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My Family is Falling Apart – Part II

I wave goodbye to Karis after dropping her off at her new class. It’s been two days since she last went. I had taken what happened Monday to be a sign that both of us needed a break. I didn’t press too much, but I had a long chat with her about keeping what happened to herself. Especially for the other children and teachers. I don’t like telling my daughter to lie but in this case, it is best that we lie to everyone─ including ourselves. I left that last bit out, of course, an eight-year-old doesn’t need to learn the depressing truths of adulthood just yet.

I’m not even sure what is going on. The last two days have been quiet, no real incidents or weird indoor rain clouds. Just thinking that should be enough to make me feel stupid. Indoor rain clouds. What’s next, gnomes, faeries or maybe the boogeyman? Karis has been spending the night with me. As a parent, I know I really shouldn’t be feeding her fear─ she needs to see reason and logic. Unfortunately, there is no reason behind what has happened. I even got paranoid about it possibly be carbon monoxide poisoning and changed our detector. No luck, no explanation, so I’m relying on the loss of sleep and added stress theory. We’ve both been playing games, watching shows and movies. It was a nice staycation, but it is time to get back to reality.

Traffic is incredibly light today. I pull into the parking garage with 30 minutes to spare. I can’t remember the last time it’s happened. I sigh, my shoulders falling as I walk to the stairs. For once I can sit, read the news and enjoy a cup of coffee before the work day begins.

#

“Tom?”

I look up as she peeks around my office door. “Hey, Carroll what’s up?” I ask. She inches her way into the space, nervously looking around. Carroll was one of those sorts that always looks guilty, even when they’ve done nothing wrong. With her brown hair and slight frame, I’m always reminded of a mouse or rat. Her voice is soft, sometimes it’s hard to hear. “I was wondering if I could have the rest of the day off?” I blinked a few times up at her and then looked over at the clock. It was barely eleven. “Everything ok?” She looks stunned for a moment, then drops her gaze to the floor.

“You…can’t ask that.” I blink a few more. She’s right, I didn’t think of that. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to pry, I was just concerned is all.” Carroll doesn’t react, just shuffles her feet a little and hugs herself. Something is definitely wrong. When she stands in silence, I realize she is waiting for me to approve her time off. My next sentence comes out stilted and awkward, “yes, of course, you may. Take all the time─” she’s out the door before I can finish and the words die in my throat.

In all the years we’ve worked together, I’ve never seen her so upset. I stand and walk across the hallway and then through the small door that leads into her office. An odor immediately hits me, strong and sour. I cover my mouth and nose, searching the room for the source of the smell. Everything is pristine as usual, it’s spotless, so where on earth is that vile smell coming from? I open each of her drawers, scan the desk, and open her cabinets.

“What are you doing?” I jump and spin around. Carroll is blocking the doorway, her eyes rimmed in red. As I get a closer look at her face, I realize she looks terrible. Her features are tired and drawn, her skin a sallow color. Like she hasn’t slept in days. “Do you smell that?” She inhales sharply, her hand coming up and hanging awkwardly as she points in my direction. “You smell it?” I furrow my brows, “Of course, it’s awful. What is that?” She lets out a long sigh, her shoulders sagging. “Oh thank god,” she says, “I thought I was going crazy.”

I walk over to the trash. “Don’t bother,” she whispers. I stop mid-bend and look over my shoulder, “What do you mean?” Carroll shakes her head, “You won’t find the source. I’ve looked everywhere─ even had maintenance go above me to see if a rat had died in the ceiling.” A rat.  I look across at her and she suddenly is aware of me. She wraps herself in a hug, looking over at the glowing monitor.

She looks even more mouse-like as her eyes widen in fear. An overwhelming stench fills the space. It’s so strong I feel like I’m going to vomit, it’s putrid─ rotten. Carroll covers her face and steps back into the hallway. Her eyes water, “please, get out.” I look over at her sudden angry outburst. “Wha─” “Get. Out.” she repeats slowly. I walk from the room, “listen, I’ll have someone take a look at that, you take the day off, ok?” She barely hears me, her eyes staring at the dark space. “Carroll─” she jumps, “stay away from me,” she snaps. I’m stunned into silence. I’ve never seen her behave this way. She spins on her heel and bolts away.

 

#    

 

“Daddy?” I look up from my meal, wondering how long I’ve been staring at my food. Karis’s plate is empty. “What is it, honey buns?” I ask.  Her lips purse and she scrunches her eyebrows together. She looks so much like Jen right now it hurts. It’s the look she gave me when I brought work home. “Does your tummy hurt? You didn’t eat.” I shake my head, “no, baby girl, I’m just worried about your mom.” Her eyebrows go up “why?” she asks, “did you guys fight again?” Then quietly she adds, “is it about me?”

I stare across at this girl that is now definitely on the path to adulthood too soon and wonder if this is what causes it. I’ve never experienced divorce, well, except for my own, but not in life. Kids always called me sheltered. I look at the ground and frown, this is probably what they meant. “No, honey. I haven’t heard from mommy in almost a week. That worries me, doesn’t that worry you?” I’m shocked when she starts laughing. “Daddy, don’t fib to me─ are you playing a trick?” I look up at her face, it’s crinkling near her eyes and her eyes are sparkling. It’s the kind of look a child gets just before you’re about to bring out the tickle monster and they scream, ‘nooo don’t!’ but always stay just within your reach.

She really does think this is just a game. Some secret family joke. I can’t tell if she is in denial or really just believes─ I pause mentally. “Karis, have you heard from mama?” She laughs harder. “Daddy, you’re silly.” “Karis.” I snap in that no-nonsense adult speech we all somehow master. She stops laughing but the glint is still in her eyes. There’s something she’s not telling me. “Why are you asking me? You’re the one that told me mommy is picking me up this weekend.” My jaw drops and I fight the urge to yell, the audacity of this girl lately. “Karis, you know that’s not true. Why are you lying?”

Her lips pressed together and her chin raises, “I am not lying.” she sputters. “Your phone went off last night and you answered. Mama said that she would be here Friday to come and pick me up. And you said─” “Alright if you want to continue with this,” I reach into my pocket and remove my phone. I swipe across the screen and go into my recent calls. It’s the second time tonight my jaw comes unhinged.

She isn’t lying.

I pour through my text messages. There are dozens of new messages between Jenna and me. There’s even one from this morning telling her about Carroll’s strange behavior. Then another message about confirming her picking Karis up at 6 p.m. tomorrow night. “What the fuck,” I say out loud.

Karis gasps, “Oooo. Daddy that’s a no-no word” she whispers. I sigh, “I’m sorry, baby. I guess I forgot about mommy talking with me.” I press my fingers over the bridge of my nose. The pressure feels good, reassuring. What like you aren’t losing your damn mind? I shake my head and try not to fall apart. Karis scoots her floor across the chair and walks over to me.

I feel her little arms wrap around my body and her gentle squeeze. “It’s ok daddy, I get confused sometimes too.” She pauses, “especially with reading─ the words jumble funny. I don’t like them.” She backs away and puts one arm behind her back and then one up to her mouth, nervously biting at the nail. “Does that happen to you?”

I melt at her innocent words. She is trying to make me feel better the only way she knows how. I wish adults were this sincere, it would solve so many of my problems. “Yes, baby it does. It does to everyone that first starts. Speaking of which, go run and do your homework.” She pouts and chews on her nail more, her shoulders slumping. “Now, Karis. I mean it,” I say. She sulks the whole way, but I hear her grab her backpack and go into her room.

I wait until I’m sure she will actually be focused on her work before I slip outside and dial the number. Please pick up, I pray silently. The phone rings a second time, and then a third. By the fourth ring, I’m about to hang up when a sharp click sounds. There’s a brief silence and then shuffling.

“Jen?”

She doesn’t answer. Maybe the connection is bad. “Jenna? Can you hear me?” I ask, worried that maybe she’s in the middle of a surgery. But, if that were true she wouldn’t have her phone on her. It isn’t allowed in the room while she’s working. Maybe she pocket answered. I listen to see if I can hear any rustling or a swoosh.

A long breath of air blows across the microphone, it sounds like a sigh. “Jen, are you on mute? I heard a sigh is that you? If you said anything, I didn’t hear it.” Click.

Click

Click

Click

Click

Click

Click

Click

Click

Click

Cli─ “Tom?”

I jump, then sag and let out a huge sigh of relief, “Oh thank god” I whisper. “What’s that? What’s going on?” Her voice sounds extremely tired like I’ve woken her. I pull the phone away and look at the time. Shit. She normally wakes up in an hour for her shift. Now I feel like even more of an asshole.            

“I’m so sorry to wake you, Jen. I just needed to hear your voice.” I instantly regret saying that. I know what she’s going to say.

“Tom─” she sighs, “Nevermind. Are you OK? Is this about Carroll?” I shake my head and then feel dumb, she can’t see me, “no, no just listen OK?” I know how crazy it’s going to sound, I know it isn’t true, but I feel like the right thing to do right now is be honest. Jenna is a doctor first, she’ll listen and tell me what I should do.

Am I safe to even be around Karis? My mind starts wondering what else has been going on while I took a mental vacation from life. I don’t like it, but I tell her everything─ Karis’s troubles at school, the otherworldly cloud visiter, and the missing timelines and not remembering that we had texted or called.

She’s silent for a few seconds. “Have you told anyone else about this?” “No, no one. You know how bad that would look?” My shoulders droop as the weight of the last few days leaves my body. “Besides, who the hell would believe me?” I hear a click on the other end and some rustling. She must have turned on her bedside lamp. “Honey, I love you, but you have got to start taking care of yourself. Stop worrying about me and everyone else.”

Even when I just told her something that I’d convinced myself was a mental breakdown, she still has that focus and pragmatic nature I love. She is thinking just like me, knowing that I must be under a lot of pressure. There is nothing about this woman that is horrible, no flaws, she handles herself and others so well. That’s what is making this all so hard, I can’t be angry when she’s so level-headed. How can I yell when she makes perfect sense? It was between her words that she wanted me to read, not what she was actually saying.

It’s a way for her to say that I needed to get sleep, eat, get mental rest from work and life. I haven’t given myself enough time to heal. “I’m sorry,” I mutter, “I know you have a life now─ a new one and I keep screwing it up.” She sighs on the other end, but it’s a candid one and somehow gentler.

“You honestly think I’m doing this because I want to?” She’s awake now, there’s no trace of grogginess. She has my full attention. This is news to me, after all, she was the one that filed for a divorce. “What do you mean?” I ask hopefully. “Tom, I’m not doing this right now.” I pace in the kitchen. I’m edging dangerously close to feeling optimistic. I want to ground myself, but it’s no use─ the words just fly out, “Jen, what is all this? Why are you doing this to us?” I hear her sniff on the other side, it’s a wet sniff, she must be crying.

Now I’m really confused. If she didn’t want all of this, why the insistence, why the new place, why any of this? At first, I thought what any newly divorced man thinks─ another man. But after a while, I realized that wasn’t it at all. There would have been plenty of signs, Karis would have seen him by now or hear her mommy talking with him.

“You know why.” her voice is really wavering, a cross between frustrated and sad. I instantly feel guilty. I have no idea why, I haven’t done anything, but her crying is something I’ve never been invulnerable to. I take a long breath in and then exhale. Ok, she is on one of her manic bouts. She probably thinks that we have talked about this before. I calm myself down before speaking.

“Honey, I really don’t. I’m sorry if we talked about this before, but I really don’t remember.” The tears start coming on the other end. She sputtering and sniffing, she sounds really upset. I wait patiently as she collects herself on the line. This is the first time I’ve really heard her get upset, well to this degree. The last time was the day that she left me.

“Tom, I really can’t do this right now. I have less than an hour to my shift.” I sigh, glancing up at the clock. She’s right, but it’s awful timing. If it weren’t for the hour, I would assume she is purposely avoiding me. Would it really matter? I think bitterly. It’s over, and she won’t even tell you why.  That’s not fair, but I need to feel that right now to separate myself emotionally. “Alright, I get it. We’ll see you tomorrow.” She hangs up and I’m the idiot that’s still sitting here and staring at the screen.

#

Karis giggles as we pull up to the building. I stare for several moments from the parking lot. “Wow daddy, it’s like a castle” Karis squeals as she jumps up and down in the back seat. She isn’t kidding. I can’t believe places like this actually exist. I frown, realizing that while I make well over a hundred thousand, it’s nowhere near what Jen makes. I gape at the brickwork and tall iron gates, being a specialist definitely has its perks.

I open the passenger side door and gather Karis’s bags. A whole week away is going to be torture for me. Being a dad is really all that I know. I swallow thickly as I cross over to Karis’s door. I knew it was coming, I had gotten her a whole extra week during the transition of Jen getting a new place. I frown at the extravagance. This isn’t her, maybe she is going through something too. I’ve never known her to get something over $1200 a month─ which was tough in this city, but she had a way of negotiating.

This isn’t just a normal loft─ town-home? I squint at the windows, there are several bay windows, paired off in two’s and then a ten-foot gap between them. These have to be lofts, a town-home would have an entrance on the ground facing the main road and all I see is one entrance and a main roll-up garage door.

Still, these have to run at least three grand a month, we’re barely five minutes from the main city and that’s with traffic. No way she isn’t spending twice our mortgage on this place, I don’t even need to see what the inside of it looks like.

The weird part is this place is new─ it has to be, and yet the bricks look authentic, like something you would have seen in the early twentieth century. I can almost hear the blend of weird car horns and horse-drawn carriages. I glance around feeling incredibly uneasy. Where are the other people? I haven’t spotted a single car since we’ve pulled up. It’s Friday night and we are barely one street over from the main bars and restaurants. Where is everyone?

Karis’s door swings open and she peeks out her little head, “Did you get lost, daddy?” I crack a smile, “har-har” I say. I reach into the car and tickle under her arms and belly. Her giggles are like music to my ears. “OK, OK, I give!” she yells between gasps of air. Man, I’m going to miss this bundle of fun.

#

Jenna looks absolutely stunning and she’s not even trying. I swear she is getting younger, just last week she looked like she was in her late twenties─ she doesn’t look a day over 23. I always thought blue looked really great on her, there’s something about the way her hair looks against it, but these clothes seem like they were made just for her. It’s just a shirt over tights but somehow she manages to make it look like an evening gown.

“Hey Jen,” I say, hating how shy I sound. I’m 42 years old for christ’s sake. “Hey” she replies warmly. There’s something in her eyes as they linger on mine. I can’t help but respond, my body growing warm and heart racing. She bends down to Karis balancing on her legs. “Hey honey-bunny, you want to run upstairs and check out your new room?” Karis squeals again and tears up the stairs.

I shake my head. “Man, I wish I had a tenth of that energy. I’d get so much done.” Jen laughs leading me toward the stairs. “Right? I’d kill for that some days.” That gets a real laugh out of me, “Hun have you seen yourself? I have never seen any woman look as good as you at 39.” Her laughing stops and she pauses near the top of the staircase, “Looks can be deceiving.”

I’m confused by her sudden moment of silence. Had I offended her?

A scream sounds from down the hall─ it’s long and loud, really loud.

 

Conclusion coming soon! xoxo – C.A.

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Vengeance – Part 1 – An Action Adventure

Audiobook Version

(Warning! NSFW)

Gone. Before my eyes the world I knew swept from me in a tide of flame─ never-ending, and twisting to the sky. The barrel of the gun is pressed to the back of my skull. I’m on my knees like a dog, bound to a large steel frame─ part of an unfinished house next to ours. I watch silently, my voice gone from screaming. I squeeze my eyes shut─ God make it stop. I knew the answer to my silent plea. Prayer was for children and fairy tales. We had moved here to start a new life. The whole area had been part of a revamp project to help inner-city families. We’d moved into the first house built on a street called hope. Hope. How ironic. The now glowing embers and faint silhouettes are all that stands of our sanctuary. My eyes wander to their faces. I know I shouldn’t, but force myself to look. They hang from the porch, as if swinging from the gallows. My husband for the first time looks like a sleeping child. The half of his face that is left is serene─ the other half is a pulpy mass. They didn’t waste time on him.

I then look to my son and gag, wanting to purge the image from my mind. The whites of his eyes shine through the quieted flame, like the walking dead he floats and his little face is frozen in anguish. He is still wearing what he wore to bed─ his iron man socks and underwear. They didn’t even have the decency to dress him. His body is so terribly beaten that the color of his flesh is purple. I want to cry, but nothing comes out. There’s a fluttering response in my belly─ almost as if my unborn son knows his fate. I wish I could offer some comfort. I hope that they will end us both soon. Laughter sounds, silencing my thoughts. The barrel nudges me from behind, a gentle reminder of my position. There is a slight movement to my right, crunching gravel and the surrounding laughter ceases. 

You’ve been a bad girl, my dear,” the voice calls. It’s the kind of voice that creeps along your spine with all the eloquence of a black widow. Vertebrae by vertebrae it prods gently─ waiting for the right bit of flesh to sink its fangs into. From the shadows steps a man dressed in the finest suit I’d ever seen─ it’s perfectly tailored for his body. He is tall and solid, the kind of man you avoid on the street. It’s something in the way he holds himself, he doesn’t need to look intimidating─ he just is. Suit’s fedora is placed just so that I can’t get a decent look at him. I don’t need to, I know who he is. Daemon’s right-hand man, Ty. I’ll never call him this− it would somehow make him human. He doesn’t deserve that. To me, he’s just Suit. My eyes search the group as I memorize each of their faces. Finally, they stop on the Suit. 

He sneers, “What, nothing to say for once sweetheart?” He pauses and looks around, chuckling with his filthy hyenas. Sauntering up, he steps behind me. I feel the gun removed from my head. There’s a crunching noise before the heel of his foot is put in its place. “Come on, there must be something,” he quips, digging his foot into my skull. I stare at the ground, mute. He sighs, retracts his foot and then brings it down hard on my head─ a grunt of satisfaction leaving his lips. I wait for the next one, but it doesn’t come. He’s pausing─ for what I don’t know. I wait and begin to fidget. Surely there is more. Then I feel the binds fall to the ground. I jolt forward, but someone slams me back into place. A tunnel of black clouds my vision, but I fight hard and remain conscious. It’s a small victory at least. He grabs both my hands and ties them over my head. I swallow thickly, the worst is coming. His hands brush against mine and trail along my left arm down to my chest. Suit’s hands hover just above my breast. Then he moves it over to my heart and presses against me firmly. For five long beats, he stays this way. Then the rocks scrape across the concrete as he shifts, standing over me.

The world is suddenly ringing─ jarring and cruel. His groans of pleasure sound as kick after paralyzing kick begins. My ribs sing in agony and I feel my right eye swell then finally close. One last kick and he stops, leaning down to my face. I can smell him─ smell the bourbon and rot through his shit-eating grin. I will never forget this smell. He reaches down into his pocket and pulls something out. There is a familiar flick and I jerk feverishly looking up. A lighter. But I’m not given time to panic, there’s a sharp pain in the back of my head. It’s the last I know before darkness creeps in. I wish in these last moments to join my family. 

# 

The breath of life wakes me and I curse at the unwanted gift. Pristine black shoes invade my one good eye, sliding to a halt. In the distance, a wailing siren sounds over the gentle crackling of subdued flame. Were they my sirens? Had someone called in the fire? Tristan… I vow revenge in that moment, for my husband, my two sons─ offering to whatever deity can hear me my servitude. An instant passes−the feint flutter of wings resonates against the buildings. My eye strains and then focuses to the dark stretch of alley visible between Suit’s legs. A lone raven lands and cocks its head to the side. It stares in my direction, then eyes the men. It’s waiting. A single grating voice disturbs the hush and I cringe at reality.

C’mon where’s my feisty little reporter that I so admire. No stories for me?” Even though I know it won’t help, I stay quiet. He shifts and then continues, “maybe one about a particular company? Hmm, Vivian? ” My name slithers off of his tongue as if he were seducing a lover and I retch in disgust. Leaning down, he caresses my cheek. I try twisting away but he holds my face in place.

You and me, we could have a little fun before you go. I’ve always had a thing for redheads.” I growl pulling furiously away from his grasp, but he holds my chin in place.

I level my gaze at him, “I’d rather swallow razor blades while cigarettes are put out in my eyes,” I quip through clenched teeth.

Mmm, well suit yourself, love.” He lets go and with one hand, singles out a small patch of hair near my face. Reaching into his pocket, he pulls out a knife. When I try to squirm, he just laughs and cuts the strand from my face, nicking my brow.
He stands and parts the hair into two piles. One he pockets and the other, to my growing disgust, places in his mouth. He lets out a low moan, savoring the strands like they were a fine wine. Sick bastard. Suit finishes and leans down to dust off his shoes. 

Now, where were we, my dear?”

I feel the crushing weight of his foot bear down on my gut squeezing what little life is left of the child inside of me. I feel my baby’s fluttering movements as he tries to escape the pressure. I snap and thrust my head forward into Suit’s shin with as much force as I can. He curses and backs away, grabbing at his leg. Before I can stop myself words finally spew out. 

Stop it! You have what you want, they’re all dead.” My desperation does nothing but inflates his anger and he delivers a swift blow to my nose. Blood leaks down into my screaming mouth. Who was I kidding, what wayward deity would heed my call? I prayed for a quick death. There is that hope again─ I knew better. Daemon’s men took great pleasure in drawing out the kill. My husband was an exception to the rule, simply because in the right frame of mind, he would have killed these thugs in less than five minutes.

Suit chuckles, dusting off his pants. His tone comes out dismissive, “Alright, Green. It’s time the newbie earned his spot in the crew. Go on behind her and get your gun ready.” From behind, I hear shuffling and someone slowly walks up to me. I hear Suit sigh and tap his foot.

Kevin, what are you doing? Pull out the gun and place it on her head. We need to teach her a lesson.” I can hardly manage to breathe as I wait.

Yeah, sure I know.” Hesitation, “I just, you know─ do you have to beat her so much?” Suit doesn’t answer. The boy stutters, “I mean, damn man she’s already busted up real bad.” Keeping my head low, I glance at Suit’s shoes as he strolls over to Kevin.

Tell you what, Green. Why don’t you give me the gun and I’ll find a man that has a pair out here to do it for you.” Kevin shifts again before I hear the gun being handed off.

Look, I’m sorry Ty I just I got a soft spot for girls. That’s all, I don’t mean any disrespect─ It’s just whoa─ whoa okay man I’m leaving, alright?” The quick shuffle of his boots sounds as Kevin turns to leave. He gets midway across the parking lot before Suit puts three rounds in him. The deafening slump of his body signals the end of chivalry in the group.

Any more concerns, gentlemen?” When no one speaks, he hands the gun off to the nearest lackey and walks in front of me. Lackey two quickly shuffles and then presses the gun hard into my temple.

There now, all cozy.” He rubs his hands together. “Interruptions, interruptions. Where was I?” He claps, “Ah yes, the fact that you can’t keep your nose out of company affairs.” As if scolding a child, he tousles my hair. 

Well now, can’t have that, can we darling. Mr. Reese is a very busy man, I’m afraid, and can’t make it to your execution. But don’t worry. It will all be filmed for his enjoyment later.” His words sounded like he was explaining them to a business partner, just business as usual. No big deal we’ve murdered your entire family. 

Fuck this.

You spineless piece of shit. You think you’re going to get away with this? I’m sorry, that all of you, are going to get away with this?” She spat blood at the ground wincing from the pain before continuing.

What do you think will happen when a major news anchor doesn’t show for her reveal of the biggest accounting scandal the United States has known? All those poor families tossed aside─ They don’t even know what N.C. Global has in store for them, and all of you?” she paused chuckling─ let them blow her brains out.

All of you just sit back, get richer and watch your former employees die on the street from starvation. Yeah, I stuck my nose in─ right where it belonged, arrogant prick.” A sharp slap across my face sends me into fits of laughter, all sanity thrown to the winds like ashes. He slaps me again and again. The blood’s really flowing now, soaking the ground in front of me. I watch as it snakes around his black boots, untouched and blossoming into wings. At least a part of me can be free. The raven calls in the distance, maybe letting me know it’s still there. Maybe it’s come for the soul I’ve offered. Or maybe I’ve finally lost it. I smile through the long tangles of red matted to my face. My vision is sorely impaired, I can barely make him out. I look up to Suit’s shadowed form and whisper my last words.

Pray I don’t make it out of this alive.”

The Suit stops, watching me from above. I revel in his brief insecurity. For once, he is speechless. But that’s all Fate has allowed. To my dismay, his wheezing laughter sounds.

You think this is only about money? Oh, little girl, it’s more than that. You have−” Quickened crunches of gravel interrupt us, followed by an alarmed voice. 

We got problems, someone reported the fire and shots. We got five minutes, maybe less.” Tick, tock the death clock tolls. Suit clicks through his teeth, “Too bad, I wanted to have a little more fun with this one too.” Leaning down, he presses his mouth close to my ear. “How’s that sweet little sister of yours doing?” No. Not this, let it end with this. I can feel his smile with the next sentence, “Lily, was it?” My eyes widen in disbelief and a gag is thrust into my mouth. God, no her life was just starting. Lily was halfway through her doctorates at Harvard, barely 18. We had just celebrated her 18th birthday a few weeks ago. We knew she was special after testing out of middle school at eight. Lily was the only family that I had. Our parents had passed when we were young and our grandparents had succumbed to cancer several years ago. 

Standing, he turns and walks away. “Time for naughty little girls to go to bed.”

My bravado gone, I scream─ my vocal cords’ tearing until nothing comes out. Suit is gone, I don’t know where─ I desperately rip at my binds. My left shoulder cries in protest but I pull harder, finally dislocating it. It can’t end like this, not like this. They had to pay, all of them. The barrel nestles in the back of my skull. Give me fiery eternity─ I’d barter with any devil, spirit, or demon. The fates willing, even in death, I’d find a way. The resounding click cuts through my thoughts as the hammer is pulled back.

Shit. 

Flurries of wings, the splintering of skull, and silence.

Long moments pass and there is nothing. It feels like hours. I am stuck between existence and abyss. Did he pull the trigger? Maybe this is what they talk about. The minutes of brain function before you slowly fade. I’m in the fade. My thoughts cease as I feel the presence creeping behind me. Slinking, calculated steps. I wince at the glow and then look to see my body lying limp from the pole before me. Bits of gore and blood spray the sidewalk fanning out in a perfect semi-circle. Entranced I stare unable to tear my gaze from the beaten form. I should feel something, but all my emotions feel hollow. Except one─ hate. It fills me.

What is it that you want? The entity calls. Feathers explode surrounding my new body─ tenderly embracing it’s every orifice. I welcome the intrusion, letting it seep in. I halt as I draw breath. It is a curious effect because I feel nothing come in or out. For the first time, breathing is optional. For a moment, I struggle to find my voice─ then it rings out with clarity.

I demand retribution” I growl.

Yes indeed, it whispers, then a pause. And I can help you─ but first, a contract must be formed. I should have known. Nothing is free in the real world, why would it be after death?

I’m surprised at the wariness in my own voice, “Do what you must.”

Laughter reverberates off the enclosed space like autumn leaves. Child, do you know what you are getting into? My chin rises stubbornly though I quake in fear from its mighty presence. “I don’t care the cost, give me the contract.” In an instant, the twin beauties appear before my eyes. Their chrome is embellished with delicate, intricate designs− Desert Eagles, 50 caliber. One forged from obsidian, the other pure silver. Ironic, Tristan always told me they weren’t for girls. He was a retired war vet, so naturally had taught me how to shoot. She winced at the past tense used in her own mind. A shame neither of us were prepared since we moved to our city home. Anger shoots full force as I think about what had been done to both him and our son, Jason─ of the life ruined inside of me. Yes, I would do anything it took to make this right. No matter the cost. Choose the right one to commit the act, or suffer an eternity of servitude without your vengeance. But a warning−patience does not exist within the dark.

Words appear on each weapon, snaking around the intricate carvings. Vengeance to the left on Obsidian: Loyalty to the right on silver. So here was my catch. Vengeance was what I wanted, wanted bad but loyalty made sense since I would be in contract. More than likely, I would have to serve this thing, whatever it was, for the rest of eternity. Or did it anticipate that I would think that and pick vengeance instead as the right choice? Decisions, decisions time was ticking.

What do they both mean? Explain my choices.” Ah, clever girl. I will tell you, but for a price. I’m growing impatient with its games, but I need to know. “What is the cost?”

When and IF you are revived, no one will remember you. Not even your precious Lily─ if you so much as talk with her, the contract is broken and you will be sent to eternal damnation−
“And my vengeance is not given, I get it. Anything else?” I become nervous as the being is quiet for a while, I try to turn but something keeps me at bay. You are not allowed to see just yet, child. Of course not, could this thing be any more infuriating?

Here are the answers in which you seek:

Upon choosing the left with vengeance in mind, 

There can only be Death to the life you are tied

Never to see the light of day

And dissipate your spirit will. 

Upon choosing the right with loyalty in mind

Life will restore but to darkness, you bind

Vengeance is a mystery left to stay

However, your soul will forever remain. 

What did it mean, what did it mean? I try to break it down, so if I choose vengeance my soul goes away and I lose my life. But if I chose loyalty then there’s a chance that I may never get my vengeance. What the hell do I do? Images flash through my mind, my husband Tristan asking me to marry him, our first time to make love. The joyous news of a child and our first home, then Scott’s first steps, his sweet morning kisses. All of it gone in seconds─ precious seconds that now slip past me and a choice that will change everything. 

Time is running out ─ choose or I choose for you. My gaze flits left to right, wavering between the two. I hover for several seconds by Vengeance before finally jerking my hand to the right and gripping my destiny.

Now place the barrel to your temple and pull the trigger. 

Didn’t I have enough bullets to the brain for one night? My hand shakes from the weight of the gun as I put it in place, taking all of my strength to put the finger on the trigger. Ten seconds, twenty─ screw it. I close my eyes tight and squeeze the trigger feeling the bullet of Loyalty scream through. Laughter erupts around me.

The contract is sealed. 

#

Opening my eyes, I stare at stark, white walls. For a moment, I look around before realization sets in. This was it, a second chance. It is my time─ my fate and no one would take it from me again. Glancing down, I spot a neat pile of clothes and grin. On top is a folded piece of paper. Inside in fine print is an address:

105 West Main Street.

I know that it will lead me on the path to finding Suit and his men. The life telling machines beep in alarm as I rip the tubes from my arms and nose. Padding down the hall, I duck into the bathroom. The mirror is not a friendly place. I’ve lost quite a bit of weight and my hair has grown long. I know I shouldn’t, but I do anyway. I slowly pull at my shirt and look down. A small scar is visible, the scar where my little one was taken away. I have nothing. How could these bastards live with themselves? For god’s sake, I was seven months pregnant. Anger flows and I punch the glass in front of me.

The answer was simple─ I was nothing personal to any of them. Wiping the blood from my hand I lose myself a little to the madness and laugh. There would be no remorse or pity for them, and I was making it personal. I quickly change and smooth back my hair. Feeling a little less like a cancer patient, I step out of the bathroom. A nurse passes, eying me suspiciously. I take a casual stride as she passes and then slip from the nearest side exit. A blinding world awaits me, the sunlight shimmering down. Was it all a dream? As if in response, I feel the weight in each of my pockets. Reaching my hands inside they find the silky-smooth metal of the guns. There’s a street bike running, ten feet away. I smile as I ride from the parking lot.

Gallery

Red – A Psychological Thriller

Audiobook version here 

Warning, NSFW!

I pull the hoodie over my face, skirting behind Phase I in the west side apartments. I move quickly, rubbing my hands together and puffing little spurts of warmth into them. They’ve long turned into handscicles, and I vigorously alternate blowing hot air and rubbing them together. Phase I is much nicer than our apartments in Phase II. They even have platinum cards that unlock the gym by the office. Our apartments don’t even come with a stackable washer and dryer, let alone other amenities. Each building in Phase I contain two units, compared to our four, and the parking is covered. It takes about seven minutes to walk from Phase II to Phase I. I’ve timed it and with a marginal error of .08 seconds, varying on the speed of the walker, I find that a brisk pace clocks in at mostly seven minutes. I have not tested running.

Huffing up the final hill, I stop and stare out across the lot. The buildings in Phase II look like badly colored models, each strung with mismatched, twinkling lights. Travis and mine are one of the top units furthest to the left. Nestled close to the woods, it is the very last building to Phase II, and the only patio not blinking with festive lights. I tear my eyes from the gingerbread scene and lumber over to the parking spaces by the gym. My hands feel cold and sweaty. I cannot stop them from shaking, so I stuff them into the pockets of my jacket. I pray the thin fabric keeps them constrained, at least, for now. Tonight is the night I’ve been planning around for three long weeks. I crouch behind Tita’s brand new Infinity GI and watch as the thin figures run in place. The whir of the cycles and treadmills can be heard through the glass.

Tonight, the gym is packed with women, beautiful women, but only one is worth my time. Still, I take my time and marvel at their glistening, pale skin bouncing off of the harsh glow. It rivals the moon’s brilliance from the back alleyways in Fox Hollow. I stumbled across the neat little patches of homes several months ago. I’d fallen asleep and missed my stop after working a double shift. The moment I stepped off of that bus, I knew this would be the place of my future home. The stars were brighter, and the air smelled like honeysuckle after the rain. I inhaled it like a well-seasoned addict snorting a line of sugar. Call me crazy, but the hour bus ride and two-hour hike on foot is well worth it. I often envision myself sitting on one of the grand balconies, sipping Cognac and smoking Cuban cigars. Travis always makes fun of me for it, calling me ‘old man.’ It doesn’t bother me not really. Ill get out of this place someday, I know it.

Lately, I’ve been at the library studying every medical book I can get my hands on especially anatomy books. Sometimes when Travis and I get lucky, we leech off of our neighbors wireless, and I can search up any of the medical terms I don’t understand. I even started riding the bus to the local community college and asking questions. The advisor always has a hair out of place with a smile that never quite reaches her eyes. Shed look alright if she werent so fat. I figure I can stick it out there for a while, get the basics, and then maybe go to the university downtown. Ive been thinking about that a lot. The human body is a symphony of evolution. It changes tempo and accommodates for the key changes. Only genes matter. Each strand of DNA can make up the hellish discord people try to forget, or the heavenly chorus line that everyone remembers. It doesnt discern poor from rich. Genius can be born from the streets. You just got to know the right people. People like Titas father.

It wasn’t just about that though. I knew I wanted her from the first time she handed me her bags. I managed to snag a job at the Hilton carrying luggage for fifteen an hour. Not bad for someone like me. I always end up working in the usual places, retail, fast food, stuff like that. I had to borrow money from Travis to buy clothes for the interview, but I’ve already paid him back. I always pay back. I’m going to have to buy more clothes soon, or my boss will catch on that I lied about where I live. You got to lie when you aren’t born into wealth. It’s just how it is. Fake it till you make it and all that shit.

I remember being lost in Tita’s perfectly straight hair. Each strand was meticulously arranged to frame her face and shoulders. It ran down to her waist and was dark, darker than those gourmet chocolate bars that cost five dollars at Central Market. We talked the entire week she was at the doctor’s retreat. I found out her dad was one of the top neurosurgeons in the U.S., and was hosting a lecture that week on the new findings of children with Autism. Tita really wasn’t into that. She was more into anatomy, namely surgery, like me. It takes vast amounts of patience and deft slicing skills with a scalpel. Her knowledge of the human body was more than spectacular. It was a form of art. Somewhere, in the vast pool of human dredge, our bodies evolved from similar genes. It couldn’t have been coincidence that she stood before me, barely twenty-three, and almost through with her doctorates. We are the same, even in age, and I realized then, like now, that I need to show her my art. I can be just as precise. I’ve been practicing mostly on small to mid-sized animals in the woods behind Fox Hollow.

I am careful to always bring a change of clothing and shoes. But then, the need has progressed, and I have found larger things, softer things.

It is amazing how easy women will follow a good looking guy into the woods. Even some I barely know. It’s easy to single them out and know where to go. The bars are the obvious place, but those types quickly bore me. I like to find the odd ones that visit internet café’s or libraries. When I am able to get internet, it is really easy to pick out women in chat rooms. They always leap at the chance to meet up. One look at me is more than enough to convince them. And then off we go, hand in hand to their place of resting. Wealthy women are the most exciting. They assume that I target them for money and open their pocketbooks. The look they give me when I open them instead is breathtaking. I never touch any of them. It makes my skin crawl thinking of kissing their diseased, eager mouths. Only Tita could get a rise out of me in that way. We are the one percent of better equipped, and more evolved species. Not like my stain of a father. He died and left six kids to fend for ourselves. And for what, just to get his next fix.

I’ll never forgive him for what he did to Fe, and she was only fourteen. To a druggy, Fe was an easy meal ticket. No one questioned a hooker’s age. In fact, they probably knew. Fe’s beaten and half-burned body was dumped from the senator’s limo behind the local Chinese buffet. I was the only witness, and no one believes a nine-year-old boy. When the senator drove past, he handed me a crisp, hundred dollar bill. I held on to it for seven years and then stuffed it down his whore of a daughter’s throat as I plunged my knife in her left eye. No investigation was ever opened for Fe. She was born from an immigrant family. The other kids were legalized through the state and got into okay homes. One of my younger brothers even got into med school. I was too old for anyone to want me. No one wants a boy past the age of five or six no one, that is, except Mal. I never told Travis about him, probably never will. I dont think too much about that anymore. At least, I try not to. But sometimes it just kind of boils up all red and I have tofix it. Thats why I need to get out of this place, go to school, and then work on my real passion. At least then I wont go to jail for what I do. Ill get paid to do it. It will help me become acceptable to society. It cracks me up to think that some street kid like me is going to cut on all those suits with dick for brains.

I don’t want to think about that now though. I want to think about the silky smooth touch of Tita’s bare skin, and her beautiful toffee colored eyes behind square rims. I want to think about her hand brushing mine, as she slipped me a fifty that last night she stayed at the hotel. Through our long conversations, I gathered where she lived. I’ve been watching her ever since. She never misses a day of working out. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays she runs four miles. Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays are gym days. And Sunday she rides fifty miles on her bike. During the day, she attends school, and in the afternoon she shadows under Dr. Stein at Presbyterian Hospital. Every second Friday night, at exactly 10 p.m., she carries out a large, black duffel bag and is dressed for a night out. Her friends must meet her because I never see anyone visit Tita’s apartment, not even her father. When she returns at 3 a.m., she is dressed in casual clothing, usually jeans and a tee-shirt. I’m curious as to where she goes on these nights, and what, if not whom, she is doing. I’ve never seen her with a man or woman. Her driving is unpredictable. She drives the wrong way down one-way streets, and never manages to get into an accident. It’s almost as if she knows someone is following her. Travis’s Camry is no match. Even though Travis has a car, he doesn’t want it. He prefers riding the bus, so I’ve been steadily paying off the car. He says I only owe two grand, and then the car is mine.

I glance down at my watch it was almost time for Tita to get on the treadmill. I know Im being pathetic, but you never saw such bouncing beauties. The things I wanted to do to those tits. In heels, Tita is almost as tall as me, but her bones are small and delicate. She couldnt weigh more than a hundred and twenty pounds. I never thought about that before, I guess. But tonight, it is important.

My teeth chatter as I jump up and down. Next time, I’m borrowing Travis’s coat. He never leaves the apartment much anyway. Yellow blinking lights catch my attention, and I bolt across the parking lot toward the drink machines. I’m barely able to round the corner before the guard drives up. The brakes squeal, and from my peripheral view, I see that he has stopped. I can feel him scrutinizing my every move as I dig for change. Please let me have the right pants on. I relax as my hand grasps a crinkled wad of ones and I pull it from the stash. It’s going to cut into my dinner fund for the week, but this takes precedence.

Hey.” He says.

I freeze at his commanding rumble and turn. I pull the cowl from over my face and smile warmly. You have to disarm your opponent early before he catches on. I saunter toward him, wearing the fake grin. I’m good at making it reach my eyes. I’ve mastered it. My voice raises an octave and I take on a casual tone. I once read an article that people find higher voiced men to be non-threatening.

Evening officer,” I say. The guard likes this form of respect and smiles. His face and hands are weathered, no doubt from years of hard labor or service. He walks with a limp but tries to keep it hidden through controlled steps. If I had to guess, I’d say ex-military. He looks like a real hard-ass, even when smiling.

Haven’t seen you around. New to the building?” he asks. He’s testing me. He’ll be looking for a change in speech or tone that will give away my true intentions. This is his turf hell know the tenant list. There is no sense in lying.

Oh, no sir, I actually live in Phase II. Just came up to see my girlfriend. She’s in the gym working out right now.” I gesture toward the glass building. “She’s the curvaceous brunette on the far right.”

The guard lets out a low whistle, as he turns back to me. “I’ve been eyeing that piece for a while now.” He admires her for a second too long and I want to rip out his throat. Then he turns back. “I’ve never seen you with her though.” He says. I can tell I’m making him uneasy. I bother him, but he can’t seem to guess why. I let out a chuckle and scratch the back of my head. “Well, technically, she’d be upset if she saw me out here. If Daddy finds out we’re dating he’d flip a bitch.” I lean in. “I just like to watch her run if you know what I mean.”

The guard leans over laughing and slaps his knee. “Ah, hell, is that why you were out there crouched behind the cars like some weirdo stalker?” Someone has spotted me. This is unacceptable. I burst out laughing with him and nod my head. In my haste, I’d forgotten to fully scan the area tonight. There was no room for error and now my whole evening is compromised. Sooner or later though, hard-ass was going to ask Tita about her boyfriend. Once he finds out the truth, there will be no stopping him. No, I just have to take my chances and go through with the plan. The most the person probably saw was a guy with a hoodie standing behind Tita’s car. No defining features or giveaways. This is going to work. It has to.

Shaking his head, the guard gets back into his golf cart. “I’d do the same if she were mine.” The beep from the engine sounds and the guard starts it up. “Don’t go around scaring my tenants anymore, alright?”

I put on my best guilty face and incline my head. “No problem, won’t happen again, I promise.” I wave as he leaves and returns to the soda machine. I need a plan. No doubt he will wait to see if I return to Phase II. I got off lucky. He forgot to ask what apartment I live in. I stare at the white letters that are scribbled across the red machine. Maybe they will give me an answer. The black trim is stifling over the red glow. I want it to melt away so I can get to the cool innards. But it is strong. The only way to get my prize is to wait while the coins fall in place and the can comes to me. I just need to push the right button. I smile at the blue and red can that pops out. I know what to do.

* * *

I shouldn’t have gone for my ribs. I think one may be cracked. I had to keep the wound out of sight. Sergeant Guard thinks I don’t see him behind the first building in Phase II. His bulky form is easy to make out against the delicate branches of the dogwood. A stench of recently put out black and mild cigarillo permeates the air. Mal’s favorite. The red tinges my vision, but I push it down. I’m too close, I can’t lose it now. I manage to make it up the stairs and into our apartment. Travis is curled up in his usual spot on the couch with his laptop. His mop of brown hair is barely visible over the monitor. Like most eighteen-year-olds, the computer is his life. The only difference is Travis has a social anxiety disorder. I usually have to do most of his errands for him, so I know this will be hard.

Travis, help.” I wheeze, falling to the floor.

He jumps up and runs to my side. I feel guilty for tricking the kid, but this is the only way. I’m running out of time. In thirty minutes Tita will have finished. By now she’s left the treadmill and has moved to weight lifting. I’m impressed by her leg presses. The muscles beneath her flesh must be lean and strong. It will be a real treat to see them up close. I growl as Travis picks me up and walks over to the couch. I tell him I’ve been jumped by some punks in Phase II, he buys it. In less than ten minutes he’s off to pick up some meds from one of his online buds across town. I know the bus route. It will take him two hours and forty-five minutes to return. That leaves me just enough time. I hand him the hoodie and tell him to bundle up, it’s cold outside. I smile as he pulls the hood over his face and walks out. I’ve chosen my double well, we have very similar body types and from the distance the guard would be standing, we’d look identical.

Five minutes and fifty-eight seconds later, I’m in front of the gym. I’m hoping she remembers me. It has been three weeks since she last saw me. The guard will get bored once he is convinced I am really waiting on the bus, and will leave. I pray he doesn’t confront Travis to find out why I am leaving, when I am supposed to be waiting on my girlfriend to get out of the gym. These are risks I just have to take. Tita is looking at her wrist now and moves to grab her coat. Right on time, she never disappoints. I walk over to her building and reach for my keys. I know she is right behind me as I pretend to be lost, and looking around. I hate improvising but this will have to do. I take one final look and start heading back to the path. I’m surprised to find her watching me. She hasn’t said anything, and I’m nervous she doesn’t remember. I try to walk past her, but she steps in my path.

Jason?” her tone sounds guarded. I have to watch what I say.

I look up, feigning surprise. “Yes?”

Tita is staring me down like all those rich people do when I walk through their neighborhood. I’ve had the cops called on me twice for just walking down the street. I’m tempted to do her here, right under the stairs, but then some jack-ass walks out of his apartment to smoke. I stick my hand in my pocket and run my thumb along the blade. I know it is just a dumb thought, but I’m still irritated by his intrusion. By now, the red is making my head throb, I can’t last much longer. I need release soon.

What are you doing here?” Tita asks. Her eyes, normally soft and inviting, have turned to crystallized amber. This is not how I wanted things to go. I need to make her believe, it’s my last chance.

I look to the ground and cough, trying to look flustered. “I, well, just moved in. I’ve been at my parent’s this last week, so this is my first time seeing the place after we moved all of my stuff in.” I laugh, feeling like an idiot. “I think I’m a bit lost.” She doesn’t look convinced. I’m debating my next sentence. If Tita doesn’t buy anything I say, she’ll never invite me in. That’s why I nearly trip over myself when she does.

My goodness, you poor thing. I’ve been there before.” She gestures up the stairs to her apartment. “You want to come up for a bit?” Her shoulders relax and she smiles warmly. I turn toward the building as if hesitating on her invite. Then I turn back.

Sure.”

* * *

Tita prattles on about the weather outside as she puts her coat on the wall. She offers to take Travis’s coat and I let her. I finger the chloroform cloth in my pocket. I’m safe from the guard for now, but that doesn’t worry me. What does is trying to get to Tita’s car with a hundred and twenty pound duffel bag. Her apartment is just as I pictured it; Clean, and white. Her minimalistic taste is almost unbearable, I want her now. I want to see the red across the crisp, white rug. I want to flay her honey skin on the deep walnut flooring. But I restrain myself. Sooner or later she will have to turn her back and I will pounce. She turns on the T.V.

Would you like any tea?” she asks. Yes, I do. Then Tita walks away. She leaves a trail of perfume. It’s flowery and fresh like the smell of linen. I slip off my shoes and stand. The stove is in the back of the u-shaped kitchen and her back is to me. My hand is a miniature earthquake as I pull the cloth from my pocket and soak it with chloroform. I need this so bad. Just a few more feet and the red will go away. All the grunting men that stood over my naked, bent form will go away. The tiny razors and cigarillos carving into my flesh will go away. Mal will go away.

I’m behind her when she turns and smiles. Seconds later there is a sharp pinch in my neck. I drop to the floor and the world goes black.

* * *

I wake in an all-white room, the brick is gray and there is plastic lining the floors. The humming and beeping of the life telling machines drone on. I cannot move. She stands before me, an angel in white. She is adorned in a blue sash that is wrapped once around her thin neck and drapes on either side of her breasts. It is tinged in various hues of red, some stains newer than others. Tita leans down so close that I can feel the heat radiating from her body.

I saw you watching me.” She whispers. She rises up then pulls something from the table on my left. My eyes stretch as far as they can and I’m barely able to see the outline of a black bag. I look back at her, the knife glistens in her hand like a miniature sword. I see the same eagerness in her vision that often tinges mine. My gaze never leaves hers as she makes the first incision below my sternum.

Gallery

Coral – A Short Story

Coral

      I watch from the window as the tall, dark-haired woman walks to her car. She’s dressed smartly for the summer in a cool white dress and matching shoes. Her coral colored toes peek playfully from the crisp, white heels. Coral nail polish is mama’s favorite too. I have a sneaking suspicion that there exists a secret witch’s coven dedicated to destroying children’s lives, all of them standing in neat little rows with coral painted feet. I stick my tongue out and make faces at the woman behind her back. Ms. Cathy’s neat little brown bun, like the last of my hope, disappears into the green ford explorer. The wheels crunching over the gravel sounds like rain beating across our thin roof. This time she stayed less than ten minutes. She spoke in that annoying tone that adults do when they think you are pulling one over on them. Most of the women that came out would simply say ‘mind your mother now and be a good girl’. They have never witnessed mama’s wrath or that look in her eye. The look that could melt all of Antarctica with a single glance.

Katherine-Anne- Thomas you get out here right now.”

      I sulk at Mama’s tone, she always sounds like she is screaming at me to come inside. No matter how far I stand from her. I take my time, dragging my fingers along the familiar dips and bumps on the wall. I pause at the entrance to the living room and then drop down to my knees and peer around the TV stand. Her blonde mane is perfectly groomed, each strand of hair curls to frame her heart-shaped face. Her bangs had been feathered just right to hover over magazine quality blue eyes. The rich seductive curve of her lips is outlined in a fiery red and she is clothed in a silky string top the same color over black slacks. If it is one thing mama is good at, it is finding stylish clothes on a budget. She once found a pair of real leather boots miss-marked at twenty-nine dollars. Not only did she get the boots at a reduced price but also a complementary matching purse and wallet. Mama always wins.

I cringe at the giggles and coos of my half-brother as he stands to point in his bouncy chair from the kitchen doorway. I hadn’t noticed him since he is on the left and mama is on the couch to the right. “Shi-Shi” Logan squeals in full force. His sing-song voice bounds from wall to wall sealing my fate with the happy jingle, tingle of the bells on either side of him.

    “Katherine, now.” More than her usual yelling spree, it was the calm, collected voice she sometimes uses that scares me the most. And today is one of those days. I gulp and rise up on shaky knees. My teeth, no matter how hard I press them down, will not stop chattering. I round the corner I stare up at the fierce, flush face of my mother. I bring my gaze to the floor a millisecond too late and her hand clamps over my cheeks.

Don’t you look at me that way, you know exactly what you did,” she spits, tightening her grip.

I haven’t done anything, it was more than likely our neighbors that called, but there is no

convincing her of that. Besides, apologizing only ignited her anger further. I wisely remained

silent and locked my gaze on the pearly glow of her coral nail polish. Each toe was dug firm into

the ground, straining to break free of their wooden captor. I became mesmerized by the gleam,

the unending sea of peachy-red and I tried to imagine what the color would feel like wrapped

around my arms. Maybe it would comfort and warm me, sprinkle cinnamon and peach kisses

across my face like grandma. Grandma’s kisses were always the best, proud and solidly planted

on my forehead. But grandma was dead, long dead from cancer that had spread throughout her

chest and stomach. There was no sense in wishing for her now. Logan’s preoccupied giggles

peppered through seconds before I felt the repeated pounding of numbing blows. He must have

lost interest and began playing with his toys.

My body lay as still as a statue, not moving until I heard her slowly pad toward the baby.

Cracking my eyes a tiny slit, I watched as she bent down and picked Logan up from his bouncy

swing. His eyes scanned the room and then looked down at me. He made an uncertain gurgle,

patting mama’s face and pointing to me. Laughing she nuzzled him to her face and walked into

the kitchen. I heard him say shi-shi as mama gently lowered him into his high chair.

Now, now” I heard mama coo, “Shi-shi is taking a nap and it’s time for your lunch. How

about sweet peas for my sweetie?”

I counted the grooves in the wood. I looked as

far away as my eyes could without opening further. This was a way for me to gauge time, once I

was able to count them ten times it was okay to get up and go to my room. On the tenth pass, I

heard the key enter the front door and quickly stood up, dusting my arms and legs. Mechanically,

I walked to the front door and smiled as my stepfather came in. He had dark rings under his

chocolate colored eyes and his normal neat crop of black hair was tousled and unkempt. He

smelled of sweat and metal, no doubt from his long night shift. I knew it was almost time for his nap before he had to turn around and go to school.

My stepdad is a good guy; he never touches me or beats me in any way. That makes him

pretty decent in my book. I know that he knows about mom’s beatings but he cleverly avoids the

topic. Mom once confronted him and asked him to use the belt on me, but he said it wasn’t his

place and she snatched the belt away tearing it across my legs and back.

James,” Mama says, her cheeks glowing like the color of her toes. His deep laugh

rumbles through his chest as mama hugs him tight.

I slowly inch toward the hallway as they talk about each other’s day. I am almost to my sanctuary when Mama calls from the kitchen. She must have finished lunch because when I return to the living room my stepdad is flicking through channels on the TV and eating a sandwich. My stomach grumbles in protest as I step into the kitchen. I look down at the off-white tile and marveled again at the

perfection of Mama’s handy work. The toes seem to be getting brighter as the day passed, shining

like the surface of the sun in the afternoon light. I silently wonder if I hack them

into tiny pieces what I would find. I began to seriously believe it

was her natural toenail color. Grabbing a patch of my hair she twists until I am down on one

knee whimpering. I hate giving in, hate it so much I bite down on my tongue and fight not to

scream. I stare blankly at Mama’s blouse, careful to not cry or show anger.

You listen well you little brat. I want you to do the dishes” she yanks harder until

I am sure my whole left side of hair would rip off. “Logan’s father and I are going to sleep, understand?” I nod my head, gritting my teeth through the white-hot pokers in my skull.

Your brother is also laying down, so I expect not so much as a clang from this kitchen.

Are we clear?” She gives my hair one final tug and throws me back into the stove. I drop to a fetal position on the floor and stare forward. She slowly walks toward me, each reddish-pink nail on her pristine feet slowly coming into focus. I can feel her staring down at me, watching every microexpression on my face. Finally, there is a shift in the air and then she is gone. Just to be safe, I slowly count to ten before getting up. I pace back and forth, imagining that each step creates a tiny groove in the tile. That would get her, if I just dent the floor enough she would trip and maybe put a chip in her flawless

toes. I pause as something occurs to me, why haven’t I thought of it before? The color, the c-

o-l- o-r. I drew it out in my mind, each syllable burning worse than the last. I have to rid her of

the nail color. It’s probably filtered into her bloodstream, polluting her mind with its filthy lies about me. A bad, bad girl− it would say. Looks too much like her deadbeat dad, it would snicker in its low

raspy taunt. No, not the sweet warmth of cinnamon and peach, it has tricked me all along. It has to be fooling Mama too.

Tears wet my face for the first time in two years as I pre-rinse each pan, bowl, and plate,

placing them into the dishwasher. It is our newest appliance, one that has eaten up most of my

Stepdad’s savings. I lean over to place the final two bowls in the washer when one

slips from my grasp. I stare in horror as it shatters into a thousand porcelain pieces, dusting the

floor like newly fallen snow. I freeze, my hands clamping over my mouth. I draw a shaky breath, my eyes glued to the doorway. The mountainous roar that follows confirms my worst fear. There is a flurry of movement, all yellow, red and black. Cool, clammy hands wrap around my neck and squeeze. “You-did- that-on- purpose, you little bitch.” I try in vain to speak to her. I try to tell Mama that it was the nails, the vile color she painted on them from the little glass tube was controlling her mind. Instead, the only thing I manage is a puff of air and a squeak as I slowly lose feeling in my legs. I claw at her vice-like grip sinking to the floor. My eyes lock with her tempests of blue. But somehow they look purple now, with ribbons of red snaking through. The coral has won, they have tinged her eyes. I must look like a stranger in our home and she is trying to protect all of us.

Maybe I am in my room, playing with the Barbie she gave me for my fifth birthday. It is probably just a dream and I will wake any moment to my other life. My real life. My lungs are about to burst, I can feel the coral sinking into them through my windpipe from Mama’s fingertips. My vision fades as I hear a soft voice calling to me in the distance. I smile at the calm, beautiful woman that reaches out to me. There she is, my real mother. I can see her in our backyard, looking at me with a profound sense of love. Tears spill down my cheeks as I call to her. From the distance, I hear my stepfather yell. A smile forms on my lips, my vision darkening but still present enough to make out what is in front of me.

I have finally done it; put a chip in the perfect peachy color. Just beneath Mama’s feet a rich, vivid red spills onto the floor. I grin as I feel the warmth of the color wrapping my body and drawing me close. It weeps softly, rocking me to sleep.

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Anime Fest 2017 and Hell’s Gate Updates

I made it, I did it, and whew are conventions hard on me! For those that aren’t aware, I am what’s known high-functioning autistic. (Formerly known as Asperger) Large, crowded events really aren’t my thing. But, strangely enough, I love presentations. For reasons even unknown to me, I’ve enjoyed doing presentations since I was a kiddo. Especially when I get to talk about the things I love. Like scary, spooky things that go bump in the night.

:3

After years of CBT, I’m able to make it through walking around but these events have always felt alien to me and extremely uncomfortable. The only way I can truly be happy is behind a camera, or up on stage. Two extremely odd things for most people─ but somehow, I’m one with the goat and much enjoy sitting in high places above people as I talk about my childhood loves.

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I’ll have con footage up soon, and show all the great people I saw at this year’s event. In all honesty, A-Fest has been one of my all-time favorite shows and still continues to be. It was very well coordinated, and the staff was on top of things and quick to help and answer any questions that I had.

Hell’s Gate

Book two is finally here! Get ready for its October release in a big way. I had a few people at the convention ask when book two would finally be out and I will have an official release date this week. For those that aren’t aware, Hell’s Gate is a series comprised of three books. You can see my interview covering my adventures here:

Suffice it to say, if you like J-Fashion, J-Culture, Urban Legends and Mythology mixed in with adventures, this is your cup of tea. It is what is known as a Dark Fantasy and because of my love for genre-bending, it has horror elements and urban legends.

If you have an affinity for the dark side like me, you can also find my podcasts and my thriller audiobooks/audio-stories on YouTube

Enjoy, my friends and as always, stay creepy. More announcements on HG coming soon.

xoxoxo

─C.A.

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Live Events, Giveaways, and Anime Fest 2017

One of my all-time fav conventions is nearly here! Anime Fest (August 17th – 20th) has hands-down been one of my favorites since I started attending them some years ago. I am extremely biased when it comes to these sort of events, however, because I’ve always preferred smaller crowds. Granted, the fact that AnimeFest is now being hosted near my home in the Sheraton Hotel certainly means they’ve grown exponentially.

And have you SEEN the guest line up for this year? If you haven’t, seriously go look it up.

Unfortunately, for our team at Dusk Publishing, we weren’t able to snag a table this year at the event─ But, we are doing panels. And a panel I have planned oh hohoho~~

If you aren’t currently watching my Live Events, or are just kind of tuning in, I do live writing panels and stories for DuskLive on FB from 2p.m. – 2:30 p.m. These usually don’t go for more than a couple of minutes, but I like to stay on the safe side, just in case we have people asking questions! Once these live events are finished, I post them on all of my social media pages. So if you can’t attend, no worries─ they are always posted afterward. (like the one this past Sunday about a scary experience I had while I was in Japan doing research for the Hell’s Gate book series.)

For the AnimeFest panel, you can expect to have all my usual bizarre Japanese culture and Urban Legends content that you can find on Soundcloud (now slowly being added to my YouTube channel) and on my Livestream events.  This year, I’ll be covering modern Japanese urban legends and where they come from and also talking about some ancient Japanese urban legends. We’ll all sit and reminisce as I talk about my experiences from Japan (interesting, bizarre─ and the everyday life as a ‘normal’ Japanese citizen)

The panel will be held on Thursday, August 17th from 5 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. in Panel 4. 

For this panel, I’ll have copies of Hell’s Gate readily available, or you can bring your own for signing!

If you aren’t aware, you can actually enter to win a free copy of Hell’s Gate in our contest. (Hurry, it’s only running until 7/27/17!)

This next Sunday, (July 30th) I’ll be covering ways to combat writer’s block and techniques that I use to help. See you guys there!

 

xoxo

C.A. ❤

 

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Hell’s Gate Book One Release – Details

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The day has come! This week is the release of the fabled Hell’s Gate, book one in the series. Book two is scheduled for release in October of this year. 

If you attended Akon28 you probably passed by our booth and saw the pre-order table. Well, it’s finally here and you will be getting that sent out to you next week! For those of you that couldn’t attend, you can still get the pre-order swag. Pre-ordering is opening up today, and will go until tomorrow, June 22nd at 11:59 p.m.

After that, the novel will be available on Amazon and later the audiobook will be available on Audible.

The pre-order will get you:

  1. an artbook/book companion with language details and meanings to help you understand Japanese culture.
  2. A poster designed by me
  3. And of course, the star of the show─ the novel!

To be clear, this is just the pre-order for the specialty items that come with this online offer. (as in orders I take to send off personally) It’s a limited edition order that has to first arrive at my house, and then I sign and send them off.
This is for my own personal calculation so that I know how many specialty items to make. 🙂 If I garner enough interest, then I’ll add it on Amazon as an option.
No payments will be taken at this time, and you will be charged when you order through Amazon for secure payment.

The pre-order is now closed. Thanks to everyone that pre-ordered!

Thanks to everyone that participated in my online twitter campaign. I had a blast interacting with all of you and letting the story grow each day. 🙂

xoxo─

C.A.