In a dark vision of the near future, Los Angeles has become a desolate wasteland after a multi-pronged biological, nuclear, and EMP attack that paralyzed Southern California on a day that the rest of the nation celebrated independence. For the unlucky "New Angelinos," there is only one way out: gain entry into the New United States through The Raffle.
When raffler Ramsey Arami wins The Raffle after ten years of trying, he believes he will finally reunite with his wife and daughter in the New United States. But only if he follows the rules of the New United States.
Climaxing in Area 51, Randy Smith delivers a fast-paced geopolitical thriller that is equal parts suspense and philosophy, adventure and romance, science and technology in a future with unsettling parallels to our present.
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May 19, 2027
“You have three hours and fifty-nine minutes before the Raffle,” the blond haired, blue-eyed female guard said at the end of the narrow hallway we had been walking. She pressed her hand against a pad next to a door and it opened. A sign above the door said “Raffler #1”. As she stared into my eyes to see my reaction, she said, “Please enter your waiting room, Raffler #1.”
I nodded and surveyed the room. It was small, about one-hundred-fifty square feet with a single cot covered with white linen sheets and a pillow. Folded blue coveralls lay at the end of the cot. Perched halfway between the cot and the ceiling was what appeared to be a white, plastic-covered square speaker. Next to the speaker was a black-paneled clock with red-colored digits displaying the current time: 8:01.
A small white desk stood against the left-side wall with a white swivel chair. The desk and chair reminded me of a smaller version of a desk my wife and I had in our home office almost eleven years ago. Positioned in the center of the desk were a new notepad and two sharpened pencils, also things I hadn’t seen in almost eleven years.
Noticing that I was staring at the desk and the pad of paper, the guard said, “We encourage Rafflers having progressed this far to write.”
“Write what?” I asked cautiously.
“Anything they desire. A prayer, their thoughts, or a letter to individuals they knew before July 2016 that may live now in the New United States.”
“And why do you encourage writing?”
“Because writing is a skill New Angelinos have not used regularly in many years.”
She watched my reaction before continuing. “If your Raffle ticket gets picked tonight, you will be Re-Patriated to the New United States. Our Re-Partition Laws require Re-Patriated New Angelinos to have a job within two weeks of re-entry. And not all jobs available to Re-Patriots are the manual labor jobs that New Angelinos have been doing for the past ten years.”
“And who will read what I write?”
“That is entirely up to you. At 11:59 tonight, you will hear over the speaker above the number of the Raffle winner. If you are the winner and choose not to submit a letter for delivery, you may take your writings with you and nobody will ever read them or ask them of you. Your writings are yours to keep as a last physical memento of your time in New Angeles.”
“Am I supposed to believe no one will read the writings if I am picked tonight?”
“The ability to trust and show you are trustworthy are important skills to possess. By allowing you to participate in the Raffle we trust you no longer show the effects of M-V-16 Virus. Those showing effects of the Virus fail to advance as far as you have today.”
She paused and made direct eye contact with me, presumably to make sure I understood before continuing.
“And being able to trust in the New United States is also important for Re-Patriation eligibility. So, if you are told your writings will not be read if you choose not to submit them, then you should trust us.”
I realized believing, or at least pretending I believed, that my writings would not be read was another stage of the Raffle. Having never been so close to having my number drawn, I agreed to buy what she was selling, but I was still confused.
“Why would I choose to submit what I write to you?”
“On the other side of this wall you will find two slots, one marked destruction and the other marked distribution.”
She looked back in my eyes and said, “The destruction slot leads to an incinerator beneath us, and you may deposit your writings into the destruction slot at any time and they will not be read.” She paused again, presumably for effect.
“If you deposit a letter with sufficient delivery details to someone you believe lives in the New United States and the letter is submitted by 11:49 tonight, then we will deliver it per your instructions. Of course, that means we will thoroughly read your letter to ensure the best possible chance of delivery.”
I nodded and said, “Thank you for the explanation.”
While stepping forward I made a slight asking bow to her with a head nod towards my room, “May I enter?”
She squinted her eyes, making a mental note of my moves. I realized I passed another test by asking permission before entering the room.
“One more matter you should know that occurs at exactly 11:49 tonight. You must decide whether you will increase your chances tenfold by pledging your next ten Raffle entries. We call it ‘Pledging Your Ten’”.
“‘Pledging Your Ten’?” I said with surprise. “The Proclamation never mentioned ‘Pledging Your Ten’.” I reached into my yellow jumpsuit to retrieve my obligatory copy of The Proclamation.
“We completed the Settlement over ten years ago, Raffler #1. You are ignorant of many adjustments the New United States has made to the Raffle. If you are willing to maximize your chances tonight, we will document the pledging of your next ten Raffle tickets. If you fail to win tonight, you will not be allowed to participate in the Raffle for the next ten years.”
“Am I required to pledge my ten Raffle tickets?”
“No, you are not required to Pledge Your Ten, though, in making your decision, you should consider what the seven other Rafflers will do tonight.”
I nodded and looked away into the room. “Can I pledge less than ten?”
“No, Raffler #1. You may choose to Pledge Your Ten or take your chances with your single Raffle ticket tonight.”
I nodded. “Thank you, ma’am. Anything else I should be aware of before I enter?” I asked respectfully.
“You may enter, Raffler #1. Please remove your jumpsuit once the door is closed behind you. We have fresh coveralls for you on the cot.”
As I stepped into the room, I looked at the clock, which said 8:04 pm. I then heard the door whoosh closed behind me and lock itself. I realized I spent precious minutes learning about my choices before the Raffle tonight. My mind ruminated about the length of my questions: Was that another part of the test? Did I take too long? Was I too short?
The rumination lasted a precious minute: once the clock hit 8:05, my mind began to race. I stared at the clock, then closed my eyes, and breathed slowly until I was in complete control of my nerves. I continued to breathe until I had full control of my thoughts and mind through my brief standing meditation and opened my eyes to see it was now 8:07: Three hours and fifty-two minutes until the Raffle. I nodded to myself while staring back and forth at the desk and the cot, and asked myself, “Sleep or write? What will I do?”
Using the buttons on the side I stripped off and folded my mandatory yellow jumpsuit and placed it under the cot. I also removed my obligatory copy of the Proclamation and my Raffle ticket. I put on the coveralls and placed the Proclamation and the ticket in the front left pocket.
Trying to relax, I sat on the cot and placed my head in my hands. My racing mind felt like it was thumping, but I realized the thumping was just my heart. I was so close to leaving New Angeles, but I didn't want to get my hopes up. Only eight Rafflers remained. And how many of us would “Pledge Your Ten”? Maybe the others will think if they advanced this far this year then they will again next year and choose not to pledge their next ten Raffles. But, logic told me everyone would pledge their next ten Raffle tickets to increase their chances of being picked tonight. And if everyone else was maximizing their chances, then I should as well.
After breathing in deeply and exhaling, I looked at the clock. It was now 8:10. I thought about my wife and daughter. I had not seen or communicated with them in almost eleven years. The last time I saw them was when I dropped them off at LAX on July 3, 2016 for their trip to visit my wife’s parents near Boston. Although I wasn’t sure they were still alive, in my heart I believed they were and my belief kept me alive these years. It fueled my instinct to survive and continue every time I wanted to quit. I hoped every day to see them again. And now if the security guard told the truth, I had the chance to at least write them a letter. Other than documenting New United States fuel shipments to the Asian Quadrant I had written little in the past 11 years so my writing skills were poor. Still, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity: I decided to write a letter to my wife and daughter.
She wanted to find her place in the universe. She never imagined it might not be on Earth.
When Emily Murphy over slept the morning of her college entrance exam, she thought missing her test was the worst thing that could happen. She never expected she would wind up lost halfway across the galaxy, battling aliens with laser guns and mages hurling lightning.
Like most seventeen year olds, Emily's main concern had been navigating the perils of high school, not surviving shootouts and sorcery. That changed when her school was attacked and a student was kidnapped. While everyone else smartly fled from danger, she recklessly ran toward it mounting an impossible rescue that would lead her on a journey unlike anything she could have imagined.
Dropped into a strange world teeming with merciless criminals and ruthless aristocrats, surrounded by violence and betrayal, Emily must untangle a web of intrigue and deceit to solve the mystery behind the abduction, save her classmate, and discover the destiny which awaits her.
It is either that, or die trying...
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World peace came with rules. We’ve just broken them.
In the year 2055, millions of humans were wiped out by a deadly virus known as EMB-II, a bioweapon strain of Ebola that could not be stopped. The need to get off the planet and into space was never stronger. Before the ships could be launched, First Contact was made. A dozen spaceships arrived, carrying twelve Criterion Advocates – peacekeepers of the universe – and thousands of Criterion soldiers, aides, workers, and engineers. To stop the virus getting into space, Earth was placed under quarantine and work begun to save the planet and humanity. Through tough control measures, world peace was achieved.
The year is now 2355. The virus is gone. Humanity is eager to get into space. Yet the Earth is still under quarantine. The Criterion are lying to us. What they don’t know is that we’re lying to them.
Kethryn Miller is an award-winning actress, but nothing will prepare her for the role she’ll take on when a strange woman who shouldn’t be alive turns up in the city, threatening to expose the lies that have kept peace on Earth for 200 years.
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Damn world peace. It wasn’t worth her happiness.
Kethryn Miller drained the last of her wine before turning her scornful gaze to the shimmering lights below. City Prime was beautiful at night, yet the millions of lights, in every imaginable color, did little to stop the loneliness settling in.
Far below, lights blinked like neon lovers communicating in code. At least until midnight. After midnight, the power conserves came into effect, and buildings disappeared from the skyline as holo-advertisements and electricity mains shut down. Complete darkness lasted no more than the blink of a neon light; like children afraid of the dark, buildings flickered into life as insomniacs reclaimed the night.
As Kethryn watched over the world from the balcony of the forty-second floor, she wondered what kept her fellow insomniacs awake. She would swap her troubles for theirs any day.
A Criterion ship popped into view. Reflexively, Kethryn took a step back. The Divinity was gold and elliptical with sensor arrays that resembled incandescent roots reaching for the ground. One of a hundred border patrol ships, one for each Earth state, this alien hawk followed a pre-plotted course around the ten cities of State Seven. A citizen could tell time by the patrols. Each noon and midnight, the Divinity floated over City Prime. Each night when it hovered by, Kethryn sensed the co-operatives inside – humans who worked security detail for the Criterions – watching her watching them.
She reached for the bottle of wine on the table and the movement activated the Visual Imaging Device – VID – pulling her attention to the image projected onto the screen. It showed an invitation for the presidential inauguration in two weeks, one she couldn’t avoid since this was her inauguration. Spending her adult life dodging the inevitable now seemed like a waste.
She shifted her gaze from the lights to the full moon that sat to the right of the border ship. Long ago that moon had lured man to reach it. And they had. They lived in permanent habitats in self-imposed seclusion for three months at a time. It granted them little contact with family or friends, and when they returned to Earth they complained of the noise and begged to go back. Their bodies slowly decayed from constantly applying aluminum gel as protection against radiation. Their flesh festered from bedsores that never healed because of the implanted mood-gauging sensors that monitored their vital signs and mental stability. Mooners were a weird lot, and yet she envied them.
She took a sip of wine. Too sweet. It belied her current mood. The quarantine of Earth, placed by the Criterion three centuries ago, should have been lifted by now and the technology to launch a spaceship beyond the end of the Solar System granted. And yet it hadn’t. Why were humans still on Earth? Why had the Criterion not gone home after ridding the planet of the deadly virus? Why did nobody care that mankind’s peace and freedom came with chains?
These were questions to ask a Criterion advocate, and a wry smile tugged at her cheeks that she’d get her chance in two weeks.
*New and Lengthened 2018 Edition*
How well do you know yourself?
Sixteen-year-old Elle thinks she's got life in Shady Oaks all under control until new boy Asher comes to town. Elle can't explain it, but she can't deny the connection she feels to him. Things with Asher are going great until they're out one night and nearly attacked by a large wolf. Before she knows it, Elle's life is spiraling out of control: Maddox is in love with her, she and Asher are in danger…
and she learns she's a shifter!
If that wasn't bad enough, she finds herself in the middle of an ages-old war between shifters and hunters.
What else can she do but join the cause?
Will Elle stay with Asher or break-up with him to be with Maddox? What does it mean to be a shifter? Who will emerge victorious in the battle?
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As if on cue, a wild and ferocious animal broke through the brush and leaped through the air, landing only inches from where Asher and I were standing. It was a wolf, gray and brown with golden yellow eyes and a muscular frame.
Blood dripped from the predator's sharp fangs. I couldn't help but stare in wild fascination as the animal sauntered toward us. Its grin seemed to grow with each deliberate step, as though the beast was mocking us. My heart began to race, and my breath faltered as I took in the beast gnashing its teeth in front of us. I could see its wild hairs as they moved in the wind as it stared at us, standing there, frozen with fear.
I slowly turned my head to look at Asher, hoping he'd be able to offer me something to help calm my growing fear. Instead of seeing nervousness like I'd expected, I saw a fuming mad Asher staring daggers into the eyes of the wild animal across from us. I moved toward the animal and saw a similar heated and irritated glare staring back at Asher. It was as though the two were in a standoff, both equally livid and irritated by the presence of the other.
My eyes found their way to the beast, and I couldn't help but linger on its shape, size, and color. One small glimpse into its golden eyes and I had no choice but to observe its every move. I watched its massive and muscular chest rise with rough breaths. I should have been stricken with fear. I should have been crying and begging the animal not to tear open my throat and eat me for a snack, but I wasn't. Instead, I regarded the animal with fascination. There was something about the creature that had lured me into its presence.
Without thinking, I took a step forward, gaining the creature's interest. It tore its snarling gaze from Asher and seemed to calm as the golden eyes drank me in.
"Elle, stop," Asher whispered. He reached out and grabbed my arm.
With his movement, the creature growled and let out an ear-piercing and heart-stopping howl. I swear, it was as though Asher's grabbing me had enraged the animal. I knew that sounded wildly insane, but something was off about our encounter, and I couldn't stop myself from being drawn to its existence.
"Watch out," Asher yelled again, pulling me protectively behind him.
He stood tall in front of me, using his body as a shield, trying to form a wall between the beast and myself.
BOOK 3 OF THE SERIES COMING SEPTEMBER 13TH
Synopsis: For Elle, she thought the day she learned she was a Shifter was the most frustrating day of her life. Well, that was until she found herself in the middle of a war between her best friend and boyfriend. Now, everything is about to change for this trio as a known Witch in Shady Oaks has decided to wage a war against the Shifters and Otherworldly Creatures. This time, Elle may find herself battling with new powers and without her trusted best friend, Maddox. Discover how hearts are broken and mended in this exciting third installment of the Shifter Chronicles, Everlight
Book Title: Evernight
Release Date: September 13th, 2018
Publisher: Kingston Publishing
About the Author: Michelle Areaux is a wife, mother, educator, and young adult author. Her love for coffee helps drive her to create magical, fantasy stories.
Purchase Links: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07DYJKBRZ?pf_rd_p=d1f45e03-8b73-4c9a-9beb-4819111bef9a&pf_rd_r=KEC0BPYKMT52XYRPD0HQ
Social Media Links:
It all started with a haunted Ouija board in Nashville and the cold case murder of Sophie Mathews. Then, Henry Meyer did not commit suicide in his tobacco barn in Columbia and the case went cold. When Olivia Honeycutt takes on the case of Eloise Venable Freeman, she must accept her paranormal proclivities. Eloise and her infant daughter, Andrea, allegedly died in a horrific fire thirty years ago. Her husband, David, is not satisfied with ashes. David wants answers. Olivia travels to Shelbyville, Tennessee, and the world of the Walking Horses to solve her most challenging mystery to date.
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Sixteen-year-old Brieze is the apprentice and adopted daughter of a powerful wizard. She never met her biological father, a merchantman from the faraway Eastern Kingdoms who had a brief romance with her mother, then disappeared. When Brieze discovers her mother is still secretly, crazily in love with this man, even after seventeen years, she decides to find him, confront him, and get some answers from him for her mother's sake.
In her small airship the Devious, she makes the long and dangerous journey to the Eastern Kingdoms. Along the way, she confronts pirates and the nocturnal ship-crushing beast known as the Nagmor. She survives a harrowing trip through the legendary Wind's Teeth. She discovers why her father disappeared, and in the process she learns the true version of her own story.
When Brieze's boyfriend, Tak, receives word she's in danger, he sets out on his own journey east to help her. Will he be able to rescue her, or will she end up having to rescue him?
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Brieze’s mother was acting strange. She’d been moping and sighing around the wizard’s house all day, doing dumb things. She’d left her hairbrush on the stairs of all places, where Brieze had nearly tripped over it and broken her neck, and she’d forgotten to feed the wizard’s exotic birds, which squawked hungrily from their cages in the parlor. Brieze was pretty sure her mother’s state of mind had something to do with Tobias the handyman. The two had stopped talking to each other, and Tobias was moping around the house too.
Her mother had wandered outside to the wide front lawn that stretched to the edge of the wizard’s floating island. Brieze kept an eye on her from an upstairs window as she played chess with the wizard. The wizard took a long time making his moves, and she went to the window and watched while she waited.
Now her mother was doing more dumb things. She wasn’t wearing a cloak, even though the fall chill outside hinted strongly of the winter to come, and she was standing much too close to the island’s edge, especially for such a windy day. And it was hard for Brieze to tell at this distance, but she didn’t seem to be wearing a parachute pack, which was not just dumb but dangerous.
With the late afternoon sun low in the sky and the island positioned near the Highspire Mountains, the view was spectacular. From horizon to horizon, silvery gray clouds blanketed the surface of Etherium, as they always did. To the east, the mountains rose tall and craggy and green out these clouds, reaching for the sky. The mountain range stretched northward and southward in lazy zigs and zags, the farthest mountains fading off into the distance. The sky was a pretty shade of pinkish-purple. Banks of cumulus clouds piled high on the horizon like echoes of the mountains.
The nearest mountain was so close that, if her mother were looking at the view, she could have made out the terraced fields and orchards on its lower flanks. She could have glimpsed the tiny specks of ox- and donkey-drawn carts making their way along the roads that spiraled or switchbacked up the mountainside. Further up the mountain, she could have seen the city of Selestria in all its sunlit splendor, the brightly-colored pennants flying from the roofs of the stone houses, the airships swarming about the city like busy bees—constantly touching down and taking off—their silvery sails glinting when they caught the sun. At the mountain’s crown, she could have admired Castle Selestria, which seemed as much a part of the sky as part of the earth, its tallest towers and turrets lost in the clouds.
But Brieze’s mother wasn’t looking at any of this. She hadn’t gone outside for the view. She stood with her head down, shoulders hunched, and her hands thrust deep into her pockets, muttering to herself. She didn’t notice the gusts of wind tugging at her skirt. The knotted bun of her hair had come undone—it whipped around her face in a frenzy.
Brieze unclipped a brand-new spyglass from the belt of her black flightsuit. It had been a gift from the wizard for her sixteenth birthday. She studied her mother through it. The house’s rafters groaned in the wind.
“Ah ha!” the wizard said, and advanced one of his pawns with a satisfied little clink. “Your move.”
“She’s not wearing a parachute,” Brieze said, peering through the spyglass.
“Hmmmm…?” the wizard looked up from the chessboard, his blue eyes blinking beneath bushy white brows.
“It’s windy out there and she forgot to grab a chute from the porch.”
The wizard came to the window. He frowned at the distant figure of Patentia Crofter standing near the island’s edge with her shoulders hunched against the wind, her hands in her pockets, her hair flying. “That is exceedingly dangerous,” he said, his brow furrowing and his eyebrows squinching closer together.
And, as if to prove him right, a huge gust of wind ballooned Patentia’s skirt, lifted her off her feet, and carried her tumbling end-over-end off the island’s edge.
What would you do if you were the monarch of a
perfect, tropical paradise without a care in the
world? Well, King Norr would like to leave, and
"Where else but Nibb?" his subjects would contend.
Venturing away from Nibb was only inviting misery
Nevertheless, the King was intent to experience
the world beyond and this is the story of the
adventures that found him during that pursuit.
Telling too much would ruin the surprises in store,
but some of the mysteries include --
Who was the curious, little girl who would not speak?
Had Doctor Hinkus fallen prey to marauding drumbkins?
Whose prank set the Palace afloat?
What's a spudcake?
Do pirates bathe?
Did Uncle Fenwad roll out of the Palace?
What's a Sober Tooth Tiger?
Do Nibbian pigs have a future in aviation?
These questions and more arise just as Norr may
have found what he had always wanted. Never
mind his world had become perfectly chaotic. It
was also chaotically perfect, and nothing that
couldn't be remedied with an additional nap.
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R E V I E W S --
Marigold Deidre Dicer @ Versus Blurb -- Brisbane, Australia
Maxine @ Parakeet Book Reviews -- California
Deborah Gafford -- writer & book blogger -- Texas
Bethanie Armstrong @ Bethanie's Books -- Alabama
Laura W @ Blue Eye Books
Trang @ Bookidote -- Montréal, Québec
Saradia Chatterjee @ The Page-Hungry Bookworm
AUTHOR'S BIO --
The Gift of the Quoxxel is Richard's debut novel. His life
experience includes visual arts, freelance graphic design and
illustration, truck driving, verb conjugating, military service,
and mastery of an adequate meatloaf.
A Michigan native and parochial school survivor, Richard resides
with wife Marina close to, but far enough from New York City.
Aerospace engineer Elena Pyetrov lost her father in space 18 years ago. She finally gets her chance to continue his research and her ship crashes. Alien pilgrims lost their civil war and seek to colonize Earth. Within caves on alien world, the Knoonk execute their plan to genetically adapt to Earth and displace humans. Kidnapped to the closed cave system, Elena finds other humans subjected to Knoonk experiments. With time running out, she must dig deep to uncover the alien plan and stop them before humans face extinction.
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“Beware what you ask for,” Elena’s father had once warned.
Those words rattled about her head while she squeezed out of the lunar shuttle’s sleep tube. As the drug-induced fog faded, she sat facing a narrow sky-blue corridor. The bizarre encounter with Jorgensen kept looping through her brain, making no sense.
Despite her pledge to the senator, Elena would soon be on the Moon base, away from all the politics. She hoped her lunar crew had checked out and provisioned Devereaux’s long-range spacecraft, though when she reached the Moon, she would perform her own checks. Then they would launch toward Jupiter. She smiled. This is finally happening, Dad.
Stretching, Elena closed her eyes, pictured her father before he vanished, and wished she could share this moment with him. She snapped on antiquated magnetic boots and struggled to put one foot in front of the other to reach the main cabin. Her seamless blue and red transport bodysuit was too tight, the stretchy material clinging.
Predictably, Marc Carlisle managed to finagle his way onto her lunar shuttle. At the last moment, he’d shown up with official documents showing that he was replacing one of the passengers transferring to the Moon base. That was when she’d decided on induced sleep for the two-day journey. I’m not going to let him pester me into taking him to Europa.
The ship lurched, tossing her against one wall and then the other. Wretched clumsy boots.
At least on the longer journey she’d have artificial gravity and other conveniences. She peeled one boot off the metallic floor, pushed it forward, and let it magnetically reconnect. Fighting the boots in zero gravity took all her concentration. That and the lingering haze of induced sleep delayed her recognizing the obvious. It was rare for a spacecraft to shift direction abruptly unless something hit it. The only things that came to mind were meteorites and space junk, neither of which would be good.
The boots resisted her attempts to move faster. By the time she reached the main compartment, the nineteen other blue-and-red-clothed passengers, many dazed from sleep, were already strapped in or struggling to reach assigned seats in one of five rows. These lunar miners, construction workers, a cook, and a few agrarians were all heading for the lunar base or a nearby settlement.
The view-screen before them showed a starry sky, mostly blackness. The pilot’s seat was empty and Captain Zak Pavlin was nowhere in sight. Elena thought there should have been a partition separating the crew from passengers, so the latter wouldn’t notice such details. To conserve weight and space, NASA had built the shuttles without dividers.
Nearby sat navigator Reese Paswitch. Her highlighted brown hair and eyeliner seemed overdone for a transit to the Moon; she was looking forward to a lunar wedding. Her fiancée sat in one of the passenger seats, gripping the armrests. Two crewmembers on either side of the controls, young recruits on a routine lunar transit, were both sweating. They looked as if they hadn’t slept in days.
In the co-pilot’s seat sat Marc Carlisle, looking as if he’d pulled all-nighters for a week. Elena sighed. She didn’t need their personal drama replayed in public. She hated shutting him down on their last night together, but she was tired of his insistence that she let him accompany her to Europa. Now he’d moved a step closer.
After they reached the lunar base, she would let him stew while she prepared her team. Then she would bid him farewell—again. Maybe this time they could leave on better terms.
The transport jolted to the left, forcing Elena to steady herself against the cabin wall. Her attention fell on the forward view-screen, which no longer showed a starry sky.
“What the … Jupiter?” She felt dazed, still recovering from the sleep drugs. Am I dreaming?
No, she was awake, all right. The magnetic boots were like having her feet encased in concrete. She grabbed hold of an empty seat and dragged her boots toward the pilot’s chair. Have I been asleep for six months? She checked her wrist-com. Two days had elapsed and she was still on the shuttle. “Where’s the Moon?” she asked Marc.
“Good, you’re up.” He reached for her hand.
Elena pulled away. Weariness and frustration swept across Marc’s face.
“What happened?” she asked.
“Somehow we diverted to Jupiter, months early.” Marc’s attempt to act calm was betrayed by his face, wrinkled with unsettling terror.
“How is this possible?” Elena scanned the jumble of controls and lights for evidence of what went wrong. The whole setup looked like something from the Smithsonian. The shuttle was a generation out of date, since the government refused to invest in space exploration. NASA had assured her that the weathered craft was sturdy enough to get them to the Earth’s moon. Not to Jupiter.
“We don’t know.” Marc’s face sagged. “Maybe you can help puzzle this out.” His pleading look reminded her of the night they’d parted.
Approaching Jupiter should have excited her, but Elena struggled to absorb what was happening. She was near her destination without her team, no gear, in a shuttle that couldn’t survive out here. Preparation was everything. She shook her head. “The shuttle can’t travel this fast.”
Marc returned his attention to the controls and pulled up status charts. “Agreed, but we’ve been approaching Jupiter for hours. I’m open to explanations.”
Elena didn’t have any. She stared at the image of Jupiter, with the sinking feeling that she’d survived Jorgensen only to vanish in space like her father. Only one thing made sense, yet it didn’t. “Were you that desperate to be on my mission that you veered off course?”
“Whoa.” Marc threw up his hands and let out a heavy sigh. “We didn’t do this. The crew and I have been through forty-eight hours of hell. The controls don’t work. The pilot and co-pilot are checking panels for malfunctions. Tara L’Enfant is helping them.”
Elena had bumped Tara, an electronics expert, off her mission in favor of someone she deemed a better fit. Tara had taken the consolation prize, one rotation of work on the lunar base and ended up on this shuttle.
“Why are you at the controls?” Elena asked in a harsh whisper.
“I have pilot training.”
“Not for a shuttle.” Elena took a deep breath. She didn’t want another fight. “I want to speak to the pilot. Where is he?”
“He’s working on our thruster electronics. You’ll have to wait until he’s done. In the meantime, why don’t you sit?”
“Tell me what you know.” She stopped herself from adding that shouldn’t take long.
“Not a single switch, circuit or gear problem.”
Reese Paswitch sat nearby; her bloodshot eyes and knotted brow betrayed shell shock. Even her cheeks sagged, hardly the image she would want at her wedding. Passengers stared at the screen. Several got up and approached.
Elena tried to focus on the science, but her mind remained foggy. She couldn’t account for traveling so far so fast. Although her sponsors had exhausted every resource to find the fastest way to the outer solar system, even their long-distance spaceship couldn’t achieve these speeds.
“What do you make of this?” Elena asked, lowering her voice.
“We lost controls an hour into the flight,” Marc whispered.
The bulky control panel had no flashing lights. No displays hinted at anything wrong except for that Jovian mass ahead of them. “Why didn’t you wake me?” Elena asked.
“I tried,” Marc said. “You must have taken extra sedatives.”
To avoid you. A sharp pain stabbed behind her right eye. She dropped into the pilot’s seat and immediately her eyes felt leaden, ready for sleep. She took a deep breath and clenched her fists. “Not much, though my head’s ready to explode.”
Marc handed her a mug of coffee. “This might help. It’s a richer blend.”
Clutching the mug, Elena sucked in lukewarm coffee through a tube and hoped it would do the trick.
A half-dozen puzzled and scared passengers closed in around Elena as they pushed for a closer look. Worry spreading across their faces. She stood to get air. These passengers hadn’t signed on for the challenges and risks of flying to Jupiter. She didn’t want to add to their terror.
She handed Marc the coffee, placed her hand on his shoulder to steady herself, and leaned in to whisper into his ear. “I want a complete assessment.”
“Gladly,” Marc said, “but you’re not in charge until we land.”
“Neither are you. You should have stayed home.” Elena pulled away and stared at the growing image of the gas giant, Jupiter. Four-hundred-fifty million miles in two days. “Any chance that image and the instruments are wrong?” After all, this is a relic.
“The crew checked everything a dozen times. I’m sorry; I really did try to wake you.”
Elena’s knees trembled as she fought deceleration. “Any thoughts on how we got out here?” Out here?
Marc stood. He towered over her by five inches. “I’ve read theoretical treatises on space-time continuum and wormholes. I don’t know. Something bypassed all of our controls and pulled us toward Jupiter.”
“You’re saying we have no control,” said Wil Benning, the biggest of the passengers and a construction recruit hired for the lunar base. He pushed his way forward. “What the eff is going on?” He glared down at Elena.
“Are we crashing?” another man asked.
Passengers pushed closer, all shouting at once.
Marc faced the burly construction recruit. “Everyone take a deep breath. We’re doing everything we can.”
“Where’s the pilot when we need him?” Wil Benning asked.
“He’s checking the equipment. Unless one of you has electronics or aeronautics skills, sit down and let the crew do its job.”
Elena couldn’t make sense of their velocity: two percent the speed of light. When her sponsors had brainstormed faster means of space travel, they’d brought in a Stanford physicist who discussed the Alcubierre Drive, a specially designed engine that creates a field around a spacecraft using exotic matter and negative energy that might allow it to bend the space-time continuum and move as fast as the speed of light. It had too many technical problems and no evidence it would work, so her sponsors dropped that option. Nothing else explained this speed.
Most passengers returned to their seats, except Reese’s fiancée who hovered over her. Elena sat in the pilot’s seat. She scanned the usual status reports on a small screen in front of her and turned to Marc. “Get me access to the view-screen’s history.”
He clicked a file on the small console before her, and up came the video. “What are you thinking?”
She played the video from an hour after takeoff and sped it forward. The shuttle veered away from the Moon, which zipped by. Then it lifted above the plane of the planets. Not believing the trajectory, she slowed viewing to real time and was stunned by how quickly they passed Mars.
She checked her wrist-com. It registered a two-day lapse, yet at the shuttle’s implied speed, the trip couldn’t have taken more than a day. She wondered why Marc hadn’t said anything. In fact, he’d mentioned two days.
To verify, she counted off a minute. The console’s clock registered two. Even Einstein’s relativity couldn’t account for that. She counted again to be sure.
The craft lurched right.
As others fell against metallic walls, Elena grabbed her seat belt. “What was that?”
“We’ve been getting bursts of movement,” Reese said, “as if someone else is navigating.”
Elena tried to bridge the gap between Marc’s feigned coolness, Reese’s panic, and the possibility that someone was tampering with time and the shuttle’s speed. The lights on the panel before her were either green or white. “How much fuel do we have?”
“That’s just it,” Marc said. “We aren’t using much—only enough for electrical and life support.”
“That’s crazy.” She decided not to share her suspicions until she knew more.
Reese tugged Elena’s arm. “You guys need to see this.”
Standing, Elena stared at an approaching moon, which looked pink, thanks to the screen’s enhanced color contrasting. It took a moment to register that this was her Europa, the ocean moon, as she’d imagined it. Her jaw dropped. Of course, Europa was a moon of Jupiter. Amazing.
The image quality was unlike anything she’d seen before—the lines and angles of angry ice pushed and shoved by Jupiter’s tidal pressure. Clarity was so sharp she could imagine reaching out to touch it.
Marc tinkered with the controls. “Zak!” he yelled into the communicator. “What do you have? We’re on a collision course.” He turned off his mike and turned to the passengers. “Everyone in their seats and buckle up,” he yelled. “Prepare to crash.”
“I’m on my way,” Zak said.
“What’s going on?” someone yelled.
“Sit and try to be quiet,” Marc said. “Elena, that includes you.”
Unable to take her eyes off the screen, she groped for the pilot’s seat. The stark image of crisscrossed pink lines grew, demarking broken ice sheets, until the cracked and haunting image of Europa filled the view-screen. They plunged through the negligible atmosphere. Giant blocks of ice rushed toward them.
A chorus of confusion welled up behind her. Passengers screamed. A construction recruit fell against the forward screen with a crunch. Keeping her eyes fixed on an approaching brown ridge, Elena grabbed for the seatbelts. “Do you have thrusters?”
Marc glanced over. “It’s a transport, not a fighter. Now get your seatbelt on and brace for impact.”
Elena tugged at the seatbelt a moment too late. The shuttle slammed into the icy surface, throwing Elena into Marc’s arms. Air squeezed out of her lungs. She couldn’t move. Her insides heaved. She pressed her eyes shut and begged for relief. Marc held on too tight.
“Leeeet goooo!” Elena’s voice trailed distant and hollow in her ears. She struggled to break free. She smelled sweat; Marc was as petrified as she was.
Lights blinked out. Elena fell against the view-screen and winced from pain in her left shoulder. Odd screams scratched at her ears, punctuated by elongated blasts and the thunderous crackling of ice … or the shuttle. Time slowed, though she knew that was an illusion.
Darkness engulfed them except for sparks from the control panel. The smell of toasted electronics filled her sinuses and left a metallic taste in her mouth. Despite the loss of power, the screen glowed reddish.
A cacophony of terror jumbled signals to her brain. Emergency lights flashed on. Red splattered. Blood choked her throat. She was pinned by deceleration as the shuttle slowly broke through the ice.
Distorted screams tore at her ears. The screen presented a yellowish glow that illuminated sheets of ice flowing past. If the impact hadn’t destroyed the ship, ice pressure should have, yet they continued descending. Three bodies lay crumpled nearby. Elena couldn’t see faces.
Another body slammed against the view-screen: Captain Zak Pavlin, the pilot. Unable to lift her body, Elena slid closer to check his pulse. Nothing. Other bodies hit the screen. Acrid odors of blood, vomit, and electronics attacked her sinuses. Elena was amazed that she was still conscious, still experiencing all this.
Onscreen, the wall of ice turned into a brackish-brown slurry: a liquid ocean, as predicted.
Astonished by her own calmness, Elena strained to see. If only they had lights to penetrate the murkiness. I’m here, on Europa, Dad.
She sensed the sides of the shuttle bulging inward.
The shuttle continued its descent. The cabin filled with smoky haze. Her eyes misted and burned. She no longer saw Marc or Reese in the flickering lights. She drew her knees to her chin. Guilt tightened her chest, the nightmare of finding her brother Leo hanging by a rope after their father vanished. She hadn’t been there to protect him.
The ship stopped. Metal creaked. Everything fell forward. Voices echoed around her.
“Help!” someone yelled.
Elena covered her ears and cried out. She couldn’t hear her own voice. Icy water swept into the compartment. A thousand needles stabbed her flesh. She couldn’t see through the fog. Her entire body was on fire with frigid stabs.
Lights went out. Sparks flickered from the controls. Then even they vanished.
Darkness enveloped them.
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?
CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE
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
Teenage girls don’t believe in fairy tales, and sixteen-year old Elena Watkins was no different.
Until the night a fairy tale killed her father.
Now Elena’s in a new world, and a new school. The cutest guy around may be an evil dragon, a Prince wants Elena’s heart, and a long dead sorcerer may be waking up to kill her. Oh. And the only way Elena’s going to graduate is on the back of a dragon of her own.
Teenage girls don’t believe in fairy tales. Now it’s time for Elena to believe – in herself.
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A GIRL SINGING HER heart out about a miracle boomed inside my ear. A miracle would get me what I needed: a chance at a semi-normal life.
The bedroom door hitting the wall expelled the thought from my mind. With his hand tangled up in his copper hair, and with huge brown eyes, Dad’s figure filled the entire doorway. “Pack your bags.” He had that set to his jaw, the one that meant there was no way out of this. He bolted out of the room just as suddenly as he had appeared.
I ground my teeth, hard. A sharp pain behind my eyes, I guessed from the lack of sleep, grew stronger. Every fiber of my being wanted to explode.
Ever since I could remember my name, Dad and I had been on the run. From what? Beats me.
For the past two weeks, I’d been pacing through the house, struggling to fall asleep at night, waiting for this day.
For the love of blueberries, no sixteen-year-old should live this way!
I climbed off my bed, and the first step I took left my toe tangled in the wide leg of my jeans. I tried to regain my balance as the closet inched closer, but with wildly flailing arms, I came crashing down. The thud reverberated across the wooden floor, and it sounded as if I’d broken something.
Dad darted back into my room. “Are you okay?” He lifted me back onto my feet as if I weighed nothing.
Tears lurked in the corners of my eyes, as I stared up at him.
“Don’t give me that look, Elena. Please, we need to hurry.” He pulled my suitcase from the top shelf and chucked it haphazardly onto my bed. “We need to go. Now.”
He started to grab my clothes from the shelf and tossed them messily inside my small suitcase. Then he paused, sighed, and looked up with soft eyes. He stroked the side of my cheek. “This...” He looked past me. “...wasn’t the right place, Bear. Please, you’ve got to trust me.”
He reached back to pull everything off my shelf, while I curled my hands into balls of fury. My heart pounded fast as those two words bounced inside my skull. “Trust you?”
“Elena, we don’t have much time,” he yelled. “Pack your bags! You can ask questions later.” He left, and the hollow thump from his stomping footsteps rang loudly as he made his way into the hall.
Ask questions? Yeah right! I’ll only get answers that don’t reveal why we are on the run for the gazillionth time. “Trust me” and “I’ll tell you when the time is right” were the only two answers Dad gave. Guess the time with him will never be right.
It was no use arguing with him anyway. Once, he had thrown me over his shoulder and carried me out without any of my things.
So I grabbed the stuff I needed: my MP3 player, a photo of Mom and me on my first birthday that Dad didn’t know I had, and my journal from underneath my bed. I tossed them into my backpack. It wasn’t much, but it was the stuff that made my miserable life feel less pathetic. I zipped up my suitcase and took a deep breath. Looking around my bedroom for the last time, I said goodbye to my sixtieth-something room.
Dad almost ran me over in the hall, his army bag slung over his shoulder. He grumbled, which I assumed was an apology, took my suitcase, and ran downstairs. He always rented these huge old houses, pre-furnished and near the countryside, and we always left after three months.
The pickup’s horn honked as I shut the front door. I closed my eyes and took another deep breath. Just two more years, then I’ll be eighteen and free from this freak show. Huge raindrops fell hard onto the ground. The smell of wet dirt filled the air. It was my favorite smell.
The water that pooled on the ground covered all the gaps in the driveway, forcing me to hopscotch around all of them. My shoe got caught in one of the gaps and I smacked down hard in a huge puddle. By the time I reached the truck, my jeans and shoes dripped with water.
Warm heat from the vents inside the truck hit me full blast as I jumped in; a million goosebumps erupted across my skin. As soon as I shut the rusty door, Dad floored the gas pedal. Tires screeched and the truck spun away as if the devil were chasing us. My lower lip quivered softly as he swerved onto the road. The streetlights flew by in a blur, and I plugged in my earphones. The same stupid song about a miracle boomed from my MP3 player, drowning the sound of the engine and the hard dribbles on the roof, a percussion that became the perpetual soundtrack to my misery.
A feeling of utter loneliness consumed my heart while I stared out the window. Homes with white picket fences and a convenience store whizzed by in a flash. A tear rolled down my cheek. Saying a silent goodbye, I released my breath and watched as it created a foggy condensation on the glass. With my index finger, I reached out and drew a small heart. These were the reasons why Mom had left. She couldn’t handle his paranoia, but why she’d left her two-year-old daughter to deal with it was a mystery. Dad constantly reminded me of the latter; that was the only time he ever spoke of her. If he ever discovered I had that picture, he would kill me. That was how much he hated her for leaving us.
The lights of a vehicle in the upcoming lane shone directly into my face. I shut my eyes, waiting for it to disappear. When I was little, I used to watch Dad as we drove away from yet another house. He would glare into his rearview mirror every five seconds, all the muscles in his face clenched, and his knuckles white on the steering wheel. I hadn’t been able to force myself to peek out the window then, as it used to scare the living crap out of me to consider the possible reasons why he was fleeing, or who might be following us. Now, I didn’t look at him or care much about what he was going through. He’d created this problem, with me becoming the luggage. It was a ritual I endured every three months, and nothing during the past sixteen years had ever changed that.
The “Interstate 40” sign flew by in a whirl, and the pickup slowly moved onto the turnoff lane.
My eyes started to burn as I stared at the rain running sideways against my window. Each rivet resembled another town, another place I could never again call home. Exhaustion consumed me and my eyelids felt heavy. I laid my head against the window and struggled to stay awake.
Suddenly, a huge figure flew past me. Dad swerved to the left, which made me crash into his side. My entire body pumped with adrenaline. I jumped straight in my seat and tore out my earphones as I wrenched the seatbelt over my shoulder to buckle myself in, while trying to process what had just happened.
“What was that?” I looked at Dad.
His eyes huge, he kept checking his rearview mirror every five seconds. Beads of sweat rolled from his hairline down to the side of his temple. Sure, he was paranoid, but I’d never seen Dad this scared in my entire life. This was something more than his usual paranoia.
“Did you see where it went?” he asked, attempting to inject calm into his voice, but I could hear the fear lacing each syllable.
“See where what went? Dad, what was that?”
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
“For once in your life, just tell me!” I screamed. Sixteen years of frustration exploded from my lungs. I couldn’t take the unknown anymore.
“Fine.” He mumbled something else that I didn’t catch. “Do you remember the stories I used to tell you?”
“Stories? What stories?”
“The stories about Paegeia, Elena.” He looked in his rearview mirror again.
Vaguely, but I didn’t tell him that. “What does that have to do with this?”
I froze and stared at him.
“All of it, it’s real. The dragons, the magic, the Wall, everything is real.”
“Dragons!” I couldn’t believe this. “Is this why we’ve been on the run my whole life? That’s your reason?” I took a deep breath.
“You can believe what you want, it doesn’t change the fact that they are real, and somewhere out there.” He looked over his shoulder.
A figure with huge paws and talons flew in front of the truck. Tires screeched at the same time as I shrieked. The truck spun around a couple of times and came to a standstill on the dark stretch of road. My heart jumped at a great speed. My throat and lips became dry from my deep, heavy breathing.
My face pushed against the cool glass of the passenger window, I searched the horizon for any sign of life. Apart from the pickup’s headlights, not a single light peeked through the blanketed darkness, and the rain crushing down made me see figures, but I couldn’t tell if they were real. Dragons don’t exist.
“You okay?” my father yelled.
“I’m fine.” I tore my gaze away from the window.
His hands were on the door’s handle. “Elena, I need to get out—”
“No, no, please don’t leave me here!” I grabbed his jacket. I could feel the fear beginning to rise again, and my vision became blurry. Why am I afraid? Dragons aren’t real.
He cupped my face and made me look at him. I only noticed now how his hands trembled. “Listen to me, Elena. Listen!”
I tried to swallow my tears, but it was no use. They were caught in the back of my throat, silencing me.
He hugged me tightly and kissed me on my forehead. I could feel the love he had for me behind that kiss. “You drive like hell, you hear me? Don’t slow down for anybody. There’s a motel on Interstate Forty. Just stay on this road, you can’t miss it. Someone named Matt will meet you there.”
“Dad, it’s pouring outside. I can’t leave you here with whatever...” We can sort this out rationally.
Dad cringed and stared at his jeans When he looked at me again, that set to his jaw was back. My words hadn’t made any impact on him whatsoever. He had already made up his mind for the both of us.
My strength returned as I slowly came to terms with what I had to do.
A man appeared in the middle of the road. We both stared at him for a few seconds. I squinted, as the rain made it hard for me to see him, but the headlights of the truck outlined his figure. I looked back at Dad and could tell from the look on Dad’s face that this guy was no stranger.
My gaze turned back to the guy in the rain. He was tall with long black hair; wet strands clung to his face. He wore a pair of pants, no t-shirt, and it looked like no shoes either. He stared at the pickup and it made my heart pound faster. He began to walk slowly toward us.
“Dad?” I slapped his shoulder, trying to expel the fear from my body.
“Elena.” He grabbed my wrist. “I’ll be fine. You need to go. Now. And, Bear, I’m so sorry. Whatever happens, don’t stop for anything.”
“Dad?” My lower lip quivered again. He kissed me one more time on my forehead and wiped away my tears gently with his thumbs.
“I’ll meet you there.” He sounded stern, climbed out of the truck and slammed the door. My gaze switched back to this macho loon making his way toward Dad, who stood right next to the pickup. I quickly moved into the driver’s seat, took a deep breath, and buckled up.
With my hands trembling on the steering wheel, I took another deep breath.
You can do this, the voice in my head rambled a few times. The key sat lazily in the ignition, and I jerked it to the right. The pickup sputtered and died. The guy disappeared into the darkness, and a new fear pumped through my veins.
“No, no, no, no! Please don’t die on me now,” I mumbled as I tried to restart the engine. The man appeared again in the faint glow of the headlights. He was getting closer.
“Start you stupid piece of crap!” I yelled over the roar of the blood pumping in my ears.
The engine came to life and I screamed as the man leaped toward the pickup. Dad jumped and tackled him in midair. “Go, Elena!” he shouted over the pounding rain.
I floored the gas pedal and the pickup’s tires screeched as I drove past Dad, who’d wrestled the guy onto the road. Tears blurred my sight.
I can’t just leave him back there. I struggled to come to terms with what was going on.
My father and the other man quickly disappeared into the horizon of my rearview mirror. I wiped away my tears with the back of my hand and lowered the mirror so that I could see Dad, but they had vanished into the night.
Don’t stop for anything, his voice replayed inside my head.
My hands trembled on the shift as I found third gear. A strong force hit the pickup on the passenger’s side. The impact of the blow jolted through my body as the truck rolled a few times then came to a halt on its roof, leaving me suspended in the air. My head and body throbbed, and my hand went automatically to the ache on my head. It was warm and wet, and when I brought back my hand, it was smeared with dark blood. My head began to buzz and my vision started to slip away.
Lightning struck, and the road was instantly engulfed in flames, leaving me wide awake. Something to the left grabbed my attention as the fire slowly began to creep toward the overturned truck. Something lifted the truck, righting it on the asphalt once again, and a shrill sound left my lips.
The belly of a huge, blue beast on four legs the size of tree stumps stood in front of the pickup. The sight left me breathless and my entire body froze. Dragons don’t exist.
A part of its head popped in front of me. Huge horns on the top of his nose lingered inches from the windshield, leaving a foggy condensation on the glass as he breathed. One of his frilly ears lay flat against his head, like a cat’s when sensing danger.
He placed a front leg on top of the hood, and my body trembled as the truck started to crumple. A part of his wing came into sight. It appeared to be shredded, with a sharp talon located at the end. Oval-shaped blue scales fanned over its entire body, glistening in the flames on the side of the road. Maybe it only looked that way through the tears blinding my sight. Beady eyes, sunken deeply into its skull, locked with mine. The picture in front of me just became my nightmare. I yelped as the dragon’s weight shifted, forcing the pickup to crumple even more.
Another dragon sank its jaws into the one in front of me. Two huge copper horns lay flat on top of its copper head. The blue dragon growled, and snapped with gaping jaws at the copper one attacking it. With powerful force the blue dragon was dragged off the pickup’s hood and thankfully away from me. The truck shook slightly and groaned, while my heart pounded as if I’d just run a hundred meters.
A bolt of fire came from the sky and lit up the entire scene in front of me.
More dragons landed with thuds in the middle of the road. One seemed to be green with a long neck and a fin-like mane running from the top of its head to its tail. A cloud of dark fog emerged slightly from its nostrils. Another was red and oddly beautiful, but something evil derived from its aura. They attacked the copper dragon with startling savagery.
Get the hell away from here, my inner voice shrilled. Quickly, I tried to unbuckle my seatbelt, but the clip wouldn’t release. The earth shook with bolts of fire, and lightning flew through the air, while I tried to free myself.
My father wouldn’t just leave me here! As each second ticked by, I worried more about Dad.
The dragons came close to the truck a number of times, but the copper one kept driving them back, as if it was trying to protect me. I shook my head, trying to expel that thought. Dragons don’t exist. Wake up. The tips of my fingers felt raw as I hammered endlessly on the buckle of the safety belt. My face was soaked with sweat and blood, and I knew that I had to get out of the truck, quickly. With trembling hands, I pounded on the buckle with my fist until it unlocked. Throwing the restraint from around me, I watched in horror as the copper dragon bit fiercely into the blue’s neck. Blood squirted everywhere and pooled in thick puddles on the road. The blue dragon staggered and dropped down to the ground. Electricity still sparked off its body, but soon died away. The green and red dragons jumped on top of the copper, but it knocked the red one onto the ground forcefully and crushed the green dragon with its huge front legs. The sound of flesh ripping was sickening, and I had to lean over as tremors wracked my stomach, but for some reason I couldn’t look away. The picture of the copper dragon shredding the green dragon’s wing sent a stab of new fear deep into me.
“Dad, where the hell are you?” I pleaded into the darkness.
The red dragon got back up and flew away just as the copper one moved from the green’s wing to his neck. I flinched and finally looked away as more blood squirted out of where the green dragon’s neck used to be. When I looked again, the copper dragon had turned its gaze to me.
I started to kick at the windshield with my newly freed legs. A new sense of urgency punctuated every kick.
C’mon! I kicked three, four times, but it only left long cracks in the glass. Watching the copper dragon trudge toward the pickup through the jagged cracks made the scene before me even more terrifying. The dragon stopped right in front of the pickup, our eyes locked, and I could see the vertical pupils inside a pair of dark, rich brown irises. My heart thumped wildly as it hooked one of its talons gently into the windshield and ripped it off.
It paused, stared at me for what seemed like an eternity, took a few steps back, and nodded in my direction.
It wants me to get out? You’re imagining things, Elena. Dragon’s aren’t real.
I didn’t act. I couldn’t. The dragon started to shrink. Its wings and legs dwindled into a smaller size until they disappeared. Its big head and horns shrank into nothing. I watched as the dragon’s huge shape melted away, and the heap transformed into a low-crouching figure. He lifted his head, and huge cuts seeping with blood became visible. It felt as if somebody had squeezed all the air out of my lungs. I’d finally found my father—without a shred of clothing.