Tuesday, October 27, 2015

New Free Horror Read

Hi everyone,

Just to let you know, the horror ebook anthologies are free on Smashwords until Halloween as a promotion. Here are the links and codes if you want to share any of them:

Tales Of Horror On Halloween Night - https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/582554 - BH73T

Haunted Tales: stories from beyond the grave - https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/510330 - KL96C

Swallowed by the Beast - https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/506468 - PJ27U

Unleash the Undead - https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/477526 - HA75R

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Heart of Secrets by Ellen Mae Franklin

Amazon

http://www.amazon.com/Heart-Secrets-Tarkeenia-Series-Book-ebook/dp/B00LH4HKR4/ref=pd_rhf_se_p_tnr_5

Tiny Url - http://tinyurl.com/p4hvfyd

Smashwords - https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/458432




Up a hole

Her struggling slowed,eventually ceasing altogether. She was a bundle of bones and rags that hepulled along after him. Scraping and bruising her already ravaged body, theycontinued in the dark. Pellimac occasionally whimpered, but for the betterpart, shock kept her silent. Father tried, crooning affectionate clicks andclacks at her joyous return, but it only terrified her more.

Rats fled the pair. Even the darknessseemed to shy away in the face of Father’s fanatical headlong rush. She was hisagain! Hours passed, and the jubilant Speck and the stunned nomad womanstopped. His bony fingers clenched Pellimac’s wrist so tightly that smudges ofblack already rising to the surface of her skin held the promise of blood redrings. Deep in the inky murk, a part still pure and intact screamed at the lossof the sky and open earth. She wept. Her cries excited Father as she dragged inlungfuls of air in between loud sobs.
_________________________________________________________________

He said, she said. Iwonder who said what?

So, this was punishment. Nodoubt, the retribution was to satisfy their aching hearts, stupid wet sacks ofmeat. Hadn’t the female told her so? Kitty spat, and the last of Mumbunda’sempathy fell away, a pointed finger sealing her fate. But it meant nothing. InKitty’s world, killing was life, a consequence of the need to feed. There wereno reprisals for carnage or death and after all, hadn’t she been hungry?

Hanging upside down, Kitty dozed. Herconfinement was so boring that her teeth ached from it all. She craved food.She was so hungry that her belly ached, her teeth ached, her blood wept. Butunderneath it all sang a single shiny thought, pure and clean. Maybe despiteher mother's blood, she was a true Speck after all.
_________________________________________________________________

There can be no goingback

It was strange that she feltat home here, in the killing shades. The dark, surrounded by memories withlayers of insanity, would have left another screaming, but not Pellimac. Shewas so far removed from anything embodying normality that she succumbed to hersurrounds with quiet capitulation. The woman, emaciated and coated in layers ofgrime, patterned with old blood from the many scrapes and cuts on her worn outbody, rested on her haunches. She watched the single flickering candle flame.Aware that Father and Hi’ayman sat close by, she rocked back and forth,crooning softly.

My son. She repeated this manytimes over in her mind. It helped to slow the internal screaming intothe barest of whispers, giving her the courage to look up at Hi’ayman. Fromunderneath a filthy veil of hair, shading her exhausted features, she smiled.
___________________________________________________________________

Done and dusted

Ordinary persons would have drawnstraws to see who it was that went through the crack first, but this lotcouldn’t be called ordinary and the situation they were facing wasn’t ordinaryeither. This bunch was in a tight fix. They were damned if they stayed anddamned if they moved ahead.

Kendrai went first. Pellimac was hisresponsibility, and as Heir Apparent, no one was in a position to argue hisright. It was agreed that Monlith would follow, Stowic and then Shai behind himwith Noloc bringing up the rear.

Through the fissure he climbed, makinghis way cautiously forward. Who knew what manner of man or beast lived in thedark? A dusky glow skulked in the far corner of the room, shapes shifted androcked about, voices drifting lazily from the crook.

One by one, the party of searcherscrawled forward, clustering together in a cramped space behind a wall of sortsto the much larger chamber. They thought themselves secret, hidden away fromthe other occupants as they quietly communicated together. How wrong they were.
____________________________________________________________________

To err is to beforgiven
A crowd had gathered aroundthe front of the dormitory. It was one of four in a set of neatly rowedbuildings. In the doorway pressed a number of older students, most openlycrying, others mute with horror.

“Get back! Get back!” roared a loudvoice.

The doorway emptied, and within its frameleant the roly-poly man. Ashen faced, his mind did its best to grasp the bloodymess behind him. “What’s happened here?” he mumbled and stared about at thecrowd outside. In all his years as a healer, he had never seen such carnage.

Other magi arrived, some drawn fromtheir beds by the screams, wrapped in nightgowns and mantles in an attempt tokeep out the night’s chill.

One young lad, noisily emptying hisstomach onto his shoes, stopped and wiped a shaking hand across his mouth. Hespat and blearily looked up at his Master.

“You don’t want to go in there, sir.”And he began to throw up all over again.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

In the Cold Light by Ellen Mae Franklin

Amazon
http://www.amazon.com/Cold-Light-Tarkeenia-Book-ebook/dp/B00MTC0AW0/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1408619798&sr=1-1&keywords=in+the+cold+light

Tiny Url - http://tinyurl.com/kekqz9v

Smashwords - https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/468231


How canit be, that I never learn?

Being cold, so very bloody cold wasn’t that bad. Going hungry was muchworse and since Quaverit wasn’t very good at begging, he went hungry a lot.What did he know of doing it right? All the other beggars laughed when he tookhis place on the corner. They laughed, so hard, that quite often, it drew acrowd. An ugly meanly-mouth bunch of other beggars, seasoned from their yearsof privation. He couldn’t help looking like a plucked chook, than the elegantStork he was supposed to be.

It was a punishment. The plucking of everyfeather on his body, head and tail feathers gone, and the pain! Well, let’sjust say, he had only recently stopped crying.

He could forgive the painful act itself,even if the Hyena Men had relished their duties a little too eagerly, but thehumiliation he suffered each time he left the safety of his cubbyhole, wouldnever he forgotten. The once proud chamberlain was reduced to sitting on theside of a smelly gutter, holding out his hands for the odd copper to pass hisway. Glumly listening to his moaning stomach, as it screamed for a bite to eat.
_______________________________________________________________________

Guest who?

She couldn’t have called it a pleasant ride by any means, Taros feltevery stone and every hole along the way to Lott’s house, well it was more thanjust a house, as they approach the Toads spectacle it looked more like avillage. Built from the blood and sweat of others, she felt sickened by theramblings.

Wanabec fretted all the way, quoting dearieme’s, and oh my goodness every third tree, if she had been in her right mindthe Turtle Man would have copped a tongue lashing, but the spirit of Tarmet wasstill upon her so she sat quietly as the world slipped by.

Every now and then, shecaught a glimpse of her escort, sometimes along the road and at other times, asshe glanced up to catch the sun, black silhouettes with their many arms swungfrom tree to tree. It was quite disconcerting having so many Spider Men around:their eyes a swirling kaleidoscope of colours. What would Tarmet have done ifhe had found himself in this situation?
________________________________________________________________________

New friends. What a Blessing
Milly wiped her hands, frowned at the rough skin from having them elbowdeep in water for most of the morning. Dinner this afternoon was going to be abusy affair, already she felt run off her feet, they ached and it wasn’t evennoon. Looking out the window, wooden shutters held back to let the sun’s warmthfill the room, the serving girl watched Knat swing the ax. Since his arrivalsome months ago, the young man had filled out his clothes, the shirt he worerippled as the corded muscles across his back worked with each fall of theblade.

Their first meeting had frightened her.Dripping wet and shaking like a beaten dog, Knat had surprised them all withhis appearance. Yet, here he was on this cold day chopping wood for Mr. Macky.He was the apple of the innkeeper’s eye.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

A Dark Compendium by Ellen Mae Franklin

A Dark Compendium
A Collection of 12 Short Fantasy Stories




Amazon
http://www.amazon.com/Dark-Compendium-Ellen-Mae-Franklin-ebook/dp/B00QSPEXSQ/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1419637176&sr=8-2&keywords=a+dark+compendium
TinyURL - http://tinyurl.com/lcyckkg
Smashwords- https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/500141

A King’s Son
“As I hearthem tell it,” and the lanky lad winked at his prisoner, “this one’s staredinto the eyes of a dragon for too long. Either that or the bastards just plainloopy.” The guard, if you could have called him that, was no more than a boy ofseventeen summers with a wispy fuzz sat above his upper lip, and he couldn’thelp but stroke the downy hairs. It looked like a thin, squiggly caterpillar.
The man in thecage grinned and laughed out loud, grabbed at the bars and tried to shake themloose, but iron didn’t work like that. It stayed fast; Old Firestick only usedgood steel. The hair of the one they called crazy stood up in wild stiff strands;some were as thick as two fingers. Dozens of different colours created acurious hodgepodge. Beads, pieces of wood and ribbon had found their way intothis hair nest, adding to the already hysterical state of the prisoner.
_______________________________________________________________________

Bloody Hell

He turned acorner and glanced over his shoulder. It was a habit he had developed of late- seekinga way out, for the way in had been all too easy. Brick felt that familiar achein his hip as it began to throb, lancing white pain into his toes and the sweatthat had only just disappeared in a false sense of feeling safe, was back. Itdripped down his spine and stung salty tears into his eyes. But he was home,back with the living.

He didn’t needto see them to know that the Scamps were out there, hiding in the shadows andlifting their flat faces into the wind as they tried to sniff him out. Void ofnose and hair, three holes to draw in a human scent and sharp needle teeth torip him back to Hell. They would follow him no matter what.
_______________________________________________________________________

Love Hearts
It was just a song.

To her it wasa delicious sound, full of fun and mischief. It was life - so mysteriouslyelusive, joy and best of all love. Denied to her as it was all her kind. Surely,no one would notice such a little tune. Isnale spun a circle, her bare feet ticklingthe grass beneath and as she turned her head this way and that, making sure shewas alone, the Harbinger let off a single note. It floated gently out front. Itcrystalized and held still for a brief moment, perfect in its form, transparentexcept for the glistening colours of an unseen rainbow. Clapping her hands,Isnale marveled at the light it made. Apart from the stars overhead, the noteshone like a beacon.

“They’ll cutyou for that one note, you know that, don’t you Isnale?” Her brother’s voiceshattered the form and the light extinguished leaving them both, once more inthe dark.
_______________________________________________________________________

Custodians

Long ago,after the two continents had split from Pangea some 60,000 years before Manfound his way to the shores of Australia. From Africa and Asia in boats ofcrafted wood, across the narrow strait where the sea was at it’s lowest theybraved a new world. To the northern side of Wallacia, on a steady course ofisland hopping, the Aborigines found a home.

Dog and Manrose, the surf landing gently on the sandy shore. From the trees, rocks and thedarkest of holes the Custodians watched. Some viewed the procession, gaping inwonder at the Aborigines black skin and white flashing teeth. Amusement pulledat large almond eyes as yapping dogs splashed about in the choppy surf. Theytoo smiled at the excited voices of these happy people.

But beyond thatthere were other dark creatures that that loathed the light, they watched on inrepugnance, jealous of the man and the way in which he moved in their world.Tall and thin with skin coloured of old ash these creatures watched only thechildren with interest. Perhaps these laughing, bright souls could give themwhat they craved.
__________________________________________________________________________

When is it too late to say sorry?
‘We were happy once? Weren’t we?’

Diablo asked herself this question every day. Butnothing ever changed. It always came back the same… a burning anger, so brightthat it matched his strutting brilliance and that of course, only made herangrier. God, the almighty, sanctified divinity and his constant holier thanthou lectures. Her husband was a pompous fool, whose faults were even greaterthan the obedience he demanded from everyone around him. Including her and thisperfect creature would not be outdone by anyone.

She smiled despite this, cruel and calculating for shehad to admit there was great satisfaction in upsetting him. A single fingerraised and from the shadows came a man, not nearly as perfect as she, but darklyhandsome none-the-less

“Baal, General ofmy armies, my devoted and faithful servant. I have a small task for you. Notthe most pleasant, I admit, but then you never shirk your duties, do you my pet.”She ran a well-manicured fingernail down the side of his face. Her voice purredin satisfaction at the man before her, admiring the leanness and hunger thatemanated from him.
__________________________________________________________________________

War of the Words

Prose was apretty thing with dark hair and brown eyes whose smile lit the world aroundher. This day found her hard at work. Sheets of paper lay scattered on the deskand floor, screwed up balls of the unwanted stuff littered the room and thequills that she so loved to write with - her most treasured of possessions -were spread out before her in loving array. Feathers and inkpots, scrolls, andthe ability to create infinite worlds belonged to this dedicated writer, Prosewas proud of every word.

“I havefinished! I have finally made my mark.” Prose leapt out of her chair. “It isdone at last, my very first story. It’s a pearler and once it’s published Iknow it will go straight to number one.” She hammered on the wall with her fistand the scraping of a chair on the other-side followed, then a came a knock onher door.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Armitage and Envy by The Un-named Chronicles by Ellen Mae Franklin and Peter M. Emmerson

Amazon

http://www.amazon.com/Armitage-Envy-Un-Named-Chronicles-Book-ebook/dp/B00NMGX3Q2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1412413502&sr=8-1&keywords=Armitage+and+Envy
TinyURL - http://tinyurl.com/n4e77nc
Smashwords - https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/482398


GRIMM RETURNS

PUSHING throughthe curious ranks came a massively muscled demon, a roughly stitched-oninsignia of a Wedgemaster on the blue sleeve of its tunic showed his rank. Theblack pelt of some shaggy creature was tied as a cloak around its left shoulderand its eyes were fixed on Grimm with murderous intent. In its hands it held ahuge club, blood red jewels clustered around one end. As it stepped up toGrimm, without any preamble it smashed the point into the mutant's stomach,knocking the wind from him and forcing him to his knees.

"Filthy cowardly scum!" the demon barked. "I'llshow you what they should've done to you, running out on your men!" Itpulled its arm back for a good swing at Grimm, but then stopped in mid-strikeas its eyes locked with the glowing blood red orb in the middle of Grimm'sforehead.

"Just try it," Grimm said through his spiked teeth,"I've killed much harder men 'n' creatures than you."

"You be full of filthy magics, you should be hung, youtraitor."
________________________________________________________________________

SHARP AND RIDGE
LANGUISHING inside a cell was a dream each prisoner could havehoped for and in this case it happened to be true.

Sharp and Ridge stared at each other, through the weakened slatsand floating dust motes. Their pallets were generous by jailor’s standards witha thick itchy blanket, a freshly stuffed mattress of new straw and two meals aday. A morning meal of porridge with bobbing sultana's to sweeten its blandnessand an evening meal of barley soup with soft chunks of dark meat servedsteaming hot. Bread and cheese sometimes followed, and the pair despite theembarrassment of being caught knew they had it easy.

Keys clinked in the lock, three men walked in, two carriedshackles and the other an arm's length piece of wood.

A guard waved the stick in the air, "Right you are boys. Thetime for kicking your heels has come to an end," he laughed. "Unlessthat is you're swinging on the end of a rope."
________________________________________________________________________

TRINITY

The King of Arinthol rang a bell and a sombre man stepped into theroom. He wore the colours crimson and cream with pride, "You rangsire?"

"Would you be so kind as to send a runner for MistressTrinity. She should have been here by now."

The servant nodded. "She went with the guards to the cellssire. I'll have someone her fetched at once." He left the room with quickclipped steps.

It didn't take long for the Mistress of Keys to arrive, theassault on Arinthol may have left scars a plenty for some, not Trinity, shetook it all on the chin. Her loss on the day of coming into power was the daythat a life she loved ended. What was a little battering on the walls to thisUn-named.

Once she had been a teacher, loved and respected, especially bythe children she taught, then came the pain. Her limbs burned and ached both atthe same time, she felt dizzy, nauseated and burned with a sweaty fever.Trinity was dying, or least she thought, why else would she hurt so. For daysshe lay, thrashing about in her bed, a small room at the back of theschoolhouse and one morning bleary eyed and exhausted the teacher's stomachbegan to cramp.

Children of all ages filled the wooden building they used as aclassroom, tables and chairs sliding along the planks as everyone readied theirplace for the day. The chatter of young voices filled the air, resounding downthe hallways and sliding under Trinity's door. The noise filled her ears andthe cramping increased. She slipped into unconsciousness and in doing so shecame into power.
_____________________________________________________________________________

WANNA BUY A DOG

"Hey, you, wanna buy a god?"

Jos looked up from the pebbly beach, squinting in the last blushof daylight over the water. A thin old man with one arm in a pale yellowoutfit, carrying a large green pack, sat on a rock near the waterline watchinghim. He was in his late sixties, perhaps more than three decades older thanJos.

Uncertain what to say, Jos stood still for a moment. This wasn'tGni-nnut, where you could slip past odd people or ignore them and evaporateinto the crowd in the market square. There was no one else here on this stripof sand, with water to one side and sea cliffs on the other, so how could Jospretend he hadn't heard?

He decided to play it straight. "You're selling dogs?"

"No, I said a god. And it's not really selling. And you don'tget the god exactly, I mean, not to keep. Just an experience with a god, anencounter like a revelation."
_____________________________________________________________________________

SANDSTOM AND FLOWERS

A barking dog yapped at the moon in a frenzied attempt to bring itdown. On and on, the noise carried down the incline hurting the ears of severalWestmen drinking.

“Fecking kill it already,” growled Two Bits. “I’ve always hatedthat thing and now that it’s barking I can scarcely breath.”

A low laugh followed on the end of the tirade: it was Jolly, whoalways found the funny side to most things. “You’re a worry you are, alwayscomplaining about something or other and never happy unless you have your way.Leave it be on the poor mongrel, he ain’t hurting any one and all you’ll do isupset Big Hog with that tongue of yours.”

Big Hog pushed back into the log he was using as a back rest andnodded in agreement with Jolly. “He’s me mate and you touch one hair on hissweet head Two Bits and I’ll nail your balls to the insides of your thighs."

Jolly squealed with laughter and wiped away the tears with a dirtyfinger at the very thought of Two Bits walking like an old used whore. Therewas anger on Two Bits face but he said not a word, why would he when Big Hogstood over a head taller than most men.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Forthright and Clementine by Ellen Mae Franklin and Peter M. Emmerson

Amazon
http://www.amazon.com/Forthright-Clement-Un-Named-Book-1-ebook/dp/B00FFAK54Q/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1408620066&sr=1-1&keywords=Forthright+and+Clement

Tiny Url - http://tinyurl.com/mqgj8ql
Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/360121



PROLOGUE

Staccato yelps pin pointed their positions as they converged upon her.

She had run far stumbling across the broken ground, her bare feet torn by the sharp flints littering the frozen riverbed. Her legs ripped and scratched by the thorn bushes growing along the forest's edge.

She knew closely behind, following the huge yellow beasts came the Hardmen of the North.

Her heart pounded so wildly in her chest she could feel it banging against her ribs, herd ragging breath blew short and gasping. A red mist of panic began to descend as closer they came closer and closer, unable to run further, she climbed the tallest tree she could find.

Without a moment to spare, for she was immediately surrounded by the long legged,slavering creatures. One, followed swiftly by others began to bray, their howl seven more frightening than their hunting calls.

The howling told its own story; ‘we have her.’

She screamed in utter horror as the beasts began to climb the tree, the closest,its eyes glowing red in the moonlight clawed its way closer and closer…
______________________________________________________________________________

FORTHRIGHT

Forthright muttered, but only loud enough for the dog to hear, “Can you see him?”

He half expected the dog to answer. After last night’s argument, he was surprised to see him acting this congenial. It was stupid really, fighting over the scraps of an already bad meal, but when you’re on a ship at sea what else was there todo?

The dog as he called it, forgetting most times that his companion had a name, was named Pelment. They had been travelling together for a very long time, through good and bad, clean times and some very nasty smelling jaunts, but he wouldn’t have it any other way. They were friends, but most of all they needed each other.

He didn’t see Clement staring and may have even missed the youth’s emaciated presence if it wasn’t for the push of a cold wet nose. In fact, the shove was such thatForthright fell backwards. On his arse he went. ‘Thump’ landing awkwardly and cursing for the sorry trouble.

“Look here you! I can’t abide bad manners, not at all and you know it. So, what if I got the last bit of bacon on the plate? I told you last night it left me with a sore gut and if we have to get back onto the matter of shitting again, well … “

Forthright didn’t get any further for the dog not only nudged him, but smacked him full in the face with a wet tongue.

“Oh!That’s just plain disgusting.” The old man wiped his face with a semi clean sleeve and in doing so, looked up.
____________________________________________________________________________

PELMENT AND THE GREYLADY

Pelment wanted to speak to the Grey Lady. Troubled as he was, this shape shifter was still an Un-Named and as he stepped through the trees, the dog shimmered. A youth, unblemished and as fair as the moon’s light among the soft budding evening walked with a step so light, that it hardly touched the forest floor.He whistled a soft tune that was a memory. Before he had become one of theUn-Named, Henri had, like the rest of his kind, been a young boy. It wasn't until the age of seventeen that the change fell upon him. It had been the GreyLady, who had seen him through his transformation.

‘You knowhow much I love that song Henri.’ The Grey Lady out shone the moonbeams,gracing his life. ‘I am happy to see you once again.’

“And I you.” He spoke the words out loud for it made him feel normal.
______________________________________________________________________________

KRAD AND OSTRANDA

Krad and Thgil sat side by side, Every now and then fingers touched, a bond unshakeable.

“You will hold the barrier while I am gone?” Krad spoke in low tones.

Thgil smiled a little sadly. “I had a dream.”

It wasn’t often that Krad sweated. Tonight though, he was all nerves and wondered if meeting Ostranda was the cause of his sour stomach. “You’re having too many dreams my little moon. Was it bad?”

She had large eyes, liquid love for her brother and she nodded, “A river of red I saw Krad. You stood on one side and I was on the other, the river was an angry torrent. I called to you, I tried to Krad, really, I did! But the rushing water was too loud for you to hear.”

The look on his face caused her to bite down, drops of blood dotted her chin and he wiped them away with a finger.

“Maybe it was just a dream. An ordinary dream that meant nothing, we have been under so much pressure. Maybe my friendship with Ostranda has upset you, Thgil? I’m sorry, but I can’t help the way I feel. My bones ache for her, my blood flushed shot when I think of her name. I don’t know what to do, except to find as many minutes as I can that will allow me to feel her skin under my hands. It’s not wrong Thgil to feel this way. Is it?”

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Unseen Promise by Ellen Mae Franklin



The TarkeeniaSeries

Book 1 The Unseen Promise
Franklin knows how to show, rather than tell, and she'scertainly not a timid writer. A multitude of characters means you have to stayon your toes and not miss a word.



Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/pxv2qtp
Smashwords: ttps://www.smashwords.com/books/view/365012
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/TheUnseenPromise
Website: https://www.theunseenpromise.com


In the beginning

What is curiosity? Is it a beginning or is it an ending? Should you embrace itor do you shut your eyes and pray for the love of whatever god you hold closethat it disappears? It is a thing without limitations and restraints, for itcarries no conscience, other than what its bearer holds. So I ask, should it bevalued or feared? For it begs to be heard and it never, ever, no matter howmuch you should wish it, offers even the smallest measure of mercies.

Even the gods feel thetug of its call, its alluring charm. All except for one. He believed that healone held its secrets, and valued curiosity as a favorite trinket to be keptclose until such time as it was needed.

So, be warned friend, for to answer itscall - curiosity’s enticing song - it must be with wide eyes and a steadyheart, for trouble always follows.
___________________________________________________


Blame, guilt and a warm fire

The sound of steel on stone shook thenarrow laneway where the two brothers lay in hiding. Voices, dark growlsthreatening death and a most certain bloody end, roared in Roedanth’s ears. Thehand clamped over Peetra’s mouth trembled, partly in fear, but mostly in worry.There would be no going anywhere now, not with half the cityguard after them.

“Peetra, why did you do it?” It was a shaken whisper into the still ear ofhis only brother. “We had it all, a roof over our heads, two meals a day, and Iwas learning a trade. Why, Peetra?”

Blood stained his hands; it had soaked through to his under garments andthe sticky feeling of Peetra’s life on his skin made him feel sick. Roedanthshifted, the damp, coarse stone against his back a chafing reminder that theywere up to their necks in shit. Peetra groaned, the sound escaping from inbetween Roedanth’s fingers. Startled, Roedanth wriggled again, pulling hisbrother in closer and the bolt in Peetra’s breast thrummed.

“By the stars, I’m sorry, Peetra. I didn’t mean it.” More whispering, butthis time Roedanth stroked and smoothed out his brother’s sweat-soaked hair.“You’re burning up.”

The voices were closer now; two in particular set his heart racing.

“I told you Sam, the old woman pointed down this-a-ways.” A Tolerian slurmarked the man as a mercenary; half the city guards were mercenaries, paid forby the taxes collected by the current King of Crow’s Nest.

“So you’ll take the word of an old woman instead of a warm fire and a mugof beer,” grumbled the other.
_______________________________________________________________________

Truth or dare

He had watched as the figure struggled to push the cart, had grinned withgleeful eagerness as the shadow man pulled out the rags to scoop up anothershadow man. He could almost smell the grief and worry as the figure stood for atime staring up at the workshop. Jolien had left a candle burning in thewindow, a mock display of respect, for he hoped that someone from the BiscopHouse would see. He watched the shadow man eye off the flickering light, and hesmiled.

Pimply faced and sallow skin weren’t Jolien’s only faults - his lips weretoo thin, and with arms were too long, he looked like a carnival freak. Envyand greed were pivotal to the former apprentice, and as he watched the figurestruggle with his load, he came to a dangerous decision.

Down the back stairs he crept, careful step by careful step, and made hisway into the kitchen. It was the only bright room in the entire building.Peetra had seen to that. It had been his duty to care for the cooking, and sucha position he had loved, even if he had hated Mr. Bicky. He was a passable cookfor someone so young, and quite often Jolien would sneak in to snatch upPeetra’s bread cakes for his own, yielding in those briefest of rare moments tothank the young man for his efforts. Yes, he would miss Peetra’s cooking.

“So the lawbreaker returns.” He sniggered behind his hand.

Friday, March 6, 2015

From Hot Cauldron I

Once upon a time, there was a brilliant planet called earth, and that is just about where the fairy tale ends. It has been many years since the tragic disintegration of this once stunning land and its people. We had managed to destroy our waters, infect our meats with chemicals, drugs, and poison. We even polluted the very air we took in and one day our mother earth grew tired and struck back.
It started in the year 2020. Our fresh waters had reached the pinnacle of their end. Our top scientists gathered in secret in order to find a cure for our manmade disaster. Webinars and conference calls rang on in constant as government and its professionals scrambled for answers. We had salt water and factory sized air purifiers. Scientists were now being paid to find a miracle in the despair. Their new tasks, find a way to make the desert waters of the sea drinkable and preserve the energy that it took to clean the atmosphere. The original calculations had proven to be incorrect. The planet's natural resources were dwindling faster than had originally surmised. The processes it took to make their chore a reality was the on the agenda of every egg head involved. Debates and theories flooded the airwaves, but now a plan needed to become a reality.
Scientists worked day and night over countless equations and endless tests using the one water source available, the oceans of the world. It seemed that we were doomed until a marvelous breakthrough surfaced. Within two years, we did it. We created a method in which the salt and bacteria of the world’s seas and oceans was completely removed leaving fresh drinking water for human consumption.
The unique irrigation and desalinization factories were born and placed at the edge of the four corners of the United States. Large trucks roared night and day to deliver the fresh resource to cities and townships all over. We sold the technology overseas and once again, the United States reigned supreme. Those countries that could afford the technology added supplement ideas and soon the world's resource problems were simply the chatter at the local water cooler. It was amazing. The United States had saved the world and the water shortage was now a mere fairytale. We had conquered the first stage in a battle against dying resources.
This new system also had an economic impact that reverberated from country to country. At first the funds used to create the factories was deducted from other line items in the country's budget, but once it was proven a success, it was a boom. The economic crisis was over as well. Each state got a tax cut and major breaks along with excess funding for irrigation for crops. It was a huge success and the world bowed to our science and our technology. That was when we really got the big head. Our scientists, thinking they were invincible decided to take it further. With the invention of the new water resource factories came the need to expand our produce and meat science. Once again, we relied heavily on beakers and test tubes and once again, a miracle peeked from a lab in some remote part of the US. Hunger would now be a blip in the past. 
Our intelligence had engineered a science that made our produce and meat much larger and leaner than before. However, that did not bring the Nobel. The appetite curb was the impressive piece. Once consumed, the food would break down in such a way that it removed the appetite but continued to provide nutrition for the consumer for days. Those who were used to all day snacking no longer lingered in cabinets and refrigerators for a quick fix. Those with eating compulsions were able to have the control they needed. Animals could live longer and survive in almost bleak conditions so food was always available.
This was the biggest breakthrough in weight loss and health management that anyone could have made. The test subjects, which were animals at first, did very well and it continued for months. It was two years before the FDA would solidify the findings and release the new drugs to dairy, poultry and beef houses all over the US. When they did, there were remarkable changes in the human structure. Suddenly blood pressure issues, heart disease, and diabetes began to decrease in drastic numbers. Deaths from heart attacks were nearly eradicated and obesity statistics declined at a rapid pace. It seemed that we had found the miracle cure for weight and weight related illnesses. In addition, the elevated price was nothing more than a bonus for the drug companies. Fast food restaurants started using the new products at an increase and we paid it. We shipped our product all over the world and gloried in the demand. As the wealth flowed, we marveled in our success. But it would not last for long.
Two years went by and everyone seemed to be doing well. However, there was something brewing so deadly and so quiet that when it made its presence known it was too late to do anything. It started with a cluster of stomach viruses and vomiting and was followed by high fevers and oozing skin lesions. In the final stages, the victim began vomiting up their own bile. It was a horrifying disease triggered by the body’s reaction to the “miracle” drug.
Within a few months of detection, 60% of the world’s population would succumb to the deadly virus. The overseas production and exports came to a screeching halt. The US was blamed for the deaths and destruction of many of the world’s populations and industries. It was a horrible reality. The dead were being burned instead of buried. The fear that the remains contained too much of whatever toxins caused the outbreak was too broad. Our great scientists could only find certain triggers in the contagion. But there was still more. Finally, the air reeked of the poisoned burning flesh. One by one, businesses had to shut down as workers were dying faster than they could be replaced. All over the world, the effect of this catastrophe caused ghost towns to sprout as people migrated to find a better life. Those were the survivors. Of the 40% who survived, 20% managed to live through the initial symptoms while their bodies created antibodies that protected them from the remaining ailments. They were strong and carried on as they had done before. The other 20% however had a much different story. But that will be for later.
What was left of government ordered crop burnings from California to Florida. All drugging of animal and plant life would cease and medicines collected and destroyed. Suddenly we had to be organic, but that was easier said than done. The poison that seeped into our food, seeped into our soil. Once again, there were these great moments of happiness as plush green pastures of brilliant fruit and vegetables began to sprout across what was once a burned wasteland, but this time we made sure. The food was tested immediately and at first, it was thought to be safe. But after a month, it was discovered the new oasis was a trap. We thought we could absolve our sins with fire, but we were wrong. The fire was a catalyst igniting molecules and sending them deep into the ground. The seeds that remained were infused with the lethal viral poison and as beautiful as these spring like patches of earth seemed, they were deadly. This time they were ordered dug up and the land was tested when done. But the damage to the economy was too great. Stock markets crashed and government officials at the heart of the cover up were assassinated one by one, as a disgruntled squad of Americans took over. Clusters of survivors joined and formed villages and began growing crops as best they could from the land that had not been touched by the vile creation of man. These new townships would last as long as the land would allow. It was very tough for some and fatal for others. The land would only sustain a few and then dry up forcing the survivors to move on. They hiked about moving from one township to the next and some were not pleasant. Now, this is where the story begins.
Marcus Wellington was in charge of a small township that had dried up in southern Tampa. He was the leader of about 11 members who all had survived the misfortune of the deadly crop virus of 2032. Now, loaded on a rigged bus headed north he and his group of followers were looking for another patch of land to call their own. At this point, he was very skeptical about finding any territory that was stable and fit for crops. He had witnessed the demise of the terrain and the effect it had on those who were not as strong. When their own township began, it boasted over 100 members. But when the conditions of the land began to deteriorate, the elderly, sickly and feeble were the first to go. Marcus had grown tired of digging graves and giving uplifting speeches to the grieving. He knew there was no end to their pain. He had lost his wife and children at the beginning of the contagion. He burned them together and never forgave the government for their greed and quick fix of things, as he saw it. The only good thing was the water system. They should have left well enough alone. Now he was to lead a group of people who had more hope in him than he had in himself.
He kept his doubts quiet as they maneuvered the tricked up school bus onward through mountain terrain and the cold temps of Georgia. Marcus and been driving since midnight and the dark circles under his eyes told the tale of an exasperated man clinging to an ounce of hope. Tess was asleep in the front row. She had driven most of the previous day and was now in need of rest. He peeked at her every now and then to catch a glimpse of her breathing. From beneath her darkened lashes and locks of brown hair she so reminded him of his wife, Anne. The only difference being, Tess was a little taller and undoubtedly more of a tomboy. She was quick to help in building the new irrigation systems in the camps and enjoyed tending to the gardens. She had a knack for that sort of thing and that was why when the crops began to grow weak she would know ahead of time that it would soon be time to move on. Her instincts were always on, sharp as a fresh blade. As for now, Marcus inched along a narrowing road and eventually came upon a clearing and what he saw filled him with amazement. Tucked away in a quiet cove of plush greenery was a plantation like village that seemed to step out of old war novel. The cold chill in the air had not withered the landscape. As the bus came to a stop at the large iron gates Marcus alerted his passengers of their new destination. There were guards posted at the gates and immediately welcomed the newcomers by allowing them safe passage. They chugged along a circular drive and slowed to stop at the front of a massive porch. They were greeted by a woman dressed in jeans and an old t shirt and eating a fresh ripe apple. Marcus stepped out of the vehicle and began to make his usual speech. But this time, he would be cut off as she eased the stress of walking into a new township.
“You and your crew are quite welcomed here. What you see is real and edible. We are completely organic here and look forward to forming new relationships with those willing to accept our organic ways. Tell me your name and how many are you?”
“My name is Marcus Wellington and including me there are 11 of us. We come from Florida so the cold will be new for us. But, we are the strong ones so I think we can handle it. Thank you for your welcome. By the way, your place seems magnificent. Do you have room?”
“Of course we have room. There are cabins out back as well. My name is Kyla Roman and welcome to Raven’s Place.”
The members of the small community from Florida unloaded and stood on the gracious, majestic porch. Kyla smiled warmly as she began the tour. Taking them through the oak and ceramic foyer was just the beginning. There was an extensive library and large kitchen. The rooms were large and could easily house two to three persons. Kyla explained that the home had been a bed and breakfast but was abandoned by its owners when the tragic virus took hold. They eventually died and left the place to ruin. When Kyla and her followers found it, it was falling apart. But luckily a couple of her survivors were contractors and easily recreated a home that could house and comfort many. As they entered the library, Marcus noticed that there weren’t many in her crew. He asked her how many they would be joining. Her response was very insightful.
“There are ten of us.” She chomped on the apple and with a smile moved on.
“10?, with all that you have accomplished, only 10.” Marcus was puzzled. But she immediately put his thoughts to rest.
“We had another group somewhat larger than yours come through here about six months ago. But they did not believe in our ways. We asked them to leave and they did, along with a good amount of out stored rations. But we easily replenish.”
“What do you mean, your ways?”
Kyla explained to the group as they settled. The whispers from the crowds died down as she began to speak.
“As I stated before, I bid you welcome. We are a fully organic tribe and take pride in a day’s work. Now, we do have some rules. As you know things are different from before. First, there is to be no brewing of illegal substances that includes beer, liquor, tobacco, cocaine, meth, you get the picture. We will allow wine however, it can only be drunk in moderation. We allow one to two glasses a day and since we ration it out, well ya know. It is our belief that in order to keep the body clean and prolong your lives we must not pollute our organs as we did before. Doctors are rare these days and we have only one on the premises. He works with what pharmaceuticals we have salvaged, the last thing we need is an outbreak that he is not equipped to deal with so please keep your bodies clean of toxins. There is also a curfew. Everyone must be in their cabin or this house by dark. We have known of wolves and some panther in this area and we have some guns but would rather have you inside where it is safe. Meals are prepared by our staff and consist of fresh fruits and veggies. We have limited meat due to the breakdown of civilization. But we do have eggs thanks to an ample chicken coop out back. Finally, the chores, everyone must have a job to do in order to keep this place running well. We need all the help we can get in maintaining the land and this place. So up at dawn and in by dark, chores during the day include water retrieval, food retrieval, gardening, and cleaning. Please keep your rooms clean by the way, there is no maid service. Oh and the most important rule, sex. If you must pleasure with one another, please do it in privacy and use protection. Like I said we have no ways to treat extensive diseases. Our one doctor is it. Are there any questions?”
Tess raised her hand and began to speak. What do we do for supplies for feminine and what not?”
“Oh, yes forgive me. There is an abandoned store and warehouse that we visit every other week and snatch up those kinds of things so if you need anything please feel free to join us tomorrow. We have a run to make right after breakfast.”
With the rules and ways of life explained, the newcomers were shown to their rooms. A roster of their names and placements were taken for safety and check in purposes. First Marcus and Tess took the first room on the lower end of the hall. Hollie and Michael, the newlyweds, took the next room. They had managed to find each other and love during the tumultuous time and married quickly. Deciding that the world might come to an end, it seemed better to have a partner to share it with. Across the hall were five other adjacent rooms. Starting off at the lower end were Dianne, Steven and David, the siblings. Their parents had been killed by the virus during the second stages. They were the only late teens early twenty somethings in the group and no one took any of their shit. Tifton and Claire, the golden haired lesbian and her male friend from Key West, made up the next room and next to them were Gregory and Alvin Proctor, the most whorish men on the journey.
That evening the new family feasted on roasted vegetables and a single piece of chicken meat. Not a leg or thigh, but simply a single slice of meat. They talked about where they came from and how they came about being in the group. Tifton and Claire had been working in a bar where Gregory and Alvin frequented. When hell broke loose, they were living in the same complex. As everyone got sick they seemed to be the only ones left. Such were the tales of the others. Everyone was seeking survival and companions. They talked until late in the night each of them having their own tale and all drawn together by the need to survive. As the conversations died down, sleep took over and everyone finally got a full night’s rest on a full stomach of good clean food. It was truly a good feeling that they had taken for granted so many years ago.
Marcus and Tess retreated to their room first. They enjoyed a hot shower together and cuddled as if it were the first time. Her smell lit his senses and ignited his passion. He had longed for a quiet moment since the travel and now he got his wish. She was all for him and they were not the only ones.
The next morning the sun rose on a rainy cold day. The trip to the store would have to be moved up as the rain had been known to wash out the roads as the day progressed. The group packed and at on the way in order to expedite the trip. Everyone was not going as some had to stay behind and complete daily tasks. Those that did go took the chance to talk to their new hosts and learn more about their little colony.
There was Jeffrey the ex military marks man. He was a tall strong man whose only conversations were of his days in the service before the virus took hold. His battalion had been one of the ones sanctioned to burn crops after the deadly infection was discovered. His troop also burned the bodies of the dead in the abandoned cities and quickly moved to the next task as ordered. Next in line to Kyla were Morgan and Dr. Timothy Pratt. Dr. Pratt tended to the sick and held a wealth of knowledge about how the virus worked. He knew more than most because his good friend Morgan was an integral part of the project when it started. But when Morgan discovered that there were grave discrepancies, she quickly abandoned the study and fled to warn people of the impending danger. The medical community and the press black listed her and said her accusations were of a disgruntled, fired employee. No one took her seriously until after people started dying. Morgan and Timothy Pratt were brother and sister on the same crusade. They now did everything they could to keep things in balance within their little community. Then there was Kyla. She had worked as a lab assistant to Dr. Pratt and for a while had a strong sexual relationship with him until he decided that he wanted to see other people. She accepted his decision but never strayed far from him. She secretly hoped that he would change his mind and come back to her. She became the leader of their group as her skills in hunting seemed to rival that of even the best marks man, Jeffrey. She had been raised by a single father and knew which weapon to use during which months. The others Macey, Joey, Donovan and Travis were the heavy duty lifters. They had been dockworkers up north on the salt-water projects. Their job had moved them around as they were needed as part of the setup crew. The last two Shareen and Vivvie had also been lab assistants with their fingers on the pulse of things when the food industry crumbled. Together this group had more than enough knowledge of the sickness that had taken so many. The signs and symptoms of early onset along with the benefits of the survivors was valued information as far as their physician was concerned. There were plenty of secrets the government kept after the initial outbreak and only a few were privy to that knowledge.
As they arrived at the store and warehouse, the rains began to pour in sheets. Visibility was mostly a white haze of cold, thick, pellets. As they prepared for a drenching, everyone knew their job. They were in teams so that each one would gather the required rations. The medical team would gather whatever they could find from the pharmacy. The health and beauty team gathered all the necessary supplies for daily living like soap, deodorant, feminine products and anything needed to make one more presentable during the day. The last team would gather housing and repair items, sheets, spreads, blankets, nails, paint, spackle and such. They spent the morning moving steadily and gathering as much as they could hold on the bus.
Joey had been in the warehouse gathering housing items. He moved from one pile to the next when he stopped suddenly. A growling rumble caught his attention. The pelting of the rain on the metal roof and the distant chatter of his teammates caused no immediate concern. But underneath their motion and sound there was something else, something hungry. Then by surprise, a low hungry growl followed by the crashing of boxes pierced the air. Joey broke into a run, his cart out in front of him as a large panther gave chase. He screamed loudly as he could feel the animal gaining. Macey and Travis were the first to hear him. They raced to the warehouse to find Joey being torn to shreds by a massive beast. They ran to his aid as the beast tore into his back and neck. Blood spewed from the wounds as a broken faucet in the winter. They each grabbed a shovel from the garden section and began swinging at the animal. Joey’s screams alerted the others as the men fought the beast and finally were able to kill the animal with blows to the skull. Joey, bloodied and gnarled laid in a puddle, his agonizing screams filling the air.
Kyla and Pratt tended the man and sewed his wounds together. They had gathered antibiotics and creams that would keep out germs. They loaded him on the bus and headed home quickly. Pratt administered a painkiller to the suffering man that quieted his pain. When they arrived at the mansion, there were questions from those left behind. Once he was situated, Kyla explained what had happened. This now meant that everyone had to be careful. The animals were coming out in the day and that really spelled trouble as they were looking for food as well. Joey would sleep the rest of the day as his friends watched over him. Kyla seemed worried more than the others. She stayed at his side and checked his wounds every hour. Marcus noticed tenseness in the group. He knew that Joey was hanging by a thread and with this being the first non viral fatality it reminded everyone that they were actually closer to the food chain than ever before.
That night, dinner was more solemn. The women retreated to bed as the men took turns on watch. The fear of a possible hungry animal getting in was too great and with a wounded man, the smell of blood was in the air. It was a long night and no one slept well. But the following morning would prove to be no better. When Kyla awoke, her thoughts were strictly on Joey. She wanted to see how he had faired through the night. She remembered hearing rain and every once in a while a low muffled moan. She figured he was either dreaming of what had happened or had some inklings of pain seeping through his medicated state. The leader was anxious to see what progress he had made. But when she opened the door the only sight she saw was an empty bed and a few drops of blood on the sheets. She called out immediately, and doors began to open up and down the hall. The discovery of the missing, drugged, and wounded man was a mystery that needed solving. Without proper dosages, he could die from infection, if he wasn’t dead already. Kyla and Marcus organized search parties. Macey and Shareen began to look around the room for clues. The only thing they could find was an open window.
“But how and why does a heavily sedated, severely wounded man go out a window?” Shareen could not understand what she was supposed to be finding.
The group took a break from the search and rescue to eat and discuss what they had either heard or seen. The loud thunderstorm that came through the night before made it hard for anyone to recall anything other than snoring and deep rem sleep. They would continue to search until late into the evening. They gave up at the first sign of dark. There was an uneasiness lurking in the minds of the survivors. Kyla seemed to worry more as the day drug on. She retreated to one of the cabins, a troubled look on her face. Some of her immediate henchmen followed while the rest were left to watch over the newcomers. Or was it to police the newcomers into staying. That was the feel of the atmosphere to Marcus and his crew some expressed their concerns. Gwenyth would be the first to speak.
“I don’t like the way things are going on here. What the hell happened to that guy? He was near death yesterday and now he is gone. They jumped up to find him and by night, they are creeping away to a cabin to have some secret meeting. There’s something wrong and there are others who feel the same way I do.”
Marcus understood her emotions and tried to speak with to them and calm their nerves.
“I admit that things seem a bit strange. I saw that guy just like you did and I was sure he would have been dead by this morning. But we are not in a position to where we can start snooping around without suspicion. They have guns and expertise in these woods. We must play it careful until a good moment arises where we have the upper hand. So play it cool”
He was right, they didn’t know what they were up against and it would be a bad move to assume that there weren’t other animals in the woods waiting. For now, they would retire and keep their wits sharp for darker days were ahead. The rest of the team came in later that night. They checked the rooms to make sure their guests were in place. For now, their secrets were still safely tucked away.  
As the night went on a cold wind swept through the village as a snow drizzle began to blanket the home. Everything was quiet and still. The fears of the night seemed to slumber as the guests and their strange hosts. But everyone only seemed to be sleeping well. A couple of the guests had decided they had stayed long enough.
Tifton and Claire packed provisions and double layered their clothes. They did not care for the new company and their obvious skeptical behavior. They packed their immediate needs as usual and quietly opened their bedroom door. As they entered the hall, another door opened. It was the siblings, Dianne, Steven and David. They wanted out as well. 
“We want to go to. There’s something wrong with this place.” They whispered quietly.
Tifton and Claire agreed as they could use the company. They decided to take one of Kyla’s cars, an SUV. The group took the smallest of the three vehicles. They easily pushed it to the gate and then once on the other side, they could start it and be on their way. Their plan seemed to be working as they moved along quietly warming themselves using the vehicle’s heater. It ran quite smoothly as was comfy for the small crew. As they felt they were out of danger, they began to talk and recount the last couple of days. Tifton drove carefully, following the dark winding road. The quiet drizzle of snow glided down in a whispery curtain that disappeared on impact. Tifton was about to make another turn when an object darted across the road in front of the moving car. Dianne and Claire caught a glimpse of the outline. Tifton slammed on the breaks as the car slid forward gently.
“What the hell was that?” Dianne spoke up. “It was muscular, dark and fast. Let’s just get outta here.”
Tifton checked to make sure everyone was still in the mood to go. The group agreed to move on. Tifton started the car and moved forward, but as he descended the winding road, something shook the vehicle. He pushed down on the gas thinking that maybe he got caught on a large tree branch. But even as he pushed forward the car jerked even more.
“Are you sure you are on the gas?” Steven was starting to sound concerned.
“Yes, I can drive you know.” Tifton remarked. “We’re hung on something”
David had been quiet up until now.
“We’re not hung on anything. Something has us. Gun that engine and get us the hell outta here!”
Tifton continued to press on the gas and slowly they moved forward. Their fears seemed to quiet as the car began to pick up speed as they inched along. Tifton breathed in a large sigh as the group settled. David, feeling less pessimistic, sighed deeper than the rest. As they approached the final turn, the next group of roads would lead to a highway, they laughed at themselves. They were home free. Suddenly the car lifted from the road and slammed into a large oak. Something was charging the mangled wreckage. As the passengers in the back seat squirmed around to free from their seatbelts a massive crash came from the back window. David felt large claw-like hands grab him and pull him through the jagged class. He screamed and reached for help as his flesh tore beneath the shards. Steven and Diane quickly grabbed for him but whatever had him was not letting go and more powerful than the two of them. He was sucked into the night, his screams were the only beacon that he was still alive and then a horrifying sound of death filled the air and a loud thud shook the car. The remaining passengers began to squirm and scream as they knew their fate. Things went eerily quiet for a moment as Tifton tried to calm everyone down.
“Start looking for anything we can use as a weapon!”
They scrambled for devices. There were a couple of steel bats in the back, Diane quickly grabbed them handing one to Steve. Then from nowhere the side window exploded in sharp shards of glass as a hungry and bloodied face appeared fangs dripping with the remains of his last victim. Steve swung wildly, but that only seemed to enrage the creature more. He lunged inside the vehicle grabbing the large man and biting him viciously on the neck and ripping through his jugular. Blood sprayed over the seats and screaming survivors and he was yanked from the vehicle as well. This time the sounds of bones crushing beneath a massive force while muscle and tissue were ripped from their bone could be heard with excruciating clarity. His blood splattered the broken glass from the window as just outside the vehicle the creature took his feast.
“We need to run!” Tifton heard his wife, but could not believe what she had said. “If we stay here, we are doomed, we need to take our chances, it can only get one at a time.”
Diane, clearly shaken and disagreeing with that idea screamed out.
“That is fuckin’ suicide! It will pick us off one by one out there. We just have to try and be prepared for the next attack.”
Claire rebutted. “It is picking us off one by one in here and if you haven’t noticed it is going for the men first. It is thinking! It knows we don’t stand a chance on our own. We have to fight our way out of here! Find me something from back there.”
Diane pulled out a crowbar. The bat that Steve had was still in the back seat. The group reluctantly decided to run. But just as they were opening the door, a bright light caught their eye and gunshots could be heard as bullets whizzed by the car. The creature quickly dropped its meal and darted off into the night. Jeffrey had done a room check and realized that some of the tenants had gone missing.
Marcus, Kyla, Jeffrey and Pratt ran to the aid of the survivors. They plucked them from the mangled vehicle and ushered them into the other car. Kyla was clearly upset.
“What the hell were you thinking? And what the hell was that?”
Tifton answered her immediately. “Why don’t you tell us what the hell that was! I saw it and it looked like your friend that was attacked. But it’s different, it’s animal. So you tell us what the hell is going on!”
The team was visibly shaken, but no one uttered a word. That was when Marcus knew there was more to the story. As they entered the gates, Kyla loaded her gun and ordered everyone to move inside to the living room area and wait for further instructions. Her team stood as guards with loaded sawed off shotguns, ready to take down any predator. Once inside, the happy little community began to show their true side.
Kyla lit into the remaining members of Marcus’s team.
“You disobeyed our orders and have caused further damage to the livelihood of this community. You all will be confined to one of the larger rooms. We have moved your things and prepared your space. You will be guarded carefully so none of this happens again. You cannot be trusted.”
Tifton quickly spoke up. “Now wait just a damn minute! It’s you that cannot be trusted. You haven’t told us a damn thing about what is really happening here. I saw that damn thing and it was your buddy Joey. He had claws and teeth like razors and was covered in hair and moved like nothing I ever saw before. He turned into some kind of predator and my guess is that you knew that when you couldn’t find him. You were just waiting. Now someone needs to come out with the truth here!”
Jeffrey, quick to act, took the butt end of his gun and hammered it across Tifton’s head knocking him unconscious. He cocked the rifle and told everyone to move to their new digs. Kyla sat quietly watching the team carry their injured comrade to their room. She ordered that they be locked in and a guard posted outside of their door. 
Their new oppressors held the firepower and military experience but they knew if they stayed, things could only get worse. They talked amongst themselves in whispers. For the next couple of hours they tried to come up with a plan that would save them from their captors and keep them from being eaten by the beast that now stalked the compound. As the wee hours of the morning approached, they grew sleepy and decided to call it a night. But that would not be the end of their discussions. There was a light knock on the door as the knob turned and a new visitor now stood before them. It was Morgan. Seeing the fear in all of their eyes, she announced that she was there for peaceful reasons and that she would tell them what they needed to know.
“Why should we believe you?” Tess spoke. But Morgan calmed her fears.
“I know you all are afraid and you should be. There is something very sinister about this place and the people in it. They are the other 20%.”
“The other 20%, what the hell is that?” Tess asked.
“In the beginning we played God. Dr. Pratt and myself worked on the water and food projects. The water project went as planned and worked well. But the food project was a disaster.”
“The virus that wiped out humanity causing death and pestilence that was you?” Marcus asked.
“I was on one of the teams as was Dr. Pratt. I was kicked off the project early as I knew that it was a bad idea to manipulate our food at any level, especially the genetic and/or cellular levels. The host would have no choice but to acquire some form of the drugs and behaviors that we were noted in the lab animals. But no one wanted to hear it. They thought that since we were human we could control the outcome better. In the lab, we did, but humans do not live in labs. By the time, I had finished my experiments that proved the drugs weren’t safe, I was locked out and removed from the project. Pratt remained and continued to work, but he knew the risks. He was struggling to find a cure but it was too late. The drugs had been released and distributed through food to the public and you know the rest.”
“No we don’t, you said there was another 20%?” Marcus guided her back towards her original conversation. She reluctantly continued.
“Oh, right, the 20%. As you know the virus immediately killed 60% of the people who ingested it and 40% survived. Half of those suffered greatly before miraculously healing. The other half had some symptoms but seemed fine. The latter was truly blessed. The other group however, was the one that I had detected. Both of the surviving groups showed improvements. They were able to go longer without eating and suffered no ill effects. But one of the groups had horrible consequences. That’s the other 20. They formed an unusual and deadly bond to the chemicals that were used. Their bodies were stronger and they could go even longer without eating, but the consequence was horrible. At the end of their starvation cycle, they would have to consume large quantities of organ meat and brain tissue. If they didn’t, they would start to change. Claws, fangs, being short tempered were just a few of the symptoms. It was like the body was changing to fit its most urgent need. It transformed the host into a killing machine, a predator so it could get what it needed in order to change back.”
“So Joey was starving and the attack forced him into a change? What kind of shit is this?” Tess questioned.
“No. Joey's body is reacting to the saliva from his attacker. No, he will not change back. In his case, DNA from another creature has entered his blood stream. He was nearing his starvation end and was doing fine, but something new was added to his equation, foreign DNA. His body immediately took on the new material and altered him to become the ultimate predator and he cannot change back. He has to be destroyed. Listen to me, I don’t want any more deaths on my conscience. I am willing to help you, but you must act fast. The others that are nearing their starvation end are hungry and you have the fresh materials they need to survive.”   
“Materials? You mean we are the grocery list?" Marcus chimed in. Tess was quick to respond as well.
What are we going to do? They have firepower and experience." Tess was clearly upset and the others agreed with her.
“Yes, they need your systems to survive. I will try and sneak you a couple of weapons when you are out doing chores. I cannot let them know I am with you. They would kill me too.”
Morgan crept quietly into the hall and sat at her post as if nothing had changed. She was their guard.
The next day the flurries had dissipated and the day seemed fresh and clean. A loud rap on the door startled them awake as Jeffrey bellowed out that breakfast was ready. They washed and presented themselves knowing this could be their last day alive. It was a quiet somber meal. Kyla gave orders for some to tend the garden house and others to clean and prep fresh veggies. They were placed in groups of threes with a guard and a gun.
Marcus, Tess, and Gregory were teamed with Morgan who was heavily armed and led them outback to the garden house. She instructed them on what to pull how to tell if everything was fresh. Hollie, Michael and Claire were on house duty. They cleaned every bedroom, bathroom, and common area. They were guarded by Jeffrey, so they dared not make a mistake. As for Diane, Tifton and Alvin, they were instructed to clean out the vehicles and tend to the wreckage. There were still items in that old car that were needed for their protection. Their guards were Macey and Travis. That day moved on as if they were on a chain gang. No one moved, spat, or farted without approval. At the end of the day, once again another meal where conversation was null and the atmosphere was thick with schemes and plotted betrayal.
That night, they were locked in their rooms with Kyla as their guard. She was starting to look a bit frail and disheveled. Marcus knew that she would change soon. He didn’t have to ask who was human and who was something else. He could tell. He could sense it some way and knew that he had to move fast to save his people. He couldn’t sleep that night which was just as good. The crashing window from downstairs rattled the tenants from their slumber. Donovan and Travis sprung into action and raced to the scene. As the made it to the bottom of the stairs, they noticed the glass on the floor by the large picture window. The glistening light from the night sky shone brightly through the curtains as the wind blew them gently to and fro. Donovan stepped into the light. He didn’t know how much of a mistake he had made. As he peered through the broken glass, he felt a tight grip on his throat as he was snatched through the opening and his neck twisted until it made a loud pop. Travis shot into the opening and raced to his aid. He saw the creature, his friend on his shoulder, as he took two good steps and leapt into the moonlit night. Heavy footsteps followed behind him as Jeffrey was on the scene.
“We got to board up the windows or that damn thing’s gonna pick us off one by one.”
He was right. They started that night gathering every board they could and every nail in the house. They worked until dawn, all of them. The next day it was more evident that someone else would die. Kyla was deteriorating faster and didn’t make an appearance at breakfast. That day was quiet, sullen, and rainy. Morgan and Dr. Pratt took the group to the medical cabin for tests. The others watched over Kyla, Travis and Macey. They were becoming gravely ill and hungry.
“I am supposed to run blood tests to see if you can be used. I don’t want to do this. I can’t take it. The others were horrible.” Pratt’s confession was difficult and gruesome. “They were cut up like some kind of cattle and their organs were ground into shakes. I know Morgan has spoken with you. You have to take down Jeffrey first. Kyla, Travis and Macey are sick now and they are weak. The others are just as afraid as I am. Here take these syringes and these guns. The syringes are filled with cyanide, plunge the contents directly into the blood stream. The guns are fully loaded.”
Alvin interrupted the good doctor. “Why haven’t you done this yourself?”
“They suspect that I am tired of their ways. But they keep me around for my services. I've been working on an anecdote. Kyla has been breathing down my neck for a cure. She despises the taste of human organs. Before you go, there is something else you must know about this virus. For those of you who have survived and created antibodies, you have other side effects. Your senses are keener, you can hear sharper and see farther than before. You will weather the harsh changes in temperature with little effect to your immune system. You are truly the goal we were trying to reach. It is up to you to eradicate the evil that lives here. I will have your test results to them by nightfall. Have a plan ready for they are hungry and will want you dispatched immediately.”
Morgan led them back to their room. It was cloudy and beginning to rain again. Marcus, Tess, Hollie, Michael, Daine, Tifton, Claire, Gregory and Alvin plotted their survival as the hours ticked on. They came up with a plan and waited quietly.
It was late in the afternoon when Pratt’s tests results were in. They were all candidates for dinner. None of them had any of the negative side effects and they were all in good health with strong working organs and immune systems. Kyla ordered Jeffrey to bring them the two boys, Gregory and Alvin. They were to be killed immediately and prepared for consumption.
Jeffery moved up the stairs and unlocked the door. As he stood in the doorway, he motioned for the two brothers to come forward, as they did he shot Alvin in the leg. Disabling him meant his brother had to help him. This also meant that no one was going to try anything stupid. The rifle was an automatic and with Jeffrey on the trigger, anyone who decided to step out of line would be dead before they hit the ground.
For now, they all stepped back as Gregory helped his wounded brother to his feet. Alvin grimaced in pain as he stumbled forward, blood running down his pant leg. He limped forward his brother’s shoulder acting as a crutch aiding him along the way. Jeffrey waited as they approached, rifle held firmly in his hands. Alvin stumbled forward falling to the ground. Gregory stooped down to help. He was able to get his brother half way when they began to move slowly forward.
“C’mon ladies get a move on!” Jeffrey was growing impatient. He decided to step up and help them. But as he reached down to grab Alvin’s arm, Gregory plunged the cyanide filled syringe into his shoulder. The effects took hold immediately. Gregory ripped the gun away from the dying man. Jeffrey fell to the floor as the effects of the poison ripped through him like scissors in a paper mache class. His body began to die system by system until he suffocated in his own shell. His last breaths were painful but not long.
The crew downstairs, alerted to the commotion, was becoming unhinged. Kyla could feel the change rumbling to the surface. She leapt from her seat, hands like claws and teeth elongating to fangs, she could feel her muscles tense as she moved with catlike precision to the stairs. The others moved after her knowing they could be cleaning up her mess if she no longer had control. Macey and Travis moving slower than most as their bodies were breaking down and weakening, the last stage before the change.
At the top of the stairs, Marcus and his team prepared. Alvin moved back into the room where Daine took care of his wound. Tess, Michael, Hollie, Claire, Tifton and Gregory grabbed the guns they had been given by Pratt and the extra syringes. They positioned themselves to the sides and back of Marcus. As Kyla rounded the corner, she leapt into the air. Marcus began shooting and did not stop until she fell. Once on the floor, he finished her with a shot to her head. The others followed, but held up their hands in a truce. They wanted no parts in death, but were infected with the virus. Upon seeing their fallen leader member, Macey and Travis began to run, but they would not make it far as Marcus chased them with a stream of bullets.
The bodies, removed from the house, were placed outside in a pile as an offering for the beast. Marcus and Gregory sat quietly on the roof waiting for his appearance. And just like any wild animal, he did not disappoint. Just as he began to lunge at the fresh meal, Marcus took aim and fired three shots. He hit the beast in the back, the head, and leg. Joey fell to the ground snarling and growling in agony. A final shot to his frontal lobe quieted the creature.

The bodies were then burned and all the boards, except for the broken window, were taken down. The next day brought a huge sigh of relief. Raven’s place was now a real community, the monsters were gone and the nightmare over.