Welcome to TRB Lounge. Today, I’d like to welcome author Deepak Mullick for sharing an excerpt from his latest release SimplyMutual: The 1% Formula To Gain Financial Freedom.
About the Book
SimplyMutual : The 1% Formula To Gain Financial Freedom
Everyone wants to be rich, but not everyone is. There is a method and meaning to it that’s more than just numbers.
In this book, investment veteran Deepak Mullick takes you on a journey to financial freedom. SimplyMutual isn’t just a guide to make more money, it is about building wealth to live the life of your dreams.
If you’ve ever thought of retiring in your 40s to do what you love, this is THE book for you!
On a warm summer evening in 1947, my grandparents packed their bags and left their life behind. FREEDOM. That was the chant in the air. History was being made as the British left a partitioned India behind. For millions of people this meant leaving behind everything they owned, their life’s work and savings, the security and comfort of their homes, of the life they had known, and moving to unknown lands with an uncertain future. My grandparents too made their way from Dera Ismail Khan in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of what is now Pakistan, to Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh.
I grew up hearing the stories of their life. In the evenings when we all sat together in the courtyard of my grandparents house, they would get nostalgic. My grandmother would tell us about our culture, our food, the traditions, all the wealth we had, the lands we owned back then, and how we earned our surname Mullick, a title given to big landlords. Even as a child, I could hear the longing in her voice, and a note of bitterness at being uprooted. When I write this from the comfort of my home now, I can’t even imagine what they must have gone through. The way they had managed to move with just a few suitcases, hurriedly packed. The way they had to travel hundreds of miles in search of a new place to settle in an environment of extreme hostility.The stress and anxiety of not knowing where they are headed and the despondency of having to start living from scratch.
But start again they did! And they made quite a success of it too.
Why am I telling you this? What does a story about uprooting and migration have to do with a book on wealth building?
Well, in this story there is a lesson. That life is unpredictable. That ups and downs will happen. That sometimes everything you took for granted will be disrupted. But don’t lose your wits. Financial success is all about thinking in the long term. As the poster boy for long term investing, Warren Buffet said, “successful investing takes time, discipline, and patience.”
I’ll add to that and say wealth building is also about optimism. I consider myself an eternal optimist! It’s in my DNA! And even after witnessing the ups and downs of economies for over 25 years, I continue to believe in the India growth story. But more on that later.
I learnt important life lessons – resilience, optimism, and street-smartness – from my parents, grandparents, and my Alma Mater La Martiniere, that have helped me immensely on my path to financial freedom.
After I finished my schooling, I had the easy option to join the family business. But it wasn’t something that interested me. I wanted to look at work as something that helped me live the life I desired. And I am very unapologetic about it. I am a firm believer that you work to live and not live to work. Have you ever thought about it?
What would you do if you had all the money you needed to live a comfortable life?
Would you still pursue the job you have currently?
Would you go after something that you are truly passionate about?
Would you give and contribute to the world?
Would you spend time travelling the world, experiencing new things, and gaining different perspectives?
The thing is, most of us spend a lot of time in the lower 2 stages of Maslow’s Hierarchy. We struggle to make enough money to pay for our basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter. And we compromise on building meaningful relationships and on finding our true potential. Often because that raise or that promotion is so much more important. Well, I didn’t want to live all my life with some golden handcuffs.
So my aim was to find a career path that would help me realize my retirement goals (yes, I was thinking of retirement when I was 20!) by the time I turned 45. A highly ambitious goal given India’s economic situation then. However, in a series of seemingly unconnected events, I found my calling.
In the early 90’s when I was figuring out my career choices, the financial services sector was abuzz with activity. India was undergoing an economic transformation. From a bottomless pit for foriegn aid, India was creating Economic Liberalization policies that will make it an emerging superpower in just two decades. Companies were coming up with IPOs every other day and there was high demand for finance talent. Later, this timeframe would also be known as the IPO scam period. Amidst this turmoil, I passed out with an MBA degree and a campus placement in a financial services company that gave me a take-home salary of about Rs. 5000/- per month.
From a starting point of Rs.5000/- per month to a sizable corpus of a few Crores, I have come a long way to retirement at 45. And I have lived well. I’ve indulged in my passions and in things that interest me and my family. We’ve traveled extensively and experienced the world closely. From whisky trails to northern lights, we have made our way to 29 countries across 5 continents.
This financial freedom has been a journey of considerable learning. First, I found a God-sent friend, philosopher, and guide with whom I have had the privilege of working for two decades. And then, for over three decades, I had the opportunity to witness the rapid evolution of the country’s economic constituents – the businesses, the consumers, the regulatory environment, government policy, the markets, and the ever-changing global scene. I have figured out what works and what doesn’t. I have learnt to tame the volatility and to invest in a way that sustains my lifestyle choices while building my corpus of funds. I have distilled this learning into this book and created the 1% formula to gain financial freedom.
The idea of this book came from my experiences of sharing my technique with friends and family members who wanted to quit the rat race, to pursue other life goals, and passions. And most of them have benefitted by following my technique.
This book is written as an equity investing guide for those who are keen to make their money work for them. People in their 20’s and 30’s who are looking to retire by 45 or those who have 7-10 years before they want to retire. People who want an easy to understand insight into how investing works. This book is your ticket to long term wealth creation and living comfortably off that wealth without giving in to stress, anxiety, or overwork.
In this book I will tell you the secrets to financial success. I’ll share stories of people who have seen the light and changed their investing behaviors for enormous gains. I’ll help you build good investing habits and make informed investment choices.
While there are different assets you will invest money in – both physical and financial, we will not cover the entire umbrella of financial planning and management. And there is a reason for that. I believe that if you understand equities the right way, and work with the 1% formula, the need for other kinds of investment vehicles is greatly reduced.
In my 25 years of experience in the financial sector I have got a fair idea of practices of banking industry, insurance industry, and the quality of the advisory business across categories of advisors. I have worked with several financial planners, attended many workshops, and deep dived into the subject of financial and investment planning. I’ve looked at all asset classes – real estate, gold, debt, equity, foreign equity, etc. from the lens of factors such as – returns adjusting for risks, returns adjusting for inflation and taxes, liquidity, volatility, convenience, costs of investing, etc. I’ve realized that Equity Mutual Funds is where the best balance can be achieved. In fact, I’ve been able to pull out of my term life insurance policies because of the corpus I have built through equity MF investments!
And so, this book will deal in equity investments only, and more specifically investing in equity through mutual funds. For the purpose of this book I am also considering Hybrid Mutual Funds with over 65% investments in equity as Equity Mutual Funds.
By reading this book, you would:
Get a better understanding of the India opportunity and how long will it remain
Get the right perspective on share-markets, understand emotional hurdles and mistakes on the way to financial freedom, and gain insights on how to benefit from the markets
Learn a simple equity-based technique to build wealth and to create your own “Salary-Pension” stream for retirement
Like every great adventure, this book is a start. And as you read it, I’d like to give a word of caution. This book focuses on financial resilience. That means periods of no-gain or even loss that you sit through for long-term returns.This book is NOT about quick fixes or immediate gains. If that’s what you are looking for, then this book is not for you. If thinking long-term does not appeal to you, then this book is not for you.
That said, in the coming pages there is a wealth of knowledge and tried and tested methods that work. I hope you’ll find them as useful as I have, and use them to find your financial freedom.
About The Author
Founder and Chief Wealth Strategist, SimplyMutual
Deepak has spent over a quarter of a century in the investments industry, working with the country’s largest wealth creators. His last assignment was a 15-year stint at HDFC Mutual Fund. He was their Business Head for North, South and East India during different parts of his tenure. Having dealt with a large spectrum of investment avenues, Deepak realised that Equity Mutual Funds is where the best balance can be achieved. This belief in the India growth story and its potential to create wealth for decades to come stems from deep experience.
Deepak spent decades in the financial sector witnessing the fast evolution of each constituent of the investments industry — mutual funds, banking, insurance, investment advisors, NBFCs, the regulators, etc. He associated with the country’s top minds in financial and investment planning, attended numerous workshops and conferences, and dived deep into the intricacies of the business.
To come up with the best solutions for investor needs, he constantly drew comparisons between the most popular asset classes, such as equity, debt, real estate, fixed deposits, and gold, and other new asset classes like foreign equity, cryptocurrency, and art. He weighed each option with an exhaustive list of factors such as liquidity, volatility, regulatory environment, transparency, cost of investing, cost of holding and maintenance, convenience, and returns adjusted for risks, taxes, and inflation. This analysis has cemented his belief in the importance of Equity Mutual Funds for individual investors and given him the foundation to create SimplyMutual: The 1% formula to gain financial freedom.
Welcome to TRB Lounge. Today, I’d like to welcome author Eric L. Heard for sharing an excerpt from his latest release Reflections of an Anxious African American Dad.
About the Book
Reflections of an Anxious African American Dad
The purpose of this book is an awkward discussion of Eric Heard’s life to his son. He talks about his life in a candid way that tries to explain his anxiety as an African American dad. It is an open and honest account of his life through the life of a child that has been through a lot in his life. It is a reflection on his life that has been shaped by his childhood experiences.
This episode jolted me into making another connection between my childhood and how I was acting as a parent with my son. I would take actions to ensure that what had haunted our family tree for generations would not happen to him. I knew it would require some radical steps. One of those actions was writing a book that he can share with his family after I leave this earth. When he thinks about the times I would not go with him to the baseball game or to his school assembly, this book will provide the answers when he reads between the lines.
I hope this book will help others who don’t have their stories told anywhere in media. There are other African American men dealing with their childhood experiences and wanting to insulate their sons and daughters from the echoes and continued grasp of systematic racism. I grew up during an era of seismic changes that saw whole communities decimated. The mental anguish quietly pushed African American dads to find a way to deal with an unforgiving world. These dads are looking to raise kids while at the same time reconciling crushing pain. I would like this book to be an acknowledgment of that pain and let them know they are not alone.
About The Author
About Eric L. Heard
Eric L. Heard currently lives in Bowling Green, Kentucky with his wife, Sonya, of 17 years and his son, McKinley. Eric is a graduate of Florida State University with a BS in Engineering. He also has a Master’s Business Administration from Indiana University and Master’s of Manufacturing Operations from Kettering University. He is an Army Brat who has lived in the Southeast United States, Germany, and Japan. Please contact me at email@example.com, if you have any questions or need to contact m
Welcome to TRB Lounge. Today, I’d like to welcome author Laricea Ioana Roman-Halliday for sharing an excerpt from her latest release Brand Purpose – Less Unicorn, More Zebra?
About the book
Brand Purpose – Less Unicorn, More Zebra?
Purpose is a journey, not a destination. More business leaders, marketers and customers need to become aware of true brand purpose and act upon it through business strategies, marketing campaigns and their wallet. This book challenges the way brand purpose has been deployed over the past few years and examines ways of correcting misconceptions and misuses by providing practical solutions and examples of what good looks like. We all have a role to play in the community, so stop dreaming about unicorns and be more zebra!
There is a lot of confusion around purpose, especially when it comes to a brands’ purpose, how they deploy this concept in their marketing efforts and then portray it to the world. We are currently living in some really troubled times (probably not the worst in human history); but nevertheless constantly bombarded with bad news, apocalyptic images and consistent negative updates across politics, nature, economics and many other verticals. So naturally, people as consumers and as citizens of this world turn their attention – more than ever to social and environmental issues.
There has never been such a desire to change, fix, improve, eliminate, or embrace actions that would make a difference to the current affairs and not only make us feel better about ourselves but genuinely help shape a better future. Specifically, for this reason more than 60% of consumers believe that brands play a greater role than governments when it comes to the future of this planet. Whilst this is all fabulous news for brands to be entrusted with such great confidence, some of them are taking advantage of this trend in an unorthodox manner.
Here I present this book, hoping to highlight some of the issues around brand purpose and purposeful brands, attempting to better define brand purpose and dreaming to be able to make a difference in how people/consumers/marketers perceive brand purpose and its real importance and power.
I just don’t want to stay silent anymore and marvel at how some big brands who have been silently chopping down trees from nature reserves are getting praised on a wider scale for improving and changing our society for good. I want to bring bad examples to your attention, but I also wish to define genuine brand purpose to inspire those companies out there who are fooling themselves (and at times, us) that their brand purpose is real.
Thus, I hope you will enjoy this book and become inspired to evaluate the brands you are working on as a marketer or the brands you are buying as a consumer through the lens of “true brand purpose”.
About The Author
Laricea Ioana Roman-Halliday
Laricea Ioana Roman-Halliday is a business leader, marketer, mentor, public speaker and brand specialist who has built her passion for brand purpose on the back of her meaningful marketing career with various Fortune 100 companies. Her experience includes working with Microsoft, Google, Unilever, Huawei, Hyundai and many more. She is a big environmental advocate who truly believes in successful business done for good and is constantly curious about driving it forward.
Welcome to TRB-Lounge, the section of TRB dedicated to book promotions. Today, I’d like to welcome author E.T. Gunnarsson, for sharing an excerpt from their latest release Forgive Us.
Read on to get a sneak-peek into this amazing new read!
About The Book
Three timelines. One dark future…
A new form of energy has poisoned the earth, leaving civilization in ruins. As decades go by, the inheritors of this devastation struggle to survive and reconquer a broken planet…
In 2099: Mankind emerges from the darkness. A lone rider named Oliver journeys east, seeking civilization beyond the Rocky Mountains. Braving the toxic earth and poison air, Oliver must battle a horde of deadly mutants as he unites a band of refugees into the first nation of this new world…
In 2153: Fledging nations clash over land and resources. London, a veteran of the wasteland, struggles to protect his adopted daughter Rose as the world decays around them. But little does he know, both he and his adopted daughter will soon find themselves drawn into a coming war…
In 2184: Simon, a descendent of those who fled the earth, lives on the great Arcadis Station. A gifted technician, he works vigilantly against those who rule his society with an iron fist. In the shadows, he will be the difference between enslavement or liberty…
Fans of The Gunslinger and The Stand will love Forgive Us. This epic novel takes readers on a post-apocalyptic thrill ride, spanning three generations of a ravaged earth…
Silent, empty, and cruel. This was the nature of the wasteland.
The wasteland was a vast expanse of ruins, sand, and dying life beneath a polluted sky. This was the new world. It was created by humanity in 2079, and it was the world that they now had to brave to survive.
The downfall of the old world happened slowly. Humanity did not know it, but their cunning and technology became their undoing. In the great battle between Mother Nature and humanity’s dominion, there was no winner.
The sound of a thunderous engine erupted throughout the eerie wasteland as a motorcycle sped along the ancient roads. Upon it was a survivor, alone and braving all odds. His name was Oliver, a thirty-six-year-old man who had grown up in the old world.
Oliver was a refugee from the wild and untamed lands near the Rocky Mountains. He fled East, guided by the hope that the East would be better, though he could feel in his gut that it wouldn’t be. The only solace he had were stories from traveling caravans and survivors who spoke of growing settlements in the East.
Oliver was pursued. Not by man, not by beast, but by time. Starvation, dehydration, exposure, all of these were barely kept at bay by luck and experience. His current and most dangerous pursuer was the weather.
The pollution haze above blocked out the sun. As night approached, the world slowly became pitch black and freezing cold. The darkness parted before the headlights of his motorcycle, yet Oliver felt vulnerable.
Parallel to the road were telephone poles, some of which had tilted or completely fallen to the ground. The surrounding wasteland was desolate and empty, occupied by rocks and sand dunes.
Oliver wore an old-world smart suit that was on its warmest setting. He also wore a coat made out of animal hide over his smart suit. He had traded for it a while ago, and it had saved him from freezing to death many times already. Still, he shivered.
A gas mask covered his face. It was vital for survival in the wasteland; without it, the toxic air would corrode Oliver’s lungs. It was old and worn, created in a factory in the old world. Still, it worked much better than the makeshift masks that most people wore. Finding filters for the gas mask was easy; they were everywhere.
There was a grim face beneath the intimidating gas mask. Oliver’s brown eyes reflected a man whose past was full of pain and hardship. Through the visor, they seemed tired. The light that most people have in their eyes was dim in Oliver’s. He also had deep curves between his brows and fatigued laugh lines. His skin was dark and covered in colored blotches, irritated and damaged from the wasteland air.
Oliver focused on his current task: finding shelter for the night. Such searches were often painful since he had to be picky about the buildings he used. Some were too unstable to hold up against the wasteland’s extreme weather; some were too hard to get into, others occupied.
He paused at a fork in the road, gazing down each path. After a few seconds, Oliver turned the motorcycle right and sped off. The sand-covered asphalt in front of him rose into a hill. Oliver followed the road and arrived at a parking lot. In front of him was an old, wooden church that was leaning to one side. A few cars sat parked in the parking lot, their paint stripped by sandy winds and their frames rusted out by time. The church itself had shattered windows and holes in every wall. Oliver had to make do. It was too dangerous to search for better shelter with night fast approaching.
The thunderous engine cut out as Oliver parked and turned off his motorcycle. The world became silent again. Only faint wind could be heard in the absence of the engine’s power. Oliver turned on a flashlight that was attached to the side of the gas mask. Next, he grabbed his gun off the back of his motorcycle. Holding it with two hands, he turned toward the church. Oliver’s boots met the ground with quiet clicks. These were combat boots, tough and made for smashing jaws.
He swallowed nervously. Though anxious, Oliver felt safe with his Railshot Rifle in hand. It was beautiful, a flawless combination of a railgun and a shotgun. He checked the top port of the gun before entering the church. The gun had plenty of scrap metal in it, ready to shred flesh and bone instantly. Next, he checked the round blue energy meter above the trigger. Oliver felt sure there was enough charge to keep him safe.
He moved toward the entrance. The flashlight pierced the darkness, allowing him to see the gnarled and twisted vines covering the church. They looked so dry that it seemed like they would crumble to dust if Oliver touched them. The twin doors that blocked off the entrance to the building posed no challenge. One was hanging weakly from its hinges, while the other had broken off and now laid on the floor.
Step by step, he entered the church, walking over a fallen door and looking up into the steeple. The lonely church bell still hung far up there. It was rusty, kept in place by a few frayed ropes, gently moving back and forth. Each time the wind gently moved it, Oliver heard a distant “ding” from the steeple.
The bell seemed so lonely. It was a reminder that this place was once the center of a community. Where were they? He assumed that they were all long gone, lost to the last twenty years.
The interior of the church was desolate and destroyed. The hard, wooden floor inside had a layer of sand and pebbles. Each time Oliver took a step, a quiet crunch followed.
There were broken benches and piles of rubble everywhere. Oliver wondered if any ghosts still sat on those benches. Were they at peace, or were they suffering? Many parts of the walls and roof had collapsed upon the altar and benches lining the church. Oliver looked around cautiously, taking in the looming structure.
Here was once a holy site that held peace, now defiled by the wasteland. To Oliver, all of it was just firewood.
The place was empty of any living presence. The only recent trace of human activity was a single piece of graffiti over the altar. Oliver examined the graffiti, stepping upon the altar to wipe some dust off of it.
“GOD HAS ABANDONED US!”
Oliver frowned and stepped down from the altar, turned around, and started to gather pieces of wood. The graffiti was unsettling. Oliver breathed uneasily as he moved around. Once he grabbed enough pieces, he formed them into a campfire at the center of the building. Oliver took off his backpack and laid it beside him. It was an old, rugged backpack that held most of his belongings. There were some holes in it, and its fabric was so worn down that the once blue-ish fibers were black and dirty. The backpack held a bedroll, food, gas mask filters, incredibly precious bottles of water, and bags of scrap metal.
He dug inside the backpack and pulled out a tesla lighter. It was old, given to him when he was younger. On one side was a company logo that was almost invisible from wear. He flipped the cap open and turned it on. Arcs of energy formed between two metal rods, the arcs humming and dancing.
Oliver lowered the lighter down to the campfire. First, there was smoke, then after a few moments, a small flame appeared. Oliver nurtured the flame until it engulfed the small campfire. Once it was going, he unstrapped the bedroll from the backpack and laid it out beneath a bench near the fire. Oliver felt happy as he basked in the warmth of the fire; his shivering slowly stopped as he turned off his flashlight and sat down.
The church creaked and moaned from the rough winds outside. The sounds made Oliver uneasy. He stared at the fire, his face wrinkling in thought as he contemplated the church. People still clung to Christianity in the new world, though their beliefs had changed over the past two decades.
Many were afraid of old churches. Some said that God had punished humanity for their sins. Sin was thought to be the reason why the world was like this now. Many believed that the Devil lived in old holy places like this church. Oliver didn’t believe in all those stories, but the idea still creeped him out. He imagined the evil, horned demon dancing in the shadows with the flickering flame, laughing at his ignorance and plotting to steal his soul.
While warming up from the heat of the campfire, Oliver gazed at the device on his forearm. It was a Smartwrist, similar to a smartwatch from the early 21st century. He turned it on and checked the time. It was nine o’clock, three hours until midnight. New year, new century, same problems. People used to celebrate the new year, drink, and make merry. Not anymore.
With nothing else to do, Oliver decided to eat dinner. He grabbed the backpack and dug through it, procuring a vial with a full meal inside of it. Processed cubes of synthesized meat and vegetables composed the meal, food from the old world. He frowned bitterly under his mask as he looked at the vial. Oliver unscrewed the lid, quickly lifted his gas mask, emptied the vial, and put his mask back on in one swift movement. Instead of throwing away the vial, he put it back in his backpack for later use.
Oliver looked like a chipmunk with so much food in his mouth. Stuffing too much food into his mouth was a bad habit Oliver had; as a matter of fact, he used to be called “Chipmunk” by his family. The artificial food tasted like stale popcorn. Oliver’s metal teeth chewed through the stuff easily. While he was eating, Oliver thought about his last visit to a dentist in the old world.
He remembered having his teeth pulled out to be replaced by 3D printed metal teeth that wouldn’t break or decay. The pain from the procedure was brutal and lasted a few days after the surgery. For many, it was once a rite of passage, marking the transition from teenager to adulthood. Everyone went through it, and, in Oliver’s opinion, he was happy to have metal teeth. Suffering tooth decay from the inability to deal with his hygiene was the last thing Oliver wanted. They looked like real teeth anyway and didn’t turn yellow.
Oliver’s gaze shifted to the doorway of the church. Outside, there was the darkness of a polluted world. There was no grass, but there was still some life, mostly brown, dry, and barely alive. The winds were blowing fiercely as always. A blackish color tainted the air, and waves of dust sailed over the ground with the tremendous force of the wind.
A discontented exhale left his lips as he closed his eyes. Oliver tried to remember a time when the sky didn’t constantly have a dark haze over it. Growing up in a cramped apartment, Oliver heard stories of when there were still green fields and blue skies. He believed the stories only because he had seen pictures that captured those forgotten times, though some doubts lingered in his mind. No matter how hard he tried, he could never recall a bright, sunny day. All that came to mind was the sky darkening as time passed.
He struggled to remember a day when he didn’t have to wear a gas mask to go outside. Oliver recalled that every indoor space had a sort of airlock before anyone could enter. He would walk in, have doors closed behind him, then have the room completely emptied of air and refilled with filtered, clean oxygen in a few seconds.
Oliver checked the time again. Two hours until the new year. He put more wood on the fire to push the biting cold away.
A pained moaning interrupted the peace as the sparks and flames engulfed the new fuel. Oliver let out a startled gasp, holding his breath and looking toward the sound. Far away outside the church, Oliver could hear footsteps approaching. Oliver barely made out the shapes of figures in the darkness outside, human shapes with extra arms, faces, and body parts fused into them. They were human mutants, the fiendish nightmares of the wasteland.
Oliver hastily stood up and snuffed out the fire in front of him with a boot before laying down flat. He reached out for his weapon and held it, his heart throbbing with dread. The noise and the moans were the worst part. The faint silhouette of their horrid, mutant forms was all Oliver could see in the darkness as memories of being chased, attacked, and more slowly crawled back and made his skin feel cold. They came close to the church, horribly close. Their footsteps and hoarse breathing filled the air.
Oliver heard bodies brush against the sides of the church as they walked past, their footsteps passing slowly and beginning to fade. Oliver carefully stood, proceeding to investigate the church. Had he been seen? Did they know he was here? Nothing. Nothing seemed to be hiding among the ruins, and he heard no more sounds outside. A relieved exhale left his lips as he returned to the fire and knelt beside it, trying to start it again.
Abruptly, footsteps quickly approached from behind. Oliver swung around with his gun ready as he heard them. At the same time, something his size crashed into him, causing him to see stars.
It knocked the gun out of his hands and sent Oliver to the ground. He landed with a pained grunt. In an instant, his knife was in his hands. Despite his surprise, Oliver immediately retaliated against the figure he could barely make out.
The beast shrieked as he plunged the blade blindly into its body. Its arms thrashed, mouth gnashing at Oliver. He stabbed again, then again, the thing falling on top of him. Its shrieking grew higher in pitch, a rough hand striking Oliver in the head. The strike made him blink, stunning him but not stopping him from stabbing.
With a tremendous kick, Oliver threw the creature off and began stomping the monster into the floor. Every smack made it squirm less, its whole body growing still after a while. As he stopped, Oliver heard a rasping breath from it. He stomped again out of spite. Oliver wasn’t going to give it mercy. He lifted his mask and spat on the dying creature. As he did, he caught a whiff of its rancid, sweaty smell.
Oliver listened to the creature as it occasionally let out pained squeals. He started the campfire again, the flame slowly growing from the church’s dried, ancient planks. In the light, Oliver could make out the creature dying before him. It was a mutant, shaped like a human with a face fused partly into its shoulder. A useless limb extended from its belly, while a stunted leg dangled from the calf of its right leg. Stab wounds covered its body, blood seeping from each.
Oliver relished its suffering. He watched it trying to fight again, weakly twisting and squirming. It growled and gurgled, painfully bleeding out. After five minutes, it gave in and collapsed completely. Once the mutant was dead, Oliver remained wary of any more creatures. Fortunately, none came to avenge the mutant that he had just killed.
Oliver felt a stinging sensation on the side of the head where the mutant hit him. He rubbed it, causing his face to scrunch as he winced. It must’ve been another mark.
“That’s going to bruise,” he whispered to himself.
His skin was rough and covered in scars, damaged from the toxic air and the violent wasteland. Even if it did bruise, it wouldn’t stand out.
He checked the time again — only forty minutes to midnight. The wind outside began to batter the creaking church. The structure’s stability was questionable, but there was no option to find shelter in another building. Oliver moved his bedroll under a bench and got inside of it, keeping his gun close at hand.
He played games on his Smartwrist to pass the time. Oliver felt a sinking sensation of emptiness when his thoughts dwelled on these games. In his youth, games and social media were a major part of his life. Oliver had followers, friends, people that he still kept in touch with years after losing face-to-face communication. Sometimes, Oliver had met his old friends in virtual worlds. The thought caused his fingers to meet the port where the VR chip went, the object that connected the Smartwrist to the VR equipment he once had.
The world felt more desolate than it already was when these thoughts of loneliness came to him. He remembered virtual games too and how many hours of his life he lost to them. Gaming was a happy memory that made him smile when thinking about all the friends he had made, especially those from strange places. Now, survival was lonely and harsh. Whenever humans met one another, it was either shoot or run.
The last thirty-five minutes passed in the blink of an eye, and before Oliver knew it, the last minute before New Years arrived.
As the last minute dwindled, Oliver released a relaxed, drawn-out exhale. He counted it in his head, one Mississippi, two Mississippi. Oliver mumbled it under his breath until the last ten seconds. He turned off the Smartwrist and lifted both arms in the air with spread fingers.
“Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one… HAPPY NEW YEAR!” he whispered as loudly as he dared.
The year was 2100, and Oliver was still alive.
About The Author
Mr. Gunnarsson grew up on a horse-rescue ranch in the Rocky Mountains, Colorado. He now resides in Georgetown, TX.
Once in Texas, he wrote his first post-apocalyptic book, “Forgive Us” while attending high school. Outside of writing, Mr. Gunnarsson is a purple belt in BJJ and a brown belt in Judo.
Welcome to TRB Lounge. Today, I’d like to welcome author Con Chapman for sharing an excerpt from his latest release Kimiko Chou, Girl Samurai.
About The Book
KIMIKO CHOU is a girl on a mission. Her mother and brother have been killed by robbers in 14th century Japan while her father, a samurai warrior, is off on an invasion of Korea. Chou (“butterfly” in Japanese) narrowly escapes death by hiding while the robbers ransack her home, then—dressed as a boy in her brother’s clothes—she goes in quest of her father. Alone on the road, she takes up with Hyōgo Narutomi, a former samurai who has been dismissed by seven previous masters, and Moto Mori, his page. The three of them—man, boy, and girl—make their way across Japan along with Piebald, an old horse with a curious spot on his coat that resembles a Fenghuang, the mythical bird that rules over all others in Asian mythology. Together this unlikely trio experience a series of adventures and narrow escapes until Chou and Mori—but not Narutomi—land in Korea. There, as a spy for the Koreans, Chou searches for her father-across enemy lines!
My name is Kimiko Chou, and this is my story. I have set it down so that it will live after me, for other girls to read. They may find it hard to believe, but it is true.
My given name “Chou” means “empress child butterfly.” It was given to me at my oschichiya—naming ceremony. I was swathed in white, like a little cocoon, pure as I came into the world. Like every other aka-chan (“little red one,” loving term for a newborn baby), I wore only this color of godliness for seventeen days. From then on, I was clothed in the colors of the world, and not just the pure shade of ame, the lofty sacred world of the gods of heaven, the ama-tsu-kami.
It should not surprise you that I came to live as a samurai, for the way of the samurai is death, and I was born, so to speak, in death. When robbers invaded our home and attacked my mother and brother, I hid in the alcove—the tokonoma—that is found in the main room of a samurai’s dwelling, and in which is displayed a single beautiful object for contemplation. I held myself still and breathless while the robbers ransacked the house for money and weapons; they looked only for things of material value, and so didn’t notice me. I pulled my clothing over my head like a sea urchin in order to save myself.
How, you ask, is such conduct worthy of a samurai, if the samurai, faced with a choice between life and death, must choose the latter? Well, we all want to live, and we form our thoughts according to our will. But at that moment, I was not a samurai, and I had no master. I had no aim in life, other than to survive.
When the robbers departed, I was alone. My mother Hino and my brother Tadashige were both dead. My father—Kimiko Kiyotaka–was gone, part of a force that had invaded the kingdom of Koguryo (current-day Korea). I did not know when or if he would return. I was eleven years old.
I was fearful, and for good reason. The robbers could be seen moving from house to house, repeating their acts of thievery and violence. Tada and I had recently undergone the ceremony of genpuku, by which we had formally been recognized as adults. I was to prepare for marriage, he was to prepare for war. I received a mogi (a pleated skirt), he—a samurai helmet. If I became my twin brother, I would be able to defend myself from the assaults of the robbers, and I would not be an object of attraction to them. And so I donned the garb of the samurai at an age when most girls had just begun to play the coquette. I was close to Tada, as twins will be, and so I had absorbed much of what he had learned in his training to become a samurai. Now I would become him, and adopt his name.
There was nothing left of value in our home except food, and so I cooked some rice and made onigiri (rice balls). These I packed into Tada’s hakama (pants), and I set off on a quest to find my father, although I knew it might take many years. I saw myself in the eye of my mind having many adventures before we would be reunited. I would be a woman then—if I could find him before he died.
I took with me my mother’s weapons: Her naginata. This is a spear with a curved blade at the end. It was used by women in defending their homes when their samurai husbands were absent from the home. With its long shaft, it could be used to keep a male opponent at a distance, thus allowing a woman to fend off a man stronger than her. Next, her tanto, a dagger favored by women because of its short length and capacity for camouflage. When sheathed, it looked like a fan, and could concealed as an item of innocent adornment until needed. Finally, her kansashi, a hairpin that is a woman’s weapon of last resort. Six inches long, it innocently keeps her hair in place but can be pulled out to pierce an attacker’s chest or throat when he is on the point of overcoming her.
I started out on the road that led towards the sea. I wanted to go to the place where my father would land when he came back, and if that did not happen for some time, I wanted to find a way to go search for him, on a fishing boat or a bigger craft bound for Korea. I must have made a forlorn-looking sight. My brother’s kataginu (sleeveless jacket) hung loose about my shoulders with its exaggerated shoulders, and while I was tried to put on a brave face, my heart was empty—my mother and brother gone, my father far away. I was all alone in the world.
The road was a muddy path, the color of my mother’s clay cooking pots. On either side were bright green hedges of grass that gave way to rice paddies. I was headed in the direction of the Tsushina Strait, towards a sky that was full of rain coming up from the sea. It was tinged with grey and blue and pink, like the inside of an oyster’s shell. It was hard to be hopeful, but I tried to walk with a forceful stride, to show the world that I was determined.
After a while I heard the clip-clop of a horse coming up behind me. I did not turn to look, as I wanted to give the rider the sense that I wasn’t a young girl he could trifle with, I was a samurai on a mission.
As the horseman drew nearer, he called out to me in a curt manner. “You there!”
I turned my head slowly to the left, but did not stop walking. He must know that I would not stop for anyone. He called again—“You!”
I kept walking, but said “Yes?”
“Where are you going?”
He laughed. “And how will you get there?”
“I will hire a boat.”
“Never you mind.”
Upon hearing those bold words, he dug his heels in his horse’s side and rode in front of me, blocking my way.
“Are you a samurai?” he asked with a mocking smile.
“I am a samurai’s page.”
“And who is your master.”
I hesitated just a moment. “You would not know him, he lives far from here.”
“Then how did you come to be all by yourself?”
I was silent, out of words. I should have foreseen that I would be questioned, but I had not given thought to the story I would tell.
“Well?” the man asked. “Who are you, and what do you have to say for yourself?”
I fought down a lump in my throat, and spoke. “I am Kimiko Tadashige. My master is dead. I am on my way to seek my father, who is in Korea.”
The man rubbed his chin, sizing me up. A boy came up behind him, dressed much like me, but in shabbier garments. I guessed that he was a page to this samuraiand, from the looks of his clothing, had been traveling with him for some time. Perhaps, I thought, the man on horseback was a ronin, a samurai without a lord.
“I am Hyōgo Narutomi,” he said with a fierce voice, as if he wanted to scare me and not just say his name. “This is my page, Moto Mori.”
The boy bowed slightly and looked me over. His eyes seemed to see a rival, or even an adversary, even though I was just a stranger walking along the same road.
“I could use another page,” Narutomi said with a tone of cold calculation, as if I were a fish in a market.
I did not know what to say. I would be out of food soon enough, and I wanted protection from robbers and others with malice towards me.
“Where are you going?” I asked.
“The same place you are,” Narutomi replied calmly, as if that settled the matter.
I looked off to the horizon behind Mori to my left, and Narutomi ahead of me. There was no shelter, and no other road to be seen, all the way to the end of the world within my view. What choice did I have, other than to continue with my concocted story about where I came from, and where I was going?
“All right,” I said, without enthusiasm. “I will come with you.”
About The Author
Con Chapman is the author most recently of Rabbit’s Blues: The Life and Music of Johnny Hodges (Oxford University Press), winner of the 2019 Book of the Year Award from Hot Club de France. His work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Christian Science Monitor, The Boston Globe, and a number of literary magazines. His young adult short story, “The Vanishing Twin,” appeared in the March/April 2015 issue of Cicada.
Follow the author on Twitter @conchapman
If you are an author and wish to be featured as our guest or if you are a publicist and want to get your author featured on TRB, then please get in touch directly by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Welcome to TRB Lounge. Today, I’d like to welcome author Eliza Harrison for sharing the audio excerpt from her latest release The Mystery Of Martha.
About The Book
The Mystery Of Martha
Two timelines, one truth . . .
Two women, two millennia apart with seemingly unconnected lives – one from the Lake District in England and the other from Bethany in Palestine. Both experience loss and betrayal, which engender feelings of fear and uncertainty about what their future holds.
Martha from the Lake District faces challenge and change in 2000 AD as her deepest insecurities are exposed. But supported by her partner Ben, she discovers the mystical Aramaic teachings of Yeshua that offer her a pathway to Self-realisation and freedom.
In Brattleboro, Vermont, a long-forgotten doorway opens, to a land beyond living memory, where two lifelong enemies must journey as allies, to save two worlds, or destroy them.
In 30 AD Martha of Bethany has Yeshua as a friend and guide. From a place of tenderness and vulnerability, she witnesses the last three years of his life as he embodies the ultimate mystery and power of love, which inspires her own journey to awakening.
These two stories weave together seamlessly until finally they converge in a hauntingly beautiful tale of revelation and redemption.
Eliza has had a lifelong passion for exploring different spiritual pathways in the East and the West and has been a teacher of meditation all her adult life. Alongside her work as a spiritual mentor and guide, she is a photographer and author and has produced several books on the life and landscape of Northern England, including The Light Within – A Celebration of the Spiritual Path, and the story of her own: In Search of Freedom – One Woman’s Journey. Now, with her husband David, she runs Sacred Meditation from their home in Cumbria.
Welcome to TRB Lounge. Today, I’d like to welcome author Matt Spencer for sharing the excerpt from his latest release The Blazing Chief, the 3rd book in The Deschembine Trilogy.
About The Book
For untold ages, the refugees from the land of Deschemb have lived secretly beneath the surface of human society. Now modern civilization crumbles as their ancient feud boils to the surface. As chaos and brutality engulf the world, strange alien forces reshape the lands for a new beginning…for whoever survives.
In the frozen Canadian wastes, the United Deschembines take shelter in an abandoned military base, under the leadership of Jesse Karn, Zane Rochester, and Sally Coscan.
In the Louisiana swamps, Rob and Remelea press towards the ruins of New Orleans, for a final confrontation with Talino.
In Brattleboro, Vermont, a long-forgotten doorway opens, to a land beyond living memory, where two lifelong enemies must journey as allies, to save two worlds, or destroy them.
At nineteen, Ronald “Fishhook” Fairbanks figured he’d seen it all. Over the back end of Summer, he’d seen a whole lot more. For one thing, he’d never expected to see a dude get chopped in half with a Goddamn sword. By the end of the early Autumn day, that wouldn’t even be the weirdest thing he witnessed, or the worst.
That morning, he woke up in a ditch, under a blanket of leaves. He couldn’t remember his dreams, but he knew they’d been bad. He sat up, brushed most of the leaves out of his face and hair, blinked his eyes clear, and looked at the sky. He almost panicked, because it wasn’t the same sky anymore. So what if he should be used to it by now? It still freaked him out, whenever he woke up looking at it. It never had gone back to normal after the solar storm, never lost that weird, sickly, purple-orange tinge.
Fishhook twisted the worst of the snap-crackle-pops out of his body, hoisted his bag over one shoulder, shuffled to the edge of the road, and stopped dead in his tracks. A little kid stood on the other side of the road, staring at him, four or five he guessed by the height, dressed even shabbier than himself, in plain brown shirt and britches with legs and sleeves falling to the knees and elbows, with dirty bare feet. No, wait, hold up. That wasn’t a kid. It was a fully grown, evenly proportioned adult, except only three or four feet tall.
Fishhook blinked, made sure he was seeing this right. “Hello?” he shouted. “Hey, what’s up!”
The short fucker just kept staring, past Fishhook. When he looked around, another face peered out of the bushes, on the other side of the ditch. It was shaped like a human face, but it sure as shit wasn’t human. It wasn’t staring out of the bushes, either, but rather was made of them. Branches and leaves jutted and twined together, pressing against each other at just-so angles, so they formed a jaw, eyebrows and forehead. Knotty clumps formed the chin and cheeks, with the leaves from two parallel horizontal branches for lips, two budding pods that hung in twin hollows for eyes. The breeze drifted through the bush, fluttering the face so it moved, like it was talking to the short fucker across the road. When the air went still, so did the face.
Fishhook spun back around. The short fucker was gone. When he looked again, the bush still had a face. Plants could play tricks on the eyes at funny angles, sure, but such illusions usually faded once you looked closer. The more Fishhook looked at this one, though, the clearer he saw it. Its gleaming seed-pod eyes looked right back at him.
He shivered, muttered, “Well, fuck you too, then, you freaky bitch,” turned, and hurried up the road, doing his best not to look off into the woods. He didn’t want to see more plants with faces, or something even freakier.
At sixteen, Fishhook’s birth-family had kicked him out of the house for being queer. Well, kicked out wasn’t technically accurate. More like he’d left on his own, because his piece-of-shit stepdad would have beaten him to death for it otherwise. Since then, he’d found his brothers and sisters of the road and the rails, and he’d been to plenty of their funerals; all in nice, neat funeral parlors, with open caskets displaying serene, well-dressed, made-up mannequin-like young corpses, of boys and girls who’d died of overdoses, stabbings, shootings, beatings, or exposure. Anyone who showed up who’d known the departed—really known them—might think they’d wandered into the wrong place. More than once, Fishhook had wondered, when his time came, how many of his real friends would show up and ask, Who the fuck is Ronald Fairbanks?
Fishhook hadn’t touched any drugs in months, yet ever since the solar storm, it seemed like the whole world had overdosed on bad acid. He hadn’t seen any of the others in a while; Shipwreck, Scags, Skunk, Stonewall, old Boxcar, Abby, any of them. He usually caught up with folks on the rails, and he’d been avoiding trains like the plague lately. Where the trains still ran, folks said, those railroad bulls had cracked down, gotten twice as diligent and four times as mean. They didn’t even bother to arrest you anymore, just beat you to death, lucky if they didn’t pull a train on your ass first, and that’s if the freaky people—the things—didn’t catch you first.
Who the hell had Fishhook first heard about the things from? Skunk? Yeah, probably. Of course that crazy motherfucker would believe something like that. Except Skunk had never had that much of an imagination. The last time they’d ridden the rails together, though, he wouldn’t shut up about the people from another dimension who you had to watch out for now. Then as the weeks passed, Fishhook heard more folks spouting the same shit…the same strange words and names…
Schomite. Spirelight. Crimbone. And finally, High Natural.
Since the solar storm, cell phone service had come back in some places, but WiFi was a thing of the past. That threw a wrench in anyone keeping up with anyone. The last time Fishhook had seen Abby, she’d mentioned she’d be in Chattanooga in a few weeks, visiting some cousins. If he’d kept track of time right, she should be there by now. So that’s where he was headed.
When the solar storm happened, there’d been a lot of train wrecks, all at once, all over the country, along with plane crashes, prison riots, riots on the streets of major cities…Hell, some people claimed the military had turned on and eaten itself, which was why not even the National Guard had swooped in, to either save everyone or just fuck everything up worse. Nowadays, the back roads were the closest place left to safe. Chattanooga sounded too densely populated for Fishhook’s liking, but if he could just get there and find Abby, maybe he could get his bearings. She’d given him her cousins’ address. If he could just find her—find anyone he trusted who was left—then maybe…
Whenever he heard a vehicle whirring towards his back, he stepped a little further off to the side and stuck his thumb out. A few cars and trucks blasted past him. There were fewer of them these days, and hitching was always a crapshoot, more so in some parts of the country than others. Here in the middle of the damn Bible Belt, you got fewer motorists willing to take a chance on a dude with ratty dreadlocks, with ears and a face full of piercings, including a big septum ring, wearing a beat-up leather jacket covered in radical political buttons. To be fair, they had more reason than usual to be suspicious. Maybe they thought he was one of those others, never mind that he was five-five and weighed a hundred and forty pounds soaking wet, probably less by now.
Something big and clanking slowed to a stop behind him. He turned and saw a long, gray pickup with a rattling U-Haul trailer hooked to the back. Two people sat up front within the truck, which had a backseat in it, to Fishhook’s relief. The U-Haul had a dinosaur painted along the side, advertising some resort out in California that probably didn’t exist anymore. The truck pulled over onto the shoulder. Fishhook hurried up alongside it and yanked on the right rear passenger door. He found it locked. The front passenger window cranked down.
“Just a moment, son,” crooned the driver. “Before we let you in…do a little dance for us. You know what I mean.”
Until a few months ago, Fishhook would have gone, You gotta be shittin’ me. A year or so back, he’d spent part of his winter on the streets of Manhattan. He was only half black, and usually passed for Caucasian. That hadn’t stopped the NYPD pigs from pulling over to harass him for a laugh, to make him do thechicken-dance. For all the stereotypes about the North and the South, the racist bullshit he’d encountered in Tennessee had nothing on what he’d gotten from the New York pigs. Except he’d heard the driver’s tone, and he knew that wasn’t the issue here. He still froze up.
The driver leaned over towards the glove box. A knob turned and it dropped open. Fishhook heard a pistol cock. “You know what I mean,” the driver repeated.
Fishhook’s extremities tightened. His heart pounded while the edges of his jaw quivered with deer-in-the-headlights dread. He wanted to tell the driver to fuck off, wait for the next ride, but lately, that might still be an invitation to get his head blown off. He let his pack slide off his stinging shoulders, then he hopped like a bunny, waving his arms around like some poor bastard in a stupid costume spinning a sign outside a tax-return office.
“Okay, that’s good enough. Well, go on now, Fran. Let the boy in.”
The front seat passenger twisted around, reached back, and pulled the lock up.
Fishhook hoisted his pack, opened the door, climbed in, and tossed the pack across the other side of the long back seat. It smelled like a thousand years of stale dust and wood chips in there. It reminded him of his dad’s truck when he was a little kid, before his mom had won the custody battle and hooked up with that right-wing scumbag who’d become his stepfather. Fishhook bit back on the urge to break down sobbing. His real dad had always been a kind man, fuck what his mom had told the judge. Would he have still been a kind man if he’d been around long enough to find out his son was a queer? Fishhook liked to think so.
He noticed another smell in here, like old rotten eggs. He fumbled around ’til he found the seatbelt strap, then buckled up. The driver up front looked absurdly small, almost a midget, coming up barely high enough to see over the dash. Fishhook remembered the other weird little fucker from earlier, but no, this guy was just a really short dude. He had big, pale, bespectacled bug eyes, with silky salt-and-pepper hair cascading from beneath a dark blue ball cap, around a narrow, weather-beaten, stubbly face. His jaw and cheeks had that sunken quality, from the bone-deterioration that happened after smoking too much meth. He wore a checkered green and white shirt, with sleeves that were too big around his gnarled, spidery hands. He put the pistol back in the glove box and returned both hands to the wheel. Next to him, there sat a woman with pasty, pillowy arms, beneath a sloping, wrinkly neck, supporting a wobbly head that looked too small for the rest of her, covered in pale, patchy, stringy hair. She smiled at Fishhook, showing off more black gaps and tortured red gums than teeth. Looking at the two of them side by side, Fishhook got the impression of an insomnia-crazed Kermit the Frog and a googly-eyed, lobotomized Miss Piggy.
The truck lurched back onto the lonely highway and sped off through this world that wasn’t the world anymore. Fishhook only just now noticed a tiny ceramic crucifix dangling from the windshield mirror. Great. Jesus freaks. Just my luck.
“Sorry I had to scare you like that, son. I had to make sure. You understand.”
“Make sure of what?” Fishhook got the gist, but he had to make sure too. There were a lot of versions of the story going around. Fishhook still didn’t know what to believe, but someone else’s ideas about it could mean the difference between life and death.
“That you’re a man. That the bones beneath your flesh move the way a man’s skeleton is supposed to move. That you don’t move like one of the abominations.”
“Yeah, I get it. A Crimbone, you mean.”
The old guy nodded, keeping his eyes on the road. “What’s your name, son?”
“Fishhook,” said Fishhook.
“No it ain’t,” hiccupped the old bastard. “That’s not your real name, is it?”
“That’s what everyone who knows me calls me.”
“But that’s not the name your loving parents gave you, is it? It’s okay. You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to. My name’s Norm. This is my wife Fran.”
Fran looked back at Fishhook, gave him that infected, gappy smile again, and waved with a hand like a speckled, flesh-colored Mickey Mouse glove. “Hi!”
“Hi.” Fishhook waved back, even though her high-pitched voice made his skin crawl.
“You want some coffee?” said Norm. “You’re shivering like a leaf back there.” He pulled a thermos from a drink holder and held it back.
“Yeah, that’d be great. Man, thank you so much!” He grabbed the thermos and unscrewed the cap. Steam wafted out. The first gulp burned his tongue. He almost gagged, then tilted the thermos, blew on the liquid’s surface, and sipped slower. It tasted like shitty gas-station coffee, but he didn’t care. The warmth flooding his veins reminded him what true relaxation felt like.
“Where are you headed to, son?” said Norm.
“I’m trying to get to Chattanooga. I’ve got a friend waiting for me there. Or at least she said she would be, before…well…all this craziness.”
Norm nodded. “A girlfriend, then?”
Fishhook glanced at the cross dangling from the dashboard mirror. “Yeah.”
“Chattanooga is on our way. The place used to be a good, God-fearing city. These days, though…I still own land up in the north, son. That’s where we’re going, where we hear things are still good. You and your girlfriend could come with us…”
“Maybe. I’ll have to see what she wants to do.”
‘We’ll be stopping in Rock Spring soon. This highway takes us straight through the center of it. Have you been to Rock Spring, son?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Lovely little town. God-fearing people there. At least I hope that’s still the case. We’ll have to stop for gas there. If the Lord is on our side, there will still be a gas station open. Amazing that there are still gas stations open anywhere, when you think about it, isn’t it?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I guess it is.”
“That’s why people don’t realize the end times are already here. They all expected it to happen at once. After the sky let the fire loose on us, you’d think that would be that, but no, it’s still happening slowly. Lots of people still have electricity. They still go out to eat, would still go to the movies if there was anyone out in Hollywood still making them or shipping them to picture houses…act like this big old world keeps spinning on as always. But I take one look at you, boy, and see that you’ve seen it too.”
Fishhook sipped more coffee from the thermos. “Yeah. Yeah, no shit, right?”
“You know, further down south, there is the town where I grew up. I courted and married Fran there.” As if on cue, Fran looked back at Fishhook, smiled and nodded. Thankfully, she didn’t open her mouth this time. Maybe that meant there was a god. “Fran and I here used to have a program, on the local radio station, talking of the word of the Lord. When the Lord unleashed the wrath of the sun, he spared our radio station, so we might continue to preach our ministry to whoever was still out there listening, right when more people needed to hear it than ever. Except the people no longer liked to hear us tell what the good Lord had to say. I was forced off the airwaves, for speaking the truth of our Lord. Even now, while society falls apart, people still find ways to tell themselves that our civilization has not already abandoned us. Soon, only one civilization shall remain…that of our Lord’s making. That will be the Kingdom. It was censorship, plain and simple. People don’t want to give up the evils they think define them. You can’t be one of the drug-addicts, in the Kingdom. You can’t be a fornicator in the Kingdom. You can’t be one of the homosexuals, in the Kingdom.”
Fuck, Fishhook couldn’t get out of this truck fast enough. The guy’s being nice. So is his wife. He doesn’t have to know who you are. No one’s making you suck their dick for a hit, or anything like that. Count your blessings. It’ll all be over soon enough.
Fishhook also noticed that he really needed to piss. Damn, he should have done that back on the roadside. He tried to will the contents of his bladder further up through his abdomen, away from his aching dick. “Yeah, I know, right? Say, how far are we from…wait, which town, man?”
“Rock Spring. Just another mile or so.”
Even with the windows up, the closer to Rock Spring they drove, the more something smelled like burning pork. It didn’t exactly cancel out the rotten egg smell, but it made Fishhook pay a lot less attention to it. The truck rounded a bend, and he saw all those little boxes made of ticky-tacky buildings of downtown Rock Spring, Tennessee, nestled in the shadow of the Smoky Mountain ranges. Half the town was on fire, including a red caboose in what used to be the yard of the local historical society.
“Norm?” squeaked Fran. “What’s going on? I don’t like this.”
“I don’t like it either, hon. Just sit tight. Now what in the world…”
“We should turn around.”
“We can’t. This is our route to where we’re going.”
“So we can find another route! Come on, honey, we can find one that doesn’t…”
“Doesn’t what? Make us to look in the eye what the Lord hath placed before us? No, my dear, many are those who would avert their eyes, and look where that’s gotten us.”
“Man, seriously,” said Fishhook, “listen to your wife. This is no good.”
“You’re speaking out of turn, young man. I don’t recall asking—”
The nearer the center of town drew, the louder the screams echoed. Fishhook twisted around against the seatbelt in rising agitation. “Dude, look, I know when I’m in a bad place that it’s time to get clear of, and this—”
“We will be clear of it soon enough. Now hush.” The truck sped up.
Far ahead, a soot-covered woman ran screaming out of a burning municipal building. She tripped, fell, got back up and shambled a little, then sprinted across a big, green common-area lawn. What she ran from came from every doorway, alleyway and corner, converging towards her…bodies that did move with superhuman speed and agility, like they didn’t have real human skeletons under their filthy, scarred skin. They weren’t dressed like Fishhook or any of his old train-hopper buddies. Some of them weren’t wearing clothes at all. They all looked like those others, some with the mottled, swirly skin folks now called Schomite or Crimbone or whatever, others with the gleaming, pearly, whiter-than-white elf-like builds of those called Spirelights. It didn’t matter anymore. Some new master had united them, under a banner of rape, murder and plunder. None of the safeguards of so-called modern civilization were left to do shit about it.
The fleeing girl must have had a good thirty feet head-start. One of the Schomites stretched out its gnarly clawed hand and grabbed her, like time and space folded between them to close the distance. It tackled her to the ground, ripping her clothes off, its teeth tearing and worrying into the flesh beneath.
Something hit the side of Norm’s truck. The whole world spun through the air…
Blood stung Fishhook’s eyes. When he wiped at it, his arm screamed.
Oh fuck, oh fuck, don’t let it be broken, don’t let it be broken…
Shattered glass blanketed him like sharp snowflakes. Some of it stuck in his face and hands. Someone kept screaming. At first, he thought it was him, then he realized it was Fran. His jaw felt like someone had popped it off and stuck it back on upside down. All that came out of his mouth were huffs and grunts. The whole world screamed, along with every nerve in his body.
One of his eyes still more or less worked. Except every time he opened or closed it, he saw something different. There was Fran up front, shrieking and gyrating. Next to her, Norm stared blankly, over the steering wheel embedded in his chest. Through Norm’s window, Fishhook could see the top of the police car that had broadsided them. The red and blue lights still spun and flashed while smoke rose from the mangled hood. One of the cops moved like a drunk toddler while he tried to pull his partner out of the wreckage. He was gray with ash, except where scarlet streamed from his scalp, down his side. The wrecked cop car wasn’t the only siren blaring. It sounded like there were a lot of them, for miles around.
A grumbling whoosh sounded somewhere. Flames licked out of the edges of the twisted hood of the truck, small and pale at first, then dark with smoke, puffing out thicker and thicker. They leaked past the border of the shattered windshield, into the truck. Norm didn’t appear to mind, probably because he was dead. Fran shrieked louder and thrashed furiously. Her seat rocked and banged against Fishhook’s knees.
Fishhook tried to bolt, but his seatbelt held him in place. He tried to unbuckle it, then shrieked because he’d just used his fucked-up arm. Yep, it was definitely broken. Shit! He took a few deep, rapid, whistling breaths to get himself under control. His good hand shook as it found the button. The belt snapped and slithered away. When he tried the door handle, it refused to budge. The whole rig was twisted around him. He rammed the door with his shoulder. Bigger flames were filling the front seat. Fran squalled like a bobcat caught in a trap. Parts of her face turned red, bubbling up with welts full of boiling white pus It smelled a lot worse than the rotting-egg scent from earlier. Fishhook drew up sideways across the seat and mule-kicked the door, once, twice, thrice…
The hinges gave, so the cold air spilled in on him…
Concrete pressed against his shoulder, shoving chips of broken glass through his coat so they bit into his arm. Every time he thought he’d gotten the pain under control, it seemed, another part of his body moved funny, so his whole being lit back up with grinding, shrieking raw nerves. He smelled more burning buildings, more burning flesh.
I have to move. I can’t, though. I don’t want to. Why am I even conscious? Can’t I just go back to sleep? Just let all this go away…
His eyes opened and closed, opened and closed…
Someone let out a furious howl. At first, Fishhook thought it was one of those things, closing in on him. Then a dark shadow passed overhead. He shifted sideways and tried to crawl under the truck, but the rising fumes sent him scuttling back the other way.
His eyes opened and closed, opened and closed…
Everything blurred in and out of focus. His fucked-up arm felt just as bad as before, but it seemed further away now. He got a grip on the next overturned car and pulled himself to his feet.
An echoing clash shook the earth, of metal striking metal…with a chime that reverberated through the concrete, beneath his feet, a sound that pulsed through his whole being. At first, he assumed it was another car accident, but that was wishful thinking. No, it was the clash of otherworldly matter against otherworldly matter…something that shouldn’t even exist in this world, yet there it was.
When his eyes snapped back open, he saw the center of the town lawn. Two of those freaks had just slammed into each other, howling with elemental bloodlust. What the hell was Fishhook watching? This was nuts! It looked almost like a kung-fu fight in some Jet Li movie on TV, but the more his vision cleared, the more it looked like two wild animals ripping each other apart, quicker than the human eye could follow…both of them swinging long, curved blades of black metal, ’til one deflected the other’s downward chop and sidestepped him with a diagonal slice. A meaty crunch sounded. The loser split open and hung in two directions like a blooming flower, his insides gleaming and gushing…because another man had just chopped him in half like a head of cabbage, with a fucking sword. A sword made of unearthly black metal. Fuck!
The winner righted himself, let out a joyous growl, then looked at the split-open body, which was somehow still standing. He gave it a boot to the ass so it fell over, spilling its insides across the grass. That’s when Fishhook noticed the whole lawn alive with a melee from some other reality, an even weirder one than the last few months. Fishhook couldn’t even tell who was on whose side…until the swooping shape descended…
Fishhook’s eyes opened and closed, opened and closed…
More meaty crunches sounded, as blades cleaved through bones and organs, everywhere. From where he leaned, Fishhook still heard Fran shrieking. The burning truck wasn’t that far away, still somewhere to his left. He was no badass, that was for sure—and now that he saw all those otherworldly mutant freaks hacking the shit out of each other in the distance, he realized he didn’t want to be—but there was no way was gonna leave someone to burn to death like that, not if he could help it. He lurched, righted himself, hobbled halfway over to the truck. Then the heat of the blaze pulsed in his face, repelling him like a wall of pure, hot energy. Fran stopped screaming. Fishhook’s guts turned to liquid and tried to fall out of his asshole.
Plenty of other folks kept screaming, people who lived around here, while the otherworldly marauders dragged them out of their homes and jobs, while they laid waste to the infrastructure. Big, greasy rednecks came out brandishing shotguns, pistols, semi-automatics, automatics, you name it. At first, they looked happy as pigs in shit to finally get a chance to act like the local militia against the invaders…until they started shooting, and it didn’t do a squirt of piss worth of good, except to get the things’ attention. Fishhook couldn’t tell if the creatures moved fast enough to dodge bullets, or if the bullets just didn’t hurt them. Either way, they swarmed in on the gunmen. Before Fishhook knew it, the shooting had stopped, replaced by more blood, guts, hair, teeth and eyeballs flying all over the place.
Out on the lawn, a strange sort of circle had formed. Somewhere in the middle of all this, Fishhook had gotten a sense of the two sides fighting each other. The ones who’d attacked the town were made up of both those dirty, animalistic freaks and those…pale, gleaming, whiter-than-white elf-like fuckers…Spirelights; that was the word for them, right? Except weren’t those two sides supposed to be fighting each other? What the hell were they doing, ganging up on this town together? The ones who’d come to fight them all seemed to be the other kind, the beastly ones…Crimbone? It was like they’d swarmed in out of the hills, as though to defend the place…baited into a trap, apparently, one which must have worked, given how few of the latter were left, and by the way the leader strutted back and forth like a rooster in a henhouse.
Fishhook couldn’t make sense of the leader’s appearance. It looked like a cartoon animal version of Axl Rose or Kid Rock or one of those assholes, the cap of its head tied up in a dirty red bandana, but with a jutting, deformed snout like a dog’s face, with big dragon wings fanning out on either side. And it was dripping in blood, from head to toe…blood, and who knew what other fluids.
“Okay,” the creature’s voice boomed, while it rubbed at its crotch, “this is where the Daddy told me to git shit rollin’. Can’t tell why just yet. Place looks like a shithole to me. Still, I gots ta say, not a bad Goddamn start at all. Ain’t that right, bitches? Why, just look at all these bitchass so-called Crimbone we got here to start replenishin’ our ranks with.” The creature cast an eye around, at the last of the gnarly defenders who’d been herded into the circle. “Why, it’s almost like they all swam right up to our fishhook, ain’t it?”
In that moment, it might have been Fishhook’s imagination, but he swore the monster peered across the expanse and looked him right in the eye. That’s when he quit pretending not to be a coward, when he booked it, quick as he could, back behind the nearest wrecked vehicle that wasn’t on fire.
“Not as big a haul as we’d hoped for, but that’s okay. Shit, this won’t do at all. No, wait, let me check.” A crunch split the air, followed by another shriek, along with a wet, ripping noise. “Gah, peh, these here Earth-line bastards an’ bitches get more rancid every stop! Oh well, catch as catch can. Nah, nah, nah, boys, you take ’er easy with the good folks of this cute little town. The meat tastes better when you get it off the bones alive.”
About The Author
Matt Spencer is the author of five novels, two collections, and numerous novellas and short stories. He’s been a journalist, New Orleans restaurant cook, factory worker, radio DJ, and a no-good ramblin’ bum. He’s also a song lyricist, playwright, actor, and martial artist. He currently lives in Vermont.
Welcome to TRB-Lounge, the section of TRB dedicated to book promotions. Today, I’d like to welcome author Rich Marcello, for sharing an excerpt from his latest release The Latecomers.
Read on to get a sneak-peek into this amazing new read!
About The Book
AN AGING COUPLE AND THEIR CLOSEST FRIENDS PIECE TOGETHER A LIFE-CHANGING PLAN FROM AN OTHERWORLDLY TEXT.
Maggie and Charlie Latecomer, at the beginning of the last third of their lives, love each other but are conflicted over what it means to age well in a youth-oriented society. Forced into early retirement and with grown children in distant cities, they’ve settled into a curbed routine, leaving Charlie restless and longing for more
When the Latecomers and their friends discover a mystical book of indecipherable logographs, the corporeal world and preternatural world intertwine. They set off on a restorative journey to uncover the secrets of the book that pits them against a potent corporate foe in a struggle for the hearts and minds of woman and men the world over.
A treatise on aging, health, wisdom, and love couched in an adventure, The Latecomers will make readers question the nature of deep relationships and the fabric of modern society.
Hello. You’ve reached Charlie Latecomer. I’m away now, probably spending time with my lovely wife, Maggie. Please leave your name and number so we soon can have a deep conversation about the meaning of life.
I hung up my phone and smiled. Soon after, I got down on my hands and knees and began digging. The dirt, rich and fertile, scooped out easier than expected. A few inches down, I exposed a circular metal door resembling a submarine hatch. I opened it.
Stale air rose out of the hole. A wooden ladder extended down into cobwebs thick enough to obscure what was below. I secured a nearby branch the size of a cane, and using the branch to clear the way, descended into the opening. At the bottom of the ladder, a long passageway, high enough to walk upright in, extended down at a steep angle. The walls of the passageway, solid red stone, were covered with logographs and lit by bare lights. I descended flight after flight of stairs, taking in the logographs on the wall, as beautiful in stone.
At the bottom of the stairs, two thousand steps and three hundred logographs later, a steel-reinforced door impeded my progress. I studied it for a time, running my hand over the metal, looking for a way in until, unexpectedly, the door slid open. A rush of air flowed over me with the same intoxicating ambrosial scent I’d experienced earlier in front of the cave painting. As soon as I entered, the door closed behind me.
The cavern, as big as the entire lake about it, with naturally illuminated ceilings probably two hundred feet high, housed thousands of plants. The plants directly in front of me, five feet tall and half as wide, with seeds the size of chestnuts, were vibrant and full of the same colors I’d seen in the cave animation. I went over to a plant and tasted a leaf. Above me, the entire ceiling glowed in pulses, not only generating light but heat, enough to maintain the cavern as an underground grow room.
I heard machines in the distance. As I moved through the plants toward them, a sense of well-being infused each step I took, and despite the uncertainty of what was ahead, I knew I’d found ground again.
PART I — MOAIS & ELDERS
IN A SILENT WAY Maggie
Charlie, hands resting on his hips, silver hair making art in a gentle breeze, naked except for the guitar strapped to his back, waded off into the ocean, staring at something in the distance I couldn’t make out. Maybe a longship or an island or a woman? Tattooed on his free shoulder, an oversized pair of sympathetic eyes weighed what he’d left behind. Above him, the colorless sky propped up mostly gentle clouds, one shaped like a sheltering hand, another like the priest’s altar, and a third like Sabina’s rope. Below him, the water, brain- like, surfaced with ever-moving sulci and gyri, welcomed Charlie as he fell into himself again, maybe for a final time.
“Maggie, it’s time,” he said, fully dressed, from the doorway of my studio.
“Okay. Be right there.”
I glanced at the digital. Noon. The man’s acute awareness of time pulled at me for a
moment, but Charlie’s Moai pulled me back. Moai, my lovely Okinawan word, defined then as a circle of people who purposefully met up and looked out for one another. Ours contained the two of us, though Charlie resisted such a small configuration. Although I had most of the basic elements of the painting roughed out, I still wasn’t clear on the colors. Bright or subdued? Variants of a single color or widely varied? Sharply contrasted or melded? The colors would come later.
On my way to wash-up, I stopped in front of the other pieces in the series, all painted over the previous eighteen months, all lined up and mounted on the wall, all centered around Charlie. In the first, Perfect Ass, he lay mostly naked on his stomach on our bed, sporting only his I-can-talk-you-into-anything smile, fully aware of his power. Next up, on a walkabout in the Outback, an aboriginal elder at his side, wearing nothing but his favorite Wigens Longshoreman’s Cap, Charlie cast about for tribal wisdom. I’d named that one Sunscreen. Third, in How to Avoid a Crush, riding shotgun down a rock slide next to Jenna and wearing only a pair of paisley-colored cowboy boots, Charlie hunted for a safe way off. Fourth, and my favorite, The Big Swirl had him sitting naked in a lounge chair, wearing a pair of extra-large Ray-Bans, contemplating the event horizon of a black hole. Fifth, a blank space waited patiently for the last in the series, the finished Charlie’s Moai. Eighteen months earlier, when Charlie had posed for the first, Perfect Ass, I’d felt relieved I hadn’t known him when he was young. He would have been too much. But that morning, in Moai, too little of him connected.
As I washed my hands, the ever-changing, timeless, warm water streamed into the sink and held me. Painting full time had been good for me, as building things had been good for Charlie, in part because we needed time alone each day for our time together to be generative. I closed the faucet, dried off, and examined both sides of my hands and
forearms. I would scrub off a few specks of blue later.
In the mirror, I caught myself. I was still okay. More wrinkles and gray, yes, but okay.
On most date nights, I cleaned up pretty well, and on most days, I smiled and laughed often, happy simply to spend my time with Charlie. For twenty years, we’d been good together. Though it had been harder after our careers had ended. Had we reinvented ourselves as artists, as I liked to say, or had we been forced into early retirement, as Charlie often claimed? I did like to paint, and Charlie did like to make stuff — furniture, wooden sculptures, guitars — but for over a year, I’d often thought he missed his old life. Or something. Not that many years earlier, before the financial crash, we’d been on a different path. I thrived as a C-level executive at a big pharma company, and Charlie acted as a mid- level manager at a mid-sized company, but like death-in-twos in true-love marriages, we’d lost our jobs within a month of each other.
Did Charlie honestly miss his old life? Or as a Latecomer in more than name, did he long for a new life, one we hadn’t fully created, our rightful one? All I knew was that I was okay. Maggie Latecomer — wife, lover, best friend, creator — that was who I was. If we’d finished out our lives in our Northampton house, in love, doing retirement art, I would have remained more than fulfilled.
I stopped at my studio window and surveyed the yard. Charlie had finished his chores early. The annuals, freshly planted, filled the perimeter with reds, yellows, and oranges. Four cords of wood we would need for the winter had been expertly stacked in squares next to the shed. The soil in the garden, tilled and organic, held new vegetable plants. We planned to sell the extra tomatoes, peppers, and corn at the farmer’s market in the fall.
Our small Northampton cape suited us. I was thankful it was well outside the city, off the beaten path, and modest, except for the bathroom and the bookend studios we’d added on, one for Charlie’s making stuff and the one for my painting. Years earlier and right before we got married, we’d built the house together on the piece of land where I’d first sketched Charlie, the one where he discovered love wasn’t always stillborn.
Our Northampton house was not unlike our summer house in Nova Scotia, a house Charlie had summered in for much longer than I’d known him. Bigger, yes, but as modest. Charlie’s thing for Nova Scotia was as strong as ever, because of some mystical balancing of rugged beauty and angst, he said, though I thought it was mostly angst. That, and the transplanted Nordic folks. Charlie loved everything Nordic, from the Vikings to the myths to the goddesses. I didn’t mind because I too had a bit of Nordic goddess in me, or as Charlie liked to say, many Nordic goddesses. Sometimes Freya, a goddess with endless strengths, helped me when Charlie needed balancing, especially when he got lost in an ideal, the past, or a mind rift. After the previous summer’s difficult balancing on Flogo Island, a summer in which he’d come dangerously close to sinking back into the ocean, the same ocean I longed to capture in Charlie’s Moai, he’d told me how his sadness had calmed when he found me again. Though what he’d really found were the idealized parts of me, the ones reminiscent of Freya.
On the way outside, I entered our main hallway, its walls covered with framed photos of our children, awards we’d won during our careers, a photo of the first painting I’d sold,
another of Charlie’s first guitar. There were numerous photos taken when I was a young activist endlessly protesting for the Equal Rights Amendment, sensible gun control, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As I always did when passing through the hallway, I brought three fingers to my lips, kissed them, and then touched one of the activist photos.
On our patio, as the twelve-thirty sun threatened to break a sweat on my forehead, Charlie towered over the table, waiting for me with his hands in his jean pockets. When I reached him, I gave him a quick, moist peck on the lips and took my seat under the canopy. He served me my favorite salad of steak tips, quinoa, and greens and filled my glass from a pitcher of fresh ice-cold lemonade he’d made to help combat the heat. As I pressed lemonade-coated ice cubes under my tongue to cool off, I glanced over at the wall clock to confirm the time.
“How was your morning?” he said.
“Slow. Still working on the moai canvas. Yours?”
“Good. I finished the oak table.”
“We can use the money.”
I glanced at the clock again. Charlie didn’t know the exact moment when he was born,
so each of our twenty years together I’d wished him Happy Birthday at a different time of day. Both hands on the table, I tapped in unison as I counted down from ten.
“Happy birthday, my love,” I said. “Sixty years old!”
“Shall we have the cake with lunch or tonight?”
“Tonight. Midday and ice cream don’t go well together.”
I smiled in his favorite way. “How about, instead, we cool off after lunch?” “I’d love to,” he said.
We ate in spurts, talking in between bites, often pausing to let each other’s thoughts sink in or to drift off in search of a new train. In a Silent Way played in the background, the first of Miles’ electric albums, a perfect melding of sonata form and fusion.
Train one carried our finances. Neither of us was making enough money through our art to cover basic expenses, and as a result, we were running through our modest savings at an alarming rate. To help, Charlie agreed to build more lucrative high-end guitars, and I agreed, after I finished Charlie’s Moai, to paint easier-to-reel-off-and-sell Berkshire Mountains landscapes.
Train two carried our children. Of concern to me and delight to Charlie, my twin sons, both living close to their father, both recent university graduates, had entered their wandering phase, a phase filled with too much alcohol, pot, and casual sex. Charlie’s daughter lived near her mom, ran a burgeoning alternative medical practice, and played house with a guy I liked and whom Charlie referred to as “the Ken doll.” We missed our children, spoke of them often, and sometimes wished careers, school, and divorce hadn’t carried them far away from us. We would have welcomed them into our moai if it were solely up to us.
Train three carried our health. Overall, by accepted standards, we were in fairly good
shape for our ages, but we spoke of exercising more, dropping pounds, and going off our meds, as we often had the previous year. We even flirted with going the holistic medicine route and trusting our wellness to plants, herbs, and ancient practices — something I’d never even fathomed given my corporate background.
Though long-standing topics, the fresh words, ideas, and laughter flowed like good jazz, like the album playing, like my other loves: Mingus, Coltrane, and Davis. I was thankful our talks had often been effortless, silver-tongued, indelible, improvised. Talking and sex; sex and talking; they’d edged our relationship from the start. Once, Charlie compared us to camels who had stored up millions of gallons of love in preparation for our time together in the desert of age. Desert and all, I’d resonated with that thought because, for the most part, it had turned out to be true. For me, our Northampton life, in our moai of two, exemplified life at its best, a life filled with love, with self-expression, with presence. Wasn’t that everyone’s dream of gracefully growing old? Still, sometimes in the middle of the night, I woke and watched Charlie sleep. Invariably, the restlessness on his face suggested our last act would be built from more than wood and paint, more than Northampton, more than us.
After we cleared the table and went inside, I gently took Charlie’s hand. Like young lovers, we ping-ponged our way off the hallway walls toward the bathroom, him pushing me up against one wall, kissing me shallow-deep, the way I liked it, me pushing him up against the opposite wall, slipping my hand down over his stomach, over his already-erect penis, kissing him shallow-deep, the way he liked it. He tasted like lemons. At the end of the hallway, I smiled at the tilted photo frames.
In the bathroom, Charlie turned on the shower. I glanced over at the vanity and took in our row of amber bottles full of chemicals for high blood pressure, for high cholesterol, for high blood sugar, for depression — all prescribed within the last few years. I shook my head. How could we make love like we were in our prime and, at the same time, need so many drugs? The drugs had crept up on us.
As we slipped out of our clothes, the mirror fogged over our extra pounds, mine from menopause, his from love of food. I took Charlie’s hand, and we entered the shower together. The shower, one of those oversized double-rainspout ones sometimes seen in movies, walled with artistic, eight-inch square tiles a friend of mine had made for us as a housewarming gift, centered the bathroom. Each tile was adorned with abstract carvings Native American elders might have scratched on a cave wall long before the fall, and when combined into a mural, gave one a sense of a lost way of life. Years earlier, the first time Charlie and I made love in our shower, we held each other under the same spout as rain sheltered our bodies. Afterward, the water still running, Charlie began to sob, as if he needed the water to cover him so I could see and not see. I was thirty-five at the time. Back then, Charlie liked to tell people he was the same age.
Charlie lathered his hands with my favorite rose-and-cinnamon- scented soap. With slow circular movements, he washed my shoulders as I rested my hands on the tiles. From there, he glided down my body, not missing an inch of me. Lower back. Buttocks. Hamstrings. Calves. Feet. Then he turned me around and before he worked the front,
kissed each eyelid, my lips, each side of my neck. With each stroke and kiss, I took a step closer to release.
When my turn came, first I shampooed and fingertip massaged his hair using a technique he loved almost as much as sex — slow, firm, circular movements, clockwise, counterclockwise, as though I was dialing knobs up and down. The hair on Charlie’s head had fully grayed over the year, along with the hair on his body. He wasn’t fond of the change, but I loved gray even more than gray-black.
As we escalated under Charlie’s spout, a special gentleness and a mastery guided his geometric strokes, dabs, and caresses, not unlike how I imagine Klimt painted The Kiss, and an intensity, too, as if he would never forget. I met him halfway, with gentleness and mastery, and for a few moments lost myself in what we had created in the shower, in our bed, in every part of our home. It was a work of art.
It didn’t take either of us long.
When we left the shower, Charlie reached for an oversized white towel and slowly dried me, beginning with my hair and working his way down. I drifted back to our first year in the house, during another drying, when I’d asked Charlie what we should master in the last phase of our lives. He’d signaled with his favorite contemplative look, one he’d often used, one suggestive of searching for the perfect answer. Then he dropped the towel to the floor, pulled me close, my back against his chest, and while both of us were looking into the full- wall mirror, he slicked my wet hair front to back, and said, “This.”
If we’d snapped a picture every year of the defining moment, the one capturing the mood of the time with absolute certainty, if we could somehow have gone back to our start and studied all the snapshots together, as augurs of a sort, would those photos have been enough to navigate twenty, thirty, forty years together?
Both dry, we slipped into our bathrobes and stood in front of the mirror. Charlie rested his hands on my shoulders and softly kissed the crown of my head. His reflection was calm, at peace, and, even though I knew the peace was ephemeral, it pulled me in.
“Deep in thought?” I asked.
“Yes, though I’m not ready to talk about it.”
“You sure you want to wait?”
Charlie kissed my crown again as his hands tightened a little over my shoulders. The
tightening, one of his tells last triggered when he’d lost his job, signaled he had something difficult to discuss, a topic we would need to work through together; I speculated an add-on to our earlier discussions about money.
“I want to leave for Nova Scotia soon,” he said.
“That would be a welcome change for us. Pick a date.” “I need to go by myself this time.”
Charlie looked away from the mirror.
“I’ve made a decision.”
“Tell me, love,” I said.
With a resigned look on his face, one I’d never seen before, one that made me wonder if I’d been right about his tell, Charlie slid his hands off my shoulders and rested them at his sides, only to return them a short time later, hands trembling.
“Maybe it would be better if we talked more tonight,” he said. “That bad?”
Charlie didn’t answer.
“You’re scaring me, Charlie.”
“Remember, radical honesty in the moment is our rule,” I said.
I crossed my arms over my chest and placed both of my hands on top of his. With my
index fingers, I caressed the top of his wrists, hoping I might calm him. He feigned a smile, and then, as if he were still posing for Charlie’s Moai, went almost breathless. A thought — nothing will ever be the same again — dug until firmly planted in my mind. With all my strength, I struggled to rip it out.
Charlie looked down at the floor for what seemed like a long time. When his reflection came back to me, in a whisper he said, “I’m leaving . . . here . . . I’m leaving . . . you.”
I said no a few more times, I think, until my breath caught, the air trapped inside my chest waiting for Charlie’s mirrored image to recant. When it didn’t, I pulled away and turned toward him to see if the mirror had lied, only to backtrack until I was leaning against the mirror, hands hard pressed. I homed in on the black-and-white floor tiles, some hairline-cracked.
“Why?” I asked.
“There’s something I’ve lost.”
“I don’t know. I’m so sorry.”
“But we always work through things together . . . Can’t we do it this time?”
“I don’t think so.”
“I don’t see them in you anymore.”
“I never thought — ”
How had he lost sight of the goddesses? Had I done something wrong? Had we run our
course? When we’d committed to each other years earlier, neither one of us believed in forever. Instead, we’d focused on every day, convinced of the power of stringing them together. But what happened after your husband no longer saw the goddesses in you, after the love of your life stopped stringing?
I took a deep breath. Another. I tried to focus on the out-breath for relaxation as I’d been taught. Telling me was better than not, right? That had been our agreement after the Wave of Incidents. Radical honesty, no matter what the fallout. Besides, leaving was not new information; the canvases had warned me. At least, one way or another, we would get to the bottom of his restlessness, and after a short time, life would return to normal. Yes, normal.
I raised my head. Charlie met me with the kindest face, the same one that in the past had signaled green, had signaled that we were workable, had signaled we wouldn’t be out of sync for long, except his cheeks were stained red. I had this strong urge to marshal him back into the shower, to scrub his face white with sea-salt soap, but instead, I asked, “Have we run our course?”
Charlie took a step toward me and softly clasped my hands, circling his thumbs on my palms as he often did in gentler moments. Even after his news, I went thoughtless at his touch for an instant. Then I uncuffed my hands and slid them into my bathrobe pockets.
“I don’t know,” he said.
“You don’t know?”
“I’m not trying to hurt you, Maggie, but I have to work through this alone.”
“Will you be alone?”
Charlie discovered the bathroom floor again. I traced a crack, long and jagged, zig-
zagging across two tiles. Was it possible he had met someone else? How would that happen without me knowing? Was she younger? Nordic? Weren’t we too old for any romantic drama? When Charlie found me again, the deepest sadness draped his face.
“I don’t know if I’ll be alone.”
“Oh. Do you know who might join you?”
“Are you sure?”
I cycled through the women he knew in town. Judy. Michelle. Sienna. None of them
were strong enough to be more than good friends. In Nova Scotia, none of our island acquaintances were strong enough, either. Linnéa. Ebba. Sanna. No, I believed him. I wanted to. I had to. Charlie would work through things as fast as he could, and then he would come home.
“When are you coming back?”
“I don’t know.”
“Why would you make love to me and then tell me this?”
“Because I do love you.”
I studied his face.
“I do,” he said. “I didn’t plan to tell you until tonight, but I couldn’t keep it in any longer.” “You planned to tell me on your birthday over cake?”
“Why don’t we go to the living room and talk more? I’ll make more lemonade.”
A dry-ice cold shiver stabbed me from the inside out. Fuck Nova Scotia, fuck Charlie
and his fucking restlessness, fuck all young, unnamed, of-Nordic-descent women. Was this how Charlie planned to master our relationship? And what about the time we’d brought in young American Jenna? Hadn’t she been enough? But none of the fucks beyond lemonade surfaced, and instead, we dressed in silence. I had lived long enough to know what was underneath all the fucking was a broken place, and although I couldn’t name it, that day its size, its weight was overwhelming and unlike anything I’d experienced, as
though the collective loss of all humanity had been stored in my chest.
On the way back to my studio, Charlie stopped and tried to place his arms around me, but I swatted them down. No, I didn’t want more lemonade-talk. No, I didn’t want touch. Yes, I needed to be alone, silent, with paint. Reluctantly, Charlie nodded like he had heard my no-no-yes, then haltingly backpedaled away down the hallway, a moment later
disappearing behind his studio door.
In my studio, I turned on In a Silent Way, from the beginning. Miles’s trumpet sounded
fuller, with each melodic phrase sweet and sad, old and new, full of love and loss. As he played, I worked at a feverish pace, adding bright colors to the canvas. The altar took on orange. The rope sprouted Picasso-blue hearts. Charlie donned a red bathing suit. So, what was off in the distance was not an island or a longboat.
About The Author
Rich is the author of four novels, The Color of Home, The Big Wide Calm, and The Beauty of the Fall, The Latecomers, and the poetry collection, The Long Body That Connects Us All. He also teaches creative writing at Seven Bridges’ Writer Collaborative. Previously, he enjoyed a successful career as a technology executive, managing several multi-billion dollar businesses for Fortune 500 companies.
The Color of Home was published in 2013. Author Myron Rogers says the novel “sings an achingly joyful blues tune, a tune we’ve all sung, but seldom with such poetry and depth.” The Big Wide Calmwas published in 2014. The US Review of Books stated, “Marcello’s novel has a lot going for it. Well-written, thought-provoking, and filled with flawed characters, it meets all of the basic requirements of best-of-show in the literary fiction category.” The Beauty of the Fall was published in 2016. The Midwest Review of Books called it “a deftly crafted novel by a master of the storytelling arts” and “a consistently compelling read from cover to cover.” The Long Body That Connects Us All was published in 2018. Publishers Daily said, “Fathers and sons have always shared a powerful and sometimes difficult bond. Rich Marcello, in a marvelous new collection of extraordinary verse, drinks deeply from this well as he channels the thoughts and feelings of every father for his son.”
As anyone who has read Rich’s work can tell you, his books deal with life’s big questions: love, loss, creativity, community, aging, self-discovery. His novels are rich with characters and ideas, crafted by a natural storyteller, with the eye and the ear of a poet. For Rich, writing and art making is about connection, or as he says, about making a difference to a least one other person in the world, something he has clearly achieved many times over, both as an artist, a mentor, and a teacher.
Rich lives in Massachusetts with his family. He is currently working on his fifth and sixth novels, Cenotaphs and In the Seat of the Eddas.
Welcome to TRB-Lounge, the section of TRB dedicated to book promotions. Today, I’d like to welcome author R.J. Parker, for sharing an excerpt from his latest release Requiem, Changing Times.
Read on to get a sneak-peek into this amazing new read!
About The Book
Clint and Corbin are having a weird day. Best friends for life, things are getting a little strange around their town, and at school. When they’re followed by a strange man looking for Clint and later attacked by an imp, it makes sense to retreat to the safety of home. But when strangers from another world, Banks and O’Neil, arrive with their medley of allies, things get even weirder. Why are they here? What do they want? And what is The Requiem that everyone keeps talking about? As Clint and his friends and family are drawn deeper into a thrilling adventure, only one thing is for sure. They may not be getting out alive. And class with Mrs Christenson will seem like a walk in the park after this.
Clint looked through his venetian blind at Tamara’s door move as if something was leaning on it from the outside. The only source of light was from Tamara’s window that shown brighter than his from the street lap outside. Also, a single nightlight that was by her bed shimmered, reflecting on the rest of her room which was black down to the carpet.
Clint was looking for anything that he could use for a weapon that was around the room, like one of the lamps by Tamara’s bed, or one of her gothic figurines, when the doorknob shook then started to turn.
With a slight moan the door opened revealing a dark hallway beyond. It was like the storm had cut all power and most of the light through the house as the shadow of a tall image stood in her doorway. Whatever it was Clint couldn’t even see its entire head as it was taller than the door frame at least to the ceiling. There was a flash of lightning again from outside, illuminating it for in instant. Clint saw a large green hand damp from the rain that looked big enough to grip around a basketball and crush it easily. In its other hand it gripped what looked like a giant, crude wooden club, balancing it on one shoulder.
It waited in the hallway, facing the door frame. Clint heard it sniffing the air and the drops of water falling from it hitting the floor. As it stood in the dark hallway Tamara and Clint didn’t move, they didn’t even breathe. Whatever it was in the hallway took one gigantic step inside Tamara’s room, ducking down to bring its head in. Tamara started to take sharper, panicked breaths. She pulled a sleeve of a shirt that was hanging up and bit it, holding it in her mouth to muffle her sound. As it moved deeper into the room Clint watched in awe in the dim light penetrating through the stormy window. Clint saw one of its wet feet was bare and must have been at least a meter long, dark hair covering its skin in small patches on top of the foot. It took another step as it reared its large head searching around for them, still sniffing.
Its muscular frame moved slowly in with its huge club raised, scratching the ceiling. It quickly checked the other side of Tamara’s bed ready to strike if something was there. It had almost no coverings over its skin, just some odd bits of cloth around its waist. It had what looked like tattoos on its arms, chest and back. It also had a thick neck that it stretched to see around the bed and then around Tamara’s chairs, chest of drawers, and other furniture, taking an occasional sniff in the air.
Clint finally saw its face as it turned toward the closet when a lightning bolt struck, illuminating the room. It was sniffing faster now, moving excitedly towards them. Its face was also green with two large teeth growing out of its bottom jaw, it had an upturned nose and prominent overlapping bottom jaw like a barracuda. Its eyes were small and deep set with large bushy eyebrows. Thick black hair was pulled back in dreadlocks. It came closer and closer to them with each heavy step making things in the room shake. It reached out with its club-free hand and touched the far-left closet door.
Tamara and Clint moved as far down as they could to the other side of the closet without making any noise. Clint felt the fear and amazement coursing through him. Tamara started shaking as her breath became unsteady and separated as a large green hand hit the door again. This time the closet door on her end sprang open slightly. Past all the clothes that Clint had pulled on top of himself he could see its fingers open the door the rest of the way. It sniffed some more and reached in toward them. It stopped just short of Clint’s arm and grabbed one of Tamara’s undershirts. It pulled on it, breaking the hanger it was on with remarkable ease and brought it up to its nose, taking one long sniff. It opened its large mouth and laughed softly, threw the undershirt over its club-free shoulder and started to turn to the door where it had come in the room.
Clint moved just his head to keep the intruder visible through his small window space past the clothes and spy the opening in the closet door. The thing moved heavily but gingerly toward the door and when it was out it checked both ways down the hall and stepped out into the hallway.
Suddenly a song cracked through the air from somewhere in the room. It was from Tamara’s cell phone. Tamara shot bolt upright in panic to see her phone on her bed ringing.
“It’s Bill!” she whimpered in terror so low that Clint could barely hear her.
Wham! The intruder had leapt from the doorway across the room and slammed his club over Tamara’s bed, shattering it into pieces. Tamara screamed as the creature lifted its heavy club and turned those small eyes toward the closet. It let out a war cry that sounded like a lion charging to kill. It shifted its weight onto its back foot and started to charge right at the closet door, club held high once more, mouth open yelling, coming right at Clint and Tamara.
Slam! Banks shot from the open door, connecting with the creature that was only a foot away from breaking through the closet door. Banks bared his shoulder into the massive green intruder and with legs pumping drove him to the far side of the room. With both of their strength moving them they were out of control as they whirled toward the window.
With an almighty cry from both of them they shattered the window and plummeted down one story as they clung to one other fighting and punching, until they hit the moist earth with a squelching noise like a plunger in a plugged drain. Their cries of war stopped as Banks hit the ground first, the green man landing right next to him. Clint flung the closet door open and hurried to the broken window, looking down as the rain water poured off the roof on top of his head and down to Banks and the intruder who were sprawled on his front lawn.
Clint watched as Banks rolled over on his back, unsheathing a long sword and holding it up in a defensive stance, while the intruder adjusted his grip on the club to hold it on the very end and swung it along the ground while not getting to its feet. The blow hit Banks’s feet causing him to fall sideways back onto the ground, splashing mud and water everywhere as he moaned in pain. The green intruder swung the club high in the air as it got to its knees and, like a hammer meant to drive a man into the ground it came down right at Banks’ head. Banks pushed with his legs sliding down the sloping hill of their front yard, causing the club to miss him by inches and the force of the blow driving the weapon down into the grass.
O’Neil was suddenly by Clint’s side watching Banks and the intruder both get to their feet and face one another.
“Orc!” O’Neil shouted as he pulled out a short metal handle, and as he brought it to the ready a blue axe blade composed of flames erupted from it. The Orc howled again, giving Banks a taunting swing with the club and held its arms wide showing its bare chest. Banks stood firm and for some reason held out a hand as if he was telling the Orc that he wanted a timeout. In that moment there was a sharp sound of a bow shooting. A glowing fire arrow hit the Orc in the right thigh causing it to fall to one knee. Just then O’Neil dove off the roof, planning to land on the Orc but the Orc with only one good leg started to slide down the slippery slope causing O’Neil to miss and fall face first in the mud.
About The Author
Russell Parker was born in Bountiful, Utah. As his father was a safety manager he had to move around until his senior year of high school, when he came to Cache Valley, Utah to stay. He married the most wonderful woman in the world and they are the parents of four fantastic kids, with one crazy dog. Russell played all kinds of sports and was an outdoorsman until an accident brought him to writing. A writer since high school, encouragement brout his stories to life.
Welcome to TRB-Lounge, the section of TRB dedicated to book promotions. Today, I’d like to welcome author S.B. Goncarova, for sharing an excerpt from her latest release Harnessing Light.
Read on to get a sneak-peek into this amazing new read!
About The Book
“I SAID GOODNIGHT knowing full well it was goodbye, and then in the dark, you were there, on the bed next to me, only three thousand something miles away, and the quiet sounds of you muddling on your guitar seep into my veins and lull me into that cloudy space between awake and asleep, and in the end I am brought back to the beginning—”
Can one create a love so bright, that it crosses distance and time? In this enduring love story, Harnessing Light is the journey of one woman trekking across the world in a search to find home, peace, purpose and love. In a quest that transcends physical limitations, Harnessing Light beckons us to our own, to discover what the true search really is.
UNCOVERING A DUSTY old piano on an empty stage in an empty room, and thinking she’s alone, she sits down and begins to play. She begins with old songs. Songs once played at weddings, songs once sung for children. But then the songs transpose and mutate and take on their own life. She was a musician once, before she was told she wasn’t. Today, on this day out of time, the world offers itself to her, to recreate what was lost, to stitch a patch on the fabric of time. She knows the destruction of her life work is inevitable. But something compels her to re-create it nonetheless. Us angels in the wings sink to the ground and listen in silence, our cheeks flooding with tears as she works out her inner struggle through the songs, as she decides on yet another path unfamiliar and unproven, as she surmounts the fear of knowing that her dreams could be torn apart, again, at any moment. She enters a place of such sadness that words cannot touch, that touch cannot heal, a place where only music and silence can survive in the dark. This is her grief sung openly to the heavens, her life wisdom inscribed in shimmering morse code, an invisible mandala of silken strands drawn across the sky. A star map, written in beads of dew and the light of the dawn, echoes of constellations, of spirits, of lullabies, of lovers, of heartsongs long forgotten, of the stories of our lives before we live them, written and rewritten and rewritten again.
KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA
You can also listen to the following tune related to Harnessing Light:
About The Author
S.B. Goncarova is a writer and visual artist based out of Montréal. She has been the grant recipient of the Puffin Foundation and Barbara Deming Memorial Fund. Her visual work can be found in the Archive of Digital Art, Danube University, Austria, PS1 MoMA Contemporary Art Center Digital Archive, The Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the Brooklyn Art Library, and Rutgers University Special Collections.
She loves creating sound compositions for films, combining almost-whispered spoken word with nature sounds, city soundscapes and meditative music. She is currently working on some short video pieces for her ASMR youtube channel called Abba ASMR, which feature segments from Harnessing Light. (Her nieces call her Abba.)
Her next book, “Education of a Diva,” is due out in 2020 by Clay Grouse Press.
Welcome to TRB-Lounge, the section of TRB dedicated to book promotions. Today, I’d like to welcome author Thalia Henry, for sharing an excerpt from her latest release Beneath Pale Water.
Read on to get a sneak-peek into this amazing new read!
About The Book
Set amidst the physical and psychological landscapes of New Zealand’s southern hills and grasslands, Beneath Pale Water is a social realist and expressionistic novel that follows a triangle of three damaged individuals – a sculptor, a vagrant and a model – who have grown calcified shells against the world. Their search for identity and belonging leads them into dangerous territory that threatens both their sanity and lives. As their protective shells crack they are left vulnerable – both physically and emotionally – to the high country winds and their own conflicts that, ultimately, might free – or destroy them.
In the fading light Luke took his fishing rod and laid it flat by the water’s edge. His stomach rumbled. He walked away from the campsite, closer to the roadside where a row of poplars swayed. His fingers tossed aside the larger rocks. He picked one up in each hand and gouged at the dirt. It stung underneath his nails, and the exertion coated his forehead with a sheen of sweat. A tail flickered just beyond his grasp. Its body glistened and then vanished. He dug deeper and, with his thumb and forefinger, pulled a worm from its escape. He squeezed and it died instantly. He pulled a second and it too hung lifeless in his fingers. The first worm he brushed off and swallowed, then attached the second to a hook and cast out the line into the evening light. No food was wasted, not even the most disgusting. He was used to it and didn’t retch.
The smell of searing trout wafted across the campsite. Luke chewed on strips of flesh. Afterwards he buried the bones at the spot where he’d dug the worms.
He felt around inside his tent for the jersey he kept beside his mat and a baggy hat to rest askew on his head, put his feet into a pair of gumboots, sat on a rock and watched his breath rise. The lake stretched before him, a burnish of silver gracing its surface. Two ghosts danced pirouettes on it. He shook his head to shake the image away but the ghosts remained.
He watched the, smiling to tempt their friendship. Each figure was blurred, lingering somewhere between life and death. The man had bare feet and looked weatherworn and free. The woman turned her head, acknowledging Luke’s figure perched in the darkness. Two share eyes stared at him. Startled, he realised the apparition looked just like Delia. This jarred him. Since he’d met her by the side of the lake, she hadn’t returned, and he was starting to wonder whether she’d visited him at all. His eyes and mind fell heavy. The ghosts with their piercing eyes waltzed a slow diagonal in one direction and then the other, criss-crossing the corners of his skull until they fade from his sight. She might have turned to farewell him, her sundress swirling in the night, but he couldn’t be sure. Too much time alone; he must be losing it. When he looked up again, he saw what he had thought to be figures were worn down pylons – like those that once must have held up a jetty, and that the shapes of the pylons had warped with the lull of the lake into contours. He returned to his tent. The isolation of the landscape covered him in a blanket and he fell asleep.
About The Author
From Aotearoa New Zealand, Thalia Henry is the author of the novel Beneath Pale Water, her Masters of Creative Writing thesis and a work that comes out of a play, Powdered Milk. Inspired by the landscapes of the rugged South Island high country, where she spent time as a teenager learning to glide with her late father, Beneath Pale Water is her debut novel. Beneath Pale Water was awarded a gold award in the 2018 IPPY competition – Australia/New Zealand Best Regional Fiction category.
Welcome to TRB-Lounge. Today, I’d like to welcome author K.M. Mackmurdie, for sharing with us an excerpt from her latest release, a fascinating new urban fantasy, The Inheritants.
Read ahead to get a sneak-peek into this amazing new read!
ABOUT THE BOOK:
An urban fantasy like no other, The Inheritants delivers adventure and magic with a realistic, gritty twist. Meredith may have inherited her powers from the Gods, but she isn’t the only one….and she soon discovers that the other side fights dirty.
Meredith Earl is an Inheritant orphan with no one left to trust. Her lover Sloane is dead and his corpse missing – now Meredith must find out who took him, and why.
After the tragic death of her parents she vowed never to use her powers again, but to find Sloane Meredith must enter the shrouded world of the Inheritant Families once more, and rediscover who she really is.
Meredith embarks on a voyage rife with love, loss, sacrifice and despair to face an enemy more cruel and vengeful than she could have ever imagined.
What was left of Sloane was bathed in a feeble, flickering glow. The mulch that served as his head had tipped forward, revealing the debris of skull and brain that congealed on the wall behind him, maggots and porridge against bloodstains that appeared black in the gloom. The blood was still dripping, that night when Meredith knocked at the door, the pool seeping into the hallway being the first thing she had seen. A good girlfriend would have run straight in to face it. A good girlfriend would have had the first two nines dialled before she even discovered it was too late. Meredith was not a good girlfriend, and neither was she an optimist. She threw up right there on the threshold.
When she thought back now she cringed, because the fact was she had sat in that hallway, dry eyed and brain dead, tasting and smelling her own sick for almost an hour. Until the dripping had stopped and the blood that first appeared like clustered, winking rubies was now still and brown, like fatty stew.
She had braved the room eventually with no particular purpose. Something in her bones told her to stand, and so she did. Something somewhere told her legs to move, and her body followed. She had been unprepared by how the blood had stuck to her shoes. It was almost comical, the way each step was accompanied with the squelching sound usually found in tacky clubs and children’s play areas. At the time Meredith was disgusted with the thought. She knew now it was the shock. Still, the distaste persisted. The initial glimpse had been the worst, surprisingly, because there was so much to take in, yet in that moment the smell overtook the visual. Sloane’s bowels and fluids had mixed and spurted from his corpse, wafting a putrid scent of rotting meat and sickeningly sweet perfume to catch in her throat. She couldn’t breathe with the cold heaviness of it; it was as if she were being buried in it, the stench getting stronger and stronger, filling up the air she dragged in until even her oxygen tasted like rancid garbage during a heatwave. Meredith threw up again, right there on the doorway to the living room, as if she were playing hopscotch with her DNA.
The second look stopped her heart and released her tears.
All of him was drenched in crimson, a parody of a king draped in velvet. His legs were crossed under him, uncomfortable, though she supposed that was no longer a concern. The inane thoughts kept drifting and twisting through her head as she took in what she could see of his face, or what remained. It had caved inward, everything above his nose little more than a bridge. He no longer had a mouth or teeth. His jaw hung obscenely by two flaps of skin attached to his free-falling chin. Even under the weak glow of the lamp, Sloane was lit up like New Year’s Eve, alone but for the side table and light, a vulgar tableau.
Eventually, Meredith dialled the three nines but been unable to speak to the operator, so her call was marked low priority and she sat, just outside the circle of blood, for a further half an hour before the police showed up. She had spent forty-eight hours at the station while two greasy officers by the name of Greaves and Judd had worked her over. Meredith hadn’t asked for a lawyer, or even to leave. She hadn’t even said it wasn’t her. Two weeks later they told her the fingerprints had come back and, other than a partial on the front door, there was no sign of her prints anywhere else in the house. They told her she could speak to a grief counsellor. Meredith had hung up the phone. The smell had stayed with her for days. When she closed her eyes and thought of Sloane, it was still the first image to come to mind, no matter how hard she tried to forget it. She knew that would stay with her forever.
About the Author
K.M.Mackmurdie has always preferred fantasy lands to reality – and it only took her twenty five years to bring her daydreams to life.
Born and bred in Islington, London, she moved from place to place soaking up snatches of conversation and the body language between furrowed brows, before ending up in Hertfordshire, with a wonderful partner and two highly distracting cats. A local government dropout, K.M. Mackmurdie swapped politics for storytelling and published the first three instalments of her hotly anticipated Inheritant Saga in May 2018.
When not being a tortured artist, K.M. Mackmurdie can be found reading, (duh, right?), cooking up a masterpiece or making a fool of herself on the dancefloor.
Check out The Inheritants now on Amazon Kindle and Ingram Spark. K.M.Mackmurdie’s full debut novel is also available in print.
Welcome to TRB Lounge. Today, I’d like to welcome author Kevin Hollingsworth, for sharing with us the excerpt from his latest poetry collection Stellar.
Read ahead to get a sneak-peek into this soulful collection.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
“Stellar” is an interesting as well as compelling book of prose poetry that encompasses the wonderment of love. Further, stories of romance, love, and tragedy are told creatively through the eyes of 106 poems.
In “Stellar” one will have a chance to go on an odyssey of figurative language, and will also get a refreshing sense of the human condition; that we all need, and yearn for love.
In “Stellar” one will also have a unique opportunity to view emotionalism seemingly painted by the masters. However, these poetic words of distinction cannot fit on a canvas; but are to be read on paper, and enjoyed by you and your imagination…
“She was the most beautiful ocean. She was the most beautiful breeze. I looked up, and I saw her beauty design the sky.”…
From the poem Blessing In Disguise:
“As he fainted, he saw her from the corner of his eye. She was as pretty as the French language. Her song was like a dream he once knew”
About the Author
I have been a dreamer since I was born in N.Y.C. My dreams started September 20th, 1968. I moved to Los Angeles, California when I was very young. I received my education in Los Angeles, and joined the workforce a couple of years after graduating from college…
I did not start writing poetry until later in life. Friends and family really enjoyed the beautiful words I shared with them. So, I continued to write, and published my first prose poetry book, “Wonders,” in 2009. I published my second book of prose, “Romance with A Touch of Love” in 2011.
The dreams kept coming; and I continued to be inspired to write beautiful words. I am honored to share these beautiful words with the world in “Stellar.”
Welcome to TRB Lounge. Today, I’d like to welcome author Ashraf Haggag, for sharing with us the excerpt from his upcoming novel Legends Over Generations.
Read ahead to get a sneak-peek into this insightful new release.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
Since the beginning of human settlement, a lot of people came up with ideas, philosophies, beliefs, experiments, research, redesigning of thoughts, talents, and surveys to bring myths to reality.
People contributed to various life aspects science, politics, literature, arts, social activities and so many other fields. These genius minds put a keen interest in every phenomenon right from when they were young. The zeal, passion, dedication, hard work and efforts they put into their work helped them discover something new about the world we live in.
In these Legends, we’ve seen inexplicable abilities that helped us define our existence and human life. Their names are engraved in the sands of time for their work in the welfare of mankind with different inventions that have made our lives easy, enjoyable and successful. The following chapters commemorate the greatest personalities we’ve ever seen who changed the world.
They are among the most influential people of today’s world. With practical advantages in various aspects, they have helped us to grow a better understanding of the world and different working phenomenon’s that governs us. Their way of shaping modern day culture is completely unrivaled.
Greatest people are passionate about what they do.
Passion tops the list because “if you love what you’re doing, it will be so much easier to develop the other seven success traits. There are two types of people: strivers and seekers. Strivers know what they want to do early and can go for it from a young age, the majority of people, however, are seekers. They have to discover what they love.
There’s one easy question you can ask yourself to determine if you’ve found your passion: “Would you do it without being paid?” If the answer is yes, then you’ve likely found it.
Greatest people work hard while living
Hard work is necessary in any field, but it’s important to live while you work. There is no link between success and hours worked however Successful people aren’t workaholics; they’re “work frolics” because they perform and live normally their daily life.
Greatest people have a specific focus.
Focus is key. To be successful, it’s important to specialize in a certain area and build your expertise.
“Success means narrowing down and focusing on one thing, not being scattered all over the map,” St. John writes.
However there’s more to it than just picking a field and focusing on it. You should start out thinking wide and then narrow it down into one specific focus.
Greatest people push themselves out of their comfort zones.
Pushing yourself starts with getting out of your comfort zone. Greatest people push themselves through shyness, doubts, and fear.
There are seven specific ways helps to push yourself toward success:
A goal to push you.
A challenge to push you.
A deadline to push you.
Push yourself with self-discipline.
Get others to push you.
Get competition to push you.
Get a tormentor to push you and a mentor to support you.
5. Greatest people consistently come up with new ideas.
The key here is creativity. There are eight ways to come up with ideas and creativity
A problem to solve, because creative ideas come from everyday problems.
An observant: Eye-Q can be more important than IQ.
Listening Ears are antennas for ideas.
Asking questions leads to ideas.
Borrow an idea, and build it into a new idea.
Make connections: Take one thing and connect it to another.
Mistakes and failures lead to great ideas.
6. Greatest people are constantly getting better.
Someone who achieves great success is always improving, regardless the field.” Continuous improvement means getting good at something, then getting better, and then aiming to be the best. It’s important to focus on your strengths rather than your weaknesses. It’s fine to be bad at a lot of things as long as you’re really good at one thing.
Greatest people provide value to others.
Most people only care about how they can handle their problems. However if you shift your focus off yourself and put it onto the people you serve, you set yourself in a different category of others
Greatest people are persistent through failure.
There is no true overnight success. Persistence works hand-in-hand with patience. And it’s important to keep in mind that failure is unavoidable, whether it’s making mistakes or facing blatant rejection. How you deal with it can be the deciding factor.
“Failure can be heartbreaking, and when it happens you have a choice, “You can let it be your school or your funeral.”
Greatest people using failure as a stepping stone and building off it.
*The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong – Gandhi
*We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves –Dalai Lama
* It always seems impossible until it’s done –Nelson Mandela
*Silence is the ultimate weapon of power –Charles De Gaulle
*Never, never, never give up.-Winston Churchill
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Ashraf Haggag is a senior executive with nearly three decades of experience in close proximity to the corporate market. His more recent experience has also taken him to every facet of the hospitality industry.
Haggag has direct experience in many different aspects of business, including sales, marketing, revenue management, and administration. Having worked in Germany, the United States, Turkey, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, his global experiences have helped him realize that companies must target new market zones in order to grow and prosper in the international marketplace. He is eager to bring enhanced cross-cultural awareness to today’s business leaders.
Welcome to TRB Lounge. Today, I’d like to welcome author Justin Enos, for sharing with us the excerpt from his upcoming novel From Wrath To Ruin.
Read ahead to get a sneak-peek into this amazing new release.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
In exile from his homeland… As a mercenary, Tijodrin has wandered far and wide, and now his travels have brought him to the great city of Hohvenlor, a city he knows well. He quickly finds himself caught up in a fierce rivalry that threatens to destroy two powerful merchant families and turn the streets of Hohvenlor into a battlefield. Within the city walls, Tijodrin will find danger in many forms. Can he survive the endless plots of the vengeful merchants and the swords of their bloodthirsty henchmen, as well as the lurking daggers of the shadowy assassin’s guild?
In the fading light of the afternoon, Tijodrin strode further down the Street of Arches before turning east down a winding side lane and a series of short steps. Soon, the fine shops and dwellings were replaced with shabby tenements, squalid workhouses and storefronts with no name or sign to indicate what sort of shadowy business went on inside. The streets narrowed so much that two people could scarce fit between the buildings. Overhead, upper floors shouldered outward until they almost touched, blocking out most of what little daylight remained. Refuse of every description was littered about, and weeds sprouted up amid paving stones that were uneven, cracked, or missing altogether.
This was the Warrens, the most disreputable area in Hohvenlor. A haven for thieves, cutthroats, and a host of other criminals. Hooded eyes watched Tijodrin from doorways and windows – footpads sizing up a potential victim and whores sizing up a potential customer. Tijodrin returned their stares with bold ferocity. The footpads retreated into the shadows to await easier prey, while the whores responded with lewd suggestions and flashes of pale flesh.
Eventually, he came to a small open space that could only very generously be called a square. It was an area of dirt and patchy brown grass with bits of rotted wood, broken masonry and other debris strewn about. The middle of the square was currently occupied by the prone figures of two men, whether dead or merely passed out Tijodrin could not tell. Four buildings surrounded the area, and a more ramshackle collection of structures could hardly be imagined. A tenement that looked abandoned and in danger of falling in on itself, a dank bawdy house with rusty iron bars over its lone window, and two taverns as decrepit as any he had ever seen. It was to the tavern on the left that Tijodrin turned his attention.
The Withered Man occupied the whole of a single-story building that leaned drunkenly against the larger building behind it. Thrown together with roughhewn timbers, it’s few windows were all heavily shuttered and its door was a patchwork of several pieces of mismatched wood. The rag-draped skeleton on the crooked sign out front was desperately in need of a fresh painting. Scowling, Tijodrin strode across the square to the tavern and pushed through the flimsy door.
If the outside was a wreck, the inside was even worse. Candles burned weakly in wall lanterns and on some tabletops, while the sunlight barely peeked through the shuttered windows. The fireplace in the corner had partially collapsed and was now only useful as a resting place for a mangy brown dog. The bar was nothing more than a sagging plank of pine laid across some empty ale barrels. A short, bald man stood behind it, staring suspiciously at Tijodrin.
The air was thick with the acrid smell of skral, the cheap narcotic so popular here in the northern lands. Half a dozen men sat at the battered tables scattered around the room, puffing on large pipes of the stuff, each in varying states of oblivion. Tijodrin wrinkled his nose in disgust as the clouds of skral were not quite enough to mask the odor of stale beer and unwashed bodies. The man that he was looking for was easy to spot as he had been unflatteringly, and thus accurately, described.
Obrik sat at the least worn of the tables, one cluttered with half empty plates and several wrapped blocks of skral. He was a corpulent man with a double chin drooping over the collar of his tunic, a tunic that had once been fine but was now stained with wine and sweat. He was chewing noisily on something, and his greasy beard held the crumbs of at least one meal. A scrawny girl wearing a thin cotton shift was slumped against Obrik’s shoulder. Tijodrin could not help but notice the collection of bruises that covered her arms.
Standing on either side of the table were two huge men in loose trousers and leather jerkins. Short stabbing swords and thick, curved daggers hung from their belts. Seeing Tijodrin’s gaze fall upon their master, the heavily muscled giants uncrossed their arms, their hands falling to sword hilts. One of them lumbered around to stand in front of the table. Tijodrin withdrew the leather wallet and stepped purposefully toward the table.
“Letters from Harnir of Skoden,” he announced over the giant’s shoulder.
The hulking bodyguard turned his head in Obrik’s direction, and the fat man responded with a grunt.
The bodyguard shifted to one side, just enough to allow Tijodrin to get past. Placing the bulging wallet on the table, he pretended not to notice the bodyguard taking up position directly behind him. Obrik glared up at him through bleary eyes as if Tijodrin had interrupted something more important than another unneeded meal. Belching loudly, he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
“An islander,” he muttered, easing his bulk forward and resting his elbows on the table.
Next to him, the girl stirred from her slumber and gave Tijodrin a yellow-toothed smile. She could not have been more than twelve or thirteen.
“Didn’t think they let your kind wander out of the guildhall.” Obrik’s sneering tone implied a strong support for that particular restriction.
Tijodrin said nothing, only regarded Obrik impassively.
Opening the wallet and removing the letters, Obrik jabbed his finger at the empty chair opposite him.
“I’ll stand,” Tijodrin said flatly. He did not wish to spend any more time in this man’s presence than was necessary.
Obrik’s eyes narrowed, but he shrugged and started sifting through the letters, carefully checking the wax seals on each of them.
“You know Harnir well?” He asked, tapping a dirty fingernail on the parchments. “Well enough.”
What Tijodrin knew was that Harnir was a minor merchant who traded in information as much as in goods. He was also a smuggler, a fence, and possibly, even a spy. As unsavory as he was, Harnir had a certain amount of honor, of decency. The same could not be said of this foul person in front of him.
“Everything seems to be in order,” Obrik muttered again, sounding almost disappointed.
He tucked the letters back in the wallet and slipped it inside his filthy tunic.
“I am surprised Harnir would trust an islander. I have always heard that your ilk are dishonest.”
“Perhaps you have also heard that we do not take kindly to insults,” Tijodrin replied, his eyes growing cold. The warning in those eyes went unheeded.
Obrik said something in a dialect that Tijodrin did not understand, but by the way the girl and the two bodyguards laughed, it was clearly crude and at his expense. Tijodrin gave the fat man a small smile, though it was anything but friendly. It was a smile that promised malice.
Slowly, and with obvious reluctance, Obrik withdrew a small handful of silver coins from his belt pouch and slapped them on the table. Tijodrin scooped them up and placed them in his own pouch.
“Care to spend any of that now?” Obrik leered, jerking his thumb at the skinny girl.
She rewarded Tijodrin with another wan smile and pushed a few loose strands of tangled hair out of her eyes. Making no attempt to hide the expression of contempt and revulsion on his face, Tijodrin started to turn away from the table. A hand like a slab of granite came down on his shoulder, holding him firmly in place.
“I did not dismiss you,” Obrik growled.
“I do not require permission from the likes of you.”
“Arrogant cur! You would be wise not to disrespect me in my place of business!” “Were I you, I would not be so quick to claim this cesspit.”
As Obrik’s face darkened in anger, Tijodrin sensed a surge of movement from behind him. He hunched his body forward so that the fist intended for the back of his skull found only air. Grabbing the edge of the table with both hands, Tijodrin shoved it into Obrik’s ample chest. Then he swept up the chair and turned to swing it at the bodyguard behind him.
The chair was poorly made, shattering against the man’s body and doing nothing more than momentarily stunning him. Tijodrin was on the man as quick as a panther. He unleashed a pair of punches to the bodyguard’s stomach that had him doubling over. As the man’s head came down, Tijodrin’s knee came up, cracking the bodyguard’s jaw like an eggshell.
Pushing the collapsing guard away from him, Tijodrin moved to face the second guard. The giant had drawn his short sword and was advancing on Tijodrin with loud curses. Tijodrin brushed aside the sword with his sleeve shield, then drove the heel of his hand into the bodyguard’s nose, crushing it in a spurt of red. A heavy clout from the sleeve shield smashed against the bodyguard’s head, knocking him to the floor. Meanwhile, Obrik had pushed the table away and was shouting for aid. From one of the tavern’s back rooms came the hurried thumping of booted feet. With a swift kick, Tijodrin sent the table smashing into Obrik’s body again, then turned to face the new threat.
Three more men burst into the room, their steel already bared. Tijodrin’s sword hissed ominously out of its scabbard as the men charged him in a mad rush. He knocked aside the first blade, letting the attacker’s haste carry him past.
Ducking under the swing of the second man, Tijodrin lunged forward, his blade sliding easily between the man’s ribs and plunging out of his back in a gout of blood. In one fluid motion, Tijodrin pulled his sword free and spun to catch the descending blow of the third swordsman.
With a deft flick of his wrist, he sent his opponent’s weapon clattering to the floor. Before the man could react, Tijodrin’s sword was chopping clear through his forearm. Screaming in pain, the man stumbled back against the wall, spewing crimson.
The first swordsman came after Tijodrin again, swinging his weapon hesitantly. Dodging to the side, Tijodrin brought his sword flashing down to slice through the back of the man’s ankle. He dropped his sword and fell shrieking to the floor, his bloody foot flopping uselessly. Tijodrin silenced him with a hard crack to the side of the head with the flat of his blade.
The two huge bodyguards were now beginning to recover their wits, and their feet. The first wobbled upright, groaning and clutching at his shattered jaw. Tijodrin sent him back to the floor with a brutal kick that cracked his kneecap. A second kick cracked at least one rib. The other giant flailed wildly at Tijodrin with his short sword, his face a mask of blood. Tijodrin lunged swiftly at him, his sword piercing the man’s shoulder. Another clout to the bodyguard’s head with the sleeve shield tumbled him down onto his comrade.
Springing over the fallen pair, Tijodrin brought his sword whistling down in a two-handed blow that hacked Obrik’s table in half. Kicking aside the broken halves, he placed the tip of his sword under Obrik’s bulging chin. Rage and fear battled in the man’s eyes as his henchmen’s blood trickled down the length of the blade to stain his throat.
Beside him, the girl was curled up in a ball, whimpering softly. The barman and the other patrons were cowering out of sight, while the mongrel in the ruined fireplace slept on. There were no further sounds of reinforcements, only the painful moans of the wounded and the dying.
“Our business here is concluded,” Tijodrin said in a low, menacing voice. “I want no further trouble from you or I will return and burn down this fetid hovel with you still inside.”
Slowly and deliberately, Tijodrin wiped his sword across the shoulder of Obrik’s tunic, removing the remaining blood from the blade. With one last withering look around, he carefully backed toward the door, not sheathing his sword until he was outside the tavern.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Growing up in a military family, Justin Enos was lucky enough to get to see a lot of the world as a child. Born in Thailand, he subsequently lived in Kentucky, Maryland, Vermont, California, Germany and Virginia. He hasn’t stopped moving around as an adult either, calling Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Thailand again, and now Portland, Oregon home.
Justin began devouring books at a young age and his interest in writing followed soon after. Never much of a student, he could at least count on his creative writing abilities to gain him some top marks. Fantasy novels were his main love as a teenager and that led to what has now become a long-term interest in fantasy writing. After publishing a couple of short stories in fantasy magazines that no one has ever heard of, he buckled down and began working on his first novel.
“From Wrath To Ruin” is the first in what will eventually be an ongoing series of books. Inspired in part by the Conan novels written by both Robert E. Howard and Robert Jordan, each of Justin’s books will be stand alone stories.
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