Boundless by Brad Cotton @BradCott0n

Chapter 3

DEPARTING FROM RICO’S house in the BMW, Duncan and Ray went over the specifics of the job. It sounded easy enough. They had a name, an address, and the exact amount of money that needed to be collected. The hardest part, it seemed, would be crossing the country and making it to Boston without distraction.

They drove back onto the highway.

Ray switched on the radio.

It felt good to listen to music for a change – to care about something other than football, baseball, basketball, or hockey scores. The recently found freedom from concern did not go unnoticed. And, though they both still considered themselves fans of sport, the break from obligatory attention came as a welcome respite.

The first leg of the trip plunged the continental travelers into the early hours of the morning. The sprightly enthusiasm that carried them back onto Interstate 15 had conclusively waned by the time they reached the Utah border. The goal was to rest when they reached Colorado in the morning, but achy legs and heavy heads curtailed their ambitious plan. Duncan and Ray instead pulled into a motel not far from Fishlake National Forrest, just outside of Richfield, Utah.

The pair oozed from the car into the arms of the night air.

Duncan entered the motel office and paid cash for a room. He thanked the amiable, elderly woman behind the desk and returned to the car.

Duncan and Ray went up to the top floor of the two-story complex, turned the key and entered room 216. Each threw their bag onto one of the beds in the malodorous lodgings. Duncan slipped into the bathroom to wash his hands and to stash the black money bag atop the moveable ceiling slats above the shower.

Though tired from driving, Ray and Duncan yielded swiftly to the idea of having a cold beer and something to eat before calling it a night. They knew that a watering hole would not be hard to find, even in the small roadside town. After a very brief rest, they got back into the BMW and made for the poorly lit narrow streets.

They came upon a bar not five minutes from the motel along a street with no signs or noticeable markings. Outside the bar rested a narrow, linear fortification of black and silver motorcycles in perfect angular symmetry. Duncan pulled the car into the gravel parking lot.

The inside of the bar was enough to make both of the city-dwelling, opulent-car-driving patrons smirk from ear to cheek. Wooden floors creaking under foot, license plates gilding walls, and loud rock n’ roll music assaulting their ears. It smelled of stale beer and smoke.

As they walked through the establishment, the pair could feel eyes following them from every direction. Neither Duncan nor Ray looked the type that had just rolled in on iron horses, and they certainly didn’t look like they were from the neighborhood.

They approached the bartender.

Duncan stood with his back to the bar and surveyed his surroundings while Ray waited patiently to place an order. Duncan could feel the palpable tension. Whether reasonable or not, Duncan felt for a moment as though he and Ray were gazelles dropped into a lion’s den as some sort of strange sociological experiment.

Duncan endeavored to avoid confrontation at every turn. He wasn’t the type that possessed the urge to confirm his manhood by engaging in clashes of primeval fury. But what the leather and denim-clad lions in that particular bar didn’t know about Duncan would have served them well to not find out. Duncan was not one to be considered prey. In fact, he was very far from it indeed.

Ray turned around and handed Duncan a bottle of beer. He looked around the bar and took in the environment much in the way Duncan had been doing.

“Those guys are huge,” Ray said, referring to the bearded horde surrounding a nearby pool table.

“I think they like you,” Duncan said.

“I’m sure they do.”

According to urban legend, prison rules stated that if you wanted to prove yourself tough or worthy of respect, on the first day of incarceration you had to find the biggest and meanest inmate and challenge him to a fight. It was most likely a commonly held idea among those never to have been dropped behind tall bricked walls and barbed wired fences.

Duncan reached into his pocket and pulled out a warm wad of change. He looked down into his palm and appraised it. He shook his hand up and down allowing the coins to jingle and spread about in his palm. Duncan then clenched his fist around the pile making a strong fist and began to walk assuredly towards the pool table. Ray followed without hesitation.

The pride that stood guard at the green felt table saw them coming, they clenched their chalky spears and stood upright. One of the biggest took a step forward and positioned himself in the path of Duncan and Ray. Ray leisurely pulled a chair and took a seat at a small table beside the towering man as Duncan came face-to-face with the tattooed goliath. Duncan was close enough to smell the whisky and cigarettes on his breath, but far enough not to insinuate that he was challenging for territory. Duncan said nothing. The bar seemed to come to a hush, though the music still blared and people still spoke in their usual tone. Duncan was eclipsed by the stature of his would-be opponent and stood in the man’s shadow.

Duncan looked down to his fist, then back to the face of the man in front of him. He then raised his hand, plucked four quarters from the stack, and placed them on the rail of the table. He then took a twenty-dollar bill from his pocket and placed it beside the quarters.

“Next game,” Duncan said.

The extra-large man permitted himself to crack a small smile. The man then nodded once.

Duncan returned the gesture before taking a seat at the table with Ray. The sound of the bar seemed to rise once more. Duncan took a swig from his beer and smiled at Ray.

Duncan lost his twenty dollars to Sam, the bulky man with whose beard he had recently become acquainted.

Ray played Sam in the next game and won the money back.

It wasn’t long before both Duncan and Ray had assimilated into the faction that would to others seem frightening. But in truth, there was nothing frightening about them. They proved to be welcoming and jovial and overtly generous. Sam used the twenty he won from Duncan to buy each of them a beer. Ray returned the gesture with his subsequent victory.

Sam’s compatriots consisted of a throng of young to middle-aged bikers together on their way from Colorado to Las Vegas. They had names like Burner, Slim, Varr, and Mick. One was a mechanic, one worked construction, and one owned a company that shredded paper documents. Sam never did say what his occupation was, or if he had one at all, but when he held his pool cue against the table it was obvious by his hard, calloused hands that he was not an accountant.

Last call came.

Duncan was embroiled in a conversation with Sam and Varr about the practice of wooing women, while Ray was putting similar theories to practice at a table with two buxom brunettes. Ray had great luck with the softer sex. He was good looking, young, and had plenty of charm to spare. He once had a girl back in Phoenix to whom Duncan thought Ray would one day be married. She was the daughter of a prominent city politician. The pressure from her family to find someone more suiting their elite traditions weighed heavy on the relationship. They eventually broke up, much to Ray’s dismay.

Ashley Dupree and Ray still had trouble staying away from one another and there was little doubt for Duncan that they were still in love. Ashley was, and always would be, Ray’s first love. He looked for her in every woman he spoke to, kissed, or with whom he made love. Ashley left Arizona a few years prior to continue her education at an Ivy League college. She and Ray continued to exchange emails, text messages, and the occasional phone call, but Ray hadn’t heard from Ashley in nearly six months. Duncan was certain that Ray was still looking for a small piece of Ashley in that bar just outside of Richfield, Utah that night.

The sound of a large cowbell rung out from behind the wooden bar signaling the end of last call. The bar had all but cleared out by that time, though Duncan, Ray, and their new comrades remained.

Duncan and a few of the lingering bikers from Colorado made their way out the doors. Sam lit a smoke.

Ray emerged a few minutes later, arms devoid of hangers-on.

“Ask for Carlos at Luxor,” Duncan said to Varr, a wild haired, yet seemingly taciturn fellow. “Tell him I said to take care of you. He’ll know what that means.”

“Thanks, Dunner,” Varr said. He raised his arm as if he were preparing to arm wrestle the air. Duncan slapped his hand and held on for a shake. The group that remained took turns bidding similar farewells. The six bikers then mounted their vehicles and roared off, leaving Duncan and Ray in a swirling cloud of dust and smoke.

The two females that Ray had befriended exited the bar in a giggly and slightly unsteady way. Duncan and Ray exchanged a look. Duncan shook his head with a grimace. Ray nodded in agreement. The pair then got into the BMW and slowly pulled out of the lot.

Returning to their room, Duncan’s first order of business was to lift the ceiling slat above the shower just to be certain that nothing had changed.

All seemed well. The bag was intact.

Ray flopped onto the bed closest to the humming air conditioner and turned on the TV. Making a concerted effort to stay away from Sports Center, he flipped the channels restlessly.

“Just turn it off,” Duncan said, falling onto his bed.

Ray did.

As soon as TV blinked off, what sounded like a commotion not far from the front of their door became audible. “You hear that?” Ray asked.

Duncan got up from his bed and walked over to the window. He pushed back the wall-length curtain and peered in each direction. He saw nothing. The commotion began again and Duncan’s curiosity piqued. “What’s with all the noise?” he said. He opened the front door and stepped outside.

Duncan’s first inclination was to look over the railing. As he did so, a loud bang filled the open-air terrace. “What was that?” Ray asked.

Shoeless, Duncan began to walk toward the loud sound. Ray leapt from his bed and followed his friend.

Duncan was first to turn the corner at the end of the aisle. There he saw a woman slumped on the ground, huddling up to a vending machine. A man stood over the woman, his fists were clenched and his eyes enraged.

“What’s going on here?” Duncan asked.

He only needed to look down onto the face of the woman before it became patently clear what had been going on.

Neither girl nor assailant said anything.

“Why don’t you back up?” Duncan said to the man.

Ray rounded the corner.

“Hey,” the man said. “This is none of your business. Go back to your room.”

The man unclenched his fists and feigned calm.

“Don’t,” the girl pleaded.

She was wearing jean-shorts and a thin white tank top. Ray instinctively leaned over to help her up.

“Hey!” the man yelled, his hands transforming into fists once again. He made a move toward Ray.

That’s when Duncan interceded. With stealth and speed, he grabbed the man from the side, swept his legs out from under him and had rendered him immobile on the ground before the man knew what had happened. With a knee in one ear and the cold concrete under the other, the skinny man quickly realized he would be no match for the one on top of him. “What the fuck?” he gasped.

Duncan had the man’s arm twisted around and held it up in the air over his body. The man couldn’t move in a thousand different ways. “What’re you, a cop?” the man asked.

“Why?” Duncan answered, “You doing something illegal?”

“Fuck no. There’s no problem here. I got no problems with you.”

Ray helped the blonde-haired girl up from the floor. Her young face was red and beginning to swell. “Do you know this guy?” he asked her.

She nodded.

“Boyfriend? Husband?”

“Neither,” the girl answered. “He’s just an asshole.”

“You do have a problem with me,” Duncan said to the man under his knee. “I paid $39.99 to the woman at the front desk for a room. So that means tonight, this is my house. You’re making noise in my house.”

Duncan gave the man’s arm an extra little twist. The man grunted in pain.

“I paid too, man. It’s my house too.”

Duncan gave the twisted arm a pull.

“Okay!” The man howled. “Okay!”

“It’s time for you to leave,” Duncan said. “I’m going to let you up and then you’re gonna get your shit and go.”

“I don’t have any shit,” he said.

“That should make it easier.”

As he finished his words, Duncan yanked the man up from the ground almost as violently as he had sent him down.

Ray took a step forward to shield the girl now standing by his side.

Duncan unleashed the man from his control and stood in front of him. The man looked over Duncan’s shoulder and peered at the girl.

“You’re a real cunt, you know that?” he said, pointing in her face. He might have said something more but thought better of it when he once again met Duncan’s glare. The man turned and clomped heavily down the open stairs to the first floor.

All three that stood on the landing above could see the man’s grey and red pickup truck peel out of the lot and onto the street.

“What’s your name?” Ray asked the girl once the truck was well out of sight.

“Amanda,” she answered.

“You live around here?”

She shook her head no.

“What were you doing with that guy?”

“He’s just…some guy,” she said, tapping her fingertips to her cheek to survey the damage.

“How old are you?”

“Twenty-three.”

“Yeah, twenty-three,” Ray said in disbelief.

“I am,” she insisted. “Why, how old are you?”

Ray didn’t answer. “You have somewhere to go?” he asked.

The girl shook her head again.

“What the hell are we supposed to do now?” Ray asked Duncan.

Duncan leaned over and swiped up the girl’s bag from the ground beside the vending machine and handed it back to her.

Both Ray and Duncan knew they couldn’t just let the girl go off on her own, not after what had transpired. By the way she looked at Ray, it seemed as though she didn’t want that either.

“Fuck it, let’s go,” Ray said.

“Where?” the girl asked.

“Where do you think?”

Boundless

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Genre – Contemporary Fiction/Literary Fiction

Rating – R

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The Photo Traveler (The Photo Traveler Series) by Arthur J. Gonzalez @arthurjgonzalez

CHAPTER TWO

By now I’m so groggy that the police sirens flooding the air sound like a roaring in my ears. Then I hear banging on the front door and men shouting. For all I know, they could be angels who’ve come to rescue me. As Jet raises his fist to pummelme again, Dina rushes out from the kitchen and sprints to the door like a mouse scurrying to snatch her cheese. As the police break through, she screams, “Help! Please! He’s going to kill him!”

The officers wrestle Jet to the floor. One of them knocks out his front tooth. I collapse at the foot of the stairs. Searing pain is radiating through my body. Mel finally comes running from her room sobbing as the police handcuff Jet and drag him out to one of the patrol cars. They tell us that he’ll be booked and held until he’s arraigned and can make bail.

I see Dina’s shoulders sag in relief, as if a burden’s been suddenly lifted from her. It’s a feeling I can relate well to. If Jet’s out of the house, that’ll give us at least a few days of peace, without the constant reminder of how miserable our lives are. And I’ll have some time to figure out what I’m going to do.

Meanwhile, the paramedics, who charged in right behind the police and rushed to check me out, tell me I should be monitored for a possible concussion.

“No, I’m fine,” I keep insisting. “Just let me go to my room.”

They leave shaking their heads, but I’m stuck downstairs for almost an hour while the police take statements from all three of us. Their report includes a lot of history about the violence in our “home”.

After the police finally leave, Dina comes over and puts her hand on my shoulder. She’s been crying pretty much nonstop, and her eyes are red and swollen. “I’m sorry,” she says. “I should have done this a long time ago… Are you doing okay?”

Every rib on my left side is pulsing with fire, but I tell her, “I’m fine. Thank you.”

I hug her as best I can, but I can’t help grunting from the pain. I look over at Mel, who’s huddled on the couch, and I can read everything she wants to tell me from the expression on her face. I see that she’s really sorry. She gives me a quick glance, then immediately drops her gaze to the floor as if she’s embarrassed. But I have no real idea why she should feel embarrassed when it was Jet who attacked me. Maybe it’s finally dawned on her that her lies fueled the entire thing. Again.

I start to make my way up the stairs to my room, but I have to hold on to the railing instead of bouncing up two steps at a time the way I usually do. When I reach the top, I stop and turn back to look down at Dina.

“You should be proud,” I say, followed by a grunt of pain. “You’ve set yourself free.”

* * *

Photo Traveler

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Genre – Young Adult Science Fiction

Rating – PG

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Evan Burl & the Falling by Justin Blaney @justinblaney

Six

Monday

1:05 pm

I was a wicked boy. And my loving uncle was going to cure me of wickedness. That’s what he told me after we left Henri—right before Yesler took a whip to my back. It’s worse when Yesler gives them. Three lashes feel like thirty.

But I didn’t make a sound. 

And I knew the lashes weren’t for stealing food. They were for climbing the tower with Pike five years ago. Every punishment went back to that. I often went back to that moment. He hit the ground first; me, a fraction of a second later. I often thought back to that moment; all the thousands of little things that caused us to fall just the way we did. Marcus taught me about science. Physics. How little changes can add up to the difference between life and death. 

A soft breeze. The turning of the earth. The way our bodies moved and how we changed our paths through the air without even knowing it. The result was a 4 foot distance between where we landed. 

I hit a thick straw roof and went straight through into a shed filled with hay, breaking 12 bones. My leg never healed properly. 

Pike wasn’t so lucky. 

He hit the cobblestone pavement just outside the hut I landed on. Marcus said that a body could bounce up to six feet into the air after a fall like that. He also said it’s a painless way to die. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know it’s not painless for the ones who survive. Especially when I know that it was me who killed Pike. Even if I could forget that, my uncle Mazol was going to remind me.

That’s what the lashes were really for.

Yesler wanted to leave me in the hall where they whipped me, make me walk back to the caldroen myself. But Ballard must have known I wouldn’t make it. With one arm around me, he helped me limp through the castle. Ballard was like that. He might hold you down under Yesler’s whip in the morning and sneak you a sip of stolen beer in the afternoon. 

Under his other arm, Ballard carried one of the small chests that the roslings were found in. I don’t know where the stuff inside those chests came from or where it went when we were done. We might have been producing reams of cheap linen, doilies of spun gold or refined cow dung for all I knew. No one really cared. If, on the other hand, we discovered the clankers turned out cherry tarts, fresh bread—even moldy bread—now that would be something.  

I imaged Ballard carrying a chest of cherry tarts as we walked, smiling at the absurdity of it. My ragged shirt, tucked in my pants, lapped against my bad leg with every step; it would be a while before I could put it on again. I could hear the blood dripping off my back onto the stone floor as we walked.

We were moving too slow for my uncle and Yesler, so they went ahead to keep an eye on the roslings. Not long after they were out of sight, Ballard gestured to a bench. He seemed to sense how badly I needed to sit down, which was ironic given his role in my suffering.

“Don’t run off,” he said with a crooked smile and a growl, then set the chest down next to me and disappeared around a corner. I wasn’t sure if he was trying to be funny or not, but when you have blood running down your back and your best friend is being punished for something you did, it’s difficult to find anything funny.

I sat on the bench, careful not to touch my back to the wall. For a moment, I thought about trying to open the chest next to me, just to see what was inside. But it was impossible to open without the key. Instead, I stared blankly through a huge window into the courtyard.  

Daemanhur sat on a cliff’s edge, high above the Leschi sea, which filled the northern horizon. A 40 foot wall circled the courtyard, running close to the castle by the tower on the uphill side and stretching for nearly a mile down the slopes toward the harbor where a small trade-town was built a few more miles down the road. 

A creek ran under the wall on the uphill side of the courtyard and kept a large lake full year round. There were fish in the lake, but most were to bony and small to eat, not that bones stopped us from trying when we had the time to fish. Another larger river joined the creek just above the town and ran into a harbor where ships docked from time to time. 

I sometimes watched the ships come into the harbor while I was working the clankers, just to give me something to think about besides work. Men from the town  traded with the ships, and sold some of the goods to Mazol. Those who dared to travel through the jungle only did during the daylight and always with armored carriages and trained guards. They also kept moving no matter what. They didn’t stop for anything, not even if one of their passengers fell out of the carriage.

I heard once that traveling guards, runners they were called, the kind who protected deliveries through the jungle earned more money than the town’s mayor. Even for that much money, I wouldn’t take the job. Runners usually didn’t live past thirty. To be a good runner you had to be strong, ruthless and talented with a spear. Intelligence, on the other hand, was not required.

When the warts ordered goods, the runners would come to the gates on the uphill side of the courtyard just outside the window I was looking through. There was a fortified sort of room that was open to the outside where the delivery men could wait in relative safety for someone to come open the gates. The runners would pull a chain which ran over the courtyard and was connected to a bronze bell in the caldroen; the bell was in the caldroen because that’s where the roslings worked and someone would always hear it in there.  

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The Sea and the Silence by Peter Cunningham @PCTheAuthor

Religion, on the face of it, was of little consequence in 1922 when a local militia came to burn Gortbeg. However, an advance warning had been sent allowing Langley to ship out furniture, paintings and chinaware, so although the burning honoured ancient rituals, the saboteurs were less than committed and only the east wing, which included a breakfast room with wallpaper by Pugin, was razed. Bureaucracy triumphed where fire had failed. More than a decade later, Gortbeg and all its lands were acquired by the new government and paid for in non-negotiable bonds. Langley went to London, disposed of a diamond the size of a wren’s egg, put £2,000 into War Loan and bought the lighthouse, the coastguard station and fifty acres in Sibrille.

Ronnie amused me, and always had, from the first day I met him. What had once come across as pompousness, even arrogance, was in fact an utter belief in himself that was endearing and frequently comical. He had gone to Belfast in 1943 to join an armoured regiment and had taken part the following year in shoring-up operations in France, where he was lucky not to have been killed by a German sniper. Shipped back to hospital in England, he had spent the remainder of the war completing a correspondence course in estate agency, which enabled him when he came home to put letters after his name: Captain Ronald Shaw, M.B.V.I.

‘Ever tell you why I decided to join up?’

We lay on the soft summer grasses of the cliff in late July. Ronnie’s elbows jutted for the sky, their leather patches glistening. Between us and the horizon I could see men in mackerel boats, working their lines.

‘Was it because your father wanted you to?’

‘Absolutely not, the only thing my father approves of killing is foxes.’

Ronnie had a gap between his two front teeth, which, along with his big eyes, made even his attempts at being serious amusing. He said,

‘I was sitting out here, in this exact spot, one evening in 1941, and I could actually see German bombers blowing up cargo ships.’

‘From here?’

‘I could see the explosions.’

‘I don’t believe you.’

‘She doesn’t believe me.’ Ronnie looked up at seagulls. ‘Would someone please explain to this beautiful woman that I am incapable of deception?’

‘Very well, I believe you.’

‘Thank you. Well, as I say, here I was and out there I could see this appalling behaviour. On our sea. I decided I just had to stop it.’

I laughed. ‘And so you did!’

Ronnie sat up and looked out to the horizon. All of a sudden he looked like someone marooned in time from another era. I said, ‘It must have been hard.’

He put his arm around my shoulders. ‘I was lucky,’ he said quietly. ‘Many weren’t.’

‘I know.’

‘We shall always pray from them.’

We had both been brought up the Anglo Irish way, where emotion was ever seen as weakness. Ronnie leant out, plucked a sea-pink by its stem, held it up for a moment, then tossed it over the cliff.

‘To absent friends,’ he said.

Without warning, I felt my breaths coming short.

‘Ronnie…’

‘My God, I’m sorry, I’ve upset you.’

‘No, it’s not that.’

‘It’s not?’

I turned my face away and closed my eyes.

Ronnie said, ‘Are you unwell, darling?’

‘Sort of,’ I said, turning back to him. His round eyes and startled face made me sniffle and giggle at the same time.

‘Oh God, what?’ he said.

‘Ronnie,’ I said, ‘I think I may be pregnant.’

Langley and Peppy lived in the coastguard house, together with a woman called Delaney, Ronnie’s nurse who now cooked, and, for most of the year, Peppy’s younger brother, Stonely. One’s first impression upon entering the coastguard house was that a burglary had taken place. Doors and the drawers of cupboards and chests stood open or pulled out in every room, and from the innards spewed their incoherent contents. On the floors stood mounds of books, sacks of potatoes, the wheels of bicycles, rubber boots, riding crops, stacks of pictures, golf clubs, boxes of cartridges, fishing rods, waders, suitcases, jam-jars, cases of gin, propagating vegetables, milk churns, bedding, the mounted masks of famous vixens, oil drums, boxes containing the Gortbeg chandeliers, camp beds, step-ladders and a rocking horse. Such disorder went unnoticed by the inhabitants, who picked their way carefully through the chaos until they found what they sought — a book, or a cup for tea, or a chair without a cat in it.

When I first met Langley, he was stooped and arthritic, spindly legged and alarmingly thin, but the one time I saw him hefted up on a difficult mare of Peppy’s, I grasped in an instant how he fitted his horse, the lightness of his hands and how all the soreness went out of him. He had hunted for more than fifty years with wily, ragged-tongued hounds, spreading them over the tricky gripes around Gortbeg like a tan cloak. Man and beast, earth and sky, human blood and river water became all the one to him. He had lived it not once, but countless times; once a week, Langley fell to his knees in the church in Sibrille and thanked God for His munificence.

In the vast, upstairs room of a nursing home not far from Dublin’s Shelbourne Hotel, my baby was born. The doctor stayed with me all night, and three nurses. With all my heart I believed that I was going to die. As they kept passing the cold flannel over my brow, I could feel the shape of my veins standing out there. Then, just when I had screamed my utmost, and begged for death — for me and for my child and for the whole world — I could feel an easing in the bones of my pelvis, which must have dislocated. On my thighs, I felt the blood rush out on to the rubber sheets and then the most unforgettable feeling, the passing from me of such a warm and solid proof of my own happiness as it moved, still partly in me, and I reached out my wet hands, crying although I didn’t care who knew, pumping blood and milk, and I said, ‘My love.’

Ronnie had been up two days before, lunching at his club, bemused by the fussing nurses. Telegrams were sent to Sibrille relaying the news, but I didn’t expect to see anyone until the end of the week and so was surprised when next day the door opened and Peppy walked in.

‘You poor child,’ she said and kissed me, her nose cold as mutton. Many years before, her father had bought her a house in Dublin and she sometimes came up to inspect it. Now she went to the cot in the corner of the room. ‘Oh my God, he’s big enough,’ she said, sniffing. ‘Just as well he didn’t go full term.’

Peppy’s winters were given to fox hunting and shooting, her springs and summers to sea and river fishing.

‘Is he taking his bottle well?’ she asked.

‘I’m feeding him,’ I said.

Peppy frowned and sat in a wing-backed chair which the nurse had brought over. ‘I never did.’

‘Could you not?’

‘Oh, I expect I could have, I can’t remember, but they thought it better not to.’

‘The same here, but I insisted.’

‘If one must, then not beyond a few days.’ Peppy shivered, then smiled radiantly. ‘You look so beautiful!’

‘How is Ronnie?’

‘Delirious. He’ll be up tomorrow, or Thursday. He’s cub hunting.’

I laughed.

‘I told him to be careful, not to break his neck before he’d had a chance to see his son and heir,’ Peppy said. She glanced to the corner. ‘No causes for concern?’

‘They say he’s perfection.’

Peppy removed her hat and lit a cigarette. She bent forward and unlaced her leather knee boots and shook them off, then blowing smoke from the side of her mouth, sat back and crossed her legs. She said,

‘I remember when Ronnie was born. I had him in Gortbeg, the most dreadful experience. Langley was in and out, but the person I missed most was my mother.’

‘You must have been lonely.’

Peppy shivered and looked towards the windows. ‘Unimaginably.’

A nurse came in, picked up the infant and brought him over to me.

‘A little man like this’d be much better off with a big, big bottle,’ she said.

I said, ‘He’s got two big, big bottles here, thank you, nurse.’

Peppy watched the baby searching for my breast. She said,

‘He’s a Shaw, for sure.’

I smiled but Peppy was pensive. ‘I wanted to get out of England, you see, whatever that took. Three of my brothers had already been killed in the Great War and Stonely was handicapped. Our home was like a nursery for death.’

‘Then you met Langley.’

‘I came over here to hunt, he followed me back. My father was too distracted to take much notice of him. We were married in a church outside Carlisle, following which Langley, drunk, rode in a point to point and had such a heavy fall that he subsequently never remembered anything about that day, including the wedding ceremony.’

Tea was brought in and the nurse took the child from me and winded him. Peppy dropped a lump of sugar into her cup.

‘After six months here, I made a rule that I would never ask, and I never did. Never “Where were you last night?” or “What were you doing?” Never. I took up fly fishing.’

I felt for her, this bony, plain woman who had so much to give.

‘Was it bad?’ I asked softly.

Peppy slurped tea, put the cup to one side. ‘I can’t remember, to be honest.’

‘Were you never in love?’

‘Love is something I’ve never quite grasped, although I daresay you have,’ she said.

I closed my eyes and allowed myself to drift away.

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘I have.’

But Peppy became flustered now, for she thought that she had said the wrong thing. She said,

‘Oh, God, I am sorry, Iz. What I meant to say was that I was never as beautiful as you, and so I expect you know far more about love than I do — and that’s not what I meant to say either.’

‘I understand.’

‘Do you? You see, some people never quite get the hang of it and I’m an example. I have other things, though, and I’ve never been one to sit and think of how it might have been. But come on, any more of this and we shall both be sniffling and there’s nothing worse. Tell me. What are you calling it?’

‘His name is Hector,’ I said.

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Rating – G

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Razer 8 series by P.T.Macias @pt_macias

Chapter One

Damn, damn! It’s late. I’m gone and this time for a long time. I didn’t even last 48 hours at home. I barely made it for Charlie’s high school graduation, fumes Nathan. He takes the stairs two at a time. He stomps down the hall and into his room.

Nathan grabs his duffle bag and shoves his clothes inside. He zips it up. He quickly pulls up his black leather pants and puts on a black t-shirt. He grabs his black leather boots.

“Nathan, get your ass down here boy! I want you to get me some more moonshine!” yells Ralph. “Nadine, where are you! I need you! Where’s that extra bottle of whiskey! I’m going to beat the shit out of that boy of yours!”

Ralph stumbles around the kitchen, pulling open the cabinet doors and slamming them shut. “He never listens! This is your entire fault, always your fault. You never would tell me who his father is. You’re such a whore, only a whore. Yeah, but I caught on real quick to your game. You thought that I was going to believe that he’s my son! Never!”

Ralph is Nathan’s biological dad. Ralph always believed his buddy, Thomas Blackstone. Thomas always loved Nadine and couldn’t stand to see her married to his best friend Ralph. He told Ralph that he saw Nadine in the cornfield with Jason Landers. He’s the rich banker in town.

Ralph saw red. The frustration and humiliation of his Nadine having an affair with Jason was unbearable. He started drinking and never stopped. He started beating Nadine and the children after Charlie was five. The thought of believing that the two children were not his and that they were living in his home, was extremely painful. He saw them as the evidence of her unfaithfulness and this drove him insane.

He’s always been abusive to my Mama, my sister Charlotte, and to me, thinks Nathan. This is exactly why I left at nineteen. I was going to the junior college and working at night. I only needed a few more classes to graduate. I had my life mapped out. I had applied to Swamp Fox University. I wanted to get my degree in Criminal Justice.

I came home and he was hitting my Mama. I almost killed him. I decided to leave, so I enrolled in the Marines and I stayed away. This place is pure hell! I only want to see my Mama and sis, Charlie, thinks Nathan. I’m happy that Charlie stays away from here. She usually spends all her spare time with Carol. She’s at her best girlfriend’s home. She finally graduated from high school. She’s smart and a great student. Charlie was able to get a scholarship. Yes, now she’s going away. I’m grateful that the timing of my leave allowed me to see her graduate. I pray that my dad doesn’t kill my mom, but I need to leave now. I will kill him if I don’t leave. Damn it all to hell!

Nathan quickly ties the solid black scarf into a pirate head scarf. He wears his golden wavy hair collar length. He inserts his diamond stud into his ear. He wears a goatee and has light pale crystal clear blue eyes.

Damn, I need to hurry and get out of this hell hole. What was I thinking? I know better than to return home. This will never change. It doesn’t matter that he gets older and weaker. He’s still the mean son of bitch he always was. I have to leave before I kill him, thinks Ghost.

He runs quickly down the stairs with his duffle bag in his hand. Nathan walks out the back door. He walks the driveway to the front of the house. He stops to look at the house. Damn, it was never a home. I only survived. I only return for my Mama and Charlie. He grinds his teeth, trying to control his anger and hurt.

He moves quickly down to the neighbor’s home. I need to say bye to my Mama, he thinks. He walks up the walkway and rings the doorbell.

Ms. Ruth calls out. “Come in, Nathan,” she says, smiling. She reaches for his cheek and caresses it with love. “Your Mama is taking a nap. She needs her strength. She also has to be able to stay up tonight. I heard that your Pa is drinking again.”

“Thank you, Ms. Ruth, for all you do for my Mama and Charlie. I’m leaving and I wanted to say bye to her,” says Nathan, in a soft voice, almost a whisper.

“Yes, of course, Nathan. Come this way. She’s in the back room,” says Ms. Ruth.

She walks down the hall and Nathan followers her. Oh damn, I hate leaving my Mama with him. I pray that he stops hurting her, muses Nathan.

They enter the room and his Mama is taking a nap on a full bed. She’s covered up with a soft blue homemade quilt.

“I’ll leave you two alone,” says Ms. Ruth.

Nathan stands for a few minutes and stares at his Mama. Wow, my Mama is such a beautiful woman. My Pa has tried to break her down. She’s amazing and has an incredible faith that he will change, he thinks.

Nathan walks slowly to the edge of the bed. He leans down and kisses her temple.

“Mama, I’m leaving. I don’t know when I will return. I love you,” whispers Nathan.

His Mama opens her eyes. Tears gather and slip down her face. “My Nathan, I’m so sorry that your Pa threatens you and Charlie so badly. I wish that he was a good Pa. Yes, I want you to leave because I don’t want you to do something that will harm you for the rest of your life. Charlie is going away to college. This will give me peace, knowing that my darling children are far from his grasp,” says Mama Nadine. “I’m so proud of you, Nathan. I love you and I pray for you every night. Don’t worry about me. God bless you, my darling Nathan. Please call and let me know that you’re doing well.”

“Mama, I love you and I’m going to miss you and Charlie. I will call you,” replies Nathan, softly, almost a whisper.

He stands tall and straight and turns to walk out. At the door he stops and turns to look at his Mama. His tears are falling down his cheeks.

“Bye, Mama,” whispers Ghost. He strides out of the house and heads to the airport.

I’m gone and I can’t have any regrets, muses Nathan. I’m going to spend the rest of my leave with Loco. Loco and I are close, like brothers.

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Redfox, Razer 8 10-13-13

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Genre – Romantic Suspense

Rating – PG 13

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The Benjamin Chronicles: Relativity by Matthew DiConti @MatthewDiConti

CHAPTER FOUR

Conal shook his head, and wiped a small bead of sweat that had begun to form on the left side of his brow with the back of his hand, forcing himself to focus. Nerves. Get it together, man. I’m not a teenage schoolboy anymore. I’m a grown man. I have a life. A small, routine one, but a good one. I’m more than capable of saying hello to an old classmate.

The nerves and excitement dancing in his stomach said otherwise, but Conal forged ahead.

“Ahem, excuse me. Abby?”

For one heart-stopping moment, she stared at him, searching his face for something familiar.

Great! She doesn’t remember me. Way to go, genius, she’s going to think you’re a stalker. Ought to be calling for security any second now.

“Oh my goodness! Conal Benjamin. Wow. How are you? What are you doing here?”

She sounded as flustered as Conal felt. Her friendly smile and eager to please attitude belied her cool, professional appearance.

“I went to school here and heard they were showing this exhibit. I’ve always been kind of a science nerd, couldn’t resist checking it out. How about you? Do you work here?”

“Oh, no, I’m just helping out with the exhibit, actually. Conal, it’s been so long. The last time I saw you was in high school, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah, yeah, I think we were outside in the student parking lot. Weren’t you crying or something?”

She looked at him quizzically.

Nice one. Come across as a stalker, and now we can add tactless and utterly socially inept to the list. You’re batting a thousand, Benjamin.

“Well, how’ve you been? You kind of disappeared after the last time I saw you. I was worried about you, actually.”

Before Conal could answer, a booming voice cut in.

“Abigail! What’re you doing? You’re supposed to be backstage. We’re on in ten.”

Seven years evaporated in that moment. Conal watched as once again, Abby went rigid at the sound of that voice, a look of sheer panic flickering across her face.

“Tristan, this is Conal. I’m not sure you two have ever met. Conal and I went to high school together.”

Tristan clasped a huge paw on Conal’s shoulder. The two were similar in height, but that’s where it ended. Tristan had to be at least thirty pounds heavier than Conal, chiseled, and was built like some kind of demigod. “Nice to meet you, buddy, but the lady and I have work to do. You should come check it out. This shit will blow your mind.”

“Yeah, maybe,” Conal said, dismissing the thought immediately. “Which exhibit are you showing?”

“You ever heard of Einstein’s theory of relativity? The guy thought it was possible to travel through time. Pretty cool, even for a weirdo. Well, apparently he even built himself a time machine and we’re going to reveal it today. I’m the spokesperson for the exhibit.” Tristan mistook the dumbfounded look on Conal’s face for being impressed. “I know, it’s cool, right?”

You gotta be shitting me! This tool has my dream girl and my dream job.

He looked almost exactly the way Conal remembered; only now his hair was pulled back into a slick black pony tail, and he was obviously spending upward of the national debt at his local tanning salon. There was a faint line around his eyes from where his tanning goggles sat.

“So, Tristan, you’re a scientist?”

“Nah, man. My father runs the company sponsoring the exhibit, said it’d be good for their corporate social responsibility reputation, or something like that. He suggested I present the exhibit, since, let’s face it, I’m a lot more appealing than some nerdy scientist.

Abby caught the look on Conal’s face as it twisted into contempt and disbelief.

“It’s a really interesting exhibit, Conal. We should probably get going, the opening presentation is soon, but you should check it out. I think you’d be really interested in it.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard a thing or two about it. Maybe I’ll see you there.”

How could she have not learned after all of this time? It felt as though someone had sucked the life directly from Conal’s soul. Of all the cruel tricks of fate. Let him come within an inch of what it feels like to have everything you’ve ever wanted, only to watch it be snatched away by some Fabio wannabe with a greasy hairdo.

Someone slid an arm around Conal’s waist, holding him tightly. The sharp scent of her perfume announced her before he even saw her face.

“Hey, you took off kind of quick. Not trying to sneak away from me again, are you?” Colleen grinned at him, a look of teasing merriment in her eyes.

“No, sorry, Coll. I ran into an old classmate from high school.”

“Oh? He or she?”

“She.”

Colleen’s quickly put her hands on her hips in a pouting manner. “Dammit, Conal, just when I think I’ve got you pinned down, another woman swoops in to grab you away from me.” Colleen stuck out her index finger, poked Conal in the chest, widened her eyes, and emphasized the next three words: “Not…this…time! We’ve got a lot of catching up to do.” Colleen grabbed Conal’s arm, squeezing his bicep like a child hanging on to a new toy. “But first, the opening presentation for the big Einstein exhibit is about to begin. I know that’s right up your alley and I don’t want you to miss it.”

Conal’s heart sank again. Here was a woman who actually wanted to be with him, a beautiful woman who knew his interests and actually cared what he thought, and all he could do was act like a petulant schoolboy, pouting because a girl, who had until a few minutes ago forgotten he existed, was here with another man.

He let Colleen muscle her way through the crowd to the exhibit so they were sitting close to the front of the stage, vaguely wondering if Abby would notice the gorgeous blonde at his side, and more importantly, if she’d be jealous. Not that it mattered.

Tristan was already speaking, gesticulating grandly as he described the many achievements of his father’s company while grinning toothily at the audience. He was a good corporate spokesman, Conal admitted, but there was no way he was going to pull off acting like he understood anything about this exhibit.

Relativity was far, far beyond this guy’s ken.

Abby was on hand to field audience questions, but had a tough time interjecting in the Tristan Show.

“Tristan…”

“Not now, Abby.”

She turned back to the audience. “Those who have questions can line up behind the mic in the center aisle, and I’m sure Tristan will be happy to answer your questions before the unveiling. Tristan, I think we have a question over here.”

Visibly agitated, Tristan covered his mic, lowered his voice and turned to Abby with a smile on his face but coldness in his eyes.

“No, I won’t, Abby, dear. People can wait until after the presentation. Besides, I’m sure I’ll have answered all of their questions by then. I’ll call you back up when I need you.

“So what was the point of even asking me to volunteer and help out if you’re not going to let me?”

“Oh believe me, Abby, you’re helping.”

Abby looked at Tristan, puzzled.

“You’re eye candy for the audience, Abby. Come on, babe! Did you honestly think I needed your help with anything else? Look, let’s not make this a big deal, okay? If you really want to be useful, why don’t you fetch me a bottle of water? I’m parched up here.” He shooed Abby away with his hand.

Anger and disappointment flooded Conal’s system. He’d had enough. His entire life had been neat, orderly, and above all things, lonely. For years, he had dulled this pain with memories, doped up on his dream of Abby, and in the cruelest, sickest play at dark humor, life had given him this. The woman he thought was the love of his life was still with this…worthless jerk-off who talked to her like she was nothing more than a damn trophy wife. He would have loved to go up there and throw Tristan offstage by the seat of his pants, but that would make him no better than Tristan.

Conal pulled a dollar out of his wallet, dropping it on the kid’s lap sitting next to him, grabbed an unopened bottle of water from his hand, and stood up. “Actually, Abby, there’s no need for that. Here you go, Tristan, I have an extra bottle of water.”

“Hey!” the guy started to speak.

Conal ignored him and stepped up to the edge of the stage as Tristan reached down for the bottle of water. “Let’s hope you know more about time travel than you do about manners.” Eyes blazing, he stared hard at Tristan.

Colleen, who had been sitting with her arm linked through his, had sensed his tension and was staring at him with a look between bewilderment and concern.

Conal slowly released the water bottle to Tristan. Losing his mind over his high school crush wouldn’t play well with this crowd. Besides, he already felt guilty enough about Colleen. There was no reason to terrify her with his misplaced anger.

Tristan looked as though he was struggling with a similar battle, clenching his lips together, and noticeably hiding the tightened fist he had just made behind his back.

He stared at Conal for a long moment before he turned his toothy, stomach-churningly sweet grin back to the audience. “Forgive me, ladies and gentlemen. I forgot myself. That was totally inappropriate on my part. It’s no excuse, but this is the first time I’ve ever spoken in front of such a distinguished audience. Abby, my apologies.”

The look on Abby’s face made it plain she didn’t believe a word dripping from his tongue, but she held hers, out of fear or for the sake of propriety, Conal couldn’t tell.

“Moving on,” Tristan said, giving a pointed look in Conal’s direction.

Colleen gave Conal’s side a little pinch and grinned at him.

“I like that you stood up for her,” Colleen whispered.

Conal nodded, a twinge of guilt slicing through him.

“Ladies and gentlemen, let me add that light really is not a factor in time travel,” Tristan said. “In fact, it is my opinion that this idea has gone so far as to actually misguide some of Einstein’s experiments.”

Conal shook his head, fury giving way to astonishment. Who the hell is this guy? Where does he come up with this stuff? Conal chuckled out loud. “Tristan, if Einstein were here today, he would be the first to tell you the opposite of what you just said,” he called out. “Light is far more effective at twisting space and time than anything else.”

Tristan was losing his patience. “My friends, we appear to have a scholar among us. Please, Mr. Benjamin, do tell, why would Einstein say that?”

Glancing over at Abby, I could see she was absolutely stunned at the interplay between Tristan and me. She looked curious.

“Well,” Conal powered on, “If you were to use a very powerful beam of light and moved it in a circular motion fast enough, it could twist space, and close time into a loop. You just need a source of light that would be strong enough. This would create a wormhole. In Einstein’s theory, a wormhole is kind of like a black hole, only far smaller, and on earth rather than in space. I’m guessing by the looks of your machine here, that he may have been trying to do just that.”

“A wormhole; light—are you serious?” laughed Tristan. “Listen, little man, why don’t you sit back and let the experts explain this?”

“Space and time are connected,” Conal forged on, his vision blurring around Tristan. “A very powerful source would do it. It would have to be extreme light, like a star, or a bolt of lightning, something of that nature.

“Think about it like this, Tristan. Say you’re traveling through space at exactly half the speed of light. Now imagine that I stayed here and fired a powerful beam of light past you. How fast do you think you would see the beam of light pass you? You’re probably thinking, half the speed of light, right?”

“Obviously,” Tristan replied, his eyes rolled.

“Wrong! It would pass you at the same speed it left me, the full speed of light. Your speed through space would make no difference whatsoever to the beam of light. Even if you turned around and traveled back into the direction of the oncoming light, you and I would both be seeing the light traveling at the same speed. So if both you and I see the light traveling at the same speed, then something else must be changing.”

“Time?” one of the observers called out, emboldened by Conal’s assertiveness.

“EXACTLY!” Conal called out. “It’s pretty simple when you think about it. So, by this example, it proves that time can be manipulated, which is the basis for time travel.”

A murmur of conversation sprung up among the crowd.

“Well, well, well. It looks as though we have ourselves a bit of an expert,” Tristan said snidely. “Since you know so much about the subject, please illuminate us with your expertise. Why don’t you come up and give us a demonstration?”

Conal and Tristan stared at each other, tension boring between them. From the corner of his eye, Conal could see Abby looking on, wide eyed, and uncertain.

“No, really, Mr. Benjamin,” Tristan said. “Why don’t you go ahead and take the floor? Please, a demonstration, if you would?”

Conal was fully aware Tristan was pining for him to make even the smallest mistake.

“Conal, get up there!” Colleen hissed. She shoved him out of his seat toward the stage. “Come on, Conal, do it.”

Conal glanced back over his shoulder as he moved forward. “Thanks, Colleen!”

He could hear his inner voices swirling. This is your opportunity to do something big, something she’ll really remember—The time is now. Fate is giving you a second chance.

“All right, Tristan, if you’re sure it’s okay?”

“Really, Mr. Benjamin, do you need a written invitation?”

Someone had to have Abby’s back; Conal took a deep breath. If shutting you up on stage is what it takes, then so be it… He trotted up the steps to the stage, like a new contestant on some kind of game show.

“Thank you, Tristan,” he said facetiously. “I don’t mind if I do.”

Conal felt his confidence grow as he spoke on parallel universes, and the dangers of going back in time and changing events of today by small changes we make to the past.

In defiance of Tristan, Conal had taken center stage.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I must admit to having been an avid follower of the great Albert Einstein, having read all of his published works again and again, and being a physics teacher myself. I have never attempted to travel through time before, but I’ll safely demonstrate how to turn the machine on and walk you through what I believe the great Einstein would do to time travel.”

Thoughts were swirling in Conal’s mind as he turned to look at Abby.

“And now, ladies and gentlemen, I can’t do this alone, so I would like to call up the lovely and extremely intelligent ABBY! Abby, if you don’t mind, I could use your help.”

Abby looked at Conal, shocked, then for a split second, glanced at the audience applauding her. She gave Conal a playful smirk. “Yes, of course.”

Conal watched her gracefully walk up to the stage.

“Is this safe?” she whispered.

“Yeah. Everything should be fine. I’ll shut it off if it starts getting weird.”

For a moment, Conal felt like a Las Vegas magician with Abby as his assistant. He could see it so clearly: Abby in a sequined dress that showed off her ballerina-like legs, her smile wide and beautiful, only for him. His heart ached for a moment, the muscles tightening in his chest. He needed to concentrate on the task at hand Focus! Watch what you’re doing.

He tried to work by instinct, trying to identify the switches and their functions by what he had read in Einstein’s books and where he would have put them if he had built the time machine. Funny, this thing looks like a stereotypical time machine. It’s almost like what I read in the Wells novel. I would have thought Einstein would come up with something better than this. Conal scratched his head in slight disappointment.

It was kind of like a small space-aged sleigh. Two six-foot-long curved metal rods protruded from a power source. Electrical charges shot back and forth between them. They were welded to the machine.

Abby sat with uncertainty in what appeared to be the passenger seat. She grabbed two nearby handles. The time machine had an energy meter on the side with about forty bars lit up and in big green letters the word ‘CHARGED’ was blinking. The machine was glowing like a small float in a Disney Electrical Parade, and the drumming of its engine was drowning out the sarcastic comments Tristan was making to the audience.

“This one’s shaking!” Abby shouted nervously, her hand wrapped around one of the handles.

The time machine sounded like jet engines firing up and it was vibrating rapidly, the entire control board shook. People in the audience began to back away.” Shut it off!” someone cried.

Still, Conal was determined to make this a success. “Let me just make sure nothing is coming loose here!” He was standing outside the machine and delicately reached across Abby’s lap to check the opposite handle, finding himself nose to nose with Abby. It was impossible not to catch her scent, a warm perfume and shampoo smell that made his heart ring in his ears. She was looking at him anxiously.

Conal tried to avoid looking directly in her eyes, hoping she wouldn’t see through him, not thinking twice about his hands, and wrists that were once again a glowing bright red up to his elbows. Hell, his leg could have been on fire and he wouldn’t have noticed it, and for a very brief moment, he imagined what it would’ve been like to kiss her. He knew this was unequivocally the best moment of his life.

Conal reached for the handle to pull himself back up. At that same moment, he felt a spark shoot through his fingertips.

“Ouch, dammit!” His fingers throbbed from the shock and Conal fell awkwardly on Abby’s lap, slipping to the floor, and coming face to face with Abby’s legs. For a split second, he looked right up Abby’s skirt. Awkward. Realizing this, he instinctively grabbed onto her legs. His head was beginning to swirl with embarrassment and confusion. For the love of God, let go of her legs! Holy shit! My hands are actually on Abby’s legs!

Before he could get his feet underneath him again, a sudden sound thundered, like a sonic boom, only stronger. Winds were swirling, lights were flashing erratically. Abby grabbed Conal’s hand.

“What’s going on? This isn’t supposed to be happening! Turn it off!” Abby yelled through the hurricane-like winds. “We have to get off!”

“We can’t! It’s too dangerous!” Conal yelled. Abby was already buckled in. Conal glanced at the other safety belt, but instead wrapped his glowing red arms across her, holding her to the seat. The lights were flashing faster now, so bright Conal and Abby had to shield their eyes. She buried her head in Conal’s chest, her screams muffled.

The scene was nothing more than blur now. Whatever was going on, the audience, the gymnasium, everything had disappeared, and the only thing below them was space and lights. With another massive jolt the machine bucked Conal right off Abby, forcing him to cling to the rail.

Conal glimpsed the light turning into many, stretching and bending; it had formed itself into a huge funnel.

Conal understood, but couldn’t accept what was going on. Somehow he knew what was happening, however improbable it seemed. Years of studying and imagining this very thing were coming together now, and the knowledge gave him a sense of calm. He and Abby were hurling through a wormhole.

Relativity

Conal Benjamin never let the love of his life Abigail Bradley know of his romantic feelings for her. Years of living with that regret haunted Conals life and left him with an emptiness in his heart. In one serendipitous moment they are reunited at an alumni science exhibit giving Conal a second chance but in a cruel twist of fate Conal’s triggers an unexpected chain of events sending Abby and himself through a wormhole to 1888 Whitechapel, London, the time and place of one of the most horrifying serial killers in history, Jack the Ripper. With the time machine lost and Conal and Abby separated, the fate of both of their lives hang in the balance. Nothing is what it appears to be and it’s up to Conal to unravel the mysteries that await him, before it’s too late.

“I could not put this cleverly crafted paranormal fiction novel down. I can’t wait to go on the next time travel journey with Benjamin! It would make for a great TV Series/Feature Film. Out of 5 stars I give it 6!”   – Kelly V. Dolan, NBC News Radio

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Genre – Paranormal Fiction

Rating – NC17

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Malled: A Tale of Revenge by Lee Tidball @leetidball

Chapter Four

I mean it…for reals.

HECTOR

I leave the old brick and stone edifice every morning around ten o’clock. 

I suppose back in the 1890s or something, it looked pretty impressive.  Now, my school, Big City Downtown Public High School, looks like any other of dozens of similar structures, old office buildings, the post office, cheap apartment structures with old storefronts on their bottom floors that line the more typical streets of downtown.

From there, it’s about a fifteen minute walk along crowded streets filled mostly with taxis and pedestrians snuggled up against the late winter chill to my destination, the Big City Juvenile Rehabilitation Center.  I scamper up the stairs, yet another old stone edifice, and enter, signing myself in at the front desk in a vast foyer before proceeding into the facility itself. 

“How’s life, Hector?” asks the guard at the facility’s entrance.  It’s the same question the imposing, muscled gentleman asks me every day.  And I give him the same stock answer, “Could be better, glad it’s not worse.” 

He buzzes me in.  I head down a wide hallway past a few offices.  I’ve been as regular as rain in the rainforest for so long here nobody even acknowledges me anymore other than with a polite nod or wave.  Tutoring the inmates (I guess technically they’re called patients) is one of the ways dreamed up by BCHS staff to keep me occupied while I finish out my senior year.  I passed all but two of my required classes by the end of my sophomore year.  I blazed through AP Calculus and AP Government this year, but I still needed a requisite number of days in school to qualify for graduation.  So I spend my days doing “aiding” for my favorite instructors and work-study programs outside the school, each of which pays me real money.  A blessing to be sure, considering that I basically live on my own, though the sensei at Downtown Dojo, my martial arts mentor, does give me a roof over my head and signs my parental permission slips and that sort of thing.

And one of those gigs is tutoring the inmates at Big City Juvie, as we call it. 

And wouldn’t you know that my student at the time is Janey, the same girl whose life I saved a month or so before in the alley behind the DL.  Astonishingly, the parents had committed her to the in-patient residency program after discovering the extent of her addictions—no small leap of humility for a police lieutenant—and when it was discovered that I was on the private tutor list for helping inmates stay current on their schoolwork, while in the program. I guess it was the girl’s demand that I be assigned to her or she would do some dire thing like refuse to eat or beat on her attendants at every opportunity until the arrangement was made.  The father had at first not allowed it, but a hunger strike of several days, along with the refusal of the staff to attend to her after she’d flattened the nose of one of the CNAs and practically castrated another, caused him to have a swift change of heart.  The day I began seeing her, she personally apologized to the entire staff of attendants and had been the very soul of cooperation since.

I head through another security check at the entrance to the Center’s library.  Here I have to completely empty my pockets of everything, something I find frustrating, but I guess it’s a sign of the times.  I can pick them up on my way out.  A number of tables are arranged in convenient rows.  Scattered among them are small groups of students and their instructors; some tutors are students like me, but most are older ladies and gentlemen without a bad bone in their bodies.  Janey spots me immediately, as if she’d been waiting all day for this singular moment.  Her braces-filled smile nearly shatters her face. 

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Genre –  NeoGothic Horror / Thriller

Rating – R for violence & language

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Jack Canon’s American Destiny by Greg Sandora @gregsandora

The only thing that gave me a worse vibe than these two was Gene’s taste in decorating. The ceilings were about 30 feet high and three walls held books up to about the first 15 feet, after which was a very large landing around three quarters of the room. The wall opposite the door was made up of five floor-to-ceiling arched windows. The bottom six feet of each had colonial muttons and were partially opened, allowing the outside winter cold to fight with the heat in the room. On the landings above the bookshelves were housed various artifacts of torture.

Gene saw me noticing, “These are from the collection of King Henry,” he boasted.

There were guillotines and stretching racks and other devices all made of aged wood and black iron. Some had big weathered chain links hanging from them and leather straps. There were black iron turning wheels, the sight was gruesome.

Gene motioned to a large axe with a semicircular blade and an unusually long, thick handle.

“This is my prized piece of the entire collection – the axe used to behead Katherine, Henry’s youngest bride.” Mounted next to the axe, on a polished cherry post, was a scrap of parchment. Next to it, carved in gold lettering over black onyx, was inscribed an onlooker. The parchment had faded to an almost illegible degree and was kept behind glass.

Gene said, “The onlooker’s account is sealed in helium, just like the Declaration of Independence, to preserve it. I’ve had it authenticated by historians, expert in the period.” The words were transferred onto the stone.

The eerie account told of the misty morning when the helpless fair-haired teenager, a mere girl, forced to lay under the weight of the wealth of England, was led to her death.

I read the inscribed: Queen Katherine emerged just before nine in the morning. A rain the night before had turned the courtyard muddy to our ankles. The streets containing the foul smell of chicken scratch and horse urine slurried into the mix. Gawkers’ pushed for position and strained to see the delicate fawn-like Katherine as she walked barefoot, clothed only in a very plain and simple linen dress. The exposed skin of her upper chest was so pale I could see the ghostly blue vein patchwork just beneath. The last time I had seen the young queen she was amazing, the most beautiful woman in all England. Fancily dressed and bright, riding in an open coach smiling sweetly waving to her subjects, I fancied the thought our eyes might have met for a second.

Spill her blood!” A spectator called out. I thought, what cowards this mob, content to stand by and watch. Greedily clinging to their own lives–any one of which could be wrenched from him in a second.

This bitter gray morning, the little Queen made her way slowly up to the old worn wooden steps, pausing briefly, turning sad doe eyes back to the crowd. A pitiful thin waif of a child so helpless and demure, Katherine continued up the stairs carefully gripping the railing as if it were her mothers hand, that somehow she might be swept away from all this.

Once upon the platform, facing the crowd full on, her tiny limbs were exposed and pale, a simple dress hanging over her nearly shapeless frame. She wore no jewelry. Her one remaining vanity, long hair, perfectly combed. The henchman placed her firmly against the block and with a blank and helpless stare Katherine moved her beautiful locks to one side exposing her slender neck.

I waited for her to jump to her feet and scream out in defiance, “What have I done that your precious King isn’t guilty of?”

Laying her head sideways on the block, she awaited her fate in silence.

The black-hooded killer appeared to us like a giant standing over her. A moment before, even the handle of the axe and the blade had been taller than the living little queen. He drew back.

I heard the neck cracking then a thud as the girl’s head crashed to the platform floor. Steam rose from the blood pouring in a warm pool from the lifeless body slumped behind the block.

Gene Hobbs had acquired the only known account of the gruesome event; one can imagine that onlookers must have rushed to write on whatever they could find to recount the scene. The metaphor of the rich over the poor and the machinery of torture in the room made me shudder. Reading the narrative, I felt sickened by the horror of the day, for lost innocence and the tyranny of the time. What a waste of a beautiful young life; what a disgrace for England.

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Genre – Political Thriller

Rating – PG

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Website http://www.gregsandora.com/

 

Quality Reads UK Book Club Disclosure: Author interview / guest post has been submitted by the author and previously used on other sites.

Samantha Warren – Why Book Covers Are So Important @_samanthawarren

*~*~*

ONE

*~*~*

He lay there, wrapped in eternal darkness, the utter stillness surrounding him like a warm blanket on a cold winter night. He saw nothing, felt nothing, knew only that he existed, outside of time and space, outside of the world as it was and is.

“Rise, my darling knight.”

A frown pulled at his lips, the first movement in centuries registering as a strange tingling sensation on his otherwise frozen face. The area in front of his closed eyelids brightened, fading from a deep, impenetrable black to a reddish brown. He tried opening them, but they refused to cooperate.

“Time to wake.”

The sweet voice filtered through unaccustomed ears, piercing the oppressive silence. It echoed in his head, the soft tones vibrating like a church bell at midday. He focused on the words and knitted his brow as he struggled to understand them.

“Is there something wrong?”

A different voice this time, huskier, deeper, concerned. Behind it he could hear the happy twitter of birds in the spring. The long bout of noiselessness had heightened his hearing and he listened as they hopped from tree limb to tree limb, frolicking in the leaves. He could hear bigger movements aside from the birds, scratching noises and grunts that seemed both near and distant.

“I don’t know. He should have awakened by now.”

The beautiful lilting voice was back, tinged with worry. His heart yearned to sooth the fear and began beating furiously. He tried to open his eyes again, but they would not yield. His lungs contracted, forcing his tightly pressed lips apart, and he gasped for the sweet air that had been denied him for so long. His back arched as he took several deep breaths, driving the life force through his body. His hands went unbidden to the sides of his enclosure and pressed against the smooth surface. It felt cool to the touch and he shivered briefly as his fingers scratched frantically at the walls surrounding him. Finally they reached open space and he gripped the edge weakly.

“Ah, there we go.”

He pulled, his muscles bulging, slowly, painfully raising himself to a seated position, and collapsed halfway over the wall. A light wind brushed over his bare shoulders, sending a prickling sensation down his spine. With much effort, he willed his eyes to open. A sea of green exploded into view, its bright color dampened by his blurry vision. He blinked repeatedly, trying to clear away the fog that seemed to be embedded in his brain. He pressed his eyes closed and took a deep breath.

When he opened them again, he could see more clearly. The green sea was really a field. He raised his gaze as far as he could without moving, as he had no strength to do so. The bright blue of the sky hurt his eyes and he lowered them quickly. Glancing to the sides, he saw two other men climbing from glass enclosures wearing nothing but a pair of cloth leggings and a matching shirt. They were familiar, though he could not place them immediately.

A rustling beside him caught his attention and his ears pricked toward the noise a mere fraction of a second before he felt a slight pressure on his shoulder. A woman knelt in front of him, her soft yellow dress draped in layers over her slim body. Her skin was kissed by the sun and smooth as silk. He followed the line of her shoulder to an exquisite, perfectly shaped bosom that peeked tantalizingly above the dress. His eyes continued upward, tracing her clavicle and the elegant curve of her neck. Her soft chin led to bright red lips. The smile there was warm and inviting, yet cruel and dangerous at the same time. A perfectly formed nose flared slightly as the smile grew in eyes that were bluer than the sky above her golden hair. A perfectly manicured nail reached out and stroked his cheek, leaving a trail of excitement dancing across his skin.

“Welcome back to the world of the living, my handsome king.”

The Iron Locket

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Genre –  Paranormal Romance

Rating – PG

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BoX by Lucas Heath @LucasHeathBooks

2: Chuck and Elisa

The room was silent as her eyes fluttered open. She stared at the glowing white ceiling of the cube and a smile formed at the corners of her mouth. She had done it. She had successfully committed suicide and was now in Heaven. She sat up slowly, her head pounding to its own beat. The light only added to her headache. She looked down at the black cross tattooed onto the back of her dark brown hand. Even from looking upside down, she could see her name, Elisa, embroidered into the grey sweatshirt she now wore. Wasn’t she supposed to get a new body?

Elisa finally stood and gazed around the room with a look of confusion prominently displayed on her face. Could she be in a holding room before seeing God? That didn’t sound right. The glowing walls seemed to dim as if answering her mental plea for less light. In the center of the room rose a pedestal with a gun resting on top. She walked over and studied it.

“Where am I?” The words escaped her mouth in a British accent and echoed as though she were in a cave or tunnel. “This can’t be hell, can it? It’s too beautiful.” She dismissed the gun and began walking around the room, looking for any clues that would define her reality.

Elisa’s mind began racing at the possibilities of her location. Perhaps she had been abducted by aliens after she took the pills. No, that idea was absurd. Maybe someone had found her dying and called for help. Perhaps they had locked her in a mental hospital, though that wouldn’t explain the gun in the center of the room, and the walls would be padded.

“Hello, can anyone hear me?” She called out as she looked toward the ceiling corners, hoping to see a camera watching her. “Hello?” The thick accent filled the room once more and Elisa finally sat down cross legged on the cold glowing floor. Perhaps she was supposed to wait for an angel to come get her. She leaned up against a wall and closed her eyes. Other than her breathing and the pounding of her head, there were no noises she could hear coming from anywhere, as though the strange cube was soundproof. She expected to at least hear harps playing.

Another possibility nagged at her. Perhaps the pills put her into a coma and this was just a dream. That theory seemed more likely, considering her situation didn’t match up to what she had grown up learning in church. She didn’t feel depressed anymore, that was obvious, and she enjoyed the mental freedom. Perhaps the cube represented her brain and she was trapped inside. As long as she wouldn’t have to face the outside world, she was content with where she was.

****

18069250

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Genre –  Thriller / SciFi

Rating – PG13

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