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Title: CRAZY ABOUT COOKIES:300 SCRUMPTIOUS RECIPES FOR EVERY OCCASION & CRAVING


Author: CASTELLA,K

Publisher: STERLING PUBLISHING (USA)

RRP: $24.99

ISBN: 9781402769139

Release Date: 2010

Pages: 302

Description:

Bakers everywhere went crazy over Krystina Castella's Crazy About Cupcakes, and will go completely wild over these 300 clever cookie recipes. The baking phenomenon whips up delicious riffs on the classics and more adventurous offerings (like savory cornmeal olive cookies). There's something for every occasion, from melt-in-your-mouth after-school snacks to fun Christmas cookie constructions. A basics section on doughs, toppings and decoration techniques makes this the cookie foundation every creative foodie needs.

Review:

I loved this book. Krystina Castella has done a wonderful job in collating a brilliant collection of biscuit recipes.

The recipes are great if you have dietary problems such as diabetes or gluten intolerance this book is for you. Krystina has included many adapted recipes to cover your needs.

I made the Cinnamon Swirls and they were great, (too good actually as the family ate them all in a day).

An added extra to all the cookie recipes are the heaps of frostings, fillings and icings.

There are also recipes for different cultural celebrations as well. There are even different recipes for different ages groups, so something to keep all the family happy here.

An excellent cook book. Please buy it for your won eating pleasure and that of everyone you know.

BOOK REVIEW: Fashion Illustrations 1930 to 1970 Harper Bazaar  

Posted by Scott Wilson

Title: Fashion Illustrations 1930 to 1970 Harper Bazaar


Author: Marnie Fogg

Publisher: B.T.BATSFORD (UK)

RRP: $39.99

ISBN: 9781906388812

Release Date: 2010

Description:

The world of fashion illustration has had a sensational renaissance in the last 5 years, but the art form goes back to the beginning of the 20th century and today's exponents are still benefiting from some of the styles, shapes and colours of fashion illustrators from decades ago. Whether they work with traditional pencils, crayons and watercolours or with a digital pen, fashion illustrators today will find inspiration from these 200 images. This volume collates the best fashion illustration that was captured in the pages of the iconic Harper's Bazaar magazine from the 1920s to 1970. The publication has been at the forefront of fashion since the 19th century and it is no surprise that it published the best work in this art form. From the mannered shapes of Leon Benigni of the 1930s to the looser outlines of the late 1960s, the book is a beautiful resource for all illustrators.

Review:

Harpers Bazaar’s reputation as one of the best fashion magazines in the world is illustrated in this brilliant book.

The designs are amazing and the illustrations are just fantastic. The era of each decade is symbolized by each picture. I found this fascinating as it shows the culture of the decade to. It makes the book more entertaining and captivating.

If you love fashion and want to reference to Harper Bazaar’s fashion impact from the 1930’s to 1970 then you have to get this book.

BOOK REVIEW: Die For Me by Amy Plum  

Posted by Scott Wilson

Title: Die For Me


Author: Amy Plum

Publisher: Harper Collins

RRP: $29.99

ISBN: 9780062004017

Release Date: May 2011

Pages: 352

Description:

“In the City of Lights, two star-crossed lovers battle a fate that is destined to tear them apart again and again for eternity.”

“When Kate Mercier’s parents die in a tragic car accident, she leaves her life—and memories—behind to live with her grandparents in Paris. For Kate, the only way to survive her pain is escaping into the world of books and Parisian art. Until she meets Vincent.

Mysterious, charming, and devastatingly handsome, Vincent threatens to melt the ice around Kate’s guarded heart with just his smile. As she begins to fall in love with Vincent, Kate discovers that he’s a revenant—an undead being whose fate forces him to sacrifice himself over and over again to save the lives of others. Vincent and those like him are bound in a centuries-old war against a group of evil revenants who exist only to murder and betray. Kate soon realizes that if she follows her heart, she may never be safe again.

In this incandescent debut, newcomer Amy Plum has created a powerful paranormal mythology with immortal revenants. The Paris setting comes enchantingly alive as a relentless struggle between good and evil takes place in its streets. Rich with romance, atmosphere, and thrills, Die for Me will leave readers breathlessly awaiting its sequel.”

Review:

Die for Me is a debut novel for author Amy Plum.

Everything seems lost to Kate. Her parents died and now she’s stuck in Paris with party loving sister and grandparents who love all things old. So it’s no surprise that she amuses herself in book instead of humans. There so much easier to deal with.

But then Victor comes into the picture and well it’s just not right. His friend Joel seems to have died then come back and his twin friends save her life. What’s wrong with these people?

A great book that I couldn’t book down for a second.

FICTION: THE MERMAID’S TREASURE by Mary J Webster  

Posted by Scott Wilson

For Nancy

My grandmother’s old blue bicycle clattered loudly on the uneven dirt road. I wasn’t in any hurry to get to Vera’s since she never wore a watch and the dusty, wooden clock in her kitchen ticked loudly for another time zone.

I reached my pink-tipped fingers out to grab another raspberry from the bushes as I trundled along. If I’d thought to bring an old ice cream tub, I could have picked it full without getting off my bike. I popped the berry into my mouth and hummed a few broken lines from a tune that I only half-knew... something about the sea.

The road turned and the trees got thick overhead, cooling me as the berry juice covered my tongue and lips. It was going to be a hot day. Another bend in the road, another pothole made by the big potato trucks, and then I could see Vera’s old cottage, half-swallowed by apple trees. Beyond that was her son Donald’s farm, and beyond that, the lighthouse and the beach.

Vera limped around the side of the garden shed with a cracked plant pot in one hand and a short, dark rope in the other. The rope twisted eerily around her wrist. I hopped off my bike to unlatch the old gate that was supposed to be propped against the fence, overgrown with hop vines.

"Who fixed the gate?” I asked. I leaned my bicycle up against the shed and the peeling, green paint flaked off as I brushed against it.

“Donald’s got some hired man down here for the summer,” Vera grumbled. “He’s from Gaspe... a young French fella. Donald keeps sending him up here to fix things,” she snorted. “He’s supposed to come this afternoon to work on the roof.”

“Well, that’s good, isn’t it?” I glanced up to the yellow, mossy shingles as she led me behind the shed to where she’d been building some kind of miniature hut with dead leaves and broken plant pots.

“Good?” Vera snapped as she unceremoniously shoved the black garter snake into his new house. “The poor snake’s nerves are fried. He’d lived under that gate for years! That French fella tried to kill the poor little thing.”

“I’m sure Don means well,” I smiled. “Where’s Barty?”

“Hiding on the veranda,” Vera sighed. “He’s scared of the snake.”

I whistled for the dog and Barty stuck his nose around the side of the house. “Come on, boy. It’s not a cobra,” I told him. He whimpered and disappeared around the corner again.

Vera sent me out into the garden to pick the cucumbers and cauliflower that she needed for her pickles. I picked until the old apple basket was full, then I dumped the veggies in a pile on Vera’s kitchen table before going out to fill the basket again. She cut everything up while the pendulum on the old clock ticked and chimed.

An hour later the dirt from the garden had mixed with my sweat to make a mud paste over my hands, feet, and legs. As I brought the last load in, I looked out the window at the beach - the water was so blue.

“Oh, go on! Go!” Vera snapped, jovially. I hugged her hard, then ran out of the kitchen with Barty. “Be back in half an hour for lunch!” Vera roared after us.

I raced by Donald’s farm and paused where the lane ended to kick off my tattered grass and berry-stained sneakers. It was one thing to have dirty shoes but it was another matter entirely to have dirty shoes that smelled like rotting seaweed. I chucked my t-shirt on a piece of driftwood and my shorts joined it a moment later. Barty wandered off down the beach to chase seagulls. I whistled for him and he completely ignored me.

I waded out and dove in. The relief from the heat was incredible. I swam parallel to the shore, enjoying the cool ripples of water as they rushed over my skin. Through the green murk I could see the white clam shells and the little hermit crabs that were scattered along the ridged sand. The beach was protected by a long reef, so the water was fairly still and prefect for swimming.

“Hi!” I stopped swimming when I heard the greeting and stayed low, only letting my head show above the water. There was a man standing there, smiling. He looked like he was about twenty-ish. “I’m Guy!” he called. “Are you Sarah?”

“Yes,” I said, confused. “How do you know my name?”

“I’m working for Donald, but I ‘ave to go up to Vera’s. I was wondering if you wanted to walk with me.”

“I’m in my underwear!” I snapped, as I suddenly remembered that very important fact. Had he been watching me? What a creep!

"Oh,” he said. His cheeks went pink. “Well, maybe I’ll see you later. Sorry.”

As soon as I was sure he was gone, I got dressed and went back to Vera’s. The French guy didn’t seem to be around, which was just as well because the seawater had soaked through my clothes, since I’d been in too much of an angry rush to let myself dry a little.

“Ugh,” Vera sighed as she saw me. “Go and put the dress on.”

I stomped upstairs to the guestroom and dug the old dress out of the closet. The pink flowers had faded, but it was still pretty. It was the only thing of Vera’s that was small enough to fit me. We’d figured that out last spring when I’d fallen into the manure pile at the bottom of the garden.

Vera had cold fishcakes and hot tea waiting for me at the kitchen table. She eyed me through her thick glasses as I ate, then said, “You wouldn’t weed the garden this afternoon, would you? Someone needs to hoe around the turnips and my hip is too sore.”

“Yeah, sure,” I sighed, still cross about being caught in my underwear. How much had that Peeping Tom seen? I drank my tea, put my dishes in the sink, and went out the back door. The hoe was leaning on the wall and I grabbed it and set to work.

A gentle voice drifted down from the roof above. “I really am sorry I bothered you.”

"It’s fine,” I grumbled, irritated that he’d be watching me all afternoon.



I hoed the lambs quarters out of the red dirt as Guy scraped the moss from the red shingles. When I stole the odd glance at him, I could see that he was suffering up there in the sun more than I was in the lush garden. The sweat soaked his hair and just when I was about to break down and get him some water, he climbed down and got a drink from the garden hose. When the clouds covered the sky and the air grew still, Vera called us in to eat. We had fishcakes again - hot this time.



I wished Guy would go away.



“You’d better stay the night,” Vera said. “You’ll never bike home before the rain.”



I nodded. She was right. The clock chimed once, awkwardly, and Vera and I whipped our heads around in time to see the both hands fall to point at six. The humidity and heat had expanded the metal hands so they wouldn’t hold.



“It’s coming!” I gasped.



“Maybe,” Vera chuckled. “Don’t get excited - the clock isn’t always right.”



“What’s coming?” Guy asked. I’d forgotten about him, but he was still sitting at the table, eating supper.



“The Phantom Ship,” Vera smiled eagerly. This was one of the few subject that didn’t make her cranky. “It’s a ghost ship that sails the Northumberland Straight when the weather is just right.”



“Really?” Guy looked skeptical. “What ship is it the ghost of?”



Vera shrugged and sat down as I started to clear the table. Her arthritis was bothering her a lot lately. “No one knows. Some people think it’s Captain Kidd coming back for his treasure, some think it’s an Acadian deportation ship that sank. There have been all kinds of ships lost around Prince Edward Island... especially near that reef.” She gestured vaguely in the right direction. “But I used to know an old lady who said that the natives used to see... something... before white men and their ships ever came here, so that’s a pretty good argument that it’s just swamp gas.”



Guy walked over and dried the dishes as I washed them. He didn’t know which cupboards to put them in so he stacked them on the counter.



“So it’s just a boat?” he asked.



“It’s a great ship!” Vera sighed, annoyed at his lack of imagination. “It’s in distress, ready to go down with all hands! Sarah’s never seen it but I’ve seen it six times in my life. She’s spent a lot of nights here waiting up for that thing.”



I wanted to see The Phantom Ship more than I’d ever wanted anything. I caught Guy looking at me and I frowned. What was his problem?



I wasn’t sure if the thunder woke me up or if it was the sound of the thrown pinecone hitting the window pane. I’d waited up for hours but the ship didn’t come and the sky had cleared up enough to reveal the yellow moon. The clock had been wrong and I was crushed. Another cone bonged off the glass, then another. I swung my legs over the side of the bed and went to the window. Guy stood in the rain, looking up at me. He pointed to the beach, excitedly, and as the thunder rumbled closer, I saw what he saw - flashes out on the water. My mouth fell open. I motioned for him to wait, then I pulled on the dress and tiptoed out of my room. He’d stayed up to watch for the ship? For me?



“Don’t get hit by lightening,” Vera mumbled from her room across the hall. I gave up all pretense of sneaking out and thundered down the old stairs as the clock bonged and the hands fell for the second time that night.



Guy was waiting for me on the porch, but I barely looked at him. I only had eyes for the storming, gray sea and those flashing lights. We ran down the road, ignoring the muddy puddles that splashed over our sneakers. The lights disappeared behind the dunes and we veered off the road, chasing them. Guy was strong from working so hard on Donald’s farm. His legs pumped and he pushed himself up the sliding sand in his stiff, wet jeans, while I fell behind. I looked down at the mounds of sand that filled my shoes, and then a strong hand closed around my arm and Guy pulled me up as he climbed the dune a second time.



The wind howled freakishly around us and the rain crashed down from the black void of sky above. The beaten spruce trees along the shore creaked in agony and then the loudest boom of thunder I ever heard made me crouch down in fear. Guy was not afraid and he held my hand as I stood with my hair and dress plastered to my body.



There was something on the water. Something big. I squinted through the rain at the three vertical lines and the dark mass underneath. The thunder detonated and as the lightening lit up the sky, I saw it. A great ship in distress, fighting the storm that was tearing the timbers apart. The wind ripped the sails and brandished them violently around and the lanterns on the deck swung as the hull pitched up and down in the foaming, white waves. Someone seemed to be steering the vessel away from the shore, but I couldn’t see any crew.



The ship was moving faster now and Guy and I raced along the tops of the dunes, trying to keep up with it as it approached the reef. Could I hear splintering wood or was it only thunder that tore up the air around us? The ship moved faster than we could and it disappeared around the edge of the coast. Guy pulled me along as we chased after it, but when we rounded the corner, it was gone.



“Did you see him?” Vera asked in response to the squeaking floorboard outside her room.



“Who?” I asked. “Guy?”
“No, the sailor. Did you see him fall overboard?”

I frowned. “No... just the ship.”

“Hm,” Vera chuckled. “Maybe you will next time.” I waited for a moment but when she didn’t say anything else, I started for my room. “I used to look for him,” Vera said, suddenly. “Everything would wash up on shore when a ship sank... even the sailors. The old people buried them in the dunes. I used to wonder if his crew wasn’t looking for him, too.”

The next morning, Guy was waiting for me on the porch. His boots were dirty from working in the barn and he was tired. He took my hand and we walked down to the shore to look around. The beach was littered with driftwood, black ropes of seaweed, and shells. Guy squatted over an old piece of splintered wood with a big spike in it.

“Vera told me there was a wharf here once,” I said.

“Yeah, it must be from de wharf.” He sounded skeptical.

Black things crunched under our shoes as we walked and Guy let go of my hand to pick one up.

“It’s a mermaid’s purse,” I explained. “Well, it’s really a ray egg, but Vera always calls it a mermaid’s purse. They’re supposed to lead you to treasure.” Guy didn’t answer and when I followed his gaze, I could see why. The edge of a dune had been eaten away by the storm and the exposed treasure glistened in the sun. We knelt down next to it, in awe of the riches. There were diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and emeralds, all caught up in an ivory cage. I’d never seen anything so beautiful.

Guy frowned and touched the smooth, white ivory with his rough, cracked fingers. He looked at his hand for a moment, then slowly touched the side of his own chest. “Tabernache,” he whispered. He reached out and dusted at a mound of sand next to the treasure until two hollow eyes appeared, then teeth. I gasped and he crossed himself.

The wind picked up as we stared in wonder at the sea glass that had been caught up by the sailor’s ribcage in the storm. The sand blew into our eyes and dusted over the treasure, slowly beginning to cover it back up.

“We’d better go and tell Donald,” I said.

Guy looked at the mermaid’s purses that lay all around us, and nodded.

Check out Mary's website here http://www.maryjwebster.com/

FICTION: Angie By David Perlmutter  

Posted by Scott Wilson

My name is Angela Timberwolf, but most of the critters who know me in the forest and in town just call be Angie because my real name is too hard for them to remember. I am of purebred descent, but that doesn’t mean I have a snobbish attitude; far from it! I can be anybody’s friend, even yours, if you let me.

I want you to know first and foremost that virtually everything you have heard about my species is a lie, and the material that is not lies has been greatly exaggerated. I may be big, statuesque even, and have dark black fur from my eyelids to the base of my paws, but that certainly does not mean I am bad. Those things you keep hearing about us- the hunting, attacking humans and dogs, that we tend to stay in the forest because we’re afraid of you- that is so wrong. I come out of the forest a lot and most of the time it’s to clean up messes most of those silly dogs and those lovely, tolerant forest creatures can’t get themselves out of. You know, outside interlopers, aliens, nasty humans- that sort of thing. They look on me as kind of a superwolf, which I am, but I’ll get to that in a minute. What’s more, I don’t need to hunt to survive; I do it occasionally when I’m desperate, but I have never recklessly slaughtered anyone just because I wanted to do it, or because I needed to gratify some repressed psychological urges, or what have you. You probably got those notions about what my basic existence is from those rotten fairy tales or that bald faced liar Jack London, didn’t you? It may have been like that in the past, but not now, thank you very much!

Anyway, there are some of you outside of the Anchorman Valley who are probably unaware of me and my exploits thus far, or know only of them through doctored and distorted versions of such. So I have been approached by the editors of this magazine to give my own version of who I am, my adventures and my super canine abilities, such as they are. If you’ll bear with me, I’ll let you know a little bit about myself and how I came to be stuck in this vaunted position I don’t entirely deserve. Really, I do, but I’m trying to be modest here! Did you get that?

*

My ancestry is very much like that of most wolves. We came out of prehistoric times and evolved to the point where we are today. There were some traitors among us who decided to live easy and feed off the humans, and from that we have the creatures you call dogs. Some of them remain completely arrogant in their dealings with us; they just assume dogs have always existed and that we wolves are some sort of antisocial prehistoric throwback (Jerks!). But I can’t say that about all of them, heaven forbid, since my boyfriend is, after all, a sled dog, and he would be very hurt if I said anything further that was negative about his race. (More on him later.)

Where my particular branch of the lupine family diverges from the straight and narrow path has something to do with the particular history of this area. During World War II, the American government built a road line for motorcars up here supposedly to protect themselves from attack from some bad foreigners; they didn’t give a care about the people who actually lived there because they built the thing over their protests. One night, it is said, a truck carrying some sort of green glowing rocks for examination slipped on some ice and dropped its entire cargo into a patch of forest where the ancestors of my people lived. A couple of small packs to which my parents belonged got buried in the debris, and the result was that they were exposed to some sort of exotic power source. They suddenly became super-powerful, able to run swifter than the other packs, strong enough to defeat them in paw-to-paw combat, and agile enough to duck and dodge the bullets of the hunters who shot at them, mostly under false pretenses, it should be said. Then one member from each of the two packs decided to mate with each other, and they created a cub who ultimately had all of those abilities combined, a veritable superwolf. Those two were my parents, and that cub was me.

I was born in the forested area near the town of Pixel, twenty five miles away from Anchorman, near my current home, but three thousand from the big town of Numb. My parents, though they loved each other very much, were total opposites, he being an aggressive, macho man’s man and she a cultured, respectable woman, but somehow their love managed to endure, especially once I came along. When my father learned I was a girl, he was quite upset because he wanted a boy, but mostly he kept his feelings to himself. But I sensed this always in his eyes, and I determined to myself that I would make him proud, no matter what happened to me.

When I was two months old, my parents began to educate me in what I apparently needed to know to survive in the “cruel woods”, as my father used to call them in order to intimidate me (It worked!). In the mornings, my father taught me how to hunt, to box, to wrestle and to climb trees and rock formations, as well as how to act tough in front of enemies so they would be put in their “proper” place in our old-fashioned predator/prey relationship. In the afternoons, mother took over and gave me lessons in cleanliness, good manners and conduct, maintaining a beautiful and alluring appearance and, most importantly in her eyes, using my feminine wiles to manipulate those who weren’t fooled by my macho posturing to gain the edge in a contest of wills. I was slow to learn at first, but as I got bigger, smarter and stronger, it became far easier. Soon, I was helping my father hunt and assisting mother in keeping the lair tidy. They still treated me like a little cub even when I got to be bigger than either of them. This became apparent when I began attracting the attention of the few boys in the area; when I got my first heat period, my mother actually lifted me by the scruff of my neck and placed me in a cave adjacent to the lair to keep them off. No way was I going to go losing my virginity recklessly, my parents said, especially with that super-lupine blood flowing through my body; the results could be disastrous. I pouted a little bit at first, but I soon realized they were right and that they had my best interests at heart. Thankfully, they still do.

But all good things have to come to an end sometime and, when I was a year old, my parents told me it was time for me to make my own way in the world. I had outgrown both of my parents, the lair we lived in, and practically every other animal around. I had also been starting to feel the immense strength, blinding speed and graceful agility that had been my birthright start to course through my veins, and I knew I needed a change. With my abilities, I promised my parents, I would attempt to become a force for good and make everybody around me rethink all the negative ideas and stereotypes they had about our kind. I hated leaving, even though I knew it was for my own good, but at the same time I had to strike out on my own and make something of myself independent of my parents’ fame. I left and haven’t seen my parents since, although I hope deeply that we will be reunited one day.

*

After a short journey, I arrived at the forested area outside of the town of Anchorman and quickly found the perfect place for a single girl wolf to set herself up in. The lair I found was spacious, comfortable and secure, being cut very deeply into a ravine. It had been abandoned by previous tenants a long time ago, but with my strength and endurance I had soon wrestled it into submission and made it comfortable in a modern lupine style. The best feature was just next door; a bubbling creek of hot spring water just perfect for diving into. As soon as I finished my renovations, I dived into it to recoup my energy, which soon came back to me. I make sure to come back to it every time I’ve been in a battle or fight, or on the very rare occasions when I go hunting, just to make sure I can endure long enough for the next one. And I am always more than satisfied with it!

Apparently, though, I hadn’t done something right, because shortly after I moved in to the lair, I was spotted by some birds who tattled about my unscheduled appearance in the woods. Soon, I was summoned by the forest elders to appear in a center clearing to present and explain myself. What had I done, I wondered?

It was nothing serious, however; they just wanted to know my intentions. The lair I currently inhabited, a few years before, had apparently been the home of a nasty wolf who had made himself the terror of the neighborhood and violently imposed his will on the other animals. They finally had to team up to drive him away. Was I going to be the same? I was emphatic in my response.

“Don’t be ridiculous!” I told them. “If I had wanted to impose my will on anybody, which I don’t, I would have started by now, don’t you think? Besides, I was brought up to be a good girl, and I intend to remain that way!”

They seemed to understand, but there was still some skepticism in their eyes. The generations of hunting genes, plus my super-enhanced abilities, gave me the ability to judge their hidden concerns almost immediately.

“What now?” I said, standing on my hind legs and putting my paws on my hips. “Don’t you believe me? Or do you still believe all those old wives’ tales about how vicious wolves are? Let me tell you, there is not an ounce of vicious blood in my body! I’m much more interested in having fun with my life than in terrorizing people- I’d much rather help you than harm you.”

An old elk pointed his hoof at me and made a gesture of contempt with it. I approached him.

“You don’t like me.” I said. “But I understand. My ancestors killed a lot of yours, for food and for sport. That won’t happen with me. I don’t hunt for food. I can exist just as well on plants and berries without disrupting the natural order of things.” Then I turned back to face all of them. “That goes for all of you, too. You’re dealing with a new kind of wolf here- one who wants to be your friend and your protector. I don’t deal in terror, like I said. If you want to bring a corpse back for me to eat, I won’t object; that’s fine. But I will never come into your communities and kill just to satisfy my base animal urges. That’s not my way. I want to be good- and I want all of you to think of me as that. You need an extra set of paws for anything- defense, settlement or whatever, I’ll be there. Just let me be on my own, and I’ll leave you on your own, and we won’t have any problems.”

I had converted them to my cause, and we shook on it. From now on, I would be on their side and they on mine.

*

It was a good thing they were, because I was about to face a couple of challenges that even I, with my enhanced wolf powers, couldn’t necessarily handle entirely on my own. I encountered them both on the same day, to boot: I gained a boyfriend and loyal associate on one set of paws, and a vicious, blood curdling enemy on the other.

It started out pleasantly enough, as I was walking through town on a pretty day. A lot of sensory distractions, if you know what I mean. But I was soon to come across a scene that filled me with horror- and passion- and changed my life forever.

I was alerted to the scene by some high pitched yelps that were unmistakably male in timbre despite their pitch. A swift run later and I found myself smack in the middle of the situation.

At one side was the predator, an enormous female husky with a splotchy white coat. I was a little intimidated since she was even bigger than I was, something I never imagined possible. But I was more interested in her prey because, at another time or place, I would have gone for it myself. It was the male I had just heard yelping. He was more my size, a Malamute with a sexy pelt of black-and-white fur and a pair of blue eyes that were held in the most sensitive and enlightened gaze I had ever seen in a boy. I knew that if I just had a chance to get to know him, we would get along famously, if you get my hint. But first I had to play the gallant rescuer and get him out of that situation. And even with all my physical power, it wouldn’t necessarily be easy, as I’d soon find out.

This became even more clear to me when, after taking a vicious swipe at the boy’s genitals that she only barely missed making, she backed him up against a fence on his hind legs, and, getting on hers, pushed him hard against its wooden back. He whimpered in pain, but she did not desist. Then they both dropped to the ground again and she raised one of her large legs over his head and fixed a tightened grip around his neck.

“You gonna give it to me?” she demanded curtly.

“No!” he said defiantly, in spite of the fact that he was being weighed down by her.

“Nobody says “no” to me, wimp!” she shouted back at him. “You’ll give it to me even if I have to sit on you all night!” And she proceeded to do just that, and while he moaned again, he made no effort to remove her.

I had had enough of this. My wolfish sense of right and wrong was kicking in, and this was just plain wrong. I proceeded to the pair and attempted to make things right.

“All right!” I said to the husky. “Enough of this! Get off of him NOW, before I MAKE you!”

She got up off him, leaving him cowering in the background as we prepared to confront each other in the way girls of our respective species are prone to do when we take a dislike to somebody.

“How DARE you abuse that boy like that!” I shouted with all the indignation I could muster. “Why I ought to…”

Before I could say anything further, she took a swipe. Fortunately, my agility allowed me to duck at the correct moment and she missed me. We then moved closer together, our noses virtually pressed together.

“I don’t let young powder puffs like you get away with that kind of talk!” she growled at me. “You’re awful snotty for a dog, anyhow!”

“Madam..” I answered indignantly “..I am a WOLF!”

“Well, that explains it!” she countered. “You wolves think you’re so much better than us dogs, don’t’cha? Well, listen carefully, runt: I own this town! And if there’s one thing the doggies who live here have learned, it’s not to tangle with Lizzy Husky without regretting it afterward!”

“Angie will tangle with you, Lizzy!” I snapped, pointing my paw at my fulsome chest. “And she won’t regret a single thing!”

My opponent backed up slightly, and then, unleashing a furious guttural roar, sprang at me, while our would-be swain continued to cower in the background. I tried my best to duck again, but she caught me this time. Her enormous power racked my entire body with pain as she punched me hard on the top of my head. I wobbled for a moment but then regained my footing. I fought back by socking her in the head in return, and she felt my strength and felt it hard as she temporarily collapsed on the ground. But she soon got up again and we stared each other down once more.

“You’re tougher than you look!” she said. “Didn’t think a pretty thing like you would want to get her face messed up like this!”

“You would know something about getting your face messed up!” I answered “It’s written all over you!” And it was, judging by all the cuts and slashes on her face. Still, she justifiably took it as the insult it was meant to be. This was made clear to me by the mad dash she promptly made to bury her fangs in my throat, which I thwarted fairly quickly.

“I’m gonna destroy you!” she said, clearly still wanting my blood.

“Not if I destroy you first, you cur!” I responded. “And believe me, it will be my PLEASURE!” I didn’t really mean this, but I was mad, and I wanted to make sure she knew it. She did.

Lizzy got up on her hind legs and motioned to me aggressively. I got on mine and met her challenge immediately. We wrestled for what seemed like hours, although it probably only took just a few minutes. The lead see-sawed between us, given that we were both so strong and also given that, almost immediately after I punched her, or vice versa, the one who was just attacked immediately became the attacker. I would grunt and almost be forced to my knees by her strength and she in turn would almost be forced to hers by mine.

Eventually, though, it was my youth and vigor which triumphed, or so it seemed. I forced her back against a fence, and, breaking her hold, landed a final powerful punch on her nose that I assumed would finish her off for good. However, I hadn’t counted on what she was planning to do next.

Lizzy had crumpled into a ball from my last punch and I assumed she would stay that way. But, naïve as I was, I had completely underestimated her. As soon as I approached her, she sprang up with an astonishing display of agility. I got up on my hind legs again, but we didn’t wrestle this time. Clearly, she knew I was too strong for her, and she’d have to find some other way to defeat me. And she had it. Her green eyes flashed, turning an ominous shade of jade. And, all of a sudden, I was seized by a sharp pain in my body that dropped me on my knees, defeated. Lizzy rubbed salt in the wound by karate kicking me across to the other side of the road.

“You may have the muscles, girl…” she snapped dismissively at me “…but I have the mind! And I’ll use it to break you- and that boy!”

Abruptly she raised a paw heavenward, and, as if by magic, a nearby telephone pole cracked off its base- and headed straight towards the Malamute boy who, still in his scared sheep mode, wasn’t moving a bit. It was up to me to play the gallant rescuer again. Just before the pole could make contact with the ground, or with the boy, I had inserted myself between them. With a great exhibition of muscle power, I prevented the pole from landing on the ground and threw it back, allowing it to return safely to its base with little obvious damage.

I turned around to face my nemesis again, but she was gone. I’d managed to prevent her from destroying the boy who’d been the pawn in this game. Still, she’d defeated me in battle, and wolves don’t take kindly to defeat, especially when villains like her cheat in order to win. But I had more important matters to attend to before I met with her again.

*

Once I had recovered enough vigor to move around, I approached the Malamute boy to have a chat with him. But he had already come towards me, legs and head bowed in the similar submissive position I’d seen him use when Lizzy was threatening him.

“Thank you,” he said, rather too meekly for my liking. I would have preferred more of a challenge, but this was okay too. He was cute enough, but he needed more backbone, more individuality. And if he wanted me to show him how to develop them, then so much the better. First, though, we needed to talk.

“You’re welcome,” I said in my friendliest voice. “Couldn’t let you get crushed like that, now, could I?”

“I guess not.” he said sheepishly.

I laughed at this, gently so as to give him the impression I was laughing with him, not at him. As he got to his feet, I continued to make conversation with him.

“I’m Angie,” I said, simply and directly. “Who are you?”

“Dexter.” he said, with some reluctance.

“Are you afraid of me?” I asked.

He nodded in agreement.

“Like you were of her?”

He nodded again. To reassure him I placed one of my paws around his shoulder in a sympathetic way.

“Well, don’t be!” I said. “I have absolutely no intention of being like that crone. You and I will be friends, partners…equals. I just want to get to know you better.”

He mused over this for a minute and then said:

“Nobody’s ever really told me they want to be my partner, or my equal, for that matter. I like the sound of that.”

“So do I!” I answered.

We stared at each other for a moment before beginning to dance around the snow like a couple of puppies. A spark was there between us, and neither one of us wanted to lose it. Even with my speed and strength, I couldn’t entirely out run him, because he was a Malamute and a sled dog and used to exerting himself with tremendous power at work. Socially, he told me, though, was another matter; he was so submissive when it came to girls that he would let them sit on him, literally, so intimidated was he by them. The idea that I would want an equal boy/girl partnership with him was something he obviously responded to.

Still, though, he had his limits. At one time during our first playtime, we wrestled playfully on our hind legs. He was strong, stronger than I imagined, and he threw me down one time, but my muscles were still bigger, stronger and had greater endurance than his. I slammed him against a tree, and playful feelings started giving way to love. I was driven by lupine lust, and was determined to conquer him with my feminine wiles and power. But he would have none of it. He liked being kissed, but as soon as I wanted to go further, he firmly broke my hold, got on all fours again, and lay down sadly in the snow. I approached him on all fours myself, and he growled viciously at me.

“What is it?” I said innocently.

“I knew you’d try something like that!” he said bitterly.

“What?”

“That you’d try to manhandle me!”

I was shocked. My parents had warned me of the idea that somebody might take advantage of me sexually in an unguarded moment, but I never expected someone would accuse me of trying to do the same. But I knew he was right, and that I was wrong to try to force him to make out with me when clearly he wasn’t ready for it. I would have to apologize to him.

“I’m sorry,” I told him. “I had no idea you were like that.”

“I should have told you at the start.” he said.

“Well, I just assumed that you being a sled dog you would have had….”

“We do give off that impression!” he said, and we laughed it off.

Dexter, it turns out, was and is a virgin, despite my constant and continual efforts to corrupt him; he wants us to be married before he gives himself to me, and I’m fine with that. Because he wouldn’t give it up, he was ridiculed often by his sled dog buddies, but at the heart of it, they respected him for sticking to his guns. Not so most of the ladies in town, especially Lizzy, who looked at him as being a prize for them to win. Lizzy tormented him; like any other bully, she thrived on making him feel weak and unimportant. Because dogs, unlike my race, do not engage in inter-gender combat, and, in fact, idolize the females of their race, he couldn’t lay a paw on her. Undoubtedly, he would have perished if I hadn’t stuck my muscles out for him.

“You were my knight in black fur armor.” he told me.

“Well, I’m going to need a squire.” I told him in return. “Especially if I’m going to engage in combat with your old friend Lizzy. I don’t know if I’m strong enough to battle her alone.”

“I know all about her,” he replied. “Let me help you out.”

“Done.” I said.

And so, we adjourned to my lair to rest and plot what we were to do.

*

Our first stop was my little hot springs pool, and Dexter was very much impressed with it; he only wished there was something like that for him when he got back from his sled dog runs. Just like me, he felt strong and powerful sitting in it and rejuvenated when he got out. We sat for a minute, and then playfully engaged in a game of water polo without the ball; we even pushed each other under the water and wrestled for the fake prize. Then we resurfaced, and I held him firmly as we playfully kissed each other for a minute or so.

Then we entered the lair and sat down, and we talked for hours. We needed to get to know each other better if we were going to be a couple, and we did.

I told him about my background and the source of my super-strength, and how I didn’t need to hunt and kill as much as other wolves due to my special gifts. He seemed relieved about this, although he still seemed somewhat surprised that a “goddess” like me would chose such an “ordinary” boy like him for her mate. However, he wasn’t nearly as “ordinary” as his self-deprecating response to my questions about him would seem, just extremely shy. His puppyhood had been isolated from a lot of the other pups in town, due to the fact that he was his mother’s only child and she was extraordinarily overprotective of him. Eventually, though, he grew up and gained independence from her when he applied to become a sled dog. He was blessed with quick speed, powerful strength, remarkable hearing and extraordinarily crisp and clear vision, so naturally he ended up getting a spot. But the fact that he was a shy and somewhat effeminate boy prevented him from getting too involved or friendly with his colleagues. At least this was so until Spike, the lead dog, made him his deputy, considering that Dexter’s vision was considerably superior to his own and made him an adept navigator and a resourceful and thoughtful assistant. At least when Spike was around, no one questioned Dexter’s gifts and his power, but even Spike couldn’t protect him from being looked over by females, which he found intimidating until he met me.

The most fearsome of these females was Lizzy, of course. It was then that I found out more about her, and especially the touchy relationship she had with my new friend. Lizzy, unfortunately for me, was descended from the same group of wolves that had been empowered by the hot-rock spill of many years ago, but from a rival pack to the one my parents had come from. This was where her father came from, at least, and it was from him that she inherited muscle power clearly superior to mine in many respects. That was troubling enough to me; even with my extraordinary power, she would be a match for me with that alone. But that wasn’t all. Her mother had apparently also been involved in the spill and, as a sled dog, it affected her differently. Her strength was unaffected, but she gained extraordinary mental abilities that she passed on to Lizzy. Lizzy was therefore not only super strong physically but she was able to manipulate others mentally in a variety of ways. First of all, she could emanate rays from her brain and eyes that wounded her opponents and robbed them temporarily of their strength; clearly, this was how she defeated me in our first battle. Then there was the projection of her fearsome howl into an ear-shattering dirge that silenced any verbal opposition she had. And finally, and most scarily, she possessed the power to render opponents immobile simply by staring intently into their eyes; it made it easier for them to remain still as she tore them apart. Once she got into heat, this was combined with a fearsome sexual passion that made her Public Enemy #1 around Anchorman. After all, her super abilities and sexual passions, plus her essentially fearsome personality, did not necessarily mean that she would be on the side of the good. She quickly became the uncontested Queen of Crime, and gathered around her both girls and boys who shared her aims- and, apparently, her urges. Spike, to his credit, had engaged in a brief affair with her and tried to reform her, but she refused to go straight; all he ended up getting from the affair was a nasty case of tapeworm. He advised Dexter to stay away from her and guard himself if she advanced on him. Inevitably, she did, because his black-and-white fur and blue eyes were too much for her to resist. He turned her down sternly, and she began attacking him when he resisted her. That’s when I came in and saved the day, so to speak.

Once I got the whole story, I was unusually demoralized. I sat down on all fours and looked out passively to the door of the lair. I felt weak and impotent for the first time in my life, and I didn’t like it. But Dexter would not let me wallow in my sadness as he so often had in his. To him, I was too good to suffer like that.

“You’ll beat her- and I’ll help you.” he said softly and tenderly. “All we need to do is figure out how to do it. And I’ll be with you all the way. You let me know I wasn’t alone in life, and now I’m letting you know that it’s just the same for you.”

“Thank you,” I said, stroking his tousled head affectionately. Then we went to sleep, my strong right forearm pulled tightly and affectionately around his powerful body.

*

We awoke the following morning to the stinging smell of smoke and the crackling of burning wood. Right away I knew what was going on: the forest was on fire!

This was obvious as soon as Dexter and I got out of the lair. Flames were licking the ground rapidly and moving towards the trees that had not been consumed. There was already a large area before us that had been clearly and tightly singed. I knew something had to be done, or the forest animals, seeking revenge on a scapegoat, might finger me as the culprit. Some of them, I knew, still bore grudges against my race due to past experience, and they’d no doubt use this as a pretext to throw me out of the neighborhood. I didn’t tell Dexter this, but I didn’t need to; he saw it all in my face. But thankfully, he’d had experience with this; he’d helped rescue victims of fire before, and he knew exactly what to do, as I quickly found out.

“You go and try to get the folks out that haven’t been burned yet.” he said. “I’ll see if I can help out the ones that are still here.”

“Are you sure this will work?” I said “Don’t we need to stop the flames first?”

“We can kill the fire later,” he said, with a surprising level of control and confidence that I quickly came to admire. “We have to get the victims out first.”

There was no need for further discussion, and I quickly set to work at my assigned task while he went off to his. Quickly warning my neighbors in the northern woods of the conflagration, I helped get them out to a safe area while trying to contain the path of the fire. But it was a battle I couldn’t fight alone, and soon the flames were starting to lick my body. I feared I would be consumed as my breath became shorter, but Dexter came to my aid soon afterwards. He had found a bucket and with it had scooped up water from my pool and, bless him, had run all the way up to rescue me. The flames were soon out as he overturned the bucket and dropped the liquid sanctuary on the fire. Then I got my friends out from their hiding places, and he and I returned to my lair to survey the damage.

When we got there, I was surprised to see us embraced as heroes by the little squirrels and chipmunks who lived in the area nearest to me and were the first ones victimized by the fire. As soon as I had left on my mission, and before he came up to save me, Dexter had alerted the residents of the tree to their danger and helped them escape it before it was consumed by the flames. They were grateful to him, but did not know his name, and asked me to introduce them.

“Oh.” I said “Well, that’s my boyfriend, Dex….ter?”

The shift in my tone from praise to concern happened because in the interim, my beloved was captured and gagged by a shadowy felon, who was out of sight before I could rescue him. All the villain left behind was a note that robbed my cheeks of what little color they had. It said:

YOUR ASSOCIATE IS OURS NOW

IF YOU WISH TO SEE HIM ALIVE AGAIN, BE AT

THE HAMILTON IRONWORKS AT SUNDOWN

LIZZY WILL DEAL WITH HIM- AND YOU- THEN

JUST LIKE SHE DEALT WITH YOUR HOME NOW

My friends asked me what was going on and I explained. As much as I would like to help them clean up from the fire, I said, I had to take care of something first.

“What?” they asked.

“I must rescue Dexter from the vicious creatures who captured him…” I said ominously “…AND started this fire!”

*

I came alone, armed only with my physical power, to the decrepit old ironworks that evening. The facility had been abandoned for years, obviously a victim of an ever changing and unstable economy, and its disuse made it a boon for people hiding out from the law, such as certain canine criminals. Clearly Lizzy wanted a showdown, to finalize our differences and possession of Dexter’s affections (at least as she saw it) once and for all. And I would be more than willing to fight for any and all of those things.

Sure enough, Lizzy arrived soon afterward, protectively guarded by a phalanx of her toughest followers. And they had Dexter, bound with chains on his legs and gagged with a rag in his mouth. Lizzy eyed him with highly suggestive eyes, clearly noting with her leer what she wanted to do with him. He was clearly aghast at the idea, as was I. I wanted to kill her right on the spot but, surrounded as I was by her thugs who eyed me suspiciously, I could only move with caution.

Right after that, Lizzy dismissed her entourage, indicating that this fight was between “me and the wolf.” But, to intimidate me, Dexter remained. He was stuck upright on the back of a board, so that he could better witness, it seemed, the demise she had in mind for me. After all, the ironworks was located on a high cliff, and anyone who fell off that cliff met certain death. Both of us would have to negotiate our moves with caution.

On all fours we advanced towards each other, and I got right to the point.

“YOU!” I snapped at her. “You were the one who started that fire, didn’t you? You knew I’d be occupied rescuing everybody, and that way you could sneak in and take Dexter! You knew I loved him and wouldn’t want to see him hurt! And you especially knew that the idea of you deflowering him was something I couldn’t possibly stand. This was all a trick- a trick that you set up to get me out here so you could destroy me! Well, you got me here, sister- but I won’t be defeated without a fight!”

Lizzy stood on her hind legs and clapped her forepaws together.

“Very good, Wolf!” she answered “You passed this test! But I’m afraid you won’t be passing any more of them!”

“Oh, no?” I responded, getting prepared to fight on my hind legs.

“No!” she said with a definite edge of menace. “I would have had old Dexter lined up to my cause if you hadn’t made him your cuddlemuffin! Ergo, I have to eliminate you to get to him. He deserves to have a girl with a better bloodline, anyhow!”

“And what is that supposed to mean?” I answered.

“Just this- I’m better than you and always will be!”

“That’s tough talk- coming from some one who’s all cur and no class!”

That was it! She lunged at me and we were off and running, again.

It was basically like when we met a couple of days earlier, but things were slightly more against me this time. I could see that she had spent a lot of time saving her strength, and could feel her increasingly renewed power as we wrestled. Even with my grit and determination at their highest, I couldn’t hold her back for long, and the stress of dealing with the fire and Dexter’s capture had rubbed by nerves raw, and so my overtaxed muscles weren’t necessarily in the mood for a fight. Sure enough, I was down on my knees soon enough as she stood, gloating over me in what was for her a moment of triumph.

“You know” she mused “Maybe I’ll let you and the boy have each other. You are a couple of weaklings after all.”

If she was trying to goad me into battle again, it worked! Reinvigorated, I lunged for her throat and we began to fight again. My anger renewed my strength, and I soon had her in the position I had been in only moments before. A solid punch from my paw and she was soon clutching herself in pain, wounded.

But suddenly came another reversal for me. Her eyes flashed total green as I laid my paw on her again, and I was thrown up into the air, rotated a couple of times, and then thrown flat on the ground. Then my legs became rigid and I was transformed into a statue. I couldn’t move a muscle.

This was exactly was Lizzy wanted. She came up to me and unsheathed her claws. With one powerful, debilitating stroke, she cut a gaping hole on the side of my face. The pain racked my body, and immediately I felt a weakening sensation, but the spell I was under prevented me from moving. Clearly she was going to beat me to death, and I could do nothing to retaliate. Then she began punching me in the face repeatedly, and I became weaker and weaker with each blow. The loud, vicious laughter in her ears reminded me that I was beaten and that, just as she wanted, I was front and center at my own demise. And I could do nothing to stop it.

Fortunately, while I could do nothing to stop it, I had a friend who could. Dexter was seeing all of this going on, and he was seized with fury as he saw me being beaten. With a tremendous effort he broke his chains, spit out the rag in his mouth, and commanded Lizzy’s attention with a furious growl.

“Get back there!” she ordered him as he advanced on him. “I own you now!”

But he was no longer afraid of her; I had shown him the way, and he was acting it out. He advanced on her with violent intent, based on the fact that she had harmed me so badly.

“Don’t try nothing stupid, Malamute!” she said impotently. “You’re not supposed to hit ladies!”

“Which is something you’re not!” he shouted in her face.

And he brought his powerful right paw down on her head, striking her over the head sharply. The spell she had cast over me was broken, and I was free once again. I lunged at her, and this time she was the one who was not in a position to fight back. With Dexter watching on and encouraging me, I got my revenge. I cut her as viciously as she had cut me, and gave her a beating worthy of a wolf with super strength. I had held back for too long based on my fear of committing criminal violence, but it didn’t matter anymore. For all she had done, she deserved to be whipped soundly by me. And she was.

Just before I could close in for the satisfaction of the kill, however, Lizzy tricked me one more time. With what remained of her strength, she threw herself off the cliff, howling as she did, and fell hundreds of feet, presumably to her death.

Dexter looked down the cliff after it happened, and he summed things up .

“She’s gone now.” he said rather solemnly. “You’re safe now, Ang’.”

“You too, Dex.” I said. “Don’t forget- she hurt you as much as she did me. Mental wounds hurt as much as physical ones. But I wasn’t in any position to beat her on my own; she would have finished me off for sure if you hadn’t come to my rescue.”

“You needed the help,” he said modestly. “And I wasn’t going to let a few chains hold me back.”

“Now, I don’t want you saying anything bad about yourself any more.” I warned him. “You are a brave dog and a hero. Nobody can say that you’re not. And if anyone still thinks that way, I’ll rough ‘em up for you.”

“Same here,” he answered. “You’re my hero. I wouldn’t have done most of the stuff I did over the past couple of days if you hadn’t shown me how to be myself and that I can really matter to people if I help make a difference. But I don’t know about that whole “roughing up” thing.”

We laughed loud, cathartically and therapeutically.

“Listen,” I said “I know what will help us both.”

“I know what you mean.” he said. “Race you there.”

“You’re on!” I said.

We headed off for the security and the comfort of my hot springs pool. From now on, it would be forward for us into the future. Who knows what troubles we would face? But we no longer had to fear the future- we had each other now, and for the time being, that was all that mattered.

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Kim Falconer  

Posted by Scott Wilson

Scott: Thank you so much taking the time to chat with us here at The Fringe magazine. I’ve recently finished reading your latest novel, Road to The Soul and thoroughly enjoyed it. How hard was it to write the sequel to Path of the Stray?

Photo by Jodi Osborne

Kim: It’s great to be here, Scott!

Road to the Soul was just that—a deep and convoluted journey into the nature of being. I’d planned to write about the Southern Continent of Gaela for years and I put a fair bit of pressure on myself to pull off this part of the series. It’s vast in scope, on one level, and very intricate and sub-atomic on another. Getting the balance right, and making sure the story was true to the spirit of the first series, was a constant challenge. I loved doing it though. Every minute of it. This is to date my most ‘heartfelt’ book, at least for me as a writer.

Scott: You have quite a full life, with your Astrology Website, your work as an author, your extensive study of alternative health, quantum physics, Jungian Psychology, just to name a few. How do you manage to fit so many past times into your life?

Kim: Ha! After being a mum for eighteen years, there is a LOT of free time when meals and laundry and taxi services are no longer required. But basically I am a doer, a Gemini, someone who likes to keep busy. The more deadlines I have, the more I get done. What did Leonard Bernstein say? “Achievement requires two things; a plan, and not quite enough time.” That’s me. That’s my motto.

Scott: A lot of new writers often ask about the amount of pages or words that a published author produces each day. How much time would you spend writing on a typical day, (if a typical day exists for a writer that is)?

Kim: I have three different kinds of typical days: first draft writing, edits and proofs. With first drafts, I write three thousand words a day, no exceptions. That’s ten pages a day, seven days a week. Sometimes it takes me four hours to get there, sometimes ten, but that’s what I work to and I’m very strict about it. I get the story down fast, in a couple of months. The editing is much slower. I might spend an hour on one paragraph! Generally I do thirty pages a day on subsequent drafts which is about eight to twelve hours and sixty pages a day when I get proofs from my editor. That’s more like ten or twelve hours.

But the process of writing isn’t confined to my time at the keyboard. No matter what I’m doing, the story is with me and I’m nutting out scenes and dialog in my head. My friends find it weird that midsentence I might pull out a notepad and jot something down. They’re used to it now though.

Scott: I love the photo of you on your astrology website, standing on the beach with a Katana? Can you tell us about your ability as a swordsperson?

Kim: It is a katana, not a ‘live’ blade. I wouldn’t want to lose a limb while training!

I started practicing Iaido, the way of the sword, when an early reader told me I had a fabulous story with ‘The Spell of Rosette’ (my first novel) but I didn’t know squat about sword fighting. The training—over the last seven years, has been both grueling and amazing. I choreograph all the sword scenes in my novels now (Yes, that one with Jarrod too!). Whatever my characters do, I’ve done, though maybe not as fast. Just to be clear, I’ve never killed anyone with my sword. 

Scott: How do you approach your writing? Do you tend to develop a story in your mind and then proceed to conduct some research or is more of an organic method where you write the story first and research any technical aspects later?

Kim: My stories develop like any universe. They start out a seething mass of organic soup and slowly the topography, creatures and characters emerge. As they crawl onto land and start doing things, I have to research to keep up. As an example, yesterday I had two characters on a beach having a little down time after a freaking intense action sequence. They were diving for oysters and when it came time to eat then I went blank. I know what to do with abalone and scallops and clams but had to quickly learn how to shuck an oyster. (I watched a demo on Youtube. How good is the internet!)

In my new series, the idea began with a conversation with my son. We were talking about Amassia, how the Earth’s continents would all come back together in about 250,000,000 years and how each great extinction created opportunities for surviving species. We wondered what it would be like if one of those species lived underwater. That series is at the proposal stage now and much of it was brainstormed prior to writing. When developing a story, all roads potentially lead to Rome. I hope to travel every one of them before I’m through!

Scott: As a writer it is interesting to hear what other writers read in their spare time. It is often surprising to hear the genres and variety of books other authors read. Can you tell us what are you reading at the moment and what you five favorite books are?

Kim: Oh, only five! I have five thousand favourites!

Right now I’m reading The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood. It was her first novel and I’m totally immersed. I just finished Alison Goodman’s Singing the Dog Star Blues. It’s YA and a wonderful read.

My top five books, if I must narrow it down: The Silver Metal Lover, by Tanith Lee. She is a beautiful and poetic writer with a sharp spec Fic edge. Major hero worship here. Dragon Flight, by Anne McCaffrey, Jitterbug Perfume, by Tom Robins, The Importance of Being Ernest, by Oscar Wilde. (This is so esoteric!) and Dead to the World by Charlaine Harris. (Harris takes my mind on the perfect holiday)

Scott: How hard was it to switch over from writing books on astrology and herbal medicine to fantasy novels?

Kim: Pretty hard. I had developed the tools to deliver nonfiction articles and books but novel writing is a whole different world. I wrote three or four complete manuscripts before writing one that attracted a publisher. People don’t realise writing is as challenging and complex as brain surgery. You have to work on the cadavers first, learn all the anatomy and physiology and bio-chem of prose and storytelling before you cut a live one! It takes practice. I mean, nonfiction is objective, intellectual but fiction asks for more. It asks for your whole heart.

Scott: If you were stranded on a desert island, what five authors would you like to have as companions and why?

Kim: OMG really! I love this scenario. Tanith Lee because she’s a quirky genius storyteller. We would never be bored! Charlaine Harris, so I can find out what happens with Sookie and Eric. Nazim Hikmet because he would remind me of the world outside, and my responsibility to it. Joss Whedon because we could talk about turning my books into scripts and he so ‘gets’ strong women, and Keanu Reeves (do I have to explain this?) And yes, he’s a ghost writer! Or was that his Aunt Julia?

Scott: I love the tattoo you have of the black cat on your arm. Is the tattoo of one of your pets and what is the fascination with felines?

Kim: The feline tattoo is Bast, sometimes called Ubasti, the Egyptian goddess of sun and moon. Why do I find felines fascinating? I love them, have always loved them and there is something wondrous about an animal that can express pleasure through purring. I mean, we launch satellites to the far reaches of the Kuiper Belt but we don’t know how cats purr. How cool is that!

Scott: Thank you very much for your time. I look forward to your next book.

Thank you Scott! It was a pleasure chatting!

BOOK REVIEW: The Dead 2: The Enemy  

Posted by Scott Wilson

Title: The Dead 2: The Enemy


Author: Charlie Higson

Publisher: Penguin

RRP: $19.95

ISBN: 9780141325040

Release Date: Sept 2010



Description:

A TERRIBLE DISEASE IS STRIKING EVERYONE OVER THE AGE OF FOURTEEN. DEATH WALKS THE STREETS. NOWHERE IS SAFE.



Maxie, Blue and the rest of the Holloway crew aren't the only kids trying to escape the ferocious adults who prey on them.

Jack and Ed are best friends, but their battle to stay alive tests their friendship to the limit as they go on the run with a mismatched group of other kids – nerds, fighters, misfits. And one adult. Greg, a butcher, who claims he's immune to the disease.

They must work together if they want to make it in this terrifying new world. But as a fresh disaster threatens to overwhelm London, they realize they won't all survive.

'Higson has got the balance of blood and gore just right.' Daily Mirrror



'Clever . . . fast-paced . . . inventive.' Guardian



Visit the-enemy.co.uk for more gore . . .

Visit the author online at: charliehigson.co.uk

Review:



The Dead 2: The Enemy is the sequel to Charlie Higson’s first zombie novel, The Dead. To fully understand and enjoy this book I’d highly recommend picking up a copy of the first book in the series before tackling this one. As with the first book, I’d say it is written more in the style of an adult book rather than the YA audience due to the graphic nature and language.



We see the kids fighting against the usual zombie dangers along with some new enemies and friends in The Enemy. They also meet an adult, Greg, who seems to be unaffected by the zombie virus, but he isn’t the full quid regardless.



This is a great sequel and the actions of the kids sit true with how you would expect a group of kids and young teens to act if they were left to fend for themselves in the face of adversity. Higson has really nailed this genre and if you like zombie stories then you’ll love this one.

BOOK REVIEW: The Dead  

Posted by Scott Wilson

Title: The Dead


Author: Charlie Higson

Publisher: Penguin

RRP: $16.95

ISBN: 9780141325033

Release Date: Sept 2010



Description:

A terrible disease is striking everyone over the age of fourteen.

Death walks the streets.

Nowhere is safe.

Maxie, Blue and the rest of the Holloway crew aren't the only kids trying to escape the ferocious adults who prey on them.

Jack and Ed are best friends, but their battle to stay alive tests their friendship to the limit as they go on the run with a mismatched group of other kids - nerds, fighters, misfits. And one adult. Greg, a butcher, who claims he's immune to the disease.

They must work together if they want to make it in this terrifying new world. But as a fresh disaster threatens to overwhelm London, they realize they won't all survive.

Visit the-enemy.co.uk for more gore . .

Review:



The Dead is a new spin on the zombie genre, with only those over 14 being affected by the zombie plague. While the main characters in this novel are all YA, I think that the book is more suited to the adult audience than the YA audience. As a good zombie novel, there are a lot of dark themes and gore, blood and guts. There are also quite a lot of profanities in the language used by the kids, which is understandable seeing as how they are fighting for their lives. I enjoyed this book very much but would not be giving it to my kids to read due to the language and gore.



The book is set in London where a disease had killed off all adults and turned them into flesh eating zombies. The surviving kids set up base in a local supermarket, yeh I know, not a very original setting for a zombie story but let’s face it, if you were in the same situation a shopping centre has more supplies than most places. After a year of surviving in this refuge, the older youths have to start venturing further from base to find supplies to keep the group alive. They eventually have to leave to find somewhere else, which happens to be Buckingham Palace.



Higson writes a left of centre book with unexpected twists and turns. There are no Red Shirts in this novel as characters get killed off no matter who they are major or minor players. It is a real Lord of the Flies type scenario but with far more danger and excitement for the reader.

Wild flowers bloomed under a sky of purest blue, seeming to come alive by the artist’s hand. Muttering as she painted the bright colors, working a spell with each stroke of the brush, the mural was finally completed. The artist stood back to inspect her work, to assess if what she had done was good. It was. She smiled.

In times that had come and gone with the painting of the mural, she had achieved moments of perfection, and in that perfection the painting could be used to her ends. It was so fair a rendering of that fine, wide meadow that she could turn her mind fully upon it, and in so doing she could make herself a part of it. Lynn Weigenmeister had just completed what was to be a portal, a magical doorway.

Satisfied with what she had done, she collected the tools of her labors and she took it all down to the kitchen for a thorough cleaning as the mural dried in the cool air of a pleasant summer morning. But even as Miss Weigenmeister tried to busy herself, she could not keep her mind from the portal.

“Oh bugger it all,” she said, surprising herself with the sudden outburst. “I wonder if it’s time yet.”

Hiking up the skirts of her floral print, summer dress, she made her way over to a particular bookcase where she kept things that looked too dusty for any real interest or use. From the shelves she retrieved a leather bound book, the place marked by a flower taken from the field where her wall flowers grew.

Opening to the page and absently reading a script written long ago, she said to the book, “Well, I traded Beatrice a bushel of my best apples, a dozen jars of canned tomatoes, and a few private spells of my own. I hope you prove worth the effort.”

Removing the sprig of flower from the page, she sped up the stairs to the narrow hallway where earth and sky made beauty and magic together. Even then, even after so short a time, the enchantment was already at work. Vines thickened and flowers bloomed. Trees reached into the sky. The sun came to its zenith, chasing away the morning dew. Looking at it, Miss Weigenmeister thought that she could almost feel a breeze.

Then her mind caught upon the argument and she could feel a breeze. In that way the spell began upon its own accord. She opened the book and read aloud the passages that gave it strength and allowed its power to build. The breeze blew and she lost herself to it, like sailing upon the windswept heights on a winter’s night. It caught her and it took her away to another place and the spell was done.

“That was easy,” Miss Weigenmeister said, snapping the book shut. “All that fuss over nothing. Sometimes I’m little more than a silly girl.”

It was then she realized she had another problem. “How do I get back?” she asked herself, screwing up her face and looking around for inspiration. None came.

In fact, as she stared about the small meadow in which she found herself, the nearby stand of old maples, the small creek that ran noisily three or four steps away, Miss Weigenmeister realized that she wasn’t at all in the pleasant meadow of her painting. She had been transported somewhere else. Fortunately she was in the habit of visiting the nearby forests and fields and was reasonably certain she knew where she was.

“Well, a ride home might be easy enough to find, but how could I ever explain how I came to lose myself here? That’s a fine question, isn’t it?” Thinking, she absently tapped her foot on the ground.

“Well, that’s just another fine mess,” she groaned as the pain in her bare foot told her that she had stepped on a twig.

“All right, time to take a moment and gain a little perspective, I think.” She bit her lip and rolled her fingers over the thick cover of the book, forgetting her lesser problems and thinking.

“You, my friend,” she said, addressing the book, “are the real difficulty, of course. I can’t just leave you here, not even under a tree or in a hole somewhere. Things like you have a habit of being found under the strangest circumstances, and that is a risk I am simply not willing to take. Beatrice would kill me.”

Sitting on the ground, as unhappy with herself now as she had been pleased with the easy success of the spell just a moment ago, she said, “Perhaps I could try to make myself bigger when I change. Perhaps I could make myself large enough to carry you. And if I did that and I flew, as they say, as the crow flies, I could probably avoid…”

The sound of a voice brought an end to her mutterings. It was a groan mixed with some very filthy words. Miss Weigenmeister sat low in the flowers, hoping the floral print of her dress would act as a hunter’s green in the wild. The man swore once again, but instead of feeling sympathy, Miss Weigenmeister felt something else. She had an innate ability, perhaps as well named a curse, for finding trouble and she had the overwhelming feeling that she had found trouble indeed.

“Well,” she said to herself as the man sat upright, “as glad I am that I did take cover from unfriendly eyes. Your eyes don’t seem very friendly if I may trust in my own to judge the difference.”

“And they are naked,” she added in disgust as the man stood and started to walk away, his condition no longer masked by fortuitous obstructions. Biting her lip to stifle a laugh, she corrected herself, “I suppose eyes are usually naked, leastways if they are skinned, but the rest of him shouldn’t be naked too.”

The man scratched himself in an improper place and Miss Weigenmeister winced. “It’s the Coach,” she said. She moved sideways, putting the wide trunk of a maple tree between them for added cover, shielding her eyes to avoid the displeasure of seeing any more than was necessary.

“There’s nothing for it,” she told the book as the man moved deeper into the forest and out of sight. “I must leave you to your own devices. I must follow him. I hope you come to no mischief.”

Finding a dry spot far enough from the creek, Miss Weigenmeister set the book down and was about to cover it with a large, flat rock when the breeze again began to blow. Somehow it felt like the same breeze that had blown in front of the mural. Just as she thought she would be transported back, the book flipped open and its pages fluttered in the breeze. In the fluttering of the pages it was very much like the way her dress fluttered in the breeze.

“Oh,” she said, realizing the hint, “I didn’t think of that. So I should take care of the dress and you at the same time? Or maybe it is better to say that you will look after the dress for me? Thank you, book. I think that is a fine idea.”

Checking to see if the man was out of sight, she lifted off her dress and, snapping it smartly to shake out the wrinkles, she set it upon the air. The dress hung before her, and she smoothed and flattened it in modest appreciation of the lovely print and the flattering cut and the well worked seams that had been sewn by her own hand.

“You won’t let my favorite summer dress get stained?” she asked the book with a tone of voice that was sterner than she was used to employ. Though there was no reply, she felt reasonably assured, and started upon the weave of magic. At once the dress began to fill, and became within the confines of fabric and air the shape of a woman.

“Well, you didn’t have to be so well proportioned,” Miss Weigenmeister said as she inspected her work. “But I suppose I shouldn’t be jealous. Now, book, you should be off. We must all make haste as is proper in such times. Do try to stay out of danger.”

Tucking the book under the invisible arm of the dress and smoothing the last of the wrinkles from the fabric at the knee, she turned and began to prepare her mind for the next task. Speaking the ancient words of the transformation, the change already taking shape, she leaped up into the air. With a flick or her wrists, feathers grew broad and black, sending her high into the sky.

Having made the change into a crow, Miss Weigenmeister circled toward the dress and the book, cawed twice and gave a quick wink to say farewell, and was off to the spot where the man had been. She found his scent easily enough. It was hard to miss with her crow’s sense of smell. Circling above, something closer to the road caught her eye. It was a dead animal, a young deer. Its spots were not yet faded to the tawny brown of late fawn. The man’s smell was rank upon the deer so she went to have a look.

“Strange,” she said to herself, “the wounds look as if the poor thing was attacked by a dog, perhaps even a wolf, but the gut is intact. Any dog or wolf would have eaten the organs first. It doesn’t make sense.”

She looked the carcass over in closer study. “But how do you explain the smell? He’s a man. He certainly wouldn’t have rolled around in it, would he? That’s not a thing a man would do, not even the Coach.”

She saw something dark, down below the neck from where the kill had been made. Using her beak to get at it, she removed the item. “If I had a guess, I’d say that was a toenail from a dog. What can it all mean?”

Shocked by her revelation, after the Coach she went, flapping her wings hard to rise high above the trees. The chase led three miles to a small hunting cabin deep in the woods. As Miss Weigenmeister settled upon the roof to listen and to wait, the Coach went inside and straight to bed.

#

Early that evening there were signs of activity within the cabin, but the Coach didn’t appear until the sun had set, leaping from a window in the shape of a large wolf. His coat was mottled black, melting into the darkness as he sped away.

“But it’s only a quarter moon by my calculations,” said Miss Weigenmeister as she took to the air. The darkening sky had thickened with clouds and thunder boomed in the distance. The blowing wind was already troubling her flight. “I see that much is puzzling about our Coach.”

Despite what appearance suggests, crows are poorly adapted to the night, preferring to live their lives by the light of day. As she trailed after the wolf, Miss Weigenmeister was ever dodging leaves and branches and only narrowly avoided disaster far too many times to count. The wolf traveled quickly in the dark and she could not keep up. Soon he had disappeared. By then there was little doubt of the direction. The Coach was headed toward the school.

Coming to the realization, Miss Weigenmeister said, “I fear his taste for blood has returned. He intends some mischief this night and there can be no doubt. He has an evil heart and no fawn will be enough to satisfy.”

Taking to the sky far above the trees, the rain starting to beat down upon her, the crow flew to the school. All was quiet, the activities within ended. But the Coach’s scent was thick and recent, and even torrents of rain couldn’t wash away her suspicions.

A car was stopped at the far end of the parking lot, its headlights shining into the thick forest beyond, lighting the raindrops as they fell to the earth. From the direction of the forest came the sounds of a struggle, a girl’s frightened call and an angry growl.

“The villain must have tricked her into stopping, played the wounded animal and preyed upon her sympathy,” said Miss Weigenmeister as she followed. “If he gets her down in that ravine, she’ll be too far from any chance of aid the road and traffic may provide, but then he didn’t count on me.”

Lightning flashed. Miss Weigenmeister saw that the wolf had a grip on the wide bottom of the girl’s jeans. He was pulling her away from the parking lot, down into the ravine as Miss Weigenmeister had feared. The girl was struggling to get away, but the Coach was able to keep her off balance, taking her down the slope.

In the next moment Miss Weigenmeister dove, clawing the wolf’s eyes. He thrashed his head, fending her off, but keeping a firm grip on the girl’s leg.

“Wow, that was fast,” said Miss Weigenmeister to herself. “I thought nothing could beat a crow, but I see tonight I may have met my match.”

Righting herself in the air, she turned and renewed her attack. This time she tore at the wolf’s nose with her claws, then rounded to poke at his eyes with her beak.

Shocked and pained by his bloodied nose, the wolf let go of the girl, twisting away from the nightmare bird as she sought to peck out his eyes. Rolling over onto his back, the Coach struck the crow with a heavy paw.

Stunned, Miss Weigenmeister hit the ground. Thinking only to save herself by motion, she scrambled backward on the wet earth. When lightening flashed next, she spotted a hawthorn bush nearby. The wolf lunged at her, slipping on the muddy slope of the ravine, missing the killing grip with his jaws and tossing the crow into the air.

Miss Weigenmeister fluttered her wings toward the thorny bush, desperate to find cover before she blacked out from the pain. At last she made it, pushing in as deep as she dared amongst the cruel spikes. The Coach jabbed his paw into the bush after her, hitting Miss Weigenmeister again and again on the head and body, but unable to drive her into the open. A car engine revved.

The wolf stopped, listening, then ran off up the ravine after the girl. Tires spun on wet pavement and there was a sharp yelp. Miss Weigenmeister pulled herself deeper into the bush, finding safety amongst the thorns. She smiled as she heard a long, frustrated howl, and then her inner light faded, and she knew no more.

When she woke late the next morning, Miss Weigenmeister found herself under the protection of the hawthorn. Her leg was broken and her wing was severely sprained. Her head ached. But it could have been worse. The Coach had been stopped if not defeated, but the girl had escaped, which at the moment was good enough to be considered a victory.

With nothing but a few local herbs with which to remedy the hurts she had suffered in the fight, Miss Weigenmeister worked what spells she could and found that she was able to make short flights with only mild discomfort. Keeping the guise of a crow, she made her way home by early evening. Finally she collapsed upon the sofa, ready for a little tea and perhaps a special brew from her garden.

Almost in response to the mental image, a noise made her sit up. She scolded herself for not checking as thoroughly as she should have when entering the house and making the change back into a woman. But then, coming from the kitchen was not an intruder but her own summer dress, holding a tray and a service of tea for two.

The End

FICTION: The Call - Part 3 By MJ Wesolowski  

Posted by Scott Wilson

Jess awoke in the pitch blackness of the main cavern. She was curled into a corner, beneath a rough overhang of solid rock, swaddled in several layers of rough army-issue blankets that had been salvaged during the flight to sanctity from above ground. She could hear Erik’s faint snoring from a few feet away, Louis was perched high in a tree, half a mile from the mineshaft, watching the sky.

This had been the third time tonight that Jess’ sleep had been disturbed; she was still finding it difficult to get used to the steady dripping of water underground, but it was not that that had awoken her. It was another of the dreams.

It was daytime, morning; Jess, Erik and Louis were somewhere in the forest that lay above the mine. Jess was not sure exactly where in the forest they were, but the place had a lingering familiarity, as if it held some bague significance. Jess was standing in a small clearing, the ground was spongey and uneven, a bed of fallen leaves and pine needles. Louis and Erik lay still, at crumpled angles a few feet away from each other. Their faces were pressed to the floor and their torsos were drenched in blood from the identical open wounds that severed the skin on their throats. Jess was panting, out of breath, but a hideous sense of accomplishment filled her; the pride a cat displays, by its gifts of crumpled, fear-slain creatures at the foot of the bed or the tiny, feathered corpses draped ghoulishly on a doormat.

For the third time, Jess awoke; panic and guilt churning together in her mind and the pride of the kill cooling rapidly to a chilling guilt. Her companions’ deaths were like an offering and she dared not speculate further.

Erik’s snoring dissolved her panic as reality crowded out the remnants of the dream but her heart still beat feverishly. It was only a dream, but the same dream, night after night. In the darkness of the cave, Jess began to cry, silently. A great yearning began to tug at her heartstrings; she wished Cal was here, he would have been able to explain it; he would have known what to do.

* * *

Cal was the first person Jess had met after she’d fled from the remnants of her home town. She had walked until the backdrop of black smoke that churned from the burning buildings disappeared into the horizon. She walked quickly, automatically, down the middle of the silent motorways; passing blackened metal shells that were once cars. When the roads broke into the countryside, she kept going, trance-like, detouring through fields, drinking the green, still water from cow troughs and when night fell, she slept beside dry-stone walls. Her dreams were always of the death she had run from as the shining craft gathered in the skies above her home and rained down their faceless destruction until all was ashes. After the third day of walking, she had met Cal, just like that, he appeared before her, just off a country lane, sitting alone, before a small fire. A tall, bearded man in his early thirties, dressed in a long, army greatcoat, matted coils of hair hanging like wire down his back. Weak with hunger and her brow wet with a fever, Jess had simply collapsed into Cal’s arms and awoke several days later under the khaki green canvas of a small tent.

“Drink this,” Cal had said, kneeling before Jess, holding out a small flask of water. “we have to keep moving.”

As Jess and Cal continued their journey through the eerie silence of the countryside, they did not speak much. Cal refused to let Jess dwell on where she had come from, the death that had taken from her everything she knew and loved; he told her to do that would be their own end. Cal carried the rolled up tent in a gigantic rucksack and Jess carried the rolls of rough blankets that had covered her at night.

“Right,” Cal had said, as they trudged onward around the rim of a half-grown cornfield, “we’re headed five miles north of here; there’s a stone circle and a village. If there’s any more survivors, we’ll find them there.”

Cal was a quiet and determined type; he rarely spoke and even more rarely answered when Jess asked him questions. She suspected he was either suffering from some sort of post traumatic stress or from a form of autism. From their stilted conversations along the way, she had gathered that Cal had been far from the cities when the call had come. He had watched from afar as the Cigar-shaped craft had gathered in the sky; before tanks and soldiers had marched to the cities to meet their doom. Despite his eccentricity, Cal was a master of survival; he showed jess which berries and leaves from the hedgerows were safe to eat; he knew how to trap rabbits with a small, homemade snare. He knew the most sheltered places to pitch the tent and the techniques to keep warm and dry when the heavens opened or the wind screeched around them with bitter nails. The biggest reason Jess stayed beside Cal on the long treks through open countryside was that, in his idiosyncratic way, he made her feel safe; she knew that if they strayed into trouble along the way, Cal would have a solution to it.

Cal carried a ragged map around his neck in a tattered rambler’s pouch. The map was heavily annotated with spidery script that Cal would stop occasionally and consult; sometimes this would go on for hours; Jess would have to wait as Cal pored over the map, crossing out and writing more notes, muttering to himself the whole time. He appeared to have an indication where they were headed, trudging forcefully along slim, stone-lined paths as weeds whipped at his boots, his sodden coils of hair swinging gently behind him. Jess often wondered whether Cal would notice if she simply stopped, didn’t follow him anymore, instead letting him meander his merry way across the land. Jess kept on going as she strongly suspected he would.

During one of the lengthy map breaks, Jess was sitting by the side of a small stream that ran parallel to the edge of one of the fields. She was idly throwing small pebbles into the water, occasionally turning to the grey skies where the clouds bulged with the coming rain. She could see what looked like a couple of small buildings on the brow of a hill in the distance; mentioning them to Cal had induced no reply whatsoever, but Jess had held the sight of the buildings in her field of vision as she walked; as a beacon of sorts, as something that gave the endless, furtive trek some purpose. The stop had frustrated Jess; surely if there were buildings a mile or so ahead, there might be the possibility of other people, other survivors like them. Cal was muttering again; he had dropped his rucksack and Jess could see that he was scouting for a place to pitch the tent. Jess’ tired frustration was getting the better of her; it wasn’t far to the buildings, surely they must keep moving before night fell.

Suddenly and without warning, Jess felt something pass through her; it was almost like an invisible gust of heavy air. Jess let out a small gasp and pitched forward slightly. A wave of images and sensations flashed electrically through her brain before dissolving like kettle-steam or a dream. Darkness; warmth; a long forgotten, unnameable childhood smell that curled painfully in her stomach as she remembered a humming in the night and a beam of light that split effortlessly through the curtains of her bedroom. She was floating, high in the cold night air, but it was inexplicably warm and she saw shapes casting coiling, feline shadows on the lawn of her home that lay beneath her. And like a dream, the sensation dissipated and with it some answer that escaped her.

Cal skidded onto the bank of the stream, the sound of his boots crashing against the mud and water crashing Jess back into reality. Cal’s eyes were wild, scared and his dreadlocks were sprawling across his face, almost as if he had fallen, or woken suddenly from sleep. He stopped, a few inches from Jess, his mouth open, as if he were about to speak. Jess took a breath, her brain racing, ready for whatever he were about to say. Yet instead, his eyes flicking momentarily to his right, he grabbed a hold of Jess and pulled her close, collapsing to the shallow bank of the stream as, with a dull roar, some shape hurtled into the sky at an impossible speed. They watched in silent terror as it soared into the distance and all Jess could wonder was how long it had been near them and how had they not noticed.

Cal refused to move any further that day. Despite Jess’ protests, he set up the tent, made a fire and refused to budge or speak. Worn out from her frustration, Jess lay down to sleep when night fell, but after a few hours, Cal woke her; this time he was gentle, rational.

“Get up, Jess,” he shook her shoulder, “you have to see this.”

With Cal’s help, the two of them climbed into the dense, gnarled branches of a beech tree that towered over their tent. Jess was brimming with questions, but chose to keep quiet as they stared into the night sky.

High in the horizon, five of the familiar, silvery cigar craft hung. Despite their distance from the craft, Jess and Cal kept their voices quiet and their movements to a minimum.

“What’s happening?” Jess murmured, a sickly dread seeping through her nerves. “Is that where we saw those buildings?”

Cal did not answer, but she heard him shift, uncomfortably in the higher branches of the tree.

The Cigar craft were still; if they made a sound, it was not discernable from the tree. Their hulls were pulsating steadily from pink to blue and back again; it was almost hypnotic. Jess wanted to close her eyes; her heart sounded loud inside her head; a steady, muffled thump. She felt a headache beginning too, steady, sharp pain from just above her left eyesocket.

Jess heard Cal intake breath sharply from above. Still, without a sound, one of the Cigars had dispatched a smaller craft from its underside. The craft was minute compared to the Cigar, spherical, it too changed colour as it moved, turning from a lightbulb white to a sickly orange as it descended to the ground.

“That’s a drone,” Cal whispered, trying to conceal the shake in his voice, “I...” his sentenced cut short by a screech of pain.

Jess’ pain had suddenly intensified; she was having difficulty keeping her head up for the fuzzy whirring that was blocking out any other sound. As the pale orange drone descended behind the hills in the distance, Jess gave an audible whimper. The pain inside her head felt like something was swelling above her eye, trying to burst out through her skin. Jess could no longer see, her eyes were shut so tight with the pain. A nausea-inducing dizziness lurched through Jess’ stomach and she slipped from her seated position, holding cat-like onto the branch of the tree as the whirring gave way to a steady throb. Every pulsation, wrenched at each nerve inside Jess’ skull; her mouth was open and she was not sure if she was screaming or not. With her face now pressed into the branch of the tree, Jess began a desperate mental begging, with a desperate inner voice that pleaded maniacally for the pain to end or for death to take her. The pulsating pain seemed to get faster, beating like a shattered heartbeat and Jess fell from her perch in the tree; in a kind of slow motion, her eyes opened instinctively and through the pain she glimpsed a single bar of blue light from the horizon that burst petals of sickly red flame from the hills. Jess’ body collided with the ground and she knew only blackness.

* * *

Jess got to her feet, her eyes becoming accustomed to the darkness of the mineshaft. She thought back to those last few days with Cal in the wilderness. He had carried her, along with the tent and provisions, the uphill mile to the decimated buildings that had once been her hope in the wastes of the world. Cal had found shelter in the basement of somewhere that had once held life; he had nursed her back to consciousness and strength as the fires raged above them and the shining indifference of the Cigars glided silently past them through the sky. This was where the others had found them; Erik and Louis and they, as four, had endured.

Somewhere to Jess’ left, in another dark corner of the mine, Erik shifted in his sleep, a child-like sigh escaping into the still air. A faint pattering sound was coming from somewhere higher up toward the entrance shaft.

It was Cal who had told them about the forest and the abandoned mine that lay somewhere beneath it; he had bid them forward, told them to keep moving, to never stop anywhere for too long, to move if they saw more than one cigar in a single day. That night, they all slept in the basement of the levelled building on the hill and the next morning all traces of Cal had gone.

The pattering got louder and Jess’ stomach tensed with a sudden weary dread as she recognised the echo of skittering of feet and hands on the entrance shaft of the mine. Louis was done and it was her turn to go on watch. Watch would keep her awake; watch would keep the murderous dreams at bay.

Louis stumbled into the main area of the mineshaft; he was panting and carrying a short log from the fire that’s smouldering end cast no light against the blackness of the mine, but illuminated half of his pallid face, his wide eyes cast against it like dark shadows. His mouth hung open as he regained his breath, abject misery spelled hard across his features.

“Another one....” he spat, between breaths, “that’s two Cigars passed in three days...”

Silence hung in the still air of the mine and Jess was glad of the darkness that hid her tears.