Announcing the Backspace Conference Scholarship Contest Winners!

 

Based on a combination of popular vote and the votes from our panel of agent and author judges, the following 3 writers have been awarded full scholarships to the 2013 Backspace Writers conference May 23-25 in New York City. Congratulations to the winners, and a big thank you to everyone who entered.

First Place: 74 LITTLE ZEBRA by Terri Hardin Jackson

Second Place: 101 FLIGHT RISK by Bobbi Dempsey

Third Place: 91 STEALING HAPPY by Marianne Sheldon

Scholarships cover registration fees (Thursday, Friday, and Saturday) and Lane Shefter Bishop’s evening logline workshop ($765 value). Travel, hotel, and incidental expenses are the responsibility of scholarship winners.

 

Honorable Mentions

Because the contest outcome was so very close, the following 2 authors have been awarded partial scholarships to the 2013 Backspace Writers conference.

Scholarships cover registration fees (Thursday and Friday only), and Lane Shefter Bishop’s evening logline workshop ($625 value). Travel, hotel, and incidental expenses are the responsibility of scholarship winners.

46 THE FUNERAL SINGER by Linda Acorn Budzinski

2 ALEX DAILY: SOMETIMES SUPERHERO by Ashley Keene

Also receiving commendation from our judges are the following entries:

106 I AM NOT HER by Heather Pemberton
102 LOVE DEATH SEX BETRAYAL by Kate Kaiser
98 IN ALPHA’S WAY by Kimberly Lekman
95 FOSTER MOM by Alicia Bien
90 LICKING THE BONES by Anna-Christina De La Iglesia
89 ELEVEN STARS by Brooke Younker
85 THE INEVITABILITY OF RETURN by Jocosa Wade
82 THE DOLPHIN NEXUS by Jennye Kamin
81 THANK YOU LETTERS by Colleen Only
78 BECOMING by Karen Y. Bynum
76 DARK PENITENCE by Holly Montague
75 OZNOG: OCCUPY WALL STREET AND THE ODYSSEY OF AN OUTLAW PEN by Patrick M Arthur
73 MYTH MANOR by Kathryn Leonard-Peck
72 THE GOOD DEMON by Ryan Hill
63 MULESKINNER by Kim Van Sickler
62 FINDING LOSS AMIDST LOSS by Alphonsine Imaniraguha
61 A SPECIAL THANK YOU TO BOB by Elizabeth Stolar
56 FIRE AND BLOOD by Martine Svanevik
52 ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF DARKNESS by Peter Hannah
50 THE DOORMAKER by Bailey Seybolt
40 WAVING BACKWARDS by Vickilynn Brunskill
39 BREEDING GROUNDS by Pamela Loring
37 MY HEART IS A WILDERNESS by Molly Gleeson
35 YOU WERE FOREVER by Kathleen Donohoe
33 SPRUNG by Heather Rawlings
30 SURGE by Kerri Sparks
29 THE DEVIL ON MY LEFT by Elizabeth O’Connor
28 LIAR’S POKER by Shaun Harris
20 NIGHT FALLS by Amanda Knoss
18 DEATH BY HIGH HEELS by Holly Dennler
15 ENDLESS FORMS MOST BEAUTIFUL by Jenni Wiltz
14 A BOOK FROM THE LIBRARY OF THE LOST & FOUND by Malia Beine
10 THE ART OF BREAKING by Susan Crispell
8 BETTER THE DEVIL YOU KNOW by Miranda Doerfler
5 WHAT STEPS WE CARRY by Brent van Staalduinen
1 FRAGILE LINE by Nicole Steinhaus

 

How the Backspace “This Manuscript HAS to Become a Book!” Scholarship Contest worked:

When you’re browsing in a bookstore (and thankfully, we still have those!) typically, after a title catches your eye, you check out the back cover blurb, then crack open the book to read a few pages. Based on that sample, you then decide whether or not to purchase the book.

bookstoreThat’s exactly how the “This Manuscript HAS to Become a Book!” contest was judged. The entries submitted to this contest aren’t books–yet. But they could be. Some of them SHOULD be. And YOU can help make that happen!

Read the entries posted below. Which book concept and writing style absolutely blows you away? Which do YOU wish was already a published book? Which writer’s project shows such potential that they just HAVE to go to New York to attend the Backspace conference and meet with literary agents in person so they can hopefully-possibly-maybe-eventually get a book deal?

Can that really happen? You bet! Last year, Heather Webb attended the 2012 Backspace Writers Conference, where she read her query letter and opening two pages to literary agents. As a result, Heather signed with Michelle Brower of Folio Literary Management. Last fall, Heather’s debut historical BECOMING JOSEPHINE, which follows the transformation of Rose de Beauharnais from Creole socialite to the neglected Parisian wife who survived prison during the French Revolution and emerged at the pinnacle of French power as Empress Josephine Bonaparte, sold to Plume! And this spring, Heather will join our conference faculty as a soon-to-be published author!

Your participation helped 5 talented authors who might not otherwise be able to attend the conference take a giant step toward making their publishing dream a reality.  CLICK HERE to view the voting results.

 

Entry 110 | THIS GENERATION, TRIUMPHANTLY | Historical Fiction

Petrograd, 1917: Economic exiles from Estonia, young Dr. Anna Hunt and her sister must survive in a crumbling society, when their brother returns from the German Front, wanted for desertion. That summer’s failed putsch and the Kronilov affair make home very alluring, especially since the air is rife with rumors of a bid for Estonian independence. But the mailed fist of the Baltic Germans still holds power there: why they left ten years earlier.

June, 1917, Petrograd

Chapter 1

Anna Hunt ducked into the bistro. She was amazed the place was open, considering all the food shortages. It was one of the few still in business.

Holding body and soul together was becoming harder and harder with every passing day, especially since the Tsar abdicated. The abdication that had promised so much in February.

Anna was starving, and she hoped her sister had waited. She needed to talk to Laine, but it was already three in the afternoon. Unfortunately, she had been held up by an ailing patient.

Peering through the gloom, she saw only the waiters standing idly by the bar. But no Laine. In her native Estonian Anna swore under her breath. Kurat!

The owner and barkeep was grimly amusing himself by zapping flies with a towel. ZZZZT. Thwap. ZZZZT. Thwap. Clearly fewer and fewer patrons had any money.

Anna tossed him a wave. Him she knew. But the waiters changed from week to week, and she did not recognize any of them. Unfriendly lot, she thought, when no one looked up. Being ignored was oddly disconcerting.

Anna found a table away from the bar and ordered in fluent but accented Russian. When served, she hunched herself over a medical text for diversion. Feeling vulnerable alone, she kept curling her hair behind her ears and pushing her glasses up her nose.

Done eating but still reading about emergency obstetrical procedures, she heard a familiar masculine call her name. But it can’t be. Kolla’s at the Front, isn’t he? She turned her head toward the door where several figures stood in silhouette.

“Kolla, is that you?” She unconsciously fell into Estonian. She got up to approach the figures at the door. Alive! He’s alive. Joy filled her chest. Her big brother. Come home. She didn’t care why just now. She was ready to fling her arms around him, when he put his arms up.

Puzzled, she stepped back. So unlike Kolla, who was usually so free with his affection. She then cast her medical eye upon him. He’s changed. Gone was his familiar confidence, replaced by hooded eyes and hunched shoulders. She also noted his gauntness and the tinge of anemia.

And then she saw the three other thin and bedraggled men behind him. All four were filthy and carrying rifles. And all were shuffling their feet, very much ill at ease.

“Jah, Anna, on mina. It’s me.” He garnered a nasty look from the Russian waiter standing at the bar. “I was hoping that you were still coming here.”

Anna’s ears perked up. Something was wrong. And then she felt stupid. Of course something was wrong. They had deserted and now were on the run. Amazing that they dared come here.

“We need your help.” Kolla looked at her with great sadness in his eyes. Anna felt tears gather in her eyes. Her big brother. Her protector when they were children.

Entry 109 | THE IRON KNIGHT | Fantasy

Malcolm Grae is a drunk, hardly worthy of the rank of Sergeant of the Great Temple Guard. But, when the Black Wizard unleashes war upon the Realm, Malcolm must find the forgotten weapons of the Great Four. With the help of the White Wizard, unlikely friends and unexpected love, Malcolm becomes the Iron Knight and saves the Realm.

Malcolm was lost in a chilling mist that rolled in through the forest.

“The Hounds o’ the Mists!” Malcolm thought. He was caught in their spell. He had to do something soon or he would be stuck here for eternity.

“Think,” Malcolm ordered himself. “What can break this spell?”

A sweet, aromatic scent caught his nose. Brandy moss! That could only mean the dwelling of a forest gnome. Malcolm knew exactly what to do.

He laid down, letting his head rest heavily upon the moss and pretended to fall asleep. As he expected, little pin pricks of light danced like fire flies in the periphery of Malcolm’s half-closed eyes.

Gnome lanterns. His plan was working.

Then, he heard muffled, reedy whispers as little hands grabbed at his feet, trying to steal his shoes, shoes he didn’t have. Malcolm had to stifle his laughter because the hands tickled his feet. Soon enough, the whispers became curses. The bravest of the family plopped his bottom down on Malcolm’s chest. He began whacking Malcolm about the nose with a cherry switch. Malcolm was pleasantly surprised that he could barely feel the whacking because it sounded like some one was furiously beating a boulder with a stick. Malcolm laid still, waiting for the right moment to grab the gnome.

The gnome, angered by his unsuccessful attempt to inflict pain on Malcolm, began to whack harder and faster until, panting heavy little breaths, he tired out. He sat down again to wipe his brow with his hat. Now was Malcolm’s chance.

No sooner had the gnome set down his cherry switch than Malcolm quickly snatched him up.

“Bah!” cried the gnome.

“Bah!” cried a chorus of wife and children from their candle-lit doorway.

Malcolm sat up to look upon the startled prize he had just caught. He had the gnome by the collar of his green jacket under which little suspenders peeked out. His matching pants had patches on the knees. His short, white beard was drawn into a scowl around his mouth. And, in his hands he was holding his pointed, red hat. As quickly and as deftly as Malcolm had snatched up the gnome, Malcolm picked the gnome’s hat from his little hands.

“Bah!” the gnome barked now red-faced with fury. “Drat you, beastie! Give me back me hat! I’ll pull yer toe nails out! I’ll give ye spurs in all yer bones. I’ll pluck out yer eyes!”

“Be calm, little man,” Malcolm said. “I mean you no harm.”

“Harm? The beastie speaks! Harm’s what yer’ve done to me home. Crushed me drawing room, ye have!”

Malcolm chuckled. “A drawing room?”

“A gnome can have a drawing room,” he snarled. “And, crushed it ye have! And, to add insult to injury, yer’ve taken me hat; in front of me family, even. Bah! Curse ye, foul beastie! Curse ye! And, I suppose it’s a wish yer after, too!”

Entry 108 | THE PERENNIALS | Upmarket Women’s Fiction

Friendships can forge deeper bonds than those family, especially when the families in question are dysfunctional. Erin and Amylee, best friends since high school, create a support system for one another, and this story tells how their friendship helps them endure every crisis and raw deal life throws at them. Like the perennials at the center of a garden, laughter, love, and loyalty are at the center of all best friendships.

January 2011

Old connections, friendships, and, even more potently, love affairs have always had an uncanny way of finding their way back into our lives. The age of Facebook has merely made the navigating easier.

Amylee was checking her personal email while at work, and to her shock there was a message from Facebook that he had sent her a friend request. Stunned, she sat in her chair momentarily frozen and staring at the computer screen. She had not seen or spoken to him in nearly two decades, but she loved him the entire time, and her hand trembled as she logged on to the social networking site. Accepting the friend request would not be wise. Her husband was well aware of the extent of her feelings for Bradley Scott – after all, he was her first love. In fact, he was the man she always loved, and she guarded a box full of mementos in the attic to prove it. Two husbands and several boyfriends had encountered that box, and all of them had been unequivocally forewarned that it would remain in her possession, and if they were unable to cope with this fact, they could leave. So far all of them but her current husband had fallen by the wayside, not entirely because of the box, but in all honesty because of what the box implied: him, the love of her life, and the other guys simply never compared.

Her current husband, George, was a decent enough man, if only by appearances; understanding and easy going, as well as handsome, with a sizable trust fund left to him by his grandfather that should have offered them financial stability for their entire future. Although George would make witty and sarcastic comments about the box, as well as the individual it represented, he never said or did anything to let the box get in the way of their marriage. No, there were issues enough to get in the way of their marriage which had nothing to do with the keepsakes in her box. Theirs was a friendship which resulted in a tepid, lifeless marriage, and the only truly great thing to come from it, in her opinion, was their daughter. And although George was not exactly passionate about their marital union, Amylee was concerned that if he were to see that the two of them had reconnected through the online network, it would probably cause unnecessary tension at home and it would behoove them both, and more importantly their daughter, if such drama were avoided.

Entry 107 | UNBEARABLE LOSSES | Murder Mystery

Bernie Robertson dreams of being pursued by a killer through a snowy desert. Do the dreams reflect her stress of divorcing her husband, Charlie or are they something else? After hypnotizing her, but before he can reveal the result, her analyst dies of a heart attack, and then his secretary who questions her boss’ death is killed. Bernie must face the fact that what she is trying to remember may kill her.

Charlie stood up abruptly. “You know I’m trying, Bernie. But I can’t do this all by myself.” He walked toward the door the paused. “Did you ever wonder why I asked you out?”

“You asked me out twice. The first time I said no. I couldn’t figure out why you wanted to go out with me, when you could have had anyone.”

“Yeah, but why did I ask you the second time?”

I shook my head. I wanted Charlie to leave but this would not happen until he’d had his say.

He settled on the arm of a chair, enjoying the drama. “Bill Grainger and I had a bet,” he said.

“A bet?”

“Yeah. Bill bet me that I couldn’t sleep with the worst dog in the school.”

“The worst dog?”

“Come on Bernie. You must have known why no one ever asked you out. You were short and you wore shapeless sweaters and long skirts. All you did was study. Bill and I sat down and rated all the girls in the senior class by how hot they were. You were number twenty five out of twenty six. Barbara Ferris was number twenty six. I refused to go out with her.”

“I had an early acceptance to Harvard. I was going to be a lawyer,” I said.

He shrugged.

So my getting pregnant on the first date, and then having Charlie ignore me. The tense meeting with our parents, and the wedding, where the minister called me Bennie, and Charlie’s father got drunk and made a speech implying that Charlie could have done much better. All of it because of a bet?

“You must have felt incredibly…..” I searched for the word.

“Fucked? For sure. In one nanosecond I went from being the coolest guy in the class to the class clown. Didn’t you ever wonder why I stopped going to school? Don’t get me wrong. You weren’t bad, but I wouldn’t have chosen you myself.”

“Not like Amy Lincoln, the cheerleader.”

“Yeah. She was great in the sack. But then I thought what did it matter? I could have a son that would look like me, have my name. Someone I could teach to play football and …” his voice trailed off.

“And then our baby died.”

“Yeah,” he said. “My son died.” He got up and, without a word, he left.

When the door had closed, I locked it from the inside. Then I went to the mirror and took a long look. How could I be at the bottom of the list of desirable girls? What about Evelyn Armstrong, who never wore a bra and whose double E breasts bounced all over the place? What about Tina Brancusi, who had thick hair all over her body. When she went swimming, she looked like a gorilla in a bathing suit. Susan Clayton had braces and inch-thick glasses. Muriel Bentley’s front teeth stuck out at a ninety degree angle. How could those girls be hotter than I was?

Entry 106 | I AM NOT HER | Mystery/Thriller

After an accident, a woman searches for her identity and discovers that her life, and the people in it, are not what they seem and she must learn who tried to kill her before it happens again.

Later. He is sitting next to me, staring out the window, his eyes red-rimmed and weak with fatigue. He leans over and kisses the side of my lips. Not directly on the lips like a grown up kiss but on the side of my mouth where it’s not the cheek or a full on kiss. Strange.

He is long, lean and taut with patient energy. Blond stubble has grown across his lower cheeks and chin, which I find appealing. His eyes are icy blue beneath the redness. I want them to look at me because he’s really quite cute. He’s my husband. So liking him is good, I guess.

I have woken from the sleep that blissfully knocked me out shortly after round nurse came in with the pain meds. The hammer is gone, thank you, leaving an aching impression in its wake. I think of bread dough, punched and pounded until it sits ready to rise. The smallest poke leaves an indentation in the dough. And I had a hammer.

“You gave me a scare there, Paige.”

“What day is it?” I’ll start with simple questions and ease him into the blank wall of my mind.

“Friday. The accident was Wednesday. The doctors – ” he pauses with a catch in his voice then starts again. “Do you remember?”

It’s almost a whisper. I can hear his fear, see it in his eyes. He has been told that I am lost, groping around unfamiliar terrain. He must wonder how much of him I have lost. For now, everything.

“I’m sorry.” I shake my head. I am sad for the prospect of his anguish – that his wife is alive and yet has left him.

My feelings are more obscure. I sense a picture that I will steadily piece together. I will be entertained by these people entering my life who have already been a part of it. I want to know them and hope to like them.

I am not yet frustrated that I cannot choose them now. I am not yet frozen with bewilderment at their expectations of me; their assumptions that without memory I will still carry and display the feelings I had for them before the accident. They believe, against rationality, that feelings are insulated from forgetfulness. It’s hard to accept that deep love, need, and even hate can be torn from your consciousness, tossed around and resettled in an altogether new arrangement like fallen leaves on the ground. I don’t entertain the fear that I will never remember.

“What happened?” I ask.

Hopefully, the accident will be easier to discuss than a marriage. He will have to tell me everything from the beginning. It will feel as though I am scraping his wound in some merciless hunt for my reality. But I see that it is inevitable. As nice as he seems, I can’t protect him from my truth. I must tell him that I don’t even know his name.

Entry 105 | DEFYING GRAVITY | YA Sci-Fi Adventure

To solve her mother’s abduction, high school senior Starling Laren must join a secret community of aliens marooned on Earth and partner with their leader’s rebellious prodigal son.

Looking at Starling, Dr. Whimbrel dug his hands into his lab coat pockets and pursed his lips as he contemplated his next words. “Your mother never explained that you’re… different?”

“No,” Starling replied slowly, her questioning gaze circling the exam room. The grave expressions of the men facing her revealed nothing. Except for Riven, whose rugged features projected impatience for a game that he didn’t want to play. She ignored him and instead asked the kindly doctor. “Different how?”

Whimbrel hesitated, then looked to the tall, thin man observing in the back of the room in an open plea for help. In answer, the man in the blue suit stepped forward and Wimbrel moved aside to give him the floor next to Starling’s bed.

“My name is Hammett Craye ,” he began in the commanding voice of a clear leader. His blue-grey eyes conveyed open sincerity while his weathered face flashed a brief, friendly smile. “I run this hospital and govern our small community, the majority of which reside on the medical campus here or nearby in northern Ohio. Like you, we’re not from here originally.” He waited patiently for his words to settle in, yet Starling struggled to discern his meaning.

“Are you saying I’m one of you?” she asked uncertainly.

“Yes.”

“Then where are we from?”

He held her gaze a moment before answering, as if measuring her ability to comprehend his answer. Finally, he spoke.

“Before I tell you, Starling, because having not known us, you might find it a little farfetched; I want you to consider why your Mother never talked about your family. I would think, with you living among the general populace, that she thought it would be easier for you to think that you were just like everyone else on Earth. And perhaps safer for you as well.” He paused, allowing her a moment to digest his words.

“But the truth isn’t that simple,” he continued with a gravity that compelled her full attention, “and it’s a secret that we’ve guarded since we came to this planet for our own protection.”

To this planet? Starling froze. His words finally clicking together in her brain. Disbelief immobilized her.

She searched Craye’s face, looking for any trace of a smile or peculiar light in his eye that would give him away. There was none. This formidable man spoke in complete seriousness. Despite the preposterousness of his claim; his authoritative presence demanded a respectful reply.

“You’re telling me… I’m an alien?” She fought to keep the incredulity from her question, but it invaded her voice uninvited. Craye met her gaze head on, confirming he was indeed telling her so. She looked at Whimbrel, then finally to Riven. Surely he would repudiate this outrageous claim.

To her dismay, Riven only stared back at her with a sober expression. Unconvinced, she cocked an eyebrow, silently questioning him further. He frowned in return, annoyed at her reluctance to accept what he clearly considered the truth. The obvious truth.

Entry 104 | WHAT THE NIGHT BRINGS | suspense thriller

Three months out of the police academy, Hobie Calder screws up so bad one night it results in a death – and the potential destruction of the only career he’s ever wanted. With a shady childhood friend he concocts a scheme to get back in the department’s good graces – but it goes so wrong it’ll take every ounce of skill, smarts and luck he’s got to save not only his dream job but also everything and everyone he cares about.

She twisted to her right, smashing the smaller bottle into the tree.

Glass shattered.

In the beam of light, amber liquid exploded with the bottle – a cascade of sparkling shards flashed as they arced to the ground.

“Don’t come near me!” She held the now jagged remains of the whiskey bottle by its neck.

Hobie glanced at Lieutenant Kimmerly to get some idea how to proceed. Kimmerly kept his stare on the woman. Hobie didn’t know what to do except keep edging closer.

“You come near me – I’ll cut anyone comes near me.”

“Ma’am, this is–”

“Don’t ‘ma’am‘ me, dammit! And don’t nobody come near me!”

She waved the broken bottle in front of her like a fractured talisman still powerful enough to keep everyone away.

“Taze her.”

Hobie again glanced at the lieutenant, as if that would help his hearing.

“What?”

“You heard what I said. Taze her!”

Hobie had just grabed his Maglite in his left hand and hesitated. Longer than Kimmerly wanted.

“She just threatened two peace officers with bodily harm. Unless you want her to cut you with that bottle, Taze her.”

Hobie pushed his Maglite back into place and grabbed the handle of his TASER, his right hand on the butt of his Glock. He pulled the supplementary weapon’s handle, forgetting to undo the strap keeping it in its holster. He could feel Kimmerly’s impatience.

He undid the snap, slipped a couple fingers under the handle and lifted. Too much, and too quick. The TASER popped out, floated momentarily above his fingertips and fell to the ground with a soft thud.

He quickly bent and felt for it, keeping his eyes on the woman. The powerful white-white beam of Kimmerly’s Maglite made her look almost ghost-like.

For what felt like an eternal moment, Hobie couldn’t feel the TASER at all. It must have bounced or shifted slightly from where it should have fallen. He pulled his eyes from the woman and glanced down at the ground. But after looking into the light, he couldn’t see a thing. Then he felt something against the heel of his boot and reached back slightly.

He felt the familiar handle. He checked there, trying to get a good hold. Just as he grasped it, he heard a quick: pop-pop-pop.

The sound didn’t quite register at first.

It made no sense here. Outside. In the dark. In an abandoned lot next to a run-down liquor store. With civilians around.

No sense at all.

Because that sound belonged on the firing range.

Chapter 5

The ghost lay on the ground.

The too-white light played over her as Kimmerly approached.

Fuck-fuck-fuck.

Hobie couldn’t conceive a single rational thought. Fuck!

“Why didn’t you taze her?” Kimmerly’s voice sounded far away, and not quite clear as if coming through water. “See what you made me do? I gave you an order, dammit.”

Entry 103 | ALTERNATE MERGE | Commercial fiction

Brynn Hackett is used to swimming with the sharks at St. Ambrose Prep. But her love affair with the prom queen, Lacey Anderson, is chum in the water. In order to protect Lacey’s trust fund, they’ve kept their relationship secret. Only the creeper knows. But then again, he knows everything. When pictures of Brynn kissing an unknown female (Lacey) surface on Facebook, Lacey dumps Brynn and stands aside as the nouveau riche mean girls orchestrate a campaign of homophobic bullying.

Once inside the vintage boutique, I felt restless. The merchandise was covered in condescension, each item plucked from the past and judged worthy of being sold twice. I browsed the sunglasses, trying on every pair and discarding them, unsatisfied. When I’d rejected them all, I walked to the front of the store.

Ian was waiting for me by the counter, playing with his phone, looking bored. “Ready to go?” he asked, his face impassive.

“Yeah. Just let me–” I started. But before I could get the words out, the bell over the door rang, and girlish laughter rushed inside. My tongue froze in my mouth, poised in a state of mid-articulation, unable to do anything but stare as Lacey walked in with Elle and Mallory trailing behind her like ducklings.

She looked beautiful. Her cheeks pink from the spring heat, her hair bunched into a knot on top of her head. The ice in her latte clattered as she chatted, and a lock of blonde hair fell into her eyes. I felt sick as I realized I wouldn’t be the one to push it behind her ear.

I wanted to run to her. To cry and beg her to take me back. I wanted to fall to my knees and clutch at her legs. To soak her thighs with my tears. But my muscles were frozen. They locked me to the spot and saved me from my own humiliation.

Lacey began to browse around the store. She was too involved in her own life to notice me quietly losing my shit in the corner. I should have been relieved. Pleased that she was sparing me the shame of a public breakdown. But I wasn’t. Instead, I was angry. How dare she giggle? How dare she consort with other girls? How dare she do anything but stay home and cry and lament her choices? She should be prostrating herself with regret, begging me for forgiveness, wailing and gnashing her teeth over the pains of her mistake. She should not be frolicking around fucking town with her fucking mean girl friends doing some fucking light shopping.

My jaw clenched, and my shoulders began to tremble with rage. I became aware of Ian’s hand around my arm, pulling my body towards the door.

“Let’s go now,” he said. The muscles that disobeyed my commands now yielded to his, and we walked to the exit.

He opened the door and the bell jangled and sunlight flooded into the store. Just as I could taste the fresh air on my tongue, Lacey’s pale eyes locked onto mine. And for a moment, a mere inhalation, her face crumbled into a look of sadness and despair, her flush fading and her eyes swimming. But before I was sure it had been there at all, the look disappeared, swallowed by her mask of indifference.

Entry 102 | LOVE DEATH SEX BETRAYAL | Non-fiction – Memoir

Deceit and confessions from her deadman. A new mother’s impulsive chaotic widowhood and her rocketing sexual peace.

17 March 2005 – New York City, Café Carlyle

Man with gold cuff links walks in:

Man: “Are you abandoned?”

Kate: “To be abandoned, someone had to be at my side to begin with.”

Man: “I’m buying you a drink.

We sat down.

Man: “Tell me something.”

Kate: “I’m a writer and poet.”

Man: “Is that your favorite identity?”

Kate: “No. Mother to Rhapsody and Bucky.”

Man: “Husband?”

Kate: “Bob. Died. Three years ago. It wasn’t the cancer that killed him. I used his death to accelerate.”

Man: “How?”

Kate: “Obeyed the impulse, collected warmth, acted on charged exchanges.”

Man: “Explain.”

Kate: “Every exchange can be coded as warm or cold, plus or minus. I accepted that negatives exist. I noted how a battery collaborates. It uses plus and minus to generate useful force. I retrained my thinking, my vocabulary, my body to express negatives into positive forms. Different translators taught me healthy methods of expressing.”

Man: “May I ask what killed your husband?”

Kate: “Lots of things. Secrets. Unhealthy patterns. Surgeon Accudia.”

Man: “Malpractice?”

Kate: “Manslaughter.”

Man: “Did you sue?”

Kate: “No. I took the surgeon to lunch. I paid.”

Man: “After your husband died?”

Kate: “Yes. Dr. Accudia was generous with me. We settled.”

Man: “Financial?”

Kate: “No, money would have been less painful. It was a spiritual settlement. Did you ever notice how, without enough space, man’s laughter becomes manslaughter?”

Man: “Give me an example of your spiritual growth.”

Kate: “I don’t know how to answer that.”

Man: “How about other kinds of growth?”

I looked at him. My husband had taught me about sensing moments. This felt like one of them. I answered, “I like cock.” He high-five’d me. We both laughed. Then he said, “You’re a poet; the economy of that sentence, the way your mouth wrapped around the c letters, please, tell me more.”

15 May 2003 – Hoboken NJ (Two Years Earlier)

In a spacious warehouse loft, there were two fifty-foot, floor-to-ceiling shelves with an aisle in the middle and a rolling ladder. There were more than three hundred boxes filled with his story. They contained his files, his clipped articles, his concepts, his whatever. Since he was dead now, the boxes were being thrown out, unread. The creator had nicknamed this space, The Back-Half of His Brain. One box was being placed on top of another, which then would be rolled to the curb, when his former assistant, Juliette, yelled “Stop!” She grabbed an 8.5” by 11” gray envelope sitting on top of the box and looked up at me. Eight years of dust could not hide the scribbled script of my husband. It read: “For KK – Upon My Death Only – Bob Kaiser.” The “KK” is for Katie Kaiser; that’s me. This was it, my movie moment.

Entry 101 | FLIGHT RISK | YA realistic fiction

Smart, cynical and way too mature for her age, Briana knows lots of things most other 15-year-old girls don’t. Like what it’s like to live in more than 50 different houses, the exact amount of alcohol her mother’s boyfriend will consume before passing out, and how to buy food by convincing a grocery store manager to give you a refund for an item that clearly didn’t come from his store. Vowing not to let her painful past and poor dysfunctional family determine her fate, Briana decides to create a place where she belongs, using the only tools she has (brains, determination and lots of creativity).

A week before starting high school, I moved into a new house. Which might have been more of a momentous event if I hadn’t already done it 50 times before.

On that day in fall of 1984, all I wanted was a bottle of Aussie hair scrunch, a teal Swatch watch and enough pairs of Jordache jeans to fill a whole dresser drawer. Oh, and a house I would live in for more than three months. Was that too much to ask?

What I actually had was one pair of no-name jeans, a bunch of thrift store books and a carefully constructed basket where I hid anything I didn’t want my mother’s boyfriend to steal.

“Yo, Budweiser! These boxes ain’t gonna move themselves.”

The words were slurred, but I’ve had lots of experience understanding drunk-speak. Pete was on his second bottle of Jim Beam. A move was usually a three-bottle event, so he had a little ways to go before he’d pass out somewhere. He called me Budweiser when he was drunk. He acted like it was a joke, but I’m pretty sure he just can’t remember my name.

“Get moving! Or are you planning to just stand around all day?”

I grabbed a box from the pile in the hall. He of course doesn’t carry anything. I knew he was ready to give me a few more smartass comments but he could hear my Uncle Freddy approaching, grumbling about how “somebody had better get off their ass and help drag this refrigerator into the house.” That meant it was time for Pete to find a hiding place before he was forced to do some actual work. He retreated to the third floor, where he could safely perform a “supervisory” role.

All of my worldly belongings fit into four boxes, and I could pick them out right away from the piles of stuff that had been dumped in the living room.

The books were in two plastic neon colored milk crates—they were see-through, so I put the books in them because I wasn’t worried about Pete seeing them. He didn’t read, of course, and pawn shops wouldn’t give you anything for books unless there were rare or were signed by a famous author—and even then, you would probably get more for an Atari. So the books were safe.

My clothes were in the corn flakes box. It had been through three moves already and was starting to rip on the bottom. Too bad, because it was the perfect size to hold my one pair of jeans, three pairs of shorts, seven shirts (including the really long one I used as a nightgown) and some socks and underwear. The only sneakers I owned were on my feet.

Finally, to round out the Moving Supplies lineup, the star of the collection: the Snap-On tools box I spotted behind a hardware store last year. Solid and sturdy, it would probably last another eight or ten moves, at least.

Entry 100 | VIRAL | YA Action/Adventure

Seventeen-year-old Cora Jane Delaney’s little brother has been kidnapped by the government. After a virus wiped out almost everyone on Earth, they gave the survivors an ultimatum: become guinea pigs for dangerous medical experiments in the name of finding a cure, or get shot. But Cora’s not gonna give up on her brother without a fight.

The sound of gravel crunching jerked me up. A guy – over six feet tall, brawny and broad through the shoulders – stood behind me.

I didn’t pause to think. Adrenaline slammed into my body, electrifying my muscles into action. I whipped around, my hand flying to where I’d dropped my holster, but it was missing. I turned back to face him slowly.

My holster and a semi-automatic assault rifle were slung over his shoulder.

“Don’t panic, sweetheart,” the guy said, white teeth flashing against bronze skin in a predatory smile. “I won’t hurt you if you do exactly what I tell you to.”

I was frozen in a fight-or-flight nightmare. My muscles screamed run, run, run! But that lizard part of my brain – the part of me that didn’t quite make it all the way out of the swamp – demanded that I take the guy down. And maybe keep him there for a while…

“What do you want?”

He cocked his head and scanned me head to toe. “I want you to get those water jugs out of your pickup, fill them, and take me for a drive.”

He wanted to rob me! Anger burned in my chest as I sized him up. Tall, muscular, handsome. The kind of guy who always got his way. I would’ve been scared stiff to look at him, much less talk to him, before the virus. And now he was going to steal my water? Oh, hell no.

He was big, but I’d heard stories about mothers who’d found the strength to lift two thousand pound cars off their babies. This asshat was standing between me and getting water to my little brother, and that was pretty much the same thing in my book.

I scanned the woods around me for an escape route and saw several half-overgrown footpaths that would lead back to my truck. I’d have to walk right by the guy to get there.

Good.

I started towards him, my steps slow and calculated, at just the right angle to take me within arm’s reach. I knew what to do. Grab his wrist and twist it behind his back, then ram my knee into his groin. He’d gasp, fall to the ground in a fetal position, and I’d sprint to the truck. A clean getaway.

Almost shoulder-to-shoulder with him, I looked up at his face. It was all sharp lines and ridges. His nose had been broken more than once and a scar, one shade paler than his bronze skin, crossed the top of his upper lip in a jagged line. Dark stubble dusted his jaw, a stark contrast with his white-blond hair.

A few strands of hair fell over his eyes, and his mouth — wide, full, and not what I should be looking at — curved into a cocky smirk. Arrogant jackass, I thought, reinfusing myself with anger.

Then I realized I’d stopped walking.

Entry 99 | THE ACADEMIC | Adventure Thriller

A historian tricked into helping his friend the detective protect top scientists lands between the criminals and their plot to develop nightmarish WMD. Then again, whoever starts killing off the bad guys ensures he gets the credit, fueling his undeserved reputation as a ruthless vigilante. Either he takes over the role, or the world is history.

Lesombre stood at the reinforced glass and watched the man inside the cell search for any means of escape. Tuberov should have saved his energy. The chamber was sealed and devoid of furniture, the walls and door steel-clad, and to fit through the air intake, the fat Russian needed to grow four feet, lose eighty pounds and find a welding torch. Tuberov would leave soon enough. If the test went well, by the abattoir drain in the cement floor.

“Are we ready?” Lesombre said.

Behind him Genevieve Gamboge gave out a cough rich with phlegm. Only her workstation console lit the test lab, and with her drunken grin in all those blinking lights she looked like a deranged mission control supervisor. It had been a privilege watching her Nobel brain chew through problems well beyond his comprehension. But with her plump frame turned gaunt by the drugs and her pale complexion now veined and blotchy, Gamboge might not have long herself.

Next came his favorite part, the creaking open of the storage tanks built into the ductwork. Lesombre could have had the mechanism work silently, but then he’d miss out on Tuberov cowering away from the vent.

The delicious rasp of metal came from above the cell. Then nothing.

Yet.

In organizations everyone found their niche. Upper management acquired Gamboge to refine the weapons meant to restore lost influence. They counted on Lesombre to ensure, across a worldwide enterprise, the right things got done. Lesombre was at home as the plumber deep in the organizational bowels forever cajoling the pipes.

Tuberov was procurement. Thanks to him, the distribution network and critical compounds were ready for Belgium. His shocked expression when, instead of final payment, he received a MP5 jabbed in his ample gut was as priceless as the current terror wrenching his face. No, Tuberov was dead from the moment he read the formula. His death might as well benefit science.

Small pings like raindrops beat on the aluminum ductwork. More pings rapped inside the duct, coming faster, harder, louder, mounting into a buzz. Tuberov struggled to fit his bulk into a corner. Another reason the Russian should have laid off his meat pies.

Lesombre pressed up against the glass, fixed on the dozen narrow slits in the ceiling. After weeks of modeling and dry runs, the test flight had arrived.

A June beetle appeared from the vent, a single iridescent speck.

It was not alone long.

Gamboge had explained cyborg beetles–or her more technophile “live micro-air-vehicles”–as the ultimate in wireless. Neuro-receptor implants powered by their flight muscles allowed her to control the bugs like unmanned drones. The possible military and civilian applications were laudable, bugs trained to locate survivors, landmines, chemical weapons. Their project chased the opposite idea, to let slip the beetles of war.

Today’s test: if Gamboge could sustain the swarm, and if she could make the little herbivores hungry enough, or angry enough, to go for some Russian.

Entry 98 | IN ALPHA’S WAY | Science Fiction

When the Outer Atmosphere Counsel sends Earthophile Aldebaran – Al to his friends – to observe Earth, he imagines himself on cross-country road trips and deep sea diving expeditions. Upon discovering that an asteroid is headed toward Earth, however, Al must race against time to save us and to convince his superiors not to allow the asteroid to run its course.

A buzz like a swarm of bees erupts from down the hallway.

Cheek pressed against the cold concrete floor of the classroom, I strain my eyes as I search under the desks for my document viewing device. When the first hoverbot rounds the corner into the room, I peel my cheek off the floor to watch it, then I rise to my feet.

The reserve light in the hallway goes out. For a moment, I lose sight of the machine in the darkness of the windowless room. Then like glowing rubies, two tiny lights – eyes – flash from within the bot, piercing the darkness. The eyes grow larger as they near me, all of my senses deprived of stimuli except for the vision of the illuminated eyes. I focus on holding my ground, picturing roots growing out of my feet into the floor. I stand firm.

As the eyes continue floating toward me, I watch them, planning. The reserve light in the hallway flickers and re-ignites. I squint at the reflection off of the bot’s brilliant metallic body. So, somebody loves it. Somebody polishes it until it shines like a mirror. There is a faint smell of bleach. A small dome grows out of its square, sharp baseplate. It’s graceful, beautiful and horrible all at once.

The bot keeps moving toward me. I’m frozen with awe and then frozen in some other inexplicable way until I finally regain control of my senses. Bending at the knees, I take a deep breath into my feet, rooted and strong, the perfect springboards. I push forward and in an instant, I’ve run past the machine. Toppling chairs and desks as I go, I’m moving faster than I knew I could.

In a flash, the bot is in front of me, staring with its red eyes into mine and I’m frozen again. More metallic buzzing comes from the door. Another one enters the room. Then another one and another one still. Soon, they surround me, four or five floating one on top of another, so tightly packed that I can’t see beyond the front line. An army of red eyes. They must number fifty or sixty now and, judging by the louder and louder mechanical whirr, more are coming in. One of them in particular, the king perhaps, takes the lead, the other bots maintaining a respectful distance behind it.

“Face the retina scanner” the king commands me. No, a machine does not command. It plays a recording. It’s just a hoverbot, I tell myself. I look into the red eyes. They dim, then flash white, filling the room like a bolt of lightning. I blink and see spots from the shock. A beat passes as the bot accesses my information.

“Allen. State why you are here.” It plays back against the din of a hundred other bots.

“Retrieving document viewing device.” I answer, blinking. “And my name’s Al, not Allen.”

Entry 97 | THE UNDERGROUND | YA Fiction

While trying to deal with the death of her sister and absence of her parents, Mel Whitfield accepts an invitation to the secret underground clubs of NYC. She quickly gets caught up in the eclectic world and begins using “scents”, the new organic drug. One night, while riding the high of her new lifestyle, she’s abducted and taken to a subterranean world that she must escape before she loses her true self.

I wake up on a cold floor in a dimly lit hallway. The last thing I remember was sniffing the “scents” and dancing with a guy who purred in my ear.

Fluorescent lights glow in the distance. Random shuffles of movement echo through the long darkened space. “Hello,” I call out. No one answers. I squint. Three shadowy figures march towards me.
I gasp. I want to move, run, but my body feels as if it is bolted to the cold floor.

Two boys and a husky woman stop in front of me. Sweat drenches my palms and seeps from every pore in my body.

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference. “Shel Silverstein,” the boy with dark black hair leans down and whispers. “Welcome to the road less traveled.”

“Who are you?” I ask. An inexplicable instinct warns me not to look straight into any of their eyes. “Where am I?” I keep my head bowed.

The woman comes forward and stands in front of me planting her large hands on her hips She says nothing. Strength oozes from this short haired woman. She curves her lips upward into an unflattering smile. Shavings of skin hang over the rims of her lips. I have an urge to pull the dead skin off as I would if my own lips were chapped. My gaze remains downward in order to avoid eye contact. I notice that none of them are wearing shoes.

The three of them turn towards each other. The scent of chocolate fills the air and I’m reminded of the “scents.”

“Did I meet you at the club?” I ask. I strain to remember more details but can’t remember a thing after sniffing. “Not exactly,” the second boy responds. I stare at his lips as well. They are wide and smooth and much nicer than the woman’s. I glimpse up and am able to see his hair is wavy and caramel colored. I quickly look back to the floor.

They inch closer to me. I thrush my body back but the wall stops me. “It’s okay,” the caramel haired boy whispers. “Time to get the party started,” the dark haired boy yells out.

Both boys lean in and pull me up by the underside of my arms. “No!” I scream as my legs scramble beneath me.

“This won’t hurt a bit,” The woman says before she sticks a needle into my upper arm.

Entry 96 | LOCKER 103 | MG Paranormal

Winter Malone spends her nights in the local middle school, but she’s not the only one hiding in the hallways. Mr. Hawkins, the school’s Soul, must find his replacement before he can pass over to the Other Side. If Winter can’t help him – or destroy him – her own Soul is on the line.

Winter’s brain clicked through her options. If some psychopath had managed to wedge himself into Locker 103, what could she do? Her greatest advantage, she knew, was looking more like ten-and-a-half years old and less like twelve, which was what she was. They all underestimated her, and her porcelain doll face, and her big brown doe-eyes. She would use that, and if she opened this door to find some crazy pinhead hiding in it, he would regret messing with Winter Malone.

Almost everyone underestimated her, anyway. Her mother, Heaven Lee, said that she was filled head-to-toe with nothing but licorice and Tupperware — sweet but tough. Maybe that’s why Heaven Lee had thought it was okay to take off for Nebraska with her loser boyfriend and leave Winter to sleep in the band room at G.W. Barrett Middle School.

It was definitely not okay.

She was curious, though, about the man in the locker. If he really knew her mother — and the truth was that Heaven Lee knew every man between here and Topeka — she had to find out what he knew. She closed her eyes and squeezed the clip on the locker door, her muscles coiled like a doorjamb. The door squealed back, and she pried an eye open, heart hammering under her pajamas.

Nothing. Nothing but a dark blue hole and the smell of old banana sandwiches. She rubbed at her nose and leaned in.

“Winter.” The word belched out of the locker, and she jumped back with a squawk.

“Quit saying my name like that, for the love of fruit loops.” She took a deep breath and poked her head into the blue hole. “Where are you?”

Mr. Hawkins spluttered. “Kindly…take…your…head…out of me!”

“Wha… what?” She popped her head back out again, eyeing the hallway warily. He must be a ventriloquist. Heaven Lee had dated one in Omaha, or maybe Dearborn, and his preening, false soprano had given Winter the creeps. She shuddered.

Mr. Hawkins cleared his throat. “Look again.”

“There is no way that I’m…”

Every locker on the wall rattled angrily. “Look again.”

She looked again.

This time she saw a flicker. It was no more than a light mist, a haze hovering in the blue-black, but in the flicker was a face. A man’s face. And the man’s mouth was moving.

“You see me now, don’t you?”

“Holy crap,” said Winter.

The mouth tugged up at the corners. “Hello, Winter.”

“You really like saying my name, don’t you?” She chomped at her licorice. “What are you, some kind of creeper?”

The smile stuck on Mr. Hawkins’s face like a leftover kernel of corn. “My, but you are a curious little thing. I am this school, Winter. Its very heart and soul are my own.”

She poked her fingers at the flickering face. “You mean this building is your body?”

“In a manner of speaking.”

“In that case, you should take up jogging or something. You’re not looking so great.”

Entry 95 | FOSTER MOM | Fiction/fantasy

According to government statistics, 58,000 children are currently living California’s foster care system. My husband and I wanted to adopt one of them. This is our story.

After the funeral I called my husband. Just before my father’s unexpected death Wade had left for Europe where he was directing his first animated feature film. This gig was a big break so I had encouraged Wade to remain there working on it.

“I want a baby,” I announced to the computer screen.

“Now?” Wade’s image looked distressed or perhaps it was the poor connection we had with Skype.

“I want to share my life and joy with a child, like my dad did for me.”

“Okay,” he said before reminding me that we were living on two continents, separated by a nine-hour time difference and a 13-hour flight. He also reminded me how labor intensive it was to make animated movies. How a “good day” was when an animator created one second of animation and how a 90-minute film had 5,400 seconds. “So, I’m going to be here for a while.”

Wade ended up spending two and a half years directing his movie. I visited him, he visited me and we made love in exotic locations—Brussels, Paris, Athens. It was romantic and exciting but it never progressed the way we wished it would—into a cooing bundle swaddled in pink or blue. After Cannes and his film premiered to warm reviews my husband returned home to Los Angeles—finally we were together. Gone were the grueling schedules, the stressors, the distance. Now—I thought—now! We will get pregnant.

We tried to get pregnant, then we tried “not” to get pregnant (wink, wink) thinking if we didn’t try to get pregnant then we most definitely would. We pretended we were high school sweethearts and getting pregnant was the absolute worst thing we could possibly do. But nothing happened.

I went doctors, general practitioners, obstetricians, gynecologists, endocrinologists, and gynecological-endocrinologists. But nothing happened.

I took blood tests, ultrasounds, the HSG, and an alphabet soup of tests with all the results indicating we were WNL—“Within Normal Limits”—and thus ripe for getting pregnant. But nothing happened.

Then I was told I was too thin, too stressed, too active, too deficient in Vitamin D. I stopped running and started walking; I started Pilates and continued yoga; I took vitamins E, D, B12, fish oil and prenatals. But nothing happened.

I went to massage therapists, acupuncturists, Eastern medical practitioners, Chinese foot doctors. One Shanghai-trained physician based on L.A.’s Westside who’d helped a number of Hollywood stars get pregnant, took extra time with me. She never could remember my name so she called me the-lady-who-always-cries-when-she-comes-to-see-me. Women like her, with healthy biological children of their own, didn’t understand the pain, frustration and loss that women like me felt with the arrival of each menstrual cycle. Women like her meant well in wanting to help. But women like me grew weary of suffering miscarriages, which we tried to avoid acknowledging except in the confines of our hearts and avoid discussing except with our spouses amid tears in the dark.

After several years of trying we… stopped.

Entry 94 | JUST A COUPLE OF DAMES | Historical Fiction/fantasy

In 1940’s Hollywood, Alanna Jayson and Nastia Kirilenko shine on the silver screen but outside the studio they struggle with a meddling boss, fruitless marriages, death, and depression until they find love in each others arms. When their heavy-handed producer learns of their illicit affair will they choose love or their careers?

My father was actually waiting for them at the secretary’s desk so they’d know just how important it was. He ushered them into his office quickly offering them seats before he sat behind his desk. He quickly slid them two separate pieces of paper with duplicate print. As they read it they began to grow with fury. After a gentle gaze into each others eyes their heads rolled into their laps. It was a gossip column from big shot Hedda Hopper outing them. My father weighed the situation as he smoked his pipe.

“When my plant down at the paper brought me this I thought it was a poor joke. But the more I thought about it I knew it to be true. Two of my biggest stars jeopardizing their careers for sex. As if it wasn’t bad enough for Nastia rolling around in the hay with a Negro.”

“It didn’t fulfill your every dream?” Nastia said.

“This isn’t the time for joshing around! This is serious. You’ve just been in the papers for a scandal. You’re fresh meat on the hilltop and all the falcons can’t wait rip you open with their talons! With all the buzz surrounding Anna Karenina, she’s planning to drop this bombshell the same day as the Oscar nominations. We need that Oscar. I think I can have it taken care of because they don’t have any real proof or it’d be out by now. What I need from you two is to stop whatever you’re doing. And now!”

“Well, Mr. Kramer. It’s like this. I’ve already given up one love for you and it nearly cost me my sanity. I do not intend under any circumstances to give up on another.”

“Alanna is that the way you feel also?” he asked.

“Even more so.

He threw his pipe into the ashtray as his baby blue bloodshot eyes focused like they never had before. “I don’t guess a suspension would help this time around since there are two of you. This could be the end of your careers and I can’t put up a fight for you if it’s going to continue. I just wish you girls understood I want the best for you. You’re making me out to be a villain when I’m just looking out for your well-being. You have until the end of the day to call me if you change your minds.”

“Yeah, the worse our well-being the fatter your pockets. We’ll be seeing you Mr. Kramer.” Alanna said.

Nastia grabbed Alanna’s hand tightly in hers as they walked out of his office. She wore the tired look of a beaten woman as they moseyed down the hall. It was a condition she found hard to get rid of.

Entry 93 | THE AMBROSIAL INVADER | Science fiction/fantasy

Gevalt Gedian ran away from home at age nine. But ever since he learned that he was a sorcerer, he has wanted to go back. However, he finds to his horror that his family has replaced him with a lookalike. Bewildered and hurt, Gevalt must solve the mystery behind this cruel betrayal, and quickly, because his actions have inexorably led to the invasion of his city and the killing of millions – and the only force that can bring an end to all this is the one that resides within him

“We can’t be seen,” reminded Gevalt.

“Yeah. OK then,” said Shreck, taking a deep breath and gripping the chip tightly, “down, and out.”

They shared one last look, steeling themselves and each other through it, and then Gevalt said, *”Miasma!”*

A thick Haze enveloped them, and they stepped over the unconscious guard’s body to face the doorway. Gevalt grasped Shreck’s arm tightly, and Shreck Gevalt’s.

“Go!”

Gevalt activated his Aviation sorc (*Fleegen!*) and sped down the stairs, half-carrying Shreck along. They could hear the guard they had Confused into the toilet shouting, “But I can’t find him!”

“… on the bottom level!” came another shout suddenly – but it was no problem now. The front door was just across the living room –

“NOW!” a voice screamed, and suddenly, there was a deafening clang, and they were looking at the open doorway through metal bars, which looked horribly as though they belonged to a cage.

The Guardian Group had dropped a primal cage on them. And then –

“Electricity!” screamed the ruthless Ariabod Ingautier.

At his command, ten terminals around the cage shot electricity at them, like some grotesque scene from a circus – “What – no –!” rasped Gevalt in horror – but, wonderfully, miraculously, they just felt a feeble tingle of current, enough, perhaps, to induce small trembles in them, but nowhere near to causing actual pain.

Shreck’s eyes met Gevalt’s, relief flowed from one to the other, and understanding flashed between them. *Magic defeats mechanism.* The magical Haze had done more than conceal them! Shreck’s face broke into the vestige of a smile, and Gevalt returned it with cold determination.

And then, with a fury so intense that it could’ve scorched the skin off Ingautier and his Guardian Group’s faces, Gevalt and Shreck raised their Cards above their heads, and cried as one:

“PUSHOVEE!”

The cage got lifted off the very floor and slammed into the ceiling, raining metal bars over the fleeing guards and gaping Ingautier –

And Gevalt and Shreck tore out of the house, ran to a safe distance in the dark lawns, and made to leave, but –

“Gevalt!” cried Shreck, horror-struck. “The – the chip! I – the electricity – the jolt –” He swore loudly. “I dropped it!”

He sank to his knees in the darkness.

But Gevalt’s eyes were widening in horror because of something else.

“The Haze!”

It was thinning, almost gone.

And then, Gevalt wheeled around, saw Ingautier rushing out of the house, to catch a last glimpse, and he thought he saw shock and recognition in those gaping eyes as they seemed to find his …

“Fly! *Fleegen!*” he said weakly.

He lifted his head towards the dark canopy of clouds and rose in the air with Shreck following on his flying-belt. And as he streaked away like a hunted bird, with no thought in his mind except for getting away from the disaster, he had an ominous feeling that something more than the clouds was closing in on him …

Entry 92 | SWEET DREAMS | Mainstream/romantic

Why does Fiona de Maconville, a Belgian law student and cellist and a wealthy orphaned baroness, mysteriously disappear the morning after her graduation from William & Mary? Does she want to escape Paul Cramer, a French-American MBA student and pianist, with whom she fell in love while performing at school? Was it because he was a commoner? Or was there a more mysterious reason?

When he starts work in Geneva, Paul learns Fiona married her former boyfriend Godefroid Baron de Boissancourt. Desolate about losing Fiona, he moves back to New York. To his surprise, he hears she moved there, too, with her Godefroid who works for a bank. But she is divorcing him after physical abuse that landed her in the hospital. She also found that Godefroid ruined her trust fund with the connivance of her godfather. Was money the real reason of her disappearance? Will Paula and Fiona rekindle their love?

CHAPTER 1

My mood tanked. Something wasn’t right. Where did she go, just after our graduation dinner last night? I took another peek through Fiona’s apartment window. Empty.

“Hi, Paul, are you looking for Fiona?”

It was Sally, her neighbor and class friend at William & Mary Law School. She was coming down the walkway and carrying a grocery bag in her arms. Her blonde hair was a vibrant mess as if she’d just stumbled out of bed.

“Where the heck did she go?” I asked.

“She didn’t tell you? She left in a hurry by cab early this morning. She was carrying a suitcase and her cello.”

“Strange,” I said. “Where did she say she went? We’d agreed I’d pick her up for breakfast this morning.”

“She said she was going home. She begged me to ship her boxes and sell her personal stuff.”

I was stunned. “Home? You got the key to her apartment? Can I have a look?”

Sally nodded, put down her groceries, pulled the key out of her purse and opened the door. The living room was clean, nothing left hanging on the walls. A few boxes stood in the middle. I looked around to see if there would be a message for me but didn’t find anything. Her desk, bookshelves, and the small couch, on which we’d been making out last night, were shoved together in a corner.

In the bedroom, her sheets lay folded on the mattress. The shower stall in the tiny bathroom was still wet, and a damp towel lay in the sink. The place felt like a morgue. What had changed her mind? She must have been packing and cleaning all night.

I stared at the address on the boxes: Mme Irma Van Buren, Mulberry Lane 1200, Old Westbury, Long Island NY 11576. That would be her Aunt and Uncle Van Buren whom I’d met yesterday. Why send it there if she went back to Brussels? Had she told them?

“Did she give you money to ship this stuff, Sally?”I asked, still trying to come to grips with this bombshell.

“She gave me a hundred bucks,” she said, hugging her shoulders, “and wanted me to pay her phone bill, too. With selling her furniture and all, that should be enough.”

“Well, if it isn’t, let me know. Here’s my telephone number in D.C.” I jotted it down on a piece of paper I tore from a small notebook I carried in my jacket. “What time exactly did she leave?”

“Six thirty. She woke me up at six. I couldn’t believe my eyes. She was all set to go and showed me around her place, giving me orders in a hurry. What do you do when a friend needs help? You help, don’t you?”

“What else did she tell you, Sally? You know I was here last night. Something must have happened.”

Entry 91 | STEALING HAPPY | YA Contemporary

Fifteen-year-old science geek Maura is convinced the forces of the universe are pitted against her. When she tries to shoplift her way back to fairness, Paul, the straight-arrow boy she likes, catches her red-handed.

Mirabella has the easiest pickings. It’s a mess, always busy and overcrowded, especially on Saturday afternoons. The overwhelmed salespeople have no time to organize the jumble of costume jewelry, hats, and scarves.

I took the long way around the mall avoiding the food court where Sasha and the guys were.

At Mirabella I headed straight for the bin where I’d seen some cool silver skull earrings. I used my tried-and-true method. With my right hand, I dug through the bin, pretending to search for something specific. Meanwhile, I set my left hand casually on the earrings. For several more seconds, I kept up my right-handed raking before giving up and turning to a sales rack of necklaces. I found one I liked for only $5.99 plus tax.

With the necklace held in plain sight in my right hand, I headed for the checkout line. It was long.

My nose started to itch. I was going to sneeze. Still clutching the necklace, I opened my purse left-handed and dug through for a tissue. I dropped in the earrings I’d been palming all this time. I didn’t even glance around, because I was only a girl who needed to blow her nose. That’s all.

The line crawled. My heart pounded so hard I felt my shirt front flutter, but I kept my expression blank. To calm myself, I glanced around at the other people in the busy store.

Gaggles of teenage girls cackled and shrieked everywhere. A few mother and daughter duos discussed accessories. Nobody looked at me. My heart rate slowed until I made eye contact with a serious guy of about thirty. What was he doing in Mirabella? Was he security? Never get greedy. I reached into my purse again ready to throw the earrings back, when another man approached him. “You done yet, dude?” The first guy mumbled something. I heard ‘girlfriend’ and ‘birthday.’ Together they ambled out of the store.

I couldn’t let my relief show yet. I examined the necklace. It was pretty, but I could save my money.

I fumbled through my purse for my cell phone. I pressed a button. “Mom? What?”

I paused.

“But I’m in line right now. I’ll only be five more minutes.”

Another pause.

“All right, all right. Don’t have a cow. I’ll meet you outside Pricehouse.”

I sighed dramatically and tossed the necklace into the nearest bin. I stuck my phone back in my purse. It was a cheap pay-per-use. It didn’t
work. I hadn’t put money on it in weeks.

My heart pounded so hard I thought people around me would hear, but I faked calm. I ran my fingers across a rack of silver chain-link belts, making them jingle. I felt sick, but instead of bolting I forced myself to a sedate walk. I edged politely around three thirty-something women trying on hats.

Finally I was in the corridor, joining the eddy of people swirling through the mall.

Entry 90 | LICKING THE BONES | Paranormal/Urban fantasy

Nicole Eller, not quite an angel but far more than a ghost, longs to be reunited with her Beloved, Danny Connor, happily alive far away, and she toils as a Guardian while she waits for him. She feels a strong unsettling connection with Javier, a fellow Guardian, and the long cold Wisconsin nights make it hard to resist him. But Javier is hiding a secret – Nicole is his Beloved, and he’s waited for her for over three lifetimes. When Danny suddenly dies, Javier must face the true test yet again as Nicole makes her choice between them.

The clubs were closing when Javier found Eddie, just as he tilted toward a girl in a white faux fur jacket and tight red jeans, putting his hands on her waist and whispering in her ear. The girl smiled up at him, and Eddie put his thumb on her lower lip before leaning in for a kiss.

Javier didn’t even tap him on the shoulder, simply stepped in between them and slapped Eddie across the face, hard, then grabbed him by the lapels and pushed him against the rough brick wall. “Pink Fairy? Really? You give Nicole that shit and then just leave her there?”

Eddie struggled to push Javier’s hands away. “What the fuck, man?”

The girl in the white jacket was screaming and hitting the back of Javier’s head with her purse. Keeping his grip on Eddie, Javier turned to her. “Listen to me,” he said kindly. He was going to have to Charm her, which Eddie had probably already done, so he’d have to go in very strong. He looked into her eyes and saw the years of being an adored little girl, then the death of her father. He saw a distant stepfather and a depressed mother. He saw the boyfriends who used her and how she loved them anyway, because it was too painful not to. He saw the hipbones sharp under her skin and the thin red cuts above them. He saw how much she loathed herself and he smiled at her tenderly. You are worthy of love, child, and I love you. I see you, and I love you.

“You remind me of someone,” she said. A soft expression bloomed across her face.

Javier said. “I know this seems very strange. Please, listen. Do you trust me?”

“Of course,” she breathed. She put a hand to Javier’s cheek, and he turned his face to kiss her palm, his eyes never leaving hers.

“You will forget all of this,” he said. “You never saw me, nor this man here.”

“Jesus,” Eddie groaned. “Can you let me go now?”

“If you see this man again, you will feel repulsion. You will not want to talk to him. You will cross the street to avoid him.”

“And you?” the girl asked. “I don’t want to forget you.”

“You will remember a good feeling,” Javier said. “You will feel strong and peaceful. You will feel happy.”

“I have to kiss you,” she said. She stood on tiptoe and put her lips on his, and he breathed in a rush of fear and grief. He let his mouth linger on hers, and exhaled peace and strength into her.

“The sky will sparkle with diamonds as you walk below it,” he said. “Good night, child. Go now.”

He and Eddie watched as she walked away, her spine straight and her gait even. Javier held his forearm against Eddie’s neck, pinning him against the wall. “You know the Prohibition against seducing Civilians, do you not?”

Entry 89 | ELEVEN STARS | YA Thriller

Thirty-six days. Five deaths. Three states. One eighteen-year-old girl with eleven stars tattooed on her left forearm. Another tattoo hidden on the back of her neck, “SKNT-PHNX-05.” Unexplained hydrophobia and fighting skills—and no memory after the crash. One ID card claiming her name is Stephanie Hayes. One cryptic note. One set of coordinates. One stranger who calls her by a different name…

I spin and grab the man’s arm, dragging my fingers down into the pressure point in his elbow, and he yelps and the knife shoots out of his hand. My other hand strikes at his throat, I hook his foot, and the next second he hits the ground with a whoosh. I don’t see the younger guy’s swing coming until it connects with my mouth. Blood wells on my tongue. I duck under his next blow and uppercut into his stomach. Get under his arm, drop my hips, and flip him onto the first guy.

A set of stitches opens in my back. I falter. The young guy’s too far gone to notice, though. He rolls off the man, scrambles to the dumpster, pukes, and passes out.

So now I stand in an alley with two unconscious men slumped on the ground next to me after less than a minute of fighting, and a knife by my foot. But I feel good. Better than I’ve felt since I can remember, though I don’t know if that counts since my memory starts all of a week ago.

How did I not know I could fight? Know those pressure points? Know the exact spot to strike someone to make him lose his breath, completely pass out?

But I do.

I drag the first man to the wall and prop him next to other one. Not much blood from my split lip, but I wipe it away from my chin. The taste of it reminds me of the accident. Of the knife-attack victim. Of the memory.

I shove it all out of my mind and pick up my wallet, laying open on the ground where I dropped it.

A slick corner of paper sticks out from the seam in the leather above my ID. Like a photo. I grab the knife and cut through enough stitches in the leather to pull the slick piece of photo paper out.

Three people. A girl about eleven and two adults who must be her parents with their arms around her. All smiling. Brown hair on the girl and her father, blond on the woman. The girl and her mother have the same eyes; same shade, same color, same shape. Different eyes on the man, but no doubt they’re a family. Why I’d have it, though…

I glance to my wallet, to the picture in my ID. The two flaps of leather in the top right corner hang open where I cut away the stitches, and inside on the back piece of leather, shallow cuts in it are visible. I slice the rest of the stitches apart and pull the two pieces of leather away from each other. There, written in sloppy letters cut into the leather in a hurry, sits a message.

“SKNT-PHNX-05
NW of Minneapolis”

A set of coordinates follow that I ignore because the two words at the end catch my attention.

“Trust J”

Entry 88 | IT FELT GREAT | YA Fiction

Abby is a high school senior, tennis star, valedictorian and Ivy League bound. When she becomes pregnant and has an abortion, she doesn’t feel badly about doing it. She wonders whether she should feel regret and speaks with the school counselor. When the school principal finds out about her abortion and attempts to take away her right to speak at graduation, Abby fights back.

Tears rolled down my face. “Oliver, I don’t want to have a baby. I really don’t.”

Oliver pulled me closer into his lap. “It’s okay, Abby. We can get married, if you want to.” I heard both tears and reluctance in his voice.

“I want to go to law school. I want to be SOMEBODY. If I have this baby, I will never BE anything.” I began sobbing and laid my face against his shoulder.

“If you want to have an abortion, that’s okay too,” he said.

“I do. I really do. Is that okay with you?” I asked.

“Of course it is.” It felt good that he didn’t seem relieved or jubilant. Only accepting. He was a really great boyfriend.

Having an abortion wasn’t in my plan. My plan was to not get pregnant. However, in an unexpected moment of opportunity, Oliver and I had decided to have sex on New Year’s Eve. We had been dating for a while and felt like we were ready. We talked about me going to Planned Parenthood with my friend, Kylie, who had been there before. Geeky virgins, we read up on birth control before the fateful night.

When we found ourselves, on New Year’s Eve, at his house, alone, it felt right. “I’ll just go and get Plan B in the morning.” We thought we were smart and in control. We wouldn’t do anything dumb like take a chance with our future. Well, it turns out, we are dumb: 1) we didn’t read the fine print on the Planned Parenthood website. Lo and behold, the morning after pill is only 89 percent effective; 2) Planned Parenthood isn’t open on New Year’s Day; 3) the earlier you take the morning after pill, the better it works. I took it 48 hours after we had sex; and 4) I became pregnant.

“Ollie! I am VALEDICTORIAN! Would they even let me speak at graduation? What, I’ll just waddle up to the mic? Dear graduates, our future’s so bright, I mean YOUR future’s so bright! Mine is clearly gonna suck!”

I called Planned Parenthood and made an appointment for the next day. No parent persmission necessary since I had just turned eighteen. My parents are really nice people. Great people, in fact. I just thought, well, Ollie and I got ourselves into this and we needed to get ourselves out. I didn’t want to upset my parents. I would take care of this and forget it ever happened. I had no desire to ever discuss this with my parents. Not ever.

When we arrived at the clinic, Ollie and I sat quietly. We listened to the information and I assured the nurse that this is what I wanted to do. They did a pregnancy test and an exam to confirm my pregnancy. Then, they gave me some medication and I went to sleep with Oliver holding my hand. I woke up and I was no longer pregnant. It felt great.

Entry 87 | PRIMAL UNION | Adult Science Fiction

When the cyborg soldiers of the Prime snatch Mark Newman from his isolated planet, and force him into prostitution on an opulent Saturnian moon, the idealistic young man risks torture to spy on the regime that threatens his home. But Mark’s loyalties are challenged by his feelings for cyborg officer Elisa Morales — and by the growing rift between the person he thought he was, and the neurally augmented male courtesan he has become. As Mark and Elisa uncover their love’s disturbing connection to the superhuman, mind-invading Prime, they push humanity toward a war over ultimate questions of freedom and identity.

“The Devil is coming!”

The shout boomed over the drone of the crowd, breaking into Mark’s dogged focus on getting them to the doors in time. Instead of pushing forward into a clump of sheepskin-coated frontiersmen, he looked for the source of the crazed bellow.

“Do not be deceived! That spaceship is bringing the Devil to Chiron!”

There. The guy in the black duster and broad-brimmed black hat, clinging to the wrought-iron ornamentation of an electric streetlight. With the toes of his boots lodged in scrollwork, the shouter perched above the throng like a giant crow.

Jeers and catcalls erupted around the lamppost. The kook had chosen the wrong audience. No one who feared Re-contact would be in the core district tonight. Except the fanatics, apparently.

Jasmine’s hand tightened in Mark’s. He glanced back to find her staring at the doomsayer, her brow carved with strain. At least her lips no longer stood out white in her brown face. The bout of nausea she’d suffered in her dorm room had been so prolonged, he’d begun to worry it was more than her usual nerves.

If we don’t make it, Jasmine will blame herself. I can’t let that happen.

Dismissing Mr. Crow with a grimace, he resumed shouldering through the crush, clearing a path for Jasmine. “Pardon me, sirs,” he said, as he muscled between sheepskin-coated men. He could actually smell the frontier on them: old sweat and manure and the distinctive tang of Chironian “mold.” They must have rolled in on the train that very morning, right before the government shut down Ross City Station.

He squeezed around a huge guy in a rabbit fur jacket. By their makeshift clothes and hard demeanor, these people were knockabouts, not homesteaders. Wandering hands whose homesteads had failed, or who’d never chosen to settle. They’d probably scraped together their last dimes to buy those train tickets.

To witness the arrival of new worlds of possibility. Even if they could only watch from outside the police barricades.

Straight ahead, beyond the orange-painted barricades, the glossy walls of the Colonial Library and Equipment Repository shone softly in the Ay-light. In contrast to the worn and symbiorg-encrusted facades of the newer buildings on either side, the Library’s high-tech material remained pristine, unblemished by time. From behind the iconic structure, search beams lanced the navy sky, inviting the Earthers down from their orbiting starship.

With his free hand, Mark reached into his jacket pocket and fingered the stiff cardboard of his university pass. The passing minutes pressed on his lungs, more suffocating than the packed bodies. Surging forward, he knocked a grizzled guy’s hat askew.

“Very sorry, neighbor.” He fumbled to straighten the brim.

Ice-blue eyes in a wind-bitten face skewered Mark with disdain. Amazing how all proper frontiersmen could convey, with one quick glance, that you didn’t have your shit together. That you would never make it in the Violet Lands. Even knockabouts had that gritty pride.

“You ain’t no neighbor of ours,” said a gravelly voice.

Entry 86 | AN OCCUPATION IN PARENTING | Parenting Non-Fiction

Being a young mother I knew nothing else but being a mom. However my aspirations to be a part of corporate America and my relentless thirst to learn lead me to look up best business books. In my new quest I could not help myself draw parallels to my current full time job. What I found changed my perspective, I never looked at being a parent the same way.

“Parenting is a full time job” I think this qualifies as a pretty good paradox. A full time job where you never get paid and there are no vacations and you will never retire.Ouch! I know I make it sound horrible but here’s the deal. If this is a full time job maybe its time we treated it as one.

To list a few of what a job/business demand
- Commitment
-Continuing education
- Marketing
- Being current with the technology
-Positive work environment

And I can go on…I wonder how many of these thing we give emphasis to while parenting

I’m giving credit to all the books I read …

Blue Ocean Strategy by W Chan Kim. Renee Mauborgne

“How to create an uncontested market space and make competition irrelevant”

What????So also in parenting you’ve got to look outside the box just like every business is unique and you have to make it unique to stand out. Every child is unique and to realize their full potential requires you to look at them for who they are and then work around that.

The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor

Success does not bring happiness in fact it happiness leads to success: so with parenting aiming to be successful at parenting will not be the road to your happiness however being a happy parent and raising a happy child will lead to being a successful parent and raising a successful child

Get Rich with twitter by Dennis L. Prince

Tweet don’t talk, do you think today’s digital kids actually listening to you let alone grasping anything when you are giving the an hour long talk. Try conveying your message in short burst, thus conveying your message in a concise and effective way .I think your teen will have less to roll their eyes.

Crush It by Gary Vaynerchuk

Gary writes…
• Love your family, family ALWAYS comes first
• Work super hard
• Live your passion
• Reinvent yourself
• Keep it simple stupid
• Don’t care about what people say BUT pay attention
• Be you
• Be honest
• Quality is a tremendous filter
• Think about building your brand like a marathon not a sprint

Wow! Every page I turned was screaming another great parenting tool and lesson. Like Oprah has her Ahaa! Moments this was just fireworks in my mind.

What I took from the book…this book validated a lot of my old school beliefs. I always said to my kids “when the whole world turns away from you all you have will be family” Family comes first .We all love our kids and want the best for them. In that case we should work hard and be passionate about parenting and really pay attention to the quality of time and life and food and friends we surround them with. Don’t care about what people say but pay attention. As parents we are so blinded by unconditional love that we miss something’s so LISTEN. Parenting is a marathon, pace yourself.

Entry 85 | THE INEVITABILITY OF RETURN | Upmarket

Guilt and revenge drive a grieving mother away from a second chance at happiness and into a dangerous game of sexual roulette that threatens her life.

The air conditioner’s fan circulates the stale scent of sweat and uninvited sex. She covers her na-kedness with the tangled bedding of the queen-size. Her body is cold. Battered. Humiliation rages with disgust.

She wants to tear away the covers. Run until her lungs burn—until perspiration cries from every pore. She burrows deeper and searches for a whiff of starch, or bleach, or a hint of sachet. No luck. She’s trapped inside the scent of Acqua di Gio—once the cologne made her blush. What a fool. Yes. Foolish is her forte.

Why did she argue? They only wanted what they wanted. A little cooperation…

She presses her hands against her head. Speculation is pointless. No reversals are allowed. The rule is etched on her heart. Too bad she never accepted it.

Music from the forgotten CD player catches her attention. Her body flinches against flashes of memory. She fights them off with images of quicksand rising around her limp form until she is dragged as far from the present as possible.

She needs the bottle—the silver one. The one she keeps for insurance, locked away with her old life—the real one.

Her body moves to wretch, muscles rebel. She chokes back bile.

Voices in the hall distract. Her pulse escalates. She tightens the sheets around her and wills her-self to disappear.

“Katie?”

Her eyes open.

A fist pounds on the door. “Katie? It’s Jordan. Are you all right?”

No. Oh, god. No.

She sits up. Winces. Her costume is scattered across the floor. She doesn’t want to wear it, but there is nothing else. Her hands run over her face, through her hair. She trips over the sheet as she stumbles out of the bed.

“Katie? I’ve got the key. I’m coming in.”

She wraps the sheet kimono tight, stands tall, embraces every last despicable detail of her life and faces the door.

Entry 84 | THE SILENT MARCH | Young Adult Fiction

In 1988, vibrations of the Deaf President Now! revolution hum through the walls of Galluadet University. In a small Maryland town, four misfits: one Deaf, one hard-of-hearing, one with deaf parents, and a sign language student, echo the same spirit of rebellion. They form an outcast club, and, together, help each other to find not only their place between worlds, but also their sense of pride in their individuality.

On Tuesday, I ate lunch with Brian and Rachel again. That afternoon, in English, I asked Jeff if he’d like to eat lunch with us on Wednesday.

“I guess I could squeeze you in,” Jeff teased, pretending to check his calendar. He was just paging through his English notebook.

Brian and I spotted Rachel and Jeff sitting at the table in the back corner of the cafeteria. Brian plopped into his seat and signed away to Rachel, with me as the middleman. I interpreted as best I could, but soon my eyes and hands began to ache. As I was about to tell them both to shut up, Jeff signed to Brian.

My jaw dropped. “You sign?” I asked him.

“Where’d you learn?” Brian signed.

“In class.” Something about the way Jeff signed ‘class,’ so small with his eyes cast downward, made me not believe him.

While they chatted, I let my hands rest. Watching Jeff, I realized was really good. He easily kept up with Brian’s flying fingers. Jeff interpreted for Rachel and added his own thoughts. I may be a decent signer, but I was lost as the guys fired stories at each other. Eventually, Jeff stopped interpreting and only signed. Rachel and I gave up trying to communicate. Neither of us could keep up. Rachel looked around the cafeteria. I followed her gaze. Students stared at Jeff and Brian.

Rachel’s face turned crimson, and, though I tried to fight it, my face grew hot, too.

As Jeff signed about a car (I repeatedly saw that sign: two fists clutching a steering wheel), two guys in football jerseys (#2 and #4) stopped at our table.

“Look, Jeff’s sitting at the losers’ table!” #2 waved his hands around like an octopus on a sugar rush.

Jeff stopped mid-sign, hands clenching to fists.

“Are these your new friends now?” #4 taunted.

“Just ignore them,” I told Jeff.

“That should be easy for them.” #2 pointed at Brian and Rachel.

“Shut up,” I muttered.

“Easy for you to say,” #4 said.

“Not so easy for her.” #2 lauged. “Hey, Rachel,” he said through pursed lips, “Read my lips.”

They both cracked up.

No way could I keep my big mouth shut now. Besides, what could they do? Hit a girl?

“You guys are the epitome of dumb jocks,” I announced.

“Epitome,” #2 scoffed. “Listen to the braniac.”

“You two should thank him,” I said, pointing to Brian.

“Huh?”

“If it hadn’t been for deaf football players inventing the huddle to pass on secret plays, the other team would know all your moves.”

“What!?”

Okay, maybe that was a bad call. I was sounding more like a nerd every minute. Thank God the bell chose that moment to ring. The four of us raced out of the cafeteria.

“Not very smooth,” Jeff said.

“I know. Sorry.”

“You should’ve kept quiet,” Jeff said.

“Now that would’ve been impossible,” I said.

“Then, welcome to the outcast club.” Jeff shrugged. “You’ve been officially marked.”

Entry 83 | WHEN THE WIND SINGS | Literary Fiction

At twenty-six years old, Casey’s world was crashing around his head. Relative to the success of his family, life had never been easy. But all the hardship and tragedy he faced in the past, were nothing compared to what was about to be revealed. Always assuming misfortune was brought upon himself, Casey would soon discover the unspoken truth that had lead him down life’s dark path.

Casey was left standing on the polished white sidewalk taking stock of his life. He had been living all wrong. Until meeting Bingo and Paige, he had squandered every opportunity, failing himself and others along the way. Even his recent string of good fortune was not entirely from his doing, that honor belonged to Bingo and his angelic wife, Paige. No matter what ill will may have been thrust upon the perfect couple, no grudges were held. It made Casey want to laugh and cry at the same time. They were so good; it hurt down to his most naked self.

A flurry of shame assaulted his heart, regrets so deep that in any moment he expected his skin to turn rotten and his breath putrid. Catching a glimpse of his oversized pear shaped body, Casey summoned his new commitment to setting his feet in motion. He was too restless for change to call it a night. He needed to be a part of something better than himself, and wandering among the overpriced merchandise on display along Main Street kindled a pride that had been missing for years. Under the backdrop of a golden California sky, the clouds became blazon in the final minutes of daylight.

Reaching the corner, he made a hard right where Gucci proudly displayed the latest Italian fashions. Past the Empire Brewery Company and the stained oak facade with brass framed display windows, he caught a glimpse of the refined clientele sipping from pint glasses of amber colored beer. As the natural light began to wane, the vintage street lights lit the way until reaching Helm street: the line of demarcation that separated the recent downtown renovation project from it’s soiled past.

He crossed onto the stained sidewalk. The air tasted less sweet, tainted by the smell of old concrete and brick buildings. The marvel and pride he carried for the past six blocks reverted to sadness as the hulking shape of his old condo building towered ahead. Without intending, Casey had returned to the crumbled city of his past, echoing with the cries of his deepest shame. The second story window to his previous bedroom, where the unthinkable had occurred, was dark and void of life.

A cold sweat appeared on Casey’s brow as he eagerly sought the refuge of his new loft on Main Street. Turning right along Empire Boulevard, Casey hustled away from the demons that haunted his dreams. He kept a quick pace toward the vintage green street lamps and polished sidewalks, not yet realizing that the true horror had begun at an age when he was just a boy. But on this night of unintended wanderings, that moment of revaluations would remain buried, but not for long.

Entry 82 | THE DOLPHIN NEXUS | Middle Grade Fiction

On a tiny island in the Florida Keys, a girl with a mystical connection to the sea must not only dive deep into her mythic past, but also harness her growing powers to prevent a secret military project from silencing the ocean forever.

Though she was far away, Irene could clearly see Diana suspended underwater, her snorkel mask magnifying the confusion in her eyes.

Swimming towards Diana, Irene met her at the surface within seconds. “What’s wrong?”

Diana cocked her head. “You swim funny.”

“You barely swam at all, so–” Irene shot back.

”No. I mean, I haven’t seen that style before. It’s not a butterfly or a frog kick. With your legs together, it looks like . . .” Diana’s attention suddenly shifted to behind Irene’s shoulder. “A dolphin!” she cried out. “I think it’s Snoopy.”

Irene spun around to watch as now three dolphins circled the buoy. What was the cove pod doing out here, so far from the Key? Instinctively, Irene reached for the charm around her neck.

“It’s gone,” she said with a gasp.

Diana tore her eyes from the dolphins. “What is?”

“My necklace.”

“Girls, it’s time to go. And don’t even think about approaching that pod,” her dad shouted from the boat.

“You’ll never find it now,” Diana said.

“I have to.”

Irene couldn’t suppress the panic rising in her. She ducked under water, scanning the depths, but it was all a blue blur. How deep was it? Too deep to dive, something told her. No matter. She had to find it.

A hand yanked her to the surface.

“Have you lost your mind?” Diana tighted her grip on Irene’s wrist. “It must be a hundred feet to the bottom.”

“Two hundred.” Irene said with certainty. She twisted her arm out of Diana’s hand.

“How can you know that?”

“I just do.”

This time she plunged beyond Diana’s reach. Fifty feet down now, her head should be exploding from the pressure, but she felt nothing. Instead she heard a series of clicks, low and guttural, like pulses on an old-fashioned telephone. A shadowy image of three dolphins fluttered in the back of her mind, but the sound wasn’t coming from them. It was coming from her!

She tried to swallow, but failed. The rat-a-tat kept vibrating in her throat, endless as a long distance number. Then, as if the operator made a connection, she stopped ticking. She saw the trident charm not before her eyes, but traced in her mind. The chain was caught on a cylinder attached to a cord. She zeroed in, streaking toward it with powerful dolphin kicks.

Just as she wrapped her fingers around it, another sound blasted her. A low, thumping hum radiated from the cylinder. Her lungs vibrated in sync with it, and her throat closed off to dam the backwash of nausea. Heart pounding, she tumbled away from the cylinder, clutching the necklace. The ocean spun like a disco ball, shooting shards of light into her eyes. All the while, the relentless drum beat engulfed her.

A high pitched squeal shattered her disorientation. She looked down in the direction of the sound and saw a disk of light. The sun? Below her? She swam for it.

Entry 81 | THANK YOU LETTERS | Humor/Narrative Nonfiction/Religion

A minister’s wife pens thanks. She thanks her cabbie for not shooting her and her Gramma Jane for not dying at the hands of her children. She thanks a yacht club for pitying her family with a courtesy clergy membership and a funeral home for sending them death-related doodads. She thanks her cosmetics clerk for providing a complimentary insult with purchase, and she thanks the Ukrainian hooker she paid to amuse her phony lawyer. The Bible instructs, “In all things give thanks,” and this pastor’s wife is hell-bent on trying.

Dear Knowles Funeral Home,

Thank you for the logo bearing goodies you bestow on us each and every Christmas. How well they speak of the cordial relationship you and my husband enjoy.

Rest assured we put our treasure trove to good and immediate use. Our Knowles Funeral Home magnet graces our fridge with wisdom and magnetic powers. What an edifying reminder that every meal may indeed be our last. Our Knowles Funeral Home date book cautions that we know not what the future holds, despite our pompous plans. June 2: Me, Dentist (if I’m still alive). April 7: Jimmy, Haircut (that is, unless he’s dead). What an energizing air of unpredictability this lends our scheduling of events. Our Funeral Home pen light whispers in the darkness that we may not live to see the light of day, and in case of death– beckons us, “Follow the light!” This is just a sampling of the bounty you share with clergy and their fortunate families. It’s like we’ve died and gone to Heaven.

If I may, a few suggestions on expanding your line. Please consider the Knowles Funeral Home trash bag, emblazoned with the sentiment, “Here’s one less bag of crap for my survivors to toss when I’m gone.” Perhaps a bumper sticker : “My Loved One was an Honored Dead at Knowles Funeral Home.” Or a Knowles Funeral Home rubber wristband encouraging us to “DIESTRONG.” As you can see, you’ve inspired me, which is ironic because the word “inspired” literally means “to breathe life into,” a phrase seldom associated with your line of work.

For inspiration and all other gifts, I thank you once again. May you continue your good work with Jimmy throughout the upcoming year (that is, unless you’re dead).

Sincerely,
The Minister’s Wife

Dear Gramma Jane,

Thank you for not dying when my children pounced on you in your sleep.
You lived through the Great Depression, two world wars, and gender discrimination. For years, you woke up at an ungodly hour to work the breakfast shift at the General Motors canteen. You breathed in beauty parlor chemicals every week while Gaylene permed, teased, and sprayed your hair into submission. And you survived the road trip when Grampa refused to pull over for your bathroom break at the Mobil station because “he didn’t buy that kind of gas.” Imagine living through all that, only to die at the hands of your own great-grandkids. Awkward.

Surviving my children’s assault was sacrificial. You’re 96 years old, and tell us that you “don’t understand why God won’t take you.” Every night you pray and every day you wait, but here you are, stuck on Earth. When I saw Matt hurl himself upon your brittle bones, I thought for sure you’d yield to temptation and deliver him to evil. But you’ve sacrificed for our family your entire life, and this proved no exception. Osteoporosis be damned. You are The Gramma Who Lived.

Entry 80 | EYESORE | Contemporary Romance

Professor Daniel Dewalt makes a mean brushetta–from basil he grows himself–and considers himself an open-minded 21st century guy.

Until house flipper Constance Denning moves in next door. Brusque, muscular, and usually filthy, she’s fascinating and repellent at once. Maybe he’s not as open-minded as he thought?

Constance feels the tug but knows better than to give in to it. The last man she fell for ended up dead.

“I know I packed it.” She went to the side of the truck, reaching over to search the buckets behind the cab. Still not finding whatever it was she wanted, she put one foot on the wheel, climbed in the back, and continued to dig.

“Miss…Ms…?”

She waved a free hand, the other elbow-deep in bucket excavation. “Just Constance. Constance Denning.” That search ending unsuccessfully, she moved on. “Ah. There’s the blades, at least.”

“We’re going to be neighbors…I think…anything I can help with?”

I was pretty sure I should be insulted how fast those pale eyebrows shot up.

“I doubt it. Unless you have a Sawz-all hanging around.” Her tone made clear how likely she thought that was.

I decided that taking offense — or at least showing it — would only exacerbate the situation.
I stepped closer, cautiously navigating the cluttered sidewalk. “No. But maybe I could assist you in locating it.” I peered into the back of the truck. “What does it look like?”

“Electric saw. Yellow and black. Body’s about this big,” she held up her hands, “by this wide.” She brought them closer together.

Careful not to touch the grimy truck, I reached over the side and pushed items around, looking for something resembling what she’d described. “What’s it for?”

“Cutting things. As the name implies.” She was facing the cab, digging through a box. She did not turn as she spoke but the disdain was unmistakable.

I lifted a small bucket of paint brushes out of a larger bucket to check beneath. “That’s obvious. I meant, what do you need it for?”

“Break into my new house.”

“What?”

“The undergrad renters were almighty peeved when they got kicked out. They’d paid the rent. Wasn’t their fault the landlord stopped sending mortgage checks. I’m not sure how the bank managed to evict them. Renters have rights even in a foreclosure.”

“I expect banks have better lawyers than undergrads,” I said.

“Hah. Bet so. Anyway, according to the bank, they nailed every window and door shut from the inside.”

I set the paint brush bucket aside. “How?”

Well-muscled shoulders gave an impressive shrug. Damn. I’d taught college basketball players less built.

“Don’t know yet,” she said. “The bank’s swamped with foreclosed properties. Didn’t want to bother with it. Sold it as-is.”

I felt my jaw dropping and snapped it shut. “You bought a house without seeing the inside?
There could be enormous amounts of damage.”

She swiveled long enough to shoot me an impatient glance. “Of course there’s damage. It was rented to undergrads for fifteen years. Then foreclosed. The last renters were booted out. Going to be lots of damage.”

“Then…why?” Reaching for another bucket, I leaned too close and touched the side. I stepped back and tried to brush the clinging mire from my shirt. What was it? Sawdust? Mud? Sawdust mixed with mud?

“Good price. Very good price. When I’m finished, it’ll be worth three, maybe four, times what I paid.”

Entry 79 | THE HEAT CONNECTION | Science Fiction

Someone is killing people on Earth – from outer space. 

Philips, who can’t trust a partner, knows it’s aliens; but Kyle, whose partner died recently in a nightmare he can’t remember, doesn’t believe in aliens.

If these two men can’t work together, Earth is doomed.

“Just that we’re heading for the bridge, and if he wants in on this fun, he’d better hurry.”

“Fun?” Kyle turned back to look this madman in the face.

“Turn left,” Philips said, pushing him forward.

Kyle resisted the urge to push back. He knew Philips didn’t trust him behind him, but this was getting just a bit ridiculous. Swearing under his breath, he took the corridor to his left – and nearly ran into two of those large, fishy aliens. One’s eyes widened as if surprised; the other raised a laser weapon.

“Aw, crap,” Kyle muttered, firing his laser as Philips pulled him back behind the corner. There seemed to be no effect.

“The bigger guys need a higher stun,” Philips quickly explained. “Set it about halfway on the dial. We don’t want to waste fire power.”

Kyle found the dial and turned it further to the right.

Philips quickly turned to look behind him. “There’s more coming up behind us,” Philips told him. “Probably the ones we diverted a while back.”

Kyle clenched his teeth, glanced around the corner, and fired at a gold-scaled head peering around another corner about five metres away. The head pulled back before the beam could hit it. The ions must slow the light energy a bit, Kyle noted. He’d have to remember that when he took his next shot.

A shot from the other corner ricocheted off the wall behind them, just over Kyle’s head. The heat of the beam scorched the shoulder of his shirt.

The thought hit him with surprising clarity: he was going to die on board a ship he didn’t believe in, killed by people he refused to acknowledge as existing, in the company of a madman.

Well, said the more rational part of his brain, I’ll just have to make sure my partner survives. That’s all I need to worry about.

Zaps behind him. He glanced back to see Philips firing at a movement behind them, down the hallway about fifteen metres back. Damn. He’d known the others would catch up. There was no going back now.

Kyle wished desperately for another of those overpowered batons, but he knew that was out of his reach right now. With another diversion in mind, he aimed for the lights again, only to have his laser fizzle out in a burst of sparks.

Damn. He needed another weapon, another diversion. What did he have on him that could work? He should have taken more of those laser ion weapons from the crate – but they would only have got in the way until they became useful. Something to throw, maybe. If only he had… He swore and shook his head as he pulled the large handgun out of its holster under his left arm. He’d become so caught up in this science fiction charade he’d forgotten his own training and life.

Smiling now, he crouched and glanced around the corner to see that one of the mercenaries was beginning to come forward from its hiding spot. He grinned as he aimed…

Entry 78 | BECOMING | New Adult Urban Fantasy

Unknown to college freshman Zoe, beneath the Frankenscar her transplant left beats a dragon’s heart. Terrified of intimacy, she starts an online relationship, but the boy she’s fallen for is her donor and a girl.

The café looked deserted. Zoe lingered under the canopy at the main entrance. The bad weather must’ve sent students back to the comfort of their dorms. She peered in through the foggy window. The rumble in her stomach had been replaced by an absurd pounding of her pulse in her ears. Chill. You’ll be fine. You don’t have to tell him about your scar. It’s not like he’d see it with the high neckline of her white shirt.

Strange. She did another scan of the room. Two guys wearing sports jerseys leaned back in chairs. In a corner booth, a couple sat on the same side. A girl with extremely long curly blond hair sat with one leg crossed over the other in the middle of the room. Next to the right exit sat a large guy eating a plate of hot wings.

Her stomach churned. Not because she had a problem with his being a tad overweight, but the sight of the chicken wings made her consider turning away. Up until six months ago, she’d been a strict vegan. Then after the heart transplant, suddenly she couldn’t get enough meat and a constant battle within her ensued. She loved the taste of it now, but the thought of putting it in her mouth disgusted her.

Her phone vibrated in her hand, and she nearly dropped it on the ground. She swiped the screen. I’m here.

Where? She texted back.

Obviously it wasn’t the guy eating wings. If it were the guy next to the girl, she’d slap him across the face before promptly walking away. And it definitely couldn’t be the two jocks leaning backward. Neither of them had a phone out.

Oh my God. No. No way. Couldn’t be.

Zoe pressed closer to the window, her breath had clouded it. She quickly wiped a circular spot with her coat sleeve and took note. The curly haired blonde wore black ankle boots, black leggings, a pale blue boat-neck sweater dress…and draped neatly over the chair next to her was a dark gray pea coat. The blond shifted sideways in her seat and in her hands was a phone. Her long slender fingers played across the screen.

Zoe’s cellphone vibrated once again in her hand. She swallowed. Hard. This was impossible. Taylor was a boy’s name. Taylor Lautner from the Twilight movies. Oh damn. She hadn’t thought about Taylor Swift. She was a girl.

She tried to swallow again. Couldn’t. For six months she had poured her heart and soul out to this person. Had some pretty sensual thoughts before going to bed at night and now… Now…

The boy of her dreams was a girl.

Entry 77 | REVEALED | Contemporary YA

When eighteen year old neighbors Bianca and Jake lose their parents in a plane crash, they both uncover a web of family secrets that will test everything they’ve grown up believing. They’re forced to confront reality and whether sometimes it’s better to get what you need, not what you want.

Bianca had been abandoned for the second time in two weeks. Her knuckles whitened as she gripped the edge of the kitchen table. The strong platform of support her parents built was now a toothpick. She balanced precariously on the sliver that remained, knowing her strength couldn’t possibly hold out and she would plummet into a dark abyss, dragging her brother Nico with her.

“I can’t do this,” she whispered.

She leaned her elbows on the table and rested her head in her hands as she struggled to slow her breathing. A white mug sat in front of her. Bianca squinted at Aunt Angela’s crimson lip prints on the rim. A growl rose in her chest and she let out a roaring scream. She grabbed the cup and hurled it across the room. It crashed against the wall, transforming into splinters of white porcelain.

The table screeched as she shoved it across the room. The chairs surrounding it collided into each other before collapsing. She dashed over to the cupboards, whipped one open, and flung more white mugs to the ground. The fragmented pieces scattered like shiny sharp snowflakes sparkling against the blue linoleum floor. When the mugs were gone, she moved on to the glasses.

Sweat broke out on Bianca’s brow as she rounded her arm like a possessed pitcher hurling balls over home plate. Glasses smashed against the floor. The shattered bits of crystal resembled pebbles of ice. The kitchen became a glass replica of a frigid winter scene.

She ripped open the next door and emptied its contents. Plates soared through the air like frisbees before making impact with the wall and meeting their demise. Pots and pans clashed against each other as they pounded on the floor. She pulled drawers out of their spaces and tipped theme over. Forks, knives, and spoons littered the collage of kitchenware.

After all the cupboards and drawers were emptied, Bianca sunk to her knees and emptied her tears onto the rubble. The kitchen was a symbol of what her life had become; a broken disaster.

Light tapping on the kitchen door became louder with each succession. Bianca hugged her knees tighter and rocked back and forth. The visitor’s persistence forced her to lift her head and focus her puffy eyes towards the door. Her next door neighbor, Jake, peered in through the window frowning. Binaca lowered her head back onto her knees and continued rocking.

The knob turned. Jake’s footsteps crunched against the broken winter wonderland that was her kitchen. His black sneakers stopped by her side. Splinters scratched against the floor as he swept his foot across the wreckage to clear a space. He lowered his tall body to sit next to her.

“What do you want Jake?”

“Love what you’ve done with the place. I’m thinking about redecorating myself. Maybe I’ll take your idea.”

Bianca raised her head. “Go away!”

“I wish I could.”

Entry 76 | DARK PENITENCE | Mystery

Who wanted passionate, impulsive Father Philip Adamantinos dead? The married woman he was dragged into a tabloid scandal over, or her husband? What about his latest girlfriend, who is holding a cache of his blistering secret memoirs– and who knows she is about to become a major suspect in his murder?

“The only decent thing for any former lover of mine to do is die.”

Jenna remembered Philip reading that line to her. It was late morning, they were in bed, and he was holding one of those exercise books where he wrote things that piqued his imagination.

Now he had, so to speak, done the decent thing.

Jenna sat down on a bench by the bus shelter, looked around to make sure no one was watching, and unfolded her newspaper again.

“Philip Adamantinos has been found dead in London. The former priest, who resigned in a scandal involving a one-time parishioner…”

No one had thought to tell Jenna. She’d caught sight of it in the paper when she went down to the shops to buy a few things for supper. Last time, he’d phoned her the night before. Preparing her for the fact, if not the horrible headlines that greeted her in the News of the World next morning. “Hanky Spanky Vicar!”

This time it was the photo she saw first. His dark handsome face above the priestly collar.
“Police say the Reverend Philip Adamantinos was stabbed repeatedly while sleeping in his rental apartment. No weapon has been recovered.”
Philip always wore pajamas, fine blue and white striped cotton. She could see him in them, laughing and turning his head to one side on the pillow, showing off that Byzantine profile of his. She could feel the way he reached out and touched her knee, then ran his hand up the inside of her thigh and left it there.

Jenna pictured Philip’s pajamas now, pierced by the knife and soaked in blood.

She shook off the visions– welcome and unwelcome– and stood up. Tears welled in her eyes and started to spill over but her hands were occupied holding the paper sack from the grocer’s. This now gave way and the corner of a tin pointed out the side.

“Damn. ” She dumped the sack’s contents– tins, apples, onions and all– into a hedge. She almost threw the newspaper in after them, but changed her mind and tucked it under her arm as she headed back home to Jonathan.

Jonathan. Telling him would be hell. It was always hell, talking to him about Philip, wondering how much he knew. Oh, dear, she thought. What would come out, now that Philip was dead?
She realized she was walking faster, almost running. Why? All that awaited her was the dreaded conversation with her husband. Still she did not slow down.

Entry 75 | OZNOG: OCCUPY WALL STREET AND THE ODYSSEY OF AN OUTLAW PEN | Gonzo Journalism / Creative Non-Fiction

‘oZnog: Occupy Wall Street and the Odyssey of an Outlaw Pen’ chronicles writer Patrick M Arthur’s 57 days spent covering the OWS Movement. Initially working as an independent journalist in New York City during the first days of the Movement, Patrick receives an offer that will forever change his life — and everything he thought he knew about it.

that Halloween midnight in New Orleans, raw air blowing off the Mississippi bends. Pagan mystics, like the kind watching us from behind the shadows, claim this sliver of time between Autumn months signifies not only one day blending with another, but also when the Other world bleeds into our own; A special midnight. The thin veils keeping our worlds separate fail to be tied, falling at our heels, allowing a dark gaze into the next life. Few people are brave or stupid enough to stop and stare.

Eric Bonney, my host for however long I was to be stranded in this place, was one of those. His shaved head navigated our way down Frenchman Street. I waded a few steps behind. That night in the Quarter revealed hedonistic carnage surrounding us on all sides. The sonic orgy raging in the streets, packed with demons and fish-net masochists in a masquerade of public sex, drugs and high-proof alcohol lusted on the Devil’s symphony scratching to escape the old music clubs.

Unwashed arrangements of punk, hip-hop, metal, country, Congo and Funk encouraged the filthy crowd to plunge deeper into depravity. Cars creeping down the packed roads pounded Bounce music from their back seat boom boxes, the beats moving a thousand miles per hour faster than their wheels. Beneath it all, tugging all the right notes, conducting these wild jungle callings were those sweet complexities of Jazz I’d expected.

The scene overwhelmed my mind and balance, making it impossible to hear what Eric was yelling back over his shoulder.

I stumbled closer.

“Did you wanna buy some herb?”

“Where from?”

“Anywhere,” he shrugged.

“I don’t have a pipe,” I screamed back.

I don’t think he heard. No matter, by then I was lost in the neon-lit smoke wafting from every dim alleyway. Eric was right. The smell of singed cannabis came from every crack in the ground. It came dripping off the zombie prostitutes like rancid flesh, from underneath rubber masks of a former President, the horny one who claimed to have never inhaled.

Entry 74 | LITTLE ZEBRA | Memoir

The memoir of an interracial girl who looks more white than black; and how she learns to appreciate her uniqueness, going beyond merely surviving a socially-rocky childhood to fulfilling her dream of becoming a Hollywood artist and performer.

She’s not normal enough they said. Well, I didn’t exactly have three heads and fangs either. I’m afraid the audience just won’t get her. Get me what? And the best one: You’re daughter looks like you and your husband did…um…you know… something to get her. Like what? Crossbreed with a dandelion?

Mom took me to every talent agent she could, but the answer was always the same. No—in the most colorful ways one could ever imagine. Energy didn’t matter. Personality didn’t matter. My looks were an abomination. That was the only thing that mattered, and it was the one thing I couldn’t change.

There would be no stage for me beyond my bedroom floor, and no audience save the reflection of the odd-looking girl in my mirror.

At least nobody could stop me from watching television and pretending I was on my favorite show—Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop. I danced and sang and laughed with them, and made great friends with Lamb Chop. In fact, Lamb Chop was probably one of my best friends. Maybe to some people she was just a white sock with eyelashes and yarn hair, but to me, she was the best sock in the whole wide world. She was witty and smart, silly, yet sensitive….

Oh, I wasn’t stupid. I figured out a long time ago that Lamb Chop wasn’t real. And I knew Shari Lewis was only puppeteering a sock that looked like a lamb—if lambs had red buttons running down their bellies—but somehow, those two characters were two completely separate individuals, and the only one that really mattered to me was Lamb Chop. I hope this doesn’t sound mean, but I didn’t really pay much attention to Shari. She was just there.

What took a little longer to figure out was that Lamb Chop’s arms moved even as her mouth moved… and Shari’s left hand was in plain view. There were two people working Lamb Chop: Shari and a completely invisible performer tucked somewhere under the table by Shari’s feet.

Who was that person? What did they look like? Was it a man or a woman? A person younger than Shari, or about her age?

Maybe the person was half black and half white with anti-gravity blond hair that had to be corralled in a stocking cap to keep it below the table’s edge. Probably not. But she could be a total abomination and nobody knew it—or cared.

That puppeteer could be… me!

I made my own Lamb Chop.

We spent hours together in front of my bedroom mirror practicing lip-syncing, facial expressions and body movements.

Lamb Chop was no longer my little childish television friend
.
She was my goal.

* * *

The movie Men in Black was by far not the first film I ever worked on, but it was one of those projects I called family films—not because it is rated for every audience, but because most of the puppeteers were my friends.

Entry 73: MYTH MANOR | Upper Middle Grade Paranormal

When regular girl Jane Duncan receives a tainted blood transfusion, she becomes infected by the blood of a vampire and is sent to Myth Manor, a remote boarding school for supernatural creatures. After the school’s crystal pyramid and Book of the Dead are stolen, Jane must help the other Myth kids find the relics before the mummies return to eternal sleep without the crystal’s sustaining power. If Jane, the reluctant half-vampire, doesn’t accept her changing body and growing magical powers, she may lose everyone she’s come to love, including her first boyfriend, a handsome young mummy.

“That’s the yeti’s bed. Yours is over there.”

I released the door handle on what looked like a bunk-bed encased in blue frosted glass, and spun around.

“Who said that?”

“I do apologize for my manners. You must be frightfully confused.”

My head whipped back and forth. I could smell the delicate perfume of flowers, along with a deeper, earthy scent, but there was no-one in sight. A pair of lips appeared in front of me, covered in blackberry lipstick. Electric blue eyes followed, then a pale face, framed by ringlets of glossy black hair.

“Please allow me to make my own introduction. I am Miss Violet Jessamyn Bell, formerly of Charleston, currently a student of our fine academy. We are to be roommates.”

The voice transformed into a girl. The antebellum voice and old-fashioned curls were perched atop a banging little body dressed in some tight and pricy creation straight out of Teen Vogue.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Violet, Miss Bell, um, what should I call you?”

Her formality confused me. I felt like I should be apologizing to some disapproving great-aunt I’d scandalized with a skimpy tank top, but the way she was dressed, I was the frumpy one.

“Violet is fine.”

She tilted her head to one side. The pause stretched out.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I’m Jane, I mean Miss Jane, I mean Jane Standhope Duncan. Formerly of Wyoming.”

I ducked a little. Did I actually just curtsy? I stuck out my hand and Violet stared some more. What had I done wrong? Then it hit me.

“Oh my God. Of course, can you touch people? I’m sorry, are you a…are you a ghost?”

She watched me, cool amusement on her face.

“You seem a mite confused as to how things are done around here.” She waved a hand airily to cut off my scarlet-faced apology, as if her hand could wave in any other fashion.

“It’s I who should apologize, I’m afraid I haven’t been informed of your particular…persuasion, but you are correct, I am indeed a special, I mean a spectral creature.” She giggled.

I think I was standing there open-mouthed, but I was having trouble connecting to my own body at that point.

“Touch is an issue for me, although I can manipulate my environment if I concentrate. It’s one of the reasons I’m here, to become more accomplished.”

She smiled again, the same purply-black grin.

I stammered, “You’re wearing the same lipstick as me, but this is a new color. Did you just,” I mouthed the word, “die?”

She giggled louder at my horror-struck expression.

“My condition is not a recent affliction. I was thinking what a pretty color you were wearing when I spoke. When I summoned the rest of my appearance, I was still contemplating that lovely shade.”

She pursed her lips and smiled, now wearing a soft coral gloss.

“As pure energy, what I imagine I can become.”

Entry 72: THE GOOD DEMON | YA Paranormal

At the risk of eternal punishment, a wisecracking demon is forced to partner with a shiny new angel to find a powerful relic. Their search leads them to go under cover as the lowliest of creatures, a high school senior.

The nerve.

One minute you’re in hell, minding your own business, getting your ass pummeled by every demonic being that fancied a go, and the next you’re shown the door and back on the ethereal plain without even the common decency of being escorted out by security. At least they could have warned me about the transfer first.

I opened my eyes. I was in a dark alley, completely naked. I coughed, emitting a small black cloud from my lungs. Every inch of my body felt like it’d been put through a meat grinder then nibbled on by a thousand cockroaches. My stomach was sick and heavy, much like it would be the day after eating Tex-Mex. Even my bones vibrated like a tuning fork. What was I doing back on Earth? Obviously someone had sent me here—you don’t suddenly get excused from a sentence in hell, even for a short frolic in the mortal world to stretch your legs. And especially not with a sentence like mine. I’d tried to take down Lucifer and failed. It took everything I had to keep them from adding an endless Highway to Heaven marathon to my punishment.

No, someone had struck a deal to get me out. But who? And for what?

Not even the chalk message on the brick wall provided a clue:

Bartholomew. Take the bag and clothes. Go home. More details to come.

That’s it. No name, no date, nothing. I didn’t even know the year. All I did know for sure was that I wasn’t in hell anymore—and spotting that one didn’t exactly make me a candidate for MENSA. The lack of sulfur in the air had tipped me off, along with the conspicuous absence of fire.

Wherever I was, whenever I was, the person who’d left the care package obviously didn’t know what kind of classy individual they were dealing with. The clothes looked like they came from Goodwill. The jeans were tattered, the shoes dirty. And white. White! Only nurses and senior citizens wore white shoes. The shirt had Tony Stewart, some NASCAR driver, on it. I was going to look like I lived in a trailer park. An inauspicious start to this little adventure.

Inside the brown paper bag I found an access card—probably to get into whatever building I lived in—a key, a cellphone, a wallet with an ID saying I was eighteen, cash, a small Nerf Super Soaker water gun filled with water, and a pack of smokes. The cigarettes were a nice touch. Those of us who called hell home needed some kind of smoke in our lungs every now and then to keep up our strength on Earth. If we went too long without it we became vulnerable to all sorts of silly things like knives, rocks and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

I left the alley and emerged into a commercial area. The city looked familiar, I just didn’t have a clue which city it was. There were so many I’d raised hell in.

Entry 71: CHANGE OF HABIT | Fiction

Go back to the time without cell phones, GPS, airport security, and all of today’s technology that gives aid to the pursuer and the fugitive. This is an old school pursuit base on grit and wit. Add a bit of betrayal and the story surprises you.

“Are you going to live up to your end of the bargain?”

The man with the booming voice, walked slowly over to Joe. “Sister, pull up the floor and have a seat. Joe, you drop the knife.” Sophie sat down right where she was standing without any hesitation.

A very nervous, but demanding Joe, asked, “Well, are you going to hand me a note stating that my debts are paid in full?”

Zamboni picked up the knife that Joe dropped and tossed it around to show his prowess, “I am true to my word Joe. I said you would be debt free and debt free you shall be for all your days.” He put out his hand out in the gesture to shake Joe’s hand, that quicker than the eye could catch his movements. He took Joe’s hand spun him around in a bear hug and slit his throat.

The blood was spurting everywhere. The Zamboni goon slashed Joe’s carotid artery. The old man grabbed his neck and tried to hold back the blood flowing like a fountain. Cheryl quickly began ripping the hem of her habit. “Oh, nice move Sister, but by the time you get that material off, old Joe here will be dead.”

Cheryl looked to her left at Joe. He was very still. Cheryl closed Joe’s eyes and begin to make the sign of the cross, “In the name of the Father, and of …

“Don’t waste your breath on him,” sneered Zamboni. “We have work to do. Let’s get this evidence and get the hell out of here before someone notices that we are here. Come on Frankie, take the nun with you to look for the boxes. We don’t want Miss FBI here to do anything stupid.”

Cheryl looked at Sophie’s face. She slowly took a long look at her stopping at her ankle.
Sophie nodded. She knew what Cheryl was trying to say to her. They had practiced signaling one another just in case something like this should happen. “What was that case number again, Cheryl?”

“Don’t you remember anything?” snarled Cheryl. “You won’t be alive today, if it wasn’t for me!”

“Never mind, I’ll just go back to the evidence logbook and look it up myself.” It took three quick motions. Sophie opened the gate. Grabbed the log. Then dropped it. “Oh excuse me,” she stooped down to get the book, took the gun out of her thigh holster and stood up. “Here it is gentlemen.” She lowered the book, shot Frankie in the arm, and the big, booming Zamboni in both knees.

She ran towards Cheryl and began to lift her off the floor when the door to the evidence room swung open. “What is going on here?” shouted Director Goodyear.

“Call for an ambulance,” answered Cheryl. “Sophie is quite a sharpshooter. Good work, Sister.”

Sophie stood there and didn’t say a word. She knelt down beside Joe and began to start the prayers for the dead.

Entry 70: EYE OF THE STORM | YA Fantasy

Fifteen-year-old April Cyair thinks she is an average teenager with the exception that she owns a horse and is best friends with the son of a CEO. This all changes when she meets a mysterious stranger who claims to be Mother Nature and says that April possesses the legendary Eye of the Storm, the power to control the forces of nature. Now April must come to terms with her new found ability, the fact that one day she will become Mother Nature and the people who will do anything to stop that from happening.

As I watched the news footage in horror I tuned into my mind’s eye. The sounds around me faded and instead I could hear the sirens bouncing off the rubble of what used to be a street in San Francisco. I could hear the sobs of those that realized their homes were destroyed. I could hear the crunch of wood and glass under the feet of search and rescue teams. And lastly I could hear the deathly silence of those who had lost their lives in the earthquake.

All of these sounds stirred something within me that I could only identify as anger. How could Mother Nature do this? She knows that the United States is my home country, why would she make a strike against it? My fists clenched on my desk as I continued to watch. Tears of anger threatened to spill down my cheeks. Only one question was tumbling through my thoughts: how dare she? Soon it became too much to bear and I abruptly stood up from my desk. Everyone turned to look at me as my desk had made a sharp screech. I ran out of the room ignoring the calls of Miss Bernstein to return to class. I continued running towards the back exit of the building. I had to get to the woods behind the school as soon as possible. Scratch that, I had to get there that second so that I could call to Mother Nature. I shoved at the metal bar of the door the second I reached it and sprinted past the tennis courts. I ran until I was a considerable distance from those courts to preven t anyone from seeing or hearing us. Finally, I stopped.

“Mother Nature!” I screamed at the top of my lungs so loud that birds in the canopy of the trees scattered. “Mother Nature! I need to talk to you right now!” In my rage and rush to speak with her I forgot that I had to spiritually call to her. I unclasped the chain holding the amulet from my neck and held it in the palm of my hand. I removed the felt cover from the amulet. I focused my eyes on it and took deep breaths in an attempt to center myself. It sort of worked but I could still feel my heart beating faster than usual. The wisps that formed the hurricane began to glow and rotate as I did this. Within five minutes the wind picked up and Mother Nature was standing before me in all of her glory.

“April, I can’t talk—”

“Why the hell did you let that happen?!” I all but snarled at her. She immediately knew what I was referring to.

“It needed to happen.” She said sagely looking impatient as if she wanted to be somewhere else.

“But, all of those people died! Half of the city is falling to pieces!”

Entry 69: ABOVE THE GAME | Literary Fiction

Eighteen-year-old Eliot MacKenzie dreams of escaping his small New England town of Granite Harbor. Suddenly, there is no more dreaming, no escaping – Eliot MacKenzie is dead. As his parents and twin brothers struggle with their loss, Eliot narrates the story of their grief and their separate paths away from rage and despair: his life ends, but not his tale.

From the far corner of the court, I broke as soon as Dylan grabbed the ball. He shouted, “Streak” as I raced past him along the sideline. His overhead pass bounced just ahead of my right foot and up to my left hand. I didn’t break stride. Hamilton reacted immediately, backpedaling fast to cover his own basket, his eyes switching between me on his right and Dylan now moving down middle court.

This was my play. I could see Hamilton trying to decide whether to hold his match-up with Dylan or switch to me and block my access to the basket. He chose wrong. Running low with arms outstretched, Hamilton tried to keep me off to the sideline, his left hand rising up as he realized that I might lay the ball off to my brother. Without looking, I pushed the ball across my chest toward middle court. Before I slowed down, I couldn’t resist glancing over at Dylan as he brought the ball into his body and rose toward the open hoop.

I didn’t see Hamilton’s left hand continue in an uncontrolled arc. My head was turned toward Dylan, my neck exposed. I felt the blow, a sharp pain in my throat rushing through my mouth up to my eyes. Brilliant light. I tried to cry out but couldn’t. Falling backward, I didn’t hear the back of my head bounce off the hardwood floor. I didn’t see the ball pass cleanly through the basket.

*****

As the darkness cleared, I found myself looking down on my teammates in a circle near the far end of the court. They stared at me stretched out on the hardwood floor, my head resting in a growing pool of blood.

Coach ran over followed by the team manager carrying a red tool chest with a white cross taped on the side. My dad forced his way past the players, knelt down and picked up my hand, “Eliot… Oh God, Eliot, talk to me.” I watched from above as my body didn’t move, I didn’t speak.

Doc Anderson pushed through the crowd. He squatted down and muttered “Jesus Christ,” as his fingers gently probed the discolored swelling on my throat. He moved his hands to the sides of my head lightly tracing down the back of my neck and then placed two, now bloody, fingers under my jaw.

Looking up, he found the lone Granite Harbor cop who had been lucky enough to catch basketball game patrol that evening. “Get an ambulance here now. Tell them severe head injury, no pulse.” Anderson was already sorting through the contents of our makeshift first aid kit. He called out, “Someone get some towels, lots of them, hopefully clean.” He reached into his pocket and bought out a small pocketknife.

Entry 68: NEW SMYRNA SWING | Mystery

Florida P.I. Jenna Palmer knows it’s going to be a bad day when she wakes up to find her Albert E. Gator mailbox smashed to smithereens. Things go from bad to worse after she returns home from a therapeutic mani-pedi to discover her ex—the man who’d run off with their lottery jackpot, plus a bartender from the local biker bar—dead, one of her old diving trophies plunged into his chest. Now she has to solve the toughest case of her fledgling career—or she could end up in jail for the crime herself.

We tied up at one of the guest slips on the dock and climbed out. I turned back towards the boat to see Detective Dick reaching for his jacket. “Oh, nossir, no way. You are not going into this place looking like that.”

He huffed. “What’s wrong with the way I look?”

Not a thing wrong with that, handsome. Out loud I said, “You walk in there looking like a cop, and nobody will talk to you. Nobody. Come on,” I said, heading towards shore. “Let’s get you a disguise.”

“A disguise? Are you out of your mind?”

“Not hardly. But you need to look like something other than what you are. I’m thinking ‘clueless tourist’ might be a good look for you.”

Twenty minutes later, I had to bite my lips together to stop from laughing out loud. It was slim pickings at the island’s tiny gift shop. The poor detective was now dressed in a Cabbage Key T-shirt, neon board shorts meant for a nineteen-year-old surfer and a pair of cheapo flipflops. His calves looked white, hairy and positively naked, like a grub you’d find after turning over a rock, shrinking from the never-before-seen sun. He clutched his sweaty suit and shoes, now neatly bagged, in a death grip. Poor guy.

“Much better,” I said, choking down my laughter.

We entered the restaurant, and I asked for seating on the screened porch. It was the best place to sit at the Cabbage Key Cafe. Like a real live tourist, the detective gaped at the forest of dollar bills bristling from the walls and ceiling. I asked the server for a black marker and tape along with our drinks, and then cadged a dollar bill from Detective Dick.

“Don’t you ever even carry a purse?”

“Not if I can help it. Now stop being such a tightwad and give me a buck.”

“And I suppose I’m paying for lunch too?”

I raised an eyebrow at him. “Aren’t you on an expense account?”

He didn’t even bother to respond. Just handed me a dollar.

The server delivered our drinks, a Coke for me and lemonade for Mr. Sourpuss, plus a marker and tape. I pondered for a moment. What to write? Most of the dollar bills that festooned the restaurant had some sort of message scrawled on them. “Bubba Loves Cici.” “J.M.K was here.” “Charlotte and Zach Forevah.” That sort of thing.

I sat there for a moment, staring at George W.—the smart, non-lying, cherry tree-chopping one—and drawing a blank. Then inspiration struck and I started writing.

Curious, the detective tried to see what I was writing, but I cupped my hand over it and pulled the bill away. So fourth grade.

After I finished, I leaped up before he could snatch the dollar out of my hands and headed for one of the cypress-paneled walls. I taped it up as high as I could reach.

Entry 67: BULLDOG | Criminal Suspense

When Amy Mackenzie walked into the Bulldog General Store she comes eye to eye with Sarah Morningstar, the only living person who could tell her the truth about the legendary Joshua Abraham, the notorious Roscoe Johnson, and the man who tried to stop them both from killing each other, her grandfather, U.S. Internal Revenue Agent John Mackenzie.

The year is 1999 but while sitting on the back porch of her store Sarah takes Amy on a journey back to a time of moonshine, murder, and the evil corruption of the most notorious gangster to ever rise out of the North Carolina Appalachian Mountains, Roscoe “Bubba” Johnson, telling a story she has kept to herself for over 41 years.

“The Abrahams were good people, as were most folks of this valley. Bulldog was a nice place to live for people who didn’t have money or little hope for the future.” Sarah gazed into the unopened jar of moonshine as if reading a crystal ball. “We called him, chicken legs.”

She started laughing uncontrollably. It was a contagious laugh that started Amy chuckling, then stopped as a tear trickled down Sarah’s cheek. Not a tear of laughter but one of sorrow, forced to surface from a sad memory.

“Josh, you really was something.” Sarah whispered to the mason jar. “He gave him that name, chicken legs.” Sarah smiled at Amy. “After the incident with Antonio Battista’s car, that night, a few of the Abraham clan gathered together. The Abraham’s were a large close-knit family. Anyhow, Josh’s mama, Rosetta, lit into Josh something fierce. She didn’t see anything entertaining about her son playing with another man’s car or Papa Abraham getting into a fight because of it. So the men, including Josh, went to the barn to escape Rosetta’s lecturing.

“Well, once they got away from Josh’s mama, Papa Abraham was more than willing to tell the story in great detail, which was in his nature to hold an audience’s attention with his oratorical skills. When Papa finished telling his slightly exaggerated tale, Josh’s uncle Jobe asked, “Hey Josh, when you chomped down on ole Roscoe’s leg, what did he taste like?”

“Well, Josh being twelve and of the age where he didn’t like any attention brought onto him, shied away, but his uncle wasn’t gonna let him off the hook and asked him again, “Come on Josh. Tell your Uncle. How did Bubba taste?”

“Josh feeling cornered and wanting to get out of the spotlight hung his head and quietly answered, “Like chicken.”

“Well, I’m a telling you, every man in that barn fell down laughing, howling so loud that they could be heard in the kitchen, and it didn’t stop. They kept laughing until Rosetta wasn’t going to have none of it. Josh’s mama was already pushed to the edge of irritation and she wasn’t going to endure anymore nonsense. So out the door she marched straight into the barn to continue her reprimand.

“Of course all the ladies hurried to the back porch to hear Rosetta’s gospel-like sermon on the evils of making fun of her son’s trouble making ways. As we expected, the laughter abruptly stopped, for about twenty-seconds; then it broke out again, even louder.

“When Rosetta came out of that barn she was laughing so hard she barely made it back to the porch, and then, when she told us, like chicken, not one lady could remain standing.

“That’s how Roscoe “Bubba” Johnson got the nickname, chicken legs. Of Course no one ever called Bubba that to his face. It was an inside joke amongst us Bulldogs.”

Sarah’s laughter subsided to a moment of reflection. “That boy sure loved his mamma.”

Entry 66: IROQUOIS ANOMALY | Historical Mystery Romance

In the summer of 1903, dangerous secrets threaten the safety of Chicago’s Iroquois Theatre, and someone is about to expose them. In a catastrophic turn of events, hundreds of innocent lives are put at stake, and amid one of America’s deadliest disasters, universal discoveries to propel, inspire and transform the way we think about humanity unfold.

Thereafter a feeling of impending doom sent a shiver of fear up her neck, and her body turned cold. When she stopped and made certain her apartment key was in her hand, her whole body jerked and pain shot through her, setting on her throat. Bare hands squeezed so tight over her neck, she couldn’t breathe, and the key slipped from her grasp. It fell and banged against the side of the stairwell door with a muted clang, and the man’s darksome eyes flashed down into hers. Hers swelled up into his. They looked familiar, yet not his face that was hidden behind a black mask.

“Oh, God,” she gasped. “Help me, please.” She couldn’t breathe. The choking she felt reminded her of her past. For a long time she had forgotten the underpinnings of her fear, a past that she worked hard to ignore, but now she saw it widespread and clear. Why was it happening again? Tossing her head from side to side, she seized on the man, extending her hands, clutching at the his face. “I beg you,” she pleaded. “What do you want?” She struggled to pry his massive hands away, but his fingers dug into her skin, tighter. Air was cut off. Crushing pain squeezed the air from her chest, and her wits began to drift, back and forth, past to present. One moment, she was there and he was the masked man, the next she was fifteen and he was the baker.

He enjoyed her struggle, before he spoke. “Tell me your business with the theatre,” he said in a gruff voice. “Quick.” After he spoke, he leaned closer to her, so as to give her a greater sense of the danger. He released his grip, and she collapsed to the floor, huffing and panting to satisfy her burning lungs.

“What do you mean?” She raised herself on her elbows, coughing.

“Hold your tongue. The theatre’s business is no concern of yours.”

“Who put you up to this?” She started to shiver at the thought.

“Listen to me you wretched bitch. It’s in your best interest to keep your trap shut,” he said, and as angry as a dog without domestication, his hands resembled claws that dug in deeper.

“I don’t know what you’re speaking about. Eva watched the man shake his head, disbelieving her reply. “Pray don’t do it,” she pleaded, as he stepped nearer to her side.

“Keep your mouth shut,” he growled and kicked forward, his foot landing on the side of her face. The hallway spun, her elbows gave way and her chest slapped the floor. His laugh was the last thing she remembered.

Alone. Silent. Unconscious. Memories washed over her and merged with a nightmare,
commencing with images of the bakery, thereafter the baker. She remembered his eyes most. And blood. Please, no, not all that blood. The scene whisked past her, like a time machine of sorts, returning her wits to her family and home, where it all began.

Entry 65: BLOOD UNDER THE BRIDGE | Thriller

They call them el levantado, or the lifted, those who never come home in Juárez. Ellie’s husband is one of the levantado. With no help and a little hope, she crosses the border to find him. As she sinks into the depths of the cartel world, the closer she gets to the truth but the further she loses herself.

Once the client, Mr. Corder, glanced at her chest, Ellie lost his attention to her words. He leaned back in his chair, making no attempt to hide his gaze.

“So when’s El Señor going to make it?” Corder dragged out the words in a drawl. Most intelligent people whisper ‘El Señor’ in respect or never say it, out of fear.

“El Señor authorized me to speak on his behalf. We’re willing to offer you five percent.” At the offer, his eyes lifted to her face, and he leaned forward until only a foot separated them.

“I’m sorry, Missy, but I’m going to have to refuse your offer. Tell your boss next time he better come himself or I’m liable to be insulted, and he doesn’t want me insulted.” He leaned back and let his good ole boy grin carry the insult.

Without taking her eyes off him, Ellie signaled for her companion. “Vicente, ahora.”

Vicente dragged in Corder’s half-conscious, half-assed bodyguard. Corder blinked and his smile froze.

“Mr. Corder, you are in Juárez. And it would serve you well to remember that when you do business in Juárez, you do it our way. We are the police, and we own the border.”

His cocky smiled receded. “Don’t you threaten me you little…” Within a few steps Vicente reached the side of Corder and backhanded him across the face. Blood spilled from his nose and his eyes welled with tears. One slap and he was already reduced. She had suspected it wouldn’t take much. Men like him can’t take a beating.

Vicente slapped him one more time with an open palm before Ellie put up a hand to stop him. She let Corder sink back into his chair before speaking. “You will agree to our terms, and your planes will be in the air within the week carrying our product.”

He wiped his face. The blood spread across the crease of his white sleeve. “If I refuse?” He now kept a wary eye on her. A napkin lay within her reach, and a long buried instinct urged her to hand it to him. She kept still.

“Small passenger planes such as yours often crash on take off from the Juárez airport.” She shrugged. “At least I can promise you that you won’t be conscious when it happens.”

“What’s to stop me from agreeing and then changing my mind when I get home?” Always the businessman, Ellie knew he would want all contingencies nailed down.

“Mr. Corder, the border is invisible. We will find you and if not, someone close to you. I don’t think you want to live your life with that in your constant thoughts.”

She smiled. “Contrary to what you’ve seen today, this can be a very happy partnership. You stand to make millions per year for doing little with even smaller risk. Don’t jeopardize that over a few percentages.”

His attention now fully hers, Corder nodded.

Entry 64: THE WIND CLOSET MEMORIES | Thriller/Mystery

When college students at an archeological dig uncover a two-hundred-and-fifty-year-old skeleton with a modern bullet in the skull, Sal Stouffer realizes she has finally found a clue to the disappearance of her husband, State Trooper Manny Stouffer. Manny vanished six weeks earlier during a gun fight with outlaw bikers at a remote meth lab in the mountains of rural Pennsylvania. Missing with him is $200,000 of the bikers’ drug money. When a massive search for her husband turns up nothing, Sal, a high school science teacher, starts her own increasingly unconventional hunt for her husband, un-phased by rumors about Manny and the missing money and undeterred by the escalating threats of bikers who think she knows where Manny is. As Sal presses her hunt, she realizes the clues she is uncovering are leading her not just to a strange valley, but to a distant past and a physical anomaly that not only puts her and her husband in mortal danger, but has the potential to spontaneously reduce the world she knows to chaos.

Sal Stouffer awoke from a dream she could not remember to a sound she could not ignore. In a flash of fear that sent her heart pounding, she realized it was two in the morning, someone was knocking on the front door and Manny was not beside her. Sal sat up and groggily called out to him. There was no response. The knocking came again.

“Sal,” a voice called, muffled by the front door and a storm door. “It’s Keith Ludlow, State Police.”

“Manny!” Sal called, her mind working now, her voice tight. If it was bad, they came in person. A trooper and maybe a paramedic in case….

“Sal, it’s Keith Ludlow,” the voice at the door called, louder now, urgent. “I need to talk to you.”

Sal got out of bed, grabbed a housecoat and started toward the front door. “Please, God,” she thought. “Oh please, God….” She opened the door and the frigid air swept across her bare feet as she looked up at Ludlow, who was just under six feet tall with a few gray hairs starting to show. She had talked to him just seven hours earlier at a parent-teacher meeting. His son was in one of her chemistry classes.

“Keith,” Sal said, her hand going to her throat. “Is Manny… alright?”

“We think so, Sal, but something’s happened and we’re having trouble reaching him,” Ludlow said. “Can I come in?”

Sal felt a rush of relief. “Yes, yes, of course,” she said quickly. She stepped aside as Ludlow entered, and then she shut the door, turned and asked, “You can’t contact him? What, what’s going on?”

“We’re still trying to figure that out, Sal,” Ludlow replied. “You haven’t heard from Manny?”

“No, no,” she said, and then she glanced at the telephone mounted on the kitchen wall next to the door that opened onto the deck. The message light was not blinking. “He texted me this afternoon,” and she remembered her smart phone. It was charging in the kitchen and she turned and walked to it. There were no new text or email messages, no new voice mail and no recent calls. She turned and shook her head. Ludlow stood in the kitchen doorway, his hat in his hands.

“Manny responded to a call tonight, and it turned out there was a meth lab not far from his location,” Ludlow said, and quickly held up his hand as Sal started to speak. “The lab burned and we’ve been all over the area, but there’s no sign of Manny and we’re having trouble contacting him.”

Sal felt as though she were watching a movie. “Oh my God,” she heard herself say, and she pressed her palms against her cheeks.

“Sal, look, we’re not jumping to any conclusions, and you shouldn’t either,” Ludlow told her. “Search and Rescue is covering the area and we have a helicopter up looking for him.”

“Where?” Sal asked.

“In the Vernoy Valley,” Ludlow responded. “His last call was from Vernoy.”

Entry 63: MULESKINNER | Upper MG historical fiction with paranormal elements

Late in 1844, on the Ohio Canal, a 12-year-old mule driver’s world is turned upside down when a mysterious dog uncovers a box of secrets that lead the orphan to discover his past, fight for his freedom, and reunite his family.

Rain was falling so hard now that Clay worried about being swept into the canal. Despite the hat planted firmly on his head, Clay’s wet hair dripped into his eyes and down his collar. Clay and the mules kept their faces down. Owen’s cursing continued, and even Cap’n Loomis, normally quiet at the tiller in these parts, joined in with the foulest cusses of all.

The howl of a wolf hung over the bedraggled group.

And then it was like the lock gates to the heavens slammed shut. The wind died in mid-blow. Not even a drop fell from the skies. Clay lifted his head out of the collar of his coat. Never had he seen the weather change so fast. He squinted at something ahead of them on the towpath.

A dark shape glided his way.

Clay opened his mouth to yell. Just then the clouds overhead shifted. A night sky full of stars, and a crescent moon flickered over them.

The dark shape opened its mouth…and panted.

It was a mid-sized black dog. Not overfed, but not scrawny like some of the canal dogs he’d seen. Black as the night, but with a perky look and a friendly tilt of the head. It looked right at Clay and wagged his tail.

“Look at that!” Owen marveled, as he cranked the handle to close the butterfly valve in the downstream lock gate. “Weather changed quicker than a sneeze.” With the water level lowered in the lock, he opened the gate and the boat moved into the canal. “Who’ve you found there?”

The sight of the dog, with his swishing tail and panting mouth, made Clay smile. He immediately felt lighter, like a weight was lifted from his chest. “Hey, you,” he cooed to the dog.

“Woof!”

Owen laughed. “I think he’s introducing hisself to you.” He yanked the lock gate closed and jumped on the back-end of the boat. Traversing the catwalk, he slipped forward to the boat’s bow.

“Pleased to meet you,” Clay said, extending his palm toward the dog. Tail waving like a busted clothesline in a storm, the dog trotted up to sniff him. “He’s a good-looking dog,” he said as Owen reached the front of the boat. “Seems cared for.”

Clay re-hitched the mules. The dog stood at attention beside him.

“Seems like he’s looking for a new caretaker,” Owen observed.

Clay felt a thrill course through him at the attention. “A dog would be pleasurable,” he murmured. “And he might even be useful in scaring snakes off the path before the mules see ‘em and get jittery.”

“And perhaps scaring off any ghosts?” Owen laughed.

The thought pleased Clay. Something about the dog satisfied him, like a full stomach after a good meal. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but the way the dog watched him made him feel…hopeful.

Entry 62: FINDING LOSS AMIDST LOSS | NonFiction/Autobiography

How can someone brutally murder your parents and then you are asked to forgive and move on with your life? Would you be able to trust again? At 13 years old, orphaned and hopeless, I have to put the past behind and become a mother to my three younger siblings who are all under 10.

“We just killed Alphonse and cut him into three pieces. He mentioned that he left behind a wife and five children. We need to find them now and finish them off.”

I heard these words while hiding in the bushes while the blood shedders roared like lions all around us. It was how I learned of my father’s death.
Finding Hope Amidst Loss is the story of my life during the 1994 Rwandan Tutsi Genocide and its aftermath, how my parents and two siblings were among a million Tutsi who died during 100 days, and how as a thirteen-year old orphan, I took care of my three younger siblings who were 9, 7 and 4 at the time and managed to survive a very steep journey. But it is not I who is the hero of this story. God has been the “Chief of the crew” I met in this journey and this story is a testament to how He revealed Himself not only in times of joy but in the most devastating times of sorrow.
It is the story of my quest for higher learning and how from high school to college, it was a struggle to pay for food, clothes, medical expenses, and find a place to live. Despite these hurdles, I excelled in my courses and won full scholarships to both college in Rwanda and graduate school in United States, and currently do my dream job in Engineering. My challenges were not just for me. I’ve had to keep my three remaining siblings in school, two of whom are in graduate school and the youngest is a college junior.

Entry 61: A SPECIAL THANK YOU TO BOB | Literary Fiction

Lawyer-turned stay-at-home-dad Jake Stein thought he was doing a good job of convincing himself that his life was exactly as he’d always wanted. Married to Linda, his college sweetheart, and the only girl he’d ever loved, Jake’s been at home with their two sons for a few years, as Linda’s career has taken off at a global pharmaceutical company. While trying to figure out a way to resurrect his career, Jake takes solace in the knowledge that at least his home life was just as it should be. Until Linda tells him she’s moving to Hong Kong for a year because she’s become attracted to a coworker.

“It’s in Hong Kong.”

I let this sink in for a few seconds. “Don’t you think we should discuss this first? I mean, I’m not even sure I could even do any work over there.”

“Yeah, I mean, that I am taking the job – it’s only a year, but, uh, it’s going to be… it’s going to be just me going.”

I was standing at the dinner table and she was still over by the counter, and I looked right at her. “What do you mean, ‘just you?”

She walked over to the kitchen table, but at the end opposite from me. “I mean just me. It’s only a year -long position, and then I’ll be back. This way we don’t have to uproot the kids or worry about the house. And my housing will be paid for.”

I blinked. “You seriously don’t want to be with the kids for an entire year?”

“Of course I want to be with them – but look, its not as bad as it sounds. Lots of people do this. The company will pay for me to come back once a month, and longer at Christmas. It will be less traumatizing for them than uprooting them for a year, then doing it again just when they have adjusted.

“So, you’ve obviously given this quite a bit of thought. Don’t you think it would’ve been nice to let me in on some of this?”

“Well, uh…”

“Well?”

She braced the back of the chair in front of her. “This is better than me just leaving you outright.”

I felt like I had just been punched. I couldn’t even formulate a response. “Better than leaving me outright?”

“Yes.”

“That was one of your options?”

“Well…no, not yet.”

All I could do was stare at her. Over twenty years together – and she was considering leaving me. We didn’t fight that much – no more than we ever did, and I don’t think we ever had any truly serious arguments.

“Seriously – that is something you’ve been considering?” It suddenly struck me that she did text a lot with her coworker, Bob – even on weekends and late at night. “Does this have anything to do with Bob?”

She stared back at me. “Bob?”

“Yes. Did you sleep with Bob?”

“No.”

I let out a sigh. Okay, I was being paranoid.

“But I wanted to.”

“What?” She wanted to sleep with Bob. I didn’t know how to process that piece of information. I hadn’t been all that worried about Bob, because in most respects he was the direct opposite of everything Linda finds attractive. His long hair, his motorcycle, his jewelry, his freaking cowboy boots – these are all things that she hates. I could never figure out why or how he ended up with a job in Big Pharma. It was ridiculous to think she would have an affair with Bob — I can’t believe I even suggested it out loud. But now she tells me she wanted to.

Entry 60: ALL THE WRONG GUYS | Up market commercial fiction/chick lit

A coming of age story about a beautiful girl who has the unusual problem of not being able to lose her virginity because she chooses all of the wrong guys for all of the right reasons.

I was a Queen song. I wasn’t a fat bottomed girl, but I was willing to make the world go around for anyone because love was all I ever wanted. Losing my virginity was the only thing that stood in my way. It was my mother’s fault, really. She taught me that finding love and losing my virginity would occur in the same perfect moment. A physical and emotional vortex that opened and then shut so quickly that if I didn’t have my eyes open for it -and my legs too – the whole happiness thing would be lost forever.

My mother had missed “the” moment. The sex was wrong and the love too. I never heard the whole story. You don’t really need to know a story like that when you already know the ending: my mother was unhappy. But it could turn out differently for me. I only had to find the exact time and space when virginity and love passed by one another in a total eclipse of bliss. I would live my life waiting for this one perfect penumbra, reading all of life’s moments like a stack of tarot cards looking for my fortune. And when my time arrived, I figured I’d blow a kiss or two and the doves would fly and the marriage bells would ring and I would live happily ever after. I didn’t realize that the storyline was a piece of shit until I tried to lose my virginity and no one would even take it.

And I wasn’t a fat bottomed girl of a Queen song. I was a 1980’s punk version of rocker beautiful. Everything was big and bright. Big hair. Big smiles. Big eyes. And makeup from here to there and back again. Preferably in light blue. I was sure that all the boys in my small Southern Wisconsin town would line up to take my virginity like some sort of reverse holiday in Dogpatch.

That’s the way it happened for my best friend Grace. She had run all the bases with her boyfriend and crossed home base more times than one. And the most remarkable thing was that nobody called Grace a slut like they did Annie Dubois who had her baby right in the high school bathroom after hiding it under a giant Notre Dame sweatshirt for nine straight months. Grace had seen the total eclipse of virginity by love and she had her boyfriend’s class ring to prove it, wrapped in fuzzy angora and brushed until it looked like a rabbit on her finger. It was my turn.

I had him picked out. Danny. Strawberry red hair down to his shoulders. Parted in the middle with Farrah Fawcett winged bangs. A comb in his back pocket. Danny. Tight blue jeans and a tight shirt tucked into his pants. Different from the other boys. A perfect first base on the way to losing my virginity. And it was going to happen at Grace’s sixteenth birthday party.

Entry 59: BOOK OF JOBS | Memoir/Humor

After nine plus years, Lauren says goodbye to the two dysfunctional co-owners of the Mommy Magazine who once gave her a $25 gift card for a star registered in her name, and starts a new job at a bakery where the cupcakes are nut free but the owner is not.

Three months later, she accidentally stumbles upon her current job posted on Craigslist. Suddenly, Lauren’s out of work during the worst recession in recent history, searching for the mythical, full-time job she’s convinced exists only in film.

Can Lauren, a neurotic aspiring writer and compulsive blogger, find a day job without losing her house or her mind, despite the incessant rambling of inner destructive voices and outer antics of high-strung employers who are quirkier than she is?

“This is it,” I said, grabbed the doorknob and clunked down three steps, in my ankle boots, to the front of the room. Not the quiet entrance I had hoped for.

My wedge heels sounded like horse hooves on pavement and roused Mr. P. from his stupor in the outer office. Head cocked left, ear to the phone; he waved as I trudged past his door, his gaze following me in a creepy sort of way. A violation that paled in comparison to the video camera mounted on the ceiling, recording every movement in the room. Every hair flip and panty yank captured in hi-definition color.

“You’re good at finding degenerate bosses,” Negative Voice said, referring to the VP at the Cheapo Gift Company with the naked lady screensaver, a job from 1999. Before Negative Voice had a chance to continue, a ringing phone interrupted her, along with the melodic phrase, “Perfect Plumbers, Ick.”

I followed the shiny voice to the reception desk where a pudgy gal sat answering the phones in a confident, kickass way. “Perfect Plumbers, Ick,” she said. “How can I help you?”

When she hung up, she gave me the once over with her horned-rimmed specs. “Hi. I’m Peg. I was the Office Manager here for six years, had a baby, naturally, without any drugs. Now I’m back to train you for a month. We’ve got lots of work to do,” then frowned at the three-tier inbox stuffed like a twenty-pound bird.

My stomach voiced its concerns by yammering incessantly about nothing, which it does when it’s upset.

“What’s that noise?” she asked.

“My stomach. It rumbles when it’s hungry or upset, depending upon the circumstances. “Lots of papers here.”

“The other gal didn’t make it and left the desk in a mess,” she said. “Take a load off,” then patted the seat next to hers.

“Another gal? Didn’t make it?” I sank onto the chair.

“She couldn’t grasp the finer points of plumbing scheduling,” and pointed to a Day-Timer with narrow strips of paper clipped to every page.

My experience with paper strips included birdcage liner and hamster bedding. Inch-thick wads of paper, clipped to every day of the week, weren’t a viable alternative to Microsoft Outlook.
When I thought of thin strips of paper flapping in the wind, my blood pressure spiked.

Peg’s brusque manner also didn’t help the state of my health.“You’ve got to follow the system,” she scolded, when I reminded her that technology had replaced Day-Timer’s thirty-years ago. “You’ve got to learn how things are done here!”

So, I listened as Peg spoke about flanges, faucets and busted pipes, my hands white-knuckling the arms of the chair, while Mr. P squinted at me from his office beneath one bushy eyebrow.

“You’ve got to write it down,” she ordered, and peeled my fingers from the arm of the chair, my only support system other than my wire-framed bra.

Entry 58: HIGHWAY OF MIRRORS | espionage/suspense

Elle Davis had a long, successful career as a covert intelligence operative — now she’s on the run from her own agency. Her old boss has a training program which has crossed the line into cult-like brainwashing, and he wants Elle’s teenage daughter as his next recruit. To stop him — and to convince her husband, who also happens to be his right-hand man — Elle has to decide what lines she’s willing to cross herself, and whether she can use her skills, her marriage and even her daughter as tools to achieve her ends without becoming every bit as bad as the enemy she’s using them against.

And if she does cross that line, there’s still the little matter of surviving long enough to make it work….

Elle acquired a key from the bored clerk whose native language was apparently neither English nor Spanish, who took her cash and didn’t trouble her for any of the several driver’s licenses she might have produced. She pulled the car around to the side, where she and Haley dragged the bare minimum of gear from the car to the room. The roof was kind of ramshackle and the interior probably hadn’t looked that good even when avocado green was in fashion, but the adobe walls of the long, low building kept out the heat. The bedsheets were a bit frayed at the corners, but clean, and at that moment Elle wanted nothing more than to fall into them. Instead she checked the bathroom, confirmed that the front door and single window were the only entrance or exit points, tested the strength of the door’s lock and chain, and flicked glances out the window at the baked emptiness of the parking lot.

Finally satisfied, she turned to her next responsibility. “You okay, kiddo?”

“I guess so.” Haley was sitting on the edge of the bed, hands in her lap. Elle tried to tell herself the girl looked composed and not defeated.

“What’s the drill?”

Haley sighed, but recited, “Check the bathroom before I go in, and out here before I come out. If I hear anything strange, roll off the bed toward the wall and then check what it is. Don’t answer the door, don’t go out without you.”

“You know where the nine mil is?”

She nodded. “Your green bag, end pocket with the snap.”

“Good. And if you wake up and I’m gone?”

In a much smaller voice, she said, “Grab the gun and the money, find a concealed observation point and wait half an hour. If you don’t come back, take the car and run like hell until I get to somewhere I can call Grampa. Use a pay phone or a disposable.”

“And how fast is ‘run like hell’?”

“Not more than five over the limit.”

“Good girl.” She stepped over and hugged her daughter close. Haley clung on for a moment longer than usual, then straightened away. Elle patted her shoulder. “Now let’s get some sleep, eh?”

“Yeah,” she grinned, trying to look brave. It didn’t work, but Elle appreciated the effort.

Elle shucked shoes, socks, and jeans, and crawled into the bed closest to the door. If her head did hit the pillow, she was already too asleep to notice.

Entry 57: DARKNESS BETRAYED | YA paranormal

With nowhere left to turn, Samantha makes a deal with the devil to avenge the murder of her father. But the devil won’t do something for nothing. Is Samantha willing to accept the sacrifice made in her name?

“Hello Samantha.”

“What are you doing here?”

“You invited me.”

“I did?” Puzzled, I couldn’t remember. I watched, distracted, as an Exiled stripped a Faithful of his wings and forced a sword into his chest.

“This is your dream. It’s because you want me here that I am.”

Confused, I looked around and took in the fighting. Two Faithful teamed up against a screaming Exiled, swords flying until he was silenced. I turned back to him.

“Did I do this?”

“You did. Well, sort of.”

I didn’t understand. “Why would I do this?”

“You tell me.”

I searched my head for an answer, finding myself empty. My hair flew as I saw Ethan race past me, ignoring me.

“He can’t see you, Samantha.”

“Why not?” I frowned, still staring at Ethan as he fought alongside the other Faithful.

“You don’t want him to. This dream isn’t about him. It’s about you and the questions you have, the answers you want. He doesn’t have the answers.”

“And you do?”

“Some. Not all. I thought I did.”

I felt something crawling up my leg. A snake began to coil itself around me, slowly inching up. I bent down and removed it from my ankle and brought it to my face for closer inspection.

I closed my eyes and when I opened them, a large, red apple was sitting in the palm of my hand. I took a bite, wiping away the juice that dripped down my chin. A small rumble of thunder sounded off in the distance.

“Why did Malena tell me to put down my sword earlier?”

“Your sword is your tether to hope, to light. You wouldn’t have been able to channel the darkness had you been touching it.”

“But aren’t I supposed to use it to defeat Sebastian? To keep all this despair at bay?”

“Yes. But I think the question is, are you supposed to keep the darkness at bay or the light?”

“That’s why Malena wanted me to pick it back up, why Ethan threw it at me.”

“Yes. As soon as you touched it, the light and dark within you would come together. It keeps you grounded. Soon, you won’t have to separate from yourself to tap into either. At least that’s the plan. But my plans lately aren’t going the way I’d thought they would.” A frown tugged at the corners of his mouth as if he was contemplating something I wasn’t privy to.

Slowly chewing the apple, I mulled over his words. “I almost killed her.” My indifference didn’t bother me.

“True. But you didn’t. Ethan stopped you from doing so.”

The head of a wingless Faithful flew in the air just behind him and I was mesmerized by the grace of its flight. I saw it wasn’t Ethan’s head, turned my attention back to Damien and took another bite.

Entry 56: FIRE AND BLOOD | Urban Fantasy

When Montreal police start finding bodies of youths with magical potential, Trinity McCormac, the only powerless descendent of a legendary family of witches, knows the killer has learned the secret she once uncovered: that it’s possible to steal people’s powers by eating their souls, but she cannot go to the authorities without making herself a prime suspect. Can she catch the killer before he succeeds in making himself the most powerful witch of all time, and can she defeat him without becoming a killer herself?

There are two exits at Grumpy’s. The front door leads out to a patio with chairs and tables, filled with people. That’s the place you go to continue a good conversation. Then there’s the back exit. I think it might be for staff only, but nobody has ever bugged me about sneaking out for a smoke. I pushed the door open and entered the back alley. Green containers lined the wall, and aside from cars and people passing by on neighbouring streets, all was quiet in the backyard. I dug around in my purse for a cigarette and lighter. The smell from the containers were foul, probably the reason why nobody else wanted to come out this way, so I took a few steps down the alley.

That’s when I smelled it: blood and fresh meat.

I closed my eyes and tried to convince myself that I was imagining it, but the smell lingered.
Someone probably threw out some old meat, that’s all.

The alley was dark enough that I had to squint to see further down it. I pulled out my phone and set the brightness to full. Using it as an impromptu torch, I edged into the darkness.

The phone lit a cone in front of me, revealing a small part of the alley, and leaving the rest in darkness. That’s why I saw the left foot first. My hand shivered as I lifted the phone, edging it up the body. Brown boots with the tag still on underneath: size 14. Boot-cut jeans. No shirt. Chest wound. I gasped for air. The kid couldn’t have been more than twenty. He was laid out in a cross formation, hands reaching out on either side of him. Empty eyes stared straight up at the sky and his mouth was open. There was a hole in the left side of his chest, going all the way through, like someone had burrowed through with a pineapple cutter. I knew what I would see, but I leaned in closer anyway: his heart was removed.

From further away, the smell of the dead body had overwhelmed my nose, but this close, there was no mistaking it. Wafting through the air above the wound was a smell that I recognized all too well: the scent of my magic.

Entry 55: THE LAST RE-WRITE | Science Fiction

The fate of the existence of the human race rests on the next re-write of The Book of Humanity. MG-10, a Minor God anxious to move to God status, has been the re-writer before, (he’s on his twelfth re-write) but this time the re-write isn’t going so well. The Last Human, who MG-10 needs to question so he can use her answers to write the next book, is different. With each answer she gives, MG-10 becomes more and more human – a perceived impossibility that can only result in one outcome: obliteration of the Gods and the writing of the Book of Humanity – for the last time.

“MG-10 – status?” G looked across the table at MG-10. It was his turn to re-write the book.

“I think I’ve found our Human,” MG-10 said, wringing his hands like a nervous old lady.

“You think?” G blinked, surprised by MG-10’s frivolous answer.

“I’ve found our Human,” MG-10 said.

“Name?”

“I don’t know yet. And, does it matter?” MG-10 brought his eyes to meet G.

“How much time do you have left?” G didn’t want to fool around. Was MG-10 playing a game? This was not a time to play.

“Actually, I’ve decided to get rid of time for this re-write,” MG-10 stated. He pulled his shoulders back. Stood his ground.

Hushed whispers rippled around the table. The Others weren’t used to this kind of banter. To this type of…well, they’d never witnessed these words before. G smiled, more to Herself than to anyone.

“Ah, you’re kickin’ it old school, as they say?” G said.

“No, I’m starting a new school,” MG-10 replied, not giving a second between his response and G’s comment. G’s smile fell from Her face.

“Everyone, please leave. MG-10 and I need to talk privately,” She said.

The Others moved away from the table and gathered in the garden around groups of platanus occidentalis.

MG-10 lifted himself up and sat on the edge of the thick wood table. His feet dangled off the edge like they belonged to a little kid. G watched closely.

“You’re different,” G said. She crossed her arms.

“I feel different.”

“Why? This is your twelfth re-write.”

“I know it is, but it’s different. She’s different,” MG-10 said. He ran his hand through his brown hair. A very human action, he realized. “Look at me, I look more like them. I have hair. And I’m touching it.”

G rocked back on her heels.

“You are what you choose to be,” She said.

MG-10’s blue eyes rolled before he could stop them. He pushed himself off the edge of the table. Paced along its long length.

“I know, I know. But this time, it’s different. I can’t use the same process. I can’t rush through it.”

“So don’t rush through it,” G said.

“I won’t. I’m not. Can’t you see that?” He stopped to look at his leader.

“But I can’t see the end,” MG-10 said.

“So?”

“Aren’t I supposed to always be able to see the end?” he asked.

“I can see it just fine,” G said. Her arms dropped to her side. Then she reached out Her right hand. “You wanna see?”

MG-10 stepped back. “No. No, I don’t want to see it. I can’t.” He moved to the opposite end of the table so it stood between them like a barrier.
“What do I do?” he asked, dropping his head, confused, and quite frankly, a bit angry. Why him?

“You do what you do. I’ll keep the Others busy,” She said.

“Are you saying that this re-write has something to do with me? Isn’t that forbidden?”

Entry 54: INVISIBLE | YA Fiction

If you cannot see, hear, touch or smell something, does it fail to exist?

“Invisible” is the story of a sixteen year old girl who, following a terrible car crash, finds herself invisible to the world. Not only must she deal with being ‘an invisible’, but she also learns that the reason she cannot be seen is because she is in fact, dead.

This is her diary.

It all started the day I died.

The irony of it is, I didn’t know for a long time I was dead. It’s not like God or heaven (or anybody) sends you a message, or better yet a manual, when it happens. It just does, and you’re left to figure it all out on your own.

Luckily, I am pretty savvy. Plus, when you are screaming like a banshee in front of your mom and dad, and they don’t react, it becomes pretty apparent something is very wrong.
So, now here I stand, invisible. And I have only seen one other invisible, (ironic, isn’t it, to ‘see’ an invisible) but he didn’t really want to talk to me.

I’m not going to lie to you, it was rough at first. Quite a sad thing to endure, watching your family and friends crying and grieving. Poor Mom was hysterical. I thank God she still has Branton. He can give her a reason to go on. He is a handful, so she will need to be on her toes.
Of course, I felt bad for Branton too. He was such a pain in the you-know-what, but he was still my baby brother. He had a hard time understanding what had happened, poor kid, only five years old.

Once, I saw a television show that interviewed children who could see ghosts or spirits. According to one so-called expert, children are more attuned to being able to see them. So I tried to get Branton’s attention. I jumped around him. I screamed. I whispered in his ear.
I even tried to touch him. Won’t ever do that again. The feeling was an intense burning through my hand that shot up my arm like a knife ripping away at my flesh. But, like I said, it’s not like you get a manual or anything when you become invisible.

I don’t think of myself as a “ghost” or a “spirit”. I mean, the word “ghost” makes me think of Halloween. Stupid little kids running around with sheets over their bodies and imperfect holes cut out for eyes. Silliness is all that is. I don’t have a sheet draped over me for crying out loud. So, no, I am not a ghost. A “spirit” you might ask? What the hell is a spirit anyway? A spirit is something on the sign of that restaurant down the street from my house. My old house. The sign, always lit up at night, read “Food and Spirits”. I laugh at myself. Maybe that’s where I should go to hang out.

So I have decided, I am an invisible. Might as well call it like it is. I was always good at that according to my mom. She acted like it aggravated her, but I think secretly she liked that about me.

After a few days, I stole a calendar out of my Dad’s office. I can still hold objects and work a marker, so I kept track of the days as they went by.

Today will mark the 56th day of my new life as an invisible. I decided to journal what is happening to me, for no other reason than because it gets boring. And lonely. So now this journal is my friend. My only friend.

Entry 53: UNEASY LIES THE HEAD | Mystery

Who shot Olivia Carmichael, the chairman of the English Department? There are suspects aplenty: the den of vipers in the English Department; the husband who’ll inherit the money; and the husband’s mistress, who’ll get the husband and the money. Detective Carrie Bindhammer of the Ithaca Police Department must find out whodunit.

In the harsh white-blue light of the morgue Olivia Carmichael’s face looked like porcelain, her skin almost translucent. When the attendant, with latex-sheathed hands, drew the sheet down to beneath the chin, he could not conceal the blood-encrusted hair or the bloodied mouth. For a moment Bindhammer relived the nightmarish sight of that long gray hair splayed out on the desk of the English Office. A modern-day Titania in a Eurotrash Midsummer Night’s Dream.

“Yes, that’s her—Olivia—oh my God, who did this to you?” The middle-aged man removed his spectacles, put his head in his hands and remained motionless for several seconds.

Bindhammer observed him dispassionately. In her experience the husband was always the prime suspect until proven otherwise, and she needed to analyze the early expression of grief close up. This man seemed bewildered, but not crazed with loss. The only outward sign of distress was the ragged rise and fall of his back.

O’Connor, whose face was stricken, wrapped his arm about the man’s shoulders. Heaven preserve us. Which training manual had taught him to hug the prime suspect?

When the corpse was safely back in its refrigerated cubicle, Bindhammer said, not for the first time, “Professor Watson, please accept our condolences. This must be a horrible shock.”

“Yes, thank you. One doesn’t expect these things.”

One doesn’t expect these things?

It didn’t help that his eyes were the color of oysters.

“I’d like to be taken home,” he said.

“Professor Watson, we need to ask you some questions—”

“Not now, please. I’m not in any state to—”

“Professor Watson, please try to understand that speed is of the essence in cases like this. There’s a murderer out there. . .”

They always fought her, the relatives, always wanting an immediate escape from the horror. She hoped O’Connor was taking notes. You couldn’t give key suspects time to rearrange the narrative of what went before. That first conversation had to happen while the husband was raw, his brain still numb.

Bindhammer, eager to put the stench of formaldehyde and disinfectant behind her, led them into the bleak ambience of the cafeteria at Cayuga Medical Center. Brad Watson looked every inch the caricature of a musty professor, with shiny brown slacks and white shirt. Her detective eyes took note of the unseemly spring in his step as they walked toward a plastic white table in the corner. This did not appear to be a man weighed down with inconsolable grief.

He had been notified of his wife’s death more than an hour ago and had just viewed her earthly remains, yet there was not a trace of sorrow in his body language. She had seen men cry oceans of tears when their wives died. What was with this guy? Would he weep tonight?

When they were seated, she said, “I’m so sorry. I understand that this is very tough.”

Brad Watson fidgeted in his rickety chair. Pushed his steel-rimmed glasses back up his nose. “You don’t understand a thing,” he said.

Entry 52: ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF DARKNESS | Alt-History/Steampunk/Sci-fi

Night has lasted for one-hundred years. In a desperate attempt to save humanity, Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison invent a time machine to transport supercentenarian Samuel Auld back to the grimy streets of London in 1835, where he inhabits his sixteen year-old body. With nothing to go on apart from the name Clair de Lune, Samuel becomes embroiled in a desprate race across Victorian-era London to stop the oncoming one-hundred years of darkness.

Albert Einstein moved quickly through the lifeless streets of London, his shadow cutting a lonely figure in the gloom. He ran without looking back, quick breath pluming in the cold air. All around, the grey, windowless faces of the once proud buildings loomed over him. The only sounds were his footsteps on the cobbles and the beating of his heart.

Down a narrow, empty street he ground to a halt and squatted in the soot-blacked doorjamb of an old town house. His keen eyes were accustomed to the dark and he scanned his surroundings fervently through the reefs of thick fog. There was no sign of life but he felt as though something was watching him from every shadow. His knuckles whitened around the butt of the pistol in his jacket, the cold grip felt comforting.

He reminded himself what lurked out there in the shadows and what would happen to him if one of them found him, a human, above ground. He shuddered. He fingered the file in his breast pocket. It was worth the risk. After checking the street once more the scientist pressed on at full gait. Thirty-seconds later he rounded the corner of Tooley Street and there in front of him was London bridge stretching out across the river. On the far bank was his destination; the Tower of London. It stood alone atop Tower Hill as it had for nearly a thousand years, a canopy of low-blowing mist cutting the tops off the four brick columns.

Without breaking stride he began across the bridge. The cold wind out in the open stabbed at his lungs like needles. In the back of his throat he could taste the Thames, rancid and polluted.

Three miles away Big Ben chimed ominously. Seven AM in what would have been summertime. He stopped and looked East across the water. There was no sun on the horizon this morning. There hadn’t been for one-hundred years.

Ahead of him something stirred and he froze. Of course, time didn’t matter to a Spectral; they hunted twenty-four-seven. Instinctively, his bushy moustache twitched and he rose to his full height, glassing the bridge for movement.

Absolute stillness befell the bridge. Big Ben continued chiming;

DONG…

Something was out there,

DONG…

Lurking in the shadows,

DONG…

The seventh and final gong stretched out into the night slowly like ripples upon the surface of water, and then there was nothing, save for the rolling of the river beneath him. Carefully, he backed towards the side of the bridge, his eyes fixed squarely on the misty road before him. His boot-heel hit the wall and he dropped to one knee, obscuring himself partially behind the balustrades. He dared not breathe, as though he would rather suffocate than give himself away. A small rain began to fall. He removed the pistol from his jacket and flicked the safety, his hand trembling. He waited. The rain fell. And he waited.

Entry 51: UNCONCEIVABLE | Adult Sci Fi

When you live a post-nuclear world with three sexes and enough genetic damage to push life to the edge of extinction, you reproduce–or else.

Adam and his two spouses are desperate to conceive, and when they discover a secret fertility study they think they’ve found their answer. But the results are more than they bargained for.

665 A.C. (After Cataclysm)

“You all right?” I called. He ignored me. Not even a limp. I exhaled in relief. He headed toward the valley, where a flickering of torches welcomed evening shadows. A small crowd had gathered in a patch of wasted, uncultivated ground, and as though he were the real thing, Ghost-Person vanished in its midst.

Rose came up behind me. “What’s going on?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Do you think someone might have found an artifact?” Her breath warmed my shoulder.

“Let’s go see.” I led my spouses down toward pallid yellow torchlight. We moved close enough to tell that the group formed a straggly, muttering circle around a pile of dirt. Someone droned from a scroll. God’s vengeance…without sin… We were just too far away to make out more, but I didn’t need to. A hooded green robe covered his body and hid his face. It figured: the clergy would pronounce any antique scrap a holy relic, if they dug it up first.

Shovels lay near the shapeless lump unearthed in the center. They’d shrouded it in dirty fabric. Probably junk, but…

What was it? I moved closer.

The reader finished and tucked his scroll into his wide sleeve. Excited murmurs hushed at some signal I couldn’t discern. Someone threw a rock. It bounced off a ragged edge of the fabric and rolled to a stop in the dirt.

Rose gripped my arm. Her nails bit through my sleeve. “Why are they–?”

Was it my imagination, or did the artifact whimper and move? Another rock struck the partly buried, wiggling lump, and a tiny bud of red blossomed at the spot. My own blood pounded thickly into my brain. It was no artifact.

I pushed the spouses back. Thank heavens for untended trees: I found a large stick and strode close, brandishing my weapon. “Stop!”

The scroll reader fumbled with a fold in his robe. A torch flared brilliant orange.

I was staring down the barrel of a gun. Soft words carried barely enough for me to hear. “Go. Away.”

I dropped the stick and backed up, my heart hammering. “We have to go.”

“What?” said Rose, as another rock hit the human lump with a sickening thud.
 “Now!” I didn’t wait for protest. I grabbed my spouses and yanked.

Behind us, the lump gurgled, then screamed.

“Oh God!” Jamie clawed at my grasp on her arm. “They’re stoning it! They buried an Abnormal, Adam, and they’re going to kill it. We have to do something!”

Rose gasped and stumbled. I tugged her upright, tightened my grip on Jamie. Was that a gunshot from behind us?

Screams filled my ears, my head, the valley.

Entry 50: THE DOORMAKER | Middle Grade/Tween Fantasy

When twelve-year-old Agnes and her brother Dean are shipped north by their parents to live with their grandmother for the summer, the children discover an enormous patchwork house nestled in a wilderness full of enchantment, mystery and finally a secret so enormous, it will change their world forever.

Agnes sniffed. The smell of something sour and oily hung in the air. While Dean dug up the plant, she walked over the dead grass towards the twisted trees at the back of the garden. The smell was getting stronger. She stopped. On the ground sat a puddle of liquid so black it seemed to swallow the light around it. As she moved closer, a small bubble rose to the surface and popped, releasing a foul stench—like rotting meat mixed with metal. Agnes felt the hair on the back of her neck stand up even as something compelled her to move closer and peer into the puddle’s dark depths. It seemed to be pulsing slightly, as if breathing in and out. Moreover, Agnes was sure it was growing.

“Get away from there!” a panicked voice called out, tearing through her trance.

Hibernia pushed through the last few feet of brush, heedless of the thorns tearing at her scarf. She lunged for Agnes and pulled her roughly away from the puddle.

As her grandmother’s fingers closed around her arm, Agnes was suddenly plunged into an image of the thorn garden. It was cold. A man in a dark coat stumbled through the thick snow blanketing the ground. He wore a long red scarf wrapped around his face so that only his blue eyes peeked out.

The man pushed through the brambles around one of the trees, breaking off thorny branches. His hands were bleeding by the time he reached the other side. He trailed his hand along the back wall, pushing against the stones and leaving a smeared trail of blood behind.

“Where is it—where is it—” he muttered.

Branches snapped behind him. A voice cried out, harsh and hissing: “Where are you, blast it? Cabil, I know you’re in here! You can’t get away this time!”

The man’s movements grew more frantic. Puffy clouds of warm breath escaped the confines of his scarf as he looked fearfully behind him, towards the sound of snapping branches. He beat his fists on the wall and let out a string of curses. Then he froze.

He stared at a spot on the wall—no larger than a dinner plate—that was shimmering. He took a deep breath, placed his hand on the wall and then it was as if his hand had actual passed through the wall and disappeared.

Agnes gasped and pulled away from her grandmother. “What—what happened here…” she trailed off and looked around.

The ground was covered in a faint blanket of snow, perfectly white except for a bright trail of blood drops leading towards the trees. Agnes took a deep breath and closed her eyes. It was summer. There was no snow. No blood.

When she opened her eyes again the snow was gone and both Hibernia and Dean were looking at her curiously. Agnes forced a smile. What was happening to her?

Entry 49: FACE CONTROL | Literary Fiction

A victim of child pornography so widely circulated men still recognize her, Jade Charger finds trust elusive and honesty dangerous as an adult. But when her brother receives a link to one of her videos, the entire family is pulled into the crisis. For Jade, the only thing worse than her family knowing her shame is revealing who was responsible.

The door to Theatre A pushes open, swings shut, footsteps fade: someone going to the restrooms. But in the intervening moments as she waits for another Theatre A exit or the return of the bathroom user, Jade becomes aware of the reflection of a person in the window.

Taller than Cal without the oversized eyes and hunch of clinging adolescent angst, Charlie Houfeck looks too ordinary to be part of a posse of hipsters at an independent theater on a Friday night.

Slowly Jade unwinds herself from the couch. “You need a refill?”

He grins. “Storm and stress, that’s what your face looks like.”

She snatches at his empty popcorn bag and hurries for the employee door to the concessions stand. He follows her. “It’s a translation from German, Sturm und Drang.”

“You speak German?”

“Not really. It’s a movement in the arts that describes painters no one who’s normal has ever heard of.”

She feels better with the counter between them and roles properly defined. “You shouldn’t sneak up on people.”

“Sorry. Couldn’t resist.”

She scoops the popcorn. “Butter?” She takes the opportunity to make eye contact and tells herself its good customer service. When men look at her as closely as he is, it usually means they’re trying to place her from somewhere. But he is talking about German painters. That’s a new one.

“No thanks.”

“Are they pretty paintings? I’m only interested in pretty things at the moment.”

“No, actually…” He takes his phone out of his pocket, presses the touchpad, lays it in the counter’s neutral zone. “…they were shocking and everyone hated them at the time.”

The picture on the phone shows a man being thrown off his horse as it rears. Both man and horse are entangled by a snake about to devour them.

“You think that’s what my face looks like?” she asks.

“No, sorry, that’s my life talisman right now…ex soldier.” He slides his finger across the screen calling up another painting. A tiny Odysseus with shield raised fights off two monsters menacing in cliffs above him as the air appears to surge down in a waterfall of strife.

“Explain.”

“Glad you asked.” He grins a near perfect smile, flat across the top lip like her grandma with dentures, but entirely uninhibited. “Obviously you’re not a mythical figure but like Odysseus, you’re not easily impressed, you tend to get bored. Whether or not you like it, you’re in constant conflict with yourself.”

“Uh huh….”

“I had a minute to think before you noticed me standing there. Funny what faces show when they think no one’s watching. Hey, it’s okay. Takes one to know one. I’m not a judge.”

That smile disarms her, the way it reflects his personality. Is a bit of a playboy, she thinks. But not so much that it’s unattractive. If Julie were here, she’d have melted into the palm of his hand.

“It’s like…feeling another person’s hands in your day,” whispers Jade. “Extra eyes, extra mouth, everywhere.”

“That’s a good way to put it.” He studies her openly, not caring if she notices. “I like that, elegant.”

The door to Theater A swings open. Cal stands in the doorway indignant. “Hey dude, where’s my popcorn?”

Jade busies herself at the cash register. When she looks up, Charlie is gone. She listens to the door of Theater A swing shut behind.

Entry 48: UNDERAGE INNOCENCE | Mystery

A 15 year old girl from the wrong side of town is kidnapped into a sex trafficking ring. Detective Max Cunningham must overcome his preconceived notions to bring home Maddie Whelan before her trail disappears forever.

Another knock made her jump and she almost didn’t make it to the corner in time. Her stomach flip flopped.

Anything out of the ordinary couldn’t be good. Reciting the alphabet backwards was becoming too easy, she needed something else to do with her brain while she stood in the corner, otherwise she’d end up turning around and that wasn’t allowed. She’d been hit with a switch for that once. Once was enough.

“You may turn around,” a mild voice said and Maddie drifted between relief and stomach clenching fear.

“Hello, Raj.” Remembering to follow the rules, she averted her eyes looking at his shoes.

Shiny brown shoes were covered by black slacks. He always dressed nice. In the four or five times she’d seen him, he’d always been dressed up. It stuck with her because everyone else dressed in jeans and t-shirts.

“I hope you are going to be more cooperative this time,” he said.

Antagonizing him wasn’t the right tactic. At least not now.

She nodded but kept her lips tightly closed.

Raj looked around and she followed his gaze. A twin bed with a sheet and one thin blanket sat in the corner on the floor. A few items of clothing sat next to the bed. There was no other furniture. No dresser, no chair. Nothing.

She leaned into the cool wall and wondered what he was thinking. Her curiosity was soon rewarded.

“Are you going to try and run again?”

She shook her head, but said, “No,” when he tilted his head.

“Do you know where you are?”

She hesitated.

He pushed his lips into a thin line, and held up the switch. She hadn’t seen him holding his hand behind her back. In two strides he was close enough to swing the strap. Maddie heard the whistle of it slicing through the air. It connected to her thigh and she dropped with a howl.

“I thought you learned from last time.”

She could barely hear his words over her own crying. Her left leg burned, a hot, white fire.

Another whistle. She screamed as pain seared down her left arm.

“Are you going to answer me?” he asked.

She started to nod. “Ye-ye-yes,” she said, choking out the word. She squeezed herself into a ball, forcing herself as far into the corner as she could.

“Let’s try this again.” Raj stood over her, his voice light and carefree.

Maddie swore he must be a madman. How else could he talk to her like he was talking about the weather?

“Do you know where you are?”

“No,” she said.

“Let me tell you.”

She put a hand over her mouth to quiet the cries. She didn’t want to miss another question and get hit again.

“Sit up. I want to see your face.”

She followed his command, sitting up, careful of her tender arm and leg. She kept her back wedged in to the corner of the wall.

“You are almost home.”

Entry 47: DEAR DIARY | Contemporary Romance

What would you do if fate tries to mess up with you by bringing back the man you love three years ago, while you’re in a relationship with the one who save your heart when it was shattered into pieces?

A knock came to the door and Joe gets up from his seat. “I’ll get it.”

Nina doesn’t know what to do. It’s Ian, she’s sure about it. She panicked, heat rose into her body. What to do? Jump out of the window? Ridiculous, but it can be an option.

“Melissa, don’t tell him I’m in the bathroom. Tell him I’m not here.” She jumps out of her seat and practically runs towards the bathroom and shut it close.

“Why? Nina―”

She locks it so no one can come in. This is her temporary escape area, the only place where she can be safe. She presses her back on the plastic door and slides down to the floor. Her eyes started to get wet with fresh tears, she cannot stop them. She can hear his voice when he greeted Melissa and Joe upon his arrival, his voice was deep and lovely to her ears. They’re like a pot full of rainbows, beautiful yet she can’t have. The pain intensifies as she listens to his laugh when he and Melissa talks, he used to laugh like that yesterday just before the heartbreaking conversation.

“So you’re leaving?” Melissa said.

“Yes. Tonight.” Ian replied.

He’s leaving and she definitely won’t see him again. Stop crying, she scolded herself.

“Have you settled any unfinished business?” Melissa said.

They’ve been talking about business?

“I don’t know. I’m not sure.” Ian said.

They became silent. Is Joe with them? She hasn’t heard his voice.

“Bye, Ian.” Melissa breaks the stretching silence.

“Bye.” Ian said. The door opens then closes gently, he must have gone.

“Bye.” Nina whispers as she let tears continue to stream down her face.

-###-
Dear Diary,
That day I watch him walk back into his Maserati from the window of the hospital. I let the tears flow down my cheeks, my eyes hurts but I can’t stop them from crying. I never thought it’ll hurt this bad, worse than ending things with him. His car started to roar into life and after a few minutes he vanished from the horizon, he’s gone. Will I ever see his handsome face, will I ever touch him? The memories of him linger in my mind. His soft lips touching mine, the way he made love to me, the way he stood shirtless in my kitchen. I can smell his cologne, even though he is not around anymore. I can hear the sound of his laugh…the sound that I love so much. I’ll miss every inch of him, I’ll miss our good times together and even the times when we had a fight.

I cannot believe it. My heart aches, my mind stops from working as I watched the man that I love…go away.

Entry 46: THE FUNERAL SINGER | Contemporary YA

When her graveside rendition of “Amazing Grace” goes viral on YouTube, 17-year-old funeral singer Melanie Martin becomes an Internet sensation, complete with fans, followers and a rock-star boyfriend. But Mel soon discovers that fame can be as fragile as life itself, and a single misstep can put the nail in its coffin.

Normally I didn’t attend my father’s funerals unless I was scheduled to sing, but it wasn’t every day Dad buried a rock star.

No way would I miss Mick Nolan’s service. It was by far the coolest thing to ever happen at Martin’s Family Mortuary.

I rifled through my closet full of black dresses—eight in all, but none quite right for today. I wanted to look good, but of course, this was a funeral, not a concert, and I was in mourning. Mick was my second favorite member of The Grime, behind bassist Zed Logan.

Ah, bass players. Soulful, brooding, background guys.

I finally settled on a knee-length dress with sheer, flowing sleeves. Its neckline dipped low enough to be sexy but not, I hoped, disrespectful.

Turned out, I shouldn’t have worried. Downstairs looked like the set of a music video. Girls in miniskirts, midriff tops and strappy heels pranced around guys in torn jeans and t-shirts. A sea of tattooed arms, legs, bellies and backs clashed against the lobby’s soothing rosebud wallpaper.

My dad solemnly shook each person’s hand, intoning over and over, “Thank you for coming,” and “So sorry for your loss.” His dark blue suit, which usually helped him blend into the background, had the opposite effect, and he stuck out like … well, like a funeral director at a rock concert.

“There you are, Melanie.” My mother thrust a wreath of red and white chrysanthemums into my arms and pointed me toward the chapel. “Set this with the other arrangements and then go help Dawn hand out the programs.”

The wreath was so large I could barely see around it, but I knew every inch of the chapel as well as I knew every word of “Candle in the Wind.” I wound my way down the aisle and toward the front, where Mick’s urn, hand-painted with The Grime’s logo, sat atop his keyboard. I waded through dozens of wreaths, sprays and bouquets until I found a place to squeeze in the new addition. The sweet scent made me dizzy. Never before had I seen so many flowers.

As I turned to leave, I spotted an older woman seated in the front row. I’d read somewhere that Mick’s grandmother had raised him. That had to be her. I turned, hoping to escape before she noticed me, but she called out. “Excuse me, sweetheart. Do you know how long it will be before the service begins?”

I glanced at the clock on the back wall. “About twenty minutes.” If I were my father I’d offer her some water or ask if she needed anything while she waited. Maybe I’d even sit down and take her hands in mine and ask how she was holding up. Instead, I turned and ran.

Avoid close family. That was my rule. Let Dad deal with the dearly beloved. The bereaved. The very word felt heavy, loaded down with a heartache and pain and emptiness I had no clue how to handle.

Entry 45: NOT MY WILL, BUT HIS | Fiction

Virtue Forbes is a newly saved twenty-eight-year-old woman struggling with her newfound Christian faith. Virtue’s boyfriend of two years, Ty, is not onboard with her now straight-and-narrow- path for Christ, especially given the fact that their relationship started with them having sex the first night they met. Virtue is finding it difficult to both be a good Christian and please Ty and her own sexual desires.

I hear a car pull up outside the front of my apartment door. That must be Ty. Okay, here it goes. We’ll see if our relationship is as perfect as I think it is.

“Hey, babe,” Ty says after walking in the door and shutting it behind him. “Sorry I’m a little late. I had to tie up some loose ends at the barbershop before we closed. I got your favorite popcorn.” He pulls out of the grocery bag Orville Redenbacher’s Movie Theatre Butter popcorn.

“Thanks, sweetie. Dinner is ready.” I get up and walk over to give him a thank-you kiss.

“Yeah, I smelled that goodness from outside; you know how to keep your man happy in the kitchen and the bedroom. I’m a lucky man.”

“You sure are. Just don’t forget it,” I say, grinning at him.

“I won’t, especially if you’re giving me that special dessert later.” He pulls me into him and hugs me tight and kisses me on my neck. “How was your day?” he asks, looking into my eyes now.

“It was great. Actually, I want us to talk more about it over dinner. Let’s eat before the food gets cold.” I pull him toward the kitchen.

After fixing our plates and sitting next to each other at my four-seat oak dinner table, Ty gets right into the topic of the day.

“What is it you want to talk about?” Ty asks after taking a bite of sweet potato.

While I was standing at that altar today, all I could think about is God. All I could think about is how unselfishly he died on the cross for my sins and how I want to surrender my life to him. Now sitting here, next to Ty, a huge reality hits me like a ton of bricks. He won’t understand any of it at all. Every time I invited him to go to church with me he came up with some reason not to. He has respect for God, but not a relationship. How do I explain my salvation to him?

“I got saved today.” I look at his face for his reaction, I figure there is no use in dragging it out. I’m certainly not ashamed of it. I just hope Ty understands.

“Really?” he says a bit too nonchalantly. He continues eating. “I didn’t know you were thinking about doing that.” His tone tells me he is not interested in my church talk.

“I’ve been going to church for a long time; it was just a matter of time before the teaching all sunk in. How do you feel about that?” I ask, unsure of what his answer may be. I’m having difficulty reading his facial expressions. I place my fork down and nervously take a sip of apple cider from my wine glass. The lighted candles on the table seem misleading now, given our conversation and the uncertainty of where it’s going to lead.

Entry 44: AN UNCOMMON BLUE | YA sci-fi

In a world where race can be changed with a handshake, the most popular Blue on the rugby team must become someone else to avoid being identified as a murderer. When Bruno discovers who framed him, he’s left with two choices–continue living someone else’s life or take his name back and start earning his reputation as a killer.

There are three unspoken rules in high school rugby.

1. Your team members are family.
2. You support your family.
3. This support must be shown periodically with an affectionate slap on the backside.

After four years as the starting right winger, I had almost gotten used to this. Almost. At least I no longer felt the urge to bloody my teammate’s nose when they tried it.

But in the middle of the hall? No way. During school hours my glutes were off limits.

I whirled around to explain this to whichever of my idiotic team members was behind me, only to find myself face to face with an attractive redhead.

“Hey, Bruno,” Drea said with a smirk. “Ready for the test?”

I opened my mouth but no sound came out.

Even with her super-short hair, Drea was stunning. Before last summer she’d often been mistaken for a boy. But that all ended when puberty hit. With both fists.

I recovered from my embarrassment enough to nod.

She leaned against the lockers. Her pale white skin reflected the light from her blue palm.
“History should be a breeze compared to pre-calc. I wanted to stab myself in the eye when I got to that section on antiderivatives.”

I mumbled something incoherent and fumbled with my lock.

Without warning she came up close and spoke in a half-whisper. Her hair smelled like coconut. “I know someone that likes you. If you hurry, we might have time to talk before the final.”

I cleared my throat. Why couldn’t she just tell me now? But Drea was already skipping down the hallway toward the exit.

Drea Delauney was the only person who could catch me off guard like that. It wasn’t like I had a crush on her. I didn’t. She was just so…random.

I went to work on my combination and hoped no one had seen me acting like a brain trauma patient.

As annoyed as I was at being groped in public, I found myself shoving my books in my locker and jogging after her. This was the last test before classifications. If I didn’t find out who liked me beforehand, it would be terribly distracting.

Once outside, I cut across the grass to avoid the crowded sidewalk. Madame Axelle’s building was on the outskirts of campus but even when I was in a hurry I didn’t mind the walk. I’d never admit it out loud but I loved the smell of the dirt and trees. The blossoms were nice too but for the record I didn’t go out of my way to sniff them.

In fact, at the moment, all I could smell was the overpowering stench of expensive cologne, inexpertly applied.

Marin was close. His more-is-better philosophy applied to fragrances, girlfriends, and “support” slaps. How he became my best friend is anyone’s guess.

I put my head down and slipped into the flow of students but it was too late.

“Hey Nazaire!”

Entry 43: TRINITY | Women’s Fiction

Lance never made her feel more wanted. While at the same time, Chay never made her feel more needed. Is it really wrong for her to love them both?

“Alex, Alex Alex. Your ruining the stars.” His attempted at a joke. She didn’t laugh. Chay let out a sign and moved closer to her. She scooted as far away from him as she could, her back smashed up against the car door. She would have gotten out of the car and walked away, if they weren’t on top of a mountain in the middle of the night.

Chay placed his hand on her leg and squeezed. It it took all the strength she could muster to not flinch. She didn’t want him to move any closer, but she didn’t want to be rude, either.

He took this as a sign to continue and she had no where else to go.

“Alex,” She glared at him and he smiled.

He leaned in close. Their noses almost touching. Alex felt his breath on her face. It made her aware she was holding her breath.

“Just because you have a good reason to hate him doesn’t mean you have to.”

Alex let out the breath she was holding and placed her lips on his.

Because, he was right.

Entry 42: ISSUE 339 | YA Up-market

Comic-book superhero Skye takes on awful plot twists every day, but when his parents die in a nasty cliche, he’s had it. He shoots his author. But the cop investigating the murder is Skye’s best friend’s father–and when the publishing company hires a new writer, Skye must decide whether one more murder will save his world, or damn his soul.

The authoress lifted her face into the breeze under the trees, closing her eyes as she smelled the air over the pond. She hugged her knees with one arm and took a deep, pleasant bite of her peanut-butter and jelly sandwich. “Mmm,” she said.

“Don’t move.”

Her eyes fluttered open. She felt something drop down beside her.

It was him. Something cold and round poked into her ribs. He placed his arm around her shoulder; the closeness of their bodies hid the gun in his other hand. They looked to all the world like two lovers enjoying a late summer picnic.

“I’ve been waiting for you,” she smiled.

He stiffened. “Well–I suppose the news–”

“No, Skye,” she said. “I’ve been waiting for you, specifically. You.”

She turned her head to look at him. The dark hair sweeping across his forehead twitched here and there in the light breeze. His deep eyes narrowed, but his face remained still. Not calm, like a summer pond, but dead, like a waterhole after a drought on a windless day.

“You’re just as beautiful as I imagined,” she said.

“Why are you writing this storyline?” he whispered.

She felt her heart skip a beat at his warm, real closeness. Her lip trembled a bit, but she smiled. “I had to find out who you were. I’m one of those crazy ones who believes in imaginary things, and I had to find out if I was right. I always wanted to know if you were real. After the details began to leak out about the murders–Skye, I knew it had to be you!” Her jubilance made her whisper, for fear she might cry out in excitement. “The transferrance ray could have sent you to death, like it did Jackie, but when it didn’t charge all the way it sent you to another dimension–sent you here. You want to save your world from writers, don’t you? And I had to find out if it was true. I had to get you to hunt me. It was the only way.”

“You killed my friend,” Skye choked as little twisted wrinkles wrapped the corners of his eyes. “Black Butterfly was my friend. Mark is my friend–and you’re destroying him, Candace.”

“I’m–”

“You wrote three comic books about my city falling apart just so you could meet me?”

“I’m–” Candace looked at her sandwich. The hand holding it trembled. She wanted to cry from fear, but she could not contain her joy, either. She looked back at him.

“I love you, Skye. I’ve always loved you. If you were me–if you were a lonely, lost girl, and the one person you always saw getting back up, your dearest childhood superhero came to life–wouldn’t you do the same?”

“You know I’m here to kill you, right?” So cold.

“Y-yes.”

“Is it worth it?”

She gazed into his face, eyes shining. “Yes.”

He looked away from her, across the pond. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. She felt his arm tighten on her shoulder.

Entry 41: A POLISH VACATION | General Fiction

When awkward-looking Benjamin discovers his parents paid $50,000 for another woman’s eggs to create him, their apparent dissatisfaction with him makes more sense—especially since the woman is tall, beautiful, a genius and super-athletic. Not only does Benjamin feel like a modern-day Frankenstein, he IS one. To his parents’ horror, he runs away to find the egg donor woman.

One of the tall French windows had been left ajar. A light breeze slipped in and turned the thin white curtains in front of the windows into dancing ghosts, hovering over the parquet floor.

Benjamin headed toward the massive mahogany desk with the huge leather armchair behind it, not able to block out the large painting of a proud mom and dad and a happy toddler that hung on the wall. The painting depicted him and his parents nine years ago. Each time Benjamin saw it, he couldn’t help but think what a joke it was.

Newspaper articles and documents with text, figures and graphs, all of which seemed to concern his father’s job, were spread over the desk. He moved around some of the papers in search of the chocolates. Where were they? He’d seen the box here yesterday. His father couldn’t have finished it already, could he? Benjamin seriously doubted that because his old man had just gotten it and it wasn’t like he had much of a sweet tooth. But Benjamin did, especially now.

He opened drawer after drawer, hoping to find that his father had put it in one of those. As he was about to give up, he saw what looked like a Godiva box hiding under a stack of papers in the bottom drawer. He tore out the papers only to discover an unopened box of nine by twelve manila envelopes. He sighed and put the papers back. Getting ready to head back to his room, his eyes caught a color headshot of a pretty blond girl on the floor.

Where did that come from?

He glanced at the bottom drawer from which a few of the papers still protruded.

He picked up the photo and studied it. The girl looked awfully familiar. Did he know her? He looked at the drawer with the papers again.

What were those papers anyway? Benjamin bent down, opened the drawer and got the stack out. The top page said, “Northeast Assisted Fertility Group—Donor Profile.” He sifted through some of the pages and realized there was another photo inside them—of a smiling baby with fluffy blond hair. He stared at it for a while because the baby, too, looked familiar. Its big blue eyes, hair and deep dimples reminded him of… him as a baby, photos he had seen of himself as a baby.

That’s weird.

He looked at the photo of the girl again and saw that her eyes were big and blue like the baby’s. Then he discovered the faintest of dimples in her cheeks, at the ends of her smile.

Are the baby and the girl the same person? Who is she anyway? He removed the cover page from the stack. The words DONOR CONTRACT appeared on top of the next sheet. The legal lingo below didn’t make much sense to him. But just as he was about to turn the page, his eyes caught a couple of the printed names below the four signatures at the bottom.

Renee Lynch. Josh Lynch.

His mother and father.

Entry 40: WAVING BACKWARDS | Commercial Fiction

Raised in a New York suburb by a second generation, Italian American family with an insatiable appetite for drama, pasta and violence, 21-year old Lara Bonavito is a fair-haired misfit. Adopted at birth, she is looking for something familiar, and finds it in a cryptic letter hidden in the family bible. Four hand-written sentences reveal that the family she’s been searching for may reside in Savannah, Georgia. During a solo trip to Georgia’s first city, Lara peels back the layers of her southern roots, along with her fragile, self-consciousness, to discover a past laced with racial inequity, decades old cotton wars, social ruin and murder.

Standing at dusk in the graveyard, pondering the intentions of the person behind her, she thinks, Brilliant, here I am with nothing more dangerous than a ballpoint pen. Should I run or turn around?

Finally, she turns holding her pen like a dagger, and suppresses a giggle. As pale and fragile as a spirit, the man in front of her is crooked with age. His eyes are barely visible beneath folding years of experience, and he twists his neck awkwardly to face her. A cane supports his thin frame, as he reaches out a hand in greeting.

As she has so often since arriving in Savannah, she inspects his features, looking for a hint of resemblance. What color are his eyes? Green? It’s hard to make them out in the fading light.

In the dreams that visit every night, it happens like this. A low drum begins in her head, like a funeral march, its tempo slow and solid, and the family of look-a-likes march into view, arriving simply without emotion. Taking their places on a nameless street corner, they walk with her in perfect cadence. Their relaxed familiarity flanks her in safety. She belongs, as she has never belonged before.

The nightly dreams make her feel like a part of something rooted. Her shoulder-length hair and green eyes become glamorous in the company of others who share them. But waking leaves a gnawing emptiness.

The old man’s neatly trimmed goatee and well-mapped face exude elegance and social standing. As she daydreams of the family that she hopes to find, he carries out his own patient appraisal, clearing his throat to break the silence.

“Looking for anyone in particular? I’m sort of an unofficial guide,” he gestures toward the front of the yard, “Been comin’ here since my baby boy died. Buried both my wives here. These stones are old friends.”

“How’d he die?” Lara asks.

“Just the way, he was a week old. Failure ta thrive’s what they said. Called back to heaven, I guess.”

Lara smiles at the mention of heaven. “Looking for Pearces,” she says. “This is Stoddard Pearce. Looking for a Pearce from the 20’s, could’ve been in the cotton trade.”

“Hmm, Pearce,” the stranger touches his chin, “Can’t say I know any here. Been to Bonaventure? Everyone’s got a ghost there.”

“My first stop.”

She eyes a slice of sky through the thick oaks above the stranger’s head. The last hopeful rays of daylight fade to reveal a darkness she would prefer not to experience in the graveyard. Lara tries to think of an excuse to get back to the car, while there’s still light on the path.

“Ya know, cotton was sunk by the 20’s. Boll Weevil came ‘round 1915 and bales took a terrible drop. Where ya from?” he asks, interrupting her excuse concocting.

“New York.”

“Got any living kin in Savannah?”

“Think so,” she replies, “long story.”

Entry 39: BREEDING GROUNDS | Literary Fiction

In the summer of ’71, Danny arrives in a small New England town and lands a job as first mate aboard the Hazel Marie. Captain Claws Clausen and Danny hit it off, and one night they head down to the Walleye Tavern to toss back a few. All liquored up, Danny whacks a meek Portuguese immigrant, setting off a series of events that ends with a young woman found dead in a rock pile. A “Peyton Place” of the working class, BREEDING GROUNDS follows the dead woman’s story through the lives of five characters: Danny, who attracts women as much as he does fish; Hazel, an abused housewife who’s been pushed too far; Millie, the boozy amputee aunt who fixes bets on Bingo night at the Shady Glen nursing home; Joe, the Portuguese immigrant who becomes a cop in the early days of Affirmative Action; and Dora, a barmaid who sleeps on a mattress filled with drug money she won’t spend.

Millie

Back then, I had a fish market in the shack behind Neal’s hardware. It was a great little place, out of sight from the powers that be. Being good with numbers, I took a few bets now and again. I did pretty well, ending up with enough to buy the Bearce house up the hill overlooking town. It was an old farmhouse, painted fresh white with black shutters, now weathered to a dull gray. It had a barn out back with an upstairs apartment and it sat on an acre of hardscrabble rocks and briars. The front porch was glassed-in and some fool painted the front door shut, which suited me just fine. People could knock their hearts out on that door, and I’d never hear them. As soon as I bought it, I met Lovey, an ex-schoolteacher, and we told anyone nosy enough to ask that she lived out back. Me and Lovey, we worked the land. We cleared it with old scythes we found in the barn, and planted vegetables and climbing roses. Around the edges, we piled stones we pried from the yard into a wa ll as well made as any around here. Then we felled one of the last elm trees for a better view of the harbor, and we planted that row of hydrangeas. I didn’t give a crap what anybody said as long as they didn’t cause me any trouble. I’m mighty sure we didn’t go unnoticed but no one said a word, except for the occasional husband who told his wife to be more like me and do some work around the yard for Pete’s sake. We were happy, me and Lovey, but then she went and died of a heart attack, and the house surrounded me like a shroud.

Then Hal came back from Korea and married that unfortunate fool Hazel. They moved into a crummy little house he practically stole off some old boozer. That’s when he bought himself the first trawler. He did darn well darn fast and bought a bigger boat right about when my ankles started their elephant imitation and I found a lump in my breast to boot. By the time they hacked off both breasts and told me I had to cut out the booze because of the diabetes and the cigarettes because of the cancer, just about all of me and my business was dried up. I figured it was time I thought about my future and so I called up Hazel and told her to come by, “without that thing you married,” I said.

In she came wearing quite the getup, must have come straight from church. She had the white gloves and patent leather shoes to match, and a little snap purse she kept fingering so she could get at her hankie. I sat in my chair, hucked something up into the wastebasket beside me, and watched her squirm on the straight-back chair across from me. I wasn’t going to pussyfoot around.

Entry 38: EVENTIDE CHRONICLES | Fantasy

Alarick Gryffin is a weapon of mass destruction. By the time he realizes the full extent of what he is and what he’s done it’s too late. He has unlocked the first of five magical locks protecting the world of Eventide from destruction. Damaged by an ancient war, these locks were put in place to hold the world together. Each must be released in a particular sequence and as each fails, the others only strengthen further. When a group of his friends are held hostage, Alarick is given a choice. He can either watch them die or he can complete the trials required to release another lock.

“Is this place ever used?” Alarick asked in a whisper.

“Very rarely,” she whispered. She led him down a narrow walkway passing numerous rows of seats.

As they moved further into the center of the cathedral Alarick’s eyes began to adjust to the presence of faint light. The amazing detail around him became apparent. “Wow…” Large stone arches climbed over the cathedral’s middle, their centers lined with sparkling jewels and crystals. Along the walls numerous but smaller stained glass windows came into play telling the story of Azuryst. They were the same windows he viewed from the outside.

“Azuryst was once a holy city,” she explained in a whisper. “But there came a great greed from below that shook it to its very foundation.” She motioned to one of the smaller stained glass windows nearby. It revealed the same image that Alarick had seen displayed in the window on the outside of the cathedral. The window seemed to brighten in the darkness around them. In it the castle rested comfortably on the cliffside with a blue sky behind it. As he watched it the window darkened, casting a shadow over the castle. The blue sky suddenly gave the appearance of an approaching storm.

He looked to Inara suddenly. “From below?”

“The mines.” She led him further along the aisle way extending her hand to another stained glass image that brightened at his arrival. It was subtle, but never the less apparent. Here that same castle was depicted as falling off the cliffside with a dragon looming over it and watching. “So much was taken from the grounds beneath Azuryst that it caved in upon itself. The castle. Homes. All the mines. It was all gone by the time the world shaking was finally over.”

Alarick looked taken aback by her story. She gave his hand a soft squeeze as she led him further still. “Rhyzen was a high priest who tried to warn the King and Queen about their greed.” She paused before another window, this one showing a man and a woman adorned with gems and other riches. Before them stood a solitary man, his arms held out in a pleading motion to them. “But they would hear nothing of it. They called him a fool for his disloyalty to them. Called his warning a mockery of their power.” She turned on the spot, directing Alarick’s attention to one last image. This one showing the very cathedral they were standing in.

“He was a loving soul and in the end he forgave them for their harsh words towards him. He saved many lives with his magic. He constructed the cathedral above the hallowed ground where the castle fell and helped Azuryst rebuild. The very arches of this cathedral run deep here. As deep as the bond between loved ones Alarick. Rhyzen’s love for Azuryst and her people was no different. It’s these very arches that keep the hallowed ground from fully collapsing onto everything below. This is his legacy.”

Entry 37: MY HEART IS A WILDERNESS | memoir

Saudi Arabia. Desert kingdom of secrets, sin, and entitlement. For an English teacher, it becomes a place of heartbreak and desolation, as she discovers some ugly truths about one of the U.S.’ staunchest allies. With humor and humanity, she negotiates unruly students, a vindictive and corrupt school administration, and a forbidden love life even as she descends into madness.

They were laughing at me. I was sure of it.

“We’re landing soon,” the flight attendant turned to me then. “Are you going to have dinner or not?” He looked at his watch impatiently.

“No, no, I just want to sleep,” I said. Oblivion was the safest place to be. Before slipping into the luxury of sleep, images from ten months before flitted across my mind. I wasn’t broken then, I thought. I wasn’t broken yet.

As the plane heaved towards a wide open landing, booze bottles rattled on the tray tables. The Chinese businessmen awoke from their alcohol infused slumbers, and I looked into the blackness. Even in the dark, Riyadh could have been the moon, for all I knew. When daylight came, the feeling of having landed on a different planet did not go away. Everything was beige – the earth, the buildings, the inside of buildings. Even the green of the palm trees that dotted the streets was coated in beige dust. Really there was no color at all in Riyadh. It was also entirely flat. The buildings were at most just a few stories high. The exceptions to this were two skyscrapers in the heart of the downtown – Faisaliah Tower, and the newer, sparkling Kingdom Tower- the top of which had a half oval shape cut out of it. From the building’s sky bridge, other countries appeared, and at night it glowed with different colors – purple, yellow, and blue. Rokhsar, the Pakistan i math teacher at the college where I was teaching, said that tall buildings in Islam are a sign of the end of the world. That explained a lot.

I arrived in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in early October of 2008 after spending three years in China. I was an English teacher there, but I had become a little bored with my job at a college in Chongqing, and wanted to learn more about teaching as well as to try another country. It was a whim, really, that took me to Saudi Arabia. My family and friends were not happy about my decision, and in retrospect they had a lot more sense than I did. I arrived at the Riyadh airport alone, and without an abaya, the black covering that goes over women’s clothes there. It was a small airport; a plane had just arrived from the Philippines, and a long line of new immigrants formed at passport control. Not knowing any better, I lined up with them, but was quickly escorted to a separate line for women. After going through passport control, I was accosted by airport officials.

“Who are you meeting here?” an official asked me, as he gave me a bemused, lopsided smile.

“The Human Resource Director from my college,” I replied, as he glanced over my paperwork.

“You’re missing the letter from this college,” he said.

“I don’t have it,” I replied, “But the HR Director should be waiting for me, and maybe he has it.”

“You’ll have to come back with it,” the official said, and let me pass.

Entry 36: THE VERRIER FILES | Suspense/Mystery

Nick’s mind is somewhere else when he finds a wallet. He doesn’t know it, but he’s just set off a chain of unimaginable events: most are dangerous, some enticing, a few deadly. The most unexpected: the discovery of an international fraudulent organization, the most unreal: he’s accused of murder.

Chapter 1.
Denver, CO, Saturday, February 4.

Nick’s legs tightened as he accelerated his pace.

His chest burned but he didn’t mind, his heart pounded but he liked the rhythm.

Jumping over a puddle, avoiding ice, running fast.

He gazed at the City Park’s empty boathouse without losing his speed. Rounding the curve ahead, he passed by the frozen fountain in the middle of the lake. In the semidarkness it looked like a floating ghost.

End of the first lap.

Nick needed to sweat, to build his stamina. He didn’t sleep much and was facing twelve hours stuck in an airplane. The thought of it made him weary. He just needed his blood running.
Breathing hard. Steady rhythm. Warming up.

He tried to focus on his speech, but his breath was louder than his thoughts. He tried again. The high-speed impact of . . .

But his mind kept on going elsewhere.

Half way through the second lap he began to feel the stiffness in his knees.
Review the conference notes, take a shower, pack. He also had to save his files and . . .
He stepped on his shoelace and almost tripped. He cursed.

As he paused to catch his breath he noticed a woman at the side of the City Park Pavilion. She had stopped jogging and now was staring at him. What was she was doing? Then she turned on her heels and ran behind the pavilion.

Still puffing, Nick sat on a wet bench by the small pier, took his gloves off, and bent to fasten his lace.

Just then he saw a small black object hiding underneath a few dead leaves. He squinted his eyes. A piece of plastic? A shoe? A camera? He went closer and moved the leaves to take a good look.
It was a man’s leather wallet.

He wiped the dirt residue and opened the wallet. No cash in the large compartment, only a Colorado driver’s license in one of the pockets. He looked at the ID: Robert Don Stewart Bulger, Caucasian, dark hair and dark eyes, born on 6 January 1969.

Nobody was around. He looked at his watch: seven thirty-five. He didn’t have time to search for Robert—whoever he may be. He stuck the wallet in his rain jacket’s pocket, and ran back to his car. He’d try to call the guy at home, another thing to do.

Entry 35: YOU WERE FOREVER | Literary fiction

You Were Forever is about the women of a Brooklyn, New York family of firefighters whose stories are linked across time, across generations, from famine Ireland to September 11th and its aftermath.

The reporter stared at Eileen. “You’re a fireman?”

“Firefighter,” Eileen said, raising her voice to be heard.

Lehane’s was crowded with firefighters having a drink or four in the intermission between funerals.

“And your brother was killed? I don’t remember reading about this anywhere,” he said.

“Yeah, nobody’s written about you yet?” Danny said to Eileen.

There were twenty-five women on the FDNY. None had been killed on 9/11.

“We’re not the story,” Eileen said. “You big, brave men are the story.”

Danny frowned. She’d pissed him off.

The reporter said, “Have they found him?”

“In ’83,” Eileen signaled the bartender for a refill.

“On the eighty-third floor?”

Danny snorted. “Yeah. If you’re ever at Ground Zero, go on up and take a look.”

“Nineteen eighty-three,” Eileen said.

“He died in 1983? What–at a fire?”

“No,” Eileen said, “he was run over by a garbage truck.”

Danny laughed.

“Look, I’m sorry. I thought he was there.” The reported capped his pen and retreated.

“I was there,” Eileen said to his back. Then, to Danny, “I’m tired.”

“Are you eating? Are you talking about the men you lost?” Danny’s tone was a perfect parody of
the counselors assigned to the firehouses.

Eileen laughed. “Are you drinking more than normal? Do you feel guilty?”

“Are you having nightmares?” Danny drank from his beer.

Eileen shook her head. She wasn’t having nightmares about September 11th but she did dream again and again about September 10th.

The day is quiet as the whole summer has been quiet. O’Mara says, as he has a hundred times since August, something big’s coming. I can feel in my bones. Something big. Bonafedes growls, Say that one more time Billy-boy and I will choke you to death with one hand. They catch a couple easy jobs, nothing much, nothing to write home about.

Late in the afternoon, they go to Key Food to shop for the meal. The dog jumps on the rig. She’s a terrier-sewer-rat hybrid who’d turned up at the firehouse in June. Eileen and Jimenez the probie and Killian and Ayres move through the supermarket’s aisles at peace. Nobody sees them and begins to cry. Nobody comes up and says, you’re saints, you’re heroes, God bless you and thank you, thank you, thank you. An old lady at the checkout leans away from them, because, yeah, they do stink, not of corpses and gray dust, but only the way they are supposed to, of black smoke from a good fire and garlic and something else, something like salt, like the sea.

They jump back on the rig with pork chops for the meal and the dog lunges for the shopping bag and Rowley says, I’m going to kill that fucking thing, and Smithick gives the dog an M&M, laughing and they are all laughing and it is a good day.

In the dream, Eileen wakes from the dream to find a pristine blue and yellow morning, the most beautiful day in the history of New York City. A Tuesday. Always a Tuesday.

Entry 34: THE LAST SQUIREEN | Narrative Non-Fiction/Biography

Who could have known that buying a crumbling 18th century mansion in the 1980’s would make Dan O’Neill the reluctant squire of a tiny Irish village. Can he survive the marxist housekeeper, agoraphobic gamekeeper, cross dressing policeman, philosopher postman, a cat with a price on its head and many other bizarre characters from the village? This true story is an Irish ‘Year in Provence’ (but with more mental instability and less fine dining).

Peter suggested I might like to see the front of the house, and then step inside to view the interior. As I stood in the stables and looked around at all the devastation, I wondered just how insane someone had to be to want to see any more?

We made our way across the debris-strewn yard, arriving at a moss covered stone arch containing an old wrought iron gate. Peter went ahead and held the gate open for me, and as I passed through that archway my life changed forever.

The house was built facing due south, on a plateau atop a large limestone cliff. Lofty ancient oak and beech trees surrounded it on three sides. A gravel forecourt extended some thirty feet to the front, then nothing but a drop of a hundred feet to the river below. Spread out on the far side of the valley opposite the house, were the Nagle mountains. The Nagles could not be considered majestic, or rugged. In fact they barely qualified as mountains at all, but were achingly beautiful nonetheless. They were softly featured, rounded, undulating affairs, covered in trees and small fields reflecting every shade of green imaginable. In the soft summer sunlight, they looked like slumbering children lying under beautiful green quilts. I stood quite still, transfixed by the vision of an Ireland I thought had long disappeared. I watched as two crows danced and swooped with a large hawk over the glittering river, trying to drive him away from their newly hatched young. I stared at the sheep lounging contentedly in an impossibly green meadow looking like small white pearls on a green baize table. Peter was talking to me but I was unable to respond for quite some time, prompting him to say,

“Tis not a bad oul view I s’pose ”

I said nothing, but marveled at his consistent mastery of the Irish gift for understatement. Reluctantly, I turned away from the view to give my attention to the house, and what a house it was. Built like a well-proportioned breakfront bookcase, its tall façade was pierced by large graceful windows, and exquisite woodwork surrounded the rippled glass panes. Despite the ravages of time and neglect, the house still had great dignity. It was a penniless aristocrat, limping along in the rags of its former grandeur, unwilling to ask for charity, but dependent on the kindness of others for its survival. I crunched across the gravel drive to the ancient front door that Peter was struggling to open. He put his shoulder to the task, and with my help, the door scraped inward reluctantly. We pushed past the waist high weeds around the entrance and I found myself standing open-mouthed in a truly massive central hall. The ceilings were at least fifteen feet high, and a magnificent cu rved staircase swept down to the vast black and white tiled floor from a gallery above. Peter proudly declared,

“Tis the size of a basketball court y’know”, and for once, I could see no reason to doubt him.

Entry 33: SPRUNG | Women’s Fiction

When a down on her luck girl wins the lottery, watch out! Ashley escapes on a cross-country adventure, only to find money doesn’t solve all your problems. Sometimes, it makes life more complicated.

It’s no big deal.

I work the key into the motel lock and give a jiggle. My circumstances aren’t that bad. I mean, it’s not as if I careened over the cliff. Or became a middle-of-the-road grease spot. It was just a little fender bender.

Okay, maybe fender bender is an understatement. But I’m trying to remain positive. Truth is, I could be dead. And being dead is surely worse than being here, stranded in a backwoods town, car totaled, with only a basketful of belongings.

The lock gives with a click, and as I shoulder my way inside, I realize I never should have left the interstate. If I wasn’t paranoid about being followed, I’d be most of the way to Utah by now.

I was searching for adventure.

And now I have it.

Adventure.

I kick the door closed behind me. Funny, but in my mind, adventure appeared a little more…
modern. I gaze around the room. My night’s stay couldn’t be more Davey Crockett if it was decorated in coonskin and burlap.

To say it’s a letdown is an understatement.

Crossing to the window, I part the scratchy brown curtains and stare into the parking lot, realizing it’s not as bad as watching my crinkled Hyundai be hauled away.

Who would have thought a concrete barrier could do so much damage?

I fight the sag in my shoulders. Who cares about the car? I can buy a hundred more. So what if ‘car accident’ isn’t penciled on my List? This is my new life, and if I’m going to roll like a rock star, I need to be flexible.

At least I have a view. The town of Carlisle isn’t much bigger than I’m use to, but instead of cornfields and cattle, it’s tucked into a pocket of the Rockies, cuddled by mountains and evergreens.

I smooth the hair from my face and reach for my phone, powering it on. Since it happened, I’ve been screening my calls. I press speed dial and wait.

“Hello.”

“Hi, Mom. Are you busy?” I sandwich the phone between my cheek and shoulder, examining a snag on my fingernail.

“No, I’m just finishing the dishes. How about you? Are you in California yet?”

“Well…” I stall, debating if I should tell the truth. She worries enough as it is. “I’m not in California. I had a teeny, tiny setback.” I emphasis teeny, tiny.

“Setback? Are you okay?”

If I know Mom, she’s standing in the kitchen, ice tea in hand, worry on her brow. “Don’t worry. I had a bit of a fender bender, that’s all. I’m fine.”

“Good Lord. I knew you shouldn’t have taken off on your own. I don’t care if you are…you know…or not.” Pause. “Where are you?”

“This little town in Colorado. It’s high in the mountains.” I walk to the window and peer into the street again. “It’s really pretty.”

“So what happened? Did you fall asleep at the wheel?”

Entry 32: DEAD MAN SINGING | Crime thriller

A murdered rock star. A hard-bitten cop bent on vengeance. Maybe the dead have something to teach us…

Everyone else had left, and Sam had spent the last hour alone in the eerie stillness of Paul Cerleone’s house. At times she thought she could hear the singer’s voice, as if he would soon return, book in hand, to settle into the armchair near the window.

Sam’s arms erupted into goosebumps. She rubbed them.

This was nuts.

But earlier she hadn’t been able to shake her uneasiness at seeing Cerleone’s murdered corpse. Then the forensic team had cheerfully trashed the place; removing the chair, cutting out pieces of carpet, scattering graphite dust everywhere to look for prints. Usually she didn’t care about the unholy mess they left behind, but this got under her skin—as if the geek squad had desecrated hallowed ground.

Sam was thinking about this, staring out the picture window when Paul Cerleone walked through the door of the study.

“Holy shit.” Sam jumped to her feet. In an instant the Sig was in her hand, trained at the center of his chest. “Hold it,” she barked, her heart thumping wildly. She eased the safety to the OFF position. “Put your hands on your head.”

The man turned. His pale blue eyes widened, and he backed toward the door.

Not Cerleone, she realized, but close enough to be his doppelganger.

“Stand still.” Sam said, firm and low. “Or I’ll empty this sucker into your chest.”

He raised his hands, resting them on top of his head. “I won’t move until you tell me.” His voice was a measured, silky baritone.

Though he bore an uncanny resemblance to the victim, this guy had biceps that strained the sleeves of his polo shirt and waves of dark hair tumbling past his collar. And the way he watched her without moving reminded Sam of a wild animal; an impression made stronger by his eyes—much lighter blue than Cerleone’s, with dark edges around the iris.

Wolf eyes.

She wondered whether her heart was racing from a jolt of adrenaline—or something more primal.
Get hold of yourself, girl. This could be their killer, back to survey his handiwork.

“How’d you get in here?”

“I saw that beater out front, thought some meth-head was trying to steal Paul’s stuff. The front door was open.”

Goddamn Stiles hadn’t locked up when he left. Rookie mistake.

“You carrying a weapon? A gun…knife?”

“Um…no,” he said. “Stupid of me, considering. It was too much, somebody ripping Paul off after he’s dead. I came in to scare you away.”

“I’m not stealing anything. I’m Detective Samantha Benning, San Diego PD.” She didn’t lower the gun to reach for her badge. “We’re investigating why Mr. Cerleone…uh…did this.” They’ had decided to let the press run with the suicide story, thinking the killer might get sloppy. “Who are you?”

“My name is Trey Nelson. I’m…” He took a breath and let it out, his face showing strain she’d missed at first. Then he fixed his remarkable gaze on Samantha. “Paul Cerleone was my biological father.”

Entry 31: MISSING ALLELE | YA Futuristic Sci-Fi

Light-blind Zuzan is ripped from the comfort of her underground home and sent to the Human Genome Project (HGP) headquarters to solve the issues created by the genetic plague which divided humans into two distinct phenotypes: intelligent yet physically weak people forced to live underground, or intellectually challenged but physically robust people forced into hard labor. But when infants of both groups begin to perish of unknown causes, the laborers lose patience and wage their revenge on the HGP scientists they hold responsible.

“You’re hiding something.” Maven Ringol tilts his head, moving in closer.

“The servant can assist her,” Medero Werner says in haste.

Ringol holds up his hand, never taking his eyes off of me. “What is this?” He moves my scarf to the side, revealing the blood-stained bandages across my chest.

My pale, thin body that he’d seen during our mutual quarantine—the one I’d cursed in vain—I would give anything to have it back in all its plainness. I never imagined greater humiliation. Until now.

I swallow a dry gulp and reach for my scarf. My entire chest burns.

He moves my hands away and gently peels the top strip of adhesive. His eyes narrow. “Are these words permanent? What—?”

Werner raises his chin. “As you know, it is customary in my faction for members to wear our crest. But after the disturbance, we modified hers—”

Maven Ringol isn’t listening, his eyes tracing the tattooed words below my collarbone. “I am—but a—” He has to pull away the last bandage to see the rest. Yet, he doesn’t say the last word. His head trembles just enough for me to notice because he’s so close.

“He isn’t worth it, Maven,” I say.

Maven Ringol’s hands roll into fists and shake. His lips move in jerking motions when he speaks again. “This is his doing?”

“Let it go.”

Maven Ringol nods and releases a long-held breath. For a moment, I’m surprised at his swift ability to gain control over his anger. And in the next moment, I’m more astonished that he would become so enraged over something that happened to me.

I re-affix the bandages and straighten my scarf.

Not a second later, though, Ringol whirls around and his fist flies through the air, landing square on Werner’s jaw. I almost laugh when the medero falls on his backside with a thud.

Jet. We need to leave.

I grab Maven Ringol’s wrist. His breathing is so harsh and growly, I worry he may hyperventilate.

“You rotting lunatic!” shouts Werner. “You’ve broken my teeth loose. Get out of my burrow before I call the authorities.” He cups his hand over his mouth, and a dark liquid spills over his fingers. Blood.

He spits, spraying streaks onto the stone floor.

Maven Ringol steps forward as if he’ll strike Werner again, but I pull him back with all my weight. It’s no use—he doesn’t notice and I can’t stop him. “Maven!” My voice rises an octave. “Let’s go.”

His eyes meet mine, and the tension in his muscles eases. He turns to Werner once more. “You bring shame to your profession and to the Werner name,” he says, dicing every syllable. “As for your teeth, you may send your dental bill to me. I would bid you good health, but I’m a lousy liar. Instead, I leave you with a truth: If we ever meet again, I will make certain your health is no longer an issue.”

Entry 30: SURGE | YA Sci-Fi

Our future is full of SURGERS – humans born with the ability to time travel. The only problem? They’re all about to go rogue in the year 2014.

Sharp objects. That’s the first thing that comes to mind the moment I stop surging. Knives. Needles. Razor Blades. All sharp. All piercing into every inch of my flesh at an unfathomable rate of speed. It’s the very definition of agony…and that’s describing it mildly.

Human beings aren’t meant to time travel. They don’t tell you that in training. I know it now. I’ve known it since the moment I began to surge. The moment I first felt the hurt. It hurts to breathe. It hurts to move. It hurts to live. And yet, I’m standing here, in the middle of an overgrown forest, trying hard as hell to suck the cold tasteless air into my lungs enough times to survive, because I did live. I am alive. I am alive and I have managed to survive another surge.

I force a smile despite the fact that it’s damn near impossible and clench my right hand into a fist. More searing pain. I force myself to ignore it and repeat the process with my left. The feeling grows numb. The pain slightly duller. This has to be good enough I tell myself. I can’t stay here any longer.

“We’re wasting time,” I say to the woodland. My voice is low, scratchy and barely recognizable. I clear my throat.

“Micah?” I try again. My words ring clearer.

There is a slight rustle from the dead leaves as a tall male figure with short light brown hair emerges. It’s my partner. “How do you feel, Kenison?” he asks, walking toward me.

I shrug. “Like I just surged.”

A faint laugh escapes his mouth, but he is quick to contain it. “How’s your head?”

“Fine.”

“Motor skills?”

“Fine.”

“And the pain?”

I hesitate briefly before deciding to lie. “All but gone.”

He studies me, unconvinced. I hate when he does this. “Look, Micah,” I say, hoping to put his mind at ease. “I’m fine. I promise. My body is starting to get used to the whole surging process.”

His jaw tightens with a trace of doubt. Of course, Micah knows I’m lying. He always knows when I am lying. Still, he chooses to let it go as he pulls a small electronic device from his backpack and tosses it to me. It’s my statiscan and it is one of two items no tracker is ever allowed to be without. It’s how we time travel. Without it, we’d be stuck

Micah’s throw is flawless, but my depth perception is still off. As I reach up for the catch, the statiscan hits my arm and falls clumsily to the ground.

I can feel him watching as I struggle to pick it up. I roll my eyes. “I told you I’m fine,” I inform him again.

He looks on with frustration as I place the scanning device to my left wrist and press the green button. Immediately, a red beam shoots out. The numbers 87917001 appear in a hologram. Those are my numbers.

Entry 29: THE DEVIL ON MY LEFT | YA Supernatural

Lenie Rhodes doesn’t remember much about being dead. She also doesn’t remember the deal she struck in the eight minutes before paramedics were able to bring her back.

Three years later, Lenie’s still dealing with the after shock of that morning: the scars, the strange, hazy memories. The voices that followed her out of death.

Maybe Adam and Grayson really are all in her head; along with the dark, shifty shadows who’ve been following her in the night. Or maybe it’s all horribly, dangerously, real.

There is only one thing Lenie is sure of. If she doesn’t figure this out soon, she’s destined for one of two things: a padded room, or even worse—her second death.

“Alright, Lenie.” Dr. Duck leans back in his chair, disarming smile in place. “I know you get nervous talking about Adam and Grayson, and I can understand that, but what you’re going through is nothing to be ashamed of. Your body and mind sustained a major trauma, one most people will never experience. If you were perfectly functional then I’d be concerned.”

His words make sense. I’m sure he means them. Still, something deep inside urges me to stay silent.

“I hope you know you can trust me.” Those jolly brown eyes are so serious. He looks almost hurt.

Here is where you give him a little bit more so he believes he’s getting through to you.

Okay, Adam. I would never be able to play these games if it wasn’t for Adam and Grayson’s guidance. Still, I feel horrible for being so deceptive. Dr. Duck really is just trying to help.

You don’t need help, Lenie. At least, not from him. Grayson’s getting impatient with all this. Give him what he wants, but not too much. And don’t make it obvious.

You aren’t hurting him by being deceptive, Lenie. This is best for everyone. Adam’s voice lulls me. I want so much to believe he’s right.

Okay, okay, I tell them. Now shut up, both of you.

I turn to the window, studying the skeletal trees outside his office. Then I look down at my lap. “Okay…they’ve spoken to me a few other times. Twice at school and a few more at home, usually in the morning. One even lasted about thirty seconds.” I don’t know why I added that last part. It just popped out.

I see him perk up in his chair. “That long? It must have been a back and forth conversation.”

Cursing myself, I nod. My head’s still lowered so he can see how ‘ashamed’ I am. Not that I have to pretend much.

“What was discussed?”

I don’t need a coach to tell me the right thing to say here. I raise my eyes to meet his. “My accident.”

“You mean the day you were struck by Andy Brennerman’s car.”

I nod again.

“How did this conversation make you feel?” His tone is gentle, his brows lifted and open.

“Anxious, I guess.” Then inspiration strikes. “They told me my memory of dying will be coming back.”

NO!

Adam’s voice tears through my mind. I try not to react, but I still end up blinking several times. For a moment I’m afraid I’m about to cry. I’ve never heard such rage from him before. I close my eyes, pushing away the tears. When I open them, Dr. Duck’s staring at me in an entirely different way. He looks…angry.

I blink again.

The look is gone. There’s nothing on Dr. Duck’s face but surprise. Maybe I mistook it for anger. I mean, what reason would he have to be mad?

I have no idea what just happened, but I do know something’s gone very, very wrong.

Entry 28: LIAR’S POKER | Commercial Fiction

In the week following his estranged father’s murder, Darby Finch is kidnapped, his car is blown up, and everyone from the CIA to the Chicago PD is after him. It might have something to do with the two million dollars his father stole from a psychotic IRA arms dealer. Then again it might not.

Twenty minutes before Darby Finch was drugged and stuffed in the trunk of a Ford Mondeo his phone skittered across the bar with the vibration of an incoming text. It was news from his mother and as usual it was delivered with the love, tenderness, and sensitivity he had come to expect from their relationship.

Tom is dead. Two days ago. Shot twice in a bar. No funeral. Don’t worry about it.
Finch deleted the text and slipped the phone back into his sports jacket. He felt a momentary flash of something that could be called loss, but it passed in the time it took the phone to hit the bottom of his pocket. The barkeep showed up before he had to think about it too long and handed Finch a pint.

“I ordered a cream soda,” Finch said.

“And I handed you a pint, didn’t I,” the bartender replied. Finch gave a wan smile and dropped a couple of pounds on the lacquered black wood. When the bartender left Finch slid the glass over to his roommate, Kemp.

“What was the text?” Kemp said finishing his Carlsburg with one hand and taking the new one from Finch with the other.

“My dad’s dead,” Finch said. “Two days ago.”

“No shit. What happened?” Finch made a gun with his hand and dropped the thumb-hammer twice. Kemp nodded and said nothing. Finch was grateful for that. He’d come to London to get his head on straight and estranged fathers, dead or alive, were not conducive to head-straightening.

They’d skipped the first day of the Anglo-American Writers Conference and opted instead to take an unsupervised tour of their personal London must-sees. They’d stopped in for beef chow mein at Lee Ho Fook’s. It was awful, but they choked it down with satisfied grins. They’d stopped at the rotary at Parliament Square and pointed out Big Ben and Parliament to kids as they passed by for the better part of an hour. They had ended up at a little pub located at 221 Baker Street replete with memorabilia and wax figures of their favorite detective and his sidekick. When Kemp had had his fill of bitters and Finch his fill of kidney pie they decided to meet up with the rest of the conventioneers at the pub on Leicester Square which had been recommended in the brochure.

Entry 27: REVIVAL: THE DONALD BRASWELL STORY | Memoir

Donald Braswell’s raw talent earns a four-year scholarship at Juilliard, where his rise toward the top one percent of professional opera singers continues until stupidity steals his voice and career. Thirteen years in the wilderness, Braswell, a car salesman, jogs to the America’s Got Talent. Met with an angry, vocal crowd, can the middle-aged Texan become the Rocky Balboa of the operatic world?

Chapter One: Waiting for the Horse

“… People are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment…”
– Hebrews 9:27 NIV

February, 2008 – Dallas, Texas

Waiting for an answer, my water-spotted reflection was cautious to respond in case someone walked into the quiet restroom only to wonder about the weird guy talking to himself.

You realize this isn’t a second chance. Maybe it’s not even the last, God willing, but it might be my last, true professional chance.

I looked around – still alone.

Get it together, trust your training. You’re not a twenty-year-old tenor anymore, so give the best of who you are right now. Man up, dude.

I shook my head, washed my hands and waved at the automatic towel dispenser, which released a small strip of coarse, brown paper. Annoyed at the hotel’s cost-cutting measures, I waved my hands like some new monarch on parade. With (mostly) dry hands, I added my small offering to a plastic trashcan that had erupted in a lava flow of used, wet paper towels.

I pulled the door open, headed toward the busy conference room and rejoined the thousands of hopefuls who had descended on Dallas for America’s Got Talent’s latest round of auditions.

The crewmember in charge of our loose group said we were “going up at about noon.” Looking at my watch, there was an hour to burn. Working to relax, I straddled a chair, with an annoying wobble – changed it for another – and went through possible answers to whatever questions the three judges might ask during the introduction. I wanted to be ready because if I beat the infamous buzzers, I planned to use every second of stage time.

Coach Sunvinson, my old high school football coach, popped into my head for one final piece of advice. (He’d always pushed me to run the plays in my head a thousand times before hitting the field once.)

Yes, Coach, I remember. Repetition – a great way to keep fear at bay.
Another long sigh escaped from the clutches of my powerful lungs. The glory days of high school football were a quarter century removed. I’m no spring chicken. Maybe I’m past it? Maybe it’s time to retire the dream?

Whatever.

OK, now I’m answering myself.

At least you weren’t caught yapping to yourself in the restroom.

That’s true.

A main door opened and I glanced over the shoulder of an all-in-black staffer, trying to catch a
glimpse of the action. Pushing a pair of square-rim glasses to the summit of his bald head, the guy lifted a hand to silence the singers and mute the magicians.

“Sorry, sorry, can I have your attention? Please?” he said, after waiting for a few moments. “Due to several time issues, we’re pushing parts of this room back to the early afternoon.”

A repeated apology and occasional tinny squeal from his hand-held megaphone added little gravitas to his message. Instead, a loud, R-rated groan rumbled across the floor. Pockets of resistance lit up and…

Entry 26: AZTEC SURFBOARD | Mystery

Esme Garcia spends her days and nights bringing life into the world. She knows better than most that life and death can both be messy. In Aztec Surfboard, the first book in the Esme Garcia tequila mysteries, Esme tries to help a patient and ends up uncovering a crime ring and solving a murder.

As it turned out, finding the address was easier than finding Marta. Esme looked up at the building in dismay. There must be fifty apartments here. Studying the mailboxes, she found no Sepulvedas. It had been too much to hope for. She leaned against her car trying to figure out what to do next. Moments later, the door opened and a group of pre-teen boys spilled out. Dressed in their Padres finest, they glanced over Esme with disinterest.

“Hi.” She almost yelled with relief.

“Uh…hey.” The tallest one answered warily.

“Do you happen to know Marta Sepulveda? She lives here. Just had a baby a week ago?” Esme tried not to sound like a social worker.

The boys all looked at the ground. Then they looked at each other. Finally, the leader spoke again. “Naw, we don’t know her. You should ask the ice cream man. He knows everyone.”

“Ice cream man?” Esme could hear herself sounding like an idiot.

“Yea, he’s always out this time of day. You’ll hear his music.” And with this, they shuffled off down the street in unison.

She heard the music five blocks later as she wandered looking for the elusive truck. But it wasn’t a truck. The music came from a small radio taped to the handlebar of an old stroller pushed by an even older man.

“Buenas tardes.” Esme’s greeting earned her a “good evening” in return from the old man and a squeal of delight from the stroller’s passenger. He was about 10 months old and, like most babies with Down Syndrome, had a ready smile. A sticker on his snack tray read “Life is Bueno”. Esme bent to greet the little boy, who showered her with enthusiastic babble. She straightened to introduce herself to his grandfather. She hoped he was the grandfather; it was hard to tell sometimes.

“I’m looking for someone and I’m hoping you might be able to help me. Marta Sepulveda. She lives at The Orchard and just had a baby a week ago? I’m her midwife. I came to check on her, but don’t know the apartment number. Do you know her?”

“Well, I don’t know much about her, she just got here not long ago. But I know her aunt, Margarita. Margarita Torres. I’ve seen the niece when she was pregnant, but I didn’t know she had the baby already. Hope she’s OK. Margarita’s been worried about her.”

“Is she sick?” Esme’s voice sharpened with concern.

“No, no. Some man from work kept coming by and Marta seemed scared, but she wouldn’t talk about it. Margarita thinks her niece has gotten herself into some sort of mess. Again.”

Entry 25: THE END OF SEPTEMBER | Commercial Fiction

When Christine Taylor joined Aether Services, a leading U.S. defense contractor specialising in international assassinations, she never imagined she’d become the company’s biggest target.

Chris’s trip was wilder than anything she’d ever imagined. She was underwater, drowning. She was in an ambulance at least twice. An airplane. A helicopter. The voices spoke rapid-fire Russian, but they never spoke to her. Alex?

Day and night didn’t exist, just light and dark. She was hot and cold, wet and dry, dreaming but still. It was a struggle to wake up, but when she did, she didn’t feel awake. Her shoulder burned, but the pain would fade, as though an angel sprinkled morphine from a magical cloud of poppies.

At Landstuhl Medical Center in Germany, everyone spoke English. They knew who she was and refused to let her remain in dreamland. They shined lights in her eyes and cut down her meds, and Chris slowly slipped back into the realm of the living. They didn’t ask questions. All they cared about was making her well. They had no idea who Alex was, or what happened to him. When she got upset, they squeezed a little Ativan into her arterial line and her worries drifted away.

Chris wasn’t alone in her room. There were others, soldiers injured in Afghanistan. All with gunshot wounds. She remembered that Alex had been in Afghanistan: a Russian fighting for America fighting for Russia. But he wasn’t any of these men.

Her doctor remarked that she’d been shot with a NATO round, the type of ammunition used by the US military. This development peaked the interest of her roommates. Or as the young private from Georgia across the aisle said so succinctly: why would the good guys shoot such a hottie? After a week in the hospital, however, Chris didn’t feel like a hottie. She wanted the line out of her arm and her arm out of the sling. It was a horrible terrible uncomfortable reminder that she’d been shot. That nearly all her blood had soaked into an artificial beach, a Russian beach.

The others were proud of their battle scars. They’d served their country and could hold their heads high as warriors. Not Chris. She wasn’t shot by some Taliban motherfucker lurking behind a burnt out Yugo. She was shot by Joe Daley, ex-Recon Marine, mentally unstable woman hating motherfucker. Not that it mattered. If not Joe, it would’ve been someone else from Aether’s ranks, some other mercenary patriot who had no problem assassinating a twenty-three year old American woman who’d done nothing wrong.

How did I get here? she wondered, staring at the dingy ceiling tiles. Why hadn’t Alex saved her? Why did he abandon her? Was he hurt too? Had someone else been at the beach, beside Joe? Her heart raced. Joe shot him. He was bleeding. But….

Her cardiac monitor began beeping, her blood pressure spiked. A heavy weight pressed down on her chest. She was suffocating. A nurse ran in, then a doctor. She was losing consciousness. Floating away. Then Chris fell back to sleep, back to never never dreamland, to happy days in the sun.

Entry 24: LOSING MEADOW BROOK | Upmarket Fiction

Walter must try and make it all the way to Cuba, and find the buried treasure, before his unwitting partners discover he’s broke. The mob didn’t kill him, but that doesn’t mean his already reluctant traveling companions won’t leave him for dead. Walter will have to use everything within his manipulative arsenal to ensure the pensioners make the journey, and get the loot…together.

“This is Beverly,” Walter announced proudly.

“I take it you two must know each other?” Harvey asked.

“No,” Walter replied happily. “We just met in the donut shop over there.”

“Wow,” Paul said. “That’s nice.”

“I know,” Walter replied, “and isn’t she wonderful?” Beverly hid her blushing face in Walter’s shoulder and giggled.

“Yes,” Paul replied. “She is quite lovely. Say, Walter, we have some great news too. We’ve got a ride down at the dock, and it leaves the marina in a couple of hours.”

“Oh yeah,” Walter said, looking down his shoulder at Beverly. “About that…I’m not going,” he added.

“You’re what?” Eddie asked. “But you’ve come all this way. I would have never come this far if it hadn’t been for you.”

“I’m sorry,” Walter said. “That was before I met Beverly.”

“You’ve only known her for five minutes,” Eddie protested.

“It doesn’t matter,” Walter replied. “We are in love. I think that what you said about fate was right after all. I think that everything has happened for a reason.”

“Arty and my father hiring the same airplane half a century ago was nothing yesterday,” Eddie replied. “And now, today, you meet a girl for five minutes and share a doughnut together, and it is fate? All of it was fate so that you could have a doughnut with this woman?”

“Yes,” Walter replied. “I’m sorry, Eddie. I’m sorry to all of you. I’m getting on that bus with Beverly and going back to the home with her here in Key West. We’re going to be married.”

“What?” Spit shot out of Paul’s mouth and he wiped his lips away with the back of his hand. “You’re going to be married now? For the love of…, that is the most ridiculous thing that I have ever heard.”

“Good luck,” Harvey said, extending out his hand. “I’m very happy for you.”

“Thank you,” Walter replied, shaking his extended hand.

“You mean you’re going along with this?” Paul asked, staring at Harvey in disbelief.
“Clearly, they’re very happy together,” Harvey replied.

“Just like that, Walter?” Paul asked.

“Just like that,” Walter replied.

Paul looked at Walter, who was beaming with pride and joy, and then at Beverly, whose smiling face was still half buried in Walter’s shoulder. “Fine,” Paul said, throwing his hands into the air. “Good luck to you,” he added, reaching down to vigorously shake Walter’s hand, before practically throwing it and walking away along the sidewalk, shaking his head and cursing beneath his breath.

Entry 23: THE STONETALKER | MG Fantasy

His best friend’s a dork. The girl of his dreams won’t give him the time of day. His dad’s trapped in the world behind the school’s boiler room and thirteen-year-old Asher’s the only one who can save him. Yep… middle school sucks.

“I don’t see why I just can’t keep practicing while we walk,” Asher said. He’d been practicing for hours and everyone had gotten to eat something except for him.

Behind him, Em tried to get Rex to fetch a small stick. She’d throw it, but the little pugglin would just watch it go by and hand her a different one instead.

Zoe moved her sword in slow motion, practicing the different moves Gareth taught her. She was getting pretty good at it, too. Not as if she needed anything else to make her look more gorgeous.

“No. We keep working. Let’s try again.” Gareth took off his shirt and threw it on the ground. Em dropped the stick she was holding and Zoe’s sword nearly flew out of her hands. Both of them jogged over to a log and sat down to watch.

Asher rolled his eyes. “Why do you have to take your shirt off for this? You’re not doing anything.”

“Because it’s hot, Asher.”

“You can say that again,” Zoe said and Em giggled.

Gareth sat another small pebble down on a stump in front of Asher. “Now levitate it.”

Asher threw his hands up in the air. “What do you think I’ve been trying to do, Gareth?”

Gareth crossed his arms and stood firm.

Asher sighed, trying to make it as loud as he could. He focused his thoughts. Move the rock. Move the rock. He repeated that several times. After a few seconds of seeing nothing more than everyone stare at him, he gave up before he gave himself a headache.

“Forget it. I can’t do this.” He slumped to the ground and buried his head in his hands.

“Just…” Gareth’s face was red. He looked like he was about to grab a tree and uproot it.

Thankfully, Norek walked up. “Perhaps I can help.”

Gareth waved him forward and took a step back.

“I do know a bit about magic, you know.” Norek beamed Asher a cocky smile. Asher could almost hear Gareth roll his eyes. Norek twirled his finger around his long beard. “How much experience do you have with magic?”

“Me? None. We don’t really have any magic where I’m from.”

“No magic!” Norek sounded offended. “Well… that is unfortunate.” He stood, scratching his chin. After several moments of silence he finally spoke. “I’d fallen from my roof. The prophecy came to me while I was unconscious. It was brief, but I remember the vision clearly. The Masori holding a child. The child’s heart was made of stone. Nivven Stone. And then the child threw up. Or perhaps it peed. I can’t remember, really.”

“Okay.” Asher wasn’t sure where Norek was going with his point.

“I’ve heard Gareth say you used this power in your world. Correct?”

“He says I did, anyway.”

“So tell me about those times.”

Asher didn’t want to think about it anymore. But he knew Norek wouldn’t leave him alone until he did, so he played along.

Entry 22: ANOTHER WAR YEAR | Young Adult

Olivia Vincent is a lucky teenager living in Los Angeles, circa 1999: she’s an only child of wealthy parents, she has a pool in her backyard, and she has a totally hot boyfriend. A wannabe-director with big dreams of one day directing an Academy Award-winning film, it’s an understatement to say that the Oscars are important to Olivia. When she begins to base the quality of her life around which films win or lose each year, her superstitions affect her relationships with family members, friends, and her (totally hot) boyfriend.

I want to know the reason why I was named after Olivia de Havilland, but what if that means asking about my parents’ sex life?

In English class we’re reading battered copies of The Odyssey, and we just got to the chapter where Odysseus finds himself trapped in the cave of a Cyclops. Odysseus, thinking fast, tells the Cyclops that his name is “Nobody.” This totally works out for him, because when he spears the Cyclops in the eye the poor guy can only scream “Nobody’s hurting me!”

My English teacher and the rest of the class think that this is pretty hysterical, but I cannot stop fixating on the idea of being a Nobody. As I fidget with the corners of my paperback, I start thinking about my own name.

Olivia de Havilland is most famously known for her portrayal of Melanie in Gone with the Wind. Oh, nothing special or anything. I mean, Gone with the Wind was just one of the most important films of its time, clocking in at an impressive four hours with its intermission. It eventually went on to win ten Academy Awards. And then, years after this actress passed her prime, I was born.

Olivia Vincent.

I often wonder if my pregnant mother was a fan of Gone with the Wind. Did she like watching Rhett and Scarlett go at it when she was propped up in bed, nursing a box of sugar-free bonbons? If that was the case, why wasn’t I named after Vivian Leigh, the true Southern belle and the star of the movie? Why was I not affectionately nicknamed Viv, instead of Liv? Neither parent has confessed to having Ms. de Havilland on their “Best Actresses of All Time” list.

Olivia de Havilland had it rough. She had an annoying younger sister to deal with, and the two of them often fought over roles. Her sister, Joan Fontaine, beat her out for the title of Best Actress in 1942 for her role in Hitchcock’s Suspicion, which is a totally cool movie. That year, Olivia was nominated for her role in Hold Back the Dawn, which I think is some kind of zany gigolo love story that takes place in Mexico, but I’m not entirely sure. I’ve never even attempted to see it. I do admit, the name Olivia de Havilland sounds much better than Joan Fontaine, so at least my namesake wins at something.

I mean, do parents really just pull names out of thin air, or pick a name because they “like the sound of it?” This is a name we’re talking about. It’s something you’re stuck with for the rest of your life (or until a talent agent gets to you, here in Los Angeles).

Entry 21: THE MAD KING OF BEAVER ISLAND | Alt History

In 1848, Jack Numont wants his paradise on Beaver Island, Michigan back from the invading Mormon hoard. He could have simply joined the church to stay safe, but instead he opposes their immoral religious-authority. Jack cripples the church’s finances, but excruciating subversion is not enough, he wants their eyes to bleed.

September 19, 1679
The barq-Le Griffon
Le Gran Bay, Lac du Illinois

“Do it. Do it now!” Maji screamed.

Merida clenched the hilt of Wasaga’s blade in her hand. Pain stabbed her brain and blinded her vision.

“Kill him! Kill him! Kill him!” Maji shrieked.

She squeezed her eyes shut and swung the knife at Proto.

A sharp spasm pierced Proto’s back. The intense pain ripped his attention away from the approaching water spout. He reached around and touched his side. His hand came away bloody. His eyes widened as the rain washed away the blood from his fingers. “What in all the nine circles of hell!”

Maji cackled as he lifted his head to the blackened sky.

Proto heard wild laughter within the diminished storm sounds. He turned and faced a tall, muscular Indian with red-rimmed irises standing behind Merida. The man’s eyes bored into Proto.

“Kill him, Merida,” said the Indian. “Make him pay. Kill him for taking you away from your daughter.”

“Who…?” Proto’s mouth fell open as heaviness weighted down his chest.

Merida’s bloodied knife plunged into Proto’s chest. The pressure and the pain of the blade slipping between his collar bone and his ribs caught him by surprise. A round-eyed Merida pulled the knife out as he dropped to his knees. His vision started to blacken as his breathing became labored, and his lungs filled with blood.

Merida knelt and shouted into his ear, “I told you, I would kill you later.”

Proto’s face hit the deck. He spit blood from his mouth as blood spilled from his chest. All was washed away by the waves coming over the bow, into the scuppers, and then out into the lake. As his life seeped out of his body, he stared up from the deck.

Merida straddled him on her knees and gripped her knife with the blade pointing up at her chest.

Maji held her from behind, his hands wrapped around her abdomen in a lover’s embrace. “Now seal their fate. Come to me and be with me forever.” He nuzzled and kissed her throat.

Merida tilted her head away to give the man access to her neck. She half closed her eyes in ecstasy and plunged the knife with Proto’s blood on it, up and under her breastbone–straight into her heart.

She did not utter a last, prophetic statement. She only said, “Ahh,” with relief on her face. She flopped on top of Proto, dead before she hit the deck.

Before he lost consciousness into death, Merida’s blood pumped and ran onto him, mixing their life blood and souls, a commingling of people even in death. Le Griffon sailed right into the arms of the vortex. The Indian maiden shaped water spout changed to show its true nature. Maji Manidoo, the Indian’s mischievous Spirit God, reached out and gathered the boat and crew to him. Their fate and the fate of all their children were sealed.

Entry 20: NIGHT FALLS | YA Fantasy

Jacqueline Puddle wakes up in the land of the Dead and discovers that it is up to her to save it. Together, with her new friends – a zombie dog, a talking doll and a boy who claims to be so much more – Jacqueline must defeat the Man With No Eyes before she can return home Alive.

It was completely silent. The statues stood by the sides of the streets – cold, solid ghosts frozen beyond the clutches of both life and death. It looked as if the people had streamed out of their homes, excited and waiting for someone, something. Now they were stuck there, indefinitely, perhaps even forever waiting for a saviour.

“Let’s go,” Jacqueline said softly. Suddenly, she was overwhelmed with hurt for her canine friend. She threw her arms around him. “Come on, Day. It’s going to be okay. I promise.”

The wet cobblestone streets held scattered puddles, remnants of the prior rain. Wet, reluctant footprints were left behind as they pushed on forward, steps silenced by the fog.

As they moved within the solid forms, looming shadows in the mist, Jacqueline felt as if they were haunting her. She could feel their eyes on the party, silently vigilant. The statues’ souls were in there, within the hard cold rock and their intent was clear – help us.

She paused in front of one particular form. It was a small child. The newness of his life was reflected in the polish of his current physical being; his mother’s stone exterior was much more worn. They held hands, and Jacqueline watched as a water drop that had collected on the hat that framed his small skull dripped down his brow and over his cheek.

They moved on, turning a corner. Jacqueline watched the boy over her shoulder until she could no longer see him, and nearly ran into Daberath because of it. He had stopped, frozen with one paw in the air, mid-step. He and Nathaniel were staring into the distance, as if they had spotted something to pause their way.

Jacqueline looked up and her heart stopped.

It was the creature she had seen in the forest.

Its black body was now fully visible, its form made of rough edges as if it had been drawn into existence with an inky black pen. Its grotesquely large orange eyes filled half its face and stared at them. Its jagged mouth parted, and it was smiling.

“What is it?” Jacqueline’s voice choked out, her throat thick with fear.

“It’s a thym,” Nathaniel said, his voice quiet and calm.

Somewhere deep down inside, Jacqueline had known this. It was this monster and its friends that had tainted the outside of the Gardens with their shadowy filth, splashing an aura of darkness in the tunnel just by their presence and intent.

“What do we do?” Jacqueline whispered. She looked back over to Nathaniel, and faltered. There was something distinctly cold and heart-breaking about the expression on his face. She suddenly remembered the state they had discovered him in; his admissions of experience.

The thym’s smile widened, its mouth stretching the entire width of its face, and it seemed as if the top half of its head could fall backward.

“We run.” Nathaniel’s voice was quiet and definite.

Entry 19: ONE DREAM AWAY | horror

An immortal extraterrestrial entity has, throughout history, possessed and created humanity’s worst rulers and psychopathic killers. To its frustration, in today’s civilization, the authorities often capture its hosts. In 1981, the entity finds a solution when Jon Loftus, a promising young journalist, arrives to research an article at its current abode: a psychiatric hospital. It compels Jon to do its bidding or his new-found love dies. While chained to the entity by a whispery summons that compels Jon to return to it anywhere, anytime, Jon must find a way to rid himself and the world of the entity forever.

A shadow detached itself from the inky corner of the tunnel wall. It solidified into the shape of a man as it emerged into the weak flickering fluorescent light that bathed the intersection, casting its own shadows among the hissing pipes and thick cables.

The man was tall and thin, ebony-haired, pale of face, with an aquiline nose, bushy black eyebrows over equally dark eyes, and a thick black moustache that could not hide his very cheerful and very wide white grin. He appeared to be about 40 years old. He was dressed in Riverview-type garb: nightgown and pajamas—orange rather than pale green—with “Forensic Psychiatric Hospital” displayed on the crests. Colony Farm!

He began to walk in a casual, jaunty fashion towards us.

I felt a sudden increase in the thrumming buzz that I had sensed since entering through the armoured door. I tightened my grip on Lindsey’s hand and pulled her closer to me as I backed up a few steps. Lindsey broke free, actually made a step forward—to my consternation—and extended her right arm straight out towards the man with her palm up. Putting on an authoritative nurse’s voice, she commanded: “Stop! No further.”

Surprisingly the shadow-man halted, still with the broad gleaming grin pasted on his face. He brought his arms out and up from both sides, slowly spreading out his fingers.

“Lindsey … please, please. As you can see, I am not armed, plus I am only one unarmed man, at that. I will not harm you, you see. Actually I have been expecting your visit—well, Mr. Loftus’ visit in any event—and I merely wished to welcome you to my … my home … as it were.”

How does this guy know who we are? I have never seen him in my life before.

“Now, you need to listen to me, sir,” Lindsey continued as if she was in complete control.

She doesn’t know him either.

“We are going to turn around and go back the way we came, while you … well, you need to go back to your room—immediately.”

The dark man chuckled. My neck hairs lifted.

“As I intimated, Ms Stokes-Bennett, I wasn’t expecting you, just Mr. Loftus here. However, now that you are come, a better plan comes to mind. Yes, indeed.”

“J-just who are you, anyway?” I blurted out. Lindsey glanced back at me with a frown, as if I had derailed her entire process of pacification.

“Oh splendid, Mr. Loftus,” the man cackled, his grin broadened. Something cold and slick rolled in my stomach. “You must indeed be a marvellous reporter, for you have burrowed down to the nub of the matter already, my, my. Yes … who am I?” He spread his arms out as wide as possible, like a swooping bat, changing from a yielding to triumphant gesture. He levelled his black eyes at me. They were as hard as coal, as threatening as a thunderhead.

“Sh’si-i-ing!”

Entry 18: DEATH BY HIGH HEELS | Mystery

When private investigator Kimberly Murphy is caught standing over a dead body again, hot homicide detective Grant Tompkins is determined to put her in handcuffs – and not the pink, fuzzy kind. Kim’s efforts to clear her slightly tarnished name lead to dead ends and even more dead bodies. Kim will need all her skills and a bit of luck to outwit a killer who’d like to put an end to Kim’s meddling, permanently.

Cops hate it when you vomit all over their crime scene – a mistake I had no desire to repeat. Then again, the fact that I’d just trampled all over this scene was probably a whole new mistake I should have avoided. I stared at the corpse and fought the urge to hurl. If only I hadn’t answered the door, I’d be eating dinner instead of standing in my neighbor’s apartment looking at a dead guy.

I’d seen plenty of weird things but this had to be one of the weirdest. The guy was just sitting there in the chair. Looking at him you would think he was asleep – if not for all the blood and his guts spilled onto his lap. I tore my eyes from him and asked my annoying neighbor the question I most wanted the answer to.

“What the hell did you hit him with?”

Lindsay dropped the strand of blonde hair she’d been twirling and glanced down at the floor. “My shoe.”

“Damn it, Lindsay, you can’t kill someone with a shoe!”

“Hello, they’re Via Spiga.”

“Ugh.” I glared. There was no way in hell she had done this kind of damage with a shoe. If she had, women would soon be saying goodbye to their much-beloved accessory. Men-even NRA members- would insist on an instant ban of the deadly yet sexy weapon.
I set my hands on my hips. “Any idea how he got this giant hole in his stomach?”

“What? No, I hit him and ran.” Lindsay’s face paled and she leaned against the doorframe.

“Come here and see if you recognize him.”

“Gross, no way.”

“Get your ass over here!” I turned towards her and spotted Lakeview’s oldest beat cop standing behind her, his gun drawn. It would have been scary if only he didn’t look like Santa Claus dressed as a cop for Halloween. With the beginnings of a snow white beard and a pot belly in the making.

“Ah hell,” I muttered. “Hey Duncan.”

“Kim Murphy. Oh man the Chief’s gonna be pissed,” Officer Duncan said.

My dad, he meant. A connection that hadn’t helped me the last time I’d been caught standing over a dead guy. That was probably because I’d shot the miserable son of a bitch. It was self-defense and besides, the guy deserved it. Thankfully there were several witnesses and the Grand Jury had dropped the matter. Which was why I was enjoying the comforts of my own apartment when Lindsay came banging on my door.

Duncan looked over at her. “Now who might you be, Miss?”

“I’m Lindsay Pembrook.”

He glanced my way. “I guess that’s the dead guy. You sure he’s dead?” Duncan asked me.

“Yeah, I’m sure,” I said, looking away from the object of our discussion.

I stepped back and took a deep breath I regretted immediately. Just when I thought I’d gotten used to the smell, the nausea returned. My four brothers, all cops, claimed you could will yourself not to vomit.

Entry 17: TRISKELEON | YA fantasy

Men are disappearing, plants are dying, and the rivers are flooding in Anderli—a magical realm trapped in the pages of a book that literally falls into the hands of fifteen-year-old Marnie Sayebrooke. Sucked into the town steeped in Irish lore, Marnie learns she’s a descendant of the time-traveling Momenta, and the only one can rid Anderli of its mysterious plague. Amidst warlocks, magical beasts who are both friends and foes, and two very different suitors, Marnie must develop and trust in her abilities to reverse the destruction, or Anderli will be erased forever.

Smoothing out the page, Walter read: “Bronze bracelet made from a coiled strip. Known as a Triskeleon. Found in the River Deel at Ballymahon, County Meath. Era unknown. Housed in the National Museum of Ireland, Dublin.” He grinned. “Quite a rare relic.”

Marnie yearned to try it on. It called to her in the same way Anderli had. Pushing up her sleeve, she took off her watch and placed it on her left wrist. She reveled in the elation it gave her. “It feels warm. But a good warm.”

Walter’s smile quickly faded. “What’s this?” He squinted his ancient eyes toward a tiny light that emoted from the book. Grabbing it, he held the last page of Anderli up near his desk lamp. Marnie could see traces of a shape that matched the designs on the bracelet—a circle with three prongs that swirled outward. It glowed.

Would that mean the Triskeleon would too? She tried to keep her nerves steady, but her thoughts spiraled out of control. She couldn’t be holding the same Triskeleon she’d read about. But if she was….was that why the print had disappeared from the pages?

They both stared at the bracelet and the book for a moment, as if waiting to see what either one might do next. It was quiet enough to hear birds chirping outside.

Then, as if on cue, the bracelet began to change color. Marnie gasped as it changed from red to yellow to bright white. It emoted a slight burning, making her wince.

“It’s doing it!” She grabbed the book to study the watermark again. “Look!” she gasped. Walter, unable to conceal his astonishment, peered as it glowed hotter and brighter to match the bracelet.

But Marnie’s elation faded when invisible fingers reached behind her neck and forced her forward. “Ohmigosh—is—is something pushing me?”

His bespeckled eyes blinked in awe. “What’s pushing you?”

Before she could answer, the book dropped and Anderli’s pages began to turn by themselves. Marnie pulled her head back, trying to free herself from the forces that strained her. But her neck kept moving forward against her will.

The pages quickened, turning as if controlled by a whipping breeze. More gray mists emerged, and fear clawed Marnie’s stomach. A tiny vortex emerged from the pages and grew toward her.
Desk papers whisked and bookshelves heaved toward the increasing pull. Walter reached through the gale to grab her hand, but was repelled back by his flying desk lamp. It barely missed his head before shattering into the opposite wall.

Marnie turned transparent. Her eyes widened with horror as her head flattened and shrank. “Help!” she screamed.

Walter lunged one more time, but her ghostly arms floated through his fingers like water.

He was powerless to stop it. All he could do was watch in horror as she was vacuumed into nothing.

Entry 16: CHOKE CHAIN | Urban Fantasy Romance

As the accidental alpha of a tiny pack surviving on the edge of Heirloom Springs, Montana, Connor Wolcott is doing his best to negotiate a truce between his pack and the Regs who run the town. But when he and his beta are gunned down just before a significant hearing, Connor has to ask his runaway mate, a natural-born schemer with her claw on the pulse of werewolf politics, for help in finding both the gunner and peace.

“Come on, it’s just one more,” Saskia Wolcott said, trying to coax some can-do attitude into a werewolf that just couldn’t do anymore. “Just one more, V. Get through tonight and you’re done for the next couple of days. That’s great, right?”

Valko chuffed, pulling on the wire that shackled him to the water pipes.

“Yeah, okay, good point.” She traced the whorl of his ear, feathered her fingers over his clenched jaw. “But if you’re worried about the match, don’t be. He’s new and scared and kind of an asshole, too. Totally easy. You’re going to own him.”

He scoffed and nuzzled her throat – his way of saying goodbye just in case things went bad.

“Stop that. You’re strong, you know what you’re doing, you’re —” She snapped her mouth shut, hissed a few breaths through her teeth. “You’re back.”

“And you’re treating him like he’s special again,” Dig said, clomping into the warehouse, bringing the stench of cheap cologne and rot with him.

“He is,” she said, “and if I don’t show him some care, you don’t get a show.”

“And if you don’t stop, you’re going to be the show tonight. Don’t think they won’t pay for you. You’re a hot piece.”

Valko snarled and fought to get free, teeth snapping at nothing but air.

“No, stop. Stop.” She caught V’s chin in her hand, her claws pinching tight. “He’s not serious, babe. Don’t hurt yourself for me. It’s okay.”

“We’re going live in one minute,” Dig said, eyes on the knock-off gold watch he’d nipped off a tourist down in Wyoming. “Tell me you found me another vet that’s not going to make me mad. I don’t like getting mad.”

“And this one won’t make you mad. Her name’s Rebecca Reis. She’s a mutt,” she said, using the mean way to talk about a werewolf with no claws. Dig was a big fan of mean talk. “But she’s good for the job.”

“Where is she?”

“In Heirloom Springs. It’s the next town over.”

“Any wolves there?”

Yeah, her least favorite ever… “It’s Wolcott territory now.”

Dig dragged his gaze up from his gold watch to stare at her. “Wolcott?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s your pack?”

“It was my pack, before they kicked me out,” she reminded him, filing away the fact that his mind was wandering a little too much lately. Which was good. Weird but good.

Dig arched thick, pencil-straight eyebrows. “Okay. If the vet’s in Heirloom Springs, why are you here?”

“Because –”

He struck quickly, claws slicing through her shirt and skin, leaving deep welts right above her heart. Shit. Her wheezing breaths blended with Valko’s growls and the shudder of rusted water pipes. “V, stop. Please. Stop. I’m…it’s okay. It’s fine.”

“Good. You look believable now. Go fetch,” Dig said, licking his claws clean, making her throat burn, “and run fast. You don’t want to miss the show. It’s going to be great.”

Entry 15: ENDLESS FORMS MOST BEAUTIFUL | literary

Sixteen-year-old Emma West is a high school junior with a crush on her chemistry lab partner, an abiding hatred for tuna chip casserole, and the fear that her father’s dangerous new job is all her fault. He is sent deep into East Malo Verde where Nortenos rule the streets and fear any white man with a badge who knocks on doors. When violence erupts and Emma’s gentle father doesn’t come home one night, Emma is forced to decide how far she will go to protect her family.

Four metal speakers blared into the courtyard. Emma watched their cones pulse in rapid succession, strained by the exuberance of a mariachi band. She tried to remember how to describe the tempo of a piece of music. Beats per measure? Time signature? She knew nothing about music despite the two years she’d taken flute. If pressed, she could pick out “Lean on Me” on the piano, but that was all. She hated “Lean on Me.” And she hated the ranchero music the school played during lunch.

It was the second week in a row the lunchtime DJ played nothing but mariachi music.

A handful of Mexican boys got up to dance, pulling their girlfriends behind them. Emma followed one couple with her eyes. The boy wore pointy cowboy boots and a silver-tipped lizard belt. He had a large black mole on his left cheek. The girl he held was even shorter, with long black hair and three-inch bangs. He cradled one of her hands in his and put his other around her waist. His teeth were a cloud against his brown desert face.

Emma looked away. At the far end of the courtyard, behind a folding table draped in plastic, a student council representative sold prom tickets. The line to buy stretched back through the courtyard toward the portables.

She and her friends sat at a painted metal table near the front of the courtyard. Rachel Cooper sat on one side, pale freckled legs folded against her chest. Emma shared the other side with Via Santiago. Via, half Ethiopian and half Bosnian, was barely five feet tall. Her legs swung freely between the bench seat and the ground.

“What’s for lunch?” asked Rachel. “You know I live vicariously through you.”

“Mom didn’t have much time,” Emma said. “My sister needed cupcakes for a class party.” She opened her bag, packed with a turkey and provolone sandwich, a sliced Granny Smith apple, two oatmeal cookies, Country Time lemonade, and a paper napkin folded in half lengthwise. Her mother had wrapped the soda can in foil so the condensation wouldn’t destroy the paper napkin.

“Your mom is so cute,” Via said. “Mine just gives me money and tells me to go to the cafeteria.” She nudged the cardboard tray that held a plastic cup of apple juice and a hot dog. “They don’t even have pickle relish in there.”

Via’s parents had split up before she started school. Rachel had seen hers less than four times in sixteen months. Emma felt the like the odd person out. Hers had taught her to throw a football (she sprained a thumb), ride a bike (she fell off, mostly), and put things on the grill (there was a picture of her, shirtless, at age three, using sharp tongs to turn hot dogs over the flame). He remarked on all unforeseen events by saying, “What are the odds? It’s like Lou Gehrig getting Lou Gehrig’s disease.” She could not imagine life without her father.

Entry 14: A BOOK FROM THE LIBRARY OF THE LOST & FOUND | Young Adult/ Sci Fi – Fantasy

In the world of the Motherlands, a young girl aligns herself with adolescent thieves who become her unlikely saviors from imprisonment and torture at the hands of her own brother.

“Run!”

Her lungs screamed for air as her feet pounded a deep drum roll on the cobblestones. On any given day, she could outrun him, but it had been so long last since she last slept and ate, her body had no more fuel to burn.

She flung herself from the dark alley onto one of the main streets into the throngs of returning workers. She tucked her body low, attempting to disappear amongst the crowd. It worked for a moment, as she heard him bellow above the din of the crowd, “Little Thief, I will find you.”

She gulped air, taking small steps in an effort to rest her weary legs. After only a few seconds the crowds began to notice her and part. Her blood ran cold as she heard his laughter. “I see you,” he chuckled, “What a prize you will be, little thief.”

She used the few precious moments of cover she had left to think and assess. Her options were few. This was a wide span of road fitting two carriages across plus a sidewalk, but she was walled in high on either side. She could stow away on a carriage, but they were caught in the crowd along with her. There was no climbing; her arms were too weak to support her.
His footsteps echoed in her ears, hammering on her skull. The hair on her arms and neck rose in alarm, adrenaline coursed through her body, but it was too tired to react. Her mind swam with the reaction of the chemicals in her body.

She noticed an alley ahead on her right. Red, orange and yellow light danced on the wall. It was a last chance. Make it to the alley and run through the vagrants that were warming themselves and maybe, just maybe she could get to the other side and lose him in the darkness.

She slipped around the corner of the alley. Her legs prepared to stretch back into a loping run.

When she came to, she was sprawled on the ground; her cheek lay on the cold, wet cobblestone. A hand clamped down on the scruff of her neck, dragging her to her feet, and then lifted her off of the ground. He shook her violently, whispering hoarsely in her ear, “Yer, mine now, little thief. A prize you are. Quite a few would pay a pretty dime for you. And pay they will.”

Her body was wilted and drained. Her head felt as if a sledge hammer had slammed into it. The darkness of the alley bled into the colors of the fire. Her face felt wet and she was sure she could taste the metallic rust of blood.

He rolled her head, so his eyes met hers. His eyes were filled with large, swollen pupils with only a small bit of yellow where the white should be showed. He caressed her face with dirty hands that smelled fowl. Her stomach lurched at his touch.

Entry 13: BE ALL MY SINS REMEMBERED | suspense

A rookie homicide detective takes on her department mentor, a soon-to-be-retired detective who is a serial killer with a lesson to teach. She will either stop him or be his final message.

Chapter 1

The circling birds told me everything about the scene.

As I walked into the woods, dry twigs snapped beneath me and whip-thin branches scratched at my eyes. Above, a dark silhouette about thirty feet up spread its wings, showing its winter-lean body, feathers ruffling as it floated on the crisp wind. The bird arched, slowing down. It flapped twice to rejoin the prayer circle of birds.

“Another?” My breath cut the air.

An officer near the body lifted the sheet.

“Got a name?” I slid beneath the yellow tape and knelt, my knees popping. The younger officers glanced my way, returning to their electronics when the silence became uncomfortable.

Another bird dipped to the treetops. Its shadow sliced across the girl’s throat.

“Not yet.”

An CSI tapped keys as she entered evidence. Damn things kept getting smaller.

I turned to leave.

“Detective?” A red-faced freshie said. “Don’t you want to, yanno–”

“I saw all I needed to see.”

I returned to my car. My coffee no longer steamed. I peered out the windshield. The circle of birds had tightened.

I sipped the coffee and noticed a bit of browning blood under a fingernail. Careless. Then again, with faces buried in gizmos, no one noticed.

I looked up once more at the circle of birds laying their silent prayers on the wind and drove away.

Chapter 2

Zaida Hardaway ran her slender fingers along the metal badge.

Detective.

She liked the sound of it. The years of hard work, pushing back against prejudice. “Women don’t make good homicide detectives,” Richard, a fellow classmate, had said. “You just don’t have thick enough skin.”

He didn’t say anything like that again after she knocked out one of his teeth during a training exercise.

She slid the badge onto her belt. Her desk was bare except for an articulated faux Tiffany desk lamp and a stained leather blotter. The thick slab of wood read of the detectives who sat there before her. The aggravated indents of fists, intersecting coffee stain rings, signature upon signature carved with pen into the flesh of the wood.

She would need a computer. A few pictures, maybe a Degas or something more modern to brighten the aged look of the room.

Zaida stood, old springs creaking, and walked across the room to the lone window. She pulled up the blinds and was greeted with dust and the 1920s brickwork of the bank next door. Great view. But at least she had a window, even if it was too cold outside to open it.

The Chief had informed her that she would have a mentor from the department. One of the best. The Chief also warned that her mentor had some quirks. “A little frayed around the edges,” he said. “Used to working more with the dead than the living.”

Zaida could make it work. Detective Hardaway could make it work, just as she had with Richard from the academy.

She could make it work just fine.

Entry 12: BEANBLOSSOM VERSUS BOMBASTIC BANDITS | Middle Grade Mystery

If twelve-year-old Jacob Beanblossom finds hidden treasure before two grownup crooks do, he’ll collect a hefty reward and start middle school being known as the boy who recovered a long-lost fortune instead of the kid who could fart on command.

Up until that fateful Friday the Thirteenth, Jacob Beanblossom’s claim to fame had been the ability to fart on cue. But that was about to change.

Jacob dragged Old Man Fudgewick’s bratty Pomeranian down Main Street. The dog yipped and snarled non-stop, causing a lady pushing a stroller full of triplets to check for cars, then jaywalk rather than cross his path.

Jacob tugged on the dog’s rhinestone-bordered leash. “Calm down, Special Fella.” Jacob cringed every time he said “Special Fella.” But the only chance he had to be obeyed was to call the dog by his stupid name. Jacob eyed the black curlicue sign on the storefront ahead that read Madame LeChance’s Psychic Palace. “We’re almost there.”

Jacob shoved open the Psychic Palace door, wondering what quacks he’d see there today. As he yanked the dog from the sidewalk and into the waiting room, Jacob got an earful of high-pitched new-age music. Anjali Sharma, the biggest nerd in the sixth grade, sat on the floor. She plucked at the strings of a long-necked guitar. She was probably here to find out if she’d get straight As for the rest of her life.

Special Fella growled at Anjali. She stopped playing the instrument and glared at him.

“Get that thing out of here! It’s ruining the ambiance.” Anjali darted a meaningful glance at the lady clutching a black-and-white photograph in her age-spotted hands.

Jacob gave Anjali a smug smile. Apparently the know-it-all did not know it all. “We’re clients.”

Anjali’s eyes widened behind her huge glasses. “What?”

“We have the four o’clock appointment.” Jacob adjusted his Duke Bluedevils cap.

Anjali took the weird guitar off her lap and marched over to the desk with the phone. She opened the only drawer.

Jacob’s eyes bulged. “Whoa! Snooping in other people’s business, Miss Goody Goody?”

Anjali rolled her eyes. “I’m allowed. I work here.”

“What?”

Anjali flipped open a notebook with fairies on the cover and ran her finger down the page until she got to 4 p.m. “You’re SF? What does that stand for? Serial Farter? Sir Fartsalot? Senor Flatulence?”

Jacob smirked and nodded at the Pomeranian who was sniffing the ancient lady’s shiny black shoes. “He’s SF. Special Fella. Since when do you work here?”

“Since Madame LeChance found out I play the sitar.” Anjali pointed at the instrument on the floor. So it wasn’t a guitar. That would explain why it had a little round body and skinny neck. “I learned how to play it in India last summer. Madame LeChance thought it would add to the ambiance here. I’m working everyday during Spring Break, but I’m starting today because it’s an auspicious day.”

“It’s a what day?”

Anjali’s nostrils flared. “Auspicious. Lucky.”

“Friday the Thirteenth is lucky?” Smart people could be so dumb sometimes.

Entry 11: HERO | Middle Grade Fiction

Wesley Pike is not a superhero. Not in real life, not in fantasy, not even in his dreams. But when he accidentally stumbles into the supervillian’s lair in his neighbor’s backyard, it’s up to him, his best friend, Ned, and the very unwilling object of Ned’s sweet nothings, Cindy, to find out who the *true* villains are and save the day.

“Wes, honey, I’m not sure if you should watch the battles.”

I sighed. “Mom, I’m thirteen. I’m not a little kid anymore.”

“I know Wes, but the battles..are, well I mean, the supervillians…they…” She stopped and put a gentle hand on my shoulder. “Oh, I have an idea. Why don’t you hop over to Ned’s house? I’m sure he’s doing a much more enriching activity over there.”

“Sure; fine,” I sighed. “Bye, mom.”

I stepped outside into the brisk fall air and walked as quickly as I could to Ned’s house, just a few doors down. When I knocked on the door, it swung open a crack, and I found myself staring at Ned. He had a bowl of popcorn in one hand and the remote control in the other.

“Welcome to the Party!” he said through a mouthful of popcorn.

“Uh, what party?”

He flung the door wide open and I walked in. The same exact live footage of the Super Battle was playing at the highest volume possible on the T.V. I walked up behind the couch. So much for more enriching activities.

Ned came up right behind me, wide-eyed and drooling over the on-screen action.

“Dude! Check it out! It’s live footage, man! Raw and unedited! Isn’t it awesome?”

I winced as an uprooted lamppost went flying by the camera’s view.

“Yeah. The height of entertainment.”

Ned ignored me, engrossed by the battle.

“Ah! Look at that: Hydroman just got Vortex Stung by Aurelia, and…woah! Did you just see-,”

“Ned? Ned!” Ned’s mom’s voice drifted into the family room. “What are you watching?”

She turned the corner and came into view, with a high pile of folded laundry and a large bottle of balanced precariously in both hands.

“Oh, Ned.” She groaned, rolling her eyes at the T.V. “You know you’re not supposed to watch the Super Battles.”

“But Mom!”

“Now Ned, you know better. And where on earth is your sister? I can’t find her anywhere.”

Ned sighed as he shut the T.V. off. “She’s upstairs studying with a friend, I think.”

“Oh, right, right.” She put the laundry and detergent down on the side table next to Ned and looked up the staircase. “I’ve got to go ask her something before I forget.”

She made a mad dash up the steps. Ned looked dejected for a moment, before inspiration struck and his face lit up again.
“Hey, I’ve got an idea!” He turned and plopped the bowl of popcorn down. “Common!”

He whirled around just in time to knock the detergent off the counter. The cap must’ve been loose, because someone who had just turned the corner was hit instantly soaked with blue goop.

I gasped. It was Cindy.

As in, Cindy Teville, the most famous thing that had ever happened to Emeraldson Middle School since the principal accidentally shoved our city Mayor off the school’s auditorium stage and she fell and broke her wrist. Yeah, good times. That had been all over the news.

Entry #10: THE ART OF BREAKING | young adult

Even dying at seven years old couldn’t stop rule breaker Luca Grable from growing up. Reincarnated as an Imaginary friend, Luca is so caught up in wanting a normal teenage life—and the once-in-an-afterlife romance within her grasp—she doesn’t notice the Imaginary world is breaking apart around her. Or that it’s all her fault.

When she opened her eyes, they were standing in the middle of the wet grass by the side gate where honeysuckle clung to the pickets in thick, green vines dotted with pink and yellow.

He made her repeat the rules she’d learned in the month since her death. She parroted them back word for word, not entirely sure what they all meant. But she said them perfectly knowing it was the only way to see Katie again.

Luca let go of his hand and raced through the gate. She paused long enough to notice that the pool had a thin film of algae floating on top of the water. Then she was through the back door, up the stairs, and slamming through Katie’s bedroom door like she’d never left.

All of the lights were on even though Katie was tucked underneath a mound of covers, sleeping. Luca jumped onto the bed, bounced up and down until her laughter filled the small room.

Katie tugged the covers over her face and mumbled, “Luca, stop it.” Then her hands shot out, grabbing Luca’s legs and pulling her off of her feet. Her wide eyes stared in disbelief. “Luca?” Katie asked. Her voice was soft, the words drawn out from still being half-asleep.

“Wake up, buttercup,” she sang. “Come on, get up, get up.” It was a line from a song Katie’s mom used to sing to rouse them from bed on Sunday mornings. They both hated it.

Holding out the comforter and sheets for Luca to snuggle in beside her, Katie said, “I knew you’d come back. Everyone said you were gone, but I knew you wouldn’t leave me.”

“Best friends forever,” Luca said.

“And ever and ever and ever.”

“Katie?” She pressed her face into the curve of Katie’s neck and wrapped one arm around her. “You can’t tell anyone I’m back, okay?”

“But our moms are really sad. I saw them crying in the kitchen. They’ll be happy you’re back too.”

Luca thought of the rules and how she promised Mr. Frost she would obey them. “I know. But it’s part of the rules. You’re the only one who can know ‘cause you’re the only one who can see me. And they might put you in the hospital or something if you tell them about me.”

“They’d think I’m nuts?” Katie asked.

“Double nuts. Triple nuts even. So you can’t tell them. Not anyone. Pinky swear?”

Katie curled her little finger around Luca’s and closed her eyes. They both whispered a promise to the other.

“I promise to never tell,” Katie said.

“I promise to never leave again,” Luca said. “As long as you need me, I’ll be here.”

Entry #9: THE WINTER JOURNEY | romantic thriller

In a sinister place, Richard Jaeger, a promising doctor and Meg Howard, an art historian who is rising to in her field, meet and fall deeply in love. Together, they survive a near-fatal experience at the hands Hagen,the doctor’s half-brother,a sociopathic killer, the man’s half-brother who want the young woman for himself, and will kill to get her.

Carefully, Meg began to clean a layer of black grime from the painting, one small section at a time.

She heard a thump behind her and froze. The fire danced brilliantly as a gust of cold air blew into the room.Then, the silvery voice. “I cannot believe Richard left you alone.”

“Hagen,” she said.

“None other.” He was standing just inside the glass door, holding a piece of brass in his hand. It was the door handle. “A child could break that handle. Sepp should have put the locks on the inside. Don’t reach for that telephone. I only want to talk.” His cheeks were ruddy with cold, his hair slightly damp. He threw the handle all the way across the huge room, then warmed his hands at the hearth. “In the old days, on warm nights, they would leave these doors open so guests could walk in the garden. It must have been beautiful. Your employer arrived at dawn, by the way. He’s dying, quite dreadful. I’m not very good with sick people, so I’ll wait until I’m either summoned, or found wih you and shot. I see Paulina brought you coffee and extra cups. May I have some? I didn’t realize how cold it was.”t

Stay calm, and get away, Richard told her. “Have some. You should have worn a coat. There’s toast there, too, if you’re hungry.” Meg went back to the painting. Several shades of green and a dash of bright red became visible.

“Thank you.” Hagen poured coffee and added cream, then took a piece of the buttered toast.
“My father’s drugs make me quite nauseous. My stomach hurts after a while. Food helps.”
Munching n the toast, he stood beside her. “What are you doing?” Her stomach knotted as he
touched the painting. “It’s very dirty.”

“I know. I think it’s only soot.” She moved away from him and handed him a small square of linen. “It might have been hidden in a cbimney.”

“Ah. You’re very good at pretending you’re not afraid to be alone with me.”

“I’ ve been alone with you before,” she said, nodding at the massive bulk of the Rodin “Kiss.”

“Not really. Sepp was right behind us, to rescue you, in case I pounced,” Hagen said, laughing.
“Have you determined whether it’ a fake or the original?”

“No not yet. Ithink it’s a very good fake, but I need to get in contact with my Foundation. I’ll work on the smaller pieces first. See, there’s color coming through.” She showed him the corner she was working on.

“Yes, I see. Now, could we have a conversation before you try to get away, or before someonecomes in to rescue you from my clutches?” He smiled, an idealized Viking.

Entry #8: BETTER THE DEVIL YOU KNOW | fiction

An orphaned girl is adopted by charismatic billionaire, Warren Sinclair, and they become unnaturally close, but as she grows older and the officer who investigated the murder of her parents goes missing, she’ll discover some secrets about her “father” that she may wish to forget…

Orphan.

It was a strange word on her lips. Something she never thought she’d be. It seemed outdated – orphan – like something that happened only in classic literature and black and white. It echoed through her mind as she watched the police put yellow caution tape over the front door of her home. An officer had an arm around her and was hurriedly leading her to his patrol car, wrapping her in a blanket to make sure she was warm enough. He lifted her slightly and placed her in his back seat, then knelt down to meet her eyes.

“Sweetie? You’re gonna be okay. Can you talk to me? Say something for me,” the officer said. He looked back and forth between her left and right eyeball, but she didn’t even see him. Her sight was blurred and out of focus as the word orphan bounced around her skull. She was covered in blood, and she struggled to breathe as her eyes watered against the night wind.

Upon the discovery of her parents, her friend’s mother had shielded her and tried to drag her outside, but she’d already seen it all; the bodies. The blood. The gore. It was all too horrific for even a movie scene, but she had seen it, and she had run to her parents’ sides, crying as her friend’s mother called the police.

Orphan.

It seemed like such an ugly word. Something that happened to other girls – other families – but not hers. The policeman patted her knee and kept asking her to speak.

“Orphan,” she breathed, just above a whisper. The officer stared at her for a moment before nodding slowly.

“…I’m sorry…” he said. She met his gaze, her eyes still watery, and bit her lip.

Clarisse stared at her house – what used to be her house – and watched as a few officers came out wheeling two gurneys. They were a few feet away, and Clarisse could hear their conversation:

“Double homicide?”

“Looks like it.”

“And no one saw anything?”

“No, the neighbors never heard any noise coming from the house, and the bodies were only discovered when the daughter came back home.”

“How long have they been in there?”

“Not long. The daughter called about an hour earlier to say she didn’t want to spend the night at her friend’s.”

“And you questioned the woman?”

“Yes, she didn’t know anything. Looks like a random hit…but it’s strange; nothing was taken from the dwelling. There’s a safe upstairs that wasn’t even touched.”

Clarisse closed her eyes against the tears that were fighting to fall and bit her lip.

“Can we go now?” she whimpered.

“Yes, honey, we can go. We’re gonna go to the police station, first, okay? Don’t worry…everything’s gonna be all right.”

The officer nodded to Clarisse in the rearview of the patrol car and started the engine. Clarisse clutched the blanket and shook her head. It’s not going to be all right, she thought.

Entry #7: UNSPOKEN | YA Fantasy

With the help of a guide from another world, Rose Tillinghouse must re-build a bridge between this world and another, or be forced to face alone the ancient evil that claimed the life of her father.

There was a girl in the woods, and she was so, so happy to be alone.

Rose Tillinghouse stood with her eyes closed, breathing deeply. She was determined not to cry. She knew that the last day of the school year was supposed to be a happy one and, on some level, it had been. She was happy not to have to go back to her high school for a while. She was relieved to have a break from Perkins Prep, that chattering vortex of rosy checked, full chested, unreasonably happy girls from well-to-do country families, who liked to look pointedly at Rose as she passed, and snicker in a not at all subtle way. They practically floated inches from the ground as they circulated in large groups, their blonde and light brown heads constantly craning together, as if pulled by some unknown magnetic force, forming tight groups as she passed, shouting in body language that spoke as clearly as neon signs, “YOU DO NOT BELONG.” The thing was, Rose thought, as she stood among the trees and wrapped her arms around herself, that they were right. She knew p erfectly well that she did not belong. It did not matter how much she slumped as she walked, to hide the way she towered above her classmates. It did not matter how she styled or cut her raven-black hair, or how careful she was to always leave it hanging over her right ear, masking her “abnormality.” It did not matter how tightly she wrapped herself in silence, how carefully she guarded her words. She did not belong. She did not belong at school, or at home, or anywhere, really.

Except for here.

The back yard of her house melted into a small, neglected wood, and that was where she came. She had not bothered to even go inside the house; that would be painful too, in a different way. She wasn’t ready. Instead she stood in her school uniform with her eyes squeezed shut, and rotated her head from side to side till her neck cracked; she shook out her legs and stretched her arms. She forced air through her teeth, steadying herself, bouncing a little on her heels. Then Rose opened her eyes. She looked up at the trees that stood expectantly all around her. She drank in the blueness of the sky. And for the first time all day, Rose Tillinghouse smiled.

Entry #6: THE GRAND DAM OF 250 YEARS OF HORSE RACING CHAMPIONS | historical

Her name was Spiletta, and she was to give birth to Eclipse and begin a horse race winning tradition that would include Zenyatta and Secretariat. But first, she must teach her young mistress how to jump.

If an18th century Englishman knew everything about anything, it was horses. He rode them, drove them, and plowed, pulled, fought, and hunted with them. What he didn’t know was that horses could, when motivated, jump. And although she didn’t know it, Spiletta—Spiletta the splendid bay, Spiletta the winner of numerous county fair races, Spiletta the dam-to-be of the famed Eclipse—was about to prove it.

It was the last day of the racing season. When signs of autumn foliage touched the northlands, fox hunting aficionados took to the fields and forests. The first rides of the season, called “cubbing,” were to fox hunting what spring training is to baseball. Summer was generally too hot, and foxes born in the previous spring not yet mature. So equestrians used these early season rides to polish their skills. Then toward the end of October or beginning of November began actual fox hunting.

Today, Spiletta led the parade of race horses up the main street of Grasmere, a large town and the center of Westmoreland County in the north of England. That might have been because of her winning record. Or because her owner, Sir Robert Eden, was of the aristocracy. But, to be truthful, it was because she was a mare, and the rest were stallions whose interest was purely in breeding her. She wasn’t in season, but that didn’t discourage the stallions a bit. Uninterested geldings brought up the rear.

Spiletta loved being in front. Did a little dance up the cobblestone main street. Walking alongside her, her slow-footed, slow-witted jockey-groom had trouble keeping up, as if Spiletta cared a snap for that. And the ooh’s and ahh’s from the observers lining the three-wagon-wide, house-lined street only made her step higher.

“Would you look at her?” said Hugo, an acne-scarred teenage boy.

“Man, would I like to own that one!” said his friend Clive, who was in training to be a groom.

“Who wouldn’t?”

“She’s still a filly, you know,” Clive said.

“At her age?”

“Yep, at the age of eight.”

“Why?” the first boy, Hugo, asked.

“Eden, her owner, saved her for racing.”

“How’s she done?”

“Last I heard, six out of eight.”

“Nah, more like 12 out of 12,” interrupted a townsman.

Said another, an even older townsman. “Bull balls! He’s been campaigning her all over the north districts for the last couple years. Must have won nearly 20 in all.”

“She’s by Regulus, an Arabian,” The young groom-to-be replied.

“The one who won a bunch of royal plates?” the younger boy asked.

A townsman explained, “The first was run under the name of Sugarlips.”

Everyone within hearing distance laughed at the image the name evoked.

“Just look at her head,” said the apprentice groom.

“Small, isn’t it?”

“Looks dish-faced to me.”

Without missing a step, Spiletta turned her head as if to glare at him. Her nostrils flared, her neck arched even higher as she continued on. Dish-faced indeed.

Entry #5: WHAT STEPS WE CARRY | Upscale/Literary

Six interwoven lives. Twenty four years. A climax of fire in the midst of Syria’s civil war.

Like the soldiers, the villagers had learned to fear the sky. Like the soldiers, they died in numbers that defied logic. Unlike the soldiers, they died without the honor of fighting back, of killing, of sacrifice. The lucky ones died in their beds, poisoned behind closed doors as they slept. Others staggered unseen in the dark, their nerves and synapses aflame, convulsing like the possessed, dead even as their hearts pounded in their chests. They rotted where they fell. Scavengers descended and died, too, pulling at tainted skin, quarreling over toxic eyeballs. They always took the eyes first. The dead always let them.

Grit between his teeth. The Colonel spat.

The message had finally arrived in the proper format, with correct codes and signatures, and the requisite invocation of the name of the Almighty. Deciphered hastily, typed on flimsy paper, stamped with red and black, and placed in a manila folder, which sat on the passenger seat. Unlike the formalities, the orders were brief, as they always were, with only a time and a location to which he must report. He had hoped they wouldn’t come. But they always did. His pistol rested on the folder, a heavy and dark paperweight, although he wondered if even the wind, given the chance, would be able to blow the message away.

This was a good place, away from the main road, away from the patrols. Hard ground. The coarse sand and softer ground in these border areas had claimed many lives – the men never knew what ground to trust. Both sides had become creative with their mines. No one lived here, except the occasional Bedou clan that dragged together enough concrete and mud to establish a haggard village. You could never love land like this – no Arab loved the land he spilled his blood upon just as no Bedou settled for long enough to care about lines on maps he couldn’t read.

He shielded his eyes and scanned the sky above the jagged horizon, looking for the telltale smudges of jet exhaust or tiny points of darkness that would grow into flashing visages of violence and noise. A good soldier never stopped looking around. Old habits died slowly, the rituals of old soldiers took even longer to fade. The men, too, would be looking at the sky and sensing the wind. Routine saves lives. Good habits bring you home. Habits for comfort, routines for distraction. A soldier’s mantras. Small things like unbuttoning the fly on combat trousers to allow thighs and crotches to breathe. Bigger things like shaking a pair of boots outside so scorpions can’t scuttle back into the tent. Changing socks every day. And even bigger things – life and death bigger – like repeating what you know to be true. Stepping only on fresh, deep footprints to foil the antipersonnel mines. Knowing how to apply a tourniquet. Sensing when it was all right to tell a man he was dy ing. Staring at the sky to keep it from falling.

Entry #4: SECONDS | young adult

Seventeen-year old Bobbie is the only girl in the Pavilion, a military-style school, where she has been raised from birth with promises to be meet her mother on her 18th birthday. When Pavilion plans threaten to interfere with her reunion, she defies the cardinal rule of the school and runs away to find her mother.

Back in the ballroom, men and women glide across the dance floor as if they were ice skating. Mitch points out suited men with curled wires in their ears, reminding us to be careful. The band breaks out into a Rumba and within minutes, I lose Mitch and Peter in the crowd.

The adjoining room is filled with the finest foods I have ever seen: shrimp the size of baseballs, pastas mixed with thick white cream sauce, meats matched with exquisite gravies. Then I see it. At the end of the room in the corner, the most magnificent object I’ve ever laid eyes on. Pulsating at the top and twisting in the middle, I’m face to face with five levels of delicious smelling sweetness. Trays of marshmallows, bananas, berries, cheeses, and pastries surround the magical fountain. I pierce a strawberry with a long stick, let it drown in the chocolate, and bring it to my mouth.

“I wouldn’t do that.” A man with silver hair and piercing blue eyes wearing a white suit and black tie is standing in front of me. In his pocket is a rose; the redness of the flower bursts out against the lack of color anywhere else. The man laughs at my stunned expression. “I only meant you might drip it on your beautiful outfit.”

“Oh, I thought I was going to get in trouble for eating dessert first.”

He laughs again. “My dear, you can eat nothing but dessert all night if that’s what your heart pleases. Is this yours?”

He’s holding my pearl bracelet.

My eyes shoot to my naked wrist and then back to his hand. “It must have fallen off.”

“A beautiful piece of jewelry, you may want to have the catch looked at. He fastens it on taking my hand in his. “What is your name?” His hand is ice cold.

“Sally,” I lie.

“I see you have quite a sweet tooth. So do I. What are you—”

“There you are,” Tommy says.

“A friend?” The man asks, raising his eyebrows and giving my hand a squeeze.

“Family friend passing through town,” Tommy says.

“I’m afraid we might have to station guards at the dessert tables.”

A familiar dress approaches us. “Mr. Stern, you are on in five minutes.”

Stern releases my hand. “Thank goodness for Ginny, I would never know where I’m supposed to be without her.”

I half step backwards staring at my hand.

“It was very nice to meet you, I hope next time we have more time to chat.”

The music stops and the room quiets. Stern is standing off to the right, ready to be introduced by an important-looking man at the microphone. The crowd huddles to the front of the room, anxious to hear the announcement.

“Where have you been?” Peter says grabbing my arm. Then he spots the fountain. “Can’t you control yourself?”

“Follow me,” Mitch whispers, not stopping as he passes us.

Entry #3: CHOKECHERRY | Contemporary Fiction

Dana lost her family in an accident when she was ten. Thirty years later her aunt dies, and Dana discovers her family farm back in Iowa was never sold. Her pilgrimage results in a one-eared dog, the best friend she’s always longed for, a lover who understands her loss like no one else, a hilltop soul-mending retreat and finally, the answer to why she never remembers giving others messages from the dead.

“Shit the bed,” Dana whispered, grabbing the railing for support.

The old woman lay in a twisted heap at the bottom of the basement stairs, mouth agape, neck broken. One pink slipper had come to rest near her head and her peach nightgown was hiked up around her waist, exposing her deceased husband’s paisley boxers.

Aunt Irma’s vacant eyes stared at the towering stacks of toilet paper packages perched seven feet above her, as if she was still thinking Better grab one more while I’m back here. A package of quilted Charmin two-ply lie face-down near her feet.

Dana glared at the remaining stockpile of toilet paper and eased herself down onto the top step, pulling her knees to her chest.

“How could you? How many times did I tell you not to straddle these stairs? You’re 81 for God’s sake. Why did you have to store all this back here? Why’d you have to buy toilet paper every time it was on sale? Such a bizarre place to store toilet paper… or anything. The guy who built this place should have his nuts strung up a flagpole. This is not storage. It’s not even a proper closet.”

Every musty old coat her aunt had ever owned hung to the left, stretching all the way to the back of the stairwell. A mass grave of shoes and boots were piled beneath them, but there was still plenty of room to comfortably scoot your left foot along out over the stairwell, clinging to the coats with your left hand, your right hand braced against the other wall, as you slowly, carefully made your way to the back of the four-foot-deep ledge at the back, the promised land of Charmin. The problem was the footing on the right side was a ridiculous little three-inch strip. It was like stumbling upon some nightmarish circus act whenever Dana caught Irma retrieving a package of toilet paper.

The haunting image of the empty toilet paper roll crept into Dana’s mind every time she blinked. After a double shift at the diner, she’d been too exhausted and crabby to fetch a new roll. So here the two of them sat, the stench of urine and feces wafting up between them.

Irma had always tackled every crisis with a cup of tea. Even when her own brother, his wife and all but one of their five children burned to death in a toppled tour bus, as far as Irma Henrickson was concerned, tea with clover honey was where one began.

Having set a spell in the loony bin no less than four times, Dana silently declared herself ill-equipped to handle this new reality. She stood up, walked into the kitchen and put the tea kettle on. She hated tea.

She wandered around the house stupidly drinking full-octane Earl Grey that first day. Naturally sleep never came, leaving her wide awake to fully embrace every second of the horror that was now her life.

Entry #2: ALEX DAILY: SOMETIMES SUPERHERO | Middle Grade Superhero Fantasy

It’s not easy being a superhero with a different power every day and a 9:00 bedtime every night.

Alex Daily has no way of controlling or predicting which superpower he’ll wake up with each morning, but that won’t stop him from his pursuit of uncovering the source of his abilities, while performing a few heroic deeds along the way.

The first step was to distract Officer Knox.

Alex teleported behind the bushes near the police department’s parking lot. When he was certain that nobody was around, he teleported into the front seat of the only police car parked in the lot.

The inside of the cruiser was baking under the summer sun. Alex mashed every button within reach. Without the keys in, though, nothing happened. After he pressed every button on the dashboard, Alex flipped a switch above the rearview mirror.

The cop lights turned on and the siren began to wail. “ooooooOOOOOOOOooooooo!”

Alex teleported back into the evidence room. He could hear Knox’s voice.

“Whose unit is that?” she said.

The radio voice crackled, “It’s yours!”

She cursed and ran down the hallway. He was free to teleport into the cells.

Melanie and Cora sighed in relief when he appeared, but Shawn wasn’t so happy.

“Explain to me right now,” he said. “How are you disappearing or whatever it is that you’re doing?”

“It’s… well…” Alex shrugged. “I don’t know how it works, really.”

“What, did you steal some kind of secret government technology? Is it a DNA experiment?” Shawn sounded like he was already a cop, and not just training to become one. “Is this why you were trespassing at the university yesterday?”

Shawn grabbed Alex’s arms with his football-strong hands, a grip impossible to wriggle out of. Still, Alex easily escaped, teleporting just outside of the jail cell.

Shawn roared in frustration, grasping the thick bars.

“Explain this to me! Explain right now or when Knox gets back I’ll tell her your full name and address and everything else she wants to know.”

“Shawn!” Melanie said, sounding almost as offended as Alex felt.

“There’s no time,” Alex said. “I need to know where the keys are to get you out!”

“Tell him where the jail keys are, Shawn,” Cora said.

“No,” he snapped at Cora, which surprised everyone, including Shawn.

Melanie broke the momentary silence. “Alex is a freak. He woke up the other day with superpowers.”

“Shut up, Mel,” said Shawn.

“It’s true!” she said. “Two days ago he could move things around with his mind, yesterday he could go invisible and today he can teleport.”

“I don’t believe you.” Shawn said.

Cora jumped in, “I’ve seen two of the powers. That’s why they came to see me at the university yesterday.”

Shawn was quiet, thinking hard.

“Please, Shawn,” Alex said. “We’re running out of time!”

“The su… the superpowers,” Shawn stammered out the word, “that’s why Knox is after you all? Is that why she wants to know your name so badly?”

“No, she doesn’t know about them,” Alex said. “Only the four of us know.”

“And we want to keep it that way,” Melanie added.

Knox’s frustrated voice and clopping footsteps trotted toward them in the hall.

“You have to go, Alex,” Cora whispered. “Teleport!”

“Where are the keys, Shawn?” he asked.

“They’re…” he swallowed.

Come on, Shawn…

Entry #1: FRAGILE LINE | YA Suspense

Sixteen-year-old Ellie Cox can’t remember her childhood or how she got the tattoo on her stomach. So when she blacks out and comes to in the apartment of a boy who calls her “Gwen,” she must fight to regain how she got there. And it turns out “Gwen” isn’t just a nickname; Gwen is a real person, living inside Ellie, created by Ellie’s childhood mind to protect her from the horror she used to call home…who now wants to take over Ellie and live her own life at Ellie’s expense.

“You don’t remember?”

In the last twenty-four hours, I’ve heard these words three times now. The first, yesterday, when I forgot to wait for Dani after school. Supposedly, she’d asked me for a ride home during English, but for some reason the memory of first period is sort of a blur. Or not really there at all. I must’ve been daydreaming. The second, this morning, when Mom forgot to put pancakes on my plate and when I pointed it out she said, “I didn’t forget. You told me you didn’t like them anymore.”

And now.

I stand on the dirt-covered floor of Beacon’s, the abandoned cement factory, watching Shane wrap a leather necklace around my wrist. He picked it up at the boutique next to his little sister’s Tae Kwon Do studio. His fingers are warm, brushing lightly against my skin as he secures the knot. The silver charm in the shape of a running shoe sparkles in the dull light.

“Fits perfectly,” I say, gesturing to my wrist to avoid his question.

“Over your scar,” he finishes, smoothing his finger over the inch-long layer of wound leather. It’s not what I meant, but he’s right, the necklace does perfectly cover the vertical white line on my wrist. If only he had leather for all the others.

“You don’t like my scar?” I hide my discomfort in a pouting face. He leans down, lips barely grazing mine.

“I like everything about you, Ells. Including your scar. But I know you’re self-conscious about it.”

I grin. “Suddenly you’re a mind reader?”

“I’d like to call it a movement analyst.” He takes my left hand and cups it over the bracelet on my right. “When you’re nervous,” he says, straight-faced. Then he lets out an impish chuckle, pulling my hand away. “Now you can make better use of your hands.”

I make a face and pull out of his hold. “You’re, like, the weirdest boyfriend I’ve ever had.”

“Yeah?” He snakes his arms around me. I lean back, meet his gaze.

“You can’t possibly take that as a compliment!” I laugh and the sound booms off the cinderblock walls.

“Of course I can.” He squares his shoulders. “I’m sure in some part of the world ‘weird’ means cool. And don’t all girls want to be with the cool guys?”

I gesture to the dilapidated room we’re standing in. Broken windows, crumbling foundation, the stench of death from the rat cemetery in the corner.

“You have a lot to learn, Prince Charming, if you think a date at the cement factory will get you anywhere with this girl.” I try to squirm out from his grip, but his arms won’t relent.

He hesitates. “So you really don’t remember talking about it?”

The “it” being each other’s firsts, which apparently we discussed the other day on the way home from practice. I shake my head and look away.

“I must’ve been really tired.”

Truth is, I don’t remember the entire drive.