This is Your Brain on Ultrasonic Frequencies


Hallo, you beautiful bastards. It’s been a while since I’ve done a post that needed some research, but—just for you—I dusted off Dave’s research boots and put him to work. Today, I’d like to discuss ultrasound! You’ve no doubt heard of ultrasound as it applies to medical imaging—peeping the unborn babes, assessing muscle trauma, generally viewing those soft, delicate inner tissues. Huh … That came off a little weird.

Anyway, I’m not talking about ultrasound as an imaging tool. I’m talking about ultrasound as a treatment. For instance …


Ultrasonic Frequencies Stimulate Intact Brain Cells

In a 2010 study, scientists investigated “the influence of transcranial pulsed ultrasound on neuronal activity in the intact mouse brain [and in deeper subcortical circuits] used targeted transcranial ultrasound to stimulate neuronal activity and synchronous oscillations in the intact hippocampus.” Oh, kids, isn’t science fun?

This study aims at finding a non-invasive brain stimulation method that does not suffer from the limitations of current methods, which include low spatial resolution, low spatial precision, and genetic manipulation.



Not that there’s anything wrong with genetic manipulation.


Using transcranial pulsed ultrasound on the motor cortex and hippocampus could have several medical applications, specifically regarding Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Speaking of …


Practical Applications

In 2016, the FDA approved a similar treatment—called focused ultrasound thalamotomy—to treat people suffering from essential tremor (ET). According to the Focused Ultrasound Foundation, focused ultrasound offers the following benefits:

  • It is a non-invasive, single treatment that enables patients to recover rapidly and quickly return to activities of normal life (usually the next day).
  • Compared to radiofrequency ablation or deep brain stimulation (DBS), focused ultrasound offers a reduced risk of infection, of damage to the non-targeted area, and of blood clot formation.
  • Focused ultrasound offers rapid resolution of symptoms.
  • In contrast to lesioning performed with stereotactic radiosurgery, focused ultrasound does not use ionizing radiation, thus avoiding the side effects of exposure to radiation.
  • Because it is non-invasive, focused ultrasound could be an option for medically refractory ET patients (those who do not respond well to medication) who do not want to undergo surgery.


So, focused ultrasound thalamotomy uses MRI to aim ultrasonic waves at the thalamus. According to W. Jamie Tyler (who took part in the 2010 study), “We can focus the ultrasound through the skull to a part of the thalamus about the size of a grain of rice.” Ahem: precision. From there, the ultrasound kills ET-causing neurons in the thalamus, according to Esther Landhuis’s article Ultrasound for the Brain.

Landhuis goes on to explain that scientists are branching out to focus on treating psychiatric disorders with an emerging technology called focused ultrasound neuromodulation. This technology can boost or suppress small groups of neurons to “potentially treat other movement disorders, as well as depression, anxiety and a host of intractable neuropsychiatric disorders.”



Note: Not a brain.


Minimally Invasive is Still Invasive

When discussing surgery in general, the phrase “minimally invasive” is a good thing. Well, you know … It’s not a terrible thing. However, when it’s your brain you’re talking about, minimally invasive is still pretty fucking invasive. DBS, for example, is a minimally invasive form of neuromodulation. While DBS has been around longer, focused ultrasound offers a more precise, non-invasive means of treatment.

The brain is pretty special organ and it’s, you know, important to your being able to function.

4-Star Review for Rise and Run

Reviewed by Lit Amri for Readers’ Favorite

Rise and Run (A Broken Man Novel, Book One) by RJ Plant is set in 2042, where protagonist Felix Quinn is working for illegal trades mogul Rian Connell, who’s also his adoptive father. When Connell receives a tip that his niece, Kaitlyn Henderson, could be in danger, he sends Felix to track her down. In disguise, Felix infiltrates Government Directive International (GDI). Unfortunately for him, GDI used Kaitlyn as bait. A GDI agent brings Conor Quinn, the byproduct of Felix’s chimerism, to the surface by injecting him with a virus. Now it’s up to Conor to decide his fate and Felix’s.

The story started with an intriguing chapter one, bringing the chimerism concept to light right away. Perhaps genetic chimera is not a subject well known to some readers, but it’s definitely not science fiction and not something new. RJ Plant used this concept exceptionally well to develop the story. The world-building is interesting as readers are given a glimpse into a world after the War of 2026, the outcome of the war on terror. It’s not nearly as dire as most post-war worlds that I’ve read, but it’s still undesirable and the fact that it’s a realistic outcome made it more alarming.

The characters are credible and have enough depth. In essence, Conor is not a bad man, but not perfect either. His circumstances contribute to his flaws. I don’t want to give away any critical plot developments, so suffice to say that it’s a tale of resistance, where a living product of genetic engineering strives to survive and live freely as any living being desires. The prose is an easy read and to the point. This makes the story flow well. Overall, Rise and Run is an impressive thriller. I look forward to the continuation of the story.

Cofax: Deservedly Lauded

If you Google “Best Breakfast Burritos in Los Angeles,” or if you make the same search in Yelp, Cofax is one of the first places that pops up. Cofax’s Breakfast Burritos have been featured by Thrillist, LA Eater, LAist, and numerous online city guides. But what is perhaps most remarkable is that not every article or list featuring Cofax’s Breakfast Burritos refers to the same burrito.


That’s because Cofax sells not one, but two of the most lauded Breakfast Burritos in LA (and they sell two more variations as well). There is the Chorizo Breakfast Burrito with the oft-mentioned smoked potatoes and the Pastrami Breakfast Burrito which has deli mustard, a surprising and effective choice.



Although their signage is bright blue, Cofax blends into the line of high-end skater shops, diners, coffee houses, and thrift stores densely packed into the Fairfax area. So, you’ll probably need to do a bit of scouring to spot it on the East side of Fairfax between Oakwood and Rosewood. Parking is hit or miss, but there is some non-zoned residential parking you could use as a last resort. The inside is minimal to the point that there are only a few places to sit and eat, which can be a problem because Cofax is justifiably popular. Not only do they have well-reviewed Breakfast Burritos, they have a fresh assortment of pastries and an impressive selection of rotating coffee roasters. In addition to their tasty offerings, every member of the staff that I have encountered has been really welcoming and knowledgeable about what they sell.

What’s in it?

As I mentioned earlier, there are two (sort of four) Breakfast Burritos at Cofax. Neither is too straightforward, but the less surprising one is the Chorizo BB. It mostly contains what you would expect in a BB: a grilled flour tortilla with chorizo, scrambled eggs, jack cheese, potato, and pico. But there are a few exciting twists: the potato is actually a smoked potato hash with grilled onions and bell peppers; and, as a little bonus, corn tortilla pieces are crumbled into the burrito, giving each bite a slight but satisfying crunch.

Then, there is the Pastrami BB, in which you will find pastrami (of course), tater tots, pickled jalapeños, a fried egg, and yellow deli mustard. This one is a major point of reference whenever I think or talk about clever BB, because the pastrami and mustard are downright startling to see included in a breakfast burrito, but the pickled jalapeños provide just enough tang and heat to tie the disparate elements back together.

The other two BBs which are sadly mentioned so infrequently are the Veggie and the Bacon BBs. The Veggie contains pretty much the same ingredients as the Chorizo, sans chorizo. If you don’t eat meat, it’s a great way to still enjoy the most exciting parts of that burrito, like the smoked potato hash. The Bacon has more in common with the Pastrami, but with different meat, no mustard, and a scrambled egg (though I’m sure they would fry the egg if you asked).

But wait … There’s more.

A serious dilemma arises when you look in the bottom of the bag and see two plastic ramekins of salsa. The red salsa has the slightest amount of heat and the roastiness pairs well with the smoked hash on the Chorizo. But the milder green salsa complements any of the BBs with a contrasting tang. The dilemma is not only which salsa to use for each bite, but whether to use the salsa at all. Both salsas are tasty, but the burritos are already so complete on their own. It’s a tough decision to make, but I trust that you can handle it.

Classic or Clever?

When it comes to how classic or clever Cofax’s burritos are, it depends on which one you’re talking about. Again, the Chorizo and, therefore, Veggie contain much of what you would expect in a Breakfast Burrito, but the smoked hash and the corn tortilla crumbles make these ones still pretty darn special. So, from classic to clever, they’re around a 7.

The Pastrami BB is a bit more adventurous. The mustard, pickled jalapeños, and the fact that it works so delicately make Cofax’s Pastrami Breakfast Burrito one of the cleverest BBs I’ve ever had. The fried egg doesn’t hurt either. From classic to clever: 8.5.

But, as always, a disclaimer:

These numbers are not reflective of how much I enjoy these burritos. I [bleep]ing love them. They’re both 10s.

How much?

$7-8, depending on the burrito you choose, which is a really good deal because, not only are these burritos smartly assembled, they’re pretty big too. And, no matter which you go with, I’m pretty certain you’ll be happy.

When …?

You can get these burritos any time Cofax is open. And they have donuts and cookies as well. And good coffee. They frequently post pictures of all of these things @cofaxcoffee on Instagram.

Cofax has seriously become one of my favorite places to enjoy Breakfast Burritos and absolutely deserves to be as ubiquitous on Best LA Breakfast Burrito lists as it is (if not more so).




Brett Blaylock is an LA-based actor,
writer, and breakfast burrito enthusiast.
Find out more about Brett and his fantastic
breakfast burrito blog.

California Lunch Room

The old, green Pontiac bounced down the two-lane highway off the main road near the outskirts of North Fork, California. A tear rolled down Mabel’s cheek as she drove up the gravel road to the empty, crumbling building that once brought her abundant happiness. As she parked near the front door, the weathered building seemed smaller than in earlier days. Taking a deep breath and opening the car door, Mabel stepped out and stared at the chipping white paint and old signs. A faint smell of cat urine made her wrinkle her nose.

The morning’s events were still fresh in Mabel’s mind. The somber funeral home, the whimpers of hushed tears, the soft organ music…he was really gone.

Mabel had met Jack, her husband of 52 years, at this very place. He was a dusty stranger in need of a cold drink. As he stumbled through the screen door and took an open spot at the tiny counter, Mabel brought him the tallest glass of ice water. Jack smiled. That’s all it took—a smile and a glass of water had brought two people together. Mabel kept his glass full of water that day, and every day thereafter, until Jack’s illness took him home.

With the key in her hand, Mabel opened the screen door and unlocked the wooden door. Looking around, she remembered the store front sold the basics, such as tobacco, candy, soda, and a small assortment of gloves and caps. A small hallway led to the back of the store to the dining area and kitchen. The humble surroundings came to life when dinner and supper were served. The locals and the occasional passerby were treated to the best home-cooked meals and the latest news. The walls buzzed with laughter and the aroma of pot roast drifted through the open window screens.

Jack and Mabel made North Fork their home, and with the purchase of the California Lunch Room, they started a life together. Thirteen years separated them in age, but they were a matched pair in spirit. The day the diagnosis of cancer came for Jack, the California Lunch Room closed its doors. Jack needed daily support.

No one saw Mabel slip out the back of the funeral home. She needed some space away from the grieving. The store seemed the perfect place to reflect on her past, present, and future. Sitting at the counter, Mabel heard a soft meow. Turning to the screen door, she saw a gray kitten saunter in and sit at the sunlight’s edge on the worn floor.

In that moment, Mabel bowed her head and placed her hand on the weathered railing.

“I hear you, Lord.”

Mabel opened her eyes as the kitten brushed against her leg.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do to reopen, Jack.”

The kitten purred in agreement.





Donna Campbell is a Northern spirit in a Southern zone, capturing short story fiction. Nicknamed “raptor” by her best friend many years ago, she’s better known in her role of tracking life from every angle. You can follow her on Instagram @imraptorbhm.

“Slapfish” or: Why Social Media Matters

As of this writing, my only active social media account is my Instagram. I used to have a facebook, but found it overwhelming for the typical reasons: it was time consuming and the primary function seemed to be to provide a soap box for emotional people to rant about their ill-informed political views. So, I deactivated it. Sometimes, I think of unplugging from social media altogether, but then something beautiful happens: either I receive a direct message from a friend about a breakfast burrito or I will stumble upon one in my feed. And I will be reminded of the essentiality of social media in finding new breakfast burritos.

A dear friend of mine, knowing my perfectly healthy obsession with breakfast burritos, showed me an image posted by @lafoodjunkie of a tortilla filled with lobster, eggs, and a red, creamy sauce. I knew I had to consume it. Shortly thereafter, we drove 40 miles (a little over an hour) from Los Angeles down to Slapfish in Huntington Beach to try a burrito that could become the cleverest breakfast burrito I had yet enjoyed.



Just off Beach Boulevard in the middle of Newland Shopping Center, you will find a busy, family-friendly seafood restaurant called Slapfish, one of seven locations spread throughout the Los Angeles suburbs (there’s also an eighth location just outside of Salt Lake City, Utah). You probably wouldn’t miss the sizeable red logo, but, if you did, you would probably notice a crowd.

The inside is nautical and kitschy, like a Long John Silver’s (or, for my friends from the eastern half of the country, Captain D’s), but homier. When I went, there wasn’t quite enough seating for everyone, but the turnover was pretty quick, which is to be expected from a fast, casual place such as this.


What’s in it?

Before I say what’s in it, just know that this is a hefty, rich breakfast burrito. Unless you are absolutely STORVING (yes, “storving” with an “o-r”), I encourage you to split it with a friend (or enemy and maybe turn them into a friend) and get something small to go with it. This burrito contains a substantial amount of buttery lobster, scrambled eggs, cheese, bacon, spinach, French fries, avocado, tomato, red onions, chives, and Slapfish’s “Awesome Sauce” (Chipotle aioli) in a large, grilled tortilla, garnished with cilantro; basically, there’s everything you would expect from a Breakfast Burrito and then some.

I so heavily encourage splitting this burrito because I was greedy and did not. I enjoyed every buttery bite and needed a nap immediately after. But I couldn’t because I was 40 miles from home. Maybe go with a friend, split the BB and get a lobster roll or “Clobster Grilled Cheese” to split as well.


Classic or Clever?

This burrito is quite the surprise. And it is rich. I know I said that already, but I mean it. Imagine a buttery lobster roll shoved into a more traditional breakfast burrito and you’ll get the basic idea. This is the height of Breakfast Burrito indulgence that I have experienced thus far in my life. And it is about as clever a Breakfast Burrito as I have yet consumed; so, measuring cleverness, it’s an 8.5/10.

But, again, strictly speaking deliciousness, it’s a 14/10 at least.


How much?

At $15, Slapfish’s Lobster Breakfast Burrito is steeper than a lot of other Breakfast Burritos, but remember two things: it could very well feed two people; and it’s loaded with delicious, buttery lobster. Once you consider that, it’s a great deal.

However, you should know that you won’t find this Breakfast Burrito on any of the menus at Slapfish. Although not quite a secret any more, this is off-menu. If you’re like me, that might make you feel special, like you’re in the know with some delicious gossip.



Slapfish sells their Lobster Breakfast Burrito whenever they’re open. Don’t forget that it’s off-menu. So, don’t be discouraged when it’s not listed on the board above the register. Order with confidence.

As far as I am aware, they do not sell coffee, but they do have craft sodas. If it’s coffee you’re after, stop by the Coffee Tale, which is only a couple miles away in an adorable Old-Town Village.

See? Social media is important. If it weren’t for Instagram, I might never have found out about Slapfish’s (kinda secret) Lobster Breakfast Burrito. Now that I’ve had it, I look upon that alternate reality and am relieved that I live in what Leibniz called the Best of All Possible Worlds. To find out more about Slapfish, follow @slapfish (of course). To see even more evil deliciousness, follow @lafoodjunkie. To stay in the know about the best Breakfast Burritos in LA, follow me… @brettie_b.




Brett Blaylock is an LA-based actor,
writer, and breakfast burrito enthusiast.
Find out more about Brett and his fantastic
breakfast burrito blog.


Words of Wisdom … Maybe

We all remember little sayings our parents used to impart to us when we were children, right? Gems such as: “If you eat too much candy, your toes will fall off,” and “If you walk around outside barefoot, you’ll get worms.”

Probably not those specifically …

It’s an interesting thing to think about, though, those little teaching moments. They’re simplified for kids. For example, sugar is not directly linked to diabetes; however, if you overindulge in sweets (or any food, really) you might gain weight which does increase your risk of diabetes and that can increase the risk of artery disease and/or nerve damage and blah blah blah amputation. Ever tried explaining that to a kid? I haven’t, but I have been a kid, and I wouldn’t have cared. I mean … I cared that I thought my toes might fall off, but you better believe I never fucking gave up that sweet, sweet sugary goodness.

The point is, sayings like that stick with you. Specifically, they instill in you the fact there are repercussions to your actions, behaviors, or decisions. If you do x, then y will happen. But there’s more to it than that. What if we go from action/consequence to action/consequence/qualifier.

Take, for example, this little saying: “You can pick your friends and you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your friend’s nose.” Now add qualifiers: “You can pick your friends and you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your friend’s nose unless it isn’t hurting anyone AND you have your friend’s consent.

Two qualifiers there, both essentially changing “can’t” to “shouldn’t.” Those qualifiers are also asking the recipient of this saying (henceforth referred to as Dave; he doesn’t mind) to consider others before acting. So, now Dave has to ask himself, “How will this affect the people around me and how will it affect my friend?” That’s macro and micro level empathy, you guys. That’s something that can be cultivated. With the exception of individuals with certain mental disorders (primarily, but not limited to, sociopathy, narcissism, any form of psychopathy really) people are born with the ability to empathize.

Build. On. That.

You can do anything. I mean … you can do anything physically possible for a human. Can you eat an excess of candy? Yes. Can you steal? Of course. Can you walk outside with no shoes? Absolutely! Can you murder? Why not? You can do so much!

But just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Act with the knowledge that what you do creates ripples that reach beyond you. Or, more simply put, just try not to be a dick.




Review of Countryside: The Book of the Wise, by J.T. Cope IV

Hello there, guys and dolls. I’m going to do something a little different today. I’m going to talk to you about Countryside: The Book of the Wise, by J.T. Cope IV.

Countryside is a book written for ages 9-12, according to Amazon. Personally, I’d stretch that range to about 14. Also, do not judge me because I know all of you heifers read Harry Potter into your old age-ness.

Countryside is about an 11-year-old boy named Luke Rayburn. Strange things start happening to Luke about the time his father is requisitioned to go overseas. This is the catalyst for Luke, his mother, and his four siblings to go live with Luke’s grandparents in Countryside. Countryside (the place in the book, not the book itself) is equal parts Narnia and Hogwarts. The atmosphere and aesthetics of Countryside are reminiscent of that of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series (a little cowboy/western, a little medieval high fantasy).

Before I get any further, I want to say that if you (or an age appropriate person you know) picks this book up, skip the prologue. Not only is the prologue confusing, but the information it contains is in the body of the book and explained with much more clarity. Now, the first ¼ or so of the story is a bit slow. In my opinion, too much time is spent building up to the journey to Countryside (and even the catalyst that drives the family there). There is a good deal of unnecessary info to wade through and it could stand to be cut down so that the focus is primarily on Luke’s relationship with his father.

Now, once we get to Countryside? Whole different story. When Luke arrives in Countryside, the pacing is faster and there is this hint of mystery that’s fun to unravel as you go. It’s easy to get more invested in the characters of Countryside, as well as Luke’s relationship with them. Readers can more clearly feel the bonds he’s making and relate to his struggles (being an outsider, being bullied). The story hits all the major tropes of a fantasy for youngsters.

The description of Countryside is written in such a way that it feels like you’re there, walking down Main Street or Hanover with Luke and his friends. While the dialogue can, at times, get a bit expositional, it’s believable for the most part. The further along you get in the story, the more engaging it is overall.

I would have no problem recommending this to one of my nieces.


Let’s face it. You might not trust me, se head over to Goodreads to learn more about Luke’s adventures in Countryside.

Of course, if you do trust me (shut up, Dave, I heard that!) then check Countryside: The Book of the Wise on Amazon.




Rise and Run Giveaway

Hello, sweetpeas!

Starting tomorrow (2/23/2018) you can enter for a chance to win a free, signed copy of Rise and Run. The giveaway will run through March 2, so there’s a limited amount of time—and a limited amount of product.

Just click this here link to head over to Goodreads to enter the Giveaway. While you’re there, go ahead and give me a follow!



                       Do it or the chicken gets it!



Cover Reveal: Part III

For whatever reason, I keep wanting to start this post with, “What up, bitches?” But I will not.

So, you’re here! And I’m here! And Dave is … Well, I don’t know where Dave is, but since you made it here today for the extras, I won’t let you down! Today I have for you a chapter that, although I thoroughly enjoy, was omitted from Rise and Run for pacing reasons. It was originally the second chapter in the book, so you might have questions to which I’ll simply say, “Hey, just go buy the book tomorrow and all your questions will be answered.”

Oh, and, this wouldn’t be a proper part III to the cover reveal without the whole … missing piece of the cover. So, you’ll find that below. For now, read and enjoy!



Chapter 2

November 4, 2012, Bar Harbor, Maine

Rian Connell had called in every favor owed to him to get Effie released after she was apprehended on the suspicion of murdering a government agent. And when Mýrún couldn’t be found, Anthony Kenna’s murder was pinned on Effie as well. Not a stretch, considering that both men had died the same way.

The DoD’s reluctance to admit that the stolen boy existed—not even a word was breathed as to his purpose—worked in Rian’s favor. Effie’s case never went to trial, so thoroughly did all parties work to bury the classified project. The only reason Effie wasn’t buried herself was Rian’s high profile and the extensive media coverage it entailed him. Effie was released after three months with full-throated apologies, and no small amount of whispered threats.

But no one went against Rian. No one dared. If there was a problem that his imports and exports business couldn’t pay for, it was dealt with by the less legal aspects of his empire—and the extent of classified information he shouldn’t have was extra leverage.

Rian stood outside the Women’s Center of the Maine Correctional Center, his sandy hair slicked back. His gray and white pinstripe suit jacket was open to show off a matching waistcoat and a deep red tie. He held his arms open just in time to catch Effie as she sailed into him, knocking his glasses askew as she settled into as fierce a hug as she could manage with her pregnant belly between them.

“We have to find him,” Effie said. She looked up at him, searching his eyes for a sign of acquiescence.

Rian’s eyes went heavenward as he searched for the proper response. “I’ve looked for him, Effie. The boy is nowhere to be found,” Rian said, his Irish accent softened by his years in the States. “And Mýrún … she’s vanished just as soundly.”

“She couldn’t stay,” Effie said for what must have been the hundredth time over the past three months.

Rian waved off the chauffeur and opened the limo door for Effie himself. She scooted across the bench seat and Rian took his place beside her before instructing the driver to take them home. He closed the partition.

“I’ve widened the surveillance range. My sources have all confirmed that the DoD hasn’t located the boy yet. At least that’s something.”

“You don’t think …” she whispered, unable to finish the thought.

“No,” he lied. “I don’t think he’s dead.”

“Take me there,” Effie said. “Take me to the pickup location. I need to see.”

“And I need you to be home,” he said “Besides, taking the limo would draw unwanted attention.”

“Then why’d you take it?” she asked. Rian kissed her forehead in answer, then pulled her into him.

“If your mind is set on this we’ll go, but not now.”

She nodded. He was right, of course. He generally was. But knowing that didn’t stop the impatient tapping of her foot or the way she nervously picked at her fingernails. She had to find the boy; she had to.


December 11, 2012, Lewiston, Maine

It was nearing midnight when Rian arrived at the project building where James Moran’s witness reported seeing the boy. Moran, Bar Harbor’s police chief and Rian’s closest friend, drove up with a few of his men following behind. Unofficially. As Moran got out of his car and Rian walked over to meet him, three undercover Chargers pulled up around them.

Moran handed Rian an earpiece and neck loop mic. “Just in case you want to turn me off,” he said as he handed Rian a wireless remote control. The earpiece was small and comfortable, a nanotech prototype that Rian had paid a fortune to get into Moran’s possession. He pulled the mic over his head, then tucked it under his shirt before attaching the remote to his belt.

Rian looked around at the growing unofficial police presence that had spilled from the Chargers. They looked ready.

“Two on you, two on me,” Moran said. “One at the front entrance and one at the back.”

Rian nodded and returned his attention to the building. Its windows were boarded up and the front door hung loosely from its broken hinges. This was Russian territory. Encroaching on it could cause Rian problems down the road, but he’d promised Effie that he’d get the boy.

Rian always kept his promises.

“I’ll take the ground floor,” Moran said. Rian nodded, freeing his pistol from its holster, and followed Moran to the building’s entrance, all but two officers in tow.

Rian and Moran stopped, one on either side of the listing front door. The smell of urine escaped through the opening. Rian peered down the empty hallway, a cancerous throat with torn and molding carpet and wounded walls. He nodded to the two men lined up behind him, trusting them to cover him as he made his way to the stairwell.

He stayed low against the wall, palms cupping his pistol grip, the barrel facing the floor for now. His right index finger rested against the trigger guard. He took shallow breaths through his nose, not particularly wanting to smell the building, but wanting to taste it even less. One foot crossed over in front of the other and his back lightly scraped the wall. The stairwell was just around the corner to the right. Behind him, Moran shifted, ready to go in. Rian turned the corner, pistol up.


Rian took the stairs slowly, half out of choice and half necessity. The wooden stairs were in disrepair, not creaking as much as weeping when Rian or one of the officers put weight on certain slats. As he reached the landing, he took a moment to adjust his eyesight. It was darker up here, the smell louder.

“Move,” Rian whispered.

“Moving,” Moran answered, his voice coming crisply through the earpiece.

All the doors on either side of the hall had been removed, showing only dark sores along the blue-gray stretch of hallway. Rian and his party cleared the rooms one at a time. Inside the apartments, Rian saw signs of abandoned lives. Barbies and Hot Wheels, Legos, Play-Doh, gaming systems with game cases sprawling like an overturned Jenga tower. Mold spreading from desiccated food on dirty dishes in one kitchen. Overturned chairs, broken tables, empty spaces where television sets might have been, shattered lamps.

The whole second floor had been turned over.

The last apartment was fairly intact. Rian swept through, room to room. He swept his gun through the doorway to a bedroom. Lined up against the far wall were three bare mattresses with barely enough space to walk in between. Chains hung on the wall, about halfway between floor and ceiling, over all three mattresses. The next bedroom had the same setup.

“Ground floor is clear. Going to three,” Moran said.

Rian and his two officers reconvened in the hallway.

“All clear, sir,” the taller one said. The other shook his head. He’d found nothing.

“Two is clear,” Rian said into his mic as he walked back to the stairwell. “Going to four.”

The carpet on the fourth floor had been peeled back. Long, wide strips had been cut out in places. There were holes in the walls where the sheetrock had been broken, exposing the framework. It looked like someone had been pilfering copper wire.

The three men entered the first apartment, sweeping the rooms. “Sir,” the taller officer’s voice came simultaneously over the earpiece and through the wall. Rian walked over to the officer, now standing in a doorway. He stepped aside to let Rian look in.

Chains on the wall, naked mattresses, and five bodies.

“Human trafficking,” Rian muttered. “Looks like the Russians are tying up loose ends.”

The bodies were starting to turn, the smell sticking to the back of Rian’s throat. He patted the officer on the shoulder and turned to leave. As he stepped through the apartment’s front door, he picked up movement coming from the opposite end of the building and ducked back inside.

“Third floor is clear,” Moran said over the comm.

“We’ve got movement on four,” Rian said.

He chanced a peek from around the frame. He watched as three men and four women—some crying, their distress barely audible—were herded into the hallway. A fourth man followed behind them with a gun in hand.

The man looked out of place, plucked from a department store catalog in his cheap suit. The group was about twenty feet away, heading toward the opposite stairwell, when Rian heard a cry from the apartment they had vacated. It was a small sound. A loud thump followed on the heels of the cry.

Then silence.

Rian waited until the hall was deserted.

“Eight coming your way. One armed, the rest …” Rian searched for the right word. He hated using the word victim. He settled for, “Captives.”

Over the comm, Rian heard Moran directing his men to new locations.

“Keep clearing the floor,” Rian said over his shoulder. He crept down the hallway to the last apartment on the left, from where the cry had come.

A quick look inside revealed a man in dark clothes standing over a boy who couldn’t have been more than four or five. Rian couldn’t tell if this was the right boy; the age seemed off. He took a breath, then moved to fill the apartment’s doorframe.

He didn’t say anything, simply lined up his target and fired.

The bullet hit near the man’s kidney, the lack of spray out suggesting there would be no exit wound. The boy made no sound as the body fell forward, collapsing on top of him. Rian hurried into the room to pull the man aside. Unconscious, but not dead yet. He squatted down in front of the boy, who there was no mistaking now.

The boy’s left arm was set at an odd angle and his face and neck were bruised. A bleeding cut trailed from the corner of a bloodshot eye. Rian turned at the sound of the officers clearing the rooms next door. When he looked back to the boy, the cut was nearly closed.

Rian blinked a few times, then shook his head.

“It’s all right now, boyo,” he finally said, trying to sound neutral.

Rian heard a shout, gunshots, and more shouting, this time with additional voices thrown into the mix. A woman wailed.

“Building is secure,” Moran said.

“Perimeter is secure,” a second voice responded.

“The boy is secure,” Rian announced. To the boy, he said, “Just sit tight, huh? You’re safe now.”

Rian stood up as he heard the first set of boots on the stairs. He checked the man he’d shot. Still not quite dead. He met Moran at the door, still keeping an eye on the kid and the soon-to-be corpse.

“We caught ourselves a bad guy,” Moran said.

“One of Kuznetsov’s men,” Rian said.

Moran whistled. “Shit. Well, I’m sure he’ll have an accident in prison.”

“A better alternative would be for him to have an accident before he leaves this building. I’d prefer that Kuznetsov doesn’t find out about this. Or at least not anytime soon.”

Moran nodded. “And the boy?”

“A bit beat up, but alive. His arm looks broken.”

“Who’s that with him?” Moran asked, eying the man on the floor.

“Another of Kuznetsov’s men. Post-accident. Give it a few minutes and all you’ll have to do is hide the body.”

Moran shook his head. “Funny. I’ve got EMTs on the way for the civilians. I’ll send a team up to check out the boy.”

Moran headed back down to his men. Rian returned to the boy, who hadn’t moved. He hugged his knees with his right arm. Rian sat beside him, leaning against the wall.

“Let me see,” Rian said, indicating the boy’s left arm. The boy held out his arm, made no noise as Rian inspected it. Bright bruising mottled the skin. Not broken after all. Fractured, maybe.

“Can you tell me your name, boyo?” Rian asked.

For a long while, the boy didn’t answer. Finally, he whispered, “LS061514.”

“And how old are you?”

“Three, soon.”

“I’m Effie’s husband. Do you remember Effie?”

The boy nodded.

Rian couldn’t think of anything else to say. Kids weren’t his area of expertise—just one of the reasons why Effie’s pregnancy terrified him.

“How’d you manage to get all the way over here?” Rian finally asked.

The boy squirmed a bit. “I got hungry,” he said as though that explained everything.

Rian gazed ahead at nothing. He’d ask again, when the boy was out of this squalor. A week from now, a month from now, he’d ask again.

The paramedics arrived about ten minutes later. Rian moved aside to let them work. When the lead EMT asked which hospital to take the boy to, Rian slipped her a roll of bills and gave the address of a private clinic that one of his shell companies owned.

“We need to evacuate so the cleanup crew can get to work. You almost ready?” Moran asked as he walked back into the apartment.

“Just about. I need to arrange to have papers worked up for the boy,” Rian said.

“Why don’t I start on that while you get him settled? I know a guy who knows a guy.”

Rian smiled a little at that. “Conor Quinn seems like a good name, don’t you think?”

“Sure,” Moran said. “Listen, Rian, the ambulances are going to draw attention to this place. Not to mention our cars and the cleaners. Kuznetsov will know something happened.”

“I’ve got a guy at the Sun Journal. He’ll make sure the right story gets out,”

“Better work fast,” Moran said. “I’ll catch up with you tomorrow.”

Rian followed the paramedics out of the building and climbed into the ambulance. “No lights, no sirens,” he said to the driver as the rear doors shut.


March 13, 2012, Kennebunk, Maine

The doctor and a flock of nurses bustled about while machines beeped anxiously. The screaming alarms were endless. Rian heard it all at a distance, his ears as resistant to decode the sound as his eyes were to the sight.

Conor gripped two of Rian’s fingers. The hands of both the man and the boy were clammy. A nurse cleared his throat, but when he saw Rian’s face, he thought better of speaking to him at all, much less trying to persuade him to leave.

She looks so small, Rian thought as he looked at Effie. So small. Somehow everything had gone wrong. The baby was stillborn and complications during the labor led to the subsequent surgical removal of the thing. The thing that would have been Michael.

His son.

Rian looked down at the boy holding his fingers in a painfully tight grip, but the boy only had eyes for Effie. One of the machines sang out a long flat line, kicking the noise and rushed movement into a higher gear.

Then everything stilled.

The doctor covered Effie with a sheet as the rest of the team shuffled out in varying states of emotion.

“I’m sorry,” was all the doctor said before leaving Rian and Conor alone with the body.

Conor let go of Rian’s fingers and walked over to the side of the bed where Effie’s arm hung out from under the sheet. He placed her hand on top of his head, like she might wake up and ruffle his hair. He held her wrist in both of his small hands and closed his eyes.

Rian looked around the room, trying to find something that wasn’t there. As he turned toward one of the observation windows, he caught sight of an older woman. Her thin white hair hung in a plait over one shoulder. She was handsome, even in old age, and her bright blue eyes shined with unshed tears.

Mýrún Ylva.

Rian looked back, saw Conor staring at Mýrún, still holding Effie’s hand on his head. Rian turned and ran out of the room, but she was already gone.

He walked back in and rested his hand on Conor’s shoulder. The boy laid his head on the hospital bed, oblivious to the bloodstain creeping outward. Rian squatted and gently took Conor by both shoulders, turning the boy to face him.

He wanted to say something, but had no words. Instead he hugged Conor fiercely, then picked the boy up and carried him out.



Well, that was fucking depressing! But I hope you enjoyed it all the same. As promised, here’s the final piece of the puzzle! Keep and eye out tomorrow for the Cover Reveal finale (that’s when you get to see the whole damn thing in order). Also keep and eye on this here page for the Amazon purchase links!






Villain Series: Part I

Mount Triglav gives an earth-rumbling heave before the world falls silent. There is no light here. There is no life. It is Walpurgisnacht—a night the pagans once celebrated with bonfires and dancing.

Thunder breaks the silence and in the following stillness there begins a gentle shutter through the earth, the air, a shimmering of heat waves. The heat waves bend and fold in special displacement as one by one the demons come. The shapes and sizes are infinite, this one with a cleft pallet, that one with a leather hide, another with a featureless face, clawed, beaked, razor-toothed, scarred, smooth, beautiful, wretched, they come in all forms. And they are all weak.

Deep inside Mount Triglav, an energy comes alive—noises pour forth, screams of rage and frustrated keening. The demons take a collective breath. The mountain peak wavers and broadens. It bends forward. The keening crescendos, then stops. A bloated silence consumes the world. The demons stretch necks against the air, scratch feet against the ground, curl themselves small, and hold themselves tight and not a sound breaks that heavy silent barrier. The world is deaf.

Panic creeps up spines, grips hearts, and whispers deep, deep in the mind.

A wing splits from the mountain peak. Another. A body rises up, undulating snake-like to free itself. Chernabog is free. His body shutters, then stills.

One heartbeat.


A tide is rising in him, the force so swollen it must be released. His mouth is barely open before the sound begins spilling out—a sound that ruptures eardrums for miles. Blood begins to seep from the demons’ ears. The demons nearest the mountain are crushed under the weight of that enraged sound. Chernabog raises his arms, beckons with long, claw-tipped fingers and the demons come. Up the mountain they stumble, crawl, maimed by deafness and bone-shattering pressure and moved by Chernabog’s will.

This is Walpurgisnacht now. None danced willingly.

Chernabog calls the fire imps. They slither and crackle in his palm. They dance naked before his dispassionate gaze. He forces them into new shapes—pig and wolf and goat—and a hint of something like satisfaction crosses his face. He moves his free hand above and over the misshapen imps and they bend and writhe unnaturally, unable to do anything else. The great demon turns his hand this way and that, watching the imps scramble along his hand, clawing for purchase at his fingers. The humiliation doesn’t last long. With a hard flick of the wrist, Chernabog dislodges the imps into the core of Mount Triglav.

Chernabog looks down on his minions, watches them cower. His lip curls back, sneering, disgusted. He sweeps a hand forward, beckoning. His harpies descend. He looks on as the harpies grab at the little demons and then soar back into the air, higher and higher. They let go. Little demons producing little, distorted screams.

Chernabog sits back, wings hitching close to his body as his shoulders sag. He waves a hand and the demons fight amongst themselves. He stares blindly at the little fighting demons. He senses his brother. Chernabog clenches his fists as the muscles in his neck and shoulders tighten. One fist relaxes enough for the claw of his forefinger to scratch at the pad of his thumb. Little circles full of angry, nervous energy. Chernabog closes his eyes and waits.

Even through the relative safety of his closed lids, Chernabog can see the brightness as his brother approaches. Belobog. As bright as shiny as a goddamn beacon. The little demons cower from the light. Chernabog grunts.

“Brother,” Belobog says, his voice surrounding Chernabog as completely as the light.

“You came early,” Chernabog says, his voice rubbing like stones, an almost petulant quality to the words.

“You’re angry.”

“I’m always angry,” Chernabog tries to snap, but his tone is anguished, the words drawn out in a painful moan.

“Perhaps change is in order,” Belobog says gently.

Chernabog’s surprise almost has his eyes snapping open, but he squeezes the lids harder, white spots dancing behind his eyes with the effort.

“What does that mean, brother?”

When Belobog is hesitant to answer, Chernabog stiffens, face contorting between a scowl and frown. Chernabog can feel the light fading, drawing in around its source.

“Open your eyes,” Belobog says. His voice is coaxing. Chernabog obeys, warily parting his lids until he is squinting at his brother. That he has obeyed Belobog angers him, as everything in this world angers him. A strangled sob passes Chernabog’s throat. Belobog pulls his light in tighter, mistaking the source of his brother’s pain.

“What do you want?” Chernabog growls.

“To offer you peace.”

Chernabog laughs, the sound a rolling thunder causing rocks to slide down the mountain. But there is fear in that laugh. The only peace is in death.

“You’ve come to kill me,” Chernabog says.

“No, brother. I’ve come to free you.”



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