They- short dystopian fiction

They came from the East.  No warning.  No governmental response.  No nothing… leaving death and destruction- the tearing down of all that was built, in their wake.

They came alone!  Knocking on doors in the middle of the day, feeding like the plague, the chant, ‘Vrykolakas, vrykolakas’ echoing from bone-white Cypress walls.

Unstoppable.  Unbeatable- stealing bodies and souls!

Little by little our world fell, one country, one state, one child at a time, until in the end only desolation and ruin remains.

That’s where I enter the picture- riding like the Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse… and I carry retribution with me.

As with all plagues, there must be a reckoning.  I bring the reckoning!

     But it was long ago, and it was far away, oh God it seems so very far, and if life is just a highway, then the soul is just a car…

(1993) Album notes for Bat out of Hell II: Back into Hell by Meat Loaf [booklet]. Virgin (CDV2710 – 7243 8 39067 27)

It was obvious from the stench and miasma that the animal had been dead for at least a week, matted fur, distended abdomen, all four paws pointed to the sky, a riotous feeding frenzy of flies playing tickle and tease.

Death can be contagion; as such he chose to steer clear.

The sun continued to beat down, baking the highway and countryside.  If he didn’t find shelter soon, it would do the same to his limbs.

It had been a hundred plus for as long as he could remember, and it looked like today would be more of the same.  There was no breeze to speak of, only whispers, and a cloudless expanse above.

Looking over his left shoulder, twin strips of asphalt bled off into the distance.  Before him, much of the same, just as blistering, just as motionless, and just as barren, which is why he chose the off-ramp in the first place.  He needed to find someplace else to be- someplace different than before.

With the world upon his shoulders, and what remained on his back, he continued his determined shuffle West, one dusty footstep followed by another.

Everything exposed was already blistered and red, his lips peeling, eyes nearly blinded from glare.  And yet, he continued as he always did, determined.  Driven.

Haunted.

‘No one ever said it was going to be easy.  Then again, no one ever said it would be this hot.’ His thoughts, like his words, seemed as baked and hardened as the asphalt beneath him.  “I could always break into a rain dance…” he began.  Then again, one look at the heavens above said no, deadpan steel-blue skies with not a cloud in sight.

It would take a hell of a lot more than a rain dance to break the current drought; it would take God drowning the world.

Upon reaching the top of the off-ramp, he had a decision to make.  He could cross the road before him and return to the highway below, in essence continuing his previous journey into the sun, the direction his shadow seemed to be leaning, or he could hang a hard right and head towards more of the same low rolling hills he had just previously traversed, or he could veer left towards the town of Summersville, population six hundred.

 Water running low, judging from the slosh at his left hip, the idea of running into people, if any still lived, haunted him.

The last time he was around people there had been gunfire.  Lots of gunfire.  “And that’s the last thing I need.”  This being said, “Looks like I’ll be hanging a right after all.”

An hour later found the highway all but swallowed up by the hills he had just entered, his shadow escaping as the sun continued its sky-high climb.

During his trek, he had stopped once, long enough to take a sip of water, brush the hair from his eyes and shift the pack on his back.  His tee-shirt, both weathered and worn, lay thin on the shoulders and continued its pattern of sticking and un-sticking.

Whether blistering hot or chilly as all get out, this part of the country couldn’t quite seem to make up its mind- and the further west he went, the worse this condition became.

He had been born in Missouri, on the banks of the Mississippi, to a good family.  His father, though strict, had taught him everything he would need to know on how to survive and become a man.  His mother had taught him all the finer things in life, such as what herbs to pick to flavor a soup just right, or how to care for his wounds.  She also taught him how to enjoy some of the simpler things in life- the way shadows seemed to grow long in the fall, or how a particular beam of sunlight could break free from the clouds and hi-light a particular patch of ground in the distance.  There were other things as well, how clouds seemed to roll and roil just before a mid-Summer’s storm.

The silence in the fields momentarily drew his attention elsewhere, away from his memories, until he realized that these fields were the same as all the other fields he had passed thru, non-descript and knee-high in grasses and weeds, all rolling green.

A single speck trolling a sullen sky caused him to absentmindedly reach for his journal.  He had a habit of chronicling his journey, had been since the beginning.

He often found comfort in the art of sketching what he saw, nothing grand or all that inspiring, but like his mom, he found joy in the simplest of things.  Once he discovered a wildflower, white petal crowing green leaves, struggling against the elements, eking out an existence between the cracks of an asphalt highway.

Another time it was a weathered and oddly tilted fence post.  The fence itself had long ago vanished, having returned to rust and dust, but in mute testimony, the post remained, another bent and aged squatter wandering the greater plains, much as himself.

According to his latest figures, he had covered almost thirty miles since the morning.  Not bad considering that his feet, back, and shoulders ached it would be a whole lot easier if he were to list what didn’t ache, rather then what did.

     The sun was a good three fingers from the horizon when he came across the mile marker, a reflective green and white rectangle approximately twelve inches long and half as wide.  The sign itself was attached to a galvanized metal pole and held approximately five feet off the ground by two galvanized bolts.

The sign read; Mile 244’.

Allowing the pack to slide from his back, he gently lowered it to the ground before opening.  Reaching in he quickly and carefully retrieved three objects.

The first object he retrieved was the most important, his father’s sextant.  This instrument he kept in a worn and threadbare black bag.  The second object was equally as important as the first but for an entirely different reason, his journal, chronicler of events.

The third and last object to be retrieved was a well worn and much-thumbed copy of The Farmer’s Almanac dated 1982.

Three-quarters of the way through the journal lay a thin red ribbon.  Opening the journal to this point; today’s entry, he hesitantly lifted the ribbon, closed his eyes and inhaled deeply- the faint scent of lilacs remained, and continued to amaze him even after all these years.

Lowering the ribbon, he set the opened journal across his knees and removed the sextant from its protective bag.  With nary a shadow behind him, he raised the sextant to his eye, sighted in on the Moon, a silvery smudge barely a fingers width above the horizon, and measured the angle between it and the sun.  Locking and rocking the instrument, he made note of the indicated angle in degrees and seconds in the left-hand margin of his journal.  He then opened the Farmer’s Almanac, cross-checked the angle he had just measured, to the correct table to find the time in Greenwich Mean, before comparing this figure to the intricate watch he wore on his left wrist.

‘Still off by more than a minute.’  Considering that his watch was constantly being updated by the atomic clocks located deep beneath the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington DC[1] this seemed an impossibility, one he chose to ignore.

His next two measurements, which he also jotted down, indicated his longitude and latitude- his current position in the world- 38°25’2.08″N by 96°33’25.35″W.

Finishing, he carefully repacked each item, tightened his straps, and then re-shouldered his backpack before continuing his journey north-

There was a place he needed to be, a sanctuary some would call it, others Nirvana.

He called it home.  And according to his measurements, he still had a long way to go to reach it.

Nightfall would catch him stretched out in a local grotto, eyes heavy, heels kicked up to a velvety black sky full of unknown stars spinning high overhead.

And in that darkness, he dreamt-

     Of a time when he was yet a child.  His father would take him out into the great night and point his face towards the heavens.

     ‘Do you see that’, his father would ask?  He would shake his head no.

‘See what Daddy?’

With his father’s lips only inches from his ear, ‘Those seven stars right there.’

Following his father’s lead, ‘That’s the Big Dipper, a very important group of stars, son.  So important that they could save your life one day.’

‘How Daddy…?’  How could pinpoints of light possibly save his life?

‘Do you see how those first three seem to form a handle, while the last four form the dipper portion?’  He shook his head.  ‘Let your eyes follow those last two stars, son…’

He did.

‘Now imagine a straight line being drawn across the sky with its beginning, its point of origin, being those two stars.’

Sudden realization, like a shade being withdrawn, ‘I see them, Daddy.’

‘Good. Following our imaginary line, notice that after only a few degrees, we run into what appears to be a much smaller dipper, one in which the handle seems inverted as if flipped inside out.’

‘Yes-

‘That bright star, the one the Big Dipper points too, that’s Polaris, son, what we call the Northern Star.’  His father faces him, ‘If you are ever lost, my son, if you ever lose your way, just seek out the Northern Star- it will always lead you home.’

This would become a lesson he would never forget.

Morning- and with it an alien landscape.

In many places, like old bones or relics from a time long past; shale, granite, and limestone thrust themselves up from the earth, while high overhead, the same desolate sky.

He would suffer three more days of this same heat, this same desolate terrain, before running across the first real signs of ‘them’ since his run-in at the diner, all those many miles back.

The Diner:

Like a mausoleum, it seemed to raise itself from the rocky soil, with its sandblasted walls, dusty brown paint, and streaked glass.  An abandoned- long-abandoned- filling station, its four walls streaked in shadow and ochre blush.

One large garage door was all that remained of three.  It was closed.  The remaining bays, minus doors, were nothing more than blotches of darkness glaring out across the highway- like a dead man dreaming in the noonday sun, the entire structure seemed to be slumbering.

A large plate-glass window remained intact in front, with no signs hanging, its surface streaked in ripples of gold and blue… rainbows of refracted and reflected light.

The front door, currently situated at an odd angle, hung open, its darkness beckoning, while at the same time repulsing- a yawning threshold to a much darker interior.

The station’s pumps were long since gone, only the twisted remains of rusted pipe remained, poking up from an oval-shaped concrete island.  Overhead, what used to be a canopied awning, now skeletal and torn, its four large posterns pointing at odd angles towards the sky.

The parking lot around the filling station lay broken and shattered, with tufts of yellowed prairie grass waving in-between.

Pretty much, the place was a pop-up picture opened to the American countryside in a book about dirt.

His mind drifted to the same filling station; some forty years prior-

Entering the station proper, his senses had been immediately overwhelmed by a variety of smells: the deep damp stench of oil, gasoline and compressed air- the sharp tickle of fresh rubber mixed with Wrigley’s Double mint Gum?

There was something else as well, something he couldn’t place-

Across a grease-smeared and scratched glass counter stood a register, unattended, much like the station itself.  Beside the register, a three-tiered rack of Wrigley’s gum, rows of green, blue, and yellow.

On the other side of the register lay a stack of ratty edged maps, a cup of broken and chewed pens and pencils, and one of those four by four boards with a nail driven through it.  Impaled on the nail, a mishmash of old receipts stacked an inch thick.

The wall across from the counter held a dusty rack of Ever-Ready car batteries, besides it, a dented can overflowing with greasy shop rags.

A tattered calendar turned to December 2019, seemed to round things out, hanging limply above the battery rack.

Other than an overturned chair behind the counter, and a coat rack holding an umbrella beside the door, there was not much else to catch his eye, or hold his attention-

Move forward forty years-

One hand on the door frame, I cautiously entered the filling station.  Instead of oil, gas and compressed air, my senses were assaulted by the stench of dry rot, disuse, and dirt.  Yellowed wallpaper, peeling in strips, lay on the worn linoleum floor, along with mounds of dried grass and weeds.  An abandoned bird’s nest of daub and mud adorned three of the corners.

A stack of worn and fingered phone books lay haphazardly stacked against the far wall.

The glass countertop of yesteryear had been replaced with plywood.  There was also no register.  Gone were the days of Wrigley’s gum, paper widgets holding business receipts, and a year-old calendar opened to December.

I paused a moment to gather my thoughts-

Sudden thunder, thunder, thunder as the wall next to me hammer twice; sheetrock lifting outward before exploding in a cloud of white dust.  Instantly my hearing is gone, what was initially sharp, has become muffled silence.

I immediately drop to the floor, fragments of wall raining down around me.  From the darkness beyond the office, three brilliant strobes of light which seem to reach towards me in ever-expanding rolls.

My world has become one of cordite and gunpowder, smoke, dust, and debris.

Right hand reaching, I feel the steel before I pull it, Lex Talionis- the Law of Retaliation.  In one smooth motion, I bring its comforting weight and steel to bear-

The last time I was in this situation had been back at the diner- Three souls lost their lives that day, all by my hand, and all because of ‘them.’

Always, they seemed to be ahead of me, while I remain what feels like, three steps behind.  At least at the diner, there had been some warning, some notice given, I simply hadn’t wandered in oblivious… not like here and now.

Back then my entrance into the diner had been preceded by a star, its shape seemingly painted by a child’s hand, chalk white, on the top step below the front entrance.  Next to a crescent moon, I’d learned to keep my eyes open.  Not this time though, there had been no star painted outside, no crescent moon above the door, no upside-down ‘For Sale’ signs propped up or hanging in the front window, only ambush and gunfire.

They were getting smarter.

Strained silence with after-images of light floating and darting.  Outside, a golden-red coyote pauses in mid-stride, seemingly caught halfway between this side of the highway and the next, its head turns towards the station, ears cocked, tail tucked.

Between one breath and the next, she is gone, vanishing into the afternoon’s silence and glare.

The coyote had been at the diner as well, only afterward, not before, like some harbinger of doom!

That, or death!

Rolling to my right, would bring me beyond the counter and into the space between it and the wall, directly in front of the backroom door.  I feel it may be my only chance at surprise, and probably what the other party feels to be my only recourse as well.

A moment before I act, my eyes are drawn to my right hand, to the word ‘Justice’ tattooed in blue across the knuckles, and crosshairs blazoned across the first joint of my trigger finger

I roll out and bring ‘Retribution’ to bear, while at the same time squeezing off two thunderous rounds, afterimages of light and smoke.  I continue to move, bringing myself to the other side of the door frame, out of breath but heartbeat steady.

My backpack remains where I dropped it, just outside the front door.

Silence reigns.

A glance assures me that the coyote is gone… only then do I notice the sign, a star, finger smeared in white and ochre on the linoleum floor just inside the threshold where baking sunlight meets the floor.

Beads of sweat break from my brow and run down my nose.

A fly is buzzing around, making itself a nuisance.

Errant strands of hair stick to my face.

It is the little things that are irritating in times like these.

In the stillness there is movement- I lean to the left- in time to catch her under the chin with my pistol as she steps from the room.  A single shot, and a thunderous roar, lifts the top of her skull, showers the ceiling and doorway with brain and splinters of bone.

I quickly roll to the right, sparing myself most of the mess.

A single tear of red slowly makes its way down my cheek.

I wait for what seems an eternity.  Most of the time they hunt in pairs, lie in groups.

Not this time though.

Afterward, and sometime later, I regain my backpack, holster Lex Talionis- and stand above her, hands on my hips.

For all she has become, she remains a child- they all do, dirt-smeared face, vacant eyes, and dark stringy hair.  She’s dressed in little more than rags.  She’s also lost a shoe in the struggle afterward- the struggle to hold onto life as it slipped through her fingers and bled from her skull.

Still clasped in her extended left hand, ancient iron, an old-time six-shooter, the kind you find in Westerns.  Her right hand is clawed and crowned with dirty, broken fingernails, smeared with white and ochre paint, the word ‘Croatoan’ carved in the center of her palm.  Her wrists are chaffed and torn, evidence of her countless bids for freedom.

Today she has gained that freedom- just not the freedom she desired.

It was close this time’ One day, maybe soon, it will be my time to lose a shoe-

But not today.

That night, with the stars, burning bright, and a small fire flickering between me and Mid-night, I weep.  Not for today, not even for the girl, though I have wept for such before- No, today I weep for the promise of tomorrow and all the tomorrows to follow.

Sometimes I feel like I’m the only thing standing between my old world, and the world they wish it to become.

‘Ayin tahat ayin.’  Justice, blind or impartial, retribution will find a way… and I will not rest until I hunt them all down, all the ‘theys’, and put an end to this nightmare once and for all.

Until that time, I ride.


[1]  Margin of error: +/- .000000001 of a second every four hundred million years.

New Year- New Stories…

Leave it to the Serpent people to steal everything, including Jake’s parents. Determined to find them, Jake seeks out his next-door neighbors, the Twin’s Ashley and Elijah. Together with Merwin, a mysterious stranger of the Order of Rasputin, they begin a journey of discovery and fear, of a people called the Summer People, and their age-old enemies the sibilant.  

The Summer People- Book One

From page one this book grabs you and refuse to let you loose! The scenic descriptions rival any other. I honestly felt like I was dropped into the world of Jake, Ash and Eli taking part in their adventure. I can’t wait for the next part of this amazing tale!

Once again, Book Two, leaves me stunned. The plot thickens and the magic grows as this tale unfolds into a great story! I can’t wait for book three, and to figure out how the group is all connected as we dive deeper into the pages of this amazingly beautiful series.

Pick up your copy today on iTunes, Audible and Kindle or Paperback!- Click here: https://smusing.com/

The Summer People- Some History

The History of the Summer People really begins with the Romani- as they share common roots and history. If you look through historical records, the first real mention of the Summer People, first appears in the writings of Theophanes the Confessor in AD 803. Theophanes wrote that Emperor Nikephoros I had the help of the “Atsingani” to put down a riot with their “knowledge of magic”. From there, the “Atsingani” seem to vanish from history- until now- with the release of my series- The Summer People.

Please visit my website at: https://smusing.com/ for lots of amazing stories, as well as the first three books of the Summer People!

A partial reprint of the wiki article has been added below.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Romani_people

The Romani have been described by Diana Muir Appelbaum as unique among peoples because they have never identified themselves with a territory; they have no tradition of an ancient and distant homeland from which their ancestors migrated, nor do they claim the right to national sovereignty in any of the lands where they reside. Rather, Romani identity is bound up with the ideal of freedom expressed, in part, in having no ties to a homeland.[5]The absence of traditional origin stories and of a written history has meant that the origin and early history of the Romani people was long an enigma. Indian origin was suggested on linguistic grounds as early as the late 18th century.[6]

One theory suggests that the name ultimately derives from a form ḍōmba ‘man of low caste living by singing and music’, attested in Classical Sanskrit.[7] Many also believe that Gypsies are descendants of Dalit because of the word zingaro (ατσίγγανος) (untouchable) that was used to designate gypsies in Greece . An alternative view is that the ancestors of the Romani were part of the military in Northern India. When there were invasions by Sultan Mahmud Ghaznavi and these soldiers were defeated, they were moved west with their families into the Byzantine Empire between AD 1000 and 1030.[8]

The genetic evidence identified an Indian origin for Roma.[9][10] Genetic evidence connects the Romani people to the descendants of groups which emigrated from South Asia towards Central Asia during the medieval period.[11]

Language origins[edit]

Until the mid-to-late 18th century, theories of the origin of the Romani were mostly speculative. In 1782, Johann Christian Christoph Rüdiger published his research that pointed out the relationship between the Romani language and Hindustani.[12] Subsequent work supported the hypothesis that Romani shared a common origin with the Indo-Aryan languages of Northern India,[13] with Romani grouping most closely with Sinhalese in a recent study.[14]

Domari and Romani language[edit]

Main article: Domari language

Domari was once thought to be the “sister language” of Romani, the two languages having split after the departure from the South Asia, but more recent research suggests that the differences between them are significant enough to treat them as two separate languages within the Central zone (HindustaniSaraiki language group of languages. The Dom and the Rom are therefore likely to be descendants of two different migration waves from the Indian subcontinent, separated by several centuries.[15][16]

Numerals in the RomaniDomari and Lomavren languages, with Hindi and Persian forms for comparison.[17] Note that Romani 7–9 are borrowed from Greek.

HindiRomaniDomariLomavrenPersian
1ekekh, jekhyikayak, yekyak, yek
2dodujluidu, do
3tīntrintærəntərinse
4cārštarštarišdörčahār
5pā̃cpandžpandžpendžpandž
6chahšovšaššeššeš
7sātiftaxauthafthaft
8āṭhoxtoxaišthašthašt
9nauinjananunoh
10dasdešdeslasdah
20bīsbišwīsvistbist
100saušelsajsajsad

Genetic evidence[edit]

Further evidence for the South Asian origin of the Romanies came in the late 1990s. Researchers doing DNA analysis discovered that Romani populations carried large frequencies of particular Y chromosomes (inherited paternally) and mitochondrial DNA (inherited maternally) that otherwise exist only in populations from South Asia.

47.3% of Romani men carry Y chromosomes of haplogroup H-M82 which is rare outside South Asia.[18] Mitochondrial haplogroup M, most common in Indian subjects and rare outside Southern Asia, accounts for nearly 30% of Romani people.[18] A more detailed study of Polish Roma shows this to be of the M5 lineage, which is specific to India.[19] Moreover, a form of the inherited disorder congenital myasthenia is found in Romani subjects. This form of the disorder, caused by the 1267delG mutation, is otherwise known only in subjects of Indian ancestry. This is considered to be the best evidence of the Indian ancestry of the Romanis.[20]

The Romanis have been described as “a conglomerate of genetically isolated founder populations”.[21] The number of common Mendelian disorders found among Romanis from all over Europe indicates “a common origin and founder effect“.[21] See also this table:[22]

A study from 2001 by Gresham et al. suggests “a limited number of related founders, compatible with a small group of migrants splitting from a distinct caste or tribal group”.[23] Also the study pointed out that “genetic drift and different levels and sources of admixture, appear to have played a role in the subsequent differentiation of populations”.[23] The same study found that “a single lineage … found across Romani populations, accounts for almost one-third of Romani males.

A 2004 study by Morar et al. concluded that the Romanies are “a founder population of common origins that has subsequently split into multiple socially divergent and geographically dispersed Gypsy groups”.[20] The same study revealed that this population “was founded approximately 32–40 generations ago, with secondary and tertiary founder events occurring approximately 16–25 generations ago”.[20]

Connection with the Burushos and Pamiris[edit]

The Burushos of Hunza have a paternal lineage genetic marker that is grouped with Pamiri speakers from Afghanistan and Tajikistan, and the Sinti or Sindhi Romani ethnic group. This find of shared genetic haplogroups may indicate an origin of the Romani people in or around these regions.[24]

Possible connection with the Domba people[edit]

According to a genetic study on The Phylogeography of Y-Chromosome Haplogroup H1a1a-M82 in 2012, the ancestors of present scheduled tribes and scheduled caste populations of northern India, traditionally referred to collectively as the Ḍoma, are the likely ancestral populations of modern European Roma.[25]

A mtdna or ydna study provides valuable information but a limitation of these studies is that they represent only one instantiation of the genealogical process. Autosomal data permits simultaneous analysis of multiple lineages, which can provide novel information about population history. According to a genetic study on autosomal data on Roma the source of South Asian Ancestry in Roma is North-West India. The two populations showing closest relatedness to Roma were Gujaratis.[26] The classical and mtDNA genetic markers suggested the closest affinity of the Roma with Rajput and Sindhi populations from Rajasthan and the Punjab respectively.[25][27]

Early records[edit]

Many ancient historians mention a tribe by the name of Sigynnae (Tsigani) on various locations in Europe. Early records of itinerant populations from India begin as early as the Sassanid period. Donald Kenrick notes the first recorded presence of Zott in Baghdad in AD 420, Khaneikin in AD 834.[28]

Contemporary scholars have suggested one of the first written references to the Romanies, under the term Atsingani, (derived from the Greek ἀτσίγγανοι – atsinganoi), dates from the Byzantine era during a time of famine in the 9th century. In the year AD 800, Saint Athanasia gave food to “foreigners called the Atsingani” near Thrace. Later, in AD 803, Theophanes the Confessor wrote that Emperor Nikephoros I had the help of the “Atsingani” to put down a riot with their “knowledge of magic”. However, the Atsingani were a Manichean sect that disappeared from chronicles in the 11th century. “Atsinganoi” was used to refer to itinerant fortune tellers, ventriloquists and wizards who visited the Emperor Constantine IX in the year 1054.[29]

The hagiographical text, The Life of St. George the Anchorite, mentions that the “Atsingani” were called on by Constantine to help rid his forests of the wild animals which were killing off his livestock.

#Romani#heritage#Wales#Arts_Wales#Gipsy#TravellersTimes#Gypsy#RomanyGypsyLife#NLWales@yrynadllwyd#Romaniarts

What is a hero?

Some answers require that we ask the right question!

‘ He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,  
Transformed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.’


Easter, 1916 – By William Butler Yeats

The Summer People- Book Two. Coming to a bookstore near you Summer 2019. Get your copy of Book One NOW!

Breaking News!

New News March!

Recent Review:
5 out of 5 stars- Visually gripping!
March 15, 2019 Format: Paperback
From page one this book grabs you and refuse to let you loose! The scenic descriptions rival any other. I honestly felt like I was dropped into the world of Jake, Ash and Eli taking part in their adventure. I can’t wait for the next part of this amazing tale!

Click Here for Paperback!

Click Here for eBook!

But wait, there’s more! During the beta trials, etc. I was contacted by no less than (4) audio book narrators to turn this little beauty, into an Audible Book! (And it doesn’t even have any ratings yet- it’s so new to the world.) All this in less than a day of it’s ‘non-official’ eBook release! As such, I am pleased to announce I have signed a contract with the amazingly talented Rachael Sparrow to produce The Summer People- Book One. (Currently, it looks like late March or early April 2019 for the Audible Release!)

Rachael Sparrow is a voice actor whose voice has been heard on a variety of national commercials, video games, educational training videos and podcasts, from Amazon, Amazon Alexa, Xfinity and Google, to the Video Game Fairy, Cross of Redemption. Voicing “The Summer People” will mark her debut, full-length audio book.

As a Platinum member of voices.com, Rachael’s work was recently spotlighted, and she was interviewed as a mentor for new voice artists.  Rachael is also the proud director of Sing! Voice Studio, where she trains and coaches young singers and actors. Rachael lives with her husband and two children in Bucks County, PA.

I am honored to have her tackle this project, and cannot wait to hear the final product.

Book Description:

Leave it to the Serpent people to steal everything, including Jake’s parents. Determined to find them, he seeks out his next-door neighbors, the Twin’s Ashley and Elijah. Together with Merwin, a mysterious stranger of the Order of Rasputin, they begin a journey of discovery and fear, of a people called the Summer People and their age-old enemies, the sibilant. 

“To create peace the Summer People basically gave up their king,” Ashley said. “put in him shackles and chains, carried him off to the Sibilant homeland, a dark and terrible place with lots of screaming and pain. That’s the only way the Sibilant would stop fighting.” She leaned in then, began whispering. “According to stories, he’s still there today, waiting to be freed. Waiting for a hero to be born.” Eyes narrowing, “Waiting times such as these.”

“Time such as these?” he asked. “What’s so special about these times?”
“You,” Ash replied, eyes narrowing. Grabbing his hand. “It’s you, Jake! He’s been waiting all this time for you!”

For those that have asked!

Lots of inquires as to where to grab my books- wanted to share these links. as always thank you for your continued support.

The Titles:

The Valerian Cycle- In which a young man in New York City sets out to find the truth and whereabouts of his father who’s been missing for the last three years. Seriously, this needs to be a movie!

A Gathering of Darkness- Book One of Valerian Cycle- Click Here for Audible; Click Here for eBook: Click Here for Paperback

Kaelynn’s Tale- Book Two of Valerian-  Click Here for Audible; Click Here for eBook: Click Here for Paperback

Fata Morgana- My stand-alone, horror, mind-tripping novel whereas you fondly remember, so do you trip- even after you’re dead!- Click Here for Audible; Click Here for eBook: Click Here for Paperback

And soon to be released- The Summer People– in which we discover no matter how small we feel, or out of place, we can still be hero’s!- Click Here for Chapter One

Love you guys!

Steve. (aka S.M. Muse)

Meeting folks = Dream come true!

The Summer People- Chapter 4


Chapter 4

Fireplace crackling, hands and feet bundled beneath mounds of warm blankets, Jake couldn’t remember a time he’d ever been so warm.

Then again, thanks to being lost in the woods with Ash and Eli, he couldn’t remember a time he’d been so cold, either.

Just in time.  Three little words his father and mother kept saying to them over and over again.

They told the cops, ‘just in time.’

They told a couple of neighbors who had joined in the hunt with his parents, ‘just in time.’  With those three little words their whole world seemed to be all tied up.

“We got to you all just in time,” his mother had said in the woods, dropping the flashlight she’d been carrying in an effort to rush in and swoop him up in her arms, (which kind of embarrassed him in front of Ash) tears streaming down her cheeks, eyes all red and swollen.  In that moment it occurred to him, what a mother’s unconditional love felt like.  It felt like being smothered up in your mother’s arms, her tears making your cheek wet, all the while swinging you from side to side like a rag doll.

He hoped he never made her that scared again.

His father, only seconds behind his mother, had also rushed in.  Disclaimer, a father’s love is different from a mother’s.  It shows itself as a hand roughly mussing up your hair and a turned away face followed by the general clearing of the throat.  “‘Bout damn time,” his father managed.  (Father’s hug would come later, when no one else was around or watching.)

Being a guy was so funny sometimes.

At this particular moment, though, his father was in the kitchen talking to the remaining cops, shooing out the last of the neighbors, while his mother was on the phone with the Twins’ parents, all the while fixing the three of them, mugs of hot chocolate.

“Nice place,” stated Eli.  He was currently bundled up next to Ash.  Along with Jake, they were currently in the living room, a large comfy room dominated by a flat screen television off to their right, and a large crackling fireplace in the middle of the east wall radiating bounds of heat.  A series of two divans and a loveseat were arranged in a wide, welcoming u-shape in front of the fireplace.

The walls of the room were pale yellow trimmed in white, and were covered in framed photographs of all shapes and sizes, showing all sorts of Jake’s relatives and family pictures.  Some of the pictures were in color, some in black and white.  One in particular showed Jake, his mom and dad, all scrunched together on a brilliant spring day outside of their home, with lakes in the foreground and mountains in the background.

Others showed the entire family standing in front of famous landmarks like Mt. Rushmore and the Statue of Liberty, hamming it up for the camera.  Others still captured him in his favorite Dr. Seuss PJ’s- he must have been all of three at the time, flashing his one-of-a-kind smile and large brown eyes.

In other words, the room was filled with family shots, lots and lots of family shots.

“Thanks,” Jake said.

A moment of silence followed by a heavy sigh.  “How mad do you think your parents are?” Eli asked, trying to peak around the corner and down the long hallway leading into the kitchen.  From their current location, all they could see was Jake’s mother still on the phone in the kitchen, red-rimmed eyes and tear-streaked cheeks, hand held up in front of the phone’s mouthpiece.

A crease of worry streaked Jake’s brow. “Not too mad,” Jake replied, trying to put a smile on things.  “Mom mainly cried, and Dad patted me on the back a lot.  Right now I think they’re more scared than anything else.  How mad do you think your parents are going to be?”  That was the big question, the sixty-four thousand dollar question.  He had never met Ash or Eli’s parents before.  So he had no idea how they were going to handle the events of the evening, other than the fact the Twins would probably be banned from ever leaving their home again, let alone visit him.  After all, Ash and Eli were being home-schooled- homeschooling parents could be weird.

Ash answered before her brother could speak, “We’ll just have to wait and see,” she said, scooping up a knick-knack on the side table next to the fireplace.  It was a world globe, the kind teachers kept in most classrooms.  This one was really old though, the varnish coating the continents and seas, yellowed and cracked from age.

About that time the front door opened and closed, bringing with it the sound of whistling winds.

“We’ve got to get our story straight,” Ash said, leaning in close, eyes swallowing his.  Setting the globe down, she grabbed hold of Eli’s hand and pulled him close.

“What do you mean… story straight?” asked Jake.  In that moment Ash’s eyes took on a fearsomely wicked gleam.

“About what we saw out there, before the adults found us.”

He was confused by what she was saying.

“The faerie fire…” Eli added, eyes mirroring his sister’s.

As he spoke Jake quickly peeked around the corner toward the kitchen; his mom had hung up the phone and was conferring quietly with his father.  Neither one looking their direction.

At the mere mention of faerie fire, Jake felt the butterflies in his stomach start up all over again.  He’d been so happy to be rescued he’d almost forgotten all about them.  “But we should tell our parents, right?”  Even though he didn’t sound so sure at the moment.  I think they need to know.

“We can’t,” she said. “It’s got to be our little secret.”  At his hesitation, she went on.  “You know how adults can ruin things they don’t understand.  They’ll say we made it all up, or that we can’t hang around each other anymore.”  She suddenly seemed to grow older.  “I say we make a pact, a pact to never say anything to anyone, ever, about how the faerie fire brought your parents to us… pinky swear.” As she said this she jabbed her little finger into the space between them.  Eli immediately wrapped his little finger around hers; they were now waiting on him.

At first he was confused, then afraid, then angry.  After all, did the faerie fire, or whatever Eli had called them, the ‘twilight twigs’, really lead to his parents finding them?  He didn’t think so, hence the anger, and all the other feelings.

He was being asked to lie…

As he thought about all the ways he should get up and go into the kitchen and tell his parent’s everything, he didn’t, something about the light in Ash’s eyes.

Calm seemed to fill him, quieting the voices, soothing the feelings.

On second thought, maybe the lights had led them to safety.  Maybe it was the fire that brought his parents to find them after all, a sort of blazing one’s own way, sort of thing.

“So, I’ll ask again, are you with us or not?” Eli pressed, even as the front door opened and closed, bringing with it the jumbled voices of two different persons arriving and asking if their kids were okay.

The Twins’ parents had arrived.

“Hurry Jake,” Ash grinned, yanking on Eli’s little finger.  “It won’t make a difference either way,” she said, all serious like, “whether we found them or they found us thanks to the ‘magic.’  At least this way it’s something only the three of us will ever know about, no grown-ups allowed.”

Jake liked that last part; after all, the grown-ups around him had already killed enough ‘magic’ in his lifetime, no Tooth Fairy, the existence of Santa Claus becoming questionable…  “It’s a deal,” he said, hooking both their pinkies with his, “and it remains our little secret.”

The smile that Ash flashed him as he said this was enough to warm him all the way to the tips of his toes.

Meanwhile, back in the kitchen it had grown awfully quiet.

Curious, Jake leaned forward to catch a glimpse of his mom and the Twins’ mom hugging each other.  Their dads were standing side by side; heads leaned in, one toward the other, in deep conversation.  Probably discussing our punishment, Jake thought.

It was the first time ever, that Jake had seen either one of his new neighbors’ parents.

The Twins’ mom looked an awful lot like Ash, only older; her hair shorter and darker, what his mom would have called auburn, or autumn brown.  Her eyes, though, looked an awful lot like his mother’s at the moment, red and streaky, and her face was still puffy from crying.

It was there, though, the similarities between the two mothers pretty much ended.  The Twins’ mom was much taller than his mom; in fact, the Twins’ mom had to stoop over just to hug his mom.  She also dressed fancier, even for being this late; she wore a light gray suit jacket over a pink top, gray slacks and a pair of white UGG snow boots.

His mom still wore sweats, the same sweats from this morning.

The Twins’ dad, on the other hand, was tall and muscular with dark wavy hair, almost black, with a face like a hawk.  As Jake was studying him, the Twins’ father turned to stare down the hallway leading into the living room.  He was looking right at them, and his gaze was absolutely piercing.

Jake managed a feeble wave- one that was not returned.

It was then that Jake realized something else, that his dad was almost the exact opposite of the Twins’, a good six inches shorter and a lot heavier, what his mom liked to call her ‘chubby little husband,’ whose once red hair was now all but gone.  At the same time, his dad was pretty solid too, a real fighter if he needed to be.  And he was sure that in a wrestling match, hands down, his dad could beat anyone, including the Twins’ dad.

Short and low to the ground, built like dynamite.  After all, didn’t most powerful things come in small packages?  At least that’s what his dad liked to say.

Turning toward his two new friends, Jake managed a hollow smile.  After witnessing the seriousness in all their parents’ faces he added, “It’s a good thing we made that pact,” he said.  “From the looks of it, we’re all going to be grounded till we’re at least sixty.”

The Summer People- Chapter 3

Snow-laden trees… nature’s shelter.

Why, oh why, didn’t he listen to his mother?  She told him not to wander off, that dinner would be ready soon.  Now here he was, along with the Twins, huddled up beside a great fallen tree, its massive snow-covered trunk temporarily breaking the wind.

The woods had fallen completely black, no light in sight.  They were lost, hungry, nearly frozen, and scared half to death.  And now, it seemed the woods were full of wolves, or some other unimaginably frightening animals, out hunting them, crashing into things, or at the very least, howling at the night sky.

“What do you think?” Ash whispered, close to his right ear.

In that moment he didn’t mind her presence.  “I’m not sure,” he said, trying his best to remain calm.

“I still think it’s best we wait the storm out here,” Eli added.  “One, we’re pretty much out of the wind, and two, the snow finally seems to be tapering off.  And it’s a whole lot darker now than it was before.  I think the more we wander around, the more lost we become.”

Jake agreed.  They had been walking for quite some time, and they still hadn’t crossed that second stream yet, which told Jake that they were probably walking in circles still.  “Which means we’re still just as lost, if not more so, than before,” he murmured.

At his words, alarm flared in Ash’s eyes.  Seeing this caused him to swallow and swear to keep his opinions to himself in the future.  After all, she was just a little girl and afraid enough for the three of them.

Tears began threatening at the corners of his eyes.  The more he thought about their situation, the less hopeful it seemed they would ever find their way home, at least until the sun rose in the morning.  But that would mean sleeping outside in the middle of a Montana winter with no blankets and no fire, nothing to keep them warm.  It was already so cold he could barely feel his toes, and Ash and Eli were surely just as cold, if not more so.

He was about to say more when a sudden reflection caught his eye.  Something was moving off to his left, something close to the ground.

Something completely silent…

His mind immediately went back to the wolves howling.  What if the pack had somehow found them?

What if they were already surrounded?

He clapped his hand across Ash’s and Eli’s mouths, fear running rampant, his stomach in a knot.  “Shush,” he hissed.  “Something is out there.”  He could barely stand it.  He was so scared.  The beating in his chest so strong, so loud, it was deafening.

Ash desperately looked around before burying her face in her brother’s coat.  “Could it be the sibilant,” she whispered.  “Have they found us already?”

Sib-a-what? Jake wondered.

In response to Ash’s words, Eli looked afraid, but defiant as well.  He seemed ready to fight or flee, whichever opportunity presented itself first.

As for Jake, he was just plain afraid, and would do anything to wake up and realize this was just some bad dream he was having- but he was already awake, and this wasn’t a dream.  On top of that, he hadn’t a clue as who or what this ‘sibilant’ was that Ash had mentioned!  Only that it made her and Eli very afraid.

And if they were afraid…

He was about to question more when-

There it was again– a light, a movement, just out of the corner of his eye.  Ash immediately grabbed his hand as if she’d just seen it, too.  When he looked in that direction, though, he saw nothing, only darkness.

“What the heck?” he muttered.  He was about to motion Eli to look in that direction when all of the sudden-

“Faerie fire,” breathed Eli.

“What?”

Ignis fatuus, one of the Tylwyth Teg.”  Only this time Eli wasn’t talking to him, but to himself, and he was staring off into the night, off to their right.

Sure enough, by following his line of sight, Jake caught sight of what appeared to be a flicker of light dancing under the trees and in-between the snowflakes.  As soon as his eyes began to focus in on the spot, however, it would vanish-

So, not wolves after all, but something else entirely.

“How do you know what it is?” he asked.

Eli immediately shushed him, one fingertip over his lips.

Okay, he thought.  “Then how do you know what it is?” he whispered.

At this point Eli turned around to face him, a look of, Really.  I just asked you to be quiet and your only answer is to whisper the same question again?

In return, he answered Eli’s look with one of his own.  “One way or another, I want to know,” he said.  He could be just as stubborn when he wanted to be.

In response Eli started to turn away, thought twice about it, then leaned in close. “Dad used to tell us stories about them,” he began, fingers gripping his sister’s left shoulder.  “The rest I looked up on the internet.”

Jake was about to say more, question Eli further, when he realized Ash was still holding his hand.  It wasn’t uncomfortable at all to be this close to a girl, so he squeezed her hand back.  In response she smiled, her eyes never leaving his face.

Then the fire was among them.

Amazing, mysterious lights…

One second, nothing but the strangeness of what Eli had called ‘faerie fire,’ hard to see, next to impossible to pinpoint and describe.  The next, pale-blue luminescence flickering between them, flames the size of the palm of his hand.  In their eerie iridescence, Ash’s features were highlighted, a warm rosy glow that seemed to add substance to, rather than subtract from, accented with shadow and shade.

At his side, Ash fearlessly reached out to touch the colored flame, a candle flicker burning without heat between them.  Behind her Eli simply stared, his eyes large and fearful, but curious.

Jake, on the other hand, was frozen with fright.

The luminescence before them seemed more reflection than flame.

Picture this, an absolutely black room.  In the middle of this room a small candle softly burns shedding golden radiance.  Now, place a small child next to the candle, and have that child stare deeply into the flame.  That outline, that soft golden glow revealing a child’s features, was being reflected and shown in the blue flame lingering between them.

Ghostly images of children’s faces were all around them.

“Amazing…” he exhaled, afraid to move, more afraid not to.

As if caught in a sudden wind, the pale blue glow began to flicker.  As soon as Ash reached out to touch the glow, it was gone.

Darkness filled the night.

It took a moment before Jake regained his night vision.  His thought, The next time I utter, ‘what is that?’ I won’t expect an answer.  Because some answers don’t come with questions.

“There are more of them,” Eli said.  Flickering points of light suddenly filled the woods around them.  Some bobbing and weaving, others seemed to be drifting into and out next to their location.

Some were blue like the apparition that had appeared among them, others golden or brilliant white.

All were mysterious, however.

“I hate to say this,” Jake began, still holding on to Ash’s hand, “but we really need to start moving again.”  Even though they were lost, he felt they needed to keep moving, even in the midst of such mysterious circumstances.

“But they’re so beautiful,” murmured Eli, taking a step into the night.

“And yet, so sad somehow,” replied Ash.  And she was right, for all their beauty the lights did seem ‘sad’, almost heartbroken. 

“I think they’re magic,” Jake exclaimed.

The howls faded.  Whether it was the ‘lights’, magic, or whatever.  Either way, the wolves appeared to be gone.  Thank goodness, thought Jake.  There for a moment, I thought we were goners for sure!

 As one they began to move through the woods, barely making a sound, surrounded by handfuls of flickering candle-light, oft times trailing, oft times beckoning, all times leading.  Through it all, and with every footfall, Jake began to feel they were gaining ground, drawing ever near his home, then, all of the sudden, all of the lights were gone, except for a handful of pale golden beams, which even now seemed to bob and weave haphazardly though the woods, interlacing amongst the trees, and chasing back the night.

These lights they all recognized- flashlights!  That’s when they heard the voices, his parents and a whole lot of others calling out names.

A moment of pause… then, “We’re over here!” he exclaimed, wanting to rush forward.  Instead he stood exactly still, knowing that as soon as the adults found them, the magic would be gone.

Sadness seemed to fill him, like a cup running over.

‘Magic faerie fire!’  He’d experienced it.  They’d experienced it.

“We’re over here,” Jake finally whispered, looking first to Ash then to Eli.  They both nodded, because sometimes the magic has to leave before a child can finally grow up.

“We’re over here,” all three exclaimed.

The Summer People- Chapter 2

Terribly dark and cold woods…

Bad news. For the second time in as many hours they’d come across the same stinking stream.  How did he know?  Because of the wooden stick protruding from the middle of its icy run, that’s how.

He’d placed it there himself the first time they’d crossed it.

And now, even more bad news.  It was snowing so hard that even with their recent passage, not a single footprint still existed of their original journey.  And that just plain sucked, thought Jake.  Because if he couldn’t keep from backtracking over where they’d just been, how in the heck was he ever to find his way back home?

In the end Ash and Eli had joined him.  They figured that since he’d lived here the longest, (they’d only been here a little over a month.  Seems their parents liked to move around a lot) he probably had the best chance of finding his way back home.  Once there his mom could call Ash and Eli’s parents and have them come over and pick the two of them up.

He agreed.  After all, he’d never actually been all the way over to his neighbors. It was true, his parents had driven by there once, maybe even twice, but it never involved going cross-country.  All he could really remember about their place, at least from what he could see from the end of their driveway, from the backseat of his parents car, was that it was big, as big as a castle.

And stony.

Maybe even a little bit scary.

Heaving a sigh of frustration, and after staring at the protruding stick a moment longer, he angrily pulled the offending branch out of the water and slung it as hard as he could into the trees behind him.

He felt like cussing- a lot- but he didn’t.

“Feel better?” Eli asked, keeping a wary eye turned his way.  Behind them, Ash seemed to be struggling just to keep a smile.  It wasn’t all fun and games for her either.  Tiny worry lines creased her forehead, and she kept reaching out for her brother’s hand.

“Maybe a little,” he replied.  “At least we won’t have to keep running into that stick anytime soon.”

“But that was sort of the point, wasn’t it?” questioned Eli.

Another sigh.  “So, how are you two doing?” he asked.

Ash rubbed at her cheeks in effort to bring some color back into them, Eli looked worried.  “Okay for the moment,” Ash’s brother replied.  He didn’t bother adding that they’d better find some shelter soon.  A statement that all three of them clearly understood.  Making matters even worse, it was starting to get really dark now, and the snow was still falling like crazy, bringing a ‘shush’ to the whole wide world.

“At least I can still feel my toes,” Jake said, wondering if his two neighbors were telling him everything.  His nose and ears were pretty much numb, he figured theirs was too.

“So… now what?” Eli asked.

“Do you want to lead this?” Jake fired back.

In response Eli leaned back, eyes narrowing.  “I’m sorry,” he murmured, touching Jake’s arm.  “I didn’t mean to jump at you like that.”  It’s just what I do when I’m tired and scared.

For the first time, Jake began to wonder what he’d actually do if they couldn’t find their way back home.  The thought terrified him.  “No problem,” he answered, pretty sure Eli was thinking the same thing.  Darkness falling, snow falling, and still no clue where home was.

Everything was adding up to bad signs all around.

“Think we’ll see any lights when it gets fully dark?” asked Ash.

“We might,” Jake answered.  If my mom remembers to turn on the outside light that is.  Then again, she may not even know we’re missing…

“Maybe they’re already out searching for us,” Eli added, sounding hopeful.

“You’re probably right,” Ash added.  “Mom and Dad are probably over at Jake’s house, sipping coffee and discussing how grounded the three of us are going to be when we get back.”

Jake would have loved ‘just being grounded’ by his parents right about now.  Being grounded meant being found, and being found meant arriving home in good enough condition to be grounded in the first place.

“That and snacking on cookies probably,” he added.  “I can see my dad now, chatting it up with your dad on how we’re probably going to be shoveling snow for the next month and a half.”

All three shared a smile, fleeting as it was.

It was weird how the snow and twilight seemed to confuse him, throw him off kilter as to where he was and where they were going.  And the fact that this was the second time crossing the stream meant there was either a new stream he never knew existed on his father’s property (highly unlikely) or they had been wandering in an ever-widening circle, only to end up at the exact same spot where they started out each and every time.  (also very unlikely)

If you think about it, if they could unintentionally find the exact same spot each time, one would think they could find their way back home as well.

In his mind’s eye he pictured his dad’s property from above, how the ranch looked like the state of Nebraska, long and narrow, with irregular sides.  Visualizing, he began to use his finger to draw a representation in the snow beside them.

“Okay,” he said, sketching as he spoke.  “Here’s what I know.”  After drawing out the lay of the land, he drew a line through the midpoint then a corresponding parallel line a few inches from that one.  Together, they both cut the rectangular outline of his father’s land from top to bottom.  “These are the two streams that cut across my parent’s property.”  He punched his finger into the lower left hand corner of the map, a couple of inches from the left side.  “This is where our house sits.”  Now, heading off to the right of his parent’s property, he punched his finger in again.  Looking at Ash and Eli, “And this should be close to where your house sits.”

Upon this, they agreed.

Three-quarters of the way toward Ash and Eli’s house, he punched his finger in again, almost smack dab in the middle of the rectangle top to bottom and side to side.  “This is where the ‘Finger’ is, the rock where we first met.  As you can see, I had to cross both streams just to get here, which is why after all our walking around we somehow wound up back were we started, right about… here.”  At this point he drew a circle in the air above the first stream, the one closest to the Finger. “That’s where I’m confused, because as you can see, we had to cross one stream to reach the other.  I never planted a stick in the other stream.”  At this point he glanced guiltily toward the location where he had tossed the stick, its spot already erased by the quickly fallen snow.  “I placed it there not thirty minutes ago when we first crossed the stream.”  His eyes followed the gentle sloping sides of the stream bed as they led before and after them.  It wasn’t a simple case of following the waters path upstream or downstream. Upstream and downstream would lead them nowhere but ever deeper into the wilderness.

“So…” Ash began after a long silence.  “What does all that mean?”  Her eyes found his face.  In them he could see complete trust.  She wanted him to do the right thing and bring them home.

He never wanted to lose that trust.

“I say we start again,” he said, eyes straying to the top of the far embankment.  “If we can manage to cross this stream in a straight line, head up that hill and keep to the left side of that big oak… and if we keep going in a straight line after that, we should be able to reach the second stream in no time at all.  Maybe by then our parents will be out, or we’ll see some lights from the ranch.  Either way, we make it home.”

“Sounds easy enough,” added Ash

“Winding our way in and around all the trees is what’s causing us problems,” volunteered Eli. “Makes it hard as heck to stay walking in a straight line.”  After a moment of silence he added, “But I think we can make it this time around.  We’ll just try harder.”

Minds made up, they began walking, talking the entire time.  Overhead flocks of ravens formed and reformed, winging through the trees, as if keeping a close eye on those trailing below.

“So, what do your parents do?” Jake asked.  Eli had piggy-backed Ash across the silvery flowing stream.  Now that they were on the other side, he set her back down.

“Like Ash said before, Mom pretty much stays home and schools us.  Dad, on the other hand, travels all the time.  We barely get to see him, which is sad in some ways, not so bad in others.”

“What do you mean?” queried Jake.

“Well,” Eli continued, “At least he’s not there telling us to finish up our homework or do our chores all of the time.” Ash quickly added.  “Which gives us a bit more freedom then most kids get.”

“Is it worth it though?  Sounds like you all move around quite a bit because of his job.” Jake added.

“We’re pretty much used to it by now,” added Eli.  “Being the new kids on the block, it’s pretty hard to make friends.  I swear, it’s like we’re living on Southwest Airlines; You are now free to move about the country.”  He mimicked the commercial’s voice-over.  “I’d do anything to settle, put down some roots, you know, call someplace other than the road, home.”

In that regard, Jake knew exactly how the ‘twins’ felt.  Even though he’d been living in Montana the last couple of years, before that his dad had been in the Air Force.  They’d lived in Germany, just outside Ramstein Air Base, then most of Europe after that, before finally coming to the States.  “I feel for you,” he said, reaching out and squeezing Eli’s arm.  “Been there and done that.  And boy, does it ever suck…  Parents just don’t get it.”

“No, they don’t,” responded Ash with finality.  Somewhere along the line she had picked up a long thin branch, and was using it like a walking stick.

“So… what’s the first thing you two are going to do once we get back?” he asked.

“I’m going to have the biggest hot chocolate in the world,” Ash replied, smacking the side of a passing tree with her stick.

“I’m going jump into bed and pull the covers up over my head for about three days,” Eli laughed.  “By then I should be warm again.”

 From out of nowhere the wind began to pick up, driving the snow into their faces, threatening to sweep them off their feet.  The branches in the trees above began to whistle and scream like banshees.  Even the occasional flock of ravens could no longer be seen.

A sudden crash caused Jake to stop dead in his tracks, his right arm protectively across Ash and Eli’s chests, causing them both to stumble to a halt.  “Hear that?” he asked.

“Hear what?” Ash replied.

Eli began to look around warily.  “I think so,” the twin said.

“Hear what?” Ash asked again.  “I didn’t hear anything.  I wanna hear too.”

Looking over at Eli, sudden fear caused Jake’s skin to prickle.  He suddenly wasn’t cold anymore.  And the look in Eli’s eyes only confirmed his worst fear. In the distance, on the wind, a mournful howl sounded. Seconds later it was joined by another, then another, though the last one seemed much closer than all the rest.  Even Ash heard it.

“That’s a dog, right?” she asked, grabbing her brother’s arm and pulling him close.  “Someone’s let their dogs run loose.  That’s the howl we’re hearing, right?”

Jake didn’t say anything and neither did Eli; they just looked at each other in fear.

It was only then that Jake realized how dark it had gotten, considerably darker since the last time he checked.

Things have definitely gone from bad to worse. Jake thought.