Chapter Excerpts


As he ascended to a rounded crest, he spotted the source of the flashing lights. In a broad valley below, a dark brooding lake sat, fed by a thin river.  At the heart of the lake on a tiny patch of desert sands were three reddish metal pyramids, each topped with slow rotating metal boxes. They spun at slow, individual speeds.  The flashes were beams of light reflecting off the cubes.  In spite of no shelter around them, the youth increased his pace on the path down.  His curiosity overtook his fears.

By the time he entered the lake valley, the suns had slipped away completely. A frost soon coated the crystal towers. He jogged in order to keep warm and although he could no longer see the flashes, the youth was fairly certain of the boxes’ locations.

A humming echoed along the valley grounds and the crystal clusters resonated with it. A faint luminescent aura glowed beneath the sands.  It barely illuminated the path that weaved among the tree husks.

The humming intensified as he got closer to the cubes. In spite of the chill crisp air and the possible hard journey ahead, he strode without hesitation into the flowing river waters. He fought against the strong currents and waded through chest-high water in the middle. On the other side, he caught his breath and sat shivering on a snapped tree trunk. His breathing had become labored. The ebony lake was lifeless and smooth. 

The air had an odd mugginess. Not like a summer’s humidity, but with more of a stifling or clinging quality to it. Getting to his feet, he stepped anxiously over to the edge of the lake. Taihven stared across at the peaks.  Elaborate and intricate patterns were etched upon the metal boxes.

Taihven leaned forward, stretching out toward them.  Without warning, he heard a disjointed voice – something childlike and shrill.

The lad cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted, “Hello? Who is out there?”

Several moments passed and nobody answered, but the muted whispers continued.

“I cannot understand you.  Who is there?” he repeated.

The boxes continued to rotate undisturbed. They were of equal size and made of exquisite, ebony metal. Minute, magical script and runes of powerful spells were written in part of the engravings and he realized that this magic was far above anything he was capable of.

The prince had a pressing need to get closer. Yet the shadowy water… there was a foreboding element to its appearance and he did not even dare to test its temperature with his finger.  Taihven felt as if the glassy water was watching him, alive with malice.  Gasping in surprise, he jumped back from the beach’s edge after realizing that it did not cast any reflection upon its surface.

“…time a tea right and the day is well spent—” an old woman’s voice could be heard.

“What?” The prince asked back.

“I doubt we are invited to the Church today.” Another conversation fragment floated back to him.

“Crab-doils, strawberry jams, racks of pork ribs, sour pumpkin tarts…” The voice droned on.

“HEY!” Taihven shouted. This cut the chatter to a stop and all was dead silent.  Several moments seemed to pass as he stood waiting for a response.  He worried he frightened her somehow.

Finally in frustration, “HELLO! Why will not you answ—”


“Prince Taihven, you better run, you better run quick!” a child’s voice taunted and giggled.

This was beyond his limits and he bolted back across the river water. The heat of the threat felt like it was right behind him and the prince fled like a man on fire. The child’s voice repeated over and over in his mind. Tears poured down his face and he sobbed in panic and terror. His lips kept mouthing the words, please wake me up, please wake me up



As the other birds began to flash into flight, she sprung and ran toward her prey.  But a raucous cawing alarmed her and caught her attention.  The flock had swept backward flying into and over her versus away from her.  She slid to her knees as the birds battered her with their wings and webbed feet.

Letandra dove and tumbled in the sand; she rolled upon her back in time to spot a creature with many spindle-like legs and a gray, bulbous body. 

Spiders! She screeched in her mind when it made the instant connection.   

They were broader than most dogs and had extra legs, but they had the classic double rows of black glass eyes and dangerous twin fangs.  The spiders were lunging down from the trees, leaping at the birds with strands of webbing between their front legs.  Several prey had been captured and were being hauled into the high branches of the oaks.  One of the Grays had ensnared her wounded meal and was wrapping it up quickly among the boulders.  The boulders she realized were not covered in moss, but white webbing!

Three of the abominations were coming down fast and were encroaching on her prone form. 

Her ignorance to the wild and her naivetés had brought her from hunter to hunted status in a blink of an eye. 

She screamed as the three leaped for her — two by her legs and one on her right side.  They were wary and kept about two paces from her. 

Letandra swept her arms to her sides, gathering up the pond’s gravel and pebbles.  Scooping up two solid handfuls she pelted the insects at her boots with the grit at the same time scrambling to her feet.

Only one remained driven and leaped after her.  It landed behind her knees and lashed its legs around hers.

Its incredible strength kept her knees locked; her arms wheeled wildly in the air.  She shrieked again as she fell face first.  More spiders were emboldened and skittered over towards her.

On instinct she twisted and squirmed onto her back, thrusting her legs and the spider into the shallow water.

Pain seared up her calf as it drove its fangs deep into her calf.  Gritting her teeth, she raised her legs and slammed her boots into the beach bottom.  The Gray’s tenacious hold slipped then loosened.

From her right side, she spotted in the corner of her eye another one jumping at her head and at the last moment caught it in her hands.

Tears blurred her eyes at the same time she fought to keep her legs under water, drowning the one while she wrestled with the other giant spider.


Taliah guided the queen into the stairwell.  The king lit a torch with the bulls-eye lantern and dropped it to the floor below.   He then slammed the trap door shut.  Demetryce whimpered at the sound of a metal bar triggering, springing into place and locking the door from this side.  No turning back now, Your Majesty! 

Demetryce bolted down to the floor below, scooped up the torch and took the tunnel that led to the princess’ chamber.  At the base of another circular stairwell, she left the torch and climbed up to a similar trap door. 

She pounded with her hands upon it, “Letandra, Letandra!  Wake up – we have to go!”

No response or sounds of movement.  Taliah thought she probably had already been awakened by all the noise.  Demetryce found the bar and eased it back into its lock-spring position. 

The queen tried once more, “Letandra, are you there?  Come down to me!”

She then placed her shoulder up against the door and shoved through the layers of pillows.  The bedchamber was quiet and lit only by a scented candle on a table stand near her balcony.

“Letandra?  Where are you?” She whispered into the shadows.

The queen climbed out of the bed frame and crossed to the table.  She paused, scanned the room and stood confused.  It was a simple room with an armoire, a bed and a thick, blue-silk weave on the floor near the bed. There is something different about the room…

Taliah grew anxious and impatient.  You need to find her.  Who cares about the room?

“No… wait!”  She muttered, unaware she was even arguing with someone else. 

Where could she have gone? Taliah asked.

Where is the toy box?  Demetryce spun around and then charged over to the balcony doors.  They were closed but unlocked.  Up against the wall and to the right of the doorway, she spotted the wooden chest.  Her toy box was normally next to the table with the candle.

She twisted the latch and stepped out onto the patio.  “Lennie?  Baby, I am here.  Come out.”  Her tone was calm.

The chest lid lifted a couple fingers high.  “Mum?” A tiny whisper called out from the box.

She hauled it out there to hide in?  Taliah asked astonished.  

“We have to hurry.  Daddy wants us to meet him in the Safe Haven Room.” 

“No!  Safer here.”  The lid shut after her answer.

Demetryce put her hands on her hips and stamped her foot once.  “Now, young lady!”

The lid popped barely open again.

Mother and daughter stood opposed in silent defiance.

“Fine.” Finally signaled the end of the battle of wills.  The teeny soldier climbed out and ran to hold onto her mother’s skirt.



Something cold and wet dripped onto Jansen’s exposed legs.  The sudden sensation shocked him awake as it slid slowly down his skin onto the bed.  He tried to raise up to wipe them off, but for some reason, his body didn’t react like he commanded.  An incredible weight sat upon his chest; he barely could take a breath let alone shout for help.

The room was dark and lit only by a tiny, green nightlight and his alarm clock which read 4:44 AM. His mother had refused to let him back into her room and as a concession gave him the little light.  He had tossed and turned for hours; he reacted to every tiny bump in the night until finally, he passed out under the thick comforters.

Nothing was making sense.  In spite of his continued struggles, he couldn’t move, breathe or even see in the oppressive gloom of the cramped bedroom. 

Gloppp.  Glopp. 

He heard something fall again onto his legs and splatter on his sheets.

Why are my legs out?  Jansen screamed inside his head.  It was far too cold for him to not reflexively yank his legs under the covers. 

His eyes searched frantically for anything that might help him or give him some answers to help him better understand.  Over his head, the plain white ceiling had been stained charcoal black while he slept.  If it weren’t for the absence of stars, he would have thought somehow the roof was gone and he was staring up into space. 

Tick tock.  Tick tock.  One more day…

The owner of the coarse, deep voice had returned – the one from the spare bedroom that had threatened him.  However, this time he could feel that it was closer; within touching distance.

At that precise instant, the black cloud along the ceiling swirled and rippled alive.  Inky tendrils writhed while shadowy roaches swarmed within its plumes.  Slowly the cloud sank downward upon Jansen.

Tick tock. Tick tock. In one more day, I will co—

“—I AM SORRY. PLEASE, PLEASE I AM SO SORRY!  I—I CONFESS!!”  Jansen screeched in terror.

I am not here for your confession.  I am here for much more than that.



He raced after her, begging for another shot. She made him sweat until she reached for her car door handle. Finally turning to face him, she said, “The only way I can put up with Shellie and your mother will be if you pay me an extra $2 an hour. NO LESS!”

Don blanched then sagged in defeat, nodding his head in agreement. “I will have a talk with Shellie, I promise. Can you come by tomorrow? The register locked up today and I will have to go into the laundromat early tonight to balance out the drawer. Please?”

“Fine.” She didn’t care about the extra time tonight. Her victory elation overshadowed the inconvenience.

As she drove away she watched him in her rearview mirror. “Dumbass!” She laughed, heading for the freeway.

At 9:12 AM, Bernice pulled out from the onramp and merged into the rush hour crowd.

It was already hot.  The radio stated it was nearing 96 degrees. She frowned and punched the button, looking for a country music station.

At 9:16 AM, the Impala lurched forward and sputtered as if it had a gas hiccup.

“What the hell?” she shrieked. However, the car continued to race along at 58 mph. There were no red engine lights or any other dashboard signals to account for it.

“I just got this damn thing an oil ch—” The wheel yanked to the right on its own and the car brakes plunged to the floor by themselves.

Car horns blared, and deafening tire screeches surrounded her. The Impala skewed to a parked position in the fast lane. Cars whizzed by, narrowly avoiding her.

Bernice screamed and smashed her foot on the gas to try to get the car moving again.


“Oh, dear lord!” She mouthed the words as she tried the door handle. Intense terror stole her breath away.

The door wouldn’t open.  All the doors were locked.

The Impala growled and revved fiercely as if it had a mind of its own.

Bernice screamed again as the car ripped across the three lanes of oncoming traffic. It barreled through the cement barrier.  Flung forward, she broke her sternum on the steering wheel at the same time the airbag deployed.

At 9:17 AM Bernice Baxter’s car nosedived through the air, plunging over eighty feet onto the traffic below.

The airbag prevented her from seeing the impact of her car as it plowed through the front cab of a grey transport bus. A bus headed for the downtown Phoenix Jail.

Bernice Baxter blinked for the last time as her eyes filled with blood. She hung against the bus’s hood, partially out of her shattered driver’s side window. The back door of the bus burst open and men clad in orange jumpsuits fled down the freeway ramp.

Flames flickered and scalded her pulped legs as engine oil and fluids flooded the ground.  Her skin darkened, and her flesh sizzled like bacon.

She didn’t feel the heat or the pain.

Bernice Baxter would never see her extorted raise.

Bernice Baxter finally ceased being a bitch.