To Infinity and Backwards!

An update is long overdue, as are some originals.


Nanner and CAFE DE MORT

Decided to rock NaNoWriMo this year, and it was a beast. I didn’t complete my novelization of CAFE DE MORT in November, but I did complete a lot of it and revitalized some of it. Discovered about halfway through the month that it needed more meat, my original outline just wasn’t cutting it. I have no doubts I’ll finish CAFE DE MORT, I’m super confident in it. 
Another serious decision I made about CAFE DE MORT was regarding its lead character, George Lamarck. I had been working on a serious of other stories with a character named Graham Michaels or Michaelson. His first appearance was in my short story UNDERDOGS. At some point during November, I realized George and Graham were just too much alike not to be the same character. And doing something that’s worked well for me in the past, and I highly recommend to all authors, I decided to combine the two concepts. So CAFE DE MORT will be the first in a serious of short novels with George/Graham, and he also appears in my HARDBOIL HIGH series, which is where UNDERDOGS comes from (it’s a short story version of a subplot in the series).

Rogues Gallery

I try not to keep myself on a schedule with Rogues Gallery, as I’m sure I would fail to keep up on it. That being said, I’ve had a piece from +Pavarti K Tyler that I’ve needed to read and consider for submission #6 and I just haven’t had time to do so with NaNoWriMo, surgery and a host of other excuses getting in the way… including a failed coup by the Mayans. Hopefully within the next few weeks, we’ll see hers come around… barring it gets past my filters (mer?). And new authors are always welcome to submit works.

GUN, the new Emerald Dragon String-Along

On a super exciting note, that I haven’t written about here yet, the second String-Along story is entering phase 2 of it’s journey to magnificent mayhem. Our first String-Along was FATAL FLAWS, which turned out beautifully, utilizing 5 authors in a rotation method for writing the short novel. 

Second time around we upped the ante a little, going from five authors to thirteen. In the end, only three couldn’t deliver for various personal reasons, but the result is fantastic. We have a pretty spirited effort, and we’re eager to have it polished and ready for public consumption. For now, you can read the Prologue here.

ROGUES GALLERY 5: Sofia Essen


Sofia Essen

Author Bio: Sofia Essen’s passport claims she is Swedish even though she left the country more than two decades ago and hasn’t returned since. She now lives in Crete where she has watched fellow expats tirade against seemingly endless amounts of bureaucratic red tape to comical results. Some people fail to understand things don’t work in Crete in the exact same way they do back home, wherever that might be. So Sofia is often tempted to tell the highly strung foreigners she encounters to relax and take a deep breath. She knows that if you want to live on a Greek island and enjoy it, you have to learn to adjust to the pace of the island… she thought there was a story in there somewhere, and then she wrote it. This story was published in April 2012 and it’s titled Change of Pace. She also blogs.



Change of Pace

By Sofia Essen

Chapter 1
      
“We’re going to crash!”  

The passenger next to me turns in his seat and gives me a kind smile. “I don’t think so,” he says in a soothing tone of voice. “It’s only a little turbulence.”

“No, we’re going to crash,” I reply with absolute certainty. “Bad things always come in threes.”

“And this plane crashing would be bad thing number three, I assume?”

I nod in confirmation.


“I see.” He runs a hand through his slightly too long blonde hair and then smiles again. This time I notice that his cobalt blue eyes crinkle charmingly at the corners as he does so. “Mind if I ask what bad things number one and two were?”

“I lost my job on Thursday and my boyfriend dumped me on Friday.”

“Bummer.”

“My sentiments exactly.”

I’m not particularly superstitious, but it’s been a bad week. In addition to getting dumped and losing my job, I just turned thirty. It would somehow make sense for the plane to crash. All of that aside, the turbulence is growing stronger by the second. The complimentary champagne the flight attendant gave me before we took off is threatening to splash out of its plastic flute and onto my favorite pair of perfectly faded blue jeans.  

I take a big gulp of the dancing champagne, hoping it will help me forget about the turbulence while also saving my jeans from a bubbly soaking.

“Cheers,” says my neighbor. He takes a sip then sets his glass aside. “So, what did you do before you got fired?”

“I didn’t get fired, I got downsized.”

“Isn’t that the same thing?” he asks, which ruffles my feathers.

“Tact obviously isn’t your thing,” I remark in a huffier tone of voice than I intended.

“Sorry,” he says with a rueful shake of his head. “And no, tact isn’t my thing. I lack the gene for it or something. I come from a long line of tactless people. But isn’t downsized and fired the same thing? I mean, at the end of the day, you’re still jobless, right?”

“I guess so,” I grudgingly admit.

“Okay, so tell me what you did before you lost your job.”

“I worked for a company called Milton International. They own small luxury hotels and spas around the world.”  

Resting his elbow on the armrest between us, Mr. Tactless leans closer. “And what exactly did you do for Milton International?”  

“Whatever my boss, the Director of Human Resource at Milton’s New York office, didn’t feel like doing,” I reply with a disgusted wrinkle of my nose. “He called it delegating.”

“How convenient for him.”

“Yes, very convenient,” I agree. “When I wasn’t completing tasks he delegated to me, I assisted in the recruitment and training of hotel staff. I also handled staff problems and looked after their general welfare. You know, basic babysitting and pacifying.”

“It sounds like you had a lot of responsibilities,” Mr. Tactless remarks.
 
I did have many responsibilities and I took pride in handling them to the best of my ability. For ten years, I worked hard to climb up the corporate ladder within Milton International. I started at the bottom as a Front Desk Assistant in one of their hotels. I was always at work before eight o’clock in the morning and I rarely left before seven in the evenings. When my colleagues went out to have lunch, I stayed behind and ate a sandwich at my desk.  

My promotion to the Human Resource division two years ago was a big victory for me. After that promotion, I worked even harder with increased dedication to my job. I didn’t complain about my boss’ tendency to over-delegate because he often hinted I would naturally step into his shoes as the Director of Human Resource when he was made Regional Director, which he was sure he would be within the next couple of years. Oh no, I didn’t utter as much as a peep in objection when he assumed I wouldn’t have a problem doing both his job and mine while he went off to play golf with his own bosses. I was happy to send him off to the golf course to kiss influential butts while I kept my eyes on the prize – the corner office with the big windows.   

It would be an epic understatement to say losing my job came as a shock to me. Having my career goals and dreams of that corner office unceremoniously ripped from me hit me like a physical blow to my solar plexus. It left me dazed and breathless. I knew Milton International had hit a rough patch, and there were whispers of imminent layoffs in the corridors. Ironically, just before I was downsized, I helped restructure the Marketing Division, which meant letting some people go. But, like an ostrich with its head in the sand, I chose to believe my job was safe. The alternative was too frightening to contemplate.        

I take another generous sip of champagne and let out a heavy sigh.

I’m thirty, unemployed, unattached, and seriously starting to regret boarding this flight. Even if we don’t crash, what am I going to do when we land? I’m flying solo on this trip, and all I know about my destination is that it was the birthplace of the first Olympics.  

Note to self: spontaneity doesn’t agree with me.    

I like routines. I’m not at all ashamed to admit I’m as predictable and reliable as Swiss watches are rumored to be. I liked knowing my alarm clock would wake me at precisely five-thirty every morning five days a week. I would then have a quick cup of coffee followed by a long hot shower. After slipping into one of my five identical black pantsuits, I walked from my very small apartment in the West Village to the office.  

On Friday evenings, my ex-boyfriend, Brian, picked me up from work in his beige Volvo and took me to his apartment in Brooklyn. He dropped me off at the office again on Saturdays so I could get some work done in peace and quiet without my boss interrupting me every five minutes to delegate one task or another. And on Sunday mornings we slept half an hour later than usual (if we stayed in bed any longer than that, Brian’s bowels wouldn’t move, which rendered him cranky for the rest of the day) and then had brunch in the restaurant on the ground floor of his building.     

At some point during the day, we usually went for a walk or caught a movie, which was always some European film and, in my opinion, depressing. I put up with Brian’s taste in movies since he tolerated me blasting Bon Jovi records at ear-splitting decibels without too much complaint.

In the evening, I watched him cook bland dinners because I’m allergic to cooking and Brian is allergic to pepper, and then we played Monopoly or Trivial Pursuit until ten o’clock. Neither of us are night owls. We both slept through four out of the past five times the ball dropped at Times Square on New Year’s Eve.   

My life wasn’t exciting, but it was organized and as comfortable as a well-worn slipper. I like being comfortable. I don’t need much excitement or adventure to be happy. Sticking to my routines gave me a sense of inner peace. It made me feel in control of my life.

“Would you care for a refill?” A female flight attendant with platinum blonde hair and a brilliantly white smile is hovering in the aisle.

Before I can reply, the man next to me says, “Yes, we would. Would you actually leave the bottle with us, please?”      

The flight attendant doesn’t look pleased by the request but complies with a clipped, “As you wish.” Since we’re sitting in business class, I don’t suppose she has much choice. As she trounces off down the aisle, my neighbor turns to me and nods towards the almost full bottle. “You sounded like you could use it. Those sighs of yours were rather painful to hear, almost heart-wrenching.”   

“Were they? Sorry!” My cheeks color slightly in embarrassment, but I grin at him anyway. There’s something about him, something I can’t put my finger on, that makes me want to smile at him despite my less than cheery mood. “Cheers again.”

“Cheers.” He takes a sip before setting down his glass and offering me his hand. “I’m Alex Collins.”

“I’m Anna Cox.” I take his hand and notice his trustworthy handshake – nice and firm. People with limp handshakes make me suspicious. “Nice to meet you.”

“Likewise.” Alex tops up my glass, which is draining at an alarming rate. “Is Athens your final destination or are you heading out to one of the islands?”

“I have no idea!” I confess in a squeal of panic. “I bought my ticket on-line last night. I haven’t even booked a hotel room.”

“That’s brave.”

“Yeah, maybe.” I make a wry face. “Or stupid.”

Alex laughs. “Mind if I make a suggestion?”

“Not at all. I’m very open to suggestions at this point. Any and all suggestions you might have are welcome.” I open my arms wide to reinforce my statement. “Suggest away.”

“Skip Athens and head straight to Crete. It’s my favorite island.”   

“Crete?” I consider his suggestion for a moment. Then I sit up straight, pull my shoulders back, and raise my chin. “Crete! Why not?”
  
The turbulence has died down. The plane is no longer gyrating like a backup dancer in a techno-pop music video. I unbuckle my seatbelt, excuse myself to Alex, and then clamber over him and into the aisle with more hurry than grace. Nature calls.

I face my reflection in the mirror in the postage stamp-sized bathroom. A thorough inspection concludes I look just the way I always have, which strikes me as odd. My safe, organized, predictable way of life has come crashing down around me. Everything has changed. I feel like I’ve lost all control of my life. I’m no longer the captain of my own ship, and it’s veering way off course to uncharted territories. Yet my eyes are still green, and my hair is still dark brown and cut into a short bob. I’m still five foot six with a small bust, flat butt, and a belly that needs some toning.

I wash my hands, splash some water on my face, and check my mirror image once more. Yep, the same face I saw before I turned thirty, got downsized and dumped is staring back at me. It’s just
everything else that has changed.


Continue reading, buy it on Amazon.

ROGUES GALLERY 4: Sarah Allen


Author’s Bio:  Sarah is a fan-girl and uber-dork working on submitting her first novel and drafting her second. She memorized The Cat in the Hat at age three and has loved reading ever since, which made graduating in English an easy decision. She writes short stories and poetry as well and has been published in several literary magazines such as The Tipton Poetry Journal, Atlas Poetica and Boston Literary Magazine. She is a social media nerd and blogs at http://fromsarahwithjoy.blogspot.com/. She is a slytherpuff, anglophile and Jane Austen groupie. She is a sevret lover of jazz and post-grunge rock, and a not so secret lover of Colin Firth, white chocolate, cavalier king charles spaniels and Frasier.



Lunatic by Sarah Allen.

I am in love with the man in the moon. Lunatic is what they would call me if they found out. But lunatic is not always a bad thing.


I am in love with the man in the moon. I wait for him, wait for him to pour through the atom-thin cracks in my window, wait for him to rise from the moon dust, the particles of light.

He is the color of the moon. His eyes and hair streak light across my wooden floor, from his face to mine. I could bathe in that light. And if I did, I would be trapped with him in his night-cage, freedom in being trapped anywhere with him. The bars would be pillars of light.

Fingers touch me like moonlight. Then I know he is here. I don’t turn around. I sit still and let him pour in around me.

Cities, lost dogs, asphalt in the rain is what he talks about. As he speaks I can see the road glistening like obsidian, muddy paws at the bakery’s front door. Oh, the things he sees, the things he shines his light on.

We ride together like a Ferris wheel, up and around the world, around the night. I am cold, and he wraps his pale arms around me. We watch morning birds emerge from their trees. You are the morning bird, he tells me. I have never wanted so badly to be caged.

Again, I wait. I wait while he is pulled back through my window, beam by beam fading slowly. I wait until there is nothing left but his reflected face in the glass. I wait until that, too, is gone. Then there is only me, alone in my blue-grey room, wrapped in a blanket flecked with moon dust.

ROGUES GALLERY 3: Jennifer Word


Jennifer Word

Author Bio.  When Jennifer was ten, her 4th grade class received an assignment to write a short story. She wrote hers and turned it in. A few days later, she was called to the teacher’s desk while everyone else was excused to recess. She wondered if she had done something wrong and thought she might be in trouble. Her teacher held her story up and told her it was exceptional. Then she looked at her and simply said, “Did you know that you are a writer?” Right then and there, a dream was born for Jennifer. Twenty-five years later, Jennifer is pursuing her dream with an intense passion. She has written six novels, nine novellas, 20 short stories, three flash fiction pieces, over 50 poems, and two screenplays. Three of her novels, in the form of a trilogy series, have been contracted for publication with Stony Meadow Publishing. Book one of The Society is due out in the winter of 2012. She has had short stories published in The Storyteller Magazine, Dark Moon Digest and Dark Eclipse. She writes a blog at www.fictionspook.com, covering her forays into the publishing world, her travails and experiences. She also occasionally features her stories and poetry. She is currently doing preliminary work for publishing some of her novellas in eBook format.


The Monster Across the Street by Jennifer Word
Emma stumbled down the hallway, still half asleep.  Her brain hadn’t quite caught up with her pounding heart.  Already though, her daughter’s screams were planting visions in her head, pushing out her quickly fading dreams.  She imagined she might open her daughter’s door to find a strange man standing over her bed.  She wished she had woken her husband to go in, instead of her.  How would she defend herself against a strange man in her house?  She didn’t even have a weapon, unless she counted her nails.  How could her husband sleep through his daughter’s blood-curdling cries?  She reached Jordan’s door and barged in without hesitation.

“Mommy!”

Jordan reached out, crying hysterically.  Emma was there in an instant, holding Jordan in her arms.

“What is it, honey, what happened?”

Although Emma already knew.  This was the third night in a row.  Why had she thought a man was breaking in to kidnap her child?  They had been through this twice before.

Damn news, Emma thought.

Some little girl had just been kidnapped in the middle of the night, right out of her bedroom, in Utah.  It had been all over the news for the past week.  She wondered if, somehow, Jordan had picked up on this story and perhaps, subconsciously, this was the cause of her nightmares.

“A monster, Mommy, a monster!”

Already Jordan was calming down, however.  Her voice was still shrill and panicked, but she was no longer actively crying.

“Honey, it was just a dream,” Emma soothed.  “It was just a nightmare.”

“But it was closer this time,” Jordan whined.  “It was underneath my window!”

Emma’s head snapped up with a start.  It had never gotten that close before.  She tried to sound calm, hoping Jordan wouldn’t hear anything suspicious in her voice.

“I’ll just look, honey, okay?  You’ll see, there’s nothing there,” she paused, “because it was just a dream.”

Emma walked over to the window, pulled back the curtain, and slowly peered down into the yard.  She inched her face closer to the pane and looked directly down.  Her breath fogged up the window almost instantly, but she breathed a sigh of relief.  There was nothing there.  Just grass.  She turned back to Jordan and smiled.

“See, honey?  It was just a dream.  It wasn’t real.  There was no monster.”

She walked back over to Jordan, who already looked sleepy again.  She was blinking and her eyelids were drooping at half-mast.  She settled Jordan back down onto her pillow, stroking her hair.  Jordan’s eyes closed.

“There are no such things as monsters,” Emma whispered.

In her heart though, she thought she knew better.  She just wasn’t certain anymore.

~

She was having coffee with an old friend from college the next day, when Emma finally talked about her dream.  This was a friend she trusted- the type of friend a person makes in college, and somehow a bond forms, so that despite all the years that came after, Emma felt completely comfortable telling her friend this crazy thing.  Years could go by without talking to each other and yet, whenever they did meet, making time in their busy schedules, making the drive, they fell into conversation as if no time had gone by; as if they were still in school, living in their dorm.  Liz was always the one Emma talked to about her problems, specifically because she never interrupted.  She just listened until Emma was done, then took a long pause, and finally commented, always with some sage advice that seemed to help.  Until today.

Emma began:

She was 5 years old, the same age as Jordan was now.  She had been asleep in her bed, like she had been every night for five years.  This night hadn’t been any different than any other.  She was sound asleep, not having any particular dreams she could recall, and certainly no nightmares.  She had woken up.


“That’s point number one to remember,” Emma pointed out to Liz, before going on.  “How many people dream that they are waking up?  Dream that they are awake?  I mean, that is just too existential for a five-year-old mind, isn’t it?”


Emma sat in her bed for a moment in the dark.  She knew she was awake, but she didn’t know why.  She rarely woke up in the middle of the night, unless she had to pee.  She took a moment to become aware of her body, feeling for that tingling sensation in her abdomen.  It wasn’t there. She didn’t need to pee.  Perhaps a noise had woken her up?  She listened intently to the night.  She could hear the wind blowing outside, ever so slightly.


Her bedroom was at the end of the hall, far away from the kitchen.  There was no hum from any appliances to wake her up.  Her bedroom was normally stone quiet at night, and even now, as she strained to hear any unusual sounds, she heard nothing.


It was fall.  No birds chirped outside, even the ones that might have made noise at night.  No sound of tires screeching from some bored teenager who might have been driving around in the middle of the night.  She tried to think of other noises that could, or had, woken her up ever in the past.  She couldn’t think of any.  Why did she feel so uncomfortable?


Something wasn’t right.  She felt it from the moment she became aware that she was awake.  She had an uneasy feeling that she couldn’t quite put her finger on.


It wasn’t because she was in the dark- she wasn’t.  They lived in a cul-de-sac, just two houses in, and on either side of the circle opening, on the street corners, were two tall street lamps.  They were bright enough to light up most of the circle at night.  Emma’s curtains were translucent pink; a thin substance of sheer linen that allowed light to pass through.  There was enough light in her room every night from the lamps that she had never needed a nightlight.  She could see her room well enough, and she began to take stock.


First off, the closet was closed.  She always made sure it was closed before bed, because every child knows that if the closet is closed, it traps whatever creatures may be in there.  Whatever plans those slithery, disgusting things may have about creeping out into your room and grabbing your exposed toes were always ruined.  It was a rule of the creature world that all children, somehow, mysteriously knew.  As long as the closet door was closed, they couldn’t get out.


Of course, there was never any need to worry during the daytime.  They didn’t come out during the day, they simply couldn’t. There were rules, apparently, that even monsters had to obey.  This was fair, Emma thought.  This was how things stayed in order.  Justice ruled supreme in a child’s world, and any instance where justice was thwarted was simply inconceivable to Emma.  The closet was closed.


As for any monsters that may reside under her bed, she had taken care of that.  She knew her stuffed animals were Magic.  They were not just inanimate, stuffed fluff–they were Guardians.  As long as she placed one at each leg of her bed, making four Sentinels in all, she would be safe.


Emma slowly leaned over the right side of her bed.  She breathed a sigh of relief.  She could see her stuffed elephant, Ellie, at the front post.  Mr. Frog was at the foot post.  That side was okay.  She straightened back up, perspiring a little.  She scootched over to the left side of the bed, where things were a little bit darker.  This side was by the corner of the room, the window being just slightly off-center of her headboard.  She peered down into the dark, waiting for her eyes to adjust just enough to see the silhouettes of Mr. Shark and Mrs. Crab.  It took a moment to be sure, but yes, they were there.  Her bed was being guarded. Everything was in its proper place.


Why was she awake?  She felt scared, and didn’t know why.  She had a sudden thought then.  It popped into Emma’s head almost as if it wasn’t her own thought at all, but some thought that was pushed in there; forced in from the outside.


Outside.  She needed to look out the window.  The answer was there.  She somehow knew this without a doubt.  She had woken up, for some reason, because she was supposed to look out her window.  She was suddenly terrified.


Emma slowly got up on the balls of her feet, her knees bent.  Her cotton nightgown brushed the tops of her toes briefly.  She spun around on the fleshy part just behind her toes, until she was facing her headboard, and the window.  She placed her hands on the sill and slowly raised herself until her eyes were just able to see over and out the window.


It was as if she knew where to look.  Her eyes looked out, and immediately down, towards the corner, just under the diagonal street lamp.  And that is where she saw it–the monster across the street. It stood several feet away from the street lamp, just sitting there.  It was looking up at her.  It was smiling.

Emma paused for a moment to take a sip of her coffee.  Her hands were shaking.  She hadn’t recalled this incident in so many details in years.  She hadn’t thought about it.  Not until Jordan’s first nightmare, three nights ago- three nights ago that seemed a lifetime away.   A dream where Jordan had cried and insisted she had seen a monster outside her window – across the street.  Liz hadn’t said a single word yet, which Emma loved her for.  She just sat there, looking at Emma expectantly, her raised eyebrows seeming to say, “go on, keep telling it.  I want to know.”

So Emma went on:

“Then I started to hear something.”

Emma suddenly heard the thing speak to her, although not in words, but in thoughts.  Somehow, the monster across the street was communicating with her.  It wasn’t in words, but the thoughts were there, in her head.  She understood perfectly.  The thing wanted her to come outside.  It wanted to play with her.  She knew it used the thought of play, but something inside her twisted.  It did not want to play with her, she knew that much, no matter what it was trying to make her believe.  It wanted to do things to her–horrible things.  It wanted to hurt her.  For a brief moment, she thought, “it wants to eat me.”  She couldn’t take her eyes off that thing.  She wanted to, but she couldn’t.

It wasn’t so big, she thought.

Emma told this to Liz.

“What did it look like?”  Liz asked, saying something for the first time.

It was gray. The thoughts of five-year-old Emma intruded into grown up Emma’s head.  She answered Liz’s question as best she could, in her jarred state.


It was a sickening gray color that Emma could only describe to Liz as brains.  She had seen a picture of a human brain in an encyclopedia, as a child.  Her parents had a full set of encyclopedia’s from A to Z that they kept in a bookshelf in the living room.  Emma sometimes looked through them, taking in the pictures, because at age five, she couldn’t read yet.  She was just about to start Kindergarten in one week.  It was a week before Kindergarten that she had seen the thing across the street – the monster.

“It was gray, like the picture of the brain I saw in the encyclopedia,” Emma paused for a moment.  “”Only more vibrant.  More crisp.””

Then Emma continued on with her story, her memory:

It was bulgy and blobby.  It had no arms or legs, but its shape narrowed out at the top, giving the impression of a head.  It was all one continuous, bulbous form.  There was no neck.  It sort of reminded Emma of a Mr. Potato Head.  She thought this for a moment.  It had eyes, but they were slightly swallowed up by the folds of formless ‘ick’ that made up this ugly thing.  It was vague, in many ways.  No definitive form to grasp onto.  It was just a thing – a gray, formless thing.  Like a creation a child might make out of play dough, or even sticky mud, but they never quite decided on what it should be.


Emma was five, but she thought in a grown up way.  She looked at the thing for what felt like minutes on end, and it never spoke again after its invitation for her to come out and play.  It just sat there, looking up at her.  It didn’t even smile anymore.  There was no mouth there at all now.  Emma wasn’t sure if there ever had been.  The smile seemed more something that was suggested in her mind than something she had ever actually seen.


Alarmingly, there was a part of her that did want to go out and play.  Part of her wanted to get closer, and see the thing better.

Or it wanted her to think she wanted to.


Emma did not go out and play.  Something stopped her.  A smell stopped her from even considering going outside.  Whatever it was that enabled that thing to communicate with her, it had an unpleasant side effect.  Emma knew this, somehow.  Whatever channel had to be opened up from this thing’s mind to hers in order for it to speak to her, it also, somehow, enabled a smell to come through.


It was the smell that broke whatever hold the creature had over her.  Whatever power it previously had to make her even consider wanting to go out there to play with it.

Emma paused, troubled.  Liz said nothing, she only waited.

This was the hardest part for Emma, it always had been.  Over the years in her childhood after she was five, whenever she would bring this disturbing memory up in her own mind, trying to recall it, it was always the smell that was the most difficult to define.

“It was something I’d never smelled before,” she said.

She paused, looking Liz straight in the face.  “EVER.”

She continued on, telling Liz that sometimes, occasionally in her life, she had experienced dreams that had certain elements that seemed real.  Once she had dreamed she was outside in the middle of winter with no shoes on, just bare feet.  She was walking in the snow, and she had woken up, swearing she felt pain in her feet.

“Pins and needles,” she explained, “as if I’d really been walking in the snow, and my feet were starting to get numb.”

Liz nodded.  She spoke for the first time in reply.

“Once I had a dream where my hand was on fire,” she hesitated.  “I forget why, but anyway,” she continued, “I actually felt like my hand was burning.  I felt the pain and heat and everything.”

Emma nodded.  She had experienced dreams like that, where some of it seemed to cross through to the waking world.  As if the mind believed it so much, it became a physical reality.

“They say that if you die in a dream, you will actually die in real life,” Emma said.  “I don’t know if that’s true or not, but,” she trailed off, shrugging.  “I know the difference between a dream component and something that is real.”

Emma tried to explain the odor to Liz, but how could she explain a smell?  Especially one that was new and unlike any other smell ever experienced?  She went through a myriad of things in her life that had smelled bad.  Things that had smelled awful, things that had smelled rotten and putrid.  Garbage, rotting vegetables, spoiled milk, poopy diapers, sulfur, burning plastic, even her own singed hair, once.  None of these things even came close to accurately describing the smell she had experienced that night, while looking down at that thing across the street.

The smell hit Emma suddenly, like a punch in the gut.  Her nostrils were suddenly, unexpectedly filled with a smell so foul, so all encompassing, that Emma stopped breathing, shocked at the odor.  It made her eyes water and she blinked furiously.  Her heart was immediately doing triple-time.

Somehow, she knew the smell was coming from that thing, just as she knew, immediately, the thoughts in her head were it, talking to her.  She knew, somehow, that whatever connection it was that allowed the thing to speak to her, it had also let in this smell as well.


Suddenly she did not want to be anywhere near that thing.  The smell could not allow that.  It was simply that awful.  It was like nothing she had ever smelled before.  Emma didn’t know what it smelled like, only that it was bad.  -And just like that, the spell was broken.


Emma backed away from the window, no longer wanting to see the monster across the street.  She just wanted to go back to sleep.  She just wanted to go back to her normal life.  Somehow, unbelievably, she had lain down in her bed, flat on her back, pulled the covers up to her chin, and had closed her eyes.


The next thing she remembered was waking up in the morning, full daylight shining into her room through her translucent pink curtains.  Her first thoughts hadn’t even been of the thing from the night before.  In fact, she didn’t think about the thing across the street until breakfast, as she sat eating her Cheerios, sweetened with two extra spoonfuls of sugar.  She recalled it vaguely, like a far off memory.  She wasn’t frightened.

It wasn’t like recalling a dream, she explained to Liz.

“That’s point number two.”

Even dreams that Emma could remember to that day, were never so complete.  Never so detailed.  She could remember everything about that night.  And what kind of child dreams of waking up, and even more so, of going back to sleep?

“That’s point number three,” Emma said.

She remembered waking up and going back to sleep.  She had never dreamed of waking up or being awake and going back to sleep at any other time in her entire life.

“EVER,”  Emma stared hard at Liz.  “And that smell,” she said, her eyes looking haunted.

Over the years of her life, Emma would try to recall the thing and its smell, and try to identify it- failing every time.  But if she concentrated very hard and closed her eyes, breathing deeply, sometimes (only a few times in her life after the incident) she could almost smell it again, briefly, vaguely, for just a moment.  Those few moments, however, were so tangible, they were enough.

What she had seen had been real.  She was certain of it.  And now, her own five-year-old daughter, her sweet little Jordan, was seeing it.

“How do you know it’s the same thing?”  Liz asked.  “The same thing you saw when you were five?”  She looked at Emma with sympathetic eyes.

“At first I didn’t,” Emma said.

At first she had thought it was just a nightmare, even when the details Jordan told her raised gooseflesh on her arms.  When Jordan had said she saw a monster across the street, Emma was able to shrug it off, and tell her daughter it was just a bad dream.


The first night, Jordan had seen the thing across the street, in front of their neighbor’s house.  She had immediately screamed for her mother.  By the time Emma came in, Jordan said the thing had gone.  She said it was just a blob and she couldn’t remember much else, but it had frightened her.


The neighbors across the street, the Thurstons, had installed motion detector lights on the front of their house so that any intruders even thinking about breaking in would be scared off by the sudden flood of bright light in their faces.  Even as Emma laid her daughter back down in her bed that first night, telling her to go back to sleep, that everything was all right, she had an uneasy feeling.


There was nothing outside, in front of the Thurston’s house, but the lights were on.  Something had made them go off.

“It could have been a dog,” shrugged Emma.

Liz remained quiet.

“Maybe a stray dog, or some other animal tripped the lights.”

On night two, Emma rushed into Jordan’s room, again woken by her frantic screams.  Jordan was at her window pointing out.  It had been there again, she said, this time standing in the middle of the street.  This time, she told her mother that it had been gray, and looked like “Jabba the Hut, Mommy!”


Jordan hadn’t said it looked like a Mr. Potato Head.  Jordan never said that it had spoken to her, or that there had been any communication.  Emma kept telling her daughter that it was just a dream, and that there were no such things as monsters.  She felt like the biggest liar in the world.

Emma looked at Liz, her tired eyes pleading.  She didn’t know what to do.  She could not, under any circumstances, ever let Jordan see the fear in her mother’s eyes.  She could not, ever, give Jordan even the slightest hint that what she was seeing was real.

Emma could hardly believe it herself, but she had never told Jordan about her dream as a child.  Jordan couldn’t have guessed the details, and they were so similar to what had happened to her.  She knew it hadn’t been a dream, but even so, she had never told anyone about it, until now.

“Last night, Jordan saw it again,” Emma continued.

It was why she had called Liz, frantically begging her to drive the hour and a half to meet with her.  She needed to talk to someone about it.  Her husband would never believe her, and he would probably just laugh anyway, or worse, think she’d gone loony.


Tonight Emma would sleep in her daughter’s bed, under the guise of providing comfort, but really, it was because Emma couldn’t bare the thought of letting her daughter sleep alone.  Not when last night, the thing had been underneath her window.


It had never gotten that close before, with Emma.  And Emma had only seen it once.  Jordan had seen it three nights in a row.  This was different.  This was dangerous, and it was real.

“Last night,” Emma said, her voice  shaking,  “last night,” – she couldn’t continue.

What could Liz possibly say that would make it all right?  What could anyone ever say, or for that matter, do, to fix this?

Emma felt as if she, herself, was five-years-old again, only there were no Sentinels around her bed warding off the monsters, keeping them under there, where they could not reach up and grab her legs and drag her under.  Everything seemed to have changed – the rules thrown off to the wayside, in her view of things.  Old childhood fears were awake and alive now, breathing again, inside her tortured mind.  And this time, things were different.

Her closet door was no longer closed.

Emma lay in her bed (in her mind), the one she use to sleep in, in the room she lived in when she was five, and stared at the open black hole that was her closet.

The door had slid all the way open.

There was no protection this time.  There was no justice.  There was only the monster under her bed – in her closet – across the street.

“Last night, Jordan was crying so hard,” Emma whispered, her throat constricting.

Jordan was hysterical on the third night she saw the thing.  It had not been across the street, or even in the street.  This time it had been underneath her window.  And Jordan said it had wanted to play with her.  It was no longer willing to wait outside, cajoling and convincing the little girl to come outside and play with it.  It was determined to come inside and play with her.

Liz hadn’t known what to say, in the end.  This was different than any of the other problems she had discussed with Emma in the past.  This was not a fight with her husband, or an illness in her family.  This was something completely different.

In the end, Liz focused on the fact that Emma and Jordan were both age five when seeing the monster.  Her eyes looked hopeful.

“Maybe there is something about being five?”

But even that was small comfort to Emma.  Jordan wouldn’t turn six for another 4 months.

Perhaps, if Emma was there with Jordan, the thing couldn’t harm her?  It had seemed unable, for whatever reason, to return to Emma night after night, the way it was doing with Jordan.  Perhaps Emma could keep her safe until the danger was past?

But there were so many uncertainties.  When would it be safe?  Why would it be safe?  How would Emma know when that time had come?  There had always been rules before for keeping scary things at bay.  She had always known what to do to make things okay.  But no amount of stuffed animals on guard, or closed closet doors could fix this.  She didn’t know what the rules were.  She didn’t even know, for that matter, if there were any rules.

Perhaps that thing, that monster, had free reign?

Tonight Emma would sleep with Jordan, even if her husband balked.  She would sleep in bed with Jordan for however long it took; however long it was before Emma herself, was sure that thing was gone.  How long before that would be, she did not know.

Would she ever feel it was gone?  Would she ever have the comfort and peace of mind that Jordan was safe in her bed, in her room, all alone?  Emma did not know.

Liz only stared at her friend with deep concern and sympathy, the fear in her eyes hidden, poorly; a tear trickled down her cheek.

“Last night, Jordan said she smelled that thing,” Emma said, her voice barely above a whisper.  “She told me,”  Emma hitched.

“Mommy, it smells bad.”

ROGUES GALLERY 2: Morgen Bailey


Morgen Bailey
Author Bio.  After enjoying English at school then dabbling with limericks in her 20s, Morgen came back to writing through a local college evening workshop in January 2005. It swiftly became a passion which over the past couple of years has turned into obsession. She has written four and a bit novels, over 100 short stories, a script and a half, some poetry and most recently articles for the NAWG Link magazine. In August 2010 she started the Bailey’s Writing Tips weekly podcast then late March 2011 a blog which initially consisted of information she provides to her writing group, and some of her fiction but mid-June 2011 she added daily (which by day 4 became twice-daily) author interviews. She is always looking for writers of any genre published or non-published to take part and can be contacted via morgen@morgenbailey.com and her blog is http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com.


Threadbare Girl by Morgen Bailey
It’s the two clocks she finds the most comforting. Both beat a different tune, started with batteries within a few seconds of each other. Alternating like an analogue tennis match.

Of course she doesn’t need two, being such a small room but she’s not going anywhere so really she doesn’t even need one. But they keep her company. The only noise in her existence. Except for people going to work, then home. Car doors, house doors, the shouting in between.

There’s no-one for her to shout at. About. Not that she would anyway. She’s too calm for that.

She only knows the seasons by the temperature of the room. With her body heat 24 hours a day, that’s not even accurate, but the radiators kick in around the house so it follows suit.

It’s the sun she misses the most. She sees chinks of it but it’s not the same. She can’t see the whole; her favourite fruit, high up in the sky. Burning into the skins of those allowed out. Playing, talking, oblivious to the freedom they take for granted.

She’s brought food every now and then, when he remembers. Sober enough to recall he’s not alone.

For the first few weeks she thought she’d be rescued, familiar hands picking her up, arms wrapping round her like Christmas paper, but the stranger’s arms have become familiar.

Sometimes she sits in the empty old bath, it cools her after he’s been. She needs it some times more than others, depending on what he’s expected of her.

She’s thought about drowning, but water’s a friend and a friend wouldn’t do that to her. He tells her they’re friends, special friends, and she smiles so he believes it. He’s nicer to her when she smiles so it’s an expression she’s learned to wear, glued in place as soon as she hears footsteps.

He’s told her his name is John but she doesn’t think it’s real. None of it is. It’s a three-year-long dream that loving hands will wake her up from.

He buys her clothes, always a size too small like he wants her to stay a child, as does she. “They grow up so fast,” her grandfather had said and when she sees him again she wants to be exactly the same. The tomboy who wouldn’t be seen dead in pink, but now wonders if she will be.

Everything about the room is childlike, like it was bought with her in mind; pretty pictures, toys to play with only they’ve never been touched. She wishes she were a toy.

Her smile snaps in place as the stairs creak. She hears the bolt and the door hinges complain. She’d tried that once.

Her smile’s still in place as the arms reach out to her. She’s frozen to the spot, near the bath, in her pink and purple cotton summer dress.

The hands recoil as they touch her skin as if electrocuted by the cold.

ROGUES GALLERY 1: Neal James


Neal James

Author Bio.  Neal James is a British author, and has authored over 100 short stories. He is 58 and lives in Derbyshire. His debut novel, ‘A Ticket to Tewkesbury’, was published by Pneuma Springs in 2008. It was followed in 2009 by his first anthology, ‘Short Stories Volume One’, and in 2010 by the crime thriller ‘Two Little Dicky Birds’, the artwork for which was produced by Onxy Dragon Productions LLC. This year will see the release of ‘Threads of Deceit’, a further excursion into the world of crime.

A full coverage of all his work can be seen on his website:
www.nealjames.webs.com


Marks on the Wall by Neal James
The plain clothes detective sat in the lounge and looked around the room. He knew that Samuel North had killed his wife Susan. Everything was there. He had motive, opportunity, the weapon and there were enough people who knew that the marriage was going through serious problems to put the man firmly in the frame. Despite all this Marks had nothing concrete to place North at the scene during the period that the pathologist estimated to be the time of death. If they went to trial based on what evidence was currently available he may be acquitted – Hell the CPS may not even agree to go that far and even if they did, the Double Jeopardy law would rule out any re-trial on the same charge. Susan North had been shot, her body wrapped in plastic sheeting and dumped at the side of an isolated country road. According to the post mortem report she had been dead for at least two weeks.

North had married into money, becoming an essential part of his father-in-law’s business and inheriting a share of the company when the old man died. His wife Susan obtained controlling interest when her mother passed away and became the driving force with her sixty per cent share to his own forty. Their marriage, although happy enough at first, had never been one of undying love for each other, and when disputes over the future direction of the company became more prevalent it descended into purely a business relationship.

This suited Susan, leaving her free to explore her own social life whilst still keeping the brakes upon Samuel’s ambitions, but when he found out about her affair with the tennis coach at her country club their relations soured irreparably. Susan’s golfing partner, Abigail Marshall, reported her missing to the local police when she failed to appear for her regular twice weekly round without informing her. Susan had always been meticulous in her contacts with friends but when Abigail’s follow ups revealed little progress her next call was to another friend – the wife of the Chief Superintendent.

Dennis Marks received instructions from his boss to take a personal interest in the case and keep him informed of all developments. It was always frustrating when workloads were disrupted by requests from on high but sometimes you just had to get on with it, and this case had something about it which he just could not put his finger on. Based on forensic evidence leading back to North’s gun, a search warrant was obtained for the family home, and Samuel North was arrested on suspicion of murder.

The police team had been all over the house with a fine toothed comb but nothing  else connecting the place with the murder had come to Marks’ attention – there was a loose end here somewhere, and he hated them. He decided to go home and review the case file in the morning. Picking up his coat he looked around once more – it had been done here, in this room he was sure of it and all he needed was the final piece of evidence to put North away.

He was in early the following morning and well into the case file when Peter Spencer made an appearance. The detective sergeant had been Marks’ right hand man for a few years and their ability to bounce ideas off each other had led to some successful prosecutions in difficult circumstances in the past. He fetched a coffee for them both and sat down opposite his boss.

“Anything new jump out at you?”

Marks leaned back in his chair and scratched the back of his head – it was a habit he had when the blindingly obvious seemed to be lurking just out of his reach.

“No, and I’ve been at this for over an hour now. As I see it we have a couple of suspects, the husband Samuel North and this tennis coach – what’s his name?”

“Mark Collingwood – but he has an alibi. At the time the pathologist says Susan was killed, he was in France with another one of his ‘pupils’ and they were there for a fortnight for some coaching. I crossed checked with the hotel manager where they were staying and he corroborates the story.”

“Well that just leaves us with North. The problem is we can’t tie him to the scene. We know from the autopsy report that Susan was killed by a bullet matching the type in his gun. The gun is licensed to him and is used at the local firing range so evidence that it was recently discharged doesn’t prove a thing, and his are the only fingerprints on it. Witnesses at the range place him there regularly during the period when she was killed but we can’t pin any of them down to a time, and no-one heard any shots coming from the home at the time of death. How long have we been holding North?”

“Forty-eight hours up to last night.” said Spencer “That gives us just one more day before we have to either charge or release him. What about bringing Collingwood in again? He may be able to tell us more about the Norths’ domestic situation”

“We could do, he may be holding something back. Let’s go back to the North house first – there’s something there that I’m missing and it’s driving me up the wall.”

The house was still sealed off from the press and public, with uniformed officers covering front and rear entrances. Marks and Spencer ‘walked’ the entire property for the third time during the case and sat down in the lounge where the DI was convinced that the murder took place.

“There’s something about this room that bothers me and I can’t make out what it is.” he said to Spencer “Take another walk around and see what you think.”

Spencer carried out his usual routine of starting at the door and walking the perimeter of the room before ending up in the middle. Every piece of furniture and each ornament were examined for evidence and when he sat down opposite Marks, his words grabbed the DI’s attention.

“Well I’d certainly sack the decorator”

“What?”

“The decorator, anyone with the North’s money would be entitled to expect a better wallpapering job than that.” and he nodded over to the other side of the room.

Marks was out of his chair in an instant and at the place indicated by his sergeant. He looked back at Spencer with a broad smile on his face. The first time that had happened during the entire case.

“Look at that Peter.” He pointed to a join in the paper “Decorators start at one end of the room and work round to the other. They don’t work to the middle. Somebody’s replaced this whole drop but it’s just too wide and there’s an overlap. Get forensics back in here, I want that entire length removing in one piece – let’s see what’s behind it.”

They both sat with bated breath whilst the forensic team painstakingly removed the eight foot strip of wallpaper. One of the team turned to Marks.

“There’s something here you should see, sir.”

The lack of spatter had bothered Marks from the start of the investigation and now he knew why. Had Susan North been shot in the middle of the room, there would have been blood everywhere and it would have been almost impossible for her killer to clear up the mess.

“Peter. If I am pointing a gun at your head from about six feet away, where would you go?” He raised a finger to simulate the shot.

Spencer involuntarily took three steps backwards and as his boss approached, continued until his back came up against the wall.

“Now I’ve got you pinned, a shot from here would only stain the area immediately behind your head. Turn around.”

There, on the bare plaster was the trace of a blood stain which had been covered by a fresh piece of paper, and in the middle of the mark was a patch of filler covering a hole. An attempt had been made to clear the area of spatter and enough had been removed to ensure that there was nothing to soak through the fresh drop. Marks tapped on the wall and smiled once more.

“A studded wall. I reckon the bullet will be at the bottom of the partition.” He turned to the forensic team. “Let’s get this section of the wall removed.”

The team cut the entire area of plasterboard away for testing, and on the floor in between the studding was a blood-stained bullet. Marks put on his gloves and removed it with a pair of tweezers. Holding it up to the light he pointed out the blood and traces of flesh to Peter Spencer.

“He knew exactly what he was doing. Forcing her back to the wall reduced the spray of blood to the area immediately behind her head. He could have worked out that he would have to replace only one strip of wallpaper, or at worst two. What he failed to account for was the fact that the bullet would be lost in the partition wall, but he must have thought that filling the hole and covering the area with a fresh drop of wallpaper would conceal the facts.”

“Back to the lab then?” said Spencer

“Yes and if forensic tests show these traces to carry Susan’s DNA, North will have a hard job explaining it together with a match to his gun. We’ve now got him at the scene. Put that together with both her affair with Collingwood and control over the company and that’s motive for murder. Good job you spotted that wallpaper Peter.”

Samuel North’s solicitor was at the station when the two detectives returned late that afternoon. He was on the point of demanding they release or charge his client when Marks raised his hand and ushered him into an interview room. North was brought in from the police cells and smiled when he saw his lawyer. That disappeared rapidly from his face when Marks dropped a small polythene bag on the table. In the bag was the bullet removed from the wall in North’s lounge, and accompanying it were the forensic and ballistic reports matching it to his gun and Susan’s DNA. Marks inserted two new cassette tapes into the interview recorder and switched it on.

“This interview is timed at 16.05 on Thursday the 14th of July. Present are DI Marks, DS Spencer, Mr Samuel North and Mr Paul Firth his solicitor. Samuel North, I am charging you with the murder of Susan North. You have the right to remain silent; but it may harm your defence if you do not mention, when questioned, something that you later rely on in Court.  Anything you do say may be given in evidence. Do you understand?”

Samuel North sat with his head in his hands and nodded very slowly – he knew that it would be a while before he tasted freedom again.