book review, Books, Crime, Mystery, New Releases, Noir, novel, suspense, Thriller

It’s Getting Creepy Out There – Review: MILE MARKER ZERO by Benny Sims

There’s a thin line of desperation between fame and infamy, where being a number turns deadly.

Description:

Tired of never achieving his goals, an aging blue-collar worker’s rage at the world reaches a boiling point. After a lifetime of failures, disappointments, and shattered dreams, his job has proved a fast track to nowhere. His wife left him for a younger man and his emotionally distant son has disappeared from his life. What’s left of his life has been hollowed out leaving him invisible, forgotten, and unimportant in a world where the American dream is on life support if it ever existed at all.

Tired of never achieving much of anything, he’s determined to change all that, taking charge of what’s left of his life. He sets an ambitious goal and develops a clear plan to achieve it. For the next year, he will kill one person a week, becoming the world’s greatest serial killer.

His morbid adventure zigzags across the country conjuring emotions ranging from happiness to heartache, to physical pain, to fear, and to anger. Week by week, as the highway miles mount and the body count of unsuspecting souls rises, he gets closer to his goal, but circumstances threaten to halt his progress. Will you be this week’s victim before the road ends at mile marker zero?

My Take:

Mile Marker Zero by the award-winning mystery/ suspense/ thriller author Benny Sims is a perfect book for the Halloween season. It checks both the creepy and disturbing boxes, guaranteeing a skin-crawling experience. But it’s not because it’s populated by ghosts, witches, werewolves, vampires, or zombies. Instead, the main character is a monster in the guise of an easily ignored retiree. It will leave you to wonder about the strangers who pass you on the sidewalk or in the supermarket aisles. Could the guy that follows you, maybe a bit too closely, harbor some unknown evil inside? What about that strange-looking character sitting across the aisle on the city bus or commuter train? The car behind you, the headlights you see in your rearview mirror, is someone waiting for you to exit so they can take advantage of you while you top off your tank?

Mile Marker Zero is about a goal-oriented serial killer. How’s that for words you don’t usually use together? The main character’s self-appointed mission is separating countless, nameless, undeserving innocents from those who happen to cross his path, sneaking up on them when their only mistake was being at the wrong place at the wrong time. He has prepared in advance, learning the best techniques to make it quick and bloodless – because he hates the sight of blood. He carries a calendar with him to keep track of his adventures, creating a weekly ritual around his Sunday morning breakfast and a cup of coffee at whatever diner he comes to in his latest theater of operations. Always before, he has been the perennial loser but as a retirement gift to himself, he decides to spend what money he has saved accomplishing something for once: killing one person each week for an entire year while crisscrossing the country to perplex and evade any authority that might have picked up his scent.     

I don’t know if you can read this book without shedding some tears, whether for the numerous innocent victims or the plight of those in the peripheries who suffer the consequences of the main character’s methodical carnage. We learn something about his past, his family, who, and what was important. And this is what makes Sims’ achievement singular in my estimation. Not only are we seeing events through the eyes of a deeply disturbed individual but also, at times we find we share some common ground. And that is what is most disturbing. Could there be a monster within each of us that, given the right circumstances and conditions, might appear in a moment of greatest weakness?  You have a cold-blooded killer who can be completely relatable in an eerie way that might remind you of someone’s grandfather – or yourself. What’s worse is he offs a few people that maybe deserve it. If you can maintain detachment from the lack of humanity contained in his acts of murder, he serves as an anti-hero with some odd standards but standards, nonetheless.

Certainly, there is commentary lurking in the background of this story about how screwed up our modern world has become and how unimportant other people can become to us, making them completely disposable in lieu of serving some overall mission. It begs to ask whether we should be less isolated and more aware of what is going on in the lives of those around us? After reading Mile Marker Zero you will consider what goes on in the minds of those we’d rather ignore? How often do we encounter a potential serial killer while never once suspecting? All it takes is for someone or something to flick the invisible switch that unleashes the unimaginable. How many of us have unwittingly had a brush with death courtesy of some interruption that distracted some self-made grim reaper?

When you turn the final page of this one, with the story concluded, you wonder if the main character ever put even half of his effort and focus on other pursuits over his sad lifetime, perhaps he wouldn’t have adopted such a psychotic plan.

The book releases worldwide on 10.19.22. Pre-orders are available from Amazon.

About the Author:

Benny Sims has always loved the art of storytelling. He can trace that fondness to reading Jack London’s “The Call Of The Wild” when he was in the second grade and listening to his great uncle tell war stories from his time as an artillery cannoneer in North Africa and Italy during World War II.

He was born and grew up in middle Tennessee, but his family moved to Benton, Illinois when he was fourteen years old. It was there that his teachers noticed his aptitude for writing, and encouraged him to pursue it. He attended college at Murray State University in Kentucky, where he studied journalism. His Journalism 101 professor saw his ability and affection for writing and fine-tuned his ability to tell a story. This ability helped him serve as a writer for the university’s newspaper and yearbook.

After college, he landed a job as a sports writer and editor with a small newspaper near his hometown in Tennessee. After a couple of years there, he accepted a job with the aerospace industry in nearby Huntsville, Alabama. He recently retired and moved to Foley, Alabama.

Thanks to a large family that threatened to disown him if he didn’t develop a well-rounded sense of humor, he intentionally puts something funny in most aspects of his life, whether it’s writing a blog post about how comedians were his heroes as he grew up, or by giving his niece a high school graduation gift of a check for $114.64.

As a former athlete, he’s a fan of most sports. But since he lives in Alabama, he has to declare a love for college football or risk getting kicked out of the state. He considers himself a bit of a trivia nerd with a weird ability to remember the names of obscure musicians and songs from decades ago. One of the greatest mysteries of his life is how this ability hasn’t enabled him to land a high-paying job as the host of Jeopardy.

Among his favorite accomplishments in life, aside from getting “Code Gray” published, is teaching himself to play the guitar and attaining the rank of second-degree black belt in karate. He likes to warn people not to antagonize him because he knows karate, jujitsu, judo, and several other Japanese words.

Along with his novel and blog posts, his writing credits include a self-published novel titled “The Protester,” and a short story that was published on the Huffington Post. His hobbies include traveling, fishing, reading, going to the beach, and writing…preferably at the beach.

Learn more about Benny Sims and his writing on his website.

book review, Books, Crime, Dee Rommel Mysteries, Mystery, New Releases, Noir, novel, Publishing, suspense, Thriller

Another Mystery Solved, One Less Day

Description:

A powerful family will stop at nothing to protect its secrets…

Famous astrologist Agnes Sants-Mekler, a member of one of Maine’s elite families, pleads guilty to murder. Her gifted, pre-teen son, Zar, says she’s lying and he wants Dee Rommel to prove that – in nine days.

Former policewoman Dee Rommel, not yet thirty, is dealing with a permanent, life-changing injury sustained while part of Portland’s police force. Her medical leave is up; she’s made a contested decision to delay her return to the department and continue working with her godfather, PI Gordy Greer. Dee discovers the police are content with Agnes Sants-Melker’s confession, but her intense curiosity – and need for justice – compels her to dig deeper to find the truth. As she sifts through the evidence, misdirections, and deceptions she finds that trusting the wrong person is unraveling a more devious plot – and leading to a life-threatening confrontation.

9 DAYS is the thrilling second installment in the award-winning Dee Rommel Mystery series.

My Take:

Dee Rommel is a tenacious, badass, justice-seeking, sleuth who is recovering from a life-altering injury and amputation of her lower left leg she suffered while a member of the Portland, Maine Police Department. In 9 DAYS, the sequel to award-winning, crime, procedural, mystery, noir, suspense, thriller 10 DAYS, Dee has one less day to break the case wide open and prove the innocence of a famous astrologist who has just confessed to murder. This book checks all the boxes for me: a witty female protagonist, a fast-paced, page-turner of a plot with unexpected twists and turns along the way as Dee peels back the convoluted layers of well-kept secrets to expose the dysfunctional, darker side of a prominent New England family.

With each installment we see this fascinating protagonist grow. Not only does she mature in her new role as a private investigator, which still isn’t quite official yet, but also we are allowed more glimpses into her private life and the obstacles she deals with daily due to her injury, and how she overcomes the what life had put in her way. Her life is more than survival. It’s learning to thrive. Selbo uses this connective tissue to bind the first and second books in the series, along with a returning cast of favorites. We expect it to continue as Dee’s character is further developed. As the series counts down to an inevitable mystery that Dee must solve in a single day, I wonder what sorts of mysteries are ahead and how many criminals the seedy side of Portland, Maine will throw at her. It’s not like the small city is renowned as a hotbed of crime, but it is a large enough community to share many of the same problems bigger cities face. There are hints in the first two books, though, about some of the directions Dee’s story may take as she struggles to reclaim the life she had before a notorious local bad guy robbed her of it. And for that reason, I will continue to follow this series to its conclusion and recommend you do the same. Although 9 DAYS stands alone well as a story and the plot points are resolved by its conclusion, you should start with Book 1 of the series and join me on this wonderful reading journey.

Author Bio:

Jule Selbo grew up in Fargo, North Dakota. She is a novelist, playwright, screenwriter, and academic in film history. Her mystery/romance FIND ME IN FLORENCE (Pandamoon Publishing, Fall 2019), inspired by the art, beauty, romance, and history of Florence, Italy was written while working with students in Florence, Italy, and was awarded FIRST PLACE in the Chatelaine Awards for best women’s fiction/romance. Her book BREAKING BARRIERS, based on the life of 18th-century scientist Laura Bassi was released in April 2020 and is a finalist for the Goethe Award. Her historical fiction book, DREAMS OF DISCOVERY – BASED ON THE LIFE OF JOHN CABOT, was released Fall of 2018 by Mentoris/Barbera Publishing. She is an award-winning American screenwriter and playwright with work in feature film, television, and animation. She has worked with filmmakers and producers such as George Lucas, Michael Newell, Aaron Spelling, and Roland Joffe as well as with all the major Hollywood studios; produced credits include projects for Disney, Columbia Pictures, Paramount, and Universal.

She has also written for theater, with productions in New York and regional theaters around the United States).

As an academic, she has contributed to numerous journals with essays on the History of Screenwriters, her book (co-written/edited with Jill Nelmes) WOMEN SCREENWRITERS, AN INTERNATIONAL GUIDE delineates the rich past of female screenwriters from the 1890s to today. Jule was co-editor for eight years of the successful “Journal of Screenwriting” (Intellect Press) and has written extensively on film history, screenwriting, and film genre. She holds writing seminars around the world and is a script consultant for production companies and writers in Hollywood. As a professor in the Cinema and TV Arts Department at California State University, Fullerton, she has written two books on Screenwriting Structure that include information on the business of screenwriting: SCREENPLAY: BUILDING STORY THROUGH CHARACTER (Routledge) and REWRITE: FIRST DRAFT TO MARKETPLACE (Gardner); her book is FILM GENRE FOR THE SCREENWRITER (Routledge) explores all the main film genres, their components and uses for film narratives. She has been an invited guest lecturer on film genre and screenwriting at New York University, Moscow’s film school VGIK, Oxford Bridges University in Oxford, England, Bournemouth University in the UK, Disney Writers Program, Emerson College in Boston, and other venues and is a member of Screenwriters Research Network. She has earned her Ph.D. with her work in Film Genre, its historical components, and how a knowledge of film genre can be used by the screenwriter in the constructive stages of a screenplay.

For more information visit www.juleselbo.com

Purchase your copies of 9 DAYS, 10 DAYS, and FIND ME IN FLORENCE

Blog, book review, Books, Fantasy, Magic, New Releases, novel, Uncategorized

Book Review: Bonds and Envy – The Faie King’s Mortal Book 2

Description:

I had crossed the sea and sky to find Evander.
I had unraveled my body of its last, frayed edges of strength. I had torn across the vales and battled the demons of time to save him, to save our people, and here at last, we had reached the end of our bonded tapestry—the Gods in their envy had stolen him from me. And they weren’t giving him back.

The Faie King, Evander, has saved Anwen from weeks of torture at the hands of Envy, but the danger is far from gone. Erinyes ravages the vales with merciless wildfires, and the three entities Fury, Envy, and Ruin will stop at nothing to bind the mortal to their side again. Starving creatures follow Anwen and Evander as they race through the vales to reach their people, and even the Gods themselves conspire to steal the Faie King and undo everything they have worked for. Anwen must survive in a world of stolen faces, trust a devious selkie prince with hidden motives, and solve the prophecy that would return Evander’s power to his hands. If not, the mortal princess will forfeit her power to Envy and succumb to the bonds that creep around her from the darkest edges of the Faievales.

My Take:

See my previous review of the first book of this series, Faie and Fury. The continuation of the story from the first book is seamless. With the characters of Anwen and Evander well established, Devon Atwood expands her world vision allowing the reader to further explore the fantastic, multi-layer world of the Faie. Her descriptive detail lends an underlying substance to the story that transcends imagination. At one point she casually mentions how magic is integrated into the world and how it can be accessed. This becomes a critical underpinning of the conflict and between the elements of good and evil that drives the story as it offers both potential and limitation. It is exceptionally well done, resolving the major questions a reader of fantasy may have before suspending disbelief and accepting the story’s premise.  

Anwen struggles with inner turmoil and guilt throughout her travails in the Faie world. But has she forsaken her family? And will she accept what appears a fated marriage to Evander? The latter continues to be the major question that prevents her from pursuing what her heart is telling her to do. Was she created to be who Evander would have her become? Does she have an individual purpose apart from him? Will she lose herself if she consents to become his queen? This is a particularly poignant point of contention between the two main characters who despite the love they share for one another remains a wall between them. All this is operating in the background of the major conflict as the three aspects of Fury continue to destroy the Faie world and threaten Anwen’s world as well. This is fantasy at its best, perpetuating the growing legend behind the tale Atwood has conjured for us to share. Bonds and Envy takes us on a wild and thrilling ride through several portions of the Faie world, granting a glimpse of the complexity that underlies this magical universe. It hits on all cylinders delivering a compelling read from start to end. Although it might stand alone, providing the reader with enough background to understand the story, why limit yourself to only knowing half of the story? Start at the beginning with Faie and Fury. Order it now! And while you’re at it, preorder Bonds and Envy so that you’re ready to continue the story when it is released on August 29, 2022.  You won’t regret it.

About The Author:

Devon Atwood lives in the mountains of Wyoming with her husband, their seven children, and a menagerie of animals. Devon’s favorite thing is writing in silence with a good playlist on in the background, but she will settle for her usual ambiance of bickering children, barking dogs, and Cheerios crumbs under her butt.

​Atwood holds a Bachelor of Science from Brigham Young University-Idaho, and her currently published works include The Faie King’s Mortal Series,  LunulaInito, and K-Love.

Amazon, Authors Life, Baseball, Blog, book review, Books, Cozy Mystery, novel, Publishing, Writing

Review of Nicole Asselin’s Latest Cozy Mystery – CONCESSION STAND CRIMES – Ball Park Mysteries Book 2

Book Description:

HOTDOGS, CRACKER JACK, BEER, and MURDER. PLAY BALL!


MADELINE BOUCHER is still reeling from her first few weeks of working for her family’s Independent League Baseball Team, the Abington Armadillos. She found a dead body and survived a kidnapping before finally clearing her brother of murder. She didn’t think anything could be as dramatic as that, but she was wrong.

Her parents have given her more responsibility in running ballpark events in the hopes that they could retire and leave the team in her hands. Her brother is moving on to the big leagues, so this is her time to shine. Her first task? Deal with a concession stands kerfuffle. Redmond Brewery heiress, Alaska Redmond, storms her way into the ballpark making demands.

The next day, the son of the concessions manager finds Redmond’s body in one of the beer stands along the ballpark concourse. Again, Madeline finds herself immersed in an investigation. While the suspects start piling up, including a promising young player on the team, Madeline knows she must get involved. With the help of Davis, her new love interest, and head of the security department, she delves deeper into the death of the heiress.

Trying to run team events, solve a murder, and have a normal life takes their toll as Madeline comes to depend on those in her baseball-loving community, including Bronia, her old family friend who runs a garden center and helps her make sense of things. She even chances a psychic for advice while at a Salem Warlock’s away game. Will anyone help her untangle the mess of suspects including the victim’s family?

Can she clear the name of the Abington Armadillos and start focusing on the season?

My Take:

The story is what matters most to the reader. So foremost, an author needs to be a great storyteller. Nicole Asselin is that. For the sake of the cozy genre, though, there are tropes and conventions that readers expect, and for this, an author needs to be a well-read fan of the genre and be cognizant of the work of the best-known authors of the genre. No problem there, either. Nicole Asselin is an avid reader who takes weekly trips to her local library and bookstores adding to the to-be-read section of her home library.

In CONCESSION STAND CRIMES we are reacquainted with Madeline Boucher, the cadre of characters from Book 1 in the series, and some new friends as well. There is even a character based on a real person, an Abington resident who won a contest the author ran prior to the book’s composition. The critical challenge of the story is set early and well-executed, setting up the prevailing whodunit element. The victim is an heiress and local celebrity/socialite whose personality is the opposite of the main character who under other circumstances might be considered a peer, as she too is the daughter of a local business owner. The contrast is significant and lends to the initial conflict between them, setting up Madeline as an immediate suspect, though she is almost instantly learned. So now, she is left with the quandary of what happened and why that plays out through the interactions with the many other characters, and Madeline’s desire to clear one of her team’s players of suspicion.

Fans of the series will find a lot to love in this continuation of the storyline established in Book 1. If you’re new to the series, it’s not necessary to start with Book 1, MURDER AT FIRST PITCH, but it’s probably recommended as you’re going to fall in love with Madeline and her friends.

Author Bio:

Nicole Asselin grew up a Navy Brat and spent her formative high school years in the middle of Pennsylvania but always identified with her New England roots. Nicole’s family is originally from Connecticut, and her Grandpa Asselin introduced her into the Red Sox nation where she has been a member for her whole life and her Grandma Asselin introduced her to the world of mystery novels. Now those two loves are combined into her new Ballpark Mystery series.

Nicole graduated from Curry College in Milton Mass with a degree in English/Creative Writing, minoring in Dance in 2004. She also attended George Mason University and received a Master’s in Arts Management. She worked in the Government sector for over ten years before transitioning to Healthcare. Now working just outside of Boston as a Technical Writer, she lives on the South Shore of Massachusetts with her three cats Julia, Jacques, and Madeline (no relation to the main character of her book).

Nicole is a current member of Sisters in Crime (National and New England) and the Mystery Writers of America. She sits on the Board of Directors for the NE branches of both groups as Social Media Liaison. She’s attended several conferences in the past few years to study the craft including Malice Domestic, Bouchercon, and the NE Crime Bake. Her short story, “Mile High Murder” can be found as part of Z Publishing’s “America’s Emerging Suspense Writers: East Region” published in early 2019. Asselin is a highly approachable author who makes personal appearances a priority and enjoys meeting her fans or just discussing books in general. Find out more about her and per scheduled events at the author’s website.

CONCESSION STAND CRIMES launches 6.29.22 at Amazon.

Alien, Blog, book review, Books, Fantasy, New Releases, novel, Publishing, Science Fiction, Space

Review: The Greys by Becky Barnard & Dave Housley

Description:

Every teenager feels like an alien.

Deerdra Grey is the typical new girl in school. In fact, she’s been designed to be scientifically, perfectly typical. Her mission? Assimilate into Indiana’s Danaville High, 600 light years away from her home planet. While her parents go about the traditional alien business of gathering soil samples, examining crop circles, and inadvertently mutilating cattle, Deerdra’s goal is to find her missing predecessor, Eunice Tiffany.

As she digs deeper into the mystery, Deerdra enlists the help of Gavin and Barb, two high school classmates who are skeptical of the official reports about Eunice’s disappearance. Eventually, Deerdra and her allies will come up against the Reptilians, a predatory advanced species who resemble the Real Housewives and intend to take over the planet for themselves.

The Greys is a fun and propulsive read about what happens when one alien girl is forced to make a choice between following orders and following her heart.

My Take:

Growing up is a challenging time at best. For most, figuring out where to fit in is a struggle while simultaneously coping with the myriad of physical and psychological changes. Choosing the right friends, the right clubs, the right team sports, whether to be a thespian or participate in a music program helps define each of us not only in our own eyes but also in how others think of us. The risk of not belonging is intense and persistent. Consider all that in addition to being a visitor from a distant planet sent on an important mission. It doesn’t help that understanding of what it means to be young and human is somewhat flawed.

The premise of this book is immediately engaging. It’s easy to identify with Deedra Grey’s plight. We’ve all felt out of place, forced into the precarious situation of having to adjust to strange situations. But Deerdra Grey is more than just the new kid in school. Her mission is of supreme importance, but in order to accomplish it, she must break some rules and trust a couple of human friends who she discovers are not all that different from her. The Greys is a nice escape into another world that superficially seems familiar but proves to have just enough spicy strangeness to keep the adventure interesting. It pokes some fun at SyFy tropes as well as the traditional coming-of-age story while holding close to what’s expected of a well-told story. It’s a great weekend excursion I fully recommend.

About the Authors:

Dave Housley is the author of the novel The Other Ones. His other novels are Howard and Charles at the Factory and This Darkness Got to Give. He is also the author of four collections of short fiction, the most recent being Massive, Cleansing Fire, a collection of stories that all end in a massive, cleansing fire. He is one of the founding editors of Barrelhouse, a national literary magazine, small press, and literary-based nonprofit. He is also one of the co-founders and organizers of the Conversations and Connections writer’s conference. He is the Director of Web Strategy for Penn State Outreach and Online Education.

Becky Barnard is a book nerd who fell in with a crew of fantastic writers and eventually wrote a book to try to blend in. The Greys is the result, and also her first novel. She’s an editor-at-large at Barrelhouse literary journal and a web project manager in State College, Pennsylvania, where she lives with her husband and their awesome dog.

The Greys is available as of 5.4.22 at Amazon in Print and eBook.

Authors Life, Blog, Books, Fantasy, Fried Windows, Magic, Magical Realism, New Releases, novel, Urban Fantasy

Do You Want the Backstory?

A few days ago I finished a revision of an unpublished manuscript. I have submitted it previously to my publisher but initially, I composed it as one book and it weighed in at a hefty 200K+ words, which is just not viable for a print book these days. Yet, after painstakenly condensing it and breaking it into two books, it was still passed over. It is not a critique of the work or the story so much as whether it meets the publisher’s overall preference for genre. You see, it’s a quirky story like Fried Windows, but it is more of a coming-of-age tale with a good bit of romance in it as well. It tells the story of Brent Woods coming to terms with his true nature as a wolfcat and his experiences during his senior year of high school. As you might expect of a book set in the mid-1970’s, there is an overall nostalgic feel to it and, of course, it is also filled with magical realism, since the main characters are wolfcats and witches.

Long books, especially when an author is nurturing a following, are not necessarily a good gamble for a publisher’s investment. However, I feel the story told in the manuscript is essential to understanding Brent Woods, the main character in the Fried Windows series. It even serves as the backstory for Pamela Roberts, a character who appears in the soon-to-be-published Ninja Bread Castles (coming April 13, 2022), the second book of the Fried Windows Series, and Dawn Penobscot, a character who will appear in book 3 of the Fried Windows Series.

There are some other unpublished manuscripts hanging around in ‘limbo’, which is what I call one of my computer’s storage drives that contain lots of my writing which may or may not ever be published. You see, it is a writer’s job to write and in order to do that, sometimes you create character profiles that evolve into background stories that allow for a better understanding of a character’s influences and motivation for a work that becomes published. Still, for those readers who become heavily invested in characters, knowing the full backstory is compelling enough that it merits an author sharing the notes in a story form. For that reason, I’ve decided to publish Brent’s story as chapter installments via Medium.

The process of publishing through Medium may take a year or so to complete. There are currently three books in the ‘It’ series (Finding It, Going For It, and Losing It) that are at a point of being ready to post as chapters for consumption. And, in the future, there is another story that I may bring to the world in this same way. That one goes much further back in Brent’s life, to the time when he was around 7 or 8 years old.

Look for my posts on Medium here

Authors Life, Blog, Books, life, Publishing, Writing

The Plague & Updates on Coming Attractions

I’ve spent the past few months revising several old manuscripts, one of them dating back to the days immediately after I finished the first draft of The Wolfcat Chronicles. I’ve breathed some new life and adventure into them prior to submitting them to my publisher. No guarantees any will be approved, but after investing the time, I’ve decided the stories are worth it. My most recent submission is a series called The Attributes, it’s two books plus a 5700 word short story prequel.

Bearded me.

In case you don’t follow me on social media, please do to stay up to date on everything Elgon.

Lately, I’m sporting a Pandemic beard and have grown my hair out to a length it has not been since college. I’m thinking of keeping both, even if I look like Santa’s demented uncle. I may trim the hair and beard a bit before jetting to Florida next month to celebrate my great niece’s wedding. (Congrats Britters – I’ll post some pics if I can.) I don’t know, though. I’m kind of favoring the continued scruffiness. In my old age, I’ve become a rebel again. Leave comments.

On the personal front: Just before Thanksgiving last Fall I contracted the modern day plague. My son and daughter-in-law came down with it around the same time, and I was babysitting for my grandson when I must have been exposed. Definitely not something you want to catch, though my symptoms were not nearly as bad as my roommates, who I suspect caught it from me even with all the precautions of washing hands, wearing masks in the house, and being hyper focused on cleaning surfaces. You see, this virus is as highly contagious as the officials say. Two of my roommates ended up in the hospital, one was there for a bit on a respirator. It is a lottery how bad your response will be to this thing. I believe my immune system fought it off because I take doses of Vitamin D and am otherwise pretty healthy. I had about a week’s worth of aches and pains, a low grade fever that never went past 99.5 F, a cough, and a little nasal congestion. My senses of smell and taste have not yet fully returned, though I’d estimate they’re back to 90%.

Over the past month and a half, I have received both doses of the Pfizer vaccine, with no side effects other than my arm being sore around the vaccination site (the first time lingered longer than the second and was a bit more painful). Other than being tired for a day or so and my temperature running about half a degree higher than normal, I was blessed to survive it without much to report. Here are the options as I see it: catch this crud (as eventually you will) and take your chances on how severe your symptoms may become – or – take a couple of shots (the needle is fine gauge so you hardly feel it) and even if you’re one of the 5% who still catch the crud, you won’t have the severe consequences. Protect yourself, your loved ones, and neighbors.

As always, you will do you, but there’s my advice.

We are on track for the final book in the Thuperman series being published sometime this fall. Titled THUPERHEROES, it wraps up the summertime adventures of Will and Sandra, though they will appear as adult characters in future books. We’re also looking at DAMMERWALD, the long awaited Book 1 of The Wolfcat Chronicles, for later this year. And NINJA BREAD CASTLES, the sequel to FRIED WINDOWS, is also currently in edits and may make it to publication before the end of the year. Lots going on in 2021 in the world of Elgon.

Authors Life, Blog, Books, Editing, Publishing, Urban Fantasy, Writing

2019: Starting Out in So Cal

I’ll be consolidating my Facebook pages from three to one. It has been cumbersome maintaining the three pages and, frankly, I haven’t been keeping up with regular posts. Also, my FB account has nearly maxed out with the mythical 5000 friends limit, so I’m directing everyone to my author’s page. I will be posting everything book related there and, for the short term, some of those items may be posted on my timeline as well. Ideally, I will end up with a author’s page and a timeline which caters more to my family and close friends.

2019 promises to be a wild ride. I’m starting out in So Cal. There have been some adjustments to make, but overall I like it here. And I can finally say I’ve eaten at In-And-Out Burger and shopped at Ralph’s. I’m not sure that makes me a Californian or that anything ever will, but that’s okay.

I’ve been working on a project titled Dead Men Don’t Wear Watches, which fits into the larger Fried Windows/Becoming Thuperman universe. Although the main character is a badass female detective named Mona Parker, Brent Wood and well as Will and Sandra make helpful appearances.

The book is set in this area of California. I wrote the draft for it several years ago and, while I’m here, I’ll be fine tuning the details to make a better fit to this setting. In the overall chronology of the fictional universe I’ve been working on, DMDWW come after Fried Windows and its sequel, Castles of Ninja Bread, which, of course, occurs a decade later than the Thuperman Trilogy (Becoming Thuperman, Homer Underby and Thuperman & Cassandra). It serves as a backstory piece for my Wolfcats series as well, filling it a few details not covered in that story. There is also a prequel to DMDWW, which is set in the Boston area as well as a sequel, which is set in central Texas.

Anyway, I’ll be busy for a while finishing those stories . For now, they exist in various stages of completion but certainly need updating.

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The Resurrection: Chapter 29 – Nature’s Resettling

**Note: Although the following is part of a previously self-published eBook, portions have been modified. However, it has not been professionally edited and likely contains typos and other errors. It is offered as an example of raw science fiction storytelling.**

There was general wrongness Paul felt in their departure from the past. First he lost their images and then the touch of their hands. He did not want to be right about paradoxes but immediately believed he was.

Isolated in a void he decided was non-existence, dread overwhelmed him, engulfing his presence and consumed his essence. His soul served from his physical form, just reward or punishment for meddling with past events upon which existence depends. Lingering consciousness stretched across limbo and connected at both ends of infinity, he was a singularity – a tiny, insignificant point between the vast and the infinitesimal. He was his beginning that concluded in the same thought of being, life evaporated into the wisps of unrealized probability.

There was no pain, no sensation at all except for separation. If there were a floor where he could have collapsed he would have. However, it was impossible for him to discern real from surreal as he lost consciousness, giving up in the process as he yielded to the oblivion he fully anticipated, a place he decided might be called Never.

Shocked, and suddenly immersed in cool salt water he flailed arms and kicked legs in panic, going over in his mind the principles of swimming – when had he learned them? Struggling to reach the surface, the light from above and beyond the brilliant blue, cloudless sky. He broke through to the sudden sensation of wind in his face. He gasped. It was his first gulp of air that led to immediate panic – an errant thought of the risk. But then he wondered why he would ever think such a thing. How could breathing air be dangerous?

As he tread water, he opened his eyes, but it felt as if it were for the very first time. Looking toward the shore he recognized everything, the thought of strangeness rapidly evaporated under the gross volume of intense memories that foundered his mind and almost instantly reestablished identity, role, purpose and obligations.

He swam a ways coming up closer to the breakers. His toes touched the sandy bottom there. He stood for a moment, allowing the waves to crash around him. Then he walked through the surf onto the shore.

Disoriented but remembering everything about him it was troubling that he had no memory of how he arrived at the beach.

Ahead of him was a white sand dune with some vegetation growing to cover some of its surface. It was likely an attempt to resist beach erosion. It was a problem, wasn’t it? He recalled hearing something about it, the balance between protecting beaches and property along the coast from storm surges while accommodating the public’s desire to enjoy their time in recreational pursuits.

Continuing his confusion he pivoted, trying to reconnect with disassociated memories. He saw the community beach house, recalled emerging from there sometime earlier. Remembered having showered before dressing in his swimming trunks and applying sunscreen to his overly sensitive, exposed, lily-white skin. Over his shoulders he draped a towel as he walked out to the beach. Locating the same towel he picked up from the hard pack directly in front of him. He dried off as best he could and left his hair damp.

The beating rays of mid summer warmed his shoulders as his back was turned toward the ocean. He wrapped the towel around the back of his neck in an effort to protect from the intensity of the local yellow dwarf’s radiation.

Automatically he replaced the protective UV lenses over his eyes, the ones he found on a lanyard along with his towel. The ocean breeze swept over the dampness of his skin and trunks as he tentatively progressed back toward the beach house.

A flash of memory came of being at the office having another rough day. Clare called him and told him she was going to the beach with Chase and Julie. She invited him to join them whenever he got off work. He even slipped out a little early just so he could swing by the apartment to collect his swimming trunks, sunscreen and a couple of extra towels.

Going to the beach was a fantastic idea. He really needed to unwind. It was just he felt strange, like until a few minutes ago he might have been dreaming. It wasn’t a new sensation for him, but it always left him feeling unsettled.

There were some images of a nightmarish set of circumstances worse than anything he endured at work. His imagination was vivid. It helped him in his work, coming up with warped story lines for video games to be played over world viewer. At times it was almost like he had two sets of memories, one his real life and another the fantasy worlds he fabricated in a digital universe.

Framed with that consideration, one set rapidly dissipated to the point that he wondered why he was even trying to recall anything about any of it. It wasn’t like it belonged to any project he was currently working on. Still, at the moment even the more plausible set of memories did not feel real enough for him to grasp and call it his own.

He looked past the beach house to the evidence of the thriving community back on the mainland. A causeway was the way back there from the beach. A high arching bridge spanned the navigable channel in the river of brackish water between the mainland and the barrier island where the beach was located. It did not look right to him but then he wondered how it should look. The towering skyscrapers of a second largest city on the planet sprawled out to either side of the bridge along the mainland shore. It was exactly what he expected to see but, in another way, it seemed strange.

Paul turned back into the sea breeze to drink in another deep, refreshing breath hoping somehow it would magically clear the confusion from his mind. Maybe he had been working too hard. He could be having some sort of breakdown that caused everything to feel surreal.

Seagulls hovered overhead, suspending their mass by the lift they maintained from the steady sea breeze that flowing over their carefully positioned wings. He always envied bird their ability to fly.

He felt a presence nearby but turning around, he saw no one. Still there was a definite presence but then just as suddenly as the sensation came it was gone.

Paul continued on along the beach. Clare stood up when she saw his approach, and then bounded over the white sand, seeming to barely even touch the surface as she proceeded toward him. At the moment of her arrival she launched herself, leaping toward him then wrapping her arms around his neck as he caught her slight weight in his arms. He swung her around as he spun to keep from falling. She offered and he accepted passionate kisses in welcome greeting.

“I missed you all day long,” she said as she pulled back from his lips leaving him almost breathless. Then he leaned toward her and kissed the tip of her nose. She giggled giddily like a schoolgirl as he continued to hold her close, staring into her gorgeous green eyes.

To him she was the epitome of the perfect woman, perfect for him in every way. What did he care if the events around him were still swirling a little and his mind was dizzily unsettled? As long as he was with Clare everything else could seem tentative. He did not care if in an instant the world might change completely. Then he realized how silly it was to have such a thought. Was tentative not how the present moment should feel?

He liked the liberating power of his newfound confidence, feeling as if he could make decisions that mattered. Clare provided him with the strength to endure anything while he sought his creative potential. She believed in him and, in turn, he believed in her.

Smiling across the short distance for the interval her response took, kissing him on the cheek he decided to just allow the flow of events to take him wherever they would for at least the remainder of the day.

“You couldn’t wait to jump in the water?” She challenged as she realized his towel and trunks were damp.

“It was kinda hot when I arrived.” He responded in a way that was hard to argue. It had to still be in the upper thirties, Celsius.

“I already brought towels enough for both of us, silly man!” She playfully punched him in the arm as he returned her to her feet.

“You can never have enough towels, especially at the beach,” Paul replied.

She shrugged, but as she led him down from the dune and closer to the hard pack where she and the others had been sitting and talking while they awaited for his arrival.

Paul knew Chase but he did not recognize Julie at first, even though he knew her name and was certain that talked many times before. The disorientation lingered, nagging at him. Sure, he knew her for even longer than he knew Clare. Julie introduced the two of them! She arranged for the only blind date he ever consented to in his life – based solely on her recommendation. Amazed it worked out so well, Clare was just as Julie promised, perfect for him.

“So, Paul, are you and Clare coming over tomorrow?” Julie asked even before Paul had a chance to shake her hand or Chase’s for that matter.

“It depends,” he replied.  It was a safe, noncommittal answer to something he knew nothing about, yet.

“Well, tell those assholes you work for that it is your niece’s birthday party!” Clare said with a laugh, causing everyone to laugh as well. Julie was sitting on a towel between Chase and where Clare resumed sitting to take a swig from a bottle of cold water she opened only a few moments before she noticed Paul down the beach from them.

As Paul sat down he looked out at the undulating surface of the ocean. The steady sea breeze whipped across the tops of the two to four meter swells. White caps crashed into the shore with enough force that even from where they were sitting he felt the refreshing chill of the spray. Some kids were attempting to ride short boards closer in to shore while a couple of hardcore surfers were lingering out a ways offshore warming up while really waiting for the evening’s double-moon effect to prevail. It was the time of the season when, toward the evening, the gravity of each of Pravda’s two moons amplified the other’s effects while the two celestial orbs were virtually aligned. It produced some serious waves that sometimes even rivaled the ones that preceded an approaching seaborne storm.

Chase leaned back, reaching for the ice chest, saying something about being thirsty. Then he sat back up and glanced over at Paul as he was sitting on the far side of Clare. “Are you feeling okay, dude?”

“Yeah, I’m fine?”

“You’re not thirsty?”

“Not particularly.”

“There’s plenty of water on ice. So when you need one, help yourself.”

“Thanks,” Paul said.

“So, is Cristina still in Emerald or is she on her way back home to enjoy her break?” Julie asked.

“She called me a few days ago,” Paul said, having immediately recalled a phone conversation with his sister. “She had an audition two days ago. She said if she got the part she’d be staying in Emerald for the summer. I sort of expected her to call me by now and really thought she would, especially if she got the role in the musical. But I have not heard from her. So, I’m concerned she didn’t get the part.”

“I hope she’s not discouraged.”

“She’s tough – a true artist. She handles rejection well,” Paul said proudly, but then he dealt with something strange and alternative. He experienced a momentary flash of her singing on stage before thousands of frenzied fans, fronting a rock band of all things. It amused him. “I don’t think anyone has given her a chance to demonstrate her fullest potential.”

“Obviously,” Julie said. “Her voice is simply amazing. I keep telling Chase to hook her up with a talent agency at least. I mean, with her voice she could take a so-so pop band right to the top.”

“Or a rock band of great musicians to legendary status,” Chase said as he stood up and stretched. “It’s not like I haven’t offered to help her. Paul has resisted giving her his opinion.”

“It isn’t that as much as she’s headstrong.” Paul confirmed even as several examples came immediately to mind in support.

Chase walked around the two ladies and nudging Paul with his foot as he passed by. “Follow me. You and I need to talk,” he said as he turned back and looked toward Julie and then Clare who both wanted to know why the boys were going off on their own. “It’s a guy thing,” Chase excused.

“As long as it doesn’t involve other women,” Julie warned.

“It involves business and Cristina. Is that okay?”

Julie smiled. “I’ll let that one slide, I guess, since my best friend is engaged to her brother and all.”

When Paul and Chase arrived at a place Chase figured was beyond earshot of the ladies, he sat down on a bench and waited for Paul to join him. “You are just as headstrong in your way as Cristina. You think you know everything?”

“I doubt what I know is even remotely close to everything, so maybe your assessment needs revision.”

Chase chuckled for a few moments, but then he stared into Paul’s eyes. “You are going to continue pretending?”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“You’re good. I’ll give you that. No one plays dumb like you can.”

“Maybe it’s because usually I’m don’t need to play.”

“I was in New Milan two weeks ago.”

“I think Clare mentioned that.” He guessed.

“Do you remember Pete?”

“Pete?”

“Yeah, Pete, the percussionist I introduced you two at The Stable in New Milan.”

“When was that?”

“Last fall when you and I were there.”

Paul shrugged, struggling for the memory that felt vaguely accessible but not quite within his grasp.

“Damn it, Paul! You and Pete shot pool for over three hours after you met. You even beat him, rather badly at that. I offered to give him a ride home because he didn’t have bus fare after you finished taking his credits.”

“Okay.”

“Okay you remember or okay you don’t?”

“I remember some of it,” Paul confessed. “Look Chase, I have the world’s worst memory for people’s names.”

“You have to remember this. He kept hitting on the waitress, asking her out and she kept saying no to him, but he was relentless. He thought she was playing to get him to buy more drinks from her, but she was genuinely getting annoyed. That distraction was probably part of the reason why you beat him at shooting pool ‘ ‘cause you aren’t that good.”

“Hey!”

“Just tellin’ the truth. Anyway, as the club was closing she gave in to his offer to buy her dinner. You graciously transferred back the credits that he lost so he would not be financially embarrassed.”

“I’m a nice guy like that,” Paul offered.

“It was actually funny as hell. I can’t believe you don’t remember it.”

“Well, I sort of do and he still owes me the money,” Paul said as he recalled it was not a gift but a loan.

“Or there needs to be a rematch.”

“That would involve going back to New Milan.”

“Well, there is a convention coming up again, same as last year.”

“There you go.”

“It’s even better.”

“Why?” Paul inquired.

“I was thinking. We could get the same special rate as the last time we went together, discounts on the railcar as well as the hotel. Julie can arrange all of that for us.”

“Okay.”

“And maybe you could ask Cristina to come to New Milan and spend some time with you while you’re there. I mean it’s only three hours by railcar from Emerald.”

“I don’t know about that, Chase. She’s kinda on break right now, but by then she’ll be pretty busy with college again.”

“Well I was thinking that while she’s there she could audition for Pete’s band. They aren’t really new just they got back together. They were a band when they were all still in junior high. Pete and Alix, the bassist, share an apartment. Keith and Tim, the guitarists are also sound engineers at a recording studio, which makes getting a place to do demos and have auditions really pretty easy. I mean, I sort of contacted Pete already about auditioning her.”

“I’m not sure she would want to do that.”

“Well, ask her. The guys are great musicians, but frankly, no one in the band sings well enough and they know it. They are looking for a lead singer and really prefer the vocal range of a female.”

“And you immediately thought of Cristina.”

“Honestly, Paul I’ve sent several female vocalists their way, but no one clicked for them. Their voices were good, just they didn’t have the personality the band needs.”

“You think Cristina has what the others lack?”

“I do.”

“She wants to do musicals, Chase. That’s what she’s been studying.”

“Well, it was just an idea. But really what I was thinking was no one I know doesn’t like Cristina.”

“She’s a charmer.” Paul allowed. “I don’t know if she likes that sort of music. She’s classically trained. Dad and Mom paid for her lessons from the time she was able to talk.”

“The band doesn’t play the usual fare, not at all. Their style’s unique. I don’t know your sister’s tastes in music, but maybe she would actually like their sound.”

“I’ll mention it to her. I’ll let her decide. That’s all I can do, Chase.”

Chase turned back toward the ladies, listening from the distance to see if he could eavesdrop on their girl-to-girl conversation. Paul looked out at the ocean waves trying to fill in the remaining gaps of his memory. He still felt there were important things he’d forgotten.

“I guess it’s all gone,” Paul said.

“What?” Chase asked as he glanced at Paul.

“Never mind.”

“No, really what, I didn’t catch what you said.”

“Have you ever had a dream, and when you wake up, you think it was a really important dream? You want to remember it, but it’s gone.”

“Yeah, that happens. It happens a lot, actually.”

“It’s like you’re certain you are going to remember it, but then regardless of your intentions, you forget what was so great about it. Or why you wanted to remember it in the first place.”

“Yeah and trying to write it down doesn’t work all that well either.”

“Exactly.”

“You had a dream recently that you wanted to remember?”

“I’m not sure what it is, Chase. Ever since I got here I have felt really strange, like I had something important to do but I can’t remember what it was. It’s almost like I have forgotten everything I knew, but then, I remember other things. It’s just not complete.”

“Like you forgot about shooting pool against Pete.”

“Yes, things like that.”

“Maybe you hit your head or you had heat stroke.”

“I don’t know,” Paul said.

“Maybe you’re getting old.”

“Chase, I’m three months younger than you.”

“Well, then I need to watch out, too.” Chase corralled his shoulders. “Come on, you’ll snap out of it. We need to get back to our women before they conspire to make us go shopping with them on the way home.”

Paul smiled as he continued along beside him.

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The Resurrection: Chapter 27 – The Bridge

**Note: Although the following is part of a previously self-published eBook, portions have been modified. However, it has not been professionally edited and likely contains typos and other errors. It is offered as an example of raw science fiction storytelling.**

The reason for the linkage was unclear, but with certainty she could sense it. Cristina wrestled with the concept in her waking mind, hunted with the images lingering from her dreams. Nonsensical visions from the distant past, well before she had been a thought in her mother’s mind and before her mother or grandmother was born. Past voices telling stories of others worlds, of destinies and obligations, strange but compelling, each of them was telling her the same undeniable truth about connections and relationships. Her life had a meaning that transcended the brief spans of an individual’s mortal plight.

In her dream there were beautiful green eyes, just like hers, staring back at her from a mirror. Though the face resembled her, it was exotic in a way hers was not. Observing her transforming into a half human hybrid with features of wolves and cats, this was the bridge and how it formed in her ancestral past.

Upon the brink of a void deep and dark she stood until suddenly, with spiraling light that spread across a spectrum it exploded. So broad the range and vast the scale her mind retreated barely able to conceive of the colors at the fringe of perception. More refined, the twisting, climbing ladder wrapped around with the rungs breaking in the middle, unlocked to allow for other pieces of the light to be included within its framework.

In the background the harmonic beauty of the Sakum’malien language swept past her, capturing her imagination as her voice layered upon it in persisting nuance. With a voracious hunger a solitary alabaster orb floated consuming everything around it until it became all that was left, and its surface changed colors on its whim. Only the black blankness of the void surrounded it, the beginning as well as the culmination of all journeys compressed into the single stone the orb had become.

Unwitting allies, unbounded in time, the Couriers went into the past carrying the alteration as a disease to infect every human. Slow and methodical, the Sakum’malien patience prevailed spreading the necessary pestilence that bore curious hope in its wake as part of the balance. A time would come for the bridge’s arrival. She would communicate the horrible fate of colonists and provide a remedy that would alter the divine countenance of forever.

Finally, she understood a role, appreciating the subtlety of the Sakum’malien revenge. Contained in her personal truth, the threads of continuity extended through and wrapped around the greater context. It was something she possessed, portions of it shared with others, but its heart resided within her and no one else. How could she embody both what was and what would become? Who would understand her if she could not comprehend the new role as the bridge? Alone, providing the remedy, she was held all potential, nullifying the need for the disease as well as the mutation that made her and others like her special. Her vision contained a billion trillion destinies to awaken via a song she could not but sing. She was the heart and soul of the universe, the physical and spiritual linked to the infinite dreams of innocent children and the harmless fantasies of old men and women lamenting the loss of better times.

Cristina stretched as she sat up in the bed. Alix rolled away from her, clutching at a pillow, pulling it toward his chest as a surrogate for his unconscious affections. He settled anew and resumed his sleep with a substitute lover held fast in his arms.

Quietly, she rose, taking pains not to disturb him. Her lover needed rest. He had not slept well on the railcar ride from Star City. Still recovering and adjusting to the time zones, he never did sleep well while traveling. Afterward, he always remained in bed for a day or two. Usually so did she, but this time was different. This time there were guests, not just the other members of the band who crashed on the floor and couch in her apartment.

As she stepped lightly across the threshold, carefully she closed the bedroom door behind her. Taking a few moments to purge her bladder in the bathroom before rejoining Staash at the table. From the living room she could hear the snores of her friends and fellow musicians. It was still dark, before dawn perhaps. Her sense of time was distorted. People were probably never intended to travel faster than they cold walk or ride on the back of a beast of burden. Then again, what might the gods have expected of the most clever of all the apes? Would they have not foreseen the curiosity leading them to explore and colonize other worlds?

It appeared as if the Sakum’mal had not moved since she left him last night. They were up late. The learning process was mentally intense and exhausting, though apparently it had taken less than a half hour. The song containing the warning was composed and well rehearsed. She had only to teach it to her band. With their instruments and vocals sung in harmony they would fill in for the multiple layers voice she physically lacked.

Staash rested in his own way. She did not know how long it would take for him to recover. Since their intimate connection there was deep understanding of his nature. He could go for many days without downtime. So, she figured whenever he finally rested, as he was at the moment, it would be for an extended period.

To her immediate surprise he looked up at her and even acknowledged her through telepathy as was natural for him and his kind. Now, the gift of her telepathy made sense. How could she had been born otherwise than she gifted in the way she was? Responding with a smile she observed his face brighten. He loved her in his way, after his own fashion. It was nothing that could be physically consummated, of course. Last night their minds merged in mutual admiration without reservation or embarrassment. They were lovers of one another’s creativity, sharing a bond well beyond what either of them knew with their separate species. Silently she spoke to him in Sakum’malien, even though her thoughts felt flat and not quite as interesting as it seemed in her imagination.

“You’ve learned my language well,” he projected.

“You’ve been an immeasurable help to me.”

“It’s all purposeful, for us both.”

“And beyond either of us,” she responded. “I am the human half of the bridge you complete you built.”

“I’ve always wanted to know you.” Staash peered into her eyes, meeting her mind halfway. “The uneasiness I felt when I first came here is gone.”

Cristina nodded. As well as he did, she knew what had been done and what was left unfulfilled. After a few moments Staash’s eyes engaged hers and in moments she was off again, on another adventure of mutual discovery, immersed in thoughts she could only have if the Sakum’malien language was her foundation.

The irony of the plague was the cruelest sort of revenge for human stupidity. The first human encounter with alien life ended tragically in the ignorance of not expecting the truth. The violence had not gone unnoticed. All mankind now suffered for the acts of the first few humans who explored Pravda. Now, facing extinction as one possible culmination, a plot was carried out over centuries, but in the balance one bridge could provide an equitable remedy.

The Sakum’malien represented a prevalent form of life in the cosmos. In human ethnocentricity carbon was believed to be the key to life in the universe. Yet it was the exception. One had only to observe humans and the other forms of life that once populated the Earth to understand how frail carbon-based life could be. Sickly and prone to spreading disease humans were easy prey for the Sakum’malien to attack, enlisting the help of humanoids to deliver their revenge. They could afford to be patient in meting out their vengeance over centuries. Merely seeking the unbounded to fold time and deliver their curse upon all of mankind, an insidious genetic plague was visited upon the unsuspecting and spread through the act of procreation.

Staash interrupted her thoughts. He spoke, not through his mind but with his raspy voice. “I’m thirsty.”

Cristina took the empty pitcher from the table and his glass and took them into the kitchen. From the freezer she scooped ice into the pitcher then poured water into it from the faucet. After a few moments she returned to the dinette table and delivered to Staash the pitcher and a fresh glass both filled with cold water.

He consumed the contents of the glass almost immediately and then meeting her eyes he projected happiness as he poured another glass and consumed it as well.

“You can drink water anytime you know. There’s a faucet in the kitchen, same as the place we were before,” she said.

Staash nodded. “I have been content to sit here close to the source in case of an emergency that has not yet come.”

Cristina sat back, staring at him. “You speak fluently.”

“As do you and now in my language as well. It happens with enough practical experience, I suppose. Also the manner of our merging helped. You learned Sakum’malien, I learned English, Italian, Spanish, German and French.”

Cristina smiled. “My languages.”

“They are similar despite their differences,” he said.

Staash stood up from the table and focused on her eyes but only for a moment. He focused on the world viewer screen where Alix and Pete had engaged in a battle royale sort of marathon well into the previous night.

Activated with a thought, the main screen illuminated full on, Staash pointed his hand and the device scrolled through the channels to an unassigned frequency that appeared as random black and while pixels representing the static. Yet, he allowed it to linger. As she stared at the graphical display of white noise, it suddenly appeared, in full focus with sharp clarity and well-defined resolution. She understood it and even wondered why it had never occurred to her before. Everything being part of the same Continuum, it seemed simple. Then as her mind reached to possess it, the image returned to the random pattern of noise.

“Yes,” Staash said as he switched the display off. “Now you understand how everything is connected through the electromagnetic spectrum.”

“The reason has a source we must remove,” she protested.

“Your role is not incongruous with your original plan. You always knew what to do not how to do it.”

“How can it be?”

“You warn the colonies of Sakum’malien about the airlocks.”

“They were ours not yours.”

He nodded.

“Why ?”

“It is a mystery, but should it matter?”

“I suppose they needed the airlock to seal in air we could breathe without respirators or filters as we explored the caverns.”

“How do we fix it?” Staash asked.

“I’m not sure it can be.”

“There must be a way. The plaque is removed never to be visited upon humans, if we solve the riddle.”

“The couriers will never be dispatched into the past to deliver the disease…” Then she sober realization came as she posed the one question he had avoided asking. “What about the attributes?”

Staash sighed but his lack of response answered in silence. Despite her attempts to probe he guarded his thoughts. When he finally spoke his tone as conciliatory. His mood was philosophical. “The world will change regardless of what you or anyone else does.”

“Will I be here after? It’s not irrational trepidation. It’s instinctual. I want to survive.”

“Then you’ll find the means to survive,” Staash said. “The attributes exist within all humans. They have been there since the beginning. My kind enhanced the inherent abilities in a few. Over many generations the gifts became distinct for not one or two of a thousand but millions. Then, enough apparent randomness brought attributes together.”

“In the Twenty-Four.” Cristina stood beside the Sakum’mal, her arm wrapped around his waist. “Come with me.” They walked toward the balcony. “Maybe you can explain something.”

There they paused to stare out through the sliding door of her balcony. Beyond the dome the skies in the east were bright with dawn. Behind her apartment building was a grassy courtyard. In the midst there was a circular bench set around a large table. There were two girls and two boys sitting, coloring-in line-drawn picture with markers. One looked up at the sunrise, the others averted their overly sensitive eyes. Cristina wore a smile in empathy with what she could sense from the girl.

“She’s like me,” Cristina pointed. “I noticed her before we went on tour, and again afterwards. She’s the age I was when I began to feel self-conscious about my differences.”

“You see but you miss the point of your visions. Who are her playmates?”

“I don’t understand.”

“They are the same age, exactly.”

“Siblings.”

Staash glowed.

“Quadruplets?”

“Why would your physical nature be as it is?” Staash asked.

“It never occurred to me.”

Then he pointed to a balcony in the building across the way, one that was an exact mirror image of Cristina’s apartment building and where they stood. “The mother of four.”

“She has the attributes.”

“It is intended that those like you replace humans and repopulate the world rapidly.”

Cristina looked into his eyes. “Four offspring? The next generation will be called The Ninety-Six.” Cristina smiled.

Staash reached out patting her stomach. “Already it begins.”

She leaned against him for support, not questioning how he knew what she had not dared to admit to herself. “I felt the possibility, of course.”

“Alix should know.”

She nodded.

“The little girl sings.”

“She’s a lot like me.”

“Another bridge.”

“In case I fail?”

“You won’t.” Staash turned away from the door and Cristina followed. She drew a deep breath. Almost overwhelming pressure upon her, why was it that she had to be the bridge? Why was it that only she was the bridge for this generation. Was her set of gifts that rare?

The very means by which the Sakum’malien revenge was meted out would not only ended many innocent lives, but also it produced the very attributes that made her different enough to give mankind its only hope. To remove the curse would end the need for her and those like her to ever be. Her mother might never be born, nor the little girl and her siblings in the courtyard. There would be no plague sent back in the past to infect all of mankind.

“I have not previously felt this mood in you,” Staash said. “It’s melancholy and not at all becoming. You’re too beautiful inside and out to have such dread darkness in your thoughts.”

“It’s how I feel. I’ve written a song that contains a message to communicate danger to your kind. Saving you will kill me. Ultimately I bring an end the world I know to become part of the random noise you showed me on the world viewer screen.”

“Within the noise there was a hidden pattern you saw. That is the hope.”

“Where I’ll be, there’s nowhere to hide.”

Staash’s face turned dark as he fully grasped her unique dilemma. “Instantaneous transformation, somewhere else in the cosmos we will be. Only the path we’re on ends.”

Having awakened, Alix visited the bathroom, then arrived at the table ready to boast of his eventual victory in last night’s marathon video game match with Pete. But instead he fought back tears of sympathy for having overheard enough of the conversation. What a burden Cristina bore.

He did not know how they could continue pursuing the course they had begun. In a way it seemed to have come from an accident, except there can be no accidents. Everything led to the present moment. It would not matter to any of them what could have been. Once the choice was made, everything else would adjust to accommodate change – even if it meant that in convergence some lives became oblivion.

He wanted to hold her except he felt the separation was necessary. If he embraced her at that moment he would never let her go. He needed for her to always be with him but, antithetical to his purpose, her life was to change the rules. It could be as he desired most to hold her close to him. If he refused to assist her in this oddly noble sort of suicide, would it matter to anyone else but him?

Alix tried hard to appear happy, as if he had not been eavesdropping and did not know what troubled the love of his life. But as he approached her he could not contain his emotions or the sadness of realization. She bore his offspring. How could any choice be worse than what she already faced? He diverted toward the kitchen and turned on the faucet and cupped his hand to splash cold water onto his face in an effort to conceal the trails of his tears.

She turned toward him. Her eyes met his. There could be no secrets, not between them. “What am I going to do?” she asked him.

“You’re going to do the right thing because you don’t have it in you to do otherwise,” Alix said.

“What if we cease to be?”

Alix shrugged. “I prefer to the believe somewhere we will still be together.”

“So we go on with our plans.”

“We have no other choice. We have to take Staash back home before he drinks up all the water in the world.” He looked up at the Sakum’malien who was glowing in apparent appreciation of the humor intended in the remark.

“We have a song to learn and rehearse. We need to record it. It’s our legacy.”

“Then what?”

“We come back and finish recording the new album and begin a world tour.”

“Do we?”

“Of course, we do. Those are our plans. We have to have plans, right?”

“What if this world does not exist, Alix? What if humans never colonized Pravda? What if we’re never born? Once we have changed the past, it can’t possibly be as it is now. Everything will be different.”

“One thing at a time. We do what’s right. Okay? Everything takes care of itself as long as we do what we know in our hearts is the right thing. Anyway, why wouldn’t it be like it is now except the Sakum’malien will be around, maybe not living in complete harmony with us but drinking their share of the water, for sure.”

“There are oceans for us to consume,” Staash suggested.

“See, a little salty for my taste, but there’s plenty for all.”

“I’ll never be born.”

“Someone like you will, though. The world I’m in must have a Cristina, okay?” he kissed her forehead. “It wouldn’t work otherwise.”

She forced a smile.

“Our world’s necessary so that the past can be changed. Have you considered that? We can come back to it and everything will be here but adjusted for the changes. That’s probably how it works.”

“Probably?”

“I’m new to all this too, hon.”

Staash was quiet as he contemplated the possibilities and even tried to understand paradoxes even though the concepts were a strain for him to consider in his language. The words did not natively exist so he had to use the English that he acquired to conceptualize what Alix and Cristina were discussing. There were thoughts that he could render only in his language, simple mathematical proofs that exposed the absurdity of what was perplexing Cristina and needlessly troubling her. Finally he found the will to express his conclusion. “There are no paradoxes.”

“What?” Alix challenged.

“Nature is balanced to zero-sum. Everything adjusts. To live is to always live. All life shares continuity in natural harmony.”

“How’s that possible?” Cristina asked. “Without the reason for the altered gene–”

“Your concerns are for the vessel that contains your spirit. Your body is a shell that changes but your spirit is the same.” He laid his heavy, rough-textured hand on her shoulder. “You think this is you, but ‘I’ is now. It is less real than the image you saw in the noise on the world viewer screen.”

Cristina looked at Alix, seeking confirmation but all she received as a shrug.

“Your brother believes he can bring a Sakum’mal back to life. He might reanimate the body but once the essence has departed, it does not come back. Why would it want to? For the body death is the absence of desire to live. That is derived from the spirit,” he explained. “The missing part is what the container needs to transcend being an inanimate amalgam of chemicals to become self-sustaining life.”

“But if all the surrounding conditions change.”

“Why would that concern you as long as you’re alive?”

“I want to have choice.”

“To be alive is to have choices,” Staash said.

“What if Alix and I are not together?”

“How could you not be together?”

“But the attributes–”

“Affect the body and how it can respond for the spirit inside. They do not define you. They shape the container that accesses the energy around you.”

Cristina stared at the alien. Alix wrapped his arm around her shoulders. “So, we will not cease to exist. See, the problem is solved.”

“What if we come back and we’re not together?”

“A better question to ask is what if you and I did not waste ten years pretending to be just friends?” Alix asked her.

“The world is what you perceive,” Staash said. “One change everything adjusts.

“The process begins tomorrow,” Alix said.

“In the studio,” Cristina confirmed with a nod. “We record the message, our truth.”

Staash’s face glowed ever so slightly as he considered the change of Cristina’s mood and appraised the resolve he found.

She did not fully believe that she had nothing to fear, but she didn’t need to. She turned and to kiss Alix before they parted, Alix returning to the bedroom to get dressed while Cristina headed toward the bathroom to enjoy a shower. In the interim, Staash consumed the remainder of the pitcher of water, dutifully pouring it out one glassful at a time and then he reverted to a restful state of near meditative bliss.

Pete, Tim and Keith woke about the same time. They raided the fridge finding something to eat, consumed it and rinsed off the dishes before announcing they were leaving. “We’ll meet at the studio,” Cristina promised.”

“In a couple of hours,” Alix added.

When Cristina emerged from the shower she wrapped a towel around her, and another around her hair. She engaged Alix as he was lying on the bed reading. “It’ll feel odd being back in the studio,” she said aloud.

“After all we have been through lately, it should feel like a vacation,” Alix said without looking up. “I’m looking forward to making music again.”

“I just wish that was all we had ahead of us.”

“I hear you, hon,” Alix said, finally looking away from the text.

“What is it you are reading?”

“Pete told me I’d enjoy it. It’s funny at times but, maybe I need to be in a different frame of mind.”

“I understand that.”

“It will be fine. I promise. I’ll be there. We will do it together. We’ll make it happen the way it needs to be.”

“I wish I had your confidence.”

“Staash will be there, too.”

“And once we get back there, we have just five days to spread the word,” she said.

“We go back to a point immediately after we left. I worked out some of that on the computer yesterday before Pete came.”

“My concern is how we get to every one of their colonies in only five days.”

“I suppose we could go back earlier,” he said.

“We have to deliver Staash to where he belongs. If we go back earlier there will be two of him.”

Alix smiled. “Yeah, one of him is quite sufficient, I think.”

“I’m glad you think this is funny,” Cristina said.

“I guess I was trying to lighten the mood. I used to be good at making you laugh.”

“I’m sorry I’m not in the mood,” she turned away from him, continuing to dress.

“This really has you on edge,” Alix said as he got up from the bed and came up from behind her and began to gently massage her shoulders and neck.

“That feels good.”

“You just need to relax. It’s going to be fine.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“It will be fine because it has to be.” Alix kissed her on the nape of her neck. “I love you,” he whispered as he came up to her ear lobe, kissing a special place just under it. She turned around and into his open arms that he immediately closed tightly around her, holding onto her to share a kiss that lingered for several moments before breathlessly she pulled away and out of his grasp.

“I have been the focal point for so long that maybe I should be used to this,” Cristina said.

“You’re the star,” Alix said.

“The reluctant one,” she said with a forced smile.

“I’ll be with you, right behind you like always.”

“I know,” she said. “Sometimes I think I was able to perform all those concerts because you and the other guys were there with me. It was never only me performing. That was always the difference. I know there would be someone to catch me if I fall.”

“I’ll always catch you.” Alix promised.

“For whatever reason there are parts of this only I can do. But I also need you to deliver Staash and me to the time and place where we will begin delivering the message. I have no idea how we’re ever going to pull this off.”

“We have accomplished some pretty amazing things already,” Alix said. “It has always been because of your inspiration.”

“Add this our growing collection, then. Hopefully we’ll remember it.”