A Companion Series for Asta and the Barbarians

Back in 2017, while my epic fantasy novel Asta and the Barbarians was in the process of being published by Tirgearr Publishing, I was also taking some creative writing classes at my community college. In my Intermediate Fiction writing class, I was challenged to write a short story every two weeks. It was difficult but also tons of fun to brainstorm and create so many stories in such a short amount of time. Some were always destined to be short stories; others I felt deserved to be expanded upon but it wasn’t the right time.

After Asta and the Barbarians was published, I began working on a romance novel titled I Dare You to Stay With Me which I ended up self-publishing, and then I quickly began preparing my science fiction/fantasy novel The Andromeda’s Ghost to be published through BHC Press. This year, I self-published a book with my sister, a urban fantasy novel titled Death’s Curses. While finishing up with Death’s Curses, I was also communicating with BHC Press because they are in the process of getting The Andromeda’s Captain (book two in The Andromeda Chronicles) ready for publication. And after Death’s Curses was published, I raced through the end of The Andromeda’s Crew (book three in The Andromeda Chronicles) after which I decided to dive headlong into the complex world of book marketing. I’ve been snatching free ebooks, and signing up for free webinars as well as relatively inexpensive marketing classes as I come across them. I’ve been emailing reviewers and organizing advertisements and other promotions for my books. I’ve scheduled cross promotion with other authors through my newsletter and social media accounts. It has been exhausting, but necessary to grow my audience and get my name out there.

With The Andromeda’s Crew in the hands of my beta readers, I can’t do any more work on it. At least, not until I get their feedback. In the meantime (because I don’t know how to be idle) I’ve moved on to the next project on my list, the short stories I created back in 2017! Whenever I had writer’s block while working on projects from 2017 up until now, I would go back to one of those short stories specifically. I shared it here on the blog at one point; back then it was titled A Match Made in the Hollow. Slowly but surely, I’ve built upon it until, just last week, I finished it. It’s not a short story anymore but a 130 page novella titled Jessa and the Lost Goddess.

This is the first installment in a series of novellas which are companions to Asta and the Barbarians. These novellas are set in the same world as Asta and the Barbarians but focus on different characters. All of these characters are chosen for a specific task by one of the Heavenly Masters (gods and goddesses) that were introduced in Asta and the Barbarians. In the last novella of this series, these new characters will meet up with Asta and her friends in order to help them achieve a very specific task. While Asta’s story was set on the Island of Holger, these novellas will be set on the “mainland” which was mentioned often in Asta and the Barbarians but never expanded upon. I’ve had numerous fans ask for a sequel to Asta’s story over the years and I’m so excited to finally be able to do so. I sincerely hope I can live up to your expectations or at least entertain you for a little while. 😉

Tirgearr Publishing produced Asta and the Barbarians so they get first dibs, but they can choose not to publish this series. If that happens, I’m going to self-publish these so no matter what, you will get to read these very soon! I’ve submitted a synopsis and an overview to Tirgearr Publishing and am waiting for their response now.

More news to come!

For the win

Hey all!

Last week, I was in editing mode for my third book, Asta and the Barbarians, which will be published in April (unless something unexpected happens on my publisher’s end to push the date back). So I skipped out on my blogging.

This week I devoted most of my downtime to creating promotional items to include in Night Owl Review‘s romance author sponsorship program. Every other month, they will mail promotional material to their readers on behalf of romance writers (for a small fee of course). I was under the impression that I’d be able to submit multiple items to be mailed, when in reality, I’m only allowed to submit one. So after I created bookmarks, coasters, blurb leaflets, and author business cards, I now have the arduous task of selecting one method of promotion and submitting it into Night Owl Reviews. I was kind of bummed because a) I put in several hours worth of work to create these and b) I was really proud of all my creations. I wanted to mail one of each of these items to Night Owl Review’s readers…

Then it hit me. Why don’t I just send these goodies to my readers?

So here’s what I’m going to do: Next Thursday, I’ll post an In the Dark trivia quiz here on my blog. It’ll probably be a twenty-five to thirty question “test” about the story or the characters. I’ll leave my email address at the bottom of the post so that participants can copy and paste the questions into the body of an email, answer the questions to the best of their ability, and send me that email. They’d have to include their home address as well so that I can mail out their prizes. Then, I’ll “grade” them and choose first, second, and third place winners. The person who wins first place will be given a first edition, autographed paperback version of I Dare You to Love Me along with a bookmark and two coasters. Second place will get a bookmark and two coasters. And third place will just get the bookmark.

If this event goes well, I can create a similar test with questions about I Dare You to Love Me and send out In the Dark items as prizes. That way both books get some good exposure.

What do you guys think? Would you be interested? How about your friends? Help me spread the word. This could be a lot of fun for all of us!

A second look at In the Dark

It’s been one week since my paranormal fantasy novel, In the Dark, was published. The first chapter is available on the book’s page here on my blog and also as a preview on Amazon, Smashwords, Apple, Kobo, and Nook. So I thought I’d give you guys the chance to read chapter two.

If, after reading, you realize this is the best thing since sliced bread and you simply have to purchase the rest of the book immediately lest you spontaneously combust, there will be links at the end of the post. Thanks for reading!

 


 

Chapter Two

Considering the tornado cellar was a place a family would come to for safety in a catastrophe, there wasn’t anything useful. Avery found a few thin blankets, a rotting wooden table and chair, an old oil lamp, and a few bottles of water.

He cheerfully distributed the water. “Good to know our kidnappers don’t plan to kill us by dehydration.”

Lindsay propped the unconscious woman’s head up with a folded blanket and wrapped her up in another, hoping to make her more comfortable on the earthy floor. The woman stirred a little at being moved but otherwise remained unconscious. After the oil lamp had been lit by Avery’s handy lighter, the hostages emptied out their pockets and piled the contents before the light.

“These guys haven’t come to check up on us,” Bailey muttered, throwing a reproachful look up at the ceiling. “Either they’re too busy to make sure we’re still alive, or they don’t care if we all starve.”

Kyle’s stomach growled when he caught sight of the smashed Baby Ruth bar Bailey had added to their pile of supplies. Avery swore he had a stomachache from all the junk he’d eaten before being captured and Lindsay promised she wasn’t hungry, so Bailey and Kyle shared it.

“All right,” Avery said when the kids finished eating their meager midnight snack.
“Let’s see what we’ve got. Three cell phones—one dead, one broken and one having
no signal whatsoever—fifty bucks and forty-three cents, two pieces of squished gum,
a receipt for the Baby Ruth bar that has already been eaten, a small box of matches,
a pack of cigarettes. . .” He gave Lindsay a sideways smirk. “Now, Jules, really. A nursing student should know better.”

“Those are yours,” Lindsay said with a flat look.

Avery tried to smother a smile that was both adorable and infuriating. “You can’t prove that.”

“I’ve never smoked a day in my life and you know it.” Lindsay batted her brother’s hand away from the switchblade in their midst. “Don’t touch that.”

“But I’ve always wanted one of these.” Kyle sent a worshipful look Avery’s way. “Where’d you get it?”

“Now, that’s just stereotypical, little man. Not all BMX bikers carry switchblades. That could be Bailey’s for all we know.”

“Is everything a joke to you?” Bailey asked, her mouth twisting in annoyance.

“Pretty much.”

“What else do we have?” Lindsay asked, trying to be patient.

“We’ve got a comb and a piece of string, an MP3 player, two empty wallets, a driver’s license, and a note from a secret admirer.” Avery opened up the folded piece of paper. “Bailey, this is so junior high. How old are the people you hang out with?”

Bailey huffed. “Wrong again, biker boy. That MP3 player, the receipt, the comb, and the pieces of gum are the only things that I had in my pockets when I was taken.”

Avery turned to Kyle. “Sandy wants to know if you ‘heart’ her and asks you to circle yes or no.”

Kyle snatched the note and shoved it into his pocket. “I wasn’t going to circle anything. I didn’t even know I still had it.”

“Uh-huh,” Avery said. “Well, I don’t know about you guys, but I’m pooped.”

“How can you think about sleeping at a time like this?” Bailey asked. “We could’ve been snatched by sex traffickers!”

Kyle shuddered and wrapped his arms around his knees.

Avery threw the boy a worried glance before he cleared his throat and summoned a lazy smile. “Believe whatever you want, Bails, but don’t go spreading your fear around. It’ll only make things worse.”

“Everyone else is thinking it,” Bailey said, crossing her arms.

“We don’t know that for sure.” Lindsay scooted closer to her brother and wrapped an arm around him. “They could just be desperate lowlifes looking for a pay
day.”

Kyle was too quick to smile. “Yeah. I’m sure you’re right.”

“Kind of gullible, aren’t you?” Bailey muttered.

The boy flushed.

“Let’s not turn on each other now,” Lindsay said, wrestling with her motherly indignation. What’s this girl’s problem? Why pick on Kyle?

Bailey snatched the MP3 player before crawling away. “Whatever.”

“Well, that was dramatic.” Avery stood. “I’m going to find a quiet corner to sleep. Peace out, homies.”

Lindsay rolled her eyes at him and pulled her brother closer to her side. “I’m sorry you have to be here, munchkin.”

“I’m sorry you have to be here with him,” Kyle said, scowling at Avery’s retreating back.

“I’m an adult, hon. I’m perfectly capable of handling my ex.”

“Does it hurt a lot?” Kyle asked. “Seeing him again?”

“A little.” She fidgeted with a loose string on her frayed jean shorts. “But I expected that. I didn’t expect to. . .miss him, though. Not like this.”

“Did you love him?”

Lindsay watched Avery’s silhouette settle back into the adjacent corner of the room. “I did once.”

“Is that why you came back home? Because it was too painful to stay in Laguna?”

Lindsay sighed. “Yes and no. You deserved to know why I ran away to nursing school so suddenly, why I didn’t visit, why I hardly ever called.”

“It was Dad’s cheating, wasn’t it?”

Lindsay gave him an incredulous look. “You knew?”

Her little brother shrugged, staring intently at the dancing flame. “Not right away. After you left, Mom and Dad started arguing a lot. They stopped whenever I walked into the room, but I listened at the door once and heard everything.”

“I caught him having lunch with the other woman,” Lindsay said. “I saw the way he smiled at her. I knew they weren’t coworkers or friends. I confronted him about it later that day, told him to break it off or I’d tell Mom. He begged me to keep his secret. He wanted me to lie to you guys and I just couldn’t do that.”

Kyle nodded. “I understand.”

Her grip around him tightened momentarily. “You okay?”

He scoffed. “Our parents are going to get divorced. Are you okay?”

“No. . .but I’m glad it’s out in the open. Maybe I’ll be able to stay with you and Mom once this is all over.”

If this is ever over,” Kyle said miserably.

“Hey, don’t say that. Mom and Dad will pay the ransom. We’ll be out of here in no time.”
I hope. 
When she woke up, there was light in the cellar and not just the glow from the lamp.

Two men with masks crouched by the fifth hostage, murmuring to each other as they wrapped a clean bandage around her knee and gave her some medicine. A third man stood directly below the opened trap door in the ceiling, guarding the rope ladder. A fourth man stocked a small cooler with ice not too far away from the corner Avery had retreated to. A fifth man tossed a few rolled up sleeping bags onto the floor and eyed Bailey, who slept in another corner. A sixth man pointed the barrel of a gun at Lindsay’s face.

She went cross-eyed looking at it. Then her gaze slid up to meet the bright blue eyes barely visible through the holes in the mask. The heat of anger spread down the length of Lindsay’s body. The beast within reacted. It wanted to kill this man, to tear him apart with its teeth.

The stranger put a finger to his lips and gestured to the gun.

“We could use some hot food and a couple of pillows,” she said. “A little light would be nice too. I get it; you’re trying to scare us senseless by having us wake up to darkness. You’ve accomplished your goal already. Now let’s be adults.”

“Shut up! This isn’t a hotel service,” the man said with only a hint of an accent. He turned to his lackeys. “Hurry the hell up.”

They rushed to do as they were told.

“Leave some extra bandages and painkillers. I’ll make sure your injured hostage doesn’t get an infection and die before her family pays the ransom,” Lindsay said. “I’m a nurse.”

“Didn’t I tell you to shut up?” He hit her across the face with the butt of his gun.

Her head jerked to the side, her neck popping painfully and her whole face throbbing. She slowly turned to look at him, pulling her lips back to expose her fangs. A growl filled the space between them, low and menacing.

The man stepped back. “Holy shit.”

“Jules?” Avery murmured groggily.

Lindsay reined in her anger and shut her mouth, willing the beast to retreat. It wasn’t easy. She was one day closer to the full moon. Pretty soon, she would have no control over it whatsoever. The thought made her stomach clench in fear. I have to get out of here!

Avery sat up, going from sleepy to nonchalant. “Morning, gents.”

The men pulled out their weapons.

Avery held his hands up. “Whoa, calm down.”

Kyle woke with a start and huddled closer to Lindsay. She gripped his hand, heart skipping in her chest. Everything will be fine. Everything will be fine.

“You just scared us, that’s all,” Avery said.

None of the men in masks said a word. They backed away from their hostages, guns raised. It wasn’t until all the men had climbed up the ladder and had closed the trap door behind them that Bailey started crying. Lindsay hadn’t noticed the teen had awakened until Bailey sucked in a long ragged breath and sobbed.

Lindsay reached up to wipe the fresh blood from her face.

“Lindsay, you’re hurt!” Kyle gasped.

Avery scrambled to his feet and ran to her. “Those bastards!” When he was close enough, he reached out to tentatively touch the cut across her cheekbone. There was nowhere else to look but at his face, not crinkled in amusement, not lazy and indifferent, but open and vulnerable and real. It was like turning back the clock to four months ago, when they were still together, when she believed he’d never do anything to hurt her. Pressure built around her throat. The world blurred around his face and then tears cascaded down her cheeks.

“I’m sorry,” Avery whispered.

She could almost believe he wasn’t talking about her cheek. From the way he was looking at her, he could’ve been reading her mind and apologizing for breaking her heart. She turned away and hurriedly dabbed at her tears.

Avery let his hand fall back to his side, adopting a hollow expression. Before anyone could say a word, the unconscious hostage sat up and screamed. Avery dashed over to her. Bailey yelped. Kyle jumped with a girlish shriek. Lindsay stumbled to her feet, ignoring the pain that raced up her shin. It wasn’t sharp enough to send her sprawling but it did slow her down.

“Calm down. It’s okay, it’s okay,” Avery said soothingly.

Her face was frantic with pain. “My knee! Oh, God, my knee! Wait a sec…” She looked around, short hair bouncing. “Where’s Dev? Who are you? What’s going on?”

“D-Dev as in Deveron Bo, the actor?” Bailey raced over to join them. “You’re his girlfriend, aren’t you? Cordelia Ridge.”

“Whoa, Cordi Ridge the model? It’s very nice to meet you!” Avery said.

“Yeah, I’m Cordi. Who the hell are you?” She moved her hands as if to grip her knee, but then paused. Her teary eyes widened. “Oh, God, my knee’s killing me.”

“Just take it easy,” Lindsay said, kneeling beside her and holding out placating hands. “We’re not going to hurt you. Kyle, can you get me some ice?”

Her brother raced to the cooler to obey.

“I want you to breathe deeply and listen very carefully to what I’m going to tell you, okay?” Lindsay said.

The grimacing woman nodded and leaned back against the wall, biting her lip.

“My name is Lindsay Whittaker. I’m a nurse. I’m going to take care of you. We’re pretty sure we’re being held for ransom. Thanks, Kyle.” She took the ice cubes and placed them on the thin blanket lying next to Cordelia. “We should be all right if we keep our heads. Once the kidnappers have what they want, they’ll let us go. I’m willing to bet we’ll be home by tomorrow night at the latest.” Lindsay tore out the section of the blanket around the ice cubes and twisted the ends together. “Hold still. This might hurt.”

Cordelia recoiled from the ice. “Are you sure that’ll help?”

“It’ll make the swelling go down. I promise. ” Lindsay applied little pressure but kept the ice over the model’s knee. “Can you remember anything that happened before you were taken?”

Cordelia nodded. “I was with Dev. We had lunch and then he drove me home. Men in masks jumped out of the bushes as soon as he drove away. They. . .They grabbed me.” Tears streamed down her face. “I struggled. A neighbor tried to intervene, but they shot my knee and threw me over their shoulders before he could reach us. They shoved me into the backseat of a van, where a guy was waiting with a syringe. Whatever they gave me knocked me out and. . .well, now I’m here. What kind of monsters would—?” She noticed the kids and made a strange little sound of outrage. “You poor things! What’re you doing here?”

“Paying for our rich parents’ success, apparently,” Bailey said with an odd chuckle.

“But you’re. . .Kelly Dune’s daughter, right? How did you get kidnapped? Don’t you have your own security guards?”

Bailey sighed. “I have a boyfriend. My mom doesn’t know and neither do the guards. I go to Zumba three times a week and sneak away from the guards before the class is over to visit him. I was leaving his house when those guys with masks took me.” She scowled at her fellow hostages, suddenly defensive. “I wouldn’t have had to sneak around if my mom would trust me more.”

“Parents. They think they know what’s best, but just end up choking the life out of you.” Avery must’ve seen the questions on their faces because he adopted a tired smile. “Not a story you would want to hear.”

“Were your parents abusive?” Kyle asked, serious and curious all at once.

“Not unless you consider abandonment abuse.”

Kyle lowered his gaze. “Oh. Sorry. . .”

Avery forced a smile and stood. “Don’t sweat it, little man. It’s not a big deal. I’m going to go see what’s in the ice chest. Anybody want anything?”

Kyle and Bailey jumped at the opportunity to get some food.

“Bring something for me and Cordi, won’t you?” Lindsay asked, gently rubbing her shin.

Kyle nodded and jogged after Bailey.

Cordelia threw Lindsay a quizzical look. “Why do you think he’s here? I mean, if he doesn’t have a rich family. . .”

Lindsay had no answer for her.


 

To prevent spontaneous combustion:

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B077XYDGKS/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&linkCode=sl1&tag=tirgeapubli09-20&linkId=cb1f31cb67d0f46d8068e258f8860c5c

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B077XYDGKS/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&linkCode=sl1&tag=kemberleeshor-21&linkId=2ddb60b7420ede928c9322fd1d39b5b6

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/764629

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/in-the-dark/id1321654138?mt=11

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/in-the-dark-94

Nook: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/in-the-dark-daniel-fox/1123728398?ean=2940154642689

A lesson on pride

“Adventure is out there,” my husband said Saturday morning, holding his fist out so that I could bump it with my own.

Despite his knee injury, my husband is going hunting next weekend. I’ve tried talking him out of it but to no avail. He’s been planning this trip with his cousin for months and nothing is going to keep him from going. (Unless, by some miracle, his surgery is scheduled before Friday). So Saturday was his prep day. He hobbled around the house, gathering all the supplies he would need on his trip. (“Babe, could you look for my brown and blue boots? I can’t find them anywhere.” “Have you checked the box labeled shoes in the guest room’s closet, love?” “What box?” “Never mind. I’ll go look…You mean these?” “Yeah! Where’d you find them?” “In the box labeled shoes in the guest room’s closet.” Lol.)

Next order of business was getting his rifle sighted in. Instead of paying to go to the shooting range, my husband figured we’d be able to find a secluded spot in the mountains somewhere to shoot for free. So we loaded the truck with his rifle, some targets, shooting earmuffs, and ammunition. After a pit stop at Sonic for Limeades, we turned up Pandora and then hit the road.

“It’s been a while since we’ve been on an adventure,” he said with a grin full of child-like excitement.

Three hours, three “No Target Shooting” signs, and a half a tank of gas later and the  excitement was replaced by annoyance.

“Sloppy shooters ruin it for everyone,” my husband grumbled as we pulled into the shooting range. “They take their old TVs and refrigerators and shoot them up in the wilderness, and then leave the pieces out there for rangers and boarder patrolmen to find. Maybe if they cleaned up after themselves, we wouldn’t have “No Shooting” signs all over the place.”

By happy coincidence, the shooting range was offering to sight in rifles for the upcoming hunting season. My husband had the opportunity to sit with two old timers who knew a heck of a lot more about guns than he did. They had a great conversation about hunting, gun cleaning and assembly.

“I thought they were going to be jerks at first,” he told me as we drove home about an hour later. “The guy told me I had the wrong set up for hunting, talked to me like I didn’t know anything. Turns out, I don’t know anything.” He chuckled. “It didn’t feel to good but I’m thankful we ended up at the shooting range. It was totally a God-thing. He knew I needed to talk to those old guys and get a pride check.”

“Well, hey,” I said, “at least you learned something new.”

“Yeah, but still…my ego’s bruised.”

I laughed. “Oh, I understand. Take it from someone who lives with you, a guy with much knowledge about things I can’t even begin to understand; it’s not easy to just smile and say, ‘Thank you. I didn’t know that.’ But it beats staying upset about it. Be humble, babe. Have a teachable spirit. You learned something new today and are better for it. Now you can pass on that new knowledge to someone else.”

It’s true that when we first got married, I’d get upset whenever he proved to be better at something or know more about something or have a better way of doing something than I did. He’d beat me at cards, prove one of my facts wrong, show me a quicker way to get to work in the morning so that I could avoid traffic, all with a good attitude and good intentions. I’d sit there simmering silently, feeling like a dumb loser, until I could let it go. It took time and God gently tapping on my heart, reminding me that I once admired this man for his skills and his knowledge. If I let my jealousy and inadequate feelings get the better of me, it would poison our marriage. So I worked on praising my husband instead of looking down on myself whenever he proved to be more knowledgeable than me.

I feel I’ve become a better person and a better wife for taking on this new attitude. On Saturday I was able to pass that little lesson on to my husband. It’s amazing how that works. We might not have had that conversation at all if it weren’t for those “No Target Shooting” signs, so I’m thankful for them.

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

A true account

Sunday, 7:45PM:

“All right, babe,” I say as we get ready for bed.

“Tomorrow we get back into our workout routine?” my husband assumes.

“You got it. We’ve slacked off for too long.”

Monday, 11:40AM:

‘So I hurt my knee at work today…’ he texts me.

Doesn’t sound too serious, I think. Maybe it’ll be all better by the time I get home.

Monday, 5:50PM:

“It hurts to walk,” he says as he plays Destiny 2. “I can’t put pressure on it.”

“What?” I gasp. “It’s that bad?”

“Yeah. My boss said to go to urgent care if it doesn’t feel better by tomorrow morning.”

“So how does this work? You’ll get up tomorrow at the same time you always do, get out of bed, and if you can’t stand, I take you to urgent care?”

“Sounds about right.”

I try to remain calm despite the ringing in my ears. “Okay.” As soon as my back is turned, I text everyone I know and ask them to pray.

Tuesday, 3:45AM:

The alarm goes off. I crack an eye open to watch him crawl out of bed. He tries to put weight on his injured knee and collapses back into the mattress with a groan.

Looks like we’re going to urgent care…

I throw the blanket off and hurry around the bed to help him.

Tuesday, 4:00AM:

“Can you grab my shoes?”

“Yes, love.”

“Oh, and a hat too, please?” His hair is so long and unruly; he’d rather cover it up than try to fix it.

You’re so cute. “All right. I’ll be back.”

“Don’t forget my wallet.”

“Yes, dear.”

“Oh, babe? Can you get some socks too?”

“Here you go.”

“Um…” He holds out the right sock. “Can you give me a hand?”

I suppress a smile as I bend down before his injured knee and carefully slide the sock over his foot. I can see myself doing this in the future, when he’s old and has arthritis or something. In sickness and in health…

“I’m sorry I’m such an invalid,” he says with a sheepish smile.

“Don’t worry about.” I’m supposed to take care of you, silly. I’m your wife.

“Your car is too low to the ground. I don’t think I could get in or out of it,” he says. “Are you going to be okay, driving my truck?”

The thought makes me nervous, but I say, “It should be fine.”

I sit in the driver’s seat, scooted all the way back to accommodate my six foot two hunk. I scoot it forward and adjust the mirrors. I’m tiny when compared to him. The key slides timidly into the ignition. With a roar, the truck comes alive and rolls out of the garage. It’s still dark outside.

“If you were the one injured, I could just carry you,” he murmurs, using me as a crutch to get to the idling car. “I’m sorry you have to do this.”

“Stop saying sorry. You’re fine.” At least, I hope you’re fine…Please, be fine.

Tuesday, 6:30AM:

“We couldn’t find anything on the x-ray,” the doctor tells us.

My husband sits in a wheelchair.

I swallow hard. My rock, my bear, my safe place…in a wheelchair. It’s almost painful.

“We’re going to schedule an MRI but it could take up to two weeks.”

My husband exhales. He hates getting MRIs.

“If your knee heals on its own, we’ll cancel the MRI,” the doctor continues. “I’m going to give you a prescription for naproxen and a muscle relaxant in the mean time. The muscle relaxant you’ll take before you go to bed. It’ll help you sleep.”

“Thank you,” my husband and I both say.

Tuesday, 7:00AM:

My husband leans on his crutches as he talks to the nurse at the front desk. I watch him from the other side of the waiting room. He nods, accepting the papers she hands him, and then starts ambling carefully toward me. I jump up and hurry over to take the papers from him.

“Thanks. I have physical therapy tomorrow,” he says.

“What time?”

“After work.”

I blink in surprise. “But you’re not going to work.”

“I might.”

“You should be resting,” I protest.

“I need to work,” he says seriously.

I bite my tongue and hold the door open for him.

Tuesday, 7:45AM:

A headache is building behind my eyes and across my forehead.

“Are you going to work?” my husband asks as we wait in the drive-thru for our breakfast.

“I don’t know. There’s technically nothing wrong with me. Now that you’re on crutches, you don’t need me as much anymore…But I am tired.”

“Do you have any vacation days left?”

“No, but I have sick days.”

“It’s up to you, hon.”

I glance at the clock in the radio. “Well, even if we got home right now and I rushed to get ready, I’d still be late. And I don’t feel like rushing.”

“So stay home with me.”

“All right. I’ll stay home.”

Tuesday, 9:00AM:

“I’ve got your drugs,” I say, setting them down over the counter. “Do you want to take anything right now?”

“I’ll take some naproxen,” he says, his eyes on the TV screen.

I wait until he’s done battling robots before I hand him the pill. He swallows it dry and smiles.

“Thanks.”

I love you.

Tuesday, 12:15PM:

I reach across from him to place a soda on the chair he’s using as an end table. “Need anything else?”

“Not right now.”

“All right. Let me know when you’re hungry.”

Tuesday, 1:30PM:

“What did you say was for lunch?”

“I have chicken thawing in the fridge,” I say. “I can fry it for you and make mashed potatoes or I can make you a salad.”

His mouth works for a moment as he processes his options. “Neither sound really appealing right now…”

I chuckle, reading his code. “Would you like to order in, love?”

He grins. “Pizza sounds amazing.”

I whip out my phone and start the order.

Tuesday, 7:00PM:

I lower the book and poke him in the side. “Hey, are you falling asleep on me?”

“No,” he says drowsily.

“I’m almost done with the chapter.”

“I’m listening,” he insists, eyes closed.

I smile and continue reading out loud from The Order of the Phoenix.

Wednesday, 4:00AM:

“I’m taking my phone off of do-not-disturb mode,” I tell him, handing over his lunch box. “If you need anything, call me, okay?”

He puts his lunch in the passenger’s seat and gives me a kiss. “All right, babe. I love you.”

“I love you too.” I close the door and step back.

Please, keep him safe, I pray as I crawl back into bed.

Wednesday, 11:00AM:

My phone buzzes on my desk and I flip it over to check the text. Finally, he answered my text from this morning.

‘Yes, babe. I did get to work okay.’ Smiley face.

I breathe out a long sigh of relief and text back. ‘Was it hard to drive?’

‘Not really.’

‘That’s good! What did you do at work?’

He tells me and I smile. I was worried they wouldn’t find anything he could do while sitting down. I can’t wait to see him.

Wednesday, 5:35PM:

“How was physical therapy?” I ask, falling into the couch beside him.

“It was all right I guess. Painful. Oh, and there are little pieces of bone floating around in my knee.”

“What? I thought the doctors couldn’t find anything on the x-ray.”

“Well, the physical therapist took another look at the x-ray and said he saw what looked like pieces of bone floating around my knee.”

I shake me head. “How…?”

“No idea. The therapist thought the bone pieces could’ve been there since I tore my ACL and had surgery to fix it.”

“Wow. Okay. So how are we going to get those out?”

“I don’t know,” he says with a shrug. “But they’re not going to do anything until I get an MRI and they can confirm that’s the only problem.”

I lean back into the couch. Lord, have mercy on my baby.

Wednesday, 7:10PM:

“What if you have to have surgery on your knee again?”

“Then we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. You just have to trust God in these situations.”

He says it so easily! I roll over to press my cheek against his chest. “What if it takes you months to recover?”

“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”

“What if–?”

He gives my hand a squeeze. “We’ll be fine, babe.”

I shut my eyes. I want to believe, God, but I’m so afraid. Help me not to be.

Thursday, 3:55AM:

The truck’s lights disappear around the corner as I pull the trash cans out to the curb. I want to go back to sleep, but the dishes are piling up. I plan on making fried chicken and potatoes for dinner. If I put it off until I get home at 5, it won’t leave me much time to hang out with my husband before we have to go to bed again. I could make it all now, put it in the fridge, and just reheat it when I get home from work. I amble into the bedroom for my glasses. The world sharpens into focus and so does my mind. Squaring my shoulders, I march into the kitchen and start the day.

Suddenly I’m…busy?

A quick update on my once boring life:

My classes Planning the Novel and Intermediate Fiction have me writing and reading more than all my past Creative Writing classes combined. The Planning the Novel class includes student workshops so I’ll be submitting some chapters for my classmates to critique in the near future. I’m excited to get feed-back on my novel-in-progress, The Andromeda’s Ghost. I still can’t get over the fact that I get to create fiction (you know, something that I love to do) and turn it in for a grade! I wish I could’ve skipped all the other boring subjects and jumped right into this after I graduated from high school. (No offense to people who actually enjoy History, college Algebra, Biology, and/or Public Speaking classes.) This is what I was meant to do. Despite the overwhelming work load, I’m glad that I’m taking these classes. It’s like how I image most people feel after a good work out: tired but proud of themselves.

Things at work have picked up as we begin Fall Bible studies. More calls, more appointments, more little projects that need help being completed. The quiet summer is officially over.

I just approved a book cover and finished doing a round of copy edits for I Dare You to Love Me. According to my content editor, the manuscript still needs to go through two more rounds of editing before it can be ready to print. It’s always exciting to see my stories taking shape when I’m working on them, but this is a different kind of excitement. I know this book is actually going to be seen and purchased by others. This one is going to make it to the other side, or so to speak. I can’t wait to share it with everyone. In the mean time, I’m getting tons of good advice from my book marketing specialist concerning my social media accounts. After staring at the computer screen with a puzzled/nauseated look on my face for a half hour and clicking on random things to see how this “Professional Facebook account” differs from a personal one, I finally finished my author’s page. I still have to figure out how to make a professional Instagram account and a Goodreads account, so I feel behind.

I saw a sample book cover for In the Dark yesterday and it’s looking great! It just needs a few more tweaks and I think it’ll be ready. Edited to Add: I just heard back from my editor. She’s going to start doing edits on In the Dark this week. Hopefully, I’ll be getting the manuscript back soon!

Bragging about my books and myself is really hard! I’m still struggling to be okay in the spotlight. But I’m taking this one step at a time. Maybe, someday, it’ll come naturally to me. Thanks to all of you faithful readers, retweeters, commentators, followers, friends, and family. You are SO appreciated!

Publishing Updates

Last week, I signed a contract with Inkitt to publish my young adult fiction novel, I Dare You to Love Me. It was a challenging decision for me to make because I had been given the opportunity to Revise and Resubmit this manuscript to an acquisitions editor from Filles Vertes Publishing. I wanted to remain loyal to that editor; she’d given me a second chance along with some invaluable constructive feedback. But after seven weeks of silence from her, it was time to move forward. I never thought I’d have to send a rejection letter. I’ve received enough to know how to write a cordial one, but it still wasn’t fun. All I can do is hope she’ll understand why I decided to accept Inkitt’s offer.

Just before this, I received word from Tirgearr Publishing that they decided to publish Asta and the Barbarians after they publish In the Dark! So now all of my completed manuscripts are going to be published. (Insert girlish shriek of excitement here).

The publishing schedule for my novels is as follows:

I Dare You to Love Me — October 2017

In the Dark — January 2018

Asta and the Barbarians — April 2018

Inkitt is giving readers the opportunity to receive a free ebook copy of I Dare You to Love Me on launch day. If interested, click here.

It’s still hard for me to believe. Everything’s been happening so fast. I’m exhilarated and proud and humbled and thankful and terrified all at once. Have I mentioned that already? Well, it’s worth mentioning twice! I don’t know what these next few months are going to be like. I’m taking three writing classes this semester, working full-time, and trying to finish another manuscript. There doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day to get these novels ready for their publication dates, but I’m sure I’ll come up with a new routine as things develop. It’s just like the beginning of a school semester. Looking at the syllabus and the assignments that are going to be due, it overwhelms me. But, so long as I take it one week at a time, it’s manageable. At the end of each semester, I’ve been able to look back and think, “Well, that wasn’t so bad.”

Everything I’ve done for my manuscripts has led up to this point. It’s real now. It’s go time. I can’t wait to get started!

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.