Category Archives: Age – Middle Grade
great stories for kids from 8 – 12
Just in time for Halloween, WDM Publishing has released my latest Deb Logan short story collection! MORE GHOSTS AND GHOULIES continues the tradition of spooky fun for younger readers I started with GHOSTS AND GHOULIES. Grab your copy now and be ready for the spookiest night of the year!
MORE GHOSTS AND GHOULIES
By Deb Logan
Audience: Juvenile | Paranormal | Short Story Collection
Another volume of spooky, supernatural stories for younger readers. This collection of five short stories includes two Dani Erickson tales (“Family Daze” and “Challenging Daze”), two flash stories (“Rush!” and “On Guard”), and an urban fantasy tale (“Terrors”).
Posted by Cat-Gerlach
The last few months have been extremely busy and this blog got too little attention from me. I’m sorry for that and hope to change it again. I like the variety of authors we’ve got here. Today, I’d like to introduce the best book fair for interacting with German readers to you: Leipzig Book Fair.
There are two big book fairs in Germany every year (and tons of smaller, more targeted ones), one in Frankfurt and one, lesser known, in Leipzig. The book fair in Frankfurt is a lot bigger than the one in Leipzig, and it’s more focused on the publishing professionals. Leipzig is more cozy and fully aimed at readers. So if you plan on connecting with readers, Leipzig is the place to go.
I joined a group of German Indies who all received the Qindie (a quality badge for Indie publications) and we set up our booth for the second time. Last year was successful (with quite a long tail of sales after the fair) but flawed. This year, we came better prepared.
Here are a few tips on how to visit a book fair as a presenter:
- no more than 2 authors at the booth or there’s no room for readers
- put several samples, flyers, bookmarks etc. into one folder, readers like to take those along much more than loose booklets or pieces of paper. We spread nearly 1000 of those
- know at least the basic gist of the books on display so you can help readers to find the right book; even if they don’t buy yours, they will remember the friendly face and maybe recommend you to a friend (happened to me) and also, the other author will help to promote your books if he notices your efforts
- if possible walk around the fair and look at other booths so you can talk about the fair in general with the people stopping at your booth- enjoy yourself; getting a booth usually is expensive and you will most likely not make the money back during the fair, but the increase in visibility will help you long term
- bring food since buying it at the fair is expensive
Now to the Leipzig Book Fair in particular.
There are 5 halls connected with glass tunnels. Usually one of the halls is reserved for Comics, Mangas, Anime, and Cosplayer. Naturally the Cosplayer spill over into the other halls too, so you’ve always got something to look at with awe (I’ll be posting the nicest costumes on my author blog soon). Be prepared for crowds, especially in the reading arenas, often many people squeeze together to listen to a presentation. I really enjoyed all the halls, but spend only little time with the school books. One thing to take into account is how tired your feet grow when you move around the halls for any length of time.
This year 260,000 visitors came to Leipzig, and of those 195K entered the halls (96K for the Mangas and Comics alone). Despite there being more people than last year, I think they spread out better. I was able to move through the halls on every day. Last year I got stuck in the corridors and tunnels. In total there were0 2.250 presenters from 42 countries.
If you plan to come to the next Leipzig Book Fair (as a visitor or a presenter) please contact me. I’d love to meet you there. And now, tell me if you’ve been to a book fair in your home country. What was it like? And if you haven’t, what’s preventing you from it?
Dani Erickson’s story, DEMON DAZE, finishes in this 6th and final installment. I hope you’ve enjoyed meeting Dani! (Look for information about her NEXT adventure at the end of this post 😀 )
by Deb Logan
I SPENT THAT EVENING trying to convince myself Warwick James was a scam artist or a serial killer. Anything to erase the exceptionally abnormal future he’d outlined for me. What did I know about demons? Why would I want to hunt them? As far as I knew, no demon had ever harmed me or mine. Wouldn’t Mom counsel me to live and let live?
And what about Mom and Dad? How were they supposed to take the news that their only daughter would never be the epitome of graceful femininity they desired? That she was instead destined to be a warrior charged with protecting the human race? They didn’t want a guard dog; they wanted a pampered Pomeranian.
I stalked from room to room of our comfortable home, unable to settle anywhere. The kitchen taunted me with visions of the girl I’d never be. If I were more like Allie, I’d be warm and welcoming like its terra cotta red walls and pale lemon curtains, nourishing like the contents of its hickory cabinets, accomplished like the woman who ruled the heart of our home: my mother.
The great room, usually my retreat of choice, repelled me tonight. My brothers and their friends had gathered to watch a pre-season football game on Dad’s awesome eighty-inch high-definition television. I could fit in with a roomful of guys, no problem. I’d been fitting in with guys since birth. But tonight I needed to think, and the guys’ rowdy antics would kill higher brain function.
The formal living room mocked me. Every piece of furniture in that room knew its place and function better than I did, same with the elegance of the rarely used dining room. One of the bathrooms? No. Unless I wanted to settle in for a soak, someone would be beating on the door in a matter of moments. Bedrooms? All were off limits except my own, and I felt like a caged animal pacing round and round my bed. I briefly considered sitting on top of the washer in the laundry room, but the white enameled metal looked cold and uncomfortable.
My restless wandering finally drove me outdoors — not far out, I remembered Wick’s warning — onto the wide, covered porch that wrapped three sides of our two-story home. I settled on a cushioned patio chair and stared across the street into the familiar shadows of Loomiller Park.
On an ordinary night, I could’ve stared for hours at the well-known tree shadows, the mirror smooth lake that was really little more than a pond, the winding walkways and seen no more than the outline of an occasional Canada goose. Heard no more than the peaceful chirping of crickets or the breeze sighing through the foliage. But tonight was no ordinary night. Tonight I possessed the senses of a demon hunter, and the normally quiet park teemed with life of a type I hadn’t known existed until yesterday.
Demons of all shapes and sizes crowded the edges of our property. They crawled across the streets, climbed on the kiddie play equipment, splashed in the shallows of the lake, and hung from branches of the evergreens. But mostly, they stared at me. Hundreds of pairs of eyes gleamed in the darkness of the still August night.
A paralyzing chill clenched my spine in an icy fist. An impulse to jump and run seized my brain, but my feet and legs refused to act. Like a rabbit charmed by a swaying snake, I stared into their eyes and drowned in fear. I was no demon hunter. I was prey. How could one untrained teenage girl hope to survive when the night teemed with such … such … filth?
Filth? I shook my head, breaking eye contact and laughed. Not a happy giggle, but a terrified, ironic chuckle. Something deep inside had challenged the thought the demon horde had tried to plant. Yes, I was young and untrained, but an unacknowledged spark in my soul recognized them for what they were, filthy vermin to be hunted from the face of the earth.
“Thanks, guys,” I murmured, rising and walking to the door with a newborn calm. “You’ve convinced me. I’m a demon hunter in need of training.” I smiled, waved a salute to the unholy creatures only I could see, and strode to the great room to join my brothers. “See you in the morning, Mr. James,” I murmured to myself as I grabbed a handful of popcorn from Jamie’s bowl.
Settling into my favorite chair, I smiled as the buttery goodness of popcorn melted on my tongue. I finally knew who I was. Never again would I see myself as a clumsy, too-tall imitation of Allie. No, I was exactly who I was meant to be. Dani Heleen Erickson: Demon Hunter Extraordinaire!
Thanks for reading DEMON DAZE!
Want to know more about Dani? Be sure to look for SCHOOL DAZE…
Dani Erickson is a hereditary demon hunter. The seventh child of a seventh child, she was born to battle the nasty monsters she sees infesting her small Colorado town. With the help of her best friend Allie and her sensei Warwick James, she’s getting into fighting trim — just in time for her first day of high school.
Demons beware. Dani’s on the prowl!
Dani Erickson’s story, DEMON DAZE, continues in this 5th of six installments. I hope you enjoy Dani’s continuing adventure and I look forward to your comments.
by Deb Logan
I WANTED TO RIP OPEN the door and run for my life, but I couldn’t. My knees wobbled, my lungs seized, my heart pounded like my brother Seth’s drums, and a series of cold chills played tag on my spine. And you don’t want to know about my stomach. Trust me. Too much information doesn’t begin to cover it.
But sooner than I would’ve expected, my racing brain calmed. A serene acceptance washed through my mind and I knew, absolutely, positively, with no question of doubt, that whoever Warwick James might be, he’d spoken the truth. I was a born and bred Demon Hunter.
I slipped sideways away from the door and leaned against the peeling paint of an interior wall. One by one my pieces parts returned to normal until I found the strength to speak.
“I’m a demon hunter.” A simple statement of fact, and once the words were out, I straightened away from the wall, stronger and more sure of myself than I’d ever been in my life. I made eye contact with Wick and nodded. “I’m a demon hunter.”
Concern fled from his face and he smiled like a proud father presented with his first-born. “Yes, Miss Erickson. You are a demon hunter, and I am your guardian.”
A small frown pulled at my eyebrows. “Why would a demon hunter need a guardian? Besides, I already have a father and six brothers.”
“True, but can they teach you to fight? Can they see demons? Can they watch your back while you learn the skills you’ll need to survive?”
I chewed my lower lip and prowled the room, keeping my new awareness centered on Wick. “You can see demons? You can train me?”
“I can and I will. That is my purpose: to find demon hunters and protect them while I train them to protect mankind.”
“I’m missing something here. If you can see demons and already know how to fight, why do you need me?”
He pivoted slowly on the spot, keeping me squarely in the center of his vision despite my pacing. “I’m not a demon hunter, Miss Erickson. I don’t have your, shall we say built-in radar? I can fight them and make a nuisance of myself, but I cannot kill them. That power is reserved for your kind.” He bowed his head in acknowledgement of my superior abilities.
“I will be your mentor and trainer, but you, Miss Erickson, are the demon hunter.”
I stopped pacing, faced him, and planted my fists on my hips. “What is this place? Why did you bring me here?”
He held out his arms and completed a slow circle. “This is my new business, a martial arts academy. I will teach Tae Kwon Do, Karate, Judo, and Kendo. You will learn a blend of all of them while developing your own unique style.”
“Doesn’t look like much,” I muttered.
He threw back his head and laughed so loud the room echoed with his mirth. When the explosion of sound died back, he wiped his eyes and said, “Give me a chance, Miss Erickson. Madame Simone and I have barely had time to set our plans in motion. She only confirmed your burgeoning power on Saturday night. I think I’ve done well to find a Main Street location on such short notice.”
My eyes widened and my jaw dropped. “Madame Simone? Do you mean that wacko fortune teller from the carnival?”
“Language, Miss Erickson. Madame Simone is a gifted psychic. She and I have been with the carnival for years. The perfect cover for traveling around the country checking up on families that might possibly produce a demon hunter. Now that we’ve found you, we will settle in Longmont and other members of our clan will make the rounds.” He shook his head. “Possibles are far too few these days.”
I filed that comment away for future consideration and wandered back to the door. “Okay. So let’s assume I buy this crazy story,” I said, all too aware of the lie implied. I believed him and he knew it. How could I not? Even now I sensed three demonic entities roaming Longmont’s peaceful streets … and they were just the ones in range of my newly awakened weird-o-meter. “What do you expect me to do?”
He strode to the door, reached for the knob and opened it for me with a small bow. “I expect you to assimilate your new knowledge. Rest tonight. Think about what you’ve learned, and come back tomorrow ready to begin your training.”
I stared at him for a moment and then stepped out into the late August sunshine. “I’ve got to meet my brother.”
“I’ll look for you around ten,” he said, joining me on the sidewalk. He glanced up and down the street before continuing, “I’ll shadow you back to your brother. For your own safety, go straight home and stay there. The home of a hunter is sacrosanct. You will always be safe there, as will anyone else within its walls. Be vigilant, Miss Erickson. You are now aware of demons; they are also aware of you.”
With that cheery thought, I headed north to meet Jamie, Warwick James following at a discreet distance.
Thanks for reading! The 6th and final scene will be posted on 7/27/15.
Dani Erickson’s story, DEMON DAZE, continues in this 4th of six installments. I hope you enjoy Dani’s continuing adventure and I look forward to your comments.
by Deb Logan
THE NEXT MORNING I hitched a ride downtown with Jamie. That sounds a lot more exciting than it was. Downtown Longmont was a nicely renovated street of Mom and Pop stores, but most of the action was on the west edge of town at the mall. However, the piece of paper Warwick James had slipped me the day before specified a Main Street address, so that’s where I headed.
“Are you sure you’re all right?” Jamie asked for about the forty-fourth time. “Maybe I should stay with you.”
“Jamie, please. Do you think Mom would’ve let me out of the house if there was anything to worry about?” That stopped him. Mom was one of those old-fashioned women whose career was home and family. Nothing slipped past her where her children were concerned.
“Okay. You win. I’ll pick you up in front of Perks A Plenty at noon. Don’t be late.”
I slammed the car door, leaned back in the open window, and blew him a kiss. “Not to worry. I’ll be there.”
He shook his head, waved me off the car, and pulled away from the curb.
I glanced at the slip of paper and strode south down the wide sidewalk. The address was about a block south of the renovated portion of Main Street. Not yet to the train tracks, but beyond the well-groomed shopping district. I halted in front of what appeared to be an abandoned storefront. Wide display windows covered with brown paper stared back at me. Chipped white paint above and below the windows shouted the building’s need for repair. A small, hand-lettered placard announced a budding business:
Longmont’s Own Martial Arts Academy.
Classes Enrolling Now!
I shivered, but reached for the doorknob. What choice did I have? Warwick James had promised to explain things, and I desperately wanted information. I hadn’t seen any more monsters, but my newly acquired weird-o-meter told me they were still there, lurking just beyond my field of vision. I wanted them gone. I didn’t want to know that the monster under the bed was real or that his cousin really was hiding in the closet.
Pushing open the door, I stepped into a large, dimly lit room. My footsteps rang against ancient linoleum floors and echoed off walls in need of a fresh coat of paint. The paper-covered windows washed the room with a diffused amber glow, causing the glare of an electric bulb from a half-open door in the back wall to stand out like a flashing neon sign.
“Hello. Is anyone here? Mr. James?” I listened as the echoes of my voice died away. No response. Much as I wanted answers, my sense of self-preservation refused to allow me to walk to the back of the room and step into that well-lit doorway. I turned toward the front door. Warwick James had found me once; he could find me again.
“I’m glad you came, Miss Erickson.”
I nearly gave myself whiplash, jumping and turning in a less than smooth movement. Warwick James stood just a few feet from me. How had he gotten so close so fast? I frowned and studied the strange man who had appeared out of nowhere to release me from yesterday’s spasm. Tall, trim, with good muscle tone. Definitely not a guy who lived on pizza and beer. Short brown hair and neatly trimmed mustache and beard, his blue-green eyes sparkled with humor. All in all, a good-looking guy, if you’re interested in middle-aged men. I’m not.
“How do you know my name?”
“I know your family well, Miss Erickson.” He raised an eyebrow and waved an arm in the direction of the back room. “Would you join me in the back? We can sit down and discuss this in more comfort there.”
“No thanks. I’d prefer to stay near the door.” I glanced over my shoulder, gauging the distance to the sidewalk outside. Not far. I could sprint it easily. Exit plan decided, I turned back to Mr. James. “How do you know my family? I’ve never seen you before.”
“As you wish,” he said with a shrug, thrusting his hands into the pockets of his jeans. “You misunderstand. I said I know your family well. I didn’t say I was a family friend or even an acquaintance. You see, Miss Erickson, yesterday was the first time I’ve ever spoken to a member of your family, though I’ve been studying them for years.”
A shiver ran down my spine and I backed a step closer to the front door.
“Please don’t run away. You need to understand what’s happening to you and why.”
“So get to the point,” I said continuing back until the doorknob was within easy reach. To my immense relief, Warwick James remained in the middle of the room.
“You had, shall we say, visions, yesterday. You saw things that can’t possibly exist. Things no one else in your family saw. Am I correct?”
“That ability is the reason I’ve been observing your family. I’ve been watching, waiting for your power to manifest.”
Silence descended on the room. A heartbeat, two … fifteen or twenty passed. Neither of us spoke. Finally, when the pressure of words waiting to be released was palpable, I caved.
“You were watching … me?”
“Not at first. Your father’s family first drew our attention. Thirteen children is uncommon in this day and age. The stage was set, the potential for your ability to manifest existed. So we waited, checking back each year. Noting new members, new births. Updating the genealogical records. Do you know what we were waiting for?”
My shoulders relaxed, the knot in my stomach eased, and I snorted. “Don’t tell me. You’re one of those ‘seventh son of a seventh son’ fanatics. Well, I’m sorry to disappoint, but one: I’m a girl; two: you’ve got the wrong branch of the family. Uncle Gus is the seventh son, and unfortunately for you, he and Aunt Ellen can’t have kids.”
The jerk had the nerve to smile.
“I’m not disappointed Miss Erickson, not in the least. Your family’s understanding of the ability is incomplete. Yes, a seventh-seventh is required, but gender is not an issue. We were never interested in your Uncle Gus — though we were amused by your family’s delight in producing a seventh son. Your father was always the object of our study.”
I jumped and grabbed the doorknob for support. “My father?”
“Yes. Your father. The seventh child in his family. Only the fifth son, but the seventh child. And you, Miss Erickson, what does that make you?”
I swallowed and tried to speak, but my tongue felt swollen and the inside of my mouth was too dry to function.
He nodded. “That’s right. You, Dani Heleen Erickson, are the seventh child of a seventh child. You are the hereditary Demon Hunter.”
Thanks for reading! Part 5 will be posted on 7/13/15.
Dani Erickson’s story, DEMON DAZE, continues in this 3rd of six installments. I hope you enjoy Dani’s continuing adventure and I look forward to your comments.
by Deb Logan
BOULDER RESERVOIR SPARKLED in the afternoon sun, inviting the people on shore to step into its cool water. Our extended family’s annual end of the summer bash was underway. Partly my birthday party, partly an excuse to barbecue, swim, and laze in the sun before everyone went back to school. And I do mean everyone. Several of Dad’s brothers and sisters were teachers, everything from preschool to university professors, but not Dad. My dad was an architect, a partner at one of Boulder’s most prestigious firms. Mountain lodges designed to withstand Rocky Mountain snow loads were his specialty. Too bad we lived down on the flats.
One of the great things about family gatherings was that they grounded me in reality. Sometimes being the youngest of seven weighed on me. I mean, none of my friends came from such humongous families. Two, three, even four kids, that was normal, but seven? What were Mom and Dad thinking? Then we’d have a family gathering and I’d realize that in Dad’s world, a family of seven kids was kind of minimalistic. Dad fell right smack in the middle of thirteen — seven boys and six girls. Now that’s a family!
Anyhow, I was lazing under a tree with a couple of my cousins, having had enough sugar and exercise for my lifetime, when my vision went wonky. Everything kind of twisted and blurred. I rubbed my forehead, blinked a few times, and focused on Jamie. My youngest brother — who was still three years my senior — was entertaining some of the younger boys by walking on his hands. I could see him, right down to the goofy grin on his face, but he was encased in a deep purple haze.
I blinked again and shifted my gaze to Mike. The doctor-in-training sprawled in a lawn chair a few yards away, a cell phone held to his ear and surrounded by a pale blue fog. Though the hand touching the phone glowed lime green. I closed my eyes and stretched out on the tartan picnic blanket.
I’d obviously had too much sun. A few minutes’ rest would put me right as rain.
I could say something to Mom, but who wanted to be treated like an invalid on her birthday? Certainly not me! Sure, fourteen wasn’t a big deal. I wouldn’t be getting my driver’s license or even a learner’s permit, but still … a birthday is a birthday. You take your celebrations where you find them. Especially when you’re the youngest of seven, and the only girl.
“What’s wrong, squirt? You look a little green.”
I squinted up to find Jamie peering at me. He knelt beside me, looking all buff and tan from a summer of lifeguarding at the local pool, but he was still covered in that weird purple haze which was quickly modifying to a rich blue. Actually looked quite good with his ice-blue eyes and sun-bleached chestnut hair.
“Gee, thanks!” the corners of my mouth twitched, but it was hard to smile when your brother looked like he’d been cocooned in blue silk. “It’s nothing. Something’s weird with my eyes. Stuff is … hazy.”
Jamie scowled. He turned to Mike. “Hey, lover-boy! Get off the phone and come over here. Something’s wrong with Dani.”
Mike turned, eyes dark and irritable, ready to yell at Jamie … and stopped. His jaw slackened and his eyes widened. He mumbled a few words, snapped the phone shut, and sprinted to my side.
“What’s wrong, Dani? Did you eat something bad?” Mike scrutinized my face, his eyes narrowing. Cool fingers encircled my wrist as the physician-to-be assessed his little sister. He dropped my hand and scowled. “Tell me you’re not stupid enough to be messing with drugs!”
“Wha-” That was the extent of my snappy comeback. My jaw locked and no further sound passed my lips.
My heart slammed against my ribcage like a passenger in a speeding car that had braked too suddenly. Panic clawed at my throat, but not a sound escaped. I was locked inside my own skull looking at everyone through silky gauze layers. Could Mike be right? Had someone drugged my potato salad?
“MOM!” Jamie scrambled to his feet and fled to the pavilion on the other side of the park.
Mike moved into Jamie’s position, a worried frown replacing the scowl. His pale blue fog deepened to purple and pulsed in a rapid beat. The visual assault dizzied me, so I closed my eyes again. At least my eyelids still obeyed.
A flurry of voices rode the wind off the reservoir, alerting me to the imminent arrival of my parents, buoyed by a wave of aunts and uncles. With the familiar chatter of family came a decidedly unfamiliar sensation: awareness. Each person who approached was heralded by a distinct bubble pushing against the boundary of my conscious mind. Though my eyes remained closed, I could identify each and every person in our quadrant of the park. I knew exactly where they stood in relation to me, could judge their level of agitation by the color of the bubble. Worse yet, other blips appeared on my psychedelic radar. Not the comfortable, concerned, well-rounded bubbles of my extended family, but twisted, dark blips that oozed like malignant wounds.
My eyes popped open. Each family member stood right where I expected, but the blips weren’t visible. No. That wasn’t true. The air shimmered where the blips should be.
“What is it, Dani?” asked Mom, her voice soft and soothing. She slipped to the ground beside me and searched my face with a concerned gaze. “Tell me where it hurts.”
A shimmer intensified and I shifted my gaze from Mom to the anomaly. Maybe if I squinted…
A creature sprang into existence and eyed me with curiosity.
I recoiled, horrified by its scaly maroon skin, long filthy claws, and sharp, protruding teeth. The vaguely humanoid being stood erect and wore a torn, brown tunic. Its eyes, black and dangerous, glittered with intelligence, and something else — some dark amusement.
I shuddered and closed my eyes, but my awareness only heightened. More blips accumulated, surrounding my family. Drawn like sharks to blood. But what drew them? And why could I see them when my family obviously couldn’t?
“She started to say something,” Mike explained, “then, I don’t know. It’s like she seized. I think we should call an ambulance. I don’t want to move her, but she needs help.”
Mom stroked my hair and murmured reassurances while my brain scrambled to make sense of the unbelievable. What was happening to me?
A new bubble converged upon my family and drifted to my side, a shining white beacon tinged with radiant gold. Warmth and comfort emanated from the newcomer.
“Excuse me,” the being said in a voice filled with authority. “May I have a look at her?”
My family drew back, except for Mom. The stranger laid cool hands on my head, one covering my forehead, the other supporting the nape of my neck. “Relax, child. Don’t fight it,” he murmured. “Acceptance is the key. I can and will explain, but not now. Right now, you must accept the unacceptable.”
He continued to cradle my head and energy poured through my mind. I haven’t got a clue how to explain what happened, but synapses fired, my emotions sorted, my understanding cleared, and my body relaxed. I opened my eyes and stared into the face of the man who had promised to explain my destiny to me. Blue-green eyes stared back at me from a hard, chiseled face. A mustache and short, well-trimmed beard provided the only softening to the planes of his face.
He released me, extended his hand, and helped me sit up. I shivered in the late afternoon heat and glanced from family member to family member. “I’m okay now.”
A collective sigh of relief whispered through the ranks, but I knew the next indrawn breath would release a barrage of questions. My self-proclaimed mentor forestalled them.
“Nothing to worry about,” he said, rubbing his hands together and backing away from the tartan blanket. “Just a bit too much sun and exercise. Happens all the time around here.”
Jamie frowned and glanced at me, eyebrows lifted. My lifeguard brother knew something was up.
I shook my head, and he shrugged. We’d talk later.
Dad was shaking the man’s hand. “I don’t know what you did, but thank you, Mister…”
“James. Warwick James, but everyone calls me Wick. Don’t think a thing of it, sir. I’m just glad I could be of service.” He looked at me, and our gazes locked. He smiled, and I nodded and closed my fist around the slip of paper he’d palmed me when he helped me sit up.
I was still aware of creatures that shouldn’t exist, but the members of my family were no longer shrouded in colored fog. Whatever was happening, I could deal with the remnants for the rest of the day, but tomorrow Mr. Warwick James and I were going to have a come-to-Jesus meeting.
Thanks for reading! Part 4 will be posted on 6/29/15.
Dani Erickson’s story, DEMON DAZE, continues in this 2nd of six installments. (Part One is here, if you need to catch up 😀 ) I hope you enjoy Dani’s continuing adventure and I look forward to your comments.
by Deb Logan
The Big Day Begins
FISTS POUNDING ON MY BEDROOM DOOR startled me awake. I lunged upright, glanced wildly around the room, and managed to comprehend the chorus of, “Wake up, Birthday Girl!” that echoed from the hall.
Brothers! You gotta love ‘em. It’s the law; at least it is in my family. From the sound reverberating through my skull all six of them must have come home for the big celebration. Flattering…except it meant I’d have to spend my big day pretending I was Allie.
I grabbed a shoe from the floor and hurled it at the already besieged door. “All right, already. I’m up! Give it a rest.”
Chortles sounded on the far side of the barrier, followed by a deeper bass shushing.
“Get a move on, Kitten,” Mike commanded. The eldest of seven and a medical student to boot, Mike was accustomed to seizing control of a situation. “Mom’s making French toast for breakfast. If these guys devour it all before you make it downstairs, she’ll be in a mood all day.”
I sprang from bed, leaped the intervening distance, and jerked the door open. Half a dozen boys in various states of early morning dishevelment blocked my path, while the sweet scent of maple syrup and frying bacon wafted through the air. “Outta my way!” I bellowed, elbowing my way into the hall. “No one’s eating my birthday breakfast.”
A race for the sugar erupted. We scrambled across the hall and down the stairs, barely making it to the kitchen with everyone still on their feet.
“Halt!” Dad’s shout brought us all to attention, a ragged line of teens and twenty-somethings with straight backs and squared shoulders.
“Happy birthday, Dani,” said Mom, turning from the griddle with a spatula in her hand. “Now, if all of you would be so kind as to march back up the stairs, wash faces and hands, and comb your hair, we’ll have a civilized breakfast in a few minutes.”
As one, the Ericksons deflated. We turned and my brothers tromped back up the stairs.
“Dani,” called Dad, halting me in mid-step. “A moment, please.”
I turned around wondering what I could’ve done. I couldn’t be in trouble yet, I’d just woken up. Besides, it was my birthday.
Dad crossed the sunlit kitchen and wrapped me in a bear hug. He ruffled my still messy hair and smiled down at me. “Happy birthday, kiddo. Take your time in the bathroom. Nobody’s eating ’til you get back.”
I grinned, wriggled out of his arms and raced back upstairs. French toast! And the guys had to wait for me. Maybe I should take my time. Get dressed. Fix my hair. Would make-up be too over the top? I sniffed again, savoring the delicious aromas of non-store-bought delicacies. Nah. Not worth the wait. My mouth watered for French toast NOW!
Thanks for reading! Part 3 will be posted on 6/15/15.
I’d like to introduce you to Dani Erickson, a normal teenage girl with a not-so-normal heritage. I’ll be posting Dani’s initial story, DEMON DAZE, in six installments to be posted on Mondays of every other week until the story is complete. I hope you enjoy meeting Dani and I look forward to your comments.
by Deb Logan
A SHIVER OF ANTICIPATION raced along my spine as Allie and I ducked inside the fortune-teller’s tent. My parents didn’t approve of psychic nonsense, but they’d allowed me to come to the carnival with Allie’s family as a pre-birthday treat. The even bigger treat? Not a single one of my older brothers was tailing me. If the Erickson boys were at the carnival, they were enjoying their own night out, not watching over their baby sister.
Turning fourteen had its advantages!
The inside of the tent lived up to all my expectations. A thick Turkish rug covered the brittle, brown August grass and swags of colorful silk festooned the sidewalls and ceiling, ropes of twinkling LED lights camouflaged within the folds. A small table draped in blood-red velvet sat in the center of the small enclosure. A single intricately carved high-backed chair occupied the far side, while two folding chairs waited for us.
Allie glanced at me as if seeking reassurance. The corners of her lips curved in a timid smile and her eyes widened. “Are you sure we want to do this?”
I grabbed her hand and pulled her to the folding chairs. “This was your idea, remember? We’re here. We’re not backing out.” I plopped onto a chair and waited. Allie lit on the very edge of hers, muscles tensed for flight.
A figure disengaged from the draping silk and approached the carved chair.
“I am Madame Simone. Welcome to my den of enlightenment. This place is hallowed, serving as a threshold to the great beyond.”
The olive-skinned woman was swathed from head to toe in a rainbow of silk. Small golden discs dangled from her headdress, gracing her forehead and calling attention to dark, liquid eyes. She studied my best friend for a moment and then turned her attention to me.
“You have come at an auspicious moment,” she said, and lowered herself gracefully into the high-backed chair. Leaning forward, she placed long-fingered hands upon the velvet tablecloth. “Tell me what you seek.”
Allie uttered a nervous squeak and huddled back in her chair, moving as far from the fortune-teller as possible without jumping and running.
I glanced at Allie and then faced the psychic. “Aren’t you supposed to tell us what we need to know?” I don’t like people intimidating my friends.
“What you need to know,” the woman murmured, holding my gaze and refusing to allow my escape. “Are you sure you’re ready for that? Wouldn’t you rather I told you silly tidbits about boys and kisses and who to dance with at homecoming?”
I straightened my shoulders, but didn’t look away. Her sarcastic tone bugged me. Allie and I might be young, but we were paying for this woman’s time.
“Look, just do your thing, okay? We paid for a reading, so read.”
Madame Simone’s smile could’ve frozen Boulder Reservoir. “As you wish.” She inclined her head, breaking our eye-lock, and turned to Allie, “Your hand, my dear.”
Allie placed her right hand in Madame Simone’s left and shuddered slightly when the woman traced the lines in Allie’s palm with a perfectly manicured nail.
“I see a long life if you sever your relationship with dangerous friends,” the psychic said, spearing me with a pointed glance. “You will dance on the stage to the acclaim of millions. Beware the company of demons.”
Allie snatched her hand back the moment Madame Simone released it and cradled it to her chest.
The fortune-teller cocked an eyebrow at me and held out her hand.
Time slowed. My heart thumped wildly, but the air had thickened, making it hard to breathe. Something moved just beyond my peripheral vision, and a desperate desire to flee seized my soul.
And then the moment passed and everything snapped back to normal. I sat in a stuffy little tent with too many silk drapes and a middle-aged woman who looked at me expectantly.
“Sure. Whatever.” I placed my hand in hers…and a jolt like electricity convinced me I’d made a huge mistake. My hand jerked reflexively, but she held on tight and smiled an enigmatic little grin.
“As I suspected,” she murmured, drawing her index finger along my palm and studying the lines like they spelled minuscule words. “You are the seventh … the child of a seventh … and you stand at the cusp.”
She closed her eyes and held my hand open between both of hers. A sharp intake of breath and her eyes widened and sought mine. Fear glazed her eyes.
“Tomorrow a great burden will descend upon you. Have a care lest it crush you…and all who care for you.”
With that happy thought she released my hand, sprang from her chair and melted back into the shadows.
“That’s it?” I yelled after her. “Whatever happened to you’re going to meet a tall, dark, handsome stranger?”
Anger mixed with a heavy helping of fear and roiled in my stomach. I wanted to hit someone. Instead, I grabbed Allie’s hand and the two of us sprinted from the tent.
“What a load of …”
“Hush, Dani,” Allie said, glancing over her shoulder. “Let’s go find my folks.”
I huffed, but allowed my pretty little ballerina of a buddy to drag me into the throng of people wandering the midway. Alejandra Chavez had been my best friend since preschool. She was everything I’d ever wanted to be; everything my whole family still hoped I’d become. Dainty, graceful, feminine to the core, Allie was a lady, in all the best senses of the word. She played the piano with finesse and danced like a rose petal on a summer breeze. Of course, grace came more easily to her five-feet-two-inch frame than it did to my towering five-feet-ten-inches. At least, that’s how I consoled myself. Whatever my talents were, I’d yet to discover them. I just kind of bobbed along in Allie’s wake, never quite measuring up to her shining example.
She pulled to a stop when we spotted her parents tossing rings over bottles at a nearby booth. “Okay. Listen, we don’t want to upset Mom and Dad, so let’s pretend we never went in that psycho’s tent.”
I inhaled lungfuls of crisp night air, doing my best to calm my breathing and make my sprinting heart slow to a peaceful crawl. Alarmed parents would only ensure a quick trip home. Besides, there were still plenty of rides and games to explore that didn’t involve weird middle-aged women wrapped in silk.
“Gotcha.” I nodded. “Everything is peachy. We’re having a grand time.”
Allie stared at me, a small frown creasing her flawless brow. “Are you alright, Dani? She didn’t scare you, did she?”
“Of course not,” I scoffed, wishing my stomach agreed. “Tomorrow’s my birthday. What kind of great burden hits someone on her fourteenth birthday? I mean, it’s not like I’m turning sixteen and Dad’s gonna give me a car I could crash. Get real.”
Allie smiled a knowing little smile, one that said she saw right through my bravado. She patted my arm and said, “I knew you’d be okay with it. Let’s see if we can help Dad win that stuffed tiger for Mom.”
I grinned and we joined Mr. and Mrs. Chavez, but I had to force myself not to turn around and study the crowd. Someone was watching us. I could feel their focus … and my skin tingled in response.
Thanks for reading! Part 2 will be posted on 6/1/15.
Posted by Sue
This is the last episode of A Singular Inheritance. Previous episodes are in the three preceeding posts on this site.
A Singular Inheritance
by Sue Santore
“It’s me,” Brina called to them, holding her hands in the air. “Brina.”
To her dismay, the guards grabbed her roughly and hauled her onto the walkway so abruptly she stumbled. Conall thrust his massive body between her and the nearest guard and lifted his lips in a dangerous snarl. The guard dropped her arms and backed away, holding his spear in a protective stance toward Conall.
Before he could plunge his spear into Conall, Brina said, “Would you slay Lord Kemble’s favorite hunter?”
The man hesitated and the watch leader came running out onto the walkway and barked a brief command at the guards. They sullenly backed away and gestured to Brina to proceed before them.
She took a few deep breaths to quiet her pounding heart, raised her head high, and walked regally up the log walkway into the crannog, ignoring the spears of the guards. She would not be intimidated by these guards. She would not be intimidated by the high druid. She was needed here. Why? She still did not know. She still could not FutureSee as well as Shylah. Conall refused to walk onto the causeway until the guards followed Brina. He trailed along behind them, his soft growls letting them know that he was watching them.
As Brina approached her family dwelling, Lord Kemble, came out and stood before the door, his arms folded across his chest, a stern frown on his face. As she came near, she could see her mother standing in the shadows behind her father. Then the high druid came rushing out of his dwelling and swiftly approached them.
Before her father could open his mouth to scold her, the faint beating of drums echoed down the road from the west. Lord Kemble’s attention turned from Brina and he shouted instructions to his men. More guards came running and men spilled out of doorways, holding spears and other weapons. The drum beats grew louder and chanting voices floated over the water. The armed men lined up along the protective log walls, at the ready. As the voices grew nearer, the drums rolled once, twice, then a rhythm beat out.
As he listened to the drum message, Lord Kemble shouted, “My son. My son returns.” With long strides, he started for the walkway. Brina raced after him with Conall at her heels. That was Gavin’s personal drum message. Gavin was home! Her father’s first son, his favorite son, and her favorite brother.
In the excitement of the returning heir, Brina’s scolding and punishment were temporarily forgotten. Lord Kemble called for a celebration and feasting to begin that very night. He drew his son into his arms and took him back to the family dwelling, while Gavin’s men scattered to visit their own families. Conall thumped down outside the doorway of their dwelling and refused to be led off to be penned with the other dogs.
Inside their family quarters, Gavin’s eyes met Brina’s and he gave her a sweet smile. She could see he had changed. He had lost his restless, searching energy and had a calmness about him that soothed. Even Mother was glad to see Gavin returned to them and she gave rapid orders to the servants and slaves to prepare a special meal for their evening repast.
Forgotten for now, Brina moved to her small sleeping compartment only to meet her older sister, Bretta, coming from the compartment.
“You!” Bretta twitched her garments aside to keep them from brushing against Brina. “Why have you returned? You will not take my place!” She snarled the words at Brina.
“I don’t know what you mean,” Brina replied. “You know I couldn’t take your place in our parent’s eyes.”
“I’m talking about the high druid. You were a fool to run from him and stay away. Now he wants me.”
“You’re going to be his apprentice?” Brina sucked in her breath. Even though Bretta hated her, she couldn’t wish that fate on her older sister.
“No, fool, I’m going to be his wife.” Bretta tossed her head and smoothed down the cloth over her hips. “I’ll be the most respected woman in the clan, higher than even Mother.”
Brina could only stare at her sister in disbelief, nausea building in her. “No!” She burst out, “You mustn’t do that!”
“I knew you’d be jealous. He wants me now,” Bretta said proudly. “You lost your chance when you ran away.”
“Are you moonstruck? I wouldn’t marry the high druid if he were the last man on this crannog.” Brina could not believe her sister could be so blind to the aura that surrounded the druid.
“More fool, you.” Bretta lifted her chin and brushed by Brina.
Brina was filled with fear for her sister and regret that she would never listen to her reasons not to marry the high druid. Not only did his presence make her skin crawl, but there were rumors about the high druid and women who disappeared in the night. But surely, if the high druid was going through the bride ceremony, Bretta should be safe enough, as safe as she could be living with the evil entity that dwelled within this druid. Brina shuddered and entered the sleeping compartment
It was filled with Bretta’s personal things. Where could she rest while staying with her family? Would she be able to sleep with Bretta’s hateful presence next to her? She sat on the sleeping furs and drew her knees up to her chin. Resting her cheek on her knees, she closed her eyes and breathed slowly, calming herself. She remembered the unusual calmness emanating from Gavin. She reached out with a thread of thought and sought Gavin’s presence. She found him with her father. Gavin was telling of his adventures. She touched Gavin’s aura. So peaceful, so contented. Where had he found this?
She must have dozed off, with her early morning rising and long walk tiring her body to exhaustion. She was awakened by Bretta rudely shaking her. “Time to eat.”
Brina shook the sleep from her head and rose swiftly to her feet. Without speaking, the sisters walked to the main room and took their places on the mats around the low table to partake in the family meal hastily prepared by their servants. Torches burned in their holders around the room to push away the coming of night. Brina shivered inside as she saw the high druid sitting opposite from her father. Bretta sat next to him, preening and full of her own importance. Brina felt his foul magic probing at her, trying to penetrate her mind, but her shield was firmly in place. Then she began to listen to Gavin’s conversation with their father.
It was all Colum Cille this and Colum Cille that. Brina was delighted to hear more stories about this new druid. Shylah’s stories were limited and all old ones. Gavin had met the new holy man who followed the one God. He had followed with him for many weeks and had many stories to tell. A commoner’s only cow was dying. Colum Cille restored it to health with one touch. A monster beneath the waters of a lake was taking villagers until Colum Cille banished it with his words, “Think not to go further, nor touch the man. Quick! Go back!” and invoked the name of his God. One of his followers was weeping over the death of his child when Colum Cille commanded the child to rise and he came back to life. Gavin even reported he, with his own eyes, had seen Colum Cille walk across a lake without sinking below the water.
Brina found it really hard to believe one man could do all those magical things, but she was fascinated by Gavin’s stories. Obviously, he believed them even as some around the table scoffed. She ignored the unbelieving comments and enjoyed listening to her brother talk, until she caught a movement out of the corner of her eye and glanced toward the high druid. The depth of hate in his eyes against her brother shocked Brina, but as she thought on it, she realized that this new type of druid Gavin was reporting about was a major threat to the high druid. She had seen their druid do some powerful magic, but never had he raised one from the dead or walked on water. When the high druid began to speak, she grew fearful for her brother.
The druid faced the end of the table. “Lord Kemble, I see your son has been contaminated by his association with this man who worships one God. We know our gods are many, and they have been good enough for us for all our lives and the lives of our fathers and their fathers.” Then he turned to Gavin, “This man is false and worships a false god. He has tricked you into believing he can do these magics. No one can bring the dead back to life.”
“Colum Cille can and he did,” Gavin said firmly. “I believe his God is real.”
“No!” The druid shoved back his uneaten bowl of food. “You are mistaken. You must leave this man behind you and forget him. I will perform a cleansing ceremony to purify you from these thoughts. It will be held tomorrow.” He turned back to Lord Kemble. “You must delay the celebration and feasting until after your son is purified. If he cannot be purified, he must be put to death. Otherwise the gods will be angry with us at his blasphemy.”
A cold dread settled into Brina at the words of the druid and she looked quickly to her father. What would his answer be? Would he allow his beloved elder son to be put to death? Why did she even wonder at his answer? She knew he deferred to the druid in all religious matters.
A heavy frown creased the brow of Lord Kemble. “Is there no other way?”
“If he is too besmirched to be purified, then the law is clear. He must be put to death,” The Druid stated again.
His hatred seethed beneath the surface of his words and spell binding was underlaying his focus on Lord Kemble. Brina could feel the slimy tangles of his dark magic threading through the room, touching the family members around the table and branching out to the servants. Was this how he kept control of their village and directed all their lives when he wished something to come to pass? He had always repulsed her, but she had never been able to feel the workings of his dark magic before her month of working to hone her own power. The foul tangles slipped off of her shield and hovered before Gavin. In a split second she extended her shield to cover him and the foulness that filled the room could not touch Gavin.
Gavin gave a steady look to his father, then to the druid. “I am not contaminated by Colum Cille. I will not consent to your ceremony.” He started to stand up.
“So be it.” The druid made a quick motion with his hand and Gavin fell back down on the floor, unmoving. Brina cried out, “Gavin!” Before she could move the druid made another motion and his guards at the door came forward. They picked up the motionless Gavin and, under the direction of the druid, carried him out of the door. The druid followed.
Brina jumped to her feet and cried at her father. “How could you let the druid take Gavin! He has done no wrong!”
“How would you be able to judge after what you’ve done?” Bretta said. Her eyes were slitted and her mouth contorted. She snarled at Brina. “The druid always knows best. We must not anger the gods.”
“I have done nothing wrong,” Brina protested. “The druid is not always right. He is a bad man!”
Gasps came from around the room.
“That will be enough!” Lord Kemble rose to his feet and towered over Brina. “You have much to answer for, running away and refusing to return with the high druid and his men. Now you even question his authority. You will return to your sleeping quarters and stay there until I send for you.”
Brina stepped back. “No, my lord, I won’t.”
“Ungrateful child,” muttered her mother as she placed her arm around Bretta’s shoulders. “At least I have one daughter who pleases me.”
The remark stabbed Brina’s heart, even though she knew she had never pleased her mother, no matter how hard she had tried, and she never would.
She turned, walked out of her family dwelling, and paced after the druid’s men who were carrying Gavin. Night had fallen and the torches set along the path only lit up a few feet on either side of them. The tramping feet of her father’s guards followed her. She turned toward them and muttered a freezing charm. They stopped in their tracks, eyes wide with fear. Then Brina followed her brother’s limp body as the druid had him carried into his own dwelling.
She stopped just outside the dwelling and a chill went up her spine. The open doorway reeked of dark magic. Was she strong enough to face down the druid? What would the guards do if she did? She had to try to save her brother. Taking a deep breath, she wrapped her shield tightly around herself and entered the druid’s dwelling. She stopped just inside the door and searched the room for Gavin. He was lying very still on a high altar under the collection of shrunken heads of the druid’s enemies. The druid bent over him.
As she stood quietly in the doorway, the druid felt her presence and swiftly turned from Gavin’s body. She felt his glee and hoped she had not stepped into a trap she could not escape from. He dismissed the guards and waited until they left the room before speaking. “Ah. My little reluctant bride. You return to me.”
“I will never be your bride.” Brina spoke in a low passionate voice. “Never!”
“Oh, too bad. You wish to save your brother?” A smile full of malice broke over his face. “Then you must become my bride.”
“You have my sister. Why do you need two brides?” Brina fought hard to keep her voice from shaking.
He made a motion of dismissal. “Britta is a warm body, but you, my sweet thing, are much more. I have sensed your power for long while, but now I can taste the power flooding through you.” He licked his lips and stalked closer to Brina. She trembled at his nearness. “If I lay with you, I can take that power and it will be mine. Mine to use.”
Even as she trembled, Brina strengthened her shield and reached with her mind down, down, far under the water to touch the earth. She drew strength and fed the glowing flames of power that warmed her magic.
“You will never have my power.”
“Then your brother must die.”
“I think not.” Brina said as she pulled the clean earth power into herself until she could hold no more. She was ready when the druid attacked. He threw the same spell at her with which he had felled Gavin, with even more force. Her shield held firm and the hard-flung spell rebounded back at the druid. He gasped and dropped to the floor. His eyes glittered at her with anger, but he stayed motionless as Brina grabbed some woven grass rope and tied his hands and feet. She stuffed a cloth into his mouth, then she rushed to Gavin, and plunged her earth power into the spell holding him. With a shudder, Gavin broke free of the binding and sat up. His face was white and he moved slowly.
“Quickly, Brother,” Brina urged him. “He will recover soon. We must get you away from here.”
She thrust her arms under Gavin’s shoulders and pulled him to his feet. Gavin swayed, then he straightened and gave her his sweet smile. “Thank you, my sister.” Slowly they moved forward to the door of the dwelling. “I need a drum. I cannot leave my men here to the druid’s revenge.”
Brina glanced around the room and saw a small drum lying on a nearby table. She touched the drum. Detecting no apparent evil, she snatched it up and handed it to Gavin. He began to beat out a staccato rhythm which boomed across the water.
As they moved through the doorway, the guards of the druid stepped forward, their spears raised. “Back!” Brina spoke with command in her voice. The confused guards lowered their spears. “We are to leave now. The druid does not wish to be bothered until he calls you.”
As the echoes of the drum beat died away, shouts and running feet were heard all around the crannog. Gavin’s men were responding to his emergency distress signal. As Brina and Gavin made their way to the causeway, they were soon surrounded by his men. Lord Kemble still stood by the door to their family dwelling. He lifted his hand to stay his own men, motioning for them to allow the group to leave. As Brina and Gavin passed, she could see the pain in his face as his son walked away from him.
If only he stayed firm in his protection. If only the druid did not recover until they were out of spear throwing distance. If only they could reach the clearing with the sacred well before any possible pursuit overtook them.
It seemed a miracle, but they did make it safely out of the village and all the way to the Herb Woman’s clearing and the sacred well before the druid was able to free himself. There Gavin and his men left Brina. Gavin returned many times in the ensuing years. Sometimes he even brought the Colum Cille with him, and the protection on the clearing was strengthened each time Colum Cille visited.
Brina remained in the clearing, tending to the pilgrims who returned to visit the sacred well, as well as those who sought her out for herbs. She continued to fight the evil influence of the druid. Her ability to See into the future grew as her power developed. Years later, one vision came upon her as she sat beside the well, looking down into the clear water. It seemed as though she fell and fell, as down, down many years. She saw a young girl, dressed in strange clothes, holding the box of power that Shylah had given to herself, Brina, many years ago. She watched as the strange girl learned to use the powers in the box. She shuddered as she learned what the young girl had to face with her new-learned powers. Then she fell back into her own self and realized that her legacy from Shylah was only the beginning, that the fight against evil must continue. Brina pondered her vision. “I shall pass the box on to another generation, then it shall pass again and again.”
I hope you have enjoyed Brina’s story. Thank you for reading. To read the story of the young girl in Brina’s vision, see The Singular Gift on Amazon.
Posted by Sue
A Singular Inheritance
by Sue Santore
The tramping feet came into the clearing, closer, closer. It was a group of her father’s men! A voice called out, and Brina recognized it. It was the head guard for their druid. As he spoke he came closer. “Woman, where is the daughter of Lord Kemble?”
“Who wishes to know?”
“The most important high druid requests her.”
Brina’s stomach clenched at that statement. No, she wouldn’t be his bride. She couldn’t. But what could Shylah do against the armed men?
“But she is not the daughter of the high druid,” Shylah replied to the guard.
“Lord Kemble follows the old paths and listens to the high druid. She is not his daughter, but she will be his bride. Give her to us.” His gruff voice was low and menacing as he walked up close to Shylah.
Shylah did not budge from the doorway. “She is under my protection and the protection of this holy place.”
“You do so refuse the druid’s request?” The guard’s voice was now a snarl.
“I cover her with my own protection.”
“Foolish old woman, you seal your fate.”
Brina saw him make a swift movement. She heard a wet thud and a small moan from Shylah. “Shylah!” she cried out and started toward the doorway. A voice sounded in her head. Stay! Don’t come out! Brina froze in obedience as Shylah’s body slowly collapsed before her eyes and she crumpled onto the ground in front of her own doorstep. Don’t…come…out. Learn…much. The voice in Brina’s head stilled and was gone. Grief flooded through Brina.
Just then another voice shouted. “No! You fool!”
The voice sent shivers though her. It was the druid! He rushed out of the middle of the group of armed men. She had never known him to go so far from the village before. Conall’s growls grew more intense and her fingers tightened under the dog’s spiked collar. “Stay, Conall.”
The druid’s face was contorted with anger. “Idiot! Now her blood will seal the protection she placed on the girl!” He threw up his hand and a bright light flashed. The guard let out a single piercing scream and where the guard had stood was only a lump of blackened flesh wavering back and forth. Then the man-sized lump fell to the ground in front of Shylah.
The druid walked forward. He stopped before he reached the bodies and peered into the cabin interior. When he spoke again, this time he spoke directly to Brina. She could hear the subtle persuasion in the spelled voice he used. “Come out, Brina. We’ve come to take you home. Your mother and father have been very worried.”
Brina twisted her mouth in a grimace. She knew her mother hadn’t been worried. She only cared about Bretta, her older sister. Her father? Maybe. Sometimes it seemed that he cared for her. Mostly he cared for Gavin and Lann, her brothers.
She didn’t answer. According to what Shylah had told her, as long as she stayed in the hut, she was safe. She was not going anywhere. I won’t forget, Shylah, Brina thought. The tears streamed down her cheeks as she took another look at Shylah’s crumpled body. Shylah, the only one who had loved her unconditionally. Brina moved away from the wall and sat down at the small table. She could not bear to look at Shylah’s body lying on the ground. Shylah had said that as long as she was within the dwelling she would be safe, but at what a price. She sat facing the door, unwilling to turn her back towards the druid. Shylah had told her that the druid could not control her if she came into her power apart from him and to study hard to learn how to use her power. That was just what she would do.
The druid stood a few paces away from the bodies on the ground, his spelled voice continued to try to persuade Brina to come out. Ignoring the pleas, then the commands, from the high druid. Brina opened the box and took out the book. The light from the one small window, covered with oiled cloth, was enough–with the door open. She forced away her sorrow and began to read. Magical words danced through her mind and helped keep the anguish she felt at bay. Then the anguish resolved into hard determination. The high druid had gone too far. Brina would not be used by him. Shylah would not die in vain.
Hours later, when the voices and noises outside had finally ceased, Brina looked up from the book. She could see no one in the clearing in the line of sight from the door. Thick clouds had rolled in to cover the setting sun and the light in the dwelling was fading. Brina cut a slice of cheese and a slice of bread from the food left on the table. She handed the food to the dog who lay at her feet. He gulped it down.
Then she stood up, dreading what would come next. Not a sound came from outside. She paced to the door and looked into the clearing. Conall stayed by her side, still on alert. The men had disappeared, but how far had they gone?
She looked down and tears filled her eyes. Crumbled on the ground in front of the door was Shylah, her blood soaked into the dirt. The blackened body of the guard who killed her lay apart.
She couldn’t leave Shylah laying there, but she couldn’t leave the doorway. Not yet. There were sure to be some guards left hidden among the trees to watch her. Brina sank down onto the floor in line with the doorway. She wrapped her arms around her knees and rocked back and forth, keening a requiem for Shylah. Conall lowered himself to the floor beside his young mistress and rested his broad head on his forearms, ears alert. Brina sang over and over in a high mournful tone:
Ah, Shylah, mother of my heart,
Long I have loved you.
The leaves shake for your pain.
The ground drinks your blood and
Hears the cry of your soul.
The earth calls out against your murder.
Shylah, Shylah, Shylah.
Echoes of her voice came back to her from all directions and Brina felt that the forest lamented Shylah’s passing with her. Under the cover of the clouds, total darkness was fast approaching. Brina felt for her travel herb pouch. Did she dare use her charm to try to hide herself while she buried Shylah’s body? She closed her eyes with her herb pouch held tightly and said, “Eyes do not see me. Ears do not hear me. I am not here.” A dreadful premonition filled her as she neared the door, and she hesitated. Then she remembered the ring of invisibility. She backtracked to the table, reached out for the box, opened it, and slipped on the ring. Her body disappeared before her eyes. She reached down and clutched Conall’s collar and the dog disappeared also.
She knelt down beside the dog and whispered to him. “Bring in, Conall. Bring in, boy.” Then she rose and walked to the doorway with the dog following her lead. With her whispered commands, the dog clasped his massive jaws on Shylah’s shoulder and pulled backwards. Brina tugged at the body also, and together they slowly moved her mentor’s body into the dwelling.
Startled cries came from a nearby thicket. Brina gave a bitter smile as she realized that the hiding soldiers thought Shylah’s body had started moving by itself, then disappeared. When the body was safely inside the dwelling, Brina went through the death ritual over Shylah. She could barely see the outline of the doorway now. The light was almost gone.
With her ring still on, she pulled on the bracelet and went to the back of the hut. She leaned against the wall and began to slide through it. She grabbed the dog and Shylah’s arm. With Conall’s massive jaws assisting her she managed to pull Shylah through the wall and out into the darkness. The dog left her side to relieve himself then quickly returned. She felt his nose bump her side in the darkness.
“Dig,” she whispered into Conall’s ear. The dog began to dig. Under her direction, after a time, the hole was made large enough to place Shylah’s body into. She made a sign of release on Shylah’s forehead and began shoving the dirt back into the hole. She tamped the dirt down with her feet, then shook off the dust from her clothes. She was exhausted and famished. Why was she so tired?
She tugged at Conall’s collar and the dog slid back into the dwelling with her. As she gulped down her own slice of cheese and bread, she bitterly thought about the soldier guards in the woods and wondered what they would make of the new grave in the morning. Let them wonder. They could think Shylah buried herself for all Brina cared. She stumbled onto the cot in the corner and fell fast asleep.
When she awoke the next morning, the blackened body of the former guard was gone.
Many days passed before the Druid gave up and left the clearing, taking his guards with him. Because of the soldiers, the pilgrims on their rounds stopped coming to the sacred well in the clearing. They continued to stay away even after the soldiers left. The days were long and lonely for Brina even though she spent the daylight hours with Shylah’s gift to her, the precious box and its contents. When she used it, she felt closer to Shylah.
Brina read and practiced, read and practiced. She nibbled on the food left by Shylah, but gave much of it to Conall. She worried about the dog having to stay in the hut all day, so in the dark of the night, she let Conall out to exercise and forage for himself. He would be gone most of the night. Twice he brought back a rabbit to her. During the cover of the night Brina also emptied her slops and threw some grain into the chicken pen. She searched for eggs under the sleeping chickens and each day found a few.
As the month of safety that Shylah had sacrificed to give her came slowly to an end, Brina thought she could face down the druid–maybe. Anyway, she felt she was needed to return for a brief time to her father’s crannog, for what reason she knew not, but she knew that her place here in this holy clearing would be waiting for her.
Very early on her final morning before returning to her clan, Brina brewed a tea of angelica root and holy thistle. She sprinkled drops in the corners and doorway of the dwelling to prevent evil forces from entering while she was gone. Then she poured half of what was left into Conall’s water bowl. He eagerly lapped it up while she drank the rest of the tea in preparation for her journey.
What could she do with the box of power to keep it safe? She didn’t dare take it into the lair of the high druid, just in case she wasn’t strong enough to resist him. Her gaze fell on the holy well at the edge of the clearing, close to her dwelling. Maybe there? She took a deep breath, said a prayer for protection, and stepped out the door in the light of day for the first time in a month. No shout came from the thicket. No rustle came from the undergrowth.
Brina walked across the short distance to the well and looked down into the stone circle. The water had a gentle movement in the center where the spring, the source of the well water, bubbled up. There was a niche between two large stones about two layers down. Maybe she could wedge the box into the niche. Brina bent over and stretched her arm down. Yes, she could just reach the opening. She took the box and pushed it into the cavity between the rocks. Then she touched the rocks and muttered an incantation from the book of power. The rocks closed over the box and it disappeared.
Brina walked to the edge of the clearing and stopped, looking down at Conall. “Crannog, Conall. Home.” His ears perked up and he started ahead of her, turning his head occasionally to make sure she was following. They cautiously made their way through the forest to the main road, meeting no one. The pilgrims still had not returned to visiting the shrine at the clearing in her new dwelling so the forest was silent of their sounds.
As Brina approached the road, she sank down into nearby shrubbery. She had to cross the road and make her way down to her father’s crannog safely. She listened carefully, but could hear nothing. She watched Conall. He was alert, but not on guard, so she eased her way out onto the road and sped down the road toward her ancestral home. If she heard anyone, she would flee into the bushes and hide again.
The sun is smiling on me, Brian thought, as she neared the approach to the crannog without having to dash into the underbrush, not even once. She stopped just out of sight and drew upon her inner self. She spun a small shield to hide her magic from any seekers then went onward. As she came in sight of the walkway, a shout came from the guard post and two guards came swiftly down the walkway, their spears at the ready.
“It’s me,” Brina called to them, holding her hands in the air. “Brina.”
To her dismay, the guards grabbed her roughly and hauled her onto the walkway so abruptly she stumbled. Conall thrust his massive body between her and the nearest guard and lifted his lips in a dangerous snarl. The guard dropped her arms and backed away, holding his spear in a protective stance toward Conall.
Before he could plunge his spear into Conall, Brina said, “Would you slay Lord Kemble’s favorite hunter?”
Come back next week for the conclusion of Brina’s story, A Singular Inheritance.