Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Destined by Jenna Pizzi

Lilly rolled over and looked at her alarm clock, 3:29 a.m. “Ugh!” she muttered. It’s always the same time every time she wakes up. She knew she could forget about going back to sleep. So, she got out of bed and walked to the kitchen to get herself a drink of water. As she walked through the living room, she could hear her best friend and roommate Amy, snoring so loudly that she sounded like a buzz saw. “Hmm, must be nice to be able to sleep like that.” Lilly thought to herself as she smiled, “one of these days I am going to record her just so she can hear what she sounds like.”
         She made her way into the kitchen and grabbed a glass from the cabinet; she walked over to the faucet and filled it. As she held the glass to her lips she happened to glance out the kitchen window. She gasped; there in front of her, stood a figure cloaked in darkness, standing only feet from her window, staring at her. Lilly dropped the glass and screamed a blood curling scream. Amy woke with a start and ran to the kitchen. “Lilly, what is it? What happened? Are you alright?” She asked with panicked tone in her voice.
Lilly didn’t want to frighten her friend any more than she already had so she nodded. “Yeah, I’m so sorry Amy I had another nightmare. It’s no big deal. I just came out to get something to drink.”
          Amy looked at her suspiciously. “What aren’t you telling me Lilly?”
Lilly knew she couldn’t keep anything from her best friend; they had been through too much together. So, she leaned against the sink to get her bearings.
         “Ok, it’s just that I could have sworn that I spotted someone lurking outside in the courtyard. It’s probably nothing. I was most likely still half asleep. I am just so tired.”
Amy walked over to her and touched the back of her t-shirt as she said, “Geez toots it must have been one hell of a dream. Look at your shirt.”
   Lilly didn’t know what she was talking about, so she grabbed the back of her shirt and looked. Her shirt was shredded at her shoulder, as if someone grabbed hold of her and pulled. With a strange feeling of trepidation, Lilly realized that it was the same spot that she had been grabbed in her dream.
    “I must have caught it on something; I am not sure what happened.”
Amy looked at her suspiciously, but Lilly assured her she was alright. Lilly then quickly cleaned up the broken glass and smiled at her friend. “I’m alright, really. I’m just gonna go back to bed. Everything will be better in the sunlight.”  
     Lilly had tried to confide in Amy as much as she possibly could without making herself sound like she is completely crazy, but deep down she knew that she just can’t tell her everything, not yet anyway.
   Amy was hesitant to leave her friend to return to her own room. She has known about Lilly’s vivid dreams, or rather nightmares. She’d been there to bear witness to Lilly waking up in a sheer panic only to have no recollection about it. She tries not to make a big deal out of it, for fear that she could shatter Lilly’s psyche. So, she figured she would just wait patiently for Lilly to open up on her own.
    The two of them have been best friend since before either of them could even remember. Their parents were friends and therefore introductions were not necessary.
   Lilly’s parents were killed in a mysteriously set house fire six years earlier, when Lilly was only twelve. Lilly was the sole survivor. They only thing Lilly could ever recall about that horrid night were that angels saved her by carrying her to safety. Amy’s parents were named her legal guardian with the stipulation that when Lilly was old enough she was to be enrolled in the prestigious boarding school, Plymouth Academy for the Arts.
   Lilly’s dreams worsened after the fire. She would often dream about the fire itself. In her dreams, she would see creatures lurking around her house, searching for something, or someone. She could hear them speak in tongues, a language she couldn’t make any sense of. In the dreams, she watched her parent’s as the fire consumed them and their flesh burned. To her it felt as though she were watching through someone else’s eyes. She knew it wasn’t really her, but in the dreams she became someone else.
   The police concluded that the fire was started with an accelerant, so it was set on purpose. They never did find the party responsible for setting it.
     Lilly was forced into therapy twice a week following the fire. Dr.Collins, her therapist believed that he could fix her with Lexapro, an antidepressant for post-traumatic stress disorder. He felt that the dreams were just her minds way of releasing the trauma of her parents’ death and of her being the sole survivor of the ordeal.
   Lilly never took the pills though; she knew that the dreams meant more than just being dreams. So, after five years of being in therapy, Lilly continues to see Dr. Collins once a month for follow up. She learned along the way to no longer tell him about her dreams and how they have progressed over the years. She doesn’t want him to treat her as though she’s crazy or still traumatized. She knew it was something she’d have to deal with on her own.
  Her parents’ case grew cold. There were no leads, no connections, and no other crimes in the area that fit the circumstances.
   Yet, she was still forced once a month to her appointments. She’d just listen to Dr. Collins drones on and on about how she has to continue on with her life, and not be kept trapped in the past. “Blah, blah, blah” is pretty much all that she hears when she’s in his office. Lilly learned that it was easier to keep a smile plastered on her face, and pretend that everything is nifty until the fifty minute session was up, and she’d leave the office feeling no better than when she started.
    The dreams aren’t always horrible. Sometimes, she dreams of another place and time where she can feel and smell everything going on around her. The scenery always feels so familiar to her. It leaves her with a hollow ache inside when she wakes up, as if she didn’t really belong where she was.
    Then, there is “him.” She doesn’t know who he is, but she feels as though she’s known him for an eternity. His piercing sapphire eyes haunt her very soul. Lilly’s heart races every time she looks into those eyes. She finds herself lost and longing to be near him. The dreams suddenly take a turn to darkness and fire. She hears screaming that haunts her. A strange symbols flashes before her eyes, but she doesn’t understand what it is. There is then a whisper in the background, “Remember Lilly. Remember who you are.” That’s when she wakes up feeling lost and lonely, like there is something missing in her life.
    Amy gave Lilly a hug. “Try to get some sleep Lilly, we have a few more days before spring break, and trust me when I tell you that you need your beauty sleep.”   Lilly cracked up laughing at her friend’s blatant way of telling her that she looks like hell. “Thank you Amy, I can always count on you to tell it like it is.”
   “That’s what I’m here for sweetie.”
Lilly shook her head as she dropped the contents of the dustpan into the trash. She once again looked out the window into the darkness. She no longer saw anyone or anything standing outside. She grabbed the trash bag out of the barrel and tied it up. She opened the door leading out into the courtyard and stepped out into the darkness. She stood there rubbing her hand up and down her arms, hesitating.
   “Come on Lilly, all you have to do is cross the courtyard and get to the dumpster. You’ve done this a million times.” She tried to reassure herself.
   She passed over the place she thought she had seen someone standing, watching her. She slowed her pace as something caught her eye. She bent over and picked up a cigarette butt that was still smoldering. She tossed it back down and stomped on it. Now, she knew she wasn’t hallucinating. There had been someone out here. She ran the rest of the way to the dumpster and tossed the bag inside.
   She heard a growling sound from behind her. She slowly turned around and was met by the snarling growl of a wolf. Lilly slowly took a step backwards and bumped into the dumpster. She stepped on a discarded water bottle and it made a loud sound, that only made the wolf growl even louder. She knew that this beast was going to attack her, and she was trapped. She considered her options. She could run for it, but she knew that the wolf could run five times faster than she could. She could scream, but the beast would probably only lunge at her. She slowly looked at the dumpster behind her. “Oh god, I don’t even want to think about it.” she thought to herself.
   The wolf stepped closer to her. She knew she had to jump into the dumpster. It was her only option. She slowly filled her lungs with the cold March air, and before she had a chance to think her way out of it, she jumped and pulled herself into the dumpster. The wolf lunged and nearly caught her foot as she pulled the lid down on top of her. She could hear the beast growling and scratching at the side of her metal prison. She could feel her heart pounding in her chest. She sat still hoping the creature would now move on. She sat and waited.
   Everything fell silent. She could no longer hear the wind outside. Just silence. Then there was the sound of a deep, chilling laughter. The hair on her arms stood on edge. The laughter faded and she was left in a dark silence.  She didn’t want to move. She wanted to be sure whatever was out there, was gone. After what felt like an eternity, she cracked the top of the dumpster open and listened. There was nothing. Whatever had been there was gone now. She quickly crawled out of the dumpster and ran back across the courtyard as fast as her legs would take her. She threw open the door and slammed it shut behind her, and locked it. She stood with her back to the door, willing her heart to slow down. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She didn’t know how she would explain what she had just experienced outside. When she felt calmer she walked to her room and grabbed clean pajamas and hurried to her bathroom. She took a quick, hot shower, to wash off the debris from her dumpster dive.
   When she stepped out of the shower, she grabbed her towel and wrapped it around her. She was about to wipe the condensation off of the mirror when an image appeared on the foggy mirror. It appeared to look like a lightning bolt. Lilly quickly wiped the mirror clean and grabbed her stuff and ran to her room.
   She closed her door and sat on the side of her bed. She felt like she was going insane. Things had been strange for her lately. She had been hearing and seeing things that no one else appeared to. Her dreams seemed to linger over into her waking hours. She quickly threw on her clean pajamas and tried to just put it all behind her.
   Lilly decided to turn on her laptop. She Googled “lightning bolt” to see if she could figure out what the symbol meant. She scrolled through many websites until she came across the exact symbol she’d seen on her mirror. “Hmm, danger associated with power and energy. Great, what is that supposed to mean, look out for power lines?”
   She switched screens and logged onto Facebook to check for messages since she knew that sleep was out of the equation. An instant message popped up on her screen. It was from her boyfriend Keith. She and Keith have been dating for almost a year. To Lilly it was nothing too serious. Up until she had met Keith, she had no interest in dating anyone. Keith had been persistent until Lilly finally caved in and accepted a date with him. Now, almost a year later, they were joined at the hip and she didn’t think she’d ever make a class on time if it weren’t for Keith. Keith was on a football scholarship at Plymouth Academy. At 6’3, with his shaggy blond hair and green eyes, he fit the image of the typical Californian surf god. Lilly had to admit he was definitely hot, but she couldn’t quite explain it, he just didn’t give her butterflies when they were together. There was just something missing that she couldn’t put her finger on.
   The message read: Can’t sleep either huh?Lilly stared at her keyboard and began to type. Yeah! she replied. She didn’t want to scare him about seeing someone lurking around outside. He would be at her door within five minutes, and she didn’t want that.
 He typed again.  Well I can come over and keep you company….”
She smiled despite her mood. As tempting as that sounds, I think I am just going to try to force myself to try to go to sleep. Besides it’s after curfew and you’ll get in trouble if you get caught.
There was a pause with his response. Ah shucks! Ok! I’ll come over in the morning before class and bring caffeine. I love you.
       Lilly stared at the screen for a moment and then signed off without responding. She hated not saying it back to him. She really did care for him, and she’d be lost without him always getting her butt in gear every day, but she just couldn’t get herself to say those words unless she was absolutely sure she meant it. She turned off the monitor and her bedroom fell into complete darkness, accept for the rays of moonbeams shining through her window. She hopped back into bed and watched the moon for a while. She felt strange, almost jittery. She had a feeling of apprehension that she couldn’t quite explain. She pulled the duvet cover up over her head and forced myself to fall back asleep…..

THIS BOOK IS COMING SOON! RELEASE DATE: 9/22/2012. Check back later for links where to buy this book.


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Morning After by Brenda Whiteside

The Morning After by Brenda Whiteside
Chapter One

The throb behind Abigail’s eyes scraped at her temples like chiseled fingernails. She squeezed her lids tight. Was the sheet twisted around her? She patted her waist. No, it was her dress, the purple flowered sarong. One hand moved across her chest while the other slid down her hip. Strapless bra gone, no nylons. What the hell?
She inched the covers down, so her head didn’t jar, and eased her feet to the floor to sit on the edge of the bed. Last night’s mascara weighed heavily, stinging her eyes when she opened them. How disgusting. She hadn’t gone to bed without washing her face in fifteen years. With a hand to her forehead, she raised her gaze to the reflection in the full-length mirror on her closet door.
Her breath caught in her throat and Abigail froze. Another body, partially covered, came into focus behind her.
Think. The headache got in the way of last night’s memories, the strain not worth the pain. And this was exactly why she never had more than a glass of wine. A bad headache and now a strange man in her bed. Her stomach lurched.
What have I done?
Had she made a fool of herself at her best friend’s wedding? She silently groaned. After three times a bridesmaid, to have just one marriage would be nice. Damn that biological clock.
Aching calves evoked images of the bar and dancing, dancing for hours. She could’ve danced all night. She should’ve. Maybe her head wouldn’t hurt so much. Damn tropical blitz things. They called them boat drinks, and they went down like fruit punch. Such cute pink and purple glasses, and they let you keep them. Abigail rubbed her temples. She must’ve tried to drink herself to a full set.
As delicately as possible, she rose, careful not to disturb her sleeping companion. Her head pounded with each carefully placed shuffled step to the bathroom. The last time she vomited, she was ten years old and sick on pumpkin pie. Vomiting was not an option.
Cold water in her face, a deep breath, three aspirin. She backed up to the sink, rested her bottom on the edge. Two more cleansing breaths and the queasiness passed.
Dancing and drinking and what? Think. The wedding was clear. Her oldest friend, Sue Ellen, had tied the knot for the third time. A Tahiti honeymoon prompted a sarong wearing wedding party and champagne served in plastic coconut shells. The affair, held at The Lonesome Steer Honky Tonk, had been pretty tacky considering the wealth of the new husband, JT Cushing, owner of the largest ranch this side of the Rio Grande. She hadn’t gone to the wedding with anyone, but she’d certainly come home with someone.
Tiptoeing back to the bedroom, Abigail leaned against the doorframe and considered her surprise bedmate. The sun, slanting rays from the window over the bed, held him in a spotlight—as if announcing the presence of a featured guest.
A moan. The man rolled to his back, kicking off covers. Abigail gasped. Her gentleman visitor wore only a bow tie and black socks.
She crept to the edge of the bed. His face was turned away, further hidden by red curls hanging down the nape of his neck and onto his cheek. A visual sweep of the attractive body brought a smile to her face when she paused on his more than ample endowments. A true redhead. An encounter of this magnitude should be easy to remember.
Abigail smiled in spite of her throbbing temples. Inching closer, she nudged his boots aside with her foot and leaned over to see his face. Mmm. He smelled good, like rich leather and fresh cut wood. As she bent to get a closer look, Kirby, her sixteen pound Siamese cat, entered the room and announced his hunger.
The visitor stirred, grasped her arm, drawing her down across his hips.
He rose up on his elbows and looked at her. “So, Abby, you’re a morning person, are you?”
Abigail launched off the bed, trying not to come into contact with anymore of the warm body than she already had. Tripping over the boots, she ended up sprawled on the floor. “Who…” She gulped. “Who the hell are you?”
“Who am I? “Darlin’ I know I told you, you’ve got to believe it’s true.” He paused his singing. When she sat speechless, he sang out again, slightly off key. “Real love comes along once, and that real love is you.”
“You sure as hell aren’t Lance Dugan.”
He sat upright, feet to the floor, and Abigail found herself eye level with embarrassment. With hands to her face, she pleaded in a quiet voice, mindful of her head still adjusting to sobriety. “Please, cover yourself. You look ridiculous.”
Author Brenda Whiteside
“Why, there’s a blow to a man’s ego. I hope you mean the bow tie, darlin’, and not my prodigious maleness.” The sheets rustled. “You can open your eyes now and greet your husband with a little more enthusiasm.”
Her hands slid from her eyes and splayed on her cheeks. She had to have heard him wrong. Large green eyes looked at her, eyes she thought were missing glasses; no more than a flicker of thought easing into her astonishment.
“I’ve heard of shy newlyweds, but I would never have guessed you for shy. Abby, honey, don’t tell me you were that drunk. I knew you were more than tipsy, but not mind-numbing drunk.”
Speechless, she studied the thin lips forming a crooked smile, topped with a trim auburn mustache. She dug her fingers into the carpet, flashing on burying her fingers in his tousled copper curls while burying her tongue in his most kissable mouth. Her head spun and not from the lingering effects of tropical drinks.
“The night was all too perfect. Damn near a double wedding with Sue Ellen and JT.”
“Shut up.” She raised her voice as loud as her throbbing head would allow. “What…what the hell are you talking about?” Her fingers renewed their grasp on the carpeted floor.
“Stop calling me Abby. My name is Abigail.”
“But last night you asked me to call you Abby.” He ran a hand through his jumble of curls. “You said only your mother and your husband could call you Abby. And since I’m not your mother…”
“And you’re not my husband. I don’t have a husb—”
“Ah, but you do now, Mrs. Bobby Stockwood. Although, I’m guessing you’d prefer Ms. Abigail Stockwood. Abby, you act like you’ve forgotten the most important night of our lives.” He leaned his elbows on his knees, smiling his kissable crooked smile. “I should make coffee while you take a shower. You look kind of sick.”
Sick wasn’t the half of it. More like insane. His voice did ring sweetness when he used her name. Every time he said Abby, his voice caressed, sending a pleasurable warmth over her. She closed her eyes for a moment and recalled him on his knee in full tux, peeking from under the brim of a black Stetson. Her lids snapped up like the shade on a window.
“Oh, my gawd!”
She stood awkwardly, the purple sarong impeding any grace she might possess. “Yes, make the coffee and I’ll take a shower.” A shower would give her time to retreat, to think. “The kitchen is upstairs, to the right of the front door.” She backed up a step, his gaze on her every movement, her gaze on his seductive mouth and sheet wrapped hips. “
Don’t much want to put my tux back on. Do you have something? Maybe some sweat pants.” His head tilted up then down, surveying her body. “I’m not much taller than you.”
Abigail nodded. She might’ve had a retort any other time for his lack of descriptive after giving her the once over, but the need to withdraw and think spurred her shaky legs across the room to her dresser in search of a pair of baggy, gray sweat pants. She grabbed a T-shirt from her old-clothes drawer and the sweats. For herself, she chose her oldest Levis and a plain white shirt.
“There’s another bathroom upstairs, beyond the kitchen, if you want to shower.” She tossed the sweats and T-shirt in his general direction and retreated to the bathroom.
Hot water soon pummeled the top of her head, washing away a film of drunken forgetfulness. The night came to her in disjointed scenes, as if looking at a photo album missing a few pictures. Stop action shots and posed smiling moments. Two-stepping with the redheaded stranger to the band’s rendition of Dugan’s Real Love at The Lonesome Steer Honky Tonk. A karaoke duet. Ordering another tropical concoction. Talking. Dancing cheek to cheek to Patsy Cline’s, Crazy. A faceless man in a black suit holding a bible while Red kissed the palm of her hand. A toast with yet another tropical concoction.
A knock on the door echoed in the bathroom, and the not so strange stranger entered her steamy domain. “Coffee on the counter by the sink. Strong and black, just the way I think you like it.

More Books by Brenda Whiteside:
Sleeping with the Lights On
Tattoos, Leather and Studs
An Elfin Secret and On the Way to the Snow Ball (anthology)
Honey on White Bread

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Store Wars by Vicki Batman

Book Cover for Store Wars by Vicki Batman
            "This stuff is crap." I ran a finger along the edge of a faux-finished table parked inside the store's entryway, flicking more than a hint of dust from my fingertip. My best girlfriend, Tracy, and I were scoping out the competition in the Sommerville Historic Depot District, one of which was Tejas Souvenirs owned by an old flame's mom. So far, no business we'd visited had measured up. The other stores all looked...tacky touristy.                    
            I walked through to the next section, thoroughly disgusted with what lay before me. This store needed major first aid. No quality merchandise anywhere. The overpowering scents of vanilla and cinnamon from the cheap candles loaded on another table top caused me to have a major sneezing fit.
            Tracy passed a tissue. "Janie, need this?"
            "T'anks." I stuffed the used wad in my pant’s front pocket, praying the urge to let loose again would bypass. "Why in the world is a huge candle display by the front door, assaulting a customer when he-slash-she walks in? I can't be the only one who's allergic. And look..." I pointed to the section at the top of four steps, "room diffusers up there. Another brand of candles over there. And yes, people, let's combine those with scented bath products. A whole lotta stinky people and stinky homes are out there in the big wide world."
            Tracy scribbled notes as I surreptitiously took pictures of the store's contents. "Undoubtedly," she said in a hushed tone. "So what else turns you off?"
            In one corner, imitation leather purses embellished with rhinestone crowns had been stacked on a glass and chrome shelving unit. Cheap, gemstone bracelets decorated a nearby display stand. I pointed to a shirt rack and said in a soft voice, "I'd never wear these clothes."
            With a frown, Tracy cupped her mouth. "Me, neither. They're aimed for the nighttime crowd—if you catch my drift."
            "I do. Yuck." Taking in the whole enchilada, I stopped when I spied the jean-clad backside of a male employee sweeping the floor. God, I hope he hadn't heard us. I steered Tracy aside and whispered, "We'll have no problems with Twinkle Toes succeeding in the Depot District. Even better than the mall."
            "I agree. Let's split up, take mental notes, and meet out front in fifteen minutes."
            I peeled off to the left, and she went to the right. The man cleaning glanced over his shoulder and straightened. "May I help you?"
            Instantly, my body froze like an icicle. It couldn't be— Could it? Fletcher? As in my once upon a time boyfriend, Fletcher Babcock? When had he abandoned the bright lights of Big D and return to Sommerville?
            I pressed a hand to my stomach. The same twisting sensation I'd felt when he'd left eight years ago after he'd said, "I can't be with you anymore," had returned. He'd prefaced that statement with, "I'm going to architecture school in New York, and we all know how well long distance relationships work out. They don't."
            His words had demolished me like a sledgehammer taken to a plaster wall. All breath had been ripped from my entire being. I remembered how my legs had gone wobbly, how trembles wracked my body, and how I wanted nothing more than to bolt out of his car and run for the security of home.
            "Hi, Janie. It's me, Fletcher."
            Stretching my spine, I regained my composure and slid the camera into my pocket with care. "Oh, hey, Fletch," I said with a je ne sais quoi preservation attitude while fluttering fingers his way. "Funny seeing you here. When did you come back to Sommerville?"
            "Two weeks ago."
            "I'm surprised I hadn't heard."
            He propped the broom upright and tilted toward it."What are you doing?"
            "Me? Oh, I never left Sommerville. I went to State Tech—"
            "I know."
            I blew a breath and continued, "After working for other retail establishments over the last four years, I decided to leap and open my own business. Perhaps you've seen it?" I pointed down the street. "Twinkle Toes?"
            "I heard."
            His immovable stance told me he wasn't overly thrilled about my news, maybe because I would be a strong rival to his mother's store. Who knew? All I knew was I needed to finish my assessment and get back to work. "I thought you became an architect."
            "I did."
            Typical irritating male. His uninspired answers drove me batty. "What brought you back?"
            "This and that."
            I'd had enough of his one-sided conversation and decided to go for broke. "Something's obviously going on. You can tell me."
            He gave a barely-there squint. "Tell the competition?"
            He shoved his hands in his pockets and sauntered toward me. This man wasn't entirely the same boy who'd abandoned me. Some details about him were as familiar as my own name; others, new. I'd always admired his lengthy frame. Since then, he'd filled out. His shoulders wide, his muscles hard. The sharp edge of his nose. His short blond hair had been messily styled as if some woman had run her fingers through it.
            What woman?
            "I had no choice," he said. "Mom was running this place and the Sommerville Historic Depot District by herself since Dad passed. You heard?"
            "I went to the service."
            He pulled a dusting cloth from his back pocket and polished a wooden banister. "I didn't see you."
            "For obvious reasons."
            "Sorry, Janie."
            A smidge of compassion replaced my frustration. Softening my stance, I lifted a shoulder. "You didn't see me because you needed to help your mom. Did she say I called on her a few weeks later?"
            He was so close now, I saw lightening flare in his grass green eyes, and caught the waft of the lemon-scented soap he'd used. His cutie-pie factor roused my long-shelved heartache from the ashes of despair. That, too, mixed up my brain.
            "She did. She appreciated your zucchini bread." With a mischievous tilt to his head, he said, "I ate all of it."
            There was only one thing to say. "Pig."
            He chuckled. "I'm sure I am in many ways."
            If he only knew.
                                                            * * * *
            Stepping outdoors, I blinked in the bright sunlight. Tracy grabbed my arm. Positive it had to be bruised from her grasp, I pulled away and rubbed the spot.
            "What took you so long, and why are you quaking like a leaf?"
            "I-I have to go." We walked down the wide pavestone sidewalk. Turning a corner, I picked up the pace, making for a bench in front of Sommerville First Methodist Church, a white wooden structure from the 1870's. I plopped on the bench I'd spied and dropped my head between my knees.
            "What's wrong, Janie?" Tracy edged in next to me, setting her hand between my shoulders, pushing in an up and down, up and down massage. "Did the strong scents make you dizzy?"
            "No." I shouldn't be feeling so odd about Fletcher. "You didn't see him?"
            "Who?" When I didn't answer, she asked in her smart aleck way, "Shall I use a can opener to pry the name from you?"
            "Let's just say a guy from my ugly past."
            "I wouldn't say your past is ugly." Then cha-ching! She knew. "Not—"
            Arching my back, I heaved in a long slow breath. "Yep, the very same. Fletcher Babcock."
            "The low-down snake." Rising, she said, "I'll go give him a piece of my mind."
            I dragged her back down. "Don't say anything. It's been eight long years. I'm over him. Way over."
            "Then why act this way? Why are you nervous?"
            "I don't know. Maybe because I was"
            "You cried for two months straight after he dumped you."
            "Silly me thought my first love would be the man I'd marry someday. Color me stupid. Eventually, I toughened up."

Twitter: @Vicki Batman

Where to buy this book:

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Dead: Winter by Todd Brown

“Steve!” Dr. Zahn yelled, almost making me lose my balance and plummet into the trench surrounding the hill that the former visitor’s center we now call home rests atop.

“Jon says that two of the camps haven’t had any signs of activity in at least the past three days.”

“You trying to get me back under your knife, Francis?” I quipped.

“What on earth are you talking about?” the doctor asked flatly, trying to ignore my use of her first name. What is it about doctors and the whole thing where they insist you refer to them by title?

“I was trying to dredge out some of the crap in this trench from the last burning.” I indicated to the gaping chasm I was standing on the edge of with a giant claw-like device that Ian had fashioned to fish out the bones and such that build up when a few hundred of them get torched.

“You scared the crap out of me and almost made me fall in.”

“Then you aren’t paying attention to your surroundings and should consider yourself lucky that it was just an elderly doctor who managed to surprise you.” She had a good point. I had, in fact, been daydreaming. It had only been three weeks since Melissa and I were married, but it had been three of the happiest in my life. Funny. Here I am, trying to stay alive when the world was being overrun by the walking dead, and I’ve never been so happy. How miserable was my previous life?

“When did Jon get back?” I asked, deciding that this conversation with Dr. Zahn needed to change course.

“He and Sunshine just set their packs on the porch and are in the examination room waiting for my check up.” It was a standing rule: if you go out on a mission, you get inspected for bites or scratches first thing. Even though we now knew that the disease that turned you into a zombie wasn’t a hundred percent lock if you were “nipped or clipped” as Jon liked to say, you still got checked out upon arrival.

“But no newcomers?” I had to ask. Dr. Zahn was the type who only revealed things under direct questioning. I think it has something to do with her being a military doctor for so long.

“No.” She looked as if she were about to say something, then stopped.

“But…?” I tried to lead her.

“It’s just that Jon seems distracted and Sunshine seems antsy about something.”

“I’ll see what’s up,” I sighed. “Just let me pull out these last few pieces.” I looked down into the pit at the fully intact ribcage that I’d been about to grab before the doctor showed up. The cart was already brimming with bones; they would all be busted up and hauled away.

“Also, I need to see Melissa tonight for her baby check up.”

“Will do…and you’re sure that you don’t mind Thalia and Emily being there?” Both girls were, for all intents and purposes, my daughters. I’d rescued Thalia the night the whole zombie thing started, and Emily had been entrusted to me by her father when he had us abandon the military outpost-slash-small town that went by the name Serenity Base when it was believed that a massive horde might be coming. It had.

“I think it is a fine idea that Melissa has the girls with her,” the doctor said. “And it wouldn’t hurt for you to make an appearance as well.”

“Isn’t that sorta private?”

“Husbands and boyfriends used to go to these things all the time…it is actually quite normal; besides, I doubt there is anything I’ll be checking that you haven’t seen.” Leave it to the good doctor to put a blunt edge on something and hit me over the head with it.

“I will be there…but I don’t really see the point.”

“Steve,” Dr. Zahn let loose with a sigh of obvious exasperation, “normally you are a good guy. You have a great heart, and it is obvious how much you care about everything. So how can you be so clueless about this?”

“I don’t—” I started, but she cut me off.

“Exactly! You don’t get it. This is a stressful thing in the best of circumstances. We left those circumstances behind a long time ago. Pregnancy is not going to be easy. All the medical marvels we took for granted are gone.”

I felt like a complete tool. So, besides the fact that I am an entirely clueless father to a pair of orphan girls, I can add “Idiot Husband” to my title.

“I’ll be there, Doc,” I assured. Dr. Zahn knew I was serious when I called her by title. I watched her walk away, and then returned to work. After all, the bones weren’t going to come out of the trench on their own. God, please don’t let them come out of the trench by themselves. Almost on cue, one of the heads rolled so that the face—or rather where the face would be if there were still flesh on the skull—stared up at me with empty eye sockets. The mouth opened and closed—a charred hunk of what I assumed to be the tongue twitched back and forth. Not all the heads had suffered sufficient damage to affect the brain enough to immobilize the zombie. Picking up the long poker nearby for just such circumstances, I thrust down, effectively spearing the head and added it to the pile in the cart.

After another hour of sifting, I was ready to pack it in. Putting all the gear in the cart, I grabbed my cane and was ready to head up the hill. I was looking forward to the day I wouldn’t need that damn thing anymore. I have no idea what sort of therapy people went through before, but I’m pretty sure Dr. Zahn makes some of the stuff up just to torture me. Of course it could’ve been worse when I fell off that picnic table and broke my leg trying to deal with a few zombies that had been led intentionally to our little hideout. From what I was told, I was real close to joining the herd.

“Steve?” Ian’s voice called from the other side of the wagon.

“Right here,” I answered and gimped my way around the open back end of the bone-laden cart.

“Jake and I want to make one more trip to La Grande in the morning,” he said, reaching over to fasten the bone-picker securely. “We can take the cart on our way out if you’d like.”

“Super,” I agreed. “And I need you to do me a favor while you’re out.”

“Name it.”

“I need you to find me something special for Emily; her birthday is coming up. Also, baby things…not just for Melissa and me, but for Teresa, too.”

“Yeah…” Ian let the word hang for a moment. “I’ve been meaning to ask you about the baby situation.”

“You mean what are we gonna do if we get mobbed and have to make a run for it?”

“That’s putting it bluntly, but yes. I don’t want to sound like a dick but…”

“If it comes to it, you will be expected to do what it takes to survive.”

“That sounds good.” Ian stopped walking and turned to face me.

“But you know there is no way some of us can simply take off and leave you, Melissa, Teresa, Jamie and the girls to die. Throw in two babies? It isn’t gonna happen. And I don’t know anybody who is here with us that would willingly leave you guys behind if it came to that.” I listened to what Ian said, but it took me a moment for the gravity to really hit me. Melissa’s and Teresa’s pregnancy weren’t just an issue for those of us intimately involved; our situation had an impact on everybody here. Crap.


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