Darker Daze: The Storms within is a collection of short stories that explore that darker side of the human condition. Each story pulsates with tragedy and a sense of desperate hope that only the suffering could understand. Ms. Mabry weaves personal experiences into fictional webs in a way that draws the reader in for a hug, then punches them in the gut. While these stories may be too emotionally charged for some readers, they give voices to the voiceless among us.
Do not shrink away, the demons are not yours...or are they?
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Darker Daze originally started as a small collection of stories I wrote as a type of self therapy. Some of the stories featured wish fulfillment, others took a small element of my own experience and branched out, and still a few were pulled right from my own journal and then crafted into a story with a different ending. Darker Daze has now taken on a life of its own and continues to provide me with a source of cathartic writing.
For each of these stories I was forced to reach into my own personal vault and draw forth the emotions that once threatened to destroy me. I have learned how to wrangle and whip them so they no longer have any power beyond that of a dark and twisted muse.
Some of you have seen those darker days, stood on the very precipice of its slippery slope. You have looked your demons in the eyes and backed away, oh so slowly. You didn't cross that line, but the darkness touched you. It settled into the very recesses of your being. It smolders there, ferments, and rots. When I dig down deep, I can still find it. I draw on it, and it spills onto the page as the darkness no one wants to see although many of us have looked for it ….
Within these pages you will discover the secrets of those who could not fight the darkness. A reflection of blood-spilled secrets that fester. Jealousy, morose, and passionate rage paint each page in shades of despair. Do not shrink away, the demons are not yours ... or are they?
***TRIGGER WARNING: All the stories in this collection contain elements of death, abuse, and suicide that may trigger emotional and traumatic reactions in some people. The stories in this collection are mostly fiction, with some based on the personal experience of the author. Names and places have been changed to protect the guilty. All work copyrighted by A.L. Mabry and may not be copied or distributed without written consent.
All marriages are sacred, but not all are safe.
~ Rob Jackson
I always loved New Years. The promise of new beginnings. The taste of potential and hope. I would scrub the house from top to bottom, telling myself, Out with the old, in with the new, as if just saying the words could make them true. I tried. Year after year after year. Not every end means a bright new beginning. This isn’t the beginning of my story, but that’s not what you’re really here for, is it? Sometimes the ending is all you want.
The shrill alarm slices through my cocoon. My serenity shatters, and I open my eyes. Familiar predawn darkness greets me with its promise of just a little more peace. The bedroom curtain was crumpled on the floor beneath the window and beyond the frosted glass red and green lights twinkle, almost in mocking. With the rest of the house eerily quiet, Mark’s breathing sounds amplified. I lie still for just a moment as the first panic attack builds. It swells in my chest, this violent ocean wave containing “what if’s” and “not enoughs.” I ride it out.
What will the trigger be today, what will set him off? I resolve to be preemptive through my routine. As I roll out of bed, careful not to wake him, I force myself to remain calm.
My swollen ankle twinges. When I go to bed, you go to bed.
My wrist aches. Chicken nuggets? Do I look like a fucking four year old?
My back throbs. You should have known I wanted my blue shirt today!
My scalp burns. Say you like it.
I creep through the hall and check on the kids before I head downstairs to start the coffee maker. While I pull out the ingredients for this morning’s breakfast, I relish the comfort of the most mundane actions. I beat a few eggs and put them in a pan to scramble for Randall and Jenny. Then I prepare Alice’s gluten-free pancakes. I pour the batter onto the heated griddle, then turn to stir the eggs before pouring myself a cup of coffee.
The warmth of the coffee and the stillness of the morning wash over me. I stop for just a moment to savor it. I try to shake off the last of sleep’s drowsy grip. With my calendar and to-do lists spread across the counter, I tackle the day. Mark's lunch is next, so I quickly put it together and place it in the fridge. I pull out chicken breasts to thaw for dinner. Then I remember we had chicken yesterday. I swap it for the cube steaks because Mark refuses to eat the same meat two days in a row. Breakfast and dinner. Check and check.
Every action is repetitive, the soul crushing routine that ensures I see another day. I place three plates on the island bar and pile on breakfast that will go mostly uneaten. Anger nips at the back of my conscious; tired of the servitude, of the compliance. Oh stop it, Holly. This nurturing servitude gives you joy. Without humor, I sigh. Liar.
From the den, the Christmas tree beckons with its shiny baubles and handmade ornaments. I wander in with the remnants of my coffee and gingerly brush aside the tinsel to look at this year’s family photo ornament. The photographer touched it up perfectly, not a bruise in sight. I make a note to tear down the tree before dinner. Mark was strict about “bringing” an old tree into a new year.
Routine beckons, and I return to the kitchen to pull the bento boxes from the cabinet and prepare each of the children’s lunches. With another yawn, I pierce each little fruit gummy with a pretzel stick. Randall and his friends are on a wizard kick, and they should love the little wands. For Jenny, I place a piece of turkey on white bread and top it with a slice of mozzarella. Digging through the drawer full of cookie cutters, I pull out one shaped like Hello Kitty’s bulbous head and cut her food into shape.
Alice’s lunch is next; I start by arranging the ham and cheese egg muffins, and then I add two fruit kabobs. Next, I add stalks of celery filled with gluten-free cinnamon peanut butter and finish all three lunches with a small dish of Greek yogurt. The clock chirps seven times, and I realize I have lingered over the lunches too long and will soon regret it.
I head back upstairs and dress in a rush, thankful I remembered to lay out my clothes. Mark rustles the blankets, and I feel my heartbeat speed up. Rifling through my makeup case, I find the tiny nub of concealer, and blend it over the yellowing bruise. I add a new concealer pencil to my mental shopping list, that will be the fourth one this month. With practiced strokes, I apply my eyeshadow. There is a slight tremor in my hand as I stroke the eyeliner pencil deftly across each eye, but I try to ignore it.
In the mirror’s reflection I see my dress for tonight’s New Year’s party. It’s a horrid shade of green, but the only one Mark would approve of. I had held onto a beautiful red slip dress right up to the register and only the threat in his eye convinced me to set it down. Promise, Holly, not threat. Let’s not mince words.
“I don’t know why you bother; no one cares what you look like.” Mark grumbles sleepily from the bed. “Or maybe you’re trying to catch someone’s attention? Whore.”
I take a steadying breath and brush nonexistent lint from my blouse. In the mirror, I notice a new bruise on my forearm so I grab a cardigan from the closet, the blue one, not the red one. Whores wear red, are you a whore, Holly? I reset the alarm clock for him and head down the hall to wake the kids. While Randall takes a shower, I help the girls get dressed and do their hair. Alice requests French braids this morning, Jenny is happy with simple pigtails. Once everyone’s dressed, I usher them downstairs for breakfast.
This monotony keeps me sane. If I keep following the patterns, I will be okay. For years I hated the fact that the children had so few holidays, but lately I have been more than happy to keep them out of the house as often as possible. Even if this was probably the only district in the country open on New Year’s Eve.
As the kids eat, I gather the spreadsheets and graphs for my presentation, hoping that the extra hours I spent perfecting it last night pays off for me. I touch a bruise and decide it was worth it. With this promotion, I’ll finally be able to leave Mark.
I pile everyone into the car and begin the morning rounds. I drop Randall at the middle school first, then Jenny at the elementary school. Last, I pull into Alice’s rainbow colored preschool.
She spills out of the SUV, and I straighten her hair and fix her coat. I hand her the bright pink lunch box and grab the tuition check from my purse.
I plaster my smile on and take her small hand, reluctance fills us as we head into the school. The bulletin boards are still covered with festive artwork, handprint reindeer, and mounds of glitter. Right away I see the “Coffee Moms” huddled in the corner of the lobby having their morning bonding session. They barely glance my way as I continue down the hall with my sweet girl. Their voices follow us and I pretend not to notice.
“… with her artsy little lunches…”
“…. kid looks like a Gap model…”
“…. probably has a nanny…”
With a hug and kiss, I push Alice into her teacher’s waiting embrace. I rush back through the lobby and drop my check in the box on the desk, careful to not make eye contact with the other moms. I climb back into the sanctuary of my SUV, behind the tinted windows, before I let the tears fall.
The judgment from these women is as unnerving as the invisibility I feel at work. This will change though, as I have this latest promotion in the bag. I reach over to pat my briefcase and panic crashes through my senses.
“He’s right. I am a dumbass. I can’t even remember my own briefcase.” Tension fills my limbs. I have to return home. Maybe if I drive slowly enough, he will be gone when I get there. The digital clock on the dashboard flashes, 8:30. I didn’t have the luxury of taking a scenic route if I wanted to get to work on time. And with everything on the line, tardiness was not an option.
The darkness pushes in on me like a palpable entity. Don’t panic yet. Figure out what is going on. I imagine taking a deep breath to re-center myself before I try to remember how I ended up here, alone, in the dark. I let the memories flow over me like ocean waves, surging forward and then lapping at the edge of consciousness as I orient them.
His grip on the back of my neck is painful as he pushes me back towards the mess. The contents of a shattered coffee cup lie strewn across the peeling linoleum, while his face looms in front of mine. Anger contorts his eyes into those of a savage predator. I flinch as his acidic voice crawls across my skin, and he lists my sins for me as if I could ever forget them.
You lie to me.
You think you can steal my kids.
You sleep around.
You’re a slob.
You neglect me for your stupid job.
With one swipe of his arm, my briefcase joins the coffee cup, and my papers settle onto the spill. My graphs, my proposal, my dreams slaughtered in the muck.
“If you only had a brain, you wouldn't be so damn clumsy. I bet your dumb ass won’t even clean it up right, and the floor will stay sticky for the next week. How did I end up with such a stupid, nasty girl?” The stale stench of alcohol invades my nose, gagging me.
Alcohol? It’s not even 9:00 am. And then I see it, my sweet letter to myself, sitting on top of the others. He found my journal, one thing I thought was safe from his prying eyes. The single page was ripped along the margin and sat atop the small leather book. The prophecy meant to seal my fate, but not like this.
You can do this. You will get this promotion. You will leave and start a better life for yourself. He will not control you forever. Stay strong. Don’t give up, don’t back down.
As I sink to my knees and gingerly pluck the shards of glass from the mess, his eyes burn into my body and fear churns in my stomach. I ignore the pricks as tiny pieces of glass stab into my skin, not wanting him to have the satisfaction of my pain. As I wipe up the last of the brown liquid guilt, I feel his large hands shoving me aside.....
Naked and alone, a young girl flees down a highway. Flagging down a passing car, she collapses before she's able to speak. The mystery deepens when an examination reveals she's recently given birth, and it falls to Detective Nick Cross to find the missing infant. But investigations rarely go in directions veteran detectives expect, and so when a K-9 is brought in, an unmarked gravesite is discovered on the abandoned property the young mother ran. It alerts Cross to the fact that a prolific serial killer is in their midst--one who has flown under the radar for many years. With the girl he dubs "Molly" unable to tell the secrets locked in her head, it's going to be impossible to do much of anything, but the impossible is what Cross does best, and he's not giving up without a fight.
A DAUGHTER IS A DAUGHTER is a non-stop thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Matching wits with the psychologically twisted madman behind the rampage, this is the case that threatens Nick Cross' twelve-year career. Becoming personally involved, he'll let nothing stand in his way to help Molly, not even the re-emergence of a surly FBI Field Agent who has already made his life a living hell the last time they locked horns.
The second in the Nick Cross Mysteries, each entry is a standalone and may be read separately and not in chronological order. If you love Richard North Patterson or James Patterson, you'll love Nick Cross.
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Out of the pitch-black night, the sounds of panting and hard-fought breaths drifted up to the boughs of the trees and down the dirt path where the young girl ran.
Naked and alone, her bare feet slapped the ground, the soles bleeding from the rocks encountered along the way. She cocked her head, trying to discern any noises coming from behind, but it was impossible to tell. The only way to know for certain was to stop and listen.
There wasn’t a chance in hell that would happen.
Life could spin around on a dime. She’d learned that the hard way, and it was that realization that made her plunge towards what she prayed was an end to the suffering.
Heat and sweat rose off her body and mingled with the crisp night air, but there was no time to rest. Danger abounded on all sides, and the dark woods made clear how isolated she truly was. Blind faith fueled the relentless pace as labored breaths turned jagged, and then tortuous. She was out of condition, and her lungs burned from overexertion, but everything depended on her.
She was their last hope.
A brilliant burst of lightning lit up the sky and illuminated the surroundings. The brief sputtering glimpse only amplified how lost she truly was. In the middle of nowhere, she was battling for her life.
A wind kicked up, whipping her long blonde hair into her face. Her fingers tore away at the tresses that covered her eyes and clung to the wet open mouth gasping for breath while her other hand remained clenched in a tight fist. The sharp edge of a rock sliced into her flesh as she whimpered in pain, but her will refused to falter and so she pushed on.
Old ghosts revisited her, but she couldn’t allow herself to get caught up in the past. It was rife with land mines that threatened to explode and sabotage her in her tracks. The present was what she needed to deal with and so she focused on accomplishing the impossible.
A skewed fork of lightning blazed across the sky and allowed another brief glimpse of the unfamiliar terrain, including the road ahead. The winding trail veered to the right and gave her no choice but to follow in that direction. Not slowing down, she leaned into the sharp curve, wondering what awaited on the other side.
The seconds flew by.
Hope rose up from a dark place as defeated spirits caged within lifted and shouted, Amen and Hallelujah. An intrusive thought tried to drown out the elation by convincing her she was delusional and that this was only a mirage. The treasured prize seemed too good to be true, but it was there. The cement under her feet was enough to convince her of that, and if this were a road, it meant people … and cars … safety … and …
The bubble of joy dissipated as quickly as it came. There were no cars or people. There were only miles of paved road for as far as the eye could see.
Where was everyone? Where?
Death stared her in the face, taunting her the way it’d done all these years. It asked why she thought she could win. She had no answer. Why had she thought she stood a chance against insurmountable odds? She’d die here … on this road she ran down. It was her fate.
The fate of a victim.
Twin streams of blinding light blasted in her eyes and splashed across her frail body, breaking the stream of negativity clouding her mind. She could win if she tried, and so she waved her arms, frantically trying to flag the driver down.
Please, dear God! Make him stop!
The oncoming car slowed, but was it a trap?
No! The startled male face behind the wheel was one she didn’t recognize. The woman next to him was a stranger too.
It was going to be all right.
The car doors slammed shut—one after the other.
All she had to do was speak and tell the couple approaching what was wrong and the nightmare would be over. Her lips parted, trying to make a sound, but a debilitating numbness spread, making it impossible for her to do anything but stare.
“Are you okay?” the driver asked. Concern etched the face that was starting to blur.
“Child, are you hurt?” the woman with him echoed, but her face was dissipating and bleeding into a fog.
They were still talking, but she couldn’t answer. Why couldn’t she answer? She had so much to say, but her thoughts scattered like a flock of birds frightened by a shotgun’s blast.
She was shutting down.
“Can you tell us your name?” the man asked as he covered her naked body with his coat.
No, but I want to!
It was her last cogent thought. In the blink of an eye, everything she fought for was lost. Her memory wiped clean, there was only the directive beating inside her head and rallying to keep her going, but she weakened anyway. Her strength drained as an incapacitating dizziness caused her to waver and stagger to the side.
Her legs gave way, her emaciated form collapsing into the good Samaritan’s arms. The pale chapped lips twitched as her heart screamed out for justice.
“H-h--elp …” she whispered.
Sinking the rest of the way into the hole dug for her so long ago, her blue eyes closed and shut out the world that had caused her so much pain.
Chance Washington only has a few things on his mind when he embarks on a trip back to his hometown. Completing the assignment for work that’s sending him there in the first place, helping his mom make progress on her fixer-upper home, and catching up with some of his best friends who he doesn’t get to see often enough. What is not a part of those plans is hooking up with one of his best friend’s little sister. But it doesn’t take long for him to realize that just because you walk into a game with a strategy, doesn’t always mean things are going to go as planned.
Londyn Miller isn’t looking for a relationship; a casual fling more her thing after blowing through the limited dating options in her hometown. But when a handsome – familiar - face returns to town for an extended stay, the decision to pursue him for a little fun is an easy one; as long as she’s sure not to let that fun turn into real feelings while also managing to keep it all from her overprotective big brother.
Just like Chance, Londyn quickly learns that plans and strategy can only get you so far before you’re forced to make in-game adjustments. And when those in-game adjustments evolve into something neither expected, it becomes a race for the finish line that Chance nor Londyn saw coming…
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A new threat to the United States has emerged within its own borders. Deutsche Christen, a powerful paramilitary organization, led by a ruthless ex-Special Forces Officer, Carl Dietrich, is threatening to overthrow the U.S. government and assume absolute power over the country.
Bolstered by the overwhelming support provided by two foreign governments, Dietrich believes his forces to be invincible, and his future rise to power inevitable.
Hoping to garner additional members for his organization, he demands an interview with Sean Carrol, an ex-Special Forces officer and an investigative reporter for the New York International News. Dietrich orders that their meeting be held at one of the Deutsche Christen paramilitary camps. To assure Seans cooperation, he kidnaps his niece and nephew.
Understanding Dietrichs rationale for the meeting and further realizing that his niece and nephew arent going to be released, Sean develops a plan to rescue the children. Desperate, he along with Colonel Gannon, his ex-commander, reorganize his old Special Forces team and create a rescue mission.
While tensions rise worldwide and threats of war loom, panic takes center stage, as the prospect for cataclysmic destruction promises to annihilate civilization as we know it.
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The author of "The Slender Man" brings you a new horror: filled with gruesome killers, their possessed victims, and a lone witness.
Follow the Witness as she travels through a perpetual series of nightmares, haunted by a mixture of pernicious serial killers and their imprisoned, undead victims, known as preta. As she wanders through time and memories shared by the killers and their victims, she fights to solve the puzzle of their connection to each other and to herself. Her only hope of salvation lies in connecting key victims to the souls who can rescue them, thus waking her from the nightmare, but one killer follows the next, bringing forth a new set of victims, a new score of preta, and immediately landing her in a new terror.
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