God was not in His heaven that warm summer evening as the freight train lurched up the grade toward the sleepy Texas town of Bandera. If He had been, surely He would have let Death sleep. Unfortunately, the staccato shock of couplings reaching their limit awoke Death.
Excerpt from Chapter One ~
Death was alone that evening, which was usual for this backwater run, meandering west through San Antonio to nowhere in particular. Nocturnal travelers had long ago learned there was nothing gained, and everything to lose in the company of creatures such as Death.
Pressing his tattooed shoulder against the frame, Death forced the heavy door open just as the lights of Bandera snaked into view. As the freight entered the town, clattering through one humble neighborhood after another, Death waited patiently in the shadows nursing his bottle. Finally, taking a long last swig, he grabbed the doorframe and swung his powerful body out into the wind. Landing hard on loose gravel, Death fell cursing onto the roadbed as the train rolled on unconcerned into the night.
The trip from Huntsville Prison to the park in Bandera had taken most of the day. As Death rose, checking the switchblade in his boot, hunger weighed heavily on his mind. Drawn by the prospect of a hot meal, Death shuffled off through the trees.
Not far enough away, Juan and Maria strolled through the park, as had countless lovers before them. As they walked arm in arm, Maria's thoughts returned to her eventful day, much of which they had managed to spend together. She remembered how she had struggled to be attentive in church and helpful during the midday meal, all the while keeping this most precious part of her life safely within her heart. There was, of course, the unfortunate necessity of lying about her intentions as she escaped to meet with her Juan.
Maria disliked deceiving her parents. Nevertheless, she could do little else. She knew Juan would not be welcome in her life until she was old enough to marry, a point her parents had made abundantly clear. Fate, it seemed, had presented her with the classic lover's dilemma: rules she could not live with, concerning a man she could not live without.
Excerpt from Chapter Two ~
As if through a haze, Maria watched the lights flash by. There were strange smells, and sounds--confusing sounds--and voices, voices she could not recognize; but most of all there was pain, more pain than she had ever known. She tried to find the pain, to soothe it, to make it go away, but unseen hands prevented her touch.
Finally, as if her tears had washed them away, the pain subsided, the flashing lights dimmed, and the voices no longer spoke to her.
"Have you seen our latest?"
"You mean the young girl they flew in from Bandera?"
"Yeah, that's the one. Bandera-Medical thought she was just another beat-up rape victim until they saw all the blood."
"Thank God they realized she was out of their league in time to AirLife her here."
"What is she, 17 maybe 18? Jesus!"
"Too young to have her life destroyed like this, that's for sure."
"Did you see her face? You can tell she was beautiful, but now ..."
"It's not just her face that's been ruined."
"With all that damage it's a miracle she didn't die before they found her."
"You're not kidding; the doctors don't have a clue how she survived."
"You know he cut her."
"Why'd he have to do that, couldn't he penetrate her?"
"They say he not only cut her hymen, the vicious bastard went deeper inside."
"What kind of monster would do something like that to a child?"
"He must have known she could never have children after that."
"Pray to God she doesn't even try. Just getting pregnant could kill her."
"I'm sorry, but it sure sounds like some kind of revenge thing to me."
"That's ridiculous. What on earth could the child have done to deserve something like this?"
"Nothing, it's just insane."
"Do they think it was a boyfriend or someone like that?"
"No, haven't you heard? I understand they found her boyfriend's body at the scene. Apparently, he died trying to protect her. Whoever attacked them was just too powerful I guess."
"It had to be some rotten bastard passing through. I hope they find him and put him away forever."
"Not much chance of that. Bandera's full of transients what with the trains coming through at all hours, and the highway."
"You're right, that son-of-a-bitch's probably halfway to Hell by now."
Excerpt from Chapter Four ~
... Maria ignored the pill as long as possible. She had placed it by her chair and there it remained, lying lightly on the table yet heavily on her mind. All day long, there had been nothing but the clock and the pill. The clock's ticking representing life, the pill's silence representing death, Maria's death and that of her baby.
In the evening, as the time grew near, she sat down in front of the pill. Taking a deep breath, Maria extended a finger to touch it. Slowly she rolled and turned it, seeking the source of its malevolence.
The room grew dark. Maria began to speak, but not to the pill. She whispered instead, as a mother to her baby. Softly, she spoke of her love and the special places within her heart. She told her baby of her dreams and of her beloved Juan. Finally, she told her baby about the pill, of how it would allow them to be together always, and of how she had asked God to shield her baby from its pain.
It was time ...
Trembling, Maria reached for the pill and placed it in her mouth.
It was time ...
The crushing pain awoke Maria, driving her knees into her chest. She tried to scream through jaws clamped shut by waves of nausea. Unable to rise, she slid painfully to the floor and struggled toward the bathroom. The cold ceramic tile chilled Maria through her wet gown as the pungent odor of urine enveloped her. Instinctively, she held her hand over her vagina as she envisaged the baby sliding through her. Unable to pull herself onto the toilet, Maria collapsed to the floor as a crimson pool slowly expanded around her.
Excerpt from Chapter Fourteen ~
Nearing the end of yet another steamy South Texas afternoon, Kat walked through the doorway and turned toward the elevators at the end of the hall. As she traversed the lengthening beams of light, her heart leapt into her throat. For within the dancing shadows, Kat saw the telltale reflection of someone approaching from Tio's corridor.
She turned and frantically ran toward her only avenue of escape. Bursting through the men's room door, Kat slipped out of her heels and stepped silently into the nearest stall. Climbing onto the toilet, Kat balanced herself between the partitions, just as Tio and a man, whose voice she did not recognize, entered the room and crossed to the urinals along the wall.
"So, Tio, what's the problem this time?" the stranger asked.
"Oh the usual, some bitch over in Accounting got her feelings hurt and wants to hang me out to dry."
"What is it with you; can't you just 'do' 'em without all that kinky crap?"
Tio chuckled. "I guess not."
"Aren't you worried your supervisor will get wind of 'our little sexual problem'?"
"She ain't gonna find out. I've worked too hard to get where I am to let some skirt screw me up."
"What're you going to do about this one?"
"Nothing, she's just blowin' smoke. She knows if she ever said anything, I'd make her regret it for the rest of her short, painful life."
"You suck," the stranger snarled.
Tio headed for the door, but then stopped. "What's that smell?"
Kat cringed and imagined him turning toward her.
"Jesus Tio, it's a john. What kind of question is that?"
"No, this is different. It's like perfume, and it seems ... somehow familiar."
Excerpt from Chapter Twenty Seven ~
The automatic timer unlocked the night security gate as Kat drove up to the parking garage. Good, she thought. At least no one's been able to drive in ahead of me. Now if I can just get back out before they open the rest of the building.
Making her way through the dimly lit halls, Kat smiled as she remembered raising her gown and lying belly-to-belly with Maria the evening before, all in the hope that Maria would feel the baby kick, just as she had.
When Kat arrived at her desk, she found the medical insurance forms and final paycheck, as expected. There was also an envelope from Amy, emblazoned with the words "I'm Proud of You."
Kat decided to leave the card for later, slipping it unread into her purse, next to the gun she had never quite learned to use. Had she taken the extra few moments to read the card, she would have learned how pleased Amy was that she had stuck it out. She would also have read Amy's plea not to leave without first notifying Security. But then, Kat was in a hurry.
Millennia ago in a land much like our own, the eternal quest for power began. From tangled forests of ancient oaks and misty swamps, came pagan hordes of light and dark to play the fairies' game. Opposing sides of Shee moved and checked as if in a game of chess, not by strategic precision but haphazardly, as if cunning and deceit alone would win the golden prize.
Excerpt from Chapter One ~
Hour upon hour throughout the night the contest advanced, bolstered by spiced wine and capricious song.
Then, as the glow from innumerable campfires waned with the dawn, dubious stories of past glory were impressed upon the young, as hushed elders discussed an uncertain future ... a future threatened by the "others."
Blue-gray haze wafted into the night from King Ogma's ancient clay pipe.
"Any news?" he asked.
"More tribes are coming down from the north," a younger replied. "Strange beings these mortals, so easily vexed, and with our magic they will surely be defeated."
Ogma swatted a bug from his wrinkled nose.
"But they have iron," he replied, "and possibly other weapons as well."
"True," an elder added. "We must stay vigilant and learn more of their ways before we dare strike them."
Excerpt from Chapter Two ~
"I'm starving," the compelling voice repeated, "and I don't like eating alone, so come ... come with me."
Taking her outstretched hand, Hank made the fatal mistake of glancing into Eleanor's deep blue eyes, within which he glimpsed destruction of the future he had so carefully planned.
"Where are we going?"
"To the Student Center so I can get some lunch, while you, my dear, tell me all about those boring old books."
As they wove their way through the din of loud voices, blaring music, and sliding chairs, she noticed Hank had nothing but crackers and water on his tray.
"That's quite a meal you have there, don't you eat?"
"I kinda lose my appetite when distracted."
Smiling wryly, she asked, "So you're distracted now?"
Hesitant to answer, Hank turned his head to the side and coughed.
Unwilling to let him escape her feminine trap, Eleanor reached out and pulled his head around to face her.
"Look at me, silly ... I won't bite."
Realizing she had set her hook and was slowly reeling him in, Hank laughed.
"I'm not so sure about that."
"I'm Eleanor by the way," she said while extending her hand.
"I see you walking past my lab all the time, but you never stop to say hello. Are you shy ... or just not interested?"
Sensing another trap, Hank quickly changed the subject.
"I'm Hank, Hank Eve--"
"Stop," she demanded, "no last names, I don't know you that well yet." Then frowning, she added, "Sheesh, you could be a pervert for all I know ... are you?"
Quickly recovering his composure, Hank began, "No, I'm just usually focused on my work."
At that, Eleanor placed her hand over his and smiled.
"Sorry, I was only kidding. I'm a senior in botany ... what's your gig?"
"I'm an associate archeology professor."
"Uh-oh," Eleanor laughed, "an exalted digger fraternizing with a vulnerable young female student. What other nasty things do you do?"
Hank paused before answering, "Nothing I guess."
Finally, Eleanor stood and while turning to leave, shot back, "Great, I guess all we have in common is dirt."
Upon seeing the sign of dejection her statement caused, Eleanor softened and then whispered, "By the way, I'll probably be hungry again tomorrow."
Excerpt from Chapter Seven ~
Dark clouds formed as the first shovels stabbed the earth. Thunder rumbled and lightning pierced the impending gloom as ominous clouds churned in dense gray swells across a violet sky. The moment had finally come for the battle to begin between the local fairies, incensed at this uninvited intrusion into their realm, and the greed-driven mortals within the pit.
Disregarding the menacing warning so overtly revealed with the sudden storm, the workers continued ... until the silver rain began.
What started as mere sprinkles, quickly morphed into a torrent surging over the gorge where they so desperately toiled. Heavy drops pounded the arid landscape, launching puffs of dust into the fetid air as the parched earth quickly drank its fill and then spewed back what it could no longer hold.
Forced to abandon their task, the harried workers scurried about like frenzied ants in a futile attempt to safeguard the site. Lost in the deafening wind were the shouted commands from frantic foremen trying to secure the bulky tents, which were tossing about like mere bits of paper within the maelstrom.
Excerpt from Chapter Nine ~
Placing the orb on the rim of the trunk, she delivered a glancing blow that shattered the ball in a scintillating shower of sparks. Slumping to one knee and running her hand through the glittering substance that poured from the fracture, Eleanor immediately felt a sharp pain in her finger as it met one of the larger razor-like shards.
Reflexively putting the wounded appendage into her mouth to suck the blood and pain away, Eleanor ignored the strange powder accompanying it ... until it was too late. As she felt an electrical surge spreading throughout her body, Eleanor sensed danger.
Fearing the substance might be toxic to her unborn child, she ran to the work sink Hank had installed soon after they moved in.
While scrubbing away the residue, Eleanor heard a frantic otherworldly screech just as a tiny creature flitted in her hair. Combing fingers through her curls, Eleanor quickly brushed the unwanted intruder away.
Excerpt from Chapter Twenty ~
Evening shadows, like long spidery wraithlike fingers slowly inked their way across the ground as if on a silent mission. Faint whispers of wind gently tossed the crisp autumn leaves about, but nothing else stirred. With a last ray of sun gliding below the horizon, the dark velvet night pulled her cloak ever tighter against the chill and squeezed the final sliver of daylight from the garden. Night had fallen.
Deep within, the creature twitched. Sleep-encrusted eyelids blinked and a long gray tongue slid from its mouth to lick his right eye. Yawning, Hyzar rose up on his haunches and shaking off the last vestiges of sleep, searched the darkening sky with his night vision. Heaving scrawny shoulders and stretching to exaggerate his mere four-foot squatty stature,
Hyzar picked at the dark brown scales covering his body from his razor-sharp talons to the Roman centurion's plume rising from the top of his head. Finally, bat-like wings flexed with each flap emitting harsh squeaky sounds into the night. Overall, the bony slight-framed body with tattered ears and ragged wings presented a menacing appearance. A closer inspection, however, revealed a pair of gentle eyes filled with compassion.
Excerpt from Chapter Thirty Two ~
Moments after the meeting commenced, Faryn arrived in a crystal cage, which allowed conversation but otherwise severely restricted her movement.
After executing another pretentious entrance, the Aire, continued the same attack begun earlier.
"Thief, why did you steal our orb?"
"I'm not a thief," Faryn once again proclaimed, "and I didn't steal your crappy old orb."
At that moment, an elder stepped forward and asked, "Since you say you 'found' the orb, do you consider it yours?"
"I'm not sure it's anyone's. It's more like it belongs to itself."
"Well if it's not yours, why'd you try to sell it to that gypsy?"
"You mean Mara? How do you know about her?"
The Aire motioned for the elder to relinquish the floor.
"Never mind ... just answer the question," he demanded.
Faryn scowled. "First, Mara is not a gypsy--a bit unconventional--but no gypsy. Second, I wasn't trying to sell the orb, only to learn about it, and lastly ... it's none of your business what I was doing."
Faryn's strident tone unsettled the Aire, as he had not anticipated such defiance.
"So ... so you still proclaim you're innocent of the crime?"