Excerpts

Unmoored by Justine Alley Dowsett – Part 2 (of 6)

Part one of this short story is here. If you want to know more about the author, click here. If you’d like to learn more about the novel Uncharted for which this is a prequel to, click here. Otherwise, read on!

“Poker’s a Lord’s game,” Dagan sneered as he turned his seat over to the stranger. “Do you even know how to play, Renaud?”

“How hard can it be?” Renaud demanded jovially, noting the barest of smiles on the face of his new opponent. “Watch and learn, Dagan, watch and learn.”

The newcomer busied himself shuffling the cards he fished out of his pocket, but Ginny was quick to put a stop to that. “We don’t allow people a chance to cheat here, mister.” The round-bottomed barkeep slid a fresh deck of playing cards onto the table. “You use house cards or you take your game elsewhere. This is a reputable establishment.”

The man scowled but didn’t hesitate in swapping his own cards for those provided to him. That’s why I love coming to this place. Gives everyone a fair shake. Renaud watched the man shuffle again and deal the cards out, keeping a close eye out for foul play. Hmm, he either wasn’t planning on cheating in the first place, or he’s all set to rely on his skill as a poker player to best me. Either way, that means he’s going to be a challenge, and I’m already what, three drinks in? Four?

I’ll just have to make my new friend catch up!

They played for a couple of hours, Renaud plying his newfound friend with drinks while drinking less and less himself. Dagan watched for the first hour, but thankfully wandered away when neither side was making much headway against the other. Renaud wasn’t daunted, however. He still had winnings left to bid, and as it turned out, it didn’t take ‘Lord’ Christian Vellaire long to lose himself to liquor.

“An Ismeran Lord, eh?” Renaud clarified. “What brings you to the Crow’s Nest? I thought lord-types usually stayed up at the big house on the hill.”

“Turrell Manor? Not my style, friend,” Christian replied. “I just came from the Casino in Wilkesport.”

“All the way from Welland?” Renaud exclaimed. “That’s a long trip, but it does explain how you’re so good at poker!”

Renaud had learned from his wife, a minor Ismeran noble herself, but there was no sense in telling his opponent that.

“Yeah,” Christian slurred. “I won a boat my last night there. Decided to take her up the coast, but I don’t know the first thing about sailing!” He laughed. “Cost me more to hire a Captain than it did to win the damn thing.”

A boat. Renaud sat up straight at the word. Does he mean a ship? A real ship?

“Oh?” Renaud aimed for nonchalance and fell just shy of it. “What kind of boat?”

“Oh, you know,” Christian shuffled and dealt the next hand as he spoke. “One of those tall ships. Not very large, but a proper boat and not a fishing vessel, I made sure of that!”

Renaud put his hands flat on top of the other man’s cards before he could pick them up. “If it’s a Captain you’re looking for…” he said with all hint of triviality gone.

Christian narrowed his eyes shrewdly, despite the large quantity of drink he’d consumed. “I’ll tell you what. I’ll bet my boat against everything you’ve got left there; winner keeps all.”

“Are you serious?!” Renaud looked down at his pile of winnings, which really had grown somewhat since he’d started playing against Christian and hadn’t been inconsequential to start with. Still, it paled in comparison to what a real ship would cost him.

“As a sword through the heart,” Christian told him. “You see, the real reason I wanted that boat was a fast trip out of Southern Ismera. Things are heating up down there, with Vance Chappelle struggling to hold the throne he stole. I didn’t want to get conscripted, or killed,” he added with a conspiratorial wink, “by either side.”

“So you came to Turrellin, which has declared neutrality,” Renaud finished for him.

“That’s right,” Christian nodded, “and now I’ve got no reason to be paying to dock, nor man, a boat I have no intention of using again. So,” he moved Renaud’s hands away from his cards so he could pick them up, “you win this next hand, and the tub’s all yours.”

Come back next week (or subscribe to this blog) for part 3!

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The Terrible, Mighty Crystal by Sharon Ledwith – Part 8 (Finale)

If you’d like to start at part one and read the whole thing, click here. Then, when you are all caught up, keep reading! 

“Welcome back, Shu-Tu,” Thoth whispered. “You’ve been asleep for well over a week.”

Shu-Tu cringed. Her eyes fluttered open, then started to move around in their sockets. “W-Where am I?”

“Safe.” Thoth brushed away the hair from her brow. “That is all you need to know for now.”

Then, she remembered everything. Shu-Tu sat straight up, her head and back ached, but she ignored the pain. Trying to focus in on Thoth’s red-bearded face was a little like watching a butterfly in a strong wind—not impossible, but not easy either. She sensed her eyes move back and forth, back and forth, back and forth until they crossed. A vision flashed through her mind.

She gasped. “Segferd…he’s—”

“Dead.” Thoth finished for her. “Yes, I know. There was a full moon the night before last. He got caught during an earthquake near his family’s compound by the ocean, and the ground just opened up underneath him. Apparently, Sonl is still looking for his son’s body.”

Shu-Tu wanted to smile, but didn’t. “What of the firestone Amiee took from me?”

“I’m sure it will become the terrible, mighty crystal while in the hands of the House of Beliar,” Thoth replied, shrugging. “But that is not your concern anymore.”

“Aimee and Segferd, they…they left me for dead in that crystal room.” Her chest tightened.

“The Hall of Illumination, to be exact,” Thoth said.

“Is that where you found me?”

“Yes,” he replied, brushing wrinkles out of his red robe.

Thoth stood to pour a cup of water from the silver pitcher next to her bed. The sound of gurgling made Shu-Tu lick her dry lips. “Here, drink this. You need to get your strength back.”

Shu-Tu took a few gulps, and wiped her chin. “What happened to Khem?”

Thoth frowned. “Who is Khem?”

“The baboon-headed hybrid we met inside the Hall of Illumination.” Shu-Tu closed her eyes to stop them from spinning. “He told us you gave him your rod.”

“You mean this rod?” Thoth asked, reaching behind his back.

Shu-Tu opened her eyes and stared at the golden rod topped with a baboon’s head. The smell of floral-scented incense calmed her, and she nodded. Her eyes started moving faster again, up and down, side to side, until they crossed. Startled, Shu-Tu looked into Thoth’s sapphire eyes, and drew in a deep, sharp breath.

“Khem,” she whispered.

Thoth placed a finger on her lips, and winked. “That’s our little secret.”

“But, why did you bring the firestone to the Hall of Illumination?”

Thoth sighed. “To test you, Shu-Tu. You passed. Unfortunately, Amiee and Segferd did not, and will now have to live with the consequences of their actions. I believe Segferd already has paid his price, as you predicted.”

“The price that I paid and have to live with, it’s why my eyes are like this, isn’t it?”

“You are a seer now, Shu-Tu,” Thoth replied, taking the cup from her to fill again. “I will make sure you get the best training possible.”

Her eyes moved again, then stopped. She reached out to grab Thoth’s sleeve. “I see now it was wrong of me to wish my father alive again. I was in a sad, dark place. Forgive me.”

“There is nothing to forgive if you’ve acted out of pure love,” Thoth said, kneeling. “Remember, Shu-Tu, all things have life, and that nothing is truly dead. There is always motion, and everyone and everything moves at a different speed.”

Shu-Tu grinned. “Like my eyes?”

“Precisely.” Thoth laughed, then gently patted her arm. “Now get some rest. I’ve made arrangements for you to leave for the Temple of the Sun by the new moon.”

Shu-Tu reached for his large hand and squeezed it. “Thoth?”

“Yes, Shu-Tu?”

“I have something to ask before I leave my old life.”

He raised a grizzled brow. “Then, ask.”

Shu-Tu’s eyes juggled around, moving this way and that way, then crossed. “What is a Timekeeper?”

Thoth smiled and tweaked her nose. “A matter not yet revealed, Shu-Tu.”

The Terrible, Mighty Crystal by Sharon Ledwith – Part 7 (of 8)

Have you been keeping up with this serial short story? If you’re just getting started, Part 1 is here. If you want to learn more about Sharon Ledwith, here’s her website. Sharon Ledwith has two great series worth checking out. This short story is a prequel of sorts to her The Last Timekeepers time travel series. The character of Shu-tu reappears in Legends of the Timekeepers.

Amiee rushed after Shu-Tu, tackled her to the stone floor, and then straddled her thin body. Shu-Tu hit the back of her head, yet still held the firestone tightly to her chest. A sharp pain went up her neck while Amiee tried to wrestle the six-sided crystal away from her, bashing her back against the cool, hard stone floor. Suddenly, Shu-Tu lost her grip and the firestone was in Amiee’s possession.

“I…I saved you from the wyvern, and this…this is how you repay me?” Shu-Tu wiped away her tears. “How…how could I have been so blind not to see this side of you or Segferd?”

“I wouldn’t worry about it, Shu-Tu.” Amiee smirked wickedly. “In a moment, you won’t be able to see anything.”

Amiee raised the firestone over her head and whacked Shu-Tu in the middle of the forehead. A pain she had never known before seared through her eyes to the back of skull and down her spine. Shu-Tu started twitching as soon as Amiee got off her. Suddenly, she felt her eyes move around and around, as if they were immersed in a goblet of water. Warm liquid, she knew was her own blood, dripped down the sides of her face. Panicking, Shu-Tu slapped the cool stone floor repeatedly, trying to fight off the pain, trying to understand what was happening to her. She sat up, roughly wiped away the blood from her face, and placed both hands over her eyes. Shu-Tu’s skin tingled all over. She could feel her eyes moving quickly, spinning around in their sockets, juggling and bouncing, until they both crossed. Her purpose, the reason why she had been born, everything became crystal clear. Her sight became her insight, her sacrifice became her gift.

Shu-Tu inhaled deeply, and pointed at Amiee. “You will bear a dark-hearted son named Belial who will teach Atlantis to worship pleasure and ease over love and respect. Unfortunately, Amiee, you die during childbirth, and will never know him. And you—” she pointed to Segferd, her eyes spun around and around “—were responsible for preparing a tainted crystal pellet to give to your father to poison the water my father drank. That is the reason why you away from class last week. You, Segferd, will be swallowed by the earth by the next full moon.”

“Have you gone mad, Shu-Tu?” Segferd asked, squeezing the rod.

“By the looks of her spinning eyeballs, I’d say she’s half-way there,” Amiee said, snickering. “Maybe you should put the poor child out of her misery, Segferd.”

He nodded sharply just as the ground started to shake again. The crystals above vibrated to such a degree of high intensity, Shu-Tu swore a chorus of the best singers in Atlantis were in the room with them. She reached out to stop herself from shaking. Surprisingly, she wasn’t afraid.

“If you both want to live to use the firestone for your noble acts, I suggest you leave now,” Khem said calmly. “I will take care of Shu-Tu for you. After all, hybrids are here to serve.”

Segferd shoved the rod’s forked end under Khem’s throat. “Now you’re getting the idea, baboon-breath. Kill the girl with this rod and leave no trace of us being here, or you’ll wish you were never created.”

Khem put his hands together. “As you wish.”

Segferd sneered, then tossed the baboon-headed rod at Khem’s feet. Shu-Tu jerked at the metallic clanging sound.

“Come on, Segferd!” Amiee yelled from the bottom of the stairs. “Let’s get out of here before the chamber caves in!”

The last thing Shu-Tu heard was the sound of hurried footsteps running up the granite stairs before the world as she knew it turned pitch black.

The Terrible, Mighty Crystal by Sharon Ledwith – Part 6

Here’s part one. Here’s Sharon Ledwith. Then, keep reading…

Shu-tu’s throat tightened. “H-How do you know me?”

Segferd stepped in front of her. “What trick are you playing here, hybrid? We don’t know you, and you don’t know us!”

“Don’t I, Segferd?” Khem asked, smiling and exposing a fang.

“Listen, hybrid, you better not be threatening us,” Amiee said, clenching her fists. “My brother and I are from the House of—”

“Beliar,” Khem cut in. “Yes, yes, I know. Is that supposed to impress me, Amiee?”

Amiee’s fair face turned ashen. Khem dipped his human hand into his pouch and pulled out a glittering six-sided crystal, the likes Shu-Tu had never seen before. The rainbow colored crystal, about the size of a small pomegranate lit up Khem’s features, making him look more human, than baboon.

“This is my price,” Khem said, holding up the six-sided crystal. “The only price you will pay is the consequences of your actions. The rule of the game is simple. I get to ask each of you the same question, and whoever has the best answer gets to keep this firestone.”

Amiee gasped. “A-A firestone?”

“How do we know it’s real?” Segferd asked, his mouth falling open.

“You’ll have to take the word of a hybrid, I guess,” Khem replied, shrugging. “But then again, seeing is believing for you humans. Here, hold my rod, Amiee, and I’ll prove that I’m telling the truth.”

Without the staff she threw at Khem, Shu-Tu watched Amiee limp over to grasp the golden rod. A sheen of sweat on her forehead attested to her pain. Amiee grimaced as she gripped the rod, and leaned against it for support. The forked end of the rod scraped against the rock and sent shivers up Shu-Tu’s spine. Khem waved the firestone over her ankle, and chanted an old Atlantean prayer nine times before he stopped.

“Walk,” Khem commanded.

Amiee grunted. “This is ridiculous, I—” She paused, putting weight on her foot. “T-There’s no pain anymore. It’s like I never twisted my ankle.”

Khem nodded. “The curative powers of the firestone have restored your body.”

Amiee glanced at Segferd, then back at Khem. “I’m in for the game.”

“Me too,” Segferd said, nodding.

Shu-Tu’s heart raced. “What else can the firestone do?”

Khem puckered his baboon lips, twisting them one way, then the other before he said, “Whatever you wish. It was one of six harvested from the mighty crystal. Very rare. Very special.”

“Go on then,” Amiee said with urgency. “Ask your silly question.”

“Very well, I’ll start with you, Amiee,” Khem replied, strumming human fingers against his chest. “For what purpose would you use this firestone?”

Amiee licked her lips. “I would use the firestone to benefit all Atlanteans by surrendering it to the high priests and priestesses of the Temple of Poseidon to help promote divine knowledge.”

Khem scratched his hairy chin. “How very noble. What about you, Segferd?”

Segferd straightened. “I would use the firestone to harness the forces of nature and put a stop to the earthquakes that have plagued our country for thousands of years.”

“Now that’s what I’m talking about!” Khem snapped his fingers. “Shu-Tu, your response better top Amiee and Segferd’s answers.”

Shu-Tu swallowed hard, and said, “I…I would use the firestone to bring my father back to life.”

She swore she heard Amiee titter. Segferd coughed.

Khem frowned. “I see. You know what you want to use this firestone for goes against the Law of One’s plan, don’t you, Shu-Tu?”

She hung her head, her eyes began to well. “I told you the truth. That’s how I would use the firestone.”

“So, which one of us wins the game?” Amiee asked, banging the rod against the stone floor.

Segferd rubbed his hands together. “Yes, who is your choice, hybrid?”

“Very well, you all played my game fairly, so I must choose a winner.” Khem held out the firestone to Shu-Tu. “It’s all yours, Shu-Tu.”

“What!” Amiee screamed. “Y-You can’t be serious! You said it yourself, hybrid, no one must tamper with the will of the Law of One’s plan!”

“Oh, a sore loser, I see,” Khem replied. “You played the game, you lost. I liked Shu-Tu’s answer the best.”

“But…my answer would have saved so many people,” Segferd blurted. “Shu-Tu only wants one life saved.”

Khem shrugged. “A life that matters to her, one she loves unconditionally.”

Shu-Tu stared at the beautiful firestone in her hands. Rainbow swirls of light danced off of it, warming her body through to the core. Khem reached out to touch her cheek, and she shivered. “Your father awaits you,” he said, pointing toward the altar.

Shu-Tu’s jaw dropped. “M-My father is the body under the shroud?”

“Something is wrong here,” Segferd said, scratching his head. “Why would a hybrid have your father’s body?”

“This is all Thoth’s doing isn’t it?” Amiee asked, pointing the forked end of the rod at Khem’s throat. “Tell us where he is or I’ll spear you!”

“No, Amiee!” Shu-Tu yelled, clutching the firestone to her chest. “Wait until I revive Father!”

“You’re father is dead, and he’s not coming back,” Segferd said, his voice void of emotion. “Give us the firestone. The House of Beliar will use it for the highest good of Atlantis.”

Khem clapped. “Now this is getting interesting!”

Shu-Tu backed up toward her father’s body. “No. I won fair and square. I will use the firestone as I see fit.”

Amiee tossed the rod to her brother. “Watch the hybrid! I’m taking that firestone!”

Shu-Tu’s eyes widened as Segferd grabbed the rod in mid-air and pointed it at Khem. “Go make father proud, sis.”

It’s Launch Day! The Mystery on Lost Lagoon by Rita Monette is here!

This is it, Nikki fans! Nikki and Snooper are back for a fourth adventure in the Nikki Landry Swamp Legends series and this time they are investigating some strange pre-historic sightings on Lost Lagoon! Beautifully written and illustrated by the talented Rita Monette, this series is one not to be missed!

LostLagoonCoverFINAL

Legend has it… if you go onto Lost Lagoon, you never return.

 

Nikki Landry and her friends are off on a quest to track down the prehistoric-looking bird that’s been flying around a nearby swamp island. However, their plans get sidetracked when they meet a stranger in their small town who seems to have some secrets to hide.

 

The sleuthing group soon learns of a legend about a hidden lagoon. Is it all connected? Before they can find out, they are kidnapped by a mysterious scientist on a mission of his own.

 

Is there any truth to the legend that says if you go onto Lost Lagoon, you will never return? Is the eerie whirlpool that sits waiting to suck you in really a passage to another world?

 

Join Nikki, her friends, and one neurotic parrot, as they discover the truth behind the Mystery on Lost Lagoon.

 

Follow the Book Tour:

https://saphsbookpromotions.blogspot.com/2017/11/schedule-mystery-on-lost-lagoon-nikki.html

 

Book Details:

 

Age Level: 6-12

Publisher: Mirror World Publishing; 1 edition

Publication Date: November 17, 2017

ASIN: B076TVWSZ7

 Purchase from Amazon

 Purchase from Mirror World Publishing

 

Read an Excerpt:

 

The August air was steamier than a pot of boiled crawfish. Tiny bugs danced like fairies on the gumbo-colored bayou. Cypress trees on a nearby swamp island dipped their moss-draped branches into the still water, trying to stay cool. I had been sitting in my new tree house for days, trying to catch a cool breeze and pondering on how to turn a plain old fort into an official club house, when I decided what it needed most of all was furniture. My friend Spikes had come over to help me build some. He was pretty good with tools.

 

“I saw that strange bird again.” Spikes stood beside me with a hammer in his hand.

 

“What bird?” I asked, busy with trying to arrange some old boards in the shape of a table, just before they collapsed into a heap. “Drats!” I folded my arms in front of me.

 

“You have to lay them on the floor, Tomboy,” he said. “We need to nail them together first.”

 

“So you have to build it upside down?” I wiped the sweat off my brow with the back of my hand.

 

Spikes’ real name was Spencer Sikes, but I’d never heard nobody call him that ’cept for his grandpa. He was twelve years old, a whole year and a half older than me. I couldn’t imagine being almost a teenager. Me and him argued a lot, but we always stayed friends. He told me once he only liked me ’cause I wasn’t like other girls, and could climb trees, and didn’t mind getting dirty. He sometimes called me Tomboy instead of my real name, Nikki.

 

He grinned, showing his broken front tooth. “Yeah.”

 

“We need some nails.”

 

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of bent nails. “I was over at my grandpa’s yesterday. We took a boat ride out to Flat Lake, and I saw it flying around Pelican Pass, see.”

 

“Saw what?”

 

“The bird.” He sounded annoyed. “You know, the one that makes that screeching sound. The same one we saw over in Mossy Swamp.” He sat on the floor and began straightening the nails by laying ’em on their sides and tapping ’em with his hammer.

 

We had gone out to Mossy Swamp back in June trying to find out about a legendary monster, when we saw a big bird swoop down and make a horrible noise. Spikes had been bringing it up ever since…and I had been trying real hard to ignore him.

 

“Oh yeah.” I twirled the hair at the end of my braid. “The one you said looked like a dinosaur or something.”

 

“A pterodactyl,” he added. “Actually, the real name is pterosaur, see, which is a species of flying reptiles. So technically it isn’t a bird at all.”

 

“Why do you read all that stuff?” I sat on my bare heels across from him.

 

“It’s just interesting.” He squinted at me like it should be something I should be curious about.

 

Spikes was not very good at school work, and barely passed his classes, but he loved to read when it was something that caught his interest. In fact, he could become pretty darned obsessed on a subject he liked, usually ghosts or pirates. Seemed his new obsession was prehistoric creatures.

 

“So, what about it?” I asked, stacking my boards to the side. “I ain’t caring about no reptile-looking bird, unless it was to come after me or my dog.”

 

“I watched it fly in and out of the pass near Rabbit Island. I think it must have a nest near there,” he said, still banging on his nails. “And actually…according to a book I got from the library…their average wing span can get a little over twenty feet.”

 

“How big is twenty feet?” I asked, still not much caring as long as it stayed in the swamp where it belonged.

 

He looked around, then pointed. “Oh, longer than your houseboat, there.”

 

I poked out my lips. “You’re telling a fib, Buzzard. It wasn’t that big at all.”

 

“Well, it might just be a young one,” he said, “and you know what that means?”

 

I didn’t answer. He could go on and on forever, like he had something caught in his craw.

 

Buzzard was a nickname I gave him on my first day at Morgan City Elementary. He looked just like one sitting up on that great big branch of the coolest tree in the school yard. It was our first argument, on account of I had already claimed that branch for my own lunch spot. He learned real quick that I wasn’t the type to give things up that easy, and since nary one of us like to be called names, we only did it to annoy each other. Sometimes we could go for days using each other’s rightful names.

 

“That means its mama might be lurking around out there in that swamp, see.” His eyes got real big, like he actually wanted it to be so.

 

I gazed at him sideways. “Spikes you do know those things are extinct, don’t you? Miss Allgood taught us all about the dinosaurs last year. She said they’ve been gone since the Ice Age. That means it got too cold for ’em to survive. So there.”

 

“Well, I ain’t saying it is prehistoric or anything.” He nailed the boards together. “I just said it looks like one.”

 

“Oh, I see. Well, it’s probably just a big pelican anyway. Hey, can we stand the table up yet?”

 

“Not yet. We need braces on these legs so it won’t fall down. Go over to Nana’s shed and get me a couple smaller boards while I straighten some more nails out.”

 

Rita-studio pic cropped-croppedMeet the Author:

 

Behind Every Legend Lies the Truth!

Rita Monette was born and raised in Southwest Louisiana. After retiring from her “real” job as an administrative assistant for the State of Michigan, Rita began doing what she always wanted to do…write and draw. Her stories are set in the beautiful, yet mysterious, bayous and swamps of her home state. The Mystery on Lost Lagoon is the fourth book in her Nikki Landry Swamp Legend series, which is based on her childhood. Rita now lives with her husband, four lap dogs, and one lap cat, in the mountains of Tennessee.

 

Connect with Rita:  

Website: 

http://www.ritamonette.com

 

Facebook: 

https://www.facebook.com/RitaMonetteBooks/

 

Amazon US: 

https://www.amazon.com/Rita-Monette/e/B00APOURBI/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1508786247&sr=8-1

 

Goodreads Author Page: 

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6580833.Rita_Monette

 

Blog: 

http://ritamonette.blogspot.ca/

The Terrible, Mighty Crystal by Sharon Ledwith – Part 1

You are in for a treat! While we read through submissions, you get to read a short story in roughly 10 parts by the talented and prolific Sharon Ledwith, author of The Last Timekeepers series and now the Mysterious Tales from Fairy Falls series. This short story is a prequel to her fantastic time travel series and we’re sure you’re going to love it! Here’s part one:

 

“Please, children, don’t stand too close. The frequency will be too much for your young minds to handle,” Thoth said, waving a long, golden rod topped with a fashioned baboon head.

Shu-Tu stood at the back on her tippy-toes behind her classmates, trying to catch a glimpse of the large six-sided figure known to her people as the mighty crystal. All around them a sparkling metal—the color of storm clouds—lined the walls of the massive domed building to protect and ensure Atlantis’s safety from the crystal’s unpredictable vibratory forces. But even knowing this, Shu-Tu’s scalp prickled incessantly. She craned her neck. Heads—some the size of melons—bobbed up and down in front of her, obscuring her vision. She set her jaw, reached out and grabbed a fistful of red hair belonging to a tall girl with hunched shoulders, standing in the front row. Shu-Tu yanked hard.

“Ouch! Let go, let go!” the girl yelled, stumbling back.

“What goes on here?” a human-animal hybrid with the head of an ibis demanded. “The Crystal Dome is a place of respect!”

Shu-Tu pursed her full lips to one side. Her green eyes swept over the lowly hybrid—a servant of their teacher, Thoth. The hybrid’s long, hooked beak, beady yellow eyes, and s-shaped white-feathered neck moved back and forth in vigilance. Human hands gripped the looped end of a crossed-shaped ankh made of pure orichalcum—the sparkling copper-colored precious metal mined only in Atlantis. The hybrid ruffled his neck feathers, and made a severe clicking sound with his beak.

Shu-Tu shook her head. Her ivory tendrils swept across the back of her neck as she said, “I’m well aware of that. I couldn’t see, so I took care of the problem. There is no disrespect in trying to see my teacher.”

“See, no. But causing harm to others is not respectful, Shu-Tu,” Thoth said, moving through the group of parting students. “And what you give out, you get back, so in essence you are disrespecting yourself, young lady.”

“But…Shu-Tu has a point, Thoth. I couldn’t see either,” the brown-haired girl next to Shu-Tu blurted. “Someone had to move that red-headed giant out of the way.”

Few students giggled, but most remained silent.

“I was not speaking to you, Amiee.” Thoth wagged his rod at her.

“Shall I escort these two trouble-makers outside, Master?” the ibis-headed hybrid asked, bowing.

Thoth turned, making his dark, red robe swirl around his towering frame. “That won’t be necessary, Djeuti, unless…”

“Unless, what?” Shu-Tu interrupted, inclining her head.

“I do not hear an apology coming out of both your mouths,” Thoth replied, his sapphire eyes staring down at them.

 

Death Takes the Highway by David McLain – Part 8 of 9

You can find Part 1 here. Find David McLain here. Or check out his novel, The Time Traveller’s Resort and Museum  in either paperback, hardcover, or ebook. Then, keep reading!

It took them about twenty minutes to get the tire off and put on the spare. (William was pleased to discover that they had a full-sized spare. He could only imagine that a dough-nut on the MG probably would have been about the size of a life saver.) They found their way back to the highway, and drove off toward Oklahoma City. They took a room at a Holiday Inn in Tulsa. Death promised that they would make it to New Mexico the next day, which meant leaving the last dregs of winter behind them.

By day break the next morning both William and Death looked like men in the prime of their lives. The gray was mostly gone from William’s hair and the crinkles around his eyes had disappeared too. His nose was less bulbous than it had been three days ago, and his eyebrows looked less like a national forest. He tried to put his pants on. They were too big.

“Look!” he said, and he held out the waste of his pants so that Death could see how big they were. “And I owe it all to you!”

“Mine too,” Death said, smiling. “Have you got a belt?”

“I do,” William admitted. “But they’re going to look stupid.”

“So, get rid of them,” Death suggested.

“How’s that?” William asked.

“You’ve got two other pairs, tear those up. I’ll do mine too. We’ll go hit the pool.”

They cut their pants off at the knee and used them as trunks, then went down to the pool. They swam a few laps, and then got into the hot tub. After what felt like a year in the cold car, it felt good to sweat. William got out of the jacuzzi feeling young and wonderful. They ate a light breakfast and got on the road. By mid-day, they were rolling through the plains of north Texas.

The flat plains of Kansas had made the night sky seem almost impossibly big, as if you were going to slide off of the planet, but this was nothing compared to the open skies of Northern Texas. It was a beautiful day, the heavens were filled with fluffy white clouds, and the air felt clear. At a rest stop, Death and William took off their coats. William tried to stick his in the trunk, but Death shook his head.

“We should dump them,” he insisted, and he put a hand on his shoulder.

“What, in the trash?” William said.

“Gloves and hats too,” Death said.

William didn’t understand. A part of him was still an old man who had spent a life time collecting odds and ends, and the idea of simply chucking away a perfectly good coat seemed ridiculous to him. “Are you sure?”

“You won’t need it,” Death said.

“We could give them to the Salvation Army,” William suggested. “Something.”

“No one wants the clothes of a dead man,” Death said. “And no wants my coat, period.”

They got back into the car. It took them until evening to cross into New Mexico, and even then, it would be another several hours before they made it to Albuquerque. Still, the weather was nice, and for the first time they found themselves rolling down the windows in the MG, and letting the cool air roll into the little car. Death found some jazz on the radio, and they told stories about all the places in the country that they’d been to. (In Death’s case, he’d been everywhere.) They got as far as Tucumari, a little way station in the middle of the New Mexico desert. They ended up spending the night at a youth hostel, where for little more than the change in their pockets they slept on the floor of a tepee in a pair of borrowed sleeping bags. Will was surprised at how warm it was. In the morning, they woke up with the daylight, and bathed in water provided by a hot spring in the ground. Anyone who looked at William and Death would have seen two men in their mid to late thirties- tall, lean, well built, in the best part of their lives, with middle age about to come on them. William’s high forehead might bother him one day, but that day was still several years off, and the very slight touch of gray at Death’s left temple suited him. Looking in the mirror that morning a thought came over William, one he hadn’t had in a long time- he was handsome. He wouldn’t have liked to admit it, but in his heart, this struck a chord, and for a moment he remembered the arrogance of youth- when the world seemed to be made for you to conquer, and reshape, and make into your own. The owner of the youth hostel probably wondered if they were gay, but never asked, presumably considering herself above such petty interests. They got in the car and drove west, toward Albuquerque, Arizona, and the American Desert.

People from Arizona were always eager to tell you how cold it was during the winter, and while William could see their point, these people hadn’t usually spent most of their lives in the frozen northeast. They pulled the car over in a dry plain on a mountainside, and took a whiz in a patch of pine trees.

“You want to race?” William asked.  He was lying in the dry Arizona grass, staring out at the horizon. There was a stretch of about a hundred yards of even ground in front of them.

“What do you mean, a foot race?” Death asked, and then he added. “I’ll win, you know that right?”

“Who says?” William asked.

“Everyone in the history of planet earth,” Death pointed out.

“I don’t care,” William admitted. “I just want to run. I haven’t run in years. I think it would feel good. I remember when it used to feel good just to run.”

They lined up, and ran, and William cheated, and Death fell, and he lost. “I’ll get you eventually,” he said, and he raised his hands up like a specter and went “OOOOOOOooooooo.”

By the time they pulled into Flagstaff that day William had lost all sense of age. He was, he figured, roughly two or three years younger than he’d been when his daughter was born, and younger still than she was now.  The world felt big and exciting, and William wanted to be a part of it. He wanted to mix up with things, he opened up and let out a mammoth scream celebrating his existence and the world and everything that is and everything that was.

“How do you feel?” Death asked. They were eating French Toast and milkshakes in a silver bullet diner that had probably been built in 1928.

“I feel great,” William said. “Better than I have in- well, just better. I feel wonderful.”

They had both taken off their sweatshirts, and were wearing t-shirts and jeans. A young waitress with black hair and breasts that smile had taken their order and was eyeing either Death or William, but they weren’t sure which one.

Death Takes the Highway by David McLain – Part 6

My apologies for this being the only post this week. I’m just recovering from a short illness. As always, you can find part 1 of this short story here. Or if you like David McLain’s style, please consider his hilarious time travel fantasy, The Time Traveller’s Resort and Museum

Then, keep reading… 

They stopped for dinner in Gary, Indiana, at a place that specialized in Fried Chicken. William felt better than he had in weeks. Checking his reflection in the bathroom mirror, he noticed that his eyes were clearer looking, and that his shoulders looked a little broader. His hands were distinctly less gnarled, and his fingernails didn’t have that yellow quality that they’d had in recent years. He looked like a man of seventy, maybe sixty five. Death looked better too. They looked less like two men at the end of their lives, and more like two guys in their golden years who were enjoying life. There was no doubt about it, the car might be going forward, but the miles were rolling back.

“Where are we staying tonight?” William asked.

“We’re near the city,” Death said. “I thought we’d find someplace nice.”

They stayed in a beautiful hotel in Downtown Chicago, where their room had a giant flat screened television and a little kitchen. They had a few drinks and some dessert in the hotel restaurant before heading upstairs. A young waitress with crooked teeth took their order, and was very nice to them. William found himself in a good mood.

“You’re a good guy,” he said to Death after his second drink.

“Thanks,” Death said.

“Most people don’t like you,” he added. He probably shouldn’t have said this, but it seemed like a fairly obvious point.

“It’s never a good day when I come around,” Death said. “But that isn’t my fault.”

“Is this just what we do now?” William asked. “Drive around from place to place, having a good time?”

“No,” Death said, and he had a serious look on his face. “This is merely the journey.”

This sobered William up a little. “Then what comes next?” he asked.

“You’ll see,” Death said.

In the morning William was pleased to see that some of the hair had filled in on the top of his head. It wasn’t so much that you’d notice, or really care, but it was nice to see. Some of it, he noticed, was brown instead of gray. The veins which had seemed so close to the surface in his hands and his feet seemed more subdued.  Death was still getting younger too. They got up early, had breakfast in the hotel, and headed for downtown Chicago.

Death was clear that they didn’t have a lot of time to waste, but Chicago is a beautiful city, so they stopped and went to the art museum. William had never been there before, and he enjoyed wandering around, looking at priceless works of art. Somewhere in between an Edward Hopper painting and a Suerat, William thought of something.

“All these painters,” he whispered so that only Death could hear. “They’re all dead?”

“Yes,” Death said, “I suppose that they are.”

“So you met them all?”

“At one point or another,” Death reflected.

“How’d they take it?” William asked.

Death considered this. “Most came quietly. A few fought tooth and nail. One or two grinned at me like I was a long lost relative. I tell you one thing though- none of them seemed surprised.”

“Is that so?”

“Not even the ones I had to drag out of bars,” Death said. “Although I suppose if you spent that much time in bars, you shouldn’t be surprised.”

They spent the morning looking at paintings, then had lunch at a tapas restaurant downtown. William had never had tapas before. It was nice. After that, they headed south, toward Saint Louis.

Sneak Peek at Mirror’s Deceit

As you may or may not be aware, Murandy Damodred and I have finished writing the third in the Mirror World series. The series begins with Mirror’s Hope, which you can find here. The story continues in Mirror’s Heart, here. But now, you get to learn everything from the beginning as the third book, Mirror’s Deceit, takes the form of a prequel set in the Mirror World.

Here’s the blurb:

She’s destined to change the world. Her rival has made a desperate flight to the past to stop her…

In a seeming utopia, Mirena, a gifted student of majik, is on the verge of graduating from a secret college that will give her a leg up in her political career, when her achievements are overshadowed by the arrival of a mysterious woman with an unknown agenda. Desperate to keep what she sees as her rightful place in the spotlight, Mirena goes to astounding lengths including taking it upon herself to pose as a double agent to investigate a rebel force plotting to destabilize the government. Unfortunately, her actions cost her the trust of those around her, so when she is proclaimed the Dark Avatar of the Destroyer, she finds she has nowhere to turn.

Mirror’s Deceit is currently being reviewed by beta readers and is set to be released early in 2018, but I thought I would give you a sneak peak by sharing a scene from chapter one. Here goes:

Mirena hit the ground hard. Rocks dug into the side of her face and her hands stung fiercely where she’d scraped them by instinctively trying to break her fall, even though there was no way she could have anticipated it. Her stomach lurched with the impact as she tried to fight off a wave of disorientation and nausea that threatened to overwhelm her.

A horn sounded. Two quick blasts. Despite herself, she counted them. I made it! I’m home.

She struggled to sit up. The air around her filled with the sounds of doors and windows being flung open as every person in the Stoa rushed to see who had arrived in the courtyard of their hidden College for talented Magi. Mirena grinned; her expression half grim determination and half hard-won pride. She forced herself the rest of the way to her feet and pushed the remaining nausea aside as nearly sixty students and half a dozen staff members barrelled down on her.

The cheering started as soon as they saw it was her and that she was on her feet and relatively unharmed. Mirena’s grin grew wider. I passed my exam in record time. Only four years study to make it to this moment, where most people take decades. The Mentor is going to be so impressed!

The gathering crowd parted to let the aging Mentor pass uninhibited. With his presence, the noise died down, slightly. The grey-haired Mentor smiled at the sight of her, leaning heavily on his cane as he alone out of all those gathered made his way down the steeply curving steps to stand just outside the sizeable ring of tall standing stones.

“Well done, Mirena,” he very subtly drew upon his majik to enhance the volume of his voice so all could hear him praise her.

Mirena beamed and starting running the minute the words were out of his mouth. She crossed between two stone pillars and flung herself at the Mentor, careful to throw her slight weight at him on the opposite side from where he held his cane, so he’d be able to keep his footing.

There was a collective gasp from the crowd that subsided as they realized the Mentor was still standing. “Whoa, there!” he called out, catching Mirena in one arm. “I know you’re excited, but you’re not done yet!”

“I know, but I’ll do the next part with no problems! You’d expect nothing less from your number one student…” She winked at him.

The Mentor shook his head. “Remember what I told you; rushing into things will only lead to a job half-finished. You have to look before you leap.” He put a hand under her chin to lift her blue eyes up to his before tilting her chin to the right. “I dare say that you wouldn’t have gotten these,” he noted the cuts the rocks had left on her cheek, “if you’d been more prepared to make the trip through the Sentinal Stones.”

“I would’ve been more cautious, but I was being chased by a large winged monster!” She exclaimed, stepping back from him so she could wave her arms emphatically. “I had to think fast and perform under pressure, so a slightly bad landing should be understandable…”  

“Tall tales, Mirena?” the Mentor asked, but his tone was light and his words kind.

“No, really. It’s true, it got my back with its claws, see?” She turned slightly to show him the claw marks that marred her left shoulder and the blood that she could now feel running down the length of her simple white dress.

Now it was the Mentor’s turn to gasp. He called back over his shoulder for someone to fetch the Healer.

“It’s okay, I’m fine. Just let me finish my test.”

He furrowed his brow momentarily, but when the Healer didn’t immediately manifest in the crowd, the Mentor had no choice but to step to the side and gesture for Mirena to continue. Nodding once and taking on a serious expression, she faced the spot where the Stoa’s headmaster had been standing moments before and applied her concentration to a line cut into the stone in an impossibly straight fashion.

That line was made by generations of Magi passing this test before me, including last person graduate four years ago; Terrence Lee. He only beat me in total time by a few days at most… I guess it’s not too bad to be second best when you’re being compared to the youngest and most talented Panarch in history!

Mirena returned her focus to the task at hand when she realized that everyone was now waiting expectantly. Everyone is watching. I can’t afford to fail. I have to concentrate!

She furrowed her brow, unconsciously mimicking the Mentor’s usual expression. Feeling the wind in her hair and the moisture riding on it from the nearby crashing of waves against the island on which she stood, Mirena took hold of her majik and felt the power of it build within her. She deftly added strength from the earth at her feet and some heat from the sun at her back and then she added what she liked to think of as the ‘secret ingredient’; a tiny piece of her own essence, her soul. Aiming it all at the space before her, directly above the tell-tale crack, she bent reality to her will and forced it to obey her. Two matched silver rings made up of all the elements spun in the air more expertly controlled than even the best circus performer could have managed, and with a sudden snap they locked together in place and between them she saw herself… from behind.

Mirena grinned once again, showing teeth this time. Opening a portal in front of you to travel to a spot within your viewing takes a great deal of concentration and skill. Let’s see what they all think of that!

The watching crowd gasped in a most satisfying way. Mirena went to take a bow while still holding the portal open with her majik just to prove that she could, when she took note of the Healer rushing down the stone stairway. Why is she running? I’m not hurt that bad… Can’t she see that?

But the Healer didn’t stop at her side, she brushed past her. Mirena whirled to follow the woman with her eyes, dropping the portal spell in her distraction. Behind her in the center of the circle of Sentinal Stones lay a woman dressed in a short light blue dress over black leggings. At first glance she looked to be unconscious and badly hurt; much worse than Mirena had been on her own landing.

Mirena’s first thought was that maybe she wasn’t the only one to pass her test today, as unlikely as that concept was, but she quickly realized that she didn’t know this woman. She wasn’t a student or a teacher from the Stoa, she was a stranger. It’s possible she didn’t know what she was doing. Perhaps she activated the Sentinal Stones by accident, which happens from time to time. Though usually not here…

As Mirena pondered the incident she felt the Mentor brush past her, followed by two other members of the faculty.

“Don’t crowd around!” The Mentor called out, his voice still amplified above normal volume by his majik. “Give her some room. It looks like whatever journey she’s taken to get here has taken a lot out of her. Hemora,” he addressed the Healer, “you’re in charge. Just let us know what you need.”

As the teachers made room for the Healer, Mirena got another glimpse at the mysterious stranger who had stolen her thunder. Despite the bruising on her face and scrape-marks similar to Mirena’s own, the woman appeared to be about Mirena’s age and very pretty with porcelain-coloured skin and long hair so dark it was nearly black. No sooner had she noted these details did the woman’s eyes open suddenly. They were deep blue and piercing and despite all the people in the courtyard and within the shadow of the tall standing stones, the stranger’s eyes locked onto Mirena’s own and held them.

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Justine Alley Dowsett is the author of eight novels and one of the founders of Mirror World Publishing. Her books, which she often co-writes with her sister, Murandy Damodred, range from young adult science fiction to dark fantasy/romance. She earned a BA in Drama from the University of Windsor, honed her skills as an entrepreneur by tackling video game production, and now she dedicates her time to writing, publishing, and occasionally roleplaying with her friends.

 

The Hunting Dog by Rita Monette – Part 2

Find Part 1 here! Or find Rita Monette’s Nikki Landry Swamp Legends books here!

Me and Lydia sat in her tree house and talked about her cat and my dog until I heard Papa driving up the gravel road. I ran to meet him as fast as I could. I took a quick gander into the back of his truck, then followed him inside where mama had lunch on the table. I had some more begging to do.

“I’m heading back to old man Lowry’s first thing in the morning,” Papa said before I could even open my mouth.

“Ain’t that the man you got the dog from?” Mama asked as she set a glass of milk in front of me.

“That old coot sold me a bum dog,” he said.

“A bum dog?” I asked. “What does that mean?”

“Took him out this morning and all he did was lay on the ground,” he said. “Woods full of rabbits and coons, and he just laid there.”

“Maybe he didn’t feel like hunting today,” I said.

“Dog’s no good I tell you.” Papa took a big bite of fried chicken, then continued to talk with his mouth full. “He’s going back tomorrow.”

“No!” I jumped and ran outside and to the cage in the back of Papa’s truck.

Snooper sat crouched in the crate.

I opened the door and reached inside.

The brown and black and white dog licked my hand. Then he scooted toward me and stuck his cold nose to my face.

I giggled. “You’re not a bum dog,” I said. “You’re a good dog. And I’m keeping you.” I put my arms around him and carried him up the pier and to the deck.

“Nikki,” Mama shouted as she opened the screen door to meet me. “Where are you going with that dog?”

“I’m keeping him,” I said.

Papa jumped up and stood next to Mama. “No you’re not. I’m getting my money back for that no-count dog.” He stepped outside, took Snooper from me, then carried him back to the truck.

I ran up behind him and stuck out my lower lip. “His name is Snooper and he ain’t no-count.”

Papa glanced at me, and his wrinkled forehead smoothed out a bit. He chuckled, then his frown came back. “Tadpole, you can’t have the dog and that’s final.” He grabbed my hand and led me back to the house and the table.

I flopped down into the chair, but I wasn’t hungry. I looked sideways at Mama. “What if Mama says I can?”

Papa kept eating.

Mama kept eating too.

I glanced from one to the other for a sign of caving in.

“You can’t have a critter in the house,” she said without looking up. “With the baby on the way and all.”

I blinked. “What baby?”

Papa stopped eating. “A baby?”

“Yes, we should have it by Fall.”

“Is it a boy or a girl?” I asked.

Mama laughed. “We don’t know yet.”

“I hope it’s a girl,” I said. “But why can’t we have a dog and a baby too?”

“This place is too small,” Mama said. “If you do keep him he’ll have to stay outside.”

“I can keep him!” I jumped up and ran for the door.

I didn’t say you could keep him!” Papa yelled at my back as the screen door slammed behind me.

“That girl,” I heard Papa say.

“She’s of your making,” Mama said.

I carried Snooper to the door and put my nose against the screen. “Can he stay inside until Papa builds him a bigger pen? That cage is way too small.”

“Good grief, Nikki,” Mama said. “You sure are persistent.”

“I am not,” I said. “I took a bath yesterday.”

Papa laughed out loud. “Hard headed, Nikki. Your mama means you are hard headed.”

“Well can he or not?” I asked.

Mama put her head into her hands. “Just until Papa builds him a pen. And only until then. He has to be out by the time the baby comes.”

I opened the door and set Snooper down on the floor. “You’ll be sleeping in my room, Snoop.” I looked up at Papa and Mama. “For awhile anyway.”

I reached into my plate and grabbed a piece of food and handed it to him. He gobbled it up real fast. He must have been starved.

“And no feeding him from the table,” Papa said. “There’s some dog food out in the truck.”

“And you are responsible for any mess he makes, young lady,” Mama said.

“Yes ma’am!” I sat on the floor and put my arms around my new dog. “You won’t even know he’s around.”

That was four years ago.

My baby brother, Jesse, was born in November, and Snooper still sleeps with me. Unless he’s sleeping on the floor, or the deck, or the grass. He just likes to sleep…when he’s not helping me solve legends that is.

 

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Rita Monette was born and raised in Southwest Louisiana. She loves to write stories set in the beautiful, yet mysterious, bayous and swamps of her home state. She is currently retired and lives with her husband, four lap dogs, and one lap cat, in the mountains of Tennessee. Besides writing and illustrating, She enjoys participating in festivals and craft shows where she does face and body art, along with selling her books.