FRESH STORY CONTENT!! 7/3//2022 — Derek Barton

7

Abdi leatra da came for the tribe in the late hours of the night. Or it was the early dawn hours, Jueneva could not tell as it was nearly pitch dark. Outside rain pelted down in sheets of gray rain. While emerald green lightning flashed non-stop in the underbelly of the massive storm.

Abdi leatra da she concluded meant lightning storm or a type of hurricane to the Revie-ati.

The howling winds shook the compound foundations, and the thunder clashes made the walls quake and tremble horribly.

Her wooden cage swung precariously from the ceiling. She clutched at the boards, her over-extended fingers ached unnoticed.  Her stomach grew queasy from fear and worry.

“Merrera def tollas!”

The hoarse shout came from below the wooden trapdoor of her cage. Then she felt a knock and the sound of sliding metal. The heavyset guard had returned and popped her head in to shout again, “Merrera def tollas!” Followed with a frantic wave of her hand. This time the short, javelin spear did not leave the scabbard upon her back.

There was no time to be concerned with a prisoner escape.

Through the opening of the trapdoor, she could see the chaos the storm was having upon the tribe members and the compound. Wide cracks along the floor and even up some of the walls had formed. Water flooded everywhere, flowing in from the three openings at least a foot deep.

The strong warrior women had formed a short line, tied to each other and standing nearly hip to hip. They passed food and gear along, trying to empty the compound and make thier escape. Abdi leatra da was taking their home away, if not destroying it completely.

Jueneva hurried to the opening and climbed quickly down.

Without a word, the guard pushed her at the shoulder into a small group of elderly huddled at one side of the floor trench. She felt as helpless as the tribe had deemed her to be. She was overwhelmed by the ferocity of the storm and had no experience with such weather or events.

Rain dripped from the ceiling in several waterfalls and the mud along the floor trench crumbled away several inches every minute. It was apparent their hope that the water runoff would simply go to the inner mountain river had been underestimated. The sides and the span of the trench had widened from five feet to over a dozen feet, which threatened the integrity of the stone bases along the walls.

The Revie-ati female, the hardened warrior who had captured her days before marched over to Jueneva. The woman stood tall and walked with a square-shouldered determination and purpose. She pointed a long finger into Jueneva’s chest then at another woman she happened to be standing close to. “Bfed bera don taskea, Shealda!”

Shealda nodded, did a small bow toward the woman, then she began to knot a thick loop of rope about Jueneva’s waist. She was her new apparent “caretaker”.

“!Beaaska Ket ma dos Cha!” the warrior woman screamed while pumping both fists into the air.

The others answered similarly. Then the line of tied women commenced its march out of one of the exits into the storm.

Jueneva scanned the large amount of possessions and items that were being left behind. They were giving up almost all they had for a desperate hope that they can find safer shelter while the incredible storm frenzied all about them. They even were leaving the memorial to their former leader. She marveled at their bravery. Or was simply their tenacity for survival in a deadly land?  

For the Revie-ati this appeared to be their final ditch effort to outlast the Abdi leatra da.

As her group headed to the exit, a colossal clap of thunder hit so loud, all of them pressed their hands to their ears to protect against the heavy impact. A crack expanded more along the eastern side of the cave, boulders and parts of the ceiling cascaded down in a hellish torrent. Several of the tribe had been under that portion. Rumblings all about the chamber warned of more collapses. Water and rain had doused all remaining torches and fires.

Everyone now ran blind in a panicked rush for any exit.

In a daze, Jueneva watched the whole scene play out in her newfound darkvision of gray lights. The rope around her waist grew painfully taught, someone was urgently pulling her to get out of the cavern. She stood rooted. With hardly a conscious effort, she yanked the loop up and over her head freeing herself as well as the other person, who was most likely Shealda.

She delved deeper into the cave going against the tides of flooding water and mudslides toward the new mound of collapsed ceiling stones. A hand protruded from the mud, and it clawed for purchase, trying to pull its owner out of the thick earth.

Jueneva grasped the hand and pulled with all the strength she could muster, her feet sinking into the ground. More of the ceiling gave way behind her, splashing water and rocks into her back and legs.

Finally, a loud sucking sound followed by a loud pop! marked the escape of the poor Revie-ati woman.

It was as Jueneva guessed. It was Mealli who beamed in gratitude up at her as she laid exhausted at her feet.


Thank you for reading my writing and supporting this site! In gratitude, I want to reward you loyal readers with a chance at winning a $25 Amazon Gift Card. Send me a quick email to Rivyenphx@yahoo.com and share with me your thoughts on this and or other Fresh Content Blogs. All email responders will be entered in a drawing. I will announce the winner at the end of July. Thank you again!!

FRESH STORY CONTENT!! 6/19/2022 — Derek Barton

Chapter Three

The crowd was deafening, roaring as the baseball flew high over their heads and into the rows of “cheap seats”.

“It was a homerun. Vasquez did it!” Stephanie squealed in high-pitch delight and clapped her hands.

“STEPH! DIDJA SEE DAT?” Uncle Max shouted, slurring from the effects of the large amount of alcohol consumed already.

Not waiting for her reply, Uncle Max was laughing and hooting cheers again with his two buddies. The baseball game had been as Rylund feared only an easy excuse for the adults to get drunk. Stephanie wisely made a pre-emptive strike and asked for their uncle’s debit card to pay for a Uber ride home after the third inning.

“Vasquez is the best and the cutest player on the Phillies!” She squealed again.

Rylund shook his head. “Velasquez. His name’s Vince Velasquez.”

“Oh,” she giggled. “Whoever! We’re tied at least.”

He sighed in boredom. Even before his accident, baseball was too long for him to watch, let alone now listen to his sister’s poor play-by-play.

A breeze scented with butter floated over them, his stomach growled in response. He reached out and patted her shoulder. “Let’s hit the restroom then make a run for some food. Okay?”

Stephanie’s sudden silence wasn’t surprising, and he didn’t need to see her face to know what she was thinking. Her shoulder had tightened in reflex under his fingers. To be truthful, he didn’t relish the idea of meandering among the Spectators either. Spectators was the name he gave the unseen members of the crowds that watched and sent him looks of pity. Spectators that meant well but mostly watched him struggle and were secretly grateful they weren’t him. Spectators were his version of roadside rubberneckers.

“I brought my cane, I’ll be alright – just find the first stall, I’m in an out. Simple.”

“Yeah, cuz I’m not going in! It’s—”

“You don’t need to. That’s what I’m tellin’ you. I’ll go in on my own. Stay by the doorway so we can go together to the food kiosks.”

Minutes later, he trailed behind her as she wove them skillfully through the throng of fans that milled about the stadium. Rylund heard lots of noise, most of it he tuned out as “crowd white noise”. While some people liked to “people watch” crowds, Rylund liked to eavesdrop and guess their stories. 

A cranky toddler somewhere behind them was fussing and whining about a lost toy. The mother was refusing to go back for the white wabbit. Children’s voices tended to catch his attention first – the higher pitch the voice the more they impacted his senses.

A woman to the left of them was laughing, maybe even flirting with someone as her laughter seemed too long and forced. Another younger voice interrupted hers and her words also came out sounding forced, bordering on obnoxious. A male’s lower, gruff voice interrupted now and then.

She’s drunk. Goin’ to be a cat-fight soon, he mused.

Stephanie squeezed his hand. It was their agreed upon signal for stopping. He sensed her leaning in close to him. “I will be on the left. There’s a long line for the kettlekorn. Once you get past the line, on the right is the Men’s Room. Got it?”

“Yep,” he answered and tapped out a quick series of staccato notes on the stadium floor with his cane.

The faint, tainted air of urine and bleach marked the restroom’s unpleasant location. As he neared the open archway, a silvery flash flickered in the corner of one eye.

What the—

Someone collided with his shoulder. The strike spun him to the side where he bounced off some lady’s large backside. She cursed loudly while he wobbled unsteady trying to regain his footing.

She must’ve turned to face him, noticed the cane, and her mouth audibly snapped close. He shrugged as his poor apology, headed again toward the restroom. His cheeks burned red in embarrassment.

Yet, his mind reeled, his thoughts mixed and tumbled over each other. His sight had been completely cut off ever since the night of the fire. The explosion of aquarium glass and scalding water had been the last thing he saw, and they had done irreparable damage. Thus, it had been nearly a year in “darkness”.

The term darkness doesn’t aptly describe blindness – being blind isn’t like keeping your eyes closed. It’s more akin to trying to see the room about you with your elbow. It simply doesn’t happen. Nothingness is a closer definition for being blind.

That flash… That flash! Is that a sign of…healing? He wondered, the thought nearly tripping him up again. Could he dare to have hope?

The metallic clink of a bathroom stall door signaled his quest’s end. His hands groped and found the handle. The metal was cold and sticky to his fingers. It was unlocked and he entered.

After months of healing, his body had made astounding changes to accommodate for his blindness which he hadn’t fully expected or anticipated. Of course, his sense of hearing became sharper which is often reported by the blind. However, it was also changes to his fingers. They became extra sensitive to temperatures and textures. Also, his sense of smell deepened, and he found he could discern various smells easier than before the fire. All of it was like going from a broad, wide paint brush to a fine detail brush. It was as if his brain flicked off switches to burned-out light bulbs then flicked other switches on for replacement lights.

At that moment, as he sat down upon the cold seat of the toilet, his heightened sense of smell was not a blessing. He held his breath, blocked out the various noises and echoes, and tried to not gag.

Maybe it was all my imagination. Nothing. Don’t get so excited over this.

He left the stall and worked his way to the sinks universally placed across from the row of stalls. Running water and splashing to the left and even more, maybe two more sinks going on his right. The bathroom had gotten crowded.

The fifth inning must’ve ended, and everyone made a mad dash to relieve themselves. I’m lucky the stampede hadn’t—

Another silvery wave of light floated in front of him, it expanded like a circular tear, like a blooming portal. Its edges were ragged, expanding and contracting. Through this portal, he saw a partial profile of a man as he passed by Rylund and left the restroom. He was much taller than him, a black elderly man with a graying afro. His eyes burned red and there were trailing wisps of smoke in the air. A faint, red aura encompassed him.

When the man slipped out of the Men’s Room entrance, the portal snapped close and the nothingness, the blindness returned like a cold, backhand slap to the face.

Gasping for breath, Rylund gripped the sides of the sink, his cane falling loudly at his feet.

“Kid? You okay?” a voice behind him spoke out. It had a deep bass, authoritative timbre.

He couldn’t speak yet, his legs were shaking, but he nodded he was alright, hoping to be left alone.

“You sure? You’re pale and sweatin’. Do you need help to the toilet to throw up?” Another male voice asked.

“No, no. Thanks. My-my sister is outside, she’ll help me,” he mumbled weakly.

Footsteps scampered away from him. Others came closer, crowding him. Spectators! All with good intentions, but it only magnified his state of confusion, his sense of panic building.

Rylund forced his hands free of the wet porcelain and knelt for his cane. Someone put it into his grip. He rushed through the gathered Spectators and fled to the fresh air of the stadium landing. Hugging the wall, he worked his way to the right then pressed up against the grimy wall. He gulped the air and nearly sobbed with emotion. His mind raced from a whirlwind to now a full Level Five Tempest.

He had seen someone!  His eyes had worked for a brief second. Nothing or no one would convince him otherwise. The man had been so clear and so close, Rylund could have picked him out of a police line-up.

Giggles burst from his lips, garnering him probably even more stares. Your Honor, the Defense would like to call its next eyewitness, Rylund David Faraday the Blind Boy From Southside!

A hand slipped into his. “Come on. It’s going to be alright. I’m here.”

Stephanie!

He didn’t pull away, let her take him calmly away from the stadium fans all ogling the poor blind kid. Spectators!

He knew there were looks of pity and the mournful faces of sadness. Normally, it would have devastated him. He had had bad times in the rehab center – throwing temper tantrums and ‘why me’ cussing sessions. When he felt the waves of “so-sorry-kid” thoughts overwhelm him. Made him feel helpless, tiny…disabled.

Or like the time at the mall, he tripped on an extension cord and fell headlong into a comic book display, spraining his ankle badly. He was mortified not being able to stand. His embarrassment rocketed to new levels as several strangers lifted him without asking and carried him to an ambulance. Stephanie was there at his side the whole time, but too small to really help. She later told him how embarrassed she had been as well. Her new role in their relationship hadn’t always been easy.

He knew what the Spectators were thinking, saying in their heads, the looks they were giving him and his small sister. This time, however, he was numb to it. None of it mattered. They didn’t know. Stephanie didn’t even know!

Book Review of Stephen King’s “Billy Summers” — Derek Barton 2022

Billy Summers

by Stephen King — a Contemporary Fiction Novel

Released on August 3, 2021 — 528 pages

It’s been some time since I’ve done a book review, for that matter it’s been quite some time since I’ve read or listened to one on Audible! Anyway, I picked this up a few weeks ago, intrigued by the synopsis. See what you think…

The Synopsis:

From legendary storyteller Stephen King, whose “restless imagination is a power that cannot be contained” (The New York Times Book Review), comes a thrilling new novel about a good guy in a bad job.

Billy Summers is a man in a room with a gun. He’s a killer for hire and the best in the business. But he’ll do the job only if the target is a truly bad guy. And now Billy wants out. But first there is one last hit. Billy is among the best snipers in the world, a decorated Iraq war vet, a Houdini when it comes to vanishing after the job is done. So what could possibly go wrong?

How about everything.

This spectacular can’t-put-it-down novel is part war story, part love letter to small town America and the people who live there, and it features one of the most compelling and surprising duos in King fiction, who set out to avenge the crimes of an extraordinarily evil man. It’s about love, luck, fate, and a complex hero with one last shot at redemption.

You won’t put this story down, and you won’t forget Billy.

The Review:

Now for anyone who has read a few of my other book reviews, you know I hold Stephen King as one of the top echelon of modern day writers. He has been an inspiration to me ever since my teen years. Even up through today, he wows me with original stories like The Outsider and Mr. Mercedes (which inspired my own Elude Novel Series. That being said, I have to say I was underwhelmed with this novel.

I love the characters in it, the main ones Billy and Alice are a great pair and instantly feel like old friends to the reader. However, the story is all over the map, literally, and King seems to struggle with what to do with the main character. The first 240 pages could have been easily reduced or structured better to accomplish what he set out to do which was build up the main anti-hero Billy Summers and show you his vulnerability and his strengths. The book seems to really meander especially when Billy himself decides to fill up his days writing an autobiography of his own past while waiting for his target to come to town.

Don’t get me wrong — the autobiography is well done and even heartbreaking in places — but it doesn’t move the story along. I won’t spoil it for you, but there is a nice little tie-in to his The Shining novel storyline that is a special treat for diehard fans (us “nerds” in other words, LOL!).

The Rating:

I found this more like a great example of a character study (at least until Alice comes into the story exactly on page 240!). The pairing of Billy and Alice is the highlight of the novel and the true heart of this tale. I give it an overall B or 3.5 out of 5 stars. I would recommend it, but I would not say it’s a priority read for your reading list. If you have other “must reads”, put them first.

By DEREK BARTON — Author of the ELUDE series (Parts I, II & III — a Horror/crime thriller), EVADE Series (Parts I, II & III)  & IN FOUR DAYS: a Horror-Suspense Novella (available on Audible.com!).  Also the Dark Fantasy novel series CONSEQUENCES WITHIN CHAOS and THE BLEEDING CROWN (both available on Audible.com!).

FRESH STORY CONTENT!! 6/5/2022 — Derek Barton

THE DAYS OF RENDING

Chapter Two

Rylund Faraday’s life had ended at that very moment, that very spot. At least, life as he knew it.

Once again, he was locked, frozen in fear on the third step from the bedroom landing. Stephanie Faraday, clad only in her Elephant Andie pajama top and matching polka dotted socks, also stood motionless, standing before a massive 100-gallon saltwater aquarium. Her eyes mesmerized by its dancing water which churned with large, frothy bubbles. Flames wavered in long rows along the wooden kitchen island and along the open archway behind the fish tank. The whole house had become an inferno. Heat rolled out over both of them, baking their skin and reddening his sister’s pale cheeks. Heavy clouds of smoke clustered along the ceiling as light ash flurried about them. Rylund’s view of the rest of the house was shielded by towering columns of flame, walls of fire and falling debris.

He knew what was coming next but unlike in reality, he couldn’t move, couldn’t jump and scoop her up into his protection. The heated water reached its boil and the glass shattered out in a brilliant, white flash. A blanket of fire, smothering steam and scalding water washed over her body. She fell instinctively to the floor, curling into a fetal position and hugged her limbs tight to her as death consumed her.

His screams filled the night, and his sightless eyes were wide when Stephanie rushed in and went to Rylund’s side. The sheets were soaked and his face glistened with beads. 

“It’s okay now. It’s all over,” she cooed as she swept back his hair from his brow, trying to calm him from his nightmare.

He nodded but could not respond as he choked down large gulps of air, hyperventilating. He trembled as a light breeze blew in from a partially open window on the left of his bed. With a corner of his sheet he moped his brow and sat up on his elbows.

“Sorry. Did I wake you again?” His voice was gravely and horse.

“Well, yeah. At first, I thought it was the TV, a horror movie or something. Uncle Max is passed out in front of it again.” She shrugged then fell into an awkward silence. They held hands in the dark and his breathing returned to a normal rhythm.

Stephanie was tall for her age at 9, but her curly brown hair hung down passed her shoulders to the middle of her back. She always seemed to have a mischievous smile in her eyes and on her thin red lips. Rylund was lanky at 13, with a shock of black hair and a spatter of freckles on his cheeks. Some burn scars were mixed in with his adolescent acne pockmarks.  

Although they lived with their uncle, since the fire, she was his main caregiver. Their love and sibling connection can only be described as a fierce bond.

“Same nightmare?” she finally asked aloud.

“Yes. I always have to relive it. Every night. Like a penance or something.”

“Did you tell Doctor Bradwell?”

He answered in a falsetto voice, “’Your subconscious is holding onto it as you are. It’s only reflecting what your mind is keeping as unfinished business. Until you and your mind move on, your dreams may not as well. Only time will tell.’” Rylund finished the mocking impression by patting the top of his head. “Time’s up! Next patient please, Nurse Cora.”

They giggled together.

“He’s not that bad,” she said.

“No, he’s not. He really did help with accepting that mom and dad are gone.”

More awkward silence with a couple of sniffles.

“It’s weird you can still see in your dreams. What do you think you are holding on to?”

“The dream is always the same but it’s also different from what happened.” He paused and sat up fully and crossed his legs Indian style. They continued to hold hands to support each other. “I remember waking up that night to ashes falling on me. When I opened my eyes, at first, I thought at first it was snowing in my room! Only then I could hear the muffled smoke alarm chirps coming from down the hall. I heard shouting above me. I think it was Dad. I jumped up and ran out. Smoke had just started flowing down the stairs. When I got to the top though, everything was covered in flames.”

His voice hitched and caught in his throat as his emotions got the best of him. “It was Granddad Chester’s grandfather clock that had fallen onto the hall desk and blocked their doorway.”

“Really? You never told me that before.”

“Yes. I could only see a few feet into the room, most of the ceiling had caved in by that time I think.” Tears welled and leaked down his cheeks. The fire had begun in the house’s attic somehow. It took the upper portion of the house easily and without warning.

In a whisper he said, “I heard their screams, Steph. How does anyone forget that? How can you ‘let go’ of or ‘unhear’ the sound of your parents’ screams?”

She squeezed his hand tighter. Tears welled in her eyes as well.

“When they stopped, I realized I had been standing there far too long. One of my sleeves had even caught fire. My mind was roaring around one thought: I wanted to get to you and had to get you out! But when I found you, you were standing at mom’s tank. The fish had all floated to the top, the boiling water was filled with bubbles.”

“Yes. I’d never seen anything like that. It was almost beautiful.”

 “I knew it was going to explode! I leaped right off the third step. That is where my dream is different.”

“What happens?”

“I didn’t do it. I can’t. I was paralyzed in terror. I didn’t reach you. You… die in the fire too.”

“Why? You saved me in real life.”

“I know!” he said breathless. “It makes no sense, and it fills me with such pain, and being so helpless! It’s so horrible.”

“You don’t regret it, do you? Is that why you dream it differently? So, you wouldn’t have had to lose…”   

“NO! NEVER! Sure. Of course, I hate losing my sight but losing you would’ve been so much worse. Stephanie, I will never wish anything different. I’d do it the same way every time. I love—”

“But you lost so much,” her voice now low in whisper. “Losing Mommy and Dad was so hard, but if I had to handle the surgeries and blindness on top of it – I know I am not strong enough.” She shook her head and sobbed softly.

“Yes, you are. Look how you’ve done so much for me. Grown up so fast to help me. You are my rock.”

He stopped and poked his chin at where they had the set the clock on his nightstand. “What time is it?”

“2:48.”

“The dream always comes at this time of night. How weird is that?”

“Is that the time the fire had started in the attic? Or maybe when the lightning had hit?” her voice tightened by the scary idea.

“Okay, now you are just being weird, Stephanie! I think Uncle Max has let you watch too many of those paranormal shows. Time to go back to sleep!” He chided and teased her.

“You’re good then?”

He made a shooing wave. “Maybe go check on Uncle Max. Move any open bottles away. Oh, and clear out any ash trays.”

“Good night, Rylund. Try to sleep, we have a big day, remember?”

“Hmmm, right. Baseball game,” he answered and shrugged non-committed to the idea. “Fun.”

As she closed his bedroom door, he stretched and made a silent prayer for the rest of the night to be dreamless and peaceful for both of their sakes.

FRESH STORY CONTENT!! 5/31/2022 — Derek Barton

As promised, here is a reprint of Chapters 4 & 5…AND THE NEW CHAPTER 6! ENJOY!!


4

Jueneva woke, covered in thick orange and red animal furs, a glowing fire warming her new room. She could not even remember coming to the chamber, or climbing inside the bed, but here she was. Sighing loudly, she let the last few days’ events roll across her mind, weighing her down. It was so hard to let go.

In a sense, she was relieved to finally understand why she was different, why her family always ran, why the world always seemed to teeter on a finite edge. Her true family had been murdered when she was but an infant. Now her adopted family had also been murdered. Those responsible she only knew by a broad name:  the Kreszecs. Other than that, she had no real information on who they were or what reasons they had for wanting her and for destroying her family’s rule here in Akkei Maliss.

A soft rap at the door cut into her thoughts. “It is Executor Buore, miss. May I enter?” His muffled voice came through the door.

“Yes, please.”

She rose and stretched, pretending to not be emotional and tussling with her feelings. Her body ached from all her exertions of late. The desire for more sleep made it even harder to pull out from under the furs, yet she had other more pressing concerns.

The specter floated in and crossed the barely lit chamber. Only a small, mirrored vanity occupied one corner of her new quarters opposite the fireplace. In the other corner stood a tall dress cabinet. There were no real decorations like thick rugs or elaborate tapestries on the walls. Yet she was alright with the modest accommodations and often lived with few personal possessions.

“Good morn, Boure.” Today she found she could look him in the face and not feel the reflexive fear of the dead. He was good-natured and surely had been a great asset to her late family. He would be needed further in the future of Coueryere Castle.

“It is sure to be, your majesty.”

She jumped. The word majesty jolted her as if he splashed cold water suddenly in her face. Majesty? Hmmm. I guess he is right. And I suppose it would be better to start acting in that fashion.

“Executor, I have a few requests of you today.”

“I would be honored to fulfill those for you.”

“First, can you find me a weapon?  I will be leaving the castle for a short spell. A bow would be my choice if you can make that happen.”

He frowned but nodded and bowed.

“I sense your disapproval. You often show your emotions openly.”

“It is only that I do not see the need to risk your safety. The ruins are dangerous inside and outside, but in here I can give you some protection.”

She found comfort in his overprotective sense of responsibility for her. He was like a long-lost uncle trying to step up and make up for lost time.

“The meat in the pantry I am afraid is too far gone for me. I want to hunt and restock the meat pantry. My father showed me how to track and hunt at an early age. Even said I had a unique talent for it. Perhaps that is another aspect of my Dirithi heritage?” She chuckled to herself and tried to not dwell on her pang of grief for him.

“You had other requests, miss?”

“Yes.” She sighed aloud and was unsure how to proceed. “When I came here two nights ago, I… I encountered… Well, you were not the first spirit I found here in the ruins. What or who is that Flaming Skeleton?”

Again, his face crinkled as he disapproved of the content of the conversation. “That Flaming Skeleton is not to be taken lightly, miss. He is not one of ours and not from this realm. He was one of the Krezsec Generals that invaded. Few of their invading army were stopped, he was among those few. Now, General Loas Toc haunts these hallways at certain nights and always he relieves his final hours. You saw the hanging men?”

She nodded, her face paled at the memory of the bloodied uniforms, spotted with flaming handprints from the general’s fiery touch.

“This is my family’s seat of power. He will not be tolerated much longer. I am going to have to find a way to expel his presence.”

The Executor only lowered his head to stare at the floor. He had no answers for her.

“Tonight, when I return, I want you to take me to the Throne Room.”

Boure straightened and a smile cracked his face, he beamed with pride. “Indeed, your majesty. I will see to its preparations for your audience myself.”

That statement brought a strange thought to her mind. “There are others? Other court members or staff?”

He nodded. “Not as many as before – remember only the restless spirits remain here. Some have made peace and moved on.”

Before she could ask more, he bowed again and backed out of the room through the closed door.

Jueneva dressed and prepped herself as best as she could. There were several dresses hanging inside the cabinet but were not warm enough or proper for the cold elements outside. She found only one riding pantsuit. It would have to do. She could not be weighed down or wear anything restrictive if she was to hunt and chase prey. At the back on a hook, she did discover a thick deer skin coat with buttons and laces down the front. It was exactly what she needed for the wintery elements outside.

Another soft rap announced Boure’s return. He entered with no invitation this time. In his hands he carried a silver and ivory bone longbow and a matching white quiver filled with over a dozen arrows. Symbols were etched all along the exquisitely crafted weapon. She took it in awe and hefted it in her hands.

“This is wondrous. It feels like I am barely lifting anything!”

“Indeed. This came from within the Vault. I believed it was forged with guiding magics, but I cannot remember for sure. Either way, I am certain it will be of great use and affect in your hunting.”

As she lifted the quiver’s strap over her head and down onto her shoulder, he said, “I really do not like this idea. I feel I may be inadequate as your Court Advisor, but, your majesty, as there are no other formal Courtesans left, you will have to settle for me. You see, as I stated before, in the castle domain I can protect you, but I cannot leave the compound to help you outside. You will be all on your own. This is not a wise excursion. We will find another way to find you proper meals.”

Jueneva shook her head. “No. I will not be stuck inside, nor will I hide here. The Restoration cannot happen to my family’s rule if I do not take risks or fight back. What happened here must be avenged. I appreciate your words, I do. And I do not step out lightly and without caution.”

Boure dropped his gaze again to the floor.

“Executor, please escort me now to the best entrance to begin my Hunt.”


5

The world before Jueneva was awe-inspiring but horrific at the same time. Her breath caught in her throat in a gasp. The skies overhead was a mottled gray with dark blue patches between the storm clouds. A charcoal blanket of ice and drifts of black snow covered the entire forest surrounding the immense castle ruins. Thin icy strands formed by wind-driven flurries resembled macabre spider webs. They stretched out from tree branch to tree branch snaring everything. The forest tree lines were more shadowy walls than landscape.

Straightening her shoulders and stiffening her back, she pulled the fur-lined jacket hood over her head. She then marched with purpose through the double doors. On her back the ivory long bow gave her some confidence and determination to find real food for her night’s dinner.

A hollow thrumming filled the air as more wind rushed among the bare tree branches. The sound was an eerie, flat whistle and set the hairs on the back of her neck on end. Instinctively, she crouched and planted her boots firmly into the snow, ready for flight.  

Silvery lightning flashed high above as the whistling raced to a crescendo. As it faded a rolling rumble of deafening thunder vibrated everything, even the ground she stood upon.

Every fiber in her begged her to rush back inside, to wait another day for the snows to pass. Nothing in the foreign landscape gave her any comfort, it stared back at her defiant with teeth bared. A dread enveloped her, and she wondered if this was a sign or a premonition.

“No! I will not delay my fight one more hour,” Her voice carrying out, building. “Backing down is not in my nature!” It didn’t matter that no one was present to hear her or witness. Jueneva needed to hear and believe in the statement. Needed to feel the promise in her words.

She pressed on after a moment and found a thin animal path twisting to and fro beneath the forest canopy. With effort she avoided touching the webbed limbs as much as possible. Other than the storm and its bizarre winds, the forest seemed devoid of life. Her frustration grew as she followed the trail. Finally, her trek came to a large mountainside with a series of tunnel mouths. The openings spanned nearly a dozen or so handwidths and spotted the mountain rock somewhat in a beehive fashion.

Jueneva crouched and peered down into the nearest hole, her eyes trying to adjust to the shadows inside. Her eyes didn’t spy any movement, but her ears picked up the soft scraping of stone. Something was approaching and it was coming fast!  She sprang to the side, lying flat against the wall.

A beast, long and low, erupted from its hive and rushed out onto the path oblivious to her presence. In her own realm, they referred to these creatures as centipedes. However, the one before her had to be hundreds of pounds and its head was bestowed with a series of red antlers that grew along its back. More unusual was the appearance of a black latticework streaming from the antlers to the middle of its oily black body.

A harness! Who, by the Fates, would ever dare to ride such a monster?

Another shot out of its opening further left of her position and followed the first on its multitude of tiny, clawed feet. She heard the second beast hiss and chatter seeming to call after the other. Both of the mammoth insects skidded to a sudden stop in the dirty snow and curled back to face her.

Without a thought she had the bow in her hands with twin arrows notched. Upon seeing the weapon, the first centipede hissed in obvious anger at her. It charged closer and reared up to tower over her. The second moved to its right also rising and boxing her in against the rocks.

A gray-skinned arm, heavily tattooed with red dyes, swept in and around her shoulders pressing a serrated bone blade under her chin and flat against her neck. Hot breath warmed her ear as a husky, gruff voice spoke to her ear, “Doshe mi lees tonva dess.”

She had no inkling of the words meaning as there wasn’t any emotion or inflection in the statement. Her only reaction was to let the bow and arrows drop into the snow and keep her empty hands out before her. “Easy… Easy now,” she cooed to the blade owner standing behind her in the tunnel. “We can talk this over.” She hoped diplomacy would work as she was obviously outmaneuvered and outmanned.

Her hood was yanked back suddenly, and a cold metal loop snapped shut around her neck!

Jueneva screeched, her hands clawing wildly at the manacle. She was thrust forward, but her legs buckled, and she crashed to her knees. A long spear handle was fastened to the neck manacle.

Now desperate she lunged and crawled for one of her arrows on the path. As her fingers curled around it, a sandaled foot pinned her arm down. The other sandal kicked her between the shoulder blades, blasting the air from her chest.

The blade owner then jerked her up with the manacle back to her knees.  Leaning down next to Jueneva’s ear, “Keras mo vet fet?” There was a deep-seeded anger within the words.

Her captor was a thin but muscular woman. She had jet black braids on one side of her shaven head. The blood red tattoos ran down the whole left side of her gray body. “Doshe esca roto pemma diem.”

She hauled Jueneva painfully up onto her toes and hung her suspended by her neck over the trail. Jueneva with tears of fury and a bloody nose could do nothing but meet the woman’s stare with a gaze of fiery defiance.

Another woman rode up to them on the back of a matching, giant centipede. The newcomer studied the scene before her but then gasped. She shot her hand out, pointing at the bow laying partially buried in the black snow.

The newcomer kneeled and dug out the ivory bow. Her slender fingers traced along the silvery runes and patterns etched in the wood.

The blade owner’s hot breath washed over her face. “Doshe modta bri freyes Coueryere.” The look of outrage in her eyes spoke volumes.


6

Jueneva woke up stiff, hungry and cold. Again. 

She scanned the boards that made up the walls of her cage.  Nothing had changed about them in the three days of her imprisonment. They were warped by rain and age but were an inch thick and still robust enough to prevent her breaking out. It was a few handspans taller than her own height, but only half as wide as her home bedroom had been. She figured about the width of a closet actually.

She peered through an old knothole in one of the floor boards. The mountain cavern floor was far below her. Her cage suspended on massive ropes from the ceiling. So, even if she managed to break one of the wood boards somehow, she would face a nasty fall and injury.

What is Boure doing at this moment, she wondered. Is he going berserk with worry? Falling back into misery that again the ruins are without their ruling family? Or maybe he is working up some rescue plan?

She actually hoped for the latter as she did not want anyone hurt or any blood spilled on her behalf.  Her opinion of the people who had captured her had shifted since their first encounter. The odd resident tribe were not vicious or seemed to be of an evil bent. The only rough treatment had been at the time of her arrest. She believed it was a matter of territory and somehow her trespassing along with the bow had spurred them into action. As a warrior tribe surviving in this harsh realm, she tried to understand and forgive their territorial, aggressive over-reaction.

Jueneva was confident she would find a way to speak with them.  Maybe with diplomacy she would win their acceptance, freedom and maybe a trade of supplies with them in the future.

At least today her cage was less packed. Her cellmate had been released the night before.

Her cellmate was a young woman too, with the same tribal tattoos, black hair, crystal green eyes and dark gray skin as her kin. The girl was shy and even nice, but she refused to talk with Jueneva while they stayed in the cage together for two and a half days.

On the first night. Jueneva had been imprisoned with the primitive clan, she was not given any food. By next morn, she was starving. When breakfast was brought, she wolfed down the greenish lumpy stew they bowled and served her. When she was finished, Jueneva licked the clay bowl clean for any remnants.

Her cheeks blushed when she spotted her cellmate staring at her. The girl did not have as much an appetite and had only partially eaten her own stew. She giggled and scooted the bowl to Jueneva.

It was one of the nicest gestures a stranger had ever done for her. In fact, she noticed that the small tribe of women warriors was overall good-natured and friendly toward one another.

As she had not much to do while in the hanging cage, so she studied the tribe. They spoke a staccato-beat language, short and clipped. The words were very hard to understand so she made no progress on understanding the meanings. However, their actions revealed quite a lot.

They might be called The Revie-ati, she was not positive, but the phrase was said a lot and seemed to be used concerning themselves. There were roughly fifty-some of them, mostly women. They had children, elderly women and only two old men besides the near two dozen warrior females. There were no young males – something had happened with them a few years before, but she could not make out any other details.

Their leader called Paora had been killed recently. Possibly by a creature. A gemstone altar or memorial of some fashion had been erected and the surviving members would come by daily to whisper prayers or words of goodbye. It touched her heart seeing how they gave respect and honor to their fallen.

The layout of their cave compound was simple. Several areas were dug out along the west and northern walls for sleeping quarters and two large areas were opened for meeting and for eating. Along the south wall, a stone oven had been set up for a kitchen. They ate as one, together like a huge family. In the eastern wall, a tunnel had been cut, leading further into the mountain which led to an inner spring which was used for fishing, gathering drinking water, and a bath and bathroom. Three main openings were made to enter and exit the compound and one other led to what seemed to be their centipede stables.

Last night at dusk, an excited teenage girl, a year or two younger than her cellmate, rushed in and spoke excitedly. The words Abdi laetra da were shouted a lot as the clan jumped up all at once and rushed about the cavern. From the little knothole, she could not fathom what they had been doing.

She had tapped her cellmate on the arm and made an expression of worry and question, but she had no idea if her meaning came across. Either way the girl only shook her head and scooted further away into the opposite corner. Minutes later, a heavy female guard had come and opened a trap door.

“Losda mooah, abdi laetra da keiva Mealli,” the guard had said, brandishing her spear tip only at Jueneva and not her cellmate.

The girl nodded and crawled over to the trap door. She glanced at Jueneva, graced her with a goodbye smile then climbed down a rope ladder hooked to the trap door.

Once at the bottom, the guard handed her a change of clothes and a thick fur jacket of some kind of animal. Other members spoke Mealli greetings to her, so Jueneva guessed it might be her name.

Within minutes, Mealli had left the compound on an unknown mission or errand.

Not one member of the tribe slept. The Revie-ati ran to and from, bringing in lots of wood or worked at digging up a large, wide trench in the center of the cavern. It led straight into the river tunnel.

Jueneva stressed and worried all night at what this would mean for her as well.

Whatever or whoever the Abdi leatra da was, it was coming soon, and it absolutely petrified this fierce tribe…

FRESH STORY CONTENT!! 5/23/2022 — Derek Barton

As promised in my last post, I am reposting this story (this week the first three chapters) for you — I hope to add new content next week for it.

Enjoy!!


THE FLIGHT OF THE DIRITHI

1

Jueneva shook awake but didn’t raise her head off the cottony bed pillow. Another shrill scream pierced the early morning hours. She didn’t recognize the source, but guessed it came from Yabina’s hut. A second child from another hut farther away joined the first, ending in sobs. 

More shouts, deeper in bass, came from guards near the southern wall.

Cries of alarm sprang out all over the village. Jueneva squeezed her eyes shut, praying to wake from this sudden nightmare. Her breath burst from her. She hadn’t even realized she was holding it in. Her chest hurt from the effort.

“Jueneva!! Come. Come, child!” The last shred of hope she had faded as her eyes opened to see her mother, Ckala standing in the doorway to her room, her arms out and beckoning to her. In one hand, she gripped a thin, leathery pouch. A backpack straddled her shoulders, filled with their travel clothes and road rations.

“We know what this means. It’s over, nothing can be done now but hide. We must hurry,” her mother pleaded over the crash and clatter of men battling near by. Horses pounded the dirt paths near the front of their stone home.

“Kampen-yans! Kampen-yans! Run. They have found us.” Other shouts echoed the call. The horses went deeper into the village, their riders warning others in the bare light of dawn.

Jueneva grabbed her blanket and wrapped it tightly over her shoulders and head. Silent tears traveled down her cheeks. She thrust her feet into her leather thong sandals at the foot of her bed.

They’re gone? Father, brother…lost?

“Hurry up, we’ve got to go to the bridge,” her mother said as she grabbed Jueneva’s hand and hauled her down the hallway. “If we should get separated, head there and wait for me in that bed of tanglevines. If I haven’t come by sunrise, go under the bridge and find the three black stones. You’ll recognize them on sight. Dig through.”

“Where are we going, mum?” Jueneva grew even more scared at the sound of her own voice. It somehow diminished in the night, shrunken to the frightened pleas of a toddler.

“It’s not important where we are going, only that we get away from here. Please, run!”

Outside the door to their stone house, the shouts for help and the screams for mercy mixed and filled the air. The sounds of battle echoed in from the wood gate house along Harner Road. Horses whinnied in fright, metal clashed with metal, wood cracked and splintered. Women begged while children shrieked. Thick and gravelly voices answered  in foreign, violent tongues.

Others ran alongside the pair, making for the bridge at the back of the village which crossed over a minor rivulet of the Corafin River to the other side, bracketed by heavy pine tree woods.

The trek there was an eternity. Other villagers were bolting over the river when they arrived. They bypassed the bridge entrance and climbed down the short but deep embankment. Surefooted, her mother made a direct run at a pile of three, smooth black river stones. She let free Jueneva’s hand, used both hands to part the rocks. Underneath was a strong fishnet, covered in wet leaves and mud. “Help, Juel. Grab the other end so we can drag it away.”

When they did so, the shallow mouth to a tunnel appeared. However, the only way to go inside was to crawl on hands and knees.

Her mother rummaged through the backpack and removed a silver box. It popped open revealing a smooth gold stone, glowing with an amber aura. The stone barely gave more light than a wax candle, but it was enough.

“Let’s go.” She plopped down on her belly and began to squeeze inside.

Not one to be squeamish about mud or dirt, Jueneva did balk going in the pitch black after her mother. It felt wrong, dread coiling around her neck like a hangman’s noose. She willed herself to enter the earthen grave, defying her instincts.

Inside the light illuminated enough only for her to see the soles of Ckala’s sandals as she crawled ahead. Moments went by without a word between them. Her brother’s face appeared in her mind’s eye. Fresh tears and sobs choked her, stopping her from trailing after.

“Shhh. Shhh. Juel, we’ll be alright. Shhhh.” Her mother tried to calm her.

Juel shook from cold as much as from her emotions. Water dripped from the tunnel’s ceiling as foul stenches burned her nose and made her gag. This was not a proper life. Nothing was ever resolved.

When the sudden grief faded, she had to ask,”Mum, why?”

“What?”

“Why? Why are we always hunted?” Jueneva was nearing her twelfth  moon cycle. All her memories revolved around them being on the run. It wasn’t normal. She noted by her fifth moon that other families could put down roots and live in seeming peace.

Her mother stopped and twisted to look down the tunnel at Jueneva. The pain in her eyes spoke volumes.

“I never wanted this type of life for you, sweet-tears. There is a curse lying in your veins.”

“What does that mean? Did Da and Je’steo–“

Her mother shook her head violently. “No! Not now. We grieve another sunrise. Not today! We must run so their sacrifice won’t be for nothing. They won’t stop hunting us.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Some day it will be clearer to you, but for now, we don’t have time to work it out.”

“No!  Tell me the true reason we are different. Please!”

 The words came slowly and whispered in the dark like all dangerous secrets. “You are Dirithi.”

Dirithi? Dirithi! A half-dragon offspring. The last heirs of dragon blood. Not human, not dragon. Shapeshifters.

“No more talk. Come!”

The single word consumed her and bellowed like a tempest inside her skull. It explained so much and yet conjured so many more questions.

They took up the hike again under the river. The winding tunnel went deep underground and paralleled the rapid stream.

Finally, faint dawn light shined through the exit. As her mother crawled out, she graced Juel with a broad, relieved smile. Seeing it light up Ckala’s face, her own smile crept out as she stood on her feet, covered in grime.

An arrow whistled through the air, catching her mother in the shoulder, throwing her to the ground. Another arrow hit the ground between Jueneva’s sandals.

“Svaklan, I told ye they were predictable. Right where I said, right when I said. No?” A man spoke with robust confidence as he came down the embankment on the back of a brown horse. He had a crossbow in his arms, an arrow already loaded and trained on her.

Ckala didn’t answer the man’s taunts, only shook her head in stubborn defiance. Her lips pressed into a thin line.

Another man with a pair of long ponytails gliding down the back of his head, nodded and grinned through his thick black beard. “Aye, m’lord. Ye do have the sight.” He strode over and placed a thick, gray-furred boot on Ckala’s chest as she remained prone and panting from the pain.

“Indeed,” the Kampen-yan Lord said as he rode his horse up a few feet in front of Jueneva. He then followed up with a mock bow. “All these wasted years, but here we are, the end of our storied chase. The Gryatt is mine and will be returned after all.”

The Lord looked over Jueneva, meeting her wide and terror-filled stare. “Aye, ye do have but good reason for fear. The deep darkness ye will bring to the land will be of legend. The power I’ll have will be even more.”

Ckala slapped the ground at her side, getting Juel’s attention. “No! No! Jueneva, remember above all else, you must survive and grow stronger!”

Before the bearded Svaklan could react, her mother thrust the small leather pouch into the air and striking it hard against a pine sapling along the muddy river bank. As a gold and silver talisman slipped from the pouch, Ckala screamed, “Akkei Maliss!”

A blast of fire and wind erupted, the magical pulse throwing all apart from each other. Jueneva laid on her back inside the tunnel, her breath stolen.

What was that? Was it from the talisman? 

“…remember above all else, you must survive and grow ever stronger!” Ckala’s words repeated to her.

After several moments, she could breathe normally and she struggled back to the cave entrance.

She was ill-prepared for the sight before her.

The horseman lay pinned and struggling weakly under his beast, while Svaklan laid motionless on his stomach partially in the water. The stream pulled and nudged at him, trying to take his body away downstream. Her mother’s form was twisted and wrapped around the base of another larger pine. Motionless.

But at the spot where the talisman had been appeared a mammoth watery circle. The talisman had been invoked and a portal now stood towering over her.

It had to lead to one place…

“Akkei Maliss!”

 In the distance, breaking branches and baying hounds could be heard. Other Kampen-yans must’ve followed after the sounds of the magical explosion.

More words repeated softly inside her mind. We must run so their sacrifice won’t be for nothing.

To herself, she whispered, “I’ll go where my enemies will fear to follow.”

Per the legends passed down by the tribal elders, the world of Akkei Maliss was a world where the vilest creatures came to roost. In the past, even her mother, always so brave, wouldn’t dare to utter its name. This was a world where the snow fell black…

This was a world where alone as a Dirithi, she’d learn to survive and grow ever stronger.

She nodded to her mother’s form and whispered final words of love. It was time to act. She marched slowly but with determination and resolve into the portal to Akkei Maliss.

And she’d return to reign supreme once and for all.


2

This new harsh reality, the brutal truth of who she really was did bring the unwanted tears. Jueneva sunk back to the ground, hugging her knees into her chest and buried her face. Never had she felt so naked, desperate and alone. She wept, finally releasing the wracking sobs bottled up inside. For a long time, she wrestled with the feeling of loss and grief for her mother and the rest of her family.

The storm gained strength outside. Gusts of icy rain and snow flurries whistled in through the large hole in the roof. The gloomy daylight had also dimmed significantly. She had no provisions, only mud-soaked clothes on her small frame and no real sense of where she was. It left little doubt that the time had come for action and decisions. Trying to recapture the grim resolve she had before entering the portal, she picked herself up and took a more concerted effort at looking around.

However, there was nothing new of the indoor courtyard than what she noted before, so she walked hesitantly to the pair of barred doors. She considered the rusted metal brackets that held twin thick wooden boards, but she could not guess to what its true purpose was. It was a flimsy barrier at best and could not pose any serious obstacle to anyone wanting to get into the courtyard. With little effort, she lifted the boards off and inched the doors barely open.

A knock, soft and from beyond the door, froze her to the spot. It was not done with force, but with purpose.

Another knock floated to her ears, this time echoing from much deeper inside the building. Another pair of similar knocks followed close behind the first. A burst of wind howled through the hole again, the sound deafening as she stood in the prior silence. Then all grew quiet once again.

On the other side, she could not see much detail or form past a few feet. Soft twilight filtered in from snow-capped skylights on the roof and barely outlined what appeared to be a long rectangular room.

Stay in the courtyard, freeze to death in the chill or walk into the gloom and die in the pitch dark?

She moaned internally at her dilemma, determined to not voice her fear aloud, not allowing the terror to become real. A sudden burst of wind coiled around her like a snake, forcing her decision. Slipping in, she snapped the pair of doors tight behind her.

To her shock, as she blinked her eyes rapidly, the room brightened. Yet the light source was not external.  The chamber remained unlit except for the skylights along the borders of the room. The features inside were dotted in tiny gray beads. The chamber mostly empty remained shrouded by night, yet the beads outlined everything. Her new darksight had to stem from her Dirithi heritage!

Coming to Akkei Maliss must have unlocked the fierce beast within her blood. Jueneva hoped she could find other advantages. Her instincts told her she would need every ounce of human and dragon strength she had to survive here.

Ten feet into the room, she ran her hands along an ornate banister and realized that the empty center of the rectangular room was an open floor. She could make out at least three more floors below her. These ruins were immense and were once elaborate.

Do I dare hope for food somewhere secured away? I need to at least find a place to lay down and rest, she thought. Her strength waned as her stomach growled.

She walked along the passage bordering the open floor, finding a total of three passages. The one leading to the doorway, the other two in opposite west and east directions. The air remained chill in the hall but at least it was free of the outside elements. When she stepped into the eastern passage, the knock came to her again. It floated down the hall towards her. The hall ended ahead in a t-section. The knock repeated from the right hallway.

The knocks repeated. Light rapping against hollow wood. Knock… Knock… Knock….

She crept slowly in the shadows, making her way toward the source. If she were to stay inside, she had to be sure the area was safe before allowing herself to close her eyes and rest. Kneeling down close to the corner, she peeked around the wall. Hanging on thick cords of rope, several men’s corpses were swinging slowly from side to side, their boots occasionally taping against the hallway. Her hand shot up to seal her squeals from escaping. The men were all in ragged and bloody uniforms, their hands bound behind their backs, their heads lolling to one side. As she studied them, a growing orange light grew at the other end of the hall. It was approaching her from the other side of the line of bodies. In the bright light now, more than a dozen victims were swinging from a square ceiling beam.

Jueneva heard heavy boots now, foot thuds heavy and marching towards her. She ducked back around the corner, bracing her back against the wall. Her hands still pressing tight against her lips.

What fresh hell have I plunged myself into?

The march of the lone pair of boots came to a sudden stop, less than a dozen feet away. The orange light flickered and waved, casting irregular shadows along the hall. Above the crackle and popping sounds of a fire, she made out the creaks of rope, the tapping of more boots. Whoever had the fire had walked through the hanging forms and intentionally forced more of them to swing.

Her terror caused massive trembles up and down her limbs but still, she had to know, had to see what was happening right beside her. She again knelt slowly to get as close to the ground as possible to dip down and catch a glimpse.

A disembodied pair of legs, shrouded in glowing orange and white flames, stood before the swinging men. The boots were facing the victims. Spots on their uniforms were burning where they were pushed.

Her jaw dropped as her hands fell to her sides. Her eyesight started to tunnel as she was about to swoon, when a floating, rotting skull wreathed with more fire appeared above the legs. It twisted to face her. Its jaws were opened in a permanent scream. It roared, “YOU DO NOT BELONG HERE!”

Instead of collapsing, her legs snapped tight and her body launched forward, her feet instinctively beating a mad dash away down the other hallway. She dared not to look behind her to see if it gave chase.

The frantic girl did not stop until her breath rasped in and out of her chest in burning gulps of air. She was heaving and weeping again resting on her hands and knees. The darkness in this area was reassuring though as she knew the Burning Man was not near. She tried to control her tears but could not help the squeals and moans she made.

Now hopelessly lost in these haunted ruins, she despaired if she would be safe ever again.

Her darksight revealed she was in an open, sparse room. It was furnished with only a wobbly wooden square table and one stone bench. The concrete walls were marked with more of the miniature runes but nothing else.

Completely exhausted, surrendering to whatever might find her, Jueneva climbed onto the table. She chose to sleep here versus the cold stone floor. Her ankles and feet hung over the end, but she slipped regardless into dreamless sleep immediately.


3

“YOU DO NOT BELONG HERE!”

The intense words floated in Jueneva’s mind as she drifted between nightmare and awareness. The flaming skull growing and looming over her in her dream, casting her in its fiery red glow. Its heated breath roasting her skin.

“You do not belong here.” The spoken statement, less intense, was repeated in more of a concern or inquiring tone. And it was not said by the leering skull.

She felt a hand upon her shoulder, shaking her. “I say, this is no place anymore for the living.”

Her eyes popped open wide, startled from the touch. An older man, heavily wrinkled around the eyes and mouth, stood near her table bed, floating a few inches above the floor. He had a similar gray and blue uniform as the hung men she had seen earlier. His long white hair was pulled back in a single braid. Other than being semi-transparent and having a faint luminescence, she would not have immediately realized he was a spirit of some type.

The room around them remained pitch dark except for the faint outlines presented by her darkvision. His arms were folded across his chest as he patiently waited for her to respond.

His black eyes perplexed and frightened her. There was a depth and a high intelligence in them. This was not a simple aberration or manifestation.

She scrambled down from the table and crab-walked back into the farthest corner from him. Her arms wrapped reflexively around her knees and pulled her body into a tight ball.

The spirit rubbed at the side of his face and paused with his mouth slightly open in mid-statement.

“I see. Well, perhaps if you have some answers you will feel more at ease, no?” He bowed low, dropping his elbow before his face in an odd gesture or salute. He rose and tapped his boot heels together. “I am Court Executor Boure of the Coueryere Castle, once the ruling regime and residents here. And you are?”

He waited again for her to participate in the conversation. Jueneva was not in the frame of mind of conversing with a ghost. The multitude of stories told to her as a child flooded her brain with superstitions and fears. She could only hope the spirit would leave her alone soon.

“Alright. Well, this simply will not do, young lady. We cannot have you unattended in the labyrinth of the castle. There are… There are things that would not be pleasant for you to see or encounter. No more of such chatter on that. For now, I do observe that you are not properly dressed to be here, nor do you have any provisions or food it does appear. If you allow me to escort you, I can lead you to a proper bedding.”

Jueneva looked up slowly from her huddled knees but did not answer him.

He took it as a sign. “And while our Rule ended abruptly here many eons before, there are sealed food jars in our kitchen and the guard noshery. This endless winter is certain to keep most of it from rotting. Would you like to explore it, young lady?”

His polite form of speech and attention to decorum eased her tension some and the idea of eating broke down her guarded walls. She nodded as she rose to her feet.

“Then please follow me.”

It did not take long for them to reach the large kitchen area, which had four stone tables lined with black oak benches and shelving crowded with wax-sealed pottery jars. She kept quiet behind Boure, but took in the sights of the decorations. Most of it remained untouched, only dusted in fine gray and black powders.

He stood in the hall leading to the kitchen, barely inside the double-door entrance. Again, he crossed his arms over his chest as he kept his vigilance.

At the back of the kitchen hall, she discovered an inset fireplace nearly two body lengths wide and several feet deep. A wooden door partially open showcased a meat pantry and a stack of small water barrels.

After finding a box filled with cut wood, she made a cozy fire and set about prying open some of the jars. In moments, she had a plate of tough leathery jerky, two piles of cashew nuts and two more handfuls of strange green and red berries. The spicy meat did not sit well but the berries and nuts filled her up fine.

As she wiped her sticky hands on the sides of her stained blouse, she called out with a slight tremble in her words. “Thank you, Sir Boure. I am…I truly appreciate your assistance.”

He floated across the stone floor and hovered near her bench seat. “You are most welcome. Can we discuss your situation now?”

She nodded again, keeping her eyes on the floor. To stare into his focused, lucid eyes was too overwhelming. “My name is Jueneva Emaya.”

“As there are no easy passages through the DesCantan Mountains now, am I correct to guess you came via the Glass Mirror in the Shrine?”

“I think so.”

He rubbed again at the side of his temple, lost in his contemplation. He must have had that habit during his life and carried it forward into death.

“And by your garb and lack of supplies, you were not expecting to come to the castle?”

“I do not even know where I am exactly. Except… except that I have come to Akkei Maliss.”

“Ah, indeed.”

He scratched at a spot between his bushy eyebrows, then folded his arms behind his back. “Anyone coming to Akkei Maliss and via sorcery at that, surely had to be in a dire emergency. Do you think you will be pursued?”

She hugged her arms to her body, cold shivers traversing her small form. “My family…” She choked with emotion. “Our enemies were stopped before I came here. No one witnessed my crossing.”

“Yet you really do not know what Akkei Maliss is, child,” he said matter-of-factly. “You were ill-advised to come to this haunted, cursed land. As I said earlier, this is no place for the living. You have come to one of the five Blackened Realms. Only Restless Dead reside in the Ruins of Castle Coueryere!” His voice had risen and gained volume. He shook with emotion and rage.

Jueneva stood her ground, somehow sensing his anger was not directed towards her but the cruel fate given to him.

“You cannot even fathom the dangers of the other four realms. Nothing can be saved in these lands — The Unformed, The Living Towers, the Land of the Bloodless. And even the dead cannot speak of what exists in The Swath. There is no hope to be found here. In truth, you came here to die!”

“NO! I may have come unprepared, but there was no other option but to return home.”

His jaw dropped, the words faltered before leaving his mouth.

“This castle was suddenly lost right?”

“Yes. One night as a mighty blizzard gathered outside, we were set upon by an unknown enemy who used the storm to hide within. They breached all our security, used magic to overtake all preparations. Within the night, it fell to a swift blade and all of us including the Coueryere noble family were wiped out. Our enemy stripped everything of value and left these rotting ruins. They robbed us of everything, including hope. Now the dead come here attracted by its well of misery and doomed souls.”

Jueneva stood up from the bench and crossed to the heat of the fireplace. She then knelt in front of it. The flames lit up her face and features.

“No, Boure. Not all hope. Not everyone died that night. The family of Coueryere held dominion here due to their powerful bloodlines and true heritage. My mother and father — my adoptive parents used to tell me bedtime stories. Told me of a faraway land governed by a family of mystical beings.”

He floated closer to her, trepidation in his eyes. He hoped and yet feared at the same time what he was about to witness. 

“Dirithi…” he moaned in awe as he took in the sight of her illuminated features. Her true heritage of blackened eyes and ivory, spiky skin.

He sank to the ground, collapsing upon his knees and prostrated before her with his hands clenched over his head. “So long!  So long without a light to cling to.” His words were muffled and mashed together as he said them like a chant over and over.

She put her hand upon his shoulder. Softly she spoke into his ear.

“I will, I swear before you, regain our power over this realm. Fate has bound me with this charge. I must bring about The Restoration.”

FRESH STORY CONTENT!! 5/17/2022 — Derek Barton

Hey there! It’s been a while, but I’m back — my stroke recovery is going well. I’m nearly 90% (my hand and my speech needs some more time), but overall, I think it’s time to get back to work!

My main goal this year is to find a way to get more stories out this year and making time to work on several stories at the same time. Which story, you ask? All of them of course. Heh.

Currently I have three stories that I have been adding on to here and there, wanting so badly to write and complete each one, yet I get derailed time and time again. Those projects are: The Flight of The Dirithi series, a new horror story project (working title so far is Days of The Rending) and finally the Third Wyvernshield story. The two fantasy stories are especially way overdue. I seriously thank you for your support and patience. (And… on top of all this, I’m considering an Elude screenplay!)

The plan is to work up at least one day a week a blog with new pages. I will continue to post these blogs up until the last quarter of each book. You can follow along, but keep in mind these will be RAW, uncut gems (only first wave edited) and when the books are actually produced there are bound to be changes, additions and deletions to the material.

I hope by publishing some new content every week this will force me to make headway on all three novels. One caveat, I have to rewrite my outline for the third Wyvernshield book so it may take me a while before you see a blog with that storyline.

Today I will go ahead and give you an exciting new chapter in my latest horror story. Next week I will start at the intro and reprint my opening chapter of The Flight of The Dirithi so you can refresh yourselves on that one.

I will title each of these blogs as Fresh Content and date them so you can be sure you are on the right one.

Again thank you for all your kindness during my recovery and I truly appreciate the well-wishes!!

Enjoy!!!!!

Chapter One

Sammy Samuels wasn’t bothered by the late-night Philly air. In fact, he rather enjoyed its touch of briskness. Made him feel more alive on his walks home. His breath plumed, funneling out and trailed behind the old man’s head. As he walked along the street, he whistled an old favorite R & B tune to himself. A large smile was stretched across his face. There were touches of gray along the edges of his afro. In his left hand, he held a smoldering, snubbed cigar and in the other, he carried a bottle of Jimmy Bean Bourbon.

As Sammy crested the hill on Jacobson St., he first spotted it. He nearly skidded to a stop, and he stiffened in spite of himself. “Wow. What in the hell is that?” he muttered under his breath.

At the bottom, in the hollow, at the corner of Jacobson and Alan Derry St., sat one of the ugliest statues he’d ever seen in his life. It was of a dog, a large one like a German Shepherd. It was placed to sit facing back up at the hill. The streetlamp overhead gave it a wide spotlight of yellowish light. The statue’s fur a natural patchwork of tan, brown and black. However, above its snout was a red plastic mask, white X’s over its eyes.  

Never seen that here before, he mused. Sick joke or something.

He didn’t find it amusing. He’d come down this way a few times before from Delta Blues Liquor Store if he had to – when he’d miss the last running Metro bus like he did tonight. He was sure he’d have noticed that gawdy thing.

Sammy shook his head, chuckled, and returned to whistling his favorite song. One of them millennial artists musta placed it there recently. Prolly got some sort of statement and story behind it. Nowadays, everyone got something to say, an opinion that everyone just has to listen to!

He shook his head once more disdainfully.  At halfway down the hill, he stopped abruptly again. He nearly dropped his half-finished bottle. To the right of the street and sitting dutifully on both sides of a door were two more of the statues. Same red masks with the white Xs, different shades of fur. The pair were placed in front of Rawley’s Deli.

Sammy instinctively glanced to the left to see if there were dog statues posted as the others. Nothing. As habit, he scratched one temple with an index finger as he stood confused.

Instead of more statues, he found a small alley entrance, cluttered by two tall brick buildings and several brown, city garbage bins. A flickering light hung off one building but it was further back at the end.

He looked back at the three dogs one by one, looking for a poster or sign to further elaborate on the work’s meanings. Nothing.

Sammy shrugged, took a long swig from the bottle which he followed with a deep drag from his cigar.

He stepped forward, cursing the way the world was so over-populated with opinionated assholes and full of self-righteousness these darkening days, when he saw the fourth dog statue. It was sitting motionless next to the first one at Jacobson St.

The bottle dropped and shattered at his feet. He blurted, “What da hell?” Where did that one come from?

The dogs tilted their heads together, slowly to the right as dogs do as if listening to his inner questions.

Sammy’s heart raced and his chest tightened with sudden fear. He took an involuntary step backward. Swiveling his head to the left then right, he looked to see if anyone else happened to be out in this late hour. He prayed he would spy someone — anyone – and not another dog statue!

Were they statues? The shocking question bubbled up in his mind.

No one else was out, most of the store fronts were dark and closed up. Due to the recent cold spell, no one was out or near the apartment buildings or out on their stoops.

Three more dogs appeared. They lazily strolled out from another alleyway ahead of him, walking in a line. They sat upon their haunches, sitting on the sidewalk in formation, then they too tilted their heads in question.

Almost like they asking me ‘what the fuck you gonna do, old man? What’s your thoughts?’

His tongue snaked out quick and wet his lips. Sammy had grown up on the streets and had toughened it out, surviving many fights and ambushes. He was cagey, yet it had been some time since he’d had to use those skills.

Whatcha gonna do?

He lurched forward to the left, but after two steps, he stutter-stepped then spun on his sneaker heals, to bolt back up the hill as fast as his arthritic joins would carry him. When he topped it, a fist caught him squarely in the nose and rocked him off his feet. He never saw it coming. Helplessly, he tumbled backwards and rolled along the street’s gutter.

When he came to a stop at the bottom, Sammy sputtered and spit blood as he laid panting heavily on his back. He moaned but held out a motioning hand in the air. “Wait! Wait please.”

His hand dropped down and rummaged in his jean’s pocket. He produced a faded tan leather wallet, thin and very used.

“I ain’t got much, mister, but it’s your’s,” he said as he waved it out. He kept his eyes squeezed shut.

However, no one took his wallet. Nothing was said.  He didn’t hear dog or man.

“Look! It’s okay. I get it. But I didn’t see you, only your dogs. I can’t ID you. I wouldn’t. Hell, dude, who’s gonna believe an old drunk anyway. You take what I have, just don’t hurt me anymore, okay?”

Someone snapped their fingers.

Sammy heard the approach of soft patter of paws. The old man gulped and held brave to the thought he’d be alright. He’d be home soon, safe and relaxing in his comfy recliner and eating a microwave dinner in a quick hour. You’ll see. They’ll leave ya alone as you ain’t got nothin’.

He tried to ignore the painful sharp stings as their jaws clamped onto his wrists. As well, he didn’t resist as they dragged him toward the empty, shadowy alley. Inside the alley’s dark confines, more jaws snapped close upon his limbs.

Lord, I’ve been a good man for some time now. Please see me through this, he prayed inside. While he did have a strong faith, he also believed in the idea that the blessed be those who help themselves too.

He opened one eye then the other. The pack of dogs surrounded him, their hot breaths baked his skin. Their fur was spikey, greasy and matted with mud and feces. A rotted, fetid stench from their breath and bodies soured his stomach, nearly making him vomit. His arms and legs held aloft by two dogs each. They were keeping him down but hadn’t actually torn at him, only imprisoning him. The person who struck him on the street was nowhere in sight.

“What? Hello?” Sammy’s voice was shaky and shrill, pleading.

As an answer a massive jaw griped his thin throat, choking him. Trickles of blood droplets dripped to the dirty concrete beneath him.

A gravely yet smug voice called out from somewhere above Sammy. “Samuel Jeremiah Samuels. Born in 1948, survived a pair of ex-wives. Father to two sons who you haven’t spoken to in years. Retired as a building engineer when we all know you were just a glorified handyman. Now pitiful, broke and useless to all around him.” The voice droned on other trivial in the same masculine and judgmental tirade. A pair of slick, lime green boots slowly appeared next to his head. They were wet and caked in odd, slimy mud that smelled faintly fishy or maybe wormy.

“What do you want? Lemme go! You have no right to do this to me!” Sammy weakly gasped out from under the mane of the dog.

“Oh Sammy. Really going to go there? Deep down you know what’s happening. You know what I’m doing and why. It’s your Judgment Day. No right? No, sir, I have every right and from the day you first understood your ol’ mama’s words — she taught you that sins pile up and you’d one day have to atone.”

“Bullshit,” the weak dismissal didn’t have much strength behind it.

A flash of memory popped in Sammy’s head. It was of the Sunday, he’d been five years old and had been caught with his two friends trying to snake out dollar bills from the church’s tithe baskets while everyone was supposed to be in Sunday School. His Granny Josie had used a thin tree branch to deliver his punishment followed up with a fifteen-minute sermon on sinnin’ and doin’ the devil’s work. The Devil to Sammy became the worst of the world’s boogeymen to him, but the world had a multitude of monsters to keep him up at night. Whoever his attacker was, he was right about him, he knew what sinning was from an early age.

Another snap of fingers.

Excruciating pain filled Sammy. Every nerve inside shrieked with agony, muscles and skin tore, blood poured or fountained all about the alley. His screams were muffled and garbled by the penetrating fangs in his throat. His limbs flailed and writhed but were not released.

An orange aura of energy flowed over him, white flickering lightning bolts popped and lit up the alley. It blinded him so he couldn’t see much of the shadowy dark profile standing over him anyways.

“I can keep you like this as long as I want, Sammy. I won’t let you die, you see you cannot escape me so easily. You cannot outlast me either. It’s a new trick I picked up. This pain, this Rending of your soul, can last for eternity. I have brought your mama’s Hell to you!” the Dark Form laughed.

Then Sammy’s Granny Josie’s voice howled out of his mouth, “Sammy! Sammy, you stop livin’ like this, you be a good man. Those gangs are not for you. They pretendin’ to be your family. They usin’ you up and will throw you away just as easy! Stop your sinnin’!”

Those were the actual words she had used when she bailed him out the third time. The drive home had seemed torturous and infinite to him. But now… after she was long gone and buried, the words seemed like purity and wisdom. If only it hadn’t been another four years before he straightened up and wanted more in life.

The laughter continued as the pain ratcheted up. The dogs yanked and thrust all about, tearing his arms from the elbow joints first then the shoulders. His legs were severed at the ankles then gnawed apart at the knees.

The Dark Form’s words oozed into his ears, the menacing tone flooded him over the sounds of his screams and begging pleas for mercy. “This will all end, you’ll be forgiven if you only say the words. You only need to give everything to Her.  Appeals for mercy are sweet and savory, but She demands more! Give Her all, follow what you are told. If you ask for Her name, I’ll give it to you and then you can be released. Can you do that, Sammy? Are you going to beg me for Her name and Her mercy?”

The jaws at his throat tightened further and crushed his windpipe. Blood poured up and out of his mouth, splattering his face and chest. His skull cracked hard on the concrete as it separated from his shoulders. Agony and fire filled his mind, consuming him.

“SAY IT, SAMMY! GIVE YOUR SOUL TO HER TO SAVE IT OR THE HOUNDS WILL TEAR YOU INTO HUNDREDS OF PIECES WHICH YOU WILL FEEL EACH AND EVERY BIT OF!” The Dark Form screeched in a mad frenzy.

As two hounds gnawed at his face and ears, pulling and stretching, Sammy gave in, he bent to Her will. TELL ME HER NAME, I AM HER’S. PLEASE STOP!!

The Dark Form complied.

It didn’t stop the relentless mauling right away.

Dogs were at his neck, drinking and lapping up his blood. Others were eating his intestines and finding other organ delicacies. His genitals were caught in a vicious three-way tug of war.

All of it, Samuel Jeremiah Samuels felt and heard in a suspended state of life.

The Dark Form snapped its fingers once more. The carnage came to a bloody, frothy end. The Rending ceased.

“Your life is over as you know it. Your life and oath are bound to us now. You will serve, but you will serve…” the sentence of damnation was paused then a single word was uttered. This time Sammy felt it rather than heard.

“Whole.”

Sammy laid unconscious, breathing shallowly in the dirt of the alley for a few hours behind the garbage bins. Eventually, he sat up and looked around him. He was alone. No dog or man. He absently scratched at his temple, stood and hugged his arms to his chest. It was still cold that early Philadelphia morning as he made the rest of his trip home.

OUR NEWEST HORROR NOVEL HAS BEEN RELEASED!! THE HIDDEN WITHIN — DEREK BARTON – 2022

….You aren’t who they say you are. Show your true nature and you’ll be free….

Makenzie’s life had been going so well until a horrific car accident left her with severe head trauma. Now recovering, she begins to lash out with violence. Her actions put herself and those around her in danger, forcing Makenzie to be committed for additional treatment.

Held for observation, she begins to discover a world that should not exist. One of bloody fantasies, dark obsessions, and homicidal cravings.

Torn between worlds, Makenzie must make the ultimate decision. She can either stand and fight for her humanity or run deeper into the night of razor-sharp claws and bloody fangs!

Get your copy today on Amazon or Kindle!!

Cover Release! THE HIDDEN WITHIN!! — Derek Barton – 2022

The fury is growing… Can it be contained? Does she even want to?

Keep a sharp eye out for this new release coming soon to Amazon and Kindle (Audible will be produced later this year).

If you didn’t see the early sneak peek chapter, click here https://authorderekbarton.blog/2022/01/15/the-hidden-within-chapter-1-excerpt-derek-barton-2022/

THE HIDDEN WITHIN – Chapter #1 Excerpt — Derek Barton 2022

Hello everyone! I hope the New Year has already been treating you better than 2020 & 2021!!

Here is Chapter 1 from the new novel, The Hidden Within written by my father, T.D. Barton and I. This is the upcoming sequel to The Hidden from 2017. We sincerely hope you enjoy it. The full novel will be out in a couple months so keep your eyes open for it!!!

CHAPTER ONE                                                                                                                                                                          

Throbbing, pounding pain split Makenzie’s skull and a gnawing hunger roiled her guts. She was running noiselessly along a path through a wooded expanse. Driven by an irresistible urge that she did not understand, but had no desire to resist, she forged ahead at a breakneck pace.  At last, she paused and sniffed the heavy night air, pungent with the scent of rotting plants and vegetation lining the forest floor. Ahead she sensed the mordant smell of human flesh, coated enticingly with a sheen of sweat brought on by fear and exertion. Her prey was straining to escape, running, and stumbling blindly amongst the trees, crashing loudly through the underbrush.

While paused, she looked down at her hands and stared at the long, black claws that glistened in the moonlight at the ends of her shaggy fingers. With a snarl she brought them up and scratched at her fur-covered belly.  From deep within, she felt a blood-chilling howl building up, swelling the walls of her throat.  She was no longer Makenzie; she was something else. Something not human but dangerously primeval—savage and powerful.  The thing tilted its head back straightened its neck and let go. Rumbling out into the night, the ghastly sound reverberated among the trees and dense foliage of the forest. When at last it died down, the sound of the various denizens of the dark had been silenced. An eerie quiet had settled in and not one cricket or tree frog dared to be the first to break that silence. Finally, a lone owl hooted in the distance and the sounds of the night resumed. Chuffing out a hot breath, the beast started running again. Soon she would overtake her victim and its blood would course hotly down her throat.

From far above in the night sky, she looked down at herself and the young man who staggered along a few yards before. Dimly Makenzie was becoming aware that this was not real. Another fierce nightmare was dragging her against her will through a primordial wood in the form of a beast, primitive and feral. 

Shay-rah… Shay-rah… the name seemed to whisper on a breeze through the branches.  But when the beast cocked its long ears forward, twitching them back and forth, she realized the whispers came from within her own mind.

Silently she prayed that she would not wake up. This time please let her catch her prey. She lusted for the taste of his flesh. Not yet, she was almost there… almost… there… almost…..


The world was a shit-brown smudge, smeared across her field of vision. Makenzie wanted to shake her head to clear it, but she found she couldn’t move, wanted to bring her balled fists to her eyes and wipe away whatever this film was that blocked her sight.  But her arms lay limp and unresponsive by her side.

Groggy and frighteningly confused, she tried to call out for help; but only a strangled, weak mewling sound escaped her throat. She licked her lips and blinked rapidly. Her breathing was slow and sluggish as she drew in great gasps and released them with a shutter.

Slowly a wavering shadow began to coalesce above her and, as she continued to blink and roll her eyes, the image of a face appeared, still very fuzzy in outline but nonetheless recognizable as that of a man. Her own face scrunched up into a scowl of fear and loathing and she squirmed against the restraints that held her pinned like a specimen beneath a microscope.

It dawned on her that the man was saying something. The voice drifted in from far away and she struggled to understand the words. It sounded like “Offend me….offend me….mistake us.” The ringing in her ears was so strong as to overwhelm any sound from the outside and she felt her head would explode. No, not offend me, not that….it was… Makenzie.

That’s it: Makenzie. Yes, Makenzie….and then Ms. Jacobs. It was a name. Her name. Yes, her name was Makenzie Jacobs. Always had been. So there, that solves that. This man hovering his round black face over her was calling her name.  Okay, so now she could go back to sleep. She closed her tired eyes and began to nod off.

But the man wasn’t through. His hands grasped her arms on both sides, and he shook her, gently at first and then with a more firm and aggressive urgency.

“Ms. Jacobs, can you hear me?” he said and this time she could understand his voice more clearly. He looked away and Makenzie stared up at his stubbly chin, noticing the cleft at the point of it. She fixated on it for a moment, watching it bob and weave as he seemed to be talking to someone off to the side.

“Bring her some water, I think she’s coming around,” he said. And a female voice replied in the affirmative. “Yes, doctor,” the woman said, and footsteps echoed across Makenzie’s consciousness.

The doctor looked down at her again and his face seemed genuinely concerned, but, true to his profession, he maintained a certain aloofness, so as not to become too involved. She was merely a patient, not a person.

“You’ve been given a shot to revive you and your head should begin to clear very soon, he said. “Just try to remain calm and relax.” Makenzie thought she detected a slight Jamaican accent in his voice.

“Can you talk? Do you know where you are?”

She wrinkled her brow and coughed dryly. Try as she might, she had no recollection of where she was or what had brought her here.

All she could recall was her name and the name brought her no sense of satisfaction, as though she should be ashamed of the person it represented. Why should she be repelled by her own name? Who is Makenzie Jacobs and why was she here? Dimly she seemed to recall another name. It was something else she used to answer to long ago… What did it mean? The name whispered around inside her mind and then was gone again.

The doctor scowled and peered intently into her eyes. His breath wafted by her nose, bringing a faint aroma of sage along with it. A hand suddenly appeared; the arm attached to it leading to a white sleeve which dissolved into a blur off to the left of her vision. It was a woman’s hand, and it held a plastic cup full of water, which was brought to her mouth. She gingerly sipped the cold water, and it blessedly soothed her parched lips and raspy mouth.  After a short pause for breath, she raised her head for a deeper drink, and this loosened her knotted throat.

“I’m in a hospital,” she croaked. “Car crash…”

The doctor frowned and looked off to the side again. As he spoke to the woman Makenzie stared up at him and her attention this time was centered on a vein, an artery actually, which throbbed at the base of his throat. Again, she licked her lips, but this time not because of thirst, rather something else coursed through her, like the blood in his pulse. It was something more akin to hunger.

Or lust.

He looked down again and gave her a warm smile. The strange feeling faded away.

“Makenzie, the crash was a long while ago.” Do you remember?

She tried to set up but was still immobilized. Why was she restrained? Was she severely injured? Her mind flashed pictures of crunching metal and screeching tires and she remembered being tossed around like a ragdoll. The smell of burning gasoline seemed to fill her nostrils. Flashes of memory, disjointed and surreal, slammed through her mind. She saw glimpses of that night— swirling images that terrified her. It was more than she could handle. There was nothing there that Makenzie wanted to remember.

She screamed.

“It’s all right. It’s all right, you’re not hurt. Shhhh,” the doctor’s voice was soothing but firm. “You’re okay…okay. Please. Just relax.”

“Makenzie.”

She began to calm down, but still looked from side to side, bewildered, and upset.

“Makenzie.”

She looked the doctor in the face.

“Do you remember your parents? Their names?”

Gazing into the distance she stammered, woodenly, “J-Jillian? …. Carter?”

“Good. Very good. Jillian and Carter Jacobs.” He smiled, showing even white teeth, professionally capped.

“Ms. Jacobs, my name is Doctor Doakes. Your parents love you very much. And they’ve brought you to me, uh, to us to try to help you. Do you remember that?”

She knitted her brows. “The crash… it was…” Her voice trailed off.

“Yes, it was a terrible crash.” he said. “But that’s not why you are here.”

“Makenzie, you’ve been suffering from lapses…hallucinations…periods of violence and rage. Recently you were involved in an incident at your parents’ house. The fundraiser.  Is…any of this coming back to you?”

Again, he searched her uncomprehending face. The girl had no idea what he was talking about.

“You hurt some people and the police had to be called. Mrs. Jacobs says that you have become increasingly irrational and impossible to deal with at home and they, well we all feel it would be good if you could spend some time here with us until we can sort out just what is going on with you.”

Makenzie jerked her head sideways in a bird-like fashion and looked out the window.

“No crash. Not a hospital,” she said, and her voice sounded flat, unemotional. Quite calm now, she looked back at Dr Doakes and in a voice dripping with sarcasm she said, “I’m in a nut-house. The fucking bitch has put me away.”

Slowly she shook her head from side to side.

“So, she got what she has always wanted. I’m out of the picture. No more embarrassing outbursts from crazy Makenzie. Senator Jacobs can bury her little girl, and no one will ever know. This is what she had planned all along. Well, it’s not going to happen, I can tell you that. For once, Jillian is not going to get her way.”

Suddenly she began straining against the straps which held her to the bed. She thrashed and squirmed like a demon unleashed. Her struggles became so violent that Dr. Doakes and his nurse, Kim both stepped back momentarily startled.

“Bullshit!” screamed the agitated young lady. “This is fucking bullshit! And she’s not going to get away with it!”

“Aaaaarrrr!” she screamed and as the screams began to trail off into wails of anger they started to sound almost like the howls of a wounded beast.

Frothing at the mouth, she balled her fists so tightly that her long nails began to slice deeply into her own palms, bringing forth rivulets of blood.

“I’ll kill her!” She howled. “Aaaaa-I’ll kill ‘em both! You can’t keep me here! Do you get that assholes? You can’t! I’ll fucking kill you all!  Rip out your fucking throats! I will! You can’t stop me!”

Tightening his grip on her upper arms the doctor shot a meaningful glance at Nurse Kim, who turned and prepared a syringe. Returning to the struggling doctor she handed the sedative to him.

“Here we go again, Doctor,” she said, shaking her head sadly. “Here we go again.”