Sunday, September 27, 2015

HAPPILY EVER AFTER by Madeline Mora-Summonte

This month our guest author is a pinch hitter. She stepped in rather last minute and delivered this awesome tale. We're lucky to have her and her talent visiting LQR. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome Madeline Mora-Summonte.

Delia doesn't remember a lot of things, but she'd remember stealing a baby. Wouldn't she?


Delia doesn't remember stealing the baby.

She stops walking, stares into her rusty shopping cart. The baby girl, swathed in a clean pink blanket, sleeps among the lumpy garbage bags stuffed with Delia's life. Delia leans over, sniffs. She can't always trust her eyes – she sometimes sees things that aren't there. Her nose twitches. The smell of innocence - baby shampoo, apple juice, cookie crumbs – punches through Delia's own stink, knocks down any doubt still standing.

Delia whirls around, panic scratching the inside of her throat with familiar fingers. No, no, no. Not the police. They'll lock her up. Not the doctors. They'll put her away. Again.

But the area around Delia, the edge of town, is deserted. She pushes the cart down an alley, breath rattling the fragile birdcage of her chest. She leans against the wall. The baby watches with serious eyes. Delia rubs her aching forehead. She doesn't remember taking this baby. But she doesn't remember a lot of things. She frowns. The baby's brow furrows in response.

"Don't worry, princess. Here . . . " Delia rummages through a bag, puts the storybook on the baby's belly. The baby gurgles, ruffles the book's swollen pages, gnaws on a corner of the stained cover.

"I can't read it to you, little one. I never did learn so good." Delia knows only from the pictures that it's a book of fairy tales, of princesses and dragons and knights who save the day.

She used to wish someone would save her from the voices inside her head, and the ones outside that called her names, that demanded she do nasty things. She used to wish someone would save her from dark corners and probing fingers, from blood and bruises. But she learned early that fairy tales don't come true for people like her.

Delia shuts her eyes, hard, tight, searching her memory for where she found this baby, for picking her up, for putting her in the cart. But Delia can't find anything anywhere. She gasps, opens her eyes. What if . . . what if she didn't steal this baby? What if . . . what if someone gave her to Delia? To protect. To save.

Delia studies the baby, who looks healthy, clean, well taken care of. But so did Delia. Once upon a time.

Rage fills Delia's heart with the heat of a dragon's fire. She will save this baby, save her from a life like Delia's. She will not let this baby girl down.

Delia pushes her cart, her life, behind the dumpster then scoops the baby into her arms. They have to go. Now. The baby hugs the storybook and gives Delia a big gummy smile as if she agrees, as if she knows Delia is her destiny.

Delia leaves town, taking back lanes and worn paths. She whispers to the baby, to herself, "You are a beautiful princess, and I am your guardian ogre, and we are running, running, running from the dragon . . . "

Delia walks until her knees almost buckle. She sings and tells stories until her throat scrapes. She bounces the baby in shaky arms, muscles turning to rubber. An unfamiliar deserted road winds and twists under her, ahead of her. Heat rises from its cracked, scaly surface.

Off in the woods, an old-fashioned school bell clangs. Delia stumbles, stops. Her mind sweats, her thoughts swim in salty confusion. She looks down at the baby. Is Delia supposed to take her to school?

"You want to go to school, little princess? You can learn to read, read that book to me." Delia brushes the baby's cheeks with gentle fingers.

The baby wriggles in Delia's arms, smiles.

Delia steps among the trees, into their cool, damp embrace. The baby gives a joyful screech. Delia laughs. The bell cheerfully beckons them, but Delia's not sure which way to go. She turns slowly, stops, squints. A path. She thinks.

They burst into a clearing.

Artist: Abby McClean
Two burnt, crumbling walls still stand. Charred beams stretch across the sky. Shattered window glass, milky with age, stares up from the ground like eyes filmed with cataracts. A gaping hole yawns from the floor, edged with the jagged teeth of broken boards.

The bell, shiny and sturdy, slows, quiets as the boy riding the rope lets go, landing with a soft thud. Children turn and face Delia as one.

Shock sends Delia to her knees. The storybook falls to the dirt. Delia can only take in pieces – scalded skin, blistered faces, boiled skulls, tufts of hair, withered limbs. She blinks hard, rapidly. Is she seeing things again? She sniffs, gags on the stench of rotting, decayed flesh. Her bowels let loose. The baby whimpers.

The boy who was ringing the bell hobbles forward. He grins through crisped skin. His one eye gleams with excitement.

"He told us you were coming." The boy's voice rasps.

Delia shakes her head, terror seizing her speech.

"The dragon." The boy points to the hole inside the school. Black and blue smoke plumes lazily, a languorous forked tongue tastes the air. "The dragon said the ogre would bring a princess to play with us."

The other children circle around, their skin crinkling. The baby wails, the sound piercing Delia's ear, her heart.

"But I . . . I saved her."

The boy holds out his arms.

"I…I'm her guardian ogre."

A horrible, horned reptilian head rises from the bowels of the burned school, as a remembered truth rises inside of Delia.

Fairy tales don't come true for people like her.


Madeline Mora-Summonte is a reader and a writer, a beach-comber and a tortoise-owner. She is the author of the flash fiction collections, The People We Used to Be and Garden of Lost Souls

Friday, September 25, 2015

Midnight Session by Stuart R. West

Stay in school. Don't do drugs. Drink blood.
As soon as Harry saw the building, he considered the hefty school fee he’d paid wasted money. Tiny bits of green currency floating away on a draft of chicanery. Sucker. Ironic, Harry thought, as the name really fit in more ways than one. Turning away from the industrial warehouse, he yelped, startled at the sight of a brunette standing in front of him, a gotcha grin tugging her cheekbones high.

“Hey.” She clutched her trench coat tightly around her throat. “I’m Katrina.” Even though her name spoke of exotic faraway lands, her accent didn’t travel farther than Chicago.

“Sorry…you scared me. I’m Harry.” He stuck his hand out. Hers felt very cold. Delusional maybe, but he tried to hold onto the notion that his skin was still warm.

“You must be new. We move quietly here.”

“Yeah. Guilty. I’m…pretty new.”

 “Well, c’mon, Harry. You’re in the right place. Don’t worry about the venue. It’s a good class.”

When Harry first saw the flyer for “Vamps 101,” he imagined it to be a stripper school of some sort. But after calling the number, the supportive operator assured Harry it was the right class for him. He needed all the help he could get. This vampire business was beginning to play havoc on his social life.

Katrina rang a bell next to the “Thomason Label” sign and waited. Harry expelled a breath in the cold winter night. Of course he didn’t expect to see his breath, not really. But he looked anyway; old habits die hard.

A night watchman peeked through the window next to the door. “Good evening, Ms. Katrina. I was beginning to worry you wouldn’t make it.”

“Just running late. You know I’d never miss a class.”

“Teacher’s pet!” The watchman laughed.

Katrina led Harry through a maze of upfront offices and hamster-challenging cubicles until they reached a large meeting room. Inside, people had gathered around a back table, sucking out of hospital blood bags with straws and dabbing their mouths with wet wipes. Chairs stood in a row, evenly and precisely as grey tombstones in a military cemetery.

“Class, let’s begin.” A mild-mannered clerk of a man with straw-colored hair wispier than a fleeting dream, commandeered a podium. “Welcome back. I see we have a few new students joining us today.” Behind bottle-thick glasses, he eyed Harry. “I’m Seth. The gentleman to my right is my T.A., Kevin.”

Kevin’s appearance startled Harry. He’d never seen an old-school vampire before--true Transylvanian style, gaunt, bald, the pointed ears of an elf and eyes so pale the pupils barely existed. By way of greeting, Kevin hissed through a mouthful of needled teeth. Ever the accountant, Harry imagined exorbitant dental bills.

“The purpose of our class is to help fellow vampires indoctrinate themselves properly into human society, learning to live amongst them as equals. We have an open forum, so please, if any of you have questions, concerns, challenges, please do speak up.”

Katrina dropped a well-manicured hand on Harry’s knee.

“Now, as you well know,” Seth continued, “we’ve been fighting strongly to put the old stereotypes behind us.” He dropped into a poor Bela Lugosi accent, complete with clawed hands. “I vant to suck your blood.”

Polite chuckles rippled throughout the classroom, a wave Harry awkwardly joined.

“Our goal is to reassure the humans we mean them no harm. Rather than sup on humans, we’ve found other ways to satiate our thirst. For instance, there’s animal blood, hospital donations—”

A little girl, possibly no older than thirteen (at least when she turned), shouted, “But, Seth, animal blood is so gross!”

Seth’s lips tightened into a bone-white scar. “Lucinda, when you were human, you ate beef, correct?”

“Well, yeah, I guess.”

“And did you like it?”

“Sometimes.” She crossed her arms, frumpy at the world and refusing to be pigeon-holed.

“Well, there you have it.” Seth spread his hands in a giving manner. “Now, if you’re having problems procuring—”

“What about dogs?” asked a burly lumberjack of a vampire. “Is it okay to eat dogs?”

Harry could see Seth’s patience bubbling like a boiled-over teakettle. Briefly, he closed his eyes. Then like a rubber band, snapped back. “Borney, you know better than that. Anything that’s considered a pet is off-limits. Once we officially come out, humans won’t smile kindly on dog snacking. Does that answer your question?”

Borney slid down into his chair, kicking his denim-clad legs out. “I guess.” Harry imagined he had his mind set on a rather plump Dachshund, only to have that meal taken off the table.

A sniffing sound distracted Harry. On the other side of the room, a goth girl and a businessman were smelling the man between them, their noses tracking up along his arms. Disapproving frowns wrinkled their faces.

The man, even paler than Kevin, blurted out, “Leave me alone,” gargling as if underwater.

With a sneer, the businessman jacked a thumb toward the sickly-looking man, virtually ignoring him, and asked, “What’s he doing here, Seth?”

Again, Kevin hissed, possibly an enforcer more than a T.A.

“Devin, I’m well aware of Charlie’s unfortunate living dead predicament. He—”

Ignoring Seth, the businessman spat out, “Zombie!”

“Blood sucker!” gave back Charlie.

Gasps traveled through the room, the seed of a full-birthed crowd riot.

Seth banged the podium with a tiny fist. “Ladies and gentlemen, enough! Please! No ugly names! One of the reasons we’re here is to get past vile name-calling—”

“We prefer to be called living-challenged,” offered Charlie. Even through his wet-sounding, nearly indecipherable words, Harry detected pride. A man who’s fought an uphill battle most of his undead life. However, a bit of his pride sort of dissipated when his ear slipped off, splatting onto his shoulder.

“My apologies, Charlie. Class, from now on, we’ll refer to Charlie’s predicament as ‘living-challenged’. No more name calling. Is that understood?”

Kevin leaned forward, mouth gaping open wide, large enough to inhale a pig. The class quieted.

“As I was saying…” Seth shot the fighting trio a “that’s-the-end-of-that” look. “…Charlie had my preapproval to join the class. He, like us, is persecuted. We aim to end that. Through education, understanding. Getting along as a community. Peaceful protesting, so to speak. Let’s move on…” He scanned the students. His bug-eyed gaze fell on Harry. “Harry’s new. Everyone meet Harry.”

Immediately, Harry loathed the attention, dreading what he knew would come next.

 “Harry…please tell us a little bit about yourself.”

Harry hesitated. Katrina’s hand on his shoulder goosed him into action. “Um…I’ve only been turned for a couple weeks now. It’s hard…tough. I…met a girl in a bar…”

Nods from the men, affirmative sour grunts. The women smiled knowingly. He didn’t want to be a cliché, but that’s apparently the shoe he fit.

“…anyway, it’s been tough adjusting. I’m really not into eating people. Just not my thing. So…any kind of help…” His voice choked off. If he was still capable of tears, surely they would’ve flowed.

Katrina stood first, then the others circled Harry. Even Charlie, the living-challenged person, offered him a hug. A true vampiric Kumbaya moment.

After class, Harry’s spirits (did he still have one?) had lifted. Empowered, he vamped up, and approached Katrina. Not trusting himself around human women, he thought he’d ask her on a date.

“Um, Katrina…would you like to maybe…join me for a cup of coffee?” Immediately, he realized his mistake. A lifetime of human living habits would take a while to shake.

She smiled. “Not coffee. But, I know where there’s a field full of cattle, ripe for the taking.”

As far as first dates went, it hardly sounded romantic. But Harry did feel a little parched.


 Here I am, talking about myself, pretending not to. Ah, I'm probably not fooling anyone, but play along anyway, 'kay? Just imagine Morgan Freeman narrating and we'll all get through this just fine.

For more of Stuart R. West's adult and young adult suspense tales filled with light heart and dark humor, check out his Amazon page. 
And please do check out Stuart's blog featuring weekly rants, failed stand-up comedy routines and incisive author interviews: Twisted Tales From Tornado Alley

"Dexter meets Dilbert," says Declan Finn, paranormal/action writer. Serial killers have never been so much fun: Secret Society
Brand spankin' new and creeptacular trailer for Ghosts of Gannaway: .

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Back to School

Facing a new challenge three newby witches return to school.

Bethany scowled, pacing the school corridor. The smell of male teenage sweat, old socks, stale deodorant, ancient bananas, old socks and ink filtered through the overpowering layers of alien musk and singed hair. Bethany counted the years since she trudged similar corridors and halls, sweated through classes and suffered the angst of young love.

Stella, her guide and close friend, sat in a huddle. Knees clutched against her chest, chalk smudged on her clothes, her skin and through her hair. Her eyes were closed, her fingers crushing a small wedge of chalk. At her feet an ornate pattern of runes and flourishing scroll work stretched across the worn linoleum.
Leaning against the row of lockers Mark, the group’s protector, swung a baseball bat, as though practising for sword play.

Bethany could see the riffle of air as the wood moved. The organic energy flowed, where Mark poured his spells. Still new to the whole scope of magic, Stella and Mark completed her ‘team’.

Three familiars waited outside. Bethany watched the sea eagle rise on thermals. She tore her focus away from the bird, her familiar. A doberman bitch sat erect, watching the wall where Stella sat, as though able to see the witch through the brickwork. Mark's familiar, a huge carpet snake wasn't visible, but Bethany knew the cold blooded reptile would be close by, waiting for Mark's return, or contact.
Three new sorcerers. Each still finding their way through a learning maze of magic. 

They now faced a challenge well beyond their limited knowledge of dimensions and other worlds.

“It’s not Dave’s fault.” Mark balanced the baseball bat, come wizard’s staff, between his hands. His brow scrunched tight, marring his stunning looks. His wrist twisted slightly, refracting light caught on a woven metal band clasped around his arm. Bethany tore her eyes away from the muscles flexing in Mark’s forearm and biceps.

She needed to concentrate. Not on his scent, nor his piercing eyes, but on the danger lurking beyond the closed doors of the science lab.

“Doesn’t matter whose fault it is.” She said, trying to keep her voice controlled. Being the first to receive her gift, the newly formed sorcerers looked to her for leadership. Mark and Stella, as her team, shared the responsibility. Dave’s mistake needed to be fixed, before the problem hurt more people.

“He just wanted to open his grandmother’s window. You know he cares for her. The window was jammed, so he tried to use his magic.”

“And he opened a portal to another world… and allowed a creature access to this one.” Stella muttered. She raked chalk powdered fingers through her hair. Bethany didn’t comment. If they survived, Stella’s disarray would be overlooked.

“Dave’s on his way to hospital. Grace, (his guide), is with him. When he regains consciousness, she will try to find out exactly what spell he used, so we can un do it.” Mark spoke with confidence that seemed far removed from their present situation. Bethany admired his stoic acceptance of his role as protector, leader and support person. She struggled to control the panic forcing blood through her veins and sucking air into her lungs. Mark’s logic and presence kept her focussed, proving the success of her choice in bestowing magic on him.

A rumble and a roar set the air in the corridor vibrating.

Stella grabbed the bracelet circling her wrist. “The other teams have managed to set confining spells around the school’s perimeter.” Stella said, looking up. “While they are working as a group the creature should be trapped within the school grounds. They will try to close in, keep it in this building… if possible.”

“It’s moving…” Mark warned, turning toward the science lab doors, looming like a threat at the far end of the corridor. “Bethany…”

“I know…” She swallowed. “I am ready. Even if I don’t look like I am.” She lifted the rapier she had chosen as her weapon. Borrowed, on a permanent loan from her brother, the blade now carried her most potent spells. Spells of defence, accuracy, damage and stamina all wrapped like spider web around the steel. 

Still it didn’t feel like enough. She didn’t want to be close enough to the creature beyond the doors, to need the blade.

“Stella, as soon as Grace knows what spell Dave used, let us know.” Bethany shook her head. “No, when you work out what we need to send the creature back where it came from… then let us know. We will need everyone to join us when we work our magic. Newbies as we are.”

A screech, the sound of breaking glass and the yowl of a frightened animal reached them.

Mark shrugged. “Come on Beth, our friend is getting restless. We need to keep it contained, while we can.”

Beth nodded. “Stella, tell Grace not to waste time. Please.”

Mark rolled his shoulders, cricked his neck and flashed a grin toward Bethany. “Come on. First time in combat isn’t fun, but you’ll do okay. I’ll take point. You keep casting spells.”

Bethany clutched the sword in her hand. She prayed it was stronger than the ornamental replicas she had seen on ebay.

Time would tell.

Together they approached the closed doors. Through the small glass inserts Bethany saw movement. She wanted to turn and run, sprint toward the clear night, race across the field and leap the school yard fence. Instead she took another step. Beside her an emergency fire extinguisher, axe and fire blanket leered at her through a glass panel.


Glancing toward Mark, she smashed the pommel of her sword through the glass and grabbed the axe. Mark snatched up the fire extinguisher. Bethany tore open the blanket. If the creature could burn Dave, the blanket might be useful.

“Nigel did turn off the gas and electricity to the lab, didn’t he?” She waited for Mark to nod before she took her next step. The crunch of glass under her feet made her feel reckless, brave, ready for the conflict. Her adrenaline rushed and she grinned again. Even if the whole bravado was an illusion, it felt better than the dreadful fear consuming her moments before. The feeling seemed magical.

Of course, the gestalt of new sorcerers were combining their strength and covering her fear with their courage. Good for them. Only they didn’t have to come face to face with the creature.

A crash brought her out of her musing.

The doors splintered and disintegrated in an explosion of enraged creature.
Mark lunged forward. Bethany lifted her sword in one hand, the axe in the other.
She stood her ground as Mark flung himself past the creature’s bulk.

More like a crocodile than a dragon. 

Marked leapt over protruding legs and slammed his weapon hard onto the reptilian tail.

As the beast swung to retaliate, Bethany lurched forward. Her sword thrust in front of her. She aimed at the moving bulk beneath the creature’s jaw. There a dull red glow showed the heat source for the beast’s flame throwing talent.

Mark’s actions caused the beast to turn, spewing forth flame. Bethany’s sword lunge struck soft flesh, tearing the skin as the reptile turned. Not enough to do much damage, but the beast flung its head back toward her. Flames followed. Smoke and fire spilled across the wall and rolled along the floor. Lino tiles bubbled. Paint peeled and the glass in the corridor windows cracked.

Bethany stepped back as her crocodilian foe turned yellow eyes in her direction. Lumbering toward her, flames flowing freely along the narrow hall.

She used the fire blanket as a shield. Mark shouted and his baseball bat again smashed onto the spiked tail. The crocodile screamed and turned. Its huge body blocked the limited space and for a moment Mark had time to retreat.

Bethany tried to get closer, swinging the axe, chopping at the hind quarters before the tail came slashing toward her.

Stella’s voice echoed in her head. “Dave’s spell…”

“Go on!” Bethany watched Mark lift the fire extinguisher, training foam at the creature’s flames.

Billowing clouds of steam, smoke and scorched wood work blocked her vision. Mark’s voice carried through the yowling conflagration.

“By the light of Orion’s sword, open, orfacemywrath.”

“Gather the others, we need to do this together.” Bethany touched her bracelet. 

“Mark, I will open the portal. Hang in there for a moment more.”

“Hurry.” One word. Unnecessary.

Releasing the axe, Bethany clutched the bracelet. The energy of shared power flowed through Bethany, warming her, inspiring confidence.

She lifted a hand, described a circle as she repeated Dave’s spell.

A flickering blue halo formed. Vision through the circle appeared distorted, as though she looked through a layer of water.

“Right… here we go. Mark… it’s time.”

Bethany grabbed the axe and hurled it with all her strength. The spinning weapon slewed passed the glowing portal. Bethany added a spell of accuracy and power to her throw. The axe tumbled through the air.

The creature’s focus on Mark broke when the axe struck home. Although the damage to thick scales seemed minor, the crocodile spun. Massive bulk negotiated the narrow hall with amazing speed.

“Come on!” Bethany taunted. Waving the silver fire blanket and flourishing her sword. “Come and get me!”

She stepped forward, close to the portal, tempting the beast to attack her.
A flurry of flame spewed toward her. The orange tongue didn’t touch her.

The portal worked. All she needed to do was to persuade the creature to step through the circle.

She waved her arms, using the blanket as a flag. The sword as a distraction. The creature paused.

“Come on!” Desperation crept into her tone. The portal took too much energy to hold open.

  Flames licked at the floor, the walls and the ceiling. Still the beast remained where it stood, thrashing its head from side to side. Not stepping forward.

Mark’s figure emerged through the smoke screen. He leapt onto the creature’s scaled back, running along its spine. When he reached its neck he jumped clear and sprinted passed its snapping jaws. Dodging the portal, he joined Bethany in front of the beast.

Enraged the crocodile charged forward. Straight through the portal.

“Close.” Bethany shouted, although sudden quiet filled the hallway.

Only smoke, debris and three bedraggled sorcerers remained in the wreckage.

“We did it.” Mark offered Bethany a high five. Stella scrambled to her feet, brushing chalk off her hands.

“Yea team. Teams…” Bethany clutched her bracelet. “We did it. Relax. Now to clear up the mess and get out of here before people start asking questions.”

“I vote for coffee and debrief at the Coffee Bean.” Stella sighed.

“Coffee… or something stronger. Coffee to begin with.” Mark agreed.

“Grace says Dave is recovering.” Stella scrambled to her feet. “Her healing spells are working well. They will meet us when he gets signed out of emergency.” 

Together the three newly chosen sorcerers trudged clear of the wreckage, turning their back on the looming school building. They greeted their strange assortment of familiars with relief.

The teams of human magic wielders gathered around them. Today's success filled them with renewed enthusiasm for their new talents. Pride blossomed within Bethany, each team would need to 'get schooled' in magic, but for now she was eager to leave the bricks and mortar of school behind.


Rosalie Skinner resides on the east coast of Australia when not totally immersed in the fantasy world of her writing.
Rosalie’s love of the ocean, nature, history and horses has enabled her to give her books an authentic air. Her latest achievement has been to ride through the Australian Snowy mountains and see the wild brumbies run. When not watching the migrating whales pass her doorstep she has more humble pastimes.
Other than being a published author, her greatest thrill is being a grandmother. Born over fourteen weeks early her granddaughter’s perfect development and growth are a miracle and joy.

Follow:  Blog,

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Chicken by Crystal Collier

The old school looks like a toothless bag lady in the dark, sprawled on her side.

I gulp.

“Get moving, Ryan. Or are you a chicken?”

I grate my teeth so hard they squeal, unwilling to look up at Greg Damien, future NFL star and neighborhood bully. A.K.A, my next door neighbor. The jerk would see my fear the way a dog sniffs people’s butts.

“I’m not a chicken,” I lie. The old building is already giving me nightmares of mummified teachers and human-sized, flesh-eating rats. (Or at least, they want you to believe they’re rats. They’re actually hairy, zombie aliens from another planet who decided to inhabit abandoned buildings on the rundown side of Detroit.)

Greg rips my bike handles from my grasp. “So get in there.”

Squaring my shoulders, I let out a sigh. He could force me into the building without breaking a sweat, seeing as how he’s twice my size. If I refuse, he’ll probably drop kick my rear through the front door.

Five months ago a rumor started floating around the city about a millionaire who converted all his cash into gold, buried it somewhere for safe keeping, then died. Without telling anyone where he hid it. Last week Marcy Livingston snapped a shot of a homeless guy leaving our old school with what she said was a gold bar in his hand. (She’s my other neighbor, the one who never shuts up. Seriously. Her mom threatens to duct tape her mouth shut so loud I can hear her shouting from my bedroom.)

I wouldn’t be standing at the broken entry in the middle of the night, debating the value of my backside if Marcy had just kept her mouth shut. We were going to be rich, but she said something in front of Greg and he decided our plan needed a mastermind. More like a master thug. You’d think with the promise of fortune he’d be going with me, or that he’d go himself, but there are rumors this place is haunted. People hear strange sounds and Marcy claims she saw a ghost.

The glass has been shattered and a couple pieces still glitter on the floor. Those that aren’t covered by dust. I glance back at Greg who grinds a fist into his palm.

Flicking on my phone flashlight, I step into the gloom. It’s not like I’m going to tell Greg if I find something, but he doesn’t have to know that. I start rehearsing my response once I get done here:

It was empty. All empty. The only things I saw were rats, graffiti on the walls, and broken furniture.

Truthfully, I’ve been dying to come check out the empty building, just not the night before my birthday. I want to live until I’m 11. A kid from three streets over went missing a few weeks back while exploring. Mom says he must have been kidnapped or killed by one of the drifters passing through. I’m curious. Not stupid.

Shadows creep across the wall beside me.

Or maybe I am stupid. Or just a chicken. If I had more guts, I would have punched Greg in his bullfrog nose and locked myself in my house. Instead I’m shivering and expecting something to jump out and snap my neck in half with its gator-sized teeth.

“It’s just graffiti and broken furniture,” I chant. Like I’ll believe those words if I say them enough. My foot crunches down on something and I twist the flashlight that direction.

Pages. Book spines. Dozens of them all broken and open-faced, littering the floor.

Now that’s a tragedy.


I jump and flash the light. The tail of a shadow disappears.

Okay, Ryan. This is the point where you get smart, run away, and hide for a few hours so Greg will believe your story.

Fingers trembling, I lift my light to follow the direction of the movement, to an open doorway. It was just a rat. Had to be. Or an alien luring me to my death.

And now I’m seeing things because is that a hint of light?

I click the off button. And swallow so hard it hurts.

The glow creeps across broken pages like a sea of scaly dead things just waiting for me to cross. Daring me to cross. One wrong step and I’ll probably be sucked into the pile and this giant tongue will slurp out, followed by a book-monster’s burp.

The phone is slick in my hands as I step forward.

I do want to die. Clearly.

The pages swish and crack as I step over them, reminding me of that neck-breaking sound effect in movies. I’m shaking as I reach the hall and turn to the source of the glow: another doorway straight ahead.

Every step echoes in the hall. Each smack of my sneaker reminds me how Mom would slap me silly for even thinking about coming here. I would take it and go to my room and dream about sneaking out to Van Naters for midnight ice cream and breaking more windows on abandoned buildings. Even if I’d never do either.

I halt in front of the entry.

This is it. I’ll step into the light and disappear. Poof. Gone. Greg will keep his mouth shut about how he bullied me into coming here and Marcy will blab about what she knows, but she doesn’t know I came here. That I’m about to die. And that I did it willingly.

I shove my phone into my pocket with trembling hands and ball my fists. One quick breath and I step forward.

I’m in the gym, bleachers flailed unevenly from either side, narrowing the room to a central point: the glowing thing in the middle of the floor.

My jaw drops.

Candles gleam on top of a one-story cake. Eleven candles.

“Surprise!” People jump out from behind the bleachers, igniting camping lamps and circling me. I stare in stunned silence, trying to figure this out.

“He’s in shock.” Marcy laughs. Greg’s chuckle bounces off the walls as he appears next to my parents. My parents? In my abandoned old school?

They’re holding packages in their arms, packages wrapped in birthday paper…


The grin on my face grows so large my cheeks ache. Best. Birthday. Ever!

Maybe not chickening out pays off.

Crystal Collier is a young adult author who pens dark fantasy, historical, and romance hybrids. She can be found practicing her brother-induced ninja skills while teaching children or madly typing about fantastic and impossible creatures. She has lived from coast to coast and now calls Florida home with her creative husband, four littles, and “friend” (a.k.a. the zombie locked in her closet). Secretly, she dreams of world domination and a bottomless supply of cheese. You can find her on her HERE.

Come help celebrate her birthday by picking up one of her books!