First Chapter of WE COULD BE VILLAINS

We Could Be Villains releases in only ONE MONTH!!! You have four weeks left to preorder and grab all the FREE goodies! BUT FIRST, read on for a taste of this fabulous book, and then you’ll know how much you don’t want to miss it!


OFFICIAL VIGIL REPORT

FILED BY AGENT ROSEMARY COLLINS

DATES: JAN 15 – MAY 21

ALL RELEVANT DOCUMENTS INCLUDED

CASE #: [REDACTED]

JAN 15 – around 3:00 P.M. EST

Today’s mission: make it through my shift without SuperCon spoilers. It was only rumored to be the most explosive VIGIL & ANTE Studios panel in history. I would have ditched work to watch the livestream, but the thought of calling out sent my stomach into knots.

Yay for being responsible, Rosemary.

Ugh, the next two hours would be an eternity.

A sharp breeze cut through my coat, and I pulled the thick fabric tighter against me as I walked quicker through the crowded New York City sidewalk. I glanced at the time on my phone. An hour until the panel and only a few minutes until my shift.

What could the huge announcement be? A third Project Safeguard movie? Every actor was rumored to be at the panel, so an epic new superhero team-up film made sense. The creator of BestVIGILMemes theorized a Degree Surge solo movie was next because he found a leaked set photo.

The suspense was killing me. I shook my head. No, I wasn’t going to think about this until after work because it would make my shift feel even longer.

I put in an earbud and played my favorite showtunes. That would distract me for a while. “King of New York” blasted through my ears with its upbeat tune, and soon the loud rumble of the New York City machine disappeared. My steps matched the beat as that special Broadway joy surged through me, but I stopped short of singing along. I reserved my “performances” for my bedroom because the thought of an audience made me nauseous.

Something tickled the back of my neck. A snowflake? No, the sky was too clear. The chill crept farther and farther down my spine, almost like…like someone was watching me.

It had to be my imagination. Who was I kidding? It was nothing.

This is how people get kidnapped, Rosemary.

Why did this keep happening? It wasn’t the first time this week I’d felt someone watching me. I shivered again and paused the music. Blaring horns and echoing sirens flooded my ears. The inside of my thick winter coat became hot and damp with sweat, and my gut squeezed, screaming at me that someone was on my tail. And as a seventeen-year-old girl walking alone, that was a dangerous thing.

I couldn’t panic.

The smell of burnt pretzels mixed with exhaust wafted around me. Maybe I didn’t have a stalker. Maybe my brain was playing tricks on me. Maybe I was anxious about the SuperCon announcement and the ensuing adorable cast interactions. Not to mention the cute meet and greet photos. And everything I was missing out on.

I glanced behind me, but there was only a sea of people moving in unison. No one so much as looked my way. Still, I gripped my phone tighter, just in case.

No one is stalking you.

The sooner I got to work, the better.

Wait a second.

I had an idea. I quickened my pace and dodged oblivious bystanders, not willing to risk the pedestrian equivalent of road rage. I glanced back. One person matched my speed—some guy with electric blue hair. Not very covert, though my own copper waves had a similar effect. He was maybe…hmm…six feet tall with a jawline of steel only super attractive movie villains could pull off. (On principle, I refused to deem them hot.)

Someone was following me. I should call the police, but that would mean looking down at my phone, and it was already crowded enough—

My shoulder struck against something.

“Watch where you’re going!” a gravelly voice called after me.

I sprang forward, moving even faster. “So sorry!” I stole another glance over my shoulder.

Blue Hair sped up his pace but made no eye contact. Hopefully he didn’t realize I was on to him. My heart pounded.

Agh.

He was closing the gap. I needed a plan.

People in spy movies always made shaking a tail look easy.

I took in my familiar surroundings. Starbucks. The vibrant blue VIGIL & ANTE Studios billboard that always triggered my fangirl. Abandoned, graffitied building. Shady tourist trap. My knuckles tightened around my lifeline so there was no way I could drop it.

If I could just make it to work.

I jogged, then took another peek over my shoulder.

He was closer.

Our eyes locked. His were brown, all but a small sliver of ice blue peeking through the left one. Something about him struck me as familiar, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.

I turned and ran harder, but the image planted itself in my head.

Okay, maybe this was just a random guy. Maybe he wasn’t following me. But something about when our eyes locked… He wanted me.

I stole another glance.

The man was gone.

I didn’t stop to see where he went. My lungs burned as I finally slowed down a block away from my job.

Had that just happened? It was like something out of a movie, only more terrifying. The feeling that something horrible is gaining on you, clawing toward the hem of your shirt. I shivered. Deep breath. I brushed a stray hair out of my eyes and walked the rest of the way to the building. My body still shook.

I nudged open the front door, a bell overhead jingling. Ah, yes, good old Ketch-A-Burger. Did I work here for the sole purpose of saving toward a SuperCon ticket? Yes. It certainly wasn’t for the mediocre burgers the entire city was obsessed with.

I pushed through the line to get to the backroom. The door was barely open when the fandom-fueled screaming began. “Rosemary!”

I jumped back, heart hammering my ribcage. Oh no, Sam was not going to give me spoilers, even though the panel hadn’t started yet. “H-hi, Sam.”

“What do you think the big reveal is?” My co-worker grinned, peeling off his Ketch-A-Burger hat. “It’d better be another Illuman movie, because I cannot get enough of his light powers. Glowing skin and large amounts of sass? Yes, please!” Obviously I was a huge fan too, but Sam was the kind of fan who never shut up about it, even to let someone answer his own question. And when he had a theory, he always had to be right.

“Umm…” I blinked, mind still wrapping itself around whatever the heck he said. “Yeah, I don’t know. I—I think it might be another Project Safeguard movie.”

Sam jumped to his feet, putting him at least a foot shorter than me. “I mean, you’re excited, right? You have to be excited. Everyone is. Even all the fake fans. This is going to be the biggest news since they figured out how to fake Illuman’s powers in real life! Like…how can you top that kind of PR stunt? Especially because he is, without question, the best superhero.”

I forced a chuckle. “I don’t know about that. They’re all pretty cool. I especially love Agent Liam. And Ver.”

“But they aren’t real superheroes.” He shook his head, long brown 2000s bangs falling into his eyes. “To be a superhero you need powers. Look it up and you’ll see I’m right.” Oh, why did I tell him I was a fangirl?

“I don’t think that’s true.” I shook my head and looked toward the punch-in machine. If I got fired for not clocking in on time, Mom would never let me hear the end of it. “I have to clock in though, so…”

“Anyway, I’m prepared with AirPods so I can listen while I flip burgers. No one will notice. Do you think anyone will notice? No, no one will. I’m good at hiding it.”

I sighed. “Sorry, normally I’d talk but I need to clock—”

“But the AirPods? The boss won’t be able to tell, right?”

“I really don’t know.” If I told him no, he’d argue, and if I told him yes, he’d blame me if he got in trouble. “Just please don’t spoil it for me. I’m waiting to watch it until I get home.”

Sam grinned, then bowed and faked a British accent. “You have my word, my lady.” Project Safeguard reference. “Did you get it? It was a reference to—”

“Yes, Sam, I got it. Remember, no spoilers.” I took off my coat and put it with my purse, hands still shaking. Settle down. No one is going to hurt you. I clocked in, then went to go open the door into the kitchen as it swung inside.

Cue another adrenaline rush.

“Oh! Sorry.” Another one of my co-workers. “We need you on the other register. We’re packed right now.”

I nodded. “Sure thing.” I took a deep breath, then walked through the door. Chatter and laughter roared inside. We sure sounded busy. I turned and went up to the empty register, trying not to make eye contact with impatient customers until I logged on to the computer.

“Welcome to Ketch-A-Burger. What can I get for you today?” I looked up at the first person.

“A double cheeseburger and a large fry. Uh, lots of ketchup and no mustard.” The woman looked bored to death staring at the menu screens above my head.

Next person. “Twelve-count chicken nuggets.” And the next. And the next. And the next. My gaze flitted to the time in the lower left-hand corner of the screen. Four p.m.

The panel had begun, and half the world eagerly watched. There was a reason almost every VIGIL & ANTE Studios movie broke box office records.

Please no one spoil it. I glanced through the crowd, hoping I didn’t hear whispered reactions. Hoping Sam didn’t inevitably scream the news from the kitchen.

“Next.” I glanced up as a blond-haired man stepped forward and—

His eyes.

The same heart-stopping brown as Blue Hair. Identical silvery blue in his left iris. That was an uncommon thing…right? It didn’t make sense. Maybe my brain was playing tricks on me. Though both “stalkers” seemed about my age, this person had a much rounder chin. It was possible to bleach out that highlighter blue to the sand-colored surfer hair this guy had going on, but no one could magically change face shape, right? Certainly not within the last hour.

But what were the chances that two different people had the exact same eyes?

Chills crawled down my spine.

“…please.” He tilted his head.

I blinked, shocked back into action. “I’m sorry, what did you say?”

“A triple cheeseburger, please.”

Why was I still freaking out? He couldn’t be the stalker because he looked nothing like the guy following me earlier.

Also, why would a stalker be so polite? Wait, no, that was dumb.

“Uh, could you repeat that just one more time?” I forced a smile to hide the spontaneous combustion going on in my head. Forgetting someone’s order the moment after they said it is my social anxiety’s worst nightmare. Yes, it happens to me way too often, but who’s counting?

The man only smiled as if my mistake was no big deal, which earned another check mark in the “too nice for a stalker” column.

“Triple cheeseburger,” he said.

Okay, I got it that time. I pressed buttons on the screen without looking down. “Will that be all?”

“Yes.”

Deep breath. “All right, your total is $5.49.”

He grimaced, reaching into his pockets. “Right. One moment.” His hands emerged clutching two wads of cash. I gulped, keeping my head down as if he held something contraband. Because it was too much money.

When I dared look up, his piercing eyes were still on me instead of the bills in his hand.

“I-I’m sorry, can I help you?” I gripped the register as the world went fuzzy.

“No.”

This was getting beyond weird. My instincts screamed for me to run. Still, my mind fought back. This was a public place. Three more customers lined up behind him, and almost every booth was filled, so nothing could happen to me here.

I gulped. “Then do I know you or something?”

His chin dropped as a smile played at his lips. “Not this face.”

My breath caught. “What?” He knew. He knew about the man following me. Maybe he was the man following me.

Only now he shook his head. “No, you don’t know me.” Maybe I’d imagined his first statement. It was impossible anyway. No one could alter their appearance so drastically in that short amount of time.

“Right, umm…” I looked down at the screen again as if lost at which button to tap next. “Your cheeseburger is $5.49.” My chest tightened, but I forced myself to breathe.

He thrust a few crisp bills toward me and shoved the rest into his pocket. “Here you go.” The bills felt like they’d come straight from a bank. My fingers fumbled as I slipped the cash into the register and handed him change and a receipt.

“Thanks.” Then he stepped to the side, clutching the receipt. And his eyes. He still stared at me. Not this face. What did that even mean? I shifted positions and dug fingernails into my palm as if the pain would distract me.

Someone else moved forward.

“W-welcome to Ketch-A-Burger. How can I help you?” I managed to ask, but I didn’t tear my gaze from the brown-eyed man.

He stared at me as he waited for his food. But when his meal was ready, he left as though nothing had happened. His sudden departure was as strange as any of it.

I shivered. Everything about this felt wrong. Would he be waiting outside when I got off work? Maybe I should call my mom and see if she’d give me a ride home. If not, I’d ask a co-worker. I was not getting murdered tonight. At least not before I watched that panel.

JAN 15 – around 5:00 P.M. EST

Everywhere I looked, I searched for those haunting brown and blue eyes. If this was real, he could be anyone. A man leaned against a building talking into his phone. My heart skipped a beat. What color were his eyes? It was getting too dark to tell.

I stepped closer to Sam, hoping he didn’t think it was weird.

“I get safety and stuff, but you need to chill,” Sam laughed, shaking his head. “Like…you’re paranoid.”

“Probably,” I said, shrinking back. “Girls have to worry about this stuff, though.” But maybe he was right. Maybe I was overthinking this. One person couldn’t change faces in under an hour. It was a mistake. A fluke.

Still, the guy basically confirmed it. What he said couldn’t have been an accident, unless I’d imagined it.

Sam rolled his eyes, readjusting his backpack. “Okay, fine, what does this mysterious stalker look like?”

Yeah, this was the part I couldn’t explain very well. I glanced at the crowded walkway behind us as the constant city chatter seemed to grow louder. “His eyes stand out the most. They’re brown except for a sliver of blue in his left eye.”

“So…Ironfall?” Sam raised the one eyebrow I could see behind his bangs.

My stomach lurched. “What?”

“You just described Ironfall’s eyes. You know, the supervillain in Project Safeguard? The character literally everyone is in love with?”

“I know who he is, Sam,” I said. “I just…didn’t realize that.” In the movie, Ironfall could change his appearance. So could my stalker, apparently. And they either had the exact same eyes, or the stalker chose to wear the same contacts both times. Unless multiple people were pulling an elaborate prank.

“Your guy must be a cosplayer,” Sam said. “Which is common today because of SuperCon.” That was an easy explanation, yet something still nagged at me. I was missing something. Sam straightened his shoulders. “That’s right, hire me, Criminal Minds.”

“Maybe,” I breathed, still searching for an answer. It seemed too subtle for a prank. “Anyway, thanks for walking me home.”

He smirked. “Anything to get my shift covered. Also, please watch the panel because I can’t promise any more spoiler-free conversations. There’s too much to discuss. I’m storming the VIGIL & ANTE Studios because—”

“Don’t spoil it!” I sighed, then turned toward my apartment building. The sooner I was safe in there watching the comic con panel, the better.

“Then go watch it.” He shook his head, motioning toward the door.

I nodded, then went inside, half-running up the three flights of stairs. The lock clicked behind me as I shut our apartment door, and I double and triple checked it in case my multi-faced stalker decided to pay a visit. Safe at last. Now I could finally watch the SuperCon panel. The TV blared from the corner, keeping Mom’s attention like always.

I don’t think watching all those design shows helped her décor taste improve.

“Looks like you got home okay.” I jolted forward at my mom’s voice. She stood in the kitchen chopping an onion. “I said you didn’t need me to pick you up.”

I nodded, glancing at the lock again. “I convinced Sam to walk me home.”

She raised an eyebrow as her lips tipped upward. “Sam?”

My eyes widened. “Oh, no. He’s just a co-worker. An annoying one.” Why do parents immediately think you’re in love when you casually mention a boy? We’d never even texted each other beyond work stuff.

“Right.” She still had an amused look on her face, which meant she was convinced I liked Sam. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. “Just don’t let him distract you from work. You need to keep this job.” She brushed an auburn strand of hair from her face.

“I know, Mom,” I said. “It’s not like I’ve gotten fired before. And he only walked me home because I agreed to take over his shift.”

“Still, don’t let the wrong people distract you from where you need to go. You have to be ready, and at this rate”—she looked me up and down—“you’re not going to be.”

I pressed my lips together as my stomach twisted.

She turned toward the sink, rolled up her sleeves, and rinsed off her knife. “You know I’m only hard on you because I love you.” Yes, I knew she did, though sometimes her way of showing it cut deep.

“I know.” I pressed my lips together, then escaped to my room, which wasn’t much of a room anyway. It gave Harry Potter’s closet a run for its money.

SuperCon, here I come.

I tossed my backpack on the floor and plopped onto my bed. What was the big announcement? Thoughts of Mom and the day melted away as I sank into the arms of my fandom. I glanced over at my Project Safeguard poster, grinning. Each superhero stood in a fighting stance toward the bottom of the poster. Their different colored costumes stood out against the dark New York City skyline. The large villainous figure at the top hid in the darkness, but the smirk on his sharp-featured face stood out first.

Ironfall.

And then I saw his eyes.

Sam was right. They were the same. As I studied them closer, I saw more similarities than something a pair of contacts could imitate. The depth of those rich brown irises as they stared into your soul. The way you could look into their eyes and see the final piece of a mental puzzle slip into place.

They had the same powers. The same eyes. The same everything.

It was almost like my stalker was Ironfall.

TRANSCRIPT OF THE INTERVIEW PROCEEDINGS WITH [REDACTED]

SOME NAMES AND LOCATIONS REDACTED FOR SECURITY

INTERVIEW CONDUCTED ON MAY 20

LOCATION OF INTERVIEW: [REDACTED]

CASE #: [REDACTED]

PROCEEDINGS

AGENT: Would you like anything to drink? Water? Coffee? Lemonade?

[NAME REDACTED]: No, thank you, I’m good.

AGENT: All right then, you have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in court. Do you understand?

[NAME REDACTED]: Yes, but I won’t get a court date like most people, now will I?

AGENT: You must want to get this over with then.

[NAME REDACTED]: [inaudible]

AGENT: Did you sleep well last night?

[NAME REDACTED]: No.

AGENT: They say only the guilty sleep in jail.

[NAME REDACTED]: [chuckles] Well, you already know I’m guilty. Now you’re here to pry the whole story from me to see if you can figure out whose side I’m really on. You sure you’re not the one who needs that coffee?

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August Wrap Up!

(Read on for details about our 50% closeout merch sale!)

What’s been going on at Whimsical with Micheline Ryckman? Well…

Writing

I’m still working on the Maiden Ship spinoff featuring Old Toff when he wasn’t so old! Also announced this month – I have a super secret project I’ve been working on with fellow author and friend Bryn Shutt! There’s not much I can share just yet, but I can tell you it’s a Sleeping Beauty retelling and we’ve teased some art of two characters on Instagram so far. Go check them out here and here.

Illustrating

I haven’t been able to do a lot of illustrating lately but that’s just par for the course when you live with chronic illness. Some days/weeks/months are better than others. I’m hopeful my arms will begin to feel better soon and I can get back to creating lots of fun character art for you all!

Publishing

We’re hard at work editing the upcoming book from our third author, Hayley Reese Chow. Still no details that can be revealed yet, only if you love sci-fi, keep your eyes peeled for updates because this is a book you will not want to miss! We Could be Villains by Megan McCullough is releasing in a little over a month, so don’t delay if you plan to preorder! It will be here before we know it!


Have you joined our Facebook group?

Are you in the FB group yet? If you’re not, you’re missing out on some fun things! This past month, we gave away ten sets of seconds/oopsies postcards. There will definitely be more in the future, so hurry on over and join us! We’ll also offer exclusive first looks and sneak peeks there that won’t be seen anywhere else.

JOIN HERE!


Reminder: WE COULD BE VILLAINS

We Could Be Villains by Megan McCullough releases in just 5 short weeks!! I can’t believe how quickly time has flown since we announced this fun superhero story back in the spring, but suddenly it’s almost here. If you haven’t preordered yet, time is running out!

Currently, only Kindle (e-book) format is available from Amazon, but after release day (Oct 3rd) you’ll be able to buy it in hardcover and paperback wordlwide. If you order from our shop website, the only option is paperback, BUT only orders from the shop include all the fun bonus items seen below, including a signed bookplate designed by Megan! Remember the shop prices are shown in CAD, not USD, and be sure to use a rep code to save yourself a little bit more! A link to all the current reps can be found a little further down in this newsletter.


Current W.I.P.
Anyone recognize these characters? This is my current Work In Progress, it’s a bit delayed because of my arm/health issues at the moment, but as soon as I am better again I’ll be finishing it!


Welcome, Fall Reps!
We just announced our 2022 Fall Rep team so go check out the new additions on Instagram and give them a warm whimsical welcome! Keep an eye out for their rep codes too!


Miscellaneous Merch Closeout!

There is a VERY limited stock left of the four products shown in the photos below. Since Whimsical Publishing is growing, we need to clear out this stock to make room for new, exciting products from our authors.

As an impromptu Labor Day weekend sale, these products are 50% OFF the lowest listed price. These will NOT be restocked once they’re gone, so if you’ve had your eye on something, get it quickly! Each item has less than 10 left in stock.

Use code CLEAROUT at checkout.

Hoping your Wednesday is full of goodness all!!!