An Excerpt from Kaelynn’s Tale- A Novel from the Valerian Cycle

Book 2.5

A soldier rushed up to kneel beside Sebastian, momentarily drawing her host’s attention. “Sire,” the man began, “it’s the tarns…”
She could see the man was clearly nervous; bullets of sweat dotted his forehead and face, rolled down his crooked nose, and dripped onto his chest. His armor, much like the others’ around her, appeared well-worn and creased, like he’d lived in it most of his life. His face, chiseled and weathered like naked stone, belied his age; he looked somewhere between twenty and fifty. It was his eyes, however, that revealed his true age… eons. He’d obviously seen too much of the bad side of the world to ever be young again.
“What is it, Winston?” Sebastian asked, eyes locked on the soldier’s drawn features and wringing hands.
“It’s the tarns, sir; the enemy keeps driving them against the gates.”
“I can see that,” replied Sebastian matter-of-factly. “And…”
“And… it’s only a matter time before they gain entrance.” As he was talking, he kept drawing his eyes away from Kaelynn’s face, as if what he had to say to Sebastian made him ashamed. “What would you have us do, Milord?”
Before Sebastian could reply, a tremendous shout went up from below. This noise was followed by a sense of impending doom so strong she actually felt physically ill. Something terrible was about to happen; she just knew it.
She couldn’t help but peek over the edge.

At first she couldn’t seem to get her mind wrapped around what she was seeing. Everything looked normal at first, as normal as it could be, she guessed.
The distant forest, a vast sweltering swath of green only moments before, was now completely white, and hovered from here to the horizon; broken every so often by knobbed hills of crumbled stone and earth. Some of the more distant hills seemed ringed by windswept trees.
Directly below her, beginning at the base of the main wall, there was no forest, only a sea of tree stumps and broken knobs, poking their way up from the earth like an accusation to the winter-laden sky. The land between here and there, forest and wall, had been clear cut for quite some time from the looks of the blackened and rotten stumps. A winding road of churned earth currently wound its way out of the forest to the base of the wall. It was mobbed by an army of footmen and some cavalry, a menagerie of armor and fur, patched mail and leather. Some of the men, she could see, were wearing nothing at all, but had smeared their bodies in paint mixed with mud, twigs and leaves.
How they managed the bitter cold, she had no clue.
Then there was the other group.

Directly beneath her were the tarns’ retainers, men dressed in billeted mail and dark leathers with caps of steel covering their heads. They were also wearing shields on their arms. They were still poking their torches at the tarns and evoking their considerable wrath. Beyond this group, amid all the chaos and churning of the men, two very distinct and impressive groups had also gathered. Impressive for very different reasons, however.
In the first were men on shaggy black horses heralding streaming banners showing a silver griffin against a blood red sky. This group seemed to be the ones in charge. In fact, the one in the front, obviously the leader, was standing high in his stirrups. Except for his piercing eyes, he was wrapped entirely in what appeared to be bands of dull, heavy metal. A glittering point of steel, a weapon of sorts, was in his mailed fist as he stabbed defiantly toward the sky. If she didn’t know any better, she’d say he was the one controlling the weather, as the wintery storm clouds seemed to be swirling from a point directly above him. But how could this be?
Currently, the leaders’ eyes were intent upon the place where she and Sebastian were spying.

There were other two men beside the leader, if you could call them men. They seemed more like wisps of smoke or rags and tatters of dark storm-driven cloth than men. Even from this distance, the power they projected was formidable indeed; palpable waves of energy seemed to be radiating from them like waves in an ocean, crashing against the wall beneath her, then sweeping over her and the men gathered around her like an ozone-laden charge of lightning. The fact they seemed more menacing, like pure brute force wrapped up in human form, was enough to give her the shivers.
For just a moment the leader’s eyes locked on hers from across the field. Then it was like a camera close-up in a movie, as his battle-scarred face became amazingly clear. His eyes, currently shadowed by the visor of his helmet, seemed to reach out and grab her, see through all her defenses, revealing all her weaknesses, desires, and dreams. The corners of his mouth turned up in a mock smile, a smirk.
Then, she was back, Sebastian grabbing hold of her and pulling her down, out of sight beside him. She felt violently ill.
“I know him,” she gasped, “but I don’t, either.” Leaning forward, she barely cleared the wall before vomiting over the side, her guts wrenching, acid burning her nose. To keep her from plummeting over the edge, Sebastian reached out and steadied her.
He waited silently, until she was finished.
Dragging the back of her hand across her lips, she wiped the last strings of bile away. She felt both hot and clammy at the same time. “What is going on around here?” she asked. Not a new question, to be sure, and not the last time she would ask or think it.
Sebastian brushed back a lock of matted hair from her face. “Deep breaths,” he said, doing his best to reassure her. “Remember that event I was telling you about?” She immediately knew he was referring to the end of the world vision he had shown her as the old man, the one with the earth-shaking, ash-falling finality. “That’s one of them,” he said.
“That’s… the Fallow King?” she gawked.

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Fata Morgana- A Novel Experience

There are documents galore about how I had entered the world, (just not this one) still, breathless and blue. And if that isn’t proof enough, you could always ask my parents or grandparents, (if they were still alive) I’m sure they would be more than happy to relate, how, instead of checking back out quicker than I was checking in, that God decided he must have wanted me to hang around for a while. (Eighty-two years to be exact.)

Starting out, though, I discovered that it would take more than just a slap on the derriere to start my engine; it would take some doing, on the doctor’s part as well as my parent’s.

The doctor’s part was easy, ‘Salad spoons’ to pull me out, a slap on the behind to revive me, (no response, so a quick rush over to the incubator, a little oxygen, a little chest message) and like that, I’m off and running the human race- pink and getting warmer– all the while screaming my freaking head off.

Then came the proverbial, ‘parental handoff’, that’s when the real fun began. Leave the hospital and find out on your own about dirty diapers, colicky cries, sleepless nights, dragging days, spit-up, baby formula, doctor’s visits, and excessive worrying. I may have been brand-spanking new as far as the world was concerned, but in the bigger picture, God must have built me on a Friday afternoon thirty minutes before quitting time.

In other words, I probably should have been recalled.

As for my mother- I’m not saying she had it any rougher than most, but those early years had to be a lot for a young mother all of twenty-three to handle. Especially since she was someone used to having her own way and doing what and when she wanted. Not saying she was a bad mother, to the contrary, you could not have asked for a more loving parent- considering the company she kept, namely my foul-tempered father, who happened to be… well, what shall we say… brutish, to say the least. Nevertheless she soldiered on, a real trooper my mom, all this despite the nearly over-whelming (I’m sure) thoughts of strangulation at times, of both me and my father. I’m just glad that in the end she took enough pity on me, and him, to keep us both around; hoping against hope and against all odds that somehow all her hard work would pay off someday. (As history would show though, Dad never did work out. As for me, well, let’s just say that I’m still a work in progress… a challenge, obviously. Even from beyond the grave.)

Eventually I got beyond the childhood stage, made my way past the diaper stage, the colic stage, past the learning to walk stage, the eating on my own stage, (thank God and Hallelujah) the even bigger potty stage, (most people have no idea… no idea at all what this stage is like) And before you knew it, I was all grown up, or so I thought so, for even this too was a stage. (Possibly the worst stage, my teenage years, and trust me, we won’t even go there- at least not for now.)The-Empty-Cradle-KLeonard

My mom used to tell me, ‘That you usually spend the first few years of your child’s life trying to teach them to walk and talk, only to spend the rest of your life yelling at them to set down and shut up. This saying would change later, of course, especially during my teenage years, to another great proverb, one that she seemed immensely fond of repeating over and over again like it was some kind of magic mantra or something wished for-

‘My greatest hope, is that one day you will have a houseful of kids all your own, and that they all turn out to be just like you!’

Little did she know what she was wishing for?

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Fata Morgana- A Novel- More revelations…

I was so scared all I could do was kneel there, my mind refusing to believe what I was seeing. All I could think about was the events of last night, everything that led us here… the storm, the new deadfall, the thunder, what I took to be a crash and explosion in the woods, and now we had this scour and drag mark leading to the culvert…

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I don’t know about you, but for me it was high time we got the heck out of here.

I tried to turn and yell at my brother, warn him that we needed to run, to get out, but I couldn’t move, not even one inch. I couldn’t even blink. It was like my feet were frozen in place, and Dean was just like me. I could see it in his eyes; they were locked onto mine, the same horror and terror, the same fear flickering like a candles flame just behind his irises, mirrored and reflected in mine.

In an instant of utter terror I could feel my heartbeat hammer into high gear, my breath explode. Whether I was moving or not, as far as my body was concerned, I was already in full flight, running back the way we came with no regard for my body, bramble or branch, just one consuming thought, to get the heck out of here as quickly as possible before whatever it was that had dragged itself from the bramble and wreckage of the deadfall to the culvert, decided that we were just as interesting and just as mysterious as we found it to be.

And began its own investigation

From behind us, coming from the mouth of the culvert, I could hear something soft, heavy and large, shift. The sudden scrunch of gravel as something stepped from the culvert and onto the stream bed.

My brother’s eyes were huge round and terrified, for he was looking right at me, he hadn’t followed us, so instead of being here with me and Dean, he was back there with Corky and Roy, and together all three were watching us, no, not us but past us, behind us- at the culvert. They could see what we could not, the ‘whatever it was’ that had just stepped from the darkness of the culvert, and our imaginations, into the stark of reality and light.

There came another stumbling step, the further crush of gravel and more snapped limbs. Whatever it was that was behind us, was getting closer, so close in fact that I could feel its stinking warm breath against my neck, smell its rot and decay.

My brother, Roy and Corky began to scream…

That’s all it took. Whether it was the sound of my brother’s screams or God had worked some miracle within us to save our lives, the paralysis broke.

My hand grasping Deans, and without taking a single glance back, I began to run, run like the wind. My brother, Roy and Corky were in front of us; they too had turned and run… they too were not looking back. We all knew- all five of us -that if we paused even long enough to look back, that it would be on us. Just like what happened to Lot’s wife in the Bible, only worse. Instead of turning into a pillar of salt, this thing would eat us alive!
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Fata Morgana- A Novel

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The first time I go under my eyes are wide open and my breath clamped tight. I’m looking around through surprised eyes at all the murky darkness below the surface.

Fear is not an option. Fear is not here. Why is this? Because I believe fear hasn’t been shown to me yet.

I can remember sinking all the way to the muddy bottom of the cove. Lots of algae-covered tree trunks, countless rocks and crumpled up beer cans are down here with me. I touch the bottom and immediately kick my way back up towards the surface. Overhead I can see the inner tube just floating there like a big, black donut, just waiting to drift away.

I break surface long enough to grasp for the inner tube. (Funny, it looked black from beneath but gray from up here.) I miss with a splash and go back under again. (I did manage to swap my air though, just not as much as before.) I’m still not panicking yet. Though this time, since I missed the inner tube, I was getting pretty mad at myself and that stupid old tube up there.

I reach the bottom and kick back off as hard as I can, but this time something goes wrong. I don’t get as far. It’s like there’s this hand around my ankle, pulling me down, keeping me from reaching the surface.

I’m starting to panic now.

I sling my arms, kick my feet and struggle. By the third kick I’m free from whatever has hold of me, but I’ve also lost a lot of strength and momentum to reach the surface. When I finally do break free, into the light and the air, I’m no longer concerned about the inner tube, I’m looking desperately towards the bank trying to locate dad and Mom, spitting and sputtering, choking and gaging, as the water seems to rush into my mouth, throat and lungs. I raise my hand trying to catch my Mom’s attention but she doesn’t see me. She’s still talking to Aunt and Uncle- That’s when I catch sight of brother; he’s standing on the muddy bank staring right at me, and he’s smiling, holding his inner tube oh so tight.

Big brother is in trouble and he’s enjoying it.

Just as I go back down, the brown murk claiming me for the third and possibly final time, I catch a quick glance of my dad; he’s trucking it down the embankment, his mouth open, shouting something, and his eyes are locked on mine. In that moment, just before I go under, I can see the sheer terror and panic written in his eyes and etched on his face.

It is here, at this moment, that I would meet fear for the first time, slippery and unmanageable.

Fear felt like a big rubbery glove gripping me. The feeling would haunt me for the rest of my life; the fear of water.

When I go down this time, the water is murkier, darker and colder than I remember, and pretty much, all the fights gone out of me. I’m splashing and thrashing of course, my eyes and mouth open, bubbles of stale air escaping my nose and mouth, sprinting their way back towards the surface. My throat and chest are on fire and my head feels like its stuffed full of cotton.

Something is going terribly wrong. The water isn’t a safe place, not any more. I didn’t have enough air in me to keep my eyeballs from screaming in their sockets, trying to pop out, and that thing that grabbed me before, seemed to be hanging on really tight now, my arms, my legs, my chest. The hand that gripped me felt like lead, the darkness around me, the shape that seemed to be growing more and more distinct with each passing second, a form in darkness and murk, with red glints for eyes and a ragged horrible smile where its mouth should have been. This time the darkness drags me all the way to the bottom and keeps me there, among the empty crumpled cans, the old sodden tree trunk and the odd cinder block or two. It won’t let go no matter how much I struggle, no matter how much I try. It just hangs on and on and on, even as the world starts to grow even darker around me.

This time there would be no kicking my way back to the surface. The darkness and form around me is too strong to escape… my limbs seem so very heavy now, leaden… useless

Then, just as the form grappling me begins to turn my direction, its mouth open and gapping with a laugh I’m beginning to hear, even as the world becomes a mad rush of noise in my ears, this hand suddenly reaches down into the darkness and yanks me free, even as my last scream is about to erupt from between my lips, taking with it the last remaining bits of oxygen I have left-

We break surface, dad’s arms around me, his face contorted in anguish above me. He’s holding me close, cradling me like a baby, but this time I don’t care, even at ten years and a big boy. All I know is my Dad has rescued me. Now all I have to do is go to sleep in his arms, let him rock me, hold me, rock me, let me fall asleep…

I’m thrown to the ground, or so it seems, distant and soft.

In a wave, it starts somewhere deep inside me, down in my guts, quickly building up strength before finally erupting in a massive retch of murky cold water from between my lips. My body convulses once, then twice more, before finally settling on tiny little jerks and spasms, as my lungs burn for air, beg for air, my breaths coming out in desperate gasps, my hands turned claws, my back arched, my head pulled straight back as I scream towards the heavens and the light.
I’ve been born again.

As I lay there, cradled in my parent’s arms, Mom’s face streaked with tears, and my dad’ rough black beard scrapping my cheek, I feel safer than at any other time in my life.

Safer than I will ever feel again

In that moment, even though I am safe, I look back towards the lake and the empty inner tube bobbing away on its surface. Ripples seem to be working their way towards me and the shore, something other than that it’s glassy indifference.

Beside me, noticed for the first time since my rescue, is my little brother, he’s standing behind dad, and mom can’t see him.

He’s grinning.

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Fata Morgana- A horror novel you just gotta read!

Excerpt-

The room was dark except for a back-lit doorway immediately in front of me. Through it I can see my parents, still up and working in the living room, moving things about- furniture and such- that and this brilliant light shining in from above, illuminating this single thread of crystal-like web above me.
Normally I’d be freaking out, but I’m not. For you see, I’m not afraid of spiders… yet. So, instead of freaking out, I just lay there and watched this web, the way it shimmered in the sunlight, especially the way its brilliance outshined the rest of the room, redefining what darkness could be.
After a couple minutes/hours of lying there, I begin to notice this tiny little figure working its way along the webs length, making its way from my left to my right. (Remember, this web is really no more than a foot or so above the bed, so if I set up it gets destroyed.) This tiny little figure is a spider, its legs and body just as crystal clear as the thread it weaves. Located in the middle of this spider’s little bitty body, is this tiny blue shimmering flame, kind of pulsing along like a heartbeat, but this tiny blue light beats really fast. (The most amazing thing about this whole experience is the way the sunlight seems to shimmer off the spider and its web, diamond-like glitter, cutting across the room, as well as my vision, and absorbing all my interest, all my mind.)
So once again here I am, absorbed by this mesmerizing sight, a singular strand of web cut horizontal to my world, which is mystery enough, for how could a spider this small, or of any size for that matter, spin a web horizontally? Where was gravity and why wasn’t it working? And then there’s this tiny crystal spider working its way across it, like a tiny blue flame flickering diamond bright, a lit fuse slowly burning down.
Looking beyond the web I could see my dad. At the moment he was watching me, this most amazing look on his face, like he’s so proud of me. Immediately I smile back, and then, in a moment of absolute love, I ask him to come in here and witness this sight I’m seeing, that he would surely love it more than anything in the whole wide world, that, and I wanted to give him a great big hug for being the best-est Father in the whole wide world.
And that’s when I notice the ‘other’ spider
The bigger spider
The reason I’m so afraid of spiders to begin with, spider.
This thing here in the room with me, with us, has to be the size of a small dog, I’m not kidding you. Its eight glittering eyes look like flickering red flames, flames that are watching me, have been the entire time, probably. And worst of all, it’s crouched just this side of the wall next to the open door, just waiting to pounce on the first thing foolish enough to come through.
I’m literally frozen in place, as still and as sure as if I’d been wrapped up in silken thread and caught in a trap. I was nothing more than bait; I realize that now, and my father would turn out to be its next victim.
Unless I did something

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The Hook…

Living and dying, growing up and growing old, trailer parks and haunted houses, plus the occasional alien invasion… all a part of my childhood, all a part of me growing older.
All a part of me dying,
Childhood dreams, first love and serial killers… also a part of me growing up, growing older, and regretting the past.
Decisions not made… promises not kept,
I was sixteen when Stacie died. She was the love of my life, blond hair and blue-eyed; the most amazing smile ever. Stacie changed my life, made me the man I am today, taught me how to love- until the day Crowley, lunatic and serial killer, found her and stole her away from me- from the world.
Until the day I died!
They say that love can reach from beyond the grave; can evil do the same?

Website of Indie Author Steve Muse

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