By Elliott James

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John Charming. Ex knight. Current monster hunter.

Somewhere in Alaska a locked house full of ripped apart bodies and one teacup poodle covered in blood. Somewhere in Alaska, the voice of a dead woman speaks through a car radio. And somewhere in Alaska, the last surviving descendant of one of John Charming’s only friends is being pursued by nightmare hounds. The dog days have begun.

This is a short story from contemporary fantasy author, Elliott James, within his Pax Arcana world. The first of his novels, Charming and Daring, are available now.



Once Upon a Time, I missed the first part. This was the part where two Alaska state troopers pulled up to a large three-story house that looked like a wooden palace in the middle of nowhere. And I mean nowhere. The nearest town was Swelling, Alaska, five miles away and not so much a town as a truck stop with a glandular condition. The state troopers were responding to a 911 call from one Anna Sharpe, who claimed to be trapped in her attic by a bear that had broken into her house and killed her husband.

The reason I gave a damn was that one of the responding officers, Bob Franklin, was the son of Lily Alguvuk. Well, technically I suppose her name was Lily Franklin, but there are legal names and real names. I should know; I have several legal names on several legal driver’s licenses, but my real name is John Charming. That’s right, Charming. You know all of those stories about guys named Prince Charming who were always rescuing maidens and getting tangled up with witches and slaying some kind of monster or another when they weren’t being maimed or turned into something? Those were my ancestors.

You’d change your name a lot too. Oh, and by the way, I’m cursed.

Anyhow, Bob Franklin wasn’t any kind of tracker, which is ironic since his grandfather, George Alguvuk, had been an Inupiat shaman and one of the most skilled trackers I’ve ever known. In fact, I would go so far as to say that George Alguvuk was one of the greatest wendigo hunters since Jack Fiddler. George was also one of my few actual friends. Bob hadn’t known his grandfather, though. Bob’s mother, Lily, had wanted to find a safe home for her baby, far away from George Alguvuk’s dangerous lifestyle, and she had left her name and her tribe behind when she married Doug Franklin, a white man who owned a lot of small businesses: a pizza parlor, a convenience store that had a gas pump and sold moose barbecue, a pawnshop…those kinds of places. Safe places. Then Lily had eventually left her son and his father too. Bob kind of tangled his mother’s abandonment and her ethnicity all together into one big emotional snarl and silently resented both of them without ever examining why too closely. I imagine Bob’s father, Doug Franklin, was a big help in this regard.

But even Bob, tracker or not, noticed that there weren’t any large animal marks in the snow around the Sharpes’ house. He walked all the way around it just to be sure. There also weren’t any broken windows or doors. What kind of bear breaks into a house and leaves an intact door closed behind it?

Bob didn’t think it was a prank call, though. He had a bad feeling, and Bob trusted his instincts. He was probably wise to do so. George Alguvuk had possessed the sight, and such gifts tend to pass down family lines. Bob took an 870 Remington shotgun up to the front door, while his partner, Andy Wilson, stayed in the car in case there really was a bear in the house. Bob’s partner wasn’t being a coward; he wanted to be ready to call for back-up or get Bob the hell out of there fast if Bob came running out of the house with over half a ton of pissed-off mammal coming after him.

Bob put an ear to the door and heard the faint sound of yelling from somewhere within the house. He kicked the front door open….and saw one of the strangest things he had ever seen. A man was spread out all over the front hallway. On the walls. The ceiling. The floor. And lying right in the middle of the carnage that used to be Ryan Sharpe was a teacup poodle. The dog, small enough to hold in the palm of a hand, was matted with blood and bits, but none of the gore had come from its own body. Upon closer examination, there wasn’t a scratch on it.

The teacup poodle was dead.

*  *  *

Just to be clear, I love Alaska. I even lived there for ten years, which is longer than I’ve stayed in any one place since I came down with a mild case of werewolf. But Alaska has its dark sides and its dangers like any other place, and some that aren’t like any other place. It is a beautiful state, but there is starkness there, and squalor. I suppose the contrast lies in the fact that Alaska attracts people who don’t like rules, but it is unforgiving of those who lack self-discipline. It is not a place for fools, but what place is without them?

In any case, I could see where Swelling got its name. The town proper, if I can use that phrase unironically, wasn’t more than a half mile by a half mile and looked like a painful bump that had risen on the ass of Alaska. There was a pipeline station to the north, a cannery to the south, and an Inupiat village to the east. Swelling had probably started as a pit stop, become infected by slight success, and then reached its full growth depressingly soon because the places it catered to were largely self-sufficient.

The advent of technology had hit Alaskan towns like Swelling pretty hard in recent years, as soon as the kinds of businesses that housed employees in work dorms realized that paying for Internet connections and flat-screen TVs and coffee bars resulted in less worker turnover. Video stores, bookstores, Internet cafés, radio stations, and local newspapers had all felt the same blow that their kindred in less remote states felt a decade earlier, and the shadow of UPS and online ordering just kept on extending over small businesses and stores.

But maybe I was making too many assumptions. Maybe Swelling had always sucked.

There weren’t many buildings taller than one story, and almost all of them were wood, made from planks, not logs. They all looked old. In fact, the only thing that looked new in Swelling was the highway that ran beside it.


  • "The Pax Arcana books are seriously good reads. Action, humor, and heart with unexpected twists and turns. If you are (like me) waiting for the next Butcher or Hearne--pick up Elliott James. Then you can bite your nails waiting for the next James, too."—Patricia Briggs, New York Times #1 bestselling author of the Mercy Thompson series
  • "James's world is rich and complex and well worth diving into."—Richard Kadrey on Charming
  • "This debut introduces a self-depracating, wisecracking, and honorable-to-a-fault hero who can stand up to such established protagonists as Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden and Seanen McGuire's October Daye. Combining action and romance -- with an emphasis on action -- this is a top-notch new series opener for lovers of urban fantasy."—Library Journal (Starred Review) on Charming
  • "I loved this book from start to finish. Exciting and innovative, Charming is a great introduction to a world that I look forward to spending a lot more time in."—New York Times bestselling author, Seanan McGuire
  • "In a saturated literary realm, James's tale stands out for the gritty, believable world he builds...This is masculine urban fantasy in the vein of Jim Butcher and Mark del Franco."—Booklist on Charming
  • "Grab some snacks and settle back as splendid debut author James serves up a Prince Charming tale yanked sideways...Mark this name down -- you will undoubtedly be seeing more from James!"—RT Book Reviews on Charming

On Sale
Feb 18, 2014
Page Count
38 pages

Elliott James

About the Author

An army brat and gypsy scholar, Elliott James is currently living in the Blue Ridge mountains of southwest Virginia. An avid reader since the age of three (or that’s what his family swears anyhow), he has an abiding interest in mythology, martial arts, live music, hiking, and used bookstores.

Learn more about this author