Raising the Stakes – A short story

As I perused the fresh meat section of my local supermarket, my phone trilled in my pocket, dragging my attention from an excellent cut of ribeye beef. Instead of building an entire meal around the tasty morsel in my head, I tore my eyes away to check the message.

Jon-boy: Hey Kaz. Don’t forget I’m out tonight, so won’t be home for dinner. Don’t wait up! Xx

I rolled my eyes at the message. My son lived to get on my nerves. I was rarely mom any more. At the moment I was Karen, or Kaz, which would have been mildly acceptable had that been my name, but no, I had been christened Kaz because of the designer name on my glasses. I would never understand my kid’s humour (or I pretended not to, he was actually kind of funny).

Tapping out a reply, I grinned at my phone.

Jonathan David Henderson you are pushing your luck, mister. I want proof of life photos before midnight. Stay safe. Love Kaz xxx

Okay, so I went there. What can I say, I love my boy, even if he is seventeen and makes a sport out of pushing me past the point of sanity.

I was just putting the phone away when it chirped in my hand. Glancing at the screen, I saw the notification from my daughter.

Jen: Just letting you know I’m staying at Stu’s again tonight. I’ll be back tomorrow because I’m running out of clean clothes!! Love ya x

This message shouldn’t have surprised me. My eldest was rarely home anymore. Both my babies had all but flown the nest, and I was trying to ignore the emptiness left behind. It wasn’t their fault I put my personal life on hold. Truth be told I barely survived losing their father, and for years all my focus had been on raising the two of them (as well as my other babies, those being my first-year students). I ignored the loneliness because the part of me that craved intimacy had been dormant for so long I wasn’t sure she would ever thaw out.

You know, there is this amazing invention called a washing machine. You open a door, throw your clothes in and they come out clean on the other side. Magic! We’ll take the adventure together. See you tomorrow. Love, the cleaning lady xxx

Yes, my son wasn’t the only snarky member of the household. His father, god rest his soul, had given him his exotic looks. I’d given him the gift of sarcasm.

My eyes returned to the steak, my mind already pairing it with a superior glass of wine. It appeared that I would be again cooking for one, so I should at least indulge a little.

I could practically hear the sizzle of meaty goodness as I reached for it, which was of course when my damn phone interrupted again, this time with a call.

Since the tune was blaring out ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ I didn’t have to guess at the caller. It was my best friend’s anthem.

“You certainly pick your times, I have my eye on a delicious hunk of meat.” Yes, that was how I answered.

The snort down the phone line was so Andrea I grinned. “If it was anyone but you, I’d cringe at that derogatory comment. But alas, I suspect your libido has not decided to join the land of the living, so what we’re really talking about is your version of a happy meal.”

“You’re no fun anymore.”

“Hey, stop stealing my lines!” Andrea’s musical laughter warmed me, which, considering where I was standing, between a cold barricade of fridges, this was no easy task. “Now, step away from the prime beef and get your butt over to my place. We’re going out tonight.”

“I told you. No can do. I have to prepare for the end of term musical, so I’ll have to take a rain check.” It wasn’t exactly a lie. I did have costumes to sew. But the main reason I used my work as a shield was the prospect of squashing my behind into an overpacked club and feeling like a frumpy old housewife trying to recapture her youth.

“Come on Dee. You need to dust the cobwebs from your-”

“Don’t even finish that sentence, Miss Halliday. We’ve been over this. Save your lecture for girl’s night tomorrow.”

Andrea sighed. “Fine, I give up. And, just saying, I might as well get started on securing your cat collection so expect a furry gift.”

“Hilarious. Stop annoying me and give me a break. I’ll see you tomorrow.” I hung up, mainly to get one over on her. It was my fifth call from her today, and each had ended with a dead tone.

Shaking my head, I again zoned in on my prize and made a grab for it. Unfortunately, instead of wrapping my fingers around packaging, they settled on someone’s wrist.

Dragging my hand back, albeit reluctantly, I mumbled a ‘Sorry,’ and glanced at the meagre offerings left on the shelf.

“Not a problem.”

The voice was a deep rumble, and momentarily distracted me from my disappointment.

“It’s a novel experience to fight for my dinner.”

That was kind of funny, so I looked up and to the side, my curiosity getting the better of me.

My gaze was snagged by a deep, intense blue, and I swallowed against a sudden dry throat. “It’s a piece worth fighting for.”

His sudden burst of laughter had me stepping back so I could enjoy the show. Of course, the moment I took in the beauty of twinkling eyes and even white teeth, it hit me how attractive he was, and my rational brain shut down.

I’d been painting with my students earlier, so my hair was a nest around my face and I hadn’t looked, but I probably had rainbow splotches that were not a fashion statement, but a testament to the fun I’d had.

My clothes were wrinkled, and all I could hear was my grandmother’s voice in my head. She had lectured me many times about not leaving the house without looking my best. I’d always joked about the chances of bumping into royalty, but not once did I consider looking like a scarecrow in front of an attractive stranger. At this rate I would get hit by a car on my way home so the paramedics would discover I was wearing my ugliest underwear. Why did I never listen to my grandmother?

“It’s Mrs Henderson, right?”

I blinked, then scanned his face more closely. A second later recognition hit. “Mr Carter?” He was a much older version of one of my favourite students.

“Michael.”

I smiled, forgetting my earlier discomfort. Right then I was remembering how the entire staff team had been in a flap about Daniel’s uncle and his generosity during the school fete. I’d missed the event, but the kids hadn’t stopped talking about the animals Michael had brought from his vet’s practice. Maybe it was worth getting a cat after all.

“You were the talk of the school last month.”

He dipped his head to the side. “I was hoping to see you there.” When I said nothing, because what could I say to that? He continued. “And I have a confession to make.”

“Oh?”

“I didn’t really need the beef.” His grin was slightly crooked, just like his nephew’s. “I just used the opportunity to strike up a conversation.”

“Does that mean I get the ribeye?”

He laughed again, and god but it was a beautiful sight. Then his face softened, and he gave me a look I didn’t understand before reaching over to tuck a strand of hair behind my ear. “I tell you what. I’ve been waiting so long for you to notice me, I’m prepared to buy the steak and cook it for you.”

Dear god. What did I say to that? What did it even mean?

“Or you could take it home while you think about throwing me a bone.” His grin came again. “And accept an invitation to dinner.”

A thousand excuses flitted through my mind as I stood frozen in his intense stare. But not one of them came out of my mouth. No, apparently, I’d taken leave of my senses because what I said was, “I’m free tomorrow night.” I mean, screw girl’s night, right? Andrea would probably be over the moon.

The next thing I knew, Michael was thrusting the tray into my hand and I no longer cared about steak or wine or the empty house I was trying to avoid. Suddenly I wanted to do more to earn one of his crooked smiles, and find out if my libido really had left the building.


Thanks for stopping by

Mel

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Review – Born in a Treacherous Time

Born in the harsh world of East Africa 1.8 million years ago, where hunger, death, and predation are a normal part of daily life, Lucy and her band of early humans struggle to survive. It is a time in history when they are relentlessly annihilated by predators, nature, their own people, and the next iteration of man. To make it worse, Lucy’s band hates her. She is their leader’s new mate and they don’t understand her odd actions, don’t like her strange looks, and don’t trust her past. To survive, she cobbles together an unusual alliance with an orphaned child, a beleaguered protodog who’s lost his pack, and a man who was supposed to be dead.

 

The world building in this novel is incredible, and the descriptions are spot on. It was like taking a virtual tour, where the surroundings, creatures and characters all build so vividly in your head, your senses go into overdrive and you can hear, smell, taste, and (almost) touch. I swear, if I’d looked up from the page long enough, I’d have seen a mammoth at one point!

It’s a total immersion in prehistoric times and you get what it says on the cover, because those times were treacherous indeed! The pace is fitting the time period because, let’s face it, there were dangers at every turn, so your only choice is to hold on tight for the ride. I love this kind of adventure, where you get so caught up, you find yourself holding your breath as the characters do. I was right there beside Lucy as she laid upon the hard, unforgiving ground and ignored the creatures trying to use her for a snack as she waited out the chance to claim her own food.

I loved Lucy as soon as she was introduced. She’s strong, loyal and heroic; a true role model. She is also a healer, and her natural empathy reflected in the way she dealt with others (even those I would have been tempted to offer up to a Saber-tooth as a tasty snack). Her ability to adapt, a necessity within an unpredictable terrain and facing constant peril, was inspiring.

I was also enthralled by the methods of communication Lucy and her group used. It probably won’t surprise you, given my love of sign language, but this area in particular was a fascinating aspect of the tale. In such primitive times, as communication methods developed and evolved, group members relied on facial expressions and body movements to convey a message. They were so attuned to one another, a slight twitch could speak a dozen words. Jacqui expressed this incredibly well, highlighting the fact that we should look beyond words in order to gain the bigger picture.

There is something in the novel for everyone. Jacqui has clearly done a great deal of research in order to bring the world to life, so it was an education. Born in a Treacherous time is a journey into the past that highlights a number of human traits; our need for connection, the primal instinct to mate and survive, the bonds we form and the sacrifices we make for the good of the group.

The characters are diverse and relatable, and engage the reader every step of the way. I was sad when the journey came to an end, and am eagerly anticipating the next adventure.


Thanks for stopping by

Mel

 

Silent Sentinels – Armed Forces Day Poem

 

Like Atlas, who carried an incredible weight
Or Titans who battle with strength and valour
You protect us against violence and hate
Fighting those who would take our power
*
As fierce and mighty as an ancient tree
You form a barrier across the deepest divide
With roots that encompass land, air or sea
Standing against the ever-changing tide
*
Our steadfast sentinels, it is you we honour
For your burdens we would gladly share
We are united because you make us stronger
And these turbulent times are easier to bare
*
To those we have lost and those who still serve
May you always be given the respect you deserve

It’s Armed Forces Day here in the UK, so I wanted to write something in honour of all our service men and women. The photo below is of my brother, Andrew, getting some much needed respite in Canada with his squadron. He’s served in the Royal Engineers for seventeen years. I cannot begin to express how proud I am.

Thanks for stopping by

Mel

bro

Cinderella Castle – Photo inspired short story

Cinderella Castle

I’ve had a crazy couple of weeks, but I finally managed to carve some time to write and visit my online friends. The following story is inspired by the above photograph. It was taken by a friend, Jarno Willemarck, in the French part of Belgium (he’s not allowed to give exact location). He titled it Cinderella Castle, so I’ve used that (you know how I struggle with them anyway!) I hope you enjoy.

Cinderella Castle

Garrett timed his movements to the haunting whistle and wail of the breeze through a barren landscape. The old house was a ghost of her former self, the old girl about ready to collapse and spill her secrets.

Let’s raise a toast to our freedom.

The voice, floating to him on the wings of times past was followed by the remembered echo of breaking glass. Pausing from the pursuit to gain freedom from his bindings, Garrett’s gaze fell on the table he had carried into the room at Fiona’s request almost fifteen years ago.

He took in the solitary glass, its twin littering the ground by the exit after Fee’s explosive declaration.

Here’s to a taste of freedom and the chance to blow this godawful joint.

The words echoed around the room, ghosts pulling at his memories until she appeared beside the table, her unruly gold curls bouncing as she moved, her graceful body bowing as she raised her glass and hurled it at the closest wall.

The wine they had been drinking had splashed back at her laughing frame, droplets of crimson soaking into the simple cream tunic she wore.

Garrett’s muscles bunched in response to the memory and he saw glimpses of his former self rushing to lift her from harm’s way. His Fee rarely wore anything on her feet, and he had been possessed by a need to protect her from further pain, a need made sharper by the sight of the growing patterns on her dress. Patterns that reminded him of the times the dark rich colour had been evidence of the beatings she had taken.

Let’s do what we should have done years ago and cremate the bitch.

His eyes closed as the soft, vulnerable note to her voice. It wasn’t real, but here, where memories were being drudged up with the filth in the room, past and present merged.

To centre himself, Garrett pulled on the wrist attached to the radiator, and the scrape of metal on metal screeched in a pitch that rivalled the wind.

Fiona had been talking about the house, though neither of them had truly blamed the ancient walls for the atrocities that took place here.

Still, they had tried to burn Gillingworth Manor to the ground. The scent of petrol and red-hot flame rose up to scorch his nose, trapping him with the sounds of burning timber. This room had been among the few that had survived their wrath, and it hadn’t gone unscathed.

When he glanced around, he saw the scorch marks on the ceiling and the debris scattered across the floor like pieces of his past. The rough bite of fabric scratched across his bare chest as the heavy curtains shivered in the breeze. They were darker than they had been. Garrett remembered them blooming as green as the walls, before water had soaked into the fabric and sealed in the house’s weary screams.

It had once been an opulent space, the furnishings a mask for what true horror took place behind the scenes.

Garrett raised his free hand to wipe the sweat from his face. He flinched in pain as the grime from his fingers caught in the open cut on his left cheek. The opposite eye was swollen shut, perhaps the reason his vision was so hazy and his mind flickering between the then and now montage to showcase his predicament.

The bruises across his torso added insult to injury because he swore if he took a snapshot the they would be an exact replica of his first foray into the room.

As though pressing a button to play a soundtrack to his misery, the punch of flesh against flesh echoed around him. He might have dismissed the thud of a body hitting the floor as a painful memory if it hadn’t been for the vibration that shook his bones.

“Fee.” His voice came out on a rasping breath, like the fire had been real again and he’d inhaled too much smoke.

Fiona stepped into the room carrying twin batons and a frown that could make a hardened criminal search out his weapons. She wasn’t bare foot now. The ghost of the girl she had been evaporated in the presence of the fierce woman she had become.

Dressed in black, from her boots to the cap she wore to tame the curs, Fiona looked like a fallen angel. He was afraid he was hallucinating until she spoke.

“What did I tell you about taking side gigs. You never go anywhere without backup.”

Despite feeling repentant for his stubborn actions, Garrett grinned at her. The cut on his lip seared fire across the skin and he knew the fresh flow of blood must have made for a macabre smile, but he didn’t care. They had been searching for Gillingowrth Junior for five years and he was certain his Fee had just made mincemeat out of the sick fuck.

She would never have been taken unaware, as he had been, but then she had always been smarter than him. He’d always followed her. Into the army, the security firm, he would follow her into hell itself.

It took her less than a minute to free him and then she was pulling him to his feet. He swayed until she caught him, and again when she pressed her lips to his.

“Ouch,” he whispered, making no move to step back.

“Stop being a baby. It’s just a scratch.”

He laughed at the words, ones she had spoken many times as a nod to their past. There was little that compared to the wounds inflicted by Rory Gillingworth.

“Can you walk?” she asked in a more serious tone, her pale brown eyes showing the first hint of concern.

“I’ll aim for a hobble and go from there.”

Her musical laughter bathed the room in a soft playful light, banishing every dark corner.

Using Fee for support as he’d been doing most of his life, he let her guide him from the room, confident he provided the same – the security of home.

The house would never be that, not for them, but someday perhaps it would be restored and filled with the kind of joy they had found in each other.


Thanks for stopping by

Mel

Waves of Life – A poem

water

Swaddled in a pool of gentle heat

Adrift within the sound of your heartbeat

Until the next wave pulls me under

*

Your touch, I value and curse in equal measure

My every cell drowning under the constant pressure

Yet part of me is gripped in a sense of wonder

*

 

Exertion burns through my weary limbs

As the power within me slowly dims

Until red hot pain is all I see

*

You grab me tight and hold me near

Now that the time is finally here

To welcome this part of you and me

*

 

A wondrous sound fills the room

Stealing every drop of gloom

As our eyes alight with pleasure

*

Water washes away our tears

Gentling every one of our fears

As we embrace our tiny treasure


 

I don’t usually torture you with my poetry, but I was moved enough interpreting a recent birth that the compulsion to try was too great. It was a wonderful, humbling experience, and as the miraculous sounds of new life echoed through the halls, I swear if someone had brought in a puppy, I would have OD’d on all the cute. Talk about a natural high! There was so much love in the room I’m surprised I made it out of there…I turned into a big puddle of ‘oh my god, you guys are amazing!’

And, as it was a water birth, I was also submerged in memories of my own experience with Gracie. Since she first emerged from the water, announcing herself to the world, she has brightened our lives. Equal parts terror and treasure, she keeps me on my toes and it’s hard to believe that in two weeks she will be attending her prom. How time flies!

Thanks for stopping by

Mel

Introducing Born In A Treacherous Time by Jacqui Murray

I am delighted to help Jacqui celebrate the release of her latest novel Born in a Treacherous Time. I would highly recommend visiting Jacqui’s post, where she has provided a schedule for the blog hop (here). You will find a lovely interview here, and a review of the book here.

I have my copy, and will provide a review within the next couple of weeks. I can’t wait to join Lucy and her band on their adventure!

Find out more about the book, including an excerpt, below.

born in a treacherous timeBorn in the harsh world of East Africa 1.8 million years ago, where hunger, death, and predation are a normal part of daily life, Lucy and her band of early humans struggle to survive. It is a time in history when they are relentlessly annihilated by predators, nature, their own people, and the next iteration of man. To make it worse, Lucy’s band hates her. She is their leader’s new mate and they don’t understand her odd actions, don’t like her strange looks, and don’t trust her past. To survive, she cobbles together an unusual alliance with an orphaned child, a beleaguered protodog who’s lost his pack, and a man who was supposed to be dead.

Born in a Treacherous Time is prehistoric fiction written in the spirit of Jean Auel. Lucy is tenacious and inventive no matter the danger, unrelenting in her stubbornness to provide a future for her child, with a foresight you wouldn’t think existed in earliest man. You’ll close this book understanding why man not only survived our wild beginnings but thrived, ultimately to become who we are today.

This is a spin-off of To Hunt a Sub’s Lucy (the ancient female who mentored Kali Delamagente, the female protagonist).

Kirkus Review:

“Murray’s lean prose is steeped in the characters’ brutal worldview, which lends a delightful otherness to the narration …The book’s plot is similar in key ways to other works in the genre, particularly Jean M. Auel’s The Clan of the Cave Bear. However, Murray weaves a taut, compelling narrative, building her story on timeless human concerns of survival, acceptance, and fear of the unknown. Even if readers have a general sense of where the plot is going, they’ll still find the specific twists and revelations to be highly entertaining throughout.

A well-executed tale of early man.”

–Kirkus Reviews

Click here for the entire review

An early reader’s review

Born in a Treacherous Time sheds light on a period of time that gave birth to the human race, and allow us to bear witness to the harshness and tenacious spirit that is uniquely human—to survive and endure. Readers with a thirst for knowledge and who enjoy historical fiction, this is a must read. I am looking forward to reading book 2 when it is published.

“I devoured the book in 2 sittings.”

–Luciana Cavallaro, author of Servant of the Gods series and webmaster of Eternal Atlantis

series logo born in a treacherous time

Book information:

Title and author: Born in a Treacherous Time

Series: Book 1 in the Man vs. Nature series

Genre: Prehistoric fiction

Cover by: Damonza 

Available at: Kindle

Author bio:

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the Man vs. Wild seriesShe is also the author of over a hundred books on integrating technology into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

Social Media contacts:

http://twitter.com/worddreams

http://pinterest.com/askatechteacher

http://linkedin.com/in/jacquimurray

https://worddreams.wordpress.com

https://jacquimurray.net

 

Excerpt

Chapter One

Lucy Leaves Her Homeland

The scene replayed in Lucy’s mind, an endless loop haunting her days and nights. The clear sun-soaked field, the dying Mammoth, the hunters waiting hungrily for its last breath before scavenging the meat, tendons, internal organs, fat, and anything else consumable—food that would nourish the Group for a long time.

But something went horribly wrong. Krp blamed Lucy and soon, so too did Feq.

Why did Ghael stand up?  He had to know it would mean his death.

Lucy wanted to escape, go where no one knew what she’d done, but Feq would starve without her. He didn’t know how to hunt, couldn’t even tolerate the sight of blood. For him, she stayed, hunting, scavenging, and outwitting predators, exhausting herself in a hopeless effort to feed the remaining Group members. But one after another, they fell to Snarling-dog, Panther, Long-tooth Cat, Megantereon, and a litany of other predators. When the strangers arrived, Feq let them take her.

By this time, Lucy felt numb, as much from the death of her Group as the loss of Garv. Garv, her forever pairmate, was as much a part of her as the lush forests, Sun’s warmth, and Snarling-dog’s guidance. Now, with all the other deaths, she could leave his memory behind.

Forests gave way to bushlands. The prickly stalks scratched her skin right through the thick fur that layered her arms and legs. The glare of Sun, stark and white without the jungle to soften it, blinded her. One step forward became another and another, into a timeless void where nothing mattered but the swish of feet, the hot breeze on her face, and her own musty scent.

Neither male—not the one who called himself Raza nor the one called Baad—had spoken to her since leaving. They didn’t tell her their destination and she didn’t ask, not that she could decipher their intricate hand gestures and odd body movements. She studied them as they talked to each other, slowly piecing together what the twist of a hand and the twitch of a head meant. She would understand it all by the time they reached wherever they headed.

It was clear they expected her to follow. No one traveled this wild land alone but her reasons for joining them, submissively, had nothing to do with fear. Wherever the strangers took her would be better than where she’d been.

Lucy usually loved running through the mosaic of grass and forest that bled one into another. Today, instead of joy, she felt worry for her future and relief that her past was past. She effortlessly matched Raza’s tread, running in his steps at his pace. Baad did the same but not without a struggle. His sweat, an equal mix of old and stale from the long trip to find her and fresh from trying to keep up, blossomed into a ripe bouquet that wafted over her. She found comfort in knowing this strong, tough male traveled with her.

Vulture cawed overhead, eagerly anticipating a meal. From the size of his flock, the scavenge must be an adult Okapi or Giraffe. Even after the predator who claimed the kill—Lucy guessed it to be Megantereon or Snarling-dog—took what it needed, there would be plenty left. She often hunted with Vulture. It might find carrion first but she could drive it away by brandishing a branch and howling. While it circled overhead, awaiting a return to his meal, she grabbed what she wanted and escaped.

Feq must smell the blood but he had never been brave enough to chase Vulture away.  He would wait until the raptor finished, as well as Snarling-dog and whoever else showed up at the banquet, and then take what remained which wouldn’t be enough to live on.

Sun descended toward the horizon as they entered a dense thicket. They stuck to a narrow lightly-used animal trail bordered by heavy-trunked trees. Cousin Chimp scuffled as he brachiated through the understory, no doubt upset by the intruders. Only once, when a brightly-colored snake slithered across her path, did Lucy hesitate. The vibrant colors always meant deadly venom and she didn’t carry the right herbs to counter the poison. Baad grumbled when her thud reverberated out of sync with Raza’s, and Cousin Chimp cried a warning.

Finally, they broke free of the shadows and flew through waist-high grass, past trees laden with fruit, and around the termite mound where Cousin Chimp would gorge on white grubs—if Cheetah wasn’t sleeping on top of it.

I haven’t been back here since that day…

She flicked her eyes to the spot where her life had changed. Everything looked so calm, painted in vibrant colors scented with a heady mix of grass, water, and carrion. A family of Hipparion raised their heads but found nothing menacing so turned back to their banquet of new buds.

As though nothing happened…

Lucy sprinted. Her vision blurred and her head throbbed as she raced flat out, desperate to outdistance the memories. Her legs churned, arms pumped, and her feet sprang off the hard earth. Each step propelled her farther away. Her breathing heaved in rhythm with her steps. The sack around her neck smacked comfortingly against her body. Her sweat left a potent scent trail any predator could follow but Lucy didn’t care.

 


Thanks for stopping by

Mel

Alphabet Spaghetti – A Word Game

The exercise is based on a version of the 7x7x7 writing game. This time, I tried to incorporate seven words beginning with E, each with seven letters, and selected using a random word generator. I failed to include one of the words this week, but I did keep to the 700 word count.

It is an ongoing fantasy based short story, and connected to one of my series – The Collective.

The incorporated words are; embrace, eyebrow, emotion, explode, escaped, extreme, and example.

Warrior’s Embrace (Part 4)

A crushing weight settled around Amber’s body, pulling her from a deep sleep with a panic born of prolonged captivity. She tried to take stock, tried to remember what the monsters in the dark had done to render her immobile.

If she wasn’t so scared, she would have likened the feeling to being swaddled in a deep comforting embrace. But she couldn’t convince herself of safety when she was scared out of her mind. Why couldn’t she move? And, god, but it was warm in the hellish place they were being held. They. Oh shit. Where was April?

She tried to cry out and came to the sinking realisation she was bound too tightly to make a sound. The pressure was everywhere, it covered her face, her mouth, her entire body, yet she could still breathe.

As her mind thrashed where her body could not, Amber tried to shift inside the hot, smothering restraints. She started with her toes, remembering what April had taught her about meditation, except it had the opposite effect. The journey across her body didn’t relax her, it made her heart thunder harder. She was swamped in emotion. Not only was she unable to move, her limbs felt separate – like they belonged to somebody else.

A spark of hope lit within her chest when she managed to raise her left eyebrow. That spark snuffed out when she couldn’t duplicate the movement. What the hell had they done to her? What kind of extreme torment was this?

April.

Her sister’s name ricocheted through her head as she tried to grasp their connection. Memories began to swamp her…April dragging her through darkened tunnels, a rough, bumpy ride as the bitter cold nipped at her skin. They had escaped. They weren’t alone anymore. April had made it to the safe zone.

More images flickered behind her eyes; a wolf with white fur, and a large bear of a man who liked to torment the doctor…Clayton, she remembered. The doctor’s name was Clayton, and he like to read to her, to them. April was in the bed beside her.

Oh god, why couldn’t she feel her sister? The thread that joined them together was so weak she struggled to hold onto it.

Keep it together. Keep it together.

She willed her mind to calm, releasing the memories so she could concentrate on her strange new environment.

The muffled sound of voices drifted towards her, so she concentrated on that. The wolf’s voice was the strongest, a deep rumbling sound that called to her. He rarely shifted to his human form, at least not during his visits.

“Why isn’t he waking up?”

April?

That was her sister’s voice. She was here, and she was – wait, he? Who was he?

“I may have miscalculated when I shot him up with the good stuff,” an unfamiliar voice drawled, clearly amused.

Amber had no clue what he was talking about, and it sent her pulse tripping.

“Of course, because all you did was give him an injection of angel juice. No big deal. Cody isn’t going to-”

The words blurred, buried beneath Amber’s sudden rage. She had never felt anger like it, a white-hot trail that seemed to explode beneath her skin. Had the monsters somehow found them? Had they hurt Cody?

The young soldier visited almost as often as Clayton. He was happiness and light, and soft teasing conversation. It didn’t matter that she never responded, Cody spoke to her as though she heard every word, which she did. He entertained her with stories of the safe zone, of his team, the big guy he called Bear, but was actually called Griffin.

Every memory of his voice, his scent, his appealing energy fed the flames of her rage until her body was vibrating with it. No, not her body, whatever was holding her down.

No more.

She would not be helpless anymore. She felt every ounce of fiery red anguish. The pain and fear gathered and exploded, the power running through her so overwhelming, it took a moment to realise she was finally free.


Thanks for stopping by

Mel

Alphabet Spaghetti – A Word Game

The exercise is based on a version of the 7x7x7 writing game. This time, I’ve incorporated seven words beginning with D, each with seven letters, and selected using a random word generator. I tried to keep to the 700 word count, but went over by 14.

This is the third instalment of an ongoing fantasy story. To recap, Cody (a soldier who is part of a joint task force) has been injured during a battle (it sucks to be human). On his way to the medical unit, he hears a cry for help and rushes to the aid of twins, Amber and April. He discovers something cocooning Amber’s body, and the others in the room frozen in place around her bed.

The incorporated words are; deprive, dribble, default, deserve, decline, despair, and diagram.

Warrior’s Embrace (Part 3)

Cody stayed vigilant, watching over the group as he waited for help to arrive. That’s what he told himself, at least. If the crazy mollusc thing covering Amber went full Alien on him and something burst forth from the shell, he had no idea how he would defend himself, let alone the others. He had no weapon, apart from a crutch, and his leg was throbbing so hard he felt it in his eyeballs. That had to be why the horror show on the bed was pulsating like a heartbeat.

He shivered because, damn but that thing was ugly, and he didn’t even want to think about what was happening to Amber, whether being inside would deprive her of oxygen or if, like a second skin, she could breathe through it.

A blur of colour flashed in his peripheral vision, too fast to track and trippy enough it meant only one thing. The cavalry had arrived in the form of a big assed cat with too much curiosity and a playful streak that rivalled Cody’s. Yep, Blade was in the house.

The changeling cheetah was one half of a deadly duo. Logan made the set and, as with anything involving his brother, Blade was front and centre when the wolf needed an assist.

Following on his heels, at a much slower pace, was Tamaya and her wing-man – as she referred to him – Joshua. Being that the warrior angel was rocking a kick ass pair of wings, he had to navigate the room with care.

“This is not good,” Joshua said, king of the understatement. But then, that was his default setting, the guy could be a tad morose.

“I take it from that encouraging statement, you know what we’re dealing with?” Tamaya shot back. She had Del in her hand, also known as Delphor, her weapon of choice.

Cody trusted her, he really did, but if she was going to hack away at the husk with an axe, magical or not, he would have to step in. Not literally, he wouldn’t be stepping anywhere for a while, but Amber didn’t deserve to be on Del’s radar.

“The human has been infected by erodion, a substance used by Sentinels to infect other species. She’s going through metamorphosis.”

No. No. No. That couldn’t be right.

Cody felt his pulse skyrocket. At this rate he would need a room of his own with nothing but soft surfaces. He could practically feel the dribble. “Back up a second. Why are we just learning about this? We should have been informed if they pose that much of the threat.”

Joshua shrugged, his silver eyes like heated metal orbs. “It never came up. The infection only works if the immune system is compromised, or if a person is exposed for a prolonged period of time.”

“Has the thing somehow infected my brother?” Blade demanded from Logan’s side. The wolf was still fighting the compulsion he was under, but he wasn’t free yet.

“It’s a by-product of the transformation process, a defence mechanism. Logan and the others will need to be decontaminated, and the sooner the better.” Joshua turned to study Cody. “Are you ready to take care of your little problem?”

Ha! His leg had broken in three places. Next, he’d be getting a lecture about how the angel flew home with only one wing, barely conscious. Arrogant prick. “I think I’ll respectfully decline,” he said, even though a quick fix was sounding better every second.

“Come on, Cody,” Blade piped up. “Let us help you.”

“Do I need to draw you a diagram? I said-”

The scream that started the whole mess switched back on again, drowning out his words. April and the others came unstuck at the same time, along with the tail end of a sister’s horror. “Amber!” she croaked, pitching towards the bed.

In a flash, Blade moved to catch her. It was a surprise to them all that Clayton got there before him, scooping her up and cradling her to his chest. The despair on his face was actually painful to witness. Cody couldn’t tear his eyes away, which was why the sneaky angel caught him unaware. The instant his hand made contact with the top of Cody’s head he was out like a light.


Thanks for stopping by

Mel

Mirror to the Soul

This story was inspired by a beautiful young woman who battles her demons every day.

When I was a girl, my grandmother gifted me with an antique mirror. It belonged to a set, a pretty, gilded looking glass that should have been a prized possession. Instead, it became a curse, the object of my obsessive need to understand why the man I trusted above all others wanted to hurt me.

Each time I stared into my reflection, the girl looking back at me disappeared a little bit more. I saw the pain, the longing to be free, and the desperate need to run from the monster who stole her innocence.

He was the first, this man who was meant to protect and to cherish. I wish I could say he was the last. He wasn’t. Others recognised the broken pieces of the creature he left behind and felt compelled to play in the tortured ruins.

It took years to find the girl again, the one who loved with all her heart and found joy in the little things.

Years when the only way I could face each new day was to begin it by punishing myself. Countless professionals tried their best to put me back together. At least internally. The cracks on the outside I put there myself.

It wasn’t until I forced myself to look, really look, at my reflection that I began to heal. It became my new daily routine. I put down the blade, and forced myself to absorb the pain of what stared back at me in the glass. Cut after cut I endured as I stared at the evidence of my self-loathing and recounted each separate slice of the knife.

There are times I still see the damaged soul I became at the hands of a monster, but it’s rare. Today, standing in front of a full-length mirror in my hotel suite, there is only excitement in the deep green eyes staring back. The scars on my arms and legs are mostly hidden by the dress, and the gossamer material of the sleeves. My hair is no longer dull and lifeless, hanging like rats’ tails around my shoulders. It is layered in soft glossy waves that add to the romantic cut of my outfit.

“Yes, my sweet, gorgeous girl, you are the fairest of them all,” Drew says from the doorway.

Turning, I beam at my best friend. “Well, don’t you look dapper.” His dark suit fits his tall, lanky frame to perfection. The exuberant yellow bow tie is so very Drew. A ray of sunshine in my once dark world.

He takes the hand I offer and twirls me around, a series of dizzying turns that has me laughing in delight. “We both scrub up pretty well. The schizophrenic and the…what is your diagnosis these days?”

“Who knows. I’ve lost count.” Pulling out of his grasp, I reach to the dressing table for the two champagne flutes.

Drew tilts his head to the side, considering. “Hmm…how about the schizo and bridezilla?”

“I have been a little obsessive, haven’t I?” Handing him a glass, I clink mine against it before taking a sip. “I just wanted the day to be perfect.”

“All Jack needs is you, decked out like that, to make it so.” He winks and downs the contents of his flute. “And speaking of the gorgeous groom, you’ve kept him waiting long enough.”

My stomach flutters, a nervous excitement I’ve managed to hold onto all morning. “I’m ready.”

Drew takes my glass and gulps down the champagne. If I’m high-strung, his swirling energy is set to combust. He takes his responsibilities as Man of Honour seriously, but I had no doubt he would. The title fits him for more reasons that the duties he will perform today.

Without another word, he places my hand in the crook of his arm and guides me out of the suite. We walk down the stairs and along the corridor that leads to the terrace. Drew and I have taken many journeys together, walked hand in hand as we faced our demons, and we’re both a little worried about what the future holds.

Those worries fall from my mind as we enter the gardens and I spot Jack waiting beneath an arched trellis. Besides Drew, he is the only other person who truly sees me, and more, he sees the battles I’ve fought and won, alone or with my best friend by my side.

I can’t tear my eyes from his as I begin to walk down the aisle towards him. The dark blue reflects a heart as big as an ocean and a love that is never ending.

My breath catches when he smiles. It always has. There’s something about the way he looks at me that wipes out the ugly and fills me with beauty. This big, intimidating man with hair the colour of desert sands will always be my oasis.

When we reach him, his eyes dart briefly to Drew. He takes in the yellow accessory at Drew’s neck and grins. A moment later his gaze ensnares me once again, and I’m lost. I can barely keep it together when Drew kisses my cheek and steps back.

“You look exquisite,” Jack murmurs, though he’s barely looked at the dress. His grin gets bigger as he leans down to brush his lips against mine.

I want to reciprocate, tell him how handsome he looks in his dark suit, but he’s rendered me speechless. I could make this my new hobby, staring into his beautiful eyes, and it hits me hard that I can. For the rest of my life.

I’m still thinking about that when the vicar begins to speak, still captured in his intent gaze, and I’m okay with that. His eyes are the best kind of mirror, they reflect everything I’m feeling and give the lost girl I was the chance to finally be free.


Keep fighting

Mel

Alphabet Spaghetti – A Word Game

The exercise is based on a version of the 7x7x7 writing game. This time, I’ve incorporated seven words beginning with C, each with seven letters, and selected using a random word generator. I tried to keep to the 700 word count, but went over by 86.

The story is a continuation from last week. It includes characters from my fantasy series, The Collective. If it turns into a longer piece of work (and it looks like it’s going that way), in terms of timeline, it comes after book 2. The story takes place during the early stages of a Demonic War and centres around a safe zone known as Grangefield. The characters today are; Cody (a human, who we discovered last week was injured during a mission and broke his leg in three places, Tamaya (a witch), Logan (a changeling wolf), Clayton (a hympe – which is a form of shapeshifter), and twins, Amber and April. The instalment ended with Cody reacting to a scream as he entered the med centre – he dropped his crutches and set off running (injury be damned!)

The incorporated words are; crusade, chapter, certain, costume, ceiling, capital and concert.

Warrior’s Embrace (Part 2)

The instant Cody entered the medical room he stopped dead, right before he fell on his ass. He didn’t have the option of dropping to his knees, what with the giant pot on his leg, and it wasn’t the pain that levelled him. It was the shock of what he saw.

On the bed directly in front of him, right where one of the Dillon twins should be, was what looked to be a cross between a giant chrysalis and a set of mummified remains.

Please don’t let that costume of horror be what I think it is.

Behind him, Tamaya stopped just short of ploughing into him. “Holy shit! What is that?”

He looked to the other occupants of the room, all frozen in place around the bed like they were trapped in some form of suspended animation.

“I’m not certain, but I have a feeling it’s Amber Dillon,” Cody said, fighting a wave of nausea.

The Dillon twins had been rescued just outside the perimeter of Grangefield. After being held captive by a group of rogues, April had somehow escaped with her sister. Barely able to walk, she had dragged Amber on a makeshift slay eight miles through the capital to the closest safe zone. It wasn’t until they were both safe that April had succumbed to the exhaustion. The twins had been in a coma ever since. Until now.

Now, April’s mouth was hanging open in a silent scream, her blue eyes wide with a horror they all felt.

Cody watched as Tamaya walked over to Logan and waved a hand in front of his face, or as close as she could get being that he towered above her. Logan didn’t react, not with his body. His pale blue eyes were a different matter, they followed her hand, slower than normal, but the movement was there. He was fighting whatever compulsion was holding him, and it had to be powerful considering the strength of his mind. It was difficult to control a changeling wolf.

Whatever was going on, Logan had managed to execute a shift before it happened. By some miracle, he wasn’t naked either, which was what usually happened until someone threw clothes in his direction. The closest thread shack, as they were known on the base, was outside the med centre, so it explained the ill-fitting scrub pants. His shock of white hair contrasted against the dark skin of his naked chest. He’d definitely been caught unaware, because Logan rarely changed out of wolf form when he visited. His animal soothed the twins, even as they slept.

“What’s wrong with them?” he asked, glancing at Clayton. The hympe was their resident medic. He was obsessed with healing the twins, a personal crusade since he was the one who found them.

“This has Orion’s signature stamped all over it,” Tamaya said, turning in a slow circle. “But since he’s not here, and I don’t feel his energy in the room, I have no frigging clue.”

She would know, she had the whole chapter and verse going on when it came to the man with the plan. “That’s a shame. We could use a god’s help right now, either that or a Hail Mary.” He tried to get up, his mind racing right along with his heart. Which was when the pain from his flight down the hallway decided to make itself known. It was like a wave of nasty spreading throughout his body. He swore he could hear his pain receptors buzzing like a concert of angry bees in his head.

This time he found himself flat on his back staring at the ceiling as he held in the scream of agony working up his throat.

“What can I do?” Tamaya asked, dropping down beside him.

He took in a slow breath. “Grab my crutches and then help me up. We need to find out what the hell is going on.”

“It’s going to take more than crutches to hold you up.” She pulled the bandanna from her head, setting her curls free. “Here, you might want to bite on this.” It was the only warning she gave him before she shoved the material between his lips and he felt the touch of her magic grab hold of him.

It was one way to get him on his feet, though even with the powerful buffer to coax him upright, he still saw stars.

When the agony finally released him from its painful jaws, he was sitting in a chair, his injured leg stretched in front of him.

“Hang tight, you stubborn mule,” Tamaya said from the doorway, and then she was gone, leaving Cody with his misery and a roomful of crazy.


Thanks for stopping by

Mel

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