Release Spotlight: Lion

Short Story, Spotlight Tour

Langwidere has an obsessive habit—collecting heads. She wears a new one each day, changing them out like she does her ivory dresses. But Landwidere doesn’t have the one thing she truly wants: complete power over the territories in Oz. When Lion—the once cowardly fae—shows up at her doorstep, he offers her an opportunity to achieve her desires. Will he use the courage the Wizard gave him to help her succeed, or will he betray her in the process?

This is a short story prequel to the Faeries of Oz trilogy. 

Available now!


Purchase Link: https://www.amazon. com/dp/B08FT5SSJW/

Short Story Excerpt: Beyond the Familiar by Jeff Young – Afterpunk Anthology

Short Story, Writer's Feature, Writing

JY Steam.jpgMeet Jeff Young.

Jeff Young is a bookseller first and a writer second – although he wouldn’t mind a reversal of fortune.

He is an award winning author who has contributed to the anthologies: Writers of the Future V.26, In an Iron Cage: The Magic of Steampunk, Clockwork Chaos, Gaslight and Grimm, By Any Means, Best Laid Plans, Dogs of War, Man and Machine, If We Had Known, Fantastic Futures 13, The Society for the Preservation of C.J. Henderson, TV Gods & TV Gods: Summer Programming. Jeff’s own fiction is collected in TOI Special Edition 2 – Diversiforms and the forthcoming Spirit Seeker. He also edited the Drunken Comic Book Monkey line, TV Gods and TV Gods –Summer Programming. He has led the Watch the Skies SF&F Discussion Group of Camp Hill and Harrisburg for seventeen years. Jeff is also the proprietor of Helm Haven, the online Etsy and Ebay shops, costuming resources for Renaissance and Steampunk.

 

Beyond the Familiar Excerpt

“The departed have better things to do than talk to you.”

Kassandra met that statement from Madam Foss with a canted eyebrow.

“Look at me like that all you will lassie, but it’s still the truth.” She tipped her teacup back and drank down the last bit as Kassandra waited for her to continue. “It may sound absurd but the dead don’t always have an interest in what the price of butter is. They’ve moved on. They’ve joined the grand choir. They’ve earned their reward. They’ve other concerns.”

Kassandra couldn’t help but notice that as Madam Foss delivered her last comment her eyes drifted off to the right and she lifted the empty cup for another sip only to find she’d already emptied it. Kassandra enjoyed her time with her new mentor. However, she often found that not only was it important what Madam Foss relayed but also what she avoided. Since it was expected of her, she asked, “Well how does one engage with the departed then? My former teacher was grave robbing and then forcing the spirits to speak.”

Madam Foss’s dark wrinkled visage puckered up even farther as if she’d been offered something scraped off of the road outside. “You and I will be avoiding any such wrongdoing. What we do is like a tool. You can build a house with it or you can lay about with it doing all sorts of damage that not only hurts those around you but also you.” With that one of her fingers shot out and dug into Kassandra’s chest. “You will be better than that wretch.”

Leaning back in the chair, so she could reach for her teacup and put herself out of the range of that finger, Kassandra considered her mentor.

Madam Foss kept her hand outstretched for a moment longer and then leaned back into her own chair. “We speak to the dead mostly through intermediaries. There are those that are just as restless as they were in life. They can find the spirits we need to speak to and if those are unwilling to speak, the intermediaries can carry messages.”

“They are familiars,” Kassandra said suddenly pleased with herself at the realization.

The chair creaked as Madam Foss lunged towards her once again, finger pointed and then thought better of the action. She clutched her hands together, staring at Kassandra. “I keep forgetting that you are so much older than most who are brought to me.” She shook her head, the gray curls swaying under her bonnet, “I forget that you like to think for yourself instead of just listen and listen good like a younger one would. So lassie if you say familiar to anyone else, they’ll be calling witchcraft in no time at all. What we do has nothing to do with the dark parts we were discussing before. Perhaps those spirits do become familiar and perhaps that’s why they take such a name, but the common man only knows that as evil. We speak to intermediaries, to intermediaries only, clear? We are mediums. We speak for the dead and the dead speak to us. That’s all that matters. When someone decides they know better than we do, that’s when words like ‘evil’ and ‘witch’ gets tossed about. That’s when they start gathering tinder.”

She considered Kassandra for a moment longer her dark eyes squinting as if she could see inside her. Then the passage of a dirigible overhead caused the windows of Madam Fosse’s small home to shudder and broke her attention. She stood up suddenly and gestured for Kassandra to follow her. Setting aside her teacup, Kassandra brushed the front of her dress down and then stepped after her mentor as she crossed the sitting room and walked through the foyer. The house was split by a large staircase that rose into the dimness of the upper level. On the other side were a pair of large wooden doors. Kassandra had spent most of her time in the sitting room and the kitchen beyond during her visits. They hadn’t ventured to the other side of the house until now. Madam Foss pulled out a large brass key and unlocked the doors and then threw them open.

Dark curtains covered the windows in what was a converted dining room. Bookcases were set up so that the square corners of the room were rounded off. Wooden chairs with caned bottoms were spread around about the perimeter and a rich rug covered the floor. But what drew Kassandra’s attention was the table at the center.

It was circular and draped in deep red velvet. A wooden disk lay on top only slightly smaller in diameter. At its center was a hole and braided copper wires rose from inside the table to latch on to the Jacobs Ladder that climbed halfway to the ceiling. Copper threads chased across the wooden circle in strange patterns and two brass handgrips were mounted close enough for easy use. A leather-backed chair was pushed up to the table in front of the grips.

Madam Foss pulled back the chair and said to Kassandra, “Sit.”

Before they’d merely been conversing. The tone that the medium took with her now was one that had Kassandra dropping into the chair before she considered rebelling. Instinctively she reached out for the grips. They were so cold to her touch that she almost pulled away but the sharp glance from Madam Foss made her keep her hands in place. The older woman reached down and began turning a large crank that was just visible under the tablecloth. As she did so, a crackly snapped through the air and a flicker of static flew up the Jacob’s Ladder, then another and another until visible arcs ascended towards the top and dissipated into the surrounding air. The copper wiring on the tabletop danced with fat blue sparks and then the current hit Kassandra shooting her hair out in all directions. Her red curls furled like a corona about her.

“Now you know why I wear a hat,” came Madam Foss’s dry comment.

But Kassandra wasn’t paying attention any longer. She was trying to understand where the water had come from. Then it struck her, it wasn’t water and it was coming from her. Her skin, her pores, her mouth, her eyes, her ears – every exit from her was weeping something that wasn’t water but rather ectoplasm. Madam Foss had called it the insulation between worlds at one point. There it was real, right before her. Gradually, the silver substance began to collect in a sphere over the table. When Kassandra looked down at the design in copper with its circles about the handgrips, she realized that it was designed to help keep the ectoplasm contained. The Jacobs Ladder overhead was bleeding off just the right amount of static to keep the circuit she was part of safe. More and more ectoplasm kept pouring from her until the sphere swelled to twice the size of her head. She looked at it closely and discovered that it was spinning ever so slightly. Then she lunged forward out of the chair and plunged her head into the silver mass.

At first she didn’t notice anything. It was almost as if her eyes were adjusted to a dark room. There was a faint sound that might be footsteps and a light breeze blew across her face. Gradually, she began to realize that she was looking down what she could only describe as a path. It was so straight and long that perspective vanished into the distance. She could see a little of what looked like woods to either side but couldn’t actually move her point of view. It was as if her head weren’t with her any longer but only her eyes. There were shapes and shadows ahead of her, however they were so far down the path they were more like suggestions or imperfections in the overall pattern. Then one of the shadows grew darker and became more defined. It stepped out of the side onto the path and crossed it quickly. But before it faded into the other side, it hesitated. For the tiniest part of an instant, Kassandra thought that she’d seen a dark cloaked form turn to stare at her.

The last time that she’d seen the shade of her mother Anastasia, she’d worn a dark cloak. If there was any spirit she wished to speak to it was most certainly her mother. If her mother were to become her familiar spirit, it would be almost perfect. But the figure was gone. The path was fading and Madam Foss’s iron grip was pulling her forcibly back into the chair.

As she sat there gasping, her hands torn from the brass grips, Madam Foss considered Kassandra, hands akimbo. “Should’ve known you were going to do that. From now on girl you listen to me if you plan on staying on. The other side doesn’t take kindly to intruders. There are things that keep us out. That’s not how we talk to the other side. That’s the important part. We talk to the other side. You don’t get to visit unless you’re planning on staying. Now you just sit back and I’ll get you another cup of tea. Your heart’s gonna race and be out of rhythm for a little and it’s likely you’ll have trouble catching your breath. You’re young so you’ll do fine but it’ll hurt.”

With that she reached under the table, pulled the handle she’d cranked into place against the underside of the able. She patted Kassandra on the shoulder as the table crackled with a few stray sparks and wondered off after the tea.

While Kassandra sat there blinking, black spots chasing across her vision and her heart thumping away like a swallow trapped in a chimney, her mind was racing. She’d seen heaven. Well, she’d seen the other side. It wasn’t anything like she’d expected.

***

 

The Details on the upcoming Afterpunk Anthology

tales of paranormal steampunk.jpg

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/e-specbooks/tales-of-paranormal-steampunk
eSpec Books brings you three great new steampunk books of witches and magic and the great beyond.
eSpec Books is back with three delightfully punky tomes for your reading enjoyment. Won’t you help us make these fantastical books a reality? We bring you familiar favorites and shiny new names, but as always wonderful fiction. This campaign will allow us to cover production costs, pay the authors, and possibly include artwork in these books, which you can read about below…

THE CLOCKWORK WITCH

by Michelle D. Sonnier

The seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, Arabella is destined to disappoint, when she was expected to shine. Though she descends from a long line of gifted witches she has earned the moniker of a “brown bud” showing no sign of magical talent.

When it truly seems her lot can grow no worse, she discovers an unnatural affinity for…of all things…technology. Not only are the mysteries of the mechanical world open to her, but her new-found ability allows her to manipulate them, making her the first ever clockwork witch and anathema to the nature of the witching world.

How will she come to grips with her new power when she must question if she will survive the judgement of her family and her peers?

spiritseeker.jpgSPIRIT SEEKER  

by Jeff Young

The Kassandra Leyden Adventures

The Leydens were people of extraordinary means. The father a well-known adventurer. The mother a spiritualist oft consulted by the government of New Britain. The daughter, Kassandra, inherited both the skill and sense of adventure that made her parents great.

But when her mother vanishes without a trace, and her father turns toward spirits of a fluid nature as he loses himself in memory, Kassandra is left to find her own way and purpose. She quickly learns a sense of caution as she discovers there is as much intrigue as adventure about the world she lives in. And not all those she’s had faith in are to be trusted.

With the whispers of spirits in her ear and unlikely allies at her back, Kassandra strives to defend both the living and the departed…after all…

It’s the Spirit of the matter…

 

AFTER PUNK: STEAMPOWERED TALES OF THE AFTERLIFE

edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Greg Schauer

While mankind can scarce hope to pierce the Veil without crossing it, a few intrepid souls will ever bend their will against the aether, combining artifice and the arcane to uncover its secrets.

From voodoo death cults to the Day of the Dead, mummy parties, the wheel of reincarnation, the practice of death portraits, and so much more, these tales leave no gravestone unturned.

Be it heaven or hell or the limbo in between, the hereafter is about to get ‘Punked.

With stories by Jody Lynn Nye, David Sherman, Gail Z. Martin and Larry N. Martin, James Chambers, Michelle D. Sonnier, Jeffrey Lyman, Bernie Mojzes, Travis I. Sivart, Jeff Young, and Danielle Ackley-McPhail.

Short Story: Roses by Lexi McCurdy, Part Two

Short Story, Writing
***Disclaimer: Lexi McCurdy is a guest post on A New Look On Books – click here to learn more about her – and has given permission to share her work of fiction, Roses, with viewers today as a Valentine’s Day special. ***

 

Part Two

Roses by Lexi McCurdy

 

“I remember when Max met you, seven years ago. God he was in love with you the moment you kicked him in the shin. He told me you were the girl he was going to marry,” Ryan’s eyes were filled with tears as he looked at me, “I told him he was crazy, since I had known you for longer than a day and I knew you weren’t the marrying kind. At least not according to Tessa. But Max likes a challenge. You were his biggest challenge yet.”

I smiled, “he never did give up. I was so mean to him too, he never let that scare him. He told me he would prove to me he was worth it.”

“Did he? Prove that to you?”

My eyes were bright when tears as I looked at Max’s brother from across the small room, “no. I knew after that very first date he was too good for me. And yet. He never looked at another girl.”

Tessa wiped away a tear as I looked away from Ryan. That was the truth. Max never needed to prove to me he was worth it. He proved that on our very first date. He proved to me he was out of my league and yet for some reason he only wanted me.

It took me four years to truly believe I was worth it. That I was worthy of him.

I squeezed Max’s hand three times, something he used to do whenever we were together in the early days and I was afraid of people seeing us. He would squeeze my hand to reassure me that everything was okay, that we were supposed to be together. A tear slipped down my cheek, I waited for him to squeeze it back. But he didn’t move, his fingers didn’t even curve around mine. He looked so vulnerable, so pale and injured that my chest squeezed tightly.

 

I needed him. I never let myself admit that I did, but I didn’t want to go on without him. I wanted that wedding, I wanted a house with a fence and little ones that looked more like Max than me running around in the yard. I wanted to spend forever rolling my eyes at his stupid jokes and wondering why he puts up with my moods.

There were a million ways to say I love you without ever uttering the words. I didn’t realize it until that moment but every day Max said the words without saying them. Proving to me yet again that I didn’t deserve him.

But that didn’t mean I loved him any less.

“You should wear mom’s dress,” Tessa was staring at my hands. They were still covered in blood, I needed to wash them. I needed to change, but I didn’t want him to wake up alone. I wanted to be here when he opened his eyes again, “when you two finally set a date.”

I laughed, “well right now that is the last thing I’m worrying about. I’ll marry Max naked if I have to,” Ryan’s cheeks fMaxshed as I looked at my sister, “I just want to marry him.”

“Well that would be one hell of a wedding ceremony,” Tessa smiled as I looked back down at the man I loved laying there on the bed. I took in a deep breath and reached up, pushing a few strands of hair away from his face.

The room was quiet for a few moments, the three of us sitting there waiting for the man we loved in different ways to wake up and tell us all to stop crying. I knew he wouldn’t want us to cry, he would tell me to man up, be the hard girl he had tried so hard to break, because he wasn’t going anywhere.

I let out a slow breath, “one of our first nights together Max told me how he met you and Adam,” I brought my eyes up to Ryan’s and felt my chest squeeze. My sister’s boyfriend raised his eyebrows, “he said that until that moment he never met anyone he wanted to be friends with. He was rowdy and angry as a child and then you came along and gave him a run for his money. You gave him a black eye and Adam gave him a cracked rib. He said he knew it would last after that.”

Ryan laughed, “he was this big kid who shouldn’t have looked as big as he did. He was awkward and cMaxmsy. He thought he would bully us and I made him think twice about laughing at the skinny kid who looked like he couldn’t hold his own.”

“He loves you,” I said softly as I leaned into his shoulder, “he’s never uttered a bad word about either of you. You’re his brother. He calls you family. I know he wants you there for our wedding, for our life. I can’t see it happening without you or Adam or Tess or Elain.”

 

Tessa leaned into Ryan and he kissed her temple, “don’t worry. Max already has it all planned out. He doesn’t want to do it without your family either.”

I nodded, “he’s always been my family, with or without this ring.”

I let out a slow breath as I brought our clasped hands up to my forehead and leaned against his warmth. His hand was still bigger than mine, his skin was still a shade darker. I just wanted him to open his eyes and tell me everything would be alright. I wanted him to be the strong one, like he always was.

Time seemed to stretch on forever. Tessa was falling asleep on Ryan’s shoulder. I was having trouble keeping my eyes open, but I didn’t want to fall asleep until he was awake. I knew that the chances of him waking up soon were slim to none since he had been hurt so badly. I sighed, closed my eyes and holding onto him. The machines kept beeping, his chest kept going up and down with each breath he took.

I counted each breath he took. It passed the time, it helped ease my fears. He was still here with me, on this earth. Even if his eyes were closed he was breathing. He was breathing on his own. There were no tubes helping him take in air. That was a good sign. At least that’s what the nurse kept saying. That and the swelling in his head was going down. The doctor said he would wake up faster once the swelling was down.

I was almost asleep when his hand moved. I had let go of his hand when it got warm and sweaty. Instead I crossed my arms and laid my head on the bed. My neck was stiff and my body was sore and I was exhausted. I felt the bed move and my heart soared. The sun was starting to come up, it was a new day. A new day to erase the nightmare that I had been living in for the past however many hours now. I sat up faster than I should have, my body groaned.

Despite the circumstances, I couldn’t help but smile when his eyes fMaxttered and I knew he was coming around.

“Lu?” Max’s voice was soft and scratchy. He opened his eyes slowly. His hand started to move around the bed, searching for something. He smiled weakly when his fingers once again found mine. I gasped, all but crawling into his arms as he opened his eyes.

A sob escaped my throat, “I’m here,” I said softly as he sat up and I wrapped my arms around him. I was gentle, but Max’s lips found mine before I could be sure this wasn’t a dream, “I thought I’d lost you.”

He smiled as he pulled away, the tips of his fingers grazed my cheek, “never, Love. Forever, remember?” He touched my ring and I smiled.

“Forever,” I agreed. I closed my eyes and shook my head, “do you remember? The accident?”

 

He shook his head, “barely. I swerved so they wouldn’t hit you. We rolled. It was cold. I remember darkness. But I heard you,” his deep voice got smaller, “begging me to stay. I held on to that voice, I held onto you.”

A tear slipped down my cheek, “I didn’t think I’d would ever get to tell you I love you again, Maxc. Because I do. I love you so much.”

“I know,” he kissed me again as the door opened, “but I love hearing you say the words out loud.”

The nurse smiled when she saw Max awake, I pulled away but he held me in place there beside him. I kissed his temple as she checked his vitals, “I’ll go get the doctor, we didn’t expect you to wake up so quickly.”

I held onto him, afraid he would fall back into that restless sleep again if I let him go. I never expected to need him, to miss him as much as I did when he was hurt. I took in a deep breath as he brushed his fingertips up and down my thigh, as if he took couldn’t bare not to touch me now that he was finally back with me. I kissed his cheek, trying to be positive.

Max sighed, “well this might sound weird but I’m tired.”

I pressed my hand against his forehead and he leaned into it. The nurse stopped checking his vitals and nodded, “it’s probably the medicine. I’ll get the doctor and be right back.”

She disappeared out the door as quickly as she had appeared. Tessa was still asleep, but Ryan opened his eyes and smiled when he saw Max awake, “Maxc. You had us all worried you giant prick.”

He laughed, then winced as the vibration hit him, “well I couldn’t let Lu get all the attention,“ his thumb touched my ring once again.

I squeezed his hand and this time he squeezed mine back, “I love you,” I whispered softly as he kissed my temple.

“I love you, sweetheart. I’m sorry you worried,” he sighed as he leaned back against the pillows and blew out a breath, “just preparing you for the rest of our life together.”

I glared at him as the doctor came in, “if you do something like this again I’ll kill you myself.”

He laughed and it was the best sound in my world, “I wouldn’t put it past you, love.”

***

 

They promised me that he was out of the woods. They even said they would release him soon. He was talking and smiling, he even held me before he fell asleep the first night. It looked like we were going to make it to the other side. The doctor couldn’t believe he was awake and alert, that his injuries weren’t giving him more problems. Everyone said his recovery was truly a miracle.
But then it all fell apart overnight. One of the machines woke me up, beeping loudly and wildly. Max was pale, coughing up blood. He was sweating and breathing heavily.

The doctors rushed in before I could process what was happening and pushed me out of the way. His brown eyes held mine before they took him away. I held that stare, praying it wouldn’t be the last time those beautiful hazel eyes looked into mine.

Snow fell as I stood there beneath the oak tree.

 

The ground was already cold where we buried him. All I had to remember our life, our laughter, our love, was a tiny dash between two dates. It was so small and yet his life had been so big. All I had left of the beautiful man whom I loved, who had fallen in love with me, was his ring. The ring I refused to take off my finger.

His promise of forever. I guess our forever wasn’t as long as I believed it would be.

I still don’t truly understand what happened. When they told me he was gone I collapsed. I woke up and they told me my body had shut down with the news. They told me I was in shock and that I needed to rest. I fell apart, I demanded to see my fiance. Tessa was the only one who thought it was a good idea. She took me to see him and then she’s the one who told me what the doctors were too afraid to tell me.

I held the roses be had brought me for my birthday. They weren’t fresh anymore, some had wilted. The cold bit into my fingers, I couldn’t see for the tears in my eyes. I took in a breath and laid them gently on the dirt pile in front of his grave. It was easier now, to stand there and look at his stone. It wasn’t as world shattering as it had been the day of the funeral. When Tessa and Ryan were the only ones who held me together.

It wasn’t hard to let go of the future we were supposed to live together. The wedding, the idea of marriage, I let those things go when they told me he didn’t make it. I let the future I never knew I wanted dissolve as quickly as it had appeared. Because I didn’t want that future with anyone else.

What I couldn’t let go of was him.

He came to me at the end of my world. When I thought life was over. When I thought love would never find me again. He had been the light at the end of a very long tunnel. My knight in shining armor if you will. Max came and saved me. Even when I didn’t want to be saved.

Now I would never be able to give my heart away again. Because he had taken it with him.

Everyone had given me space at the funeral. They let me grieve as we buried him, but now they started to worry. Tessa refused to leave me alone now that everything was said and done. She followed me home and held me while I cried. She stayed that night and now she wouldn’t leave. She made me dinner, she forced me to get up. To shower, to get dressed. My little sister forced me to live when I didn’t remember how to live without him.

Fourteen days. I had survived fourteen days without him. I just had to learn how to live the rest without him now too.

I pulled his jacket closer to me, it was too big to do it’s job and keep me warm. But I wore it because it was the last thing that still smelled like him, like home. It was the last piece of Max I had left to get me through the day. To remind me of the happiest moments in my life, wrapped up in his arms.

Tears filled my eyes as I held the locket in my hand, my wrist resting against my neck as I held it close. I would never let Max go, I would never forget the way he made me feel. He made me feel like I was the most beautiful girl in the world, like I was the only girl in his entire world. He taught me that love could be real, that love could be all consuming. He taught me that even at the end of the world there was someone waiting there to save you.

“You changed me. You made me into a girl I barely recognize, the girl I always wanted to be. You loved me for who I was, even when I was cold and hard. I used to wonder why you bothered, no one ever cared to stick around as long as you. When you didn’t leave, when our first fight didn’t scare you away I started to wonder if maybe I finally found someone worth giving it all to. I gave you everything, Max. Every piece of my heart is yours. You took it with you and now I don’t know how I’ll ever find it again. Because I don’t want someone to replace you. I don’t want someone else to love. I just want you.”

The snow kept falling as I let out a breath, “god this feels like a cruel dream. I mean, I keep thinking I’ll go home and find you waiting for me. I turn the corner and wait to see you standing there holding a dozen fucking roses. God I hated roses. But I loved the ones you’d bring me,” I sighed, “I’m so mad. You left me, after you promised me forever. You forced your way in, you’re the first person I wanted a forever with. The only one. God I loved you. I don’t think I’ll ever stop loving you.”

A tear fell down my cheek, “I love you. I hate you. Because I don’t remember how I ever lived without you. I don’t know what I did, who I was, before I was yours. Max,” my voice broke. I shook my head, “I wish I could go back and change it. I wish I could’ve asked for one more glass, or danced with you a little longer. I wish.”

I stopped, the quiet surrounded me. I’d never hear him laugh, or listen to his boring stories again. What I would’ve give to be annoyed with him one last time, “it doesn’t matter. Wishing won’t bring you back. Nothing will bring you back.”

I brushed my cold hand across my eyes and shook my head. I had no idea how to even begin to move on without him. God I missed him, every day it felt like I lived with a knife inside my chest. I missed the stupid fights, the stupid moments. I missed the life we had made together.

But I knew I would do it all again. If only to learn a real love, to find a true love. I would rather have loved him for four years than to have never loved him at all.

“I won’t forget you, ever. I wish I could go back and tell you that in person. I wish I could look into your eyes and memorize every color, every sparkle that made you, you. If I had known it wouldn’t last. That you wouldn’t make it. I would’ve held you tighter, I would’ve kissed you longer.”

Another tear slipped down my cheek. I ran my hand over the stone. My ring clicked against the cement. The cold hit me straight down the middle. It numbed the pain that would never go away. I would have to learn to live without him, I knew time would never completely heal the break inside my heart.

“I wish they could’ve met you,” I whispered as I pressed my hand against my stomach, “I wish you could have met them. I don’t know how I’ll do it without you. I never wanted this without you.”

I had to figure out how to become someone I never thought I’d be. But would do it, because Max would want me to be strong. Especially now, since there was a piece of him still inside me, one that would grow. One that would one day smile at me they way he used to. I knew it would shatter my heart when it happened.

If that was the price I had to pay, then I would. To carry him inside me. To remember what it was like to be happy. To let his love consume me. To pass on the things he taught to me to someone who was the last piece of his soul.

I took in a deep breath and closed my eyes, making him one last promise. I spoke the vows I never knew I already had written, to the cold stone grave. I tried not to dwell on the fact that he was suppose to be my future. Instead we were given a tragic ending to our love story.

“I promise to remember you, to always love you. I promise to smile, to laugh the way you taught me to,” I smiled despite the ache in my chest as I opened my eyes, “your child will know you. They will love you as fiercely as you would’ve loved them. As much as I will always love you.”

I ran my finger over his name, tucking my beautiful brown eyed boy back inside my heart. Where I would carry him for the rest of my life.

“You used to bring me roses. Now it’s my turn to bring them to you.”

 

Did you miss the first part of Roses?

Click here to find out what you missed!

Short Story: Roses by Lexi McCurdy, Part One

Short Story, Writing
***Disclaimer: Lexi McCurdy is a guest post on A New Look On Books – click here to learn more about her – and has given permission to share her work of fiction, Roses, with viewers today as a Valentine’s Day special. ***

 

Part One

Roses by Lexi McCurdy

 

For the first time I was confident in myself. I was in love with Max and I wanted everyone to know it.

Four years together and yet it still felt brand new.

It was my 25th birthday, which we decided would also serve as an early Valentine’s day celebration too. Max brought pink roses this time. He knew I hated the color pink and yet he brought them anyways. He showed up while I was still getting ready, my dress wasn’t even zipped yet. He was all put together, that leather jacket, faded with time and love, pulled on over his dark gray button down shirt. His hair was slicked back behind his ears. It was almost to his shoulders now. God I loved and hated that hair.

It was perfect for our nights together. But sometimes I wanted him to cut it all off.

“Happy birthday my love,” Max’s deep voice made the fact that I was holding pink roses disappear. I smiled as he kissed me gently, pulling the door closed behind him.

I blushed as a shiver ran down my spine from the cold air that had made its way inside, “thanks Max. These are very… pink.”

I grimaced as he wiggled his eyebrows, “I know. You’re welcome.”

I rolled my eyes. He was cocky as always. Sometimes it was endearing, sometimes it was annoying. I wasn’t sure how I felt about it tonight seeing as it was my birthday and he should’ve gotten me flowers that were to my liking. I took them to the kitchen, my bare feet barely tapping against the floorboards as I walked. I felt Max’s eyes on my back as he followed me. I put the flowers in a vase that I had already filled with water.

“Well don’t just stand there. Be useful and zip me up,” I waved my hand over my head waiting for him to come and assist me.

Max snorted, but I heard his heavy footsteps make their way towards me. Then his cold fingers brushed against my back, “usually you’re begging me to take your dress off.”

Max’s lips pressed against my neck before I could even think of a response. I shivered against his touch. Four years together and he still gave me butterflies. My heartbeat picked up, my own hands started to shake as he kissed up my neck, his breath tickling my skin.

“If you want to take me out to dinner,” I could barely form a sentence as his hands touched my hips. The cold seeped through my dress, “we can’t get distracted.”

Max’s teeth grazed the skin on my shoulder. I had to bite my lip to suppress my moan, “what if I want to distract you?”

I giggled, “as much as I love you, as much as I love this, I am also starving and you promised me food.”

His nose pressed against my shoulder and his laugh hit my skin, “yes. Yes. Don’t worry, I’ve got an exciting night planned for after dinner. I know you, food always comes first.”

He winked and I couldn’t help but laugh. God if I could’ve froze that moment I would’ve lived in it forever. Me and him standing there in the kitchen, those stupid pink roses on the counter. I wish I would have let him distract me.

I wish we would’ve left that restaurant late, or taken a different way home. I wish I could have changed everything that had happened that night. But that’s the thing about wishing. No matter how hard you wish it will never come true. You can’t change the past, you can’t undo something that has already been done.

That’s probably the hardest thing I’ll ever have to accept. There was nothing I could’ve done. Nothing I could’ve changed. It all happened too fast. It all happened on time.

“Luca,” Max’s voice stopped me as I slipped on my shoes. He was smiling when I turned around and looked at him. He stood in the doorway, looking at me with those big puppy dog eyes. I let out a slow breath and I felt the air in the room change. I smiled back at him, “I wanted to give you your present now. Instead of at the restaurant.”

I raised an eyebrow, “okay?”

He cleared his throat and fiddled with his pocket, “I love you, Luca Malcolm. Even when you’re hard to love, there’s no one else I’d rather be with. I’d rather fight with you than get along with anyone else. And I know you’ve always said you’re happy with the way things are. But, well.”

He knelt down on one knee and my breath caught in my throat, my chest squeezed tight, “I don’t see or want a future without you, Luca. You’re my rock, my love, my life. Will you marry me?”

My eyes filled with tears as I covered my mouth with my hand, in shock. I never thought this moment would come, this moment would ever be real. And yet here was this man who I loved with all my heart proposing to me. I couldn’t believe it, and yet I couldn’t deny it either. I nodded my head slowly, my head taking a moment to catch up with my heart.

“Yes. Yes, oh my god. Yes I’ll marry you.”

His smile was blinding. I jumped into his arms as he stood up after pushing the beautiful vintage ring onto my left hand. It fit perfectly, as if he had been planning this whole thing for longer than today. I kissed him as his arms wrapped around me, my hands framing his face. I laughed, tears falling down my cheeks. I was happy. Happier than I had ever been.

“I love you,” I whispered, “so much, Max Moten.”

“I was,” he paused as I kissed his mouth, then his nose, then his cheek. His laugh vibrated through his chest into me, “going to wait for dinner. But then the light was there, the roses beside you. It just felt right, to do it here, in our home.”

I smiled, his arms tightening around me, “I love you. I can’t wait to be your wife.”

Max’s heartbeat mirrored mine as I pulled away. I brushed my nose against his as he slowly lowered me to the ground. Max kissed me hard once more before he pulled back and laced our fingers together. The perfect birthday. At least that’s how I thought I would remember it.

It was a dream I never knew I had come true. A dream that turned into a nightmare in the blink of an eye.

“We have to get going if we don’t want to be late,” Max’s dimple pressed against his chin as he continued to smile.

I sighed happily, my diamond ring sparkling as I grabbed my bag off the counter. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face if I tried. I never thought I could be so happy, so in love with life. I went from a cold and bitter person, closed off and wishing love would never try to find me again. To finding a man who saw me. Who looked at me and for some reason thought I was worth all the trouble in the entire world.

I held Max’s hand as we drove down the quiet street, the sun already starting to set so early in the winter’s evening. There was snow on the ground, but it was warmer than a few nights ago. My birthday was weird that way, in the middle of winter. It could be snowing or it could be slightly warmer. Max drove slow, just to be safe, as we made our way to my favorite little italian restaurant in town.

Max spoiled me. He had a good job working with his friends. He told me he prefered to spend his money on me than spending it on himself, than spending it on anyone else. So he took me places, he showed me the world. He showed me what I never knew I could see. Places I never thought I could go.

 

I grew up with two little sisters and a father that checked out the moment our mother died. She died and we lost our money and our father lost his spirit. So Tessa took over, she took to providing for us, when it should’ve fallen to me. But I was selfish and I was cruel, so I did what I always did. I pushed my sister’s away. Because if my father could check out that easily, then so could they.

Max grew up without a family. His mother never knew his father, who left the moment the night was over. She abandoned him on the doorstep of a firehouse and he was floated from foster home to foster home until he was old enough to venture out on his own. Then he met his brothers, Adam and Ryan. Not brothers by blood but brothers by choice. He found a home for himself among the wreckage of his life.

Maybe that’s why we fit together. My family has been torn apart by grief, he never had a family to call his own. Maybe two broken souls finding each other is the perfect remedy to mend the hurt inside of us.

I leaned into his side, holding up my hand, “Max it’s beautiful. It’s perfect,” I whispered softly, “I love it. How did you find it?”

He kissed my other hand, the one holding his, “your sister helped me. We went to a lot of pawn shops, antique stores. We called out of state and even overseas. It took a lot of searching. Hell I’ve been looking for the past two years.”

My heart stopped, “what?”

Max laughed as he pulled into a parking spot, “I knew I wanted to marry you the moment you agreed to that first date. I didn’t want to scare you, so I waited. Then when Tessa told me your love of old things I started small. The stamped locket, those shoes you always wear. I knew then that I had to find the perfect ring. An old one, with a story to come with it.”

When he mentioned the locket I instinctively touched the pendant that never left my neck. It was stamped with a beautiful vine like pattern and inside were Max’s initials beside mine and the day we started dating officially. It was the sweetest thing I had ever received and I cherished it above everything else. If I had to take it off it never went far. I loved old things and Max had found the perfect old thing when he bought me this locket.

“No story will be as beautiful as that one,” I whispered softly, brushing my nose against his. I let out a breath and kissed him softly. He shut off the car and ran his fingers down my cheek.

“Lu. If you keep doing that we won’t make it inside,” he whispered, his eyes still closed as he nibbled my jaw.

I giggled, “maybe that’s my plan, sweetheart.”

“Hey that’s my line,” he opened his eyes and smiled, “don’t worry there will be plenty of time for that later. First I feed you. Then we dance. Then we go home,” he wiggled his eyebrows and opened his door. I never wanted this night to end. I never wanted to lose this moment, this feeling. I knew it was fleeting, I knew it would never last.

But for one night I knew what it felt like to fly. To fall in love all over again.

Somehow we got free wine with our food. Someone saw my ring and then we were telling the story of getting engaged. The wine poured and we drank more than we should have. We laughed and ate food, we talked to the people around us. Time seemed to be a figment of my imagination. Before I knew it Max took my hand, dragging me out onto the dance floor. He was steady on his feet, his hands solid on my waist. He pushed hair off my neck and leaned in to kiss me.

“You’re beautiful,” he whispered.

I didn’t have time to reply, to even thank him for the words that never seemed to lose any meaning whenever he whispered them to me. He spun me around quickly, making me giggle as he dipped me down. My cheeks were fMaxshed, but my heart was full. I wrapped my arms around his shoulders as the song changed and we danced slowly together.

“You’re sure you want to spend forever with me?” I asked as I took in a breath and steadied myself in his arms. His grip was loose but firm as he held my hips. I ran my fingers across his scalp. Max leaned in like a cat would when you scratched their ears.

 

He laughed, a sound I would spend forever trying to produce, “Yeah. I think I am.”

He leaned down and kissed me. I still had to stand on my tiptoes to reach his mouth. His arms were tight once they wound around my waist and I couldn’t help but remember all the moments he would pick me up and hold me close as he devoured me. God I loved this man. I would spend forever trying to understand what I did to deserve a love like him.

Max pulled back, something flashing in his hands. I watched as he brought it up and then his fingers pressed a flower in my hair, right behind my ear. I had no idea where he had gotten it, but it was a pink rose. Exactly like the ones he brought me. The stem scratched my skin as it situated itself behind my ear, “you’re beautiful, Luca. I don’t know how I got so Maxcky, but I did. I love you.”

I brushed my nose against his as I traced my fingers down his cheek, “yeah. I think I might just love you too.”

We swayed together as the wine coursed through our system. Max was warm, so was the air in the room. I smiled as I took in a deep breath, pulling myself closer. I laid my head on Max’s chest and closed my eyes, imagining the rest of our lives together. This moment was just the beginning. I could spend forever in his arms, in this moment. I was happy, safe, content, and in the love of my life’s arms. I felt his lips on the top of my head, it was sweeter than anything I had ever felt before.

And even though it was far too good to be true, I let myself believe that my happily ever after was finally coming true.

***

There was blood on my engagement ring. It’s the first thing I noticed as the lights brightened and the room became clear and my eyes adjusted to the hospital’s waiting room. Not only was there blood on my ring, but it was covering my hands too. There was blood all over me, my dress was ripped, my hair was a mess. I’m sure there was blood in there too.

My appearance was nothing compared to the mess of my emotions. The chaos inside of my head. In the ambulance they said I was in shock. I could barely tell them my name let alone look at anything other than Max laying there bleeding on their bed. My hands shook as I continued to stare down at them.

It wasn’t my blood, I was aware enough to know that. The blood that covered me was not my own, although it felt like it could be mine. It belonged to the one person who’s life meant more to me than my own. I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to stop myself from replaying the accident yet again.

The waiting room was empty save for me. The quiet unsettled me as I sat there staring at the doors, waiting for them to open. I opened my eyes and looked at my hands yet again. The light cut across my ring, scattering patterns across the waiting room ceiling. No one was telling me anything, no one had come out from that back room in what felt like hours. I shivered, pulling the sleeves of Max’s leather jacket closer to me.

It still smelled like him. It smelled like home.

I didn’t like to cry. But my body was tired of fighting. Tears gathered in my eyes, my throat felt like it was made of glass. My fiance, my best friend, the love of my life, was on the other side of that door. And I had no idea if he would live or die. I had no idea what was happened to him.

All I knew was that when the ambulance arrived they took one look at him and I knew it wasn’t good. Their faces paled and they started to talk in numbers and riddles that meant nothing to me. I was assessed, but Max was the priority.

I looked at my left hand, trying to keep it together. I realized as I sat there that the ring had little roses on the side, outline in black with a little diamond in the middle. Roses. I couldn’t help but smile, even when he wasn’t, he was here. My throat closed up, Max was a pain in my ass. But he was my pain in the ass. He loved me, for some reason the roses on the side of this ring made it even more real.

When we first started dating he thought it was weird, the fact that I hated flowers as much as I did. Maybe that’s why he was so hell bent on bringing me roses. Because I wasn’t the kind of girl he usually dated. I didn’t want flowers or fancy dinners. I didn’t want to be spoiled with gifts every other day. I just wanted someone who would be there when he said he would. Someone who realized that when I pushed them away I really wanted them to force their way through my walls.

Max proved time and time again in the last four years he could be both. The guy who brought me flowers and the one who stayed even when I was convinced he would walk away. No matter how much we fought, we always found our way back to each other.

The first sob escaped my throat the moment the lobby doors slid open and my little sister walked in. She didn’t stop walking until she was right there in front of me. Tessa wrapped her arms around me as I finally fell apart.

“Luca we got here as soon as we could,” she hugged me tightly, then slid down so she was on her knees at my level. Her bMaxe eyes, the ones we both got from our mother, met mine. Her hands were warm against my knees.

I hiccuped, “I don’t know what’s happening. No one has told me anything.”

Ryan sighed, “okay, let me see what I can do.”

I nodded as Tessa stayed in front of me, trying to comfort me and yet give me space. Her hand brushed my ring and she smiled, “he finally did it.”

I couldn’t help but smile myself, “yeah. Before dinner. But then we were driving home and he swerved. I kissed him, we were happy and celebrating. I had a little too much wine and he was excited to get me home. There was ice and I shouldn’t have distracted him. The truck came out of nowhere,” I stopped as the memory played, I choked, “we spun, then the car flipped. They said I was Maxcky to get out without a scratch.”

Tessa slid into the seat beside me, “he’s strong,” she pushed my hair behind my ear, “he’ll find his way back to you, I know he will.”

I closed my eyes willing off the tears, but they wouldn’t stop. My little sister kept touching me and I wanted to scream, to tell her to stop. I didn’t want touched, I didn’t want to be here. I wanted this all to be a dream. But I knew it wasn’t and that made it worse.

“Are you sure you shouldn’t be back there getting checked out?”

I shook my head, something tickled my scalp, “no the paramedics said I was fine. Just superficial wounds, nothing major. I’m fine. They need to focus on him, on Max.”

A noise came from the back of Tessa’s throat, but I ignored it. I reached up to push my hair out of my face. That’s when I caught my finger on something. I pulled and then a rose fell from my ear into my lap. There was blood on the light pink petals, it was crushed. But even in the middle of all this chaos it had survived. My heart squeezed and the world tilted on itself.

It was as if a little piece of Max was here with me. His jacket. This rose. My ring. My heart hurt but I held onto the little shred of hope I had in my hands.

“Where did you get that?” Tessa’s voice cut through the humming inside my head.

“Max,” I lost air as I said his name.

He put it behind my ear while we were dancing what felt like hours ago. I could see it all happening as I sat there, my heart hurt. He told me I looked beautiful and that the pink matched my black dress. I told him he was full of shit, laughing as he spun me around. It felt like a lifetime ago, when we were celebrating our engagement. When life seemed like a dream instead of this nightmare.

But it had only been a few hours at best. Hours since we laughed and kissed. Hours since I knew what my future held. Now I had no idea what would happen when the doctors finally walked through those doors.

I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to breathe as I pushed my arms through the sleeves of his leather jacket. He couldn’t be broken. He would be okay, they would fix him. People got into car accidents all the time. He would survive and we would live happily ever after. I refused to believe anything else.

“They said he’s in surgery,” Ryan broke the spell of the floor I had been focusing on to keep more tears from falling, “he’s pretty bad, Luca. Broken leg, a few broke ribs. Apparently he took most of the collision. He’s got swelling in his brain, which they’re concerned about..”

I bit my lip, “but is he going to be okay?”

“They aren’t sure yet. They said the doctor will find us when he’s out of surgery.”

I nodded, looking away as Ryan sat down beside his girlfriend and wrapped his arms around her. It wasn’t fair, that they got to lean on each other and I was left to wait to hear if my love, my life, would walk out of these doors again.

***

 

It felt like days later. The sun had set long ago, the cold was coming in through the sliding doors. We were the only people left in the waiting room, the quiet was even more unnerving than before. I could hear the ticking of the clock above us. The lights flickered every three minutes. Someone was tapping their foot on the tile floor. Tessa was falling asleep, her head on Ryan’s chest. I blew out a breath as the doors finally opened.

“You came in from the car accident?” The doctor asked, his eyes glancing over me. The blood all over me clearly gave him the answer before I could.

I stood up and met him halfway into the waiting room. Ryan was there beside me. I all but leaned on him for support. “Yes.”

He nodded, pulling off his hat, “okay well your boyfriend is Maxcky. He had a lot of bleeding but I believe I stopped all of it. There’s a lot of swelling in his head, but that will have to heal on it’s own while he’s sleeping. Now he’s got a broken rib, a fractured calf, a shattered ankle, and a sprained wrist. We’ve fixed everything we could in surgery and set him up in a few casts.”

“But he’s going to be okay?”

He nodded slowly, “Time will tell for sure. But he’s out of surgery and resting. You can go back and see him if you’d like.”

My chest expanded, as if knowing he was on the other side eased the pressure that had been building inside of it. I all but ran to the doors once the doctor told us which room he was in. Ryan and Tessa followed behind, letting me go into the room first.

I had known Max for a long time now. We had only been dating for four years but he had been in my life for longer than that. It took me a moment to process what I saw when I opened the door to his room. I had never seen him so vulnerable, I had never seen him so broken. He looked like a little boy laying on the bed, his leg elevated up in a cast.

“Maxc,” my voice broke as I took the chair beside his bed and took in a deep breath. I picked up his hand and kissed the back of it, “you scared me. You promised me forever, I’m holding you to that promise.”

Ryan let out a sigh as he came into the room and Tessa held him while he tried to hold himself together. I took in a deep breath as I watched them come around to the other side of the bed. I wanted to crawl in and curl up beside him. But there were so many casts, so much damage I didn’t want to hurt him. So I wrapped my arms around his forearm and kissed his shoulder.

I was ready to settle into this spot until he opened those brown eyes of his.Roses

It was the tenth of February and he brought not one, but a dozen, to my door. I always hated roses, but for some reason I loved the white ones in his hand. Whenever I think back, that’s how I see him. Standing there holding a dozen roses with a smile on his handsome face. I guess in my head he’ll never fade. Him standing there with those stupid roses. That crooked smile that pushed the dimple into his chin. The way he made my heart flutter. The fact that he knew he could make my knees weak by combining all the moves.

I still don’t know how he knew it was my birthday.

But nothing could wipe that smile from my face. The one he always knew how to bring forth.

It took him three months to break me. I have no idea how he did it. Maybe it was because he refused to take my no as an answer. Maybe it was because he wouldn’t stop coming around every time I thought I had finally gotten rid of him. Either way he managed to do what no one else had ever done. He won me. And once he broke me, I gave him everything.

Before I knew it four years flew by and I couldn’t see anyone else but him in my future. I didn’t want anyone else but him in my future.

Roses became our thing. He brought me roses and somehow the girl who once hated flowers fell in love with flowers from him. They made me feel classic. Max with his leather jacket over his button down shirt. Me with my sweetheart dress that made his eyes linger. God we were my idea of perfect.

It was amazing; while it lasted.

I never thought time would change, I never thought anything would happen to break us.

 

 

Stay tuned for Part Two of Roses, live today at 12:30PM, EST!

A Compliant For Santa

Short Story, Writing

It’s that time of year again! In honor of the approaching holiday season I am posting a short story I wrote during high school. The short story is in the form of a letter written by a young child to Santa Claus. It is cute, spelling mistakes, and all.

Enjoy!

– Rae

“Christmas doesn’t come from a store, maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more….”
― Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

Holiday Story Pic

A Compliant for Santa

Dear Santa,

I know you are veary busy this time of year, mommy said so. But I have a…complent. Yesterday during a trip to the mall for presents, not mine though I’ve been good, something… happened. But I was good! Promise! Anyway I saw you, or thought it was you. A child was sitting in your lap crying while I was waiting patiantly in line. Eventually I got my turn after the nose picker. Did you know its not nice to pick your nose in public?

I do know your real Santa, by the way! No matter what my stupid brother Toby says about you being a fake. I know the truth. Plus Mommy and Daddy said I was right. Ha!

But this Santa at the mall smelled funny and was really grumpy. I didn’t mean to bump his knee but did that matter? No. It was the longest few moments in my life. I scrambled away and watched his teeth wiggle when he laughed after our pickure. How gross is that? You know your special “Ho, ho, ho” should not be mocked. This dude was thin two. Are you short on cookies? Cause I could send you some of my Grammy’s special cookies with snowmans on them.

I may be on your naughty list now, but I was only protecting you! No one takes your place and gets away with it. Its…its… rude! At his “ho, ho, ho”, I think his teeth fell out with that one, and I knew I had to do something. So.. I sorta yanked off his priclky beard. Your beard is supposed to be soft, like a my baby sister Lillie’s bottom (right?), but thats a little strange even for you, Santa. In the end all the other kids were crying, the fake dude was cussing, and I got a time out when Mommy dragged me home.

Later my mommy explained that you couldn’t be everywere when you were needed back at the North Pole to keep those hiper elves under control. I guess I understand, but Santa, you really need to do those… crimenal background check things my daddy is always talking about after work. It apparently helps catch the bad guys – though I don’t know how it works. Maybe it will help you, though, cause Santa that dude at the mall was just n-a-s-t-y.

Toby’s pounding on my bedroom door. He is so annoying! Do you have a big brother or lil sister? Lillie just drools on me which I guess is okay. Toby can be nice at times, maybe he shouldnt get coal in his stocking like I asked you. I still want that doll, you know which one I mean. Now Mommy’s calling and Lillie’s crying. Gezze, people need some p-a-t-i-e-n-c-e.

Thanks, Santa! Keep what I said in mind.

Love,

Emily

P.S.

Say hi to Mrs. Claus and Rudolph. I promise not to forget the carrots this year!