short story

An Open Invitation

Hello everyone!

First of all, I’d like to thank you for following, subscribing, and just generally coming out to read this blog. I’ve put a lot of work into it over the years and it really does take quite a bit of effort to keep coming up with new content twice a week. That being said, I’ve got an opportunity for you. This is your chance to tell me what you like on this blog, what you don’t like, and what you’d like to see more or less of. Also, this is your chance to submit content to me if you’d like some of your own words featured.

Here’s a list of the kinds of posts we feature on this blog right now:

Short Stories

Book Spotlights

Book Launches

Cover reveals

Updates (on the publishing/writing process)

Writing Advice

Publishing Advice

Author Interviews

Guest posts

Descriptions and invites to local literary events

Sales or new products announcements

So if you’d like to see more or less of the above, or just offer some feedback, let me know in the comments below, or send me an email. ( info@mirrorworldpublishing.com )

In addition we could be offering:

Choose your own adventure stories

Book-themed Recipes

Character Interviews

Book Reviews

Marketing advice

DIY and arts suggestions

Reviews of local literary events or businesses

Conversations with authors or industry professionals

Book or writing related product reviews

Let me know if you like any of these ideas, or if you have any of your own to add to this list!

Also, if you have any content you would like to submit, that’s articles on writing, publishing, marketing, creativity or the arts in general, or short fiction. Please get in touch with me. I’d be happy to feature your work here on the blog.

Thanks for reading!

Advertisements

The Silent Serpent by J.A. Dowsett – Part 5

Here’s Part 5 of my sci-fi short story! If you haven’t started yet, click here to read from the beginning. Part 2 is here, Part 3 and of course, Part 4. Now that you’re all caught up, keep reading! 

***

“Identify yourself.” The words came sharply through the Silent Serpents’ speakers.

“Olympus, this is Captain James Claw of the Silent Serpent. We’re a small cargo vessel, but we happen to be carrying cargo that may be of use to you against the Delkrit.”

There was a pause. “What kind of cargo?”

“Explosives,” Captain Claw answered and Xendri flinched, knowing the Terran ship wouldn’t be too happy to hear that. The Council was really particular when it came to transporting weapons and the Terrans, or humans as they usually called themselves, basically ran the Council.

“Captain, I’m sure you’re aware of the law regarding-”

“They were a delivery meant for the mine on Elu,” James cut the person off. “Perfectly legal. I even have a manifest signed by the mine’s owner requesting the delivery. However, I think, under the circumstances…”

There was another pause. “Yes, I think you’re right, Captain. Under the circumstances, it would be your duty to use everything at your disposal to defend the system. I’ll make a note of your sacrifice, so that the owners of this mine can file for insurance.”

“Thank you, Olympus,” Claw said, grinning now. Xendri raised a brow in his direction.

“Captain, will you be dropping these explosives of yours off to us?”

Instead of answering immediately, Captain Claw met Nell’s eyes questioningly. The pilot settled her nerves by taking in a deep breath and then nodded to the Captain, some silent exchange taking place between the two of them. Xendri wasn’t sure what it was or what her place was in all this, but she was fascinated and couldn’t tear her eyes away from the action unfolding before her.

“That won’t be necessary, Olympus,” Claw said then, squeezing Nell on the shoulder. “We’ll manage.”

“Best of luck, Silent Serpent, and thank you for your help. Olympus out.”

Xendri heard a growling sound behind her and she whirled around to see the Silent Serpent’s main pilot, a burly-looking orange-skinned Jorn male, his short horns pointed. As soon as she made eye contact with him, his expression contorted as his growl cut off and he spun on his heel, taking off back into the ship. Ahead of Xendri, Nell started at the sound, trying to whirl around to see what was going on behind her, but Captain Claw squeezed tighter on her shoulder. “Don’t worry about him. Keep your focus on the task ahead.”

Nell nodded again, squaring her shoulders and taking a few more deep breaths as she gripped the steering column firmly with both paws.

“Xendri, shut that door and don’t let anybody through it, alright?” Claw ordered.

Spurring into motion, Xendri dove for the door mechanism and sealed the cockpit away from the rest of the ship. Abruptly it was just the three of them cramped into a very small space facing a Delkrit platform and a swirling mass of ships and weapons fire; the rest of the ship felt very far away.

“Here goes,” Nell announced suddenly and the Silent Serpent surged forward at its maximum velocity toward the dreaded machine-city.

To his credit, Captain Claw hung on to the back of Nell’s chair and said nothing; he just let the Pentaurii pilot do her job. Despite Xendri feeling like she was staring down the barrel of a gun as they hurtled toward the massive metal structure, flying like this was exhilarating. It was one thing to go fast in a Jump tunnel where there was little danger of anything going wrong and even less danger of hitting anything. It was quite another to go full speed while surrounded by chaos and to dive headfirst toward something much larger and much deadlier than you. It made her feel powerful and fearless, even though she wasn’t even the one piloting the vessel.

Thankfully the Enbi fighters were still drawing most of the fire, but the Silent Serpent still shook with the force of their passage and occasionally with the graze of a laser scraping the hull. Xendri could smell smoke and she wondered if being sealed away in the cockpit kept them from realizing how much damage the ship was really taking.

Nell weaved, getting in as close as she could, her tail hovering over the control panel as if she might need a third limb just to get the ship to do what she wanted it to do. She deliberately positioned the Silent Serpent to pass in the space between two enemy turrets. Those turrets were currently occupied, firing doggedly at the swarm of Enbi, but at any moment they could swing around and obliterate them.

“Now,” Captain Claw commanded, the authority clear in his voice.

Nell’s tail swiped downward like a scorpion striking, hitting a button on the control panel. Xendri heard the mechanism in the ship click and it was the sound that clued her in to what they were attempting to do. The button was meant to unlock the clamps that held their detachable cargo bay in place. Nell made to reach to her right for the lever that would physically detach the arms and release the cargo bay, bombs and all, onto the unsuspecting Delkrit ship below, but Captain Claw beat her to it. He pulled hard on the mechanism and it wrenched downwards with an audible whine. Nell didn’t wait for confirmation; she pulled upward on the steering column to send them up and away so the bombs could do their work.

But the cargo bay didn’t detach.

At least, not all at once. There was a horrible shudder accompanied by the sound of tearing metal, as the top of the ship went one way and the cargo bay tried to go another. A shared look of horror crossed all three of the faces in the cockpit as they collectively realized what had gone wrong; one of the clamps hadn’t let go.

And that was only the first sign that their luck had run out. As they passed too close to the Delkrit turrets, the weapons locked onto them as the biggest and most dangerous thing in sight. Two guns, each one almost the size of their entire ship, visibly cocked back as they prepared to fire.

Xendri gasped, watching the laser shoot straight for them.

The Search for the Golden Feather by Elizabeth J. M. Walker – Part 6

If you’re new to this short story, I recommend starting at Part One. Once you’re caught up, read on!

Trina felt as though at least an hour had passed. Her right leg was cramped under her and had completely fallen asleep. She was pretty sure Oriella had fallen asleep; she could hear the familiar sound of her roommate snoring. But just then, her nose began to tickle! She tried not to get too excited or to accidently do anything that would stifle the sneeze.

“Achoo!” Trina sneezed and a burst of flame shot from her nose, catching the second bed sheet of the day on fire.

Trina tore at the fabric and freed herself. She tried to stand but her leg was numb and she fell over. She crawled back to the flaming bed sheet and put out the remaining fire with her hands.

“You sneezed!” Oriella shouted. “Are you free?”

“Yes!” Trina said as she pulled herself over to Oriella’s bed sheet and pulled apart the knot the boys had made.

Oriella came tumbling out. “Did I fall asleep?”

“I think so,” Trina told her, and then looked around at their surroundings. “Do you have any idea where we are?”

Oriella looked around and frowned. “Not really, but I still might be able to find a tree to take us back to the school grounds.”

One of Oriella’s elf mage powers was being able to travel through trees and take companions with her. Trina had travelled with her several times already. She watched as Oriella went from tree to tree, searching for one that would take them back to school.

“This one…I think,” Oriella said.

Trina stood, her leg now stable, as Oriella put her hand on the rough bark of the tree. Trina walked over as a black doorway opened in the tree’s side, just big enough for Oriella to step inside. Trina had to duck to follow.

Inside the tree was dark and silent. All the other forest noises ceased and all Trina could hear were her own footsteps and Oriella’s much quieter and more graceful footsteps. The doorway they’d come in through sealed behind them, making the tunnel completely dark. The opening on the next end had yet to appear. Trina’s nose began to tickle.

“Uh-oh,” Trina managed to say before she sneezed and then sneezed again and again. Flames began to lick up the tunnel’s dark walls.

“We’re not there yet!” Oriella said as she began to run forward.

“I know!” Trina said, frantically trying to put out the flames, but there were too many.

There was a white burst of light and Trina felt herself blown over. She went flying to the ground and rolled head over heels at least twice before coming to a stop against a tree trunk. Her whole body ached, but nothing felt severely injured. She pushed herself up and got back to her feet. She was surrounded by trees.

“Oriella?” she called. Her friend was nowhere in sight.

The Search for the Golden Feather by Elizabeth J. M. Walker – Part 5

The story continues… If you missed part 1, click here.

“What the-” she heard Oriella shout. Trina found she was able to peek out of a tiny hole in her sheet just enough to see that Oriella was also captured in a white bed sheet. She could also see who Oriella’s captor was: Nestor. Nestor was a khalkotauroi mage whose fire mage powers and strength came from fearsome mystical creatures: massive, fire-breathing bulls!

“C’mon, let’s get out of here,” she heard her captor say and felt her makeshift net get swung over her his shoulder.

“Loukas?” Trina said, recognizing the voice of one of her housemates. “What are you doing?”

“Tying up the competition until we find the golden feather,” Loukas, who was also a khalkotauroi mage, said. “We’re getting that suite.”

“By kidnapping two of your housemates?” Oriella shouted.

“We’re not kidnapping you,” Nestor said. “We’re just taking you out into the woods until we find the feather and win the suite.”

“We could work together!” Trina shouted. “It’s a big suite.”

“We’re not sharing the suite with girls,” Loukas said.

“Trina! Can’t you, like, sneeze or something?” Oriella called.

Trina tried to force herself to feel like sneezing, which she quickly realized was an impossible task. She tried to reach her magic within; it felt like a warmth inside of her, constantly burning. But she was still in the process of learning to use it at will. Most of the time things just kind of happened, such as the fire sneezes.

The two boys walked a fair distance into the woods and it was hard to keep track of what direction they were going in or where they were when Trina could only catch glimpses of foliage through the one small hole in her bed sheet prison. She hoped Oriella would have a better sense of direction in the woods once they got free.

“Here should be good,” Loukas said and dumped her on the ground.

“Ow! You are going to get detention for this for sure!” Trina shouted.

“It’ll be worth it when we win the suite,” Nestor said and Trina heard Oriella curse as she was dumped on the ground.

The boys didn’t untie the ends of the sheets. Instead, Trina glimpsed them taking ropes from their packs and could feel her sheet being tied to a tree trunk.

“Seriously?” Trina yelled.

“We’re going to come back for you as soon as we find the feather,” Nestor assured her as he finished tying his knot.

“Forget detention, I’m going to deal with these two myself,” Oriella growled.

“Oh, what’s the little elf mage going to do? Throw leaves at us?” Loukas said mockingly before loudly laughing. “C’mon, Nestor, let’s find that stupid feather.”

“It’s not a stupid feather! It’s Sir Gadison’s Golden Phoenix Feather!” Trina yelled after them, but she was pretty sure they had taken off at a run and had barely heard her.

“Anytime you feel like sneezing, just let it happen,” Oriella grumbled.

“I know,” Trina said, trying to get more comfortable in the tied-up sheet. The skirt of her dress had bunched up around her legs, which was not helping with her being able to become comfortable, and she had no idea how long it would take for her to sneeze, or if she would even sneeze fire again.

The Search for the Golden Feather by Elizabeth J. M. Walker – Part 1

Have you read Elizabeth J. M. Walker’s young adult fantasy novel, She Dreamed of Dragons? Well, you can find it here or in our store. You can also learn more about Elizabeth J. M. Walker on our website. This short story is a prequel, so read on!

***

Trina woke with a sneeze. It was an alarming way to be brought out of dreamland. She rolled over and tried to go back to sleep. But then the scent of burning began to fill her nose and her eyes shot open.

“Trina!” her roommate Oriella yelled, jumping out of bed. “Your bed is on fire!”

Trina had already realized this and was trying to extinguish the flames by smothering them with her hands. Being a dragon mage, the fire didn’t harm her skin, but it did harm her comforter. By the time she had successfully smothered the small fire, her periwinkle blue bedding was burned to a crisp and faint tendrils of smoke were floating about the tiny dorm room.

Oriella rushed to open the third-storey window. She began to cough, she so stuck her entire head of dark blond waves out the window and into the early morning fresh air.

“What just happened?” Oriella called back into the room.

“I think I sneezed,” Trina said as she shoved the charred remains of her bedding onto the floor. She’d have to find a dustpan to clean it up. And she’d have to find a new comforter.

“You sneeze fire?” Oriella asked, bringing her head back into the room. The smoke was beginning to clear.

“Sometimes?” Trina said meekly.

“I don’t sneeze leaves,” Oriella said, referring to her own powers as an elf mage, which included being able to travel through trees.

“I think I’d rather sneeze leaves,” Trina said.

There was a knock at the door.

“Hey! It’s Corbin!” their house don called. “Everything okay in there, Trina? I smell smoke.”

Trina went to open the door.

“Sorry,” she told her don, a Fifth Year with dark brown skin and shoulder-length black hair. He was a phoenix mage and knew a thing or two about having fire powers, but nothing nearly as powerful as Trina’s dragon mage abilities.

“Everything is under control,” Oriella chimed in.

“Please don’t burn our dorm down,” Corbin said. “It’s bad enough we have scorch marks in nearly every room, so let’s try to keep our house in one piece.”

Being the don of Knox House, the dorm that housed mages with fire powers, was not an easy task. The dorm was placed the farthest from the main school building of the Mage Academy and the cluster of other dorm houses due to the risk of student mages not always having full control over their fire powers.

Trina jumped as she heard the sound of breaking glass.

“Forest pixies!” they heard someone shout from the ground floor and Corbin sighed.

“Again?” Corbin said as he headed down the stairs. Being farther from the school and the main dorms also meant being deeper in the Whispering Woods, which meant being plagued by the forest pixies who lived in the woods.

“I hate pixies,” Oriella said as she yanked open a drawer and began to pull out some clothes. “I’m getting dressed before we go find out what they did this time.”

Trina nodded as she shut the door. She found a plain brown dress with singe marks around the wrists of the sleeves to change into. She tugged on her brown boots as Oriella did the same, pulling hers over a pair of green leggings she wore under a black tunic. Trina ran her fingers through her brown hair, which was so short that she didn’t need to properly brush it. She would have liked to have longer hair like Oriella, but she kept accidently burning it.

***

Come back next week or SUBSCRIBE for more!

Unmoored by Justine Alley Dowsett – Part 6 (finale)

Please find part 1 here if you’d like to read from the beginning. Otherwise, read on!
Despite himself, Renaud ran forward, but the girl didn’t scream or otherwise announce her presence. Instead she hunkered down and waited for the lift to bring her safely to the ground.

Renaud was there to meet her.

“Petite fille,” he called to her, not even realizing he’d reverted to French in his distress. “Are you all right?”

She stood and nodded, her grey eyes wide and serious-looking in her young round face.

“Come away from the lift,” he told her, holding out his hand. “It’s not safe.”

She didn’t take his hand. She was wary of strangers. Good for her, Renaud thought, nodding to himself. “C’est d’accord,” he said, trying to be comforting. “Je m’appelle Renaud.

Êtes-vous un Capitaine?” she asked cautiously in halting French.

Abruptly, Renaud remembered that he was, in fact, a Captain. He straightened his back. “Oui, Madame.” He switched back to English, which the girl was obviously more comfortable with, “My ship is called The Clover. She’s waiting right over there.” He pointed out which vessel was his in the harbour.

“My mother…” She fought back tears that threatened to overwhelm her, hugging something to her chest beneath the navy-blue cloak she wore. “My mother wants me to find a good ship, one without soldiers.”

“Well there are no soldiers on The Clover, only sailors. And Dot, she’s a cook.” Renaud didn’t know why he was wasting time talking to this little girl when he should be fleeing Ismera, but some part of him missed his own family and he didn’t have it in him to leave this girl all alone. “Would you like to come to my ship and you can wait for your parents there?”

The girl nodded vigorously, darting a hand out of her cloak to wipe at her tears. This time when he extended a hand to her, she took it. “What’s your name, little one?”

“Meredith,” she answered between sniffles. “Meredith Turrell.”

Renaud almost stopped where he was, halfway back across the dock to where his ship waited with the gangplank lowered for him. Turrell?! As in ‘Lord and Lady’ Turrell? The man and woman I saw on the lift earlier, they own this town and this is their daughter. Of course, I’m so stupid! The Turrell Manor is at the top of the cliff, you can see it from the Channel.

“Are you sure you should be down here?” Renaud looked back at his newfound companion, suddenly nervous that his act of charity would be misconstrued for a kidnapping. “I could take you back up the lift to your house.”

She shook her head. “Mother told me to find a ship.”

He would have pressed the issue, but at that moment a bright light erupted on top of the cliff. Renaud’s eyes went wide. It looked like nothing more than a massive bonfire, its light reflected on the clouds above.

Vitement,” he urged Meredith and the two of them hurried across the gangplank, which was pulled in after them.

Back on his ship, Renaud gave the order to disembark and his skeleton crew worked double-time to obey his command. Unmoored from the dock, The Clover began drifting into the Channel, and one by one the crew unfurled the sails to take advantage of the rising wind.

Looking back toward Turrellin, and at the Turrell Manor on the hill, it was clear that the civil war his good friend Christian Vellaire had fled from had reached Turrellin, and young Meredith’s parents were among the unfortunate casualties.

Renaud heard a thump and looked down to see that Meredith had dropped a satchel the size of her torso onto the deck at her feet. He didn’t have time to wonder much about that before he felt the girl’s arms clamp tightly around his waist as she buried her face from the sight of her home up in flames. Overcome with emotion, Renaud put a hand on her slight shoulder. “I’m sorry, little one,” he whispered, his voice thick and his cheek moist from tears he hadn’t realized had formed. “I’m so sorry.”

Watching the flames grow farther and farther away, Renaud couldn’t help but feel that his victories over the past twenty-four hours were being balanced somehow by Meredith’s losses, and he vowed right then and there that he would do everything within his power to see this little girl safe.

Renaud turned Meredith about so she could face the water and the way to Saegard instead of the chaos they were rapidly leaving behind. He wiped at the tears that ran down his cheeks to nestle into his bushy beard. I promise my dear, if I have anything to say about it, one day you’ll be the luckiest girl to have ever crossed the Ismeran Channel.

 

The End

***

This story relates to and is a prequel to the novel, Uncharted. Find more info here.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How’s that?” William asked.

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

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

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

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

“What, in the trash?” William said.

“Gloves and hats too,” Death said.

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

“You won’t need it,” Death said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who says?” William asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Death Takes the Highway by David McLain – Part 6

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

Then, keep reading… 

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

“Where are we staying tonight?” William asked.

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

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

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

“Thanks,” Death said.

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

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

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

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

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

“You’ll see,” Death said.

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

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

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

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

“So you met them all?”

“At one point or another,” Death reflected.

“How’d they take it?” William asked.

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

“Is that so?”

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

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