Once upon a time in the Kingdom of Maxim…
“You turned me into a cliché!” screeched Queen Lucinda. Nobles grimaced and servants ducked their heads to avoid eye contact. “I requested a story to honor our dead king and recognize the kingdom as a realm to be celebrated and admired.”
“Yes, Your Majesty. I mean no-”
“Guards! Seize this man.”
The hair went up on the back of William Writer’s neck as two guards propelled him forward. Everyone knew the beautiful queen had given up magic on her wedding day. But with King Edward dead, his heartless widow might not feel bound to her promise.
“But Your Majesty, I wrote of the generosity and wisdom of his monarchy, the splendor and elegance of his court, the beauty and abundance of the land, and the kindness and diligence of its people.”
“And the vain, mean-spirited queen.” Her sultry voice failed to hide the bitterness behind her words. An oppressive silence fell over the court as she raised an eyebrow at the royal poet who knelt before the throne.
William cursed himself for his folly. He should have listened to his wife and softened his portrayal of the Queen Mother. The royal poet avoided looking into her cold, black eyes as he struggled to find a way out of his predicament. “Your Highness, you misunderstood. It was all in jest -”
“You portrayed me as the wicked witch of a fairy tale.” She jumped from her throne, fists clenched, red splotches spreading across her face and neck. With one agitated wave, the guards removed the poet from her court. “Let him sit in the dungeon and write for the rats.”
Lucinda breathed deeply to calm her seething temper and lowered herself back onto the velvet cushion. She smoothed her satin skirts and patted the stray ebony strands that had fallen from her perfectly coiffed hair. The poet’s desperate pleas echoed through the stone corridor as she turned her thoughts to more pressing matters.
Her stepson Richard, the newly crowned King, would be home any day from courting some pale, weak princess. Lucinda must get even with that imbecile author before his return.
The Queen snapped her fingers and a servant filled her goblet. Sipping on the sweet mead, she held the heavy, bronze cup between her palms and searched the golden liquid for an answer. Her cunning mind whirled with malicious inspiration. A malevolent smile slowly spread across her face.
“Ah, yes. It’s perfect.” She let out a delighted cackle then clapped her hands, calling for ink and paper. “I’ll beat that pathetic poet at his own game.”
The news of William’s imprisonment spread through the village of Chestnut. King Richard had left on matters of State, leaving his stepmother to rule as regent. The unlucky poet became the first casualty of her temporary reign.
The mumblings began softly but quickly grew louder.
“His poor wife is heavy with child.”
“He’ll pay the ultimate price for his arrogance now.”
Without her late husband to keep her under control, Lucinda could turn their world upside down. The townspeople said a silent prayer for the swift return of their king.
All was as it should be in the Kingdom of Maxim. The baker lit a fire for the bread; the tailor took inventory of his cloth; the cobbler cut a pattern for another pair of shoes. Farmers went to their fields and wives and children began their daily household chores. Life was good –until the residents discovered mysterious missives tacked on their cottage doors.
The miller’s daughter ran outside waving a parchment at her father. “Oh, Papa! It’s the royal seal! Could it be an invitation?”
The miller looked perplexed. “Why would the Queen send notices to each household? The town herald reads important proclamations.”
Villagers soon crowded the town square waving their papers with enthusiasm. Clara fingered the unopened parchment in her apron with apprehension. She noticed a strange, repetitious behavior as each of her neighbors read their letter.
“Something is amiss,” Clara said as pandemonium took over the village square. She quickly made the sign of the cross and ran for the safety of her home.
That same morning, the royal steward heard a scream from the kitchen below and hurried down the back stairs.
“What in the - ” he stopped dead in his tracks. The footman held a dead goose over a steaming caldron while the cook frantically tried to snatch it from his hand.
“Help me. Please, sir, he’s gone quite mad!” implored the squat woman as she balanced on her tiptoes and jumped towards the bird held high above her head. “He’s already thrown in the two geese dressed for tonight’s meal. This one’s not even plucked yet.”
The steward and cook held the servant down on the bench and wrestled the goose from him. The glazed look disappeared from footman’s eyes and he heaved a sigh of relief. At that moment, a huge crash came from upstairs. The three exchanged a wary glance before looking towards the ceiling.
King Richard paused at the top of the mountain taking in the lands of Maxim and smiled with satisfaction. The sun shone brightly on his dark shoulder-length hair, warming his skin as he breathed in the fragrant country air. The golden wheat fields, gently sloping hills of emerald green and sparkling streams set against the dense forest could easily be the happy-ever-after setting for an enchanted story. This is where his betrothed must first view her new home. Who could not fall in love with this kingdom – and hopefully its king?
“Hyaa!” Putting the spurs to his horse, he loped down the hill towards the village and wondered what mischief Lucinda had stirred up during his absence.
Taking a shortcut through the woods, Richard spotted a stray sheep. As his huge royal steed caught up to it, the wool unexpectedly fell off the sheep’s back revealing a more sinister figure.
“God’s teeth!” The king pulled his horse to a stop. A wolf in a sheep’s skin? A bad omen, indeed. With a new sense of urgency, the young monarch hurried towards the outskirts of Chestnut.
The main street was full of activity. As he drew closer, the king observed the Chapman family walk in circles while dragging their toes in the dirt. Nearby, the tailor sat in the middle of the square with his jerkin pulled over his face.
Richard’s stallion began to prance and snort. The king dismounted and approached a paddock where a blue horse grazed. Why would someone dye a horse?
He continued through the town center with a nervous equine at his heels and took in the peculiar scene. Tom the Blacksmith intermittently shaded his eyes with his hands, gazed off into the distance, and then took a huge leap.
A wolf in sheep’s clothing, a horse of a different color. Richard nodded to the blacksmith as he jumped past again. “Lucinda, what have you done this time?” he muttered under his breath.
The old midwife ran up to the handsome young king she had helped bring into this world. When she stopped to give a quick curtsy, a dozen or so villagers almost toppled over her.
“Oh, Your Majesty, we are so glad to see you. Yesterday, the Queen Mother imprisoned William Writer for his description of Maxim. This morning, everyone received a strange invitation and began to act possessed upon reading it.” The poor woman wrung her hands as if to wipe away the black magic.
The king laid a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “Why did you not get an invitation, Clara? What about these people with you? They seem clear of mind.”
“Your Majesty, I felt uneasy about opening mine so I waited. These good families behind me had no one in their household who could read so they have been spared, sire.”
Richard tapped a finger on his lips thoughtfully. Ignorance is bliss.
Clara again crossed herself as a man walked by winking and counting. “The whole village has gone mad. Bart the Gatekeeper stands in the cemetery with one foot on his wife’s grave and cannot move. Mort the Gardener continues to poke himself in the side with a thorn.”
“Do not fear, Clara. I will find the cause and set things right.” He was appalled at the calamity in his village. “I have a fair idea who is responsible.”
“Yes, Your Majesty, I am sure you do,” Clara agreed as she stepped out of the way of a woman who walked backwards and pulled a blanket along the ground. “Covering her tracks, she is,” nodding at the girl.
Richard headed for the castle determined to end the upheaval in his kingdom. Along the way, he pulled a timber in front of the Chapmans. One by one, the family members tripped over the log, picked themselves up and bowed low before their king.
“Get a blindfold for Tom so he can’t see where he leaps,” the king ordered as he snatched the woolen shirt covering the tailor’s eyes.
Next he picked up the girl dragging a blanket and carried her several feet to eliminate the footprints. When he set her back down, she curtsied low and looked up with a grateful smile.
King Richard fixed angry eyes on the tower where his stepmother surely watched the scene below. He wanted to strangle her. Lucinda had wreaked havoc in his realm in a few short days. Princess Isabella was coming in less than a month and there was much to do before her arrival. He did not have time for such tomfoolery.
His progress home was stalled repeatedly as he encountered one faithful subject after another needing release from Lucinda’s spell. Fortunately, only a clever mind was required to solve each predicament. Richard was thankful Lucinda’s malevolence was much stronger than her magic. Yet with all he had seen, the king was still not prepared for the chaos at the castle.
He passed over the drawbridge and through the gate to find his faithful knights still as stone, each holding his head with both hands. He spied some fruit in a nearby basket and tossed an apple at each soldier. One by one, the soldiers let go of their heads and caught the fruit. A round of ‘Thank you, Your Majesty’ and ‘Very grateful, Sire’ followed him across the bailey as he looked for a groom to unsaddle his mount.
The king heard grunting noises and peered inside the dark stable to find his grooms inside the stalls. One hung onto a horse’s neck, while another clung to the poor creature’s back legs. A third was trying to lift a small and unwilling pony onto his lap.
“You are a sight for sore eyes, Your Majesty,” the Captain of the Guard said, exhaustion apparent in his voice. “I returned early this morning from border patrol to this insanity. The cook warned us not to read anything with a royal seal so we have not been affected.”
Richard nodded. “I already witnessed the disaster in the village. Time to let Lucinda know I have returned. Meet me in the throne room and bring William Writer. I shall hear his side of the story.”
The captain hurried away reassured that His Majesty would squash the hysteria.
The young monarch bellowed orders to anyone not under his stepmother’s spell as he made his way towards the keep.
“Dump that pot of water so the servants cannot watch it.”
“Take the needles away from those nine girls by the sundial.”
“Get that man off the merchant’s scale and put the salt away.”
He found Lucinda in the Great Hall impatiently waiting for her supper.
“What is taking so long in the kitchen?” Her shriek caused the servant girl to flinch and nervously pull at her skirt.
“I believe you are the reason for the delay, dear stepmother.”
Lucinda’s head jerked up at the sound of his voice. Her tone changed at once. “Oh, my dear boy, come and give your mother a kiss.” Her words were as sickeningly sweet as her smile. “Perhaps you can motivate these lazy servants.”
“The entire kitchen staff is crowded around the hearth adding their own touches to the stew. You know what they say.” He paused, a smirk forming upon his lips. “Dinner may be indefinitely delayed. Meet me in the throne room. I need an explanation, Lucinda.”
“I do not appreciate your tone, Richard.”
“King Richard, if you recall. And this is not a request.”
Much later, the king sat on his throne once again, amazed at the audacity of this self-centered woman. His Captain of the Guard had fetched the petrified poet and both sides of the story retold. King Richard read the original tale then nodded to the author.
“Congratulations, William Writer. Your prose is lyrical, flowing and does indeed pay tribute to my father and my kingdom. Truth be told, the description of the Queen Mother is not flattering but accurate.” He gazed intently at his beautiful, vain stepmother. “I must admit I am curious, Lucinda. Why not just behead the man?”
The queen gave an indelicate snort. “I promised your father on his deathbed I would cause no bloodshed in his kingdom. I am always true to my word.”
She looked down her nose at the poet. “Since I could not kill him in the physical sense, I gave him a writer’s death and poisoned his story with clichés. When the princess arrived and saw the Kingdom of Maxim in such chaos, I expected her to turn tail and run home. This would leave me as regent while you attended to matters of State. I killed two birds with one stone, so to speak.”
“You are foiled on both counts. It may be weeks before I am able to locate all my subjects affected by your spell but I will return my kingdom to its previous condition. And Isabella is neither shallow nor fickle enough to break our betrothal.” King Richard snapped his fingers. “Enough of this nonsense! Let us attend to more important matters of state.”
A servant came forward with a silver platter, upon which lay a parchment with the royal seal and offered it to the Queen Mother.
She gingerly picked it up and broke the wax with one long nail. “I suppose this is an invitation to your wedding. I don’t understand why you -” Lucinda let out a strangled sob while both hands flew to her nose, the paper falling to the floor.
“Whatever is the matter, dear stepmother?”
“Cut off my nose to spite my face? How dare you turn my own spell against me?” Her eyes frantically scanned the room for any knives or blades.
“You wanted to be recognized throughout the realm. A witch without a nose will surely attain notoriety.” The king’s blue eyes twinkled, enjoying her discomfort. “However, there is a way…”
“I’ll do anything.” Her words were muffled beneath her palms as she tried to protect her aristocratic nose. “Anything you say.”
“You must cease your spitefulness.”
“I said -”
“You might as well put a stake through my heart.”
The king shrugged. “Enough drama, Lucinda. It’s your choice.”
The little kingdom of Maxim prospered from the legendary tales written by the court poet, William Writer. Visitors came from near and far to see a land of breathtaking beauty and meet the just King Richard and virtuous Queen Isabella.
Almost everyone in the kingdom lived happily ever after. Although Lucinda appeared pleasant and accommodating, Isabella sensed her sadness. Thinking her mother-in-law continued to grieve the loss of her beloved, she asked her husband how she might help. The king, with a wise smile, told her that the Queen Mother needed not just a sprinkling of kindness, but an outpouring of compassion. Thus the dutiful daughter-in-law spent years showering the older woman with goodness, blissfully unaware that each day she dampened any spark of happiness for Lucinda. When it rains, it pours.
Bestselling and award-winning author Aubrey Wynne resides in the Midwest with her husband, dogs, horses, mule, and barn cats. She is an elementary teacher by trade, champion of children and animals by conscience, and author by night. Obsessions include history, travel, trail riding and all things Christmas.
Ghost stories are famous the world over, every culture has their own. Here are a few you may have heard of:
Hello! First of all, I’m K.J. Sage, an urban fantasy writer who loves a touch of darkness.
I’ve always been a big fan of Halloween, ghosts, vampires, all those things that go bump in the night. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been drawn to the dark side. Maybe because I’ve had some creepy experiences myself.
Today, I thought we could talk about one of those experiences. Hey, it is almost Halloween, after all!
Have you ever experienced sleep paralysis?
Apparently Sleep Paralysis is a bit of a phenomenon. Your body remains “asleep” but you partially wake up. Hallucinations are very common and for some unexplained reason, most people see very similar things. Specifically, a shadowy figure who watches you sleep while you are powerless to do anything to defend yourself.
At one point in time, people believed that a demonic figure was holding them down in their sleep. I can totally understand why.
I've experienced sleep paralysis a few times before. Once in particular, a tall figure in a long black cloak glided to the edge of my bed and stared down at me. The streetlight was behind him so I couldn't see into his hood at what face lay beneath. Worst of all, because it was sleep paralysis and I couldn't move, all I could do was shut my eyes and tell myself everything would be okay, that when I opened my eyes again, he would be gone. To this day, I can't help but wonder what exactly it was he was seeing in me...
There is speculation that medication can trigger it, but it’s not known for sure. This remains a big mystery to me.
As humans, we are always desperate to understand more. Perhaps sleep is the gateway to those answers we seek…
Recently, I wrote a short book about sleep paralysis, all the feelings it evokes; a shortness of breath, a heavy feeling on the chest, the inability to move. Except for Rick, the main character in my book, it might not be all in his head…
Enjoy this spooky story for 1.99 here: https://storyoriginapp.com/universalbooklinks/7525bbae-ec86-11ea-9662-4f81d7bbf816
Or read it for free by joining my newsletter here: https://storyoriginapp.com/giveaways/8bad042c-e56a-11ea-86d0-07d91dd66584
I have some other creepy stories planned, as well as a few lighter books. At the moment, all of my stories are urban fantasy and take place in the same world. It’s an exciting time for me to explore different parts of life through the stories that I write while having fun doing it.
Thank you so much for reading my guest post! It’s been a blast being here and I hope you sleep soundly tonight!
1) Tell us about the stories you write.
I write romance. Anything romance! As long as the story contains a happily-ever-after, I don't much care what time period or subgenre, I love a good romance story. My books are about strong heroines and sexy heroes. Sensual stories filled with emotion and some adventure. I like to keep things exciting and suspenseful.
Most of my stories are paranormal romance. I love the supernatural! Combining my love for romance and all things spooky make for wonderful story ideas. My newest release, The Ghost of Morley Manor, is paranormal ghost romance that is part of A Cursed All Hallows’ Eve: A Limited Edition Paranormal Romance, Urban Fantasy and Reverse Harem Halloween Themed Collection.
2) What do you plan on writing next?
I have a lot going on right now. I'm in the midst of finishing the next two paranormal romance books in the Cougar Shifter series that began with Loving Boone. I'm also working on a new sci-fi alien romance series part of which has been released with Stolen and Seduced. There's more ghosts and vampires in my future, too!
3) Do you believe in ghosts?
Absolutely! Too many strange, unexplainable things have happened in my life not to believe in them. I grew up in my grandmother's house which we believed to be haunted. The house is over 150 years old and my family lived there for 100 of those years. My great-grandmother passed away in the living room. When she was younger, she gave birth to a stillborn baby which my grandfather buried in the backyard (this was back in the early 1900s). My grandfather also passed away when I was about two years old.
For as long as I can remember, there were areas of the house that felt strange to me. As if someone was watching me. Sometimes voices were heard coming from downstairs. My grandmother often scolded my aunt, thinking she'd left the television on before going to bed at night. When my aunt went downstairs, the television was turned off. No one could explain where the voices came from.
My aunt also witnessed apparitions. She woke several nights to see the figure of a baby at the foot of her bed. We often wondered if it was the baby that passed away in the house. To this day, my aunt insists she was wide awake when she saw the infant. It wasn’t a dream. She'd blink and the baby would disappear.
Despite the many strange things that happened in the house, my grandmother always assured me when I was a kid that whatever ghosts haunted the place, they were most likely our deceased family members. It didn't make it at all scary knowing my family was behind the strange breezes that swept through the living room when the windows were closed. Or the sounds of footsteps when no one else was home. My family loved me, so I felt they were watching over us.
Now, I live in my own haunted house for about 15 years. I have new experiences here. Not as frequent as I would like! Yes, I actually wanted to buy a haunted house. I've heard footsteps when no one else was awake, sometimes coming from the attic at night. When my daughter was two years old, she told me she saw a man in the kitchen and my bedroom (of course, this was when no one else was home). My daughter also had an imaginary friend until she was about 5 years old. Another little girl named Anna. I often wondered if Anna was imaginary or maybe… something more.
4) What is your favorite thing about Halloween?
Everything! I love the atmosphere Halloween brings. Anything feels possible. Ghosts, vampires, werewolves, monsters of any kind. I've been an avid lover of the supernatural for all my life. I've read countless books and watched TV shows documenting the unexplained. Halloween brings everything out into the open. A celebration of all things spooky!
5) How do you spend your Halloween?
It could be Halloween in my house all year round! I have decorations of ghosts, witches, werewolves and vampires. I keep the decorations near my bookshelf with the books that I've written and published. Although my family enjoys watching spooky TV shows and movies all year long, we dig in for the month of Halloween. Ghost Hunters, Ghost Adventures, Paranormal Caught on Camera. And then there's the other shows like Supernatural (I love Dean!), Dark Shadows (the 1960's soap opera) and on YouTube there's OmarGoshTV, Moe Sargi, and Nuke's Top 5 which has a lot of spooky ghost and cryptid videos.
Typically, for the month of October, I spend it celebrating with my four children. We go on hayrides and haunted corn mazes. Our local Cub Scouts have a Halloween costume contest every year which my boys won a few times for creative and spooky. My kids also helped with a Zombie run that the Scouts put together last year. They dressed up and hid along the trail to jump out and scare the runners. We're hoping this event will take place every year (although we cancelled it due to Covid-19 this year). I also walk with my kids in the Halloween parade in our town representing Scouts as we toss buckets of candy to the kids. We always enjoy giving out candy! It's so much fun to see the kid's eyes light up. Of course, my kids are always excited about Halloween night when we go Trick or Treating. Most of the month, my family spends giving to others, and this is one night where they reap the rewards and come home with pumpkin buckets overflowing with goodies!
Tricia Schneider is a full-time dreamer who writes romance novels and short stories. She’s been an archaeologist, a spaceship captain and a vampire hunter. She’s sailed the Seven Seas with sexy pirates and danced the night away with Prince Charming. Before the supernatural took possession of her pen, she worked as Assistant Manager and bookseller at Waldenbooks. She firmly believes there is a book for everyone. After the store closed, she turned to writing full-time, publishing paranormal and historical romances. From werewolves and witches to pirates and Regency lords, she escapes into sensual stories where happily-ever-after is a guarantee.
Tricia lives in Pennsylvania with her four children and two rescued cats. When she’s not typing away on her laptop, she’s riding shotgun in a ’67 Impala while keeping her eyes open for a madman in a Big Blue Box.
This is a ghost story about my cat.
It’s also a love story. And a story about events that happen under your nose while you aren’t paying attention.
Life is everywhere.
Back when I lived in a little one-bedroom apartment in Richmond, I had my best buddy by my side. He was a big tuxedo cat named Zippy. We all called him Zippy the Wondercat, because he was, well, wonderful. He was big and fluffy and very, very sociable. If there were two or more people in a room, he was guaranteed to be sprawled on the floor right in the middle, where you couldn’t ignore him. Not that you’d want to—he was exceptionally handsome, with a belly that just called out to be petted. And he’d let you—he enjoyed a belly rub.
He was my first cat, my first pet that was all mine, mine only, after I got a divorce. He and I drove my raggedy-ass Ford Probe up from Key West (that was where I got the divorce and the cat) to our new place in Richmond, where I knew one person and one cat. I lived on the third floor, and one of the best things about this apartment was it had a fire escape/ slash/ balcony. Living in Florida for most of my life, there was rarely a second floor, and never a balcony. So to my eyes, this was the height of chicness and luxury. Zippy and I spent loads of time hanging out on the (in retrospect) rickety wrought iron landing with its excellent view of the parking lot and, in the distance, the traffic on Grace Street.
One afternoon, I was getting ready to head to work. I was a traffic reporter at the time, and my shift was 6am to 9am, and then 3pm to 7pm. (Split shifts are the devil, but that’s another story.) I was locking things up, and I noticed Zippy wasn’t in his usual spot on the couch. It didn’t take me long to find him. He’d fallen off the balcony.
This part of the story is sad and I’m going to skip over it. My poor sweet baby didn’t survive.
I obviously didn’t make it to work. My best friend Anne (my one person) came over with a big bottle (BIG bottle) of wine and we drank and I cried. When I heard a cat meowing, I ignored it. Other people have cats, right? Even though I’d never heard one in the hallway. But it kept crying, and it kept getting louder.
By the time the cat was howling and scratching on my front door, we were both frozen, wide-eyed. Anne tells me I was white as a sheet.
“I’d better get that,” I said.
I opened the door, and a big tuxedo cat raced past me, through the living room and on into the bedroom, still wailing.
Once my heart started beating again, I went after it.
Well, it wasn’t Zippy. This cat had a bright pink collar. Her name, it appeared, was Alice, and she lived upstairs. I picked her up (she was very friendly, if upset) and went up, and knocked on the door. Her owner was absolutely shocked.
“She has literally never left this apartment before,” she said. When I told her what happened, it was her turn to go pale. “That was your black cat? He came to visit Alice every day. They would both sit in the window—her inside, him outside. I think they were in love.”
We realized Zippy had lost his balance jumping from the windowsill back to the fire escape. How Alice knew that it was my apartment door she needed to bang on, we will never know. But she loved him enough to try and find him when she knew something had gone horribly wrong.
He had a girlfriend, and a whole life I knew nothing about.
I’ve had other cats since Zippy, and I’ve loved them all equally, because all cats are perfect. I try and honor his memory by being an excellent cat parent to each of them. But Zippy was special, I think, and it eased the pain of his loss just a little by knowing it wasn’t just me that mourned him, that day.
And if I ever hear a wandering spirit scratching at my door, you better believe I’ll let him in.
Kim Alexander grew up in the wilds of Long Island, NY and slowly drifted south until she reached Key West. After spending ten rum-soaked years as a DJ in the Keys, she moved to Washington DC, where she lives with her cat, an angry fish, and her extremely patient husband. She began writing when she ran out of authors to interview.
Kim was in her twenties when she finally read a book not prominently featuring spaceships and/or wizards. Turns out Jane Austen was pretty funny!
Her husband tells her she needs to write at least ten more books if she intends to retire in Thailand, so thank you for your patronage.
Kaitlyn stared at the coffee maker as it crackled faintly, filling the glass pot with the sweet life giving brew at an excruciating slow pace. She looked down at her phone to scroll through Instagram to distract her from the seemingly glacial progress but not even cat pictures or sunrises from some far away beach could keep her from glancing at the pot every three seconds. And speaking of cats she could hear her kitty yowling and scratching at the backdoor, ready to come in from a night on the prowl.
“Oh my gosh Sunny stop, I’m coming,” Kaitlyn yelled as she shuffled through the living room to let in the howling ball of impatient fluff.
No sooner had the door cracked opened a streak of yellow and orange lightening ran through the living room. Groaning, she followed the cat back towards her bedroom knowing there was only one reason he would run to her room instead of the kitchen for breakfast, he had brought something in. Kaitlyn stopped into the bathroom to grab a plastic bag out from underneath the sink, avoiding the mirror as she went. She was still in the clothes she had slept in, an XL shirt she was given at the gym she attended once and a pair of cotton shorts with a hole in the pocket, and hadn’t even thought about brushing her hair or teeth yet. Just as she had suspected, Sunny was hunched over something giving it a sniff when she had walked into the bedroom armed with her cleaning spray and baggy.
“Ok mighty hunter, let’s see what you drug in this time,” she said sticking one foot under the cat’s stomach and moving him away from his catch to get a look. In the three years that she had owned him, he had brought home everything from paper sacks to mysteriously stolen socks to dead lizards, but he always laid them down on the rug right in front of her bed. Today was a completely new catch however, a bat. Kaitlyn squatted down with the bag over her entire hand, looking away with her eyes sealed shut as she attempted to scoop up little body. Her fingers closed around the fuzzy body and a little squeal escaped her lips that echoed out around the room. No, not an echo she realized as she felt movement beneath her fingers. Oh shit, it’s alive, she realized in a panic.
Kaitlyn pulled the baggie away from the squeaking bat and Sunny rushed back in to investigate. She pulled the cat away from the animal, moving quickly out of the room and slamming the door shut behind her. Dropping the cat down in the kitchen to dig through the cabinets and pantry for something to put the bat in while she figured out where to take him. Giving into the realization that there weren’t any shoe boxes anywhere in the house, because really who keeps those things, she plunged a knife down through a Tupperware lid to make air holes for a transport box. After grabbing her least favorite kitchen towel from the drawer and distracting the cat with a scoop of food, she snuck back down the hallway. The high pitched squeaking had stopped from behind the door. Kaitlyn grimaced as she pulled the door open, afraid she was about to have to act as a coroner instead of a paramedic after all. But it turns out the bat wasn’t dead all, in fact it wasn’t a bat all at anymore. A man was now kneeling on her area rug groaning battered, his hair matted with sweat and his hands covered in lacerations.
Her fingers started to turn white around the Tupperware container still clutched in her hand. Kaitlyn let out the breath she was holding as she fought the urge to throw the ruined plastic at him and run out the door behind her as the realization that the strange guy on her floor was seriously hurting.
“Are you ok?” she finally managed, accidentally shouting at the poor man to try and drown out the sound of her own heart hammering in her ears. Well man wasn’t exactly accurate. Vampires had been out in the public eye for about five years but they still weren’t common to come across. They didn’t hang out in the Dollar General or anything. Kaitlyn took a steadying breath
“I heal quickly,” the man assured me as he rose to his knees, his dark hair still hanging down into his pale face.
“Should I call someone or can I give you a ride somewhere I guess?” She asked looking down at herself in her bare feet and oversized shirt. “You’ll just need to let me change….Or probably a cab would be best?”
“The sun is already up and I’m not going to fit into that any longer,” the vampire said pointing at the makeshift transport in her hands. Kaitlyn looked down at the forgotten container with a blush and tossed it into a chair on top of the not-quite-dirty clothes pile.
“So what I’m just supposed to let you hang out until sundown?” Kaitlyn asked as she followed him down the hallway and towards the living room. He poked his head around the corner cautiously before easing into the room silently to pull the curtains tight across the window. Even in the low light Kaitlyn could see he was already free of most of his injuries as he moved around the room.
“It would be appreciated,” he said as he sat down on the couch, his movements as graceful as a falling feather. “Besides it seems like the least you could offer since if it wasn’t for your feline friend I wouldn’t be in your house at all.”
“Yeah, true… That leads into my next question. How are you in my house? Don’t vampires have to be invited in?” She said sitting down in the armchair across the room, folding her legs underneath her feeling like a newborn giraffe in her movements now compared to his unnerving elegance.
“Oh your cat-“he started to explain.
“Right, Sunny here is considered a resident of this dwelling and therefore has the authority to grant me entrance.”
“That seems like a hell of a loophole…Kaitlyn said reaching behind her to pull a blanket off the back of the decorative armchair to cover up with, pulling the fabric all the way up to her neck.
“You don’t have to worry, I am not going to harm you,” the vampire assured her from across the darkened room.
“What? Oh no I wasn’t worried about that,” she said, heat flooding her cheeks as she realized what her pulling the blanket up so far much have looked like. “I wasn’t pulling it up over my neck because I thought you were going to attack me or anything! I watched all of the vampire coverage on the news and know you guys don’t really even drink that much blood. I’m just still in my pjs and felt a little self-conscious is all.”
“So you didn’t think I was going attack you, you just thought I might be a pervert?” he clarified, raising an inquisitive eyebrow.
“Yes…Wait, no! I mean….”Kaitlyn bit down on her lip to try to get herself to stop talking. “Are you sure you can’t head out sooner?”
“I don’t exactly have my car even if the sun wasn’t already up,” he said with a shrug.
“Right,” Kaitlyn agree quietly as she pulled out her phone to check what time the sun would be setting on her weather app, hoping the forecast would suddenly call for rain. With a high of 89 and not a cloud in sight her hopes of getting rid of her guest early were officially dashed, it was going to be a sunny day.
“I’m Nathaniel,” the vampire offered apologetically from across the room. Even though he had been literally drug into the house against his will, Kaitlyn could feel that he knew he was inconveniencing her.
“I’m Kaitlyn,” she returned sliding her phone back into her pocket. “I’m going to get changed real fast but feel free to look through the movies or I think I have some board games if you are interested.”
“Thank you very much. Do you mind if I get something to drink from the kitchen?” He asked, standing so swiftly he had actually done it between her blinking.
“Sure, as long as it’s not my cat,” she said back, watching him wide eyed as she rose from her seat too and backed up down the hallway.
The locked clicked in place behind her as she leaned against the door and hoped that Nathaniel’s hearing wasn’t good enough to pick it up. She felt obligated to be a good hostess since she felt so guilty that her cat had hurt him but she wasn’t willing to put her comfort completely aside to do so. Especially since she was already giving up a whole day off of pretending she was going to get up and clean to entertain him. When we reemerged from her room, hair tamed, jeans on, and teeth brushed she found Nathaniel still standing in the kitchen with two cups of coffee already poured. A familiar comfort flooded her body at the sight of the steaming mugs, starting her coffee maker seemed like something she had done yesterday rather than an hour ago. She collected her cup and came to stand over near where he was hanging out looking down at the puzzle on her dining room table, sensing that was what he was most interested in doing. Well, there are worse ways to spend a day I suppose.
1) Tell us about the stories you write/the story you have written for the event.
I’m Briana Michaels author of all things fae, demon, witch, and Hell Hound with romance on the wicked side. Each of my stories combines intense, dark-ish, fast-paced elements with suuuuper steamy scenes and a splash of humor.
Hell Hounds Harem series – Get ready to HOWL FOR YOUR PACK!
These badass men were created by Lucifer and run in packs. Devotion, loyalty, fierce protective instincts – these Hell Hounds have it all. Their job is to hunt down the malanum – malicious spirits - and send them back into Hell’s prisons. They work together to keep the world safe and, in all things, they have each other’s backs with fists clenched, blades drawn, and eyes blazing with righteousness. And in the bedroom, these big boys make their woman howl till her throat is raw and legs are weak.
When Lucifer suspects a traitor is in their midst, things go from suspicious to deadly with a flick of a blade. Hell’s walls are crumbling, packs are attacked, betrayal runs thick, and the bonds created are shaken down to their bare bones. Do these Hell Hounds and Angels have what it takes to not only save themselves, their packs, and Hell… but the humans they’ve spent their lifetimes protecting – or is the evil darkening the hearts of men too deep-seated to eliminate?
When war is waged and love is on the line, there is only one thing left to do: Raise Hell.
*This Reverse Harem series is written in trilogies with multi-POVs. 9 books, 3 harems, 1 hella massive story arc. All are in Kindle Unlimited.*
Restless Spirit (1): books2read.com/u/mdzzwE
The Dark Truth (2): books2read.com/u/3nvvMP
The Devil’s Darling (3): books2read.com/u/47rrJq
Hard to Find (4): books2read.com/u/4j22Mv
Hard to Love (5): books2read.com/u/bzooq9
Hard to Kill (6): books2read.com/u/mgZZyx
Raise Hell (7): https://books2read.com/u/49MlYM
Raise the Dead (8): https://books2read.com/u/b6ZK6M
Ruler of the Righteous (9): https://books2read.com/u/3kWARO
Sins of the Sidhe series – Get ready to sin with the rebels.
Everyone has a soulmate. Finding them isn’t the hard part; it’s keeping them that could cost you everything. Angels have cracked halos, Demons hide their horns, Fae are only as sweet as the revenge they seek, and they’re all coming into the human world. As the fabric of the universe begins to unravel, it’s hard to pick a side if both have good and evil, light and dark, war and peace. Choose carefully…
*This paranormal M/F romance series has urban fantasy elements with multi-POVs, is fast-burning, fast-paced with fated mates and intertwining subplots with massive story arcs. All are in Kindle Unlimited.*
Shatter (1): books2read.com/u/bP99wj
Shine (2): books2read.com/u/3LDD8M
Passion (3): books2read.com/u/4Azzde
Bargains (4): books2read.com/u/b555Jp
Ignite (5): books2read.com/u/m2VVJk
Awaken (6): books2read.com/u/38ZZJ7
Rise (7): books2read.com/u/4Dyyjd
Exile (8): books2read.com/u/bpOOMl
Discord (9): Coming Soon
2) What do you plan on writing next?
Right now, I’m in the middle of writing Discord, Book 9 in the Sins of the Sidhe series. I can’t tell you how much I love the two demons this story focusses on. Jackyl is a Goddess in the Underworld. Actually, she’s the first and only female to have power down there, and she is keeping busy showing her rivals what she’s capable of. All eyes are on her as everyone watches, waits, and holds their breath expecting her to fail… and she intends to make them all suffocate while she carries on with her badass self.
Chaos on the other hand? Well, he’s aptly named and has his hands full with a twin brother – Ruin - who is up to no good, an uprising in the Underworld brewing, a war camp to run, and an unknown enemy hellbent to destroy everything he’s built and holds dear – including the one he treasures most.
Squueeeee!! Back to the writing cave I go!!!
3) Do you believe in ghosts?
YES!! I grew up in a haunted house. Day and night, you could hear people moving around, thumping, pacing up and down the hall and talking in the basement. Lights flickered all the time and the stereo would turn on and off randomly. It went from scary to annoying within a few years.
And when I bought my first house just after getting married, that one was haunted too. They weren’t nearly as noisy and they almost always stayed upstairs. The bugaboo with that? My son’s nursery was upstairs (master bedroom was on the first floor.) So one day, while my son was taking a nap, I had his baby monitor on and I was in my bedroom. I hear the boots stomp into his room. I stared at the monitor (it had a line of red lights that glowed depending on the loudness in the nursery). The red lights flickered with the noise of the nursery door opening, then you could hear boots thumping and a man’s voice said, “Wake up, boy!” and he CLAPPED! Yes, you read that right. He. Clapped. Those damn red lights lit all the way up and my son started crying. Was I freaked out? Hell no. We’d lived with these ghosts too long for fear to set in.
I. Was. Livid. Did that ghost not realize how hard it was for me to get my son down for a nap??!!! I marched my ass up there and yelled, “Thanks a lot, you jerk!”
4) What is your favorite thing about Halloween?
That my house is covered in spooky stuff, fresh apple cider is available all over the place, and the woods I live in is super colorful and smells divine. I’ve always said I was Morticia Addams’s funky twin sister and Halloween gives me the best excuse to pull out ALL my skulls and bats and everything else my little gothic heart loves so much. I keep some of it out all year round, but Halloween is the one holiday I go wild with. Not an inch of my house is saved from bones, spiders, webbing, and bats. #TheWitchIsIn
5) How do you spend your Halloween?
We usually go trick or treating and throw a massive party complete with a haunted trail in the woods. But we’re skipping that this year. #Booooo
One tradition we will NOT skip is this: The Witch Cake.
Every year my kids and I bake a witch cake – it’s usually a pumpkin cranberry bread or spice cake. While it’s cooling, I crack open the windows in the kitchen to entice the flying witches to smell it and come to our house. Before going to bed, the kids leave a slice out for any witch who dares to enter our home and the next morning, the cake is gone and she’s left a present for the them.
Best. Tradition. Ever.
TRAPPED WITHIN A
A Romantic Horror Suspense
J. P. Uvalle
Copyrighted by Beautifully Twisted Publishing 2020
All Rights Reserved
They say that when you die in a dream, you die in real life. I can tell you that isn't true—I died in my dream, and what happened to me was much stranger than that…
Willow Divine, a goal-driven medical student with midterms around the corner, has enough on her plate. When she begins having a recurring dream with a shadow-like entity haunting every corner of her mind, the lines between fantasy and reality start to blend.
Axel, the lead singer of the college rock band, only complicates her situation. She believes his pursuit of her is more sinister than he lets on.
She discovers she’s right a little too late.
With no way out, Willow is trapped.
Can Willow discover the truth
and escape her worst nightmare before she’s trapped forever?
JP takes you on a thrilling supernatural journey, filled with terror and twists at every turn inspired by some of her most horrifying nightmares.
*Not for the faint of heart*
Another Day, Another Dream…
The library was my sanctuary, an escape from the busy world filled with murder, hate, and corrupt politicians driving humanity into the ground.
Others may have hated the silence, but I found comfort in it. It was the only place where I could genuinely gather my thoughts.
My mind was buzzing more than usual lately, my body off-kilter. Part of me believed it was because midterms were next week. The other part of me thought it was because of this recurring dream I had over the past few weeks.
A shadow bearing a resemblance to the grim reaper had been stalking me at every turn. When it moved—my palms began to sweat just thinking about it--the shadow was like a marionette dancing on a stage, turning everything, it touched into darkness.
I felt all this had to be some sort of sign. But what did this figure symbolize?
I opened another book about dreams and chugged my fourth coffee cup, thumbing through the creamed-color pages. The warmth of salted caramel somewhat put my soul at ease. I was determined to find my answer even if it took me all night. Or…until the library closed, anyway.
“Willow?” a familiar voice whispered from above.
I reluctantly craned my head up to greet bright brown eyes and a temptingly wicked smile framed by tousled black hair.
The face of sin, the poster boy for all things, dark, brooding, and utterly dangerous.
“Axel.” I went back to my research. I didn’t have time for distractions.
I heard the chair next to me move, and Axel’s broad, muscular body appeared in my peripheral. He pulled my chair closer to his; his jeans’ friction sparked a warmth against my bare thigh. Smirking, he placed a brown paper bag in front of me. “I thought you might be hungry.”
The smell of grease, cheese, and hamburger meat wafted into the musky air tangling with his cedarwood cologne—a potently tantalizing combination. My stomach clenched, a rumbling noise barreling through me. I couldn’t remember the last time I had eaten. Glancing down at my wristwatch, I shook the daze from my head, fully aware of my hunger. I haven’t eaten since breakfast. My momma would take a belt to my hide if she'd known I’d been surviving on coffee alone.
Southerners didn’t play when it came to food. I didn’t grow up in the south, but my momma had ingrained her rich heritage into every part of our lives, bringing the southern charm to wherever we lived. Our neighbors certainly appreciated her home-style cooking; it kept her busy when my daddy was overseas.
Reminiscing about Southern eats had me biting my lip, anticipating the juicy, salty cheeseburger’s mouthwatering taste.
“Thank you, Axel.” I reached for the bag, but he slapped my hand away.
I turned toward him, pinning him with a glare. I should have known there was a catch attached to this meal. That’s how Axel worked; he always wanted somethin’ from me.
“Not so fast.” That devilishly handsome grin I loved to loathe grew wider, consuming his face.
“What do you want now, Axel?” I leaned back, folding my arms over my chest.
His gaze bee-lined to my chest, but with a blink, they have linked with mine again. “Relax. I just want to have a meal with my girl.”
I rolled my eyes, blowing out a breath. This guy was relentless. “I’m not your girl. We ain't even datin'.”
He leaned closer, his breath heating my ear. “We don’t have to be dating for you to be mine. Just make it easier for both of us and just accept it. Fry?” He dug into the bag and removed the carton of crisp and steaming waffle fries and waved it back and forth as if he were a hypnotist, and I was his powerless victim.
Who in the hell did this guy think he was? My second attempt to snatch the fries away failed, and he pulled them toward his chest.
“Just admit it, Willow, so we can eat.”
“No. I rather starve.” I didn’t understand his pursuit of me. I was startin' to think he had a bet going with his buddies because there was no way the lead singer of the college’s infamous rock band Devil's Descent wanted me to be his one true love when he could have any girl on campus.
His lips tugged into a frown. He set the fries down on the table and ran a hand through his shiny black hair. “I want to give you everything, but you just keep breaking my heart.”
“It ain’t my fault you won’t take no for an answer. I’ve been quite clear with how I feel ‘bout you.” My glare remained fixed. My momma warned me about boys like him, and I wasn’t giving in for anything.
He met my glare with his. “Suit yourself.”
He snatched up the fries and shoved them back into the bag, taking the entire and whispered, “sweet dreams, princess.”
His words froze me still, the chill frosting down my spine. Why on earth would he say that? It was still daylight. Maybe he was being his usually nosey self and noticed what I was reading.
I watched Axel disappear into the dark corner of the library without turning back.
After rolling my shoulders back to release the tension in my body, I continued my search, scanning the pages until a section caught my attention.
My heart strummed against my chest; my skin suddenly hot. My eyes widened as I blinked, not wanting to believe what I was reading. Had I found my answer?
The Dream Man:
Over twenty years, there have been reports of young women between the ages of 18-28 who had died in their sleep. In recent years, more deaths have followed before tapering off. The women had mentioned to family members and friends that a shadowy figure was haunting their dreams, nights before their sudden demise.
I snapped the book shut, sliding it across the table, unable to read anymore. The horror within the pages infected my mind. That can’t be true. Right? Things of that nature didn’t exist. Those were just myths and urban legends—ghost stories. I shook my head in denial. I’m just really stressed. The shadow…it means nothing.
I got up from the table, gathering all the books I took from the shelves, and put all of them back in their proper place. I then grabbed my tote and strolled to the exit, because the sight of a book suddenly made me want to vomit.
Home, sweet home...
On the way home, I turned the music on blast to drown out the troubling thoughts swirling inside my head. Those poor women. So many questions...
I parked my car in the driveway, and the quiet suburban street met me on the outside. The sun was starting to set over the horizon—a clash of orange, pink, and blue painted the sky. I inhaled deeply, trying to calm myself. I didn’t want to alarm Momma, so I needed to get myself together before walking through the front door. When I was finally ready, I slipped the key into the lock and turned the knob.
“Hey, baby girl,” Momma immediately greeted me, planting a kiss on my forehead. “I’m so happy you’re finally home. We have a guest.”
My Momma's smile beamed brighter than the sun, and the sight soothed my nerves.
The smell of chicken, spicy sausage, and shrimp lingered in the air, making our four-bedroom bungalow feel like we were in the middle of a heatwave as if the Florida heat wasn’t hot enough. Geez! It must be a special guest if she is whipping up her famous gumbo. Beats a greasy cheeseburger and fries any day. Maybe Papa was home.
Without another word, I sprinted into the kitchen, my heart pounding with excitement. Papa had been overseas in Japan for three long months. I couldn’t wait to catch up. Him, Momma, and I would spend hours on the porch, sipping iced tea, listening to his war stories, and world travels.
My heart sank when I rounded the corner. Not Papa.
Frozen in place, my hair on my arms and the back of my neck stood on end.
How did he know where I lived? Has he been following me?!
“Hey, babe.” That grin appeared—the one where it sounded like a sword being unsheathed from its holster, cutting through me every time. Nothing but the worst intentions loomed in his eyes. I knew it in my heart and my bones.
He turned back around and added more Cajun spices to the pot. “I think it’s almost ready, Mrs. Divine.”
“Please, call me Dolores.” Momma scooted passed me and gently squeezed the top of his shoulder. They shared a smile before she turned back to me with her hand hugging her hip. “Willow, your boyfriend said you haven’t eaten since breakfast.”
“Momma, he is not—”
“No excuses, Willow. Now, I’d done told you I don’t want you out there starvin’. I know how you get when you get preoccupied with somethin’.”
Axel peered at me over his shoulder with that same grin I wanted so desperately to smack off his goddamn face. “She is driven that one. One of the many reasons I adore her so. She’s so inspirational.”
Momma nodded. “And two…why have you been hiding this strapping young man from me?”
His deception ran deep if he was able to convince my momma he was no trouble. But arguing with Momma now was pointless. I just wanted to eat and avoid falling asleep.
“Sorry, Momma.” With my shoulders strung low, I made my way to the table and took a seat. Minutes later, Axel served me a steaming bowl of gumbo and some iced tea.
“Dolores said it was your favorite. I hope I did it justice.” He winked before stepping away and pulled out a seat for Momma, serving her as well. She immediately dove a spoon into the hearty mixture. “Um-mmmm. I’ll be damned if this boy can cook. Willow, honey, you better marry this boy. This gumbo is delicious.”
Oh God! Don’t give him any ideas, Momma. I groaned inwardly, shoving a spoonful into my mouth. An explosion of flavor took over my buds, and for a moment, I had forgotten he was even in the room. This is pretty damn good!
I looked up to find Axel staring at me from across the table, licking his lips as if he were a wolf fattening up his prey before eating it. My momma enjoyed her meal so thoroughly, and she was oblivious to the predator in the room.
I gulped. “It is not polite to stare.”
“My apologies. I just have a hard time believing you are mine.”
“Because I’m not.”
“Ah, you too, are adorable. How did you guys meet anyway? Momma wants all the deets.” She excitedly clapped her hands together.
“At a show. I’m in a rock band.”
“Oh, wow. My baby snagged her a musician. Isn’t that sweet.”
I rolled my eyes.
“We aren’t big-time or anything, but we have a decent following.”
“Either way, I’m proud of you, suga.” She ran her hand across his forearm, and I wanted to vomit in my mouth.
I wished I had gotten to talk to my momma about him before he dug his sharp claws into her. Now I’d never be rid of him.
Why couldn’t anyone else see past the charm to the devil hiding underneath? I didn’t have solid proof, but I knew something was off. Call it a woman's intuition.
After dinner, Axel offered to wash dishes while I dried so Momma could put her feet up and watch her stories.
I finally rounded on him when she turned the volume up on the TV. “What the hell do you think you are doing? Coming to my house like this, lyin’ to my momma about us,” I snarled.
“You refused to eat dinner with me earlier, so you gave me no choice but to take drastic measures. You need to take better care of yourself, Willow.”
“Bullshit. What do you want from me, Axel?”
The last time he cornered me in the girls' bathroom out of nowhere, said he was just checking on me. He was up to somethin’ and still was.
He placed the dishes he held back into the sudsy water. His eyes burned with such intensity; it was palpable like the spices lingering in the air. “I. Want. You.”
“You. Can’t. Have. Me.”
“That’s too bad.” He leaned in closer, the heat of his breath against my earlobe. “Because I’m not going anywhere, babe.”
“Thanks for dinner, and helpin’ with dishes, but I think it’s ‘bout time you left.”
“Not until I know you're in bed, falling fast asleep.”
“You're not going anywhere near my room, let alone my bed.”
Instinctively we both turned to find my momma asleep in the recliner.
“Who's going to stop me? Your momma? She’s dead asleep.”
I narrowed my gaze at him, a nagging feeling taking over my gut. “Did you put somethin’ in that gumbo, Axel?”
“Oh, c'mon. How awful do you think I am?” A laugh erupted from his chest.
“Pretty Goddamn awefuuulll.” I started to slur my words, my surroundings blending like paint on a canvas. I gripped the edge of the counter, desperately trying to keep my world from spinning. My muscles began to feel lax; my knees were weakening underneath me. “You, asshole,” I choked out.
“Aww, you're looking a little sleepy, there, babe. I think I should carry you to bed.”
No! No! No! I reached out to push him away, missed, and ended up in his arms anyway. The world seemed to dim around me, my vision tunneling. The darkness came to me with a confident smirk on his face. It told me that he had finally won this game.
But I told myself he hadn’t won the war as I slipped in and out of consciousness.
When Dreams Recur...
My recurring dream started as it usually did. I was a medical student with midterms coming up, so it made sense that most of my dreams pertained to me being a doctor in the Emergency Room. I wanted to become the best damn general surgeon there was...
It was dusk—the sun was setting behind the palm trees as I glanced out the window from the hospital’s fourth floor. The surgery team careened around the corridor, wheeling a gunshot patient to the operation room. Earlier, the EMS arrived with an unresponsive man, bleeding profusely from his chest; blood had completely soaked through the bandage I had applied moments ago, and he was now unconscious.
We don't have much time.
I said a prayer my momma taught me before following behind the team. Once we were beyond the double swinging doors of the O.R., I went in another direction from the surgical suite and entered the scrub room. I watched through the window as they maneuvered the patient onto the operating table from the hospital bed and prepared him for surgery. The time it took me to get into my surgical gear occurred within a blur…I was suddenly wrist-deep within the patient’s chest.
Times before, I had watched this man die on this table with my hands still in his chest. Because no matter what I did or said, the outcome was always the same; his death was haunting my waking life to the point I doubted becoming a surgeon altogether, which was why I didn’t want to experience the guilt associated with this again. Even if it were a dream, something had to give.
“The patient is in v-fib,” the anesthesiologist shouted.
“He’s losing too much blood. I can’t find the bleeder.” At this point in my dream, I would make the same mistake, the situation out of my control. I would continue shifting his organs around, asking the doctor to assist me in suctioning the blood away to locate the bleed. But this time, everyone moved around me in slow motion, their mouths pleading for what direction to take. This part hadn't happened before. Why does this feel different?
Unexpectedly, I was hypersensitive to my surroundings, my hands covered with blood, and his heart and lungs felt warm against my gloved hands. I narrowed my eyes, glancing around the surgical suite as a chill overtook me. Am I dreaming? If this was a dream, then maybe I could change the outcome if I focused hard enough.
Come on, Willow, think. What do you do?
I didn’t know his name or how old he was. Or if he had a family. I just knew I needed to save him this time.
I needed to correct the problem and fast. What his heart needed was...a jolt of electricity. If I could get him back to a normal rhythm, it would give me more time to find the bleed. That’s it! “Prepare him for defibrillation.”
My surgical team moved around with purpose and renewed confidence. The defibrillator paddle handles magically appeared within my grasp. Inhaling a breath, I closed my eyes briefly as my grip tightened around them: my heartbeat a stampede, the sound echoing through my skull. “Stand clear,” I said, pressing the thin paddles on either side of his heart.
No response. The cardiac muscle remained unmoved, taunting me with its stillness.
Dread trickled into my core. Please, come back to me. I ordered a nurse to turn up the voltage as I waited for my moment to try again. “Clear.” With my second attempt, the nervousness from my team and me filled the room like a flood. This had to be it. I was starting to feel the strain of standing there for hours in my neck, back, and knees, the sleepiness weighing my eyes down like an anchor.
His heart throbbed within his chest cavity, and we all glanced at the EKG monitor for assurance. Normal P, Q, R, and S waves. The numbers on the screen were crystal clear to me when numbers and words had been blurry before.
“Yes, normal sinus rhythm,” the anesthesiologist cheered.
Everyone joined in as my assisting doctor nodded in my direction. “Well, done, Dr. Divine.”
I smiled even though no one could see it hidden underneath my mask. “Now, we just have to find the bleed.”
Several hours later, the man was recovering in the intensive care unit. I made my rounds with the day shift doctors when I opened the door to find him being attended to by a nurse in purple scrubs.
What a second...our intensive care unit nurses usually wear red.
The other doctors didn't seem to notice the difference, but the more I stared at her, the more she looked familiar to me.
Then she spoke. “Oh, Dr. Divine. Your patient is recoverin' nicely. Vitals are now stable.”
The ICU nurse continued to smile at me, no recognition of who I was in her eyes. I stepped away from the doctors’ huddle to walk closer to her, her bright smile only growing wider as the other doctors talked amongst themselves about previous patients.
My eyes narrowed in on her like lasers as I stood right in front of her, not entirely trusting my eyes. Oddly, me standing so close didn't make her uncomfortable. The nurse's emotionless brown eyes just continued to stare back into mine.
“Momma?” I whispered.
The room’s energy alarmingly shifted, the temperature dropping to a teeth-chattering cold—the conversation behind me about who was sleeping with who died down. My momma's smile slowly faded, her once-vacant eyes slowly dilated with fear. The pressure against my spine intensified as I craned my neck over my shoulder.
The team of doctors had vanished. Darkness taking over the room replaced their presence, and there in the far corner of the room was...the tall, slender shadow in the shape of a man. The figure that had been haunting my dreams. The epitome of all my fears. He crept closer, his shadow elongating, arms outstretched. His fingers grew longer, my name a raspy whisper on his tongue.
My mouth fell open, my skin erupting with goosebumps. No! Not again! I laced my fingers through the nurse's hand, well aware of the warmth of our hands together as I jerked us in the door’s direction. “C'mon. We have to get out of here.” As we ran past, the shadow's fingers grazed against my forearm, and black tendrils twirled up my arm; the coldness infecting my veins caused my arm to lock in place. Still, I couldn't allow this to stop me. Gritting my teeth, I suffered through the pain and pulled us into the hallway.
Chaos ensued around us. The medical staff was running back and forth frantically while the building shook violently, almost as if an explosion had shifted the structure off its foundation.
Great...here we go again. I avoided running us to the elevator because precedent times had taught me it was a deadly mistake, and there was no way I was going to let something happen to the nurse that was somehow my momma. Something doesn't feel right about all this. Things were starting to feel a little too real.
So, I led us in the opposite direction and around the corner toward the stairs. Up ahead, the single door with a glass panel opened with a squeal. It stood ajar, no one walking through. Then, darkness from the shadow billowed into the hallway. “Willow.”
What did this shadow want from me? I wasn't sticking around long enough to find out, especially after his mere touch locked up my arm. The elevator, it is. Maybe, we can get off on a different floor?
“Dr. Divine. What's the plan now?” A worried expression marred her face.
Looking into her eyes, I gulped down the lump in my throat, the past of my dreams flooding my vision. “No matter what...never let go of my hand, okay?” A single tear fell from my eye as my grip on hers tightened. I had saved that man's life; hopefully, I could save hers, too.
I nodded slightly, changing our direction, and we ran to the elevator. No one else was in sight. The hospital was so quiet now. What happened to everyone else? Even the room where the man was recovering was no longer there. What the…? I touched the wall where the door used to be, my heart heavy. We hadn’t gone through all that stress in surgery for him to just disappear.
“Dr. Divine?” Momma’s voice snapped me out of my transfixion, pulling me back into the present.
The shadow was gaining on us, his arms extending the length of the hallway. “Come back.” His voice eerily echoed through the hall.
We picked up our speed, pumping our legs as fast as we could. The lights overhead began to flicker in tandem with my heartbeat. We slid into the elevator door, and I absentmindedly pushed the button for the first floor. “C’mon, c’mon, c’mon.” The elevator never came fast enough when you needed it.
A symphony of moans traveled down the hall, stirring up the fear already present within us. The shadow slithered closer, devouring everything in its wake--the hallway nothing but a black hole behind him. One by one, the lights went out, soon leaving us in complete darkness.
“Oh, thank you, Jesus.” Momma breathed out.
We stumbled into the elevator, and the doors sealed us in. When the elevator jerked downward, so did my stomach, rattled I had forgotten to press for a different floor. Oh, no! No! No! Thanks, dream for having the buttons numbered on the outside instead of in. The elevator walls seemed to close in on me; my muscles constricted around my lungs, making it hard to breathe. Screeching of metal on metal filled our ears, and the elevator shook, plummeting faster.
“We are going to die, aren’t we Doctor?” my Momma enclosed me into a tight hug, still holding my hand, and began to sob.
I lifted her chin with my finger, so her eyes of concern met mine. “No. We aren’t going to die...I am.”
She shook her head at me, confused. “But, we are stuck in here together.”
“Momma, I need you to wake up.”
“Momma? Why do you keep calling me that?" After studying every curve and line on my face, her eyes widened. “Baby girl, it’s you. It's really you. But how?” She moved a strand of my hair away from my face. “Where are we? What is happenin’ Wha--what was that thing?”
“No time to explain.” I spun us around, taking her place. I shook her again, letting go of her hand. “Momma, wake up, plea--”
The top of the elevator ripped away; sparks flew up all around us. We screamed at the top of our lungs as a large reptilian-like hand with sharp black claws snatched me out of the elevator. Its claws severed my spine, coming out through my chest. A mind-altering pain ricocheted throughout my core, setting my insides on fire. Still, I will rather be here instead of my momma.
“Baby, no,” she cried, reaching up to me.
Drops of my blood landed on her face as I let out a blood-curdling scream, succumbing to the pain. I watched the elevator drop into the depths below. “Momma!” My screams drowned in the blood pool, filling my throat, and my dream world evaporated into a blinding white light.
Where am I?
A disembodied voice called out my name, waking me up. Eyelids heavy, I forced them open to a dense fog floating all around me. I bolted upright after that, noticing I was lying on a bed, wearing a gray floral dress, in the middle of...where am I? I had no clue. Fear crawled into my flesh, trying to make sense of my surroundings. Was I still dreaming, or was I in a nightmarish hell? Although I couldn't see past the fog, the air smelled of salty seaweed, and an owl was hooting in the distance. Was I near a lake or some body of water?
A severe chill suddenly swept over me, and I rubbed my arms, desperately trying to keep warm. The bed I sat upon was only a mattress with no blankets or sheets. A rather odd place for a bed if you had asked me, but at this point, nothing was making much sense.
I glanced over my body, running a hand over my chest. There was no blood, no wound. I exhaled a breath I had been holding onto forever.
“Willow,” the voice said again, and it seemed to be coming at me from all directions.
I cursed the fog, not being able to see. Here I was a sitting duck, but where would I run? “Wh—who's there?” I shuddered.
A black figure appeared amidst the fog, strangely parting it like the sea. In a blink of an eye, the figure was far away, and the next, sitting on the bed with me before I could have any sort of reaction. I pressed my back into the carved giltwood headboard
decorated with shells and scrolling foliage—a design from another century. My God, have I gone back in time?!
A hand made of ice touched me on the arm. This time the figure was not a shadow...but a man wearing a gray hoodie, the hood shielding his face. “Willow.” His tone laced with warning. The cold from his touch seeped into my veins; my teeth began to chatter, unable to move, my scream caught in my throat. Not that it would matter, I was in the middle of nowhere.
The hood came down in slow motion, and my heart stopped mid beat, the hairs rose on the back of my neck. I slapped my hand over my mouth. It can't be.
“I didn't want things to be like this, Willow, but you have left me no choice.”
“How could you do this to me? Where in Sam hell are we?” My breath came out in a puff of cold air.
“Doesn't matter, there's no escape. You are mine. Forever.” A ghost of a smile crossed his lips. I knew Axel was trouble, but I never imagined he was the shadow man haunting my dreams. Then it dawned on me... trapped in a cage with the predator, and I was his prey. This Dream Man…was a killer, and I was his latest victim.
Did you enjoy this exclusive sneak peek?! If so, Trapped Within a Dream is available for preorder and releases on October 30th!
Order here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08H4TJ2XT/
In my twenty years working in law enforcement, I have encountered darkness. I removed flecks of blood from a murderer’s hands shortly after his heinous crime, heard a suicidal caller’s gunshot ring out over a phone line, struggled to locate a rape victim hiding from her attacker. Yet, when I look back over the times in my life I’ve felt intense fear, these moments pale in comparison to my experience on a sunny afternoon in mid-December, 1996. I will attempt to describe to you what happened that day and hope someone may be able to explain what I have never been able to.
I grew up in a small town in Indiana, in an average, middle class neighborhood on the outskirts of town. From our backyard, you could see farmer’s fields and acres of woods. We lived a few minutes from a nature preserve and recreational water reservoir fed by two rivers. While my home was a new construction, many of the houses and buildings in the area were not. One of the more historic buildings nearby was a massive grey and white building known as Evergreen Manor.
Built as a “poor farm” or county home, it was intended to provide shelter and support for less fortunate members of the community. Widows, orphans, the disabled or ill could live on the farm in exchange for what labor they could contribute. As time marched on, the people living at the county home became known as inmates. The focus shifted from sheltering the poor to treating the mentally ill. During the early 1950s, inmates experiencing mental disturbances were treated with procedures which, while now considered barbaric, were cutting edge science at the time. Electro-shock, hydrotherapy (metal cages and fire hoses), and frontal lobotomies were all used in the facility.
When these treatments fell out of favor, mental asylums began to reform or close. The building transitioned to an elder care nursing home under the name Evergreen Manor. As the building deteriorated and maintenance costs rose, the company moved their residents to a new facility. After nearly two hundred years of steady use, the building sat vacant. An individual then purchased the building and the acreage around it. He was a hermit, and moved into the sprawling building but lived primarily within one enclosed porch off the commercial kitchen, an area the nursing home staff once used for their breaks. The grounds grew wild and unkept as the old building sagged under its own weight. The county began to issue ordinance violations as the man’s behavior grew increasingly bizarre.
My school bus used to drive down the gravel road and pass the old building every day, turning around past it as the road was a dead end. That stopped when the owner began hanging deer carcasses from a rusted swing set frame alongside the road and glaring at us from the concrete steps leading up to his porch. The bus driver decided she’d better to turn around in a different driveway.
By the time I was in high school, the strange owner died, the old county home was condemned, and there it sat, abandoned and in disrepair. Spooky stories about the place flourished. It became a popular place for kids to dare each other to break into, or vandalize. I earned the precious freedom only a driver’s license could give, and no longer travelled a route past Evergreen and so it faded from my notice.
That changed my senior year, when a friend of mine came up with a brilliant plan to waste a few hours. It was December, and we were attending our Christmas dance as a group of four. Two guys and two girls, yet unwilling to officially refer to each other as “dates” because it was not like that. (Insert teenage angst and insecurities here). We had appointments to have our hair styled early in the day, because we’d slacked off and hadn’t bothered to make an appointment months earlier. As we sat around in my bedroom, Kristy sat bolt upright and said, “Wait! You live close to the haunted asylum place! Show it to me!”
After about twenty minutes arguing all the reasons it was a bad idea, including ruining our hairspray stiffened updos, I knuckled to peer pressure and began the three-minute drive to the old county home. Once I turned off onto the gravel road, an odd feeling of heaviness and dread settled over me.
“They patrol this pretty often now and the neighbors call if they see a strange vehicle so we should probably just drive by and head back,” I stammered.
Kristy turned to look at me, her eyes widening. “Are you scared? Really?” she asked incredulously. I was the unflappable friend, the one who was always the caretaker, the sober one who kept everyone else in line. Not the chicken. Yet as I drove, my knuckles were white on the steering wheel and I could not explain why. Maybe it was the strangely warm weather, maybe it was nerves about my first real formal, but the back of my neck prickled, and my pulse raced as the massive building loomed ahead. The main steps and façade had been swallowed by underbrush and small, scraggly trees, but there was no mistaking the size of the building. I slowed to a stop near the cracked sidewalk, unwilling to pull into the parking area. I could barely breathe, my head filled with a strange static as my friend chattered excitedly about how creepy the building was. I muttered something, ready to pop my car right back into drive and pull away, when Kristy jumped out of the car.
“Hey! No! We’re not going in!” I called out after her, but she was off and paying no attention to me. I wanted to drive off without her, every fiber of my being screamed at me that something was wrong here. But, I couldn’t see my friend anymore. She didn’t know anything about this place and could easily get lost or hurt. I forced myself to get out of the car, leaving my keys in the ignition and the door unlocked so I could make a quick escape.
Outside, I was immediately struck by how quiet it was. Too quiet. There was no wind. There were no birds. Nothing but a soft buzzing sound and my own panicked internal dialogue. Hoping to quickly find my friend and threaten her into leaving with me immediately, I forced myself out of the car. I was not going into that building whose broken windows seemed to be watching me like gaping black eyes. Stepping cautiously, I passed a discarded shopping cart, some broken liquor bottles. The buzzing grew louder. In the tall grass, a rotting deer head lay discarded and putrid, a large black fly crawling over one eye. Shuddering, my fear grew more and more palpable. I crept forward, each step a feat of self-control. My mouth had gone dry, lips glued together in mute terror.
A loud bang shook me, reeling backward several steps, ready to abandon my friend to her own stupidity until I saw her ahead of me. She stood on concrete steps, holding open a battered screen door as she leaned over the threshold. Her lips were moving, the excited and happy grin on her face in direct opposition to my own turmoil. However, I could only hear the flies. I felt myself pulled forward as she stepped inside the building, even as I tried to choke out a warning. In my head, I screamed at her to stop, not go any farther, but I do not think I made a sound.
Inside, Kristy poked around at trash scattered around on the peeling linoleum. Two yellow refrigerators sat side by side, the upper freezer doors open. Dark brown trails of dried muck leaked from pink Styrofoam trays heaped inside a freezer. Even though I knew it should have been years since that meat turned, I could smell the rot. A pile of discarded clothing was heaped on an old camp cot. The flies buzzed over everything. They flitted around the plastic sheeting on the windows and crawled on Kristy’s blonde hair.
I backed away, croaking out the word, “Now!” as I pointed toward the car. From within the building, there was another loud crash. This time it was metallic sounding and much closer. It was enough to finally send my friend scurrying down the steps and it was my cue to flee.
I raced for my car, stumbling and panting. My hands shook violently as I jerked open the door, dove into the driver’s seat and turned the key in the ignition. Nothing. I cranked again, profanities spilling from my lips as Kristy shrieked, “Go! What’s the matter?!?” I cranked the key again and AGAIN. The fourth time, the engine roared to life and I stomped on the gas, spinning my little car around in the gravel like I was in a demolition derby. As soon as the car started, there was a whoosh, like a release of pressure. The normal noises returned, wind and birds, an airplane overhead and the absolute scream of my six-cylinder engine as I tore back home.
We sat in silence in my bedroom for an hour before I managed to calm myself enough to get dressed and get ready for our dinner reservations and the dance thereafter. When we met up with our friends, Kristy was eager to talk about our adventure. She laughed about how terrified I had been, and how it had even gotten to her since she’d never seen me freaked out before.
Our friend Phil rolled his eyes and said, “Yeah, right. Whatever,” and attempted to change the subject, but Kristy really wanted to talk about all the things she’d seen. She started to describe the large metal cage attached at the rear of the property when Phil cut her off. “Look, I know you’re full of shit and neither of you went there today so let’s stop, okay?” he demanded, exasperated.
“We really did go, and I really was scared,” I admitted reluctantly, puzzled by his reaction. He was normally pretty easy going and loved scary stories almost as much as he enjoyed teasing me.
“I don’t know why you two are lying, but I really don’t think it’s funny,” he practically snarled. I could tell he was genuinely upset.
“I don’t understand. Why do you think we’re lying?” I asked, hurt by his reaction.
“Because you know my mom is on the county council. She was there when they tore the county home building down. It is a hole in the ground. Has been since September, so if you’re going to make up a story, you should at least get your facts straight first!”
It took me six months to work up the nerve to verify his story. Finally, I had to know. I went to the local library and checked back issues of our local paper. He was telling the truth. The building had been demolished in early September, right after Labor Day weekend. By December, nothing was left but bare land. Even the hole had been filled in. I knew the date I’d been there, had it engraved on a silver picture frame and all, yet on that date, Evergreen Manor should have been dust.
Within a year, the land had been repurposed and a juvenile detention facility was built within a few yards of the old building. It didn’t remain in operation for long, but those are not my stories to tell. The approximately 200 acres which made up the county poor farm now holds a city park and nature trails. You can still visit the historic markers and the unmarked graves of the poor farm’s cemetery. The trails have beautiful views of the river, but I cannot drive that road without a clawing feeling inside my stomach. Will the building be standing yet again if I crest that hill? I prefer not to find out.
Erin McFadden is the author of three contemporary fantasy series; Descended from Myth, Hollow Man, and Confessor. Her newest release, Shattered Moonlight, is a co-write with K.L. Bone and is featured in Once Upon Another World: A Twisted Fairy Tale Box Set.
McFadden obtained a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice and Criminology from Ball State University in 2001. She is the mother of two daughters and works full time in law enforcement. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, developing new story ideas, arts and crafts, and spending lots of time with her children.
1) Halloween - Michael Myers returns home to kill the local babysitters in this 1978 classic
2) Hocus Pocus - Three witches are summoned from hell when a virgin lights a black flame candle on Halloween night.
3) The Nightmare Before Christmas - Jack Skellington discovers a new land - Christmas Town - in this Tim Burton movie.
4) Trick R Treat - A compilation of horror stories which are all connected.
5) Monster Squad - The Goonies meets monsters.
6) The Addams Family - The Addams family welcome their long lost Uncle Fester home.
7) Poltergeist - A family are terrorized by ghosts who snatch their youngest child.
8) The Frighteners - Michael J Fox is a paranormal investigator who can see ghosts.
9) The Craft - Four teenage girls dabble in witchcraft with bad results.
10) The Thing - John Carpenter's classic horror fest set in Antarctica.
About the Author:
S. K. Gregory is an author, editor and blogger. She currently resides in Northern Ireland.
“Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.”