The Wildlands Series
by Laura Bickle
Genre: Dark Fantasy
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Date of Publication: Feb. 27, 2018
Number of pages: 384
Word Count: 88,160
In the backcountry of Yellowstone, evil moves below the surface . . .
Following Nine of Stars comes the next chapter in Laura Bickle's critically acclaimed Wildlands series.
As the daughter of an alchemist, Petra Dee has battled supernatural horrors and experienced astonishing wonders. But there’s no magic on earth that can defeat her recent cancer diagnosis, or help find her missing husband, Gabriel. Still, she would bet all her remaining days that the answer to his disappearance lies in the dark subterranean world beneath the Rutherford Ranch on the outskirts of Temperance, Wyoming.
Gabe is being held prisoner by the sheriff and heir to the ranch, Owen Rutherford. Owen is determined to harness the power of the Tree of Life—and he needs Gabe to reveal its magic. Secretly, the sheriff has also made a pact to free a creature of the underground, a flesh-devouring mermaid. Muirenn has vowed to exact vengeance on Gabe, who helped imprison her, but first . . . she's hungry. Once freed, she will swim into Yellowstone—to feed.
With her coyote sidekick Sig, Petra must descend into the underworld to rescue Gabe before it's too late . . . for both of them.
Peering through the cattails, she saw a man with a fishing pole, standing on an outcropping. He seemed alone, caught in a bit of reverie, gazing at his line skipping along the surface of the water.
She dipped below the surface of the water, toward the shiver of the fishing line. With green-spotted fingers, she lifted the struggling fish from the hook. The line jerked away.
The man swore.
Muirenn lifted her head above the water.
“Holy shit.” The man stumbled backward. “I didn’t realize you were swimming there . . . I . . .”
His expression changed from embarrassment to curiosity as he looked at her. The pupils of his eyes dilated. “Who . . . are you?”
Muirenn gripped the fish close to her chest, giving a small smile.
The fisherman crouched on the rock, setting his pole beside him. “Wow. You’re uh . . . green? Is that real?”
Muirenn cocked her head and slipped forward a bit in the water. The edge of her tail skimmed above the surface.
“Is that like . . . one of those tails that the girls have at that park in Florida? For a movie or something?” His suntanned brow wrinkled. “No. That’s real,” he decided. “You, um . . . want the fish? You can have it.”
She was within arm’s length of him. She released the squirming fish into the water.
“You wanted to let it go? Look, I . . .”
The man talked too much. She swam closer, tentatively.
The fisherman looked at her, at her dappled skin and the dark rust hair spreading into the water. She wouldn’t ordinarily have been so bold. The weight off her tail was going to her head. She let him take in the black of her eyes, the gills on her throat. He gazed in wonder, and his fingers twitched to a small square piece of plastic on top of his tackle box.
“Can I take your picture? What . . . are you?”
A smile played across her lips, and she spoke to him in a silvery voice. “I’m the Mermaid.”
“Wow. I . . . wow. I’m, uh, Norm. Do I, like, make a wish or something?”
“You can, if you want. I’ll listen.”
She reached up with delicate fingers to touch him. Her fingers brushed the pockets of his fishing vest, playing with wonder over the bits and baubles there meant to lure the attention of fish. The man forgot about his camera and stared, transfixed.
Muirenn reached up for his collar . . .
. . . and dragged him down into the water.
He splashed and flailed. She brought him down—down to the bottom of the creek. It wasn’t so far, but it was far enough for a land dweller. He couldn’t fight her for long. He thrashed until his lungs grew heavy with creek water. He convulsed as the lack of oxygen reached his heart and filtered up to his brain. And then he stopped.
Muirenn grinned, showing row upon row of shark-like teeth. She ripped off his arm and began to chew. It had been so long since she’d had anything but the errant fish that wandered into her realm . . . this was a meal worth waiting for.
The creek ran red.
Red as the idle red-and-white bobber drifting on the surface of the water.
The Shadow Mermaid
By Laura Bickle
There are a lot of things that are special to me about WITCH CREEK. There’s my protagonist, Petra, geologist and daughter of an alchemist, gradually losing her hold on life. She’s shadowed by her coyote sidekick, Sig, who may or may not be The Coyote of legend. And there’s Petra’s husband, Gabe, an undead cowboy who haunts the alchemical Tree of Life. They live in Temperance, Wyoming, a place that modern time has moved on from, but magic never will.
They are all special. But the most exciting part of writing WITCH CREEK was the chance to write about a mermaid.
You see, I’m a little obsessed with mermaids. I have been, ever since I was a little girl and got a Sea Wees doll for my birthday. She had brown hair like mine and green scales. She was clutched in my sticky fingers twenty-four-seven, from bathtime to bedtime. She climbed trees with me and lived under my pillow, the safest place I could think of from the family dachshund, who adored gnawing on her lustrous hair if he could find her.
That memory of the mermaid stuck with me as an adult. I always wanted to write a book about a mermaid. I’ve flirted with several ideas over the past several years, but never struck on the right one. When I began WITCH CREEK, I needed a supernatural adversary to oppose my geologist heroine.
And Muirenn, the shadow mermaid, was hatched.
Muirenn didn’t start out as a mermaid. She began life as a witch, more than a century and a half ago. Like most mermaids, she has a spellbinding voice, and was said to be able to sing a man to his death. She fell in with the alchemist who founded the town of Temperance…and then they fell out, in a spectacular magical battle. Muirenn lost, and she became the subject of her adversary’s alchemical experiments. She was taken apart and sewn back together in the shape of a mermaid, given a mouthful of sharp teeth and a taste for human flesh.
Muirenn was imprisoned in an underground river since the time of her creation. But now, she’s been freed, and no fisherman in the backcountry is safe from her carnivorous wrath.
Muirenn isn’t quite the smiling doll I treasured as a child. She’s a shadow version of her – dark hair, green scales, and a desire for revenge against the man who imprisoned her there…Petra’s husband, Gabe.
Since I’ve got a soft spot for mermaids, I might be rooting for her. More than a little bit.
About the Author:
Laura Bickle grew up in rural Ohio, reading entirely too many comic books out loud to her favorite Wonder Woman doll. After graduating with an MA in Sociology – Criminology from Ohio State University and an MLIS in Library Science from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, she patrolled the stacks at the public library and worked with data systems in criminal justice. She now dreams up stories about the monsters under the stairs, also writing contemporary fantasy novels under the name Alayna Williams.
Her work has been included in the ALA’s Amelia Bloomer Project 2013 reading list and the State Library of Ohio’s Choose to Read Ohio reading list for 2015-2016.
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