Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Living with Your Past Selves by Bill Hiatt


My parents told me afterward that Stan had been at the hospital almost as much as they had, that he often held my hand and talked to me, that almost as often he cried when he thought nobody was looking. I often wondered if his friendship had somehow anchored me, saved me.

And yet here I was, standing by him as he slept, with some of my ancient and medieval past personas wanting to throw him out the window, smother him with a pillow, run him through with a sword—anything to mend the tynged and save me from that uncertain something waiting to swallow me up. I didn’t really blame them in a way—some of them came from much more savage times in which moral dilemmas did not interfere with survival. Fortunately, they were just echoes of the past; I was the one who was in control, and if I had to face death or worse so Stan could live, then I would. Easy to say, I know, but at the time I really believed it. My past lives gave me a wild side I sometimes had to restrain, but they also gave me wisdom “beyond my years,” you might say.

That did, however, leave the question of what to do with Stan. I could do more than charm him to sleep. I could, for example, make him forget, but that process posed more risks. I would have trouble wiping just the memories that threatened me, and, looking down at him and thinking about his brilliant mind, I just couldn’t make myself take the chance. Besides, unless I erased much more, and took an even bigger risk, he would just come to the same conclusion again at some point in the near future. Instead of erasing his memories, I settled for a temporary fix and made him think he had dreamed the conversation with me. When he awoke, he would be a little groggy, not prone to act out the discussion he thought he had dreamed. I would walk him home—he lived just down the block—and I would buy myself a few days perhaps, to figure out what to do.

“Yes, Stan,” I whispered to him again. “You were right. I am Taliesin Weaver right now, but I was also the Taliesin who journeyed with Arthur to Annwn and then wrote about the journey later. And I was the more ‘historical’ Taliesin who was the court poet to King Urien of Rheged. I am betting you looked him up in Wikipedia and would have asked me about him had I given you half a chance. I have been other Taliesins as well, and many, many other people. The best part of all that, though it almost crushed me, is I can access any memory, use any skill from any of them; at least I can if I concentrate hard enough. Why that is true, what the purpose of all of it is, I really, really, wish we could find out together, but that, my friend, is a journey I am going to have to take alone.”

With that I brought him back to semi-wakefulness, just as I had planned, walked him home to make sure he got there in one piece, went back to my place, had the usual tense dinner with my parents, played the harp a little, and then crawled into bed, though naturally I couldn’t sleep.

Around midnight I heard howling that would be enough to freeze anyone’s blood, let alone someone like me who knew what it meant. The howl was followed soon enough by harsh scratching at the windows and by a moaning lament in, you guessed it, Welsh.

Over breakfast, my parents speculated about what could have caused all the racket last night, but I already knew.

We had heard the Gwrach y Rhibyn, the Welsh Banshee. When it spoke, it spoke to the relatives of the one who was going to die, wording its lament from their point of view.

Last night it spoke to my parents. It repeated, “Oh, my son!” to them over and over.

Now what Stan did or didn’t know became the least of my worries.

The tynged had been broken, and the price for its breaking was death. Mine.


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Orange Karen: Tribute to a Warrior by Multiple Authors

Change Finds You

by Cara Michaels

“The date of record is October thirtieth, two-thousand-twelve. This is Special Agent Everett Benjamin.”

The voice drew my attention from the digital voice recorder resting on the table. The red recording light assured everyone observing that my words would be captured for all time, with “all time” defined as “until the Gemini Group buried the story”. At best, anything I said today would end up in a heavily redacted report buried in some government archive. Hadn’t stopped me from trying to get the word out, though. No, the FBI could take credit there. Getting nabbed at a convenience store just proved I’d never been intended for the undercover life. I’d only lasted two months on the official run.

“For the record, please state your name.” The special agent sitting across from me held an air of comfortable superiority. As homegrown investigative organizations rated, he still believed his FBI sat at the top of the food chain.

How sweet.

“Dr. Savannah Welborn.”

“Thank you, Doctor.” For a tough FBI guy, he had a nice voice. Kind of deep, kind of mellow.

The pen held between his index and middle fingers drummed an uneven, impatient beat. The air conditioning kicked on, a background hum of recycled air smelling faintly of paper and dust. Like the room needed to be colder. What brainless desk jockey thought hypothermia contributed to productivity? The beds of my fingernails had turned blue some fifteen minutes of waiting ago. My body had already forgotten how it felt to be warm. Inside, outside, and everywhere in between. I ground my teeth to hold in a shiver.

“Not a problem, Agent Benjamin,” I said. I even flashed my gritted teeth as I smiled. Just call me Doctor Cooperative.

His gaze slid over my Celldweller concert tee. Beneath the table, worn blue jeans allowed refrigerated air to sneak in at the torn knees. Like I needed his visual disdain to tell me I was way underdressed for a federal interrogation. They didn’t do anything without a tie or stockings.

At least my feet stayed warm in socks and sneakers.

“Sorry,” I said. “I didn’t get apprehended in my Sunday best. I’ll try harder next time.”

His lips pinched, biting down on whatever he wanted to say and emphasizing his stern features. Add a sense of humor and strip away the premature aging of his job, and I put him in his early thirties, maybe. Salt dashed his black pepper hair, the cut military short.

“You understand why you’re here, yes?” he asked.

“I can play stupid if you’d prefer to explain it for the viewers at home.” I gestured to the large mirror dominating the end of the room on my left.

Benjamin clenched his teeth, let out a slow breath.

“You’ve been charged with obstruction of an ongoing investigation, as well as aiding and abetting the vigilante organization known as the Paladins.”

He made a good show of flipping through a manila folder stuffed with evidence. Of my so-called crimes, no doubt. My actions over the last several years tied me to the Paladins and — if one knew where to look — to the Gemini Group who had unintentionally created them. I’d built the Gemini Group, created the experiments, written the procedures. I’d documented its transition into a monster as the sons and daughters of my trial groups grew and revealed the changes in their genetic codes.

The cells made to save their parents had resulted in unexpected, even terrifying mutations. A woman with Ehler Danlos Syndrome gave birth to a daughter who could dislocate and reshape her bones and body at will. A man with early-onset Alzheimer’s fathered a child with eidetic memory. A treatment for severe hypothermia resulted in a son with extreme cold tolerance, who could manipulate the temperature around him, and even generate ice from the water in the air.

In short, my efforts to cure disease created superhumans.

But Karen Gemini, the reason any of my work had been possible, accused me of using her to play God.

She had it right, maybe. At least in the beginning.

Like a proud parent, I’d been thrilled by these gifted children. But like regular humans, they came in all shades of good, bad, and indifferent. Some made an effort to use their unique abilities to help the world around them. The public had taken to calling them the Paladins, and it suited them. Honorable, fierce, and steadfast in the face of a world turning on them.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Karen Gemini gathered the blackest souls to her bosom, a nightmare brood poised to unleash hell on earth.

The FBI and Agent Benjamin might not yet realize it, but the Paladins stood in the way of gathering darkness. And as the woman whose research had started all of this, I stood to shield the Paladins.

If Benjamin meant to intimidate me, he needed a new strategy.

Go ahead, Agent Benjamin. Take me down. This is so much bigger than you know.

“Dr. Welborn?” Benjamin’s gaze, his eyes an eerie amber-orange, fixed on me.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “Did you want me to deny the allegations? For dramatic effect?”

He turned away, but not before I saw him grimace. Aw, did my attitude hurt his career advancement opportunities? Tough shit.

He needed to toughen up his poker face for this job.

I’d stepped into sharky waters with open eyes. I’d known the risks of siding with the Paladins. Of siding against Gemini.

I smiled.

He rolled his eyes, tension visible along his jaw. “Belligerent charm. Does that work for you often?”

“What do you want from me here, Agent?”

“Names. Aliases. Addresses. We want the Paladin operation.”

I laughed. Not a polite titter, but a snort of disbelief. “Sorry to say, but you’re doomed to disappointment.”


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Sunday, July 28, 2013

Collapse by Richard Stephenson (Excerpt)


While Howard continued to sip his coffee in the comfort of his mansion, Richard Dupree awoke in his bunk at the Highland Valley State Prison in western California.  Las Vegas was fifty miles due east of the maximum-security facility.  At the bottom of a valley, the prison sat with mountains on three sides, the fourth side being the exit to the valley fifteen miles to the south.  The facility was built in the middle of nowhere, no towns or roads, nothing but heat and dirt.  The state of California spared no expense when erecting the prison.  Not only did they have to build the facility, they had to build the roads and utilities leading to it.  Once the infrastructure was in place, opportunistic land developers were happy to swoop in and build a small town in which the staff and their families could reside.  They even built a few hotels and restaurants for the employees of the prison and the people who visited their loved ones incarcerated there.  The overcrowded prisons in the state were happy to send their inmates; however, the primary function of the facility was to house prisoners who had a history of escape.

Famous escapees from around the country were ushered to the isolated prison. California was proud to boast that they had the most secure prison in the country and welcomed the publicity.  Such publicity could only be rivaled by Alcatraz.  Should an inmate escape, they would literally have nowhere to go.  The mountains and the cruel heat saw to that.  An escaped inmate would not dare venture into the small town of Highland Valley; their captors and their families lived there and were well armed.  The inmates that did manage to escape died from the elements.  The heat and the sand were unforgiving.  Some of the escapees even came back to the front entrance of the prison and surrendered, desperately seeking shelter.  The Warden welcomed them back with open arms and escorted them in so they could discourage their fellow inmates from attempting to leave his fine establishment.  The attempts started to dwindle and then disappeared for good.  No one had attempted to flee into the blistering, hell-like terrain for over eleven years.

Richard’s cellmate was grunting out his morning dump on the toilet on the opposite side of the cell.  “Jesus, Billy, you can’t wait thirty minutes for the door to unlock so I can get out of here?”

“Sorry, man.  No choice.”

Richard rolled over and crammed his face in the pillow to escape the stench.  His cellmate had many flaws that continued to grind on his last nerve and this was one of them.   Tank, as his cellmate was called, had very little consideration for anyone, not even his own cellmate.   Incapacitating anyone that called him on his lack of consideration was one of Tank’s favorite activities.  When you stood 6 foot 9 inches tall and weighed in at three hundred twenty-five pounds of muscle, you could shit pretty much anywhere you damned well pleased.

Richard was no slouch himself.  He was in his early thirties, a few inches shorter than Tank, and in the best shape of his life.  Not much else to do on a twenty-five year sentence but work out and read books.  He tolerated Tank because Tank practically worshipped him.  When The Incredible Hulk was your number one fan, it was hard to pass up the advantage.  Richard was smart enough to realize that.  Richard chuckled to himself that Hulk would be a much more appropriate nickname than Tank.

Tank flushed the toilet.  “You hitting the track with us?”

“For sure,” Richard replied.  Richard ran six days a week.  Tank asked this question six days a week, and Richard’s answer was always the same.  “Us” was the gang that Tank was a member of, the Aryan Brotherhood.  Tank was about as proud as a white boy could be and was also the biggest racist in the Aryan Brotherhood.  For a member of a White Supremacy group, that was saying a lot.  Without even opening his mouth, his racism was literally tattooed across his body.  The three main attractions of his ink included a swastika across his forehead, a very angry looking Adolf Hitler across his chest, and the words “White Power” emblazoned across his massive back.  He had many others tattoos on his body.  Richard was disgusted by the racism.  The tattoo that shocked Richard the most was the one on Tank’s right bicep.  On it was a black man hanging dead from a tree; three hooded figures from the KKK looked up at him with torches.  One thing was certain, Tank belonged in prison, and the mere sight of him would ensure he would never attain gainful employment.  The thought of Tank sitting down for a job interview was a source of great amusement for Richard.

When Richard first met Tank six years ago, that tattoo constantly bugged him.  He thought for sure that any man brave (or stupid) enough to sport such a tattoo would surely be murdered, regardless of gang affiliation.  At first, Richard deduced that the Aryan Brotherhood was the most powerful and influential gang in the Highland Valley State Prison.  The Aryan Brotherhood made up around one percent of the prison population around the country and was responsible for around twenty percent of the murders.   It didn’t take Richard long to realize that the Aryan Brotherhood, while it had power and influence, was not even close to the top of the food chain.  They simply didn’t have the numbers.  The smallest Hispanic gang had almost twice the membership of the Aryan Brotherhood.  So, the fact that Tank bore such a horribly offensive tattoo bugged Richard even more.

Determined to speak to no one, Richard had decided not get involved with any of the gangs; he simply wished to do his time in peace.   The Aryan Brotherhood had other plans.  Any solid looking white guy who looked like he could handle himself always got their attention.  Richard certainly matched that description perfectly.

Recruitment was the number one priority of the Aryans.  They needed muscle, they needed numbers, and they needed soldiers to beef up the ranks.  They had their eye on Richard.  He was smart enough not to piss them off, but he was also smart enough to know how to ride the fence and not get involved.

That’s where Tank came into the picture.

Tank pretty much ignored Richard at first.  Tank couldn’t care less about recruitment; he left that to his fellow skinheads so he could focus on other things like extortion and turning the guards to do his bidding.  He even bragged that he was still able to get laid.  Richard cringed to think that most of Tank’s sexual encounters were probably far from consensual.

One day Tank went from not even knowing Richard was alive to suddenly thinking Richard was the greatest person to set foot in the prison.  He walked up to Richard on the yard; Richard was certain Tank was going to punch him in the face.  Instead of a punch, Tank clapped him on the back.

“What’s up, Killer?”

“Uhh, nothing, just getting ready to hit the track.”

“My name’s Tank, Killer,” Tank said with an enthusiastic grin.

“I’m Richard.”

“Good to meet you, Killer.  Heard a lot about you.  Love running, do you? I couldn’t stand the thought of not being able to run.”

The first thought to cross Richard’s mind was that this guy had called him “Killer” three times in under a minute.  In their prison, “Killer” meant a chronic masturbator who enjoyed jerking off in front of the prison staff.  Richard jerked off of course, but never in front of another person, especially not in front of any of the guards.  Judging by the way Tank was treating him, the nickname was clearly not meant to insult him. The second and more troubling thought was that this guy had “heard a lot about him.”  How is that even possible?  Wanting to be left alone, Richard went out of his way not to talk to anyone.

“Want to hit the track with us?”  Tank asked.  Well, he technically “asked” but the implication was quite clear that Richard had little choice but to comply.  They hit the track that morning and over the course of a few weeks it become as routine as breathing.  This Andre the Giant clown treated Richard like a celebrity, and Richard was determined to find out the reason.

Trying not to come across as disrespectful, Richard figured the only way was the direct one, so he asked him point blank how he knew so much about him.

“One of the guards asked me when you were going to join the Aryans.  He said you belonged with us.  Well, I hate it when those fucks know something I don’t, and that asshole guard was grinning at me like I should have known about you the second you hit the yard.”

Suddenly, it dawned on Richard what was going on.  Tank knew about the crimes that landed him in jail for twenty-five years.  It was also clear where his new nickname came from.

Not long after Tank took Richard under his wing, he demanded that the other Aryans treat Richard with the same respect.  A few of them felt slighted that Richard did not express an interest in joining their operation.  They couldn’t really figure the guy out.  He hardly said a word and didn’t react to much of anything.  He always appeared to be deep in thought.  Tank kept assuring them that Richard would come around.  He was one of them, he had proven himself worthy.

“Oh yeah, what makes you so sure about that Billy?” asked an older skinhead one day when they were playing cards in the common area of their cellblock.  Tank had brought Richard along hoping that they would accept him.

“I’ll tell you why, Jeff.  My man Richard here beat two niggers to death.  One of them he beat to death in front of other niggers.  They couldn’t do nothing but watch!  Tell me, Jeff, how many inferiors have you killed?  How much trash have you taken out to make this world a better place?  Huh?”

Jeff did not respond.

“Well, I’ll tell you one thing, Jeff, I killed my share and your share of monkeys, so think about who the hell you’re talking to!”

Jeff pretended to study his cards and kept his mouth shut.

“You boys hear about what got me a life sentence?”

I really don’t want to know this, thought Richard.  I already hate this animal enough.

“My hometown was really going down the shitter.  Niggers everywhere.  They just kept moving into white neighborhoods turning everything to shit.  Pretty soon the schools were full of little monkeys and not long after that, most of the teachers were niggers.  Then they started with all the Black History bullshit and African Studies.  Can you believe that shit?  What does a pure, white kid need to know about African Studies?

Richard didn’t know if the question was rhetorical; Tank was looking at him so he nodded his head.  Richard wasn’t sure how much more of this he could take.  He wanted to get up and leave. No one was listening to Tank; they were all studying Richard to gauge his reaction.

“I had enough; no one was doing a damned thing to stop it, so I knew it was up to me.  I loaded up my cargo pockets with shotgun shells, and me and my Mossberg 464 took a trip down to the high school to put a stop to that school turning our kids into nigger lovers.”

Richard doubted, more like hoped, that Tank hadn’t brought a junior Nazi into the world.  The world could do without Tank, let alone his offspring.

“I walked in, shot the nigger principal first.  Then I went from class to class and shot as many nigger teachers as I could find.  A little nigger kid must’ve thought his football playin’ would help him tackle me down.  Nope.  Blew his kneecap clean off.”  Tank laughed hysterically when he remembered the look on the kid’s face.

Everyone at the table was studying Richard very carefully.  Richard felt like throwing up.  He knew he had only a few seconds before they all caught on to his disgust.

Richard faked a smile, clapped Tank on his massive shoulder and replied, “Damned good thing you did that.  White folks everywhere should be grateful.”

“Fuckin-A right!  The rest of you wannabes better recognize what I done and have some respect for my man Richard here!”

Richard was smart enough to realize just how valuable Tank was in terms of a tactical advantage.  With the help of Tank, he managed to move into his cellblock, and later became his cellmate.  Richard ignored the rumors and gossip that he was Tank’s bitch.  The other inmates were sure that Richard would eventually emerge one morning from Tank’s cell wearing lipstick and nursing a sore asshole.  Tank had far too much respect for Richard to even think about attacking him.  In fact, he had never laid a hand on him.

With the stench of Tank’s morning bowel movement still lingering in their cell, Richard somehow managed to get dressed and put his running shoes on without passing out.  A few minutes later, the guard came around and unlocked the cell doors so they could make the trip to the chow hall for breakfast.  Richard and Tank always ran before breakfast so they hit the track instead.

After breakfast they returned to their block, showered and decided to play some basketball.  Some other skinheads already had managed to secure their own court.  Tank and Richard sat in the bleachers and joined in a conversation between two other guys named Spider and Head.

Spider was a skinny little kid in his late twenties.  He was always cracking jokes about the guards; he even did passable imitations of a few of them.  Richard liked Spider; he was always good for a laugh.  He was a complete moron, but his idiotic ideas were fun to listen to and riling him up was one of Richard’s favorite forms of entertainment.  Richard had no idea how he got the name Spider and quite frankly didn’t care.  The kid was skinny, ugly as sin, and nothing about him evoked the thought of an arachnid.

Spider had been the typical juvenile delinquent.  The high school dropout had a bad habit of car-jacking unsuspecting motorists.  When he started viciously beating elderly black people for their cars, his luck changed.  He spent the first six years of his incarceration working his way up the ranks of the Aryans.  To the casual observer, Spider might come across as a hyper man-child trying to impress everyone, but underneath, his hatred and anger were eating him alive.

Head’s nickname, however, was not difficult to figure out.  It had nothing to do with intelligence, but rather his enormous skull.  Richard had never seen a bigger head on a man in his entire life.  It was enormous.  You would think that shaving the hair off that boulder would make his head look smaller, but it didn’t.  Head was maybe a few years younger than Richard and the same height.  The large-headed man maybe had fifty pounds on Richard but was not in the best of shape.

Head was proud of his nickname.  He thought it was because of his signature fighting move, the head-butt.  Head’s favorite move was known to knock a man smooth on his ass and end a fight.  Richard often wondered if Head would ever figure out that his nickname was not in honor of fighting prowess, but rather served to mock his freak show of a noggin.

“I’m telling you man, no fuckin way man, not possible!”  Head protested.

“What are you idiots talking about?” asked Tank.

“Spider is on one of his idiotic conspiracy theories again,” Head replied.

“Fuck you, Head.  You know it’s true,” Spider said with a sheepish grin.

Head was right; Spider was constantly rambling on and on about every conspiracy theory you could think of.  If you were stupid enough to get him going on one of his rants, he wouldn’t stop until you agreed with him (or at least told him what he wanted to hear) about the moon landing being a hoax, aliens at Roswell, and 9/11 being an inside job.  Spider proudly proclaimed that he was there and saw the Twin Towers fall, even though he was either an infant or a toddler at the time.

“So, what is it this time?”  Richard asked.

Head cut Spider off.  “Our young friend here is convinced that Hurricane Luther was a conspiracy.”

“What?” Richard laughed.  “How can a natural disaster be a conspiracy?”

Head continued to speak for Spider.  “What was it, Spider?  Aliens are out to take ov…”

“Fuck you, Head!”  Spider laughed.  “You know that ain’t what I said!”

“Right, right, right.  Spider here thinks that the U.S. government engineered a hurricane to wipe out Florida.”

“What the fuck the government have against Florida?”  Tank asked.

Spider interpreted the question as interest and saw his chance.  “OK, think about it, just hear me out.  Luther was just a test hurricane.  You just wait, there will be more.”

“Jackass, you didn’t answer my question.  What do the Feds have against Florida?” Tank shot back.

“It’s all about fear and control, man!  Don’t you see it?  Just look at what’s going on today.  It’s been over a month and they haven’t done shit for those people!”

Against his better judgment, Richard violated the cardinal rule when dealing with Spider – he engaged him in debate.  “What makes you say that?  I haven’t seen shit on the news about Luther.”

“Exactly my point, Killer!”  Spider screamed.  “What better way to end the Second Great Depression than by wiping out a bunch of people.  It cuts down on unemployment by killing off people and giving other people their jobs.  Fewer people that the government has to take care of; it makes perfect sense.”

Richard had underestimated the stupidity of this kid.  All he could do was stare at him.  The statement uttered by this fool was probably the stupidest thing he had ever heard him say.  Richard decided to remain silent like he should have in the first place.

Spider began to reply to Richard when Tank interrupted.

“You’re a fucking retard,” said Tank.  “No way could the government control a hurricane.  Not possible.”

“Okay.  Well then, answer me this, both of you.  Why haven’t we seen any news reports from Florida?  Not one god damn report.  I know they ain’t got no power, but the news people drive around in trucks and beam that shit to a satellite.  Why haven’t we seen anything?” Spider directed his question to both Tank and Richard.

“Big fucking deal.” said Tank.  “You know what I think?  I think they got…”

Sirens blaring across the yard cut Tank off mid-sentence.


Sirens meant a disturbance.  Somewhere on the yard a fight was in progress.  Without missing a beat, the four skinheads immediately forgot about the conspiracy talk and sprang into action.  Tank ran to the fence and starting looking around.  Richard did the same on the opposite end of the fence.  Spider and Head dug into the heels of their shoes and came up with homemade weapons in a few seconds flat.  The two men stepped up next to Tank and Richard, tapped them on the shoulder and resumed their posts as lookouts.  Tank and Richard went through the same routine and produced knives as if out of thin air.   Richard had rehearsed this move with the three skinheads and they had performed it perfectly.

“What do we got?” Richard asked the group.

“No idea,” Head replied.

Richard’s eyes scanned across the yard, making assessments of every group, every person, and saw nothing hostile going on.  All he saw was a yard full of very confused inmates.  Richard was pissed that the Aryans were split up into three groups scattered across the yard and behind different fences. Richard cursed the skinheads for not having more tactical awareness.  They would have little chance in a major disturbance if broken up into small groups.

The siren cut off, only to be replaced by the loud speaker.


“What the fuck is going on?”  Tank asked.

“Nothing good, Billy,” said Richard.  “It’s only nine o’clock in the morning; they must know that we aren’t going back into our cells without a fight.”

“Doesn’t make any fucking sense.  They want us locked up all they gotta do is wait for the next count and not let us back out,” Tank replied through gritted teeth.

“What the fuck do we do, Killer?”  Spider asked.  Richard would know what to do; he always had a plan.

“We wait,” said Richard.  “Wait this out and see what happens.  They’re probably suiting up the riot squad right now.  Keep scanning the yard and call out exactly what you see and in what direction, remember that the chow hall is due north.”

Over nine hundred inmates stood on the yard figuring out what to do.  In the history of Highland Valley State Prison, any time they tried to lock the facility down in the middle of the day, it meant they were getting locked in their cells and not coming back out for a very long time.  The old-timers who had walked the yard for years could attest to the seriousness of a major lockdown.  Tank was right, made much more sense to wait for them to return to their cells for count.  No fighting, no violence.  Just a bunch of pissed off inmates who felt like they had been tricked.


Richard grumbled under his breath.  He had never been on a major lockdown with Tank.  The longest lockdown Richard had known up to that point was three days.  Weeks or months trapped in a cell with Tank would drive him insane.

“What the fuck is that?” Spider screamed.

“What is it, Spider?  What direction?  I taught you better than that, start talking!”  Richard tensed up and scanned the yard to see if he could see what Spider was screaming about.  He didn’t see anything.  He turned to look at Spider who was gazing skyward.

Slowly, like a ripple through a pond, every inmate on the yard stopped and looked up at the sky.

“How the fuck is it snowing in August?”  Tank asked.

Richard stared intently at the sky.  Flakes started to slowly drift and flutter out of the sky and land on the rooftops of the cell blocks.  Then they started landing on the inmates and then on the ground.   Dark, ominous clouds could be seen beyond the mountains to the west of the prison.

“FUCK!”  Spider began to spit over and over.  “This snow tastes like shit!  Son of a bitch!”


“Not happening, mother fuckers!!”  Tank screamed at the top of his lungs, his proclamation echoing across the yard.  The inmates within twenty feet of Tank almost wet their pants he scared them so badly.


A flashbang had been deployed.  It startled the inmates back to reality.  The flashbang could only mean one thing.

The riot squad was here.

“That was quick,” said Richard.

“They’re locking us down because it’s snowing?”

Richard took one more look to the sky and said, “It’s not snow.  It’s ash.”

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Rating – R

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The Darkest Lie by Angela Day



             "I bet he escaped from the psych ward," Remi mused, fascinated by Thane's story. "He sounds like one of those savants, people who can do one thing better than anyone else on the planet but lack in their connection to reality." 

              They were at his locker in the school hallway during lunch, two days after Thane's mad dash to catch the bus and lightning strike. Remi had been glad to see him and drawn out everything that had happened since he left school on Monday, and he'd just finished telling her about Brennan Tayler. "Here's your backpack, Flash," Remi said, smacking him in the chest with it. Thane gave her a quizzical look, and she colored. "He's a comic book guy. Wears all red, runs so fast he's hard to see."  Thane kept looking at her until she punched his arm. "Cool people like comic books."

              "Sure," Thane said, smiling a little. It felt good to be doing something normal after the last few days. He stretched the fingers of his right hand, thinking about the hospital and Brennan again. 

              Remi noticed. "Let me see it?" Thane held out his previously injured knuckles for her and she stared at them like a jeweler inspecting a diamond. "There's nothing here. No bruising, no swelling, nothing. Are you sure you even hurt it?"

              "Yeah," Thane answered. "It was broken. He fixed it."

              "I wonder why," Remi mused, reaching out and taking his hand in both of hers.  Thane stiffened, unsure, but Remi was too deep in her thoughts to notice. She rubbed his knuckles with her thumb, trying to feel for any inconsistency. Thane felt his face going red and was about to pull away when something inside his hand moved.

              Remi froze-- she'd felt it too. Their eyes met over his hand. "What is that?" she asked him. He shrugged, pulling his hand out of hers to look at it himself. He pushed his finger down in the space between his second and third knuckles, and felt that same something hard roll away. It was so small he never would have noticed it on his own. He pulled his hand up to his eyes, and Remi stood on tiptoe to get a closer look. They both leaned in, trying to see any evidence of what they were feeling under Thane's skin.

              The bell rang, startling them both. Thane and Remi realized their faces were only inches apart, and sprang back. Snickers around them in the hallway let them know their display had not gone unnoticed.

              "New girlfriend, Thane?" Ben called from a few lockers down. 

              "You could do better, new girl," Jeran said, flexing his muscles. "I could show you a lot more than that weak loser." Thane's face colored, but Jeran walked off laughing with his buddies. Jeran was an entitled prick, the star of the second worst football team in the state. He wasn't smart enough to be the quarterback but as a wide receiver, you only had to get the ball somewhere near him and he would catch it. Tall and muscular, girls flocked around him and grownups loved to talk to him. Thane wanted to punch him hard enough to make it impossible for him to smirk for at least a week.

              "Don't worry about those idiots," Remi started, but Thane spun around and left her behind. From the moment Mr. Hoffman introduced them, Thane had failed at his one cardinal rule. When he was with Remi everybody saw him.

              Thane was one of the first into the room. Ms. Rasmussen didn't look up as he entered, engrossed in some magazine. He managed to slide onto his stool in the back row without exciting note or comment from anyone. He took out his notebook and pretended to read it as the rest of the class arrived in twos and threes. 

              Remi's voice, laughing and chatting, stabbed his ear and he couldn't help glancing up. She was walking in with Jeran, smiling at him and shaking her head so that her dark hair bounced. As they came in, Ms. Rasmussen's attention was diverted by Remi's giggle and she smugly observed them. "Know your way around now, sweetie?" she asked Remi in a satisfied voice. Remi gave her a half smile, but did not respond. Jeran flashed Ms. Rasmussen a grin calculated to charm, then turned to Thane and transformed it into a self-satisfied smirk.

              "Thanks, Jeran," Remi said, and walked back to sit with Thane. Jeran's face darkened as she walked away.

              "I found your girlfriend lost in the hall," Jeran swaggered down the aisle towards him, voice dripping with false sympathy. "I told her you were unstable." Thane was clenching his teeth, jaw taunt, and Jeran bent down in his face. "It's okay, loser. If your dad doesn't wake up, I'll take care of your hot mom, too."

              Music blossomed in Thane's mind as his fist connected with Jeran's jaw. There was a crunch and a sizzle and the smell of burnt flesh as Jeran fell backwards and the second bell rang. Jeran landed on the floor, as surprised by the sucker punch as Thane was. Jeran sprang back up, blood in his mouth and rage in his eyes and oddly, a bright burn on his jaw. He moved at Thane.

              "That is enough, Jeran!" Ms. Rasmussen snapped. Jeran hesitated, and then lunged for Thane. Ms. Rasmussen grabbed Jeran's shoulder and spun him around, her eyes flashing and her breath quick. "Get out of my class." 

              "What?" Jeran was stunned. "But Cressa--"

              "You will call me Ms. Rasmussen. Go to the nurse's office, then the principal's.  Now." Her voice had gotten softer, colder, and somehow so dark that Thane repressed a chill.

              Jeran crumbled. He fled from the room, the door banging as he ran through it. Ms. Rasmussen came to stand in front of Thane and rested the tips of her fingers on his arm. "Aren't you a hero for defending your mother's honor like that!" She was sweet, but her green eyes glowed with something Thane didn't recognize. Greed? Insanity? She tugged at his arm a little, and he stood up. "Why don't you come up here and take Jeran's seat? He won't be needing it."

              Thane obediently gathered his things and went with her to the front. Remi followed him. Ms. Rasmussen seemed delighted. She even clapped her hands to get the attention of the class, which was completely unnecessary as every eye was already on her.  

              "Change of plans today, everyone! We're going to be doing hands-on experiments instead of a quiz." Her announcement brightened the feeling in the room considerably. "Put away your books and keep out your notepads. You'll need to take good notes. Every team will need a Bunsen burner, a holding tray, one five hundred milliliter beaker, one hundred milliliter beaker, safety glasses for each of you, a thermometer, and a pair of tongs. We're going to talk about thermodynamics!" She seemed gleeful, as manic as Thane had ever seen her.  

              Thane got up and gathered the implements since Remi wouldn't know where they were. He felt awful for ditching her in the hall. Carefully holding as many of the implements as he could in his arms, he set them down gently on the table in front of Remi and spread them out. 

              "I stole his playbook," Remi whispered. Thane attached the Bunsen burner to the short tube that rose out of the center of their rectangular table. "I thought we could do some creative play changing."

              A rush of gratitude warmed Thane. Having a friend had perks. Ms. Rasmussen continued to give instructions.  "...and be sure, girls, to keep your hair away from the flames. I'll be around to make sure that the gas lines are connected. Place the holding tray about six inches above the flame and fill the larger beaker with water from the sink..." Remi grabbed the larger beaker and followed the line of students back to the sink. Soon all the students had their beaker of water in place on the holding tray and were turning the burners on, seeing the waving yellow and orange flame tighten into a straight blue and purple one. "Open the air hole to only about half, we don't want it fully on. We're just heating water."

              The lean, tall woman walked around the classroom checking each burner to ensure that the gas lines were attached correctly and the flames were high and hot enough. She came to Thane and Remi, bending to peer closely at their set up. "I think you need to lower your holding tray slightly," she instructed, and Thane made the adjustment. The corner of Ms. Rasmussen's mouth twitched, and then she moved on.

              Her foot slipped, the thin heel shooting into the air, and she flailed her arms. With one hand she grabbed the side of a table, and the other grabbed Thane's left arm, pulling his wrist directly across the open flame.

              "Argh!" Thane grunted, jerking his hand back. There was a shiny red mark along the underside of his wrist as wide as two fingers. He stared at it as his teacher regained her balance and turned to him.

              "Oh, Thane, I'm so sorry," she gushed. "Someone spilled some water on the floor and I slipped! Let me see it," and she jerked his arm towards her. Her green eyes studied the red welt for a slow heartbeat, and she appeared... pleased. But only for a moment. Her face was full of concern and contrition when she looked back at him. "It's not badly burned. Run cold water over it. As for the rest of you," she whirled to face the class, her beautiful features twisted in fierce and dangerous anger, "be more careful. This could have been a serious accident. If you spill any liquid, clean it up immediately. I could've broken my ankle and poor Thane," she looked down at him and her tone quieted, "poor Thane could have lost his hand. Well," she said, her voice returning to normal, "back to work, everyone."

              As the flames burned and the students adjusted their safety glasses, Ms. Rasmussen pulled a box off the shelf behind her desk. It was dusty, and she smiled and held it for a moment. Then she wiped it off and placed it on her desk. "In this box I have several pieces of Field's Metal. Has anyone ever heard of it?" She paused, but no hands went up. "It is a most impressive alloy. It's a non-toxic mixture of bismuth, tin, and indium. There are many alloys that melt at low temperatures, even though the metals they are mixed from require much higher temperatures to melt in their pure form. These low melting point metals are called fusible alloys."

              Several of the students were scribbling furiously, as Ms. Rasmussen was not writing on the board. Instead, her hands were resting on either side of the open box as she was intently watching the beaker and the flame in front of Remi and Thane. Remi was one of the desperate note takers-- Thane couldn't take his eyes away from the chemistry teacher, like a bird staring at a snake. His heart pounded against his chest and his palms felt sweaty. Something was wrong. 

              She reached her hand into the box and drew out what looked to be a silver straw. "Each of you will be given one of these Field's Metal wires. Place your thermometers into the water and the metal wire into your smaller empty beaker. Using the tongs, hold the smaller beaker partially submerged in the boiling water. Record at what temperature, both Fahrenheit and Celsius, the metal begins to melt. I will pass out molds to each team for you to pour your liquid metal into, and you will time how long it takes the metal to re-harden."

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Genre – New Adult Urban Fantasy

Rating – PG

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Website http://awriterbyday.com/

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Orangeberry Book of the Day – The Blackout by Stephanie Erickson


The next morning Molly got up and went to class, prepared to hear the groans from her Modern Poetry class for their late papers.  She usually punished them with half a letter grade for every class they were late, but she wasn’t sure what to do to compensate for her own lateness.  She thought if she could come up with a few options, like having class in the garden one day or letting them pick the next poem to discuss, and let them choose, they’d be happy. 

Her other classes held better prospects.  She was excited because the day brought discussions about Gulliver’s Travels in British Literature, and The Poisonwood Bible in Modern Fiction.  Save for the groaning from Modern Poetry, she expected it to be a pretty good day. 

It happened in the middle of Modern Fiction.  A student had asked what point Kingsolver was trying to make by sacrificing the family’s youngest child. 

“What could possibly be worth killing such an innocent character?” she asked.

“Well, what do you think?  Do you think the father is so taken by his ‘mission’ to ‘save’ the heathens in the Congo that his youngest is a fair sacrifice, as you put it?  What’s one life if it saves a handful of others?”   Molly had just said it to spur the discussion.  She often made extreme statements in class just to stir the pot and get a good discussion going.

She sat cross-legged on top of her desk looking at the rows of students as hands shot into the air.  She smiled and surveyed their faces.  Their expressions ranged from angry to mischievous.  Molly picked one that seemed undecided.  “Mia, what do you think?”

Before she could answer, the lights went out.  It wasn’t really all that dark, because the back wall had several windows on it, and for that she was thankful. 

“Um…OK.  Just a second here, let me poke my head into the hall and see if I can find out what the deal is,” Molly said as she got down off the desk.

The students whispered to each other as she walked to the door.  “Settle down.  I’m sure it’s just a power surge, and it’ll be back on before I can even find out what happened.” 

“My phone doesn’t work.  Does yours?”  A boy in the front row asked his neighbor.

It caught Molly’s attention.  “Is your battery dead?” she asked.

“No.  I left home with a full charge.” 

Other students began retrieving their phones.  The consensus was unanimous.  No one’s phone worked.  Molly took her phone out of her pocket to see, and to her surprise, it displayed nothing but a black screen. 

She frowned and continued on her journey to the door.  “I’ll find out what’s going on.  Just stay calm,” Molly assured them.  They all looked worried.

Teachers were beginning to poke their heads out of their doors, making similar inquiries about the outage.  No one seemed to know what was going on.  Normally, there would be an announcement or some sort of directive about what to do, but they’d never encountered this type of outage before. 

Molly ran to her office to grab her laptop and returned to the classroom.  By then the kids were getting a little panicky, letting their imaginations run away with them. 

“Why would the power and our phones be out?  What could possibly cause something like that?”

“How long do you think it’ll be out?”

“My mom said she thinks the apocalypse is coming.  She said the signs are all there.”

Another student burst out laughing.  “Your mom is crazy.”

Molly interrupted before a fight could break out.  “OK, enough.  The power will probably be back on soon.  The school has an emergency generator that should kick in any minute now.  Just let me get my laptop going, and I’ll see if I can get some information about it.”

“Dr. Bonham, if the power’s out, will you be able to get online?”

By then, Molly had already gotten her computer out and was trying to get it powered up.  “Oh, that’s a good point.  Probably not.” 

Then she noticed nothing was happening with her computer.  She held the power button down, with no response.  She waited a few moments and tried again.  Still nothing. 

“What on Earth…” Molly muttered.

“What’s wrong?” 

“Um…I’m not sure.  I can’t get my computer to come on.” 

“What should we do?  Can we go home?”

“I don’t know about that either.  The stairwells are dark, I don’t want there to be a stampede.  Just give me a minute to think about the options.” 

They weren’t prepared for something like this.  They knew exactly what to do for a tornado, a fire alarm, or an earthquake.  But this was new territory. 

There really was no reason not to continue with class.  The only things they were using were the lights, and it was plenty bright enough to continue the discussion without them.  However, the kids were rattled, and quite frankly so was Molly.  Continuing with the discussion seemed fruitless, but leaving right this second wasn’t a good option either. She didn’t want to put the students in an unsafe situation. 

“Let me run back to the department head’s office and see what he thinks.  You guys wait here until I get back, OK?”  Molly looked at them all, seeing the panic starting to bubble up.  “I mean it,” she said sternly.  She thought giving them a task, even if it was just sitting still, would help occupy their minds.

Molly caught up with Terry Longman in the hallway.  She looked at him and shrugged.  “Now what?” she asked.

His normally disheveled appearance looked a little more unruly in his stress.  His grey hair stood straight out and his tweed coat hung unevenly.  “I have no idea.  I’m telling the kids and teachers to stay put for now.  There are no lights in the stairwells, and I don’t want anyone getting trampled.  Let’s wait twenty minutes or so and see if it comes back.  If it doesn’t, we’ll let the classes go one room at a time to prevent a stampede.  So, since your class is at the far end of the building, they may be here a while.”

“No problem.  Just keep me posted.”

Molly stopped in Cindy’s room, knowing she had a rowdy group this time of day.  They were arguing with her about getting to leave.

“HEY!”  Molly hollered to get their attention.  They were immediately quiet.  “This is a professional environment, not a middle school.  Arguing is not tolerated.  You will stay put until Dr. Longman says you can go.  He’s making his rounds now, and he’s said if power is not restored in another twenty minutes or so, he will let everyone go home.  However, he doesn’t want any misconduct, so he’ll be letting classes go one room at a time.  Just sit tight.”

A unified groan went up.  “Hey, you’re supposed to be in this class right now anyway!  I don’t want to hear your complaints,” Molly said.

“Yeah, well I’m not sitting here any longer than I have to.  Class gets out at three, and I’m out of here at three,” declared an older student, dressed in black jeans and a black t-shirt.  It was obvious that his silver chains, piercings, and long hair were meant to intimidate.  Molly was unfazed.

“You’ll do whatever the head of the department says you’ll do.  No questions about it.  This is considered an emergency situation, and for your own safety and the safety of others, you’ll stay put for now.  We’re not keeping you here forever, so just relax.” 

Cindy had that deer-in-headlights look.  Molly turned and put her hand on Cindy’s upper arm.  “Hey, straighten up.  These kids’ll eat you alive if you let them.  Don’t.  Terry said he’ll be letting classes go one at a time if the power’s not back in twenty minutes.  The process shouldn’t take too long, since there’s about ten rooms downstairs and ten up here, so just hold the fort for maybe an hour tops, OK?”

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Genre – Adult Fiction / Contemporary

Rating – PG13 (some strong language)

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Website http://stephanieerickson.weebly.com/

The Survivors by Daniel Harvell

The Survivors

When seven strangers impossibly survive a horrific airplane crash, they find themselves changed in remarkable ways. The survivors are endowed with powers that defy explanation. Some are blessed. Some are cursed.

Going their separate ways, they adapt their extraordinary “gifts” to their ordinary lives. The results, however, aren’t always pretty — particularly when one of them engages in a killing spree. With little more to go on than the psychic link that they all share, the survivors seek out one another to uncover the murderer and bring him or her to justice.

The fireman, the grandmother, the psychiatric patient, the basketball player, the mute girl, the rich blonde, and the man in the wheelchair — they all have secrets worth hiding. They can’t trust each other. They can’t even trust themselves.

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Genre - Fantasy

Rating – PG

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Website http://danielharvell.com

Death Ain't But A Word: A Supernatural Hot Mess - Zander Marks

Death Ain’t But A Word - Zander Marks

Amazon Kindle US

Amazon Kindle UK

Genre - Urban Fantasy

Rating -  PG13

4.4 (29 reviews)

Free until 31 July 2013

Just because Wilkin's a crackhead doesn't mean the shadows aren't real.
They're real. And they've been haunting him since he was seven years old. Mostly he ignores them.
But when the ghost of his best friend from childhood shows up at the local motel, Wilkin can't ignore the call of friendship. And when his friend's killer buys the motel so he can destroy the remains, Wilkin can't ignore that, either.
Wilkin steals his friend's skull before the killer can destroy it and is plunged into a hot mess of a supernatural thrill ride.
A death-race pursuit of a child's skull. A spirit-whispering trucker hauling plush toys to Kansas. Five demonic farm-kids in a housing project. A Dodge City marshal who executes wayward ghosts. A nasty yellow jersey that takes the joy out of living. And a graveyard full of snitches.
It's enough to make you want to hit the crackpipe. All leading to a climax where staying alive is the least of Wilkin's worries.
Because when most of the people around you are spirits anyway, DEATH AIN'T BUT A WORD.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Dogs Aren’t Men by Billi Tiner

Dog's Aren't Men

A contemporary romance.

Rebecca Miller is a gifted veterinarian with an extraordinary understanding of animal behavior. She is leading a fulfilling life as the owner and operator of the Animal Friends Veterinary Clinic. Ever since her 30th birthday, her mother has made it her mission to help Rebecca find a man, get married, and give her grandchildren. But Rebecca doesn’t see the need for a man in her life. She has her dog, Captain, and that’s all the companionship she needs. However, her world changes the day she literally runs into Derrick Peterson, a gorgeously handsome ER doctor.

Derrick’s experiences with women have taught him that they are vain, silly, and untrustworthy. He keeps his relationships with them brief and superficial. However, he finds himself being irresistibly drawn to Rebecca. She’s smart, witty, compassionate, and very different from the women he usually encounters. Will Rebecca be the one to break down the wall he’s spent a lifetime building around his heart?

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Genre - Contemporary Romance

Rating – PG13

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Website http://www.tinerbooks.com/

Summer Kindle Fire Giveaway

Kindle Summer

This is a joint AUTHOR & BLOGGER GIVEAWAY EVENT! Bloggers & Authors have joined together and each chipped in a little money towards a Kindle Fire HD 7".

Kindle Fire HD 7" Giveaway

The winner will have the option of receiving a 7" Kindle Fire HD (US Only)

  Or $199 Amazon.com Gift Card (International)

  Or $199 in Paypal Cash (International)


Sponsoring Bloggers & Authors

  Giveaway Details 1 winner will receive their choice of a Kindle Fire 7" HD (US Only), $199 Amazon Gift Card or $199 in Paypal Cash (International). There is a second separate giveaway for bloggers who post this giveaway on their blog. See details in the rafflecopter on how to enter to win the 2nd Kindle Fire. Sponsor a future Kindle Fire Giveaway by signing up HERE. Ends 8/15/13 Open only to those who can legally enter, receive and use an Amazon.com Gift Code or Paypal Cash. Winning Entry will be verified prior to prize being awarded. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 or older to enter or have your parent enter for you. The winner will be chosen by rafflecopter and announced here as well as emailed and will have 48 hours to respond or a new winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way associated with Facebook, Twitter, Rafflecopter or any other entity unless otherwise specified. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning. Giveaway was organized by Kathy from I Am A Reader, Not A Writer http://iamareader.com and sponsored by the participating authors & bloggers. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW.   a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Orangeberry Book of the Day – I’d Kill For You by Alan Plessinger

Chapter 2: A Detective, pursuing a lead not likely to produce significant results, comes upon a young girl needing to solve a certain mystery of her own, and upon interrogation finds her life to be not quite an open book, if not yet a fully closed one.

After reading and memorizing the case file that’d been faxed to the office, Riley grabbed the key to his residence for the night, the apartment of a lovely blonde secretary named Karen. He also grabbed his overnight bag with a few essentials. He left the office and took a cab out to her place in Tribeca, let himself in, and crept silently to her bedroom. A light was on. He eased open the door, and found that she had fallen asleep with the lamp on and a book in her hand, waiting for him. He took off his clothes as silently as possible, but not silently enough.

She woke up and asked what took him so long, but it was plain to see she had no real interest in the answer. He smiled, crawled across the bed, and kissed her.

When they were finished making love, Riley got up and took a shower, taking a moment to flush the condom down the toilet. After the shower he dried off and took a moment to use his beard-trimmer and then brush his teeth with his toothbrush from the overnight bag, things he liked to take care of at night. When he finished, he returned to the bedroom and sat naked on the bed, finally ready to get some sleep. Karen was lying there, looking at him, smiling, her arms and legs relaxed, her body contented. Before he could lie down, she crawled across the bed and hugged him.

“I’ve got some bad news, Riley,” she said, kissing him on the shoulder. “I’m taking myself out of the harem.”

“Oh. I’m sorry to hear that, Karen. Why?”

“I’m getting married.”

“Really? That’s great! Congratulations!”

“Thanks. I’m really sorry, honey, but you can’t stay. He’ll be here in a few hours for a breakfast date. You’ve got to be gone.”

Riley was a little taken aback by being thrown out unceremoniously, considering they’d just made love. But he didn’t want to be a nuisance.

“Couldn’t I get some sleep on the couch? I can be your cousin from Schenectady.”

“Honey, I’m marrying the guy who gave jealousy lessons to Othello. You can’t be anybody’s cousin.”

Riley sighed a little and said, “OK, Karen, if that’s the way you want it. I’m sure you two will be very happy together.”

“Thanks, honey. Let’s hope so. I’m not starting things out too well, I know. I should’ve stopped you. I should’ve told you about him, but I had to have one last little taste of the Riley.”

Riley had the unpleasant reaction most men would have, hearing the word little used in any context during pillow talk, but he didn’t complain.

“I take it you never told him about us?”

“Us? There is no ‘us,’ Riley. One day a month does not an ’us’ make.”

Riley smiled. She intended to enjoy dumping him, getting some of the power and control back for the first time in a long while. She continued.

“Honey, how long do you think you can go on this way? A lot of the girls in the harem are worried about you. You’re knocking on forty, you know.”

“Please don’t call it a harem. If you call it that, I might start calling it that. I started this arrangement because I was tired of everybody hating me for having a lot of sex with a lot of different women. I’m tired of being the bad guy. I don’t like people acting like I’m a predator. This way at least there’s no lying, and everybody knows where they stand.”

“Plus you don’t have to pay rent.”

“Yeah. That’s nice.”

“And when’s the last time you told any random woman about the arrangement?”

“I’m discreet.”

“Because you know any woman who hears about it is going to hate you.”

“I wish women could be a little more understanding about this. You’ve never had any cause to complain, have you?”

“Honey, I’ve been a part of the arrangement for more than two years now, and I look forward to the twenty-fifth of every month like a high holy day. You never disappoint. But I never kidded myself for a second that this was a real relationship. Don’t you want a real relationship? Don’t you want to get married one day?”

“I’ve never understood the point of marriage, at least for me. You’re getting married; you explain it to me. What is it for?”

“Lots of things. Companionship. Not dying alone.”

“Oh, what’s the big deal about dying alone? If a couple is married for fifty years, unless they die together in a car accident, at least one of them is going to die alone. Right?”

“So you really don’t ever want to get married?”

“I really don’t. I don’t even like dating. Seduction kind of bores me. I really think I don’t have any ability to fall in love. But maybe some day I’ll meet a woman who might change my mind. I don’t want to say it’s totally impossible. It might happen.”

“Not if you never date, it won’t. Honey, I’m not kidding. A lot of the girls are worried about you.”

“Do you all get together and talk about me, or something?”

“There’s a Web site.”

“Of course. Of course there is. Please don’t tell me the name.”

She kissed him on the shoulder again and said, “Your clothes are hanging up in the usual place, Riley.”

“Thanks. Your fiancĂ© didn’t find them?”

“If he’s checking out the clothes in my closet, we’ve got worse problems than you. Forget the dry-cleaning bill, OK? It’s on the house.”

He stood, turned, and leaned down to kiss her good-bye on the lips, but she gave him her cheek.

“Denied!” he said.

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Genre – Murder / Mystery

Rating – R

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Orangeberry Book of the Day – Mars Rising by Mark David Major

1 At the Threshold of the Gate

The lieutenant retired to his quarters, removed his tunic, and tossed it across the arm of a chair. He threw his weary body down on the bunk. The collection of bones, ligaments, and tendons in his left knee made a cracking sound as he stretched out the lingering injury. A feeling of anxiety troubled him. He could not adopt the captain’s levity about the situation. The captain had played the role of a man on the brink of Vassalage for so long now that he was, under most circumstances, incapable of gravity. The lieutenant’s position was different. He was young, full of spirit, and most of his life was still before him. He had a lot to lose. He could not dismiss the dread he felt about an uncertain future clouded by civil war. For all he knew, Hande could make good on her boast to raise millions to oppose the Commander, whether through the utility of her foot or more practical means.
His eyes refused to embrace the serenity of sleep. He tried swallowing a sleep aid but it had no effect. His mind raced like a tornado in the lonesome prairie of his quarters. What had the prophecy about the Commander meant? The implications were disturbingly obvious. And because of this, and many other things, the lieutenant could not rest. The lights eventually rose to simulate daybreak within the artificial environment of the ship. The bright light caused the lieutenant’s eyes to momentarily water. An alarm sounded throughout the ship. The lieutenant quickly rose, threw on his tunic, and exited the quarters. He methodically proceeded through the metal corridors of the ship to the bridge. He entered and saw the captain was already there, standing erect among some of the crew gathered about him. The great armada had remained poised throughout the artificial night, holding its position just beyond the invisible boundary formed by the lunar orbit. Other soldiers soon pushed past the lieutenant onto the bridge. One could sense their eagerness, their desire for events to unfold however as they would, rather than continue to bear the strain of this static pause. A sense of anticipation afflicted every person on the bridge. It was reflective of the thoughts and emotions assaulting every member of the crew on every ship of the armada at that particular moment in the drama.


The crackling sound of an incoming transmission caused everyone to turn towards the center of the bridge. They watched as the light of a hologram slowly flickered into existence, as if arriving from some faraway place and unknown time. The hologram materialized into a shape. It was the image of a woman, larger than life and towering over everyone. It seemed apparent this image was simultaneously appearing before everyone on every ship of the armada. The woman was almost painfully beautiful. Her skin was paler than normal for a human, her eyes were a lush dark green, and her lips narrow but inviting. About her shoulders spilled a mane of curly black hair, which miraculously appeared both unkempt and meticulously groomed. There was something eternal about the vision of womanhood before them. One could easily infer by her dress that she was a Marineris priestess. The sheer garment she wore displayed the nubile shape of her lithe body without revealing any details of the concealed flesh. The woman’s appearance silenced everyone. Now, the low rumbling of the engines powering the ship was the only thing that could be heard.

She raised her right hand to her face and, with her middle and forefinger extended, gracefully touched her forehead and then lowered her right hand to her heart, which she also touched, thus completing the accepted manner of greeting in Marineris ritual; tracing the ‘path of the spear’ from head to heart.

Once completed, she opened her mouth and began to sing. The melody she sang was of pure joy. A joy unlike any of them had ever experienced or even before dreamt. It was a very old song. She sang in a dialect long forgotten to most humans. The translation of the song was:

Exultation, lovely flame of God, Sons and daughters of Mars, We enter fire empowered, Heaven our reward!

Embracing that Destiny, Share your kiss among the stars, Brothers in arms and soul, A loving Father, your true north!

Can you sense this time, brothers! Seek salvation in the valley, Above the stars, you’ll dwell.

Embracing that Destiny, Share your kiss among the stars,
Sisters in arms and soul, A loving Mother, our constant!

Can you sense this time, sisters! Seek salvation in the valley, Above the stars, you’ll dwell. The priestess continued to sing by repeating these verses but then the chattering voices of the soldiers articulated thoughts into words. Phrases like ‘the Creator is with us’ and ‘the Holy Mother blesses our path’ escaped their lips. Another voice rose above the others, “Ran’s hand will strike down our enemies with the force of God!” Several of the soldiers fell to their knees in an almost violent manner to worship before the image of the priestess. The hologram slowly began to fade. The song also began to drift away. The lieutenant continued to watch until the last moment when the image at last vanished from their view. The vision of the woman dissolved into an electronic mist as if consumed in a cloud of smoke. Once the image had completely disappeared, an echo of the song hung briefly in the air. For a moment, many believed they could reach out and capture the dying embers of that song to prevent its escape. A few even reached out their hands in contemplation of the attempt but the song then faded into oblivion. There was silence.

The captain began to bellow orders. “The order is given! Proceed into the forbidden zone! Man your stations or get wherever you’re supposed to be!”

There was a moment of quiet and then the entire bridge burst into frenzied activity. Crew members returned their attention to the stations in front of them. Ordinary soldiers exited the bridge. All had now accepted their roles in the coming drama, each according to their own talents and beliefs. After the song of the priestess, it was clear the crew and soldiers were suddenly triumphant in their demeanor and determined in their purpose. The entire weight of the mighty armada slowly edged forward in united action. So began the fateful crossing of the Moon’s orbit into the forbidden zone around the birthplace of the Sovereignty. Ran had begun his thrust into the very womb of humanity.

The captain made his way across the bridge. He stood beside the lieutenant and whispered like a conspirator with a wry grin on his face. “Some trick of the Commander’s, I suspect.”

The lieutenant merely nodded his understanding.
Was it? Or were the mystics of the Marineris Sect intervening in this great drama on behalf of the Commander? Were they blessing the path he had dared to tread in pursuit of glory and honor?


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Genre – Science Fiction

Rating – PG13

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Author Interview – Elvis Deane

Tell us a bit about your family. I’ve got two parents who encouraged all my creative endevours, no matter how misguided they might be, and a brother who helps me pursue my dreams.  Beyond that, I have so many cousins and aunts and uncles that talking about them would be a novel in itself.

How do you work through self-doubts and fear? I just put it aside and accept that I’d rather write a lousy paragraph than not write anything at all.

What scares you the most? Eternity. It’s a terrifying notion.

What makes you happiest? Making someone laugh or having them hang off my every word.

What’s your greatest character strength? Fearless determination.

What’s your weakest character trait? My mind flits away from the task at hand constantly.

Pistachio the Tyrant

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Genre - Children’s Fantasy

Rating – PG

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Website http://impossibilia.com/

Orangeberry Free Alert - Transcender: First Time by Vicky Savage


Transcender: First Time - Vicky Savage

Amazon Kindle US

Amazon Kindle UK

Genre - Fantasy

Rating - PG

4.6 (68 reviews)

Free until 25 July 2013

When a freak lightning storm turns terrifying, seventeen-year-old Jaden Beckett leaps for her life only to be glitched into an alternate universe. The destiny police want her out. Jaden's got other plans.
Ripped away from her quiet Connecticut life and dumped into a post-apocalyptic version of earth, Jaden lands smack in the middle of a kidnapping--her own!
Agent Ralston of the Inter-Universal Guidance Agency (IUGA) rescues her and helps her to assume a new identity. And what an amazing identity it is ...
In this world, she's Princess Jaden a member of the royal family of one of the three surviving nations. Plus, her mother's alive here--a miracle she never dreamed possible. If that weren't enough, she finds herself falling hard for Ryder Blackthorn, the half-Cherokee half-Irish outlaw who kidnapped her in the first place.
So, when IUGA finally gets its act together and is ready to send her home, Jaden's not budging. She's pretty sure Agent Ralston's been lying to her, and this whole thing isn't really a cosmic accident after all.
Can the powerful IUGA force her to leave? Or is Jaden what some in this strange land believe her to be--a Transcender with the ability to travel among alternate dimensions at will?

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