Thursday, December 31, 2015

...and Finally

Authors have words for all occasions, but they don't all come easily. Especially when it's hard to say goodbye. But the LQR authors have put words together to form some final messages for you, our readers:

From Meradeth Houston:

-Thanks so much to everyone who read our stories! I know I had a blast writing mine, and getting to read the others here. A big shout-out to Kai, too, for all her hard work getting us organized!

From Stewart West:

I'd like to thank Kai Strand for hosting the blog and all of the other wonderful writers I've been sharing the blog with. I'm sure we can all agree it was stressful at times meeting a monthly writing deadline (if I had any hair, I'd have pulled it out). But, hey, we made it! On to a new year of writing. And thanks to all the readers who've followed us through good, bad and "meh." It's been a blast.

From Crystal Collier:

A HUGE thank you to all you wonderful people who read, shared, enjoyed and cheered for our characters. It has been such a rush and such a wonderful year. For anyone who’d like a hardcopy (or digital one), Raybourne Publishing will release a print and eBook of my year’s contributions (including other never-before seen short stories) in the coming months. Shoot me your email HERE and I’ll keep you in the loop.

From Dianne Hartsock:

I’d like to say a huge THANK YOU to our readers for taking the time to visit us. You’re the ones who breathe life into our stories and motivate us to keep doing what we do. You make the hard work worthwhile.

From Katie Carroll:

Readers are what make an author's world go round! Seriously, without readers the writing life wouldn't be nearly as rewarding, so thank you all for reading.

From Meg Gray:

Dear Readers,
Thank you for your continued support of our writing. You readers make all the hours behind the keyboard worth it, by responding and sharing our work with others. Thanks again for checking us out on LQR. It's been a pleasure writing for you.

From Joan Curtis:

To the readers: Thank you for joining us this year. I hope you enjoyed the fast little reads. I plan to post my stories on my blog. If you missed one or want to read it again, join me on my blog Happy reading!

And finally from me, Kai Strand:

I've loved the collaboration of working with these fine authors. We've enjoyed our year with you, readers, and hope you'll stick with us-through our websites, our newsletters, Facebook, Twitter, our blogs-as we continue to create. If you want to visit us online, click on our pictures in the sidebar, they'll be around through 2016.

Have a happy and healthy New Year. And always keep reading!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Grandmother’s Gift by guest author Paty Jager

Our final guest author is the talented western and mystery author, Paty Jager, with her gifted short story. Enjoy!
Catch a dream and hold it in your heart.

 Shandra Higheagle stirred her cup of tea and reread the letter written in her grandmother’s scrawling penmanship requesting Shandra attend the drum ceremony after her funeral. Shandra knew nothing of the drum ceremony her grandmother requested she attend. For that matter she knew little of her grandmother other than she was a Nez Perce elder, grieved her son as much as Shandra grieved her deceased father, and Ella, Grandmother, had touched Shandra in a way she didn’t understand as a teenager twenty years ago.
Memories of that summer emerged as Shandra thought of her grandmother.
Shandra had been angry with her mother and stepfather. They’d chosen to take a month long summer vacation and leave her home with the housekeeper and ranch hands.
Shandra had other ideas.
After her parents left, Shandra asked for a ride to Missoula from a ranch hand. There she boarded a bus to take her to Brewster, Washington. From there she’d hitchhike to the Colville Indian Reservation where her grandmother and aunt lived. With forty dollars in her pocket and a backpack carrying her music, art supplies, and two pair of clothes, she’d stepped out of the bus at the station in Brewster.
A woman with a gray braid tucked into a beaded bun wrap, weathered skin, and wearing moccasins, jeans, a white blouse, and silver earrings and necklace walked up to Shandra.
“Welcome, Shandra. I am your grandmother.” The woman extended her hand and smiled.
“How do you know who I am and that I was arriving?” Shandra knew by the woman’s features she was her grandmother. She only had one photo of her father and his family. Over the years she’d spent countless hours staring at the photo and then herself in the mirror, trying to learn more about her side of the family that her mother and stepfather refused to acknowledge.
Grandmother, or Ella as her grandmother told her was the word for grandmother in Nez Perce, smiled and said softly. “When a bird returns to the nest, the mama bird knows.” She motioned. “Come we must return by dinner time.”
Shandra fell in step beside her grandmother, taking furtive side-long glances at her. She walked straight and tall with an assurance Shandra remembered in her father.
“Really. How did you know I was here?  I didn’t tell anyone I was coming to see you.” Shandra thought hard. She’d told no one and had caught a ride to Missoula after telling the housekeeper she was spending the night with a friend.
“But you dreamed. Your dreams go into the air and anyone who knows how to look can find them.” Ella stopped at the driver side of an old, faded green pickup. 
Shandra stared at her grandmother. “You didn’t know I was coming from my dreams. I don’t dream.” The comment was partially true. She didn’t know if it was because she’d had a dream about losing her father before he died or because she didn’t sleep soundly enough, but she rarely had dreams.
Ella slid in behind the steering wheel and motioned for Shandra to climb in. “You do not have to be asleep to dream. Many dream of their futures as they walk down the street or sit outside staring at the stars.” The vehicle revved, and they shot away from the curb.
Shandra clutched the door handle as Ella punched the pickup into the traffic. Luckily, they soon turned off the busy road, traveling over gravel roads. The pickup rattled and clanged making conversation hard. Shandra didn’t feel like yelling to be heard. She pulled out her CD player and stared at the scenery. They drove through country covered with sagebrush and juniper. The two plants her stepfather hated most. He paid good money to make sure not a sagebrush or juniper grew on his Montana cattle ranch.
They traveled for two hours over gravel roads, passing through woods and finally other than an occasional building, she spied what looked like a town.
“That’s the Trading Post store and gas station.” Ella pointed to a long building with gas pumps in front of it. “Over there is the agency buildings. That grassy area on the left is where we hold powwows once a year.”
 Shandra had known coming to the reservation would be different from what she was used to, at the moment fear had started to override the anger she’d used to get her this far. She instinctively knew her grandmother wouldn’t hurt her or let anyone hurt her, but that didn’t stop the swelling of unease that she shouldn’t have come.
They entered what appeared to be a small town. Ella waved to several people. The men had braids, the women wore long skirts. Little kids ran around the dirt and weed yards.
“This is Nespelem. Your father, grandfather, and great-grandfather are buried here,” Ella said.
“What about my great-grandmother? Isn’t she buried here?” Not that she wanted to know, but she didn’t like how Ella only referred to the men. In her short thirteen years, Shandra had yet to run into a male who warranted special treatment.
“Your great-grandmother is buried alongside your great-grandfather. She would be pleased you have come to visit.” Ella swung off the main road through town and guided the pickup down a bumpy gravel road.  “Your Aunt Josephine is excited to see you. The last time we saw you, you were very small.”
The pickup veered down a road. After fifteen minutes of bumping slowly over ruts through the pine trees Shandra saw a large barn with corrals and a small two story farmhouse.
“This is the ranch where your grandfather and father spoke to horses. They trained many and we still breed good stock today.” Ella stopped the pickup beside the house. Three large dogs came bounding around the side of the house. Ella talked to them in a language Shandra didn’t know and all three dogs stopped and sat, waiting.
“What did you say?” Shandra patted each dog on the head as she and Ella walked by.
“I told them to show respect. If you show an animal respect, they will give it to you in return. Same with people.” Ella opened the back door of the house.
 Wonderful smells circled Shandra’s head. On the trip she’d only purchased junk food and water. It was another way to rebel against being left at home. At least that was her way of thinking.
A younger version of Ella stood in the middle of the kitchen. Her face glowed with good humor and steam from cooking. “Welcome! I’m your Aunt Jo.” She wrapped her arms around Shandra and hugged. Her stomach was round and hard. Her aunt was pregnant.
Shandra stood still, her arms at her sides. She didn’t know this woman. They might be family, but it was a family Shandra knew nothing about. She didn’t even hug the family she knew.
“Shandra is hungry and tired,” Ella said, motioning for her to sit at the table.
Shandra looped her backpack over the back of a chair and sat. Aunt Jo set bowls and platters of food on the table. Shandra noticed the table was set for four.
Within minutes, stomping at the back door ushered in a tall, broad-shouldered man. He had dark braids hanging down the front of his chest, a big smile, and friendly dark brown eyes.  
“This is my husband, Martin Elwood.” Aunt Jo’s eyes shone like stars as she looked at her husband.  “Martin, this is our niece, Shandra.”
Her uncle held out his hand. “Welcome. What brings you out for a visit?”
Shandra shook his hand and stared at her grandmother. Never one for lies or tales she said, “Mother and Adam left for a month, and I didn’t want to stay at home with the housekeeper.”
Ella smiled. “I’m glad you came to visit.”
Shandra had expected questions and reprimands for heading out on her own. Instead they started passing the food and talking about their day and the horses that were yet to foal.
After dinner, Ella led Shandra upstairs to a room at the end of the hall. “This was your father’s room. It will now be yours whenever you visit.” She opened the door and Shandra slowly walked into the room. Belt buckles, photos of her father holding up a trophy, and two pairs of silver spurs shined on the small bookcase beside the bed. “It is time you discover your father again.” Ella turned to leave.
“Wait.” Shandra’s heart raced in her chest. She didn’t want to sleep in her father’s room. “Can’t I have another room?” she asked.
Ella peered into her eyes. “Your father’s story never finished. You are part of that story. There is no other room you can sleep in.”
Shandra wasn’t sure what her grandmother was telling her, but she wasn’t as scared about staying in the room. “Okay.”
Crossing the room, Ella stopped at the head of the bed and tapped a circle with what looked like a spider web in the middle. A feather hung down from the circle. “This will catch the dreams and only allow the good dreams to slip down the feather and into your head. Sweet dreams.”
Ella grasped Shandra’s hand as she passed and muttered words in what Shandra now realized were Nez Perce.
Shandra spent the next hour reading all the inscriptions on her father’s things. Her eyelids lowered, and she could no longer stay wake. Leaving the bedside light on, she slipped between the covers and immediately fell asleep.
  Dreams of her father floated through her head. He held her on a horse, played with her, and teased. She was small, but she understood his love for her and his joy to show her everything around her.
Knocking woke her.
“Time to wake. There’s work to do.” Ella’s voice carried into the room and soft footsteps moved down the hall.
Shandra stretched and felt rested. Her dreams remained fresh in her mind. All the faint memories of her father were bright and reminded Shandra he’d loved her.
Downstairs she ate breakfast of eggs and toast. Uncle Martin headed out to do the chores. Aunt Jo cleaned up the dishes, and Ella motioned for Shandra to follow her outside.
Her grandmother walked slowly toward the barn. “We raise good horses. Many people come to us for trained horses.”
“Who trains them? Uncle Martin?” Shandra said.
“We all work with the horses. It makes them more accepting of who buys them. You will help us while you’re here. I feel you are like your father. A horse talker.” Ella opened the barn door. There were stalls on one side of the barn. A couple of heads poked over the stall gates. “These fillies are expecting their first foals. Martin is keeping an eye on them.” Grandmother petted each on their noses.
Shandra reached out, allowing them to sniff her, then pet their soft noses. “Will they have their foals while I’m here?” She’d never witnessed a foal being born, only calves.
“I believe Fancy, this one—” Ella stopped at the last stall “—is ready.”
The mare stared at Shandra. Her big, brown eyes peered into hers. There was a slight dullness to the mare’s eyes. “She’s in pain,” Shandra said.
Ella smiled, nodded. “You are to stay with Fancy today and help her.”
Shandra stared at her grandmother. “I don’t know anything about a horse having a baby.” Her hands shook thinking about what could go wrong.
“Stay with her. Ease her stress. Martin and I will check in on the two of you often. If she begins birthing, come get me or your uncle.” Ella motioned to the gate. “You can go in. Fancy is gentle and only wishes company.”
Shandra unlatched the gate and walked in. Fancy was a bay appaloosa with a well-defined white blanket and large black spots on her rump.
“Fancy, I see you’re in pain.” Shandra stroked the horse’s neck and whispered the story of how she came to be in the stall. She spent several hours talking to, petting, and brushing the horse. The longer she remained with the horse, she understood the animal’s actions. When the mare hurt she needed reassurance.
Fancy lay down and curled her neck, looking at her tail.
“I’ll get Ella.” Shandra climbed the stall gate and ran to the house.
“Ella! Ella! Come she’s in pain and the foal is coming.” Shandra found Grandmother sitting in a small room beading a round circle.
She calmly set her needle and the circle down, then put a lid on the tray of beads.
“Come! She’s in pain!” Shandra wanted to get back to Fancy.
“I’m coming. Always put things away. You do not know when you may get back to it.” Grandmother stood and headed to the door. Shandra wanted to run back to the barn, but Grandmother stopped at the kitchen. She filled a bucket with warm water.
“Carry this.”
Shandra grabbed the handle of the bucket and headed to the barn. At the stall, she looked back. Grandmother was strolling along with a leather bag that looked like a shoulder purse in her hands.
“What is that? Are you going to town for a vet?” Shandra asked, unlatching the gate.
“No. This satchel has medicine to ease her pain and help with the birth.” Grandmother stepped into the stall. She said more words Shandra didn’t understand while sprinkling herbs and powders into the bucket of water.
“Make her stand to drink this.” Grandmother walked to the gate and stood.
Shandra looked down at the horse and then at Ella. “She is more comfortable on the ground.”
Ella nodded. “But she needs to drink the water. Get her up.”
Placing her hands on the animal to get her attention, Shandra felt the animal tremble. “She’s scared.”
“She trusts you. Get her up and make her drink.”
Shandra curled her fingers around the halter on the animal. “Come on, Fancy. You need to drink the water. It will help.” Gently, she pulled on the halter. “Come on. You’ll feel better.” The horse stared into her eyes then stood. Her legs shook, but she put her muzzle in the bucket and drank the water.
Shandra stared at Grandmother. “She trusted me!”
“When you care about someone they will trust you.”
A loud bark and whimpers drew Shandra from the memory. Sheba wanted in. Crossing the room to let her large, furry sidekick into the house, Shandra smiled. Grandmother’s gift that summer had taught her if you respect you will be respected. She touched the round, beaded barrette in her hair. “Thank you, Ella for teaching me respect and to dream.”  

This story sets up how after her death, Shandra’s grandmother comes to her in dreams and helps her solve mysteries in the Shandra Higheagle Mystery Series.

Author bio. Award-winning author Paty Jager and her husband raise alfalfa hay in rural eastern Oregon. She not only writes the western lifestyle, she lives it. All Paty’s work has Western or Native American elements in them along with hints of humor and engaging characters. Her penchant for research takes her on side trips that eventually turn into yet another story.
You can learn more about Paty at

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Visit by Stuart R. West

Sometimes the best Christmas gifts are the most unexpected ones...

* * *

The snow fell outside Aubrey’s window. Ice webbed across the panes. Veins of Old Man Winter, her father used to call them. She blew condensation on the glass, wrote with her finger. I miss you.

Christmas Eve used to be fun, one of Aubrey’s favorite times of the year. Even if it was impossible to go to sleep. But it wasn’t excitement keeping Aubrey awake, not this year. Rather, she missed her father, couldn’t stop thinking about him. The first Christmas she wouldn’t spend with him since she was a baby.

In the hallway, Aubrey’s mother called out, “Aubrey, are you asleep?”

“Yes.” She scrambled into the covers, pulled the sheet over her head.

“Doesn’t sound like it to me.” Her mother came in, sat on the edge of her bed, peeled back the sheet and giggled. “Sleeping girls don’t speak.”

“I’m trying to go to sleep.  It’s just…I miss Daddy.”

“I know you do, honey. I miss him, too.” Aubrey’s mother turned away, drew in a deep breath.  “But you know he has a job to do. An important job.”

Aubrey nodded. “Uh-huh. In Aghaffastan.”

“Afghanistan.  Fighting for freedom.”

“But…I really wish he was here. For Christmas.”

Her mother placed her hand along Aubrey’s cheek, gave her a comforting pat. “I wish he was, too. Now get to sleep, Aubrey. We can’t have you awake when Santa Claus visits.”

Santa Claus. Another reason she wasn’t in a Christmas mood. Last month Tommy and some of the other boys told her Santa wasn’t real. They said it was just their parents pretending. It couldn’t be true, they were teasing her, she just knew it. But…how can one man bring toys to children in the whole wide world in just one night?



“Is Santa Claus real? Or is he make-believe?”

Her mother blinked at her, puckered her lips like she’d just bit into a lemon. “Why would you ask such a thing?”

“I dunno. Some of the boys told me he wasn’t real.”

“What matters is if you believe in Santa. Do you?”

No. “I guess so.”

“Well, there you have it. He’s real, then.”

* * *

Aubrey dreamed of her father, how he used to swing her high in the air, tossing her onto his strong shoulders. His handsome smile. How he made her feel safe, protected. Loved. A dream so sweet, yet sad. She woke up, tears stinging her eyes and an empty gnawing at her stomach.

Then she heard her mother yelp. 


Footsteps clicked down the hallway. Her door opened.


“Hey there, pumpkin! Merry Christmas!” Dressed in his military uniform, he swept off his hat, tucked it beneath his arm.  Still dreaming?

“Daddy!” She jumped out of bed, ran into his waiting arms. Nope, not a dream! He hoisted her high, nearly banging her head into the ceiling. 

Behind him, Aubrey’s mother grinned, the happiest she’d looked in a while. “Honestly, you two!” 

“I can’t believe it, can’t believe it, can’t believe it! It’s a Christmas miracle. Daddy I’ve missed you so much! Can’t believe it, can’t believe it, can’t believe it!”

“Slow down there, pumpkin. It’s really me. Let me get a good look at you.” He set her down, smiling at her. She bounced on her toes, doing the bathroom dance. “Yep, my little girl’s growing up. Now let’s get you back in bed.”

“Oh my gosh, I’m way too excited to sleep, Daddy!”

“Let’s give it a try.”

“How long are you gonna be here?” She climbed into bed but sat up. No way was she sleeping now. “Do you get to stay for Christmas?”

He sat next to her. “Afraid not. It’s a short trip, sweetheart. But I couldn’t just stay away from my two girls. Not on Christmas Eve!”

“How’d you get here? I mean, I thought you were in Gaffannastan!”

He laughed. “I was. In Afghanistan. But, ah…a friend gave me a ride. Best Christmas gift ever!” 

“You’re the best Christmas gift ever, Daddy!”  Afraid to lose him again, she clung to him, burying her face in his chest. “Please don’t leave, Daddy! Please.”

“Sorry, sweetheart. Afraid I have to. In fact…” He squinted, looked out the window. “I think my ride’s wanting to get going. But know that I miss you and your mother. And I love you both very much.”

“Daddy…please don’t go.” She wanted to be a big girl, she really did. But she couldn’t stop the tears no matter how hard she tried. “Please…please…”

“Oh, hey now, let’s have none of this. Where’s my big girl?”


“I need you to be strong, sweetheart. To help look after Mommy. I’ll be home for good before you know it.”


“Cross my heart. And speaking of hearts…” He tapped on hers. “I’m always with you, right inside your big ol’ heart. When you miss me, just look inside. That’s what I do when I miss my two gals.” He kissed her forehead, gently put her back in bed. “Love you tons and tons and bunches and bunches.”

“Love you, too, Daddy.”

“Now, I’ve got to go.” He stood, cleared his throat. Aubrey’s mother went to him and hugged him. “Love you too.”

“I know.”


He dabbed at his eyes, put his hat back on. Quietly left, hushed as a whisper.

Aubrey’s mother climbed into bed next to her. “No more tears, honey. This is a happy occasion.”


“Now…let’s watch Daddy leave.” Her grin grew, the kind that said she had a secret. With the palm of her hand, she cleared a spot on the window.

Through the falling snow, her father stepped into the sleigh and sat next to a fat bearded man. Reindeer clomped their hooves, crunching the snow. Ready for lift-off.

“Mommy? Oh my gosh! Mommy!” Her mother laughed and waved out the window.

“Merry Christmas, Aubrey!” yelled Santa. Her dad held his hand up, waving. Santa tugged on his reins, knocking her father into the seat next to Santa. Still laughing his wonderful, deep laugh, loud as thunder. The sleigh lifted, shot out of sight, leaving behind a swirl of magical snow.

“Best Christmas ever, Mommy!”

* * * 

There you have it, folks! Stuart R. West here and I am done with twelve short stories for the Lightning Quick Reads Blog! Yay! I'd like to thank Kai Strand for hosting the blog and all of the other wonderful writers I've been sharing the blog with.

Okay, folks. I'm either committing career suicide or writing my funniest novel yet:

Bad Day in a Banana Hammock.

I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. My first straight-up comedy. Sorry, sorry, sorry... 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Full Circle.

Bethany and her new witches take time to celebrate their first year of magic.
Bethany looked over the ocean and sighed. Hard to believe a year had passed since she first used her gift. The changes in the world were already becoming evident as crime rates dropped, politicians spoke the truth and large corporations discovered they could not manipulate determined covens of newly empowered witches and warlocks. Magic had returned to the world, in force.

Although in her local area there wasn't so much political upheaval, the local hospital and halfway houses had found the support of the local witches, invaluable. With the police now seeking magic to help solve crimes and quell trouble  makers, who knew they could face the friendly warlocks and witches in times of excitement, trouble in the district had become a rarity.

The weather for the Coffs Coven's first annual picnic was perfect. Of course.
Sunshine, blue skies and a cool breeze, courtesy of a little magic. Mark's laughter and presence added to her enjoyment. Today was a good day. Perfect day to celebrate...

Bethany stirred, the gathering's guest speaker cleared her throat and on a cue from Amber, began to speak. Forty-five newly gifted sorcerers gathered closer to hear her words. Stephanie Hillstock, wife of Daniel Hillstock, the recently deceased founder and former CEO of C.O.O.N., Clean Our Oceans Now, raised one hand. She spoke clearly, though unshed tears welled in her eyes. Stephanie, the eco-biologist and nanotech designer explained the latest breakthrough. The creation of nanites designed to break down plastic into inert, harmless molecules. The application of these new machines could clean up the islands of plastic and the soup of toxic nodules floating in the ocean's deadspots. Bethany found herself rejoicing, a flutter of excitement grew in her soul.

How could magic help? This was straight science. She listened, rapt in the idea tiny machines, guided by miniscule GPS 'pearls' could rectify the vast problem of plastic waste.

The guest speaker paused. She glanced around her audience, making eye contact. "All we need is a means of funding our research to enable a large scale manufacture and deployment of these nanites."

"How do you know they won't keep breaking down plastic that is still in use?" Amber asked.

Stephanie took a breath and began to explain. Bethany listened with interest as Stephanie explained how the GPS would limit the extent of the nanite's viability. If they floated outside the pearl's range they would become dormant. If they reentered the zone they would again become active. Simple.

As Stephanie answered several other questions, setting to rest all Bethany's queries and problems she hadn't foreseen, Bethany knew she had to help. Magic wasn't exactly what Stephanie was asking for, but funding? Bethany caught her breath. Funding? Money? Her heart raced. She knew of a charity, her favourite charity, that had come into a great deal of money recently. She knew, because a year ago she had given them a winning lotto cheque. Millions of dollars...

An email explaining Stephanie's project and need for funding, with perhaps a little spell to persuade the board of directors, and C.O.O.N. should have all the funding they could possibly need.

Bethany didn't want to wait. The charity she chose so many months ago, was perfect for Stephanie's need.  Their mission was to find and fund ways to improve life on the planet. Surely funding research and deployment of the nanites would be well within the criteria for donations.

She wanted to jump up and share her ideas, but for now she sat and  composed an email, hit send on her smart phone, breathed the warm summer air and grinned like a Cheshire cat. Tomorrow she would follow up her request with a visit. Just in case a little magic was needed.

It seemed like the coming of magic finally would make a difference to the world. Not just to the humans but to the whole planet. This was just the beginning. Bethany had discovered the limitations of magic. Curing the world's ills was more than a single coven could achieve, but a simple gift could help find an answer to Stephanie's need.

She closed her eyes, thinking how her life had changed since a stranger gave her an even stranger cube. Her choice to believe in magic changed her life and now it would change the planet. For the better.

"Bethany," Mark's voice intruded on Bethany's introspection. "Here, I brought you a gift. It isn't much, but hey, I just couldn't resist. Happy Christmas."

He leaned forward and kissed her cheek. Bethany could feel the heat rise in her cheeks. Even knowing his preference, Bethany found Mark attractive and over the year they became close friends. He probably didn't know how his innocent kiss could heat her blood.  Trying to put aside her discomfort, she grinned and opened the gift. Laughter bubbled and burst free as she revealed a Rubix cube. "Perfect." She managed to speak.

"Seemed appropriate." Mark settled beside her.

"Yes, it is." Bethany nodded. Today was the perfect way to celebrate the coming of magic.

Rosalie Skinner resides on the east coast of Australia when not totally immersed in the fantasy world of her writing.
Rosalie’s love of the ocean, nature, history and horses has enabled her to give her books an authentic air. Her latest achievement has been to ride through the Australian Snowy mountains and see the wild brumbies run. When not watching the migrating whales pass her doorstep she has more humble pastimes.
Other than being a published author, her greatest thrill is being a grandmother. Born over fourteen weeks early her granddaughter’s perfect development and growth are a miracle and joy.

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Sunday, December 20, 2015

World Peace in a Box by Crystal Collier

Three boxes sat in front of Toby. Three presents. But he could only have one.

Mike, his sponsored Big Brother, had two other kids to visit tonight, but Toby knew he was the favorite and thus got first choice. That or he was the hardest hit by life and Mike felt sorry for him—not that Toby wanted anyone feeling sorry for him. Becoming an orphan at eight had been a nightmare, but bouncing between twelve different foster homes over the last seven years? He kept his bag packed. It was just the kind of karma Toby oozed. He hoped it didn’t rub off on Mike because he really liked the guy. He thanked his lucky stars every week that his current foster family had reached out to Big Brothers, Big Sisters on his behalf.

“Do you remember what you asked for?” Mike prompted.

Toby shrugged, not willing to voice the stupid wish again. World peace. Like that was going to happen any time soon. He’d mumbled it out half sarcastically when Mike asked what Toby wanted from Santa. If the world was at peace, he’d still have his parents. Both of them.

But life was never that simple.

“My wish don’t fit in no box,” Toby said.

Mike crossed his arms. “Are you sure?”

Toby eyed his mentor again and then the waiting packages.

One box, long and skinny.

One fat and wide.

One perfectly square.

“Can you give me a hint ‘bout which one I’ll like most?” Toby asked.

Mike leaned back, head cocked. “Sorry little bro, no can do. You has gots to be usin’ your own skilz on this one.”

Toby focused back on the packages, analyzing the paper. One was red and white Christmas trees against a green background. One was plaid with hints of pink between green and white stripes. The last one was white snowflakes on ice blue.

He reached for the Christmas trees, then hesitated and brushed the snowflake packaging, but the plaid pulled at him like a bug to light. He snatched the long skinny box and shook it next to his ear. It weighed almost nothing and made no noise. Maybe he’d made a mistake.

Mike was grinning at him.

If this was something stupid like a postcard of the globe with a peace sign drawn over top, Toby was going to burn the thing.

He peeled back the wrapping paper carefully, hoping the box underneath would give it away, but inside a long white Tupperware container hid its contents in tissue paper.

Toby readied to paste a fake smile on his face as he lifted the lid.

Empty. The box was empty. Toby lifted it and examined each corner closely to make sure he hadn’t missed something, but there was nothing to find. He sucked in a breath, ready to ask what kind of lame lesson Mike was teaching—a box filled with love or whatever—and gagged.

The smell. The box reeked! Lemons mixed with super body odor and something sea-foody. Was Mike trying to kill him with the smell inside the box?

Meaty fingers wrapped around the back of his neck and shoved his face inside the Tupperware, holding him there while Toby choked on the stench. He flailed backward, knocking at Mike’s arm, but he couldn’t get the jerk off. Toby gagged and sucked in the fumes. They lodged in his chest like a sick and dying puppy, scraping at his insides and begging for mercy. The nastiness dissipated from the container, but it stuck inside Toby’s nose.

He broke free and leapt to his feet, facing Mike. “What the flip, man?”

Mike was grinning still, Cheshire cat like.

Toby threw the package down and stormed away. He was wrong. All this time he was wrong. He thought Mike was his friend, that he had his back. Turned out he was in this for some perverse joke—getting his jollies off tormenting kids.

Toby pounded the wall.

The wall shook. The floor shook. The ceiling shook. The windows wobbled and one cracked. A tree outside tumbled to the ground. Toby raced to the window over trembling floors and his jaw dropped.

A crack split across the road, trundling into the neighbors’ house across the way, splitting the street, a car tumbling into the ditch.

An earthquake? In Iowa?

“So that’s what it looks like.”

Toby whirled around at Mike’s voice. His Big Brother stared out the window from behind him, watching as the destruction spread further and further away.

Toby braced himself against the wall and it stilled. The floor quit shaking. The windows quit rattling. “What what looks like?” he asked.

Mike patted him on the shoulder. “You wanted world peace, but people don’t listen to diplomatic rallies. They respond to things that happen. When nature attacks, they quit fighting each other and band together to survive.”

“Are you mental, man?” Toby grabbed his temples, rubbing Mike’s words in and trying to understand. “You think the answer to the world’s problems is causing more problems?”

“No.” Mike stared right at him. “It’s controlling the world’s problems.”

“That’s crazy talk.”

“It’s also your gift.”

Toby blinked. He blinked again. “What?”

Mike lifted the Tupperware from the floor. “There isn’t anything in here to regular teenagers, but you’re not regular. You were made to keep the peace.”

The guy had officially stepped off the sanity spectrum. Toby fingered the phone in his pocket, wondering if he could pocket dial the police.

“This box had a manufactured gas in it that activates your gifts when inhaled. We’ve been looking for you for a long time, ever since your parents bit it in a battle with other powered individuals.”


“Your Mom shook the earth, like you. Your dad summoned storms.”

Toby laughed weakly. “Um, no. Dad worked as a meteorologist and Mom was an army soldier.”

For once, Mike wasn’t smiling. “Is that what they told you?”

Toby’s legs shook. He slid down the wall and landed on his rump.

“I found two others,” Mike continued. “The three of you will be a team, and I’ll help you figure it out, but you three will save the world.”

“Save it from what?”


What if superheroes are normal people and have been part our the world all throughout history? Powered individuals battle through time in the Maiden of Time series. Pick up MOONLESS today.

Crystal Collier is an author who pens fantasy, historical, and romance stories, with the occasional touch of humor or inspiration. She can be found practicing her brother-induced ninja skills while teaching children or madly typing about fantastic and impossible creatures. She has lived from coast to coast and now calls Florida home with her creative husband, four littles, and “friend” (a.k.a. the zombie locked in her closet). Secretly, she dreams of world domination and a bottomless supply of cheese. You can find her on her HERE.