fiction

Unmoored by Justine Alley Dowsett – Part 5 of 6

Find Part 1 here

Sure enough, there was a brawl on the street ahead of him. Patrons of The Crow’s Nest, including his friend Dagan, were out on the street en masse, caught in a one-sided fist fight with a bunch of armed soldiers. The fight was one-sided only because the other side was using swords, not fists.

Renaud grabbed the nearest soldier to him by the plume on his ridiculous-looking helmet. Catching the man completely off guard, Renaud was able to knock him over and relieve him of his pointy metal stick. Launching himself onto the next man, he pummeled that one with his fists, striking any place he could reach.

It didn’t take long for the invading army to realize they had a madman in their midst. Renaud fought with abandon, breaking noses, biting fingers, and kneeing the stupidest of men in the balls. Didn’t your fathers ever teach you to guard your stones? He made a mental note to teach his own son that very lesson as soon as he got home.

Renaud was an unstoppable force, until several of his victims began to recover and he found himself in the middle of a pile-up. He took a foot to his ribcage, a knee to his left kidney, and an elbow in the eye before Dagan and some of the others were able to come to his rescue, pulling him free of his attackers and leaving them to wrestle one another.

“Thanks, man.” Renaud clapped Dagan on the shoulder. “I owe you one.”

Dagan grinned, one of his front teeth missing. “How ‘bout you give me a posting on that new ship of yours and we’ll call it even?”

My ship! He belatedly recalled that he was Captain of his own ship now. That’s right! I don’t have to stay for this. I can be out on the water and away from Ismera before this civil war, or whatever this is, gets any worse.

Though something about what was happening rubbed Renaud the wrong way. Turrellin declared itself as neutral in the conflict between the King and those who want to dethrone him. Why would Vance Chappelle attack his own people?

Suddenly eager to return to his ship and sail home to Saegard, where the world made sense, Renaud found himself looking back toward The Crow’s Nest. He watched as the barkeep, Ginny, tossed a pot full of boiling hot stew in the face of one soldier before retreating within the inn and shutting the solid oak door tightly behind her. She’ll be okay, Renaud realized, and I’m right, this isn’t my fight.

“Dagan,” he held a hand out to his red-headed friend, “you’ve got yourself a deal. Let’s get the hell out of here.”

“Aye, aye, Captain!”

Renaud and Dagan made their way down the hill much faster than Renaud had initially run up it, despite the stitch in Renaud’s side and his rapidly swelling eye. Once his feet were firmly on the docks, though, Renaud felt his pain and worry melt away to be replaced with a sense of duty and purpose. He was a Captain now, and his ship and crew were waiting for him to lead them safely out of here.

He was within shouting distance of The Clover when his eyes happened to notice something out of place on the lift, way up at the top of the cliff edge. Is that a person?

“Why are you stopping?” Dagan demanded. “That’s yours there, with the four-leaf clover, right?”

“Yeah,” Renaud answered somewhat distractedly. “You go on. I’ll catch up.”

Dagan shrugged and resumed his forward motion, but Renaud’s eyes were glued on the lift far above. At this distance and in the failing light the form he saw was a small lump. It could be a pile of supplies with a tarp over it, but when it moved Renaud knew better. It’s a child, he realized with a sharp intake of breath.

He watched as a small white hand, stark against the dark fabric of the cloak the child was wearing, darted out to grip the lever that would activate the lift. Renaud’s breath caught in his throat. The lift usually has operators to run and monitor it. What is she doing?

Renaud couldn’t explain how he knew, but he had a sinking feeling in his gut that told him the small child who now had both hands on the lever and was pulling as hard as she could was the girl he’d seen this morning; the one with the bouncy dark hair and perfect young, happy parents.

As he watched, the lift mechanism gave way and the lift plummeted.

***

Subscribe or come back next week for the final installment of this short story!! 

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And last but not least… Karen Koski and The Gimmal Ring!

Hello everyone! For the past month, we’ve been introducing some new authors and our upcoming new releases for 2018 and we’ve got just one more introduction to do!

If you’ve missed any of the others, here they are: 
Nate Friedman – The Last Hockey Fight (Pre-order now!)
Sandra Unerman – Ghosts and Exiles
Justine Alley Dowsett and Murandy Damodred – Mirror’s Deceit
HL Carpenter – The Ghost in the Gardens
Regan W. H. Macaulay – Mixter Twizzle’s Breakfast
Karen McCreedy – Unreachable Skies

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And now introducing another Windsor native… Karen Koski! 

By day, Karen Koski works for the Fire Service. By night, she writes stories set in magical Windsor and Essex County, Ontario where she was born and raised. Karen’s love of a good mystery inspired her to become a licensed Private Investigator. She is intrigued by anything that is not what it appears to be. When she is not writing, she enjoys reading her friends tea leaves and dragging them along on her adventures.  Karen resides in Windsor, Ontario with her ever patient husband, her two beautiful daughters and a spoiled, red Doberman.

We’re so excited to have Karen Koski join the Mirror World Family and we’re looking forward to bringing you her debut novel for middle grade readers: The Gimmal Ring. We don’t have an exact release date for The Gimmal Ring yet, but here’s a quick description to hook you on it:

Gwendolyn Gimmal desperately wants an invitation to the mysterious Gimmal Gala where her family’s coveted ring is bestowed upon new inductees.  She wants the ring and she wants it bad!  Not that she particularly likes bling, but because she knows it will unlock exciting secrets and reveal what she believes will be her true life’s path. Her younger brother, Gage, also wants to attend the party, but mostly for the food.

After finding her way into the hidden gala, Gwen learns that The Gimmal Ring is not only a piece of jewellery, but also a secret society of people. Things go awry when their parents are kidnapped from the Gala and held for ransom. Gwen, and her three sidekicks, must solve the clues and find the hidden formula the kidnappers have demanded, by midnight, or they will never see their family again.

Subscribe to this blog to be kept informed on the developments of this and all our upcoming titles! Or join our newsletter! Thanks for reading.

 

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!

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.”

The Terrible, Mighty Crystal by Sharon Ledwith – Part 4

Sharon Ledwith’s short story continues! If you missed part 1, here it is. If you want to learn more about the author and her books, check out her website. Then, keep reading!

 

“Where is he?” Shu-Tu asked, surveying the manicured grounds outside Thoth’s private grotto.

Under the light of the half moon and stars, she could make out a giant circular garden, all the flowers closed and bowing in deep contemplation. A bubbling spring on her right gave off enough steam to dampened the air and make her unbound hair frizz. She licked her lips, tasting the saltiness in the air from being so close to the ocean. Shu-Tu’s skin tingled. Her thin, sleeveless dress stuck to her body. Perhaps this is a mistake.

“Thoth said he’d meet us here, and his word is true,” Amiee replied, glancing around.

“True or not, Thoth better show his face soon,” Segferd said, hiking up his silk trousers to sit on a gleaming granite bench. “I’m not accustomed to be kept waiting.”

“Honestly, sometimes I think we came from different mothers, Segferd,” Amiee said.

“That would explain many things,” Segferd said, grinning. “Like your gigantic feet and monkey-like hands.”

Aimee snorted. “Or your tiny ears and bird-beak nose.” She glanced at her palms.

Shu-Tu rolled her eyes. She rubbed her arms briskly just as she heard a thunderous crack behind them. A dark green creature double the size of full grown horse charged out of the thicket. The creature screeched, the sound going through Shu-Tu like shards of glass, and then snapped its reptilian jaws. The moonlight caught a forked-tongue slithering out of its mouth, lapping the air in search of fresh blood.

“Oh Poseidon, a wyvern!” Amiee shrieked. “It must have escaped from its breeder!”

“Quick, into the grotto and down the stairs!” Segferd picked up a chunk of rough-cut quartz crystal. “It’s too big to follow us!”

Segferd hurled the quartz at the wyvern’s bulbous serpent head. It snapped at the crystal in mid-air and spit it out. Translucent wings beat a path toward them while the wyvern’s hawk-like feet curled up into its leathery body. A long tail with a barbed end—poisonous to the touch—swished furiously as the wyvern got closer to the three classmates.

“Move, now!” Segferd shouted, leading the way.

Stumbling, Amiee tripped over her bejeweled sandaled feet at the mouth of the grotto.

“Amiee!” Shu-Tu screamed. She stopped to help her friend up, and dragged Amiee inside.

Hot, rancid breath from the wyvern’s open mouth rolled across the back of Shu-Tu’s neck and arms. The wyvern screeched and snapped its powerful jaws, its tongue desperately trying to reach her, taste her, but the wyvern couldn’t fit in any farther. Shu-Tu shivered just as the ground tremored. Her eyes widened. An earthquake! Oh please, Poseidon, have mercy! Holding onto Amiee, Shu-Tu reached out to grab a statue of Poseidon’s mortal wife Cleito sculpted from the rock above them. The wyvern retreated as fast as it had attacked, the beating of its wings signaling the creature’s departure. Falling pieces of rock and crystal filled the entranceway, and snuffed out the moonlight. Shu-Tu’s throat tightened. There was no way out. Suddenly, the earth ceased shaking. Shu-Tu blew a sigh of relief. At least the quake only lasted three short breaths.

“Shu-Tu? Amiee? Are you okay?” Segferd asked from the bottom of the rock-cut stairs.

Shu-Tu coughed. “I’m fine.” She released the smooth, stone statue and blinked a few times to adjust her eyes to the darkness.

“I…I think I’ve twisted my ankle,” Amiee said.

Groping in the dark, Shu-Tu bent down, and brushed away Aimee’s soft gown. She placed her hand over Aimee’s foot. “She’s right. Her ankle is starting to swell.”

Aimee growled. “This…this is all your fault, Segferd!”

“My fault?” he asked, his voice echoing. “How so?”

“You attacked the wyvern first!” she snapped. “Who in their right mind does that?”

Shu-Tu used the cool, granite wall as a guide to stand. “It’s all right, Amiee, your brother did his best to protect us.”

“You must learn to stop sticking up for him,” Amiee said, grunting to stand. She squeezed Shu-Tu’s hand. “T-Thank you for…saving me.”

Shu-Tu shrugged. “You would have done the same for me. Can you walk?”

“I…I think so.”

“Here.” Segferd passed a wooden staff topped with a glowing crystal to Shu-Tu and Amiee. “This will help Amiee walk and give us enough light to navigate the pathways to find another way out.”

“Where’d you get these staffs?” Shu-Tu asked, the orange glowing end illuminating her features.

“They were leaning against the wall at the bottom of the stairs,” Segferd replied, holding out his hand to his sister. “It’s like someone left them there for us to find.”

Amiee swatted his hand away. “No thanks, I can manage without your help.”

As they made their way deeper into the grotto, the only light source, other than the glimmering crystals on the staffs Segferd found, came from the effervescent springs swirling below them. The damp, pungent air inside the grotto was a welcome relief from the humidity above. The smooth passage led them down and around, down and around, like the actions of a perfect spiral.

“Where do you suppose this goes?” Amiee asked, limping.

“There’s talk among our servant hybrids of a secret natural labyrinth called the Hall of Illumination,” Segferd said, holding out his staff. “Initiations for the highest order of magi are held at the far end of the hall. I wonder if this is the place they were speaking about?”

“I don’t think such a hall truly exists,” Amiee replied, grunting. “Hybrids have a tendency to fabricate things. Besides, those half-breed creatures were created to serve us, not teach us.”

“But, Amiee, what about what Thoth has taught us?” Shu-Tu asked, wiping damp hair off her forehead. “That everyone, and everything has a purpose here. That we are all an inseparable part of one Whole.”

Amiee snorted in laugher. “If you to choose to believe that you’re one with a hybrid, Shu-Tu, then as Poseidon is my witness, I’ll throw you into the churning springs below us.”

“Wait, do you two hear that?” Segferd stopped. “It sounds like chanting.”

Shu-Tu listened. A steady, monotonic mantra lulled her, invited her to come closer like an invisible wagging finger. She smiled. “Reminds me of a verse Father would chant.”

“Whoever it is must know a way out,” Amiee said.

“Agreed.” Segferd pulled at his silk tunic. “Come on, it’s not too much farther.”

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 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.

Review of Starter Zone by Chris Pavesic

Starter Zone

The Revelation Chronicles, Book 1

Chris Pavesic

Print Length: 219 pages
Publication Date: September 25, 2017
ASIN: B074YZ9JKB
Genres: Young Adult, Dystopian, LitRPG

Follow the tour to read reviews guest posts, exclusive excerpts, and spotlight posts:

https://saphsbookpromotions.blogspot.com/2017/09/book-tour-schedule-starter-zone.html

Additional cover art

When hydrologists inscribe the consciousness of a human mind onto a single drop of water, a Revelation sweeps the land. The wealthy race to upload their minds into self-contained virtual realities nicknamed Aquariums. In these containers people achieve every hope, dream, and desire. But governments wage war for control of the technology. Terrorist attacks cause massive destruction. The Aquariums fail.  Inscribed human minds leech into the water cycle, wreaking havoc.

Street gangs rule the cities in the three years since the fall of civilization. Sixteen-year-old Cami and her younger sister Alby struggle to survive. Every drop of untreated water puts their lives in peril. Caught and imprisoned by soldiers who plan to sell them into slavery, Cami will do anything to escape and rescue her sister. Even if it means leaving the real word for a life in the realms, a new game-like reality created by the hydrologists for the chosen few.

But life in the realms isn’t as simple as it seems. Magic, combat, gear scores, quests, and dungeons are all puzzles to be solved as the sisters navigate their new surroundings. And they encounter more dangerous enemies than any they faced in the real world.

Time to play the game.

Purchase Links: Amazon http://amzn.to/2wyFos0

Barnes and Noble https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/starter-zone-chris-pavesic/1127125956?ean=2940158707476

chrispMeet the Author:

Chris Pavesic lives in the Midwestern United States and loves Kona coffee and all types of speculative fiction. Between writing projects, Chris can most often be found reading, gaming, gardening, working on an endless list of DIY household projects, or hanging out with friends. She blogs on http://www.chrispavesic.com and Tweets @chrispavesic

I’ve had the pleasure of reading Starter Zone, here’s my review:

 

 

 

I wasn’t sure what to think of this book at first. It is a unique and unexpected blend of dystopian fiction and LitRPG. When it opens, we have a post-apocalyptic setting with the main character and her younger sister on the run, trying to stay alive. A little ways in, there is an abrupt shift and the characters are captured and thrust into a virtual game world they don’t understand. Through a set of circumstances they are made players instead of NPC slaves and in this way are given an unexpected second chance at life. Despite not knowing what to expect, I found myself enjoying this book and I would gladly continue with the series to see where it goes next. My only complaint is that the book definitely feels like an introduction to a series and can in no way stand on its own. There is far too much that is left unresolved.

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.