Due to circumstances beyond Mr. Anderson’s control, we have experienced a delay in our Weekly Samplers. However, we’re back on track for our weekly updates. Normal operations shall now resume. Enjoy!
– The Management
[DISCLAIMER: This sample contains Jean Archer #1 spoilers!]
(Weekly Sample #9 – 1/29/18)
Jean Archer Quartet #1.5: Sticks & Stones
The day was overcast, the sky a heavy gray that looked ready to douse Grantham, England’s streets with rain on the day she found the book. It rested unnoticed in a stack of ancient leather bound and hardback tomes, tucked away in a nowhere book exchange called Tabitha’s. Monique had been searching for something interesting to read when the back of her fingers brushed across its worn cover and an electrical charge surged up her hand to radiate instantly through her whole body. She shivered, then moved the upper part of the stack and uncovered the book itself. The rough, much abused, brown leather cover didn’t have a title stamped on it, or on the book’s spine, which she found curious. She had expected some sort of embossing or impression in the leather, based on how aged it looked; after picking it up and looking over its exterior, she finally had to open it. The first few pages were blank…old…aged to the color of yellowed parchment. Feeling a little deflated, the teenage girl continued to turn the brittle pages and finally exposed one with curious, black writing in the center.
Scripted in a foreign tongue, she couldn’t read the title, but she found the flowing, ancient calligraphy intriguing. And her fingers seemed to tingle where she touched it. After a few minutes of holding the grimoire, she decided not only did she have to have it, but the book wanted her to take it with her.
The possibility of other discoveries layed aside, she stood and hugged the book to her chest; she could feel the tingle anywhere the book touched her skin. She crossed to the counter, a wood slab so old it had darkened from use, and so worn that a pale spot appeared where store clerks of years past had stacked customer’s items for purchase.
“Is that all for you today, miss?” the heavy, sweating man with the waxy beard and matted black hair asked her in a thick British accent.
Nodding, Monique set the book on the counter for the clerk to inspect and ring up on the computer register. Probably the only modern device in the entire place, she decided as she waited.
The clerk put his hand out to pick up the book, then jumped as a static charge bit his fingers with an audible snap! Looking between the book and the astonished young woman, he waved the book toward her. “Take it, take it,” he stammared, the look in his eyes one of intense discomfort.
Confused now, Monique reached out and pulled her treasure toward her. I will never understand these people, she decided as she scooped up the book and left at a slow, steady pace.
Monique Morris didn’t see the haunted look on the face of the clerk as he watched her leave the shop. The tinkle of the bell as the door opened and closed didn’t do anything to lighten the heaviness that had begun filling the small shop the moment Monique had uncovered the ancient book.
The book became the reason for her existence, now, the only thing that mattered. It told her of the energy of the Void, of is the radiant darkness in a sea of light. All the things that mattered before…school, family, home life, love, lust, sex…everything that once held any meaning for her – from the innocense of childhood to the ignorance of a young adult – now paled in the seductive knowledge the book to impart.
Jean Archer stood in the front yard of the Holiday House…so named for her adopted father’s fascination with decorating the large home in full regalia of whatever holiday happened to come around that month. Today, however, it looked less a celebration of red, white and blue than a memorial of a war-scarred land.
Three days had passed since the Archers emerged from their basement emergency shelter below the house, into the chaos and mayhem of Shadow Valley in crisis.
At the height of the disastrous storm, golf-ball size burning chunks of rock raining from the sky had caused dozens of fires. Most had been extinguished, but over the rooftops across her wide street, she could still see the pale gray pillars of smoke from the lingering fires Shadow Valley Fire Department battled to contain.
The Holiday House – much like the homes nearby – had fared fairly well, since their suburb was located on the opposite end of the valley from the epicenter of the destruction. Shattered windows, missing roof shingles, torn up landscaping, all superficial, with the exception of two houses further down their street. They suffered from flood damage due to the burst water mains.
Jean turned her gaze from the distant towers of smoke to the two cars in their wide driveway. Britt’s beat up muscle car, a 1971 Challenger, took center stage for the moment as the family’s primary vehicle. He had left it with permission for Jean to drive, while serving in the military overseas, with the one proviso that she take care of it.
On the far side of the Challenger sat a mound beneath a pale green tarp.
As she walked over to the rear end of Britt’s car, she heard a honking behind her that she could only describe as “cheerful”. She paused to look back, already sure of what she’d find.
Rolling up the broken asphalt, trying to stay out of the multiple potholes and a large trench of collapsed road surface to the her right, Rena Hepworth gradually slowed her sky blue Mazda Miata to turn into the Archer’s drive.
Smiling, her green eyes dancing, Jean walked around to where her best friend climbed out of her treasured car, gently closing the door behind her.
“Hey, Rah-Rah,” Jean greeted Serena, using the girl’s group nickname.
“Hi, sweetie,” Rena said and the two girls exchanged a quick hug.
Glancing between Rena and the empty car, Jean said, “Where’s Chad? I thought you and him were spending the day together.”
A shadow of doubt crossed Rena’s pretty face.
“His parents decided they needed him home to help with some repairs to their home network.”
Hmmm…I hope everything’s okay, Jean thought. Aloud, she said, “That makes sense. He’s the tech guru, after all.”
“Anyway, what’cha doin’?” Rena said, instantly bubbly again.
Jean motioned for the blond to follow her as she walked over to the large mass covered in pale green.
“What’s this?” Rena asked, standing beside her.
Scowling, Jean took hold of the tarp with both hands and pulled heartily. It slid toward them, then off to their left. Beneath it, rested Devon Archer’s charcoal black Cadillac CTS-V.
Wincing, Rena said, “Yikes.”
With a nod, Jean said, “Yep, Dad’s pride and joy…or what’s left of it.”
The deep charcoal gray, luxury sport wagon had rested beneath the tarp for the last two days, since her father had been able to arrange to get it brought home from the county fairgrounds. It had taken longer than expected to arrange a tow, due to the extensive damage the entire area had experienced over the last several days.
“Is that from the Fair?” Rena asked, reaching out to touch the ragged edge where a five-foot sphere of ball-lightning had hit and vaporized the entire rear of the automobile. From the area where the back seats had once been and forward, the Cadillac remained in immaculate condition. Everything from there back was just gone. Without a rear axle, the car rested on the seared edge of the floorpan.
Pulling her hand back as if it still felt hot from the storm damage days earlier, Rena asked, “Is he gonna be able to fix it?”
Her wavy red hair bounced slightly as Jean laughed, then stopped when she realized Rena wasn’t kidding. “Oh, um…I don’t know. He may have to just replace it. They don’t make them anymore.”
“Maybe he can get a used one?”
Smiling at her good friend, Jean shrugs. “Maybe.” She nodded to the Challenger. “In the meantime, Britt’s beast has become Dad’s daily driver.”
Glancing between the Cadillac and the muscle car, Rena almost commented twice, then finally responded with, “Huh.”
The girls replaced the car cover in silence, then Jean put an arm around the blond’s shoulders and steered her toward the weather-damaged front yard. Once sculpted landscaping now lay strewn across the wide grass. The stone front walk had cracked apart at the seams, like an upset jigsaw puzzle, leaving jagged seams where smooth ones had been only days ago. The years of care and nurturing Jean’s mother, Elise, had spent with her fingers in the soil, undone in a sliver of that time.
Interestingly, the Holiday House had weathered the last few days of meteorological upheaval better than others on the street.
But it wasn’t all destruction and mayhem. A quick look up and down the street revealed rebuilding in progress. Two houses up, the Reynolds had hired one of the local contractors to fix and re-sod their entire front yard. Two of their three massive oak trees had to be hauled away after being completely uprooted.
At the bottom of the street, a county construction team had made strong headway fixing a ruptured sewer main. The rotten stench was mostly gone, now, carried away by the mountain breezes that still struggled to clear the smoke and airborne debris from above.
“Have you talked to the girls since…” Rena suddenly stopped, a look of alarm on her face. “Oh, Jean! I’m sorry.”
Jean smiled, hoping that the fist she felt tighten around her heart didn’t show as strain on her face. “It’s Ok, Rah-Rah,” she said and put her arm around her friend to give her a hug. “No, I probably won’t see them until the service tomorrow.”
“Me, either. I’ve thought about going over there a couple times, but just couldn’t,” Rena said.
Jean could hear the pain in Rena’s voice. They were only two of more than a handful of people mourning the loss of Cristoff Rainn, a key member of their very tight circle of friends, the Paranormal and Supernatural Society, or P.A.S.S., for short. He had died less than a week ago and the horror of his death still loomed heavy over everyone close to him.
She tried not to be selfish, tried to put other people’s feelings before her own, but Jean constantly fought back the dark memories of Toff bleeding out in her arms. The sensation of his body growing limp and cold in her grasp haunted her dreams, the touch of his lips on hers only a few days before, as they shared their first–and only–kiss.
Shaking her head mentally to clear her thoughts, Jean said, “Come on, I’ve got a few different hair styles I want you to look at for tomorrow. I’d like to try something new, but I don’t want it to be inappropriate for the occasion.”
“You got it, Bosslady” Rena said, smiling when she used Jean’s P.A.S.S. nickname.
Jean let herself laugh, something she’d been making a conscious effort to do frequently the last few days, and lead Rena up the shifty front steps and into the house.
Monique carefully pressed the glue tip to the inside edge of the gift wrap paper, laying down a thin, white trail of glue along the outside edge. Then, after setting the Elmer’s Glue bottle aside, she carefully flattened out the thin trail of glue, then wiped the excess on a nearby hand towel. Once the glue had dried and she’d wrapped the grimoire in the blue flower patterned cover, it wouldn’t look any different than the other textbooks on her shelf. Only she would know it was special.
Ready for a break, Monique left her hobby room, careful not to get partially-dried blue on the doorknob. She trekked through the large garage, then through the main floor of the house.
As she passed the pantry room, she could hear her mother bumping around, rearranging it, which she did whenever she felt stressed. As a result, the pantry was the most organized room in the house.
“Monique, sweetie,” Mrs. Morris called, without peeking out of the pantry. “Please ask your father if he stopped at the store, like I asked.”
The girl hummed a non-committal response and instead of going upstairs to the bedrooms floor, she headed down the main floor hallway, honing in on the sound of the local news playing in the family’s great room.
Monique fiddled with the glue residue on her hands as she walked down the stairs to the home’s massive entertainment room. The thick gray pile carpet absorbed her steps, despite the bounce in her stride.
She noticed her father sprawled out on the tan sofa sectional, his attention glued to the sixty-inch video screen on the opposite wall. Slowing, she wandered over to the sofa; rather than sitting, she stood beside her father, who pointedly did not acknowledge her. After nearly a minute of picking at the drying glue on her hands, she stamped her foot in frustration, which even in tennis shoes, made nearly no sound.
His jaw clenching, Monique’s father rolled his eyes, then slowly looked over and up at her.
“What?” he demanded, no warmth in his voice.
Bristling, Monique snapped, “Well! If you’re gonna be rude!” and turned back to the stairs.
It was all an act, and her father knew it.
Exasperated, he said, “I’m watching the news, Monique. What is it?”
With a smile as sweet as the most delicious poison, Monique pivoted back to him and said, “Mom said to ask you if you stopped at the store on your way home.”
Frowning, he replied, “I told her–” then he leaned past her so that he was yelling up the staircase. “I told you I wasn’t going to stop at the store before coming home!”
“And I told you tough shit, that I need you to stop and get my diet cola!”
Grumbling to himself, he rested back on the sofa cushions.
The only thing that Monique heard was something resembling, “–drink diet everything it still wouldn’t help your fat ass–”
Monique smirked as her father cranked up the volume on the news report. The somber, cookie-cutter newscaster’s words drew her attention to the screen.
“–funeral is being held for Cristoff Rainn, the only son of Randall Rainn. Direct descendants of one of Shadow Valley’s first families, the Rainns…”
“What?” Monique asked. “When did that happen?”
His frown deepening, Mr. Morris replied, “While we were on holiday. Something to do with all this mess around town.”
“I knew there was some dead people, but I didn’t know Prick-toff Rainn was one of them!”
“Wait, weren’t you in gymnastics with the Rainn girls when you were little?”
Monique’s jaw clenched and she said, “Yeah, that was before they started hanging out with that ho-bag Archer. I can’t stand that bitch. Gawd, Daddy!” she whined, effecting a Southern Belle lilt she didn’t have. “I can’t believe I missed all the excitement! Leave it to you and the were-bitch to come home from vacation a day late and a dollar short!”
Monique’s father turned a barely tolerant frowned at his daughter, then said, “Anything else, Moni?”
The girl clenched her jaw at his use of her life-long pet name. As a child, she loved pretending that it actually sounded like the word “money”, but once she’d hit her teens, it began to grate on her. A fact her parents were well aware of, now they only used it to irritate her.
Without responding, Monique turned and headed back upstairs.
“Shut the stairs door behind you!” Mr. Morris yelled as she disappeared up the stairway.
Her only response was the resounding slam! that rattled the pristine family photos in their heavy frames.
After two hours of experimenting with an assortment of hair styles, trying to pair specific colors of clothing to her red hair to achieve a conservative look, Jean sat alone in her attic bedroom. Rena had been called away to help with a family matter, leaving Jean to struggle on alone.
She now sat on a footstool beside her bed. With her back to the bedroom’s only window, the breeze it let in sent a mild chill up and down her back. But she couldn’t honestly say that the shivers were from the breeze. On her bed, laid out on the rough blanket she wrapped it in to protect it when hidden at the back of her large closet, lay a sword. Polished steel made up the blade, burnished steel the hand guard. The leather wrapping the hilt had a dark patina, stained a rich brown from many years of use.
She had certainly seen flashier, gaudier examples of the sword crafter’s art, but this blade’s beautiful simplicity belied its recent history. Several days ago, the polished silver had glowed a bright red, surging brighter each time it cut down a Hellion obstructing the path to rescuing her family and friends.
“It’s a captivating blade,” a woman’s voice said from off to Jean’s right, near the back corner of the room.
A smile quirked Jean’s lips and she made a point of not glancing over.
“Sometimes, it all feels like a dream,” she said, “well, more like a nightmare.”
“Is that why I find you as you are, now?” the woman asked.
“Yeah, I take it out sometimes to remind myself that I didn’t dream it all up,” Jean replied, then looked over her shoulder at the tall woman behind her. “Hello, Guardian.”
Standing in the corner shadow, one hand resting on the pommel of her own sheathed sword, the woman in battle leathers, augmented with polished armor, returned Jean’s smile.
“Hello, Chosen,” the woman said.
Jean turned her attention back to the sword laying on the bed before her.
“Sometimes, I wonder if I’m even worthy to carry it,” she said. “If being a Chosen is even what I want.”
The Guardian Angel stepped out of the shadows to flank Jean. “That’s not a choice you can make, Jean,” she said, her voice a touch softer than usual.
Jean looked up at her. “I know, Valera. It’s just nerves, I guess.”
“What brings you to the mortal realm, today?” Jean asked, a teasing glint in her eye.
Valera glanced skyward, an obvious attempt at tolerance, before replying, “As your Guardian, I can be made aware of your circumstances at any time.”
Without meaning to, Jean suddenly blushed a bright crimson.
“Within reason,” Valera added dryly, shaking her head a touch. “I know that your friend is being laid to rest tomorrow and when I sensed the sword had been uncovered, I decided to see how you are doing.”
Jean scowled. It still felt weird to have a Guardian Angel, let alone one as attentive as Valera. This wasn’t the first time the woman had appeared in the last few days. Typically, it had happened at a time when Jean felt the most distraught, or lost, either emotionally or mentally.
The death of Toff had hit everyone hard, of that Jean held no doubt. She suspected Valera knew the depth of their group’s loss, even without knowing the young man very well. At times, Jean had found herself nearly overcome with grief, particularly as she slept. Twice, she’d awakened to find Valera standing vigil at the foot of her bed, prepared to act if anything from the Abyss or Great Void made an attempt to reach her. Nothing had, yet, but Jean knew it wasn’t a matter of if, but would she be alone when it did.
Nightmares plagued her sleeping hours again, despite the medication her doctor had given her meant to let her rest without dreaming. On those nights when it did work, she still woke with such a feeling of loss inside it physically made her chest hurt. She had come to the conclusion, going through what she was experiencing now, that the phrase “die of a broken heart” could be taken literally, not just figuratively.
“Jean?” Valera’s voice broke her from her reverie.
Forcing a smile, Jean wrapped the sword in the heavy cloth, saying, “I’m ok. Good days and bad.” Tucking the top and bottom of the blanket carefully, she then carried it to her closet and returned it to the spot concealing it in the far back corner. When she stood and turned, she found the taller woman’s piercing gaze on her. “Mostly good,” she added.
Valera watched her for a moment, then nodded.
After several seconds of silence passed, Jean blinked and Valera had gone, empty space where she stood moments before – no parting words necessary. Jean knew that if a dire situation cropped up in which she needed the Guardian’s protection, Valera would be there. They shared a bond stronger than mere words could express.
Monique sat at the small table in her hobby room. Though not large, it still felt steeped in shadow with the only illumination coming from two white candles in front of her. Between the candles sat the family’s twenty-gallon fish tank. With several small fish and one rainbow-colored Beta fish hiding in the tank’s fake greenery, the fish were one of the few things that both of Monique’s parents shared an enthusiasm for. Not so, Monique. She liked the fish, until her mother decided to add her daughter’s goldfish to the tank, claiming that having two tanks on the same great room shelf was an inefficient use of space. Monique’s golden didn’t last a day before only the bones remained, with the Beta looking slightly fatter.
Leaning in to glare at the rainbow fish, Monique said, “Your time has come.”
Sitting back allowed her to see the grimoire open on the table between herself and the tank. Written in unusual symbols and glyphs, it had taken her a while to work out this simplest of incantations. Even now, she felt she wouldn’t have made it this far without the book wanting her to use it.
Closing her eyes to center herself, Monique then opened them, glanced down at the lined page by her right hand, and began chanting the words she’d transcribed onto the paper. They weren’t words she understood and in some cases, she found them difficult to pronounce, but as she repeatedly chanted the foreign words, they began to feel more natural on her tongue.
With no accurate idea of how long it would take to see any results from her efforts, Monique was surprised that after only a few times through the chant, the fish in the tank began to swim frantically. The frequency of the bubbles from the aeration tube increased, as well. With her pulse quickening, she added more sincerity behind the mantra and within a couple of minutes, first one, then another, then soon all of the fish were floating at the top of the tank. She watched in satisfaction as the Beta took its last breath, then went still among the churning water.
Leaning in to get a closer look at the dead fish, she whispered, “Gotcha!”, a glint of success in her eyes.
“SoulChaser #2: Heaven’s Eyes”
Now available in trade paperback!
SoulChaser, Earthbound #2: Heaven’s Eyes (trade paperback) – $15.00
SoulChaser, Earthbound #2: Heaven’s Eyes (Hardback) – $24.00
You can order the other books in both the “SoulChaser Universe” and “Starriders Saga” below:
Jean Archer #1: The Diamond and the Rough (paperback) – $12.00
Jean Archer #1.5: Sticks & Stones (ebook single) – $.99
SoulChaser: Earthbound (paperback) – $14.00
Starriders #1: The Eagle’s Talon (paperback) – $7.95
Starriders #2: Rebels Without A Clue (paperback) – $9.95