Help me choose which books to finish first

Here’s some covers for books I’m currently working on. I will publish at least two of these before the end of 2020, possibly with these covers or possibly with some design I like better and didn’t make on my phone while watching DS9.

First two: The two poetry books I’m the closest to perfecting at the moment. First is love poems written by a self-declared villain, for a hero, and the second is autobiographical and about being a queer townie during all this bullshit.

Second two: Gothic ghost stories set in the Pacific Northwest. In the first, a college student arrives for a summer internship at a museum in a small town on the Columbia River only to find that the curator selected her for a nefarious purpose. In the second, a woman takes shelter from a corrupt small-town sheriff in the ruins of an extremely haunted mansion.

Last two: Paranormal historical romance with queer characters. I give you: a witch in an arranged marriage to the reluctant heir of a vampire line, and a mermaid fleeing from sexy ghost pirates.

If you tell me which you’d most like to read, it may influence what I’m ready to publish first. But no promises, as I’m terrible at staying on task.

Demon Lover: Part Five

Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four

Trigger warnings for disordered eating, self-harm, abusive relationships.

My girl saw nothing of her lover but what she wanted seen. Love like that is an ideal camouflage, such that a monster cannot see herself for what she is, as caught up in the moment as her prey. The best deceit is wholly believed by the deceiver. 

She woke at 4 am frequently, extricating her legs from Elise’s, looking down on her girlfriend’s prone body with something between possessiveness and contempt. She often thought to herself, in those moments, that she was the only thing in the world keeping the girl alive. If Elise had ever woken during those moments, both of them would have mistaken that look for love. 

Perhaps Elise would murmur with a slight, sleepy quirk, a little “Vela, stay.” The nurse’s mouth would also turn up, perhaps teasing in theory, but so spiteful I could have drunk her like a fine merlot. 

“One of us has to pay the rent.” 

At first, their evenings were all tenderness. Elise would even cook, though the smell often turned her stomach. She’d spend hours in the bath, preparing herself. Vela wanted her, cherished her. She needed to prove herself worthy. 

Vela thought so too. If her new worshipper’s intensity did not increase with every supplication, she needed a reason. Was Elise lazy? Was she broken? Was she talking to her ex again?

Elise denied it with her tears and with her words and with her body. It was only Vela. Could only ever be Vela. Vela found her, Vela saved her, she couldn’t live without Vela. 

“You’d better remember that,” the nurse said, kissing down her convex of a stomach before scowling at her unruly mound. “God, can’t you at least wax? I’m tired of this.” She tugged at the dark, curling hair sheltering Elise’s clit, so hard my girl gasped. 

Elise went out the next day, and when she came back she was hairless from the neck down. I could taste her experience ⁠— professional women, crisp and uncomforting, had done the work. She might have enjoyed the pain, in another context, but not from a stranger. Not when she just wanted to be held. 

I was surprised Vela hadn’t wanted to do it herself. When she returned from work, her hands roamed my girl, sculpted and pale, a prize to be handled. Elise vanished into thinghood. 

That night, she dreamed that all her hair grew back, and kept growing, until she was covered. Her arm, her knees, her back, her stomach. Her hair grew so long that Vela couldn’t find her. When the nurse got near, screaming her frustration, she choked on Elise’s thick, dark hair. Blinded and confused, Vela reared back in disgust. 

In the quiet of the dark room, I curled around my girl’s heart and smiled. 

She woke shaking, telling Vela it was a nightmare. The nurse comforted her as if she were a child, her voice achingly patronizing. Elise fell into the sugar-coated words, pulling from my influence. 

By morning, the nurse was surly, blaming Elise for her lack of sleep, although I was the one who’d growled at her all through the night, long after her trembling girlfriend fell asleep. She snapped at my girl to help her make breakfast, overwhelmed by her lack of sleep. Her thoughts were clear to me ⁠— blame falling on the delicate woman beside her, who would never be good enough or strong enough for her. 

Still, she wanted Elise. She’d shaped her so beautifully, but there was more work to be done. My girl’s hands trembled as she cut the soft, crusty bread. 

“Goddammit, Elise,” the nurse snapped, grabbing at the knife just as my girl jumped, startled at the sound. 

The knife sliced open Vela’s reaching hand, the sound visibly red in the dim kitchen. Elise’s eyes widened, her mouth stammering out an apology disconnected from her mind. That was filled only with the sound of her hammering heart. 

Vela grabbed the knife with her uncut left hand, making an uncoordinated slashing motion toward my girl, who thought to herself that Vela seemed possessed.

As if I’d ever inhabit such a vessel. No, as Elise let out a mental cry for anything to help her, I slid into her body, grabbing the knife with my own strength. It cut into Elise’s hand, but Vela’s eyes widened when I squeezed the knife, and it clattered to the kitchen floor, bent. 

Who was the demon now? I didn’t pause to gloat as I would have in any other case, but moved Elise’s feet to the bathroom. She locked the door herself, crying as she held her cut hand.

It took Vela mere minutes to rally. “Sweetheart, I’m so sorry,” her voice came from the other side of the door. She was calm and comforting as ever, totally in control. “I’m so tired, and I meant it as a joke, but I lost control for just a second. I’ll call off work and we can talk about it.” 

Elise shook her head, still sniffling. “Go to work,” she said, voice trembling. 

“I think we should talk about this now,” the nurse answered, sweet but assertive. 

“Go to work,” I growled from Elise’s throat. 

Vela stepped back from the door. I like to think that she recognized my voice. Finally, I smelled fear on her. 

My girl calmed as the nurse left, closing the front door quietly. She loosened her grip on her hand, and under my suggestion, found her way into the shower. The water slicked her fear away as she relaxed into its ministrations, blood dripping from her hand. 

“You need to leave,” I spelled in rivulets running red into the drain. 

I know, she thought. 

“I don’t know how,” she said. 

Together, I whispered directly into her brain. All alone, together. 

She bundled herself in a long sweater dress, her hand wrapped in gauze. A woman at the hardware store told her how to install new locks in detail, then slipped her a card for a woman’s shelter, along with her own cell number. 

“In case you have any questions.” 

We went home. Elise packed up Vela’s many territory markers, putting them in a box outside her newly impenetrable door. By the time Vela came back, pounding on the door and demanding to talk to her, Elise was deep into a dream of a dark forest, branches curling around her, protecting her from all other harm. 

Three long, red marks appeared on her arm. Even in her sleep, she smiled, her fingers tracing the interruption of her bare, already stubbling skin. The wild woman in her dream felt the sting from a branch, protective and embracing. The trees, she thought, have eyes, and claws. They are all energy. 

Already, hair was growing over the marks I’d left her. That, too, was me. She grew warmer by the second, wrapped in herself, and me. She didn’t know how to live in the wilderness yet, but as her hair grew, I would teach her, teach her everything she needed to live without shame or order.

After all, what is a demon, but an angel broken free?

Demon Lover: Part Four

Part One Part Two Part Three

Trigger warnings for disordered eating, self-harm, abusive relationships.

A thing like me cannot be frantic. We are not made for frivolous impulses, even weak versions like I. Elise’s absence did not fill me with worry, merely frustration. I was trapped in her habitation until I rode a human out ⁠— and they would have to stay long enough to let me in, then live long enough to cross over some more fitting threshold. 

Moreover, I wanted her, not some convenient stand-in, like the awkward male coworker who gathered up a bag of clothes after a week of her absence. Elise existed in the most delectable state of shame, and had only grown more succulent by the day. She would taste so pretty, writhing in pain within my grasp. And now she was out of my reach, at a hospital somewhere, from what I could gather from the man’s murky thoughts as he shuffled through her closet. 

Had I pushed too far? Had I missed my chance at the kind of meal I hadn’t had since the Inquisition? Was she going to make it home in one piece?

Unmoored from my purpose, I sank into a sulky hibernation. I barely noticed the hum and flow of the maintenance man, the landlord, or the nosy coworker who kept coming by to gather mail. They held no interest after Elise. 

I woke properly in early fall day, to the footsteps of a woman wearing sensible clogs meant for long hours of standing. Tall, and nearly as thin as Elise, with a brisk step I’d only ever noticed in military men, she brought bags of groceries and soft blankets, rearranging the apartment to suit herself. 

A few hours later, my girl shuffled in. 

Elise was gaunt as the grave, and as I flickered through her memories, I could see that she’d been institutionalized — without me! I writhed at being denied such a treat as plaguing doctors with ever more unfathomable symptoms. 

But she’d brought one back. Our interloper, who busied herself with tidying and talk. She had the stench of death on her. A nurse, or perhaps a physician’s assistant. Elise looked at her with delicious agony, worshipful and eager to please. 

Their relationship had progressed beyond professional already. The nurse fed her by hand, waited with her for hours while she digested, then scowled at her beeping alarm. With a searing kiss, they parted. 

Deep love is hard to override, but sudden love is worse. My girl’s mind was full of thoughts of her new lover, swimming in endorphins I couldn’t trade in. I was locked out. 

She sang in the shower. She kept the lights on when she dressed. She ate and slept and exercised at her new god’s command. The woman didn’t move in, but she may as well have. 

I resorted to growling through the walls while they slept. There was more in the nurse I could have worked with ⁠— even through her haze of love, I could taste fear, and anger, and a need for control ⁠— but people like her were no greater victory than the resentful repairman who had been in and out of the apartment for decades. 

Still, she annoyed me. I watched the nurse watching Elise on rare mornings when they woke together. I wanted Elise, a line of light snaring her spine, as treacherous and narrow as a ladder out of hell. I wanted to line that creamy expanse with claw marks. The nurse didn’t think in those terms, but there was a baseness to her destructive urges that I recognized in myself. I hated the thought of myself in competition with a mere mortal. 

I would read it in her, the urge to destroy perfection. Unlike Elise’s former lovers, this one had no desire to marr her skin and hold her afterwards. Though my girl begged her for a bit of violence to take solace in, the nurse wouldn’t have it. She would snap and order and fuss, but it amounted to control, not care. She wanted the vessel to achieve perfection while the soul crumbled beneath her grasp. She wanted to inhabit an empty, pliant body. 

That was the first time I thought that the nurse should have been the demon, and I the lover. 

I could have taken the nurse. I could have slipped inside her in an instant. There was nothing in her to withstand me. It would have been so easy, riding that beast to freedom. Or I could have stayed, had Elise physically as I destroyed the nurse from the inside out.

And my girl wanted it. She panted for it, out of love and lust and loneliness. She’d happily agree, beg for it, enjoy it. The nurse didn’t want that, which I didn’t mind, but I still despised the idea of inhabiting the nurse. She was ever so base, and only wanted to hurt Elise in ways my girl didn’t want. 

Like I had. I told myself the taste looked worse on a mortal. It wasn’t supposed to be their nature, to want to harm each other. I was meant to make them want it.

Demon Lover: Part Two

Part One. Trigger warnings for disordered eating, self-harm, abusive relationships.

Demons are ravenous things. We starve as soon as we leave a host, and we continue starving until we find some other soul to feed on. The more refined our tastes, the longer we starve, and the weaker we become. 

Some people beg for demons. They fall easily, writhing with regret. Even in those who summon demons, attempting to bind us with foul symbols of the false god, there is a frisson of fear. Unbelievers are as easily haunted as the devout. Shame is the only requirement. We always have options, if we’re willing to take them.

Nothing but a certain kind of soul would satisfy me. Brave, but unwilling. Broken, but stoic. Desperate, but kind. Until Elise stirred the remnants of my taste from the dust, I had been sleeping for a long stretch. 

She returned from work later than usual, with a box of fried, sticky food. The contents turned her stomach as much as they made her mouth salivate. She hadn’t eaten since the grapefruit that morning. The other half was still in the fridge, and she considered turning back to it instead, but she was craving heat and meat and fat. The blaring television helped her get the food down. Distraction. She threw away the evidence before her impulses could send her hurtling toward the toilet. 

Good girl. If I had glands, I’d salivate as well. 

This night’s shower was not a prolonged affair. She let the water steam up the little room, entirely obscuring the full length mirror, before stripping, eyes on her cloudy image, and stepping into the scalding water. Only as she washed herself did her fingers linger on the fading scratches. 

Her hands tightened on her arm, her nails testing the fragility of her skin. 

“I could do it myself and pretend it was you.” She meant it. An intense and terrible desire to be seen, and worked upon, moved through her. She wanted me to take the numbness from her limbs with claws and teeth and fear.

I tensed. At least I would have if I was in a body. She didn’t want to hurt herself, not really. She wanted an interaction, which she was daring me to provide. I couldn’t give her what she wanted. Not yet. Nor did I want her to bleed without me, an action which might send her hurtling into the arms of caring strangers. She loosened her intention. If I had lungs, I would have sighed. 

She dressed in a thick flannel and fell asleep on the couch to some inane morality play, my marks nearly forgotten. In her sleep, her hand found my marks through the flannel. It was as though she’d touched me. Reached out to me. As if I were her savior, instead of her doom. 

The sensation was unbearable, a burning heat I’d only felt at the edge of consecrated ground. This wasn’t how it was supposed to happen. I was meant to torment her, not the other way around. 

I am patient. Mortals are not. She would forget these conversations, and I would once again have the advantage. 

Part Three

Demon Lover: Part One

Trigger warnings for disordered eating, self-harm, abusive relationships.

It takes a certain type of carelessness to talk to a demon. Elise had that in spades. 

She first noticed the scratches in the shower. That was the only place she could notice them, would ever notice them in winter. Her apartment was too cold for her razor-thin frame even on the sunniest September day. She wore long sleeves exclusively, trading over-sized wool sweaters for chiffon bell sleeves come summer.

Thick body hair, her constant bane, was bearable on her legs through daily shaving, but she couldn’t stomach stubble on her arms, stomach or mound, so it grew freely, and she kept covered. Shamefully. Quietly. Older women complimented her modesty, even when she wore short skirts with stockings. The 1960s were long enough ago that even such a show of legs seemed more nostalgic than sexual. 

If the scratches were on her legs, she might have assumed she’d acquired them in a mundane manner — brushing against a sharp corner in the office, or on the subway. To have them on her arms was something altogether inexplicable. Her arms were only ever bare in the shower, and she hadn’t scratched herself. Her mind wandered through the steam and, in the way of meandering shower thoughts, hit upon a memory of some ghost hunting show from college. Men running from a tomb, displaying long red lines and stammering of demons. She’d laughed until she cried, gasping for breath in the arms of her college girlfriend. 

She smiled, feeling whimsical. “If you’re here and want to talk, try the other arm tonight.” 

The sound of her own voice thrilled her, echoing around the bathroom and tickling the back of her neck. When was the last time she’d spoken in her own home? During a call from her manager, probably. When was the last time someone had been in her space? Months, at least. The realization didn’t hurt as much as numb her, and her thoughts skittered away from that lack as she prepared for bed. Wrapped up in a ratty old sweatshirt, she promptly fell asleep. 

She always showered in the morning, even when she showered at night. It was the only way to feel clean and warm at the same time. A sweatless, pretty thing. There were no new scratches on her arms, and she watched the water caress the already fading marks from the previous day with unexpected disappointment. 

“I wish you’d been real,” she said idly, lips twitching slightly. “It would have been nice, having someone to talk to.” 

She ate half a grapefruit dusted with pink salt to match her salmon cashmere sweater set, a work outfit she hated but wore for its powers of invisibility. Putting on her professional mask, she left. 

In the dim shadows of the spotless white apartment, I waited, puzzling over her words.

Part Two