Writer In Progress: The Eagle and the Fox, by Nya Rawlyns

This month I bring you an excerpt from author Nya Rawlyns. Her extensive library of written books includes a little something for everyone, with sensual scenes that will have you holding your breath for more.

Here is part of the first chapter in the suspense, gay fiction story of two men—separated by age, by experiences and by their very natures—who begin the first tentative steps toward friendship. They will be challenged by events that shock their small community, events that help them find the common ground necessary to protect the ones they care about, including each other.

Excerpt:

The-Eagle-and-The-Fox-ebook-full“Marcus.” The man ducked his head, almost bird-like quick, tucking his chin in tight. It didn’t help. The scars still showed whitish and raw. He was growing a beard. It only made it worse.

Marcus extended the kindness. He kept his eyes on the cash register and muttered, “Josiah,” in response. It was the little dance they did once or twice a month when the burly near-stranger came into the feed store to stock up on ranch necessities.

Josiah looked around. “Slow for Saturday.”

Marcus near bit his tongue. Josiah kept to a few words… mostly howdy, how much, see ya next time. It would have been awkward, but after a bit you got to accepting what the man gave you because he had reasons, a shit ton of them, what with the scarring from the IED and the metal rods holding him upright.

It seemed odd to know the intimacies of a man’s inner workings when the man himself was an enigma, a stranger to the town he was born in, the town where his parents had their farewell service in the cleared out space in Polly’s restaurant amid the savory smells of steak on the grill arguing with stale beer and staler pretzels ground into the wide plank flooring.

Shifting from the cash register to the cluster of sacks just at the edge of the counter, Marcus said, “Hard times,” and proceeded to bag up the pitiful few items. Ten penny nails. Duct tape. Some industrial grade staples. A roll of twelve-gauge electric wire.

The wire was heavy. Josiah reached across the counter and grabbed at the edges of the sack, holding it open. The touch was incidental. Marcus hadn’t meant anything by it. It was just a casual scrape across the man’s knuckles. They both flinched. Marcus would have laughed and said oops or ’scuse me, except he’d clamped his jaw, mimicking the taller man, holding back. A tremor rattled his gut like it always seemed to when Josiah Foxglove was near. What’s with that, anyways?

Marcus asked, “Doing fence this weekend?” He wanted to kick himself. Of course the man was doing fence. That’s what you did when you made do on ninety acres of not nearly enough to support you and yours.

Josiah had shrugged. He was also standing there, at the end of the counter, holding onto the sack. Planted. Like his worn boots had somehow glued themselves to the dusty, cracked linoleum. Grown roots.

It was unseemly. And unprecedented. Marcus decided to go for broke. “You know, Josh, it’d be a hella lot cheaper to go with the single strand barbwire.”

He swallowed, remembering in a gush of oh shit that Fox Ranch ran a small herd of cutting stock and hacks for tourists to take for an hour’s spin around Sheep Mountain. The glint in Josiah’s eyes wavered between are you shitting me and yore a dumbass cracker. While his ears heated to boiling, he tried for a quick recovery. “You know, to keep Paulie’s herd out?” Or not.

Shut up, Colton, just shut the hell up already. “…you know, with things being tight as they…” Fuck, fuck, fuck. Bring up another sore spot, idjit.

Josiah blinked, almost in slow motion, his eyes following Marcus’ lips as the gibberish spewed out, unfiltered and uncontrolled. The front door opened and closed, the overhead bell tinkled, feet shuffled, the sound approached and receded.

Marcus choked back a thank God and meant it. Customer, serial killer, bank robber… didn’t much matter. The distraction was well-timed. He said, “Well, if there’s anything else you need,” and turned away, barely aware his hand still shared possession of the sack. At the last minute, he relinquished control and muttered, “I have to pee,” as he bolted for the safety of his office.

The state of his bladder was only partially true. His belly had cramped up enough that bile flooded the back of his throat, coating his innards with red hot acid. It hurt like hell. He fished a handful of antacids out of his shirt pocket and cursed softly as he tried to peel the covers off the nesting boxes. His hands were too big, too rough, and too arthritic from a lifetime working as hired help to handle the delicacies of the task at hand.

Frustrated, Marcus sank into the creaky swivel chair, letting his ass find the sweet spot that damn near two generations of ranchers and shop keepers had worn into the ancient wood. Of all the things that said family, it was a rickety chair that most grounded him across time and space. But time hadn’t been kind. Now it was just him left. There wasn’t family, hadn’t been for longer than he wanted to think on.

“Oh, Tommy. Why aren’t you here?”

Marcus glared at the blank wall of rough cut lumber. He followed the lines of the distressed surface like he always did late at night, his hand wrapped around a tumbler of whiskey, his heart wrapped around the gravestone in the small plot of land where all the Coltons and the Hendersons were laid to rest.

Following habit, he reached into the bottom drawer and withdrew the bottle of liquor, swiveling it in the natural light. It seemed different, the colors reflecting through the cheap glass, paled out and anemic. Not nearly so rich or so tempting as when, in the hunger of pre-dawn, he poured the amber fluid into the tumbler, swished it around and tossed it back to suffer the burn running full throttle into his screaming gut.

Instinct warned against, but what-the-hell won out. He poured two fingers, measuring the amount precisely with an expert splash. Three years. Three fucking long years. It’d taken him most of that to perfect his technique, night after night of pouring his soul and his loneliness down his maw of despair. Week after week of mourning. Months, then years of grieving bleeding into that single moment when today a stray touch reminded Marcus of what he’d lost.

He almost hated Josiah, really, truly hated him. Hated the broke man the damn military had returned, leaving him to struggle in the assback of nowhere Wyoming. Washing their hands of men who’d not just served, but sacrificed in ways that weren’t obvious. It wasn’t just the steel locking a man’s bones into some semblance of working order, nor was it the flesh wound of pride and self-respect that ripped open skin and muscle and made talking harder than hard. Marcus totally got that it made taking the first step, then the next, seem like too much effort.

But getting it was one thing, doing something about it? Well, there was the trick. He was hardly the poster child for saint of the year, caregiver to the wounded holding on to an existence that, on a good day, didn’t care squat if or how a man got by. Fate played a man false, especially a man like Josiah, prideful hard and duty bound. A man who’d give his shirt off his back. A man who’d donated pieces of his body. A man most had forgot.

Lifting the tumbler, Marcus hissed, “Here’s to you, Josiah Foxglove. You earned it.”

Marcus pushed away from the desk and struggled to his feet, feeling all of his forty-seven years. He still had to pee, so he ducked into the adjoining employee bathroom. After splashing water on his face and doing the sniff test—breath into cupped palm to nose—he deemed himself safe to face any customers who might wander in as closing time fast approached.

As Marcus closes up, he’s surprised to find Josiah Foxglove standing in the doorway.

“Josiah? Did you forget something?”

Having the man in his store twice in the same day would normally have sent Marcus’ libido through the roof, along with a healthy dose of guilt that he was dishonoring Tommy’s memory.

It’s an attraction. The man is… interesting. Nothing more.

“I, uh, I was wondering…” Josiah was at the counter, his face carefully blank, but his eyes gave him away. They’d turned from pale ice to glacial muddy blue, the crinkles at the corners etched deep with worry or concern.

Marcus excused himself and murmured, “Hang on a minute, will you?” He strode to the door, yanked it open and called, “Petilune? Honey?” There was no answer.

He walked outside, leaving the door open. Josiah followed him out, asking, “Anything wrong?”

After pacing around the perimeter of the parking area, Marcus concluded the mystery date had already picked the girl up and whisked her off to wherever.

Josiah asked again, “Is something wrong, Marcus?”

Shrugging, he said, “Probably nothing.”

“Don’t sound like nothing.”

“Shit. Well, it’s just that Petilune has a date.”

Josiah scrubbed at the rough whiskers on his chin. He skimmed over the scar tissue and winced. Marcus wondered if it still hurt. Burns were a bitch and probably took forever to heal. After some consideration, Josiah said, “Well, that’s good, isn’t it? I mean, she’s a cute kid and it’s Saturday night.” The corners of his eyes puckered more.

“She wouldn’t tell us who it was.”

“Oh.”

Marcus inhaled, exhaled, then explained, “He picked her up here. Shouldn’t he have picked her up at home?”

Josiah snorted. “With Janice waiting like a vulture at the door? Probably drunk as a skunk. If you was her, would you want your date meeting your mom when she’s already three sheets to the wind?”

Blinking at the run of words coming out of Josiah’s mouth, Marcus simply gawped at the mountain of a man taking up most of the real estate on the steps.

Marcus sighed. “I guess you’re right. I’m sure she’ll be fine. Won’t she?” Since there was no point trying to pull an answer out of thin air, he changed tack and asked, “Is there something I can help you with?” He waved for Josiah to follow him into the store.

At the door the big man paused. “This probably isn’t a good time. I’ll uh… um, never mind. I’ll catch you next time. Have a good night.”

Before Josiah could shut the door, Marcus grabbed the handle and held it open. He winced as the desperation leaked through his pores, making his voice warble and waver as he asked, “Would you like something to drink, maybe? Unless you have to be somewhere…”

“No. I’m good. I mean…” Josiah inched toward the door. “A drink would be good.”

“Okay.” Marcus held the door ajar and stepped aside as Josiah sidled through the opening. After leading the man to his makeshift office, Marcus pointed to the folding wooden chair and wondered if it was sturdy enough to hold the man’s weight. The bottle and tumbler were still on the desk where he’d left them. He reached into the bottom drawer, extracted another glass and poured two fingers into each.

Josiah accepted the whiskey and tilted his chin in salute before tossing it down. Both of them shuddered and grinned. Marcus asked, “Another, Josiah?”

The man extended his glass for a refill. “You can call me Josh. I like that better. Sounds less… biblical.”

Relishing the burn in his throat, Marcus murmured, “That’s good. So, Josh, what did you want to talk about?”

“I need a favor.” He shifted on the chair. It creaked. “Thing is, I don’t got the right…” Josh grimaced, his face a war of emotions Marcus could barely fathom. Finally he said, “It ain’t like we got history or we’re friends or nothing like that. We hardly know each other.”

Marcus listened to his own heartbeat, wondering what was driving a man like Foxglove to come and ask for a favor and to be so obviously torn up about it. So he said, “Friends give favors. That’s what friends do.”

“But, we ain’t friends.”

Marcus held up the half empty bottle. “Then I guess we’re gonna need more of this.”

Where to purchase Nya’s books:

Romancing Words: http://www.romancingwords.com

Love’s Last Refuge: http://loveslastrefuge.com/

The Men of Crow Creek: http://the-men-of-crow-creek.weebly.com/

A Whisper of Wings (Free reads): http://a-whisper-of-wings.weebly.com/

Find Nya’s Titles Here:

Amazon Author Central: http://www.amazon.com/Nya-Rawlyns/e/B004Y80YQ4/

All Romance Books: http://www.allromanceebooks.com/storeSearch.html?searchBy=author&qString=Nya+Rawlyns

B&N: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/nya-rawlyns?store=allproducts&keyword=nya+rawlyns

Apple/iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/nya-rawlyns/id431503932?mt=11

Kobo: https://store.kobobooks.com/en-ca/Search?Query=nya+rawlyns

Crossing boundaries, taking no prisoners. Write what’s in your soul.

It’s the bass beat, the heartbeat, the lyrics rude and true.

Den1aNya Rawlyns cut her teeth on sports-themed romantic comedies and historical romances. She found her true calling writing about the wilderness areas she has visited but calls home—in that place that counts the most, the heart.

She has lived in the country and on a sailboat on the Chesapeake Bay, earned more than 1000 miles in competitive trail and endurance racing, taught Political Science to unwilling freshmen, and found an avocation in materials science.

When she isn’t tending to her garden or the horses, the cats, or three pervert parakeets, she can be found day dreaming and listening to the voices in her head.

 

Where to find Nya online:

Face Book: https://www.facebook.com/NyaRawlyns

Google+: https://plus.google.com/u/0/+NyaRawlyns/posts

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Nya_Rawlyns

The Eagle and the Fox online:

The-Eagle-and-The-Fox-ebook-fullAmazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00Y1WDUCI

Amazon Multilink: http://authl.it/B00Y1WDUCI

ARe/OmniLit: https://www.omnilit.com/product-theeagleandthefoxasnowyrangemystery-1813905-145.html

B&N: http://bit.ly/1Evwra4

Kobo: https://store.kobobooks.com/en-CA/ebook/the-eagle-and-the-fox

Apple/iTunes: http://apple.co/1J53ZCg

Writer In Progress: Gods of Chicago, written by A. J. Sikes

This month I bring you an excerpt from A.J. Sikes Urban Fantasy Noir Gods of Chicago. This is a grisly scene from near the end of the story, and he chose it because…

….it stands out to me as one of the strongest moments in the story. Two of the main characters, who’ve been at odds since the beginning, finally face off and let out everything that’s been bottled up between them. It isn’t pretty, but this is a noir novel, so it isn’t mean to be. And, trigger warning: contains racial slurs, racist violence, and violence directed at a woman. The scene was thoroughly uncomfortable to write. But after reading it over and over, questioning whether it was right to include in the book, I began to see how strong the moment was. Emma Farnsworth is my favorite character from Gods of Chicago, and Tom Wynes my least favorite, so I could put a lot of emotional content into their dialogue through this scene. While this moment is the pinnacle of their rivalry, the dialogue and tone are representative of both characters. The scene also presents a few story world details that should help readers imagine my alternate history 1929 Chicago.

~A.J. Sikes

~~~~~

Excerpt:

coverConcept-V11Two soldiers came into the shed, one with a pistol that he kept trained on Emma. The other went to the prisoners and menaced them with his rifle before ordering them outside. The Conroys went first, hustling out ahead of the wounded negro. When the shed was empty, Wynes came in with the Tommy gun. He tucked it under his arm and undid Emma’s cuffs from around the pipe, then closed them again and led her out to join the others.

Outside, the prisoners had stayed apart. The ironwork hound stood in front of them, its bulky torso a tangle of tubes and pipes racing around the machine’s core. Emma had only seen one this close at her father’s plant, when he’d brought it in to watch the yard at night. She’d feared the thing then and felt no different now. Emma gave a sudden start when a jet of flame licked out of the hound’s snout like a tongue tasting the night.

“He’ll leave you be, Miss Farsnworth,” Wynes said with a sneer. “Unless I tell him different.”

She glanced at Wynes. In one hand he held a small box that he waggled in the air before pocketing it. Behind Wynes, Eddie stood in the open space before the shed, his hands raised to his shoulders and his right arm tucked in tight against his side where he’d been hit before. The soldier with the rifle looked at Wynes. Emma saw him jerk his chin up and down. The soldier swung his rifle around and hit Eddie in the back.

Eddie let out a deep angry groan and dropped to his knees, holding his injured side. Emma screamed when she saw him slump forward, collapsing into the dirt like he’d passed out from the pain. The soldier grinned and lifted a foot to kick Eddie. Emma flew forward past Wynes and knocked the man down, slamming her balled up fists onto his chest and arms. She caught him a good one on his chin and he reacted by bringing his rifle around to crack her in the side. Emma cried out and rolled off the man, curling up around her sore hip.

Wynes came over, followed by the ominous step of the ironwork hound. Emma tried to stay curled up, but a soldier grabbed her by the arm and pulled her to her feet. The other one came over and kept his rifle trained on her. She eyed her captors through a glare, curling her lips back and then bringing them together tight over her teeth. Her bitterness and rage roiled within Emma’s chest until she felt her gaze drop on its own, down to Eddie. His breathing was shallow and slow. Emma felt her guilt burning her cheeks crimson and for a moment she thought about trying to run. She lifted her eyes to look out into the yard. The lakeshore was only a short distance away. The line of airships hung above the water, tethered on stout chains. Back to her left, past the Vigilance and behind the shed, a large tree offered shadows to hide in and protection from the bullets she knew would follow her.

She wouldn’t make it. They’d shoot her, and then they’d shoot Eddie and probably the rest of these poor people around her. The couple here, the other negro. The people in the tents.

As if he sensed her thoughts, Wynes spoke up from behind her. “Miss Farnsworth? I think we’ve had enough run around tonight, don’t you?”

“Go to hell.”

“With such a charming tongue, I don’t know how you escaped attention on the dance floor all these years. Or maybe I do. Maybe it’s because you were sloppy for a smoke.”

Emma turned around and stared hard at Wynes. He’d slung the Tommy gun over his shoulder and was holding a coil of rope now. She let her eyes bore into his with all the rage she’d ever felt at how Chicago City had forced her to live.

“You think you know about me, Wynes? You’ll never understand the real difference between Eddie and the guys I let take me onto the dance floor. The only reason I let them even touch me was because I had to. I played hard to get like any girl should, but I never played too hard. If I did, I knew someone would get their nose out of joint and start saying they smelled smoke. So I let them spin me around the floor because they thought it was their right to hold my hand. Just because I was a Farnsworth. Because I was from their set. Only they didn’t know I’d given up on that set the minute I laid eyes on it.

“They’d never understand why I love Eddie, just like you’ll never understand, and it’s not my damn job to teach you anyway. I did what I was told when I had to. I did my best to keep my nose above the stink in this town. I lived the way I wanted to, and loved the man I wanted to. If that means I have to die tonight, I don’t care. Just get on with it.”

Wynes slapped her once, turning her face to the side. He lifted his other hand and Emma’s eyes rounded in terror when she saw the coil of rope with a noose tied at one end. “Oh, I’ll be getting on with it, Miss Farnsworth.”

#

Wynes frog-marched her around the shed, calling for the soldiers to bring the others along. Emma felt numb as she let him lead her to stand in a clearing around the tree. She turned to watch over her shoulder as the others followed. The Conroys stayed to the side. They stuck close together, and moved quick when commanded. Behind them, the soldier with the pistol threatened the injured negro and ordered him to get Eddie on his feet.

Emma’s heart broke watching the two men staggering along, both upright but leaning on each other for support. Eddie held his side and grunted with each step. The man with the ball and chain on his ankle dragged his burden through the dirt and snowmelt. Emma could feel his bare feet chafing and freezing against the ground as he stepped a halting haggard path to his own execution. Wynes cursed under his breath and ordered the soldiers to hurry Eddie and the other man along.

“Get ‘em over here already. We don’t have all night to wait on a couple of dumb niggers.”

Emma spun to holler at the man, but she still felt the sting of his hand on her cheek. The look in Wynes’ eyes told her she’d be better off keeping quiet. So she pressed her lips together and bit her teeth down on the anger she felt. Wynes stepped over to the shed and lifted a post away from the wall and came to stand beside her. Emma brought her hands to her face when she realized it wasn’t a post he held but a wooden cross.

“Hold this for me, will you, Miss Farnsworth?”

“Not on your life,” she said, shaking her head and backing away. She came up against a soldier who shoved her to the side and went to assist Wynes in his grisly preparation. The soldier went to the shed and picked up a coil of wire and some stakes and a mallet.

“See, Miss Farnsworth? There are still men in Chicago City who know what’s what. Guys like these two here. They remember the town that my father and his father made safe for the good people until the Dagos and Rigos and Jews and niggers moved in and turned it into a pit. That’s what this city is now,” he said, leaving the task of erecting the grim totem to the soldier.

Wynes stepped close to Emma, his breath reeking of drink and tobacco smoke and forcing her nose to the side. “This city, the place where men with the name of Wynes have walked a beat for nearly seventy years. Where the streets used to be safe and clean. It’s nothing but a pit with greased walls, and all the good people are stuck fighting each other to get to the top. You want to hear about stink? It’s gotten so bad you have to stick it to your neighbor if you want a chance to breathe good air again.

“I remember when Chicago City was a place a man could be proud of, a place you didn’t mind hearing about in the news. Before Capone. Before the Micks came out of the Eastern Seaboard. Before the Chinamen rolled in on the rails from out west and the niggers came up river from New Orleans. That’s the city I remember, Miss Farnsworth. And if I can’t have it back the way it was, then I’ll give my worst to the people to blame. People like your Eddie Boy here,” he said, grabbing Eddie by the shoulder and hauling him to the tree.

One of the soldiers grabbed the other negro and ordered him to stay still while they unlocked the shackle on his leg. Then they shoved him forward to join Eddie under the tree.
Emma screamed at the soldiers and roared her hatred at Wynes. The cross was in flames and the whole night seemed ablaze with angry firelight. Emma kept screaming, letting her rage tear at her throat. She whipped her head left and right as she shrieked, begging the night for help. She only saw the Conroys, who stayed against the shed, mute and still.

The ironwork hound marched a path in front of Emma, the spurt of flame licking from its snout. Emma shot her eyes back to the scene below the tree. A soldier held Eddie’s arms behind his back and tied his wrists together before doing the same to the other man. He then moved to stand beside the metal dog and covered Emma with Wynes’ chopper.

Emma shuddered as she watched Wynes lift the noose and toss it over a tree branch. He caught the menacing loop in his hands and passed it to the soldier beside him. The man stood in front of Eddie and draped the rope over his head. Emma shook with sobs. She felt so numb inside that she barely flinched when she heard a shot ring out from her right just before the night exploded in fire and pain.

~~~~~~

Book Links:

All merchants are linked from his webpage: http://www.ajsikes.com/aaron-s-writing

AJSikes_AuthorPicWhere to find A.J online:

Twitter: @SikesAaron

Writer In Progress: Red Desert – Point of No Return, written by Rita Carla Francesca Monticelli

This month I am pleased to bring you an excerpt from Italian author Rita Carla Francesca Monticelli. Her novel, RED DESERT – POINT OF NO RETURN, is the first book of her series and has recently been translated into English. She is also a best-selling author in Italy.

She chose this scene because, as she states…

This scene better summarises what you can find in this story. There’s the marvel of the discovery but also the lethal danger of Mars, which can kill you any time, if you aren’t careful enough. And there’s also the mystery. Anna left Station Alpha at dawn and entered the Martian desert all alone. What happened? Where is she going? What secret is she hiding?

Finally there’s someone coming from her past, who may be the key to understand why she decided to go to live on Mars and never come back.”

~~~~~~

Excerpt:

coverRD1-smallAs I get closer to the canyon, the details of its configuration become increasingly clear. Its naked beauty, devoid of the grace given by life, fascinates me, leaving me open-mouthed.

Proceeding at maximum speed, my rover jerks as it hits a boulder. The terrain has become more rugged. I must slow down.

I move forward with caution, bringing the vehicle close to the cliff. But I avoid reaching its edge. I don’t know about the quality of the rock at that point and I have no idea if it will bear the weight. I stop, while keeping the engine on, to contemplate the wonder of the natural show that lies before my eyes. Even if it’s thought that water flowed on Mars in the past, which was demonstrated by the presence of dried up river beds scattered across its surface, this canyon system seems to have had a different origin. The fractures, created by seismic phenomena, have been modelled over millions of years by carbon dioxide escaping from underground at high speed, thus eroding them, just like the perpetual motion of water would do.

I pull out my camera and start taking some pictures. But since I’m fixed in this position, I soon run out of all possible framings. I’m tempted to put the suit on, get out and take a stroll. Then I realise that, since my departure, I haven’t checked my air time yet.

I switch off the engine. I don’t want to waste energy, other than the necessary one for life support and instrumentation. I free myself from the seatbelt and go to the back of the rover. The suit indicator is at 80% which means I don’t have ten hours, but only eight. It could be worse. If I get out for five minutes to take some pictures, it won’t make much difference.

Without wasting any more time I prepare, depressurise the vehicle, and step out to take a little stroll.

The view from my helmet isn’t actually much better than the one from the windshield. A weak wind lifts some dust with each step I take. I’ve already touched that thin sand more than once inside Station Alpha, but now I wonder how it would feel to lay on it under the sun. I check the temperature with the augmented reality with which the helmet is fitted. It projects a set of useful information before my eyes, as if they are part of the surrounding environment. It reads a little more than five degrees Celsius. It’s cold, but not so cold.

If only the atmosphere wasn’t so rarefied.

I give up my reveries. They are stealing precious seconds that I should use in a more rational way. Holding my camera, I walk toward the edge of the canyon, capturing many different images.

I hope the photographs are coming out well. It’s difficult to say from the small display on the back of the device. I’ve never been a great photographer. I can waste even the easiest snapshot. But the light is perfect now that the sun is high. The various layers of rock seem to shine by themselves. It’s almost incredible that so much beauty could be accidental.

I’m still bewitched by such a view when my foot slips on the terrain. Before I can counteract the loss of balance, I find myself supine; my back hits the breathing device and my head is thrown backwards, bending my neck. My helmet bumps into a stone and the rebounding effect runs all over my body, dazing me. The light becomes more and more intense, forcing me to close my eyes, and I have the impression of hearing remote music, rocking me softly.

My eyes snap open; I’m breathing heavily. I’m still lying on the ground. The sun is directly over me. I lift my right arm with caution, to check my suit indicators. Everything seems alright. There’s no pressure drop, but I have been reckless. I could have damaged it, and died in excruciating pain.

I think about Michelle for a moment. She tried to leave the station without her suit. Her body swelled up in the airlock, until her more superficial tissues exploded and spread themselves over the doorway. Her corpse blocked it. We had to use the exit on the other side of the station to move away what had remained of her, which had frozen in the meantime. We tried to clean, but her thickened blood had seeped in everywhere.

I still cannot believe she decided to kill herself that way. The thought that someone may have pushed her in there and activated the door to kill her hasn’t allowed me to have a decent sleep for many a long night. The fact I’m here now is in most part due to that doubt.

I try to breathe deeply and calm down. I must have lost consciousness, but only for a couple of minutes. I sit up with caution. My camera is tied to my suit with a lanyard. It seems undamaged. I pick myself up from the ground and head back to the rover.

No more strolling, for a while.

Once inside, I get rid of my equipment and I lie back in my seat. I start downloading the photographs, which are immediately displayed on the dashboard screen, and I activate the satellite connection. As I start the upload, a notification appears.

“Incoming message,” the cold voice of the computer recites.

At first I think Hassan is trying to contact me again, by using the satellite transmission, but then I read on the windshield augmented reality that it comes from Houston and was recorded five hours earlier. It’s mission control, attempting to persuade me to go back. I’m really curious to hear what they have thought up.

I turn on the video playback and the virtual screen is filled with a person’s face.

“Anna … hi. To tell the truth I’m not convinced that asking me to talk to you has been a clever idea. But I’m here now so I must try.”

In disbelief, I put a hand on my face. “Jan,” I whisper, while watching the image of the only man I have ever loved in all my life.

~~~~~~

Book Links:

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/product/dp/B00L979374

Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/red-desert-rita-carla-francesca-monticelli/1119142303?ean=2940045814508

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/red-desert-point-of-no-return/id857900290?mt=1

Kobo: http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/red-desert-point-of-no-return

Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Rita_Carla_Francesca_Monticelli_Red_Desert_Point_o?id=PmjiAwAAQBAJ

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/426323

Oyster: https://www.oysterbooks.com/book/4wLfLBLqdvxC6TJUw5XS6d/red-desert-point-of-no-return

Scribd: http://www.scribd.com/book/216883610/Red-Desert-Point-of-No-Return

Where to find Rita online:

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Writer In Progress; Carry Me Away, written by Robb Grindstaff

Happy Holidays! Hard to believe that in a weeks’ time 2014 will be just a memory. I want to thank all the wonderful authors who participated in both my interview series and my excerpt series. I wish the best for everyone in the New Year. *hugs*

The last excerpt for 2014 comes from a good friend, Robb Grindstaff. This excerpt is from his second novel CARRY ME AWAY. Robb chose this excerpt because, as he puts it,

I thought this scene really established the dynamic between this twelve-year-old girl and her rebellious sixteen-year-old brother, a relationship that deeply affects her for the rest of the book.  In my first draft, I had skipped most of this scene. The story is written in first person, so I figured she wouldn’t really remember the accident, and I stopped at the moment of the accident, then the next chapter starts with Carrie waking up in a hospital bed. My editor suggested it was too important to skip and encouraged me to write it. But how to write it in first person? This was the result.” 

~~~~~

Virginia, May 1994

Carry Me away“Where are you going, you nutsack?”

CinDee lived a whole minute away by car, but Sammy always took the opportunity to drive around the block to squeeze in an extra forty-seven seconds of unsupervised driving time.

“I’m taking you to Cin’s, so shut the fuck up.”

But he didn’t go around the block. He went straight three blocks to the end of the street and turned right.

“Then why are you going this way? I was supposed to be at Cin’s like half an hour ago.”

We’d driven this way many times, over the hill where more trees lined the streets, where brick mailboxes guarded long blacktop driveways that led to houses bigger than ours. The road narrowed into a country lane in the middle of the city, barely wide enough for two cars to pass, bordered by deep ditches gargling with rain runoff. Ahead of us, the road squeezed together for a one-lane bridge over a tiny creek, followed by a long, sweeping curve to the right, before taking a sharp bend to the left and heading down the hill again. After that, we would turn right at the intersection, back toward Cin’s.

Sammy didn’t answer me except to wave his middle finger in my direction.

I grabbed the black eight-ball knob off the stick shift, held on only by sun-dried electrical tape. The chrome, curved stick jutted its threaded tip up beside his thigh.

“Put that back on, goddammit.”

“I’ll give it back when you get me to Cin’s. When you gonna fix this piece of shit anyway?” I shoved my cigarette through the barely open window into the rain, rolled it up the rest of the way, and tossed the heavy eight-ball from one hand to another.

“If I cut myself on this, I’ll wipe the blood in your hair and laugh when you faint.” Sammy grabbed the stick by the shaft to change gears.

I turned my back to him as far as the seatbelt allowed. The rain cut tiny horizontal rivers across my window as we climbed the hill. A long expanse of green lawn led up to a big white house with pillars across the front porch. The house had a small, round corner room upstairs with a cone-shaped roof. I loved that house. I wanted that room.

As the road narrowed, the trees formed a canopy over the road, combining with the dark clouds and rain to bring nightfall in an instant. Sammy flicked on the headlights, clicked the wipers up a notch, and cranked the radio a little louder.

I refused to look at him. The raindrops shoved each other across my window.

We slowed for the bridge. The raindrops raced on the other side of the glass. Heavy, dark trees and brick mailboxes lined the road. The drops mesmerized and the thumping wipers hypnotized. My eyelids wanted to shut.

The trees spun to my left until the bridge we’d just crossed swiveled in front of me. The raindrops on my window stopped racing past me and stood still, jiggled and danced in place. Everything seemed odd, out of place for a moment until the view shifted back to where it belonged. The trees grew so close to the road here, the brick pillars holding mailboxes beside them at the edge of the street. So close.

“What was that?”

“We just fuckin’ hydroplaned. Cool, huh?” Sammy slowed and brought the car back under control, leaning forward over the steering wheel to see the edges of the road better.

The side view mirror flew off with a quick crunch. It bounced and flipped into the ditch, triangles of mirror flying like glitter confetti. Reflected shards of brick mailbox pillar and wet grass and black tree trunks floated into the ditch.

“You idiot. Daddy’s going to kill you. You better go back and get the mirror.”

“What mirror?” Sammy laughed. “I didn’t see anything. Someone must’ve hit the car when it was parked.”

I twisted sideways to face him, leaning against the door and propping one foot on the dashboard, tapping the windshield with the toe of my tennis shoe.

He glanced at me and grinned, then leaned farther into the steering wheel, peering carefully through the rain and shadows to see the road.

Like a hamster wheel, the road bent upwards ahead of me, up, up and back over the top of my head.

“Sammy?” My stomach flipped. Something slammed against my door like a sledgehammer, punching me in the back and the ribs. The air emptied from my lungs with a grunt. The glass exploded against the side of my face and into my hair, stinging like a swarm of bees. Two headlight beams searched for squirrels in the trees, then dropped again to light the tall grass and rocks in the ditch as we burst through the guardrail as easily as a runner breaking the winner’s tape. A deafening crack of thunder rocked the roof of the car.

The car slammed to a stop, and the seatbelt locked me into place, but not before the dashboard slammed against my hip and side.

A moment passed, perhaps two seconds, perhaps two minutes. An eerie white-green glow floated around me. Screaming pierced the air as the echo of the thunder faded.

“Sammy, are you okay? Are you hurt? What’s wrong?” He just sat there grinning, staring through the windshield. I turned the radio off and the scream ended with a click.

“You might have gotten away with just the mirror, but now you are fucked big time.”

Sammy laughed until he coughed and rested his chin on the dash. His long, straight hair stood on end, straight up.

I started laughing, too. “You should see your hair.”

The tips of his hair pressed against the roof. I tried to reach up to see if mine did the same, but the still-locked seatbelt tangled around my arm and tied me into place, sideways, leaned against the door, pinned between the seat and the glove box.

“I can’t get out of this thing. Give me a hand, dickweed.”

Sammy giggled and coughed but didn’t say anything. He didn’t take his eyes off the road even though we weren’t on it anymore.

“You ass. You better get straight before the cops get here. They’ll know you’re high. Oh, you are so fucked. Daddy’s going to ground you for the rest of your life.”

Daddy had always told him to keep it between the ditches, but Sammy never listened.

When I tried to turn in the seat to undo my seatbelt, an ancient samurai warrior drove his sword through my back and twisted. Hot rain poured onto my face, choking and hiding my scream.

The glow from the dashboard lit up the white rubber sole of my tennis shoe. How the fuck can I see the bottom of my foot?

I fumbled for the button until the buckle clicked. My head crunched against the roof.

“Goddammit, Sammy, I can’t get out. I have to get out.”

With both hands, I pushed against the roof to take the weight off my head and neck, but only managed to shift to the side of my face. Bits of glass dug into my cheek.

The bottom of my shoe taunted me, peering up at me, or down at me. I clawed with one hand to find the door handle, but it wasn’t where it should have been. Crawling out the window didn’t work. The opening was too small to get my head through.

My weight shifted again and my body ripped in two. The samurai sword sliced through my back and my side, piercing me with an ice cold flame. I opened my mouth but couldn’t draw in enough breath to scream it out again.

***

“Come on out here and help me, child. Don’t be afraid of the bees.” Mama Carissa, my grandmother, worked in her flower beds.

I stepped down from the porch and floated across the yard to where she sat in the grass at the edge of the flowers. When a honeybee buzzed by my ear, I ran as fast as my legs could carry me back to the house, but the porch moved farther away. The bee stung my cheek. Then another. Bees surrounded me, swarming around my head, stinging my face and my neck and the top of my head. When I swatted them away, they stung the palms of my hands. My legs sank into mud, each step harder to follow with another.

***

“Sammy,” I whispered. “You’ve got to help me. Get the bees off me.”

He was busy trying to see through the broken windshield into the dark, trying to get it into gear, trying to keep it between the ditches.

The white-green glow faded. Sammy leaned so far over the dash that the steering wheel disappeared into his chest.

I felt around for the gear knob, through bits of broken glass and the warm, sticky rain that poured across my face. When my fingers touched the slick eight-ball, it rolled against my forehead.

I tried to put it back into place, but couldn’t see where to slide it onto the shifter.

Sammy’s car door groaned and swung open.

“Where are you going? Come get me out of here.”

His footsteps squished in the mud as he came around to my side of the car. He leaned over outside my window and reached a hand through, calmly picking the bees from my hair, brushing them from my cheek.

“I can’t get out. I have to get out.” My legs wouldn’t move at all, wouldn’t run from the bees. The sword twisted with every breath.

“Relax. We’ll have you out in a minute.” He reached both arms through and wrapped them around me. He didn’t try to pull me out, just held on until I quit squirming.

“Here.” I handed the gear knob to him. “Here, take it.”

Sammy didn’t reach for it. He let go of me and slid away from the window.

“Where are you going? Get back here.” His footsteps moved away, splashing in the water running through the ditch. “Don’t leave me, Sammy.”

I reached for the gear shifter again, forcing my eyes open to see where to place the eight-ball.

Sammy still sat in the driver’s seat, leaned against the dash, face pressed against the broken windshield, eyes open wide to see the road. His hair stood on end, his butt a good six inches off the seat. The stick shift twisted at an odd angle, and disappeared into an unspeakable place.

***

Mama Carissa fried bacon, or pork chops maybe, in the kitchen. Sizzling, popping. The smell of grease and meat. The steam. A red mist floated up from the stove.

***

A red mist floated up and surrounded Sammy until he disappeared behind it. The red flickered blue, then red again. A baby cried in the distance. The screaming started again, but the stereo controls were out of reach.

Demons hid in the mist. Demon hands reached through the red fog, grabbing for me, grabbing my hair, my face, my arm, holding me in place with cold, clammy hands, screaming at me, stabbing me in the back and the side with swords and spears, beating my leg and ribs with their medieval clubs. Ripping my body in half. The bottom of my foot stared at me, useless, unmoving.

Demons rose through the red mist and grabbed for me.

“Don’t try to move,” the demons warned. “We’ll have you out in a minute.”

~~~

AUTHOR BIO

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARobb Grindstaff’s first novel, Hannah’s Voice, debuted January 2013 to rave reviews from critics and readers alike, his writing compared to Flannery O’Connor and John Irving. His latest novel, Carry Me Away, published September 2013.

In addition to a career as a newspaper editor, publisher, and manager, Robb Grindstaff has written fiction most of his life. The newspaper biz has taken him and his family from Phoenix, Arizona, to small towns in North Carolina and Texas, and from seven years in Washington, D.C., to five years in Asia. Born and raised a small-town kid, he’s as comfortable in Tokyo or Tuna, Texas. He now lives in Wisconsin, where he manages a group of newspapers.

Robb has had a dozen short stories published in several print anthologies and e-zines, and his articles on the craft of writing fiction have appeared in writing magazines and websites.

ROBB’S WEB AND SOCIAL MEDIA STUFF:

www.robbgrindstaff.com (website)

www.facebook.com/robbgrindstaffwriter

Twitter: @RobbWriter

Carry Me awayBOOK DESCRIPTION:

Carrie Destin, a biracial military brat, believes her injuries from a car accident will prove fatal before she reaches adulthood. Carrie launches a frantic quest to experience everything, travel the world, and find her soul mate before her life ends. Her grandmother’s wisdom points her toward acceptance, but first she must break through her fears before she can give the gift of ‘til-death-do-us-part.

WHERE TO BUY THE BOOK – available in print and e-book:

http://www.evolvedpub.com/robbgrindstaffbooks/ (this is the landing page at my publisher’s site, and it has more links to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc).

Writer In Progress; I See You, written by Frantiska Oliver

This month I bring you an excerpt from the debut YA novel by Frantiska Oliver. Her main character Haven, is a loner. As Frantiska said, Haven’s trust is near nonexistent. Her heart is covered… protected with scars from her childhood abuse. She depends on nobody other than herself. But, Bryce refuses to walk away and ends up opening unhealed wounds as he attempts to earn what little is left of Haven’s trust. So, I chose the following excerpt because it shows the daily struggle of Haven’s life and how Bryce is trying to understand and help. 

***

The rosy-tone of Haven’s cheeks turned a shade redder when she glanced down and saw the crumpled up package. “I forgot I was holding this,” she replied. Her smile vanishing as she hastily tried to smooth out the creases. “Please don’t let them be ruined,” Haven mumbled, yanking the flap open and pulling out several pictures.

Bryce’s stomach twisted into knots when Haven flipped the top picture over. “Where did you get those?”

“I found them in Johnny’s nightstand. Stashed inside a magazine,” Haven replied, handing Bryce the photos. “If you look close enough, you’ll see the background in every picture is the same. Smokey grey walls, cream-colored sheets, and right above their heads, there’s a sliver of something that looks like metal. ”

Bryce nodded and swallowed the bile that had risen in his throat, “Do you know who these girls are?”

“Just one and she’s…” Haven paused and closed her eyes. “Her body was found not too long ago in a… dumpster.”

The fury that rolled through Bryce felt like flames of fire. “You think Johnny…”

Haven nodded her head and Bryce watched a tear fall from her eye, “I also think that he has the other girls locked away somewhere. Held against their will so he can…”

Bryce tossed the pictures aside and wrapped his arms around Haven, “We’re going to find them.”

“Do you know where Johnny lived before he moved in here?” Haven asked.

“No, but Marla said he sold his house and put his stuff in storage. Why?”

“Cassidy told Chance that he took her to his house in the city the other day. Chance thought she was confused and that it was a client’s home. But, Cassidy was adamant about it being Johnny’s house because he had a key.”

The muscles in Bryce’s shoulder tightened, “If I’m not mistaken, Marla said he sold the house to his cousin. Did Johnny take her inside?”

“No, he left her in the car while he went in to grab some papers.”

Bryce’s shoulders relaxed, “Did Cassie say anything about where it was?”

“Other than the city, no, and she wasn’t paying attention while he was driving either.”

Bryce kissed the top of Haven’s head, “Then I guess we’ll have to rely on the tracker.”

 

*~*

 

“Looks like Johnny made two stops on his way to the court house. The first stop was a convenience store. And, the second stop shows he spent almost an hour at a house in the middle of an upper-class subdivision about forty minutes from here,” Bryce said, tilting his phone so I could see the screen.

“How can you tell its upper-class? All I see is an address pointing to a red dot.”

“My first job was delivering pizzas after school and I spent many evenings ringing door bells in that area.” Bryce winked and nudged my shoulder, “Want to go check it out? We can take my car.”

“Let’s go,” I said, collecting the discarded photos and shoving them back into the envelope.

Bryce’s forehead furrowed, “What are you going to do with those?”

“Taking them with us,” I shrugged walking out of the room.

“Why?”

“Well, for one, I don’t want to leave them laying around for Cassidy to stumble across. Two, there’s no way in hell I’m putting them back in Johnny’s nightstand so that he can… can do whatever with them. And, three,” I stopped at the bottom of the stairs and turned to face Bryce. “If by some miracle, we find these girls today and I finally get to rid this world of Johnny, I want to have these pictures with me to leave behind for the detective or whoever.”

Bryce nodded, “I guess that does make sense. All except for the part about you being the one to take out Johnny.”

“Johnny’s mine,” I said, spinning around and heading for the door. “And I mean it.”

Bryce mumbled something under his breath, but I didn’t catch what he was saying. Nor did I care. Johnny was mine and no one was going to steal that away from me. Not even Bryce.

I understood Cassidy was his family and he loved her. That he blamed himself for not being here to protect her. I also knew that he felt it was his obligation, his responsibility, to end the abuse she had suffered. To erase Johnny from Cassidy’s, as well as the other girls’ lives, and give them the opportunity to find the peace and happiness they deserved. There was one thing though, that he would never understand. Never be able to completely wrap his head around and grasp.

The wounds of an abused child heal over time, but the scars will always be there. A switch waiting to be flipped by something as simple as an innocent smile given by a stranger or a hug by someone they love. A trigger waiting to be pulled while kissing the one person their heart beats for or just standing alone under the warm water of a shower. The memory of the past will always be there, lurking inside the shadows of their subconscious mind. Memories waiting to claw the scars open and take control over their lives. Nightmares waiting to be dreamt, so they could remind the child about the abuse they once lived through.

“I’m serious Bryce,” I said when he got into the car and cranked the engine. “I have to be the one who takes care of Johnny.”

“Why? Why does it have to be you?”

I didn’t want to answer his question. I wasn’t sure he’d understand why it had to be me even if I did explain, but I knew I owed him that much. “Because it gives me a purpose, a reason to… to continue moving forward knowing there is one less child living a nightmare. It gives me the strength to continue breathing knowing I stood up against a predator and didn’t cave like I did as a child. It sharpens my skills and abilities so that when I do find the beast of a man who stole everything from me… it gives me a reason to believe I won’t bow down.”

“I get what you’re saying about Johnny being yours and I already promised you that he would be. But, the last part, I don’t understand. Why would you bow down to the man who did that to you? I mean, when you were a kid that makes sense. But, you’re grown now and the strength and skills that you possess, I doubt that I would be much of a match for you, much less a mere human man.”

“Human or not, he’s the only thing I can honestly say that I’m afraid of. He taught me to fear him day after day, year after year.” I looked forward and stared out the windshield, “Buried it so deep inside of me, that to this very day, I’m still not sure that I will be able to overcome it when I finally come face to face with him.”

Bryce shook his head and his jaw twitched. He grabbed the gearshift and slammed it into first, “I don’t know who I hate more, Johnny or the beast that hurt you.” The engine revved and tires squealed when he punched the gas. The car fishtailed and then the tires caught traction.

It took several blurry miles to pass before Bryce’s grip loosened on the gear shift. And several more before he slowed the speed of the car and rested his head against the back of his seat. “If I promise to keep my anger under control, will you answer a question for me?”

“It all depends on what you ask me,” I replied, fidgeting with the window crank knob, trying to ignore the attention Bryce’s car collected as we drove down the freeway.

“That monster of your past is a mortal right? And you’re not. So…”

I knew what Bryce wanted to know and I nodded my head, “When he first started abusing me, I was too young to understand that what he was doing was wrong. All I knew was I would be rewarded for cooperating and punished if I didn’t. He would remind me about respecting my elders and doing as they said because they knew what was best. Telling me that my parents would be very angry with me if I defied him and that they would punish me too. As I grew older, he started getting rougher, more demanding and the threats got a whole lot worse. Eventually, I was so afraid of him that, even when I did think about shifting, I was too scared to change. That is until a month and half after he killed my parents. He had walked up behind me while I was staring at the burnt pile of rubble that had stolen my parents’ lives and told me that it was my fault they were dead. That if I had kept my mouth shut, none of that would have happened. He even had the audacity to complain about the difficulties that he went through to find odorless gas and how much of a pain it was to switch our tanks without anyone noticing. Then, he told me that if I didn’t give him what he wanted, he would go after my sister. That was when I shifted and lunged for him, but even as tiger I can’t stop bullets. I did go back to finish what I had started late that night, but he was gone and I’ve been searching for him…” Bryce quickly cut across three lanes of traffic, causing people to honk their horns, slam on their brakes and swerve. “I thought you were going to keep your temper under control!” I yelled, pushing my feet against the floorboard when he yanked the car into the exit lane only a couple feet before we were about to hit the barrels that sat at the end of the concrete barrier.

“I didn’t lose my temper, but I almost missed our exit.”

“That is why they invented those U-turns under the overpasses! So people can safely turn around when they miss their exit, instead of doing what you did and causing a wreck!”

“Next time I will try to remember that, but for the record I didn’t cause a wreck. Maybe ticked a few people off, but that’s it.” Bryce smirked.

“Whatever,” I said rolling my eyes and crossing my arms. “Just pay attention, get us to where we’re going safely and try not to tick off every driver around here.”

“Hey, if you don’t like my driving, you’re more than welcome to take over,” Bryce said, releasing the steering wheel and holding both hands in the air.

I narrowed my eye and grabbed the door handle, “Or I’ll just get out right here and…”

“Okay. Okay. I’m sorry,” Bryce interrupted grabbing the steering wheel. “I shouldn’t have done that. I’ll behave.”

I let go of the door handle and glared out my window. You’re lucky I don’t know how to drive or I would have gladly taken your spot…and I would have left you on the side of the road for acting like such a jerk!

 ***

 

Bio Pic CroppedFrantiska Oliver currently resides in Texas with her husband, Billy, and their two children. Along with being a wife and mom, she is a full time author and part-time veterinary technician. Her love for fantasy and science fiction books inspired her to write her first debut novel, Never Forget the Past. She has written I See You and two short stories for 7DS anthologies; Ashton’s Promise in A Man’s Promise and Rashmi in the soon to be released Dragon Scales and is currently working on the sequel to I See You.

Web Page:  www.frantiskaoliver.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FrantiskaOliver?ref=hl

Twitter: https://twitter.com/FrantiskaO

Google Plus: https://plus.google.com/u/0/117841187878387727026/posts/p/pub

Blog: http://frantiskaoliver.wordpress.com

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6877891.Frantiska_Oliver

 

To purchase a copy of I See You:

OkMcBAAAQBAJAmazon.com:

http://www.amazon.com/I-See-You-Frantiska-Oliver-ebook/dp/B00M7H5UTA/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1406952375&sr=8-1&keywords=I+See+You+by+Frantiska+Oliver

 

Kobo:

http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/i-see-you-4

 

Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Frantiska_Oliver_I_See_You?id=OkMcBAAAQBAJ&hl=en

 

Barnes and Noble: (Paperback only)

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/i-see-you-frantiska-oliver/1120044164?ean=9780692223246

 

Amazon.CA:

http://www.amazon.ca/I-See-You-Frantiska-Oliver-ebook/dp/B00M7H5UTA/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1409864460&sr=8-1&keywords=I+See+You+by+Frantiska+Oliver

 

Amazon UK:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/I-See-You-Frantiska-Oliver-ebook/dp/B00M7H5UTA/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=8-1&qid=1409864286

 

Amazon AU:

http://www.amazon.com.au/I-See-You-Frantiska-Oliver-ebook/dp/B00M7H5UTA/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1409864358&sr=8-1&keywords=I+See+You+by+Frantiska+Oliver

Writer In Progress: The Bridge at Ardendale, by J.W. Kent

This month I bring you a tale set in medieval times. A time of kingdoms, swords, pubs, and beer. Hang on to your helmet and be swept away in this excerpt of THE BRIDGE AT ARDENDALE.

~~~~~~~~~~~

The_Bridge_at_Ardendendale_coverThe rain started again just as darkness fell. The sun had tried to come out earlier in the afternoon, but gave up in despair and ran off with its tail between its legs. The rain drops fell softly into the forest, dripping off of oak leaves turned red with autumn. Not a bird or small animal stirred, contented to be holed up somewhere rather than brave the chilly damp evening.

Looking strangely out of place, a road snaked through the forest, almost lost between the massive trees. “Road” was actually a kind word for a track barely wide enough for two wagons to pass, and then only with a great deal of profanity. However, someone had put a large amount of effort into the road, because it was not a morass of mud, and was stable enough to not show deep ruts.

Along this road a man pathetically trudged westward, leading what may well have been the ugliest horse the world had ever seen. The big boned rangy yellow horse carried a large pack, carefully tied on with a diamond hitch. Over this pack, hastily thrown on as if as an afterthought, was a very fine cavalryman’s saddle.

The horse made a sound not unlike a rusty hinge on the gate to a crypt, and nudged the man in the back with its nose.

“Look ye black hearted demon spawned heap of shite, I’m cold, wet, and tired too. There’s supposed to be an inn up here soon, so put a stop to yer bitchin’.”

The man, wrapped in a sodden, heavy wool cloak, turned back and started again down the road. He wore a large, broad-brimmed hat that might have been stylish, had it a plume, and hadn’t been very wet, beat up, and old. His high boots also had a worn look about them, although they were obviously very fine. His gleaming blue eyes, about all that was visible of his face, scanned the trees on either side of the road carefully as they continued on.

Perhaps an hour passed before the horse snorted and again uttered the horrible grating sound.

“Aye, ye misbegotten offspring of an Illesian whore and the hangman’s mule… I smell wood smoke meself. Just pray it be the inn and not some bandit’s fire.”

Sure enough, not much farther, up a low hill and around a short turn, sat a stout wooden structure with a battered sign crudely worded with “The Beached Whale.” Off to the side, just as stoutly constructed, was a stable.

“I’ll be damned,” softly spoke the man, “We’re a hundred miles from the sea; why in hammered hell would a retired sailor open an inn in these gods-be-damned dreary assed woods?”

Stopping just at the edge of the light from a sputtering lamp hanging on the signpost, the man loudly shouted, “Halloo.”

A tall youth armed with a pike stepped out of the stable and tentatively hollered, “Halt and state your business!”

“Me business is to be not cold and wet, and to fill my empty belly with some’at that resembles ale and food,” replied the man. “And fer the gods’ sake boy, put that damned pike away before ye hurt yerself.”

The youth sheepishly lowered the pike and said, “Of course sir, sorry, we’ve had trouble with bandits around lately.”

“Aye lad, but if it cheers yer heart any, there are a few less of the bastards to the east of here than were up to mischief this mornin’.”

The youth walked up with a smile. “Here, let me take your…uh… horse?”

“Oh good god no,” said the man stepping between the youth and the animal, “the beast would just bite yer face off. Better I take care of the bastard me own self.” He turned and looked out into the darkness. “Dog!… dog?” He paused a moment, then shrugged under his cloak, and followed the boy into the stable.

The well cared for stable was occupied by five horses, tall sleek animals that rolled their eyes when the man led his packhorse inside. “Hah, aye, he’s an ugly, mean old bastard, but I won’t let him eat ye,” he laughed. The boy pointed to a stall, as far as possible from the other occupants, and said, “You can put him in here. Name’s Ben.”

The man removed his hat and shook the worst of the water from it. “Pleasure, Ben, I’m Fergus,” and hung his cloak over the stall door to dry. Fergus was revealed to be in his fifties, mostly bald, with a beard now more white than red. His weather-beaten but good-natured face smiled at Ben as he said, “Just toss some feed at the hellish beastie, and he won’t destroy the place. Just stay the hell away from him. He really will bite yer face off.” As if in response, the animal in question showed big yellow teeth and made the hideous grating noise, causing the other horses to whinny in terror. Ben stepped back, “Holy shit!” Fergus just laughed, and pointed at the far better- looking but very nervous steeds with his chin. “Soldiers?”

“Aye sir, some mercenaries passing through,” replied Ben, still keeping a suspicious eye on the hellish beastie.  Fergus grunted, and began to remove the pack from his horse.

A few minutes later he walked into the common room of the inn, looking over the five well-armed men seated at the table by the fire. Their conversation stopped as they in turn appraised Fergus, noting both the backsword with long straight quillions and knuckle bow on his hip, and the ring-pommeled bastard sword slung on his back. He nodded at the seated men, and smiled at the innkeeper, a chubby, bald, aproned man with a wooden leg, who greeted him. “Welcome, welcome sir.”

“I be needin’ a place to sleep, some ale, and a bite of whatever I be smelling in the pot,” Fergus said, as he took a seat by the wall at a table across from the fire.

“I’ll send Donna right over with the ale and stew, but our rooms are all taken,” said the innkeeper, wringing his hands and nodding towards the mercenaries by the fire. “That’d be alright,” smiled Fergus, “I’ll bed down in the stable, least I’ll be dry.”

Fergus studied the mercenaries while he waited for his drink. Their weapons, mostly cut and thrust swords, were well cared for, and he didn’t notice any rust on the bits of chain mail they wore. The oldest, seated closest to the fire, had short dark hair shot with grey, and looked back at him with narrowed eyes, as if Fergus looked familiar to him. The youngest, a tall skinny man in his early twenties with longish unkempt yellow hair, was far more interested in watching Donna, the barmaid, as she brought Fergus’ ale over to him. Fergus’ attention shifted to her, as she placed a large foaming tankard before him with a wink. “I’ll be right back with some stew,” she said.

“Many thanks…uh… darlin’.” Fergus stammered as the dark-haired girl, with plenty of soft curves in all the right places, darted away. He glanced back at the mercenaries, and raised his eyebrows, causing a chuckle from them. As Donna walked back with a large bowl of stew that appeared to be mostly squirrel meat and turnips, the best outfitted of the mercenaries stood, and with a quiet air of authority said, “Travis, go check on the horses.” With a sigh and a reluctant “Aye Captain,” the dark-haired man pulled on his cloak and went outside. The Captain walked over and seated himself across from Fergus. He was in his mid to late thirties, and handsome in a way that reminded Fergus of Aldermar nobility. Fergus took careful note of the beautiful cut and thrust sword at his hip, thinking how does a common merc, captain or no, come to have a blade like that, pray tell?

“Evening, oldtimer, surprised to see anyone travelling alone in these parts; it’s not a bit safe nowadays. We ran off some bandits east of here just yesterday.”

“Aye,” said Fergus with a nod. “I left six of the black-hearted bastards cold and quiet along the road this morning, mayhap the same bunch.”

“Six!” cried the yellow-haired youngster, taking his eyes off the girl for a moment. “How does an old man kill six bandits?”

Fergus glanced at yellow hair with contempt, and turned back to the Captain. “I only killed four. That beast from hell out in the stable that be thinkin’ he’s a horse stomped a mud hole in one, and me dog took another’s throat out.” Fergus shook his head sadly and continued. “A damn shame the dog got to the one with the crossbow too late; bastard killed the best damn’ horse I ever had. Was a gift from the fuckin’ Earl of Bamberg, he was.”

The Captain raised an eyebrow and started to speak, when the door banged open with a curse. “The son of a bitch bit me!” Travis, the unlucky man sent to look in on the horses shouted, holding a rag to his bloody shoulder, “God damn horrid ugly fucker bit me!”

The boy Ben right behind him said, “I’m sorry, master Fergus. I tried to warn him, I really did, but he just had to get a better look at your greatsword.”

“Greatsword?” echoed the Captain. “That what you used on those bandits?”

“To answer yer question, no, I used this,” pointing with his thumb at the bastard sword hilt on his back. “They was on foot,” said Fergus with an evil grin. Then shook his head and muttered, “That damned demon horse must be my penance fer somewhat I done once, I swear he only carries me pack so he can be around to torment me… How bad be ye hurt lad?”

“I’ll live, you old bastard, but you should put a fucking sign around that thing’s neck to warn people.”

“Hah! I tried that once, and the hellspawn just ate it.” Even the slightly mauled Travis laughed at that, and went to patch his shoulder and get another drink of his ale.

~~~~~~

Links to the book.

Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Bridge-Ardendale-Legend-Fergus-Book-ebook/dp/B00BGAVXPO/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1405424696&sr=8-1&keywords=the+bridge+at+ardendale

Smashwords:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/453811

Barnes and Noble:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-bridge-at-ardendale-j-w-kent/1117616847?ean=2940046051551

Kobo:

http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/the-bridge-at-ardendale

Inktera:

http://www.inktera.com/store/title/dccb66f4-3cab-4c12-be33-305020d69914

Versent:

http://www.versentbooks.com/store/title/dccb66f4-3cab-4c12-be33-305020d69914

Indigo:

http://www.chapters.indigo.ca/books/the-bridge-at-ardendale/9781310214783-item.html?ikwid=the+bridge+at+ardendale&ikwsec=Home&ikwidx=0

 

Also available in paperback from Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.

 

Where to find the author online.

??????????????????????DeadPixel Publications http://www.deadpixelpublications.com/jw-kent

Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/JWKent

FaceBook https://www.facebook.com/jw.kent.71

Amazon Author Profile http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00GS22MLE

Smashwords Author Profile http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/Ceannt

Writer-In-Progress; Windigo Soul, written by Robert Brumm

This month I bring you an excerpt from fellow Deadpixel Publishing author Robert Brumm.

~~~~

WS Second Ed CoverThe clock in the living room sounded two times and he sighed in frustration. It had been such a long day but it wasn’t nearly long enough. He’d run out of days. It was two hours past midnight on the fourteenth of May. Two hours into his sixtieth birthday. His final birthday.

He let out another long sigh and rolled over on his side, pulling the damp sheet away from his sticky skin. The dark outline of his wife’s body beside him remained motionless and her steady breathing continued. He almost reached out to squeeze her shoulder, to wake her up so he didn’t have to face his insomnia alone, but he let her sleep.

Hank quietly slipped out of bed and wandered into the living room, pulling a t-shirt over his head along the way. He pulled open the picture window curtains allowing the dim light from the street below into his home. He placed his palm on the pane of glass, clean on his side, filthy on the other, and looked down to the street. By his recollection, it had been well over six months since the landlord had the exterior windows cleaned. The build-up of grime and dirt relentlessly attacking the outside of the building left his living room window almost as cloudy as the frosted shower door down the hall.

He unlatched the window and pushed it open, the hinges groaning the whole way from years of neglect. Hank held his breath and glanced back at the dark bedroom, waiting to see if the noise woke Peg. Letting in the outside air, even for a minute, would send her into a panic. But Hank had to risk it. The apartment suddenly felt oppressive. His desire to breathe in the night air, overwhelming.

He leaned out the window and took a deep breath, covering his mouth and attempting to quiet a cough as the air burned his lungs. It had been unseasonably hot over the last few days and the air quality was the worst it had been in months. On most evenings it seemed a little cleaner and easier to breathe than during the daytime, but when it was this hot, there didn’t seem to be too much of a difference.

Hank watched as an affluent young couple crossed the street below, dressed in bright designer clothes, complete with matching face masks. They walked with light steps and light voices, laughing and holding hands as they rounded the corner and continued on to wherever it was young couples went after midnight.

He turned his gaze upwards to the sky, hoping by some miracle he’d get a glimpse of the stars or at least the moon. It would have been nice to at least see the moon on his final night, but the usual dirty haze hung over the city like a filthy blanket. Hank closed the window and shut the curtains. He rubbed his eyes and coughed into his hands, paying for the few seconds of unfiltered air, as he made his way to the kitchen. The faucet gauge reported just enough water left from the daily ration for a small glass. He waited as the final drops tapered off into the cup before taking a sip and reached for his tablet on the counter.

Hank pinched the cracked bezel in just the right spot, allowing whatever dodgy connection of wires beneath the plastic to make contact and light up the display. As usual, the desire to buy a new one crossed his mind before the grim realization took hold and he remembered he wouldn’t need it.

He flipped to his in box and read the notice for what must have been the hundredth time since it arrived last week.

Congratulations REED, HENRY. After a fulfilling life as a patriotic citizen of the State, your retirement has arrived. You are required by law to report to the Federal Department of Retirement Processing Unit, SECTOR 3, MIDWEST DIVISION, on MAY 14. 10:00 A.M. The United Federation of Nations thanks you in advanced for being prompt.

The rest of the message went on in a slew of sugar-coated propaganda, trying to convince him of the great patriotic duty he was about to fulfill and the future generations he was saving. He drained the glass and turned to see Peg standing in the doorway.

“Jesus!” The tablet slipped from his fingers and hit the floor despite Hank’s attempt to grab it in midair. He crouched down and turned it over, cursing under his breath at the spider web of cracks covering the entire glass display.

Peg caught her breath and squatted to Hank’s level, her knees popping like firecrackers on the way down. “I’m sorry, honey. I didn’t mean to startle you.” She reached for the device and pinched the familiar magic spot but the screen remained dark. “Is it broken for good this time?”

“Looks like it.” Hank stood up with a groan. “We were past due for another one anyway. I pass a guy on the corner almost every day selling cheap knockoffs. They’re probably hot, but it would be stupid to buy a new one now.”

Hank regretted what he said the second it slipped out, and studied Peg’s face for a reaction as she stood up. She was having a hard enough time facing his mortality as it was, and the last thing he intended to do was remind her of her own. She ran her hand absently over the cracked glass and nodded.

Peg placed the tablet on the counter and dusted off her hands. “You’re thinking about tomorrow, aren’t you? Is that why you left me alone in bed?”

“Nah,” Hank lied. “Just couldn’t sleep. It’s too damn hot.”

“Maybe we should just stay up. Put on a pot of coffee and play some cards or something?”

Hank pointed to the dim CFL bulb humming in the light fixture above. “What, and sit on the floor squinting at the cards?” The kitchen and bathroom were the only lighting circuits active after nine o’clock. The latest mandate to hit in an attempt to save energy. “No, you need your sleep. Let’s go back to bed.”

He took her hand and led her back to bed. They laid in silence for a moment before Hank

turned to his wife. “Promise me you’ll move in with the kids, Peg. They said they’d be more than happy to have you. Then I wouldn’t have to worry about you buying stolen electronics on the street corner and sweating to death in this dump. You’ll be comfortable there.”

Peg inhaled deeply through her nose and let out a long sigh. “Honey, please. We’ve been over this a dozen times. I’ll be just fine here by myself, and John and Sara are just a few blocks away.

Besides, it’s just a couple of months before my time, too.”

“It’s four months and I’d feel a lot better if I knew you weren’t alone at night.”

“I don’t want to hear another word!” Peg flipped on her side and faced him. “I’m a big girl and I can take care of myself.”

Hank knew when to give up. Peg was a stubborn woman and he knew they could argue all night and it wouldn’t do any good. He nodded and gently placed his hand on her check, kissed her on the lips. His intended quick peck lingered into a deep kiss and he pulled her close. They made love and Hank fell into a dreamless sleep, still holding on to his wife. He opened his eyes as the living room clock finished chiming six times.

 

photo 2Robert Brumm lives in Southeastern Wisconsin with his wife and two children. He can be found during the day slaving over a hot server as a systems administrator. At night, if he’s not drinking beer in front of the television or taking his puggle for a walk, you just might find him writing in the basement.

www.robertbrumm.com

Link for Windigo Soul:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B007B3XVLY/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B007B3XVLY&linkCode=as2&tag=robebrum-20

 

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