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The Shadow War – Launch Day!

After an extra month of waiting, The Shadow War is finally here! It’s the second book of The Wishing Blade series, so if you’ve been wondering what happens next, that wait is over!

*Squee!*

I’m both excited and nervous with this one. For this one, we get to see Daernan’s point of view for a large part of the story (60%, to be exact), and we get one short scene from Siklana at the end. But don’t worry, Toranih and Shevanlagiy also get their fair share of scenes, too. Not only that, but we get glimpses of both Maijevan and Cantingen cultures, and the bit of rivalry that might be brewing between the various countries and cities. 😉

So, without further ado…

The Wishing Blade - Section Break - Magic Swirl

The Shadow War

Upper MG / Lower YA

The Wishing Blade - Section Break - Magic Swirl

The Shadow War - Book Cover

The Wishing Blade - Section Break - Magic Swirl

Though a shadow is as good as a ghost, with no free will to speak of, they may still be saved…

The kingdom of Cirena is under attack from an army of shadows—beings who can only be hurt by magic or fire. Magic has been stolen, and as the shadows spread, infecting all they touch, the last two ribbon mages race to the nearest port city to warn them of the impending invasion. One of those mages, Toranih, is among the few who can see the Trickster-cursed army, and she’s determined to get magic back—no matter how much she distrusts it. When she is captured by shadows and a dark secret is revealed about her future, her best friend, Daernan, is left to defend the city. But his only methods of stopping the shadows are by fire and the devastating magic of the shodo’charl.

With the knowledge that the shadows are innocent townsfolk forced to do a warlord’s bidding, Daernan must choose between saving the shadows or saving those who have not yet turned.

The Wishing Blade - Section Break - Magic Swirl

Now Available!

Amazon US ~ Amazon UKBN.com ~ iTunes ~ KoboSmashwords

Paperback Edition

Add to Goodreads

The Wishing Blade - Section Break - Magic Swirl

A sneak peek…

The roof afforded a smoky view of the burning courthouse and the surrounding mayhem, and here Daernan understood the madness of the shadows. As their victims faded, turning into shadowy wisps, they, too, turned on the crowd. The more the shadows converted, the faster the crowd disappeared.

No wonder they used the explosions. People in the affected areas fled from their homes and the markets, trying to evacuate because the smoke in the distance meant the whole southern side of the city might be burning. But the ghostly shadows waited for them with impromptu weapons, and the refugees fled right into their hands.

“It’s so easy for them,” Daernan whispered. “Lord Menchtoteale found a simple way to conscript his army.”

Siklana frowned as she dug the shodo’charl free from the bag and passed him the stone. “What are they doing?”

“Using the explosions to force people from their homes.” Daernan reached to take the bundle, then stopped. Siklana’s brown eyes were wide with worry, her lips forming an unhappy frown. He quickly turned away and clasped the oilskin tight in his fingers. There were so many shadows. If he released the stone now, he might be killing countless innocent people. But if he didn’t release the stone’s magic, more would be trapped.

“Should we do this?” he asked softly.

Siklana peered over the ledge. “You’re asking me?”

He whispered a soft prayer to Madiya—primarily because she was responsible for taking the dead through her realm—but he fervently hoped he was wrong. Hoped that somehow, some way, the shodo’charl did not kill them.

He hooked his fingers under the oilskin, trembling, already feeling the cold sweat forming on his neck and soaking his back. To do this . . . if he killed them . . . he wasn’t sure how he was going to sleep. How he was going to account for their deaths? But the longer he waited, the more who would die when he finally released the oilskin.

The Wishing Blade - Section Break - Magic Swirl

Enjoy! Feel free to tell your friends, or anyone you think might enjoy the book. 😀

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The Shadow War – Now Available for Pre-Order

If you enjoyed reading Magic’s Stealing, then good news! The pre-order for the next book in the series, The Shadow War, is now avilable for pre-order!

The book is still in progress (The Shadow War has been through three beta readers, and now Isaac is reading it), but I expect to have it completed by February 2017. Actually, I’m hoping to have it done sooner, but being realistic, I’m trying to give myself a bit more time to complete the project. Once it’s finished, The Shadow War will probably be about 47,000 words long, though the final word count may vary.

Since I was running the promotion for “Stone and String” on Kindle (a short story set in the world of The Wishing Blade), I wanted to make sure I had the second book of The Wishing Blade series available to pre-order. The series starts with Magic’s Stealing, and continues in The Shadow War.

Now, for the book cover!

The Wishing Blade - Section Break - Magic Swirl

The Shadow War

Young Adult / Middle Grade Fantasy

The Wishing Blade - Section Break - Magic Swirl

The Shadow War - Book Cover

The Wishing Blade - Section Break - Magic Swirl

 

The kingdom of Cirena is under attack from an army of shadows—beings who can only be hurt by magic or fire. But magic has been stolen, and as the shadows spread, infecting all they touch, the last two ribbon mages race to the nearest port city to warn them of the impending invasion. One of those mages, Toranih, is among the few who can see the Trickster-cursed army, and she’s determined to get magic back—no matter how much she distrusts it. But when she is captured by shadows and a secret is revealed about her future, her only chance of survival may be to fight the shadows from within.

Available for Pre-Order:

Amazon US ~ Amazon UKBN.com ~ iTunes ~ KoboSmashwords

Add to Goodreads

The Wishing Blade - Section Break - Magic Swirl

Enjoy! 😀

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Thoughts on Writing – A Blurb for The Shadow War

I’m preparing to create the pre-order page for The Shadow War, the second book of The Wishing Blade series. I’m still in the editing phases, and it’s going to be a little while before it releases (I’m planning to set the release date for February, though I’m hoping to release it sooner). But I want to have the page up before I do the Stone and String freebie days from Kindle Select.

Before I can create the page, however, I want to have a blurb ready (those dreaded, tricky things that entice readers to buy the book). The Shadow War is a YA/Middle Grade fantasy novella (47,000 words), the second of The Wishing Blade series. (You can read the blurb for the first book by clicking here).

So I’ve been thinking about a blurb, and this is what I’ve come up with:

The kingdom of Cirena is under attack from an army of shadows—beings who can only be hurt by magic or fire. But magic has been stolen, and as the shadows spread, infecting all they touch, the last two ribbon mages race to the nearest port city to warn them of the impending invasion. One of those mages, Toranih, is among the few who can even see the Trickster-cursed army, and she’s determined to get magic back—no matter how much she distrusts it. But when she gets captured by the shadows and a secret is revealed about her future, her only chance of survival may be to fight the shadows from within.

While this may be what I use for my initial post of the pre-order page, I want to make sue it works in the long run. So my questions for you are these:

  1. Is the blurb intriguing?
  2. Does it reveal too much? Too little?
  3. Does it show clear goals and motivations?
  4. If you’ve read Magic’s Stealing, does it interest you in reading The Shadow War?
  5. If you haven’t read Magic’s Stealing, does it interest you in learning more or looking inside either of the books?

Thanks for your input! I appreciate it! 😀

I hope you find this post helpful for your own writings. What pitfalls have you run into when writing a blurb?

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Sneak Peek of Distant Horizon – Chapter Two (Sections Two and Three)!

As we get closer to the release day of Distant Horizon (October 27th!), I’ve been working on the final touches! I’ve been reading the printed proof copy for errors…

dh-proof-copy-1 dh-proof-copy-2

See? There’s the book!

And I’ve been setting up promotional items for the upcoming book blitz that will take place once Distant Horizon is published.

(Want to participate in the book blitz? Click here!)

And, of course, I like to provide teasers of the upcoming book. So here’s the second part of Distant Horizon, Chapter Two, for your enjoyment. 🙂

(You can read the first chapter by clicking here.)

(Or you can read the first section of chapter two by clicking here.)

Chapter Two

(Section Two and Three)

“Come on, Jenna—this is perfect. You need the points; I get a good name in, and if the commander remembers me when I graduate, he might recommend me to international Special Forces!” With a smooth swipe of his hand, Lance pushed the straggling strands of his brown hair from his eyes and then brushed his shirt free of wrinkles. I took a step back, eyeing him cautiously. Lance stood straighter, more proper than before.

“Well, what do you think?” he asked. “Think I’ll make a good impression?”

“You look… nice,” I said halfheartedly. “I’m sure he’ll consider you.”

Lance beamed. “Awesome!”

“Yeah, awesome,” I mumbled. I shouldered my backpack uneasily as Lance headed for his security class. He could probably get into a regional team and be charged with the wonderful task of protecting gossipy leaders, but regional agents were stationed all over the world. If he got recruited, I might never see him again.

I hunched my shoulders and hurried to calculus. I could almost swear the agents wandering around campus were watching me. Throughout class, when I should have been focusing on logarithms, all I could think about was the agents’ dark visors, their stern postures, and how they were tasked with protecting the Community against all kinds of threats, including theophrenia.

I pictured the agents escorting Galina into the back of the van. What if I never saw her again? What if she couldn’t be cured?

Needless to say, I bombed the calc test.

I returned to my dorm room, dejected, and switched my materials to the Basics of Agronomy and Horticulture. At least this was a class I enjoyed. When I lived at my parents’ house, I spent what free time I had in the backyard or the community garden cultivating herbs and vegetables. Whenever I was worried about how I’d do on my core graduation tests, gardening was the most efficient way for me to relax.

I trailed my fingers through the leaves of the potted spider plant on my desk. If only plants could understand people. Plants wouldn’t tell anyone about not taking the pills, or failing a computer class, or—

The stem of a spiderette wrapped around my finger and wriggled beneath my palm. I yelped and yanked my hand away.

The plant just moved.

Not only that, but spiderette stems were stiff, not malleable like a vine. They shouldn’t be able to wrap around my finger even if plants could move of their own accord.

I stared at the plant, but it seemed the same as before. Just a normal stem in a normal pot.

I swallowed hard. I could not be hallucinating. Not this close to the Health Scan. I grabbed my bag and stuffed the books inside, then rushed out the door. I was stressed and needed lunch; that was all.

Downstairs, the spicy aroma of sloppy joes mingled with the antiseptic stench of cleaning supplies used in the cafeteria. My stomach churned. Bad idea coming to the cafeteria. Really bad idea. I should’ve just taken the pill and been done with it. Maybe I would’ve gotten accustomed to the lack of focus. I could still go back and take the pill. Maybe—

I stopped short at the lunch table.

“You okay?” Lance stabbed his fork into a half-eaten sandwich. “You’re pale. Maybe you should see the nurse.”

“No!” I gripped the loose ends of my backpack tight. Lance gave me a puzzled look. I shut my mouth, then set my backpack in its proper place under the chair. “It’s just… I failed the calc test.”

He cocked his head with a knowing grin. “Sure you did—you won’t have the results until after the Health Scan. You know, you’re starting to sound like Tim.” His smirk turned into an amused smile. “Want me to get you a plate?”

“Go ahead,” I said, and he left me alone at the table. I traced the spot where the stem had wrapped around my finger. My blood pounded in my ears, mingling with the messy roar of the cafeteria. The stress of the upcoming scan was getting to me—bad. Hallucinations were the first sign of theophrenia. If someone had theophrenia, they’d have hallucinations and delusions of grandeur, and eventually, they’d die. But theophrenia was supposed to be a thing of the past. Contained.

“Jenna?” An elbow brushed my shoulder and I jumped. Tim stood beside me, holding a plate of steamed broccoli. “Are you okay?”

Not really, no. But I couldn’t tell him the real reason I was worried. “I bombed the calc test,” I said.

Tim cringed and took his seat. “Ouch.” He stirred his fork through the broccoli, wrinkling his nose and making a face. But I’d never seen him put something back if it was good for him, and he took a bite. “Lance said you can make up yesterday’s points.”

“Maybe, if I get an audience.”

Tim pulled his tablet from his pocket and sat it beside the plate, then flipped through the screens with a swipe of his finger. He showed me a photograph of the commander next to his transport ship. “Do you think he’ll autograph this for me?”

I nodded weakly. I never did understand autographs, though most E-Leadership members were happy to give them. Lady Winters never signed them, though, and when Master Matoska made a rare appearance, he only did so if the signing was on his schedule.

A plate of food slid in front of me. “I got you extra broccoli,” Lance said.

Warmth flooded my chest. Unlike Tim, I actually liked broccoli—and Lance knew me well.

I smiled. “Thanks.”

DH Divider

After lunch, I excused myself early to slip outside. I had a few minutes before the next meeting, plenty of time for a walk to clear my head. The sun stole through the clouds in the courtyard and lent warmth to the chilly afternoon. Students swarmed the flagpole at the center of campus, waving tablets and books in the fresh air.

A tell-tale safari hat rode across the crowd and my breath caught in my throat. Unlike Lady Black, who often used her revealing outfits to stand out from the rest of us, Commander Rick did not flaunt his “attractiveness.” He always went for regal attire—except for that safari hat he always wore—and his word was absolutely, positively good. If he said he would do something, we could bet our efficiency points he’d do it—not that betting was in any way efficient.

I took a step back, my chest tight. I wasn’t ready to ask the commander questions. What if I got the interview, but they had to do the scan first?

I turned to take the long way around campus, but nearly collided with a confident woman as she passed me on the sidewalk. She nimbly stepped aside, then glanced at me, surprised. Wisps of dark hair tickled her face, and her green eyes were complimented by the antique, diamond and brass pendant she wore on her chest, the same kind of pendant members of international E-Leadership wore.

“Lady Black?” I stared at her, dumbfounded. She had to have been cold. Her dress was impractical—it twisted and shimmered in a harsh gust of wind, and her skin was pale where the silky black dress revealed far more of her chest than normal citizens would ever show. She opened her mouth to speak, but I skittered away before any words could be exchanged.

I didn’t check to see if anyone had seen us before I ducked into the closest building. Once inside, I pressed my hands against the stone wall and caught my breath. Too close. What if I’d said something about the pills in a moment of panic? I half expected an agent to come waltzing through the glass doors and ask why I hadn’t reported my earlier hallucination.

I took a deep breath, ignoring the puzzled stares of passing students. Though I couldn’t shake the feeling that someone was watching, no agent came to question me. I waited for my nerves to calm, and then headed back to the dorms for the afternoon meeting.

40654-distant-horizon

Like what you read? Want to find out what happens next?

Pre-Order Distant Horizon today!
Amazon – Amazon UK – B&N – Kobo – iTunes – Smashwords

You can also find Distant Horizon on Goodreads.

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I hope you enjoyed this post. 🙂

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Thoughts on Writing – A Blurb For Distant Horizon

Isaac and I are preparing to publish our YA/NA science fiction novel, Distant Horizon, and one of the many things that must be completed is a shiny blurb for the back of the book (and the Amazon storefront).

This particular blurb has been through many incarnations, especially seeing as how it started as a query letter (which went through many revisions on Absolute Write’s forums). Of course, the story changed over time, and some of the query letters became obsolete… even when they sounded half-way decent.

In a query letter, you want to give a little more information than a blurb (though you don’t typically reveal the end in either), and as such, I wasn’t sure what should stay and what should go.

How much information is too much?

If I reveal a certain plot point, is it a spoiler, or does it intrigue the reader?

I’ve read some blurbs that pretty much went all the way to the climax of the book, or ran through each major plot point without room for deviation. I’ve read some blurbs that didn’t tell me much at all.

Needless to say, I’ve started to avoid reading blurbs again once I’ve actually started reading a book, that way I don’t start waiting to see when the next plot point shows up. But I’ve also noticed that it takes a really good blurb to hold my attention and make me read it word for word, rather than skimming for key words that catch my interest.

That being said, let’s take a look at what Isaac and I currently have written for Distant Horizon.

The Community is safe, unless you have superpowers.

 

Eighteen-year-old Jenna Nickleson resides in an efficient, secure society that’s recovering from a hallucinogenic plague. So when Special Forces agents arrive at her university prior to a mandatory Health Scan, Jenna’s paranoia—and recent string of hallucinations—prompt her to find out what happens to the students who fail. Rumor has it that they’re sent away for treatment, but when she uncovers a cruel government conspiracy, her ideal world is shattered.

Terrified, Jenna flees her home under the protection of a ragtag band of freedom fighters. The rebels offer her refuge on their rusty airship and claim her hallucinations are elemental plant powers. She’s not so sure she trusts them, but when she comes face-to-face with a cruel telepath in charge of the government’s darkest secrets, Jenna realizes she’ll need more than special powers to escape with her mind and body intact.

This particular blurb has a tagline: The Community is safe, unless you have superpowers.

(There’s an explanation on the difference between a tagline and a logline here, and a quick explanation here.)

We’re briefly introduced to our protagonist (Jenna), our setting (an efficient, secure society), and a conflict (Society is recovering from hallucinogenic plague. Jenna’s been having hallucination. Societal enforcers show up, making her wonder what’s going to happen to her). We also learn there’s a government conspiracy and get information that gets us just about halfway into the book (when she first meets the telepath).

Analyzing this, I wondered if the conflict could be made clearer from the get-go, and if there’s more we should know about Jenna to make her an interesting character right from the start.

I thought about trying to write the blurb in third person, but offhand I could only think of one book that did this well (Delirium by Lauren Oliver), and I think that worked so well in part because it captured the feel of her writing style.

In one article I read about writing a blurb, the author suggested that introducing the setting before the main character was important in science fiction and fantasy. I checked this theory. This holds true for both Hunger Games and Divergent, and to some degree, Matched (the tagline sets up the world).

Given that the world plays a huge role in Distant Horizon, I’m now considering setting up the world first. (In a world where super villains won the day and dismissed super heroes as delusional misfits with a hallucinogenic plague… All right, all right, I won’t start with “In a world”… And I’m fairly certain that “super villains” and “super heroes” are trademarked terms. *Sigh.*)

Based on the idea of setting first, I came up with this rough blurb:

Ever since a hallucinogenic plague wiped out half the world’s population, the Community has been a haven for its citizens. The people of the Community are safe, secure, and efficient. They take a daily pill to ensure their immunity to the plague, and when the time comes for them to enter the work force, they take a mandatory Health Scan. It’s their duty.

But underneath the illusion of safety, the Community’s Special Forces agents enforce a dark secret.

The plague isn’t real.

Eighteen-year-old Jenna Nickleson is a freshman biology student with a secret of her own. She hasn’t taken the pill since her senior year of high school. She feels more alive without it, and she doesn’t show any signs of infection—until just two days before a surprise Health Scan is announced and Special Forces agents arrive at her university. Jenna’s paranoia—and recent string of hallucinations—prompt her to find out what happens to the students who fail. Rumor has it that they’re sent away for treatment, but when she uncovers the cruel government conspiracy behind the scans, her ideal world is shattered.

I’d be tempted to cut it off here, but I’m not sure that it shows enough about what Jenna will do next. What are her goals? What are the stakes?

This is the amended blurb (though maybe a bit lengthy…):

Ever since a hallucinogenic plague wiped out half the world’s population, the Community has been a haven for its citizens. The people of the Community are safe, secure, and efficient. They take a daily pill to ensure their immunity to the plague, and when the time comes for them to enter the work force, they take a mandatory Health Scan.

It’s their duty. But underneath the illusion of safety, the Community’s Special Forces agents enforce a dark secret.

The plague isn’t real.

Eighteen-year-old Jenna Nickleson is a university biology student with a secret of her own. She hasn’t taken the pill since her senior year of high school. She feels more alive without it, and she doesn’t show any signs of infection—until just days before a surprise Health Scan is announced and Special Forces agents arrive at her university.

Jenna’s paranoia—and recent string of hallucinations—prompt her to find out what happens to the students who fail. Rumor has it that the students who fail the scan are sent away for treatment, but when she uncovers the cruel conspiracy behind the scans, her ideal world is shattered.

Terrified for her life, Jenna flees under the protection of a ragtag band of so-called “freedom fighters” whose arrival coincided with that of Special Forces. These rebels offer her refuge and claim her hallucinations are elemental plant powers, but she’s not so sure she trusts them. Still, her curiosity gets the best of her, and when she comes face-to-face with a cruel telepath in charge of the government’s darkest secrets, Jenna realizes she’ll need more than special powers to escape with her mind and body intact.

Eh… it’s a work in progress.

Let’s look at the taglines real quick.

The current one I have is:

The Community is safe, unless you have superpowers.

An alternative tagline I’ve considered is:

The Community is safe, secure, efficient.

At least, that’s what we were supposed to believe.

Or simply:

The Community is Safe.

The Community is Secure.

The Community is Efficient.

It is our duty.

The first tagline introduces part of the Community mantra, and also brings in the idea of superpowers (which is nice to for attracting the attention of readers who enjoy superhero stories). The downside I’ve considered is that it may not be clear whether the Community isn’t safe for people with superpowers, or if the Community isn’t safe from people with superpowers.

Or both.

Technically, it’s both, but the potential problem is a concern I have.

The second tagline introduces a condensed version of the Community mantra, and instantly sets up that things aren’t as they seem (yay, tension!). Downside… no mention of superpowers.

The third tagline is a bit lengthy, but it clearly shows the Community mantra, which is repeated several times and places a huge role throughout the book. Should be a tad discomforting for the reader, but the downside is that it doesn’t reveal superpowers or and other form tension/conflict.

But what do you guys think? Which tagline do you like best, and why?

What do you think about the blurb? Are there any blurbs you’ve particularly enjoyed reading?

I hope you found this post helpful. 🙂

___

By the way, as a way to say thanks for reaching 1000 Twitter followers, I’m currently running a giveaway for two ebook copies (.mobi file or Smashwords coupon) of Magic’s Stealing!

Click here if you’re interested in entering the Rafflecopter giveaway, and good luck! 😀

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Thoughts on Publishing – A Video Blog Post – Reading Chapter Seventeen of Magic’s Stealing

I finally got the next reading (chapter seventeen) of Magic’s Stealing uploaded! Enjoy. 🙂

Click here for the link if you can’t see the video.

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

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Blog Tour for a Fellow Author – The Goat Children

Today I’m participating in a blog tour for Jordan Elizabeth’s latest book, The Goat Children. Friday I’ll plan on doing the video blog post, along with an update on our booth at the upcoming Old Drum Days Festival. 🙂

* * *

GOAT CHILDREN

A young adult novel with a touch of fantasy, love, and imagination versus reality.

The Goat Children Book Cover

When Keziah’s grandmother, Oma, is diagnosed with dementia, Keziah faces two choices: leave her family and move to New Winchester to care for Oma, or stay in New York City and allow her grandmother to live in a nursing home miles away.

The dementia causes Oma to be rude and paranoid, nothing like the woman Keziah remembers. Each day becomes a greater weight and love a harsher burden. Keziah must keep Oma from wandering off or falling, and try to convince her grandmother to see a doctor as her eyesight and hearing fail, but Oma refuses to believe anything is wrong. Resentful of her hardships in New Winchester, Keziah finds herself drawn to Oma’s ramblings about the Goat Children, a mythical warrior class. These fighters ride winged horses, locating people in need, while attempting to destroy evil in the world. Oma sees the Goat Children everywhere, and as Keziah reads the stories Oma wrote about them, she begins to question if they really exist.

*

GOAT CHILDREN is now available on Amazon from CHBB.

Check out early reviews on GoodReads!

*

Check out Chapter 1:

Bodies crushed against each other, a blur of hair and clothes, in the mad dash to exit the subway. The air smelled of the greasy restaurants above and felt stuffy, despite the bitter cold that rattled through the damp subway tunnel. My mouth watered as I sniffed roasted chestnuts.

 

You haven’t eaten dinner yet, my rumbling stomach scolded.

 

I slipped past a man speaking rapid Spanish to board the train, grabbed a pole, slid on to a seat, and pulled my green bag higher towards my chest. The two paperbacks inside jammed into my ribs. With a groan, I shifted into a new position, wondering what glorious worlds awaited within the glossy covers.

 

“Whoa ho, ho, ho.”

 

More people ranting on the subway. It could never be a quiet ride. I opened my bag to peer at the fantasy novels. I’d chosen thick books because they lasted longer and made the reading more rewarding.

 

“Ho, little one.”

 

A face shoved into mine from the aisle, and I jerked back, squeaking. Oily black hair hung over a scarred forehead. The man swayed, braying a laugh. I glanced at the woman with bright pink hair sitting on the next seat. She read a newspaper without looking up.

 

“So much to you.” The man licked his lips and slurred the words.

 

His pungent odor clawed its way through my nose; no escaping the invisible fumes. They washed over me with groping draws until my eyes watered. I cringed, my craving for chestnuts gone. Anyone on a diet would be thankful to have him around.

 

He stood, clinging to a pole with one gloved hand. Threads poked from the torn seams in the gripping brown leather. Two duffel bags, stained with mud, rested near his feet, bulging with contents.

 

I lowered my gaze, clutching the bag tighter. Please go away. I shouldn’t have taken the subway, but I’d done it to save time. Even though I was seventeen, Mama said it wasn’t safe to ride alone, and now, I agreed.

 

I’m not gonna be home by my seven o’clock curfew. Mama’s gonna freak. I can’t believe I forgot my phone.

 

“You don’t belong on this world.” He smacked his lips. Behind his head, a large sign told the public not to smoke, or they’d get lung cancer and die. It was easier to stare at the anti-smoking sign than him.

 

“Yes, thank you,” I mumbled as he leered at me. Even if he lacked a home and suffered from insanity, he didn’t deserve rudeness.

 

“You like fantasy?”

 

I stared at my lap, but when he repeated the question louder, I nodded.

 

“What would ya do if fantasy became your life? What would ya do if it wasn’t fantasy anymore?”

 

“Fantasy isn’t real.” I shifted my gaze to my black socks. They came up to my thighs and the right sock had a tiny hole near the knee. I’d have to sew it when I got home. If I studied it, maybe he’d grow bored and mosey on elsewhere.

 

“Are you happy here? Don’t you want more, little one? I can take you to another world.” His deep breaths made snot rattle in his nose.

 

I gagged, hiding my mouth behind my hand. The woman with the newspaper glanced over. I pleaded silently for her to make the man go away, but she moved to an empty seat down the car, wrinkling her nose. I still had five more stops before I could get away.

 

Do I dare follow her?

 

“Don’t you believe in destiny?”

 

What if he sits next to me? I slid my bag onto the empty seat, clutching the handle. As the subway curved around the corner, it screeched, the sound echoing through the metallic enclosure as if screaming, “Doom!”

 

“I’ve been to other lands. I’ve seen my future, and I spit at it.” He turned his head to hack on the floor. The saliva bubbled with a yellowish hue.

 

The subway squealed to a halt, and some of the passengers stood to exit. I removed the bag in case someone new sat down, someone safe, but no one came near or looked at us as they found seats. The doors slid shut, and the train moved again. Four more stops to go.

 

“Don’t shun fantasy. I’ve made mistakes and don’t want you to make ‘em too. Take it and see what you can do. Take it!” He pumped his fist, revealing grease stains on his coat sleeves.

 

I scanned the other passengers’ faces. They ignored us, although the ranting man filled the car with his voice. Only the smiling faces on wall advertisements watched. Ever-smiling, ever-trapped in their realm of sales. I fiddled with the zipper on the front of my gray hoodie, heart racing.

 

The subway halted at the next station. Again, people exited and entered, and no one sat beside me. Three more stops to go. I drummed my fingers against my thigh.

 

“I know all about the ones they call the Goats.” He drew a ragged breath. “I’m not supposed to, but I know. My wife was one. She told me all about them. Oh, yes, she did. She wasn’t supposed to, but she did. They don’t let them take over the world. They won’t!”

 

Why do crazies always go for alien invasions? I twirled my brown curls. I’d get off at the next stop and walk the rest of the way, even if I arrived home later.

 

What if he follows me?

 

“The Goats!” He flapped his arm.

 

Alien goat invasion. How awesome. I jumped and clutched my bag like a shield. The subway screeched as it approached the next station. I wanted to run, but he waved both arms, repeating the scream.

 

The doors swished open, but if I stood to escape, he could attack. Two more stops to go. What if I can’t escape at my stop, either?

 

As soon as the subway started, he lowered his arm and drew a few breaths. He reeked of alcohol, and overpowering the sweat stench, the stench made my head swirl.

 

“Beware of the Goats.” His chest heaved. “Help the Goats. Save the Goats!”

 

He really is deranged. There weren’t any goats in New York City that I’d ever seen.

 

“Yes, I will.” Go away. “I’ll … I’ll watch out for the goats.”

 

“The Goats,” he corrected, as if I’d mispronounced the word. He picked up his duffel bags and waddled to the back of the car, where he dropped onto a seat. He took a small paperback book from the pocket of his trench coat and flipped it open.

 

When the doors swished open at the next stop, I exited in the crush of bodies. People coughed and spoke, heels clicked and wheels on backpacks rolled, and the sounds echoed off the stone walls.

 

I slid through the turnstile and bolted up the cement steps two at a time, the edges cracked and crumbled and graffiti decorated the walls with images of fire and obscene language. The brightness of the paint, and the harsh edges that curved and sang were beautiful. The scrawls seemed to want to leap off the stone, suddenly alive.

 

At the top, I grasped the railing. Cold, dented metal bit through the fishnet of my fingerless gloves while I gazed over my shoulder. The people emerging didn’t spare me a glance. I was lost in the crowd, a stationary fixture.

 

The man wasn’t following. I ducked my head to push into the crowd. People bumped into me, jostling with elbows and bags. I almost walked into a tourist, who snapped a picture of the taxicabs.

 

“Hey,” called a stout vender from the corner. “You okay?”

 

I tucked back a brown curl. “I’m fine, but thanks.” Wind whipping between the skyscrapers stole the power of my words.

 

“Wanna dog?” He held one out, nestled in a white roll.

 

“No, thanks. I don’t eat meat.”

 

“Good,” I thought I heard him whisper. “Your kind shouldn’t.”

 

He couldn’t have spoken. It must’ve been someone else. It wouldn’t make sense for a man who made his living off people scarfing down meat-in-a-tube to agree with my vegetarian lifestyle.

 

I ogled the sea of metal vehicles washed in the afternoon sunlight like sharks swarming for a fresh kill. I shook off the thought and ran, an empty Styrofoam cup crunching beneath my foot. I didn’t have a watch, but the sun hung low in the sky.

 

A thought raced through my mind as the sun made windows wink and flash.

 

Beware of Goats.

 

#

 

“Long line at the bookstore.” I dropped my bag on the marble table beside the door to my family’s condo. Instrumental Celtic music wafted from the living room as I left the small foyer, and I almost tripped over my sprawled little sister.

 

“Phebe, you shouldn’t lie on the floor.”

 

“Why are you home so late?” Phebe dragged an orange crayon over the page of her coloring book. Her ponytail bobbed as she tipped her head, studying the picture. “You should’ve taken me with you. Mommy said so.”

 

“I’m sure she did.” I rolled my eyes.

 

When I’d left earlier, Phebe had still been doing her mathematics homework. We were home schooled, so even in the summer, we had work to do. It sucked because other home schooled students I knew had summers off. That was our penalty for having a mother with a Master’s degree in elementary education.

 

“Where’re Mama and Dad?”

 

Phebe sat up on her knees with her eyebrows knit together. “Mommy’s crying.”

 

My heart sunk and dropped clear out of my stomach. Mama never got that upset when I came home late. Did she find out about the party last weekend at Tiffany’s? I’d lied and said it was only going to be Tiff, her parents and siblings, and me. I hadn’t mentioned her parents were in Vancouver on vacation or that Tiff had invited all of her friends, not just me. Regret stabbed my gut.

 

“Mama, I’m home! Mama?”

 

The family photographs glared at me from the wall, none so reprimanding as the face of my Reverend Uncle. I kicked off my flats and hurried into my parents’ bedroom. With the lamp off, only a little light slipped through the closed venetian blinds covering the single window.

 

Short brown hair fanned over the plaid pillowcase, and Mama lay sideways on the king-sized bed, a crumpled tissue pressed against her nose. Dad sat beside her, stroking her shoulders. He still wore his suit from work—an even worse sign. The first thing Dad did when he walked through the door was peel off his jacket and toss the tie onto the table.

 

“Mama?” My voice cracked as my throat constricted.

 

“Your uncle called.” Dad tugged on his green silk tie that should’ve been lost in the pile of mail, not still fastened around his neck.

 

“Uncle Tom?”

 

The Reverend in Massachusetts, Dad’s younger brother, only called once a month, on the first Friday. Even though we called him Uncle Tom around the house, we all referred to him as Pastor Thomas to his face.

 

“No, Uncle Jan.”

 

Mama’s brother, the one who called less than Uncle Tom did.

 

“What…what did he want? Has someone died?” Oh no, is it my grandmother? Uncle Jan lived upstate, in the same town as her.

 

“Keziah, it’s your grandmother,” Dad continued.

 

Oh no, oh no, oh no. When I’d been younger, we’d lived down the street from Mama’s mother. She had taken care of me while my parents worked, and we’d often picked violets in the yard. Sometimes, I imagined I could smell their perfume years later and hundreds of miles away.

 

I’d always called her Oma, which meant grandmother in Dutch. I could still remember the way I’d cried and screamed, begging to stay with Oma when we’d moved to New York City. The hours separating us seemed like an eternity.

 

“She has dementia.” Dad removed his tie and knotted it around his fingers.

 

I blinked at him. “Dementia?” Demented, like the man on the subway?

 

“She hasn’t been officially diagnosed, but the symptoms are there. Uncle Jan doesn’t feel she can live on her own anymore.” Dad dropped his tie onto the alarm clock.

 

“So…she’s moving in with Uncle Jan?” I pictured waking up from a sleepover at Oma’s house with fresh squeezed orange juice waiting in the kitchen beside a bowl of cream of wheat cereal, steamy and sweet.

 

“Good morning, sunshine,” Oma would sing. She’d pull out the chair, the seat hideous and green, leftover from the 1970s. It had been an honor to sit at the kitchen table with her.

 

Dad rubbed his chin. “Your aunt won’t let her do that.”

 

I grinned. “She’s moving in with us? That’s amazing!” I only saw Oma on school holidays, and that summer, we’d had to pass because Mama had taught a summer school class.

 

“You know that wouldn’t work.” Dad gazed at the dresser across the room, a fog coming over his eyes.

 

I pulled at a loose thread on my black skirt. If Oma moved in, then Dad would have to move out or risk family war. The yelling would never stop. She hated Dad with a roaring passion I’d never understood. That anger had contributed to the reason why we’d moved, and when we visited Oma, Dad never went.

 

“Your uncle wants to put her in a home.” Dad leaned over to rub a spot on the wall’s blue paint as if that space was the problem, and he could make it disappear.

 

I licked my dry lips. “You mean like a nursing home?”

 

“No!” Mama rose on her elbows. “I’m not putting my mother in a nursing home. Do you know how they treat their patients? It’s horrible. All those people. Oma would hate it. She’s so antisocial these days. Really hate it.”

 

“Hush. Come on, sweetheart. It’s all right. We won’t put her in a home.” Dad combed his fingers through her hair.

 

“Why would Uncle Jan want to do that?” I didn’t know anything about nursing homes, but Mama was right. Oma had become one of the most antisocial people I’d ever met.

 

“It’s your aunt.” Dad patted Mama’s back. “She wants to put your grandmother away. It’s getting too hard to take care of her, and she won’t let her move in with them. You know how your aunt can be.”

 

My aunt could be downright nasty—a sickish combination of stubborn and controlling. Dad was too nice to say that aloud, though.

 

“What are we going to do?” My question made Mama cry harder, and I flinched.

 

“We’ll think of something,” Dad whispered.

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Jordan Elizabeth - Author Photo

Jordan Elizabeth, formally Jordan Elizabeth Mierek, is known for her odd sense of humor and her outrageous outfits.  Surrounded by bookshelves, she can often be found pounding away at her keyboard – she’s known for breaking keyboards, too.  Jordan’s young adult novels include ESCAPE FROM WITCHWOOD HOLLOW, COGLING, TREASURE DARKLY, and BORN OF TREASURE.  GOAT CHILDREN is her first novel with CHBB.  Her short stories are featured in over twenty anthologies.  Check out her website for bonus scenes and contests.

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