Excerpt – A Myth in Moonlight

The moon broke through the clouds, illuminating the prehistoric effigy mound in its cool blue light. I took a step closer to the low rail of the observation platform, mesmerized by the sight before me. This was my first trip to Serpent Mound, and though an Ohioan from birth, I had always been more apt to visit historical sites far from home rather than those in my own back yard.

Against my better judgment, I had climbed the rickety lookout tower, but was now glad I had taken the risk. The view of the winding, three-foot-high mound in the tranquil wash of moonlight was amazing. I could clearly see the nearby coiled tail and even get an impression of the distant head swallowing an earthen egg.

“Nice view,” a male voice said from right beside me.

Thinking I was alone, I jumped in surprise, then grabbed the handrail when I found myself much too close to the edge.

“Sorry.” Conor gripped my upper arm as if afraid I was about to tumble over the side. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

“I’m fine.”

He immediately released me, and I realized I must have snapped the words.

“I wasn’t paying attention,” I hurried to add. “I figured I was the only one foolish enough to climb this thing.” 

He pressed his lips into a fine line as he studied me through narrowed eyes. “I think you just called me a fool.”

“I didn’t mean to imply—” 

“I’m kidding, Leena.” He broke into a laugh, the moonlight glinting in his fair eyes. “Come on, you’d have to be a little foolish to climb this thing in daylight, let alone total darkness.”

I smiled at his good humor, trying to hide the anxiety worming through my stomach. It hadn’t occurred to me until this moment that the other students in my folklore class would have difficulty navigating the tower steps at night. Had Conor noticed that my night vision wasn’t natural?

“This trip would have been much more informative if we’d come during the day,” Conor continued, casting an annoyed look in the direction of the serpent’s head where Professor Giles had gone with the bulk of our classmates.

“This class is part of his Magic in Myth curriculum,” I reminded him. “You’ve got to expect a little magic—and Serpent Mound at night is certainly magical.” I added the last in a rush, then watched his face closely. I didn’t know Conor well. In truth, I’d only known him for about five weeks, having met in this very class. I knew he was a history major and that he appeared to view anything magical with distain. I hoped I was wrong about that.

Conor studied the scene before us. The moon was full and without the clouds, I figured he must be able to make out a fair amount of detail.

“I guess you have a point,” he conceded. “But I was hoping for a little more fact from this class. It was described as a history of local folklore in the catalog—which sounded like a fun elective for me. I enjoy local history, but all the professor has lectured on is fairies and werewolves.”

“If you can set aside your expectations, you might find it entertaining.”

A hint of his smile returned. “Perhaps.” He focused on me. “You’ve never said why you took this class. You’re a science major, right? That hardly seems the type of person who’d be interested in unicorns.”

My attempt to hold in a laugh became a snort. “Unicorns? Professor Giles has never lectured on unicorns.”

Conor shrugged. “I’m sure I saw it on the syllabus.”

“Right.” I smiled as I shook my head. “In answer to your question, I’ve always had a fascination with myths and such. When I saw the class listing, I though it sounded like fun, and I needed an elective.” I wasn’t about to tell him that I’d been hoping that a better understanding of the old myths would help me puzzle out my own gift. “Come on. Everyone could use a little magic in their lives.”

“Hmm.” He pursed his lips and I watched him closely, hoping for some indication as to how he felt about—

A sound, eerily like a high-pitched female scream, carried across the moonlit grounds. For a moment, I thought it might be some kind of night bird we didn’t have in Cincinnati, but when a couple more screams joined the first, I realized they were human.

Conor whirled and started down the stairs, taking the narrow steps far too quickly. Maybe his inability to see well in the low light hid the danger or maybe heights didn’t make him as uneasy as they made me. Whatever the case, he was long gone by the time I reached the ground.

The screams had come from the direction of the serpent’s head, and since our classmates were the only people out here—I assumed—it had to be them. Had someone fallen over the cliff that bordered that end of the mound? Maybe Conor was right. A nighttime visit wasn’t such a good idea.

A paved trail bordered the mound on both sides, forming a loop around the thirteen-hundred-foot-long earthworks. My legs were burning by the time I approached the head of the serpent.

Conor easily outdistanced me, disappearing around the end of the mound, though the screams had quieted before we were halfway there.

Slowing my pace, both out of a need to catch my breath and uncertainty, I rounded the egg-shaped earthworks beyond the mouth of the serpent. Where was everyone?

On the other side of the oval mound, a trail led down the bank. From the pictures on the internet, I knew the path led to a railed deck built on the edge of a cliff that overlooked the stream far below, but the encroaching forest blocked my view. I hadn’t gone far when I spied two women sitting on the edge of the leaf-covered trail. I recognized both from class.

“What happened?” I asked.

“We were attacked,” one girl answered—I couldn’t remember her name. “This big dog ran out of the woods and bit Kristie.” She nodded at her companion.

“It might have been a coyote,” Kristie added, gripping her calf where I assumed she’d been bitten.

“Where are the others?” I asked.

“They walked down to the overlook with Professor Giles. I stopped to get a rock out of my shoe.”

“When I heard her scream, I came back,” the other girl said, then turned to Kristie. “Wasn’t Pete with you?”

Kristie forehead wrinkled. “I never saw him. Do you think the coyote grabbed him before me?”

The other girl gripped her dark braid and looked over her shoulder, her brown eyes wide as she studied the forest that surrounded us. How well could she see into that shadowed darkness? Could she define the individual trunks of the tall, closely spaced trees, or was she just watching for movement?


I jumped at the sound of Conor’s voice as it carried to me from farther down the trail.

Promising to get help, I left the girls and hurried to Conor. He knelt beside a young man—was this Pete?—who was sitting up, holding his shoulder. The zippered hoodie he wore had been pulled down, exposing his white T-shirt and the spreading stain on his sleeve that looked black in the moonlight, but I knew would appear bright red in sunlight.

“What happened?” I whispered, squatting beside them.

“It was this big dog,” the young man answered. “It ran out of the woods and jumped me.”

“Where are the others?” Conor asked. “Professor Giles?”

“He led them down the trail to the overlook. I was waiting on Kristie. She stopped to tie her shoe or something.” He looked up at me. “I heard her scream. Is she okay?”

“It bit her in the calf,” I answered.

His brow wrinkled with evident concern. “Is it bad?”

“I don’t know.”

With Conor’s help, he got to his feet. “I’ll go check on her.” Still holding his shoulder, he hurried back toward the girls.

“We need to find the others,” Conor said. “Come on.” He didn’t wait for my response before heading on down the trail.

Glancing at the shadowed forest all around us, I hurried after him. Had the animal run off? If it was a wild animal, did it have young nearby? Maybe that was why it had attacked. Or was it rabid?

“I knew I should have brought a flashlight,” Conor grumbled. Professor Giles had insisted that we leave them behind. He wanted us to view the mound in the light of the full moon, insisting there were lunar as well as solar alignments built into the mound by its creators.

As for myself, the lack of a flashlight wasn’t normally a problem, but I didn’t like the shadows beneath the trees where the moonlight didn’t reach. Even my excellent night vision couldn’t completely penetrate that darkness. I was so tempted to do something about it, but I—

A snarl was the only warning I got before a huge canid bounded out those very shadows I had been longing to illuminate. For just an instant, I was frozen in place, watching in fascinated horror as it ran right at me. Nope, not a dog, or even a coyote. That was a wolf. A gigantic two-hundred-pound representative of a breed only seen in northern climes. Had it escaped a zoo?

These thoughts flashed across my mind in the space of seconds, then my survival instincts kicked in. Running wasn’t an option. I could never outrun a wolf, but maybe I could scare it away. Did I dare—

“Leena!” Suddenly, Conor was there. He shouldered me aside, stepping into the path of the closing wolf.

I pressed both hands to my mouth as the animal sprang. It hit Conor square in the chest and took him to the ground.

Conor grunted on impact but managed to get his hands up in an attempt to keep the wolf from his throat. The deep snarls and snapping jaws made it clear that animal wasn’t ready to concede defeat.

I spun in a circle as I studied the ground, looking for a weapon—maybe a large stick or a rock. But I saw nothing suitable.

Conor cried out, and I looked back. The wolf had clamped down on his forearm.

Out of options, I opened myself to the moonlight, drawing in that soft blue glow. Joy filled me as our immediate surroundings plunged into darkness an instant before a bright silver-white light exploded around us. I knew that light was coming from me.

“Hey!” I shouted.

The wolf lifted its head. I expected the golden eyes of a typical wolf, but this animal had blue eyes, like a husky. However, its coat was the usual gray with whiter fur along the belly, inner legs, and jaw—which made the blood on its muzzle stand out.

I held those blue eyes with my own, the intense silver light I controlled twinkling back at me. His raised hackles smoothed, and he covered his exposed teeth as the serene tranquility of the moon calmed him. Interesting. I had never tried this on an animal.

Conor turned his head, and like the wolf, stared at me with the same wide-eyed shock. Crap. The last thing I wanted was to dazzle him with my power. I needed to hurry.

“Go!” I shouted at the wolf, then pulled in more moonlight, creating a brilliant flash.

To my utter amazement, the wolf tucked his tail and, with a whimper, turned and sprinted for the trees. Once he was beyond the glow of my moonlight, he vanished into the shadows. Was he gone, or would he return and—

“Leena?” Conor whispered.

With a gasp, I looked down to see him staring up at me. I let go of the moonlight, and we were suddenly plunged into darkness.

Maybe it was my relief that I’d driven off the wolf, or just the absence of the magic, but my legs turned to jelly. I reached out, hoping to brace myself, but there was nothing to grab. Instead, I just wind milled my arms for a moment, then fell on my butt. Hopefully, Conor was still flash-blinded and hadn’t seen that.

“Are you okay?” I asked, trying to direct his attention away from, well, everything about me. “Your arm?”

“Is bleeding,” he muttered. “A lot.”

Oh damn. I pushed myself up onto my hands and knees and crawled toward him across the dewy grass. As moonlight returned to fill the lightless void I had created, my night vision rapidly returned. 

Conor was sitting up, cradling his arm against him. Even from a distance, I could see the bloodstains saturating the sleeve of his jacket. He stared in my direction, though it was clear that his unfocused gaze wasn’t on me. But that wasn’t anything to be concerned about. I’d read that mundane humans could take up to half an hour to regain their night vision.

“Hey,” I said, letting him hear my voice so he knew where I was. “Let me see.”

He pulled away when I touched his shoulder. “I need to keep pressure on it,” he said, the words coming out in a rush. “Maybe you should call for help.”

Did he really need to keep pressure on it, or was he afraid to let me touch him?

Heart in my throat, I pulled out my phone and dialed 911.


Available in High Moon: An Urban Fantasy Anthology

Release Date: September 14th

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