First Chapter Reveal: I, Walter by Mike Hartner

I, WalterTitle: I, Walter
Author: Mike Hartner
Publisher: Eternity 4 Popsicle Publishing
Pages: 224
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0973356154
ISBN-13: 978-0973356151

Purchase at AMAZON

This is the life story of Walter Crofter, an English commoner who ran from home at the age of 11.  After two years living on the street, he ended up on a Merchant Mariners boat in the service of the Crown.

On his first voyage, he rescued a girl from pirates.  A very important girl, who stole his heart before she was returned to her home.

This is the story of his life.  What adventures he had at sea; what took him off the waters, and what happened to him as he lived his life and stayed true to his character.

First Chapter:

“I, Walter Crofter, being of sound mind….”  Bah, this is garbage!  I tossed my quill on the parchment sitting in front of me.  People may question my sanity, but they should hear the whole story before judging me.  I’m sitting here, now, at the age of 67, trying to write this down and figure out how to tell everything.  I don’t know if I’ll ever get it right, though.  Too many secrets to go around.  However, this is my last chance     to offer the truth before I die.  The doctors say it’s malaria, yet I’ll be fine.  Perhaps.     But if the malaria doesn’t kill me, my guilt indeed will.  Maybe if people know the facts surrounding my life, everyone will have a better understanding.

I dipped the tip in the inkwell again, and wrote:

I was born September 2, 1588, and named Walter.  I didn’t belong in this Crofter family, who were storekeepers in London and not farmers as our surname might indicate to those who study this sort of thing.  My parents were courteous and even obsequious to our patrons.  Yet they received little or no respect.  The ladies came to us to buy their groceries or the fabric for their dresses, but as seemly as they comported themselves, and some even called my father ‘friend,’ it was not out of regard for him.  I was forced to run.  Well, “forced” might put too harsh a point on it, like that of a sword, but others can judge for themselves.

By the time I reached the age of 12, I’d found another family that was more     “me”.  They weren’t rich, but they were comfortable.  The parents had several children, including a girl my age who was named Anna.  Within two years, we had come to know each other quite well, and were getting to know each other even better.  Her father caught us getting too close to knowing each other better yet, and showed up at my parents’ house with a musket in his hand, telling them if I ever came near his daughter again, he’d use    it on me–and then on them.

I paused to dip the pen and wipe my brow.  Even though I was wearing a light cotton shirt, it was bloody hot in early August in Cadaques.  My wife, Maria, entered    the room and looked at my perspiring face and what I had just written.  Between fits of laughter, she smiled at me with wide lips and said, “You can’t possibly write this.  You’re not the only boy a doting father ever had to chase away.  Nobody cares about this sort of thing.”

“It will at least give a pulse to this writing,” I replied.  “It’s too boring to say          that I left because I was mismatched with my own family, so much so that I was positive someone had switched me at birth.  Or that I thought I was ready for more in life than what I could find at home.  Nobody would read that, not even me.”

“I agree, so tell the story that really means something.  All of it.”  She sighed softly and placed the parchment she had been reading on the desk in front of me and kissed my cheek.  The gleam in her eyes shed 20 years off her age and reminded me of    a much gentler time.  God, how much I love her.

I said, “Before I met you, I spent my life like a square peg trying to fit in a round hole.  I’m just trying to make my story more interesting.”

“I’ve heard the accounts of your life before you met me.  Or I should say found me.  It was anything but boring.  So, if you insist on including in the story lines like those you just wrote, make sure they’re the only ones.  If you don’t, I’ll consider adding my own material.”  She winked.  “You know I’ve had good sources.”

She turned and walked away, laughing loudly as I called after her, “Yes, dear.”

I dipped the quill and put it to parchment again.

In my earliest days, I remember my father, Geoff, being a bit forceful with other people.  I also recall my brother Gerald, nearly five years my senior, and myself being happy.  Or at least as contented as two boys could be who were growing up in the late 1500s in England, and working every day since their seventh birthdays.  It was a time when boys were earning coin as soon as they could lift or carry things.  The money   could never be for themselves, however, but for the parents to help pay the bills.

Father lived as a crofter should.  He was an upright man and sold vegetables off   a cart like his grandfather did, and he also dabbled in selling fine fabric for the ladies of status.

One afternoon, when I was eight years old, my brother came home and got into a heated debate with my father about something.  When I ran to see what was the matter, they hushed around me, so I never got the full gist of the argument.  But whatever it was about, it was serious, and the bickering continued behind my back for five straight days.  When I awoke on the morning of the sixth day, Gerald was no longer at home.  And he never came back.

Soon afterwards, my father lost enthusiasm for his business and became generally passive.  I assumed this was because of Gerald’s leaving, and only on occasion would I see flashes of my dad’s former self.

At the start of my tenth year, our family moved closer to London.  We rented    the bottom floor of a three-story building in which several families lived in the upper floors.  My father said we relocated because he needed to be closer to more business opportunities.  But my mom didn’t believe he’d made the right decision, since he was  now selling food out of a cart and not inside a storefront.  One night, she greeted him at the door when he came home.  She was wearing a frown and a dress that had seen better days.

“Did you bring in any decent money?” she asked him before he had time to take off his coat.

“I told you, it will take some time.  It’s not easy to make good money these days.”

“Especially when you let the ladies walk all over you.”

“I know, I know.  But what am I to do when they aren’t running up to me to buy what I’m selling?”

“You at least bring home some food for us?”  My father had carried in a bag under his arm.

“It’s not much, a few carrots and some celery.”  He handed her the bag.

“What about meat?”

“We’re not ready for meat yet.”

“That’s true enough,” my mother said.  “But you should at least try to feed your family.  Walter’s growing, and so are our other children.”

“Leave me be, woman.  I’m doing the best I can for now.”  He sat in his chair, leaned his head against the wall, and fell asleep.

That same debate played out between my parents for the next two years.  Except for the summer months, when food was plentiful; then the arguments subsided.  But for the rest of the year, especially during the winter, the same discussions about money continued on a daily basis, and they were often quite heated.  I lost two younger siblings during those two years.  One during my tenth winter and the other during my eleventh winter.  Neither of the children was older than six months.  I always suspected hunger    as the primary cause of their deaths.

Just before my twelfth birthday, my father started taking me with him when he went to work.  My closest living sibling was nearly six and not feeling well most of the time, and the family needed the money I could bring in by helping my father, who was bland and wishy-washy, particularly when selling fabrics.  I had no idea what he was like before, but in my mind his lethargy explained why our family was barely making ends meet.  Our lives had become much harder since Gerald left, and part of me blamed him.  I’m going to thrash him if I ever see him again and teach him a lesson about family responsibility.

It took me less than a week to realize that the people my father was dealing with, as with those in Bristol, had no respect for him.  They regularly talked down to him.  Rather than asking the price, they regularly paid what they wanted to pay. And he took it without a quibble.  And when he tried to curry favor, he would never get it.  His customers looked upon him as a whipping board, at least that’s how it seemed to me.

I remember when we got home in the dark after a long day of work in late November, and my mother started in on Dad.

“Well?  Have you got the money for me to buy food tomorrow?”

“A little.  Here.”  He fished a guinea from his pocket.

“A guinea?  That’s it?  That won’t feed us for a day.  You’ve got to start working harder.  With what you earn and what I bring in sewing clothes, we can barely pay the rent, and there is nothing left over to heat this place.  And it’s going to get colder, Geoff.”

“I know, Mildred, I know.  I’m trying as hard as I can.”

“You haven’t worked hard since Sir Walter Raleigh left favor.  You can’t wait for him forever.”

“He’ll get favor back.  And when he does, I’ll be right there helping him.  You’ll see, we’ll be fine again.”

She groaned.  I was aware that this was not the first time my mother had heard this from my father.  It’s great talk from a man trying to get ahead.  But after several years of the same song, it loses its credibility.  She had enjoyed respectability in the early days when my father grabbed the coattails of the then revered Sir Walter Raleigh, and it was hard not having this luxury now.  She hadn’t planned to be satisfied with being a shopkeeper’s wife, and she wasn’t even that, at present.  She changed the subject, not her tone.

“I overheard the ladies gossiping on the street today.  They were talking about seeing Gerald’s likeness on a ‘Wanted’ poster.  A ‘Wanted’ poster, Geoff.  There’s a warrant out for our son’s arrest.  What are we going to do?  What can we do?”

My father stared at the wall.  “Nothing.  He’s an adult.  He’ll have to work it out for himself.”

I watched quietly as my mother cried herself to sleep, her head on my father’s shoulder.  No matter how bad things got, they loved each other and wanted their lives to be better, the way I was often told they were before my birth.  Maybe this is why I wanted to get away from them as soon as I could.

I didn’t usually watch my parents fall asleep.  But, that night I did.  And, after they were sound asleep, I left.  I had no plans.  I didn’t know where I was going.  I just left in middle of what was a dark, chilly night.

I could hear the dogs barking around me as I scurried along the roadside.  It felt as if they were yelping at me and coming towards me.  I began running, faster than I’d ever sprinted in my life, my speed assisted by my sense of fear.  Every time I heard a dog, or an owl, or any other animal, or even my own heavy breathing, my pace increased until I was exhausted and had to stop.  This continued throughout the night until the sky started to lighten and I found a grove of overhanging bushes and crawled inside for some sleep.

I scavenged for food during the day and swiped a few pieces of fruit from merchants along the way.  This became my means of subsistence.  I left a coin when         I could, as I’d pick up an occasional odd job, but I was always out of money.  I also tried begging, and while I did survive on the street, I found life difficult.  Yet for nearly two years I stayed with this vagabond existence before deciding to make my way to the sea.  Too bad my internal compass wasn’t any good.  Turns out I was moving more to the west than to the south.  But before long I was on the shores of Bristol.  And my life changed forever.


San Francisco Secrets First Chapter Reveal

San Francisco SecretsTitle: San Francisco Secrets
Author: Greg Messel
Format: Paperback, ebook
Length: 405 pages
Publisher: Sunbreaks Publishing

Noted novelist and newspaper editor Edgar Watson Howe once said. “A man who can keep a secret may be wise but he is not half as wise as a man with no secrets to keep”

As the spring of 1958 arrives in San Francisco, it seems that baseball player turned private eye, Sam Slater and his fiancée, TWA stewardess Amelia Ryan, are surrounded by people who have secrets.

A prominent doctor, John O’Dell is being blackmailed by someone who has discovered a dark secret from his past. When the private investigator trying to catch the blackmailer is murdered, Dr. O’Dell hires Sam Slater to try to pick up the pieces. Someone is playing for keeps and will do anything to protect their own secrets.

Meanwhile, Amelia begins her new job as an international stewardess which takes her on adventures to New York City, London, Paris and Rome. In hot pursuit is a womanizing older pilot who has his sights set on Amelia.

Their lives get even more complicated when a mysterious woman from Sam’s past returns.

Sam and Amelia’s relationship will be tested as they work together to solve the mystery on the foggy streets of San Francisco.


March 6, 1958

On a quiet sunny Thursday afternoon, a quaint, little Spanish-style bank on Macarthur Boulevard in Oakland was robbed.

Two career criminals, Lloyd Wells and Doug McAllister, who were down on their luck, were elated as they pulled off a big score and made their getaway towards San Francisco.

The small neighborhood bank, made of white stucco with a red tile roof, had minimal security provided by an ancient bank guard who seemed to be dozing when the robbers stormed in. In the middle of the afternoon, there were just a few old people putting some money in their passbook savings accounts or cashing their Social Security checks.

Wells and McAllister needed this score badly. They planned to grab their loot and head for the Reno area where McAllister had a small rundown house. The score at the bank would set them up for future exploits in Reno.

Wells was anxious to get out of the Bay Area where he had already had several run-ins with the law. The bank robbery went flawlessly. It was over in just a few minutes with the tellers quickly emptying their cash drawers into McAllister’s bag before the thieves fled.

After making a clean getaway from the bank in Oakland, the pair caught the on-ramp to the Bay Bridge and headed for San Francisco. They kept checking their rearview mirror but there was no one in pursuit, even though they expected a lot of heat after the robbery.

McAllister and Wells wanted to get as far away as possible until things cooled down a bit after the heist. Wells had a plan to stash most of the loot from the robbery and then come back later to retrieve it before they permanently relocated to Reno.

McAllister tried to do a quick count of their haul while Wells drove the car cautiously over the bridge into San Francisco. It all happened so quickly inside the bank, but to his astonishment, it looked like they might have gotten away with as much as $70,000.

Wells drove out to Ocean Beach near the Cliff House on the western edge of the city, where he had parked his light-blue and white 1953 Chevy. He pulled the stolen aqua-colored 1954 Ford into the parking lot by the beach.

The men emptied everything out of the Ford. Wells popped the trunk on his Chevy and retrieved a burlap bag. The men put their black masks, hats, gloves, and two bricks into the bag.

They inspected the interior of the stolen car one last time and then locked it. McAllister looked around and then threw the keys to the Ford as far as he could out onto the sand of Ocean Beach. Wells transferred the bag full of money into the Chevy. The two men got into the car and drove away slowly.

They drove north past the Cliff House on the roadway that snaked along the seaside heading toward the Presidio grounds.

“Pull over here,” McAllister said.

Wells complied. McAllister retrieved the burlap bag and walked to the edge of a cliff near China Beach that overlooked the Pacific Ocean. He gave the bag a few swings and then threw it as far as he could off the cliff. McAllister watched the bag create a large splash as it landed in the ocean below.

When McAllister returned to the car, Wells said, “Time to go visit uncle.”

The men then headed to a house on O’Farrell Street in the heart of San Francisco. Wells’ uncle, Andrew Griffiths, was 85 years old and lived in an old Victorian townhouse that appeared frozen in time.

Wells had always been very fond of his uncle, who had raised him after his troubled parents abandoned him. Andrew Griffiths thought of Lloyd Wells as the son he never had, but he knew in his heart that attempts to keep his nephew on the straight-and-narrow were largely in vain. Griffiths had stopped asking Lloyd about his activities. He had come to the sad conclusion that it was best if he didn’t want to know a lot of details about his nephew’s life.

Wells knew that his uncle’s health was beginning to fail and he was spending more and more time in bed. His uncle’s only child was a daughter, Yvonne, who lived in Vacaville near Sacramento.

As the men parked in front of Uncle Andrew’s house, Wells gave final instructions to his partner.

“When we get in there, I’ll go into the back of the house and keep my uncle busy. There are two high-backed overstuffed antique chairs with green upholstery by the front window,” Wells explained. “Take the bank money and stuff it in the bottom of the two chairs. Just take your pocketknife and carefully pry off the covering on the bottom of the chairs. Put the cash inside and reattach the cloth on the bottom of the chairs. Got it?”

“Got it,” McAllister replied.

“Just make sure the covering on the bottom of the chair is securely fastened so the wad of cash stays put. Put the cash in these paper bags and secure it to the frame of the chair.


“Yeah, no sweat,” McAllister said.

“It’s important that no one suspects that there is anything stashed in the bottom of the chairs. Those chairs haven’t been moved for a hundred years, so it’s the perfect place to hide our money until we come back to San Francisco and get it. I just want to make sure no one gets wise about what’s in those chairs.”

“Okay. You’re sure you can keep your uncle occupied and he won’t hear me tinkering with the chairs?”

“You could run a herd of cattle down my uncle’s hallway and he wouldn’t hear it. Just be quick about it and I’ll talk with him. I need to make sure he’s taken care of and I’ll explain that I’ll be out of town for a few weeks.”

“Sounds good. I’ll keep enough cash to get us through while we’re waiting for things to calm down,” McAllister replied.

“Right,” Wells responded. “Let’s get to work.”

First Chapter Reveal: A List of Offences by Dilruba Z. Ara

A List of OffencesTitle of Book: A LIST OF OFFENCES
Genre: Women’s Fiction
Author: Dilruba Z. Ara
Publisher: CreateSpace



Daria, the heroine of the book is born under unusual circumstances that cause the people of her small village to gossip; yet as she grows she becomes an intelligent, sensitive and spiritual beauty that one feels is destined for a perfect life. After a flood, a boy is found on the bank of her river. Daria’s parents adopt the boy, and Daria befriends him. As they grow Daria begins to inhabit Mizan’s dreams and thoughts, but a sudden meeting with anglophile Ali Baba brings everything crashing down around Daria. She forgets her upbringing and falls madly in love with him and after her hasty wedding, she moves to Baba Lodge and is brought into the suffocating life of Ali Baba and his family.

Here she lives a life unloved and psychologically abused until she gets pregnant. Now she begins to hope that finally her potential for love, luck and happiness will be realised through her new-born child. Yet relations between Daria and her in-laws deteriorate further. Daria finds herself torn between the religious mandate of Islam to stay with and obey her husband and the call of her intellect and instincts to flee and forge a different life for her daughter.


A Bottle of River Water

A whisper went round the little village of Gulab Ganga during the days around Daria’s birth. It said, “Jharna Begum, Daria’s Ammu, defied God when she refused to give up the thought of having a daughter.” She had her four sons, three miscarriages and one stillborn daughter. But yet she couldn’t accept the idea of not having a daughter in her lap. When the most trusted doctor in the neighbourhood advised her against trying to get pregnant, she, like many in her dilemma, decided to get help from supernatural sources. The road there would be reached by means of a man, who claimed to be a Pir, a spiritual person. He lived on the outskirts of Gulab Ganga. A good many people went to him to catch cattle thieves and poachers, a good many went to get better crops, a good many wished to be cured of some incurable diseases, and a good many wished for a male heir to carry on the family name. And on rare occasions, someone would actually call on him to get a female child; to light up a family with only male offspring. And this was partly true in the case of Jharna Begum, Daria’s Ammu, but mainly it was because she felt half a woman without a daughter.

It was exactly one year before Daria’s birth that Jharna Begum woke up on one occasion at a time that was neither morning nor night; night’s blackness was slowly oozing away at the touch of first light. A soft and transparent time, that could be called morning-night. She washed herself, took a bath, said her morning prayers, read some verses in the holy Quran. Then on an empty stomach, wrapped a shawl round her shoulders, opened the safe and took out a bundle of notes. Some fresh and crisp. Some dirty and limp. She put the money in her bag and sidled out of the room. Azad Chaudhury, her husband, was away on business and that suited her very well, because he wouldn’t have approved of her going to meet a Pir, whose credibility was dubious. The rest of the family was asleep. She took a deep breath, crossed the front veranda and stepped down onto the ground along the left gable of the house. She continued to the stable that was further off in the same direction. There she met the servant boy Gafur and the housemaid Gulabi. She told Gafur to keep guard on the house for an hour. After a moment, she was seated in the coach with Gulabi and the coachman, Abdullah, on her way to the Pir, the saint, who was to serve as a link between her and the supernatural powers.

It was a humid morning. The ground was covered with dew. On the horizon white haze rolled softly, blurring the contours and colours of everything. Beyond that the river sparkled in the first glow of the morning sun and some fishermen cast their nets in it; fishnets shimmered in the air like dewy cobwebs before falling into the water, but the haze blocked the view. The wagon picked its way in between the chequered boards of rice-fields. Sometimes it rattled; sometimes it thudded on the bumpy earthen road. Jharna Begum sat erect, her lips moving. Most probably reciting holy verses. Alongside the road some peasants were already at work. Some bent over the water-covered field to set rice plants, and some ploughed; peasant feet submerged up to the ankles in the muddy water; peasant hands disappearing under the water to transplant rice seedlings.

The Pir (said to be) lived in a small hut on the outskirts of the village. It was made of mud and bamboo canes with a sloping hay roof and stood in the middle of beaten ground surrounded by sprawling bamboo clusters that were partially veiled by the grey mist. From behind the hut an old mango tree spread its branches over the low roof. Haze lingered among the foliage of this tree as well, but just above the roof Jharna Begum could discern some baby mangoes. Grey-green, round and wet, silently growing out of hardness. A skinny hen walked on the patch of ground in front of the hut pecking at whatever it could find; a few dragonflies sat lazily on a tuft of withered grass-straws. A breeze blew, carrying a scent of water and river. The mango leaves hummed. The bamboo leaves whispered. Gulabi remained standing on the spot. Jharna Begum took a deep breath and approached the hut.

The room was murky in spite of the hurricane lamp that hung from the ceiling. Soft shadows danced on the walls as the tongue of the flame flickered inside the soot smeared glass. Major parts of the walls were plastered with various pictures from the holy city of Mecca. High stepping camels and Bedouins, dusty date trees around oases, scalp-shorn-men — pilgrims-in-white, women — pilgrims-in-black, the black holy stone and the white gathering around it. The only window was covered with a drape. In one corner out of a small brass bowl rose a fine stream of smoke; scents of sandalwood, camphor, incense and rose essence. An earthy dampness hung in the room.

The Pir was seated on the floor on a mat. He received Jharna Begum with due respect and asked her to settle down opposite him. She was hesitant; nevertheless she obeyed him as though in a trance. Perspiration gleamed above her lips, studded the tip of her nose, and her forehead. It grew in her armpits and between the fold of her breasts. A sweaty fear crawled down her back and she swallowed a lump of saliva. Words pounded in her head, while her stomach was hard like a tight fist. But she wouldn’t give in to her nervousness. So, gathering up her courage, she began to talk. Her voice trembled, tongue dried out. Words came out of her tense mouth; first staccato and then woven together into meaningful sentences. The man murmured and nodded.

After half an hour when Jharna Begum took the coach home, the sun had risen to a higher level in the sky. It was white. The haze had resolved into a fluttering piece of transparent cloth. She put her chin on the windowsill and looked out. Windblown ringlets danced on her temples. Her eyes saw the pale green rice plants, the mud coloured peasants with their mud coloured feet and hands under the muddy water, the tilting wicker-hats on their heads, the pelvic zone of a cow that lifted its tail to drop some dung, gleaming sun on the tails of diving kingfishers, and the shimmering river beyond; but with her heart she saw a baby girl. A baby girl in her arms. In her hands she held a green bottle. A bottle filled with enchanted water. Water, which would help her to mother a baby girl. Now she just had to ensure that one of her servants collected natural water for her by pressing the brim of an earthen pot against the stream of the river. Seven Thursdays she would bathe in that water eked out with the enchanted water she now had in that tiny green bottle in her hands. Imagine getting a baby girl! To get a baby at such an age! Forty years! God, Allah, the almighty. At such an age one should only wait for death to come. At such an age it was entirely legitimate to die, it was a well-acknowledged die-able age. But instead she was preparing to give life to a new human baby. A baby girl. Jharna Begum felt a mysterious wave of contentment sweeping over her. While the morning breeze, now crisp from the warming sun, fondled her face, she smiled. Like a child who had found the very bottle with the genie. She held the precious bottle tenderly. Azad Chaudhury was, of course, a little bit worried about his wife’s sudden obsession with the matutinal baths on Thursday mornings. But he decided to humour her. And therefore, he even went to bed with her as per her wish after her ritual baths with that magical water. They built and furnished a small room in the furthest end of the dwelling. The rest of the family members were told that Jharna Begum’s physical condition demanded total seclusion from daily life. Initially Azad Chaudhury had thought it would be unnecessary to build a new room only for seven Thursday mornings. But, soon, very soon, he changed his mind. For it didn’t really take him too long to realize that he enjoyed every second, every infinitesimal fraction of each second he spent there together with his wife. In secret they called this room ‘the love nest’ (even though the phrase sounded banal in their experienced ears). Within the four walls of that nest after twenty years of marriage they once again experienced the ecstasy of newly found love.

On those warm, fairy tale like mornings Azad Chaudhury, propped against the pillow, would look at his wife’s slender body and think that he had never seen her like that before. He licked her feet, her soles, her insteps, kissed her on her kneecaps, tickled her belly, felt the perfect curves of her round shoulders against the cups of his large palms, oiled her with coconut oil, and rubbed her gently. Her eyes would darken, the world beyond the dark blue curtain on the window would slowly brighten but inside they would be lost. She touched his hairy stomach, tugged at his nipples, let her nails run up and down across his body hair and create parallel lines like a farmer furrowing a land and leaving plough marks. Both would have gooseflesh on their skin, his Adam’s apple would move restlessly and she would swallow saliva. They would fondle each other, taste each other’s secret smells and drown in each other’s eyes. His warm palms against hers, his fingers intertwining hers, the soles of her feet rubbing gently on the back of his feet they would reach the climax. Later during the course of the day they would recognise each other’s private smells in their nostrils, and they would exchange furtive glances.

Considering all this passionate lovemaking, it was probably not a miracle that Jharna Begum soon got pregnant. But with the realisation both she and Azad Chaudhury reacted as though a miracle really had happened. As though the genie really had escaped from the green bottle to fulfil their dreams. They started to cry and laugh. They cried for a moment, laughed a moment, hugged each other, cried again, licked each other’s tears and lay down. They slept a while, woke for a while, embraced each other, whispered soft words and fell asleep again. When the pregnancy advanced, Azad Chaudhury saw to it that Jharna Begum was not in want of anything. He heaped over her gifts and tenderness and fulfilled all her strange whims, such as those which only suit a

pregnant woman.

If she wished for hot peanuts with salt and pepper, she was served that; if she longed for roasted green mangoes blended with crushed red chillies she was given that too. If she craved for ripened tamarinds those were also procured. One midnight she woke up and declared that she must have grilled Ilsha fish, alias silver fish. Now this fish is famous for its silvery scales, and when it comes to taste, it’s absolutely delicious.

But, unfortunately, it was not the season for this fish. Still, early the following morning Azad Chaudhury himself paid a visit to the nearby fishing community. He held out a leather pouch filled with coins (silvery and golden) and said that the one who was able to catch a couple of Ilsha fish before the next dawn, would be rewarded with the bag and its entire contents. The fish was caught, grilled and served on a silver platter at dinner. The dish so suited Jharna Begum’s taste buds that soon it became a permanent part of the family’s meals during the rest of Jharna Begum’s pregnancy. She was contented, and into the bargain a handful of fishermen got slightly richer than they had bargained for.

The Neighbourhood Talked.

On winter evenings snuggling in homemade quilts the villagers huddled around outdoor fires under the gaze of stars. They smoked hookahs, ate grilled sweet potatoes and whispered tales. Witchy tales. Wintry tales. Tales spiced with the chill of winter evening. Painted with the vibrant colours of the fire and cinders in the middle of them. They fed the fire with reeds and kindling that cracked and died in the flames, and they fedtheir ravenous minds with fabulous tales about Jharna Begum and the baby that was thriving in her belly. Before long it was heard that Jharna Begum was obsessed with the fish dish because the man who had given her the green bottle with the magical water, had proclaimed that she would give birth to a girl with hair the colour of ‘silver fish’. Some said she was carrying a mermaid, half-fish, half-human. Pregnant women avoided the sight of her in fear that the very sight of her might hamper the growth of the babies in their wombs. It was strange how one strange rumour gave birth to another, stranger one. Some even claimed that Jharna Begum really possessed the bottle with a genie. It was, however, poor Gulabi who had to face all these torpedoes of vicious remarks about Jharna Begum’s pregnancy. Whenever she showed herself outside the house boundary she was attacked by the neighbouring women. They relentlessly pestered her with ridiculous questions and soon she started to complain about these gossips. Jharna Begum listened patiently to her. But dismissed her anxiety with hearty laughter. Without appearing to be condescending or angry she completely disregarded the complaints and left Gulabi speechless, and as usual continued to send the servant boy, Gafur, to the fishermen to
get the fish every morning. The fish was prepared and cooked under her supervision. When she ate it, she ate it with such relish that soon Gulabi and others realised that it was no use trying to change her craving.

The four boys — Hadi, Jami, Sami and Sadi — who were between eight and twelve years old, had not yet the slightest idea why their father no longer took his usual trips to the other parts of the country. He was always at home. Only they continued as usual. They went to school, read the holy Quran every Thursday, did their home-work, played with one another, fought with one another, and when angry, railed on one another. Gulabi saw to it that their nails were clean, hair oiled, hands washed; that they had milk warm from the cow for breakfast, and that
they turned in on time.

Daria was born on a bright day. It was towards the end of May, just before the onset of the rainy season. The time was precisely twelve o’clock. The sun was hot and cruel. The sky was absolutely white and so was the baby girl’s hair. It was white. Silvery white. Alarmingly white. Very white. At the sight of the hair colour, a scream died in the bewildered midwife’s chest and at the same time her bladder gave way, making her thighs wet. The midwife’s face was glistening with tears, but she was struck like a statue, as though fixed by the mesmeric eye of calamity. Kneeling down between Jharna Begum’s legs, she held Daria’s tiny body in her hands, her head bent over it, her hot urine collecting under it, the navel cord still hanging loosely down the vagina of Jharna Begum. The whole thing was something akin to a scene at an altar.

And Gulabi, who had been witnessing the scene with a hurricane lamp poised in mid-air, took a while before she could even begin to grasp the nature of the incident; the stench from the urine smelled old, contaminating, of grief and troubles. Gulabi shuddered and gasped as the true scandal of the incident swam into her consciousness. She stood dumb-founded for fully two minutes before returning to her senses. But, once out of her perplexity, she hastily placed the lamp on a bedside table, bent down, cut the umbilical cord, and snatched Daria out of the midwife’s baffled, rigid hands. It was then Daria gave her first cry, relieving all others, and also shocking the midwife back to reality. Gulabi cleaned Daria thoroughly, even her nostrils, before swaddling
her in a soft piece of cloth to put her to her mother’s nipple, where milk had already started to flow. And the midwife, soiled by her own urine and the refuse from Jharna Begum’s uterus, withdrew to a corner.

Even in those days the dwelling house was two storeyed. The walls were made of bricks and the flat roof of corrugated tin. The rooms stood in a row one after another. Two deep verandas ran along the front and rear side of both stories, and a wooden flight of stairs connected the back veranda to the first floor. A small patch of land separated the main house from the kitchen while on the front was a rather big patch of land. There grew fruit and flowers, papayas, mangoes and jackfruits, bananas and coconuts, tuberoses and jasmines, marigolds and land lotuses. Today the flowers glimmered in the sunshine and it was impossible to avoid the numbing sick-sweet aroma emitted by the sweating jasmine flowers. The mango trees were filled with mango blossoms. The boughs on the jackfruit trees bent under the weight of the fruits. The sugar bananas, very yellow, waited expectantly to be harvested. Hot green leaves sheltered the buzzing bees. Blue bottles
hummed. Crows and jackdaws feasted to fulfilment. It was a hot, humid and fruity atmosphere as in a green house.

The climate in the birth-chamber was somewhat cooler in comparison to that of the outside world. The grey cemented floor and the bare white walls were cool; the room was clinically clean just as a birth-chamber should be. The doors and windows were closed making the room half-shadowy. And to add to its clinical element it smelled of camphor, incense and rose water. Daria’s Nanu (maternal grandmother) Salma Begum and Fufu (paternal aunt) Fatima sat in one corner. They too had temporarily lost their speech at the sight of the baby. But the child’s scream readily brought them back to the present. And both of them began to recite Quranic verses with such gravity that an outsider would easily have mistaken the room to have been designed for mourning. Surely you mourn for the deceased in a hospital room, and you rejoice for the newborns. Today of all days Jharna Begum would have liked to rejoice at her daughter’s arrival, she would have liked to sing the praises of God, she would have liked to extol him boisterously, she would have liked to thank him. But these two women turned the room into a mourning chamber, they made the atmosphere heavy, gloomy. Unnecessarily sad. Was it because of the poor midwife’s mishap? Was that the reason, Jharna Begum wondered?

But it was only an accident. Or, was it because the child’s hair had such a rare colour? Jharna Begum sighed. Strangely enough, she didn’t feel any irritation but a feeling of familiar indifference. She knew that it was no use trying to make others understand her feelings. In the soft light of a hurricane lamp she looked tenderly at her daughter’s swollen cheeks, the closed eyelids, the red mouth and two tiny nostrils. Jharna Begum repeated with a contented voice: water-baby, water-baby. Then she sighed

Having performed the Jummah prayers in the mosque, Azad Chaudhury had just returned home together with the quartet, Hadi, Jami, Sami and Sadi. It was Gulabi who was waiting anxiously for him on the veranda. She told him about the newborn, took the prayer rug from his hands, and ushered away the boys to a different room. Azad Chaudhury looked very pleased and with a smile on his face he pushed opened the wooden door, and stepped inside. He halted for a few seconds in the semi-darkened room. As his eyes got used to the darkness he greeted his mother-in-law and then turning towards Gulabi said, “Open the window shutters!”

His mother in-law, Salma Begum, stopped murmuring. And so did his sister Fatima. There was a sudden silence. It took a while before Salma Begum shrieked in her frail, shrill voice, “You can’t let midday wind flow freely into a delivery room.”

Azad Chaudhury looked for a while at the old lady. His brown eyes were soft and polite. Without attempting to dispute the old one, he explained.

“Excuse me, Amma. But, I would like to see my daughter’s face in the daylight.” Salma Begum shook her head.

“Enough harm has already been done to the baby.”

“Like what?” Azad Chaudhury was surprised.

“The midwife…” Her words failed, she couldn’t bring herself to tell her son-in-law about the mishap. It embarrassed her. Her fingers clutched at the tasbhi in her hand.

Azad Chaudhury looked at the face of his mother-in-law, who looked beyond him. He then turned to Gulabi.
“What happened? What has the midwife done, Gulabi?”

“Abbaji…” Gulabi hesitated and then said, “nothing to worry about.

I’ve taken care of it. I’ve washed the baby. I’ve even cleaned her nostrils.”

“Nostrils!” Azad Chaudhury was even more puzzled.

“Yes, so that she shouldn’t remember the stench.”

“Stench of what?”

Gulabi was by now already regretting having said too much. She fell quiet. Not knowing how to answer she looked helplessly at Salma Begum.

The old lady shook her head and then said, “You had better ask your wife in private. As for the window, you may open it for a while. But it’s no good for a newborn. Midday wind carries evil spirits.”

Azad Chaudhury nodded thoughtfully, all but satisfied with the riddling answers. But he gave in, and once again asked Gulabi to open the shutters. The two shutters were opened. A sparkling parallelogram of sunlight fell on the floor. White walls became whiter. The cool floor became warmer. Azad Chaudhury took two steps towards the bed. He bent over it. There was suddenly that awkward silence again. Very silent.

Very tense. While the taut silence bounced against the four empty walls, Azad Chaudhury’s pupils widened, his spine hardened.

The child had violet eyes rimmed with black lashes, and she already had a pair of eyebrows shaped like the wings of a soaring gull. Her cheeks were chubby, smooth and fresh like any newborn. Her lips red as ruby. But her hair was silvery white. Ever so white. White like the tops of the Himalayas. Azad Chaudhury could think of nothing to say but murmur prayers. On his shoulders he felt his mother-in-law’s deep breaths, his sister’s attentive eyes. Unfamiliar thoughts were growing like weeds in his brain. He shook his head. Something must have gone wrong. Must have. A child can’t have silver hair. It’s not normal. Why?

Why? A curious sadness settled in his heart for the little creature in his wife’s arms, his little daughter, his little princess, born out of oneiric mornings. His eyes grew moist as he took up the girl and held her close to his heart. His eyes met his wife’s. The sun reflected in her eyes. She smiled.

“How are you?” he asked.

“Very well. Thank you!”

“Are you happy?”

“Why shouldn’t I be?”

He smiled, braving the pressure of the weeds that grew in his brain.

Hairy weeds, itchy weeds, poisonous weeds. All with long tentacles. Frightening. She stretched out her arm. He took it, and squeezed it hard.

Later the same afternoon he sent for Dr Nandi. Dr Nandi was as puzzled as others were at the sight of the child’s hair colour. But having checked the girl thoroughly he declared that it was a child, one hundred percent normal. Meanwhile, Gulabi was ordered to take care of the umbilical cord and the placenta. As instructed she dug everything down in the garden, and set a jasmine plant on the top. Having performed the task quickly, she returned to the room with some mustard oil in a brass bowl, tidied up the bed, spread a large towel in between Jharna Begum and the oilcloth under her, and then climbed up herself on the bed. There, kneeling down beside Jharna Begum, she oiled her palms and got hold of Jharna Begum’s belly. She held it tightly and at the same time with a rhythmical movement began to press out the air that had invaded the cavity from the afterbirth. Air came out of all possible holes in Jharna Begum’s body, while she complained about Gulabi’s hard grip.

Lots of Aaas and Uhuus! But, Gulabi proceeded in the same manner for an hour everyday during a period of exactly forty days. That was the time span taken by Jharna Begum to regain her flat and tight stomach so that no one could any longer believe that this belly had in its time accommodated a number of children.

This hot afternoon, when Dr Nandi had calmed Azad Chaudhury with his diagnosis, Azad Chaudhury sat down for a while and took a few deep breaths. With each breath he uprooted some of the twisting weeds in his brain and finally decided that it was time he demonstrated his gratefulness for being gifted with a daughter. He sent one of the men- servants to buy some rashgullahas, cheese balls drowned in syrup, from the village sweet-stall. When the man returned he ordered him to take the two finest cockerels from the pen and fill an earthen pot with some of the rashgullahas. He collected two sets of clothing and sent all these to the Pir Sahib, who had provided Jharna Begum with the green bottle with enchanted water.

Jharna Begum emerged from the delivery room — it was already evening — with the child in her arms, defying the rest of the women in the family, who advised her to remain there for forty days. They said she shouldn’t leave that room till her bleeding ceased and her uterus shrunk to its original size, the size of a goose egg. But Jharna Begum paid no heed to her concerned relatives. In the kitchen the old cook had already started to prepare chicken soup, an unspiced dish with horned fish and plantains and other so-called delicacies that normally are used to tempt an ill woman in childbed in this part of the world. Inside the room, by the window, Gulabi had prepared an armchair with a soft round pillow with a hole in the middle. It looked like the English letter O. It was supposed to ease Jharna Begum’s sore bottom when she sat there to enjoy her garden. But, as mentioned earlier, the woman didn’t feel at all ‘under the weather’. On the contrary, she felt incredibly fit and well.

Out she would come from that dreary room. Out she would be in the open air. And so she did, amidst protests and knitted eyebrows. Only when she needed to break wind or breast-feed the baby, did she seek out a private corner.

Hadi, Jami, Sami and Sadi, the four brothers who had missed their mother terribly during the previous nine months, and before that, those seven weeks with the seven special Thursdays, encircled her as soon as she came out of the room. They did not show much interest in the strange creature in their mother’s arms. One of them had a bunch of flowers, one had a ring made of hay straw, the third one had written down a verse from the Quran in black elegant calligraphy, and the fourth one had painted a picture of the setting sun on the river that flowed behind their house. These they presented to their mother.

Hadi, the oldest son, whose voice was breaking, murmured embarrassedly, “Ammu!” and gave her the bunch of flowers.

“Here, you’ve a ring, made by myself,” said the second one.

“It’s boring to sleep without having recited the suras (Quranic verses) with you,” declared the third and stretched out his gift.

“I’ve painted a picture for you,” announced the little one.

Jharna Begum dried a trembling drop of a tear with the back of her hand. Then she gave Daria to Gulabi, and took all her four sons in her arms; she embraced them, fondled them, showered kisses on them, ruffled their hair, crumpled their ironed shirts and murmured tender words.

That evening they all sat on low-legged stools around the low dining table to celebrate this family reunion. Daria was fast asleep in a wicker cradle that hung from the ceiling. The room was lit up with the yellowish light of a hurricane lamp that stood in the centre of the table. An imposing number of insects buzzed around the lamp like a live halo. Around this halo were porcelain bowls, set in a wider circle. They were filled with delicacies like hens in almond sauce, spicy wild duck, ruhufish chops and lobster in coconut milk. There were also various accompaniments like tamarind pickles, coriander chutney and green mangoes. The unusual dishes, which the cook had got used to preparing to gratify Jharna Begum’s pregnant palate, were no longer there. Neither
was the silverfish dish. Truly, none was missed by anyone. A cat circled and purred under the table — its black back arching, its tongue licking its own mouth. Perhaps it missed the familiar fish-smell. Who knows?

Every now and then its furry tail brushed several pairs of knees. The walls were embraced by the shadows here and there and a blend of aromas crowded inside a few pairs of expectant nostrils. Laughter and jovial voices were heard for a long time in that room.

But the following day the mood of the family was subdued. From early in the morning neighbours lined up to congratulate Jharna Begum and also to take a look at the newborn. Even though grandmother Salma Begum and Gulabi made a real effort to conceal the child’s hair by putting a hat on her head, one could yet catch sight of one or two glittering curls that rebelliously crawled out from beneath the edge of the hat, which in its turn brought out plenty of improbable comments from the hearts of the baffled visitors. “By, Allah. It can’t be a human child,” said someone.

“No, an angel,” someone answered, “I wonder if she has wings under the clothes!”

“Did you hear that the midwife wet herself while delivering the poor child?” exclaimed someone else. “Tauba” (a slap on the right cheek; an act that normally accompanies the word to ward off the evil eye).

“Tauba!” (A slap on the left cheek.) “Did you see her hair? It was all silver!”

“Oh, Allah, we knew it.”

“Her mother had conceived her by using paranormal methods.”

“She shouldn’t have defied God’s wish.”

“Didn’t we say it?”

“Poor, poor child!” Much as one avoided explaining the import of these pitiful words, it was all very simple. Such a vile incident at the onset of one’s life could only mean a pitiable life.

A bad sign!

An unlucky child!

Still Jharna Begum held her head high. It seemed she didn’t care what the people were saying. She went on talking, greeting and smiling her radiant smiles. Later, perhaps, she would think about these, but now her face betrayed none of her feelings. One of the maids picked her way through the crowd with a silver tray with a plate of dates and jar of cold lemon sherbet in her hands. The visitors helped themselves, casting furtive glances at the neonate. If they could’ve x-rayed with their eyes they would certainly have penetrated the hat to see the whole head. But this was not the case. They were to see only one or two silvery curls.

Nothing more. During the course of the day they came and went at will.

Like cats.

Azad Chaudhury worried about Jharna Begum’s apparent sedateness and the outcome of it. He admired her patience, but at the same time he again became aware of the growing weeds in his brain; hairy weed, itchy weed, poisonous weed. All his thoughts and feelings were muddled. He looked at his wife, the way she walked, held her head, the baby with silver curls in her arms — everything made him uneasy. He watched people come and go, he watched his daughter, two soft silver curls crawling out from under the pink hat, and suddenly made up his mind to forbid curious neighbours on the premises for a while. Salma Begum prayed silent prayers and Gulabi put a round kajal mark, as big as a pea on the forehead of the child to ward off the evil eye.
During the following few days the rumour spread like vapour; permeating every leak, every crack, making way, touring, detouring to every household of the little village of Gulab Ganga. It said that Jharna Begum had given birth to a silver-haired fairy child. But, unfortunately the midwife had befouled the baby. As the rumour travelled from
mouth to mouth several other embellishments were added to it.

Many incredible qualities were ascribed to Jharna Begum. While some continued avoiding the sight of her as if she were a witch, others began to treat her as a saint and claimed that she could solve their problems, cure their ailments, enrich their harvest etc. Queues were established in front of the gate, children climbed up the high wall and the high trees around it to get a glimpse of the saintly mother and her divine child.

It was a sheer circus; the beggars gathered to get an extra coin, the vendors crowded in the hope of good business, children frisked about,
and the old ones recited verses from the Holy Scripture.

Meanwhile, inside the big walls the little girl grew and transformed into a very ordinary child. Her hair had been shaved off and buried under the jasmine bush together with the umbilical cord. But the stubs of her new hair shifted colour. It grew dark and darker. Black with a luminous shade of purple-blue. Like a raven’s wing in the sun. And the violet of her eyes became coffee brown, dark brown, not quite black.

And by the seventh day, when there was to be a religious ceremony to give her a name, she had turned into a perfectly normal baby girl with perfectly normal features.

It was a Thursday. The Imam was the first to arrive there. With him he had a miniature copy of the holy Quran wrapped in a velvet cover, and a large knife. Polished and sharpened. Two fattened goats had been waiting to be slaughtered by this knife on this day. The Imam performed the task in the name of God in the yard in betweenthe kitchen and dwelling house. The goats were flayed and the good meat was divided into three mounds, the same amount in each. Three meat-mounds: one for the poor ones, one for the relatives and one for the day’s feast. The last mound was prepared on open fire with a fine mixture of spices. Rice was boiled in young green bamboo reeds. Parathas were fried, ducks were grilled, rashgullahas and steamed curd
were purchased.

Two colourful party-tents were set up in the garden; one for the males and one for the females and children. Gas lanterns were hung in the four corners of each tent. One special platform was raised for the Imam to lead the religious part of the occasion. A dozen men milled about hurrying, scurrying and getting things ready. Some set the tables, some arranged the chairs, and some swept the ground.

It was a warm afternoon. Neither torturing hot, nor pressing. Pleasant.

A wind blew.

A warm and nice river-wind.

Gulabi brought the little girl out when the sun had sunk in the west, and the sky was yellowish like water with a dash of turmeric, in the dull glow of its last rays. The baby was dressed in a chalk-white frock and a pair of white socks. Her scalp, which was now bare of hair, was topped with a laced-edged hat. From under the serrated edge of her hat, her two dark eyes looked curiously around. Around her soft neck, hung a garland of garlic cloves.

Gulabi walked past the gathering crowds to hand the girl to Azad Chaudhury. He took the baby, and went up two steps to the Imam who was sitting in the middle of the dais. By then, the guests were divided into two groups according to gender — each standing on either side of the parapet, listening to the Imam. Sitting on the dais, he read aloud a few selected verses from his Quran in the velvet coat, and then proclaimed firmly how very important it was for every Muslim to carry a name denoting his or her religious and ethnic origin. These were all very familiar words to the listeners, but still they couldn’t help but feel the solemnity of the moment as people always do on such occasions. It was all very quiet but for the Imam’s grave voice.

The child in Azad Chaudhury’s arms dozed off, but the function proceeded as planned. All suggested names were painted in different colours on a wicker-tray that was set in front of the Imam. By each name a candle was lit. Above, in the evening sky, the fair moon had become a little brighter by then and the stars shone like tinsel. As the candles melted, everyone made the utmost effort to catch sight of the tray; some stood on tiptoe, some asked the person in front to make a little room, someone else very simply took a chair or a stool and stood on it. They held their breath with eyes fixed on the candles. The twelve candles burnt, wax melted, wicks shrunk, smoke rose. The Imam’s face bent over the tray and took on a reddish tint. Candles began to go out. One after another. Slowly but surely they flickered and died in succession till only one was left. It stood there now dwarfed and fat, but still burning, illuminating the name ‘Daria’.

Jharna Begum’s face shone with delight, caught by the golden moon-dust-light. Long before Daria’s birth, during those magical mornings, she had decided to call her daughter Daria, for the word daria meant river. Daria was a child of the river, a water child. And, her own name, Jharna, meant source, fountain. Jharna, the source. Daria, the river.

First Chapter Reveal: Search for the Lost Realm by Kraig Dafoe

Search for the Lost RealmTitle of Book: SEARCH FOR THE LAST REALM
Genre: Fantasy/Adventure
Author: Kraig Dafoe
Publisher: CreateSpace



Search for the Lost Realm is an epic journey in which a young man named Varan wants to find a power which has been missing from the world of Kantania for thousands of years.

Varan sets out but soon discovers his true mission is to save the worlds creator from a spiritual bond placed upon him by the powerful demon, Eldrok.

From demons to dragons and sorcerers to soldiers, battles erupt and Varan must hurry or the world could be lost to darkness forever.

This story does not consist of action alone as Varan faces dilemmas of the heart, struggles of the flesh and complex issues of the mind.


The Heist

A sound normally dismissed during mid-day, the lock’s scarce clatter rang out like church bells, trespassing on a death like serenity. As tumblers aligned, Varan hoped his crouched frame went undetected on the sage’s porch. With his remaining eye, the thief peered over his right shoulder at ghostly shadows cast upon a vacant street. Choking down his heart, he ever so cautiously swung open the door and, after easing into the shop, he gently returned it to its frame. A shaft of moonlight pierced shutters flush, as the lurking thief, through dusty air, investigated a dreary interior. To his left, shelves of musty books, with their worn bindings, all stood erect by ornately carved bookends. In the near corner, to his right, a large silver-blue sphere, dimly glowing, sat upon a heavy wooden pedestal.

Varan quietly embarked on his journey across hard wood planks toward the rear of the building. If the militia catches my Scathrin ass, they’re just going to kill me… if I’m lucky. With that thought racing through his mind, a disturbing creak from one of the floorboards froze the young man in place. Like a single island in the middle of a vast ocean, Varan stood in the center of the shop, holding his breath. After exhaling the tension, a moment of gripping fear gradually passed and he again, crept.

On the back wall, above the counter, was mounted his long sword. A weapon handed down for generations by the Scathrins forefathers and recently lost by his bravado. In silence, he reached for its jeweled hilt, as the night’s bluish rays softly illuminated the finely crafted blade. With the weapon removed from the first of two mounts, Varan heard a noise that chilled his very core. Hinges from a door that led to the living quarters behind the shop shrieked with alarming volume as it

mysteriously drifted inward. Squinting his good eye, the thief gazed that way as his chest tightened and a bead of salty cold sweat settled in the corner of his mouth. He could see nothing, there was nothing in the dark recesses of the frame, yet the door continued to open. In a nonchalant manner a black cat sprung onto the counter-top, causing the startled thief to jump back and rap the weapon’s point against the wall. Fearing the thump against hollowed planks was loud enough to wake the slumbering proprietors, the Scathrin abandoned his regard for stealth.

Seizing the weapon from the final mount, he bolted for the door, as the feline’s golden gaze traced every fleeing step. The soles of his tattered boots hit the dirt road with the dust of its surface trailing behind him. Yearning for sanctuary, Varan dwelled on nothing but returning to his room at the nearby inn. In a frantic state, he charged down an alley and into the back door. Once reaching his room, the winded man quietly closed the door and fastened its dead bolt.

With a heavy sigh, he leaned against its frame to catch his breath and regain his composure. The snorts and stammers of horses, invading the still chamber with echoes beckoning, soon shattered Varans moment of peace. In nearly complete darkness he went to the window and peered through the slits of the shutters. From his vantage point, he saw the porch of the shop, where stood an old Eacye man with a balding head and beside him a young lady with fair complexion and dark wavy hair. In the middle of the road, on a mammoth gray and white steed, sat a massive Eacye warrior with wild black hair and decked to the hilt in bulky armor.

Varan had little respect for warriors and their way of life, but he never actually told one to their face. It appeared this militiaman was in charge as the others around him diligently searched while he periodically barked out a command. Like a great golem of iron he methodically dismounted and knelt, investigating the ground at the base of the steps.

“My tracks,” Varan mumbled. “He’s looking for my tracks.”

Meticulously the warrior scanned the area and eventually proceeded along the Scathrins’ route of escape. Varan wet his parched lips as his breaths became shallow and his heart quickened. With concern for his wellbeing, the Scathrin instinctively considered his options. He watched the warrior, who was soon accompanied by another, move toward the alley.

The second militiaman, with a bald head and bushy mustache, looked to be the big man’s partner. Noting characteristics was a strong point of the Scathrins’ and, in this case, he didn’t want to forget a single detail. To Varans relief, they stopped a pace short of the alley and, with a disgusted scowl, the huge warrior headed back for his horse. His partner, giving his discouraged boss a pat on the shoulder, returned to speak with the older gentleman.

Moments later, Varan heard muffled conversation down in the lobby, which dissipated seconds after it commenced. Making his way to the dresser, where a bottle of Shoquor waited like a lonely friend, Varan listened for approaching footsteps, but heard none.

On the chest of drawers sat a large lantern, which he lit to brightly adorn the chamber’s decor with a trace of amber. Furnished with a large comfort chair, a pallet garnering drab blankets and a corner oak closet, the humble features of the room were all he required. Feeling the heat of the muggy night, the young man splashed fresh water on his face, from a bowl provided by the inn.

A couple of shots of this potent brew should do the trick. Varan poured the sharp smelling liquid into a small glass. “It will calm the mind and relax the body,” he whispered in such a manner to convince him that the alcohol was medicinal.

As the first couple of ounces seared his throat, Varan decided his original prescription for tranquility was insufficient and continued to indulge. After a third of the bottle had been consumed, he stopped pacing and lazily leaned against the chest of drawers. As he looked at the ripples on the liquor’s surface, a humble grin came over his face. A fleeting memory, of a rare warm moment with his father came to the forefront of his thoughts.

Red skinned demons, scoundrels and cutthroats they were referred to by the majority of Kantania. Veshnarin they called themselves, professional thieves of high esteem. Stealing not only those things of great monetary value but of great significance to others, with pride they would display and defend these items so all could see what a master they were at the trade. Varan’s father Varell was such a master.

With the bottle over half gone, the Scathrin became aware of his image in the mirror across the room. In days gone by he wouldn’t pass up an opportunity to take a gander at his debonair features. Now these features were shrouded by a thick beard and cloaked with long brown hair that shadowed his face like that of a dark hood.

Varan slowly moved the way of the looking glass as his right eye gazed upon the gaudy patch covering his left. A viscous wound delivered by the hand of his older brother Varcain that cut so deep it not only severed their relationship, but the bond between Varan and his father as well. From that day, he would have to bare this scar and garner this covering, reminding Varan of his disturbing past. Though it happened over ten years ago, the feeling of hatred and vengeance he harbored raged on with a determination to right the wrong at any cost.

In a fit of painful frustration, the Scathrin tore the band of black from his head, staring wildly into the gaping socket. With a venomous gaze he focused deeply into the affliction, watching the veins pulse with each beat of his embittered heart. The young man reared back to strike the object, which revealed his shame, when common sense overthrew the urge and restrained his trembling fist. If the militia were still in the area, the crash of shattered glass would surely peak their curiosity.

Varell had always favored Varcain and made no bones about showing his partiality. The entire family expected that one-day, Varcain would take his father’s lofty position as the greatest Veshnarin from their region, or perhaps all the Scathrin isles. Varan, wallowing in self-pity, drank to a state of delirium. Passing out in the chair, the empty bottle slipped from his grasp and rolled away from its victim.

The next morning the young man awoke to the sound of a busy street and to the stench of rancid drool that had settled under his chin and soaked into his vest. His head pounded like a bass drum and his joints ached as they had many a morning after a night of drinking. Varan sluggishly made his way to the large bowl of water, and splashing the cool liquid on his face, he became more alert. With a cottony mouth, he pooled some water in his palms to rinse out the dry feeling. As he leaned down Varan noticed the distinct smell of ammonia omitting from the dingy fluid. Apparently during his drunken stupor, he used the basin to empty his bladder. With a look of disgust, he released the water, and grasping the dresser, he gazed upward. How much lower can I possibly sink?

Reeking of strong alcohol laced with malodorous urine, the young man exited his room in a state of dazed apathy and headed for the bathing area. On his way, Varan passed a young lady who moved aside and, with an appalled glance, placed a silk hanky over her nose. The woman’s reaction was of no consequence to the Scathrin who was now sulking about his subterranean status among his family and peers. Soaking in, what amounted to an oversized barrel, the young man’s spirits lifted slightly as the grime of days past washed, away. Fulfilling one need, Varan decided to go downstairs to the Tanner Inn’s pub and eatery.

The young man wore his finer set of clothes, consisting of richly colored loose garments. A trademark of the Veshnarins, the apparel displayed their bold attitudes and casually covert ways. For Varan, the baggy duds had a second and more useful function, in creating a little deception when covering his slim yet wiry frame. Before leaving his room, he carefully wrapped the elaborate hilt of his sword in soft leather, securing it tightly with thin cord. Most weapons were identified by their hilt, and Varan didn’t want to take any chances that someone could pick his out as the one stolen.

The windows of the pub were blown wide, letting in the warm breeze and brazen sun, which drove the swaggering man to a shaded corner of the room. The aroma of fresh bread and pig fat sizzling on the skillet, careened throughout as the smell of hay lofts from across the way, frequently intruded with the periodical gusts. As was his room, the eatery’s decor was simple, sending forth an air of hospitality to all those who dined. Varan sat alone at a small table with his head in his hands, as the late morning crowd loudly conversed, having no mercy when dragging and shoving their chairs across the wooden floor.

Out of the corner of his eye, Varan saw the waitress. A young girl, with short brown hair and soft milky skin, she wore a brown short dress and white top. Her brown leather boots shuffled from table to table as she enthusiastically did her job. With the color of her hair and hazel green eyes, it appeared to Varan, most likely she was local.

The young man ordered strong coffee and dry toast. With a cheerful smile, not returned by Varan, the waitress came back and placed his request before him.

“Um, If there is, ah… anything else you need sir,” she stated awkwardly while trying not to stare at the reeling man, “just call for me.”

The young woman stepped back and looked at him with a hint of distress in her eyes. Varan glanced at her with disgruntled acknowledgement, then looked away to stuff a crust of bread in his mouth. As the young man consumed his modest breakfast, he saw a huge brown-skinned man enter the pub. It was the militiaman from the night before and, in the sun’s light, he looked even more menacing. One facial attribute of this nearly seven-foot tall man, caught Varan’s eye over his dark goatee and square jaw. As the breeze lifted strands of his long black hair across his hardened expression, the warrior took in the room with eyes that were not Eacye, but Savashod. That would explain his tremendous size, stature, and lack of intellect in his expression.

In the Scathrin’s opinion, the Savashod was a race of overgrown green-skinned imperialist with barbaric demeanors. Like a warmongering wave from the northland, they would storm down wreaking havoc over the mainland. If it were not for the Ryore, another massive people but of good nature, this city of Magniowa would also be under the ogres’ tyrannical rule. One of the features of the Savashod that differed from other races was their eyes. Unlike most, the Savashod had light colored pupils and dark retinas. This warrior’s green eyes possessed that difference.

Wearing a welcoming smile, the bartender waved the militiaman over, as others in the hall cordially greeted the warrior.

“Sergeant Maus!” he bellowed, pointing at a large tray of assorted foods and a pitcher of grape cider. “Why don’t you join me?”

The militiaman, with weighty footsteps, lumbered toward the counter, however before reaching his destination, a perky waitress and a few of her lively friends intercepted him. It was evident that this hulking figure of a warrior, with biceps rippling, was extremely disorientated when talking with the ladies. The stern expression the Sergeant held when entering was quickly melted away, becoming a series of half grins and subtle nods. The youngsters, with energy abounding, buzzed around the man as if he were their idol.

I guess it’s good to see the law enforcement getting such respect. Varan thought as he drank from his mug.

One of the skills the Veshnarin’ were particularly proud of was the ability to discern and store information, then if confronted in the future; they could use the knowledge to their advantage. Quite innocently Maus turned the Scathrin’s direction with their eyes locking for only a moment, a moment that was entirely

too long for Varan. The sword at his left side grew in weight, as he became immensely aware of its presence and the chance of Maus spotting it. Varan, in casual surroundings, was a cool character when sober, giving the militiaman a slight bow of the head while continuing to eat.

The Scathrin finished his meal and, after tossing more than enough copper pieces on the table, he departed. As he walked through the double-doors, Varan unconsciously clasped the hilt of his weapon, being uncomfortably aware of the Sergeant’s presence behind him.

Still dealing with the lingering effects of alcohol, Varan decided to walk it off while scouting the multi-racial city of Magniowa. With the melting pot of cultures and peoples, the common language of Kantania was a must, and a tongue in which the Scathrin was well versed. Having already procured the item he came for, he would turn his attention to more lucrative ventures and, in a city this size the potential was limitless.

As he walked the busy streets, Varan stopped to take in the magnificence of the fortified palace, with its tall shrubbery’s and gray rooks boldly towering into clear blue skies. Its drawbridge lay across a shimmering mote with the building’s seemingly polished stone reflecting off waters calm. While standing slightly enchanted, Varan considered moving from the inn where he currently presided. If I was to relocate, that cretin of a Sergeant may put two and two together. Ah forget it, an infidel bruit like the Sergeant doesn’t intimidate me, and there’s still so much more I want to experience here, the man thought as he gazed about.

The main street, a good seventy feet wide, was littered with pedestrians and an occasional militiaman on horseback. Some maidens carried a parasol to shade themselves from the summer’s rays while citizens, glistening, paid a copper piece for a small cup of water or the use of a damp cloth. Varan dropped a coin down for a quick drink. And they call us Veshnarin thieves.

In the distance, he saw the towering gates of Magniowa, which remained open during daylight hours. There were establishments of all sorts, and any need or desire could be filled somewhere within their ranks. Vendors selling a multitude of various goods crowded the middle of the road, calling out to those who passed, inviting them to sample their wares.

Unlike many of the surrounding cities, Magniowa had advanced methods of waste disposal, in turn diminishing the threat of pestilence. Several deep canals were dug throughout the city, to utilize the powerful current of the Magniowa River. This eliminated one of the unpleasant aromas but did nothing to stem the tide of the foul masses and the livestock they toted and lead along for bartering tools.

Besides the taverns, strong lures to Varan were the alchemy shops, where the young man hoped to find alternate forms of intoxication. A bell above the door announced his presence as the air of fine pipe tobacco enveloped his sense of smell. The quaint shop was well kept. Tall shelves on the sidewalls and one in its

core were busy with hundreds of unique substances. It was not long before the sly Scathrin located the items he longed to obtain. A middle-aged Eacye man came out from behind a counter, positioned in the rear of the shop. With a sturdy wooden pipe, well riveted betwixt yellowed teeth and a pleasant expression, he approached Varan.

“Scorcher today, is it not?” the clerk asked, padding the sweat from his partially bald head and shuffling his feet. “This reminds me of the time … oh I don’t know I guess it was three or four years ago when the wife was sitting on the back porch with our granddaughter. The heat must’ve got to her because she was passed out. It was the cutest thing… we found little Ellowese singing her a lullaby. Do you have any children young man?”

“No sir, I don’t ha…”

“Well you don’t know what you’re missing. Just last week little Ellowese looked up at me…”

“Sir, please,” Varan said with a scowl and raised hand.

“Well alright son… you don’t have to be so rude as to cut me off in mid-sentence,” the old man stated pointing the end of his pipe at the frustrated man.

“I’m sorry Sir. I’m just in a bit of a hurry.” Varan responded, disarming the clerk’s aggression. “You truly do have one fine shop here.”

“Well… that’s OK, no harm done. Depending on what you’re looking for, we’ve got many things on the back counter reduced in price.”

“Yes I see…You appear to have practically everything.”

“Practically everything Huh,” the man stated taken aback. “We’ve got it all. Just the other day Healer Bryant came in looking for Sarth oil. You know you have to draw that directly from the Sarth’s claw only moments after death or it spoils. He didn’t think we would have it but …we sure did…yep, we sure did. We have it all, and then some,” the man stated waving his arms at the merchandise.

Varan gave him a half smile. “Well is that so?” he asked raising his brows. “Actually the item I’m looking for doesn’t seem to be anywhere in the shop,” the young sly man said, curiously looking around.

The man was noticeably put out by Varan’s words, losing some of his good cheer. “We have everything imaginable,” he snipped, taking the pipe from his mouth and pointing the stem at his customer. “So what exactly are you looking for, young man?”

“Blood rage,” Varan replied raising his brows again.

“We have that. It’s simple kept in the back,” the man stated with arrogant vigor as he turned away. “If you knew anything about the drug, you’d know its rarity and how expensive it is to produce. Do you think I’m an idiot and would keep something as exotic as that out front to be stolen by some half-ass rouge?”

Varan knew these things and anticipated the clerk’s reaction to be just what it was. The Scathrin watched the gentleman disappear into the back room then, with casual sleight of hand, appropriated one box of Calmaridia’s finest smokes.

“Never mind,” Varan bellowed as he walked toward the front door. “I seem to have forgotten my coin pouch,” he added with a pat of his vest pocket, where the smokes rested comfortably.

Varan heard the man’s footsteps and gazed back to give him a parting smile, when the little bell over the door chimed once again. The Scathrin’s disposition changed dramatically when he looked upon the two that entered. The first was a hefty Ryore Commander with full armor that displayed his rank and countries crest. On his back was a great axe, its thick handle swaying, passing before the sun’s light, while casting its long shadow on Varan’s smallish frame.

The Ryore were a heavyset race with lazy extended ears and wrinkled faces, possessing an elongated snout that supported ivory tusks. This man was bald, and like all male Ryores, had two such tusks protruding up from his thick gray hide. The second, upper and smaller horn bore a slight crack that looked to be a battle scar. Right behind him was a female Ryore lieutenant with stubby hazel hair and, like all female Ryore’s; she had one tusk jutting up from the crest of her snout. She also garnered weighty armor displaying her rank. By first impression it seemed they had no intention of yielding the Scathrin passage.

To Varan the Ryore was a highly unattractive race and seeing the predicament he was in at the time, they were growing uglier by the second. His stomach churned and his head became light, but none of this did he show, as the Veshnarin remembered his lessons well, maintaining a relaxed demeanor. Making the moment all the more claustrophobic, the elder closed in from behind Varan. “Good day Commander Rusard, sure is a scorcher is it not?”

“And a good day to you as well, fine sir. You are quite right,” the Ryore replied.

Inspecting Varan with piercing blue eyes, the Ryore tugged at his belt to secure his girth. Varan, without displaying his fear, began to walk toward the door as the Ryore Commander went to meet the shop attendant. However, the female Ryore did not budge and, with a sharp aqua gaze, she stared down at the Scathrin while wearing an expression of discontent.

“As much as I would love to stand here and drink in your infinite beauty, I really must be going,” Varan stated sarcastically with raised eyebrows and a smirk. “So if you don’t mind.”

Varan attempted to go around the woman only to be cut off and placed back into the original stalemate.

“You took something unlawfully, did you not?” the portly female asked with cynical tones, as she leered at him, seemingly challenging his calm posture.

Varan’s mind weeded through several responses. The Scathrin was confident in his skills and did not believe they saw anything. She’s bluffing. That’s impressive for a warrior and especially a Ryore. “Don’t you think your predigest is getting the best of you?” Varan asked as he took a step back and gave her an uppity look to joust her slanted remark.

Before the woman could respond, the Commander spoke up and ordered her to move aside, allowing the fine citizen room to exit. Varan knew the Commander didn’t trust him either, but what he also knew was the honorable nature of the Ryore and how to manipulate their strict codes to his liking.

“We will be keeping a close eye on you Varan,” the lieutenant stated quietly with clinched teeth and bitterness in her tone. “Son of Varell,” she added with a gruff whisper.

Varan left the building not looking back. The fact they were privy to his lineage only disturbed him a little at first. After all, my father was a predominate figure around the world and I’m sure his son’s names were mentioned more than once. Besides the Ryore were more than thorough when it came to investigations or controlling their providence, not to mention that here in Magniowa they had the most prominent archives at their disposal.

A spiritual hall of records that, according to legend, has existed since the beginning of time, the archives, a two-story masterpiece of architecture, possessed all the most prestigious events on tablets which held mystical properties. In Magniowas’ early days, the population was primarily made up of those who came here on a pilgrimage to seek truth. Now, the city is filled with a variety of faiths and others whose ancestors came here for adventure and the thrill of the unknown, concerning the archives.

Varan wandered the main strip until early evening, and all the while could not shake the event at the alchemy shop. The fact the Ryore knew who he was and did research on his roots, rubbed Varan the wrong way, making him feel singled out. I suppose for my entire life I’ll be harassed because of all the supposed crimes my father committed, the young man thought, as he watched the people around him go about their mundane existence. It’s also apparent I’ll be subjected to blind hatred for those offenses as well.

Varan, opting to remove himself from Magniowa’s nightly activities, retired to his room at the Tanner Inn. It was a humble and peaceful environment, and for tonight, just what the healer ordered. The Scathrin did so enjoy the festivities after dusk, but on this evening, he desired to relax with his buclabah and get a good night’s sleep. These CM smokes will surely do the trick. The young man climbed the stairs to his room. Moreover, I won’t wake up with a sickly hang over either.

As he groped in his pants pocket for the key, Varan noticed the scent of sweet perfume in the air and the soft voice of a young lady in the room across the hall. The Veshnarin, with a perked ear, fought his insatiable curiosity and the urge to eavesdrop. With a turn of the key, the door eased open and Varan soon followed into the shadowy chamber. After lighting the lantern on the chest of drawers, he saw that the housemaid had refreshed his room. With four days gone of the six-day week, he paid for in advance, and his funds running low, Varan intended

to fully enjoy the comforts of the inn. If he did not land a job or come up with some money, he would soon be sleeping outdoors like he had many a night’s past. But for this evening that’s not the case and tomorrow will take care of itself. The young man lit the first CM smoke. The flavor of the leafy cigarette was smooth and its effect delightful. Varan sat back in the comfort chair and slowly indulged into a euphoric peace, as he took in, held, and blew the smoke upward. It was not long before the Calmaridian drug had the young man’s conscious reeling and his thoughtful mind wandering from subject to subject. The sounds around him intensified, from the shutters gently rattling as the warm breeze trickled through, to the muffled voices of those in the adjoining rooms.

The young man was torn between simply hitting the sack or going across the hall and seeking out the angel that belonged to the alluring scent. As he pondered this dilemma, Varan tugged at the brows above his good eye. Scathrins were blessed with three eyebrows that started at a point over the bridge of their nose and fanned out and upward toward the temple like crows’ feet. Whenever the young man was deep in thought he nervously tugged at the thin brows. She’s probably a hideous wench and I’ll end up regretting what I did in the morning. “Not like I haven’t done anything similar in the past,” he said to himself, followed by a subdued laugh as he exhaled.

With his thoughts still on the opposite sex, Varan reminisced about his first love and the feeling of foolish youth that came with the experience. Fallese was her name and she was the daughter of his father’s best friend or Uncle Claybius as they called him. If only my self-proclaimed hero of a brother would have known about our relationship, Varan thought as he reveled in the secret. They’re bonded now and have a little arrogant bastard child of their own named Varell, in honor of my arrogant father. I wonder if my brother misses his sword, he concluded, looking over to the fine weapon.

The emotions he was experiencing toward his brother were based on pure anger. The feelings toward his father however, were that of a hurt child masked by the bitterness of years past. Varan didn’t want to, once again, let the ghosts of his former life intrude on another evening and shook them free, recalling brighter memories.

The Scathrin began to dwell on his true love, the glory of becoming the greatest Veshnarin ever. Though his peers were off and running with their careers and his was at a crawl, the young man still felt confident. If he could just get a big break, or make a tremendous find, it would propel him into fame among his people. There were three major possibilities to look into, and two of these were located in regions far away. The third was the legend of the buried city of Magniowa and the realm that was lost with its fall. According to those of faith, the city was the first and only with seventy-seven righteous families living under the rule of a holy King and Queen. In the Magniowan archives, that now stand, was kept the huge tablet of divine knowledge. Within the very molecules of this great stone was sealed the realm of total understanding and the pure power of knowledge itself.

On a dark day, the wicked warlock of the underworld convinced the King and Queen, if they were to touch The Divine Tablet that all things would be revealed to them. Then they would be able to better serve their beloved followers. The story is not clear after that meeting, but it is said the tablet exploded with portions of the holy stone falling strategically throughout the world. None of the tablet’s particles have ever been discovered, with some believing they were quickly gathered up by the evil master’s minions, as others proclaim they could not be touched by such wicked spirits and will be revealed in time. These same faithful who, as one, still hold true to this account, believe the races of Kantania all have roots in the first Magniowa and the seventy-seven families that dwelled there.

Time was kept after that day and now eleven hundred and fifty-six years later they search for The Lost Realm and artifacts from the first city of Magniowa. If Varan could find any piece of this huge divine tablet or the submerged city, he would, without a doubt, become a popular and influential figure. With dreams of grander swimming about his head, the Scathrin swooned with hopes. Before long the drug hit hard and in an absolutely relaxed state the adventurous youth bedded down, falling fast asleep.

Reconsidering his position the following morning, the Veshnarin determined he would primarily remain in his room for the next three or four days. Varan thought it wise to allow his recent unlawful act to drift further into the past before showing his suspicious face. At night, he would make an occasional trip to the main road, covertly appropriating some extra cash through his adequate pick-pocketing skills. During the daylight hours he would exercise his nimble frame and practice the arts of his trade in temperatures over ninety degrees. A Veshnarins livelihood depended on being at the top of his game, and calisthenics that honed these aspects were never taken lightly by the young man, no matter what the conditions. The late evenings were spent dwelling in solitude, when Varan would take a cooling bath, than indulge in a hit of buclabah before retiring.

First Chapter Reveal: The Spellcaster’s Grimoire by Mark All

The Spellcaster's Grimoire banner———————–

The Spellcaster's GrimoireBestselling witchcraft author Trish Sinclair has a shameful secret: she’s a lousy spellcaster, and the spells in her books belong to others. So when a dying warlock entrusts her with an ancient and powerful grimoire, she runs for her life from his murderer, psychotic witch Kate Cavanaugh. Kate pursues Trish relentlessly to obtain the grimoire, which holds spells to command the fearsome power of a magic crystal hidden in town—and Kate is determined to have that power.

When the town coven refuses to help Trish protect the grimoire, she is forced to turn to cynical warlock Aidan McCarthy, who has a secret agenda of his own, and Rain Devereaux, a novice witch whose spellcasting abilities are even worse than Trish’s.  As Kate unleashes the elemental might of tornados and ice storms on the trio, they desperately struggle to defeat her.

But Kate is too powerful, and she manages to steal the grimoire and unearth the crystal. Trish knows Kate will use the stone’s power to exact her deadly revenge on Aidan and the town coven unless Trish can manifest her latent magical abilities to save them.



Chapter One

Summer thunder shook the house as Trish Sinclair finished the incantation, punctuating it with a startled exclamation that extinguished the black candle on the coffee table.

Eerie timing, but surely coincidental. After yet another day of writer’s block, Trish had invoked a simple inspiration spell, but those didn’t generally bring down the wrath of nature.

Sighing, she closed her mother’s book of shadows, marking her place with the advance check for the third volume of The Spellcaster’s Grimoire, her bestselling series on recreational witchcraft. At the rate she was going, there would be no third installment.

Trish had used all the harmless, sparkly spells from her mother’s grimoire for the first volume. Benton Moorcroft, leader of the local coven, had supplied enough for the second. But all that remained were incantations more dangerous or complicated than she felt comfortable giving to the public.

Thunder crashed again, the flash of lightning brilliantly outlining the closed window blinds. Not the result she’d hoped for from the inspiration spell. Clearly the universe would provide her no epiphany tonight, nothing more exciting than a storm.

She ambled into the kitchen, opened the pantry, and scowled at the cans and boxes.

Carbs would be good consolation. Instant hash browns, instant mashed potatoes—ah, mac and cheese. She grabbed the box, ripped it open, and started water boiling for the noodles.

This writing business was getting to be too much like work. She’d have to bug Benton again for new material. As old as he was, and with so much experience, he’d probably forgotten enough trivial spells to fill an encyclopedia. He’d just have to dredge up a few more for her. Otherwise, she would be revealed to the world, or at least her agent and editor, as the two-trick pony she probably was.

On the other hand, Benton might not be so helpful now. He was a bit peeved with her for spicing up Volume Two with the creepy legend from her mother’s book of shadows.

The windows rattled with the rumble of thunder once more, closer now, as Trish blew her bangs from her eyes, tossed her hair over her shoulder, and drained the noodles.

She contemplated the entire stick of margarine the directions called for, shrugged, and dropped it into the pot. She added the orange powder from the foil packet, stirred, and abracadabra, behold comfort food.

Maynard, Georgia had been built two hundred years ago around an excavated, boulder-sized crystal that channeled the hidden energy of the universe and served as the source of the town’s magic. Soon after the community’s founding, the coven leader appropriated the group’s ancient book of spells and used it to harness the stone’s flow of power all for himself. The coven historian, the Keeper of the Grimoire, used a summoning spell to gather the other witches and warlocks—who burned their leader alive. Trish didn’t see what the problem with publishing it was. The story sounded apocryphal, yet added to the truthiness of The Spellcaster’s Grimoire. And got copies into the Regional Books sections of the local bookstores.

She did feel guilty she hadn’t told Benton she was going to include the legend of the grimoire and the crystal. She had put clues together from things Benton had said and inferred that the grimoire had not been incinerated in the warlock’s funeral pyre, but still existed. Not only that, she was pretty sure Benton was the Keeper of the Grimoire. She’d told herself he’d be flattered by her broad hints that even today the coven leader protected the grimoire.

Still, the fact that she hadn’t told him about it before turning the manuscript in was a pretty good indicator she’d unconsciously known she shouldn’t publish it. But if the legend wasn’t true, why had he gotten so upset? Even if it was true, why had he gotten so upset?

Whatever, she was starving. Emotionally, anyway.

As she spooned a giant orange noodle-glob onto her plate, something heavy slammed hard into the sliding glass doors to the back yard.

“Holy freakin’ crap!”

She jumped and dropped the dish to the floor. The plate shattered, sending shards of stoneware and clumps of mac and cheese in all directions, but her gaze was on the door.

A body slumped against the glass, a haggard face plastered to it in a smear of blood.

Her pulse and breath racing, Trish started again in recognition of the crumpled form.


Stepping around her ruined dinner, she ran to the door and opened it carefully with one hand, catching his weight with the other as he collapsed into the kitchen.

“Benton! What—” She gasped as he fell against her, and she saw the intricately fashioned hilt of a dagger protruding from his back.

“Ohmygod, ohmygod . . .” Trish felt dissociated from reality, from her own body. A moment ago she’d been making comfort food, now the world had shifted on its axis, and she had a bloody medical emergency on her hands. Panic raced through her. She didn’t even know CPR.

Dizzy with an adrenaline rush, she lowered Benton to the floor, kneeling and cradling his upper body in her arms, barely aware of the tears stinging her eyes.

She had to get her shit together. Now. Get that knife out. As she stared at it, a dull shimmer emanated from it. Magic. She cautiously touched the hilt, then wrapped her fingers around it and pulled.

Benton screamed, and she cried out herself, releasing her hold on the dagger, leaving it in him.

Now what, now what? Her pulse pounded in her temples like a tympani, scattering her confused thoughts. She couldn’t handle this herself, she had to get help. “Hang on, I’m calling 911!”

Benton turned his face up to her. “No . . . Trish . . .”

“Shhh!” She rose and started for the phone, but he grasped the hem of her jeans.

“They . . . they can’t help me,” Benton wheezed, his eyelids half-lowered, his head dipping. “Listen. You’ve got to protect the book.”

She kneeled beside him again. “I’ve got to call for an ambulance!”

“Trish!” Benton grabbed her blouse and pulled her face close to his.

“I’ve brought terrible trouble to you, girl.” He coughed, and blood bubbled on his

lips. “I’m going to give you a two-part spell in case she finds you. Then you get out of here, get Aidan, and get the book. If she gets her hands on it . . .”

He was delirious. Shaking with frustration, Trish tried to pry his fingers loose from her blouse. “I’ve got to call 911! I’m getting help, or you’re going to die.”

He shook his head. “I’m already dead, you can’t save me. But here’s what you can do. What you must do.”

Trish blinked tears from her eyes, her emotions chaotic and her breathing so fast she was lightheaded. She had to get him to cooperate. “Okay, say what you’ve got to, then

I’m calling.”

“Hush, listen! You exposed our secrets, silly girl, and you’re going to make it right!”

His words cut her to the core—silly girl—she knew the truth when she heard it.

Benton’s head sagged again. “Sorry . . . Blade of Truth . . . The witch . . . she wants the grimoire.” Bright blood further stained his teeth as he spoke. “You revealed . . . that the book still exists. You’ve got to protect it, keep it from her.”

“So it is true?”

Taking a deep breath, Benton continued. “Go to Aidan McCarthy . . .”

“The town drunk?” She said, confused. McCarthy lived in a double-wide on a large wooded lot at the edge of town. He was rumored to have a Masters degree in philosophy, but he did pickup manual labor for a subsistence living. When he wasn’t working, he was at a bar or getting stoned in his trailer. He had a reputation among the local witches as a loner, a renegade, allegedly more powerful than anyone else in Maynard. Ironically, they feared he was going to have eight too many beers some night and start mouthing off about magic and witches, but McCarthy was the only magical resident of the town who’d flatly refused to talk to Trish, let alone contribute a spell to her collections.

“Tell him . . .” Benton’s breath rattled as he paused. “Tell him you’re the guardian now. He’s got to help you. Aidan was once my pupil. He can get you past my spells.”

“Okay, okay,” she said. Whatever it took to get him to let go of her. “I’ll call him.

Right now I’m calling the EMTs.”

Benton shook his head, spraying droplets of blood on the linoleum. “Wait.” He blinked, his eyes losing focus for a moment, then fastening on her again. “I’ve got to give you the spell to get away from her. She’s not far behind me.”

He was losing it. “The witch? The person who did this to you?”

He shushed her. “Listen and remember. Escape spell. You can handle it, you’re good

at illusions. Well, passable.” He clutched her hair, drew her face close to his, and said a nullification spell that would prevent the spell he recited next from taking effect. Then he murmured a simple incantation in her ear and repeated it. “Have you got that?”

She nodded, tried to move away, but he yanked her hair again and said, “The second part, to animate the constructs . . .”

After he’d done another nullifier and given her the rest of the spell, his fingers loosened, and she pulled them from her hair. “Okay. But now I’m calling 911.”

“No time. You have to leave.”

Trish got to her feet, shaking, wobbly on her heels.

Thunder exploded just outside, the sound of angry gods.

At the front of the house, a deafening banging began, the door and windows rattling in their frames as if battered by a hurricane force wind.

Benton looked up from the floor, eyes fluttering. “She’s here.”

First Chapter Reveal: Revelation: The Return of Mr. Breeze by Morrie Richfield

Revelation 2Title of Book: REVELATION
Genre: Inspirational Fantasy
Author: Morrie Richfield
Publisher: Morrie Richfield


Mr. Breeze is back; so is Michael Ryan and Rover, the magical dog.

MR. BREEZE fans can rejoice. REVELATION, Morrie Richfield’s much-anticipated sequel to his novel MR. BREEZE, has arrived. Readers new to the strange but inspiring tale of a super being and his attempt to set mankind on a straight and moral path for its very survival can immerse themselves in what critics and readers alike are calling an “inspirational fantasy” with important lessons for all of us.

In MR. BREEZE, published in 2011, Richfield introduced readers to Zackary, aka Zack, aka Mr. Breeze, an ancient being who claimed to be mankind’s creator and who still exerts a powerful force on the human race and its very existence. Zack appeared on earth as a powerful man who did miraculous deeds. He chose journalist Michael Ryan to tell his story in a book that, he hoped, would show mankind how to stop its self-destructive ways and bring paradise on earth. With man’s fate hanging in the balance, Zack disappeared, leaving humans to their fate and Michael wondering what his role really is.

REVELATION moves the action two years into the future. The situation looks bleak. Mankind has slipped back into its old, destructive ways and Michael has become a dissolute recluse. There are people who view Michael as a savior and others who see him as a threat to be eliminated.

Along this strange trip, Michael meets new friends and reunites with old companions, the most significant of which is Rover, an abused dog whom Zack endowed with superpowers. Rover becomes Zack’s messenger to Michael, as Michael tries to get Zack’s original message out to the world: If mankind doesn’t straighten out, he will destroy the human race.

Richfield plays down the description of REVELATION as an “inspirational fantasy.” He calls it a “self-help book, a textbook, a reality series on paper. It is what we see when we look in the mirror.”

If MR. BREEZE focused on Zack and his message, REVELATION focuses on Michael, following his struggle to understand his role in Zack’s master plan and to find his soul, Richfield says. “Michael’s final revelation is that we just don’t learn. Without the threat of destruction, we go back to our old ways. Our time is almost up and we need to do something. We need to show Mr. Breeze the human race deserves a chance to continue to exist.”
– See more at:

Mr. Breeze is back; so is Michael Ryan and Rover, the magical dog.

MR. BREEZE fans can rejoice. REVELATION, Morrie Richfield’s much-anticipated sequel to his novel MR. BREEZE, has arrived. Readers new to the strange but inspiring tale of a super being and his attempt to set mankind on a straight and moral path for its very survival can immerse themselves in what critics and readers alike are calling an “inspirational fantasy” with important lessons for all of us.

In MR. BREEZE, published in 2011, Richfield introduced readers to Zackary, aka Zack, aka Mr. Breeze, an ancient being who claimed to be mankind’s creator and who still exerts a powerful force on the human race and its very existence. Zack appeared on earth as a powerful man who did miraculous deeds. He chose journalist Michael Ryan to tell his story in a book that, he hoped, would show mankind how to stop its self-destructive ways and bring paradise on earth. With man’s fate hanging in the balance, Zack disappeared, leaving humans to their fate and Michael wondering what his role really is.

REVELATION moves the action two years into the future. The situation looks bleak. Mankind has slipped back into its old, destructive ways and Michael has become a dissolute recluse. There are people who view Michael as a savior and others who see him as a threat to be eliminated.

Along this strange trip, Michael meets new friends and reunites with old companions, the most significant of which is Rover, an abused dog whom Zack endowed with superpowers. Rover becomes Zack’s messenger to Michael, as Michael tries to get Zack’s original message out to the world: If mankind doesn’t straighten out, he will destroy the human race.

Richfield plays down the description of REVELATION as an “inspirational fantasy.” He calls it a “self-help book, a textbook, a reality series on paper. It is what we see when we look in the mirror.”

If MR. BREEZE focused on Zack and his message, REVELATION focuses on Michael, following his struggle to understand his role in Zack’s master plan and to find his soul, Richfield says. “Michael’s final revelation is that we just don’t learn. Without the threat of destruction, we go back to our old ways. Our time is almost up and we need to do something. We need to show Mr. Breeze the human race deserves a chance to continue to exist.”

Mr. Breeze is back; so is Michael Ryan and Rover, the magical dog.

MR. BREEZE fans can rejoice. REVELATION, Morrie Richfield’s much-anticipated sequel to his novel MR. BREEZE, has arrived. Readers new to the strange but inspiring tale of a super being and his attempt to set mankind on a straight and moral path for its very survival can immerse themselves in what critics and readers alike are calling an “inspirational fantasy” with important lessons for all of us.

In MR. BREEZE, published in 2011, Richfield introduced readers to Zackary, aka Zack, aka Mr. Breeze, an ancient being who claimed to be mankind’s creator and who still exerts a powerful force on the human race and its very existence. Zack appeared on earth as a powerful man who did miraculous deeds. He chose journalist Michael Ryan to tell his story in a book that, he hoped, would show mankind how to stop its self-destructive ways and bring paradise on earth. With man’s fate hanging in the balance, Zack disappeared, leaving humans to their fate and Michael wondering what his role really is.

REVELATION moves the action two years into the future. The situation looks bleak. Mankind has slipped back into its old, destructive ways and Michael has become a dissolute recluse. There are people who view Michael as a savior and others who see him as a threat to be eliminated.

Along this strange trip, Michael meets new friends and reunites with old companions, the most significant of which is Rover, an abused dog whom Zack endowed with superpowers. Rover becomes Zack’s messenger to Michael, as Michael tries to get Zack’s original message out to the world: If mankind doesn’t straighten out, he will destroy the human race.

Richfield plays down the description of REVELATION as an “inspirational fantasy.” He calls it a “self-help book, a textbook, a reality series on paper. It is what we see when we look in the mirror.”

If MR. BREEZE focused on Zack and his message, REVELATION focuses on Michael, following his struggle to understand his role in Zack’s master plan and to find his soul, Richfield says. “Michael’s final revelation is that we just don’t learn. Without the threat of destruction, we go back to our old ways. Our time is almost up and we need to do something. We need to show Mr. Breeze the human race deserves a chance to continue to exist.”

– See more at:


Chapter 1

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Yes, it is me, Michael Ryan. I’m sure you remember me. After all, for a short time, I was about the most famous man in the world. For those of you who have forgotten, let me fill you in on what has happened in the two years since I last saw Zackary Breeze and Rover.

Of course you must remember Zack Breeze and Rover. Zack as he called himself is this time is our maker. He cured our diseases told us our religions are nothing but of our own making and turned a normal German Sheppard dog whose name is Rover into the second most powerful being on the planet. Let’s not forget that he used me to write his story and threatened our immediate destruction should I refuse.

I wrote the book that Zack asked me to write. It sold more copies than any book in history, and you all read it. I was oh so pleased with myself. I was rich, famous, and revered. You could not open a newspaper or magazine without seeing my name in it somewhere. It was my fifteen minutes of fame, so to speak.

For a time, there seemed to be hope in the world. The wars and fighting stopped—it was as if no one knew if the next shot fired would be the one that would bring the human race to an end. People seemed to like that I was somehow partly responsible for all of these remarkable things that had happened. I was admired by many, but what I did not know at the time was that I was hated by an equal number.

It seemed that once people heard Zack’s words, most of them stopped going to churches, synagogues, mosques, or any public place of worship. They prayed on their front yards and in alleys and at any time they felt the need. Only now, they prayed to Zack, and a somewhat zealous few even prayed to me.

For those fanatics, you see, I was the messenger of God. Through me, they thought they could find salvation, and, boy, did they try. They camped out on my street, in my yard, and even in my neighbors’ yards. They also built structures to honor me out of stuff from my trash and the trash of everyone else on the street. As you can probably imagine, my neighbors were not pleased, and neither was I. I was like a movie star; I couldn’t go out in public without paparazzi on my tail and people asking me to touch them. My fifteen minutes of fame had turned into twenty-four hours a day of hell.

Then the reaction from the religious community came. They finally realized that without worshippers and money, they would not survive. For them, Zack meant the end of their existence, and I became their target for retaliation.

“The devil comes to us in many forms” became their rallying cry, and as for me, I became the devil’s minion. I guess I couldn’t blame them for trying to bring their followers back, but I was astounded by how many people believed them. They quickly forgot what they had seen and what Zack had done. They even managed to convince the majority of the world that Zack cured all of their diseases just so he could fool them into thinking he was our maker.

Let’s also not forget how the pharmaceutical companies chimed in. After all, no more diseases meant no one needed medication, so no more business. They jumped right on that bandwagon and within a few months had almost everyone believing their miraculous cures were temporary. So back on the drugs they went, and back came the profits.

I suppose I should have expected there would be some reaction; after all, I always believed religion was nothing more than a very profitable business whose main currency was either hope or fear. If they could not get your money by making you believe in one, they would threaten you with the other. Just like any other business, they needed their customers to survive.

Suddenly, my home, my yard, and my street became the focal point for the battle between those who thought Zack was our savior and those who thought he was the devil. It was not a pretty sight. At first, there were just signs and lots of chanting, but then came the physical confrontations followed by the police in riot gear. I was a prisoner in my own house—that is, until someone decided to throw a Molotov cocktail through one of my windows and burn my house down.

I barely made it out in one piece, but the fire and the confusion surrounding it gave me a chance to get away without anyone noticing me. At first, they thought I had died in the fire, and the celebrations that ensued over that news were televised a bit too often for my liking. So I decided it was time to keep a very low profile.

That was how I ended up here in northwest Maryland, in a house my old friend Al had rented for me. I still had a few friends left, though most of them would rather I not mention their names.

I’d been living in this house on this quiet street for almost a year. At first, I tried to write, but I just couldn’t find the words. Instead, I settled into a somewhat boring and mundane existence. Then, I had the brilliant idea that smoking pot and listening to the Grateful Dead might help me make some sense out of all this. So I called on another person I could still call a friend and asked him to send me up a whole bunch of it.

If the UPS driver only knew what she was delivering that day!

Oh, I’m sorry I forgot to tell you about Julie. You remember her; she was the woman I was with when all this started. She was not that thrilled with what Zack had made me realize about myself and was gone about thirty seconds after I was released from the hospital.

I suppose you could say that in many ways, I was living like a recluse. I had my food delivered, and I had not shaved or had a haircut in months. At first, I did it with the hope that it would make it harder for anyone to recognize me, but after a while, I kind of liked the look.

It seemed to fit my new lifestyle and made me feel more authentic as I got high all day with the Dead’s music as my only companion.

My only other activity was looking out of my front windows. The house I was renting was a Cape Cod. It had a porch and big vertical windows across the front. It allowed me to see the comings and goings on the street. It also allowed me to see her.

She lived in the house across the street with her daughter, who had the biggest mouth of all the kids on the street. I could always tell when she was outside. She was a bossy little thing too, always telling the other kids what to do. She was a miniature version of her mother tall, athletic looking with long blondish hair. I was not sure how old the little girl was, and I was equally unsure about her mother’s age.

She looked like she could be in her thirties; she was tall—I guessed her height to be around five feet eight inches. She had long blond hair, which she kept up most of the time, and a physique that must have been the result of a great deal of time in a gym. Her body was as toned and fit as I had ever seen.

It was her beauty and the way she moved that had me mesmerized. I had only seen her face clearly a few times when she walked on my front lawn to retrieve the toys her daughter had thrown. She was absolutely stunning, and she moved with the grace of a dancer; her muscles visibly flexing with every stride she took.

OK, I know I sound like a horny teenage boy, but somehow, I knew there was something very special about her and I was strangely drawn to her.

I would sometimes watch her daughter talking with her and see the little girl pointing toward my house when she spoke. I was not able to hear what they were saying, though I am sure they wondered about the mysterious man who lived here.

I had now spent the last ten months getting high every day, and I think I can safely say I had heard every song the Grateful Dead ever recorded. I had not read a newspaper, watched any television, or even looked at a computer screen since I moved into this house. I was not exactly thrilled by the fact that before I moved here, people were openly burning my photo or hanging me in effigy somewhere on a daily basis. It seemed to make the news constantly.

So, for the first time in my adult life, I had no idea about what was going on in the world. My little world at this point consisted of what was happening inside my house and as far as I could see out my front windows.

All that was about to change though. I had run out of pot, and my contact who had supplied it for me earlier would no longer take my calls.

— Excerpted from Revelation by Morrie Richfield