Jade Murder Without Remorse Excerpt Chapter 30
It was the end of the week on a Friday when I answered my telephone. Even before I picked up my phone, I felt that I could feel the sense of urgency to its demanding rings. I considered letting it continue to ring and leaving the office for the weekend, but in a job like mine, I knew that it could be an emergency with one of my psychiatric patients. I really wanted to go home to my cozy apartment and have a stiff drink since it had been a difficult week for me. I pictured and imagined the smell of the warm pot roast that my housekeeper had left in my oven. I hadn’t had time to eat any lunch and was ravenous.
“Hello,” I said into the mouthpiece, trying not to show my annoyed feelings. “This is Dr. Cohen.”
“Dr. Cohen, this is Jade. I just needed to hear your reassuring voice. I am feeling shaky and a little unhinged. The last couple of months have been challenging for me.”
I felt a tremor of concern course through my body upon hearing Jade’s voice. She seldom called me with good news. “Jade, is anything wrong? Where are you? Is your husband okay?” I really hated to ask these questions but believed that I needed to get to the bottom of Jade’s obvious emotional state. At the same time, I felt a little aroused as I waited for her tale to begin to unfold. Jade took the actions that were only ‘pie in the sky’ for me. My admiration for Jade began to increase as I saw her reach for her dreams once again. I could imagine such things but I did not have the guts to follow through. One day, I hoped to let my inhibitions go.
“Oh, Dr. Cohen, I am no longer in North Dakota and I am no longer with my husband.”
“Did you get a divorce or are you separated?” I asked hopefully, needing her to assure me that he was still in the land of the living. However, I knew that this was unlikely.
“My beloved husband, Jim, had a terrible accident. The bed of a truck came down suddenly and crushed him to death. Please don’t think it was my fault – it was an accident. The truck mechanism malfunctioned and slammed down on him. The insurance company admitted that the truck was defective and settled out of court,” Jade promised with muffled sobs. “I am so upset and will miss him so terribly.”
I really did not believe Jade entirely but she was so convincing. I knew that I must give her the benefit of the doubt. And she did sound very distressed and troubled. “Jade, are you all right? I am so sorry. I know that you really seemed to like this husband. Where are you? Would you like to come in to see me? Is there anything else bothering you that you want to talk about?” In my heart, I wanted Jade to be a normal person and I couldn’t help but care about her. She had been my patient for a long time and I felt a connection to her. Her downward erosion seemed to be pulling my values down to her levels and I couldn’t do anything about it. I also was beginning to become sexually aroused by the tales of her exploits, although I did not want to admit my shortcomings.
“I had to get away from North Dakota after the tragedy,” informed Jade. “I am in the sunshine in Miami Beach trying to get back to normal. I need this time to rest and recuperate and can’t get in to see you now. But there is something I need to discuss with you. Do you have a few minutes?”
“Of course, Jade,” I reassured her. “Is something bothering you other than the tragic death of your husband?”
“Dr. Cohen, I am still having feelings of paranoia. I am sure that some sinister person is watching me and wants to do me harm. He seems to be inside my mind, making me believe that he is responsible for the hardships and pain in my life. Is this a just a figment of my imagination or is this really happening to me? I try not to have these feelings but they are beginning to overcome me. They seem to persist day and night and I find it hard to go on with my life.”
“My plan is beginning to work,” I thought. “Soon Jade will be completely consumed by her paranoia. I think that she will eventually be unable to function and I won’t have to take any drastic actions. The course of her behavior needs to stop and I must become the master manipulating his puppet.” My slight body seemed to expand and become more powerful as I took charge of my patient.
“Jade,” I assured her, “if you think something is so, it is true in your mind. You must avoid the conduct that brings on your paranoia. It might be reaching the time that you need to take yourself away from the world to a place where you can be helped and medicated. Do you think that now is the time when you feel ready for this kind of solitude and peace from your thoughts?” I smiled as I thought of having Jade in my complete control where she would have no choice but to cater to my every whim. “Yes,” I thought, “an institution would be perfect for her and I could see her whenever I wanted.”
I listened as Jade’s mood completely changed from darkness to light.
“Dr. Cohen, I am fine,” she chirped with a lilt in her voice. “I was just feeling some doubts and needed to hear your voice. I feel much better now. Thanks for helping me and talking to me. I will keep in touch with you.” She had dismissed me summarily, as if my advice had no merit.
Hearing the phone disconnect, I held the phone in my hand, unable to put it down. I was overcome by a feeling of apprehension. I was angry that she did not listen to my advice. A chill convulsed my body but I knew that I could do no more. Maybe in the future, Jade would be more amenable to my suggestions. If not, I would have to do whatever I could to stop her. I really did not want to do what I feared would be necessary.
Title: Jade Murder Without Remorse
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Age Range: Adult from 18 to 80
Word Count this write: 1100 words Book Word Count 64987 words
Author Name: Pen Name: Sari Lantana Real Name: Claire Grebin
Why a good fit: This book would be a good fit because it is an exciting psychological thriller which would appeal to many readers. It has a very unique twist that no one will be able to foresee. It is very well researched and delves into psychological aberrations.
The hook: The subject of this book is a psychopathic murderer. The book delves into what caused her to be this way and is seen through a psychiatrist's eyes. Every murder draws the reader in but the conclusions reached will not be what is expected.
synopsis: Escape into the realm of the beautiful, psychopathic Jade who commands both love and hate as she charges forward in many twists and turns, engineering novel ways to kill her four husbands. Become immersed in the world of renowned psychiatrist, Dr. Cohen, who is conducting a research study on psychopaths, hoping to understand them and prevent them from treading on dangerous paths. The story of Jade is told as seen through the eyes of Dr. Cohen. But Dr. Cohen has a hidden, devious aspect as he finds himself becoming involved in a symbiotic relationship with Jade. Against his better judgment, he finds himself wishing that he had the courage to take a risk and explore the dark side as his patient does. Will he have the courage to step over the line? The suspense mounts to a conclusion that will be both shocking and unexpected. Ride this thrilling adventure into the uncharted future because the ending will prove challenging and out of the realm of imagination of even the most astute.
Target Audience: Adults of any age.
Bio Platform: I am a self-taught writer, college educated and have a background of owning and operating a dive boat charter business from Miami to the Bahamas where I saw many unusual situations and interesting characters which made me want to write my first book, Bahama Red, Intrigue on the High Seas, which is based loosely on my experiences. I now have a second book, Jade Murder Without Remorse, and am working on my third book, Half of Me is Missing, which will tie back to my book, Jade Murder Without Remorse. My books are published as e-books. I write on Prose daily and am number one on their popularity list so have many followers.
Personality: I am creative in most areas such as my writing and I also paint and sell my work. I love adventure and like to incorporate it into my books. I love to walk, do aerobics, go to the gym and I also like to socialize. I have a love for the sea and often include it in my work. I am lucky enough to live in a little seaside town which feeds my passion. I love to research my books so that the reader will become fascinated but not feel overwhelmed by pedantic facts. I love to fool the reader so the ending will be completely unexpected.
Likes/Hobbies: I write, paint, sew, enjoy friends, fish, like the beach, enjoy exercise, prolific reader.
Hometown: Flagler Beach, Florida
The Prince of Pirates: Chapter 1
My life was easier in 1717, but that damn storm took everything I ever held dear. The world became foreign, hostile and cruel. It had no place for a man thrown through time.
I was born in Hittisleigh, a small run down town in Devonshire, England. 1689 was known for its cold beginning, and one January night was colder than the rest. Winds were wild outside as my mother screamed in pain, my father at her side. My two older brothers sat in the other room, waiting to be called upon to meet me. When I was finally delivered, my mother wept as she held me. Her name was Elizabeth, my father called Stephen. A single look at my frail body wrapped in wool and my parents chose the name that would one day be placed on my tombstone. From then on, I was named Samuel Bellamy.
At first it seemed like life would continue in a positive way, but not long after my birth, my mother became ill. Her body could no longer produce milk for me, her arms becoming too weak to carry me. Eventually, her heart gave out and she passed in her sleep. After that, my father turned to whiskey and rum to subdue his emotions. My eldest brother Eric, no older than ten at the time, had to take on a lot more responsibilities than any child should be asked of. My father was in no shape to raise me, so Eric did it instead.
He would milk the neighbor's Jersey cow and pour it into a leather pouch, putting a slit in the bottom and cover it with linen to create a barrier for my tiny lips to wrap around. He dressed me in his old clothes, too large for my infant body but still better than shivering through the nights with nothing. My other brother, Adam, was merely two years older than myself but still helped out as best he could. He would talk to the cow about how big I was getting, how helpful the cow was being after mommy had gone to a better place. He even held me a couple times while I drank, telling me that he would protect me from anything evil. At least, that were the stories told to me.
My first memory was the summer of 1693 after Eric met a pretty girl named Amanda who was 15, a year older than him, a few towns over. He and our father were talking about marriage, and of course our father disapproved. He had a bottle of whiskey in his left hand, his right holding Eric’s shoulder either for support or to keep him from walking away. With a swig of his drink, our father looked straight into Eric’s eyes while the eldest stared right back.
“You’re out of your goddamn mind if you think I’ll let you marry.” His breath must have smelt like liquor when he spoke, for when he did, Eric’s face convulsed in visible disgust. He brushed his father’s hand off his shoulder before responding, a thing we rarely did while our father was drunk.
After clearing his throat, he once again met his father’s gaze. “It’s my life, you can’t control it.” A flash of movement happened and our father’s hands were gripping Eric’s collar hard, tightening it around his neck in an uncomfortable way. I felt the urge to intervene, but I knew I would merely get hurt in the process. With fear in my body, I just watched the fight take its course.
Through clenched teeth, our father gave his reply; “I helped bring you into this world, don’t make me take you back out.” He watched Eric very closely, expecting a very specific response from his eldest son.
“But-” Another flash and Eric was pinned up against the room wall, his pain shown through his expressions as our father held him there firmly.
The limited control our father had over his drunken anger finally stopped, and his voice became a thunder directed toward Eric’s face a mere inches away from his. “Do I make myself clear boy?”
“Yes sir.” Eric’s mumble was barely audible, but it was enough for our father to restrain himself and back away, releasing Eric from the wall. Eric felt his father’s grasp disappear from the collar of his shirt, and corrected the shirt’s position on his body before walking away. He strode with granite features masking his face, a brisk movement in his steps as he went to his room. From then on, our eldest brother rarely spoke to our father. When he did, it was always a “Yes sir,” or a “Right away, sir.” It was like the flame within Eric had been snuffed out, but in reality the fight had ignited an inferno.
A month after the fight, I had awoken in the middle of the night to the sounds of glass smashing and wood splintering. Wiping my eyes from sleep, I descended the steps of our home to find Adam at the base, staring at our father in disbelief. He had thrown bottles of whiskey around the room, shattering them against the walls and floor. The table that used to sit next to a window was now mere planks of scattered wood throughout the entire house. In the middle of the entire mess sat our father on his knees, a single bottle of rum in his hands, still intact. Beside him laid a perfect piece of parchment, somehow unharmed by the destruction our father had caused. Taking a few steps closer, I noticed it was a letter. A letter addressed to me. Adam must have noticed too, for he crossed towards it through the sea of broken glass lying upon the floor. While wincing in pain, he leaned over and picked up the letter, adamant about not disturbing our father. Once back beside me, he placed the letter in my hands and went to his room, biting back screams of pain with every step he took. For a second I just stared at the letter, wondering what it had said.
Then my legs began to work again, and I walked towards my room in a sluggish manner. Once on my bed, I scanned the parchment for anything I could make out. Eric, like he did with my other brother when Adam was four, was teaching me how to read. Sadly, I had only learned the alphabet and a few basic words. On the page I saw my name, Samuel Bellamy, written at the top. I could also make out a few scattered words like had to go and goodbye. Frustrated with how little I knew, I decided to hide the letter until I could read better. I removed a board in my bedroom floor that was loose from age. Inside, a small space could be reached. I folded the letter with timidness before placing it within the floor, then replaced the board back to its original position. I told myself I would return to the letter when I could, but for now its mysteries were left alone.
I could no longer feel the beckoning of sleep. Instead, I dressed myself and went down to Adam’s room. He was sitting on his bed wrapping his foot in linen, the glass that was once piercing his skin now on the floor speckled with blood. “I can’t sleep,” I told him as he looked up at me, noticing the awareness in my face. He nodded once and got dressed, then we both left our home through his window. We traveled down the street to the river, oil lamp posts flickering as they illuminated the cobble streets. The moon and stars shone above us, a cloudless night filled with a soft mid-summer breeze. The calm warmth lowered my alertness, and soon we were lying next to the river, looking at the moon through the ripples of water made by the fish under the surface.
“I want to see the world Samuel,” Adam said as he turned to me, a look of excitement and the hint of an inferno that was found in Eric. “I want to sail the ocean and be a captain. That’s my dream.”
I looked at him, trying to think of a good response for my older brother. “Will you take me?” I smiled as he laughed at me, his eyes closing and his feet kicking the ground lightly.
“Yeah, you can come along. I’m captain though.” he said with a small grin.
“Promise?” I looked at him, the seriousness and hope in my face clear for him to see. He sat up, looked me in the eyes, and swore an oath to me that our dream would one day come true.
“I promise, Sam.”
To Be Continued...
Title: The Prince of Pirates
Genre: Historical Fiction, Science Fiction
Age range: 16 - 45
Target audience: North America, Central America, Europe
Word count: 1111
Author's name: Jefferson House
Synopsis: "My life was easier in 1717, but that damn storm took everything I ever held dear. The world became foreign, hostile and cruel. It had no place for a man thrown through time." After losing his mother at birth, Samuel Bellamy is set on a path in his life that no one could predict. Filled with loss, blame, and a beloved to return to, Samuel must face the test of time in order to return home.
Ugly Beauty (first chapter)
(This is the first chapter of my novel in the works, Ugly Beauty)
Mirrors. Sierra hated them. Every time she looked into one, she was reminded of what she wasn't. And that was pretty.
Of course, her parents assured her that she was beautiful. And at one time, Sierra had been naive enough to believe them. But on her first trip to Siris, the huge metropolis they lived on the outskirts of, she realized that she was what they called Flawed.
And she also found out why they didn't live in Siris. After all, only the richest and the prettiest could live in Siris.
And those two words--rich and pretty--didn't describe her family even if you used your imagination.
With a sigh, Sierra let the tiny gilded mirror fall from her hands to the rocks below. There was a tinkling noise as it broke, and she regretted what she'd done. But only for a moment.
She shielded her eyes as she glanced at the sun. It was time to go home. Much like a monkey, she scampered down four or five branches and then leaped to the rocks below.
"Ow!" she yelped in surprise, as a shard of glass from the mirror embedded itself in the calloused underside of her foot. Hopping around on one foot, she carefully squeezed out the tiny sliver and wiped away the blood.
She stared at it for a moment, long suppressed feelings bubbling up again. "Yeah, I bleed everything time I look in a mirror," she muttered angrily, tossing the piece away and limping home.
Sometimes, as she walked, she imagined that she was beautiful and rich, and living in Siris. And she had a boyfriend. But Sierra was too old for that, now, and her hopes of becoming beautiful when she hit her teenage years had shriveled up and died. So had the dreams of living in Siris before Governor Sharon. It was she who had made the first push to "cleanse" the city from "undesirables" such as Sierra's own self. Fifty years had passed since then, and Governor Sharon's goals had been carried out by her successors, Governor Lyron and Governor Petrie.
Upon reaching the small, two-story house that she knew as home, she paused to watch the sunset before pushing open the weathered front door and entering into the dim interior.
"Hello, honey," her mother called from the stove. The greeting was cautious, testing to see what Sierra's mood would be today.
"It's getting cooler, so that's nice," Sierra responded, heading for the stairs.
"Yes, that is," her mother agreed. She didn't press for any more conversation, recognizing that her daughter needed some additional time to think things through.
Sierra's mother wasn't plain, but she wasn't beautiful, either. However, something about the golden-red hair, blue eyes, and the graceful, proud way she carried herself often turned heads. Perhaps she would even have found a place for herself in Siris if she hadn't have fallen in love with a young man, who was both poor and flawed by a huge scar on the left side of his face.
Sierra wished she'd gotten her mother's elegance and grace, but she hadn't. She'd gotten the same reddish gold hair, only perhaps more red than gold, and her eyes were sky blue. Her skin was pale with freckles, and something about her face was just...plain.
It was of these things that Sierra thought as she stared out her window. Rheal, her best--and only--friend, had told her to quit thinking about her looks and try and help her parents out.
"Stop daydreaming, wishing you were beautiful because you're not. And you've got to come to grips with that," Rheal had broken out, at last, a little harshly. "I used to be beautiful until my face was burned in that big fire in Siris. If anyone has a right to complain, it's me, losing everything I knew. But you don't see me leaving at dawn to wallow in self-pity while my parents and siblings do all the work."
Sierra hadn't really talked to Rheal after that. She knew that he was right, and she didn't want to admit it.
"Time for dinner!" Keagan, her little brother, hollered up the stairs.
Sierra started from her thoughts, then collected herself. Turning away from the window, she hurried down the stairs to the dinner table.
There wasn't much talk. Her father was bone-tired from whatever it was he did at the power plant, and her younger brother was too busy stuffing his face with food to talk. Her mother, ever sensitive to Sierra's moods, just let her have her quiet.
Sierra gathered the supper dishes and washed them while her parents talked quietly in their bedroom. Maybe about her? She considered eavesdropping but pushed the thought quickly away. What was the point?
After washing the dishes and drying them, she lingered by the family room to watch her brother play. It was one of the rare moments in Sierra's life when she actually felt happy, watching his youthful innocence, as well as his curiosity at work, crafting impossible stories for his toys to play out. She actually smiled a little as she watched the giraffe and the ant fly to the moon to discover the charm that would make everyone beautiful.
I wish, she grinned, shaking her head.
Keagan, sensing her eyes on him, looked at her. "Do you want to play?"
He asked the question so often, and Sierra had said "no" so many times, she wondered if he would ever ask it again. But he had.
For a moment, she considered actually playing with him. But then she remembered that she was sixteen. This was a world she'd been shoved out of a while ago. Now it was like she was between two worlds--the world of her childhood and the world of her adulthood. And it was like neither wanted her.
"Not tonight, buddy. I'm a little tired," she responded, smiling at him. "But maybe tomorrow."
Keagan considered her for a moment, then smiled wider. "Okay!"
She lingered in the shadows, watching him return to his ridiculous fantasies, and then turned to the stairs and the haven of her bedroom.
Emotionally drained, she stiffly lay down on the bed, her sun-browned arms spread wide across the clean sheets. Gradually, as the moon rose in the sky, and her eyelids closed, her fingers worked their way beneath her pillow and closed around the small mirror she kept there.
For someone who hates mirrors, I sure have a lot of them, she thought wryly to herself.
The other part of her brain responded It's because you keep hoping that one day you'll look in that mirror and see a different face.
Author: Abigail Burchwell
Word Count of Excerpt: 1,105
Age Range: 14-18
Synopsis of Ugly Beauty: Sierra Rosenberg only wants one thing: she wants to be beautiful. After all, your face and your money are what gets you a place in Siris. Unfortunately, she has neither of those. She must learn to come to grips with her reality and learn that looks aren't everything, and ultimately, what true beauty really is.
Why I Believe This Project Holds Potential: Nowadays, a lot of emphases is placed on what you look like and how much stuff you have instead of who you are. A lot of teens are struggling to meet people's expectations of perfection and are left feeling inferior and worthless because they simply can't. It's important for every person to realize that their attitude and their personality is what makes them beautiful, just as Sierra does.
Education: Homeschooled/Private Tutor
Platform: Self-published on Amazon
Preferred Genre: Science Fiction/ YA
Previously Published Works/Experience: The Motto Trilogy Book One: Together We Fight
Article in the Clarion Mirror
Three-year course in creative writing
Currently taking a year-long course in crafting short stories and novels
Likes: Outdoors, running, dog training, writing, swimming, hanging out with friends
Hobbies: Running, writing, drawing, and doing things with paracord
Bio: I've been writing since I was seven, and I haven't stopped since. I've only self-published one book, however, to "test the waters". I come from a large family consisting of four older brothers, a younger sister, a dog, and a snapping turtle. It can be hectic at times, but it's usually pretty fun, and never cease to give me encouragement, inspiration, and criticism!
Hometown: I was born in Hagerstown Maryland, but my family moved to North Carolina when I was three. I have recently moved to Pennsylvania.
Better Late Than Never (excerpt)
Chapter 12 – Hell on Earth
As we left the plane and walked to customs many hugs were shared among the passengers. Nervous apprehension surrounded me as we left customs and headed into the airport to find the promoter. I wasn’t expecting to see TV cameras and journalists in the greeting area to interview people from the “lost flight”. There were even a couple of entertainment writers waiting to talk with the Americans.
“Sir, what would have to say to the president of the airline who is standing over there?” I was asked.
“I’d ask him if Mickey or Donald was helping run the airline.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well the entire situation was handled in a Mickey Mouse way. We were left in the dark. It was cartoonish.”
The promoter grabbed me by the arm and hastily pulled all three of us into a waiting car.
“Was it that bad?” his cute assistant asked.
“It was far worse that that. I’ll tell you over drinks later.”
“I look forward to it.” she said with a big smile.
The promoter pointed to sights along the way and lots of nice buildings and big homes. Conversely there were mostly older cars and people wore out-of-date clothes. The few black people we saw really looked bad. On the other side of the freeway were weather-beaten dwellings. There wasn’t much going on over there.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“It’s Soweto. It’s not as bad as you’ve been told.”
“Well, it looks pretty bad to me.”
“Our blacks have it better than anywhere else in Africa.”
“You said we were going to be able to use black and white musicians and singers. Is that still happening?”
“Yes. You’ll meet some of them tonight at Alfie’s club.”
“Alfie’s club has the best music and great food.” his assistant offered.
Greg piped in, “I’m looking forward to meeting the people who will be helping us.”
“You’ll be impressed,” the promoter said proudly. “We’re almost at the hotel.”
The area we were entering resembled Westwood Village in Los Angeles. Lots of trees, nice shops and apartment buildings dotted the streets. As we pulled up to the hotel, two black bellmen came out with a white guy. The white guy led us into the lobby. The General Manager and his assistant waited for us at the desk.
The GM came over, “Welcome to the Claridge. I am Klaus Verhooven. I am the General Manager. If there is anything at all you need while you are here, please let me know.”
“Thank you, Mr. Verhooven.”
“Please call me Klaus.” He said as he led us to the desk. “This is Anton, my assistant.
Katie is our Front Desk Manager. They are here to help you as well.”
Katie was beautiful, tall slender and amazing eyes. She organized all the paperwork we needed to sign to check-in, “Mr. Karlsruher, if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.”
“Please call me Rick and thank you.”
“Everything gets billed to me. In fact, have them all checked-in under my name,” the promoter told Katie.
“Certainly.” Anton said as he handed the promoter all the paperwork.
It took the promoter and his assistant Anya a few minutes to fill out all registration documents. I guessed they wanted to keep our names off the books to avoid any potential problems or keep the press away. After they did, I asked, “Katie could you get me a copy of everything for my records.”
“I’ll have it done in about fifteen minutes, if that’s soon enough. I’ll have it all in an envelope for you here at the desk.”
Klaus and Anton joined Anya and the promoter in the elevator with us. There was plenty of room for the bellmen to ride up with us, but they were forced to take another elevator. They got to our floor before we did. One took Greg and Betty to their room. The other came with Klaus, Anya and me to my room. A few steps from the room, one of bags slipped off the cart. Instinctively, I reached to pick it up.
Klaus looked stunned, “Please no. That’s what we have those people for sir.”
I was stunned. Yeah, if blacks were treated better than we heard as the promoter kept telling us, this didn’t show it. Klaus opened the door and showed into the room. The bellman put my bags into the closet leaving the small one on a bench by the bed. I reached to tip him and saw a bizarre custom we would see from now on in South Africa. The bellman grasped his wrist with one hand as his other hand opened and his head was tilted down so as not to look directly at me. I intentionally over tipped the bellman to overcome the slight paid him on the way to the room. Klaus opened the drapes to show a panoramic view of the entire city.
“Is everything to your liking?”
“Yes, thank you.”
“Then I’ll be going.” Klaus said as he left and closed the door.
Anya smiled. “I guess I’ll be leaving, too. This looks very comfortable.”
“Yes, it does. Tonight should be fun.”
“I think it will be.” She said moving closer to me. She put her arm around my waist, leaned over and kissed me. She moved away, then back to me and kissed me again. “It does look comfortable.”
As I walked her to the door, she turned and we kissed again this time with tongues. Tonight was looking very good indeed. She left.
I unpacked a bit and went down to the front desk to get my copies of the check-in materials. Arriving at the desk, Katie came out motioning me to have a seat in the lobby.
“I wanted to explain everything to you,” she said as we sat. She spread the papers on the table.
“It doesn’t sound like you are from South Africa.”
“I’m from Kenya, but there isn’t much opportunity for me there.”
“As nice and smart as you seem to be, I find that hard to believe.”
She blushed, “Thank you so much, but we don’t have many hotels in Nairobi where I'd have the possibility for advancement.”
“I like your ambition.”
Her smile and her eyes lit up the room as she explained all the sign-in materials.
“I hope you don’t mind me asking, but you came a long way alone. You’re not married?” she asked with a smile.
“No, and I think my girlfriend broke up with me just before we left.”
“She’s not very bright.”
I was blushing, “Thank you.”
Yes, we were flirting. It was innocent, but it was also great. I think she noticed I was puzzled.
“It looks like you have a fan in Anya.”
“I might, but I don’t get it. We barely said three words. To be honest, I am a little uncomfortable. I hope she’s not setting me up. That could pose problems.”
“You’ll figure it out.”
Several people walked in together from a minivan. There was only one other person behind the desk.
“It looks like your friend might need your help.”
She shrugged, “I guess so.”
She was amazing and so nice. I knew there was great potential for headaches here. How to navigate these obviously treacherous waters baffled me. Anya wanted me and if I screwed this up she could make my stay extremely uncomfortable. Why did Katie have to show up?
Anya picked us up at about 8 PM. Katie had left by then. Anya came directly to my room. She did look really good. We spent about half an hour fooling around before going to get Greg and Betty. I felt really bad about that. I was thinking about Katie.
Alfie’s club was on a bizarre street. The street was surrounded by walled homes. Part of the sidewalk was a boardwalk similar to the one in Atlantic City. The rest was very old cement. The stores were old and rundown. Through the windows, you could see empty shelves. What was for sale appeared old and patched together. The outside world’s economic sanctions were choking South Africa.
Alfie’s place was tired and dingy. The bar was more of a counter-top than a real bar. Each table was different than the next and no two chairs seemed to match. The clientele was mixed which shocked me. What was more surprising were the pictures on the walls. They included Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Hugh Masekela and many others hung in the dusty room. This was long before Photoshop. I couldn’t believe all those superstars would be able to find this hole in the wall.
As I looked around, the steaks looked good, but It didn’t look like they had more than one bottle of each kind of booze, a few bottles of wine and a refrigerator containing a couple of cases of beer. There were lots of people here. Was Alfie going to run out of booze? I was very confused. Alfie’s didn’t seem to have enough product for this big a crowd.
Shortly after we sat down, the promoter leaned over to me, “You’ve had a tough trip. I think you should take two days off to get your bearings and get over the jet lag.”
“Do we have the time?”
“It’s better to wait a couple of days than to do it over.”
“That sounds good. Thanks.”
A young black kid and an older white guy went up on stage with guitars. The white guy started playing some tasty, jazzy blues riffs. He was so smooth. The kid couldn’t have been more than 16-18 or so. I figured it was teacher and student. The kid mirrored the older guy’s riffs but with a little more rock flavor. The kid slowed down and looked at his guitar. He tapped with his fingers. He tapped the strings. Then he stretched them a little. I don’t know what he did next but instantaneously his guitar soared. The place erupted. He went higher and higher. The old guy started playing co-lead. It was beyond amazing.
I looked at the promoter, “Please tell me these guys are going to play with us.”
He smiled, “The night after tomorrow you’ll hear your drummer, bass and horns.”
“Are they this good?”
I was very happy. A large black man came over to the table with an Indian woman. The promoter stood up and greeted him. “Rick, this is my friend Lefty. He went to university in America.”
“Nice to meet you, Lefty. Where did you go to school?”
“I got an MBA from Harvard.”
“Would you mind if I asked you a question?”
He started laughing, “I’ll answer it before you ask it. I came home to train the next generation of blacks so that some of us will be ready when apartheid ends.”
“Doesn’t that make you a marked man?”
“Well, I represent several white companies who want to do business in the townships.”
“Do your employers or the police know what else you do?”
“I keep the two separate and I make the distilleries I represent a lot of money. Would you like to come to Soweto tomorrow night?”
“Is it safe for me?”
“I’ll call the hotel and meet you in the lobby.”
He saw my nervousness,” I don’t know how to put this...”
“How can a black man get into your hotel if he isn’t an employee?”
“Are you psychic?”
Lefty laughed. “Believe it or not, I’m not black.”
I think Lefty was the blackest person I have ever met, “What?”
“You see, I have two white great grandmothers. That makes me colored.”
Anya, the promoter, Lefty and his girlfriend were all laughing at my confusion.
His girlfriend tried to explain, “Indians and coloreds have rights Africans don’t. Lefty and I can travel if we are willing to wait.”
Lefty entered, “Hospitals and schools are much better for coloreds than for Africans.”
“Do I even want to know how people know the difference?”
“Being American you won’t like it,” Lefty explained, “It’s on your birth certificate and identity papers. It follows you all your life and you can’t change it. People try to buy colored birth certificates. It also lets you live in better places.”
I was shaking my head. “Aren’t there about ten times as many blacks as whites in South Africa?”
Lefty laughed, “Now you are making yourself a target. They have all the guns and we can’t vote…yet. So, would you like to join me and see how the other part of South Africa lives?”
The promoter wasn’t happy about this turn of events, but I had to do it. If it were very dangerous or if I could get into trouble, wouldn’t the promoter or Anya jump in to stop me?
“I’d like to do that Lefty.”
Lefty nodded respectfully to me. That made my night.
The steak was wonderful, and the music continued to be great. Several other people sat in and a wonderful black lady sang. It was an incredible night.
As it got later, Anya’s hands found several parts of me. One under the table, the other had her fingers running through my hair. Normally, I’d be loving it knowing what was inevitably about to happen. I didn’t know how to stop it short of faking being sick.
Was I really falling for Katie? How could I explain this to her tomorrow? Katie saw what was going on with Anya and seemed to try to understand. But would she understand me coming back to the hotel the next morning or Anya leaving when Katie was working? It’s one thing to talk about something like this in the abstract. Even a great person would have significant challenges to be accepting of activities like the ones that were about to happen if they would see them up close.
Was the good part of me finding its way through the fear and despair? Could I break through the fog that was enveloping me?
I can’t make any excuses for spending the night with Anya. I did it. That’s what happened. She had to be at work early and dropped me off at the hotel before Katie got to work. I went to my room, took a shower and went to sleep. A few hours later I woke up and called Greg’s room. He wasn’t there. I had to go through the lobby on the way to the pool to find him. As I got there, Katie was going on a break. She motioned for me to meet her outside.
We met on the street on the street a couple of doors down. Her smile was brilliant. I had trouble looking her in the eye. She leaned over and held my hand.
“Are you sure?”
“I’m sure. It’s scary down here. Sometimes you have to do what you have to do.”
I held her hand tighter and laughed, “Would going to Soweto tonight with a black guy fall into that category?”
“Please be careful. But you want to see it for yourself, don’t you?”
“I’ve got to get back to work. Please be careful.” She leaned over and we kissed sweetly and briefly.
Chapter 13 – Seeing The Real South Africa
“You aren’t actually dumb enough to go to Soweto are you?” Greg asked.
“Yes, Lefty is coming by in a couple of minutes.”
“My uncle can’t protect you there.”
“You don’t think we have protection down here.”
“I’m not sure. This isn’t like California or New York or even Europe.”
This was the first time I had seen Greg off his game. I kept thinking about how odd it was. Greg took off.
Within a couple of minutes, Lefty came into the lobby to get me.
“Are you sure you want to join me tonight?”
“I won’t think any less of you if you don’t.”
“I gave you my word.”
“You don’t have to be macho. You will hear things and see things you’ve never seen. You’ve got a good heart. Some of this will hurt you. I’m here if you need me.”
That frightened and soothed me. What was I about to see and hear? There was a three-year-old top-of-the-line BMW out front.
“Is that yours?”
“One of mine.” Lefty said chuckling.
“I went to Harvard,” he said slapping me on the back.
We got into the car and started our drive.
“You like her, don’t you?”
Thinking he was talking about, Anya I responded, “Not really. I can’t figure out how not to be involved with her.”
“Not the girl from last night; the one who works at the hotel.”
“How the hell did you know that?”
“It was in her eyes as you left. I understand your dilemma. Your secret is safe with me.”
“Remind me never to play poker with you.”
“Get ready. We are about to enter our hell. Remember hell is a location, not the people who are forced to be in that location.”
He was being very serious. He truly loved the people of Soweto. It’s the only explanation of why he stays when he doesn’t have to. Within less than a mile we went from world-class freeway to potholed streets and ending on an uneven gravel and dirt road. How could this happen so quickly? If this were the overt face of the community, what could be lurking out of sight?
There were burned out cars and junk on the street. We went past hovels. I felt myself getting ill. Lefty saw my face and body language. He patted me on the back.
“It will get better, but there is worse.”
“Worse than this?”
“Much worse. You couldn’t handle it. The world knows but doesn't want to tell the whole truth.”
He cut me off, “There are evil people. Like it or not, there are many of them in this country.”
We turned off onto a semi-paved road. Soon there were small but basically clean yards. Clean in comparison to the hell we had just seen. These people tried.
Lefty turned into a driveway. There were lots of people in the yard. I heard laughter and music. Getting out of the car, I saw a lady sitting at a card table with a cigarette box taking money.
“The government won’t allow us to have bars in our own townships. This is what we call a shebeen. It’s like a moving club or party. The person whose home we use charges a small fee to pay for the food and liquor. Hopefully, they will make a small profit. Every penny is huge here.”
“The government won’t even let you have your own bars?”
“They are doing everything they can to keep us from building an African middle class. The government understands how dangerous that could be.”
Lefty paid our fee. We went into the living room. People were eating, drinking and having fun. My presence startled a lot of them. Lefty laughed.
“This is my friend from America. His name is Rick. He bravely wanted to see our township for himself rather than listening to the Dutch tell him how phenomenal it is.”
There were cheers, which made me very self-conscious. An older man brought me a drink and welcomed me to his son’s house.
A man about thirty approached, “Are you the American from the paper?”
“What are you talking about, sir?”
A lady said, “You were on the front page of the Joburg newspaper with your comments about your flight. It’s was very funny.”
Lefty was laughing, “I didn’t know I was bringing a star. What did you say?”
“Given the fact it took three days to fly from Brussels to Joburg, I asked if Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck happened to be running the airline.”
Lefty was laughing loudly, “You may have to watch your back. The Dutch don’t like people talking to them the way you did.”
A couple of other people clapped. Others stopped by to welcome me and tell me they would look after me. I was really touched. Some of these people clearly had little to nothing but they were willing to help a stranger.
“It’s not a game, young man,” an elegantly mannered old man said to me. “You don’t understand. You couldn’t possibly understand.”
“Understand what, sir?”
“For instance, calling me “sir” would make you a target to any white who heard you.”
Lefty looked over. He was quite serious, “Jambo is right. Forget compassion, forget manners, and for your own safety you must think more like they do. We will understand.”
“You can do more quietly listening and taking our stories home with you. Tell them to all who will listen.”
“But I’m a nobody back home.”
“We are nobodies here. Who better to tell our story?” A very old lady said quietly.
Soon the party was breaking up. I received lots of hugs and wishes of good luck. Lefty and I got into the car to head back to the hotel.
“You can’t let anyone see you like this ever while you are here.”
“It won’t be safe. Your story while in South Africa is that you went with me to my cousin’s house for dinner and a few drinks.”
“I can’t do that.”
“You have to do this. You can’t even tell the kid you brought with you. The reality is I’d bet at least one person in the shebeen was a paid Security Police informant.”
“You are talking crazy.”
Lefty pulled the over to the side of the road. “Not listening to me is crazy. You may have been active in all sorts of protests in college in the US. If you did one here, you could end up dead. Please Rick, listen to me. I know asking you to do this is wrong. But you are my friend. Please let me look out for you while you are in my country.”
This scared me more than anything I had ever heard. I was trembling. “I went to your cousin’s house. We had dinner and drinks.”
It was still early when we got back to the hotel. I followed the company line at breakfast the next morning with Greg, Betty, the promoter and Anya. It was difficult, but I did it.
A little while later Greg and I decided to walk the few blocks to downtown. All of a sudden, I heard the screeching of tires and brakes. Then there was the unmistakable thud of a car hitting a person, then another person, then a light pole. I looked up to see a minivan wrapped around a pole. Two white people were on the ground. Several cops appeared out of nowhere. They helped those two victims. A black lady was on the ground bleeding. Three cops surrounded her. They didn’t help her. Ambulances helped the white people and the driver. The black lady was bleeding and crying.
“Aren’t you going to help her? She might die. Make a tourniquet at least.”
“Move along, kaffir lover. You don’t expect me to touch that, do you?”
I was on the verge of attacking the cops. Greg grabbed me and pulled me as hard as he could. I was sick. I was trembling. I pushed him away and ran. I just ran.
I had seen the pure evil all those people told me about last night. They told me so matter-of-factly that it seemed surreal. We were living in the last quarter of the twentieth century. This couldn’t be happening.
To this day, I still cannot fathom the level of their indoctrinated madness and evil. It was incomprehensible to anyone with a soul.
I had to be perfect. My first test was upon me. Katie was working. I tried to hide my pain and revulsion.
“Hi.” She was beaming. Then she looked at me, ran from behind the counter and dragged me into an office. “What happened?”
I couldn’t say anything. I tried, but nothing came out of my mouth.
“You saw the accident.”
She hugged me. I could feel her tears on my neck.
I remember my body giving way as we hugged. To this day, I break into a cold sweat thinking about that morning. I still can’t comprehend the level of inhumanity I saw that morning.
Better Late Than Never
Reality, memoir ties in with with another fiction title
Trident represents many true life stories that show the world to readers and include famous people in them.
The hook is life is truly stranger than fiction – another hook is you can get another book that is naturally paired with this one that is about a very hot topic in the world that is 100% opposite of this book. We can pair an outrageously humorous book with this terrifying true story.
A Story Almost Told tells of my real life odyssey trying to get a movie made. It starts out innocently and has many famous people innocently involved. Included in the story are stories that are individually amazing, but taken, in toto, defy any logic or rationality. From the beginning, it is amazing. The IRS and FBI use my dream as bait in a sting. We get to see the true horrors of apartheid in South Africa and immediately thereafter the opulence of Monte Carlo and even being arrested in New Orleans. There is much more.
The Target audience is anyone who enjoys excitement, seeing different places and real life.
I’d say the age group is 21+.
I have had an interesting life. I have done writing, music producing and international marketing. I even started a website to help new/undiscovered authors that has had over 6,000,000 page views.
As a platform, I have about 1700 Twitter followers, an email list of about 8000. I am an amazing interview. With Trident’s access and the publisher’s web, we’ll make both books major hits and likely get movie deals.
I have a degree in communications from Wake Forest University.
My style is conversational. I draw people into the story and make them think they are there. I’ve been told my personality is a bigger than life.
I love sports, movies, comedy, reading, music and being with people.
I live in Huntington Beach, CA.
At Last My Pen Has Found Her
She breathes soft, with parted lips,
And I'm holding her lungs
As she dreams,
Taking drags of her exhales and
Twirling her secrets with my fingers,
Conducting a ballad for ghosts.
And the rhythm matches her pulse.
And I can't stop taking shots
That smell like her hair,
closing my eyes around the memory of this.
Trying to zipper her heartbeats into me.
If only secrets could fall dead like fall,
I would walk walk
On the voices of nightmares,
And squish fireflies into her hair,
so her dreams can make the light
But the strands grazed by my touch
hide even the brightest of dawns.
And the morning will erase it all.
And show the guts matted on her skull.
And when it rains, I'll say a prayer,
For innocence as it's washed
Into the dirt,
Like moonlight turned
Streaking across the body of earth
As though to stitch the wound.
There will be
A canyon reflecting her face,
A reminder for angels that it is possible
And I'm drunk
On the tears she plucked from her heart,
tripping like those who sleep in alleys,
And I will join them.
And live off
The electronic clicks she makes
When she blinks.
Because my hands
Crave that moment
Of eyelids eclipsing sun,
Of lashes that blanket
And drown the sound of wolves
As they hold tongue,
Standing in awe
Of her footprints, deciding
that they followed the wrong trail,
Chasing the kill,
And missing flower.
I stand unsurprised,
Caressing the shadow
As she replaces dawn
So I will build a pulpit in my heart
And tell the tale of fingertip
And flesh until I believe
That her outline
Makes perfect sense
Of the havoc,
Chapter and verse pinpointing treasure.
Sailing to discover
places lost long ago.
Where my death becomes a rudder
And guides me past the tides
As all my intention
snakes along the shore,
hoping to pull her into me,
That there would be no blade of sand
And if only for a while
my current would carry
her weightless into the deep.
And our love will salt the sea,
and she will break the fangs of sharks
to a dust she'll wear as glitter,
and we will dig beneath the ocean
and I will shatter coral and stone
to clear the currents,
and watch my blood become clear
as it fades like smoke into the liquid.
And we will chew the rust of treasure
as decay creeps like mercy
over the surface of coin and crown,
because down here,
everything will fade beneath her,
and her splendor
will make every sunken ship
forfeit hope of rescue,
for who would dig further
than her reflection?
So I will sever the neck
that is not there,
and orphan the octopus
for need of ink dark enough
to make a map,
that her eyes would see the path to shore.
and the massacre will lead her to safety.
And I will drag her beyond horizon
to a place where rescue is impossible.
Where she will tame volcanoes with a smirk,
where she will bleed the magic of paradise
like a vein needing rest,
an undoing of logic into mayhem.
I will trap that conquered earth
into my heart,
she will resurrect sand to stone
by merely looking,
I only hope,
to be caught within the gaze.
And when it's too dark to see,
I'll connect the dots hanging from heaven
as stars that dangle
like a necklace around an angels throat,
and follow her freckles
into the sky,
to a place where everything
reminds me of her face.
She'll pretend she doesn't notice,
but I will rip the canopy of clouds
until she has room to stand above it,
the shadow of her is a premonition
of all that shines.
And from this perch,
she will rain down love with furry,
and scratch the dirt with empathy,
and I will stand in awe
as all her prayers change
from vapor to concrete.
And I'll become a scribe,
using my skin in place of parchment,
writing the saga of her soul,
where no beating chest fails,
and the screams of devils flee
the halos raining down from her eyelids.
And death would beg for mercy,
fearful of a world that bends
beyond reason and doubt.
And we will follow her tears
back into the soil,
like starting over,
and her footprints will give way to dawn,
and she will tell the broken
how blemish became beacon,
and every little belly will feast
on ink and blood and broken soil,
and every mother would know
the secrets that pierce heaven,
and every babe would drink
like tomorrow is certain,
and every father would rise
like blood in water until the smoke
and she would carve her tombstone
telling of a journey that took her
beyond the brink of death
into an abyss where heaven
waits in such a heart as hers.
And I will hang my sins until they die,
until every attempt to breathe
reminds me of her sleeping
soft within my arms,
dreaming of a day when all these words
awaken and her hope becomes reality.
I have no knowledge of what will wake
with us in the morning,
but I pretend that whatever it is,
will in some way look like her.
But she breathes soft,
and my hands are full
and my eyes are losing focus,
music beginning to fade within me,
I know the world inside her
will fall before she wakes.
But she's talking in her sleep,
and I hear it all, like learning a language
I'm not ready for.
And soon, her dreams will become braille
and I'll reach for it as one blind,
and my hands will trace her cheeks
and try to learn the pattern of her lips
as they make a map bright enough
to lead me into safety.
George and the magic library – excerpt – aboard the pirate ship
George shot through the open doorway, fell to his knees, and slid across the slimy wooden deck of the ship.
He lifted his head to catch his bearings and was greeted with the sight of about a dozen, open mouthed, pirates who were stood completely still having immediately stopped whatever task they were in the middle of performing. It was as if he had gate crashed a game of musical statues.
‘Er…hello,’ he said, red faced.
Suddenly the pirates came to their senses and released one conjoined roar into the breezy sea air. They all jumped, to a man, on top of George forming an untidy pile of arms and legs in the middle of the deck.
George managed to find a gap to squirm his way through and crawl from beneath the teeming mass of smelly armpits and greasy limbs. His freedom was short lived though as another pirate, coming to see what all the commotion was about, grabbed him as he took to his feet. The pirate twisted George’s arm around his back and put a cutlass blade to his throat.
‘Going somewhere are we?’ he said, menacingly.
‘Get up you scurvy bag of scum,’ the pirate shouted at the others on the floor. ‘Go and get the Captain.’
One of them, a tall thin man with thick spectacles, peeled himself off the top of the pile and headed up some steps to the side, onto the upper deck, tripping on every third stair.
After several seconds of loud bumps and sounds of ‘Ouch’, ‘Gerrof’ and ‘Who put that there’, the man came back accompanied by the un-mistakable figure of Captain John Ladybird.
‘What have we here then, a stowaway?’ said the Captain.
‘We found him on deck sir, trying to steal our booty he was,’ said the pirate holding George.
His breath stank as he spoke and George tried to pull his face away. He tried to say something but the sharpness of the blade persuaded him otherwise. Luckily the Captain saw through the pirate’s false claims.
‘I hardly think that to be the case,’ he said, calmly, ‘considering we don’t actually have any booty, as you call it, do we?’
All the pirates looked down at the floor together and, in unison, shrugged and grunted.
‘Well I’m sure if we did, he would’ve tried to steal it, sir…..can’t we just get the cat ‘o nine tails out anyway, just to be sure…..please,’ he pleaded.
All of them nodded their heads and a mirage of toothless grins graced the Captain’s eye line.
‘No,’ he shouted with authority. ‘We shall let the boy speak first and see what he has to offer in way of an explanation.’
Captain John looked directly at George. ‘Well, boy. What do you have to say for yourself?’
George desperately wanted to show the gold coin to the Captain.
‘I have something in my pocket that will explain everything, I think,’ he gargled.
George moved his free hand towards his inside pocket but stopped sharply when his other arm was pulled tighter up his back.
‘Aaaaargh,’ he wailed.
The Captain, luckily, sensed he wasn’t a threat and put his hand out to stop any more of the torture.
‘Colin,’ he ordered, ‘see what it is he wants to show us, if you please.’
A gormless looking, short, scruffy haired pirate walked over and reached into the inside of George’s coat. He pulled something out and hoisted it into the air.
‘Look sir, a gold coin,’ exclaimed Colin.
He examined it more closely, fiddling with it between his fingers.
‘Hang on. This isn’t real,’ he said.
He peeled away at the gold with his dirty fingernail to reveal a chocolate coin. George looked up to the sky, exasperated. He couldn’t believe this was happening. That novelty coin had been there since Christmas.
‘The other pocket,’ he shouted desperately. ‘Look in the other pocket.’
‘Oh, right,’ said Colin, taking a bite of the chocolate.
He again slid his hand into the inside of George’s jacket, this time pulling out the Leprechaun gold.
‘Hang on, is this some kind of joke,’ Colin said, trying to scrape the gold away from the coin.
Captain John suddenly grabbed the rail and hurdled over onto the steps and bounded down to the deck below, snatching the coin from Colin’s grasp.
‘Let me see that,’ he said.
He held it up to the light and inspected it more closely. He turned to the pirate holding George.
‘Let him go, immediately,’ he barked.
George twisted and stretched his sore limb, which had now been released.
‘You, come with me,’ he said, pointing at George, before marching into the inner part of the ship.
George picked up the book from the sodden wooden planks and discreetly removed the bookmark, before following the Captain into what was now just a normal doorway.
George stood inside the Captain’s quarters, now minus the reading glasses which had been safely put away. In the middle of the room was an old desk set at a strange angle to the walls with various nautical measuring instruments and charts adorning the top of it, and an equally old chair resting to the side. There was also an old pewter tankard, with goodness knows what murkily residing within it, sliding gently back and forth to the rhythm of the swaying ship. In the corner was a bunk, only a foot or so off the ground, with a stained woollen blanket dumped roughly at its base.
Captain John took a swig from the grubby tankard and immediately pulled a face then shook his cheeks from side to side.
‘So, the stories were true then, what my Mother told me when I was young,’ he said, almost to himself, staring blankly out of one of the portholes.
He turned his head towards George. ‘So, what do they call you then….they do still use names in the future, don’t they?’
‘Yes sir, my name is George, sir.’
The captain nodded.
‘Right then, George. I assume you’re here because you need my help in some way,’ he said, coldly. ‘So, while you’re here you can be of help to me too. I need another able seaman to assist with some of the duties on board. One of them went and died on me recently, most rude it was.’
His expression remained serious. It was clear he wasn’t having a joke with George.
‘Yes sir,’ said George, solemnly.
’Right well, go and see the crew and get yourself better attired for the job. Then, when I think you’re on your way to actually being of use to us, I’ll ask you what it is you need my help for, understood.
He looked back out towards the sea.
‘Yes, but I….,’ said George, desperately.
‘Is that understood,’ interrupted the Captain, sternly, without turning back to face him.
‘Yes,’ George agreed meekly. He realised there was no point arguing with the Captain at this stage. He would just have to play ball for the moment and hope that his mood changed for the better, and that he would soon come to terms with the situation unfolding on his ship.
‘Oh,’ said Captain John, with a sly smile creasing up at the corner of his mouth, ‘do leave your bag here for the time being, I will need to do an inventory of its contents, standard ship procedure, I assure you.’
George hesitated for a brief moment. He was obviously very nervous about letting the contents of the satchel from out of his sight, but again the pointlessness of resisting the Captain’s wishes persuaded him it was a risk he would have to take. He pulled it over his head and laid it down onto the table, before excusing himself from the room and going back above decks to go and introduce himself, properly this time, to the crew.
The next few days went agonisingly slowly. Every time he was in Captain John’s presence he acted indifferently to George. Most nights he had laid awake on his bunk, staring at the ceiling above, wondering if he should steal his book back and leave the ship, but to his credit he stuck with it.
The crew, on the other hand, had turned out to be fantastic with him and had become very friendly. They taught him all about life on board and the tasks and duties that went with keeping everything ‘ship shape’.
George was now confident when it came to climbing up the rigging to untie ropes and unfurl sails. He had even taken a couple turns up in the crows nest, although after a while this got a bit boring when George sat there for hours with nothing to look at except miles upon miles of rolling ocean.
In return George taught them about the importance of things like hygiene and washing their hands, especially after trips to the toilet and before preparing food. He explained how important it was to keep the drinking water separate and safe from contamination. At first the crew had scoffed at his suggestions, but when he pointed out that these simple steps would prevent them from getting diseases like dysentery, or as they called it ‘the bloody flux’, they were only too eager to adapt his principles.
There were three pirates that George worked with in close proximity on a daily basis, and had become his closest allies on the ship. There was ‘short sighted’ Sid, the scrawny, thick spectacled one who had fetched the Captain when George first appeared on the ship, ‘Clueless’ Colin, the short, scruffy, pirate who had looked for the gold coin in George’s coat and ‘no nickname’ Pete.
Pete was a podgy, but tall, man who owned a pet parrot that often sat on his shoulder while he polished and cleaned his pistols during his free time. Occasionally Pete would offer to do the cooking for the crew, but they often denied him because the last time he did it he accidentally poisoned them all. Pete also had a tendency, when in the face of serious danger, to panic uncontrollably. Despite all of these characteristics, Pete still didn’t have a nickname because the others ‘couldn’t quite think of anything that had a ring to it yet.’
It didn’t come as a shock to George when he found out that the crew had been through a spell of bad luck recently and hadn’t plundered any treasure in over a year. George took it upon himself to work with them, for only about an hour every day, to develop their close combat fighting skills, boarding tactics and pistol shooting.
Despite the massively positive effect he was having with the men, the Captain still continued to look on and say nothing. George decided it was time he had to do something about the situation with the Captain. They had to talk, but not in front of the crew. He would wait until everyone was asleep in their bunks that night and sneak into the Captain’s room to confront him. After all, it should have been his duty to have helped George in the first place, for the sake of the family.
Every footstep George gingerly placed in front of the other on the rough wooden timbers appeared to creak even louder than the preceding one. Despite the friendship he’d forged with the crew he knew they still remained steadfastly loyal to the captain, although puzzling to him as it was, and if he was caught sneaking into the Captain’s quarters in the middle of the night they may develop the wrong impression about his intentions.
George was beginning to wonder if this had been such a good idea, but he was nearly at the Captain’s door. It was now easier to go on than risk turning back and getting caught as he tried to get back into his bunk. As he approached, he noticed the door was slightly ajar and a flicker of candlelight was emanating through the gap. He cautiously peeped into the room, holding his breath, and saw Captain John sat in his chair, facing away from the entrance, staring down at the floor.
‘Come in George, I knew you would come, eventually’ he said.
This startled George but nevertheless he pushed aside the door and slowly crept into the room.
‘I’m sorry to disturb you,’ he said ‘but I really need to talk with you.’
‘Yes, it’s alright George, I know you do,’ Captain John said, resignedly. ‘I’ve been watching you for several days. The effect you’ve had on the crew is quite exceptional lad, and as for how far you’ve come yourself, well, you would make a very valuable addition to this ship. I suppose I’ve been afraid to talk to you myself because of what it may mean.’
‘Oh…..,’ George mumbled. He was surprised by this. He had thought the Captain was ignoring him because he simply didn’t care about helping him and was only using him for his own ends. He now realised that the Captain actually appreciated what he was doing on board the ship.
George took another step towards the desk, noticing the biography lying in the middle of it.
‘So you’ve looked through the book then I see?’ George hissed. ‘I’m not sure that was the wisest thing to have done, looking into your own future, sir.’
Captain John quickly spun round in the chair, but George could see he wasn’t angry with his comments. On the contrary, he had a sad look in his eyes.
‘I know, you’re right George,’ he said. ‘I realise that now, but looking at the book has helped me to understand some of the many mistakes I’ve made in my life.’
He picked up the book and offered it to George who politely took it from his grasp.
‘Look inside the book George,’ he said, ‘look at the pages from the middle onwards…they’re all blank.’
George flicked through the pages and indeed there was not even the tiniest spot of ink upon them.
‘Of course,’ he proclaimed. ‘From where we are now and onwards none of it has happened yet. The book can’t tell us about events that haven’t occurred because some things may yet change by me being here.’
‘That’s right George. So you see, the book offers me no clues anyway, except to show me how wrong I’ve been in my past.’
They looked straight at each other and for the first time George noticed the anguish and pain etched within the creases of Captain John’s face. He could see the longing for home. The Captain hadn’t chosen to be a pirate; it had been forced upon him, many years previously.
‘Go now, go back to your bed George and get a good nights rest,’ the Captain ordered. ‘In the morning you can tell me all about how we can help you, then we shall hit port and re-supply for the adventure ahead.’
Title: George and the Magic Library – The search for the Phoenix Quill
Genre: Fantasy, Historical Adventure.
Age Range: 11+
Word Count: Excerpt – 2,500, Main Book - 60,000+
Author Name: S J Andrews
Why this is a good fit: Although the book is an adventure story, the research has been meticulous, meaning there will be factual elements, but only on a subtle level so that it does not get in the way of the story. I believe the story will appeal to boys and girls alike as, though the central character is a boy, there are several strong female characters within the story. The story has many twists and turns, with cliff-hangers dotted within the story to keep young readers engaged and wanting to see what happens next. There is also a twist at the end which leads to the possibility and promise of more adventures to come.
The Hook: Characters can magically travel into books and have adventures within them.
Synopsis: George’s parents have been missing for several weeks and now his Grandma has died in mysterious circumstances. Sent to live with his uncle in the country George discovers a family secret at his new home – a magic library which allows the readers to enter into the stories within the books. He must use this magic to put together a series of clues and try to find an ancient artefact known as the Phoenix Quill, which ultimately has the power save his parents.
Target Audience: Boys and Girls between the ages of 11 and 16, particularly fans of fantasy, history and other similar genres, such as Narnia and Harry Potter.
Bio: I am 41 years old and live in Lancaster, England. I am educated to a good standard and run my own digital content and marketing business. I lead a wide ranging and healthy social life and am always attempting to gain new life experiences. I enjoy history and have a keen interest in myths and legends, especially the psychology of how many of the tales come about – I like to then take these two elements and combine them into my storytelling, which is written in a way that children can identify with and understand (I have 4 Children of various ages), but without appearing condescending or insulting to their growing intelligence. I am a firm believer that reading is an important aspect of a child’s education, so the stories they are presented with must be kept exciting and engaging as well as giving them access to new words and information.
The ‘f’ in my own ‘family’ stood for flogging. We were bred with it. It was a dietary requirement. And no, don’t be fooled by the title, there was nothing sugary about the experience. Not to us. It was only sweet for our parents, especially Mama. Mama could be too tired to cook, but let her find out that we left a chore undone, or an errand unattended. Her muscles would spring to life. Yes, for beating. She was always, it seemed, gunning for some sort of cane prize.
It wasn’t as though my younger brother, Akin, and I liked to be mischievous, sometimes we were simply unlucky—like the day I was bringing my parents’ meal from the kitchen and was about to set it down when Mama asked me to bring her an extra plate. Then some accursed, godforsaken witch of a housefly found no better moment to perch on my earlobe. Both hands occupied so I couldn’t swat it, I raised my shoulder to attend the itch—a motion, most sadly, Mama would misinterpret.
“Eh-ehn, am I the one you’re shrugging your shoulder at because I asked you to bring me a plate? Go and bring me that cane.” That was the format for guaranteed punishment: a rhetorical question, masquerading as an investigative inquiry, followed by an imperative statement. To attempt either answering the question or appealing the order only fetched a bonus pre-punishment slap, so what was the point? Discipline received (with swollen arms and a bruised knee as testament), and dinner forfeited (my favorite àmàlà and ewédú), I made sure I killed off all the insects I could find in the house that night. And the next day.
Mama’s motive for beating us, as she put it, was that the world was just too rotten and she couldn’t, wouldn’t, allow her two boys be corrupted by indiscipline. Her mantras included the Proverbial “…a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame,” and “Train up a child in the way he should go…” The day she would upgrade our caning ration, she invited us both to sit down and lamented how we—I, actually—had not been taking my studies seriously considering I had the Common Entrance exam in a few months. Then she tasted her tallest finger and leafed through her unclothed Bible before proclaiming, “Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod…” Akin and I went flat on the floor at ‘rod’. As I begged her to be lenient, and Akin pretended to pass out, she continued reading, “…if thou beatest him with the rod he shall not die.” There was no going back.
While it was the most popular, flogging was not the only method of instilling discipline. Mama could also ask us to ‘kneel down, raise up your hands and close your eyes’ as our school teachers did, with Mama’s version including, ‘and face the wall.’ I never quite understood the eye-closing and wall-facing part, but I understood that an unexpected lash would attend the buttocks if our raised hands showed any sign of drooping. Alternatively, it would be the dreaded ‘Lọ f’ìka ẹ d’ólè s’íbèyẹn!’ meaning “Go and plant your finger on that spot,’—a punishment that was akin to the posture in hopscotch when you are about to pick up the stone, but in this case, you would be forced to freeze. The actual torment was the clear instruction to never change legs or switch fingers. It wouldn’t take more than 15 minutes for a union of sweat and tears to begin the solemn procession of tumbling off the tip of our noses.
Did I mention that Mama had uncanny prediction accuracy? If she told us ‘Spoil that mousetrap and see what I’ll do to you,’ we could as well begin to weep in advance, because by either extreme caution, or a complete absence of the same, we would engineer the fulfillment of her prophecy. Was it when, while pouring her some drinking water, gravely mindful of her strict, not-too-low-but-not-to-the-brim policy, Akin’s trembling hands overfilled the china cup, wetting her wrapper? Or how, despite warnings against handling hot things without a cloth, I would attempt removing a clay pot of fresh gbègìrì soup from the fire with bare hands, ending up with a shapeless, canary-yellow sea dotted with black shards staring back at me from the sandy kitchen floor? After earning a fat knock on the head that he would nurse all week, and after I acquired her fingerprints across my cheek, Akin and I needed no telling: Mama never threatens. She assures.
Still, all too often, my brother and I seemed to discard prior warnings and revisit our old ways. One Saturday afternoon after chores, Akin and I left the house without permission. Not that we could have sought it, because neither parent was home. The whole thing was my idea; Akin hardly had the courage to break rules anymore. I, on the other hand, was bored out of my wits and needed some rowdy company. We just had to make sure we were home on time.
We visited our neighbour’s farm first and climbed and plucked and consumed all the cashews we could stomach, throwing up when we could go no further. We had spent over three hours there when Akin suggested we head home. I was about to succumb when I realized how bad an idea it was: our shirts were littered with cashew juice, one of the most stubborn stains I have encountered in this life. If Mama spotted or sniffed it, our alibi was blown. So I suggested we go play soccer with our friends. The dust would mask the cashew stains as long as we ensured that we slid and rolled abundantly on the pitch. It seemed like a brilliant plan but when we got to the pitch, and our team kept winning, it was almost impossible to leave. Akin pressured, but I kept reassuring him we would go home after the next win. It wasn’t until a teammate kicked the ball far into a thick bush, and no one volunteered to retrieve it, that everyone dispersed. Our curfew was “6pm sharp” so when my teammate glanced at his watch and casually declared that it was “past 7”, I took some relief in knowing I wouldn’t face our parents’ wrath alone. Chastisement is worse without a partner in crime. At least in this case Mama had no basis for her “Can’t you see your brother? Is this how he behaves?” statements. When I searched, sang and screamed to no end however, I realized how undone I was: Akin had gone home without me.
Stopping two doors away from home, panting like my heart would find its way out any moment, I bent down and locked two straws of spear grass together, then plucked a lash from my left eye and buried it in the hair atop my head—two of the sure-fire charms my school friends told me guaranteed their parents forgot to punish their wrongdoings. Remembering how little of an amnesiac my own mother was, doubled my pace. And my blood pressure.
I approached our front entrance, hesitant. The door was ajar. I peeped in between the door and its frame through the gap occasioned by the hinge. I squinted, widened, cupped the edges of my vision, but the lantern’s flickering light was inadequate to make out anything. Two taps on my back and I instinctively went flat on the ground, confessing, “Mama, the hosts of heaven are my witness, I went in search of Akin not knowing he came home by another route. He went out, plucking cashew all afternoon. In fact, his friends also told me that while they were playing ball…” I paused. Something was not right. Mama would have cut me off mid-sentence, even for the most valid of excuses. As I contemplated looking up at her face, and considered whether I could afford the extra penalty that would attract, I heard a sound. A cackle. Then sniggering.
It was Akin.
I sprang up, bent on vengeance—both for his ditching me and now for disrespecting me. Pleading filled the air, as we swapped positions. He gobbled my forgiveness before I was done cooking it up. Then he gave updates: As expected, our parents had been asking of me, but he covered for me, telling them I left my shoes back where we went to play ball. I thanked him, although I wondered how such explanation could fly. How would I trek over four kilometers and not realize I was barefoot? He said Mama was busy in their room and I only needed to make it to our own room unnoticed and start snoring. Tomorrow morning, we would outwit her in the time-of-arrival debate since she was not there when I came in; he was. My tense shoulders caved in as I smothered Akin in an embrace reserved for brothers.
So, tip I toed, hoping to make it safely to our room. In the low light of the lantern dimmed by its smoky shade, I saw two long, thick sticks—bigger than I’d ever witnessed—behind the kitchen door. To think, retribution had been chilling by the corner all this time, awaiting my arrival.
I was almost out of the passage when: “Olúwamúmiboríogun.”
Now, that was disturbing on two levels: One, my full name was only mentioned when I had committed a serious offence. Two, that was Papa’s voice. While Mama beat us as frequently and as soundly as she could, Papa hardly did. But whenever he had to, it was a guaranteed grand style thrashing. And knowing Papa, this was about more than flouting curfew.
“Welcome,” he greeted, punctuated by the sound of the main door latching behind me. In slow motion. Paka…paka…paka. Triple-bolted. Fate sealed. No neighbours could intervene. “Come,” he said, grinning. He was just a couple feet away but reaching him seemed like a holy pilgrimage on foot.
“Father, I’m not worthy to be called thy son,” quoting the prodigal son from our Sunday School memory verse, as I prostrated right where I was. If disownment was the alternative to death via thrashing, my choice was clear.
“What nonsense! You’re indeed my son. And will always be.” Disinheritance bid unsuccessful. Then he motioned at something. Now, unlike Mama, Papa always went to the imperative statement; he had no time for rhetorical questions. He would only summarize the purpose of the thrashing after it was over, like, “Next time you won’t go and break somebody’s louvre blades with a ball.” So, I stood in front of him and awaited the imperative statement.
“Go and bring those canes.” He added for effect, and apparently to heighten my torment, “They are ALL yours.”
My eyes followed his outstretched hand from origin, across my head and to, my goodness, the back of the kitchen door. Yes, where stood the two skyscraper sticks that would draw the curtain on my sojourn in this world of sin and flagellation and death. This was the end; it couldn’t be any clearer. From far off in the galaxies, I could hear Papa’s favorite song from his phonograph playing in my head, my thumping heart replacing the bass drum as Jim Reeves sang, Take my hand…precious Lord, lead me home.
But Papa would interrupt the flow and abort my levitation, bringing me back to the parlour where I was now inching my way towards the kitchen, bum and boxers united by sweat. He smiled.
“Your headmaster said you passed your Common Entrance exam so I stopped to buy you some sugar cane. You like them, don’t you?”
Chapters 9 - 10
He told me to get in. Get in this car that’s gonna try to leave the flashing lights and cocked guns in the dust…no chance. The seconds ticking by on the expensive watch Mr. Fox bought me were currency more precious than gold, sex, or power. Then there was a twitch from the near-dead ‘officer’ in my arms and Dom’s eyes fluttered, probably winking at the devil wherever his consciousness was…we’re gonna lose him…I can’t lose him, we need him. I got in the car.
The majestic pine trees lining the English countryside would have been a haunting sight, kneeless in the early morning fog, but trees begin to blur, really blur when you reach about 110 mph, something I never knew before my life as a fugitive from justice. I guess I never had a reason to look out the window of a car while more than doubling the regional speed limit.
An air of malcontent spread over our tense crew like a wet blanket, the very road rising up to meet the speeding wheels of our getaway like the prickling spine of a waking dragon. Off to our left, thick rushes spread over dales and mounds of earth that rose and fell into the fog swept distance like deep sea waves, barely aware of our race for survival, save for the sparkling dew that occasionally broke through their local atmosphere reminding me to blink my dry, dazed eyes. The morning was light enough, but I could not see the sun.
I sat motionless, staring out the tinted window. My clothes were a mess, Dom’s blood coating my vest and shirt, but I felt warm and calm like the blood. I couldn't bear the thought of him dying so I sat and stared while Val spurred our car’s horsepower toward its limits. The engine of our ‘borrowed’ Cadillac CTS-V whirred and whined like a dozen ponies instead of the 649 horses its namesake boasted. Occasionally Co would lean out the driver’s side backseat window to spit a few harmless bullets into the air as a reminder to the pursuing beat cops to keep beating. POP! POP! POP! The immediate pressure following each squeeze of the trigger momentarily silenced the rest of the horns, engines, and wind in my ears.
Mr. Fox had trained us well for much of what we’d encountered but not for this, not for losing one of our own. The car rocked like a clumsy phone booth during an earthquake. I ignored my nausea. Val wrenched the emergency brake, threading our car like a needle through oncoming traffic and onto a moor beside a bright stretch of rush-hour highway…the thick grass was more than aware of us now.
The English are far more blasé than Americans give them credit for. If we were in Texas, soccer moms and screaming teenagers would be screeching this way and that, but we zipped to and fro on the English lanes without so much as a second look, almost as if the police sirens were echoing ‘mind your bloody business!’
Val took a risk at the first break in the median and wrenched a U-turn going in the opposite direction of our pursuers. He stomped on the gas pedal, taking full advantage of our momentary separation. We exited the expressway as soon as the flashing lights disappeared from the rearview, under cover of a recently descended hill. Once off the freeway, we were back on track to our pre-mapped escape route. Our driver was a marvel, with a pulse closer to reading a book on a Sunday than in a race for his life.
My friend, fellow captive, and the chief contributor to the mission we just accomplished lay eerily still, long since passed out in my lap. I'd been talking to him, reminding him of how pathetic he'd have to be to quit now after all the hellacious struggles he'd already endured, struggles that made being stabbed in the left lung with a fountain pen seem more like a break from work than a serious injury. I spoke to him until his closed eyes and pale face were the only response to my encouragements and then I gazed out the window knowing I would probably lose my strongest ally unless something was done soon. Up ahead I could see the safe house. Maybe there’s still time.
The morning sun filtered through the half-closed blinds as we burst into the pre-rented apartment off Oldham Street and Cobb. Dom was more like a corpse now then my friend. I felt sick laying him on any other table than an operating one or God’s altar. Instead, we strew him across the kitchen table and within ten seconds, his blood covered it like a crimson tablecloth. I had no idea we had that much red inside us, but he made it seem endless.
"…You send that medic! Do it and bloody yesterday, wanka’. You’re on my time now! I’d rather not have to pay a visit to St. Catherine’s Primary School on Drury Lane…” The dead line on the other end had an effect on the atmosphere in our very room. Mr. Fox must have been calling in a favor from one of his network of undesirables, but even I felt a chill at the mention of an elementary school in the same sentence as a criminal request. He had a way of communicating that was both clever and razor sharp. His tone of voice was always filled with excitement, but rarely framed in a space where it was merited. It was almost funny if he spoke that way on purpose. He sounded like a bad friend, ‘Surprise! Your wife is cheating on you!’ or the way a disbarred doctor might explain, ‘Got some news! You’ve got a week to live!’ Despite his interest level, however, it was contrasted further by his discomforting whisper. His volume was eerie enough to cool the blood in your veins to a slurry, like hearing your name whispered at night in your bedroom, alone, within seconds of drifting towards dreamland. It was the kind of voice that made you pray the speaker didn't know where you lived or where your kids were.
Mr. Fox growled the instructions that originated from the phone white-knuckled to his ear. He had the look of a man who deeply resented going through the motions of a rescue that we all knew would fail, taking time that was beyond value to those fleeing the scene of a crime – time that compromised the entire purpose of our small mission and may render Dom's unexpected sacrifice utterly pointless. We reacted like sleepy college kids to an unplanned exam, trying to piece the how and why when we should only be focused on the ticking clock. Co shoved an Epi-pen into my hand, which I plunged into Dom’s heart. Co was trying to paste a special three-sided petroleum jelly patch on the wound itself to keep it from sucking air into the lung the wrong way, but Dom came back to life for a few seconds in a big way causing the patch to be secured to his abdomen, missing the wound altogether. This process was made all-the-more juvenile by Dom’s unconscious arms randomly swinging in large arcs like he was having a night terror about Apollo Creed, clocking me in the eye here and Val in the nose there. Note to self: read a damn book on military field surgery and pray you never have to practice what you've learned again.
Ironically, the ideal man to conduct a debunked MacGyver surgery, reusing syringes and employing I.V.'s made of salinized Aqua Pura bottles, was the pre-cadaver unraveled on the table. I would happily trade places with the man simply because I knew he'd save me if our roles were reversed. My forehead pulsed, pounding all thoughts and memory out of my mind except one, ‘do a good job!’
Levine Sikes, or "Co" as he'd come to be known, short for "Company," short for the man you'd want to be the face of your company because nothing can stick to a man like that, was the weakest in the presence of blood yet was diligently swabbing as much as he could from Dominic's gushing wound. Shirtless due to our lack of towels, his fit and scarred body would lead anyone who couldn't see his face to a very different conclusion as to what sort of man he was.
Mr. Fox swept through the three of us surrounding Dom’s limp frame and scooped him up like a football player recovering a fumble, "We're out of hea' chaps.” Just then, as if Bad-timing herself wanted to prove her worth by example, the large door downstairs snapped open and MI-6 came pouring through the opening before the splinters hit the floorboards. Blindly, we followed the pallbearer as Co lay down cover fire into the hallway to give our party the precious few seconds we needed to climb the fire escape to the roof.
Laurence Mayfair was watering her geraniums for the second time that day trying to get them to bloom. Still without success, she frowned and decided it was time to take them back to the store when she heard fireworks from somewhere below her. "Outrageous!" she whispered to herself, knowing exactly who it was breaking the apartment bylaws; her son Daniel and his friends should be setting an example, not breaking her own rules! She angrily reached for her coat and the doorknob when the unmistakable metallic clang of the fire escape rattled behind her. "Daniel! I've half a mind to..."
Laurence never finished that sentence. Instead, she crashed to her knees in shock at what she saw. As she looked on, a furious constable carrying a dummy, an unbuttoned beat cop, a shirtless runner with a gun, and a construction worker scaled the escape onto her flat and they were all covered in blood. It seemed like she could hear a little joke forming in the back of her head about an old American rock group, The Village People. She always fell to her dark sense of humor when she was nervous, but before she had time to finish her thought the crack of the constable's threatening voice fell on her like the priest's fire and brimstone sermons that terrified her as a child. Men like this made her believe in God because she was looking at the Devil.
"Look at me calfer! I need your car keys and its location or you'll look like this bloke hea', ga' it?” Laurence got it and moved mechanically and quickly, no questions asked. She walked fast to him, handed over her keys, and then pointed downstairs on the opposite side of the street at a small, yellow hybrid. Then, without waiting for a response, she lay face down on the floor and spread her arms and legs as if she knew it was unsatisfactory. A good thing for her, too, because as soon as Mr. Fox fixed his eyes on the worst luck in the history of luck, he instinctively backhanded the air where she had been standing and excruciated “Dof Doos! I bet you went an’ bought a fuel-efficient vehicle like that ’cause it makes you feel better about being a wasteful oinka', eh?” Then, to drive his frustration home, he flipped over her gardening table, knocking her plants to the ground. Now eye-to-eye with the geraniums, Laurence caught a glimpse of a tiny bloom and smiled at the spilt dirt. I felt sick being near a man like this but sicker still at the idea of sharing showers at the local penitentiary for the rest of my life, so I said nothing.
We dropped Dom as carefully as possible into a garbage heap below the near balcony and then leapt together into the black stench that we were hoping would be soft, but wasn't. With course shouting at my back, I gripped Dom’s collar and dragged him free as we all ran for the Hot Wheels version of a car across the road.
Val, our handyman behind the wheel looked cramped as he shoved the E-brake into the release position. Mr. Fox seemed to respect him most of all. The two of them looked at each other as if making some heavy-handed decision and without a word depressed the gas pedal and their trigger fingers out the window as ten or twelve service men were falling, scrambling, and firing down the street at us.
My stomach fell and the lump in my throat tasted like the first day of school wrapped around the seconds before hearing the answer to a wedding proposal. Swerving through the narrow lane amidst oncoming traffic and pissed beat cops, the tension in our tiny car was so tangible I felt sure that if Val braked too hard my head would smack against it like a taxi partition. It was like a nightmare, watching death attacking us from every angle to find purchase and only Val's steady hands keeping the Reaper's sickle dry. Still, while Co chewed his nails to a pulp and I gripped my knees, Val looked calm, almost sleepy. Working the wheel and wrenching the emergency brake more often than the brake pedal, the man needed no advice on how to best handle our predicament. The drifting of the tires and the bumps of jumped curbs gave me the impression of a cheap carnival ride and then it happened…quietly. I realized I was having fun, looking around at the tense faces and Dom's comatose one, I was instantly ashamed that I was smiling. Smiling my ass, I’m grinning like an idiot. It had been such a long time since I had been in the company of a few good men my age that the camaraderie filled some need I'd been denying myself back in my small academic life.
I thought back to my studio and the ants there diligently working away in their farms. These little complex companions had become my focus due to their incredible capacity for weak and stupid action when singled out. In fact, get a few together and they still have no sense, but observed in the grace and fluidity of their hill or farm and their every movement has a purpose; their every choice, a carefully rationed calculation. Once they reach a critical mass of antennae sets, each ant goes from zombie to mindful engineer. The real question is not whether this happens…but how? All throughout nature, it has been documented. A bee separated from the hive falls listless and dies without the closeness of its brethren. The theory of a collective unconscious isn't new but it's been difficult to prove until…"Ow! Damn! I'm shot!" The side of my head burned like it was scraped with red-hot sandpaper.
Mr. Fox reached back without looking and gently stroked the wound, then eyed the faint amount of blood on his hand and made it clear "No you haven't! You've barely got a kiss, a bit far from the big fuck, ain't ya?” Relieved but oddly insulted, I ducked my head hoping to avoid the kind of intercourse that would lead to my final outercourse.
Looking like he was losing a game of strip poker, Co took his sweatband and put it low on my forehead to stop my small but painful injury from bleeding into my eyes. Then the car went dark and Co disappeared.
Title: Confidence Men
Age Range: 22-40
Word Count: 90,000
Author Name: Hanif S. Ali
Why it's a good fit
Many would agree that the times we live in are deeply troubled and those without firm belief systems find themselves not knowing where to look for answers on a day-to-day basis. Whether it's a school shooting in the States, to bombings in Aleppo, to drive-by's in London, Confidence Men is a tale of one place we all can find strength: in the stranger next to us. Confidence Men is not just relevant, but necessary because it takes a magnifying glass to the integrity in men's hearts. Philosophically, it skirts and explores the line between what makes a person good or evil, while simultaneously raising awareness of human trafficking, refugees and other social issues.
When four young professionals at the top of their game are blackmailed into joining the criminal underworld, only the depth of their combined intelligence and the power of the brotherhood they form stands between them and the dawn of the next World War.
If you’re orchestrating three significant heists across three countries, you’d want the very best criminals on the job – but, there’s a glaring issue: criminals, by their very nature, cut corners. The South African mercenary in charge of these heists, code name: Mr. Fox, can’t risk that behavior. So, what’s a soldier of fortune to do? Simple – abduct four high-profile figures with unparalleled skill sets and blackmail them into doing the jobs for you. The problem now? When four brilliant minds unite, even a veteran merc like Mr. Fox could turn from a predator into prey.
I have played some form of team sports for the majority of my life. Though my experiences on the field helped shape who I am, it has been my teammates throughout the years I relied on to cope with the difficulties life has thrown my way. Now, as an adult and teacher, I do not have much time for teammates and scoring goals; yet, as buildings fall, bombers and hackers attack our way of life, and the daily news feed is cluttered with chaos, climate change, terrorists and Brexit, I long for, now more than ever, that feeling of shared adversity and brotherhood to make sense of it all. Confidence Men is a book written for millennial men and women who feel like the world is out of control and wish they could physically fight back with a crack team in their corner.
Raised by a Muslim father and a Christian mother, I grew up in a house full of culture, ideas and fierce opinions in a city that consistently shelters people from every corner of the globe seeking the Happiest Place on Earth. My name is Hanif S. Ali and though I was born and raised in Orlando, FL, I feel more like a citizen of the world. I received my education at the University of Florida, graduating magna cum laude with degrees in English and Philosophy. Though my interests are eclectic – from painting to mentoring, attending concerts and physical fitness – it’s my lifelong love of reading that led me to become a media assistant in a library until I was approached to head the Composition program at a prestigious preparatory school in downtown Orlando. After several years teaching and designing curriculum, I founded a writing academy and worked to inspire other writers daily, while polishing my own craft.
My outlook on life is that of a realist and a problem solver, but my background as a philosopher adds an extra layer beneath all of my writings – a lens for those who see the bigger picture and read between the lines. From the names of my characters to the shades of gray in the hearts of my villains, there’s always something more to be found for those who are willing to look.
I have been a closet writer for nearly all of my literary life – until recently. For this reason, the social media-minded might find my platform somewhat paltry. That said, between Instagram, Facebook and Prose, I have approximately 1,200 followers, all of whom are real contacts that support me. My website is under development and can be found at www.hanifsali.com.
’ Its not you, its me.” We have all heard this line before. It is the world’s old cliché. It is the simplest way of bitch slapping a person without being called a swiney toad or something equally horrid. But this is what exactly what I got after 3 years of relationship with Zac.
It happened a few hours back. It was raining heavily and I was running back home with the groceries in my arms. Running because I thought walking would be a good exercise and I would be able to enjoy the lovely breeze which is of course turned into a raging storm.
Anyway, rain or no rain I was excited about dinner as Zac was back from his work trip. He wanted to meet up and talk, so we decided dinner was the best option.
I was planning on cooking his favorite- lamb. The recipe which I had perfected in these three years though I am a vegetarian. Now, I can work it without even stopping to think twice about the ingredients.
To add spice to the lovely dinner at home, I had dolled up in a red dress that showed off my curves perfectly. I know he likes it when I show off. I wore my tallest pair of heels, put on a little make up with a splash of bright red lipstick and poured myself some wine to pass my time until Zac arrived.
Zac came. But what he brought with him wasn’t exactly a bouquet of flowers. It was a load of crap, to be specific. It left behind days of grief, depression and a huge urge to eat buckets and buckets of Belgian chocolate ice cream instead of the healthy meals, which I always made a point to cook no matter how hard I slogged at work.
Now, I am sitting alone in my apartment, staring at the delicious looking lamb, smeared make up and a broken heart. Not able to talk, not able to take in what happened a few hours ago and all I could think about was how this could happen to me. Me, the best editor at the most reputed publishing house in all of London. With all the efforts I put in, with all the hard work I did to perfect this recipe, all I get is a measly, sickly line of an excuse.
It wasn’t even an excuse. It was just a way of getting me to walk away without creating much of a scene as he packed up his stuff and moved out of the apartment. “Our” apartment. As he picked up his bags and left his key behind in the bowl, all I could do was sit and stare at the wall filled with pictures and pictures of us, the “us” that now had become me and him. This wall had memories from the day we met, just because Zac was a photographer and believed that he could capture any moment in a pictures.
But was this a moment to be captured. To a photographer it would be appealing to capture such grief but for me, the editor, everything spelled itself out in words, words that brought flood of tears.
Maybe it was life’s way of fun, to see the eyes that could make anybody cry, bring up drops and drops of hurtful heart wrenching tears. And all I could do was go along with it and let myself fall apart.
“Come on, Amy”, “Drink up girl”, “You beat that pretentious little drunk”, “Show him who’s boss” was all I could hear in the bar.
It was the party after the graduation of the class of 2010. We , my friends and me, made our way to our tiny, but favourite bar______________ to celebrate the achievements. After years and years of studying, making projects, grazing books in the library and having dark holes where my eyes should be I had finally done it. I had graduated and could finally start making a mark on the world, working towards my one and only dream of becoming the top editor at ‘ The Wardrobe Writers’.
All I had to do then was start concentrating on working myself to the bone to achieve my childhood dream of providing the world with the books people would read and feel the love, joy and sadness of the characters. . But before that, I could give myself this significant night to celebrate the achievement of my first step towards the dream come true.
And as usual the competitor in me had brought herself a challenge within an hour of hanging out at the bar. And, the glorious challenge was to beat the sexy hot bod sitting opposite me in a drinking game.
The challenge was pretty simple, we would take shots of tequila turn by turn , stand up and walk around the bar back to the table. The one to fall to the floor first would pay for all the booze.
Slowly, with every walk around the bar we had captured the attention of everybody sitting there and thus, the cheering started. Bets were placed. The music was tuned down and everybody forgot everything else for the duration of the game. It was like a underground tournament where spectators come to cheer their favourite player.
Standing in between this spectacle were Zac and me. Yes, that’s where we had met three years ago. My friends and I walked up to the bar and there he was, all 6 feet of him, looking all handsome , charming and charismatic. For obvious reasons, all the women in the bar had noticed the same thing. So, I decided to give his charms a slip because whatever I wanted to do on my graduation night did not involve sitting and gawking at a stranger in a bar for the night.
Sitting in our corner we all discussed our future plans. Where we would apply, who’d get the best job, who’d do what. Turned out everybody knew my dream to the core. Apparently, I repeated it a over and over or as my friends put it I would tell anybody within earshot about it.
When it was my turn to order drinks, I went to fetch a bottle of tequila for the table. Now that I was holding a huge bottle filled with the precious fiery liquid, there was no way I wasn’t going to trip, which I did, on my own shoe too. Yes, it is possible to trip on you r own stilettos when you are so drunk.
Anyways, that’s a different story altogether. THIS was the exact moment the stranger at the bar had walked into my life , held me steady, and said “It looks like someone is going in for a shot war.” To which my friends cheered and suddenly Zac and I were standing opposite each other, shot glasses in hand. By the end of it we were both so drunk that we did not care who won. But, turns out the whole bar did and when Zac fell trying to get off his stool after what seemed like his umpteenth shot, there erupted a loud cheer from the whole bar and I was hauled up the bar to claim my victory, which it turned out I did and then fell into the crowd.
The next morning I woke up with a flash. No, it is not a figure of speech, I actually woke up to Zac clicking a picture of me. After all the drinking and falling, my friends thought it was a good idea to invite Zac and his friends over. Zac was out for the night like me. It was this picture of me that Zac had enlarged and framed when we moved in together and it still hung as a centerpiece on our wall of picutres. Our moments.
Every time I looked at any of the pictures in the apartment all I could do was cry and not just small sobs and tears, it all started afresh. I cried loudly, tears streaming down my face, a stuffy nose and above all a red face. I know I am an ugly crier but now I can’t help it. It hurts too much.
I haven’t gone to work for three days in a row now. I had called in sick and my boss said I could take all the time I need and should be back feeling rejuvenated and ready for some action. But, I still feel like I can’t get my miserable self out of bed. I haven’t answered any calls, haven’t replied to any messages and haven’t cooked any food. All I’ve done is, drive to the store, pick up some ice cream- only ice cream and back to my bed, or the couch whichever seems to be within two steps of reach.
I have been meaning to call Meg, my best friend, my boyfriend-trasher since high school but I am still not able to get over the fact that Zac dumped me and I am still living in hope that he will return.
Buuzzzzz. Open up Amy! Buzzzz. Someone is breaking down the buzzer. As I walk towards the buzzer, with a headache, after my evening nap- which is my routine for the past few days, I cringe as I recognize the voice. It is Meg. I knowit is rude, but, I wasn’t expecting her so soon.
As soon as I hear her voice I know she is here. She has got a whiff of me and Zac breaking up and she is here to do what she does best. Roadroll over every memory of my ex-boyfriend so that I move on with my life and start over.
But I don’t want it, not so fast. It’s not even been a week of mopping and she is already here. I also know her first plan of action, she’s going to tear down my wall of pictures, my wall of memories.
Maybe, I could just ignore it, avoid the buzzing sound and later on tell her that I wasn’t home when she came around. I would cook up some excuse. After all I am best editor in whole of London.
As I started walking back to my room the buzzing stopped and I somehow felt relief wash over me, thinking that Meg was gone. But this isn’t Meg, no way. After a few minutes of there comes a loud banging at my door, it turns out, my neighbor, a lovely lady of 65 had let Meg on the pretext of my safety and now Meg is pounding on my door swearing and threatening.
I finally open the door to the World’s Most Ferocious Drama Queen.
“Hey Meg, what a surprise!” ‘ you can cut the crap and let me in’ is all she said and walks inside the room which lay in such a mess that even my mother, a total cleanliness freak, wouldn’t come near it.
But Meg went straight to target, The Picture Wall. This isn’t happening, I cant let her take away my lovely memories like this, I have to stop her and I will. “Oh no! NO. NO. NO. NO. NO. NO. you are not doing this. It is all staying where it is. These are the best moments of my life and no one can take them way. No one. I wont allow it.” And all she has to say is ‘ Watch me.’
And I had to. No matter how hard I tried, no matter how many times I pleaded and tired to put the pictures back on the wall, she came and took them right off, put them in a box and slid it by the door. I know it is no use arguing with her, she will continue doing what she is here to do, so, I am doing what I can. I am sitting on the sofa and crying. And again, it was not soft sobs and silent tears. I will never understand how women manage to cry like that.
I couldn’t, even if I tried and all that is coming out is shriek howls that could scare anyone in the dark. Seriously, anybody.
So here I am, sitting and howling on the sofa and here is Meg, standing in the kitchen, making coffee for both of us. By the time she came over with the coffee I have already managed to swell up my bloodshot eyes, like that of a frog and have reddened my nose, which could now compete with Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer’s nose. But this in no way stops me from continuing my regimen I have set for myself. Meg sits next to me, holding me tightly in her arms and passing me one tissue after another from the tissue box.
After hours and hours of sobbing, on my part only, and feeling totally washed out of energy we just sit there silently staring at the now empty wall and as provocative as Meg is, she knows what to do next.
‘Alright, you’ve officially cried your eyes out for the past three days, have eaten all the ice cream you could, but, now it is time to move your ass we have a wall to decorate.’ And as I stare at her with an expression full of sadness coupled with what the hell are you talking about.
‘Oh, come on! Do you really think I will let you wallow in your sorrows over loosing that asshole. He wasn’t even worth a day which I could’ve taken care of if you had enough sense to call me.’
I know Meg will not listen to any sorry excuses I have to offer so I have to do as she says, get my sorry ass off the sofa and walk towards the bathroom. ‘ And while you are at it, take a shower as well, you smell like you just stepped out of a garbage can.’ Such words of encouragement.
Though I know she is kidding to try and get a different reaction from me. I can’t think of any satisfactory rhetorical remark, so I just agree and carry on walking to the bathroom.
By the time I come out of the shower, Meg has found a trash bag and has rid half the living room of the tissues and ice cream tubs, which had temporarily found a home in some place or the other around the sofa.
‘There’s bacon, toast and eggs on the counter with some orange juice for you, eat up and we can leave.’
“But that’s breakfast and it is past lunch time and why are we leaving? Where are we going? What are you up to?” All I can say before she looks at me like a crazy person with a menacing grin on her face.
‘I made you breakfast because I believe that you have just woken up after three whole days or just lying around and also because those were the only item I could find in the refrigerator besides your personal stash of Belgian Chocolate. Now eat up.’
I can do nothing but follow the instructions and instantly started feeling a bit more upbeat. The shower and food worked their trick on me. As I was eating the food, Meg was clearing out the apartment, most of the stuff covering my floor, sofa, coffee table and bed.
‘ So what will it be, something bold and beautiful or something soft and cozy.’ We are standing in a hardware store in the paint aisle. “Why can’t we let the wall be the shade it is. Pearly white looks so perfect in the setting.”
Meg rolls her eyes at me, like she always does when she knows she is right and I am just procrastinating.
‘Oh please! As if you like it. Amy, the whole world knows you love color. You are the one who always suggested unusual combinations which everyone would refuse, but you’d paint them anyway and the outcome would be so pretty that we’d throw a party just to flaunt the new paint job.’
‘Now Amy, focus. I know there must be a new combination you are dying to try in that boring, old lady living room of yours.’
“It is not boring. Don’t look at me like that. The room looks beautiful as it is and we just re did it a few months ago. It is Zac’s favorite place in the house.” And with that, the pain was back and the tears on the verge of falling, when a trolley bumped into me and one of it’s front tyres made their way over my toes.
‘Hey! Watch it.’ Meg called out and the stranger turned to look at us and saw the tire half way up my left foot. “Oh My God! I am so sorry. Does it hurt? Are you alright? Did I break something? Don’t cry, please don’t cry. Will you be able to walk? Do you wish to sit down? I am so so sorry.”
I can’t help it anymore, the guy was so apologetic, his expressions so pained that I Just can’t hold it in anymore, it was too much. I burst out laughing. Meg and the stranger stared at me bewildered, not knowing the reason for the sudden outburst when I was at the brink of crying a few seconds ago.
“Is your friend ok? You think we should take her to the hospital or something for her foot?” The stranger kept on talking but Meg wasn’t listening anymore. She had just been struck with an idea and is already planning to put it into action. She looked at the stranger up and down and a smirk spread across her minx-like face.
‘Oh no, she is ok. I don’t think we need to take her to the hospital for now. But, it would be great if you left your card with us and we can call you just in case there is a problem later.’ Meg said blinking those mischief filled angelic eyes. She could be the most innocent of people, or at least look the part, when she wanted to.
The stranger agreed and gave her his card without a second thought, which she very carefully kept in her wallet.
“Well, I should moving on or I will be late, are you sure you don’t want to go to the hospital to get yourself checked?” He asked me again, concern still reflecting in his big eyes and all I can do is refuse and say Thank you between burst after burst of giggles.
After he left, Meg gave me a curious look- ‘Having fun?’ She asked with a raised eyebrow and the same smile she had on her face earlier.
“oh meg, it was just so funny. He was such a sweetheart and worried so much, even though he hadn’t hurt me much, he wanted to take me to the hospital. The way he was looking at me with those huge puppy dog eyes and crinkled forehead I felt as if he was not gong to listen to us and force me into an ambulance and rush me off to the emergency room, just because his trolley rolled up on my toes.”
And we both start laughing right in the middle of the aisle and none of us able to stop. People stared while trying to get across from us. ‘Ok, OK. Let’s focus now. We are hereto find you some paint for your living room. What do you want- lively or cozy?’
In about two hours we had chosen paint, rollers, brushes, various other tools and now are sitting in our favorite Chinese restaurant waiting for our chopsuey and dimsums.
‘What do you want to do after? Go get drunk, shake a leg and hit on guys or do you want to stay in, watch one of your favorite romantic comedies.’ Asked meg sipping her wine.
“How about we get home and go straight to bed?” I don’t know what fuel she runs on the way she keeps jumping from task to task one after the other without so much as a second thought.
‘I am sorry., but this is not an option presented on the table. It is either clubbing or movie- take your pick.’
I knew this was coming and there was no way she was letting me get away with it so we agreed on watching movies at home while holding popcorn and spreading ourselves on the couch.
age range-16 to 40 years,
author name- Ashima Narwal,
target audience-young adults,
hometown-Rohtak, Haryana, India
October 30, 2000 11:16 PM
My current address reads Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, Atlanta, Georgia. I’m doing a five year bit for drug possession. The feds enhanced my sentence because I was caught carrying a gun. A stupid little chrome Berretta .25 more suited for a woman’s purse. The damn thing didn’t even belong to me. It was my girlfriend Anna’s. She insisted I take it along. You never know what kind of weirdoes and low life you’re gonna’ run into these days when you are dealing.
Not like the old days.
Then, a little weed, a couple of blotters of acid, some Boone’s Farm apple and its peace and free love for everyone. If you were lucky some cutie hippie chick in torn jeans and tie-died halter would invite you to join the party. Hell, you didn’t even have to smoke. Just take a deep pull of the Maui-wowie atmosphere and chill to the Dead.
Today you meet some hyped up street thug who is shakin’ so bad you could use him to mix paint. And you know he’s packin’, too. As are his two homies sitting in the purple juke box with the 20” rims across the street. As is the skinny chick in the blown afro and hot pants. As is the prismatic pimp leaning on the light pole, she’s rubbin’ against. As is the old dude in dirty Tee shirt and suspenders, leaning out the third floor window, watching as daddy shakes-a-lot stands in front of you trying to count his Benjamins.
Everybody’s packin’. You gotta protect yourself. The feds don’t care. They’ve got a real hard on for gun cases these days.
Actually, I’m anything but a drug dealer. Sure, I sell a few tabs of ecstasy and maybe a tiny amount of coke. But I’m small potatoes. Very small. One or two buys a month max, just to supplement my income as a free lance photographer. Man, I don’t even use the stuff. Not since Carter went back to being a peanut farmer and disco crawled back into the slimy pit it slithered from. Honest. It’s strictly a business. These days you do what you have to do to survive. Am I right?
The gun charge also upped the ante and landed me in a federal pen instead of a low or medium facility. Thanks, Anna. Being in prison is bad enough. Pens are the worse, and Atlanta is the worse of the worse.
Built over a hundred years ago, Atlanta has maintained it’s hard as nails reputation as well as its foreboding appearance. Other joints have been remodeled, modernized, updated or torn down. Not Atlanta. Indoor plumbing, running water and electricity are its only concessions to civilization. Even the tall battlements capped with gun towers were left unchanged. Together with the rough stone construction, they give the place a medieval feel. Like something out of the Marquis de Sade’s nightmares.
Inside it’s downright creepy. The dark narrow corridors echo and ring eerily. The antiquated pipes scream and belch. And the cold stone walls bleed a dark rust red color. Satan’s blood the inmates call it.
This is the place that broke the likes of Al Capone. Alcatraz must have seemed like a picnic after Atlanta. Here James Cagney and Edward G Robinson get the chair in old black and white flicks. This is the place no convict wants to go. In the entire world there is no more desperate place than Atlanta Federal Prison.
I rolled restlessly in my bunk. The hard plastic mattress crackled like fire, beneath me. I have two years and two months left on my sentence as of today. The crude calendar etched into the bottom of the bunk above told me so. I took the homemade scribe and marked off another day, then returned it to its hiding place. The scribe is only an inch and a half long, made of soft aluminum scrounged from a wall rivet, and barely sharp enough to scratch the flaking layers of decades old paint. But it’s considered contraband. If you are caught with it, and if the guards aren’t in a good humor, it could be considered a weapon. Then you find yourself in the hole for thirty days. And when you get out some of your hard earned good time has evaporated into thin air. And here at Atlanta the guards are rarely in a good humor.
Actually, five years isn’t too bad a stretch these days. And for a place like Atlanta it’s a walk in the park. The sad reality is many of these guys will never again see a sunset that isn’t crosshatched with chain link and razor wire.
My cellie, Nathan leaned over from his top bunk. “Hey, School, lets me check your radio, man.”
I handed him up the small, overpriced Sonny Walkman that’s sold on commissary. Nathan’s not a bad kid, for a murderer. When he was nineteen he knifed a guy during a botched drug deal. That was five years ago. He’s looking at twenty five more.
There is a kind of perverse unwritten code among inmates; a status and pecking order. Take Nathan for example. According to the code, anybody can shoot a person. It takes balls and nerves of nails to gut a man up close. Nathan is shown respect and fear. Even by some of the guards. I know he’s just a scared kid surviving the only way he knows how, in a world he didn’t create and doesn’t understand. Then again, aren’t we all?
“Thanks, School.” Nathan settled in above me. I could hear the vulgar, repetitive hip hop lyrics hammering out of the tiny ear buds. I wondered which would blow first, the cheap speakers or his ear drums.
Inmates speak a language all their own. Anyone over forty is School as in old school. It’s a term of respect. For the most part the older guys are looked up to and treated well by the other inmates. I’m fifty-four and white, a definite minority in the system. For the last few years the feds have busied themselves trolling the city sewers for serious offenders. Mostly what they’ve caught are street punks in their teens and twenties. Obnoxious and usually illiterate, toss them in with harden, older criminals who are only interested in doing their time quietly, and you’ve got the makings of real trouble.
To make matters worse, the system is overcrowded to the max. Three men in two man cells isn't unusual, especially when you heard in a bunch of temporary hold overs. That was the situation this Monday night.
Lights had been out for about ninety minutes when the door to my cell creaked open. A tattered green mattress hit the floor. It was followed by an old wool army blanket and a stained sheet. A lanky figure in orange overalls three sizes too big for his needle frame stood silhouetted, as the guard removed his handcuffs.
“You can’t treat me like this,” he screamed in a cracked, scratchy voice.
The solid steel door slammed shut with the heavy ominous metallic clunk common to jail and prison cell doors everywhere. The stranger gave the door an ineffectual kick and cursed.
“Welcome to the block.” Nathan had one ear bud out and was hanging out of his bunk like a hungry vulture. “Whats you gots for me, homie?”
“What?” The stranger turned. Gold shone from between two fleshy lips in the dim light. “Whats you say, boy?”
“You can’t come into my house empty handed,” Nathan spit back.
The stranger’s eyes flashed white with anger. “I gots nothin’ for you, bitch. Nothin’!”
I wasn’t worried. I’d seen Nathan’s jail house act before. For the most part that’s all it was, just an act.
He rolled over, replacing the ear bud. “Sokay. For now. But your corn flakes are mine, pops.”
The first thing every con does when he hits a new facility is try to establish his toughness, his manliness, his street cool. Peacocks struttin’, it’s always ninety-five percent show and five percent blow. It’s a prison ritual as old as prison itself.
The stranger grunted and looked down at me. “And what’s your friggin’ problem?”
I stared back up at him, “Three men in a cell for starters.”
He kicked at the mattress then turned around and punched the cell door harder than he meant. Stifling a chuckle, I could see the grimace on his face in the pale yellow moonlight filtering in through the small window.
“Yeah, well, I ain’t doing this!” he barked, then raised his voice. “You hear me you dumb ass bastards, I ain’t doing this!” And he kicked the door again.
“Hold it down,” I said. “You’re disturbing the rats.”
The stranger spun around, his eyes searchlights in the dark. “Rats? They ain’t said nothin’ ’bout no rats!”
“It ain’t the two legged kind,” I said.
“And it ain’t the rats you gots to worry about, pops,” Nathan quipped and let out a sick giggle.
I smiled to myself and rolled over. Inside, a cold shutter shook my body.
Our guest noisily settled down, making himself at home on the concrete floor. I was still awake an hour later when the scratching started. Almost imperceptible at first, it grew louder, closer.
“What’s that?” There was fear in the stranger’s voice.
“I told you, rats.”
“You was serious about that, boss?”
I turned over. The stranger was sitting up in the middle of his mattress, the blanket clutched at his throat. He looked like a frightened little girl who had just heard the boogie man.
Maybe he wasn’t that far off.
“Relax. They seldom come in here. If one does just throw your shoe at it,” I replied.
In the cell’s dim twilight I could see the stranger was close to my age. He wore a short nappy afro, graying at the temples. His large nose had been broken more than once and an ugly hook shaped scar marked his left cheek. The air in the cell was cool, but sweat beaded his grooved forehead as he tried to settle back down. His road mapped eyes remained fixed on the large gap at the bottom of the cell door.
“Don’t worry,” I teased, “they don’t eat much.”
The stranger sucked in a shock of air and grabbed for his shoe.
The scratching continued. It echoed off the drab green painted walls. I could hear the stranger breathing on the floor next to me. Nathan’s words rang in my head: it ain’t the rats yous gots to worry about.
Instinctively, I reached down and tucked the trailing blanket into the sides of my mattress. Parents tuck their children in snugly, telling them to keep their arms and legs under the covers. It breeds a sense of fear into them. A fear of what lurks under the bed. It wasn’t what might be under my bunk that frightened me.
A clatter of chains rattled down the hall: the guards making their count.
The stranger shuffled nervously.
Every inmate hears the story of Satan’s Blood his first week here. The story varies, grows with detail and intensity…and gore…depending on who’s doing the telling. But the basic, grizzly, unfathomable true facts remain the same.
October 31, 1934 4:35 PM
Roger Zaha wore an oversized chip on his shoulder like a medal of honor. He was angry. Angry at life for the lousy trick it played on him. At least that’s how Roger Zaha saw things.
For seven long thankless years he worked as a guard at Atlanta Federal Penitentiary. The work was honest and steady. It provided an ample living for his wife and son.
But Roger Zaha was a malcontent.
He grew up hard and fast in Atlanta’s toughest tenement. Everything Zaha ever had he fought and scratched to gain. He clawed his way up to a respectable job and position in a clean, quiet community. It was the height of the Depression and a man couldn’t ask for more.
But Roger Zaha wanted more. Hell, he’d paid his dues, he deserved more.
Zaha resented the other guards. None of them had gone through what he did, Depression or no Depression. Yet here he was, almost thirty, and no better off than the rest of them. He hated them for it. And he didn’t bother to conceal his anger.
He was the one who pulled himself up out of nothing. He was the one who made something out of himself. It was time he got what he deserved.
The words came from cell F66. Molech’s cell. Zaha worked in a section of the prison known as the tombs. Here the worst offenders remained caged in their 8x10 cells twenty-four hours a day. None would ever be returned to society. Ahriman Molech was the worse of them all. Molech had coldly immolated his three young children, burning the house down around them while they slept, just to collect the insurance.
“Zaha, come here.”
Molech’s voice was crushed glass in velvet, sibilant. Yet it cut through your ears like razors. His shale black eyes were the devil’s own, never looking at you but piercing straight through your flesh. When he spoke, you felt the gelid fingers of his breath on your throat.
“Wa’da ya want, Molech?”
“You know what today is, Zaha?” He curled one thin, barely perceptible lip into a pointed smile. “It’s Halloween, Zaha.”
“Yeah, so what?”
“Halloween, Zaha. You know witches, goblins, and the undead.” He let out a laugh that chilled the guard. “Wouldn’t you like to be with your kid?”
“Leave it alone, Molech,” Zaha replied angrily. He rapped the cell bars with the end of his wooden shillelagh.
Molech’s sneer grew. “I know what you want, Zaha. I know what you think, what you dream.”
“You don’t know nothing.”
The dim cell light cast Molech’s shadow large and misshapen on the rough stone wall. To Zaha it looked like a hulking beast ready to strike.
“I know you’re right,” Molech said. He paused and leaned closer. “You’re better than these illiterate monkeys who prowl around here in their starched uniforms like zombies, much better than them.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I can help you. I can arrange it so you never have to work again… ever.” Molech’s exaggerated face jutted from between the bars. His voice hissed in Zaha’s ear. “Think about it, Zaha. Everything you need brought right to you… laid at your feet. You won’t have a thing to worry about.” Molech’s words were sure and quiet as a prayer at midnight. “I can give you what you want…”
“You’re crazy as a loon, Molech! How can you do anything for me?”
Molech laughed again then squinted at the guard. “What’s the matter, Zaha? What are you afraid of? You got nothing to lose, except this crummy job. You got no faith in your dreams, Zaha? Afraid of what they may cost you?”
Zaha reared back and spat on the floor of the cell. “I ain’t afraid of nothin’! Do you hear that, Molech, nothin’!” he barked, shaking the shillelagh. “You’re as crazy as they come!” Zaha gathered himself and stared back into Molech’s serpentine eyes. “But I’ll tell you something, Molech. I ain’t crazy… no, sir. But for what you said… why… I’d pay any price… any price in hell!”
Molech relaxed back from the bars, the crooked grin melting into a satisfied smile.
The next morning Roger Zaha awoke to a nightmare. He was dressed in prison fatigues and stood behind the bars of a cell. Cell F66.
“What the…hey!” Zaha grabbed at the barred cell door and shook it fiercely. “Hey,” he screamed, “what the hell… what’s going on… what is this… some kind of crazy joke?”
“What’s the matter, Zaha?” A voice from one of the cells called out. “Don’t like the accommodations?”
“Oh, he’s too good for this,” a passing guard snapped back.
Another laughed. “Yeah, don’t you know… Zaha’s better than us!”
“Not anymore he ain’t!”
The cell block erupted in hoots and shouts and laughter. Tin cups raked and rattled against iron bars. Zaha covered his ears from the rising din. “This can’t be real… it can’t be…”
When he looked up, a uniformed guard stood outside his cell. But it wasn’t a guard, it was Ahriman Molech! Zaha lunged at him, grasping through the bars. Molech laughed and turned aside.
“Never have to work again,” he said. His voice was icy and hollow. “Everything you ever need, laid at your feet… at your feet, Zaha!” Molech’s footsteps clattered down the hall, the shillelagh rapping against one iron bar after another, his laughter dissolving in the distance. Just before he disappeared out of sight, Molech raised an arm, snapping his fingers.
At that moment a piece of paper floated down into cell F66. Zaha snatched it up in mid-air. It was a newspaper clipping dated Friday, January 18, 1935. Zaha’s hands trembled as he read:
(Atlanta, GA) Roger Zaha, the man known as
the Halloween butcher, began his life sentence
today at the federal penitentiary here in
Atlanta, the same place he had worked as a
guard. After a sensational trial, Zaha, 29, was
found guilty of the brutal Halloween night
murder of his five year old son, Roger Jr. Zaha
allegedly used a butcher’s knife to dismember
the boy’s body before burning it to conceal the
crime. During the trial, a police spokesman
testified that the cellar walls of Zaha’s Fulton
County home were splattered with the child’s
blood. Unconfirmed sources have stated Zaha
told police he sacrificed his son to appease Satan,
making vague references to Leviticus 20 and
Jeremiah 19 in the Old Testament.
The scream reverberated throughout the prison: the echoing howl of a banshee; the plaintive bay of a wolf caught in a steel trap; the cries of a thousand faceless tortured souls; the tormented scream of a madman.
“I’ll get you, Molech!” Zaha cried out, slumping to his knees. “I’ll get you! As God is my witness, I’ll find you! If it takes me eternity, by hell I’ll find you, Molech! I’ll make you pay… by Satan’s blood I’ll make you pay! Molech…!”
The inhuman screams continued through the night. In the morning Zaha was found in a heap on his cell floor. His bones were broken. His body was covered in thick crimson welts, ugly festering purple and black bruises, and dozens of deep cuts and gashes. It was as if some sinister hand had thrown him about like a rag doll. Dark rust red colored blood was splattered across the cell walls.
Roger Zaha recovered. He spent the rest of his life in cell F66. He didn’t work. Everything he needed was brought to him, just as Ahriman Molech promised.
Zaha died in 1974, still vehemently claiming his innocence. Shortly after, inmates began to mysteriously disappear throughout the prison.
Eighteen to date.
Since that January night in 1935, Atlanta Federal Penitentiary’s halls echo with torturous screams. And its cold stone walls run rich with the dark rust red inmates call Satan’s Blood.
October 31, 2000 2:25 AM
The scratching continued.
I could feel the presence of a pair of cold, unblinking eyes. They stared out from a shadowy corner; searched the dusky light for an errant cornflake or a few stray bread crumbs.
You get used to the nightly scratching and prowling after a while. Some of the guys save their breakfast cereal to feed the rats.
Like I said, it’s no big deal.
Unless the scratching stops.
The scratching stopped after a time. There was a frantic flurry of nails trying to gain traction on the slick, painted cement floor. A few feckless squeals.
You see, the rats know.
“Thank God, theys gone,” the stranger mumbled hoarsely. “That’s ok, right, boss?”
From the position of his voice I could tell he was sitting up again, probably huddled in the middle of his mattress, the blanket clutched at his throat.
I wanted to speak, say something. Tell him: no, it’s not ok, ’cause when the rats run away…
A dry terror crawled up my throat, silencing my words, stitching my lips together. Above me, Nathan folded himself into a tight ball. I knew he was facing the wall, covers pulled over his head, an unavailing defense against the unknown. His usual position when the scratching stopped and the rats ran away.
I knew the position too well.
Boisterous hip hop blared from the tiny ear buds. Nathan had cranked the Walkman’s volume. As if music could drown the fear. From beneath my own covers I cursed for not keeping the radio myself.
The first scream is always the worse. No matter how many you experience. The piercing shriek grabs you by the balls. It squeezes so tightly the back of your brain aches, like the first stabs of the mother of all migraines.
I knew the stranger wanted to say something, maybe scream himself. He shuffled nervously on the floor. Fear had stitched his lips together as well.
If you are not too terrified to listen – if you dare listen at all – you might discern a voice in the truculent wailing:
Shrill. Strained. Raspy.
Tortured. As if imparting pain.
Another twisted howl rent the stagnant air. Then the pounding began, far down the hall.
Closer. Four cells down.
A low, algid fog crept into the cell, like the Avenging Angel.
“Sweet, Holy Jesus.” The solicitous stranger’s whispered prayer floated up from the floor next to me.
The pounding thundered, as if we were trapped inside the breech of discharging cannon.
Lights flickered on at five AM. The food traps in the cell doors hammered open one by one. Footsteps scuffled outside the cell.
“Hey, I thought there were three in here?”
Bleary eyed I accepted the plastic trays from the guard. On the cell floor lay the tattered mattress, old army blanket and stained sheet.
And one lone shoe.
Trembling, I passed a tray up to Nathan.
“The marshals’ probably yanked his ass up out of here during the night,” another guard replied. “You know how the feds operate, they never tell us anything.”
Nathan and I ate our cold cereal and hard, butter-less toast in silence.
It wasn’t the federal marshals.
The stone walls in our cell dripped silently…
…an icy rust red…
18 and up
Excellent short story for collections of horror, urban fiction or general fiction
Prison is bad enough, but what if the prison is haunted?
A young man finds himself in federal prison, locked away in the infamous Atlanta State Prison. He soon learns first hand the frightening secrets contained behind the cold iron bars and ancient concrete walls.
This work will appeal to New Adult and adult readers of general fiction, horror and sci-fi/fantasy.
BJ Neblett is a full time writer with two books and numerous short stories published. His newest novel, Planet Alt-Sete-Nine, a contemporary urban fantasy is due out Fall 2017. BJ teaches creative writing classes at Seattle's famed Hugo House for Writers and has taught ACE writing classes in several locations. He can be found in his Seattle home playing and listening to music, surrounded by his classic guitar collection and his thousands of records.
BJ graduated from Marple Newtown High School where he majored in writing and poetry. After service in the Army he began writing in earnest, being mentored by several writers and writing groups. Drawing on a 30 year career as a radio DJ, BJ finds inspiration in the crazy, colorful characters he has encounter, as well as the irony he finds all around. Preferring the short story format, his writing style encompasses strong characters and richly defined plots.