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Transformative Travel in Nepal

Transformative Travel in Nepal

FREE BOOK 5/30 – 6/3


A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to Nepal Earthquakes: Help Children Now, a UNICEF fund.

Fullfilling a dream! Kathmandu. Nepal. The Himalayas.

An exotic area of the world that many people dream about visiting. Kate made that dream come true.

A casual phone call to a friend sparked the fulfillment of Kate’s lifelong dream of traveling to Nepal in order to trek in the Himalayas. She jokingly mentioned to her friend Kay who was planning to start a new exercise routine that they could get fit on a trip to the Himalayas.

Within just a few weeks, Kate and Kay found themselves on a plane on the way to the adventure of a lifetime:

  • seeing the gorgeous snow-capped Himalayas in person so close that it seemed that Kate could just reach out her hand to touch them
  • trekking for days into areas that only the most adventurous travelers ever reach

˃˃˃ Truly Transformative Travel

What Kate learned about herself during the challenging and sometimes excrutiating, but always stimulating, adventure of trekking at high altitude over rough terrain truly transformed her in ways that often did not become apparent until many years later.

Follow along with Kate as she learns more about how to expand her limits so that she can truly fulfill her dream. And maybe you will find yourself motivated to fulfill your dream as well.

Kate Benzin

e   x   c   e   r  p   t



‘I think I’m goin’ to Kathmandu
I think it’s really where I’m goin’ to
Hey, if I ever get out of here
That what I’m gonna do

I think it’s really where I’m goin’ to
Hey, if I ever get out of here
I’m goin’ to Kathmandu’

Song by Bob Seger

How many people have ended up going to Kathmandu because they just couldn’t get that Bob Seger song out of their minds?  I thought that it must be a really wonderful place to have such a great song celebrating it. And man, that singer really wanted to go. I wonder if he ever got there.

I had a dream of going to Kathmandu and trekking in the Himalayas long before I heard that song. I really do not know how serious I was about ever getting there, but once I heard that song, I could not get Kathmandu out of my mind. Over and over it played. You know how that is when you wake up in the middle of the night and a particular song is going through your brain again and again. Then you’re sitting at breakfast. Yep, you guessed it – same song re-playing itself for the umpteenth and umpteenth and one times.

So I had to go – I didn’t have a choice. Maybe if I went to Kathmandu, then I would be able to get that song out of my brain and finally bring some peace and quiet back to my head again.

But my long-standing dream of heading to Kathmandu to do some trekking in the Himalayas was one that seemed impossible. After all, it was a location so exotic that I could not even conjure up what it would feel like to be there – to set my feet on land that was unexplored by any Westerners except the most curious and gutsy.


Kathmandu was and is backpacker mecca and the staging point for anyone planning to go trekking in the Himalayas. You may have had some friends who had the same dream as me. Maybe it has been one of your dreams as well??  Or do you have a different dream – one that you have lived with for a long time but never seriously thought you could fulfill?

If you picked up this book, then maybe somewhere deep inside of you, there is a bell ringing that is telling you “Now is the time to do something about achieving your dream – whatever that dream might be.”

  • Have you ever dreamed about walking on land that very few other Westerners have or will ever set foot on?
  • Have you ever wondered how great it would be to see the Himalayan Mountains up close – picture-perfect locations that can only be experienced in person after trekking for days and days?
  • Would you like to push yourself to do more physically as well as mentally than you ever thought possible?
  • Do you have your own secret dream that is on your bucket list to do?

Maybe you are just about ready to do something more than dream about it. Maybe you are ready to step outside your comfort zone, break away from the role that you have been taught, and take charge of finding exactly what will fulfill you.

If you are ready to discover that truth – if you are ready to face the possibility of achieving something that you never thought possible, then read on. Maybe the story of how I dared to satisfy my hunger to wake up in the morning with the majestic Himalayas outside my window so close that it seemed possible to reach my hand out and touch them will inspire you to fulfill your own dream as well.

It is a bit hazy when my dream of trekking in the Himalayas started. I remember reading the classic adventure book Lost Horizons when I was very young, perhaps around 14 years old. I was entranced by the romance of it all and the idea of some far off land where life was perfect. Like many teenagers, I felt that life had been a big disappointment. What was the purpose anyway?  Why did I have to study boring subjects?  Why couldn’t I just study subjects that actually interested me?  Life would be so wonderful if I did not have to follow so many rules imposed by others.

Yes, the Shangri-la of Lost Horizons where peace and happiness were the norm was the place I wanted to be. What a paradise!  In my young girl’s imagination, I still thought that anything was possible. So yes, I thought that it was feasible to live somewhere without all the emotional ups and downs of everyday living that I was experiencing as a teenager in the U.S.

The setting seemed to be in the Himalayas, so I think that is when I started dreaming about going there. It is not important that I know when or how the dream started. What is important is simply having a fantasy of some sort and then recognizing the perfect time to fulfill it – or at least to do my best to fulfill it.

It was not my only dream, but it was definitely the longest running one. If I had been put on the spot about whether I would ever actually do any trekking in the Himalayas and see those gorgeous mountains up close and personal, I am sure I would have said no, that it was just a fantasy.

Like many people, I kept this dream pretty much to myself and did nothing consciously to make it come true. Instead, I just kept it in a secret place where it was mine alone to comfort me when I was feeling depressed or when I just wanted to daydream about escaping.

I guess it was kind of like the dream lots of people have of winning the lottery. We all love to fantasize about what we will do with all the money we get when we win that big prize even though most of us are realistic enough to understand that it is pretty certain that we have virtually no chance at that. But what a luscious escape it is to dream about it.

And what I did not know at the time that I went trekking in the Himalayas was how that trip would transform my attitude about what I could achieve – it was truly ‘transformative travel.’  It is not that I lacked confidence in myself prior to this adventure. In fact, even as I look back on who I was then, I see a woman who was secure enough to risk her security in her search for happiness and fulfillment, a woman who followed many avenues that others might have thought dangerous or reckless. For example:

  • The day after graduation from college, instead of sticking around home, I got into a car to drive out to Los Angeles for a teaching job.
  • A few years later, I gave up tenure as a teacher in Los Angeles without anything else certain waiting in the wings.
  • Some years after that, I took a leave of absence from graduate school to go off for a 3-month work assignment in Indonesia – a country that I knew virtually nothing about at the time.

No, I had enough confidence in myself to feel that I could handle pretty much whatever was thrown my way. That does not mean that I really could handle all that, but at least I thought that I could.

When Fate stepped into my life and presented the opportunity to go to Kathmandu, it was unexpected. My friend Kay and I had jokingly talked about getting fit over the winter. That idea of getting in shape was not the goal, but we basically just used it as an excuse for an opportunity to travel to an exotic destination.

It gave us the cover story. I told friends that we were going off on a fabulous adventure – and oh yeah, it was not just a frivolous decision because we were going to be working hard at getting into great physical shape!

Like many Americans, I had spent most of my life in sedentary mode. And like many people, I kept telling myself that I should exercise more. I bought memberships at gyms, but only used them once or twice and then let the membership cards sit on my desk at home.

I had more fitness books than the public library. I also had more fitness videos than any of the local gyms where I had my non-memberships. A friend of mine once said that I got more exercise just moving the exercise videos from one shelf to another than I ever did in using them.

My friend was right. I got out of breath walking up just one flight of stairs. And even though I could barely hold a conversation and walk at the same time at sea level, I did nothing to get fit.

So there I was – overweight, out of shape, 54 years old – with this wonderful dream that I thought would probably never be fulfilled. But then a series of unrelated events unfolded that led me in a roundabout way to fulfill my dream of trekking in the Himalayas.

So now let me share with you how it all came about. And I hope by doing so, I can help you realize your own dreams.



Do you like weird books?

The Death Detail

The Death Detail


Leadership calls it a maintenance detail, but Kagen is about to learn why the workers know it as The Death Detail.

Driven underground to escape a biological weapon known as The Agent, the last known colony of people take refuge in a large subterranean facility called Securus. Kagen Meldon, a Healer by profession, finds his only mental escape in exploring The Caves, an adjoining underground system isolated from the poisonous atmosphere.

His life was routine until an unexpected discovery in The Caves leads to the murder of his close friend. The tragic event, combined with the ensuing Leadership cover-up, throws his life into chaos. Now, struggling through the relentless scrutiny of Leadership and battling a deadly viral outbreak, Kagen’s pursuit of the truth leads him to risk his own life as well as the safety of everyone he loves. Can he survive The Death Detail long enough to reveal the sordid secret the conspirators are trying so vehemently to protect?


e   x   c   e   r  p   t


Chapter 1

For the first time I can remember, I wake up before the blare of my morning alert. Sleeping is usually an escape from my bland world, bringing dreams filled with vivid colors and exciting landscapes to explore. Tearing my mind away from those dreams to face my stark reality is normally difficult, but today is not going to be a normal day. For the first time in months, I have been given a permit to go into The Caves with my friends. Leadership has been much more restrictive with access lately, especially with groups, so this evening’s excursion will be a rare escape for us.

My eyes are open, but the room remains veiled in darkness. With all of Securus being deep underground, there are no windows or light except for the barely perceivable shimmer penetrating the seals of the entry door. By the time I sit on the edge of the bed, the main power is activated. The lights inside my quarters turn on, emitting their familiar warm glow. Years ago they were altered to provide a substitute for the Sun’s rays after we discovered the lack of natural sunlight was causing depression and vitamin deficiencies. The bland walls of my quarters are not much more stimulating in the light than they were in the darkness.

The bunk above mine is empty. I hear my brother, Arluin, already dressing in the bathroom. As usual, he was the first to rise. Despite our ten year age difference, people often mention how alike we are. We do share the same olive skin tone and short cropped hair, but this early in the morning, the similarities end there. Even when I was a teenager like him, I was never such a morning person. Sitting on my bed, I wait for Arluin and my mother to get dressed before taking my turn. By the time I finish dressing, they are both already sitting in front of the television monitor embedded into the far wall, waiting for me to join them.

Arluin looks back at me with a hint of jealously in his deep green eyes. “You got up fast today.” He knows exactly why. Since Arluin is two years away from the mandatory minimum age requirement, he cannot go with me.

“You’ll be able to go soon enough.” I pat him on the shoulder while sitting down, not wanting to make him feel too bad. Being constantly surrounded by the same bland, steel walls is hard on all of us. Going into The Caves is the only time we temporarily escape them.

“Yeah, yeah.” Arluin turns to look me in the eye, revealing his mischievous smile. “So, Kagen, when are you gonna trick some girl into marrying you so you can finally get assigned you your own quarters and give me some space?”

“You and mom would be lost without me,” I tell him.

“We would manage just fine. It wouldn’t hurt for you to give some of those nice girls a chance,” my mother says from her chair next to Arluin.

Before I respond, a short high-pitched tone indicates the announcements are about to begin, mercifully cutting our conversation short. We divert our attention to the television in time to see the image of Mr. Vaden appear. For a moment, he remains silent while looking through the screen, as if waiting for our full attention. As always, he wears the official uniform of Leadership, which has clean lines on a mineral grey base. Differing accents on the sleeves and collar indicate the individual’s rank and occupation. The accents on Mr. Vaden’s uniform are royal blue, indicating his rank as the official leader of Securus.

Like all of those in Leadership, he also bears the distinctive insignia on the left breast of his uniform. It has an eight pointed Sun with a yellow center that melds into orange tips. The sun is surrounded by its glowing light and is nestled within the center of a sharp black biological hazard symbol. It is a reminder of the terrible biological weapon, known as The Agent, which has driven our people underground. The inspiration for the emblem was taken from the unique biohazard marker stamped into the massive steel outer doors that once served as the lone entrance to Securus. At first, the stamp was meant to keep others away by making them think the facility was already infected. Now, the Leadership insignia is meant to symbolize the light and strength that has come from the tyranny of The Agent’s devastation.

Seeing Mr. Vaden stare into the camera, waiting to speak, often makes me feel uneasy. He possesses an air of authority augmented by the streaks of silver interspersed in his hair. Even on the artificial screen, his calculating eyes seem to stare directly into you.

“Good morning, I am Mr. Vaden,” he starts as always, even though he needs no introduction. “I am pleased to announce our food and water levels remain above minimum levels. Energy generation remains sufficient. No defects were identified in the air filtration system diagnostic.

“However, not all news is good today. There has been some minor seismic activity, and I advise increased caution if venturing into The Caves. Not all areas have been reinforced and there’s always the danger of a collapse in the more remote chambers. Because of this, we will be closing off the upper tunnels to the public and limiting permits for access until everyone’s safety can be assured. Any infractions of our policies while in The Caves will not be tolerated.

“I also regret to inform you this week’s surface air test shows The Agent remains present and active. That is all for the morning announcements, may you all have a safe and productive day.”

The screen turns off, but I remain in my seat. Mr. Vaden’s warning during the announcements is completely unexpected. I have been in the upper tunnels many times before. They are heavily reinforced and never seemed to be unstable or dangerous. We have not had any people injured while in The Caves lately, so this closure makes me wonder why he is so concerned with that area. There has to be something more behind his decision. Since I am headed out there today, this is a troublesome change.

Arluin taps my shoulder, reminding me it is time to go. We all head down the hallway to our designated breakfast hall. There are many of these halls spread throughout Securus, and they all look the same. Once inside, we are again surrounded by more plain steel walls. At least in here the uniformity is broken up by a mobile food service area as well as built-in partitions. This designed flexibility allows the area to be used for multiple purposes throughout the day. With limited resources, we must always be creative and flexible with what we do have.

Today, our breakfast consists of the usual mix of a synthetic nutrient drink, small piece of bread, and a porridge-like substance. This is not our best meal of the day, but the food is always enough to get me through the morning. After some idle talk amongst our neighbors, I leave the hall and make my way to work. Securus has numerous levels and with the infirmary being six flights up, I use one of the many stairways to get there. There are some elevator platforms centrally located for our use, but I prefer the exercise of the stairs. When I reach the infirmary, the warm smile of our senior Healer, Rana McPheeters, greets me.

“We have a busy morning ahead of us with a full schedule of appointments. Can you take care of them for me?” she asks with a faint wink from behind large eye glasses that do nothing to conceal the keen perception behind them.

“Of course, to what do I owe the honor of filling in on your favorite duty?” I reply with a suspicious stare. Once assigned to the infirmary from the general aptitude testing, our training circulates us through all the jobs in the infirmary, but we typically settle on the particular function that suits us best. Rana has always greatly preferred the appointments over the walk in visits, so I cannot help but wonder what surprise she has waiting for me.

“Oh, I just wanted a change of pace for the day,” she says, nonchalantly turning to walk inside.

We both enter the main door into the infirmary, then turn down the central hallway connecting the various exam and treatment rooms. Like most other areas in Securus, the walls in here are undecorated except for labels to the individual rooms and sections. After passing the sterile surgical room, I turn into the appointment exam room. It has been a while since I worked in here, but the setup is ingrained into my mind. The small gurney for examinations sits adjacent to a row of cabinets filled with medicines and other essential equipment on the far wall. I check the schedule for the day before turning to prepare the equipment needed.

Before I get started, a crash comes from the hallway. I run out to find a man with a crazed look in his eyes, crawling on the floor toward Rana. She looks at the man before turning to me with confusion. We have both seen people like this before, except he is somehow covered with dirt. The only possible explanation for the dirt is if he came from The Caves. That does not make any sense though. Only research workers are allowed out there this early, and his uniform clearly shows he is not from the Research Department.

I go to help him up so we can get him into the treatment room. The reason for the rest of his weak and disheveled appearance is not so elusive. His frazzled, rusty brown hair has matted blood clots in it. Dried crimson stains trace down to his back. Aside from the wound, he also has cracked lips and sunken eyes signaling dehydration. My guess is he was injured out there and ended up stuck in The Caves all night. But if he was, then why did none of the Guards help him get here?

As soon as I get the injured man to his feet, he stagers and nearly falls before leaning heavily on me. He lifts his head from my shoulder, whispering to me. “They didn’t see me, but I saw them. They shouldn’t be out there. You have to stop them.”

His words seem like the product of his weakened physical state. Even so, they grab my attention. “Stop who?”

“The shadow-men in The Caves. They’ll be the end of Securus,” he says before his voice trails off.

Inside the exam room, I help him onto the gurney. I want to ask him more, except there will be scheduled patients waiting for me soon. On top of that, Rana raises a single eyebrow at me while she steps in to work on the ill man. Her look is meant to remind me that she is more than capable of handling this herself. Taking the hint along with a deep breath, I make my way back to the appointment room.

The patient’s odd presentation and message have piqued my interest, but in this profession, one must be able to mentally move on from whatever we encounter in order to best care for the next person. This time, doing so is harder than normal because his words mark the second unusual warning centering on The Caves. The coincidence is hard to ignore, especially on the very day I am scheduled to go out there.

Despite that, my job now is to focus on the scheduled appointments. Today, they largely consist of yearly blood screens for health maintenance and outbreak protection. The screens are not my favorite task, though they are necessary for the health of Securus.

There are multiple groups of collection tubes for me to separate. Each one reminds me of a disaster from the past. Our sophisticated biological filters protect us from the poisonous surface atmosphere, but The Caves are directly connected to the lower levels of Securus, bypassing their protection. Along with new resources, The Caves brought new microbes that when mixed with the old, created deadly strains of disease that nearly devastated our entire population.

The first set of tubes is intended to screen for continued immunity from vaccinations to a severe flu that wiped out one fifth of our population in a matter of months. The second set is to screen for any signs of a deadly hemorrhagic fever previously spread by tiny mites that invaded Securus. The screening for this one is geared at identifying any cases before the patient develops the full disease, with profuse bleeding from every possible orifice, both internally and externally. Since the mites have been eradicated and there has not been a case in years, I always felt like the testing was overkill. But, because the outbreak was so visually terrifying, our Research Department insists on it. The third set of tubes is for the general health maintenance. This is probably the only truly useful part of the screening.

All of the testing equipment is in order, and the vaccines are ready. I again fight to push aside my curiosity to Rana’s intentions and the weird coincidences with The Caves while gearing up for the day. Even so, I am not looking forward to covering in this area because the visits will all be the same. Extract enough blood for analysis; listen to the sounds of their heart and lungs, then move on to the next person. We already have so much routine in Securus, so adding more to my day is not the best change.

I already want to go back to my usual station where there are infinitely more possibilities. Random injuries, which for some reason always seem to be occurring to our younger men, and acutely ill people trickle in throughout the day. Each patient is always unique. It can be stimulating work, not to mention there is also another added benefit. In between these visits, I occasionally have the time to access the internet interface. This is a rare privilege, since there are so few access points, with most of them being restricted to Leadership personnel. The Healers are granted an exception to look for information to improve our effectiveness in treating patients, so they do not typically monitor our use. Now with the regimented schedule of the appointments, there will be no time for me to search the internet for the images that so often fill my dreams.

Even so, I would never decline Rana’s request. Instead, I need to figure out what she has in store for me today. She has a reason for nearly everything she does, and part of my continuing training is to decipher her lessons.

The morning moves faster than expected, and as the end of the scheduled appointments nears, I begin to appreciate why Rana enjoys these visits. Instead of focusing on the repetitive actions of the task, she relishes the opportunity to simply enjoy the company of those she sees. I wonder if that was the purpose of the switch all along. To give me more chances to connect with our people. While considering this and waiting for my next appointment, Rana appears in the doorway.

“I’m so forgetful today! I neglected to add one more name to the morning list,” she says while entering the room. There are many ways to describe Rana, but forgetful is not one of them.  She may be older, with a head now full of long grey hair to prove it, but she remembers every word we have spoken to each other since I began as an understudy with her eight years ago. This seemingly incidental comment worries me. I make a mental note to speak with her later to make sure she is not feeling ill. Rana adds the name to the appointment list on the computer before leaving the room. I try not to stare, though she is clearly watching me out of the corner of her eye as she leaves. My curiosity compels me across the room to the list. I scan it to find the name she added. My heart momentarily flutters when seeing the name. The additional patient is Talia Vaden.

Unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity to speak with Talia for years, ever since we finished our primary education courses. Seeing her name brings back a flood of memories. I remember the last time she filled in for her father, Mr. Vaden, during the announcements. The screen beamed her long flowing black hair, deep brown eyes, and naturally tanned skin that completed the image of this stunningly beautiful woman. Her elegant confidence while speaking commands attention.

I shake my head, attempting to refocus my attention. Needing something to do while waiting for Talia’s appointment, I wander over to the cabinets and shuffle the phlebotomy supplies into a more logical order. There is not much to fix since this was already done as part of the morning check, but the mindless activity helps keep me on track. My attention is diverted back to the door by the sound of footsteps drawing near. I turn just as Talia enters the room. When seeing her, my knees almost give. She is radiant as ever.

Chapter 2

“Hi Kagen, I didn’t know I was going to see you today! It’s been so long,” Talia says with a warm smile.

“I-I’m filling in for Rana. She wanted to change things up for the day.” I stutter for a moment before regaining my composure. “So, how are things in Leadership, you whipping everyone into shape?”

“It’s been great. With my growing responsibilities, I can better influence and organize Leadership. I have so many ideas to try to improve our life in Securus.” Talia speaks without any trace of insincerity, unlike many other members of Leadership who focus on their political ambition. Listening to her speak makes me grin. She has always had a way of sounding so proper and formal, only to surprise you with an offbeat or playful joke when you least expect it.

“You always did love a challenge,” I reply while carefully fumbling my way through the testing. “Are there any special projects you’re working on?”

“Well, I’ve been studying The Caves. I think there’s a lot more potential out there we have not yet harnessed,” she explains. “But, I don’t want to get too excited about it until I’m sure. I need to find some time to get back out there to collect more samples.”

“I’m going out to The Caves during free time today with some friends. You could come with us if you like. We could help collect whatever specimens you need,” I blurt out while labeling the samples.

“Sounds like fun, but I’m kind of busy. It could work if I can reschedule some meetings. I’ll let you know,” Talia replies causally. She gives me a brief hug, and then heads off.

After my knees regain their stability, I leave my exam room to check in with Rana. She is busy with some medical charting in the other exam room. From the door, I give her a suspicious stare. Seeing this, she responds with an embellished expression of innocence.

Even though Talia and I were friends in the past, I have always known there could never be anything more. We are bound by an unspoken law prohibiting those in the highest positions in Leadership from mixing with someone from the worker class. Being the daughter of Mr. Vaden and having a ranking position in the developmental section of the Research Department has her on track to succeed her father. Still, that never stops the tingling sensation in my stomach every time she is near. I never spoke of this with Rana, but it is hard to hide anything from those penetrating eyes.

With the morning appointments finished, I motion that it is time for my lunch. We do not have the same scheduled lunch breaks because there always has to be someone present in case of emergency, so she waves me off and continues her work. Before leaving, a lingering thought in the back of my mind stops me.

“Oh, just out of curiosity, what happened to the confused guy this morning?” I ask Rana.

“He wasn’t that bad. I gave him some fluids and stapled his scalp lacs. There were no internal injuries. When I finished, some Guards came to get him. They said he had been hiding in The Caves, trying to avoid going the Detention Center. I’m sure that’s where he is now,” she says with a shrug.

The explanation does make sense. Even so, his warning to me felt real. What could he have meant? Could he somehow be connected to the odd closure of the upper tunnels? There are no creatures out there big enough to be mistaken for a man, so that could not be what he saw. Most likely the shadows he saw were from the Guards chasing him or some research workers checking new tunnels for safety. But how could he mistake them for anything else, or think they were a threat to Securus? Realistically, his words had to be either delirious rambling or him faking delirium in an attempt to stay in the infirmary instead of going to the Detention Center. I cannot blame him for that, simply hearing Rana say the name of that place makes me uneasy. Most people would make up any story to avoid going there. I force my mind away from the disheveled man, since given his current situation, we will likely never hear from him again.

I leave the infirmary while replaying the rest of the morning in my mind. The work was more pleasant than expected, and it was nice to see Talia again. Thinking of Talia and remembering Rana’s clever setup brings my smile back. With extra energy in my steps, I continue on to get my lunch.

As expected, my friends are already there when I reach the lunch hall. A tight schedule must be maintained in the various food halls in order to rotate enough people through so everyone gets their daily ration. Because of the time constraint, they cannot wait long for me or they will miss their meal. This particular lunch hall is larger than my breakfast area but otherwise looks quite similar to it. Like most of the larger areas, it also serves various functions. I walk over to the food dispersal station and scan my identification key to gain access to my allotted meal. Such strict rationing is needed to make sure we do not exhaust our food or purified water supply. This was an even more critical issue before the discovery of The Caves saved us with its added resources. I pick up my ration consisting of purified water, a potato-like vegetable, and a synthetic sliced meat. The warmth of the meal helps distract from its lack of taste.

“Hey Kagen, any unexplained foreign bodies at work today?” shouts a voice from across the hall. I hold in a laugh and hide my face while making my way to the table. There is only one person in Securus the voice can belong to. When I reach the table, a stalky man with spiked hair waits for me, grinning from ear to ear with satisfaction at my embarrassment. Despite our unnatural circumstances, Hadwin is always in a good mood. He often finds ways to entertain our group, usually at the expense of one of us.

“No Hadwin, you weren’t on my schedule,” I chide while sitting down. “But, I did have an interesting visitor today.”

Sitting at the table with Hadwin are the other regulars in our group, Merrick and Sayda.

“So, who was this interesting visitor?” Merrick asks.

“Talia Vaden,” I answer, masking any excitement from my voice.

Before even looking, I feel Sayda’s attention fixate on me. I turn to find her striking crystal blue eyes studying me with curiosity. She brushes back the few strands of golden blonde hair that has escaped her ponytail as she asks, “Really? What warranted a visit from the daughter of Mr. Vaden?”

“Nothing special, just routine stuff. I was filling in for Rana,” I respond. “I invited her to go with us to The Caves later, but she probably won’t be able to make it. Anyway, anything interesting going on with you guys?”

“I’m ready to get back into The Caves. Last time I was in there I found a new rock face we can climb. I haven’t tried it out yet, but I bet you’ll all be far behind me when I reach the top!” Merrick boasts with a confident smile.

“Can we make it there with the new closure?” I ask, intentionally not mentioning the words of the man in the infirmary. There is no point in bringing up his failed attempts to avoid the Detention Center.

“It’s not in the upper tunnels, although it’s close to them. I’m pretty sure Leadership doesn’t even know about it yet. So you can’t use that as an excuse to get out of losing to me,” he says.

We all have our own way of distracting ourselves from our circumstances. Merrick often consumes his time with activities created by his fierce competitiveness and stubborn determination. If Merrick thinks it is going to be challenging, we will definitely have an interesting time. We continue on with our banter while finishing our meal. Afterwards we all head our separate ways, returning to work for the afternoon shift.


That night, after my shift in the infirmary, I meet my mother and Arluin for diner. These halls are usually the same ones used for lunch, but the assigned location for individuals varies between the two depending on work and living locations. The hall is, as usual, lively with conversation. It is always filled to capacity since more people share the same time assignment. We are at a large table, surrounded by the other families that reside near our quarters. Dinner is typically the best meal of the day, and tonight is no exception. There are fish from some of The Caves’ vast pools of water as well as a mixture of mushrooms grown in some of the smaller side chambers. It is not often we get an entire meal without an artificial substitute, so we all consume it eagerly.

“Why are you in such a good mood?” Arluin asks me while finishing the last bits of his food.

“No particular reason. It was a decent day, and it’s almost free time,” I respond with a wide smile.

“Who’s going with you?” asks my mother.

I devour the last crumbs of my meal before answering. “Hadwin, Merrick and Sayda. I invited Talia, but she probably won’t be able to make it.”

Hearing my response, Arluin flashes a knowing smile.

“Why don’t you invite some of the girls from our sector like Lana or Abira?” my mother pleads. It takes a lot of effort not to roll my eyes. She is always trying to fix me up with someone. I pretend not to hear her question, and since my food is already finished, excuse myself from the table.

Anxious to get to The Caves, I rush down the stairs, descending further and further. Halfway down I pass the welded lines which mark the point where the original facility ended. Despite Leadership’s efforts to limit population growth, our numbers have climbed to the thousands. We have had to expand the facility further into the depths to accommodate it. That is how The Caves were discovered in the first place.

I reach the bottom of the stairwell. Walking through the lower door and rounding the corner, I enter a lounge area that doubles as a staging center for the research workers. Eager to get into The Caves, I rush past the lingering research workers, all the way to the massive outer doors. After checking in my reservation with the stationed Leadership Guard, I finally make my way into the main chamber of The Caves. As soon as I am outside the rigid structure of Securus, it feels like a weight is lifted from my shoulders. No matter how many times I come here, the surroundings always evoke a sense of awe. Even in the largest halls Securus has to offer, nothing compares to the openness of this space.

High above me, rocks seem to be flowing down from the ceiling. Others reach upward from the floor, slowly extending their spires toward the ceiling. The random patterns and rounded shapes naturally arising throughout The Caves are a profound contrast to the linear and symmetrical structure of Securus. Out here, there are always new formations to discover in the many uncharted tunnels and chambers. That is why we love coming out here so much. It is our escape. Luckily, despite its enormous size, the system is an isolated one. No traces of The Agent have ever been found in any of the tunnels or chambers down here.

The main path is easily navigated with use of the lights from the outer structure of Securus. Not far from the entrance, lies one of the natural standing pools. This is only one pool of a larger system that interconnects with various others. Water flows freely through tunnels deep within the pools as well as cracks in the cave walls. I have always found the sound of the flowing water and constant trickle from above much more soothing than the mechanical groans of our facility.

Further in the chamber, I stop to marvel at some water bound creatures who, like the people of Securus, have adapted themselves to this unique environment. From the pictures I have seen on the computer, the fish in The Caves look very different than the ones on the surface. Evolving in the darkness has drained them of all color, shrinking their eyes to functionless beads. In place of sight, they have developed sensory organs near their numerous short whiskers to help them navigate the waters. As if to remind me not all of the creatures here have such a bland outer appearance, a few of the shrimp-like creatures we call Glow-runts, swim by. They emit a natural glowing light easily visible in the dark waters, creating shooting swirls of dramatic color as they move about.

The Leadership Guard at the secondary station watches me closely while I walk by the water. We harvest the various pools on a rotating schedule to collect these creatures for our nutritional needs. Like most other things in Securus, fishing is tightly controlled by Leadership to prevent depletion of the pools’ resources. The Guard and a few security cameras keep watch to enforce the restriction, but that is not really needed. Our people understand we cannot afford to jeopardize this fragile ecosystem that is so vital to our own survival.

There are some manufactured sitting areas near the entrance to The Caves, but I prefer to wander farther in. Rounding the path, past the water and some massive stalagmites, I find a raised formation that has been broken in half. The exposed, flat surface serves well as a bench. Waiting for the others to arrive, I spend the time admiring the intricate rings making up layer after layer inside the formation.

After a while, my mind starts to wonder. It drifts back to this morning, replaying the warning from the man in the infirmary, “The shadow-men in The Caves. They’ll be the end of Securus.’ I look all around. Off to the right, far behind the secondary Guard, is the closed entrance to the upper tunnels. Other than that, nothing appears out of the ordinary. No diabolical figures lurk in the shadows. I take a deep breath and expel the thoughts from my mind. Even considering the possibility of the shadow-men makes me feel a little foolish. Not long after I turn back to the formations around me, my solitude is interrupted by the sound of voices growing near.

“Do you ever do anything other than complain?” Even from a distance, the annoyance in Merrick’s voice is obvious.

“I’m not complaining, just pointing out the truth.” The man’s voice is familiar, but I cannot place it.

“And you guys say I’m cynical,” laughs Sayda.

“Ok, guys, take it easy. No need to argue. Let’s relax and have some fun.” My heart skips a beat when hearing her voice. Talia has been able to escape her evening plans after all.

They come into view with Hadwin and Sayda walking next to Talia. They all wear their work uniforms which look like bland, well-fitted jumpsuits of different colors. Hadwin’s is a deep blue, Sayda’s black, and Talia’s is the standard Leadership grey. On the opposite side of them are Merrick and the person he was arguing with. The unexpected addition is a thinly built man with dark eyes and carefully styled hair. His appearance is a stark contrast next to Merrick with his dark complexion, short, tightly curled hair, and strong build.

A scowl briefly creeps across my face when I finally recognize who the extra man is. His name is Aamon. It was his Leadership uniform that gave him away. It is made of the same mineral grey base as the others, but has a burnt orange trim indicating a medium level rank. I have only had minimal interaction with him in the past, but even so, something about him makes me leery. If there are any shadow-men out here, he would be it. His name is not on my permit, but Leadership members do not have the same restrictions as the workers.

“Hey, Kagen. At least you’re not waiting for us naked again!” Hadwin exclaims, pretending to wipe his forehead in relief. I can only shake my head. Where he comes up with these things I will never know. If nothing else, he is always good for a laugh. I greet my friends and Talia with brief hugs before shaking hands with Aamon, using enough force to cause a slight wince.

“Don’t see you in The Caves much,” I say, watching him shake the feeling back into his hand.

“When Talia told me she was coming to The Caves, I thought it would be a good opportunity to do some investigating of my own. Maybe I can help with the logistical aspects of harvesting The Caves’ assets.” Aamon examines the surrounding area while replying. The extra attention he pays to his outward appearance combines with his rigid posture to make him look completely out of place. I doubt he really wants to research The Caves. He must have another reason for coming along. In the end, his motives do not matter. We will not let his presence ruin our trip.

“Alright, let’s head in.” I motion for the others to follow me.

We continue around the path to the end of the main chamber. At the back wall, a tunnel leads to the other chambers deeper within The Caves. The light from Securus does not penetrate this far into The Caves, so we affix our illuminators and turn them on high. They look and feel like a simple headband, except they have a row of lights engrained into the lining. Their combined light floods the tunnel, making it easy to navigate.

As we walk, the lights reveal small signs placed on the walls of the passage, helping to guide us to the different sections, and also warning of potential dangers. Only the initial parts of these connected tunnels are marked like this. Deeper in, beyond the last pools, the passages have not been fully mapped or secured. Out there we will need to rely on our own markings and memory to return safely.

“There’s a specific chamber close by I wanted to visit, if you guys are okay with it?” Talia asks as we walk.

“Sure, we have more than enough time. Just point us in the right direction,” I tell her.

With the tunnel walls narrowing, we form a line to continue on. We go through the unmarked passages, following Talia. Eventually, the group manages to traverse a particularly low and narrow shaft leading to a small cavern. After wriggling myself out of the tunnel, I stand up and survey the surroundings. My eyes adjust enough to see a faint glow in the chamber not coming from our illuminators. As each member of our excursion emerges into the chamber I have them turn down their lights. When all the lights are out, the glow intensifies. The cavern fills with a vibrant, sparkling teal light emanating from the walls. The many crystals jutting from the rocks above reflect the light in brilliant patterns all around us. It is easy to see why this cavern is of particular interest to Talia.

“Like some of the creatures in The Caves, the microbes in this chamber have evolved to emit a biological fluorescence. The mechanism of their light is different from that of the fish and may have promise as a supplemental light source. This could help diminish our energy needs significantly,” Talia says in her usual formal tone.

She turns her light back on and moves to the side of the chamber to collect her samples. Aamon, who had been slowed while crawling through the passage, finally catches up to the rest of us. He enters the chamber with an annoyed grimace while dusting himself off.

“Took you long enough,” Merrick laughs.

Aamon looks as though he wants to respond, but thinks better of it. Sayda and I go over to join Talia while the others scatter to explore the rest of this area.

“This bioluminescence is beautiful, but it’ll be difficult to convert for our use,” Sayda states bluntly as she moves away to study an area with a more intense glow, leaving Talia and I alone.

“I thought you were too busy, Talia,” I say with a gentle nudge.

“Well, sometimes I have to just do what I want,” she replies with a sly smile.

After a few minutes, Aamon wanders over to inspect an unimportant appearing rock formation immediately next to Talia. He is obviously attempting to listen to our conversation. I get the feeling he is more interested in Talia than anything else in The Caves. From the look on her face when she sees his snooping, that feeling is not mutual. After a few minutes, Talia finishes her collection. We leave the chamber, finally heading to Merrick’s new climbing area.

Chapter 3

We walk, crawl, and climb our way through a seemingly endless maze of passages. The entrance to Merrick’s cavern is well hidden, so it is not surprising the chamber has gone undiscovered until now. Upon entering the cavern, we all turn our lights to the highest dispersal setting to illuminate the area. My jaw immediately drops. Merrick has not let us down. Before us lies an expansive cavern with an amazing natural beauty. Everyone stands in awe-struck silence while absorbing the view.

My eyes are drawn to the daunting vertical wall on the far side, divided by a magnificent waterfall. I have only seen waterfalls during my internet musings and some of my more pleasant dreams, certainly never before in person. The water forms a stream that continues on through a fissure in the lateral wall, leading out of the chamber. The enclosed surroundings intensify the soothing rumble of the falls. Merrick watches the stunned contortions of our faces with a smug smile.

“Ok Merrick, you win. This is our best find yet,” I admit while giving him a firm push on his shoulder.

I can hardly believe the fortune of finding this area. The excitement makes me want to run around like a schoolboy. Luckily, I am able to restrain my enthusiasm before embarrassing myself. Hadwin does that well enough, so there is no reason to make myself an easier target for him. As we walk through the cavern, my eyes absorb the unique formations we pass. There are mineral deposits that look as if they were bubbling out of the ground, now frozen in mid drip. Other spires have box-like pieces stacked upon each other, reaching impressive heights. On the other side of the cavern, stone flowers and draping mineral leaves protrude from the rocky walls. Even the moist air in here soothes my lungs with each deep breath.

“Let’s rest up a little before we tackle that beast,” I suggest to the others. We find a suitably flat area to relax in. I nearly fall asleep while enjoying the continuous murmur of the falls. Moments like these are both a joy and torture to me. While it is stimulating to have these intricate caverns to explore, doing so is only a temporary reprieve. Escaping the steel cage we live in reminds me of what could have been if the wars never broke out, if mankind had only been able to resist its compulsion for self-destruction that led to the release of The Agent nearly one hundred years ago. In the end, we always have to return to the claustrophobic and drab surroundings consuming our existence in Securus. Even so, we enjoy the moment for what it is, knowing it will not last.

While I relax, Talia remains alert, constantly finding new features in the chamber to grab her curiosity. Sayda and Merrick both spend their time keeping an eye on Hadwin, who seems to be waiting for one of us to fall asleep so he can play a prank on them. Aamon does not speak much, though his dark eyes dart around, inspecting our surroundings. He looks even more uncomfortable in this cavern than he did in the others.

Time moves quickly while we are out here, making it easy to overstay our permit. Thankfully, Leadership is typically not rigid with the curfew as long as we do not disturb others and maintain our daily production. Even so, there are limits to their leniency and we are starting to push it. Especially given Mr. Vaden’s warning during the announcements.

“It’s getting really late guys. Should we climb or save it for next time?” I ask the group.

“I can cover for us,” Talia volunteers. “I’ll tell Leadership you were helping me collect samples. I’m not a good climber, so I’ll hang around here and fill my sample containers until you guys get back.”

When Talia glances at the rock wall, her eyes momentarily widened. If I did not know better, I would think she was afraid of the climb.

“I’ll keep you company,” Aamon quickly interjects. His eagerness to keep her company is not surprising. He has been closely shadowing Talia the entire trip. As soon as he spoke Talia let out a subtle sigh. It appears she was hoping he would join us on the climb. Even so, it is probably best he does not come with us. He does not look to be the most agile climber and would probably be a liability for us to keep him from falling.

“Afraid to get beat by a girl, Aamon?” Sayda quips before turning to the rest of us, not waiting for his answer.

“Okay, let’s make it fast,” I tell the others before raising an eyebrow at Merrick. “Are you up for the challenge?”

“Merrick’s coming in last this time,” Hadwin proclaims.

“We’ll see about that,” Merrick says with a confident smile. He turns to face to wall. “Look over to the left of the falls, there’s a plateau up there we can climb to.”

The plateau he points at is twice as high as we have ever climbed before. Seeing the height if the wall sends a tingling though me. I feel both excitement and apprehension at once. This will be an intimidating climb, but the challenge is too enticing to pass up. We head over to the rock face to study its surface and plan our route to the ledge high above us. Mercifully, the section we plan to climb is not completely vertical. It has a slope along with numerous ledges for us to rest on if needed.

Intent on beating the rest of us to the top, Merrick starts first. I hesitate only long enough to be sure of my path before joining the race. Hadwin may be strong, but climbing is definitely not one of his more accomplished skills. I quickly overtake him and close in on Sayda.

“Don’t look back, I’m coming for you!” I shout to the others.

“Never gonna happen,” mocks Merrick.

I make good progress despite the fatigue starting to burn in my muscles. With only Merrick left to catch, I push harder, concentrating on my hand and footholds while making sure to regulate my breathing. As I get close to Merrick, my concentration is shattered by a sound that instantly halts my movement, and elicits a hallow fear in the pit of my stomach. The distinctive crash of falling rocks comes from the right of me. I turn to look for Sayda, worried she could have been hit by the debris. My glance brings the realization that she was not in the path of the falling rocks, but was the cause of them. She had veered over to a completely vertical section in an attempt to catch back up with us. I see the newly broken rocks on the tip of a ledge that gave way. Sayda has fallen below my line of sight.

“Sayda!” I call out, holding my breath while waiting for her reply. My heart sinks when none comes. I cannot believe we were so reckless to let this happen. I hastily descend toward the ledge, hoping to find her.

“I see her!” shouts Hadwin from the opposite side of the ledge. Luckily, he was not beneath Sayda when the rocks fell. “Hold on, Sayda. We’re coming!”

“Is she hurt?” I ask Hadwin, involuntarily cringing in anticipation of the answer.

“She hit the wall hard. I think the blow knocked her breath out, but she’s hanging on like a little spider monkey!” Hadwin chuckles.

With his words, my fear eases, giving my tiring muscles renewed strength. Hadwin may have an odd sense of humor, but he would never joke if he thought Sayda was in any real danger. I exhale, now understanding why she had not screamed. Sayda only fell a short distance. She had her wind knocked out in the process, robbing her of her voice. I maneuver myself down onto the ledge she dangles beneath, looking past it to find her. She has become stuck in an awkward position, unable to climb up or down. She hangs too far below the ledge for me to pull her up on my own, so I guide Hadwin up and around the other side of the ledge to help me. While Hadwin makes his way up, Merrick finds his way down to the ledge. We all position ourselves and together lift Sayda up onto the ledge.

“Are you okay? Any injuries?” I ask while looking her over. Some minor abrasions and bruising stands out against her fair skin, but she has no signs of any broken bones. I am momentarily taken aback when seeing the slight tremor in her hands from the shock of the near fall. This is the first time I have ever seen Sayda seem fragile.

“I’m alright. Just give me a minute to catch my breath,” she replies gruffly, becoming annoyed by our concerned for her.

“Now that’s the Sayda we know.” Merrick smiles, relieved by her return to form. “You always were a tough one!”

With this unexpected change in events, we lose our enthusiasm for racing up the wall. We are ready to head back down, but Sayda insists we continue on. She already feels embarrassed by her misstep, and turning back would make her feel even worse. So we decide to finish the climb. I call out to Talia and Aamon to let them know we are all okay. They do not respond. Being this close to the falls, the roar of the water drowns out our voices. They are unaware anything has happened at all.

With Sayda safely recovering on the ledge, Merrick and I turn back to the wall to finish the climb. Hadwin ignores her protest, insisting on waiting with Sayda on the ledge while she continues to recover. Merrick will go first and I will follow. We tell Sayda and Hadwin that after we reach the top we will let them know if it is worth the effort for them to join us. The words are more for her sake, because we have no intention to have them follow us, even if the view is impressive. We do not want Sayda risking a climb with any physical or emotional impairment.

I let Merrick get far enough away so there will not be any danger of falling rocks before following him up the wall. The remaining section feels stable, making the climb easier. Merrick reaches the top of the wall while I am still far from it. He disappears from my view as he walks onto the ledge. When I do reach the summit, somehow it is empty. In the back of the landing is a dark tunnel. Merrick must have gone in there. Before following him, I glance back toward the others. Hadwin and Sayda are resting comfortably on their ledge while Talia and Aamon’s lights move far off in the distance continuing Talia’s ‘research.’

I enter the tunnel and follow the tortuous path, looking for Merrick. Deeper in, the sounds of the waterfall become muffled and eventually go silent. I tilt my head, straining to hear anything besides my own breath. No sign of Merrick appears. Suddenly, the silence is disturbed by another low rumbling. It seems to be coming from all around me. My hand reaches out to the wall, feeling the vibrations pulsing through the rocks. The intensity of the rumble increases. Now the ground beneath me trembles. It is an earthquake. My muscles tense and my eyes search for an escape. These tremors are dangerous even when in the relative safety of Securus, but here in decrepit tunnels, they can rapidly turn lethal.

Above me, large rocks and pointed stalactites threaten to shake loose. I shout for Merrick but he does not respond. The intensity of the earthquake increases, making the ground churn beneath my feet. I need to get out of here. I turn back to the entrance of the tunnel, stumbling from the shaking in the ground. My foot trips on a loose rock, sending me crashing to the floor. As I turn to get up, a spear-like deposit the size of my leg brakes free from the ceiling, falling straight at me. I roll to the side just in time to avoid being gored by the spear as it strikes the ground. Now back on my feet, I run for the exit. After only a few strides, the earthquake stops as abruptly as it begun. I stop running and catch breath while checking the ceiling above me. The tunnel has shed many rocks but the main structure of it appears to be intact. This is the best I could hope for because it gives me a chance to go find Merrick.

“Merrick, are you okay?” I call out, moving deeper into the passage. This time, I hear a muffled reply. After turning the corner in the passage, the reason behind his muted voice is revealed. A complete collapse in the path blocks the way. The wall of rubble is so thick the light from his illuminator barely penetrates it. Luckily, there are a few cracks large enough to see through if I position myself close enough to get a proper vantage point.

“Did any rocks hit you?” I ask, pressing my head against a small portal.

“No, I’m okay, just trapped,” he replies. “I’m gonna look around and see if there’s another way out.”

I survey the structure of the collapse, hoping to find a way to break through. The rubble is too solid and the individual rocks are too large. Even if Hadwin were here to help, we would not be able to move the debris. Hoping he has found another passage, I again peer through the small portal to check his progress.

The scene on the other side of the wall instantly freezes me in place. Merrick stands with his hands raised in the air. He looks to be in a surrendering pose while his eyes are fixed on something beyond my field of vision. Beads of sweat gather on his dark skin, dripping down from his forehead. Something is making him nervous, but he remains motionless. His agitation spreads to me, sending shivers down my spine. Why is he standing like that? I ask myself before realizing an external light shines on him. He is not alone.

I immediately turn off my illuminator so it will not give me away. Carefully, I shift to another crack in the rubble. I nearly jump from the shock of seeing two dark figures standing before Merrick, with frightening assault rifles trained on him. It’s the shadow-men. They’re real! The terrifying realization stuns me. More questions race through my mind. Where did they come from? Who are they?  

The two shadow- men wear pitch black uniforms with a rigid form that looks to be armored plating. Their faces are concealed behind helmets connected to tinted visors and a filtered breathing apparatus. The glare from the light they have pointed on Merrick makes it difficult to see more detail on the soldiers. I do manage to see a brief reflection from something on one of their breast plates. It looks like an insignia made of an eight pointed sun. The symbol is not the one used by our Leadership, but the similarity is disturbing.

The shadow-men appear to be soldiers. They are nothing like the people from Securus, but how could that be? No one else is left. Everyone else died many years ago when The Agent was released and spread across the surface of the planet. Ours was the only underground facility operational in time to escape the deadly biological weapon.

Behind these menacing figures, where there had only been the darkness of the tunnel before, a glow of light reveals a distinctly man-made tunnel. The view of the tunnel is limited, obscuring most of the details except for the metallic shine of railway tracks on the floor.

“Who else is here?” demands the shadowy figure to the left in a low growling voice.

“It was just me and a friend, but he already left to get help. The earthquake blocked the tunnel, so we thought I was trapped.” Merrick keeps his voice low and steady as he slowly backs away from the men. Despite his fear and confusion, he is trying to keep the rest of us safe.

The figures position themselves so he cannot pass, giving him nowhere to go but back against the rocks behind him. My mind races, desperately searching for anything to help Merrick. Without warning, an intense flash of light erupts from the barrel of the gun on the right. Almost no sound comes from the weapon. I watch in horror as Merrick collapses to the ground. I nearly yell out as it happens, feeling the burn in my chest as if I was the one shot. Even from my position behind the rubble, I see the blast through his ribs and instantly know the injury is fatal. We have nothing in Securus capable of repairing the damage.

My body remains anchored in place while I struggle against the desperate urge to break through the wall in the vain hope of comforting Merrick in his last moments. Only, deep down, I know he is already gone. My entire body trembles from the overwhelming rage and sorrow threatening to consume me. I am an instant away from losing reason and giving in to panic. The only thing that stops me is the faces of the others flashing through my mind. I need to stay calm to get them out of here alive. If these soldiers killed Merrick so callously, there is no doubt they would do the same to the rest of us. I need to save the rest of my friends.

I tear myself away from the sight of my fallen friend and silently maneuver out of the tunnel. Fear and anger cloud my thoughts so much, I do not even realize my body is descending the rock wall until I make it halfway down. Only then does the presence of Sayda and Hadwin coax me back to reality.

“Where’s Merrick? Is he okay?” Sayda asks warily while rising to her feet.

“He went into a passage behind the top ledge. There was a cave-in during the earthquake.” I pause before telling the rest. If I do, they will heedlessly rush to Merrick, only to share his fate. I cannot tell them the truth. Withholding it is the only way to get them to safety.

“He’s walled in. I tried to get to him, but it’s impossible. I couldn’t even hear him through the rocks. We need to go get help now.” The words are like poison in my mouth. I hate the deception but have no better option. Only when they are safe can I divulge the terrible secret that already eats away at me from the inside.

“One of us should wait in the passage with him,” Hadwin insists, not wanting to abandon our friend.

“That tunnel is not safe,” I tell him, straining to keep my voice from trembling.

This at least is true. I think they sense my desperation and decide to trust my judgment despite their hesitation in leaving Merrick in there alone. We descend the rest of the wall and rush over to where Talia and Aamon wait for us. I repeat my putrid tale of what happened and reiterate the need to get others to help rescue Merrick.

The group remains silent as we run through the tunnels as quickly as we can. Even though Talia does not know Merrick well, she is obviously just as concerned as the others are for him. Aamon, on the other hand, has stopped shadowing Talia. Every time the terrain slows us, he seems to be more interested in watching my reactions as he repeatedly asks me about what happened. I ignore his questions and the suspicious stare he gives me, focusing on getting everyone back to safety.

We cross one more collapsed passage, blocking our return. Thankfully, the rubble of this second collapse is much smaller than the first. We are able to quickly clear a path wide enough to pass and continue back to Securus.

As soon as we reach the initial chamber of The Caves, we rush over to the Leadership Guard. I mentally compare his uniform to that of the soldiers’, but there is no similarity between them. This Guard wears the same basic uniform as those in Leadership. The crimson trim lining his uniform indicates his occupation as an armed member of the Leadership Guard. He has no armor and his helmet does nothing to hide his face like the soldiers’ helmets do. The small pistol protruding from the holster on his right hip seems laughable when compared to the terrifying weaponry the soldiers carried. Even the bright insignia on the Guard’s chest looks different. I must have been mistaken about the symbol on the soldiers’ uniforms. They couldn’t have been part of Leadership, could they? I ask myself, searching in vain for another explanation.

When the Guard sees us coming, he jumps back and pulls out his gun. A nervous twitch shows in the corner of his eye as he raises the weapon, aiming it directly at me. Wanting to keep him from accidentally firing, I calmly explain the situation to the Guard, leaving out any mention of what was really in the passage. With a gun in my face and a shaky man behind it, I do not want to say anything to make him more suspicious. After absorbing my explanation, he calms down and holsters his weapon, realizing we pose no threat.

With his fears pacified, I momentarily consider telling the truth of what happened, but then decide against it. I cannot get past the uneasy feeling from watching one of the typically stoic Guards be so edgy for no apparent reason. That combined with the nagging thought of the symbol on the soldiers’ armor keeps me quiet. If they really were part of Leadership, all our lives could be in peril for having discovered them.

The more I think about it, the more I believe they have to be part of Leadership. None of the workers could ever attain the equipment those two men had. Since there are no other surviving colonies besides Securus, Leadership is the only real possibility.

Even if there was another facility we did not know about, it would be too far away for them to make it to these tunnels through the poisonous atmosphere. The nearest underground facility to Securus was being built nearly seven hundred miles away. Regardless of the murderers’ origin, my priority is to keep the others safe and retrieve Merrick’s body. In case I am wrong and the soldiers are not involved with Leadership, I need to convince them to bring a big enough rescue team so we will not all be in danger when we go back out there.

Do you like weird books?

Thief of Pailtar: Episode 1

Thief of Pailtar: Episode 1


Kiana is a thief.

But to be a thief in Pailtar you either join the Thieves’ Guild or pay them to work in the city. Kiana wants to join the Guild.

Kiana’s adventures take her to places she never dreamed of. Deadly animals, vicious monsters, and angry armies all stand between her and survival…Nobody said being a thief was easy!

Robyn Wideman

e   x   c   e   r  p   t


Thief of Pailtar: Episode 1

Book Excerp:

First she needed a distraction, something to draw the watcher’s eyes away from the man woman if only for a moment or two. Kiana lifted her hands to her mouth and used a technique her mother had taught her, to throw her voice. She howled into her hands like a wolf. The sound bounced off the walls, making it seem like it came from further down the street, right behind a couple of horses pulling a wagon. At the sound of the howl, both animals jumped in fright. The pair of animals whinnied loud and started to pull the wagon hard. The shocked driver pulled hard on the reigns and yelled at the animals to calm down.

While the crowd looked to the commotion down the street, Kiana stepped out of the shadows of the alley. She took three quick steps and was right behind the man in the dress. She watched as his eyes went up the street towards the startled animals. With a smooth and practiced move Kiana took another step forward, so that she was right beside the man. Then with startling speed, her hand slid into the hidden dress pocket, sliding the small purse out without even a hesitation.

Purse in hand, Kiana stopped moving. She stood right beside the man in the dress. She tilted her head to the side as if looking down the street to see what the commotion was. As the horses calmed down, the crowd returned to normal. The man in the dress, her now purse less victim, turned towards the vendor. Kiana turned back towards the alley. Anyone watching would have thought she had been drawn towards the sound of the horses and seeing nothing of note had returned to the alley.

Once in the alley, Kiana took another two steps. She knew from this spot no one from the market street could see into the shadows. She started to sprint down the rest of the length of the alley. If the roof top watcher had seen her pick the man’s dress pocket she would have little time to make it to safety. As she reached the edge of the opposite end of the alley she slowed then stepped out onto the busy street. The bright sun beat down on the dusty street. The crowds of down trodden slaves and servants mingled with merchants and sailors looking for mischief and more.


Do you like weird books?

Lightning to the Children

Lightning to the Children


What does an unassuming guy do when his home is attacked, destroyed in a massive fireball, and his wife kidnapped?
What does that guy do when the FBI shows up and hauls him off to a secret briefing that changes his entire life and sends him half way around the world to a war zone?
What does that same guy do when he’s tied up, beaten, shot at and chased all over New York by people he doesn’t even know, for reasons he can’t even understand?
If he’s Chris Johnson, he fights back – any way he can, with any help he can get.
This is the story of one man and his painful fight to find the elusive truth, and find his elusive wife, without getting killed in the process.
And, if necessary, kill anyone who gets in his way.
But the truth is a harsh mistress.

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No excerpt available

Do you like weird books?

Devil’s Lake

Devil’s Lake


After two years of brutal captivity, Portia Lamont has escaped and returned to her family’s Vermont horse farm—only to find her parents gone to New York to try an experimental treatment for her mother’s cancer, and her childhood friend Boone Hawke running the farm.

Like the rest of her family, Boone has never given up hope that Portia would return. But when she turns up battered, skinny as a twelve-year-old boy, afraid of everything and unable to talk about what happened, he does the only thing he can—try to help her heal. He summons the town doctor and Portia’s parents, and sets out to put this beautiful, broken woman back together again.

Through her family’s love and Boone’s gentle affection, Portia gradually comes back to herself, and starts to fall for her old friend in a whole new way. But one thing threatens her fragile hope for recovery: The man who took her promised that if she ever escaped, he’d kill her. Slowly. And someone is definitely watching her…waiting to make his next deadly move.

NOTE: This book contains explicit sexual content. For adults only!

Aaron Lazar

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Chapter 1

Portia hauled on the wheel and dragged the old truck around a sharp corner, wincing when the engine popped and belched black smoke. The beat-up Chevy had been running rough since she left the highway an hour ago.

Come on, keep going. Just a few more miles.

Dust clouds marked her progress along the dirt road. She glanced in the rear view mirror for the millionth time, expecting to see the police chasing her.

Or him.

Tears streaked her cheeks, and she hiccupped a few sobs. She’d been weeping all the way from Wisconsin and felt dry, as if she had no more tears to shed. Of course, that was insane. She’d probably cry all day, every day for the rest of her life.

Around yet another corner, and Cupcake slid toward her, scrabbling toenails on the vinyl seat. She steadied the little mutt, who snuggled close to her, blinking round black eyes.

“Sorry, baby.” Her voice cracked, roughened from all the crying.

Cupcake leaned into Portia, nuzzling under her arm.

She stroked the dog’s soft white ears. “Good girl. You’re my good little dog.”

She’d stolen the mongrel and the truck when she escaped—was it really only two days ago? Hurriedly thrusting her little friend into the front seat, she’d roared away from the cabin.

When she’d emerged from the woods in the old Chevy, bleary-eyed and shaken, completely disoriented, she’d followed the dusty road toward a village, where a row of eclectic stores lined both sides of a narrow street. In search of directions, she stumbled into the first gas station she could find.

There she was. Hungry. Weary. Traumatized. Skinny as a twelve-year-old boy. And the store clerk hadn’t even given her a second glance. He’d pointed down the road in the direction of the highway, and had gone right back to texting without meeting her eyes.

Glancing into the rear view mirror, filled with irrational fear, again she half-expected to see him chasing her.

She forced herself to relax.

Just calm the hell down.

Sighing, she patted Cupcake with her free hand.  “We just need to get home. That’s all.”


Internally, the need to scream clawed at her. Somehow, she stifled it and told herself she’d be there soon.

As if welcoming her, the Green Mountains surged into the clouds in the background, guarding the rolling hills of the valley where her family’s farm nestled in the hollow.

Oh, how she’d dreamed of this day.

Two long years. Two years of wishing. Of wanting. Of daring to hope.

She hiccupped another sob.

Bittersweet Hollow. She’d desperately yearned for it, picturing her mother’s kind face, the smell of her bread baking in the oven. She’d imagined her father quietly helping to deliver a new foal and the scent of fresh pine shavings on his wool shirt. She remembered leaning into his broad chest, feeling so safe. So protected.

Every night, she repeated the farm name as a mantra before sleep, after the man tied her to the bedposts. The memories of her parents had comforted her then, and the thought of coming home filled her with a twisty sense of near-maniacal joy.

Her heart slammed against her ribs, quickening with every milestone she recognized.

Almost there.

Portia peered through the dusty windshield, savoring the view of the mountains that rose from the undulating wheat fields and indigo blue foothills in the distance. The scent of fresh-mown alfalfa entered the cab, prompting sweet memories of her childhood. The road dipped into the valley—affectionately called The Hollow by locals—into the protected basin cradled by hills on one side and mountains on the other.

Cupcake raised her head, sniffing the air.

“We’re almost home, baby.”

The dog licked Portia’s outstretched hand.

“When we get there, you can run free.”

Her voice shook, and she realized her words came fast—too fast, really. She’d been holding herself together like a cracked vase hastily glued to hide the broken shards and missing pieces. She knew she’d break apart soon, but if she could just make it a few more miles…

The scruffy dog sat up on her haunches, balancing like a circus dog, sticking her nose out the partially opened window.

They rolled around the last bend. There it was!

A surge of shuddering joy passed through Portia. They drove under an archway made from twining grapevines that reached out to twist together from both sides of the road. Beneath the natural arch, a rustic sign hung, swaying in the faint breeze, proclaiming a welcome to Bittersweet Hollow, a Morgan Horse Farm. Beneath the name in dark blue script: Dirk and Daisy Lamont, Proprietors. Orange berries adorned the edges of the sign, celebrating the farm’s namesake, the beautiful but dangerous berries that filled the woods and burst into vibrant color in the fall.

In the distance, several barns emerged, flanked by emerald pastures encircled with expansive rectangles of white post and board fences. Dozens of horses populated the acreage, with coats ranging from blazing red chestnut to bright bay to dark seal brown. In his own separate paddock, her family’s black stallion, Mirage, raised his head and trotted to the fence near the driveway. He stood proud and strong, his long curly mane rippling in the breeze.

In spite of the lingering pall of darkness, Portia’s heart swelled with uncontrolled exhilaration. After all this time of wanting, wishing, and yearning for The Hollow.

Finally, she was home.


Boone Hawke watched the old Chevy truck rumbling toward him along the driveway, spewing a trail of smoke. He straightened, wiped his brow with a blue bandana, and stepped closer to the open hayloft door. Another customer, horse hunting? He couldn’t assume they had no money because they drove an old wreck. It wasn’t unusual for good old Vermont stock to keep their vehicles until they rattled to the junkyard and died. In spite of their frugal ways, they still valued horses and would spend good money on a well-bred mount. He figured if he could sell one of the young mares today, he’d put cash in Dirk and Daisy Lamont’s bank account for when they came home.

If they came home.

It hadn’t been easy taking care of his neighbors’ horses while they were gone, especially in the winter. One month turned to two. Two months became four. Now it had been six months since they left.

The checks they sent to keep the farm running had been just about enough for expenses, but he’d had to pitch in from his own farm’s funds on occasion when the Lamonts’ tractor broke, or when the barn roof needed patching. He didn’t want to add to their troubles, so he kept a ledger of his expenses and figured he’d pay himself back the next time a horse sold. The poor people had already been through enough, what with losing their eldest daughter to God-knows-what and now with Daisy’s illness.

With a grunt, he lifted and tossed the last hay bale onto a pile that almost reached the roof peak. He straightened, dusted off his hands, and started down the wooden ladder. Swiping at his unruly blond hair, he summoned a smile and ambled out into the sunlight.

Chapter 2

Portia parked in back of the barn to hide the truck. Her heart pounded, and sweat popped on her brow.

Cupcake danced in the seat, her eyes sparkling with excitement. She put her front paws on the door and barked, a surprisingly low-pitched sound for such a small dog.

With a shuddering sigh, Portia thrust open her door. “Okay, baby. We’re getting out.”

For one frozen moment, she watched the little dog scamper to the grass beneath a large oak. And then, released from bondage, Portia burst from the truck as if being chased by the Devil himself, heading for the kitchen door.

“Mom? Dad!” She pounded up the steps, sobbing again, tripping over her own feet. “I’m home,” she screamed.

“Mom!” Yanking open the screen door, she crashed into the kitchen. “Dad?”

Tears streaked her cheeks, and she darted into the living room, searching for her parents. “Mom, where are you?”

Like a tornado on a rampage, she raced from room to room, finding no one. Up the stairs, two at a time. At the top, she had to stop to catch her breath.

“Mom? Are you up here?”

Dashing from along the hall, she ran again, sobbing harder now. “Where are you guys?”

As she left her parents’ bedroom, someone grabbed her from behind. She screamed when he pinned her elbows to her side.

“God damn it, let me go,” she wailed, trying to jab the man who held her tight in his locked arms.

“Stop struggling,” a rough voice commanded. “And tell me what you’re doing here.”

She collapsed to the floor, pulling away from him until she backed up to the wall. “Get away from me,” she cried. “What are you doing in my parents’ house?

The man jumped back. He leaned against the doorjamb, arms crossed, peering at her from under a shaggy mass of wheat-colored hair. “What? Your parents?”

She looked up at him, wiping her cheeks. “I live here, you moron.”

Light dawned in his dark gray eyes. “Wait one damned minute.” He moved closer, bending down. “Portia?” His face drained of color. “Oh, God. Is it really you?”

She pulled aside a curtain of dark copper hair. “Yes. It’s me. Question is,” she said, with as much defiance as she could muster in her tear-drenched voice. “Question is, who the hell are you? And where are my folks?”

“Hold on now. Let me explain.” He crouched closer to her. “Don’t you recognize me?”

Portia stared at the hulking man. He vaguely resembled the boy from the neighboring dairy farm.

They’d ridden the hills together ages ago, when he was just eighteen and she was fifteen. Ten years. He must be twenty-eight now. No wonder she hadn’t recognized his face. She hadn’t seen him much after he went off to agricultural college, and by the time he came home again to run his family’s dairy farm, she’d left for college. “Boone?”

“It’s me.” He offered her a hand, but she pulled hers away.

Slowly, she stood, putting a hand to her brow. “Now, tell me. Where the hell are my folks?”


Boone stared at the woman who hunkered before him like a ghost from the past, her copper hair glistening in the light shining through the bedroom window. She looked thin, and very pale, unlike the robust teenager he’d known years ago. And very unlike the photo in all the posters he’d helped her parents plaster across the county.

She must’ve lost forty pounds.

“I can’t believe it,” he whispered. “It’s really you.”

She nodded, but didn’t smile. “It’s me.” Her voice quavered as if she’d break down any minute.

“Geez, what happened to you?” He stepped toward her and almost took her arm, but she jerked away from him.

“Please. Don’t touch me.”

A sense of dread filled him. Heat rose to his cheeks. “I…” He hesitated. “I didn’t mean anything by it. It’s just…we’ve been searching for you, for so damned long.”

A flash of anger filled her eyes, and she stood up. “Right. And you never found me.” She crossed her arms. “One more time. Where are my folks?” She choked out the words and lost her balance. Stumbling toward the wall, she leaned on it to steady herself.

“Whoa, hold on now. Won’t you let me help you?” he asked, eyeing her with concern.

Her face hardened. “No! I need my parents.”

He answered slowly. “I know. But like I said, they’re not here.”

She shot him a teary glance. “Then where are they?”

He slid his hand into his jeans pocket and rocked on his heels, not sure how to tell her. He had so many questions. So much to tell her. Where had she been for the past two years? Was she kidnapped like they originally thought? Or did she run away, like the cops began to think, when the investigators had seemed to give up hope.

He watched her face turn a chalkier shade of gray, then realized he hadn’t answered her. “Um. I’m sorry. They’re in New York City.”

She seemed disappointed, but the panic left her ravaged face. “Oh. A vacation? They used to love going to shows in the city.”

He stalled, scuffing the carpet with one well-worn boot. “Not exactly.”

Distrust filled her eyes. “What, then?”

“Um. Your mom isn’t well. They went to a clinic. It’s a special place where they’re doing experimental studies. You know, a research hospital. It’s called Sloan-Kettering.”

Her eyes searched his, already flooding with tears as if she knew the answer. “Research for what?”

He hesitated, then blurted it out. “Cancer. I’m sorry, Portia. But they’re hoping the new meds will—”

Her eyes rolled. She crumpled to the ground before he could catch her.


Portia woke in her own bed, in the lacy pink bedroom of her dreams.

She opened one eye, taking in the filmy curtains blowing softly in the window, the white bureau with blue, red, and yellow horse show ribbons fluttering on the mirror. Cupcake slept on the bed next to a big chocolate Labrador retriever.

“Boomer?” she croaked. The dog lifted his head, flapped his tail on the bedspread, and squirmed closer to lick her hand enthusiastically.

A voice came from the doorway. “He’s been staying at my house. Would have been too lonely all by himself, y’ know?”

In a flash, it all came back to her.

She was home. Home in her own soft bed, in her safe, pink bedroom. Home, at her family’s Vermont horse farm, with the beautiful Green Mountains all around. It wasn’t a dream this time. It was real.

In the next second, the awful truth stabbed her and she bolted upright. “My mother. I have to see her. How can I…”

Boone sailed across the room in three long strides. “Whoa, there. Doc’s coming out first. We’ve got to make sure you’re okay before you go gallivanting off to New York.”

“I’m fine,” she lied. She felt horrible. Weak and wobbly, she could barely sit up. “I think I just need food.”

His face darkened. “When’s the last time you ate?”

She frowned, as if trying to remember. “Um. I think yesterday.”

“Crap. I’ll be right back.” Turning, he disappeared into the hall.

She heard noises in the kitchen below. While she lay under the comforter trying to collect her thoughts, the phone rang.

Boone’s deep voice reverberated from the first floor, but she couldn’t make out every word. He hung up quickly, and within minutes, appeared in the doorway with a tray of steaming soup and crackers.

“There isn’t much in the cupboards,” he said apologetically. “Just some Campbell’s soup and a box of Saltines. Hope you like chicken ’n stars.”

“I have so many questions,” she said. “My mother. This place. The horses. What’s happened in the last two years? And what about my sister? Is she still in school? Is she okay? She was such a mess back then.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Whoa. Hold on, let me set this tray down first.” He laid the tray on the night table. “Can I help you sit up?”

She froze inside, suddenly reminded of him and his ministrations after he’d hurt her. “No. I’ve got it.” With a huge effort, she scooted up on the pillows.

“Blow on it, it’s hot,” he said. He stepped back and grimaced. “God, you’d think I could come up with something more original than that.” He sank into the chair in the corner. “Sorry. I want to answer all your questions, in order, but I have so many of my own, they’re jamming up my brain, y’ know?”

She nodded and bit into a cracker.

He leaned back and looked toward the ceiling. “You already know about your mother. She’s getting the best care in the country, and there’s hope for her yet.”

Portia felt her knotted stomach relax, just a little.

Boone continued. “Grace is okay.” He frowned when he mentioned her little sister’s name.

Portia figured it was because Grace had given her family such trouble.

Drugs. Court. Rehab. More drugs. More rehab.

Life had been tough with Grace.

But Boone had been there for her family when her sister had fallen apart, when she’d even dragged criminals into their lives. Portia had been away in college when they dealt with the worst of it, but her mother told her Boone helped her father take Grace up to the rehab clinic—three times. They’d finally gotten the rebellious girl to a point where she agreed to stay clean and study art, her favorite subject, at the University of Vermont. Portia wondered if she’d kept with it.

“Is she still in college?”

“No. When you disappeared, she went nuts.”

Portia almost stopped breathing. “I thought she hated me.”

“Don’t think so. She helped us put posters all over town. Made phone calls. Went on the radio to appeal to whoever took you. The whole enchilada.”

Portia suddenly remembered the newspaper clippings he had put up on his corkboard, showing the whole family and each of their appeals to the kidnapper. He’d collected them from all over, relishing the news coverage.

“Did she go back to drugs?”

“No. Your mother finally convinced her to return to school, even though it didn’t last.” Boone shifted on his chair. “It might be hard for you to imagine, but she’s married now. She met a professor who wanted to take care of her. Older guy. At first your folks were against him, but he sort of won them over. Happened really fast, too.”

“She’s married?” A sense of loss filled her. There had been a wedding while she was gone. White dress. Flowers. Family and friends. And she’d missed it all.

Anger built again in her gut. He’d taken that away from her. He’d taken it all away from her.

“Yep, she’s a married lady now. Still struggling, goes to therapy twice a week, and occasionally she disappears for a few days, but she comes home again. Poor old Anderson has a hell of a time keeping her in line. But she’s better than when you knew her.”

He stood and looked out the window. “Aside from dealing with your disappearance, everything’s been sort of okay. The horses are fine. But I think Mirage missed you.” He took a deep breath, and then turned to her, his clear gray eyes searching hers. “Now it’s your turn. What the hell happened to you, Portia?”

Inside, she felt her throat freeze, her heart drummed against her chest. The words would barely come. “I can’t…I can’t talk about it. Not yet. I’m sorry.”

He dropped back into the chair, stretching out his long legs and clasping his fingers over his stomach. A long, soft sigh escaped his lips. “It’s okay. You take your time.”

She tore her eyes away from his and leaned over to take a sip of soup, swallowing several mouthfuls greedily now that it was cooler, then ate four more crackers and drained the water glass.

“Is it okay? You want more?”

She looked at him with weary eyes. “No. I’m good, thanks.” She pushed the tray back. “Who just called?”

He gave her a crooked smile. “My brother. Dad’s prize cow just had her baby. Looks like it’s gonna be a nice one.”

She relaxed. Not the police. Not him. “Did you tell your brother about me?”

“Not yet. I thought you might need a bit of time before the whole village descends on you. Figured I ought to get your permission first.”

Grateful, she smiled, for the first time. “Thank you.”

As if called to duty, he suddenly stood. “I need to tell your father. What do you want me to tell him?”

“I’ll call him,” she said, pushing back the dishes. But as much as she tried to sit up straighter and before she could ask for her father’s hotel number, against her best efforts to keep her eyes open, she felt herself being drawn into sleep. Within five minutes, she’d succumbed.


Do you like weird books?

Deadly Deadly

Deadly Deadly



Deadly Deadly is an exciting, larger than life epic that takes place during the growth of our nation westward that details the hardship encountered on a very special trail drive in the 1800s. Don’t let the cover fool you; this is a story for the more mature reader. This exciting novel tells a truly original story among a backdrop of harsh and extreme conditions. Crafted with an enormous passion, this amazing story pits an eclectic cast of characters against the unforgiving elements and the evils of men. A one-of-a-kind story, readers cannot afford to pass up. Get lost in this western epic of adversity, despair, and triumph. This story revolves around the deep bond that is established after a young man, alone in the world, discovers a newborn Texas Longhorn bull and rescues him from deaths grip. The bull calf eventually captures his heart and an inseparable bond is formed. As the bull matures, due to his lethal seven-foot horn spread, he eventually becomes know as Deadly. Their unique relationship also grows into a working partnership and together they become an indomitable force, which will be a blessing for a beautiful ranch owner who ultimately depends on them as her only hope for survival after she hires them to drive her extremely valuable and “new” to the America, Herefords, from California to Texas. With the fate of her ranch in their hands, they set forth on a dangerous journey full of extreme wilderness, nature’s wrath, injuries, and illness in order to get these prized cattle to their distant destination. With a Texan Longhorn bull as one of its main characters and events unfolding at a thrilling pace, Deadly Deadly stands out against the homogenous backdrop of today’s fiction with a character-driven story that is as gripping as it is heartfelt, and sure to hook readers within the first few pages. Whether it’s the loveable characters, unique relationships, budding romance, or facing challenging hazards both natural and manmade, this novel possesses something for everyone. This engrossing narrative uses a mesmerizing story to pepper in useful survival skills and actual training techniques used with herd animals.


M.J. Vigna

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No Excerpt Available

Do you like weird books?

The Suicide Society

The Suicide Society


The world continues to decay in a methodical, mystifying way. Values erode, conflicts deepen, and society is desensitized to the brutal and relentless suffering of others. On both a global and personal basis, we know it’s true, but nothing can be done to stop it.

How did it come to this?

After an unsuccessful suicide attempt, Zach Randall, a self-absorbed accountant, begins to experience disturbing visions of other people in the act of taking their own lives. Initially dismissing the incidents as mere hallucinations, he slowly begins to suspect there is meaning hidden within each episode.

Struggling in the midst of the most recent punishing vision, Zach is able to see a name and address on a discarded envelop close to the latest dying wretch. After enlisting the aid of his friend and support group leader, Jarad Anston, Randall discovers that the people in his visions are real, and he is voyeur who watches their last moments on earth.

Certain that the visions are mirroring reality, Randall tries desperately to find more information as he is drawn into the grey mists of illusion, hoping that he might somehow intervene and save a doomed soul. However, there is an unexpected episodic encounter with someone—no something—that has its own horrific designs on those about to commit the final act.

A detective in Seattle, a couple street-wise cops in Chicago and Zach Randall begin to put the pieces together to reveal a conspiracy of supernatural horror that will threaten the foundation of humanity. At its source is the ultimate evil; a malevolence that defies explanation.

A Horror Thriller!

The Suicide Society evolves as a story of pain, manipulation and a carefully devised plan to infiltrate every aspect of society for the purpose of promoting hate, chaos and ultimate destruction. Randall and his associates race to expose the forces that relentlessly drive the world closer to a global catastrophe.

William Brennan Knight

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The room was dark and silent. The only illumination came from a couple bulbs in a flashing sign from a Mandarin restaurant across the street. The woman’s face was exposed as a ghastly, emaciated silhouette against the intermittent light.

In her mind, it had been a completely wasted life. Compromised, languid, settling for less when she could have achieved so much more. This would be her epitaph and her legacy.

In her lap lay an old yearbook turned to a page that showed the picture of a beaming teenager holding the class president’s gavel. Underneath the picture was the caption, Most likely to succeed. She glanced at the picture and still felt sorrow even after 30 plus years.

Where and why had everything gone so wrong? The answers still eluded her. At 51, how could she have ended up here in a run down two-flat on Badura Avenue in Las Vegas?

She rose from a creaking rocker and walked over to the bathroom, not pausing to turn on a light. Reaching into the rusting medicine cabinet over a stained basin, she extracted two items: a brownish vile filled with green, round pills, and a blade from a safety razor she used for shaving her legs.

With one item in each hand, she turned and headed back toward the rocker, her slippers shuffling against the tiled flooring. The ragged robe dragged along behind her, silently mopping up the accumulated filth.

The unexpected noise from the kitchen caused her to stop and stiffen. The light and hum from the microwave was unmistakable. Subsequent popping sounds continued, and the smell of cooking popcorn filled the apartment. There was one small problem—she wasn’t cooking any popcorn.

She moved the few paces from the living room towards the kitchen while grabbing a vase from a coffee table and raising it above her head. The outline of a person was framed by the light from the microwave. A stranger had entered the house.

As she approached, the intruder kept his face turned to the expanding bag. Yet, without seeing her, he held out an arm with his palm raised upward in the universal sign for stop. “Don’t you just love the smell of popping corn,” he said. “Microwave popcorn is ok, but nothing tastes like the kind they make at the theater, don’t you think?”

“Who—who are you? How did you get in here?”

He turned. In the glow of the bulb she saw him smiling. Pasty, pale skin and teeth so white and perfectly straight that she thought they must be ceramic or porcelain. He wore a 70’s-style, white leisure suit and a wide brimmed fedora.

“Get out—get out or I’ll call the police!”

“Maybel, Maybel, Maybel,” he said while shaking his head. The smile grew even wider. “Ah, the irony. You’re getting ready to off yourself, and you’re concerned about me assaulting you?”

“How did you get in here?”

“That hardly matters does it?” The last few corn kernels finished popping, and the microwave shut off abruptly. The room plunged back into darkness.

The woman moved toward the nearest wall switch and flicked it on, which lit up the kitchen and gave her a clear view of the antagonist.

“Awww, Maybel, now you’ve gone and ruined the mood.” His smile stretched to grotesque proportions as he came forward, opening the bag of popcorn as he approached.

Maybel Downey set the vase down and edged back toward the far wall. Her eyes found the front door, which was still locked securely. She turned back to his penetrating gaze. “How do you know my name?”

He spoke between mouthfuls; his voice was muffled by the food. “Go sit down Maybel, and we’ll talk.”

“I’ll do no such thing. If you don’t get out, I’ll call the police.” She sprinted towards the phone, but when she arrived he was inexplicably blocking her path.

“I told you to sit down.” For a moment his smile faded and was replaced by an expression of sadistic ugliness. His eyes widened and burned coal black, and she reflexively recoiled. Walking slowly, she

made her way to a sagging couch in the far corner of the living room. He sauntered over to a wooden chair adjacent to the sofa and took his place directly across from her. “You have any Merlot?”

She looked surprised at the question but only shook her head.

“Damn, I only drink Merlot. I can hardly stand anything else.”

“Who are you?”

“Oh, I’m sorry, where are my manners?” He picked at his teeth for a stuck kernel. “Call me—Mr. Cox.” He looked back over into the kitchen. “I’ll drink ginger ale if you have any.”

“Tell me who you are and what you want.”

“You know, I love popcorn, but it makes me so dry. Do you know what I mean?”

She slowly lowered her head and began to sob.

“Crying, very nice. Sorrow feels so good…All right, all right. I told you my name is Mr. Cox.”

“What is it you want with me?”

He shrugged. “I want to watch.”

“What? Watch what?”

“What do you think, Maybel? I’m here to watch you kill yourself. I have a front row seat.” He gestured with a sweeping motion. “So get on with it. What are you going to use, the pills or the razor blade?” He swung around and looked back to the kitchen spotting a distinctively shaped bottle. “Ah, I see you do have some red wine.” He got up, walked over to a group of cabinets, and rifled through the drawers for an opener. “Cheap stuff, but I guess it will do.”

“How did you know?”

The cork squeaked and then popped as he removed it from the bottle. He grabbed a glass and filled it to the brim. “Ugh, tastes terrible,” he said as he returned to the chair. He saw her slump even further, shoulders heaving. “Look, it’s kind of slow, ok? I mean, we can’t have a 9-11 event every day, now can we? Even though I’m a busy man, I always try and make it to as many of the suicides as I can. I wish I could see them all, but some of you are, well, just not important enough.

“But I love their faces, especially the ones that have regret after they realize there’s no turning back.

It’s just priceless. So go on, do it. Just do it.”

“Please, get out of here.”

“Why? I would think you would want company at a time like this. After all, everything has been so horrible for you with the bill collectors and the husband that ran out…”

“Stop it, just stop it! You don’t know what I’ve been through. You don’t know…” She lowered her head and cradled it into her open hands. “Now, I’m hallucinating. Oh, sweet Jesus.”

His expression instantly hardened. “Awwww, poor Maybel. It’s so much harder for you than everyone else, right? Nobody has ever lost a job or been in debt or lost a husband. People have babies dying of cancer, but I’m sure you think you’re far worse off than they are. What a pitiful self-indulgent mess. But no matter, I like you better this way. C’mon, slash those wrists; I want to see the blood.”

He moved up on the edge of his seat and the smile returned. It was wide and sick in its malevolence. His eyes flashed and he licked his lips.

“Do it Maybel, just do it. You have nothing to live for. Look at this pathetic slum you live in. You could have had it all. Girl most likely to succeed with scholarship offers to Clemson and Stanford. An engineer, isn’t that what you wanted to be? Look at you now, you loser.”

“No, no,” she shook her head and picked up the razor blade, pressing it against her left wrist.

“Yes, that’s my girl. Now slice it. One pull ought to cut the veins just so. Make the pain go away; just a little tug. Come on, you can do it—please.” The last phrase grew assertive and compelling.

“I will—I swear I will…” She pushed harder on the blade until it punctured the outer layer of skin. They both watched as the blood bubbled up from beneath the wound. He rubbed his hands together and squealed with delight.

“That’s right. Now just pull it hard. Slit your wrist; you can do it.”

Maybel’s breath was ragged, and she found herself shaking uncontrollably. She put more pressure on the blade, reminding herself of why she was doing this. Still, her hand seemed frozen; she couldn’t will the muscles to make the deep slash needed to finish the job.

She chastised herself for this weakness. Maybel Downey could not find the strength for either solution. Maybe the stranger in front of her was right after all. She was too weak to slash her wrists and too cowardly to face life. She was the worst kind of human spirit. There seemed to be no way out.

As though sensing her doubt and utter despair, Mr. Cox examined his perfectly manicured fingernails while saying almost absently, “You know, May, there is an alternative here if you can’t bring yourself to do it.”

Maybel relaxed the pressure of the blade on her wrist just a bit. “An alternative?”

“Yes, I can give you another way. That’s what I said.”

“And just what would it be?”

“Actually, it’s very simple. You come join me.”

“Join you? You’re a monster who enjoys the suffering of others, a figment of my psychosis. What kind of job could you offer—mass murderer?”

He chuckled. “Excellent May, very funny. Look, I’m ok either way. I’m just offering an easy way out to a sniveling wretch like you. You want a nicer place to live? You want a better job? Money and power, perhaps? I can make it all happen.” She didn’t say a word, and he took it as a sign to continue. “All you have to do is join me—us. It’s simple really. You’re responsible for carrying out some small assignments on our behalf.”

Her face contorted and her head tilted slightly. “What kind of ‘assignments’?”

“Do you think you ended up in this place by sheer circumstance? A lot of hard work goes into ruining people’s lives. You don’t really believe that all those investment bankers on Wall Street were that dumb, do you? Have you any idea how many lives were ruined by their bad advice in the 2008 crash? The nasty ones with the huge bonuses; you think any of that was random?” Sensing her confusion, Mr. Cox sighed. “Look, I’m only asking for your loyalty. You work for the government. Every once in a while we may ask you for some information. State contract proposals, tax records, nothing particularly complicated.”

She moved her hand holding the razor blade away from her wrist. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“Look, it’s an open invitation. You won’t believe how much better your life will become and how quickly. I’m like the insurance company. I have a whole lot of different plans. Maybe you’d like something bigger. That’s fine. We’re always looking for the ambitious ones to help eliminate the inconvenient. The more you help us, the better your life will be. Chaos is what we’re after, and a large amount of suffering wouldn’t hurt either. There’s lots of profit for those who get on board. But Maybel, the train is leaving, don’t wait too long.”

“Get out!” she screamed. Unable to grab something heavy, she threw the razor blade out of frustration. He grabbed it from the air and closed his whole hand tightly, shutting his eyes in a moment of pleasure. She looked back, and his grin had returned.

“Ok, I get it. You bipolar, manic-depressive cowards are all the same. You can’t even kill yourself with dignity. It’s pathetic.”

He rose from his chair and moved toward the front door. When he reached it, he stopped and rested his hand on the knob, his back faced the woman still sitting on the sofa.

“You know May, call me a pushover, but even though you disappointed me today, I still kind of like you.” He paused and appeared to be deep in thought.

“I’ll tell you what. Come tomorrow, you’ll find your rent is paid up for three months, and $1,000 has been deposited into your account. Take my generosity as a token of good faith. Should you decide you want more, just call me and maybe we’ll do lunch.”

He opened the door and stepped through the threshold, “Oh, and Maybel, life is never going to change as long as you rely on yourself. One way or another, I’ll be seeing you again.”

He turned around, and in a motion similar to flipping a coin, tossed the razor blade across the room so that it landed precisely in the woman’s lap. With a wink, he walked down the hallway. Mr. Cox was

Do you like weird books?

Yoga For Beginners: 30 Simple Yoga Poses To Look Younger, Lose Weight & Feel Great – All In The Comfort Of Your Home (Simple Self Improvement Series – Yoga Edition Book 1)

Yoga For Beginners: 30 Simple Yoga Poses To Look Younger, Lose Weight & Feel Great – All In The Comfort Of Your Home (Simple Self Improvement Series – Yoga Edition Book 1)


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Other Yoga Books do not work. 

The other Yoga Books are flawed because they assume reading about yoga will magically make you good at yoga. They propose yoga moves without proper instruction, add fluff and filler chapters about nonsense and recommend you take yoga classes without a caring about your specific needs. What a waste of money!

The Simple Self Improvement Solution…

This Yoga Guide is NOT like the others.

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    • The Science and History Of Yoga and Why It Works So Well
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PS: Don’t forget to grab the FREE Audio guide and Visual guide to assist your success! They are linked on the second page of the book


e   x   c   e   r  p   t

No Excerpt Available

Do you like weird books?

Corporate Thugs

Corporate Thugs


What’s the first sign that lets you know you’re dealing with a sociopath?

Corporate Thugs is riddled with clues. Set in the new reigning hub of African-American drama – suburban Atlanta – it’s the scandalous saga of the ambitious and untamed Gerald Alexander that chronicles his descent into the dismal world of irrationality. From high school to college and throughout the pros – his story will have you watching your back ever so closely.

Gerald had only two dreams, to play professional football in the NFL and to make the cover of Sports Illustrated. When the former became a reality it was short-lived due to a serious injury. And just like that, all the fame, fortune, parties, and women… gone. On the contrary, his best friend since childhood, Marcus Stone, was on top of the world – a successful business, a beautiful wife, and a fat bank account…he seemed to have it all.

Being a supportive friend, Marcus offers Gerald a job hoping Gerald would have a positive impact on his company. But when jealousy and murder come between them, which one will fall? Could Gerald be so callous that he’d set his best friend up? Is Marcus even capable of unleashing his own wrath?

They solved the riddle. Can you?

Bridgett Renay

e   x   c   e   r  p   t

Copyright © 2015 by Bridgett Renay

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the publisher, addressed “Attention: Permissions Coordinator,” at the address below.

Bridgett Renay

P.O. Box 7531

Atlanta, Georgia 30357


Set in the new reigning hub of African-American drama – suburban Atlanta – Corporate Thugs explores the psyche of a man whose desperate yearning for superstardom renders him straight-up certifiable.  It depicts the hardcore competitiveness of professional football alongside the cut-throat battle for corporate success. But in this game, only one person can win.

Gerald had only two dreams, to play professional football in the NFL and to make the cover of Sports Illustrated.  When the former became a reality it was short-lived due to a serious injury.  And just like that, all the fame, fortune, parties, and women… gone.  On the contrary, his best friend since childhood, Marcus Stone, was on top of the world – a successful business, a beautiful wife, and a fat bank account…he seemed to have it all.


Being a supportive friend, Marcus offers Gerald a job hoping Gerald would have a positive impact on his company. But when jealousy and murder come between them, which one will fall? Could Gerald be so callous that he’d set his best friend up? Is Marcus even capable of unleashing his own wrath?

Chapter 1

Slink never hesitated to take advantage of an opportunity to exasperate someone’s day… usually for no valid reason. His grown ass crept his way across Marcus’ front porch chuckling like a mischievous little boy. He literally rubbed his hands together excited to be the first to witness and expose a young man’s degradation. “YOU ARE STRAIGHT BUSTED! Didn’t yo momma teach you about playin’ in the mud?” he laughed as he allowed the glass storm door to slam behind him while stepping into Marcus’ living room.

He’d spotted Fallon Davis leaving Marcus’ house from all the way down the street. Fat Fallon was just as easy to spot from a distance as she was about giving up the ass. She had to weigh at least two-fiddy so Slink couldn’t let it go without clowning Marcus.

“What are you talking about?” Marcus also laughed as he fell back onto the couch, stretched his arms out on its back, and slammed his bare feet on the marble coffee table like he was some kind of czar.

Slink slouched down in one of the stylish wingback chairs by the window. “Oh, I see. So you’re saying I didn’t just see Fat Fallon wiggling her ass out of here less than a minute ago? Don’t even try it. You know you hit that, didn’t you?”

Marcus was book-smart and tried to mislead Slink into not recognizing what he’d just witnessed with his own eyes – and since walking through the front door, his own nose, “I’m telling you man, it’s not even like that. She just stopped by to holler at me about our class finals – a history project we got teamed up on.” It proved fruitless. His portrayal of innocence was no match for Slink.

“Man please! I could smell her worn out kitty before I even got out my car. Stop trying to front.”

Marcus took a playful whiff but couldn’t avoid actually smelling the stench one would expect would be left behind after having spent time with a girl like Fat Fallon. He grinned and lowered his head a little because he knew he was caught. He didn’t want to appear too embarrassed so he played it like it was no big deal, “So what! Man, she practically threw it in my face. And I guarantee she’s gonna do all the research for our project. So…no harm, no foul.”

Slink knew there was a joke in there somewhere when  “Fat Fallon” and “foul” are a part of the same sentence, but he wasn’t clever enough to think that fast on his feet so he tried another angle at antagonizing Marcus, “Well, well, well! You mean to tell me that The Professor ain’t in the mood to impress whitey? What, you going soft…or in your case…hard?”

The comment irritated Marcus. He took his studies seriously and didn’t appreciate being criticized by someone of Slink’s ilk, “Shut up, man. I just got a lot of work to do if I’m gonna bust a twenty-four hundred on the S-A-Ts. What you know about that?” he said with confidence as he purposely held his chin up high.

“I don’t know shit about S-A-Ts, but I know if you keep fooling around with Fat Fallon you gonna bust more than your scores,” Slink said off-the-cuff proving that he was actually capable of thinking fast on his feet.

“I’m not even trippin’.” Marcus got uncharacteristically vulgar, “I just wrapped my anaconda in a Hefty bag and went for a dip, that’s all.”

Slink still warned him, “Whatever man. That bitch got some serious issues. You better be careful.”


Gerald was coming home from his job at the Burger Hut and noticed Slink’s car parked in front of Marcus’ house so he made a b-line over. He wondered to himself why Slink was kickin’ it at Marcus’ house. It was Gerald who had introduced Slink to Marcus. Gerald always thought Slink sorta belonged to him. He felt good about himself when an older, more complex dude like Slink allowed Gerald to be one of his sidekicks. Slink even had his own apartment. Marcus was supposed to envy that and not indulge himself in it. Marcus was already the light-skinned, handsome and intelligent ladies’ man. He could at least let Gerald be the athletic thug – the Michael Vick of the crew.

Gerald walked into Marcus’ house without knocking as if he was expecting to catch them in the act of doing something – something sinister – like bonding together as friends. “Yo man, what up?”

Gerald was actually talking to Slink, but Marcus answered, “Just kickin it.” Then Marcus taunted Gerald, “What’s up man…coming in my house smelling like taco grease.” He then glimpsed over at Slink to get some kinda approval for his little joke.

Slink laughed so hard he had to double over and was barely able to belt out, “He smells better than that sinkhole you just got out of a few minutes ago.”

Slink knew exactly what he was doing playing Marcus and Gerald against each other like that, but they were too naive to recognize when they were being exploited, especially by someone like Slink. He was a master of trickery – one of the shadiest cons this side of the Mississippi. And not just in his peer group – black, white, rich, poor, young, old, straight, or gay – nobody was more determined to wreak sheer havoc than Slink.


Born Troy Lewis, Slink was fated to live a life that revolved around crime. He was conceived in the back room of a strip club and born in prison. His mother was convicted on federal drug charges and by the time she gave birth to Slink in a women’s prison, his father, or who his mother believed to be his father, was convicted and serving time on larceny charges.

Slink spent the first seven years of his life caught up in the anarchy of the foster care system until his maternal great-grandmother, Nana Kay, took him in. Nana Kay was a sweet enough old lady. She was in her late sixties and unfortunately had just about every illness listed in the New England Journal of Medicine. Slink had been committing crimes practically before his testicles had a chance to drop so there was little she could do to control his madness.

He never stood a chance. While Nana Kay was in and out of hospitals, he was in and out of trouble. Despite it all, Slink had learned to survive by being tranquil, mystical, and clever.  Add that to his cunning stride and his slender physique and you’d be describing a Slinky – Slink for short. He used every talent he had to manipulate those that were unfortunate enough to cross his path.

Slink had arrived in Atlanta via Jackson, Mississippi. As usual, he found himself right in the middle of some serious bullshit in Jackson. Two men were found dead in the back alley of a pool hall just hours after being seen arguing with Slink. Slink got word that the police were asking around about him so he decided he needed to get out of town. He wasn’t a stranger to transporting dope across state lines and when he found out about a huge drug run to Atlanta he made his move.

Not only did the drug lords know Slink by reputation, they also knew he was desperate to get out of town for a while so they offered him twenty-five thousand dollars to transfer a shitload of their product to Atlanta. They also knew that as crazy as he was, he wasn’t suicidal enough to try to run off with it.

Slink knew where to draw the line and who to draw the line with – depending on what was at stake of course. He also knew he was being played short because a run like that could easily go for fifty thousand at the least, but the last thing he needed was a run-in with one of Jackson’s finest so he took the deal.

When Slink got to Atlanta and delivered the dope he was twenty-five thousand dollars richer and had about five pounds of dope of his own. That was all he needed to start up his own dope-slinging operation. On his drive from Jackson to Atlanta he stopped at a campground near Tuscaloosa, Alabama, pitched a tent, and carefully removed a few ounces from each of the bricks he was transporting. Slink always got what he felt was his in the end. Fuck honor among thieves.

He didn’t even sweat driving an SUV full of dope across two state lines because Slink was nobody’s dummy. He understood America.  He didn’t walk around with his pants hanging down to his knees. No way was Slink getting locked up trying to keep up with thug fashion. He always dressed like a perfect little gentlemen.  His pants and shirts were professionally pressed.  He wore sneakers only while wearing athletic gear. Slink even wore a tie every now and then. He was the portrait of a man on his way to visit his sweet, elderly momma for a Sunday dinner.

It was in the middle of Marcus and Gerald’s junior year of high school when Slink moved into an apartment a few miles from the Burger Hut. He didn’t know anything about healthy eating so he immediately began to frequent the restaurant. He came in one day while Gerald was behind the grill flipping burgers. When Slink walked up to place his order he recognized Gerald from the sports section of the neighborhood newspaper and was impressed. His low-key, semi-thuggish behavior intrigued Gerald as well so they talked often.

Slink enjoyed turning young brothers out so he played the role of one of those non-threatening thugs – the kind that may steal, but would never kill. Gerald was fooled by Slink’s big puppy-dog eyes and his slender frame. All of the malnutrition he suffered growing up gave Slink the appearance of a nineteen-year-old. Gerald didn’t know Slink was twenty-six-years-old and straight-up demented.

The two became quick friends, therefore, Marcus soon became a friend. The more Slink realized how bright Gerald and Marcus’ future looked, the more he tried to gain their confidence. Slink didn’t like seeing brothers sincerely happy and legitimately successful. He felt it was his duty to put an end to all that. If his soul couldn’t be emancipated, neither could anyone else’s.


Slink knew Gerald would be curious about the sinkhole comment he made about Fat Fallon so he didn’t waste any time manipulating the conversation. “Yeah man, your boy was in here taking his turn with Fat Fallon. Got this place smelling like The Kitty Pool over on Metropolitan.” Slink got up to go use the bathroom, but could sense his words would create tension between the two teens regardless of how juvenile the subject-matter was.

Marcus was the more mature of the two and when he glanced over at Gerald he braced himself for another one of Gerald’s “episodes”. Gerald didn’t disappoint. He gave Marcus a disapproving look while waiting to hear the bathroom door shut then harshly whispers, “Man you know your moms gonna slip into convulsions if she came home and sees Slink kickin’ it in her living room like he owns the damn place! And Fat Fallon! I know I didn’t hear that right! What were you thinking?!” Gerald melodramatically asked.

But he really just wanted it the way it always was up until then – him, Slink, and Marcus kickin’ it at his house, not there at Marcus’. He was petty that way. And not because he was an only child and was spoiled. Gerald just believed the world owed him – no questions asked. Besides, it was always better at Gerald’s house. His mother never paid attention to who her son hung out with. As long as he did his thing on the football field, she seemingly didn’t have enough time to care about whatever else her golden goose was up to.

When Slink came out the bathroom Marcus had put his shoes on and was spraying air freshener all over the place, “Hey man, were gettin’ ready to go across the street and hang out at Gerald’s – you coming?”

Slink could’ve easily manipulated the plan and stole control of the scene, but on this occasion he was happy to oblige to keep things cool. He didn’t want to play his real hand until he had his plan all figured out. Over the last few months Slink had purposely transformed Gerald into his bitch while Gerald thought Slink genuinely admired him for his athletic notoriety – as if Slink was another one of his sappy fans. Gerald had in his head that once he went pro, Slink would become his bitch.

He couldn’t have been more disillusioned.

Chapter 2

Lena Stone got in at around five o’clock just about every weeknight. She had to or else Marcus would’ve stuck some processed chicken fingers in the microwave. Or even worse, got his boy Gerald to bring him a basket full of grease the Burger Hut referred to as its dinner special. Lena didn’t like the thought of her son eating all that nasty stuff. She tried to make herself available every single night to prepare him a home-cooked meal. And just in case Gerald came through around dinner time, which was every other night outside of football season, she always made enough for three.

Marcus was all Lena had after she lost her husband and Marcus’ father, David, in a freak accident. He was only seven when his daddy died on I-20. It was in the middle of one of those unexpected storms that hit Atlanta often during the summer months. The lightening would light the sky like fireworks and thunder would pound its way to and through your eardrums. One minute the sun was out and you’d feel a light sprinkle. Then in a split second dark clouds would gang up on the city and release its wrath.

David was a supervisor for the Department of Transportation. He was on-sight when a concrete barrier separating oncoming traffic from the worksite became a temporary grave. A rare mudslide caused trees to uproot and race a heap of mud to the highway surface. David, along with three other crew members, didn’t have any time to react. All four were swept away as their mangled bodies dipped in and out of mud while getting caught between the humungous tree trunks and the concrete barrier. David was the only casualty. He was twenty-nine.

If it weren’t for Marcus, Lena probably wouldn’t have had the strength to move on. David was the love of her life. Though her heart was hacked into tiny little fragments after his passing, she had indeed kept the promise they made to each other to always put family first. She took the settlement she received from the Department of Transportation along with an insurance policy she and David took out when Marcus was born and used them to build a new life for herself and her son.

Lena began by putting money aside for Marcus’ college education. She then went back to school and got a degree of her own. Lena majored in education, graduated magna cum laude, and was soon working for the Georgia Department of Education. By the time Marcus was in high school, Lena was a manager over the Education Program Specialist employees. She bought a house in one of the best school districts in suburban Atlanta and they lived a comfortable, yet routine life always making Marcus’ education a top priority.

But it wasn’t easy being widowed at such a young age. Especially having a little boy to raise. And Lena always made it perfectly clear that she was widowed – not a single mother in what has become the standard for far too many Black women. Lena had a strong Christian upbringing. She didn’t like being linked in the same category as someone who’d thought she was so in love with a brother that she’d have his bastard child without the benefit of matrimony.

Lena also endured the many sacrifices single mothers with young children needed to make. Choices such as who was allowed into her home, her bed, and her heart. She wasn’t about to parade a bunch of prospectives in front of her impressionable son like her heart was some sort of American Idol audition hall.

Fortunate for her, abstaining from serious relationships was a piece of cake – almost instinctive. She was a virgin when she met David and he was a bit of a nerd with very little sexual experience himself. They were a perfect fit. Unlike most married couples, they never explored each other’s bodies to the heights of their sexual peeks – it was always straight missionary-style. When David died, she had no memories of unadulterated lust and as such had no yearning for it.

For the longest, it was just her and Marcus and it was all good. Marcus relished the times they spent together. Trips to the zoo, library, museums…they shared a very special bond.

And Lena’s devotion to educating her son paid off. She had Marcus talking about Ivy League schools back in elementary. As a matter of fact, the only time Marcus ever got into trouble was when he once teased his fifth grade teacher because she graduated from a state college. But it was her own fault for telling her students she graduated from what she referred to as the prestigious Kennesaw State University. Lena felt guilty for having to punish her son for recognizing the difference between mediocre and supreme.

He was often called a momma’s boy, but he didn’t care. He knew nobody loved him like his momma – to hell with all the haters.


Marcus, Gerald and Slink were still watching rap videos in Gerald’s room. Marcus looked out the window and saw his momma’s car in their driveway. He knew it wouldn’t be long before dinner was ready, but before heading home he stayed to watch a few more videos with the fellas. He had no choice. The station was airing a two-hour tribute to Biggie and Tupac. You’d have to drag Marcus and Gerald away from that at gun point.

But after a while, Marcus went home. He went in through the kitchen door. He and Lena went into their nightly round of twenty questions. “Why were so many windows open when I got home? Did you clean your bathroom like I told you to? Let me see your homework, is it all done? You didn’t spoil your appetite with a bunch of junk food did you?” And as usual, “How’s my handsome boy doing? Did you have a good day son?”

Marcus washed his hands in the kitchen sink and snatched two sheets off the paper towel dispenser to dry them. He then used his right hand to smooth Lena’s graying hair back off of her forehead and leaned in to kiss her there. He answered every question without skipping a beat as he sat down at the dinner table while Lena served him dinner – smothered pork chops and creamy mashed potatoes. She then prepared her plate and sat across from him.

“So which one of them little girls are you taking to the junior prom?” Lena asked with sincere enthusiasm as she elegantly unfolded the cloth napkin and gently placed it in her lap.

Marcus cleared his throat because he knew his answer wasn’t what Lena wanted to hear, “Kesha Thomas.”

“Kesha Thomas! You’re not talking about that little girl who thought Nelson Mandela was a reggae legend?”

“Momma, it’s just a dance. We ain’t gettin’ married.”

Lena put her fork down on the plate, assertively folded her hands and leaned into the table looking him straight in the eyes, “What did I just hear my son say to me?”

Marcus, playfully imitating his momma, leaned into the table and slowly annunciates in a British accent, “I said it is just a dance. We are not going to be married.”

Though she’d usually nut up when Marcus spoke poor English, Lena was slightly amused and grins, “That’s better.” The two continued to enjoy their meal.


Marcus was handsome, smart, and funny, but he was the kind of young man who didn’t have a pretentious bone his body. He was exactly the same with whoever and whatever. Slink was the only person who managed to alter his personality whenever he was around even though when they first met his instincts told him Slink wasn’t to be trusted. But then Slink started to get closer to Gerald. Marcus didn’t want to be left out so he pretty much went with the program.

Marcus and Gerald had too much of a history. Also, they both had only one more year before their paths would part. It was impossible to predict whether their friendship would withstand their individual goals so it was fitting they share the most significant year up until then, their senior year of high school, together.

The two had known each other since the sixth grade. Marcus moved on the block first and Gerald came along about a year later. Marcus was glad because not only was Gerald an only child like him, but Gerald’s mom wasn’t as strict as Lena. When they played at Gerald’s house just about anything went. Lena didn’t stand for that foolishness. She didn’t like little fingerprints all over her walls or a bunch of dirt tracked into her tastefully decorated home.

Nonetheless, Marcus and Gerald were pretty tight. It seemed like their friendship would last forever. Like that of Vietnam buddies who shared the same trials and tribulations throughout the friendship regardless of the separate dreams that no doubt would challenge their loyalty to one another.

It was the beginning of their junior year of high school when the relationship began to change. They grew a bit distant. It wasn’t because of any specific incident. It was just they were becoming two talented men with two very different roads they each had no choice but to travel alone.

Since Marcus was a preteen he loved reading Lena’s Jet Magazine every week. He paid special attention to the black businessmen they would feature. Earl Graves this, Bob Johnson that. Marcus couldn’t get enough of it.

He dreamed one day he would be featured in a business magazine sporting a tailor-made suit posing in his huge office that overlooked the Atlanta skyline. And of course it would be filled with furniture recommended by only the finest interior designers. He pictured having his personal chef serve him dinner while he sat in the breeze on the balcony of his mansion hidden in the rich acreage of Buckhead.

Marcus planned on making serious bank. But first, he wanted to experience Wall Street and learn how the real players exploited the American dream. As such, his university of choice was Columbia University in New York City, New York. Marcus couldn’t wait. Not a day went by when he didn’t keep his eye on the prize.

Do you like weird books?

The Wrath of Jeremy

The Wrath of Jeremy


Can God Forgive Him?

The Moment Before The Dark Lord Fell! 

Through a world where innocent eyes see evil in a reflection of supposed hope, Jeremy realizes his fear of a God he yearned to love, and the mystifying beasts he tries not to see, were in his life for a reason that he must battle to understand. Insanity is what he was told created these visions and prophesies, but Jeremy learns that madness is what he would wish he had. Thus, a tremendous adventure commences. The wrath of God is what Jeremy was chosen to see, but through this dark undertaking, Jeremy Daven discovers that the worst he thought he already knew was only the beginning for what he didn’t even see coming. Enlightenment would be the downfall, and the time of God would be the resurrection. In the end, the soul of truth, no matter how good or bad it may be, will be the only one standing.

Your Riddles Will Be Solved

The day the truest of Evil and the Truest of good made the deal.

“Seeing the Unseen isn’t frightening. The Unseen seeing you…. Terrifying!”

Are you ready for enlightenment? Join Jeremy on his incredible journey.


Stephen Andre Salamon

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