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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.

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Death takes the Highway by David McLain – Part 5

Find Part One here. Find David McLain here. Find his novel, The Time Traveller’s Resort and Museum here.

Then keep reading…

The room they stayed in had been a smoking room at one point, and still smelled faintly of cigarettes. They watched an old movie on television, and went to bed relatively early. At two AM, William woke up. He noticed that Death snored like a chainsaw. ‘I could just run away,’  he thought. ‘What would happen then? Maybe I’d be a ghost.’

There is nothing better for a person than a good night’s sleep. William woke up around eight o’clock. He’d been dreaming about the town he’d grown up in. ‘I guess you still dream after your dead,’ he thought. ‘Good to know.’

Death was in the shower while he woke up. He came out wearing a towel. “Good night’s sleep?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Will said.

“You look better,” Death pointed out.

“I died yesterday,” Will said.

“Anything is better than that,” Death said. “Take a shower, I’d like to make it to Chicago today, and we should stop and get you some clothes, maybe a toothbrush if you’d like.”

Will went and took a shower. The water felt delicious. He dried off with a white fluffy towel. It wasn’t until he got out of the shower that he saw it.

He didn’t notice it at first, since the effect was subtle. The mirror was foggy, and Will was a little out of the habit of paying close attention to his physical appearance. As he dried his hair though, he noticed it- you could see it around his eyes. The skin was just a little bit tighter, and his eyes were a little less watery. His hands didn’t seem quite as arthritic as they usually were, and his back hurt less than usual. He smiled. His teeth looked better than he remembered.

“I look better,” William said, astonished, as he came back into the room.

“Sure,” Death said, which was when Will noticed the second thing. Death was a little thinner today around the middle, and there was just the slightest wisp of black hair. There was no doubt about it- they were younger.

“Does this happen to everyone?” William asked.

“It’s different every time,” Death admitted.

“What now?” William asked.

“I’m pretty sure that the diner we ate at last night will sell pancakes,” Death said. “Why don’t we get some?”

So they got pancakes, which were delicious. The same waitress who had waited on them the night before took their order. Afterwards, they found a cheap department store, where they bought some clothes. Will had no idea where they were headed, or how long they should pack for, but he tried to keep it light, since the MG had a trunk roughly the size of a bread basket. He wondered if maybe he was supposed to buy funeral attire, but Death didn’t seem to care. He settled on a few T-shirts, a couple of pairs of jeans, and a few other necessities, including a small dufflebag. They got back on the road and headed west again. By the end of the day, they’d be in Illinois.

They cut quickly through Northern Pennsylvania and went straight on to Ohio, which had always struck William as little more than an endless suburb. The ride went well, although after three or four hours on the road, William would find that his back got stiff and he needed a break, so they would find a spot to get out and stand up, maybe grab a meal or at least a drink, before getting back out on the road. The car had the radio that it had rolled off the production line with, which meant there was little to listen to other than the occasional AM talk radio station, so Death bought a little transistor job at a truck stop, so at least they could listen to the news as they headed from town to town. The country was flat, and the road was straight, which meant that there wasn’t much to look at, but it was a little warmer than it was yesterday, and the sky was blue. They were near downtown Cleveland when William caught a glimpse of the gray waters of Lake Erie stretching out to the north.

“Can we stop?” he asked Death.

“For a few minutes,” Death said.

They got off the highway and took a look. It was relaxing to sit there and stare at the water, neither the man nor the supernatural figure said much, they just stood and stared. “Somewhere out there my daughter is making arrangements for my funeral,” William thought. “She’s probably picked out some sort of funeral home. I hate those places. I should call her and tell her to have me cremated.” Somehow he knew that Death would think that was a bad idea. He tried to put his daughter out of his mind.

Death takes the Highway by David McLain – Part 4

The story continues… (You can find Part 1 here if you missed it.)

It was an Indian Casino. Not a very big one, nor very prosperous, but it was big enough to have a nice buffet restaurant attached to it, where a waitress sat William and Death down at a table in the corner, and invited them to help themselves to fried chicken, and macaroni and cheese. She didn’t seem to know or care that William was dead, or that he was being accompanied by Death itself. In fact, they seem to fit in pretty well with the casino’s clientèle. Most of the gamblers looked like they were in their late sixties and early seventies- some even looked older than William was. They ate mostly in silence. Death didn’t seem like much of a talker.

“How do you feel?” Death asked.

“Better than I have in weeks, maybe months,” William admitted.

“That’s usually the way,” Death said. “Once you get used to it, most people feel better.”

“They feel better dead?” William asked.

“I’m not saying you won’t miss things,” Death said. “There’s a lot you’re leaving behind. Usually though, at some point, most people say to themselves ‘O.K. I’ve had enough.’ That’s when it’s time to move on.

“It doesn’t feel real,” William admitted.

“It won’t,” Death said. “Not at first,” he paid the bill with a credit card. William wondered if it would be an all black Mastercard or have ‘666’ as the card number or something, but it was a perfectly ordinary bank card. So far, Death seemed almost pedestrian.

“Let’s go,” Death said.

They got back in the car, heading west again. It was still colder than blazes, although William had gotten used to the stick shift. It was strange, driving such a tiny car. In another life William might have expressed concern about driving something so small on the highway, but what did it matter now? It wasn’t like being jack-knifed by an eighteen wheeler would kill him. (In fact, he wasn’t sure what it would do. Leave him like some sort of zombie maybe? He didn’t want to ask.) He drove cautiously, in the left lane, till a little after dark, when Death finally told him to pull over.

“Right here? By the side of the road?” William asked.

“No, no. At the next exit. There’s a Super 8 just off the highway. We’ll get a room. I don’t like driving at night in the winter, unless I have to.”

They pulled over and parked in front of the motel. They were somewhere near the Pennsylvania border, but where exactly William wasn’t sure. The hotel was manned by an enormous man in a polyester shirt, who looked simultaneously tired and dull, as if being forced to wear a polo with his company logo on it and having to smile at strangers was a form of brain death. They took a double room on the first floor with a window facing the dumpster of a neglected Chinese food restaurant.

“You want Chinese for dinner?” Death asked.

William thought about it. Then he did something that he thought he would never do again- he made a choice. “I saw a diner down the road a little bit. Let’s go there.”

So they did. William ordered the turkey club, and Death had a steak, extra rare. The waitress, like everyone else, didn’t seem to think there was anything strange about them, although come to think of it, she didn’t give them much of a look either. It was shortly after they ate their food that William started asking questions.

“So I’m dead?” he asked. He looked around as he said it, like he was talking about committing a crime. The diner was almost empty and the waitress didn’t seem like she would care if he lit his pants on fire. Still, it didn’t seem like the kind of thing you wanted to announce to just anyone.

“Yes,” Death said.

“I don’t feel different,” Will admitted, although on reflection, that wasn’t true. He definitely didn’t feel like he did when he was dying. That was awful.

“You won’t, at first,” Death said. “It’s a lot to take in all at once.”

“There were a lot of things I wanted to do before I died,” William said. “Things I wanted to do, and say.”

“I know,” Death said. “There always are.”

“I guess that’s the way things work,” Will said. Truth be told, he usually had a hundred different things that he wanted to on a weekend that didn’t get done, there didn’t seem to be any reason that dying wasn’t going to be any different. “It’s just hard to believe,” he added.

“I’m sure,” Death said.

“I worked hard, all my life,” Will said. “Some years were good. Some were bad. I left my daughter a little bit of money. That was good, right?”

Death said “That was good,” but he didn’t look like he felt anything about it, one way or the other.

“If my life was about work, and progress, and family,” William said. “Then what is this about?”

“Moving on,” Death said.

Bewitching Hannah by Leigh Goff is here!

Remember Disenchanted? Well, Leigh Goff is back with another witchy tale. This time, it’s full of magic and mayhem and if you’re a fan of urban fantasy, I promise, you won’t be able to put it down! Leigh Goff’s newest masterpiece launches today, so without further ado, you can read all about it! (And, use promo code FEATURE this month in our store to get $3 off the ebook or the paperback!)

Being a witch is the last thing she wants…

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Sixteen-year-old Hannah Fitzgerald has always known she is descended from a troubled legacy of magic. Although a stranger to her coven in Annapolis, she is no stranger to grief and denial. However, when an ancient prophecy reveals the rise of a young, powerful Chesapeake witch and the impending death of another, she realizes she can no longer afford to suppress the magic that has taken away so much. She seeks out the frighteningly scarred, yet mysterious W, a Calvert descendant who is destined to change her life, but even he cannot prepare her for the danger that lies ahead. Engaged in a deadly game without knowing who her true rival is, Hannah isn’t certain she will survive, and if she loses she may lose everything, including the ones she loves.

 

Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance, Urban Fantasy, Witches

Saphs Book PromotionsFollow the tour to read reviews, exclusive excerpts, guest posts, and book spotlights: https://saphsbookpromotions.blogspot.com/2017/09/virtual-book-tour-schedule-bewitching.html

 

And here’s an excerpt:

Lightning flashed, followed by a rumble of thunder, jolting me alert. A tempest churned over the Chesapeake Bay and was rolling toward town. I stared at the clouds, ready to calculate how much time we had before the rain hit. Another bright flash of white-hot lightning forked across the purplish-black sky. One, two…twenty.

 

Boom.

 

The storm was at least four miles away. I pressed a hand over my chest, feeling the thumping slow.

 

I glanced at Aunt J, who was no longer bopping her head to the bad music. Instead, she blinked over and over, and rubbed her eyes with one hand.

 

“If you’re tired, I can drive.” Who needed a license when I’d already mastered a moped along with the Green Briar golf carts?

 

Her slender fingers searched for me as if I were a ghost she could only hear. She grasped my arm tightly.

 

“Hannah?” Panic drenched her voice.

 

My eyes widened. “What’s wrong?”

 

“I can’t see. I mean, I see something, but it’s not the road. What’s wrong with me?”

 

I peered out the windshield. A distant telephone pole grew bigger as her foot stuck to the accelerator.

 

A frightening swell of adrenaline flooded my veins, sending my heart into a frenzy. “Stop!” I yelled, but she was frozen with fright. I grabbed the steering wheel and threw my leg over to jam on the brake pedal.

 

It was too late. Absolute silence fell over us in the grim second before we plowed into the pole. My lower body slammed into the dashboard while the seatbelt squeezed hard against my ribs. Metal groaned. White bubbles deployed. Glass shattered with a scream. Or maybe the scream was mine. The car groaned to a halt with a hiss and clank.

 

Stillness settled over us. My head was reeling as I checked myself for injuries. Bursts of pain sparked from my chest and leg.

 

“Hannah?” Aunt J’s quivering voice reached out.

 

I pried my eyes open. She had escaped her seatbelt. Her lips and hands were trembling, but I saw no blood or broken skin. Inwardly, I sighed with relief.

 

“Are you okay?” she asked.

 

I sucked in a shallow breath. “Me? Fine,” I managed, not wanting to stress her out, but I struggled to breathe and my left leg was wedged under the intruding dashboard.

 

She reached over, wiping her hands across my cheeks and forehead, dusting away crumbs of glass. She touched her trembling fingers to the seatbelt release and pressed on it, over and over. “Come on, dammit. Let go.”

 

I pushed her hand away, restraining a whimper. “It’s okay. Go get help.”

 

She nodded and with a hard push, shoved her door open. “I’ll be right back.”

 

A heavy silence fell over the car’s interior until a hiss sounded from the engine. Within seconds, the smell of burning oil seeped in through the vents.

 

One toxic breath went deeper than I meant it to. “Ow!” I coughed and writhed beneath the unyielding seatbelt like a five-year-old having a tantrum. Panic swept over me as I struggled for freedom.

 

Stress vibrated deep in my gut. Self-soothe, self-soothe, I reminded myself. The air grew thicker with burning oil and a starburst of pain wracked my body. I was going to die. Unless…

 

No. How could I even think it? There had to be another way because what if I couldn’t send it back? What if it took me to the same terrible place it had taken them?

 

I peered out the windows, searching. There was no one. I turned my focus on the glove box. Maybe Aunt J kept a knife in there or a pair of floral scissors. I pushed the button hard, again and again. Jammed. My heart raced.

 

A burst of smoke puffed into the car’s interior. I coughed and closed my eyes. The pressure on my leg intensified and the sickening fumes filled me with dread. Eff it. I balled my hands into fists.

 

I recalled the spell I’d overheard my dad utter once. I recited it in my head before casting, making sure I had it right. “By the power of fire, I do summon and churn, and call thee forth to blaze and burn.”

 

I stopped breathing, trying to sense any changes. I felt no different. And then it filled my core like a warm sphere of energy. Quickly, the power expanded into a blazing inferno. My back arched, pressing me harder into the seatbelt as my internal fire surged. Every cell jolted awake. My heart pounded out of control as I imagined channeling the smoldering energy. Suddenly, my hands tingled with intense power. I swallowed hard and aimed my fingers at the strap. The fiery threads trickled out in a wiggly pattern until I steadied my hand. The seatbelt burned orange, then cooled to black before separating.

 

Purchase Links:

Mirror World Publishing eBook: https://mirror-world-publishing.myshopify.com/collections/young-adult-fiction/products/bewitching-hannah-ebook

 Mirror World Publishing Paperback: https://mirror-world-publishing.myshopify.com/collections/young-adult-fiction/products/bewitching-hannah-paperback

Amazon:http://amzn.to/2vtH056

 Kobo:https://www.kobo.com/ca/en/ebook/bewitching-hannah

 Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/bewitching-hannah-leigh-goff/1126756568?ean=9781987976311

 

Leigh Goff-150 RETLeigh Goff, Writing Enchanting Ever-Afters ♥

Leigh Goff grew up in Maryland where she resides today. Her writing is inspired by an eclectic childhood, a vivid imagination, and compelling historical events. After taking several writing courses in college and attending professional writing workshops after she graduated from the University of Maryland, she joined the Maryland Writers’ Association and Romance Writers of America.

Connect with the Author: Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LeighGoffAuthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/leigh_goff

Amazon US: http://amzn.to/2vjgNpt

Goodreads Author Page: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/9819621.Leigh_Goff

Blog: http://leighgoff.com/blog/

Publisher Website: http://www.mirrorworldpublishing.com

Author Website: http://leighgoff.com/author/leighgoff/

 

Death Takes the Highway by David McLain – Part One

You may recall us featuring some short stories. Here’s a quick list to where you can find them:

The Hunting Dog by Rita Monette
The Queen’s Intent by Justine Alley Dowsett
The Arranged Marriage by Justine Alley Dowsett
The Eye of the Storm by Justine Dowsett

And now, we bring you Death takes the Highway by David McLain, author of The Time Traveller’s Resort and Museum

Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.

-Emily Dickinson

Although no one knew it, William Hershel was going to die at three fifty-eight on January the thirteenth, at Wilson Hospital in Johnson City, New York, just after his daughter stepped out of the room for a minute to go to the bathroom and freshen up a little. The hospice nurse would tell her that this was very common. In as much as people had a choice, and it wasn’t really clear that they did, they seemed to choose to die when their relatives were out of the room, even if there had been someone with them all day, and they had only been left alone for a few seconds. It wasn’t clear why they did that, but the nurse said she had seen it time and time again.

If anyone had asked William Hershel, at say, three fifty four on that same day, why people choose to die during that one moment when they were alone, he would have been glad to tell them. It was for the same reason that you closed the door when you were going to the bathroom, or taking a shower, or making love. When we are forced to show our biological side, we prefer to be alone. Since the age of fourteen, William Hershel’s daughter had closed the door while brushing her teeth, she could hardly expect William to shuffle off his mortal coil while she watched, for goodness sake. If his wife had been there, that might have been different, but William Hershel had no wife. He’d been married once, but that had been over for almost a decade, and his ex-wife had declined to visit him, which was just as well. That left him dying, at three fifty-fifty eight on January the Thirteenth, exactly two weeks shy of his eighty-first birthday.

To look at him was less like looking at a man, and more like staring at an empty husk. His body was broken, his bones were gnarled, his hair was gone. His teeth were rotten, and his organs were failing quickly. There were tubes coming out of every conceivable part of him, and he smelled terrible. Dignity had been the last thing to go, but when it had gone, it had left completely. All you had to do was take one look at him, and you knew it was time. He had heard his daughter making the sorts of plans that you didn’t want to here being made about yourself. He knew that she had been in touch with a funeral home, that she’d talked to the hospice nurse about what would happen next. He’d heard her say something about how he’d worked hard, so very hard, all his life.  He knew that she had her own life and she wanted to get back to it. He felt bad that he had taken up so much of her time these past few years.

In real life, last words are rarely significant in any way whatsoever. In fact, in modern medical terms, just being able to say last words often meant that you were not really ready to die just yet. The closest thing William Hershel had to last words was an unheard gurgle at roughly three fifty-five. It was indicative of a small amount of air leaving his lungs as his organs shut down.     

     ‘I’m still here,’ William thought. ‘I’m still here.’

It is, or at any rate, it should be, a great privilege to be coherent during the last few minutes of your life, and, technically, William Hershel was. He hadn’t opened his eyes for three days, but nonetheless, his thoughts were still there. When his daughter had held his hand and cried earlier that day, he’d felt it and he’d heard it and he knew what was happening. Three fifty-six came and went without as much as a flicker. That left three fifty-seven. What do you do with your penultimate minute on earth? It turned out William Hershel celebrated by feeling his heart stop beating. It was the strangest feeling, a little bit like holding your breath, only much, much worse. His daughter would be on her way back to the room in just another minute or so, but it didn’t matter. He wasn’t going to wait that long.

William Hershel, born in San Clemente, California, died at three fifty-eight, almost exactly, but this was just the beginning.

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Join us next week, or subscribe for the rest of this short serial fiction!!

David McLain is the author of the novel Dragonbait and The Time Traveller’s Resort and Museum. He grew up New York, California,  Transylvania, and France. He studied writing at The University of Massachusetts and at Purchase College, where he also directed a production of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. He lives in New York with a female painter and a small dog.

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.

1us

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.

 

Spellhaven by Sandra Unerman is here!

The Unseen Spirits must be entertained, so that the city may prosper…

Spellhaven cover

In the summer of 1914, Jane Fairchild, a young English musician, is kidnapped by magic and sent to Spellhaven, an island city ruled by magicians. Here, peace and prosperity are maintained with the assistance of Unseen Spirits bound to the service of the Lords Magician. The Spirits must be kept in good humour by the performance of all kinds of shows, dance, drama and music. Jane is one of many people kidnapped from the outside world and forced to contribute to these entertainments for a set period of service.

Only Jane is having none of it. She will not perform for her kidnapper, Lucian Palafox, but agrees to undertake an apprenticeship with another magician impresario, provided she is taught magic in return. Jane’s forays into magic lead her deeper within the mysteries of Spellhaven, her rivalry with Lucian escalates and the quarrels between them grow strong enough to shake the city to its foundations.

Genres: Fantasy, Adventure
Release Date:  August 17, 2017
Publisher:  Mirror World PublishingSaphs Book Promotions

Follow the tour to read guest posts, reviews, and exclusive excerpts! https://saphsbookpromotions.blogspot.com/2017/08/book-tour-schedule-spellhaven-by-sandra.html

Read an Excerpt:

Jane Fairchild lowered the flute from her mouth and curtseyed to the audience scattered around the lawn. She could not help smiling at their cheers, even as Toby Scott, the leader of their consort, bent down towards her and muttered, ‘You weren’t supposed to play that. You promised to behave.’

They had played one solo each, as agreed, but Jane had abandoned the Gounod she had rehearsed for some variations of her own on a nameless tune from her childhood. Toby despised that kind of music making and none of the others cared for it much. Jane had meant to be well-behaved this evening, when they wanted to impress Lady Waverley and her guests. The consort, music students in their final year, had been invited to play at this garden party in July chiefly because the Waverleys’ son had been at school with Toby, but their guests were likely to include several potential patrons and aficionados who might help them in their fledgling careers. The year was 1914.

The trouble was, as Jane had looked round in the deep evening light, she had felt a need to stir up the audience. They stood in little clusters under the trees or on the paths in the rose garden and listened politely between sips of champagne, but they were not properly engaged with the music. Most of them were young and busy flirting by whisper or touch, or staid and on the edge of somnolence. At least Jane had caught their attention and made some of them laugh.

She shook her head at Toby while she put her flute away and did not answer him. Now that they had finished their set, people were quick to surround the musicians and compliment them, and she was able to dodge round him without a fuss. She was thirsty, so she headed towards the refreshments promised earlier. She doubted champagne would be provided for the musicians but lemonade would be more welcome in any case.

A stranger stepped in front of her, a young man, dark and thin. ‘That last piece was the real stuff. Couldn’t you strangle your First Violin with his own strings and play some more of it?’ he said.

‘Good evening, Mr.…?’ Jane said.

The stranger inclined his head. ‘Lucian Hunter, at your service.’ There was a glint in his eye, as though at a joke he did not expect other people to understand.

‘Mr. Scott is a very fine musician and a friend of mine.’

‘But deadening. You ought to quarrel with him and strike out on your own.’

Jane drew breath to argue and then decided not to explain herself to this person, whoever he was.

‘I don’t think so,’ she said. ‘Excuse me, I should go and find Lady Waverley.’

‘Wait!’ Hunter’s voice was not loud but compelling. He spoke clear English but with the shadow of an accent Jane could not place. ‘I have something else to ask you. Will you meet me next week and play for me?’

‘I’m afraid not.’

‘I could pay you for some lessons. Surely you take pupils?’

Not arrogant young men, Jane thought. ‘It really isn’t possible,’ she said, and turned away.

She felt a hand on her arm and swung back to glare at Hunter. He dropped his clasp at once but he said, ‘You’ll regret it if you don’t. It’s the music I want, you know.’

‘Not from me. Or from anyone else I know if you lay a finger on me again.’

His smile was swift and infuriating.

‘I don’t need to, now,’ he said and turned away.

 

Purchase Links:

Mirror World Publishing eBook:  https://mirror-world-publishing.myshopify.com/collections/poetry/products/spellhaven-ebook

Mirror World Publishing Paperback: https://mirror-world-publishing.myshopify.com/collections/poetry/products/spellhaven-paperback

Amazon US:  http://amzn.to/2tpdL2x

Amazon CA: https://www.amazon.ca/Spellhaven-Sandra-Unerman-ebook/dp/B072YRDLD2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1500909249&sr=8-1&keywords=Spellhaven+by+Sandra+Unerman

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Spellhaven-Sandra-Unerman-ebook/dp/B072YRDLD2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1500909290&sr=8-1&keywords=Spellhaven+by+Sandra+Unerman

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/ca/en/ebook/spellhaven

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/spellhaven-sandra-unerman/1126613810?ean=9781987976342

sandraunermanAbout the Author:

Sandra Unerman lives in London in the UK. When she retired from a career as a Government lawyer, she undertook an MA in Creative Writing at Middlesex University, specialising in SF and fantasy, and graduated in 2013. Since then, she has had a number of short stories published. In 2016, these included stories in Three Drops from a Cauldron, the Midwinter issue and Aurora Wolf, the September issue, both available online. She writes reviews and articles for the British Science Fiction Association and the British Fantasy Society. She is a member of London Clockhouse writers and other writing groups. Her interests include history, folklore and medieval literature.

 

Connect with Sandra :  

Website: https://sandraunermanwriter.com/

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Sandra-Unerman/e/B0034NS9VM

Goodreads Author Page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6566116.Sandra_Unerman

 Goodreads Book Page: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35546814-spellhaven

sandraunerman

Leigh Goff is back! Cover Reveal: Bewitching Hannah

It’s been quiet here this week and for that I apologize, but don’t worry  I haven’t been idle! I’ve been working on all the new releases coming this summer and into fall. As a quick overview for the rest of the year, we’ve got:

Spellhaven by Sandra Unerman – August 17th
Bewitching Hannah by Leigh Goff – September 17th
The Wandering God by Joshua Pantalleresco – October 17th
The Mystery on Lost Lagoon by Rita Monette – November 17th

We’ll be revealing the cover for The Wandering God next week and we’ll also be starting up a new short story by David McLain, author of The Time Traveller’s Resort and Museum, but today, we’re revealing the cover of Leigh Goff’s newest masterpiece, Bewitching Hannah!

So without further ado, here it is:

bhcoverartbevel-2

Being a witch is the last thing she wants…

Sixteen-year-old Hannah Fitzgerald has always known she is descended from a troubled legacy of magic. Although a stranger to her coven in Annapolis, she is no stranger to grief and denial. However, when an ancient prophecy reveals the rise of a young, powerful Chesapeake witch and the impending death of another, she realizes she can no longer afford to suppress the magic that has taken away so much. She seeks out the frighteningly scarred, yet mysterious W, a Calvert descendant who is destined to change her life, but even he cannot prepare her for the danger that lies ahead. Engaged in a deadly game without knowing who her true rival is, Hannah isn’t certain she will survive, and if she loses she may lose everything, including the ones she loves.

Pre-Order Links:

Mirror World Publishing eBook: https://mirror-world-publishing.myshopify.com/collections/young-adult-fiction/products/bewitching-hannah-ebook

Mirror World Publishing Paperback: https://mirror-world-publishing.myshopify.com/collections/young-adult-fiction/products/bewitching-hannah-paperback

Amazon: http://amzn.to/2vtH056

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/ca/en/ebook/bewitching-hannah

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/bewitching-hannah-leigh-goff/1126756568?ean=9781987976311

Leigh Goff-150 RETMeet the Author:

Writing Enchanting Ever-Afters ♥

Leigh Goff grew up in Maryland where she resides today. Her writing is inspired by an eclectic childhood, a vivid imagination, and compelling historical events. After taking several writing courses in college and attending professional writing workshops after she graduated from the University of Maryland, she joined the Maryland Writers’ Association and Romance Writers of America.

Connect with the Author:

Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/LeighGoffAuthor

Twitter:https://twitter.com/leigh_goff

Author Website:  http://leighgoff.com/author/leighgoff/

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.

How I sell books (Part 2) – A guest post by David McLain

Now that I’ve scared off half the readers talking about what hasn’t worked, let’s talk about what has. (See Part 1 here.)

So far nothing I’ve said has anything to do with you as a writer. I don’t know you, but if you are reading this, you’ve made it as far as finding my publisher’s blog. That’s a good thing- It means that you’ve probably figured out that self-publishing is, well, a crappy idea. Good for you. So, skipping ahead a moment, I can tell you that roughly 20 weekends a year I can be found sitting at either a booth or a table at either an art show, a steampunk convention, or a comic con, with copies of my last two books, in paperback and hardcover. This is the long, slow grind of indie book sales. People who come over to look at my book nearly always pick up the hardcover copy, admire it, and then buy the softcover, if anything. This is actually by design.

When you are working a show, you need to be able to explain your book in a sentence or two. This is called the strap line. It’s preferable if the strap line makes for a pretty good bit of dialogue, and I think it’s usually best if you keep the number buzzwords to a minimum.

Guy dressed as the tenth doctor: What’s this?

Me: That’s my book, The Traveller’s Resort and Museum.

10 Doc Guy: What’s it about?

Me: It’s the story of a Time Traveller who falls in love with three men- one from the present, one from the past, and one from the future. She misjudges them all.

I feel this compares pretty well with the line the guy at the next booth over was giving people: Okay, so strong female protagonist. Epic fantasy. Some steampunk. It’s a hero’s quest. The dwarves have lost the jewel of…. or something. I don’t remember. I don’t know how the book was written, but the pitch was surprisingly devoid of complete sentences.

coverimagettrmAt this point I have an advantage in that my book is surprisingly beautiful. It as a beautiful painting of a woman with red hair drinking tea and holding a pet triceratops on a leash on the cover. It has two dozen black and white pictures in it, and every chapter begins with a font indicating the location the chapter is set in- so if the chapter is set in the Stone Age the first two words look like carved stone. (By the way, people don’t judge books by their covers. But they do judge book covers by the pictures on them, and when they first pick up the book, all they have is the picture and the title.)

Now, if you ever been to one of these shows, you might have seen someone doing this. Most of them are going it alone, and have basically opened the one author book store. This is a good way to distribute your books to the public and attract a little attention for your work. It’s also financial suicide. So, to make this work, you’re going to need to have something else to sell along with your books. I don’t know what that is, you need to figure that out yourself. If you’re at my booth, you’re usually more likely to buy one of my wife’s embroidered bags with steampunk animals on them than my book. This is OK. The bags are the reason my wife doesn’t have another job, and that I can keep doing this. They’ve made the whole thing sustainable. Sustainability, and a good quality book is the reason I am still signing copies of my second book five years after it came out.

So, someone is holding a book of mine, they’ve looked at my beautiful cover, and they’ve heard my pitch. Maybe they’ve read the back of the book. (This is good. The back of my book is pretty funny.)

They now get that idea in their head- I can get this signed by the author. I think a lot of people picture themselves on the antiques roadshow. “I bought this copy of The Time Traveller’s Resort and Museum from David McLain in 2017 at the East Aurora Barn Art Festival, and I got both him and his wife to sign it. She did the cover.”

And then they buy it! Although I must admit, they don’t usually buy it in huge quantities. I don’t care though. My book gets out there, little by little, and I get to go to shows, and sign copies of my book, and do readings, and sometimes, just sometimes, meet a fan. A real genuine honest to goodness fan, who thinks my work is awesome and wants to read more. Not only that, but over time, the money adds up. Sales of my books are already over 7000.00 gross in the last five years. Maybe that doesn’t sound like a lot to you, but would you turn it down if someone handed it to you? I thought not. I wouldn’t either.

When I go to shows, I frequently ask other writers about the best line from their work, their ‘To be or not to be’ if you will. You know what the most common answer is? ‘I don’t know.’ Think about that. ‘I don’t know.’ I would suggest that means something- that we’re all making this up as we go. Writing isn’t easy. Even Shakespeare quit and became a landlord. Keep at it, and good luck.

david-mclain.jpg.jpeg

David McLain studied writing at the University of Massachusetts. He is the author of the two novels: Dragonbait, and The Life of a Thief. His stories have been published in the anthologies Metastasis, Penny Dread II, and the upcoming Doctor Who Anthology Time Shadows, as well as over two dozen magazines, including Harvard’s Dudley Review. He has been featured on NPR’s Off the Page and the History of England podcast. He lives in New York.