Monthly Archives: July 2013

Excerpt From The Marked Ones

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Excerpt from The marked Ones

Ivyanne’s footstep halted as the memory of Lincoln’s hands running up her thigh damn near knocked the wind over her. No man had touched her before or since. She paused and looked back the way she had come, breathing heavily, her mind clouding.

Could I? She thought, biting her lower lip and fiddling with her long damp hair. She could go back, he was probably still there. She could lure him into the darkness, offering sympathetic hugs, kissing his tears away…and tomorrow it could be that taboo thing they shouldn’t have down and would never have to speak of. It’s not the full moon yet, I should be safe…no one has to know….

Her good conscience beseeched her to run to the ocean before she ruined her life. She’d been saving herself for decades-to fall prey to a moment of weakness now would be stupid. Regardless of how alluring the idea was, of finishing what she’d started with Link twelve years before. She owed her people more than she owed him. And she always would.

‘Excuse me miss.’ A young mans’ voice called softly. ‘I was wondering if you could tell me where room forty six is?’

Ivyanne looked up, caught off guard. The voice, affected with a soft American accent, had come from a manly silhouette under her porch light. How had he ended up in the staff quarters?

‘You need to head back to the pool, sir, then follow the path to the right,’ Ivyanne had to force the cheerful tone of voice, even though her voice still wobbled tellingly. ‘There are signs indicating which bungalows are down which path-’ Ivyanne’s voice died in her throat when she stepped under the light, and saw the face of the man who had addressed her. 

Tristan?!’Her temper flared instantly as his perfectly sculpted face came into focus. Suddenly she was assailed by more memories, which were both vague and thrilling at the same time. Did he even remember

No, she thought. Of course not. I was a child then! The memory blew out of her mind like a piece of paper in the wind and suddenly, all she could see was the typeset of his smug e-mails grandly offering to marry her for the good of the kingdom. ‘What the hell do you think you’re doing here?!’

Tristan grinned at her, his white teeth almost blindingly bright. ‘Taking a holiday…..’ he drawled, hitching his single bag onto his shoulder, looking like a casually posed model from a high-fashion campaign. ‘I came this way a few years ago-beautiful spot.’

Ivyanne put her hands on her hips. ‘You know that you’re not supposed to be here!’

Tristan nodded. ‘I know. But I’m spontaneous-if we’re going to be married, you should know that about me.’ He wiggled his eyebrows suggestively.

Ivyanne couldn’t believe it-first Ardhi, now Tristan. Didn’t anybody respect her wishes at all? Couldn’t they see that they were driving her out of her mind? ‘We are not going to be married.’ She snapped, walking more purposefully towards the door, intending to breeze right by him.

Tristan pouted. ‘So you’ve made your decision already?’

That halted her tracks! ‘No! But-’ Her senses responded to his scent, a mix of tangy salt air and something else, something floral but masculine. The aroma filled her nose and chest, dizzying her. Oh wow. She thought, blinking. She didn’t spend much time with men. Neither her father or Ardhi wore cologne, and Lincoln had always been too young for such a thing. The sudden desire to inhale more deeply now, troubled her. And how could a grown man look so adorable when pouting like a child?

‘Well don’t say things you’re not certain of. Words can hurt, you know.’ His cocky slid back into place, a light dimple appearing in his cheek. 

Ivyanne swallowed, scratching at her arm, where the chlorine had irritated her skin. Like all mers, hers was the kind of skin that could weather almost any element-sun, salt, cold and heat. But man-made chemicals reacted badly with a lot of them-chlorine being the worst offender.

But her agitation wasn’t just from the treated water-it was an accumulation of everything. Ivyanne was finding it difficult to even think straight. Especially with him smiling at her in that way, his eyes raking over her like she was a prized thoroughbred he might consider investing in. The same way she wanted to study him. She tried to breathe through her mouth as she was assessed by his light, golden brown eyes.

 ‘Whatever. Look I’m having a bad day and acting a little irrational, so if you leave now, I won’t make a scene.’

He smirked at her. ‘Sorry Ivyanne, but you can’t make me leave. I’m a paying customer, and you have to be nice to me,’ he stepped into her body, his toffee colored eyes dancing with glee. The closer he drew, the more apparent his beauty became. There wasn’t a visible pore on his golden skin, and the lines of his lips, masculine jaw and perfect nose were so flawless in their symmetry that he was more illustration than human to the eye. ‘And I know it’s been a few years, but I must say…great job growing up, princess.’ 

Ivyanne’s lungs constricted somewhat. He was so close that his body heat was warming her skin. She ran her fingers through her wet hair in a nervous gesture. ‘Well you look exactly the same.’ She said quietly. ‘Like a snake in the grass.’

Tristan chuckled lightly. He reached up and coaxed her fingers out of her wet mane. His touch sent jolt through her own fingertips. ‘And you look like a snake charmer if I ever saw one. Breathtaking.’

Deadly Little Darlings

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They all wanted to kill her.
It was obvious in their eyes. The bloodlust. The hunger. Ella felt like a goat staked to the ground, waiting to be ripped apart. They could smell her fear. Eyes followed her. The eyes were incredible! Cat-like yellow-green eyes narrowed to slits, over-dilated topaz ones, some the color of a twilight sky, others blood red, or black. Claws sharpened to points. 
The air was densely clouded, and the sound of screeching and shrieking over the heavy bass of the pounding rock music produced a cacophony of sound. Oh! Why had she come here? One look at the place told her that her chances of coming out in one piece were minimal.
‘Fresh meat?’ One of them glided towards her, teeth bared in a welcoming smile.
Ella swallowed, and nodded.
‘The newbies are on rink one.’ The girl turned, her long black braid whipping millimeters from Ella’s face as she did, and pointed to the rink closest to her, where less than a dozen girls were skating in a circular motion, trying their hardest not to look up from the pale grey floor. 
‘Uh, okay.’ Ella’s eyes scanned the room. Two rinks lay beyond the first. Over there, the lights were dimmer, the smoke thicker, and the floors far more congested. A D.J booth sat in the middle of all three, flanked by girls. ‘And the other rinks?’
‘That’s where the hurt goes down.’ The brunette said, marking something on the clipboard she was carrying against the wide, puffy skirt of her retro fifties dress. ‘We’ve got girls from five different teams here tonight to party-and they’re deadly little darlings. We try to keep things amicable, but stuff happens.’ The girl smiled at her again, capping her pen. ‘I’m Simone, one of the officials. Try to stick to your own group. You’re in teal so I assume you’re from the Promiscuous Pirates?’
Ella nodded, adjusting her green-blue lace up corset self-consciously. Paired with a bubble skirt, she felt ridiculous. But she was relieved to have clothing that indicated that she belonged to one group.
‘Good. Most of them have arrived, and they seem to be sticking to rink two. Go ahead and do a few warm-up laps so when the party really kicks off, you’ll be ready. And if you need any help tonight, ask myself, or Brandon-the D.J.’ She smirked. ‘Though if you need too much help, this probably isn’t your place.’
‘Okay.’ Ella frowned. ‘Thank you.’
‘No problem! Now go show us your stuff!’ Simone slapped her hard on the back, sending Ella rolling forward. She caught herself on the rail running around the rink and fell onto a low bench seat, ungracefully. The girl next to her, dressed in the red, goth cheerleader attire of the Spirit Sprites, eyed her with disdain. 
Ella dropped her sack onto the ground and stood up straight away, knowing hesitation would kill her gall. She entered the polished floor, keeping out of the path of a girl in a purple one-piece with spider-web fishnets who whizzed by her.
Ella began to skate, following the examples of others by keeping her head down. After three laps, she began to de-frost somewhat. The D.J was pumping the Sex Pistols, and a small ripple of excitement ran through her as she began to scan the arena with undisguised interest.
Skating had been Ella’s passion since she was a little girl. She had been a figure skating champ by the age of seven, and the star of her roller-hockey team.
But Ella’s parents couldn’t afford to send Ella down the Olympic path, so Ella had hung up her roller skates at fifteen and had gone about growing up. She tried other sports-but nothing had ever compared. 
And then a month before, she’d been waitressing, when she’d seen a flyer advertising roller derby. Now that she was an adult, and could pay for whatever she pleased, Ella hadn’t been able to resist the chance to put her skates back on. So she’d shown up for the first practice, and the established girls on the team had been blown away by her skills and had instantly offered her a spot as a ‘jammer’.
But, she’d only had four practices, and they weren’t going to let her compete until she showed some aggression. When the Spirit Sprites from the next town over had invited every squad in the surrounding districts to their open-skate ball-an opportunity to party on wheels-the rest of her team had been ecstatic. 
Ella had been, and still was, terrified. Derby girls were tough, and Ella was not. 
‘Wow.’
Ella’s head snapped up when she heard the exclamation. That’s when she realized that she was going backwards-she’d turned without realizing it. Two girls whom she’d just passed were staring at her, open-mouthed. Ella glanced to make sure that nobody was in her way, then spun again, facing forwards. She didn’t want to look like a show-off. 
‘Nice moves.’
Ella glanced up, realizing that the voice had come over the P.A. She looked over at the DJ booth, saw the boy inside waving at her, and flushed scarlet.
There were three more girls rounding the next curve as Ella approached-all in lime green. Godzilla Goddesses, if she wasn’t mistaken. They were going too slow, and were closing the path she needed to take, completely oblivious to her. Ella lifted one foot and crossed her arms across her body, slipping into a tiny gap between two of them. She heard them gasp and it was hard to keep a smug smile off her face as she glided on, veering around the girl in fishnets again. Damn, she loved skating. If Derby killed her, at least skating would be the last thing she did.
Ella was at the next curve before she knew it, the one closest to the DJ booth. There was a blonde girl in a tattered white tutu standing stock-still in the corner of the rink, glaring at her. Her uniform told Ella that this girl was one of the Corpse Brides-the toughest, bloodthirstiest squad in the state. And nothing about her stance or expression screamed ‘newcomer.’ 
She crooked a finger, motioning Ella over. Warily, Ella opened her skates to slow, and approached the girl.
‘Yes?’
‘You’ve got some decent moves, out there.’ The girl said, her icy blue eyes raking over her. ‘Bit of a ballerina though.’
‘Um, probably because I used to be a figure skater.’Ella dropped to tuck her laces in.
The girls smiled cruelly. ‘Then I’ll call you ‘Figurina.’
Ella frowned. ‘My derby name is-’
‘I like Figurina.’ The blonde insisted. 
Ella didn’t know what to make of that, so she shrugged. ‘Suit yourself.’
 The three girls in green flew past behind her, giggling. 
‘I always do.’ The girl crouched, and cupped Ella’s chin in her icy cold palm. ‘And Figurina? I’m going to kill you if you show me up.’
Ella recoiled back, startled. ‘Excuse you?’
But the girl didn’t respond. She merely turned and glided away, as liquid as water. Ella gaped after her, mouth open.
‘Hey…fresh meat! You okay?’
Ella looked up, following the voice to the DJ booth. An incredibly hot, tousled blond guy with striking green eyes was grinning down at her. The strange girl was instantly forgotten. Wow.
‘Uh…Yeah. I think I may have just gotten my first death threat from a rival team though.’ She looked after the Corpse Bride, but the girl had been swallowed up by the traffic.
‘Then you know you’re good!’ The guy disappeared from the window and reappeared at the door, bouncing down to ground level and extending a hand. ‘Too good for the bunny slope. Come on over here, fresh meat. It’s way more fun.’
Ella eyed the low, blue carpeted wall dividing them skeptically. But the blond guy laughed again, reached out and caught her hips. Muscular arms hoisted her up and over the divide, planting her at his feet. 
‘Lighter than air.’ He grinned at her, melting her. ‘I’m Brandon by the way. And you’re way too timid for roller derby.’
‘So I’ve been told.’ Ella steadied herself on her stoppers and smiled at Brandon, aware that at least nine other girls who had been gathered at the door to his booth were now glowering at her. 
‘Gorgeous and talented too.’ 
Ella blushed. This guy was smooth. Clearly, a player. 
‘Keep the seventies punk cranking, and I might say the same thing later.’ Ella joked, rolling back away from him.
He gave her a lopsided smile. ‘Where are you going?’
‘To find my team! Thanks for the lift.’ Trying to look as nonchalant as possible, Ella turned and forced her way into the crowd gathered near the entrance to rink two. She spotted two other girls in teal, clustered in the seating area on the opposite side of the rink. Other Pirates! She wouldn’t have to skate alone anymore.
Ella launched herself onto the rink, crying out as a girl who had been flowing smoothly in front of her, stopped in her tracks and turned, facing backwards. When she saw Ella on top of her, the girls eyes widened behind her cat’s eyes contacts and she reached for the rail, clearly startled. Ella dodged her by a hair.
‘Watch where you’re going!’ The girl snapped, one spider-web stockinged leg kicking up to stabilize herself.
Ella glanced back at her, mortified. ‘Sorry!’ 
‘Hey!’
Ella pivoted back around, just in time to see a voluptuous brunette in a corpse bride tutu cut diagonally in front of her. The girl gave held up her middle finger, snarling at her. ‘Slow-ass! Watch yourself!’
Ella didn’t attempt to apologize to that one. Way too hostile. She swallowed and dug in her stoppers, picking up speed, trying to look everywhere at once. These girls were really hard core-weaving at incredible speeds, checking people who got in their way, snapping insults at anyone in a rival team’s uniform. Ella began to sweat. Could she really compete against these girls?
A sharp pain against her left hip suddenly forced Ella sideways and into the carpeted wall, so that her right hip struck the polished wooden rail there-hard.
‘Shit!’ 
Ella braced herself against the wall and glanced to her left, expecting her assailant to have gone already. But then she locked gazed with the frosty-eyed Corpse Bride from the fresh meat rink, and her heart sank. Not her again!
Despite her fear, Ella knew that showing weakness was a bad idea.‘Problem?!’ She demanded.
‘Stay away from Brandon! He’s mine!’ The girl snarled, reaching out both hands and shoving her in a lightning quick movement Ella hadn’t anticipated. Her legs went out from under her, and she landed with a muted thump on the floor below. Skaters whizzed by. No one stopped to help her. In fact, two or three shot her dirty looks. Agony shot up Ella’s spine.
She gaped up at the girl, who was leering triumphantly down at her. ‘What is your damage?!’ She demanded. ‘Tough is one thing-but psychotic is another!’
‘You don’t know what psychotic is.’ The girl sneered sneered. ‘But go near Brandon again, and you’ll find out soon enough.’ With that, she turned and raced off.
Ella got to her feet, cringing as the pain from her tail-bone radiated up her spine. Her team hadn’t lied-the Corpse Bride girls were hard core! Sniffling back tears, Ella skated towards where she’d seen her teammates sitting. There were four there now, and they looked like they were having a grand time.
Lexi-Looser, the team captain, stood up when she saw Ella approach. ‘You’re white! Are you okay?’
Ella was cupping one of her bruised ribs. ‘These girls are terrifying Lex. I can’t do this!’
‘Well, you’re not supposed to be out here with the experienced skaters yet!’ Lexi admonished her. But her brown eyes were sympathetic. ‘What happened?’
‘One of the Corpse Bride girls threatened to kill me. Then she shoved me over before I could catch my balance.’ 
Lexi didn’t look surprised. ‘Yep, they’re underhanded all right. But they’re usually all bark, and no bite, until we’re in a meet.’ 
‘They’ll try and scare her off, because she’s so damned good.’ Gillian (G-Lo) said, winking at Ella. ‘I’ve contemplated killing her a few times myself.’
Ella laughed, starting to relax. ‘I’ll take that as a terrifying compliment.’
The P.A crackled over head. ‘Here’s a bit of The Clash, for the sexy new pirate…’ The DJ murmured. The other girls turned to look at Ella, shocked.
‘Oh my god! Brandon likes you!’ Gillian exclaimed. ‘Do you know how many girls try to land him?’
‘No wonder this chick is pissed.’ Polly-Rocket remarked. ‘He hasn’t looked at anyone in a year. I’ll have to guard you for the rest of the night!’
Ella blushed to the roots of her hair, immediately looking around for the blonde. But there was no sign of her. ‘Sounds like a grand idea.’ She joked. ‘Where’s the ladies room?’
‘Right behind us.’ Lexi pointed. A door was at the far end of the hall, and girls were traipsing in and out, giggling as they attempted to navigate the short flight of steps. 
‘I need to use it after that long drive here.’ Ella said, really wanting to check her appearance for when she saw Brandon next. ‘If I’m not back in ten, call the cops.’
‘If I see a Corpse Bride go in after you, I’ll follow.’ Polly promised.
Feeling better with reinforcements laying in wait-Ella skated off, towards the bathroom. Before she turned into the corridor, she hesitated, the hair prickling on the back of her neck, telling her she was being watched.
Her instinct led her straight to the DJ booth and sure enough, the pale blonde was in there, standing behind him, arms crossed-her chilling blue eyes focused on Ella. Ella frowned and broke her gaze, not wanting to antagonize her further. The mean Corpse Bride was the only girl within the booth. Did Brandon favor her? Did Ella want to try and get between whatever they had?
 A short flight of steps ran down to the corridor, and Ella jumped them easily, rolling directly into the ladies room door. She moved quickly to the mirror and raked her hands through her mahogany ringlets, making a face at her reflection. She washed her hands and whispered : ‘You can handle this,’ to herself, and reached over to rip off some paper towel. ‘Skate first, cute guy later.’
But when she straightened, she gasped in shock-the blonde bride was standing inches behind her, her expression venomous. Under the fluorescent lighting, her eyes glowed a spooky shade of blue, almost, milky. The room seemed to drop several degrees.
‘Did he call you pretty?’ The blonde demanded, eyes tight. ‘He calls all the girls pretty when he thinks I’m not looking. But it’s an act, get it?’ Her voice was low, threatening, and her jaw was clenched. ‘You’re nothing to him.’
Ella couldn’t form a sentence, let alone respond to such a statement! Her heart was pounding in shock. ‘H-how did you get here so quick?!’ She yelped. Ella had only been in there for about forty five seconds!
‘You’re fast.’ The girl smiled. Then her hand shot up, flicking a switch blade as she did. The steel point gleamed in the yellow fluorescent lighting. ‘But I’m faster, Figurina.’
Ella spun and ducked, rolling backwards, out of the girl’s reach. ‘You’re crazy!’ She shrieked, feeling the blood rush from her face and force her heart into an epileptic rhythm. 
At that moment, two other Corpse Brides rolled in behind her-Ella could see them emerge through the full-length mirror adjacent to the door. She whirled to face them, grabbing one by the shoulders and pushing off her, switching places, so that the girls blocked her.
‘Hey!’ The tawny-haired girl cried, reflexively shoving Ella off, and into the corridor wall. ‘Keep your hands to yourself, bitch!’
 ‘Keep your squad members under control!’ Ella choked out. 
The girls looked at each other, and laughed, paying no mind to the knife wielding lunatic behind them. 
‘Fresh meat is frightened!’ One joked, glancing behind her quickly and smiling at the ghostly blonde. 
‘I call her Figurina.’ The blonde responded, sheathing her knife and smiling angelically.
Ella didn’t linger to hear them mock her. She took two racing strides and jumped up the stairs, running smack into Polly.
‘What took you so long?!’ Ella demanded, hearing the croak of unshed tears in her voice.
Polly’s eyebrows shot up. ‘Huh? They just went in!’
‘Not those two-the first one! The blonde!’ Ella veered around Polly, digging in her toe for speed. ‘I can’t handle this! I’m not right for this scene! I’m going to get my bag, and I’m leaving!’
Her teammates had risen to their feet, their eyes wide with concern. Smartly, they rolled back, out of her path. 
‘What happened now?’ Lexi demanded.
‘She had a knife! That’s what happened!’ Ella snapped to her team captain. ‘She thinks I’m after her man!’
A hand grabbed her wrist. Ella felt herself wrenched around, to face Lexi. ‘Man? Brandon? The D.J?’
‘Well, he’s the only man in here.’ Polly said wryly. ‘And he did just dedicate a song to her!’
Lexi’s brow crinkled. ‘I know Brandon, hon, we all do…and he hasn’t had a girlfriend for months-’
‘Well, obviously, she doesn’t agree.’ Ella pulled her arm free. ‘I’m getting out of here, just in case he almost gets me killed again.’ With that, Ella dug her toe stopper into the ground and launched off as fast as she could, not in the mood to be begged to stay. Maybe she was happy to die on roller skates-but not in a girls restroom! No way!
Ella flew between the tables of girls who watched her with open interest, some smirking at the fact that she was clearly upset, others watching behind her, anticipating the cause for her distress, probably eagerly. 
The room was a myriad of colors, sounds smells and volume. It was overwhelming her, making her dizzy. She needed air. 
‘Hey!’ Brandon’s voice cut a clear path to her senses, despite her distress as she passed the DJ booth. ‘Where are you running off to?’
‘Out of here!’ Ella snapped, not looking up or back. 
‘What? Wait!’
Ella grimaced as she rounded the corner of the booth, hoping the girls fawning over him were adequately blocking his path to her. 
A cry exploded from her when she found herself, nose to nose, with her blonde tormentor. One look at the girls features, rendered hideous by her twisted grimace, told Ella she was in trouble
The blonde’s hand shot out, gripped Ella’s neck. Her touch was as cold as winter rain, her eyes frenzied. How on earth did she move so fast?! Did she have a secret passage under the rink, or what?
‘I warned you, Figurina!’ She hissed, her eyes so pale that they were almost translucent. ‘Now, you’re done!’
Ella couldn’t shake the girls grip. She smacked at her hand, imploring people nearby, who were staring at her, with desperation, but they looked surprised and confused. Real fear clenched Ella’s heart. The girl was ten times stronger than she, despite her thin figure, and Ella was off balance on her wheels. 
‘I’m going to crush every bone in your throat!’ The blonde hissed. 
Ella trembled. Never in her life had she been so intimidated. This girl had no regard for the witnesses surrounding them. Her gaze radiated hate, and evil, and determination.
‘Hey! What’s going on?!’Brandon demanded.
Ella cried out when the blonde dropped her, hard, on her backside and backed up, crossing her arms.
‘Just toying with your new little flirtation, honey-bear.’ She said, batting her eyelashes coyly. 
Brandon glanced behind him, frowned, then crouched in front of Ella.
‘Are you okay?’ His green eyes were full of concern. ‘You fell down pretty hard.’
Ella was gulping in air, and shaking from helmet to wheel. ‘Fell down?!’ She gasped. ‘That’s what you think just happened here?’
Brandon glanced around them, then frowned at her. ‘I know it’s embarrassing, beautiful, to lose your traction-’
‘What’s going on?’ The brunette official from earlier, rushed and knelt at Brandon’s side. ‘Is she badly hurt?’
‘She landed on her tailbone. I didn’t see how.’ Brandon said to her. ‘She was rushing off.’
Behind him, The blonde winked at Ella. 
Ella couldn’t believe this. ‘I didn’t fall!’ She shrieked, amazed that someone so obviously trying to hit on her would defend his jealous girlfriend. ‘Your psychotic girlfriend was choking me!’
It was Brandon’s turn to look surprised. ‘Huh?’ He glanced at the girl next to him, frowned, then back at Ella. ‘What are you talking about? I don’t have a girlfriend!’
‘Are you kidding me?!’ Ella demanded. ‘She just called you honey-bear! She had me by the throat when you got down here! How can you cover for her like this?!’ Ella pointed at the blonde. ‘Tell them! If you corpse bride bitches are so tough, then own your instability!’ Tears were running down Ella’s cheeks. She’d never been so scared and frustrated simultaneously.
Corpse Bride?’ The official repeated.
Honey-bear?’ Brandon had paled. He glanced behind him, staring, then back at Ella. ‘Who are you talking to?’
A small crowd had gathered around them. They regarded each other suspiciously.
‘The unstable blonde freak grinning at me right now!’ Fresh tears sprang to Ella’s eyes. ‘Please, just…I need to get out of here.’
The blonde raised one eyebrow. ‘They won’t believe you. Bethany Bridges is the roller-derby legend.’ She cooed. ‘And the moment they leave you alone…’
Ella set her jaw and stared balefully back at the other girl. ‘Screw you right back, Bethany.’
Brandon was staring at her, his expression twisted with grief. ‘Bethany?’ He whispered. 
‘Say what?!’ The official demanded. 
‘Bethany’s here?’ Brendan leaned forward. His eyes had grown hard, urgent. ‘Where?’
Right behind you!’ Ella snapped, amazed that they were so blind. She turned to the blonde, narrowing her eyes. ‘She’s been threatening to kill me all night!’
Brendan released her and whirled around so forcefully that his sneaker clipped Ella’s thigh. He surveyed the crowd, head twitching back and forth. ‘Where? Where is she?!’
‘Brendan!’ The official got to her feet, placing her hands on Brandon’s shoulder, which he shrugged off. ‘Brandon come on! Bethany’s gone. This girl must be concussed!’
‘She’s brand new! How would she know what Bethany looked like Simone?’ Brandon turned back to Ella. ‘Are you making this up? Because if you are-’
Ella had no idea what was going on, and she didn’t care to. Bethany was staring up at Brandon, looking both surprised, and slightly frustrated, almost as though she wanted to be caught. Ella’s hand went to her bra cup-her car key was in there-and her phone was in the car. She didn’t need to go back for her bag. The exit to the building was just ten meters away. If she skated madly while Bethany was distracted, she might actually get out in one piece. 
Ella got to her feet somewhat awkwardly, assisted by unknown hands behind her. 
‘Are you okay?’ An unfamiliar girl’s voice whispered.
‘She said Bethany, Hysteria. Bethany.’
‘That’s impossible!’
‘She’s been dead for almost a year!’
Ella whirled, gasping, regarding a Corpse Bride girl behind her. ‘Did you just say dead?’
The girl nodded somberly. Her false eyelashes gleamed silver. ‘Back in May.’
‘Brandon broke up with her-and she was found dead a week later. She overdosed, right there in the booth.’ Another Corpse Bride whispered. ‘She was having a rough week. She never told us that he’d ended things, and two days later, we told her she’d have to sit out for the rest of the season.’
‘She was getting too violent. Giving us a bad rap.’ The first girl said. ‘She must have snuck in after hours to take the pills.’
‘It’s our fault.’ The one, Hysteria whispered, wiping tears from her eyes. ‘We gave her such a hard time about being a softie in the beginning, that we created a monster.’
‘She begged for one more chance, and we said she’d get one…when she’d had some time to think.’
Ella couldn’t believe her ears. She turned to stare at Bethany, who was standing between Brandon and the official, who were whispering urgently to each other. The official looked stern. Brandon looked bereft. Neither so much as glanced at Bethany.
Oh screw this! Ella thought. A ghost? I’m being stalked by a jealous ghost with anger issues? Ella was quaking with dread. She had to leave. Now. Without replying to the other girls, she spun and stalked, through the crowd, towards the exit, heart racing. Her hands and feet felt like solid blocks of ice. This world was not for her.
A violent, painful tug on the back of her hair was so unexpected that Ella didn’t even know it had happened until she was free-falling backwards. Every bone, every muscle in her body screamed in pain when she hit the floor, and the world spun. Ella was barely aware of anything beside the burning pain in the back of her skull, where her helmet had ridden up and clearly, not protected her.
Bethany loomed over her, her ghoulish face blurry with the concussion. She looked different now-her lips were a pale blue, her skin waxen and translucent, her breath sour. Tear tracks flashed different colors in the light down her hollow cheekbones. When she smiled, her teeth were retreating from her gums, and her eyes looked milky, and lifeless. Yet that evil, mirthful glint remained.
‘Where’s your team, Figurina?’ The girl hissed. ‘If they’re not gonna back you up, you’re going to have to get tougher. Like I did.’
Everything inside Ella shriveled, and spots danced before her eyes. Frightened to the point of hysteria, Ella clung to consciousness, but it slipped away.
                                                                          ⁓
‘Oh god!’
Brandon’s voice snapped her back to the present. Her last memory had been of a frightful face looming over her, but now, the dead girl had been replaced by a face so breathtaking she almost couldn’t stand it. She almost wanted to kiss him, and yet, her body wouldn’t co-operate. Never feeling more like fresh meat in her life, the new girl gasped for breath, drawing one in at last as she was pulled into a sitting position. She could feel the hot trickle of blood down the back of her neck and under the color of her corset. 
‘Are you okay?! Oh no! You’re bleeding!’
‘She’s cracked her skull! Get the medic!’ Another voice shouted. The official. She recognised it. Stupid bitch was clueless. Who’d put her in charge?
‘She could have been killed!’
She looked behind her. Sure enough, the tiles of the exit were splattered with blood. Lots of blood. Her stomach rolled. That was a serious injury. She prayed her fragile body could take it. 
‘Hey!’ Brandon was tapping her hand, his beautiful eyes full of concern. ‘Are you still with me? What’s your name anyway?’
‘I’m still with you.’ She responded, though she couldn’t help but wince. ‘And it’s…Ella.’
Brandon smiled, his beautiful heartfelt grin. ‘Well Ella, you’ve had a nasty accident.’ He squeezed her hand, and his gaze tightened. ‘Was it…? I mean..is she still with us?’
‘Who?’ 
Brandon swallowed. ‘Bethany.’ His voice was hushed. ‘Or Baby-blues’ as she was called. As crazy as it sounds, I believe you. It took forever to break things off with her. If her spirit lingered here, and she saw me with another girl…’
‘I don’t doubt that it drove her slightly nuts.’ She said dryly, touching her hand to the sharp pain at the back of her skull. She winced. ‘How long was I out for?’
‘A minute. Tops.’ He glanced over his shoulder. ‘Is she gone? Did she say anything about me?’
‘Yes.’ She smiled sadly at Brandon. ‘That she loves you. And that she’ll never really leave you. But she wants you to find happiness.’
Brandon blinked. ‘Really? Wow…I guess she realized that terrorizing you was going too far.’ He smiled fondly down at her. ‘Now, we need to get you to a hospital.’
Bethany took his hand and pressed the back of it to her lips, kissing the freckle there she’d always kissed, breathing in her favorite smell in the world-her man. It had taken drastic measures, but she saw now how right she’d been to hang on to hope. Who cared what body she was in, if it meant she could have Brandon again? That she could have a new team, and a fresh start, and an incredibly agile body she would never dream of hurting?
‘You’re too kind.’ Bethany whispered. She glanced to her right, and started when she saw Ella’s spirit standing in the corner, screaming soundlessly, trying to get people’s attention, to signal the theft. But no one saw her. She was weak. Not cut out for derby life, or the afterlife. 
Bethany smiled triumphantly, allowing Brandon to scoop her up in his arms, and thinking about what a waste Ella’s talent had been. How Bethany would be able to get so much more out of it anyway.
‘I forgot to ask…what’s your derby name?’ Brandon inquired, with a curious smile.
Bethany smiled. ‘Figurina.’

 

Thanks For Stopping-Horror short story, S.K Munt

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      Thanks For Stopping.

 

Patrick remained peacefully asleep until Sabrina’s little green bug hit the cattle grate on the the dip in the road. He bolted upright in the passenger seat as the tires clanged over the grid, his expression both startled and displaced

What?’ He snapped the word, then softened it with a querying look in Sabrina’s direction. His breath reeked of bourbon. ‘Sabrina?’ He squinted through the windshield. ‘Is this my street? What’s going on?’

Sabrina offered him a brief smile, intended to soothe him, as she navigated the dusty, unpaved road in the dull glow of her headlights. ‘It is. A bunch of you sort of passed out at our place, and because I was sober, Jeremy asked me to drive you all home. You’re the last one.’

‘You’re driving me home?’ Patrick repeated, perplexed. ‘But…God Sabrina, I could have caught a cab.’

‘It’s no big deal.’ Sabrina said hurriedly, not adding that if she’s waited for three different cabs to show up on a Saturday night, they would have been drunkenly underfoot for hours! Still, the three footballers she’d dropped off before Patrick had spent so long thanking her for the lift that she’d lost more time then she’d intended to give anyway. It was late, and she was tired. Plus, she still had an entire house to put back together! ‘I took home Lucas, Bryce and Jai too.’

‘How did you even know where I lived?’ Patrick demanded.

Sabrina felt a stab of annoyance. She was trying to do a nice thing, and Patrick seemed almost angry with her. What the hell? 

‘Lucas knew. He said you guys went pig-shooting out here about two years ago.’ The road dipped again and Sabrina let her foot off the accelerator, frowning through her now dusty windshield. 

‘Well…you really shouldn’t have come all the way out here.’ Patrick mumbled, gazing out his window sulkily. ‘It’s too far out.’

Sabrina frowned slightly. Lucas had mentioned that Patrick was funny about having people out at his house. But Patrick was unusual in many ways, so she hadn’t given it much thought.

Everyone knew that Patrick O’Shea had issues. Despite his good looks, he was horrible with women, and perpetually single. He was also prone to violent tantrums on the football field, and he’d been out of sorts since his parents had gone away on a prolonged tour the year before, leaving him to house-sit the isolated family home alone. He was a closed off, secretive man, and Sabrina didn’t like the way he looked at her sometimes. 

I should have dropped him off first. She thought, chewing her lip. But she didn’t want to let her paranoia show.

‘It’s only ten minutes out of town.’ Sabrina pointed out, negotiating the car around a sharp bend in the road. Her eyes dropped to her fuel gauge-yep, she had plenty. ‘Though I’m starting to think your driveway is as long as that again.’ She glanced at him. ‘Is this a private road?’

Patrick nodded, still staring out the window. ‘Yeah. And it’s not the kind of road you should be driving this late at night.’ He said tersely. 

‘I’m a big girl.’ She pointed out. ‘I can handle it.’

Patrick said nothing. Sabrina glanced at him again, her frown deepening when she realized that he was stiff with tension. He hand one of his long legs stretched out under the dash, and one of his arms braced against the roof, as though he was anticipating a hard impact of some kind. He was holding his breath too!

‘Patrick?’ She inquired softly. ‘Are you going to be sick?’

No.’ Patrick whispered back, still not looking at her. He seemed riveted by the trees whipping by the window. The bush around them was dense, the darkness leeching any vitality out of the leaves and rendering them an ugly, khaki green. 

‘Are you sure? Just let me know if you want me to pull over-’

No!’ Patrick practically barked at her. He whipped around to face her, his brown eyes wild. ‘Please, I’m fine. Don’t stop the car.’ 

Sabrina could see that he’d attempted to soften his exclamation, but it didn’t leave her feeling any less rattled. What was with this guy? 

At that moment, a ghostly white fence appeared to her right. It sloped gently up an incline to where a large, squat and dark structure sat nestled among the trees.

‘That your place?’ She asked, needing to break the silence.

‘Yeah.’ Patrick relaxed his position somewhat, glancing at her. ‘You can just drop me at the bottom of the driveway though, Sab. The hill is pretty nasty-I’ve been meaning to have the driveway smoothed out for awhile. My truck can barely handle it, let alone this thing.’

Sabrina opened her mouth to protest, but then she shut it quickly. She really didn’t want to bottom out her brand new car. ‘Okay.’ She said, easing off the accelerator once more. The little green bug eased to a stop near the gate, which was sagging lazily on it’s hinges. Her headlights illuminated his driveway, and she instantly saw what Patrick was talking about. The road beyond it was filled with  jagged trenches. ‘Well…here you go.’

But Patrick made no move to open his door. Instead, he turned to face her, his expression thoughtful. ‘Sab….’ He screwed up his face for a moment, then ran a hand through his tousled black hair. ‘This was really nice of you. Thank you.’

‘Like I said, it’s no problem.’ Sabrina smiled reassuringly, fiddling with her blonde braid. ‘You guys played great this afternoon. You deserved to let loose a little. Driving you home is the least a cheerleader can do, right?’

Patrick cocked his head, smiling gently. ‘Well…if you want…you could come in.’

Sabrina couldn’t control her surprised reaction. How could she, with a wave of shock racing through her? Her first thought was if Jeremy heard about his buddy’s proposition, he’d kick his wingman’s ass. Her second, was that if Patrick persisted, she’d have to kick his ass. 

He’s a football player. A voice said inside her head. She shifted uncomfortable, feeling under dressed in her skimpy, blue and red cheerleading uniform. Why hadn’t she changed first? They’re easy, and they assume girls are too. Especially cheerleaders, and clearly regardless of who that cheerleader may have just moved in with! Damn, this is going to make things awkward from hereon out!

‘Patrick…no. I uh, I don’t think Jeremy would like that idea.’ She managed to stammer, looking down at her hands on the steering wheel. Her foot itched to floor the accelerator.

‘Jeremy doesn’t have to know.’ Patrick said softly.

She turned to him, trying to mask her revulsion. A drunk football player getting fresh, she could handle. An insulted, drunk footy player was another story! She’d have to handle the situation delicately. ‘We live together now, remember? If I’m not home soon, he’ll worry.’

Patrick frowned, as though he’d forgotten that part. But then he scratched his head again. ‘I don’t mean for…I mean, not really. I just don’t like the idea of you driving home, alone at night.’

‘I’ll be fine.’ She said crisply, indicating to the glowing numerals on her dash. It was twelve past two in the morning. ‘But I should get going now.’

Patrick stared at her, then sighed, sinking back in his seat, closing his eyes briefly. ‘If you insist, Sab, I can’t stop you. But…well there’s a reason why I don’t invite people out here.’

Sabrina raised an eyebrow, feeling both curious and unsettled by his statement. ‘Oh?’

Patrick turned to her. ‘You never heard about the accident out here, a couple of years back?’

Sabrina shook her head. ‘No. When you say here…?’

‘I mean, on this road.’ Patrick sighed. ‘A sixteen year old girl was killed, back at that hairpin turn. She lost control, went into a tree…’

Sabrina’s heart skipped a beat. Sixteen year old girl and hairpin turn jostled some memory to the forefront of her mind. Suddenly, she remembered the news headline. ‘Oh…this is Blaxley’s road?’ She hadn’t looked on her way in. She’d merely taken the second right after the highway sign, like Lucas had instructed.

Patrick nodded, looking morose. ‘She was my little sister’s best friend. She came out for a sleepover, but they had a fight. She only had her learner’s permit, and being young and foolish, she stole my car and attempted to go home.’ Patrick examined his hands. ‘She lost control, and was killed instantly. My little sister, Jeanie, never forgave herself. In fact, she killed herself a year later, to the day.’

Sabrina sucked in a sharp breath. She’d never heard that part! How tragic! ‘Oh my god!’

Patrick nodded. ‘That’s why my parents decided to travel the country, and left me here. They…they couldn’t bear it. I know I should do it up and sell it, but I feel like that would be deserting Jeanie.’

Sabrina could understand that reasoning. ‘Well, Patrick I am so sorry for your loss. The whole story is tragic. But…I’ll drive slowly, okay? Especially now that I know the history, I’ll be really careful.’

But Patrick’s mouth fell open. ‘No! I mean, don’t drive slowly, okay? Be cautious, but get the hell off this road as soon as you can!’

Sabrina’s scalp prickled. ‘Huh? Why?’

Patrick looked ill. He rubbed his face. ‘She’s…she’s still here, okay?’

Who?!’

Lainey.’ The name was practically whispered. ‘She…she appears sometimes, down at the bend, and it can be quite terrifying to see.’

Sabrina reeled. Was he serious? ‘Are you telling me that there’s a ghost haunting this road?’

Patrick winced. ‘Yes. And she’s not in great shape when she appears, if you get my drift. First time I saw her, I almost crashed. My parents had a similar experience. I thought dad was going to stroke out!’

The skin on the back of Sabrina’s neck instantly felt ice cold. She didn’t know if Patrick was crazy, serious, or trying to convince her to stay, but he was definitely freaking her out! ‘That’s…that’s unbelievable.’

Patrick nodded grimly. ‘I’m guessing she’s still mad-about the fight, or her death…I don’t know.’ He rested a hand on her shoulder, and his touch was clammy. ‘I’d prefer you stayed the night and drove out in daylight, but if you insist on going back please, please…don’t stop the car. For any reason. And if you see her-’

Sabrina swallowed, feeling like she’d slipped out of reality. ‘Yes?’

Accelerate.’ Patrick moved his hand to her chin, forcing her to meet his gaze. ‘Promise me, okay? That you won’t stop the car?’

‘Of course I won’t!’ Sabrina whispered, hoping he couldn’t see how much he’d rattled her. Hoping that he wouldn’t forcibly try and make her stay-all while wishing she’d brought Jeremy along for the ride. But then, there wouldn’t have been enough room anyway. ‘I promise.’

Patrick stared hard at her, his gaze searching. But he seemed to believe her, because he released her chin, and opened his door. ‘Then be careful okay?’ He got out of the car, his stance awkward and clearly, still inebriated. Before he shut the door, he frowned. ‘And don’t say I didn’t warn you.’

Sabrina had nothing to say to that, so she nodded, then put on her indicator with trembling fingers. Patrick backed up, watching her gravely, as she clumsily negotiated a half turn into his drive, then moved aside when she reversed back, facing the way she had come. Sabrina took a deep breath, said a silent, vague prayer to a silent, vague god, and accelerated, retracing the path she’d taken there.

The next ten seconds passed with Sabrina in auto-pilot, and a stupor of sorts. She was a pretty open-minded girl, and loved a good ghost story. Usually, she’d love the idea of a ghost story being true!

But that was in the safety of her home, and in company. On this twisting, densely foliaged road, her imagination reduced the rest of her brain to chaos. She blurred her focus, keeping her eyes trained on the few meters of lit, dusty road in front of her fender as it whooshed beneath her, wanting to turn the high beams on, but wanting more, to pass as unobtrusively through possibly haunted ground as possible. She wished that she could travel faster, but the road was clearly more dangerous than it appeared, and was pockmarked with craters.

Sabrina realized that she hadn’t taken a breath in a while, so she made a futile attempt to distract herself, reflecting on what she had learned about Patrick instead. At least his awful tale explained his creepy, moody behavior. The poor guy had been through a lot.

Not much further now. A nagging voice in her mind pointed out, and Sabrina’s stomach clenched, as did her hands around the steering wheel. Who know’s what you’ll see if you look up? And who knows where your car will end up, if you don’t?

Ghosts don’t exist! She silently exclaimed in protest, even as her body seized up with the beginnings of trepidation. Well, Patrick had been right-she really shouldn’t have dropped him home! And she never would again!

The road before her suddenly veered to the right, indicating that the sharp turn was ahead. Sabrina’s toe’s tingled in their sneakers. She swallowed, and moved her hands to follow the curve, easing her foot down on the brake slightly, but at that exact moment, a shudder went through both her automobile, then herself, as though it had been caught in a thick gust of wind.

The yelp tore out of her throat, and despite her efforts to resist, her eyes lifted. She almost cried out with relief when her gaze revealed only an empty road at first. But then she saw something she’d missed on the way in-a gnarled looking tree looming out of the dry, waist-high grasses flanking the road. The VW spotlighted an assortment of dried, faded flower arrangements and a small white cross resting against the base of the trunk. A marker, for the accident. 

The memorial made her light-headed. She’d similar arrangements before of course, but this was the first time she’d known the story behind one, and tears of some under analyzed emotion pricked her eyes.

But why did my car do that weird thing? She thought, reaching for the high beam. The only grid on this road is the one connecting to the highway!

Sabrina flicked the switch, deciding that seeing everything was better than seeing only a little, but nothing happened-the lights remained low. 

What the– She began to think, but then the curve tightened and her focus shifted to following the hairpin without losing control. She jerked the steering wheel, and then suddenly-she was complete blackness. Her headlights had completely died.

Sabrina screamed, slamming on the brake. The sound tore from her throat and she knew it was a hysterical reflex that had been lying in wait. The sound of her tires tearing up the densely packed dirt resonated within her ears, but the cacophony was the last thing on her mind. She began to panic, flicking the headlight switch madly, it’s click sounding like a timer counting down to a panic attack in her ears.

Damn Patrick for scaring her! Damn her car battery for having the worst timing in the world! Damn Jeremy for having his mates over for a spontaneous celebration! The rage was unexpected, yet welcome. It kept her mind from thinking what she desperately needed to avoid thinking.

Her car jolted to a stop, and despite the darkness, the cloud of dust rising around her was obvious. She turned her key off with trembling fingers, then jerked them back again, tears of gratitude springing to her eyes when the engine rumbled to life, and the hood of her car was illuminated once more.

Just a battery thing! Or a microchip thing! She assured herself, flicking her braid over her shoulder and attempting to inhale as she switched her foot back onto the gas pedal. I’m okay! 

But when Sabrina lifted her gaze to the road, to discern her positioning, all of the blood in her body rushed from her head and pooled icy in her feet. 

The specter stood inches in front of her fender, it’s eyes wild, it’s blonde hair sticking out and frizzing haphazardly, one side near her right ear matted to the scalp with dark, dried blood. If she’d been pretty before, there was no evidence of it now, save her slight build. Her body was bruised, the skin shredded in parts. Her mouth was a red, angry gash and her teeth reduced to stumps and splinters. One eye was red, as though every blood vessel within it had burst. She looked horrifying. And her vacant stare burned a hole through Sabrina.

‘Shit!’ Sabrina spluttered, completely unsure of what to do. Her instinct was to accelerate, but the twisted creature before her was so messed up that Sabrina was actually loathe to inflict more damage. And what if the thing could fight back?

‘Don’t stop the car! Promise me!’ Patrick’s warning reverberated in her mind, but Sabrina knew it was too late. She’d stopped, and now a pissed off ghost was staring her down on an isolated road in the middle of the night, and Sabrina was too frozen with panic to react. 

But then something caught her eye-something she hadn’t noticed at first. The girl’s appearance was almost transparent-Sabrina could see the road beyond through the girl’s mid section, and now she saw that the spirit’s white dress was in almost perfect array-save one, dark, bloody stain at the apex of her thighs, one that didn’t fit in with the rest of her appearance, or the story of her death. 

Sabrina lifted her gaze back to the spirit’s and saw the girls lips twist in a frightful sneer, before her headlights dropped once more, casting her back into pitch blackness. Sabrina screamed again, and felt tears of absolute terror spring violently into her eyes. She flicked the lever for the lights, but nothing happened.

Suddenly, her world began to rock as bile rose in her throat. There was a skittering sound across the roof of her car-inhuman footsteps-and each thump struck a nerve in Sabrina’s heart and caused gooseflesh to race across her skin. The footfalls passed above her head, down the glass of the rear window and then down the sharp curve of the trunk. Then back again. Sabrina turned to look behind her and screamed again when she saw the hideous spirit at her rear passenger side window, it’s tiny fist thumping on the glass, it’s mouth open in a howl of outrage, demanding entrance. Sabrina shrank back against her own door and shrieked into her hands. 

 The car came alive then-the passenger door was thrown open then slammed shut. Then the one behind it. Then the one behind her. On and on the slamming went, fanning cold air against her skin, too cold, for the balmy spring night it had been. The sound was startling. Her headlights switched on once more, than flickered off. On and off, on and off, creating a strobe-like effect which illuminated the forest surrounding her. 

‘Stop! Please! Don’t! No!’ Sabrina screamed, putting her hands over her ears. ‘I’m sorry for what happened to you but please-stop!’The fear was so intense that Sabrina couldn’t even process it. Her body jerked with it, and her heart pounded in a way she didn’t think she could survive.

The lights instantly halted their flashing, remaining on, and the car door behind her slammed shut, and stayed shut. Sabrina clutched the steering wheel and blinked dubiously ahead of her, knowing better than to assume the ordeal was over. This spirit was too angry. It wanted something from her-but what

All at once, there was a wild scream, and Sabrina saw that the figure of the girl  was back on the road. It raced across her line of vision, looking behind itself in terror, stumbling headfirst into the long grasses beyond the ditch. The grasses moved as the spirit evidently cut a path through them, but then the movement stopped and began to retreat. Sabrina yelped when she saw the girl reverse out, sliding along the unforgiving ground as though she were being dragged by an invisible force. It was a chilling sight, especially the way her hands dug into the earth. Seconds later, the body flipped, landing on it’s back, it’s wild eyes staring up at the sky above as her legs were flung wide apart. And then she began to jerk and twitch rhythmically, viscously, as though-as though-

She’s being raped! Sabrina realized, turning her face away, clumsily reaching for her handbag, where her phone was. The implications of what the spirit was trying to show her was not wasted on her. The bloody crotch of her dress had spelled it out, but now, the message had become a chilling pantomime. It wasn’t a crash, it was an attack! Sabrina sobbed as her hand frantically dug through her bag. 

‘I’ll help!’ She whispered, unable to look up, for fear of seeing more that she could never un see. ‘I’ll help!’

Suddenly, there was a thump on the front of the car. Sabrina’s head jerked up, and  a hot flush ran through her when she saw that the ghost-Lainey-was at her hood once more, it’s torn fingers pressed against the polished surface.

‘I’ll help!’ Sabrina repeated, tears streaming down her face now. ‘Who was it? Who did this to you?

The ghost blinked and slowly, raised one arm, pointing right at her.  Sabrina frowned, and was about to deny any knowledge, or involvement, when a very fleshy, very real hand clamped around her neck like a red-hot vice.

I told you not to stop!’ A furious voice rasped in her ear, it’s breath warm, stinking of bourbon. ‘Just like I warned Jeanie! Just like I warned my mum and dad!’

Sabrina felt, for a moment, like fear had caused her to levitate from her own body. Her gaze locked on the ghost before her, and she choked out: ‘Patrick.’

The specter nodded, it’s face a gruesome, tragedy mask. Through it’s head, she caught sight of the dried flowers once more, marking the tree where she’d lost her life. And where Sabrina might also lose her own. Sabrina’s bowels constricted.

‘That bitch gets a lot of people in trouble.’ Patrick confirmed, his voice hard. ‘There are a few bodies buried around here. And now, you’ll have to join them.’

Sabrina lifted her gaze to the rear vision mirror, her mouth going dry when she saw the clear intent in his hard, dark eyes. So, Patrick had followed her, and had seen her stop. Had that been why the ghost had raced across the roof of her car? In pursuit? Which clang of her slamming doors had been him, sneaking in?

‘You raped her. That’s why she raced out of here that night. She stole your car, you caught her somehow, and you raped her again…then staged it, so it looked like an accident!’ Sabrina’s voice sounded brittle to her own ears. She wet her lips. ‘Your sister found out-so you killed her too.’

‘I didn’t want to hurt Jeanie!’ Patrick exclaimed. ‘But that fucking bitch spirit just wouldn’t leave! She kept trying to stop people, to show them her story-’

‘Which is why you won’t have people out here.’ Sabrina finished coldly, knowing she had to keep him talking, until she thought of a way to escape. ‘And why you can’t sell up and leave. She’ll show someone else, unless you guard this road. Forever.’

‘You’re pretty fucking smart for a cheerleader.’ Patrick hissed. ‘But that’s to your detriment, Sabrina. You shouldn’t have come out here-now you’ll never leave.’

Sabrina’s face flushed, first hot, then ice-cold as her muscles coiled to a state of readiness. She had no option of flight, so fight it was.

Patrick’s spare hand slid down over her shoulder and onto her breast, making her skin crawl. ‘But I’ll have some fun first. Just like I did with Lainey.’

Sabrina didn’t have a chance to react to that. Suddenly, her car came back to life and burst forward with an unimaginable speed, making her stomach roll with the inertia. Her foot kicked for the brake, but it clicked uselessly under her toe. The accelerator was flat to the floor, seemingly of it’s own volition. She looked forward and saw the tree flying towards her, saw the angry, cruel expression on Lainey’s face from where she lay flat against the hood, her face only inches away, separated from Sabrina’s own by the windshield. The ghoul was grinning in delight, shattered teeth and bloody lips and all.

The scream ripped from Sabrina’s throat as she realized they were about to crash-but Patrick’s holler of disbelief drowned hers out. 

‘What are you doing you psycho bitch?!’ He exploded.

‘It’s not me!’ Sabrina wondered if those words were to be her last. ‘It’s Lainey!’

There was a horrific crunching sound as her fender met the silver gum and Sabrina felt herself thrown forward, hard, against the gear shift, her left hand slamming into the buttons on the console as she attempted to brace herself for the rest of the impact. The plastic casing of the VW was no match for the immovable, ancient tree, and Sabrina was too frozen to close her eyes as pain and terror shot through her.

Patrick had been leaning over her chair but now, his body was flung forward so roughly, so swiftly, that the motion was blurred, some part of his lower body connecting with the back of her head as he went, forcing her forward and making her ear ring.

 The windscreen exploded when Patrick’s head struck it, and Sabrina screamed again when she caught sight of his neck twisting at an angle no human body could withstand. But the rest of his momentum was obscured by the airbag which suddenly blossomed in front of Sabrina’s face with a sound akin to a gunshot. She felt her face hit the inflatable surface, saw the explosion of powder around her, before the world was cast into darkness once more. 

For a moment, Sabrina sat in the cloak of blackness, gasping for breath, mentally scanning herself for injuries as tears ran noiselessly down her cheeks and neck, hearing the engine tick, and the radiator hiss, hearing the screech of pissed off birds awaken and flee into the sky. She was winded, her left ear felt hot from Patrick’s collision, and her hip was stinging where it had connected with the gear stick. She knew she should get out of the car, in case it exploded, but the interior of her ruined car still felt safer than stepping out into the night air, where the memory of terror had manifested a poltergeist.

I’m alive. I’m okay. She thought, stupefied, wiping powder from her eyelashes with trembling fingers. But where is….? She looked ahead, batting the now-useless airbag out of her view, feeling her body tighten as it went into shock.

 The ghoulish figure of Lainey was no longer hideous. A sweet, victorious and youthful looking blonde apparition was dragging Patrick’s twisted, bloody body into the grasses by his hands, and grinning at her. 

‘Thanks for stopping.’ The disembodied voice whispered, before both victim, and attacker, vanished, leaving Sabrina alone in her mangled car. 

‘You’re welcome.’ Sabrina whispered to the empty road, before the shock caught up with her and rendered her unconscious.  

 

The Marked Ones

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ImageMermaids have three purposes in life: To protect their environment from the humans, to cultivate their bloodlines and to keep the knowledge of their species a secret-at any cost.

The mermaids have depended on the Court bloodline to keep their species thriving for one thousand years, and Ivyanne is the next in line for the throne-and a direct link to their creator. She is the embodiment of the mermaid fantasy-beautiful, kind and chaste-but she has a secret, and when she returns to the mainland to live and work as a human, she finds herself facing him again-the only man she has ever loved. A human, and forbidden.

Ivyanne has been running from the Siren within her for decades, ignoring all of the urges that might jeopardize her arranged marriage to an eligible son of The Marked Ones-urges the other mers within her kingdom embrace. It was easy to do in the sea, under her parent’s watchful gazes.

But Ivyanne is on the land now, and there is more than one temptation. And they won’t take forbidden as an answer.

The Marked ones is a paranormal romance for the big girls who have always dreamed of being mermaids, and big boys who always dreamed of being with one. Set against the beautiful Great Barrier Reef, packed with drama and action and humming with sexual tension that will have you squirming, this is a modern fairytail unlike any other. Be seduced.

Tips For Self-Publishing, helpful for Mac users too

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Okay so two weeks ago I decided that I’d publish my novel as an e-book. Not a foreign concept now is it? Well let me assure you, for me, it is.

I am not an e-book person. I don’t have a Kindle-I didn’t even have an app on my iPad. In fact, for the past two years I have bemoaning the collapse of the printed word when my favourite retailer, Angus&Robertson, shut down. The only e-books I do own are on iBooks-and they’re only because they weren’t available elsewhere.

I tried to get the trilogy I’ve been slaving away on for almost 2 years published, but the truth is-if there’s a great way to pitch a mermaid love triangle set in Australia for adults, then I couldn’t think of it. I’m a good writer-it’s who I am. But one thing I have NOT practiced is the query letter thing.
There were so many problems. I got so close to several companies and agents, but there was always a ‘but’ involved. ‘But’ does it have to be set in Australia? BUt do YOU have to live in Australia? BUT does it have to involve sex, as this would make a great YA novel? BUT…couldn’t they have FANGS instead of fins? One even wanted me to eliminate all of the stuff not revolving around the love story, and I might sell out to e-books, but I won’t compromise my vision. At the end of the day, I wanted to tell the story that I want to read, to scratch the itchy spot between 50 Shades and Twilight. I write exactly like someone who loves The Bay Sitters Club and The Poisonwood Bible in equal measures-enertainment, prettiness, perfection…with a little bit of grit, and words that venture beyond 6 characters at times. Yes I’m Australian and yes this book is set here-but I’ve presented my country through romantic lenses, highlighting the beauty of it, the drama-and less of the ‘G’Day mate’ stuff.
I don’t think there’s a single reference to G’Day or Vegemite. Crikey! I did it! (Ha ha ha, had to slip that in there)

Anyway my point is that there is no market for me-not without several short story awards and university degrees under my belt anyways. Paranormal romance, focusing on an under-developed sub genre (mermaids) targeted at Adults who ENJOY a blood-pumping sex scene without wanting to be drowned in them. My story has a little bit of action, a lot of drama, quite a few laughs (I can be Punny at times) and it’ll get you hot under the collar. Anyway-you can’t fit that in a query letter without sounding insane, and no one wants to take a chance on a first time Australian writer who used to be a cheerleader coming in with book one at 118,000 word count-so self publishing it was.

I have to confess-I learnt the hard way. And by the hard way, I mean I’ve gone through THREE sets of the most expensive batteries for mouse in two weeks. I haven’t slept. My kids don’t recognise me, and I’ve been having sex with poor neglected husband between when I shower and when I put on jammies. I tried to get advice for this-I googled EVERYTHING, but there is so much that’s left out that ought to be presented in a much simpler way, so that’s what I’m going to do for you, because believe it or not, I’m actually having a lot of success for a first timer. In one week I’ve gone up 100,000 spots in rank among other things, that I’ll get to. So here we go: Rookie advice from a rookie!

1) Write a good book. Might sound simple but it aint. I don’t read free or 99c e-books. I’m not interested. I like my books to be fantastic and I’m trying to create the same thing for others.
The Marked Ones (Trilogy) took me 6 months to plot (in my head, I don’t do notes if I can avoid it and this story is pretty complex) and 9 months to write. The FIRST time. I have done so many edits that my characters recognise me as much as my kids do. If you think your story sounds like someone else’s, than it probably does. Be original, take risks-but for the love of god READ first. if your book sucks-you WILL hear about it.

2) Still with me? Reckon you’ve got ‘the one’? Okay then carrying on…Get others to read it. I’m not talking about your mum and your husband…real readers you know, but no one that knows you SO well that they will put their feelings above their opinions. I chose three girls I went to high school with who didn’t really know or like me that much, who happened to like the same genres as I did, and had jobs, kids, laundry and ten million other things to do that they might put my book off for. But you know what? They didn’t. And when they were staying up until 3am to read my doc story then I knew I was onto something. My book is actually dedicated to them-those three girls are priceless to me now.

3) Get someone official to read it. This step is for those who are DAMN serious and have a bit of cash so if you’re not sure, you could get away with skipping it. I chose an assessment agency here in Australia-Lynk Assessment Services, paid them $300 bucks for them to read my manuscript, tell me where I went wrong and right, point out the major formatting and grammatical errors and expose the weak links. I got a wonderful report back from Lynk, and that gave me the drive to push on, and something to add to the bottom of the query letters I was still sending out then.
You might not need an agency. If you’re in school or college and have a teacher you could slip $100 bucks to (ENGLISH teacher, not your football coach) then try that.

4) Build up some anticipation. As excited as you are to launch your book…put feelers out first. I started with my Facebook, then added a Facebook page JUST for my book, where I would rant about my writing, upload pics that were relevant, put in sneaky snippets and get some interest going. Start joining online service for networking-Twitter, Tumblr, Goodreads (very important that you don’t just show up tooting your own horn here on launch day-they’ll freeze you out. Establish friendships first with nice like-minded people) and start blogging.I did all of this AFTER the fact and it was far too stressful. The bags under my eyes will attest to that. Google : ’46 websites to promote your writing’ and join them. ALL of them. Use user names that are your pen name and try and keep the same password for everything. Bookmark each site (‘favourites’ for Microsoft users) and have all 46 profiles set up and ready to go. Start adding people from your genre. I googled ‘mermaid readers’ and got at least 10 helpful discussion groups from there. You don’t want to know the lengths I’ve gone to since, but there isn’t a mermaid discussion board I haven’t pillaged yet. Paranormal romance (my genre) is next.

THE DOCUMENT (DIY)
5) format your manuscript for e-pub. They make this sound SO easy for people to do, and perhaps for Microsoft users, it is-but NOT Mac. I use Nisus Writer Pro which is such a FABULOUS word processing program ($69 from App store) that the other kids won’t play with it, lol. Pages is rumoured to be slightly better, but I don’t know. My Kindle version went up well enough, but dear god…I’m still fighting with Smashwords. In fact, I broke up with them this afternoon. We’ll make up, but more later.
To get the very best version of my Kindle document, I downloaded the program ‘Sigil’ (E-Pub software) for Mac-it’s not easy, but it comes with instruction that make sense. I transferred my doc from Nisus to Sigil for the serious stuff-page breaks, Headers, Titles etc.

Some formatting tips-
Run a spell check.
Put a page break between each chapter
DON’T use the spacebar unless it’s between words. If you use it to centre paragraph breaks or chapter headings-e-pub will rape you for it.
DON’T use fancy font. Or anything over size 14.
Run a ‘find’ mission on words that are easily used the wrong way. Google It’s and its so you know what’s what for sure, then find every one in your manuscript and make sure you’re using them in the right context. Same as ‘then’ and ‘than’. I have an I.Q of 151 and you’d be surprised how many of those buggers still slipped by me at 3am. When you read your manuscript yourself, watch out for words that will pass a spell-check but don’t make sense. I believe I had a ‘white weather couch.’
Please do a serious edit. And another after it. Every time you change something-read it back 4 times. This is where mistakes happen. I tried to replace realised with saw and left the realised in. Yup. Dipshit. In the name of improving my manuscript, I trashed it, then uploaded it. BAD move. Still cringing.
PRINT your manuscript, give it to someone else to read with a highlighter. No one is worse at editing a document, then the writer, who has the sentences memorised.
NOW remove your page numbers-you CANNOT use these with a Kindle, for it creates it’s own for each device.
Move your margins-best bet is to check the Kindle site and make sure they’re the same specs. I guessed mine (ugh, the 4th upload attempt around) but you’d be surprised how much one inch of translation will mess with your alignments. I had Chapter headings off to the right and coming down the next line-not pretty. In fact-USE NUMBERS for chapters. Much simpler.
Chapter Headings-This is where you use heading styles 1-3.
*When you do your title page, Highlight The Title with ‘Heading 1’
*Then Highlight your byline,copyright information, illustrator/cover designer with ‘Heading 2’. Insert Page Break. (USE A copyright, with symbol and all or you will get rejected.)
*If you want a dedication, write it up after break, Highlight once more with ‘Heading 2’. THEN page break again.
*When you get to your chapter titles/numbers-use Heading 3 for these only.  KINDLE NEEDS THIS. YOU WILL BE TURNED AWAY WITHOUT IT.

Okay so by now you should have your manuscript looking pretty sweet, and someone double-checking a print copy for spelling errors. NOW it gets a bit more fun!

6) Get a Cover.
I won’t be a fountain of enlightenment here-I tried one option and went with it. I joined a site called ‘Designcrowd’ which is basically a collective of designers who may be able to drum up something for you.
They let you upload your synopsis, write a description of what you’re looking for (I said, simple, elegant, dark and metallic tones, preferably gold, with a tail insignia of some sort.) Now, name your price. I went with the cheapest option-$200 seemed fair for a book that might go belly-up. Then, add your info-Title, Author, tagline etc.
Then, you wait. If you select the ‘payment mandatory’ option you will get a hell of a lot more offers than I did. (This means you HAVE to pick, anmd pay a winner. There is an option not to, but I only got 2 volunteers with that) It took 15 minutes for me to get my dream cover. I couldn’t believe how she nailed it. Everyone else was giving me pretty mermaid scenes with well-known clip-art but Natalie Rose Spasic from ‘Officemanager4u’ was brilliant. From the start she was peppering me with questions so I gave her my e-mail-and she ran 4 or 5 versions by me until I had it perfect. DON’T be afraid to perfect it. It’s your book-you can ask to tweak.
A bunch of other people submitted designs-I gave them 48 hours to come up with something and cut mine off after two. From hereon out, I’ll be using Natalie, and I highly recommend her. But if I’d let it go, I might have had anywhere up to 20 options. You can even invite designers who you’d like to try their hand.

7) Now, if all of that formatting stuff seems too much for you-do what I’m going to end up doing-look up ‘Bookbaby’. They will take your manuscript (send it off as perfect as possible, they’re formatters, not editors). For $200 they will format your manuscript for every e-reader known to man AND distribute it and ask for no extra royalty. I am half way through this process. Currently, I can ONLY get a decent upload to Kindle, because the other option, Smashwords, just doesn’t mix with MAC self-publishing virgins. BookBaby does all of the hard work. I am currently one week into the process, but once they have it done (should be a few more days) I will replace even my Kindle version with their perfected product (and Kobo, e-reader, Samsung, iBooks, etc etc) and not look back. 

Book baby also has the option to cheaply PRINT your manuscript, and put it on audio C.D. Awesome, yeah?

So if you’re keeping up with the math-the easiest and best way to get a cover and distribution to Amazon and affiliates, is $400. $200 for Design Crowd, $200 for BookBaby. Sounds steep, but I’ve already made this price back in sales (in one week) and it’s not even ON apple or Kobo yet. Just Kindle.

8) Retailers. THIS is where it gets confusing so I’ll make it real simple.

If you want Kindle AND Smashwords (which you can reach in one click with Bookbaby) then you CANNOT use ‘KDP SELECT’

KDP select is an exclusive offer. It is a 90 day contract in which you cannot sell your product ANYWHERE but Kindle and yes, it’s enforced-they google the shit out of you.
What KDP does is make your book available in a lending library so you get royalties from that, AND they give your work a bit of a plug by offering you 5 days to be used within those 90 days, that you give your book away for free.
Now, giving your book away for free will get it downloaded. But I’ve heard mixed reports about this.Some people say that get 17,000 downloads in one day, and then sell a few hundred after that, some say they get 5000 downloads and then never sell a book again-because the people in their market grabbed it for free and have moved onto another Vampire series now.
I am personally nor using it…YET. I have priced my book at $4.99, which isn’t cheap-but I believe that my book is worth the money. Indie writers like to go for the 99c-$2.99 bracket but I’m aiming higher and so far, it’s working out. For starters, a higher fee, means you get a more discerning crowd-people who LOVE quality of writing, over a quick thrill. It also means each sale you make counts a hell of a lot more than the free ones do when it comes to ‘ranking’. The free books in my genre are ranked in the 100,00’s at the moment, at no cost. Mine has probably sold five hundred less than theirs, but I’m in the 30,000 bracket at the moment, for having steady sales at a good price. Make sense? But hey-if you wrote your book in 3 weeks and got it up in 20 minutes on a Microsoft computer and don’t really care what others think-go for it. But other authors to warn against using KDP if you only have the one title, as I do.

Personally, I was terrified at the idea of people who don’t like my biggish words giving me a slue of 1 star reviews for fun that day-and for FREE.

No for now it’s on Kindle only, and it’s selling way better than I thought and I’ve gotten 1 One star review, and 8 four and five ones.

Mind you, when I release book 2, I may release book 1 on KDP then. If they loved book 1 for free, then they’ll probably pay for the next two instalments. i haven’t decided yet. i’ll wait until I get verdicts back from every other retailer, before I make any kind of commitment.

9) Okay so you’ve got your book up-now the hard work begins. promote promote promote! Contact readers, offer them a free copy for a review (just a few). The more reviews you get, the more hits you get-it’s as simple as that. With every positive review, my rating climbs.
Use all of those free sites you set up and put links to your selling platform. Don’t sleep for 5 days-tweet and blog until you run out of words! Beg for reviews! Ask your mum to do it, if no one else will.

Okay I’ve just written down a lot of stuff and I need to get back to formatting book 2, so I’ll leave the nitty gritty at that for now. I hope this helps someone-or I’ve really wasted my time.

A few final tips that worked great for me:

1) Contact your local newspaper. Tell them you wrote a damn good book and it’s doing well. I did this last week, and instead of getting a 5 inch blurb, I got a THREE PASGE FULL COLOUR SPREAD! In a town with 120,000 people, free advertising just doesn’t get better than that! And then I went away on the weekend and someone mentioned to a different reporter that I had a 3 page spread in my local newspaper-so she decided to interview me for hers too! Bam! 400 kilometres, covered.

2) Go to a writer’s festival. I just attended one this week (YES, busy week!) that was a three day stay at a resort. This wasn’t a huge writer’s festival, but it had 4 very prominent Australian authors there who I got to be BFF’s with for three days and their advice was priceless. (L.A Larkin, author of Thirst, and Anita Heiss, author and spokeswoman extroadinairre!)I had to show ’em my stuff and sell the hell out of myself, but they must have liked it because one tweeted about ME this morning! A woman who’s sold over 100,000 books! Extraordinary! And the article in my paper came out while I was there so they actually got to see how seriously I was taking myself-how determined I was. My picture will be in the paper again this week with Anita-can you ask for better publicity than that?

3) Use your Facebook friends. We all have those friends with over 1000 friends-this is where it’ll pay off for you. Ask them to share your Kindle link. especially your friends overseas! I have readers in the UK, Canada, India and Denmark because of this little tactic.
get your truest friends to help you out too-I asked mine to change their profile pics to my cover for 1 day, to generate interest, and it worked. My author page now has 120 followers 🙂

That’s it for now! I’m exhausted! If you have any questions, feel free to message me 🙂 Check out my work (no commitment there’s a sneaky peek on Kindle, free of charge) and get an idea of what it is I’ve offered.

This is hard work. I won’t lie. But if you have the grim determination that I do-it WILL pay off. Peace out fellow authors! And good luck!

"She had me hook, line & sinker - S.K Munt writes absolute must-reads" See all books by S.K Munt