SWIM LIKE HELL
An urban fantasy by Benjamin LaMore
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Ian DeLong\’s job is going to kill him one day. And it’s not even his job anymore.
Once upon a time, DeLong traveled the world fighting supernatural menaces with the aid of his unique immunity to all things supernatural. Now he’s been retired, shipped off to live in a small Louisiana town with a large, secret population of magical people and beings where, true to his nature, he still strives to keep the peace as best he can. When a mystical artifact is lost in his town he must find it before it falls into the wrong hands, and more wrong hands are showing up every minute. Now Ian is at the bottom of a very hungry food chain, and he knows he’s very close to being in over his head. He also knows that when you’re in over your head you have only two choices. You can drown.
Or you can swim like hell.
Madeline has rented a clean little Mercedes but I insist on driving my own car, not out of chivalry or machismo but because if there is one thing I’ve learned from the life I’ve lead it’s that you should never be at the mercy of another person’s transportation.
I’m parked a block away from the Hole. Madeline looks surprised and a little skeptical when she sees my vehicle, a green Jeep Wrangler Unlimited that has been treated a bit roughly. It happens sometimes that the situations I find myself in force me to chauffer large, heavy, and occasionally violent people (and not-quite people), and too many claims can make your car insurance skyrocket. It’s okay. A single look will tell you that I’ve never been vain about my car. Both front quarter panels are cracked and there is a large dent in the front passenger side door. The roof has been scratched more than a car roof should explicably be and the front bumper has been welded back on, twice. When she sees the three claw marks scored deeply into the rear door she raises her eyebrows at me. I wave off her questioning look and climb in. She follows suit, I start the car and we pull out into the nighttime traffic.
“Where are we going?” I ask. Her eyes glaze over visibly and she begins peering about as if she was looking for a light switch in a dark room. In no time she smiles. “I can see the residue of my token,” she says, pointing roughly west. “Go that way.”
I nod, pleased. There’s a small neighborhood out that way with a lot of cheap rental properties, many of which are empty even in the touristy summer months. Perfect choice for someone looking for a quick, anonymous layover, and far less likely to invite civilian interference than a busy suburb. We drive in silence for a minute or so, then she smiles bright enough to catch my eye.
“It’s true what they say about you. I’d heard about you, of course, but I needed to see it for myself before I believed it.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Your magical immunity. I just tried to hex you, but it didn’t work.”
“Now? While I’m driving? We could have been…”
“Relax,” she laughs. “It was nothing serious. I just tried to turn your hair blond.”
She shrugs carelessly. “I like blonds.”
At that moment the Jeep’s radio blares to life, untouched, startling us both. Evil Woman, by the Electric Light Orchestra, floods the speakers. I reach out and click the radio off.
“What the hell was that?” Madeline gasps.
“Relax, it’s just Simon,” I tell her.
“Who is Simon?”
“A local ghost. Practical joker. He likes messing with people’s music.” I look sideways at her. “Or is he trying to tell me something?”
She doesn’t flinch from my stare. “You mean, like am I evil?” She shrugs again. “There are some people who’d say so. There are some people who think I’m a saint. I’m a businesswoman. That’s all. If it makes you feel any better I have never used my powers to hurt people, so even if you were still an Envoy you’d have no business with me.”
I’m not sure if I believe her, but that’s a matter for another day. She turns and looks out the window at the crowds. It’s a fantastic night, and since there is no such thing as last call in this town the sidewalks are still full of people melting in the humidity, strolling down the sidewalks, dipping into the bars. Some of them are heading for the boardwalk, maybe thinking about a midnight swim. If they knew what I know they’d never dip a toe in that bay, though. I know what lives in there.
“It’s amazing,” Madeline says after a minute.
She’s searching the crowds. “There’s so much here. So many of us. I don’t remember the last time I saw so many supernaturals in one area.”
“About one person in ten here have some kind of magical background. Six hundred, give or take. They’re their own sub community. Around here they call themselves the Grey.”
“They think of themselves as the grey area between those who have no power and those who have too much. Most of the people in this town who have magic are fairly weak, magically speaking, but they’re still up higher than normal humans on the grand scale of things. Besides, they seem to like the name. Gives them an identity in the world.”
“I just saw three werewolves sitting at that outdoor oyster bar.” I don’t think she’s listening to me at all. If she is she’s not acknowledging me.
“I hate werewolves,” I mutter.
“Is that a genie on that corner selling sunglasses?”
“Maurice,” I tell her. “He’s fallen on hard times lately.”
She shakes her head, awestruck. “You picked one hell of a town to retire to, Ian.”
“I didn’t pick it.”~Buy SWIM LIKE HELL on Amazon
The Right Power for a Hero
If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s an overpowered hero.
For example, I find Superman, as a character, to be quite boring. An invulnerable, flying laser factory who can bench-press NORAD? I just can’t get into it. In order to create dramatic tension, the writer of a Superman story has to use either a villain that’s so godlike in power that I can’t find any sense of connection, or bathe in the waters of gimmick plots that revolve around kryptonite. It’s a rare Superman tale that resonates with me.
On the other hand, I’ve always loved characters that, though they may be powerful in their own way, are inherently human. Give me your Daredevils, your Batmen, your Spider-Men. People who, on a bad day, can lose it all to a goon with good aim.
If a hero can’t fall, he’s no real hero at all.
I keep thoughts like these in mind when I try to create my characters. When I set about coming up with a hero for my stories, I didn’t want a wizard with vast depths of magic at his command. I didn’t want an immortal warrior or fallen god, someone who could bend the elements or shrug off gunfire like mosquitoes. I wanted him to be… human. Someone who has the tools to fight evil, but is still vulnerable to something as small as a pocketknife blade.
Enter: Ian DeLong.
In a world of magic and sorcery, he’s an aberration. The only one of his kind, he cannot be affected by any kind of mystical energy. That made him an effective tool for an organization called the Aegis (kind of like the Men in Black, but schooled at Hogwarts), but when he made a choice that angered them, he found himself forcibly retired to Superstition Bay, a little bayside Louisiana town with a big, big secret.
He has no real power to call his own. He couldn’t, or I’d never be satisfied with him as a hero. It’s not that he’s lacking in gifts that he uses to fight the good fight. He’s the antithesis of the magical world, immune to all of their spells, their curses, their talismans. But that’s where his immunity ends. Beyond that special gift he’s as human as you and I. Or, as he reasons in Swim Like Hell, just because the bite of a werewolf can’t turn him into one doesn’t mean that the teeth won’t cut.
My favorite heroes are underpowered. Overmatched. But they persevere, using their wits, their guts, their heart. Give me an underdog any day.
My hope is that his humanity will resonate with my readers. That he’s reachable as a protagonist. That our vulnerabilities are his, too. That the reader will turn page after page wondering how he’ll deal with his next problem, rather than falling back on alien super powers or arcane energies. That he’s human. That he’s…
My name is Benjamin LaMore, and I’m lucky enough to be the archivist for Superstition Bay and its residents, both magical and normal. And I hope to see you there.
About Benjamin LaMore
Benjamin LaMore lives in New Jersey, but don\’t hold that against him. After a decades-long flirtation with the written word, he finally took the leap into creative writing with the creation of Superstition Bay, which has no relation or connection to the town of Point Pleasant, NJ, where he was born and spent his youth. If anyone infers this, well, that\’s on them.
Benjamin lives with his wife, who is too indulgent of his eccentricities and sometimes dangerous hobbies, and his two children, who encourage too much of them. Refusing to acknowledge the passing of time, he practices mixed martial arts and has recently acquired the taste for long-distance obstacle course racing.
Benjamin\’s creative path was laid in his childhood, when he wore out his copy of D\’Aulaires Book of Greek Myths. Since then, reasoning that there is already enough non-fiction in day-to-day reality, he has subsisted on a diet of fantasy and horror books and films, probably to the detriment of his world view. Traces of these might show up from time to time as more Visits to Superstition Bay come to light. He counts Jim Butcher, Richard Kadrey, Raymond Chandler and the writing team of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child as his greatest inspirations.
Welcome to Superstition Bay. Here there be Monsters.Find Benjamin on Amazon