Thursday, July 26, 2012

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Author Judith McDowell - 1st Chapter Rougarou




Chapter One

Jack Olivier stilled the motor of the small boat before it could bump the wet stilts of the old shack sitting atop its rotting timbers. Croaking tree frogs and the lapping of the water as it slaps against the sides of the boat are the only sounds to greet him in the surrounding darkness. His hand reached for the boat’s starter rope, then dropped back to his side. “To late to turn back now,” he whispered, as he tied the boat along side the one already there. Climbing the ladder he sees the faint glow of a candle moving from somewhere inside. His heart picks up speed as the weather-beaten door opens.
She made no move to step aside. “Jack, what brings you to the bayous in the dark of night?” Her husky voice, with its melodic, French-Creole accent, flowed over him.
“I need your help.”
For a long moment she remained still, watching him. Her dark green, almond-shaped eyes wary. Then stepping to the side she pushed the door open wider.
 Walking past her a sharp musky odor fills his senses. The smell is not at all unpleasant. It is her smell and he knows long after he leaves it will remain, calling forth vivid images he wants to forget.
A glimmer of fear showed in her dark eyes as she set the candleholder down on a small kitchen table. “What is it you wish of me?”
Dropping into the one available chair he tried, without success, to hide his tension. “I think you already know.”
“Someone has moved into the mansion.” Her hand flew to her throat as though to ward off the suffocating effect his chilling words had upon her.
He can almost smell the stark fear clutching her reed-thin body as a brief shudder passes over her. “So much time has passed, I was beginnin’ to think maybe we were beyond havin’ to worry.”
“Evil does not die, Jack.” She stared through the weathered screen door at the gathering mist hovering over the water. “It only lies dormant. Waiting.”
“You have to warn them, Chandra.” He ran a tired hand through his thick, dark brown hair. “I don’t know how, I mean how does one go `bout warnin’ others `bout the likes of him and not come off soundin’ like we’re the ones they should be leery of?”
“What you ask of me, I am unable to give.”
“Unable, or unwillin’?” He gazed at her in the dim light. “You know as well as I, no one else will go up there. Christ! Even I haven’t been in that house since...” his voice shuddered to a stop. Shoving his tall, lean body from the chair, he pushed past her onto the porch.
She followed jerking him around to face her. “You, and others like you, think since I have the gift to see what others cannot, I am beyond his reach. The powers of darkness are very strong, Jack.” Her slender arms twined around her body. “Only a fool would challenge their wrath.”
His hand moved upward to touch her, then dropped back to his side. “Chandra, I’m talkin’ ‘bout a flesh and blood man. You’re talkin’ as though he’s someone so terrible we need to arm ourselves with holy water and a crucifix.” Jack tried to reason with her. “The man is dangerously ill, but not evil. At least, not in the sense you’re tryin’ to make him out to be.”
A slight laugh bubbled up from her throat, as she looked at him shocked he could be so naïve. “All right,” he nodded, tipping her face up to his and running one finger over her high cheekbones. His eyes lingered on her straight, well defined nose as her nostrils flared with frustration and anger. “I realize there are powers I can’t explain. I know you can do things I would never have believed possible. Such as talkin’ to spirits, or healin’ those who come to you when even the doctors have given up. But, Chandra, I’d be willin’ to bet every cent I have, you could best him.”
Her beautiful face, bathed in the glow of the full moon moving out from the clouds, relaxed for a moment before taking on the shadow of fear once more. “Then you would be a poor man, Jack Olivier, for I know his strength,” She pushed his hand from her face. “Tell me of the people living in the mansion.
“I don’t know much, only what I overheard at the post office.” He shoved his hands deep in the pockets of his jeans to keep from reaching out for her again. “A man, his wife, and three little girls moved in a few days ago.”
“Of course,” she drew out the words her voice taking on a breathless tone. “That is why it has been so long since anyone has occupied the mansion.” Her long, bare nails bit into her arms as she stood there trying to sort out her racing thoughts. “Others, who tried to lease the house were turned away, because they did not have children.”
A slight shiver of fear passed over him. “Why do you say that?”
Without taking her eyes from his, she asked in a voice devoid of feeling.  “Are you sure you wish to know the answer?”
He nodded.
“The strength of evil is at its peak when the blood of the pure is spilled.” She ignored the way his brows drew together. “What purer blood is there, than that which is yet to be tainted or defiled? Would he not think it sweeter than the finest wine?” She refused to look away as disgust replaced fear. “They trust with their very souls, my naïve friend. It is this innocence which calls and tempts the evil to come for them.”
His eyes grew wide as the full impact of her words shot through his brain. “Then what you’re sayin’, is not only is he psychotic, he especially enjoys killin’ children!”
“Yes!” she spat out the word. “These people are nothing to me! Yet you ask me to risk my very life to protect them!” She plopped herself into the nearest chair. At her cold indifference, he drew back as though seeing her for the first time. “You think me unfeeling.” Her beautiful eyes rounded as she cocked her head to one side. “But you only feel that way because you do not know what you ask of me.”
Stepping up behind her, he placed both hands on her slender shoulders. Slowly he began to knead the taut muscles, smiling slightly as she dropped her head forward in open invitation for him to continue. “I’m askin’ you to stop somethin’ ‘fore it’s too late.” He kept his voice low-keyed. “If you wish, I’ll go with you to talk to them.”
“No.” she shrugged his hands away. “If I decide to put my own self at risk, I will do what needs to be done alone.” Deliberately she left her chair, distancing the space between them.
He stood where he was, his gaze sliding over her tall slender form, noting how the hot humid night made the thin gown she was wearing cling to her body. It was all he could do to keep his mind on the problem at hand. With a determined shake of his head, he continued, “What I don’t understand, is why you think he will know if you go to them.” His voice had lost its soft tone now. Anger at her stubbornness and the uncomfortable tightening in his groin combined to sharpen his words. “It isn’t as though he can see what goes on at every moment of the day and night.”
“His eyes can see what others cannot.” Chandra pushed a hand beneath her hair to lift it from clinging to the back of her neck. “Never doubt his ability to search me out to extract payment for what he would deem his just due.”
“Chandra!” In two quick strides he was across the floor, taking her arm and spinning her around to face him. “The man is insane!” His fingers dug sharply into her flesh as she tried to back away out of his reach. “I don’t give a damn what the doctors say. He isn’t cured! He never will be! I think the best thing for all of us would be for me to go to them and simply tell them what they need to know.”
“Would they listen?” Her eyes closed briefly sending out a silent plea.
“I’ll do my best to see they do,” his voice softened as he stared down at her. “At any rate he won’t look to you for revenge.”
“It could work.” she let herself warm to the idea. “You are only one of many, where as I would be the first person he would come for.”
“Then it’s settled,” He leaned forward to drop a quick kiss on the end of her nose. “First thing tomorrow mornin’ I’ll go to the mansion and have a talk with them. I can be pretty persuasive when I put my mind to it.”
Chandra gazed up at him, seeing the goodness in his dark brown eyes. His narrow, boyish face revealed his feelings, feelings she remembered all too well. “I know you think I am talking about things which have no real place in your world. Only,” her voice caught on the words she was trying to say,  “I know of which I speak.”
A chilling memory crept into his mind. A memory of blood-drenched walls and the unmistakable smell of bodies left to lie in the sweltering heat long after the pulse of life had stopped beating. Quickly he pushed the sickening thoughts to the back of his mind. Taking a deep breath he gently brushed the tightly curled mass of ebony hair back over one dusky shoulder before tipping her face up to his. “You’re talkin’ to a man well-versed in the Catholic Church, Chandra. I know of which I speak,” he smiled down at her.
Deliberately she pushed his hands away, looking beyond him. “So many believe they are pure of heart and because they say their prayers each night evil can never touch them.” She closed her eyes expelling a weary breath. “They are so wrong.”
When he made to reach out for her again, she sidestepped him putting out her hands to ward off his embrace. “If you believe he is not in control, then I fear for you. Remember, even your Bible speaks of Satan’s reign, and although I do not believe in Satan I do believe in dark spirits. Jack listen to me, it is the dark side who is in control, and right now this darkness is unstoppable in the one waiting in the shadows of the Hindel Mansion.”
“Chandra. I get the feelin’ we’re talkin’ ‘bout two different things. I’m talkin’ ‘bout Lawrence Hindel, a deranged killer. Money bought his freedom and turned him loose on the people of this town. Everyone here has enough sense to stay away from that house, but these people aren’t from here. They have no idea what danger they’re in. I can’t close my eyes and pretend somethin’ can’t happen!” He turned, striding towards the door.
Standing in the doorway a few moments later she watched as his small boat disappeared around the bend. Chandra felt her slim body, grow cold with terror for she knew what she had to do. But first she would ascertain, beyond all doubt, the danger really did exist.
Storm clouds moved quickly across the full moon as the low rumblings of thunder echoed throughout the darkness. Seating herself in a chair beside the open window, Chandra concentrated on freeing her spirit from the confines of her earthly body. Taking several deep breaths to relax her mind, she shut out all sound and movement around her, from the fluttering curtain blowing away from the window, to the sound of the tree frogs making themselves heard below. Always before, it had been an easy task. One she had been able to do, almost at will, since she had been a very young girl. Now knowing the danger awaiting the innocent and herself if she were caught, her mind was almost strangled with fear, thwarting her efforts to reach out to the ones in need the only safe way she knew how.
Forcing the fear deep inside, she at last felt herself becoming weightless felt her spirit soar from the flesh-and-blood-shell sitting upright in the tattered old chair. In no time at all, she was walking in the sprawling grounds of the Hindel Mansion. Light streamed through the high windows, pushing back the shadows reaching defiantly across the spacious lawns as she made her way unerringly up the wide stone steps to the front entrance.
Passing quickly through the door, she halted just inside as she watched three little girls, ranging in age from five, eight and possibly ten, coming towards her down a wide staircase. They were beautiful children, with their long blond hair parted in the middle and hanging well below their waists. Their large blue eyes still shone with the innocence of youth. As she watched them, she felt an unusual sadness come over her at the thought of what may be waiting for them in the shadows.
Suddenly an unearthly howling arose from somewhere beyond the sturdy walls, stopping each girl in mid-stride as they looked one to the other trying to discern what had caused it. Then as if by some unspoken agreement, they began running as fast as their young legs would allow through the cavernous rooms to where a man of perhaps thirty-five, and a woman somewhat younger, sat in conversation.
“Mama! Did you hear that?” the oldest girl asked breathlessly before throwing herself into the safety of her mother’s arms.
“Yes, Margaret,” her mother allowed, beginning to push the child away from her, “ it was only a dog.”
“But… it sounded like it was hurt,” Margaret’s eight-year-old sister cried, her large blue eyes growing even larger.
“I don’t think so, Rebecca,” her father spoke up, trying to put the children at ease. “It was probably some neighbor’s dog out hunting.”
“I wish we could have a dog,” she whined, settling herself on the floor at his feet.
“Now, we aren’t going to start this again.” He glanced at her over his wide-rimmed glasses, as though the subject was already settled.
Their mother entered into the conversation. “You both know what Mr. Quigly, the caretaker, said when we leased this house. “He said no pets!”
A long, deep-throated howl combined with echoing peals of thunder brought all five people up straight.
“Good God! That is unnerving, isn’t it!” The tall, thin-bodied man laid his crossword puzzle book down on the table beside his chair and rising to his feet walked over to the floor-to-ceiling window. Pulling back the heavy drapery, he gazed out onto the shadowed grounds. “That was enough to make the hairs on the back of the neck stand up!” He shivered slightly, dropping the drapery back into place before turning to face the ones watching him closely.
“Din’ make my hairs stand up,” five-year-old Lisa whispered, trying to sound brave while at the same time inching closer to the woman who reached out lovingly towards her.
“Roger,” she glanced nervously at her husband. “Maybe it’s some stray who’s simply hungry.” She inserted an embroidery needle into a pillowcase she had been stitching to lay it aside. “Why don’t I set some food out for it?”
“Janet, if we start doing that, before you know it, it’ll be hanging around all the time.” He withdrew a pipe from a carved wooden holder setting on the end table. “Then Mr. Quigly will assume its ours and accuse us of breaking our lease. The man strikes me as the sort who would refuse to return our money, too.” He popped the lid from a large can of tobacco and taking a pinch between his thumb and forefinger placed it in the bowl of the pipe, tamping it down snugly. “I think it goes without saying we would be in a sorry mess if that happened.”
“Roger, please!” she nodded to the girls.
“What? Oh yes...well...anyway,” he glanced toward the three small girls whose trusting eyes were fixed on his as he continued with what he was saying, “the point I was trying to make is, no one is to feed that dog. He’ll find his way back home.”
“All right, girls it’s bedtime.” Janet cut short the conversation before the children had a chance to bring up their campaign for the dog’s wellbeing again. “You need to scoot upstairs and get into your gowns. Daddy and I will be up directly to tuck you in.”
With a resigned sigh Margaret herded her sisters ahead of her toward the staircase, watching her parents over her shoulder, lowering her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “I think Mama and Daddy are mean not to let us have a dog. I don’t care what they say.” Her small mouth settled into a determined pout. “After everyone’s in bed tonight I’m going to take some food out to that poor little dog. He must be terribly hungry to cry like that.”
“I’ll go with you,” Rebecca placed a small arm lovingly, around her sister’s waist.
“Me too! Me too!” cried Lisa, determined not to be left out of anything that had to be talked about in a whisper.
They were starting up the stairs when they heard the strange howling erupt once more.
“Listen!” Margaret whispered.
“Yes! Listen!” Chandra cried, only they couldn’t hear her. They have no idea what they are heading for, the chilling thought raced through her mind. If they found them on the grounds the children wouldn’t stand a chance. They wouldn’t hesitate when their prey was so readily available.
She must warn them. They were no longer faceless strangers. She had witnessed the love between this family. Now there was no way she could turn her face from them. She had to return to her body as quickly as possible. They could not see her as she was now. Within moments she was outside in the rain, on her way back to her home in the swamps when the piercing howls split the night silence once more. Very close this time. So close she could smell the distinct odor of wet fur.

  














Monday, July 23, 2012

CHAPTER ONE - HAMMER OF THOR - AUTHOR S. Evan Townsend


Chapter One


 



 I stood erect despite my fatigue, sweat forming a puddle in the small of my back, running down into my eyes, beading on my arms.  I was breathing hard, sucking in the cool air, and grinning from ear to ear.
Newmark was looking at me intently.  We were standing near the summit of Mount Sutro in San Francisco.
"In which guild did you apprentice?" Newmark asked casually.  He seemed hardly winded.
"Minne-apolis," I replied, my rapid breathing turning it into two words.
"They trained you well, Student," he said, smiling.  "And you say we have you to thank for killing Weiss?"
I nodded.  "Yes, you do.  He angered the leader of my guild by trying to prove adepts were as fraudulent as he.  So I was ordered to kill him, and I did."
"He angered all the guilds," Newmark stated. "How did you do it?"
"A simple rune," I stated.  My breathing was becoming more regular.  "He didn't even bother to hide his real name.  He got sicker and sicker until he collapsed on stage in Detroit and died Halloween night."  I chuckled; I'd been in the audience and seen it.
"Yes," Newmark said.  "I remember reading about it in the papers.  You must have been young then."
It had been six years ago.  "Twenty-five," I bragged.  "Just four years after my first trials." 
"That's very impressive," Newmark commented.
"Thank you, Teacher."  I was still smiling; I enjoyed telling others about killing that fraud, Weiss.
The older adept walked to me and smiled.  "Joining my guild will not cause problems with your old guild?"
"No, Teacher, I had permission to leave the guild."
"And why the West Coast Guild?"
"It doesn't snow here, Teacher," I said with a laugh.  I was frankly sick of snow, having grown up on America's northern plains. 
Newmark laughed.  "It doesn't snow here, but it's not like southern California either.  Wait until you see our chilly summers, when the fog rolls in during the afternoon."
I smiled at that.  It was hard to believe on this beautiful spring day.
"Let's go," Newmark said.  He started walking down the hill to where the auto that had brought us was waiting.  I had started to follow when he suddenly turned.
I still had my hand on my arrowhead talisman as his finger came up.  The lightning bolt hit me, but my protection spell was up in time and the blast only physically knocked me back a bit.
Newmark smiled again.  "Very good.  Welcome to the West Coast Guild."
"Thank you, Teacher."  I allowed myself to relax.  He'd just welcomed me to the guild; he wouldn't attack me again.
Trials to join guilds were not on a pass-or-fail basis; they were pass-or-die.  Newmark, the head of the guild I wished to join, had spent the last hour trying to kill me.  I was sure he could have if he really desired.  But he only wished to test me to determine whether I was powerful enough to join his guildI apparently had just proven myself soand hadn't used all of his power. 
The hike down the mountain was leisurely.  I got the feeling he was also tired, but trying to hide it.  I couldn't help but laugh.  I knew I could do it:  I'd worn him out. 
There was a gravel road which led from the city and sitting where we'd left them were a warrior who was leaning against the long green auto smoking a cigarette, and a driver who was sitting behind the wheel looking bored.  The warrior opened the back door for NewmarkI had to open my own door to enterand then got in the front.  The auto's roof only covered the back seats, which were as plush as the most comfortable parlor furniture I'd ever seen.  There was a windshield between the front and back seats.  The front seats were in the open, and I wondered what the driver did when it rained.  The driver started the machine and piloted it down the road.
"Where are you staying?" Newmark asked over the wind noise.
I told him the name of the cheap hotel I'd found near the Union Pacific station.  Transcontinental sleeping berths weren't cheap, and I'd yet to find a place where rich men congregated to supplement my funds.
Newmark shook his head and reached through the open window to smack the right arm of the warrior.  "Samuel, give me some money."
The warrior handed back a roll of bills.  Newmark handed me the roll.  "Find someplace nice."
I looked at the roll of bills and then back at him.  Was this another test?  I handed the roll back to him.  "No, thank you, Teacher," I said.
Newmark smiled as he pocketed the money.  "You were trained well.  You know what guilds are for."
"Mutual protection," I stated.  "Killing a member of a guild will cause that guild to avenge his death."
"That is correct, Student," Newmark replied.
Guilds are also for companionship, I didn't add.  But guilds weren't mutual aid societies.  An adept who asked for help was showing his weakness.  Even accepting help was giving other adepts a signal that you were less than able to protect yourself.  And while guilds protected you from members of rival guilds, they did nothing to protect you from the member of your guild who would like your talisman or your position in the guild.  The leader of a guild was always the strongest and most powerful member.
When we entered San Francisco proper, the streets became paved, some with cobblestones.  I saw a line of shabbily dressed men stretched along the sidewalks of one block.  I immediately recognized it as the line for a soup kitchenthey were in every American city, including Minneapolis.  Even adepts couldn't help but know about the Depression that had gripped the country.  Luckily, we were exempt from such lesser matters.
A man was trying to sell pencils on a street corner for a nickel.  Our eyes met for a moment and I had to look away.  The despair and pain I saw in his face was almost unbearable.  I thought about Newmark's money and the cash I would soon be accumulating and was glad I was an adept.
When the auto stopped in front of the Huntington Apartments on Nob Hill, Newmark got out and I followed.   The warrior also exited the vehicle and hovered nearby.  As I stood waiting on the sidewalk, the driver drove the auto away, and I assumed he was going to go park it somewhere.
"Come see me tomorrow about noon," Newmark told me.  "You'll also meet other members of the guild then."
"Yes, Teacher."
He entered the lobby of the apartment building.  It was later converted to a hotel but it remained the guild headquarters, with our guild renting the thirteenth floor.
I wandered around the town looking for men of means.  With the Depression there weren't many, but I was able to lighten the wallets of some imprudent gentlemen.
When I hailed a taxi and told the driver to take me to a nice hotel, he dropped me at the Drake-Wiltshire, not too far away on Stockton Street.  It was nicer than any place I'd ever stayed in my lifecertainly like nothing in Grand Forks.
In North Dakota, one only heard rumors of adepts, although there were occasional stories in the newspapers about their exploits in big cities.  The stories were almost universally reproving and my parents usually added their own opinions.  But I didn't care.  I wanted to be an adept and knew I had the talent, ambition, and brains to be one.  I also knew I didn't want to stay in Grand Forks a moment longer than necessary. 
Once, on a school field trip to a museum, there were Indian artifacts displayed under glass.  One artifact, an arrowhead with markings scratched into it, seemed to me to be emanating power. I asked my friend, standing close by, if he noticed anything, and he just laughed at me.
Everyone knew adepts used "talismans" to increase their power.  I was sure that the arrowhead was a talisman, probably for an Indian medicine man.  So, at age 17, I broke into the museum, stole the arrowhead, and with my other scant belongings and all the money I could rustle up in a carpetbag, I took a train to Minneapolis in search of a guild.  The train was full of men going to Chicago to Navy boot camp because of the war in Europe.  I felt young and out-of-place even though I was just a year younger than most of them.  They were excited to go stop the Huns, and I was glad that I was embarking on a path that would, if successful, preclude my fighting for my country in the war to end all wars, or any other wars that might come along. Even though I did feel some pangs of guilt, I forgot them quickly.
I'd never been to a city like Minneapolis before.  It was a wonder; the streets were paved, there were electric lights everywhere, even in the buildings, and street cars and automobiles moved along like magic.  I'd never even seen an automobile before.
I had no idea how to find a guild, but I needn't have worried as they found me, apparently feeling the arrowhead's power.  After a five-year apprenticeship, I passed my trials to join soon after my twenty-first birthday. 
I spent almost ten years with that guild, but after the summer of ‘29 and the winter of '30 I decided it was time to leave.  It had been over 100 degrees in June, July, and August, and 104 in September.  Then five months later it was below zero; February and March were absolutely, miserably cold.  After giving it careful thought I concluded that I wanted to move to a milder climate, so I asked the head of my guild for permission to attempt to join the West Coast Guild.  She was unhappy to see me go, but wished me luck.  I got on the next train for San Francisco.
There was not much to do in the hotel other than read or listen to the radio, and I quickly became bored.  I felt like celebrating (and wanted to wash the face of the man selling pencils from my consciousness).  I'd need to find a speakeasy and maybe a pretty girl to seduce, or to use a persuasion spell on, for a proper celebration.  The doorman or bell captain could probably help me find a hooch joint, preferably a classy one. 
My plans were pleasantly changed.  As I walked through the lobby of the Drake-Wiltshire, I saw her.  First I glimpsed her from behind and I admired her slender form in her stylish dress.  I could see her dark, dark hair that came to the nape of her neck, and her shapely ankles.  Then she turned and I practically gasped out loud.  She was Oriental, and one of the most beautiful women I'd ever seen in my life.  She was so lovely it almost hurt to look at her.  She was dressed in a two-tone western-style dress, slim down to her silk-covered calves.  She wore high-heeled shoes and a small hat on her black hair, hair that was so black it seemed to have blue highlights.  And, I could feel it; she was an adept.
Our eyes locked and I found I couldn't look away.  She didn't avert her eyes, either, and we continued to stare at one another.  I slowly approached her.
"Greetings," I said in the ancient language, afraid she might not speak English.
At that she looked down.  "Greetings, Teacher," she replied in the same language.
I was surprised at that; I'd rarely been called teacher, and then only by the most junior adepts.  "What name do you use?" I asked her.  All adepts use pseudonyms, for if someone knows your name they have power over you.
"Pak Meyoung," she said, still not meeting my gaze.
I changed languages.  "Do you speak English, Pak?"
"Ahnioh," she whispered.
Although it was difficult to hear her voice, what I heard made me blink in surprise; I could not understand what she'd said.  Reaching for my talisman, I wrapped my fingers around it and worked up a translation spell.  I wanted to talk to her, desperately.
I didn't know what it was.  I had met attractive women before, but I felt drawn to her immediately, and it seemed she felt the same.  Boldly I reached out, cupped her chin and lifted her face.  She smiled shyly and tried to look away, but I didn't allow it.  "I'm Joe Kader," I whispered to her, hoping the translation spell was working properly.
"Hello, Joe," she whispered back. 
I chuckled.  "Hello, Pak."
She shook her head.  "Pak is my family name. We say family names first."
I wasn't sure what she meant.  "Well, I'll call you …” I had to think for a moment, "Peg.  Are you Nisei?"
For a moment I saw anger or hurt in her face, but she covered it quickly.  "No.  I'm from Chosun."
"Chosun?" I asked, not ever having heard of it.
She shook her head.  "Americans call it Korea."
"Wherever that is," I laughed, thinking maybe it was part of Japan or China.  "Are you staying here at the hotel?"
"Yes."
"May I buy you dinner, Peg?"
She hesitated.  I could tell she was in turmoil about it.  But finally she shook her head.
"No, thank you," she said.
I looked at her.  I should have accepted her answer, but with the way I felt about her and the way I thought she felt about me, I couldn't.  "Why?"
She didn't answer but stepped away.  Then she turned.  "I'm sorry, I cannot."


By using a persuasion spell on the desk clerk, I learned she was staying at the hotel and in what room.  I also learned she was alone; however, she'd come to the hotel with an Oriental man who had paid for her room for four months in advance and then left.  One of those months was gone.  He had also paid for the room of a man, also Oriental.  The man was easy to find.  The evening after I met Peg, there was a pounding on my room door.  I used a far seeing spell to see that it was a tall, angry-looking Oriental man.  I made sure my hand was around my talisman when I opened the door.
Without preamble he stated in English, "You stay away from Chosun woman."
He wasn't an adept unless he was masking, so I just said, "Why?"
"She not your business.  She not free."
I blinked at that, wondering what he meant.
"What are you going to do about it?" I asked.
He reached inside his western business suit and pulled out a revolver.  "I can make you not want to see her," he said.  The man must have wanted to sound menacing, but with his accent and Pidgin English, he sounded almost silly.
Up to this point, the man’s face had shown only anger.  However, when I pointed and he felt what I had done to him, his face became twisted with fear.
"Leave her alone," I told him, "or I'll finish the job."  I released him.
He looked at me.  "You have trouble when he gets here."
"He, who?" I asked.
"You see," he spat and walked away. 
Well, I decided, if this man was representative of my competition, I had little to worry about.
The next day I waited in the lobby until I saw her again.  I approached her carefully, but was surprised and happy to find that her attitude was different and she was not as shy as before.
"Did you scare off Ito?" she asked in the ancient tongue.
"If that was his name, yes."
She smiled, which made her face all the more beautiful.  "Thank you.  I hate that man."
"Why didn't you do anything about him, then?" I asked.  She was an adept.
She simply did not answer.
"Would you like to go for a walk, Peg?" I asked her.
She thought for a moment, then almost giggled, covering her mouth shyly.   "That would be nice, Mr. Kader."


Peg's body was next to mine, nude, in the bed.  We were awake, resting and relaxing.  The three months since I'd come to San Francisco had been the most amazing of my life.  I had passed the trials to enter one of the most powerful guilds in the country and I knew I was in love with Peg.  The language barrier was slowly being eroded; she was learning some English and we used translation spells and the ancient language to back us up.
She and I had spent almost every moment together, except when I went to see Newmark or to have other contact with members of my guild.  It wasn't that I was ashamed of herrather the opposite.  But she was not a member of the guild (and wouldn't tell me what guild she belonged to, if any) and would not be welcome.
We had explored the city together and it was a wonderful time.  I did see some people stareboth Caucasians and Orientalsas her hand would rest in the crook of my arm.
There were also some strange incidents.  We ran into some Nisei on the street and she acted scared; I didn't understand what an adept would have to fear from any lesser, even Japanese.  I took her to a speakeasy one night, thinking she'd enjoy the music and I could teach her to dance.  Minneapolis was close enough to Chicago that it had a thriving hooch trade and I often visited speakeasies there, sampling the bathtub gin or smuggled-in Canadian booze in high-class joints.  I wanted to share that with Peg.  However, the guard at the door took one look at her and said, "No niggers, chinks, or Irish."  It probably took a week for the spell I put on him to wear off, keeping him mute the entire time.  We didn't patronize the dive, as I wasn't going to give the bastards my money.  But we brushed these incidents off as easily as we ignored the stares and whispers.  I only saw her as a beautiful woman with black hair, lovely dark eyes, and skin that contrasted nicely with my northern plains pallor.
I did, occasionally, see Ito lurking in the shadows, looking angry and frustrated.  When I tried to ask Peg about it, she would refuse to speak of it.
She told me that, before my arrival, she'd been imprisoned in the Drake-Wiltshire by Ito.  I still could not understand why she’d allowed a lesser to control her.  He must have had some power over her before I had chased him off.
There was something about her, a sadness or a hurt, that I could sense but could not bring her to share.  I didn't like the feeling; I just wished I could break down her reserve.  It was as if, despite our physical and emotional closeness, she still held me at arm's length.
"Sweet one," I said.
"Yes, yuhbo?"  She had taken to calling me that, explaining it meant "dear" in her language.
"I want to tell you something but, I'm afraid."
She turned in my arms to look at me, her face inches from mine, her breath warm on my nose, the length of her body against mine.  "Why are you afraid?"
"I'm afraid if I tell you it will scare you off."  And I was.
Her dark eyes studied my face.  "Why would it scare me off for you to tell me something?"
I had no answer to that.  "It just might."
She looked deep into my eyes then.  "I want to tell you something but I am afraid."
"Afraid of what, dear?"
"Afraid that you will think me foolish."
I smiled.  "How could I?"  I was sure we were both talking of the same thing.  "If I promise not to think you foolish, do you promise not to be scared away?"
She nodded, a serious look on her face.
I took a deep breath.  "Peg, I love you."
She smiled and lowered her eyes.  "And I love you, Joe."
I laughed.  "See, that was not so hard."
"No, yuhbo, it was not," she agreed.
I pulled her closer.  But I still felt the presence of something: the secret she could not share.

A few days later, I returned to our hotel from the Huntington and when I entered our roomshe'd moved in with me weeks agoshe was gone.  I tried to feel for her: nothing.  I physically searched the room, then the hotel.  Both she and Ito were gone.  The desk clerk informed me that Ito had vacated his room and the two of themIto and Peghad left with an Oriental man. 
I searched the city, starting with the hotels, assuming that a beautiful Oriental woman should be easy to find.  But despite truth and persuasion spells, I found no trace of her.  I even tried the small Japanese community in the city, but I got nothing there but hostility, and no one knew anything about any Peg or Pak.  Those were the only names I knew for her.
About a week after she had disappeared I returned to the Drake-Wiltshire late in the afternoon, exhausted.  I lay on the bed, my mind unable to find rest, but my body needing it.  There was a gentle knock on the hotel room door, and I bounded off the bed, crossed over to the door in two leaps, and pulled it open saying, "Peg?"
A young, Oriental man stood outside my door.  He looked at me and said softly, "My name is Takada.  What I do now endangers my life and my guild's honor."  He was an adept, I could feel it.
As I looked at him, wondering what he had meant, he handed me a folded piece of paper.
I pulled it open, still standing in the doorway.  It was a handwritten note, and I had to use a translation spell to read the strange writing.  "I am sorry, I must go now.  Don't try to follow me.  I will love you forever and never forget you."  She had signed it in symbols I didn't bother to translate but assumed were her Korean pseudonym.  It didn't matter; I reached out and grabbed the man's shoulders.
"Where is she?" I demanded, nearly shouting.
He didn't resist, even though he could have, being an adept.
"Her ship leaves from Pier 22 at the Embarcadero; the Reinan Maru."
"When?" I grunted, my hands gripping his shoulders.
"Soon; you must hurry."
As the realization that I might lose her hit me, I blinked.  Then I pushed him back and started running down the hall for the elevator.  A thought occurred to me and I turned back to face him.  "Why are you telling me this?"
He looked at me for a long moment before answering.  "I have my reasons.  You can find me on the west end, in the Japanese area."  The way he said it, it was plain that he didn't expect to see me again.
I turned and ran to the elevator and pressed the call button.  When it didn't come soon enough, I raced down the stairs, across the lobby, and out to the street.  The doorman waved down a taxi and I jumped in.
"The Embarcadero," I ordered, "Pier 22."
"You got it," the driver replied around a half-smoked cigar in his mouth.
"And fast," I added, hitting him with a persuasion spell.
As the taxi left the curb, I looked down and realized that I still had Peg's note clutched in my hand.  I carefully folded it and put it in my shirt pocket.
The taxi stopped at Pier 22, between a warehouse and a big black steamship.  From the pier the ship looked like a massive steel wall many stories tall.  From my taxi window I saw Peg standing near the bottom of the gangplank about to board the ship.  At the top of the gangplank was a dark hole in the black metal of the side of the ship.  It seemed as if that hole led to another world and if I allowed her to enter it, she'd be gone forever.  I bounced out of the car and called her name.  "Peg!"  I had not meant to play this scene out here on the docks of the Embarcadero in front of lessers but I didn't seem to have a choice. 
She turned and looked at me, tears in her eyes.  "Yuhbo!" she cried out.
Standing beside her were Ito and another Oriental man whom I could sense was a powerful adept.  But I had been an adept for ten years and had passed the trials for two guilds.  I wasn't a pushover, and I kept moving toward the ship.
Upon seeing me, Ito spoke excitedly to the adept, who nodded his understanding and then spoke back to Ito.  He nodded, bowed, and rushed up the gangplank and entered the ship.
"Who the hell are you?" I demanded of the adept, forgetting he might not speak English.
"I call myself Nakamura," he said calmly.  "My guild is the Omi Uji." His English was nearly perfect and unaccented.
I'd never heard of it and didn't really care.  How was I to know at the time that they were the most powerful guildthe only guild in factin Japan?
"What are you doing with Peg?" I asked.
"Her name," he said, "is Miko.  And she is mine." 
Adept names are rather fluid, and at the time I didn't understand that he called her by a Japanese name, or the significance of that.
"What do you mean, 'mine'?  Is she your wife?"
"No, she’s just mine."
"You can't take her," I wailed.  "We love each other."
Nakamura laughed.  "Your 'love' means nothing.  She is mine; she is my property."
"She is an adept, as free as you are," I tried.
He laughed again.  "You do not understand our ways, Westerner.  She is mine!"  I was really getting tired of hearing him say that.  He turned and spoke to her in what I assumed was Japanese.  I didn't understand it but I got the gist: We're leaving.
"Stop!" I commanded, pointing at him.  "I won't let you take her."
He turned quickly.  I dodged left as his airbolt whizzed by my right ear.  I heard it hit something solid, probably the wall of the warehouse behind me, which sent lessers gasping and screaming.  Battles between adepts in public were rare, but they did happen, and most lessers knew the best thing to do was to get as far away as possible. 
As I recovered, standing up straight, Ito stepped out of the ship and pointed at me.  Two Oriental men emerged from the dark opening and rushed down the gangplank.  They were dressed in dark, robe-like costumes.  Each carried above his head a slim curved swordI would later learn they were called "katana."  They rushed at me, screaming ferociously.
I shot an airbolt at one and knocked him down.  The other, screaming, slashed at my head with his sword, and I heard the blade hum by my ear as I ducked.  My hand grasped my arrowhead talisman and I pointed at him.  Since he was a lesser, I could affect him directly.  He stopped moving, his sword stationary in its arc as he was bringing it up again for another swing.  I kept the holding spell on him and turned my attention to Nakamura's second warriorI assumed that was who these armed men werewho had jumped to his feet again almost effortlessly and came at me, the point of his sword level and aimed for my gut.  I jumped out of the way and tried to reach out to touch him, but he ducked my grasp, probably knowing what I could do if I laid a finger on his skin.
While some of my attention was focused on holding the first warrior, the second turned, sword held out in front of him, and attacked again, probably trying to keep me from using a spell on him.  It worked.  He slashed at me and the blade cut through the bicep of my left arm.  I howled in pain as blood cascaded from the gash.
He turned so rapidly that I wondered if he was an adept, using some meta to move inhumanly fast.  He slashed again, so quickly that the sword was nothing but a blur that I managed to avoid before the blade removed my head.  I ignored the steel's whistle as it cut through the air, and reached for him.  He brought the sword around and practically severed my right arm, blood splashing from the wound, but I got my hand around his neck, and he dropped to the wooden dock, dead, his red-stained sword clattering to the planks next to him.  I did the same for the first, motionless warrior, not having the time or inclination to show mercy.
While I was busy with his warriors, Nakamura had pulled Peg up the gangplank and was about to enter the black hole at the top with her.  I healed myself enough to stop the bleeding, which left me tired and in no shape to face him.  But I had to try.
I pointed, and fire arced from my finger toward Nakamura.  He put a hand up and the flames stopped a few feet from him.  My next shot was more powerful, but he walked towards me, undeterred, back down the gangplank.  Then, with his black eyes beaming hatred toward me, he pushed the flames back at me.  When they hit I screamed as my head was engulfed in pain.  I dropped to the ground, scrambling through the agony to find a spell to stop the fire.
Suddenly, the flames died and I looked up to see Peg using a spell to douse them.  Nakamura looked at her angrily and pointed at her; she became motionless.  While he was distracted, I shot lightning at him.  It smacked into the side of his ribcage, knocking him back.  He hit the railing on the gangplank, flipped over it, and fell to the dock.  The impact must have knocked the wind out of him, as he didn't immediately rise.  I shot fire at him again, this time hitting him full-on.  He yelled in pain and surprise and rolled off the dock into the greasy water between the ship and the quay.
I rushed up the gangplank to Peg and took her forearm in my hand.  "Come on!" I said, tugging.
She looked at me and didn't movecouldn't move.  I didn't understand; as an adept, she should have been immune to spells that directly affected her. 
Unless Nakamura knew her real name. 
As the spell on her dissipated, I could see the torment in her eyes.  Fear kept her planted where she was as effectively as had the spell.
Nakamura flew out of the water and landed, wet but alive, on the dock.  I'd never seen an adept fly without a carpet or broom or some type of device before.  Nakamura screamed angrily and pointed both hands at me.  The airbolt knocked me backwards across the gangplank's rail, and I flew through the air until I smashed into the dock.  I must have lost consciousness for a moment because the next thing I knew, Nakamura was standing over me, his foot pressing down on my chest.  He was pulling my talisman from my hand.
"Shall I kill you now, gaijin?" he asked, holding the arrowhead.
I shook my head.  I knew he could kill me without much effort, and I could do little to stop him.
"The woman is mine," he growled.  "Understand?"
No! I screamed inside my head.  But I knew to say that would be to die.  "Yes," I whispered.
"I am taking her back to Japan," he stated.  "If you try to follow, if I ever see you again, I will kill both of you."
I nodded, defeated.
He looked at my talisman.  "Interesting.  I assume this is an Indian artifact.  I'm keeping this as payment for my warriors."
I had no way to stop him.
He pocketed the talisman, lifted his foot from me and walked to Peg, who had come back down to the bottom of the gangplank.  He said something to her in Japanese, took her arm, and pulled her back up the gangplank.  She glanced back at me, giving me one last look at her beautiful eyes before she passed out of sight into the stygian interior of the black ship.
I stood slowly, carefully.  No bones seemed to be broken, but I hurt all over.  Lessers were staring at me but I continued to ignore them.  I ran as best I could to the bottom of the gangplank, debating momentarily whether to follow them into the ship.  But I knew Nakamura could, and would, kill me if I tried.  Instead I called out: "Peg!  I love you!  I'll find you.  I promise!"
There was no response, not even from Nakamura.
I turned and hobbled away.  My taxi had left so I simply walked, fully aware of all the eyes that were fixed upon me.  I felt the need to lash out at something.  I shot a weak fireball into a warehouse.  It hit a stack of crates and lit them on fire.  It was about all I could do without a talisman, but it was effective.  The lessers turned and started minding their own business.
































3/10/2012 Top 20 Bestselling 
3/11/2012 Top 20 Bestselling

Friday, July 20, 2012

BOOK REVIEW BY FRAN LEWIS - AUTHOR FRAN ORENSTEIN

Book of Mysteries

Author: Fran Orenstein

Book One: The Revenge of the Wizard: Beware: You are about the enter the Book of Mysteries at your own risk:

To an ordinary reader this might seem like any mystery thriller filled with action, suspense, murder and drama. But, this book is quite unique and different because the adventures that he and his friend Zack encounter, live and experience will take him back in time to where wizards existed, dragons were feared, gargoyles had evil spells placed on them, scepter were used and a stolen crystal might be the answer to stopping a war. But, first he has to find a bookstore called Beadlesberry Rare Books. Now, you’d think that this would be easy. Think again! All you should have to do is ask someone where the store might be but this is not your ordinary bookstore. This one you see, is not always there okay so it disappears once in a while. I guess only a select few are allowed to enter it. So, Tyler’s work is cut out for him as his Uncle Thaddeus has charged him with finding the store and beginning his first adventure. But, first he has to find the store and then convince his best friend Zack to some along. Now, let’s enter the world of The Book of Mysteries by author Fran Orenstein and find out just what she has in store for these two teen adventures when we read Book One: The Revenge of the Wizard.

Black clouds loomed overhead, cold fingers of electric tinged the air the author writes as we begin our adventure and Tyler’s fears begin to surface even before entering the store. A wooden sign with the name of the store looms in the distance and thunder takes control of the sky. On the glass-fronted door a sign stating that they close for storms and the lights in the store were out but out of nowhere a candle flickered and the next thing they knew both boys were inside of the store. Pulled in by an ice-cold claw the door slammed shut behind them. Feel the tension, the fear, as things are about to change.

Meet Bartholomew B. Beadlesberry bookseller and know it all at your service to Tyler, Zachary and all readers of this great book. Enter the world of wizards, magic and spells along with Tyler and Zack. Take hold of the Book of Mysteries and note that it has only titles and not stories within the pages. You, the reader along with these two young boys will choose your own adventure, decide where in time you want to go and hopefully have the most exciting time or journey of your life. The Wizard of Balalac is first. However, no adventure can begin without the quartz crystal, which is attached to the magic pendant. Would you believe it comes from the lost city of Atlantis? Take hold of the pendant and choose a story and say the title out loud and off you go into the story.

As the story begins both Tyler and Zack wind up in Balara and are now officially Barawagans and meeting some of the residents starting with Esmara in Maidenspa. What Zack and Tyler learn is that this poor country lacks hot water and even worse the land shakes every night. They manage to stay at the Spa and also learn that in the morning the spa is hot. The poor people need to know why this is happening and if there happens to be an angry dragon somewhere. Will Zach and Tyler solve the problem? Will they ever return home? What happens when they realize who the major of this place really is? He might look familiar not only to them? Things get strange and they try to relate the events to Beadlesberry but instead he pretends to not know these two young 13 year olds who just want to go home. Finding the bubbling water, steaming clouds, dragons and many more strange things they begin to wonder who they can trust, if they will find the lost pendant and whether they will ever return home to New York again.

Young warriors is what the townspeople called them hoping that would uncover who the Wizard of Balalac was and wait until you learn why this wizard was causing all of this havoc and who was creating the earthquakes. Meet Ellby, Crumble, Bramble and a host of characters that you will fall in love with and maybe even want to visit them. Just how they go after the Wizard and who else is involved you won’t get from me. Will they ever get home or will they remain there forever? Find out when you read Revenge of the Wizard and learn that things in mythical lands are not that much different than ours or are they? Enter the world of the Book of Mysteries and take the adventure along with Tyler and Zack.

Fran Lewis: Reviewer

The Gargoyles of Gothica

Imagine meeting two identical Goth girls whose father is King and whose mother is queen. Imagine a land surrounded by gargoyles that are supposed to protect the castle. Imagine an evil queen named Maeve who wants to get the throne of Gothica for her son. Imagine Tyler and Zack going back for another adventure and this time entering the book to the land of Gargoyles of Blackthorne and meeting Ivy and Lilyrose. Lily and Ivy might be identical twins and sisters but Lily definitely is more assertive and not so nice at times. Thinking that she is next in line to be queen she seems to like to rub it into Ivy but there is much more to this story as our two young brave Squires Tyler and Zack along with Ivy and Lily and their cousin Valor have to save the Kingdom before it falls and dies. Their cousin Mordant, his father Malevil and his mother Queen Maeve had plans of their own. The only thing protecting the kingdom is the Golden Scepter, which was stolen. But, when Tyler and Zack discuss a plan to get it back to help the King someone is lurking in the background and that someone is Mordant. But, is he really on their side or is he a spy. The author tells the story behind his mother’s tragic death at the hand of his grandmother. Her imprisonment and her final moments are described, the evilness of the queen and her plans to kill the royal family. Just why you won’t believe and how they plan to get her in their clutches, get the scepter back you won’t believe as our two young brave squires come up with a plan that would not only endanger them but might cause them never to return home again. But, finding the tunnel that leads her castle, hoping to get another set of keys to allow them into the tower is just part of the plan. What happens and if they succeed you will have to learn for yourself when you enter the book, take another adventure and find out if they get the golden scepter back or will Maeve rule Gothica? An ending that will teach everyone what happens when the truth comes out and the plan is finally revealed. As kids take the lead and prove that when adults and children really listen to each other things get accomplished and the world might just be better off. The power of knowledge, listening and understanding are strong messages in this book and understanding differences to try and rid the world of evil.

Fran Lewis: reviewer
The Centaurs of Spyr
Fran Orenstein


Uncle Thaddeus returns, dinner is served and Tyler and his parents discuss the events that have taken place thus far. As Tyler reflects with his family his past adventures another storm is brewing outside and you know what is about to come. You got it! Tyler and Zack go back to the Rare Book Store to find the mysterious Bartholomew B. Beadlesberry to learn what is next. Well, they decide but the adventure has already been written in this wordless book of mysteries created by author Fran Orenstein just with titles. Now, imagine if you are an educator and you want to encourage kids to write what about creating your own book of mysteries or titles and having your students create adventures for Tyler and Zack or their own characters and sending off their writing to the author.

Now, let’s get to this adventure that leads them to meeting the people of Haven, learning about the war between the griffons and the hippogriffs and the reasons behind it. Well, not the reasons but what they think caused this problem to happen and how they think our two young peacemakers can solve a problem that has festered thousands of years.

Finding themselves in Haven our two young boys meet the Oak Tree who leads the way for their adventure. Now, let’s meet Kai and Cassandra two lovely young ladies that live in Haven and join our two peacemakers to solve this problem With the help of the General Elm Tree and his fleet of great and smart trees they might be able to come up with a plan to stop the war that has been brewing forever. The first step is to meet the Centaurs who are at the center of this solution. Finding their crystal might help. The sacred crystal of the centaurs needs to be returned or else there will be serious retribution. Now, the griffons live in the North Mountains and are half eagle and half lion where the hippogriffs are half eagle and half horse. The Haven lie between the North and South Mountains almost like the center of a sandwich about to be eaten first. Got it!

But, first they need to find and learn about the Book of Prophesies written and created by you guessed it Bartholomew B. Beadlesberry the Mayor of every town we visit. This guy gets around. Let’s not forget the two pegasuses whose telepathic powers will come in handy to help them. But, what do they have to do? First, they have to deal with the flogs that live in the cave and have the crystal. They eat beetle bugs and unless they cut off their food supply that will not have any leverage against them. However, with the help of the young graven tree and the addicting juice that the flogs cannot resist they hope to find and take back the crystal orb that they have hidden inside the cave in the Spyr Mountains and return it to the centaurs. Meeting with Bandor the Directorion of the Centaurs he allows them to ask for his help and eventually agrees. Returning the crystal orb how does it disappear and why does he think they betrayed the centaurs? Keeping Kai and Tyler hostage and allowing the Oak Tree to explain the situation the war begins between the griffons and the hippogriffs and Haven Woods stands to lose if it is not stopped. But, with a surprise edict Bandor agrees to meet with both sides but our two young hostages remain. Without the help and guidance of the precious trees, which I love trees and wish they would never be cut down, they might succeed. But, let’s not forget the two Pegasus Mist and Cloud.

What happens and if they finally get peace in Haven Woods is a secret that I promised the Centurions I would never reveal. Will they convince both sides to stop fighting or will everyone fight for the next thousand years? What happens when four brave kids decide to take matters into their own hands, speak with the Trees, talk to the leaders of all sides and what happens might enlighten our own world leaders today. What about letting teens or kids lead the way to peace? Interesting to say the least. So, will our author bring these two back for more even though they might not want to reenter the book of mysteries? That’s a mystery that has yet to be solved and only author Fran Orenstein can solve that one.

Three great books with great lessons for adults, teens and young adults to learn. Understanding, love, trust, loyalty, fair play and much more are taught plus these stories are great for teaching character education, group discussions, study groups and more.

Fran Lewis: Reviewer

Let’s give this book: FIVE SPECIAL COCOA TREATS
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