Five Minute Fiction

(I’ve placed this under five minute fiction, but there’s a lot of truth which cuts close the bone in this short burst.)

“Are you okay?”

It was a question I’d been asked half a dozen times so far today, and each time I’d repeated the same simple response.  “I’m okay.”

Except I probably wasn’t.  My mother and I had a complicated relationship, fraught with emotion and difficult at the best of times.  Don’t get me wrong; it wasn’t abusive, or based in hatred.  It was a relationship based on love – but too much love.  The fact of the matter was that she’d loved me too much, obsessively – and she had her own mental health problems. The diagnosis I’d come up with that she was most probably a narcissistic sociopath – but she didn’t believe there was anything wrong with her.  With my own diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder, a severe depressive disorder and numerous anxiety issues, we were almost destined to clash.

And we did, regularly, with fireworks and anger, and on my behalf,  a healthy dose of hatred.  She came close to driving me out of my mind, even though she didn’t intend to.  She just couldn’t bear to let me go.

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The cost of that obsession was high – instead of living out her twilight years with a strong, loving relationship with her  daughter, we ended up in a tempestuous, argumentative battle, which ebbed and flowed, but never improved.

And I’ll admit, I often wished her dead.  It’s not something I’m proud of, but it was a reliable indicator of how distressed she made me, because that love came with arguments; battles in which I would always be painted as the one ‘in the wrong’, with her a masterful twister of words, working on my weaknesses to bolster her arguments.  No matter what happened, that was her main ammunition – preying on my weaknesses to further her own agenda.

So yes, my answer to the question of whether or not I’m okay is to say ‘I’m fine’.

But the answer is so much more complicated than that.

Red Stiletto Strategy by Hunter S. Jones

RED STILETTO STRATEGY

by Hunter S. Jones

Genre: Women’s Historical Fiction (Espionage Short Story)

Born to an alcoholic, single mother in Texas, Luckie Stratton learns from a young age to keep her distance, avoiding getting close to anyone. She moves to LA as a young film actress, becomes enchanted by a swarthy English gentleman and flies to London in 1940 to join his secret British spy elites. The seductive blonde becomes an undercover assassin. Armed with her charm, a switchblade and a Derringer, this femme fatale never fails her mission. Disguised as an anxious wife waiting for her British ‘husband’ to return from battle proves to be irresistible bait to Nazi covert operatives.

All’s fair in love and war.

Luckie Stratton looked across her right shoulder into the mirror, then reached down and straightened her left stocking until the seam ran up her leg with the precision of a surgical knife. The room was dimly lit, and she checked her purse for the small Derringer pistol and the switchblade stiletto. Scraping the bottom of a lipstick tube, she applied the last of the Regimental Red she had brought from Los Angeles. She slipped her feet into her best heels and clicked off the table lamp. Smoothing her hair, she walked outside the apartment door, looking both ways before locking it.

Tonight, she had a date with destiny.

Dr. Smithers had been her mark for the last few months. Making her way into the misty haze of the London night, Luckie Stratton knew she had a mission to complete. Hamish had sent her a coded message yesterday saying that the German spy—a double agent—would be at the USO where Joey’s band played. She was to kill him by any means necessary. It was a job she had completed successfully many times, and what had earned her the nickname Luckie.

She was born in Red River, Texas; her mother had had a weekend fling with a doughboy she met in Dallas the weekend the First War ended. The boy left, her mother discovered she was pregnant two months later, and eventually moved to L.A. with the little girl. Her mother dreamt of being an actress but only became successful at becoming an alcoholic. Eventually, the young girl took on acting jobs to support her mother and herself. Fortunately for her, she learned early that if you didn’t become too attached to someone, you wouldn’t feel abandoned when they were no longer in your life. By the time she was eighteen, she knew she had a way with men; finding companionship with producers and businessmen was much more lucrative than being a bit player in movies. With her long legs and sultry voice, men were hooked once they met her. When she dyed her hair platinum blonde, the world was hers for the taking.

Then, war broke out in Europe and everything changed.

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Hunter S. Jones publishes historical works and fiction independently as well as through traditional platforms. She is a member of the American Historical Association, Royal Historical Society, Organization of American Historians, Society of Authors, Historian: American Historical Association, Dangerous Women Project, Society of Civil War Historians, Atlanta Historical Society, War Historians (US), Historical Writers Association, Historical Novel Society, English Historical Fiction Authors, Atlanta Writers Club, and Rivendell Writers Colony. Originally from Tennessee, she now lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her Scottish born husband.

 

Food & Romance Anthology: Volume One

FOOD & ROMANCE GO TOGETHER

VOLUME 1: AN ANTHOLOGY

Genre: Romance, Short Stories
6 short, sweet stories perfectly pairing food and romance. Each include a yummy recipe.
Pumpkin Blossoms by Sue Stewart Ade
Jillian yearns for love and falls for a dog and her sister’s former boyfriend. But the dog bolts and the boyfriend seems to still have feelings for her sister. Can she find love with a man who can’t see who she really is?
Coffee Cake Chaos by Ryan Jo Summers
Avianna Goodman needs cash. That’s why she agreed to cater her ex-boyfriend’s engagement party. Seeing Sawyer again confirms Avianna still isn’t over him. The biggest mistake Sawyer Steele ever did was walk away from the one girl he was crazy about. Now Avianna’s back in his life–and he can’t have her.
Apple Pie Delight by Sonja Gunter
Lost loves reunite after forty years of deceptions. Can a Sun-Kissed Apple Pie bring Toril Swanson and Erik Sutton together again?
Peanut Butter Kisses by Jody Vitek
Beth Canton attends her ten-year class reunion to catch a glimpse of her long-time, school-girl crush, Hank McGrath, but doesn’t hope or even dream of anything more. She leaves with more than a glimpse, while Hank can’t get enough of her peanut butter kisses.
Boston Crème Breakdown by Randi Perrin
Kestin just wants to return to life as normal after returning home from the war, but there’s no way his life will be the same again. Looking for easy money to make bills, he stumbles over an ad to teach perpetually-single Erica to cook, and can’t resist answering it. He never expected to actually get the job—or to be attracted to her.
The Chocolate Queen by April & Holly Marcom
In a world sprinkled with superheroes, you never know when the person beside you is one of these few elite. When Clarissa begins to fall for a guy who harbors a super secret, it feels like she’s not good enough. But he may just help her discover a super sweet secret of her own.

Continue reading “Food & Romance Anthology: Volume One”

The Dragil: Broken Magic by Holly Barbo

THE DRAGIL: BROKEN MAGIC
Quick Reads Book 3

 by Holly Barbo
GENRE: YA Fantasy

A YA fantasy adventure. Original Dragilio art by Ian Styer.
When Willum, an apprentice book maker, has a nasty fall, he loses all of his memories…including the strictures concerning protective magic for the exquisite miniature dragons called Dragilios. Not knowing he is breaking the magic law, and sending the little Dragil, Malle, into deadly peril, he draws the friendly, little dragil.
The moment the picture is finished the protective spell shatters. Her anguished cry as she disappears restores his memory.
Devastated at what he has done and wanting to right the wrong or die trying, Willum undertakes a dangerous quest into the malignant world of the giant leather-winged dragons. Can he find her in time before she is ripped apart and eaten? If he stays too long in that lethal land, he becomes stone.
The hourglass sands are slipping away toward the doom of the boy and the fragile little dragil. Can he save them both?
The bright sunshine was muted behind the curtains when he woke to the sound of a door opening. A girl of about seven years nudged it wider and brought in a tray. There was a small dragon-like creature fluttering in behind her. It landed on the window sill and closed pale blue wings edged in gold scallops. Though the wings folded against the creature’s back, they weren’t solid in color, but instead resembled those of a butterfly in their delicate patterning. It cocked its head and studied him.
The child set the tray down on the table and poured water in a glass. She glanced at the little blue-winged dragon. “Raik told me you were awake. You’ve got to be thirsty. You’ve been out for days. Both Mother and the healer thought you were going to die.” She brought the drink to him. “Slow, now, or you will either choke or throw it back up. Sip it.”
The moisture felt so good on the parched tissues of his mouth and throat that he struggled to resist gulping the welcoming fluid. Sighing with pleasure, he looked at the child. “Thank you. What’s your name? Where am I? What happened to me?”
The little girl blinked and her jaw dropped in dismay. “You know me! I’m Isolde, daughter of Guarin, master papermaker and owner of this bookbindery. Remember?”
He began to shake his head but changed his mind when the movement activated a headache. “No.”
The child turned and with “I’ll be right back!” ran from the room. During the few minutes she was gone, he carefully turned his head to look for the small butterfly-winged dragon that had eased his pain with her croons. Finally, he spotted her asleep in a shadowed shelf near a braid of garlic and assorted pots. His pleasure at seeing her seemed to be felt by the creature, as in the next few heartbeats she yawned and stretched.

Holly’s world is shaped by her love of family, the beauty of the natural world and an irrepressible creative drive. She has always been curious and sees life through questions. These four characteristics color her writing voice and her stories frequently evolve from her asking “What if….?” Her tales tend to have non-urban settings with nature contributing to the plot, building discordant themes inside a seemingly peaceful refrain.

My motto: Weaving Alternative Worlds with Threads From Today.

Heads & Tales by Karina Kantas

 
HEADS & TALES

by

Karina Kantas

GENRE: mixed collection of flash and short fiction

28 flash and short fiction that will delight, fright and leave you questioning your sanity.

VIRUS

“Well, that’s it. Now we wait again,” Maria announced.

Phil watched her sit at a cluttered desk to scribble yet more failure notes. His eyes did not linger for long though. He scanned the laboratory. It might be the last time he’d see it. Beds lined the walls of the spacious room, virtually hiding its sterile, white-tiled floor. “How long until we see results this time — if any?” he asked.
“Same as the others. Twelve hours.”
“That doesn’t give us much time to administer a vaccine.”
“No. And — yes, before you say it, you’re right — there’s no guarantee we’ll ever find an acceptable vaccine.”
On each bed lay a test subject. Even those that had succumbed remained, since the examination of their rotting bodies still offered the faint hope of a cure.
But Phil knew. The virus had won this war. There was no hope. Eight months of this. And nothing but 665. The committee was right.
Phil turned his face away from the rotting, deformed victims, and stared at his co-worker. It was time to tell her, although he knew how she’d react. Maria was obstinate — so certain she’d find a cure.
Phil walked to his colleague’s desk. Each step weighed heavily on him, like the weight they’d shouldered as a team these past few months. He rested his hand on her shoulder.
“Maria?” he whispered.
Her eyes shimmered. “Yes?”
Phil blinked and spoke. “The committee has decided if this last trial is unsuccessful they’ll go with 665. They’ve already begun to manufacture it.”
“What? You’re joking?”
“They say there’s no more time to be choosy. It’s 665 or total annihilation.”
“Choosy… Don’t they realise what will happen? 665 has such awful side effects.”
“Sorry. Maybe choosy was the wrong word, and yes, they know the peril. I agree with them. What other choice do we have?”
“I’d rather die.”
Phil turned and looked at the bed beside him. Clear plastic sheeting did nothing to hide its occupant’s demonic deformities. IT was the only way to describe this once-person. Its new facial appearance removed any identification of what sex, race or age test subject 665 had once been.
“At least it’s a life,” Phil assured.
“We’d be like a totally different species,” Maria said. “And, there may be other side effects.”
“We don’t have time to find out. The countdown has begun. Half the population is infected. Six hundred and sixty-four test subjects died, 665 was the only survivor.”
“Yes, but with diabolical consequences.”
“Nevertheless, the committee has decided.”
Maria rubbed her eyes. “But what of our future? What about our children? They may not be born with mutations. Who’d be the freaks then?” She ran a hand through her hair in frustration.
“I can’t give you the answers you seek, Maria. No one can.”
Maria sighed. “So we wait. And in eleven and a half hours we’ll know our fate.”
Two heads simultaneously turned towards the large, white clock on the wall. The thick, black hands held a new responsibility now — to count time down for 666 — the number of the beast.
Karina Kantas comes from the UK but has lived in Greece for most of her life. She is the author of eight books and another 30 publications. As well as writing she is also a VA, narrator and she designs book trailers Karina loves singing and riding her motorbike.

Promo Tour of Holly Barbo

WELCOME TO THE WORLD OF
HOLLY BARBO

TENDRILS

Where ’What if’ becomes ‘What is’
AUTHOR: Holly Barbo
GENRE: Short story collection covering the following genres: Dystopian, Science Fiction, Sci-fi thriller, Sci-fantasy, Contemporary, Contemporary Thriller, Historical Fiction and Fantasy

Stories come from any number of places. One could start from a memory, a photo in a magazine or from pondering a news item and wondering, “What if?”
This collection arose from that sort of random stimuli. Some are pure imagination of science fiction or fantasy. Others developed from random historical facts or the disturbing news stories of war-torn regions.
This is a collection of stories for those who like to think.
Includes 4 award-winning short stories.
“I enjoyed every story in Tendrils! I am impressed with the versatility and well thought out environment in each setting. Obviously good research was put into writing these stories as well as a wonderful gift of empathy with a delightful touch of practical wisdom. In my opinion the last story would even make a good movie!” (Cynthia)
“An excellent compilation of short stories over different genres. I was highly impressed by the quality of the writing and her use of words, which dragged me in on every page.” (Bookcollecter)
“I thoroughly enjoyed this read. I had a hard time putting the book down. Some stories are short, some long. All are suspenseful & of different genre. I am amazed at her extensive vocabulary and her overall knowledge on so many subjects. Her imagination takes you on a great trip every time with every story. None are ever boring. I highly recommend this latest book of hers. You will not be disappointed. Sit back & take yourself on an adventure. You will learn something too along the way.” (Paul and Patti L. Jordan)
SAMPLE FROM THE SHORT STORY “A CRYSTAL SNOWFLAKE”
Orion gave a quick scan of the room. He needed to make sure he had everything important. His backpack was stuffed and the computer case held so much that there were edges of paper sticking out of it in a haphazard manner. The slender young man slung the strap of the computer bag over his shoulder, grabbed the backpack and headed for the front door. His hand paused as he reached for the knob and he looked out the window.
It was dark and he could see the snow falling through the street lights. There didn’t seem to be anyone about, so he slipped from the house and walked casually to his trusty old Chevy, his breath coming out in rapid visible puffs. The nonchalance was an act. He wanted anyone watching to assume he was going to M.I.T. to get in some late night work. He scanned the shadows, hoping that no one was there. He threw his backpack on the passenger seat then wedged the computer case between it and the seat back. He wanted both within easy reach. Once buckled in, he allowed his nervousness to slip out and thoroughly checked the view from his mirrors.
He eased onto the street and when there was no sign of his tires slipping, increased his speed. Orion reached into the pocket of the backpack for the pre-paid phone that he’d picked up when he determined his cell had been tapped. At the stop sign, he punched in a number. The snow flurries were increasing and he switched on the wipers. Orion waited for his friend to pick up.
He smiled when he heard her voice and responded by saying, “I’m on my way and no one is following me. Just in case, I sent instructions to our safe place. Don’t worry about retrieving the envelope unless I don’t get there by morning. Okay. Gotta go. I’ll be at your door for breakfast with your favorite croissants. Have the coffee brewed.”
Orion laughed at the response. “Okay. I need to concentrate on driving in this stuff. See you soon, Chayse. Bye.”
Beyond the stop sign, the road sloped to a picturesque country bridge, one of many that dotted the New England states. He had to admit it was beautiful in the snowfall but with the driving conditions worsening, he focused on how the car responded to his small adjustments in steering. In the weak light, he didn’t notice the watcher standing in the shelter of some trees on the far side of the road. The muffled figure took a box out of his pocket, pointed it at the car and pushed a button. The loud sibilant schwuff of the slush hitting the car’s undercarriage drowned out the pop.
Without any warning, Orion’s power steering quit. Working to compensate on the slick road, he fought to correct the fish-tailing motion of the car. “Shit!” He tapped the brakes and was horrified as his foot went all the way to the floor.
Fighting the wheel and the momentum of the old Chevy on the slippery surface became his entire focus…and he was losing. He tried gearing down and applying the emergency brake, but the car went into a spin and he caught a glimpse of the bridge railing coming up too fast. “Shit!” The car broke through the wooden barrier and sailed into the darkness over the side.
SUNSTONE
AUTHOR: Holly Barbo
GENRE: Steampunk Thriller

The steam-powered civilization of Myrn is a thriving adolescent culture. But the rapid industrial development has given rise to greed, and the triumvirate of government, banks and industry leaders has lost sight of those it is supposed to serve and protect.
When a mysterious incurable illness sweeps through the impoverished masses, increasing the suffering to breaking point, rebellion seems unavoidable. Society is on the brink of revolution, and the planet is marked for destruction.
M’nacht, his son Kes, and his team of researchers investigate a legend about three sacred fossils that could save the people and rebalance Myrn. However, they are not the only ones looking. Where they see salvation, others see power, wealth and control.
Will the gifts from the goddess Navora be found in time to save their world, or will the sacrifice of innocents be lost under the weight of human depravity and corruption?

“Kes, M’nacht’s been attacked! He is in a bad way. I’m at Paramount Hospital now. He’s in surgery and I don’t have any information. I came back from the market to find the place crawling with security officers and M’nacht bleeding and broken on the floor. The room was a mess, as if someone was determined to find something. The officers wanted me to straighten up after they had gotten their evidence. I couldn’t find anything missing, but I did find M’nacht had programed a message bot and left it docked on the dash-key. Kes—he had set it on a timer to call in the alarm! Damn him! He had known they were coming and sent a delayed call for help! He took that beating when he could have prevented it! This morning before I left, he had mentioned for me to keep in touch with you if he couldn’t. I didn’t think much about it at the time. Anyway, I want you to know I’m here and watching out for him. Knowing that maddening old man, he probably sent you a message too. Whatever it was—heed it!”

Kes ran a shaky hand over his face and let out a shuddering breath. The steam car beeped its proximity to their destination. Kes took over the controls and parked in his space. The messages had rattled him enough that he braked the vehicle with a jolt instead of his normal smooth skill. He would rather be by his adopted father’s side, but the old man’s words kept playing in his mind. He needed to get to M’nacht’s place in the Heights as nonchalantly as possible and let himself in. It sounded like the home could be under surveillance. It didn’t matter who was watching: the law or thugs. He couldn’t be seen and he had to get in and out as fast as possible. This was the last twi-day. Perhaps the gloom would help. Pulling out a bulky sweater and a hat to disguise himself, he slipped the pack on his back and left the garage. His vacation could wait a few minutes.

When Kes got to the house, he furtively stepped off the sidewalk and behind some concealing bushes, then, crouching low, sprinted. He let himself into the empty house and, moving with as much rapid stealth as he could, went to M’nacht’s study. He glanced at the blood stains on the rug, the shards of a broken vase and the pile of books that Quin had organized as he’d tidied up. Wasting no time, Kes strode to the navorite and tapped a rhythm on the base. There was an almost inaudible whirring and a click as the gears engaged and the door opened. Kes listened to the silent house, then stepped inside the closet. He quickly removed the sweater and hat, stuffing them in the pack. The peepholes showed he was still alone in the room, so he turned to the work space. He glanced at the shelves and the armored wall safe but nothing appeared abnormal. On the narrow countertop was a small pile of items: a hand-sized leather-bound journal that looked very old and a small silk bag. On the top of both was a moon-pearl blossom. Kes knew that M’nacht loved those flowers. He picked it up. It had been cut that morning and still held traces of dew. Kes knew that the flower marked the small pile as if it had a sign with his name on it.

He stowed the journal in his pack and the small bag into his vest pocket. His hand paused as he pulled out his little fossil. Somehow everything tied back to the little navorite he’d found in the Cradle. He started to slip it back in his pocket when his attention was suddenly drawn to the peepholes. Two men and a woman were silhouetted in the study’s archway. They were using hand signals to each other and carrying cudgels. His heart began to pound and he moved to check if he had completely secured the door. It was still open a crack. With gentle pressure, he closed it, but there was a whisper of a click. One of the men whirled and leaned into the room. From beneath an overturned chair, the little robo-cleaner hummed into view. The man swore under his breath but stepped into the room anyway. The other two silently followed.

His heart was pounding as he peered through the hidden peepholes, watching the man get closer. Suddenly, Kes felt the air stir. There was a tang to the scent which reminded him of the sea. A heartbeat later, the hidden security closet was empty.

        
        

Holly’s world is shaped by her love of family, the beauty of the natural world and an irrepressible creative drive. She has always been curious and sees life through questions. These four characteristics color her writing voice and her stories frequently evolve from her asking “What if….?” Her tales tend to have non-urban settings with nature contributing to the plot, building discordant themes inside a seemingly peaceful refrain.

My motto: Weaving Alternative Worlds with Threads From Today.

Tendrils by Holly Barbo

TENDRILS
Where ’What if’ becomes ‘What is’
AUTHOR: Holly Barbo
COVER DESIGNER: The Graphics Shed
GENRE: Short story collection covering the following genres: Dystopian, Science Fiction, Sci-fi thriller, Sci-fantasy, Contemporary, Contemporary Thriller, Historical Fiction and Fantasy

Stories come from any number of places. One could start from a memory, a photo in a magazine or from pondering a news item and wondering, “What if?”
This collection arose from that sort of random stimuli. Some are pure imagination of science fiction or fantasy. Others developed from random historical facts or the disturbing news stories of war-torn regions.
This is a collection of stories for those who like to think.
Includes 4 award-winning short stories.
“I enjoyed every story in Tendrils! I am impressed with the versatility and well thought out environment in each setting. Obviously good research was put into writing these stories as well as a wonderful gift of empathy with a delightful touch of practical wisdom. In my opinion the last story would even make a good movie!” (Cynthia)
“An excellent compilation of short stories over different genres. I was highly impressed by the quality of the writing and her use of words, which dragged me in on every page.” (Bookcollecter)
“I thoroughly enjoyed this read. I had a hard time putting the book down. Some stories are short, some long. All are suspenseful & of different genre. I am amazed at her extensive vocabulary and her overall knowledge on so many subjects. Her imagination takes you on a great trip every time with every story. None are ever boring. I highly recommend this latest book of hers. You will not be disappointed. Sit back & take yourself on an adventure. You will learn something too along the way.” (Paul and Patti L. Jordan)
SAMPLES FROM 5 OF THE SHORT STORIES
The Tin of Honey:
Zoe knelt by the tiny trickle of water that seeped out around the rocks. She wet some dirt and caked it on the stings that liberally dotted her face and arms. Zoe breathed a sigh as the mud eased the discomfort. The little girl would be filthy by the end of the day, but she doubted anyone would notice.
There was a scuff of sound and Zoe whirled low into the deepest shadows of the rocks. “It’s just me,” came the whisper. Bright green eyes under a messy thatch of brown peered over the edge of the gully.
The little girl sagged in relief. Sam wouldn’t tell on her.
The boy studied his small friend. “I see you found the bee’s nest. Did you get the honey Robson wanted?”
The little girl nodded. She knew the man’s desire for the sweet. He had impatiently pried open the can and grabbed a honeycomb as soon as she delivered it last time. Zoe pointed to the large tin. She stood and brushed the drying mud off her palms as she moved to the container and lifted it into her arms. Sam shook his head at the picture. The tin seemed almost as big as she was. “You got that okay? Both of us have to get back to the work team. We’re late. I’ll see you there.”
Zoe shook the tangle of tawny-colored hair out of her eyes and nodded toward the top of the gully. Sam picked up his bucket of berries and, with a wave, disappeared over the rise.
The youngster scrambled up the slope. The tin was big and awkward in her arms and she stumbled, jarring the container. She struggled to get her balance. Though she knew Sam would have helped her, she couldn’t allow that. There were consequences if she didn’t pull her weight.
Stopping at the edge of the wheat field, she set the big tin down again and rubbed at the bee sting at the edge of her collar of obedience. Nothing could be done about that particular sting. It was just going to chafe against the hard edges of the band. The collar was impossible to take off. All the kids wore one. Robson had found them in the old prison storage room and used them to ensure the orphans did as they were told. The collar was constructed in a series of overlapping metal flakes. It reminded her of the scales of the snake she had seen near the compound last week.
With a sigh, she squatted down and wrapped her skinny arms around the tin. She got the weight balanced and started through the waving grass. Running was impossible, but she hurried the best she could. Sam was far in the distance and would reach the other orphans probably ten minutes ahead of her.
A Crystal Snowflake:
Orion gave a quick scan of the room. He needed to make sure he had everything important. His backpack was stuffed and the computer case held so much that there were edges of paper sticking out of it in a haphazard manner. The slender young man slung the strap of the computer bag over his shoulder, grabbed the backpack and headed for the front door. His hand paused as he reached for the knob and he looked out the window.
It was dark and he could see the snow falling through the street lights. There didn’t seem to be anyone about, so he slipped from the house and walked casually to his trusty old Chevy, his breath coming out in rapid visible puffs. The nonchalance was an act. He wanted anyone watching to assume he was going to M.I.T. to get in some late night work. He scanned the shadows, hoping that no one was there. He threw his backpack on the passenger seat then wedged the computer case between it and the seat back. He wanted both within easy reach. Once buckled in, he allowed his nervousness to slip out and thoroughly checked the view from his mirrors.
He eased onto the street and when there was no sign of his tires slipping, increased his speed. Orion reached into the pocket of the backpack for the pre-paid phone that he’d picked up when he determined his cell had been tapped. At the stop sign, he punched in a number. The snow flurries were increasing and he switched on the wipers. Orion waited for his friend to pick up.
He smiled when he heard her voice and responded by saying, “I’m on my way and no one is following me. Just in case, I sent instructions to our safe place. Don’t worry about retrieving the envelope unless I don’t get there by morning. Okay. Gotta go. I’ll be at your door for breakfast with your favorite croissants. Have the coffee brewed.”
Orion laughed at the response. “Okay. I need to concentrate on driving in this stuff. See you soon, Chayse. Bye.”
Beyond the stop sign, the road sloped to a picturesque country bridge, one of many that dotted the New England states. He had to admit it was beautiful in the snowfall but with the driving conditions worsening, he focused on how the car responded to his small adjustments in steering. In the weak light, he didn’t notice the watcher standing in the shelter of some trees on the far side of the road. The muffled figure took a box out of his pocket, pointed it at the car and pushed a button. The loud sibilant schwuff of the slush hitting the car’s undercarriage drowned out the pop.
Without any warning, Orion’s power steering quit. Working to compensate on the slick road, he fought to correct the fish-tailing motion of the car. “Shit!” He tapped the brakes and was horrified as his foot went all the way to the floor.
Fighting the wheel and the momentum of the old Chevy on the slippery surface became his entire focus…and he was losing. He tried gearing down and applying the emergency brake, but the car went into a spin and he caught a glimpse of the bridge railing coming up too fast. “Shit!” The car broke through the wooden barrier and sailed into the darkness over the side.
Octopus’s Garden:
“Come on, Allie, wake up! Your fever’s broken and we’ve got to get out of here. They plan to kill you!”
A girl with big dark eyes looked over her shoulder from the look-out position near the hallway. “Shh! Keep it down, Mitch! See if you can get her upright. She’s going to be worthless until she gets some fluid and one of those energy bars inside her.”
He lifted the pale girl to the edge of the bed and propping her up, touched a glass of water to her lips. “Allison, take a sip. Open your eyes and look at me. I need you to pay attention.”
The weak girl made a protesting sound but took a sip of water. Her eyelids fluttered. “Where am I?”
Sensing his building impatience, the girl at the door whispered sharply, “Tell her and get her to eat the bar!”
“All right, all right, Pilar!” Mitch returned his focus to Allie. “Can you hear me? I’ll tell you but not until you take a bite. The food will help you feel more like yourself.”
With her eyes still closed, Allison chewed. “Answers now!”
“We’re in the medical research pod of Oceania Four, the Underwater Habitat west of California. A hundred and twenty of us were recruited to help the scientists find ways for humans to adapt to living and working for long periods of time underwater. Do you remember any of this?”
Half of the bar was gone and Allison was sitting up on her own. “Vaguely. Keep talking.”
“We came here to work in the labs. Our college debt would be forgiven and we were guaranteed research jobs.”
“So…I got sick?” The bar was gone and Allie started on the second. She could focus now and was looking around the dimly lit room as she listened.
“We all did. It turns out we’ve been guinea pigs for their gene manipulation experiments.”
“Oh shit. Give me the bottom line.” Allison slipped off the bed and onto her feet. Shaking a little, she reached for the glass of water and a third of the highly-efficient power bars.
“Forty-nine died screaming in agony. Thirty-four mutated into…things beyond nightmares. Eighteen of us made it through the fever and were lucky enough to wake at night and slip out of the facility between security shifts. We’ve come back for you but we’re nearly out of time. There are eighteen remaining and they’re all in beds in this ward, desperately ill. They’ll not get a chance to win or lose their personal battle in the cellular war. We’ve learned the decision’s been made to do a major cover-up and ‘sanitize’ this facility. They plan to euthanize all their test subjects in the morning. That means us if we’re caught!”
The Ball:
Baakir slept curled against his little brother in the dusty darkness. He woke as his mother touched his shoulder. “We must go. Now!”
The boy didn’t question but rose from the sleep mat and waking his brother, lifted the child to his feet. There were sounds from the end of the village: a cacophony of harsh shouts and screams. He took Azizi’s hand and hurried to the doorway where his mother crouched, peering out. The flickering firelight from burning huts glinted on her face and the wire jewelry around her neck. There were shadowed figures moving around the far huts.
“Stay low and follow me.” She looked at her sons to see if they understood.
Both boys nodded.
Slipping a bundle onto her back, Kofi melted into the blackness. Baakir was close enough to touch her skirt but didn’t loosen his grip on little Azizi’s hand. The three became part of the moonless night as they dashed for the depression of the wadi and the deep grass beyond. Each knew they could be discovered at any second!
They were going to the safety of Kofi’s old village. It was isolated in a remote region of the country and away from most of the fighting. The journey would be dangerous but staying was certain death. Baakir heard the throaty grourff of a hunting lion in the distance to his left and swinging little Azizi onto his back, quickened his pace.
At dawn, they hollowed a place in the tall grass. Azizi slid off his back as Baakir sank to his knees. Within minutes both little boys were curled up and sound asleep, the tears on Azizi’s cheeks drying to leave salt trails, which glistened in the morning light.
The Heart of a Shadow:
Giselle came to awareness with a confusion of pebbles and dust pelting her. A stench of concrete powder, burnt plastic, acetone and something she couldn’t place overwhelmed and made her cough. Elle lay disoriented, wondering where she was…what had happened?
The last thing she remembered was walking through the village. The stalls in the open air market were closing for the day. Elle exchanged cheerful banter with the merchants as they gathered their goods and earnings, preparing to go home and spend an evening with their families. She’d grinned at the antics of the flower seller’s daughter who’d been mischievously peeking through the cheerful yellow blossoms. Charmed, Elle had taken her picture. The child’s bubbling laughter was so contagious that several shoppers had stopped just so they could share in the merriment. Abruptly, there was a flash of bright light and the world exploded.
***
At first Elle could only hear the patter of falling debris. The young woman tried to raise her hand to brush the grit out of her eyes. Her body was sluggish and it was a few moments before she managed to touch her face. Elle’s fingertips brushed against painful areas and her hand came away sticky. She was alarmed to see blood smearing her dusty hands.
With a small groan, she turned her head. Chunks of bricks, concrete and boards littered the street. Shock and denial froze her body and took her breath. The beautiful little girl from the flower stall lay broken and still not eight feet away, tossed against the cobbles like a lost doll. Elle stretched her arm toward the child in desperate supplication, beseeching the little girl to blink or move, but it was too late. The muscles in the young woman’s face and chest contracted painfully in grief as she drew in a shuddering breath and began to cry in wrenching bursts.
The sound of running feet and shouts filled her ears. A young man knelt beside her. Efficient hands ran over her, searching for injuries. He leaned low and placed his cheek against hers, making soothing sounds between his questions as her body wracked with sobs. Finding nothing broken, he lifted her to lean against his chest. Water sloshed and a woman’s soothing hands gently washed the cuts on her face. Gradually, Elle’s breathing settled enough for her to answer.
“I’m Giselle Bouvier. People call me Elle. I’m shooting pictures of life at the edge of the war zone. Thought you were out of shelling range.”
The young man brushed her hair away from a cut on her forehead that a woman was swabbing with antiseptic. “Elle, you are one of the lucky ones. The missiles came without warning from miles away. There are rebels in the hills.”

Holly’s world is shaped by her love of family, the beauty of the natural world and an irrepressible creative drive. She has always been curious and sees life through questions. These four characteristics color her writing voice and her stories frequently evolve from her asking “What if….?” Her tales tend to have non-urban settings with nature contributing to the plot, building discordant themes inside a seemingly peaceful refrain.

My motto: Weaving Alternative Worlds with Threads From Today.

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Promotional Book Tour – Gregory Schroeder – ‘Scenes’

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Scenes
Published February 17, 2015
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Wexler studied the terrain through the cracks between the boulders behind which he sat, propped against a flat slab of granite. His tan polo shirt was plastered with sweat; a stray oak leaf stuck in his short gray hair.
The late afternoon sun dappled the scene in a deceptively peaceful pattern. Somewhere out there was the shooter who had barely missed a few short minutes ago. Wexler saw nothing out of the ordinary.
Undergrowth disturbed only by the slight movement of the wind, trees likewise gently and naturally moving. A sparrow landed in a bush 50 feet away and noisily burst into conversation.
Wexler carefully levered himself up and through a slightly larger gap between the rock and moved quickly another 30 feet behind a clump of chokecherries. Just that short burst brought more sweat and hastened his breathing – damn, he was more out of shape than he thought.
Peering through the chokecherries he saw a cardinal’s brilliant red plumage suddenly burst out of hiding in a stately elm and two smaller, more nondescript birds at the same time from the same tree. Tracing the line of the trunk to the ground he saw what he hoped: a human figure clad head-to-toe in a camouflage jumper.
 
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gschroederGreg was born and spent many years enjoying the little things in the Great Midwest. He has, however, spent the last 30 years on the east coast in suburbia. This, plus a diverse work career including teaching high school science, working for Publisher’s Clearing House, owning his own used book store, and, now, working in Health Care IT, all add perspective and diversity to his writing.
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EACH PIC REPRESENTS THE BOOK COVER AND AN EXAMPLE FROM WITHIN THE PAGES.
 
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Conditions
o2
Observations
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52 Haiku
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Transitions
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Moments
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