Free Ebook

In August, I got the brilliant idea to write a short story. I’d heard of other indie authors giving away short stories for free in exchange for newsletter signups. With a new book scheduled to be published next year, I thought this short story could be a good promotional tool. I pitched the idea to my new publisher and they loved it. They even offered to help promote the story through their website. So I got to work.

My first story idea turned out to be a dud. Thankfully, my trusty writing buddy and best friend (my big sister), was there to save the day. She gave me an idea and I ran with it, thinking if it stuck, it stuck. If not, I’d go back to the drawing board. Well, it stuck, all right. It stuck a little too well. My “short story” turned into a novelette. During the editing phases, I thought I could shorten it but the plot’s pacing was perfect. To take anything away would cheapen the quality of the overall story. So I left it as is and submitted it to my publisher, hoping the length wouldn’t be an issue.

Unfortunately, the length was an issue. My publisher still thought it was a good idea and encouraged me to promote the story on my end. I was disappointed I wouldn’t get their help after all (I’m not the greatest at book promotion) but I wasn’t about to let my hard work go to waste. I created a cover for my novelette, and formatted its content so that it mimicked one of my professionally published ebooks. Then I found a website that could  convert my PDF file into an EPUB and a MOBI file. Now I have myself a professional-looking ebook.

Now, it’s time to promote. The real hard work begins.

Here’s the blurb:

Elvira Marques has only ever had one goal: to start her own business outside the palace walls. But leaving the servitude of the crown is not something a Marques does. Her family would like her to marry one of the other servants and remain Princess Kylee’s maid forever. Her big brother is constantly reminding Elvira of how good they have it, how great their loud, uncomfortably close family is, how hard it is to make it in the royal city by oneself.

Despite it all, Elvira has remained determined to make her dream a reality. When she falls in love with Ulfric Mistsinger, the gardener’s grandson and another palace lifer, Elvira finds herself having to choose between her heart and her dream. Then Princess Kylee comes to her, asking for a dangerous favor. In exchange, the princess is willing to do something for Elvira. Something that could potentially solve her heart versus dream dilemma.

To get caught while on this secret errand for the princess would mean getting fired. At the least. If the queen finds this offense worthy of banishment, however, Elvira could lose it all. Still, the potential rewards outweigh the risk…right?

This is meant to be a prequel of sorts to The Andromeda’s Ghost, which is a science fiction/fantasy type story. Even if science fiction isn’t your cup of tea, I encourage you to give this novelette a try. It’s really more of a fantasy set on a different planet. If it turns out you like this novelette, you might like The Andromeda Chronicles too, since they’re written similarly.

Whether or not you’re already receiving my newsletter: send me a message through Facebook with your preferred file format (EPUB, MOBI, or PDF) and your email, and I’ll send over your free novelette.

Hope you like it!

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.

A vampire short

Yes, I finally caved and wrote a vampire story.

I’d been successfully steering clear of the creatures since the Twilight series but I needed to write one more short story for my Intermediate Fiction Writing class. And I couldn’t seem to come up with anything else. Like with my mermaid short, I gave the vampires in this story my own unique twist. I’m sure I could’ve kept going and expanded this little world I created, but I’m satisfied with the way I ended the story. Hope you like it! I’m calling it: To Kill a Vampire.

 


 

Allen was not the kind of man who scared easily.

Having been a detective for the Los Angeles Police Department for almost fifteen years, he’d seen pretty much every grisly thing imaginable. Because of this, he’d developed an attitude of indifferent detachment, burying emotion down deep so that it wouldn’t get in the way of his investigations. Many on the force and the media had nicknamed him ‘Robocop’ because of this, but Allen didn’t care what they thought. Appearing to be cold or uncaring or insensitive was a small price to pay for justice.

The job got done swiftly and efficiently. The cases were always closed. Then Allen would go home to his wife, Elsa, and his ten-year-old daughter, Bethany, and become human again. In this manner, he lived in two separate worlds, was two separate people. The members of the LAPD had never seen Allen Hayes, loving husband and doting father. Likewise his wife and daughter had never experienced Detective Allen Hayes, Robocop.

The night a vampire broke into his house and snatched Bethany was the first time both of Allen’s worlds collided.

 

It was their anniversary. Allen had taken his wife out to the most expensive restaurant he’d been able to afford. Elsa’s pale blond hair was twisted into an intricate bun, exposing teardrop pearl earrings and a matching necklace. With blood red lips and a red satin dress, she was ravishing. Allen himself had bought a three piece suit for the occasion, had shaved his beard and sleeked his dark hair back. They were enjoying an evening of reminiscing, with good food and even greater wine, when Allen got the phone call.

He wiped his mouth with the cloth napkin and then reached into his suit jacket pocket.

Elsa’s smile wavered when she saw him pull out his phone. “Oh, honey. Ignore it. Please?”

“It’s Beth,” Allen said after checking the caller ID. He put the phone to his ear. “Hi, sweetheart.”

“Daddy,” Bethany sobbed. Her voice sent a jolt of terror through him. “I think there’s someone in the house.”

“Are you sure? Where’s Leilani?” Just a scream then. And the sound of the phone being jostled. “Beth? Can you hear me?”

“What is it?” Elsa asked, eyes dark with worry.  “Allen?”

He lifted a hand to silence her. His heart pumped hard.

“The babysitter is dead. But your daughter doesn’t have to meet the same fate.” That voice sounded like the hissing of water being poured into a hot pot. It woke up the Robocop in Allen.

“Who is this?” he deadpanned.

“Who I am is irrelevant. All that matters right now is that I have your daughter. And I won’t be giving her back until you give me any evidence you’ve collected against Fria McKellan.”

The name struck a chord. Allen had been assigned a new missing person’s case the other day, a fifteen-year-old girl who had seemingly vanished from her room one night three weeks ago. A note left behind said the girl had run away with a boyfriend – but her parents had immediately pointed the finger at Fria, their daughter’s new best friend and, according to them, a bad influence.

“We have no evidence against Ms. McKellan,” Allen told the stranger on the phone. “She was barely a person of interest. I didn’t even get the chance to interrogate her.” He paused. “Let my daughter go.”

Elsa clapped a hand over her mouth.

Allen reached across the table to squeeze her fingers.

“You will deliver any and all information you’ve gathered on Fria to the park on East 51st Street,” the slithering voice said. “I think it goes without saying that contacting your friends at the LAPD would be highly inadvisable. You have three hours. Every moment you delay, your daughter will make a very generous blood donation.”

Then the line went dead.

 

Once back home, Allen let the Robocop in him take the lead. His first order of business was getting Elsa to safety. It took some convincing, but he eventually managed to herd her into a taxi that would take her to a friend’s house.

“I’ll call you once this is through,” he promised through the partially rolled-down window.

“I should be with you,” his wife said with a sniffle. “I should be there when Bethany comes home.”

“I won’t be able to focus on getting her home unless I know you’re safe.” Allen touched her cheek with the tips of his fingers. “I’ll get her back, Elsa. I promise.”

They shared a quick kiss, then the taxi sped away.

Second on his list: Collect intel.

Allen walked the length of the house, shrewd eyes taking in every detail. This wasn’t his home now – it was a crime scene. The broken lock on the front door meant the kidnapper had forced his way in. The reality TV show still playing on the screen suggested the babysitter had left the couch in a hurry to see what was happening at the doorway. The picture frames hanging lopsidedly on the walls, the overturned table, the broken vase and scattered flowers in the foyer told Allen that Leilani had put up a fight. She lay on the tile before the downstairs bathroom.

It had been a quick death. Her neck had been snapped, her body tossed aside before the kidnapper had walked over her to the second story. Allen used two fingers to close Leilani’s eyes before he jogged up the stairs. He’d alert the girl’s parents after this was all over. He’d help pay for her funeral arrangements. Leilani had been a good kid.

There were no traces of dirt or shoe imprints on the carpeted stairs that Allen could see. The door to Bethany’s room was ajar. He nudged it aside and stepped in. Shoes and stuffed animals dotted the floor, kicked out of the way during the struggle. The empty circle in the room told Allen where the kidnapper had stood while he’d wrestled Bethany into submission.

The bright pink comforter had been yanked away; Bethany must have been hiding underneath when she’d made the call. Her cell phone lay abandoned by the pillow. Allen used one of his daughter’s discarded shirts to lift the phone, then hurried out of the room to his study further down the hall. He carefully placed the phone on his desk. Next, he took the decorative painting away from the wall and extracted the small camera hidden in the frame.

Once back in his study, he hooked up the camera to his laptop and got to work downloading the video file. Allen dusted the cell phone’s case for prints while the loading bar slowly filled on his computer screen. He frowned when the dark powder revealed only the small fingerprints of his daughter. Allen nudged the phone aside and pulled the laptop closer to him, hoping the camera would provide more answers.

The video box opened up on the screen, depicting a wide shot of the hallway with the stairs at the far end. Allen watched the numbers on the bottom right corner of the screen (date and time) as he hit the fast-forward button. He, Elsa, and Bethany moved at blurring speeds, walking up the stairs, down the stairs, across the hall, into each other’s bedrooms, into the bathroom over the last few days.

Finally he caught up with tonight’s feed. He hit play and leaned back in his chair to watch. Bethany came up the stairs and stretched her arms above her head, her blond hair swept away from one shoulder in a side braid. She yawned widely and let her arms fall back down to her sides.

Allen watched her go into her bedroom and come out a few minutes later, dressed in her purple monkey pajamas. She meandered into the bathroom, no doubt to brush her teeth, before going back into her room and shutting the door. The light under the door flickered off. The empty hallway was left in semi-darkness, and stayed that way for ten minutes. Leilani came up briefly to check on Beth before retreating back down the stairs.

Suddenly, the door to her room burst open from the outside, as if someone had kicked it down.

Allen rewound that segment. He leaned forward until his nose was almost touching the computer screen. The hallway was most definitely empty. A moment later, Bethany came floating out of the room, bound and gagged. She appeared to be unconscious. Down the stairs she went until she eventually drifted out of sight. Allen rewound the video and played it again and again. He stared at the footage until his eyes began to water.

But the images were always the same.

What in the world was going on?

A squeak on the stairs had Allen reaching for the Glock he kept taped under his desk. He spun around, handgun raised. A woman in dark clothes and heavy boots stood in the hallway with a crossbow.

They locked eyes. The woman froze.

“What are you doing in my house?” Allen asked calmly, pulse thundering away in his throat.

“My name is Clara,” the woman said, crossbow still aimed at his chest. “I’ve been tracking a group of freaks who call themselves the Brotherhood of the Bloodless. One of their members led me here.”

Allen took a step forward, gripping the Glock until his knuckles hurt. “Did you see him take my daughter?”

Clara’s intense blue eyes seemed to soften. She finally lowered her weapon. “No. I didn’t. I’m sorry.”

“What can you tell me about them?”

Clara tapped her fingers against the foregrip of her crossbow. “How much do you know about vampires?”

“They live forever. They drink blood. They can’t go out into the sunlight. They sleep in coffins,” Allen said. “What does this have anything to do with—?”

“They also don’t have reflections, can’t swear by God’s name, and are twice as fast and strong as the average human,” Clara interrupted. “They can only be killed by decapitation, fire, or a wooden stake through the heart.” She gestured with the crossbow and pointed to the wooden bolt it held.

Allen slowly lowered his Glock. “You’re joking.”

“The man that came for your daughter didn’t leave any prints behind, did he?” Clara asked as her eyes swept the hallway.

“No. He didn’t.”

“That’s because he’s practically a shade, an echo of the man he once was. A vampire lives forever, yes, but he does change as the years pass him by.” She peeked inside the bathroom. “He weighs less, his fingertips become smooth, he starts thinking more like a predator and less like a human with a soul.” Clara inched the door open to Bethany’s room with the toe of her boot and glanced inside. “The oldest vampires feel nothing at all, only thirst. They pass through this world like ghosts.”

Even though her words explained a lot, Allen couldn’t quite believe what he was hearing. “You realize how crazy you sound?”

Clara laughed, a mirthless sound in the otherwise quiet house. “I guess I do sound like a crazy person.”

Allen raised an eyebrow at her. He’d encountered crazy people before; the kind that ranted and foamed at the mouth, and the kind who seemed perfectly normal until something specific set them off.

He proceeded with caution. “Does the name Fria McKellan mean anything to you?”

“She’s the coven leader’s daughter,” Clara replied without missing a beat. “She may only look like a teenager but she’s over a hundred years old. She lures innocents into joining the coven with the promise of immortality.”

That was the final piece of the puzzle. Suddenly, it all made sense.

Allen sighed and holstered his weapon. “The parents of Fria’s most recent victim filed a missing person’s report and named her as a suspect. I was told to be at a park on 51st Street in three hours to trade my daughter for any evidence I might have against Fria.”

“You go there and they’ll kill you,” Clara said, taking a step forward. “You’re a cop who knows what Fria’s up to. They can’t afford to let you live.”

“I’m not handing over any evidence. But I am going to get my daughter.” He paused. “I’d appreciate your help.”

Clara nodded. “I’ll do what I can.”

“Thank you.” Allen shut off his laptop and was about to leave the study, but paused. “You said you’d been tracking them for years? How did you find out about them?”

“The coven’s leader, Damon, bit my sister and claimed her as one of his wives,” Clara said, anger lighting up her eyes. “She’s barely twenty-one.”

Allen’s stomach turned. “What will you do once you find her?”

She averted her gaze, jaw working. “What I must,” she said at last.

 

Allen walked the length of the park on 51st Street, eyes peeled for a pale face or a suspicious figure in the dark. He knew Clara was watching from a distance but he saw no indications of being followed. He gripped the file folder full of fake police reports in one hand and ran a hand through his hair with the other. The empty swings swayed in the cold breeze. The jungle gym’s colorful pipes, slides, and rock-climbing wall seemed terribly out of place in the dark.

He was too exposed here. The Robocop in him was on high alert. Despite the thin wooden stake Clara had given him, hidden in the inside pocket of his jacket, and the Glock holstered at his side, he felt vulnerable.

“That’s close enough, Detective Hayes.”

Allen glanced around. He was sure the hissing voice had come from the cluster of trees to his right.

A pale man emerged from the greenery a moment later, bright red hair pulled into a ponytail. He was dressed casually in jeans and a T-shirt. He walked with a swagger. A seemingly permanent smirk tugged at his mouth and his dark eyes danced.

Allen hated him immediately.

“I’m at a disadvantage,” Allen said coldly. “You know me but I don’t know you.”

“The name’s Clayton,” said the vampire. “That’s all you need to know.”

“Where’s my daughter – Clayton?”

Clayton nodded at the jungle gym behind Allen. Allen backed up slightly so that he could keep an eye on the vampire while checking the gym. Bethany now stood beneath the rock climbing wall, bound and gagged. Her hair was disheveled. Her big blue eyes were red-rimmed from crying. There was a tear in her shoulder, which decapitated one of the purple monkeys on her pajama top.

Rage made Allen’s scalp tingle. He wanted to hurt the second vampire who stood behind Beth, gripping her by the elbow. He wanted to unload a whole clip of bullets into that man’s chest. It wouldn’t do any good, but Allen would feel better.

Instead, Allen calmed himself. He turned back to the red-headed vampire and lifted the file. “I brought what you wanted. Now let her go.”

“Hand over the file first,” Clayton said.

Allen held the folder out and then dropped it onto the ground. “Come and get it.” Then he backed away, toward his daughter.

Clayton prowled forward.

They stayed the same space apart, both moving slowly, Allen closer toward Beth, Clayton closer to the police papers rustling on the ground. Allen was a few steps away from Bethany when a wooden crossbow bolt flew through her captor’s neck. His head was severed cleanly from his shoulders and flew to the side as his body dropped to the ground. Beth let out a scream and ducked. Clayton was on Allen in a second, grabbing a fistful of Allen’s shirt, spinning him around. The hand that gripped Allen’s throat was cold and immovable. Still Allen clawed at it with one hand while whipping his Glock out with the other. He fired three rounds into Clayton’s side – but the vampire barely flinched.

Clayton grinned widely, exposing enlarged fangs.

Two more wooden bolts flew out from the darkness. One bolt sunk into one of the vampire’s calves. Then the other. Clayton glanced over his shoulder and growled. Allen was losing oxygen fast. He dropped his gun and dug a hand into this inner jacket pocket. His fingers wrapped around the thin stake hidden there. Clayton turned back to Allen to get leverage. But then Allen thrust the stake through the vampire’s heart. An almost comical look of surprise took over the once confident face of the vampire. The hand gripping Allen’s neck finally fell away. Allen yanked the stake out and bent over. He took large gulps of air. The vampire lay motionless at his feet.

There wasn’t any blood on the ground or the stake.

Soft whimpering drew Allen’s eyes to his daughter. He tossed the thin wooden stylus aside and hurried over to crouch beside her. “Are you all right, Beth?” He took her by the shoulders and carefully angled her away from the bodies. He tugged the gag out of her mouth.

“Daddy,” she sobbed. “Those men…they…”

“They’re dead, sweetheart,” Allen murmured, untying the rope around her wrists. “They’re not going to hurt you ever again.”

The moment her hands were free, Bethany threw her arms around her father and cried into his shoulder. Allen held her close, stroked her back, murmured reassurances, blinked back tears of his own.

Beth was safe. She was whole.

When Clara came walking around the jungle gym and met his eyes, he nodded in thanks.

“You’re welcome,” she mouthed.

“Wait,” he said when it looked like Clara was going to walk away. “I’ll be right back,” he murmured to Beth as he stood. He left his daughter kneeling in the grass and approached this woman he hardly knew, this woman he owed so much.

“If you’re going after Damon, I’m coming with you.”

“I’d appreciate your help,” Clara asked with a grin.

Allen found himself matching smile. “I’ll do what I can.”

A mermaid tale

In the spirit of challenging myself, I decided to write a short story about mermaids. I honestly don’t know why I haven’t used them in a story before now. I love fantasy and many of the fantasy “monsters.” I do feel like mermaids are the more unexplored monster in modern fiction, but maybe that’s just because I haven’t read or watched very many stories about mermaids. I’ve only ever seen them portrayed three ways:

As innocent and beautiful.

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As murderous and beautiful.

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As strange and mysterious.

1828-harry-potter-and-the-goblet-of-fire-wallpaper  maxresdefault.jpg

Even in this small pool of examples, these mermaids are as varied as the many stories about vampires, werewolves, and ghosts. It just serves as a reminder that anyone can adopt a mythical creature, use some of the basic legends recorded about them, then add random twists or facts, and make it work for their story. So this is me, adding a little twist of my own. Hope you like it. I’ve titled it: Entering the Deep.

 


 

I’ve had the same dream for as long as I can remember.

I’m floating in a basket somewhere at sea, tossed and spun by the waves. Thunder peals, shaking the basket around me. A moment later, a crack of lightning streaks across the sky, and illuminates the water. I can see the remains of a ship in the distance. Pieces of wood drift around the torn hull, which is slowly being swallowed by the sea. Crates, clothes, and food bob along the surface of the water. I can hear screams but I don’t see any people.

I’m crying, waving my little arms and legs, hoping someone will hear me.

Suddenly, a head pops up from the sea before me. It’s a woman with raven black hair clinging to the sides of her face. Her pupils are dilated to an abnormal size, with only a thin ring of blue to surround them. Her full lips are slightly parted, revealing pointed teeth, and her brow is crinkled in concern.

She casts a quick glance over her shoulder at the wreckage and then ducks back down into the water. The basket moves underneath me, propelled by a mysterious pressure on my back. The sinking ship becomes smaller and smaller until it’s completely obscured by the rolling waves.

Then I wake up.

I know I’m not my parents’ son. Father has a big, round chin, blue eyes, and fair hair. Mother has a pointed, little nose, green eyes, and curly red hair. I have brown hair, brown eyes, a nose that’s too big for my face, and a pointed chin. Mother and Father won’t tell me where I came from. They insist I’m theirs and become upset when I press them for answers. I’ve often wondered if this dream actually happened, if this is the story of how I came to them?

Maybe my story’s simply too horrible for my parents to admit.

I love the sea. I love the way the moon’s reflection glows over the surface of the water. I love the sound the waves make when they crash against rock and sand. I love the wet feel of the water, elusive to my clutching fingers.

Mother is afraid of the ocean. She shouts and cries whenever she catches me near the beach.

“Why do you live here if you can’t stand the sight of the sea?” I asked once, angry at being dragged away from the water yet again.

Mother stiffened. Assumed her school-marm stance. “The sea is dangerous.”

Father, silent and meek, followed her lead, often catching me around the middle and throwing me over his shoulder whenever I tried to sneak out to the beach.

“You’re not ready yet,” he said over my protests.

“Not ready for what?” I demanded.

Then he looked away or distracted me with a treat.

But he never answered.

Today is my sixteenth birthday. I want to spend it in the water. I haven’t felt like a child in a long time, mostly because of the hair sprouting all over my body and the stomach-flopping feeling I get whenever a pretty girl smiles at me – but also because of the calluses on my hands and the aches I experience after a long day at the tuna canning factory. I’m practically a man, and men deserve to know where they came from.

“Father,” I say after another day’s hard work. “I want to have my birthday dinner on the beach.”

Father processes this in his methodical way, turning the keys of his car over and over in his hands. “All right,” he says at last. “I’ll talk to your mother.”

And they do talk, from the moment we walk in the door right up until dinner time. I pace in the sitting room, glancing occasionally at their locked door. I fight the urge to press my ear against the wood. Mother hates it when I eavesdrop. I run a hand through my hair, still damp from bathing. After an hour of this, I sink into the armchair by the fireplace.

Then the door opens. I sit up. My heart thumps so loudly in my chest I’m sure everyone can hear it.

Mother’s eyes are red. Her mouth trembles. She marches straight into the kitchen without looking at me and puts on her apron.

Father looks tired. He’s still in his dirty work clothes and boots. He smiles at me. “Your mother is going to make us a picnic basket. I’ll bathe and then we’ll go.”

I nod because my mouth is suddenly dry. I can’t speak. Father goes outside to pump water from the well. I lean back into the armchair and watch Mother work. The picnic basket is packed and Father returns to the sitting room, clean and dressed in fresh clothes.

Mother stands away from the dinner fixings. She signals me to come to her. Pulling me into a tight hug, she whispers, “You’re still my boy, Jacob. You always will be.”

“It’s only a picnic, Mother,” I say, surprised by her emotion.

She steps back and presses a handkerchief to her mouth.

“Come,” Father says.

I grab the packed dinner basket and follow him outside.

Father and I walk down the hill and across the beach. The seagulls call out to us from the sky, their bodies rising and falling in the invisible breeze. The waves are strong today; they smash hard against the sand. The water rushes across the beach, hungrily reaching for our feet before the tide tugs it back to the ocean.

I grin and begin to unlace by shoes.

“Jacob,” Father says. I straighten up. He stands a stone’s throw away from me, pointing at the bend of the island in the distance. “This way.”

Confused, I glance back at the water. “But—”

“Trust me, son,” he says.

I obey.

We walk along the sand for a long time. The sun, which hugged the horizon when we left home, has officially been swallowed by the sea. The stars wink at me from the heavens. The night becomes darker and darker every moment we walk.

“Father, should I make a torch?” I ask.

“No need,” he says. “We’re almost there.”

We reach a wall of rock, the side of a cliff that hangs over the ocean. Father leads me to the entrance of a cave. There he takes out two long, white candle sticks and a box of matches from our picnic basket. Once lit, he hands me one of the candles. Then we continue into the cave. Black walls reflect the light from the candles; sparkling stones in the ceiling mimic the twinkling of the stars.

“Watch your step,” Father says as we navigate the slick and uneven stone.

We come to a hole in the middle of the ground, full of water. The sloshing and whispering of the sea echoes all around us.

“What is this place?” I ask.

“This is where we found you,” Father says. “This is where she brought you.”

I look around, as if she will still be here. “Who?”

“You’ll see,” says Father.

Then she pops up out of the hole in the ground as if she’s been there this whole time, waiting for an invitation. I skitter back in surprise.

A few feet out of the hole, suspended in air, seemingly, is the woman from my dream. The black hair. The impossibly large blue eyes. That smile full of sharp teeth. Sea weed is wrapped around her chest. Green scales grow across her abdomen. I can’t look away.

Seeing that she’s startled me, she lowers herself back into the water until only her head is visible.

“Is that a—?”

“A mermaid? Yes.” Father sets the picnic basket down, as calm as if he sees things like this every day. “Her name is Alga. She can understand you. Go and speak with her.”

I approach the hole in the rock with caution, holding the candle out before me. Wax drips down the stick and burns my knuckles, but I can hardly feel it. My heart stutters. My mouth is dry. I force out some words. “Did – did you rescue me from the wreckage of a ship when I was a baby?”

She nods. “I pushed your little basket to shore and hid you here. I fed you from my body, taught you how to swim, sang you the song of the sea.”  Her voice is melodic, a chord struck on a harp. “Does it call to you still?”

“It does. Why?”

“Because once you hear it, you can’t stop hearing it.” Alga rises from the water, reaching out as if to touch me. “I gave birth to a son mere weeks before I found you. He had no heartbeat. I thought I would lose my own heart but you restored me.”

She lowers her hand. Glances at Father. “You needed the humans so I let them take you. But now you must return to the Deep.”

“What do you mean?” I ask with a nervous laugh. “How can I live in the sea?”

“You were over a year old when we found you in this cave,” Father says, drawing my eyes to his face. “For months, you survived from her milk. You grew up as a creature of two worlds; the land and the sea.” Father puts a hand on my shoulder. It feels heavy to me. “But no longer. Once you’re submerged, you’ll become like her.”

“But…” My head is spinning. I can barely breathe. Suddenly, it comes to me. Mother knew. She’s known all along. That’s why…I swallow hard. “Will I see you again?”

Father smiles with tears in his eyes. “We’ll always be here, son.”

I throw my arms around him, fingers digging into the back of his shirt. He embraces me for a moment and then gently pushes me away. I wipe at my stinging eyes and face Alga. She sinks down, allowing the sea to swallow her whole. Her eyes stay open and fixed upon me as she descends into the depths, her hair moving in the water like ribbons in the wind.

The ocean rises, whispering, calling.

I take a deep breath, and jump in.

The water wraps me in its cold, refreshing embrace. The shock of it steals my breath. For a moment, all I can see is a cloud of bubbles around me and dark blue beyond. Then unbelievable pain grips my legs, as if a flock of angry woodpeckers are attacking me. I scream and double over in the water. I reach out to swat away the invisible creatures tearing into my flesh and bone.

Has the mermaid deceived me? Has she lured me to my death?

I expect to see holes in my skin, blood in the water.

But there isn’t any.

My trousers have torn. My legs are covered with midnight blue scales. My ankles and knees are drawn together suddenly, bone grinding against bone. Writhing in the water, I let out a sob and then greedily suck in a gulp of air.

Air?

I momentarily forget about the pain. Have I been breathing under water all this time? With a snap, the transformation is complete. A long, fish tail has replaced my legs; a thin, web-like fin sticks out from the end. I can feel every movement of the water against my scales, the subtle pressure changes. I can’t feel the shocking cold of the water anymore; it’s become muted and comfortable.

The world sharpens into focus around me. Colorful stones covered in fuzzy algae pepper the ocean floor. I spot bright orange starfish, pink coral, and strange ocean bushes with tentacle-like-branches swaying in the water. Different kinds of fish dart all around, avoiding me. Alga floats among them, smiling.

“Welcome,” she says, “to the Deep.”

My newest “short” story

I might have mentioned this before but I’m taking Intermediate Fiction this semester and having a blast. The class is challenging me to come up with short stories every two weeks, giving me plenty of practice meeting deadlines. My problem now is that I feel like writing a novella or even a whole novel to expand upon this story! I wish I had more time…For now I’m keeping a list of ideas so that I can work on them later.

This story was inspired in part by my novel, Asta and the Barbarians. Like the novel, this story is set in an older time period with gods and goddesses, and the main character is both a woman and a fighter. Who knows? This might become a companion to Asta and the Barbarians. Anyway, I hope you like it. I’ve tentatively called it “A Match Made in the Hollow.”

 

Anwyl’s face twisted as she screamed, marring her otherwise unparalleled beauty. She thrust her arms out before her and the earth shook. Fissures like spider webs erupted over the ground, spreading from her feet and reaching out across the entire hollow. Animated corpses of men, any man who had ever prayed to Anwyl for guidance, clawed their way out.

“Attack!” William Eckersley waved his strange sword in the air before he banged it against his shield. “For your kinsmen, for your families, for your lives!” Then he charged.

The men who had volunteered for this quest shook where they stood, but they drew their weapons and followed Mr. Eckersley’s lead.

Jessa Copeland was frozen with terror. Even from a distance she could smell the putrefaction of the undead, hear their guttural moans, and see the grotesque patches of missing flesh. Her hand grew slick with nervous perspiration; she squeezed the revolver tighter but what good were the weapons of mortals against the minions of a goddess? What good was an amateur to a group of trained men? She could trade in her corset and bonnet for a coat and some trousers, she could rub soot into her skin and tuck all of her blond hair into a man’s riding hatbut she couldn’t hide who she really was: A child who had rushed into something she wasn’t ready for.

Jessa blinked away tears.

 

“You’re mad,” Charles said through the slot in his door.

“Perhaps.” Jessa leaned forward and lowered her voice. “But if I don’t do this, I’ll be Mrs. John Lamberton in six month’s time, and I’ll never be able to work or travel or go to school or —”

“You don’t want to go to school,” her brother said. “It’s boring.”

“I’d like the option! I know John won’t give it to me.” Jessa impatiently brushed the hair out of her eyes. “He’s a good man but he’s so stubborn. He’s already said he expects me to give birth to five children and run his house for him.”

Charles adopted a mocking, wide-eyed look. “You mean he expects you to be a wife once the two of you are married? The nerve of some men!”

Jessa sighed and pressed her forehead against the rough wood. “I’d like to learn more about myself and the world before I’m confined to a single role. Is that so wrong?”

“Have you tried talking to Mother and Father? Perhaps they can call off the wedding.”

Jessa snorted. “Father? Go back on his word? Do you know him?”

Charles shook his head. “This isn’t going to work.”

“Father has disowned you. That makes me the first born. Our law states a first born over the age of eighteen has a right to answer any call-to-arms from any noble family.”

“Yes, but—”

“That quest, once completed, will mark that individual as an independent adult, able to own land, move out of their parents’ home, seek higher education or employment, marry or not.”

“You’re a woman. The Right of the Firstborn doesn’t apply to you.” Charles sighed when his sister scowled. “I’m sorry, but it’s the truth.”

“Will you lend me the swords and the revolver or not?” Jessa hissed.

“I can’t. I’d be sending you to your death.”

“Brother, please, I have to try!” Jessa licked her parched lips and glanced over her shoulder, hoping none of the passersby on the street had overheard. “What was the point in teaching me how to fence and shoot, and the basics of running a business if you never intended me to use any of it?”

 

The ground cracked open to her right and bony fingers reached out from the depths, greedily searching for the light. Jessa shrieked and backed away, heart hammering in her throat. She pointed the pistol with a trembling hand, trying to remember everything her brother taught her. The memories of her training escaped her no matter how hard she tried to hold onto them, like grains of sand slipping through her fingers. All she could think about was the body rising from the earth before her.

His neck was bent at an odd angle; splintered bones stuck out from the gelatinous tendons. Pink veins spread across his wide, unblinking eyes. Chunks of hair were missing from his scalp. There was a hole in his cheek where Jessa could see the bone of his jaw. He gnashed his remaining teeth at her and growled. Then he yanked the sword out of his chest and advanced.

 

“Goddess of travelers watch over you,” Charles said as they embraced. “Try not to die, little sister. I’m awfully fond of you.”

 

Jessa screamed and pulled the trigger. The bullets embedded themselves in the dead man’s throat and chest, but he continued to advance. Jessa shoved the revolver back into the holster at her hip and drew her short swords. She ducked out of the way when the corpse brought his weapon down; then she straightened up and swung both swords over her head. The blades sliced through the flimsy tissue protecting his ribs.

The corpse howled as new blood stained his torn clothes. But he didn’t fall. He used his sword with skill and speed despite his appearance. He blocked every one of Jessa’s blows. They moved back and forth, dancing just out of each other’s reach. Then Jessa’s sword sliced the air, severing whatever tendons were left in the undead man’s neck. The head flew about a yard or so from the force of her swing. The man dropped to the ground at last.

Jessa took a moment to sheath her swords and reload the revolver. Then she aimed for the heads of the corpses fighting her comrades and shot as she walked, pausing only to cut down the occasional animated cadaver in her path.

“The heads!” she heard one of the men shout above the noise of battle. “Aim for the heads!”

She didn’t pause to see if anyone heeded this advice. Her gaze was fixed on the shifting form of William Eckersley, who battled the goddess herself on the other side of the hollow. She could still hear his voice at the back of her mind, see his face thrown into shadow by the fire last night.

 

“Is it true what the men are saying?” she asked, deepening her voice in an effort to sound masculine. “Did you reject the affections of the love goddess?”

Eckersley stoked the logs of the bond fire with his cane, his dark eyes reflecting the flames. “I rejected Anwyl’s twisted will, not her affections.”

“Did she dare ask the most eligible bachelor in the county to choose a wife?”

Eckersley smirked at her. “If it had been as simple as that, I might’ve conceded.”

Jessa blinked in surprise. Every woman in town gossiped about this nobleman. Some sniffed at his pride, called him a pompous prince who thought himself too good for any of the ladies his mother had tried to marry him off to. Others spoke of his good looks, his quiet manner, and his riches in hushed, adoring tones. Could it be that William Eckersley simply hadn’t found the right woman to marry yet?

Eckersley leaned back against a tree, throwing his handsome face into shadow. “Anwyl appeared to me in a dream. She told me she had planned a clever love story for me and she would put it into action very soon. She was quite proud of herself for coming up with the scheme and thought I would be pleased. When I refused to be a pawn in her game, she cursed our city with a mysterious, incurable disease.”

“That’s why so many of our people are dying,” Jessa whispered in horror. “And you think the only way to stop this disease from spreading is to kill the goddess herself? How will you do this?”

 

The gold and copper sword swung down, only to be deflected by a sword of glass. Anwyl smiled and cast Eckersley aside with a mighty shove. He stumbled but didn’t fall. He blew the strands of dark hair out of his face and advanced again, shield and sword at the ready.

Jessa swerved around skirmishes. She ducked to avoid the swings of the undead. She, straightened up and fired a few rounds, and then continued to run. She knew she needed to help Eckersley somehow. He couldn’t finish the goddess on his own.

 

“The place we travel to is called The Lover’s Hollow. One of Anwyl’s altars was built there many years ago; it’s considered to be a sacred place. If we burn incense and pray to her, she’ll have to come. As for how I’ll vanquish the goddess…” Eckersley rose, drew his sword, and held it out over the fire so that Jessa could see.

It was a curious blade; the fuller divided an edge of gold and an edge of copper. The cross guard was slightly uneven, thicker on one side than it was on the other, and it appeared to be made of pale yellow bone.

“I’ve never seen the likes of it before,” Jessa said.

“It was forged on the night of the summer solstice using goblin’s gold, the copper of a poor man who was pure of heart, and the ulna of an expert swordsman.” Eckersley took a few experimental swings. “Sprinkled with the tears of Druce, god of wisdom, it is said to be one of the few weapons on earth that can slay a minor god. They call it—”

“The Sword of the Divine,” Jessa said, recalling the old story. “But…it’s just a legend.”

Eckersley sheathed the sword. “To every myth there is a bit of truth.”

“Yes, but we can’t know which part of the myth is true,” Jessa said, trying to fight her rising panic. “This sword could indeed be made with all the components you described, but it may not have the power to kill a god. Still, you’d risk your life and the lives of these men—”

Eckersley’s brow flattened with determination. “For my city, for my family, there isn’t anything I wouldn’t risk.”

 

Anwyl, despite being clothed in a billowing dress of red and white, moved flawlessly over the uneven ground, twisting, thrusting, blocking, snarling. Her sunshine gold hair miraculously stayed out of her face.

Eckersley, although an excellent swordsman, struggled to break her defense.

Jessa hastily replaced her empty pistol with her second sword as she drew nearer. Holding one sword above her head and the other by her waist, she spun toward Anwyl. The goddess kicked Eckersley in the stomach and jumped out of the way, just in time to deflect Jessa’s blows. Eckersley lost his shield as he rolled in the grass, but he leapt to his feet again, gripping the Sword of the Divine in both hands.

“What are you doing?” he shouted at Jessa.

Anwyl grinned and stepped back, then slowly lowered her sword.

Jessa kept her swords up, confused and out of breathbut ready.

The goddess threw Eckersley a sly look. With her free hand, she blew a kiss Jessa’s way. A blast of cold wind washed over Jessa, pushing her a few paces back. When Jessa regained her footing, her disguise had melted away. Her weapons were cast aside. Her skin was clean and her hair was curled, and flowed over her slim shoulders and down to her lower back. She wore a purple silk gown she’d never seen before. She gaped at herself in horror. Then she turned to Eckersley. He stared with a mixture of shock and wonder.

“William, meet Jessa Copeland,” the goddess said with triumph. “Your perfect match.”

Anwyl waved her sword; the undead bodies collapsed like marionettes whose strings had been cut. The men who remained lowered their swords and rifles, blinking in confusion.

“My work here is done,” Anwyl said.

With a wink, she vanished.

My first review

In the spirit of building good relationships with other authors, I agreed to do a swap review with short story author T. L. Sallie. Her story, “The Submerged,” is a twenty page long futuristic romance. I was given a free copy in exchange for this review.

“The Submerged” starts off by introducing us to Phillip Hoffman Jr, a single man living in London. He has lost his job of eight years and doesn’t know quite what to do with himself. Because of his lack of income, he has moved into an apartment on the ground level, which is under three feet of water.

In this futuristic setting, the polar ice caps have melted so much that the sea levels are higher than they’ve ever been and are flooding coastal cities all over the world. Civilization has adapted to this inconvenience by raising the blocks of building foundations every few months, and by creating water-proof items (clothes, furniture, gadgets, etc). There is even floating furniture and cars in this story. Anyone who can’t afford floating transportation has the option of phoning a ferry or using whatever inflatable device they have at home to maneuver the streets, now rivers.

The premise alone is unique and interesting. It made me think of the poor people affected by the hurricanes, especially the people in Houston who suffered from flooding. How does life go on? How is a new norm developed when there’s so much water everywhere? At least the people in the story had the latest technology on their side to make things a little easier.

Anyway, Phillip ventures out of his apartment for the first time in a long time and runs into his neighbor, a young lady named Clara. After exchanging pleasantries, Phillip gathers his courage and asks her out on a date. The rest of the story tells about their evening. Clara turns out to be a straight-forward girl who pursues difficult topics of conversation and states her honest opinion without fear. Phillip, who is a little unsure of himself and insecure about the fact that he hasn’t been on a date in a long time, is drawn to Clara’s blunt personality and pretty brown eyes. Through the ups and downs of the evening, he falls in love with her. Whether the feelings are reciprocated or not is unclear. The ending comes quite suddenly, leaving the reader wondering what could’ve happened to this odd couple had the story continued.

The story could’ve done with another round of edits to get rid of unnecessary adjectives and adverbs, but was otherwise enjoyable. I liked its originality and the descriptions of this futuristic London with its unique water problem. The character of Clara is truly one I’ve never come across before. The author had me guessing what she was going to do or say next.

Interested in reading the story yourself? Click here for a ninety-nine cent ebook copy.

For more information on author T.L. Sallie and her work, check out the links below!

Author Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorTLSallie/

Author site: https://tlsallie.wixsite.com/author

Author blog: https://tlsallie.wixsite.com/author/blog

Into the Woods

Greg awoke to an upside down world of shadows.

His heart must have somehow moved to his head because that’s where he felt its pulse. He squeezed his eyes shut and grimaced at the pain gripping his temples and forehead. It was hard to think, but a tiny voice at the back of his mind warned him that something was very wrong. A sudden jolt of clarity helped him realize that he was hanging upside down from the ceiling with his hands tied behind his back. He peered through the darkness, trying to get a feel for where he was, trying to remember how he’d gotten there and what he had been doing before.

The memories returned slowly. He’d been driving home after work in the pouring rain. The main street he usually took was closed for repaving, so he’d taken one of the back roads. As he’d bounced along the poorly paved street and rolled his eyes at the irony of the situation, an animal of some kind had skittered across his headlights. He’d swerved and hit a tree, and now he was here. The rain rapped against the ceiling and beat the windows, like a crowd of unwanted guests. He couldn’t see much of the outside but, if it was this dark, he had to be in the woods somewhere. A hunting cabin maybe? He wriggled and twisted about, hoping to free himself.

The wailing of the rain died down for a moment and he was able to hear the sound of harsh breathing.

A shiver ran down the length of his spine, a cold finger tormenting him with visions of serial killers. He tried to push his fear aside and find his voice.

“H-Hello? Who’s there?” He waited for a fraction of a second before continuing. “I don’t know what kind of game you’re playing but my wife is waiting for me at home, and if I don’t show up tonight—”

Smacking lips made him falter.

“I-If I don’t show up tonight, she’s going to call the police. She knows my usual route. She’ll tell them where to look for me.”

A flash of lightning illuminated the room. The walls were covered in spider webs, intertwined, overlapping, reaching across the ceiling and dangling in corners. Spiders of all shapes, colors, and sizes dotted the misty white webs, thousands of eyes staring at the man hanging from the ceiling. A human-like figure stood by the door, machete in hand.

“Don’t forget, my lovelies,” the raspy voice of an older woman said. “I get the head.”

Greg screamed and thrashed about as the spiders and their deranged keeper advanced.

 

Officer Beau hated the rain. Rain made mud. Rain made his knee ache. Rain caused car accidents. Rain made his roof leak. Rain made everyone either paranoid or strangely romantic. Rain made it hard to do anything outside, even the simplest of tasks. He scowled at the wiper blades as they swooshed back and forth. Rain also made it harder to see. Beau was fifty-eight years old, two years away from retirement. Why couldn’t he be assigned the easy calls, the ones that could be resolved in town?

“You need to get out more,” his superiors said. “You don’t want to spend your last two years cooped up in the precinct!”

Oh, yes, he did. He loved the precinct. Not that anyone would listen.

“There’s been an accident reported on the old highway. Why don’t you check it out, Beau? It’s been quiet all day.”

Officer Beau liked the quiet. After thirty years on the force, he’d seen enough and heard enough to appreciate a quiet day. The other old-timers at the precinct didn’t seem to understand that. So here he was, driving out to the old highway to look at a crash in the middle of a storm. Who still drove on the old highway anyway? The new highway was nicer, with more than two lanes and going through an actual city instead of the wilderness.

Officer Beau grumbled to himself as his cruiser meandered down the pot-hole littered street, eyes narrowed as he searched for signs of a crash. Finally, he happened upon black streaks against the road and the mud tracks of a car going off the embankment. He stopped, put the car in park, and fumbled with his umbrella before climbing out. Still grumbling, he flicked on the flashlight and began his trek through the mud. His boots made eerie sucking sounds as he walked. The beam of his flashlight caught the raindrops while they fell and illuminated the wall of trees he was headed toward. Soon enough he found the car, a bright red lemon with its front crushed against a particularly large pine.

The driver’s side door had been wrenched open somehow. There was no one in the car. Officer Beau reached for the radio attached to his belt when a skittering sound drew his eyes to the trees. It had been soft, like the flapping of wings or spider legs dancing across a bed of leaves, but he’d still managed to hear it over the storm. A set of footprints and drag marks could be seen in the mud, heading deeper into the forest. Officer Beau snagged his radio and called it in.

“Don’t move,” his commanding officer said. “I’m sending backup.”

Don’t have to tell me twice, Beau thought, already making his way back to the cruiser.

An ear-splitting howl had the officer spinning around with a curse. What was going on in those woods? It sounded like someone was being tortured. The instinct to protect, that damn instinct that had prompted him to join the force so many years ago, palpitated within him. Beau shook his head and backed away, firmly shoving that instinct aside. He didn’t know what was out there. It would be stupid to go traipsing through the woods and into a dangerous situation without backup.

But as the scream sounded again, the old officer found himself racing forward. The footprints and drag marks in the mud led the way through the twisting trees, even after the terrible screech had been abruptly cut off. Huffing and puffing, Officer Beau found himself at the front door of an old hunting cabin.

He tossed his umbrella aside and pulled out his gun before shouting, “Hartford Police! I’m coming in!” Getting a strange surge of adrenaline, he threw his shoulder against the door. The lock burst and the door swung open to reveal a scene out of someone’s worst nightmare.

A person was tied up, hanging upside down from the ceiling, covered in spiders. A thin elderly woman sat on the floor a little ways away, slurping something out of a giant bowl. When the door opened, the woman dropped the bowl and uttered an animalistic growl. The ‘bowl’ rolled toward Officer Beau, leaving a trail of some dark, thick substance. It came to a stop at the officer’s feet. It was a head, probably belonging to the poor man hanging from the ceiling, being slowly devoured by spiders. Beau gagged and might’ve looked away if he wasn’t frozen with horror. His mind told him to run, to shoot the woman, to do something.

But he was still standing there when the machete came flying toward him and sank into his chest.

My worst nightmare

“I feel it physically—half of me turns to smoke. The corners of the room go dim, and from about the rig cage down, my body feels numb as the ghost limb of an amputee. It’s what happens when I’m about to write something that frightens me. Freaking yourself out is an occupational hazard for a horror writer. It’s also, if you rise to the challenge it presents, a great opportunity to hone your craft.” -Michael Marano


Something woke me up that night. To the day, I’m still not sure.

When I opened my eyes, the room was completely silent. It wasn’t until I rolled over that I saw the clown standing at the foot of my bed. He wore a pale white face mask with a big, red nose, pink cheeks, crazed blue eyes, a large eerie smile, and frizzy orange hair attached to the back. He was even dressed in large, colorful clothes. My heart leapt into my throat and still I managed to scream. I’d had this nightmare before, but this wasn’t a dream. The knife in his hand glinted in the moonlight, revealing a smear of blood. My first thought went to the children. Which one of them had been ruthlessly murdered in their sleep? But then I remembered the silence. The dog! The intruder must have killed her first to be sure she wouldn’t warn me.

My stomach turned at the thought of my Australian shepherd, but I couldn’t dwell on that. I had to act. I threw myself over the side of the bed, snatching my phone from the bedside table before I could hit the ground. The clown was on me in a second. His knees hit the floor as he straddled me and then proceeded to jab the knife at my face. I squirmed and screamed some more, releasing the phone to wrestle the knife out of his hands. We struggled, but not for too long. He was stronger than I was. The knife came down before I could stop it and nicked my cheek, burning like a deep paper cut. I twisted my hips, yanking his wrists down and away from my face. The clown crashed into the wall with a curse. I scrambled away, crawling as quickly as I could on my hands and knees until I reached the door. Then I jumped up and ran out of the room.

“Simon! Corey! Deliah!” I half-sobbed, half-shouted. “Wake up!” I dashed across the shadowed living room, almost tripping over the ottoman. I made it to my eldest’s room and threw the door open.

Simon sat up, instantly alert and afraid. “Mom? What’s going on?” 

I gripped him by the shoulders, heart hammering painfully against my ribs. “There’s someone in the house. I need you to get your brother and sister, and—”

Simon’s blue eyes bulged as he stared at something behind me. I spun around, arms out to my sides to protect my ten-year-old son. The clown’s mask was hanging crookedly on his face, revealing curly black hair and a sliver of pale skin. Despite his terrifying appearance, he was human and able to be reasoned with.

“We don’t have much, but you can take whatever you want,” I said, voice wavering. “Just, please, don’t hurt my children.”

“I don’t want any of your crap!” the clown growled. “Pedro Hernandez sends your husband his regards.” And then he lunged. 

I heard my son cry out and hoped he was diving out of bed. I tried to duck around my attacker, but he snatched me by the front of my nightshirt and threw me back onto the bed. The knife was coming down again. I blindly reached out, snatched the first thing my fingers touched (it felt like Simon’s batman alarm clock), and smashed it against the side of the clown’s head. He roared in pain and dropped the knife. I elbowed him in the face and kneed him in the groin as I wriggled to get free. My son was crawling frantically for the door once I had disentangled myself from the clown.

I raced after him, grabbed him by his armpits, and hauled him to his feet. “Get your brother and sister to safety, and call your dad!” Then I gave him a shove out the door.

The sharp end of the knife burst from my abdomen, splattering the back of my son’s shirt with blood. I gasped as my brain registered the pain. I stumbled forward.

Simon must’ve felt the wetness on his back because he turned and screamed. “MOM!”

I collapsed against the wall in the hallway, struggling to breathe, heart stuttering in fear. The knife was roughly tugged out from behind me. I tried to keep moving, tried to get away, but a hand grabbed a fistful of my hair and yanked me back. This time the end of the knife pushed through my chest. The world was growing fuzzy at the corners, my mind wild with panic and pain. My son stood frozen just a little ways away, face pale, mouth open in a silent scream. Then anger was twisting his mouth into a snarl and he came charging down the hall to take out my assailant’s knees. 

I wanted to yell at him, tell him to run away, tell him to find his siblings and run. Instead, I made a strange gurgling sound and slumped to the floor. I could hear them wrestling behind me, my son shouting, the clown swearing. Then two other pairs of feet were running toward me. I looked up into the faces of child number two and three. Deliah was crying as she fell to her knees and reached out to take my face in her little hands. Corey, dark hair falling in to his eyes, looked around wildly, as if searching for some way to help me.

“Get…Dad,” I managed to croak. “Simon…stop…”

“Call 911,” Corey told his little sister and then he was running over to help his brother.

“No.” I clawed after him but he was already out of reach. 

“Daddy,” Deliah sobbed as she jumped to her feet. “I-I’ll call Daddy.” She ran into the kitchen, bright pink Hello Kitty pajamas fading into the darkness.

It was getting increasingly harder to breathe. I knew at least one lung had to be collapsing or filling with blood. I coughed and wheezed and fought to remain conscious. I had to help my children. I had to do something. But then, quite suddenly, the darkness swallowed me up.

 

I came to when my husband called my name. I peeled my eyes open to see him sitting beside me, holding my hand, leaning in anxiously. He was still in uniform; his badge winked at me in the bright fluorescent light shining from above. He looked exhausted. There were stress lines across his big, handsome face, his blonde hair was askew, and the hazel eyes that were always so quick to smile were dark with worry. Wherever we were was rocking and rumbling. There were two other men in there with us, hooking me up to machines and pressing wads of gauze against my wounds. I could distantly hear the wailing of sirens.

My husband let out a choked laugh when he saw that I was awake. He kissed my forehead and managed to say, “You’re all right. Everything’s going to be all right.”

I couldn’t speak. They’d put a tube down my throat or something. I wanted to ask about the children. He must’ve read my mind because he added, “The kids are fine. One of the neighbors heard the screams and called 911. Some guys from the station got there just in time to pull Simon and Corey away from that creep. We got him, babe. We got the clown.”

That was all I needed to hear. I gave his hand a squeeze and closed my eyes.

A horror story for ya

As I mentioned in one of my earlier blog posts, I’m taking an Intro to Horror Writing class this semester. The genre has never really appealed to me but I believe a good author is a well-rounded author, an author who can write several different genres successfully. (I don’t care too much for poetry either, but I’m taking a poetry writing class too. I’m even writing a science-fiction story, just to see where it goes! It’s actually a lot of fun to stretch my mind and leave the comforts of fantasy writing.)

Anyway, we’ve read a few short stories and discussed the elements that make up a good horror story: terror, horror, and the gross-out. As Stephen King said, “I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I’ll go for the gross-out.” So I’ve been challenged to focus on these three elements. For one of our most recent assignments, we were asked to write a short story. Our teacher gave us the opening lines of a few well-known horror stories, asked us to pick one, and roll with it. See where the line would take us. The line I chose was “The door had been nailed shut for a reason.” This is what I came up with:

 

The door had been nailed shut for a reason.

It was only logical. Why would someone waste their time pounding nails into a door if there wasn’t a good reason? Maybe the house was separated into sections and rented out to different families. Maybe the previous owners of the house had a kid who thought nailing his little sister’s door shut would be a hoot. There was a dog-door-like square cut along the bottom of the wood. Maybe there was something sinister lurking in the room on the other side.

Gwen rolled her eyes at her own whacky imagination. Still, there was something strange about that door at the end of the hall, the door everyone else was intent on ignoring. Or maybe she was just the first one to notice it? The music was incredibly loud. So many bodies were pressed together into the living room of this old house. The only sources of light were the spotlights sweeping across the room, the candles lit in the open bedrooms, and the moonlight streaming in through the curtain-less windows. Whatever furniture that might have been there was long gone, having been tossed outside to make room for the party.

Gwen took a swig of her soda and finally tore her gaze away from the door. Why did it matter if the door was nailed shut anyway? Was she just looking for an excuse to leave the crowd? Parties weren’t exactly her idea of fun. She was too shy to talk to girls she didn’t know and the only boys who seemed to notice her were always creeps. But her sister was home from college for the weekend and had guilt-tripped her into coming so she was stuck in this creepy old house until Macy was drunk enough to forget her own name. Which might be sooner rather than later. Macy had made a beeline for the keg as soon as they’d arrived and had been parked there ever since, chatting up all the cute guys who came for refills. Gwen weaved her way through the dancing throng to get to her sister.

“Hey, Mace?”

She turned away from the boy she was flirting with to give Gwen a wide-eyed look. “You’re not here for a beer, are you? I told you; you’re the designated driver tonight.”

Gwen waved the soda can in her sister’s face. “This is all I’ve had tonight. Relax.”

“Okay. So what do you want?”

“What do you think is behind that door?” Gwen asked, gesturing to the door in question.

Macy adjusted the straps of her fairy wings and blew a raspberry. “Don’t know, don’t care. Justin said he found this house abandoned last week and decided it would be a good place for a Halloween party. I think he’s only been here, like, twice to decorate and stuff. Go ask him.” Then she tossed her dirty-blond hair over her shoulder and smiled flirtatiously to her toga-clad stranger as if Gwen had already left. The guy gave Gwen the once-over out of the corner of his eyes, making her regret her slutty nurse’s costume immediately. She blushed and looked away, tugging at the hem of her little skirt as if that would suddenly make it longer.

Gwen’s eyes fell on the door again. She hadn’t seen Justin since she and Macy had arrived. He’d paused in his mingling to give them each a one-armed hug and comment on their costumes before he resumed his host duties. That was almost two hours ago. She set her drink aside and marched back across the room, getting a spurt of un-Gwen-like bravery. She didn’t need Justin. She’d unravel this mystery on her own. It wasn’t until she stood directly before the door that she realized she had no way of opening it. She dug around her white satchel (part of the costume she’d decided to use as a purse for the occasion), and pulled out a large nail file. Maybe she could pry the nails out? Doubtful but still willing to try, Gwen came closer to the door.

It was already open. Gwen blinked at the sliver of empty space between the door and the frame, wondering when that had happened. She could’ve sworn it was shut…

She shoved the nail file back into her satchel and gripped the warped door knob. The door opened with a spooky creak that made her shiver. The smell hit her then, the acrid odor of decaying meat. She slapped both hands over her nose, swallowing hard to get rid of the bile. But she couldn’t walk away. Morbid curiosity made her bump the door open wider with her hip and inch into the room. Darkness greeted her. She released her nose with one hand to search for a light switch along the wall. It flickered on a moment later.

Bones and chunks of meat littered the floor. Blood was sprinkled across the faded flowery wall paper. The windows were boarded up from the outside; the glass had been broken ages ago and scrapes cut jaggedly across the wood. As if someone had tried to claw their way out of the room at one point. A single bed mattress was shoved in the corner, covered by a ratty black blanket. A hole in the floor drew her eyes to the center of the room. Her mouth gaped open even wider when she realized its purpose.

This was a prison cell.

But for who and why?

A splash of blue among the meat and bones forced Gwen to look at the carnage again. She grimaced and turned with the full intention of walking away, but she paused. Something about that shade of blue struck a chord of familiarity within her. She took a hesitant step forward. It was a torn shirt made of fake, blue fur she was looking at. And it was smeared with blood. Gwen’s knees gave way. She would have fallen onto the filthy floor had she not locked her legs just in time. Suddenly, she knew where she’d seen that fur before. It had been exactly two hours earlier, when Justin had given her that one-armed hug and said how great she looked in her nurse’s costume. He’d been dressed like an alien from Star Trek. The remains of his mask could be seen on the floor, pressed up against the wall. Hair and brain matter freckled the edges.

Bile climbed up her throat again. The world grew fuzzy at the corners.

The door creaked, causing Gwen to spin around with a squeak. A little girl stood behind the door, pale hand pressed against the wood, pushing it closed. Gwen stepped back, the bile finally winning at the sight of the child. Her short blond hair was matted with grime, her face streaked with dried blood, her wide eyes holding pupils that were permanently dilated. She wore a large, gray sweatshirt with rips and a faded logo, but nothing else. Her feet were bare, exposing torn, black toe nails.

How long had she been imprisoned in that room? Had she eaten Justin? Gwen heaved and groaned until there was nothing left in her stomach. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and slowly turned to face the child again. The little girl was smacking her lips and swaying slightly, watching Gwen with wide, unblinking eyes.

Gwen managed to shake her head. “No.”

The girl grinned, exposing blackened teeth.

 

The scream cut through the music. Everyone stopped what they were doing and turned toward the door at the end of the hall. The DJ killed the music after being prompted by some of the dancers. Soon there was silence and a low murmur of confused voices. Then there was the unmistakable sound of tearing.

 

I know this is pretty mild for a horror story, but it’s my first one. I’m going to get better. I promise!

Something else I read about in the Book of Horrors textbook we’re using for this class is that, in order to write something that truly terrifies and leaves an impression, we should write about things that scare us. So that’s what I did.

The most memorable (and terrifying) episode from Supernatural for me was the one about the twins living in the walls of a house. An abusive father had impregnated his daughter with twins. The girl gave birth and had died shortly afterward (from her own hand or her father’s hand, I can’t remember). The father didn’t take care of them at all. He locked them up in the basement and fed them through a laundry-shoot-like hole in the wall. The twins had never seen the light of day, had never set foot in the house above them. They wandered the crawl spaces between the walls of that house until the day their father/grandfather became too old and careless. Then they emerged and exacted their revenge.

Nobody in the surrounding area knew how bad things had gotten between father and daughter. Nobody knew about the twins. It was a big mystery to the local law enforcement when they happened upon the old man, or whatever was left of him anyway. They scratched their heads for a moment, then shrugged their shoulders, and cleaned the place up as best they could. Several months later, a new family moved in and started hearing strange noises through the walls.

“Oh, don’t worry, dear. They’re probably just rats. We’ll call the exterminators.”

In come Sam and Dean Winchester in disguise, thinking this family has a ghost problem and they can quickly fix it for them. They do their research and find out about the poor girl and her father. They assume it’s her ghost that’s haunting the place so they get ready to banish a spirit…only to find that the killers are real live people. Naturally, it becomes a deadly game of cat and mouse. The family and the Winchesters want to get out alive, while the twins are hungry for blood. These kids have been abused and in-humanized. Technically, they have a right to be angry and homicidal. But they’re so out of control and beyond reason that Dean and Sam have to kill them.

The end.

No matter how good the CGI was when monsters and evil spirits were introduced on the show, none of that really scared me because I knew it couldn’t be real. But a story about people being treated so badly that they had to resort to creeping through the walls and killing others…That could be real. That terrified me. So I tried to incorporate some of that into this short story. I haven’t gotten my grade yet, so I’m not sure how well I integrated the elements of horror, terror, and the gross-out. But I’m fairly proud of this. Hope you guys enjoyed it!

For the love of a slurpee

It was four o’clock in the evening and the baby wanted a blue raspberry slurpee.

I was sitting on the couch with my feet propped up, flipping through the channels, trying not to think about the lasagna in the oven and the wonderful odors wafting through the apartment, praying Peter would see my text and pick up a slurpee for me on his way home from the office. I checked my phone; there was no reply. I re-checked it two seconds later and there was still no reply. I could’ve called him on his car phone, but I didn’t want to be the cause of an accident.

“This is ridiculous,” I muttered, placing a hand over my balloon belly and rising from the couch with difficulty. I stood there a moment to be sure I wasn’t going to tip back into the couch and then proceeded into the kitchen. According to the oven’s timer, the lasagna still had ten minutes before it would be done. Then I had to let it sit so that I wouldn’t burn my tongue with scalding hot cheese and sauce. My mouth watered just thinking about it. A dehydrated lasagna only took five minutes to make, but it didn’t have the same taste as an organic lasagna. On most days, it was worth the wait. Today, I wasn’t so sure. The baby kicked insistently.

I blew my bangs out of my face. “All right. I’ll get you a slurpee.” There was a fueling station just around the corner. Normally, my swollen ankles would keep me from walking across the apartment much less down the street but they were feeling good today. I waddled over to the shoe rack by the front door and slipped into my sandals. I checked my reflection in the circle mirror hanging with our wedding pictures to be sure my hair was behaving. Then I ventured out.

“Front door,” I said as I shut it behind me. “Please lock and tell my husband that I went to get a slurpee. If the lasagna should finish before I come back, turn off the oven.”

“Understood, ma’am,” the automated voice replied. There was a click as the locks slid into place and then silence.

I loped past my neighbor, Paul, who held bags full of dehydrated meal packs and argued with his front door.

“I don’t care what my wife said. I am not beating her. Now open!” he practically snarled.

“I’m sorry, sir, but my programming compels me to protect the woman of this household,” the door said calmly. “If she says you are beating her, I must believe her. Lower your voice or I will be forced to phone the authorities.”

Paul leaned in to glare at the screen located at eye-level in the middle of the door. “I already said I was sorry, Georgette. I have the food you asked me to buy, now, let me in.”

“Leave it on the doorstep and go! You obviously don’t love me anymore!” his wife screeched from inside the apartment.

Paul groaned and smashed his head against the door.

“Hang in there, Paul,” I said in passing.

“Thanks, Jill,” he muttered, forehead still pressed against the metal door.

“I’m detecting some measure of pain in your voice, sir,” a neighboring door said. “Should I call for an ambulance?”

The elevator doors shut before I could hear Paul’s reply. “Where to, ma’am?”

I smiled at the computer screen in the wall. “Lobby, please.”

“Right away, ma’am.”

Two minutes later, I was waddling out into society. One would think that after the invention of floating cars and speeder bikes, there wouldn’t be anyone walking anymore. Still pedestrians littered the sidewalks.

“Only freaks and homeless people still walk around town, Jill,” my husband would say whenever I suggested we take a stroll.

He might have been right but there was something refreshing about using one’s own legs to go somewhere. The artificial grass in the front yards on either side of my apartment complex was the approved length and color. Someone from the Home Owner’s Society must have been by recently. The trees sprouting up from their fenced areas had sparkling golden leaves hanging from their metallic branches. Was it autumn already? The months were just flying by! Speeder bikes and hovering cars zipped to and fro on the street in their respective lanes. I couldn’t watch them for too long without getting vertigo. I took a deep breath, stared fixedly at the fuel station I could see in the distance, and put one foot in front of the other. A lady with mint green hair and glassy pink eyes abandoned her floating grocery cart and approached me to ask if I had any spare change.

I blinked at her, mouth agape. “No one uses change anymore.”

She dug around the pockets of her filthy dress and held out an old bank chip. “You could transfer some money over to me then. I think this thing still works.” She squeezed it between her fingers, desperately watching for the flash of light that would prove the chip’s functionality. The chip produced no such light.

“I’m very sorry but I have to get going now,” I stammered and then dashed away.

A man with a pig’s nose, blue and white feathers for hair, and a piercing through his lip walked up to me next, shoving a moving picture of a Labradoodle in my face. “Have you seen my dog, Mr. Scruffles?”

I reared back and slapped a hand over my nose before I could be overwhelmed by the smells of alcohol and urine. “No, I haven’t. I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be rude, but I’m pregnant and have a very acute sense of smell.” I continued apologizing as I walked away.

This is more dangerous than I thought it would be. I should’ve stayed in the apartment…I placed a protective hand over my belly and loped along even faster. Don’t worry, baby. Almost there. 

A robot stopped traffic so that I could cross the street and then I arrived at the fuel station. Despite everything that had changed in the world, Circle K was still thriving. It, like many gas stations, had simply changed the kind of fuel they sold and was able to salvage their business when regular cars became obsolete. I side-stepped the man with the tentacles on his face who methodically looked through the movie racks by the door, and suppressed a shudder. Kissing must be really weird for his kind…If they even kiss.

“Hello!” the cheerful cashier called from behind her counter. She had blonde hair, bright orange skin, and three eyes but her smile was warm.

I smiled back. “Hi, there.”

I hurried over to the slurpee section and snagged one of the larger cups. I was back at the counter in seconds, swiping my bank chip to pay for my drink. I took a large gulp on my way out and gave myself a brain freeze, but it was worth it. I could feel my baby doing victory cartwheels in my belly. I waved goodbye to the happy cashier and began my journey back home…only to run into a kid on a hover board. Well, technically he ran into me. His board bashed against my calf and sent him falling into my side with an oof. I stumbled with a shout of surprise and the slurpee left my hand. I watched in horror and dismay as the foam cup smashed against the asphalt and burst, sending blue slush everywhere. The boy apologized a million times but I didn’t have the strength to look up. Blinking back defeated tears, I turned away from him and headed back inside.