Pages

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Noteworthy and Upcoming Events

In April we ushered in spring by exploring the topic of new growth. Growth in character, spirit, plants, you name it.

Again, our readership remained steady and we truly appreciate those who take the time to stop in and read our work. So much so, that we have something special planned in May. Be sure to stop in on May 1st to learn more about what that is. And then come back often in May – we’ll make it worth your while.

As usual our authors are busy writing, blogging, promoting, and living life.

May Noteworthy Events


May 6Kai Strand celebrates the release of the final book in her Super Villain Academy series, Super Bad.

The world is in chaos. Violence and thievery reign. And with the supers still balanced, it’s only getting worse. Without good versus evil, the supers care less and less. In order to restore purpose, the world needs its super heroes and its super villains, but the one who balanced them in the first place is missing.

Sandra’s concern over finding her brother, Jeff, isn’t her only problem. Her pathetic excuse for super powers has left her needing a new ankle. And though she’s still very much committed to her boyfriend, Source, she’s growing unreasonably attracted to Set, the boy who double crossed Jeff by stealing his girlfriend.

When Sandra is taken and held as bait by some kids who want to unbalance the super world, it becomes the inciting event that changes things for supers everywhere and forces them to answer the question, “Hero or villain?”

Super Bad is available for pre-order:

Or check out the whole Super Villain Academy series available in print and electronic formats:



Monday, April 27, 2015

Reader Flash – Share Your Own Story

Now it’s your turn. We invite you to share your own flash fiction inspired by the New Growth of spring, of relationships, of...heck, hair - if that's what inspires you! In no more than about 200 words share a story that explores the good, the bad or the ugly side of growth.

Show us your writing chops. Post anonymously if you want, but keep it PG-13 rated. A good test is to ask yourself if you would want to read it to your teenager.

Leave your story in the comments and feel free to leave encouraging comments for other flashers! 

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Vegetables Are Bad For You by Stuart R. West



Kyle will never forgive his parents for telling him vegetables are good for you. They lied.
* * *
Eleven years old, Kyle considered himself too mature to believe in ghosts or any of that silly supernatural nonsense. Just the stuff of spooky movies, nothing more. But regardless of his age, he couldn’t deny the sounds he heard coming from the cellar. Actually, more like felt the noise as weird as that seemed. High-pitched humming echoed in his mind, circling round and round in his skull’s cavern.     

Drawing him down the steps. 
He couldn’t decipher what the voices were saying, not really. Just sort of a sad song, a desire, a longing for companionship. 

Something Kyle missed as well.

With his parents still at work, Kyle had no reason not to investigate. They weren’t here to tell him to stay out of the cellar. Not that that would stop him. In fact, every adventurous kid worth his salt usually took such orders as a challenge. 

His family hadn’t lived in the old house for too long. One day, out of the blue, Kyle’s dad had come up with a stupid idea about country living. Cleaner air, better values, living off the land, blah, blah, blah. Whatever. Kyle’d been against the move, recognized it for nonsense. But his voice never carried any weight in family decisions, the curse of being eleven. So when they packed up, Kyle had no choice but to man up and say goodbye to his friends. The friends he thought he’d have forever. But when you’re a kid, things change. And you’re powerless to do anything about it. 

The steep and narrow stairs slanted, dirt-covered piano keys groaning out percussive notes with each footstep. Kyle’d been in the cellar before, not his first rodeo. But earlier when he’d gone down with his mother, he shamefully snatched onto her apron the entire time. For good reason. Shadows danced and swooped, threatening to snatch him up and whisk him away to a dark world. Rusty and sharp-looking tools lined up along a stone wall, a Grim Reaper’s one-stop shop.  Bottles flanked another wall, sitting on shelves and lined up perfectly like at attention soldiers. In the bottles, bulky yellow globs swam in even murkier water. Kyle’s mom warned him not to come down here alone. At the time, he’d silently agreed, thankful for his mother’s wisdom. Even though it seemed embarrassing now.

But he had to know about the sounds. The noise drew him down like metal shavings attracted to an unseen, but definitely heard, magnet. Simply, he had no choice. Just like so much of his life.

The light bulb at the bottom of the stairs provided very little coverage, a small oval of light. Once he pulled the string, the bulb swayed. So did everything else. Shadows darted to even blacker places. Eyes and grins seemed to form in the jars’ gelatinous masses. The light continued swinging, a pendulum chop-chop-chopping light across the dirt-covered floor. Like a metronome, it counted out the beats of Kyle’s hammering heart.

And the strange humming intensified. One voice, two voices, a disembodied chorus singing in Kyle’s ears.

At the foot of the stairs, Kyle grasped the flashlight his mother had placed there on their last visit. Flicking it on, he swiveled the beam, familiarizing himself with the creepy cellar, a far cry from their refinished basement in the Kansas City house. Green strips of algaeor something else entirelypainted the stone walls. Spider webs hung like forgotten cotton candy. Leaves crunched beneath Kyle’s feet as he shuffled across the dirt floor. With no windows or doors in the cellar, how in the world had the leaves gained entrance? A chill roller-coastered down his spine. But he couldn’t turn back now, no way. That’s not how a man would act.

A mummy of a bookshelf leaned against a back corner, the bottom warped and aging into dust. And Kyle knewabsolutely sothe sound came from behind it. After tucking the flashlight beneath his arm, he planted his feet solidly and yanked the bookshelf. He watched as it toppled backward. When it landed in the dirt, a cloud of dust rose. So did a rotten scent, so strong Kyle’s eyes watered. Bent over, he coughed until the fumes passed. Then he aimed the light toward the uncovered corner.

Glistening stalks of varying sizes grew out of the dirt, not unlike the asparagus Kyle loathed. Except these were slug-colored, pink, white and grotesque. Black rings circled small nubs, almost limbs. Kyle rubbed his eyes, swung the flashlight away, then looked again. No illusion, the stalks moved, actually moved! They twisted and bent as if uprooting unseen legs from the ground. As Kyle dropped to his knees for a closer examination, warning sirens bellowed in his head. Some of the strange growths attempted to dodge the flashlight’s beam, but the dirt cemented them firmly. Little holes opened at the top of each stalk, mouths silently gasping for air. Whispering. Small hairs (teeth?) waved out with each puff of breath. 

Kyle yelped when the flashlight landed on the tallest stalk. A smaller stalk branched out of it, an eyeball dangling at the end. Milky and wide-eyed and horrible. The branch extended, rigid as if held up by a hidden string, a gross one-eyed mannequin. It darted toward Kyle, snapping at him.

Kyle fell back in the dirt. He scrabbled back, leaving a trail of dust behind as if his sneakers had caught fire.

Suddenly the sounds in his head clarified. Voices from somewhere else. Comforting and warm, almost hypnotic.

Yet, even though the voices made Kyle feel as if he were lounging in front of a cozy fireplace, the messages were anything but soothing.

Something needs to be done.
The older people are not your friends.
They’re holding you back.
They must die.

“No!” Kyle locked his eyes shut. He slapped his temples, hoping to stop the voices, the awful messages, praying to awake from this nightmare. Daring a peek, though, confirmed his worst fear. He wasn’t dreaming. The stalks continued to stir, shifting in unison like a mass wave at a sporting event.

Kyle…
Listen…
Cut them, make them bleed.
A blade across their throats.
The old people have to die.

How easy it would have been to give in. Kyle relaxed, propping up on his elbows. Warmth filled him, sunshine on an August day. He floated in an invisible raft, bouncing and bobbing on tranquil waters, nature taking him where it may. When he breathed, the cellar’s rank odor had vanished. Now the smell of flowers and cinnamon and freshly cut grass in the summer and everything fine and wonderful he’d associated with growing up filled his nose, his thoughts.

That’s good, Kyle.
Don’t fight us.
Let us take over.
Destroy the older ones.

But as Kyle basked in golden memorieseverything good about his childhood zipping by in a hurried slide-showone image burned stronger than the others. His parents

Clearly, these creatures—aliens, monsters, mutants?—wanted him to kill his parents. His parents who sometimes sucked and made him move and leave his friends behind and punish him and…

The parents he loves.

With a small battle-cry, Kyle climbed to his feet. “Not gonna’ listen!” Holding one hand over an ear (even though the sounds came from within), he shot the flashlight around the cellar. Shadows played hide-and-seek, zipping up the walls like bats skittering away in a cave. Then he found something. A fairly ancient looking gas can, rusted and crumbling at the top.

What are you doing, Kyle?
Stop.
Listen to us.
We wouldn’t lie.

“Shut up. Just…shut up.” The can weighed heavy in Kyle’s hand. Giving it a good shake, liquid sloshed up, spilling out a hole at the top. Orange and brown rust flakes coated his hand. The pungent aroma of gasoline swept all other smells away. Using a heave-ho motion, he spilled the gas onto the stalks. “Eat it.”

No.
Don’t do this.
You’re killing us.
Killing us….killing….

The hellish stalks wilted, then sprang up like air dancers at a car dealer, their lives contingent upon the wind’s whim. Kyle tossed another round, giving the eyeball stalk an extra dose. The voices died down to a hiss, air deflating from balloons. The stalks shriveled and collapsed on themselves, their dried husks curling up into nothing but small kernels. And the voices stopped.

Kyle dropped the can, wiped the sweat from his forehead. And listened. Nothing. Just the plinks and tinks of rafters wheezing under the weight of the house. One last touch, Kyle buried the hideous garden beneath the bookshelf, a gravestone of sorts.

He clapped dirt from his hands, a job well done. Then raced up the stairs like the devil himself had pitched a fork in his bottom.

At the top of the stairway, he slammed the door shut. Leaning against itkeeping monsters at bayhe thought about the new role forced upon him, a very responsible, adult role. Caretaker, gardener, year round de-weeding.
* * *

Here I am, talking about myself, pretending not to. Ah, I'm probably not fooling anyone, but play along anyway, 'kay? Just imagine James Earl Jones narrating and we'll all get through this just fine.
For more of Stuart R. West's adult and young adult suspense tales filled with light heart and dark humor, check out his Amazon page.
And please do check out Stuart's blog featuring weekly rants, failed stand-up comedy routines and incisive author interviews: Twisted Tales From Tornado Alley

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Theme NEW GROWTH The Gift

A snippet taken from 'Exiled: The Battle for Enderseer Hold', where an imprisoned daemon finds an unexpected ally, and fellow prisoner, Caleath, discovers a use for magic.
Book Four in the Chronicles of Caleath

Only relevant passages have been included for this short story. Missing or changed portions are marked with *.

  Enderseer Hold stood like a blemish on the sheer face of a basalt cliff. The natural cleft where the fortresses clung to the rock, dated from a time before history. Damage originated during an era when a cataclysmic eruption formed the mountain range that now stood sentinel between Allorn and the realms of Ruak in the far south.

The mountain’s base provided a solid foundation against which the ferocious storms and tides of the Bellicose Ocean pounded. The mountain offered protection against prevailing winds.

The cliffs near Enderseer Hold
*
No intervention prevented the chill from the southern regions seeping into the rock. Fine-grained basalt with tiny traces of impurity remained forever cold to the touch.

The resident icterrori daemon drew comfort from the bitter chill as its nebulous body spread across the floor of its prison. The creature had drawn through tactile senses all essence of life from organic sources in contact with the mountain. The daemon pined. Deprived of the nourishment needed for survival, the entity found itself confined to an area depleted by its rapacious hunger.

The biped life forms wandering through the echoing halls of the Hold were not for consumption. The tiny human with cruel powers gave clear and painful orders. The huge daemon shuddered, remembering her warning. It cowered before her threat of immersion in the hideous salt water of the ocean.

Unable to find suitable nourishment left in the domain where the witch allowed it to feed, a shiver of despair shimmered across its bulk. With a desperate shudder, it searched for life beneath the running water that burned its essence like acid.

The relief of feeding brought sustenance. Enough succor to assuage the agony caused by contact with the river. The life force of plants growing along the sedges of the waterway gave comfort to the daemon. The first stand of trees withered and died when the icterrori absorbed their organic energy.
Satisfied for the moment and finding prolonged contact excruciating, the daemon retracted its life stealing awareness to within its rocky cell. It rested unhappy, unable to return to its own world, but for a while without the urge to feed.
* * * *

*
Now though, Caleath found a moment of reprieve. The witch placed her hand against his flesh. It was enough. With a fresh understanding of sorcery learnt under the tutelage of Merkaat, Caleath risked utilizing new skills.

Contact was brief but he had prepared for the sudden touch of her energy. Opening a virtual abyss in which to drain her power, Caleath allowed his pain to transfer across the point of contact. He stole energy he needed to ease his torment.

While nanobots kept him alive, Azriel denied any sustenance with which to promote healing. Stolen magic could give him a respite. Even a moment’s reprieve seemed worth the risk of her retaliation. He feared she would react once she became aware of his impudent plan but the hope of blocking pain justified his scheme.

Retribution came as a shock. Before warmth flowed through his extremities, the rock to which Azriel shackled him gathered the essence of his soul into its structure.

With the sensation of losing control came an overwhelming taste of fear. Wrenched from his body without form or substance, Caleath found himself not in the ethereal realm of dragons but spread through the molecular structure of ancient basalt.

The experience jogged memories of disembodiment, similar to the vacuum of a teleportation unit. Caleath fought panic. He struggled to escape from the invisible maw that absorbed the essence of his being as if he fell into a black hole.

Desperate to survive, Caleath flung a silent plea for help into the ether. He sent
consciousness forward in the manner Merkaat had begun to teach. In desperation, he tried to contact the creature that sought to steal his life force.

Almost, but not quite, he thought he touched a sentient mind. He could feel thoughts belonging to the shade of a long dead human or Vergöttern, perhaps a mage who empathized with his need. The likelihood seemed even more remote than the futility of trying to reason with a black hole, but Caleath saw no alternative. He was perplexed when the drain on his spirit stopped.

Basalt as old as history itself enveloped him. The quintessential energy of his life force spread through the rock. He could not move. No longer dragged one way, neither was his consciousness free to return to his body. Fear began to bubble like an erupting volcano.

Again, he sent a plea for help into the ether.

To Caleath it seemed the mountain heard his cry and accepted the presence of his spirit.

Peace, the warmth of a summer’s day when sunlight dispels all unnecessary debris from the mind settled through his soul. He stretched his psyche when freedom from pain allowed a languid calm to engulf him.
*

Content to remain forever within the eternal peace offered by the rock, Caleath became aware of an anomaly disrupting the structure. Disgruntled when a source of discontent questioned his newly discovered tranquility he sought the cause within the mountain’s unmoving mass.

The touch of sorcery gave him pause. Sadness seeped into the rock. Discord destroyed his peace and spread anguish and abject despair. Caleath reached out. With his new understanding he tried to impart the uselessness of resistance. He offered the acceptance of immutable time and space.

The creature spreading discontent sensed his touch and withdrew its presence from the basalt. Caleath waited. He stretched and sought to reach across the delicate structure of air to contact the mind behind the sorrow. The icterrori daemon roused tentatively to meet the contact with bared feelings. The hunger and loneliness the creature suffered seemed unfathomable.

A question formed in Caleath’s mind. He needed no words as he requested information. The daemon revealed her plight. Held against her will, her home lay beyond the portal the cruel biped had closed. Caleath sought knowledge from the basalt’s recent history, moments of magic etched in stone forever. He shaped for himself the summoning spell to utilize the portal.

He asked permission from the earth in which he existed and requested a reshaping of the portal to transport the daemon home.

Without expectation, accepting the change with gratitude, Caleath felt the alteration in the fabric of the crystalline structure of the rock. He sensed the bridge form to another world. He touched the icterrori daemon and guided her to where the way stood clear for her to leave.

An overpowering surge of joy washed with the pull of the tide through the mountain when the daemon took her nebulous mass through the open portal. The tiniest speck of energy remained when she departed. A ‘gift’ the daemon indicated before she disappeared.

Caleath fought the urge to follow through the gateway. With reluctance, he requested the structure revert to the way nature decreed. He touched the mote with his mind to explore its use. The glimmer of energy was a spark of ‘life’, a gesture to compensate for the destruction caused by the creature’s need. Understanding the extreme generosity of the sacrifice, Caleath regarded the gift with wonder.
Satisfied all rested in balance and order, he relaxed. His spirit moved languidly through the mountain toward the open expanses of valley beyond the confines of stone. While making his way with confidence, his momentum was abruptly blocked.

Puzzled, he requested a view of history to determine why he should not gain access to the land opening before him. Shadows of the daemon’s presence lingered, where the mountain shuddered and the ground trembled before the creature’s rapacious appetite for life. Access to the ground made waste by her hunger, halted Caleath’s progress.

Knowing the creature meant to offer recompense for her need, Caleath asked permission to release the daemon’s gift into the dead ground.

The spark appeared in an instant. The barren earth seemed to extinguish the radiance of the single incandescent molecule. Caleath sensed his error. Had he wasted the creature’s gift?

***
Author's note...For an answer to Caleath's query you will need to read Exiled: The Battle for Enderseer Hold, or negotiate with the author. :) 
***

When I considered what to write for this blog post I was going to again write about my experiences. I drafted several attempts for the blog but couldn't bring myself to share them. The only 'new growth' I could think about was the cancerous brain tumour that defeated my friend. In a week it grew to the size of a tennis ball. I visited her on the Monday morning and she died that evening. Her battle began with breast cancer almost 12 months prior. In January she was waiting for the all clear. Preparing for holidays, looking positive. Then the headache came and the new growth took its toll.
It doesn't make for a good story.

So I share this extract instead. I hope it isn't too broken up and disjointed. My apologies. This theme, and the last few weeks, haven't been easy.

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.

Follow:  Blog,

Monday, April 20, 2015

Dealing with Djinn by Crystal Collier

Fizzing bubbles tickled my lips as I tilted the vial and attempted to ignore the impish smile of the djinn who’d supplied it.

New growth, he’d promised. New hope for the gimp who’d found only a Band-Aid solution in the medical world.

The war took more than just my left foot. It took my dignity. My confidence. My ability to walk through a grocery store without receiving a hundred sympathetic looks or averted gazes. The capacity to run the bases in a Saturday ballgame with the guys, or the power to sweep that special girl off her feet with the ballroom dance moves Mom drilled into my head.

The war took my life.

I closed my eyes and tilted the vial.

“Every last drop,” the creature’s voice boomed.

Peaches and cayenne pepper coated my tongue. Heat sank into my throat. A volcano tunneled its way into my stomach.

I didn’t hear the crash of glass or the maniacal cackle of my supplier, but the cold cement of his compound tomb burned my palms and brow. For the first time I realized I should have settled for the prosthetic foot.  

Six months I’d used the gimp-aid with too many hours of therapy—until I couldn’t stand the chafing pads. Desperate for another solution, I’d explored the possibilities medically, then, finding no viable solution, branched into internet searches which finally led me to the occult. It was on a dark site where I found him (aka, invisible to the public).

Locked in a windowless tower in the Israeli desert, he’d been trapped for centuries, granting the wishes of visitors who placated him with an offering. I brought a plate of cheese. Don’t know if djinn like cheese, but in the middle of a desert, it seemed like a rare delicacy. In return, he offered me a steaming green beaker.

My gut boiled. Tingling fingers crawled up my back and pressed out through my skin. The flesh tore. I screamed and the world went black.

I woke with stale sweat covering my skin, the moon beaming down from above. A jolt shook me fully awake. The guide I’d hired to bring me out the tower dragged me on a wheel-less gurney behind his camel, the ends jouncing off the occasional rock as it left a snaking trail through the sand.

Source
“You wake, crazy man?”

I swallowed sandpaper down my throat. “Yeah. I’m alive.”

“I tell you that place no good. I tell you, stay away.”

I covered my eyes. “How close are we to the city?”

“Close. You fly home and never come back.”

***
I’d been home a day when the itching started. I rolled over in bed, unable to reach the spot in the center of my back, but my fingers brushed over something.

Solid, fleshy, oblong with a solid bone structure. I caught the end and tugged. My back seized. Darkness swirled behind my eyes.

I pushed off the mattress and hobbled into the bathroom. The buzzing neon light illuminated something poking over my shoulder. A single white nub. I turned my back to the mirror, took a deep breath, and twisted to see.

A foot. Perfect. Whole. Sticking out of my shoulder blade, toes up.

I focused on the toes. Wiggle.

They twitched.

I could get over the fact that something impossible hung from my back, looming half an inch over my shoulder, but what was I supposed to do with that? Have it surgically removed and attached to my ankle?

Guess djinn don’t like cheese. Or maybe he was angry I didn’t bring crackers as well. Maybe it was the joke that kept him laughing at night after I left, imagining me trying to function with that thing hanging off my back. Perhaps I should have been a little more specific about where I wanted the thing attached.

My fingers clicked over the keyboard as I searched for an online surgeon. Doctor Tom. I snapped a picture of the protrusion, keeping my face out of the shot for anonymity, and emailed it in with an inquiry. Could he fix me?

No reply.

I’ve been hiding the atrocity under a trench coat ever since. People give me strange looks, but that’s nothing new—the hobbling gimp with a hump. If I dared let anyone see it, can you just imagine the scientists who’d lock me away or the reporters who’d build their careers on my uniqueness?


And that’s what I get for dealing with a demon. Word to the wise, stick to angels and miracles. I’m headed out to meet one next week, I hope. If they’ll let me into the Vatican.

Source



Crystal Collier is a young adult author who pens everything from dark fantasy, historical, and romance tales, to inspirational stories. 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. 

Check out her Maiden of Time series, published by Raybourne Publishing, or a number of anthologies containing her short stories.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Let's Talk Growth!

Spring brings to mind buds on the trees, daffodils, bunnies, chicks. Birth or rebirth. New growth.

Photo Credit
But, for the sake of our discussion board this month, I thought I'd play devil's advocate. Imagine your family lives hand to mouth. Barely squeaking by on finances in a normal month, but the budget is devastated if a tire blows on the car or burning the candle at both ends gives you pneumonia. Deciding a change is in order, you work hard to keep your job, keep the household going, keep the kids focused on school and off the streets, pay sufficient, quality attention to your spouse, all while you study your way through school in order to get a better job and change your family's situation. Finally the years of hard work pay off. You land a good paying job and you're even being recognized by management.

But whenever you come home and share a story from work, your spouse curls a lip, barely pays attention. Even accuses you of liking a new co-worker more. Without the proper nutrition, your new growth withers and dies.

Kai's garden
Growth is generally thought of in a positive sense, but there can be a darker side. Do you have any cautionary tales, inadvertent consequences, questions or advice to share?

Or maybe you'd prefer to share inspiration. You like to discuss only the vines that flourish and bear fruit. That's fine. We'll take that too. Have you set a personal goal that will help you grow professionally, spiritually, or personally? Perhaps you've already reached one and want to list the steps you took to stay on task. Maybe you are a literal person and would like to share your top 5 tips to awakening your spring landscape.

It's April. Spring is in the air (in many places, anyway.) Spark the conversation. Let's grow together.


Friday, April 17, 2015

The Final Transmission by Eric Price

This is part two of a three part story. Click here for part 1: Thank the Lucky Stars

The blue oceans and green land of Kapa1 Ceti VI came into focus on the viewing screen before dissolving into static as Simon’s craft penetrated the upper atmosphere. He knew it would return momentarily, but in the meantime, he had to fly completely blind.

The planet had two moons, but he didn’t see any satellites created by intelligent life orbiting the planet. Entering on the dark side would have allowed him the opportunity to search for lights, and possibly cities. Yet he didn’t fancy the added difficulty of spending his first few hours as a stranger in a strange land at night.

Lack of evidence of intelligent life from space didn’t guarantee he wouldn’t crash into some form of an atmospheric satellite or even a large flying creature. Though the odds of hitting something upon entry borderlined non-existent, he still found the thought disconcerting. After all, the odds declared his genetically engineered body incapable of reproducing. Yet he had a son. A son he had never met, and would never meet. A son who had probably aged around thirty years on Earth, while Simon hardly aged at all while traveling near the speed of light. A son who, unless Simon sent the final transmission about his findings on Kapa1 Ceti VI, the government would kill as surely as they had sent Simon into space to search for an inhabitable planet as punishment for breaking into a secret floor of the Pentagon to learn about the Cloverleaf Project. A project involving him, and countless others, and the government’s intent on breading super-humans: advanced in strength, agility, intelligence, and luck.

As far as Simon was concerned, his life only had one purpose now: explore the planet enough to send an accurate transmission regarding its inhabitability back to Earth. He considered his advanced gift/talent/power of luck. Did it even exist? The government tried to find a genetic code for luck, but did they succeed? The closest thing to proof he had was a son produced by two people intentionally bread sterile.

The viewing screen flickered on once, twice, three times before it finally held a picture. The land stopped abruptly at a vast ocean. He identified a river and gave the computer the final coordinates needed to land near the estuary. Having no idea if rivers contained fresh water while oceans consisted of undrinkable salt water like on Earth, he had no choice but to assume at least one of them would be drinkable.

“Computer, magnify the land.”

The view of the planet below shifted and small fern like plants grew over the surface. Farther from shore, trees with dark green leaves towered over the vegetation below.

“Scan for signs of humanoid civilization.”

A series of beeps followed the command.

“No signs of humanoid life within scanning radius.”

“What is the scanning radius?”

“20 million square kilometers.”

“Double the area and scan again.”

Another series of beeps.

“No signs of humanoid life within scanning radius.”

Well, with no humanoids here, I don’t have to worry about the settlers from Earth coming and wiping them out…or the other way around.

When the shuttle landed, Simon opened the hatch and stepped onto a new world. The ground, covered by short, grass-like vegetation, crunched beneath his feet. Examining it, he found a layer of a black, sandy substance covering the soil. A shiny black stone nearby caught his attention.

“I think that’s a meteorite.”

When he picked it up, several long bugs, with sharp pincers on their heads and many fast moving legs, scurried to regain shelter. The underside revealed a hollowed center, giving the whole meteorite the appearance of half of a black coconut shell.

“How odd.”

Having no use for it beyond mild curiosity, he cast the meteorite into a patch of shrubs.

The mid-day heat exceeded the temperate climate Simon came from, but it did not surpass the temperature of tropical climates on Earth. He wiped sweat from his forehead and decided he better locate drinkable water before exploring anymore of his new home.

It didn’t surprise him to find the rivers flowed with fresh water, while the ocean contained an unbearable salt content. To his satisfaction, several small animals resembling eels snaked around the rocks in the stream.

Once he had his fill of water, Simon set off to discover the mysteries of a nearby forest. He had no intention of exploring too deeply. Just enough to send a report to Earth with adequate details to ensure the government would not harass his wife and son.

The sound of heavy footsteps and breaking tree branches greeted him as he approached the canopy of trees. He pulled a knife and gun from his belt. The knife was a generic stainless steel utility knife available at any discount department store. The gun, much like the spacecraft which delivered Simon to Kapa1 Ceti VI, was one of his own inventions. Instead of firing a projectile, it shot a beam of condensed sound waves at adjustable frequencies. The damage it could inflict ranged from discomfort to knocking its victim unconscious. It could even stop the heart of anything up to the size of a human.

He cranked the adjustment to maximum. Whatever snapped the tree branches sounded much bigger than a human. His gun hand didn’t tremble when he pointed it into the forest, but he lowered it when seven beasts about the size of elephants crashed into the clearing. They had a face shaped like a rhinoceros’, but the horn protruded from between the eyes. Their bodies had a strange covering; not quite hair or scales. It looked like long, needle shaped scales growing thickest on the backs and shoulders of the creatures, but the hair-scales didn’t appear rigid at all. They blew and swayed in the gentle breeze.

The front creature lowered its head, scooped up a mouthful of ferns, and began to chew. It cocked its head sideways, as it must have discovered Simon. It tilted its head in different directions, keeping one of its eyes fixed on Simon. The animal froze for a few seconds, rose on its hind legs, and thundered to the ground in three rapid stomps. The six trailing animals darted into the woods. The leader turned to run, but two bipedal carnivores, only slightly shorter than Simon, darted from some underbrush concealing them and attacked. The predators, with long beaks like vultures, sprinted lion fast—cheetah fast—and when they couldn’t possibly run any faster, they each expanded two monstrous wings and soared after the larger animal. An earsplitting screech emitted from their beaks.
They struck feet first, and the sound of tearing flesh was drowned out by the shrill scream of the dying animal. Simon dropped his knife and steadied his gun with both hands to shoot the two assailants, but lowered it again without pulling the trigger. He resolved himself to only disturb the natural ecosystem of this planet enough to maintain his own survival.

The elephant sized creature stumbled to the edge of the woods before succumbing to its wounds and collapsing.

Simon picked up his knife only to find two of the long insects like he had seen before clinging to the blade. He shook it, sending them sailing in different directions. As he returned it to his belt, he noticed rough patches in the normally smooth surface. Two small, semi-circles of metal had disappeared from the knife.

“Now how…?”

He dropped the knife to the ground. An instant later one of the long bugs had latched itself to the blade.

“Insects that eat metal. They can’t possibly get nutrition from it.”

As the insect gnawed away at the blade of the knife, Simon pondered.

“They must need the metal. Maybe it aids them in their digestion.”

He picked up a handful of the black sand covering the ground under the plant growth.

“It’s small pieces of meteorite. They do eat metal—”

Simon spun so fast he almost lost his balance.

“My ship!”

The loose sand provided a poor foothold when Simon jolted for the ship. He stumbled, almost regained his balance, and planted himself face first into the ground. The rough gravel skinned his palms and left cheek. Thrusting himself back to his feet, he made as much haste as possible without another wipe-out.

Bugs swarmed the surface of his ship. A screech, almost a scream, resonated from somewhere behind him, but he couldn't worry about it now. He had to get his final transmission sent before these vermin rendered it impossible.

Another loud screech. This one so close he had no choice but to turn. One of the vulture-faced predators swooped feet first, and its talons ripped open Simon’s abdomen. He instinctively grabbed the gun with his right hand and blasted the beast. It toppled to the ground and convulsed. Simon’s left hand tried to conceal the opening from which spewed his intestines. The snakelike feel of them slithering between his fingers repulsed him, but one obsessive thought pushed him forward: “My son.”

Simon half crawled, half stumbled, up what remained of the ramp. His surroundings faded in and out of focus as he flung himself into the cockpit.

“Computer…start VRT.”

“VRT initiated.”

“This is Simon. I have landed…on Kapa1 Ceti VI. Terrain…atmosphere…similar to Earth. No intelligent or humanoid…life…discovered. Two meter…bipedal…predators. Unknown population numbers. One attacked me. I’m…dying.”

A coughing fit overtook him. The thought of death consumed him, and he welcomed it. The pain faded as death approached, but his obsession revived him. My son.

“I’ve done my part. I’ve sent information…about this planet. Leave my family alone, you bastards!” Another coughing fit. “Leave them alone.”

Simon took a few deep breaths to steady his voice. His only remaining desire was to die with dignity.

“Computer, send transmission.”

“Unable to comply.”

The surrounding darkness subsided once more.

“Computer, send the damn transmission.”

“Unable to comply.” The computer’s voice sounded different. Slower. More drawn out.

Simon fell to his knees, barely aware of the squishy mess he knelt in. Wiping a swarm of bugs from the computer terminal. He entered the manual sequence to transmit the message. Nothing happened.
The latch under the computer slipped through Simon’s blood soaked fingers. He fumbled with it a second and third time before it finally opened. The wiring had vanished. In its place dangled more of the atrocious metal eaters.

Simon wept.

“My son…My son…Leave my son alone.”

Another loud screech shook the walls of the cockpit. Simon looked at his gun, considered his options, and cast it across the room where it instantly became food for this new life form…this new growth. Every ounce of his remaining life swelled within his chest. He wouldn’t die crying. He wouldn’t exit life the way he started it. He had come too far. He wiped the tears from his eyes, no doubt replacing them with streaks of his own blood.With his last remaining strength he held his head high and looked death in the eye when it stuck its vulture head through the cockpit door.
 

To be concluded… May 17
Dedicated to Robert Heinlein (1907-1988), though I’ve only read a few of his stories, his writing style has influenced me as much as anyone’s.

****


Eric Price lives with his wife and two sons in northwest Iowa. He began publishing in 2008 when he started writing a quarterly column for a local newspaper. Later that same year he published his first work of fiction, a spooky children’s story called Ghost Bed and Ghoul Breakfast. Since then, he has written stories for children, young adults, and adults. Three of his science fiction stories have won honorable mention from the CrossTime Annual Science Fiction Contest. His first YA fantasy novel, Unveiling the Wizards’ Shroud, received the Children’s Literary Classics Seal of Approval and the Literary Classics Award for Best First Novel. His second novel, The Squire and the Slave Master, continues the Saga of the Wizards. It is scheduled for an August 4, 2015 release. Find him online at authorericprice.comTwitterFacebook, and Goodreads.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Becoming Queen

Sometimes one must lose all hope to find the path to the future...

***





Princess Morgana strode through the woods, determined to find the elusive path. It had to be here. This was exactly where Mina had told her it would be. She spun around in a circle, finding nothing but aging oak trees.

Her mother, the Queen, had been very specific about the quest. A tear from a Naiad, when the full moon of mid-summer crested over the river. A tear from a Dryad as the last leaf of autumn fell. A tear of a Unicorn on the shortest day of the year. And a tear from the Weeping Willow as spring began its birth.

She and Carrick had spent the year collecting the tears, and only one remained. The Weeping Willow. Except, she couldn't find the path to the tree.

“You know the legend, Princess. One has to have no hope left in order to find the tree.”

She glared at him. “That isn't helping, Carrick.”

“I'm sorry, Princess.” He bowed. “Would you prefer I remind you that you have been as successful as your sisters?”

Hands clenched into fists, she took a deep breath, seeking calm. Three of her sisters had tried the quest and failed. Now, the fate of the Vale lay in her hands, for whoever completed the quest and formed the viewing pool, would be the Queen.

Morgana wasn't sure she wanted to be Queen. The title came with enormous responsibility, but if the gods had chosen her, she would accept her duties, and do all she could for the Seelie Court.

“There must be a way to make the tree appear.”

“There is. You must be at your lowest point, with all hope lost.”

She snorted. “I can't even begin to imagine what my lowest point would be.”

Eyes shimmering with knowledge she didn't have, he looked at her, It frustrated her that he knew so much yet said nothing.

“Fortunately, I know what that is and know how to reach it.” Carrick looked over his shoulder at the setting sun. “But it will have to wait until tomorrow. Meet me at the Aspen Grove at dawn.”

Morgana sighed but nodded. That night, nightmares plagued her relentlessly, drowning her in tears. She rose when the sun painted the sky a brilliant red, apprehension and fear twirling in her stomach as she readied for the day.

Sunlight dappled the path as she made her way to the meeting point. She tipped her face up, the early spring sun warm on her face. Birds twittered in the trees as they flitted about, gathering the makings for their nests. Buds formed on the branches, and Morgana knew by week's end, tiny leaves would unfurl, bathing the woods in a greenish hue.

The grove of Aspens rose before her, their bare branches silent. In the summer, she could lay there for hours listening as the wind blew through the silver leaves. She looked at her favorite place to sit, and her heart stopped.

“Carrick!”

Her body shaking, she ran over to his crumpled body. The hilt of a blade protruded from his stomach, blood seeping from the wound. His face looked ashen, almost grey, and his chest lay motionless.

She dropped to her knees and pressed her hands to him, sending waves of healing power through his body. But even as she touched him, she knew time had run out. Carrick was gone.

A keening wail rose around her as her grief poured out. She dropped her head to his chest, tears streaming down her face as she told Carrick all the things she'd never said. How much she loved him, the plans she had for them. How lost she would be without him at her side.

Cold wind swirled around her, carrying her name in its icy tendrils. She lifted her head and swiped a hand over her eyes, certain she imagined things. In front of her, bathed in a silver glow, sat the path she sought.

“You must be at your lowest point, with all hope lost.”

Carrick's words echoed in her mind, and she bit back a cry of anguish. Losing Carrick led to her lowest point, and without him she had no hope. Her life would never be the same. And, she would never finish the quest. In order to form the pool, she would need the aid of her Sentinel.

The Fae were too cruel, giving her the path to complete her quest while taking away her love.

Anger burning deep inside, she rose and stalked down the path. She would not let Carrick's death be in vain. She would collect the tear and save it for her sister, so she could complete the quest and become Queen.

Silence filled the Desolate Woods, the grey, leafless trees reaching to the sky like watchful sentinels. It was a land of endless black and white, no colors at all. At the center of the Woods, the trees thinned near a pool of water.

In stark contrast to the depressing woods blue-green water shimmered in the weak sunlight. Before the pool stood the largest tree she had ever seen, its circumference greater than the castle tower. Hundreds of branches curved to the ground, their weight too great to stand straight.

A face stared out from the trunk, tears streaming from its eyes. The Weeping Willow. The tree that collected all pain and allowed a person to drink from the pool in exchange for the healing comfort of peace.

Slowly, Morgana moved forward, her mind swirling with questions. She had found the last tear, but at what cost? How could she collect this tear, knowing the man she loved had died for her to be here? Why had the Fae teased her this way? Putting the very thing she needed before her while making it useless.

“Welcome, Princess. I've been waiting for you.”

The voice chimed around her from everywhere at once, but Morgana was certain it came from the Willow. She stared at the tree, gathering her scattered thoughts, the pain of her loss still too fresh.

Morgana bit back a sob as she pulled out an empty vial, her mind filled with memories of Carrick. A solitary tear trickled down her cheek and dropped into the pool in front of the tree.

A ghost of a smile played on the Willow's face. “He was right. You will make a wonderful leader.”

“Of whom do you speak?”

“The one you love. He spoke to me,” the tree continued. “And your tear has confirmed what he said and more. You have earned your reward. Drink from the pool, and heal your pain.”

Morgana stepped forward, her gaze focused on the tree's beautiful face. “And if I don't wish to forget my memories of him?”

“You do not wish to be healed?”

“No. I wish to remember all there is about him, good and bad.”

The tree smiled. “He knew you would refuse the comfort.”

“As he would choose with me.”

“Then come, take a tear, and join the one you love.”

Cautious, Morgana took a step back. “Am I to understand that if I collect a tear I will join him in death?”

“No, child. You will not die, at least not today.”

The end of her quest in sight, Morgana moved forward and captured a tear, the single drop glittering with all the colors of the rainbow. As she stepped back, a branch lifted, as if pointing, and a shimmering gold path appeared.

“Follow this back to the Aspen grove, and you will find what you truly seek.”

Morgana stepped onto the path, wondering where it would lead. What she truly sought was Carrick, but she'd never see his smiling face again. So, what did the Willow think she wanted?

The path twisted and turned, but eventually Morgana found herself back at the grove of Aspens. She stared at the sight before her. Certain she imagined things, she closed her eyes and opened them again. The scene hadn't changed. Carrick leaned against the tree, a smile on his face, not a wound anywhere to be found.

“How?” Morgana asked as she slowly walked over, still not believing he lived.

Carrick lifted a shoulder and let it drop, a secret smile playing on his lips. “A simple spell and a discussion with the Weeping Willow.”

“But I thought you could only reach the Willow when you were at your lowest point.”

He shrugged, but mischief shone in his eyes. “You could only reach it then, but I am the Queen’s Sentinel. I can go places, do things, see things, and know things others cannot.” He pointed at the vial she clutched in her hand. “Come, we need to make the pool and reveal your destiny.”

The short walk from the woods to the viewing room felt like it took years. The vials of tears weighed heavy in Morgana's cloak, growing heavier with each step.

Once they reached the viewing room, she pulled two vials out and handed them to Carrick then took the remaining two herself.

The silver chalice gleamed in the exact center of the room, and she stepped up to it, nodding for Carrick to join her on the other side. They held the vials over the empty cup, staring at each other as silence filled the room.

“Are you certain?” Carrick asked.

She smiled, touched that he gave her a choice. But she knew there was none. She'd been chosen.

“Yes.” Her answer rang off the walls of the room.

She gave a slight nod. Each tipped the vials into the cup, watching in awe as the viewing pool was created, declaring for all the realm that Morgana was the Seelie Queen.

***

This story is most like THE LOVE TALKER'S DAUGHTER, a free read available on Wattpad.


Twisting tales one story at a time. 

YA author Mary Waibel’s love for fairytales and happy-ever fill the pages of her works. Whether penning stories in a medieval setting or a modern day school, magic and romance weave their way inside every tale. Strong female characters use both brain and brawn to save the day and win the heart of their men. Mary enjoys connecting with her readers through her website: marywaibel.blogspot.com



***