WIP Excerpt!

gothic witch modernTiger’s Curse

The high summer sun shone fiercely overhead, its brilliant rays of light penetrating deep into the dense canopy of trees. Ariadne touched her crystal amulet to her lips and then to her forehead, the familiar spell tumbling almost silently off of her tongue. In front of her, the river sparkled with the bright reflections of light, which twinkled like diamonds in the merry current as it pushed forward downstream.

“For luck,” she whispered quietly, dipping a polished aventurine stone into the water. “And favor.” She reached down to the next stone in the pile, her hand hovering over them, looking for the right one to choose. “For…” She closed her eyes, listening to what the gemstones were telling her, and felt the flare of red under her palm. It brought a smile to her lips.

“Passion, yes, garnet, I feel you there.” She held it under the virgin waters, feeling the power that flowed into the stone and both into and out of her as she poised it there.

“Garnets are always demanding,” said a voice from behind her. “Like a certain witch I know.”

Without opening her eyes, her smile grew, and she could feel that he was reciprocating it. “Ishmael,” she whispered. Careful not to displace the stones, she turned to face him.

Hair dark as a raven’s wing and eyes red as a ruby, he stared back at her knowingly.

“How is it I knew you’d be here, playing with some rocks instead of coming to the coven meet?” He took a few steps forward until the tips of his boots met the playful splash of the river’s edge.

“Maybe because you know how I feel about the meets,” she said, wrinkling her nose in disgust. “Magic is wonderful and deep. To think it dangerous is foolish. I do not agree with their teachings. Their… restrictions.”

Ishmael knelt and touched the water with his hands, issuing a quiet greeting of his own. During the winter months the water froze over, but in late spring, it ran merrily down the hills toward the valley, and carried with it the drippings from the ice. Pure, unsullied virgin waters… perfect for cleansings and blessings. The water itself was a magical property, and Ariadne wanted to get in some time alone before every other witch came to do the same. Seeing as she was the only one who regarded all of the old Sabbaths and the only one who didn’t attend the meets, she knew that it would be the perfect time to cleanse her stones of the year’s troubles. Her luck, especially, had been running exceptionally low. As if reading her thoughts, Ishmael looked behind him.

“They’ll all be here soon, I’m sure,” he said with a sigh. “I suppose this is a better use of time than hearing what spells have been outlawed…” His voice was light, but it still worried Ariadne.

There had been many spells and arcane books that had been done away with lately. In fact, more seemed to disappear all the time, much to the chagrin of the witches and warlocks that used them. It enraged her to think of it.

A bunch of old men who don’t even keep the old Sabbaths anymore are telling us what we can and can’t practice? The witches of Myangamar’s day wouldn’t have stood for this, but here we are, meekly going along with whatever they say.

“Which parts of our heritage did they tell us to do away with today?” she demanded out loud. Her auburn hair whipped angrily in the wind that rose to match her temper, and the blue of her eyes mirrored that of the cloudless skies above. She knew that if her anger grew too great, there could be a sudden downpour. She fought to keep her mood under control.

Ishmael squirmed as he stood to his feet again. She put the garnet back in her pile, feeling its ardor pouring into her, feeding her fiery responses. Instead, she picked up the tourmaline, hoping it would help her understand the decisions of their coven’s leaders. Based on Ishmael’s behavior, she knew she’d need it.

“They… they want the Arcana Mortem,” he said uneasily.

Fury poured through her, and above, the cloudless sky suddenly darkened, angry storm clouds rushing in to answer her unconscious call.

“My mother’s book?” she seethed. “They want my mother’s book?”

Ishmael nodded miserably. “They’re calling for any of the major Arcana. Even hedge witch Isshiel had to turn in her Arcana Natura. We can’t be too careful though, Ari… with unrest between humans and our kind growing, we just need to play it safe.”

“Please don’t tell me they sent you to get it,” Ariadne pleaded. Above them, lightning rippled across the sky.

“Enough, Ariadne, don’t drench us like last time. They asked me to get it, but I refused. I would never do that to you.” He held out his hands and she rushed headlong into his embrace, her skirts held fast above the river waters in one hand.

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Consumption (Excerpt)

“The mountains are nigh treacherous this time of year, mum,” Gareth called out over the screeching wind. “Keep your sights on your horse’s footing, for the way shall grow dangerous.”

His scraggly furs may have protected his aged body, but his face was beet red and weatherworn, and a scar worked its way through his blind left eye, making him a hard figure to miss. Lady Elizabeta Penzant nodded her regal head, tucking her fair features deeper behind the warm stole wrapped around her face.

Behind her, the three men accompanying her—sell-swords, all—clung meekly to the backs of their horses as they trekked through the frozen incline of rocks and snow, their faces obscured by clinging bits of ice on their brows. She gave a small frown and continued forward, looking out over the frostbitten vale stretching below them like a leagues-long blanket of pale trees, tendrils of icy rivers, and the occasional tufts of smoke marking villages.

As promised, the road ahead of them grew steep, and the horses slipped. Still, they made it up the trail and into the shallow embrace of a natural recess in the rock, which safeguarded them—at least for the moment—from the bitter wind off the mountain pass.

“How much further?” asked Rubin, as he and the other guards, Dev and Franz, rubbed their horses down and fed them from sacks of oat.

Elizabeta looked to her wizened guide expectantly. She had last made this climb in the early summer of the year, and could not rightly recall the passage. Gareth shrugged and pointed to the summit of the mountain.

“If we keep heading for the village, we’d likely be there just past nightfall—it’s no more than another four hours, maybe five if the weather keeps at it. There is a waypoint between here and the top in about two hours though,” he announced.

Dev and Rubin exchanged nervous glances, and Franz scowled. Elizabeta knew she couldn’t afford to have any disagreements with the soldiers, and likely would have to acquiesce to their requests to stay at the waypoint. It was obvious they were tired and weary, and it wouldn’t do to have her men or the horses die of exposure. When they asked to rest overnight at the waypoint, Elizabeta dipped her head and agreed, a stiff smile planted on her face. They continued on their way.

She was as nervous as any of them about going further up the mountain, but time was not on her side. The more ill she became, the more she knew that the tribe at the summit held her only opportunity for salvation. As eager as she was to get there and speak with their shaman, she was hesitant to put much stock into the legend the mystic had spoken of.

She and Gareth had attempted the pass earlier in the year, when the way forward was not so dangerous, but the shaman had refused to see her. Instead, she had been sent away, only to return at his signal. And now, after waiting at the deep well of the mountain for months, living out of a tiny inn and wondering if she would succumb to the sickness inside of her, he had finally sent for her.

It was obvious that her mettle was being tested, but even as tests went, she felt this was cruel. Her time in this mortal coil was limited at best, despite her youthful age of twenty and three. When she’d started coughing haggardly, her physicians had advised her on all sorts of medicine and herbal remedies for three months, but couldn’t diagnose an illness.

Unable to find anything outwardly wrong with her, she’d consulted her mystic, Indra, who suggested that perhaps it was something deeper, and she had immediately suggested the name of a renowned doctor from her hometown, Dr. Carroll. Elizabeta at once agreed to meet with him, and after they’d dispensed with pleasantries, he’d confirmed her worst fears: a diagnosis of consumption. It was a devastating conclusion, and she’d refused to accept it at first. She begged him to reconsider the verdict; after all, it was only an unsightly cough!

But soon after, she began coughing up blood.

She tried to speak with doctors, but they would tell her nothing. Months of bloodletting and the draining of bad humors had only left her feeling weaker than ever. As her illness consumed her, she was forced to face a grim awareness: that of her own mortality. The thought did not sit well, she had decided. Neither fate nor gods would put her down. She begged Indra to consort with the physic world, and the woman had reluctantly agreed. She remembered the way the mystic had stared deep into the crystal ball, demanding knowledge from her spiritual guides and the powers of the universe. She’d worked and communed until a sweat broke on her brow, and only then was she able to reveal the information the spirits had bestowed upon her.

Indra’s spirits had told her of the village at the top of the mountain, where no sickness had ever touched. Though skeptical at first, Elizabeta had sought a guide to bring her, and thus she and Gareth had become fellows just over five months prior. He was not only her first choice; he was the only choice. None other than he had been to the mountaintop and back. Now, Elizabeta simply prayed he would lead them to safety once more.

She must reach the shaman who would lead her to the cure.

They reached the waypoint with barely any light to spare, and quickly set to building their camp in the safe enclosure of the trees protecting them from snow and wind. Soon, they were warming themselves over a roaring fire and eating a meal of soft cheese, salted meats, hard tack, and watered ale. The soldiers relaxed once they’d settled in, and Dev and Rubin traded amicable stories while Franz sharpened his knife, a sour look on his face. Every so often, he’d look to the top of the mountain with a glare and then sigh. Wearily, the soldiers retired to their tents, and Gareth and Elizabeta remained, quietly regarding the flames.

“I never thought you’d return,” Gareth told her once the other men were gone. “In fact, I had considered that you had submitted to your illness when I heard nothing more from you.”

“Nonsense,” Elizabeta said indignantly. “I am not one to go quietly into oblivion. Death will have to come and collect me himself, and even then I shall go down fighting.”

Gareth chuckled at that, refilling her glass. “Aye, but Death may come and collect you right off this very mountain. The way ahead only gets more severe, and the villagers at the summit will offer no help.”

Elizabeta shook her head and drank more of the thin ale. She was taken suddenly by a coughing fit, her throat raw and lungs burning as she covered her mouth with her kerchief and waited for the worst of it to pass. When she looked up, Gareth’s concerned face brought a weak chuckle to her.

“Don’t get your hopes up, dear Gareth,” she said with a smile. “You’ll not get full pay for only bringing me halfway up the mountain, so you should hope that Death does not come to claim me just yet.” She looked down into her kerchief and folded the edges over the spot of blood before tucking it back into her pocket.

“Aye, m’lady, I’d never dream it.” His eyes sparkled hard as he took another swig of ale.

Well of Acheron (Excerpt)

The door creaked open and revealed more of the fat troll man, a huge head on narrow shoulders and arms that could have lifted boulders. His skin was the color of curdled milk, with ugly, fat boils and calluses along his elbows, knees, hands, and feet. His shoulder-length hair hung in limp, filthy strands around his face, only managing to partially hide a severe underbite and bulbous nose. He stood aside, holding the thick door and watching the two pass by. He grunted angrily at Ezreal as he hurried past, somehow managing to look menacing in only a loincloth.

“Thanks Toth,” said the snake woman, pulling Ezreal by the arm quickly. Her voice was soft and light, but the fingers digging into his elbow told a different story.

The troll turned and watched them walk, groaning low in his throat. He stood at least two times as tall as Ezreal, who, at nearly 6’4”, was not insubstantial. The troll picked the heavy beam up like it was nothing more than a toothpick and put it back over the door. He returned to his seat on the ground, tucking his huge body into an Indian-style squat. His enormous eyes glowed in the light of the simple torch beside him, and they never left Ezreal’s form as he retreated further down the pathway.

Around them, the hallway narrowed from the wide, open cavern to a smaller one that made it difficult for them to walk two abreast. Along either side of him, the wall gave way to prison cells, which were empty of occupants. Ezreal wasn’t sure it was a good sign or a bad one.

“Toth doesn’t care for the ones that are marked,” his guard explained. “He’s not too bright, but I’ve seen him crush a man flat with those hands, so it’s best to get past him as quickly as possible, before he feels threatened.” She smiled weakly. “He really is very sweet normally, but he can sense when people are… well…”

Ezreal remembered the huge hands, and how easily they had lifted the beam of wood, and not for one instant did he think that the troll couldn’t have popped his head like an overripe melon. “Bad?” he supplied.

The woman didn’t answer him, but he felt it wasn’t a good sign. Something had changed when Toth had studied him like that. She must have seen it before, and that worried Ezreal.

“Why was I marked anyway?” he asked, hoping it didn’t lead to another moment of her silence.

She seemed to have recovered from the previous question, and was once again amicable, if a bit more guarded.

“You’re untrained,” she said, shrugging. “You’re dangerous.”

“Untrained in what?” Ezreal pressed.

“Don’t. I’m not even supposed to be talking to the intakes. You’ll learn why soon enough.” The woman bit her lip and shook her head. “C’mon, this way. Temporary cells.”

Though it was nearly impossible not to want to shake her until she told him what he wanted to hear, he sighed quietly and followed her through the prison. There was no question left in his mind over what exactly it was anymore. He was being thrown in prison in some magical world called Acheron, because he could see the very monsters that were trying to imprison him. It made his head spin. It made him afraid, and slightly nauseous. But most of all, it just pissed him off.

“Temporary?” he asked.

She nodded.

“Can’t say more,” she whispered. “There are ears everywhere here.”

The Moon God’s Curse (Chapter Excerpt)

The crackling of the leaves made him jump, though staring deep into the beckoning darkness of the forest had yet to yield any sinister monsters. He dared take a breath and relax for the moment, though his tiny heart continued to beat rapidly in his chest. The Baan’Sidhe had always had a particular sense of foreboding that the boy did not quite understand at five years of age. He had been warned of the ghasts that haunted the shadows of the trees, but with his mother Fau’nai, so close by, the arduous task of gathering kindling while she checked their traps wasn’t as daunting as it might otherwise have been.

He looked behind him where the warmth of her torchlight lit the stump that she sat at, untying a rabbit’s foot from a snare. She mopped the sweat from her brow, and, as if sensing her son’s concern, looked up and waved to him, a tired smile on her face. He could feel the restlessness of terror worming its way into him, but his mother seemed so serene as she bent over in the dusk while her fingers worked, that at once he questioned his own uncertainty and turned again to the work at hand.

Calmer now, he bent to lift another branch when a soft crack echoed through the small glen between the trees, its sound everywhere and nowhere all at once. Jumping back, he landed firmly on his backside and dropped his bundle of twigs, his trembling fingers clawing for purchase in the thick loam of the forest floor. The figure, stepping cautiously out from behind a tree, did not supplant in him the need to flee. Instead, he stared, frozen and uncertain as it approached, gently smiling at him and extending a helpful offer to assist him in standing.

“It’s all right, Jlon,” the figure said softly, his voice sure and calming. “Did you miss me? I missed you.”

Jlon nodded his head slowly, tears pooling at the corner of each eye. The figure took another step forward, his smile never wavering. Jlon found himself smiling back, his fear gone. He raised his hand to accept the offer, his anticipation almost consuming him.

“Daddy,” he whispered, disbelief in his voice. It had been so long since he’d seen him! Why had he stayed away for so long? Unable to formulate the relief of knowing that he was safe, Jlon began to cry, sniffling piteously, anguish in every note.

The figure smiled knowingly and stopped its approach, kneeling and extending both arms to scoop the crying child into his comforting embrace. Jlon lifted his hands, reaching to find that comfortable resting position behind his father’s neck, but he was lifted away and backwards instead. Fau’nai’s hands wove around his waist, dragging him to her hip around the swell of her belly, and then they were running, his father’s form staring after them with surprise in his face as they retreated. For a moment, Jlon himself could not even react.

“Daddy! Daddy!” he cried, reaching for the faint outline as they raced past, but his mother only ran faster, her breath in short, fearful gasps. A scream echoed out of the woods after them, and finally, they broke through the tree line and headed for town, never once slowing.

“That’s not Daddy,” Fau’nai gasped out as she ran. “Daddy isn’t…” she squeezed the tears from her sight. “Daddy’s dead,” she told him flatly, sobs catching in her throat. “Daddy’s dead, Jlon. That’s not him.”

Something a Little Different…

Sometimes it takes stepping back from stories to see them with fresh eyes, and that’s exactly what I’m doing.

I’m putting my fantasy series on the shelf (for a little while only, I promise!) and writing something more along the lines of some modern supernatural horror.

vampire-2

I made a split-second decision to participate in NaNoWriMo this year, which I was certain that I wasn’t going to do as of the first. I joined in on the 5th, and I wrote 5400 words that day.

I was inspired, but it wasn’t exactly “amazing”. I mean, I didn’t sit down and write 54000 words, but still, it was enough to convince me that my story clearly had some merit. I wrote out a loose synopsis, and initially had decided that I wanted to write a script, but the words didn’t really ‘flow’ until I sat and worked it in another medium.

So, now I’m 13k into my new novel, and I’m really liking where it’s going. Here’s a little sneak peek at what I’m hoping to get at least 3/4 of the way through by the end of November (or Movember for you gents out there.)

Echoes (WiP Title)

Mila rushed toward the driver’s side door and gasped in horror at the scene in front of her. Her mother sat in the vehicle as blood dripped and pooled down at her feet. Her eyes were open and lost in distant, blind sight. Her throat had been savaged, ripped open and laid bare to the bones of her spine, which showed through the red haze of tissue and the pink string of vocal chords with a too-white gleam. Her arms had been torn in her struggle, and more blackish red blood flowed down each set of fingertips. Mila put her hand to her mouth and screamed.

Good luck, WriMos!

The Death God’s Choice–Random Selection

A sneak peek into The Death God’s Choice, book number two!

 Desert-Road-Night-Fate-Stock-Wallpaper

Suddenly it made sense for me to have been cleaned and dressed. I wasn’t just some happenstance slave girl—the old woman knew. The girls who dressed and bedecked me must have known as well. Abreem, even, must have known, for it was at his insistence and even the risk of his own life that he had fought back the other caravan man who would have seen me wed to his son. I felt a tremor run through me at the thought.

“You bastard,” I whispered under my breath, “You did this to me.”

My quiet utterance went unnoticed by all, and the clamor of sounds rising around me both frightened and intrigued me. The path was getting thinner now, and the people around me were crowding to the back, and away from the sides. Up ahead, I saw a palatial bridge that passed over a deep moat underneath the arched doorway, which was covered with green vines bearing yellow flowers with red tips, as though they had once been dipped in blood. The discord of the city began to die down as those behind us thinned in numbers, many choosing instead to return to their homes or businesses. Most stayed and tagged behind my litter and criers, but their voices quieted as we passed over the bridge.

I looked down into the brown, murky waters on either side, gauging the distance below. It was a good ten-foot drop, and the moat extended on both sides of the bridge the entire length of the city. Beneath the still, muddy waters, a small bubbling began, and a creature with skin like armor rose from the depths, his malevolent yellow eyes staring at me hungrily from below. He churned water as he clawed at the nearest bank, opening his long, enraged mouth to reveal a dank hole surrounded by razor sharp teeth, menacing and nightmarish as they glinted at me like swords from the depths of the darkest parts of Severance itself. I shuddered and tried my best to remain still, as the eldritch monster slipped noiselessly back into the muddy pool and sank beneath the surface, until he was but a memory.

“The kokadrille,” Abreem said, following the line of my gaze. “A truly ferocious creature that the Naa’dir keeps as a part of his palace’s defenses. You may think him frightening in water—would that your paths never to meet here on the land. You would find him… uniquely capable.”

“Why does he keep it here?” I asked, my voice soft and timid. Sweat beads began to sluice anxiously down my back. Whether it was fear or heat, I could not tell. I assumed that it was both.

“The creatures are kept hungry, and only served a feast of the Naa’dir’s enemies or prisoners. Thus, they have developed the taste for man flesh, and seek out the appetite accordingly. No army would dare breach the castle’s defenses when a hungry man-eating lizard roams the depths,” he answered bluntly. I glared at him.

“You have a talent for poor delivery,” I spat, and breathed a huge sigh of relief as we completed the crossing over the moat and left behind the vile looking kokadrille. The Nation people, as well, had stayed behind, most of them not willing to pass over the waters. I did not blame them their fear. There was no such beast as a kokadrille in Alryn’Njnoch, and it seemed to me to be a beast born of the evil of the world, rather than the good. I forced my sights forward, trying to remain vigilant. Ahead of my small group, a giant palace loomed, a stark white contrast to the blue sky and brown desert sands.

Untitled “Werewolf” Prologue

“Helena, please, just get your coat like the man told you to.” My mother whispered to me. 

I nodded slowly and went to the closet, my hands shaking as I reached forward and took the coat off of the peg. I turned and looked over at the soldiers, holding my father up and securing his hands behind his back. The barrel of an assault rifle was pressed up against his neck and his eyes were glazed over. They’d put enough tranquilizers into him to down an elephant—but he stood—although groggily at best.

“Hurry it up girl,” one of the soldiers snapped at me. I quickly put on the coat, watching as they let my mother move slowly over to button the snaps. She refused to meet my eyes, the tears down her face evidence enough as to the fear that we all felt. She smoothed over the coat as they yanked her back to her feet, another soldier grabbing me by the arm and pulling me along painfully. I cried, uncertain of why they were there.

I had been sleeping upstairs when I heard the smash of windows below and my mother had started to scream. My father had rushed out, thinking only to protect us, but it was like they had been waiting for him. Two men with tranquilizer guns had fired on him as he let out a throaty war-cry. He had still managed to kill at least one of them before the drugs had kicked in. In fear, I had wanted to stay in my room, but when I heard my father’s shout, instinct to protect my family had taken over. I had run out, trying to see what happened but there had been a guard waiting to intercept me. He had hit me over the head with the butt of his rifle and I screamed when he dragged me up by my hair and nearly threw me down the stairs where I had fallen to the feet of another soldier. This man appeared to be in charge, quickly issuing orders with the bearing of a man who expects to be heeded. He angrily told the soldier who had hit me to be more careful, but it was no use. We were all treated roughly while they told us to be still and to listen very closely to what they said. We had been instructed that if we tried to run away, they would tranquilize us, and if we tried to fight, or turn, they would kill us. I didn’t understand what they were saying. Turn? Turn where?

My mother and I were shoved outside while the soldiers struggled to move forward with my father’s nearly 300lb weight strapped between them. He was 6’5”, 280lbs, and was what my aunt Naira described as ‘built like a tank’. To see him powerless while we were in danger was the most frightening thing that I had ever witnessed. All I had wanted was for him to suddenly shrug off the effect of the drugs and save my mother and I but instead, he was shoved to his knees onto the pavement and we turned as a helicopter began to alight in the center of our impromptu crowd.

All around us, houses were being raided in the same manner as ours, our neighbors pushed out in the streets by men dressed in black. It seemed random, since only a few of the neighbors on each side of the road had been taken outside. The rest of the houses were untouched, though curious onlookers were peering through blinds or opening doors and being instructed to return inside.

“Oh god, they’ve found us,” my mother whispered behind me. I turned and stared at her, wishing that she could tell me what was happening. The helicopter finished its descent and landed, while a man dressed in a dark blue suit dropped out of the chopper and began to walk towards a group of the soldiers who were waiting to receive him. After they were certain the area was clear, the helicopter lifted and sailed away, and the soldiers gathered us together, shoving us around the man in the suit. He held up his hands for silence, though no one was speaking.

Around me, I could hear the sad whimpers of confused children as the man held our attention. He looked down at us reassuringly, with a warm smile on his contrastingly cool features. I looked around, seeing several neighbors that I recognized, and after a minute, I realized that it wasn’t just random neighbors like I had thought—these were all of the members of my family.

We had all moved to the same town, same block, really. Family was one of the most important things to us, and we all grew up knowing each other, spending every birthday over at each relative’s house. Even after some of my older cousins had gone to college, they had returned to the area after graduation. I had always thought it was normal, until this moment. In this moment, it disturbed me that we were so close. I felt my blood going cold. Something was far more wrong than I had thought. The suited man cleared his throat.

“You are all aware, I’m certain, of why you’ve been brought here.” He said. I noticed that many of the people around me shifted uneasily. We were surrounded on all sides by soldiers, all of which had switched from assault rifles to tranquilizer guns.

“As of this moment, the governor has decided that any unregistered Lycanthropes are hereby considered threats to humanity and any and all citizenship statuses or privileges are revoked. Any family members or relative associates are considered to be Lycanthropes as well until verified by a state selected physician that your blood is wholly human. You are all wards of the state now, and you are under arrest.”

With that, I felt the sting of a needle going deep into my neck. My mother called out for me and I fell to the ground, sleep consuming me.

____________________________________________

When I woke up, we were in the back of a truck. Around me, people slept, heavily sedated. Across from me, a girl, younger than me, had the dart still sticking out of her neck. I began to cry, and reached a hand up, only to find that my wrists were encircled in metal cuffs. My face, too, was caught behind a cruel leather mask. I touched the muzzle fearfully, my mind unbelieving as I scraped over the metal buckles on the back.

My head felt like it was swimming but I forced myself to sit up, nearly vomiting in the process. My mother was beside me, still asleep. I pressed against her cautiously, but she did not wake up. To her right were three people, and one to my left, still asleep.. There were six people sitting on the opposite bench across from me. The truck’s interior was dark except for a dim overhead light. There were people here that I didn’t recognize, and I didn’t know where my father was. I started to whine softly, and a woman reached across with her cuffed hands and pulled me over to her.

“Don’t let them know you’re awake.” She hissed, her voice buffering the muzzle, which looked odd on her beautiful features. I quickly quieted, feeling my eyes widen in disbelief. She sighed, letting me go. “They put us back asleep if they know we’re awake. I think the ride is going to be for a while, because you’ve been out for two days.” She said a bit more gently. I started at this. I’d been asleep for two days? Where were they taking us?

“What are they going to do? Why are we here?!” I demanded in a whisper. She slumped back against her seat, anger and hatred filling her dark eyes.

“Because they want to find all of our secrets and turn us into goddamned experiments,” she said, her voice catching. I shook my head, confused. Why would anyone want to make me into an experiment? She looked at me in surprise. “They never told you, did they? Jesus Christ, you’re gonna be in for a surprise little girl. I can’t believe your parents wouldn’t say something. How old are you anyway?” she asked, shock evident in her voice. I mumbled that I was thirteen, and she laughed with a harsh snort. “Guess you’ll find out what soon enough,” she said, a bit too loudly.

The truck slowed and stopped abruptly, and she shoved me back to the bench. “Pretend to be asleep!” she hissed, and I slammed against the bench, forcing my face into my mother’s shoulder, hoping that my breathing would slow. My pulse was hammering in my throat, and I knew that they would open the doors soon. I could make a dash for it, and—no. I couldn’t leave my mother to these people.

As much as I didn’t want to admit it, I was more scared of what would happen if I was out there on my own, rather than locked in here, at least safe for the moment. I heard the lock sliding back on the door and tried to calm down. I didn’t want to be knocked out again. The drugs made me feel woozy and sick to my stomach. The rocking motion of the van sent waves over me as the two drivers stepped into the back, their boots clanging heavily against the metal floor.

“I know one of you is awake, so you may as well just tell us now, or else we’ll just spike every damn one of ya.” The first guard spoke. I slid open one eye just enough to see the man speaking. He was a soldier—that much was apparent. In his hand was a tranquilizer gun, but the man behind him, also a soldier, was holding a very different sort of gun, his finger easing along the trigger. I gulped, fear filling my chest and squeezing like a vice.

I saw the woman across from me look over at me, and she shook her head, signaling for me not to move. I saw her close her eyes in pain, and I recognized the decision in her face. She was either going to escape now or die trying. I wasn’t sure how I recognized that feeling, but some internal part of me, something far away and yet painfully accessible had made me aware of it. I felt my hands beginning to shake. The first guard turned on a flashlight, and I snapped my eyes shut as the beam scanned over me. I silently prayed that he would not see my shaking.

After a cursory scan around the interior, he turned around and shrugged to the other guard.

“C’mon, I don’t have time for this. We’ve still got almost 5 hours until we reach the drop point.” He said with disdain. The second soldier lowered his weapon and turned to leave the truck. He jumped down and moved out of the way for the first soldier, and I saw a blur to my left as the woman lunged forward, knocking him out of the truck and hissing with pain as they rolled onto the ground. The first guard cried out as he went spiraling through the dirt and she gained her legs, kicking them into the ground and sprinting away.

The guard with the gun was fumbling to remove the safety on the clip as the second guard pulled up the tranquilizer. She was almost a hundred yards away by now, heading straight for the line of the forest, her dress whipping around her.

“Shoot her! Shoot the bitch!” the guard on the ground screamed. His gun had jammed and he was smacking the butt into the ground to loosen the dart inside. The second soldier took aim, leveling the weapon on her heart. I felt tears welling up as my brain screamed for me to knock the guard down, hit him, do anything, to keep her from being killed. He took the shot while I sat, frozenly trying to convince myself to move. It seemed like an eternity as I watched her back press forward, her chest leaping with the impact. She crumpled to the ground, still weakly trying to pull herself forward, just trying to make it to the woods. The guard with the tranquilizer ran over and grabbed the gun from his compatriot.

“Dammit you idiot! I meant somewhere non-fatal! What the fuck, man?! They’ll kill us for this! You know they said to bring everyone alive!” he screamed. The second guard pointed out with a whimper that she was still alive, and the angry guard backhanded him. They glared each other down for a moment, until they realized that she was still trying to crawl away from them. He threw the weapon back at the guard and pointed to the woman, trying to force herself back to her feet.

“Go and take care of her. We can’t tell them you shot her, so just go and finish her off and re-do the manifest showing that we were only carrying eleven passengers, not twelve. If they find out, it’s on your head, man.” With that he closed the door with a solid thud.

I felt my whole body quivering not just in fear, but also in guilt. I felt like her death was my responsibility. I could have stopped them, and instead I just sat there, watching her die. I covered my ears with my hands, but it didn’t block out the sound of the gunshot that came shortly after. I cried piteously, fearful to make any noise and tears blurring my vision. My brain felt numb, like what I was seeing wasn’t actually happening in front of me.

After a moment I tried to compose myself and undo the muzzle, but there were tiny locks on the two straps behind my head, and so I just tried to pull it off instead. I was more scared than I had ever been in my life. Who muzzled people?! Why was I locked in the back of a truck? I had just seen someone get shot to death and her memory erased. The more resistance the muzzle offered, the more my panic grew until I was nearly clawing my face to get it off. I hadn’t even realized that they had stopped driving again until I saw the first guard in front of me, and he knelt down so that his eyes were level with my own.

Just like the barrel was level with her heart

I felt my breath catching as he leaned forward, his hand wiping away an errant tear.

He smiled at me and I squeezed my eyes closed, unable to help the hot, shameful burst of urine as it flooded my lap. I shook in fear and embarrassment and the guard laughed, pointing out my shame to the other soldier who shook his head, irritation in his eyes. The guard stopped laughing and told the other to bring him a vial of the tranquilizer. He took a needle out of his pocket, and the other guard handed him the vial, which he then expertly filled with the liquid. I forced my quaking to slow, and tried to sound brave.

“Where are we going? Where’s my daddy?” I asked, my voice a whimper. The guard shook his head, pulling my arm forward. 

Ole’ Ironside

My train came by every night at 6:05.

It wasn’t so much the whistle of its bell, or the roaring of the engine that bothered me. It was the waiting. It was that in between time – that time that held me in limbo surely as the good Lord held the unborn babies in his palm. Sometimes it was nice to sit on the porch, lemonade in hand, and lean back against the rocker, eyes closed; but every night, I knew what was comin’ round that bend. I could feel it down in my bones, that waiting. Every night I sat, knuckles white against the seat, teeth grinding into dust. When I heard it, my head ached and my bones creaked.

“Hate that damned thing,” I’d muttered to Ray, nearly every week for forty years.

“Woman,” he finally said, “I don’t want to hear any more talk about you and your train.” And that was that. That very night Ray died at 6:05, and he heard no more talk of trains and whistles. The train was silent that night for the first time in forty years.

The people in town knew about that train, and they’d heard me griping about it for a good number of years. The bank teller used to say she knew I was thinking ‘bout the thing by the set of my jaw, or the look in my eyes. The preacher man used to warn me direly after church on Sundays, his big hands covering mine as he stared into my eyes.

“You just don’t let that hate consume you, now,” he’d say, patting my hand for emphasis. “Hate is a powerful strong thing, and it can destroy ya.” He usually finished his profound statement as another devoted parishioner came to say hello. When his back was turned, Ray an’ I would slip away, gather up in the old Chevy and hightail it down the road ‘fore he ever knew we were gone.

The pharmacy girl thought it was all some big ruckus for nothing as she sat behind the counter with her soft smile and dark hair. She’d sold me the earplugs when I told her about the whistles. She’d slipped them over the counter to me like a secret, and smiled up at me, not knowing that I’d found it about as funny as a slap in the face.

The lady at the phone company knew. She’d call me about the late bill in the evenings sometimes and hear that whistle, just as surely as I did. Our conversations for those few moments were just a long line of bristling static and “What?” or “Hello? Hello?” The man at the mortgage company had to have known better than anyone what sort of dissonant mess he’d sold us. Every month I imagined him looking at the address on my checks, either shaking his head or laughing.

It depended on how much of a mood I was in, Ray’d say. He said my imagination only got worse the more cantankerous I got.

I’d like to think that I was imagining things, that the train wasn’t out to get me, but there were things that told me otherwise.

Ray used to tell me that I was paranoid—that I was “blowin’ steam”. He used to laugh when he said that.

By the summer before Ray died, I’d lost five cats to that train. Three just plain disappeared, until discovered, and one got outdoors when I’d left the door open accidentally. One had been put outside when he’d scratched Ray good and bloody across his arm when he tried to give the thing a bath.

Each and every one of the poor souls ended up on those tracks, drawn there like moths to the fire. Either I had a streak of bad luck as long as my arm or I had some really dumb cats.

“Ray,” I called him over to the tracks one night where Buttons # 5 lay to rest, spread across the greedy ties like an offering to a hungry pagan god. I’d heard the cat scream right before I heard that damn bell. I had run outside, waiting for the train to pass by so I could see the carnage.

Ray stumbled through the overgrowth after me, complaining about the mosquitoes as his hand swatted at his cheek and came away bloody. He came to stand wearily by me, looking down at the dead cat.

“That the cat, Martha?” he’d asked me, lifting his cap and scratching at his head, oblivious.

“Yes Ray.”

Pausing a moment, he contemplated his next words. “Damn shame,” he muttered, spitting a wad of chew down by his boot. “He was a damn good ratter.”

“Damn train got him,” I reminded him balefully.

“Damned train didn’t eat the stupid thing.” He scowled. “This four or five?” he asked after a moment of contemplation.

“Five Ray,” I’d told him, anger leaking into the words.

“You want me to get ya another?” he asked, spewing another mouthful of brown saliva to the dirt.

“No Ray.”

Buttons # 5 had been the last in a line of doomed animals. Ever since that summer, and the following one when Ray had passed, I had lived alone, bitterly reminded every evening by the crowing train. It had managed to take so much from me, and every night I heard it out there, laughing at me in a high-pitched and taunting voice.

On weekday nights, I hated the silence; hated how it was broken at 6:05. Everyday, I had my shows delayed for a full ten minutes. It had been twelve years since I’d ever seen the beginning of one of my faithfully watched soapies, which I followed in the evenings. Since Ray had been about as technologically savvy as a dull knife, we never had anything other than basic cable. Beyond that, I had never learned how to operate anything either, so even when they developed the technology to record live television, I went without.

I checked the clock, and sighed in heavy disgust at the time it announced. 6:03 glared at me in angry red letters from its place above the television. I wanted to turn the TV on but I couldn’t, knowing that the train would be there any minute, knocking out my picture. I waited, grumbling under my breath as I heard the first whistle leering in the distance and steadily growing closer like the burgeoning cry of doomsday. I sat in the recliner that Ray had died in and watched the blank TV screen, scowling at my frustrated reflection staring back. The first familiar rumbling began, and I sat back, bored and irritated. On nights like this, Ray would sometimes tell me that I’d chosen an odd thing to mark the passing of the time with.

“Most people just look at a clock, Martha,” he’d say, shuffling off with laughter in his voice. It had always amazed and irritated me that he had never been bothered by the screaming of the train on a nightly basis. His lack of rifling caused me no end of rage.

Once the last of the evening rumblings had faded, I switched on the set and watched my programs, seething.

The day I went to see the doctor, I wasn’t really surprised when he told me the diagnosis of slow but steady dementia and senility. Of course, a woman my age had to be prepared to hear those words. I sat in the office a little while longer, while he went and got me the names of specialists and therapists that could help me. I didn’t bother to tell him that I didn’t care about the illnesses, or that I wouldn’t be goin’ to his fancy ole’ specialists anytime soon.

This time, instead of just telling me what it was I needed to remember, he wrote the words in big letters on a prescription pad and told me four times the name of each, punctuated by a finger, underscoring and tapping out each name. I thanked the doctor and his blank eyed nurse and reminded him that I only had a little bit of senility, and that I wasn’t deaf.

Ray’s son rarely came to visit me, except when he wanted something. He was Ray’s only child, born out of wedlock when Ray was too young to be a daddy. Ray’s mother had raised the boy, who came visiting frequently when Ray had been alive. After his father’s death, he’d only shown up two times. Once was at the funeral, following which, he had promptly demanded money. The other was a couple months after, demanding the rest. Since we’d had no children together, Ray’s son stood to inherit the only few remaining items of value he hadn’t already carted off to pawn.

We didn’t like each other, and though we were cordial, we rarely spoke to one another. When I pulled in from the grocery store on Tuesday, I was surprised to see him there. I got out of the car and didn’t say anything to him, simply letting him stand, leaning against his old beater car which looked only a little better than my old station wagon. The difference was, I’d kept mine in shape for thirty years, and his car he’d had for five. I gathered my bags and meandered over to the front door, hearing him clear his throat behind me. I ignored him, turning the key in the lock.

“Martha, I need a favor,” he called out to me, moseying over to where I stood, sizing up my mood fitfully. He perched himself at the bottom of the porch steps, thumbs in his jeans pockets, right leg propped on the step. He liked to think himself a real southern gentleman, and I liked to remind him what a little bastard he really was.

“I know you saw me standing there,” he said, irritation evident in his voice. I tilted my head to the side, arms aching with the weight of the bags.

“Really? I didn’t notice you at all. Doctor said I’m going senile, you know,” I told him blandly, pushing past the door and heading to the kitchen. After I was done putting away the groceries, I went back to the porch, where he was sitting in one of the rockers. It had been Ray’s, and I was put off by this ignorant act. The only things in the house that I asked that no one touch were what Ray used and loved, and the urn on the bookshelf in the living room, which contained his ashes.

“Since when you need to get invited in? Come on then, off the porch,” I told him, sweeping him inside with an aging and tired arm. He took off his hat at the door and held it to his chest like a badge, or even a shield. It depended on what he would say to me, I decided.

I sat down in the living room in Ray’s chair, not wanting him to violate that seat as well. He sat next to me on the sofa, staring over at the urn, silent for a moment as he recognized it. We were quiet a hot minute, but as I’ve said, we don’t stay that way for long. He coughed and cleared his throat, but ultimately I was the one to break the silence first.

“What is it that you want exactly? I’ve got no money, so if you’re here for that, I can’t help you.”

He shook his head. I was ready to whip out the bank statements if need be and shove it in his smug little face and tell him that the zero placement was no bank accident. He paused for a moment, looking tired. Puzzled, I kept to my chair, wondering what it was he’d come to say.

“Actually, I need a favor from you. I’ve got this dog, and I have to go out of town for a while. Found some work,” he told me, embarrassed to ask me for a favor. “Anyway, he’s just a puppy really, only two, and I don’t have nowhere to put him. Kennel said the longest they board is a month, and it’s gonna cost me more than I make in three,” he started. “I can wire you some money every month, for food and such. The only other choice is to put him in the pound.”

I stood up and shook my head, bones cringing at the effort. “Oh no, I’m not babysitting any dog. I’ve got plenty else to do around here without a damn dog wandering around underfoot.” I crossed my hands angrily across my chest.

He put his hands out, pleading with me. It was the only time that I could ever recall seeing him genuinely distressed over anything. I felt the first rumble of the train passing by; heard the whistle. He was not accustomed to the timing like I was, and so when the train came by, rumbling the house and growing louder and louder, he merely tried to shout over it, hands still open in entreaty to me.

After the first few moments, he stood up and came closer to me, shouting even louder so that I could hear him over the whistle and the grind. I threw up my hands, finally exasperated.

“Fine! I’ll watch your damn dog!” I screamed over the noise, which abruptly cut short during my shout. We were both left looking startled while he began to thank me profusely.

After he left me with the golden retriever, Hank—by his nametag—sat on the porch next to me, watching me watch the car drive away.

Sit, as it turned out, was not the action I had been describing. The dog was all over the place, running, sniffing, and jumping against the leash, trying to break free to parts unknown. I pulled on his leash, shouting at him and trying to get him into the house—which I found out, happened to be a bad idea.

The next thing that I learned was that Hank was unable to stop barking. Everyday, for nearly a week, he barked his head off and back on again, all hours of the night, all hours of the day. Locking him in the garage was no good either. It just echoed like a hollow tunnel. The intensity of high-pitched barks and train whistles everyday was slowly driving me mad. I decided that if he wanted to get outside so badly, I would take him. I got on a pair of sturdy shoes, and attached a leash to his collar, which drove him into a frenzy. We charged out of the door, down the road and headed into town.

He pulled me along at a frantic quick walk, and I passed by all of the places that I had intended to visit while we were there. Every tree was fair game, every squirrel a new delight. He was panting and shaking by the time that we got to the park, and I never saw the root that tripped me up and sent me sprawling across the damp ground, face first.

When I woke up in the hospital, I was surprised to feel that my face was scratched up, and my right arm was in a cast. The nurse explained kindly to me that I had fallen and broken my nose, and then promptly been dragged half a mile around the town while Hank had decided that a dead weight was no deterrent to getting at a cat. This, she had said, explained why my arm was broken. I was examined by a doctor, who frowned and “hmmed” over my x-rays.

“Ma’am, I’m afraid that your bones are severely weak. You’ve got heavy osteoporosis , and if you have another fall, there’s the chance that you won’t be able to get back up. You may break a hip, or a leg,” he told me. His dark eyes were serious, if a bit tired, but there was honest concern in them. Still, I waved his warnings away with my good hand like clearing smoke out of my face.

“I’m an old woman. Bones get old just like people. I’ll be just fine.”

Ray had never been an advocate of doctors when he’d been alive. He hated nutritionists more than any other “quack”, and refused to see the doctor I still went to semi-regularly. If there was enough of a problem with my bones, he would have told me. It was no wonder that Ray had died because of a massive coronary. His heart had been too fatty and clogged to be started again. We had tried over the years to get him to diet, but that man loved his bacon.

Despite my ease at throwing his concerns away, the doctor insisted that I take calcium supplements. I took the pills just to appease him, and he smiled at me and told me that a neighbor could drop me off at home. Hank, it turned out, would be dropped off later on by the vet’s assistant. I told the doctor how overjoyed I was.

That night I was home in time to hear the train.

For the next few days, Hank barked continually, non-stop, long into the evening, trying to outdo the train. I was taking pain pills more for the headaches than for the broken bones. Hank’s constant barking made me lose track of time, and so most nights I never knew when the train was going to come, though it never changed. My perception of the time was warping—my body twitched when I heard ‘im whine and bark for his master. It felt like I was trapped in a loop. I couldn’t sleep because of the dog, and my messages to Ray’s son went unanswered. My headaches got longer, more painful, and more mind altering. Hank however, got higher pitched the more vocal chords he wore out.

After the fifth straight day of absolute pandemonium, I had decided to get up and tie the dog in the yard for some free time.

“Damned train,” I muttered, looking at the clock which leered 5:58 at me. “Damned dog,” I said, grabbing his leash from the laundry room. When I got the leash, Hank broke into a frantic tail-wagging fury, his whimpers digging tiny furred fingers into my temples. Barking madly, he dove around my feet as I hurried him along. We were almost at the kitchen when Hank ran into the bookshelf in the living room.

I held my breath as the world slowed down a moment, and I watched as the urn shook, wobbled, leaned, and then finally plummeted to the floor and exploded into a fog of ashes, dust and porcelain.

Hank saw what he had done, and for the first time, was absolutely silent. Terror filled his gaze as my eyes widened, filling with tears as a scream ripped through me and Hank darted away to the next room.

“Oh no you don’t!” I screamed, getting up and running after him, his yellow tail tucked between his legs in crippling fear. He ran from room to room, finally ending up in the kitchen, backed against the partially open screen door. “Do you know what you’ve done?” I screamed at him, watching him back up in terror to the screen. When I took a step forward to close the door to the kitchen, he plunged through it into the dusk outside.

“Oh my God,” I called, running out after him. “Hank! Hank, come back here!” I called. My arm was still in its sling, and was aching fitfully as I ran over the grass with it bumping and brushing against my body. I could see Hank, a spot of gold on the stark, rusted tracks. Though I didn’t think it was yet time for the train, I was worried still. I hurried over, trying to talk calmly to the dog, who backed away from me slowly until he was on the other side of the tracks. He stared at me with crushing sadness, and I felt awful for having scared him.

“Come on, Hank. Come back over here,” I whispered, bending and extending my good hand to him. He whimpered, backing up slowly. I wanted to scream in frustration. I took another step towards him. It was too late to have seen the rail tie. Without any warning, I tripped and fell down, hearing a loud crack explode in my hip. I cried out, having fallen onto my bad arm. I reached out to the dog, trying to implore him to help me.

When I felt the familiar rumbling, my chest tightened. This train had taken everything from me! Was it goin’ to get me now too? I cursed the preacher man, telling me not to get consumed by hate. Damned bad timing, was all, really. I tried uselessly to drag myself over the tracks, but one weak arm was not going to save me. My hip screamed in pain when I tried to stand. I collapsed in a pile on the tracks, now sobbing as the dog barked and whined at me. The rumbling grew closer. The rattle sent chills down my spine, and the vibration was growing in frequency in the tracks.

I reached over, found a branch and cried out, trying to get Hank to grab on. Miraculously, he got the idea, and put his teeth around the branch, pulling it and trying to pull me off of the tracks. I cried out praises to him; promises to feed him extra treats everyday if he got me out of there. I heard the whistle and my breath seized in my chest. When I turned my head, the train was so bright—

Anachronistic (Sample)

9:18PM—SimTech Laboratories Main Hallway

“Yes, but does that make her an android, or a cyborg?”

“Well, if you look at it that way—“

“SIR!”

The outer door slid open with a whispered hiss, almost as though mocking the agonizing look of panic emblazoned on the security guard’s face.

“What is it? What’s wrong?”

“She’s gone sir. She escaped.”

“What? How? This is a level D facility! You can’t just walk out of here!”

“She was in the machine, sir. It lit up like a bolt of lightning and then she was gone. Delivery truck had the hatch open. She must have gotten out that way. Desmond’s dead.”

Dammit, dammit, this was supposed to be routine

“Go! I want her found now, and I want the fools responsible fired!”

“Yessir.”

Android was not really a word that would describe Alice Fontenot-Corrigan even on her most apathetic days. In fact, ‘android’ was not a word she even used often, as it sounded strange against her tongue, which was used mostly for the praise and chastisement of her son, Johnny, and her husband, Reed.

Having repeatedly had the word thrust upon her that very morning, when strange men had thrown her into a squad car as it hovered in front of her son’s bus stop was another story altogether.

7:58PM—SimTech Laboratories Consultation Room

“Robot? Android? What the hell are you talking about? How many times do I have to tell you people I’m a… that I’m human?”

This particular ‘hell’ was only the thirtieth curse word that she had spoken in her entire twenty-seven years of life, and it was directed at one Liam Marcum, Lead Developer of Robotics. The sounds coming from her throat seemed foreign to her, as though her mouth was forming words in languages she didn’t recognize.

 Two guards stood posted at either side of the room, guns drawn and tense at their sides

Liam’s mouth perked at the corners, a sly, knowing smile reserved entirely for scientists and people who know too much.

“Yes Mrs. Corrigan. You are an android.”

Pause. Check the dossier

            “You are scheduled for deconstruction in an hour if you will not voluntarily submit to your processor wipe and the downloading of your memory files.”

Glare over the glasses

           “If you are deemed unstable, you will be deconstructed.”

It was eight in the evening, and Alice Fontenot-Corrigan was the most believably human android they’d ever seen. That very night, she was going to be submitted for reprogramming so that she could be reassigned to another task. There was only one minor problem:

Please—God, I’m not an android!