Disheveled Dreams : Guest Blog : Slither by Valarie Savage Kinney

 

Excerpt:

Something was wrong.

Zari knew it, even as she fought against the nightmare that had engulfed her. Thrashing about in her mind as well as in the bed, she pushed herself to awaken. She was trapped in that gauzy middle ground between hard sleep and clarity.

And she was suffocating.

The snake was everywhere: over her, inside of her, shoving itself into her eyes, her mouth, her belly. A serpent bigger than she was, it filled most of the room. Couldn’t Emmett see it? Didn’t he hear the hissing, the horrible echoing of it that was hammering her ears? The air was heavy, tangible, too thick to breathe in and she struggled for air, arching her back in a desperate attempt to suck in oxygen. The gigantic serpent slid over her, releasing a sickening slurping sound with each movement. Zari could feel the slime dripping off of her. She shuddered, squeezing her eyes shut. It was melting into her, sealing its revolting body to hers with a scalding heat that made her cry out in agony. “No!” she cried out. “No, no, no!” The snake laughed, a hideous, wheezing sound that left goose bumps on her skin.

“Zari! You are one of us! You are one with us!”

“No!”

“We are Slither! We are bound together!”

“I won’t! I won’t do this!”

Horrendous cackling filled the room, permeating the air, sticking to her skin like a layer of filth.slitherdreams

Zari’s eyes snapped open and watched in terror as the face of the serpent dissolved into the face of the little girl, Kayde, smiling prettily. The face stretched and changed again, this time to a face once dear to Zari, one she hadn’t seen in many years. Chocolate brown hair buzzed short enough to show skin peeking through it. Short enough that it felt soft as the first sweet locks of an infant. Narrow violet eyes set in deep sockets with puffy dark pockets of flesh sitting immediately below them. A wide red mouth with deep, puckered lines about the lips. Impossibly straight, white teeth. Square chin. Nan’s features were older and seemed to have softened in some ways and in others looked harsh and wrinkled.

“N—Nan?” It couldn’t be possible. Could it?

“Child. You’ve been gone so long. You’ve got to come home now. It’s time for you to accept your gift,” Nan said, warm and inviting.

“I don’t want it. I won’t be like you, like Mama. I want to be normal,” Zari said, insistent.

“Normal? What, like this poor excuse of a man you’ve chosen to bed?”

“Leave Emmett out of this. I love him. I’m happy. He doesn’t know about… this, and he isn’t going to. Isn’t there any way I can get out of it?” Her voice was desperate, pleading.

“Get out of it? Renounce your bloodline? How do you propose to do that?” A harsh, barking laugh escaped Nan’s lips.

“I don’t know! Just… get it out of me!” Zari cried.

Suddenly, Nan was human again. Sitting atop Zari’s chest, she set about her grim task—wrapping a transparent film about Zari’s head. Horrified, Zari attempted to reach up to stop her, only to find her arms were cuffed to the bed. Digging the back of her head into the pillow, Zari screamed.

Nan wrapped the film tightly around Zari’s face, pulling hard as she stretched the film to wrap around her head one more time. Nan grinned broadly as she worked.

Emmett, Emmett, Emmett! Help me!

She was suffocating. There was no air, no air…

*********

Valarie Savage Kinney is a writer and Ren fest junkie. She resides in Michigan with her husband, four children, and two insane little dogs. She is the author of Just Hold On, Slither, Heckled, and short stories in various anthologies.

Slither by Valarie Savage Kinney

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Guest Blog: Disheveled Dreams: Happiness and Other Diseases by Sumiko Saulson

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For the month of March, Sumiko shared an excerpt of her series, Happiness and Other Diseases.  
Sumiko says,
“It deals with the Demos Oneiroi, which is the Greco-Roman land of dreams. The book is titled Somnalia after Somnuts (Sleep Party).
In this specific series, his foil is his twin brother, Thanatos, the god of peaceful death (not to be confused with the god of War, Ares).
It’s a horror story with a paranormal romance at it’s center: Charlotte “Happiness” Metaxas, heir apparent to the throne of the kindgom of erotic nightmares, is in a constant struggle with relatives who want wrest control from her. Her dad, the classic philandering Greek God Brash, ran the kingdom like a really cool night club for kinksters. He reincarnates and leaves her to run things. to turn her paranormal romance kingdom. Her uncle, Phobetor, the god of Nightmares, thinks she doesn’t know how to run things, and tries to take over, accidentally turning paranormal eroticaville into the land of torture porn. Her sister, Mercy, doesn’t like being trapped in the world of dreams, and wants to creep into the real world like Freddy Krueger and take things over with her sidekick, sister Sympathy, the queen of hentai.
 
A comic-book spin off “Dreamworlds” is a Cool World-like take on the series, where the dream world attempts to seep into the real world through this author in particular.”
Read an excerpt from Happiness and Other Diseases by Sumiko Saulson Act I: The Arrival of Happiness Nightmares
It was the same dream he’d had every night for the past year, but every time it haunted him, little details changed. Minor changes in setting and action were not the only differences in his bedtime story. Each time he had the dream, things went a little bit further than the last. The last couple of dreams had taken place in a powder gray office chair behind the plain white Formica-coated IKEA computer desk in his cubicle at work. He was tired of staring at the navy blue cubicle tiles. Four mismatched pushpins secured a print out of the company’s phone directory. He was more than a little relieved for the change of scenery. This time he was sitting on a barstool at Murphy’s Tavern. A half dozen co-workers from the call center were seated around the bar, sucking down shots of tequila and pint glasses of domestic beer poured out in abundance from the various ten-dollar pitchers purchased for the party.
Richard and Cindy from accounting were on stage, belting out their drunken rendition of “Summer Lovin’” from the musical Grease. Richard hammed it up with gratuitous hip gyrations, winking and serenading the secretaries seated in the front row. By contrast, Cindy failed to make eye contact with anyone, keeping her doe-eyed gaze fixed firmly on the karaoke monitor. Flynn remembered that part of the dream from last October. It was a going-away party for someone from the constantly rotating administrative pool temporary staff. He couldn’t remember the girl’s name, but he remembered her suits. She was in her late twenties or early thirties, yet she wore these tailored pink and powder blue designer suits that put him in mind of Nancy Reagan, of all things. They seemed very incongruous for a woman of her age and economics. He had always wondered if they were hand-me-downs from a formerly fashionable maiden aunt.
Richard and Cindy finished their song right after he finished his beer. Four drunken, obnoxious dudes from the IT department were half way through their voluminous and off-key rendition of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” when that thing finally showed up. Just like in every previous nightmare, it materialized suddenly, out of thin air. One moment he was looking at his own dog-tired mug in the mirror on the bar back, the next he was staring into the gaping maw of whatever it was that terrorized his dreams. It rarely took the same form twice. This time, it was shadowy and semi-translucent. It had withered legs and arms resembling the gnarled branches of a lightning-struck tree. They were almost humanoid, yet woefully emaciated. The creature was straddling his lap, facing him, with its talons resting on either side of his shoulders. Flynn gasped as he felt its claws sliding effortlessly into the flesh of his right shoulder. He felt a hot gush of blood flow out of his wounds and then slowly trickle down the back of his white t-shirt.
He would have screamed, but he knew from experience no one in the bar would hear him. His breath came in ragged, gasping pants as he struggled to maintain his composure. That creature knew it was hurting him, but Flynn didn’t want it to see him sweat.
“So,” he hissed under his breath, “The last time you showed up as a foxy-looking redhead. You aren’t bothering with pretenses this time I see?”
“This isn’t my true form, either,” the thing cooed back, leaning over and licking the side of his face with its wide, green tongue.
In the mirror, Flynn could see a thick trail of snail-like goo on his face where its saliva touched him. Its breath was mossy and tepid, but not entirely unpleasant. It smelled like the inside of a cave on a camping trip he remembered from childhood. Without wanting to, he found himself relaxing into the short leather back of the barstool. He felt warm and a little dizzy, but he knew it wasn’t the alcohol.
“I thought I would see if you like it rough this time,” the creature whispered in his ear.
Flynn turned away and lifted a hand in front of his face. “Don’t, please don’t,” he begged to know before the words left his lips that all of his pleas would be in vain.
A slender tendril of quivering flesh extended from a spot in its forehead, above and between where its eyes would have been. Instead of eyes, it had a row of five vacant dimples, each a shallow, empty socket lined with a membranous gel that breathed in and out like the gills of a fish. The appendage was as thick around as a large earthworm and lengthened rapidly, engorged until the throbbing tip touched his skin. He could feel it writhing its way up his cheek. Although he knew what to expect by now, his body convulsed involuntarily. He felt the tendril wind its way up to his nose. It thrust itself into his nostril, sliding in deeper until it penetrated his brain. In this incarnation, the creature’s mouth was as wide as his own head. Behind the series of fleshy polyps that jiggled, dangling from its moist lips, its hideous jaws were lined with sharp, jagged teeth. Its voice was wet and sucking, the sound a puddle of hot shit in a clogged up bar toilet would probably make if it started to speak.
Flynn hated its voice. “I can do whatever I want to you,” it cruelly purred.
“I can even make you like it.” A mucilaginous blue fluid pulsated through the fleshy appendage, and Flynn watched helplessly as the drug traveled through the tendril and entered his bloodstream, headed directly for his brain.
Wave after wave of chemical stimulation hit his nervous system and as he succumbed to the intoxicant, his fear gradually gave way to intense, almost painful arousal. The air molecules surrounding the creature’s form trembled slightly, in a way only Flynn could see. He watched as its form slowly shifted, reverting to the familiar freckle-faced buxom bar girl with the rust-colored hair. Over her shoulder, he could see his face in the bar-back mirror. He could feel something foreign invading his flesh, throbbing under his skin in perfect counterpoint to his heartbeat. As each fresh wave of euphoria hit him, he observed a strange, orange glow pulsating in the veins that were pounding out a rhythm in his temples. When the girl bent over and bit his neck, he whimpered. “I don’t know what you’re doing to me,” he mumbled, “but I don’t really want you to stop.”
It laughed at him. “But you should want me to stop,” the woman told him.
“I am a parasite and I’m feeding off you. I will gradually drain the life out of you, and leave you a dead and empty husk. And you would like that, wouldn’t you?”
“Yes,” Flynn muttered compliantly.
“Yes, you should eat all of me until there is nothing left.” His reflection stared back at him, slack jawed and vacant.
The whites of his eyes were clouded by bubbling peach-colored swirls of viscous alien matter, like tiny ocular lava lamps. There was even a slightly pink tinge to the tear that was sliding down his cheek. Cindy and Richard were standing on either side of him now, watching the scene unfold in eager anticipation. Four drunkards from the information technologies department joined the telemarketing team. The whole group was riveted by the theatrics. The secretarial pool held him in its hungry gaze as the temp with the pastel Bill Blass suit pulled out a pair of orange-handled office scissors and slit open the front of his t-shirt.
“I love playing with my food!” the monster shrilly announced to its admiring sycophants.
The crowd oohed and aahed appreciatively as she used her razor sharp fingernails to shred the rest of his t-shirt before removing it from his body. It was white cotton, the perfect medium for absorbing the blood that had been expressed from the many little abrasions she’d clumsily left on his torso while removing the garment. When the creature bent down to bite his nipple, Flynn threw his arms around its neck and arched his back to make it easier for the thing to completely devour him. His labored breathing gave way to moaning and trembling with anticipation as he resolved to give himself over to this monster completely. Then he woke up.
“Fuck you, bitch!” he screamed at no one in the room.
“I want to live!” “Fuck you, too!” his neighbor screamed back from the apartment above, punctuating the exclamation with a stomp on the floor.
A stream of further expletives followed. They were laced with creative suggestions for what kinds of objects Flynn, and the whore the old man upstairs imagined he must have been banging last night, could unceremoniously shove up their collective ass. Flynn jumped up from the soiled beige frameless futon mattress he called a bed, and ran into the cramped little closet-like bathroom of his tiny apartment. He barely reached the toilet in time to grasp the sides of it and lean his head forward in order to evacuate his meager stomach contents into the bowl. Waves of unrelenting nausea caused him to vomit repeatedly until his stomach was empty. After all of the food was gone, he sat on the floor for another half an hour feeling his throat burn as he dry heaved and spat up stomach acid. He was sick like this a lot lately. Flynn stood up and turned to face the sink. There was no walking necessary… it was about two feet away from the toilet.
The room was so small he could extend his arm and touch the plastic curtain of the claustrophobic, coffin-sized shower. He looked into the mirror in the medicine cabinet. It was about three feet high and two feet wide, bordered with a thin strip of discolored chrome, covered in a film of soap scum, and occasionally dotted with random drops of toothpaste and dried dirty bathwater. He didn’t look so hot. Under his eyes were bags deep enough for a weekend shopping spree. His solemn brown eyes were bloodshot and red-rimmed. His once golden skin was now sallow and jaundiced. His cheeks were the gaunt, his eyes were sunken. He decided he looked like a junkie.
“This shit is killing me,” he told his reflection.
He could still feel pain in his shoulder blade where the witch had impaled his flesh with her claws in the dream. His body hurt in other places, but that was the worst. He lifted his hand and touched the side of his neck. When he pulled away his fingers, they were covered in blood. He stood back from the mirror and observed a dozen tiny lines on his chest, minuscule scabs where she barely grazed the skin, and the blood had already dried. His nipple was still bleeding a little bit, and it was sore when he touched it. Flynn sharply sucked in his breath. He was very shaken up. He was afraid he was going to burst into tears. Pulling himself together, he stumbled into the nearby shower and stripped off his boxer briefs. He tossed them out past the slightly moldy plastic shower curtain with the gaudy tropical fish and seahorses painted on it.sumikodreamcover
They landed inside out, and he shook his head a little when he noticed the stain from last night’s involuntary emission. He turned on the shower and enjoyed the hot water coursing down over his aching flesh. He was exhausted, but he knew he had a doctor’s appointment that morning. He didn’t want to walk into Dr. Lester’s office smelling like jizz, sweat, and shame. He tried not to think about his night terrors, but the harder he tried to forget about them, the more persistently they prodded at his waking mind. Soon, he found himself with a raging boner. It was hard to deny that he did like it rough. Still… that was not something he wanted that nightmare succubus to know and he most certainly had no desire to be eaten alive. Of course, there was a very good chance this succubus creature did not exist.
Flynn had begun to doubt his sanity sometime last summer, about a month after the dreams began. His therapist had assured him this monster did not, could not, actually exist. He must be hurting himself somehow in his sleep. The exhaustion must be a sign of his depression. Lots of depressed people felt tired. He would feel better soon, when the medications started working. Dr. Lester had an explanation for everything. She even told him he should not be ashamed of his fantasies, no matter how perverse he might deem them to be. They were only fantasies, and everyone has fantasies. In fact, his fantasies weren’t even all that uncommon. There was no need to be embarrassed by them. With that in mind, he decided it would be very therapeutic to beat off in the shower. Commentary Nyx was impatiently waiting for an answer.
“Plot and scheme?” her son Thanatos, the god of death protested.
“We would never.” “Settle down, brother,” Somnus interrupted.
“Mother, it is not his fault. I know what you speak of. It is the work of my son, Brash, and his children.
They’ve grown unusually bloodthirsty as of late. “I apologize for their behavior.”
“Aaahhh,” his mother said. “I am aware of what you speak of and I appreciate your honesty in this matter. It seems Brash and several of his children have been dissatisfied with their rightful place in the underworld in the Demos Oneiroi and have instead decided to enter the mortal realm and inflict themselves upon the living like some plague or disease.”
“I will speak with them,” Somnus reassured her.
“It has gone beyond that,” Nyx warned.
“They threaten to disrupt the natural order of things and to cause war between myself and those of greater power than even myself. I have decided they must be tested, and punished if necessary.”
“How will you test them?” Somnus asked.
Nyx lifted a burdensome scroll to the table and partially unfurled it, revealing a spot in the middle. It was a map of the Demos Oneiroi, the Greco-Roman mythological realm of dreams. She pointed to a tiny spot on the map with the very tip of her slim, tapered finger.
“Do you see that young man there?” she asked, tapping the spot twice.
“Look closely, and you will see him. He is the one begging your granddaughter Mercy for his life.”
“I see him,” Somnus responded.
“The fate of the entire line of Brash lies with him.” she said.
“Let’s say that mortal is able to persevere. Let’s say he is able to survive for the short span these fragile creatures are intended to live. Perhaps he will become the progenitor of a bloodline, for offspring are the closest any mortal being comes to immortality. If he is able to thrive, then they shall as well. If not…”
“If not?” Thanatos asked a little too eagerly.
Being the god of death, he had a pleasant feeling about where this might be going.
“If not, then as they so envy the mortals, let them be mortal. Let their endless lives, with which they have become so bored and tired, come to an end,” Nyx ordered. “Let them die, like all the rest.”
“He is my son,” Somnus protested.
“Surely, you will at least allow me to call forth a champion, to protect this mortal upon whose fragile shoulders you place such a heavy burden?”
“Very well,” Nyx relented, after a moment of silent consideration.
“You may, but you must call forth a champion from your own line. More specifically, this champion should be one of Brash’s progeny. To the best of my knowledge they are cruel, brutal and irredeemable, but if you have one with whom you might trust such a charge, name him.”
“Her,” Somnus corrected.
“Happiness. I name her. She will protect him.” Nyx furrowed her brow. “I have not heard this name before. Who is she?”
“She is a demigoddess,” Somnus explained.
“She is the offspring of the most recent dalliance between Brash and a mortal mistress.” Nyx laughed.
“You mean a demisomnali? To be a demigoddess, she would need to be the child of a god, and surely we are not elevating your wayward son Brash to the same status as you or your brother?”
“Very well,” Somnus conceded, not wishing to offend his mother.
Certain among his thousand sons the Oneiroi were considered gods. Morpheus was the god of dreams, and Phobetor the god of nightmares, for example. Brash would have been the god of erotic nightmares, but he was obscure and had no worshippers.
“A demisomnali, as you say. I name her.”
“For their sakes, I hope she’s a great deal gentler than her sisters,” Thanatos remarked. “They’ve sent many a mortal my way.”
“I am a parasite and I’m feeding off you. I will gradually drain the life out of you, and leave you a dead and empty husk. And you would like that, wouldn’t you?”
“Yes,” Flynn muttered compliantly.
“Yes, you should eat all of me until there is nothing left.” His reflection stared back at him, slack jawed and vacant.
The whites of his eyes were clouded by bubbling peach-colored swirls of viscous alien matter, like tiny ocular lava lamps. There was even a slightly pink tinge to the tear that was sliding down his cheek. Cindy and Richard were standing on either side of him now, watching the scene unfold in eager anticipation. Four drunkards from the information technologies department joined the telemarketing team. The whole group was riveted by the theatrics. The secretarial pool held him in its hungry gaze as the temp with the pastel Bill Blass suit pulled out a pair of orange-handled office scissors and slit open the front of his t-shirt.
“I love playing with my food!” the monster shrilly announced to its admiring sycophants.
The crowd oohed and aahed appreciatively as she used her razor sharp fingernails to shred the rest of his t-shirt before removing it from his body. It was white cotton, the perfect medium for absorbing the blood that had been expressed from the many little abrasions she’d clumsily left on his torso while removing the garment.
When the creature bent down to bite his nipple, Flynn threw his arms around its neck and arched his back to make it easier for the thing to completely devour him. His labored breathing gave way to moaning and trembling with anticipation as he resolved to give himself over to this monster completely. Then he woke up. “Fuck you, bitch!” he screamed at no one in the room.
“I want to live!” “Fuck you, too!” his neighbor screamed back from the apartment above, punctuating the exclamation with a stomp on the floor.
A stream of further expletives followed. They were laced with creative suggestions for what kinds of objects Flynn, and the whore the old man upstairs imagined he must have been banging last night, could unceremoniously shove up their collective ass. Flynn jumped up from the soiled beige frameless futon mattress he called a bed, and ran into the cramped little closet-like bathroom of his tiny apartment. He barely reached the toilet in time to grasp the sides of it and lean his head forward in order to evacuate his meager stomach contents into the bowl. Waves of unrelenting nausea caused him to vomit repeatedly until his stomach was empty. After all of the food was gone, he sat on the floor for another half an hour feeling his throat burn as he dry heaved and spat up stomach acid. He was sick like this a lot lately. Flynn stood up and turned to face the sink. There was no walking necessary… it was about two feet away from the toilet. The room was so small he could extend his arm and touch the plastic curtain of the claustrophobic, coffin-sized shower.
He looked into the mirror in the medicine cabinet. It was about three feet high and two feet wide, bordered with a thin strip of discolored chrome, covered in a film of soap scum, and occasionally dotted with random drops of toothpaste and dried dirty bathwater. He didn’t look so hot. Under his eyes were bags deep enough for a weekend shopping spree. His solemn brown eyes were bloodshot and red-rimmed. His once golden skin was now sallow and jaundiced. His cheeks were the gaunt, his eyes were sunken. He decided he looked like a junkie.
“This shit is killing me,” he told his reflection.
He could still feel pain in his shoulder blade where the witch had impaled his flesh with her claws in the dream. His body hurt in other places, but that was the worst. He lifted his hand and touched the side of his neck. When he pulled away his fingers, they were covered in blood. He stood back from the mirror and observed a dozen tiny lines on his chest, minuscule scabs where she barely grazed the skin, and the blood had already dried. His nipple was still bleeding a little bit, and it was sore when he touched it. Flynn sharply sucked in his breath. He was very shaken up. He was afraid he was going to burst into tears. Pulling himself together, he stumbled into the nearby shower and stripped off his boxer briefs. He tossed them out past the slightly moldy plastic shower curtain with the gaudy tropical fish and seahorses painted on it. They landed inside out, and he shook his head a little when he noticed the stain from last night’s involuntary emission. He turned on the shower and enjoyed the hot water coursing down over his aching flesh. He was exhausted, but he knew he had a doctor’s appointment that morning. He didn’t want to walk into Dr. Lester’s office smelling like jizz, sweat and shame. He tried not to think about his night terrors, but the harder he tried to forget about them, the more persistently they prodded at his waking mind.
Soon, he found himself with a raging boner. It was hard to deny that he did like it rough. Still… that was not something he wanted that nightmare succubus to know and he most certainly had no desire to be eaten alive. Of course, there was a very good chance this succubus creature did not exist. Flynn had begun to doubt his sanity sometime last summer, about a month after the dreams began. His therapist had assured him this monster did not, could not, actually exist. He must be hurting himself somehow in his sleep. The exhaustion must be a sign of his depression. Lots of depressed people felt tired. He would feel better soon, when the medications started working. Dr. Lester had an explanation for everything. She even told him he should not be ashamed of his fantasies, no matter how perverse he might deem them to be. They were only fantasies, and everyone has fantasies. In fact, his fantasies weren’t even all that uncommon. There was no need to be embarrassed by them. With that in mind, he decided it would be very therapeutic to beat off in the shower. Commentary Nyx was impatiently waiting for an answer.
“Plot and scheme?” her son Thanatos, the god of death protested. “We would never.”
“Settle down, brother,” Somnus interrupted. “Mother, it is not his fault. I know what you speak of. It is the work of my son, Brash, and his children. They’ve grown unusually bloodthirsty as of late. I apologize for their behavior.”
“Aaahhh,” his mother said. “I am aware of what you speak of and I appreciate your honesty in this matter. It seems Brash and several of his children have been dissatisfied with their rightful place in the underworld in the Demos Oneiroi and have instead decided to enter the mortal realm and inflict themselves upon the living like some plague or disease.”
“I will speak with them,” Somnus reassured her.
“It has gone beyond that,” Nyx warned.
“They threaten to disrupt the natural order of things and to cause war between myself and those of greater power than even myself. I have decided they must be tested, and punished if necessary.”
“How will you test them?” Somnus asked. Nyx lifted a burdensome scroll to the table and partially unfurled it, revealing a spot in the middle.
It was a map of the Demos Oneiroi, the Greco-Roman mythological realm of dreams. She pointed to a tiny spot on the map with the very tip of her slim, tapered finger. “Do you see that young man there?” she asked, tapping the spot twice.
“Look closely, and you will see him. He is the one begging your granddaughter Mercy for his life.”
“I see him,” Somnus responded. “The fate of the entire line of Brash lies with him.” she said.
“Let’s say that mortal is able to persevere. Let’s say he is able to survive for the short span these fragile creatures are intended to live. Perhaps he will become the progenitor of a bloodline, for offspring are the closest any mortal being comes to immortality. If he is able to thrive, then they shall as well. If not…”
“If not?” Thanatos asked a little too eagerly.
Being the god of death, he had a pleasant feeling about where this might be going. “If not, then as they so envy the mortals, let them be mortal. Let their endless lives, with which they have become so bored and tired, come to an end,” Nyx ordered.
“Let them die, like all the rest.”
“He is my son,” Somnus protested.
“Surely, you will at least allow me to call forth a champion, to protect this mortal upon whose fragile shoulders you place such a heavy burden?”
“Very well,” Nyx relented, after a moment of silent consideration.
“You may, but you must call forth a champion from your own line. More specifically, this champion should be one of Brash’s progeny. To the best of my knowledge they are cruel, brutal and irredeemable, but if you have one with whom you might trust such a charge, name him.”
“Her,” Somnus corrected.
“Happiness. I name her. She will protect him.” Nyx furrowed her brow.
“I have not heard this name before. Who is she?”
“She is a demigoddess,” Somnus explained.
“She is the offspring of the most recent dalliance between Brash and a mortal mistress.” Nyx laughed.
“You mean a demisomnali? To be a demigoddess, she would need to be the child of a god, and surely we are not elevating your wayward son Brash to the same status as you or your brother?”
“Very well,” Somnus conceded, not wishing to offend his mother.
Certain among his thousand sons the Oneiroi were considered gods. Morpheus was the god of dreams, and Phobetor the god of nightmares, for example. Brash would have been the god of erotic nightmares, but he was obscure and had no worshippers. “A demisomnali, as you say. I name her.”
“For their sakes, I hope she’s a great deal gentler than her sisters,” Thanatos remarked.
“They’ve sent many a mortal my way.”

Guest Blog: Engine Women’s Light by Laurel Anne Hill

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Chapter 7

Blue Light and Rattling Bones

 

ewl-lined-up-2-cropped-for-animoto A curtain of darkness hung behind manzanita bushes and poison oak, ten or fifteen feet above me on the hillside. This had to be the opening I’d detected the day the council met. The threshold to the Cave of Light.

I edged upward, prickly brush scraping my arms through the sleeves of my ankle-length tunic. Some types of Indian spirits stayed with their bones instead of going to the Shadow World. The spirit of the Yokut shaman’s bones in the cave ought to know where that magic letter was, plus how to reach it without encountering malicious spirits or falling down a shaft. If the crumbling path didn’t give way beneath my sandals, I’d soon learn the truth.

The truth… My people had accepted the Shadow World’s mission to sabotage an asylum train by summer. Promise would continue to exist. But where? I glanced heavenward. Sunset dressed the western sky in muted pinks and grays, as the waning moon’s pale outline slipped behind multicolored clouds. Each truth had its own time of discovery.

My empty stomach gurgled. Supper time was an unavoidable truth. Papa and the others would have noticed my absence by now. The way here from Promise was too steep and treacherous to dark-walk, particularly with quarter moon only five days away. No one could do anything before dawn about my disobedience. I had until after sunrise to find the letter.

A ledge jutted from atop a granite outcrop, rather narrow and mostly cloaked by chaparral. The ledge led to a deep indentation in the hillside. One step. Two steps. My destination was almost within reach.

Still, a lonely being of bones might desire my company for eternity. Locating the shaman’s skeleton might not be the best thing. My stomach muscles tightened as I found the next foothold.

I squeezed behind scratchy bushes, then stretched my arms high. I pushed off the hillside with my feet and pulled myself onto a shelf of smooth, gray rock. An opening in the hillside waited. I snaked on my belly into a dim, rocky passage, the ceiling too low for standing. Somewhere, water dripped. So far, no spirit lights or skeletons were in sight.

Within a few feet, the passage opened into a chamber several times my height. I maneuvered into a sitting position. No blue-green light shone. Only the faint daylight from outdoors. Dusk drifted toward night. I could explore little farther until sunrise. I’d hoped for an obvious clue. Had I come to the wrong place?

 

My stomach rumbled, louder than before, although I’d eaten nuts, acorn bread and herbal broth for breakfast. I usually fasted longer, one full night and day, before visiting spirits. A taboo broken. My transgression could offend the shaman’s spirit. Still, I’d only eaten with the community this morning to mask my intention of coming here. I had the will-power to sacrifice comfort for duty. A serving of mashed beans, however, would have tasted wonderful right then.

I scanned the shadows of the cave, my eyes adapting to darkness. If only I’d brought a lantern. Perhaps I could explore this chamber anyway. Not a good idea. Vertical shafts to lower chambers could ensnare me. The Voice of the Light—the Virgin of Guadalupe?—could only try to help. I should invoke the spirit of the shaman’s bones.

“Dearest shaman,” I called as I faced the cave’s dim interior. “The Shadow World has bid me to come here. May I trouble you to assist me?”

I introduced myself, in case he’d forgotten the little girl who’d loved his mint and berry tea years ago. The night breeze rustled through unseen leaves outside the cavern. I repeated my request six more times, a total of seven. A strong number. An owl hooted. Not even a mysterious hoot. My chest heaved a deep sigh. All this evening’s efforts had been wasted.

A wind arose outside. A chill cut through me. I crawled several feet into the cavern and curled up on the floor. Warmer now, I yawned. Should I sleep? The shaman’s spirit might visit me in a dream and tell me what to do next.

From the darkness came a soft, repetitive high-pitched knocking. I tensed. Rattlesnakes preferred to slither about in daylight, but one of them might call this cave home. I’d better not move.

A shuffling sound led to another rattle. An eerie blue-green glow—a fist-size ball of light—swayed within the cave. The orb, maybe thirty feet away, divided into twin spheres and drifted closer to me. Glints of ivory triggered a tingling sensation in my fingertips and toes. Bones could rattle. Ivory was the color of bones.

Two clenched rows of teeth wobbled in the air. A death head gleamed. Blessed saints, the blue-green radiance came from eye sockets. Human eye sockets. In a skull, attached to a human skeleton. Oh, dear Lord of this world and the next. The being approached, rattling, arms by its sides, mouth frozen in a horrific grin. Strips of rags dangled from its hips. The beams turned deep blue. I couldn’t move, cry out, do anything but widen my eyes. I was awake and not in the Shadow World. The dead walked the earth in more than spirit form.

A spirit capable of holding a heap of dry bones together must possess great mystical powers. Powers strong enough to hold me captive for the rest of my life. Run—I needed to stand and run. I tried to rise. Two bony hands reached out and clamped my wrists. The skeleton pushed me against the ground and dragged me deeper into darkness.

“Aiyeee,” I yelled.

My cry echoed as the skeleton pulled me across the cave’s bumpy floor. I twisted my body but couldn’t break free.

 

********

laurelannhill

Laurel Anne Hill has authored two novels: The award-winning Heroes Arise (Komenar Publishing, 2007) and The Engine Woman’s Light (Sand Hill Review Press, 2016), a spirits-meet-steampunk tale. The Engine Woman’s Light is now available on Kindle and also scheduled for release in trade paper format by the end of January, 2017. Laurel’s published short stories and nonfiction pieces total forty and have appeared in a variety of anthologies, collections, and journalistic media. The fans of HorrorAddicts.net elected her “Most Wicked” in 2011 for her steampunk-horror podcast Flight of Destiny. For more about her go to http://www.laurelannehill.com.

Link to Laurel’s book on Amazon Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/Engine-Womans-Light-Laurel-Anne-ebook/dp/B01MG3INTH/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1480113299&sr=8-1&keywords=the+engine+woman%27s+light

Guest Blog: Finger’s Breadth Book Excerpt

guestblog2e

 Finger’s Breadth Book Excerpt

by M. Christian

Looking from the window of the coffee shop. Watching from the windshield of a parked car. Staring from the glass of a very rare unbroken bus kiosk. Glaring from the side of a passing bus.

A brief summer rain had painted the city that night in reflections. Fanning saw himself everywhere, and everywhere he saw himself his expression said the same thing—Why haven’t you caught him yet?

In his ear, a Bluetooth bud whispered the Officer Wertz inquiry’s soundtrack; in his pocket, the video was playing on his phone. He didn’t need to hear or see it. No one would, but if asked he could probably rattle off every verb, every noun, every linguistic bit from when Knorr started it to when he stopped it. Knorr was good at what he did, just like the lab mice who studied crime scenes and picked up tiny bits of DNA with their finely honed tweezers.

Welcome to the decentralized world of the new San Francisco Police Department, where your specialty was all you did and generality was extinct.

Fanning was a freelancer but was supposed to be good at what he did, too. Sneering at himself reflected in the coffee shop window, he gripped the phone in his pocket. If he’d been stronger, or the plastic less durable, it would have cracked.

Fingers-Breadth_wbannerGlowering for an instant at his reflection in the windshield of the parked car, he pulled the phone out and flipped through a few key digital pages. As with the inquiry, he didn’t need to look at it again, but he did anyway. Better than sharing the street with his scowling mirror images.

It hadn’t changed—Wertz’s home address and where he worked were still the same. The first was across town, in the Mission. The second was just down the street, at a Gap Store.

Ten a.m. to six p.m. His shift hadn’t changed, either. But it was 6:17, and there was no sign of Wertz.

Fanning paced the wet sidewalk, searching up and down the street but mostly the blue-and-white bright- ness of the Gap store. In his ears, Wertz’s voice clicked into silence; then, as it was set on “loop,” it began again.

Just like the others. Same MO, same kind of pick-up place, same amount of Eurodin in Wertz’s system, the lab mice doing their usual fine and precise work, and the same mutilation—right hand little finger amputated at the first joint.

Again, his phone threatened to break in his hand, but again, he wasn’t strong or determined enough to do it. The beat cops who’d found Wertz sound asleep on the J Church train; the lab mice who’d analyzed the drug in his system; Knorr, who’d asked his carefully prepared and expert questions…

But then there was Fanning, who was supposed to assemble piece after piece after piece after piece until they made a picture of someone’s face.

Cutter’s face.

Looking up from where he’d been looking down, he saw a silhouette come between the blue-and-white of the Gap store. A dark shape that was about the right height, about the right build, about the right age, to be whom he was looking for. Fanning carefully released his tight grip on his phone and stepped back into a nearby alley, one carefully chosen for its heavy solitude.

Heavy solitude was just what Fanning wanted.

#

His age had ticked over to forty half a decade ago, bringing with it eye surgery, regular arthritis treatments and a pre-diabetic monitoring pump sewn into his belly. He didn’t run as fast as he used to, didn’t snap back like he used to, didn’t hit as hard as he used to, but he still could get the job done. The shape that had been about the right height, about the right build, about the right age, became less about and more exact as Wertz passed. The night was cold as well as wet, so Fanning felt more coat than skin when he grabbed Wertz and spun him off his feet into an echoing crash down deep in the inky canyon of the alley.

Wertz, again according to his file, had ticked over to twenty, also half a decade ago, so he had perfect eyes, good joints, and a strong heart. Maybe, if he went to the gym, even some muscles. Fanning got to the back of the alley as fast as he could without running. Wertz was pulling himself out of some deep-blue biodegradable trash bags, the logo of the city Green Commission warped by his body landing hard on them.

Wertz began to say something. When Fanning’s fist landed fast and meaty in the young man’s gut, the air he’d prepared for speaking rushed out in a gagging spasm.

“Talk when you’re fucking talked to,” Fanning said, down-deep, carefully prepared vocal thunder. Knorr was good, but Fanning knew how to talk, too. “You fucking lied, didn’t you?”

Wertz was in darkness, but there was just enough light spilling from the businesses and streetlights to give his young face ghostly definition. The shape of his eyes, nose, lips revealed to Fanning that the guy was twisted up with confusion and, best of all, fear.

“You lied,” Fanning said, even lower, even closer to Wertz, giving him no time to think.

Wertz said something, the exact words lost to sudden traffic sounds leaking from the street. Even though Fanning couldn’t tell what he said, he knew enough—a voice to that confusion and, still best of all, fear.

“Shut the fuck up,” Fanning said, punctuation added with another punch to the man’s gut. Again his breath left in a retching rush of air, now tinged with the sharp reek of pre-vomit.

“I said you were lying.” Now was the time to ask the question, to put that confusion and fear to good use. “Weren’t you, you fucking asshole?”

“W—what?” was all Wertz managed to get out.

“Your finger. Your finger! You know what the fuck I’m talking about.”

The young man who’d crashed in the garbage held his hand up—a reflex, ancient and common. But something about it was new, only in the last week or so—four and three-quarters fingers, not a solid five.

“Tell me the truth, asshole. Tell me the fucking truth.”

“I don’t know what…” Wertz’s eyes glistened in the sparse light. Young. Very young. Young enough so he didn’t need eye surgery, arthritis treatments, or a bit of medical hardware just to the right of his navel. Young enough to recover damned quickly. “I told … told them everything.”

“You’re. Lying.” Each word a vocal bullet, face-to- face, making youth face the harsh reality of determined age.

“No, no…”

“Don’t give me that shit.” Another punch, another effort to drive the point home. “What the fuck happened?”

“I told them…what happened. I did.”

“You let someone just cut part of your fucking finger off? Don’t give me that shit.”

“Drugged. I said…”

“I know you were fucking drugged. I know all about that shit. Tell me what you didn’t tell the cops.”

“I told them…Fuck you, I told them everything.”

Fanning grabbed Wertz. Forty-five years reminded him they were there with a quake down his spine. Teeth tightly clenched, he tried to keep a hissing gasp from slipping out. It took work, but he got Wertz up and out of the garbage in one movement. The next movement was yet another blow to Wertz’s stomach.

Closer than before. Even more intimate in his threat: “You’re. Fucking. Lying.”

“No,” Wertz said. “I didn’t. I didn’t.” He repeated it, over and over, fast and sharp, like a whisper sped up into a near squeal.

“Yes, you fucking did. You’re fucking hiding some thing.”

Then Fanning realized Wertz really was hiding something.

*********

M.Christian is — among many things — an acknowledged master of erotica with more than 400 stories in such anthologies as Best American Erotica, Best Gay Erotica, Best Lesbian Erotica, Best Bisexual Erotica, Best Fetish Erotica, and many, many other anthologies, magazines, and Web sites.

He is the editor of 25 anthologies including the Best S/M Erotica series, The Burning Pen, Guilty Pleasures, The Mammoth Book of Future Cops and The Mammoth Book of Tales of the Road (with Maxim Jakubowksi) and Confessions, Garden of Perverse, and Amazons (with Sage Vivant) as well as many others.


He is the author of the collections Dirty Words, Speaking Parts, The Bachelor Machine, Licks & Promises, Filthy, Love Without Gun Control, Rude Mechanicals, Coming Together Presents M.Christian, Pornotopia, and How To Write And Sell Erotica; and the novels Running Dry, The Very Bloody Marys, Me2, Brushes, and Painted Doll.  His Web site is www.mchristian.com Purchase his book here: 
amazon.com/author/mchristian