Friday, July 25, 2014

''Murder Horror Flash Fiction Stories'' Anthology (Flash Fiction)



Genre:  Horror

Type of Short Story:  Flash Fiction Anthology

Summary:  An anthology of horror flash fiction stories all involving a murder. Murder out of habit, impulsive murder, murder framed on someone else, murder carefully planned and executed.

Excerpt:

What is that noise behind her? Footsteps? No, it can’t be. She is sure of that, however she is not turning back to check it out. She is fastening her pace even more.

But the noise behind her is not stopping. Someone or something is definitely behind her. Is she being followed? No, it can’t be. Maybe it is a stray dog, or a stray cat, or another person walking back home like she is. She is sure of that, however, she is no turning back to check it out. She is fastening her pace even more.

In less than 5 minutes she will be home she starts telling her scared heart that is beating fast. She is fastening her pace even more.

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Friday, July 18, 2014

"Knights of the Iron Dragon" by Edward Lange (Novelette)



Genre:  Steampunk

Type of Short Story:  Novelette

Summary:  The Iron Dragons: flying, steam-powered battleships. Used by knights to fight the dragons that dwell in the sky.

Excerpt:

It was only a few moments before the ship and the beast engaged in combat. The dragon made the first move, lunging at the cockpit with its snout wide-open. Lily dove the Iron Dragon downward, just as the beast’s jaws snapped shut. Behind her she could hear a chorus of metallic clicks, as the archers fired off their crossbows. The beast howled in pain, as the barrage of arrows crashed into its body. Though most had merely bounced off the creature’s scaly hide, enough had struck his soft underbelly that Lily could see droplets of blood fall down onto the windshield of the cockpit.

“Try to aim for the wings.” Harding said. “Crippling it will be easier than killing it.” The archers silently agreed, and continued their assault.

For the next several minutes, the knights of the iron dragon engaged the winged monstrosity that threatened their countrymen. The twin serpentine forms twisted in the sky, shining silver and green in the sunlight. The two combatants would often get so close that they’d appear as a single half-flesh, half-metal double helix in the sky.

They would swoop, and smack into each other, denting the metal on the air ship, and cutting the flesh of the monster. Through the various windows of the craft, Lily and the others were given dozens of up-close glimpses of the beast’s increasingly bloody body. Its stench dominated the cabin, to the point that it was the only thing the knights could smell, besides the blood, and the smoke from the engine.

The creature’s roars and growls eclipsed all other sounds. The knights in the craft felt like they were really and truly in the belly of the beast. All other sensations and life experiences had been supplanted by this dragon. It occupied all senses, and only its death or theirs would free them from its grasp.

Throughout the ordeal, Lily found her mind bombarded by memories of the last time she’d seen a dragon. Her nostrils could faintly smell her sister’s burnt corpse, and hear her final death cries. Tiptoeing around the edges of these flashbacks was the paralyzing terror and fear that Lily had felt at the time, and the threat that it would take over again. But Lily resisted. Throughout the ordeal, she kept herself focused on the task at hand, expertly dodging the beast’s attacks, while flying in close to give the archers clear shots. There had been a few moments when she wasn’t able to push these emotions back, and she felt them overwhelm her. But when these moments came, she simply did what she’d done at all other such times; drown it out with blind, undiluted hatred.

As the fight went on, the wings of both combatants became riddled with holes and tears. Both now had to struggle to stay airborne, but neither was in any immediate danger of falling out of the sky. The fight would go on.

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Friday, July 11, 2014

"Money Lies" by Annie Turner (Novelette)



Genre:  Western Adventure/Mystery

Type of Short Story:  Novelette

Summary:  Book 1 of the Zachary Davis Series

Called in to investigate small town's bank robbery, Texas Ranger Zach Davis immediately gets the impression that there's more to this case than meets the eye. A mysterious note, a ruthless railway overseer... how does it all add up? 

Excerpt:

His horse and chaps were caked with mud that dried days ago as they made their way across the desert with dogged determination. The only hint of moisture in the barren landscape was the sweat dripping off their worn bodies. It was a state of being that Texas Ranger Zachary Davis had long since become inured to. He didn’t sign up for the Rangers for a life of lavish comfort.

Zach dared to tilt his head up to look at the bright, sun-cooked landscape. At long last he could just make out the faint outlines of buildings in the distance. Lagerton was a flea-ridden, no-account little town that existed solely to service the needs of the railway crews as they worked to lay down tracks. It was the sort of place that might not even exist in ten years if the crews decided the location too inconvenient. But it was also the bread and butter of Zach’s profession. Towns like this had little to no law enforcement and it was his job to right the wrongs.

A telegram was sent to the Rangers a week ago saying that a bank robbery had taken place. Unless there had been a tip off to prevent a robbery from ever taking place, there was little Zach could do other than write up an official report. But the mayor of the town had insisted. There was something about this case, something different.
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Friday, July 4, 2014

"A Higher Purpose" (Witches of Cullowhee) by Lucy Varna (Novella)



Genre:  Paranormal Romance

Type of Short Story:  Novella

Summary:  The day Adam Cowan walked into the coffeehouse she managed, Ella Southards panicked. Here was the man of her dreams, literally, but he had made his appearance twenty years and a failed marriage too late for her bruised heart.

Adam came to Cullowhee to take a much needed breather from his past. In the reluctant Ella, he sees the possibility for a fresh chance at love, if only he can convince her to gamble on him.

As Adam persuades Ella to make a place for him in her life, she begins to wonder at the timing of his arrival there, and if her life might hold more promise than she'd ever dared to dream.

Excerpt:

He came in early that Monday, shaking off the cold rain with the absent-minded air of a man with things to do.

When Ella Southards saw him, her heart flipped in her chest, then boomed so hard it took her breath.

His features were astonishingly familiar to her: the wavy brown hair that tended to curl at the ends because he'd forgotten to cut it; the long nose and thin lips and heavy brows above chocolate eyes in a face that was thin, intelligent, friendly; the athletic build, earned through work and not trips to the gym; clothes that were more shabby than chic, but still labeled him as Somebody. Not somebody famous, but somebody with a life, somebody with a purpose.

She recognized him, but she'd never met him. Never seen a photo of him, never heard anyone talk about him. But she knew him, nonetheless.

"Ma'am."

The voice of the customer in front of her, waiting for the coffee-like concoction she was supposed to be preparing, brought her back to the present. With a smile of apology, Ella finished making the drink and rang up the sale. As she shut the cash register drawer, a soft glint of gold winked from her ring finger, and the surprised astonishment she'd felt at seeing him faded into a muted despair that had been her companion for far longer than she liked to contemplate. She'd remembered him, but had forgotten that she had nothing to offer any man, especially not this one.

Without giving herself the time to look at him again, to wallow in the reality of his presence, she signaled to her co-worker that she needed a bathroom break. Carrie Long, a petite twenty-year-old chemistry major, was a sweet young woman, but her effervescent optimism was a bit more than Ella could stand at the moment.

She slipped into the back, used the bathroom so she wouldn't be caught in a lie. Dawdled for a moment in front of the mirror. Caught herself smoothing her hair back and wishing for better makeup, a face lift, a tummy tuck, and nicer clothes, all at the same time. Exasperated, she checked her watch, determined that he'd had enough time to order something from her eternally perky co-worker, and that it was safe for her to get back to work.

On the way back in, she grabbed a box of coffee cups, hoping Carrie would forgive her for taking a bit too long in the restroom, and not talk about the dishy gentleman who was currently uppermost in Ella's mind.

Carrie sidled up to her and grabbed some cups to help restock. "Check out Mr. Hottie over there by the door," she said.

Ella suppressed a sigh. Carrie refraining from noticing, and talking about, a good-looking man had probably been too much to hope for. "Who?" she asked, not looking up.

Ella caught the are-you-kidding-me eye roll out of the corner of her eye. "Tall, dark, and handsome at number two," Carrie said, as if it were perfectly obvious. "Coffee, straight up, and a doughnut. No froufrou crap for him."

"Ah, a manly man," Ella said.

"And nice, too." Carrie gave up all pretense of work and settled her elbows against the counter.

"So he asks politely before he drags a woman back to his man-cave?"

Carrie laughed and nudged Ella playfully with her elbow. "Har, funny," she said. "Aren't you even curious?"

"Nope." Ella purposely used her no-nonsense Mommy tone. "I have a firm policy of not ogling manly men. Besides," she added, "I'm married. Takes all the fun out of it."

Carrie snorted. "Yeah, right. You're married, not blind." She grabbed the empty coffee cup box and tugged a bit. "And you're only half-married, anyway. It'll be over soon, right?"

Ella relinquished the box and shook her head. "Not soon enough, but that doesn't really matter. Until it's legally settled, I'm still married."

Carrie's face melted into sad sympathy for a moment before she abruptly stuck her tongue out and made a funny face. "Neener, Ms. Stick in the Mud," she said in a light tone. "One of these days, I'll get you to admit you think he's hot." And she flipped her blonde ponytail and grinned when Ella muttered a mock stern, "Very mature, Miss Priss."

He stayed at the small table for an hour while he drank coffee (black) and ate a doughnut (powdered sugar) and peered intently at the screen of his open laptop. The rain abated, people drifted in and out. Ella discovered a pressing need to clean under the counter any time he looked up. Carrie chattered prettily away until they'd run out of chores and people to wait on, then took a textbook and highlighter out of her backpack to study in the fits and starts around customers.

Another hour passed with him typing madly away, hunched over at the small table. The cup of coffee sat forgotten among crumpled napkins. Ella hadn't the nerve to bus the table around him or offer a refill, as she normally would. Thankfully, Carrie didn't notice the aberrant behavior, being absorbed in a weighty tome on the ethics of responsible journalism, her minor.

Finally, he rose and stuffed his laptop into its bag. He picked up his trash and stood for a moment as if unsure about the etiquette of leaving it on the table or discarding it on his way out. Carrie was putting away her book in anticipation of the lunch rush and noticed his dilemma. With a pretty smile (and, really, Ella admitted with some envy, what about Carrie wasn't pretty?), she bounced over to help, chatting with him in a friendly way that brought a matching smile to his face.

When he left, Carrie turned to Ella with a triumphant grin. "Adam Cowan," she said. "New to town, divorced, one child. Paleogeologist with multiple degrees, one in math, by the way, coming out of a long stint of field work, and writing a book on his finds. Sexy voice." Carrie sighed dreamily. "If only he were a bit younger."

"You got all that from a one minute conversation?"

Carrie laughed mischievously. "I'm good, but not that good. No, I recognized his name. He's doing a lecture series at the college on science and math journalism. Every Monday night at seven 'til the end of term." She paused and slid Ella a sideways look that was not as innocent as it should have been. "Not that you're interested or anything."

Ella pulled a wry face at her co-worker and shooed her back to work.

"Very mature, Madame Grouch," Carrie said, and Ella entered the lunch rush in a lighter mood for the co-ed's antics.

He came back to the coffeehouse several times over the next few weeks, and more than a few times she saw him jogging shirtless past the window along the sidewalk. Ella avoided him whenever possible, and passed that time without ever having to wait on him personally. Carrie was deep in the middle of juggling a heavy course load and managed only a few knowing looks. To her credit, she only teased Ella once about attending Adam's lecture series.

As the days passed, Ella settled into life as a nearly-single woman. She met with her lawyer, learned that a final hearing had been set for the divorce, and ignored her husband's phone calls. After leaving the coffeehouse each day, she worked on some freelance accounting work she'd taken in to make ends meet, and finished knitting a sweater intended to be a Christmas present for her son, with whom she spoke by phone or e-mail nearly every day.

She met Harold Tennenbaum, her old math professor, for lunch one day, but didn’t give in to his urgings to return to school to finish her degree; nor did she agree, at his request, to join a research project in desperate need of her particular skills. "I'm too old," she insisted. He merely shook his head sadly, as if he understood that it wasn't her age holding her back at all.

Most of all, she did not think about him, the man who had haunted her for so long, or the reason fate might have brought him into her life at that moment and not another.

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Friday, June 27, 2014

"Betty & Howard's Excellent Adventure" by J.J. DiBenedetto (Novelette)



Genre:  Romance

Type of Short Story:  Novelette

Summary:  A Christmas gift for fans of the Dream Series...

Just in time for the holidays - spend your vacation with Betty and Howard Barnes as they go on a "dream" European trip.

You'll see a whole new side to two of the unsung heroes of the Dream Series in this fun and lighthearted romantic adventure...

Excerpt:

At that point, Howard wanted to go back to the hotel and take a
nap, but the cathedral was right there. I said, “Who knows how late
the tours run?” and I started to head up the steps. He was behind me,
maybe fifty feet, and that’s the only reason that what happened next
happened the way it did. If he’d been next to me, he wouldn’t have
seen anything, and he wouldn’t have been in a position to – sorry, I’m
getting ahead of myself.


Anyway, I was about halfway up the steps, and Howard was
behind me. All of a sudden, right ahead of me, a young man started
shouting, pointing at me, or past me, I couldn’t really tell. It wasn’t
Spanish – I couldn’t tell what language it was. I looked up at him. I
couldn’t help it – that’s what you do when someone shouts at you. It’s
automatic. So while I was looking at him, and kind of startled, I didn’t
notice his accomplice. I had no idea anything was going on until a
leather strap fell off my shoulder and onto the stone steps.
At the same moment, I heard Howard yelling, “You stop right
there!”


I had no idea what had happened. You’ve already figured it
out, I’m sure, but in the confusion of the moment, I wasn’t thinking
clearly. I looked down at the leather strap, wondering where it came
from. It was the same color as my purse, and it hit me. It was my
purse. The shouting was a distraction, so the second man could cut the
strap and run off with it. By the time I understood that, Howard was
already chasing after the thief. I swear to you, Kat, I have never in my
life seen him run that fast. Not even when he was twenty-one and he
actually was running regularly.


I followed along, as quickly as I could. I had to be careful on
the steps – all I needed was to trip and break my ankle. By the time I
got down to the street, the thief was almost out of sight, and Howard
was right behind him. Closing on him, even. People were stopping
and staring – I suppose a mad chase down the street isn’t something
they see every day.



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Friday, June 20, 2014

"Fathers and Sons" by Sydney M. Cooper (Novelette)


Genre:  Fantasy

Type of Short Story:  Novelette

Summary:  Husband, father, and scout for the Kaldari Coalition of Tribes, Garren has no interest in the ongoing petty conflicts between his people and the Children of Elseth in the north. He lives a life of paradoxical peace in Kaldari border town of Plen. Unfortunately for Garren the fates seem determined to take him down a much darker path - one man's mistake will bring a brewing war to his doorstep and change his life forever.

Excerpt:

I hate crowds.

The woods are open and free, where your only enemy is what can sneak up on you. When a mountain cat sees you, it is already too late - it will kill you, or you will kill it. Cats and bears do not waste their time with deception. People are far different creatures. A human will act as if they care for your survival, and slit your throat when you're not looking. Being around people I do not trust tires me, because it is my job to seek out threats before they become a problem. In the woods, I am a man of confidence. I am a master of my trade as a Kaldari scout.

In a crowd, however, I am suspicious.

The sun is pitchfire bright in Plen's village square. What would usually be an open, grassy space surrounded by the village's mudbrick homes is crowded with vendors peddling their wares. Canopies are erected to block out the sun, but still it is hot enough to sweat. There is music coming from several directions; strings and wind playing different harmonies, against the shouts of children and the chatter of families. The people are so crowded in between the booths that they physically touch. Plen's market day is the largest between the border and Shald, and it attracts too many people. Were it not for my family, I would have avoided the place altogether.

My husband, Elias, and my son, Ethen, walk close beside me. Ethen has seen five cycles, and stands with his brown hair brushing the tips of my fingers. He is fascinated by the people and sights around him, a wide grin on his face. I squeeze his shoulder to remind him to keep up - he is a distractible child.

Elias understands the look I'm giving him. It's the same look I give him every time he puts me in a deliberately difficult situation. He is shorter than I - though that is not unique to him, since I have only met one man who could rival me for height. He has our son's light brown eyes and keeps his dark hair molded into spikes, a convention I scarcely have the patience for. Today his chest is bare; he wears only working pants and a backpack for his healing supplies. The eagle tattoo which covers most of his back glistens with perspiration.

He pauses in the middle of the crowd and smiles, his mouth wide open to say something smart.

"Ethen!" I call after my son as he rushes off after one of the other children. His small body disappears between the robes of a man browsing a booth of cured meats; only Elias's hand on my arm keeps me from tearing the crowd apart to rush after him.

"Leave him be, Garren," says Elias. "He's a kid. We had an agreement."

My half-hearted growl makes Elias let go of my arm. His much paler skin is beginning to turn dark with the coming of summer, bringing it nearer to my shade.

"If I was allowed to run wild-"

"You would have killed God and been eaten by a mountain cat, I know." Elias's eyes gleam.

It's what I love about him, and also what I occasionally hate - he is quick to smile and without worry. Elias is my opposite in nearly every way. I shake my head.

"Come on," says Elias, "I've got things to buy over here." He jerks his head toward Leesim, an herbalist traveling from the Alke province.

I sigh, but follow him. I have no reason to be in the market and nowhere to be until the sun reaches the border mountains. This adventure is purely for Elias's needs.

Leesim looks as if he barely made it to Plen. He is an old, twiggy man with little muscle to him. He speaks easily with Elias about their trade, with their barks and leaves. Elias seems very pleased with the selection. I recognize many of the names of plants and what they are for, but I am no healer - the words do not excite me the way they do him.

A breeze catches my shirt, and I welcome the coolness. I don't usually wear such thin garments. My leathers are at home, with the rest of the trappings I carry. Elias insisted that attending the market armed would be rude, that it sets a bad example for Ethen. He has very complex ideas about etiquette, but I forgive him for it. His parents were artisans who received only very basic war training. Elias does not understand the prevailing Kaldari culture as I do. It is ironic, I think, since he is full Kaldari. I am not. Perhaps it is the blood of Elseth's Children running through my veins which causes me to care so much about Kaldari culture. I have much to prove to others as well as myself.

From my peripheral vision I see Kayl, headed directly for me. She is also out of her customary clothing, adopting softer, lighter attire. Her ruddy bronzed hair is tied back from her face, green eyes set against tanned skin. She has a lean build, but fights well - we have practiced the swords together many times. She claps me on the shoulder when she is in range.

"I didn't expect to see you here, friend," says Kayl.

"Expect to see him more often," Elias calls from over my shoulder, interrupting his exchange with Leesim. "He owes me a few outings."

I glare at him, but it is exaggerated. Though I show annoyance, I understand and appreciate Elias's intentions. Kayl finds this amusing.

"Have you heard about the raid?" Kayl asks, leaning on one hip. She holds a half-eaten apple in her free hand, spoils of the market.

"Last month?" I say.

"Last night," Kayl raises an eyebrow for emphasis. "All locals. Tileil lead them over to Chall. Twelve houses, gone."

Houses. "Violence breeds violence," I tell her simply. I do not hide my disdain well.

Raids between the Children of Elseth and the Kaldari have been more frequent lately. As Elseth's Land declines, tension between our people increases. The border raids are nothing but mere sniping; no goals are accomplished, outside of hurting each other. I do not find this efficient, or useful.

Kayl shrugs. "Well, if you didn't hear about it from me you would have heard about it tonight. Everyone on watch is talking about it."

"I am sure."

I have made her uncomfortable, but she recovers well. She manages to smile. "Well, until tonight I suppose. Nice seeing you again, Elias."

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Friday, June 13, 2014

"The Gift" by TNae Wilcox (Short Story)



Genre:  Gothic Romance

Type of Short Story:  Short Story

Summary:  George is an unhappy husband with one goal in life: to keep his wife, Lenore, happy. He unwittingly agrees to her sinister plan to make herself beautiful again, but it all backfires in a unexpected way.

Excerpt:

Lenore emerged from the bathroom dressed: black skirt and pink blouse. George followed her straight into the bedroom.

“Wow,” he said. It had been a long time since he’d seen his wife dressed up, and for the public-eye at that.

“Wish I could say the same for you.” She sighed. “Is that really what you’re wearing?”
He took a second to observe himself. His Pittsburg Steelers shirt was clean and ironed, and so were his black jeans.

“I’ll change,” he told her. He hugged her from behind as she stood in front of the full mirror beside the dresser, burying his face in her hair. She smelled so good—and it had been too long since they’d been intimate—that he pushed her hair aside and kissed her neck.

She pulled away and busied herself in a drawer. “You think they might let you fill out the paperwork?”

It was his turn to sigh. “I doubt it, but don’t worry. You look beautiful.” It had taken him time to be able to tell her that. Not because he didn’t think she looked good, but because he was afraid that she wouldn’t believe him. Then, he realized how ridiculous his reason was.

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