Pages

Monday, June 29, 2015

Noteworthy and Upcoming Events

This is usually the day we like to look into the coming month to see what exciting news and events our Lightning Quick Reads authors have for us, but it turns out that we've got two immediate announcements to share first.

JUST RELEASED:


Ghosts of Gannaway by Stuart West.

A ghost story, historical epic, suspense thriller. Love knows no bounds. http://amzn.to/1LxUugo

Ghost whispers echo through the mines of Gannaway. They have a story to tell. It’s the story of a town torn apart by greed, pollution and vanity, by racial discord between the Native Americans and the invading miners, by the Great Depression, by the violent union strikes of the 1930’s. That’s not all that brought Gannaway to its knees, though. Not by a long shot. Because something—else—lives in the deserted tunnels of the mine, something dark and evil. Something that breathes life into the Ghosts of Gannaway.

Ghosts of Gannaway takes the reader on a journey they won’t forget. ~ Paranormal Suspense Writer Gail Roughton


and 

The Boyfriend Project: A Boyfriend Series Novella by Mary Waibel

Samantha Jones’ world revolves around her neighbor, Jordan Kingsley. In fact, her boyfriend broke up with her because of the time she spends with Jordan. Sam longs to move their relationship to boyfriend/girlfriend level but there’s a problem. She’s afraid to ask him out because he’s one of her closest friends.

When her BFF, Emery, suggests using advice from her favorite romance novels, Sam reluctantly agrees. But will she find herself worse off than the heroines of her beloved stories?


Be sure to pick up a copy of both of these books and help Mary and Stuart spread the news by sharing a tweet or Facebook status about their new releases.

Congrats Mary and Stuart!

Upcoming Events:


July 18 - 10 am to 6 pm Kai Strand will be signing and selling books at the 
Oregon Writers' Fair located at the 
Adult and Teen Challenge 
31700 Fayetteville Dr, 
Shedd, OR 97377
Stop by to pick up a complete, personalized set of Kai's SUPER VILLAIN ACADEMY series.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Fatrat and the Insidiously Noisy Summer Camp by Suzanne de Montigny

This month we are beginning a new feature on the Lightning Quick Reads blog-A Guest Author. Each month a guest author will stop by and share their take on the monthly theme. Have an author you'd like to see? Drop us a note in the comments and we'll do our best to bring them in for a visit!

Now, it's my pleasure to welcome this month's guest author, Suzanne de Montigny and her camp themed short story. Suzanne is the author of award-winning The Shadow of the Unicorn series available from Barnes and Noble, Chapter Indigo, Amazon, and all other major book venues.

***
What can a rat do when his home is invaded by noisy kids?




Fatrat poked his nose from his hidey-hole underneath the bunkhouse and glared at the intruders with his black, beady eyes.

“They’re back! How I hate those dirty, runny-nosed kids who come every summer. They holler and scream and run around like they’re having the time of their lives, leaving smelly socks and wet swimsuits lying around, laughing up a storm like there’s something funny. Argh! Can’t sleep when they’re doing all that. I mean, who stays awake during the day? Daytime’s meant for sleeping. Darn kids!”

Letting out a super-charged huff, Fatrat twisted around and darted back into his hidey-hole, digging deeper into the earth to escape the racket. Cool and comfortable, he reminisced about the quiet days before the arrival of the annoying humans—in the hayloft, snacking on grain and hay, or feeding on the eggs of birds foolish enough to nest there. He sniggered. Little had those twittering pests known. Then there was the human woman who sometimes left the root cellar opened, allowing Fatrat to wander in and explore when she wasn’t looking. Once she trapped him by accident, slamming the door shut a little too soon before he had the chance to get out. What a feast it had been! Crunchy apples, sweet pears, tasty tomatoes! Fatrat had grown fatter and fatter. But when she came back a few days later and came face to face with him, she screeched loud enough to wake the dead. After that, she took care to close the door behind her with a sharp thud. Fatrat sighed.

But it was a good life, really, the life of a rat. And despite the arrival of the irritating miniature guests, even summer had its good points with its abundance of berries ripening on the bush, and apples falling from the trees, tomatoes growing in the garden. He loved the corn when it yellowed on the stalks, and the green beans that dangled from vines. But the kids! How he abhorred their very presence!

“Except for,” thought Fatrat, licking black, slimy lips, “the scraps--the crumbs and crusts, bits of lettuce they discard or drop by accident, sticky stuff in candy wrappers…”

‘Twas truly a feast to be had by night when the ruckus stopped. Then Fatrat would creep out of his hidey-hole, clamber up the inside of the wall, and slip through the crack that led to the bunkhouse to wander about, poking his nose under beds, and tables, careful not to wake the the boisterous creatures. His favourite leftover was the crust of peanut butter sandwiches.

“I love peanut butter—nothing more delectable!” It was the main reason he hung about the camp, tolerating the presence of the short, ape-like creatures. Only problem was, peanut butter sandwiches didn’t grow on bushes, nor did they exist in the cellar. “Children leave them behind.” Fatrat sighed. “At least they’re good for something.”

On the second night, after a particularly noisy afternoon when the little thugs played some useless game called baseball, Fatrat left his hidey-hole, climbed the inside of the wall and slipped through the crack that led into the bunkhouse, his nose wiggling to and fro, searching, smelling, sampling until he hit the mother load—an entire peanut butter sandwich that had dropped on the floor!

With glee, Fatrat scuttled to the plate. He stood on his hind legs and picked up the piece in his sharp claws. It was heavy, but smelled heavenly at the same time. He ate slowly at first, taking delicate nibbles and bites, but was soon drunk with pleasure from the flavour, devouring it in chunks and gulps.

“Oh, how delicious!” he squeaked, a little too loud. “How juicy, yet sticky at the same time… and gooey!” His voice crescendoed. “It’s magnificent, it’s delightful, it’s…”

Something clunked. His heart thumping, Fatrat wheeled about to see a large foot almost the same size as his entire body slide across the floor, and then stop. A dirty face lowered down to his level. Its eyes widened for a moment, and then its mouth opened up and let out the most hair-raising scream.

“A rat!” shouted the boy, jumping up on the bed and dancing a wild dance.

Within seconds, the other human brats leapt up, pushing up covers, and shrieking.

Fatrat made a dash for it. Pushing a claw into the bread of the sandwich, he tried to drag it away, but it was no use. It was far too heavy.

He looked back in time to see a tall human with a deep voice, the one they called Counsellor, race toward him, a baseball bat in his hands.

“Where, where?” the tall one shouted.

“Over there!” squealed several children at once.

The counsellor lifted the bat over his head, took aim, and slammed it against the floor. He barely missed Fatrat.

Fatrat dropped the sandwich and flew, slipping through the crack, down the inside of the wall, and right into his hidey-hole...

“That was close!” he said, his breath heaving. “I nearly got killed.”

He cowered in the dark, trembling, for a few hours. But after a time, his stomach began growling. Remembering the gooey texture of the peanut butter on the mushy bread, his thoughts grew bolder.

“Perhaps I was a bit too noisy and awoke them. They’re probably all asleep by now. Maybe I can go back, nibble more slowly and quietly, and then bring the rest of it back down here for later.”

He reflected on his plan, deeming it feasible, and then crept from his hidey-hole, back up the inside of the wall and through the crack the led to the bunkhouse where he listened with pricked ears to be sure no one walked about or tossed on their beds. When he knew the coast was clear, he scuttled to where the sandwich had been, but discovered…it was gone.

“How can that be?” thought Fatrat. “I can smell it.” He wandered about, his nose wiggling to and fro, searching, and sniffing, and following the scent until it led him to a small garbage can. His beady, black eyes searching the darkness, he gaged its height. It was tall, but if he stretched high enough, he could dig his claws in and hoist himself right inside to where the prized peanut butter sandwich lay.

He reached up, dug his claws in the plastic, and pulled himself up. The garbage wobbled to and fro, and then tipped over and landed with a loud bang. Fatrat’s heart raced as he listened for the deep voice of the counsellor. Someone rolled over, someone else stopped snoring for a second…and then resumed. But no one got up. Fatrat gave a devilish grin of triumph, then pushed his way into the garbage can and began his feast again.

“So delicious! So slimy, so sticky. Mmmm-grft-grft,” he squeaked, forgetting his plan to stay quiet. “Oh, so good.” His voice crescendoed again.

Something moved! Fatrat froze, listening intently, but when nothing happened, he continued his gluttony, tearing, chewing, munching, smacking, only this time more quietly. When he’d devoured most of the sandwich, he dragged the rest back down the crack that led to the bunkhouse, down the inside of the wall, and into his hidey-hole.

After a brief nap, he took the remainder of the sandwich in his claws and noted that most of the peanut butter was missing. “Could it have rubbed off on the floor?” he grumbled. Feeling cheated, he stored the rest away, and planned his next move.

The next day, the children’s screams and holler woke Fatrat yet once again. Fatrat stuck his nose out and eyed the small humans, a deep frown creasing his forehead. They were wearing old potato sacks and racing across the lawn of the camp! Fatrat fumed, ate the remainder of the sandwich, and then drifted off to sleep again.

When he awoke, it was dusk. Springs creaked as the small humans climbed into their beds and the counsellor called out in his deep voice, “Lights out.”

Fatrat waited until he was certain all were asleep and then crept from his hidey-hole, up the inside of the wall and through the crack that led into the bunkhouse. Wet bathing suits dripped on the floor, and sweaty clothes made his nose wrinkle. But there was something else too—peanut butter!

Fatrat crept forward. His nose wiggled to and fro, searching, and smelling in the dark until he came to a small bowl of just peanut butter! A whole bowl, and a rat-sized one at that! Overjoyed, Fatrat leapt onto the dish, sticking his long tongue out before he got there. For a split second, he saw a shadow, and then…

Snap!

***




Award winning author, Suzanne de Montigny, wrote her first novella when she was twelve. Years later, she discovered it in an old box in the basement, thus reigniting her love affair with writing. A teacher for twenty years, she enjoys creating fantasy and paranormal for tweens and teens. She lives in Burnaby, B.C., Canada with the four loves of her life – her husband, two boys, and Buddy the dog.








***

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Isolation by Stuart R. West



Yeah, I’ve heard all the names, all the mean-spirited
put-downs. Let’s see, there’s “Bigfoot.” I suppose my feet are large, but they’re not all that big, not really. Then there’s “Sasquatch,” whatever that means, a nonsense name. And possibly the worst of all, “Skunk-Ape.” I don’t look, nor smell, anything like a skunk. Humans can be cruel, quick to strike down anything that’s different, outside of what they know. Yet, I’m the one designated as a monster.
Actually, my name is unpronounceable in human language; the closest approximation would be “Mmgawalla,” but that’s still not quite right.
To put it into perspective, we were an ancient species, older than man. But because of the callous manipulations of the fates, I’d become the last of my breed. I wasn’t sure how it happened exactly, and Father and Mother seemed less than certain themselves. But before my hibernations, my father used to tell me tales of how our race had dwindled because of weather, sickness, and men brandishing weapons. Father had called it “evolution,” an unfathomable term that terrified me as a youth. When I grew older, I came to understand evolution and then grew to hate it. Simply put, we weren’t evolving with the rest of the world.
Never was that more apparent than when I woke up after a three-moon sleep. Alone. Not quite alone, I suppose, but the only living entity in the cave. Mother and Father lay across the ground, arms entwined in one last embrace. Mother had buried her face into Father’s chest. Even though I longed for one final look at her unworldly features, I thought better of it, choosing wisely to remember who she’d been, not the shell she’d become. Seeing Father’s face had been awful enough. His eyes had dulled to twin dried berries. His jaw tugged down, frozen in a silent scream, a death scream. Even though I knew Mother and Father were now roaming the skies with the rest of our breed, the horrors I imagined them going through during their last moments of life filled me with fear, then a great sadness. And finally, anger. I sat beside them, moaning, rocking on my haunches, cursing the unjust fates. It felt like an eternity, yet not nearly long enough.
For I was truly alone. Forever.
I stayed in the cave for many seasons. As the moons passed, Mother and Father decayed, their bodies returned to the grounds from whence they’d come. I suppose it was a little akin to self-torture, but as the last of my kind, it was my duty to ensure them peaceful passage into the skies. Finally, when they’d transformed to little more than dust, I rolled the sharpened branch between my hands, wondering how it’d feel to thrust it into my chest. Would I lap at the air like the fish we speared, gasping for one last chance at life? Would I hurt? Or experience a deep, consoling darkness, a welcoming hug from Mother’s spirit? Yet I also feared if I took my own life, I wouldn’t be allowed entrance into the heavens, fated to wander the polluted earth as a restless spirit.
I left the cave, alive yet despondent with no idea what I’d do, where I’d go. But I had to move, to do something. Fill my empty husk. But as Mother used to say, be cautious of what you seek. It wasn’t until I saw my first human that I truly understood her cryptic, yet prophetic meaning.
First, strange sounds echoed from within the forest, not unpleasant really, rhythmic and resonant. I sniffed fire, something Father had warned me about. Then unintelligible gibberish, both shrill and deep, lapped in upon itself, punctuated by loud bursts of giddiness. Keeping my distance—our species had been blessed by the Gods with remarkable eyesight—I pulled back a tree branch and watched.
Humans.
Father had warned me about them, told me they were dangerous, evil. As a youth, I’d imagined them as demons, beasts with eyes of fire and a serpent’s mouth of jagged teeth. But they weren’t at all what I’d imagined. Somewhat homely, ridiculously hairless, but not exactly monstrous in appearance. Soon, I was able to differentiate the females from the males by sound and appearance. I studied them for hours until they went into hibernation.
I don’t know what compelled me to do so. They acted primal-- the men urinating on my land, tossing their refuse without care, disrespecting the gods of nature. Their female counterparts tended to flock together, shrieking, their tones raised to the heavens. Absolutely bestial behavior. Yet I was drawn to them. Perhaps it was my crushing despair and loneliness. Or maybe I saw them as a lower life-form, something to be pitied. Regardless, I couldn’t stop examining them, pulled in like a cub to its mother.
I returned the next cycle and the next. Disappointment set in when they packed up their belongings and a frightening, gleaming shell transported them away. But soon more humans replaced them, none of them ever staying very long, just long enough for me to learn. I moved in closer. After many moons, I began to understand most of their words. I listened to what they called a “radio,” their tribal music. The voices talked about “Bigfoot Country.” Later I realized they were talking about me.
And every time they left, I’d clean up after them, burying their abandoned rubbish and stamping out their fires. So uncaring, so insolent. Dropping their man-made, fabricated feces on my lands.
After a while, I grew restless, impatient. A deep resentment built inside me like a mounting tornado, something that couldn’t be harnessed. One eve, under a pregnant moon, a particularly awful group of humans ran rampant through the grounds. The men drank from shiny receptacles, chinking them into growing piles. One human hacked at a newborn tree with a weapon for no apparent reason other than a joy for violence. Several humans set fire to terrifying small sticks, throwing them before they cracked like thunder. When one extremely loud and braying man urinated on my foot, I unleashed my tempest.
I whipped back the tree branch and ran toward them, arms out. Vengeance gripped me. I attempted to approximate their words. While I clearly heard “Show respect and practice honor” in my head, what came out was a garbled mono-syllabic roar. Several of them screamed, prompting me to shout louder. One man lifted a stick, a weapon I’d seen them use to slaughter animals. I grabbed the end, tore it from his grasp, and flung it into the woods. I stomped on their fire, tore down their flimsy dwellings, knocked over a foul, black, smoking demon, animal breasts and thighs sizzling upon it. My jaw grew taut, tighter, my fury escalating. The humans scattered like field mice, allowing their horrific transport to swallow them. Dust kicked from the silver beast’s back legs, an ugly farewell.
Everything had been left behind, past and present, more for me to bury.
Then I heard another voice, tinny and far away, a male on their radio.
“…I done saw it, I did. Wouldn’t’ve believed it myself if I heard it from someone else. But there I was staring into the face of a Bigfoot creature, a female from the looks of her bosom…”
I knelt, praying to the sky gods there might be someone else out there like me. The human on the radio said the sighting had occurred in a place called Honobia. I didn’t know where it was, but I’d find it, yes I would. For the first time in many moons, I dared to hope, a hope for the future.
* * *
Here I am, talking about myself, pretending not to. Ah, I'm probably not fooling anyone, but play along anyway, 'kay? Just imagine Morgan Freeman 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

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Campfire Myth Captured

Where Detective Fraser searches for the answer to an ongoing mystery.
Campfire Capture


Detective Fraser inserted the recovered card reader, opened the video file and hit the play icon.
The bloodstained video card.

The video began to run. Low resolution, ambient noise and trembling hand-held quality, captured the moments before the boys’ misadventure. Low sunlight slanted through tall gum trees. Grey clouds hung low overhead, stealing light from each frame. The flare and crackle of a campfire became the focus of the film. Each boy took his turn adding wood and bark to the conflagration.

“You'll be wanting it to burn all night,” Sean said. “To be sure to keep dingoes away.” Sean’s pale skin, green eyes and reddish hair marked him as an Irish tourist, before the accent in his voice betrayed his origin.

Fraser hated the need to deal with grieving relatives, especially when they came from overseas. 

“Dingoes, yes, but what about snakes? Will the heat attract them?” British backpacker James, asked. “I have read of incidents when they crawl into a sleeping bag for warmth”

“Argh. I hate snakes. And spiders.” The American drawl belonged to Angus. “Do y'all know Australia has heaps of really venomous varieties? There are death adders, vipers, the funnel webs, not to mention dangerous ticks…”

“Don’t listen to Angus.” The cameraman’s voice blared. He seemed unaware of his proximity to the camera mic. “If we haven’t had any problems in the last three nights, it is unlikely we will have trouble tonight. Besides, this looks like a popular spot. We might even have company…whoever left all the camping gear should be back soon."

"Looks like a family. Perhaps they will return when they see our fire." Angus agreed.

"Getting lost can be more dangerous than all the toxic creatures that live here." Rodney sounded confident. "There is no way we will get lost. We brought a GPS with us. Just think, there are no bears, mountain lions, crocodiles, or coyotes. And at this time of year the ticks and snakes are not a real problem. Relax, bro. This is the Australian bush.”


“Fair enough, Rodney. You’re the expert.” James nodded, poking at the flames. He glanced over his shoulder to the darkening sky. “We should prepare our gear for the night while there is still light. It’s your turn to wash up, Sean.”

“As soon as I heat some water.” Sean moved into the video’s frame, carrying a blackened saucepan brimming with water and placed it near the fire. “Rodney, to be sure no one wants to watch the washing up. Don’t waste the battery. We will need it for later.”

The video stopped. Fraser leaned toward the computer screen, squinted and chose the next file. Again the video began to roll, obviously now set on a solid surface, it offered steady pictures of the group around the campfire. In this segment night allowed the firelight to dominate the frames. The shadowed images of the boys’ faces flickered and flared. Recognisable but hardly handsome. The expressions on their faces alternated between aghast, disbelief, and fear. Fraser strained to hear the conversation.

“The bunyip yowled and sank below the billabong’s dark surface.” Sean’s voice dropped to a whisper. “No one ever saw the old man or his dog, again.”

“Nothing? No body, no remains?” Angus scoffed. “Even myths need to follow logic. A bunyip? Really, could it get rid of the bodies so completely?”

“Angus, you sure know how to ruin a good campfire story. I liked it, Sean. Gave me goosebumps,” James admitted.

“Yeah, me too. Good ol' Aussie critters, some people swear they've seen them,” Rodney added. “Speaking of which, I swear I heard a grumbling growl while Sean was talking. Sounded weird. Did any of you hear it too?”

Angus turned, his face half in shadow. His shoulders shook slightly though the camera remained still. His expression showed concern. “Come on, I thought it was you, Rod, doing your animal noises…only badly.”

“Not me.” Rodney shook his head.       

 “And you are supposed to be the knowledgeable one. Great.” Sean hugged himself as though suddenly cold. “Don’t koalas make a dreadful noise?”

“True.” Rodney nodded. “I haven’t heard one for real, but they are said to sound like an engine running without oil. People who have them living nearby complain about the noise they make.”

Even through the camera mic Fraser heard a sound that made his blood curdle. He wanted to close his eyes but he watched the video as Sean flinched. “A noise like that?”

Angus, Rodney and James turned to look beyond the camera.

“Holy Shite. Did you hear that?” Rodney’s voice rose.

“What creature makes a sound so blood-curdlingly awful?” Angus scowled. “Is this some sort of prank?”

“A bunyip, perhaps?” James offered with a shrug. “Perhaps a yowie? Come on, guys. Who is doing this? Enough. I am seriously freaked out.”

“Angus… you are always looking at the logical explanation… what gives?”

“I suggest we investigate. The abandoned campsite… perhaps the other campers are playing tricks on us. I don’t buy that sound came from a living creature.”

“Oh god… not a dead one?” Sean crossed himself.

“No you idiot, I think we are being pranked and I for one will not sit here pissing in my pants. Y'all grab a burning branch, a solid log, and the mallet we used for the tent pegs and let’s see who has the last laugh when we spoil their fun.”

 The film bounced, as though Rodney had attached the camera to his belt.

Fraser tried to focus  as Rodney rushed to grab a burning branch and follow the others.

Sean’s shout brought Rodney to a halt, all four boys gathered in a trembling huddle. On the path ahead of them, bathed in silver moonlight and caressed by ruddy torch light, awful in their grotesque silence, lay the bodies of three humans.

Two adults and a child. Hideous injuries, black chasms gouged in flesh, obscuring their humanity.

Horror filled the camera’s frame. Rodney stepped closer, allowing the awful detail to etch into film. He turned and Fraser heard the wrenching sound of the boy vomiting. The camera focused on leaf strewn ground. Only sticky black shadows showed the presence of congealed blood.

“This isn’t a prank, Angus.” James’ voice broke the silence. “We should get out of here. Who would do such a thing?”

Sean lifted his torch, swinging light across the path. “Or what? There is nothing we know of that preys on people, is there?”

Rodney straightened, lifting the camera’s focus again to include the other youths, depicted in spears of red flame and the harsh blades of silver torch light.

“Have you ever heard of ‘drop bears’?”  His voice shook. “I didn’t think they existed. But this… this makes me think they do.”

Angus shook his head, bracing as the bush reverberated with a rumbling growl.

“Oh my god! Did you hear that?” His features contorted. “We need to get the hell out of here!”

“Run!” James yelled. He bumped into Sean as he sprinted away from the gruesome scene.

Rodney stepped backwards. He dodged James. Sean scrambled to his feet and lunged passed at a run.

A growl covered the boys’ shouts. Angus’ flaming branch spun toward a moving shadow.

The hair on Fraser’s neck stood on end as he watched the dark shape descend from the branches of a eucalypt. Like a possum flying through the air, a creature the size of a large dog grabbed Angus. Ignoring the flames, it slashed clawed limbs around the youth’s face and neck.

Rodney’s flight dragged focus away from Angus’ plight. His scream scored into Fraser’s mind. The camera’s focus showed the boy’s attempt to escape. The sound of Sean howling drove Rodney’s feet faster. A guttural roar, a shrill scream and Rodney’s flight paused. The youth turned in time to see a set of gleaming teeth glint in the moonlight.

There was a cacophony of gnashing, growling and yowling. The camera now focused on the leaves above the path, silhouetted against the beautiful full moon.

Fraser rubbed at a cramp in his shoulder.

A shadow crossed above the camera. For an instant Fraser looked into the glowing eyes of Australia’s lethal legend, the mythical drop bear.

With a final lurch the video stopped. Fraser sighed.

Seven dead in two days. The drop bear had gorged on their flesh and disappeared. It might not return for months, or years. No one knew the creature’s habits. No one had ever captured its image before.

The thrill of being able to prove the existence of a myth paled against the need to counsel those who had lost loved ones.

A simple, safe camping trip should not cost lives.

Then, no one should dismiss the warnings at the edge of the park. “Beware  Drop Bears”

***

For more information on DROP BEARS... visit Australian Museum or Aust Geographic article
DROP BEARS are on facebook too.
Thank goodness Koalas are not bears. They are marsupials. But they are not cuddly. ;)

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,

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Last Time by Crystal Collier

June hadn’t punched out yet, wouldn’t punch out yet. She ogled the ID in her mittened fingers like it had more answers than the Bible, but was unable to find a single one.

The camp office behind her was quiet, all lights turned off except for the one over the door, throwing an eerie light across the time-card machine. Her exit. Out of this world and on to the next.

Two weeks ago Camp Thistle had been buzzing, more kids running around than Disney on a holiday. Too many eyes. Tomorrow the manager, Don, would come and close the place down for the winter. Tomorrow condemned this wonderland to silence and doomed her chances forever.

She placed her ID on top of the machine and turned to the brightened doors. June grazed past aisles of never-expiring treats and wood-whittled souvenirs. She’d purchased a few and sent them to her nieces and nephew. Only nineteen, she hoped to have kids one day—but not until she finished school. Which she’d put off this semester after she discovered it…

A bell above the door tinkled as she pushed through and stepped into the snowy night. Stars glimmered above, casting their mysterious light on twelve white-capped cabins and the bordering trees.

Legend said the camp was built next to an Indian burial ground. It was just a story. June had been here six months and never seen any ghosts. Don’s grandson (who had worked here every summer since he was ten,) said he’d heard drum beats while taking hikers through the canyon. He’d discovered a cave there, but didn't actually enter.

He was a wuss.

June rounded the building. Her cloudy breaths were the only disturbance in the evening as she passed the mess hall windows. She stopped at the cellar door that led below the kitchen. Don never let anyone down there for supplies, not even the cook. It had been a sore point during the busiest times when June had to run around the camp to find him so they could start dinner. She’d requested the keys several times. Don refused.

But tonight, with the camp cleared out, she would discover what he was hiding. She lifted the electric screwdriver from below her coat and kneeled in the snow before the door hinges. Her tool whined to action.

Anyone who was deterred by locks hadn’t grown up with her brother. Not that he’d ever been slapped with petty theft, but Mom hadn’t been able to keep him out of the candy closet for sure. Of course, this was a little heavier than the candy closet. She appreciated the criminal implications of her actions, and that’s why she’d waited. When Don needed supplies from town to lock up, she’d volunteered to close things down for him. She’d been nothing but trustworthy all summer. He couldn’t possibly suspect, and now she had the camp to herself.

No witnesses.

Still, she couldn’t help feeling that the old man was standing right behind her, tapping a toe as he waited for her to notice.

She paused and turned. Tree tops, silhouetted by moonlight stared down at her, wind whistling between dark cabins and skimming the back of her neck. She shivered and shrunk into her coat. Winter came to these mountains far too early.

The tool buzzed back to life, shaking her bones and warming her hands. Three screws down, five more to go.

June was not looking forward to putting them back—especially with the wood splintering as the bolts came free. They would never sit right again. She wished she’d considered that. A story around camp said that a kid had snuck down there back in the fifties. He wanted to impress a girl and make her a picnic in forbidden territory—or at least that’s the story the girl told everyone after he went missing. A hundred endings had sprung up for the story: a monster in the basement, being murdered by the owner and served up to the other kids, that he’d been turned into a slave and lived down there still… It had been a scandal, something the local newspapers raved about, but Don had worked hard to make the story go away. Now only a few people knew it. June had made it her business to learn everything she could about the ordeal.

That boy was her grandma's brother.

She slid the last screw out of place and tucked the screwdriver into her pocket. She expected she’d find a normal cellar lined with supplies and labeled boxes of non-perishable food. It was a shame, really. She wanted there to be more to it, but if she let herself believe there was, she’d psych herself out of the next step.

No. Never. She’d come too far, worked the whole summer. This was it.

She pulled the wood away from its frame. It clung to the cement exterior a moment before popping free—like a frog being pulled from its perch.

Five steps descended into the new space. Darkness waited below. But no, not darkness. A sliver of light cut through the murk, the split between two black curtains.

June pulled out her cell phone and cued up the camera. There was no reception up here, but she would take evidence of what she’d seen with her. She owned that much to Grandma Rodriguez.
She placed one boot noiselessly on the first step and hit record, straining her ears toward the light. She ducked into the cavity and took another step. The wind’s warning died, and she descended another stair.

Air stirred from her own breathing, the sound far too loud.

Her boot scraped across debris on the fourth step. She cringed and stopped.

The drapes before her remained still, pitch black as the devil’s eyes. She swallowed and stepped down. Her gloved fingers grazed across the material—as heavy and velvety as a stage curtain. She pulled it back.

Light hit her in the eyes. She squinted.

Shelves lined the walls, stacked full of cans and boxes. The space was about ten feet wide, but as long as the building above. A hallway. The light emanated around a doorway straight ahead and its haunting blue lit the metal frames of the shelves like ice.

Her phone chirped. She swore and hugged it to her chest.

The hall waited, silent.

June turned the face of her phone up. Low battery. No! She was certain she’d charged it this afternoon. All the more reason to get this over with quickly. She hurried forward.

The door handle chilled her fingers through the gloves. She twisted it and pulled.

Light bloomed into the cellar and her jaw dropped.

A giant TV glowed, the final frame of The Princess Bride flashing across the screen. The back of an office chair faced her, two deer-like horns protruding above it. Metal in the corner reflected the movie like second screen: a dented aluminum egg as tall as she was with fold-down stairs ascending into a dark interior. It looked like a spaceship from a seventies movie.

She lifted her phone, but it was dead in her hand.

Someone sniffled and a paw the size of a tennis ball reached for a coke on a side table next to the chair.

“Holly frapaziod!” She jumped back.

The chair whirled around. June bumped into the wall behind her.

A giant rabbit sat in the chair, antlers sticking out of its brow, eyes like back golf balls. He tore earbuds free and his mouth opened.

June grabbed for the screwdriver, trembling. This was it. She’d broken into the cellar only to be eaten by an antlered, movie-watching bunny. But she wouldn’t go down without taking one of its eyes.

The thing hopped out of its seat, standing as tall as her waist. “I have a funny feeling you’re not supposed to be down here.” He sounded like an infomercial narrator. “Did Don leave the cellar door open again? I keep telling him he can’t do that.”

A talking, antlered bunny. Her screwdriver dipped along with her dangling jaw. “You’re a, you’re a—”

“An alien.” The creature winked. “That’s right. Just get it out. I’m Jack, actually.” He extended a paw. “And who might you be?”

Her fingers loosened around the tool. “I’m June.”

“Nice to meet you, June. You know, you’re handling this better than the last guy. We had to ship him off to the funny bin. Poor bloke. But where are my manners?” He waved a paw at the side table. “Would you like a coke?”

She swallowed, feeling dizzy. The last guy?

“Oh June, you’re looking a little woozy. Why don’t you have a seat?” He pushed the chair toward her. She collapsed into it. “So nice to have company, by the way. It gets so lonely down here, waiting for Don to round up all the spare parts to repair my ship. Guess thats why I tried to keep Jeffry here, but as I said, he ended up a bit loony. Must have been the gamma radiation.” He glanced at his Easter-egg spaceship. Do you know I’ve been waiting sixty years for technology to advance enough for the ship parts I need? We’ve got at least another thirty before someone invents the spacial displacement unit that will get me home, but at least I patched up the radiation leak. As exciting as that is, I like it here on Earth. Funny looking people, but a beautiful planet.”

Junes mouth flapped open but she couldn’t get anything to come out. Jeffry was the name of Grandmas missing brother. She dropped her dead cell phone.

“Did I drain your battery?” The rabbit asked. “So sorry. My gravinator is being wonky, syphoning energy off everything. Poor Don went through six generators this summer. Can you imagine how terrible I feel? He’s such a nice guy.”

She squinted, fuzzing her eyes and opening them wide again. Yup. Still a giant bunny with horns.

“Say, I’m going to need a new guardian in a couple years,” Jack said. “What do you say? Sound like an entertaining position?”

She blinked at him. He couldn’t be serious. “Do you pay?”

“Sure thing.” He flung a fist at a bag in the corner, a potato sack overflowing with gold nuggets. “I can’t take these worthless rocks with me when I leave anyway. Don seems to like them.”

Why not? Who said she had to go off to college and have babies anyway? June offered a hand. “I think we have a deal.”

“That’s just swell. Why don’t you join me for the next movie—Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”


Crystal Collier may spend too many late nights munching cheese and thinking up bizarre story twists, but she does so to appease the scientists locked in her Floridian basement. *wink wink* (Who else is going to finish building her teleportation device?) She figured she might as well make a dime on all that effort and became an author who pens everything from dark fantasy, historical, and romance tales, to inspirational stories and comedy. She has lived from coast to coast and now occupies the land of sunshine 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 more of her midnight meanderings HERE.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Let’s Talk About Camp

Kai's husband enjoying their isolation in Cornucopia, OR
Growing up, my family didn’t go camping. I never really developed a taste for it. And yet, when this discussion thread posts, I’ll be starting my tent camping summer vacation. We are visiting the Grand Canyon, Zion and Bryce National Parks as well as any ‘largest ball of twine’ or other sites we might stumble upon on the way. I’m willing to put up with some sleepless nights in order to explore our astounding country.

I remember in sixth grade I went to summer camp with a friend. We slept on cots, in platform tents. Really, not the worst situation possible. However, being in the Midwest and next to a lake, we had to sleep under mosquito netting. Just as I dropped off to sleep one night, I heard a buzzing close to my ear. I slapped my hand over my ear and trapped the fly inside. Smart move! I still flinch at a buzzing sound. A couple nights later I was awoken by someone tickling my foot. Or rather, something. I awoke to find the silhouette of a raccoon, standing on his back feet, trying to capture my toes with his paws and mouth. Luckily the heavy canvas of the tent between him and my tootsies made that darn near impossible.

The summer after my sophomore year of high school I went to camp with a different friend and I fell madly in crush with a boy. Nothing happened, but we remained friends for quite a while afterward. He and his sister and his best friend even worked with me for a short time. So not all my earliest camping experiences were horrible.

What about you? Do you enjoy camping? Do you sleep in a tent? Refuse anything less than an RV? Sleep under the stars? Were you a camp counselor? Go to band camp? Let’s talk about the pros and cons of camping.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Earth Camp by Eric Price and Scott Harpstrite


Welcome to Earth, 2153. Hope you survive.

“How long are you going to tolerate his crap, Edmund?” Haley kicked a rotten branch and it splintered. “This is the second time he has disappeared. I’m telling you, Aldrich is up to something.”
Isaac, Bianca, and Cygnus meandered around the campsite. Haley had argued with her twin brother in their presence before, but she had never felt this much anger toward him. The stress of surviving on Earth, compounded by Edmund’s indifference toward Aldrich’s behavior, pushed her to the brink of explosion.
“Haley, calm yourself. I’m the leader on this expedition, and I don’t have a problem with him taking some time to himself. Aldrich has worked as hard as the rest of us at finding food. The last time he went off on his own he found these houses to shelter us from the electrical storms. All anyone else had managed to find was a salt water sound.”
Haley turned her back on Edmund and rummaged through a box of supplies. “Speaking of water, where’s my canteen? We need to find some fresh water soon. It’s almost empty wherever it is.”
“Hey, everybody! Look what I’ve got.” Aldrich pushed his way through a thicket. He carried all of the canteens. Swinging one by the strap, he tossed it to Haley. “Looking for this?”
Snatching it from the air, she scowled at him before taking a drink. “I’d appreciate it if you don’t take my stuff again.”
Aldrich tipped his hat. “You’re welcome.”
She wanted to spit water in his face to wash the smile from it.
“Good news everyone. There’s a river north and east of here. I didn't follow it to see where it flows. These abandoned neighborhoods stretch for miles.” He gave Haley a wink, and she turned from him. “And I didn’t want to be gone too long.”
Haley ignored him while she helped the others prepare a meal.
---
By the time they had finished eating, the sun had sunk below the horizon and the sky glowed blue and green. An electric storm passed to the north, but it didn’t present a danger. Haley was still taken aback by the aurora-like clouds. Not by their beauty, but by the potential to generate devastating storms. It served as constant reminder of the war and resulting atmospheric shift which occurred a century before, ultimately tearing apart the planet.
A raised voice grabbed Haley’s attention. “That’s the whole purpose of Earth Camp, the reason we’re down here. To test if colonies could survive.” The conversation had once again turned to the politics of resettling Earth, and the dream of fixing it. Just like before, Cygnus and Bianca were on one side of the debate, and Aldrich the other.
Bored, she stood up and started walking toward the house she had chosen. She brushed some overgrown vines from the welcome mat. These houses are surprisingly welcome. At least we don’t have to sleep outside with the storms.
A movement in the bushes caught her eye. She motioned for Aldrich to quiet his voice. He had been retelling a story they all knew, how his father had died during the last colonization riots.
He scowled at her and shook his head in a questioning manner. When he opened his mouth to speak again, she drew her hand across her throat. Shut up.
Everyone else had turned to look at her.
“I saw something.” She whispered. “Big. It could have been a person.”
The campers stood in unison and looked where Haley pointed.
Bianca stepped forward shining a light. “I saw it too.”
“It could have been a gorilla.” Aldrich said.
“What?” Haley could never tell if he was joking or stupid. He had to be joking most of time. To get into the Earth Camp program, his test scores would have had to be the best of the best. Nevertheless, she couldn’t help but wonder. “Gorilla’s never lived in North America.”
”Maybe we’re near a former city, and they escaped from a zoo.”
A tangible storm of anger and confusion swirled in her frontal lobe. Why did I even take his bait to have this conversation? “How could they have escaped? When the war ended with the people dead, the zoo animals would have died. They would have needed someone to provide for them.”
“Maybe someone who survived the war liberated them.”
She shook her head to clear her thoughts. “Enough of this nonsense. I saw something. It could have been a person. It’s getting dark. Are we going to go looking for it, or wait until morning. Edmund, you’re the leader. You decide.”
Edmund shone his flashlight into the foliage where Haley had pointed. “Discovering any surviving refugees is part of our mission. We go. Grab your flashlights and weapons. Safeties on.” He glared at Aldrich. “If it was a refugee, we don’t need anyone getting trigger-happy and killing it. And everyone stick together. Isaac, you stay with Aldrich, we don’t want him ’disappearing’ again.”
An hour later, with auroras lighting up the night sky, they still hadn’t caught the possible refugee.
Like old times, running through the station corridors. Edmund out in front, me right behind.
By just their handheld lights and headlamps, they dodged trees and plowed through the thick undergrowth.
Haley continued forward with the same energy as when the chase began. Our training was worth it. A year ago I couldn’t have kept up this speed for even a minute, not in Earth’s gravity.
A few times it seemed the trail had gone cold. When the group slowed to take stock, another movement or distant sound would draw their attention.
I don’t like this. More than once, when we think we’ve lost the trail, something new keeps us going. Almost like we’re being led somewhere.
“Edmund, wait.”
He sidestepped a large tree, stealing a glance back at her. “What is it, did you see something?”
Circling around the opposite side, Haley drew even with him. “No. I think we’re being tricked. This doesn’t—”
From behind them Aldrich rebuked, “Tricked! What does that mean?” Passing between the twins, he gave Haley a smirk. “You had the idea to follow it.” Moving even faster, and taking the lead, Aldrich yelled back, “Let’s go Edmund. It’s getting away.”
“Come on Haley. Aldrich is right, we don’t want to lose the trail again.”
Edmund immediately regained his previous pace.
She hesitated, frustrated and at a loss for how to get Edmund to understand. Damn you, Aldrich. Why are you listening to him, Edmund?
Realizing everyone had passed her, Haley resigned to keep following.
The trees and storm-worn homes gave way to the remains of larger buildings, former businesses and shared living spaces. The ever-present aurora outlined the destruction. One by one, the group crested a hill and vanished from sight. Haley finished her climb moments after Cygnus. From this vantage point, above the trees and buildings, the aurora’s light showed her a remarkable panoramic view. A mountain range expanded to the south east. Closer, though still a great distance away, tall ruins stretched upwards, like fingers reaching to touch the rainbow-colored night sky. A lone mountain stood as a backdrop to what must have once been a magnificent view. Are those...skyscrapers? This is an old city. And with these trees and the salt water to the West, there are only a few possibilities.
Without breaking stride, the six campers continued down the far side of the hill. Haley still followed, with each step increasing her discomfort as Aldrich led them towards this past metropolis.
As quickly as the buildings shifted from small to large, they stopped and opened into a grass-filled field. Even before reaching the street’s end, Haley could see it. The crumpled remains of an iconic structure.
That’s the Space Needle. This is Seattle. Why would they send us here, where the storms began. The six pursuers, amazed by what they had come across, slowed as they passed. Each taking a closer look, no doubt remembering what they had learned as children. How out of nowhere the sky lit up, the aurora radiating outward from Seattle, covering the Earth in a matter of minutes. Then the storms began, catching everyone off-guard. Killing billions. Dying, humanity came together...and fought each other. The lucky escaped to space. But only the wealthy could afford the exodus.
A century later, things remained the same. The storms still tore across the world. And while there were openings in the clouds, the auroras disrupted most of the view from space. Haley had seen pictures taken from orbit, showing the destruction. She had even seen one showing the Space Needle toppled on its side. But this view was beyond what she had imagined. On the far side of the wreckage, one of its legs had snapped near the ground. Closer, she could see into the the observation deck, half-crushed from the tower’s fall.
People must have been inside when it...just more death and destruction caused by the storms.
They continued running through foliage-covered streets, always rediscovering the trail after it vanished. After another half hour, Aldrich pulled to a stop at the invisible border separating the building-lined streets and and open expanse. Edmund did the same a few steps beyond him.
Missing the signal to halt, Isaac and Bianca continued forward. Cygnus, too, ran past Aldrich and Edmund into the open field.
Haley held up and turned to her brother. “Edmund. Something isn’t right.”
As if on cue, light flooded the grass.
"Everyone stay calm, nobody fire." Edmond sounded alarmed, but it was nothing compared to the sinking feeling in Haley's stomach.
Two blasts sounded from behind Haley's head.
"I said HOLD YOUR FIRE! Shit!" Vegetation shredded like in a giant food processor. Bullets rained at them from all directions. "Take cover!"
Haley dove through the broken window of a building.
The gunfire continued until an unfamiliar female voice shouted over it. “Stop! Stop shooting! People have been hit! What the hell is happening? Nobody was supposed to attack!”
People got shot? Who? Please, not Edmund.
Aldrich, of all people, walked out into the clearing, holding his gun over his head. “It’s all right. Someone made a mistake. A horrible mistake.”
Portable light beams glared from various directions. Several people converged on the spot where she, Edmund, and the rest of their people had just stood. As the lights approached, Haley could see three bodies lying on the ground. Aldrich knelt by them. The newcomers stood around the wounded.
Haley rushed from her shelter, but a hand grabbed her.
“Haley, wait.”
She turned and threw herself into his arms. “Edmond. I thought...maybe one of them…”
“I’m fine. We need to approach slowly.”
They advanced to the common ground. Edmund said, “We’re coming up behind you. Don’t shoot.”
Several beams shone in their faces and blinded them.
The female voice spoke again. “Aldrich, what happened here? I thought we had everything worked out.”
Aldrich? They know him?
Aldrich stood. “I did. I thought I did. One of your scouts was spotted. I had to improvise and move up the first meeting. Someone from our group must have gotten startled and fired a shot. Edmund, they’re dead. Isaac, Cygnus, and Bianca all got shot.”
The female voice again, “We’ve lost at least two as well.”
Haley couldn’t contain herself. “What’s going on here?” She raised her gun and pointed it at Aldrich. “How do you know these refugees? See, Edmund? I told you he was sneaking off for his own purposes.”
Edmund pushed her weapon away. “No one else needs to die.”
Aldrich, not having flinched from the gun being pointed at him, remained firm. “I did sneak away, but it was for a noble reason. I’ve returned to Earth before. You weren’t to know. It’s top-secret. Only about five people from the Solar Council know. You’re mother being one of them. This group of refugees,” he motioned toward them, “they have a plan, a way to fix the Earth’s problems. To stop the storms. And they need our help and the use of our return ship.”
A woman approached. “My name is Elizabeth Monroe. I’m sorry about your comrades. Please believe me when I say no one was supposed to get hurt. Our whole purpose, the reason we hold on from day to day, is to stop the hurt, the destruction. If you’ll follow me, I’ll introduce you to the man who can save the Earth. He can return it to the way it was. Before the storms.”
Haley looked at Edmund, hoping for a clue into his thoughts. Sometimes she could almost feel his emotions. Not this time. Now all she felt was confusion.
“We’ll come with you, but not yet. We’re not going to leave their bodies here. Not for the animals.”
Elizabeth gave a slight nod. “Of course. We’ve already sent for more of our people to come carry the bodies into the underground. But we shouldn’t wait for them. We were supposed to meet tomorrow. Though, since you’re here now, we should proceed. Time is critical and we must have your help.”
“Alright, Haley and I will follow, but I want your group to stay in front of us so we can watch you. Everyone, including Aldrich.”
---
Haley and Edmund followed the others into a building on the far side of the the clearing. After a short entryway, they came across a large open supply room. From the far side of the room, Elizabeth yelled back, “This is where we head down. Watch your step. The stairwell is dark.”
At the bottom of the flight, light bulbs illuminated another large room filled with supplies. How do they have electricity?
Elizabeth pointed to a door with ‘LK’ carved into it. “This way.”
“Lionel, it’s us. We’ve brought them. The ones who can help.”
An elderly man looked up from an ancient looking craft. It could have been an aeroplane, or an early spacecraft, yet Haley had never seen anything exactly like it in a history book. As they approached, she could tell it only appeared old because of the design. The material of its construction looked new.
“Hi, I’m Lionel Kosta.” Lionel removed his safety goggles and placed them on a workbench. The chair stood on wheels. He spun it to face them, revealing his missing legs. “The people of Earth didn’t destroy the planet during a war as you’ve always believed. Time travelers ruined the atmosphere. They must have brought some type of weapon. The war started later when food became scarce. With your help, we can go back in time, and we can stop them.”


****

To be continued...December 17.
Click Here

****

Author's note: First of all, I'm sorry about this whole "To be continued" thing. I promise this is the last one on LQR. Second, you may have noticed I coauthored this story with Scott Harpstrite. He's my cousin, and we've long intended to pen a story together (though, I don't know that any actual pens were used on this story). Well, here's our first completed effort. We didn't know how working together would, well, work, so we planned the two parts of the story far apart to give ourselves plenty of time.

****


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.



Scott Harpstrite is a scientist, rock climber, and writer. He grew up in central Illinois, often playing on his family's farm and in the nearby woods. His passion for exploration developed into a love of science, travel, and stories. Now working as a lab manager in St. Louis, Scott has co-authored over 15 peer-reviewed publications focused on diagnostic imaging and drug development. When not performing research or visiting new places, Scott writes both science and fantasy fiction.