deadlyeverafter

The Writing Adventures of The Undead Duo–Julie Hutchings and Kristen Strassel

Dance Like Everyone Is Watching

Today’s Brew: Mid Afternoon Chocolate Cappuccino

by Kristen

Jury is out on whether or not it’s World Book Day. Wikipedia says that it’s celebrated on April 23, but Google graphics are showing me it was March 5. And the official site has no date. Dubious resources are being dubious.

We should celebrate anyway!  What are you reading?  I’m reading Strings by Kendall Grey.  If you want to get your dirty on, it’s a good time so far.

Let’s get down to business. Zumba has been making me feisty lately.  They’ve been changing instructors at the gym like crazy and while I’m open to change, I miss my old teachers. Anyway, while I was slogging through some subpar booty shaking, I noticed someone in the back of the class wearing a shirt that said Dance Like No One Is Watching.

I get the sentiment. Really, I do. Let loose, don’t worry about making mistakes, just have a good time and enjoy the moment.  I’m a steadfast supporter of this movement. I get really bitchy about having to color in the lines, and doing normal, boring things give me hives. I list boring right after nuts on my allergy list. I wholeheartedly agree with doing what makes you feel good, and not doing what doesn’t.

So why was I so pissed off?  It was the no one’s watching part. I know all the introverts in the crowd are smiling quietly at those words, thinking thank God. But as I continued my salsa free Zumba session (grrr…I love salsa! Who does Zumba with no salsa? Apparently this new chick.) I kept thinking about that.

When no one’s watching, who cares, right? Why should I put my best foot forward?  No one’s ever going to see it. Why should I even bother finishing it?  Ugh.

No. I’m angry just thinking about it. Julie and I said before we even had our first drafts completed to dress for the jobs you want, not the jobs you have. Act people care, and maybe, just maybe, they’ll start caring. If you don’t believe in yourself, why should anyone else?

So let loose. Be creative. But don’t think for a minute no one is paying attention. Hold yourself accountable. Give yourself deadlines and MEET THEM. Push the envelope. Take risks. FINISH WHAT YOU START. Do it again and again. You will surprise yourself by doing more than you thought was possible. Put out the best book that your imagination and your budget can handle.  Tell the world. You know what? They want to read it. Most people really do want you to succeed.

And if they don’t, fuck them. Seriously. Listen to Johnny Cash.

johnny-cash-middle-finger

Keep dancing.

And if you want to see me dance, I’m signing books on Saturday from 1:30-2:30 at the Burlington Marriott in Burlington, MA. It’s part of the New England Chapter RWA conference, and there will be a lot of awesome authors there. It’s free to the public, and I’d love to see you!!!!

 

Why I Give a Crap About Katniss Everdeen by Julie

TODAY’S BREW: Fancee coffee described as “fruity, jammy and bright.”

By Julie

Most of my life I’ve been pretentious enough to assume that if everyone likes it, it can’t be good, resulting in me becoming obsessed with stuff waaaaaaaaay after everyone else. So when it came to THE HUNGER GAMES novels, and me becoming a superfan a million years too late, the odds were ever in my favor.

Get it?

But more about me.

You guys might know I write books, and currently the only ones you’ve had access to are RUNNING HOME and RUNNING AWAY. Readers really seem to connect to Eliza, though she’s not someone I would even call particularly likeable. Yet, I’d go so far as to say the series has somewhat of a cult following due in large part to her.

My books you haven’t read? Yeah, the female characters are even less likeable probably.

So I am OBSESSED with Katniss Everdeen.

The things Katniss is not:

  • funny
  • quirky
  • pleasant or even friendly
  • sweet
  • romantic
  • fearless
  • occasionally foolish

katniss 4

Things Katniss Everdeen is:

  • brave
  • kind
  • unapologetic
  • resourceful
  • a self-taught survivor

She’s one of the downtrodden, she feels like one of the downtrodden and for the longest time doesn’t think it’s worth fighting against. She’s not just inherently amazing. She made herself a survivor out of necessity and practicality. And here’s this:

KATNISS ISN’T DIFFERENT.

She’s not the exception to the rule. She’s not DIVERGENT. (I’m not bashing those books, I like them very much and to see the value in one is not to discredit the other.) Katniss isn’t a born hero. She’s a product of her environment that rises every so slightly above it due to her love of her sister and her selflessness (though she would say she is selfish and most certainly is sometimes). Then she makes choice after choice and becomes the person that anyone in District 12 could have been.

That’s the beauty of her to me. She was the face of a revolution but she was “nobody.” She is the hero anyone could become–reachable. Given the same tools, but used them differently. She is someone to aspire to be and the possibility of being like her is actually realistic.

katniss 1

Here’s where I ramble a bit. I chose that image of the quote over this one:

katniss

Because as lovely as it is, it implies she’s this unwavering ray of sunshine. She’s anything but. Katniss is uber-serious, calculating when necessary, a stumbling survivor learning to cope at other times. This is what her world has made her into. She wouldn’t be realistic otherwise, like the slightly oblivious Delly. Katniss uses what the world has made her into as best she can and creates the best future she can with it. A product of an oppressive society that still manages to build her own life out of it.

She makes you think, “I want to be that person.” And “I could be that person. She’s not so different from me, really.”

Not to mention that she will sacrifice her own life even if she’s not entirely sure why. She knows what’s right, even if she doesn’t know the reasons for it, and she’s not afraid to say that she’s too weak to live with the idea of destroying someone that way. Despite that she has killed in the Games. Her choices aren’t black and white and can be self-serving, regardless of whether or not it’s the right thing to do.

She’s this emotionally closed:

katniss 2

But would do this for the same boy by choice:

hunger games

(That’s the part with the berries, guys.)

I could go on and on, but I have an imperfect character to write.

Cover Reveal: Lukas by Carian Cole

Today’s Brew: Lemon and honey

by Kristen

The Ashes and Embers series quickly became one of my favorites. I discovered it as part of a blog tour. Yes, these do work. Carian writes about a family of smokin’ hot rockers. We’ve already met Storm and Vandal (and if you haven’t, you should) , and in June, we’ll be meeting Lukas. Check out his cover and blurb below!

 

Cover  Reveal2Lukas cover

 

Title: Lukas (Ashes & Embers Series Book 3)

Author: Carian Cole

Credits:

Front Photography and Model: Joel Hicks

Back Photography: MHPhotography

Model: Marissa Hagood

Cover Design: Kari Ayasha of Cover to Cover Designs

Synopsis2

Storm’s younger cousin.

Vandal’s little brother.

You’ve met him in the background.

 

The sweet one.

The nice one.

The one they can all rely on.

 

The good one.

 

He’s a tattoo artist. He plays metal and classical music – on the violin.

 

He’s got a body built for sin.

 

He’s 24.

 

In comes Ivy. She’s a 36 year old single mom who hasn’t dated in 18 years.

All she wanted was a tattoo.

 

She got a helluva lot more

 

Being good has never been so bad.

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Teasers2

Lukas  teaser 1

Lukas  teaser 2

 

Author Bio2

I have a passion for the bad boys, those covered in tattoos, sexy smirks, ripped jeans, fast cars,

motorcycles and of course, the sweet girls that try to tame them and win their hearts. My debut

series, Ashes & Embers, follows the lives of rock band members as they find, and

sometimes lose, the loves of their lives.

My first novel in the Ashes & Embers series, Storm, was published in September of 2014

and book 2, Vandal, will be published February 2015 with several more of this series planned

throughout 2015.

Born and raised a Jersey girl, I now reside in beautiful New Hampshire with my husband and

our multitude of furry pets and spend most of my time writing, reading, and vacuuming.

Lukas full cover

THE FIRE DANCER Cover Reveal

Today’s brew: Berry Zinger iced tea

by Kristen

This one’s been a long time coming, and I’m so excited to finally be able to share the awesomeness with you!  My vampires are spinning in a different direction.  It’s my pleasure to introduce you to Cirque Macabre and THE FIRE DANCER.

This ain’t a love song…

Meet Holly Octane, a burlesque performer that bursts into flames with any extreme emotion. And there’s a fine line between love and hate. THE FIRE DANCER is my first step away from romance into straight dark fantasy with a touch of horror.  It’s twisty and dark. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a sexy book, but instead of focusing on the romance, it focuses on Holly’s journey and what makes her ignite.  It also features many of the villains from The Night Songs series, and shows you a different side of them.  After all, there is three sides to every story.

First of all, check out this gorgeous cover. I know, I’m talking about my child and everyone’s children are beautiful, but my artists deserve a massive shout out. They knocked it out of the park. I found the amazing Daoyi Liu to do the illustration, and Hang Le knew exactly how to make this cover sing.

THE FIRE DANCER is available for preorder (at the special introductory price of 1.99) and on Goodreads.

Fire-Dancer-FOR-WEB

Blurb:

At Le Cirque Macabre, Holly Octane bursts into flames five nights a week. The stage is where Holly feels most alive. When she’s there no one can touch her, and everyone adores her.

Brought to Las Vegas as vampire bait, Holly’s connection to the immortals is a mystery. She’s one of a kind– traveling through time and igniting when her emotions get too hot to handle. The only people who understand her are an aunt with a hidden agenda and her fortune teller girlfriend, Rainey, who doesn’t see a future with Holly in it.

Cash Logan needs Holly, but she’s not the reason he came to Vegas. The enigmatic magician seeks Blade Bennett, a vampire that has a power that he shouldn’t have–fire. A power that could determine the future of all of vampire kind. Holly’s the only one who can help Blade control his fire, but their feelings for each other are too fiery to ignore.

Immortals rule the Vegas night, and not one of them trusts Cash or Blade. If Holly lets them draw her in to this world designed to destroy her, she’ll lose everything—the only family she’s ever known, and everyone who adores her.

Las Vegas is her stage, and Holly is determined to set the city on fire.

Fire-Dancer-print-FOR-WEB

Excerpt:

“How long have you been like this?” His gaze ran the length of my robe, and he didn’t have to clarify what he meant.

As far as everyone knew, I was twenty-four. “Decades. I think.” The concept of time simply made me dizzy.

Cash nodded; my answer didn’t surprise him. “You were born north of London in 1781, in a village called Moorfields.” My knees buckled, and if I didn’t clutch the table, I would have fallen. Even though I knew the answer wasn’t going to be something nice and neat like twenty-five years ago in Memphis, actually having the answer blew my mind.

“I remember things that happened before that.” I couldn’t face him. “And I think I remember you.”

“Do you?” Cash ran his fingers lightly along my hair, never touching my body. At first, I was terrified we’d burst into flames. We’d fireproofed my dressing room, but Cash wouldn’t survive. This information was just the tip of the iceberg. I needed him to stay alive. “What do you remember?”

Images jumbled in my brain as if someone spun a wheel. I saw Cash, bound, bloody, and burned, surrounded by laughing onlookers. His hair was shorter, and it was a different time, but I knew him. His eyes. No matter what humiliation was bestowed upon him, they remained proud. “Chaos.”

His silky laugh almost convinced me I’d been wrong. No one could actually survive the state I pictured Cash in, his skin purple from abuse, weak from starvation, and still have a sense of humor. But those eyes. “That’s about right.” He moved closer to me, my robe pressed against my skin.

I couldn’t let him distract me. “But why do I remember things that happened before that? Like I was there. Is that even possible?”

“If you experienced it, then you made it possible, Holly.” His words were soft, and like time, they made me dizzy. “You’re a Bleed.”

My eyes snapped open. “A what?”

“You’re a Bleed. You age much more slowly than mortals, your immortality extends in all directions. Forward, backward, and sideways if it’s possible.”

I had to turn and face him. Rainey would knock on the door any time now, and I needed to wrap this up before she came. She’d warned me stay away from Cash. We’d been fighting too much lately already. I hated it. “How many of us are there?”

“You mean how many of you are there.” Someone knocked on the door softly. I forced my eyes away from Cash, and he stepped back. The knock repeated, more forceful this time. Rainey would be able to sense I wasn’t alone, even if she couldn’t see Cash. “You might be the only one.”

“Then how do you know so much about it?” I kept waiting for the heat to rise in my body, but it didn’t. All the triggers, fear and frustration, were there, but no flames. The knocking became frantic.

“Because I do.” Cash placed my hat back on my head before he headed to the door. His hand was on the doorknob when he turned back to me. “You’ve been patient this long, Holly. I want you to need me.”

 

 

Everything Is Awesome with Julie

TODAY’S BREW: Like, almost none because doctor said *blows raspberries forever*

By Julie

Some days are for talking about how hard everything is. This is not one of those days. Here’s some good stuff that puts a smile on my face right now:

  • I’m running a kick-ass Scholastic Book Fair at my 8 year old’s school this week.
  • Suddenly, I’m super good at making salads.
  • I finally got around to reading THE HUNGER GAMES trilogy and now I’m re-reading it because it’s that good and important.
  • Rosemary Mint shampoo bars from Goat Milk Stuff make my hair as pretty as a princess. http://goatmilkstuff.com/
  • the MTV Movie Awards will be on soon. I love them so much.
  • I edit so many books these days, I never lack for awesome stuff to do.
  • I finished writing my most complex book yet and I can’t wait to finish editing that.
  • artichokes
  • The Age of Ultron is nearing my world.
  • Burt’s Bees lip crayons make me happy to be alive about a hundred times a day.
  • I thought about Atari games for like, twenty minutes today.
  • Robert Downey Jr. just showed up on television and I can’t quite breathe.
  • Robert Downey Jr. just told me on television to define my generation AND OF  COURSE I WILL BECAUSE I’M AWESOME AND YOU TOLD ME TO.
  • hot showers followed by hot coffee
  • my 4 year old is seriously into comic books.
  • I still sing “Happy” every single day
  • I have this kick-ass lizard that I love way too much.
  • my Venus Fly Trap won’t be hibernating any more.
  • the color orange.
  • Got a really complimentary rejection letter from my dream agent. (this does not bother me, it makes me ridiculously happy.)
  • I don’t have any tumors to be removed.

Okay, that’s just some stuff that makes me happy to be alive, and makes me want to be me every damn day. Every once in a while, come right out and say it. Every once in a while stop taking yourself so goddamn seriously.

DOE AND THE PRIDE IS HERE!

I never planned on writing a forth book in this series. I like threes.  Truth be told, I almost didn’t write Cougar and the Lion, either. Things move fast in the shifter world, and I worried that I’d waited too long to introduce everyone to Ari and Dylan. Thank God I ignored that little voice, because you guys really like Ari and Dylan!

When I reached the end of that story, Daphne was screaming at me. She’d been a big part of the plot of Cougar and the Lion, but we never got her opinion on what happened.  Immediately I wrote the first two lines:

One thing is for damn sure.
I’m not going to stay on this mountain with those bitches that tried to kill me. 

Doe and the Pride was born.  I needed to find Daphne and Leo a place they belonged.  We had questions that needed to be answered about Dylan and Leo’s relationship. And I needed to make sure everyone we’d met so far in Woodland Park got a happily ever after. Except for Linnea. I needed to put a boot in her ass.

This book wraps up all the loose ends with the Colorado Shifters, and I’m a little sad about that. This was a series I never expected to write, but I’m so glad I did. It brought a new dimension into my writing. Crafting a novella is completely different than writing a full length novel. I’ve met so many great people because of this series.  And I really love writing about shifters!  I love incorporating the animal traits into their human behavior. It really helped shape each character’s personalities.  My deer tend to be homebodies and very family centric, while my lions are loners that take a lot of risks.

DOE AND THE PRIDE is available now on Amazon and free in Kindle Unlimited! Here’s the blurb and an excerpt from:

One thing is for damn sure.
I’m not going to stay on this mountain with those bitches that tried to kill me. 


It doesn’t matter that Daphne and Leo love each other. Does and lions are not supposed to mate. Daphne’s herd won’t recognize their relationship, while Leo’s pride will stop at nothing to get their point across. They want Daphne dead.
Unsure if she can trust Leo’s twin brother Dylan, Daphne needs to rely on her instincts. Dylan has set his sights on Mount Deception to start a pride of his own. It’s an untamed place that might be the answer to Daphne and Leo’s problems. The mountain offers a prime opportunity to start over, but not everyone is happy about working with outsiders.
As a doe, Daphne can’t physically challenge the cougars that want her gone. But Leo is worth fighting for, and she’s determined to find a place they can call home.Traditions will be shattered, unlikely alliances will be formed, and true love is forever.
D&P_F

One thing is for damn sure.

“I’m not going to stay on this mountain with those bitches that tried to kill me!” I shrieked, pacing the living room. If I wasn’t beyond exhausted, there was a good chance I would have shifted back to doe. But the dried blood from the attack was still on my nose, and the bruises and welts all over my body throbbed. I didn’t have anything left to give tonight.

Leo sat on the couch, looking just as drained as I felt. His head hung as he balanced his elbows on his wide knees. “They aren’t going to get away with this. Calm down, Daphne. Let Ari sleep.”

He couldn’t be serious. I jerked my hand in the direction of our bedroom. We wouldn’t be sleeping in it tonight. “Calm down? Sorry, I can’t be calm right now. That woman is the only reason I’m standing here.”

I’d never met her before tonight. Now I owed her my life. Especially since one was lost while saving mine.

“That’s because Dylan held me back,” Leo growled. He hadn’t talked to his brother in years, but tonight Dylan showed up ready for a fight. The fight that gave the rest of the pride the opportunity to pounce on me.

I knew when I opened my eyes in the forest and saw Leo that my life was going to get complicated. It was our herd’s tradition to shift when we were ready to mate, then to venture into the forest on Halloween night and find him. No one ever expected me to find a lion. In human form, we were just like any other couple. But as animals, we had both Soldier Mountain and my hometown of Woodland Park in an absolute uproar.

“What are you going to do about that?” I stopped my pacing and braced myself for the answer. There was no good one. Dylan was here, spending the night in our bed with his mate, the woman who saved my life.

Leo shook his head. “He fucked things up. Bad.” He and Dylan had talked while I stayed with Ari. She’d been unconscious for hours, lost too much blood and a baby she didn’t even know she was carrying. Fucking things up was an understatement. How Leo could even reason with Dylan after all of that was beyond me. “He swears he didn’t think the girls would take it so far with you. And he had no idea Ari would fight.”

For me. Ever since I’d arrived on Soldier Mountain as Leo’s mate, the cougars of the pride had taken serious issue with me being here. Lions didn’t mate with does. End of story. And does couldn’t beat cougars in a fight. Their threats started off as passive aggressive, but the longer I stayed, the bolder they became. Even though they’d threatened to fight to my death on the full moon, which was last night, I never believed they’d have the guts to actually do it. But as Dylan challenged Leo, the girls saw their chance. One by one they turned cougar, surrounding me while I was still human. Fear always made my doe side rise, and there was no pushing this one down. I shifted.

They attacked, snarling and slashing me with their claws, biting through my fur, sinking their teeth into my flesh. The pain was enough to make me pass out, but I didn’t have that luxury. I have no claws, and my teeth weren’t made for meat. I screamed for Leo, but Dylan had him by the scruff. He couldn’t get to me. I tried to run but the cougars were everywhere. They multiplied when they shifted, I swear. They had me where they wanted me. If Ari hadn’t stepped in, I’m sure I’d be dead.

I collapsed on the couch, and Leo pulled me into him. It seemed like forever since he’d held me, even though it had just been this awful night. I never wanted to let him go. The night sky began to brighten outside our window. He took the blanket off the back of the couch, draped it over me and lay back. He stroked my hair and his body rumbled with a faint purr.

“Did he explain why he did it?” I asked softly. Like he possibly could. It was too much of a coincidence that Dylan showed up on the night of the challenge. Rumors swirled around the pride for weeks that the cougars would try to lay claim to Leo on the night of the full moon, loudly enough for me to catch wind of their plan. We’d known Dylan was in town, but we’d heard nothing from him until tonight. Last night, we tried to go talk to him, but that ended badly, too.

Not as badly as tonight, of course.

Leo sighed. “There’s a lot of old hurt. I’m not innocent in this either. I was a kid, and I did a lot of things I regret. Dylan couldn’t fight for himself, and when our pride fell apart, I didn’t help him.” He stared at the ceiling. “But that doesn’t excuse what he did tonight.”

“Dylan couldn’t fight for himself?” I picked up my head, wrinkling my nose. He was taller than Leo by a couple of inches, and solid muscle. “I find that hard to believe.”

“He was the runt.” Leo and Dylan were twins, and while they shared similar features, they were by no means identical. Leo was in amazing shape, basically a professional athlete, but he was leaner than Dylan. Leo’s shaggy blond hair was curly, and Dylan’s was darker, long and wavy. They both had the same hazel eyes. “He was small, skinny, and unsure of himself. I was ashamed of him. The cubs in the pride picked on him, and I made things worse. When the attacks started in our pride, our parents sent us away. He wanted to stay with me. I said no.” The last word broke.

“This isn’t your fault.” I couldn’t imagine Leo being a bully, even though that’s what he was claiming. He always treated everyone with kindness and respect. Well, except for those crazy cougar bitches. They got what they deserved. “He’s an adult now, and he shouldn’t have come up here with his claws out.”

“Right. He says he wants to make things better and be in my life, but after tonight’s stunt, I’m not sure what he really wants,” Leo said, his eyelids fluttering in a fight to stay open.

It made perfect sense for me to tell Leo to forget about his brother. But it wasn’t that easy. I had three little sisters. They were much younger than me so we never fought, but I couldn’t imagine turning my back on them for any reason. Leo had already done it to Dylan once. I couldn’t suggest he do it again.

Ari, Dylan’s mate, was the only cougar willing to fight for me. That meant more to me than I even had words for. I didn’t want to walk away from her. She wouldn’t be welcome on Soldier Mountain anymore, either.

And I meant what I said. I wasn’t staying on this mountain. Leo may have learned his lesson about loyalty late, but I was his claimed mate. He was coming with me.

Need to pick up the rest of the series?  They’re all in Kindle Unlimited, so you can borrow for free. You can download the Kindle app to any device for free. If you see me out in the wild and I’m staring at my phone, chances are I’m reading something dirty.
Lion and the Doe
Doe and the Hunter
Cougar and the Lion

Post-Easter It with Mina Vaughn

TODAY’S BREW: The Vanilla of France

By Julie

Start your post-Eastering off right. Have some fun. HERE’S HOW:

GET YOUR COPY FOR $1.99

In this saucy and funny domination romance, pin-up model Veronika Kane meets sexy, arrogant Aston Delano and decides to teach this playboy a lesson he’ll never forget. When Veronika Kane hears that she’s up for Miss Pin Up Las Vegas, she auctions off her classic hot-rod and decides to head out west. But when the man who bought her car, hot restaurateur Aston Delano, asks her to “show him the ropes,” his not-so-innocent question takes them down a surprising, sexy road. And as they travel cross-country as Domme/sub, their chemistry sizzles—as do the luscious meals Aston creates. Torn between the rediscovered pleasure of food and worry about staying in competition shape, Mistress Veronika unexpectedly finds herself as much a pupil as a teacher. Throw in long-distance trouble from her ex and from Aston’s family, and it’s a potential recipe for disaster. A road trip can be hard on any relationship—will this drive them apart, or will they buckle in for the long haul?

GET YOURS FOR $1.99 TODAY! http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00LD1OQE6/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_dp_TPPivb01Z5KKZ 

Bio:

mina bio

Kink with a Wink!  Author of the Domme Nation series with Simon and Schuster.  Mina Vaughn is an international woman of mystery and a shoe whore with a heart of gold. When she’s not writing her unique brand of silly smut, she’s plundering Sephora for any pin up girl makeup she can find. The third novel in the Domme Nation series is How to Punish Your Playboy, a fun, sexy romp about a pin up girl and an arrogant restaurateur on a road trip to some…new territories.

March Madness Flash Fiction: SCAVENGERS by Christi Frey

TODAY’S BREW: Macadamia nut something

By Julie

This is it! The last day of March and the last story of our flash fiction challenge! And this one is a whopper. I grinned like an idiot when I read it. It’s by the mastermind Christi Frey, who never ceases to amaze me with how much and what she can do. Check Christi out on Twitter http://t.co/778R9jx0LX and http://t.co/778R9jx0LX.

 SCAVENGERS

by Christi Frey

Scavengers, I thought scathingly.

“Go away,” I told them. “I don’t have anything what you’re looking for.”

Bits of string. A couple of metal rings about an inch in diameter. Some ocular glass for an old telescope whose casing had long since rotted away. A dozen odd sized screws from the heaps. And the one thing I hid from everyone. Those were the things I carried.

The first of the scavengers showed up yesterday. Then another. Then a few more over night, until I figured there were a few dozen all told. Flitting through the heaps. Watching. Waiting.

I thought I was safe enough, at the time. Didn’t think scavengers would jump unless they saw you were crippled. I was wrong. And I’d never been that deep in the heaps before. It was too late to get out.

They gathered round, eyes unblinking, persistent as a herd of pigeons. As a flock of rats. One from behind jumped and pecked at my old leather satchel. I whirled and kicked at it, missed. The next one bit my ankle – I caught it with a boot and it flew out of the circle, scrabbled to its feet and came again with all the others.

I hit at them with the bag, battered three at a swing but they were leaping, pecking, little claws gouging, the bony weight of all of them pulling me down.

I panicked. I mean, some part of me panicked. The other part just watched. It knew what was coming next. That other part – the part where all the feelings died – it takes care of you, in times like these. It steps in. It says, Go home. Don’t watch. I’ll take over now.

I saw it happen as though from a great height. The skittering herd. The blasted wasteland. The slag heaps. The small, lonely figure lashing out as it disappeared beneath a furry grey boil. The mad search for something.

*   *   *

When I came to I was flat on my back, with that puke-it-up feeling you get when it seems the earth might actually be up, the sky down, and somehow you’re pressed against the ceiling. White light searing on cement-baked ground. The world’s worst hangover. You press your palms into the gravel and wait for it to stop spinning. Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn’t. You roll over and slowly put your head up anyway.

Little roast carcasses littered the ground. There was a blast circle of scorched earth, and I was at the center of it. Scattered bits of fur and feathers. A bloody beak here, an unblinking eye there. My bag was gone.

I groped at my neck. The string – still there. The little pouch I’d dropped beneath my shirt, a single bit of rolled paper inside. I pulled it out.

Not a map. Not even a picture. But the only thing I’d ever found in this godforsaken heap that contained a real, living memory. The only thing that ever pulled me back from the madness. The thing that no one else could have: a childish scrawl of red crayon on a piece of faded paper.

All it said was “HOME”.

March Madness Flash Fiction: CRUSH DEPTH by Mairi Kilaine

TODAY’S BREW: So much.

By Julie

Mairi Kilaine is such a comfort of a person. I get warm all over when I talk to her. Not like that. Good lord, you guys. But she’s reassured me more times than I can count, and been a backbone for me when I needed one. You can pick up the anthology CHRISTMAS NOOKIES (Best title ever) to see some of her work! http://www.amazon.com/Christmas-Nookies-Holiday-Reads-Book-ebook/dp/B00Q80PRSQ/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1424718727&sr=1-1&keywords=christmas+nookies but find her budding blog here http://www.mairikilaine.wordpress.com/ and definitely find her on twitter https://twitter.com/Mairvin. Love you Mairi.

CRUSH DEPTH

 by Mairi Kilaine

   crush depth: the depth at which a submarine’s hull collapses due to pressure

As a child, my greatest fear was immaculate conception. My family isn’t religious, so I’m not sure where this came from. Even at the naive age of 8, I thought that sharing my fear with my parents would be akin to preemptively covering my tracks. I spent hours figuring out how to explain to my parents that I’d been spiritually knocked up. Perhaps if I’d had a personal relationship with God, He could let them know it was all cool.

As a teenager, I laughingly explained my childhood fear to my dad, though a tiny part of me still cringed when I thought of it. My dad, the scholar, explained that it was impossible. Not because God didn’t exist, but because The Immaculate Conception is a term that can only be ascribed to Mary and her status as a woman without sin. If I were to become inexplicably pregnant, it would be parthenogenesis. I would like to say this was comforting, but it only served to create a parallel phobia of scientifically impossible and spiritual pregnancies. How would I be able to tell the two apart? I shoplifted some gum, just in case.

I’m not pregnant and never have been. This isn’t the story of how I brought forth a demigod or defied science by naturally producing a clone of myself. I’d also like to point out that I’m not afraid of a naturally occurring pregnancy. I feel like you need to know this about me to truly understand what was going through my mind when my period stopped, my guts went haywire, and my abdomen swelled while on a four-month journey with an all-female crew, having crossed however many leagues beneath the sea.

I didn’t tell Doc what I really suspected. I played it cool and lobbed out less terrifying suspicions like a massive uterine tumor or acute liver disease. It didn’t help that she was stumped. Her testing capabilities were limited and we wouldn’t surface for another three days.

“Do you have a history of anxiety?”

“No,” I said. “Should I not be anxious about this? Because it feels like I should be anxious.”

“I was thinking it might be psychosomatic, like a hysterical pregnancy. I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?”

“Sorry. I really hated my Psych rotation. Between you and me and the deep blue sea, I barely passed that shelf exam. A six week rotation at the VA would drive anybody crazy.”

Doc was great. I don’t want to give the impression that she was unpleasant or bad at her job, but she wasn’t a psychologist. We were all restricted to the very specific jobs we’d been trained to do, but just enough to pass our tests. None of us had active experience.

We weren’t analyzing data or tracking enemy vessels or observing the effects of deep sea diving on hamsters. If anything, we were the guinea pigs, an all-female crew, test subjects for new air circulators in the racks where we slept. Still, I felt lucky for the opportunity. I didn’t want to jeopardize my chances for future missions.

I kept it between Doc and me.

#

Everyone had put on some weight, but I was getting self-conscious about my belly. I started doing crunches in between racks while DeMello was on watch. I was on my sixth rep when DeMello burst into our berthing compartment and slammed the hatch. Her hand was clamped against her mouth. She shook her head at the sight of me.

“What’s wrong? Are you ok?”

I scrambled up to sweep the dark curls from her face. Her normally warm brown skin was ashen and she pleaded for help with her eyes. I eased her fingers from her lips, revealing her teeth, which hung loosely like chimes dangling in the breeze.

“Want me to get Doc?”

She nodded, tears pouring down her cheeks, dotting her blue coveralls.

It took me longer than expected to track down the good doctor. She was sequestered in Captain Marksman’s stateroom and you don’t just enter the Captain’s closed stateroom. The thought of DeMello’s pendulous teeth prodded me along and I knocked, opening a crack as I did. “Excuse me, Ma’am. It’s an emergency. DeMello is-”

The Captain was laid out, pant legs pushed up as high as they could go. Her face was hard, but tear tracks were still visible on her cheeks. Doc hunched over her knees. I say, ‘her knees,’ but in reality it was where her knees should have been. Her kneecaps had slid out of place, one down her shin and the other drooping to the side. Sweat drenched Doc’s collar.

“We’ve had quite a few of those. I’ll see her in a moment. Gather available crew in the crew’s mess.”

#

“At least twelve of our eighty-eight submariners have experienced fear-based medical anomalies. At this point, I think it’s fair to suspect that we are the ones being monitored, not the circulation machines.”

“This is stupid.” Chief Machinist’s Mate Moser, lead tech for all those machines, rose from her bench seat, rattling the table as she stalked out of the mess. Doc eyed Moser who wiped sweat from her brow as she fled.

“Anyone else-” Doc started.

“Yes!” Cookie yelped. She leapt up from behind the mess counter, pushing through the crowd and opening her coveralls. Her normally smooth, ochre stomach was marred by an outcropping of small, bloodless holes.

Doc rose suddenly and tore out of the mess. I jumped to follow, hand instinctively on my swollen belly. I caught only the tail end of their argument up above before Doc came crashing down the ladder from the upper deck. Moser stumbled down after and checked her vitals, but it was too late. Doc was gone. Moser’s whole body convulsed as she let out a keening wail.

“Please don’t send me to the brig!”

I couldn’t breathe. Three more days until surfacing.

March Madness Flash Fiction: EMILY by Jolene Haley

TODAY’S BREW: Fancee Mistobox coffee

By Julie

I can’t trust myself not to go on and on about Jolene Haley because my heart bursts with love for the girl. When I was having my roughest time she got a bunch of folks to write what they love about me and made an entire Friday event out of it. She’s there for all of us, whenever we need it, but without that do-gooder vibe that makes a person run, you know? And her jokes are the dirtiest. The DIRTIEST. And there is nothing she doesn’t do. The girl is a miracle. And then she goes and writes stuff like this. Raw, but polished and frightening and heavy-hearted. Beautiful.

EMILY

by Jolene Haley

Crazy.

It’s whispered behind my back. It’s written on my charts. It’s murmured from professional to professional as they discuss me.

I don’t feel crazy.

I don’t look crazy. I‘m just an average teenage girl. Long blond hair. Brown eyes. Freckle-faced.

I’m not like the rest of the people locked away in Friendly Hills Mental Institution. For one, I don’t walk around drooling or screaming.

One of my favorite authors wrote something that fits these people perfectly. They’re “like haunted houses. The lights were on but no one was home.” That’s what it’s like here. I’m stuck in a house of horrors, complete with wailing.

I’m not dangerous like they say. It’s all a misunderstanding. If they ask Emily, she’ll tell you.

“Layla,” a soothing voice says.  “Ready for your three o’clock?”

Every Tuesday and Thursday at three o’clock sharp I see Dr. Novak, the resident psychologist.

No. I’m not ready.

I hate the doctor. He isn’t making me better. He makes everything worse.

Everyone at Friendly Hills knows that you have to go willingly. If you don’t, you still go. But with a new syringe mark in your flesh.

I slide the paperback back on to the shelf. I’ve read every book in the building three times. Maybe four.

“Sure,” I say, forcing a smile. “I’m ready.”

I know where the psychologist’s office is but the nurse escorts me anyways. The white walls and white floor are accented by white, tattered curtains moving gently in recycled air.

Before I know it, I’m outside the office. The blond woman in scrubs opens the heavy metal door.

I slip through the entrance, letting the door thud close behind me. This entire place smells like burst water pipes and mold.

An empty desk and rusty folding chairs are scattered around the waiting room. There’s another door to the left. This one is propped open. It’s the doctor’s office, so I walk in.

The round, middle aged man stands when I appear.

“Ah, Ms. Barnes,” the man says. Like he didn’t know that I’d be here. Like it’s some sort of pleasant surprise. But it’s Thursday, at 3:00. We both know better. We’ve had this schedule for the last six months.

“Dr. Novak.”

“How are you doing today?” he asks, almost like he genuinely cares. A warm smile spreads across his rosy cheeks. I want to cringe. I want to scream.

Instead I bite my cheeks and reply. “Great.”

He sits back in his seat, his large belly extending over his khaki pants.

“Well, you’re certainly looking well.” Dr. Novak’s eyes travel from my face downward. A shiver runs up my spine. Dr. Novak grins, his lips pulling up at the sides, displaying his yellow teeth.

My eyes slide over his desk. Messy stacks of paper, Bent manila folders full of secrets, stories. I hate that my entire life boils down to one fucking folder, strewn on his desk.

“Why don’t you shut the door,” the doctor suggests.

I didn’t like shutting that door. Nothing good comes after the door is shut.

“No,” I tell him.

A smile spreads on his face in such a strange way, it looks like a snarl. “I can help make you better, Layla. I can fix you.”

“There’s nothing wrong with me.” I’ve told him that since the day I arrived.

“Your family doesn’t see it that way,” the doctor says matter-of-factly. “After all, it’s my report that can get you out of here. Don’t you want a good report?”

Movement catches my attention. We aren’t alone. Emily is here too, peeking out from behind the curtains. How did she sneak in without getting caught? Emily is great at sneaking.

Her long brown hair is stringy and she looks pale. Her hospital gown sags on her shoulders but it doesn’t matter. She’s my best friend. I love her. She won’t let the doctor hurt me.

“I said, shut the door Layla,” Dr. Novak repeats. He’s growing impatient.

I nod and pad over to the wooden door. I peek my head out. My heart sinks. The waiting room is still empty. There’s no one around to help me if I need it. I close the door behind me.

“Pull down the shade,” Dr. Novak instructs me.

I pull it down and turn, leaning against the door. My heart is racing.

Emily gifts me an encouraging smile. One that is wordless but says everything. I’ll protect you. Just like I always do.

“Come here,” the doctor orders.

I want to throw up. Every bone in my body screams for me to run. But where? Every white corridor only leads to three more. Every door is locked. Every window has bars.

“Come here girl,” the doctor orders. “You don’t want me to tell your family that you’ve sunken worse into your madness, do you? Come.”

Come, I think bitterly. Like a dog. Like an obedient pet. I am to come, stay, sit, and roll over whenever he commands.

My gaze travels above the doctor’s head and they’re met by warm brown eyes. Emily moves out from behind the curtain, beckoning me closer.

I take a step towards them both. Then another.

The doctor narrows his eyes at me. “What are you looking at?” He sits up in his chair and turns. I’m afraid that he’ll see her, that we’ll be caught. I don’t want Emily to get in trouble.

Dr. Novak’s gaze moves straight past her, before turning back to me with a look of confusion.

For an all-seeing doctor, he sure is blind. Emily’s right there. Right behind him. And she doesn’t look happy.

Emily lifts her arm and brings it to her neck, dragging her finger across her throat. Then she points at Dr. Novak.

I shake my head. I hate the doctor. But that doesn’t mean I want him dead. Or maybe I just don’t want to be the one to kill him.

Emily won’t understand. She doesn’t forgive. She doesn’t forget. And Emily wants Dr. Novak dead.

Emily points to the doctor’s desk.

My eyes wander over the mess. Amongst the files and papers there is one thing that catches my attention: a pair of large, sharp scissors.

“Layla, come here now,” the doctor demands, frustrated. “You’re being naughty. You ought to listen to your doctor. I know best.”

Dr. Novak settles back in his chair, tilting it so far backwards that for a moment I’m afraid that he’ll topple over into Emily.

I tiptoe to the edge of his desk, a scream settling in my throat. After all, who will hear? It’s no use. I don’t like to fight it. The doctor likes a struggle.

I run my fingers along the desk. The scissors are close. Very close. I can have them in my hands in a matter of seconds.

Emily nods encouragingly. Her nod says it for her, “Do it. End him. He doesn’t deserve to live.”

I don’t want to hurt anyone. Just like I didn’t want to hurt anyone last time. But Emily is never wrong.

“That’s it, girl,” Dr. Novak murmurs. “Just a little closer so we can begin our session.” He chuckles. I grimace.

“Do it,” Emily whispers. Dr. Novak doesn’t seem to notice.

I step around the desk stopping inches from his chair. He clasps his sweaty hand around my wrist. “Thata girl,” Dr. Novak coos.

“If you don’t, I will,” Emily warns me, standing right behind him. “And I’ll make him suffer.”

My eyes travel back to the scissors. They’ll do the job nicely.

Dr. Novak places one of my hands on his knee.

“He deserves it! He hurt me too. Don’t let him get away with it!” Emily’s shouting now. Her brown eyes are darker, cold. Her wispy hair is swaying, like there’s a draft in this windowless room. “Do it! Kill him!” she screams.

Emily’s right. He deserves it.

The doctor chuckles, grabbing my hand and inching it down his thigh. Then, he releases me, wrapping his hands around the back of his neck. He trusts me to keep going. He knows that I don’t want a bad report.

“Now!” Emily screams. Her dark eyes gleaming with bloodlust. “Just there,” she points to the doctor’s neck. “Jam them right in and twist.”

I keep my right hand on the doctor’s leg and with my left, I grab the scissors.

I stare at his neck, covered tightly with a stained button-down shirt and tie. The veins in his neck are crimson streams that soon will be set free.

I raise my hand, the shining scissors clasped tightly.

This is for Emily.

Emily dances with glee behind the doctor, waiting for the moment to come. She’s enjoying this. She always does.

“Doctor,” I say quietly, so not to alarm him.

“Yes?” he asks. His eyes are still shut. A smug smile is plastered on his face.

I clear my throat and perfect my aim. “I think my madness is getting worse.”

Emily rears her head back, screaming in laughter. She knows I’m not crazy. She knows that he deserves this.

The doctor’s eyes snap and land on the scissors pointed at his neck.

Before he has time to react, Emily grabs my hand. Just like last time. Just like all the other times. Before I can blink, the scissors are in his neck. Twisting. Turning. Setting his sin free, which comes out in squirts.

Emily’s hand is still on mine, pushing the scissors deeper.

“Oh yes,” she laughs. “Your madness is much worse.”

She giggles so loud it muffles the other sounds. The drips. Gurgles. Murmurs. Pleas.

I realize Emily isn’t the only one laughing. I am too. Giggling. Dancing.

Emily and I whirl around, holding the scissors in the air like a treasured pet.

The door opens, the blond nurse from earlier gasps. Her face twists up in horror and fear. She plasters herself against the office door. She screams.

I look over at Emily. Maybe she has an escape plan. But there, just where she was a moment before, she is gone.

Emily is gone.

Jolene Haley is an author and the curator of the best-selling horror anthology The Dark Carnival through Pen & Muse Press. She also runs a YA horror blog The Midnight Society and the author resource site Pen & Muse.. She writes every genre under the sun, but prefers horror. When she’s not writing she can be found cuddling her two dogs and enjoying the beach, where she lives.

Founder of The Midnight Society  |   Co-founder of Pen & Muse
Also hangs at JoleneHaley.com    |   Moonbeams & Mischief 
Tweet me!  @JoleneHaley 

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