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Valley of the Damned

Tsotliotl, the ancient Mexican god of vampires has eaten the hearts of humans for untold millennium.

Ramona, a Tarahumara Apache, is chosen as the next sacrifice, but when she escapes taking with her the god's sacred sacrificial knife, Tsotliotl demands they both be recovered at any cost.

Hunted through the Sonoran mountains by two ancient Native American vampires, a horde of starving ghouls, and a greedy banker and his mercenaries, Ramona seeks help from some unlikely heroes, Mike and his boozing, bootleggin’ Gramps.

Now it's up to Mike and Gramps to help save the woman from being sacrificed so the next Cleansing won't destroy the world.

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Martin von Harter

Martin von Harter is a Susquehannock Native American of the infamous Longhouse Gili Yu. A former cowboy, the author worked several ranches in his time. Martin spent time as a trucker, truck gardener, cow horse trainer, general laborer, stonemason, moonshiner (but non-drinker!), dishwasher, security guard, and is now a sacred-person. Inspiration for his stories come from listening around campfires to older people from Mexico. His home-away-from-home is Hotel Margarita, Creel, Chihuahua, Mexico.

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Excerpt

Men and vampiricos swayed with the low moan of conch shells and dull thump of drums. Huddled in the center of a pack of weeping children was Ramona, her eyes flashing, arms clutching the children.

Macreedy held a thin knife. He approached the throne of the dark-one. Raising the knife, he muttered a small dedication. Turning, he approached the children.

"No." Screaming, Ramona leaped forward, driving him back with a flurries of slaps.

The men with him darted forward, shoving her away and grabbed a child.

High above, Mike and Gramps sat on a ledge. Gramps nudge Mike.

"I'm thinking, OK?" It wasn't Ramona who was being dragged to a rounded stone. Through dark, smoky shadows, the red eyes of the polished basalt statue seemed to burn at them.

Gramps muttered to himself. To Mike's astonishment, the old man began picking his way down the rocky face.

"Gramps! Damn it, you old fart—"

Mike crawled past Gramps, shouting, "Jaguar Night, you moldy piece of a horse apple, I'm coming for you."

Standing at the head of the sacrificial stone, Jaguar Night's head jerked up. He glanced at White Jade. A coy, admiring smile was on her face. Fury crossed his. Jaguar Night stepped forward.

"Who are you, Mr. Zimmer, to invade this holy place?"

Dropping the last few feet to the floor, Mike straightened and dusted his hands off.

"You call this holy? More like a pack of majones all piled in one outhouse. I seen better in hog yards." He offered a blanching Macreedy a cold smile. "Well, hell. We always figured you'd do anything for a buck, Greedy. But ain't this a tad low, even for the likes of you?"

"Keep a civil tongue in your head, Zimmer. I am but making an offering to an ascended master."

"Same one Hitler did, no doubt."

Sagging jowls quivering with indignation, Macreedy snapped, "This bears small relation to that-"

'Be still!' White Jade stalked forward. She stopped and glanced around. 'There are many here who would be delighted to take your heart and feed it to our master.'

"That so?" Mike braced himself. "Might be, you'd like to try, Jaguar Night? If you got the heart for a real fight, instead of—"

Chest swelling, Jaguar Night spun and slapped White Jade across the face.

"Malinche, whore—"

"Could be," Mike drawled, "That you got that one wrong, too. I never touched her and you're the one who prostituted himself to the dark side."

The pack of men and vampiricos surged forward.

Jaguar Night made a small step forward. He was jerked back and spun through the air until he was face to face with the statue. Jaguar Night cringed.

My lord.

To Mike's shock, the red eyes shifted downward, then back to Jaguar Night.

A cold smile on his face, Jaguar Night drifted slowly to the floor.

"My master says we shall battle. The winner may take that." He pointed at Ramona and the children. Or maybe not.

"Say what you mean. Say it straight or shut up."

"The woman. The children are his property."

"Kids, too. And he stays away from all of us from now on. And I do mean anyone or anything having to do with him. All of you stay out of the Valley of Eagle-Mother and leave us and our people alone, no matter where we are."

The smile dropped. "My master does not bargain with slaves-"

The vampirico shivered, giving a small, involuntary glance up. Head cocked, Jaguar Night shrugged.

"He laughs. But he agrees."

In a flash of dark fire, Jaguar Night pounced with jaws extended. Mike ducked, swung, and Jaguar Night tumbled to the ground. He was a little slow picking himself up, but darted in. Grabbing Mike by the arms Jaguar Night swooped high. His teeth clicked just short of Mike's neck.

Mike's knee kicked him hard between the legs. The vampirico yelped and they dropped toward the floor. Mike rammed him again and they stopped. He grabbed Jaguar Night by the head, twisted, and bit down hard on the vampirico's ear. Jaguar Night gouged at an eye.

Mike was thrown to the floor, snatched up, and held in an iron grip. Jaguar Night's head came down, his mouth brushing Mike's ear.

"You will be my slave. You have tasted of mine blood and will be a ghoul. Piece by piece, your dying body will decay away until nothing is left but bone and maggots. Then my lord, the god of the dark, will bring you back and it will start all over again. You will watch as I take your woman for my concubine. She will die slowly, in great pain. Every male slave in the House of Death will know her."

Fangs closed over the jugular.

Mike dug his fist in his waistband and ripped up, slicing the stone knife deep in Jaguar Night's stomach, up into his chest.

Jaguar Night staggered back. Eyes wide with disbelief, he stared at a spreading glow of white fire. The vampirico frowned. Hands up, questioning, he glanced at White Jade.

White Jade shrieked, 'Jaguar?'

She wailed, leaping to him, catching the vampirico as he slid to the floor. White flames and black smoke engulfed her.

Mike backed away from the fire to Ramona and the children. Gramps gave his arm a friendly, man-to-man grip.

Eyes cold, her stance bitter and enraged, White Jade stalked out of the flames. Her mouth opened in a sharp hiss. In the blink of an eye, White Jade flashed across a hundred feet of floor and smashed Mike through the packed crowd to the clawed feet of Zoliotl.

Her head came down, her eyes staring into his.

'Now, you are meat for my lord and my beloved-man. Oh, but I will destroy your very soul for killing Jaguar Night.'

She was knocked aside and Ramona stood there, chest heaving, eyes flashing.

In one slow, languid motion, White Jade picked herself from the floor. Cat-like, she stretched and offered clawed hands.

Mike pleaded with Ramona. "Don't try her, baby."

"Husband, I know this one."

"Please."

White Jade struck hard. Ramona ducked, kicked out, and dropped under a quick swing. White Jade backhanded her away. Ramona grabbed a sputtering torch, thrusting it into White Jade's face. The vampiressa shrieked. She clawed at Ramona only to be struck again with the fire, then water.

The knife spun in Mike's hands. He jumped back from it. It leaped at White Jade and hacked deep, cutting hard into the heart.

Shrieking, White Jade dropped to her knees. She watched in horror while a streak of white fire laced her body, then scorched her eyes. Screaming with hate, she plunged towards Ramona. Clutching at Ramona's arms, her body stilled. Flames hissed, dying. The skull was blackened, the fangs stretched long from distended jaws. Then it crumbled into gray dust, and the dust was swept away in a gust of frigid wind.

'Go.'

"What d' ya say, Gramps?"

He looked, but Gramps was already gone, skinny legs pumping and the old man never looked back.

Vampiricos closed in. Mike grabbed the knife. He snatched Ramona to him.

'Let them be.'

Whispering hunger, vampiricos moved back. Lean bellies shivered. A way opened and Mike shoved Ramona and the children at it. A vampirico cried out, Feed us, lord! Your children hunger.

Stomping his feet on the stone floor, Macreedy shook his fist.

"High Master, you swore by yourself. You told me I'd get a reward for helping you catch them. Here they are. I got them to come down here. I got them to stay. Where is my reward?"

The vampire head of the statue turned to Macreedy.

'Here is your reward.' The head turned to the vampires. 'Here is food for my loyal children. '

Already far away, Mike heard the screams of men. He slowed, but Ramona shoved him forward.

"It is too late, beloved. As Uncle Flavio says, He who sides with the devil will the devil's plaything be."

Snatching up a pair of small children, Mike raced after her. The flurry of a thousand leathery wings choked the air.

A rumble shook the cave. A hole opened up. Daylight showed at the bottom. Falling into it, Mike screamed, "Not agaiiiinnnnn."