The Last Starling
The shed door creaks as Dad swings it open. Heaving Jordy inside, I lay him on the dirt floor and peel off his covers. Heat rises from his body as I strip him down. I check his pulse—steady—and roll him onto his stomach, turning his face to one side. Balling up his sheets and clothing, I race outside and hand them to Mom.
She takes them in numb silence. The shed door closes with a bang, but she doesn’t flinch. She just turns and walks back to the house, Pip at her heels. My heart aches for her. She shouldn’t have to do this. Her life shouldn’t include leaving her disabled son naked in the dirt, alone, with a Shift coming and nothing to ease his pain.
“Jayce. It’s time.”
The strain in my dad’s voice knocks me back to reality. He’s kneeling beside the shed, fully undressed, his back arched. He groans, and I know what I have to do.
My heart pounds.
I shed the last of my clothing, then drop to my hands and knees. The wild thump of my heart initiates the process. Blood races through my body, activating the gene that jump-starts my transformation. Every inch of my skin tingles, itches, thickens.
Fine brown hair sprouts from my body. Claws force their way through my fingers and toes. My ears throb with pain as they widen, then extend into points. The cartilage in my nose bellows out. Elongates. Makes it hard to breathe. I open my mouth and suck in a lungful of cool air.
The exterior is done.
Now for the hellish part.
My back arches. I cry out as the bones in my spine crack. They start at the top of my neck and work their way down, breaking. Reforming. My tailbone fills out. It lengthens, piercing my skin, and I yelp. Dig my hands and knees into the grass.
Groan. Sweat profusely.
Muscles knot and twist. My body hitches as each bone in my ribcage expands, creating a chest cavity with room for bigger, stronger lungs. Arm bones break. Then the ones in my legs. They reshape, curving into limbs that can run like the wind. My hands and feet lengthen, my heels push up. Snout extends.
The morphing of my internal organs is excruciating. Liver, lungs, stomach, eyes—they go from human to canine in seconds. In those seconds, I can’t move or breathe. Time stops. The world blurs.
My existence reduces to one blinding pinpoint of pain.
I come out of it with a snort. Shake out my body, look around. The yard is different, ripe with colors I didn’t see before and smells that weren’t as strong. My ears twitch as they pick up the sound of an approaching vehicle. Dad is already loping for the house. I test my muscles, find them strong, and follow him.
We stop at the porch. Gramps is there, waiting on the truck that careens to a halt in the driveway. Two husky males—my uncle and cousin—jump out and race for us. They shuck their clothes.
Drop to the ground.
As they Shift, my wolf-eyes scan the trees for Boo. He’s always around for the hunt, and we understand each other better when I’m like this. Spying him in the tree line, I chuff softly at him. He hoots back a reply. He’s ready.
So are we.
Gramps projects a wolf-thought to bring us close. He sniffs the air, and we do the same. The smell of the Trespasser is still there. Dark and menacing. Something lurks in the Starling, a territory long forbidden to those who drink blood to survive. My pack growls in unison. For us, this is more than just a threat.
It’s an insult.
Tipping back his head, Gramps draws a deep breath. He expels it in one long, drawn-out howl. A howl that pierces the night, uniting us as a pack and sending a message to our enemy. We know you’re out there, it says. You’re not welcome here.
Dad sprints for the woods. We follow in pack hierarchy—my uncle, then me, my cousin last. Our minds link, connecting mentally to each other and Gramps.
As we break through the tree line, our Alpha howls again. One last time. A message to the creature roaming our hallowed ground.
We’re coming for you.
The Rebound Effect
by Linda Griffin
Genre: Romantic Suspense, Psychological Thriller
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press, Inc
Publication Date: July 15, 2019
In the small town of Cougar, struggling single mother and veterinary assistant Teresa Lansing is still bruised from a failed relationship when Frank McAllister sweeps her off her feet.
Frank is a big-city SWAT officer who moved to Cougar only four months ago. He's handsome, charming, forceful, very sexy, and a bit mysterious. He had his eye on Teresa even before they met and is pushing for a serious relationship right away.
Teresa finds his intense courtship flattering, and the sex is fabulous, but she doesn't want her deaf six-year-old son to be hurt again. Her former fiancé cheated on her when he got drunk after being unjustly fired, but he loves her and her son, and the whirlwind romance is complicated by his efforts to win Teresa back.
And then there's the matter of the bodies buried at Big Devil Creek…
I was born and raised in San Diego, California and earned a BA in English from San Diego State University and an MLS from UCLA. I began my career as a reference and collection development librarian in the Art and Music Section of the San Diego Public Library and then transferred to the Literature and Languages Section, where I had the pleasure of managing the Central Library's Fiction collection and initiating fiction order lists for the entire library system. Although I also enjoy reading biography, memoir, and history, fiction remains my first love. In addition to the three R's--reading, writing, and research--I enjoy Scrabble, movies, and travel.
My earliest ambition was to be a "book maker" and I wrote my first story, "Judy and the Fairies," with a plot stolen from a comic book, at the age of six. I broke into print in college with a story in the San Diego State University literary journal, The Phoenix, but most of my magazine publications came after I left the library to spend more time on my writing
My stories have been published in numerous journals, including Eclectica, The Binnacle, The Nassau Review, Orbis, Thema Literary Journal, and forthcoming in Avalon Literary Review, and and in the anthologies Short Story America, Vol. 2 and The Captive and the Dead. Four stories, including two as yet unpublished, received honorable mention in the Short Story America Prize for Short Fiction contests.
Member of RWA and Authors Guild
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To Weave a Highland Tapestry
A Tale from the Order of the Dragon Knights
by Mary Morgan
Genre: Time Travel/Scottish Medieval/Paranormal Romance
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press, Inc
Publication Date: December 9, 2019
Patrick MacFhearguis, hardened by battles won and lost, desires what he can never have—peace within his heart and soul. Yet, the ever-meddling Fae weave a new journey for him to conquer—a task this Highlander is determined to resist.
When skilled weaver, Gwen Hywel, is commissioned to create a tapestry for the MacFhearguis clan she embraces the assignment. While seeking out ideas, she finds herself clutching the one thread that can alter the tapestry of her heart and life.
A man conflicted by past deeds. A woman with no family of her own. Is it possible for love to unravel an ancient past in order to claim two badly scarred hearts? Or will the light of hope be doused forever?
Award-winning Celtic paranormal and fantasy romance author, Mary Morgan, resides in Northern California with her own knight in shining armor. However, during her travels to Scotland, England, and Ireland, she left a part of her soul in one of these countries and vows to return.
Mary's passion for books started at an early age along with an overactive imagination. Inspired by her love for history and ancient Celtic mythology, her tales are filled with powerful warriors, brave women, magic, and romance. It wasn't until the closure of Borders Books where Mary worked that she found her true calling by writing romance. Now, the worlds she created in her mind are coming to life within her stories.
If you enjoy history, tortured heroes, and a wee bit of magic, then time-travel within the pages of her books.
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Once in a Lifetime Opportunity
by Jessica Hardy as told to Lizzie Ashworth
Publication Date: November 4, 2019
In the mid-20th century, an entire generation of women found themselves caught up in a revolution. Young women tossed aside society’s rules that had governed women with an iron hand for hundreds of years. Suddenly women had agency, the right to their own identity. And their own sexual adventures. The story of Jessica Hardy and her seven-year marriage to Parker Grant brings that enormous cultural shift down to the personal level. As she enters college in 1966, Jessica is desperate to break out of her strict upbringing. Parker is her salvation, a graduating senior who becomes the love of her life. Newly married, they immerse in Parker’s duties as an air force officer and a world of their own making—nights in Las Vegas, windy Pacific beaches, and long summer days in the Philippine Islands. Slowly, with Parker’s encouragement, Jessica gains self-confidence and a sense of herself. But Jessica has a problem. She wants more. More knowledge, more experience, autonomy. Leaving no stone unturned, Jess breaks one rule after another—illegal abortion, drugs, one man then another, even time in jail. It’s an unexpected spiritual awakening that opens the door to the rest of her life. Once in a Lifetime Opportunity reveals this tumultuous time in a gut-wrenching portrayal of a woman determined to find her own way and the man who loved her.
Early years of my life raced by with little time for writing as I pursued a technical career, raised children, and made questionable progress in learning to paint. Finally with time to write, I dedicate myself to stories of pleasure as well as the occasional editing project. I enjoy cooking, gardening, and time at the Pacific coast. Sunrise and sunset bring special moods, the twilight between two worlds--fully of creative energy. I love snuggling up with a good book most of all--and a cat or two.
Lullabies for Suffering: Tales of Addiction Horror
Monsters by Caroline Kepnes
You are a virgin. You are eighteen years old and you’ve never done anything remotely criminal. Yes, you ate too many Devil Dogs, you played alone, and you got fat. But you lost five pounds before starting college. You’ve been there for your mother. You’re there for her right now, in line with her at TJ Maxx. She likes to shop every time she comes home from rehab. You say you believe it when she says, “this time it sticks.” You aren’t lying to her. You aren’t faking it. Every time feels like the time that it will stick and this time is no different. She pays for a bigger bathing suit—detox makes her thighs rub together—and she laughs with the woman at the register. The laughter is a good sign, a sign that it will stick. You pick at pink bubblegum that someone pressed under the counter. It sticks. Gum is sticky. There is no such thing as gum that doesn’t stick.
Your mom swings her bag of new bathing suits in the air. “Come on!” she says. “Let’s get outta here!”
Outside, it’s summer, your first summer as a college student. You walk with your mother like you never left, like you’re the same old kid. She picks up a penny and you never do things like that. You wish you were more like her, that she was more like you. Her sobriety never sticks and your virginity always sticks and she elbows you.
“Why so quiet?”
“You want to get ice cream?”
You don’t want ice cream but you want her to stay home so you say that you do. She drives the car. You ride shotgun, the virgin and the cokehead. You have never even smoked a cigarette and your mother has had so much sex. When she’s clean the men are tidy and cold. They come from the Internet and they don’t stay long. When she’s using, the men are filthy and relaxed, like henchmen in a movie. There was that guy in the wife-beater who pissed on the deck. There was that married guy who wore suits and didn’t take off his wedding ring when he sat on the sofa and hogged your TV.
“Soft or hard?” your mother wants to know.
She giggles like a kid at school. That’s always her joke when you come to this place where they have ice cream that needs scooping and ice cream that comes from a machine.
“Hard,” you say because no matter what you say she’s gonna elbow you and embarrass you in front of the younger girl who’s making your ice cream, blushing. There is no indoor seating area and you are jealous of the girl inside, roofed in. You bet her mother isn’t a cokehead and then you turn red because what a mean thing to think you fucking virgin, you fucking loser.
Your mother’s cone arrives first and your mind is full of dirty words, a car wash in reverse where the vehicles emerge covered in shit, in mud. Your mother licks her cone—vanilla—and if you weren’t a virgin, you wouldn’t notice the tip of her tongue. She wants to sit at a picnic table and she gets everything she wants when she’s clean, when she can’t have the one thing she actually wants: Coke. Blow. A bump.
Your cone isn’t dripping and her cone is dripping and you sit across from each other like two people on a date except this isn’t a date.
“Hey,” she says. “Maybe we should get one of those Slip ‘N Slides.”
A couple of nasty boys who can’t be older than twelve laugh at you, what a loser, he’s here with his mom. You wish you were twelve. When you were twelve you didn’t worry about being a virgin because twelve-year-olds can be virgins.
Your mother crumples up her napkin and hurls it at the boys and they leave.
You shouldn’t disagree with her. Not when she just got home and the sky is hot and she has a brand new bathing suit and rehab is sticking. But those boys got to you, those kids who get to be the kid that you never were, free and mean. You bark at your mother because you didn’t have the balls to bark at them. “I’m too old for a Slip ‘N Slide.”
“Don’t be like that,” she says. “Don’t care so much about what other people think.”
“I don’t care.”
“Yeah, you do and what a waste. What do you care if the neighbors see us having some fun? They’ll probably wanna come over.”
You used to stay with the Pyles who live up the street when your mom went away. You picture Mrs. Pyle in a one-suit, wet, in your back yard. “No they won’t.”
Your mother shrugs. You’re right. No one in the neighborhood wants to come over. They’ve seen too many random cars in the driveway, sometimes black and whites with the red lights blasting shadows into the other homes. It’s too quiet now. Your mother is bored of her ice cream, but she eats it anyway. You can’t think of anything to say to her and you worked so hard to lose all that pudding on your belly this year. You don’t want the ice cream but you eat the ice cream because you’re a bad son. You don’t believe it will stick. Not anymore. Not with her wanting to slide on a plastic tarp in the back yard. That’s who she is, isn’t it? She wants to slide, she doesn’t want to stick. She pulls at her bra strap.
“Well, we have to do something. The weather guy says it’s only gonna get hotter tomorrow and we can’t get the AC fixed. I have to pay the electric, the gas bill, too.”
Your house isn’t yours, not really. Your grandmother gave it to your mom when she died, when you were in pull-ups. It still smells like a grandmother, like the house doesn’t want to belong to you, to your mom who can’t take good care of it. The words plop out of your mouth like upchuck. “I’m sorry.”
Your mother stares at you. Her hair is wiry and her eyes are clear. They’re so much scarier when she’s clean, when she sees you, when she’s not looking at you through a hazy veil of bloodshot eyes with her nose dripping and her skin sweaty. “Sorry for what?” she wants to know.
You can’t think of anything smart to say and you don’t want to say anything stupid and when she decides to go out later that night, it is your fault. All you had to do was say you wanted a Slip‘N Slide. When she comes home loud and not alone—he’s filthy, he wears boots in summer—she is high and you know she’s high by the sound of her giggles. She’s a toilet that won’t stop running and there’s nothing you can do to slow the pace of her speech, to stop the chop, chop, chopping of her credit card. You hear him next, whoever he is, kicking off his boots and snorting your mother’s stash. So you stay in your room. You don’t play music to block out the sound of them fucking. You deserve to listen to it. You are a criminal, the worst son on planet earth. You are a virgin and everything bad in this world, in this house, in your dirty mind, in your mother’s bloodstream, it’s all your fault because she was clean until you turned your back on her at that picnic table, until you refused to get on her side. When the filthy guy sticks his dick in her, when he grunts and you hear the headboard slam into the wall, you get hard and you put your hands on your body and those boys were right to laugh at you today. They’re normal. You’re the freak.
Lizard by Mark Matthews
“Do you know what I am going to do to you?” Agent Baker asked in a voice that had sunk seven layers deep.
Baker stepped forward. Amy had no room to retreat. She was fully cornered, exposed, and sat helpless as Baker took hold of her trembling hand. With a fingertip, she traced Amy’s vein, inching slowly from her wrist toward the sweet spot of the needle mark. She reached the syringe, grasped it inside her fist, then plucked it out.
“Do you know what I am going to do to you?” Baker repeated.
Amy shook her head, because she didn’t know.
“I am going to help you. You will never be sick again. Never.”
Never sick again. Never sick again—the phrase somehow made Amy’s fear bleed out of her body, and she looked up at Baker like a starving baby waiting to be fed. Baker was an infinite mother, a sexless lover, knowing her in ways never before possible. The feel of Baker’s fingertips had been surprisingly soft, warm, tender. It brought back memories of Joshua as an infant, his flesh pressed against hers when he was minutes old, fresh from her womb, moist with the miracle of life. The breastfeeding that followed was abandoned too early when dehydration hit.
But it was okay.
Joshua was going to be okay. Everything was going to be okay.
Baker held the needle with the tip sticking out between her fingers, and plunged the syringe towards Amy’s eye. Her eyelid snapped shut, but the needle poked right through the tiny film of skin. Pluck. She could hear it penetrating into her moist eyeball, the pain piercing as if she’d been stabbed in the heart. Baker tugged it out, just a touch, and then pushed it in deeper, right through her eye socket, again and again, until she finally pulled the needle out entirely. The syringe dripped with moisture.
“You’ve had your chance.” Baker attacked again.
Amy raised a hand but was too slow to defend her other eye when the syringe stabbed inside. A milky-white liquid mixed with crimson blood leaked out her eye, dripped down her cheek, then streamed into her mouth which had opened to scream. With each new stab, a new pitch out of her mouth, screaming Joshua’s name to help her, pleading apologies, rattling the bathroom walls with howls, sure that the gods would hear her pain and save her, but instead the snake bites of the needle came in rapid fire to all parts of her body. Baker pulled the needle out each time and found new, fresh skin to puncture.
Amy collapsed to the ground a ripped-open ragdoll. Her veins had been sliced apart, her flesh speckled in bloody red holes, her arms held out in front of her as if in offering. Her face was stuck in silent peace, a permanent sleep, the fluid of her life running in tiny red streams and puddling on the white tile. She’d been blinded and unable to see the bathroom door swing open and her son standing in the doorway, looking at her one last time before she died.
I was ten when I watched my cousin die. Granted, at the time I didn’t know the kid I’d seen through a light blue haze was a member of my family. To me, he was just a stranger, like all the rest. A specter sent from the depths of my brain to wake me up in the middle of the night. I still remember like it was yesterday.
The dream sent our household into a sleep deprived frenzy. Me, screaming for my parents to turn on the lights, tears running in rivers down flushed cheeks. My dad, sitting on the edge of the bed, rubbed his hand in circles across my shoulders, consoling me. It took a long distance phone call the following morning for my mom and dad to understand that the dream had been more than a figment of my overactive imagination.
“How did it happen?” My mother’s voice was tight, wobbly as she spoke into the kitchen telephone receiver. It was the only one in the house that was still corded. I watched from the living room couch as she twisted the stretched curlicues of cord around her index finger.
When she slid into a chair at the kitchen table with her hand planted firmly over her lips, heaviness descended on the room, blanketing the air with cold finality. To this day I remember the lead weight in my chest, the struggle for breath. Maybe that’s what he’d felt in his last moments. My mother was still holding the phone in one hand when she turned to stare at me. Eyes wide with some emotion I couldn’t yet interpret. Now, sixteen years later, I can tell you for certain it was terror.
My sixteen-year-old cousin, Curt, had been killed racing home from a party to make curfew. I’d seen it all. Told my parents every detail. The skid on the damp roadway. The slam into a poorly placed telephone pole. Even the good Samaritans who’d stopped in the dead of night to try to dig him out of the twisted wreckage. Smoke filtered up from the heap of metal before I saw him, standing on the other side of the car, smiling at me.
“Tell Mom, I’m sorry,” he’d said. His voice cut short by the wail of a siren.
It’s funny. I can still picture that dream in lifelike detail. But now, instead of terror, there’s a peaceful comfort attached to the memory. I think that’s how it works for me. The visions can’t hold any power over me once I work them out–figure out how to help.
In those early days, I’d been scared senseless. I’d wake up in a cold sweat, flailing to turn a light on, to familiarize myself with reality again. For a while I slept with the bedside lamp on, hoping the luminescence would create some kind of barrier between this world and the next. It was my grandmother who helped me realize it was useless, of course. The dreams were a part of reality–my reality, anyway.
But that awareness of what my dreams were–what that made me–changed everything. The energy in our household sparked with frustration. My mother and father argued. Family outings trickled to a rare occurrence. My life consisted of school, home, homework, and bed, praying to whatever god would listen to let me sleep through the night. Every once in a while some deity would listen, most times, not. I learned to keep what I saw to myself. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Within two years, my mother had run through all the psychiatrists and magic pills she could find to make me normal again. By the time I was twelve, I was spending the majority of my time at my grandparents’ farm, away from the family I’d disgraced and the marriage I’d destroyed. At least, that’s how it seemed to twelve-year-old me.
“I will not allow my daughter to be a freak.” My mother’s words after a particularly heated exchange with my father regarding my condition are what drove me to become the Liv Sullivan I am today.
The “f” word, as I’d taken to calling it, hummed in my skull now, just as it had when I was a girl. Hunkered down on the steps of my parents’ home, eavesdropping through tears, the people I loved arguing about an affliction I didn’t fully understand and over which I had no control.
Of course, if it wasn’t for all of that, I might never have learned I had two choices in life–remain the small-town freak or reinvent myself as a big city fraud. I chose the latter, finding out pretty quick that the best place to hide was in plain sight.
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