loved this book!
Vampires, werewolves, and dragons… oh my!
Nyminia awakes from the ashes of a deadly fire to find herself not only cursed with fearsome power, but with heavy purpose. Her life is the silver thread which keeps the world together, her death– the cord that could unravel everything.
Discovered by Mildred Midwood, an elemental mage, Nyminia is taken to Rowling-Burroughs University– a place where werewolves, vampires, and magic-kinds alike study and grow their powers.
Nyminia’s adventure quickly gets out of hand when she realizes her true role to play in the fate of this paranormal world– she is the True Sacrifice. Hunted by fanatics, she must stay alive or risk plunging the earth into darkness.
Join Nyminia on a modern day adventure as she navigates love, friendship, family, and the mystery surrounding her past as she strives to save the world.
A little about Tuesday first:
Tuesday is a shape-shifting time…
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Today, I’m posting a very special First Chapter. Tuesday Cross’s Of Flesh and Fire. This is an excellent fantasy. I’ve read it twice now…seriously. All the pieces of a fantastic plot come together with mystery, love, vampires, dragons, and a werewolf best friend!
On Wednesday, I’ll be leaving my review on NakedReviewers.. For now, I’ll leave you with a taste of Tuesday’s writing. Enjoy!
Vampires, werewolves, and dragons… oh my!
Looking for an action packed twist on paranormal fantasy with a touch of romance?
‘Of Flesh and Fire – Book I’ by Tuesday Cross delivers a fast-paced fantasy adventure,
perfect for adults of all ages. If you enjoy vampires, werewolves, and DRAGONS… you’ll love this story.
MY FIRST DEATH
I lay there, trying my hardest not to choke. The heavy scent of smoke invaded my body, coating my lungs, stifling me. All around me were the sounds of screaming, sobbing, and fire– my body shivered involuntarily. I shifted my focus back to breathing, trying to quiet my body’s urge to stand up and run. I won’t be able to do anything if fear gets the better of me. Anger flashed hot in my stomach. After everything I’ve done to get my life back, here it is. Ending. The beam overhead groaned like some sort of wounded animal, making me flinch. Clenching my eyes shut, I dove into my memories. Any event of my past was better than what was about to become my last.
I’m six years old, sitting in Ms. Carla’s tidy sun-bleached office. I lightly swing my legs back and forth, listening to the rhythmic ba-bump, ba-bump as my heels bounce off the base of the bench. Behind me, through the door, I can just make out the whispers of my foster parents. They don’t say it outright, but I can tell. They don’t like me. Ms.Carla, lovely as always, encourages them to keep trying. Keep up with the counseling. Every child needs a forever-home after all, and who said adoption was going to be easy?
I’m twelve years old, running through the woods. My foster brother is laughing, but we’re not having fun. I’m frightened because I know how this game ends. Doubling back I head for my secret hiding spot, and while crossing over the rocks I make a stupid mistake. Trying to jump too fast, my shoelace snags on a fallen branch. I try to catch myself, but tumble heavily into the deep crevasse beneath my destination. If I hadn’t had been so afraid, I wouldn’t have rushed. I spent hours fuming and nursing a sprained arm before the fire department found me. Shortly afterwards my foster ‘parents’ shut me in my room as punishment for wasting everyone’s time.
I’m seventeen, crouched in the dusty attic, pouring over my collection of contraband. Wonder Woman and Supergirl– I soaked up the adventures depicted on the black and white pages. My name had been repeated, growing steadily louder and louder for the last five minutes. The heavy footsteps of the man I was supposed to call father reverberated below. It was only a matter of time before he thought to check the attic, and found me and my treasures. Sighing, I carefully tucked three favorites into the bag by my feet. The footsteps halted directly beneath the attic door, but it didn’t matter. I was out the window, down the lattice, and into the night– like the monsters I was leaving behind had never existed at all.
And now I’m here. What a stupid situation. I shouldn’t have come to this town. I shouldn’t have stayed here so long. I’m an idiot for thinking I could make a life here. I opened my eyes and stared into the flames, defiant. If my life’s about to end, I’m going to watch it go.
Finally, the groaning beam cracked and gave-way.
Delivering me to the darkness.
REVEALED BY FIRE
Dusk came and went, and a dewy midnight settled like a blanket over the grounds of Rowling-Burroughs University. In the Eastern Quarter of the Historic wing, Headmistress Mildred Midwood sat stiffly behind her desk. Her brown eyes focused on the map spread out before her. Her face was calm, but she drummed her nails against the wood of her desk. A light knock at the door pulled her out of concentration, and Midwood’s eyes shot up to meet a gentle gaze she knew well.
“Professor Starling, it’s late you know,” Midwood said quietly.
“Mildred, there’s another fire,” he replied.
“In the village, at a home for young women.”
Midwood’s nostrils flared. She knew exactly which home Starling referred to.
“And you’re here about it in the middle of the night because–”
“It’s happening as we speak,” Starling answered.
Midwood stood and turned, disappearing into the air with a loud crack, leaving only the smell of burning ozone behind.
Midwood reappeared in the shadows, a safe distance from the frantic scene unfolding before her. Even from her position across the street, Midwood felt the searing heat clawing her face. Looking left and right, Midwood observed nothing else out of the ordinary. Silent cars stood sentinel along the street and a cool breeze played through the leaves of the trees.
Everything was as it should be, except for the structure in front of her. It was burning at temperatures so obscene that the flames were a ghostly blue-white. The brave men of Vernon Village’s Fire Department worked diligently, but the fire carried on, unaffected.
Thank the gods this street had been evacuated. The fewer witnesses, the better.
Spreading her arms out by her sides, palms facing the blaze, Midwood hummed low and deep. The sound reverberated through her sternum, growing louder until it matched the cracking and whipping of the flames. A soft grey light emanated from her palms as Midwood took slow steps into the middle of the damp street. One by one the men of VVFD ceased their work, whispering amongst themselves. Midwood did not see them. In fact, she could not see them. Her eyes were rendered useless as her inner eye focused on the fire, seeking its source. It was as if the flames were alive, eluding her efforts to snuff them out.
Fire magic. The thought chilled Midwood to her core, and she redoubled her efforts to douse the flames. Midwood advanced to the sidewalk in front of the building, the ghastly blue flames illuminating her ebony skin. The men of VVFD remained glued to the spot, unable to tear their eyes away. Midwood clasped her hands violently together in front of her heart, snuffing out the raging blaze– the force of her efforts knocking her to the ground.
Stunned, the firefighters looked to the structure, and back to her. A tall, bear of a man came forward to help her to her feet. Midwood was not a frightening woman to behold, yet she saw a glimmer of fear in his eyes as he hoisted her up.
“Chief Johnston, thank you,” Midwood said, brushing off her skirt.
“Well Headmistress, it’s you we ought to thank,” he mumbled.
It was obvious to Midwood that as usual Johnston was polite, but not out of respect.
Whispers from the men rose in the background. (These lot only get involved when something’s wrong) – (I don’t like it, we shouldn’t have to owe them anything.) – (How do we know that she didn’t set the fire to begin with?) She shrugged off their words. If her suspicions were correct, then the current situation was much more important than normal vs supernatural politics.
“If you don’t mind, Chief, I need to inspect the ashes.”
“Ma’am! We’ve been fighting this fire for hours, and the whole time it’s been burning hotter than the bloody sun. You’re not going to find anything in there.”
“All the same, I would like to have a look around.”
“It’s not safe.”
“Chief.” Midwood looked him square in the eye. “I’ll be fine.”
Johnston huffed and stood out of the way, gesturing towards the smoldering remains. Midwood nodded politely, hiked up her skirt, and made her way inside.
The stench of smoke enveloped her as she waded through the destruction. It pained her to know how many people must have died, their bones turned to dust. As she made her way to the center of the cinders, Midwood couldn’t shake the feeling of dread which had taken root within her. She thought back to the orphanage she inspected after it burnt, and then the hostel. No survivors. Someone is targeting these places. but they wouldn’t continue if they had already found what they were looking for… If I’m right. Stopping for a moment to release her skirt from a piece of twisted steel, something caught Midwood’s eye. Laying under the ashen remains of a structural beam, as if asleep, was a young woman. Her skin smooth and milky white, untouched by the violence.
The gods have mercy! Bending down, Midwood gathered the naked form in her arms, lifting her up with the strength of a much younger woman. Blocked from the sight of Chief Johnston and his men, Midwood turned on the spot, disappearing with her precious cargo into the heavy night air.
Great book, check out the reviews.
Bridget Blade is both a god with an insatiable desire for love and adoration and a human plagued by insecurities, fears, and anxieties. Unaware of her true divinity she longs for the kind of love and a happy family she’s never had. Her husband, Jeremy, though, seems more interested in turning her into a research project that he can commercialize.
When Bridget discovers her new abilities she revels in the discovery that she is a god. But her new powers attract unwanted attention and Bridget must fight for her independence and survival.
But when survival means giving up the adoration she craves Bridgett must confront the desires that drive her. Does she want freedom or does she want adoration? She can have one or the other, but not both.
A little about Ono first:
Ono Ekeh was an avid reader of George Orwell’s 1984. He would purchase a copy every…
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Today, a very special Anthology hit Amazon which I am very proud to be a part of. The Bowman’s Inn 2017 Autumn-Winter Anthology is live today. Grab your copy today at http://amzn.to/2iNoigM
Werewolves, gods, goddesses and the Fates are back!!
The weather may have cooled, but it’s always heating up at The Bowman’s Inn!
This is the final volume from The Bowman’s Collective, but our authors will still be visiting Anteros on their own from time to time.
This is my second go at an anthology short story. In this anthology, I retrieved two favorite characters and put them in a hilarious situation with steamy consequences. Han and Ann are back, and at some point, they will have their own novel.
There are some lovely authors snuggled into this book. I consider every one of them dear friends. I would like to point out, K. C. Freeman, E.D. Vaughn, Roxanna Haley and D.L. Hungerford. Each of them is wonderful.
K.C. and I have been writing together for a while now. Through a collection of six books, a novella, and two short stories. Now, we are working on more. K.C. is fabulous and you’ll love her debut story in the Bowman’s Inn. She’s been a true friend and keeps me on track with my writing. She’s completed three books which will be published soon, and I hope she will allow me to showcase them on here. Before writing under her name, she ghostwrote for other authors. Check out her writing style and see if you can guess who it was, because I can’t, and she won’t tell. (I’ve tried, believe me, I’ve tried.)
E.D. Vaughn is great. She’s the werewolf among us, the shapeshifting writer who keeps us entertained over many volumes of the Bowman’s Inn. You can often catch us together on Facebook, having some fun together. Her stories will keep you entertained and needing more. This book wraps up the series for the werewolves and the ending is fabulous.
I’d also like to thank D. L. Hungerford and Roxanna Haley for their wonderful looks at romance in each novel and for the chance to write for them. D. L. is a romance writer extraordinaire who mentors lots of new writers. You can catch her on Scribophile.com or on Facebook.
Above all, pick up the new copy and leave your comments. I’d love to hear them.
Today’s first chapter is something a little different. It’s YA Science Fiction & Fantasy, and this one proves to be a page-turner!
All eighteen-year-old Ri wants is to cure her adoptive father Samuel from his hallucination-inducing illness. Everyone in her village tells her it’s impossible. But when she meets two newcomers in the forest—a gruff rogue with a vendetta against the gods and a charming fugitive with the power to travel through water—she’ll be torn away from Samuel and swept across the sea to an oppressed city governed by a ruthless tyrant. Once there, she’ll not only have to confront Samuel’s unlawful past, but a vicious evil that threatens all mankind.
In this tale of bravery, friendship, and unexpected love, Ri must discover her own strength to save the men she cares for.
The Waterfall Traveler
No, no, no! How could I have slept so soundly while Samuel wandered out of our home? I swung my cottage’s door open and bolted outside. The morning sun peeked over the mountains and cast soft light onto my cliff-top village. Everyone was still asleep. Samuel’s tracks imprinted the dusty ground. They meandered through his garden, past neighboring thatch-roofed homes, and led into the forest.
Dammit! Of all places for him to roam. The forest was full of dangerous things: pumas searching for their next kill, rocks that protruded near neck-breaking slopes, and berries that could lull a man into permanent slumber.
But Samuel didn’t understand this. He had the Sickness. Some folks called him a burden. Others prayed for the day he would leave. But I’ve set those fools straight on more than one occasion.
I dashed onward and followed his footprints, scattering a cluster of chickens along the way. What if he was injured? Or worse? I raced past the perimeter of the village and reached the forest’s edge. Spruce trees rose into the sky, spreading their needled branches like raven feathers.
I threw a stone into the woodlands and it bounced off a tree. “Wake up!”
If anyone saw me shouting into the forest, they would have thought I had the Sickness too. I didn’t, of course.
“Where are you?” I tossed another rock into the branches. This time, I got their attention.
Seven orbs, roughly the size of my fist, drifted from the treetops, radiating amber light. These orbs visited me—and only me—since childhood. When I was young, they comforted me during storms as Death lit up the sky in search of souls. When I reached the age to hunt, they showed me the best places to set my snares, and I always returned home with plenty. I didn’t know what they were, but I named them the Fireflies.
They whooshed into the forest, zigzagging around trees like a ribbon of light, and I chased them down a familiar path. My hair whipped behind me, bound in a brown braid that hung to my waist. As I raced on, the canopy of pine needles sucked me back into the night. Owls, fooled by the darkness, still hooted threats at mice cowering in the brush.
Before long, patches of light dabbed the forest floor. New grass poked through the black dirt until lush growth overtook the ground. We had reached a clearing. The Fireflies shot upward and disappeared.
I crouched behind a tree and scanned the area. A stream fed by a gentle waterfall carved the clearing in half. I breathed a sigh of relief when Samuel paced into view.
He looked older than his fifty-five years and hobbled with a hunch. Only a few tufts of white hair traced the lower regions of his scalp. He lost his left arm long ago, though he couldn’t remember how. His sleeve knotted around the stub at his shoulder. Ricky, his gray mutt, pranced at his feet, intent on tripping him. But Samuel didn’t seem to notice. He gestured wildly, mumbling his usual gibberish.
“Samuel,” I called. With one last glance around the clearing, I rushed to his side.
He jerked his head in surprise. “Oh my, I didn’t see you there, Ri.” Smiling, he waved for me to join him.
He spoke in his native language, which I had learned by the age of seven. Our village called it the Crooked Tongue. Though Samuel raised me, we were not related. Fourteen years ago, a vicious beast killed my parents, so Samuel took me as ward when I was four years old. I remembered nothing of the incident or my family, but the beast had left a crescent-shaped scar on my back. I shivered whenever my fingers brushed against it.
“You promised that you wouldn’t roam into the forest anymore.” I disliked taking such a stern tone with him, but I meant it for his own good.
“Oh.” He scratched his chin, disheveling his short beard. “I promised that?”
“It’s all right, let’s head back.”
“Ah, but we don’t want to miss this.” His grin stretched across his face. “No, we definitely don’t want to miss this.”
As a youngster, I had listened to his storytelling long after the sun disappeared behind the mountains. His voice rallied with similar enthusiasm this morning, and I couldn’t stop myself from asking, “Miss what?”
“I’ll tell you, but don’t go gabbing about this to anyone. Least not until we have the proof. This is quite extraordinary, and you know how the village is. No vision. Not like you and me.”
“I won’t go gabbing.”
“Well, this clearing hosts something unimaginable, an act of the goddess Eisanea, herself. I know it’s Eisanea. There’s no other explanation.” He raised his arm toward the sky for emphasis. “It’s not some figment of Crazy Samuel’s imagination this time.”
“You’re not crazy.”
I hated the nicknames the villagers called him. To them, we were outcasts and outsiders. My original village lay somewhere on the island’s western lowlands, but I’ve never attempted to visit it. Samuel’s village—which he called a city—was to the east across Wind Serpent Sea. Both were places I only knew through stories. Occasionally, he would recall details about his homeland, though the Sickness robbed him of most of his memories.
“What’d you see?” I asked.
A wrinkle deepened between his eyebrows. “Well, give an old man a minute. Just need to collect my thoughts. You know how they abandon me sometimes.” He sat down on a log and stared at a river stone as if it would give him an answer.
I took a seat and rested my head on his shoulder. Our reflections wiggled on the stream’s surface. Before Samuel’s hair paled and fell out, it was wavy and black and touched the top of his shoulders. I used to admire it, along with his blue eyes. My reflection, lanky and lean, blended in with those of the cattails surrounding us.
“It’s all right if you don’t remember.” I patted his knee.
“Ah, this must be it.” His gaze landed on a patch of tall grass dotted with red blossoms. He struggled to his feet and plucked a flower out of the batch. With an ungraceful bow, he presented it to me. “This must be why I’ve come here, because what can be more spectacular than the first blooms of spring?”
I accepted the gift, twirling the stem between my fingertips. “Samuel,” I began, “you can’t enter the forest alone anymore. There’s dangers.”
“I’m not alone. Ricky is with me.” His crow’s feet fanned as his face widened in a smile.
I gave Ricky to Samuel because I thought he would make a good guard dog. Ricky lacked any qualities resembling bravery, but his antics entertained us. Samuel and I watched him paddle his oversized paws in a mud puddle. He sifted his nose through the water and, with a snort, snatched something up. His teeth clanked against the object.
“What’d he find?” I asked. “Ricky, here.”
His head drooped as he trotted over to me. He spat something hard into my hand before lying down and feigning indifference toward the treasure he sacrificed. I wiped the filth off with the cuff of my sleeve and examined the item.
“Glass,” I said, astounded.
On my seventh birthday, Samuel gave me a compass with a glass face. A rare treasure, indeed! It came from his homeland, and no one in our village had ever owned one. The needle pointed west. How it worked, I didn’t know. But sometimes, I suspected that Samuel came from a magical place where everyone owned such amazing contraptions. I carried the compass in my pocket, always.
“A glass jar.” I showed it to Samuel.
“No,” he said. “That’s a glass vial.”
His eyebrows sprung into round arches. “Yes, of course. I remember now. There’s a handsome young man,” he said, “and he appears out of nowhere. Bursts right through that waterfall over there.” He pointed toward the cascade at the edge of the clearing.
“Samuel,” I said, “handsome young men don’t just burst out of waterfalls.”
“Yes, peculiar, isn’t it? He has a knapsack. It’s empty when he arrives and stuffed full when he departs.”
“Is that all you saw?”
“Well, I think so.” He smoothed his beard while scanning the clearing. “I wonder where that lad could’ve wandered off to.”
I smiled. Fortunately, his mind only conjured up a harmless hallucination rather than the usual skeletal ghouls that hurl him into fits of panic. My village called his ailment mind sickness for a long time, and later just referred to it as the Sickness.
“Let’s head back.” I stood and helped Samuel to his feet. “I’ll make us breakfast.”
Samuel turned toward the waterfall and waved. “Until next time Waterfall Man.” Ricky added two barks, wagging his tail with enthusiasm.
The noise frightened some birds out of the branches. I glanced around and listened for other creatures. On the opposite side of the clearing, the Fireflies hovered over the brush. Their energy seeped into the space sheltered by my rib cage and tugged, urging me to follow them deeper into the forest. Instead, I hastened toward Samuel and caught his hand mid-wave. The Fireflies had to wait until I led Samuel to safety.
Overlaid with vines, a log archway served as the entrance to the village. A pair of sparrows greeted us as we slipped through, but not a single villager dawdled nearby. A few paces beyond the entry, an abandoned garment hung over the rim of a wash bucket.
We slipped past a couple homes and reached the courtyard. A dozen people huddled in a circle at its far end. They wore linen and leather that matched the dust underfoot. Someone in the center of the mob was bawling. Samuel paused, staring at the commotion.
“Who’s that yelling over there?” He placed his hand over his brow to block the sun.
I tugged him along by the arm. “No one. It’s only someone’s goat bleating.”
Of course, it wasn’t a goat. But it was best to keep Samuel away from crowds to protect his feelings from their ridicule.
I nudged him onward. While the other homes nestled side by side, ours sat on its own plot at the western most edge of the village. We had a prime view. Our village had earned the name Red Ridge since it sprawled along the top of a red rock cliff, and Samuel and I could see the entire valley from our doorway. The vale was a bowl of evergreens and haze.
I led Samuel inside. He shuffled across the stone floor and eased himself onto a stool next to the hearth. While he caught his breath, I hurried past our bedrooms to a storage closet to fetch something to eat. The harsh winter had drained us of almost everything except for a half-dozen potatoes, a handful of beets, and two bottles of our homemade dandelion wine.
I grabbed a potato for Samuel and tossed it into a pot of water over the fire. Then, I peeked out the window. The crowd had doubled.
I went to Samuel and braced his shoulders. “Can you watch that potato for me?”
“Of course, sweetie. I won’t let that tater flee the kettle.” He looked at the pot with unwavering attention, and I ran out the door, securing the outside latch with rope so he couldn’t wander off again.
The mob didn’t notice when I approached. The howling had quieted to a sob. I stood on my tiptoes to see over all the heads. Kaylan, a tall man of about fifty, knelt next to an old fellow who had a ten-inch gash below his knee. A satchel hung at Kaylan’s hip, full of medical supplies. Blood covered his hands.
“You’re a darn fool,” Kaylan said to the man as he stitched the wound. “You should know better than to travel at night. You’re lucky you made it back this morning.”
The old fellow stared at him with teary, vacant eyes and nodded. I sneezed.
A young man turned his head and locked a vindictive gaze on me. “Where’s Crazy Samuel?” the oaf asked. He had thin lips and big teeth. With a chuckle, he placed his hand behind his back and started hobbling back and forth, mumbling nonsense. A couple of people in the crowd laughed.
I slapped him across the face. “At least he’s not an ignorant fool.”
The man raised his hand to me, but Kaylan broke out of the crowd and intervened. “Boy, the girl is right. I can stitch a gash and bring down a fever, but there’s not a damn thing I can do for dumb.”
The oaf gave me a look that hinted of future retribution before storming off. No one ever talked back to Kaylan since his skills tending injuries and illnesses were extraordinary.
Kaylan wiped his hands clean with a rag and then regarded the wounded man. “You’ll be fine. Keep it bandaged and stay out of the woods.”
He patted me on the shoulder and with a clever look in his gray eyes, he whispered, “Next time make a fist and aim for the nose.”
Seemed like good advice to me. We walked away from the crowd and toward my home.
“What attacked that man?” I asked.
Kaylan cleared his throat. “He wouldn’t say. He kept rambling about nightmares. I suppose the gash matched what a wild dog could do, but …” We reached my door. “Ri, listen to me. Soon as the sky hints at dusk, you make sure you’re back in this village from now on. Do you understand? Something dangerous is out there.”
I nodded and opened the door, following Kaylan inside. Samuel’s eyes widened with glee when he realized he had a guest. Kaylan and his twin boys—who were roughly my age—were the only people who ever visited us.
“Would you mind staying with Samuel for a while?” I asked. “We’re practically down to our last potato.” Without waiting for his reply, I retrieved one of the bottles of dandelion wine and wrestled with the cork. Once removed, I poured the sweet drink into a mug.
“Well, how can I refuse now?” Kaylan grinned and grabbed the mug.
As he took a sip, I whispered in his ear, “Yesterday, Samuel talked about his homeland. Just random details as usual, but there was something different this time. A sort of clarity in his eyes.”
Kaylan raised a hand to shush me. “Ri, I know what you’re getting at. An illness of the mind can’t be cured. We’ve been through this.”
“Nonsense. One day I’ll cure him.”
He touched my arm and softened his tone. “One day you’ll need to accept the truth.”
“I better check on that potato.” I huffed to the hearth and removed the pot. The people in Samuel’s former village probably knew how to cure him. While I placed the potato on a plate and chopped it into wedges, Kaylan took a seat on the stool opposite Samuel. My mouth salivated as the aroma of food reached my nose.
“Ri, I didn’t mean to upset you,” Kaylan added. “But I would hate to see you get your hopes up.”
Hope was all I had.
Samuel exchanged a baffled glance with each of us. I looked at my feet. How rude we were to talk about him as if he weren’t even in the room.
Kaylan cleared his throat. “Why don’t you go gather more food? I’ll stay here.”
I sighed, releasing my frustration, and handed Samuel his food. Then, I scooped up a small basket and my fishing pole before dashing outside. I raced through the courtyard, under the archway, and back to the clearing where I found Samuel earlier.
A patch of grass near the streambed invited me over. I cast my line and then secured the end of my fishing pole into the mud. While the hook waited for a nibble, I wandered over to a nearby blueberry bush. A few crushed berries lay scattered on the ground. I grumbled. Some animal had beaten me to the grub.
Regardless, I bent down and sifted through the leaves, rummaging for whatever remained. Not one berry left. I sat back on my heels and stared at the ground. Someone’s footprint lay in the mud. Judging by the size, it belonged to a man. Odd horizontal ridges spanned across the footprint’s length. Only one shoemaker lived in my village, and the soles he crafted were soft leather that made flat, smooth tracks. So whom could this track belong to? An outsider? I touched the unusual print, and moist dirt clung to my fingertips. It was fresh.
A tug on my line jolted me from my investigation.
I pulled in a small trout and tossed it into my basket. When I looked up, the Fireflies flew past my line of sight. They hovered at the opposite side of the clearing, waiting. With pole and basket in hand, I followed them, hoping they had found a blueberry bush that no one had foraged through yet.
The Fireflies wove around the trees, and I chased them down a deer trail until it disappeared into the brush. I trampled brambles underfoot, forcing my way through a forest that now seemed intent on stopping me. Above, the sun buried herself behind a heap of gray clouds. I stopped running and stumbled backward. I had accidently entered the section of the forest known as the Dark Woods. Here, the nocturnal hunters never slept, for it was always night.
Despite the dangers, the Fireflies dove into the wretched place, pausing to float above a cream-colored object poking through the dirt. It lay roughly twenty steps ahead.
“No, absolutely not.” I wagged a finger at them. “This is a bad idea.” I stepped away, but they whizzed toward me, circled my waist once, and then returned to the object. They had never done that before.
“What’s gotten into you?” I asked.
They swarmed over the object like bees buzzing around a hive. The item they discovered must have been something of value.
“All right, but only for a moment. This is dangerous.”
I stepped forward. No light trickled through the ceiling of tangled branches and cobwebs. Ivory mushrooms clung to trees that twisted their roots into a rug of endless black dirt.
When I approached, the Fireflies zoomed farther into the Dark Woods. As small as they were, they sure were brave, or at least reckless. They led me to the glistening object, half buried in the dirt. I bent down and touched the thing and it coated my fingertip with clear ooze that reeked like a carcass in the summer. Cringing, I dug it free. The gooey film covered the entire object, so removing the filth required a few wipes. After cleaning one side, I identified it: a human jawbone. I hurled the grotesque thing to the ground, and it showed me a grin full of missing teeth.
A crow squawked. The vile birds lined the branches, screeching and cocking their ugly heads, but the Fireflies lured me onward. And they had never led me wrong.
Though my knees trembled, I followed my glowing companions farther into the Dark Woods. I held my breath and grasped the handle of my basket so tight that it cut into my palm. Then, without warning, the Fireflies flitted off like a school of startled minnows. I staggered backward. Something moved, roughly twenty feet ahead. A man.
I leapt to the cover of a nearby tree and pressed my back against its trunk. Bark dug into my shoulder blades, but I stayed still. His footsteps neared. I peeked around the tree.
Only fifteen strides separated me from the stranger. He fussed with a canteen attached to his belt. Sweat stains soiled his shirt, which draped in tatters over the waist of his hole-ridden pants. Two sheathed weapons hung from his belt: a dagger and a sword with an ornate handle. Though I had never seen a sword, Samuel taught me about them. A knot coiled in my stomach.
He brought the canteen to his lips. His bristle-covered throat pulsed with each gulp. He took two more steps in my direction, kicking the jawbone along the way with a whoop. A man who showed such disrespect for the dead was mad. I ducked back behind the tree.
His footsteps continued to approach, snapping twigs. I should have run. Instead I froze, heart pounding. He made his way to my side of the tree, inches from where I stood. He sneered, crinkling his blood-spattered face.
“Well, well,” he said, speaking in Samuel’s native language. “A little bird flew too far from her nest.”
Wasn’t that a wonderful First Chapter. Loving it.
Today, I have the privilege of showcasing Peter Driscoll and his ancient piece about Doggerland. Join me in finding a lost tribe when time began. We follow their struggles and loves as their lives unfold. You’ll love his writing and story as much as I do. I promise.
Eight thousand years ago, in the lowlands of Doggerland, tribes war against each other. A lone hunter enters their territory on a ruse. There he sees a beautiful girl. One he wishes to make his own. But going anywhere near her risks death.
The long struggle to gain her trust and love has begun, but that is only the start. What they discover threatens the nefarious schemes of the tribal leader.
Together, they decide to stand against the evil.
And now, for the first chapter
Chapter 1 – The Snow-Covered Hills
My fingers follow the surface of the curved slats of wood and my hands know the moves. I whittle with stone flints just as they did eight thousand years ago, turning branches into tools. They survived in Northern Europe after the end of the ice age when hunter gatherers turned towards agriculture. The sea level lay lower, exposing the lowlands of Doggerland.
Dr. Carl Bolt
Tablets: 54-87, 95, 123-130. Staves, 2, 12, 19.
The previous day had not gone well. Warriors from Kirak’s tribe had tracked him and driven him out of his hunting grounds. Talid had escaped over the pass to the shoulder of the mountain. From there he ascended, hoping to avoid his pursuers, until the cold air chilled him. Near a high copse of pine, a snow-covered slope spread out below.
Two warriors appeared out of the trees and tracked towards him. Snowshoes slowed their progress, but the pursuit proceeded towards its inevitable end. The slow flap, like the feet of large birds waddling, made him smirk for a moment before he calmed his face, to feel the reality of his predicament. They would skewer him like meat on a stick if they caught him.
His legs ached with every step, and his muscles burned, as he shuffled on clumsy pads of woven reeds. Two figures appeared in front of him from behind a rock, but to the left. He angled away from them hurrying his pace to a clumsy half run. Behind him, his pursuers closed the gap with every step.
He focused on the accurate movement of his feet. Snowshoes threatened to trip him up, and the slope became steeper. In haste, he unwrapped a device made of wooden slats from around his waist and tightened the ropes to join the carved pieces into the single solid form of a sled. He had never used it before to escape. Now it was his only hope. A desperate lunge took him over a lip onto a steeper slope as his pursuers closed in.
A warrior readied a spear and hurled it toward his chest as he slammed down hard onto his sled. The weapon sailed past him as he slid away on steep powdery snow. Smooth untouched whiteness spread out before him into the distance, as he picked up speed. The four men, who had been so close to catching him, disappeared behind him.
Far down below the snow line lay green valley, and in the distance, strips of grassland stretched between forests. The wind whipped in his face, blowing his hair back. Top heavy with his pack, the weight pulled him one way and then the other as he fought for balance. His path curved down the slope, snow spraying up.
With a graceless swerving course, he carved S curves down the mountain. His shoulders tightened and he struggled with the guide rope, gaining steerage after what seemed an age. The panic passed as his sled carved to the left angling across the slope. Now with a little more confidence, the thrill of moving fast overtook him and he yelled like a child. How strange to be so near death and then suddenly free, using this simple device, his invention that meant so much to him, yet nothing to anyone else.
As he approached a high stand, a tree blocked his path and he guessed the wrong route around it, to wipe out with a spectacular flight that buried him in a snow drift. Powdery snow engulfed him and he crawled out of it to see a white fluffy land. He flopped back into a loose pile of snow.
The day had turned out better than expected. But he doubted that the warriors would give up so easily. After checking for anything broken he found and repacked the sled. With his snowshoes on, he proceeded into the trees. His path would be easy to follow, but the warriors were far behind, and as long as they followed his trail he had a good idea where they were.
Coming to the other side of the forest, another wide-open space led, with a gradual slope, down into the valley below. He considered his options. Better to head up hill and find a way out of Kirak’s territory. But he wanted the thrill of sliding over the snow again.
He took to sledding. The long run took him deep into the valley to the snow line, where he again packed his sled.
The escarpment off the mountain led him down. Careful steps took him over slabs of rock which might break his trail. Sharp-edged flinty stones threatened to trip him up. Maybe the rocky ground would shake them off his trail. But experienced trackers can follow trails over rocky ground.
He angled across the slope. A rocky bluff stuck out and he headed below it. The air became damp, and a fast-flowing river came into view as the pleasant vista put a spring in his step. The strong flow stood in standing waves that rippled, lines written in unmoving movement.
As he approached, the power of it scared him. How could he cross the water safely? The crossing would break the trail and set him free from his determined trackers. The valley had begun to feel like a trap. The thought of dying on this tree lined slope by the river nibbled at the corners of his mind.
A raft would do the job but that would take time, and time trickled away with every step of the warrior’s feet. He pictured them, tracking him through the snow.
The crossing carried risk. The current could carry him under, and the cold water would suck the heat from his bones. He could head upstream and hide. This option seemed less obvious, and perhaps Kirak’s warriors might believe he had crossed the river when he had not.
From where he stood the path of the river steepened and led to rough country. The rocky bluff that he had seen on the way down made an obstacle, and the water must find a way around. Where the flow swung around the rocky outcrop, there may be impassible cliffs. Obstacles could waste more of his time.
He balked at the decision. Heading up river could lead him back to the warriors, if any had made the direct path down. Heading back up hill would be too slow. How had he come to this dangerous situation?
Up above him a bird squawked and a large flock flew off. He hoped his pursuers were too far away to see it.
Out of options, he chose to build a raft and brave the crossing. The raft needed small trees, the width that would fit between thumbs and fingers. Using a stone axe, he chopped one down. With a hearty swing, he cut into the second tree but the axe broke where the stone blade fitted into the handle and he cursed the goddess of the woods. Time slipped away.
A pair of birds twittered and flittered around each other before landing on a branch. The bright blue colour of one contrasted with the drabness of the other.
Using the blade as a hand axe he attacked the second tree. Each blow rang through his arm, but he ignored the pain. He lifted the axe to see a corner chipped away. His plan headed toward disaster. He pictured warriors tracking him, their inevitable loping run coming closer every moment.
A small lizard crawled toward him and looked up. The fine silver-gray skin glinted in the dull light. It wiggled away with an ungainly gait.
A large wedge-shaped stone with a jagged edge caught his eye, and he touched it up to make a saw stone. Setting the flat base of the stone level, he sawed at the tree, ripping off small pieces of wood. As they accumulated, they stood out, light against the dark soil.
How much time left to complete this stupid raft? Give up now when most of the work had been done? He dismissed a nagging doubt as he cleaned up the branches using his hand axe, and lashed them together using vines.
He imagined footsteps pounding through the forest toward him. Eerie bird calls cut the air.
In panic, he grouped bundles of sticks and bound each one with vine. A bundle flopped loose and he re-tied it. He slammed them on and lashed them to the base. After a final check, he launched the craft, tethering it to the earth by a small vine, pegged to the ground.
He paused listening for any sound. What foolishness had locked him in obsession on this one task? Had the ghost maidens of the forest enchanted him? He could hear nothing. The hairs stood up on the back of his neck.
A tree back up the path had the right thickness of bark to make an oar and he crept back to it, step by quiet step. He tore off a long section.
A pigeon took to the sky, making the distinctive whir, whir sound.
There was no other noise except the trees bending in the wind.
Something was wrong. Without hearing them, he knew they were there.
The crack of a broken stick sounded like a hammer blow, and he ducked, as a spear buried into the tree where he had been a moment before.
Without looking he grabbed the strip of thick bark and sprinted for his raft. Kicking the peg free, he leapt onto it, his momentum carrying it away from the shore. A warrior raced down the hill and hurled his spear. Talid ducked, and the spear sailed into the water beyond him. With fevered strokes, he paddled further out toward the middle of the river, as another spear missed him by a hands width.
The current grabbed the ungainly craft. The flow took him quickly, surprising him with its ferocity. He paddled further out into the middle, struggling for balance.
Rapids appeared in front of him and his fragile raft poured through a narrow opening. He laid down flat, gripping the raft with his arms as it rose and fell. The current took him over a series of standing waves. The water soaked him, the cold shocking. The waves threw him, his knuckles white as he hung on for his life. The river held him in its malevolent grip, as his hands froze in terror. The cold hand of death whispered to him to slip a little further into its embrace, and give in to fear.
He struggled to his knees, but had no time to find his balance as rapid after rapid bounced him around and propelled his fragile craft forward. The river poured through a narrow gap and turned sharply to the right in front of a rock wall. He staggered for balance as the current threw him around, flushing him out into a long line of standing waves. A roaring sound ran through his body, bringing some new level of panic to his terror.
Clear now, the water raced around a long curve, then through a narrow gap and out into a shallow pool. The raging flow disappeared into nothing. Mist obscured his view, and a moment later, the raft fell from beneath him and he sailed through the air over a waterfall.
Smashing down hard, Talid tumbled end over end deep underwater. Releasing the broken raft, he kicked free. His lungs burned. Desperate to breathe, he kicked and pulled, hauling himself upward.
He splashed out onto the surface, and gasped for air. Above him rained the tall waterfall he had flown over and wet rock surrounded a large pool. The roaring of the water rang in his ears.
With his head above the water, he looked for signs of people. Crawling out, he saw a well-used path. It led up, out of the canyon. His wet clothes sucked the warmth from his body.
His raft had been broken up by the fall, smashed to pieces, but his pack floated free and circled in a backwater. He retrieved it. The oiled waterproof backpack had dry furs and he put them on.
Then he packed his gear, strapped it on, and followed the track. A shout rang out from the trees behind him. Hurrying now, the steep climb tested his muscles. The slippery path with rocks and mud made the climb difficult. At the top, he found himself in open grassy land. In the distance, a forest spread out and he made for it at a run.
Hope you’ll join Peter for the rest! Available on Kindle Unlimited.
Source: Monday Madness – I’m publishing
This week, I’m honored to host Sue Seabury’s first chapter. I love her writing and her characters. The humor is top-notch, too.
It’s sheer luck when the Queen of Coiffure books the wrong flight and meets Mr. Mane Attraction.
Kandi is all set to open the hottest hair salon in West Hollywood. The only thing she needs is a teensy bit of cash to cover the rent. Should be no harder than trimming up split ends with all the investors headed to the First Annual Hairstravaganza in Juno Beach, Florida.
One minor hitch: she booked a flight to Juneau, Alaska.
All return flights are booked for the next few days, but Kandi is confident everything will work out. In the meantime, fate has placed a gorgeous man with the most amazing head of hair in her path, perfect for promo photos.
Mario can’t wait to leave weird, smoggy LA behind and return to his true calling: building a community center for his tribe of Tlingit Indians. The last thing he wants is a gal with a turkey on her head. But he can’t leave her stranded on the curb.
While Mario fights to stop his uncle from putting a strip mall on the sacred land and Kandi texts her thumbs down to nubs trying to keep rivals from renting her salon out from under her, their growing attraction proves a distraction neither wants.
Then again, maybe each has exactly what the other needs.
And now to the First Chapter.
Three things that have never failed me in life: the Golden Rule, intuition, and my stainless seven-inch barber shears. Due to some silly airline regulation, I had to put the shears in my checked bag, but I always have the other two at the ready. Good thing the current hair emergency doesn’t require scissors.
The mussed section of the gentleman’s careful comb-over is positively heartbreaking. His cane is jutting out in the aisle as well. In one smooth motion, I reposition the cane and the offending lock of hair. Crisis averted.
“Allow me.” I place his rolling suitcase in the overhead bin for good measure.
“Thank you, erm, miss.” His squint seems mistrustful, although I use the utmost care.
I hope I didn’t insult his manhood. He must be as old as my Grandpa Kimball. It’s only right for the able-bodied to lend a hand. “You’re welcome.”
On the way to my seat, I stow luggage for an over-processed permanent wave, a shaggy mullet, and a bowl cut. Is this flight going to Florida or 1982?
The thanks I received may have been lukewarm, but the universe repays me by placing the most gorgeous hair I have ever seen outside Fresno’s Sixth Annual Wig Convention in my row. A luscious black curtain that falls to his waist. Now that’s what I call serendipity.
Might he be headed to the HairStravaganza too? I never tire of talking shop, but it’ll have to wait until I resolve the more pressing matter of my missing business partner.
No space left in the overhead bin for my own bag after all my good deeds. That’s okay. I’d rather keep my things close at hand. With a conspiratorial wink at my seatmate to initiate the connection, I crane my neck to see around the plodding line of passengers. Still no Candy. Where can she be?
I know the announcement said to turn off all devices, but we’re not moving yet. Anyway, this call is très important.
The stewardess in desperate need of a root touch-up is headed my way again. She probably wants to thank me for helping out, but she seemed a touch hostile toward technology when I tried to make a call while boarding. I duck.
Due to a miscalculation of the distance between myself and Mr. Mane Attraction, I bonk my nose on his shoulder that is apparently made from rocks. Although literally and figuratively on the edge of my seat with my business partner about to miss our flight, I am a professional to the core. With a quick rub to the injured part, I pull out my sweetest the-customer-is-always-right smile. “Sorry.”
He stares at me as if I just told him I enjoy murdering kittens in my spare time. The first person in my twenty-eight years on the planet to be impervious to my charm. No matter. I brought plenty of fashion magazines to study during the flight.
Candy finally answers. We’re hair and name twins. I whisper, “Where are you?”
“Stuck at security. Something about my ionic curlers.”
“Well hurry up already! I’m in seat —” I tilt my head to read the number but that frizzy-haired stewardess is back again. It’s like she has nothing better to do than walk up and down the aisle.
Desperate times. I slip a handful of those tremendous tresses over my face, then separate the strands enough to peek through.
“Twenty-seven B,” is all I have time to say before the stewardess swoops in. She actually crosses her arms and taps her foot like a grammar school principal. Very unprofessional.
“Gottagobye.” I click off but stay concealed in the borrowed hair blind. The scent is exotic, spicy and vaguely savage. Would be sexy if it weren’t for the frown. He’s making the same face as Frizzy even though I’m taking care not to tug. Few people have more respect for hair than I.
Frizzy isn’t doing herself any favors by making that face. Wrinkles already started even though I wouldn’t put her much past thirty. If she doesn’t knock it off and get serious about an age-defying skin care routine, she’s going to have a permanent eleven etched into her forehead. Not a good look on anyone.
The hair blind, while an extremely pleasant place to pass the time, is clearly not working. A few strands stick to my Siren Red ‘Perfect Pout’ lipgloss I wore to prevent dehydration during the flight. A strand gets caught in my mouth triggering my gag reflex, but neither the stewardess nor my seatmate seems interested in helping me. Without a single sign of sympathy over my potentially fatal coughing fit, she extends a hand. Her nails are done in last year’s ‘Checkmate.’
“Hand it over.” Her brassy name tag flashes in the florescent light. ‘Britanni.’
Where was Britanni while I was doing her job loading all those people’s bags into the overhead bins? Not taking care of her hair, that’s for sure. She could use deep conditioning treatment in addition to the touch-up. No wonder she’s in such a foul mood. I wish I had a sample of Tahitian flower oil on me. “What exactly is it you’re looking for?”
She rolls her eyes. Someone just lost a star off her customer satisfaction rating. “Your phone.”
“What’s the number? I’ll dial for you.”
Her eyes bulge. Britanni has quite the repertoire of unattractive expressions.
“The only call I’m going to make is to security if you don’t give me that phone.” She rips the boarding pass from my hand. “And I will, Miz Kane.”
Clearly this woman did her stewardess training in boot camp. As if the condescending announcement of my name isn’t enough of a breach of my confidentiality rights, she actually reaches around my back and yanks my phone away. It’s her fault the man’s hair got pulled. She could have asked nicely. I stand, because being eye to eye is a key component in the art of negotiation.
“Sit down and fasten your seatbelt. We’re about to back out of the gate.”
“But we can’t leave! My business partner isn’t here yet!”
“I’ll be happy to deplane you so you can take the next flight together.” Bootcamp Britanni points at the exit door. I sincerely hope she didn’t pay for that amateurish manicure.
I give it one last shot. “If you let me keep my phone, I’ll bring you a ton of free samples from the haircare conference. They’ll definitely have something to help with your . . . issues.” I use my most professional sensitive tone so as not to offend. “What kind of processing does your stylist use?”
I lean down and pull a freshly-minted business card from my purse that one of the check-in squad had the nerve to call “oversize” although it contains no more than the bare necessities. I pared it down significantly because of the insane airline restrictions. Razors are an essential tool of any haircare professional. How is this not common knowledge?
Not everyone is blessed with a solid education, but since I know a thing or two about customer service, I offer Britanni a winning smile along with one of my pizza-scented Shear Genius cards.
She refuses it. “Sit.”
Now I’m a dog? Minus another star.
There’s no reasoning with a person who treats a customer paying full price like she isn’t even part of the human race. (Full promotional sale price with an extra 10% discount for signing up for the airline credit card, but you can’t fault a gal for being savvy.)
Eyes are on me. Normally I wouldn’t hesitate to promote my salon. But my instincts never fail and today the vibe I’m getting is alarm. These other travelers must know something about Bootcamp B. Both Candy and myself missing the opening day of the Juno Beach HairStravaganza would be a disaster. I sit.
Angel Hair leans against the window. He must be intuitive as well, and sense that I need some space right now.
BB isn’t satisfied. Should’ve known. Now she has her eyes on my purse. I give it a poke with my toe to better stow it under the tiny seat in front of me. It is nice, a genuine imitation Michel Kors in this year’s hottest pea green. I find the best stuff at the Santee Alley flea market. But just because the woman is employed by the airline doesn’t give her license to steal my bag. What is this world coming to? She already has my phone; my purse is non-negotiable.
Turns out the joke’s on her. She can’t lift it, which she makes a big show of. Her theatrics are ridiculous. I had no difficulty carrying it and she’s got a good twenty pounds on me.
“Definitely overweight,” she says.
If we were on friendlier terms, I might offer some tips on how to tone up while slimming down. As our relationship is strained, my heroism extends only to not pointing out that they make a matched set.
“Needs to go below,” she says.
Sympathetic heads ten rows in either direction whip round but they have no effect on heartless Britanni.
“Sit and buckle. You’ll get both of them back when we land.”
She stomps off-kilter down the aisle, my most precious belongings in tow. I’m breathless. My iPhone and I have never been parted since I got it two weeks ago. The case alone set me back over a hundred bucks, but image is important. I designed it myself: a stunning combination of zebra and neon pink rocker hair, with Shear Genius written in raised, jagged script.
I need something to calm myself. First choice is a head to style. With no tools but my bare hands, braiding will have to do. But my own head is out of the question. I spent three hours coiffing it into the perfect ‘do for my grand entrée at the HairStravaganza. Complex, yet elegant. The marcel waves turned out just right, and I used the perfect amount of styling wax to achieve maximum shine without a hint of greasiness on the upturned tail. Spraying the colors to make feathers was a snap, and the single red Betty Boop curl in the front is the crème de la crème, if I may be allowed to toot my own horn, which I’m sure I do rarely enough.
My seatmate’s luscious locks call to me like a Siren. He really likes the view out the window. It is a lovely vista of LA. The smog only adds to its mystique.
“Excuse me,” I say. “This may be an unusual request, but would you mind if . . .” I wiggle my fingers at his hair.
The man’s expression is blank, a considerable improvement over the previous one.
I hate to have to spell it out. First off, I do not want my question to be misinterpreted as flirtation. My salon is the only thing on the radar screen at this time.
Second, it might make me seem odd, like hair is some kind of kinky fetish. But it’s not. It’s my passion, my love. I never put a pair of scissors to a head without first saying a prayer that this will be the best cut I’ve ever done. Like Momma says, humility is a blessing. I know that which is given can also be taken away.
His hair is so long, he probably wouldn’t have noticed if I just started on a section. Too late now. “Would it be all right if I braided your hair?”
The corners of his lips twitch. When he isn’t scowling, he has a not-unattractive face with a straight nose, full lips and eyelashes no women can achieve without assistance. And those exotic cheekbones. Even nicer than I-will-love-you-forever-oh-wait-I-like-my-parents’-moolah-more Sebastián’s. I have to get my hands on that hair.
“It calms me down,” I explain, since he doesn’t reply.
“Do you need calming?” His voice is pleasant, like a QVC presenter’s. He seems genuinely interested in my answer.
“After that . . . woman stole my belongings, yes.”
I’m not sure if that’s a “yes,” but as the plane jerks out of the gate, I take hold of the man’s hair reflexively. “This is my first flight, and my business partner didn’t make it onto the plane, but we’re scheduled to be at the HairStravaganza in a few short hours. Is that where you’re headed?”
Too bad. His hair is so silky. And the smell. What is that spicy bit? Anise, maybe?
I have to find out what products he uses. I won’t rush him, however. I will allow the conversation to flow around naturally to haircare, like it always does.
The plane lurches again; I braid. It occurs to me that he hasn’t, in so many words, given consent. I lean forward to check his face. A pleasant grin communicates the answer. I have people skills, unlike some people who work in customer service but should clearly be in another line of work, like prison guard.
The rhythmic twisting keeps my mind off the stomach-churning liftoff. So much beautiful hair. It lasts the whole ascent.
Although it’s unergonomic to twist in my seat like that, I continue even after the ride smooths out. I know all about the dangers of such things: carpal tunnel, trigger finger, varicose veins. I pay attention and am careful to not overdo. I never wear anything higher than a four-inch heel. For this busy day of travel, my gold gladiator sandals with a modest platform sole were the obvious choice.
I’ve never encountered anything like this man’s hair. I don’t know exactly how much it would be worth to a wig-maker, but I’m guessing a couple thousand at least. I run my fingers through the silky tresses to undo the plaiting so I can start again.
The man clears his throat. I pretend not to hear. It can be rude to call attention to such things, like when a person is coughing. I hate it when people ask me if I’m okay. If I’m not okay, I’ll make the internationally recognized signal for choking. Otherwise, I’m fine and I don’t like people staring at me when my face is red and blotchy.
“Are you done?” he asks. “I feel like one of those doll heads little girls have.”
I scoff. They aren’t “doll heads.” They’re mannequin heads, an essential tool in the haircare learning process. I happen to have three in my checked luggage.
But he’s been generous, so I say politely, “Thank you for allowing me to do your hair. If you don’t mind my asking, what products do you use?”
“What products?” he echoes. “Are we in an infomercial?” His teeth are straight and white, but his smile is mocking.
A pity he’s so unfriendly; he’d make a great advertisement for our website. I stay polite for just that reason. “I meant, in your hair. What types of styling products do you use? Like, wax or mousse?”
He pulls his hair out of my reach. My fingers ache with longing. “None, but if I was going to use anything, I would definitely use moose wax.”
I go through my mental catalogue of haircare. “I’ve never heard of mousse wax. Who makes it?”
I don’t recognize the brand either. I remain silent.
“You know.” His large hands form antlers on his head. “Big, hairy things.”
With a polite nod, I turn back in my seat. Valuable minutes have been wasted when I should have been reading up on the latest hair trends from Tokyo.
I look for my bag, then remember where it is. That stewardess was cruel, inhuman, just like this uncongenial person. Abandoned by Candy, tortured by Britanni and trapped with a teasing man with to-die-for hair. What have I done to deserve this?
Out of desperation, I pluck the in-flight magazine from the seatback pocket. It’s mostly a waste, no real celebrities to critique and the regular people, well, like Momma always says, if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. I would do the sudoku, except I don’t even have a pen. Thanks again, Brat-anni.
As I try to work it out in my head, Lovely Locks pulls a Sharpie from the breast pocket of his chambray shirt. I almost refuse it on principle, but there’s a crossword, too. I don’t like the way crosswords always try to trick you, but Momma says they’re good mind-sharpeners, and staying sharp is key in the realm of haircare where trends change faster than Lady Gaga’s ensembles. I figure if I don’t go too quickly, the puzzle might last me to the end of the flight.
“Thank you.” Even though I make it clear I’m not interested in reopening the conversation, I always remember my manners.
On second thought, it might be wise to stay friendly with him so he’ll let me braid again during the descent. I’ve heard it’s worse than liftoff.
This week showcase is a Supernatural Thriller. A novel set in my neck of the woods, Pittsburgh. Check out the First Chapter.
The end of times hadn’t been the end of times. It wasn’t even the end of Pittsburgh. But what else to call it? Heaven and Hell and all the other planes had opened up on Earth and the battle was fought. But then it ended, and everything was still here, albeit with more than a few new additions to the taxonomy.
If the end of times had come and gone, had God gone too? The Creative had given no sign, renewing the faith of some, destroying that of others. One question prevailed. Whether or not God was still around, what would be the place of mankind in the order of things?
As this story begins, Del Ballantine, monster hunter, arrives in a small mountain town to help with the infestation. He soon learns it won’t be as easy as the last ten or so places. One mountain is home to a witch. Another mountain, home to a primordial beast only one man ever lived to speak of. That man hadn’t been able to say much before he went insane though.
Ariana, Jeremy, and Reggie make up the house band at the Foothill Hotel and Bar. Though Reggie is content to go with the flow, his band mates are becoming frustrated with their situation. Jeremy, too talented to stay where he is, must care for his nightmare plagued mother. Ariana, who hasn’t yet found herself, finds that the thrills she once easily extracted from her middle-of-nowhere town are beginning to lose their luster.
Along the way, Ballantine meets the curmudgeon taxidermist and his uncommonly attractive wife, the no-nonsense hotel owner and her mute husband, a cocksure world traveler come to try his hand at hunting game from Hell, wood devils, shug monkeys, hunner dyers, hellcats, a ghost, and Jessica among many others.
There’s action and suspense, magic and mayhem, sex and violence, mixed emotions and questionable deeds.
Can the people take their mountains back? And whether or not they succeed, will they find their place?
the First Chapter.
The woods were dead silent. Even Tempest’s hoofbeats were muted in the dewy leaves, like she was tiptoeing. She’d been making these treks for about five years, since Ariana Coleman was 16. The human girl had the small town blues, among other things. Got her kicks from ringing death’s doorbell and running. Tempest was used to it, and if she’d been able to talk, would’ve said she enjoyed the thrill too.
The sun, still behind the mountains, lit the sky enough to see, even in those woods where the leaves had begun to change and fall. Ariana preferred the dull blue glow to the contrast of a sunny day. In those woods, where death took many forms, every stark shadow was a potential threat.
Tempest got that feeling—that innate sense of danger animals get when a predator is near—and she stopped. She stopped and gave a stamp, which she and Ariana decided a long time ago was her way of warning her human.
Ariana stroked Tempest’s mane and asked, “Where is it, girl?” The human held her breath and looked around, first for familiar shapes and then for movement…
The girl clicked her tongue which was the signal (they had decided) to proceed with caution and be prepared to turn tail. Reins in the left hand, Ariana slid her right hand over the grip of the Smith and Wesson Model 19 on her hip.
Tempest took a few more steps and stopped again. Ariana’s fingers closed on the handle of her sidearm. An alarm went off in her bones.
Ariana drew her gun as a hunner dyer emerged, shrieking, from under a swath of leaves and dirt. Tempest reared, brandishing her hooves.
Hunner dyers most closely resembled carpenter ants, though they were only slightly smaller than men. They had six legs and their bodies were segmented. Their abdomens were proportionally small, allowing them to walk and stand on their hind legs. Their thoraxes appeared to have human-like ribs on the outside. Patches of coarse hair grew randomly. Their heads contained a loose ring of 24 black eyes, a pair of fangs like a tarantula, a long, retractable middle tooth, and a needly tongue for extracting whatever the tooth exposed.
“Hunner dyer” was not the creature’s proper name. It’s just what everyone called it. Ariana and Tempest had seen and killed a ton of them; shriek, click, bang. This time, however, as Tempest’s hooves came back down, Ariana hesitated. This time she felt different. This time she felt like a bully; like she had just walked into the creature’s home with the express purpose of killing it for no reason. That was exactly as it always had been. Why it bothered her now, she didn’t have time to speculate.
The hunner dyer lunged. Tempest turned and ran without a cue from Ariana. They beat a path back across and down the hill. Though the monster gave chase, it couldn’t keep up with the horse. It was far behind by the time they reached the fence.
Ariana’s nerves balanced on a pinhead as she dismounted and opened the gate. She smiled at the feeling as her hand shook on the gate latch. This was what she came for—the adrenaline rush.
The hunner dyer shrieked again. It had cleared the last hump and was on its way down to torture and kill Ariana and her companion.
The girl threw open the gate and led Tempest through. The monster descended, kicking up leaves and shrieking every few breaths. Its movement was sloppy, as if it didn’t know how to run. It was neither a crawl nor a gallop, but something in between. Its clawed forelimbs waved and reached, only touching the ground when it needed the balance.
Ariana slammed the gate closed as the monster slammed into it, giving the girl a good look at about ten of her own reflections in its onyx black eyes. It ran its tooth through the fence, reaching its limit an inch from Ariana’s throat. The girl flinched and fell backward.
This was an unusual situation for Ariana. Typically, she would have shot the monster when it first appeared and left it deeper in the woods. The fence itself was never meant to hold the creatures of the mountains back, only deter them from the areas where people live. Ariana had never seen what would happen if a monster were given incentive to find a way over or through the fence.
She wished the creature away as it rammed and beat at the fence. She wished for it to get tired and go away. Then she thought she might have to kill it anyway, just to make sure it didn’t come back.
The hunner dyer made her decision easy. It looked up, ran its forelimbs along the top of the fence, then began to crawl up. It got one more shriek out before Ariana blew its head off. The gunshot tapered off through the valley, leaving Ariana and Tempest in dead silence once more.
The adrenaline sat in Ariana’s veins like stale coffee in a day-old pot. She wondered if that would be the end of that thrill—one of the few thrills she had in her podunk, one-horse, middle-of-bumfuck-nowhere town.
She opened the gate again and tied a rope from Tempest’s saddle to the carcass. Couldn’t leave chum by the gate. Girl mounted horse and they dragged the dead bug into the woods before heading home.
Away from the scant foothills, an old refrigerator truck puttered up to an old picket fence around an old farmhouse. The truck door slid open and Reggie Adams slid out, drumming a pencil on his clipboard. His curly black hair billowed and bounced as he bobbed to the song in his head. He popped open the side door, hopped in for a moment, and then dropped back out with a small package wrapped in butcher’s paper.
Rick Jenkins greeted Reggie at the door. Rick was one of the old timers. Been living in Brothers since before the whole Pittsburgh thing, before that mess made its way to the country. That was always the way though, Rick knew—everything starts in the cities and works its way out, whether countryfolk like it or not. Though neither Rick, nor anyone else for that matter, expected what they got. He thought the changing times would’ve meant dealing with kids and their long hair and devil music. Instead he had an infestation. It put things in perspective. With monster-infested mountains a stone’s throw away, Reggie’s hair was less of an affront to Rick than it could have been.
“Morning, Rick,” Reggie said with a smile.
“Reggie,” Rick nodded. “I don’t know how you’re so bright-eyed and bushy-tailed after playing music all night.”
“I got a little nap. I’ll get the rest when my route is over. I’m used to it.” He handed the package over saying, “Five pounds of ground wood devil, right?”
“Sounds about right to me.”
“Solid. Just sign right here for me.”
Rick signed and handed the clipboard and pencil back to Reggie. “You know,” asked the elder, “I always wondered. How often you attract any them creatures, driving a meat bus around like that?”
Sometimes Reggie wondered that himself. That truck was on its last leg. He, nevertheless, responded as he always did—with confidence and good humor. “Ah! Well… Difficult as it may be to ascertain by the humble exterior of this fine machine, the refrigerator contained within not only keeps the fare fresh, but well sealed. And if all else fails, the exhaust fumes will repel just about anything.” Reggie patted his sidearm and said, “I’ve never even had to draw this thing.”
“Say, that’s pretty—watch out!” Rick pushed Reggie to one side and drew his own gun. He took aim at a hellcat that was sprinting toward them. Reggie covered his ears and watched. The gun wobbled in Rick’s hand. He was getting older, but not too old. And it certainly wasn’t the first time he’d had to deal with a hellcat.
The creatures looked like bobcats, but bigger and mangier. Their eyes glowed and flickered with hellfire whether at night or on a bright sunny day. They made no noise as they ran, creating a sensory dissonance in anyone unfortunate enough to see one bearing down on them.
Rick’s shot rang out and dropped the hellcat 20 feet from the porch. The old timer kept his eyes on the beast as he holstered his weapon. When he was satisfied it wasn’t going to get back up, he turned to Reggie and said, “Never had to draw, huh?”
“That’s right,” Reggie said with a smile and gesture at Rick’s gun. “Plus, most people around these parts don’t like to stand around talking with raw meat in their hands. Did you want me to take that?” He pointed at the hellcat.
“Please,” said Rick.
Reggie flipped the pages on his clipboard to start on a new form. “And do you want to sell it, have it processed, get it mounted?”
“I’ll take five pounds of it. Ground is fine. Make it easy.”
“You sure? The tenderloin on these is almost as good as beef. Just smaller. You can do like little filet mignon medallions. Little butter, little garlic… mmmm, mm!”
“Heh, all right then. I’ll take five pounds ground and a tenderloin. Sell you the rest.”
“Excellent choice, sir!” Reggie said, filling out the order. “Excellent choice, indeed. Here is your receipt. And I’ll bring you the difference on delivery. Sound good?”
“That’ll be fine, Reggie. Thanks.”
Rick helped Reggie load the carcass into the truck. Once it was closed, Reggie took a spray bottle and spritzed a few blood streaks left on the exterior. He said to Rick, “A little bit of bleach helps keep the monsters away too.”
The truck fought itself awake and backfired its displeasure. Reggie waved to Rick and pulled away. He only had a few more stops before he could head home and sleep.
When the truck had gone, Rick looked to the three mountains in the distance. The overcast sky reached down wisps to stroke them. The mountains used to be beautiful. They used to beckon. Back in the day, Rick’s chief motivation was to give himself as much time as possible to hike or hunt those mountains. They used to be havens for such things. Now they loomed, foreboded, and forbade. They were home to escapees of what everyone thought was the all-time final battle. They were gargoyles, demonic sentinels.
Rick realized he hadn’t looked behind himself lately. He wheeled with a hand on his gun.
A couple of farmhands rode tractors in the field behind the house.
Jeremy Crawford was jarred awake by one of his mother’s nervous tics. He took a deep breath and looked at the clock: 2:30pm. Pretty close to four hours of unbroken sleep. He’d take it. Despite it being upright in a chair, it was a deep and solid sleep. He felt rested and tongued the film out of the corners of his mouth.
Connie, Jeremy’s mother, twitched and chuffed in her bed in a dream state akin to the line between Purgatory and Hell. Whenever Jeremy left the room, the nightmare would return and push Connie’s dreams into torture.
The young man took another deep breath, then moved to the edge of the bed. He took Connie’s hand and said, “Mom. Mom,” startling her awake. Or maybe only half awake. Maybe Connie only feigned half awakeness so as not to have to think or talk or burden Jeremy or herself too much.
“Mom, come on. You should get up and move around a little bit. Get some food.”
Connie stared. Afterimages of her nightmares played on the ceiling; visions of gory death, torture, and loss burned into her memories. Like so many times before, Connie wondered how much more she could take. She didn’t know how she had made it as long as she did.
Jeremy gave her hand a tug and helped her sit up. She shambled to the kitchen while Jeremy went to the bathroom to relieve himself and get a shower.
There wasn’t much in the fridge. There hadn’t been since the nightmare, since the role of caretaker flipped at the Crawford house. Fortunately, Connie and Jeremy were friends with Kelly Karasek, the owner of the nearby Foothill Hotel and Bar. Kelly usually made sure to send some food home with Jeremy at the end of the night.
Connie slouched at the table, thousand-yard stare, turkey club between her hands. With no saliva to help, she chewed her first bite for a few minutes. She heard the water running in the shower—a sign of life in a house, formerly a home, being eaten by time before her eyes. She remembered the day she put up the now-peeling wallpaper with her husband, James. She remembered how they bickered over it. She remembered how he let her have her way and how he said it didn’t look half bad after it was up. She remembered the squeeze and smile he gave her. Then she cried, because she knew the nightmare would ruin that for her next. But as much as it hurt to sleep, it hurt even more to be awake.
Jeremy had barely rinsed the shampoo out of his hair when he heard Connie screaming. He sighed and shut the water off. He pulled on a bathrobe and walked out, cleaning the fog from his glasses with his sleeve. “Twenty minutes!” he said. “Was all I needed.”
Rounding the corner into the kitchen he saw Connie curled up on the floor next to the table, the sandwich a few feet away from her, and the nightmare. The gremlin-like creature sat on Connie and looked up at Jeremy. It was furry, with a pair of short round canines poking out over its lower lip. It turned its bulbous eyes to Jeremy with the ignorance of a house cat as Connie screamed and trembled beneath it.
“Go on!” Jeremy shooed. “Get outta here!”
When it didn’t move, Jeremy stomped toward it. It vanished.
Jeremy cleaned up the sandwich while Connie calmed down. He put the sandwich back in the container and the container back in the fridge. Then he wiped the mayonnaise off the floor with a dish towel and balled it up on the counter.
He woke up Connie again.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I’m sorry.”
“Yeah I know,” he said, helping her to her feet. “Listen, I gotta get some clothes on. You think you can stay standing here for five minutes? Or even better, walk around a bit?”
Connie’s eyes were closed but she nodded and got out a weak “y-yes” as she held the doorway for support.
She didn’t walk around, but she did manage to stay standing and awake until Jeremy returned. He helped her to the bed, where she fell right back to sleep and right back into the dream state that wasn’t quite Hell and wasn’t quite Purgatory.
Jeremy set up a stool and began to quietly write and practice music with his guitar.
This was the majority of Jeremy’s daily routine.
I hope you enjoyed it as much as me!