Free Halloween Story

Kundalis De Los Muertos
(set in the Soulstar Dragons universe)

"Earth to Karin." Cade's face came into focus, frowned and then grinned when he realized I was finally paying attention to him. "What are you coming to the party as?"

"Not going." I leaned against the breakfast bar and glared at the Fabio lookalike I'd somehow been saddled with. "I don't do Halloween."

I ignored his scowl and focused on my afternoon coffee. Third cup of the day and still not doing anything to perk me up. Cade deserved a better explanation. After all, I lived in his house, bossed him around, and thanks to the invisible dragon attached to my navel, had pretty much stolen his position as leader of our little band.

I won it fair and square.

Blue's giant invisible tail might have been attached to my bellybutton, but his constant sarcastic commentary had embedded itself in my head. Most days, I could differentiate between his thoughts and my own. But considering the dragon was just a manifestation of my metaphysical energy, I'd given up trying to sort him out.


Well, most days I'd given it up. Today, I had no time to wrestle with my psychic demons. I had a houseful of excited dragon anchors digging into drawers for costumes and makeup, and the way I saw it, a Halloween party to dodge.

We could always go play in the astral?


Or visit the Reiki lady?

"Not a chance." I'd meant to answer the dragon, but poor Cade deflated. He leaned his elbows on the breakfast bar and sighed. Then he flipped his hair back over his broad shoulders and tried to catch me in a smoldering look. Uh oh.  Not having any of that either. "I'm going to Medical Lake tonight to check on Sly."

Nice one, liar.

"But everyone is going to the party."

"Even more reason for me to skip it, Cade." I checked the hallway leading from the kitchen into the living room and then lowered my voice. "It's not like Li will want me there."

"But it's Halloween!" Cade wailed and the racket summoned the others.

Sharp steps echoed in the hallway and Li appeared. Her boyfriend, Curt, followed her in, but he managed a friendly smile. Li didn't do friendly.

"Karin's not coming tonight." Cade ratted me out.

"Ah shucks." Li grinned. Not friendly. Not in the least. Her long black hair gleamed in the kitchen lights, matching the teeth she bared at me behind Cade's back.

"You should come." Poor Curt earned himself and elbow in the gut.

"I'm going to see Sly." The more I thought about it, the more it sounded like a good idea. "He's been in Medical Lake for awhile now, and I want to check on the Flame."

The Flame was the biggest, craziest dragon we'd yet to encounter. Blue had bested that monster, but only just, and at the price of Flame's anchor, Sly, who now resided in a quiet room in a state facility.

Only just?

"Is there any particular reason you want to visit the lunatic?" Li's voice dripped disdain. She tossed her hair again, was starting to act more and more like Cade.

"Ask your dragon." I might have snapped at her. Who could blame me? She rolled her eyes and made a face that indicated she took my advice. Her belly beast was smaller than mine, a black dragon with as much attitude as its owner. At the moment, I could see the translucent scaly hide wafting upward from Li like a parade balloon. Most of it vanished through the ceiling, but something in the undulations told me we'd annoyed them both.

I let Blue handle them. The idea to visit Sly had probably come from him anyway.  If he explained that we had concerns about the security in Medical Lake, or about the effectiveness of anyone trying to keep a Kundalis dragon's anchor incarcerated, it would leave me free to glare at my coffee.

Your favorite sport.

I let my irritation with  the dragon spill over to my crew a little too often. Then again, today was no time to start making exceptions. "If you guys are done playing dress up, maybe we can squeeze in some training?"

"Sure thing." Cade, at least, brightened. He liked nothing better than playing dragon master on the lawn and I suspected he fancied he'd be the next one to take in his dragon. Personally, I didn't care who did it first, so long as they all managed the feat as soon as possible.

A Kundalis out of control could lead to all sorts of nasty problems. We'd learned that the hard way... and so had Sly. I'd learned how to take Blue inside my body, to harness his power and control it, which had the unusual side-effect of making me glow like a neon sign.

Don't forget the flying part.

And the flying. Yeah. That part I could get into. So could my crew if their eager expressions could be believed. Before I could abandon my coffee and lead them out to the back of the cabin, however, our resident runaway, Chelle, bounced into the room. Her dragon was black too, but a lot less snarky than Li's.

"What's going on?" The kid slept in late. Something about teenagers. Anyway, she'd missed the holiday hullabaloo and I had a second to pray she'd pull an "I'm too cool for Halloween" attitude and join me in Medical Lake.

"We're going to a haunted house tonight," Curt offered. "Want to come?"

"Yeah!" Chelle squealed and dashed my hopes of companionship.

"Great." Li muttered, gave me the instant impression Chelle had joined me in enemy status.

"We'll get you a costume," Cade started, but I'd had enough of Halloween already.

And it's not even dark out yet.

I took Blue inside. His energy pulsed bright blue, felt like lightning under my skin. The rush of a dragon spirit suddenly occupying your body isn't something I can explain easily. Despite all my cautions and warnings for the crew, I still highly recommend the experience.

My hands glowed blue. Little sparks of lighting flickered at the tips of my fingers, and I pushed away from the ground just enough to hover out of my chair and favor all of them with a grin that had to look as insane as Sly.

It got their attention, got their minds off of Halloween and parties and haunted anything.

Party pooper.

I pointed an arm toward the back door and gnashed Blue's teeth together in my mind. "Training first."

Li groaned and stomped back the way she'd come. Cade flashed me a jealous look. Yeah, he wanted this bad. If only he could focus. Curt had little choice but to follow Li, but I imagined the look he gave me had an apologetic edge. Good. I'd work them half to death trying to fly, and then maybe they'd be too tired for Halloween anything.

So much angst over a silly holiday.

"I don't do horror, death, spooky, or gross," I said to nobody in particular.

Or maybe you're just sore about Doc leaving and want to make everyone miserable.

"I just think it's overrated. And I don't get the whole scaring the crap out of yourself for fun."

Shall I ignore that abrupt subject change?

I didn't want to talk about Doc. Ever. The stupid dragon knew it too.

"Karin?" Chelle's tone dragged me back to reality. I still hovered, but fighting with Blue had distracted me and I floated a few feet above the table now.


"Do you mind if I go to the party?"

Great. I suffered a twinge of guilt. Just because I didn't get national spooky day, didn't mean I had to ruin everyone else's good time. I sighed and drifted back down to my chair. Then I let Blue loose and wondered for the hundredth time if his personality wasn't affecting me.

Only in the best way.

"Sure kid," I brushed the smart aleck in my head aside and focused a kinder smile on my crew member. "You go ahead and have a good time."


So were going to visit a mental hospital... on Halloween.

"Yup." I tightened my resolve and watched the fringes of Spokane drifting by below us, trees finally. The rest of the Columbia Basin boasted lots of scrubland and dust and the occasional interesting rock.
Great thinking.

"Just focus on keeping us out of sight, okay?"


"And let me know as soon as you spot the Flame." If Sly's dragon was still nursing a hankering for Blue's position, I could easily end up in the middle of a dominance battle I didn't need.

The Flame is already aware of our proximity.

Fabulous. I took a moment to second guess my decision to come all this way alone. Sure, the flying was great, exhilarating, a lot quieter than our home front at the moment, but I'd managed to underplay the possibility of a fight.

I don't anticipate any trouble.

"Why?" I imagined all sorts of trouble.

You'll see.

Okay, that definitely triggered alarm bells. Blue did cagey too well, and almost always when something meant big problems for me.  I flew lower still, had to dodge the scattered trees that populated this stretch of the I-90 corridor. The night and my dark clothing would make us close to invisible. Except for the blue glow, and I didn't feel like taking any chances with my dragon in a recalcitrant mood.

"How much farther?" I slowed down too, let the pines hide as much of our passage as possible just in case someone looked in the right direction at the wrong moment. Maybe on Halloween, they'd suspect a trick or a decoration or write the whole thing off as a cider-induced hallucination. "Are we there yet?"


I squinted at the trees. The hospital where Sly lived should be just a little to the north, but to fly high enough to see it would expose us too much for my tastes. Which left me little choice but to trust the dragon. I considered the risk, ducked closer to the branches, and caught a glimpse of fire between the needles.


The fire dragon slithered low to the ground, winding between the trees like a blazing snake. Considerably bigger than Blue, Flame stretched a quarter mile through the forest, glowing orange and translucent. Only other dragons and their anchors could even see him. At the moment, I wished I couldn't.

"Is he challenging?" I reached for the nearest tree branch, steadied myself and prepared to unleash my dragon.


Flame drew closer. His wide head lifted, pointed a smoking snout in our direction. Fire rippled from the nostrils, swirled over invisible scales. Sly's dragon slunk to us, blinked yellow eyes, and rolled onto his back to expose his pale belly.


Blue was hard enough to take when he wasn't completely full of himself. I reined in the glow, tightened my control over my Kundalis while his subordinate squirmed at the base of our tree like a Cocker Spaniel about to pee itself.

"You broke my dragon, chica." Sly's voice drifted up from the forest, from a place it most certainly wasn't authorized to be in the middle of the night. "He's like a big puppy now. Soft."

"I doubt that very much." I squinted at the tree trunks, made out a slender shadow slumping against one. "Are you supposed to be out here, Sly?"

"Flame and I are celebrating El Dia De Los Muertos."

"Not you too." I forgot for a second that Sly was completely nuts. He'd always done a great job at feigning lucidity. "What is the big deal about Halloween?"

"Come on, chica. You of all people ought to get it."

"Why is that?" I remembered he was outside the facility, that he should have been under lock and key. "And how are you two even out here?"

"No worries, chica. Flame wanted to see his master, right? No harm in taking a little walk."

Except I'd bet the hospital would see it differently. I bet this wasn't Sly and Flame's first little walk outside. I'd been right to worry. Anyone with a Kundalis attached would be impossible to keep incarcerated. I wanted to ask Sly why he hadn't bolted for good, but didn't want to plant the suggestion either.

I checked with Blue silently, did my best to ask him if we could force Sly to stay put without being obvious.

I could order the Flame to stop breaking him out.

Not that I had anything against the guy. Nothing personal except, of course, he had killed someone.

"How's my gang?" Sly squinted up at us.

My gang.

"They're good." I gave up and floated down. Once my feet hit the pine needle mat, I loosed Blue and felt the rush of his leaving. Flame's head came up. Blue rose like a ghost straight overhead, gorgeous, but then, I'm a little biased. He twisted and wound into a corkscrew and then tilted his big head to gaze down at us with whiskers trailing away between the tree tops. "Mel's in charge of Moses Lake."

"Maybe I should visit sometime."

"I don't think that's a good idea." I tensed. Blue towered over Flame at the moment, but if the fire dragon decided to fight, I was going to wish I'd gone to the stupid party.

"Relax, chica." Sly's laugh bounced away through the trees. " I like it here... most days."

"Good. I mean, you know, I hope you're getting some help. Feeling better."

"Sure. We're good."

I sent the message to Blue then, knew better than to trust this guy at his word. Order Flame to remain in Medical Lake. Tell him not to leave without your permission.

He will.


Though he's distressed at the idea of giving up their walks in the woods.

Well, now I felt like a brute. I modified the order, let Blue know that walks in the woods aside, we just wanted Sly to get better. Stress on the get better part.


"So why aren't you at a party somewhere tonight?" Sly showed no sign Flame had relayed the message. He leaned against his tree trunk and stretched his arms leisurely. "I figured your man would have you playing tricks or treats tonight."

"I don't do Halloween." Also, my man was a sore subject. I considered ordering Sly to lay off, but figured that would look even more pathetic.


"Why not?" Sly managed to sound genuinely shocked. "The day of the dead, chica. It's a big deal."


"Because you face death, right? You look that monster in the face, lady, and you don't blink."

"You lost me." I'd seen the sugar skulls, of course. The art community loved Dia De Los Muertos too. I'd been plagued by the wretched designs at school, the flowers surrounding dark, empty eye sockets.

"It's the big fear, chica. The biggest. You face it tonight, buy it a drink, and have a good laugh over the final curtain. Because everybody knows she's coming for them eventually. Might as well give her a kiss and make nice in the meantime."

"Facing death doesn't make it any less inevitable, Sly."

"Dancing with fear is healthy. You try it. You'll see what Sly means." He stepped from the tree's shadow and mimed a suggestive tango across the pine needles. "Makes you free, right? Free is good."

"Free is overrated." I didn't want him getting any ideas my Kundalis couldn't handle. "But I'll think about it if you promise not to take too many walks. Deal?"

"The big Blue already took care of that, yes?"


"You seem nervous tonight." Sly stared at me. Blue stared at Flame. "You wanna talk about it?"

"No. Thanks."


"You face your fears, chica, and you take away their power."

A soft wind riffled the pine needles. They hissed at us. Translucent fire flickered over Flame's belly. In the distance, a tractor trailer rumbled away down I-90. I inhaled and pulled my dragon in. Glowing and full of Blue's power, I rose a few feet into the air,  just enough to look down on Sly.

Now who's posturing?

"Have a nice walk, Sly."


Blue kept his mouth shut until we reached Moses Lake. A difficult feat for him, I knew, and I considered rewarding him with some kind of dragon cookie.

I am not a Cocker Spaniel.

"Well I was beginning to wonder if you were awake in there."

Just a little tired.

"Oh." I watched the lake, dark and broken into little fingers in all directions. "Wait, what?"


We'd taken a good long break in Medical Lake, but the flight out had been solid and I'd never fully tested the limits of his stamina. Still, the way the dark water flickered below had me nervous. The way his voice faded in and out sent a huge chill up my glowing blue spine.

"Maybe we should rest in Moses. Can you contact our crew here?"

No one's here.

"What?" We had a huge crew in town, Sly's old gang lived in a run-down motel up on the hill. There were always dragons fluttering over Moses Lake. Always. "Are you sure?"

They're all gone.

"Where? How can they all have..." I dropped five feet, straight down. "Blue!"

Very tired.

My flight stabilized, but I could feel the wobble in it. My heart, on the other hand, pounded like a marching band inside my ribcage. I scanned the area, looking for somewhere out of sight but near enough to prevent my dragon from dropping me onto the freeway.

The island is near.

When Sly's Flame ran things here, the dragons had congregated on a large island south of downtown. I'd only seen it once, through Blue's eyes, but if he thought he could make it that far, I was certainly game. I sent the okay with a thought and we veered away, flying far lower than I would have liked. Someone would see us at this rate for certain.

 No dragons. Need to rest.

By the time he set me down on the sand, my toes nearly dragged the lake. Blue had lost his oomph, and the silence in my head had raised little goose bumps along my arms. No sooner than I stood on solid ground, I felt the dragon energy trickle away. Not the rush I was used to. The glow faded, but instead of billowing overhead into a rampant Kundalis, it soaked into the ground and vanished.


A wind scuttled through the scrub on the island.

"Blue? Are you okay?"

I hadn't projected, a little trick that set him free to wander and give me some peace and quiet. I'd loosed his energy, certainly, but he should be attached at the moment. I checked my navel. A faint blue line snaked out of my center, wrapped my hips and then sagged down to the sand.


No answer. The island remained dark and dragonless, and the soft lapping of the lake against the shore turned very creepy. Slap, riffle. The wind joined the song, moved the brush in time to the waves. Slap, slap.

There should have been a good dozen dragon anchors in Moses Lake tonight. Some weird desert bug hummed past my ear. I jumped to one side, smacked at the empty air. Sly had said something about a visit. He'd been outside the hospital, met us even, as if he'd expected the visit.

Slap, riffle, slap.

"Sly?" I called it like a moron, like the old gang leader might be hiding behind a scrap of sage. Stupid. He couldn't have beaten us here and, even if he had, wouldn't have guessed I'd land on dragon island. "Blue?"

I turned a slow circle, took in the water, the lights on the far shore and the dark lake between the ground I stood on and the mainland where help could be found. No way I could swim that. If Blue couldn't fly me out... I swallowed what felt like sandpaper. Slap, slap.

With a ball of lead in my stomach, I crept closer to the water's edge. Maybe it was shallow here. In some places, Moses Lake was more of a puddle than a legitimate body of water. I leaned out, peered down into my own reflection. No dragon. Only a fat moon overhead.

Slap. Riffle, hisssss.

I spun around. My heart tried the marching band thing again. That hadn't sounded like a bug or the wind, and though I doubted rattlesnakes would have crossed the lake to get here, I still checked the earth around my feet.

Blue's pale ghost still vanished at ground level, as if he hung from my navel instead of rising up from it. Had I drained too much of his power? Had Sly or Flame done something to us in Medical Lake? To our dragons here? What if Blue was...

Colors exploded around me. The island burst to life, sprouted dragons from every pore. The air filled with snaking translucent Kundalis, and I screamed like a five-year-old getting a tetanus shot. My mouth fell open, and the shriek reached decibels I doubted my voice had ever even flirted with before.

I lost air, sucked in a breath that came from my toes, and stumbled ankle deep into the lake.


His gigantic, annoying head appeared in front of me, rising from the sand he'd used for cover and blinking bowling ball-sized yellow eyes with mock innocence. I knew him a lot better than that.

Did it work?

"I'm going to murder you."

Considering I am a manifestation of yourself, that seems unlikely.

"Are you trying to kill me?"

How do you feel?

"What?" I slogged out of the lake and kicked sand right through him. "What is wrong with you?"

How do you feel?

"I feel like making you dead."

No. You don't.

That stopped me for a second. He had a point about us being the same person. Inconvenient, considering I was planning his murder, but unfortunately true. I sucked in another breath, tried to force some air back into my terrified lungs and watched the other Kundalis lining up around the island. They'd been here the whole time. My stupid dragon had set me up.

How do you feel?

My heart raced. I felt the oxygen leaking back into my body as if each cell inhaled one at a time. It tingled, to be honest. My whole body felt awake and ready to pummel my dragon into nonexistence. It felt bright and alive and...

So it worked.

"You did this because of what Sly said."

Of course.

"What have I told you about listening to other people's advice."

You said not to listen to Li. You never specified that I should ignore Sly.

He had me there. Still, I felt like I had earned a temper tantrum. Instead, I sat on the sand and stared up at him. Stupid dragons. I stifled the urge to giggle. The rest of our local crew draped themselves around the sage like deflated balloon animals. Huge, deflated balloon animals. My heart might still be hammering, but I had to admit I felt pretty good.

Free, Sly had said.


"Don't ever do that again."


"Sly is a bad influence."

Like Li?

"Yes." I considered that. Li and the others were at a party in Ellensburg. They'd probably be out till well after midnight. It gave me a little time. Over my head, Blue's big muzzle nodded up and down. His whiskers twitched, and I decided he just might be a bad influence too.

I like the way you think.


I painted my face like the sugar skulls I'd seen at school. We had just enough time, once I'd blacked out my eyes and drawn the flowers around them. Just enough time to sneak onto Cade's porch and hunker in the shadows behind the railing. I loosed Blue, projected, and gave him strict orders to stay incognito. Out of sight and out of contact with my crew's dragons.

I want to watch.

"Then do it without letting anyone know."

It was my idea.

"Just lay low."

Tires already crunched on gravel. Cade's truck bounced back up our driveway. I squatted lower and prayed the headlights didn't hit me. I'd look like a fool then, like the lunatic I was. What had I let my dragon talk me into?

Here they come.

I contemplated standing, leaning casually against the railing as if I always hung out with my face painted like a dead hippy's. The headlights flashed, flickered as Cade rounded the bend, just missed me.

"Did you do that?"


The truck parked in front of the porch. Cade turned off the engine, and the house and surrounding forest went pitch black. I heard the doors open, the conversation leaking from the cab.

"Forgot to leave a light on."

Footsteps crunched. Something heavy landed in the parking area, a passenger jumping from the truck bed... or a body. The wind lent me a howl, set the mood as the first of them placed a foot on our bottom stair.


I inhaled. The wind moaned again. I sent the order to Blue and stood up, fast, as sudden a motion as my halfway numb legs could manage. If I stuttered a little, it hardly mattered. Blue rushed in at just the right second, cast my face in a blazing glow of dragon power, a skeleton mask floating from the darkness.

I might have growled a little.

Cade screamed the loudest. Also, at the highest pitch. I heard Curt curse, Li or Chelle gasping in the dark. Someone tripped over the steps. By the time they got the lights on, I was having second thoughts.


I backed a good ten feet farther down the porch and set my dragon loose. My crew glared at me from the steps, but I thought, maybe, Curt at least looked amused.

"What is wrong with you!" Li howled and scrunched her face a step closer to murderous.

"Uh." I'd run out of porch, considered jumping the railing and making for the trees. "Happy Halloween?"

"You almost gave me a heart attack." Cade's voice sounded a lot less mad than Li's. He even smiled a little, now that I wasn't a spirit come to steal his soul. "Good one."

"What?" Li turned her snarl on him.

"Yeah," Curt agreed. "Well played."

Li would make him pay for that later. For now, she growled and pushed her way past Cade, vanishing into the house with a nasty muttered, "you scream like a girl."

"Sorry." I shrugged and eased a step closer. "You guys okay?"

"I did it!" Chelle hollered from the parking strip. "Karin, look!"

I heard the kid, but even with the porch light on, I couldn't find her. The guys turned too, and all of us scanned the gravel around the truck for any sign of Chelle.

"Look. Up here." Her giggle arched overhead. "I did it."

Chelle has taken in her black.

I tilted my head back and caught sight of Chelle streaking past. Her laugh echoed in her wake, celebratory, infectious.

"She took her dragon in." Curt jumped out onto the gravel to watch. "She did it too."

Chelle flew past again, full of her black's power and her own success. This was the goal I'd set for them. Get the Kundalis under control. Take the power in. Somehow, we'd managed to trigger it for the kid.

We scared her in.

"Well done!"

Thank you.

"I was talking to the kid."

Cade and I joined Curt on the gravel. We watched Chelle play with her Kundalis, with flight and all the complications that came with it, and all was suddenly well with our little world. If Chelle could do it, eventually, they'd all manage. We'd be okay.

Li is planning our demise.

Almost all of us would be okay. Li furious with me was nothing new. I could live with it, if it got us all a step closer to controlling the beasts we harbored.


I ignored my dragon's indignation and hollered up to Chelle's shadow. "Keep a rein on her. Make sure you're calling the shots."

The kid squealed and shot past us, a streak of hair and giggles. A success to my thinking. Sly had been right after all. Now, I could see it too.

And Li?

Li would always be a problem. We had a confrontation coming, sure. But I could always claim the dragon made me do it. Tonight, I planned on celebrating. I pulled my dragon inside too, glowed like a neon angel of death, and shot up into the sky to join the kid. Now wasn't the time to worry about Li. It was time to play.

In my mind and underneath my skin, my dragon's power tingled in agreement.