Wednesday, February 1, 2023

The First Chapter: Being Present: The Gift of Experiencing Life As It Happens by Keith Sykes

Title: BEING PRESENT: THE GIFT OF EXPERIENCING LIFE AS IT HAPPENS
Author: Keith Sykes
Publisher: Chosen Pen Publishing
Genre: Memoir

Being Present details my life growing up in New Orleans, Louisiana, the youngest of 8 children. It gives the reader an intimate look at the relationship between me, my parents, and my siblings. It discusses life and death, joy and pain, and strength and perseverance. The book talks about love and loss and is an optimistic look at overcoming the obstacles of life.

Being Present talks about how I dealt with life after my parent’s death and how joining the military completely changed my life. It gives a glimpse into how the military inspired my love for travel and the many places that I was able to visit as a result. Read about my life after the military and the challenges I faced that shaped the man I am today. Lastly, the book will provide samples of my photography and discuss how it was inspired by my travel.

Release Date: ‎ January 5, 2023 

Publisher: Chosen Pen Publishing

Kindle: ASIN: ‎ B0BRT7CRWH; eBook $1.99 

Amazon: https://amzn.to/3jWFLpw

Chapter One

GROWING UP IN NEW ORLEANS

My earliest memories of growing up in the St. Bernard housing projects in the 7th ward of New Orleans, Louisiana, were playing outside for hours. I remember when I would go in the house after doing whatever I was doing, my mom would always say, “Keeto! Go take a bath. You smell just like outside.” I’m sure you’re familiar with exactly what that smell is. It was nothing for me to play outside for most of the day on weekends, many times without eating. My mom would yell out, “Keeto! Come in here and eat. You’re gonna disappear.” Obviously, she was referring to the fact that if I continued not eating, I would shrivel up from malnutrition. Times were so different back then. Interactions were more intentional. There were fewer distractions than now, but we understood the importance of quality time spent and being in the moment.

I was very sociable as a kid but extremely shy. You could always find me around the girls, because, let’s face it, I was cute. Well, I was. With a nickname like Keeto, how could I not be? I got that nickname from my sister Kim, who is ten years older than me. Her nickname as a kid was Kimbo, and she and I were the closest of the eight siblings. I remember always hearing how spoiled I was. I was the youngest of eight, and that came with its perks and pitfalls. I recall stories of how bad my brothers and sisters had it growing up in the house with my father. I never had a relationship with him because he was sick when I was born, and he died from complications of diabetes when I was 11. One thing I never lacked as a kid was love and affection. It mostly came from my mother and sisters, but my brothers expressed themselves primarily through gift-giving and spending quality time with me. However, I remember them expressing themselves verbally a few times, but it didn’t happen quite often.  

Although I was shy as a kid, I was expressive, thanks to my sisters. They were the ones who I looked to and tried to learn from because I spent the most time with them. I would get the inside scoop on relationships, boys, heartbreak, what girls like, and other topics women would discuss when men aren’t around. Little did I know, it was my crash course in What Women Want 101. It was here I would gain valuable insight that wouldn’t necessarily keep me from making mistakes because I made quite a few of them, but it would give me a better understanding of the female species and help me navigate through relationships going forward. My sister Kim left home for New York City around the age of 19, and I lived alone with my mother, aside from a few short stints with my older brother and a cousin coming to live with us. 

I never thought about the impact my father’s absence had on my life until I was an adult. He was noticeably absent at track meets or school functions, but my mom would always be there to pick up the slack when she wasn’t working and could make it. My mom was 44 years old when I was born, and my dad was 57. Unfortunately, I don’t have many memories of my father. All I can do is piece together stories I get from my brothers and sisters and try to draw a picture in my head of what he may have been like. My memories are mostly of him being sick and in poor health. I know how different things could have been had I had the ideal relationship with my father. It affected me, but luckily, I experienced so much love and support as a child that it compensated for not having him around. It didn’t really affect me until I was older and longed for fatherly advice that could steer me in specific directions and save me in situations of bad decision-making. I promised myself early in life that I would never use my father’s absence as a crutch. I told myself that everything I lacked in not having my father, I would try my hardest to be that to my children if I ever had any.

The neighborhood where I was raised, in 7th Ward New Orleans, was supportive and cohesive. Everyone knew everyone. If a child was being unruly on the other side of the neighborhood, it was understood that any adult within a stone’s throw could chastise him or her, if need be. I really didn’t give my mother any problems as a kid. Her biggest problem with me was getting me back in the house by curfew. I wasn’t into anything juvenile. Well, aside from an occasional “knock and run,” I was a good kid. I loved the outdoors. I would play football on the courts, as we called them. These were the grass fields in between the buildings in the neighborhood. I raced the other kids because I was one of the fastest kids on my block. So, other kids would always come to my house to race me. 

Something else we loved to do as kids was ride our bikes. We would ride all over the city, without a care in the world. My house was usually the gathering place for me and my friends. I had nephews and nieces who were close to me in age and older, so we also spent a lot of time together. It was so much fun. On many occasions, I came home with grass stains on the knees of my pants and cuts and bruises on my arms and legs. It was just part of life; I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. I remember we had just had a storm come through that drenched the neighborhood fields. A group of us walked around convincing as many of the local kids as possible to come outside on the muddy, rain-soaked courts to play tackle football. They were some of the best times I remember as a kid.

I was extremely shy. It was a significant disadvantage at times, but for the most part, it ended up being a talking point. I was never one to really approach others and strike up a conversation. Many times, others would approach me out of curiosity. “Who’s the kid with the handwriting like a girl?” I used to draw a lot. Most of my siblings were creatives, as was my mother. I would watch my mother doodle at the kitchen table or just write down her thoughts, and eventually, it was a habit I picked up. My family was very close. We spent most holidays, special occasions, and many Sundays at my mom’s place. It reminds me of the movie Soul Food when I think about everyone, talking, laughing, playing cards, and eating. These times strengthened my sense of family and taught me the significance of being present. Everyone was so engaged. I looked forward to when everyone would come over to the house.

About the Author

Keith Sykes grew up in New Orleans, Louisiana with his 7 siblings; he is the youngest of 8. Keith attended Xavier University of Louisiana where he studied Computer Information Systems and Graphic Design. He lost both parents by the age of 20 and joined the United States Army in 1990 where he completed 20 years of active military service. He continues to serve as a Department of Defense civilian where he works as a Health Systems Specialist at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He is a freelance writer, photographer and event planner and is heavily involved in the community. Keith is a cancer survivor as of February 2022 and attributes his positive attitude in dealing with the condition to his mother Violet who succumbed to cancer in January 1990. He loves exploring nature and traveling. Some of his most memorable trips have been to Egypt, Belize, and Cuba.

You can visit his website at https://kasykes.com/ or connect with him at Facebook at www.facebook.com/ikreate4u.

Monday, December 19, 2022

The First Chapter: Erica Rosen MD Trilogy by Deven Greene

Title: Unnatural: Erica Rosen MD Trilogy Book 1
Author: Deven Greene
Publisher: Black Rose Writing
Genre: Medical Thriller

Dr. Erica Rosen is perplexed when she sees a young Chinese girl with blue eyes in her San Francisco pediatrics clinic. The girl’s mother, Ting, is secretive, and Erica suspects she has entered the country illegally. Later, Erica encounters Ting’s son and discovers he has an unusual mutation. Erica learns that Ting’s children underwent embryonic stem cell gene editing as part of a secret Chinese government-run program.

The Chinese government wants to murder Ting’s son to prevent others from learning about his unusual mutation and the secret gene-editing program. At Ting’s urging, Erica heads to China to expose the program and rescue the infant Ting was forced to leave behind, all while attempting to evade the watchful eye of the Chinese government.

Book Information

Release Date: January 7, 2021

Publisher:  Black Rose Writing

Soft Cover: 289 pages; $4.53; eBook $4.65; Free with Kindle Unlimited

Amazon: https://amzn.to/3wv8hlN  

Black Rose Writing: https://www.blackrosewriting.com/thrillers/unnatural?rq=deven%20green

Chapter One

 (Unnatural Book 1)

Exiting the restroom where I’d been unsuccessful in removing the vomit stain from the front of my white coat, I’d barely taken two steps before my physician’s assistant spotted me. 

“There you are, Dr. Rosen, you’re in room nine next. Here’s a clean coat.”

“Thank you, Martha, you read my mind.” I shed my soiled coat, grabbed my stethoscope and other items from the pockets, and tossed the garment to my assistant. She handed me a clean white coat which I slipped on, all without missing a step as I strode toward room nine. We’d done this drill many times, synchronizing our moves for maximum efficiency. I often imagined my coat-switching exercise must be similar to refueling a jet in the sky. After I’d filled my pockets with the items in my hands, Martha removed my nametag from the dirty coat and handed it to me. I attached it to the upper pocket on my clean coat with the alligator clip. “Who’s the patient?”

Martha smiled and held out a clipboard for me. “Evan Fields and his mom. Forearm laceration.”

Continuing to walk, I grabbed the clipboard. “Thanks.” Martha started to speak, but I interrupted her. “I know, I know. Room nine.”

Martha, a stout woman in her late thirties with short brown hair and a pasty complexion, slowed down, letting me approach the waiting patient on my own. When I reached the door to room nine, I knocked twice to let Evan and his mom know I was about to enter, then stopped. Obvious waste of time, I reminded myself. I slowly opened the door to the small, cluttered exam room, the familiar Shrek poster the first thing that greeted me. Pushing the door farther, I saw Evan sitting on the firetruck exam table, his mother seated in one of the two adult-size chairs. The two children’s chairs were empty. 

As usual, my jaw tightened a bit upon seeing the computer terminal, like the others found in every exam room. It sat innocently enough on a small table with a faux wood top near the sink. The best thing one might say about the computer is that it united all physicians practicing in the clinic and in clinics and hospitals across the country. Male, female, black, white, brown, tall, short, progressive, conservative, they all hated the computer, the bearer of the despised Electronic Health Record, or EHR. After two years in the clinic, you’d think I would be used to it, but I wasn’t. I still resented its intrusion into the time I spent with my patients and their parents. Instead of having a comfortable discussion with that now almost passé element known as eye contact, I needed to spend most of my appointment time sitting before the terminal and typing. Resigned to postponing my long-planned ax attack of the computer, I logged in and quickly confirmed Martha had made sure all the necessary information such as patient’s name and age, parents’ names, address, insurance, and reason for visit was up to date.

Evan and his mom looked at me and smiled while I signed “Hello.” They each responded with a reciprocal sign. Both Evan and his mother are profoundly deaf. I was the only clinic doctor or staff of any sort proficient in American Sign Language, so it was always up to me to see the severely hearing-impaired patients, something I enjoyed.

Evan was holding a bloody washcloth over his left forearm. His mother was signing furiously, informing me that Evan had fallen while climbing a tree, and cut his arm on the sprinkler below. I signed to Evan, requesting to take a look. He peeled away the washcloth, revealing a ragged two-inch gash on the lateral aspect of his forearm. I conveyed that I needed to clean the area and put in a few stitches. 

I left the room to get a suture kit, returning a few minutes later to find Evan sitting on his mother’s lap. “He’s afraid,” she signed.

I explained it would only hurt when I injected the numbing medicine, and when we were done, I’d give him a dollar bill he could use at the dollar store a few blocks away. That’s all the encouragement Evan needed. I anesthetized the area, cleaned it, and put in five stitches. When I was done, Evan’s mom signed that she was proud he was so brave. I spread antibiotic over the wound and handed the boy a crisp dollar bill—one of six I had in my pocket. Most days I needed at least three to coax my patients into submission for various procedures.

I broke away to sit on the stool facing the dreaded computer so I could enter information about the visit. I usually spoke to my patients as I typed, often just small talk. My inability to sign while I typed made me hate the EHR even more. After I finished typing, I instructed Evan and his mom how to care for his injury. Mother and son motioned their thanks, I handed Mom a printed set of wound care instructions, gestured goodbye, and backed out of the room. 

Martha wasted no time in finding me. “Five-year-old girl in room four for kindergarten physical. New patient. Good luck with that one. Mom has heavy accent. Chinese, I think.”

The UC San Francisco pediatric clinic was always busy. In addition to the myriad clerks, physician’s assistants, nurses, and doctors rushing through the halls, there were the patients and their entourages. Each small visitor was accompanied by a parent, sometimes two, often with one or more siblings or a grandparent. Between the ages of two and eight, patients and siblings frequently ran through the narrow hallway, not mindful of anyone or anything in the way.

Making my way to room four, I dodged three-foot-high twins running in front of their mother, the colorful LEDs on the soles of their shoes flashing erratically while they laughed and bumped into the legs of strangers. According to the clock above the clerk’s station, it was 11:30. Two patients behind already, I picked up my pace, brushed back the stray hairs that had escaped my low ponytail, noticed the name tag on my coat that read “Erica Rosen, MD, Pediatrics,” was crooked, and knocked on the door of room four.

From within, I heard the muffled voice of a young woman. I barely made out, “Come in.”

I straightened my name tag and before opening the door, glancing up in time to see the clinic director, Dr. Gabe Lewis turn the corner and walk in my direction. As usual, his white coat was clean and pressed, his hair looked ready for a photo shoot, and he looked more like a TV doctor than a real one.

Avoiding eye contact, I pushed hard on the door and walked in. The door slammed behind me.

“Hello, Ms. Chen,” I said, consulting the clipboard. “I’m Dr. Rosen.”

I gazed around the familiar room with torn posters of SpongeBob SquarePants, The Little Mermaid, and Minions. The two adult-size chairs were empty. An attractive, thin young Asian woman with short hair sat in one of the little chairs, a small child on her lap with its face buried in her chest. The child had straight shoulder length shiny black hair.

Damn, I thought. Martha didn’t get the kid stripped down to her underwear. Only took her shoes and socks off.

The woman seemed nervous, unable to speak for a few seconds. When she finally spoke, it was with a heavy Chinese accent. “This Wang Shu, Doctor. I Ting, his mother.”

“Pleased to meet you,” I said, happy my roommate, Daisy, had exposed me to her parents and their heavy Mandarin accents countless times. Over the years, I had developed an ear for understanding their speech.

“Hello, Wang Shu,” I said in my winning pediatrician’s voice, smiling. “How are you today?”

The child didn’t move. “He shy,” Ting said.

Knowing Asians pronounce “he” and “she” the same in their native tongue, the inappropriate gender reference didn’t surprise me.

“I understand you’re here today to have Wang Shu’s kindergarten physical form filled out.”

Shi. Yes.” Ting reached into her purse and handed me a two-page form, folded in thirds.

I took a moment to examine the form. It looked familiar, resembling many I had filled out previously. I sat in front of the computer and checked the EHR. Other than the patient’s name, age, address and mother’s name, her chart was blank. It wasn’t unusual to have patients with no medical insurance. “Has Wang Shu had her vaccinations?” I asked.

“Shi, yes. Everything. He have very good medical care. The best.”

“I’m glad to hear that. Do you have some documentation?”

Ting looked at me blankly.

“Papers that list her vaccinations.”

“We come from China. He get them there. I not have papers, but I know he get everything. Very excellent medical care.”

“Wang Shu doesn’t start school for over a month. Can you have the information sent to you?”

“No. Not possible.”

“You must have shown documentation when you moved here. How long have you been in this country?”

“Two month.”

“You speak English very well for someone who’s been here such a short time.”

“I study hard.”

“Since it was only two months ago, you should still have the documentation of vaccination you showed to pass the health inspection when you came here.”

“I not find it.”

“If you don’t get the documentation, we’ll need to revaccinate her. Without proof of vaccines, she can’t go to school.”

“Oh. He no like more vaccine. But no choice.”

This woman seemed intelligent, clearly educated enough to speak English and know about vaccines. But something didn’t seem right. “I have to ask you this,” I said in my gentlest tone so as not to alarm her. “Did you enter the US illegally?” 

Ting burst into tears.

I grabbed a tissue and handed it to her. “It’s okay. You can tell me. I won’t report you. But if you came here illegally, I’m going to insist that Wang Shu also have a TB test.” 

“I know he not have TB,” Ting said, her tears now a slow trickle. “He very healthy, never around people with TB.”

“Well, she needs the test. I can’t put other children at risk.”

“No, no,” Ting said, still sniffling. “He have BCG vaccine.”

The BCG vaccine is given to protect people from TB in countries like China, that have a high incidence of the disease. When a TB skin test is given to people who have had a BCG vaccine, the test is often falsely positive. I turned to the child.

“Now, Wang Shu, I’m going to have to examine you,” I said, wondering if the child understood a word I was saying. “Don’t worry, it won’t hurt.”

I got up from my seat at the computer, picked up Wang Shu and placed her on the exam table. For the first time, her tiny face was exposed as she looked straight at me. Black hair cut into short, straight bangs across her forehead. Light olive skin. Typical Asian features, with a small nose and epicanthal folds in upper eyelids. I almost gasped. Light blue eyes.  What I was seeing was not possible.

About the Author

Fiction writer Deven Greene lives in the San Francisco Bay area. Ever since childhood, Deven has been interested in science.  After receiving a doctorate in biochemistry, she went to medical school and trained as a pathologist. She worked for several decades in that field before starting to write fiction. Deven incorporates elements of medicine or science in most of her writing. She has published several short stories. Her debut novel, Unnatural, is the first book of the Erica Rosen MD Trilogy, and was released in January 2021. Unwitting, released in October 2021, is the second Erica Rosen MD novel. Unforeseen is the final book in the Trilogy.

Visit her website at www.devengreene.com or connect with her on Twitter and Instagram.

Monday, December 5, 2022

The First Chapter: To Catch the Setting Sun by Richard I. Levine

 

Title: To Catch The Setting Sun
Author: Richard I. Levine
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Pages: 320
Genre: Suspense/Thriller

There’s a killer loose on the island of Oahu. His targets? Young, native-Hawaiian women. But it also appears that he’s targeting and taunting Honolulu police detective Henry Benjamin who knew each victim and whose wife, Maya, had been the first name on that list. In addition to battling his personal demons, this New York transplant’s aggressive style didn’t sit well with his laid-back colleagues who viewed Henry’s uncharacteristic lack of progress in the investigation as evidence that fueled ongoing rumors that he could be the killer. Was he, or could it have been someone within the municipal hierarchy with a vendetta? As it was, after thirteen years on the job Henry had been disillusioned with paradise. His career choice long killed any fantasy of living in a grass hut on a wind-swept beach, being serenaded by the lazy sounds of the ocean and a slack key guitar. Instead, it had opened his eyes to a Hawaii that tourists will never see.

Book Information

Release Date: August 22, 2022

Publisher: The Wild Rose Press

Soft Cover: ISBN:‎ 978-1509243297; 320 pages; $17.99; eBook $5.99

Amazon: https://amzn.to/3Rl42Aw 

Barnes and Noble: https://bit.ly/3BRB0mv

Apple iBooks: https://apple.co/3dVBaBj

Chapter One

When the rock is lifted, the light pours in and
the vermin will scurry in panic.
They always do.
The ancestors still come to me in my dreams to caution that these parasites are as unrepentant and just as predictable
as they have always been.
Yet we must not become complacent. Vigilance is the key
or we fall victim to their treachery.
We are close, we are almost there.
Each new day peels away another layer of the façade. No different than me,
you too can feel the winds of change.
So, take my hand and walk this path with me. Open your eyes and see it as I do.
When we stand tall, strong, and together,
we will weather any storm.
I take comfort in knowing you also know
the day will be soon that the clouds will part,
and our hands will once again be free
to catch the setting sun.

The reflection from scattered tiki torches competed with the moonlight flickering off the rhythmic ripples rolling across the black velvet lagoon. Gentle trade winds, carrying the sweet peach-like scent of plumeria, teased the palm fronds as easily as they tickled the torch lights—clearly a welcomed reprieve from five straight days of stifling temperatures. A catamaran and a couple of small outrigger canoes, their artfully painted fiberglass hulls made to look like the wood of ancient Koa trees, were pulled up along the sandy shoreline. The heavy beat of drums reverberated off the tall palms and set the tempo for a half-dozen pair of grass-skirted hips dancing on the main stage while vacationers laughed, ogled, and stuffed their faces with shredded pork, scoops of lomi salmon, steaming flavored rice wrapped in Ti leaves, thick juicy slices of pineapple, papaya, mango, and freshly roasted macadamia nuts that were all artfully displayed on wide banana-leaf- covered centerpieces. They sat cross-legged in the sand, sipping mai tais from plastic cups made to look like hollowed-out coconut shells, lost in a tropical fantasy that came complete with a souvenir snapshot taken with an authentic hula girl—the perfect paradise as portrayed on the website. The noise from the music, chanting, and laughter drowned out the frantic noise of the nearby kitchen, and it drowned out the desperate pleas and painful cries of Makani Palahia from the far side of the beach at Auntie Lily’s Luau Cove and Hawaiian Barbecue.

****

The hardened steel of the polished blade sparkled when slowly turned a mere few degrees from left to right, back and forth, as if part of an ancient ritual. Makani’s teeth clinched against the foul-tasting cloth that had been forced into her mouth and tied tight behind her head, each time the knife circled back toward her face, each time passing closer, each time pausing for effect. When rested alongside her cheek, she arched as far as her restraints would allow—the plastic zip ties cutting deeper into her wrists. She let out a muffled cry, begging for the whole ordeal to stop. A sadistic laugh from the shadows made her pray to Jesus for the long-lost comfort of her mother—a comfort stolen by the alcohol and drugs that flowed through West Oahu as easily as the tides that washed away the sandcastles from its beaches. To watch her struggle not to gag as her eyes pleaded for freedom fueled an adrenaline rush that fed the flames of her assailant— strong and powerful now, like a sovereign over all that was to be ruled and judged. The blade was pulled from Makani’s golden-brown skin long enough for her back muscles and her bladder to relax, only to make her arch and plead again when it was returned to her tear-stained cheek.

“This is on you, Princess! Brought this on yourself, yeah? It’s a shame, too, because you’re so young and pretty. Of all the others, you’re the one who looks the most like royalty. The ancients would’ve been proud of you. But they’re not, are they? No, they’re not, and you know they’re not. You’ve disappointed all of us with so many of your sins. Are you ready to confess?”

She struggled to reply, but the rag pressed hard on her tongue.

“What’s that? You say something? You look like you got something to say.”

A faceless phantom-like figure stood tall above her, causing her to squint from the intermittent sparkle of what she thought was a pendant. Makani nodded while she strained to make out the image that seemed so familiar to her.

“I’ll loosen the bandana, but I warn you right now, if you scream…” She saw the knife dance again. “But let’s not think about that, okay? We calmly talk story a little, yeah?”

Again, she nodded, almost afraid to speak now that her lips could move freely. A rush of fresh air filled her mouth and intensified the pungent taste that covered her tongue. Her stomach muscles tightened as she gagged.

“P-please, let me go. I d-don’t know you. I don’t know what you want from me.”

“Let you go? I think, I think maybe after you confess. I think maybe I can let you go after we finish our business, yeah?”

“C-confess? What business? Who are you? What d-do you want from me? Why are you d-doing this to me?”

“Why am I doing? I didn’t pick you, Princess. You made that choice. You made that choice when you picked him and rejected our own.”

“P-picked who? Reject you? I d-don’t even know you. How did I…”

“You judged us!” A heavy hand landed across her mouth. “You judged me and our bruddahs and sistas when you chose an outsider. Judge not, lest ye be judged, and today is…today is your judgment day.”

****

Reece Valentine had a hard time keeping his eyes off the third girl from the left—diverting his attention long enough to down another piña colada or attempt to calm the concerns of his fiancée that he wasn’t going to run off into the bush with a native girl. But that didn’t stop him from enjoying the fantasy. With constricted pupils locked onto toned abdominal muscles gyrating within grabbing distance of his imagination, he laughed at the memory of frat house Polynesian-style parties that never came close to the evening’s entertainment.

“Reece, stop staring. It’s embarrassing.”

“Come on, Jules, I’m trying to enjoy the show. We’re on vakay. Where’s your island spirit?”

“I’m trying to enjoy the show, but that’s your fifth drink since the luau started, and you’re beginning to put on a little show of your own. At least stop howling at those girls. People are starting to look at you.”

“Jules, please. I’m just having some fun. It’s not every day we get to enjoy something like this, is it? Seriously, when was the last time we saw a show like this back in Portland?”

“Look, I’m not trying be all salty, but when you ran up on stage to do the hula, did you have to grab that dancer’s waist? And the way you started rubbing on her…geez!”

“Okay, now you’re exaggerating.” He grabbed her and nuzzled her neck.

“Really?”

“It was part of the dance.”

“Okay, so when the male dancers come out and I go running up there, are you going to get mad when I start rubbing myself all over those well-oiled muscular bodies?” She smiled.

“Now you’re the one being silly. Have another drink and chill.”

“Chill? You want me to chill? I think I’ll go for a swim…a naked swim.” She got up and raced down the beach toward the far end of the lagoon.

After a brief moment, as well as a few envious looks from other revelers, Reece went after her.

“Jules! Julie, wait up!” he called, but the alcohol had hindered his ability to maintain a steady balance over the soft uneven contours of the sand. When he fell, he scraped his knee on a piece of coral buried just below the surface. “Damn it! Jules, wait up. I just…damn, I just cut myself.”

Halfway between the luau and the end of the lagoon, about thirty yards from a thicket of Kiawe bushes, she turned to see him sitting on the beach, nursing his knee, and quite possibly his ego. Julie Chow started to head back when she heard some rustling and what she thought was a grunting sound coming from the direction of the bushes. She stopped to listen, only to hear Reece call out again. She tried to listen once more but heard nothing.

“Jules! Come back.”

“Why don’t you come over here,” she said and took several steps toward the bushes. “It’s dark and deserted down this way.”

“I hurt myself. Come help me.”

With a few glances over her shoulder, she slowly made her way back.

“Serves you right. I think the ancient Hawaiian gods were punishing you just now because of your disrespectful thoughts about one of their daughters.”

“Stop it, will you? My knee is killing me.”

“Such a baby!” she teased. “I’m surprised you can feel anything with all that native juice in you.”

“Stop scolding and come help me,” he begged. She came close enough for him to grab her arm and pull her down to join him on the sand.

“You’re not hurt that bad, you faker!”

“I know, but I had to do something. I couldn’t catch up to you.” He laughed.

“Because you’re drunk, and when you get drunk, you’re horny as hell.”

“You can say that again.”

“I’m being serious.”

“Listen, I got carried away, and I’m sorry. But you’re right, Jules, I’m horny as hell, and you know I’m not interested in anyone other than you.” He leaned in for a kiss, but she pulled away at the last moment. “Hey!”

“There’s a lot of bushes down there.” She pointed. “Wanna go fool around?”

“What? Get naked here on the beach in the middle of a luau? There’s tons of people here.”

“It’s dark. There’s bushes. No one will see us. No one will hear us. Come on, you afraid?”

“They won’t see us, but they’ll definitely hear us.”

“You mean they’ll hear you. I’ll have you screaming so loud they’ll think you’re being murdered.” She jumped on top of him, and they passionately kissed in a long embrace.

“I’ve got a better idea.” He pushed back to catch his breath. “Let’s go back to the hotel, and I’ll show you what going native is all about.”

“And give up a chance to get my hands on all those sweaty, muscular Hawaiian men? Race you.” She took off back to the festivities with Reece in hot pursuit.

****

Makani gagged at the smell of the dirty hand that covered her face—removed only when the couple from the luau got far enough away from the thicket.

“That wouldn’t have ended well for those tourists. Too bad. Would’ve made the night a little more interesting. So, where were we? Oh yes, about your choice, Princess.”

“I d-don’t know what you’re talking about. What ch-choice did I make?”

“You are one very pretty wahine, a very pretty woman, you know that? Yeah, you know you so nani, so beautiful, don’t you? I’ll bet you tease men to get things you want, yeah?”

“If you’re g-going, if you’re going to rape me, then j-just do it already. Just do it and g-get it over with. I won’t tell anyone. Just do it and, and let me go. Please? Please, just let me go.”

Save for the low sadistic laugh she had heard before, there was no immediate reply. Her breathing, fast and shallow now, seemed to make the few stars that had been visible through the branches spin wildly and caused her hands, legs, and feet to feel cold—making the hand that inched its way down the outer portion of her thigh feel uncomfortably warm.

For her tormentor, however, there was pleasure in feeling the gentle contours of muscles toned from many hours of hula as rough callused fingers crept over her thigh, past the knee, and down to her ankle. A brief pause to take in the tremble that was felt moving like a wave through her body, watching her lips press together, and her eyes squeeze tight, elicited a child-like giddiness that had long been forgotten.

Makani tightened again from the sandpaper texture of a tongue across her cheek and a heavy breath in her ear. She realized the warm antiseptic scent now lingering on her face was the smell of whiskey. The hand with jagged fingernails carved a return path up the inside of her leg to her knee, then slowed while continuing up the inner portion of her thigh—teasing, threatening. She cried a little harder.

“Did that hurt, Princess? Take it from me, a true warrior princess doesn’t cry. She’s strong, very strong, and she likes it rough.”

“Please, don’t…”

“What, make love to you? You make me laugh. I’d never soil myself on a sinner.”

She felt the grip tighten around her upper thigh, and in equal response her athletic body tightened just as much.

“I like this. I like how your legs feel. So smooth, so soft. I like how they feel in my hands. It’s so…comforting. I bet the boys like touching them too, yeah? I bet you’d really like me to do more, don’t you? I can tell the thought excites you. I bet you didn’t expect my hands to be this strong and powerful, yeah? Do you feel how strong my hands are? It makes me feel so powerful to hold you like this.”

A low-pitched hiss, then a crackled voice momentarily interrupted. “Central to Detective eight- one.”

“You almost tricked me, Princess!” The anger was as sudden and sharp as the sting she felt from the three- inch welt created when those hands were quickly withdrawn. “You almost tricked me. You were trying to confuse me. Deceitful women like you do that all the time, but I know better.” Again, the blade came into view. “You tried to tempt me with your makeup. I bet you do it to make yourself look young and innocent. But we both know better, don’t we? You tried to deceive me, but you’re not innocent, not innocent at all. You do it special for him, don’t you? Yes, I think you did it to please him. You make me angry. You make the ancestors angry.”

“I d-don’t know what you’re t-talking about. I don’t have a boyfr—”

“Liar!” The voice rose, triggering a shooting glance through the branches, down the beach toward the festivities, afraid they might have been heard. “Don’t make me gag you.”

Again, a radio transmission crackled. “Central to Detective eight-one, do you copy?”

“Who are you?” she asked, again getting a glimpse of the pendant, focusing on the letters H O N O L U L U across its face. She realized it wasn’t a piece of jewelry, but a badge. She tried to narrow her focus— her tears making it difficult to read the number. The radio crackled again.

“Lieutenant Kim to central dispatch, be advised eight-one’s radio hasn’t been working properly. You can reach him on his cell.”

She strained to see the face hidden in the darkness, the voice now mocking the radio call.

“Central to Detective eight-one. Where are you, eight-one? Come save the day, eight-one.”

“Dispatch to Kim, copy that, Lieutenant,” came the static-filled reply.

“I d-don’t know you. I don’t know you at all. I don’t kn-know what you’re talking about. Are you HPD? What do you want from me?”

“You know me,” came the whisper, this time placing the sharp edge of the blade across her costume, cutting just enough material on her shoulder to expose her breasts. “Very pretty.”

“You said you were g-going to let me go. I should be d-dancing at the show. I should be there. They’re going to m-miss me. They’re g-going to come looking for me.”

“Nobody’s going to come looking for you, Princess, nobody.”

The blade methodically moved across her flesh— circling, teasing, drawing blood from a shallow incision across her shoulder. At first Makani felt the sting before the warmth of liquid snaked into the creases of her underarm. Her tears flowed freely now. Adding one more indignity to her suffering, the grass skirt she had always worn with pride was ripped aside, and one more time the knife came to rest across her cheek.

“You know who I am, and you know exactly why we’re here. We all must face judgment for our sins.”

“I don’t know….” She stopped mid-sentence—a dirty index finger pressed to her mouth. She gagged at the vile taste—a cross between a lack of hygiene and her own urine. The finger was forced farther into her mouth and pressed against her tongue. She reflexively bit down, drawing blood and a painful slap to her face. “I don’t know you,” she cried out. “Why are you doing this? P-please let me go! I won’t say anything. I won’t t-tell anyone, I promise!”

“Let you go?” came the angered reply. A vise-like grip squeezed her cheeks, preventing her from speaking. “Not now, damn you! Not after you bit me! Not after you refuse to confess your sins. Do you see how you’ve forced my hand? Now you have to be purified.” Again, her face was slapped.

“I’m sorry, I am. I didn’t mean to bite you. Please? I won’t tell anyone, I promise.” Her eyes, blurred from tears, tried to follow the figure as it moved about— finally catching a glimpse of a face lit by the glow of a freshly lit cigarette. “Oh my God!” She was repulsed at the sight, gagging as the bandana was forced back into her mouth—arching, straining, and kicking against the nylon cable ties when the cigarette was moved closer to the side of her face.

“I know you don’t understand. Nobody does anymore, and that’s the problem. In the old days the people needed to make their peace with the gods so they could be blessed and have a harvest, take fish from the sea, and be protected from evil, from the night marchers, from Pele. Those gods and the ancestors are deeply saddened how our way of life, our history, our culture, and our future have all been dishonored. You, and others like you, have dishonored all of us by mixing pure blood, and there’s only one way for you to be forgiven. You will serve as a message, a warning to others. And with your purification, with your sacrifice, the gods and the ancestors will grant you redemption.”

Makani’s heartbeat pounded in her chest and in her head, making the drums, the laughter, and the applause for the fire-eaters disappear. And just as another cold stinging slice was surgically carved across her throat, she thought she heard her killer recite an ancient prayer while she watched the flickering lights of the luau fade away.

About the Author

Richard I Levine is a native New Yorker raised in the shadows of Yankee Stadium. After dabbling in several occupations and a one-year coast to coast wanderlust trip, this one-time volunteer fireman, bartender, and store manager returned to school to become a chiropractor. A twenty-three-year cancer survivor, he’s a strong advocate for the natural healing arts. Levine has four Indy-published novels and his fifth work, To Catch The Setting Sun, is published by The Wild Rose Press and was released in August 2022. In 2006 he wrote, produced and was on-air personality of the Dr. Rich Levine show on Seattle’s KKNW 1150AM and after a twenty-five year practice in Bellevue, Washington, he closed up shop in 2017 and moved to Oahu to pursue a dream of acting and being on Hawaii 5-O. While briefly working as a ghostwriter/community liaison for a local Honolulu City Councilmember, he appeared as a background actor in over twenty-five 5-Os and Magnum P.Is. Richard can be seen in his first co-star role in the Magnum P.I. third season episode “Easy Money”. He presently resides in Hawaii.

Visit Richard’s Amazon Page or connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Goodreads.


 

 

 

Monday, October 3, 2022

The First Chapter: Later by Colette R. Harrell

Title
: LATER
Author: Colette R. Harrell
Publisher: Intentional Entertainment LLC
Genre: Historical / Interracial / Supernatural / Paranormal

BOOK BLURB

In 1859, Junie Benson was a twelve-year-old genius and enslaved. His older sister, Sari, had her own difficulties, including being auctioned to the highest bidder. She was also beautiful, flighty, and had a repetitive dream about a hazel-eyed white stranger. 

Everybody with the good sense God had given them knew even her dream was forbidden. 

In the present, three things troubled ex-Special Forces Lt. Colonel Zachary Trumble . . . his new job as director of security for Burstein Labs, his loveless marriage, and the green-eyed siren who won’t let him sleep in peace. 

Then time’s fickle hand brewed a recipe for a miracle . . . Stir in three runaway slaves, an avalanche, one mad scientist, and an unhappy, in-love hero to create a dish for revenge best served . . . Later.

Book Information

Release Date: September 1, 2022

Publisher:  Intentional Entertainment LLC

Soft Cover: 204 pages

Amazon: https://amzn.to/3qqgFzB

Chapter One

Chapter One

1859

t was 1859, and the tips of fingers and noses were suffering. It was the beginning of what slaves at the Benson Plantation felt was a bitter, cold Tennessee winter. In reality, it was a brisk thirty-five degrees, but with thin-bare coats and a lack of gloves or proper shoes, their perception of bitter cold was skewed. Nevertheless, one of the places outside of the towering, big house with the enormous Roman pillars and its kitchen that held any real warmth was the smithy. And as snowflakes trickled and turned wet as they hit the ground, the clang of the red-hot anvil sang across the air.

Clang. Clang. Clang.

No upcoming approach could be heard in the clamor of the hammer pounding away. Then, with small hands clutching her threadbare coat to her chest, a vision of beauty came flying into view.

She slid and was almost upended as she called out, “Papa, Papa, I gots to tell ya.”

John’s hammer continued to ring as he placed a new shoe on the hoof of Massa’s favorite horse.

Face smudged with ash, twelve-year-old Junie looked up from the corner where he sat huddled, perched on an overturned bucket. He looked down at the mud, where his stick and foot had quickly scratched and smeared out the words he was practicing.

“Doggon’ it, Sari girl, I was figuring letters! You beat all. Make some noise, why don’t cha? Sneaking up like a possum trying to get past a po’ hungra fox.”

Gasping, the twenty-year-old Sarah, otherwise known as Sari, squinted her eyes, furtively glanced behind her shoulder, and with her hand on her waist, proclaimed, “Watch yo’ mouth, boy chile. If I could catch ya, so can others. You know we neva cipher in daylight, Junie— neva!”

Vexed, he peered at his ruined words. “Shush, gal. Nighttime too hard. Gotta catch the light while I can. Candlelight too dim. Can’t see if my letters is straight ’nuff.” Junie stood and walked over to his sister, waiting.

Eyes blinking, Sari exhaled, started to speak, and then paused. “Well, girl? You callin’, and I’s here,” John Benson said with a grimace that altered his usually gentle, brown face.

Junie knew his father loved him some Sari, nick-named by his beloved “gone to glory” mother, but his sister was prone to fits of drama. Therefore, she never quite grew to the sedate name of Sarah, so Sari she remained and acted to all. He believed her fits came from being up in the big house all the time. Massa’s missus was right theatrical. He heard tell through Cinda that they used up the smelling salts quite regular because of her goings-on.

John was a man who was average in stature but stood tall. Sari and Junie looked up to him and imagined his five-foot-nine stature as a towering six feet. Even when they saw their father bend to the will of others, there was steel in his eyes that let them know his spirit was not beaten.

“Papa, I hear Massa say war comin’. He say if that there Lincoln fella run for office, they gon’ take us away, and we gon’ starve. We ain’t gon’ have no place to go, and I don’t wanna be more hungra, Papa.” Sari huffed as she pulled her apron hard around her hand, winding it further up her body.

Junie looked at his papa and waited for what he would say. He already knew what he had been hearing for the last month, that it was time to go. Junie had shared every word with Papa. They had always planned according to the voice and sometimes just the urgings Junie had in his spirit. Over Junie’s young life, both the urgings and the voice proved to be infallible. When he was just three years old, the old root woman, Betunde, told his papa and mama that they needed to heed Junie’s mumblings, even when it didn’t make sense. The miracle of first Junie’s mother, then Junie hearing from the divine voice moved Betunde. Betunde came to know the Lord better than the plantation’s visiting reverend. What was once her root work became the root of the tree of life. The mumblings Betunde told them to note had become clear sentences and instructions by Junie’s fourth birthday. Betunde had since been laid to rest, along with his beloved mama. However, Betunde’s words were never laid down nor buried. Instead, they became hallowed wisdom they all lived by.

Papa decided they wouldn’t reveal much to Sari. It wasn’t that they didn’t trust her, but she was overly excited and had the habit of oversharing when she was overwhelmed. And she tended to succumb to fits of worry easily. Knowing their plans derived from the voice would surely send her into overdrive. But voice or not, even thinking about leaving Benson Plantation would be an act of betrayal, and the consequences were ten lashes. Massa then made bad worse because he mandated that coarse salt and red pepper were rubbed into the mangled, bleeding flesh after each whipping. You could hear in each cabin the grunts of agony and bewildered cries as the solution intermingled with the blood flowing freely from each slash. Some folk might say that Benson folk had it good, as opposed to slaves on the neighboring plantation. They heard tell of hot tar being poured onto the open wounds of whipped slaves and then set on fire at the Plessy place.

Junie had never been whipped. Sari and his father, John, had never been whipped. But Junie, like all the other slaves on the Benson Plantation, had witnessed beatings. It was mandated that every slave, young and old, feeble or sick, attend the public whippings. Many who were whipped were never the same. Some just up and died. Once, Duke, a big strapping buck, got whipped for moving too slow for the overseer. That man got so angry that he had Duke tied to the old pine oak and whipped him till Duke forgot who he was. Now, Duke permanently worked slow, shuffled, and drooled. Nobody wanted to end up like Duke. Papa said a scared man wasn’t right-minded. That overseer was so scared of big, strong Duke that he had to bring him down when he failed to bow low and fast enough. Papa shared that anxious men were the most dangerous, and most white gentry was fearful of lots of

 things, even poor white folk, like being poor was a disease they didn’t want to catch. The overseer was fired due to him messing with Massa’s property, but Duke still had an addled brain.

John Benson was the blacksmith on the plantation. He worked from sunup to sundown. He shoed horses, repaired wagons, or anything else needing ironworks. He was hired out around the town and neighboring lands. He had an affinity for anything mechanical. For the last twelve years, he could be seen in the Benson Plantation’s wagon pulled by two robust mules going up and down the road, plying his wares for Massa Benson. He made the Benson Plantation good money and won favor from neighboring plantations, farms, and county folk. He was known to have a fine touch with steel and iron. And could just as easily make a decorative scroll of iron as he could to create tools and fastenings for doors and barns. The neighbors loved his work, especially those who didn’t have to go into town for help. As such, he had more privileges than most. There was hope in those privileges.

Junie had a knack for numbers and inventions that made crops more bountiful, and he could hear tell of a stock the Massa shared with him and tell if it was going to prosper as an investment. He had helped make the Benson Plantation wealthy. Massa Benson would always say that the labor of the sinner is laid up for the righteous to get wealth. He then would say, with evil in his eye, that all slaves were sinners, cursed by Noah’s son, Ham. And as much as God spoke to Junie, He stayed silent on that one. It didn’t sound like the God he knew, but Junie got right discombobulated when the reverend held the slaves’ church services on Sunday. He never understood that the God they quoted never felt like the Divinity who spoke to him.

Picking up his hammer again, John swung it through the air sending out a large clang. “Don’t cha worry nothing ’bout no war, Sari girl. Go on back ’fore they see ya missin’ from de kitchen.”

“Yes’m, Papa. Sho’ be glad when Sunday next come. Christmas Day gon’ be some good eatin’.” Sari slid backward toward the door, her rambling mind already on to something else.

Junie shared a look with his father as John shook his head, turned, and continued shoeing the horse. Finally, he sat back down on his overturned bucket and placed his stick in the mud he had created as his blackboard when they heard Sari call out. Junie, legs stretching, flew to the alcove opening, and he braced his back against the wall to peek around the door. 

Her voice five octaves higher, Sari gushed, “Hey ’there, Massa. Just asking Papa if he want us to bring him his supper. On a count, he workin’ so hard for ya today, don’t want to slow him down none.”

Eyebrows bunched like a caterpillar streaking across his forehead, Jacob Benson groused, “Not your concern, gal. Go on and get back to the house. Your Missus or Cinda might need ya.”

“Yes, Suh, Massa. I’s goin’ now.” Her long legs spread as she hurried to the big house’s kitchen, calling back, “Missus love her afternoon tea.”

Junie was lightning quick moving back to his place.

John nodded to Junie, who had moved his bucket over the scratching lines in the dirt.

Standing erect from his task, John bent his head when Jacob Benson entered the smithy. Jacob’s piercing green eyes lasered on his stallion. “How’s he looking, John boy? He going to be ready to race come spring?”

“Yes, suh. I believes so. Old Silas say this gon’ do it.”

“Good. I got races to win.” He then tipped back his hat. “Now, I got two places that need some work. First, you go on out to the Plessy place. They needs some iron fastenings for their barn. Then go on to the Johnson place and fix the carriage. Dag blasted thang almost kilt Ms. Margaret when the wheel fell off.” He then yanked his hat clear off his head, slapping his thigh. “And only do what I tell you. Jedidiah Plessy got a bad habit of trying to add to your list when you get there, but then conveniently forget to pay me.”

At Jacob’s last statement, a tiny tick formed in the corner of John’s left eye. “Yes, suh. Be right on it.”

Jacob looked over his shoulder as he twirled his hat in his hands. “I see you back there, Junie. You don’t have no work waiting on you?”

“No, suh. Filled up all the water pots, dumped all the chamber pots, and gathered the eggs and two chickens for Cinda. She said I could go for a bit unless you’se had need of me. You needs me?”

Jacob spit snuff right by Junie’s foot. He flinched but dared not move it an inch. “Well, now, boy, if I did need you, you wouldn’t have been there, now, would you?” He used his hat to point toward the smithy door. “So, go on and git.”

Junie walked outside of the smithy and fell back against the smithy wall to eavesdrop on the rest of what Massa Jacob Benson wanted with his father. He could always tell when Massa wasn’t finished spouting like a fountain.

“Listen you here, John. Just ’cause you and them youngins of yours ain’t been whipped don’t mean I won’t whip ’em. You hear me, boy? Thangs getting a little too loose around c’here. I don’t like it, coming and going like they got the right. This going to stop!”

John hung his head and nodded.

“And another thang. Don’t cha be paying no mind to any talk you hear in town, and don’t you be bringing it back to this c’here plantation. You hear me, boy?”

Head already bowed, John stooped more, then stood still. “Yes, suh.

I hear’s ya.”

“All right then. You’ve always been a good Negra, John. So don’t go making me change my mind ’bout cha being a good Negra.”

“No, suh, Massa.”

Not wanting to get caught, Junie ran as fast as he could on the frost- covered ground into the kitchen. There was always work to be done, and he better be caught doing it.

The kitchen was two stories high, about seven-hundred square feet wide, and separate from the big house. It stayed toasty warm, which was welcomed in the winter and woefully miserable in the summer. The smells could be overpowering in such close range, but it kept the Benson family from having to smell day-old food, a too-hot house, or risk a fire to their main home. On the first floor, Cinda cooked sumptuous meals for the Benson Plantation; on the second floor, she, Gussie, and Gussie’s daughter, Tulip, had pallets for sleeping and cubbies for their belongings with nails in the wall to hang their clothes.

Cinda smiled with warmth when she saw Junie enter the kitchen. “Bells and horns, Junie. You be c’here right on time, and I needs sometin’ from de cellar. Brang me up five apples and ten potatoes, and grab me a side of pork. Massa want pork roast on da morrow.”

Junie nodded, grabbed the sack sitting in the corner for that purpose, and ran out the door to the root cellar building right next door. Once he entered the building, he went down the stairs of the dank-smelling dwelling, lay on his belly in front of the first pit, pulled potatoes out of the sand, and placed them in the sack. He then stood and walked down to more pits until he reached the one that held only bushels of apples. Massa Benson was partial to apples and loved him a cobbler, pie, applesauce, or some kind of pork garnished with cinnamon apples. Junie lay down again and reached down until he brought forth the apples Cinda wanted. He placed everything Cinda asked for in the sack and then added a few extra things in his inner coat pocket.

He then stood and climbed up the steps and walked over to the many smoked meats hanging from hooks in the ceiling. Next to the hanging meat were dried beans, corn to be ground into meal, and under them, shucks of grain. Junie took down the requested side of pork but took nothing there for himself. The overseer’s wife checked the inventory in the root cellar regularly, and while she never could tell if any root vegetables were missing, she counted all the meat and checked it against the missus’s daily menu. Junie was smart enough only to take the items Cinda was cooking for the big house meals. He would then transfer them to their storage root pit in their cabin’s dirt floor.

“It’s not thieving. It’s payment.” Junie spoke to the dank air and hoped the voice heard him.

It would be hard to go through with their plans in the early winter, but one advantage was hiding things in their oversized coats. Junie’s coat was a hand-me-down, too big for him but perfect for hiding his stash. The other winter benefit was that nighttime came early, giving them more time to run and less daylight to follow. They also didn’t have to contend with soggy land, mosquitoes, and such on their journey. The voice said go, and they had used every bit of each day to prepare. Papa and Junie knew time was running out.

Going out the cellar door and into the kitchen building, he saw Sari sitting at the table kneading bread. They smiled at each other, Sari’s accompanied with a saucy wink. They were different in looks. Her leafy- green eyes, long, brown-auburn tipped curls, a heart-shaped face with her pert nose, and almond-toasted complexion was in sharp contrast to his cinnamon-hued eyes, warm brown skin, and broad forehead and nose. Both were attractive people, but the observers’ hearts measured beauty. Some folks, like the missus, called Junie ugly because his looks spoke to a land far away. But both Cinda and Sari assured him often he was a handsome boy and would be a fine, strapping man.

As though looks mattered when what a man needed was a broad back and fit mind . . .

Junie didn’t put much worry in his looks. He knew his mind worked right well. But he worried about his Sari girl every day. The only thing that kept her safe was that Massa had an uncommon soft spot for her, but Junie knew it wouldn’t be long before Massa bred her. She was over the age, and her beauty was well known. Massa had turned down offers to buy her or just to bed her, but he said no with a gleam in his eye like she was a Christmas turkey not quite ready for the table . . . but almost. Sighing, Junie said, “Cinda, Massa still going to his mama’s for Christmas?”

Cinda clapped the flour off her hands as she moved around the kitchen in sync with her tasks. “Yes, Junie. Third time ya done ask me such. Why?”

“Uh, I’se hopin’ he don’t make me go, that’s all.” “He say you staying here, Junie.”

Sari’s neck swiveled back and forth between the two. “Missus say she might take me. Ain’t that nice, Junie?”

Startled and eyes wide, Junie stuttered over his words. “Y-y-you don’t need to go, Sari.”

“But I neva get off this c’here place. I so too will go.”

Junie saw Cinda purse her lips and was glad when she said, “Baby girl, sometime, home is the onliest place you’s safe. And that there might not be true most time.”

Sari’s face fell, and her eyes glazed. “You hear tell I can’t go, Junie?”

Junie knew she was referring to how he heard the voice and how, over the years, that voice had kept them safe.

Do I lie? he wondered. “No, I ain’t heard on this in particula. But, Sari, I know. Don’t go.”

Sari bit her lip and then gave a sharp nod of her head. “I think on it.

But may not be my call, Junie. If Missus say, Massa do.”

Junie sucked in his breath and turned his head so they couldn’t read his face. On top of the anxiety for all his plans to come through, he was now extra worried.

Sari girl, just ’cause a thing got silk walls and padded don’t mean it ain’t a cage.

About the Author


Colette R. Harrell
 made her debut as an author with the book, The Devil Made Me Do It. As a published author, she has enjoyed meeting her readers; for her, it’s all surreal. She holds a master’s degree and worked as a director of social services, which allowed her a front-row seat to the conflict and struggles of everyday people. 

Her day is filled as an Author, Playwright, Story Editor, Wife, Mother, Grandmother, and child of God. She wears many titles allowing twenty-four hours a day to meet the challenge. 

 Her goal in writing is to engage readers and provide them with golden nuggets of wisdom that feed and titillate. Her biggest lesson is that it takes a village to raise a dream. She loves and appreciates her village. 

She prays everything God has for you manifests in your life. And that you stretch and reach for it! 

Colette’s latest book is the historical/interracial/supernatural/paranormal Later.

You can visit her website at Coletteharrell.com  or connect with her on TwitterFacebookGoodreads or Instagram.

Monday, September 12, 2022

The First Chapter: Moon Deeds by Palmer Pickering

 

Title: MOON DEEDS: STAR CHILDREN SAGA BOOK ONE
Author: Palmer Pickering
Publisher: Mythology Press
Genre: Adult Fantasy/Science-Fiction

BOOK BLURB

“The path to power is cloaked in shadows, so if you avoid all the shadows, you’ll never learn anything.”

It’s 2090: the last outpost of freedom is the moon, the best defense against technology is magic, and the only hope for humankind rests in the hands of the Star Children.

Twins Cassidy and Torr must save Earth from a ruthless enemy at a time when the only force more powerful than alien technology is magic. Moon Deeds launches the siblings’ journey across the galaxy, where they must learn their power as the Star Children, claim their shamanic heritage, and battle dark forces that threaten humankind.

The Star Children Saga follows Cassidy and Torr as they slowly awaken to their destiny as the twin Star Children, born every millennium to reconnect with the source of all life. They come to discover the sheer enormity of their task: to find our ancestors on a lost planet across the galaxy and save humanity from a spiraling descent into darkness. The powers they must wield to accomplish this task are truly frightening and put at risk everything they love.

Come along with twenty-year-old twins Cassidy and Torr, who inherited deeds to land parcels on the moon. They want to use their moon deeds to get off Earth and escape a brutal dictatorship. But first they must unlock their shaman powers.

A rollicking yet poignant adventure in the not too distant future, when we have colonized the moon and nearly lost Earth to a dictatorship. Only the shamans remain free, plus the lucky ones who escaped to the moon.

Join the adventure! An addictive space opera, science-fantasy series.

Book Information

Release Date: May 25, 2019

Publisher: Mythology Press

Soft Cover: ISBN: ‎ 978-1732568808; 598 pages; $21.99; E-Book, $.99; Audiobook, FREE.

Book Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xt13Js_M-P4

Amazon: https://amzn.to/3uKWq2o

Barnes & Noble:  https://bit.ly/3rQteFx

Chapter One

Star Song

West San Jose, California, Western Free States, planet Earth

July 8, 2090

Cassidy stood in the backyard, staring up at the sky and listening to the music of the stars. The Shaman’s Shield of gray clouds loomed far overhead, covering the sky in a thick, impenetrable roof, and casting a gloomy pall over everything. Ever since the Shaman’s Shield had appeared three years ago, she had not seen the stars nor heard their music. But today the thin, ethereal strains wove through the neighborhood noise. The music was faint, but it was there.

It had been louder when she was a child, before Grandma Leann had shielded her. Cassidy had thought everyone could hear the music, a constant background noise of such poignant sweetness that sometimes it was painful to listen to. But she had realized over time that others did not hear it. Or perhaps they heard it subconsciously, or in their dreams, because sometimes she heard an echo of it when musicians played their instruments or choirs sang. Cassidy had tried to replicate the sound, studying violin as a child, then piano, but neither instrument captured the elusive tones.

The only one who understood was her twin brother, Torr. They had shared a room as children, and she used to sing to him.

“I recognize that song,” he had said one time in the middle of the night. She had been sitting up in bed humming the tune that was streaming through her head. Torr had awoken from a deep sleep and sat upright, staring at her. “I heard it in my dream.”

“You heard me humming,” she corrected him.

“No,” Torr said stubbornly. “The golden people were singing to me. Their song said you and I have to find them. We have to follow their voices.” Torr closed his eyes and sang the melody more truly than she ever had, picking out parts of the multi-layered harmony she had never captured before. And he added something resembling words that she did not understand, but which made her cry.

In the morning he had remembered the dream, but he could not remember the song. For days afterwards he had tried to get her to sing it back to him, but she could not get the melody quite right, and she did not know the strange language. Then when Grandma Leann laid the blanket of silence over her, the song stopped. As time passed, Cassidy forgot the tune she had always hummed. She could only recall hints of it, like wisps of clouds that slipped away as she tried to grab them.

Now the sky was singing to her again. The melody came to her, carried on the wind as though from a distant mountaintop. She was filled with joy to hear it, though the song was more mournful than she recalled. She still could not understand the words, but she remembered what Torr had told her that night in their attic bedroom, that the two of them had to follow the golden people’s voices and find them. She did not know who they were, or where they were, but they were still out there singing to her. Calling to her. Waiting.

About the Author

Palmer Pickering has been writing fiction since she was eight. She received her BA in American Studies from Wesleyan University, with concentrations in Religion and Race Relations.

She currently works in Silicon Valley in the gaming industry and high tech. In addition, Palmer holds a certificate in Chinese Acupressure, is a certified solar panel installer, and studied Tibetan Buddhism with the 14th Dalai Lama.

She lives and writes in the magical redwood forest of the Santa Cruz Mountains, California.

Her latest book is the scifi fantasy for adults, Moon Deeds: Star Children Saga Book One.

You can visit her website at www.MythologyPress.com or connect with her on TwitterFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest.

.com or connect with him on Twitter.

Monday, August 29, 2022

The First Chapter: Half Moon Lake by Steve Brock

 

Title: HALF MOON LAKE
Author: Steve Brock
Publisher: Steve Brock
Pages: 187
Genre: Suspense / Conspiracy

Crease Williams lived a charmed life with a bright future. Only in his junior year at Texas Christian University, his skills as a wide receiver had already captured the attention of NFL scouts.

Then a tragedy cost him his family and his desire to play football. Personally devastated, he left his old life behind and got as far from Ft. Worth, TX, and football as he could get.

Keeping mostly to himself, he became a float-plane pilot in the far north of Minnesota. Flying fisherman and hunters into remote locations was how he spent his time. When a group he had flown to Roudy’s Cabin goes missing, he faces accusations and more turmoil than he could have ever imagined. To make matters worse, his quiet existence is upturned by an element from his past bent on vengeance.

Half Moon Lake is Steve Brock’s first novel. A suspenseful mystery written with likable characters and a lighthearted flavor.

Book Information

Release Date: March 30, 2022

Publisher:  Steve Brock

Soft Cover: ISBN: 978-0578391977; 187 pages; $9.99; Kindle Unlimited FREE

Amazon: https://amzn.to/3knaPfd

Chapter One

What would it be today? Indigo, purple, or maybe some shade of green? It was something he had grown to appreciate, even anticipate during the last few years. Depending on the season and the hour of the day, the color of the water in Half Moon Lake changed. Ripples on the surface glistened and danced in the sunlight as he approached from the east. Billowy cotton-ball clouds floated high against the evening sky. Pine trees, majestic and tall, surrounded the lake. They seemed to stretch to touch the belly of the plane.

He lingered one last moment to admire the vista, but eventually keyed the mic.

“TC8750 to Half Moon Flight Service.”

The familiar voice of Rose Larson broke a few seconds of static. “This is Half Moon. Is that you, Crease Williams? I hope this is an obscene radio call.” No one ever accused Rose of ridged formality.

“I’m afraid it’s all business today, Rose. I’m here to pick up the floatplane to fly a load of supplies up to that group of fishermen at Roudy’s Cabin.”

“Fishermen? Do you mean those four CEO types who were through here last week? I saw the list of supplies they ordered. I don’t know about the fishing, but it appears the beer drinking is going pretty well up there. The runway’s clear, Crease.”

To call what serves to land small airplanes a runway was generous. A strip along the side of the lake a quarter mile long and maybe one hundred feet wide, it was a grass field dozed free of trees and rolled to flatten some humps. Crease coaxed his little Cessna to the north, taking a wide loop to a course parallel with the landing strip.

Just as he was straightening his heading, pointing the nose toward the windsock that stood just past the end of the landing field, his life changed. At once there was deafening silence and a violent lurch downward. The engine had stopped, and he thought he must have dropped at least five hundred feet. A quick glance at the altimeter said no, but his testicles said yes.

A dozen thoughts fought for attention in his mind. He filtered through the “whys” and concentrated on the one thought that mattered: How do I land a plane without power? He knew it could be done. The space shuttle always lands without power, he thought to himself. Sure, that’s right. Of course, an astronaut pilots the shuttle, not a washed-out wide receiver with a few hundred hours of flight time. Still, he believed he could do it, and it wasn’t like he had a lot of options.

Just as he had convinced himself, the plane jerked forward as the engine started running again. It appeared that his heading was fairly correct, and the desire to touch the ground overwhelmed the urge to swing the plane around to line up perfectly. He eased it down and, with a bit of a hop, came into contact with the grass. He taxied forward, slowing, and came to a stop at the end of the landing area. He sat motionless until his mind and his gonads agreed he was on the ground.

Crease climbed the three steps to the single door that opened into the small reception area that was also the Half Moon radio room. As he walked through the door, an office chair swung around and a well-nourished fortysomething lady sporting a bouffant hairstyle stood. With a big toothy grin, Rose said, “There you are, you big linebacker. Come here and give me a hug.”

“Just try and stop me,” he said as he met her in front of the desk. As they embraced he said, “You know I was never a linebacker. In fact, I tried to avoid them as much as possible.”

“Hell, Crease, all football players are linebackers to me. What have you been up to? I haven’t seen you in a coon’s age.”

“I’ve been down in Texas doing some maintenance on the home place. Which reminds me, I think I might have something for you here in my duffel bag.” He didn’t know everything about Rose. She was divorced twice that he knew of, and scuttlebutt was that at least one settlement was enough to set her up for life. He got the feeling the only reason she helped out around the field was because she was lonely. He liked her. The truth was, he was closer to Rose than anyone since the accident. “While I was home, I picked up a little something for you.” He reached into his bag and produced a two-pound box of Pangburn’s Millionaires.

Her smile increased as he handed her the box. “Are you trying to wreck my perfect figure?”

“God, no. It looks to me like you’re down a few pounds. I don’t want you to dry up and blow away.”

“You’re just oozing that old Southern charm, darlin’. How is it no one has claimed you yet?”

“I guess the bad outweighs the good. I’m not much for long-term relationships. How have you been?”

“I’m still walking upright so I can’t complain.” Rose returned to her chair, clutching the box of chocolate turtles.

Since he had moved up north, Rose was as close to a friend as he had. After losing his family and discovering he had no future, he determined he would maintain a certain distance from people. He had become a loner, and it suited him now. Rose was almost an exception.

He rested his hands on the counter. “Is Ol’ Pete around?”

“He’s here someplace. Walk through the showroom to the garage, and you’ll find him.”

With genuine concern, he asked, “Are you okay? Seriously, you look tired.”

“It’s nothing. I’ve not been sleeping well lately.”

“I’m planning to be around for a while, so I’m gonna keep an eye on you.”

“That just makes my day. Would you like for me to page Pete for you?”

“Nah, I’ll head back to the garage as you said. I’ll come across him.”

“You know you’re not exactly his favorite person, right?”

“Yeah, I remember. I’m not sure what I ever did to make him dislike me so much.”

“You know what you did.”

Crease did know. It wasn’t like he destroyed an aircraft. It could have happened to anyone learning to land a floatplane. Anybody with limited experience could bring a plane down a bit too hard. Yes, the hard landing on the water ruptured a float, and yes, the fuselage took on a lot of water, and yes, they had to use a come-along to drag the plane into shore. The bottom line was that the plane got repaired, and he had paid for it, every cent. That should be enough for any reasonable person, but Ol’ Pete wasn’t altogether reasonable. He had an unnatural attachment to his floatplanes. Three years later now, and Pete still hadn’t forgiven him for that little faux pas.

He had apologized, and he had learned his lesson, but that had little impact on Ol’ Pete. Pete had grown up around airplanes. His dad flew them, repaired them, and even created them. He had taught Pete everything there was to know about single-engine aircraft: what made them fly, and what made them crash. If there was anyone in the world who could make a bowling ball fly, it was Pete. By the same token, if anybody could explain why an almost new Cessna TTX, well maintained and treated with care, would suddenly decide to shut down on approach, that, too, would be Pete.

Following Rose’s direction, he began walking through the warehouse, toward the garage. The warehouse was a local wonder. Around here, if you wanted to do some shopping in a national chain big box store, you were in for a big disappointment. The closest Walmart was over one hundred miles away. The closest thing to that was the warehouse of the Half Moon Airfield and Wilderness Outfitters. Not that it compared to a big box store in ambiance. There was no nicely tiled floor or rows of pristine shelves stacked with goods. The “Outfitters,” as it was locally known, was a large open building with a bare concrete floor stacked with pallets. It was filled with anything useful in camping, fishing, hunting, or any other outdoor activity. Beyond the warehouse and to the right stood the door to the garage. He cringed a little as he rounded the corner.

He hated to ask Pete for anything. Every conversation they had since the “incident” always began the same way. Ol’ Pete sat behind an old metal office desk stained and dented by years of use and abuse. His feet were propped up as he leaned back in his rickety old wooden chair. On his head was the only hat he’d ever seen Pete wear. Ragged and stained with years of head sweat, it was adorned with hooks and fishing lures all around. Sure as spring rain, as if reading from a script, Pete said, “Well, well, if it ain’t the local football star. Sink any floatplanes lately?” He always followed that statement with a snicker. That was what Crease hated the most, the snicker.

Over the last couple of years, he had learned to take a beat before continuing the conversation. Deep down, Crease knew Ol’ Pete didn’t really hate him. Pete wasn’t that kind of person. Pete loved his planes like family, and his harassment at the start of every encounter was Ol’ Pete’s way of reminding Crease that the “incident” was not forgotten.

The truth was that Pete liked Crease a lot, despite the “incident.” Crease had become one of the better pilots he knew. He realized Crease had some rough times in his past and he respected him for coming through it and creating a new life for himself. He figured he would stop harassing Crease about the “incident” soon. Just not today.

After a brief, pregnant pause, Crease answered the sarcastic question with a humble response, “No,” he said with a weak smile, “I’ve learned my lesson.”

“Glad to hear it. So what brings you to our little neck of the woods?”

“I flew in to pick up a load of supplies for the campers up at Roudy’s Cabin.”

“Surely you didn’t come to see me about a beer run.”

“I did not. When I was making my approach today, I had problems with the Cessna.”

“What kind of problem?”

“It just stopped running. That’s an issue I haven’t seen before. There was no warning. One second it was running just fine, and the next second it just quit. Have you ever seen anything like that before?”

Ol’ Pete took a drag from the cheap cigar he was smoking, then took it out of his mouth and said, “Can’t say that I have, not without some symptoms first. Even then, engines don’t just stop completely. Did you put gas in it?”

Crease wasn’t sure if that was supposed to be funny or not, so he didn’t answer the question directly. “I checked everything before I took off this morning.”

“Did you land it without power?”

“No, that’s another odd thing. It started up again all on its own a few seconds later.”

“That’s odd all right, and kinda hard to believe.”

That comment did not surprise Crease. He had a hard time believing it himself. “Would you have time to look at it while I’m making my run?”

Ol’ Pete drew another long puff on his cigar, laid it down on the ashtray and finally replied, “Yeah, I’ll give it a once-over.”

“I appreciate that, Pete. Do you want me to bring it up here to the garage?”

“Nah, leave it where it is. I may take it up for a little cruise around the lake.”

“Thanks, Pete, I’ll check in with you when I get back.”

Crease headed back into the warehouse area and told one of the warehouse guys, Little Al, he was called, what he was there for. In about fifteen minutes, he was looking at a small pallet stacked with the supplies he was to deliver to Roudy’s Cabin. Mostly food items, including steaks, lobster, Crown Royal, and imported beer among assorted other items. The people who rented Roudy’s Cabin were not known for living on the cheap.

After he had confirmed everything was there, Al got an electric pallet lift and took the supplies out to the dock. Crease stopped by the office, got the keys to one of the floatplanes, and led his helper to load it. He did his preflight check and climbed into the pilot’s seat.

Taking off in a floatplane gives you a different feeling than taking off from a runway. The spray picked up by the prop and the gentle bobbing up and down in the water make you feel like you are driving a boat. Then, as you gain speed and the floats began to lift out of the water, you become a pilot again. It is a unique feeling that most people, even pilots, never experience. It was something Crease had come to appreciate.

The wings of a floatplane are set farther off the ground than land-based planes like his Cessna TTX. That gives them the ability to climb more steeply and turn sharper, attributes that are necessary when taking off from the surface of a small lake and clearing the surrounding trees. It was only a thirty-minute flight to Roudy’s Cabin. He could make the entire trip at one thousand feet if he wanted to. From that altitude, he could sometimes see herds of deer or elk in the openings in the tree line.

The job paid well, but that wasn’t why he chose it. He chose this life because his old one had died, and this was as far away from being a Texas football player as anything he could think of. That and it gave him a sense of freedom that he’d never had before, and freedom was something he needed very badly right now.

The sun still hung high in the sky as he approached Roudy’s Cabin. He brought the plane down, and gently, ever so gently, touched the floats down on the surface of the lake. He pulled it over and nudged the frame up against the dock.

Floatplanes aren’t particularly loud, as planes go, but out here in the wilderness where the closest automobile is over fifty miles away, it normally gets people’s attention. Usually, someone comes down and helps anchor the plane to the dock. He could do it and had occasionally, but it was unusual.

He walked up to the utility shed positioned not far from the end of the dock. He retrieved the ATV from within, hooked up the small trailer, and drove it down to the plane. He off-loaded all the supplies onto the trailer, climbed aboard the ATV, and headed toward the cabin.

Despite the image conjured by the name, Roudy’s Cabin was neither rowdy nor a cabin. The style of the structure could best be described as “rustic elegance.” Sitting just fifty yards from the water’s edge, the cabin was a well-appointed, 5,500-square-foot structure with five bedrooms, four baths, two fireplaces, and a game room complete with a billiard table and wet bar. The kitchen, with a full complement of professional-grade appliances, was the envy of every chef who saw it. The whole building was surrounded by a twelve-foot covered porch furnished with chaise lounges, rockers, a built-in grilling station, and a whirlpool tub. It was definitely constructed for leisure living.

The forest had been cleared all around the cabin, stumps removed, and a nice stand of grass nurtured to grow. Most people who stayed in the cabin probably never adventured beyond its lawn. The exception was those who wanted to hunt moose or elk. There were several places much better for that, however, so die-hard hunters rarely stayed here. Most people who used the cabin wanted to get out of the city and “get back to nature,” at least as long as nature came with five-star accommodations.

It was for that reason that it was unusual for Crease not to be met at the dock upon arrival. He thought perhaps they were grilling out back of the cabin, and since the back entrance led into the kitchen, where most of the supplies should go, he slowly drove around the cabin to the grilling station.

Finding no one, he shut off the ATV and just listened for a moment. He thought perhaps he would hear music or the TV from inside the house, but there was nothing but the sounds of nature around him. He picked out a couple of bags of frozen items and headed to the double doors. The doors were unlocked, but there was nothing unusual about that.

Out here, the visitors who showed up in the middle of the night would not turn the doorknob. Other than the residents of the cabin, there were probably no other human beings within twenty square miles. There were plenty of other creatures milling around in the dark. Raccoons, possums, skunks, foxes, and rabbits were always looking for any food scraps that might be left out. Those critters, as Rose called them, could be a bit of a nuisance, but not dangerous.

There were dangers in the north woods, but nothing was likely to break through the door. The most obvious concern, if you asked people, would be bears and wolves. Certainly, both species were present in the woods around the cabin, but black bears were shy around humans, and grizzlies didn’t inhabit the area. A pack of wolves could certainly ruin your day, but only if you presented yourself as a weak or wounded target.

What surprised most people was learning that the most dangerous animals in the area were elk and moose. Not that either is aggressive by nature, but many people who have never seen them don’t respect their space. The problem comes when people approach elk expecting Rudolph, but what they find are charging, pointed antlers propelled by a bristled, snorting, seven hundred pounds of pissed-off.

Crease walked through the door into the kitchen. He deposited the frozen items in the large freezer. He went about unloading the rest of the supplies, being intentionally loud, hoping to draw attention to his presence. With the last bag delivered, he stood silently for a moment. The beautiful house felt more like a derelict, abandoned mansion. It was creepy-silent.

He decided to do a walk-through to make sure no one was around. Walking room to room he found the same, a house that could have been a college dormitory, in desperate need of a maid. There was no question guys had been living here, but they weren’t here now. In one of the bedrooms, he found a journal. Someone’s musing about daily happenings. He knew it was personal, and he hated to read it, but maybe if he just peeked a little, he might discover what they’d been doing.

He decided to start with the previous day and only go as far as necessary to find a clue. He didn’t have to read any further. There was an entry that said the group had been doing some hiking through the woods, and yesterday they came across something interesting. All it said was it was they wanted to explore it further, but the daylight was fading so they came back to the cabin. They thought they might go back to continue tomorrow.

Crease gladly closed the book, he felt like he was a peeping tom as it was. They were probably traipsing through the woods at this very moment. The creepy feeling kind of went away as he made his way out of the cabin and back to the ATV. He drove back down to the dock, put the ATV back in the shed, and climbed into the plane. Looking at that journal made him feel better, but he would keep it to himself.

About the Author

I’ve been an author in search of a novel for just about forty years now. Writing was the first thing I ever wanted to do seriously. Over the years I’ve done quite a variety of things. My first real job, the kind where you have a schedule and get paid hourly, was as a cook at the local Sonic Drive-In. I’ve been a machinist, a forklift driver, a production worker, a computer programmer, an IT guy, an installation manager, a software trainer, and an education department manager. Those are just the employment highlights. Through it all, I was a husband and father, and I attended college at night to get my bachelor’s degree in technology management.

Before all that started, I wanted to be a writer. It just didn’t work out that way. Maybe that’s ok, I’ve had a good life and I have a wonderful family that I am proud to have. I don’t regret any of what I’ve done to support my family over the years. The desire to write has persisted, however, and I took a look at my odometer one day and it read 61 years old. None of us know how high our personal odometer will go, but I knew if I was ever going to be a writer, now was the time.

I’m bringing my lifetime of experience to my novel writing. Many of my characters are loosely based upon people I’ve known in real life. Some of my plot elements are also influenced by real-life experiences as well. As of this writing, my first novel, Half Moon Lake, will be published on Amazon in a few weeks. I have begun work on my second book as well. I hope you will take time to register your email address so I may keep you apprised of announcements and special offers. I’d be thrilled to count you as one of my first dedicated readers.

Steve Brock’s latest novel is Half Moon Lake.

You can visit his website at www.BrockNovels.com or connect with him at Twitter.