Date Published: April 13, 2021
Publisher: Acorn Publishing
Orion City has been on lockdown for ten years. Courtney Spencer, a disillusioned barista doomed to live a “normal” life in a quarantined fishbowl, is certain she’ll never see over the Wall again.
Until one rainy evening, Courtney unintentionally befriends W, an eccentric customer who leaves a switchblade in the tip jar. The unexpected acquaintance soon opens the door to a frightening string of questions that flips everything she knows upside down. Stumbling into a world of secrets, lies, and disturbing truths, Courtney grapples with a burning temptation to look again at the Wall. Surrounded by citizens trained to ignore its looming shadow, Courtney no longer can.
Intrigued and terrified to expand her world, Courtney finds herself toeing a knife’s edge between the law and justice, learning quickly that the two are not always compatible. She wants to cling to her morals. She also wants to stay alive. But most of all, she wants to see a certain customer again, despite everything in her whispering W is dangerous.
In a gritty urban clash of hope and fear, passion and survival, The Walls of Orion explores the edges of light, dark, and the gray in between.
About the Author
A world-romper from the Pacific Northwest who quite enjoys the label “crazy,” T.D. Fox supplements a hyperactive imagination with real life shenanigans to add pizzazz to her storytelling endeavors.
Armed with a bachelor’s degree in Intercultural Studies, her favorite stories to write usually involve a clash of worldviews, an unflinching reevaluation of one’s own internal compass, and an embrace of the compelling unease that arises when vastly different worlds collide.
When not recklessly exploring inner-city alleyways during midnight thunderstorms in the States, she can be found exploring rainforests without enough bug spray somewhere along the equator.
Facebook: T.D. Fox
“Hey,” she called again. “We’re closed. I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
He didn’t make any sign that he’d heard. Courtney took another step forward. A deck of cards lay scattered over the table, white faces sharp and crisp in the shadow. At first she thought he was playing solitaire, but she noticed half the cards appeared to be cut in half. Diagonal slashes from corner to corner, oblong triangles and half grinning faces of Jacks and Queens.
Courtney blinked at the soft voice. “Sorry?”
W didn’t look up, just took a handful of half-cards in his hands and shuffled. She was impressed he could do so with such deft precision, given the weird shapes.
“Bor-ed. You know, weary, restless, your little world holds nothing of interest. The repetition, the grind, marching toward that same paycheck every week. You’re over it.”
She stared at the mangled cards. “What are you—”
“Wake up. Eat cereal. Work your tail off for eight dollars in tips. Come home to an empty hole in the wall. Pass out and repeat. Sound familiar?”
Something prickled at the back of her neck. He flipped a card onto the table. A three of hearts, with two of the hearts cut out.
“I really have to close up,” she tried again.
W looked up then. Leaning forward, he laced his fingers under his chin and peered up at her. “Got somewhere to be?”
She opened her mouth, but a picture of her silent apartment filled her mind. Shadows slinking through the tiny space, the stars in the window blacked out behind the Wall. The breath slid out of her lungs without a sound.
W motioned to the bench across from him. Without really deciding, Courtney found herself moving. She sank into the booth. Just for a minute. Her knees ached from standing all day. All week.
“Two minutes.” She nodded at the cards. “What are you playing?”
“It’s called Life.” He glanced up at her. “Wanna learn?”
“Does it work with all those broken cards?”
W laughed. “Darlin’, it only works with broken cards.”
He started dealing. As she watched, a little voice in the back of her mind asked what the hell she was doing. He explained the rules of the game, and she found herself distracted by the way his face changed as he spoke. He was a very expressive person. But nothing quite seemed to touch his eyes. Frowns, smiles, laughs. Those pale eyes stayed the same. At first she’d thought they were gray, but now she could see a faint swirl of color inside them. She couldn’t decide if it was icy blue or green.
In this light, he looked younger than she’d initially figured. The sharp skin-on-bones angles stole some of the youth from his face, but she noticed a boyishness in the crooked grin that startled her. He probably wasn’t more than a handful of years her senior, mid to late twenties maybe. The contrast of dark hair and pale eyes made the edged features more striking, not quite handsome, but something close.
He went silent, and she realized with flushed cheeks that she’d been staring.
“My, my, kiddo, you really are bored.”
Defensive felt better than embarrassed. “Who’re you calling kiddo?” She leaned back. “And you keep saying I’m bored. You don’t know me.”
“I know your eyes. They’re the reason I became a regular in the first place.”
“What do you mean?”
He peered at her over the cards. “Your eyes. They’re restless. Not something you see every day in this city. You want more.”
“More of what?”
He leaned back, a small smile playing about his lips. “You tell me.”
Clearing her throat, Courtney sat back in her seat and picked her own intrusive question. “Why W?”
“It’s the most inconvenient letter to say.”
“No, I mean—why just the initial? You never give your real name.”
“Who’s to say it’s not real?” He glanced down. “C suits you better than your nametag. An initial has infinite potential. You could be anything. Not ordinary, not a repeat label your parents picked out of a baby book. The possibilities are limitless.”
Again, he’d steered the conversation off an uncomfortable edge. Courtney nodded to the deck of cards. “You were teaching me how to play.”
W chuckled, and Courtney couldn’t decide if the sound was pleasant or unsettling. She paid close attention to the way he laid out the cards, whole and broken pieces alike. Some looked like the other halves of cards cut in two. Others seemed to have no corresponding piece. She wondered if they were all from the same deck.
He dealt, and she did her best to play along. A steady current of doubt hummed beneath her thoughts. She glanced up at the clock above W’s head, at the minute hand ticking past closing time. Why couldn’t she bring herself to get up and leave?
Courtney figured out pretty quickly that the rules of this game made no sense to her. Every time she thought she’d gotten it down, something changed. Maybe W was messing with her. Was Life even a real game? Matt was right, he was kind of a loon, as he proved more and more throughout the course of their interaction.
“Y’know, C.” He shuffled the cards again, dealing out a different number than last time. Which was a different number than the time before that. Courtney really didn’t get this game. She was starting to think there was nothing to get at all. “I mean absolutely no offense. But I can’t help but notice you’re a little crazy.”
Courtney looked up, choking on a laugh. “Me?”
“Because you’re still here.”
“You’re the one who invited me to play cards,” she started.
“Nah, not here with me. I mean here.”
She waited. “I think I’m following this conversation as much as the game.”
“Surrounded by crazy people. Working a crazy job, in a crazy city, waiting for the next crazy thing to happen and hoping it doesn’t happen to you.”
A prickle ran up her spine. “You’re talking about the news this morning.”
“Something happened this morning?” The cards shuffled through his long fingers with a magician’s flair. “Don’t watch the news much.”
She frowned at him. “I suppose that’s one way to survive in this town.”
“Who wants to survive? I quit surviving ages ago. You should quit, too. What a boring habit.”
Courtney stared. “More of a basic instinct, I think.”
“No. Our instinct is to live.” The cards fluttered with a rippling swoosh. “These big four Walls can make a body forget that, though.”
Date Published: 3/26/21
Publisher: Acorn Publishing
Following a global pandemic, which has either killed or weakened most of the male population, women now dominate all aspects of life.
Dr. Morgan Digby, married to a man rendered bedbound from his bout with manflu a decade prior, is working tirelessly on a vaccine, yet obstacles keep springing up in her path.
When she meets a handsome neighbor who has never been exposed to the deadly virus, things become…complicated. There’s something between them, but he can’t leave his home.
Morgan’s struggle to remain faithful to her ailing husband isn’t her only battle. Someone has been one step ahead of her, countering her every move. Will she find a vaccine before it’s too late to protect those she loves?
About the Author
Simone de Muñoz writes dystopian, or perhaps utopian, fiction, depending on your perspective, where women drive the story and sometimes even run the world. She holds a master’s degree in public policy from UC Berkeley and a bachelor’s degree in economics from MIT, which she uses in her day job as a data analyst at a nonprofit. Based in Silicon Valley, she lives with her patient husband, their two young sons, and a grumpy dog named Fish. Manflu is her debut novel.
Morgan Digby woke up groggy from her usual nap as her self-driving, electric car pulled into the driveway of her small suburban house. She had dreamt that her husband Jonas was walking toward her on a crowded sidewalk, cradling a baby in his arms. If only any small part of that dream had the remotest possibility of coming true, Morgan could be happy.
She stretched and brushed her black bangs out of her eyes, feeling the hollow spaces beneath them with her fingertips. Tired from a busy day working at the lab on the manflu vaccine, the nap prepared her for the long evening of caretaking that lay ahead. Her husband Jonas was mostly bedridden after his bout with the pandemic ten years ago. His body no longer actively fought an infection, but he would never be the same.
Morgan was about to enter her house when she saw her neighbor put down her garden rake and cross the street to chat. Sarah, like many women nowadays, no longer bothered with a bra. Her full, bouncing breasts, barely covered by a thin, V-neck t-shirt, drew the eye. An image quickly flashed through Morgan’s mind of a time years before when Sarah had pressed those breasts against her and leaned over to kiss her on the lips. Morgan quickly shook her head to clear the thought.
“Morgan, big news!” said Sarah when she was within gossip range. “Beth’s nephew came to stay with her. He’s a Vulny. I got a glimpse of him through the curtains, and he is a hunk and a half. Pale, obviously. About 5’10” with black, curly hair and surprisingly muscular. He must spend a lot of time lifting weights. I’m charging my vibro3000 as we speak.”
Wow, a Vulny! Morgan had never seen one before. Vulnies were the men who had never gotten manflu and were therefore still vulnerable to it. These men could not go out in public for fear of being infected, thus the pale skin. Women could be infected as well as transmit the virus to others; however, they experienced very mild cold-like symptoms and quickly recovered. Both men and women who had previously been infected could not contract the virus again; however, men with post-manflu viral syndrome were immunocompromised and at high risk of contracting other infections.
Morgan immediately thought of the vaccine she was working on, and she wondered if this man could be a test subject for it when it was completed. She wanted to rush over to Beth’s house right away to meet him and find out more, but she couldn’t. Jonas waited inside for her to make his dinner, bathe him, and keep him company. She was accustomed to putting aside her own desires to care for her husband, but she still felt a sting of disappointment each time.
Simone de Muñoz
Author of Manflu
March 16, 2021
After the 2016 election, I felt an emotion that I had never felt before–rage. It was scary. I had to find a safe place for those feelings, so I started to write. In my fiction, women weren’t the victims of misogynistic men and a patriarchal society–they were powerful heroes. If women couldn’t come out on top in real life, they could in my fiction. I slowly thought about sharing my writing with the world–maybe other women could read my work and feel the possibility of this power.
I had the idea for my novel, Manflu in the summer of 2019. The “Me Too” movement was in full swing and I thought, what if there was a way to get these men out of power and replace them with women? What would the world look like if women were in charge? I came up with the idea of a pandemic that weakened or killed men. I started writing down my thoughts, centering the story around a married researcher seeking a vaccine for manflu when she meets a handsome neighbor who has never been infected. And only a few short months later, Covid hit!
I attended my first writing conference in February of 2020 right before the US basically shut down. I met the women who would eventually publish my book at that conference and I remember them saying, “This concept is so timely, you have to get the book written as soon as possible.” We had no idea what was coming because there were hardly any known cases of Covid in the US at that time. However, it was clear that the pandemic was about to affect us all. Despite a full-time job and family obligations, I wrote as quickly as I could to take advantage of the moment.
I found myself in the midst of a pandemic, writing about a pandemic. For a while, all I thought about were viruses as I researched pandemics, tried to keep my family safe from Covid, and worked to help clients affected economically by the pandemic at my nonprofit job. I finished writing the book in the fall of 2020, right around the time it became clear that my children wouldn’t return to in-person school for the 2020-21 school year.
My hope is that I have ultimately created a novel that is timely, and yet a break from the pandemic-restricted world that we are all still living in right now, and that Manflu helps to empower women to dream of a different society where they are in charge. It is always a good time for sexy, escapist fiction featuring diverse characters and a strong female lead and it is an especially apt moment for Manflu.
The Chronicles of Granny Witch (Book 1)
Paranormal Romance, Historical Fantasy,
Magical Realism, Visionary Fiction
Date Published: December 27, 2020
Once upon a winter’s night, a lost cowboy finds himself in Purgatory Bend.
Patrick Doolin is plagued by a wound that won’t heal, but winter is the
season of miracles. As Patrick wanders through Wyoming, he meets Fawna
Darling, the mysterious granny witch, who channels the folk magic of her
With nowhere to go and a secret Patrick doesn’t yet understand, he seeks
shelter with Fawna in the snowswept prairie. Forbidden to fall in love, they
form an eternal bond in the dreamscape, but when the bluebirds sing of
summer and threaten their empire of dreams, they are faced with an
impossible decision. Will Patrick stay in the land of the living, or will he
cross over the prairie?
Summer is the season of surprises, and Fawna’s childhood sweetheart, Dezi
Ketchum, longs to win her heart too. When winter melts across the gold-slick
prairie, Fawna searches for answers under the rose moon. Caught between fire
and water and flesh and fantasy, she follows her heart and ventures into
Praise for Snow Dust and Boneshine
“A warm and spellbinding tale…Soleil’s writing flows like a stream,
relaxing and exotic. Mixed with folk magic, simpler times and beliefs, this
is a wonderful escape.” ~ Tome Tender
“Soleil’s writing is riveting…It’s much more than a fantasy – it’s a
story of love and faith.” ~ Literary Titan
“Curl up under your blanket, grab a cup of tea, and let yourself wander
between magic and reality in Purgatory Bend…Snow Dust and Boneshine is one
of the sweetest, selfless, heartbreaking but also heartwarming love stories
I have ever read…The characters, the atmosphere, and the imagery are done
so beautifully. Every description made me sink my teeth into the story just
a little bit more.” ~ Snez at Book Lifey & A Quintillion Reads Book
“Snow Dust and Boneshine was incredible…There’s romance, intrigue and lots
of magic. It’s very well written, so much so, I could feel the cold and
bitter wind as I read about it. The characters are beautifully written, and
I could see it playing out as a movie as I read. I highly recommend picking
this one up. 5 stars all the way.” ~ Angela Scavone, Author of Celebrity
“This story was magical and fascinating with an element of surprise. It was
well-researched and beautifully thought out to bring us so many amazing
details. If witches and love stories set in a small town with a sprinkle of
magic interests you, I would urge you to read this.” ~ Kriti Dalmia at This
Grendolyn Peach Soleil was born in the Appalachian Mountains on a full
moon. She is an old soul and a folk magic fiend. Grendolyn loves twisted
fairy tales, all things vintage, tales of true love, and creature features.
Some of her fancies include pumpkins, black cats, mermaids, tea parties,
cowboys, dahlias, and sunsets. She is a member of the Visionary Fiction
Alliance and The Independent Author Network. Grendolyn is the author of
Limbo Jubilee, The Mermaids Melt at Dawn, and Snow Dust and Boneshine: The Chronicles of Granny Witch (Book 1).
Patrick Doolin hid behind a sunbaked boulder, his bare ribs sticking to the sagebrush. He grabbed the wet, mushy hole in his belly, his heart pounding, his ears ringing raw. Around the bend, there were howling beasts in the canyon, sniffing his blood trail. Trapped in the crossfire, he closed his eyes and pretended it was all a bad dream. He cloaked himself in a cloud of dust and prayed for invisibility. Patrick didn’t know whether to beg for his life or submit to death’s sting, but instinctively, his body forced him to gasp for air.
From the moment he boarded the ship last summer, he regretted leaving Ireland. He missed the sheep-strewn pastures and the soggy sea cliffs. He missed the rolling fog and the taste of coddle by firelight. By the grace of God, Patrick survived the great hunger, and despite its brutal aftermath, he still yearned for his motherland, for fairy trees and cloud cover. It was better to be hungry at home than stuffed to the gills with strangers.
Patrick’s father suffered the most during the great hunger, so when a fever ravaged him last February, he was too weak to recover. Although Patrick bowed his head and prayed every morning, his father was skin and bones by Easter. Worst of all, his father’s spirit was troubled by Patrick’s black-hearted brother, Liam, so Patrick made a deathbed promise to his father. He vowed to look after Liam come hell or high water.
As soon as their father rattled his last breath, Liam set his sights on California. After the wake, the Doolin brothers boarded a ship to Philadelphia. From there, they made the long trek to Dakota territory. It took them three months to reach their uncle’s homestead, and by the time they arrived, old man winter was already there. The Doolin brothers agreed to work for their uncle until the following summer and then make their way to California, but after Christmas, Liam didn’t want to wait any longer.
Patrick knew they were late to the gold rush. Their uncle showed them the newspapers and implored them to stay in Dakota. He said it was treacherous to travel in the dead of winter, but there was no reasoning with Liam, so the Doolin brothers saddled up and battled the pelting ice and blowing snow. They slept under giant fir trees, their fingers and toes tingling with frostbite. They hadn’t been on the trail for long when Liam started a gunfight with a goliath of a cowboy, then disappeared into thin air.
Now, Patrick was all by himself, stranded somewhere between Dakota and Wyoming. Utterly disoriented, he clutched his belly in agony and stumbled through the wilderness. He meditated on the pine trees as they swirled into a blur of whistling green. Patrick saw trains and ships in the shadows. He saw the sea cliffs of Ireland in his dreams. When he couldn’t take another step, he collapsed on the edge of Angel Creek, his wounded body glinting red with sunburn, his sticky blood mingling with the cold stream.
As he faded in and out of mortality, he saw a young woman with hair as black as a raven. A pack of wolves surrounded her and swaddled her porcelain skin with their ashen fur. Patrick couldn’t get a good look at her face, but he caught a glimpse of her scarlet lips. She was nothing more than a stranger to him, but he took comfort in watching her dance through the shimmering snowfields. As he stood there in the frozen prairie, held captive by the bone-chilling wind, he felt strangely warm as though a hearth was glowing inside him.
The next morning, an old cowboy named Charlie was fishing for salmon when he came across Patrick’s body floating belly-up in the creek. Charlie took Patrick for dead, but as he got closer, he witnessed pulse and breath. Charlie rubbed his eyes in disbelief. He figured there was a reason this poor man was still alive, so he slung Patrick over his shoulder and lugged him for half a mile, dabbing his sweaty face with a red bandana. When he got back to his wagon, he plopped Patrick down next to the salmon and gave him a ride to Purgatory Bend.
Date Published: March 9, 2021
Publisher: Ink & Magick
As a ward of the Lacklands, Robyn Loxley has lived a privileged life. Even now, in 1942, when another war ravages the world and people on the home front must do without, her adopted family is not affected by the rations and shortages.
That’s not to say she hasn’t been affected by the war personally. As Robyn hits yet another roadblock in her quest to see her best friend Will, trapped in a Japanese-American concentration camp, she stumbles onto the people of Sherwood.
With dark truths revealed about the Lacklands and what really goes on in Midshire, Robyn must answer what justice means to her and what she’s willing to do to exact it.
Robyn and the merry band get an update in this dieselpunk sci-fi adventure.
“The Treason of Robyn Hood has suspense, drama, humor, romance, and action, all jam-packed in a tightly paced novel full of intrigue…I enjoyed it immensely and will highly recommend it to fans of fantasy and adventure. “
“Connoisseurs of urban fantasy and offbeat romance will find this novel both a fun and fulfilling read. The clever characterizations and skillful melding of fantasy, adventure, and romance put a spotlight on sisterly devotion, oddball alliances, social conscience, and the human ability to rise above broken hearts and broken lives. “
—The US Review of Books
D. Lieber has a wanderlust that would make a butterfly envious. When she isn’t planning her next physical adventure, she’s recklessly jumping from one fictional world to another. Her love of reading led her to earn a Bachelor’s in English from Wright State University.
Beyond her skeptic and slightly pessimistic mind, Lieber wants to believe. She has been many places—from Canada to England, France to Italy, Germany to Russia—believing that a better world comes from putting a face on “other.” She is a romantic idealist at heart, always fighting to keep her feet on the ground and her head in the clouds.
Lieber lives in Wisconsin with her husband (John) and cats (Yin and Nox).
Identifying your writing problems is a real struggle. On one hand, you don’t know what you don’t know. And on the other, it’s hard to face our mistakes on the best of days.
But we all want to get better right? We want our manuscripts to be the best they can be.
So, let’s talk about the first problem. Clearing your vision as to what you don’t know is there. There are a few ways, I’ve found that help me.
1. Read. A lot. They always say you shouldn’t compare your work to someone else’s, and I can agree with that to some extent. But you’re going to. It’s just how our brains work. Reading other people’s writing can help you recognize things that work and don’t work in your view. And when you go back to read your own stuff, you’re bound to pick up on some of your shortcomings as well.
2. Give yourself some lead time. This one is hard in today’s publishing industry. Writers are told to produce, produce, produce. Publish, publish, publish. But I’ve found that leaving my finished first draft to sit for a few months does wonders for the end product. When I come back to it, I have fresh eyes. And that makes a world of difference.
3. Get help. This one is also important. Sometimes we are truly blind to our own problems, and we need other people to give us feedback. So, get some betas, hire an editor, read reviews if you have to. But listening to what others have to say can really help me see where I’m falling short.
On to the second: facing your shortcomings. If I’m being honest, this is the most painful. You’ve put a lot of work into this creation. And you’d fight to the death before letting someone tear it to pieces. But if you want to get better, you have to listen. Let’s break it down.
1. Ask someone you can trust. The most important quality in a beta reader or critique partner is that they are trustworthy. You need to be absolutely sure that you believe that they are pulling your work apart because they want it to be better. Because if you can’t trust them on that level, they could just be being a jerk.
2. Make sure they’re honest. It’s also important to find someone who isn’t going to sugar coat things for you. If you want to get better, you need to have a beta who is more worried about making your work better than sparing your feelings.
3. Self-reflect and breathe. It’s going to hurt, a lot, to hear everything you did was “wrong.” You thought it was perfect. And now your work has been torn apart and your heart along with it. Your first instinct is going to be either to give up or push away everything you just heard. Resist that urge. I know it feels overwhelming, but you literally just wrote an entire book. Refining that book is not as difficult as the thing you already did. As to pushing the truth away, well you asked for the help. And these people took time out of their busy lives to offer it. It’s only courteous for you to see if there’s something valuable in what they told you.
And finally, and potentially most importantly, throw out everything I just said. The truth is, there are ways to make your story better. Of course, there are. But the person you need to please most is you. The whole world can tell you you’re wrong. Your betas laughed, your editor cringed, the reviewers railed. But if you know in your heart that you made the right choices, if you did all the above steps and still came out thinking this was the way to go, then do it. It’s your work. It’s your name. You’ll get “better” at your own pace.
Date Published: March 1st 2021
Publisher: Happy London Press
A church going district of North London and a neighbourhood where friendly residents know each other. But when a brutally murdered woman is found next to a burned-out black candle, a strange mark etched deep into her back, the locals became afraid.
Her old boss, a Chief Superintendent in the Met, calls for PI, Tammy Pierre’s assistance. He’s aware of her Caribbean links, and knowledge of Obiah, a voodoo curse found in Trinidad, and used, some claim, to commit bizarre murders. So, is it voodoo? Or just superstition?
A trip to the West Indies reveals some disturbing facts, new evidence of child abuse and murders going undetected for over twenty years.
Returning to London, her situation becomes dangerous – is it all more than Tammy had bargained for?
About the Author
Having never written a dramatic word in my life some thirty years ago, an idea for a short story popped into my head. With the encouragement of my wife and daughter I wrote a tale about a timid and ineffectual man and his pet cat, called Cat and Mouse. Wife and daughter approved so I produced more stories and then joined a writers’ group who also liked what I wrote.
Sir George Everest said, they climbed that mountain, ‘Because it is there.’ The same might be said of writing. Why do we write? because of the idea, the notion, the thought. ‘Because it is there,’ and the irresistible urge to put it down in print.
My inspirations have come from real people, events or situations that have presented themselves. Titles like, I am a Contract Killer, Beads of Blood, Death Zone, License to Kill, are all based on my own lifetime experiences, questions asked, incidents occurring. So far, nobody has been murdered on my watch. But the notion gave rise to the impetus to write my first murder mystery, The Lyme Regis Murders. Could I make the jump after years of writing macabre short stories to a full-length drama? That familiar beating in the gut, said, ‘Yes, try it. Give it a go.’
And so to that cosy coastal town where nothing untoward ever happens. Or perhaps it does. The author seeks to shatter notions, change people’s perceptions, spoil long held views. That was my intention in entering into the world of crime thrillers. I’ve found that ‘nice’ people are not always what they seem. The helpless can be transformed into the most dangerous, the most dangerous become the most harmless. It’s all up to the writer and what they’re hoping to achieve. For me, so far, there have been several children’s books, one collection of short stories, with three more planned and three novels completed, plus a fourth in the mixer.
Whilst a short story might be written with a flurry of adrenalin in the space of a few hours, a book will need more than just a flash of creativity. It will need, perseverance, discipline and dogged determination. But then, isn’t that what is required of every ambition?
Yuh gonna die!
“Hmm? Watch you say, lady? Hear me now, hear me. Don’t y’all cry. You muss up yuh face. Me ain’t gonna hurt you none. Gonna be quick an’ easy. All be over soon, soon. You understan’? De Lord, he am waitin’ for yuh.”
Lillian Persaud hadn’t had sex with Tom for over a month. As she made for the office at a brisk trot, she smiled to herself. Gorgeous fresh morning. Gentle breeze. A few spots of rain tapping at her brolly. Some wispy grey cloud. Might warm up later, though. Bound to really, she thought with her usual optimism.
Out of the corner of her eye she spotted something moving. A shadow; perhaps her own? Couldn’t place it. Coming from behind a parked car? A moment of unease, but not one to break the glorious mood she was in.
The day ahead, filled with appointments, staff meetings and then, this weather forecast had said it would be a mixed day, so at least there’d be some sun to look forward to.
Business was getting busier by the week in her expanding company, Persaud IT Ltd. A hectic day ahead of her. Evening to think about.
Plans for sex, she mused. Lots of it. Asap. On the agenda. And about time too. She smiled again at the prospect. Some soft music; modern jazz. The contemplative tones of Miles Davis’s trumpet. Chic Corea on piano. Tom’s favourite record, Peggy Lee singing, ‘Some Cats Know’, and she added mentally the following refrain, ‘How to go real slow’. Tom knew how to go real slow. Lovely man. What a wedding night they’d had. Not a real wedding, but an exchanging of vows and commitment before an Unofficial Officiant in a Humanist service. They both had their own reasons for preferring to avoid a religious ceremony. A couple of dozen close family and friends in a tiny hotel off the beaten track, near to Bourton-on-the-Water, in the Cotswolds.
Of course, it wasn’t the first time they’d made love, but Tom made it feel that way. It was as if he’d saved something special for just that evening. Up till then, every night with him had been special. But, wow! she thought. Was that night extra special, or was it not?
Not too many nights like it since the baby. Gracie was a demanding tot, and now an even more demanding little girl. Still, she thought, their imp seemed to have got over her current bout of sleeplessness.
Someone on the other side of the street, emerging from behind a tree this time, looking at her. Looking at her? A phantom silhouette. Following her. Dark tracksuit and trainers. Hoodie obscuring the face. Soundless steps. Were they smiling? She couldn’t see.
Lillian frowned for a moment. No-one else around. Early morning. A few parked vehicles. An unexpected feeling of loneliness. Maybe they were scowling? She hurried on, getting nervous now, her heels clicking on the pavement, echoing in her ears.
Like being on the ghost train in a fairground. Never sure what was going to jump out at you. Nothing was going to attack her out here in the street. This was Bloomsbury where bad things didn’t happen. She’d soon be at the office. Door locked behind her. Safe. Then, hot coffee. The world waking up. Staff arriving shortly.
Tom said she was a worrier. “Darling,” he’d told her one day, “if you didn’t have something to worry about, it’d almost certainly worry you.” He was right of course. But worriers get things done, she’d protested. And, looking around, she found her imagined stalker had vanished. A heaved sigh of relief.
Baby Grace had been fractious and her sleepless nights had impacted Lillian and Tom. But there’d been six undisturbed nights when the parents had caught up with some desperately needed shut-eye, and now Lillian was beaming to herself as she mentally planned the evening in.
“Look! Look! See? It say in here in de Bible, Deuteronomy 23, verse 2, dat no-one born of a forbidden union may enter de kingdom of de Lord. Even to de ten generation, none of his descendants may enter de assembly of de Lord. Yuh gonna have to pay, lady.”
Tom loved cooking, but he also liked to eat out. He’d probably booked somewhere for them already. It was their anniversary, that of the first time they’d met. But tonight was going to be all Lillian’s treat. And for a change there’d be no meat. Tom could eat lamb and beef for England, but he’d been told by his doctor to cut down as his cholesterol levels were too high. So tonight, would be fish. Cod, baked in fish stock, with chopped onions and tomato, and a handful of black olives to finish it off. Steamed new potatoes in their skins, dripping in butter, well, maybe not exactly dripping. A mixed salad, with her own dressing. A bottle of Pino Grigio. And for dessert, a blueberry pavlova coupled with vanilla ice cream by Marshfield Farm, an English make on a par with the best of Italian. Divine thoughts.
Tom hadn’t seen the white thong yet. The one with the split crotch. The matching, barely there, white bra. The contrast with her ebony complexion would be stark. Heavens! she thought, I’ll be stark, or as good as. She’d kept them for an occasion like she was going to make tonight’s. Her legs went slightly wobbly at the thought. However would she make it through the day? she wondered.
The first thing she noticed upon opening up the office was that the alarm hadn’t been set the night before. She frowned. Must have a word with the cleaners later today. But, just the same, she thought, worrying.
They’d kept all the original features of the beautiful Georgian building’s interior, whilst managing to lay out desks with smart glass dividers to allow, if not privacy, at least the chance to concentrate on work without the immediate intrusion of others in the room overwhelming you.
There was a separate boardroom for client meetings, and it was to this she presently repaired. She needed to spread out paperwork in a manner more convenient than might be obtained, no matter how many screens she chose to work with. For all her IT skills, sometimes it was the old tried and tested routines that worked best.
Lillian was happy. Happier than she’d ever been in her life. After a ghastly childhood, from which she’d made a timely escape, things were coming together more satisfyingly than she had ever dared to hope.
“Dey all jagabat womans tink dey can fool me. Dey run away from me, but me have catch yuh. Me have seen you, lady, flahntin’ y’all an’ yer babby. Lady, de chile am barn of a forbidden union. Who you tink you is? Me ain’t no dotish man. No mamaguy. Me am gonna bring y’all back to God.”
And yet, that shadow again, from the corner of her eye. And, here? In the office? Her mind playing tricks? Had to be. But why, all of a sudden? She wasn’t normally given to random fears. She’d be seeing ghosts next. Shaking her head resolutely, she told herself not to be stupid.
Then the light pad of a muffled tread, a sharp pinprick in the back of her neck, the warmth of a thin stream of blood, her blood, running down her spine and a cultured voice warning her not to look round.
She felt as though she were being crushed with fear. She couldn’t breathe properly. Her blood was freezing in her veins, as she shuddered, uncontrollably. She could see the papers spread around the boardroom table, but made no connection with them. It was as though she were marooned in a foreign country, where she could neither understand nor make herself understood.
She knew she mustn’t panic, mustn’t scream, because the shadow would want her to scream, would need her to scream in order to exercise power over her. She closed her eyes and breathed in deeply to try to calm her nerves. The voice was educated, could be spoken to. She might use reason. This was clearly a case of mistaken identity which she could quickly establish.
Then the voice changed. The tone dropped by a couple of octaves and to her consternation, the accent was now clearly patois.
Lillian heard a match flare, smelled burning tallow as smoke played around her head. She tried to think who it could possibly be. Racked her brains, uselessly. Didn’t know who it was. No idea in the world. But they clearly knew all about her.
“De candle am burnin’ dong. It have you name on de side, Lillian.
“When it reach de bottom yuh gonna die.
“Hmm? Ah! Now you screamin’, Lillian? Dat’s good. Show y’all repentin’. Keep screamin’ now, Lillian, keep screamin’. Ain’t no-one to hear you.
“Praise de Lord.”
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