Friday, October 24, 2014

M9B Friday Reveal: Chapter One of Lucas Mackenzie and the London Midnight Ghost Show by Steve Bryant and Giveaway #M9BFridayReveals


M9B-Friday-Reveal

Welcome to this week’s M9B Friday Reveal!
This week, we are revealing the first chapter for

Lucas Mackenzie and the London Midnight Ghost Show by Steve Bryant

presented by Month9Books!
Be sure to enter the giveaway found at the end of the post!

Lucas MacKenzie eBook Final

Lucas Mackenzie has got the best job of any 10 year old boy. He travels from city-to-city as part of the London Midnight Ghost Show, scaring unsuspecting show-goers year round. Performing comes naturally to Lucas and the rest of the troupe, who’ve been doing it for as long as Lucas can remember.
But there’s something Lucas doesn’t know.
Like the rest of Luca’s friends, he’s dead. And for some reason, Lucas can’t remember his former life, his parents or friends. Did he go to school? Have a dog? Brothers and sisters?
If only he could recall his former life, maybe even reach out to his parents, haunt them.
When a ghost hunter determines to shut the show down, Lucas realizes the life he has might soon be over. And without a connection to his family, he will have nothing. There’s little time and Lucas has much to do. Can he win the love of Columbine, the show’s enchanting fifteen-year-old mystic? Can he outwit the forces of life and death that thwart his efforts to find his family?
Keep the lights on! Lucas Mackenzie’s coming to town.

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Title: Lucas Mackenzie and the London Midnight Ghost Show
Publication date: November 18, 2014
Publisher: Month9Books, LLC.
Author: Steve Bryant

Chapter-by-Chapter-header---Excerpt

Lucas Mackenzie and the London Midnight Ghost Show
By Steve Bryant
Chapter One
Ghost Story
It was a chill, gooseflesh evening, thanks to the damp ocean air and to ghostly expectations. Thin black clouds scuttled past the moon like witches on broomsticks.
Far below, on an eerily empty California street, a delta wing Buick Electra neared a little theater. The four high school girls in the car shivered, surprised to find themselves so alone at this late hour. A line of empty cars stretched down the block to the black Pacific, and streetlamps glowed faintly in the mist. This was the San Diego community of Ocean Beach, a few heart palpitations shy of midnight.
“Sweet Mary,” said the Ponytail at the wheel. “The show must have started already. Who would have thought ghosts were so punctual?”
“Shut up!” said the French Braids seated beside her. “Ghost stories give me the heebie-jeebies. I can’t believe we came down here tonight to see dead people.”
The car entered the oasis of light cast by the theater itself. Although The Strand’s daytime fare ran to Elvis Presley and surfing movies, its illuminated marquee on this ghost story evening promised far more than Love Me Tender and Sandra Dee.
ONE NIGHT ONLY!
PROFESSOR MCDUFF AND HIS LONDON MIDNIGHT GHOST SHOW
SPOOKS RUN WILD IN AUDIENCE
PLUS
ALL-STAR CREATURE FEATURE
“Creepy!” said the Toni Home Perm in the back seat. “I think that skeleton in the window just looked at me.”
“Drive on by!” said the Poodle Cut beside her. “Let’s go home. I have a feeling. I think something is wrong with this show.”
* * *
Inside the little movie house, in the tiny projection booth at the top of the narrow winding stairs, a little boy peered through the small square window. His name was Lucas Mackenzie, and he was ten years old. Lucas felt as though he had been ten forever, and there seemed to be nothing he could do about it.
On stage at that moment, a magician in a smart black tuxedo and a red turban stood still as death, his dexterous hands moving only as his mysteries required. Professor Ambrose McDuff, as pale as storybook vampires in the glow of a single spotlight, showed both the fronts and backs of his hands to be empty, then plucked fans of playing cards from the air. Individual cards fell from his fingertips like rose petals falling upon a grave.
But despite the Professor’s eerie mastery of nineteenth-century card manipulation, this was 1959, and audiences demanded more. Lucas knew that the couples on hand were impatient for the theater to be plunged into total darkness, that the teenage boys on hand were hoping for something more dramatic than snatching jacks and aces from the air. This was supposed to be a ghost show, and the crowd—if the pockets of teenagers scattered about the theater at this late hour could be called a crowd—was tiring of card tricks.
“Come on, Pops,” someone shouted. “Let’s see some ghosts!”
A narrow cylinder of light sliced through the darkness as a young usher aimed his flashlight beam at the outburst. “Quiet! I’m warning you!”
“Aw, who’s gonna make me?”
On stage, a royal flush appeared at the magician’s fingertips.
Beautiful magic is not to be rushed, the Professor always said. There would be time soon enough for so-called ghosts.
Nevertheless, Lucas rolled his dark eyes in response to the outburst below—a shame, he felt, as he loved the Professor’s card tricks—and concluded that it was time to move the show along.
He wore a set of large black metal headphones, and he spoke into the grille of a gray bullet microphone. “Bravo, Professor. Nice work. Yorick is set to go on, and then Alexandra. This crowd should love the Juan Escadero number.”
As Lucas knew, Professor McDuff, could hear him perfectly thanks to earphones concealed beneath his red turban. Lucas had designed the show’s secret radio network—the entire theater was wired with microphones and receivers—and was very proud of it. It had been his first contribution to the show. Before Lucas’s time, electronic communication relied on copper plates in the bottoms of the Professor’s shoes, and on long copper wires hidden under the runway carpet, a holdover from the Second Sight mind-reading acts from the thirties.
No one would suspect the simple arrangement of the Professor’s next exhibit of using hidden electronics or secret mechanisms. He placed a glass shelf across the backs of two chairs, and atop this innocent platform he placed the centerpiece of the demonstration, an oversized human skull in a red sombrero.
The reaction was immediate. As Lucas expected, the agitators in the audience fell silent. At least this skull in the red hat looked as if it belonged in a spook show. Its eye sockets and nose cavity were dark hollows, its teeth a fixed, mocking grin.
The Professor tossed decks of cards into the audience and instructed three boys to stand and take a card. Could this “Juan Escadero,” proclaimed by the Professor to be the “floating, talking head of one of Mexico’s most notorious card cheats,” look into their minds and identify their cards? Could anyone?
The ivory-hued head on the glass platform twisted from one boy to the other.
“Ay, amigos,” it said, in a voice that sounded like Speedy Gonzales. “My Inner Eye sees all. No one keeps secrets from Juan Escadero. Could you be thinking of the king of hearts? And you the two of spades? And the ace of diamonds for the muchacho in the middle? Please be seated if I am correct.”
Instantly the three spectators sat down, and the audience rewarded the disembodied card sharp with applause and whistles.
As always, uncertainty rippled through the theater.
A wise guy in row 4 voiced his solution. “It’s a hidden microphone,” he said. “Someone behind the curtain is speaking into it.”
Another boy said, “It’s the old man. He’s doing it. It’s nothing but card manipulation and ventriloquism.”
A third shouted, “Hey, Pancho. What about the floating?”
The audience gasped as the skull suddenly turned, ever so slightly, in the direction of the challenge. For the first time the thing appeared to be genuinely alive, as though it had heard the comment.
“Ay, mi cabeza,” the skull said. “I feel so light-headed.” At which point the talking skull rose two feet in the air above its glass shelf. The ghastly thing bobbed in space, its red sombrero at a jaunty angle, its mouth open in a gaping grin. Lucas grinned too as the audience again broke into appreciative applause.
“Threads,” said a worried voice in row 10. “It’s gotta be threads.”
Lucas hoped for a similarly warm reception to Professor McDuff’s next magical presentation, the Houdini Metamorphosis Trunk. As the Professor introduced a wooden packing case large enough to conceal a dead body, Lucas cued Alexandra, one of the lovely Gilbert triplets. Though the three Gilbert girls were only twenty-two, they treated Lucas as though they were his mom. Tonight, it was Alexandra’s turn to do the box trick.
“Thanks, kiddo,” she said from a communication console in the wings. “I’m set. I love these California kids. They think I’m the ginchiest.”
The teenagers whooped and whistled as the beautiful Miss Gilbert strutted onto the stage in a black crepe dress. A red bow adorned her long blond hair, and her movie-star figure was breathtaking. She threw kisses to the audience and winked at Lucas in his booth.
The trunk, Lucas observed with pride, was old and creepy, weather-beaten, and just too darn real—like something that might have been found at night on a dock. This was no glitzy magic shop prop. The Professor locked the lovely Alexandra inside, the lock snapping shut with a heavy clunk.
The magic itself was spooky, like a dissolve in a monster movie when a man turns into a werewolf. Lucas loved the movie I Was a Teenage Werewolf and wondered what it would feel like to change. What if your muscles bulged until they ripped your shirt, if the fur of a wolf sprouted from your face, if your teeth became deadly fangs, all in a matter of seconds? Would teenage girls be frightened, or would they admire you?
The Professor made it look so easy. One moment he was standing on the box, hidden behind a large cloth. After a mere flicker, the cloth fell away and revealed a liberated Alexandra standing in his place. She then wiggled off the box, opened the formidable padlock, and produced the Professor from within.
The cast was proud that magical insiders would swear the exchange could not take place so quickly. It must be a new invention. According to reports in the leading conjuring magazines, the great Blackstone himself had seen the show in Cleveland and had left the theater shaken.
“It’s just the old switcheroo,” a boy in row 8 rationalized. “It’s a sliding panel. They all do it.”
But now it was Lucas’s turn to tremble, high in his aerie. His favorite part of the show was coming up. With both hands he adjusted the headphones, and he faced the microphone, paralyzed. Seconds ticked by.
He forced her name out at last. “Uh, Columbine?” His voice squeaked. “Ready? You’re up next.”
“Of course I am, Lucas.” The words danced in Lucas’s headphones. He had said her name. She had said his. It was the highlight of every performance. “I’m a mystic after all, a seer. And, Lucas, I think you should look behind—”
Just then something cleared its throat behind Lucas.
“AAUGH!” the boy yelled, startled to realize he wasn’t alone. Lucas turned to find a behemoth of a man standing behind him. The man might have been a stunt double from a Frankenstein movie, except that he was too tall and, perhaps, too green. His short black hair carpeted a flat head, and he wore a loose fitting brown suit with a brown bow tie. The two of them barely fit in the room.
“Oh, it’s you,” Lucas said. “For a moment you gave me quite a start.”
They both laughed. It was a private joke between the two of them, a riff on a favorite Charles Addams cartoon. Lucas felt the fellow, whose name was Oliver, looked a little too much like the servant in Mr. Addams’ spooky cartoons.
“Greetings, Master Lucas,” said Oliver. “I thought I should drop in to ascertain that you hadn’t swooned from love. I wouldn’t want to find you incapable of performing your duties.”
“You’re soooo funny,” Lucas said. And then he slapped his forehead and turned back to the microphone.
“Uh, sorry, Columbine. Good luck. Just follow the Professor’s lead.”
Lucas looked through his little window with concern. The theater was musty, a consequence of being so close to the ocean. “It’s such a small house tonight,” he said. “I hope she doesn’t take it personally.”
“What’s the count?” Oliver asked.
“I’m thinking only 150 or so,” Lucas said. “And this theater seats 800.”
“My, my,” his large friend said. “A pity. Goodness, we drew 3100 at the El Capitan in San Francisco, back in ’42. And 4000 a year later at the Bijou in Cincinnati. That’s a lot of screams.”
Audience numbers had been dwindling for some time, and night after night Lucas became more disheartened. Could the show actually come to an end some day if people quit coming? If the cast dispersed, where would he go? To be adrift, alone, was unthinkable, like stepping into a black abyss. And more importantly: where would she go?
But at that moment she was about to take the stage, and the teenagers who were on hand welcomed her warmly when the Professor introduced her as “the Teenage Telepath, the Diva of Destiny, the Psychic of the Century—the sensational Columbine.”
She strode onto the stage, this tall, thin, stargazing girl of fifteen years, with midnight black hair. She wore a plain white shift, and her skin was fair and moonbeam pale. The only color on stage was the girl’s lips, afire with red lipstick. Most would judge her to be six feet tall, though she would insist she was no more than five eleven. Her dark eyes turned to the crystal ball resting in the palm of her right hand.
The audience suddenly became very quiet. One boy coughed, apologetically.
“Okay, Eddie, let’s sell this,” Lucas said into his microphone.
The theater suffered from an ancient wiring system and a shaky bank of lights, but they were not a problem for Eddie, the Lighting Guy, hunched in the back of the building. Lucas watched as Eddie bathed Columbine in a blue spot. She looked ethereal. A Columbine performance was like a religious experience.
“This girl is like putty in my hands,” Eddie said into his microphone.
Lucas hated it that Eddie thought he had Columbine wrapped around his little finger. Ever since she had joined the cast, over two years ago now, Eddie had strutted about as though he were her boyfriend. Columbine herself seldom seemed to notice him, but Eddie just passed this off as her distant personality. “That’s just my girl,” he would say. “We have an understanding.” Lately she spent most of her private time listening to Buddy Holly records and consulting her astrological charts.
Oliver and Lucas leaned their heads together as both attempted to see through the little window at the same time.
“What’s that I hear?” said Oliver. “That unearthly tapping? I’d call it a rhythmic tapping, but it keeps skipping beats. Certainly it couldn’t be, oh, your heart?”
“Quiet, you big goofus,” Lucas said, “or I’m cutting your minutes.”
In the audience, hands exploded into the air, vying for the pale seer’s attention. All the teens wanted their fortunes told.
Columbine turned her lovely face from one longing soul to another. Her gazing-glass visions began.
To one girl, she said, “There is a jukebox, at a place near the beach. The moon has just risen, and the lights are dim. Johnny Mathis is singing ‘Chances Are.’ You will dance with one boy, but another will cut in. He’s the one!
To a boy, she said, “You are in a roller skating rink, and there is organ music. It’s a couples skate, and the song is ‘Volare.’ There is a girl who shows up on Saturdays, with a long blond ponytail. This time you won’t be too shy to ask her to skate.”
And then, “Oh, dear,” she said. “In the third row. I am sorry. Your girlfriend will see the scary movie The Blob with another boy. They will sit through it twice.”
A whispered argument broke out in the third row.
“Big deal,” said a boy in row 12. “That ball is probably just one of those Magic 8 Balls.”
“Or she could have looked this stuff up in this morning’s horoscope,” said another. “In the paper.”
“Yeah, but I’d sure like to take her to the prom,” said still another.
Lucas sat with his mouth open as this astral Miss Lonely Hearts spun out her prophecies. The crystal in Columbine’s hand turned slowly, casting streaks of ice blue across her enchanting face. To look at her was to believe her, to not look at her was impossible.
“My public awaits,” said Oliver. He passed a large hand back and forth before Lucas’s goggled eyes, but the boy didn’t blink. “You’re a lost cause, Master Lucas.”
The big fellow left, closing the door behind him.
“I don’t know what to say to her,” Lucas said, his eyes still drinking in this witch-girl vision in blue. “I never know what to say.”
He adjusted the microphone and reverted to his professional voice. What Lucas lacked in adult vocal register he made up for in authority. “Okay, everybody. Let’s wrap it up for Columbine. Flowers, please, Professor. Oliver is up, and then into the blackout. Stations, everyone. It’s ghost story time.”
Professor McDuff returned and made a big to-do of presenting Columbine a bouquet of blood-red roses, then escorted her offstage to continued applause and whistling.
At the edge of the stage, with the girl safely in the wings, the Professor turned again and explained the rules of the blackout to the audience. “One: remain seated. Two: no flash photographs—our ghosts are bashful. And three: if something cold and dead should put its hands around your throat, you can always scream. And now,” the Professor added over the audience’s nervous laughter, “I give you the Curse of Frankenstein!”
Fog oozed across the stage floor, lightning flashed, thunder rumbled. Lucas gave birth to all three effects: a thick white cloud issued from his Vapor-250 Atomizer, simulated lightning exploded from a bank of flashbulbs, and thunder from his Hollywood Sound Effects phonograph record erupted from speakers the size of refrigerators. With a deft replacement of the phonograph needle, he threw in one more extended rumble for good measure.
“Ka-booooooom!”
On this note, Oliver lurched out, doing his best to look like the Frankenstein monster from the movies. His green hue, some last-minute Hollywood stitches, and a pair of sparking neck electrodes constituted special effects that rivaled those of the best Hollywood monsters. The teenagers granted him full attention as the hulking actor grimaced, spread his arms, and began his recitations.
Oliver’s low voice gave life to a selection of spooky rhymes. James Whitcomb Riley’s famous orphan told her witch tales, Edgar Allan Poe’s black bird perched ominously, Shakespeare’s witches issued their dire portents.
But as entertaining as the actor’s recitations were, and despite his looking like someone to avoid in an old castle on a rainy night, his welcome began to wear on his young audience.
“This isn’t the ‘Curse’ of Frankenstein,” an anguished voice said. “It’s the ‘Verse’ of Frankenstein.”
The teens in the front rows began to throw things at the stage. Milk Duds, Chuckles, Tootsie Roll segments, and a hailstorm of popcorn filled the air. The “monster” waved these trifles aside as he continued his soliloquy.
“That should do it,” Lucas said into the mike. “Cue the McClatter boys.”
In military formation, six life-sized skeletons marched onto the stage. Two of them wheeled out an enormous guillotine as the others restrained Oliver.
“Cool,” said a boy near the front of the theater. “Marionettes.”
The skeletons dragged Oliver to the guillotine and forced his head through the opening. The device’s steel blade loomed eight feet above.
“Murder most foul,” Oliver cried.
With a smiling glance at the audience, one of the skeletons pulled a lever, and the heavy metal blade dropped with a sickening thunk.
The audience gasped.
At first, nothing happened, as though the blade had passed through Oliver’s neck without harming him—the old magician’s trick. Then gravity set in, and Oliver’s head slid down the face of the thing, leaving a bloody red stain, and fell to the floor. It rolled toward the audience, wobbling this way or that as an ear or nose went round.
“EEEEEEEK!” the girls in the audience screamed as one.
The oversized green head stopped just at the edge of the little stage. Its eyes were open and looking about wildly.
The headless remainder of Oliver himself lumbered to its feet and began swinging its huge arms, knocking two of the skeletal McClatters aside in the process. On a quest for its head, it began walking toward the audience, with its arms held straight out, like a sleepwalker‘s. Just as it was about to step off the stage into the audience, Lucas directed Eddie to plunge the theater into total darkness. Even the blue illuminated exit sign faded from view.
This time, everyone in the audience screamed. The blackness was terrifying.
Lucas’s fingers played over the keys and toggles on his control panel, creating further screams, moans, and thunderclaps.
The phonograph needle settled into a recording of “Zombie Jamboree” by the Kingston Trio. The McClatter boys, being phosphorescent and therefore visible in the dark, lined up like a Las Vegas chorus line at the edge of the stage and began dancing a frightening mountain jig. “NOOOOOOO!” More panicked teenagers screamed.
“Launch the aerials,” Lucas commanded.
Flying in formation, three glow-in-the-dark female ghosts soared low in the darkness, just above the audience’s heads, their arms trailing alongside their bodies. At first the boys in the theater oohed and aahed over their pretty faces and their scandalously loose shirts and their pale green glow.
“Hey!” a girl shouted angrily. “I thought you came here to kiss me!”
“It’s a slide projector,” said a boy in row 10. “They’re shining it onto the ceiling.”
“Cheesecloth,” said another ghost show pundit. “I’ve read about this. They just treat it with luminous paint and wave it about.”
Lucas loved the idea of gliding over the heads of the audience and wished he could do that. Surely Columbine couldn’t ignore a boy who could fly.
But then the situation turned from romantic to revolting. The youthful faces that fueled the boys’ imaginations began to age at an alarming rate, decades falling away in a flash, until they became the faces of wrinkled hags. Their eyes glowed red. The gentle drift of the ghosts’ initial flight pattern gave way to a whirlwind of rocketing ectoplasm. The ghosts banked and swooped and buzzed their trapped victims. One of the phantoms shot straight up to the roof of the tiny theater, paused, and then dive-bombed back toward the audience. The teens in her flight path leaped from their seats to avoid being struck. Another plunged to the floor and zoomed along beneath the theater seats themselves, in that crusty netherworld of old popcorn and chewing gum. The excited teens leaped up onto their armrests as the spirit light flashed beneath their feet. The third ghost, to the shock of everyone who saw in the dim glow, lifted a boy into the air, planted a slobbery old grandmotherly kiss right on his lips, and dropped him back to earth.
Lucas chose this moment of collective panic, when the entire assembly was on the verge of rushing to the exits—and perfectly timed to coincide with the finale of the skeleton song and dance number—to liberate the crowd from its fears. “Lights, Eddie,” he said into the microphone.
“Got it, Squirt.”
A single bright spotlight, so bright that some had to shield their eyes to look, revealed Professor McDuff standing center stage, smiling. The skeletons, frozen in their final configurations like characters in an anatomy class, drifted backward into the shadows.
The Professor thanked the audience for attending, explained that the goings on had been “our little way of saying boo,” and introduced the feature film, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, starring Lon Chaney Jr., Glenn Strange, and Bela Lugosi, in their classic roles as The Wolfman, Frankenstein’s monster, and Count Dracula. It was one of Lucas’s favorites, one he often fantasized about watching with Columbine.
“And for any of you asking the question, ‘Do the dead return?’ our answer is, ‘Of course! We’ll see you next year.’ Pleasant nightmares.”
The California high schoolers responded with enthusiastic applause.
It was the same every night, wherever the show played across America. Part of it, Lucas figured, was that the teens enjoyed the show. Part of it was that the clapping masked the fact that many were still shaking from the strange goings on. And part of it, of course, was that the movie would give the lovebirds in the audience time to nuzzle with their sweeties in the dark, well after midnight, with no more fear of being interrupted by spooks that had seemed just a little too real. It was best, Lucas knew, that they not think too much about card skills no one could acquire in a single lifetime, about a floating skull that could steal thoughts, about an impossibly fast Houdini Trunk escape, about a beautiful girl who could see into tomorrow, about a decapitated giant, dancing skeletons, or floating ladies.
Lucas flipped a switch and the film began. The projector lamp gave off a pleasantly familiar burning smell, and the filmstrip ratcheted noisily through the mechanism, casting the movie’s opening black and white images of London at night onto The Strand’s little screen.
Later, there was to be a cast party in the theater manager’s office. Perhaps at the party, among the manager’s framed movie posters of King Kong, Godzilla, and Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman, amid the hubbub of post-show chitchat, Lucas might muster the courage to tell Columbine how wonderful she had been this evening, or to invite her for a stroll along the dark beach, only a block away. In his fantasy they walked barefoot in the sand, the black waves slapping the beach, alone beneath a silver moon and a spray of stars.
Right, he thought. As if that were going to happen. Why would the flattery of a ten-year-old boy make the slightest impression on a girl who was already fifteen? Why would his beach-walk invitation hold the slightest interest to a girl who no doubt liked boys on the beach to be taller, with muscles? And what if he were older, more her age? Would she reject him anyway, prefer Eddie over him, or prefer someone else entirely?
And so, once again, Lucas knew that he wouldn’t even speak to her. Rather, just before retiring, at sunup along with the rest of the cast, he would extract his diary from his little traveling suitcase, and he would draw, for the day’s date next to her name, in his small neat hand, his evaluation of her performance: four perfect stars. Lucas Mackenzie—boy critic.
* * *
Meanwhile, none of the teenagers settling in for the movie, the munchies, or the smooching opportunity seemed to notice the scratching noise coming from the back row.
Gleefully entering notes into a little journal, and the only one of the audience who had pointedly not joined in the applause, was an adult named Harlan H. Hull. Mr. Hull—Doctor Hull to his colleagues and students—was ecstatic over his findings. He salivated over a possible book advance, a research grant, a guest appearance on television.
Dr. Hull chaired the Paranormal Studies Department at Bradbury College, a distinguished liberal arts institution in upstate Illinois. From the moment he had entered the theater, armed with a battery of electronic sensors that the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover himself might have envied, Dr. Hull had been monitoring various energy fields.
At first there were only hints. The needle on his Graviton Flux Indicator had registered surprising variations in body mass. If a stage show cutie could lower her body density that far, she could pass right through solid objects. Could the trunk have been normal? The spinning mirror on his Extensible Luminosity Gauge had picked up abnormally low dermal reflectivities. Could the psychic girl have been that pale?
But then came conviction. Dr. Hull’s Remote Thermal Scanner 360 had provided the proof he had been chasing. With a pistol grip, a cross-hair gun sight, and a readout with glowing red numbers, the device resembled a hand-held Flash Gordon ray gun. The RTS 360 could measure body temperatures across a room to an accuracy of one tenth of one degree, and what Dr. Hull had determined was still making him shiver.
If his readings were correct, he knew what he had feared to know.
He now knew the talking skull had housed no hidden microphone, the trunk no secret panel, the guillotine no trick-shop blade. He knew the gyrating skeletons were not string puppets, the soaring phantoms neither magic lantern show nor chemically treated gauze.
For every member of the show—from Professor McDuff to the yakking skull to the pale girl to the big green guy to the dancing skeletons to those floating hussies—had a body temperature of exactly fifty-nine degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature of the grave. The room temperature of Eternity. In a word, everyone in this show was dead. There was no other way to say it.
They had no business gallivanting around on stage before children. They belonged under the dirt, under the sod, under the feet of the living. And he was the one to put them there.
“I’ve got you, my pretties,” Dr. Hull said aloud, twisting one of his long strands of white hair in his fingers. “At last, truth in advertising.”
The London Midnight Ghost Show?
Spooks run wild in the audience?
Do the dead return?
Yes, indeedy!
And he had the proof!
 

Chapter-by-Chapter-header---About-the-Author

Steve Bryant is a new novelist, but a veteran author of books of card tricks. He founded a 40+ page monthly internet magazine for magicians containing news, reviews, magic tricks, humor, and fiction; and he frequently contributes biographical cover articles to the country’s two leading magic journals (his most recent article was about the séance at Hollywood’s Magic Castle).

Connect with the Author: Website | Twitter | Goodreads

Chapter-by-Chapter-header---Giveaway

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Friday, October 17, 2014

M9B Friday Reveal: Chapter One of Lifer by Beck Nicholas and Giveaway #M9BFridayReveals


M9B-Friday-Reveal

Welcome to this week’s M9B Friday Reveal!
This week, we are revealing the first chapter for

Lifer by Beck Nicholas

presented by Month9Books!
Be sure to enter the giveaway found at the end of the post!
BNicholas_M9B_Lifer_1800x2700


Asher is a Lifer, a slave aboard the spaceship Pelican. A member of the lowest rung of society, she must serve the ship’s Officials and Astronauts as punishment for her grandparents' crimes back on Earth. The one thing that made life bearable was her illicit relationship with Samuai, a Fishie boy, but he died alongside her brother in a freak training accident.
Still grieving for the loss of her loved ones, Asher is summoned to the upper levels to wait on Lady, the head Official’s wife and Samuai’s mother. It is the perfect opportunity to gather intel for the Lifer’s brewing rebellion. There’s just one problem—the last girl who went to the upper levels never came back.
On the other side of the universe, an alien attack has left Earth in shambles and a group called The Company has taken control. Blank wakes up in a pond completely naked and with no memory, not even his real name. So when a hot girl named Megs invites him to a black-market gaming warehouse where winning means information, he doesn’t think twice about playing. But sometimes the past is better left buried.
As Asher and Blank’s worlds collide, the truth comes out—everyone has been lied to. Bourne Identity meets Under the Never Sky in this intergalactic tale of love and deception from debut novelist Beck Nicholas.

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Title: LIFER
Publication date: December 16, 2014
Publisher: Month9Books, LLC.
Author: Beck Nicholas

Chapter-by-Chapter-header---Excerpt

Chapter One
[Asher]
I mark my body for Samuai.
My right hand is steady as I press the slim needle into my skin. It glints under the soft overhead light of the storage locker, the only place to hide on Starship Pelican. Row upon row of shelving fills the room. Back here I’m hidden from the door.
It’s been seventeen days since Samuai passed. Seventeen days of neutral expressions and stinging eyes, waiting for the chance to be alone and pay my respects to the dead Official boy in true Lifer fashion. With blood.
The body of the needle is wrapped in thread I stole from my spare uniform. The blue thread acts as the ink reservoir. It’s soaked with a dye I made from crushed feed pellets and argobenzene, both swiped from farm level. The pungent fumes sting my eyes and make it even harder to keep the tears at bay. But I will. There will be no disrespect in this marking.
My slipper drops to the floor with the softest of thuds as I shake my foot. I raise it to rest on a cold metal shelf. Samuai always held my hand when we met in secret, but I can’t bear to examine those memories now. The pain of him being gone is still so fresh.
The first break of skin at my ankle hurts a little. Not much, since the needle is nano-designed for single molecule sharpness, and it’s not as though I haven’t done this before. Recently. The tattoo for my brother circles my ankle, completed days ago, a match for the one for my father. My memorial for Samuai had to wait for privacy. The blue spreads out into my skin like liquid on a cloth. The dot is tiny. I add another and another, each time accepting the momentary pain as a tribute to Samuai. Soon I’ve finished the first swirling line.
“Are you mourning my brother or yours?”
My hand jerks at the familiar voice, driving the needle deep into the delicate skin over my Achilles. Davyd’s voice. How did he get in here so quietly? I wince, clamping down on a cry of pain. No tears though. Nothing will make me disrespect Samuai. I remove the needle from my flesh and school my features into a neutral expression before I turn and stand to attention.
“Davyd,” I say by way of greeting. Despite my preparation my throat thickens.
My response to him is stupid because he looks nothing like Samuai. Where Samuai radiated warmth from his spiky dark hair hinting of honey and his deep, golden brown eyes, there is only ice in his brother. Ice-chiseled cheekbones, tousled blond hair, the slight cleft in his chin, and his gray eyes. Eyes that see far too much.
But he’s dressed like Samuai used to dress. The same white t-shirt and black pants. It’s the uniform of Officials, or Fishies, as they’re known below. He’s a little broader in the shoulders than his older brother was—to even think of Samuai in the past tense is agony—and he’s not quite as tall. I only have to look up a little to meet his gaze. I do so without speaking.
I shouldn’t be here, but I’m not going to start apologizing for where I am or his reference to my forbidden relationship with his brother, until I know what he wants.
“Is that supposed to happen?” He points at my foot, where blood drips, forming a tiny puddle on the hard, shiny floor.
His face is expressionless, as usual, but I can hear the conceit in his voice. I can imagine what the son of a Fishie thinks of our Lifer traditions.
Today, I don’t care. Even if his scorn makes my stomach tighten and cheeks flame, I won’t care. Not about anything Davyd has to say.
“It’s none of your business.”
One fine brow arches. Superior, knowing.
He doesn’t have to say the words. The awareness of just how wrong I am zaps between us. Given our relative stations on this journey—he’s destined to be a Fishie in charge of managing the ship’s population, and me to serve my inherited sentence—whatever I do is his business, if he chooses to make it so. He’s in authority even though we’re almost the same age.
In order to gain permission to breed, Lifers allowed the injection of nanobots into their children. These prototype bots in our cells give our masters the power to switch us off using a special Remote Device until our sentence is served. At any time we can be shut down. I’m not sure how exactly, only that each of us has a unique code and the device can turn those particular bots against us. It’s an unseen but constant threat.
I keep my face blank and my posture subservient, but my fingers tighten around the needle in my hand. How I long to slap the smooth skin of his cheek.
For a second, neither of us speaks.
“Your brother or mine?” he asks again. Softly this time. So low, the question is almost intimate in the dim light.
I inhale deeply, welcoming the harsh fumes from my makeshift ink. The burning in my lungs gives me a focus so the ever-present emotional pain can’t cripple me. My brother and my boyfriend were taken on the same day, and I’m unable to properly mourn either thanks to the demands of servitude.
I can’t let it cripple me. Not if I want to find out what really happened to Zed and Samuai.
“Does it matter?” I ask. Rather than refuse him again, I twist the question around. He would never admit to having interest in the goings-on of a mere Lifer.
“No.” His voice is hard. Uncaring. He folds his arms. “But it’s against ship law to deface property.”
It takes a heartbeat, and then I realize I’m the property he’s talking about. My toes curl because my fists can’t. I see from the flick of his eyes to my feet that he’s noticed. Of course he has. There’s nothing Davyd doesn’t notice.
It’s true though. The marks we Lifers make on our bodies are not formally allowed. It is a price we pay for the agreement signed in DNA by our parents and our grandparents. They agreed to a lifetime of servitude, and their sentence is passed down through the generations for the chance at a new life on a new planet. I am the last in the chain, and my sentence will continue for twelve years after landing.
We Lifers belong to those above us, body and soul, but no Fishie or Naut—the astronauts who pilot the ship—has ever tried to stop the ritual. In return we are not blatant. We mark feet, torsos, and thighs. Places hidden by our plain blue clothing.
If the son of the head Fishie reports me, it will go on my record no matter how minor the charge, and possibly add months to my sentence. A sentence I serve for my grandparents’ crimes back on Earth after the Upheaval. Like others, their crime was no more than refusal to hand over their vehicle and property when both were declared a government resource.
I swallow convulsively.
I don’t want that kind of notice. Not when we’re expected to land in my lifetime. Not when I hoped to find answers to the questions that haunt me.
The first lesson a Lifer child learns is control around their superiors. I won’t allow mine to fail me now.
“Did you want something? Sir?”
If there’s a faint pause before the honorific, well, I’m only human.
He lets it pass. “The Lady requires extra help at this time. You have been recommended.”
“Me?”
His lips twist. “I was equally surprised. Attend her now.”
The Lady is the wife of the senior Official on board the Pelican, and both Samuai and Davyd’s mother. She’s a mysterious figure who is never seen in the shared area of the ship. I imagine she’s hurting for her dead child. Sympathy stirs within me. I’ve seen the strain my own mother tries to hide since Zed died, and I don’t think having a higher rank would make the burden any easier to bear.
It’s within Davyd’s scope as both Fishie-in-training and son of the ship’s Lady to be the one to inform me of my new placement, but I can’t help looking for something deeper in his words. There should be a kinship between us, having both lost a brother so recently, but Samuai’s death hasn’t affected Davyd at all.
“Who recommended me?”
He shrugs. “Now. Lifer.”
I nod and move to tidy up, ignoring the persistent pain in my ankle where the needle went too deep. My defiance only stretches so far. Not acting on a direct request would be stupidity. I will finish my memorial for Samuai, but not with his brother waiting. It’s typical that Davyd doesn’t use my name. I can’t remember him or his Fishie friends ever doing so.
It was something that stood out about Samuai from when we were youngsters and met in the training room. It was the only place on the ship us Lifers are close to equal. I was paired to fight with him to first blood, and he shocked me by asking my name. “Asher,” Samuai had repeated, like he tasted something sweet on his tongue, “I like it.”
In my heart there’s an echo of the warmth I felt that day, but the memory hurts. It hurts that I’ll never see him again, that he’ll never live out the dreams we shared in our secret meetings. Dreams of a shared future and changes to a system that makes Lifers less than human.
When I’ve gathered the small inkpot and put on my slippers, I notice a smear of blood on the slipper material from where I slipped earlier. It’s the opportunity I need to let my change in status be known below.
“Umm.” I clear my throat. Please let the stories I’ve heard of the Lady be true.
“What?” asks Davyd from where he waits by the door, presumably to escort me to his mother. The intensity of his gaze makes me quake inside. It’s all I can do not to lift my hand to check my top is correctly buttoned and my hair hasn’t grown beyond the fuzz a Lifer is allowed.
“My foot attire isn’t suitable to serve the Lady.” I point to the faint smudge of brown seeping into my footwear. It is said by those cleaners who are permitted into the Fishie sleeping quarters that the Lady insists her apartment be kept spotless. She’s unlikely to be pleased with me reporting for duty in bloodstained slippers.
Davyd’s jaw tenses. Maybe I’ve pushed him too far with this delay. I hold my breath.
But then his annoyance is gone and his face is the usual smooth mask. “Change. I will be waiting at the lift between the training hall and study rooms.”
He doesn’t need to tell me to hurry.
He opens the door leading out into the hallway and I expect him to stride through and not look back. Again he surprises me. He turns. His face is in shadow. The brighter light behind him shines on his tousled blond hair, which gives him a hint of the angelic.
“Assuming it’s my brother you’re mourning,” his voice is deep and for the first time there’s a slight melting of the ice. “You should know. … He wasn’t worth your pain.”

Chapter-by-Chapter-header---About-the-Author
Beck-Nicholas-head-shot-248x300

I always wanted to write. I’ve worked as a lab assistant, a pizza delivery driver and a high school teacher but I always pursued my first dream of creating stories. Now, I live with my family near Adelaide, halfway between the city and the sea, and am lucky to spend my days (and nights) writing young adult fiction.

Connect with the Author: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Pinterest

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Monday, October 13, 2014

#MondayBlogs on Reading and Writing~


2014 has been a very busy year for me in terms of reading and writing. I did the JuNoWriMo challenge, the August writing challenge, and the September writing challenge. Whew!

JuNoWriMo was the toughest. It's essentially the same "write 50,000 words in a month" goal as NaNoWriMo. And I succeeded. I wrote a complete rough draft of a steam punk, archaeological adventure story. It still needs a lot of work, but I'm basking in the achievement anyway. I've never been able to complete NaNoWriMo before, probably because of the time of year. In June, my kids are out of school and I have more free time than in November.

When I realized the difference, I thought maybe I should make better use of my summer for writing? I started another new book in August and worked on it through September, with the help and encouragement of the folks at Writing Challenge.org . Their challenge is a little less rigorous - 500 words a day. That manuscript is still under construction, but it's at least 30,000 words already. Maybe by the end of 2014, I will have written 100,000 words? Exciting!

 
 
I've been feeling the past few years like I haven't been reading enough fiction, so I also signed up this year to read 20 books on Goodreads, another challenge. In all honesty, I'm behind on my goal (12 out of 20 so far) and I might not make it, but I've read some good books so I consider it a success too. If you want to see what've I've read recently, check out Goodreads and friend me there.
 
I was comparing and contrasting what I've enjoyed and what I haven't, trying to understand what works for me and what doesn't and pin pointing exactly "why".
 
Here's what I've found I like: overcoming adversity, seemingly unrelated stories that eventually relate, mystery, love/romance, fantastical elements, humor, strength of character, gothic creepiness, and the gothic/steampunky time period.
My reading dislikes: random gross elements for shock value, characters telling me what's happening without telling me how they feel about it, and stories with a complete lack of any characters with redeeming qualities.
 
I've read "adult" and "young adult" and come to the conclusion that the difference between the two is not the sophistication of the subject matter, but the general outlook. Young adult is usually more hopeful. Adult can be too, but sometimes it tends toward a more dour or realistic outlook. I myself tend to gravitate toward the hopeful end of the spectrum, which is probably why I write ya. I read and write to be delighted and entertained.
 
What do you like to read and why?
 


Friday, October 10, 2014

M9B Friday Reveal: Chapter One of The Night House by Rachel Tafoya and Giveaway #M9BFridayReveals


M9B-Friday-Reveal

Welcome to this week’s M9B Friday Reveal!
This week, we are revealing the first chapter for

The Night House by Rachel Tafoya

presented by Month9Books!
Be sure to enter the giveaway found at the end of the post!

Nighthouse-cover


Bianca St. Germain works at a Night House, a place where vampires like the aristocratic Jeremiah Archer, pay to feed on humans, and she doesn’t much care what others think of her. The money is good, and at least there, she’s safe. Bianca also doesn’t care that the Night House is killing her. All she cares about is: nauth, the highly addictive poison in vampire bites that brings a euphoria like no drug ever could.
But when Bianca meets James, a reclusive empath who feels everything she does, for the first time, she considers a life outside of the Night House and a someone worth living for. But Jeremiah has decided to keep Bianca for himself; he won’t allow her to walk away.
As she allows her feelings for James to grow, she struggles to contain nauth’s strong hold on her life. If they are to have a future, James must make her see what she’s worth, what she means to him, before Jeremiah and nauth claim her for good.

add to goodreads
Title: THE NIGHT HOUSE
Publication date: December 9, 2014
Publisher: Month9Books, LLC.
Author: Rachel Tafoya


Chapter-by-Chapter-header---Excerpt
Enjoy Chapter One! Happy Reading!



The Night House
Rachel Tafoya
Bianca

It’s been one day since I last had nauth.
A chill is starting to set into my bones. As some giant carelessly spills orange and red over the sky, I hurry back to the Night House. This tiny black pillowcase that I call a dress is tighter than it should be, and I’m in heels that force me to walk on my toes. I never took ballet, but I’m pretty sure I’ve been walking on pointe since I came to Philly.
When I reach the building, the sun is long gone. My boss, Finn, waits behind the black double doors. I can’t see him, but I can feel him—or maybe I’m just used to his grimace greeting me. My shoes click against the stone steps. I love that sound. Sometimes I spend my days just listening to everyone walk by. The click, thud and slap of shoes are the real soundtrack of the city.
But the Night House is quiet.
Finn opens the door for me with a scowl. He could be beautiful like the others, if he tried, but he is the laziest vampire I have ever met.
“Bianca St. Germain.” His voice is bored, as usual. “You’re late.”
“Figured you’d rather I take my time than break my ankle in these shoes.” I breeze past him. The chilly night air follows me in, pawing at my back like a neglected pet.
“I can fix ankles,” Finn is still facing the door like I haven’t moved. “Your pitiful lack of manners, however … ”
I shrug him off. “It’s a couple of minutes, cut me some slack.”
“This isn’t high school, Bianca. You’re not a teenager when you’re in here.”
“Sorry, I’ll start investing in stocks or something. That’s what old people do, right?”
He huffs in my direction as I feel my way around the darkness. The whole place is pitch black until the thin hallway forks. To my left, pale blue lights beckon the customers. I go right, through the heavy curtain that leads to the girls’ rooms. Vampires with their night vision don’t need guidance, but I’m fairly certain every girl has tripped at least once down here.
The doors are nearly invisible except for the strips of space at the bottom where they don’t quite reach the floor. Those spaces cast light on my feet as I teeter past on these impossible heels. They’re new, and I’m still breaking them in, but I’ve never felt this tall before.
I hear scuffling and shifting behind those doors. The other girls hide in their rooms all day. They don’t understand why I still crave the sunlight, why I don’t make my room my little home and never leave until I’m called. That’s what Finn wants me to do, what the girls think I should do, but I would rather sleep on the cracked unyielding sidewalks of Philly than in the Night House. I would rather be homeless than call this place home.
When I find my room, I turn the knob and bump my hip into it. It opens with a groan. My door has been broken for at least three months. Finn keeps saying he’ll fix it, but he couldn’t care less and we both know it. Still, I keep bugging him. I can’t give up that easily.
My room is like two closets that had the walls knocked out between them. A bed is nestled in the corner. Most of my important stuff is underneath there, like sketchbooks, novels and accessories to hide my scars. One wall is dominated by a large mirror with huge lights, like an actress might have for her dressing room. Though I’m sure an actress would have working lights. I slump into the folding chair and rest my fish-netted legs on the dresser. Makeup and various beauty tools—eyeliner, lipstick, blush—lay scattered over it. This is the only time I can bear to look at myself. Right before I become another person.
I start with the lips. Blood red, the way they like it. Then I frame my eyes in black so that the green pops. I don’t need to do anything to appear pale. That one comes naturally. But I smooth my face with lotion and foundation, and then add rosy cheeks. When I unravel my scarf, I have to close my eyes. That way, when I open them, I can pretend it’s someone else’s neck covered with scars. Some crazy girl with her makeup on. The scars are nearly invisible, thanks to Finn and his healing blood, but I can still see clumps of white scar tissue, just a shade paler than my skin. I hate not being able to cover my scars with anything—makeup doesn’t taste good.
When I am done with makeup, I change out of my dress and tights and heels and put on an awful old corset. Each girl has at least one old-fashioned outfit because sometimes vampires prefer to live in the old days. We all have different specialties. My friend Alex is all about the 1950s. I got stuck in the 19th century.
Tonight, I have an appointment with Jeremiah, and he’s very old and very proper but he’s not above throwing a tantrum if I’m not perfectly in period. Jeremiah is a regular here. For a while, he used to switch between the girls until I showed up. He’s something of a collector, and when he found out I had AB negative, he became my regular. Apparently AB neg means something, or that’s what Finn told me anyway. It’s tricky having the same guy come by all the time because you start to know each other. That doesn’t make it easier. I wish they were all strangers. Unfortunately, I know Jeremiah very well.
So I put on this musty old dress with frills and lace and after it’s on, I am a dusty layer cake. I hate Jeremiah, but he pays nicely so I always get a tip from him. That means a new sketchbook, or maybe I’ll treat myself to a cupcake.
Finn knocks on my door even though it’s open. “Jeremiah is here.”
I stifle a groan and meet his gaze.
He gives me a once over. “Fix your hair.”
“One hundred strokes, right?”
“He’s in the Fire Room.” Finn leaves before I can say anything else.
I pick up my paddle brush and make my hair as flouncy as I can, but it’s thick and heavy and sits the same way no matter what I do to it. It could take hours to make my hair salon styled. Besides, it’s fine the way it is. Maybe not 1800s fine, but Jeremiah will have to deal. It’s not my hair he comes for, anyway.
I step out of my room, and I feel like I walked out of Sense and Sensibility. I like Jane Austen. She writes happy endings.
I hate Jeremiah.
The hallway takes me past all the doors which start to open, like night-blooming flowers. Alex flashes a smile. Her hair is full of curlers. Jessie tries to zip up her dress by herself even though we all know she can’t. Yvonne runs between her room and Jordan’s, trying to decide which shoes to wear. Both pairs are ugly.
I take the back way into the lounge, away from the front doors. One of Finn’s guys waits by the entrance. He is even less animated than Finn, which is hard to accomplish. He’s probably well paid with some name like Tank or Gunn. We both pretend this isn’t awkward, and he lets me through.
Yet another hallway lies ahead. Another thick set of curtains separates the lounge from the rooms, but I can see a bit of the blue lights on the other side. There, one of the luckier girls gets to pretend she isn’t vamp food in order to be the hostess, taking names. There, vampires sit idly on a long winding couch, tapping their feet, waiting their turn, while they ignore their thirst. There, Finn handles all the customers and tells them to be patient while the girls get ready. Then we can sneak into the rooms and appear like we’ve been there all along. We’ll ask sweetly, “What took you so long?” and they’ll blame Finn, but they’ll thank him later.
Inside the Fire Room, creatively named for being the only room with a fireplace, is where it starts. My hunger. It is different from the vamps’. It is a void, embedded deep in my veins, which can never be filled.
Nauth.
The word echoes in my head and sends chills down my spine.
I want it.
I want it now.
But I must be patient and distract myself by taking in the decorations in the Fire Room. It really seems like it was transported straight from some Victorian’s living room. From the stiff baroque curtains and the velvet couch, to the unused silverware sitting on the dark wooden table, I blend right in.
This is one big show for the vampires. The whole Night House feels like a movie set. I am an actress. Finn directs us. Still, I know it’s real. So I face the fire and let it warm my skin as I wait for everything to get too close.

Chapter-by-Chapter-header---About-the-Author

Rachel Tafoya

Rachel Tafoya studied creative writing while at Solebury School and was published in their student run literary magazine, SLAM. She attended a writing program for teens at both Susquehanna University and Denison University, and the Experimental Writing for Teens class and Novels for Young Writers program, both run by NY Times bestselling author, Jonathan Maberry. Rachel is the daughter crime author Dennis Tafoya.

Connect with the Author: Tumbler | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads


Chapter-by-Chapter-header---Giveaway
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Friday, October 3, 2014

M9B Friday Reveal: Chapter One of A Murder of Magpies by Sarah Bromley and Giveaway #M9BFridayReveals

M9B-Friday-Reveal

Welcome to this week's M9B Friday Reveal!
This week, we are revealing the first chapter for
A Murder of Magpies by Sarah Bromley
presented by Month9Books!
Be sure to enter the giveaway found at the end of the post!


A-Murder-of-Magpies-Cover

Winter in Black Orchard, Wisconsin, is long and dark, and sixteen-year-old Vayda Silver prays the snow will keep the truth and secrecy of the last two years buried. Hiding from the past with her father and twin brother, Vayda knows the rules: never return to the town of her mother’s murder, and never work a Mind Game where someone might see.
No one can know the toll emotions take on Vayda, how emotion becomes energy in her hands, or how she can’t control the destruction she causes. But it’s not long before her powers can no longer be contained. The truth is dangerously close to being exposed, placing Vayda and her family at risk.
Until someone quiets the chaos inside her.
Unwanted. That’s all Ward Ravenscroft has ever been. To cope, he numbs the pain of rejection by denying himself emotions of any kind. Yet Vayda stirs something in him. He can’t explain the hold she has on him–inspiring him with both hope and fear. He claims not to scare easily, except he doesn’t know what her powers can do. Yet.
Just as Vadya and Ward draw closer, she finds the past isn’t so easily buried. And when it follows the Silvers to Black Orchard, it has murder in mind.

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Title: A Murder of Magpies
Publication date: October 28, 2014
Publisher: Month9Books, LLC.
Author: Sarah Bromley

Chapter-by-Chapter-header---Excerpt
Enjoy Chapter One! Happy Reading!
Chapter One
Vayda
Disaster came as a boy in a Catholic school uniform. That boy was my brother, Jonah.
We’d seen disaster, somehow crawled out from the ruins, and lived. It didn’t just happen, all explosive and bombastic so we knew everything changed. A real disaster began with a spark of fire that rose in the air and snuffed out. When the ash landed, it was still hot enough to burn, and from that ember, everything we knew went up in flames.
It happened before. I had reason to fear it would happen again.
My fingers drummed on the time-scarred armrest of a chair in Monsignor Judd’s office. Someone had etched a cross into the wood five, ten, maybe twenty years ago. A saint’s stare bore down on me from the stained-glass window; no comfort lay in his face, only my guilt for not knowing the saint’s name. Outside the office, Monsignor stood, fingers steepled, while the heating vent blew the draping of his cassock. His ear angled to the young nun whispering with him over the manila folder of Jonah’s permanent record. Curls snaked from her nun’s habit, and her eyes slid to watch me. Dull, dark. Nearly dead.
My hands grew warmer. I forced my breathing to slow. Calm down, Vayda girl. Nothing to get worked up over yet.
Not easy when I was a human magnet for emotion.
Slouching in his chair, Jonah fidgeted with a hole in his blue trousers. I always thought he’d blow our cover someday, but that didn’t mean I was ready for it. A bruise purpled his cheekbone. His heat, a mix of emotion and energy, radiated to further prickle my hands until they were scorching. I needed to cool down, put everything on ice to stabilize Jonah and myself. I exhaled in hope of a cold breath. My twin’s fury was more than I could absorb.
You outdid yourself this time. I pointed the thought to his mind like a laser. Do you honestly think fighting with Marty Pifkin is worth all this trouble?
He avoided eye contact, naturally. That didn’t mean he didn’t listen. Silent to all but me, he answered, Dati’s already gonna read me the riot act. Don’t give me any grief, especially since I was defending you.
Defending me from Marty Pifkin of all people. Let it go. What’s done is done. I didn’t know whether to give my brother a good wallop upside the head like our mom would have or pray we’d skate on by. Keep at it, Jonah, and people will notice what you can do. Throwing a desk without using your hands isn’t exactly wisdom for the ages.
Why don’t you keep that in mind the next time you lose it and break all the light bulbs in the science lab? He swiped a rogue strand of long, dark hair from his face. You lack subtlety and finesse, Sis.
Subtlety. Finesse. Words sixteen-year-old boys knew ohso-much about. I choked on a laugh and lowered my eyes to the ratty, blue Chucks I paired with my Catholic school plaid, wool skirt, and tights. Even if it wasn’t my school uniform, I wore dresses most days. I could move my legs and didn’t feel so caged in.
Brushing away the glass dust on my thighs, I ignored the blood drying on my hands and clasped them together. They were less dangerous that way.
The door to the office lobby opened. The new nun resembled a black dandelion seed as she glided into Monsignor’s office. She was followed by the head priest and my father. The scent of wood dust clung to him. Most parents visiting St. Anthony of Padua High School rolled in wearing suits or golf attire, and then there was Dad with his Fat Tire shirt and varnish-splattered jeans—evidence he’d been working on a restoration when called to the school. Even if the fight between my brother and Marty hadn’t already strained my mental barriers, I still would’ve noticed Dad’s disappointment.
Dad lived by so-called cardinal rules. Looking at Jonah, there was only one rule I thought: There’s a devil on every man’s shoulder, whispering in his ear. Only he decides if he’ll throw salt at the devil or feed him his soul.
“What happened, Magpie?” Dad asked, a Georgia-born drawl buttering his voice as he checked out the cuts on my hand.
“Broken glass, Dati,” I answered.
“You ought to be more mindful, don’t you think?” His question had nothing and everything to do with breaking glass.
Monsignor cleared his throat. “Sorry to have you back in my office so soon, Mr. Silver.”
“Twice in one week is overkill.” Dad stood behind Jonah and me, a hand on each of our shoulders.
“I’ve spoken with our new staff psychologist, Sister Polly Tremblay.” Monsignor introduced the new nun. “She was hired this year after Dr. Fernandez took a position in Madison. Our newest Sister is a licensed practitioner, educator, and bride of Christ.”
Dad raised an eyebrow. “Is she now? That’s all so very impressive, Sister. Do you go by Sister Polly or Sister Tremblay?”
The nun blinked twice, no emotion registering on her face.
“Sister Tremblay. Polly is from my past life.” Monsignor grabbed the manila folder from the nun’s hands and hurried through his words. “Sister Tremblay has acquainted herself with Jonah’s file and feels he may benefit from some sessions with her. If I may be frank, Mr. Silver, your family came to Wisconsin two years ago, but of the people I’ve spoken with, no one really knows you. Certain appearances are important, especially for an institution such as St. Anthony’s. I’m sorry to have to say anything in front of your children, but you must all be aware of the situation I’m in while I’m deciding Jonah’s punishment.”
“You’re a widower running an antiques business,” Sister Tremblay added.
“What’s that got to do with anything?” Dad snapped.
“The adjustment period after moving, especially when grieving, can be prolonged. In that regard, two years isn’t very long at all,” Sister Tremblay answered. “Teenagers often cope by acting out. If you’re as busy as I suspect—”
“I’ve got time for my kids,” Dad argued. “Always.”
The heating vent blasted more hot air into the office. My brother burned with frustration, and my shoulders tightened. I cracked my knuckles, all too aware of how the lights dimmed.
Monsignor Judd let out a sigh. “Sister Tremblay is only suggesting that talking to someone away from family could be good for Jonah.”
There was no “outside the family.” There never was. Hard to make friends and get past the New Kid stigma when we were either cooped up at home or at Dad’s shop under his watch. No wonder our classmates thought we were weird—we were.
The hairs on the back of my neck stiffened. I shifted in my chair for a better view into the lobby where another boy waited to talk with Monsignor. The hair curling near his jaw was the color of liquid cinnamon dashed with espresso, and a wire tethered an iPod to his ears as he held an icepack to his bottom lip.
Jonah’s sort-of friend, Ward.
He averted his eyes from mine.
My hands grew hot while the overhead lights flickered, drawing everyone’s attention to the ceiling. Dad’s grip pumped my shoulder.
Jonah stretched his legs. “I’m not hanging out with no damn shrink. Marty Pifkin’s got everyone wrapped around his finger.”
“Here we go again,” I muttered. “Jonah, stop it.”
“That guy is a creeper, and—”
I glanced to Dad for sympathy. “Marty asked to compare answers on our homework and Jonah lost it.”
“—he was bothering Vayda,” my brother talked over me.
“Guys like that shouldn’t be talking to her. He’s gadje. I didn’t throw the first punch, didn’t ask for Ward’s help. I barely know the kid.”
Monsignor waited until Jonah and I both quieted down.
“What’s gadje?”
Jonah gave Dad a pleading stare. We never let others knowthe meaning of words we’d grown up with, but Dad confessed,
“To some, it means outsider, though you could say we’re the outsiders here.”
Monsignor gave a reluctant nod. “Marty claims Jonahthrew a desk. That’s not behavior that will go unpunished.”
“And the physics lab? Every light was broken.” Sister Tremblay crossed her arms.
I sank into my chair and hid behind my hair. No one could avoid those dull eyes. I wanted out of the office. Now.
The Flickering of the lights grew faster. I shuddered, not cold, but burning up. The poster of a kitten clinging to a clothesline while cheering “Hang in there!” obviously didn’t relate to how fragile my grip was when so many emotions flooded a room. Usually I kept it together with mental barriers to deflect the constant flow of others’ feelings, but so much tension…
“You’re seriously suggesting a couple of kids broke every light bulb just like that?” Dad’s voice rose. He gestured to the palsied lights. “Y’all would be better off hiring an electrician before the school burns down.”
The room skewed left, and my vision blurred, head dizzied. Too hot, cluttered. My hands—I shut my eyes. Monsignor and Sister Tremblay had to be staring, but I couldn’t worry about them.
Energy. Rising.
Crack!
A fracture drove down the length of the fluorescent light above the desk. Sister Tremblay yelped and snatched Jonah’s folder to her chest.
“Hell of a power surge.” Jonah’s black eyes searched for a way into my mind. Not gonna let him in, not this time. He was worried, but nothing was wrong, nothing at all, except that I felt like I could pass out.
“Vayda, go get some fresh air,” Dad ordered. “You’re flushed.”
Monsignor dismissed me, and with the expected curtsey before hoisting my backpack onto my shoulder, I cracked my knuckles one last time to diffuse the energy swelling in my hands. I stepped out of the office, out of the glow of the stained-glass window, and paced near the chairs where Ward waited. Jonah started this whole mess. Marty had done nothing to me—this time. Marty never listened until Jonah made him. Ever since that first fight, Jonah had his anger centered on Marty. Anything Jonah felt, I felt ten times worse. When he was happy, he was very happy, but when he was angry, he was furious.
Mom had been the same way.
“I promise you won’t go belly-up if you hold still.” Ward’s voice was deep, raw honey. His head rested against his chair, his left eye cracked open, watching me.
I gave him a weak smile. I liked his voice.
Ward had been at our school only since Monday, and already the social boneyard where Jonah and I roamed had claimed him. After we transferred in following Christmas break nearly two years ago, we tried blending with the nameless, faceless uniforms, but it wasn’t so simple. The other students never warmed to us, and we hadn’t to them. We weren’t from here, didn’t look or act like them. We were among the Avoided, but, as of yesterday, we had a shadow. A gadje shadow.
“How’s your hand?” Ward asked. I glanced to my brother and father talking to Monsignor. That Jonah hadn’t chased off Ward was a tacit tolerance of him. “A few cuts. I’ll live.” I twisted my black hair, skimming my hips. “You hardly needed to play the white knight. Marty’s not much of a dragon, more like a salamander.”
“Maybe I like fighting salamanders.”
Chipped, gray polish colored his nails. Artsy in an I-don’t give- a-damn-I’ll-wear-it-if-it’s-clean way. If Monsignor noticed, that’d earn Ward a detention or two.
“Listen, gadjo.” He didn’t deserve social devastation all because of my cavalier brother. He needed to back off from us. While he still could. “Marty won’t bother you if you don’t bother him. Tangling with him will never be forgotten.”
His mouth twitched, neither a grin nor a frown. “I don’t scare easily.”
He slipped on his headphones once more. Must be nice to be so untouched, unfazed. Must be peaceful.
“Hey,” I called. He lifted one side of his headphones. “What are you listening to?”
“Music.”
Smart ass.
Thud! A chair had overturned in Monsignor’s office and rocked ever so slightly. A chair no one had been sitting in. Dad’s muffled voice came fast as he pulled Jonah by the arm. From the dark expression on his face, we were in for a major talking to.
“We need to leave. Now,” Dad said as he steered Jonah out of the office.
He whisked us past the sanctuary where our footfalls echoed on wood floors polished by nuns until glistening. The school was a dour extension off a century-old Catholic parish. The walls in the language arts wing were painted rich blue, the Virgin’s color. Hung between classrooms were carvings from the Stations of the Cross, thick with dust except for Christ’s gaze, which followed us and knew my family’s secrets and sins.
Outside was better. Riding in the car, the windows lowered to allow in the re-musk smell of October, but there was something else, an odor of things buried deep in the black earth. Dad steered into a parking lot by a grocery store. The heavy silence in the car made it impossible to push back the memory of the last time we pulled over like this. Instead of a parking lot, it’d been off a highway in a forest in northern Georgia and, with the haze of morning fog guarding the Chevy we’d escaped in, Dad had vowed we were going straight to Black Orchard, a town in Wisconsin near Canada. There, we would start over.
Find somewhere new. Claim different names.
Dad pushed his fingers through his black hair, streaked with silver, and set his eyes, the same green as mine, on my reflection in the rearview mirror. “This stops now. Your mama might’ve called what y’all do Mind Games. But I won’t play.”
“Yes, sir,” Jonah and I answered.
“Mind Games, if you must work them, are private. Working them in public is how your mama found trouble.” He twisted his wedding band. “We can’t risk a repeat of Georgia.”
I jerked my head to the view out the window. Black Orchard, Wisconsin. Easter egg-colored Victorian homes lined the streets, and people spoke with northern accents, which sounded friendly no matter what they said. But pretty towns and nice people could betray you.
Last time that happened, we escaped with nothing but our lives.
If it happened again, would we even have those?



Chapter-by-Chapter-header---About-the-Author

Sarah Bromley

Sarah Bromley lives near St. Louis with her husband, three children, and two dogs. She likes the quiet hours of morning when she can drink coffee in peace, stare into the woods behind her house, and wonder what monsters live there. When she’s not writing or wrangling small children, she can be found volunteering at a stable for disabled riders.

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Friday, September 26, 2014

4 for Friday Blitz – Presented by Month9Books with Giveaway


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Welcome to the 4 for Friday Blitz for Crown of Ice by Vicki L. Weavil, Fire in the Woods by Jennifer M. Eaton, Avian by Nicole Conway, and Branded by Abi Ketner and Missy Kalicicki, presented by Month9Books!
Be sure to enter the giveaway found at the end of the post.


Crown-of-ice-Cover
Thyra Winther’s seventeen, the Snow Queen, and immortal, but if she can’t reassemble a shattered enchanted mirror by her eighteenth birthday she’s doomed to spend eternity as a wraith.
Armed with magic granted by a ruthless wizard, Thyra schemes to survive with her mind and body intact. Unencumbered by kindness, she kidnaps local boy Kai Thorsen, whose mathematical skills rival her own. Two logical minds, Thyra calculates, are better than one. With time rapidly melting away she needs all the help she can steal.
A cruel lie ensnares Kai in her plan, but three missing mirror shards and Kai’s childhood friend, Gerda, present more formidable obstacles. Thyra’s willing to do anything – venture into uncharted lands, outwit sorcerers, or battle enchanted beasts — to reconstruct the mirror, yet her most dangerous adversary lies within her breast. Touched by the warmth of a wolf pup’s devotion and the fire of a young man’s desire, the thawing of Thyra’s frozen heart could be her ultimate undoing.
CROWN OF ICE is a YA Fantasy that reinvents Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” from the perspective of a young woman who discovers that the greatest threat to her survival may be her own humanity.

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Chapter-by-Chapter-header---About-the-Author

Vicki Weavil 11
Vicki Lemp Weavil was raised in a farming community in Virginia, where her life was shaped by a wonderful family, the culture of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and an obsession with reading. Since obtaining her undergraduate degree in Theatre from the University of Virginia, she’s gone on to acquire two masters degrees, living in places as diverse as New York City and rural North Carolina. She’s currently the library director for a performing an visual arts university. Vicki loves good writing in any genre, and has been known to read seven books in as many days. She enjoys travel, gardening, and the arts. Vicki lives in North Carolina with her husband, son, and some very spoiled cats.

Author Links: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Tumbler




Fire-in-the-Woods-Cover
When a plane crashes in the woods near Jess’s home, the boy of her dreams falls out of the sky—literally. But David’s not here to find a girlfriend. He’s from another planet, and if Jess can’t help him get back to his ship, he’ll be stuck on Earth with nothing to look forward to but the pointy end of a dissection scalpel.
But her father runs their house like an army barracks, and with an alien on the loose, Major Dad isn’t too keen on the idea of Jess going anywhere. Ever. So how the heck is she supposed to help the sweetest, strangest, and cutest guy she’s ever met?
Hiding him in her room probably isn’t the best idea. Especially since her Dad is in charge of the squadron searching for David. That doesn’t mean she won’t do it. It just means she can’t get caught.
Helping David get home while protecting her heart—that’s gonna be the hard part. After all, she can’t really fall for a guy who’s not exactly from here.
As they race through the woods with Major Dad and most of the U.S. military one breath behind them, Jess and David grow closer than either of them anticipated. But all is not what it seems. David has a genocide-sized secret, and one betrayal later, they are both in handcuffs as alien warships are positioning themselves around the globe. Time is ticking down to Armageddon, and Jess must think fast if she’s to save the boy she cares about without sacrificing Earth—and everyone on it.

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Chapter-by-Chapter-header---About-the-Author
Jennifer M. Eaton
Corporate Team Leader by day, and Ranting Writer by night. Jennifer M. Eaton calls the East Coast of the USA home, where she lives with her husband, three energetic boys, and a pepped up poodle.
Jennifer hosts an informational blog “A Reference of Writing Rants for Writers (or Learn from My Mistakes)” aimed at helping all writers be the best they can be.
Beyond writing and motivating others, she also enjoys teaching her dog to jump through hoops—literally.
Jennifer’s perfect day includes long hikes in the woods, bicycling, swimming, snorkeling, and snuggling up by the fire with a great book; but her greatest joy is using her over-active imagination constructively… creating new worlds for everyone to enjoy.

Author Links: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads


Avian-Cover
What kind of power is lurking inside him?
After a year of training to become a dragonrider, Jaevid Broadfeather has been sent home to rest during a three-month interlude. But when he returns to find the king drake has chosen Beckah Derrick as his new rider, Jaevid realizes something big is about to happen. Every fiber of his being is pushed to the breaking point as Jaevid battles through his avian year, preparing for the final graduation test of the battle scenario. But there is more standing in his way than a few pushups and fancy sword moves.
Jaevid must face a new fear as he is tormented by a gruesome nightmare of a mysterious gray elf warrior murdering the royal family of Maldobar. It seems obvious to him that this is some kind of message about how the war started long ago—until Felix assures him the king is very much alive. With his strange powers growing stronger by the day, and that violent dream replaying in his mind every night, Jaevid no longer wonders if he will pass his avian year or not . . . he wonders if he will even survive it.
The truth will soon be set loose.


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Chapter-by-Chapter-header---About-the-Author

NicoleConwayPhoto
Nicole is the author of the children’s fantasy series, THE DRAGONRIDER CHRONICLES, about a young boy’s journey into manhood as he trains to become a dragonrider. She has completed the first two books in the series, and is now working on the third and final book.
Originally from a small town in North Alabama, Nicole moves frequently due to her husband’s career as a pilot for the United States Air Force. She received a B.A. in English with a concentration in Classics from Auburn University, and will soon attend graduate school.
She has previously worked as a freelance and graphic artist for promotional companies, but has now embraced writing as a full-time occupation.
Nicole enjoys hiking, camping, shopping, cooking, and spending time with her family and friends. She also loves watching children’s movies and collecting books. She lives at home with her husband, two cats, and dog.

Author Links: Website | Twitter | Facebook


Branded-Cover
Fifty years ago The Commander came into power and murdered all who opposed him. In his warped mind, the seven deadly sins were the downfall of society.
To punish the guilty, he created the Hole, a place where sinners are branded according to their sins. Sinners are forced to live a less than human existence in deplorable conditions, under the watchful eye of guards who are ready to kill anyone who steps out of line.
Now, LUST wraps around my neck like thick, blue fingers, threatening to choke the life out of me. I’ve been accused of a crime I didn’t commit, and the Hole is my new home.
Constant darkness.
Brutal and savage violence.
Excruciating pain.
Every day is a fight for survival.
But I won’t let them win. I will not die in the Hole.
I am more than my brand. I’m a fighter. My name is Lexi Hamilton, and this is my story.

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Chapter-by-Chapter-header---About-the-Author




Abi and Missy met in the summer of 1999 at college orientation and have been best friends ever since. After college, they added jobs, husbands and kids to their lives, but they still found time for their friendship. Instead of hanging out on weekends, they went to dinner once a month and reviewed books. What started out as an enjoyable hobby has now become an incredible adventure.


Author Links: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Tumbler

Chapter-by-Chapter-header---Giveaway
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