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Saturday, July 31, 2021

Book Review: Gunmetal Gods Gunmetal Gods (#1) by Zamil Akhtar + giveaway

Gunmetal Gods Gunmetal Gods (#1)
by Zamil Akhtar
October 15, 2020
Genre: Epic Fantasy, Middle Eastern fiction, historical,
Pages: 500
CW: Graphic Violence, Gore, Torture, Rape
They took his daughter, so Micah comes to take their kingdom. Fifty thousand gun-toting paladins march behind him, all baptized in angel blood, thirsty to burn unbelievers.

Only the janissaries can stand against them. Their living legend, Kevah, once beheaded a magus amid a hail of ice daggers. But ever since his wife disappeared, he spends his days in a haze of hashish and poetry.

To save the kingdom, Kevah must conquer his grief and become the legend he once was. But Micah writes his own legend in blood, and his righteous conquest will stop at nothing.

When the gods choose sides, a legend will be etched upon the stars.

Epic battles, grey characters, heroic women, and shady deities, this book has got it all. The world-building is pretty decent too and the book contained a good amount of violence as befits its grimdark status. The book has suitable tropes too, i.e., the believer-who-loses-his-way and the old-hero-who-comes-back-to-fight. Loved the decidedly Ottoman flavor that one of the empires in this book had.

I don't know exactly what turned me off but I do have some ideas, which I'll mention below:
  1. Could not connect with any of the characters. I felt like I was viewing them from afar, which is why whatever happened to them didn't affect me.
  2. Micah's on-screen entry was as a devout believer. While he didn't go all-in when it came to believing in all divine decree, he did have his own set of principles. His fall from grace and the rapey, incestuous reason for it made no sense at all!
  3. One of the king's bastard princesses was dropped into the story very suddenly and became the rallying cause for one of the parties involved. Another thing that didn't work for me.
  4. The descriptions of the hidden and dark all-powerful goddess seemed overtly sexual rather than horrifying.

If you like grimdark and epic fantasies, this book may be more to your liking than it was to mine.

2 sheep.

Reviewer: Midu Reads
Most of my go-to series are 3 starrers
*No rating - wasn't my genre/dnf'd so rating it would be unfair
1 sheep - won't be picking up another book in a series again
2 sheep - average read with overused tropes and cliches. Will give the author another try/only continuing because of OCD, so must finish a series
2.5 sheep - liked the book but was put off because it was overly long/illtreatment of a character the author had me invest in and so on.
3 sheep - enjoyed the book but have reservations because I expected to be wowed and wasn't
4 sheep - was unputdownable
5 sheep - formed an emotional connection, will read the heck outta this series

About the Author:
When Zamil was fourteen, he moved from the dry, dune-spotted Arabian peninsula to the hilly, arctic wasteland that is Western Massachusetts. He despises the cold, isn’t very fond of the sun, and prefers spending all day indoors mashing the keyboard in the hopes something great will come of it. When not dreaming up dark and fantastical journeys, he enjoys binging horror movies, wasting precious time arguing about international relations on Reddit, and occasionally traveling somewhere exotic. He currently lives in Dubai with his loving wife and his badly-behaved pet rabbit.

The Vivian Contest

The Vivian recognizes excellence in romance writing and showcases author talent and creativity. We celebrate the power of the romance genre with its central message of hope--because happily ever afters are for everyone.

Romance Writers of America will announce the winners of the 2021 Vivian awards at a virtual Awards Ceremony on July 31st, 9pm EST. Caraway Carter will emcee the event, which will be streamed live at

The names of the winners will be posted as they’re announced on the RWA website, Twitter and Facebook pages (#RWAVivian).

Join us in the celebration!

Tune into the RWA website HERE!
Swing by Facebook HERE!
Stay updated on Twitter HERE!
Watch on Youtube HERE!

Friday, July 30, 2021

Sale: Shift Origins (Mackenzie Grey Book 1) by Karina Espinosa

Shift Origins (Mackenzie Grey Book 1)
by Karina Espinosa
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Cover Designer: Covers by Christian
Hosted by: Lady Amber’s PR
It's hard enough being an undergraduate student, an intern at Downtown Manhattan's police station, and a bouncer at a local bar. Add her now ex-boyfriend who recently dumped her for the school's resident bimbo—oh, and she's a werewolf.

Mackenzie Grey meets her match when she is kidnapped by the Brooklyn Pack and tossed between Sebastian and Jonah—the Alpha and the Beta. Being a lone-wolf in the city is dangerous, and now that the Pack has found her, so can every supernatural being in the Tri-State area. And not even her sarcastic, smart mouth can get her out of this.

When a string of kidnappings involves Mackenzie in supernatural politics, she questions her new acquaintances and finds unlikely allies. Can she escape Pack law and keep her freedom—or will she be condemned to an unwanted path?

About the Author:
Karina Espinosa is the Urban Fantasy Author of the Mackenzie Grey novels and The Last Valkyrie series. An avid reader throughout her life, the world of Urban Fantasy easily became an obsession that turned into a passion for writing strong leading characters with authentic story arcs. When she isn't writing badass heroines, you can find this self-proclaimed nomad in her South Florida home binge watching the latest series on Netflix or traveling far and wide for the latest inspiration for her books. Follow her on social media!

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

UF Author Louis Corsair: The different ways a writer of fiction can screw up First Person POV? + giveaway

And here I am again! I liked my last post on I Smell Sheep so much that I decided to do another.


That wasn’t a true statement. I don’t think the people who run this blog would have me on just for the hell of it. But, it was a nice fantasy, wasn’t it?

***This is I Smell Sheep...we would love to have you anytime you want to visit! You're out kind of crazy ;)***

So, what is today’s flavor? Hmmm. It has been a while since I’ve shared my (cough) wisdom about writing. The last post I wrote for my blog, which was about the myth of Show-don’t-tell, went pretty well.

I don’t want to revisit that topic.

It’s long and dull. Except to writers. They’re easily amused. True story!

How about…the different ways a writer of fiction can screw up First Person POV?

That sounds great to me (since I’m writing it). And it’s short. I’m limiting these ‘errors’ to just ten. Or maybe five. Yeah. My hand’s arthritic joints are liking five better.

I am using First Person POV right now. You do have to wonder: Who is speaking? Who is this “I” persona? Is it the author whose name appears on the blog post or is it a stage persona?

Typically, most often, most stories, usually, the “I” in the story is the main character. And, if you use the First Person POV, you typically, most often, usually, stick with that person’s thoughts and observations.

This makes sense because, let’s face it, we can’t read minds and we can’t project ourselves to other places and observe what’s going on there.

So, how do writers “screw” this up?

1) The “I” persona is actually the Third Person narrator, who acts like a character—and sometimes he/she is a character.

It’s the ultimate sleight of hand.

The “I” persona knows it all and sees it all. They are the all-seeing “I.” A Third Person Omniscient narrator.

Except they’re not content to simply describe. They will often pause to give you their two cents about what they’re describing.

Third Person POV with attitude!
It’s two stories for the price of one. Lucky you.

1 Example: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

2) The “I” persona can read minds; they accurately tell the reader what other characters are thinking. This mostly happens in literary books where it’s cool if you do this.

Just to be clear: This type of “I” persona isn’t supposed to be all-knowing, like the narrator of The Book Thief; they somehow know the thoughts of others.

The novel starts out with a character telling you about some event that changed his/her life forever. They start narrating the events of the story and oops!

They tell you what some other person is thinking. And they keep doing it throughout.

Writers like to include these Professor X clones in stories where a Third Person narrator would have been adequate, but not as fun.

2 Examples: Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie; Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

PRO TIP: One way to get a big literary prize, like a Pulitzer, is to write First Person POV this way.

3) The “I” persona can describes events they couldn’t possibly have witnessed—and they do it like they were there. Well, shit, if you’re going to have a character that can read minds, why not break the laws of physics?

It happens like this: The narrator starts to tell you about his/her life and what’s going on in it. Suddenly, they break from the Present and go back in Time to tell you about a family member.

And they don’t just summarize the event. They describe it in great detail, including the thoughts of the characters.

Again, the main culprits of this type booboo are literary authors. Those bastards get away with everything!

3 Examples: Pedro Páramo by Juan Rulfo; The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne; Moby Dick by Herman Melville

4) The “I” persona disappears and secretly starts to narrate in the Third Person.

This usually happens in genre books with lots of action. One minute, you have the narrator telling you his/her innermost thoughts and then a fight breaks out.

It is remarkable that the “I” narrator tells you how his/her fight is going and in the following paragraph, how his/her mates are doing and what cool things they said.

During a fight, you want to focus on what your opponent is doing. Not. Not. Not. Not on the fighting style of the other people in your group.

If you suddenly look away while you’re kicking ass (to check out the way your pals are kicking ass too), you will likely get your ass kicked. Rightly so, for being a dumb ass.

4 Authors who do this: Jim Butcher (Dresden Files); Simon R. Green (The Nightside); Kim Harrison (The Hollows); Louis Corsair (The Elohim Trilogy)

5) The “I” persona can recall events in astonishingly clear detail.

This one is difficult to notice. You open a book and expect the narrator to describe events clearly. As a reader, you want the author to walk you through the story, to keep you engaged. This doesn’t change just because the narrator is describing events in the First Person.

But damn, they have good memory! If you asked me to tell you about my day, I might do it in a summarized fashion.

I woke up and my foot hurt. I went to visit a friend in San Pedro and we watched a movie and had some beers. I think I nodded off during the movie, but I’m not sure about that.

Talk about an unreliable narrator.

Just imagine reading a book like that! No Bueno.

Okay, okay…this is only a “screw up” because it’s impossible for humans to recall events clearly, especially all the events that go into a novel. It is part of the convention of the First Person POV.

But it is one of those necessary evils we writers have to put up with.

Examples? Try every writer who uses First Person POV. Ha!

These aren’t really mistakes. I hope you got that.

I know…

I know…

Sometimes it’s difficult to read the sarcasm in the words.


We writers like to experiment. And that usually leads to breaking conventions—I won’t call them rules.

It’s not really a new phenomenon. Look at novels from the 17th century. Don Quixote (Miguel de Cervantes). Tristram Shandy (Laurence Sterne). Those are some of the first novels. Their authors didn’t hold anything back.

I guess you can say that for writers, breaking established conventions is an established convention.

Ha. Haha.


Absolution: Redux (Elohim Trilogy, #1)

by Louis Corsair
September 15th 2020
Genres: Adult, Urban Fantasy
At the end of the original Absolution, the Executor traveled back in Time and altered Reality. But by doing so, he set in motion a plan to end his existence and collapse Creation. Because of his actions, there is Absolution: REDUX…

In 1947, a gangster murders private investigator Raymond Adams. In 2011, he’s brought back to life for 24 hours to solve the supernatural murder of a Hollywood Adult film star.

When the son of a Pit Lord is murdered in Hollywood, the celestial beings in charge of the Realms ask Raymond Adams to figure who did it and find the victim’s missing soul. Without memories of his life, he accepts the case to gain eternal peace. But the job is daunting:

24 hours to nab a killer…
24 hours to find a missing soul…
24 hours to unravel the victim’s exotic private life…
24 hours to stop a plot to send the universe into chaos…

With only the help of a possessed cop and a medium, Adams must trek through a Hollywood underground filled with pornography, prostitutes, and sadists, along with supernatural monsters. But can he solve the case when his own haunting memories keep surfacing, telling him exactly what kind of man he was in life?

About the Author:
Louis Corsair is an eight-year veteran of the United States Army. Currently living in Los Angeles, California, he spends his time reading books, going on walks, writing, and enjoying the occasional visit to the beach—while trying to earn an honest buck. As a Los Angeles writer, he feels the weight of famous Los Angeles novelists, like Raymond Chandler, John Fante, Nina Revoyr, among others.

In 2021, he hopes to finish the Elohim Trilogy and its connected novels, including The Wizards Collide, and Apotheosis: Book Three of the Elohim Trilogy.

Tour-wide giveaway (INT)
A digital copy of the five books so far published in this series

Amends: A Psychic Mystery Series (A Diana Hawthorne Supernatural Mystery, #2) by Carissa Andrews + giveaway

Amends: A Psychic Mystery Series 
(A Diana Hawthorne Supernatural Mystery, #2)
by Carissa Andrews
July 23rd 2021
Genres: Adult, Mystery, Urban Fantasy
For as psychic as she is, shit goes sideways far too often around Diana Hawthorne.

Diana now has everything she ever wanted–her memories, and the soul mate she didn’t realize she was missing. There’s just one problem… the old gods expect her to make amends for her absence. And her work starts now.

But time lost at the oracle isn’t the only thing she has to atone for. Her friend Demetri was stripped of his powers–and it was all her fault. If she could just set things right, she’d feel a whole lot better about moving forward. Unfortunately, Demetri wants nothing to do with her and knows exactly how to keep her out of his head.

To make matters worse, in the age of social media, Diana’s abilities have gone viral. People from all over the world are clambering to get on her books. One case, in particular, hits her radar and despite herself, she can’t shake it. A 14-year-old boy is wrapped up with a deadly governmental agency and he’s scared to death. And he should be–they want to weaponize his power.

Torn between what was and what is, Diana struggles to fully embrace who she’s becoming. Will she be able to help Demitri and make things right? Or will her new role mean leaving the past behind?

Calling fans of KF Breene, Shannon Mayer, and Shayne Silvers! If you like snarky-fun humor, gripping supernatural scenes, and twists that leave you spellbound — then you will LOVE Carissa Andrews’ world built especially for Diana Hawthorne.

About the Author:
“An author emerges from the depths of Minnesotan waters. Sci-fi/Fantasy is my pen of choice.”

Carissa Andrews is a Minnesota-based genre-bending author who writes a combination of science fiction, fantasy, and dystopia. When not writing her own books, she’s busy reading them.

Carissa’s internationally bestselling trilogy, The Pendomus Chronicles, is now in digital, print, and audiobook formats. She has hit the scene as an up and coming speculative fiction author who uses a mix of scifi and fantasy, twisted in modern mythology and alternative history. Check out The Final Five, Oracle, Awakening, and Love is a Merciless God!

Carissa has big plans for 2020. Check out her upcoming series, The Windhaven Witches.

For more information on their release, visit Carissa Andrews’ author website: and sign up for her newsletter notifications.

She lives in central Minnesota with her husband and brood of five kids. Not to mention, her insane husky puppies, Aztec and Pharaoh.

Carissa is also a freelance graphic designer, writer and content creator, social media manager, and marketing professional. She writes consistently on topics of science, technology, art, writing, photography, graphic design, health, self-improvement, and more. Her articles can be found published across the interwebs. Carissa is also a Top-Rated Freelancer on Upwork, and can be contacted for freelancing opportunities:

Tour-wide giveaway (INT)
$25 Amazon gift card

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Character Confession: Afterlife (Vampire Witch Book Two) by Jessica Samuels + excerpt

My character from Afterlife Lilly has a lot of stuff thrown on her at once and this is her time to talk.

Lilly: Thank you for letting me vent here my life hasn’t exactly been good. I lost my mom, my relationship and my home in a very short time and I’m trying to build my life back up.

Jessica: I understand that my life has been rough since I lost my mom too and I have to live with my grandma while I write. Life can be a lot.
Lilly: Hell yes, it can since life is just testing me, and this chick Agatha that took over married some loser and he lets her walk all over him and treat the coven like shit. She was so horrible and didn’t even stop one of the coven members from bullying me over my car. Of which I had to sell since I needed to move out and away from her. Also witches don’t get sick so they thought my mom passed due to cancer and it might be something else so I want to find the person who did it!

Jessica: A lot is resting on your shoulders right now and it isn’t easy dealing with someone who says you are the toxic one repeating habits when it is really them trying to start stuff in the first place. The Agatha person sounds so controlling too and she thinks she can walk all over you just because she is the leader and she can’t. Like just because someone is the oldest doesn’t make them the boss, and if you are both the oldest then you have one trying to control the other and god forbid you disagree with them.
Lilly: Right? Like just because they are a leader or family and have that title doesn’t mean they can use it as a free pass to bully. I love how they say they don’t bully, but really they do and they try to play victim and turn it on you to make it seem like it is you when it is really them. But luckily I moved and blocked her so I don’t have to deal with her anyway. All she ever texts is drama and acts like she cares when it is a way to bully me when I JUST LOST MY MOM….She still has hers and doesn’t understand what it is like to lose a parent. She has no heart, is insensitive and expects me to be nice when she treated me like shit. Nope…

Jessica: Gotta love people like that. At least with the cutie around it will be better. I mean you are a powerful vampire witch that can raise the dead. I mean you can now get away from the coven and their drama and start over in peace. No one deserves to treat you that bad. She sounds like an awful manipulative bitch. And unlike her you have more power than she does. I hope finding your mom's killer will give you peace.
Lilly: I can’t rest until I do and I have a bad feeling I know who it is…

Afterlife (Vampire Witch Book Two)
by Jessica Samuels
June 6th, 2021
Genre: New Adult Paranormal Romance, NA PNR
ISBN: 979-8516421037
Number of pages: 116
Word Count: 34,057
Cover Artist: Rebecacovers

A Witch goes after the person who made her mom sick.

What would you do when the fate of a realm lies on your shoulders?

Lilly finds herself in pure chaos while the realm gets corrupted by evil. Only a few months ago her mother passed away and on top of that Agatha, the new leader of the coven made it her goal to harass her for her ancestry.

Unable to stand up to these challenges, she lets herself get consumed by her grief till the day her father gives her a new purpose - to retrieve the magic stones so she can save the realm of the ever consuming evil. Her vampire soulmate Malachi stands by her side while she learns the shocking truth 
about her mother’s death.

“Hi, Lilly,” Dad said interrupting me from my thoughts and a tall figured followed close behind him. Oh my God was he cute! His reddish brown hair, hanging loose down his shoulders, made the red in his eyes seem even more intense, I could see it even from this far away.

He was so sexy no one else even compared to him, and the moment he smiled my heart melted.

The tense set of my dad’s wide shoulders told me he was frustrated. He sat down swiped a hand though his slicked back hair and pinned me there with a flash of his blue eyes.

He wore the family uniform we all wear for meetings which is his black shirt and black jeans in combat boots. He sat down across from me and the sexy dude sat next to him.

“Hey Lilly.” He turned to the sexy dude and swiped a hand towards me. “Malachi Drake this is my daughter.”

“Hi,” I swiped my hand on my pants and extend it. Malachi shaked it.

“It is nice to meet the beautiful Lilly Ravenson,” he said.

I loved him already, he was polite.

“He is here to be your bodyguard.” Dad said shocking me.

“What? Why?”

Dad looked at me, "So some stuff has happened in the coven. And one of the leaders are trying to take over all the Vampire covens. Things are so strained they are going after hybrids and anyone not pure Vampire. We need to keep you safe and the person next to me to do it is Malachi Drake. He is your Protector anyway and the one who is supposed to keep watch. He will be by your side always and with time all yours."

“Wow,” I said.

“He came to me recently since he has been trying to find you to keep you safe, and there is a lot of stuff happening behind the scenes everywhere. Even when you moved away from the coven you were in danger. Especially the moment Agatha and the dumb warlock ghosted you. Agatha bullied you to break you and turn you evil or worse kill you. I’m glad you got away from that. You don’t deserve the shit she put you through. I was talking to other Vampire covens and Witch ones. The evil is spreading so fast that it is overtaking the good ones.”

“I knew there was something going on there I mean someone was stealing from my blood stash and there were tints of black in people’s magic. It was starting to take over mine,” I said.

Dad looked at the menu, “There is something I want you to drink only exclusive to here, and it will help control the alcohol stuff and get rid of the remnants of the black magic.”

He scanned the menu, “Found it. Waitress.”

The waitress zoomed here instantly and looked at my dad. “Do you need something, sir?”
He smiled, “Get my daughter the purifying blood drink. We need it stat.”

She smiled, “Coming right up.” And she went to get it and came back a few minutes later and put down blood drink in a black wine glass. I drank it down and it was healing everything, and the remnants of the black went away.

I smiled, “That helped greatly. I feel way better now and mentally better, too.”
He smiled, “Good, and it means you finally have your Protector by your side. There is something we can do to stop the evil.”

I've only heard of Protectors in legends. They are for the VampireWitches. Guardians. And they are also their soulmates too their perfect half who will never leave. And he is really sexy, too. There is definitely something there.

About the Author:


Jessica Samuels is an author who writes young adult and new adult paranormal romance. When she isn't writing about vampires, werewolves, witches and angels she is watching stream, reading and playing video games with friends to pass the time.

What would you do when the fate of a realm lies on your shoulders? Lilly finds herself in pure chaos while the realm gets corrupted by evil.
#paranormalromance #newadult #vampires #witches #necromancers #PNR #NA #NAPNR

Monday, July 26, 2021

New Release: Untamed: A Beautiful Nightmare Story by L. C. Son

July 27, 2021
ISBN: 9781733650366
Pages: 300
Genre: Fantasy Romance, Paranormal Romance, Dark Fantasy Romance
Undeniably Female. Unquestionably Feral. Unquenchably Famished.

It’s been twenty years since Chartreuse Grenoble witnessed not only the burning of her sister at the stake for claims of witchcraft but the great all-consuming fire of New Orleans. When the enigmatic, pure blood Altrinion-Vampire, Dalcour Marchand rescues her from fleeing her family’s doomed state, she has no idea she is nothing more than a bartering tool for his wretched brother, Decaux.

But she has other plans. She has no desire to be used or controlled.

Forging her own dark alliances, Chartreuse defies not only the will of men but the supernatural balance itself in her blood-thirsty quest to avenge what matters most.


*Warning- This book contains mature material not suitable for readers under 18 years old. Topics such as rape, abuse, prostitution, racism, and misogyny are vividly depicted in this book and may trigger sensitivities of some readers.*

About the Author:
Known for her Amazon Best Selling Short Story, With Hearts Like Fire and the series starter, Beautiful Nightmare (Book One), L.C. Son is happy wife of more than twenty years and loving mom of three. Lover of paranormal romance and all things sci-fi!

RABT Book Tours & PR

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Sci-fi, Horror, Fantasy: What Remains: An Anthology by Inked in Gray + giveaway

Review Coming Soon!
If you're not into warm and fuzzy beach reads, What Remains is a great book for you this Summer! Check out this amazing anthology by several talented authors. Guaranteed to bring a chill to your hot days!

What Remains: An Anthology by Inked in Gray
July 26th, 2021
Genre: Anthology/ Short Stories/ Fantasy/ Sci-Fi/ Horror
Publisher: Inked in Gray
Victory at all costs. Even at the price of our own life, the desire to survive transcends all rational thought.

What Remains brings together fifteen tales of horror, fantasy, and science fiction. From sacrificing loved ones or oneself, to doing what it takes to keep them alive, these stories shake the soul, rip out its insecurities and flay them on the page.

Careful who you trust. Some quandaries have no right answer when we cannot save what we love most—or when isolation, desperation, and betrayal leave you no choice.

Take the journey with us to see What Remains when civility, decency, and sanity have all but fled.

Among Tall Trees Excerpt
The young boy races for the ridge, a good twenty feet ahead of Jeff. With every painful breath, the distance between them grows. If the boy wanted to, he could already be out of his sight, halfway up the mountain that rises ahead of them, a blue-gray bulk topped with first snow, deep into the thick evergreens. But the child is holding back, glancing over his shoulder every now and then without missing a beat, without interrupting the purposeful elegance of his stride.

Save yourself. Go.

Jeff shouts none of this to the boy, whose thin arms are pumping up and down, skinny legs effortlessly swallowing the punishing grade of the mountain as if unfettered by gravity. Jeff is too busy wheezing, hauling in lungfuls of frosty air, trying to hear his own frenetic thoughts over the pounding of his out-of-shape heart and the tidal roar of blood in his ears. Trying to keep his burning lungs from falling out and keep his feet, clumsy in heavy boots, trudging one in front of the other. Every misstep, every stumble and pause for breath, erodes their already thin lead on the men who hunt them.

They are slow, too, these others: some weighed down with age, like Judge Crenshaw, who is eighty if a day. Some by sloth and neglect, like Big Mike Bragg, who weighs well north of three hundred pounds. Fear herds them together, and a mob is only as fast as its slowest man. But determination drives them, a remorseless singularity of purpose.

Although Jeff can’t see them, they aren’t far behind, marching through the leafless, scattered hardwoods down by the road, fanning out in a rough semicircle to cover as much killing ground as possible. So after a too-brief break, the boy catches Jeff’s eye—he has an uncanny way of looking up at just the right time, or somehow making Jeff do so—and flicks his head.

He doesn’t speak, but Jeff understands. Up. Up the mountain, into the pines. Their mad scramble resumes. Down here there are gaps in the treeline, patches of open ground between thickets and dense scrub, and open ground spells trouble.

Not that the boy seems concerned. Or what to all intents and purposes resembles a boy: a pale, scrawny slip of a kid, eight- or nine-years-old, maybe a small ten. Scabbed knees and elbows and bright green eyes, dirty blond hair cut in an unfashionable bowl around a pinched face. He bounds up the slope in easy strides, each as long as two of Jeff’s faltering steps, looking to the rest of the world—if there was anyone up here to see him—like any one of hundreds of identical, small-town American kids indulging in a bit of horseplay before going inside for dinner.

Except Jeff has seen those arms lock around Clyde Garver. Good old Clyde who Jeff had played high school football with and who fixed cars at Dan Laurie’s garage in town. The boy had grabbed Clyde and wrenched his head clean off his shoulders like a papier-mâché piñata, with no more effort than Jeff twisting a cap off a bottle of Miller High Life.

Except it’s late November in the Great Smoky Mountains. Snow weighs over the town like a judgement, but the boy’s wearing nothing but pants and a thin T-shirt and his feet are bare, and he’s giving no sign of feeling the cold.

Except the horseplay they’re indulging in will end in death. They can cheat it for a while, draw out the inevitable, but the men behind them aren’t about to give up. Good men, or so Jeff used to think. Men he’s known all his life—fathers and husbands and brothers. Men who piled into their trucks and four-wheel-drives without hesitation to hunt Jeff and the child. Men who are not going back down without their prize.

There’s only one end Jeff can see. But he keeps running, up toward the trees under the lowering sky.

About the Authors:
R.A. Busby
An award-winning literature teacher and die-hard horror fan, R. A. Busby is also the author of “Bits” (Short Sharp Shocks #45), “Street View” (Collective Realms #2), “Not the Man I Married” (Black Petals #93), “Holes” (Graveyard Smash, Women of Horror Anthology, Vol. 2), and “Cactusland” (34 Orchard, forthcoming).

“I was always instructed to write about what I know,” she states, “and I know what scares me.” In her spare time, R.A. Busby watches cheesy Gothic movies and goes running in the desert with her dog.

David-Christopher Harris
David-Christopher Harris’ fantasy publications include “Olam Ha-Ba” in speculative fiction and poetry magazine Arsenika, “Last Call” in The Arcanist Magazine, “Falselight” on PageHabit, and “Children of Ozymandias” in 50WordStories, among others. He received his M.A. in Medieval Literature, which he uses exclusively to teach his cat Latin. He is currently querying.

Andy Dibble
Andy Dibble is a healthcare IT consultant who lives in Madison, Wisconsin. He has supported the electronic medical record of healthcare systems in six countries. His work appears or is forthcoming in Writers of the Future, Star*Line, Sci Phi Journal, and others. He is Articles Editor for Speculative North magazine.

LT Ward
LT writes mostly speculative fiction shorts and novels while spending her days raising her children and satisfying her never-ending thirst for knowledge through reading, meeting people, and first-hand life experiences. She has short story publications with Dancing Lemur Press, Me First Magazine, Jazz House Press, and forthcoming with Black Hare Press and Cardigan Press. She currently volunteers with WriteHive, a nonprofit literary organization.

Ben Armstrong
Ben is a young author who has been writing stories for over six years now. Recently he has been published in his town’s newspaper.

Maxwell I Gold
Maxwell I. Gold is a Rhysling Award nominated prose poet, focusing on weird and cosmic fiction. He is a regular contributor to Spectral Realms, edited by Lovecraft scholar S.T. Joshi and his work has also appeared in Weirdbook Magazine, Space and Time Magazine, Startling Stories, Baffling Magazine, and many others.

His debut prose poetry collection, Oblivion in Flux: A Collection of Cyber Prose is forthcoming this August from Crystal Lake Publishing.

 Damir Salkovic
Damir Salkovic is the author of novels Kill Zone and Always Beside You. His shorter work has been featured in the Lovecraft eZine, Dimension6 Annual Collection 2020, and in multiple horror, science and speculative fiction anthologies.

Lawrence West
Lawrence J West has been on his writing journey since he was fourteen years old and has always been drawn to fantasy, sci-fi, and horror because of the way these genres allow for the exploration of human experience in unique ways. Since becoming a husband and father he has also found that his writing has a greater degree of empathy and insight.

Sharon Frame Gay
Sharon Frame Gay is an award winning author whose work has appeared in many anthologies and magazines, including Chicken Soup For The Soul, Typehouse, Fiction on the Web, Literally Stories, Lowestoft Chronicle, Thrice Fiction, Saddlebag Dispatches, Crannog, and others. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee.

A collection of her short stories, Song of the Highway, was released in August, 2020.

Timothy Johnson
Timothy Johnson is a writer and editor living outside of Washington, D.C. His published work includes the novels The Pillars of Dawn and Carrier as well as short fiction appearing in various professional and semi-professional markets. He is an MFA candidate in George Mason University’s creative writing program and an affiliate member of the HWA.

DL Shirey
DL Shirey lives in Portland, Oregon, where it’s probably raining. Luckily, water is beer’s primary ingredient. His stories and non-fiction appear in 60 publications, including Confingo, Page & Spine, Zetetic and Wild Musette.

Dan Eveloff
Dan Eveloff is a lawyer and sports agent living in Chicago, Illinois with his dog, Reuben. He studied accounting at the University of Kansas, and subsequently earned his law degree from Northwestern University. His short fiction “The Price of Recompense” has appeared in AHF Magazine, “Shakespearean Justice” in Aphelion Webzine, and “Prevenge” can be found in Close to the Bone Magazine.

Valerie Hunter
Valerie Hunter teaches high school English and has an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her stories and poems have appeared in publications including Cicada, Storyteller, Edison Literary Review, Other Voices, Room, and Wizards in Space.

Nicholas Barner
Nicholas Barner has farmed, cooked, and written variously in Oakland, Chicago, Maine, and Los Angeles. He lives with his partner, Shelby, and their Dog, Nuni.

Thomas Canfield
Thomas Canfield lives in the mountains of North Carolina. His phobias run to politicians, lawyers and TV pitchmen. He is still trying to plumb the logic of the sales pitch; The more you buy, the more you save. It never quite seems to work out that way in the real world. Canfield occasionally reviews books on Goodreads.

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@inkedingraypub @RRBookTours1 @RABusby1 @AndyDibble2 @Ltward2 @LawrenceWriting @sharonframegay @Tim_The_Writer @develoff #RRBookTours

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Which fictional dog would you chose?

 I posted this on Facebook so I thought I'd post it here too! Who would you pick? Or is there another fictional dog you want?

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Excerpt: Monsters Among Us by Liz Zemlicka + giveaway

Monsters Among Us
by Liz Zemlicka
June 10, 2021
52 pages
Genre: Horror
Are there truths in legends? How far would the people of a small town go to keep the truth? When four bored and curious teenagers; Gabby, Max, Luke and Becca explore the forest surrounding their small town. They stumble upon something terrifying and deadly.

Soon it stalks them until one of them is dead, one is missing and they send one away for twenty years.

Now adults, a determined Gabby and Max set out to find the truth about what happened to their friends. But what they find in that forest is nothing they ever could have imagined.

Sometimes the truth is far more horrifying.
"Quite intriguing, a very good read from start to finish.”
— ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Richard Biddle

The scariest monsters are the ones we can't see. They hide among us in plain sight, and humans can't see their proper form. But, until one fixes its eyes on you, instinct kicks in, and you will see more than you ever have before, like taking off a blindfold you've worn since birth. The only problem is, you can't unsee it.

All small towns have their secrets; with ours, no one would ever believe us, so we keep it to ourselves and create stories to keep the truth from getting out. Our little town has the highest number of "hunting accidents," "car accidents," or "boating accidents" per year in the whole state. We can't exactly write down "monster attack" or "ripped apart by some animal then eaten."

About the Author

Liz started writing as a teenager and has always stayed an avid reader. With inspiration from great writers of horror fiction like Stephen King, Anne Rice, Ray Bradbury and many more. She has improved her writing style and found her niche in storytelling and entertaining. Born and raised in the Midwest. A nurse, mother to three boys, and a pit bull rescue mama. She always had a fascination with the unseen and things that can play with your mind and terrify you beyond the reach of your five senses.

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Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Excerpt: The Shadow Queen (The Wolfrik Trilogy, #2) by K. Rea + giveaway

The Shadow Queen (The Wolfrik Trilogy, #2)
by K. Rea
July 22nd, 2021
Genres: New Adult, Paranormal, Romance, Urban Fantasy

With the Court of Shadows in ruins, Evelyn Wolfrik has one goal – to rebuild.

After an encounter with the God of the Forest himself and a summons from the Court of Light, Evelyn’s future seems anything but certain.

Leaving the forests, her pack, and fledgling Court behind, Evelyn travels to the white mountains of the Court of Light. Deep in the mountains, navigating not only a frigid court but also challenges and trials she never could have foreseen, she risks losing more than just her crown.

The Shadow Queen, The Wolfrik Trilogy | Book 2 by K. Rea
Excerpt| Gryphons in the Night
I snuck up the mountainside as quickly and quietly as I could. The rocks beneath my feet slid, the goats noticed. The ones awake went on alert as I ran towards them, weaving through the coverage. They darted. The sleepy one, though, was slow. Its instincts kicked in, and it ran for open ground away from me. I herded it up the mountainside to the snow in its panic. It floundered in the snow as I stalked it. The goat recognized me as a predator; its bleats became screeches on the wind as I lunged.

With the goat’s neck in my jaws, the screeches I heard grew louder, to an unbearable volume. I snapped the goat’s neck as a roar erupted around me, and the screech kept going. They did not belong to the goat. I pulled my prey free from the snow and ran with it down the mountain to a boulder I had seen earlier.

A shadow crossed over me as a gryphon collided with Ares; both creatures were engulfed in Ares’s cloud of flame. Training in the woods, watching Aiden and Ares tussle, did nothing to prepare me for the violence I now witnessed. The goat carcass slowed me down, but we needed the food, and I knew I needed to get out of Ares’ way. I’d only be a distraction on the ground. A second shadow passed over me, more screeches echoed through the mountain. I reached the boulder and dropped the damned goat in the shadow of the large stone before peeking back around the rock.

There in the fading light, Ares fought in his dragon form, swooping and diving between two gryphons. Their lion bodies were dark, like their avian heads and wings, a silhouette against the darkening sky. Their beaks were sharp and screeching, yet Ares didn’t hesitate or run. He maneuvered around them as if it was all a choreographed dance; to him, maybe it was. The ribbon of light from the protective barrier grew brighter in the growing darkness.

A rake of Ares’ claws along the gryphon rendered its wings useless. As it fell from the sky, its cries rattled the mountains. It was disorienting enough that Ares did not focus back on the other gryphon until it was too late. As if time had stopped, I watched, frozen, as the gryphon launched itself at Ares’ back and ripped his wings to shreds in the same fashion Ares had done to his companion. Ares’s roar of anguish struck a chord deep in my soul. Still in my wolf form, I scrambled to the top of the boulder, and I launched myself into the air.

About the Author:
K. Rea is a part-time romance writer and full-time mom. When she isn't writing or playing with her daughter, she's reading and crafting. She lives with her husband and family in Florida.

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Book Review: Strange Gods by Alison Kimble + giveaway

An Unforgettable Sidekick, It’s All About The Journey, Snark It Up, The More The Merrier, A Villain You Love To Hate, I’m Not Crying You Are Crying, Storyteller In The House, Bring On The Magic, A Gate To Another World

Strange Gods
by Alison Kimble
July 20, 2021
Immortal Works
Genre: YA Fantasy
Pages: 336
CW: Blood, Minor violence in battles, Bullying, Passing mentions of: Drugs, Eating disorder, Emotional abuse; Kidnapping, Animal death
Don't get too close to the edges of the world. Gods and monsters are waiting.

Spooky arrives at a wilderness boot camp for troubled teens with two suitcases and an ultimatum: either she keeps her head down over the summer or she won't be allowed home at the end of it. All she wants to do is survive the pyros, bullies, and power-tripping counselors, get through senior year, and start her life somewhere new.

But when an encounter with another camper goes awry and ends with Spooky hiding in the woods, something else finds her. Something ancient and powerful has sent out feelers, hoping to catch a human alone. For its purposes, even a delinquent teen will do.

If Spooky wants to survive to see any kind of future, she will have to figure out how to gain leverage over a god. And as if the one wasn't bad enough, a pantheon of dark entities are lining up between her and the life she's always wanted...

The book delivers what its title promises, i.e., strange gods! We meet our protagonist at a home for delinquent teens and she's one of the "inmates." While she's trying to keep her head down, a night tryst with a boy gets her out of bed. Before her jailers can catch her, a strange deity scoops her up. That's where her situation goes from bad to worse!

Fans of Rick Riordan's PJ series will love reading this book. I was blown away by the creativity of the author because none of the deities we meet are the run-of-the-mill gods you'd find in most books. They were weird and original, which I enjoyed a lot.

I may have had trouble with the pacing because it starts a bit slow and then takes off at a breakneck speed that doesn't stop until the very end. What's more, the plot is written in a way that the characters keep getting stuck solving one problem after another to get solutions for the previous problems they're already facing. That can get annoying after the fifth time.

I also liked how the main character grows and recognizes some harsh truths about herself and the way she's been living. A wake-up call leads to her making a decision that made the ending totally unexpected. Even though this book's being sold as a single, I'm sure a sequel won't be unwelcome and would fit right in with it.

Loved the writing and the plot. Wasn't a fan of the pretty girl being vilified and reduced to a stereotype even after she was given a good backstory.

3 sheep.

Reviewer: Midu Reads
Most of my go-to series are 3 starrers
*No rating - wasn't my genre/dnf'd so rating it would be unfair
1 sheep - won't be picking up another book in a series  again
2 sheep - average read with overused tropes and cliches. Will give the author another try/only continuing because of OCD, so must finish a series
2.5 sheep - liked the book but was put off because it was overly long/illtreatment of a character the author had me invest in and so on.
3 sheep - enjoyed the book but have reservations because I expected to be wowed and wasn't
4 sheep - was unputdownable
5 sheep - formed an emotional connection, will read the heck outta this series

Chapter 1: Spooky
­­­Up until this exact moment, Spooky hadn’t been sure whether or not Luke liked her. Now it seemed improbable there was any other reason he was holding her hand under the table. She stiffened as he curled his fingers around the edge of her palm. She wasn’t sure if she wanted his hand on hers, but she didn’t want to get caught with it there.

Then his touch was gone, and in its place, a piece of paper. Spooky shifted her eyes to the closest counselor, but no heads turned. No one had noticed the exchange.

She crinkled the contraband in her hand: a note. Pens were restricted-use items, so notes were rare. More importantly, notes were risky—you couldn’t change your story once it was in writing. She wanted to read Luke’s face as much as the words he had put on the paper, but she kept her chin pointed at the front of the cafeteria.

“Remember, there is no such thing as your true self, only unlimited potential for growth and change,” Izeah Dodgson continued into the mic. “I want you to reflect on those words when you’re tucked into your bunks tonight.” He scanned the room over the top of his glasses. His bald head shone in the fluorescent lighting. “To close us off, I have an announcement. Yesterday evening, patrol spotted a large animal inside the fence. Now, now.” Izeah put up his hands as if to quiet the room of silent campers. “I don’t want anyone to be alarmed. This is exactly why we have the fence in the first place.”

The fence wasn’t really designed to keep things out. Spooky had seen the exposed chain-link exterior when the cab dropped her off on orientation day. The plastic sheeting that made it impossible to climb only ran along the inside. But the illusion of trust was a core part of Izeah’s philosophy of rehabilitation, so he insisted the fence was keeping animals out rather than keeping two hundred delinquents in. The fence kept things out, just like the motion-activated floodlights “scared off raccoons,” and the foam spork she had just used to eat her runny chili “saved on dishwater.”

“A thorough search of the camp tells us our visitor didn’t stay, but we want to be cautious. If you see anything, anything at all, please alert a counselor.” The mic whined. “We are on the edge of a wilderness. We must respect that we aren’t the only ones out here.”

The second Izeah dismissed the crowd to their post-dinner duties, Spooky glanced down at the scrap of paper in her hand: Meet tonight.

There were no other instructions, but Spooky knew Luke’s plan. That didn’t mean she thought it was a good idea. She tried to make eye contact during post-dinner cleanup, but work duty ended before she could give Luke so much as a head shake.

He was going, whether she joined him or not.

When the last bell rang and the cabin lights went out, Spooky kept her eyes open and began counting. After she reached sixty for the fortieth time, she folded back the blanket, rolled off the bunk, and tucked the pillow in her place. With sneakers in hand, she crept past heavy-breathing campers to the entrance. Not a single floorboard creaked. She had earned her nickname, at least in part, because of her talent for passing through life quietly.

The trick to avoid the motion detectors, Luke had told her, was to do three things at once: jump the lower sensors, duck the upper sensors, and don’t set foot inside the circle. Spooky didn’t trust herself to jump and duck anything, so she squatted and swung a leg around the cabin’s open side. Izeah insisted a circle of open cabins inspired “community,” but the formation also ensured anyone could look out and see her dangling from the doorway. Gripping the wall for balance, she found the ground next to the cabin with her toe. Arms shaking, she transferred her weight and set both feet outside.

She crouched and scanned the night. Her sleep shirt was twisted and stuck to her body with sweat. Her heartbeat should have been loud enough to wake all ten cabins. But nothing stirred.

She had done it. She had snuck out. This was a teenage rite of passage. Even if someone had invited her, she wouldn’t have had the nerve to attempt this at home. She wasn’t sure she had the nerve for it now, but she certainly wasn’t ready to try to reverse the process and get back inside the cabin. Her hands quivered as she put on her sneakers. After a few more moments watching the silent dark, she started across the field toward the back of the main lodge.

Even though Spooky had been at Dodgson for over a month, she had never been outside after the last bell. It was like the world had flipped upside down; the field around her was flat black, while all the light and life played out in the sky above her. Bright points and brilliant clusters and tiny pinpricks twinkled. She had to rely on her feet more than her eyes to find each step.

She exhaled for the first time since she read the note, or maybe for the first time that summer. It was as if the darkness put her at an unreachable distance from the sleeping campers and counselors. Even her limbs felt far away.

Only now, in the quiet, did it occur to Spooky she might be walking into a trap.

Although they had been at Dodgson together all summer, she had only known Luke since he was assigned to cafeteria duty two weeks ago. He’d come up to her while she was setting up the buffet, tucked a hair back into her hairnet, and asked about her nickname. And he kept finding her, in between serving and mopping and scrubbing. He had even started saving a seat for her at meals.

It was unfamiliar territory to have anyone, much less a guy, show interest in getting to know her. She had thought they were becoming friends. Maybe even a little more. And since he’d held her hand longer than strictly necessary to pass the note, almost definitely more. But she shouldn’t let herself forget this wasn’t some guy from English class—every camper at Dodgson was here for a reason. Luke was here for a reason.

Spooky pictured Luke’s straight, pointy nose and white-blond hair. His half smile. She couldn’t imagine that face leering out of the night, ready to inflict violence. But it was possible that Luke had set her up to meet someone else. Someone who wanted to have a private word without the watchful eyes of counselors. She wasn’t aware of any enemies. Unfortunately, it didn’t take much to set off one of two hundred delinquents. There were plenty of stories of accidental offenses leading to nasty consequences.

And Luke had been distant during post-dinner cleanup. While she’d been spraying down tables on one side of the cafeteria, he’d been stacking chairs on the other. When she started collecting serve ware, he began mopping. He’d ducked her attempts to make eye contact. She hadn’t seen him come back from taking out the trash at all.

He’d been avoiding her.

Spooky stopped walking. Why had Luke bothered to write her a note? The forethought seemed sweet at first, but the risk was impractical. Counselors were attentive during announcements; it was the worst possible time to communicate. He could have waited until after dinner was over and whispered the words.

But he’d already tried to do that, hadn't he? Luke had asked her to sneak out twice this week. The note hadn’t given her a chance to say she was too tired, or she couldn’t risk the scuffs. A note only gave her the choice to show up or leave him waiting.

Spooky rubbed her arms through her long-sleeve flannel. She should turn around and get back in bed. She didn’t even know how many scuffs she would get if she was caught out here. It was a big camp, and Luke said patrols only went around once or twice a night, but she should have tried to do the math. The image of Luke standing alone in the cold had been on her mind instead.

She sighed through her nose and kept walking. Spooky liked Luke, or at least, she thought she might start to. She definitely didn’t want him to stop talking to her. And he would have every right to if he took the risk of coming out here and she didn’t show. Going back now would put a quick end to the only good thing happening at Dodgson.

Still, Spooky approached the dumpsters behind the lodge like a ghost. She had come back here dozens of times on garbage duty, but the shape of things changed at night. The lodge had lost its edges. Every shadow was a void. Her ears twitched. Luke had told her to meet him at the door, but it seemed like she had arrived first. She huddled behind one of the rusty bins to wait.

Her toes had just started to go numb when footsteps brushed the dirt nearby. A white-blond head bobbed into view.

“Luke!” He was alone. A laugh bubbled up. Dodgson really did something to your faith in people.

“Sorry I’m late.” He jogged over to her. He didn’t bother to keep his voice low, but they were far from any sleeping quarters. “I had to wait for my cabin-leader to snore.”

“I wasn’t here long,” Spooky said.

He took a step closer. She took a step back and jumped when her shoulder brushed the dumpster. She was relieved it was just him, but just him, alone in the dark, gave her plenty of new reasons to be nervous.

“So, what’s up?” she blurted.

“Oh, you know, out for a midnight stroll.” She could hear his smile more than see it.

“A stroll, huh? Aren’t you worried about the animal that got inside the fence?”

“It was a bear. A huge one.”

“Really? How do you know?” At least there weren’t any grizzlies in Colorado.

“Animal control told me when I showed them where I saw the snake.”

“You saw a snake?” Spooky dropped the casual tone she’d been attempting. “Where?”

“Between the dumpsters. I saw it when I was taking out the trash after dinner. I’m surprised you didn’t hear me yelling.” He chuckled and edged closer. “But don’t worry. They checked everywhere. It’s gone.”

“Was it a rattlesnake?” She picked up one foot then the other, eyeing the shadowy ground.

“Don’t worry.” Luke closed the distance between them. “I’ll protect you.”

“But what if it’s still...”

He put his hands on the dumpster behind her and leaned in.

It was a strange sensation having somebody else’s lips against hers. Things touched her mouth every day, but another set of lips felt different somehow, like she was trying to use her left hand for something she usually did with her right.

She couldn’t tell Luke how strange it was. She couldn’t let anybody at Dodgson find out she was having her first kiss only two weeks after her eighteenth birthday. She would become an instant target for that kind of quaint, teenage naiveté.

But privately, she could celebrate her second milestone of the night. She had pictured this moment for a long time. While she never could have guessed who, where, or when, she had imagined a slow, inevitable, folding together. Lips slightly open, arms entwined, and bodies close.

This was turning out to be a much more thorough exploration of her mouth than she had imagined. And it was getting more thorough by the second.

Luke mimed a slow chew, then a few quick guppy gasps. She tried to catch his rhythm. If he noticed she was doing something wrong, he didn’t pause to address it. She pursed her mouth when his opened, and he gave her lower lip and a decent part of her chin a lick.

Spooky pushed him away. He barreled back in faster than she could wipe her face.

“Luke, hold on…”

The words became garbled as he mashed her lips around. Her hair slid all over the bin as he guided her head this way and that with his mouth. A sticky spot clung to her shirt.

Enough. This midnight tryst was over.

Spooky hitched her foot up to push herself off the dumpster. Her knee slid between Luke’s legs and slammed into his groin.


Spooky gasped as he doubled over. He backed away from her with a high keen.

“Oh, sorry!” Spooky reached for him. “I’m sorry!”

“What the...” he whimpered. “What’s wrong with you?”

A beam of light swung around the corner of the lodge. Footsteps and voices drifted through the chill.

Counselors on patrol.

“Luke,” Spooky muttered. “Luke, we have to leave.”

A trio of figures rounded the building, flashlights swaying. Spooky jumped behind the dumpster. Luke was doubled over in the open. If he would just move a few feet toward her, the bin would be between him and the oncoming counselors.

“Luke, come here,” she hissed.

He groaned. A beam landed on his platinum hair. He spared one hand from his crotch to block his eyes.

“Hey! Stop right there!” a counselor called.

The voices picked up. The light stayed on Luke. If she didn’t move now they would catch her too.

“Sorry,” she whispered.

Spooky bowed her head and dashed to the nearest tree. The trunk wasn’t wide enough to conceal her shoulders, so she darted to the next one. She scrambled around it and pressed her back against the bark. It wouldn’t take much searching to find her, but there was nowhere left to sneak. Between this pine and the forest was the fence, complete with twenty-foot-high, unscalable plastic sheeting. To “keep out the animals.”

“Any other campers out here making choices that don’t reflect their true potential?” Counselor Jackie called.

“Come on out,” another counselor she knew, Mark, commanded. “Let’s start rebuilding.”

The words didn’t sound natural, but they were familiar from daily speeches and role plays. Unlike Izeah Dodgson, the rest of the staff delivered their canned lines about trust with varying levels of conviction.

The third counselor spoke in a low voice. Spooky heard “slip in behavior” and “initiate the reparation process.”

“...but before we begin rebuilding,” the counselor said. “I want you to choose to be your best, most trustworthy self and tell us: are you out here alone?”

Spooky might not be Luke’s favorite person right now—she could still feel the spot where her knee met his pelvis—but if there was one thing that guaranteed every pyro, bully, and druggie here would turn on you, it was ratting someone out to the counselors.

“I was just checking to make sure I locked the dumpsters after dinner. Animal control came and I got distracted. I wasn’t sure,” Luke whined.

He was talking too much. He sounded like he was lying. She tried to melt into the tree trunk.

“I trust you,” the counselor said in a monotone voice. “But if there were someone out here with you, and you were to tell us now, I would recommend you get thirty scuffs. I’ll talk to Mr. Dodgson about that personally.” He paused. “Otherwise, you’re looking at fifty, minimum.”

Fifty scuffs? Only the rough bark stopped Spooky from sliding to the ground. She had known being out of bounds was a multiplier for whatever else you were caught doing. She should have gone to examine the scuff board after dinner instead of trying to catch Luke’s eye. She should have done the math before leaving her bed instead of counting the seconds.

Fifty scuffs was bad. Fifty scuffs, plus her existing twenty-three, would put her at a serious risk of maxing out before the summer was over. A rise that fast would land her back in Adam Dodgson’s office, in a seat she had vowed she wouldn’t return to after day one.

From the second she stepped out of the cab, everything at Dodgson had been jarring. Her bags were whisked away to be searched. She had to swap the clothes she came in for rough gray pajamas. She had a schedule with building names and times, but no clock or map. She wandered around in loaner flip flops, trying to follow the crowd without getting too close. The other campers looked at her like she was food. The counselors looked right through her.

But nothing at the camp was more jarring than the Dodgson brothers and their conflicting approaches to delinquent rehabilitation.

“Exploratory teens,” Izeah began in his welcome speech, “fall into a pattern of behavior slips and mistrust that feed each other. They make a mistake, and their community implements new restrictions. Parents, teachers, and friends treat them like they are going to misbehave again. So they break more rules. Blame, rules, and offenses pile up until, eventually, they conclude they can’t do anything right. So why try? They’ll always mess up anyway, right? Wrong!” He yelled the answer to his own question so loudly the grass around her could have rippled. “We know you can be better. We’ll give you the trust you need to break the cycle of negative thinking. Here at Dodgson, we give you the freedom to be your best selves. In a controlled environment, of course.”

“Do you know why you’re here?” Adam Dodgson asked as soon as she sat down across from him. It seemed like a silly question. Spooky knew what she had done. His dim office and quiet attention were the stark opposite of Izeah’s blustering speech on the field. Elaborate promises of trust and rehabilitation swirled in her head.

“Err. Because I made a mistake, and I can do better?”

“No. Because you were insufficiently motivated to behave.” Adam had all the hair Izeah lacked. His sandy mane was just graying at the temples. “Outside these walls, the fallout of your actions wasn’t enough to constrain your behavior. Breaking rules didn’t affect you, personally, in a way that mattered to you. I’m going to change that.”

Adam Dodgson reached into the filing cabinet beside his desk and pulled out a red folder with her name on it.

“When you break rules, you get scuffs. When you get scuffs, there are consequences. With the appropriate consequences, you will choose not to break rules.”

Izeah’s speech had mentioned scuffs. The word was meant to evoke something temporary, like a bit of grime that could be wiped away. After all, Izeah said to the field of teens in gray pajamas, he believed each and every one of them had endless potential to do better. Two minutes into their meeting, Spooky had a feeling Adam Dodgson didn’t share his brother’s optimism.

“I’ve talked to your parents, and I’m impressed.” His voice was even and deliberate. “To motivate you to behave this summer, they already had their own consequences in mind. I helped them add a few additional details.”

Adam opened the red folder and repositioned it to face her. Inside were her scuff levels: predetermined punishments for every ten scuffs, up to one hundred.

Spooky had assumed if she was caught sneaking out, she would spend the rest of the summer shoveling chicken shit, or maybe even bunking in the closed cabins with campers who were a little more stabby. Working in the cafeteria and sleeping in an open cabin were privileges of her good behavior. There was Dodgson, and then there was Dodgson.

But the scuff level punishments at camp weren’t what scared her. At eighty scuffs, consequences started bleeding through the fence and into her life outside. Adam Dodgson would take out his horrible red folder and make sure misery followed her through the gates. Spooky hadn’t just left for Dodgson with her suitcases. Her parents had put her in the cab with an ultimatum. If she got one hundred scuffs, the bleak and lonely years so far would be the best of her life.

And now she was about to hit seventy-three scuffs with almost half her time at Dodgson remaining.

“No one under the dumpsters,” Jackie called.

“I’m alone,” Luke whined again.

“Sure you are,” Mark said.

He was close. Too close. The beam of his flashlight waved on either side of the tree. She squeezed her eyes shut. His footsteps grew louder.

A sizzling crack echoed, and her vision blazed red.
About the Author:

Alison Kimble began writing because she loves stories and believes in their power to shape our world and ourselves. Her writing blends the real and the fantastical and crosses genres of horror, fantasy, and sci-fi. Now that her debut novel, Strange Gods, is in your hands, she is working on her next novel and a short story anthology. She lives in the Greater Seattle Area with her husband and spends her time walking in the woods, going to the movies, and seeking adventures large and small.


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