The Creation of New Sol

To get you all excited about my newest release, I thought I’d tell you a little bit about this new solar system I created.

This being my first attempt at science fiction/fantasy, I started with what I already knew: our solar system. It’s the only one we’ve discovered so far that can sustain organic life. So I created something similar. New Sol consists of a cluster of four stars–Noorah, Fos, Leggero, and Irridiate–with ten planets orbiting around them, eleven if you count the asteroid field where Osmopeth used to be. (Fun fact: I originally added this asteroid field on the off chance I needed a cool chase scene through moving asteroids but I haven’t used it yet. It’s become more of a flavor factor, a mysterious piece of New Sol’s history that I might one day explore.) Six out of the ten planets have their own moons; some have multiple moons just because I thought it would be cool. Playing with vowels and constants, saying gibberish out loud until I’d developed words that sounded “right,” I named these planets and their moons.

The two planets closest to the suns, dubbed Fotia and Huletenya, are uninhabitable. The third planet, Cartiss, is where the bulk of The Andromeda’s Ghost takes place. When I first got the idea to write this book, it was supposed to be a post-apocalyptic type story with a sci-fi twist so Cartiss needed to be “dying” in a sense. I started brainstorming as to different reasons for the planet’s condition and ended up going with terraforming gone wrong. In my novel, humanity is fairly new to this solar system, to surviving in space in general. The concept of terraforming has always sounded extremely complex to me. I imagine there would be lots of room for errors as humanity worked out the kinks. That’s when the “what if”s came into play. I asked myself, “What if tampering with the atmosphere negatively affected the wildlife on Cartiss? What if the human scientists tried to change the animals and plants so that they could survive on their new oxygenated planet? And then what would happen to these genetically modified plants and animals if the terraforming machines malfunctioned or broke down? What would happen to the people who had volunteered to colonize the planet? What would happen to the planet itself?” Answering these questions brought about more questions and I continued down the rabbit hole until the condition of Cartiss was dire enough to suit the story’s needs.

Jurthaan IV is the fourth planet away from New Sol’s main sources of light and energy. It’s the largest planet in this fictitious solar system that can naturally sustain human life so it quickly became humanity’s new home world. Next in the orbiting line is Palnach, the Mireling home world. Then we have Yuraniuu, Statine, and Zirconscope, which are just as mysterious as the asteroid field of Osmopeth. They each have their own unique type of indigenous aliens, atmospheres, and histories but they aren’t expanded upon in The Andromeda’s Ghost. In the third book of the series, we explore them a bit more as Taren and the crew travel farther into their own solar system. The last two planets are Aleediam I and II, so called because they are the same distance away from the suns, have the same orbit around the suns, and are less than two parsecs away from each other. By all logic, they should crash into each other at some point but they haven’t gotten any closer in the hundreds of years that New Sol has existed. I added this as a tribute to the mysteries of space, all of which I believe will be impossible for us to fully comprehend no matter how long we study them. (Seriously, what is dark matter?)

As for populating these planets, I started off slow. It would only stand to reason that so many planets and moons would host a dizzying number of different alien species, but due to the fact that The Andromeda’s Ghost mostly takes place on two planets, I decided to cut myself some slack and limit the types of aliens I introduced in the story. As a reader, I often find it frustrating to keep track of too many new species; this also played into the decision to stick with three or four main species, at least for the first book in the series. Besides, even with the ability to space jump, I figured most aliens would like to stay on their own planets given the different atmospheres of each planet.

I gave Cartiss three main species: the Tilia’Cun, the Danto’Sal, and the Cerotivis. I’d like to say that I came up with the ideas for these aliens all on my own but that would be a lie. I sifted through tons of concept art online to get inspired. Once I found alien types that I liked, I altered certain things about them to make them more my own. Then I took the two earthen animals I thought they resembled the most and combined the scientific names of those animals to create the alien species’ names. This is also how I created and named the interloping aliens on Cartiss, the rare ones that Taren only runs into once or twice in The Andromeda’s Ghost.

For Jurthaan IV, I stuck with one indigenous species: the Folinar. They have unvarying body types and a simple, almost primitive culture, which is why they needed humanity’s help in order to win the first war against their enemies, the Mirelings. Now, the Mirelings are the only type of alien on the planet of Palnach and they are the polar opposites of the Folinar: no two are alike physically and they strive to be as scientifically advanced as possible to gain the upper hand in any combative situation. From the beginning stages of this story’s creation, I knew these two species would be the cause of the main conflict, which is why I gave them more thought and why I made them so different from each other. 

The creation of this solar system and its inhabitants was a lot of fun. It took time and several sessions of just talking things out with my husband or my sister, fellow writer and fiction lover. In the end, I guess you could say it was a group effort. I hope you enjoy reading about New Sol as much as I enjoyed writing about it!


Interested in an excerpt? Click here.

Check out the book’s page at BHC Press for links to purchase. It’s available at all your favorite retailers!

“…interesting, some good nifty gadgets and some very interesting interplanetary politics.” — Amina Ismail Onia, NetGalley Reviewer

“I am always picking up random sci-fi novels hoping they will be great, and I am almost always disappointed. Not this time, though! I loved it. Interesting characters, just enough world building and descriptions that it didn’t bog down, and more action than I expected. I would recommend this book!” — Erika, LibraryThing Reviewer

“Fox has crafted a competent and engaging novel. If the book interests you, it should prove to be an easy and entertaining read.” — PennAdams, LibraryThing Reviewer

“Wow. Where do I start… The world building in my opinion is exceptional and details were well researched. I love the characters. I love the heart warming moments that appear at just the right time.” — Lavender Knight, Goodreads Reviewer

“…a well written, and interesting book.” — Mary’s Book Corner

“…an exciting book with various twists that I didn’t really see coming…a fun sci-fi read with suspense and action that kept me wanting to know what happened next.”
— Kristy Penner, NetGalley Reviewer

“I enjoyed this book. It has potential for a good series. Good writing, storyline, dialog and action. I recommend checking it out.” — John Piper, Goodreads Reviewer

Death’s Curses Excerpt

Hey everyone!

I’m hurting for some good feedback.

As you know, my sister and I have been working on a young adult urban fantasy type story about Charlie and Jasmine (a pair of twins that were cursed by Death), and a tough-as-nails rebel from Boston named Esmeralda. The story is told from all three perspectives, with diary entries from a third mysterious party thrown in (it all comes together in the end, trust me). This is the first time my sister and I have tried writing something together as opposed to just brainstorming story ideas or giving each other suggestions for our current works in progress. The genre is also something neither of us has tried writing.

Naturally, we’re a bit self-conscious and uncertain about the quality of the story. I think we’re doing pretty good considering our inexperience, but that doesn’t really matter. What matters is what you guys think! Your feedback is invaluable to our process. Won’t you let us know how we’re doing?

Some things we want to know: Does the story make sense? Are the characters likeable, relateable, semi-believeable? Are there any cliche parts? Can you hear four different and distinct “voices” while reading or does one character’s “voice” sound too similar to another? Is the plot engaging? Is there anything you want to see more of (dialogue, setting description, etc)?

Keep in mind that this is a first draft. We’re more than willing to change things that don’t work but we need to know what those things are first. Here is the first diary entry and the first chapter to get you started. Enjoy!

**A note to my more conservative readers: Esmeralda is a complicated kid. She smokes, swears, and behaves disrespectfully. She might come off as offensive or abrasive at first but she does mature and find healing by the end of the story. If you’ll bear with her, I’m sure you’ll come to love her, jagged edges and all.**


April 11th, 1718

What is time? Is it merely an instrument to dictate the passing of years? Is it the friend that reminds us of who we once were? Is it the soothing doctor who erases deep hurts and covers them with protective scabs? Or is it something far more sinister?

I have been dwelling on the question of late. I thought I knew the answer once. Now, there is no way to tell for certain.

I’ve lived longer than I look. I was born when time was recorded differently. It has been too long since we visited our roots. Our home no longer exists, for our people died out centuries ago. Even the land itself has changed. We are all that survived that race, my Jerebald and myself. Adelina and Zebded still live as well, but they have forgotten where we came from. They have new aliases to hide their heritage. They are always amalgamating with the passing time. Meriabey and Frases only laugh whenever we mention home. They don’t realize how truly wondrous it was and how foolishly we discarded it.

The only reason I am recording my thoughts at all is because I no longer feel safe confiding in my comrades. Jerebald understands, for he has always understood me. The others used to, but in this last decade or so, I have noticed the change. My friends are not who they once were. Sometimes I look at them, listening to the words they utter, but find no trace of my beloved friends anywhere. Our views differ where once they were akin. It frightens me to think that we may not last together another decade.

We all chose this life. We all made the pact. We all swore an oath to be together forever. But forever has taken a toll on us. I fear it will be our doom. Us; the immortals. Our greatest desire, our greatest triumph, could be our undoing.

Again, I return to the question. What is time? It is the handler of change, a force of destruction, like a river beating relentlessly against an immovable stone. Our friendship, once immovable, once strong, once indestructible, has met its match.

….

Esmeralda

I threw the door open to the boys’ restroom, skidded to a halt just inside, and fell back against the door. Straining my ears to hear over the pounding of my heart, I bit back a smile.

“What kind of sicko hides in the boys’ bathroom?” Randi said, her voice warped with disgust.

“She can’t stay in there forever,” Karen said. “Let’s wait around. A boy’s bound to go in and kick her out.”

“We’ll see about that.” I glanced at the guy standing at the urinal, giving me an incredulous look over his shoulder. “Hey. How’s it going?”

Despite his surprise, his voice was calm. “I was trying to take a piss before some girl decided to come barreling in.”

“I’m not some girl. I’m Esmer.”

The boy scoffed. “What kind of name is that?”

“The name a couple of gypsies thought would be cool,” I said with barely suppressed annoyance. “What did you get saddled with?”

The boy sighed heavily and zipped up his pants, apparently giving up. “Charlie.”

I rolled my eyes. “Congratulations. You’re one of the lucky few with an average name these days.”

Charlie flushed the urinal and turned. He was shorter than I was but not by much. He was pale, with brown eyes, thick lashes, and dark skater hair that curled out from under his backwards ball cap. There was a skateboard strapped onto his plain black backpack.

Not bad, I couldn’t help but think.

Charlie gave me the once over with a quizzical look on his face. “The fact that I’ve never seen you before suggests you’re new but your clothes tell me you’re a native.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment,” I said, pushing away from the door. The black cotton skirt I wore ruffled lightly around my ankles as I moved.

“Does your shirt really need a vest?”

My eyes narrowed. “Who died and made you the fashion police?”

Charlie shrugged and went over to the sink to wash his hands. “I’m just trying to figure out how the ensemble works in your mind. The combat boots are a little out of place, if you ask me.”

“Nobody did ask you, but if you must know my dad was a marine. He gave me these.”

Charlie paused for a moment, eying my boots through the mirror. “Okay, that’s pretty dope. Any particular reason you’re here or do you just enjoy making strangers uncomfortable?”

“Who doesn’t enjoy making strangers uncomfortable? Watching them struggle for words is hilarious.”

Charlie shook off the excess water from his hands and then reached for a paper towel. “Who’d you piss off?”

I snorted. “Some chick named Randi. I didn’t know I needed to be initiated into her gang before I could smoke with them. I thought it was a pretty stupid rule and told her that her haircut made her look like a dude. I guess she didn’t appreciate my constructive criticism.”

Charlie chuckled. “Yeah, the boys’ bathroom is probably the safest place for you right now.”

“I figured.” Opening the door a crack, I dared to peek out.

One of the security guards was talking to Randi and her posse. Randi pointed at the boys’ bathroom.

“Shit.” I hurried away from the door, messenger bag slapping the backs of my thighs.

Charlie watched me with mild curiosity. “What’re you doing?”

“I’m not here!” I walked into a stall, locked the door, and stood on the toilet seat.

The security guard came into the restroom several moments later. “Curnble.”

“Sir?” Charlie said.

“Have you seen a girl come in here? She’s about 5’10, has short orange-red hair and a nose piercing?”

“No, sir. It’s just me in here.”

The security guard must’ve believed him because he soon left.

I unlocked the stall and came out. “Thanks.”

Charlie backed out of the room with a smirk. “Welcome to Green Bay Prep.” Then he was gone.

I glanced at my reflection and ran a hand through my fiery red hair. Heavy eyeliner and eye shadow made my green eyes pop.

Yeah, he thought I was hot.

Another guy walked in and froze when he saw me. “Um…This is the boys’ restroom.”

I frowned. “I am a boy.”

The stranger blinked several times before slowly backing out. I chuckled to myself and followed.

 

I ate lunch outside the library. The fact that I was eating my cheeseburger like a Neanderthal discouraged anyone from joining me on the bench. War and Peace sat in my lap. People gave me strange looks in passing, but those were easy to ignore. As the new kid in a small private school, I knew I was going to attract attention. At my old public school it had been easier to blend in. There were more freaks, Goths, and wanna-be gangsters to hide behind. There was just Randi and her gang, and a group of skaters who got together behind the cafeteria at this place.

How’s a girl to survive in this preppy purgatory? I thought with a sigh.

The sound of skateboard wheels along the sidewalk made me perk up. What were the chances that was Charlie? So far, my pit stop to the boys’ bathroom had been the most interesting part of my day. Maybe he could rescue me from this boring book I was pretending to read. Unfortunately, it was just one of the guys from the skateboard clique, trying to impress a group of giggling girls huddled together in the courtyard. I slumped back against the bench and frowned down at the book.

I might not be so desperate for good conversation if I had my phone. Man, I miss that thing!

The school was small enough. I was bound to have at least one class with the only guy worth talking to at this place…

 

And I did. Seventh period art class. Charlie rushed in five minutes late and had a brief conversation with the teacher. He looked irritated and a little worried. The teacher’s brow furrowed, but she nodded and assured him that he wouldn’t lose his place in the class. Charlie thanked her before rushing out of the room.

I watched the exchange with rapt attention. Getting permission to skip out of class on the first day of school? This guy just got more interesting.

Now that he was gone, the teacher proceeded to introduce the class to the projects we’d be doing this year. What a snore fest.

The only reason I signed up for this class was because I needed one more elective to graduate and my options had been limited. My move to Seattle had been very last minute; most of the classes had already been filled by the time I got here. It had been this or choir. I thought I had chosen the lesser of two evils. (I loved listening to music but I couldn’t sing to save my life.) Now, I was starting to think I was wrong. Fifty minutes later, the bell rang and I was free.

Well, not really…

Great Aunt Dinah’s graying Cadillac was waiting for me just outside the school’s main entrance.

If I cared about what my rich, spoiled peers thought of me, I might’ve been embarrassed.

“Not that I give a damn, but how was your first day of school?” she barked once I’d opened the door.

Aunt Dinah was the crotchety cat lady that darkened her neighborhood. She didn’t just frown; she scowled. She was too proud to wear glasses. Her squinting made her look like she disapproved of everything and everyone, which wasn’t far from the truth. She always wore her white hair in a bun. I doubted she even let her hair down to sleep. Oh, and she never left the house without her fluffy pink slippers.

I slammed the door closed, dropped my book bag by my feet, and said nothing.

“Sorry to hear that,” Aunt Dinah said as we pulled away from the school. She didn’t sound very sorry. “There are plenty of chores waiting for you at the house to take your mind off of things.”

I glared out at the window at the cars and buildings we passed. “I have a lot of homework to do.”

“Which you can do after your chores. You’re a smart girl. I’m sure you’ll manage your time wisely.”

I slouched in my seat because I knew it would bother her. “You give me too much credit. I was banished to live with you for the year after all.”

“Sit up straight. You might have made poor decisions in your personal life, but that doesn’t mean you’re incapable of balancing two projects.” She struggled with her turn signal. “Oh, I almost forgot. Your mother called this morning just after I dropped you off.”

I rolled my eyes. “Oh, yeah? What did she want?”

“To wish you a good first day and to send her love.”

I chewed on my lips, picturing the look on my mom’s face the night she had decided she’d had enough.

With exhausted tears in her eyes, she’d turned to her husband and said, “All right, Hunter. I give up. Deal with it your way.”

My stepdad had been more than happy to send me to his aunt in Seattle. He’d been itching to get rid of me since he moved in. He told my mom that Aunt Dinah would be able to teach me “a thing or two about discipline.” He assured my mom that I wouldn’t come back home the same “rebellious, stubborn child” I had been since my dad died. And that was all she’d needed to hear.

Despite the ache building around my throat, I forced a snort. “The guilt has probably settled in by now.”

“Your mother made the right choice,” Aunt Dinah said with confidence. “There is nothing for her to be guilty about.”

“Uprooting me from the only place I’ve ever lived just before my senior year of high school and forcing me to come to the other side of the country to live with a relative she’s never met doesn’t sound the least bit wrong to you? For all she knew, you could’ve been crazy, or an unstable old lady with Alzheimer’s, or a super neglectful person who would’ve let me starve to death!”

“Have some faith in your father, Esmeralda,” Aunt Dinah said, exasperated. “He wouldn’t have sent you to live with anyone who couldn’t handle taking care of you.”

I shook my head. “Hunter is not my father.”

Aunt Dinah pursed her lips. “He’s married to your mother, isn’t he? He deserves your respect.”

“The last time I checked, respect was earned.”

Dinah sighed as she pulled into the driveway of her ridiculous mansion. “I have my work cut out for me it would seem.”

I looked up at the house, dread making my stomach knot.

This monstrosity of brick and mortar had two stories with five bedrooms, three bathrooms, a sitting room, a library, a kitchen separate from the dining room, a foyer large enough to comfortably fit a Hummer, and the biggest wooden staircase I had ever seen. Not to mention the attic and the wine cellar could have passed for third and fourth stories. The exterior sported ridiculous Corinthian columns and a second story porch with a wrought iron balustrade. The clapboard cladding had been painted blue years ago but was now so pale it was almost gray. The grounds were lush and green, having been trimmed and watered by Dinah that very morning. It was more space than anyone would ever need and it annoyed the hell out of me.

“Why can’t you live in an apartment in some retired folks’ center like a normal old person?”

“Not that it’s any of your business but this is my family’s estate. I’d rather it stay in the family.” She climbed out of the Cadillac and shut the door none too gently.

I followed my aunt up the walkway. “You didn’t think to hire a maid?”

“Maids are expensive. Aside from being mentally taxing, you’re free.” Aunt Dinah opened the front door and scowled over her shoulder at me. “Well, come on! It’s not going to clean itself.”

I gritted her teeth and suppressed a groan. I hate my effing life.


Interested in reading more? Click on the link below!
https://www.inkitt.com/beccafox

Worn

The alarm blares at six in the morning. She turns with difficulty and hits the snooze button, too tired to open her eyes more than a crack. Her baby is already moving, probing gently across her belly. Her body is already communicating, sending information to her brain like text messages. Full bladder; must empty. Empty stomach; must fill. Dry mouth; need water. Feet aching; need relief. Back sore; roll over.

Every new ping sounds louder and louder, until the hamster wakes up at the back of her mind. It gives itself a shake and begins to run on the wheel that turns on the lights and begins all the productivity. Like the grinding gears of an enormous machine, new thoughts move sluggishly through her mind at first. But they get faster, louder, more demanding. Thoughts about what needs to get done today both in the home and at work, what errands need to be run, who needs to be called, and are there any appointments today that she might’ve forgotten about? Oh, and did so-and-so ever email her back? She should probably check–

No, she thinks forcefully. Go back to sleep. 

Then a song joins the jumbled mess of thoughts. An song appropriate to her situation, but just as unwelcome as everything else.

“I’m tired
I’m worn
My heart is heavy
From the work it takes to keep on breathing

I’ve made mistakes
I’ve let my hope fail
My soul feels crushed
By the weight of this world
And I know that You can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left…”

Quiet, she begs, pressing her face into her pillow. Please–

The alarm goes off again. Has it been ten minutes already? With a growl of frustration, she gabs at the snooze button yet again. Falls back into the mattress, tries to wipe away the obnoxious thoughts assailing her mind like gnats. She pictures a dark room, a blank slate, a broken radio, a faulty machine, anything that will communicate to the hamster that it can stop all production up there. But the hamster just keeps running, puffing softly, dutifully performing. And the song continues.

“Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That You can mend a heart that’s frail and torn

I want to know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn
‘Cause I’m worn…”

Her body chimes in again, sending a more demanding message to her brain. Bladder FULL; must empty immediately. Her baby gives a big shove and she finds herself doubling over, drawing herself in tightly to keep from wetting the bed. When the urge is less severe, the covers are kicked off. With curses and groans, she wrestles out of the comfort and warmth and safety of her beloved King, and waddles (yes, waddles–like an engorged penguin) to the bathroom as fast as she can.

The baby weighs heavily on her pelvis and lower back. Her feet feel swollen and tender; she winces with every step. Sitting brings little relief. The toilet is wedged in the corner between a wall and the shower. Even with both knees against a wall, her belly takes up too much space. She shifts and grunts and eventually settles. At least she’s able to empty her bladder in a dignified, adult-like manner. Leaning back, she sighs.

When did something so simple become so complicated?

She knows the answer, of course. She pokes the baby with a finger; he makes everything more complicated than it once was. He kicks back. A little smile, a speck of contentment, a moment of love. But once one physical ailment is relieved, the others swoop into the spotlight. Stomach empty; must fill. Mouth dry; need water. 

Yeah, yeah, yeah…

She lets the dog out of the kennel next, travels into the living room, opens the back door, watches the dog sprint into the grass. The cat leaps down from the couch, meowing in greeting. Both animals are fed. Then it’s her turn. Cereal and almond milk. She sits and reads a few verses from her well-worn Bible, tries to see beyond the familiar story and hear a different message.

What do You want me to learn today?

Breakfast is finished. She stays on the couch, staring into space. Trying not to follow the trains of thoughts still blazing through her head. Maybe she can go back to sleep for a few minutes now that her body has been appeased…But a quick glance at the clock kills that idea. Heave, ho, heave, ho! Up from the couch she finally goes. She walks back into the bedroom (ouch, ouch, go her feet). The pressure returns to her pelvis, low and deep. Baby gives another kick. She presses her hands into her lower back, suppressing a groan.

“I know I need
To lift my eyes up
But I’m too weak
Life just won’t let up
And I know that You can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left

Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends…”

She blindly selects an outfit for the day. Struggles into the jeans. Tugs on the blouse. Shoves her feet into shoes that had once fit her loosely but were now tight. Looks at herself in the mirror. A zombie stares back, eyes half-lidded, ringed with dark circles. With slow, painstaking movements, it tries to do something with her hair. She used to try. She used to care. Now, she just pulls it into a ponytail. The dog follows her every movement, carrying around its favorite toy, hoping to play. She manages to kick the toy a few times. The dog runs happily after it and brings it back to her, wagging its stump of a tail, almost smiling as it pants up at her.

Sweet puppy. How are you always happy?

She scratches it behind the ears before heading back to the kitchen. There she prepares her lunch. The same lunch she had yesterday. The same lunch she’ll have tomorrow. Does she have everything she needs for dinner tonight? A quick peek in the fridge and at her recipe book. Yes, all but two vital items. Of course. She’ll have to stop at the grocery store on the way home.

Prenatal vitamins are ingested. She experiences a wave of nausea as a result. Brushing her teeth thoroughly, she manages to erase the bitter taste from her tongue. Rinse. Spit. Look up. There’s the zombie again.

“…my prayers are wearing thin
I’m worn even before the day begins
I’m worn, I’ve lost my will to fight
I’m worn so heaven so come and flood my eyes…”

There will be more aches and pains as soon as she leaves the house, little things that make everything feel worse. Faulty AC. Slow traffic. Irresponsible drivers. Never-ending phone calls from people with sob stories, people who feel the need to explain everything in specific detail before presenting their request, people who will demand things from her. Tasks assigned by coworkers. Disgruntled walk-ins (or worse: overly cheerful walk-ins). Nice people who only want to help. Concerned people who ask how she is doing. People she can never be honest with. And the long stretches of silence in between them all. Silences filled with nothing except her overwhelming desire to lay down and sleep. To shut out the world, to quiet her screaming body and squirming baby, and try to return to some semblance of the person she’d once been. Who was that again?

God, help me.

Blinking away tears, she tries to smile. She has to smile. Otherwise, her face betrays her true feelings. Frustration. Exhaustion. Selfishness. Apathy. Chronic pain. Things no one and nothing can alleviate. She is done being pregnant but a small part of her is afraid of what comes after. It’ll be worse, won’t it? It’ll be harder. If she can’t deal with this now…

Just let me get through today. Please. I need Your strength.

This is her mantra as she puts the dog out, snatches her short grocery list, picks up her purse and lunch and heavy water bottle, and waddles out to the car. She drives away, already anticipating her return. Will her husband have to work late again? Or will he be waiting for her when she gets home, ready to give hugs and kisses and much-needed foot massages? Baby rolls over in her belly. She winces and places a hand over him as she drives.

Careful, son.

She almost wishes he wouldn’t move, but she knows the moment he does stop moving, she’ll go into a panic. She’ll assume something is wrong. She’ll jab a finger at him until he jabs back, just to be sure she hasn’t lost him like she lost the first one. So she bears his kicks in silence. Tries to be thankful for the discomfort. Tries to find the wonder and the love again. Reminds herself that a miracle is going on inside her body. Still, the thought that rings louder in her mind is:

Six more weeks.

 


 

*Song lyrics from Worn by Tenth Avenue North*

Coming up

Stay With Me Banner (1)

The editing phase of I Dare You to Stay With Me is done. And now so is the cover! I’m just waiting to get the final images from my cover designer before I do a big social media reveal. I hired Cora Graphics for this job because Cora’s the artist responsible for Asta and the Barbarian‘s cover, which came out looking amazing. She didn’t disappoint this time around either. I’m so glad I was able to work with her again!

Once I have the cover, it’s only a matter of plugging it into Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing’s template and printing a proof for myself. And, as soon as I’ve looked over that, it’ll be publishing time! Thanks to all of you for your patience. I know I said I was going to publish this book this month but it looks like I’ll be publishing it at the beginning of April. So sorry to have to push things back but I want it too look and feel perfect for you guys.

I’ll be doing a promotion the week of publication, making the I Dare You to Love Me ebook free and the I Dare You to Stay With Me ebook only 99 cents. Follow me on Facebook or Twitter to find out the details!

 

The Andromeda's Ghost banner

BHC Press is interested in publishing The Andromeda’s Ghost! I have a phone call scheduled with them this Saturday to talk about my plans of the trilogy and any other questions I might have about the company. From what I’ve read on their website, I’m liking what they have to offer. I feel like my fan base for this trilogy is smaller when compared to the amount of people interested in my other books. The fact that BHC Press has working relationships with reputable publications like Publishers Weekly gives me hope that I’ll have help building up that fan base. That and their shared-cost option (in exchange for a higher royalty rate) is very appealing to me.

So, unless I find out something unspeakably nonnegotiable about them on Saturday, I plan on signing with them. I’ve been pitching and querying The Andromeda’s Ghost for over a year. I’m so ready for my first science fiction/fantasy trilogy to have a home. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself now. More details to come!

 

AstaandtheBarbariansFACEBOOK

Asta and the Barbarians will be on sale for 99 cents April 8th through the 12th! If you haven’t gotten your copy yet, that would be the perfect time!

Hello, Peeta

Two blog posts ago, I shared the tragic loss of Bruce/Betsy (my husband’s white Mazda Ford pick up). For those of you who didn’t read that particular post, a red-light runner hit the truck on the driver’s side. My husband only sustained sever whiplash, thankfully, and the other driver was unharmed. But Bruce was totalled.

Anyway, it took three weeks for the policeman who was on the scene to file his report (which included testimonies from witnesses clearly stating that it was the other driver’s fault). It took four or five weeks for us to get an estimate of how much the truck was worth and how much the other driver’s insurance was willing to reimburse us for that rental car we had for two weeks. Even after we were sure we were going to get a certain amount for my husband’s truck, we still had to figure out what car we were going to by and from what kind of seller. This being our first big purchase (and by big I mean more than one thousand dollars), we knew we would need a loan and that the loan would come with a high insurance rate. My husband agonized over what to do for several days before he decided to play it safe and go with a dealership, Sanderson Ford to be exact. I have an uncle who works there, someone we were confident would get us the best possible deal, someone we knew we could trust.

(Not to say all car salesmen are tricksters; we just had a really bad experience with one two years ago when we almost bought a car from a Chevy dealership. That’s why we were so hesitant to go with a dealership this time.)

So my husband found a truck he liked that was reasonably priced, a used 2014 F150 with a crew cab and four wheel drive. He did a test drive with my uncle and loved it. My uncle said he could hold onto the truck for us for a little while, but we still didn’t know when those checks from insurance would come. As we drove home later that day, I said something like, “Should we check the mail? I know we just checked it yesterday and there’s probably nothing in there but…” My husband said it was worth a shot so we stopped by our mailbox. Out loud, as a joke, I prayed, “Jesus, it would be great if there was a check in that mailbox. If there isn’t, I’m sure we’ll be fine but it would still be REALLY great if there was.” And, praise God, both checks were in there! We turned the car around and went straight to the bank to deposit them. We went to Sanderson Ford the next morning. Two hours later, my husband drove his new truck home.

I know it looks red in the picture but its technically “sunset metallic” orange. I’m calling this new vehicular addition to our family Peeta, after Peeta Mellark. This mind-blowing blessing comes with a new payment every month and a spike in the amount we pay toward car insurance. But we’re still on cloud nine. We’ve been praying for this day since the accident happened back in October. God answered in a BIG way. We’re still humbled and in awe of His provision and His timing.

This year, as I’m looking back at everything my husband and I have been through individually and together, I’m calling 2018 the Year of Trust. We needed a new car, a dependable family car. We tried saving for it. Things happened that caused our car fund to slowly be depleted. Then the accident happened. I wouldn’t have thought to provide anyone with a car this way. But God did. Somehow, He knew this was the only way it could happen. Same with how our child came to be. Same with pretty much every aspect of our lives. Sometimes, in my darkest moments, I wonder why things happened the way that they did, why God couldn’t have made it a little easier. But that’s not for me to know, is it?

As I writer, I’ve put my characters through some pretty rough situations. They’ve experienced loss, heart-break, disappointment, injury, danger, and depression. But they always learn something in the end, maybe even become better people as a result. I’d like to think my husband and I are a little bit stronger now that this year is coming to an end, not only as a couple but as individuals. It wasn’t always fun, but I’m glad it happened.

Merry Christmas and happy New Year, readers. See you in 2019!

What’s New?

Happy fall, ya’ll!

While I’m waiting for Inkitt’s editors to be available to look over I Dare You to Stay With Me and get it ready for publication, I’m still writing. I don’t think many people know this but I’ve never been able to stick to one writing project at a time. I usually jump back and forth between two manuscripts, and end up finishing both at around the same time. (The Andromeda’s Ghost has so far been the only exception; that one took me forever to write!) Anyhoo, these are the two books I’m working on now.

The Andromeda's Crew banner.jpg

The third and final installation of what I’m temporarily calling The Andromeda Trilogy is entitled The Andromeda’s Crew. Taren’s come a long way since he crash landed on the desolate planet of Cartiss. It’s been a fun ride. Not necessarily for him, but for me! This was my first attempt at the scifi/fantasy genre and I found it very refreshing. I’m still not sure if I’m “doing it right” but I’m coming to realize that my books don’t need to fall perfectly into a category in order for them to be entertaining or make an impact. Taren’s had to run for his life, fight for the people he cares about, think his way through obstacles, and grieve, things I think anyone can relate to.

The blurb and the first eleven chapters are up on my Inkitt profile page in case anyone’s interested in taking a peek. I’m trying to open myself up to more constructive criticism during my creative process so I’ll be updating the story as often as I can. Be sure to leave comments if you find any grammatical errors or things that need to be explained further. This will be super helpful. Thanks in advance for your time!

Death's Curses

Death’s Curses is a young adult magic realism manuscript my sister and I worked on together back in my high school days. It’s about a pair of twins who were cursed by Death (personified as a woman). Jasmine and Charles sense the deaths of strangers within a certain radius. They live with their uncle, a homicide detective, and help him solve murders. They’ve tried to keep a low profile and simply live with this curse, until Esmeralda moves into town. She has scars of her own, but has a thing or two to teach these twins about living.

This is another genre I have very little experience in. It was slow going but interesting to watch this story unfold the first time. I’m curious to see how the story changes. My sister and I are communicating via email to get this new draft ready for publication. I have the blurb and the first twenty or so chapters up on my Inkitt profile page. Come check it out!

Things, they be a’happening. Stay tuned!

Bachelor’s or no

I’ve started my summer reading class, the last requirement before I can get my Academic Certificate in Creative Writing from Phoenix College. This might not seem like a big deal, but it’s been a long time coming.

I started going to college after I’d been living on my own for a few months, and a whole year after I’d started working my first full time job. Getting the necessary hours to pay bills while balancing nine credits a semester was difficult, but doable. Getting my associates took longer than I care to admit. Like any other college student, I changed my mind about my major a few times while getting my associates. First I wanted to be a translator, become proficient in as many languages as I could. It turned out becoming a linguist was going to take several years. So I narrowed my focus to one of the languages I was curious about; American Sign Language. Phoenix College was the only college in the area that offered an extensive ASL program so, after completing four courses at Glendale Community College, I transferred over to PC.

It wasn’t until I’d already transferred that I realized what a challenge this ASL program was going to be. They offered the required classes in the morning and at night. Once I chose a schedule, I couldn’t change it mid semester. It was either all morning or all night classes. I couldn’t take the morning courses because I worked from 8AM to 5PM, and I couldn’t take the night courses because it would mean sacrificing the few precious hours I could spend with my husband. (He has to be up at 5AM every morning and goes to sleep early as a result. So he would’ve been going to work before I woke up and I would be coming back from my night classes long after he fell asleep.) Finding a new job with mid-afternoon to early evening hours that paid me what my current job was paying proved to be impossible. Any online jobs I found needed experience that I didn’t have. So I had a choice to make: get certified as a Sign Language Interpreter or see my husband on a daily basis.

But then it wasn’t really a choice.

With the ASL program off my options list, I finally allowed myself to consider my dream. See, my dad always encouraged me to chase my dreams but to also consider other, more practical career paths that would help me support myself and eventually my family. In attempting to heed his advice, I’d chosen career paths that I’d been interested in but that were also practical and in high demand where I lived. But I felt that God orchestrated this path for me, the one where life kept “intervening” and changing my plans. Because, with no practical career to follow, I finally started considering a degree in creative writing.

And Phoenix College just so happened to have a Creative Writing Program.

It’s only a certificate but with it I can transfer to a university and eventually earn a Bachelor’s in English with Concentration in Creative Writing or just a BA in Creative Writing. It was while I was taking these courses that I saw the most growth in my writing. It was during this Creative Writing Program that I got my publishing deals. Everything seemed to be falling into place. I’d never felt more sure about my career path, more confident in my schooling choices. For the first time in a long time, I believed I could make it as an author.

I still believe I can make a living off of my writing, but it’s going to take time. During that time, I’d like to keep learning and growing. I’d like to have options if/when I “retire” from authoring. Furthering my education could potentially get me a job at a literary agency or publishing company. Hearing my dad’s voice at the back of my mind, I realize getting a bachelor’s would be the practical thing to. I did some research and, so long as the writing classes from PC transfer to the university I have in mind, I would only need eleven classes in order to get my Bachelor’s in English with Concentration in Creative Writing. Even with the payment program they offer, I could only afford to take two classes a semester. But if I take a class in one of the summer semesters, it would only take me two years and one summer to complete my degree.

If I’m totally honest with myself, the only thing stopping me is my own specific interests. Looking at the restricted electives list for this degree, it’s obvious I’m going to have to read and dissect Shakespeare.  I’m also going to have to “analyze” other “classic literary works” from the 1800s. (Raise your hand if Shakespeare confuses you, frustrates you, and sometimes puts you to sleep. Raise your hand if the only classic literature books you’ve been able to enjoy are Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. Raise your hand if you feel physically sick when you hear the words literary analysis. You can’t see me, but I’m raising both hands right now. And hopping up and down because I don’t have an third hand to raise.)

I like modern fiction. You know, books that were written in my life time. Now, I’m a good student. I can put in the effort and skate by with a B if I absolutely have to. And the reading class I took last summer proved that there are teachers in this world that can assign an interesting book from the 1800s. But I don’t want to grow to hate reading or writing. That’s my biggest fear.

The other thing that’s holding me back is the fact that 12 credit hours are required to be taken on campus. Which is thirty minutes away. I’m sure I could space out those credit hours so that I don’t have to spend too much time driving per semester, but I’d still be sacrificing time in the evenings with my husband. So that’s something to consider…

Fortunately, I have until the end of January to make up my mind. The university I’m looking at begins accepting portfolios from Creative Writing students in February. If they decide I’m worthy to enter into their bachelor’s program, then I’ll move forward. If not, then I guess my decision has been made for me. And, of course, I have to consult my husband. We were both pretty psyched about not having to pay for school anymore. (This summer class I’m taking now has already been paid for.) We’re still saving up to replace his truck; having a school payment for the next two years will definitely slow that process down. Also, kids might come in the next two years and I don’t want to be in school while I’m raising kids. My mom did that. I could see how hard it was for her to balance it all. I don’t want to have to make the choice between homework and spending time with my babies.

I’m praying God will show me the way, make it absolutely clear whether this is the right thing for me to do or not. He’s done it in the past. For now, I’ll keep waiting and thinking and doing research.

To write the sequel or not

I was in fifth grade when I watched High School Musical for the first time. My neighbor, who was really into plays and musicals at the time, recorded it and brought it over one day. Personally, I thought all Disney Channel movies were a little corny, and this one was no different. I could acknowledge the talent involved but the story was so-so. Still, I told him that I liked it because I knew it would make him happy.

When High School Musical 2 came out, a friend from school taped it and invited me over to watch it at her house. She was in love with Zac Efron, just like all the other girls in my class, so she was incredibly invested and maybe a little obsessed. I just couldn’t take the movie seriously. It was even cornier than the first one. I snorted and chuckled and rolled my eyes a lot, and she gave me dirty looks every time. At the end, she mourned the fact that she would have to wait so long for the third one and she went on and on about how much she wanted to be Ashley Tisdale when she grew up and wasn’t Zac Efron perfect? “It wasn’t that great,” I told her to which she gasped and declared that we weren’t friends anymore. Well, not really, but she was stunned and disappointed.

I just didn’t get what the hype was all about. I mean, sure, the actors were cute and yeah, it was something that hadn’t been attempted by Disney Channel before. But to me people on the big screen weren’t real people. I was never going to meet them. So why pine after them? It didn’t make any sense to me. I loved the Sound of Music and Fiddler on the Roof. This musical seemed like it was trying a little too hard to be modern and cool.

Needless to say, I didn’t watch the third one. By the time it came out, I wasn’t afraid to tell people what I thought of the franchise. In fact, I took pride in the fact that I was one of the few kids in my grade who were outspoken about their indifference to the series. And ever since then, I’ve gone against the flow when it comes to popular books, movies, and TV shows. I came to the conclusion that hype about any one thing was more than likely just noise. So a bunch of people like this thing. Okay, that doesn’t mean I’ll like it or that it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. It just means that a lot of people like it.

That’s kind of how I feel about writing sequels. Nowadays it feels like every author has written a series or is in the middle of writing a series or has only ever written books for one series. As a reader, I’ve encountered series that completely blew me away. The Graceling Series, The Lunar Chronicles, the Chaos Walking Trilogy, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, and The Heroes of Olympus Series to name a few. These authors did amazing jobs moving their characters and their villains through plot after plot after plot until they reached their ultimate goal and had their final showdown. Then there was that one trilogy that I absolutely loved where the author finished the story off perfectly. The bad guy was gone, the sought-after artifacts were collected, the love triangle was resolved, the conflict was over…and then she decided to write another three books.

The fans were ecstatic. They wanted more and she was giving them more, so why not be happy? But I was skeptical. The ending was so perfect. How could she justify continuing the story? Who would the bad guy be now? What would be the new goal these characters would need to reach? Still, I gave the fourth book a try. While there were parts about it that I liked (the dialogue and the return of certain beloved characters) I was grief stricken. She was putting her characters through more hardship. It was like she just couldn’t let them be happy! The new villain was someone that had been mentioned once in passing in the previous book. It seemed random, not very well thought out at all. So I chose not to read the other two books. And I decided I wasn’t going to write a sequel to any of my stories unless I had the perfect plot.

I’m sure that author had her reasons for continuing that series even after she’d told her fans that she was only going to write three books. And they were her stories so she had every right to keep writing. I’m not condemning her for her choice because it was her choice. I just hate that that one book turned me off to the entire series.

I’ve written a book and then moved onto another project, only to realize that I really missed those other characters. The temptation to throw a plot together just for the sake of being in that world with those particular characters again is a strong one! But I don’t ever want to disappoint my readers the way that fourth book in that one series disappointed me. So even though a few people have expressed an interest in seeing my stories turned into series, I’m holding off on writing sequels. I’ll admit it; I’ve brainstormed some ideas, created some outlines, and written a few chapters for a sequel to all three of my currently published books. But I’m not about to share that with my fans, not until those stories are completed and my beta readers have told me they’re as good as the first books.

I’ve heard that publishing a book every year until a series is done will garner more fans and do wonders for book sales. While that does sound great to me, I’m going to take my time with these ideas of mine. I figure, if people love my books enough, they’ll be excited about the sequel even if it comes out two or three years from now. What my fans think means more to me than sales. If/when I finish a sequel, I will let everyone know. Trust me! But in the mean time, I’m just going to keep writing as inspiration strikes. I hope my fans can be patient with me and be satisfied with the books I publish in the mean time.

The next novel

I’m excited to announce that I’m finished with my first draft of my first ever science fiction novel, The Andromeda’s Ghost. I’ve been working on this manuscript on and off for over a year now. It’s been fun but also challenging.

While I love Star Wars, Star Trek, and The Chronicles of Riddick, I don’t consider myself to be a sci-fi fan. I’ve only ever read a handful of sci-fi books (Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card and The Han Solo Trilogy by Ann C. Crispin). Honestly, I struggled through the techie and sciencey parts of those books. What I truly love about all of these stories are the plots, the characters, the world building, and the unique challenges the characters are faced with. I’m confident I nailed those parts of my sci-fi manuscript. What I’m more concerned with is the techie parts I included. And the fact that it’s written exclusively from a male’s perspective.

As you can imagine, I’m pretty good at writing from a girl’s perspective but I’m still learning how to sound like a convincing guy. My husband has helped me with this in the past and now I’m having a male friend read over The Andromeda’s Ghost to give me some feedback on how believable the main character is as a young adult male. We’ll see what he says.

While I wait for his feedback, I’m getting ready to dabble in my other stories.

But then I got an interesting thought: I could query this manuscript to agents. I Dare You to Love Me, In the Dark, and Asta and the Barbarians are all under contracts. Any sequels I end up producing for them will have to be presented to their respective publishing houses. But this sci-fi and it’s sequels are free from commitments right now. With some published books under my belt, would that better my chances of getting a literary agent for this book?

Don’t get me wrong; I’m so thankful for Tirgearr Publishing and Inkitt. They took a chance on me and published my books when nobody else seemed interested. Working with them has been easy, enjoyable, and educational. But book marketing is turning out to be my weakness in this industry. I’ve tried all the free avenues and have spent as much money as I can to promote my books. I’ve read articles and reached out to reviewers. I’ve seen adequate sales but, considering all the work I’m putting into this, I feel like the number of books sold should be a little higher. I don’t mean to sound like an ingrate. I’m just being honest.

According to the author forums and Facebook pages I’ve visited, hiring a publicist isn’t worth the money. But having a professional to work side by side with me, give me weekly tips, and carry some of the load sounds really good right about now. I’m just so tired of putting in the effort every single day and not seeing satisfactory results. I feel like I’m in an infomercial, giving that desperate look to the camera and saying, “There has to be an easier way!” Will having an agent make that part of being an author a little easier? I don’t know. But I’m so tempted to try putting myself out there again.

A part of me doesn’t want to open myself up to rejection. I mean, I have two publishing houses that would be willing to publish this manuscript for me. It would be so much easier to pick one of them and get it done. But I don’t just want to see this manuscript in print. I want it to be distributed to as many people as possible.

Uuuuuuuuggggggggghhhhhhh!

Calling out to my fellow authors, those with agents and without: What do you guys think I should do?

Swimming with Naruto

While looking through my old Intro to Horror folder, I found this short story. I submitted it to be published in a horror anthology a while back but I don’t think it was selected. Anyway, I hope you guys like it. It was inspired by the popular TV show Supernatural.

 


 

The sound of the running water made Heather wake with a gasp. She sat up in bed, squinting groggily through semi-darkness in search for the source of the trickling sound. A glance at her alarm clock had her groaning and falling back into bed.

It’s probably just Karrie in the bathroom…down the hall.

Heather cracked an eye open and listened harder. The hissing, bubbling, gurgling sound was too loud to be coming from the hallway bathroom. She slid out of bed and shuffled to her own bathroom.

Did I accidentally leave the water running?

She reached out to the silver handles of the sink and tugged both of them. Water spurted out of the tap. Brow wrinkling in confusion, Heather shut the water off. Still, the sound persisted. She turned in a slow circle, listening, trying to find the source. Her furniture were mere lumps and vague shapes in the darkness. The curtains fluttered by the window, which had been left partially open to let in the crisp, autumn air. Her rotation ended when her eyes found the toilet.

Of course, the stupid thing’s broken again.

She let out a frustrated sigh, although, she couldn’t help feeling slightly relieved that the mystery of the running water had been solved. She marched over to the toilet, hoping it was an easy fix and she would be back in bed soon. The closer she came to the toilet, the further away the trickling water sounded. Heather paused and held her breath, listening again. If it wasn’t coming from the sink and it wasn’t coming from the toilet, where was it coming from?

Flipping on the switch caused light to erupt from up above, burning brighter than Heather had anticipated. She turned away with a hissed curse and blinked furiously at the mirror. For a moment, her reflection stared back at her; a woman with a bob of red, messy hair, crusted sleep dust in the corners of her sea green eyes, bed sheet creases across her left cheek, and dressed in wrinkled cotton pajamas.

Like lightning streaking across the sky, a second reflection appeared in the mirror beside her. It was a teenage girl with wet brown hair clinging to the sides of her round face, narrowed eyes ringed with mascara, mouth twisted in a feral snarl. Her upper arms bulged beneath a bright pink cardigan and the soaking wet denim jumper she wore pressed into her stomach so much that her belly button was visible through the fabric. Clutched in her meaty fist was a little Naruto doll.

Heather let out a high pitched scream that would have made any dog within a fifteen mile radius wince, and flailed away from the apparition. The toilet crashed into the back of her knees, sending her down on her butt over the tile. Her head smacked against the wall with an awful crack. She curled into the fetal position, hands pressed into the sides of her head. When the pain began to fade, she dared a glance at the mirror.

Her own pale, gasping face stared back at her.

 

You were half asleep, she told herself as she packed her bag the next morning. You couldn’t have possibly seen what you thought you saw.

The anniversary of her death is coming soon, she reasoned as she tossed her bag and her daughter’s suitcase into the car. You were thinking about her before you went to sleep. You were probably just dreaming.

“Hey, Mom?” Karrie called from the front door.

Heather leaned out of the car and smiled. “Yes, hon?”

“Can I borrow your curling iron? Mine isn’t working.”

“Oh, I’m sorry about that. I’ll buy you another one when we get back. Mine should be in the second drawer in my bathroom.”

Where I saw the ghost of Shelby Bennett.

Heather kept smiling after her daughter until she disappeared back into the house. Then she wrapped her arms around her torso and took a deep, shuddering breath.

It doesn’t mean anything, she thought firmly.

You’re marked for death.

She squeezed her eyes shut. No.

You know how the others died. All of them were found in or near bodies of water. All of them drowned, just like Shelby did. And in all of the pictures in the news about their deaths, there was always a damn Naruto doll hiding in plain sight.

Heather pressed the palms of her hands against her eyelids and gritted her teeth. Stop it!

You have to warn Belinda. After you’re gone, she’ll be the only one left.

“Shut up!” she growled. She lowered her hands and peeled her eyes open to see a Naruto doll in the driver’s seat.

Her scream echoed across the lawn, drawing the eyes of a little old man doing his morning gardening across the street. Heather took deep breaths and blinked down at her now empty seat, heart hammering painfully against her ribs. Then she straightened up, ran a hand through her hair, and aimed a smile at her elderly neighbor. “Sorry about that. There was a bug on my seat. Almost gave me a heart attack. You have yourself a lovely morning.”

The old man just kept blinking at her, brow creased, mouth partially open as if he wanted to ask her something but had forgotten what his question was.

Heather ducked into the car and closed the door, hands gripping the wheel. She didn’t move until Karrie came skipping out of the house with a backpack slung over her shoulder and a purse in hand. The sight brought a smile to Heather’s lips. Her daughter was seventeen and couldn’t seem to go anywhere without packing at least three bags. Belinda often joked that their daughters had been switched at birth. Karrie was confidence incarnate with curves, blond hair, and mint green eyes that were almost blue in the sunlight. Fey, Belinda’s girl, was thin as a pole with brown hair and coal black eyes, and was more interested in RPGs than cheer. The only reason she was on the squad was because her mother insisted upon it.

Karrie buckled her seatbelt and immediately reached for the radio dial. “Can we stop by the coffee shop and get something to drink? I’m dying for a frappuccino.”

You know what, honey? I don’t think I’m feeling well enough to go with you guys to the Away game. How about I call Belinda and have her take you to the school? I know you’ll do great. Text me about the game after it’s over, okay?

The words were right on the tip of her tongue, but she knew what Belinda would say if the former cheer captain could read Heather’s thoughts now.

You’re being ridiculous. There’s no such thing as ghosts or possessed dolls who can magically appear and disappear. Just suck it up and drive already.

So she did.

 

Belinda leaned across the counter and blew the blond curl out of her face (the one that always seemed to spring in out of nowhere when she was annoyed about something). “What do you mean there isn’t a record of our reservations? I made them myself three weeks ago!”

“Mom,” Fey groaned, casting a quick look around the lobby. “Keep your voice down. You’re embarrassing us.”

Belinda rolled her eyes at her daughter and sent a quick smile at the rest of the cheerleaders gathered behind her. “Sorry, girls. We’ll be done here in no time.” She aimed her steely glare on the clerk. “Those reservations have to be there. We have a game early tomorrow morning.”

The young clerk nodded vigorously as if to hide just how terrified he was, smile plastered on his face. “I’m very sorry, ma’am, but I’ve checked our records three times and there aren’t any reservations for five, double queen rooms under the name Belinda Kurr or Oswald High.” He twisted the computer screen so that Belinda could see the lists on display. “I can scroll down for you, but the dates for this weekend should be clearly visible.”

“Yes, all right, fine!” Belinda snapped, pushing the screen away. “Do you have anything available for tonight? We don’t have time to drive around the whole city, looking for someplace to sleep.”

The clerk shook his head and gestured to the screen again, smile still firmly in place. “I’m sorry, ma’am, but as you just saw, we are booked until late next week. I’d be happy to give you a list of other hotels that might have vacancies, but there is that World Religions festival going on downtown—”

“We’ll take the list,” Belinda said.

 

Heather was shaking, literally shaking, as she stared up at the Super 8 sign. “B-Belinda?”

“What?” she snapped over her shoulder. She groaned at the look on her friend’s face. “Oh, for the love of…Come on, Heather! It’s the only place with enough rooms available. We’ll only be here two nights. Suck it up!” She marched into the lobby without waiting to see if anyone followed her.

Heather turned with a start when someone touched her elbow. Karrie stared up at her in concern. Fey stood just behind, blowing her bangs out of her face.

“Mom? Are you okay?” Karrie asked.

“Don’t let my mom get to you, Ms. Greenwall,” Fey droned. “She cares way too much about these games.”

Heather nodded and tried to summon that persistent smile the clerk at the Best Western had. “I’m fine, girls. I’ve just had bad experiences with Super 8 hotels, that’s all.”

A teenage girl falling into a pool.

Flailing arms just visible above the roiling water.

Laughs and snorts and giggles competing with the sound of splashing.

That desperate plea for help.

The stuffed Naruto doll lying on the lawn chair.

Yes, Heather thought, staring back up at the hotel sign. Very bad experiences.

           

The room smelled like cigarettes and stale beer. Heather gagged and Belinda swore.

“Oh, no. No way are we staying here. I asked for non-smoking rooms!” Belinda dropped her suitcase just inside the room and marched back down the hall. “The other rooms better not be this bad or I’m suing this place for all its worth. Our girls won’t be able to breathe much less sleep in these conditions!” Her rant continued until she turned the corner and disappeared from sight.

Heather turned back to the room, nose wrinkled. There had to be some way to get rid of that smell. She slapped at the light switches, hoping the overhead fan would turn on. There was a brilliant flash of light and a popping sound from above. Heather stifled a scream and scrambled back to the door. Smokey gray glass pieces fell from the ceiling fan and landed almost soundlessly over the bed. When she realized that the light had most likely burned out, she tried to laugh at her skittishness and only succeeded in making a choking sound. Heather swallowed hard and lowered her over-night bag onto the luggage rack.

The wallpaper was a washed out gray with white stripes. It was peeling, almost as if the walls had been doused with buckets of water and had then been allowed to dry. The carpet crunched under her feet as she walked. She hurried across the room, threw the curtains aside, and pried the window open to air out the room. The sounds of playful laughter and splashing reached her ears. Heather stepped away from the window, mouth gaping in horror. She had a poolside view. The sun was setting behind the giant L shaped building that was the Super 8, but a young couple and their three children were still swimming around in the pool.

Heather’s stomach turned. She looked away, took a deep breath, tried to calm down. Everything will be fine. It’s only for two nights and then we’ll be speeding back home.

She reached over her shoulder to rub the muscles bunched around her neck. She could use a bubble bath, but the thought of submerging herself in water sent her shivering to her bed. She carefully picked up the shards of glass and tossed them into the trash. The bedsprings protested when she sat down. Heather peeled off her shoes and socks, and crawled under the covers. Maybe a nap would do her good. She had just closed her eyes when the sound of running water burst into existence. She sat up and looked around, although, the rush of water sounded as if it were coming from directly above. Heather dared a peek.

Two wet footprints appeared on the ceiling.

Heather made a strange whimpering sound that summed up her terror and confusion more accurately than words ever could. The prints began to multiply as if someone very wet and very heavy were walking along the popcorn tiles. Petrified with fear, she could do nothing but clutch the edge of the blanket and watch those footprints make their way to the opposite wall. The footprints continued down that wall to the floor, further defying gravity and reason. The carpet squished-squashed as the wet feet traveled to Heather’s bed. The sound of running water lessened until it was a simple but persistent drip. Heather let out a shriek, threw the covers aside, and dashed into the bathroom. Once the door was shut and locked, she backed away, hoping it would end there. A wet handprint appeared over the center of the door.

“I’m sorry,” Heather sobbed. “I-It was an accident!”

The faucet turned on behind her, causing her to spin around with a curse. The Naruto doll leaned against the mirror, eerily cheerful, blue eyes boring into Heather’s. Both handles had been tugged forward; the water was jetting into the sink faster than it could go down the drain. It overflowed in seconds, spilling down the counter and onto the floor.

Heather pressed herself against the wall, teary eyes flickering from the water to the wet stain on the door. “P-Please, don’t kill me. I have a daughter. She needs me!”

The tap gurgled and then ejected water into the tub with an angry roar. Heather flinched and uttered a pathetic cry. Her knees wobbled and her hands shook even as they pressed themselves against the wall. Everything within her thought it wise to abandon ship. Burning bile traveled up her throat and warm urine rushed down her leg. She wanted to scream, call for help, make a mad dash for the door even if that awful stain was standing guard. But all she could do was cower and cry.

“I’ll do anything you want! Anything! Just please, don’t—”

The Naruto doll pushed off the mirror and flew right at her face. Heather screamed and leapt away from the wall, reaching for the door handle. It felt as if a fist-sized rock smashed into her back. She pitched forward, falling face-first against the door. Pain erupted around her nose and then darkness swept in.

 

When she woke again, she couldn’t breathe. Something was wrapped around her throat and pressing her back against the floor. Water thundered like a miniature waterfall somewhere above her head. Instinct kicked in and Heather began to thrash around in the water. Because she wasn’t on the floor. Her back was pressed up against the bottom of the bathtub, now full. She clawed at the little hands around her neck, but they wouldn’t yield. She kicked out with her legs. Her toe clipped the tile around the tub and sent pain up her foot. The pressure was building over her lungs. She desperately wanted to inhale, but to do so would only speed up the process. She had to break free. She fought harder.

Shelby’s face appeared before her in the water, mouth open as a blood-curdling scream tore past her lips. Heather screamed in response and the water rushed in. She choked and gagged as the water traveled up her nose and down her throat. Alarms were blaring in her brain. She was dying. And then Shelby vanished. The Naruto doll pulled away, taking its mysterious strength with it. Heather sat ramrod straight, emerged from the water, and bent over the side of the tub to vomit. The sickening sound and smell filled the room. She blinked around as she coughed and tried to catch her breath; the sink and the tap over the tub had stopped pouring out water. Shelby’s ghost stood, trembling with barely controlled fury, at the center of the room. The doll stood upright at her feet, sopping wet and bending forward slightly from the added weight of the water. And in that moment, somehow, Heather knew exactly what they wanted.

“All right,” she croaked. “I’ll do it.”

 

Belinda stopped shouting when her phone pinged. The clerk was in tears, being consoled by the manager, who kept shooting Belinda venomous looks. Belinda held up a threatening finger.

“This isn’t over yet,” she growled before fishing her phone out of her purse and checking to see who had dared interrupt her tirade. It was a group text. She counted at least twenty different phone numbers before she turned her attention back to the message. It was a video from Heather. Belinda warily pressed play.

“I’m sending this video to everyone on my contact list because it’s about time the truth was known,” Heather croaked. She looked awful; soaked to the bone and pale as a sheet. She hacked a painful-sounding cough and then continued. “Twenty years ago, Belinda Kurr, Kelsey Jacobson, Julia Harper, Lauren Rodriguez, Wendy Rune, Sadie Woo, Shelby Bennett, and myself were cheerleaders, going to our first Away game here in Sacramento. We stayed at this very hotel.”

Belinda’s heart kicked into high gear as she stared down at her phone. No…

“Shelby was a decent enough dancer but she had always been quiet, a little overweight, and more interested in drawing Manga than making friends.” Heather’s eyes wandered to something off to the right, just out of the screen’s view. She shuddered. “There was this stuffed Naruto doll she liked to carry around with her. We teased her about it all the time. It was a childish thing to do, we kept telling her. But Naruto was her favorite show and the doll had been a gift from her dying grandmother…Needless to say she was something of an outcast among our group. So, while we were staying here, we decided to play a trick on her.”

Belinda dashed down the hall, phone still gripped tightly in her hand.

“We crafted a note from a secret admirer and left it among her things. I’ll never forget those words. ‘I’ve seen you with your Naruto doll. That’s my favorite show too. Can you bring it with you to the pool tonight at midnight? I’d love to talk more about the show and maybe learn more about you.’ We were so cruel.” Heather sniffled and wiped at her eyes, but continued. “We all hid near the pool and waited for Shelby to show up. She did several minutes later, and she waited over an hour for a boy who would never show.”

Belinda flew around the corner and proceeded down the next corridor, cursing Heather for her weakness. Why couldn’t she just leave well enough alone?

“We surrounded her like the vultures we were and teased her. She was so fat and so ugly, and that doll was so stupid. Did she really expect anyone to have a crush on her?” Heather was sobbing now and could hardly speak. “Sh-She tried to get away. We pushed her into the pool. She cried out in a panic. She couldn’t swim, but we didn’t believe her. W-We just kept laughing at her as she struggled to stay above water. She must’ve gotten a cramp or something because she descended and never came back up.”

Belinda found the right room, shoved the key card into the card reader, and elbowed the door open. The chain clinked as it drew taut, giving Belinda only a sliver’s view of the room beyond. Belinda closed the door again and threw a fist against it with a growl. “Heather! Open up. Heather?” She continued knocking and shouting until she got the attention of a passerby. He looked like a janitor what with his gray jumpsuit and cart of tools. She waved him over. “Do you have some wire cutters or something? My friend locked herself in our room. I think she’s in trouble.”

The janitor hobbled over. “What kind of trouble are we talking?”

“I don’t know!” Belinda snapped. “She’s been acting weird all day and then I got this creepy-ass text, and I’m afraid she’s going to hurt herself. Could you please just get the door open?”

The janitor hobbled over and parked his cart before the door. He shuffled through his supplies for a moment before producing a giant pair of cutters.

“Stand aside, please,” he murmured as he approached the door.

“We tried to help her, but it was too late,” Heather went on miserably. “We told the police that we found her that way. Belinda made us all swear we would never tell, and ever since then, Shelby’s spirit has been picking us off.”

“What is that?” the janitor asked, curiously eying Belinda’s phone.

She shoved it in her pocket. “Nothing.”

The janitor leaned against the door until the chain was visible. He snapped it easily and stepped back for Belinda to enter. A pair of legs dangled from the ceiling. An overturned chair lay on the floor. The janitor let out an oath. Belinda screamed. And still the video played on, broadcasting from Belinda’s pocket.

“It’s my turn to die now. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Karrie, I love you more than anything in this world, but if I don’t do this…she’ll just take me anyway. Better to die on my own terms. Belinda, if you’re watching this, she’s coming for you next. Run if you want, but there’s no place to go where she won’t find you. I guess that means I’ll be seeing you soon.”

The sound of running water drew Belinda’s eye to the bathroom. She struggled to breathe as she made eye contact with the wet Naruto doll standing by the sink…and then watched it disappear.