“The Off Switch” A #Short Story #RRBC @pursoot … From my upcoming #Thriller #Anthology “Closure.”

#rrbc spotlight final blog piccie .masks coming off for acts of betrayal (2)

 

Thank you for joining me as I share a short story from an anthology I’m compiling for release later this year. I’ll be including a minimum of ten short stories all in some way reflective of the title … “Closure”

 

The Off Switch

By Suzanne Burke

From the upcoming anthology “Closure”

I doubt that too many humans don’t experience the need we appear to have and crave. You know the one? That urgent inexplicable flash of emotion that drives us to connect with someone, somewhere, someplace and at some time on this our journey through the unpredictability of life.

Jake Caldwell shrugged off the raw-edged sadness. He’d read about that need and smiled each time he witnessed it occur around him everywhere he went. He simply didn’t share that craving. He hungered for isolation now. His memory too overburdened with all his failures to connect. He’d tried all of it. Oh, he understood the logic of his species needing to feel part of something they perceived as greater and more knowing than themselves. They grasped desperately at the magic wand of belonging and clung to it long after the spell had been cast and had faded into oblivion.

Jake didn’t believe in magic.

He believed in only what he could see, touch, hear and smell. The peripheral flashes of humanity’s need had touched his life once. So long ago that is was now merely a whisper in his mind and one he refused to allow volume. He’d flicked his off switch as soon as he discovered he had one. He had been young then. It was a brief space in time when he’d still clung to the vague hope that anything he did would echo through time and instill his memory with someone. Jake now felt he deserved to be remembered for all the other things he’d managed to accomplish.

***

He watched his target carefully.

The young woman climbed from the taxi in heavy rain. She grabbed a bag from the trunk. gave a brief nod of thanks to the driver, then climbed the stairs to her second-floor apartment two steps at a time.

He was denied a clear visual confirmation that it was indeed her, as she’d crouched low in her concealing hoodie and entered the apartment without facing him long enough for him to access his facial recognition technology. He had so many available techniques now at his finger-tips to be certain that he had the right target. There were many times when he’d bemoaned that fact, as he’d enjoyed every moment of the hunt. Now … now it was just way too damned easy. The challenge had lessened and along with it his pleasure in an achievement hard won.

Today … it was just a job. It paid for his addictions and his recoveries. The cycle hadn’t paused.

Jake pulled his thoughts back to the present and waited. The sky grew darker and the storm shattered the oppressive silence and shifted the air in an attitude of waiting for the latent violence to cut loose.

He loved storms. He admired their fury and unrepentant volatility. This he understood. This he admired.

He took a brief moment to read his scheduled targets parameters again. He liked to be certain. Mistakes in his line of work would see him terminated. He understood and accepted that. It added to the excitement to know he could die at his first mistake.

Sandra Bartholomew was an attractive woman. A woman that others would follow with their eyes registering lust.

Jake happily acknowledged that. She’d be long accustomed to being watched. One more set of eyes wouldn’t flag her a warning.

She was around twenty-seven. Younger than most of his targets. In fact, this was the first in memory to be younger than his own thirty-year life span.

She had a crowning glory of gold curls that tweaked at his memory a little.

But her line of work ensured she was often featured in the press. That was where the memory was located,  he was certain of it.

He recalled feeling a vague admiration for her at some stage in the last few years. This woman was unafraid to take a stance against corruption. He admired it as much as he knew it was a pointless journey.

***

Night fell rapidly and he watched the lights in her apartment illuminate the area beyond.

At 9.00 P.M she exited and locked the door behind her. The leather jacket she wore would conceal for many that she was carrying a weapon. Unless of course, you knew what to look for. He reached into the waistband of his jeans and felt the reassuring comfort of his Beretta. There was no clear line of site available for him to utilize his rifle. He watched her clamber into the black SUV with assured movements. This woman moved sparingly, each step measured and assured.  A twinge of something distracted him and he forced his mind back to his current assignment with irritation.

He followed her out and into the flow of traffic, making certain that he remained at least three cars behind her. She swung into the parking lot of a bar down on East Broadway. He scanned the area and noted the numbers of CCTV camera’s recording every moment and movement.

Jake smiled at the challenge. He’d need to take her down elsewhere. For now, he’d watch on from inside the bar.

He spotted her sitting at a corner table. She sat alone yet her demeanor indicated she was waiting for someone to join her. He watched the barmen take her order and return with a bottle of red wine and two glasses.

She gazed around with vague disinterest etched into her carefully concealed countenance. This was a player worthy of his undivided attention. He felt a thrill that had been absent for a very long while.

He ordered a double shot of Jack Daniels and swirled it in the ice that accompanied it three times before drinking. Funny how old habits linger without us being aware of them.

She poured another glass and drank it down hurriedly with an occasional glance around to check out how many hungry eyes were watching.

Jake jolted backward as their eyes made contact. “What the fuck?” He caught himself mutter as he looked hurriedly away.

The woman’s looked heralded recognition and Jake needed to move, and move fast.

He stood, swirled his drink three more times before finishing the contents and walked out of the bar without glancing once in her direction.

He hurried across to his car, climbed in and headed out of the area as fast as the night traffic would allow.

He drove for what seemed endless miles before he’d centered himself enough to park off the road in a secluded area many miles from the bustle of the city.

“That’s fucking impossible. It can’t be her. She’s dead, you moron. You saw her die.” He exploded aloud into the darkness as a long forgotten and hated memory surfaced despite his efforts to deny it.

Melinda was long dead.

He could see her lying in a pool of blood alongside the woman who had birthed both of them.

He couldn’t unsee her pretty ten-year-old face etched in shock and covered in blood as she lay broken and bleeding in the nightmare that their father’s insanity had unleashed.

The man they’d been afraid of since birth had shot them both. His mother and younger sister lay dead on the floor, and his father was still standing over the bodies muttering the vile last words. Words they thankfully would never hear. He’d placed his gun on the mantle and sat in the blood and brain matter to watch them bleed out.

“You’re mine” he’d screamed. “You can’t belong to anyone else. Not now.”

Jake recalled the look on the man’s face as he had entered the room unseen and reached without thought of consequence and took that gun from the mantelpiece.

“Father” he’d said as he’d opened fire. He didn’t wait for the first responders to arrive. At the tender age of thirteen, he’d known only to run. He’d stopped running eventually and took his need for revenge out on anything that he contracted to take care of.

How could it possibly be his sister? He’d seen her die, hadn’t he?

Jake climbed from the car and sucked in a deep lungful of air. She’d recognized him too. He knew it. He removed his concealed Beretta and lay it on the passenger seat.

His need for answers at last supplanted his need to stay safe and unconnected.

Jake drove back to her apartment, a little surprised to see her car already in the parking lot. He sat in all his uncertainty for a long time before his need to know had him climb from the car.

He felt the hood and it was cold. She’d clearly been back a while. The apartment was dark.

“Jakey! Put your hands on the bonnet and stay absolutely still. Don’t make me shoot you, big brother.”

“Sweet Jesus, Melinda. How? I saw you die. I saw you both die.”

“No, Jakey. Momma died. The paramedics got me to the hospital fast enough to revive me.”

“Oh, no. Oh, no … I didn’t know. I would have stayed. Please believe that.”

He heard her deep sigh and felt her uncertainty. “Why didn’t you check?”

“I don’t really know. I can only remember the blood and him kneeling there muttering his vile farewells. All I could do was make him as dead as I thought you both were. So, I shot him.”

You shot him?”

“Uh-huh. Yes, I did.”

“Then why was the weapon found in his hand?”

“Oh, Meli, I put it there. I wanted him to only ever be thought of as a coward. Too afraid to accept the consequences of what he’d done. I couldn’t grant him the option of being considered insane and misunderstood.”

He heard her breathe out a shuddering sigh of understanding.”Jakey, oh my, Jakey. Don’t you see? You carry it too … that gene that separates you from the rest of humanity.”

Jake nodded and his face revealed his final understanding. He reached for a gun that was no longer there and the deputy district attorney from New York fired her weapon.

Jake died where he stood.

It would take years for his sister to come to grips with the fact that he’d welcomed that bullet. His weapon had been disgarded in the vehicle. He’d been unarmed and deliberatly so.

That final acceptance was the only comfort she had as she’d moved through the ranks of law enforcement.

The price of closure came at great cost.

She paid the price and moved forward.

***

Jake Caldwell’s grave was isolated and the only visitor came late at night.

She placed no flowers there. But knowing that his poor damaged soul was finally at rest gave her a measure of comfort.

She spent her years searching for the others that had no such connection. She saught always to find them help if help wasn’t already too late in arriving.

 

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“Why?” A #ShortStory #RRBC #IARTG @pursoot

WHY YES.jpg

 

Thank you for joining me as I share a short story from an anthology I’m compiling for release later this year.

WHY?

By

Suzanne Burke

Cassandra pulled the SUV into the parking lot of the old motel. She killed the motor and sat watching the sheets of rain blow and billow in the world outside the safety of the car’s interior. The storm grew louder and added an electric charge to the environment.  Adding its own shades of darkness and volatility to her mood of uncertainty. It had taken the Private Investigator she’d hired months to track down this location, and now she was hesitant, reluctant to discover the truths that may await her. Would the past be best left undisturbed? Perhaps. Yet the questions would remain forever unasked if she didn’t find the strength to ask them now.

Just why she’d made the choice to try and locate her father had made some sort of sense at the outset of this journey.

The answers she’d hungered to hear for twelve long years may now only be one conversation away. Yet she reminded herself one more time that her father had appeared to have no desire to be found. He’d changed his name several times in the years since she’d last seen him. She needed to prepare herself for the fact that he may not be at all pleased that she was here. He may be in no condition to even recall who she was if his drinking had escalated beyond what it had been in the long months after her mother had died.

She’d watched on, too caught up in her own pain of dealing with a world devoid of the loving and reassuring presence of her darling mother to help her father with his own debilitating grief and his agony of loss. She was thirteen years old when her mother had passed and utterly powerless to give him much measure of comfort beyond being there to reach out for if he’d needed it. He never did.

The military had flown him home when his wife’s illness had deteriorated. He’d been with his wife of twenty-years as she passed. Cassandra recalled her desperate need of his reassuring presence in a world suddenly gone mad. She’d sought comfort from him and found him unwilling or unable to offer it.

He’d started drinking heavily soon after the funeral. She began finding him asleep on the couch or the floor, wherever in the house he’d had the final drink that rendered him unconscious.  There was no extended family to reach out to. He and her mother had both been the only child of only children. There were no siblings around her to help absorb the intensity of that sudden stark and empty aloneness.

She’d begun to flounder and withdraw from her old world. Watching her friends interact within their own tight-knit family groups had simply been too painful to witness.

She’d watched her father dive deeper into any alcohol or substance that would give him the numbness he craved.  Money would be tossed carelessly on the coffee table alongside the perpetually full ashtrays and empty bottles. His bong sat alongside the marihuana he smoked with increasing regularity. The glass-topped coffee table was smudged with the residues of the cocaine now added to the mix.

For over a year their only shared conversations were his slurred questions about the availability of food. He seemed content with what she’d managed to purchase and prepare, although he existed on very little apart from the daily replenishment of alcohol he now had delivered. Refusing anything she offered up as a meal if she dared try and recreate a dish that was her mothers. She’d soon discovered that the easiest way to feed them both was a continual stream of cheap food to go or frozen TV dinners. He needed and wanted a relationship with his drug dealer. He craved no such bond with his only child.

He’d always prided himself on his level of fitness and Cassandra recalled all the times her friends had commented on it. Indulging themselves with a comment here and there about their own father’s lack of the determination it took to work out daily as he had done whenever he came home on leave. It now shattered her to see him asleep in his own vomit amidst the stench that went right along with his unwashed body.

Cassandra’s grades had slumped and she began to fail all her classes. Her lack of attendance at school had drawn further attention. Her father’s failure to respond to repeated requests to see her school counselor hadn’t gone unnoticed. The principal had felt he was left with no option but to express his concerns about her continued well being to Child Services.

The welfare folks had come by and her father was too inebriated at 10 o’clock in the morning to even stand up, much less impress them with his willingness to change the situation. His one expressed desire was for them to get the hell off his property and mind their own damned business.

Two days after their visit he was gone. He’d left five hundred dollars on the kitchen bench. There was no note, no explanation, no nothing.

Cassandra sought comfort by telling herself repeatedly that he’d simply gone on another bender. She managed to do that for a few weeks until the phone calls about missed mortgage and credit card payments had begun coming in. The five-hundred dollars kept her fed for quite a while, but she knew it wouldn’t last her much longer.

His buddies had stopped calling by. If no drinks were on offer at the address then they had no desire to be there. The fact that she was a thirteen-year-old girl alone didn’t factor into the equation.

Child services were called in by a concerned neighbor who had noticed her father’s continued absence.  Cassandra had ignored the knocks on the door at first. She’d stayed silent and hidden until the police had arrived and convinced her to open the door.

Cassandra was ultimately placed in a loving and caring foster home. It had taken time and dedication and long months of counseling for her small world to begin again to function. She was lucky and grateful to have them in her life. The abandonment issues she faced as best she could.

It was her upcoming graduation from Harvard that had finally prompted her attempt to locate him.

Knowing that the proud event would be celebrated by her foster family should have been enough. Cassandra acknowledged that and yet knew that somehow she wanted her father to know how well she’d done. It was some half-assed need to prove to the man that she’d managed just fine without him.

She guessed she still wanted and indeed still craved his approval.

Cassandra pulled her thoughts back to the present as she watched a man stagger and lurch his way up the stairs that led to the motel units. He balanced himself up against the rail that bordered the walkway as he fumbled in his pockets. His long grey hair surprised her a little but there was no mistaking her father. She opened the car door and stepped into the rain as the man leaned over the railing and threw up. She shuddered as she watched him open the door to unit 6. Her father’s room.

Even as she walked upstairs she could hear the screams that accompanied her father’s arrival.

She waited till the door had been slammed shut.

She sucked in a deep lungful of air and willed herself to knock on the door.

A woman around her own age answered. She was thin to the point of emaciation and the rolled back sleeves of her dirty blouse showed the dark blue and purple track marks that covered the inside of both arms.

“Who the fuck are you?”

“I’d like to speak to Brad, please.”

“Don’t know no one called Brad. You got the wrong room.”

The man she’d recognized as her father came into view behind the woman and he roughly shoved her out of his way. “Who are you and what do you want?”

Cassandra looked into his face and caught the shock and denial in his expression. “Sweet Lord Jesus you look just like your mother.”

She stood there and waited for more. His eyes filled with an expression she couldn’t quite recognize.

“What are you doing here? What do you want? I’ve got no money to give you.”

“Money?  Dear Lord, is that all you can say? I’m your daughter. I’m not here for any damned money.”

The woman he’d pushed away from the door started screaming. “Did she say she was your daughter? What the fuck? You didn’t say you had a daughter?”

“Shut the fuck up, Kerry. Mind your own business.” He turned and gave her a hard shove and the woman fell backward and landed in a screaming heap on the floor.

He stepped outside and slammed the door behind him.

“If it’s not money you want, why the hell are you here? I got nothin’ to give you.”

Cassandra looked at him without speaking until he could no longer meet her eyes. He moved to turn away.

“You’re quite right. You’ve got nothing to give me. You never did. Thank you for finally helping me understand that. I won’t ever bother you again.”

She had no tears left to shed for the man she’d once believed him to be. He’d died right alongside her mother fifteen years ago. She’s already mourned his loss, now it was time to bury him.

She climbed back in her car and grabbed her cell phone. Craig Bannister answered her call “Hello, sweetheart. Are you okay, did you speak to your father?”

“I’m speaking to the only father I’ll ever need right now.”

She heard the sharp intake of his breath as he responded. “Thank you, sweet girl. I’ve been so proud to be considered your father. Will you be home in time for dinner? I’m cooking your favorite. All the gang will be here.”

“Yes, dad. I’ll be home.”

Cassandra drove out of the parking lot and never looked back.

It was up to her now to lay the past to rest.

She graduated from Harvard with her extended foster family all in proud attendance.

The future waited in all its burgeoning promise. She went forward at last to greet it.

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Book Review: “End of Day: (A Hode’s Hill Novel Book 2)” By Mae Clair @maeclair1 #NewRelease #Mystery #Thriller #Paranormal @StoryEmpire

book review cover end of day by mae clair.

Hello and welcome to my Book Review of “End Of Day: (A Hode’s Hill Novel Book 2) by Mae Clair. 

Please meet the Author: Mae Clair.

bio pic mae clair
Mae Clair

A member of the Mystery Writers of America and International Thriller Writers, Mae loves creating character driven fiction in settings that weave contemporary elements of mystery and suspense with urban legend and folklore. Married to her high school sweetheart, she lives in Pennsylvania, and is passionate about writing, old photographs, a good Maine lobster tail and cats.

book review cover end of day by mae clair.

Blurb

Generations of Jillian Cley’s family have been tasked with a strange duty—tending the burial plot of Gabriel Vane, whose body was the first to be interred in the Hode’s Hill cemetery. Jillian faithfully continues the long-standing tradition—until one October night, Vane’s body is stolen from its resting place. Is it a Halloween prank? Or something more sinister?

As the descendants of those buried in the church yard begin to experience bizarre “accidents,” Jillian tries to uncover the cause. Deeply empathic, she does not make friends easily, or lightly. But to fend off the terror taking over her town, she must join forces with artist Dante DeLuca, whose sensitivity to the spirit world has been both a blessing and a curse. The two soon realize Jillian’s murky family history is entwined with a tragic legacy tracing back to the founding of Hode’s Hill. To set matters right, an ancient wrong must be avenged … or Jillian, Dante, and everyone in town will forever be at the mercy of a vengeful spirit.

My Book Review: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 Wonderfully Complex and Beautifully crafted. A must read.

I was eager to read Mae Clair’s latest Paranormal Thriller, as I had been so delighted with the first in this series. (Cusp of Night) I love it when a book exceeds my demands for intrigue and excitement. End of Day does just that and then some. This author takes you into her work with seamless artistry. You are invited to participate in every wonderfully atmospheric scene. You are able to see, smell and feel the location, as the author takes you ever deeper into her creation.

The character’s possess rich depth and the ability to make you invest in them and the outcome of their individual quests and their at times urgent need of answers.

The wonderful combination of times past that are inextricably connected to the present is delivered with great skill. Author Mae Clair has a deft and assured touch with this genre. It’s marvelous to read a book from an author who so clearly loves what she is creating. That talent shines through every paragraph.

If you want a read that challenges you, a read that leaves you gasping and hungry to keep reading, then End Of Day is an absolute must-read.

I love it when I finish reading a book with a grunt of satisfaction, as I did with this one. I will be revisiting these pages again when I need a hit of beautifully written Paranormal work. I am delighted to add to my reading year with a novel of this quality.

Contact Mae Clair:

Twitter:

End Of Day on AMAZON

Amazon Author Page:

Mystery, Suspense & Urban Legends | BookBub | Newsletter Sign-Up

Website & Blog | Goodreads

 

 

Book Review 2019: “The Son of The Serpent” by Vashti Quiroz-Vega. @VashtiQV #RRBC #IARTG #DarkFantasy

Son of the Serpent-eBook-Vashti Quiroz Vega-Fantasy Angels Series-paranormal-supernatural-Fantasy_fiction-lilith-Gadreel-Dracul-fallen angels-demons-witches-Vashti Q

Hello and welcome to my first Book Review of 2019: “Son of The Serpent” by Vashti Quiroz-Vega

Meet the author.

BOOK REVIEW BIO PIC VASHTI

Vashti Quiroz-Vega is a writer of Fantasy, Horror, and Thriller. Since she was a kid she’s always had a passion for writing and telling stories. It has always been easier for her to express her thoughts on paper.

She enjoys reading almost as much as she loves to write. Some of her favorite authors are Stephen King, Michael Crichton, Anne Rice, J.R.R. Tolkien, J.K. Rowling and George R. R. Martin.

She enjoys making people feel an array of emotions with her writing. She likes her audience to laugh one moment, cry the next and clench their jaws after that.

When she isn’t building extraordinary worlds and fleshing out fascinating characters, she enjoys spending time with her husband JC and her Pomeranian Scribbles who is also her writing buddy.

Son of the Serpent-eBook-Vashti Quiroz Vega-Fantasy Angels Series-paranormal-supernatural-Fantasy_fiction-lilith-Gadreel-Dracul-fallen angels-demons-witches-Vashti Q

BLURB:

In Son of the Serpent, award-winning author Vashti Quiroz-Vega crafts another fascinating glimpse into the dark, compelling world of fallen angels and demons, revealing more about their untold stories.

The war in heaven might be over, but the ambitions of the fallen angel Lilith reach far across the roots of history. Will there be a being powerful enough to stop her evil influence before the destruction of mankind?

Dracúl knows he is the son of Satan, but the rest of his memory has been taken from him. Alone and frightened, he awakens in a forest, beginning a quest to piece together who he is. The world he encounters is cruel, but he yearns to belong and find companionship. With each step he takes, another missing piece of his memory falls into place, revealing a truth that is ever more troubling . . .

A truth that will turn his quest for meaning into one fueled by the hot-blooded thirst for revenge. A truth that leads him to Lilith, the most wicked and ruthless of fallen angels and one he soon will have every reason to hate. His quest will consume him, perhaps ruin his life, but somehow Dracúl is determined to find both belonging and vengeance—to be good, in spite of his evil nature and the dark secrets that haunt him every step of the way.

MY REVIEW:   🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟A riveting and powerful read.

It is rare in my experience to enjoy book two of a series even more than book one. And given that book one earned five stars from me, the fact that this book exceeds even that is a testament to the skill and clear love of this genre that permeates the work of author Vashti Quiroz-Vega.

The clearly depicted damage created by Lilith in all her dark guises and the empathy and acceptance craved by Dracul are beautifully crafted. Dracul searches for meaning and purpose in his existence then spirals into his craving for vengeance.

This author is unafraid to explore the dark side whilst still allowing her readers a small measure of hope to offer a brief respite from the raw edge of ‘Lilith’.

This book involves the reader from word one and doesn’t let up. It is both stunning and relentlessly readable. A marvelous way to kick off my reading year.

Contact the Author

On TWITTER

On FACEBOOK

The Writer Next Door

Amazon.com Author Page

 

 

My #Christmas on The Streets: 1966. A sweet memory.#Memoir #RRBC @pursoot

CHRISTMAS BLOG BANNER

Thanks so much for stopping by. I like to share this post every Christmas. It remains one of my sweetest memories.

CHRISTMAS MORNING 1966: 2:00 AM.

The Christmas season is the harshest of all when you live on the streets.

On ANY streets. In ANY town. In any Climate.

A miracle happened in our small dark world that hot and steamy Christmas morning all those long years ago. I’d not yet turned twelve years old. Yet I felt older than time.

It was not a ‘miracle’ of biblical proportions. Yet for the fifteen of us that lived in the damaged shipping container, it was a miracle that we would hold in our memories forever, to be taken out and looked at whenever life grew harsher.

I am sharing it with you here.

I hope that it makes you nod in understanding. I hope that it reminds you of what joy your smile and a simple hello can mean to the lost and the lonely.

I am smiling through my tears as I remember…..

***

Christmas was barely a week or so away, and the mood in ‘the palace’ wasn’t good. That’s what we’d named our rusty old shipping container. ‘The Palace’ was exactly that to us. We constructed our own safety barriers, dodging between smart-mouthed bravado and silent despair.

Christmas out here meant different things to each of us I guess.

My memories of Christmas’s past were all bad. Even last year when I’d been on the streets alone for barely a month had bad stuff attached to it, yet it hadn’t been nearly as bad as the ones I had lived with back in the home I called ‘hell central’.

I asked ‘Baby Jenny’ our youngest member to come for a walk with me down to see Big Mike. The guy was built like a mountain and I never did learn his last name. He was the go-to man for everything here on the Sydney docks. I wanted to ask him if he could scrounge up some left over decorations to put up in the palace to lighten the mood a little.

He gave me a thoughtful nod, and said he’d “see what he could do.”

He bent down and spoke to Jenny, “I swear you get prettier every day, Jenny. Don’t let Sassy here teach you any bad habits.”

Jenny grinned at him too afraid to respond.

I kept my mouth shut for a change, except for a “Gee thanks, Big Mike.”

He smiled and wandered off, and we headed back up to the palace. We spent a lot of time outdoors during the heat of the summer. The cooler breezes drifting in from the water gave us a little welcome respite. The heat inside our metal home was dreadful. It was difficult to breathe in the late afternoons. We complained to each other long and loud. But I had to shrug and smile at our bitching. Winter was far worse.

We figured Big Mike had forgotten when a week passed with no contact. It was disappointing, but the man didn’t owe us anything. He’d already rushed one of us to the hospital and probably saved her life and the life of the baby that she’d been giving birth to. So we didn’t really expect the decorations, we just hoped for them.

Jenny was extra quiet. I wondered if she would ever be able to talk about why she was here. I didn’t ask her. I hadn’t discussed my background with any of them, even Jamie. So I understood that it was not open for general discussion. These streets were harsh and difficult regardless of why you found yourself here.

Christmas Eve dawned fiery red. It was going to be a very, very, hot day according to the radio forecasts, with a cool southerly change expected later in the evening.

We all headed up to Hyde Park very early and took a Christmas bath in our favorite fountain. At least the palace wouldn’t stink quite so badly for Christmas day.

It was tempting to just jump into the ocean so close to the Palace, but Big Mike had warned us all about the sharks, so we didn’t dare.  We planned on heading down to the Botanical Gardens for a dip in the lake that evening. We figured there wouldn’t be many people around at that time because it was Christmas Eve and they’d be home with their families. It was a sad thought until we reminded each other that we too were a family.

The sky began to darken and the thunder rolled in early in the afternoon. The southerly buster was heading up the coast rapidly. We were all unusually quiet and sitting around outside in the shade of the container when we heard the sound of vehicles heading toward the palace.

We headed around the front to see who had arrived and watched in stunned amazement as Big Mike and two of the other guys whose names I can’t recall, began unloading boxes of stuff from their cars and placing it in the shaded opening of our tin home.

Big Mike looked uncomfortable, if possible, he was even gruffer than usual. “You lot need feeding up, so we brought you some stuff.”

We were all too stunned to say much at all, these hard men were all smiling and a little red-faced. I swear if they could have, that they would have scuffed their shoes in the dirt like little kids with embarrassment.

Big Mike shook Jamie’s hand and accepted the ‘thank you’ from him.

I was speechless which wasn’t a common occurrence. I just grinned at them all. and gave the guys a hurried “Thanks.”

They were the unlikeliest Angels you would ever see, sweaty and dirty after a long hot day’s work, but the sight of them unloading the Christmas goodies and punching one another in the arm in a gesture common amongst males remains etched starkly in my memory.

Big Mike reached into the front seat of his car and pulled out a parcel that was wrapped in Christmas paper, with bright ribbons attached. He walked over and handed it to Baby Jenny.

She looked confused and wasn’t sure what to do with it.

“The women picked this out for ya, little one.” Big Mike said in a voice strictured by emotion.

Jenny still wasn’t sure what to do.

“Go ahead and open it, Jenny,” Jamie said.

“Um, later. Later. Okay?” she replied looking very unsure of herself.

She looked at the men, and gave them one of her sweet smiles, “Don’t matter what it is. I never had a present before, so, um, yeah. Thanks, thanks a lot.”

The men seemed to understand that she needed to be alone when she opened it.

As for the rest of us, we tore into those presents and boxes like there was no tomorrow, squealing in delighted surprise with everything we found.

There was more food than any of us had ever seen.

There were tinned hams, fresh pineapples, cherries, and plums. Cooked Turkey and Cranberry sauce, with all the trimmings. Fifteen red t-shirts all large sizes. Paper plates, and plastic knives and forks, a can-opener. A Cooler packed with ice, and a new radio with spare batteries. A big crate of beer and bottles of cold Coke rounded out the feast.

That night, we all huddled around the new radio. It was much bigger and put out a better sound than the small transistor we had been using. We sat drinking the beer and singing our version of Christmas carols, none of them repeatable. Trust me.

Jenny sat on her sleeping space of folded layers of newspaper. She was a little tipsy having been allowed one-half of a small bottle of beer. We glanced at her as she picked up her present and watched the look on her face as she unwrapped it.

It was a baby doll, all soft and dressed in bonnet and booties with a pretty pink knitted dress. “Just what we needed, another fuckin’ mouth to feed,” she said. But the smile on her face could have lit up the entire city.

We were fed, content, and a little overwhelmed and unsure at the kindness of these people.

We all wanted to believe that maybe, just maybe, they had done it for no motive other than the wish to make this Christmas a better place for us to be. It was an alien experience to all of us,but a welcome one.

We had only sampled a little of the huge amount of food, deciding to save the rest for Christmas Day

That night we were all tipsy, yet strangely quiet as we bedded down for the night. I think we were all a little overwhelmed by the generosity of these men.

It was around 2.00 am Christmas morning I guess when I felt something was wrong. Whatever the something was, it wouldn’t let me sleep. I couldn’t place it immediately. It was a strange sense of something missing, and it troubled me.

Jamie was on watch. I climbed over the others and hunkered down next to him. Jamie smiled at me and said, “You too hey, Sassy?”

“Yeah, I guess. What is it? Something’s different.”

We sat a while just listening. Then Jamie said, “Oh shit! It’s Jenny, she’s not crying!”

My heart was in my mouth. Jamie grabbed the torch and we played it across the others, several of them were already awake, and wondering what the hell was happening. Jenny had cried herself to sleep every night since she’d come to this place. It was a sound we all tried not to hear. She couldn’t be comforted, we weren’t permitted that close. She’d been here for two years now. Jenny was only around eight-years-old and the sounds of her despair echoed through the palace every night.

We stood looking down at her. Jenny lay on her side, sound asleep, with both arms wrapped around that doll so tight there was no space between them.

That was the first time I had cried in a very, very, long time. I glanced at the others, without exception we were all affected the same way. No one wanted to look at anyone else, shit we were supposed to be the toughest kids on the block! Hell, we were the only kids on the block. That Christmas was the first real day of Jenny’s childhood. From then on, Christmas became Jenny’s birthday.

I’d like to tell you that a miraculous change came over her. That she was instantly transformed. In a make-believe world she’d be outside singing all the hits from ‘The Sound of Music’ and wearing a pretty new dress and shoes.  But this is the real world, and the changes took place over time.

Jenny named her doll, Francine.

The greatest change of all, was that, from that night, for all the years that Baby Jenny remained in our world, she never cried herself to sleep again.

 ***

Many years have passed since that long ago Christmas Eve. My darling Jenny has gone.

So many of my Christmas Eves over time have been special ones. But the one I recall with tears of happiness on my face, and a smile in my heart, is this one.

Jenny lost her battle with life in September of 2008.

The doll Francine was buried with her.

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Thanks so much for stopping by and helping share my memory.

Have a joyous and memorable Christmas Season.

 

A Christmas Story: “Making Sweet Memories” @pursoot #Christmas #RRBC #RWISA

KOALA CHRISTMAS

Making Sweet Memories

A Short story for Christmas

By

Suzanne Burke.

 

It was already late December before Ellie remembered the season. She had been in her comfortable hiding place for so long alone, that dates just didn’t seem to matter much anymore.

The sudden explosion of the sound of cicadas serenading loudly in the trees beyond her windows to the world jolted her.

It was Summer already? When had that happened? She hadn’t paid much attention to the heat that had been building up for months. Now it was launching its presence into her space with all the vengeance at its command.

Maybe it was time to use the air conditioning she’d had installed a year or so earlier.

She shrugged and made a mental note to seek out some cooler clothing from the depths of her wardrobe.

Ellie looked around her, moving as she did and reaching out to touch the nearby objects familiar and comforting to her. The framed photograph of the family, taken so very long ago hadn’t yet begun to fade. Their happy smiles were fixed forever in place and frozen for all time in that moment.

It had been the same time of year, she recalled, as she wiped a smear from the glass.

Ellie smiled as the memory of it surfaced unbidden.

They had all been gathered under the pine tree in the front yard, it was a tradition every year for them to all come together to decorate that big old tree.

Every year since she’d been a small child that magic had happened, with tinsel and shiny baubles, and spheres of multi-colored glass, and at the very top of that great old tree had always been the angel and the star.

Her mother had made the clothing for the angel. Oh, it was glorious, and neighbors would often stop by just to admire that angel and all the hand crafted decorations, and to absorb perhaps just a little of the love that had gone into creating it.

The sound of Carols and much laughter had filled the air every year at the same time. Some years not all of the family could make it, time and other commitments changed all their lives, as it was want to do.

For the most part though they were all together.

The decades flew by on a whisper, and her mother and father had passed within weeks of each other. After fifty years of marriage neither of them had been able to contemplate the thought of the other being gone, leaving them empty and alone. Ellie had lost her sister and her brother in the years that followed. She was the youngest. The old house was now hers. It became her castle, her safe haven, her forever home.

Ellie placed the photo back on the mantle above the stone fireplace. She grinned in the knowledge that it would blaze brightly in the icy cold winters of this small coutry town.

It didn’t do to remember too much. Memory could play tricks with the mind and damage the soul if you let it.

She walked into the master bedroom. The old bed was still her favorite. It was high off the ground and the mattress was lumpy with so many years of use. She recalled without meaning to, the nights she and her siblings had laid there with her mother. Mom would always read them that one story on that same night every year until Ellie declared herself too old to be hearing it read anymore.

She opened the closet, and stood for a long time, before she reached in and pulled out the huge carved wooden box that her father had made.

She carried it across to the bed and sat propped on the multitude of cushions to open it. She lovingly ran her hands across the top of the box. How could she have forgotten the way he carved? She ran her fingers as if reading in braille across the carved name etched into the wood with such love and precision, ‘Alice’. Her mother’s name. She opened the lid and was clothed in the faint smell of Lavender still emanating from its contents. Lavender, mom’s favorite perfume of all. It carried with it the essence and sounds of a century long gone.

Ellie hesitated for a moment, then lured by an irresistible need, she removed the first layer of tissue paper, and caught her breath. The Angel lay there, in a gown that still shone gold. Ellie’s hands shook as she gently lifted it from the folds of protection around it. Snuggly tucked in behind it lay the star. Each layer she lifted revealed more and still more of all those handmade decorations from her memories.

Ellie lay there for a long while, surrounded by yesterday.

When she returned to the sitting room she carried the box with her.

She felt a trembling excitement building in her blood. What was the date? She had to know. Maybe it was already too late.

She hurried across the room and opened the front door, and looked at the old tree still standing tall and proud in the front yard.

The street had altered over the years. But she knew the neighbors on one side, and they had been there for a very long time.

She crossed the yard, and climbed the steps up to their front door. She rang the bell and held her breath as the door opened.

“Michael, it’s just Ellie, from next door.” She was at a loss for what else to say.

“Well now, yes indeed it is. What is it, Ellie, do you need help?” The look of concern on his face caused her to smile.

“Oh, well no … that is, I’m doin’ just fine, Michael. Thank you for asking. I’m just wondering, could you tell me what the date is please?”

“Why, it’s December 24th I believe.”

“Oh, thank you, thank you so much. I still have time! Thank you.”

“Time, Ellie?”

“Oh, I know it’s strange, but I’m going to decorate the pine tree in the front yard.”

“Oh. That’s marvelous. It has been such a long time since I have seen that old tree look happy.” He put his head on one side, “A long time indeed.”

Ellie grinned at him, feeling ridiculously pleased that he remembered.

She took her leave and found herself almost running back to the house; she could have sworn she could hear Michael Thomas laughing behind her. It had always been a good laugh.

It took a while to gather everything she needed together, and then she manipulated the ladder from the garage, and leaned it up against the solid comfort of that tree.

The lower branches were easy, they were done in a flash of time, but even Ellie was a little daunted as her gaze lifted higher.

The voice from behind her startled her a little, and she rocked a little uncertainly on her perch on the ladder.

“Ellie? Oh, I’ve given you a fright. I’m so sorry.” Michael Thomas held the ladder firmly as she wobbled her way back down.

He looked very pleased with himself, however, and the three smiling faces with him had that inescapable look of anticipation that young people wear so well.

Ellie didn’t ask, she just waited.

“We, that is, I, was wonderin’ if maybe we could help, with the tree? These are my grandson’s…The twins are Peter, and David, but don’t ask me which is which, cause after fifteen years I still can’t tell ‘em apart. The taller one of the boys is Mitchell, he’s just got his first car, which no doubt you will hear over the next few days.”

The boys all stepped forward and shook her hand in turn.

Then they waited, trying to gage the look on her face as they did.

It didn’t take long. Ellie clapped her hands in delight, “Oh, I would be so very happy to have the help and the company. Wonderful, just wonderful.”

The heat was building, and Michael headed back to his place, returning with a large stripped beach umbrella, and a cooler filled with bottles of soda and chipped ice. Ellie added a folding table and some chairs to the collection. She and Michael sat in the shade after they had decorated as high as they could manage. They just sat, in companionable silence, slurping down ice-cold Coca Cola and watching the healthy young men clambering like monkeys in the higher reaches of the tree.

The busy scene had created somewhat of a distraction for some of the children on the street, who now stood in every increasing numbers, clutching their bikes and watching on in fascination. Some parents joined in the onlookers, and before too long they were asking if they could help as well.

Each of the family groups hurried home and brought something back with them, and the sound of Christmas Carols was soon added and sung along with, not in tune, but nobody cared.

Ellie looked around her in amazement. It was different, but the same. How could she have thought for so very long that it had ended. When, for so many of them, it was just beginning.

One of the twins, she wasn’t sure which, called down from high in the branches, “Ellie? What goes on the top? The Angel or the star?”

“Both of them, sweetie. They’ll fit together, you’ll see.”

“Ellie?”

“Hmm, yes, Michael.”

“Can we add some lights? I mean I remember all the other Christmases, and I know that lights weren’t part of it, but they would just add to the beauty of it, I’m thinkin’ … maybe?”

Ellie considered for a moment, then gave him her big smile, “Y’know, Michael, I guess it past time for something new to be added, do you have any?”

“Oh, brother, do I have any!”

When he and Mitchell returned it was with a huge box of outdoor fairy lights. “How’s this?”

“You weren’t kidding. Wow. String ‘em up, boys.” Willing hands soon emptied that box.

“Thanks for this, Ellie. You have no idea, just how much I’ve missed this stuff. I mean, the kids come over and the grandkids and all, and we eat ourselves stupid. But I haven’t felt much like Christmas for such a long time. Not since my Maggie passed. This … well,” his voice thickened with tears. “Thanks for giving me back Christmas.”

Darkness takes a while to fall in the Australian summer, but when it does, it is absolute.

Everyone gathered back against the edge of the road in the cool of evening, and Michael was given the honor of flipping the switch.

The place lit up. The adults breathed out an ‘Ah’ of satisfaction. The younger children still watching on, squealed with delight.

It was glorious.

Her folks would have loved this, Ellie knew with a certainty.

The sound of laughter echoed through the street.

Later that night, when everything was done, and Ellie had gratefully accepted the invitation to lunch tomorrow with Michael Thomas and his family, she lay curled up on that big old bed, the pine box was open and ready. She extracted the one remaining item; and began to read aloud, “Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house…………………….

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Wishing my friends everywhere a memorable and joyous Holiday Season.

#KOALA CHRISTMAS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The “SON OF THE SERPENT” BOOK RELEASE TOUR @VashtiQV #RRBC

Hello and welcome to the final stop on the exciting book tour for the New Release “Son of The Serpent” By Vashti Quiroz-Vega!

Let’s meet Vashti!

Vashti BOOK TOUR BIO PIC photo (2)

Vashti Quiroz-Vega is a writer of Fantasy, Horror, and Thriller. Since she was a kid she’s always had a passion for writing and telling stories. It has always been easier for her to express her thoughts on paper.

She enjoys reading almost as much as she loves to write. Some of her favorite authors are Stephen King, Michael Crichton, Anne Rice, J.R.R. Tolkien, J.K. Rowling and George R. R. Martin.

She enjoys making people feel an array of emotions with her writing. She likes her audience to laugh one moment, cry the next and clench their jaws after that.

When she isn’t building extraordinary worlds and fleshing out fascinating characters, she enjoys spending time with her husband JC and her Pomeranian Scribbles who is also her writing buddy.

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Hello and welcome to the last stop on my Virtual Book Tour! Thank you so much for following along. I truly appreciate the support. And a big hug and kiss to the wonderful hosts who welcomed me so graciously to their wonderful blogs. I am very grateful.

 

Son of the Serpent is a High Fantasy|Paranormal book sprinkled with Horror and Romance. It is aimed at an 18+ audience. The book is written in 1st person POV. There are chapters written in Dracul’s voice interspersed by chronicles written in Lilith’s (the villain) voice. Today I’m going to share an excerpt from one of the Chronicles of Lilith.

 

Vashti Book Tour BANNER Last Hope

Excerpt: Chronicles of Lilith

 

As I prepared to leave Shuruppak, rumors about a man named Noah, who claimed to be God’s prophet, came to my attention. According to my human servants, this man said God speaks to him and has told him there shall be a catastrophic event. Every living thing on this planet shall perish, except those beings selected by God Himself.

The servants laughed and took pleasure in ridiculing this man. They called him insane. I, however, have learned throughout the years that there is always some truth to the ramblings of the insane. I would like to see this man, Noah, and listen to his preaching, thus my departure would have to wait.

In the middle of the night I awoke to booming thunder, the likes of which I had not heard since the days I wandered in the wilderness with Gadreel when we first arrived on this planet. I leaped out of my bed and ran to a nearby window. The sky was ominous, with large bitumen-black clouds gathering to form gigantic ones. My superior vision allowed me to see things in the darkness that no other being could. A flash of lightning lit the world white for a moment. Rain began to fall, first tapping on the window and then becoming a rapid succession of beats.

I threw on a garment and ran outside to get a better look. There were still people outdoors, servants slow to finish their tasks for the day and others who came out to see what was happening. They ran for cover as storm clouds spat their loads of water. Sharp droplets of icy-cold water needled my shoulders and back. I shivered under the prickly feeling. The rain came in torrents now. Puddles formed, and the puddles became streams. They grew into rivers. I ran to a nearby tree to take shelter under it.

I hid from the people running and screaming in fear and shifted to my serpent form. The torrent became more intense, and the night grew darker with the bruise of thick, angry clouds. A wall of rain moved over the tree I stood under, and the drops drummed against the canopy. So much water fell from the skies that the sound blurred into one long, whirring tumult.

Many of the people of Shuruppak left their flooded homes and wandered the streets like lost souls. They had never seen a storm of this magnitude. Some had only been familiar with the morning dew. I had seen enough. I spread my wings and took to the sky. Flying had never been more difficult. The rain pelted my wings, while bolts of lightning threaten to spear me as they sliced the air to my left and right.

The earth shook and sent shockwaves rippling through the ground like water, destroying houses in an instant. Fires exploded everywhere, and the smell of smoke twisting through the air between raindrops was acrid on the hot breeze. Regular clatters rang out as structures crumbled apart and fell to the ground. I needed to escape, find shelter, but where could I hide from such devastation? The skies were becoming more and more dangerous. I flew toward the coast, but my wings grew too heavy and sodden to keep me airborne. I fell to the beach.

I looked toward the coastline, wincing and moaning, feeling the pain of my fall. I had been to this beach before, but it looked strangely unfamiliar now, abnormally vast. I thought maybe the darkness of the night was playing tricks on my vision, but then I realized why the beach looked so strange. The surf had drawn back hundreds of miles; the abandoned sand twinkled in the moonlight despite the rain.

I gasped at a black line on the horizon and watched as a colossal wave swept toward me at hundreds of miles per hour—rushing, roaring, angry froth foaming from between its lips. I stared, eyes fixed, as the wave surged in. I knew it was impossible to escape it. Heat had never left my body as fast as it did in this brief moment of realization. The torrent came after me, granting me a few seconds to enjoy breathing the ocean air before it wrapped me in frigid foamy fingers and dragged me to the ocean floor.

I struggled as sand and briny water filled my lungs, causing them to expand and burn. As the wave moved, it pulled me along with it, like it wanted me to witness the devastation it would cause. My death would not be simple or fast, for the powers granted to me by the fruit from the Tree of Life would sustain me. Powers I once cherished now seemed a curse.

As the wave pushed me along, I crashed into debris in the water. Every stab, rip, and fracture my body suffered brought me immense pain. Men, women, and children drowned, their dead bodies floating around me, yet I remained alive.

The giant wave hit Shuruppak. It was nothing like the waves which lap the shore every minute of every day. This was a gigantic wall of water, cold and powerful. It came over land with the power of a volcanic blast. It moved over the city with more ease than a wave over the sand, reducing houses and structures to rubble and killing every living thing.

My broken body filled with water, sand, and debris until the weight of it fixed me to the ocean floor. People, livestock, uprooted trees, and all manner of structures floated past me. The rain continued to pour.

The sky was now hinting at sunrise. Nothing escaped my eyes and ears, but I was immobile. Every inch of my body throbbed with pain, and the cold of the water chilled my bones. As I lay motionless, I watched a large wooden vessel approach. It was the greatest ship I had ever seen. It glided over the water’s surface, throwing its shadow to the sea floor as it sailed past me, turning day to night. I overheard people singing and the roar, moo, bleat, and bray of animals coming from the vessel. Not everyone had perished. Some shall go on, while I remain imprisoned in this watery grave. The weight of the water pressed down on me, crushing me, as the rain increased its depth.

The feeling of drowning never left me. The feeling of panic, unable to take breath, to inflate my lungs. The slow filling of my larynx––gagging, coughing, briny water forcing its way through my nostrils and into my lungs like acid. I would drown and die, and after a moment of peace, the process began again.

A familiar recollection filled the void in my head, spinning memories of Beelzebub lying at the bottom of the Euphrates River bound in chains, disfigured by suffering and hate. Is that also to be my fate? Shall I become a grotesque monster wallowing in fear, self-loathing, and pain? A sharp, loud wail pierced my psyche, and I realized it was I who did the screaming.

Vashti Book Tour CLOSING BANNER BOTH BOOKS

Both books in the Fantasy Angels Series on sale for only 99¢/99p! Download your eBook today!

Purchase Link & Social Media:
Twitter (VashtiQV):  http://twitter.com/VashtiQV

 

BookBub: https://www.bookbub.com/profile/vashti-quiroz-vega

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Vashti-Q-Author-Page-396515670465852/

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Vashti-Quiroz-Vega/e/B00GTXG5W4/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1540242966&sr=8-1

Son of the Serpent: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07HS4C3B7/

Thanks for supporting Author, Vashti Q. Vega on the release of her latest read, “SON OF THE SERPENT.”  To follow along with her tour, please visit the CURRENT EVENTS page of the 4WillsPub site.   To book your own virtual 4WillsPub blog tour, please visit us HERE!