Excerpt From “Crystal Illusions” by J.E. Taylor

Assistant D.A. Carolyn Hastings has an uncanny knack for putting away criminals. With one of the best prosecution records in recent history, her future as Manhattan’s next District Attorney looks certain. But her sixth sense for winning cases threatens to work against her when she starts seeing a string of murders through the eyes of the killer.

With suspects piling up as fast as bodies, and the motives of those closest to her questionable, Carolyn doesn’t know who to trust. When the FBI assigns Special Agent Steve Williams to the case, Carolyn discloses her deepest fear – that the man she loves may be the one responsible for the city’s latest crime spree.

The only thing Steve knows for sure is Carolyn has an inexplicable psychic connection with the killer, and all the victims have one thing in common…a striking resemblance to Carolyn Hastings.

And he knows it’s only a matter of time before this psychopath knocks on her door.

Excerpt from Crystal Illusions:

Randy turned his head in her direction, the hot shower had done nothing to quell his aggravation and he carefully examined his response. How do I explain a black eye and the blood on my clothing to the assistant D.A? It was almost laughable, but the earlier events had dampened his mood. The truth would land him in a shitload of trouble, but he couldn’t brush it off either. “I went to meet a client and got mugged on the way back.”

Carolyn’s eyes grew hard as she took a step back. “I had another vision.” She took another step toward the bathroom door.

Randy’s eyebrows drew together at the question in her eyes. A vision, shit. She thinks I’m responsible? The sudden realization of her thought process burned through him like a ravaged wild fire. “You think I…”

Carolyn bolted out of the room.

“Fuck!” Randy cursed and grabbed a towel, sliding on the tile floor as he made a bid to catch her. Her hands shook as she tried to navigate the dead bolt on the front door and he grabbed her arm before she figured out how to unlatch it. He had to stop her, to convince her it wasn’t him and he spun her toward him. “I didn’t kill anyone.”

“But you weren’t mugged either!”

Randy’s shoulders slumped and his gaze traveled to the balcony and the bloody shoes. “No, I wasn’t mugged. But I’m not the Scarlet Psychopath either.” He brought his gaze back to hers.

“You were covered with blood when you came in, what the hell am I supposed to think?” She yanked her arm from his grasp. “And your face, that’s where she hit him with her purse.” Carolyn’s voice trembled as she pressed her back to the door.

The fear in her eyes churned his desperation into raging fury. She believed he was capable of murder, of killing innocent women—women that looked like her. “Go ahead, test the blood.” Randy pointed at the balcony, his anger bleeding from between his clenched teeth. “It’s beef and pork blood, from my family’s meat packing plant.” He turned and stormed back into the bathroom, slamming the door behind him.

He drew on a pair of jeans and returned to the living room “How the hell can you think I’m capable of that!” Anger radiated in waves.

Tears brimmed and slid down her cheeks. “Your trench coat, now this…”

“Jesus, Carolyn.” Randy ran his hand through his wet hair, her accusation stewing, stirring his anger into a tizzy.

“I couldn’t reach you the other night after the nightmare and tonight you weren’t here. Do you have an alibi for the other murders?”

Randy couldn’t believe her audacity, her ability to believe he was capable of such things. “If it happened at night, I was here. During the day I’m working.”

“Can anyone vouch for you?”

Randy’s jaw tightened, his teeth aching from the pressure. “I don’t know.”

Her head dropped to her chest and her lips pressed together. “I have to go.”

Of course she’s going to run. That’s what she does when things get tough. “I’ll take you home.” He turned before she could argue coming back moments later fully dressed. He grabbed his trench coat and ripped open the front door.

“Randy.” The glare he sent her stopped her in her tracks.

“You think I’m a murderer. What else can I say?” he snapped. “This…” He pointed between the two of them. “Is over.” He stabbed the down button and waited for the elevator.


“Taylor has a strong thriller where every single character has reasonable doubt flashing like a neon sign hanging over them, and right from the beginning you are trying to guess who the killer really is. Gripping, rich and magnificent – crime whodunnits don’t get any better than this!” Author Poppet / Gemma Rice – Author of Quislings, Blindsided, Djinn and Dusan

Amazon Link: http://www.amazon.com/Crystal-Illusions-Steve-Williams-ebook/dp/B007JBWCIQ/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1331505187&sr=8-1

Excerpt From “Gargoyles” by Alan Nayes

Brilliant pre-med student Amoreena Daniels needs money. Desperately. Her mother is dying of cancer and her medical insurance has run out. When a seemingly perfect women’s clinic offers Amoreena a generous payment for service as a surrogate mother, Amoreena thinks her prayers have been answered. But then—much too early—her baby begins to move.

The strange dreams, another surrogate’s mysterious death and a drug-addicted former medical intern confirm Amoreena’s worst suspicions: there is something terribly wrong with the pregnancy. Amoreena embarks on a dangerous journey to uncover the truth behind the endless battery of genetic tests, sonograms and frightened patients, only to discover that she has unwittingly become a pawn in a high-stakes game of biomedical experimentation.

GARGOYLES is book 1 of the Resurrection trilogy.

Excerpt (Chapter One):

Amoreena Daniels gazed at the woman retching into the plastic emesis basin and struggled to visualize her mom as she once was, her mom prior to the diagnosis, her mom minus the cancer. It was a difficult if not futile exercise.

Wearing a hospital gown that appeared two sizes too large, Geneva Daniels adjusted her brightly flowered scarf with one hand, the cloth a replacement for her once-vibrant tresses. Seated next to her, Amoreena counted another fresh bruise coalescing under her mother’s limpid skin, where an IV line replenished her fluid stores.

Room 441 on the University of California Medical Center oncology ward no longer seemed just a hospital room; rather, a bleak reminder of what physical devastation a disease run amuck could wreak on the human spirit. Even the astringent, aseptic smell failed to eliminate completely the specter of illness and suffering.

“Amoreena Daniels.” It was the ward clerk. She waited outside the door as if what lay inside was contagious.

“Hold on,” Amoreena said curtly, throwing her thick mane of auburn hair out of her face with a toss of her head. “You okay, Mom?” she asked, helping steady the basin.

Geneva coughed twice and nodded. “How ‘bout a cigarette?”

“Not funny.” Amoreena checked the basin. No blood, only thickened saliva. She carried the basin into the bathroom.

Geneva heard the water in the sink. “You’re just like your dad. No sense of humor.” It required two breaths and a coughing spell to expel the words.

Amoreena returned, setting the clean basin on the nightstand. “I’ll develop a sense of humor when you develop an appetite,” she said, studying her mother’s skin. She thought the sallow hue had lessened, or maybe it was just the fluorescent lighting. “And will you stop with the ‘Dad jokes.’ He doesn’t deserve it.”

“Ms. Daniels.” It was the clerk again. “Dr. Gillespie’s waiting.”

“Sure, all right.” Amoreena feigned a smile. It wasn’t the ward clerk’s fault her mother had metastatic cervical cancer. “Mom, I’ll see you before I leave.”

Geneva coughed deeply and spit into a Kleenex before finding some renewed vigor. “Amy…” She called her only daughter “Amy” with a short ‘a’ whenever their discussions centered on the serious. “When you’re through with Dr. Gillespie, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me now. He can wait.”

“No, later. Dr. Gillespie’s very busy.” She attempted a weak grin. “I’m not going anywhere. Yet.”

Amoreena bent low and pecked Geneva on the cheek. Her skin felt cold and dry on her lips. Not the way she wanted to remember her mother. “See ya.”

The conference room for the oncology ward was situated adjacent to the central nurses’ station. Amoreena was very familiar with it. It was in this very room six months ago that Dr. Gillespie had unleashed the appalling news that her mother’s cancer was a stage IV, metastatic. It had already invaded the liver and lungs. The revelation had given new meaning to the term shitty Monday. But there was still a fighting chance, he’d said. More out of a sense of duty than any realistic expectation of success, Amoreena surmised. Only later that night when she and her mom were alone did the real tears flow.

Dressed in faded denims and a loose scooped-neck T-shirt, Amoreena approached a man in a wheelchair. She moved with a certain aloofness that was both enticing and ingenuous.

The man waved. She returned the gesture. She’d seen him several times before during her prior visits, and each time he appeared thinner and more cachectic. Acute myelocytic leukemia.

“Heya, gorgeous,” he said, as she passed.

Amoreena allowed a smile. “How’s it going?”

“Another day, same old shit.”

Momentarily, she wondered how long he had. She didn’t even know his name. Quickly, she dismissed the thought when she observed the blinds to the conference room drawn shut. Ignoring the stares from the nurses and resident physicians, Amoreena paused at the door and inhaled. Fuck cancer. She knocked.

“Come in.” The voice sounded apologetic.

She entered and shut the door behind her.

Dr. Gillespie sat alone at a long table. Balding and bespectacled, he was an African-American with a well-trimmed gray beard. A medical chart lay open before him. He motioned her to a seat.

Finding the chair directly across from him, she didn’t miss the gyn-oncologist’s pained expression. The same expression he failed to mask six months ago.

In that one instant, Amoreena knew the news, whatever it was, was not going to be pleasant.

“So how’s premed these days?” he asked, breaking the ice.

Amoreena stifled saying ‘same old shit.’ “Fine,” she answered.


“Next fall with UCI, UCLA, and USC.”

“Want to stay in California.”

“UCLA’s my first choice. It all depends.” She left it hanging.

“Hm-hm.” Dr. Gillespie’s eyes scanned the blackboard.

Amoreena followed his gaze. Limned in chalk were clusters of cancer cells—she presumed they represented cancer cells—the big CA on an oncology ward was usually a dead giveaway. Adjacent to the diagram, a list of drug names had been scrawled. A second sketch demonstrated how these specific drugs attacked the foreign cells’ replicating system. Curing cancer was simply that. Stop the unauthorized replication and the patient survived. Amoreena wished it were that easy. Dr. Gillespie lightly tapped the chart on the table. “Your mother’s weight’s down.”

Amoreena felt a tinge of undeserved guilt. “I know, it’s almost like I have to force-feed her at home. This last round of chemo really took a lot out of Mom.”

“You and Geneva are waging a tough battle.” He hesitated, as if unsure how to proceed. “Amoreena…” he started again, but pursed his lips at the knock on the door.

Amoreena turned to find the door open and a woman filling the empty space. She was large, not fat, and exhibited an androgynous figure. She sported a business suit, one of those styles illustrated in catalogues targeted toward female corporate types who seemed to believe that becoming as successful as a man entailed dressing like one. The woman carried a thick satchel.

Without waiting for an invitation, she strode imperiously into the room and took the chair at the head of the table.

Dr. Gillespie made the introduction. “This is Ms. Rosalind Cates. She chairs our hospital’s utilization review committee. Her specialty is medical oncology.”

Amoreena sat in silence, staring at the only medical chart in the room. Her mother’s. With no prior experience, she suddenly knew she despised utilization review committees.

“It’s come to our attention, Amoreena,” the oncologist continued haltingly, “that…” There was another disquieting pause.

At this juncture, the imposing Ms. Cates grabbed the reins. “I’ll take it from here, Doctor,” she said.

The tone of the woman’s voice exhibited a callous knifelike quality very much like a personal-injury attorney Amoreena had seen pitching on late-night television.

Ms. Cates set her satchel on the table but remained standing. She placed both hands on the back of the chair. “Ms. Daniels, I believe your mother’s health care coverage had been provided by the Standard Care Insurance Company.”

Amoreena nodded. “That’s correct. And still is,” she added in rejoinder to Ms. Cates use of the word “had.”

Ms. Cates grunted. “Well, that’s the purpose of this meeting. As of the end of this month, Standard Care will no longer cover Geneva Daniels for health care needs. This includes any catastrophic coverage.”

Amoreena felt her face grow hot. “What do you mean?” She swiveled to face the oncologist. “Dr. Gillespie, what’s she talking about?”

“Ms. Daniels,” Ms. Cates interjected.

Amoreena ignored her. “What’s this lady got to do with Mom’s treatments anyway?”

Before the doctor could reply, Ms. Cates had removed a spiral-bound notebook from her satchel and placed it on the table. “Ms. Daniels, your mother was employed as a secretary for H&M Printing Press for fourteen years. Is that correct?”

Amoreena refused to make eye contact. “And she’d still be employed if her pap smears had remained normal.”

“When did her leave of absence commence?”

“Six months ago. After the diagnosis.”

Ms. Cates gave a satisfactory nod. “That partially explains the confusion.”

“Confusion?” Amoreena blurted out.

“Ms. Daniels, as of five months ago, H&M Printing has been in receivership, they’ve declared bankruptcy, and are no longer paying premiums for their employees’, including any retirees’ health care coverage. As per the law, Standard Care, as well as the human resources department at H&M, notified your mother numerous times that her medical coverage would be her responsibility. Unfortunately, Geneva Daniels failed to respond appropriately, no premiums were paid, and therefore, as of this moment, she is without coverage.”

Amoreena’s mouth felt gummy. No coverage. My God, she has metastatic cancer. She barely heard Ms. Cates continue.

“I took the liberty of presenting Geneva Daniels’s case to a group of other insurance agencies for gap coverage. However in light of your mother’s current situation, they felt it would not be in their best financial interests to intervene. One did agree, though, to issue a policy, however, it would not cover any preexisting conditions. I’ve referred her case to Social Services.”

Amoreena shook her head. “That’s fucking great.”


Amoreena stood. “What is this shit? This is a damn hospital isn’t it, or did I drive into the wrong parking garage?”

Ms. Cates cleared her throat. “There’s no need to be obscene, Ms. Daniels. I understand—”

“You don’t understand crap.”

“I understand this,” Cates retorted. “I’ve reviewed the chart and doctors’ notes regarding your mother’s treatments and at this stage of Geneva Daniels’s illness, her cost/benefit ratio fails to fall within the curve of a successful outcome. Unless you can devise alternative means to finance her treatments, I regret to inform you, your mother will be forced to seek care elsewhere once she is discharged.”


Alan Nayes was born in Houston and grew up on the Texas gulf coast. He lives in Southern California. He is the author of the critically-acclaimed biomedical thrillers, GARGOYLES (Book One in the Resurrection Trilogy) and THE UNNATURAL. His most recent releases are BARBARY POINT, SMILODON, GIRL BLUE and PLAGUE (Book Two in the Resurrection Trilogy)

An avid outdoorsman and fitness enthusiast, he is one of only a few individuals to ever swim across Wisconsin’s chilly Lake Winnebago. When not working on his next project, he enjoys relaxing and fishing at the family vacation home in Wisconsin. Website: http://www.anayes.com


Interview with: Alan Nayes,

Excerpt From “January’s Thaw” by J. Conrad Guest

Many people obsess over their past, but no one more than I. Perchance it’s because, as a man out of time, I left behind so much of it unlived. If that makes little sense, consider that I’m a time traveler.

Although the backdrop for my story is time travel and alternate realities, the underlying theme is a more human one—of love lost, another love found only to be lost, and of a decision, the result of a single regret brought about by the realization that my self-professed courage to never risk my heart to love was instead cowardice, to rectify a wrong in a life filled with myriad regrets. You may judge me, as it is man’s nature to judge others, or discount my story as the ravings of a lunatic mind or simply the fiction of an overactive imagination—but before you do, I ask that you read the words that follow and then ask yourself if you would have acted any differently.


I stooped to brush several grass clippings from the simple marble marker:

Lindy Parquette Roberts
Wife, Loving Mother
November 11, 1918-March 10, 1986

Beneath the sunshine of a late spring morning the moment seemed surreal. Only two days ago Lindy had been alive to me—beautiful, young, vibrant; now, beneath this close-cropped sod were her remains, ravaged by a disease that before yesterday I’d never even heard of. Dead at the age of sixty-eight.

I couldn’t begin to imagine what she must’ve looked like at the end, how she aged, after I disappeared. Was it arrogant of me to think she’d have been happier with me than John Roberts? Perhaps it was at that.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered to the marker, as if what lay beneath could hear me; the marble was cool to my touch despite the late morning sun, and I wondered if its chill might be representative of Lindy’s reaction to my presence, this clumsy attempt at apology. “I’m sorry I abandoned you as I did, but I’m most sorry for never having told you that I loved you.”

Wife, Loving Mother.

I felt the sting of tears, and I wondered what the marker might read, whether the lone adjective might be juxtaposed to a more prominent place had I not been suddenly thrust a century away from her.

“I’d like to think I could’ve made a difference,” I said, for Lindy’s benefit as well as my own. “But through hindsight we see ever so much more clearly.”

I sighed.

“Maybe it means nothing to you now, Lindy, but I promise that I will, somehow, make a difference.”

I touched fingers to my mouth, laid them on the marble, and told her again that I loved her.

A moment later I stood and made my way toward Ecstasy, who sat on the grass near the cemetery path. She offered her hand to me, an invitation to assist her to stand. I took it but instead sat down next to her. I listened a moment to the sounds of the city traffic that, moments ago, I hadn’t heard but now seemed to intrude upon our privacy.

“Thanks,” I said, “for giving me a moment alone.”

She gave my hand a gentle squeeze, perhaps uncertain how to respond.

No, I thought, she knows precisely how to respond; such simple acknowledgement says more than any number of words.

I was grateful for the tenderness of her simple gesture, as well as for the warmth that flowed from her touch. It was so like the warmth I’d gotten from Lindy two days ago—two days that had spanned a century; for me a lost opportunity of a lifetime, for her, perhaps a lifetime lost. Warmth I’d denied until it was too late.

“Strange,” I added, “but it’s difficult for me to reconcile the finality of that marker with the fact that she still lives in her own time.”

Ecstasy smiled, and I looked at her hair, spun gold that shone brilliantly in a variety of shades and textures that would surely drive mad an artist trying to duplicate them with the colors on his palette.

“In time that will be all that remains of all of us,” she said.

I nodded. “A name, three words and two dates.”

Ecstasy was too polite to ask so I told her: “‘Wife, Loving Mother.’” I sighed. “She even had her maiden name chiseled into the stone.”

And then, looking back toward Lindy’s grave: “I wonder where John Roberts lays.”

“Ah, Joe,” she said. “Don’t blame yourself for her un­happiness.”

“How can I not?”

“You can’t hold yourself accountable for the choices she made.”

“Choices she made subsequent to my abandonment of her, no doubt limited by the child with which I’d left her.”

“But your abandonment, as you call it, wasn’t your choice, and you can’t know how it would’ve turned out had you stayed.”

“That doesn’t assuage my guilt and regret.”

I looked at Ecstasy. A part of me despised her for the role she played in our tryst the other night, even as I detested myself for my weakness—and I wondered if I had reviled every woman I’d ever encountered over the years, and whether my hatred of my mother was why I’d treated them so callously.

But there was too much compassion in the blue of Ecstasy’s eyes and so I banished my resentment, sighed, looked away—a feeble attempt to create an illusion of dis­tance—and said:

“I’m not a hundred miles away from her, Ecstasy, or a thousand or ten thousand. Those distances I could surmount. But I’m a hundred years removed from her, helpless to find my way back to her, and now robbed of any chance to even repent.”

“One can always repent.”

“Little good that does her—now, then, and every moment in between.”

“Perhaps not, but you have a chance to live differently from this moment forward.”

“To give meaning to her unhappiness?”

“To do otherwise would be disrespectful to your memory of her.”

“Why doesn’t that make me feel better?”

“In time it will.”

I lay on my back, held up my left hand, watched it clench into a fist, let it drop to the ground beside me.

“I can’t even be sure she cares that I cared enough to visit.”

“She cares.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“Why wouldn’t she?”

My fist relented, its fingers now lay splayed flat; the grass felt cool against my palm. I could say nothing to contest Ecstasy’s wisdom. I’d found little comfort in visiting Lindy’s grave. Not that I’d expected to; but I derived much from the notion Ecstasy might be right.

“Come on,” I said, getting to my feet. “It’s warm here, under the sun, and you wanted to get over to Connie’s apartment to pack her things.”

I extended my hand and Ecstasy took it. She stood, and I embraced her and thanked her again. She said nothing as she returned my embrace. I held on to her tightly, as if my life depended on her, as indeed it did. I couldn’t hope to survive in this twenty-first century New York without a job, without money, a place to stay. Without her. I wondered if she was truly aware of my predicament, if she as yet believed that I’d come, literally, from out of the past, whether she could em­pathize, put herself in my place.

A moment later I found the courage to let her go and we slowly made our way toward the cemetery gate.

Leaving the cemetery seemed, somehow, therapeutic for me, as if I were leaving something behind, closing the door on a hundred years of lost living, although I was certain I was in no way finished with my grieving. It would be a long time before I realized I would never be quite done with that.


In 1992, a man approached J. Conrad Guest to tell his story. His name was Joe January. A private investigator from the South Bronx, circa 1940, January can best be described as an indignant Humphrey Bogart. That encounter resulted in January’s Paradigm. Current Entertainment Monthly in Ann Arbor, Michigan, wrote of January’s Paradigm, “Personal identity—the slipperiness and the malleability of it—makes up the major theme of the story … (readers) will not be able to put it down.” One Hot January and January’s Thaw are companion novels to January’s Paradigm, although they need not be read sequentially. Combined, they paint a profile of a man out of place out of time.

J. Conrad Guest is the author of Backstop: A Baseball Love Story in Nine Innings, also available from Second Wind Publishing. For a peek into J. Conrad’s literary world, please visit www.jconradguest.com.

Click here to read Chapter 1 of: January’s Thaw by J. Conrad Guest

Click here for an interview with: J. Conrad Guest, Author of “January’s Thaw”

Excerpt From “The Perplexing Problem of the Porcelain Bandits” by Dan Johnson


Alex Baker is underemployed and undermotivated, until a cop shows up at his door with strange news about his former housemate, Brent. This is a story of baseball cards, the Chinese Mafia, and many conversations over drinks. If John D. Macdonald and Chuck Klosterman had ever met in San Francisco and shared a few too many glasses of Plymouth, this is the novel they would have written together.


Monday. My day to check in at Brent’s old workplace and see what I could turn up. They’d have missed him on Friday, and at least I’d let them know that his absence from work wasn’t an instance of slacking. He didn’t deserve to die and then get fired for lack of attendance. The company name looked like that of a law or accounting firm, so I’d have to get over there before the official close of the workday at five.

In order to do that, I’d have to get out of my job early. As I said before, this isn’t much of a problem. By three o’clock on Monday, most of the marketing department was catatonic. My cube neighbor Raymond had already changed into a bright-orange shirt and gym shorts in preparation for an ultimate frisbee game, and Valerie from across the hall was furiously writing a detailed blog entry about her weekend of debauchery. She was closing in on forty and three years post-divorce. I was too scared to go out drinking with her – the word “cougar” didn’t do her justice.

“What’s a synonym for ‘hammered’?” she asked.

“Smashed?” I said.

She shook her head. “That’s not quite what I’m looking for. I’m trying to illustrate more of a classy drunkenness.”

“So like slightly-swaying-old-man-drunk, rather than fratboy-vomit-in-a-garbage-can drunk,” I said.

“Bingo. That’s exactly it. We were at Top of the Mark on Saturday night and this guy who was like sixty-five kept hitting on us by telling us all about how he’d owned his place in Pacific Heights for like thirty years or whatever, and how he’d just installed a hot tub. Totally insinuating that we should come back and hang out in his hot tub.”

“Why didn’t you?”

She grinned. “Not because we would have minded hot-tubbing. But we probably would have had to look at him naked. Old. Gross.”

“Snockered,” I said.


“Snockered. It’s an…”

“Right,” she said. “Perfect. An old-guy-drunk word.”

Our boss Phil showed up right then, doing his thing where he walked through the cubicle farm and asked what was going on. He wasn’t a Lumbergh – he dressed nicely but never wore those ridiculous colored-but-with-white-collar-and-sleeve-shirts – but he was still the guy who had to go through the painful half-year ritual where he told us that our performance had been average or just barely above, and that was why we were only getting two or three percent raises. Aside from that, he was a decent enough guy. He even put our drinks on the corporate credit card sometimes when we went out for Thursday evening happy hours. Still, when he came by, we all tried to look busy.

“What’s shaking?” he asked.

“The usual,” I said. “Just trying to get a few things out the door before I have to take off.”

“What? It’s only three.”

“Yeah,” I said, “But I have an appointment– remember, I e-mailed you about it a few weeks ago?”

“Oh,” he said. “Right.”

This was total bullshit. There was no e-mail. It didn’t matter because even if he looked for the e-mail (unlikely) and came back to me the next day with the point that he couldn’t find the early-leave-request-e-mail, I could always blame the e-mail system – a multiple-hacked version of Lotus Notes that seemed to think that the server was a Doberman and our messages were Snausages. He’d never go that far, though – if he came back to me and admitted that he hadn’t read the e-mail, that would be too close to admitting that he never read any of my e-mails, a fact that we both knew was absolutely true. But he knew that I knew that his calendar always showed that he was stuck in meetings from ten in the morning until the end of the workday on Fridays during ski season. It was kind of like the office version of Mutually Assured Destruction.

“So I’ll be gone in about twenty minutes,” I said.

“OK,” said Phil. “Anything serious?”

“Can’t really talk about it,” I said. That’s what I always said. If someone had been keeping track, they’d have noticed that I had more doctor’s appointments than a chronically incontinent hemophiliac. Nobody was keeping track.

“Well, break a leg,” he said. “See you tomorrow.”

See you tomorrow meant that Phil was going to go back to his office and not emerge until five fifteen, when he’d barrel straight from his door to the exit door in the hopes of not encountering his boss, Howard Maloney, who would sometimes demand progress reports or flow documents, which would mean that the rest of us would get panicked overnight e-mails from Phil demanding that we produce appropriately long PowerPoint presentations with enough jargon to satisfy Maloney. Marketing is weird. All we did was produce PowerPoints, and somehow that was all that we needed to do.

I headed north on Montgomery to Jackson, then crossed over to Sansome. 731 was a nondescript white building with glass doors and a copy shop on the first floor. The directory on the outside listed Jackson West Phillips and Cairney on the second floor. I dialed the code on the little phone pad.

“Jackson West Phillips Cairney,” said a female voice.

“Hi,” I said. “Um, I’m here to talk to someone about Brent…I mean, David Jones.”

“Oh, we were wondering about him,” she said. “Why don’t you come up?”

The door made a buzzing sound, and I pushed it open and walked to the elevator. It was a slow elevator, the kind that makes mysterious groaning sounds. When the doors opened, I walked into an office that looked almost exactly like mine, a gray-walled cubicle farm with a receptionist who looked vaguely like Phoebe Cates from Fast Times at Ridgemont High, sitting behind a frontless desk that showed where her lithe legs would have been if she hadn’t been wearing knee-high, heeled leather boots.

She looked up at me as I entered, and her gaze stopped me in my tracks. I stood there, stunned, for a few seconds, until the elevator tried to close on my shoulder bag. She smiled; obviously this had happened before.

“Hi,” she said. “Did you just buzz in?”

A tongue stud flashed when she talked.

“Yep,” I said. “I’m here about David Jones.”

“Right,” she said. “Let me get you Gabriel Beck. He’s David’s boss.”

“Was,” I said.

She cocked an eyebrow.

“Oh,” I said. “Um…yeah.”

“Huh,” she said, then bent her head to the phone. I couldn’t overhear what she was saying.

“Have a seat,” she said. “Gabriel will be right out.”

Gabriel kept me waiting for ten minutes, then appeared from a side door that was so flush with the wall I hadn’t noticed it before.

“Ah, you’re the one with news on our missing fellow,” he said. “Come into my office.”

I didn’t like Gabriel. He was like Pigpen from Peanuts, except instead of being surrounded by dirt, he was enveloped in a cloud of smarm. Gabriel wore a light blue Lumbergh shirt, no belt, and suspenders. His desk was littered with four to-go Starbucks cups, and he had a coffee-stained StressBustR squeeze ball next to his computer mouse. I sat down on the hard plastic chair across from him, and he folded his hands and smiled at me. One of his front teeth was fake; the gumline around it had turned dark from coffee and cigarettes. He closed the smile and started to talk.

“So,” he said. “What’s going on with David? Why isn’t he here explaining why he bailed out on a project that was on deadline for Monday, leaving me to cover for his lazy ass all weekend? Is he off in one of those rehab centers? He didn’t strike me as someone with a coke problem, but you just never know with you kids.” He ran a finger slowly down his gray-stubbled cheek. “And it really doesn’t speak well for him that he sent someone else to talk for him instead of just picking up the phone…when you see him, you can let him know that we’re seriously considering our other options as far as his employment status is concerned.”

“David’s dead,” I said. “He was hit by a car the other day after work.”

“Oh,” said Gabriel. He didn’t say anything, and I waited for a bit, then filled the silence.

“I’m one of his housemates,” I said. “But…”

“Well, I guess I won’t be firing him, then.” said Gabriel. He looked at me.

“Yes,” I said. “But…well, I need to get in touch with his parents. We don’t have their number, and, um…we didn’t know him as David Jones.”

“What was his name?” asked Gabriel.

“Brent,” I said. “Scalia. Brent Scalia.”

“Oh my God,” said Gabriel. “Do you know what this means?”

“That he was a strange guy?” I said.

“No,” he shook his head. “It means that we could get sued. If it comes out that we hired someone with fake documentation, we could be in huge trouble. We’re a financial institution. Have you told the newspapers about this yet? If you haven’t, don’t. One second.”

He punched a button on the phone. “Morgan? Can you pull David’s HR file and bring it over here, please? The whole thing. I know there are some things I’m not supposed to see; bring them anyway.”

Gabriel hit the button again and turned to me. “Do you understand what a revelation like this can do to a business like ours? I don’t think you do. Christ, I’ve got a case of the Mondays!” He started to twitch, and little half-moons of sweat had appeared under his arms. He started frantically typing, muttering as if I wasn’t there.

“He’s dead, so he won’t complain, and all we really have to do is get rid of some of his e-mails or assign some to my name, and we can say that we fired him before he kicked the bucket. All of mine asking where he was were to his work e-mail, and all we have to do is figure out when his last sent mail was and then manufacture a termination letter for that evening.” He looked at me, and his voice changed. “I’m sorry to say this, but David was fired right before his unfortunate passing. Perhaps it was a suicide.”

“Are you joking?” I said. “I’ve just heard you change his status right in front of me. You can’t do that.”

“Of course I can,” said Gabriel. “If you’d waited another week we would have recorded his hours for last week in payroll and it would have gone to the payroll company, but…that went out on Friday. There’s no record of this conversation. If it’s not on paper or in the database, it doesn’t exist. Of course, you’ll want to notify his parents. I’m having Morgan bring in his personnel records. Let’s just go out and get them.”

Gabriel grabbed me by the arm and took me over to the door. He bustled me across the office, never letting go of my elbow as he did so. The secretary from the front was kneeling in front of a file cabinet, a pile of manila folders stacked to her left.

“Did you find it?” asked Gabriel.

“Yep, here it is,” she said, handing over a folder. “Just got it now. Both copies that we had in the files.”

“Great!” he said. “You do good work, Morgan.”

Gabriel took the papers out of the folder and dropped them into the industrial-sized shredder. It hummed, whirred, and spit out a stream of paper spaghetti into a can filled with similar-lengths of paper spaghetti.

“There,” he said, smiling. For the first time, the smile reached his eyes.

“Did you just shred his employment records?”

“Shred what?” he said. “He demanded his records after we fired him. We gave him the originals, and these copies have been unfortunately lost. Morgan, can you please escort him out? All the way out.”

Morgan walked over and took my arm, leading me to the elevator. At some point she had undone two of the buttons of her white dress blouse, revealing a very smooth swath of pale upper-chest skin. It wasn’t cleavage or anything, but if that kind of thing is staring you in the face it’s kind of hard not to look. The door opened, we entered, and Morgan didn’t let go of my arm.

We walked out onto the street. Morgan reached inside her blouse and brought out a thin metallic case. She clicked it open and took out a thin cigarette and tiny lighter.

“I take smoke breaks every hour,” she said. “Although I don’t smoke, in case you were wondering.” Click. Flame. Inhale.

“I wasn’t,” I said. “Wondering, I mean. I don’t smoke either. But I don’t have problems with people who do. I mean, I don’t like smoke much, but I think people should be able to…”

My babbling was interrupted by the roaring of a diesel MUNI bus. She grinned at me again. I could feel the scorching waves coming off of my cheeks, and I could be pretty confident that I was now roughly the color of a Roma tomato. A real one, not the crap they sell in the grocery store in the winter.

“So…” she said.

“Nice to meet you,” I said.

“I didn’t,” she said. “Do you have a name?”

“Alex,” I said.

“I’m Morgan,” she said, extending a hand.

“I got that,” I said. I’d left Roma tomato behind at this point and was now approaching ketchup.

“Um…” I said.

She raised her eyebrows in the way that mothers do to a three-year old who’s having trouble finding the right words.

“You need some help,” she said. “I might be able to help you.”

“How? He shredded everything.”

She snorted. “So?”

“What do you know?”

She snorted again. “Not here.”

We paused.

“So, do you…uh…maybe want to get a drink sometime?” I said.

Her eyebrows fell, and she smiled. “That’s more like it..”

“Great,” I said, reaching into the pocket of my shoulder bag and coming up with a battered black PaperMate. “I don’t think I have any paper.”

“You don’t need one,” she said. She drew a small card from her cigarette case and took a pen out from behind her ear.

“Here’s my number and my e-mail,” she said. “Call me any time.”

“OK,” I said. She smiled again when she handed me back the folder. “Nice to meet you, Alex.”

“Same,” I said. She turned around and walked back into the building, her heels click-clacking as she went.


Dan Johnson lives in San Francisco where he worked full-time in software and squeezed in writing when he could. He earned his MA in fiction writing from San Francisco State, is a co-founder of burritophile.com, and has written for numerous Web and print publications.

You can find out more about Dan at his website: perplexingproblem.com

Excerpt from “Crime and Drugs on Trip City Street” by Timothy Louis Baker

At only four years old, Kevin Gregory Wilson entered a life of crime on the streets of New York City. Saving his money, he began plans for building a terrorist army when he was only 10. The most powerful man in the world by the time he turns 40, the huge amount of money he amassed through organized crime allows him to finally build his army…the army that will launch an assault upon the U.S. government military bases. Will the government discover Kevin Gregory Wilson,s New Army and stop them? Or will he and his army overpower the entire population of the earth and rule it under the anarchy of crime?


Now in this crime syndicate on Trip City Street of New York, New York, there was an upper silent circle of men who were bosses and who served those who made the money they got a cut from. They were made men. In this silent circle, guy A knew guy B and guy C knew guy B but guy A didn’t know who guy C was nor did guy C didn’t know who guy A was. Guy B knew both who guy A and guy C were and everything coming or going from one to the other up to his boss, who neither guy A nor guy C knew either. The silent circle then kept all protected as long as guy B never talked. In this crime ring the guy B never did.

In 2018 there was a party for all of the upper silent circle on Trip City Street and Budweiser was the “in” drink at this party-down-big-time party-down-place from a long-timeway- ago-back past. Along with whiskey and Coke to mix it with and pot, acid, cocaine, crack, what have you in the doings of the people of the party there on Trip City Street. It was the host’s stuff from and where the one getting and giving the stuff is silent in the inner circle and gets his stuff from out of town or more usually from out of the country there on Trip City Street, New York, New York, USA,

Planet Earth, in the solar system where all of that space is. The guests kept thinking about the effects of the drugs as the leader of the group who lived in the rich neighborhood was speaking, keeping the audience spellbound in their thoughts about the glorious subject of crime and drugs.

The host, Craig, who was the rich upper man of this crime syndicate was saying, “We all jumped off the back of the boat into the water off the dock and swam to the dock on the other side of the harbor and climbed up on it and took off running before any of the Feds could catch up to us. They fired guns, and believe it or not, on top of that entertainment center where that hole is in that hat is where the bullet that almost got me! No shit! They got the boat and the shit but we managed to escape and I almost bought it.” Girls cooed and men stood in awe and said, “Wow!” and another said, “No shit?” and yet others simply stated awe in their breath.

The bravest one there, Jack, the drug runner, the one who worked for the man who owned the house and the one who did all of the dirty work, found it amusing that all of the man’s adventures were not nearly as close to being as dangerous as the life he had led. It was a remarkable life he had led to get this together and piece by piece he knew he had many times the amount of lore and guts, life to death closer than anything Craig had ever or would ever have done. He knew it would take a long time to get it all together, what he had done, but he also knew it could come apart at any second in time.

The house was an expensive huge mansion, Craig’s home away from home of his penthouse apartment, and even for the rich man Craig, it was expensively decorated with the souvenirs from various places he’d been to see about the things pertaining to crime of other nature than setting up a deal, before he did this softer, easier, less dirty work of smuggling drugs into the country. He used to smuggle other things from foreign countries overseas, stolen stuff, foreign guns, diamonds, jewelry, paintings, other art works, and now drugs instead. It brought more money to smuggle the drugs instead of all of the latter, which are less risky. The drugs are more risky but paid well if you dealt in large enough amounts of business and used to have and still had other businesses, stolen cars, chop shops, prostitution, and drug sales in and around Trip City Street.

The carpet in the house was deep plush and there was a linoleum kitchen floor. There was deep brown paneling, dark brown fine furniture, and he even had a pool table at the back of the apartment with a bar in it, and they were all in that room having the party together, and taking the drugs continued for quite some time.

Other people told other lore. Some of it was quite good. One man after another challenged each other with previous experiences, the bravest things they’d ever done, the closest to getting caught without getting caught, the most dangerous things they’d ever done, the closest they’d ever been to getting double crossed by someone else in the drug world, the closest they came to getting busted, and a whole multitude of things to match that and the henchman Jack was aware the whole lot of them hadn’t done as much close calls to death or any other danger as the ones he’d personally done. The total amount was more than what they’d all done combined, all of their experiences they talked about, and he knew they talked about all of them and had a good time with them. The stories were silent of other names because that was the silence in which they lived and died by hopefully. So they snorted lines of cocaine and smoked the dank shit (that’s how fresh it was), which they dried out under light bulbs first, and drank their casual party beer. It was a better party than Craig ever expected. It was just a casual beer and dope party with a group that worked together for a man who worked for somebody else and neither Craig nor the others there, nor the others not there any of them dealt with, never say anything to anybody about anything ever or the vow of silence was broken, and if you ran, you’d be found quicker than you could get away. There would be no reason for you to run because you would be found.

The inner circle was assembled within the New York City part in Trip City Street. The bosses of the boys were gathered together there.

Crime was what was going on. What one man stole another man fenced but it passed from one to another by a boss of a lower or the upper inner silent circle. Drugs were also dealt. Where they came from and where they went was the inner circle of silence. No one ever told, as it would have been pointless to do so, there was nowhere to go, nowhere to hide. The hit man would find you wherever you were, and you would be found where there would be a hit man to find you and you would be on a contract, with your death warrant signed by yourself.


Timothy Louis Baker has published five books. He is a maintenance technician for a machine service shop. Timothy resides in Paulding, Ohio.

Crime and Drugs on Trip City Street by Timothy Louis Baker Available @ http://fantasticfloridafun.com @ http://timbaker.bookblogworld.com @ http://www.authorsden.com/timothylbaker @ http://tinyurl.com/457nas7

Click here for an interview with: Timothy Louis Baker, Author of “Crime and Drugs on Trip City Street”

Excerpt From “The Blasphemer” by John Ling

When Abraham Khan releases an e-book condemning radical Islam, the consequences hit him fast and hard — an armed fanatic smashes into his home one evening, trying to kill him. He survives the harrowing attempt. Just barely. But will he survive the next one?

Maya Raines is the security operator brought in to protect Abraham. She is tough and committed. The very best at what she does. Always one step ahead of the threat.

But Abraham is no ordinary principal — he will not hide, and he will not stay silent. And as rage explodes on the streets and the nation is propelled to the brink, Maya will have to ask herself the hardest question of all: how far would you go to protect one man’s right to speak?


Samir had decided that tonight would be the night. As he sat in his car with the engine off, he stared at the house across the street. The rain had eased to a trickle, and he could see movement past the windows. The man of the house was helping his wife set the table for dinner. Curtains billowed, hiding the man’s face. But Samir knew it had to be him. The apostate. The blasphemer.

Samir exhaled, feeling so many things at once. Joy and hate. Faith and doubt. Excitement and fear. Which was which? He could no longer tell. Pain started to bloom in his temples, and he could feel it reaching into his eyeballs, stabbing him in sync with his heartbeat. That damn headache was back.

He clenched his jaw, trying to tough it out. He didn’t want to medicate himself. Didn’t want to risk dulling his senses, blunting his edge. But in the end, the migraine proved too crushing, too searing, and he relented. A bit of pain was good for the spirit, yes, but too much would be a hindrance.

Opening his glove box, he pulled out a paracetamol blister pack. The foil packaging crackled and popped as he pressed out two pills. He had no water, so he dry-swallowed them. It took him three tries and a fair bit of retching before they went down.

Breathing through his teeth, he was tempted to lean back against his seat. To close his eyes. To wait for the pain to fade. But he stopped himself. For a week now, he had barely slept and had eaten only a little. The fasting had purified his soul but wrecked his body. Nodding off now would be too easy. Far too easy. So he forced himself to stretch, to straighten. Yes, tonight would be the night. God had chosen him to be a mujahid. A holy warrior. He knew he had to obey.

Unzipping the bag beside him, he pulled out a pistol. It gleamed black, looking like the ugliest thing, its icy metal chilling him through his glove. Biting his lip, flexing his fingers, he raised the gun, uncomfortable with how big and heavy it felt. It was a Norinco. A forty-four calibre. The Asian guy who had sold it to him had called it the Desert Eagle of China. Top-shelf quality. Rock-bottom price. Superb stopping power. Two hundred dollars had sealed the deal.
But now, thinking back, he wondered if he had been too hasty. Perhaps he could have haggled for a lower price. Perhaps. But, ah, what did it matter now? He had his weapon, and it would serve its purpose. Yes, it would.

Reaching into his bag once more, he drew out an ammunition magazine. It held seven rounds. Remembering what the seller had taught him, he checked the gun’s safety catch, making sure it was secure. Then he tilted the gun to one side, lining up the magazine with the bottom of the handgrip, slotting it in smoothly until it locked into place. Finally, holding the gun straight, he reached for the slide above the barrel. Pulling it, he chambered a round with a satisfying click-clack. Oh yes. He had to admit that the sound gave him a small thrill. Made him feel like a real soldier.


He relished the word.

Retrieving another magazine from his bag, he slipped it into his jacket’s left pocket, while the gun went into the right. That gave him a total of fourteen rounds to play with. Inshallah, it would be enough.

Samir bowed his head. ‘Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim…’ In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful. He recited the eighty-seventh surah, a favourite of the Holy Prophet. ‘Success comes to him who grows, who remembers the name of his Lord, who performs his prayer. It is better to forsake the ways of the world, for heaven is everlasting. Yes, this is inscribed in the scrolls of the ancients…’

Samir nodded, inhaling deeply. His migraine had dimmed to an insignificant throb. Alhamdulillah. He was ready. Pulling his jacket’s hood over his head, he pushed his car door open, stepping out on to the sidewalk. A puddle splashed under his shoe. Raindrops prickled his face. He shut his door and locked it.

That’s when footsteps came up behind him. He froze, and adrenalin spiked in his stomach. Had he been discovered? Had someone called the police on him? Shaking, he fumbled for the gun in his pocket, his thumb finding the safety. All he had to do was flick it off, and the gun would be ready to fire. And he whirled, ready to unleash hell. But—damn it—it was just a woman with an umbrella walking her dog. Twisting his lips, feeling foolish, he swallowed the knot in his throat and relaxed his grip on his gun, but not by much.

The dog sniffed at him, its tongue lolling and dripping saliva, and he backed up against the side of his car. He didn’t know what breed it was. Didn’t care. The imam at his mosque had warned him about the uncleanliness of dogs. Yes, they were useful for guarding and hunting. But as pets? Playthings? Never. It was haram— forbidden.

The woman smiled at Samir. But he just stared. Yes, he could kill her right now if he wanted to—her and her filthy dog. Stroking the curve of his gun’s trigger, he allowed the fantasy to linger, watching as they rounded the corner. When they were gone, he shook his head and exhaled. He had been so close—too close—to losing control.

God is challenging you. Placing obstacles in your path. Seeing if you are worthy. But… of course you are worthy. You will not deviate from the path. You will not falter. Your heart is pure. Your faith is strong. Your cause is just.

Samir shook his head harder and crossed the street.

The house was one of the prettiest in the neighbourhood. A large two-storey, it sat last on the block, shaded by a willowy tree, its lawn decorated by bonsai shrubs, flower beds and a bubbling fish pond. A short white fence completed its charm. Made it picture perfect. Like a postcard image. More than anything, Samir wished it would burn. All of it.

He approached the house from the back, his eyes darting to make sure he was alone. Nervous energy pulsed through him, warm and dizzying. His body tensed. Like a spring coiled up to its tightest.

Do it. Just do it. Do not hesitate. Never hesitate.

He broke into a running start, jumping the fence, clearing it, the breeze tousling his hood. But his landing on the other side was clumsy. He slipped on the wet lawn, the soles of his shoes squeaking, and he dropped to his knees, skidding as he did, the freshly cut grass loose, its earthy smell tickling his nostrils. Jerking his head this way and that way, he panted, his heart thundering. Had someone heard him? Curses. He almost lost his nerve. Almost clambered back over the fence. Almost ran away. But—no—he crossed his arms over his chest and clutched himself tight. Head bowed, he whispered rapid-fire verses about courage and fortitude and self-belief and staying the course.

Restrain your fear. God is with you. God is always with you. Do not deviate from the path. Not now. Not when you are so close. For it is not your will that matters. It is God’s will. Always God’s will.

Slowly, surely, his panic eased, and when Samir looked up, he realised that nothing had stirred around him. No lights came on. No footsteps approached. No one shouted. Nothing. He was safe. Alhamdulillah. God had preserved him despite his clumsiness. Alhamdulillah.

He started to move.

Keeping himself low, he inched towards the pond.

Colourful fish darted as he drew close.

Curious, he dipped his fingers into the bubbling water. It was warm. Artificially heated. He scoffed. How could it be that the apostate treated his fish better than he treated his own people?

In his mind’s eye, Samir remembered something he had seen in the news—a kafir helicopter strafing and rocketing a Muslim home, turning it into smouldering rubble. Heinous. Yet, as bad as the kafir were, the apostate was worse. Much worse. For he had chosen to side with them.


Seething, Samir felt his way around the circumference of the pond and found wires. He followed them, and they led him straight to the power socket. He tore off its plastic cover and yanked the electrical plug loose. The water stopped bubbling. Good. The fish could freeze for all he cared.

He turned his attention to the smooth rocks decorating the edge of the pond. Picking up one as big as his palm, he weighed it in his hand. Too small. Too light. Dropping it, he chose another rock, this one as large as his fist. He had to stretch his fingers to grip it. Yes, this one would do nicely.

Cradling the rock against his chest, he drew his gun. He looked past the patio, past the deck chairs, past the potted plants. Finally his eyes settled on the glass door that led to the living room. He thought of his children, Abu and Fatimah. Still so young. Still so innocent. He hoped they would understand. He hoped they would be proud. And with that, he thumbed his gun’s safety catch off.


John Ling is a Malaysian-born writer based in New Zealand.

By day, he works as a producer at TVNZ, the nation’s largest broadcaster. By night, he is the managing editor of Kia Kaha Press, a publishing imprint.

You can visit his website at http://www.johnling.net

The Blasphemer is available now as $2.99 e-book from Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/The-Blasphemer-ebook/dp/B006QZ7BL4/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1325828780&sr=8-5

Click here for an interview with: John Ling, Author of “The Blasphemer”

Excerpt From “Epiphany” by Stuart Land

Doctor Sam Enright and his geneticist wife, Dorinda, face turmoil in their small town when a dozen adolescent girls show up pregnant at Sam’s office—and they’re all virgins. When their own daughter falls victim to the same fate, the Enrights rush to Homeland Security for answers. As the questions multiply, they realize they are at the vanguard of a worldwide epidemic, and the mystery deepens. As events escalate, a disparate group of international doctors, scientists, and mothers-to-be are brought together at Dorinda’s genetics lab in Middle America. They race to find the cause and meaning of the mysterious pregnancies, but every discovery reveals a new, worse scenario, leaving humanity’s very existence in question.


Ayira Akilah Mukendi slipped silently through the curtained doorway, away from the sleeping breath of her brothers and sisters. She crept along the edge of her family hut, staying within the full-moon shadow beneath the thatched roof overhang. Her neighbor’s two mixed-breed dogs, scampering playfully in the path that ran by their huts, rolled to their feet and froze, ears pricked, muzzles searching for a scent. The smaller mutt challenged her with a yelp. Ayira stepped from the safety of darkness and stooped to the ground, hushing the dogs with a gentle word. Their tails whirled as they pranced over to her, licked her outstretched hand, then trotted off as she stood and moved back into the shadows. With a sigh, she leaned against the wall to gather her courage and pressed her fingers to the still sun-warm dried mud knowing this was her last touch of home.

Looking out over the twisted branch fence she and her mother had laced together, Ayira strained her eyes to see down the rocky path that wound through the village. Frightful expectation hung in the air and clung to her like sweat. She listened intently above the incessant chirps and chatter of jungle nightlife, for not everyone was asleep. In the distance, the grumbling of the village elders came on the night air, rising and falling like angry cats. Soon, their words would cease and the decisions they made would force their actions.

Before this night, she’d never thought of choices, for her destiny, the same as everyone in her tribe through all generations, was determined by those who preceded her.

But now, in her thirteenth year, choice had come to Ayira unbidden the moment the elders had made their determination. She immediately set upon an act that would change the fate of the life growing within her and that of the mja, foreigner, who’d given her a glimpse of a reality beyond her own imaginings. Even as she grasped the small bundle of clothes and food tighter to her chest, and forced her legs to follow her will down the path, she didn’t consider the consequences to herself.

Her eyes brushed over each hut she passed, thatch or stone, grass or mud, not so much looking for danger as committing the huts to memory. The aroma of boiled and fried food, always in every breath, saturating the vapor-warm air during the day, was gone now from the cool night. When she reached the field where the path broke from the village, the insects that had retreated into the grass and trees to drone their mating calls went quiet. She leapt into a full sprint as if trying to outrun her own shadow stretching out before her, and left behind the only world she’d ever known.

Within a minute, she was at the mja hut, built away from the village. This hut, clinging to the edge of the jungle in seeming desperation to hold its place between nature and man, was a welcoming gesture, the elders had told him. It was to assure him privacy, to thank him for his helpful efforts with his Western knowledge of food production and clean water. But Ayira knew that although his knowledge was welcomed, he was not. A field’s distance from the village was but an invisible barrier to keep his strange odor and any unwanted influence at bay. His hut, built of stone, mud and thatch was similar to others in the village but for the wood plank widows and doors that sealed him in at night. To the elders, those secured entries and the several hundred meters of dirt and brush, had not done the job, so it came to them to put their world back to order.

Ayira approached cautiously, for she’d never been to the outsider’s hut. The entire village was warned to keep safe distance, especially at night, for bad things can happen in the dark. She didn’t believe any of the children’s tales told about outsiders, but her heart seemed to pound as loud as her fist rapped upon his plank door.

“Bwana David, Bwana David! Nisaidie, tafadhali! Help me, please! They come.”

A voice from sleep called back. “Nini? What? Who’s out there?”

“It is I, Ayira Mukendi. Please, open door. You must come with me now.”

Angled shafts of light moving through cracks, scuffling feet, then the door pulled back. David, squinting and shirtless, peered down with his flashlight beam into Ayira’s frantic eyes. “What’s wrong, Ayira? Are you sick?”

She glanced at his concerned young face, then grabbed his hand and tugged. “We must go now, Bwana David. They come for you.”

He grasped her shoulder with his free hand, steadying her trembling body. “Hold on, Ayira. What are you talking about? Who’s coming for me?”

Tears came with her words. “Wazee, elders, believe you made me with child and come ninyiua, kill you.”

He jerked away from her, breaking their connection. “What?!”

Ayira reached out to him, but he stepped back. “They no believe me. I say not you.”

“Well—Well, you have to tell them who it was then. You did tell them, didn’t you?”

“I could not.” Ayira’s eyes fell to the ground. “I mean, I tell, but they no believe.”

“Well, why not, for Christ’s sake?”

Her eyes suddenly grew wide. “Usu! Quiet!”

Whipping around, Ayira scanned the open field, angling her head. She turned back, hands clasped together. “We must go now! They come.”

“Wait. I’ll get dressed and talk to them.”

“La! No!” She grabbed his hand again, pulling in desperation. “If find me here, kill us both.”

David wrenched away from her to stare back toward the village. Bobbing firelight flickered through the swaying brush, harried voices arrived sharply with the breeze. The sudden sweat surfacing on his skin was a prelude to his actions. He grabbed the small backpack off the end of the bed, and flung himself out the door pulling Ayira along by the wrist. When they reached the Jungle, Ayira moved in front.

“You must follow me. We take path animal, not path people.”

They ran at a quick pace, Ayira scouting ahead, David continuously glancing back, panting with rising fear. Within the cover of the trees the spongy ground absorbed the shock of their heavy strides, but through the intermittent open spaces, sharp grasses sliced at their arms as their heels pounded against the hard, rutted path that twisted their toes. Several minutes in, Ayira veered off the main trail, pushing easily through bushes and branches clouding the way. Though the jungle floor hid beneath spidery branches and broad ferns, she read the way by following the line of sparser vegetation ahead of her. This path was soft but firm, for animal feet didn’t wear away the soil down to the roots and rock.

“Good you take our ways, Bwana David. Other waja, foreigners, cannot walk in bare feet.”

“Ayira, you have to tell me who did this to you.”

She glanced back as they crossed an open patch of brush and grass, moonlight glinting off teary eyes. “It was nobody, Bwana David.”

David’s eyes raked her with bewilderment. In other parts of the continent her protruding stomach might be from malnutrition, but not here. He knew his comment sounded ridiculous as it left his lips.

“Maybe you ate something.”

“No. I am with child.”

“But, Ayira, what you’re saying isn’t possible if you haven’t been with a man.”

“The elders do not care what possible. They know not the way of outsiders, so believe you made possible. They know I not lie with mawanaume kijiji, village man.”

“Well, how do they know that?”

“They have looked me and my kizinda is there, still.”


Stuart Land began writing in 1986 while working as a sculptor in the film and theme park industry in Los Angeles. His first effort was a novel, but after working on many well-known films such as Aliens, Predator, The Abyss, Poltergeist 2, Independence Day and many others, he turned his passion to screenplays. He took a number of high profile screenwriting courses, attended many seminars, and belongs to a long list of screenwriting organizations. As an adjunct to screenwriting, Stuart was mentored in film directing by Jim Pasternak, Dov S-S Simens and others, and mentored in film producing by Fred Caruso, all well-known industry professionals.

He has completed seventeen screenplays, five novels, and written/produced/directed/edited four short student films, and a spec TV series.

Stuart’s screenplays have been optioned and placed second, fifth, finalist, and semi-finalist in noted screenplay contests.

Stuart’s second novel, Back from the Dead: the true sequel to Frankenstein, was originally published in 2005, and was a finalist in the International Writemovies Contest. The rewritten second printing is available now, in eBook (ALL FORMATS) and a print.

His third novel, SHADOW HOUSE, was a quarterfinalist in the Amazon Break Out Novel Awards, and is available now, in eBook (ALL FORMATS) and a print.

ORIGINAL BLOOD, , EPIPHANY, and now, CLAIMING LIVES, are also published in eBook (ALL FORMATS) and a print.

A short story is included in the anthology, Lost in Thailand, published in 2009.

Stuart runs creative writing workshops in beautiful Chiang Mai, Thailand, where he also consults and mentors writers one-on-one to elevate their writing to the next level. He has an editing service for fiction and nonfiction.


Excerpt From “Forever Young: Blessing or Curse” by Morgan Mandel

A 55 year old’s world collapses when her husband is killed in a hit and run accident. In desperation, she takes an experimental pill to spin her back and hold her at 24 forever, without losing any of her memories. What an amazing invention. It seems too good to be true. There has to be something wrong with it. Maybe there is.

Forever Young: Blessing or Curse was born through my wishful thinking. Now that I’m growing older, like many in the Baby Boomer generation, I wonder what it would be like to be young again, yet keep all my memories.

The heroine in this book gets that opportunity. She spins back to an earlier age. That’s when her life spins out of control.


A limp object lay sprawled in the parking lot where Dorrie was to meet her husband. It looked like, no it couldn’t be…

Pulse pounding, she hit the brakes and flung open the door. A few steps, and she stood staring in disbelief at her husband’s still form. That red streak didn’t belong in Larry’s salt and pepper hair, nor should it mar his olive skinned cheeks, and trickle onto his white cotton shirt.

She groped in her purse for the smartphone. Fingers shaking, she dialed 911. “There’s been an accident at the Life is for Living Institute. I need an ambulance. Hurry, please.”

A helpless feeling engulfed her. If only she knew first aid, but in all her fifty-five years, she’d never bothered to learn. She had to do something, but what? Bending down, knees scraping the asphalt, she touched her husband’s hand. “Larry, it’s all right. I’m here.” She wanted to be brave for him, but couldn’t keep her voice from quavering.

He whispered something she couldn’t catch, something about his iPhone.

“I found it on the nightstand, Larry. It’s right here in my purse.”

“Dorrie, I want you to keep it. Something’s…on it,” he gasped.

She bent closer. “I know honey, all those songs and photos. They mean a lot to me, too. Don’t worry, when we get home tonight, we’ll share them together.”

“No, more…Life is for Living isn’t…Forever Young isn’t…”

He struggled to speak, but his voice faded in and out. He probably shouldn’t talk. Where was that ambulance? Her husband needed help.

Larry flashed a weak smile and looked straight into her eyes. “Love ya,” he whispered.

Stifling a sob, she completed the ritual. “Love ya, back.” In their thirty years of marriage, how often had they said those words to each other?

His lips stilled. His hand slackened. His brown eyes stared unseeingly, as his face froze into a smile.

This can’t be happening. Larry, you can’t leave me. It’s too soon.

Blood rushed to her head. Roaring filled her ears. Larry couldn’t be gone. She’d prove it. Dorrie bent to kiss his lips. They felt warm and soft. He must be alive. Soon the ambulance would come, the paramedics would fix him, and he’d be all right.

She glanced again at Larry’s still form. The truth hit, sucking her breath away. She didn’t need a medical examiner to tell her what she could see with her own eyes. Larry had left and would never return. Her stomach convulsed, her chest heaved with sobs.

It shouldn’t end like this, not in the middle of a parking lot. Larry deserved better. So did she.


Morgan Mandel worked for almost 39 years as an administrative assistant at a Chicago Loop law firm until the economy took away her day job. Her writing office was the Metra commuter train, but now she writes at home.

She is a past president of the Chicago-North Chapter of Romance Writers of America, served as Library Liaison for Midwest Mystery Writers of America, belongs to EPIC, and Sisters in Crime.

website: http://www.morganmandel.com
blog: http://morganmandel.blogspot.com

Forever Young: Blessing or Curse now on kindle at http://tinyurl.com/6tsntn6 and smashwords at http://smashwords.com/books/view/115446

Excerpt from “Gargoyles” by Alan Nayes

Brilliant pre-med student Amoreena Daniels needs money. Desperately. Her mother is dying of cancer and her medical insurance has run out. When a seemingly perfect women’s clinic offers Amoreena a generous payment for service as a surrogate mother, Amoreena thinks her prayers have been answered. But then—much too early—her baby begins to move.

The strange dreams, another surrogate’s mysterious death and a drug-addicted former medical intern confirm Amoreena’s worst suspicions: there is something terribly wrong with the pregnancy. Amoreena embarks on a dangerous journey to uncover the truth behind the endless battery of genetic tests, sonograms and frightened patients, only to discover that she has unwittingly become a pawn in a high-stakes game of biomedical experimentation.



Somewhere near Itzimte Ruins, Guatemala, rainy season

She turned her first trick four months shy of her thirteenth birthday. Patricio had been a small man, only a boy really, being just two years older than she. His father had been a teniente in the security police that patrolled Mexico City, and he’d paid sixty pesos for Gabriella’s services. Gabriella wasn’t her real name then, but it was the name she’d used while plying her trade, and it was how she was currently registered at Las Canas.

Now, three years later, the teenage girl with the truculent almond eyes sat huddled under a gnarled tree limb, seeking refuge from the tropical shower. Her skin glistened moistly from sweat and precipitation, and she could smell her own fear above the pungent odor of the earth.

Gabriella stroked one hand across her gravid abdomen, then quickly climbed from the security and cover of the lush vegetation to resume her flight along the muddy carretera that would eventually lead her to San Andres. Nightfall was fast approaching. She pressed onward, prodding herself another half kilometer, though her feet and thighs cried out for rest. Surrounded by miles of unfettered jungle that comprised the Guatemalan lowland rain forests, she longed for a shortcut. There was none. And carved out of this most intimidating habitat in all Central America was Las Canas.

Wump. Wump. Wump. Wump. Los helicopteros. The choppers.

“Mi bebe!” My baby. Gabriella dashed back under the gloomy cover of the rain-forest canopy. She would rather risk an encounter with el tigre or even Desmodus rotundus, the loathsome bloodsucking vampire bat.

Wump. Wump. Wump. Anything but not the choppers. She could never return to Las Canas. Never.

Gabriella clutched desperately at her stomach. It heaved with each laborious breath. She couldn’t maintain this frenetic pace; it was impossible. She forced herself to think through the tears, through the pain. She might still stand a chance if she could thwart their initial assault.

Wump. Wump. Wump. Wump.

“Que merida,”Gabriella cried out.

Her hands protected her eyes as she stumbled farther through the thick underbrush. Thorns ripped at her skin, and vines threatened to ensnare her ankles as if they possessed wills of their own.

She tripped, stumbling forward. Terror gripped her like a giant anaconda. Her breaths catapulted from her convulsing chest in short gasps.

Oh Dios, por favor, she prayed. Please God. If she could just make it to the Itzimte Ruins before dark.

High above her head, the canopy of epiphytes, vines, and towering ferns gyrated into a living tempest. The powerful downdraft from the Sikorsky’s blades created a whirlpool of flying debris.

Gabriella threw herself on the forest floor, cowering under the onslaught of tangled vegetation.

Wump. Wump. Wump. Wump.

“No!” she cried. “No!”

With nothing to cling to but remnants of past dreams, Gabriella began to pray. She prayed for herself. She prayed for Las Canas. But mostly she prayed for the bebes.

The men from the plantacion de azucar were coming.


Alan Nayes was born in Houston and grew up on the Texas gulf coast. He lives in Southern California. He is the author of the critically-acclaimed biomedical thrillers, GARGOYLES and THE UNNATURAL. His most recent releases are BARBARY POINT, a love story, and SMILODON, a science thriller. GIRL BLUE, an erotic horror story will be released by Samhain Publishing in 2012.

An avid outdoorsman and fitness enthusiast, he is one of only a few individuals to ever swim across Wisconsin’s chilly Lake Winnebago. When not working on his next project, he enjoys relaxing and fishing at the family vacation home in Wisconsin.


GARGOYLES is available from:

Amazon http://amzn.to/nUMXs4

Barnesandnoble http://bit.ly/nBThYm

Smashwords https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/77758

“Broken but not Dead” by Joylene Nowell Butler

Broken but not Dead: Brendell Kisêpîsim Meshango is of Métis heritage and a PhD university professor in Prince George, British Columbia. When Brendell resigns from the university and retreats to her isolated cabin to repair her psyche, she is confronted by a masked intruder. His racial comments lead her to believe she is the solitary victim of a hate crime. However, is all as it appears? After two bizarre days inflicting a sadistic captivity, the intruder mysteriously disappears.

Taught by her mother to fear and distrust the mainstream-based power structures, and with her stalker possibly linked to a high level of government, Brendell conceals the incident from the police. But will keeping quiet keep her safe?

Then her beloved daughter, Zoë, is threatened — and Brendell takes matters into her own hands. To save Zoë, Brendell searches for the stalker and confronts not just a depraved madman but her own fears and prejudices.


Even in my state of lethargy I realized time had abandoned me. I was so cold. And wet. A liquidly substance that I refused to look at lay on my torso. I remembered the knife. Was I dead now? Is this what death felt like?

No, my head and jaw hurt too much.

The room stank. A blend of sweet and sour, like a mixture of menstrual blood and vomit.

“Who knows best?”

I felt a mixture of joy for being alive and hatred because I couldn’t retaliate.  “You do.”

“Who are you?”

“The frog squaw.”

“You stupid?” His voice held no emotion.


“You ugly?”


“You deserve to die?”

I thought of begging, but instead whispered, “Yes.”

“You deserve to be forgiven?”

I stiffened with fear. Did I? Claustrophobic silence pushed me to the edge of hysteria. My mother once told me she’d been cursed the day I was born. If she couldn’t forgive me, why would he? “I hope so.”

Once again, I heard the rattle of glass and the flick of a match, a stark glare filled the room. He stood at the bottom of my bed with his hands behind his back and his balaclava covering his expression. Uncertainly threatened to suffocate me.

“The only important thing is what you think. That’s all that matters. Nothing else.” I gasped for air, but he didn’t move, didn’t pull the hose from behind his back. Instead, he stared down at my nakedness with eyes that were anything but lust-filled.


I lowered my eyes. My breasts, thighs, legs, crotch were covered in blood. The sight of an erratic latticework design drained all the will left in me. My blood? But I felt nothing. “Oh, please.”

He hung his head and looked down at me with a sad expression; I saw evidence of some mad thing obsessed with death.

My death…? “Please forgive me.”

“I want to forgive you. I want to believe you’ve changed.”

“I have.”

“Who knows best?”

“You do.”

“Who are you?”

“I’m nobody. I’m—I’m—”

“Who understands you?”

“You do.”

“Who can forgive you?”

“You can.”

“Am I your dream come true?”

“Yes. You, only you.”

“Goodgirl, Brendell.”

A sigh escaped me. Had I just averted another lashing?

He floated toward me, arms outstretched. Warm tobacco breath covered my face. “Sleep,” he said, applying hard pressure to the carotid arteries in my neck.

Despite the restrains, I fought to free my hands. Rope cut into my wrist. The pressure to my neck was excruciating. Pain, terrible pain.  I twisted. I used my chin and tried to shove his hand away. Pressure built up in my head, behind my eyes. I couldn’t breathe. I was drowning. Choking. The pain — bad!


Then the room blackened and his voice faded as I drifted off on the frangible pieces of my soul.

“Remember Brendell. Don’t make me hurt you.”

Hurt me? But wasn’t I dead now?


Joylene Nowell Butler began writing at the age of 31, eight months after losing her father. Seven years later, she had completed her first novel, knew it wasn’t publishable, but realized she was hooked on the process. Today she lives with her husband on beautiful Cluculz Lake in central BC. She’s the published author of the suspense thriller Dead Witness and psychological thriller Broken but not Dead. She’s currently revising Broken’s sequel Omatiwak: Woman Who Cries, also editing another suspense thriller, a children’s book, and a political thriller.

Click here to read an interview with: Joylene Nowell Butler, Author of “Broken but not Dead”

Click here to read an interview with: Valerie McCormick, Hero of Dead Witness by Joylene Nowell Butler

Click here to read an excerpt from:  Dead Witness by Joylene Nowell Butler

Broken But Not Dead
Joylene Nowell Butler
ISBN 978-1-926886-16-9
$17.95 USD
Publishers  Theytus Books, June 27, 2011

Dead Witness, Books & Co.
Broken But Not Dead – Theytus
Broken but not Dead, Amazon.ca
Broken but not Dead, Chapters.Indigo
blog – http://cluculzwriter.blogspot.com
webpage – http://joylenenowellbutler.com