When the Deringer pistol that shot Abraham Lincoln is stolen and ends up in the hands of a Russian military general, covert agent Blake Deco is tasked by the FBI to head to the Balkans to recover the historical weapon. Meanwhile, the United States media is abuzz with news of the mysterious disappearance of Hollywood movie star, Goldie St. Helen.
After Blake’s return from overseas, he receives a tip from a Mexican friend that a drug lord, obsessed with the beautiful actress, is holding her captive in Tijuana. With the help of a reluctant army friend, Blake mounts a daring rescue. What he doesn’t expect is to have feelings for Goldie—or that a killer is hunting them.
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The tall buildings around Washington, D.C.’s 10th Street overshadowed the historic Ford’s Theatre. Though the building had undergone refurbishment both inside and out, it still seemed slightly out of place in modern America. However, that didn’t stop the throngs of tourists visiting the building that June morning as wispy clouds threaded through the cerulean sky.
It was a crowded weekend day when Abraham Lincoln, in his overcoat, and two Union soldiers, their faces covered with bandanas, stepped out of the van. They meandered past the theater’s five historic doorways toward the modern glass entrance. Everyone assumed they were part of a promotion taking place at the museum. It was not uncommon to see park rangers and tour guides dressed in period costumes.
The man behind the Lincoln mask was Rick Walker—at least, that was the name he was currently going by. Highly educated, the thirty-six-year-old professional thief had a penchant for the fast life. If the assignment was a success today, he’d promised his girlfriend a nice holiday.
Two female park rangers stepped forward when Rick and his companions reached the front of the line.
“You have to get in line, sir. Also, you need to get tickets. Kindly remove the mask and bandanas before entering,” one of the park rangers said.
“I do apologize, madam, but I’m in a bit of a hurry,” Rick said. “I don’t think I need a ticket, nor do I have to get in line given who I am.”
“That’s the only way you’re going to get in,” the park ranger said.
“Well, if you insist, madam, and once again, please accept my apologies.” Rick bowed and tipped his hat, then extended a hand to the park ranger, who instinctively took it.
Rick grabbed her wrist tightly and locked it to his own with a steel cuff.
“What are you doing?” the park ranger yelled, trying to jerk her hand away.
“Getting acquainted,” Rick said.
The park ranger reached for the walkie-talkie strapped to her belt, but Rick snatched it away from her. Frantically, she turned to the other park ranger. “Get security!”
One of the two Union soldiers dropped his prop rifle and grabbed the other park ranger’s hand, then cuffed her wrist to his own. He pulled out a real gun tucked under his waistband and aimed it at her.
Rick unbuttoned the jacket of his three-piece suit and brandished the bomb strapped to his chest.
“Bomb! Bomb!” a young teenager in the line shrieked.
Pandemonium broke out as the screams of panic amplified. People ran in every direction. Those who moved slowly were slammed aside, or knocked over.
Rick pulled the ranger cuffed to him aside. “We’re going downstairs, and we’re going to take the Deringer. Obey your president,” he said in a hollow voice.
“Yes, sir,” the park ranger said as beads of sweat formed on her forehead.
They descended by elevator and emptied into an interactive museum. The wealth of history in the dimly lit space featured original artifacts in glass showcases, furniture, statues, murals, and narrative devices. The visitors already in the museum scattered wildly at the sight of a man in a Lincoln mask displaying a bomb strapped to his chest, a park ranger cuffed to his wrist.
“Show’s over, folks,” Rick yelled. “Go!”
The park ranger guided her captors to a section in the museum where the Deringer floated in an oblong glass case capped at both ends with wood. A mural behind it depicted John Wilkes Booth firing a single shot at Abraham Lincoln as he sat in the theater box.
The Union soldier not cuffed to a park ranger took out a glasscutter from his coat pocket and began to cut a circle in the glass. When it popped free, he inserted his hand inside and yanked out the Deringer.
“We’re going to take you with us. Don’t give me trouble. If you behave, you’ll be back home in time for dinner with the family,” Rick said, dragging the park ranger closer to him. “Understand?”
The park ranger nodded once, nervously.
“Excellent,” Rick said.
They exited through the theater’s main door and stepped out into the empty street. The crowd had dispersed. Some had regrouped tensely a few hundred meters away at both ends. “Cheer up—it’s going to be a fun day,” Rick said, walking toward the van.
The park ranger with Rick raised her voice. “Please, please, let us go. I don’t want to die.”
“Well, behave and everything will be fine.” He opened the side, forced her in and jumped in after her. He shut the door after the accomplice had climbed in with the second park ranger.
The van began to move off.
“Hallelujah!” Rick yelled in excitement behind the mask as he sat at the back of the van. He removed the cuff from his wrist and secured the park ranger onto a railing.
“We’ll be arriving in five,” the driver said after a few blocks. “You know what to do.”
“I sure do,” Rick said as he removed the bomb strapped to his chest. Still wearing the mask, he looked at the hostages. “Don’t worry about the bomb, it’s fake.”
He unhooked a tote bag from the wall and began removing the contents. Facing away from the hostages, he removed the Lincoln mask and slipped into casual attire. He hid his face by putting on a red baseball cap and a pair of dark shades then stuffed the costume into the bag and swung it over his shoulder.
Rick looked again at the park rangers. “Look on the bright side—now you get to tell visitors a different story at the museum.”
The Union soldier in the back with him handed over the Deringer, which Rick slipped into the bag.
The driver slowed down and stopped behind a parked car.
“All good outside?” Rick asked.
“Yeah…all good. I parked a few cars behind us,” the driver replied, looking at the side mirror.
“Okay. Nice doing business with you guys.” Rick pulled open a trapdoor in the center of the floorboard, slid out, and slithered under the parked car in front of the van.
The van pulled away from the curb and sped down the street. After a minute, Rick rolled onto the road, got up, and walked toward the park at Judiciary Square on the Red Line and descended into the Metro.
A day later, Rick sat at a café with his eyes glued to the screen of a laptop, drinking a hot latte with his back against the wall. He scanned the faces of everyone who entered. Though he wasn’t expecting trouble, he remained vigilant.
“Is it in yet?” the tall blonde sitting across from him asked.
He scratched the roughness of his stubble as he continued to stare at the screen. “Not yet.”
Moments later, the figures on his account changed. A new deposit had been registered: ten million dollars.
Rick lifted his eyes. “Darling.”
“Remember, we’re in a public place, so don’t scream.”
She leaned forward. “It’s in?”
Rick wriggled his eyebrows. “Pack your bags. We’re going on a holiday, as I promised.”
Gentlemen Prefer a Pulse is Mike Steeden's first published collection of poetry and features over a hundred poems that are sometimes humorous, serious, satirical, surreal, thought provoking and brilliant! Mike says his inspiration is drawn from his self-proclaimed love of the fairer sex, his passion for 'people watching' (a trait born of his time as a private investigator), social justice and compassion. The net result is that his poems are in essence a cocktail of all these things...oh yes, the important thing! Mike always endeavours to ensure that within his body of work the gals always win out in the end!
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A poem from the book:
THE MAN IN THE BRETON SHIRT
All her life she had wanted legs. Proper legs with feet, ankles, calves, knees and thighs. Yet circumstance had afforded her nought but wheels, small wheels at that. Little wrought iron ones. Wheels that required constant care. Oiling and such like.
Notwithstanding her shortcomings, she got out and about best she could. That is, until the day the local authorities had something of a retro brainwave. They cobblestoned the market square. She lived in a house on market square. So now she prayed for tarmac, as well as feet, ankles, calves, knees and thighs.
Then one day, quite out of the blue the sailor arrived in town. Breton shirt, beer belly. He drank vast quantities of rum, farted constantly, belched with pride, with gusto.
They met in a smoke laden bar, she in a wheelchair (Her wizened auntie had taken her out for some fresh air. Why she chose to go to a bar no one ever knew). The sailor was singing a ribald sea shanty at the time to the accompaniment of an accordion. He amused her. She caught his eye. The accordionist noticed too. A deafening silence ensued. A galaxy of drunkards turned about face embarrassing her more than a little.
A harlot, hanging on to the sailor’s arm for dear life flinched at his rancid breath, yet still held fast. Such is the fate of a girl short of gilders (Perversely, she cast a jealous eye at the girl with no proper legs with feet, ankles, calves, knees and thighs). Regardless his ‘Popeye on spinach’ forearm thrashed the harlot to Kingdom come.
In an instant, the sailor sobered up. Whereas he should have stumbled he straightened himself, walked over to the girl, planted the mother of all kisses upon her virgin lips, clicked his fingers, bellowed skyward at the heavens, and miraculously the girl had legs with feet, ankles, calves, knees and thighs.
With great care and eyes shut tight the girl ran her hands over her new limbs. They felt ever so fine.
When she opened them again she found herself on a yacht on the wide-open sea in the company of a handsome young man in a Breton shirt. From his place at the helm he winked and blew her a kiss.
All was well in her world.
Albinus, the son of a revered Roman veteran Silus, has always longed to be a farmer, not a soldier, and live his days ploughing and reaping the harvests, with his bride-to-be, Licina. But Silus’ has darker ambitions, for Albinus to follow in his footsteps in the army.
But, as the conflicts between father and son come to a head, a growing threat comes down from the vengeful Germanic tribes to the north. Just as Albinus and Licina are about to marry, their settlement is raided by barbarians and Silus and his veteran comrades are brutally killed, while Licina is kidnapped by the raiders and taken to their king as a gift.
Believing her to be alive, Albinus sets out on a quest to find Licina, finally fulfilling his father’s wishes as training as a soldier, even as he is spurred to avenge his father’s death. As the barbarian hordes gather and plan major rebellion against the Romans, Albinus finds a new fighting spirit within him and grows in stature among the legionaries.
Licina meanwhile has a fight of her own, to escape from slavery and find Albinus. Time is running out, as the northern tribes head for Rome, decimating everything in their path…
With historically accurate details and including characters from legend, Adam Lofthouse’s novel recounts the brutal battles between the Romans and the Germanic tribes, while also telling the heart-wrenching coming-of-age narrative of one young soldier within the Roman camp.
Adam Lofthouse has for many years held a passion for the ancient world. As a teenager he picked up Gates of Rome by Conn Iggulden, and has been obsessed with all things Rome ever since. After ten years of immersing himself in stories of the Roman world, he decided to have a go at writing one for himself. The Centurion’s Son is Adam’s first novel. He lives in Kent, with his wife and three sons.
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Mike Steeden writes his poetry always with ‘a touch’ of something or other. Often that ‘touch’ is a surreal one, occasionally one of the lunacy of being, and with this tome he had added a hint of ‘magic’. He lives in England’s almost forgotten edge in terms of tourism, namely the south-eastern corner of the beautiful County of Kent, in the place nicknamed since the Battle of Britain in WW2, ‘Hellfire Corner’. He is passionate about the rights of the underprivileged; loathes to see abuse of the innocents home and abroad. His poetry reflects such passion.
Mike is a self-confessed ‘people watcher,’ hence his coffee quaffing hobby sat outside any fine café watching the day go by. His most favoured cafés are generally those across the Channel in France where he spends a good deal of time. Also, he is partial to a drop of fine red wine and smelly ripe French cheeses!
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One of the poems within the book;
ECHOES FEND FOR THEMSELVES AFTER MIDNIGHT
Interlaced tongues sweetest tortures, and for you a crown of hawthorn
Come mornings lame duck situation, at first light a passion stillborn
Your carriage awaits full of treasures, a catalogue of what was before
Love letters returned back to sender, your key on the hook by the door
You split with a satchel of shared dreams, and a trunk full of burning desire
In your wake left a parcel of memories, and finger band of barbed wire
Those bared paintings of you in the grand hall, the place where all sinners got wed
Now hang on the walls of a bedroom, where all our spare tears once were shed
Words aimed below the belt and pulled punches, a ripped bodice, a craving that devours
Then the affirmation of stained sheets, hungover from the afterglow hours
You travelled back to the place where you came from, climbed dizzy heights just to be
Once more with your come-hither lover, and the times you say were carefree
In the white room where virgin bride’s makeup, paradise only a scissor cut away
Yet for you just a bouquet of snowflakes, that would melt lest you forgot to pray
Remember when I gave you the emerald, you said just, ‘thank you, see you around’
Then you laid claim to my heart, to my hunger, left me for dead instead of spellbound
Echoes fend for themselves after midnight, come back to deafen at the first light of day
You leave behind the one you tormented, to stand by him who you would betray
Very few can see into the spiritual realm of good and evil.
Serenity Charles is a young woman given that special gift of spiritual vision. With it, she commits to fight off the powers of wickedness.
Her spiritual eyes are open to see evil deceit, and she observes demons that live within humans causing destructive behavior.
Wearing a sacred armor, Serenity (Rena), goes into battle to protect those who the demons would coldly harm or annihilate. With her shield she is protected from their flaming darts while using her sword of the Word, she cuts them asunder sending them screaming away in panic.
Three of Gods Waring Angels, Avigdor, Ariel, and Akim, are her guardians and collaborators, supporting her to accomplish a victory.
Aiden Baker, a mining boss, meets and is apparently taken by Rena’s beauty. He fights his attraction for her by either ignoring or voicing his reluctance to pursue a promising relationship. Will this angry man remain stubborn or will he chase Rena when she leaves town to return to her birthplace?
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It was dark and quiet in the house when Rena awoke with a start. Three huge golden angels stood at the foot of her bed. Dressed in white each carried a sword in a breast band around their shining bronze bodies. The angel in the middle began to communicate from his mind to hers. No words were spoken aloud to Rena, and his mouth didn’t move, yet she completely understood every word.
“My name is Avigdor, it means, the Lords Protector. These two with me are my helpers, Akim and Ariel. I am the leader in charge and will do most of the communicating. Father God has sent us to instruct you on your work and also to go everywhere with you helping to overcome the encountered evil.”
Every word received was spoken to her in the heavenly language, not English, yet she understood. She also knew demons did not know this language so it would be an extra strength.
“Come,” Avigdor motioned to her to stand. “Tonight we take you on a journey through to the spirit world. You need to behold the places of good and evil. There should be no fear because the holy armor of God is your protection.”
As he spoke, a breastplate covered her chest, with a wide belt around her waist, a helmet sat down on her head, and her feet became shod in golden boots. Through the air spun a sword that secured itself into her hand. Seeing her image in her full-length mirror, she glowed, just like the angels.
“Take your shield to guard you against the flaming darts. Be ever mindful lest you are struck.” Avigdor handed her the shield; it was enormous, big enough to cover her yet light in weight not to cause a hindrance. Strangely when holding it, she could see straight through, yet when Avigdor held it she could not. Of course, it - like her armor was spiritual and more powerful than an earthly covering or weapon.
In the time since her heavenly visitors appeared Rex remained asleep. Glancing down at him snoring Rena wondered why he didn’t wake up. He was a guard dog and liked to be a part of everything.
“He will remain here,” was spoken with authority. The angels raised their arms, flying upwards through the roof and to the open star-filled sky. Astonishingly, Rena found she could fly beside them.
Out of the earth’s dome and into the magnificent atmospheric space, her planet disappeared, left far behind. Rena propelled faster than light up into an ambiance of strange sights that continued forever. It all seemed inconceivable. They traveled in unison, with planets and stars flashing by and yet - when looking to the horizon; it always seemed the same distance away.
No words could explain what Rena saw or how she felt within herself - it was beyond words and beyond everything that she comprehended
"Durant’s story is slyly whimsical as she builds up the world of Marbryn, a world where there are many wonders, but also threats to the existence of Blue’s tribe." - Jack Magnus From Reader's Favorite.
"The Blue Unicorn…reads like old time fairy tales…where life and death choices are made…" - From Fundinmental As The Eyes See It Blog
"The gentle reminders of the importance of acceptance and maintaining a sense of self worth are artfully woven into this fun adventure tale." - From The Reading Addict Blog.
This YA book is perfect for fans of science fiction/fantasy books like Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey and The Xanth Series by Piers Anthony or illustrated fantasies like Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll and The Wizard of Oz series of books by L. Frank Baum. Mix in some Brother's Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale themes and you're good to enter this enchanting world of the metal horn unicorn tribe.
Everybody loves unicorns! OK maybe they don't but for those who do, they will love this story about a little unicorn who was born into a tribe of magical, metal horned unicorns. The little guy has no magic and he has no metal but somehow he must save the tribe from an evil sorcerer. Read this book for teens and older readers to find out if he can do it.
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THE ENTIRE TRIBE WAS IN THE COURTYARD WAITING FOR BLUE.
He should have already arrived. Now, he was twenty minutes late and they were getting restless.
“What’s so important anyway?” Cornum grouched. He looked across the room to where Alumna and Ghel stood alone.
The oracle was whispering in hopes no one else would hear but all ears swiveled her way at, “The Moon-star is coming.”
That was real news! All the others surrounded them, talking at once.
Flustered, Alumna found a break in the questions being thrown at her to ask Ghel to go see what was taking Blue so long.
Upon entering their stall, the gold-horned unicorn noticed something fluttering on the desk. It was the letter for her from Blue.
“Oh no," she cried, after reading it. “He’s left alone!”
She put on the necklace he had left her and raced out of the Halstable.
“He can’t be very far away yet. I’ll find him and bring him back,” she said to herself. She did not think it would take long so she left without alerting the others.
Ghel followed Blue’s hoof tracks for many miles until they ended in the hard rocky dirt. Looking up, she realized she was completely lost. She moved forward, stretching her neck to look around and tripped on a sharp rock jutting from the ground.
The sweet scent of blood flowing from a gash on her knee caught the attention of a very hungry manticore. He followed the smell until he came upon a natural land bridge right at the north-western point of the Kinubalu Desert. The bridge was a short-cut across a deep, wide canyon. It ended near the edge of the Guarded Forest.
On the other side of the canyon, the manticore saw a blue unicorn standing a few feet from a thick green wall made up of huge spiky vines.
“There’s my prey,” the manticore grunted, thinking the unicorn was trapped.
He dashed across the bridge, hoping to catch the unaware unicorn. Halfway across, he skidded to a stop. “What happened to the scent of blood?” he wondered. It was gone and he was confused.
As he tried to figure it out, the vines loosened up and opened a space just big enough for the unicorn to step through. “Arrgh! Lost him,” he groaned, as the thorned vines closed up tight. His empty belly rumbled.
The blue unicorn was safe. The Guarded Forest would not let a predator like the manticore in. Disappointed at losing his dinner, the beast turned back across the bridge.
To his delight, the scent of blood reappeared. Just a few yards away was the gold-horned unicorn, head down, stumbling his direction. She was wounded, paying no attention her surroundings.
The manticore wetted his lips. This one would make a good meal and there was no way she could escape.
A shiver ran along Ghel's spine. She felt like someone or something was watching every stumbling step she took. Intense fear gripped her heart, making it beat faster. “Something dangerous is out there and it’s close,” she thought.
She stopped and looked around, trying to find the source of the danger.
The manticore smiled to see how fear made her eyes glow white against her honey-colored coat. He smiled because fear gave the meat a better flavor. Abruptly, he asked, "Do you want a moment to say your prayers before I send you to your maker?"
Ghel's eyes snapped up to meet those of the ugly beast. The look she saw frightened her out of her wits. There was no way to escape.
"Oh, where can Nix be?" she blurted out. "Doesn't he know I'm in serious danger?"
Nix always arrived in the nick of time when a unicorn was in trouble. His powerful horn could detect a unicorn in distress from twenty miles away.
Indeed, Nix did detect that Ghel was in big trouble all the way from the crowded Great Room of the Halstable. A huge warning tingle forced Nix’s head to swing abruptly around. His nickel horn aimed in the direction of Ghel like a compass needle.
With a shake of his dark gray mane, he nodded a salute to Silubhra, saying, "Ghel is in danger but never fear, I will rescue her in the nick of time.” A blaze of light filled the air with silvery sparkles as he disappeared into the brightness.
Upon hearing Ghel’s words, the manticore twisted his neck around, trying to see who she was talking about. Seeing nothing, he thought, “The silly thing has taken leave of her senses!”
Laughter boomed from his terrible throat. It stopped when he caught glimmers of light just behind the frightened filly.
When Nix fully materialized, he took note of the dangerous situation, saying, "Stand aside, Ghel, while I nix that needle!"
The manticore had heard of Nix, the great unicorn defender. He skittered away in fright, trying to escape. Nix aimed a powerful blast from his nickel horn toward the brute. It was meant to destroy the scorpion stinger at the end of its tail but Nix missed his target.
The land bridge was hit instead. It loudly crumbled away into the giant hole it had spanned. The short cut across the canyon was completely destroyed.
Nix was angry he had accidentally destroyed the only easy path to the Guarded Forest. He caught up to the manticore and tapped his stinger with his spiraled horn. To the manticore’s horror, the tip of his tail completely disappeared.
“Now beat it buster, before I nix your nose, too,” Nix said, looking fierce.
The manticore answered meekly, "Thank-you, kind sir, thank-you," then ran away on jellied knees, with what remained of his tail tucked protectively between his legs.
Part espionage thriller, part romance, part fantasy, part adventure, ‘Notoriously Naked Flames’ is Mike Steeden’s first novel. Spanning the lead up to WW2, the war itself and into the early 1950’s the unnamed heroine of the piece, a bewitching albino of Bohemian bent, masquerades in all manner of risqué guises dishing out her own version of clandestine justice to those evils souls spawned of conflict’s disregard for compassion, law and order. Additionally, she also finds herself nursing her lover, a giant of an Englishman once in the employ of MI5, back to a semblance of his former self following his torture at the hands of Cold War Soviets that had left him deaf, mute and blind. Her task is made a little easier with the help an Eastern European girl she befriended in bizarre circumstance.
Together the trio of ‘notoriously naked flames’ take on life in all its demonstrative disguises while the racy heroine keeps under wraps the tale of her otherworldly evolution for were it to become known to the public at large it might just invalidate religion as we know it and bring forth a new Dark Age. Can she keep safe her secret?
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EARLY SUMMER 1952 – SUSSEX, ENGLAND
She examines her defenceless giant searchingly as he bathes. He, the one who is a portrayal of rare full-fledged innocence, and wonders if the macrocosm inside his head replicates the one outside of hers. She hopes against hope that locked within exists a rainbow’s multi-coloured arc, or is all this lost upon the extraordinary self, empty of speech, hearing and sight, unaware that gesture is the only language he bestows. Touch and smell his native inside-out lone connection.
She communicates as best she can. Upon his awakening, she is always there. Her ‘hello of sorts’ a lover’s tangled tongue kiss. No passion though, they are no longer the passing lovers they once were. More that the sharing of her unique taste serves to let him perceive her, recognize her. Always has him gift a beaming smile just for her. She wears the self-same perfume each new day also, it helps him identify her proximity.
With no great difficulty she aids him out of the bath, warm towels, warm heart care. Time for drying and dressing, though the palaver of dressing irks him, induces a frown. Regardless he is immune to nakedness within his ambushed consciousness, his curious dominion. Not for him the embarrassment of the earthly collective.
The sun shone the day before. Albeit keeping a caring eye open, she chose to let him wander the lawn, uncovered. From nowhere a summer storm brewed, small hailstones. She watched as he held out his palms, threw his head back, greeted the spheres of water ice, an air of amazement, no suffering.
The eternal ‘what next’ frustrates her day; muddles her mood. She undresses, calculates he may have no recollection that human beings come in two packages. Her hands upon his chest, fingers spread wide, sensation of touch inviting. Invitation accepted, he mirrors her actions, stroke for stroke, his look curious, questioning, captivated. No folly in innocent exploration.
A telephone outside of his realm rings. Might be important, she pulls away. Notices he sheds a single loaded tear, from which continent of emotion it heralds, likely she will never unearth.
He has been this way ever since she rescued him.
Some mystics believe we choose our name, along with our life's lessons, before we are born. The name we select becomes our constant guide, helping us to navigate the journey ahead. In her memoir, A Girl Named Truth, Alethea explores the subjective nature of truth while she untangles the uncomfortable wrap of narratives she was raised on. Her name serves as her beacon, guiding her to heal and find the inner voice of her own truth. The author's story begins with her formative years, when her mother left her father and went into hiding with the Hare Krishnas. Months later, the young Alethea finds herself living 3,000 miles away from her extended family, trying to love a new father and forget the one she has left behind. Only she never forgets...A Girl Named Truth is a story of loss, love and the redemptive power of awakening a silenced voice.
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MY MOTHER TOLD me she found my name, Alethea, in a book. In my child-mind I created a tome perfumed with age, adding gilded pages over the years. Sometimes I imagined stories, filled with strong and beautiful goddesses, and smiled with the thought that I was held inside pages I had never read.
“It’s Greek,” my mother told me, “for truth.”
When I opened the book inside the room of my mind, I watched the pages unfold like the wings of a butterfly, and waited for a girl named truth to manifest into form.
I never doubted the origin of my name, until one winter afternoon when I was thirty-six. That day, alone in my New Hampshire home, I cupped a phone to my ear and listened to my father’s words as he spoke from three thousand miles away inside a small ivory bungalow on the coast of Washington state.
“Did I ever tell you where your name came from?” he asked.
“No,” I said, my heart beginning to race his words. “I always thought it came from a book.”
My father’s nervous chuckle mixed with his words. “No, we got the idea from a TV show. Your mother and I used to watch a series called ‘Kung Fu’ together,” he said with another soft laugh that sounded almost like an apology. “It was popular in the 70s. There was an episode with a little girl named Alethea the year you were born.”
I scoured the drawers of the coffee table for a pencil and a pad of paper to record my father’s words, while my heart searched for a steady rhythm. This was not the same truth I had clung to all these years. The tome I had held close to my heart was beginning to disintegrate with the words of my father.
Later, after I hung up the phone, I Googled the episode my father had referenced. The words on the screen shifted me into another reality: “ ‘Kung Fu’ Alethea, 1973.” I clicked the YouTube link below the image and prepared to watch and listen.
Against a backdrop of daisies, the name Alethea appeared in orange ink, followed by Jodi Foster as a young girl plucking the strings of a mandolin atop a rocky cliff. I watched the spunky blonde actress I had always admired boldly follow the stranger she had just met, the traveling Shaolin priest Caine, played by David Carradine.
“They call me Leethe,” she told him as she extended her hand in greeting, “but my real name is Miss Alethea Patricia Abrahams.”
My mind traveled back in time thirty years to when my paternal grandmother, Grammie, used to call me Leethe.
She could almost be me, I thought as I watched Jodi Foster, if my hair had been lighter and I had been a child with courage. Here before me was a girl who seemed to live without fear, yet we both shared the burden of a name that meant “truth.” Neither of us could escape the weight of what it stood for.
Like the fictional Alethea, I struggled with the concept of truth. As a young child, if I told a lie, which was not often, I thought of my name. When I detected someone else’s lie, I thought of my name. Alethea. It was my anchor, it was my legacy, and it was my compass. Now my name was guiding me through the stormy seas of my past as I tried to redefine myself against the truths I was raised on.
I heard the words of the falsely imprisoned Caine reassure the young Alethea, “Do not condemn yourself for telling the truth,” while men outside the building banged nails into the gallows being built to hang him.
My mind swirled back into the past, remembering a childhood lived inside the shadows of secrets and truths I didn’t want to believe, before I heard Caine’s voice again, “Each step we take is built on what has gone before.” I watched as the character Alethea discovered how truth is often a matter of perception, and can be clouded by emotions and fears.
“The people of Greece have a name for truth,” Caine’s words rang clear and strong. “Alethea. Alethea is a girl who loves the truth.”
As Caine disappeared down the dusty road toward his next adventure, Alethea became a girl with light-brown hair and dark-blue eyes shadowed by distrust; a girl who created a shield of her mother’s words, blocking out her inner truth.
I thought of the stories my mother had told me of a life before I was old enough to remember it, and began to compare them to the new stories I was receiving from my father. In so many ways, they did not fit together. Now I tried to imagine my parents before my mother decided she hated my father. They must have been happy, I realized, for at least a little while.
Instead of a sad young woman with long, brown braids sitting on an old tapestried couch reading a book against her swollen belly with my one-year-old sister, Tara, clung beside her, I saw a family of three gathered on a sofa, watching a small TV perched atop a wooden crate. I even allowed my parents to touch hands and smile as they looked into each other’s eyes and shared the same thought, Alethea, we’ll name our child Alethea, if she is another girl. For truth.
Dr Beth Nichols thinks she has been held captive by Edwin Evans for about 8 or 9 years now. Amidst her grief she often looks back and thinks about her fiancée Liam; theirs was the greatest romance of all. She lays awake at night staring at the one light bulb that is never switched off, and prays that he is still out there somewhere searching for her...
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MY HEAD IS pounding, and a bright light above ensures I quickly have to close my eyes again. Feeling nauseated, I lie still, using my other senses to try and recognise sounds or a particular aroma which could confirm to me that I am still in the accommodation unit. However, I can hear nothing at all; not even the usual birdsong, and there is an unaccountably earthy, damp smell. Suddenly curious, I fight sickness and confusion to sit up and take note of my surroundings.
I have no idea where I am. I am lying on top of a double bed. It is not the bed where I wrap myself contentedly around Liam. There is a duvet beneath me covered with a surprisingly clean-looking lilac flowery cover, which is complete with matching sheets and pillow cases. There does not seem to be any other furniture. There are no windows, and the bare bulb above my head is the only source of light.
Slightly panicky now and ignoring the increased hammering in my brain, I stand up shakily on the cold, concrete floor. The room is quite small, and I reach the only visible door after taking just a few steps. It is not the sort of door that I could break down. I turn the handle, but it refuses to yield.
I am locked in. I want to scream in fright, but stop myself at the last moment from sliding into rampant hysteria. I reason that whoever is keeping me in the room against my will would not want me making too much noise which might alert searchers to my location. I figure that I need to keep on the right side of my captor.
Deep in the wilderness of the Peruvian Andes lies a monument hidden for centuries. Who were the builders? Why was it abandoned? What secrets does it reveal?
In 1953, an amateur rock climber makes a startling discovery. Overwhelmed by the choices he must make, the mountaineer completes his ascent deciding he will document his findings and present them to his superiors as soon as possible. It will take another fifty years before anyone reads what he wrote.
In 2004 news of the strange revelation reaches Drake Alexander. He will become involved whether he likes it or not. People very dear to him are plunged into a nightmare of avarice, impairment and death. Using all his skills as an ex-soldier, with accomplices he can trust, can he save his tormented friends from the raiders that thirst for the secret that lies within the mountains?
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The Andes, Peru Early summer.
Father Suetonius Graft is no ordinary priest. Presently he has his left fist jammed vertically in a horizontal crack that splits the granite face he is ascending. The open seam stretches upward for seventeen meters or more, tapering to a sliver that is still seventy meters away from the top of the mountain. His toes nip a five centimeter ledge, left over from a stone slab that split from the heaving rock millennia ago. His calves, like the rest of his lean body, are chiselled muscle. They strain from holding his weight on his toes. He reaches up with his right hand to search for another hand hold; there is nothing he can see. Needing to rest, he needs to find a better position than he is in now. He’s been climbing since early morning, stopping only when he absolutely has to.
His fingers search for a grip as he brushes his hand across the flat surface. A familiar feeling of unease touches him, as it has since he was a boy. He closes his eyes for several seconds and asks God where his hand should go, thanks Him for His guidance and if there is no hand-hold to be had, thanks Him for his life. Prayer has never failed him, not in the thirty-seven years since he scrambled up a rock pile when he was five. He had gotten stuck then. A boyish prayer to his guardian angel had given him confidence to find a way back down. He feels the same presence that rescued him then. He waves his hand over the hard face once more. This time his fingers sweep away ancient debris from an indent in the rock with enough room for four fingers up to the second knuckle. He latches on to the hold just as his lower legs begin to quiver from exertion. Taking most of his weight on his hands and arms, he relaxes his legs. Semi relief is instantaneous and he hangs there motionless for five minutes, his sweaty forehead pressed against the warm rock, thanking the Lord for His benevolence, for delivering him one more time.
As he clings to the sheer plate that rises over two hundred meters from the forest floor, the afternoon sun ricochets off his ebony skin, defining the musculature of his lengthy frame. His upper body is clad in perspiration that makes thin rills down his back, his chest and under his arms. The blue handkerchief with white polka dots, folded and tied around his tight curls, stops the flow from his smooth brow. He wears tattered climbing shorts that cover his thighs to the knees, all six pockets bulging. At his waist along his back, attached to a thin leather belt, is a pouch that holds climbing chalk. Powdered handprints left on the route up attest to the bag’s contents being well used. A white t-shirt is tied around his midsection. His legs end in thin wool socks tucked into custom, rubber-toed climbing shoes he designed. No other gear is attached to him: no pitons, no hammer, no clips. Around his neck hangs a polished, golden, curb link chain. Between his chest and the stone is a gold cross that his father gave him when he was ordained. He never, ever takes it off.
As his arms begin to weary, he looks up, trying to see a more appropriate spot where he can rest. Shadows creep up the mountain behind him as the sun begins its descent. Suetonius can see an opening about ten meters above to his right. A section of the plates that form these mighty mounds have created a crevice. He hadn’t been able to see it from below or with the sun shining directly on it. From where he hangs now, it looks to be wide enough for him to sit in. He sighs with relief. Concentrating on his next move, he sights an approach to the cavity. Once he is clear on his route, he pulls up with his hands, his arms straining until he can reach his foot into the same crack he has a taped fist in. He wedges his toes in sideways, pushing up to test its grip. As his body slowly rises he wiggles the lodged hand out and forces it as high as he can reach. It will be the last fist hold he uses because the crack starts to widen from there. But he knows it is all he will need.
With deft manoeuvers and risky placement, he is on the ledge forty-five minutes later. He can stand upright in the cleft, it being wider, with more head room than he originally thought. He leans back against the rock, which is refreshingly cool. The lip of the outer slab covers him from the sun. Studying the grain of the granite in front of him, he glances overhead at the slab at his back, marvelling that the two faces have identical marks and slices. Obvious they were one piece sometime in the past. He is in awe at the massive force that would have pushed these imposing mountains from the earth’s crust, cleaving solid rock as easily as if it were wood. He crosses himself in respect for God’s ways.
Sitting down on the rough ledge, his feet hang over the edge. Breathing deeply of the unsullied air, the scent of cold stone pleases him; the silence is complete. He looks out over the Peruvian scenery that poses before him. The narrow valley that leads back to the Malaga Pass is a mere indent in the landscape. Mountains, many gigantic, many shorter and greener fill the horizon. The smaller mountain he is perched on, a short distance east of Ollantaytambo, west of Machu Picchu, is over three hundred and fifty meters from the valley floor, over three thousand meters above sea level. The face he discovered is obscure, its access hindered by dense forest and abundant ancient scree. He felt led to this particular dome and he relishes the difficult work he’s accomplished over the past month to finally get where he is at this moment.
As his body rests, his thoughts sweep back to the rocks of his youth – the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee, the Appalachians that puncture the southeast states. He climbed for the sheer joy of contact with the stone. It was at those moments he felt closest to God, when he felt his calling into the priesthood, when it opened his heart to possibilities, to humbleness, to majesty, to sharing and giving. When he clings perilously to a sheer stone wall, there is never any fear of falling, only a pure sensation of rising above the bounds imposed by gravity, above the bounds of personal limitations. To this very day, his best sermons are those that come from his moments with the open sky and the silent crags, and the peace that comes from times alone. His days off are often spent climbing or scouting for climbs. A grin crosses his slender face as he thinks how far he has come from a dormant village in Tennessee to the mountains of Peru.
His parents come to mind, both dead for the last three years, his father went first, at seventy-six, from cancer; his mother two years later at seventy-four. How he loved them. He was so proud of them, his father the first black fireman on the town of Raven Hollow’s pay roll. He recalls the marvellous sight of his Pap in his new uniform, buttons and brass as polished as his pure black skin. His Spanish-speaking mother was Cuban. She was originally a domestic, had shown a natural dexterity for numbers. She worked for the same employer all her life, first as his wife’s personal maid starting when she was only fifteen. But when she was twenty, she moved into the offices to learn bookkeeping, retiring many years later as office manager. They taught him and his five siblings to persevere, never give up on their goals. He missed them.
With that last thought, he rises from his seat thinking to scale the final stretch to the top, not too worried about time. He still has five or six hours of sunlight. He wants to check the rock overhead, looking for the best route up, and he backs into the crevice so he can see past a slight overhang just above him. He doesn’t look behind him because the inner slab looked to be part of the outer slab that forms the walls around him. But when he steps back, he feels a weak breeze stirring behind him. He looks past the back wall to see an opening that rises ten meters off the split but it’s only twenty-five centimeters wide. He isn’t a caver, a spelunker, so openings in the rock face hold little interest for him. Attempting to ignore it, a shiver prickles his skin, telling him to take a look. Removing a small flashlight from his pocket, he clicks the button to reveal a sharp, straight beam.
Poking the ray of light into the darkness, it is swallowed six meters in. The walls seem to open, moving apart from each other. The ceiling is nowhere in sight, too high and too dark for the penetrating glare. Rocks litter the floor, small and large; cobwebs in the hundreds decorate the interior, and the acidic smell of bat guano is present. The spooky emptiness is oddly inviting, like an entity that calls to him. An aroma of cold dust and aged memories wafts through the black passage. Father Graft tries to ignore his inner voice’s prodding, about to give up on the cave when his sweeping light falls upon something familiar, the skeleton of a human hand.
The bones are projecting from the base of a large boulder as if reaching for freedom. The curled finger bones are intact, tarsal and meta-tarsal pointed to the roof. Suetonius stares at the sight for many moments, never having considered that he’d not been the first to climb this face. His curiosity takes him deeper. Behind the boulder, the skeleton continues, two sets of tibia and fibula with feet attached complete the scene. The man or woman had been crushed by a falling rock. Who it was would never be known. What he may have been doing here would soon become evident.
Father Graft moves his light in a pendulating arc across the floor. The cavern widens out; narrow cracks punctuate the floor that he realizes is too smooth and level to be natural. He carefully watches where he walks. Stones of every size litter the passage, a reminder that the mountain’s insides are unstable, probably not safe. Shortly the ingress takes a sharp turn, opening into a wider grotto. He continues a short distance until the point of his torch touches upon something familiar on the floor to his right: a crude hammer. Its stone head is attached to a wooden handle, with curling strips of dried leather binding the two together. Holding the light directly on the implement, he stares at it for several moments; its obvious antiquity stuns him. What he is about to discover will floor him.
He lifts the light to the right, discovering a stone shelf that runs along the wall to disappear into the pitch. It comes almost to his waist. The width varies with the roughness of the stone it has been carved out of. It is cluttered with many more hammers of different sizes, with metal chisels clothed in verdigris. Odd implements he doesn’t recognize and loose rock fill the space. The spider’s traps are abundant. Scanning the collection, he tries to estimate the historical significance of what he has uncovered. He senses they are very old. But how old? Are they Incan, Quechan, Chanca? Why here? What were they building? The discovery uncovers so many questions. He checks his watch, sees he has been in here for only twenty minutes. He decides he will look around another half hour before leaving.
He directs the flashlight beam across the floor, checking for cracks, when off to the far left it reveals a stone berm. The delicate and precise crafting can only have been made by the most skilled of artisans. It is obviously Incan stone work. He has been in Peru for almost three years; Incan history fascinates him. He visited the ruins, listened to the lore, and devoted his reading time to their history. Their skills with chisels and wet sand astonish him. Reflecting on that, he judges this is the same work that he saw at Machu Piccu, likely over six hundred years old. He lifts the sliver of light upward.
There is a stone pedestal on the berm that holds what appears to be a tremendous slab almost like a wall rising into the bleakness above, it has to be three to four meters high, he estimates. He flashes his light briefly inside the cavern ahead of himself to see berm, pedestal and slab continue beyond the reach of his light. He brings the beam back to the wall in front of him. When he moves it up, he steps back, eyes wide in shock at what he sees. Even through the dust of ages, through the fine patina that masks the surface, he can detect, carved ornately into the facade of the flat wall, a huge warrior with battle axe raised above his head. Fine detail riddles the helmet fitted on his head. The figure stands with a fractured shield, armour dressing his lower limbs. One leg is raised, with a sandaled foot resting on a fallen foe. The body of the fighter’s enemy lies at his feet, the severed head close by. Father Graft wheezes into the gloom, “It’s a wall of war.”
Focusing the light down the wall, he can see other battles, other defeated opponents depicted in gruesome realness. The enormity of this definitive carving, an epic battle etched in something solid by hand, is too much. His heart races, his breathing becomes shallow. He has to sit down, he tells himself. And then he almost faints. His legs buckle; he drops to his knees, trying to control his breathing. His dropped flashlight rolls up to the berm and goes out.
He panics briefly but control learnt from his climbing calms him. He slowly moves into a sitting position, never taking his eyes off the spot where the light came to rest. The berm is less than two meters away, but the darkness is almost complete like on a moonless night. Very little light comes from the opening. He trembles lightly. He speaks to God in a small voice: “I’m humbled that you chose me to discover this relic, to find this evidence of Peru’s tumultuous past. I can only be your servant. I have no idea who to tell, where to go, but I will follow your lead, dear Father. Please show me what to do. Amen.”
His soft inflection barley echoes in the chamber.
He returns to his knees and creeps towards the wall until he touches the lowest stones. Shifting his hand to the right along the base, he finds nothing. In the opposite direction he hits the bottom of the light and it blinks two or three times. He grabs the flashlight with relief. As he shakes it gently, the light flashes again. Checking the battery cover, he finds it loose and gives it a twist. It springs back to life.
Rising, he walks towards the opposite end of the wall. There are three other warriors in similar battle array, similar poses, with defeated men who have all succumbed to hideous wounds. The victors bear different weapons: a bow, a sling, a spear. He notices each soldier is posed in a victorious stance, his attention focused towards the center of the grand wall. He recognizes them as Inca soldiers.
Seven meters in from where he started, an even larger figure rises taller than all the others. Suetonius shuffles closer, shining his light upwards. The carving is of a robed man. Taking root from the neck of his tunic are two heads bearing crowns. From each, the same face stares out at the girded greeting at his sides. The tip of his spear looms over his head, extending above the top lip of the wall. Father Graft stares deeply at the faces, which are stoic and unemotional, not at all war-like. The body of the man is wonderfully formed. It is hard to fathom that it was carved by hand. His bewilderment is intensified with every sweep of his eyes.
Another stretch of the wall, displaying carvings of equal skill and dexterity, is of mighty men still at battle. Each Incan warrior fights a different enemy. Some of their opponents wear odd dress, some wear none at all. All convey killing weapons and fierce glares. Father Graft notes that the carvers, likely Incan, paid respect to their enemies by not featuring them as weak. He retreats to inspect the fallen men on the left panel again, noting that on this wall also the enemies are different. It’s a marvellous display. Could it be a monument to the central figure, he asks himself? Why is it hidden in this mountain?
His questions are many, creating a traffic jam in his skull. He closes his eyes again, shaking his head. He feels dizzy for a moment and reaches out to catch himself as his arm automatically lifts towards the monolith. Where his hand comes to rest on the cold plate, he can feel the roughness of the carving. He reaches up with his other hand to hold his cross tightly in his grip as he tries to think what to do. He remembers he only has so many hours of sunlight to reach the mountaintop and he has yet to walk back to his car. His mind clears thinking of the climb before him. He knows concentration is vital. He pushes himself from the wall, checking his watch. He’s been in here for over an hour. He should go.
Turning to head, he glimpses the flash of his light reflected by the spot where his hand brushed away the patina. He gapes at what he sees and slowly focuses on the blotch.
“It can’t be!” He exclaims. “It’s unimaginable.”
To confirm his analysis of what he thought was stone, he turns the ray of the flashlight at the cross on his chest. The reflection is the same.
“Oh, dear Lord. It’s gold!”