rising to her feet and nodding to their host.
“I’m going to turn in. Thank you for your hospitality, Dolph. I look forward to speaking with you more in the morning.”
Dolph nodded as he lit his cigarette. “I only wish I could offer you more, Rose. Have a pleasant night.”
Skriker was still staring into the fire when Rose vanished into the guest room at the back of the house, his jade eyes narrow. He plugged the cigarette Dolph had offered into the corner of his mouth and lit up demon style, inhaling the acerbic smoke with deep pleasure. Dolph glanced at him, pinching his own fag between his long, lined fingers and gesturing toward where Rose had been sitting only a few moments before.
“She isn’t human, is she?” he asked quietly. Skriker shrugged.
“She’s half human.”
“And what? Half demon, like you?”
“Oh, no. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
Dolph grinned, his pale, intense eyes twinkling, the deep lines around them crinkling in amusement.
“How many hunts did we go on when you were in Stockholm? And you still think that I would not believe your words, my fine young friend.”
Skriker laughed softly. “Fine. What would you think if I told you that you had a Nephil under your roof tonight?”
Dolph snorted. “I’d say you were crazy, Halfling. They don’t exist, and if they did, God did away with them millennia ago.”
Skriker glanced at the older man, his jade eyes glittering in the firelight. “You do have a Nephil under your roof.”
He jerked his head in the direction of the guest room. “Her.”
Dolph slowly looked back into the fire, slipping his cigarette between his lips; his hand trembled slightly as he did. He smoked silently for a few moments, his watery blue eyes unblinking. Finally he said, “Does she frighten you?”
Skriker shrugged. “Sometimes. What scares me more is the thought of losing her... she’s everything to me. You should have seen her that first night I ran with her, Dolph…the female equivalent of the most beautiful, finely-honed blade you could imagine. The first time I laid eyes on her, it was like fireworks went off, and it wasn’t just my willy talking.”
Dolph chuckled. “That would be a change.”
Skriker grinned, shooting a playful wink. “Tell me about it, old wolf.”
“She’s done you good, then?”
Skriker nodded. “She’s made me a better man…she’s made me care more. Made me a hell of a lot less selfish. I have a lot to thank her for.”
“Does she have any abilities?”
Skriker’s eyes took on a distant look. Outside, the wind mumbled about the walls and rattled at the latch. A knot of wood on the fire popped like a small gunshot, sending sparks swirling wildly up the chimney, so many bright embers eager to die out in the bitter night.
“Oh, yes. Her father gave her gifts like I’ve never seen…I have demon fire in me, but her fire is the Heavenly type…this white blazing glory that the paintings hanging in the Vatican can’t come close to touching. She can talk to animals, seek out spirits…she can exorcise with a touch. She can speak telepathically…she’ll probably be able to spot what you have here more easily than me. That’s part of what makes her such a great hunter—these abilities. A shifter stole her away once while we were on a hunt in New Mexico, and he only kept her as long as he did because he could put her under a sleeping spell. She would have killed him if he hadn’t. She’s amazing, Dolph. She’s gonna be the one that can uncover what’s been bugging you here, using those very gifts.”
Dolph poured himself another half glass of vodka and took a long swig, his throat clicking as he swallowed.
“I am sixty five years old, and I discover new things every day,” he muttered. “I never imagined I would ever see anything born of Heaven, from the highest branches of the great ash…this earth is ruled primarily by the darker spheres, that which is contained at its roots. Meeting Rose gives me hope. To meet an angel, especially during such a sacred time…I welcome this as a gift.”
He downed the rest of his vodka and set the empty glass down on the coffee table before rising stiffly to his feet.
“I will bid you a good night, Skriker, and pray that the darkness remains outside long enough for you to rest at least one night after your long journey. Of course, as you will recall, the night is almost eternal here this time of year.”
Skriker grinned and flicked a salute and shook the old man’s hand. “I remember very well indeed. Sleep well, old wolf.”
He sat up for a while after Dolph had retreated to his room, smoking another cigarette as he watched the fire dance and flicker in the stone hearth, his sharp ears tuned to every gust of wind that sighed its way around the eaves of the house. When he was heading back to the guest room to join Rose, he paused for the barest moment, certain that he heard a doleful, wailing cry echo across the frozen snowbound wastes outside his old friend’s door.
A cry that was there and then gone, torn away on the freezing wind like a slip of paper.
Rose was lying awake when he came into the guest bedroom. She had bathed while he and Dolph sat up talking, and now was nestled in the big platform bed, snuggled deep beneath the quilts and thick blankets, gazing at him with those strange, lovely eyes. He glanced at the bedside table, took quick note of the wicked-looking iron knife placed there.
Already taking precautions, eh, Rosie? That’s my girl…
“What happened, Skrike?”
Skriker peeled off his sweater and then the t-shirt he had been wearing beneath that and crouched shirtless before the small bedroom hearth, stoking a fire that danced and crackled merrily, throwing its bright orange glow across the thick rustic
“What happened with what?” he asked.
Skriker was silent for a moment, chewing his lip as he placed another chunk of wood onto the fire. Sap sizzled and sparks danced their swirling way up the chimney and out into the frosty night.
“Remember New Mexico? How that shifter stole you away?”
“Of course. How could I forget?”
Skriker nodded brusquely. “Yeah. She was…well, a special girl. I’m sure he’ll tell you about it sometime. From what he’s told me, the Scandinavian equivalent of the Fey took her. They have ruled the forests and wastes in this country since time immemorial, and if you piss them off, you pay. You know how faeries and elf folk are. Not too far removed from the demonic kind…tricksters and all. He pissed them off, they took her…and he never got her back.”
“That’s terrible…just terrible…Jesus…”
He tossed a last block of wood onto the fire and stood up, turning to her. She sat there gazing at him, her face forlorn at his words. His mouth twisted, his green eyes taking on a wistful look.
“Look,” he said softly, “I know that all you wanted a little downtime with me this Christmas. No hunts, no blood, no bullshit. And me bringing you all the way up here was one hell of a journey. But I’m so glad you’re here with me, baby. This place—”
He raised his arms, as if gesturing toward the frozen tundra and forests that surrounded the house, his tight tattooed skin shimmering faintly in the firelight.
“—this land…holds more magic for me than I could ever explain. This is where my human side was born. And having you set foot on Swedish soil with me…I think my mom would have been thrilled, Rosie.”
Rose just gazed at him silently, her strange eyes gleaming in the soft yellow firelight, and the melancholy in her face made his heart ache. He offered an impish grin and reached down, unbuttoning his trousers.
“Hey,” he said. “You know how to keep warm on a cold Swedish night, right, Rosie?"
About the author......
Danielle D. Smith was born in 1980 in San Diego, California, USA. In addition to being a writer of urban fantasy stories she is an accomplished fine artist and illustrator whose visual work has appeared in various public, private, and gallery exhibitions and in national publications. Dani, as she is known by many who are close to her, lives with her husband, their son and an ever-growing collection of books, documentaries, independent and foreign films. Her novels appeal to dreamers, troublemakers, dark romantics, and general escapists.
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