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Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Best Day by S. Usher Evans

This month's guest author, S. Usher Evans, shares a touching story with us. Grab a tissue. Hug your dog. 

"A dog has the best day of his life."
***

I had the best day ever today.

I awoke between my mom and my dad as I had since I was a puppy. I crawled in-between them and lay my head on my mom's chest. She scratched my ears and told me I was a good boy. Dad asked if I needed to go outside, and I wagged my tail. I followed him outside where I peed on my favorite bush. Dad asked if I wanted to get the ball—I always want to get the ball!—and he threw it and I brought it back to him as many times as I could.

I smelled breakfast and Dad took me back inside. Mom was in the kitchen, my favorite place, at the place that made the good smells. My bowl was empty, and I sat by it, hoping Mom would see that I was hungry, too. My eyes widened and my tail thumped wildly when she brought a plate of yummy yellow food and red strips to the floor.

"Good boy, Bernie," she said, and I attacked the plate. It tasted so good—the yellow food was hot and delicious and the red strips salty and crunchy. I finished my plate in a matter of seconds, and Mom laughed and gave me more.

My stomach was so full of good things I laid down and smiled. Mom said, "I love you, Bernie" and I kissed her face. She tasted a bit salty, so I made sure I cleaned her up. She smiled and laughed, and I had done my job. She rubbed my belly and my ears and I was happy.

Dad announced we were going for a walk and I sprung to my feet. Dad got my leash and tried to put it on, but I was so excited that I nearly knocked him over. He hooked the leash to my collar and I flew to the door, the long strip flowing behind me. I waited impatiently for Mom and Dad to join me—they are always so slow—and when they were ready, we left the house to the smelly-ful world outside.

It wasn't hot, but my tongue hung out of my mouth in excitement. I was on a walk, and walks meant new smells and new things to pee on. I marked every tree that smelled like something else.That's my job, you know, to show where I have been. Mom and Dad were patient and stopped every time I did. They smiled down at me and told me I was a good boy.

When we arrived at the park, Dad took off my leash and let me run. My favorite place was the pond. I could splash in the water and chase the flying things all day. One of them was large and snapped at me, so I ran back to Mom and Dad who laughed so hard they cried.

I met two new friends—Zoe and Pepper. They wrestled and tumbled in the cool grass and let me chase them. I was tired from running, and I could not keep up. Mom and Dad came to get me and told me it was time to go home. I wagged my tail—I loved going home, especially when Mom and Dad were there with me.

When we got home, I took several gulps of water and lay on the couch. Mom sat next to me and rubbed my ears and my belly, calling me her "sweet baby boy." I made sure to give her lots of kisses, she sounded sad and it was my job to cheer her up. I climbed on top of her and gave her all the smooches I could give, until she was red-faced with laughter.

Dad made chicken for dinner, and I was allowed to have my very own piece! I gobbled it up as quickly as my breakfast, and asked for more. Dad gave me his food and told me I was a "good boy." I had never been so lucky to have chicken and potatoes, but I didn't care for the green stuff. Mom gave me a cold peanut butter chewy after, and I licked and gnawed at it to my heart's desire. My tail thumped happily on the ground, and Mom and Dad laughed until they cried.

I smelled a new person at the door. She came in with a bag and a sad face, and Mom started crying. They spoke words I didn't understand, but I heard my name. Mom and Dad came over and sat down next to me. Mom was crying, and I lay my head on her lap, licking her hand. Dad rubbed my ears, and I saw he was crying too.

"I love you, Bernie," Mom said, kissing my forehead.

"You're a good boy, Bernie," Dad said, rubbing my belly.

"I love you, too," I said through my eyes. "Thank you for the best day ever."

***

If you want more feels-inducing work, check out S. Usher Evans' stand alone fantasy story, Empath.

Author Bio

S. Usher Evans is an author, blogger, and witty banter aficionado. Born in Pensacola, Florida, she left the sleepy town behind for the fast-paced world of Washington, D.C.. There, she somehow landed jobs with BBC, Discovery Channel, and National Geographic Television before finally settling into a "real job" as an IT consultant. After a quarter life crisis at age 27, she decided consulting was for the birds and rekindled a childhood passion for writing novels. She sold everything she owned and moved back to Pensacola, where she currently resides with her two dogs, Zoe and Mr. Biscuit.

Evans is the author of the Razia series and Empath, both published by Sun's Golden Ray Publishing. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Phillip, the Fed-Up Pup by Stuart R. West



                “Humph.” Phillip flumped down onto the buggy, itchy-scratchy grassy ground around his doghouse.  “You know what’s up? I’m a fed-up pup, that’s whassup!”  Phillip flapped a paw at a buzzy bumblebee singing and swinging around his nose and toes.  “Every dog-gone dash day is the same, no game, quite lame,” said Phillip. “I sleep unsoundly in this coldenly doggie hut, while my pinkly, plumply people sleep deeply in a lovely human housey!  I tell ya the totally, terrible truth, I’m fed up!”
                Phillip rolled his bug-bitten rump over a muddy hump with a big fat doggy thump.  “Sure, they take care of me by feeding me crunchity crackers and treaty smackers, but my hairless humans don’t eat the same.  On wickedly warm days filled with hot, sunnish rays, my people slurp cones of cream as cold as ice, tasting twice as nice!  On snowsy-blowsy nights of freezy-breezy rain, they eat soups so hot… the shame!   They rest their rears on things called chairs that are full of softness and angels’ feathers!  They watch an unbelievable box, a display of bravery and tears, policemen and dancing bears and humans selling underwears.  Worst of all…they get to go potty on the wonderfully white, certainly soft, kingly comfortable pleasure potty palace chair!   Me?  I growl barkity-bark-bark at the daily, dependable deliveryman and drop my doggity doody-do on the grass surrounding my houndy home!  No class!”
“ I’m one fed-up pup and I’ve had enough,” hollered Phillip.  “It’s time to get tough, take no guff and hope that things don’t get too unpleasantly rough!”  Phillip stood solidly sound with his back two feet on the ground , his tail waggling wiggily around.  He dashed up the driveway, proudly paraded past the demeaning doggy flap, pushed open the human door (quite a chore!), and stepped onto the kitchen floor.
Father frantically raced down the stairs, staring stupidly at what was willfully waiting for him at the kitchen table.  “Mother!” yelled Father.  “Why is Phillip sitting so pleasantly and peoplely at the proper plate setting for me?”
Mother joined the rowdy ruckousy kitchen commotion calmly.  “Hmm, it appears Phillip feels he’s fully family now, Father,” said Mother with amazingly matronly motions.
“That is correct, Mother,” said Phillip.  “If you don’t mind, if you’d be so kind, I’d love to dine, and try some coffee if that’s fine.”
“But…but…Phillip,” blustered a barely believing Father, “I never, ever, ever knew you could speak in such mannerly and humanly ways!”
“I’ve never had anything to say before now ,” said Phillip as he pawingly pulled the front page of the paper open. “And please, use my dog name from now on: Sir Barks-A-Lot.”
Brother and Sister tumbled down the steepish stairs to see what the loudish hoo-hah hullaballoo was about.  “Phillip!” squealed Brother & Sister.  “You’re sitting, reading and drinking in a very mannerly and humanly way!”
“This is oh-so-totally and truthfully true, my youngish humanly crew,” said Phillip.  “For you see, Brother and Sisteree, I’m a frighteningly fed-up little pup.  I’ve delightfully decided to declare my doggishly days dog-gone done.  I wish to be treated and undefeated in ways most humdingishly humanish.”
“Well, Sir Barks-A-Lot, I can see you’re not so hot to dog trot a lot, so I’ll tell you what’s what and what’s not,” said Father.   “It’s fine that you’re a fed-up pup, but I do believe (here, let me roll up my sleeve), that I would like to achieve being a fed-up Father!”  Father shed his shirt and shucked his shoes, flopped to the floor like a fish with the blues.  “I’m a fed-up Father now and I want to experience delightfully doggishly, luxuriously lazy, hazy doggy days!  Now scratch my tummy and talk to me funny!”
“I do not want to be left out,” said Mother.  “So here me shout, ‘I’m a fed-up Mother, what about you Sister and Brother’?”
“Awesome!” yelled Brother and Sister.  “We’re going to be fed-up Sister and Brother, there can be no other, so why even bother, isn’t that right, Father and Mother?”  Brother junked his jeans, standing in his tidy-whities, making for quite a sighty and said, “It’s doggy nap-time, so good nighty!”
“I’m going outdoors,” said Sister sassily, “and getting on all fours, and bark for hours at passing cars and neighbors next doors!”
“Hold on here one hot-doggedy, dog-gone hair,” hollered Phillip. “We all can’t possibly pretend to play at being fed-up forever!  Who will work and cook goodies and send Brother and Sister to school in their hoodies?”
“You should’ve thoroughly thought this through, Sir Barks-A-Lot,” murmured Mother.  “Now we have a household of hairless hounds with no helpful humans.  In order to feed, you will indeed need to learn to read at school, obey the golden rule and get a job…If that’s cool.”
“Work?  School??” screamed Phillip.  “I’m no fool, but a drooly, wooly puppy pal who’s just fed up, that’s all.  You can’t possibly pretend to ponder this pup’s wonder at screamingly scary school and weirdly wicked work!”
Father rantingly ran in, his tongue wagging wildly, his manner oddly mildly, and plopped puppy-like at Phillip’s furry feet.  “Bounce the bouncy blue ball, Sir Barks-A-Lot, and we’ll play all day until we’re hot!”
“No pants, no shoes and no shirt!” barked Brother.  “I just did doo-doo in the outdoor doggy dirt!  I must run, for there’s much more fun in the sun that I’ve only just begun!”
Father was chasing balls and scratching his bottom up against walls.  Mother napped nicely and neatly with no shoes on her feeties.  Daughter hollered houndishly at neighbors and cars and voices from afars.  Brother pottied and partied in the puppy playhouse and yard! 
And they want me to go to school and work, thought Phillip, this is too hard!
“Enough!” yelled Phillip.  “Enough funny stuff, it’s just too tough to take, it’s no piece of cake!  Maybe I was too quick, to say I’m fed-up and sick.  I do not want to go to school and work, I do not want to eat with a fork.  I want to go back to being Phillip the dog and be as lazy dazy as a log!”
Father and Brother put on their clothes, Daughter stood up on her back toes, and Mother merrily said, “I suppose…I suppose, if we chose, we could go back to the lives we know.  Let’s get going, gang, and be cool, it’s time for us to leave for work and school!”
Phillp’s family fled out the door, leaving Phillip panting on the floor.  “Well,” pondered Phillip as he walked out the doggy door, “Life is swell, all is well, the neighbor’s did not put Brother or Sister in jail.”  Phillip plopped oh-so-puppy-like onto the green grass in front of his cozy, comfy, cutesy & delightful doggy-house.  “I am houndishly happy and puppishly pleased to go back to my lovely life as a well-fed pup and not a fed-up pup!”
From that day on and once a week, Phillip’s furless family (so to speak), fed Phillip a cone with cream as cold as ice and twice as nice.
* * * 

 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: http://bit.ly/1Icbj0N

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Arrival of Magic

Bethany faces a changing world.


Light escaped through a crack in the closed curtains. Bats hunted overhead. Strains of music carried on the crisp winter air. Occasional lyrics describing hazy, lazy days of summer seemed out of place beneath the canopy of stars.

Above, a clear sky offered a breathtaking display of the Milky Way. Bethany and Mark both peered into their own piece of precious equipment. Intense focus isolated them from the world. Beth’s camera clicked and her intake of breath drew a grunt from Mark. Hunched over the eye piece of a telescope he didn’t lift his head, but angled it slightly, as though waiting for her to elaborate.

“Fantastic.” Her warm breath formed into mist.

“You get a good image?” Mark muttered. “I have the most amazing view here, too.”

 Venus and Jupiter shone as a single entity. The clear night and distance from civilization enabled perfect viewing of the phenomena. Bethany turned her focus to Sirius, taking a long exposure of the dog star. It seemed fitting to include Orion’s dog in her night’s images. The Northern Hemisphere was enjoying their ‘dog days’, named after the bright star. Her internet contacts complained about the heat of their sultry summer, while she shivered through winter. 

“Thank goodness we could book the cabin. What a great idea. I can’t believe the others are more interested in keeping warm.” Bethany grinned. “They have no sense of adventure.”

“Wine, cards, the open fire. They just don’t understand the awesomeness of the moment.” Mark shifted the stool he perched on. “Their loss.”

“It makes such a difference not having the lights of town to interfere with my photos.”

“Ditto.”

Bethany changed the aperture setting and adjusted her tripod. Silence fell. Only the quiet strains of music disturbed the perfect night. Sharing a passion with Mark cemented their growing friendship.

Friendship, not relationship. Her initial disappointment faded as she discovered Mark’s interest in keeping her company came from his wanting to meet her colleague, Ethan. Mark though, proved to be a trusted friend and Bethany felt comfortable confiding in him.

A shower of bright lights flickered across her line of sight. Snapping the camera’s shutter, she scowled. What sort of shooting star, satellite, or UFO would cause such a display?

She glanced across to see if Mark noticed the strange event. His head remained low over the telescope. His shoulders appeared slumped, as though he had fallen asleep. 

Unlikely. Not when the stars provided such a magic display.
Background music slowed, as though running on failing batteries. The lower tones sounded like a whale song, gone wrong.

“Don’t panic.”

Bethany turned toward the voice. Normal speed. Normal tone. Sudden fear gripped her. The voice seemed to come from a cloud of soft light. A spiderweb of luminescence swirled slowly in the darkness beneath the cottage’s garden hedge. She breathed in. The scent of honeysuckle surprised her. Odd scent for winter. Terror filled her heart. Panic rose to choke her.

“Bethany, tonight you must make a choice.”

Bethany resisted the urge to scream, run, or laugh aloud. Wondering how she overcame her initial horror she remained standing, stock still. The whirling light took the shape of a human figure. No details, but obviously once human. Bethany bit her cheek. Did insanity ran in her family? What weird herbs did Stella mix into the stew she had consumed for dinner? Were they to blame for this hallucination? 

The figure seemed oblivious to her dismay.

“You have been tested.” The earnest voice continued. “You have proved your ability to withstand temptation, your soul is pure. You are exactly what we need.”

Bethany nearly choked.  “Need? Need for what?”

“Tonight magic is returning to this world. If you choose to accept your role in this momentous occasion, you will be one of the first diviners.”

“Whoa.” Bethany trembled. Not from the cold, though she became aware of the biting air entering her lungs. Fear didn’t make her shake, but the tone the voice used bordered on melodramatic. The cloudy figure shimmered. Bethany shook her head, trying to find a logical explaination for the voice and her vision. “Who are you? Better still, what are you? And why have you been testing me?”

“Fair enough. I suppose an explanation is warranted, though there isn’t much time for chit chat.”

“So, explain. I am all ears.” Trying to remain calm took most of her concentration. Above her the night sky stretched, clear and crisp. The cottage light still filtered through the cold air. Mark appeared unharmed, relaxed where he slumped over his telescope. No bats crossed the sky, and the strains of music still sounded strained and odd. The scent of blossom remained. Bethany steeled herself and focused on the voice and the words it spoke.

“You can call me Warlock." 

The voice paused, as though assessing the name. 

"Warlock is a title fitting my skills." The moment of introspection passed and the tone returned to businesslike and efficient.  "You have the ability to be a diviner. As magic spreads we need diviners who can assess souls to offer the gift of magic to. Your job will be finding and evaluating candidates, and allocating the types of skills each recipient will receive.”

“Magic? Skills?” Bethany's breathing returned to normal. Her pulse settled. Almost as though she fell under the spell of the warlock's words. 

“Healing, telepathy, energy conversion, seeing into the future and the past, controlling the elements. You know the sort of thing… what you don’t know, you will learn. If you accept the role of diviner you will be equipped with the power you need for your task.”

“I will be able to do magic?” Bethany grinned. If she was dreaming, she didn't want to wake, until she learnt more. Magic. Cool. “So, is there a downside?”

“Sadly, yes. You show wisdom asking this. Diviners have the ability to give the gift of magic, but where they choose a damaged soul or mis-assess a recipient, they also have the obligation to rescind the gift.”

“Fair enough.” She didn't really want to know. The  responsibility sounded pretty intense.

“Think about it, Bethany. Those who are chosen must be pure of spirit. Should a diviner’s assessment be clouded; by emotion or magic, the sorcerer with the damaged soul is not going to give up power willingly. Diviners need protection. There is no guarantee every witch or wizard they create will be perfect. The human race sadly has proven over the ages to be deceptive. Your task comes with a certain  amount of risk.”

“But I will have the skills necessary to perform it?" Doubt eroded her confidence. "You said as much.”

“Allowing for my choice being correct and you passing the tests… you didn’t fail the test of temptation with the cube. Your handling of a change in luck has shown your true colours. Forgive my clich├ęs, but we don’t have much time to elaborate. Your innate skills should suffice, with the added ability of perception you will receive. I will also leave you with a talisman.”

Around Bethany's wrist a delicate silver bracelet curled. It spread warmth and calm through her body. She caressed it. The surface tingled beneath her fingertips. Confidence returned.


“So my mission, should I accept it…is to find other people to share the magic. I get to give them power? But my choice could backfire if I choose the wrong person, with the wrong outlook. Good vs evil type thing?” 

The bracelet vibrated and Bethany could hear the warlock's voice in her mind, rather than through the chill night air. The smell of spring blossom filled her. Warmth spread through her body. Words flowed through her mind. “Basically, in a nutshell.”

“Right.” Bethany shivered and chewed her bottom lip. After a moment she continued. “How do I get training?”

“Training. Yes. Time is important. First thing to do is find a guide and a protector. These must be souls you trust… with your life. Give them a bracelet, you will know how, when the need arises. They can shape them to suit their taste. The bracelet will allow communication between you and your team.  You can’t waste time choosing your team, either. This task must be accomplished as soon as possible. Second, you should choose a familiar. You do know what they are?”

“I’ve read a few fantasies." Bethany frowned. "Where I live is not pet friendly.”

“Think outside the box then. Your choice. Your familiar will be vital to your growth, so choose well.”

“What about you?" Bethany lifted her hand to peer at the silver bracelet twinkling in the warlock's light. "Will you be around to answer questions? Can I contact you?”

If you need to contact me, each team member needs to be involved in the summoning." The vibrations paused. Bethany waited. After a heartbeat the warlock continued,  "Don't call unless you have dire need. It is my task to find and deliver magic to diviners. You are not alone. I doubt we will meet again, unless you make a mess of things. Trust yourself and the magic. I have done my research.” The figure shimmered. The scent of blossom grew stronger. Bethany struggled not to sneeze.

"Can I contact other diviners?" Bethany asked in an urgent breath. The thought of the warlock leaving left her feeling nervous and confidence eroded again.

"They will most likely be looking for you. You are the first to be given their gift, Bethany. At least in this region. Others will look to you for guidance."

"No stress then?" Bethany sagged beneath the perceived burden. 

"Don't doubt yourself. Or my choices. Trust the magic, be yourself and trust your instinct." The warlock seemed to gather his light form. 

 “Now, time is passing, even though I have slowed it down.” The warlock’s image tightened. Bethany could recognise human features within the light. For a moment he appeared dressed in a tailored coat, high collar, cravat, double breasted and ornate cuffs. His face appeared younger than Bethany expected. Almost handsome, bright friendly expression, a neat goatee. An even smile revealed crooked teeth. He raised a translucent hand to adjust the broad brimmed hat, complete with flourishing feather. His outfit could have been lifted from a picture book of the Musketeers. Warlock's smile evaporated. “You must consider well before sharing this new role with your friends. Do you trust any of them?" His expression matched his earnest tone. "Don’t let physical attraction overshadow common sense and gut instinct. Find your protector and guide as soon as you can. This is vital. You must be protected and guided. Is everything clear? You accept your role?”

Bethany nodded. “I do.” She grinned. “I can’t believe I am saying this. It will be disappointing when I wake tomorrow morning with just a headache and no talent.”

The figure of light swirled and the warlock’s illumination began to fade. “Sorry, Bethany, I must be on my way. Use your powers sparingly until you have mastered them. Trust your heart.”

Bethany shivered again. Despite the band of warmth around her wrist cold seeped into her bones. The night closed in around her, darker and less inspiring than previously. 

Mark roused, snuffled and coughed. “Well that’s odd,” he said scratching his forehead beneath his beanie. “I feel as though I have been asleep. My fingers are numb, I am freezing. I wasn’t cold a moment ago.”

“Yeah, me too.” Bethany closed the lens cap on her camera. “Wanna go inside and get warm?”

“Reckon. It’s been a brilliant night’s viewing, Beth.” Mark proceeded to disassemble his telescope. "Magic."


“Magic.” Bethany repeated the word, wondering how her life would change as the stars rolled through the heavens and magic became part of her world.
***

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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Thursday, August 20, 2015

I AM SIRIUS by Crystal Collier

My feet touch down on the ground, and I’m grateful for the solid earth. I glance back to the sky, the heavenly beacon I’ve left shining in my absence—a guide to my place in the great black once my month-long sojourn on earth ends. But for now, I’m free.

And there’s only one place I want to go.

I’ve had so many names through the centuries: Yoonir, Sigu Tolo, Tishtrya, An-Nahm, Tianlang, Tenro, and Canicula, but my favorite is Sirius—Sir if I don’t like you. Rius if I do.

Tonight I’m in a Rius mood. And who could blame me? After eleven months in the black heart of nowhere, I’m ready to break out a keg and party like it’s the end of time. Instead I’ll go around making plants wilt, weakening men, and my personal favorite, turning on the ladies. It’s my animal magnetism, which is ironic considering how many people associate my name with a dog.

A dog.

Loyal, fierce, blood-thirsty. Everything I’m not. Everything the goddess Ishtar wanted me to be.

I breathe in the pollen-laden wind, the scent of ripe corn and hay filling me with nostalgia. The satisfaction of a bounteous harvest after months of work. Good, honest work. The kind I miss followed by festivals and partying late into the night. I’m definitely primed for the partying, but there’s one thing I have to do first.

The “stars” holding my place wink down at me: Don’t be gone too long.

I give them the finger. “Go burn yourself. I’m never coming back.” I say that every year, and every year I’m sucked back into that hole of an existence by the invisible leash I feel even now tethered to my immortal heart. There is no such thing as true freedom. But if I could, I would escape.

According to mythology, I am a star, a whole collection of stars, a constellation. I don’t believe in mythology.

My soles scuff across asphalt, a wide black path leading me home. The night is quiet, except for the chirp of insects. The houses I pass are silent. Their windows are giant glassy eyes witnessing my sober ascent before the fun can begin: A man condemned to light the sky for eternity after offending a lesser god by passing her up for his wife. A man who cared about crops more than making eyes at pretty, petty things.

Ishtar, called me a dog. You know what they say about a woman scorned—especially one who presides over war? She thought she had me trapped, stuck out there in the black and all to herself, but I’m a resourceful guy. Nine centuries in, I found myself an ambrosia blade and slit her throat.

One celestial war later, I was back behind bars. But, as it turns out, the big guy up there really didn’t like his bratty little goddess, so he granted me one month off every year.

Source
Wind whistles between the metal bars guarding the cemetery. A gentle shove and the gates swing wide, admitting me into a sea of mausoleums and floral bouquets. Plants shrivel as I pass. It’s why I never bring flowers, though I would if I could. A whole field of them. Petunias and daffodils, forget-me-nots and daisies—all her favorites.

The tombs shrink in grandeur and grow older as I progress, until I’m standing before a little hill, a single white pinnacle beckoning me.

I take a deep breath, exhale, and move.

Nineteen hundred years. So much can change in nineteen hundred years. I’ve rebuilt her grave once every century since winning my freedom, and although the land has altered much in that time, her place is always the same. Wind and wear have smoothed the carved flowers on her stone to indistinct bumps, but the symbol of her name remains—the half crescent with underlining squiggles. My moon over the sea.

My fingers graze the weathered stone.

Rhea took a boy who flirted with anything (including goddesses, much to my detriment,) and turned him into a respected man, a pillar of the community. And then she paid for it with her life.

I kiss my fingers and press them to the faded stone flowers. “Sleep peacefully, my kuvalya.” My waterlily.

The issue with living forever is that I won’t see her again. Not in this life, not in the next. Never have the chance to hold her, to apologize, to promise she lives in my heart always and that I have no regrets. Except I do have one.

That our life together was cut short. Because of me. Which is why I’m going to get drunk out of my gourd and spend the next thirty days not caring about anything but becoming oblivious.

A dog whistle pierces my ears. Its pitch pulsates down my spine, resonating with the marrow in my bones, synchronizing with the vibration of my very atoms. I drop to all fours. My muscles lock. I twitch to break free, but it’s useless.

“Hey dog boy,” a sultry voice grazes the back of my ear.

My fingers dig into the dirt, aching to turn on the voice and demolish its source. She shouldn’t be here. She’s dead, and yet I know that voice from the heart of my cold nightmares. “You’re not real,” I hiss though a locked jaw.

She circles me, translucent skirt revealing the length of her legs. I glare at the ground.

“Oh, I’m very much real, and very much in the mood for vengeance.” Her final word lingers like the jangle of a rattlesnake, pulling my gaze to the source of danger—ultra-white teeth between crimson lips.

I look back at the grave before me. She had her vengeance ages ago, along with my desire to live. “How are you here, Ishtar?”

She sits on my Rhea’s gravestone, crimson nails curling over olive skin as she crosses her arms. A curtain of ebony hair silhouettes her shapely form, emphasizing the smallness of her bustier and width of exposed bosoms. She leans forward to give me a better view. “I thought you believed in reincarnation, dog boy.”

Any man would find this she-demon irresistible. Any man but me. I roll my eyes and focus on a tree in my periphery.

“Every thousand years I am born again in mortal form.” Her voice is like ink, dripping in my ear, drowning my brain.

“How wonderful for you,” I mutter, and then the last two words sink in: mortal form. She’s mortal. She’s vulnerable.

If I could break free from this paralysis…

She laughs. “Soon I will ascend to my place on high.” She points to the heavens. “I wanted you to know before I leave that your efforts to end me were futile. Oh, and your brother’s bloodline, the people you check up on year after year? They are going to die. Very soon. All of them.”

Rage surges through me. It pounds in my head like a drum, calling for strength, tremoring down to my toes. Though my body no longer possess blood, the immortal substance that fills my veins burns like magma, igniting my being.

“And this?” Ishtar pats Rhea’s headstone, “This will be crushed and the entire plot of earth turned into a cesspool.”

My fists are locked. Something cracks inside me, like my veins have broken open and leaked the inferno pulsing through me. Fire throbs from my knuckles into my core, barely contained by my skin. It simmers, liquidifying everything inside me, eating away my organs and replacing them with molten fury. The essence of a star.

“And the best part?” Ishtar lifts a hand to the sky, cupping the light that holds my place. “You will watch me do it, powerless to stop me like the leashed dog you are.”

Ishtar is fixated on my place in the sky, oblivious to the transformation occurring right in front of her. I am burning. My skin crackles and I release the last stands of restraint. I will never, NEVER let her harm another innocent. She will not enslave another person so long as I live. This. Ends. Now.

I growl and blinding light breaks through my skin. The grass beneath me shrivels and blackens, turning to dust. Cold heat rips free and I scream, exploding into a billion pieces. The night is nothing but light, freedom, and consuming wrath.

I am a star.

***

I wake to the dawn, the sun barely free of the horizon. With a gasp, I feel my arms, solid and human. I sigh in relief.

Blackened earth stretches out around me, all except for a star shape circling Rhea’s grave. A sliver of crimson fingernail remains on the stone, singed across the top as if burned free by a blow torch.

Ishtar is dead. For now.

Another thousand years and she’ll be back, as conniving and vicious as ever. And I’ll be here, waiting for her, ready to hunt her down like the dog she claims I am.

I am Sirius.



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.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Work For Hire by Eric Price


Everyone tells me I should get a real job. They think I manage a video store. I do, but that’s just my day job.

As for the job they don’t know about…consider it work for hire. Freelancing. If you need a murder scene cleaned up, or a body disposed of, I’m your man.

Body disposal is my specialty. It’s expensive, but the right people will pay for it. People who drink Single-Malt Scotch Whisky because they can afford it. They’re the same people who don’t drink cheap beer and cheaper wine. I’ve seen the bottles at their houses. I don’t even know where they buy it. These people, they pay for the supplies I need to keep them out of prison. They pay to keep living their overabundant lifestyles.

My job requires chemicals. Chemicals to dissolve skin and fat. Chemicals that make human bones look like nothing more than dog vomit. These chemicals aren’t cheap. I won’t even tell you what I do with the muscles…okay, I’ll give you a hint. That white butcher’s paper, it also costs money. Whatever you do, don’t look in my freezer.

I don’t do murder, though. I’m not a killer.

As a child, I lived with my mom in an old farmhouse. Most people would call it a fixer upper…if they wanted to be nice. The shutters had all but fallen off. The roof leaked. The wood siding had rotted from rain, mold, termites, age. And the roaches. We should have fed them as payment for letting us live in their house!

Sometimes a rat would gnaw its way through a wall. Mom overlooked some of the house’s problems, but she didn’t want rats living in her home. “Rats carry diseases,” she would say every time we heard one scratching behind the walls.

One rat moved in and it was too smart for the traps and poison. So Mom got the twelve-gauge and took care of it. She came in and told me to clean the mess while she cooked dinner.

This event shaped the rest of my life.

The rat’s head remained connected to its hind legs and tail by a thin thread of spinal cord. Its front legs and internal organs now painted the south corner of our house red, green, and black. I burned the body on the scorched ground where we burned our trash. I wouldn’t learn the interesting methods of body disposal for another year. But burning worked well for rats and other small animals.

When I returned to the smear of gore I tried the hose, but that only removed the chunks. So I brought out Mom’s bucket of cleaning supplies and started mixing chemicals in an attempt to discover some miracle cleaner.

Some chemicals you don’t want to mix. I learned that the hard way. It says right on the bottle not to mix them, but I didn’t take time to read warnings.

Eventually, I removed not only the blood and guts from the siding, but also the last fifty years of dirt and grime! Over the next few years, Mom worked pest control, and I worked cleanup. Mom said the house looked better than when she first moved into it a few months before I was born.

The happiest period of my life, a time I think of as the dog days, helped me evolve my cleaning methods. I found a way to turn my talents into a career. Maybe you’ve guess that we didn’t have much money. We lived by eating the chickens we could spare and what little we grew in our garden. One summer this pack of stray dogs started killing our chickens. Well, Mom didn’t take this lightly. She stayed up one night with nothing but her shotgun for company. The next morning I had three dogs to dispose of. I talked to the butcher about acquiring some of that white paper. We ate like potentates for months.

One night, this was several years later, after mom had died, a beautiful woman and her boyfriend came into the video store I manage. They were arguing, and the bar smell of stale cigarette smoke and beer diffused throughout the store. From somewhere between the adult-film section and the horror movies, I heard the smack of skin on skin. I looked up from the videos I was sorting to see the guy holding the girl by the arm and shaking a finger in her face. I could see the glimmer of a tear streaking across the red handprint forming on her cheek. They left the store without renting anything.

My shift had ended, so I took it upon myself to follow them. I wanted to make sure they made it home safely. I don’t think either one was in a condition to drive. I also had a feeling the girl may need my help.

After a slow and swerving drive, they pulled into a trailer lot. They parked in their driveway, and I stopped on the street. They were probably too drunk, and too busy arguing, to notice me anyway.

The screen door of their trailer slammed, and I could see them fighting through the kitchen window. He drew back his arm and slapped her. He drew back again, but she turned and grabbed something off the counter. He backed away as she held up a butcher’s knife. Then they moved out of view.

I got out of my car and went to their trailer. She stood with her back to the door. Her shoulders leapt up and down with her sobs. At her feet lay her boyfriend’s dead body. The knife protruded from his chest like Excalibur from the stone.

I opened the door.

She turned, jumped, and screamed.

I told her she needed to keep quiet. I told her I could help. I told her I had experience cleaning messes. I said, “We need to get started before this blood dries. The quicker we move, the easier it will clean.”

She mumbled to herself. I could tell she didn’t trust me, but she was panicked. When she settled herself, we worked out an agreement. Her name was Lisette.

Lisette and I developed a wonderful relationship. She’s the only person I ever told about my business. I mean my freelance work. For a while we were partners.

When I told Lisette I had experience cleaning messes, I didn’t mean all the animal remains I cleaned for Mom. I meant the first time I met my father.

I had just graduated high school. Mom always said she’d be the happiest woman in the world the day I graduated. She hadn’t lied. Mom framed the newspaper with my name, and the names of my 206 classmates, and hung it on our living room wall.

One day this rust-bucket car came rolling up our lane. Mom and I watched it from the living room window. Then Mom said, “Lord, no. No, no, no.” Without explaining she up and ran to her bedroom.

I stood there and watched this man I had never seen before stagger up our front porch steps and into our house.

“Where’s my boy?” he slurred. He came down the hall and looked in the kitchen. “Where’s that son of mine?”

He turned and saw me standing in the living room. “My boy,” he said, and stumbled toward me. He sweated gin and breathed whisky. The slightest spark would have ignited him.

His eyes moved from me to a spot over my shoulder. The spot where Mom had hung the framed newspaper. “I knew it was you,” he said. “When I saw your name in the paper, I knew it was my boy.”

“He’s not your boy!” I had never heard Mom’s voice so stern. So commanding. “I left you before he was born. He’s never been your boy. I didn’t want him raised in that kind of environment.”

The man turned and stalked toward Mom. She stood in the bedroom doorway with her twelve-gauge at her waist. The man took another step toward her, and Mom stepped into the room. When I was no longer in a direct line with her and the man, she raised the gun and fired.

Our living room window shattered, and intestines splattered the wall around the frame.

I had already started experimenting with body disposal, and it’s a good thing. You can’t just burn a human body and hope no one finds the remains.

The hard part was disposing of his car. I stripped it down and sold the parts to mechanics and junkyards.

Mom died the next year, and the year after that I met Lisette. When I met her I had a lucrative business in place working for the rich and famous…and preventing them from becoming infamous.

But now my career may have ended. I’m sitting in the living room of the house Mom and I fixed up. My house. Sitting in a chair across from me is Lisette’s body. Her head is sprayed across the wall behind her.

She had been talking about getting out of the business for some time now. She said it was illegal. She thought we would get arrested.

I came home from a solo job at some athlete’s estate. A cocktail party had gotten out of hand. She sat in the chair holding my mom’s shotgun. I asked what she was doing. I told her to stop. But with her eyeballs floating in tears, she put the barrel of the gun in her mouth and used her toe to pull the trigger.

She wanted me to quit the business. Now I’m sitting here, looking at the mess she left me, and I think I may quit. But I’ll have to ponder it later. I’ve got work to do.

****

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 a September 2015 release. Find him online at authorericprice.comTwitterFacebook, and Goodreads.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Orion's Dog

Sirius rises late in the dark, liquid sky
On summer nights, star of stars,
Orion's Dog they call it, brightest
Of all, but an evil portent, bringing heat
And fevers to suffering humanity.

Homer, The Iliad

***

Sirius A (white star on left) and Sirius B (blue star on right)
***

Lady Jane Blackmore crept down the darkened hallway, her hand fisted around her father’s pocket watch. It was one of a handful of his possessions that she retained, the remaining items having been sold off to cover his debts when he passed.

Penniless and orphaned, Jane had almost been forced to the foundling hospital. But, she was saved from such a travesty by her father’s dearest friend, Lord Wickware. For eight years, Lord Wickware treated her as a member of his family, and not a mere responsibility or a burden. She was greatly grieved by his passing last year, for he had become a second father to her.

Now she was the ward of the new Lord Wickware, Nashland, the boy she regarded as a brother. In her mind he would always be Nash, her playmate and co-conspirator in childhood pranks. Now he was her provider and protector. At least until a suitable marriage was made, or until three years hence when she reached her majority.

She hoped her lack of dowry would allow her to remain single until reaching her majority, having no wish to enter a loveless marriage. Not that she opposed marriage, mind you. But the one she longed longed to marry would never do. It would be a scandalous affair, one that must be avoided.

Banishing her wayward thoughts aside, she slid the watch into the pocket of her borrowed trousers praying no servants, or worse Nash himself, would see her attired thusly. Her steps light, she inched past her guardian’s room and hurried to the stairwell leading to the attic. Breathing a sigh of relief that she remained undetected, she climbed the stairs, stepping over the squeaky third step so as not to disturb the household.

In the attic, she climbed the short set of stair leading into an window enclosed cupola. After his father’s passing, Nash had ordered this room built. He drew the designs himself, claiming he needed a place to observe the heavens without obstruction from the trees surrounding the country manor.

Tables were pushed against the east and west windows allowing for maximum light while compiling notes and making drawings of Nash’s scientific observations. On the northern wall, a ladder led to an unenclosed observation deck where only a waist high railing surrounded the platform that sat four stories above the ground.

Moving to the east windows, Jane set the paper and charcoal beside a handheld telescope that lay on the table. When Nash first showed her the device, she had thought it a spyglass, as it looked similar to the one of her father’s that sat on the shelf in her bedroom here at the manor. Jane picked up brass tube and tucked it into the pocket of the borrowed trousers she wore. Satisfied the instrument was secure, she continued on with her task.

Jane had never been atop the cupola without Nash. Until tonight.

She nimbly climbed the ladder, pushed open the trap door, and stepped onto the flat, slate roof. Outside the air was still and quiet. And warm, as an August morning should be. It was too dark to see, but Jane knew a haze filled the air. One always did during the sultry days of summer.

With a shake of her head, she banished her drifting thoughts and set about her work. Dawn would break soon, and her chance to spot the constellation she sought would vanish.

Her heart filled with memories of happier times, she withdrew her father’s pocket watch from her pocket. With the time noted, she allowed the watch to dangle from its chain, knowing she would need to lift it quickly. Hands steady, despite her proximity to the edge, she raised the telescope and focused on the eastern sky near the horizon. A blurred white dot glowed against the deep blue of the pre-dawn sky. Her fingers gripped the tiny dial on the side of the contraption and moved it in tiny increments until the dot became a star. Not just any star, but Sirius. Orion's Dog. Omen of evilness.

Or so the unlearned believed.

Jane believed it a coincidence that Sirius’ rise afore the sun was followed by hot and humid days. Nor did she attribute the stormy seas, the spoiling of milk, or the madness of creatures, dogs most especially, to the Dog Star. If Nash had taught her anything it was that there must be a logical explanation.

When the star was swallowed by the glow of the rising sun, she grabbed the chain of her watch and lifted it, noting the time once more. With a sigh, she returned both the telescope and her watch to her pockets.

She took a moment to enjoy the sunrise, awed at the beauty as the horizon blazed red. The red faded to orange, which melted into a pale yellow as the sun itself lifted into the sky, bathing the world in its light.

“Jane! What the deuce are you doing up here?”

She started at Nash’s voice, so transfixed by the sunrise that she hadn’t heard him approach. He wrapped a strong arm around her waist and pulled her close to his muscled body and away from the perilous edge of the roof.

“Steady. I have you.” His breath trickled over her ear and she shivered. “You are right to be afraid,” he scolded. “Once we are back inside we will discuss your transgressions.”

Jane jerked free from his grasp and spun toward him, glaring. “I am not afraid, Nash.”

His gaze raked over her and her cheeks heated, knowing she had broken many of society’s rules this morning. He lifted a brow and pointed at the ladder. Without a word, Jane huffed out a breath and climbed back inside with Nash following close behind.

Nash secured the trap door before descending the ladder into the cupola. “Now Jane, shall we discuss your sins?” He didn’t wait for her to respond before listing her faults. “You were on the roof. Unchaperoned. Wearing my old clothes.”

She lifted her chin and ticked off her answers on her fingers as she spoke. “You were sleeping and I did not wish to wake you. None, save yourself, have seen me dressed thusly. Wearing your discarded trousers seemed safer than attempting to navigate the ladder in a skirt.”

Nash’s lips quirked in a semi-smile and a chuckle escaped him. He schooled his features and his gaze bore into hers, suddenly quite serious. “Well, I can see you are not the least repentant for your misdeeds. Tell me Jane, was your disobedience worth it?”

Jane dropped his gaze for a moment, then looked him dead in the eye, excitement bubbling up inside. “Sirius rose afore the sun this morn. We are still in the Dog Days.”

“Do not be ridiculous. You know as well as I that the Dog Days are mere superstition.”

“Truly?” Jane smiled. He had taken her bait as expected. Now if she could get him to commit to more. “Then why do we not prove it superstition. Perhaps you can discover what causes the days to be so warm, if it is not the heat of Sirius combining with our very own sun.”

“It would take more equipment than I own to prove that, Jane. However, there are some other myths about the days we can put an end to, if you so wish.”

Jane nodded, pleased to have any excuse to spend more time with Nash. “I so wish.”

“Excellent.” He grinned. “But first, you must change into proper clothing and fetch your maid. If a prospective husband learned of our time alone, and your manner of dressing as a boy, it would be scandalous.”

“Only to you.” Jane rolled her eyes. Sometimes Nash was too much a stickler for society’s rules.

“Although we were raised as siblings, we are not flesh and blood, Jane.” He grasped her elbow and ushered her toward the door, “I am your guardian, and an unwed male. Society would damn us both. Now change, gather your maid, and return here. I will have Cook send up breakfast for us and we shall begin breaking the myths of the Dog Days.”

***

While mulling over this month's topic, I wondered where the phrase "dog days of summer" came from. So I did some research and learned it came from the belief that when the constellation Canis Major rose before the sun, the star Sirius adding its heat to our son, making the days hotter and people and animals act in odd manners. Of course, this set my mind off and running about a girl coming of age, raised by a guardian-with whom she was in love- who dabbled in the sciences of astronomy and weather.


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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: marywaibel.blogspot.com




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