Sunday, October 23, 2016
Charm City book cover:
The Demon Whisperer
Genre: urban fantasy
Publisher: Red Fist Fiction
Date of Publication: August 23, 2016
Number of pages: 174
Word Count: 48,000
Cover Artist: Ash Krafton
The darkness is rising and one man stands against it: the exorcist mage Simon Alliant. But in Baltimore, he finally meets his match...a part-mortal divinity with the power to whisper away demons.
Simon Alliant is an exorcist who battles demons, whether he wants to or not. Sometimes it's not so bad...he gets to play with magic, after all. But for Simon, magic represents a demon of another kind. He's addicted to magic and it takes more than a handful of charms to keep that particular demon at bay.
Chiara is part Light, part Dark, and stubbornly mortal. The woman has a way with words: she literally talks demons into abandoning their human hosts. Simon thinks that's not the only trick she has up her sleeve-and that's pretty high praise coming from a mage like him.
As intriguing as that may be, Simon has too many reasons to distrust her...one of them being his more-or-less partner, an angelic Watcher. Amidst all the celestial warnings of the rising dark comes a new prophesy that makes him wonder: is Chiara a threat to him and all of mankind?
Or will she be his salvation?
Excerpt: CHARM CITY: The Demon Whisperer #1 by Ash Krafton
"You seem much improved, Mr. Murphy." The social worker folded her hands on top of his file, a fat many-paged collection of his previous ins and outs. Saint Berenice had become more than a temporary lay-over. It was starting to feel like home.
Which meant he'd stayed too long. "Feeling better, sweetheart. Time I move on."
"But you were extremely vulnerable when you arrived. I must insist." She shook her head, peering into his eyes.
He avoided that burrowing gaze and stared at the folder. A photograph was paper-clipped to the cover, the name KEVIN MURPHY printed in block letters across the top. Dark hair, dark eyes. What his mom would have called "properly Black Irish", clipped and shaved like a dandy. He snorted a soft derisive sound, knowing that he looked nothing like that when he was at his worst. That's the picture they should have—rumpled shirt, straggly almost-beard, dark rings beneath gray ghost eyes, the magic still burning through his veins. On the wagon was such a school boy look.
"Kevin." Her voice made him look up again. "For your own sake."
"I'm not doing this for my sake. I'm doing it for yours."
She bit her lips, a look of resignation on her face. "I think that this is premature. You feel rested, don't you? You look healthier. But it wasn't just anxiety that brought you back here, or the worry of a relapse. You are avoiding the true reason you haven't attained peace."
"I avoid a lot of stuff. It's how I stay alive."
"But your addiction—"
"You don't know the first thing about my addiction." Simon regretted the sharpness of his tone but was unable to soften it. "Don't presume the answer lies here among your group therapy and your Jungian theories and your psychological voodoo. If I say I'm better, it's because it's as better as I'm going to get."
A long silence passed between them. She'd never been anything but polite to him, even helpful at times; the game was different now. Truths were going to out themselves, truths that tended to drag everyone nearby down with them. He'd hurt her, just now. He couldn't prevent collateral damage but he had a duty to minimize it. Even if it meant he had to be an asshole to do it.
"You have to sign here to discharge yourself against doctor's orders," she said, her voice heavy. She flipped open the back cover to a printed medical form.
"I checked myself in." He took her pen and signed the bottom of the paper with a flourish. Kevin Murphy. As good a name as any, but he could never get the letter v right. Maybe it was time for a new alias. "I can do the same in reverse."
The therapist sighed and closed the file. She pulled a yellow envelope out of a basket. Opening it, she tipped the contents out onto the signed paperwork.
Wallet, cell phone, wristwatch, religious medallions, the wand. It rolled toward him and he snatched it up, shoving it into his breast pocket before collecting the other items. "Ah. My worry-stick. I was looking for that."
"Kevin, I don't think a simple worry-stick is enough to conquer the demons inside you."
"We'll not talk about my demons, sweetheart. Not when they can hear you." His smile faded, his eyes going glassy and hard. "Until next time, eh?"
He snapped an about-face and strode out of her office, down the taupe-colored hallway toward the door, pausing until he heard the electronic buzz of the lock release. He left the facility, doors slamming shut behind him.
The air was balmy, remnants of sea air tainted by traffic fumes as it filtered through miles of city sprawl. Ah. He inhaled deeply through his nose. The smell of freedom. Good to be out and about again.
Then again, he'd had a similar thought when he checked himself in month ago. Shrugging, he straightened his jacket and set off toward the news stand on the corner. Freedom came in many forms.
He hadn't made it to the sidewalk before a warm wind and the scent of clean linen surrounded him.
He caught the whispered sound of his real name and tilted his head toward it.
His real name was nearly an unknown thing these days, especially after having played the role of Kevin Murphy, career mental case and junkie from Boston's darker side. He'd created the alias so long ago that he'd nearly forgotten the details of Kevin's manufactured life.
If only his time as Kevin allowed him to forget his life as Simon.
Looking around, he spotted a tall, pale man wearing a tunic and loose pants, leaning against a tree. Sandy brown hair fell in soft curls to his shoulders, framing a sculpted face that seemed unbeguiling.
So out of place in modern Boston. If the dude wasn't careful, he'd get mugged. Good thing he was more or less invisible to ordinary people.
The tall man straightened himself and walked toward him. A vague mist hung about his shoulders, trailing behind him like a shadowy fog.
It would have seemed unnatural if Simon didn't spend so much time hanging about on the wrong side of nature. Odd mists weren't enough to put him off. They weren't even enough for him to mention.
"Mack." Simon looked him up and down. Sandals. Another reason to mug him. He really needed to get with the times. "Long time, no see. What, you couldn't visit even once? Not even on Tuesdays? We had Taco Tuesdays, buddy. You really missed out."
"You were trying to regain your sanity, Simon." The man's voice was smooth and melodious, a mild accent that couldn't be pinned down to any one region. Or millennium, for that matter. "I doubt visions of an angel would have helped."
"Shoot, sanity. It was good old R and R."
"Was it, now?" Mack pursed his lips, eyes brows raised. He had a very human-like quality to his features, if one ignored the ghost of his wings. "I thought it was…antidepressants and group therapy."
"Well, the first week or two. But then nothing but spa days from there on out."
"Mmm." The angel smiled, a gentle radiance that elevated his already-beautiful features. "A solid month of being magic-free? How did it feel?"
Simon ruffled his hair. He couldn't lie, not to the one entity that had never lied to him. Magic and free never belonged in the same sentence. "Feels like I can use a smoke. Shall I buy my ciggies now or after we land?"
"After. We need to get your boots on the ground right away."
"I just got out of the looney bin, pal. Give me a moment to acclimate."
Mack slowly shook his head. "There was a gathering at the Ladder today. Simon…the darkness is rising."
"Why not?" Simon hung his head, defeated. "Can we just skip the Metatron light show and just have the down and dirty? They held my afternoon Valium and my head is splitting."
"But you lose the surety—"
"I've never gotten anything but the straight shit from you, Mack. So let's have it."
"There is a…traitor."
He rolled his eyes. Half of Mack's heavenly announcements began with those same words. "There's always a traitor. Why does this one get divine attention?"
"Because it's an internal concern. A child of the Light has one foot in the darkness. It needs to be handled…delicately."
"And you need good old Simon Alliant to be the heavy. Figures. Nobody else willing to get their wings dirty." He cracked his neck and spared a forlorn glance at the newsstand down the street. "Where, this time?"
Simon groaned. The original Charm City. He'd taken a great deal of ribbing from an old master about previous sojourns there. A man who used amulets for a living had no business in a city with so trite a nickname. "I hate being that close to D.C."
"You can complain afterwards." The angel stepped behind Simon and wrapped his arms around his chest, emitting a soft glow that began to encompass them both.
"I usually do." Simon closed his eyes, waiting for the pull and the drop.
The power hit swiftly like freefall, pulling his breath out in a gush.
For a moment, his essence was caught between two places, his molecules stretched apart, his spirit suspended in a void. Memory couldn't reach him here. His past couldn't catch up to him here. It was a perfect singularity, this being in the now.
True freedom, the shortest lived of its kind. Yet the perfection of the moment was tainted. Tainted with a dread he couldn't outrun.
He dreaded the inevitable instant this tiny reprieve would end.
Hi! Welcome to another stop on the Haunted Halloween Spooktacular blog hop!
I'm Ash Krafton and I'm a writer of all things speculative fiction. I especially enjoy writing novel-length urban fantasy…and recently I celebrated the release of the first book in a new series. CHARM CITY is about an exorcist mage living in Baltimore. Simon Alliant sees it all—angels, demons, and those who may be a little bit of both. On top of everything else, he gets to play with magic. Now, if only it didn't feel like a drug to him…
The story can be a little bit dark at times, but it's not horrific or hopeless. I like the dark. I like the shadows. Why wouldn't I? I'm the girl who thinks the ideal fictional boyfriend is Jack Skellington. (Makes trips to Disney fun for the whole family ;^) )
And it's all because I adore Halloween.
My enthusiasm for Halloween is long-established and well-known (just check my Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/p/6--VFEHg8u/?taken-by=ash_krafton). I'm the neighbor who keeps Halloween decorations up year 'round, has a life-sized toy skeleton (named Napoleon) who accompanies me on long car rides, and who lives every day like it's Edgar Allan Poe's birthday. Halloween isn't a one-day celebration (or, in the case of someone who works in retail, a six-week event.) It's a philosophy, an attitude, a way of life.
I love scary movies and love being scared silly. I know 90% of it is in my head but I'm in my forties and STILL can't look in a mirror in a darkened room. (You know why. Her first name is Bloody and her other name is NO I WON'T SAY IT) My desk has, among other things, a skull in a jar on it (with pretty LED lights. It's festive) and I own more than one Tarot set.
But not a Ouija Board. Nuh, uh. That's bad juju.
I suppose my guests are a little confused by my office décor (and the Grim Reaper mannequin in the basement) especially since there is another theme prevalent in my home: Catholicism. I'm an Irish-Polish Catholic and for every macabre knick-knack there's a Crucifix or a saint statue or other blessed item.
I'm pretty sure it aggravates my mother, who has learned to choose carefully where to look when she visits and tends to stay in the kitchen. (No skulls in there. Not good kitchen aesthetic.) But she knows me. She knows how my brain works and knows that when I call and say "I have a new book coming out!" odds are it's going to be something she doesn't think a good Catholic girl should be reading. But she accepts it, in that way moms love even the goofiest of their children. I love Halloween. She loves me. It's just the way it is.
I've dealt with anti-Halloween prejudice all my life. In high school, I owned a vampire cape, and I'm talking in the pre-Lost Boys eighties. Nobody got it. In college, I discovered Anne Rice and assumed a safe place for people like me existed, after all, since the Humanities Dept. pretty much sanctioned vampires, right? Wrong again.
By the time my kids were old enough to attend the local parochial elementary school, I had just decided I was going to let my vampire flag fly. Too bad for the kids on Halloween. They could Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle all they wanted but the lady who ran the PTO Halloween party dressed like a vampire and wouldn't make them feel better by insisting it was a just costume. (I also had cultivated a rich throaty Mu-hahahahaha laugh that made first graders scurry out of the room real fast. It still makes me laugh all these years later. Mu-haha.) In fact, I still say they were lucky I limited it to Halloween. I could have dressed like that every Monday when I ran the school bookstore.
The teachers gave me a lot of side eye and probably thought, Oh well, she's a volunteer. Buy cheap, get cheap.
But that was their anti-Halloween prejudice talking. If only they knew just how Catholic Halloween really was.
Many people associate Halloween with pagan practices, but that's really not where it all started. In fact, the connection people make between Samhain and Halloween is actually an historically recent development.)
Halloween began way back before the ninth century as an association to All Saint's Day, which Catholics observe on November 1. It is a Holy Day of Obligation which remembers all those who have been blessed in Heaven.
Way back then, they used the word hallow for saint. November 1 was, accordingly, referred to as All Hallows. That made the evening before, October 31, All Hallows Even… or, you guessed it…hallowe'en, for short.
November 2 was celebrated as All Souls Day, a day to remember those in purgatory (a time-out for those souls who hadn't behaved enough to go directly to Heaven.) But what about those not in Heaven or Purgatory? If there is to be a Day of the Damned, it needs to find a different spot on the calendar because one thing's for sure: it's not Halloween.
What about all the occult aspects of the holiday?
The idea of the occult is Catholic, too, as it's based on our belief in the afterlife. During Hallowtide (October 31-November 2) it's thought that the boundary between the living and the dead was thinned, and ghosts or other communications from the "other side" were more likely to occur. Whether we want to admit it or not, we Catholics are a massively superstitious bunch. Those beliefs may have led to the practice of dressing up like ghoulies on Halloween.
Culture may have grown to associate Halloween with scary, dark, or even evil things but it's really just a way to observe and recognize our own mortality. Consider the Danse Macabre: an ages-old artistic rendering of the truth that beggars and Kings, and all between are united by Death. Danse art decorated cemeteries and churches, and was performed in verse and in dramatic performances. Writings from the fifteenth century proclaimed:
Wer war der Tor, wer der Weise,
Wer der Bettler oder Kaiser?
Ob arm, ob reich, im Tode gleich.
Whether foolish or wise, beggar or king, rich or poor, all are equal in death.
Perhaps modern man lives too lush and comfortable a life to believe we are conquerable by Death. Maybe we all believe we're a little bit immortal. Reminders of the inevitable end are considered an interruption to our lifestyles, a thing to be abhorred.
But let's face it: there is a skeleton walking around inside each and every single one of us. Where is the evil in that? It's just life.
So, to all the holy Hallow-haters, I say: relax. Halloween is an expression of my Catholic faith. I don't need a novena to save me from the dark side, even if I do wish every day was Halloween.
My stories are a reflection of my beliefs. Yes, I write about vampires and demons and the fight between Light and Dark, good and evil. I believe that fight is real, and is present in each of our lives to some degree. But I also explore the element of faith and the hope of redemption. Art imitates life, right?
And, while I may not wear my cape much these days (thanks, pharmacy day job, you party pooper, you) the sweet shadows and macabre poetics will always fill the corners of my heart.
Don't be afraid to let them fill yours, too.
About the Author:
Ash Krafton (@ashkrafton) is an author of speculative fiction. She's an unrepentant Ultimate Sinner who once guest-hosted a radio show on Sirius XM Radio channel Ozzy's Boneyard (and proclaimed Alice Cooper to be "dead sexy.") She also writes urban fantasy and paranormal romance, stories that seek to find redemption for her characters. Vampires, demons, reincarnation…you name it, she writes it. Currently, she's celebrating the release of the first in a new series of magic and mayhem: CHARM CITY (The Demon Whisperer #1) is available on Kindle Unlimited now.
Ash is giving away three print proofs of CHARM CITY (The Demon Whisperer #1), each with a unique handmade charmed bookblade. (She loves the shiny things!) Want to try your luck? Enter now!
Charm City quote graphic:
My skully desk:
Friday, October 21, 2016
Krista M. Carlson
Genre: Supernatural fiction
Date of Publication: March 23, 2015
Number of pages: 270
Word Count: 79,553
Cover Artist: Krista M. Carlson
When her older half-brother unexpectedly commits suicide, Crystal is devastated.
The only thing she thinks will take away the pain is understanding why he did it. What she doesn't know is the danger her search will create for her family when she dabbles in magick and calls something forth from the grave that wasn't what she intended.
If she can learn how to control and subdue the supernatural, she may find the answers she seeks. If not, the thing that led her brother to commit suicide is going to continue picking off her family members one by one.
Fortunately for Crystal, her brother left behind a friend who may be willing to give her some much-needed guidance.
Crystal walked to the river in the moonlight, amazed as always by how she could see as well in the dark when it was like this as she could in broad daylight. She hadn’t checked the calendar, but it seemed to be a perfect full moon. She was always drawn to a full moon like a lover. On nights like this, she could feel how charged the air was. The energy felt electric, like she could pull it into herself and do anything with it. The night held expectation and promise and vibrated with life. She could hear the frogs croaking and the sounds of night creatures around her in the distance. She had heard reports of mountain lions in the area and her parents didn’t like her walking alone in the dark because of what might be out there, but she didn’t care. She loved to slip out of the house in the dead of night and go for a run in the oak canyons, miles from anything where no one would ever find her if she disappeared. There was a thrill in being that free, and probably some thrill in the danger of it.
She walked through the cottonwood trees and stared at the water. It had rained hard the night before and the water was deep and churned up, muddy with debris. It would be three or four days before it would be all right to swim in it again. As she stood watching, she thought she saw a body floating in the water, face down and blue. She stifled a scream and walked closer to see it, but it was gone. She rubbed her eyes and wondered if not getting enough sleep was making her hallucinate.
The wind picked up just then and caused last year’s dead leaves to swirl around her. “Crystal.” She heard her name but couldn’t hear where it was coming from. “Crystal, where are you?” She felt the goosebumps on her arms and couldn’t answer through her fear. “Crystal.” It was ahead of her, and then she heard it behind her, just the slightest whisper on the breeze.
“Crystal, I’ve been looking all over for you.” Mike said, coming up behind her. Max had come down to the river with Mike, and he nuzzled his wet nose into Crystal’s hand.
She wiped Max’s slobber off her hand and onto her shorts. “Christ, Mike, you scared the hell out of me!”
“Well, who else is going to be out looking for you in the dark?”
“I–I don’t know.” She stammered. “It’s just that I thought I saw something in the water just now.”
“What was it?”
“I don’t know. Nothing, I guess. Just for a minute, it looked like a body or something. I’m sure it wasn’t. I’ve just been a little spooked lately.”
“You’re not the only one, Sis. Come on, let’s go back.”
“Is Joe still here?”
“No, he’s gone. Mom said he’s leaving for Colorado tonight. I guess he doesn’t want to be in the house anymore. I can’t say as I blame him.”
“Me neither.” Crystal said. She was thinking that made going through Nick’s things easier.
“He’s not coming back, Crystal—at least not for a while. Mom said we could have what we wanted from the house and that he’s going to put it up for sale.”
“Damn. I wonder what it’s been like for him living there since it happened. It had to be hell. Do you think it’s haunted now?”
She shrugged, and they walked back to the house in silence, the question hanging in the air. Mike kicked at clumps of dirt along the way, and Crystal was lost in her thoughts. A bullfrog bellowed in the distance, and the horses ran and nipped at each other in the pasture. The night still seemed charged with electricity, like right before a storm.
What Happens at Midnight Stays at Midnight
It was pushing midnight as I left the office, and the chill of the January night seemed to creep through my bones like a virus, starting first with my flesh and then eating deeper into my muscles before creeping into my internal organs. As I left through the back door of the bank building, I noticed someone had left the gate to the courtyard behind the bank open. It had always been locked, as far back as I could remember, under the pretense that the owners didn't want people going inside to smoke and leaving their cigarette butts lying about or some such thing. But, tonight, the huge iron gate stood ajar.
From the conference room window of my law firm, eight floors above, I had sometimes peered down into the enclosed area with the ivy climbing up the brick wall on the far side, yearning to go in there and sit on one of the stone benches, with my toes absently stroking the green grass, and get lost in some fiction novel instead of meeting with whatever poor broken-hearted soul was asking me to solve their problems at the moment. I had never seen anyone actually go inside, but the grass was short and it was well kept, so someone had to enter it. I remember vaguely wondering if someone mowed that grass at midnight or when it was done. An ancient looking, gnarled tree stands in the center of the courtyard and extends its many bent arms and crooked fingers out over the whole area so that sunlight only barely manages to filter through its leaves and dapple the ground below. That is all I could ever really see of that mysterious little section of city, because a high, wrought-iron fence encircles it. It is the kind of fence that has narrow spaces between the bars and wicked sharp points on top, which forbids trespass by its presence much more effectively than any security officer could have done.
Tonight, as I paused in the dead of winter at the gap in the barrier and peered through that two or three foot opening where the gate was inclined inward, I looked up at the tree, and its gnarled fingers seemed even more skeletal than usual. I stood for a long moment considering, before I stepped inside the gate. I didn't particularly want to mar my clean--or mostly clean--record with criminal trespass charges, but I couldn't just walk on by without looking inside. Perhaps had it been warmer outside, I might have stood there and contemplated a bit longer, but icicles forming on one's eyelashes do have a way of motivating one to seize the day--or the night as the case might be.
I shoved my car keys into my pocket and stepped cautiously through and around the gate, peering around it to make sure that no one was on the other side. It was deserted and quiet, and somehow warmer on the inside. I felt myself stop shivering almost as soon as I passed through the gate. It was also much, much quieter than it was outside the gate. Somehow, the noises from the city were muffled. I saw now, as I stood next to it, that the rough bark on the ancient tree spiraled upwards, and that the bark was not arranged randomly as ordinary bark might be. I looked around at the arrangement of stepping stones carefully laid out on what would otherwise have been the green lawn of my fantasies during the summertime. I had never noticed them from up above when I had looked out of the window. The stones were in an almost perfect circular pattern, or perhaps a spiral, I thought, as I came closer to them and saw more of the rough-hewn white stones appear.
I backed up, not quite trusting my eyes, because the inner swirls of the spiral had not at first appeared until I was near its edge. Sure enough, as I got back closer to the gate, only the perimeter of the stone circle showed. I looked up at the bright smattering of stars that glimmered through the twisted branches of the tree, and around the perimeter of the courtyard at the stone bench sitting nonchalantly against the brick wall and it all looked so ordinary, but as I approached the circle of stepping stones at the center, inner swirls of stones again began to appear. I then noticed that they were not flat, but rather curved inward and into a vortex of sorts.
I came and stood on the edge of the circle and it seemed to me that while the circle had a depth to it, that the depth seemed to change and shimmer somehow, one minute appearing to go on forever, and the next minute, appearing to only be slightly concave. I rubbed my eyes, and shook my head, trying to clear the cobwebs from my brain, and then, because I had to, I gingerly, put one foot over the outer perimeter and onto the ground between it and the next row of stones. It felt like perfectly ordinary ground and I began to walk forward and to follow the path the lines made, not at first looking up, and only looking down at my high heels. The ground was slightly damp so that my heels sank in and I was trying not to lose a shoe or fall down. I noticed it becoming significantly warmer, and my muscles started to relax. Gone was the tension I had felt from the cold. I looked up and saw that there were dirt walls on my sides, not deep, but in layers extending outward such that the one beside me was maybe two feet tall, the next four feet tall and so on. It occurred to me that the spiral was getting progressively tighter, and it was then that I came to a doorway.
A doorway is not quite accurate because there was actually no door, only dark space like a yawning mouth. Had it actually been a mouth, I would have been standing on its tongue and it would have been about to swallow me hole. Somehow, this didn’t bother me at the time. I was only curious. I went through the door and as soon as I passed through, I found a large, brightly lit cavern. I couldn’t quite tell what the light source was. It seemed like I was in the daylight and it felt like sunshine, but there was no sun in the sky or whatever passed for sky that loomed above me. There was no real color to it. It was not the blue summer sky that I might expect, and it was not the gloomy grey of winter that I was used to. Neither was it dark, nor particularly white. It just was. Mostly the world was green. There was vegetation everywhere, but no animals or birds, or even insects as far as I could see. The landscape was varied by hills and mounds and what appeared to be more stone circles in the distance. Everywhere about me were those same gnarled trees with the spiral bark swirling around them and upward. The ground was lush with freshly mown-grass.
I didn’t know exactly what else to do, so I kicked off my high heels and I sat on the grass. I felt the ground shift under me and conform to my body like the memory foam in my favorite pillow. I was instantly comfortable and at ease and as I settled back, I felt like I was being lulled into a kind of peace that I had not felt in a very long time. It was like floating in the hot tub with the jets off. I was warm and cozy and everything felt right.
I closed my eyes and I began to feel like the trees were watching me. I became uneasily aware of their presence. I felt their consciousness. When I opened my eyes, the trees were in their same places, not having moved or advanced in on me. But now, I became aware of certain bushes nearby which looked somehow sentient.
It was not long before I heard first the thoughts of the trees, and then the thoughts of the bushes, intrude into my consciousness. I knew they were not trying to be invasive, but there they were, nonetheless, in my own mind with me. Some were soft and subtle, and I felt the slightest, tinkling vibration of their thoughts. Others felt more like coarse stones rubbing together, a deep growling grumble. The bushes were lighter presences, more airy and I sensed they were not as intelligent as the trees. Perhaps they were only younger. I could feel my consciousness merging with the trees, and I began to resist, fearing I would lose my own identity and that they would absorb it somehow. I could feel my mind expanding to encompass all of the world below, and then it begin to spread upward through those spirals on the tree trunks into the world above. I was being stretched and pulled and merging with everything green on the planet and I knew my sanity could not last more than another heartbeat or two. It was then that I felt myself connecting to the billions of individual blades of grass, all with their own identities and yet all connected, some down below with me in this world which were vibrant and green, and others up above mercifully dormant and quiet. That was when I finally felt my consciousness fracture like a mirror being dropped and a million shards of broken reflection exploded into my mind’s eye.
And then, there I was, sitting in my car in the parking garage looking out from above the courtyard. The keys were in the ignition and it was running, but I had no idea how I had gotten there. I looked down and saw that I was missing my shoes. Those particular high heels weren’t that expensive anyway, and I supposed I could live without them, but I didn’t really want to drive home barefoot. I got out of my car and looked down and into the courtyard. The iron gate was firmly and solidly closed. There would be no going back after my shoes. There was nothing to do except to drive home. With the concrete of the parking garage floor fast leeching the warmth from my body, I decided it had better be sooner rather than later. I cast one last quick look back over my shoulder at the courtyard as I left, wondering if the gate would ever open for me again.
The clock inside struck midnight as she watched the waning moon through the trees. It had been a long week, trying to fit in at work, trying to be proper in such a stuffy world where she didn't belong. She had been to her breaking point these last few months, feeling her world crumbling around her until she had begun to believe it was karma. She had started to think she deserved it for betraying her family to seek a soulmate. She had known what she was doing was wrong when she did it, but she had wanted more. Now, she thought she was paying for it as she saw her career ending and contemplated moving by herself to another town to try to start over. Karma was catching up with her and it wasn't going to give her any peace.
Sighing, she rose from her spot on the lawn and went inside to put some shoes on. She needed to clear her head, needed the cool comfort of the forest. She changed into jeans and then pulled on a pair of boots. There were thorn bushes in the forest where she was headed, among other things. She grabbed a flashlight and pulled the door shut behind her, slipping into the dark as silently as a cat.
She knew the path well enough in the daylight, but her feet were the only ones who took it, so the ground was undisturbed, the branches of the trees unbroken, and the progress slow. She made her way through the backyard, down the hill, over a mossy tree and around what almost looked like a stone pathway. The stones were natural limestone and flat, and the line of them, pale green against the darker green earth of the forest was what had drawn her to the stream and the ancient oaks the first time.
As she neared the stream, she slipped her boots off and sat them on the last of the stones. Where she wanted to go could only be reached by walking in the stream. She rolled her jeans up as far as she could and stepped into the water. It was the first of October and she gasped at the chill of the water as she stepped in. It served to clear her mind and bring her in touch with the present though. It was hard to think of anything but the icy sting of the water in the stream.
She made her way upstream, squishing her toes in the mud on the bottom and avoiding the more rocky areas where she might cut her feet on the stones. She came then to a shallow place in the water where there was a clearing in the woods. She stepped out onto the mossy bank, and looked up through the branches of the oak and ash trees at the moon winking in the night sky. One Oak tree stood in the center of the clearing, larger than the rest. Its brethren flanked it in an impressive warrior formation. Those trees thrummed with power that she could feel like a heartbeat, standing on top of their roots with her own bare feet.
She stood, head bowed, hand on the tree's trunk, clearing her mind and soaking up the energy in the clearing. As she did, she felt herself growing stronger. She felt her heartbeat grow strong and regular. Doubts faded, and the headache she had felt for the last week relaxed as she let the tension leave her muscles for the first time in as many days. She breathed in the night air and breathed in power.
She heard a twig snap very near her before she heard the low growl only feet away and to her left. Her heart skipped a beat and her stomach clenched as she realized she was not alone. She hoped that it was not hungry. Then she heard another low growl to her right, and another behind her.
She almost panicked, almost made a run for the stream, before she heard the tree laugh. "What are you afraid of?" It asked. "You too are a creature of the night and you are twice the monster they are." She laughed then and patted a thank you in answer against the tree's bark.
"I am." She said. "I am a monster," she shouted at the shadowy figures. "And you are nothing but dogs. I am more monster than you will ever be because I was once human." She added with a growl. They stared each other down, she daring them to come forward and take her. She wanted them to do it. She wanted to savagely rip them apart, starting with their jaws. Perhaps sensing her pent-up rage and frustration, and her desire to fight to the death, they bowed their knee to her before they slunk back into the night.
About the Author:
Krista Carlson was born in South Dakota, in 1980, to a farmer and a librarian. She grew up in Ord, Nebraska with an older brother, and they were homeschooled, which meant that they spent a great deal of their time riding horses, swimming in the river and anything else they could think of to avoid studying. She did rather enjoy books though, especially literature and history, and so, after having her first son a young age, she began to pursue her education seriously. By the time she was seventeen, she was married with two sons and had a year of college behind her. She later graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor's Degree in History and then went on to graduate from law school with distinction in 2008. Upon graduation, she became a civil defense attorney with a firm in Lincoln, Nebraska. While studying History at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, she began to explore her interest in magick and spent the traditional year and a day with a local Wiccan coven. This interest prompted her to write her debut novel, Gryphon's Passing, which was released in March of 2015.
Signed copy of Gryphon’s Passing by Krista M. Carlson and a necklace with a quartz crystal
Wednesday, October 19, 2016
Oubliette: A Forgotten Little Place
Varna M. Black
Genre: Fiction, Thriller, Paranormal, Historical Fiction, Genre-Fiction, New Adult, Horror
Publisher: Black Chateau Publishing
Date of Publication: March 2016
Number of pages: 566
Word Count: 247,912
Cover Artist: Black Chateau Enterprises
Veronica knows the monsters aren’t “just in her head”, but no one listens to the headstrong ten-year-old as they tie her to a hospital bed every night.
Years later, after being dumped by her business-partner/boyfriend, Veronica finds herself on the verge of bankruptcy. Then a late-night call promises the perfect solution — a job opportunity decorating a castle in France.
Will Veronica risk what little she has left to chase a fairytale?
When the shadowy things that once terrorized her come back, Veronica must decide how much she’ll sacrifice for them, for her sanity, and for her life.
This epic book consists of interwoven stories with paranormal twists. A horror-filled historical fiction adventure, it spans nearly two millennia.
You'll be transported to an ancient Pagan ritual, Roman-ruled Gaul, the bloody Inquisition of the Knights Templar, France as it's ravaged by the Black Death, the duplicitous Reformation, the Paris Catacombs, and the gory French Revolution, while you unravel Oubliette’s cryptic layers.
Book Trailer: https://youtu.be/y0NMLzBnxKg
Amazon BN Author Website
Excerpt One from Oubliette—A Forgotten Little Place by Vanta M. Black - From the Prologue to Veronica’s Story
Veronica didn’t understand why they looked for the monsters in her head, that’s obviously not where they were. Instead of listening, the doctors stuck pads with wires to her temples and increased the dosage of an IV that dripped into her veins.
They also told the nurses to tie her down with thick, leather belts every night.
The tethers didn’t matter though, because when the monsters came, she wouldn’t be able to move anyway. The only thing Veronica could ever do was scream.
The doctors called them “night terrors”. The pudgy lady who talked funny –– she told Veronica it was her accent –– said they were “spirits”. Mommy used the term “shadow people”. Veronica just called them “monsters”, and wished they’d stop scaring her when she slept.
They wanted her. Deep inside, on a primal level, Veronica knew the monsters –– or whatever they were –– craved her, and if given the chance, they would do something very, very bad to her.
The little girl tried to explain this to the doctors, the nurses, the accent-talking lady, and her mother, but none of the adults really listened. Instead they argued and shouted at each other, and huffed in and out of the room –– but the thing that frightened Veronica the most, is when the adults would simply shrug their shoulders, and admit that they really didn’t have any idea what the monsters were at all.
Excerpt from Oubliette—A Forgotten Little Place by Vanta M. Black
From The Children’s Story
Louis dashed and the creature lunged after him. A thick, strong paw snatched the boy’s injured foot, wrapping around it with a vice-like grip. It pulled him down. The lad’s belly splatted on a damp bed of moss and the precious contents of his satchel sprayed out around him.
It reared up with a ferocious maw open wide. Despite the darkness, Louis saw into its eyes. Bright against its black matted fur, they had glistening whites — like a person’s. The eyes looked human, and that terrified Louis more than if they had looked like a raging, wild animal’s.
As the beast swooped down to attack, Louis twisted to one side and rolled over something round and hard. He grabbed what he thought was a rock and brought it down on the thing’s skull with a smack. It howled in pain, swung its head around to attack again, and then froze.
Louis braced for its strike with hands shielding his head. When nothing happened, he tentatively pulled his arm back to see the creature sulk back. The boy took advantage of the inexplicable reaction and kicked his foot free. It recoiled, and Louis saw that its menacing gaze was locked on the object in his hand. It wasn’t a rock after all, but one of the special relics his father had given him.
Louis scooted back. The thing hovered in front of him but did not move forward. It swayed slightly, like a dog tethered on a leash. Perhaps Isabelle was right! It couldn’t go beyond the castle grounds.
He gathered up his satchel and the rest of the contents, then slowly, cautiously, walked backward, keeping his eyes on it the whole time. Once he felt there was a safe distance between him and the devil, he spun and ran toward the river.
He was small and fast and darted easily through the dense foliage. It only took moments for him to arrive. Isabelle was there on the bank, waiting for him. She hugged him and cried, “Are you all right? Did it chase after you?”
Louis nodded and tears welled up in his big, brave eyes. “But it didn’t get me. It tried, but I scared it off!”
Isabelle chortled. “You scared it, my little poppet?”
“No, it was scared of this.” He held up the object.
Isabelle looked confused and squinted at the gleaming globe-like relic in the moonlight, “What is it?” Before the boy could answer, she interrupted him. “Shh, listen. Barking...I hear dogs.”
About the Author:
Vanta M. Black, author of Oubliette—A Forgotten Little Place, enjoys uncovering the dark mysteries of our Universe.
In addition to writing, she enjoys traveling to provocative places and studying all things esoteric.
Black has degrees in English, communication and art. She resides in Southern California with her husband and two pug-mix dogs, and spends her time in support of causes that empower women and advance science and technology.
Genre: paranormal romance novelette
Publisher: Leap of Faith Publishing
Date of Publication: 10/2015
Number of pages: 34
Word Count: 10, 500
As Jamie travels the world in search of fulfillment, she arrives in Majorca the day before Halloween. Almost immediately, she realizes all is not what it seems. There are no tourists, and everyone is just a bit -- different. She meets a local tattooist named Carlito, a native of Peru. The attraction is instantaneous and intense. He makes her an unbelievable offer. But whether it means heaven or horror, she is not sure. When the Eve of All Hallows meets All Saints Day only Fate can decide the outcome.
Amazon Leap of Faith Amazon UK
I think I will enjoy my time here.
I’m taking in that magnificent view while I swirl a glass of red wine. Sometimes a girl gets lucky. It’s well past midnight now, but I can’t sleep. Beyond the beauty of my surroundings, of the warmth on my skin this late in the year, is the sound of the sea. I am truly alone in my own little nirvana. No one knows where I am, and I don’t care.
There’s a flash of movement from the corner of my eye. Maybe I’m not as alone as I thought. My heart flutters a little. Then I see him walking the beach towards the water, under the great moon above. My magnificent view just got even more spectacular. He’s fully naked.
My attention is riveted now as I sip my wine. I can’t see a lot of detail in the darkness, but I can see he is tall, with long hair. Nicely built, and if my eyes don’t deceive me, well-endowed as well. Now, this is a very interesting development.
I watch as he enters the water, and I shiver just a little as if my own skin was touched by the cool waters. He disappears momentarily beneath the dark sea, and emerges, throwing back his long hair. I know I should look away, I should respect his privacy, but I cannot. I am a voyeur in my own little world.
I’m not really sure how much time I spend watching him. Perhaps only a few minutes, maybe even an hour. He emerges from the waves, a mere silhouette now in the moonlight. He stops and looks straight to me. My first reaction is to want to drop to the floor. But my mind tells me he cannot see me in the darkness.
So, if he cannot see me, why does he stare in my direction?
A Quick History of the Jack O Lantern
By Natalie-Nicole Bates
I was born on Halloween day. This I suppose is the reason for my love of all things Halloween. My favorite part of the holiday isn’t the trick or treating or the fancy costumes, not even the birthday cake and the Halloween themed birthday gifts.
No, for me it was, and still is the choosing of the perfect pumpkin for carving into the slightly imperfect Jack O Lantern (you must know that I am artistically challenged – so the slightly imperfect remark).
But to understand the (supposed) origins of the Jack O Lantern, we must first briefly discuss the pumpkin. Those beautiful globes of orange goodness whose remnants become pies, cookies, muffins, and seeds. Or wind up on the compost heap.
The name pumpkin dates back to Greek origin. Pepon or large melon. It was translated into Pompon by the French. The English then translated pompon to Pumpion. In The Merry Wives of Windsor, Shakespeare makes mention of Pumpion. Pumpkins are also a large mention in such classics as Cinderella, Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater, and of course, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
Native Americans roasted pumpkins on an open fire, and dried strips of pumpkin were woven into mats. The earliest pumpkin pies were baked over hot ashes. The Colonists sliced off the top, removed the seeds, added spices, honey, and milk before baking. A handy baking vessel and treat all in one.
The Jack O Lantern has been around for centuries. The story goes that an Irish fellow by the name of Stingy Jack once invited the devil over for drinks. In true stingy style, Jack didn’t want to pay for the drinks, so he suggested the devil turn himself into a coin, and Jack could pay. The devil did so (how incredibly foolish), and Jack pocketed the coin. He kept the coin in his pocket near a silver cross, thus not allowing the devil to reanimate. Eventually the devil was free, but Jack managed to trick him at least two more times. Each time Jack extracted a promise from the devil not to claim his soul if he should die.
You know nothing good was coming of this.
So Jack died one day, and God told him to hit the road, he wasn’t allowing such a cad into heaven, so Jack paid his friend the devil a visit in hell. Well, the devil, still seething about the multiple tricks perpetrated upon him by Jack, also told him to hit the road, he certainly wasn’t welcome in hell, either. He gave Jack a burning lump of coal and sent him off into the night. Jack carved a hole in a turnip, placed the lump of burning coal inside, and has been using it to light his way ever since. Doomed to roam the earth forever and ever. The Irish referred to this ghostly figure with a lamp as Jack of the Lantern. In time this changed to Jack O’ Lantern.
Frightened by the possibility of Stingy Jack or other malevolent spirits haunting their neighborhoods, folks in Ireland and Scotland began carving scary faces into turnips and potatoes, beets were used in England, and placing them in their windows to scare the spirits away. As immigrants made their way to America, the glorious pumpkin became the go-to fruit for this task.
I hope you enjoyed this brief history of the pumpkin and the Jack O Lantern. Happy Halloween!
About the Author:
Natalie-Nicole Bates is a book reviewer and author.
Her passions in life include books and hockey along with Victorian photography, Frozen Charlotte dolls, and antique poison bottles. Natalie contributes her uncharacteristic love of hockey to being born in Russia.
She currently resides in the UK where she is working on her next book and adding to her collection of 19th century post-mortem photos.
Visit Natalie online at www.natalienicolebates.com
Goodreads : https://www.goodreads.com/Natalie-Nicole
Twitter: @BatesNatalie https://twitter.com/BatesNatalie
Street Team Sign Up: https://www.facebook.com/groups/441841792565396/
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$10 Amazon gift card
Tuesday, October 18, 2016
inside the door, knowing she’d be there any second. She would knock, probably
with a firm rap to remind him who had the authority here, and it wasn’t him.
She would expect to come inside, and while he could deny her entrance without a
warrant, he wouldn’t. It would raise too much suspicion.
clenched and unclenched. Again. Again. The press and release of tension
filtered out some of the stiffness from his arms and shoulders. The woman was
striking, her wistful expression had resonated with him, and he had wanted to
look at her. He’d looked long and hard enough that she’d caught him standing in
the doorway like an idiot. Otherwise, he could’ve pretended to be gone and not
answered his door. Now, hiding wasn’t an option.
he needed in his life was a woman. Especially a woman with a badge and a gun.
the sharp knock made his shoulders jerk upward, and his fingers clenched again
into fists. Weapons his body provided to protect itself, to protect him, to
keep everyone away.
you’re in there. I’m Agent Sinclair of Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries.” Her
voice was clear and no-nonsense. He tried to place her accent—she wasn’t from
Terrebonne Parish but didn’t have a typical Southern accent either. “I want to
talk to you about the gator in front of your neighbor Doris’s house. It’ll only
take a minute or two.”
he knew his neighbor’s real name, the Wicked Witch was dead. Now she was Doris.
breath, turned, and opened the door an inch. Maybe two inches.
heavy on the green, and the bill of a dark-green baseball cap came into view,
peering through the crack. A strand of hair that trailed over her forehead from
beneath the cap shone like pure molten fire.
all the way, you know. I don’t bite. I’d like to come inside for a few minutes
and talk, or you can come out on the porch. Having a conversation isn’t
optional, but where we have it is. For now.”
had to admit he was stuck and it was his own damned fault for standing in the
doorway and watching her for so long. He opened the door wide, dread giving way
to curiosity when he finally saw her face up close. She was beautiful but
lightly scarred, more on her cheeks than her forehead, so she’d probably been
hit by flying glass rather than having her head go through a windshield. Fairly
recent too. The spots were still pink, but they were scars and not wounds. Five
or six months old, he’d say. Eventually, they’d fade and, with her fair skin,
would easily cover with makeup. If she hadn’t been so close—not to mention his
fixation on her face—he wouldn’t have noticed them even now.
to let me come inside, or are you coming outside, or do I need to make it an
I absolutely adore this woman. Everything she touches is just amazing, completely captivating and always an adventure. Plus, she's writing about my neighbors here. Literally this is where I live lol. A few miles southwest and you're in my yard. And she does a phenomenal job of getting the right picture of true Louisiana. And I fell in love with Jena in Gentry's book, so now she's getting her own and it's AWESOME!!!
Jena has finally come home. Well, with scars, inside and out, her almost loser brother in tow, and some serious self doubt go follow. She's recovering and struggling but when her new partner finds a dead body, her brother doing drugs, and the FBI trying to get this new drug under control, Jena forgets about her personal drama and throws herself into the job. And then she meets Coleman Ryan. He's got his own serious issues. But they are great for each other. And when Cole finds the gator that killed the man Jena found, it kinda spins from there :)
Both characters are super well written, and not just these two. Mac Jenna's new partner, and the return of Ceelie and Gentry round off some great details too. The plot is awesome. Suspenseful with excellent little parts of romance and adventure as well as some healing of some wounds. And the writing, oh how magnificent it is!! I always love to devour this author's books then I basically cry waiting for her next one!! Lol. So until we get more, I'll just reread them all again!! 5 SPECTACULAR PAWS!!!
Taran Wird holds the unique ability to conjure fire and lightning. She is mated to Gemini, Second in Command to the Squaw Valley Pack of the Lake Tahoe Region, and the sole werewolf to possess the ability to split into two wolves. And although they are mates, Taran’s insecurities have driven them apart. Devastated by an injury that left her with a zombie-like limb, Taran struggles to regain command over her magic. But when her arm and her power turn against her, lashing out on those she most loves, she knows she can no longer carry this burden alone. Not that she likes the alternative. The only way to regain control of her magic is to align and learn from the local coven of witches―the very ones who sought to banish her when she and her three unique sisters first moved to the mystical region. But although Taran is trying, the teachings don’t come easy, and the tasks leave her weak and emotionally shattered. Yet Taran must learn and learn fast. Time is running out. The fire she once mastered so easily has become her greatest adversary and is now slowly burning her alive . . .
About the BookOf Flame and Light
by Cecy Robson
Cecy Robson, LLC
October 18, 2016
Purchase LinksAmazon | Amazon UK | Kobo | Barnes & Noble | iBooks
Of Flame And Light Release Celebration Giveaway!Enter to Win the Ultimate Weird Girls Prize Pack, including a Coach® purse stuffed with an autographed copy of Sealed with a Curse, an audiobook of A CURSED EMBRACE, t-shirts, a water bottle, magnets, signed postcards, pins, and bookmarks.
CLICK HERE TO ENTER!
Of Flame And Light Excerpt“You guys ready?” I ask, forcing myself to stand slightly ahead of Bren.
Shayna fumbles through her backpack and pulls out a box of toothpicks before passing the heavy pack to Emme. Emme doesn’t need her hands free to kick ass, but Shayna does.
“So what’s the plan, dudes?” Shayna asks. “Onward and upward?”
“Yeah,” I answer, shrugging when Bren looks at me. “This isn’t the good kind of magic, Bren. With all the evil set to rise, and the bad guys needing dark witches to make it happen, you know our motto: no stone left unturned, and no scaries left to chew on our insides.”
He snags my elbow when I start to head for the dense brush. “If we can, I’ll let you make the capture. It’s the only way to keep Genevieve from sinking her teeth into you. But that thing in there—if it’s as bad as I think it is—there’s no bringing her home alive, got me? I’ll make the kill if it comes down to it.”
He doesn’t think I can take her, much less kill her. And maybe he’s right. But that doesn’t mean we can turn our backs and pretend she’s not here.
I kick at the dirt at my feet. I don’t like to kill, despite what people think and despite that it’s something I’m freakishly good at. I’ve had plenty of practice, believe me. My first kill occurred when I was just a teen, the second, moments after. It was the right thing to do given what happened. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t sick to my gut. I burned them with enough heat to smoke their chests, allowing them to feel every ounce of pain they caused me and my sisters. Too many followed after that, enough that I’ve lost count. But as much as the dead mark my bones, and stay a part of me, I’ll do it again if I have to.
I meet Bren’s face. “Dead or alive, we have to take care of Savana and whoever else might be helping her.”
“Even if it means you get stuck serving Genevieve?” he presses.
He’s not asking. He knows taking out Savana is the right thing to do. He’s just making sure we’re all on the same page. “Yes,” I answer.
The Weird Girls Series
About Cecy RobsonCecy (pronounced Sessy) Robson is the new adult and contemporary romance author of the Shattered Past series, the O’Brien Family novels and new Carolina Beach series, as well as the award-winning author of the Weird Girls urban fantasy romance series. A 2016 double nominated RITA® finalist for Once Pure and Once Kissed, Cecy is a recovering Jersey girl living in the South who enjoys carbs way too much, and exercise way too little. Gifted and cursed with an overactive imagination, you can typically find her on her laptop silencing the yappy characters in her head by telling their stories.
This promotion is brought to you by Pure Textuality PR.
Genre: Urban Fantasy/Horror
Publisher: BE Publications
Date of Publication: September 2015
Number of pages: 140
Word Count: 30,000
Cover Artist: Pixel Studio
At Vista Apartment Complex, life drastically changes for four of its residents when they decide to do business with Crazy Jade—the supposed voodoo witch that can grant your wish for a price.
Shemeya wants the confidence to stand up against the girls bullying her at school, but she soon has to choose between keeping her dreadlocs or living a normal life. After catching her boyfriend cheating, Latreece just wants to have the same curves as all the other girls. Ashley will do whatever she can to have “White Girl Flow”, but takes her pursuit too far when she steals from Crazy Jade.
Everyone who comes into contact with Crazy Jade soon learns the true price of her magic—and how horribly wrong it can go.
Book Trailer: https://youtu.be/VahU40fcbFs
Shemeya knocked on Jason’s door. For the past two years, they’d ended up in the same chemistry course as lab partners. He’d asked her out a few times, but she’d politely said no. He bored her. Turning him down made her feel like an idiot who only went out with thugs, but she wasn’t stupid. She only wanted a little thug, not a full serving.
When Jason opened the door, she pulled off her backpack and stepped into his house. “Is your mom home?”
“No, she’s with her new guy.” He led her into his kitchen. “Want something to drink?”
“You got some juice?” She desperately wanted to get rid of the dry, earthy taste that the herbs had left in her mouth. Water hadn’t worked.
“I got something better.” He reached under one of the kitchen cabinets and pulled out a bottle of Hennessy.
He smiled innocently.
She rolled her eyes. “Sure. I need a drink after the day I’ve had.” And liquor should kill the taste in my mouth.
He poured the cognac into two yellow plastic cups before they walked into the living room and sat on his couch. The alcohol warmed her insides and seared away the taste of the herbs.
“We should be talking about absorption, not sitting here getting drunk,” Shemeya pointed out.
“We always finish our projects tipsy. Why should this time be any different?”
Shemeya laughed. “Anyways, let’s get started: absorption vs. adsorption.” She pulled her chemistry book from her backpack.
“Stupid names. Why do they have to be so similar?” He sat back on the couch with a glazed look in his eyes.
“Are you going to get your books?”
He licked his lips and leaned forward. “I’ve heard stories about you and Latreece’s boyfriend.”
“So?” The buzz she had from the liquor quickly dissipated while her heart rate increased. She dreaded where the conversation was headed.
“I don’t understand. I’ve been asking you out for months, but you go out with him instead. He has a girlfriend.”
“I didn’t go out with him,” she said through clenched teeth. She’d expected to be harassed at school; she hadn’t expected it here. She had hoped her anger would shut him up, but no such luck.
“I saw you go in the room with Corey last weekend at Serena’s party.”
She threw her books on the table and stood. “Oh damn, Jason. Really?”
“I’ve treated you with nothing but respect since I’ve known you.”
“I’ve had a horrible day with everyone teasing me at school. Now I get here and have to deal with it from you, too. I’m leaving.” She turned from him and bent over to pick up her books.
“Are you crying?”
She brought her hand up to her face, and it came back wet. Why was she crying in front of him? Wasn’t the fake weed supposed to give her courage?
“Don’t go. I’m sorry.”
She was so busy wiping away her tears that she didn’t fight it when he grabbed her hand and pulled her back onto the couch. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything.”
She let him hold her as she cried. Maybe it was the liquor, maybe it was the fake weed, or maybe it was her loneliness, but whatever the reason, she didn’t stop him when he brought his lips down onto hers.
His sweaty hands on her breast brought her back to reality. He wasn’t who she wanted. “No, Jason.” She pulled back. “I have to go.”
“Don’t go,” he pleaded, with his hand still under her shirt. Somehow they’d ended up on the couch with him on top cradled between her legs.
“No.” She tried to move from under him.
He loomed above her, flushed despite his dark skin. “Do you like it rough? Is that what it is?”
“No. This isn’t what I came here for.” Shemeya tore at his chest, but Jason refused to budge.
He kissed her neck. “I’m tired of being the nice guy,” he murmured, pinning her further beneath his body.
“Get off me!” she screamed. His erection rubbed against the crotch of her jeans. She punched and kicked, but it made him more excited. Her scalp itched as she fought. She wanted to scratch, but she needed both hands to fight Jason off. I’m getting raped, but I can’t fight the urge to scratch. The inconvenience of it almost made her laugh.
Something above moved. She looked past Jason. Five snakes were hovering above his head.
“I’m going crazy.” This time she did laugh, and the snakes, which were the same rusty brown color as her dreads, smiled.
Jason looked towards her. “Why are you laughing?” His eyes darted above her. The feel of his erection disappeared as he crept away, but she wrapped her legs around his waist.
Her itching scalp had been replaced with pleasurable tingles that ran from her head down to her toes. “Where are you going?” she asked.
“We need to leave,” he said, trembling. “There are snakes in here. There are snakes in your hair.” She pulled him closer while he fought to be released. “Let go. We need to get out of here.”
“No, stay,” she whispered in his ear. “They won’t hurt you.”
Shaking, he looked from Shemeya to the snakes. He tried to force himself from her legs. This time, when she tried to pull him closer, he punched her. Pain exploded in her jaw, but she never let go.
“Jason, that hurt.”
He looked into her eyes. “Please,” he begged. A snake sunk its fangs into his cheek. Another struck his ear. One clung to his nose, and another hung below his left eye. He writhed in pain as he tried to escape the snakes and her thighs. His pleading eyes came back to her before he stopped moving completely. The snakes retracted their fangs. She relaxed her legs. Jason fell onto the carpeted floor.
She stood and nearly fainted before she righted herself by grabbing the side of the couch. She brought her hands up to fix her hair but hesitated a few inches away. She’d never touched snakes before. But the snakes came to her, caressing her open palm. They were cold and smooth and full of life.
THE BUCKET LIST By Constance Burris
Josephine lifts her arthritic knees up the steps of the small Japanese tour bus and stares past the rows of empty seats before she settles her gaze on a middle-aged woman with a curly afro.
When the woman turned and smiles, that is all the invitation Josephine needs. “May I sit,” she asks after she wobbles her wide hips through the tight aisles.
“Of course,” the woman says.
“Thank you. I’m Josephine from Texas.”
“Nice to meet you. I’m Keisha from North Carolina.”
“Are you traveling alone?” Josephine asks.
“Yeah, are you?”
“No. My no good husband is at the hotel in bed. He ate some bad sushi or some shit.”
The woman blushes. She must be from the suburbs, Josephine thinks. Suburbanites are always blushing over curse words.
“Are you looking forward to seeing Mt. Fuji?” Josephine asks the girl once the bus starts moving.
“No, I’m getting off at the Aokighara forest.”
“The what?” Josephine asks.
“The suicide forest at the base of Mt. Fuji.”
“I’ve heard about that place. It’s where people go to die.” Josephine shakes her head. “I wonder why so many go there?” Josephine asks. “I suppose they’re all unhappy.”
“They can’t all go there because they’re sad,” Keisha says. “Maybe some are just finished.”
“Finished with what?” Josephine studies the woman. She’s too pretty to be so morbid.
“With life. Maybe they’ve crossed everything off their bucket list.”
“Well, then you create another list. Believe me; I’ve started over more than a few times. You can always reinvent yourself and create a whole ‘nother bucket of lists.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right.”
“You’re not thinking about going there to die are you?” Josephine asks suddenly concerned.
Keisha laughs. “Of course not. I’m just curious.
Josephine brings her hand to her chest. “Oh my goodness. You about gave me a heart attack.”
“You don’t have to worry about me. I have a husband and a little girl at home. I would never leave them.”
“Good. Good,” Josephine says as she stares at the woman, looking for any sign of depression.
“I promise. It’s just a weird curiosity of mine. I’m not going to kill myself.
“Well if you’re sure,” Josephine says, finally at ease.
“Ms. Josephine,” the Japanese tour guides says with an almost flawless American accent “We’re here.”
“Oh my. I didn’t even know I was sleep.” Josephine looks over to Keisha, but the woman’s seat is empty except for a folded sheet of paper. Josephine glances around the bus for the woman, but she is nowhere in sight. All of her belongings are gone. Satisfied she has done her due diligence and no one can call her nosy, Josephine unfolds the paper.
Keisha’s Bucket List
Graduate High School
Go Ziplining in Costa Rica
Go To College
Get a passport
Make love under the night sky
Write a book
Fall in love
Have a baby
Travel to another country
Visit the suicide forest
All but the last one is marked out.
About the Author:
Constance Burris is on a journey to take over the world through fantasy, horror, and science fiction. Her mission is to spread the love of speculative fiction to the masses. She is a proud card carrying blerd (black nerd), mother, and wife. When she is not writing and spending time with her family, she is working hard as an environmental engineer in Oklahoma City.