Managing my author website plus the ParaYourNormal blog got a little too complicated. So going forward, you can find ParaYourNormal here.
The Death card reminds us that all good things must come to an end, and October is the last month of Tarotscopes on this blog! But don’t worry, the Tarotscopes aren’t going away, just moving to my author blog (managing two blogs got too complicated).
I’m drawing one card for each sign from the Tarot’s Major Arcana and the second from its elemental suit. E.g. since Libra is an air sign, one card is drawn from the Major Arcana and one from the Tarot’s air suit, swords, for Libra. (Standard disclaimer: Tarotscopes are for entertainment purposes only). And in honor of the season, our gif theme is Hocus Pocus.
Libra, September 23 – October 22: Page of Swords and The Chariot. Your brain is in overdrive, but think (or feel) carefully. Are you being driven by conscious or subconscious desires? Neither is inherently good or bad, but it’s important to figure out where these thoughts are coming from. The best outcome places your higher self in the driver’s seat.
Scorpio, October 23 – November 21: Nine of Cups and Temperance. Are the holiday parties starting already? You’ll be tempted to extremes this month. They look like so much fun. But Temperance suggests while you should most definitely enjoy the well-deserved goodies, don’t go overboard.
Sagittarius, November 22 – December 21: Queen of Wands and The High Priestess. The outgoing feminine energy of the queen unites with the mysterious, wise, and secretive priestess for some serious inner witchery this month. This dynamic combination calls for you take your inner knowing and apply it in the world – lovingly.
Capricorn, December 22 – January 19: Ace of Pentacles and Strength. This Ace represents potential on the physical realm – health and wealth, house and home. But it’s potential. You need to actualize it. The Strength card counsels love. We all have beasts inside of us, and some of us our better at taming them than others. Be patient towards those who’s beasts are running amuck, and learn to love your own. Ultimately, fighting the beast never leads to a good outcome.
Aquarius, January 20 – February 18: Nine of Swords and The Magician. Things may seem stressful, but appearances aren’t everything (especially since what we experience is mostly in our heads). Here’s the thing, Aquarius, The Magician is YOU. You create your own reality, and you have the power to change your thoughts and actions and make it awesome.
Pisces, February 19 – March 20: Ten of Cups and Justice. This month you’re going to get what’s coming to you Pisces, and that means good stuff. And if, as you were reading this, you felt a tremor of anxiety, cut it out! Trust in the happy ending, and know there’s more adventure around the corner.
Aries, March 21 – April 19: Eight of Wands and Judgment. Do it. Do it now. NOW!!! You’re either being called to act and to move swiftly, or you’re being called to act, and things are going to move fast whether you like it or not. Judgment is a call from your inner (and outer) angels, so listen carefully to them so the river doesn’t sweep you somewhere you may not like.
Taurus, April 20 – May 20: Two of Pentacles and the Hierophant. This month promises to be a juggling act. To manage it successfully, pace yourself and ask for some damn help. What you’re doing now is laying the groundwork for some important moves forward in your life. So take it seriously, and do it right.
Gemini, May 21 – June 20: Two of Swords and The Emperor. It’s decision time, Gemini. And The Emperor suggests you choose the hard-headed, logical path. Not sure what that is? Then look to process. (I know, flighty Gemini, process ain’t terribly exciting), but if you want to move forward swiftly (and I know you do, because you’re impatient), you’ll need a plan and a map.
Cancer, June 21 – July 22: Ace of Cups and the Wheel of Fortune. The Ace of Cups is the figurative Holy Grail. Your fortunes are rising, Cancer. Enjoy them deeply and ethically, but don’t get carried away. The wheel is constantly turning.
Leo, July 23 – August 22: Two of Wands and The Hanged Man. A choice lies before you, but don’t let yourself get hung up in analysis paralysis. And know that doing nothing is a choice as well. If that’s your choice, then fine, but make it a choice, not something that just “happens” because you couldn’t make up your mind.
Virgo, August 23 – September 22: Queen of Pentacles and Death. This Queen is a nurturer, and she’s being called upon to nurture an ending. Everything comes to a conclusion, but too often we turn our faces from it and let it just happen. Bringing things to a positive close requires attention, grace, and love. Are you willing?
Kirsten Weiss writes genre-blending steampunk suspense, urban fantasy, and mystery, mixing her experiences and imagination to create a vivid world of magic and mayhem.
We welcome Sam Baltrusis, author of Haunted Boston Harbor to the blog. He’s very kindly written about residential haunts in Malden and Somerville. But before we get to his guest post, read a little bit about his book, below.
to Haunted Boston Harbor
reveal herself. She was playing hard to get.
However, it was usually one of the kids touring the dark hallway in the southeast battery.
haunted. “You hear ghost stories all the time,” remarked Val, a veteran tour guide. “One day, I had climbed all the way to the top and I heard phantom footsteps behind me and there was definitely no one else in the lighthouse.”
cautionary tale. While narrating Boston Harbor tours, I was pushed from my seat
by an unseen force multiple times when passing this spot. It was so intense that I physically tied myself to my chair. One time, I was pushed so hard that I almost fell off the top deck of the vessel.
wounds or the elements,” Bishop told me. “I haven’t had an encounter, but several of my [living] crew members have.”
ancient vessel sail by me.
Malden and Somerville
hauntings throughout New England. One of my readers, Michael Marciello, reached out to me about a haunting from his childhood home in Malden. As a kid, he called the off-limits haunted bedroom “the bad room.”
cold,” he said, recalling the inexplicable temperature fluctuations in the bad room. “We thought it was an animal,” he said, claiming that he would smell sulphur which is an indication of an evil entity.
childhood bad room. “There was a room in my grandparents’ house that was the ‘wicked room.’ It was my father’s old bedroom and I don’t see how he ever managed to sleep there,” Willims explained. “It was always about 15 degrees colder than any other room in the house. I had a hard time even staying in the room by myself.”
Ghosts of Boston: Haunts of the Hub in 2012, my sensitivity to what could be
the spirit realm kicked into high gear. In fact, my old home in Somerville’s
Davis Square apparently had a playful older female poltergeist with an affinity
for scissors. One night, I invited a friend over who claimed to have some sort
of psychic ability. He said that she was a seamstress and mentioned, without
hesitation, the various things she did in the house to make her presence known.
into more than a year. The first crew of painters claimed that paint brushes would disappear and ladders would fall. One guy, tormented by a series of inexplicable incidents, asked me if the place was haunted. I sheepishly nodded, and I never saw him again. After a series of freaked-out painters, scaffolding from the top floor fell on my roommate’s car.
and felt quite tortured a lot of the time. She was celebrated by you, and she thanks you for that. She was released from whatever bound her there,” Fix continued. “And it wasn’t a good thing to be bound there.”
of Boston, Ghosts of Salem and 13 Most Haunted in Massachusetts, is the former
editor-in-chief of several regional publications including Spare Change News,
Scout Somerville and Scout Cambridge. He has been featured as Boston’s
paranormal expert on the Biography Channel’s “Haunted Encounters,”
and he is also a sought-after lecturer who speaks at dozens of
paranormal-related events throughout New England.
We have a two-for-one here — a guest post and flash fiction by Marsha A. Moore, author of the paranormal romance, Witch’s Cursed Cabin! But first, take a peek at the book itself!
Witch’s Cursed Cabin
Coon Hollow Coven Tales
Marsha A. Moore
Genre: Paranormal romance
Date of Publication: 4-27-16
Number of pages: 380
Word Count: 111,000
Cover Artist: Marsha A. Moore
Eager to be on her own away from home, twenty-year-old Aggie Anders accepts a relative’s invitation to live in Coon Hollow Coven. Although she’s a witch from a different coven, what locals say about the Hollow confuses her. How can witchcraft there live and breathe through souls of the dead?
Aggie’s new residence in this strange southern Indiana world is a deserted homestead cabin. The property’s carriage house serves as the coven’s haunted Halloween fundraiser. It’s a great opportunity for her to make new friends, especially with the coven’s sexy new High Priest Logan.
But living in the homestead also brings Aggie enemies. Outsiders aren’t welcome. A cantankerous, old neighbor tries to frighten her off by warning her that the homestead is cursed. Local witches who practice black magic attempt to use their evil to drive Aggie away and rid their coven of her unusual powers as a sun witch.
Determined to stay and fit in, Aggie discovers not only that the cabin is cursed, but she alone is destined to break the curse before moonrise on Samhain. If she fails, neither the living nor the dead will be safe.
A note to readers: the books in the Coon Hollow Coven Tales series are written to be read in any order. The series is about one community, and its residents may pass in and out of various books, but each book has its own unique and special story to be told.
About the Coon Hollow Coven Tales Series
The series is about a coven of witches in a fictitious southern Indiana community, south of Bloomington, the neck of the woods where I spent my favorite childhood years surrounded by the love of a big family. The books are rich with a warm Hoosier down-home feel. There are interesting interactions between coven members and locals from the nearby small town of Bentbone. If magic wasn’t enough of a difference between the two groups, the coven folk adhere to the 1930s lifestyle that existed when the coven formed.
Excerpt from Chapter One: The Homestead
A shove of my shoulder pried the rusty hinges on the heavy log cabin door loose. I flung my blond braid to my back and peered inside. Beings and critters, alive and furry as well as undead and translucent, flew, crawled, or slithered across dark recesses of the hallway, sitting room, and stairwell.
“You weren’t kidding. This place is haunted.” I shuddered and looked over my shoulder at Cerise. She looked perky as always with her dark bobbed hair and lively brown eyes beneath horn-rimmed eyeglasses. “Were those things relations or varmints?” I took a cautious step over the threshold to escape the blustery weather and unbuttoned my corduroy jacket.
“Oh, both, Aggie. Ghosts of witch kin and their talking animal familiars,” she said and moved past me to lift sheets off the sitting room furniture.
I raised a brow, curious about what talking familiars were but was too afraid to ask. She didn’t seem to think they were bad, and I needed a place to stay.
Cerise dropped the sheets in a pile and wiped her dusty hands on her skirt. “Those sorts of ghosts are in all the homes here in Coon Hollow Coven. Maybe some animal spirits, too, from the surrounding woods. This property has at least fifty acres of forest. The ghosts are harmless, part of the family. At least no neighbors have complained, that I’ve heard.”
Eyeing corners of the parlor and the length of the hall, I wondered if I could ever get used to living with ghosts of people who’d lived here before. In New Wish, Indiana, where I’d spent my entire twenty years, we only had an occasional ghost. Usually lost souls who, for some reason, hadn’t found their peace before death took them. Most times, those folks had been tormented by darkness and experimented with black magic while they’d lived. Or so Mom told me, but I always thought that was just her way of keeping me in line.
I pushed those thoughts out of my head. I wanted a place of my own more than anything else, and not in the tiny town of New Wish where everyone knew me…or thought they did. They all said I was the spitting image of my Aunt Faye, with the same light blond straight hair, deep blue eyes, dark brows, and quiet personality. Everyone thought I’d grow up to be like her with a houseful of kids, seven or more. Fact was, they didn’t know me. I wasn’t sure I even knew myself. There was so much I wanted to learn and do that wouldn’t happen if I stayed at my parents’ home.
Cerise struggled to open the stuck window. “Aggie, can you help me here? Some fresh air might tempt a few spirits outside. This place has been vacant since my mother passed in 2009. We might find just about anything in here after five years.”
Are you brave enough to visit Coon Hollow Coven’s haunted carriage house?
Guest Blog by Marsha A. Moore
Coon Hollow is the setting for Witch’s Cursed Cabin, the second of my series, Coon Hollow Coven Tales, and there are a lot of strange happenings going on down in the Hollow as Samhain approaches.
The Hollow is a fictitious small valley in southern Indiana, south of Bloomington. Somewhere in Brown County near Nashville and Bean Blossom, if you’re from around those parts. It’s Hoosier hill-country at its finest.
The coven was founded on strict rules of adherence to lifestyle and customs that existed at the time of the coven’s conception, in the mid-1930s. The rationale: to keep the transmission of witchcraft from one generation to the next as pure as possible. Members dress in styles of that period and drive long sleek Packards, Studebakers, and Nashes.
Several times during the year, the coven puts on magical events open to the public as charity fundraisers for their schools and eldercare. Witch’s Cursed Cabin opens with the coven preparing for their annual Halloween haunted carriage house.
Here’s an excerpt of the night when the attraction is open only to coven members. Aggie Anders has just moved to the coven and is joining Cerise’s family at the event.
Dusk was changing to night, the gloaming time as I called it, with the sky ribboned in bands of blue-grays and inky purples. As we ascended the small hill that separated the two cabins, I pulled my hood over my head.
On the other side, a group of black forms mingled outside, perhaps fifty, but the dim light made counting difficult. I glanced down at my jeans, happy the blue color wasn’t too noticeable. A chilling scream that seemed to come from the cabin’s roof made me gawk, wide-eyed.
A hush spread over the crowd, and hoods turned upward toward the tall gable above the front door. Another scream pierced the air, this one more like the chilling, long wail of a banshee, which I knew signaled approaching death. And another shriek, as two dark shapes emerged from behind the chimney. One began the dreadful cry once again, while the other leered at those on the ground.
Little Bud tugged on his dad’s arm and whimpered.
“What is this I see?” A deep male voice growled down at us. “Intruders! You’ve broken the peaceful rest of the carriage house spirits.” He gave a guttural laugh, then shinnied down a trellis at one end of the small porch. From there, he rubbed his hands together while shuffling side to side as he scanned the crowd. His ragged cape hung in shreds around his hunched shape, and his death-white face reflected what little light the twilight offered. “Since you’ve awakened the spirits, why don’t you come in and pay them a friendly visit? I’m sure they’ll be glad to welcome you.” With a menacing laugh, he turned and opened the door. “We have guests of the best kind—willing.”
A chorus of howls and yelps responded from inside, and the banshee on the roof gave a higher pitched cry.
A small girl, no more than four years old, begged for her father to carry her.
The ragged spirit pointed to a sign posted high on the porch support post. “Heed this sign well before you go inside.” It warned pregnant women and people with heart conditions to not enter. With the wave of his arm, he spun on his heel, and the crowd moved toward the entrance.
“Looks like this year’s show will be good. Every year they try to top the last,” Cerise said and pulled me behind her, while Toby herded their boys.
Inside, ghouls lurched near, guiding us up the front staircase. Real enchanted spiders dropped onto our faces, bringing plenty of squeals and some momentary lost footing on steps. While clinging to the railings to keep my balance, oozy slime gushed between my fingers. Faced with the safe scares, screams that escaped my lips immediately turned to giggles.
Live rats ran the length of the upper hall, scampering across our feet. I was glad for my stiff-toed boots, but many of the ladies wearing dress pumps jumped a couple feet. One woman landed against me, and we both fell against the wall where arms extending from paintings held us captive until we pleaded loud enough for release.
The wall hazards kept people close to the middle, regardless of the rats. At the doorway to the first bedroom, the floorboards gave way. Five or more in the line ahead dropped down a black hole, their screams reverberating after them. Bats flew up the open shoot and corralled us into the bedroom and the outstretched arms of a red-eyed goblin. His touch sent a sudden disorienting delirium through me, and I fumbled behind Cerise through a connecting hall that led into the next bedroom.
What happens to Aggie? You’ll only know if you’re brave enough to enter the coven’s haunted carriage house!
Hello! I’m Marsha A. Moore and it’s great to be here and share some Samhain fun! I’d like to share with you one of my very popular mini-stories from my collection of fantasy flash fiction Tea Leaf Tales.
Tea Leaf Tales: The Necessary Practice Halloween Growl
“Oh, come on, Grindor,” I pleaded for the third time.
“Not until Halloween,” he replied with a terse snap, his face stoic, his body frozen.
“Just one pre-Halloween scare.” I climbed beside him and peeked over the fence.
“There’s a teenage boy walking this way toward your gate who’d make a great practice target.”
“Nope,” he said, trying unsuccessfully to knock me off balance with his left wing.
“It’ll feel good to do just one little growl.”
A whiz of loud pops sailed inches above my head, and I jumped behind my griffin guardian who spread his protective wings wide.
The teen burst through the open gate, gun in hand, and Grindor let out a horrific roar, so loud that my teeth rattled.
From behind, I winked at the boy with the bb gun, my five-dollar bill showing in his jeans pocket.
Tea Leaf Tales is a series of original ten-sentence short stories by Marsha A. Moore, relating to photos/scenes that resonate with her.
Visit Marsha’s website www.MarshaAMoore.com to read more archived episodes of the Mercantile of Tea Leaf Tales and watch her blog for new episodes.
About the Author:
Marsha A. Moore loves to write fantasy and paranormal romance. Much of her life feeds the creative flow she uses to weave highly imaginative tales.
The magic of art and nature spark life into her writing, as well as other pursuits of watercolor painting and drawing. She’s been a yoga enthusiast for over a decade and is a registered yoga teacher. Her practice helps weave the mystical into her writing. After a move from Toledo to Tampa in 2008, she’s happily transformed into a Floridian, in love with the outdoors where she’s always on the lookout for portals to other worlds. Marsha is crazy about cycling. She lives with her husband on a large saltwater lagoon, where taking her kayak out is a real treat. She never has enough days spent at the beach, usually scribbling away at stories with toes wiggling in the sand. Every day at the beach is magical!
Mailing list: http://bit.ly/MarshaAMooreList
Google +: http://google.com/+MarshaAMoore
Amazon author page: www.amazon.com/author/marshaamoore
Goodreads author page http://www.goodreads.com/marshaamoore
Feature: Halja’s Demons and Beasts
different creatures, beasts, and demons for each book. Many of the characters
in my novels are true monsters. But others are harbingers, mentors, tricksters,
from the NOON ONYX SERIES.
characters from that book is Serafina, a demon familiar. Noon should have been
more careful… Pandora’s box isn’t the only thing that shouldn’t have been
My hand shook slightly as I held the ball up by its chain to peer at it more closely.There was a demon in there. No matter how small, the thought should have been mildly terrifying. But instead I felt wonderfully intoxicated and numb around the edges, like I’d drank too much wine at a party. I looked for the button but couldn’t find it. I twisted and turned the ball, holding it up to the afternoon light streaming through my dormitory window, and finally found
the catch. I pushed it gently with my thumb and the ball sprang open.
of the book’s main themes – knowledge. Like many folktales, their story is
playful… with a hint of deadly…
meaner. On four legs their faces were even with mine. Upon seeing them it became easy to imagine a demon like Lilith riding one. They had barrel chests and wolfish grins. Their teeth were as large as horns and their paws four times the size of Rafe’s booted foot. And their fur . . . well, let’s just say seeing it on the living creature didn’t improve its appearance. It reminded me of long, thick, tangled rat fur. I shuddered and tried to reconcile myself to the fact that, so long as I didn’t get eaten by one in the pen today, two of them would be under my care by midday. “So which of you is first?” Linnaea said, motioning to
place in Rockthorn Gorge, a bustling mountain town where so many demons live,
it’s often called a “demonic anthill.” Noon is sent there to make nice with the
demons who follow the law… and to find the one who isn’t.
genre-bending fantasy from rural Maryland. Her novels include Dark Light of
Day, Fiery Edge of Steel, White Heart of Justice, and Pocket Full of Tinder.
She loves cats, coffee, books, movies, day tripping, and outdoor adventuring.
Welcome to Constance Burris, author of Black Beauty! She’s written original flash fiction for the Halloween Spooktacular (below). But first, here’s a bit about her urban fantasy novel.
Genre: Urban Fantasy/Horror
Publisher: BE Publications
Date of Publication: September 2015
Number of pages: 140
Word Count: 30,000
Cover Artist: Pixel Studio
At Vista Apartment Complex, life drastically changes for four of its residents when they decide to do business with Crazy Jade—the supposed voodoo witch that can grant your wish for a price.
Shemeya wants the confidence to stand up against the girls bullying her at school, but she soon has to choose between keeping her dreadlocs or living a normal life. After catching her boyfriend cheating, Latreece just wants to have the same curves as all the other girls. Ashley will do whatever she can to have “White Girl Flow”, but takes her pursuit too far when she steals from Crazy Jade.
Everyone who comes into contact with Crazy Jade soon learns the true price of her magic—and how horribly wrong it can go.
Shemeya knocked on Jason’s door. For the past two years, they’d ended up in the same chemistry course as lab partners. He’d asked her out a few times, but she’d politely said no. He bored her. Turning him down made her feel like an idiot who only went out with thugs, but she wasn’t stupid. She only wanted a little thug, not a full serving.
When Jason opened the door, she pulled off her backpack and stepped into his house. “Is your mom home?”
“No, she’s with her new guy.” He led her into his kitchen. “Want something to drink?”
“You got some juice?” She desperately wanted to get rid of the dry, earthy taste that the herbs had left in her mouth. Water hadn’t worked.
“I got something better.” He reached under one of the kitchen cabinets and pulled out a bottle of Hennessy.
He smiled innocently.
She rolled her eyes. “Sure. I need a drink after the day I’ve had.” And liquor should kill the taste in my mouth.
He poured the cognac into two yellow plastic cups before they walked into the living room and sat on his couch. The alcohol warmed her insides and seared away the taste of the herbs.
“We should be talking about absorption, not sitting here getting drunk,” Shemeya pointed out.
“We always finish our projects tipsy. Why should this time be any different?”
Shemeya laughed. “Anyways, let’s get started: absorption vs. adsorption.” She pulled her chemistry book from her backpack.
“Stupid names. Why do they have to be so similar?” He sat back on the couch with a glazed look in his eyes.
“Are you going to get your books?”
He licked his lips and leaned forward. “I’ve heard stories about you and Latreece’s boyfriend.”
“So?” The buzz she had from the liquor quickly dissipated while her heart rate increased. She dreaded where the conversation was headed.
“I don’t understand. I’ve been asking you out for months, but you go out with him instead. He has a girlfriend.”
“I didn’t go out with him,” she said through clenched teeth. She’d expected to be harassed at school; she hadn’t expected it here. She had hoped her anger would shut him up, but no such luck.
“I saw you go in the room with Corey last weekend at Serena’s party.”
She threw her books on the table and stood. “Oh damn, Jason. Really?”
“I’ve treated you with nothing but respect since I’ve known you.”
“I’ve had a horrible day with everyone teasing me at school. Now I get here and have to deal with it from you, too. I’m leaving.” She turned from him and bent over to pick up her books.
“Are you crying?”
She brought her hand up to her face, and it came back wet. Why was she crying in front of him? Wasn’t the fake weed supposed to give her courage?
“Don’t go. I’m sorry.”
She was so busy wiping away her tears that she didn’t fight it when he grabbed her hand and pulled her back onto the couch. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything.”
She let him hold her as she cried. Maybe it was the liquor, maybe it was the fake weed, or maybe it was her loneliness, but whatever the reason, she didn’t stop him when he brought his lips down onto hers.
His sweaty hands on her breast brought her back to reality. He wasn’t who she wanted. “No, Jason.” She pulled back. “I have to go.”
“Don’t go,” he pleaded, with his hand still under her shirt. Somehow they’d ended up on the couch with him on top cradled between her legs.
“No.” She tried to move from under him.
He loomed above her, flushed despite his dark skin. “Do you like it rough? Is that what it is?”
“No. This isn’t what I came here for.” Shemeya tore at his chest, but Jason refused to budge.
He kissed her neck. “I’m tired of being the nice guy,” he murmured, pinning her further beneath his body.
“Get off me!” she screamed. His erection rubbed against the crotch of her jeans. She punched and kicked, but it made him more excited. Her scalp itched as she fought. She wanted to scratch, but she needed both hands to fight Jason off. I’m getting raped, but I can’t fight the urge to scratch. The inconvenience of it almost made her laugh.
Something above moved. She looked past Jason. Five snakes were hovering above his head.
“I’m going crazy.” This time she did laugh, and the snakes, which were the same rusty brown color as her dreads, smiled.
Jason looked towards her. “Why are you laughing?” His eyes darted above her. The feel of his erection disappeared as he crept away, but she wrapped her legs around his waist.
Her itching scalp had been replaced with pleasurable tingles that ran from her head down to her toes. “Where are you going?” she asked.
“We need to leave,” he said, trembling. “There are snakes in here. There are snakes in your hair.” She pulled him closer while he fought to be released. “Let go. We need to get out of here.”
“No, stay,” she whispered in his ear. “They won’t hurt you.”
Shaking, he looked from Shemeya to the snakes. He tried to force himself from her legs. This time, when she tried to pull him closer, he punched her. Pain exploded in her jaw, but she never let go.
“Jason, that hurt.”
He looked into her eyes. “Please,” he begged. A snake sunk its fangs into his cheek. Another struck his ear. One clung to his nose, and another hung below his left eye. He writhed in pain as he tried to escape the snakes and her thighs. His pleading eyes came back to her before he stopped moving completely. The snakes retracted their fangs. She relaxed her legs. Jason fell onto the carpeted floor.
She stood and nearly fainted before she righted herself by grabbing the side of the couch. She brought her hands up to fix her hair but hesitated a few inches away. She’d never touched snakes before. But the snakes came to her, caressing her open palm. They were cold and smooth and full of life.
THE BUCKET LIST By Constance Burris
Josephine lifts her arthritic knees up the steps of the small Japanese tour bus and stares past the rows of empty seats before she settles her gaze on a middle-aged woman with a curly afro.
When the woman turned and smiles, that is all the invitation Josephine needs. “May I sit,” she asks after she wobbles her wide hips through the tight aisles.
“Of course,” the woman says.
“Thank you. I’m Josephine from Texas.”
“Nice to meet you. I’m Keisha from North Carolina.”
“Are you traveling alone?” Josephine asks.
“Yeah, are you?”
“No. My no good husband is at the hotel in bed. He ate some bad sushi or some shit.”
The woman blushes. She must be from the suburbs, Josephine thinks. Suburbanites are always blushing over curse words.
“Are you looking forward to seeing Mt. Fuji?” Josephine asks the girl once the bus starts moving.
“No, I’m getting off at the Aokighara forest.”
“The what?” Josephine asks.
“The suicide forest at the base of Mt. Fuji.”
“I’ve heard about that place. It’s where people go to die.” Josephine shakes her head. “I wonder why so many go there?” Josephine asks. “I suppose they’re all unhappy.”
“They can’t all go there because they’re sad,” Keisha says. “Maybe some are just finished.”
“Finished with what?” Josephine studies the woman. She’s too pretty to be so morbid.
“With life. Maybe they’ve crossed everything off their bucket list.”
“Well, then you create another list. Believe me; I’ve started over more than a few times. You can always reinvent yourself and create a whole ‘nother bucket of lists.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right.”
“You’re not thinking about going there to die are you?” Josephine asks suddenly concerned.
Keisha laughs. “Of course not. I’m just curious.
Josephine brings her hand to her chest. “Oh my goodness. You about gave me a heart attack.”
“You don’t have to worry about me. I have a husband and a little girl at home. I would never leave them.”
“Good. Good,” Josephine says as she stares at the woman, looking for any sign of depression.
“I promise. It’s just a weird curiosity of mine. I’m not going to kill myself.
“Well if you’re sure,” Josephine says, finally at ease.
“Ms. Josephine,” the Japanese tour guides says with an almost flawless American accent “We’re here.”
“Oh my. I didn’t even know I was sleep.” Josephine looks over to Keisha, but the woman’s seat is empty except for a folded sheet of paper. Josephine glances around the bus for the woman, but she is nowhere in sight. All of her belongings are gone. Satisfied she has done her due diligence and no one can call her nosy, Josephine unfolds the paper.
Keisha’s Bucket List
Graduate High School
Go Ziplining in Costa Rica
Go To College
Get a passport
Make love under the night sky
Write a book
Fall in love
Have a baby
Travel to another country
Visit the suicide forest
All but the last one is marked out.
About the Author:
Constance Burris is on a journey to take over the world through fantasy, horror, and science fiction. Her mission is to spread the love of speculative fiction to the masses. She is a proud card carrying blerd (black nerd), mother, and wife. When she is not writing and spending time with her family, she is working hard as an environmental engineer in Oklahoma City.
We welcome Jamie K. Schmidt, of The Graveyard Shift! She’s created some original Halloween flash fiction for our Halloween Spooktacular (below). But first, here’s a bit about the paranormal romance anthology, The Graveyard Shift, including an excerpt.
The Graveyard Shift
A Paranormal Romance Anthology
Jamie K. Schmidt
Genre: paranormal romance
Date of Publication: 6/26/16
Number of pages: 173
Word Count: 54,000
Cover Artist: Jamie K. Schmidt
Erotic, Sexy and Sweet tales of vampires, ghosts, mages, shifters and dreamers of dreams.
In this anthology, you will enter an adult bookstore run by two vampires and partake in the bloodletting and sex, see a witch accidentally summon a vampire who gains power through love making, and then go clubbing with an urban vampire.
But vampires aren’t the only supernatural beings in this compelling collection of stories. Ghosts jam with their favorite rock bands. A Grail Maiden helps protect Arthur’s cup, and a paralyzed cyber mercenary finds love inside virtual reality.
DEIRDRE WAS A EUROPEAN PRINCESS whose lineage, no one dared question too closely. She kept close companionship with Viola, a dark Countess of equal renown and deadly beauty. In a time where the night was feared, they flourished and fed at all the best parties of the nobility.
The Princess was as fair and fey as a moonbeam with silver hair and cerulean eyes. She lived for excess and to play with her new found friends.
The Countess was the opposite side of the coin. With raven locks and soulless black eyes, she was a lithe viper who struck quickly and gleaned minions from the throngs of addled noblemen.
But good times always end, even for immortal royalty and when the church’s mercenaries, The Prophecy of the Eye, became too interested in the beautiful thralls encircling the Princess and the Countess, the parties suddenly stopped.
This cycle continued for many centuries. Deirdre and Viola graced Czarist Russia, continued on to Gay Paris and finally to the New World in gin joints and sleazy jazz dives of the Big Easy.
While America lacked the polished old world charm and the distinct respect for one’s betters, it also provided more of everything else, from money and thrills, to gambling and illegal liquor.
Its wide terrain allowed the Princess and the Countess to move from state to state until technology caught up with them and they learned the value of keeping a low profile. They were able to exploit the innocence of the forties and fifties, but were swept away into a drunken frenzy of Free Love.
By the late seventies, they reached a rhythm that was blown away by the “Me” generation of the eighties and the cynical creep of the 90’s that exposed the world’s monsters in vivid detail across television screens and eventually the Internet.
Now in the new millennia, there is nowhere to hide and no other frontiers to explore. They found out the luxuries of the day could be gone in an instant. Swiss bank accounts could be seized and the Princess and the Countess could be among the nouveau poor, scraping their living feeding off homeless and runaways. They have become merchants, biding their time and hoping for another renaissance of excess.
An ignoble end for two from the finest Carpathian bloodlines.
Perhaps a fitting end some may say, for however pretty the monsters are, they are still creatures of the night— or from hell as the church’s mercenaries proclaim.
The church’s vanguards have also migrated from Europe. And like the Princess and the Countess, they have morphed and remade themselves to fit the times. Always hunting, they are similar to the women they chase, although they would balk to see the comparison. The church mercenaries seek to destroy magic and any evil that lives outside their doctrine.
Whether their victims deserve their fate or not is irrelevant.
It was so much easier for both during the simple times, where murder was accepted and random acts of violence and carnage need not be explained for helicopters with news teams or amateur videographers. They’ve learned a new dance for the modern world and it is kept to a very fine line. Like the sword of Damocles, the truce poises hair thin. It is not a matter of if that strand will break, but when.
And darkness save the innocents caught between.
Flash Fiction By Jamie K. Schmidt
I swore I was going to do it. And this time, I meant it. He had finally gone too far,
pushed my last button, and said the unforgivable.
“When I married you my dreams died.”
The fight ended quickly after that. In the vacuum silence of words that can’t be taken back, he looked as stunned as I felt. But he put up his chin with false bravado and waited for my one-two riposte. I merely left the room.
The apartment shook when he crashed the door open. He peeled out of the complex driveway in a puff of smoke and burned rubber. A huge belch came from the living room and the stench of burning sulphur wafted into my study. I came out to investigate. My husband’s words had summoned forth a creature that was too small to be a demon, too malevolent to be an imp. The creature was straddling the couch. Its
yellow eyes were narrowed at me. It hissed, showing pointy teeth. I crept closer and it swiped out at me, its bony arms like broomsticks. His scissor bladed claws cut the sleeve of my robe. I backed away, threw a pillow at it. It caught it and shredded it into confetti. What was warlock born could not be witched away but it also could not harm me. I hissed back at it and cast a protective spell around my cat, whose back was arched like the letter A.
Three days of silence passed. My husband was grumpy and sullen, rattling the paper and slamming dishes to fill up the emptiness and the quiet. I moved like the walking wounded. There was a hole in my soul where happiness once lived. I was numb.
The creature would appear and disappear. Always watching, never attacking us. It
played with itself, picked its nose. But for the most part was content with existing in the silence of our world. If my husband noticed it, he gave no sign. I ignored it.
After a week, things gradually started returning to normal. I still pretended to be asleep when he came to bed, when I wasn’t in my office all night staring at the world map and wondering if anyone out there hurt as much as I did. We didn’t talk, but I found I could meet my husband’s eyes. I saw no apology in them, but I really didn’t expect to. The creature faded slightly, became translucent.
But as I became angrier at the unfairness, the creature fed on my emotions. As I thought, “Did he think that he was the only one who sacrificed, compromised?”, it solidified again. Its teeth and claws elongated and curved into Kris daggers. The creature followed me around and would preen when I clenched and unclenched my fist.
Back in our routine, my husband would go to work and come home. I stopped making supper or cleaning the house. He could do his own laundry and fend for himself. I made phone calls and robotically did what I had to do. He would stay in watching television or stay out late in bars. I didn’t care either way. The creature would curl up on the couch beside him or swing from the drapes, depending on our moods.
Today, I heard my husband in the shower and I walked over to the window of my study and laid my forehead against the window pane. The sensation was like eating ice cream too fast and I had a giddy recollection of summer time. The door slammed and jolted me away from tire swings and seagulls. I sipped my coffee as I watched him get into his car and drive to work. He never looked up. I wonder if he even thought of me.
The creature plastered its tongue on the window, making huge streaks. Shortly after ten, the movers arrived. I sat on my kitchen counter and watched them professionally pack up my things. The creature, hidden by my invisibility spell, danced around them and jumped from box to box.
“No, that stays.” I said when they started towards the TV set. I directed them to my office and went back to my perch, slowly stirring a head ache relief potion.
The movers were expensive. But if I had to carry box after box into my car all by myself I never would have left him. It wasn’t the first time, I sat contemplating leaving. I would grab a handful of clothes from the closet and got as far as the bed with them. I’d sit and wonder if I should donate most to the Salvation Army before packing. Then I would chide myself for giving up. And I would talk myself into staying. It was harder to leave than in was to stay. We had been playing at being happy for a long time.
I received my power from my dreams and prayers. If I had made him impotent by
marrying him, then I could rectify that by leaving him. I picked up my cat and my purse and walked out to the car.
When my husband came home tonight, I wanted him to see the living room as it always was. He wouldn’t notice that my books or my knitting would be gone. Maybe he’d watch TV for a bit. Maybe he would go into the kitchen to raid the leftovers or to pop a frozen dinner in the microwave. He wouldn’t notice my coffee mugs were missing or that my teapot collection had been lovingly removed.
But he would see the creature, formed out of his belligerence and sustained by our
negative emotions. I looked up from the parking lot to see it rubbing its butt cheeks against the study windows. They would make a good couple.
About the Author:
USA Today bestselling author, Jamie K. Schmidt, writes erotic contemporary love stories and paranormal romances. Her steamy, romantic comedy Life’s a Beach reached #65 on USA Today, #2 on Barnes and Noble and #9 on Amazon. Her Club Inferno series from Random House’s Loveswept line has hit both the Amazon and Barnes and Noble top one hundred lists and the first book in the series, Heat put her on the USA Today bestseller list. Her dragon paranormal romance series from Entangled Publishing, has been called “fun and quirky” and “endearing.” Partnered with New York Times bestselling author and former porn actress, Jenna Jameson, Jamie’s hardcover debut, SPICE, continues Jenna’s FATE trilogy.
Amazon Page: http://www.amazon.com/Jamie-K.-Schmidt/e/B00B7CKKO6
Sign up for newsletter: http://jamiekschmidt.weebly.com/
A Murder of Vampires
The Imperial Vampires Series
Genre: Urban Fantasy ,Vampires
Publisher: Catherine Winters
Date of Publication: August, 2016
Number of pages: 208
Word Count: 63,000
Cover Artist: Colin Christie
Even vampires have bogeymen.
Geneviève Lacroix wasn’t really made to be a leader. Perhaps that’s why she chose to form a council instead of an empire; she wouldn’t have to bear the burden of responsibility alone. While the Council of the Undead was a success, her inability to face challenges head-on would affect vampires all over the world.
When Coventry Payne informed Geneviève of her intent to betray her sire, Grant Black, Gené did nothing. When Coventry succeeded, Gené ignored her own laws and Coventry went unpunished. When Coventry showed up asking for her own House, Gené gave her New York. When Coventry began weaving myths of Grant’s excessive violence and ruthlessness to keep fledglings in line, Gené remained silent. When Geneviève feared Coventry would make a play for the Paris Council House, she gutted it instead of fortifying it.
As Coventry continued to grow her power and influence, Grant lay bound in a box, alone in the dark, starved of blood, slowly going mad. Only Coventry hadn’t counted on the ever-increasing population of humans, the “shrinking” of the world, the eventuality that someone would stumble upon his prison and release him.
One hundred and fifty years has seen that eventuality come to pass, and now he will have his revenge. Coventry will get the bogeyman she created — although the monster she claimed he was is nothing compared to the monster he’s become.
This book is a standalone within the universe of The Imperial Vampires Series
The couple at table twenty-seven were not unusual for a Thursday dinner service. He was more handsome than most, and she more annoyed, but their clothes were expensively made and perfectly tailored, their shoes shiny and fashionable. She was perhaps too short for him; they looked a bit mismatched, but then, the gentleman was so tall that it was probably unavoidable. She was beautiful, though cold, refusing to smile even as her companion tried to charm everyone in reach. If they noticed the shaky hands and determined lack of eye contact from their waitress, they hadn’t mentioned it; if they’d noticed the series of wait staff who had subsequently tended to them, they likewise had refrained from commenting. They were, in truth, the perfect table: neither of them ate, but both drank, and were pleasant and uncomplaining. The gentleman paid the tab, and tipped extravagantly – enough so that the shaky waitress didn’t mind sharing, and even grudgingly admitted that perhaps she’d been wrong in her original estimation of his character (“Creepy.”).
The couple left the restaurant, not touching each other, not even looking at each other. They were a mismatched set indeed: he was more than a foot taller than she. He towered over her, loomed, used all his great bulk to intimidate, but she would have none of that. She opened her own doors, assuming he was following, got behind the wheel of an obscenely expensive sedan, and pulled into traffic without looking.
“Is the car bugged?” He wished not to be overheard. As did she, when it came to that – the restaurant had been merely a convenient rendezvous, not a place for conversation.
“Of course not, it’s mine.”
“You’ll forgive me if I don’t have the greatest confidence in your – What is he, anyway? Is he even there anymore?”
“Not so often as to care what I do with my personal time.” They spoke English with similar accents: softened consonants, narrow vowels, a superficially British sound with something more exotic underneath. It was the language they had in common, and the one in which they did the most business. “You didn’t drag me to Budapest to discuss Vlad.”
“True enough. I need your help.”
She laughed. “It wasn’t enough that I rolled back the stone from your tomb?”
“You did that for yourself.”
“Did I? I can’t remember what you’ve done for me since.”
“I’ve been a convenient villain, haven’t I? A tale told to fledglings so they fall in line.”
“You could have been that lying in the sarcophagus.”
“Yes, yes. I’m a terrible burden on your conscience. One has to wonder why you bothered to free me if it was going to plunge you into this ridiculous guilt.”
“One does. I do. Daily.”
“But I’ve stayed out of your way, out of Europe, like I promised, haven’t I?”
“I fear that’s going to come to an end.”
“I deserve vengeance.”
She bit her lower lip, worrying it with her teeth, drawing a tiny bead of blood that filled the car with a sweet-rotten scent, like berries gone slightly bad. A human wouldn’t have noticed, but his nostrils flared and he turned to stare at her.
“I don’t know those laws,” she said, and he could hear every ounce of relief.
“It’s not the law that gives me the right to kill them.”
“Then you don’t have that right.”
“They locked me in a box for a century and a half.”
“Didn’t you deserve it?”
“You thought I didn’t.”
She shook her head, taking a sharp right turn off the main road. They’d left the city completely behind, and he thought he knew where they might end up, but allowed her to determine their course. “I…don’t know if that’s true.”
“Then I am the villain to all of us, is that it? I’m the bogeyman, the big bad vampire?”
“We all have our roles to play,” she whispered, without looking at him.
Hey, all! *waves* I’m Catherine Winters, here to promote my newest novel, A MURDER OF VAMPIRES. It’s part of my Imperial Vampires universe, and a prequel to the Josephine Trilogy. I hope you’ll give it a try – it’s a great place to step into the series!
I’ll be honest, I struggled with this guest post for a while. I just couldn’t decide what y’all might want to read about. Writing? Reading? My characters? Why I love Star Trek so fucking much? (Probably not that last one. But feel free to message me if you’re interested. I could talk about Star Trek for days.)
Finally, someone suggested that I should just let you all get to know me. And I figure there’s no better way to do that than to see my Buzzfeed quiz results. I mean, they’re clearly the most accurate personality assessments on the interwebs, right? Right. So let’s get started!
I’m 40, based on my McDonald’s order. But also 21, based on my shoe preferences. I’ll let you guys sort it out.
I’m 100% pug, which I think is pretty damn impressive. I mean, how many pugs do you know who’ve published five novels? But I’m also somehow 67% cheese, which doesn’t seem likely, mathematically. Though I did only get a D on a basic math quiz, so maybe don’t take my word for it?
I’m 64% keen, which I think must be a British quiz, because it means, like, smart? And since I got 8/10 on the “Can you guess the animal from its French name” quiz, I’m going with smart. At least with words.
According to a visual test, I think I should live in London, but should actually live in Sydney. Denver, where I actually do live, was not an option, which is straight-up bullshit, yo. Denver is the place to be, as so clearly evidenced by all the out-of-state license plates I’ve been seeing lately. I’m also never going to get married, which will be news to Mr. Winters, who thinks we walked the aisle at least a decade ago. (Fun trick if I’m 21, eh?) And our fat, grumpy, orange tabby is apparently most like a black panther. I’ll believe it when I see it.
I am not a die-hard Disney fan, though to be fair, the quiz was about the parks, mostly, and not the actual stories. I know a lot of useless facts, but not a lot of them are about theme parks. Sorry, Charlie. As for which famous redhead will play me in the movie of my life? Julianne Moore. I was hoping for Tess Holliday – she’s much more my style – but who am I to argue with the Buzzfeed gods?
So. There you go. I hope you’ve got a pretty good idea of who I am, now, based on the world’s most accurate metric: A 21-40-year-old unmarried married pug, who is kind of smart, doesn’t know jack about Disney, looks like Julianne Moore, is more than half cheese, and should live with her black panther in London or perhaps Sydney.
Sounds about right. 😉
About the Author:
Catherine Winters writes urban fantasy, women’s fiction, and literary fiction. She is an undefeated four-time Chopped champion and the principal mezzo-soprano for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Denver. When she’s not writing or singing, she enjoys teaching French to cats. At least one of these things is actually true.
We welcome Krista Carlson, author of Gryphon’s Passing. She’s written some original flash fiction for the Halloween Spooktacular (see below), but first, here’s a little bit about her book, Gryphon’s Passing. And be sure to check out the giveaway at the bottom of the post!
Krista M. Carlson
Genre: Supernatural fiction
Date of Publication: March 23, 2015
Number of pages: 270
Word Count: 79,553
Cover Artist: Krista M. Carlson
When her older half-brother unexpectedly commits suicide, Crystal is devastated.
The only thing she thinks will take away the pain is understanding why he did it. What she doesn’t know is the danger her search will create for her family when she dabbles in magick and calls something forth from the grave that wasn’t what she intended.
If she can learn how to control and subdue the supernatural, she may find the answers she seeks. If not, the thing that led her brother to commit suicide is going to continue picking off her family members one by one.
Fortunately for Crystal, her brother left behind a friend who may be willing to give her some much-needed guidance.
Crystal walked to the river in the moonlight, amazed as always by how she could see as well in the dark when it was like this as she could in broad daylight. She hadn’t checked the calendar, but it seemed to be a perfect full moon. She was always drawn to a full moon like a lover. On nights like this, she could feel how charged the air was. The energy felt electric, like she could pull it into herself and do anything with it. The night held expectation and promise and vibrated with life. She could hear the frogs croaking and the sounds of night creatures around her in the distance. She had heard reports of mountain lions in the area and her parents didn’t like her walking alone in the dark because of what might be out there, but she didn’t care. She loved to slip out of the house in the dead of night and go for a run in the oak canyons, miles from anything where no one would ever find her if she disappeared. There was a thrill in being that free, and probably some thrill in the danger of it.
She walked through the cottonwood trees and stared at the water. It had rained hard the night before and the water was deep and churned up, muddy with debris. It would be three or four days before it would be all right to swim in it again. As she stood watching, she thought she saw a body floating in the water, face down and blue. She stifled a scream and walked closer to see it, but it was gone. She rubbed her eyes and wondered if not getting enough sleep was making her hallucinate.
The wind picked up just then and caused last year’s dead leaves to swirl around her. “Crystal.” She heard her name but couldn’t hear where it was coming from. “Crystal, where are you?” She felt the goosebumps on her arms and couldn’t answer through her fear. “Crystal.” It was ahead of her, and then she heard it behind her, just the slightest whisper on the breeze.
“Crystal, I’ve been looking all over for you.” Mike said, coming up behind her. Max had come down to the river with Mike, and he nuzzled his wet nose into Crystal’s hand.
She wiped Max’s slobber off her hand and onto her shorts. “Christ, Mike, you scared the hell out of me!”
“Well, who else is going to be out looking for you in the dark?”
“I–I don’t know.” She stammered. “It’s just that I thought I saw something in the water just now.”
“What was it?”
“I don’t know. Nothing, I guess. Just for a minute, it looked like a body or something. I’m sure it wasn’t. I’ve just been a little spooked lately.”
“You’re not the only one, Sis. Come on, let’s go back.”
“Is Joe still here?”
“No, he’s gone. Mom said he’s leaving for Colorado tonight. I guess he doesn’t want to be in the house anymore. I can’t say as I blame him.”
“Me neither.” Crystal said. She was thinking that made going through Nick’s things easier.
“He’s not coming back, Crystal—at least not for a while. Mom said we could have what we wanted from the house and that he’s going to put it up for sale.”
“Damn. I wonder what it’s been like for him living there since it happened. It had to be hell. Do you think it’s haunted now?”
She shrugged, and they walked back to the house in silence, the question hanging in the air. Mike kicked at clumps of dirt along the way, and Crystal was lost in her thoughts. A bullfrog bellowed in the distance, and the horses ran and nipped at each other in the pasture. The night still seemed charged with electricity, like right before a storm.
What Happens at Midnight Stays at Midnight
It was pushing midnight as I left the office, and the chill of the January night seemed to creep through my bones like a virus, starting first with my flesh and then eating deeper into my muscles before creeping into my internal organs. As I left through the back door of the bank building, I noticed someone had left the gate to the courtyard behind the bank open. It had always been locked, as far back as I could remember, under the pretense that the owners didn’t want people going inside to smoke and leaving their cigarette butts lying about or some such thing. But, tonight, the huge iron gate stood ajar.
From the conference room window of my law firm, eight floors above, I had sometimes peered down into the enclosed area with the ivy climbing up the brick wall on the far side, yearning to go in there and sit on one of the stone benches, with my toes absently stroking the green grass, and get lost in some fiction novel instead of meeting with whatever poor broken-hearted soul was asking me to solve their problems at the moment. I had never seen anyone actually go inside, but the grass was short and it was well kept, so someone had to enter it. I remember vaguely wondering if someone mowed that grass at midnight or when it was done. An ancient looking, gnarled tree stands in the center of the courtyard and extends its many bent arms and crooked fingers out over the whole area so that sunlight only barely manages to filter through its leaves and dapple the ground below. That is all I could ever really see of that mysterious little section of city, because a high, wrought-iron fence encircles it. It is the kind of fence that has narrow spaces between the bars and wicked sharp points on top, which forbids trespass by its presence much more effectively than any security officer could have done.
Tonight, as I paused in the dead of winter at the gap in the barrier and peered through that two or three foot opening where the gate was inclined inward, I looked up at the tree, and its gnarled fingers seemed even more skeletal than usual. I stood for a long moment considering, before I stepped inside the gate. I didn’t particularly want to mar my clean–or mostly clean–record with criminal trespass charges, but I couldn’t just walk on by without looking inside. Perhaps had it been warmer outside, I might have stood there and contemplated a bit longer, but icicles forming on one’s eyelashes do have a way of motivating one to seize the day–or the night as the case might be.
I shoved my car keys into my pocket and stepped cautiously through and around the gate, peering around it to make sure that no one was on the other side. It was deserted and quiet, and somehow warmer on the inside. I felt myself stop shivering almost as soon as I passed through the gate. It was also much, much quieter than it was outside the gate. Somehow, the noises from the city were muffled. I saw now, as I stood next to it, that the rough bark on the ancient tree spiraled upwards, and that the bark was not arranged randomly as ordinary bark might be. I looked around at the arrangement of stepping stones carefully laid out on what would otherwise have been the green lawn of my fantasies during the summertime. I had never noticed them from up above when I had looked out of the window. The stones were in an almost perfect circular pattern, or perhaps a spiral, I thought, as I came closer to them and saw more of the rough-hewn white stones appear.
I backed up, not quite trusting my eyes, because the inner swirls of the spiral had not at first appeared until I was near its edge. Sure enough, as I got back closer to the gate, only the perimeter of the stone circle showed. I looked up at the bright smattering of stars that glimmered through the twisted branches of the tree, and around the perimeter of the courtyard at the stone bench sitting nonchalantly against the brick wall and it all looked so ordinary, but as I approached the circle of stepping stones at the center, inner swirls of stones again began to appear. I then noticed that they were not flat, but rather curved inward and into a vortex of sorts.
I came and stood on the edge of the circle and it seemed to me that while the circle had a depth to it, that the depth seemed to change and shimmer somehow, one minute appearing to go on forever, and the next minute, appearing to only be slightly concave. I rubbed my eyes, and shook my head, trying to clear the cobwebs from my brain, and then, because I had to, I gingerly, put one foot over the outer perimeter and onto the ground between it and the next row of stones. It felt like perfectly ordinary ground and I began to walk forward and to follow the path the lines made, not at first looking up, and only looking down at my high heels. The ground was slightly damp so that my heels sank in and I was trying not to lose a shoe or fall down. I noticed it becoming significantly warmer, and my muscles started to relax. Gone was the tension I had felt from the cold. I looked up and saw that there were dirt walls on my sides, not deep, but in layers extending outward such that the one beside me was maybe two feet tall, the next four feet tall and so on. It occurred to me that the spiral was getting progressively tighter, and it was then that I came to a doorway.
A doorway is not quite accurate because there was actually no door, only dark space like a yawning mouth. Had it actually been a mouth, I would have been standing on its tongue and it would have been about to swallow me hole. Somehow, this didn’t bother me at the time. I was only curious. I went through the door and as soon as I passed through, I found a large, brightly lit cavern. I couldn’t quite tell what the light source was. It seemed like I was in the daylight and it felt like sunshine, but there was no sun in the sky or whatever passed for sky that loomed above me. There was no real color to it. It was not the blue summer sky that I might expect, and it was not the gloomy grey of winter that I was used to. Neither was it dark, nor particularly white. It just was. Mostly the world was green. There was vegetation everywhere, but no animals or birds, or even insects as far as I could see. The landscape was varied by hills and mounds and what appeared to be more stone circles in the distance. Everywhere about me were those same gnarled trees with the spiral bark swirling around them and upward. The ground was lush with freshly mown-grass.
I didn’t know exactly what else to do, so I kicked off my high heels and I sat on the grass. I felt the ground shift under me and conform to my body like the memory foam in my favorite pillow. I was instantly comfortable and at ease and as I settled back, I felt like I was being lulled into a kind of peace that I had not felt in a very long time. It was like floating in the hot tub with the jets off. I was warm and cozy and everything felt right.
I closed my eyes and I began to feel like the trees were watching me. I became uneasily aware of their presence. I felt their consciousness. When I opened my eyes, the trees were in their same places, not having moved or advanced in on me. But now, I became aware of certain bushes nearby which looked somehow sentient.
It was not long before I heard first the thoughts of the trees, and then the thoughts of the bushes, intrude into my consciousness. I knew they were not trying to be invasive, but there they were, nonetheless, in my own mind with me. Some were soft and subtle, and I felt the slightest, tinkling vibration of their thoughts. Others felt more like coarse stones rubbing together, a deep growling grumble. The bushes were lighter presences, more airy and I sensed they were not as intelligent as the trees. Perhaps they were only younger. I could feel my consciousness merging with the trees, and I began to resist, fearing I would lose my own identity and that they would absorb it somehow. I could feel my mind expanding to encompass all of the world below, and then it begin to spread upward through those spirals on the tree trunks into the world above. I was being stretched and pulled and merging with everything green on the planet and I knew my sanity could not last more than another heartbeat or two. It was then that I felt myself connecting to the billions of individual blades of grass, all with their own identities and yet all connected, some down below with me in this world which were vibrant and green, and others up above mercifully dormant and quiet. That was when I finally felt my consciousness fracture like a mirror being dropped and a million shards of broken reflection exploded into my mind’s eye.
And then, there I was, sitting in my car in the parking garage looking out from above the courtyard. The keys were in the ignition and it was running, but I had no idea how I had gotten there. I looked down and saw that I was missing my shoes. Those particular high heels weren’t that expensive anyway, and I supposed I could live without them, but I didn’t really want to drive home barefoot. I got out of my car and looked down and into the courtyard. The iron gate was firmly and solidly closed. There would be no going back after my shoes. There was nothing to do except to drive home. With the concrete of the parking garage floor fast leeching the warmth from my body, I decided it had better be sooner rather than later. I cast one last quick look back over my shoulder at the courtyard as I left, wondering if the gate would ever open for me again.
The clock inside struck midnight as she watched the waning moon through the trees. It had been a long week, trying to fit in at work, trying to be proper in such a stuffy world where she didn’t belong. She had been to her breaking point these last few months, feeling her world crumbling around her until she had begun to believe it was karma. She had started to think she deserved it for betraying her family to seek a soulmate. She had known what she was doing was wrong when she did it, but she had wanted more. Now, she thought she was paying for it as she saw her career ending and contemplated moving by herself to another town to try to start over. Karma was catching up with her and it wasn’t going to give her any peace.
Sighing, she rose from her spot on the lawn and went inside to put some shoes on. She needed to clear her head, needed the cool comfort of the forest. She changed into jeans and then pulled on a pair of boots. There were thorn bushes in the forest where she was headed, among other things. She grabbed a flashlight and pulled the door shut behind her, slipping into the dark as silently as a cat.
She knew the path well enough in the daylight, but her feet were the only ones who took it, so the ground was undisturbed, the branches of the trees unbroken, and the progress slow. She made her way through the backyard, down the hill, over a mossy tree and around what almost looked like a stone pathway. The stones were natural limestone and flat, and the line of them, pale green against the darker green earth of the forest was what had drawn her to the stream and the ancient oaks the first time.
As she neared the stream, she slipped her boots off and sat them on the last of the stones. Where she wanted to go could only be reached by walking in the stream. She rolled her jeans up as far as she could and stepped into the water. It was the first of October and she gasped at the chill of the water as she stepped in. It served to clear her mind and bring her in touch with the present though. It was hard to think of anything but the icy sting of the water in the stream.
She made her way upstream, squishing her toes in the mud on the bottom and avoiding the more rocky areas where she might cut her feet on the stones. She came then to a shallow place in the water where there was a clearing in the woods. She stepped out onto the mossy bank, and looked up through the branches of the oak and ash trees at the moon winking in the night sky. One Oak tree stood in the center of the clearing, larger than the rest. Its brethren flanked it in an impressive warrior formation. Those trees thrummed with power that she could feel like a heartbeat, standing on top of their roots with her own bare feet.
She stood, head bowed, hand on the tree’s trunk, clearing her mind and soaking up the energy in the clearing. As she did, she felt herself growing stronger. She felt her heartbeat grow strong and regular. Doubts faded, and the headache she had felt for the last week relaxed as she let the tension leave her muscles for the first time in as many days. She breathed in the night air and breathed in power.
She heard a twig snap very near her before she heard the low growl only feet away and to her left. Her heart skipped a beat and her stomach clenched as she realized she was not alone. She hoped that it was not hungry. Then she heard another low growl to her right, and another behind her.
She almost panicked, almost made a run for the stream, before she heard the tree laugh. “What are you afraid of?” It asked. “You too are a creature of the night and you are twice the monster they are.” She laughed then and patted a thank you in answer against the tree’s bark.
“I am.” She said. “I am a monster,” she shouted at the shadowy figures. “And you are nothing but dogs. I am more monster than you will ever be because I was once human.” She added with a growl. They stared each other down, she daring them to come forward and take her. She wanted them to do it. She wanted to savagely rip them apart, starting with their jaws. Perhaps sensing her pent-up rage and frustration, and her desire to fight to the death, they bowed their knee to her before they slunk back into the night.
About the Author:
Krista Carlson was born in South Dakota, in 1980, to a farmer and a librarian. She grew up in Ord, Nebraska with an older brother, and they were homeschooled, which meant that they spent a great deal of their time riding horses, swimming in the river and anything else they could think of to avoid studying. She did rather enjoy books though, especially literature and history, and so, after having her first son a young age, she began to pursue her education seriously. By the time she was seventeen, she was married with two sons and had a year of college behind her. She later graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor’s Degree in History and then went on to graduate from law school with distinction in 2008. Upon graduation, she became a civil defense attorney with a firm in Lincoln, Nebraska. While studying History at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, she began to explore her interest in magick and spent the traditional year and a day with a local Wiccan coven. This interest prompted her to write her debut novel, Gryphon’s Passing, which was released in March of 2015.