An excerpt from Keith R.A. DeCandido’s story “Unguarded” appearing in the anthology Horns and Halos, edited by John L. French and Danielle Ackley-McPhail, funding now on Kickstarter.

Mamí, I think I may have a client for you at school.”

Yolanda Rodriguez blinked in surprise at her fifteen-year-old daughter Kamilah. They had just sat down to dinner. Kamilah’s older sister, Analia, had made pork chops and Yolanda had been about to compliment one daughter on her cooking when the other one hit her with that particular bombshell.

“You haven’t been telling anyone at school about what I—” Yolanda started.

But that just got Kamilah to look at her with annoyance from over the top of her plastic-framed glasses. “Mamí, come on. Do I look stupid?”

Her youngest, Eduardo, who was eight, looked up and said, “Can I answer that?”

“Don’t even think about it,” Kamilah said to Eduardo, then looked back at her mother. “My friend Haroun—I think he’s been cursed.”

Yolanda chewed her pork chop thoughtfully. If anyone else had said this, she wouldn’t have taken it seriously, but Kamilah knew more about the supernatural and the weird and the magical than most of Yolanda’s fellow Coursers.

“What signs have you seen?” Yolanda asked.

Before she could answer, Yolanda’s husband Carlos asked, “Wait, isn’t that the boy who beat you out for best GPA last year?”

Quietly, Kamilah said, “Yeah.”

“So this isn’t just you wanting revenge?” Carlos asked with a big smile.

“No, Haroun’s a good guy! Really!” Kamilah shook her head. “He’s smart and funny and he’s on the basketball team—he even made varsity, even though he’s only a sophomore!”

“So what happened?” Yolanda asked.

“Everything’s going wrong! He made six fouls in two minutes in last night’s basketball game, and he missed every shot he tried to make. Then today he tripped over his own two feet and banged his head on his locker—so he can’t play anyhow ’cause he also sprained his ankle. And then in math class, he got all the answers wrong—he never gets the answers wrong in math.”

“Maybe he just got all stressed out ’cause’a the ankle,” Analia said.

Kamilah almost pouted. “It’s not just that! He doesn’t get stressed out! Last year, his grandmother died and he still played basketball, still got everything right in class, and he didn’t ever fall down! I really think he’s got a curse on him.”

“How long’s this been going on?” Yolanda asked.

“Couple days.”

Yolanda sighed. “Tell you what, Kamilah, give it another couple days, just to be sure.”

“But—” Kamilah started, but Yolanda cut her off.

“Kamilah. We don’t know for sure that this is a curse. You find any hex bags or symbols in his locker or his bags?”

“Not—not yet.”

Torn between pride and concern over Kamilah’s use of the word “yet” there, Yolanda then asked, “And do we have a client?”

Kamilah looked down at her food. “No.”

“Right. This is a job, remember? Unless someone’s payin’ for a Courser, ain’t nothin’ we can do. All right?”

“Yes, Mamí.”

But Kamilah did not sound happy about it.


Keith R.A. DeCandido is a white male in his late forties, approximately two hundred pounds. He was last seen in the wilds of the Bronx, New York City, though he is often sighted in other locales. Usually, he is armed with a laptop computer, which some have classified as a deadly weapon. Through the use of this laptop, he has inflicted more than fifty novels, as well as an indeterminate number of comic books, nonfiction, novellas, and works of short fiction on an unsuspecting reading public. Many of these are set in the milieus of television shows, games, movies, and comic books, among them Star Trek, Alien, Cars, Summoners War, Doctor Who, Supernatural, World of Warcraft, Marvel Comics, and many more.

We have received information confirming that more stories involving Danthres, Torin, and the city-state of Cliff’s End can be found in the novels Dragon Precinct, Unicorn Precinct, Goblin Precinct, Gryphon Precinct, and the forthcoming Phoenix Precinct and Manticore Precinct, as well as the short-story collections Tales from Dragon Precinct and the forthcoming More Tales from Dragon Precinct. His other recent crimes against humanity include A Furnace Sealed, the debut of a new urban fantasy series taking place in DeCandido’s native Bronx; the Alien novel Isolation; the Marvel’s Tales of Asgard trilogy of prose novels starring Marvel’s versions of Thor, Sif, and the Warriors Three; short stories in the anthologies Aliens: Bug Hunt, Joe Ledger: Unstoppable, The Best of Bad-Ass Faeries, The Best of Defending the Future, TV Gods: Summer Programming, X-Files: Trust No One, Nights of the Living Dead, the award-winning Planned Parenthood benefit anthology Mine!, the two Baker Street Irregulars anthologies, and Release the Virgins!; and articles about pop culture for and on his own Patreon.

If you see DeCandido, do not approach him, but call for backup immediately. He is often seen in the company of a suspicious-looking woman who goes by the street name of “Wrenn,” as well as several as-yet-unidentified cats. A full dossier can be found at

Another story featuring Yolanda Rodriguez

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