Sneak Peek Friday

And Then There Was Fog…

by 

Anne Marie Andrus

Wisps of fog lurked and lingered around the tangled roots of swamp trees as if begging to be drawn up and into the hearts of those ancient sentinels before cruel sun banished them for another day. Polly balanced a stack of empty buckets under her chin and paused in the barn door to watch the last dance of legendary mist. Another sweltering day had dawned in Louisiana and it was only April. All of us are hiding inside until evening.

With the sound of happy horses munching on oats and barley, Polly rolled giant screen doors across the entrance—the biggest improvement she’d made since inheriting the farm and a necessary decision if she wanted to stay in business. The heat was bearable when standing still. Hordes of biting flies were not. Though some of the horses in her care were for pleasure riding, many more draped garlands of blue ribbons across their stall fronts. Hurricane Becky, the imposing chocolate bay mare in the corner stall, had the most and she was due to move to New Jersey over the summer so her young rider could train for the Junior Olympics.

Crescent Bend Farm was growing a reputation as a show barn, ultra-competitive without any snobby attitude. Every stall had a personalized sign proclaiming the name of the superstar who lived there. Each was the pride and joy of a local family who scrimped and saved to fulfill their child’s dream of owning a horse and taking lessons from Henri—trainer by day, jazz musician in the big city by night.

It’s Tuesday morning, Henri should be here by now. Polly glanced outside but the gravel lot was empty. After pouring a steaming cup of coffee, she settled onto a bale of hay, perfectly positioned for a view of the peaceful pastures and winding driveway to Rural Route One. The first taste of chicory on her tongue was interrupted by the jangly ring of a phone. She lifted the lime green receiver from its perch and tucked it between her shoulder and ear. “Crescent Bend?”

“Miss Polly!” A voice on the other end chirped. “Don’t you see me flailing my arms out by the gate? I’ve been makin’ a grand commotion for the last hour.”

Polly leaned to the right and saw Henri waving his old black hat in the distance. “I do now. Did you break down?”

“There’s something out here you need to see.”

“Fence busted again?” Polly stopped mid-sip. “Is this your cell phone—are you hurt?”

“No and no. Just—come right quick.” The line went dead.

Polly dashed out into the brutal sun intending to sprint the length of the driveway but changed her mind, hopping into her old pick-up instead. The bald tires spit pebbles as she gunned it toward the main road. Two minutes later she tumbled out of the truck to find Henri leaning on a crooked post, popping sunflower seeds in his mouth. “What was so earth shattering that you couldn’t tell me over the phone?”
Henri nodded to the shade of an old tree “Someone left a package.”

Polly turned and froze. Tied to the branch of an oak was a trembling grey horse with mud caked up all four legs and streaked across its belly. “A stray?”

“Just a filly.” Henri stood straight and handed Polly a brown container. “This here’s the package. I nearly missed that baby horse in the fog.”

Inside the soggy box, Polly found bags of cheap feed, a soft bridle with a rubber bit, a crumpled twenty-dollar bill and an envelope stuffed with papers. “Some nut just left her here, like dumping an infant on the hospital steps?”

“Seems so. At least they tied her up in the shade.”

“Just when you think you’ve seen it all—we’ll take her down to the barn and I’ll call the police.”

“I tried already—to walk her down I mean.” Henri shook his head. “She seemed to like my voice but when I got close, she nearly pulled the tree down trying to run.”

Polly frowned. Something is off. All horses love Henri. “I might have carrots…” She retreated to her truck and came back with one lonely orange stick. Slow and gentle steps carried Polly around the oak until she could see ribs poking through the filly’s grey coat. When the carrot snapped in half, two ears pricked in her direction. She and the horse took a step toward each other and then another. She held the carrot out and a velvety muzzle plucked it off her flat hand like a princess lifting a fine china cup.

“Good girl.” Polly placed a hand on the horse’s damp neck and waited for her to stop trembling before stroking her nose. “Easy there, let’s get you somewhere cooler.” She slowly untied a worn lead from the branch and started in the direction of the driveway. The horse followed but froze when Henri moved closer.

“Why don’t you drive my truck back and I’ll walk her?” Polly offered the second half of the carrot. It disappeared in an instant.

“Take your time.” Henri picked up the brown box and stuffed the envelope in his pocket. “I’ll get a stall ready.” As Henri turned away, the filly followed him with her eyes and craned her neck to track his progress, inching to the end of the driveway and watching him back the truck all the way to the barn as if she didn’t want to let him out of her sight.

“He’s one of the good ones.” Polly began the long trek. “No need to be afraid.”

The horse walked deliberately, as if she was in awe of the pastures and the buildings ahead, stopping to grab mouthfuls of grass, gaze into the distance and work the courage up to take a few more steps. On the hard ground she was taller than Polly thought at first. No shoes, but her hooves look healthy and trimmed. At the barn door, the horse’s eyes flew open and she stopped short, her spindly legs nearly tangled in panic.

“Whoa, whoa.” Polly backed away and let her regain balance. “Easy, baby.”

“That might have been my fault.” Henri retreated into the tack room. “Try again, third stall on the left.”

Polly coaxed and nudged the filly but even though she seemed as if she yearned to go inside, they never made it past the barn’s threshold. “This isn’t happening. She’s working herself into a lather.”

“I have an idea.” Henri peeked around the door and tapped his forehead. “What about the little open-sided barn close to your house? I know we haven’t used it since…” He unzipped his leather vest, tossed it on a hook and reached around the wall to fill a bucket with fresh water.

“Since we lost Daisy—Grandfather’s last horse.” Polly stared off at the old red structure shaded by a grove of oaks and hanging moss. A snapshot from a fading fairytale. She took two steps in that direction and was yanked back by the filly who submerged her face in Henri’s water bucket and drained half of it before coming up for air. “Good Lord.”

The horse turned to Henri with different eyes and batted long dark lashes. She plunged her nose back into the bucket and took a daintier sip. Tension visibly drained from her muscles as if he had waved a magic water wand and she had fallen head over heels in love.

“Looks like you made a friend.” Polly chuckled.

“Sweet Baby Girl.” Henri stroked her charcoal mane. “You’ll never go thirsty again.”

With Polly on one side and Henri on the other, Baby Girl walked with bolder steps and happily slipped through the gate of the shaded pasture. Polly took her for a quick tour of the perimeter and unclicked the lead from her halter. The horse walked directly under the slanted shelter as if she’d lived there for years, but spun around to make sure the exit was wide open.

Henri shook his head. “Still jittery, like she’s been trapped inside somewhere.”

“I remember a lot of boards that need to be fixed before we leave her alone here.”

Henri flipped over an old trough and began filling it with a hose from the house. He called over his shoulder. “Already done.”

Polly peeked through the fence at freshly painted walls and an expertly patched roof. “I thought we decided to knock this whole thing down?”

“I fixed it up instead.” Henri leaned on the rail next to her and watched Baby Girl sniff around her new surroundings. “Thought it might come in handy someday.”

“Sounds like something Grandfather would say.” Polly smiled wistfully as the filly pricked her delicate ears at a bird’s nest in the corner of the barn. “I don’t even want to imagine what happened to this poor thing.”

“Let her settle and I’ll mix some real feed with whatever was in that brown box.”

“Take it slow. Four small meals a day for now.”

Henri pulled the envelope from his pocket and handed it to Polly. “I thought you were calling the police?”

“Maybe tomorrow.”

♦♦♦

Find & Follow

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Anne Marie Andrus

AnneMarieAndrus.com

Sneak Peek Friday

Ten Lives

by Christian Terry

 

The morning was hot and bright. The six started marching as soon as they had packed their camp. It wasn’t long before the group had come across the three-fingered statue. The image they had seen on the map earlier did not do it justice. It stood majestically over them. At over ten feet tall, it loomed with clinging jungle vines draped around it. The group took a moment to gawk at the sight then, shortly afterwards, became aware of their surroundings. The missing men that had been sent this way before them, there were no signs of them having been this far. No footprints or any type of trails were left behind, leaving the six of them baffled. Suddenly something caught Mike’s eye: what the stone statue was pointing at. Hidden behind large hedges and vines in the distance was a gravelly road, and beyond it was a long stretch of silver, half the width of a football field but just as long. Large trees were lined up on both sides with outstretched limbs hovering over the shiny strip of land.

“What is that?” Mike asked as he delicately set his backpack near the base of the statue before he tiptoed toward the chrome ground. Mike crossed the grass and stood at the edge of the metal strip, staring down at his own reflection. He tentatively stepped out. Whatever metal this was, it didn’t make a sound as Mike’s size sixteen shoes walked across it. A small obelisk stood just on the outer right side of the silver strip. It was shaped like a pyramid with a small red jewel on its apex. It couldn’t be the fire emerald could it? Mike decided that it would probably be a good idea to leave it alone for the time being. No one leaves things as valuable as that out in the open, he thought to himself. After ignoring the obvious bait, he walked the entire length of the silver walkway. That’s when the trouble started. As he neared the end of the walkway, a chill ran through his body, and he could see his breath escape his mouth. He looked down at his arm. The “X” was glowing. Death? He looked around furiously for what could possibly kill him. What he saw was the rest of the group. As the group marched toward him, he noticed Louis fidgeting with the stone obelisk, struggling to take the jewel off of its top.

“Lou!” Mike barked, but before Louis could react, the obelisk shifted backward, and the ground began to tremble. The shaking left them all fighting for footing. There was a loud screech. The silver strip was disappearing underneath them! It resembled a mouth as it opened, swallowing Ariel, Piggy, Brackar, and Mercury into its murky abyss.

Adarha ran toward Mike as the ground beneath her feet yawned open. She jumped toward him, clutching what little of the path was left. “Help, please!” she cried.

Full of determination, Mike ran toward her and slid, barely grabbing her arm before she let go. “Gotcha!” Mike shouted.

He was hanging over the edge, but the ground kept retracting. He scrambled backward, but not fast enough. He fell.

————–

Find and Follow

⇓⇓⇓

Christian Terry

Sneak Peek Saturday Night

Chapter 1 of Hunted on Predator Planet…

Tracked on Predator Planet

by 

Vicky Holt

I roared at the white-furred pazathel-nax that snapped at my boots. For some kathe reason, the devil dog picked me out as the weakest in the pack. What a load of kathe. I could kill any of my brethren in a couple of tiks. Even Naraxthel. Ha. Especially Naraxthel, now that he was smitten with that useless soft female. It was better he had left us when he did, otherwise the devil dogs would be disemboweling the both of them.

“Run ahead!” I shouted to the three hunters. “Pull them away! I’ve got this mutt!”

I watched them draw the rest of the pack away, Raxkarax feigning a lame leg. I swung my raxtheza but missed the dog’s gray-white head. I parried its muzzle with my double blade, and soon its blood sprayed upon the groundcover. Two more swipes with my blades, and the dog lay dead, its entrails steaming in the rain-swept air. I double-checked my sight-capture was working. The Ikma Scabmal Kama loved to see death and mayhem.

A huge crack of lightning split the air, and I heard a sizzle in my earpiece. I watched in awe as a giant tree fell across the trail, shuddering the ground with its enormous weight.

I looked through sheets of rain, to the trail my brethren had followed, but they were gone. I heard distant shouting. Wary the devil dogs would sneak around and flank me, I cleaned my blades and jogged off the trail, finding a lesser used game path to head in their general direction.

A snarling log hit me in the shoulder and knocked against my helmet. I fell to the ground with a curse and felt the teeth of a lone devil dog worry my elbow joint. I growled and unsheathed my short sword, stabbing it in the belly. I silenced its high-pitched whine for good. I stood and aimed a disgusted kick at the huge blood-spattered corpse. More curses followed when I slipped in the mud of the trail, almost falling on my ass. I heaved great breaths from exertion, feeling heat from my anger flush my skin from my arm pits to my neck. I scowled and frowned, waiting for more pazathel-nax to lunge at me from the ikfal. Crouching in wait, I held my blades ready.

Rain poured over my armor, washing the blood and gore from its seams, as well as powering the cells. A fuzzy static pierced my earpiece. I cocked my head. “Hello? Raxkarax?” More static. “Natheka? Raxthezana?”

Kathe. That dog jostled my comm when he pounced on me. The sight-capture feed blew out as well. Once the rain stopped, I would remove my helmet and try to fix the delicate technology. For now, I was isolated.

Alone.

Out of communication range.

Last seen being attacked by the vicious pazathel-nax.

My breaths increased; my heart raced. The tendons in my neck tightened.

I could not have planned this any better if I had spent ten cycles arranging it. A gust of breath escaped my lungs. If I was dead to Theraxl, I was free. I only paused a second to leave my prized blade sunk into the body of the dog. No living Iktheka would leave his raxtheza.

I spun on the trail and tore off in a different direction. Careful to step on springy undergrowth instead of black mud, I chose to hide my trail sign.

I ran for several zatiks, sometimes leaping to grab hold of a low branch and swing myself forward a veltik. The farther I ran west, the freer I felt.

No more sight-captures for the Ikma. No more nights in the Ikma’s pungent lair, filling her baser needs while my promise of posterity withered and died. No more lengthy feasts in the dining halls, pretending to be humored by others’ stories or females’ batting eyes.

On Ikthe, I was Iktheka alone, beholden to no one save my goddesses.

Holy Goddesses, I thank you for the gift presented to me. May I use it to give you glory.

My armor felt lighter. I felt a sensation like cool air lift from my belly and burst forth out of my mouth. A laugh.

Shaking my head at my foolishness, I ran on, headed for the private glade I sometimes escaped to for precious moments of solitude. I liked it because it was defensible on three sides. Protected by a defile of rocks on one side, a gulch on the other, and flanked by a stream on the third, it was perfect. It had access to the bounty of the forest on the north side. I smiled. I would be there in three days’ time, and then I could scheme how I might live out my days as an exile on Certain Death.

I stopped for short meals of speared jokal over small fires. I built them under the heaviest canopy, that the smoke filtering through the leaves became invisible. I obscured my footprints, choosing rocks and treefalls to walk upon, or reversing my walk, in places where prints were inevitable. Leaping and jumping, climbing trees or crawling through bowers, my trail sign was untraceable. Once the heavy rains descended, I would be but a memory of a dream to my fellow hunters.

I slept in the vee of the red tower trees and killed the animals that threatened to kill me first. On the morning of the third day, I smiled at the Sister Suns. Soon I would settle a camp. I would dry meat and use my hands to build a semi-permanent shelter.

I lowered myself from the tree, pulling a jeweled talathel out and twisting its jaws until they popped. I threw it to the ground for the jokapazathel and loped the remaining veltik to my glade.

I slowed to a walk, unhurried for the first time since my adolescence. I reported to no one now, save the Holy Goddesses.

Using my gloved hands to part the foliage, I came upon my glade through the deep woods. Already I heard the babbling waters of the stream where large glisten-fish swam upstream. They made a delicious soup. My mouth watered at the thought.

My eyes caught a movement, and I stilled.

I switched to my heat-vision and cursed soundly.

Holy Goddesses, do you now play a joke on your servant Hivelt? Do mine eyes see another soft traveler in truth? Do you play with Hivelt?
I zoomed in on the figure. There, in front of a small ship, stood a person of Yasheza Mahavelt’s race. I watched in disbelief as they gathered sticks and twigs and placed them in a huge pile at the back of their ship. They had been collecting for days, it would seem.

My eyes widened as I scanned the site, switching back to my natural vision. A drying rack had strips of meat and pelts draped over it. The traveler built a cairn of rocks at four corners of the glade. Another large boulder sat against the rock outcropping, a concave center collecting rainwater.

My breaths came in short bursts. My heart seemed to slow with time. I blinked, willing the sight to change. It didn’t. The soft traveler’s industry belied Yasheza’s race. Perhaps this was another race? Naraxthel’s Yasheza ran from him and hid. She took baths. This one—this one worked.

I watched for several jotiks, checking my camouflage settings obsessively. When she left her site to approach the tree line, I faded further back into the ikfal. What was she approaching so carefully? Flailing movement at ground level caught my eye. Ah. This traveler set traps.
The mahavelt’s suit was identical to Esra’s. I retreated into the ikfal an extra step but waited to see the face. If it was a female, I would turn and run, if it was—

They turned to look at me, but I knew I made no sound, my armor at maximum stealth settings. My camouflage obscured me. But she—I could see her face.

Luminous silver eyes, like the scales of the glisten-fish, saw through me and pierced the empty place where my heart was not. They shone out of a darker skin tone than Yasheza Mahavelt’s. The contrast was striking.

Her brows turned down as if she could detect my presence, and her mouth frowned. Her eyes narrowed, and she dropped her wood, taking steps toward me.

Run, Hivelt. Run and hide.

My face grew hot and I clenched my fists. My heart hammered in its heart-home, and I took a great draught of air. The little industrious trespasser built a homestead in my glade.

I reached for my raxtheza, and my hand came away empty.

She took one more step, then cocked her head. I watched her lips move as if she spoke, but I heard nothing. She turned away and resumed checking her snare.

My heart returned to its usual pace, and I relaxed my hands at my side.

By all appearances, this female intended to stay. But I would observe for a few days until I decided if she deserved the raxfathe and death.

Naraxthel spoke of corruption in Theraxl ways, and the Ikma Scabmal Kama revealed it to be so, but that didn’t mean the raxfathe didn’t have its place in the order of things. Especially when an uninvited interloper took up residence in my place of solitude and serenity.

I snarled and snapped my teeth, remnants of the pazathel-nax fight hounding my thoughts. I watched her progress along the tree line, and my eyes tracked a path to a spot in front of me. There! A clever snare utilizing a sapling sat within a long stride from me. A dead jokapazathel hung limp. Seeing she was preoccupied with her load, I cut the rodent loose and kept it for myself. A tribute.

Death and fury would be my companions tonight. I retreated further into the ikfal and climbed a tree.

♦♦♦

The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for a good man to do nothing~Edmund Burke

Find and Follow Vicky Holt!

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https://www.lovevickyholt.com/

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The Gamma Sequence Books 1, 2, & 3 . . .

I just finished Terminal Sequence—Book #3 of The Gamma Sequence Trilogy! 

The Gamma Sequence

by Dan Alatorre

SOME SECRETS REFUSE TO REMAIN HIDDEN

Geneticist Lanaya Kim must do what authorities haven’t—tie together the “accidental” deaths of several prominent scientists around the country to show they were actually murdered. Over the past two years, geneticists have died in what appear to be accidents, but Lanaya knows otherwise. If she tells her secrets to the authorities, she risks becoming a suspect or revealing herself to the killer and becoming an open target. Hiring private investigator Hamilton DeShear may help her expose the truth, but time is running out. The murders are happening faster, and Lanaya’s name may be next on the killer’s list. But when Lanaya and DeShear start probing, what they discover is far more horrifying than anyone could ever have imagined.

♦♦♦

Ready to Cheer, Cry, Smile & Scream?

⇓⇓⇓

Coming Soon . . .

The interview with Best Selling Author Dan Alatorre!

 

Sneak Peek Friday with Johi Jenkins

The Monster in the Lake

by

Johi Jenkins

The Monster

Against years of his mother’s constant warnings, Thal wandered outside to the human world.
She had wanted to keep him safe, and the human world was anything but that. But in the end she had known that his destiny lay above the lake surface in the land of light; that he couldn’t live the rest of his life underwater. So she hadn’t made him promise to stay beneath. Instead, she had used her last breath to tell him how much she loved him.
And for many years after her death he had stayed in the underwater cave, living off the large mammals that shared his aquatic world. But these past long months it had become more and more challenging; the temperatures were warming outside and the animals that used to swim year round his cave had dwindled in numbers or migrated elsewhere. Food had become scarce and he’d been starving. So Thal left the safety of his cave and swam up to the surface.

The Girl

The goat bleated pitifully and Amka’s resolve almost faltered. She hated using the young female as bait, but it had been a week since the last attack, and Amka was sure the monster was coming tonight; she would take no chances. The monster had been attacking every seven days, and the sounds of easy prey would lure it here; she was sure. And she was going to kill it.
The monster only attacked at night. It was quite dark tonight, and in her hiding place the monster wouldn’t see her when it attacked the goat currently stuck in the mud. Her plan was simple; to attack the monster while it was busy. Her blade was sharp and her legs eager to pounce. She waited.
She almost missed it—but the goat’s shrill cry alerted her to the spot where a shape had appeared, hovering over the ill-fated animal. She meant to wait until it attacked the goat, but her adrenaline sent her running towards the monster, as quiet as only she could be.
Still, it heard—and it whipped around so fast she didn’t have time to stop or change strategy. Something strong connected to her chest, and she went down into the sticky mud, face up, air knocked out of her. The monster she had been so sure she would kill had somehow gained all the advantage on her. As the thing that had hit her pressed her down into the mud—it was an arm holding her down, she realized—she looked up and faced her death.
It was a … man-like creature. She couldn’t see it well in the darkness, but it looked like a man, his body covered in scales, his face framed and partially hidden by long thick hair. At least, the face and eyes staring down at her looked like those of a man; only it—he—looked like nothing she had ever seen before. And she realized he was distracted, staring down at her, and the pressure in her chest had lessened. Then he bent down and sniffed her.
She didn’t wait—her arm went up with all her might, and her blade connected with his side. He yelped in surprise and backed away, and she tore out of the mud and ran away as he ran the opposite way.
She continued running until she reached her village and woke the young hunters, Torren and Aruk, to have them keep watch. They were her least favorite people, but as the village hunter it was her job to keep the village safe. She had already expected their taunts, so they didn’t really surprise her.
“You saw the fish monster? Are you sure it wasn’t your imagination, huntress Amka?” Torren asked as he grabbed his spear. He was always the first to start the jeering.
“It’s a real monster, Torren,” Aruk said in a sarcastic voice. “A monster that somehow only she saw, and that kills animals but doesn’t actually eat them.”
Amka was the best hunter in the village ever since her uncle, the last hunter chief, had been killed a month ago. These two young idiots could taunt all they wanted, but they weren’t ever going to match her speed and stealth. She brought in more game than anyone else. She knew who she was, and who they were. She was above their petty insults.
But that didn’t keep her from wanting to show them she had been right.
“You boys are probably right,” she said. “It’s my imagination, so keeping guard should be no problem for you.”
She left them there and went back to her hut. She lay awake for some time, plotting. After deciding what to do, she slept a few hours. Then she spent the next morning setting up her trap.
The trap consisted simply of covering an opening at the top of a mountain cave; she would get the monster to fall though it and land on a row of well-placed spikes in the cave below. She had discovered the cave by accident when she was young, almost falling through the same opening. She wouldn’t have survived the fall; it was quite a drop. The cave was far from the village, but she was positive that she could lure the monster there.
She had learned from her mistake and knew not to face the monster directly; he was much faster and stronger than her. But she hoped he wouldn’t resist the scent of a small piece of the elk that she had brought to her family the previous day. She carefully placed it on the false floor covering the opening; when he reached out to grab it he would fall through. Easy.
As an extra incentive, she had placed the meat within the folded breechcloth that she had worn yesterday—the monster had sniffed her; maybe he had a good sense of smell and he wouldn’t resist the prey that had attacked him last night. She had considered the goat; the poor thing had found her way back home to the village, looking for her mamma. But Amka felt guilty and decided to use leftover meat instead.
Her masterwork finished, with still plenty of light she retreated to the safety of the village. He’d never attacked there. She hoped after tonight, he never would.

***

Amka was up at the break of dawn the next morning and armed herself with as many weapons and rope as she could carry. She said goodbye to her parents, hugged her mother extra hard, and gave a kiss to her little siblings. She was excited and hopeful but was not conceited enough to blindly trust her skills. The monster had taken her by surprise once before.
She left when the sun was high enough in the sky that it was very bright. As she approached the cave from the top, she heard nothing, saw nothing. But when she saw her trap her heart jumped with excitement. The false floor she had carefully strewn over the opening of the cave had fallen in; carefully she peeked inside, and saw the body inside in a pool of blood.
She had done it!
She rushed to the bottom of the hill, to the hidden cave entrance. She had beaten him by simple cunning. She knew the area well, and he did not.
She came in, cautious but thrilled. And there he was. The monster was …
In the low light that filled the cavern from the opening above, she could see the man-like scaly creature was just … a boy. A young man about her age. His skin that had appeared to be scaly was just some sort of clothing or armor. The exposed parts of his skin that appeared to be gray were just caked with clay. But his face and shoulders, and bits of other areas where the clay had washed away, she could see his skin had been very pale and was now very red, as though burnt by the sun.
And now he was dead.
For some reason the kill had not brought the joy she had thought it would. Her earlier excitement when coming down the mountain had all but vanished, replaced with a strange unhappiness.
The supposed monster had been just a boy. And he was so strange-looking. So pale. She was … embarrassed that she had tricked him. How long had he lain broken at the bottom of the cave before he died? Had he suffered much?
She was supposed to take his body back with her to the village, though, to show everyone that the monster did exist and that she had been right all along. And that she was able to kill it because she was a good huntress and her uncle had been right about her in selecting her as his second in command, not long before he was killed.
By this boy at her feet.
She shook her sympathy aside and crouched next to him, then began to remove his body from the tangle of spears and sharp sticks that had been his demise. She saw several had pierced his body. She took them out carefully, grimacing at the broken flesh. When she finished, she dared look at his face again, pushing a strand of matted hair off his cheek.
Then she saw him looking at her.
She jumped back, afraid. Survival instincts made her temporarily regret pulling the spears from his body, but only for a moment. She realized right away he didn’t look like he could move. But, just to be safe, she tied his hands.
As she worked, a new excitement replaced her fear. He was alive. Maybe he would live. She would …
She would what? Sew him up and send him back to where he came?
But she couldn’t kill him. He looked so skinny and so pitiful. Her uncle had been a brawny man. How did this … boy… kill her uncle? Unless … unless it hadn’t been him. But no, she recognized the scales.
The day her uncle had been killed, she was the one that had found him, with a creature bent over him. When she approached, the creature lifted its head and ran away, but not before she had caught a glimpse of what appeared to be fish scales covering its body.
“You killed my uncle, didn’t you? You’re the same monster that killed all those animals, and my uncle.” It was more of a statement to herself, as she didn’t think he’d answer.
But he did.
In a different language, he said a few words.
That he had a language, and a soft voice, not just grunts or animal sounds, took her by surprise. He was a person.
But he’s a murderer! She corrected herself.
“It had scales like you, like that … thing … you are wearing,” she added. The image flashed before her eyes again. The scales, the size was the right size.
Something like understanding flashed before his eyes, as though he was remembering something. As though he had understood her.
He nodded, and pointed at himself, and at his scales.
“Do you understand me?” she asked suspiciously.
He lifted his hands and seemed to notice his restraints for the first time. Then he held his thumb and first finger very close together, showing her a small space between them. A little bit, she understood he meant.
“I’m not going to untie you until I know the truth.” She pointed at his tied wrists and shook her head, emphasizing no.
He nodded.
“Why did you do it?”
He didn’t understand that, and only gave her a questioning stare.
“Why did you kill the animals?” She thought of the several dead elk and the two large buffalo she had found over the last month, dead and discarded. But she also thought of her goat, alive with her mamma goat.
He said a word in his language and rubbed his belly.
“You killed because you were hungry?” she guessed.
He nodded.
“But you didn’t eat them.”
Something was off. He looked like a nice person. Maybe only because he was tied up.
“Are you still hungry?”
He nodded.
“Did you eat the meat I left in the trap?” she pointed to the opening above.
He followed her pointing automatically, but as he looked up to the bright opening, he squinted and looked sharply away.
“Ah, I forgot you’re a night creature,” she said. “The meat. Did you eat it?”
But he wasn’t looking at her anymore; his eyes were closed tightly. Frustrated, she looked around and found her breechcloth easily enough. The meat was still inside.
“Here, eat it,” she offered, bringing it close to his hands.
He opened his eyes and made a face she didn’t understand, and shook his head.
“What is it? You don’t eat elk? You don’t trust me to feed you? You’re upset that you fell for this particular piece of meat?” At each question he would just shake his head, and she was getting very frustrated, until she all but yelled, “What is it?”
Then very swiftly he grabbed her arm and pointed to the inside of her wrist, saying some words in his language. Alarmed that he had grabbed her, she pulled her hand back and fell silent. He then touched his own neck. She didn’t understand what he meant, so she just shook her head.
Looking frustrated, with some effort he sat up, and brought his tied hands to his mouth. Then he bit his own wrist. She gasped as she saw he had drawn blood. But he wasn’t done—he thrust out his bloodied wrist for her to see, then very deliberately brought his open wound back to his mouth, and drank.
She gasped.
She remembered the animals, a similar bite on them. And her dead uncle, how his neck had been ripped open.
At this, the boy nodded. Then very slowly, he bared his fangs, pointing at one of them.
She understood, and was terrified.
He was a monster.
She ran. Out of the cave and into the safety of the light. Back to her village, running.
But she thought of him all day.

To Be Continued . . .

 

Find and Follow

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Johi Jenkins

Sneak Peek Friday–The Binding

A snippet from The Binding

…by Victoria Clapton

My short walk to Jackson Square had a surreal, rapturous feel to it, heightened by a lone musician, sitting on a darkened stoop, playing an empyrean melody that transcended passersby into a higher realm of awareness. As my first full day here in New Orleans began to wind down, I was beginning to understand that this wonderfully overwhelming energy of always “going with the easy flow” was not only tangible but also never-ending.

So far, I had yet to look out onto the street and find it empty. People were constantly moving about. With the daylight long-faded, the artists and musicians had mostly packed up their belongings, instrument cases, and easels, leaving behind the empty spaces they had occupied by day open for evening tarot readers to set up folding card tables which they would cover in scraps of velvet and satin and glowing candles as they waited for curious tourists to inquire about their future.

I took a moment to gaze up at the brightly-lit stained glass windows of St. Louis Cathedral. The various colors sparkled brightly over the night, serving as a bright beacon of hope for the city. This magnificent display of Catholicism stood erect only twenty feet away from the myriad of card readers, and in some unexplainable way, they seemed to fit well beside each other.

Following a whim, I passed several nice restaurants and boutiques as I made my way to the crosswalk where I could safely cross Decatur Street and climb up the levee to Artillery Park. From the street, I could not see the river that I knew to be close, but I had a hunch that I would be able to see it once I’d climbed all the stairs to the top.

My hunch was dead on. The views from the park were nothing less than stunning. In fact, this was the perfect spot to see Jackson Square and the cathedral in all of its magnificent glory.

And when I turned in the opposite direction, I was instantly filled with delight. Before me was the Mississippi River. I turned in a semi-circle, not sure which view I should marvel at first, until I realized I could walk down the other side of the levee and actually go to the riverfront.

A British family standing near me taking pictures was about to do just that, and I overheard them call the walkway that ran beside the river “the Moonwalk”. Not wanting to intrude upon their space, I waited for them to walk down before I headed in the same direction.

For as long as I could remember, I have been drawn to water. It has a calming effect on my mind when my its workings feel electric, and it was here at the waterside where lights were found dancing off the water ripples that I finally sat down on an empty park bench and let go of the first-arrival urge to rush around New Orleans.

City lights cast prism rainbows upon the water while soft white lights from the bridge and a slowly passing riverboat cast an older, more orange tinge upon the tiny waves. The combined illuminations decorated the waters of the Mississippi.

Lost inside my head, in my own creative world, allowing only a polite nod or smile, I mostly ignored the few people that walked by while I daydreamed about what might happen next. So far, my spur-of-the-moment decision to uproot my life had been a fortuitous adventure. Smooth and exciting, I had high hopes for the future days ahead. That is…until I was approached by a pair of strangers.

“What is a pretty thing like you doing out here all alone? How about some company, sweet thing?”

I looked up from the haze of my lazy river dream to see a man and a woman dressed in the popular Victorian Steampunk fashion that I admired but had never really had the money to try.

“I am enjoying some peace by the river.” This was my reply, for I did not wish for company. I hated to seem rude, so I didn’t say whether the two could join me or not.

As if in a choreographed dance, the two of them moved fluidly around opposite sides of me, taking up the remaining room on both ends of the bench. They were uncomfortably too close for strangers, and I felt trapped.

While I tried to figure out what sort of situation I was in, I took in their appearance much closer. The man and the woman were unnaturally good-looking and flawless, in a creepy way that seemed inhuman. Both were shorter than me. The female had brown doe-like eyes and doll-like ringlet hair that should, but didn’t, make her seem innocent rather than sinister. The accompanying gentleman had a lighter chestnut colored hair that he wore at shoulder length, and his eyes were light in color, possibly green. Their angular appearance was so model-perfect, so similar to one another that they could have been either siblings or perhaps, twin flame lovers.

Not enjoying their sudden invasion to my space, I moved, in an attempt to rise from the bench.

“Where are you going, pretty thing? We were just about to get to know one another.” The woman declared possessively.

“Zyl, this one smells like…” The man’s voice sounded slightly worried, but his concern bothered the woman little.

Cutting him off, she focused on me, “Now, what brings you to our city?”

As she spoke, she brushed her fingers through my hair, and I had to keep myself from shivering. These were the type of night walkers that Aloysius had warned me to avoid while out in the ancient streets. I was not frightened as I perhaps should have been at being cornered by two freakish strangers, but I instinctively knew I should get away from them as fast as possible.

Both of the creeps leaned in closer to me, the woman moving to re-position my hair. My hand knocked hers out of the way as I tried to stand up again. This time, they both grabbed an arm, holding me down as the female draped her arm around my shoulders. This was not good. I needed to get away from these nuts.

“Zylphia Lynum and Ambrose Northgood, I believe you are needed elsewhere.” A strong voice, filled with distaste, emanated from the shadows behind the bench where we sat, and I recognized it immediately.

Again my body betrayed me. The two moved away from me instantly, disappearing into the night without a word, and I should have left too. Yet, I remained sitting there, frozen, not by fear, but by the same deep yearning that had brought me blindly to New Orleans.

“You shouldn’t be here,” he said as he stepped into the light where I could see him.

I desperately wanted to give a snarky come back but was immediately taken aback as I found myself speechlessly gaping at Demien instead. He was standing there beneath the lamplight in a stunning greatcoat, as if he’d just stepped out of a Jane Austen novel. It was a humid night. He should have been sweating in that coat, but he seemed comfortable. Goddess in heaven and hell, he was gorgeous.

Silence wrapped around us as he gracefully sat down beside me, making no noise at all except for the rustle of a white paper bag he carried in one hand. In his other hand, he carried a cup. Both Aloysius and Josephine had warned me to stay away from this man, but I was pretty sure he’d just gotten me out of a dangerous predicament. Plus, curiosity and questions overwhelmed me.

“You know those two creeps?” It wasn’t the best question. Obviously, he did know them.

“Why are you out here alone at night?” he snapped. His sheer disapproval was emphasized with his last three words.

…because this is a free country. I am a grown woman. It’s none of your business.

I thought all of those things and worse, but did not say any of them.

“Zylphia and Ambrose are…they won’t bother you again. You are fortunate that I saw you walking to the riverside alone. If you intend to stay in this city, and I suggest you don’t, you must learn caution and common sense. If you want to see the city at night, take one of the Touchets along for protection.”

My mouth was wide open in disbelief. I could feel the night air on my teeth. I knew I looked foolish. The tone of his voice had shifted from anger to great concern. I didn’t understand.

“It’s beautiful,” I mumbled. All of my years of arguing with my father and brothers should have aided in dealing intelligently with this over-opinionated man beside me, but no…I, once again, had said something stupid.

“Yes, this city is a unique place,” he concurred.

“Especially at night. At least I think so. I’ve only viewed a small section since I moved here two days ago. Tonight was my first venture out.”

“And you attracted their attention…” Beneath the street lamps his face showed no emotion, yet I sensed confliction within him. “Here.”

“What’s this?” I wondered as I took the bag without a thought.

“Beignets and a cup of café au lait. You passed right by Café Du Monde and didn’t stop.”

“You were watching me?” True, my friends had warned me to stay away from him, but I thought their warnings came from his being a total malcontent, not because he was a stalker.

“A friend owns a bar down the street. I saw you pass by, noticed you were alone, and assumed that since you were being foolish, you would need my help.”

He’d insulted me again.

“Where do you get off? That’s the second time you’ve insulted me. You don’t even know me.” I couldn’t believe his audacity. I also couldn’t believe how much his opinion hurt me. I didn’t even know him. Why should I care if he liked me or not? I’d spent my life living with people who didn’t like me.

“You’d be well on your way to dead had I not been waiting on you to do something ill-advised. No one would have batted an eye. Locals are well-acquainted with your type. You come here in search of good times and a flirt with the supernatural, but you have no idea what really waits lurking in the shadows. You get yourself in trouble, and then we have to clean up the mess. Eat your beignets before they cool off.”

“Dead? What are…?”

“Eat and drink a little of that coffee.”

“I don’t want…”

“Sybella Rose,” he said my name as if it were painful to pronounce, as if those two words were much more than just my name.

He knew my name…probably from the same source that I learned his.

“Demien…” I hesitated because his facial expression twitched when I spoke his name. He seemed to be struggling with something. “Look, you are right. I don’t know what I am doing, but here is where I am meant to be. It’s the only place I can be.”

Before finishing what I had to say, I pulled out one of the beignets covered with powdered sugar from the bag and took a bite, failing to keep the messy white sugar from getting on everything.

Oh hell, I was going to die of overwhelming delectable-ness of food in this town. Not wasting time on words, I held up the bag to Demien to offer him one of the fluffy little pillows of awesomeness. He declined as he pulled napkins out from a jacket pocket and waited for me to finish off the doughy square.

When I came up for air, I asked. “What were they?”

“What? Not who or why…”

“No, what?” I insisted. As a great consumer of fiction novels, I am aware of all manner of creatures that go bump in the night. “There are two kinds of beauty. One, like the kind Aloysius and Josephine carry, is physically appealing, but their real attractiveness comes from their soul. They are both true individuals.”

“And the other kind?” He sounded like he didn’t want to hear the answer.

“Well, like those two who were just here, their beauty is distracting, nasty, sneaky, oily…wrong.”

A low deep rumbling sound erupted from Mr. Cranky himself. I looked over to see that Demien was laughing.

“WHAT they are doesn’t matter. You probably wouldn’t believe it if you knew, and even if you did believe it, knowing the truth never benefits the person who knows. They almost always end up dead or worse.”

I detected bitter truth in his words and wondered what made him such a pessimistic entity. “Okay, so illuminate me on this. I have supposedly walked into a situation I am not equipped to handle, but I’m not allowed to learn the truth so that I may be better informed so that I may be safe because the truth is also danger. Demien, what do you propose I do? And do NOT say leave the city!”

I carefully closed the paper bag, sealing in the freshness, so that I could eat the other two beignets later and sipped on my café au lait as I waited on him to speak.

“Learn what you can from Josephine, anything and everything she might teach you. Eat at least one meal a day from Aloysius’ kitchen. And wear this always. Never take it off.”

He was removing an oval amulet from his neck, a black stone embellished with a faded silver fleur-de-lis. As he placed the necklace around my neck, careful not to entangle it with my hair, his eyes caught mine. I leaned in closer to him. I could not help it. I needed to be nearer to him. My fingers reached up, desperate to touch the lines of his face. I wanted to kiss him.

Demien moved to the far side of the bench fluidly, like the scary two had moved, and quickly.

“Sybella Rose, stop. I am more dangerous to you than those two ever could be. Do as I said, all that I said. And don’t seek me out. This amulet will deter others like me from harming you. It will not, however, protect you from me.”

He was gone before I could reply, and I was left with an intense yearning to yell at him again. I looked all around me in every direction. After all of that, I didn’t believe for a second that he had disappeared completely, leaving me, once more, alone in the big bad dark. But he was nowhere in sight. When I stood up, I realized I was gripping his amulet. Again, I felt a sense of wrongness within me. I should be scared, but I was not. Instead, irritation and suspicion filled me.

 . . .

 

Find & Follow Victoria Clapton!

Sneak Peek Friday

Poetry by Elizabeth L. Lemons…

♦♦♦

LENTEN MOON

Before bed, I peer out my ice-misted window
Mid-March, on a snowy full Lenten moon night
Lying still in the frosted mystic I detect
Nature shadow-dancing in a timeworn rite
On the hilltop lying. are five dark ones
Resting still on freshly-fallen pure snow
Silhouetted figures, noble, and gentle
Keeping watch as winter’s end winds blow
Draped by the pale night, moonbeams’ night light
Soundlessly nestled, while the rest of the world’s asleep
Five deer rest, hushed and harming no one,
Cradled in white velvet, on another plane, glistening deep
Early morning, these guardians have silently vanished
No more watching, gone now back into the wood
Cardinals frolic, eating sunflower seeds from the feeder
Confident the world is protected and good

♦♦♦

Stygian Dark and Golden Divine

Laughter lives next door to sorrow
In the end, the seer’s intuition wins
A child’s truthful viewpoint is priceless
Perceiving a litany of lies & hidden sins

Pannage pathways are hedonistically abundant
Choose wisely, for you can never turn back
The trees and birds solemnly acknowledge
Those falsehoods that call the kettle black

In darkness dwell the slithering schemers
Creating trouble when there is none
Seeking to mystify devoted dreamers
Destined to fail, when the trick is done

In the air, float down white snowflakes
While chimneys spread about black ashes soot
Good and Evil hate to abide yet coincide
In each heart, with a determinate root

Like oil and water should never mingle
As the sea and sky are separated by time
You and I will orbit oppositely forever
Stygian Dark and Golden Divine

Short Story Friday–Sneak Peek Edition

Cathedral Rock

by

Anne Marie Andrus

At the peak of a rocky red outcropping, Draven paced, sat, leapt up to wander again and shouted into the empty darkness. “I should have saved you.” He stumbled, grabbed fistfuls of his blond hair and threw his head back to shout at the night sky. “I accept that I’m a failure.”

The only answer was the desert wind’s drone.

“Tonight, was my last. I’m done. I’m ready.” He spun to face the brightening horizon and stripped off his shirt. “I’m coming to join you, my beloved Gwynevere.”

Dawn’s light lingered below the jagged crests, slicing through the landscape one ray at a time. Pinholes of smoke erupted across Draven’s skin like a spray of bullets.

Gritting his teeth to muffle a scream, he stared at the patch of ground a few feet away, already bathed in killer sun. After a long exhale, he took two strides toward instant death. The final step was cut short by a missile dressed in a royal guard’s uniform. Two vampires tumbled down the back side of the butte into the cold safety of shadow.

“What the bloody hell?” Draven clawed his way back up the red rock, only to be yanked into a cliffside cave. He narrowed his eyes to focus in the pitch black. “Ronald?”

“Your highness.” Ronald bowed.

Draven lunged for the cave’s mouth and was knocked down again. “Have you gone insane?”

“Have you?” Ronald rolled a boulder across the opening. “On second thought, don’t answer that. When did you last feed?”

“What concern is that of yours?” Draven turned up his nose at the flask Ronald offered.

“It’s my job to keep you safe.”

“Then, you’re fired.”

“Unacceptable.” Ronald plunked a silver flask on the stone floor in between them.

“This is not how it works.” Draven charged toward Ronald and landed flat on his back. “I’m a damn prince!”

“Tackling you now, and on top of that rock,” Ronald dusted off his palms and held out a hand, “was easier than knocking a child down on the playground.”

“Blood would be wasted on me.” Draven swatted him away. “Doesn’t matter where I’m going.”

“And, your highness, where is that?”

“Not sure, exactly.” Draven puffed his cheeks and exhaled. “To find my beloved Gwyn.”

“I’m so very sorry for your loss.” Ronald rested his hands on his knees. “But burning yourself up in the desert isn’t going to bring her back.”

“I hate myself and I’m broken beyond repair.” Draven wrapped his arms around his chest. “How did you find me out here, anyway? I covered my tracks.”

“We’re blood.” Ronald dug through a canvas bag and tossed him a wrinkled shirt. “Can’t hide from me. To your credit, the search did take weeks.”

“I never really thought about that…your direct lineage, I mean.”

“If I remember correctly, you turned me vampire as a stunt to impress Sorcha.”

“I was rather taken with her back then. But the reason doesn’t matter.” Draven pulled on the shirt and buttoned it without looking down. “As my sole heir, when I’m gone, you’re next in line for my father’s throne. Should it ever come to that.”

“Well.” Ronald swallowed hard. “There’s extra incentive to keep you alive—”

“If you dare call me Daddy, I’ll rip your face off.”

“It will only grow back.” Ronald held out the flask again. “Sire.”

“I never believed in hell, but I’ve been there every night since Gwyn died.” Draven grabbed the flask and gulped. “Every damned night. Can’t you see that?”

“Yes, and I don’t pretend to know the pain of losing a fiancée.” Ronald settled down with his back against the cave wall.

“I remember saying something very similar once.” Draven sat down across from him, leaned his head back and closed his eyes. “To Raimond, after his Emily was murdered. He certainly handled it better than I have.”

Ronald rubbed his neck. “About Raimond—”

“I left my guards in Louisiana to watch over his house full of fools.” Draven looked up when Ronald didn’t answer. “What?”

“At first, I tried to find you…unsuccessfully. When I returned, it was too late.”

“I don’t understand.”

“After you left, there was an attack.” Ronald stared at his hands. “They burned it.”

“Who?” Draven tilted forward. “Who burned what?”

“The Victoires and others, foreign soldiers, witches. An army of mercenaries.” Ronald lifted his eyes to meet Draven’s. “Your royal guards are dead. Normandie Hall is ashes.”

“You must be mistaken.” Draven shook his head violently. “They were all upstairs—”

“After Sorcha and Vir crashed through the window, the entire house imploded.” Ronald bit the inside of his cheek. “Rumor has it that Steven Banitierre survived. I do know that Miss Rayna is on your island. I’ve spoken with her.”

“Julia?” Draven rubbed his face with both hands. “Lily?”

“Both dead.” Ronald frowned. “We should go back to New Orleans.”

“Raimond will be furious with me.”

“Your highness…”

“Never mind the house, though he did restore it from a ruin into a fortress.”

“Prince Norman—”

“But, his family is his whole life. Those girls—”

“Draven!”

Draven froze in Ronald’s vacant gaze.

“I’m sorry, sire, about Raimond—”

“No.” Draven’s jaw dropped and his body convulsed. “No, no!” He stared at the flask in his hand and hurled it with enough force to cause a shower of rock dust to fall. “Not Raimond. He would have escaped the fire.”

“Not if he was murdered.”

Draven’s eyes flew open and he flashed in front of Ronald. “By whom?”

“Nicholas Victoire.” Ronald grabbed Draven’s quaking shoulders. “That criminal has seized power in New Orleans. We need to go back.”

“Sorcha will never forgive me. Never. She’ll try to kill me.” Draven staggered again. “Raimond. Are you sure? He’s the strongest…my best—”

“Sorcha won’t try to kill you in New Orleans.”

“She should!” Draven shivered and landed on his knees. “I left her and the whole…all of Raimond’s family to die?”

“Sorcha and Vir escaped, and haven’t been seen since. Rayna said they had help from locals, Crescent magic.” Ronald reached out but pulled his hands back. “Normandie Hall was an ambush. You couldn’t have known.”

“Murder, murder.” Draven slammed his head on the stone floor. “Failure, failure.”

“Sire?”

“I want to die!” Draven flew into the jagged rock wall, fell and leapt up to do it again. “Why can’t I die?” He spun to Ronald with black blood streaming down his face.”

“You don’t look right, sire. A little rest, maybe?”

“Such a good man.” Draven patted Ronald’s cheek. “My blood…my son.”

“Whoa.” Ronald flinched. “Take it easy with the crazy eyes.”

Draven grabbed Ronald’s gold dagger and scampered back into the shadows.

“All right.” Ronald reached for the gold and fell back at Draven’s maniacal howl. “Enough of this nonsense. Hand it over.”

“I told you I was done.” Draven’s body shrunk. “It’s over. Put me out of my misery or I’ll do it myself. I swear on the souls of all the deaths I’ve caused.” He collapsed into a writhing heap with the dagger pointed at his own heart.

“I’ll help you, I promise. Just put it down.”

“Make it quick.” Draven nodded, squeezed the blade to his throat hard enough to draw blood, and handed it over. “I’m a coward.”

“You’re no such thing.”

“Don’t tell my father.”

Ronald spun the blade in his fingers.

“Though, we really should tell—”

“Save that thought for later.” He snapped Draven’s neck with military precision. “I’m sure you’ll be a royal pain in my ass when you wake up.” Ronald tucked a blanket around the limp body and drew a ragged breath. “Heal quickly, my prince. Raimond’s family desperately needs you.”

♦♦♦

Like this sneak peek from Book 3 of the Monsters & Angels series?

Catch up with Books 1 & 2

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Short Story Friday

A Haunted House

by 

Victoria Clapton

Leaves of orange and gold litter the ground beneath a lone Copper Beech tree, the only semblance of life at the entrance of this desolate landscape. Thick at the bottom and bushy at the top, shaped a bit like broccoli, this thick tree a reminder that someone once hid from life here..

Dilapidated and askew, the wooden house breathed against a sky of watercolor hues. Once occupied by a washed out politician whose relativity had run dry, he’d moved to this haven away from the land of the living, preferring the limited life that Nowhere had to offer.

His years of solitude affected him deeply, giving him the solace that the cruelty of government never had, and now, he lingers in this house of rotten boards leaving nothing behind of his once witty arsenal except a solitary silver cufflink wedged between a buckled oak floor.

♦♦♦

Find and Follow

⇓⇓⇓

Victoria Clapton