Monday, July 27, 2015

The Fall by M. Pax

We are excited to welcome science fiction author, M. Pax to LQR this month. She has graciously shared her exciting interpretation of this month's freedom theme. Please help us show our appreciation by sharing the link to her story with your friends and family!

Imprisoned by a mysterious alien enforcer, humanity’s last hope must battle for the right to a future.


If Galloway didn’t let me go soon, humanity would be lost, and the galaxy’s sentries would crown a less-deserving victor. My breaths chafed, my pulse labored, and my eyelids throbbed. The days passed by too long.
All the enhanced traits my ancestors had endowed me with slipped away. To conserve what energy remained, I knelt unmoving in a puddle of light leaking in from the top of the east wall, watching the sliver dance on my wrists. Silver on silver.
The mulcer next door paced, growling. I could smell its foul drool, hear it splashing to the ground. The beast wanted to kill me. Time would beat it to the task. My vigor bled with every heartbeat into the unyielding alloy beneath me.
The alien technology, or whatever Galloway was, chose that moment to answer my plea. The wall in front of me evaporated. I didn’t have to be told to run toward the portal— the transport to the planet.
I had to fight the mulcer for a future. Its huge jaws snapped at me. Striped and scaly, its enormous head consisted mainly of teeth and eyes. Two bulbous pus-like irises sank every time the mulcer opened its mouth. Its breath reeked like burnt leaves dipped in tar left to molder in a steamy swamp then set on fire.
We raced for the portal to claim the rights to the planet. Not willing to let my unborn heirs down, I dug in, tapping into every souped-up trait that could help me triumph—speed, endurance, increased lung capacity and blood flow, tenacity, and valor.
The beast inched ahead of me, gliding along on the slime trail it shed. Thinking only of what failure meant—never another chance—I sprinted toward the orange glowing sphere, eking two steps in front of the mulcer. At that point, I leaped. Arms straight out, body reaching, I dove into the portal.
In a nanosecond, I materialized on humanity’s new world. Unfortunately the mulcer did, too. It pounced, jaws straining for my throat. Swinging a foot, I kicked it in the teeth then jumped for a tree branch. I kept hold, pulling up my legs, staying out of the mucler’s reach. It grunted, bounding to the trunk, clumsily making its way up.
Its slow progress gifted a reprieve and allowed me to survey what would be Earth Three. The ground rolled in burps and swells. Lizardish beetles sang, furry eely beasts with wings squawked, and some squid-like creature scurried under the brush. We rocked together, riding a moss ocean that spanned the horizon in an unbroken prairie, a treasure trove upon which my progeny would thrive.
My people had come to the stars to start over and had succeeded once. We’d do so again. We were so much better than the mulcers, the outcast army of an extinct race. They only knew how to hunt and kill.
My enemy scrambled out on the branch, teetering. I kicked at its pus eye. It roared, showering me with malodor and slime. Its hold slipped, but before it fell, it sprang, wrapping its ropey fingers around my neck, squeezing. Gravity added a wallop to our fight, and with a thud we landed, the mucler on top. I dug at its eyelids, biting, spitting. I punched and tore at it’s flesh.
From the sky a chime gonged, gaining in volume until it struck a tone that rendered me motionless. The mulcer, too. We froze in the throes of mutual murder.
Fuzzy tickles plucked at my brain, intruding, shoving their way into my thoughts. My mind received a scrubbing, at least it felt that way. Once I was thoroughly violated, an arc appeared above the mulcer’s slobbering maw, pulsating, flickers sparking through its foamy pink mist.
Two hammering heartbeats passed, and it spoke. “I told Galloway to get rid of you by bringing you to me.” The arc paused, scalding everything between my temples. “Round two of the contest begins. Think why you deserve this world. Winner gets it.”
No way would the mulcer win. Humanity had risen from a better foundation than genocide. Hope thumped, giving me strength, and I recalled all I knew, singing the praises of my illustrious forefathers. Humanity creates civilizations, is highly intelligent, and can think beyond itself. We’ll make the most of this beautiful planet.
I couldn’t hear what the mulcer thought, but seconds later it screamed and jerked as if electrocuted by a billion volts. The puddle that remained of it oozed into the hiccupping land.
My heart rate slowed, and I grinned, preparing to set free the genetic sequences suspended in a sac in my abdomen. The genetic material would use me to sprout and begin mankind anew. Thank you for choosing me.
“Humanity didn’t win. The rolling ground beneath you did. It’s called an Arith.”
I couldn’t form a single thought, at least none I understood.
“A race’s right to survive is not absolute. Humans were ruled for extinction an epoch ago when Earth Two fell. They had their second chance and blew it.”
“Despite the outcome, you’re allowed to stay.”
Me? As the last human? What an honor.
“You’re not human. Your willingness to sacrifice yourself for others earns you a place here if you let me erase your faulty programming and dump the subpar genetic material you carry.”
I couldn’t bear the thought of imprisonment on Galloway again. The arc heard me and shoved my thoughts aside until I lay empty. I drank in all that the Arith was and watched it and the planet mature. Without protest, the mossy thing gave its heart and vitality to the advancement of new life. Nothing could be nobler, no being could ever have higher purpose.
A slender purple creature hatched reminiscent of a salamander with a long neck and limbs. It’s song vibrated my biomechanics into smiles. I asked the Arith to mold me in its image, surrendering my silver body and electronic nodes. Now I could live and die. I had free will, and I had evolved.


M. Pax is author of the space adventure series The Backworlds, the urban fantasy series The Rifters, plus other novels and short stories. Fantasy, science fiction, and the weird beckons to her, and she blames Oregon, a source of endless inspiration. She docents at Pine Mountain Observatory in the summers as a star guide, has a cat with a crush on Mr. Spock, and is slightly obsessed with Jane Austen.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

It's a Mad, Mad, Maddie World by Stuart R. West

When you're young, freedom seems like an impossible goal to achieve.
* * *
      The caterpillar inched its way across the floor. To Maddie’s delight, its body scrunched into a mini camel’s hump, then dropped back down again. So fuzzy and adorable. Taking its time and not really getting anywhere.
“How’d you get into my room, little guy?”
Of course if Reverend Drexell were here, he’d squash the poor thing in a flash. It bugged her no end last week when the reverend made fun of the actor who studied Buddhism. He’d twisted his face up like a demon and told the congregation the actor wouldn’t even kill a spider. And Maddie knew Reverend Drexell would.
Uh-uh, no way. Not in Maddie’s world.  In her world, everything deserved a chance. Without a doubt, she absolutely knew God would want her to set the caterpillar free. After all, a girl’s bedroom was no place for a fuzzy critter.
She ripped a piece of paper from the printer.. Gently, she edged it beneath the caterpillar, tipping and folding it until she’d maneuvered it into place.
“Hang tight, little guy. Maddie’s gonna take care of you.” She’d learned the soothing tone from her mother. Lord knows she’d heard it enough. But it worked. She swore the caterpillar turned its head up, maybe even nodded.
A golden fire deep within her ignited her rescue mission. With a great deal of caution and a jack-o-lantern wide grin, she stood up, cautious as to not jostle her fellow traveler.
As soon as she stepped out onto the landing, footsteps tump-tump-tumped toward her. Her little brat of a brother, Brad, on the warpath, his squirt gun loaded and aimed.
“Got ya!” Brad pumped the gun, unleashing a stream of potentially devastating water.
Maddie whirled. Her back took the not-so-friendly fire. She clutched the paper. beneath her new friend.  “Mom’s gonna be mad when I tell her you’re shooting your water gun in the house!”
While Brad laughed, she hurried for the stairs, her gaze locked on her companion.
“Hey, whaddaya got?” Brad ran to catch up, but Maddie was faster. She was on a mission. Nothing would stop her.
“Never mind. Go do something stupid like you always do!”
She picked up speed as she descended, outside her goal.
Hold on, soon you’ll be free.
She neared the bottom, the front door to freedom looming before her. Five more steps and out!
  Her toe caught on something that didn’t belong on the stairs. Another one of Brad’s guns! She wasn’t sure, but she might’ve said one of her dad’s bad words. Fit the moment. Her foot slipped out, raking off the toy. One of her hands flew to the railing. She raised the sheet high with her other hand, hoping to keep it balanced. Gravity just hated Maddie, absolutely hated her. Both her legs slid out. She crashed onto her rear, the pain rattling her teeth.
The sheet of paper flew up. It wafted down, tilting and bobbing like a ship in a calm ocean. It drifted to the floor. Her green passenger clung to the paper, its life preserver.
She thrust her arms out to catch it. Her body followed. Crashing onto her belly, the paper magically dropped into her cupped palms. With a deep sigh, she closed her eyes, worried about the pain in her bottom. But selfish needs had to wait. She had a mission to fulfill.
Jangle, jangle…tap, tap, tap.
Uh-oh. Not out of the danger zone yet.
Nugget raced toward her, his paws clicking over the floor. His tongue hung out like a wind-dragged scarf, ready and hungry for a mid-afternoon caterpillar snack.
No, Nugget, no!”
As usual, Nugget ignored her. Clearly thinking this a game, his wet nose slopped down Maddie’s cheek. Despite the colossal danger, Nugget’s sniffing in her ear made her giggle. Then his ears stiffened, his hungry eyes locked on Maddie’s rescue victim. “Get back, Nugget! Now!” Still cradling the paper, she locked her free arm around the dog’s neck, attempting to drag him away. Of course she was no match for Nugget’s strength, never had been. Not even the strongest of toys ever held up to his brute force. She’d have to conquer him with intelligence. “Ball! Go get your ball, boy!”
Nugget stopped in his tracks, head up, ears erect. Giving his head a slight tilt, he hit her with a “you can’t be serious” look. She repeated the order. Like a good soldier, he ran off in search of his favorite half-eaten toy.
On wobbly legs, she pulled herself up. The caterpillar had moved perilously close to the edge of the paper. She adjusted her hold slightly to make it an impossible angle for him to climb. She’d come this far, no backing out now.
I’d re-write this. It’s not important that the door is locked—not really an obstacle. Just say she unlatched the locked door and stepped out into…
Her fingers strangled the door-knob. Locked. She flipped back the dead-bolt, then stepped out into the big, beautiful free world.
A sudden wind rushed up. As if it had a mind of its own, the wind swirled. Goose bumps popped up on her arms. The wind captured the paper, rattling it like skeleton bones, or at least what she imagined skeleton bones might sound like.
“Hold tight! Just a little bit longer!”
Her hair whipped in her face, blinding her. A loose strand slipped into her mouth. She pulled the paper closer to shield it against nature. At the base of the big oak tree, she knelt, tilted the paper to the ground and held it steady until her friend travelled away and into the grass. Took him forever, too.
Exhausted, she fell back into the grass. The caterpillar inched away.
Success! Sure she had battle wounds to show from her struggle, might get in trouble, too. You never knew with parents. But she’d do it again in a heart-beat.
After all, it was her world and it was her duty to keep it safe for everyone and everything, even Reverend Drexell.
* * *
 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

Brand spankin' new and creeptacular trailer for Ghosts of Gannaway:

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Brumby Run.

Where a brumby stallion gains his freedom.
High pitched metallic whining heralded the danger. The sound of motor bikes filtered through the trees. The brumby stallion lifted his head, sniffed the air and called a warning to the herd. Memory of the strange machines men rode sent adrenaline through his system. His fear exploded as the engine noise grew louder. Birds took flight, the forest creatures sought cover and the brumby trembled with trepidation.

Already the older mares gathered the yearlings, nipping and threatening them till they milled in an anxious group. 

 The stallion searched for the scent of man, domestic horse and hated dogs. So far the wind carried nothing of threat, other than the sound he feared.

With an urgent call to hurry he harried his herd to follow the ancient grey mare who already led the way. She would know where the wild horses could run, where they needed to take their time, where the men and dogs would have trouble keeping track of the herd’s passing.

Adrenaline flowed, the stallion’s heart-rate lifted. He snaked his head, teeth bared, ears pasted against his skull, forcing reluctant stragglers to flee.

Through acacia, casuarina, melaleuca and eucalyptus trees the herd ran. Across the valley, toward the coast where the rough terrain would challenge men on machines. 

The young brumbies kept pace with the matriarch, the yearlings hugged their dams’ flanks, running with dread purpose. 

Three mares heavy with foal, fell behind. The stallion stayed with them, urging them on, trying to listen for the motors and avoid being pushed. He would rather lead them away, leave the young to run in the care of the old mare. He wouldn’t risk these mares to the fear and danger of endless pursuit.

He turned the struggling mares and led them along a shallow stream, urging them for calm and quiet as they slipped and stumbled across the river bed. The sound of motors faded in the distance. Silence fell. Relief allowed a few moments for the mares to recover their breath. The stallion dared not waste a moment worrying about the old mare. She knew enough to guide the herd, give directions and then fade into the shadows, away from danger, when her strength failed.

The stallion feared the noisy machines more than the dogs. He had been hunted before. The bikes carried men without tiring. The two wheeled machines could cross most terrain without faltering. Their speed across clear ground frightened him. 

He trusted the main herd to keep within the thick trees, the steepest hills, and rockiest tracks. His pregnant mares needed more care. He drove them on again, leaving the creek to climb along a ridge and around an escarpment. 

Although their flanks heaved and their breath came in labored bursts, they managed the climb.The stallion paused, sniffing the air. He could smell salt carried on the breeze, hear the heartbeat of the ocean as waves pounded the shore. He needed to get his mares to safety, if possible, before he ran out of room to run. 

His ears flicked, straining to catch the slightest sound of pursuit. Not hearing dogs, motors, or horses, he stepped clear of the trees. The four horses made their way toward the cliffs. The stallion knew of a track leading down the steep rock-face that no domestic horse could navigate.

A dull thudding beat battered the air. The stallion snorted. A motor with huge rotating blades rose from below the cliff and hovered in front of him.

The brumby screamed at the contraption and spun. The mares turned, galloping frantically toward the trees. The stallion reared, challenging the flying machine. He would give the mares time to get clear. Give them a chance to reach the trees. The stallion charged toward the terrifying machine. Anything to keep attention away from his herd.

The sound of frantic motors came from every direction. He ran swerving, avoiding the violent wind from the hovering machine. His hooves churned the dirt, his blood pounded through his veins. Speed should carry him clear of pursuit, but his nostrils burned with the scent of acrid fumes.

Desperate, he scrambled down the cliff path toward the dunes. Behind him three motors raged, each moment brought the angry screams closer.

The dunes offered little protection. The soft sand mocked his efforts, grasping, gripping, giving way when he needed firm ground. He struggled upward, through the pig-face and coarse grass, into the open and toward the expanse of calm blue ocean. 

Behind him the motors revved. The dunes slowed the bike's progress. The stallion reached the hard beach sand and again stretched into a desperate gallop. 
The far headland offered crevasses, caves and places he might avoid the humans.

His headlong flight threw up salt laden sand. The air smelt sweeter, eddying waves matched the dapples on his body. The firm footing thrilled him. The wild stallion reveled in his strength and freedom. He led the men away from his mares.

Over his racing heartbeat and breathing, the stallion again heard the dull thud, thud, thud of the flying machine’s wings. He drove himself to greater speed, but the machine flew above him, tracking his escape.

He must outrun the threat. He gathered himself for one last effort. 

The machine dropped into his path, hovering, facing him, glass eyes watching him, daring him to continue. The blades hurled sand in all directions. The stallion slid to a halt. 

 He reared. Screamed at the machine, but it took no notice. Behind the stallion the machines carrying men closed in. They blocked the path to the dunes and the beach.

The stallion turned and lunged into the waves. Avoiding capture now his only goal. 

Cold water welcomed him. Sand sucked at his hooves, reluctant to release him as he plunged deeper into the sea. The white crests beckoned. Spirit horses, wind blowing their manes rode the cresting waves. The stallion strode on, struggling against the pull of the eddying current. Behind him the sound of motors faded. The flying machine hovered overhead but didn’t touch him.

He could no longer feel the sand beneath his hooves. The waves carried him, tossed him, accepted him. His fear escalated, but as his strength ebbed, calm overcame him. Whispered greetings woke memories of his birth. He envisioned his dam standing beside him on the beach, calling to the white capped waves and sharing her belief of how the crests belonged to the spirits of great horses, galloping free across the vast ocean.

His lungs filled with seawater. He stopped struggling, released his fear. His heart slowed. Sluggish blood spread surrender and banished the need for air, for flight, for fear. The stallion’s eyes closed. His body trembled, grew still and slowly sank beneath the turbulence.
The brumby stallion joined windswept white horses and embraced spiritual freedom. 

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.

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Monday, July 20, 2015

.0012 Degrees by Crystal Collier

You are free to choose your actions. You are not free choose the consequence.

Deacon slipped the welding shield over his face and lifted his torch, just enough that the guards would believe he was working on the vessel that would shortly make the trip to earth.

His grandma was born on the moon. His dad was born on the moon. He was born in Luna Maleau, Hyperion district. He lived in earth simulated gravity as a harvester, “farmer” by old earthen terms, until he convinced Rian to trade places.

Deacon didn’t know a thing about welding, but he wasn’t about to say that out loud.

Piston flames burned around him, melting the broken panels into place, but he climbed the ladder into the metal beast’s nose. The fare to earth cost more than all his lunar possessions along with those belonging to his parents and grandparents. Only one family in their colony could afford the trip, and they would be taking the flight in the morning. That’s how he’d made it to the port, crouched down in the back of their Mercedes hover. His back ached from being curled over in the space under the luggage compartment, but he’d made it. That was further than Rian said he’d get.

His boots echoed hollowly in the maintenance hallway, and he glanced over his shoulder. If he got caught, he’d be tossed in the prison for life, but it was worth the risk.

Earth was the place of opportunity. There you could walk through fields of wild grass or misty woods. You could breathe without regulators or fear of filter contamination. You could sleep under the stars and meet wild animals—things that thrived outside of ranches. But the reason he wanted to go there was tucked safely in his back pocket.

Grandpa’s coin collection: Worthless on the moon. A fortune on earth—especially since no one used coins anymore.

They promised his great grandparents their hydroponic research would be invaluable on the moon. They promised his family would be well taken care of. They promised a lot of things. What his family got was a farm comprised of moondust to somehow turn fertile. Every experiment failed, and thus they’d built dirtless farms, but the farms required excessive amounts of water, the next most valuable resource in lunar bargaining. The cost negated any profit that might have been made, and his family had survived by tradingoff harvested plants, barely keeping enough to fill their bellies. He remembered his last birthday when he got a whole melon to himself. It was so sweet, so juicy, but he could only eat a fourth of it. The rest he sliced and dried for this trip.

On earth they never went hungry. On earth they had real opportunities. They could ride a gas-guzzler and pollute the air all they wanted. They could go ten minutes without worrying their harvest would shrivel if not sprayed. They could walk an entire continent rather than the length of their district.

Earth meant freedom.

From the surface he’d transfer funds to his parent’s account to pay for extra water rations. Perhaps he’d even earn enough to fly them down. One day.

The apex panel blinked like a crimson beacon—a flashing red gateway to freedom. Deacon pried the barrier free and ogled the empty space behind. This was it, his cabin for the next three days.

An echo down the hallway…

He slid into the hideaway and pulled the panel back in place.

Footsteps neared.

Keep moving. Keep moving!

They halted in front of his hiding place. His heart dropped. What had he done wrong? Closed a piece of clothing in the gap? Left his torch out in the open? Nope. The torch dangled from his hip and his jumpsuit didn’t pull tight when he shifted backward. Deacon held his breath.

The footsteps resumed. He let out a breath and leaned carefully back into the hovel. It scraped his shoulders, just wide enough to take in a deep breath of air. This was going to be a long trip.


The flight engineer handed in his specs, clearing the shuttle for takeoff. Passengers boarded. The preflight checklist was completed. Ten seconds to take-off. Nine. Eight. Seven…


Deacon closed his eyes, ignoring the shaking pipes against his back. Soon now. He could almost smell the earthen air or feel a breeze laden with pollens. It was going to be amazing!

Belt locked around the pipes behind him, he squeezed his fists and prayed the leather would hold. 


Three. Two. One.

G-force knocked out half the people in the cabin. The pilot scanned his instruments, checking passenger’s vitals and watching the gauges for the right vector of exit. That couldn’t be right. He tapped the display, asked it to refresh, scrolled through the different values. They were veering slightly to the starboard. Was it a trick of the mind?

The readout hadn’t changed. They weren’t going to make their destination with this takeoff. Someone must have left a power tool or supplies on board that hadn’t been calculated into the flight weight.

He swallowed and checked his gauges, running quick calculations on fuel usage with the anomaly. He hoped this would work. With a subtle course correction, he manually overrode the expected course by .0012 of a degree. 

He ran all the calculations again. And again. And again—getting a different result every time. He blinked, eyes bleary from advanced mathematics. It had to be right. Or (in his oxygen-deprived state of mind) close enough. That should work.

The G-force finally took him.


Deacon slipped the last dried piece of melon into his mouth and attempted to ignore the pipes bruising his back. The readout on his wrist said they’d been flying for seventy-three hours. He had woken twenty-four hours after takeoff, his neck stiff, his legs shaky. Since then he had dozed in and out, attempting to ignore the growing aches and stiffness. Not long now.

Force buffeted the hull, like slamming into a water tower. Pipes rattled. The shaking intensified. The ship was trying to vibrate his teeth loose! Hissing burst somewhere over his head. More hissing.

Their farm’s pressurized water tank exploded when he was thirteen and shook the entire homestead like the moon was going to collapse in on itself. This was like that.

Creaks. A crack. Beeping.

Deacon gripped the pipes for life, his head whipping from side to side. Darkness, heat, bile…


Burning light!

He was free.


People on the ground marveled at the flaming masses pouring from the sky. Two teenagers making out on Overlook Hill were thrown apart as a chunk of metal slammed into the dirt at their feet, spraying them. The girl wiped dust out of her face as the boy leaned over and exclaimed, “Cool!”

The hollowed out nose of a space shuttle rested in front of them, like a giant cracked egg. In the center sat an open tin, scorched coins spilling out.

That evening, news reports speculated why the moon cruiser failed its return flight. The captain had an outstanding record. The ship model had been the latest and greatest—all green energy and fit to the stripped-down requirements of the government. They chalked it up to mechanical failure, and the religious fanatics called it an act of God.

But it wasn’t an act of God. It was an act of choice.

Crystal Collier may spend too many late nights munching cheese and thinking up bizarre story twists, but she does so to appease the scientists locked in her Floridian basement. *wink wink* (Who else is going to finish building her teleportation device?) She figured she might as well make a dime on all that effort and became an author who pens everything from dark fantasy, historical, and romance tales, to inspirational stories and comedy. She has lived from coast to coast and now occupies the land of sunshine 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. 

Check out more of her midnight meanderings HERE.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Message by Eric Price

I feel like I owe an explanation here. When I first agreed to be a part of LQR, and I read the list of topics, I did some quick brainstorming of possible story ideas. For freedom I thought of a great story about a Jew barely surviving in Auschwitz. As the months have passed, I discovered by second book, The Squire and the Slave Master, would come out in August, so I decided to use a freedom excerpt from the book instead of the Auschwitz story. I never wrote the other story, but if you are more in the mood for historical fiction than fantasy, I apologize. I assure you it would have been the best concentration camp story since Elie Wiesel's Night. Who knows? Maybe I'll have an opportunity to write it in the future.

“Sir, the third ship has arrived.”

Casimir didn’t turn from the window. “Yes, Bronislaw, I’ve seen it. Prepare your men for battle. Hold a few back as guards. If any of the slaves turn against us, execute them.”

The sound of Bronislaw’s footsteps faded as he exited the chamber.

A bird flew past the upper chamber and caught Casimir’s attention. I thought I killed all the birds. Oh well, I’ll get rid of this one too.

He raised his staff but lowered it when the bird redirected for the temple. A scroll of parchment dangled from its ankle. The bird landed on the altar in the center of the room. Casimir approached it with caution. It held up a leg, and he removed and unrolled the scroll. The letter didn’t have a signature, but it didn’t need one. He recognized the handwriting from years of correspondence.

I’m free. I understand what you plan to do, but it must stop. You aren’t powerful enough with magic. The temple will open a portal to the underworld, but you’ll never manage to close it and whose body do you think he’ll take? Someone so powerful won’t survive in a body with no magical experience. He will exhaust it in less than a day. Surrender your plan and join me in the swamp in the Southern Domain. Argnam already built the necessary accommodations there.

The paper flashed into flames on his palm. “You had your chance. I have a plan and a reasonable backup plan, which is more than you’ve ever had.”

The bird pecked at a pair of tiny beetles scurrying along the wall. With the flick of his staff, a green orb of light shot and hit the bird. A singed smell and a few feathers were all that remained.

From the window, he could see troops following the path from the beach to the temple. He watched the ships for the sign. A few flashes of light came in quick succession from the southernmost ship.

“Damn!” He thought back to the note. “It’s all right. I can still do this even though he doesn’t have the magician.” He held his staff high and returned a message in flashing lights. “Change of plans. We have to capture Mansfield. Alive.”

Three lines of slaves faced east in anticipation of the troops coming through the woods. Perfect.

Casimir closed the towering double doors as he exited the chamber. With his staff and a brief incantation, he placed an invisible barrier on the room. He took a piece of stone from a pile of rubble in a corner and tossed it at the door. In a flash, it became dust and smoke. Smiling, he left in search of Bronislaw.

Outside the door of the temple, the slaves waited for the pending battle. Bronislaw had taken a spot on high ground where he could overlook the battle soon to unfurl.

Casimir strolled up to him. “We have a new arrangement. They lost the magician. I need Mansfield alive. If you find him, bring him to me.”

Bronislaw nodded and signaled to his lieutenants.

He returned to the entrance of the temple and watched the battle unfold. The first troops emerged from the forest to an onslaught from the slaves. They had probably expected to hit them with a surprise attack, but the slaves had known. Casimir had known. Casimir always knew.

The second group emerged with their swords and shields at the ready. The slaves matched them well in strength but outlasted them in stamina. Most of the fishermen from Beroe had little or no battle training.

Mansfield’s men had one major disadvantage that greatly outweighed even their lower endurance or their lack of training. Twice Casimir noticed the soldiers relinquish an opportunity to slay their opponents.

They don’t want to kill. They see my slaves as innocent victims.

Another group emerged from the trees. They almost exclusively donned long beards and, barring their sunburns, looked a lot like many of the more recently acquired slaves. Some of the slaves hesitated; others dropped their weapons.

Now we’ll identify my dedicated servants, those who recognize what they have gained by coming here.

Several slaves, most of them having significantly different appearances to the men from Beroe—taller, more muscular, darker skin, some thin with scraggly beards—turned their attention to the traitors. With their weapons lowered, they had no defense. A distant voice shouted, “No!” Heads and limbs splashed into pools of blood as men turned on each other, betraying their former lives for the promises of their master.


Eric Price lives with his wife and two sons in northwest Iowa. He began publishing in 2008 when he started writing a quarterly column for a local newspaper. Later that same year he published his first work of fiction, a spooky children’s story called Ghost Bed and Ghoul Breakfast. Since then, he has written stories for children, young adults, and adults. Three of his science fiction stories have won honorable mention from the CrossTime Annual Science Fiction Contest. His first YA fantasy novel, Unveiling the Wizards’ Shroud, received the Children’s Literary Classics Seal of Approval and the Literary Classics Award for Best First Novel. His second novel, The Squire and the Slave Master, continues the Saga of the Wizards. It is scheduled for an August 4, 2015 release. Find him online at authorericprice.comTwitterFacebook, and Goodreads.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Price of Freedom by Mary Waibel

"Freedom isn't free. It's paid for by the blood and sweat of our soldiers."

~Author Unknown


I stared at the empty desk as Mr. Richardson droned on about our founding fathers and the sacrifices they’d made for our great nation. Normally I couldn’t wait to hear his tales of the past, but today the present weighed heavily on my mind.

How are you coping? Are you outside in the batting cage the three of you made together, absorbing the vibrations of the bat as you hit ball after ball? Or are you sitting in your room, blaring your black metal tunes through your headphones, drowning out the world and your memories?

I wanted to be there, to be the support that Evan needed, but my parents refused to let me. Oh, they told me it was because they didn’t want me to intrude on this personal, family time. But I was certain it was because they didn’t want me to have an unexcused absence on my record. Like that mattered when his entire world had been ripped apart.

So I’d painted on a happy face and dressed in my go-to comfort clothes. The short denim skirt that alway drew Evan’s eyes to my legs. The warm-up jersey with his number. And my beat-up white Keds. If my friends noticed my fake smile and overbright laugh, none of them said anything. They’d just hugged me, no questions asked, and offered me the kind of support I’d wanted to give Evan.

“Freedom isn’t free.” Mr. Richardson’s words blared in my ears, pulling me from my thoughts. “It’s paid for by the blood and sweat of our soldiers. This payment began with the first man who willingly gave their life in pursuit of our nation’s freedom. And it extends into the future with every man and woman who pledge their lives in defense of our nation.”

Tears burned, and I blinked them back, angered at his audacity to talk about the price of freedom today. Yesterday, that price had hit too close to home. I thought word would have spread like wildfire through our community, but no one else seemed to have heard anything. The only reason I had learned what happened was because I had been at Evan’s home when the military officers came to break the news to his family.

The officer didn’t say much about what happened, just that Kyle had willingly sacrificed his life to save the men in his unit. He was a true hero. A patriot.

While the accolades were nice, they didn’t ease the grief. The loss. The drowning senselessness that permeated my mind.

Stunning disbelief turned to unbearable grief. Time lost all meaning as I held Evan as he sobbed over the loss of his brother Kyle. Listened to the stories the family shared about this man I had never met.

Kyle was only seven years older than Evan and me, but those few years seemed like a different generation. All I knew about him I’d learned from Evan. He had idolized his brother, wanting to be like him in every way. The best ball player. The best scholar. The only thing Evan hadn’t aspired to be was a soldier.

I felt cheated that I hadn’t gotten to meet Kyle, to see for myself what kind of man he was. I was supposed to meet him when he came home on leave in the summer. A leave that would never come. I wrapped my arms around my waist, holding in the anger I wanted to vent at the unfairness of it all.

I didn’t even know him and I’m angry, I can’t imagine how you and your parents feel.

The bell rang, and I jerked back to the present. Moving on autopilot, I gathered my books and shuffled off to my next class.


I turned toward the voice, my fuzzy mind taking a moment to recognize Ally, my best friend. She frowned and reached a hand out to me.

“What’s wrong?”

Tears trickled down my cheeks and I swiped them away. I didn’t answer. It wasn’t my story to share. My phone buzzed, and I pulled it out of my pocket, my breath hitching as I read the simple text.

I need you.

I fled down the hall and out the door, not stopping to sign out at the office. Not stopping to tell Ally what I was doing. All my focus was on getting to Evan.

At the end of the sidewalk I stopped and sent him a text. It wouldn’t do me any good to run to his house if he was somewhere else.

On my way. RU @ home?

No. At the bridge

My heart stuttered, and I took off, running down the sidewalk, the need to be with him overwhelming. I knew he was safe. That he wouldn’t do anything stupid. No, the bridge was the place he went to when he needed to think, to find his path.

I cut through the field, my steps slowing as I neared the rickety planks. Evan leaned against the railing, his hands clenched around the faded wood, staring at the babbling brook below. My heart broke again seeing the depth of his loss. I sucked in a deep breath and stepped onto the bridge. The structure swayed, but I moved onward, stepping up behind Evan and wrapping my arms around him.

He stiffened then relaxed into my embrace, his hands anchoring me to him.

“He would have really liked you.” His voice rumbled under my ear, pain scarring his words.

I squeezed him, offering silent support. My actions telling him I was here for him, however he needed me to be.

After a few minutes, he released me and turned, his hands settling on my waist. His eyes were swollen and red, dried tears streaked his cheeks, and his hair looked like he’d tried to pull it out. Seeing him like this made me ache deep in my bones.

I cupped his cheek, wishing there was something I could do, something I could say to make this better. Easier. But there were no words to fix this. Nothing to fill the hole that would forever be in this family. My mother always talked about how time dulled the edges of the pain, but I couldn’t see how this pain would ever go away. No matter how much time passed.

He turned his head and pressed a kiss to my palm then leaned his forehead against mine and sighed. My hand drifted from his cheek to his back, rubbing in soothing circles.

“Thank you for meeting me here. I promise I’ll make it right at school.”

I pulled back, hooking my hands around his neck. “I’m not worried about that right now. None of that matters. What you need is all that matters right now.”

He tucked my hair behind my ear, the action familiar and grounding. “I still can’t believe he’s gone. I just talked to him two days ago. Right before he left for his mission.” His voice broke on the last word, and I leaned closer, resting my head on his chest, letting him draw from my strength. “Do you mind sitting here with me for a bit? I’m not ready to go back home yet. Mom and dad are…they’re trying to make arrangements, and I’m just in the way.”

“I’m here to do whatever you need me to do. If you want to sit, we’ll sit. If you want to throw baseballs, we’ll do that. Whatever you need, I’m here for you.”

“Thanks, Savannah.” He buried his face in my hair and held me close for a moment. “You don’t know how much that means to me.”

We settled on the deck of the bridge, our feet dangling over the water that bubbled and babbled ten feet below. Birds chirped as they flitted from branch to branch in the trees lining the brook. Overhead, the sky was summer blue and cloudless, too beautiful a setting for the emotions churning deep inside me.

“The Army Chaplain came back this morning.” He laced our fingers together, and I leaned my head on his shoulder, waiting for him to continue at his own pace. “He said Kyle’s unit came under attack. One of the men got hit and Kyle pulled him to safety before he was killed.” His breath turned ragged for a moment, and his Adam’s apple bumped the top of my head as he swallowed back his grief. “He was a hero, not just for me, but to his team.” His shoulder shook with his sobs. “We’re all going to miss him. The world will be a darker place without him in it.”

For a moment, my mind drifted back to Mr. Richardson’s words this morning. He was right. Freedom isn’t free. It’s paid for by the blood and sweat of our soldiers. And by the tears of those they leave behind.


My thanks and heartfelt gratitude to all the men and women who serve in our military, and the families who support them. We wouldn't be here without all of you. God bless you all!

I tried to find the source of the quote that started this story for me, but I could only find links to USMC tweet and the Seal of Honor FB page. (If you haven't see this page, check it out. It's quite moving!) If anyone knows who said it, I'd love to know!


This story is set in the same world as my new release, The Boyfriend Project. And yes, this is the same Evan you hear about there.

Twisting tales one story at a time. 

YA author Mary Waibel’s love for fairytales and happy-ever fill the pages of her works. Whether penning stories in a medieval setting or a modern day school, magic and romance weave their way inside every tale. Strong female characters use both brain and brawn to save the day and win the heart of their men. Mary enjoys connecting with her readers through her website: