Saturday, November 30, 2013

#AmReading - The Binding by L. Filloon @LFilloon

The Binding by L. Filloon


Two nights after her eighteenth birthday, Lily is attacked while out jogging but is saved by Tharin Lunar, a Sidhe prince. When she discovers her attacker is her own brother, Lucas, who disappeared four years ago, Lily refuses to believe he would truly hurt her and becomes determined to find Lucas and bring him home. She finds Lucas's disappearance is somehow tied to Tharin; so when he informs her that she is his betrothed and must return with him to Velesi, fulfill a treaty between their families and unite the two strongest clans through their marriage, Lily agrees. However, she is not going to Velesi for a wedding, but to bring home her only family, Lucas.
On their journey to the borders of Velesi, the realm of the Thirteen Clans, they are pursued by a Sidhe assassin group call the Ange, meet with an ogre crime lord that ends badly, deal with a sleazy troll motel manager, and when they discover there is a bounty on their heads, they must keep one step ahead of every assassin, bounty hunter and low-life criminal from Velesi.
Protecting Lily has become the biggest challenge of Tharin's life. Lucky for him he has help in the form of his twin brother, Tolan, Lily's best friend Julia and his three bodyguard cousins – Alorn, Phoris and Mellis.

Peter Simmons and the Vessel of Time by Ramz Artso @RamzArtso


Chapter 4

Portland, Oregon

October 22nd

Afternoon Hours

I sauntered out of the school building with my friends in tow and pulled on a thickly woven hat to cover my fluffy flaxen hair, which was bound to be frolic even in the mildest of breezes. I took a deep breath and scrutinized my immediate surroundings, noticing an armada of clouds scudding across the sky. It was a rather blustery day. The shrewd, trilling wind had all but divested the converging trees off their multicolored leaves, pasting them on the glossy asphalt and graffiti adorned walls across the road. My spirits were quickly heightened by this observation, and I suddenly felt rejuvenated after a long and taxing day at school. I didn’t know why, but the afternoon’s indolent weather appealed to me very much. I found it to be a congenial environment. For unexplainable reasons, I felt like I was caught amidst a fairytale. It was this eerie feeling which came and went on a whim. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Perhaps it was triggered by the subconscious mind brushing against a collage of subliminal memories, which stopped resurfacing partway through the process.

Anyhow, there I was, enjoying the warm and soporific touch of the autumn sun on my face, engaging in introspective thoughts of adolescent nature when Max Cornwell, a close, meddlesome friend of mine, called me from my rhapsodic dream with a sharp nudge in the ribs.

‘Hey, man! You daydreaming?’

I closed my eyes; feeling a little peeved, took a long drag of the wakening fresh air and gave him a negative response by shaking my head.

‘Feel sick or something?’ he persisted.

I wished he would stop harping on me, but it looked like Max had no intention of letting me enjoy my moment of glee, so I withdrew by tartly saying, ‘No, I’m all right.’

‘Hey, check this out,’ said George Whitmore,–who was another pal of mine–wedging himself between me and Max. He held a folded twenty dollar bill in his hand, and his ecstatic facial expression suggested that he had just chanced upon the find by sheer luck.

‘Is that yours?’ I asked, knowing very well that it wasn’t.

‘No, I found it on the floor of the auditorium. Just seconds before the last period ended.’

‘Then perhaps you should report your discovery to the lost and found. I’m sure they’ll know what to do with it there.’

‘Yeah, right. That’s exactly what I’m going to do,’ he said, snorting derisively. He then added in a somewhat defensive tone, as if trying to convince himself more than anyone else, ‘I found it, so it’s mine–right?’

I considered pointing out that his intentions were tantamount to theft, but shrugged it off instead, and followed the wrought-iron fence verging the school grounds before exiting by the small postern. I was in no mood for an argument, feeling too tired to do anything other than run a bath and soak in it. Therefore, I expunged the matter from my mind, bid goodbye to both George and Max and plunged into the small gathering of trees and brush which we, the kids, had dubbed the Mini Forest. It was seldom traveled by anyone, but we called it that because of its size, which was way too small to be an actual forest, and a trifle too large to be called otherwise.

I was whistling a merry tune, and wending my way home with a spring in my step, when my ears abruptly pulled back in fright. All of a sudden, I couldn’t help but feel as if I was being watched. But that wasn’t all. I felt like someone was trying to look inside of me. Right into me. As if they were rummaging in my soul, searching its every nook and cranny, trying to fish up my deepest fears and darkest secrets. It was equivalent to being stripped naked in front of a large audience. Steeling myself for something ugly, I felt the first stirrings of unease.


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Genre – Young-adult, Action and Adventure, Coming of Age, Sci-fi

Rating – PG-13

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Her Books Presents: Book Club Picks @Kathleen01930

The painter Georges Braque once said that there is only one valuable thing in art, the thing that you cannot explain. All my life I have marveled at people who think they understand things, that they have answers. Such confidence is astonishing to me. For many years, I thought myself deficient in that I never felt I knew much of anything. It was only when I began to study art, to seriously study art, that I realized what passed for great assurance and knowledge in many people was simply their decision to terminate their thinking at the point where they became uncomfortable.
It is to me one of life’s great mysteries that there are those who can ignore or eliminate feelings that they don’t want. I never thought I had a choice. I thought that the assault of emotions that were so much an everyday part of my life as a child were as confusing to everyone as they were to me. I don’t remember when I first realized that not only did most people not feel and sense and experience what I did, they didn’t believe such experiences existed.
The study of art was my salvation. I thought I was mad - so did a good many other people. But when I began to look at art and to let it enter my spirit as erotically and powerfully as a lover would enter my body, I realized something that has haunted all of my life. I am different. I am both blessed and cursed. I was born missing a layer of protection between myself and the world that most people have and are totally unaware of having. And, worse, there is no way for me to acquire it. I am like those strange invalids whose resistance to every form of bacteria is so fragile that they can only exist inside a climate-controlled bubble. Only it is not bacteria that infects me and threatens my wellbeing, it is something far less tangible. I am profoundly sensitive to energetic forces that I cannot explain - powerful feelings, hidden longings, mysterious urges, strong thoughts - all the things that most people do their best to conceal from the world. They are as real and accessible to me as the beauty mark on a pretty girl’s cheekbone or the delight in a man’s eyes when he beholds her.
My name is Tempest Hobbs. I am descended from a long line of sensitives. One of my great grandmothers, many generations back, was Deliverance Hobbs who was tried as a witch in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692. But my great (I forget how many greats) grandmother was not among those executed on Gallows Hill. Her life was spared because she confessed. She admitted she was a witch.
I have lived in Salem all my life but for a few years spent at college and studying abroad. What I learned when away from Salem was that, different though I am, this difference is less tolerable in much of the world than it is here in Salem. In Salem there are three kinds of people: those who think the metaphysical is nonsense; those who have developed clever ways to earn their living from metaphysical gifts which they may or may not actually possess; and those, like me, who live with this curse in whatever form it takes, and do our best to lead a normal life. Whatever that is.
These days Salem has transformed into a theme park of the occult. Witch museums, psychic readers and astrologers, shops offering amulets and potions, tarot cards and herbs, draw tourists from around the country. I need only  leave the house here off of Derby Street to walk past business after business catering to this trade. I pass Derby Wharf where the Official Witch of Salem sells feathers and beads, rocks and books, past Pyramid Books filled with hundreds of books on every manner of occult and metaphysical subject. I turn the corner and walk up Hawthorne Boulevard past Fatima’s Psychic Studio and turn down Essex Street past Crow Haven Corner. Between these establishments are smaller shops. The occult is big business here in Salem. By the time I arrive at the Peabody Essex Museum where I work I have been assaulted by every conceivable sort of metaphysical purveyor.
Let me add that I am not one of those who choose to make use of their metaphysical endowments. I don’t call what I have a gift. Curse would be more appropriate. Curse because I have no say in the matter. As a child I was often the recipient of a stern look, a sharp rebuke, or a swat, and I never knew why. When I tried to comfort my mother’s friend for being sad when her latest lover abandoned her, she flew into a tizzy and called me a presumptuous little shit. How was I to know that it was crucial to her pride that everyone think the man had left due to a job offer in another city and not because he was tired of her?
My father’s family was somewhat more tolerant. My mother’s never much liked me.
“Sweetie,” my Aunt Honor Hobbs would say, “you’ve got to be more careful how you talk to people. Grownups can be very proud. They don’t like it when you tell their secrets.”
“But, Auntie H,” I’d wail, “I didn’t tell any secrets. I heard her say she was miserable without him and would be so good to him if he would just come back. She asks God all the time to make him come back to her!” My indignation was as righteous as my feelings were wounded.
“I know, baby,” she sighed, holding my hands, kissing my cheeks and my damaged pride. “I know you hear her say those things.  But they were secret things to her, she didn’t want anyone else to know about them.”
“But then why did she say them?”
Of course, what Auntie H had no way to explain to me was that though people were not talking to me, I was listening to them. It confused me for years.
Art, blessed art, was my salvation. It all began with a painting of a girl in a garden by Robert Vonnah that hung in the Colonial Tavern’s Tearoom where Auntie H took me for lunch or treats.
Auntie H Hobbs was a beautiful woman. I spent more of my childhood with her than I did with my parents. My mother was a nurse at the local hospital and my father taught auto mechanics in a nearby vocational-technical school. We lived near Collins Cove on the way to the Salem Willows, but Auntie H lived in an eighteenth-century house just around the corner from the House of the Seven Gables.  My earliest memories are of days spent at Auntie H’s, day-dreaminging in her wild, fragrant garden, learning to play the piano and knit in her pretty parlor, walking down the street to where it ended at a small stony beach along Salem Harbor. Even after I started school at St. Bernadette’s I’d walk down Derby Street, past Pickering Wharf and the liquor store called Bunghole - a name that made the boys laugh hysterically, though it was years before I figured out why. I passed the Customs House where Nathaniel Hawthorne once worked, and the Maritime Park, and then went down Auntie H’s little side street. When Mama came for me after her shift at the hospital, I always begged to be allowed to stay over which was fine with Auntie H. She’d put on one of her spectacular silk kimonos and a slouchy velvet hat with feathers or roses. We’d walk back across Derby Street to the Colonial Tavern.
The painting hung in a gilded frame between two of the front windows and, if the table below it was available, I’d claim it before the server had a chance to seat us. I thought the painting was the most perfect thing I had ever seen. The garden reminded me of Auntie H’s, filled with pink and white flowers with touches of blue and violet. The girl was young, dressed in pink with a sash around her waist. She sat, hands folded in her lap, leaning against a tree. Her eyes were closed. Auntie H told me the name of the painting was “Daydreamer”. I loved it.
What I loved the most was that when I looked at it, when I focused on it, I could shut out all the chatter that seemed to be going on in my head.  If I wasn’t concentrating there were all these strange thoughts that assaulted me as people passed by... I love that, wonder if it’s for sale... I hate that, impressionists are a bore... Wouldn’t mind nailing her... Wonder what that’s worth... But when I looked at the painting, let my mind enter into it, shutting out everything except the beauty of the work, the voices went away. It’s been that way ever since.
Let me tell you something about this Curse, it makes leading a normal life impossible. There are times when I am less conscious of it than at others but there is always this incessant buzz, this tickle of emotions, this awareness of stuff that is not my business, and that I don’t want to know. I have no idea how I got this way. Was it something inherited from my infamous ancestor? I don’t know. But it makes my life more miserable than you would believe. I won’t bore you with the recitation of boyfriends that have come and gone in my life. Gone, all of them. But that is not the worst.
You may have seen true crime shows on television in which a psychic is involved. Perhaps you think it is a joke or a scam, something to snicker about. I can’t speak for other sensitives but from my own experience I can tell you it is more horrible than anyone can imagine. It has happened to me three times. The last one was the worst. It went on for months and ended badly. Believe me when I tell you the emotions that assailed me through those months, right up to the bitter end, were indescribable. My mother, a nurse for close to forty years, could scarcely bear to approach the hospital’s locked ward where the most traumatic cases were confined. She could not bear to see what had become of her daughter, the weeping, terrified wreck that huddled in a rocking chair begging to die. My poor mother.
              I have been home and back at work for four weeks now. But I sometimes wonder how much longer I will be able to hang on.
Samples to Savor: Book Club Picks, presented by Her Books:
Discover your book club’s next page-turner and spark fascinating conversations with your friends in this free sampling from eight bestselling authors. You’ll find rich prose, evocative plots, compelling characters and surprising twists from:
Finding Emma by Steena Holmes
Composing Myself by Elena Aitken
Spare Change by Bette Lee Crosby
The Scandalous Ward by Karla Darcy
The Tree of Everlasting Knowledge by Christine Nolfi
The Promise of Provence by Patricia Sands
Broken Pieces by Rachel Thompson
Depraved Heart by Kathleen Valentine
About the Author(s):
Bestselling authors Steena Holmes, Elena Aitken, Rachel Thompson, Patricia Sands, Christine Nolfi, Kathleen Valentine, Bette Lee Crosby and Karla Darcy provide readers worldwide with contemporary fiction and nonfiction releases ranging from historical romance to literary.
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Genre –  Women’s Fiction
Rating – PG
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Friday, November 29, 2013

#AmReading - UnEnchanted by Chanda Hahn @ChandaHahn

UnEnchanted by Chanda Hahn


Mina Grime is unlucky, unpopular and uncoordinated; that is until she saves her crush's life on a field trip, changing her High School status from loser to hero overnight. But with her new found fame brings misfortune in the form of an old family curse come to light. For Mina is a descendant from the Brothers Grimm and has inherited all of their unfinished fairy tale business which includes trying to outwit a powerful Story from making her its' next fairy-tale victim.
To break the fairy tale curse on her family and make these deadly occurrences stop, Mina must finish the tales until the very Grimm end.

Author Interview – Diane Mulligan @Mulligan_writes

Image of Diane Vanaskie Mulligan

What genre are you most comfortable writing?

I’m most comfortable writing realistic, contemporary fiction, probably because of the old adage, “write what you know.” I’d love to write a historical novel or a ghost story, but I don’t have time to do research while also maintaining a full time job, and I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to craft a believable ghost story.

What inspired you to write your first book?

My students. I used to moderate a weekly writing club at the high school where I teach. Each week I’d write with the kids. They were so enthusiastic and creative, and I think their excitement infected me, too. My first novel WATCH ME DISAPPEAR is for teens. I wanted to write something my young writers would enjoy.

What do you consider the most challenging about writing a novel, or about writing in general?

Revision. Drafting is easy and fun, but taking that raw material and shaping it into a meaningful, organized finished product takes a lot of time, effort, and insight, and the ability to self-reflect. I can draft all day, but revision takes discipline.

What is your greatest strength as a writer?

I think my greatest strength as a writer is my ability to sympathize with people, even people whom I disagree with or who do things I would never do. I’m really interested in what makes people tick, and fiction allows me to explore that. In THE LATECOMERS FAN CLUB, I wrote from the point of view of Nathaniel, who is a total jerk, but it was so fun to peek inside his head and even though he’s despicable, I had a lot of compassion for him.

How did you come up with the title of your latest work?

I went through dozens of titles before settling on THE LATECOMERS FAN CLUB. Way back in the beginning, the title was WORK OF ART (IN PROGRESS), which was a play on the fact that one of the main characters, Maggie, is an aspiring artist. That title, however, became increasingly irrelevant with each draft as I added more characters and focused less on the artistic side of Maggie and more on her daily life. As I finished the last draft, I had a piece of scrap paper with words, phrases, and themes on it. I kept it by my bedside and just kept adding to it, but none of the items on the list had the right ring or pizazz. The only idea I had was THE LATECOMERS, which was both the name of one of the main character’s band and an apt phrase to describe all the main characters, who are a little late in growing up. When I googled that name, however, I discovered dozens of books with that title, most of them bodice-ripping romance tales. I thought I might have to scrap the entire latecomer idea, but then, as I was trying to find a title that would bind all three point of view characters together, the phrase “fan club” occurred to me, and voila! I had a title.

The Latecomers Fan Club

What is it about guys with guitars in their hands that makes them so irresistible, even when they are obviously self-centered jerks? If Abby and Maggie could answer that question, maybe they could finally get over Nathaniel. There’s just something about him when he picks up his guitar and gets behind the microphone, something that makes sensible women act like teenyboppers instead of rational, self-respecting adults.

Abby was first sucked in by Nathaniel’s rock ‘n roll swagger four years ago when a drunken fling turned into a series of drunken hook-ups that became something like a relationship. Now, as New Year’s Eve promises a fresh start, she wants to believe he’s finally going to grow up and take their relationship seriously.

What does Nathaniel hope the New Year will bring? An escape from the disappointing realities of his life. He’s thirty-four years old and he’s barely making ends meet as an adjunct philosophy professor, which was always only a backup plan anyway. Nathaniel’s real goal was always to make his living as a musician, but his band, The Latecomers, broke up a couple of years ago, and he hasn’t picked up his guitar in months.

When he decides to spend the holiday with some high school friends instead of hanging out at the bar where Abby works, he gets the happy surprise of reuniting with his long-lost friend Maggie. Newly divorced, Maggie has just moved back to her mother’s house to regroup. Nathaniel and Maggie were supposed to be the ones who left Worcester forever to conquer the world. He was going to be a rock star. She was going to take the world of art by storm. He’s never gotten farther than Boston, and her best efforts only left her broke and heartbroken.

As they ring in the New Year together, Nathaniel decides it’s time to take control of his life and to start making his dreams come true. He thinks the first step will be easy. All he needs to do is break up with Abby and finally admit his feelings for Maggie. But the New Year has more surprises in store, and nothing is ever as simple as it seems.

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Genre – Women’s Literature

Rating – PG-13

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Thursday, November 28, 2013

#Bargain Sand Dollar: A Story of Undying Love by Sebastian Cole @sebastiancole3

Beverly Hills Book Award winner, USA Best Book Award finalist, ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Award bronze winner, International Book Award finalist, ForeWord Firsts debut literary competition finalist.
The story opens with Noah Hartman, eighty years old, lying on his deathbed recounting his life of love and loss to Josh, a compassionate orderly at the hospital. As Noah’s loved ones arrive one by one, they listen in on his story, and we’re transported back in time to Noah’s younger years.
Though outwardly seeming to have it all, Noah, now thirty-five, is actually an empty, lost, and broken man running on automatic pilot. He has no true identity due to having allowed his powerful, wealthy parents to manipulate, control, and brainwash him from a young age. With the threat of disinheritance and withholding love and approval if he doesn’t comply with the plan they have for his life, Noah is lured in by the reward of great wealth and the illusion of running the family business empire some day.
Enter Robin, twenty-five years old, who — in direct contrast to Noah — is a vivacious, free spirit. Full of life and always living in the moment, Robin’s love saves Noah by inspiring him to stand up to his parents and live his own life at all costs, reclaiming his true self.
They get married, and while snorkeling in the Caribbean, the captain of the boat warns them not to disturb anything in the sea. Ignoring the exhortation, Noah dives down and snags a sand dollar from the ocean floor, whereupon it explodes in his hand. With the fragile sand dollar taking on new significance, Robin inexplicably leaves Noah shortly after returning from their honeymoon. Like a passing breeze, she disappears out of his life without a trace, seemingly forever.
Years pass, and Noah still can’t get Robin out of his mind and out of his heart. After all, the one he loved the most would forever be the one who got away. That’s when he finds out about her hidden secret, the underlying condition responsible for her leaving. Noah has no choice but to move on with his life without her, meeting Sarah at the premiere of SAND DOLLAR, the movie he wrote about his time with Robin.
Years later, it’s Noah and Sarah’s wedding day, and Robin discovers a clue that Noah had surreptitiously inserted into the movie, inspiring her to race to the wedding to try to stop it. With the wedding in shambles, the scene jumps back to present day, with both Robin and Sarah placed in Noah’s hospital room. But which one did he choose?
As Noah wraps up his story, he discovers a far greater truth about the past, present, and future. Things are definitely not as they appear as the pieces of a shattered love are put back together in the remarkable final chapter of Noah’s life.
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Genre – Contemporary Romance
Rating – PG 13
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Birth of an Assassin by Rik Stone @stone_rik

Chapter 5
For three weeks, Jez watched his peers leave for the front while his presence wasn’t even acknowledged by the sergeant. He had to face up to him, and find out why.
“Excuse me, Sergeant Sharansky.”
“Yes, private, come in.”
He bent as he pushed through the flaps and into the tent. “If I may, Sergeant, I’ll get straight to the point.” Sharansky sat back and nodded. “You seem to be of an opinion that I wouldn’t be of much use in the field. I’ve trained KooKooEh ever since I got here and…”
“And?” the sergeant broke in.
He stood further to attention. “Sergeant, I know this war is bitter and casualties high. I just don’t understand why my skills are not put to better use.”
“Oh – a tantrum. The boy isn’t getting his way.”
Rankled, Jez discarded caution. “It’s not like that, Sergeant, no, I…”
“All right… all right,” the sergeant conceded, and lifted a hand to silence him. “We’ve received information of a rooftop party for a group of significant conservative officers. I’ve looked at your records. Seems you can shoot, but you’ve never killed. Do you think you can go the distance?”
Had Sharansky waited for him to make this approach?
“Yes, Sergeant, you’re right, I haven’t killed, but there has to be a first time for everyone. I’m ready, it won’t be a problem.”
“It’d better not be. Get your combat gear together and make sure you’re ready to travel at first light. Don’t worry about weapons, I’ll sort them out.”
Night still contested with day as Jez emerged. The KKE boy sat behind the wheel with Sergeant Sharansky next to him. It was so early that his mind hadn’t kicked in properly, or was it that he hadn’t clipped his belt buckle properly? Whichever, he got in a tangle and fell.
“Don’t worry,” the sergeant said, “you’re not late.” He turned to the driver. “Let’s go.”
Friendly enough, but Jez could’ve sworn he’d sniggered.
Then it got worse. The accelerator hit the metal before Jez had sat down, and he crashed over into the rear seat. This time the sergeant laughed for all he was worth.
“After the boy drops us, it’ll take him an hour to get to his KooKooEh comrades and let them know we’re on our way,” Sergeant Sharansky said. “We’ll have that hour and another three to get to our position and set up. Oh, one more thing: you’re Jez, I’m Viktor, and we’re without rank. You’re trained, so there’s no need to explain.”
“No, Sergeant, sorry, Viktor, but why the time limit?”
“We’ve arranged for KooKooEh to make a diversionary attack on a military village in the town’s suburbs. When their firepower can be heard we must be in position and ready to open fire.”
They hadn’t driven for long when the jeep left the main road in favor of dirt tracks and paths that wound along low gullies and high mountainsides. But now the boy drove tentatively and made sure the vehicle didn’t kick up dust. Eventually they stopped on a hillside and Jez pulled his rattled body from the jeep. A spattering of houses lay to the west, or at least he guessed they were houses: from that distance they looked no more than an anomaly in the terrain. Viktor took a bag from the jeep and the boy drove off without a word.
“Will there be opposition between here and the town, Viktor?”
“There’d better not be, or the mission is over. Until we’re ready to hit, low profile is the name of the game.”
They crept silently over sterile ground, and the nearer they got the more patrols they found to skirt around. When necessary they bellied out, slung the bag over the back of whoever’s turn it was to be mule, and crawled. When they reached the halfway mark, Jez was up on his feet and trotting crouched with the bag over his shoulder.
“You want me to take a turn with that bag?”
“No, it’s not a problem.”
The lifetime of physical training had paid dividends and his body thrived on the workout. But his mind was full of the task ahead: he would kill; that was why he’d trained so hard. It was a necessary step in his military evolution. Even so, sweat popped on his face – and it wasn’t through physical exertion.
They arrived on the town’s outskirts and nestled into a niche at the base of a hill. Viktor took two AK-47 submachine guns from the bag: a recently developed weapon created by a young unknown called Kalashnikov. Jez had trained with the rifle and liked its responses – accurate to 800 meters and still a kill shot at 1,500 meters. Viktor laid the guns side by side and dipped back into the bag. He took out enough ammunition to fill the magazines twice over.
“Load up, Jez. Then take off your trousers and shirt, and fasten the ammunition belt with the spare bullets in front of you.”
Jez relaxed and grinned. “We’re going to look a bit obvious if we walk into town like this.”
Viktor sighed. “We’re not quite finished,” he said. “Sling the gun over your back.”
Jez obeyed, and as Viktor pulled out sandals and a couple of hooded kaftans, the fog cleared.
“Get into these,” he said. “Reports say there are Arabs in the town, so we should go unnoticed.”
“And if we don’t?”
“Well, I don’t think the conservatives will lose any sleep over killing us slowly.”
“Right, Viktor.”
Reality sobered his thoughts – death was feasible.
“Noticing the AK-47 won’t be a problem as long as you don’t bend to pick anything up in town,” Viktor continued.
Jez held out the kaftan like a girl in a dress shop and nodded. “I could pass as an Arab without the kaftan. And you’re… well weathered.”
He watched Viktor pull the kaftan over his head. His muscular frame could have been a problem, but in the loose-fit garment he just looked fat. Jez grinned.
“Nothing, Viktor, just thinking.”
They moved into side alleys of what Jez presumed was a typical mountain town: houses with dark adobe sun-dried brickwork, mainly flat-roofed but some slanted and tiled. Orange trees bore bitter fruit that had been left to over-ripen and wither. Their skins had already bleached to a pale shade of yellow, and the branches they hung from stretched over sandstone walls to reach for the shade of olive trees, whose aged trunks had bloated to more than a meter in width. These olives lined the street, proudly adorning the sidewalks. Their long, heavy branches provided shade for the passersby, while the white paint around the trunks gave guidance to night traffic.
On a main street, Jez watched donkeys pull rickety carts piled with firewood. Rusted old cars belched blue-black smoke so thick that it rasped the throat. An uncovered army truck chugged by, full of soldiers who looked over-heated as they leaned wearily on their rifles. Vehicles had parked on either side of the road, which slowed the traffic. A black chauffeur-driven convertible stopped just ahead with a military officer sat in the back seat, tapping a swagger stick on his forearm and staring straight ahead. His pompous expression raised the hackles on Jez’s neck. The blonde woman sitting next to him was just the opposite: she craned her neck in every direction and showed interest in all she looked at.
They turned off into a side alley and Jez was glad to leave the mayhem behind; but within a couple of meters he found himself pressed against a wall to let a heavily-laden donkey pass. The large wooden cases that flanked the animal looked over-burdening, but it never faltered. A woman led the beast from the front and stared directly at Jez. Her tanned and shrunken face seemed to admonish him, but then he realized she wasn’t looking at him, but through him.
After several alleyways into town they came to an open plaza where Arab vendors manned vegetable stalls. On the opposite side of the square a number of conservative soldiers hung around, smoking, talking.
“Take my hand, Jez,” Viktor ordered.
“Just do it,” he said with resignation.
Jez took the sergeant’s hand and they walked diagonally across the square. Viktor clung to him and chatted in Greek – or whatever language it was; it all sounded Greek to Jez. They bumped and pushed their way through a throng of people who eagerly cleared their goods in readiness for an evening of freedom.
Halfway across the plaza, anxiety tingled over Jez’s skin as he brushed against a man. Perfumed and smartly dressed, he looked how a key official might. The stock of Jez’s AK had clipped the man’s arm, not hard, but enough for him to reach up and rub it. With face contorted, he stared at Jez in puzzlement, probably wondering how someone so much smaller than him could cause such pain with a minor bump.
Jez brought his hands together and bowed remorsefully. “I’m sorry, sir,” he said, using the only Arabic he knew.
“Yes, sir,” Viktor added, “I’m sorry too. This is an idiot boy and I don’t know why I keep him.”
By the look on the man’s face, he hadn’t understood a word. Jez guessed that’s what Viktor thought too, which would be why he turned on Jez, swiped at his head, and pushed him across the square. He continued with the angry charade until they got nearer to the soldiers, he quieted, took Jez’s hand and returned to jabbering. They cleared the square and the handholding abruptly ended.
“That’s a relief,” Jez said. “I like you well enough, but not in that way.”
Viktor laughed warmly. “It’s not unusual for male Arab friends to hold hands. It doesn’t mean the same with them, and we need to blend in as much as possible.”
“Whatever you say.”
The sergeant shook his head and laughed as he took another swipe at Jez. His directions brought them to their first destination: a red sandstone house with off-white steps that led to a door on the first floor.
“Isn’t there someone here to meet us? You can’t just go in without knocking,” Jez said, as Viktor reached the top step and grabbed the door handle.
“Don’t worry, we have all the information we need, enough to get the job done. That way if we’re caught we can’t let anybody down.”
“What if the house is found after we’re done? Won’t that lead to our informant?”
“You ask too many questions. Me, I just get on with what I’m given. Truth is, I don’t know what cover has been set up. I only know what we have to do and how we have to do it.”
The windows were small, but inside was bright because a French door was positioned to catch sunbeams that reverberated on the stark white walls. A ladder to a trapdoor stood against a teak-colored ceiling beam. Jez slipped the kaftan off over his head and removed the rifle. “Oh,” he groaned, and stretched and arched his body. “I’m glad to get rid of that. When I bumped into that man, the gun moved and the stock was stuck between my shoulders.”
“Ah, such a sensitive little button,” Viktor baited.
Jez nearly rose to defend his words until he realized he was being sent up. They sat in underwear, tucking into the Feta cheese and bread that had been left out on the table.
“Right, Jez,” Viktor said, and wiped his mouth with the back of his wrist. “We have a good hour before the fireworks begin. According to my information there are a good few rooftops to cross before reaching our position and it’ll be easier to get there while it’s light, so we should make a start right away.”
“That’s not a problem, but do we go in under-shorts and vest? Not a very dignified way to die if we’re caught.”
“Don’t worry about that, there’s no such thing as dignified dying – just dying.”
Maybe, but Jez would prefer it if he had a bit more on than a pair of underpants.
Birth of an Assassin
Set against the backdrop of Soviet, post-war Russia, Birth of an Assassin follows the transformation of Jez Kornfeld from wide-eyed recruit to avenging outlaw. Amidst a murky underworld of flesh-trafficking, prostitution and institutionalized corruption, the elite Jewish soldier is thrown into a world where nothing is what it seems, nobody can be trusted, and everything can be violently torn from him.
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Genre - Thriller, Crime, Suspense
Rating – R
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Author Interview – Yves Fey @YvesFey

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Who is your publisher?

BearCat Press published Floats the Dark Shadow.  Tess Collins is a writer who had a lot of frustrations with the industry and decided to reprint her books and start her own publishing company.  The books she’s chosen are all good.  My novel won some Indie awards.  One of her books and a short story collection she published were up for ForeWord awards.  BearCat is still very small, but she’s hoping to make a success of it.  She’s a smart business woman, and very ethical, so I’m hoping the second book will be with BearCat too.

Publishing horror story?

Well, mine aren’t horrific compared to some I’ve heard, but certainly horrifically frustrating.  When I wrote romance, my books were bought twice by editors who loved that they were different and wanted to make me a star.  Three months later they’d be gone and I’d have four more editors, bing bam bim, ending up with someone from Harlequin who’d want something light and breezy and would just want me to disappear.

My second romance will be republished with the title I wanted, just Marian, since she’s very much the center of it, caught between Robin and Guy of Guisbourne.  That was rejected at the time.  I thought A Vigilant Heart would be fine, what with “Heart” prominent in the title, but someone didn’t know what vigilant meant and someone else thought it sounded like a mystery.  So that got tossed.  My Marian’s very tough, a warrior, and they kept insisting on titles that focused on Robin, or were too sweet or wimpy.  I was spared Thief of My Heart, but forced to compromise with The Thief’s Mistress.  It’s not a bad romance title, but it doesn’t do anything to conjure my book, it’s very swashbuckling.  In my mind, it has lots of petticoats.  Maybe Gypsies.  Not Robin—he’s so much more than just a “thief.”

Who designed your book ?

It’s collaborative.  Beth Tashery Shannon designs the layout for the interior and exterior of BearCat’s books, and also works independently at her own site of  One of the great things about working with BearCat was being able to realize my books almost exactly as I’d pictured it.  Early on I discovered the perfect images for the front and back covers, and I found the Art Nouveau title font I wanted and used it in my book trailer.  This was when I was still thinking I’d try the traditional publishing route, and doubted the finished book would match my ideas.  But BearCat was fine with using what I wanted.  We even have an original font for the text, designed by the talented Juan Casco.  I don’t know if he’d ever want the hassle of doing a text font again, but he loves doing display fonts for covers.

How did you find your cover?

I happened on Michel Colson’s photograph by chance, just browsing the internet, probably searching for pictures of Montmartre.  It was almost exactly what I envisioned, though nothing I could draw or paint myself, since I can’t do realistic architectural drawings.  I thought it would be too expensive, so I didn’t ask about it, but then I couldn’t find anything that didn’t look too modern.

What are some of the best tools available today for writers, especially those just starting out?

There are wonderful organizations for most every genre.  Sisters in Crime, and its sub-group, the Guppies (a play on the Great Unpublished, though many are published and stay in the group because it’s chatty and fun and supportive).  Romance Writers of America and Mystery Writers of America.  Recently, there was a blow-up in the fantasy and Sci Fi community over on-going sexism, so perhaps it’s not so true there, though there must be a women’s support group as well.  There are sub-groups in almost all the on-line media sources like Facebook and Linked In, which have talk focused on craft.  So there’s an amazing network available.  I’m also a member of the very supportive Historical Novelists Society

There’s an endless supply of advice, much of it really good, but there’s always bad advice too, so you always have to develop your own critical faculties and question and test what you read.  There are endless “rules.”  Just hearing the word makes me bristle.


Young American painter Theodora Faraday struggles to become an artist in Belle Époque Paris. She’s tasted the champagne of success, illustrating poems for the Revenants, a group of poets led by her adored cousin, Averill. When children she knows vanish mysteriously, Theo confronts Inspecteur Michel Devaux who suspects the Revenants are involved. Theo refuses to believe the killer could be a friend—could be the man she loves. Classic detection and occult revelation lead Michel and Theo through the dark underbelly of Paris, from catacombs to asylums, to the obscene ritual of a Black Mass. Following the maze of clues they discover the murderer believes he is the reincarnation of the most evil serial killer in the history of France—Gilles de Rais. Once Joan of Arc’s lieutenant, after her death he plunged into an orgy of evil. The Church burned him at the stake for heresy, sorcery, and the depraved murder of hundreds of peasant children. Whether deranged mind or demonic passion incite him, the killer must be found before he strikes again.

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Genre – Historical Mystery

Rating – R

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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Indiestructible: Inspiring Stories from the Publishing Jungle @MsBessieBell

Tackling the Time Factor

by Jessica Bell

The biggest problem I had with deciding to go indie was the time factor.

With a stressful full-time job as a project manager for the Academic Research & Development department at Education First, it was difficult for me to see how I could possibly work, write, blog, edit, publish, market, run a literary journal, direct a writer’s retreat, and live my life all at once. It doesn’t help that I’m a bit of a stickler. I like to get everything done myself because I have a hard time waiting on others to do things I know I can get done more quickly and efficiently. I outsource if I really have to, but I do enjoy doing the work, such as designing covers, learning new skills and navigating social media. So when I say, DIY, I really mean DIY. Where on Earth, I wondered, would I find the time to be an editor for an educational publisher and literary magazine, an author, a typesetter, a designer, and a marketer? And what about walking the dog? Making dinner? Sleeping? (Forget the laundry. I have months of unfolded washed clothes in a heap on the couch that will soon need to go straight back into the machine from the dog rubbing herself all over them.)

The time factor is a logical fear. But once I finally made the decision to do this on my own, I realized that it wasn’t as daunting as it seemed. Do you know how much more you actually get done when you think something is impossible?

I don’t want to tell you how to schedule your day, but I’m going to give you a run down on how to approach this time management malarkey mentally. The key for me is not to focus on one thing all day. When you do this, you burn out. Your brain starts to lag from the monotony of the same information. You need to mix it up. If you mix it up, you get more done, because your mind is consistently stimulated with fresh information.

Let’s start with the actual writing of your books. Because this is what it all boils down to, yes? But first, I have to say, everyone is different. Everyone writes at different speeds, deals with stress in different ways, has different expectations of themselves. So you need to figure out what you want and works for you.

1. Stop thinking about what other people will think of your work. And write honestly. The first version of my debut novel was written for an audience. It was rejected again and again—for five years. And then, I found a small press who saw something in me and made an effort to get to know me. (Unfortunately that publisher liquidated only six months after its release, but that’s another story which you can read about here.) The publisher said my book was good, but that it felt like she was watching the characters through a window. She said: “Go deeper.” So I dug deeper and dragged the truth from my heart and soul. A truth I was afraid to admit was there. But it resulted in an honest book—a book I didn’t know I had in me. And one I hope women will be able to relate to. It’s glory-less, but real. And real steals hearts. What does this have to do with time management you ask? A lot. When you believe in your work, when you love your work, the words get written faster.

2. Focus on one paragraph at a time. I will never forget Anne Lamott’s advice from Bird by Bird (most accessible and nonsense-less book on writing I’ve ever read): write what you can see through a one-inch frame.

The reason I say this, is because knowing how much you have to revise can sometimes be daunting and overwhelming, and you might try to get through as much as possible and forget to focus your attention on the quality of your work. If you make each paragraph the best it can be before you move on, you won’t have to do any major rewrites (unless there’s a snag in your plot that you’ve overlooked and it’s related to a pertinent turning point). I’m talking revision here, not first draft.

3. Divide your writing time into short bursts. I find that if I give myself only one hour to write every morning before work, sometimes even shorter periods of time (especially when I accidentally sleep in), I’m forced to come up with things I wouldn’t normally think of.

The brain works in mysterious ways when it’s under pressure, and sometimes a little self-inflicted pressure can push you to great heights. Can you believe I wrote the first draft of The Book over a three-day long weekend? I did this because I experimented with the self-inflicted pressure idea. It worked. But be careful not to expect too much from yourself. There is nothing worse than becoming unmotivated due to not reaching personal goals. Which brings me to my fourth point ...

4. To start with, set your goals low. Set goals you know for a fact you can reach. If you set them too high, and continuously fail to meet them, you are going to feel really bad about yourself. This may result in neglecting your goals altogether. I know this from personal experience. If you later realize that you are meeting your goals with ease, gradually make them more challenging. But I strongly urge you to start small. It’s better for you, psychologically, to meet easy goals, than to struggle meeting difficult goals. Not achieving goals is a major hazard for self-esteem, motivation, and creativity.

So what about the rest?

Let’s see. These are the things I continuously have on the go that are not part of my day job or writing books, and I still find time to walk the dog and make dinner (sorry, the washing is still on the couch):

—Vine Leaves Literary Journal (reading submissions, sending rejection/acceptance letters, designing the magazine, promoting the magazine)

Homeric Writers’ Retreat & Workshop (organizing the event and handling finances)

Typesetting, designing, and marketing my books (which includes, what seems, a never-ending thread of guest posts and interviews)

Blogging (including keeping up to speed with my weekly guest feature, The Artist Unleashed)

Maintaining my online presence (Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, etc.)

I do all this stuff on top of the day job. On top of my writing. Because I do it all in scheduled, short bursts. I get up early to make sure I have one hour to write and one hour to do something else from the list above. I pick and choose depending on priority. During my lunch break, I blog and spend about half an hour to an hour (depends on how long I can take from work) on social media. After work, I walk the dog, make dinner, maybe go to yoga. Once that’s done, I’ll spend another hour or so doing something else from the list above. Then I have a shower, relax in front of the TV, or do something else away from the computer before I go to bed. Then in bed, I’ll read a chapter or two of the book on my bedside table. Reading to me is relaxing and not a chore.

So what have I accomplished in this average day of mine?

Here’s an example:

My job (at least 7 hours worth)

500-1000 words on my WIP

I read 30 Vine Leaves submissions and sent a few responses, maybe even set up a classified ad on

I wrote/scheduled a blog post, commented on other blogs.

I connected with everyone I wanted to online. I may have worked on my latest book cover for a bit.

I made dinner.

I walked the dog.

I relaxed.

Look ... I’ll deal with those clothes tomorrow, okay?

I know people with kids who have just as much, and more, on their plate, and they’re still finding the time to self-publish. You can too.

My point is, it can all be done. And it doesn’t have to freak you out, or overwhelm you. Just pace yourself. And if you don’t have a full-time job like me, imagine how much more you can get done.

Nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it.

Nothing is impossible if you truly want it.

Nothing is impossible. Full stop.


If Jessica Bell could choose only one creative mentor, she’d give the role to Euterpe, the Greek muse of music and lyrics. This is not only because she currently resides in Athens, Greece, but because of her life as a thirty-something Australian-native contemporary fiction author, poet and singer/songwriter/guitarist, whose literary inspiration often stems from songs she’s written.

In addition to her novels, poetry collections, (one of which was nominated for the Goodreads Choice Awards in 2012), and her Writing in a Nutshell series, she has published a variety of works in online and print literary journals and anthologies, including Australia’s Cordite Review, and the anthologies 100 STORIES FOR QUEENSLAND and FROM STAGE DOOR SHADOWS, both released through Australia’s, eMergent Publishing.

Jessica is the Co-Publishing Editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal and annually runs the Homeric Writers’ Retreat & Workshop on the Greek island of Ithaca. She makes a living as a writer/editor for English Language Teaching Publishers worldwide, such as Pearson Education, HarperCollins, MacMillan Education, Education First and Cengage Learning.

Keep an eye out for her forthcoming novel, BITTER LIKE ORANGE PEEL, slated for release, November 1, 2013.


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Genre –  Non-fiction

Rating – G

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Author Interview – Elliot Mason @ArthurRay44

Image of Elliot C. Mason

If you could have a dinner party and invite anyone dead or alive, who would you ask? Bob Dylan, George Orwell, Lou Reed, Kurt Vonnegut. We would have a mighty good piss-up.

When you are not writing, how do you like to relax? Editing.

Do you have any tips on how writers can relax? Drink more.

How often do you write? And when do you write? All day, every day.

Do you have an organized process or tips for writing well? Do you have a writing schedule? Never. When you feel like writing, sit down on your own and write. When you don’t feel like writing, look at people in a busy place and a story will soon come to mind. Loneliness is key, I find. Close contact distracts concentration.

A stark dystopian world of insatiable greed and ceaseless distraction is that of young Gustav Klein, a German twenty-three-year-old who has just sold his hotel in Munich. He is looking for nothing more than escape. The modern gadgets which flash their endless advertisements are locking society inside brick houses, allowing them to be dumbed-down further by the money-hungry gremlins in the high towers. Gustav Klein, meanwhile, begins a journey over the myriad terrains of Europe, through countless bottles on the corner of morbid winter streets, coloured by the peculiar characters he encounters, some who bestow upon him their wisdom, some who fuel his disdain, some who ignite his desires, and some who merely drink with him until they hit the floor in a merry temperament. But the hedonistic, aimless rambling must come to end, for life calls. And Gustav lands on a mountain in Scotland, searching for release, for total nature, untouched by the destructive hand of man. But, it seems, it is too late… In this harrowing tale of youthful rebellion, dark nihilism on the road, heavy drinking beatniks, political adversity and the capricious desires of the gluttonous modern man, the reader is taken by the hand firmly and hauled into a bleak world where every man lives for himself. Close your eyes if you are scared, but you cannot escape.

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Genre – Travel, Political, Dystopia, Romance

Rating – PG15

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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Infernal Gates by Michael J. Webb @mjwebbbooks

Chapter 4

Professor Alec Bernard adjusted his battered, ten year-old sunglasses as he glanced up at the cloudless azure sky. He was grateful for the crumpled Tilley hat he wore as protection against the relentless onslaught of the southern-equatorial sun that hung suspended above him like a giant molten pearl.

The fifty-something professor from Wyoming licked his parched, cracked lips, then used the back of his hand to wipe away a small river of sweat from his furrowed brow. At times, it had seemed to him as if the furnace-like heat was a living thing—a voracious parasite feeding on a hapless host.

Here, on the plateau the Khoikhoi called the land of thirst, it was winter, but the temperature had already reached more than one hundred degrees Fahrenheit. It was one of the many paradoxes of the Great Karoo—a place near the southern rim of Africa where it was either too hot or too cold, and always too dry.

Reluctantly, Alec stopped digging and took a rare break from the endless hours of work that had consumed his days for the past three weeks. He dropped his shovel, bent down and picked up his half-full canteen, carefully unscrewed the cap, then took several measured sips of the lukewarm water.

As he sipped the precious liquid, his grey-blue eyes roamed over the vast and desolate landscape, marveling at the stark beauty of his private hunting grounds. Earlier, as he and his promising young Graduate Assistant, Donald, had hiked in from their base camp, they’d watched the sun rise over the snow-capped Swartberg Mountains. They ringed the high desert plateau like a massive natural garland.

It was hard for him to put into words the gamut of conflicting emotions he experienced whenever he worked in a place like this; a place where his wrinkled face had become chronically red and cracked from the sun and wind, where his body had accumulated a myriad of small, perennially infected sores. The sores were the result of his skin being repeatedly pierced by thorns, cut by barbed wire, and bruised by falls onto sharp rocks. The emotions were the result of his ongoing love-affair with the distant past.

Satisfied he’d allowed himself enough of a break to stave off dehydration, he carefully screwed the cap back on the canteen.

He was about to resume digging, when something odd happened.

He heard his name whispered—


Startled, he turned, expecting to see his Graduate Assistant.

But Donald was nowhere in sight.

“Must be the heat,” he muttered as he returned to the task before him. With practiced precision he sifted a few more inches of the loose rock and dusty topsoil with his shovel.

Then, he heard his name whispered again.

“Alec. Come to me—”

At first, he thought it was Donald playing a practical joke on him, something the capricious young man was well-known for. He looked up and scanned the immediate area around him, then realized the guttural voice had come from inside his head.

He sat down, took several deep breaths, hoping the infusion of oxygen would banish the uncomfortable feeling in the pit of his stomach.

“Better relax a few minutes,” he told himself as he watched a large scorpion make its way across the rock-strewn ground. It stalked a grasshopper twice its size. With lightning-fast speed, the small predator pounced upon the unsuspecting insect and pierced it with its venomous stinger. The grasshopper writhed in agony, then shuddered and died. The deadly carnivore disappeared inside a tiny crevice and dragged its afternoon meal with it.

Suddenly exhausted, Alec leaned back against a huge boulder, adjusted his Tilley so that it provided a measure of shade for his face, and closed his eyes.

Immediately, a boyhood memory filled his mind.

He sat on his father’s lap and listened to one of his dad’s endless stories. On this occasion, his father told a tale from the Old Testament. It was about a man—what was his name? Joshua. Apparently, Joshua had commanded the sun to stand still and it obeyed. For three days! Alec asked his dad if the account was true. His father, a dedicated churchgoer, replied, “That’s a good question, son. According to Pastor Corwin, it is.”

“What do you think?” he’d pressed.

His father frowned, then answered, “I honestly don’t know.”

It dawned on him years later that his father’s lack of faith in the veracity of the Bible had sown within him the seeds of an antagonistic skepticism about anything related to God.

“Professor, come here! I’ve found something extraordinary.”

Alec’s eyes snapped opened.

He blinked repeatedly as his eyes adjusted to the sudden glare of sunlight. He heard a loud screeching sound above him and looked up. A huge bird circled overhead. At first, he thought it was a gigantic blue crane soaring on the invisible currents of heated air like a glider as it searched for any signs of food hidden among the thorny veldt spread out below. As he looked closer, he realized it wasn’t a crane—it was a vulture. One of the largest he’d ever seen.

“Professor, where are you?”

He stood up and brushed the dust from his shorts, grabbed his shovel and canteen, then walked around the huge boulder that had hidden him from view.

His assistant waved and shouted, “Professor—over here!”

He made his way toward Donald, mindful of the prickly bracken that dotted the landscape and careful to avoid the small boulders that were his nemesis. When he reached the younger man, he asked, “Okay, what’s all the excitement about? You were shouting loud enough to wake the dead.”

“I found an opening where there shouldn’t be one.”


“Yesterday, that embankment was a wall of solid rock.” Donald pointed in the direction of one of the many low hills, or kopjes, as the few local inhabitants referred to them. Unlike traditional hills, which were rounded at the top, the ones on this plateau were all flat. The odd-looking formations were a result of a unique kind of geologic activity virtually unknown anywhere else.

Alec raised his hand to shield his eyes and squinted.

The scorching afternoon heat radiated off the black earth in shimmering waves. There was also a haze of heated air between him and the spot fifty yards away where his graduate assistant pointed. “You’re certain it wasn’t there yesterday? Openings that size don’t appear in solid rock over night—unless something unusual happened, like an earthquake.”

“Professor,” Donald said in a tone of voice that barely hid his displeasure at being challenged, “yesterday you pointed out that particular cliff to me as an exquisite example of the kind of violent geologic activity this plateau is well-known for. You also reminded me that the dolerite formations at the top are the residual imprint of the massive displacement of the continental shelf. I believe your exact words were, ‘This particular formation brings to mind what Hell might look like on a good day.’”

“U-m-m-m, so I did.”

Half a mile away, a flash of heat lightening struck the earth, accompanied by a loud crack of thunder. At the same time the wind, which had been blowing for the past half hour, stopped.

A loud buzzing sound filled the abrupt silence.

Alec squinted in the direction of the irritating sound. An odd-looking, undulating black cloud was headed toward them at incredible speed. “Run!” he shouted as he suddenly took off in the direction of the newly-created opening.

Donald glanced at the Professor’s fleeing back, then at the strange-looking cloud, and ran. He caught up with his mentor half way to the opening. “Why are we running?” he gasped.

Before the professor could reply, he got his answer.

A huge swarm of the largest, blackest flies he had ever seen overtook them. They were blood flies and they were very hungry. Everywhere one of them found bare skin was a place they could bite, and feed. Like ticks, they used body heat and carbon dioxide signatures to track their prey from great distances. Then, they used a pair of incredibly sharp, miniature pincers to grab hold of your skin. Finally, they drilled their retractable proboscis into your body and sucked out as much blood as their tiny stomachs could hold, swelling to twice their normal size.

Alec and Donald stumbled the last few feet to the opening in the cliff. Incredibly, once they reached the cave entrance, the flies retreated in mass, as if on command. A small remnant remained, still attached to the two men, those few who had become trapped by their own insatiable lust for blood.

Donald brushed the pesky insects from his body. “Whew, that was really weird. I’ve dealt with horseflies before, but I’ve never seen—or experienced—anything like that.”

“Neither have I,” Alec muttered as he stared out at the desert.

“Then why did you yell for us to run?”

Alec pulled his gaze from the sun-drenched plateau and returned Donald’s puzzled look with one of his own. “I—I’m not certain—”

Donald shook his head. “Like I said, Professor, weird, really weird.”

Alec pulled two remaining blood flies from his body and crushed them under his feet, amazed they could inflict such pain. “Look at this,” he said as he bent over and picked up one of several medium-sized pieces of polished black rock scattered around the cave floor. “If I’m not mistaken, this is Cephren/Khafre diorite!”

Donald grabbed the unusual-looking rock out the professor’s hand and walked over to the cave entrance. When the sunlight hit the stone, it exhibited a faint bluish color. “It can’t be!”

“Feldspar iridescence,” Alec muttered over his shoulder, distracted by something else. “A metamorphic signature classic to the ancient quarry used by a number of Egyptian pharaohs. It was located sixty-five kilometers north of Abu Simbal, the site where Ramses II built his tomb along the banks of the Aswan—a remote area along today’s Egyptian/Sudanese border.”

“How the hell did granite quarried by the son of the Pharaoh Cheops over five thousand years ago from a site in the Nubian desert get here?”

Alec ignored the question, pulled a small flashlight from his back pocket, and turned it on as he moved deeper into the cave.

Once, they’d forgotten to bring a flashlight with them. They’d been lost in the utter darkness that fell like a thick, black curtain within minutes of sunset. It had taken them over three hours to find their way back to their camp in the moonless night. If their Khoikhoi guide, Heitsi, hadn’t built a huge fire that could be seen from several miles away, they would have wandered all night. Since that time, he never went anywhere without one.

“If you think that’s unusual, come take a look at this.”

Donald stuck the bluish-black piece of granite in the back pocket of his shorts as he walked over to where the professor stood. “This is incredible!”

“Do you recognize any of the motifs?” Alec whispered.

“I need more light.”

Alec stepped closer to the rear wall of the cave and held the flashlight up higher. Donald stepped in front of him, close enough to the cave wall to touch it.

“This is one of the most extraordinary renderings I have ever seen, or read about.” One of Donald’s hobbies was the study of ancient rock art. When he wasn’t traveling the world hunting for the fossilized remains of dinosaurs, he visited various remote sites around the world to view primitive rock art.

“Don’t keep me in suspense, young man, what are we looking at?”

Donald slipped into his teaching mode as their roles reversed. “There are two broad categories of rock art—engravings, commonly known as petroglyphs, and paintings, more precisely referred to as pictographs. Both have similar themes and images, although engravings tend to show less detail and fewer human figures.”

“I assume the distribution of the two techniques is primarily governed by geology.”

Donald nodded. “Engravings typically occur out in the open and are usually associated with igneous rock, like the dolerite we have here. Paintings, on the other hand, are most often found where there are cave or rock shelters, in outcrops of granite, or in formations of limestone, sandstone, and quartzite. I don’t know of any that have been discovered where the canvas was volcanic rock.”

Alec panned the light over the huge rock art work. A thoughtful look rippled across his weather-beaten face and a sudden chill raced up and down his spine. There was nothing overtly sinister about the ancient rendering, it just felt wrong.

“Go on.”

“What makes this unique is not only its size, but the fact that it consists of elements of both engravings and paintings. I don’t know of any place in the world where they’ve ever been found together in a solitary piece of art. We’re looking at something no one has ever discovered before.”

Alec moved the light slightly to the left and his eyes grew wide. “Can you date this work with any degree of accuracy?” he asked, a strange tone in his voice.

“Most South African rock art work I’ve studied dates back about twenty-seven thousand years,” Donald answered, engrossed in the art work. “But all of the work that old is much more primitive than this.”

Alec’s hands trembled.

“Based upon the incredible detail, the intricate complexity, and the astonishing preservation,” Donald continued, “I’d guess this particular rendering is probably only four or five thousand years old. We’ll have to radiocarbon date it to be certain.”

Alec let out the breath he’d been holding. “Then how do you explain this?” he whispered as he focused the flashlight on the most dramatic scene in the rendering.

Donald turned, saw what the Professor had been staring at, and answered haltingly, “Something is very wrong. There’s no way that animal should be in this picture.”

In front of them was a striking, full color, life-size image of the ferocious beast whose bones they’d been searching for in the dust and dirt of the high-desert plateau for the past three weeks. The Tyrannosaurus Rex of its day, it was at one time the largest land-dwelling carnivore on the planet.

“Gorgon,” Donald whispered.

Alec stepped forward to get a better look and stretched forth his hand to touch the rendering, a look of awe on his face.

That was when his flashlight went out.

Darkness engulfed the two men like a thick black cloak.

“Hell of a time for the batteries to go dead,” Alec groused as he shook his flashlight.

Donald gagged and coughed. “What’s that smell?”

Alec choked as a putrid stench filled his nostrils. Then, he again heard the grating, guttural voice that had beckoned to him earlier. “Alec. Come to me—Now!”

“Did you hear that?” he managed, struggling to breathe through his mouth and talk at the same time.

“Hear what?” Donald gasped as he turned and ran for the cave entrance, and the light.

“Don’t leave me here alone, Donald,” Alec yelled after his assistant, his voice cracking.

As the two men stumbled out of the cool darkness of the cave into the blistering heat of the veldt, they were greeted by a tall, thin, muscular black man with deep-set, ebony-black eyes.

“Heitsi, what are you doing here?” a surprised Alec asked after he’d gulped several deep breaths of clean air.

Instead of answering, their Khoikhoi guide stared at the cave entrance. Frowning, he walked past the two men, toward the giant slit in the rock and sniffed the air. When he turned around he had a scowl on his face as he asked, “Have you seen heat lightening today?”

Alec nodded.

“What about blood flies?”

Dumbfounded, both men looked at one another.

The African raised his arms over his head in a V shape, said something in Khoisan, then turned his back on the cave entrance and strode past the two of them. When he was about fifteen feet away, he stopped and turned. There was a look of barely controlled fear in his eyes. “You have awakened the Unmentionable. It’s no longer safe here—”

With that, he resumed his hasty departure.

Donald looked at the professor. “What the hell was that all about?”

Alec glanced down at the flashlight in his hand. The light was on. Evidently, the batteries were not dead.

When he looked back up, his eyes were riveted to the retreating back of the black man he’d used as his guide for the past five years, wondering the same thing. He’d only heard Heitsi use the word Unmentionable once before—and on that occasion it had frightened him as nothing else in his life ever had.

Infernal Gates

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Genre – Christian Thriller, Fantasy, Adventure

Rating – PG-13

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