Tag Archives: indie fiction

Dead Leaves

This was written for the Fall Flash Festival, hosted/judged by Eric Martell and Daniel Swensen. As we self-published authors can do, I’ve also submitted it for consideration for J.A.Mes Press’ Halloween Anthology.

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Click Image for Photo Credit

Dead Leaves, 1000 words, by Marissa Ames

Trees rustled overhead, and dry, papery leaves tumbled over Angie’s face. White-gold sunlight angled beneath the canopy. A chill afternoon wind brought the aroma of dust and impending frost.

Angie rolled her head to the side, collecting autumn leaves in the congealed blood where the bullet had grazed her temple. She groaned at her crippling headache.

Something groaned in response.

Motionless beneath the autumn carpet, Angie glanced around. Heavy feet moved through the leaves with a rhythmic step-shuffle. Her fingers flexed, longing for her Glock. A half-decayed man, with scalp and hair hanging from the right side of his skull, ambled among the twice-dead.

The wind blew through the grove, stripping leaves from her inert body.

The zombie whirled around. Milky eyes fixed on her. Twisting its body until it faced her, it shuffled between leaf-covered mounds of rotting flesh.

Angie held her breath as the zombie swayed above her. It opened its mouth and groaned. Flecks of rotten lip fell off and skittered down the channel between her nose and cheek. Angie gagged and coughed. The zombie flinched, tilted its head, and bent down to observe her. They stared, her blue gaze to his milky white, as she tried to keep from blinking. The zombie stood up straight with a creaking of shrunken tendons. Groaning softly through the hole in its throat, it turned away.

She closed her eyes against the nauseating sunlight as the walking corpse explored the killing field. Shivering within her M65 field jacket, she slowly lifted an arm. In response to the rustle of leaves, the zombie turned again. It groaned in acknowledgement. Angie wiggled her fingers, but the corpse ignored her and continued its exploration.

With her eyes on the zombie, she sat up and pushed the leaves away. It did not respond as she stood, staggering from a sudden rush of vertigo. Angie widened her stance and cupped her hands over her eyes, smearing sticky blood over her face. She pulled her hands back and cursed at the gash across her palm.

She pressed her palm to her mouth, licking the salty, coppery blood away. The flavor soothed her, calmed her headache.

With her lips sealed over the wound, she shuffled between zombie bodies, toward the sunset.

This morning the unit had traveled east from the barn, following the old country road beside the broken-down white slat fence, keeping their guns trained before them. The old maple groves had been a refuge during the summer, unpopulated before the outbreak and free of zombies after. Now the old groves were no safer than the rest of Vermont. Angie’s unit, determined to defend their home, had used the most agile of them as bait. He had ducked between rotting hands before the rest of the unit opened fire on the herd of undead.

Sweat beaded on her forehead and she shivered beneath her jacket. The sun winked between maple trunks as she trudged down the abandoned road. Her old black combat boots plowed through mounds of red and orange, shoving the leaves aside. She pulled her hand away to cough then pressed her lips back against the freshly bleeding gash.

Gray against the flame of autumn, the barn rose higher on the other side of the little hill. She blinked her blurry eyes, watching the wooden shingles bob up, then down, then up higher in rhythm to her rough gait.

Piles of blackened wood lay around the barn, where the unit had burned the twice-dead to avoid contamination. An old Dutch oven sat on a rock beside the dedicated cooking fire. Nobody roamed the yard.

Angie coughed as she pressed on the latch. She rolled her neck back and forth, shivering when the wind dipped its chill fingers into her coat and down her back. Grabbing the handle with two sticky hands, she pulled the barn door open.

Sleeping bags carpeted the middle of the barn, well away from the walls. Angie found Todd’s bag, right beside the 4×4 support beam where he liked to hang his .357. She shrugged out of her jacket and sank to her knees. Pulling back the ripped and patched flap, she slid into the bag and buried her face in the quilting. It smelled like him. Angie shoved the fabric against her nose and inhaled deeply.

The door creaked open, and the last of the day’s light peeked in. Ten living bodies shadowed the entrance. Angie listened for the slick sound of cowboy boots along the barn floor. Todd led the unit into the barn, sliding his .357 from his shoulder as the door creaked shut.

The wooden stock of the gun tapped against the 4×4. Todd’s big, callused hand shifted on the beam as he kicked his boots off. Sliding against the beam, Angie made room for the man who had promised to love her forever.

Who had promised to never hurt her.

Todd knelt down, and his hand landed on her feverish arm. He froze. Inhaling a slow, cautious breath, he slid his rough palm against her sweaty skin, stopping at her paracord bracelet he had given her months ago.

He traced the bite mark just below the bracelet, his fingers glancing over the edges of dying flesh. Todd’s hand trembled.

It trembled just as it had this morning, when he had witnessed the bite. When the zombie had grabbed her wrist and sank its teeth into her flesh. His hands trembled so much that the barrel of the .357 jerked wildly as he took aim. Todd’s eyes clenched shut. He pulled the trigger.

The bullet had only grazed her.

Todd now yelled and jerked back, but Angie grabbed his wrist. She held tight with newfound strength and vigor, with muscles not yet decayed, in the most dangerous phase of the transformation. The phase Todd had tried to avoid by shooting her when she was first bitten.

Todd twisted and fought as the unit scrambled about in the darkness.

Gunpowder flashed as her teeth sank into his skin.

Read other stories from this contest here:

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Aislin’s Trial by Ordeal

Darrion cover

Cover art by Blue Harvest Creative

If accused of a crime in medieval times, a person could undergo a lengthy trial with a jury of his peers. This happened more often with nobility, richer and more important people who might disrupt societal structure if proven guilty and removed from their stations. The peasants often faced quick trials by ordeal.

In Vassal, the upcoming novel following the short story “Darrion,” Aislin has already banished Darrion from her manor house, for sins she just can’t forgive. He lives within the serfs’ cottages, biding his time until she can find a way to banish him from her fief forever. But someone has slipped belladonna poison into Darrion’s food, and the soldiers have arrived to arrest both of them. Harboring a gifted fugitive, and consorting with the Brotherhood of Teague, isn’t punishable by death. It’s punishable by torture, dismemberment, and then death when the accused could take it no longer.

Aislin faces a trial, but medieval trials weren’t as merciful as they are today. A woman, even a landholding vassal, did not stand equally among a jury of her “peers.” She relied upon the mercies of a husband, or her liege, to defend her in a trial. But Aislin had no husband. And Parlan, the Earl of Edurne, sought to defend her only to gain further control. A cauldron bubbled in the courtyard, ready for her trial by ordeal. Aislin had one more option that even Parlan did not anticipate.

An ancient judicial practice carried on through the Salem witch-hunts and ending as late as the 1700s, trials by ordeal were surprisingly effective. They followed a simple premise: God would save the innocent. The effectiveness also followed another simple premise: The guilty, who had as much faith as the accusers in the premise that God would save them, knew they would fail and declined the trial, thus automatically condemning themselves. Church and judicial officials could often rig ordeals so the participants could pass them, if the authorities so wished. If they did not rig them, the innocent still suffered.

Several trials existed, some crueler than others:

Trial by Combat

trial by combat

Depiction of a judicial duel between a man and a woman by Hans Talhoffer (Ms.Thott.290.2º f80r, 1459)

Regularly used in Germanic law, trial by combat let men settle accusations without witnesses. Both parties fought in a single dispute, and the winner was proclaimed to be right. Trial by combat appears to have been introduced into common law in England following the Norman Conquest and remained through the high and late Middle Ages. This judicially sanctioned duel disappeared gradually throughout the 16th century. Hans Talhoffer, in 1459, names seven offences which warrant a judicial duel: murder, treason, heresy, desertion of one’s lord, abduction, perjury/fraud, and rape. Peasants had to present their case to a judge before dueling, but nobles had the right to challenge each other to duels without involving higher powers. Trials by combat were abolished by Emperor Maximilian I, but evolved into gentlemanly duels, which were only outlawed in the 19th century.

A one-sided ordeal of combat included “running the gauntlet,” though this was more commonly used as a form of public punishment much more dignified than the pillory or the stocks. Stripped to the waist, the condemned or accused had to pass between a double row of men holding cudgels, whips, switches, or blades. Someone walked in front of him, to keep him from running, and sometimes the accused was dragged or prodded along. Sometimes rules banned edged weapons, or required the two sides to each keep a foot in place, or allowed the accused to protect his head with his hands. He did not always die; sometimes he simply could not walk afterward. “The gauntlet” began in Roman times, as a form of execution by cudgeling, and ended in Russia and Sweden as late as the 19th century.

Ordeal of Fire

trial by fire

After being accused of adultery Cunigunde of Luxembourg proved her innocence by walking over red-hot ploughshares.

The ordeal of fire typically required that the accused walk a certain distance, usually about nine feet, over a red-hot surface such as ploughshares. Or they carried red-hot iron for the same distance. Complete lack of injury proved innocence but, more commonly, a priest bandaged the wound and re-examined it three days later. If the wound had healed in those three days, God had intervened for the innocent. If the wound festered, exile or execution followed.

Cunigunde of Luxembourg and Emma of Normandy, both women in history accused of adultery, proved their innocence by walking barefoot over red-hot ploughshares without incurring injury.

Ordeal of Water

Several ordeals of water were employed: boiling water, cold water, and use of water to condemn witches.

trial by water

Water-ordeal. Engraving, 17th century.

In the trial by cold water, people accused of sorcery were submerged in streams. Survivors were acquitted. In the 6th century, pagans cast Gregory of Tours into a river with a millstone tied to his neck. According to record, divine miracle saved him, and the water did not suck him down. This law was abolished by Louis the Pious in 829, but reappeared in the Late Middle Ages. Men guilty of poaching could be submerged in a barrel three times, and be considered innocent if he sank and guilty if he floated.

In the witch-hunts of the 16th and 17th century, the scenario reversed: those who sank were innocent, and witches floated. Believers claimed witches floated because they had renounced baptism. In the Historia Litteraria, Jacob Rickius claimed they were supernaturally light, and recommended weighing them as an alternative to dunking them. James VI of Scotland claimed that water was such a pure element that it repelled the guilty. Witch trials by water occurred as late as 1728.

trial by boiling water

Aislin faced the ordeal of boiling water, in which Warrick tossed a ring into a cauldron. She had to recover the ring and prove her innocence.

In history, the boiling water had to be deep enough to cover the wrist of the accused if he was charged with one accusation, and up to the elbow for three. Afterwards, as with the trial by fire, the arm was bound and examined three days later. If the wound had healed within three days, God had intervened.

The Tir Athair series occurs in a medieval-based world, which has a basic belief in the singular God. However, since this is a fantasy world, instead of medieval Europe, there is no Christianity and no Catholic Church. The people face holy wars, inquisitions, trials by ordeal, and forced religion, but  accuracy to the tenets of Catholicism is not used. Instead I use artistic license. In addition, Tir Athair has the presence of natural magic, referred to as “the gift” in Athairan and Saoiran societies. Gifted people can harm, heal themselves, and heal others with the natural magic residing within them. Opinions about this magic vary from land to land; in some lands, they are considered cursed, and are burned for witchcraft. In others, the gift is feared and revered at the same time.

As Aislin faces her trial by boiling water, Warrick is ready to take her back as his ward and to control her as he desires. He offers her the opportunity to submit instead of undergoing the trial. The thing is… Aislin is guilty. But she knows she will be burned. In defiance of the judicial system and the Earl of Edurne, she plunges her arms into the cauldron.

Ordeal of the Cross

To discourage ordeals by combat among Germanic peoples, the church introduced ordeals of the cross. In this trial, the accuser underwent the ordeal with the accused. They stood on either side of a cross with their arms outstretched. The first to lower his arms lost. Charlemagne prescribed this ordeal in 779 and in 806, before Louis the Pious and Lothar I abolished it to avoid the mockery of Christ.

Ordeal of Ingestion

A priest blessed dry bread or cheese and gave it to the accused. If he choked on the food, he was considered guilty. This developed into the ordeal of the Eucharist, wherein the accused professed his innocence by oath before partaking of the sacrament. It was believed that if the oath had been false, the accused would die within the same year.

The ordeals involving ingestion of sacred food were unusually safe and merciful, but the ordeal of poison wasn’t always so.

Ordeal of Poison

trial by poison

Castor beans contain ricin, and paternoster peas contain abric acid. Both are toxins of the highest ranking. From medieval Europe to western Africa, these two seeds were used by trials of ordeal. The accused had to swallow them without dying. There was one caveat to the trial: the accused often lived if someone tipped them off and told them to swallow, not chew, to keep the poison contained within the seed’s hard coating.

In the 1800s, residents of Madagascar used the tangena nut, causing about 3,000 annual deaths between 1828 and 1861. Even in present-day Nigeria calabar bean is used to determine guilt. Innocent defendants vomit; the guilty become ill or die.

Ordeal of Boiling Oil

Similar to the trial of boiling water in Europe, the trial of boiling oil occurred in India and West Africa, requiring the accused to retrieve an item from a container of boiling oil. Those who refuse the task are guilty. Those who emerge unscathed are declared innocent. Though many “boil them in oil” jokes exist regarding medieval Europe, this rarely occurred. Oil was precious in those parts, and far too expensive for an ordeal that could be easier executed with holy water or hot iron. Similarly, oil was rarely poured through murder holes onto invading armies. Instead, they used boiling water or burning debris.

Aislin’s plot thickens as she plunges her hands into the water. Will she face execution for harboring Darrion, though Warrick tries to convince the jury that she is innocent and led by fear, so he can regain control over her? Will the water even burn her, and will she retrieve the ring, which has its own emotional history throughout the novel? And what of Shaila, who accused Darrion of the sin which got him ejected from Aislin’s house? She’s sitting on a bench, watching the entire thing. As is Sully, who orchestrated the entire arrangement between Darrion into Aislin. Gael also watches, the soldier who was left for dead by the Athairan army and has risen again to fight for justice. Oh yeah… and what about Darrion, who’s hanging above the square in a gibbet, forced to watch the entire trial as she throws herself into the cauldron?

Here is where I leave you with a mysterious smile and tell you to keep in touch. I promise, all will be answered with Vassal’s release.

Lara Hays – Oceanswept

I owe a lot to Lara Hays, author of young adult romance, but she didn’t know it until recently.

Last year, I received a Nook for my birthday. New to the world of e-readers, I didn’t know what to download until a friend of mine posted on Facebook about her sister’s new release, Oceanswept. Because of this friend, I felt an instant connection to an author whom I had never met. I downloaded the book and started reading. Two sleepless nights later, I finished it. I brought my Nook to my husband and showed him what this author did, self-publishing her own work on an e-reader and suggested I could do the same. The journey began.

Lara Hays has recently released the sequel to OceansweptUndertow, the second of the Oceanswept Trilogy. She has also released two short stories in the Oceanswept Chronicles: “Stowaway” and “Intruder in the Brig”. These young adult stories feature high romance on the high seas, with swashbuckling pirates and fine English ladies. They are clean books, appropriate for young teens. You can click on the pictures to find the Amazon links to her books.

Oceanswept

 I had the opportunity to interview Lara and loved her answers:

1)Tell me about yourself.
I am a writer, a mother, a wife, a animal lover, an adoption advocate, traveler, and reader. I work full-time as a marketing copywriter. I blog (though the frequency has died down quite a bit) about nothing and everything, with an emphasis on adoption. I adore New Girl and have an long-term and rather illicit love affair with junk food.

Undertow

2)Tell me about the Oceanswept Trilogy.
The Oceanswept Trilogy is a young adult historical fiction trilogy set in 18th century following 17-year-old Tessa Monroe who has moved with her father from England to the fledgling British colonies in the West Indies. Her ship is sunk by a hurricane and she manages to be rescued—by pirates. With a future of slavery in the offing, Tessa joins forces with Nicholas Holladay, a charismatic sailor ready to break free from a life of piracy. Mutiny is in the air. Tessa and Nicholas will either win their freedom or earn a spot at the gallows.

Intruder

An addition to the three-novel trilogy, I have written (and plan to write more) a couple of short-stories that take place in the Oceanswept world with the same characters. These short stories are called Oceanswept Chronicles. They aren’t necessary to the story of the trilogy, but just fun extras.

3) Who is your favorite character, and why?
My favorite character is actually Captain Black. His role is smallish in Oceanswept and practically nonexistent in Undertow, but he is hugely significant in the third book and he is a fascinating character. I also love Nicholas. Who doesn’t? Daring and handsome and brave, but there is a lot to him under the surface.

Stowaway

4) What was the hardest scene to write, and why?
The hardest scenes for me to write are often the transition scenes between dramatic events. Keeping the pace, keeping things interesting and realistic, yet still being able to connect the dots between all the dramatic events to make a big picture.

5) Are any characters or scenes based off of real life events/people?
No, not directly. One of my character’s names is very symbolic, based off a real person and what they mean to me. I have traveled to the Caribbean twice and pull from my experiences with the ocean and the islands. There are a few small things that are based off real events. There’s a small scene in Undertow when Tessa is watching the sunrise and when the sun crests the horizon, she listens to hear the sea sizzle because her father taught her that—even though she knew the sea doesn’t sizzle. My father taught me the same thing and to this day, if I am by the ocean during a sunrise or sunset, I listen for the sound of the sea sizzling.

6) Why pirates?
I love stories about redemption because it’s something everyone can relate too. Pirates—aside from creating an adventurous backdrop—represent “evil” and we have Nicholas and even Tessa to an extent navigating that world of evil and trying to get out of it and redeem themselves. It’s a metaphor that’s popular in many novels, movies, and TV shows. Think of all the vampire stuff that’s so popular now. It’s the same story. Redemption. Plus, I’ve always been fascinated with sailing and with the ocean, so if I am going to spend countless hours researching and writing, it might as well be about something I enjoy!

7) I read Oceanswept and would definitely let my 12-year-old read it. What is your target audience? What would you say to parents who are hesitant to introduce their preteen daughters to the romance genre?
“Romance” is such a tricky word. We automatically think of those steamy bodice rippers at the grocery store. I honestly prefer to classify it as a Young Adult Historical Romance for that reason, but the romance is what everyone loves about the story so we can’t leave that out! My intended audience is females 13+. I leave the + there because I think more adults have enjoyed my books than teenagers! I would tell parents that it is a clean romance. All virtue remains intact. All thoughts are pure! And remember, most all books no matter their genre incorporate love interests and romance in some way. So this is a great way for teens to experience a love-story that is going to be clean.

8.) Is Oceanswept the first book you’ve ever written? Please describe the writing process.
Yes, it is. I don’t even know how many books I have started, but Oceanswept was the first I finished. I think in the past I was too concerned with coming up with a book that others wanted to read, or that would garner critical acclaim or something lofty. This time, I decided to write a book that I would want to read. I got the idea in a meeting and created the entire outline in that meeting. I began writing in my spare time and I was obsessed. Every waking minute that I could spare, I was writing. I finished the first draft in three weeks.

 9) What lessons have you learned from publishing?
Format as you go! If plan A doesn’t work, go with plan B, plan C, plan D, whatever. Don’t give up and don’t let others dictate your dream.

10) What are your future plans for the Oceanswept Chronicles and other books?
I am working on a young adult book right now about a teenage boy whose recently divorced mother purchased a hospice and his new home is living among dying people as he struggles to shape his own life in the midst of a broken family. It is definitely a departure from swashbuckling adventure and teen romance, but I hope my readers will take the leap with me. I have an outline of the final book of the Oceanswept Trilogy and that will hopefully be available in about a year. I am also planning to continue to supply more Chronicles—I don’t know how many of those might crop up. They’re just fun and people love little “director’s cuts” of the stories. So I don’t necessarily have a limit on them. I have even taken requests on what extra details readers want.

Lara Hays

My author website is larahays.com, though I need to be better about updating it.

You’ll get the most updates from me at Facebook.com/LaraHaysAuthor

And you can read my personal blog at pocketfullofprose.blogspot.com

Three Kings of Armageddon by R.K. Ames

This story is written for AMMC: A Merry Minion Christmas. You can find the rules here:

Title: “Three Kings of Armageddon”
Author: R.K. Ames
eBook: YES

Dedication: To my wife and to my children: Joe and Sahara.

Har Meggido

“Shepherding seven Hebrew girls through the countryside at night? It’s enough to get an old cleric killed, Balthazar,” commented Melchior as he peered up the sheer walls of the pass, a quarter night’s walk outside the ruins of Har Megiddo. The three astrologists ran an unprecedented risk. However, Gaspar had yet to steer them wrong. He swore that the Godling had mandated it.

“Seven, seven, seven years,” muttered Melchior as he waggled a knobby knuckled finger at the back of Gaspar’s bald, clay-colored head. “Seven years since we left Babylon’s milk-laden bosom. I assumed that honoring the Godling would be the pinnacle, yet here we are. Trekking an ankle-breaking pass, pursued by Ehudi of all people. Ehudi the Tracker, Ehudi the Man Hunter.”

“Come now, Melchior,” said Gaspar in his comforting squeak of a voice. “What are our lives compared to the Godling’s desires?” Everything about Gaspar seemed unkempt yet everything was also in its proper space. The cold didn’t seem to affect the Hindu, like it did the rest of the party. Gaspar seemed to sweat confidence and exhale calm.

“Ehudi is a man,” Gaspar muttered reassuringly.  “The Godling is the avatar of a god. A life unthreatened is a life unlived, my friend.”

Balthazar grunted rhythmically as he hoisted white-slipped girl after white-slipped girl up a small ledge.  “Once through the pass we are out of Hebrew land,” he said. “We’ll claim that the girls are slaves. No one will look twice other than to inquire price.”

Melchior watched Balthazar as he handled the girls, his ebony hands contrasting on their bright white dresses. “I do wish one of these wrens would chirp” he grumbled. “The Godling wouldn’t close his mouth, but these ones haven’t spoken since we took them.”

Balthazar quipped, “The Godling said that each one had the power to destroy a nation. I’m not sure I’d want to hear them talk.” He rounded a sharp landing on the stone-hewn staircase that led to Har Megiddo’s first watchtower. At front edge of his vision a shadowy figure waivered, not quite illuminated by the torch it held.

Quick on Balthazar’s heels, Gaspar walked straight into his broad, shirtless black back. He stumbled, cursed, looked up the staircase, and froze. Seven white dresses jostled to accommodate the sudden his sudden stop. All that white, against the dark mountain pass stairway, blinded Melchior.

“Ehudi, I had expected that you would find us sooner,” crooned Gaspar. “It is reassuring to see that Herod’s most loyal hound has lived up to his reputation. All that must be must become.”

A pleasant voice echoed down the stairwell, “Archers have you in their sights. You have nowhere to run. Finish your ascent.”

A single torch, held by a single man dressed in boiled leather, appeared on the landing. Surrounded by archers, the group had nowhere else to go.

Silently, the group filed to the top of the pass and gathered in the atrium on the inside of the watchtower. All in plain robes, trail dust, and sweat that reflected in the bright torch light. There stood men with dour faces and weapons.

The men trained their weapons on the group. “Gaspar,” the leather-clad torch-wielder sputtered around a cleft palate. “Herod inquires as to why you left without saying farewell. He will be unpleased to find that you have taken slaves as well. “ He said out of the side of his mouth, earning a chitter from the subordinate trackers, “Clerics and astrologers? I wouldn’t want to learn what they want with little girls.”

Gaspar, face glowing brighter with each emphasized word, righteous rage sparking a fire in his squeaky throat, responded, “They Are Not Slaves, Ehudi, but inchoate celestial weapons with a god-mandated purpose! The young ones will not be molested! Their divine purpose will not contradicted! They were born on the same night as the Godling. The Star shone for them as well. The Godling and his angels will determine their fate.”

“You have no place to go Gaspar.” Ehudi smirked almost confidentially, arms wide staring into the morning. “The sun’s rising and there is nowhere to hide.”

Mid-smirk, confusion bloomed on Ehudi’s cleft face. Turning to look in the direction that Ehudi stared, conflicting expressions appeared the congregation’s faces. Balthazar registered shock while rapture spread across Gaspar’s.

The sky remained dark, yet the atrium was brighter than a mid-day in mid-summer.

Heads swiveled to the door of the watchtower as a deep bass voice boomed through group’s ears.  White-dressed girls stood in a triangle, shortest in front and arranged thusly. The image burned into group’s minds as seven flower-lipped mouths said in unison, “Hear me and tremble, heed me and dread. The dark night approaches. In the end I will rise. I will destroy. I will blow the seven trumpets. The earth will quake. Its inhabitants will bleed. Its inhabitants will burn. I will lie myself down and when I awake, Har Meggido will be the epicenter of the end of times. I am the harbinger of the Son of God!”

With a flash, the group saw only the residue of the vision on the backs of their eyelids. With a crash the brilliance was gone. Dresses were gone. The watchtower was razed to rubble. With eyelids crushed together, Melchior could only distinguish the smell of dust, burnt ozone, and fresh urine.

In the midst of the billowing dust, a column of pure light settled before the small group. As the light sparkled off the sandstone rubble, Melchior could feel the words in his soul, “Well done good and faithful servants, come ye into the rest of the Lord.” A tingling passed through his body as the sensation of gravity left him.

Read other stories from this project here:

Lisa Shambrook: Beneath the Rainbow

On October 12, Lisa Shambrook will re-release her novel Beneath the Rainbow. She has a new cover, a new designing team, new online support group, and new works in progress! And she’s giving away a free paperback copy of Beneath the Rainbow. Enter by following this link.

I interviewed Lisa Shambrook today, and the answers I received got me excited for her future work.

Beneath the Rainbow announcement

-What inspired Beneath the Rainbow? It came right out of the blue! The first line hit me as I was walking through the park “Freya was seven-years-old when she got hit by the car, it was a 4×4 with a bull bar.” The line shocked me, and I had no idea how to write a book that began with the death of a child! At home I crafted the first chapter, and was completely drawn into the grief her family was suffering, and I imagined how it would appear to a child on the other side of Heaven.

-Is any part of it based off of real-life experiences or people? Thankfully I’ve not suffered like Freya’s family, though we do have family experience of both cancer and unfulfilled dreams, which are strong themes within the book.

-Can you describe the process of writing your book? It was cathartic. It’s a difficult subject, but one that leaped into my head and heart, and refused to let go. This book flowed and told me what to write…the only time I’ve ever pantsed a book as I’m a planner at heart!

-Is this the first book you’ve ever written? What’s your previous experience with writing? I realised I could write books almost fourteen years ago and began with a children’s fantasy adventure trilogy. These books need rewriting and severe editing, but I still love them. I also have a half written dragon epic, and a sequel to ‘Beneath the Rainbow’.

-What challenges did you encounter when first writing and publishing the book? How have the challenges changed with the re-release? At first, I truly had no idea what I was doing! I wrote ‘Beneath the Rainbow’ with no thought for genre, or age, or marketing. I put it on Kindle then joined Twitter hoping to sell it…thankfully I didn’t pimp it, instead I discovered how social media worked and found a wonderful writing community. Now the book has been revised, reformatted, redesigned and rereleased. I finally have online support, confidence in my writing and a better understanding of the business!

-What plans do you have for future writing? ‘Beneath the Old Oak’ is going through its first edit, hoping to release it at the end of next Summer. This November I’m planning the third book in the series tentatively titled ‘Beneath the Stormy Sky’.

-What advice would you give anyone who is considering writing a book? Flash Fiction! Flash writing has honed every writing skill I have and has made me a much better writer! Give it a go, short and sweet, and fun. Regarding the book itself, edit well…and lots, and lots! Get as much professional help as you can afford, and find a supportive writing community…they are priceless!

-What’s your writing environment like? I write on my laptop, on my lap, lol. I prefer silence, and often forget to drink or eat while I write! My favourite writing time is once I’ve done the school run, or late at night.

-How do you balance writing with family? I generally write when the family are at school or work, I need the peace!

-What support systems do you have for your writing endeavors? An online writing community…like I said, other writers know what you’re going through, take all advise that’s offered! Lastly, I could not do this without the support of my family. My husband encourages and respects my writing, and my children both read and critique my work, and I sometimes listen!

Beneath the Rainbow is available on Amazon.com, and it’s not expensive at all. U.S. customers click here, and U.K. customers click here!

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Beneath the Rainbow

“It’s those silly dreams that keep us alive.”

Dreams define us, shape us and realise our potential…they make us who we are.

Freya won’t let death stand in her way.

When she dies Freya knows she needs to move on, but is caught within her mother’s grief and the discovery of terminally ill Old Thomas. Finding she can affect the lives of those beyond her heaven she fights to reach her mother and wants to help Thomas realise his final dream.

Meanwhile, her family finds her own list of goals and soon discovers that Thomas has a burning desire to ride a motorbike.

Freya intends to create a rainbow, the last item on her list, to reach her mother, but her pale arcs won’t achieve closure. She needs scarlet like remembrance poppies then sunset orange and sunflower yellow. She makes green like her willow and blue like daddy’s t-shirt. Finally conjuring indigo, the shade of deepening night and violet to match Purple Ted…

Beneath these colours will Freya reach her mother, wait for Old Thomas and be ready to move on?

Discover the importance of dreams and fulfilment in Freya’s heart-breaking and uplifting tale of grief, hope, triumph and joy.

Lisa Shambrook

Lisa Shambrook

Born and raised in vibrant Brighton, England, Lisa’s lyrical writing is emotional and imaginative. She concentrates on description and colour, and hopes her readers will easily visualise the narrative. Her first book ‘Beneath the Rainbow’ is available on Amazon in paperback and ebook.

A wife and mother, Lisa draws inspiration from family life, faith, memory and imagination. After having her first of three children, Lisa has lived in Carmarthen, West Wales, another town rich in legend and lore.

Lisa loves family time, walking the family’s excitable German Shepherd, beaches, scrap-booking, photography, art and last, but not least, writing…she says “There is nothing better than escaping and immersing yourself in a good story!” You can follow her blog at http://www.thelasykrystallos.blogspot.co.uk

To read another exciting interview about Lisa, visit LE Jamez’ blog.

Thomas’ New Coat

This story is written for AMMC: A Merry Minion Christmas. You can find the rules here:

Title: “Thomas’ New Coat”
Author: Marissa Ames
eBook: YES

Dedicated to Jeremy, Laurie, Miles, and Lily. Thanks for all the apples and yoga.

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Thomas shivered in the sooty slush outside the workhouse. The February wind whipped sleet into his face. He wrapped his tattered coat about him, which had become too small in his year detained in the boys’ ward.

Thomas lived in the best of times and the worst of times. In the age of wisdom and foolishness, the rich lived in three-story brick houses. The poor lived in workhouses.

The door opened, and his mother appeared. Emma wore her own dress. Gone was the striped inmates’ uniform.

With teary eyes, Thomas slid on the slush and collided with his mother. She wrapped her arms around him.

“Can we stay away this time?” he begged. “Please?”

Thrice, Emma had discharged herself when she could be apart from Thomas no longer. Women lived separate from the men, and everyone separate from the children. Those three times, Emma left in her own dress, took Thomas to a park then returned by midnight. The workhouse promised food and shelter in return for hard labor. The streets promised starvation.

“Mama,” he said, peering through his tears. “Please, mama?”

With hands roughened by picking apart oakum, Emma combed through Thomas’ hair.

“I’ll pull carts in the mines,” Thomas said. “I can still be a chimney sweep. I haven’t grown much, really.”

Closing her eyes in her gaunt face, Emma nodded.

As a widowed seamstress, Emma had managed to feed Thomas. Slipping in the slush during pea soup fog, she had injured her arm. She could not pay rent. After nights weeping in decision, Emma took Thomas to the workhouse.

Thomas had a plan. First he would work as an errand boy. Then he’d be crossing sweeper, cleaning streets in front of rich ladies in exchange for tips. He would purchase matches to sell to passing shoppers. Thomas would enter the mines if he had no other choice. But, for his mother, he would work anywhere.

Offering domestic services in trade, Emma found a room in a London slum. Thomas worked as planned, waking before dawn and coming home late, with money for soup and suet.

As he worked he advertised his mother’s skills as a seamstress.

The owner of a new factory bought his matches. He had a job for Thomas’ mother, with the new sewing machines. Emma had only sewn with thread and needle, but she soon learned the machines, pushing the treadle with her foot. Only once did she sew over her own hand. Thomas worked within the same factory, carrying bolts of fabric. They worked twelve hours a day and returned together to their tiny room.

Thomas fell asleep fast. At night, his mother stitched by the single flickering flame of her lamp. Customers wanted coats with detail that only skilled seamstresses could provide.

One year after leaving the workhouse, Thomas wore the same tattered coat. Emma had purchased scraps of fabric from her employer. She had unpicked the seams of Thomas’ coat and added the fabric to expand the sleeves. He had decent shoes, replaced when the others disintegrated. The slush did not invade the leather.

Luxury stopped at new shoes. Emma was ill. On good days, she worked at the factory, coughing into a handkerchief to catch the blood. On bad days, she sweated in bed with a fever. Half of November, Emma had worked at the factory. Twenty-four days into December, she had not worked at all.

Thomas trekked to the factory daily, buying food on the way home. After work, he cleaned the tenement to pay rent. Each night, Emma apologized as she fumbled with needle and thread while propped up in bed.

Thomas told her it didn’t matter.

Emma fretted over Christmas. Last year, they resided in the workhouse. She couldn’t see him at Christmas. This year, she had promised a hot meal, with meat. Goose and figgy pudding, she said. She had promised it before she fell ill.

Emma had one match left. She used that last match to light a fire on Christmas morning, as snow fell in the streets.

Thomas held his only gift, complimenting how well Emma had wrapped it in old blankets. Warm from the fire, he unpicked the twine. Emma smiled weakly as he withdrew his new coat: thick, warm, and sturdy.

He slid his arms into the coat and hugged it around his body as his mother coughed blood into her handkerchief.

As Emma napped at midday, Thomas traversed the new slush of the London streets. What he sought lay ten streets away, where Thomas had worked before finding the factory. Now other boys worked there, sloshing in sooty slush and broken shoes.

“Do you have matches?” he asked.

A boy half his age looked up with sunken eyes. Nodding and shivering, he said, “You have to pay for them.”

A rag wrapped around the boy’s head, in lieu of a hat. His patched shirt hugged his body tightly. The boy wore no coat.

“I need them for my mother,” Thomas claimed. “She’s terribly ill.”

Shaking his head, the boy said with chattering teeth, “My father will beat me.”

Thomas needed those matches. He needed them for his mother, who kept him out of an orphanage simply by staying alive. Emma had taught him that he was better than no man, and no worse either. She taught him compassion and charity.

“Will you trade?” Thomas unbuttoned his coat. The boy’s eyes lit up.

As the boy donned the coat and rolled the sleeves up, Thomas took his matches and sprinted home, sliding in the slush.

His own teeth chattered as he opened the door. He found his old, tattered coat. Emma woke as a log dropped from his frozen fingers onto the floor.

“Where is your new coat?” she asked.

Thomas added the log to the fire. Then he took her frail hands in his and told her of the little match boy. Someone needed the coat, just as Emma needed the matches.

“I’m sorry, Mama,” he said, hoping for forgiveness. “I know you worked many nights on that coat.”

Tears filled Emma’s eyes. She spread her arms. As she embraced her son and his tattered coat, she whispered, “I worked harder to make you a good boy. You’ve given me the best Christmas present by proving you are one.”

Read other stories from this project here:

Darrion: A Story of Tir Athair

Darrion cover

In one week, just a few weeks prior to Minstrel’s release, a new short story of Tir Athair will be available for both Kindle and ePub readers. “Darrion” takes place about 20 years after Minstrel, and about 20-25 years before my next novel, Vassal. Within about 10,000 words, it tells the story of the supporting protagonist in Vassal.

Blurb:
The first time Darrion struck her, Lana loaded her wagon and left Cynegil. Two-year-olds should not hit like that. She draped the windows of her cottage with dense cloth and worked by a single candle. If she timed her flight well, she could pass through the market during changing of the guard. In another era, under another king’s reign, Lana would have rejoiced that Darrion had inherited his father’s gift. Now, if Lana did not present her son to the king, she could lose her head.

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Blue Harvest Creative has done its magic yet again.

I have a stunning cover and internal format that rivals the big publishing houses. Beta readers have rated it highly. Now I just need my other readers to give me their input and to build excitement for both Minstrel and for my new work-in-progress, Vassal.

Design Credits:
Cover painting of bluebells by Marissa Ames
Cover Concept by Marissa Ames & Blue Harvest Creative
Cover Design by Blue Harvest Creative
eBook Design by Blue Harvest Creative
Imprint concept by Marissa Ames
Imprint Design by Blue Harvest Creative

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In addition to formatting both “Darrion” and Minstrel, Blue Harvest Creative has helped me create the imprint name, under which all my books shall be published.

Dead Sea Games Reading Challenge

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Read a book. Write reviews. Win prizes. The third reading challenge is going on right now over at Facebook.

We’re switching genres with a wide arc this month. We’ve done young adult mystery, and we’ve done fantasy romance. Now we’ll highlight some books that I have really enjoyed, by J. Whitworth Hazzard. James is releasing the third book in the series, Kidnapped, very soon. We’re hosting the reading challenge for him, to ramp up the excitement.

The Dead Sea Games books begin where all the other zombie apocalypse stories leave off: after the infection. Jeremy, aka “Deathwish,” is a 15-year-old boy during a time when adults haven’t even figured out how to live again. Teenagers never had it figured out in the first place. Jeremy and the survivors live in a cell of apartment buildings, in lower Manhattan, where zombies mill about on the streets below and teenage orphans aren’t welcome in society.

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Both “Adrift” and “Exiled” are eligible for this contest. You may read/review either, or both if you would like. Expect action from the first page to the last, satisfying all through these quick reads.

To learn more about the Dead Sea Games books before downloading, check out a review I wrote about the Dead Sea Games books. You can also check out J. Whitworth Hazzard’s blog over at Zombie Mechanics.

Parenting info: Mature language and situations. Violence and language comparable to Zombieland.

Rules:

1) Read one of the books (or both).
2) Write reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, BN.com, or your blog. Or all of the above! The more places you post, the more entries you get. Each review earns one entry into the prize hat, whether you liked the book or not.
3) Post the links to your reviews on this event page.
4) Reviews must be posted between October 1st and October 31st. If you have already read the book and have not yet reviewed it, all new reviews are allowed in this contest. Any review written prior to October 1st will not be valid.
5) Invite friends! If a friend submits a review and tells us that you invited them, you win another entry.
6) All winners are drawn by a random number generator, and will be chosen after October 31st.

There will be one grand prize winner, who will receive a hard-copy book. Five other people will win free eBooks from other amazing authors!

And on October 1st and 2nd, both Dead Sea Games books are FREE! Check out Adrift and Exiled over at Amazon. Both versions are free in the UK as well.

Meet the Characters: Liam

With just over 5 weeks to go until publication, anticipation is building over the release of Minstrel. Each week, until the major characters are introduced, you’ll have the opportunity to meet one character per week through excerpts from the book.

This week: Liam, the main protagonist and point-of-view character

Liam watercolor

Excerpt:

Molly took a moment to reply. “You said you could fight.”

His brow furrowed and he looked at her. Tears of humiliation sat in her eyes and she glared at him in accusation.

“What would you have me do?” he asked.

She shrugged. “I don’t-” She clenched her jaw and stared forward. “Nothing.”

“You think I should have fought for three pence?”

Her eyes widened.

“Yes, I only had three pence. I’m not stupid.”

“But-”

“Would you rather I had fought, been defeated, and had them take off my companion as punishment?”

Her jaw clamped shut. “No,” she said in a quiet voice. Her fingers readjusted on his arm. Her grip had become bruising during the robbery. She flexed her fingers then curled them around his arm again.

The gentle pressure of her fingers and the hushed tone of her voice were about the closest he was going to get to an expression of gratitude. He had indeed humbled her, without even asking her to launder his shoes. But instead of gloating, he simply felt satisfaction that he had done the right thing. If he had played the thieves’ game wrong, he would have lost his companion instead of three pence.

“How did you know?” she asked. “That they were going to do that?”

He glanced at the tattered rags covering windows, the permanent layers of soot and slime on the stonework. Symbols, drawn in kohl, marked doorways so thieves and murderers would pass right by. Here existed three things: dwellings of sticks or old stone, the inhabitants therein, and sludge. Nothing else. Upperclassmen existed on the labors of others and only needed gardens for beauty. Peasants fortunate enough to have their own houses, and clean dirt, grew vegetables and herbs. In the slums, people grew nothing. Instead of laziness, they existed on lack of resources or knowledge. If the king granted these people some land and seeds, they would only eat the seeds and use the land as a new dumping lot.

“This is where I was born,” he said.

A few streets back, they had passed his house. It had burnt down long ago, it appeared, and a new shack sat atop it. Instead of stopping in respect, paying homage to his mother and her labors to keep him alive as a young child, he kept walking. Her corpse had burned years before the house had. He passed on, as she had wanted him to do for the rest of his life.

“One of Amergin’s?” Molly asked as she kept her eyes forward.

“How else?” Liam nodded at the poor, sickly inhabitants leaning out of the buildings. “A man doesn’t leave any other way.” Even corpses stayed in the old neighborhood, burned on piles of garbage. Cottars only took away corpses from the safer streets.

“How far are we going?”

He hadn’t thought that far. He had meant to see his mother’s old home, but as that was gone, he just kept walking. Thoughts churned and memories surfaced: the bitter cold and the smoke from a damp fire pit. His mother, curled up in a ball to hide the hunger pangs as her son ate the only bread.

Liam had been a street urchin, a thief and a bully. He fought for his bread, and for his mother’s bread, and by the time Amergin’s summons had been delivered to his mother’s door, he had started fighting for other possessions as well. His mother did not know of his habits, else she would have tried to correct them. In the old neighborhood, though, those habits led to survival. Perhaps she would have let him continue to steal and fight, because it brought her food.

The master bard changed things. With a spartan moral code that included nothing about religion, Liam’s master taught him basic kindness for man. He taught him to treat women with respect. He taught him to never take anything he had not earned and which was not freely given, from man or woman. Other morals, those of chastity and honesty in words, followed a simple rule: being a decent man brought greater rewards than paying the consequences of what other men might call “sins.” Don’t take what you can’t replace, he said. Don’t say what you can’t correct. Don’t share beds unless you can afford a child. As others spoke of gods, or God, Liam did not know where those morals fit into a godly realm. He just knew to be a good man.

A Public Identity!

I’ve had two major steps in my author process.

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First of all, Minstrel is available on Amazon for pre-order, with a discount over $4. I also have a corresponding author page set up on Amazon. Feel free to click on the link to my author page and send me a “Like.”

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Minstrel Cover

Second, Minstrel is also available on Goodreads! If this is a work you are interested in reading, please indicate it by clicking the “Want to Read” button!

Thank you all for your support! The likes, links, and reposting are all noticed, and they mean so much to me.