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The Unraveling by Holly Barbo

Sage Seed Chronicles #3

Erin's parents are murdered and she can sense that same malevolent energy hunting her down. With little time to grieve, Erin is forced into hiding and discovers an unusual ability she's never had before — she can talk to animals! With the help of her new found animal companions, she eludes the killer. Disguising herself as a boy, she joins the Autumn Gathering and is able to concentrate on the questions she needs to solve: Who killed her parents? Why are they trying to kill her, too? Quakes, storms, and murders begin plaguing Erin's world and she soon realizes that they're all connected. The fabric of her world is just beginning to unravel... Read an excerpt over at the press’ website! Buy the book now at: Amazon | Kobo | Smashwords Paperback soon to come!


Words from the Editor

H

ello! And welcome to the first issue of Paper Crane Bytes. I’m so excited about this venture. In the future, I would love to showcase all indie talent from music, art, movies, and literature. But because everything is so fresh and new and I don’t really have any contacts outside of literature, the magazine will focus on indie authors (for now). Originally, I wanted to sprinkle in articles of culture and entertainment and have the stories sandwiched in, but I opted not to. Entertainment and culture stories might be fun, but that’s essentially what the internet and media is all about. Besides, I don’t think I could come up with a few articles by myself nor do I know of anyone who’s a specialist in those areas to help me out. So that option, though interesting, was thrown out the window. That’s not to say that I’ll never add in some articles in relation to publication or indie entertainment/culture, but that’s definitely something for future issues. I did compromise and add in a little trivia page for fun. So what can you expect from this quaint magazine? Emerging talent. Some of the authors might be popular in their circle and some might be new talent. Either way, the talent that’s featured within these pages are virtually unknown to the public. Some might be with a small publisher, such as me, or some might be self-publishers. But they all deserve to be read. And all the stories are entertaining. On top of a trivia page, there’s also a Ask the Authors section. That feature will host a question that every author has to answer as a way to better know the person who might have penned your new favorite story. The From the Inkwell feature will be for authors published by Paper Crane Books. It will be semi-regular and was created as a way to feature authors published by the press without hindering space for other contributors outside of the press. Finally, the Whose Axing? feature will be devoted to grammar questions to help authors get better with their writing. I would love for this magazine to be bimonthly. However, if there isn’t enough authors contributing (10-15 authors per issue, on average), I’ll be forced to make this quarterly, or — egad! — semi-annual! Don’t let that happen, authors! You need to contribute! It’s January. For most of the world, it’s cold and people are bundled up in their winter sweaters.

Snuggle up with some hot cocoa and get reading! For those experiencing summer at this time… Well, then enjoy the beach, sit back, work on your tan, and get reading! I’m sure you’ll find some fantastic new work. Sincerely, Sheenah Freitas Text © 2013 to their respective authors Front cover art © 2013 Sheenah Freitas All rights reserved. Published by Paper Crane Books. All stories published are the rights of their respective authors and are published with their permission. All stories are a work of fiction. Any reference to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. No parts of this magazine may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by an means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopoying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system--except by a reviewer to be printed in a magazine, newspaper, or on the Web--without permission from the author. For any inquiries, email papercranebooks@gmail.com Cover art resources credit: Girl photo — Geoectomy-stock (http://geoectomy-stock.deviantart.com/) | Snake photo — Jadedreflection (http://jaded-reflection.deviantart.com/) | Azaleas — Pleple2000 via Wikimedia Commons | Chinese lanterns — epSos .de via Wikimedia Commons | Splatter brushes — FlorianHesse (http://florianhesse.deviantart.com/) | Texture — SolStock (http://solstock.deviantart.com/)


Table of Contents Featured: Trivia ......................................................................................... 5 Ask the Authors....................................................................... 33 Whose Axing? .......................................................................... 35 From the Inkwell: Remembering Kindness by Michelle Franklin .................... 25 The Stories: Tin Cup by Sam Kates ............................................................ 6 The Memory Thief by John Carter ....................................... 8 The Swap by Rebecca Stroud ................................................ 10 Checkmate by James A. Anderson ....................................... 15 Nobody’s Victim by Dylan Patton ....................................... 17 Dreamweaver by J. A. Cunningham ..................................... 19


Trivia While Santa’s sleigh seems to make pit stops the world over, he might need to cross Saudi Arabia off his to-do list. According to law, the country bans anything and everything having to do with Christmas, including putting up Christmas lights and trees.

Elvis was a big Monty Python fan. His favorite film was The Holy Grail. It was in his video recorder when he died.

The notorious Roman emperor Nero was also a wannabe musician. He employed 5,000 knights and soldiers to accompany him on his concert tours just to applaud his brilliant lyreplaying skills.


Tin Cup By: Sam Kates

Image © Ben Earwicker Garrison Photography, Boise, ID www.garrisonphoto.org

T

hat morning, the man did not pass the beggar by. Every other morning on his way to the office, the man strode purposefully past the doorway where the beggar plied his pitiful trade. Every other morning, the man gazed at a fixed point in the distance or at the snarled traffic or at his watch; anywhere other than at the beggar. Every other morning, the man imagined that he felt the beggar’s rebuking stare lance into him with burning barbs of reproach and sighed inwardly with relief when the beggar did not accost him. Every other morning, the man spent the first hours in the office nagged by a vague sense of shame, like an itch that cannot be scratched. But not that morning. The man had tried taking a different route from the railway station to his office to circumvent the doorway where the beggar invariably sat, his tin cup proffered in mute appeal. But the man quickly discovered that he could rely upon the beggar’s presence with far more confidence than he could rely upon the trains’ punctuality. The regular delays meant that he was unable to reach the office in time

for the daily round of telephone calls, meetings, sales reviews, new product talks and other drudge without taking the most direct route from the station; not unless he arrived panting and sheened with perspiration. The man preferred the feeling of guilt to fatigue. So each day he alighted from the train with the rest of the commuter throng and made his way out of the station and past the beggar. The beggar was a man of indeterminate age and size, swaddled as he was, come rain, shine or snow, in an all-embracing dingy overcoat beneath which he huddled as though it provided a buffer against the harsh realities of life. His head was without fail smothered in a grubby, khaki balaclava from which poked grizzled, stubbly cheeks. The beggar’s eyes were his only bright feature, mournful though the expression they habitually wore. They peered at the world in still supplication but with little hope that the world would sympathise. At times when the man’s defences were low, when he was distracted or tired, he caught himself staring at the beggar as he approached the doorway. It was always the beggar’s hands that drew his scrutiny. Clad in woollen gloves that only covered the palms, fingers protruding like gnarled roots, they clutched his collecting cup in his lap. This mug was hewn from battered tin, flakes of azure paint clinging stubbornly to its dented sides here and there hinting at its former glory. If there was anything that encapsulated the beggar in the man’s mind, it was the cup: a once proud vessel fallen far from grace. On those occasions when the man momentarily dropped his guard and allowed himself to gaze at the beggar, and at the tin cup, he mentally shook himself and hurriedly turned his regard elsewhere. But not that morning. That morning as he approached the beggar, the man halted. He had not planned to stop; he did not know why he did. The previous evening, the man had been for a drink with work colleagues. This was not a regular occurrence for the man usually preferred his own company. He surprised himself by accepting the half-hearted invitation and immediately regretted his rashness upon entering the noisy, smoky atmosphere of the pub. He sipped at his glass of cloudy beer and quickly faded from the conversation. His colleagues did not notice when he


TIN CUP BY SAM KATES

slipped from his seat and started to work his way hubbub of the rush-hour city. Slowly, reverentially, through the evening drinkers. Gaining the door, the he brought his hand back to his pocket and man remembered his unfinished drink still clutched removed more coins. Once more, he stooped and in his hand and paused to finish it. As he tilted his dropped the coins, three of them, into the tin cup. head back to reach the dregs, his glance alit upon As the metallic cacophony died, virtually no the flashing lights of a fruit machine. Ever cautious sooner than it had started, tears sprang to the man’s and spendthrift by nature, the man avowed to spend eyes and his breath came in short gasps. no more than one pound as he approached the Moving quickly now, the man thrust his hand gaudy allure of the machine. into his pocket and removed as many coins as he It was his lucky night. He won the jackpot with could grasp. Pound coins, silver coins, copper coins, that first pound coin and had accumulated more into the tin cup they went, and he paused only to than twenty pounds by the time he hit the button hear the sound of their reverberation. Then another marked ‘collect’. The machine begrudgingly spewed handful followed and another . . . and the mug was his winnings from its guts, spitting out the coins as brimming with money. though they were tainted. The man did not mind. The man removed his hand from his pocket for Moving quickly, greedily, he scooped out the small the last time, clutching the meagre few coins that mountain of coins from the tray and deposited were left from his hoard. He patted his empty them with his other change in a pocket of his jacket pocket and his shoulders sagged. He bent and as he left the pub. deposited the coins on top of their fellows. The cup That morning, the coins were still there. Upon was now too full to echo. arriving home the night before, he had every The beggar did not move as the man filled the intention of emptying his pocket into the old whisky tin cup with more money than he normally collected bottle in which he kept loose change. But, whether in a week. But as the man straightened, the beggar through absentmindedness or glanced up and their gazes met design, he omitted to do so. once more. This time, the beggar The coin hit the bottom of the cup with Maybe it was their weight a dull clang. It flipped over once or twice with did not look away. dragging on his jacket and The man froze, only half a tinny resonance and was still. bumping against his hip that risen to his feet. An onlooker made him stop before the might have thought his back had beggar. Perhaps it was the jangling noise they made seized. The man’s eyes grew wide and tears ran as they clinked together that lulled him into unheeded down his cheeks. dropping his guard. Whichever, or for some other He reached slowly forward, his eyes never reason entirely, stop he did. leaving the other’s face, and gently laid his hands He took a pace forward to escape the upon the beggar’s. Softly he squeezed those dirty, inexorable flow of humanity, then stood and looked bark-textured fingers. Tenderly he caressed the cold down at the beggar. rim of the battered tin cup. The beggar’s eyes fluttered up, briefly. The man At last the beggar spoke. His voice was soft had time to notice that they were the faded colour and gentle as a sigh. of washed-out sky before the beggar cast his gaze “God bless you, sir.” back down. The man nodded. He straightened his back, The man reached into his bulging jacket pocket turned and walked away from the beggar, wiping his and fished out a pound coin. Tentatively, he cheeks as he went. stooped and dropped the coin into the tin cup that By the time he reached his office, the man was lay cradled in the beggar’s stinking hands upon his whistling. shapeless lap. Sam Kates lives in the UK. Tin Cup is the first short story he ever wrote. He The coin hit the bottom of the cup with a dull has since written many more, ten of which have been collected for the Kindle in Pond Life. His first novel, The Village of Lost Souls, will shortly be clang. It flipped over once or twice with a tinny published on Amazon. resonance and was still. The beggar did not move. To find more works published by Sam, please visit his Amazon Author Page The man stared at the cup, his expression at: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Samchanging, becoming filled with something Kates/e/B0094X0XTW/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1 approaching awe. He was suddenly oblivious to the


The Memory Thief By John Carter

T

he fragile pane shattered, covering the floor in uneven layers of irregular debris. Despite the violence of the act, the sound was muffled and drew no attention. A shadowy hand snaked through the treacherous opening, careful to avoid the remaining glass. A flick of a simple thumb lock disabled the old home’s final defense, the door creaking in protest at the unauthorized access. Shards from the ruined window crunched and reduced to powder beneath heavy boots. The tired linoleum was split, gouged, and torn in places by the weight pressing down on the larger chunks of glass. The man didn’t notice, nor did he care about the damage. His purpose singular, he passed through the kitchen moving deeper into the residence. He paused briefly at an open doorway listening to the sounds of the house. Floors creaked. Pipes ticked. He absorbed those noises. They became part of him—something to be ignored. Those sounds belonged to an empty house. Those noises held nothing to fear. The noises of habitation, however, would drive him from this place without hesitation. He was not a fighter. He was a thief, an opportunist. And he was careful. He stood motionless a while longer letting his ears confirm what his eyes could not see. He was alone. The dim light from the clock on the stove weakly illuminated his shadowy form. Black attire blended seamlessly with the shadows obscuring him

from view. The hood on his jacket concealed his face, only a vague outline visible in the void. Satisfied that no person or beast lurked around the corner, he glided from the kitchen and into the living room. The odor of family hung heavily in the air. Each house was different, but the odor of family was always the same. It clung to the walls like scented vines, an unidentifiable mix of flavors; a safe and secure smell. He unconsciously smiled as his own sour odor mingled with the fresher aroma and tainted the room as he passed through. He again stopped and surveyed his surroundings. A well-worn sofa stood against the near wall, its cushions molded to the family it supported. Stains dappled the thread bare fabric, each spot marking an event: a boy’s new puppy leaping into his lap and spilling his drink; a dancing couple knocking into the end table tipping the glass of wine on its surface. It stood in sharp contrast to the furniture he possessed. While worn, this sofa was cared for. The stains had been addressed and tended. No cigarette burns dotted the fabric. He wished he had furniture like this, but he hunted smaller more portable game. Angry at himself for losing focus, he snatched the pillows and cushions from their places, scattering them across the living room floor. He pulled a small knife from his pocket and violently slashed the thin fabric. If he could not possess this thing, he could, at least, deprive this family from enjoying it. The change he found concealed beneath the cushions was merely a bonus. He collected it greedily and shoved it into his pockets. He forced himself to calm down. He shouldn’t have allowed himself to get worked up over a stupid sofa. Breathing more evenly, he moved to the bookshelf on the other wall. Experience had taught him that books were a wonderful place to hide valuables. If nothing else, people were predictable. He snatched the books from their shelves and flipped through each, tossing them on the floor as he finished. Bookmarks and children’s drawings fluttered from the pages to the carpet. Several hundred dollar bills fluttered from the pages to his pocket. He continued his search, removing a copy of A Christmas Carol. Finding nothing of value, he dropped the book and moved on. The beloved volume clattered to the top of the newly made pile. Shelves now empty, he moved to another part of the room. He stepped on the Dickens classic. The


THE MEMORY THIEF BY JOHN CARTER

spine cracked. His dirty boot print marred the title Headlights washed across the windows of the page and the loving inscription it contained. house illuminating the invaded spaces within. The And the home weakened. family hurried to the safety they assumed waited Above the fireplace, a silver frame held a behind the bright red front door. The husband had moment in time captive on the mantel. The couple painted it to match his wife’s flower boxes years in the photo laughed, lost in love. He cared nothing ago. It had been a good day. That door had come for such things. The silver held value so the frame to symbolize the happiness this family shared and was quickly tossed into his bag. He would dispose the safety this house provided from what could be a of the photo and the memory after he was safely cruel world. The trials and tribulations of the day away. He never kept anything from the homes he faded with the knowledge that they would soon invaded. Everything was assigned a value and enjoy the comfort of their home. The man and liquidated as quickly as possible. He preferred woman held hands as they walked up the steps. having nothing in his possession that might tie him Their children ran from the car to the door. to his crimes. And their world shattered. Room by room he scoured the house adding to Instead of warmth, they discovered the cold the devastation he wreaked upon these unknown truth. Instead of comfort, they found despair. The souls. Room by room, item by item, he drained the home had been violated. Their memories had been happiness and security this home had always taken, spirited away into the night. known. Happy thoughts soured as realization took And the home weakened. hold. Their home was now merely a house, the Driven by greed, his thefts did not discriminate. shelter and security it offered gone; their memories Medals earned in a hard fought war were ripped twisted and broken. Things could be and would be from their display and unceremoniously dumped replaced. Safety and security could not. Their lives into his bag. The bright-colored ribbons stood in would forever be altered by a person they likely sharp contrast to the dark medals would never meet. that hung from their ends. He Tears fell. Sadness turned The wounds too severe, the home died. barely noticed. Beauty was not to anger. Anger turned to fear. something he recognized. A The wounds too severe, the grandfather’s sacrifices pawned for change. A home died. grandfather’s valor traded for cash. Such noble The family moved on. They would start again concepts were lost on him. in a new house. They would attempt to make a new The awards slid to the bottom of the satchel. home. It would not be easy. They could not forget. They clinked against a wife’s wedding band. The And he wanted more. Glass shattered. symbol of love and unity now tarnished by his Memories faded. He did not understand nor did he hands, reduced to the value of the gems and metal it care that he stole more from his victims than merely contained. A day of birth, a moment of things. He stole their lives. He took their security. commitment ruined. His touch shriveled the good He harvested their dreams. Things are more than thoughts contained in the ring; his very presence a mere objects. They collect and hold thoughts and cancer eating away at the memories within. feelings. They are triggers for long forgotten And the home weakened. moments, mementos of the past, hopes for the And so it went. The memory thief continued future. He holds more power than he knows. He his campaign. No one was spared. Father, mother, does more damage than he realizes. He is children — generations of memories removed and opportunistic. He is the memory thief. placed in his sack until he could carry no more. My name is John Carter. I’m not from Mars and yes a movie did just come Birthday wishes. Christmas presents. Memories of out with my name. I’m an attorney who started writing to escape from all the rules and regulations that go along with practicing law. I’m married youth and love. Thoughts of loss and lessons with one little girl and live in the small town of Macon, Georgia. I have learned. With a final look around, he retraced his published two children’s books in the Eli Arnold and the Keys to Forever steps and exited the residence, his shadowy form series and am currently working on two other projects. blending with the night. To find more published work by John Carter, please visit his Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/JohnFloors creaked. Pipes ticked. And the home Carter/e/B0083I5WTU/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0 weakened.


he

wap

By: Rebecca Stroud

K

aren Taylor rounded the curve of the bike path and stopped dead in her tracks. Bent over, hands on knees, she gulped the freezing air. An onlooker may have thought the pretty young woman was simply winded. Too much exercise on a frigid morning. But Karen was fine. Born and raised in Minnesota, what passed for winter in Florida only made her homesick. So, on this rare icy January day, she had started her run with zest, grateful for the crisp bite of the breeze. What prompted her sudden halt was simply that she'd seen a ghost. Emerging from the park's pine-lined lane to the grassy meadow on the lake's shore, Karen saw her dead dog. Stricken last year by a stroke at the ripe young age of seven, her beloved Shiloh had died in her arms and she grieved his death like that of a child's. Yet there he was . . . connected by a leash to the hand of one of the most beautiful men she'd ever seen. Karen gulped more air and slowly approached the pair. The man was staring at the water and did not notice her; the dog stood stock-still and met her eyes.

Karen cleared her throat. “Excuse me, but could I please talk to your dog?” Tom Matthews flinched, then pivoted at the intrusive voice with its ludicrous question and found himself looking at an incredibly striking woman. “I'll be damned. That's a new one.” He shrugged and smiled. “But sure, go ahead. His name is Max.” Karen knelt and, as she ran her hands through the long hair of the Belgian shepherd, she recounted Shiloh's story. Then she started crying. “Oh, God, I'm sorry. I'm so embarrassed.” She got to her feet. “I'll go now. And thanks a lot for not laughing at me, Mr….?” They introduced themselves. Tom's gaunt, chiseled features were sober and sad; Karen's face was streaked with tears. Yet, without realizing it, they started to walk slowly. Talking with an animation neither knew had been missing too long from the other's life. Four hours later, they parted ways. * * * She couldn't get him out of her mind. Karen was new to Orlando. And she was lonesome. An only child of only children, her parents had died two years ago in a fiery car crash. Then Shiloh died. With no loved ones left, she'd taken her small inheritance and headed south in an attempt to escape her sorrowful memories. But now, she thought, maybe she had found a friend along with an eerie replica of her deceased dog. Karen passed the day in a worried daze, tossing around 'what ifs' like confetti. What if Tom was married? What if he had a girlfriend? What if he was gay? What if he found her weird? Otherwise, why hadn't he asked to see her again? Wrapped in a blanket, Karen rocked back and forth on the porch swing and wondered. * * * He couldn't get her out of his mind. Tom Matthews sat before a crackling fire and massaged his temples. He had a splitting headache, wishing like hell he hadn't gone out to the lake this morning. He needed no more complications in his life.

Photo By Pleple2000


THE SWAP BY REBECCA STROUD

Max watched him intently. Sensing his distress, he licked Tom's shoe. “Oh, Maxie boy. What're we going to do?” Tom heard a snort from behind him. “Talking to the dog again? You're really a whack job, Tom. You know that?” He made no effort to turn around. “Yeah, you're right,” he mumbled to his wife and continued to stare at the fire. Marianne Matthews gave a harsh laugh as she left the room. “'Til death do us part. What a damn shame.” Tom sighed and thought of Karen Taylor.

Standing in dumbfounded silence as the minister quietly thanked her for coming, Karen heard a woman shriek from another room. “Get that filthy creature out of here! Jesus, I can't wait until he's gone, too!” Choking on stunned tears, Karen stumbled backwards and fled. * * *

The next morning, Karen headed for the park. The air was frigid. Like my soul, she thought. She had read Tom's obituary and learned that he'd been ill for some time. Yet he'd never given her * * * any indication whatsoever. Now her mind was torn to ribbons of grief and anger and guilt. They had After a few times of trial and error—she too become so close, why hadn't he told her? Then early, he too late—they met like clockwork every again, maybe that was exactly why he hadn't. morning by unspoken design. Man, woman, and Karen walked slowly, unshed tears stinging her dog soon became inseparable for two short hours eyes, and almost fainted when she saw the dog. He each day. came to her in a desperate run—whining and Walking and talking, greedily digging deep into nuzzling—and she was bereft at what she had to do. each other's psyche, they peeled away protective Knocking on the great oak door, Karen looked layers of personal information down at Max and said, “I'm so until they were bared to the sorry.” He came to her in a desperate run — bone. Pretending they weren't— whining and nuzzling — and she was bereft but knowing they were—falling a * * * at what she had to do. little in love. Karen holding out the tiniest hope for a future with Marianne Matthews was a this married man; Tom knowing without a doubt high-heeled bitch and told Karen in no uncertain that they were doomed. terms that Max would be chained in the back yard Three weeks after their first meeting, Max came from now on. to the park alone. Karen was aghast. “Why would you do that??” “I hate the thing. Always have. Maybe he'll get * * * tons of ticks and bleed to death.” Tom's widow grinned at her. “Besides, who the hell are you The dog was waiting patiently at the appointed anyway that you're so interested in the mutt?” time and place. Karen told her she'd seen Max and Tom in the Karen shivered and stroked his head. And she park on a few occasions and pleaded with the knew her life was about to change in a profound woman to allow her to take the dog. That she'd give way. him a good home. Driving Max to the address found on his tags, Marianne Matthews looked thoughtfully at Karen tried to tunnel vision in a vain attempt to Max, frowned, then slammed the door in Karen's keep fear from consuming her. face. She walked up the broad steps of the colonial estate with a hurting heart that silently collapsed * * * when she was told Tom had died the night before. Tail tucked between his legs, Max padded into the The unpacked boxes that had littered every house. room of her rental house were now stacked neatly in the foyer. Karen was going home.


THE SWAP BY REBECCA STROUD

Be careful what you wish for, she thought as she realized she wanted no more of being a stranger in a strange land. At least in Minnesota, she'd be grounded on familiar soil, better able to cope alone. The van was ready for the journey and so was she. Opening the garage door, preparing to load up and head out, she stopped dead in her tracks . . . Bounding down the street—a foot of chain dragging behind him—Max almost knocked her over. And for the first time since hearing of Tom's death, Karen felt a twinge of rekindled hope. Wasting no time, she removed the dog's collar with its attached tags and chain, then threw the whole mess into the garbage. Max sat patiently, watching her every move. After quickly piling the boxes in the back of the van, Karen opened the vehicle's front door and said, “Let's go, boy."” Needing no further incentive, Max leaped onto the passenger seat. Karen scurried to the driver's side, jumped behind the wheel, hugged the dog, and left Orlando without a backward glance. As she drove onto I-75, Max was already sound asleep and Karen sighed in what was close to contentment. Knowing that Tom was smiling down at her—his arm wrapped lovingly around Shiloh— she whispered, “They're home, Max. Soon, we will be, too.” A former newspaper reporter/columnist, Rebecca Stroud currently writes short stories, novellas, and novels. In addition, she has recently taken on the task of editing for those who need a polished product at an affordable price. An avid animal lover, Rebecca lives in Florida with her beloved husband, their precocious young mutt, and the spirit of their adored border-collie mix. To find more published works by Rebecca Stroud, please visit her Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/RebeccaStroud/e/B00460RZMQ/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0


Checkmate By: James A. Anderson

C

harles Gordon busily cleans out his desk when he hears a noise from the corridor outside his office. It is about 8 p.m. on the last day of June. Gordon , principal of Wiltshire Private School, walks over to his open door and peers into the outer office. Nothing. “Who’s there?” he asks. “Anyone out there?” Again, nothing but silence. After a few moments, he returns to his desk. Hmmm. I could have sworn I heard something. He looks up again at the doorway and sees the figure of a man in a black raincoat. “Who are you? What are you doing here at this time of night?” snaps Gordon. “Mr. Charles Gordon?” says the voice. “Yes. I am Charles Gordon and I demand you identify yourself immediately before I call the police.” “There’s no need for that, Mr. Gordon. I came to see you about my son.” “If it’s about registration for next term, I’m afraid I cannot help you. Registration is not until September 4. You will have to come back then and see the new principal. I will be retired after tonight.” “Yes, I know about your retirement. I was present at your testimonial earlier this evening. That was quite a moving speech you delivered.” “Well, thank you, Mr....” “Lord. Steven Lord,” replies the stranger. Gordon smiles. “Thank you, Mr. Lord. I appreciate that, but I’m afraid I will have to ask you to leave. I have a lot of packing to do before catching a 12:30 a.m. plane.” Lord moves closer to Gordon. “Mr. Gordon, I came to see about my son, Peter, a former student here at Wiltshire.” A look of puzzlement comes over Gordon’s face as he tries to connect the name. “A former student you say? Let me think for a moment.” Gordon takes several seconds in deep thought. “Lord. Peter Lord. Of course, now I remember. Two months ago, Peter Lord, the son of Steven

Lord, the film actor, was expelled from Wiltshire for thievery. I am afraid you have made a wasted journey, Mr. Lord, if you have come in an effort to have Peter reinstated at Wiltshire. Your son was a constant source of trouble from the day he arrived here. “We managed to overlook his other misdemeanors and discipline him accordingly, but thievery was just too much. Stealing money from his fellow students is simply unpardonable for a school of Wiltshire’s stature. I had no other choice but to have him expelled.” Lord angrily replies: “Did you also have to release the story to the press?” He pulls out a newspaper from beneath his coat and throws it down on the desk. “That is only a sample of what one newspaper said. The poor kid was ruined! Is that how you get publicity for your damn school?” Gordon picks up the newspaper, glancing at the headline. “I was as sorry as you were that the newspapers got hold of this unfortunate business, Mr. Lord. I can assure you I certainly did not release it to the press. Publicity of this kind is certainly not what we want for our school. We have had several other expulsions over the past 15 years and every one of them was handled with complete discretion. “There are any number of ways which the press might have got hold of the story, but I certainly had nothing to do with it. In any case, I’m sure the stories did not ruin your son’s life. There are numerous other schools he could attend.” “Since he was sent home, he has been in a constant depressed state.” “Perhaps it is a good thing he was sent home to spend more time with you. He rarely spoke of you and you never came up to visit him at the school. I must confess, Mr. Lord, this is the first time I have seen you. I am afraid I have little time for the theatrical world.” “My job rarely lets me remain at home for long. There was simply no way for Peter and I to cultivate a normal father-son relationship because of my work. The life at Wiltshire was his life and without it life was simply not worth living for him.” “You talk as if your son were...” “Dead? Yes, Mr. Gordon.” “My God! When?” “Seven days ago. I came home about 3 p.m. and found him in his bedroom — hanging. He even left a note apologizing for bringing shame to my name.”


CHECKMATE BY JAMES A. ANDERSON

“I am deeply sorry for your loss, Mr. Lord.” and leave it there. True, it is a poor substitute for “Are you really sorry? Doesn’t it bother your the real thing and it might not convince the police, conscience to know that you killed my son?” but I am prepared to take that risk. On the other “Killed your son? Believe me, Mr. Lord, I am hand, if you cooperate you will be buying precious deeply sorry for what has happened, but your son time for yourself. Who knows what could happen took his own life. I am only during that time it takes you to “You talk as if your son were…” sorry that I didn’t recognize that write that note? Well, Mr. “Dead? Yes, Mr. Gordon.” he had a mental disturbance. Gordon the choice is yours — Psychiatric treatment might have die now, or cooperate and live a prevented this tragedy.” little longer. Perhaps someone will show up to Lord slams his fist down on the desk. “You’re thwart my plan.” all alike, your kind! Trying to absolve your sins and Lord places the gun against his temple. Gordon ease your conscience by using madness as an feels the cold steel pressing against his head. “All excuse. It was YOU who forced him to take his right....I’ll do as you ask.” own life! You are his murderer, Mr. Gordon! It is “Now you are being sensible.” Lord reaches YOU who must pay for his death.” into the pocket of his raincoat and produces a piece Afraid at Lord’s growing anger, Gordon of paper which he lays on the desk in front of reaches for his telephone on the desk. Gordon. He hands Gordon a pen. “Everything is Lord suddenly brandishes a gun. “Touch that typed on that paper. All you have to do is copy onto telephone and I will shoot you now!” another sheet of paper and sign your name.” A sense of fear overwhelms Gordon, making Gordon nods nervously and begins copying the his legs feel wobbly. “Please, Mr. Lord...Put away note, periodically stopping to stare up at the gun that gun...You don’t know what you are doing.” pointing towards him. When he finishes, he signs it “I know very well what I am doing,” replies and pushes it towards Lord. Lord. “Thank you. Now I’m afraid it is time for me “You won’t get away with it. The police will to finish what I came here to do.” quickly find out it was you who killed me.” Lord again places the barrel of the gun against “I rather doubt that, Mr. Gordon. Your death Gordon’s temple. Gordon feels stark terror. I am will simply be regarded as a suicide. You just could going to die. I’ve got to do something. He sees not face the idea of retirement.” Lord’s finger slowly tightening on the trigger. “But that’s crazy! Even though my retirement is “Wait!” compulsory, everyone knows I have been looking “ I’m sorry, Mr. Gordon. There is no time for forward to it. I’ve devoted my entire life to further delay. I have a plane to catch back to Los education and now I am ready for a well-earned Angeles.” vacation.” Gordon gathers up all his inner strength to stay A small smile comes to Lord’s lips. “That’s calm. “No! You must wait! That note will not do what everyone thinks about you on the surface, but you any good.” after they find your suicide note, they will realize Perplexed, Lord removes the gun from how disturbed you really were about your Gordon’s head. “Why not?” retirement — so disturbed that you took your own “Because I am ambidextrous. I use one hand life.” for writing all the time. I wrote your note with my “What suicide note are you talking about?” right hand. How do you know that is the hand I “Why the one you are going to write just always use to write with? If I am killed, the police before I kill you.” will have the note analyzed to determine whether I “You must be out of your mind. Do you really wrote it. Now by comparing it with other writing, think I am going to write you a suicide note?” they will be able to learn which hand I used to write “I think you will. You are a smart man, Mr. this note. If it is different than the one I normally Gordon. Smart enough to realize that I am going to use, they will know I was forced to write it. They kill you regardless of whether or not you write a will know I was murdered.” suicide note. If you don’t cooperate, I shall kill you “You’re bluffing.” instantly and just write the note on your computer


CHECKMATE BY JAMES A. ANDERSON

“Am I? Here is the note written by my left “Don’t you remember why you came here or hand.” He hurriedly scribbles the note using his left what happened here?” hand. “Everything is so hazy. I only remember sitting “When you wrote that note you would in the library reading some old newspapers. I...I automatically use the usual hand.” don’t know how I got here.” “Would I? Can you be sure?” “Where is this library you are talking about?” “This is just an afterthought, a last desperate “At the hospital of course. I’m a patient there. attempt to save your life.” I’ve been a patient there for such a long time. The “Can you afford to take that chance? I believe doctors say I am very sick.” we have reached a stalemate, Mr. Lord,” Gordon “What hospital is this?” says confidently. “Mount Haven.” Lord stares at him for a few seconds then jams “Mount Haven Psychiatric Hospital. You’re a the gun against his head again. “You’re bluffing! Do patient there?” you hear me? You’re bluffing! Trying to weasel your Lord nods. “It’s such a nice place. So peaceful way out of your crimes. Trying to avoid your and tranquil.” punishment. You are responsible for my son’s “Mr. Johnstone, do you know what illness the death. Murderer! You killed my Mitch. This is his doctors are treating you for?” revenge.” “It’s such a big word. I cannot pronounce it. “Mitch? But your son’s name is Peter. Why did They call it schiz...schiz-something.” you refer to him as Mitch?” “Schizophrenia.” “Stop it! You’re just trying to confuse me. It’s “Yes. That’s it.” another trick.” “I think I understand what has happened, Mr. “No, it’s not another trick. For God’s sake, Johnstone. Was Mitch your son?” don’t shoot. You said I killed your Mitch. Why did Lord breaks down sobbing. “It was all my fault. you say Mitch when his name is Peter?” I drove him to it. I murdered him.” Lord had a puzzled look on his face. “That’s the source of your trouble, Mr. “Mitch...Peter...I...I don’t Johnstone. You have a deep guilty “You’re bluffing! Do you hear me? know.” He puts his hand to his conscience about your son’s You’re bluffing! Trying to weasel your way head and moves away from the death. This driving guilt has out of your crimes. Trying to avoid your desk in a trance-like state. caused you to take on two punishment. You are responsible for my “Everything is so dizzy! My personalities. Whenever you come son’s death. Murderer!” head feels like it is going to across a case or incident explode.” resembling what happened to “What is wrong, Mr. Lord?” asks Gordon. your son, you become a part of that case and “Lord?...Lord?...My head hurts so much...so transfer your guilt to another personality. You said much.” Lord stumbles to a nearby chair and flops you were reading old issues of newspapers. into it. Soon he slowly raises his head and stares, Undoubtedly you read about the Lord case and perplexed at his surroundings. “Where...Where am because it resembles your own situation, you I?” became absorbed in the details and eventually “Mr. Lord! Mr. Lord! Are you all right?” became Steven Lord. Do you know that you came Lord looks straight at Gordon with a puzzled here to kill me tonight for expelling your son?” expression. “My...My...name is not Lord.” “Kill you?” Lord looks down at the gun he is “What?” says Gordon suspiciously. “Well who holding. are you?” “You can put the gun away now. No one is “Ray...Ray Johnstone. But where am I? This going to harm you.” isn’t the library.” Lord puts the gun away in his raincoat pocket. “The library,” answers Gordon even more Gordon moves closer to him and grabs his confused. “This is Wiltshire School for Boys.” arm. “You came here as Steven Lord intent on “Wiltshire… I...I...I don’t understand. How did killing me because you were mistakenly linking the I get here?” death of your real son with the expulsion of the


CHECKMATE BY JAMES A. ANDERSON

Lord boy two months ago in order to eradicate your guilt complex.” “I still don’t understand. I tried to kill you?” “Believe me I’m not a psychiatrist, but I do have a degree in psychology and I know you can definitely be helped if you return to Mount Haven.” “But I have been there such a long time...” “These things take a long time. You must go back there if you are to be cured. Do you understand?” Gordon glances at his watch. “I would drive you there myself if I could, but I simply must catch a 12:30 flight and I only have a little more than 90 minutes to finish packing. Do you think you can get back to the hospital on your own? After all, you came here on your own.” “I will be okay if you would just call me a taxi.” “Certainly.” Gordon starts to pull the telephone closer but suddenly hesitates to pick it up. Instead he pushes the phone back towards Lord/Johnstone and hands him a phone book. “I would prefer you call them yourself.” “Fine,” says Lord/Johnstone who flips through the Yellow Pages for a taxi cab number and calls for one. “They say one of their cabs is in the area and they’ll radio him here in a few minutes.” “Will you need any money?” asks Gordon. Lord/Johnstone checks his pockets. “I only have $5.” “Here’s some extra for taxi fare.” Gordon hands him a $20 bill. Lord/Johnstone produces the gun and asks: “What should I do with this?” “Well, I certainly have no use for it. Put it back in your pocket and when you get back to the hospital give it to a nurse or doctor. By the way, who is your doctor at Mount Haven?” “Doctor Barnes.” Gordon glances out the window and sees a cab pulling to the curb. “Your taxi is here, Mr.

Johnstone.” “I want to thank you for everything you’ve done. I’m sorry about any trouble I’ve caused. I didn’t mean to harm anybody.” “That’s quite all right. I understand. Goodbye, Mr. Johnstone. I hope you will be able to leave the hospital a cured man in the near future.” Lord/Johnstone silently exits from the room leaving Gordon all alone. Gordon quietly goes to the window to watch his assailant get into the cab. He then moves away from the window and lets out a deep sigh of relief. What an ordeal and what a close call he had. He pulls out a handkerchief and mops his brow. Glancing at his watch again, he returns to the job of packing the items on his desk. Suddenly he stops what he is doing. Poor fellow. He is going to be in that hospital a long time. Gordon then reaches for the phone book and looks up a number. Then he proceeds to dial with his RIGHT hand. “Hello....Mount Haven Hospital?” he speaks into the phone. “May I speak with a Doctor Barnes please? Barnes. B-A-R-N-E-S… But you must have a Doctor Barnes on your staff. I was talking to one of his patients tonight. It is imperative that I speak to him about this patient. The patient’s name is Raymond Johnstone. A chronic schizophrenic. Don’t be absurd! You must have a patient there by the name of Johnstone. Hello? Hello!” Gordon bangs the receiver several times. He has been cut off. Gordon hears a noise in the doorway and turns to look. He sees Lord entering the room carrying the gun. Gordon is petrified. “Oh my God, no! Please!” Lord walks slowly toward Gordon with a smile of satisfaction. “The right hand! You used your right hand. Checkmate, Mr. Gordon. Checkmate. The game is mine.” James A. Anderson is a retired journalist and graduate of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. He lives in London, Ontario, Canada with his wife Sherry and two basenjis, Remba and Wakili. They have two married children, Mike and Amanda and four grandchildren, Katie, Trevor, Megan and Leah. James A. Anderson is also the author of the best-selling thriller DEADLINE (2010). To find more published works by James A. Anderson, please visit his Lulu page: http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/janderson003


Nobody's Victim

home alone. She would be easy and defenseless, the perfect prey. He was in no hurry. Tonight he wanted a beautiful woman, someone that would make his hunt worth while. It made no sense to grab the first human he saw. Ryan appreciated the thrill of the hunt. Ryan paused as he sensed his prey. It was a female, sleeping peacefully. Although he was up in the air, his heightened hearing told him she was isa sighed deeply as she stepped out of the content in her slumber. He could also sense that shower. Nothing ends a day perfectly like a she was slightly aroused. Why she didn't pleasure hot, relaxing shower. Lisa could feel the herself confused him. Ryan smiled as he began his stress flowing out. Being a nurse is a blessing and a descent. Perhaps he could get her to pleasure curse. She liked that she was able to help take care herself while he fed. of the sick. She hated the long hours and terrible “She will do nicely.” he growled softly. pay. It angered her when she heard celebrities bitch He followed her scent to a two-story yellow about how little they make. house. It was late at night, so there was no one out “Those Hollywood born, cry-babies wouldn't on the streets. Ryan had no worries about being last a day in my world.” she would say. spotted. He descended further down to an open She dried herself off and brushed her hair. She window. He glided in easily. He assumed his was heading to bed so she wasn't too worried about human form and landed into the woman's bedroom. making it look beautiful. She hung the towel to dry He was short and stocky. Ryan and headed to her bedroom. She knew he didn't look like those He knew how to handle himself, and entered her bedroom and sighed. ‘fantasy vamps’ on Twilight and how to claim his victims. “What should I wear to bed?” True Blood. But he knew his she wondered out loud. worth. He knew how to handle himself, and how to She went to her dresser and pulled out a red, claim his victims. silk nightie. She slid it on and sighed. The silk felt He could her breathing as she slept soundly. good against her bare skin. She stretched then he He wondered how easily it would be to hypnotize walked to her bed and pulled back the covers. She her. He had no problem taking her brutally if climbed into her bed. Her eyes became heavy as necessary. He was a hunter and humans were his soon as her head hit the pillow. Before she knew it, prey. He would not hesitate in taking her life to she was drifting off to sleep. sustain himself. But the blood of a willing victim is so sweet. **** Ryan's feet touched the floor. He closed his eyes as he began to concentrate. Being a vampire Ryan soared through the night sky. The clouds gave him powers. He could hypnotize just about hid the full moon. Ryan navigated through the sky anybody. Some people were easier than others. easily. He was the perfect hunter. He could This woman was slowly starting to stir. This navigate any landscape with no trouble. Currently woman seemed to be resisting him. Ryan could feel in bat form, he was the perfect hunter of the skies. himself smiling. In human form, he was the perfect hunter of any “A challenge? I wasn't expecting this,” he ground he chose. whispered. Tonight he was on the hunt for his latest He concentrated harder. The woman moaned victim. He preferred the blood of a woman. But if softly as she sat up in her bed. She blinked as she he was hungry enough, he would claim a man for looked around the room. She pulled back the the night. Or if a man was being an arrogant ass, covers as she swung the legs over the edge of her Ryan would feed off of him to teach him a lesson. bed. Last night, Ryan chose a woman coming out of “That's it. Come to me. Don't resist your a club. He was almost caught by some of her desire,” Ryan whispered. friends. So tonight, he decided to prey upon a woman at her home. He would choose a woman

By: Dylan Patton

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NOBODY’S VICTIM BY DYLAN PATTON

The woman stood up. She took of her nightie as she began walking to him. She stood before him naked. Ryan's eyes wandered her nude form from top to bottom. Her body was sensual yet fit. She obviously took care of herself. The cold air was hardening her nipples. Her breasts were heaving up and down with every breath. “Now, how should we do this? If you come to me willingly, I will pleasure you all night. If you refuse, I will inflict so much pain on you, you will beg for death. Now what will it be?” The woman began walking to him. She stopped as she stared into his eyes. “It's time you left.” she stated. Ryan froze. He was confused. No human had refused him once he put them under. How was this possible? She was his! He had claimed her, and now she refuses him? “Come over here now! I will not be refused!” Ryan snarled. “Leave. Leave my room and I will spare you.” the woman replied. Ryan snarled as his fangs lowered. He began stalking toward the woman when she took a step toward him. In the dark, Ryan could see the woman's eyes begin to change. Her soft green eyes turned yellow. Her tan skin darkened. Her skin was now a combination of red and black. The woman snarled as her back arched. She let out a deep growl as she lunged forward. Black wings shot out of her back. She stood straight up as her wings expanded. Ryan cried out in surprise. The woman took another step forward. Her lips parted as she let out a growl of pure rage. “You abomination! You dare come into my room? You dare threaten me? I am a demon. I am no one's prey. I am no one's victim!” the demon raged. She lunged to Ryan, claws aiming at his throat. Ryan didn't have time to scream. Dylan Patton was born and raised in Fresno, California. I'm currently attending Fresno State University, hoping to obtain my BA in Print Journalism. I'm a huge nerd, movies, video games, photography. I love to write. I hope to become rich by doing so. If I don't, it's okay because I still have fun doing it. To find more published works by Dylan Patton, please visit his Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/DPatton33


Speeding along, I’m sure you really don’t want to hear about me being bullied and mistreated by the foster center’s staff and children, so we’ll move along to after I had escaped — ran away. Having nowhere to go except away from where I had come from, the woods seemed like the perfect place to go. I almost forgot to mention how old I was when running away from foster care. I was twelve years old and no, I don’t know exactly how long I was in there. All they said to me was that my parents left wo years ago, I came to this mortal realm. me on the front steps when I was a baby, so I Why, you ask. Well, let me tell you. But first, would venture to guess at least twelve years. let’s start from the beginning. My name is Staying in the woods was rough; no food, Fredrick — no middle or last name — in the Realm water, shelter, and of course no change of clothes. of Shadows; that’s all that is needed. If I would have Yes, I did know what I was getting into, but it was been kept by my parents — whomever they are, or better than foster care. I spent a lot of time sitting were — I would have been called ‘Fredrick of clan around trying to figure this whole magic thing out. whatever it would have been.’ That being said, let Learning the hard way that the more you try to use me tell you about my childhood, a brief run-down magic, the more food you must have to restore the anyway. energy used. Oh, I’m starting to bore you again, well Much like this Mortal Realm, we have a foster let’s move a little faster then. system in the Realm of Shadows. I spent more time My attempts at magic were not as successful as in foster care then I would have liked to. Everyone I would have liked, but I knew I would learn more, who came looking for a child to adopt, or take later. After spending weeks in the woods living off under their care, always overlooked me. The only whatever I could find, I took a trip into the village. reasons that I could come up with, was for one: no Gathering looks from all those who I had passed, I one liked me, and two: it had something to do with started thinking this wasn’t such a good idea. It was my eyes. It wasn’t until I ran away from foster care apparent that nobody liked me. It was shocking and met the guy who would change my life forever when an elderly women — about 700 years old — that the eye thing even came up. had approached me, asking if I could use some help. At the age of ten, while still in foster care, I Of course I told her that I could use some food and started developing my magic skills — one in the change of clothes. Realm of Shadows doesn’t start developing these What is that? Oh, yeah, the 700 years old part. skills until around twenty years old — I knew at that We live for a long time, some never die. Shocking time there was something special about me. My first isn’t it, especially considering how long you mortals skill, having learned it by total accident, was dream don’t live. Yes, before you ask, I did say ‘you mortals’ intrusion. What is dream intrusion, you ask? That’s I am one who will likely live forever. That and when one can slip into another person’s dream you’re from the Mortal Realm, I am not. Now taking total control, doing whatever they want, yes, where was I? even kill that person — the only thing is, to be able The old lady asked me what my name was; I to slip into their dream, you have to have met them can still hear that shaky, high-pitched elderly voice: before. This skill is very useful here in this Mortal “What is your name, little boy?” My answer to her Realm. In the Realm of Shadows, those who are was just “Fredrick.” She didn’t press me for a clan smart either put in place, or have someone put in name, just shook her head and place, a protection ward We live for a long time, some never die. took a hold of my hand leading preventing dream intrusions. Shocking isn’t it, especially considering how me to her house. The food was Luckily for me, no one expected long you mortals don’t live. good, the fresh clothes felt nice a ten-year-old to be capable of and I even got to wash up with such skills. The foster care soap. For once in my life, I thought someone center I was at had none in place, allowing me to actually liked me, boy was I wrong. hone my skills at an early age.

D

By: J. A. Cunningham

T


DREAMWEAVER BY J.A. CUNNINGHAM

Thanking her for the food and clothes, I went to the door in an attempt to leave. The hideous laugh that escaped her elderly lips sent a shiver down my spine. “You are not going anywhere,” I remember her saying. “I am the last of my clan, and since you didn’t say that you had a clan…” I began yanking on the door at that point, trying to get out. “I am going to use your soul to bring back my husband so that we can continue the clan name.” As she told me this, I noticed her hands beginning to glow with blue flames around them. I learned two lessons that day: one, you don’t trust anyone who is not in your clan — I don’t have a clan so that means I can trust no one — and two, when in a desperate situation it is amazing at what magic you can pull off. It was all out of instinct. When she raised her hands to cast whatever it was she had prepared at me, I threw my hand forward. I was thinking ‘get her away from me’ and as I thrust them forward, she went flying back as if struck by something. Her head bounced off the floor as she hit with a solid thud. Standing there amazed at what I had just done, I turned toward the door repeating the hand thrusts, thinking 'open.' My first attempt did not work. Taking a second attempt, I finally pushed the door open, breaking the lock. The elderly lady moaned as she propped herself up. Turning to look back, I saw her raise her hand, mouthing the word ‘stop.’ In a split second, I thought she might be able to prevent me from getting away, so I looked at her, thinking as hard as I could: ‘fire.’ Oh, the look on that women’s face when she went up in flames, I could tell she was shocked that a twelve-year-old just silently casted a fire spell. As I walked out the door, she started to scream. Thinking the word ‘quiet’ worked like a charm — she quietly burned in her house as I made my way down the street. I would later learn that it was the lack of food that kept me from succeeding with magic while living in the woods. I spent about two years living off the streets, going village to village. So that would put me about fourteen years old when I met Jarvel of Clan Sparlington. He could not make me a member of his clan, but did want me to join his guild. Jarvel, the leader of one of the toughest thieves guild, took me under his wing, giving me guidance, and knowledge in the skills and use of magic and theft.

Photo By Kpahor

Throughout my training, he had enlightened me on the color of my eyes. Having emeraldcolored eyes was a sign all of its own — but mine, as you can see, have a shade of red fading into the emerald. Emerald eyes is a sign of a Dreamweaver — that explains the mastery of dream intrusion. Jarvel told me that one’s eyes are not this color until they have mastered the craft. The shade of red — actually it's the shade of any color — is the indication of one being a Shade. The red is the color of one who has mastered the craft of darkmagic. I told Jarvel my eyes have been this color ever since I could remember; as far as I knew, I was born this way. I still remember his response today: “That means you are destined for nothing less than greatness. In time, you shall rule this Realm of Shadows, and maybe all the realms.” He placed his hand on my shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze. “If you would have been born to me as my son, I would never have given you away. You are a prodigy, son, you will be known as a legend.” Jarvel is a very wise man, I never have quite figured out what his powers are. He is the only person to have ever shown me any compassion, and he is right, I will be known as a legend and rule the realms. Yes, before you ask, that is part of the reason I am here in the Mortal Realm, but I will get to that shortly. As the years went by, working alongside Jarvel and his guild, I perfected my crafts. Amongst the citizens of my realm, I was branded with the name of ‘Fredrick the Dreamweaver Shade’, feared by most, hated by all. Yea pretty original, huh! You would have thought they could have come up with something more sinister. I caused a lot of chaos and deaths. I grew tired of just stealing, as fun as it was, it just became too easy. Moving on to bigger and


DREAMWEAVER BY J.A. CUNNINGHAM

better things - after talking to Jarvel — I started my My fault, back to what I was saying. My gift is quest to become ruler of the Realm of Shadows. having the power of all forms of magic existing There was an easier route that I chose, but I do love within me. Never having to master the craft, it just a challenge. Let me explain the easier route first. naturally comes to me — I just needed to learn how Lords of the Realm of Shadows rule for a term to call on it. I will be more powerful than anyone of two hundred years. After their term a has ever seen. My escape from the palace came at competition of sorts is held. During this event, more of an ease than I thought it would have. I anyone who feels they have what it takes to rule will murdered the head prison guard; that was fun, he fight in the palace arena. There are two ways to lose: put up quite the fight. He was nice enough to give you die or you give up. It is amazing how many me a gift; I will show it to you here in a little bit. I'm fools just give up; I for one would not have. The sure you will agree it’s to die for. Anyway, back to event ends when one man or women is left standing where I was — my escape. After relieving the head — I have never seen or even heard of a woman guard of his duty along with a couple of other actually entering yet. The winner of this event then guards, I headed toward the woods to help with my faces off against the current ruler. Let me just say, disappearing act. One skill that required no magic, the current ruler has been lord for way too long and the skill of stealth, is something I had spent years needs to be taken down. mastering — might I say, I am pretty skilled at it. Now for the way I went about it. To start with, Well let me move this along. You wanted to know anyone who has spent time in the palace prison who I was and what I was doing here, so let me skip does not get the chance to compete. Let’s just say the whole escaping part we both know I must have they had a cell with my name on it; I spent so much succeeded. time there. With that being said, I really didn't get After my escape, I headed to see Jarvel. Before the option of going about this the correct way, so I I attempted to kill Lord Garemount, Jarvel had told just attempted to kill the ruler me if it didn't work he had outright. That did not turn out something to tell me that might So now you have the answer to two of so well for me. Lord Garemount help. Making my way to the guild your questions: who am I and why am I of Clan Whitemoore, is and has house, Jarvel had been waiting here? been one of the most powerful for my arrival. He never has people of the Realm of Shadows. explained to me how he could The wards he has in place at and around the palace do that. It’s hard to surprise someone who knows prevent the use of magic to anyone who does not when you’re coming, even if you didn't. I am closer belong to Clan Whitemoore or the guilds that serve to telling you why I am here, don't get anxious on the palace. Yes, I knew about these wards before I me. Oh, I can tell by the look in your eyes that you attempted to kill him. What I didn't know was how want to know what any of this has to do with you. strong they were. During my time with Jarvel's I'm getting to that as well. guild, I had gotten strong enough to break through Jarvel told me about a medallion that held a most wards. special emerald in it. This emerald would help me My actions got me sentenced to life in the strengthen my powers — they’re already stronger palace prison. For me, that meant an eternity, for I than everyone but the ruler of my realm. By am — until proven wrong — immortal. I will not acquiring said medallion, I could potentially be go into details about that topic; that I will tell to stronger than everyone. Jarvel had heard the last someone else, at another time. Now we are getting known location was hidden here in the Mortal closer to why I am here in your realm. Realm. So now you have the answer to two of your What? You ask, how I am here if I was questions: who am I and why am I here? I know sentenced to life — well, I escaped of course. You those were not your exact words. They went see, I am destined to achieve greatness; born with something like this: “Just who the hell do you think the gift that everyone in my realm dreams to one you are, and why do you think you have any day get a taste of. No one knows who my parents business here?” are, or were. If I knew, they would be dead for sure. See, I did remember what you said at the bar, Having given me up, being the first to show me when you were giving that beautiful woman, Rose, hatred, they do not deserve to live. such a hard time. You know, I never thought I


DREAMWEAVER BY J.A. CUNNINGHAM

would like you mortals, but there is something about Rose that makes me want to get to know her better. She gave me her number. Too bad I don't own a phone. I just might have to get one. So now you know who I am, the reason I am here in your realm - to find that medallion. Now for the reason I am in your dream - well that has two reasons. One: I wanted to show you my gift the prison guard gave me. Well, I guess you could say I stole it from his dead hand. And two: I simply don't like you or the way you treated Rose. The disrespect and hate you showed that night, I cannot let go without consequence. Now you ask, what am I going to do about it? Take a look at this dagger. Isn’t it a beauty? I can tell by the look in your eyes you want to run. Too bad I have control of your dream; there is nothing you can do. Watch how easily my dagger penetrates your chest cavity; I can feel the beating of your heart as its blade rests against it. The look in your eyes tells me you don’t like the way that feels. I know what you are thinking: this is only a dream, you will wake up and everything will be fine. I have some bad news for you. Remember how I told you about 'dream intrusion'? Guess what? I have intruded your dream, taking control. The reason you can’t move, can’t wake up, is because I won’t let you. And no, you will never wake up again. I am not trapping you in your dream either, so don’t think that is what is happening. Remember when I said my gift – this dagger – was to die for? Tell me if you agree as I slowly put it through your heart. As you lie there taking your last breaths, let me assure you, I mean no harm to Rose. Something about her really grabs me, you know what I mean? I see the tears in your eyes. You heard me correctly. I did say last breaths. For I am the Dreamweaver, and I have just taken your life. J. A. Cunningham, was born and raised in a small Kansas town where he currently lives with his wife and three kids. He began his writing career back in 2011, publishing short stories on the web. In 2012 he published his first midsize novel ‘Revenge So Sweet’ available in all eBook formats. When he is not writing, or working at his warehouse job he enjoys drawing, watching TV, and playing video games with his family. Keep up on the latest news of his upcoming novels, and enjoy some science fiction short stories along with some of his art work at his website www.D1G1TALSCRIBE.wordpress.com.


Remembering Kindness

least, when all aspiration of self-sovereignty was lost, that his prayers had been answered. His own hand had brought him to Diras, but it was the Grace of the Gods and of those who promoted their virtues that had saved him. They had brought him to Dorrin when they might have brought him elsewhere, and the king, the Agent of the Gods, had extended his hand and raised Vyrdin’s eyes from the ground. His eyes were raised still further by Draeden and Bryeison, and though they were not he first lights of morning were ebbing servants of the Gods themselves, they had given over the horizon, the lasting revelry was him the gift of self-liberation. They had forced him passing away, and after a night most out of his discretion, had taught him to suspend his agreeably spent, Vyrdin went from the courtyard sorrows, and allowed him to acquit himself the back to his room. It had been a wondrous evening: misery of the past. It was a most untoward from Dorrin’s visit to the feast in the Great Hall, exultation, one that permitted him to smile down from the dancing in the servants’ quarter to his the hall and into his room in a private regale. He was stargazing, every moment of his holiday had been blessed, he was safe, the door was shut, and he was home. splendidly commemorated. He had endured his due Only once during his time in Farriage had he vexations, and no doubt his general anxiety and ever felt it right to acknowledge his blessings, and as cautiousness must return ere long, but for now, he resigned himself to the pleasant somnolence of Vyrdin was all wistful tranquility and encouraging sobriety, sacredness, and the sounds early morning, ambition. His new prospect was granted him by the his mind began to drift into the gloaming of sleep, Gods, their gleaming effigies raining down upon the place between oblivion and wakefulness where him all the benediction that their the blithesome and grateful He was blessed, he was safe, the appearance could warrant. His young child who dared to hope door was shut, and he was home. wish, the one he had made in the for acceptance and family still furtive corners of his mind while dwelt. It was a secret part of Reis had been racing overhead, of quelling every Vyrdin, one which he himself tried not to recognize; qualm and of discovering the serenity which it was too painful to remember how he had been Bryeison so cherished had evinced: he was smiling, deserted, and though he could no longer recall his was walking with a light step, was considering parents’ faces, their actions could never be absolved. everything as good and great, and only his own selfTo be left at an orphanage at five years old, to be consciousness could effect to diminish his given the false desire of family, to endure the agony happiness. It was all sanguine reverie, and as Balane of seeing other children accepted and reclaimed and kissed Fuinnog and the sun began her heavy ascent, loved bore no sanguine effect on Vyrdin’s heart. It Vyrdin said his quiet thanks to the Gods for their was here, in the space where he kept his secret visit and asked them to accompany him as he left agonies, where his greatest joys also resided. Here, the courtyard. in the first moments of sleep, it was safe for him to Forever had he been used to harbour admit that he had discovered kindness: in the Sisters suspicions as to whether the Gods existed, as to at the shelter, in the children at the orphanage who whether they visited their children and took them shared his room, but there was a very particular away from unbearable suffering, and though the place in this realm which he kept for one who had answer had always been there, and his admission of granted him the greatest kindness and had given it always reluctant: Vyrdin knew that they, in some him the greatest happiness in the midst of his most form or other, must exist. His troubled heart told unbearable sorrow. In his grief, he had found his him so. He had begged them every day to end his joys and owned himself blessed where many might sorrows and bring him to a place where he might be have considered themselves so heinously wronged, loved, and he had wondered at what he could have and it was here, in this uncommon gratitude, where done to merit being abandoned and given away and he felt he had merited all his current fortune. beaten and forlorn, and it was when his faith was

By Michelle Franklin

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REMEMBERING KINDNESS BY MICHELLE FRANKLIN

His mind lilted further into that space, and he was in Farriage again. He was on the feller’s farm and he was in the midst of scoring the felled trees when Mr. Carrighan was calling him. The tiles on the shed had broken in the last storm and he was being asked to fix them. He had little idea at the time of the work involved in making and setting tiles, but he was given no choice: his life was one of work, he was to be availed of, he must earn his keep, and if he wanted a warm meal that evening to stave off the sting of winter frosts and the pangs of insufferable hunger, the tiles must be made and a kiln must be built and burning by nightfall. With some ingenuity and contrivance, the tiles were formed: the shards from the shattered slats might be ground and used in a new mortar, and with a mill and a good horse, he was able to make a fine paste which could be shaped for tiling. His mixture promised well: by midday, he had made enough tiles to fix the gaping holes in the shed roof, but the damp cold began settling in his hands, his fingers grew stiff, his skin cracked and bled, old injuries ached, and even more concerning was the hunger, which he had been relishing since the night before, now hindering his concentration and resilience. He was painfully thin, atrociously underdressed, and vehemently afraid of the man who had made himself his master. His arms and legs tired from the ceaseless work, his mind benumbed, his heart bitter with constant torment, his aspect rapt in a foray of shame and indignation, his conscience angry for having displeased the Gods or his parents so much as to have this as his penance. He wanted very much to sit in the shelter of the barn, insulated with hay from the loft and warmed by the furnace, but he dared not tarry from his duties lest he find his master’s hand on his arm and the lash at his back. He returned to the house, where he was never allowed to enter unless told, went round the side where all the spare bricks were laid out for use, and began to collect them in a handbarrow to be taken to the far field and used to bake his tiles. He had gathered as many bricks as his bleeding knuckles and chilblains would admit when the amber light of a lit hearth within the moderate home claimed his attention. He stopped, placed the barrow down, and put his hand to the window. The warmth radiating from within met his palm and left an impression on the glass around his fingers. Warmth: the notion had been long foreign to him. Not since the end of summer had he felt truly warm, for the shed where

he was given to sleep had no door, no bed, no furnace, had not even a blanket under which he could curl. He slept in his clothes, wearing in winter what he wore in summer: a scarf round his neck to keep the raw cold at bay, torn woolens which he wore over his thin galligaskins, and a straw mat to sleep upon, which had already been rife with mold when it had been left him. Warmth: the fire within the house flickered, and Vyrdin pressed both hands and his nose to the glass. His breath cooled in the hair and condensed against the window. Would that he be allowed one evening, one hour, one minute before a fire, to sit at its grates and watch the dancing flames and garner what heat he could — he would not care if he should never be allowed to cultivate its comforts again; a moment under the ascendancy of the roaring flames would be more than enough to restore his spirits. He stood with his face and hands against the window for some time, listening to the relentless groans of his stomach, and gleaned every last morsel, every intimation of heat that the glass could provide, and though his hands and face were only momentarily soothed and his misery put aside, it was better than going another winter without ever feeling the comfort of a fire at all. He took up his handbarrow and moved to go, but the scent of roasted meats and boiled oats called him back again. He wiped the condensation away from the sill, and there beyond the hearth was Mr. Carrighan’s sister, visiting from town for the holiday. The holiday: he had forgotten that come evening it was Ailineighdaeth. He remembered how he had been used to cavil at attending holiday services, but it could be forborne with all the activity of merriment and decoration that he had been wont to practice on the eve of Frewyn’s greatest holiday. Here, however, was a very different holiday than those he had been used to celebrate: bricks and spades replaced his hearth and holly, and where silverleaf and cypress had once been a joyous sight when ornamenting the mantle at the orphanage, it was now become an odious prospect, for felled trees only meant more work for him. He glanced up at the skies and tried to determine the time, but the canopy was clouded over with a mackerel lining, blotting out the sun, and he soon began to worry that it was later in the day than he had hitherto conceived. “What’re you lookin’ at, boy?” a familiar voice rasped.


REMEMBERING KINDNESS BY MICHELLE FRANKLIN

Vyrdin whirled instantly round and there was resided, but he was unworthy of aspersions and Old Carrighan, grimacing and glaring at him with checked them though he felt such hatred earned. his one good and watchful eye. Vrydin’s gaze His heart was sore, his body was bleeding and naturally fell to knees, his hands broken, and he was only bitter trembled, his stomach moaned: he that those who suffered least He loved the soundlessness of the was frightfully cold and seemed to attain life’s more neighbouring hills under the authority of the desperately famished, and he gracious rewards. He had little quieting flakes, gloried in their tickling would have begged for a warm idea whether the conversation sensations as they tumbled over his face, but meal that he might continue with passing over a table garnished the dampness that came before the breaking his work if not for the with roasted meats and of the skies was difficult for his broken and consternation assailing him. steamed roots promised any frail frame to bear. “Nothing, sir,” he replied, in a semblance of attachment: he fevered hush. heard no festivity, no merriment, no song, no The old master glared at Vyrdin’s mess of black carousing, no unbridled mirth, but there was food, curls. “You get to makin’ that kiln, boy,” he said in a there was fire, and as he piled the last bricks on the slow and threatening tenor, and without another top of the kiln, he would have gladly accepted his word, Vyrdin wheeled the handbarrow to the far master’s remonstrances and vicious conduct if only field with his eyes on the bricks and his head down, to be allowed to share in all the succour and revived and Mr. Carrighan went into the house to welcome constitution that a good meal could merit. his sister with cool affection, auguring the same in The kiln nearly finished, Vyrdin had only to return, and asked whether she would not warm seal the remaining cracks and collect some wood herself by the fire. and kindle. There was enough clay to use on the Piling the bricks in the field, Vyrdin was silent, crevices, and he was fortunate that the air was not rapt in rumination, remarking his work without past freezing that he could spread it over the bricks being conscious of it, wondering why all his without having to race against the frost, but once entreaties and faithfulness to the Gods had gone the clay that had stuck to his fingers began to unanswered. Many asked for wealth and distinction, harden, he found it increasingly more difficult to but all he asked for were the simple comforts of a continue and even went so far as to contemplate satiating stew, a tepid bath, and the amber warmth lighting the kiln before the holes were sealed if only of a lighted hearth. Family and acceptance no longer to warm his hands. An hour more saw the end of bore a strong hold on his heart; all his aspiration the kiln’s construction, but his fingers, slathered was now for finishing his work and finding a over with hardened clay, were immovable, and the tolerable shelter before the coming snows should cold had finally defeated him: the bleeding cracks in appear. He enjoyed being out while the snow made his skin began to sting, his timbre frame crumbled its drifting descent, the delicate white with its under the anguish of undying hunger, and all his pearlescent sheen furnishing the northern misery at being made to suffer under the burden of countryside. He loved the soundlessness of the grueling labour prevailed him. What had he done to neighbouring hills under the authority of the warrant such punishment? Was he never allowed quieting flakes, gloried in their tickling sensations as one moment’s reprieve from his pain and penance? they tumbled over his face, but the dampness that He searched his gloomy remembrance, came before the breaking of the skies was difficult endeavouring to recall a mistake, a transgression, an for his broken and frail frame to bear. Everything evil done in the impudence of youth that was owing around him was dull and grey, the ground was to his present wretchedness, but there was nothing. frozen through, the tilth was fraught with thick Why did the Gods allow his master a home and a frost, and behind him in the near distance was the family, regardless of how small a house and how house, a beacon of ocher warmth, sharing its unfeeling the connection might be, and deny him vivacity and brilliance with the barren garden beside, these simple joys? What could he have done at five amidst the pale wreck of a prospect that was now years old to warrant being abandoned, and what become a mere imitation of its more vibrant time of crime could he have committed whilst at the life. Strange, he thought, that the warmest place on orphanage to merit such a cruel master? There was the farm was where its most unaffectionate resident no answer. Tears welled in his eyes, and while his


REMEMBERING KINDNESS BY MICHELLE FRANKLIN

hands remained motionless, his heart moved between all the alternations of aggrievement and ruefulness. He roused from his pitying strain when a voice called to him from the side gate. At first, he thought it might be Mr. Carrighan, coming to inspect his progress with all the vindication of an adjudicator as he often did, but when he went toward the gate and descried Gearrog the brickmaker calling him over, his consternation gave way to suspicion. What was he doing there, and on the eve of a holiday? Had not he a family to visit and a meal to eat? “Came about the bricks, lad,” said Gearrog as Vyrdin approached. “Ol’ Carrighan’s tellin’ me today aft’ that you’s makin’ a kiln. I says you don’t got enough brick for that, is what I told him. Came to see if you needed ‘nymore.” His affable smile slowly began to fade into a frown of concern. “Where’d you get that there cut, lad?” He was pointing to Vyrdin’s forearm, and in his ceaseless exertion, Vyrdin had forgot about the large gash he had acquired from cutting the turf a few days ago. He glanced momentarily at his arm and said, “From the slane,” with a level of unconcern which astonished the brickmaker. “How long since you’s had that, lad?” Vyrdin shrugged. “Since Gods’ Day.” “Oughtta give it here and lemme see it.” Gearrog moved to grab Vyrdin’s arm, but Vyrdin moved quickly away and stared at the brickmaker in sudden alarm. “I ain’t gonna hurt you, lad,” said Gearrog, with grave suspicion. The tensing of his shoulders, the terror in the boy’s face, his hiding his arm behind him recommended a mind ill at ease, and Gearrog began to worry. “That cut’s lookin’ a-might bad, lad. Oughtta have that looked after ‘fore you finish your kiln.” “It’s already done,” Vyrdin murmured, looking at his feet. Gearrog’s eyes flared, his features half horror and half astonishment. “Done? Never did! Frannach aheon,” he swore, “in this here weather? With an arm like that? Lad, you’s off the cleric.” He moved to take Vyrdin’s arm, but Vyrdin recoiled and said a solemn, “It doesn’t hurt.” “Don’t matter if it don’t hurt, lad. I seen that colour ‘fore. That’s infection. You don’t get that right away cared for, you ain’t gonna have no arm to work with soon ‘nough.”

Vyrdin could be under no mistake that the wound was severe; the slane had cut so far into his arm that he feared he might have shaved the bone. He bled enough for it, but he had cleaned the gash and tied it off, thinking that it should heal on its own with time. He was wrong, however, and the lesion now exposed and riddled with infection had no hope of healing without a cleric’s attention. He wished he had been allowed to go to the infirmary the day the injury occurred, but Mr. Carrighan, with all his superior intellect and misguided understanding, had assured him that there was hardly any occasion to go to the cleric and forbad him from leaving the property. The roars of Vyrdin’s stomach overpowered the conversation, and Vyrdin said a quiet apology when the grumbling ceased. “You’s had ‘nythin’ to eat today, lad? Gettin’ dark outside. Better to do the kiln after you’s ate a supper.” Vyrdin said nothing; he only furrowed his brow and refused to look at the brickmaker. “I ain’t leavin’ till you get that arm seen, lad,” Gearrog firmly insisted. “Don’t wanna come back here in two day time and find you without an arm from the elbow down.” A quick glance at the house behind him, and Vyrdin’s sense of obedience was beginning to wane. Would that the brickmaker go away and take his wretched concern with him. He was gratified to be fussed over in any respect, but not now, not when his master had already caught him once in the midst of tarrying. His master should never allow him to leave until the tiles were baked, and to disturb him in the middle of his holiday meal while his family was visiting must be begging for punishment. He looked back at the house: he might go and return without his master’s notice, he might have his arm healed and be back to light the kiln in mere minutes, and he might spare himself the tirade and brutality by leaving his master to finish his meal without any interruptions. After a few moments spent in agonizing deliberation, Vyrdin yielded to the brickmaker’s demands and followed him down the road to the infirmary, his mind beleaguered by notions of insubordination and penalty, and his heart besieged by the terrific elation of enforced defiance. Their short walk to the infirmary was made in oppressive silence, the brickmaker sensible of Vyrdin’s pained aspect, and Vyrdin aware of


REMEMBERING KINDNESS BY MICHELLE FRANKLIN

Gearrog’s brimming curiosity. He felt his eyes everywhere: on his knotted bramble of curls, his wounded arm, his poor clothes, and the more the brickmaker’s eyes wandered, the more questions Vyrdin felt he was on the point of asking. He did not know why Mr. Callaghan would not allow him to leave, nor did he know why he must work whilst other young boys of similar age were allowed to attend classes at the church, sit at the table and eat with their families, play at various games and hold high revel when he must be tamed and timid. He did not know why his hands trembled or why he was made to endure all the deprivations which he was only now being made aware of, and he wished that the brickmaker’s eyes would stop asking him so many unanswerable questions. It was insufferable to be the subject of so much conjecture and confusion when he was confused himself, but the cleric was in, he was available, he was ready and willing to receive him as a patient, and all other disquieting cogitations may be lain aside. The brickmaker told the story of how he found Vyrdin working in such unfavourable conditions without the necessary attire. Vyrdin accepted the plaintive looks on this point, for there was nothing else he could do to refute them, and said nothing when the cleric politely scolded him as to the state of his shoes. “Those must give you chilblains,” said the cleric. “You must take care not to get frostbite.” Vyrdin listened to the invective without much attending it; he had no manner in which to alter his situation, much less contrive for more suitable clothes. He thanked the cleric for his concern and hoped they might move on to healing now that he had gone through the motions of embarrassment. The wound was displayed, the cleric was duly shocked, the brickmaker suffered the same horrified astonishment, and Vyrdin alone remained grave and unaffected. “How could you have let that go for so long, looking like that,” was the cleric’s lamenting reproof. “Come,” sighing and shaking his head, “that must be healed immediately.” Vyrdin was thus led toward the inner room of the infirmary. He entered the small sanitarium and was instructed to remove his wool shirt, but he was hesitant to do so while the brickmaker was by. “I’ll be off for a minute,” said Gearrog, sensing that Vyrdin wished to be alone. “I’ll be back to see you off home.”

Home: there was a word that fell empty against Vyrdin’s heart. There was no flourish of affection, no anxious solicitation awaiting him at the feller’s farm. He made the requisite nods and turned away, and when the brickmaker had gone, the door was closed, and Vyrdin removed his woolen shirt. A moment of anxiety rushed on him as he began to undress: he thought he had forgot to wear his linen tunic for insulation, but when he reached into his torn sweater, he sighed in relief and could be easy. His staid expression might hide many miseries, but the lash would expose what he would otherwise secret away. He kept his tunic on while the cleric did his work, and only a few minutes under the healer’s care was enough to undo all the damage that a few days’ neglect had done. “We are fortunate that the infection was not as severe as it appeared,” said the cleric, passing a glowing hand along Vyrdin’s forearm. “There, that should keep you for a while. You will have to apply a liniment to it to keep the infection from returning, but I think we’ve—” He paused, looked rather confused, and then moving to closer to Vyrdin’s side he said, “What made these marks on your back?” Vyrdin flew into a silent panic: he was sitting, and the cleric was standing over him, giving the healer all the advantage of height to see everything that Vyrdin could have hid. He must have leaned forward too far, exposing his upper back, and though it cost him some dignity, Vyrdin pulled on the front of his tunic to hinder the cleric from seeing further down his back. “Harrowing accident,” was his somewhat restrained and mortified excuse. “Accident?” the cleric repeated. A look of misgiving succeeded here. “I understand that accidents on farms are common, but a harrow cannot have made marks like that by merely falling on you. It must have been dragged across your back to make scars so long. If you will let me look at them, perhaps—” “I’m fine,” Vyrdin asserted, standing and swiping his woolens from the adjacent chair. The cleric’s suspicions increased, and Vyrdin’s hastening to dress and eagerness to leave only expatiated his concerns. “You may feel very well,” said he, in a kinder hue, “but there may be some lasting damage which might be causing you indiscernible harm.”


REMEMBERING KINDNESS BY MICHELLE FRANKLIN

Vyrdin did not stay to hear the cleric’s Vyrdin’s collar with the opposing hand and hurling entreaties; he had taken the liniment, had said his him round. hurried thanks, and was gone before any further Vyrdin almost toppled over his own feet and conjectures could be made. Disobedience by his regained his footing only to be met with the sight of own design might be rectified, but having his case his master’s free hand reaching into his overcoat reported to the authorities and having Mr. pocket. He knew what was hiding there, was well Carrighan disturbed with inquiries as to why his aware of the pain he should be in a few hours hence charge was marred was certain to bring from the sting of the delimbed shrags, and tensed unconscionable torment. Better to be silent and his shoulders, tightened his fists, and winced in submissive and safe than difficult, and as Vyrdin preparation of the anguish of what must follow. hastened back to the farm, he told himself that “Diathanes, Carrighan,” said a familiar voice. reporting his sorrows to the king’s men should only Vyrdin turned, and without looking up noted bring more despondency than his case was worth. the brickmaker hastening toward them from the His master should never let him go, and he should corner of his eye. Shame and indignation crimsoned never want to leave, for who else would look after a his gaunt cheeks, and though he was not released, young boy whom nobody else would suffer to his master’s hold on him relented. welcome into their homes? Forever had he been “Gearrog,” Carrighan exclaimed. He took his overlooked until Mr. Carrighan had accepted him, hand from his pocket and offered it to his visitor, and though he was a man of vicious conduct and eyeing him charily. “What brings you? You ain’t character, he had taught him to be useful, had fed goin’ to Westren for the holiday?” him once or twice every other day, and had given “Can’t. Too much to do here.” Gearrog him a place to sleep, which was more than anyone glanced at Vyrdin, whose face was turned to the else had done. It was selfishness to have expected a side, and then at Old Carrighan, who seemed family when he had never done anything to deserve particularly discomfited by his sudden appearance. it, and to have his case reported and examined was He seemed half a second away from doing to lose everything he had gained — though he had something which he knew others might find gained little — by his removal to Farriage. intolerable, and though he appeared somewhat Twenty minutes had gone since Vyrdin had left ashamed, he was hardly repentant: his hand was still the farm, and he had not returned and closed the grasping Vyrdin’s collar, the boy looked as though low gate when Mr. Carrighan came thundering he were petrified, and altogether the brickmaker toward him from the house. “Where you been, received the notion that he had interrupted boy?” he growled, his good eye flaring, the veins in something which he was certain of disapproving. “I his forehead throbbing, his dry and crag-like mouth just come by to see if you’re needin’ ‘nymore brick caught in a cracking flout. He grabbed Vyrdin by for your kiln. Saw the lad’s arm,” nodding to the collar and jerked him forward. “That kiln ain’t Vyrdin, “I says that need healin’, so I brought him lit,” he hissed, giving his prey a fierce shake. to the cleric meself.” “You’re gonna tell me where you been or I’m gonna “That true, boy?” Mr. Carrighan said, in a take the hazel to you.” heated tone. “The cleric, sir,” Vyrdin Vyrdin looked away, his murmured, trying to maintain his heart swelling with indignation, A perfunctory grin on one side, a balance as he was jerked about. his eyes brimming with tears. fleeting smirk on the other, and the “The cut on my arm wasn’t “Practically had to drag the brickmaker felt obliged to linger around the healing.” lad there,” said the brickmaker, land, that he might assured of the boy’s “You ask me if you could with pointed circumspection. safety. leave?” “Lad didn’t wanna leave.” He There was no answer. paused and gave Vyrdin a “You hear me, boy?” He jostled his captive, but solicitous look. “Hope I didn’t cause no trouble.” Vyrdin remained silent, his eyes downcast and his “No trouble at all,” replied the feller, with head down in solemn contrition. “You’re askin’ for marked coolness. a birtchin’, boy,” he seethed, gripping the back of A perfunctory grin on one side, a fleeting smirk on the other, and the brickmaker felt obliged to


REMEMBERING KINDNESS BY MICHELLE FRANKLIN

linger around the land, that he might assured of the boy’s safety. The manner in which the boy was being held, his refusal to turn around, the shifting looks of the feller, his vehement stares all suggested there being something amiss here, and Gearrog would see it if he could. He wanted there to be a something wrong that he might report it, but when Mr. Carrighan said his “Good night, Gearrog,” with stern finality, he was certain of observing nothing whilst he was around to witness. He must take his leave and pretend to go if he should catch him at doing something unwholesome. He nodded his goodbyes, hoped that Vyrdin was well, and turned toward town, looking over his shoulder as he went with marked concern. “It ain’t right when a lad’s ‘fraid to get his arm mended,” he murmured to himself, but he observed that the boy was being released, and his mind could not be easy. “Get back to work, boy,” said Mr. Carrighan, pointing Vyrdin toward the kiln. Grateful that he had escaped what had promised to be a most brutal punishment, despite his humiliation, Vyrdin felt his fortune and began moving toward the far field. Pangs of intense hunger suddenly assailed him, and as the sensations of stiff fingers and cracking skin were once again upon him, he felt his spirits grow somnolent. “Sir?” he asked, mortified and desperate, “I’m very hungry. May I have something to eat, sir?” “Somethin’ to eat?” Mr. Carrighan chuffed. “You think you deserve it, boy?” Vyrdin knew the answer to this question: if he should say yes, he would be punished for insolence, and should he say no, he would be admitting his own folly at having asked at all. He remained silent therefore and left the fate of suppers and subordination to be determined. He felt the scowling countenance of disapproval and disgust bore through his curls. How disobedient and repugnant an object he was to have gone to the cleric that he might find some small measure of peace and care for an arm which he desperately needed for work. Should he have lost it, he dreaded to think of how vilely he would have been treated thence. A poor and famished orphan with only one arm was far worse than one with two, for as long as he proved his usefulness and asperity, he was given meals — when he deserved it — and shelter where he might otherwise have been forced to find both in a poor house. The Church could not want him any

longer; he was too old to be taken in unless he meant to join the laity. Penance and privation must be his due, but he escaped both punishment and remonstrance here: Mr. Carrighan was in want of the plum pudding his sister had shoddily made and was therefore obliged to show his kindness on the holiday and forgive the boy for his lapse. Such a charitable act obliged Vyrdin to say his thanks, and as the master returned to the house, Vyrdin exhaled in relief, marveled at his fortune at having been spared two punishments in one day, and went to the far field, hoping to find the last remnants of a few dandelions about for grazing. Some of the kale, cabbage, and sunroot was still in the ground, and after eating a few of the tough leaves and exhuming some of the tubers, Vyrdin found himself able to continue with his work. He drew his scarf about him, tore through the sunroots, rallied his spirits, and with a few stalks of kale in his mouth, went to collect the wood for the fire. “Lad’s gonna freeze hisself to death,” said Gearrog, watching Vyrdin mechanically sift through fallen boughs of dried oak. A vicious glare toward the house, and the brickmaker was gone, hastening down the road with all the alacrity that his violent indignation could excite. He would not leave a boy to freeze in the cold, he would not leave him to go hungry when every other house was sitting down to table and delighting in all the revelry of the holiday’s first feast, and he would not leave him to feel wrong for doing what was right. Ten minutes saw the return of Gearrog to the farm, and he did not arrive empty-handed. He came to the gate and descried Vyrdin struggling to light the kiln. It was far too damp for the tinder to kindle with any tolerable success, but fortunately for Vyrdin, the brickmaker had come well prepared. He peered into the window of the house in the near distance, discerned the old master sipping his mulled ale in peace while his sister wet the tea, and as they were otherwise engaged, he hopped over the low gate and marched across the fields, willing to accept any punishment that his intrusion unannounced might evince. Vyrdin had not noticed Gearrog’s return; he was far too concerned with lighting the fire to look up until the brickmaker’s shadow assailed him. At first, he thought it might be Mr. Carrighan, regretting his leniency and coming in all his bibulous rage to acquit himself his weakness at


REMEMBERING KINDNESS BY MICHELLE FRANKLIN

being merciful. He flinched, expecting to be thrashed across the face with withies, but when there was nothing, he looked up and was astonished to find the brickmaker standing over him with a slab of smoked bacon, a sack of blue potatoes, and a brace of yams in his arms. “Here, lad. You’s here just take this.” “What—?” but before Vyrdin could make any opposition, Gearrog forced the goods into his hands. His arms almost gave out under the weight of the potatoes, and he almost dropped the bacon when he struggled to hold the large yams. “When you start that kiln,” said Gearrog, “you’ll have a right bit o’ heat. In between your feedin’ the fires, put ‘em potatoes and bacon on your shovel. Got here some dead branch and some charcoal what’ll start that fire.” He took the charcoal brick from his pocket and placed it with the wood beneath the kiln, and the branches from his coat provided all the tinder the kiln required to begin smoldering. “Tendin’ a kiln’s hard work,” he declared, wiping the soot from his hands. “Gotta eat somethin’ and stay warm. You got the best heat in the world right here,” patting the kiln. “Even so, you just take this now.” Vyrdin had not placed the potatoes and bacon aside when Gearrog accosted him with a pair of woolen gloves. He made his remonstrances with all the trepidation and humility that could be expected, but the brickmaker would have him take the gloves, made from Karnwyl black wool and insulated with a linen lining. “None o’ that now, lad,” the brickmaker insisted, forcing the gloves into Vyrdin’s cracked hands. “You just put those on. Gotta take care of those hands, lad.” Vyrdin could barely speak; he was silenced by the force of his gratitude and too much oppressed by his unbidden tears. He did what he was bid, however; he slipped the large gloves over his fingers and relished their immediate alleviation: his hands began to thaw, his fingers were able to bend, his wrists no longer ached. He pressed his fingertips together and savoured the splendid sensation of wool on wool, of frigid flesh regaining feeling, of all the agonies occasioned by the unbearable cold being vanquished. He raised his hand to his mouth and breathed, the rime crimsoning his nose and cheeks losing its ascendancy. It was a blissful sensation, a warmness that soothed his aches and agitations and secured his gratitude. He closed his eyes, made a

few fists, and cried with features beset and a heart oppressed. “He’ll ask me where I got them,” was all he could say, the tributaries rolling under his chin. “You just say it was me, and that’s that,” Gearrog asserted. “Don’t know what’s goin’ on here, lad, but I sure ain’t turnin’ an eye from it, is what I’m sayin’. Whatever there is here to see, I’m gonna see it. ” Mortification and thankfulness fought with one another in Vyrdin’s mind: he would be liberated from his post if he could, and though he was elated to have someone take interest with his case, he feared being liberated without having a place to which he could go. He said nothing to the brickmaker therefore, hoping his silence would convince him to discuss this point no further. “Some folk feels like they gotta own people. He don’t own you, lad. Frewyn don’t got tolerance for what I think’s happenin’ here, I’m tellin’ you that. You’s have a friend in the king, lad. You don’t gotta be ashamed if somethin’ not right’s bein’ done to you. But you gotta speak up, lad. You’s have to go to the court and appeal, but the king’ll help you. Follow me, lad?” Vyrdin could not but understand him, but to venture to Diras, to stand before the king, to explain his plight before a jury of nobles would be a terrible distress. To speak to anyone about his present difficulty was a trial to his nerves, and to be made to show his marks, explain his torment, accuse his master was an unbearable tribulation. If there should not be enough evidence to convict, no witness to attest, no substantial case for claim, he should be ridiculed and reprimanded, left to the custody of his indicted master, to be blamed and beaten without the threat of court to impede his lash. He made his abashed nods and promised to report his case to the king, though he had little idea of fulfilling such a halfhearted oath. “Don’t placate me, lad,” Gearrog said impressively. “He might be tryin’ to break you so he can rule over you, but hearts o’ those who work hard for no reward can’t never break.” There was a pause, and they exchanged a penetrating look. “Don’t you let him win, lad. Follow me?” Vyrdin nodded and lowered his eyes. “Maith Ailineighdaeth, lad,” said Gearrog, in a soft voice. “And don’t you thank me. You’s have it hard. You just wear ‘em gloves and eat that and that’s all.”


REMEMBERING KINDNESS BY MICHELLE FRANKLIN

Appreciation by way of a few words of thanks faithless, he had felt forsaken, and here was was hardly enough to convey all the indebtedness attestation enough of the Gods’ existence. They that Vyrdin was cherishing. Humbled and must have heard him, and they must have sent the humiliated by Gearrog’s unbidden kindness and brickmaker as an Agent to carry out a missive they consideration, Vyrdin felt equal to confessing the could not fulfill themselves. He had heard of the whole: telling of his mistreatment, of the conditions Gods breaking their covenant and visiting their under which he was made to live, the nights of children in disguise, and though he had never been starvation, the days of penance, of his terrors, his wont to believe such histories before, he must hopes, his ambitions. A beseeching expression and a consider them now. He stood for some time with solemn “thank you, sir” was all that Vyrdin could his eyes raised to the skies, his aspect rapt in a glow manage. Inundated by more feelings than he could of reverie, his heart beholden, his tears profuse and admit, he bowed his head and would say no more. unchecked. He praised them, the Gods and all their His mind was attacked by a thousand notions: effigies and depictions, and felt himself under the should he escape, should he approach the king, auspices of their good graces once more. should he plead his case, should he beg for mercy His master gone to bed after a heavy meal, and assistance? were all questions which prevailed Vyrdin had nothing to do but triumph in the him now that the idea of insurrection had been indelible warmth of the kiln and enjoy a sumptuous embedded in his mind. He need not oppose his and solitary feast. He ate with abandon, savouring master; he need only leave without his notice, but every subtle flavour and giving thanks to Gearrog the notion of having to contest his treatment and and the Gods with every deglutition. His music was confront him in court produced more anguish than the sound of the winterfowl chirruping in the it did conciliation. He resolved against openly nearby spruce, his holiday diversion the stars and opposing his master at present, for all his the crimson underpinning of the lingering clouds. consolation was in a full Wishes of family and friendship stomach, warm hands, and a could wait with such a prospect He recognized their presence, his faith smoldering fire. before him: the rippling hills of was revived, there were those who had “I’ll be lookin’ after you, the countryside, the soft tittup of goodness and generosity within them, lad,” said the brickmaker, horses drawing drays in the moving to go, “makin’ sure you distance, the roaring flames near got a bit o’ food. Kiln’s warmin’ up. Better start his feet, the quiet firmament above: here was a feedin’ that fire.” celebration, and Vyrdin had only to acknowledge And without waiting for another word of that he was never so appeased and never so obliged thanks, another profusion of tears, Gearrog was as he was when perusing the skies, in quest of Reis’ gone. The kiln was lit, there was bacon to roast and tail, and wondering whether Borras and Sibhne were potatoes to bake, and there must be Vyrdin’s honouring Libhan with their scintillating comfort. He was left to stand in the grey and cold conversancy. fog, gaping down at the raging flames lighting his He ate his holiday feast, roasting the meat, place in the field, and think: he tried to make sense baking the yams, and saving the potatoes in a clamp of the encounter, wondering why help should be for a later hour, and when he could eat no more, he given now when it had never hitherto been granted. lay down upon the emptied potato sack and A light overhead caught his eye: under the power of watched the evening surrender to night, glorying in the gloaming impending, the light from the sun gave the joys of intense heat and winter’s perspiration. way to the sovereignty of the stars: Reis skipped Each flickering gleam of the stars brought forth its across Reine and all her changing hues, Balane thanks from Vyrdin’s conscience. He recognized subdued and surrendered her strength to Aghus, their presence, his faith was revived, there were and as Reis resigned herself to the influence of those who had goodness and generosity within evening, Vyrdin marveled at the shimmering canopy them, and as Reis dashed once more across the of the Gods, all-gleaming, all-seeing, all-powerful. wisplike clouds, he wished that one day he might They heard me, his mind whispered in awe, they brought see the king, that one day he might be able to tell him here. He remembered the last thought he had someone of his misfortune, that one day he might before the brickmaker had arrived: he had been be worthy of a life greater than the one he had


REMEMBERING KINDNESS BY MICHELLE FRANKLIN

hitherto led. He no longer cared for window sills and warm houses; his faith had been justified. They are beautiful, was Vyrdin’s resolution, his eye connecting the various constellations. Thank you, his awareness whispered: Thank you, his stomach quiet and appeased: Thank you, and somewhere between the professions of gratitude, Vyrdin resigned himself to his satiation, and with belief restored, succumbed to a most peaceable sleep. Vyrdin awoke from his bittersweet reverie, half rousing from the state between sleep and awake, and in the first confusion of wakefulness, he sat up and looked about him: the white rays of the morning sun pervaded his small window, the warm down blankets were mantled about him, the silver earring which Dorrin had given him the evening previous lay on the dresser, the two armchairs and small table neatly were aligned and moderately furnished with cups and kettle, the small hearth simmering with the last embers of warmth. He was in the keep, he was in his room, his was under Dorrin’s care, his wish had been granted, he was safe, he was home. Michelle Franklin is a small woman of moderate consequence who writes many, many books about giants, romance, and chocolate. To find more about Michelle’s work, please visit her website: http://thehaanta.blogspot.ca/


Ask the Authors

Every issue we ask the authors a question as a way for the readers to better get to know them. This issue we asked: “What’s your favorite holiday memory?” Sam Kates, author of Tin Cup “Stepping off the airplane onto the runway at Larnaca in Cyprus when I was 16 for my first proper holiday abroad. It was early evening and the sun was beginning to set. A breeze blew strongly into my face. It was so warm and balmy, like standing in front of a gigantic hairdryer. And the smells: olives and lemons and salt and exotic flavours I couldn't identify. I've been in love with Cyprus ever since.” James Anderson, author of Checkmate “My favorite holiday memory goes back to my childhood. My parents were recent immigrants to Canada and didn't have much money to spend at Christmas. I desperately wanted a toy fort to play with soldiers. My parents couldn't affod to buy one, but my Dad spent days after work in the garage building one out of wood for me and my brother. The best present I have ever received and a gift of true love.” John Carter, author of The Memory Thief “My favorite holiday memory is decorating the Christmas tree for the first time with my daughter. We adopted my little girl when she was 3 and seeing the love and wonder on her face as we picked out and set up the tree that first year was the best memory ever. Her happiness and Holiday Spirit made that Christmas special.” Dylan Patton, author of Nobody’s Victim

“Opening presents Christmas Eve.”

with

my

family

on

Rebecca Stroud, author of The Swap “My sister & I were very young and, on Christmas Eve, we were staring out our bedroom window watching it snow...and, then, we both saw Santa's sleigh streak across the sky. To this day, not a soul believes us...but no matter. We know what we saw..:))” J. A. Cunningham, author of Dreamweaver “My favorite holiday memory that is a tough one. I have had so many good memories to pick one as a favorite I don’t know if I can do that, so I will just pick one and tell you about it. Back in 2007, my son asked for Optimus Prime. This took me back to when I was growing up and asked for the same toy. I never did get my Optimus Prime, so I wanted to make sure my son got his. My wife and I set out on a mission that turned out to be harder than I had thought. We went from store to store trying to find it, I think we had went to about five different stores until we finally found one. The last store we went to had one left on the shelf, I was glad only one of my two boys had asked for it or else we would have had to continue searching. After all the trouble we had went through to find Optimus Prime, I wondered if my parents had the same problem when I had asked for it, which would have explained why I never got it. On Christmas morning I think, I was just as excited for him to open it as he was to see if he got it. Being the bigger gift, he waited until last to open it. The look on his eyes was priceless, seeing my kids happy always make my day. I don’t know who was happier my son for getting Optimus Prime, or


me for actually being able to get it for him. If you’re wondering, yes, I played with it just as much as he did.” Have a question you want the authors to answer for the next issue? Email us at papercranebooks@gmail.com with the subject: “PCB Author Question”


Whose Axing? In which we discuss grammar and English language tidbits.

Awhile vs. a while Both are correct and mean the same thing. But do you know when to use awhile or a while? Awhile (one word) is an adverb. A while (two words) is a noun phrase that follows the prepositions “for” and “in.”

Blond vs. blonde Words have genders. Trust me on this. When you speak of a ship or a car, you don’t call them an “it” but rather a “she.” It’s the same principle in this case. Most languages actually have designations for gender and for some unknown reason English just doesn’t with the exception of a few words. For instance, in the Spanish language “amigo” is a male word, whereas “amiga” is female. When you go to an opera or a musical and you want to express your approval of a male, you would say, “Bravo!”; however, if you were speaking about a female you would say, “Brava!” Blond/blonde is one of those words that originated from Anglo-French (according to Merriam-Webster). “Blond” refers to males, whereas “blonde” refers to females. Another popular word that we use that has gender that originated from France is fiancé/fiancée.

Lead vs. led One of the more common mistakes you see in books and writing. Let’s break it down, shall we? Lead (lēd) verb — 1a) to guide on a way especially by going in advance 1b) to direct on a course or in a direction 1c) to serve as a channel for (among other definitions, but for simplicity’s sake, we’re going with this.) Lead (led) noun — a bluish-white soft malleable ductile plastic but inelastic heavy metallic element found mostly in combination and used especially in pipes, cable sheaths, batteries, solder, and shields against radioactivity Led (led) — past and past participle of lead When someone means: “He led them down the street” one sometimes comes upon the error: “He lead them down the street.” How can you stop this from happening to you? Simple. When you see the word “lead,” train yourself to read it as /lēd/. Chances are you’ll be wanting to use the past or past participle of lead anyway so when you begin reading it back and reading /lēd/ instead of /led/, then you know something’s wrong. Delete the unnecessary “a” and you’re back on track. Have a grammar question you’d like answered? Be sure to email us at papercranebooks@gmail.com with the subject: “Whose Axing?” and your question just might be featured on the next issue!



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