Historical Fantasy
Date Published: Revised August 2015

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After four centuries of political infighting with Linden, the ruler of the Marches, all Mariah wants is a little peace and quiet. Then, privateers attack her daughter’s family, leaving Norerah at death’s door. Mariah’s anger boils over. Ashton, her ring-mate and Linden’s half-brother, and Mariah seek vengeance, ignoring Linden’s decrees, only to discover a strange magic that threatens everything the three hold dear.
Linden, the Lord High Commander of the Marches, strode across the main healing hall of the southern district, where Mariah was helping that day. One of the healers had had a family emergency, and the lead healer had called Mariah to replace him. She now stood by the door leading into the private consulting rooms, feeling the heat of his anger. The veins bulged in Linden’s neck as his face reddened when he saw her standing by the interior door. Mariah unhooked her thumbs from her honor belt and crossed her arms over her chest, ready to withstand his tirade, though she did not know what had angered him this time.
Halting in the middle of the room, Linden’s growled words boomed through the waiting room. “Stop interfering in my business, woman.”
The ruler’s head lowered as if he were a bull readying for the change. The people, waiting to consult with the healers, shrank away though both combatants were unarmed except for their boot knives used mostly for eating.
Mariah’s dark eyes blazed. Though she no longer wore her sword and seldom visited his ranger camp, Mariah still dressed in warrior’s breeches, unlaced shirt, and knee-high boots, much as he did. Only her honor belt differed, displaying healer’s insignia on its interlocking buckles, though the belt itself was embossed with as many death stars as his.
Biting her lip, Mariah longed for Linden’s younger version. The angry, stocky man had swallowed the slim, hesitant youth, who had once shared her bed with his half-brother long years ago. Linden pushed forward until his large nose almost touched hers, bringing his sharp elven teeth close enough to bite. The heat of his anger brushed against her tan skin. Mariah tensed, ready to defend all in the room.
The air in the public area crackled as elven shields snapped into place.
The common Half-Elven patients and their families cowered against the walls. The audience’s eyes rolled like nervous horses, fearing what powers the combatants might unleash. Mariah’s skin itched from the static raised as the watchers pulled what energy they could from the air to strengthen their protective shields. But she focused her attention on the ruler who had once been one of her closest friends.
About the Author

Long time fantasy reader and non-fiction writer, M. K. Theodoratus now writes about elves, mages, demons, and other preternatural creatures. While she mostly writes to amuse herself, she’s willing to share her stories.
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The Secret King: Lethao

Sci-Fi / Fantasy
Date Published: September 30, 2015

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Kendro, King of the Aonise, can do nothing to prevent their sun from collapsing, consuming their home planet Letháo in a single fiery blast. Running out of time and options, he evacuates the entire population, setting off into the unknown galaxy in four crowded ships. Under constant danger from their ancient enemy, the Zefron, treasonous dissent seeps into his inner circle. Threatened inside and out, Kendro struggles with who to trust, until a mysterious vision finally brings hope to the distraught King. A new home awaits the Aonise, if Kendro can only unite them long enough to survive the journey.

From Ch 2:
“I can’t help but worry.” Chace’s hands shook as he locked eyes with Octav. “You know we don’t have a destination.”
“You’re privy to that information.” Octav shot him a glare.  “Do not speak of it.”
Chace stepped backed, “I’m sorry, Sir.”
Octav stared at Chace’s shimmering forearm where his birthmark betrayed his fear. Wearing their traditional uniforms had been Kendro’s idea. He’d hoped to bring calm to everyone, as their open birthmarks reflected their emotions. Winter wasn’t the time of year to be showing bare skin though, the chill Octav felt inside was almost un-bearable, not all of it from the weather.
Chace’s emotions were there for everyone to see, from the flicker across his striking facial mark, to the swirling pattern of his arm. He was terrified and more.
“Listen to me,” against his better judgment Octav reached for Chace. Pulling his own croex to the surface, Octav allowed it to trickle through into Chace’s skin. “Trust me. We might not know where we’re going, but we will find a new home.”
About the Author
Dawn Chapman has been creating sci fi and fantasy stories for thirty years. Until 2005 when her life and attention turned to scripts, and she started work on The Secret King, a 13 episode Sci Fi TV series, with great passion for this medium.
In 2010, Dawn returned to her first love of prose. She’s been working with coach EJ Runyon who’s encouraged her away from fast paced script writing, to revel in the world of TSK and Letháo as an epic prose space journey.
She’s had success with a web series, co-written with ‘Melvin Johnson’, produced by Nandar Entertainment, and a short film Irobe, also co-written. This year her experience of working with Producers/Directors from the US and AUS has expanded. From Drama, Sci Fi to Action, Dawn’s built a portfolio of writing, consulting and publishing.
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Twitter: @TeamSecretKing
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Last Light Falling

YA Dystopian / Post Apocalyptic Thriller
Date Published: July 2015

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Arena has left the nation’s administration with a dead president and a weakened military, and while the tragic memories continue to scar her, the government struggles to regroup without its leader. For the people who still remain in hiding, it’s evident the country is all but lost, and with Russian operatives taking over, the nation’s hope of recovering is grim.
After months in hiding, Arena and her brother, Gabriel, fight to survive the aftermath while they trudge through unkindly terrain across the country to rejoin their friends, but what they soon discover may staunch their journey. The government’s failed attempt to rebirth a broken nation has caused civil unrest like no other.
After reuniting with their friends, Arena’s decision to stay changes when she discovers the secrets of a refugee camp behind a clandestine group of rebels, known as the Southern Resistance. With an opportunity to escape to a permanent safe haven, Arena risks her life to lead the new fellowship. But the darkest days are upon them, and with a new war brewing, Arena’s path will take a dark turn as her survival is in jeopardy.
Into The Darkness captures the cruel truth behind our darkest secrets which may often cause us to question our faith. In this graphic second installment of the LAST LIGHT FALLING series, J.E. Plemons continues the grim story of Arena Power’s fate, testing her faith while she and her brother search for an answer to their survival in a brooding world filled with chaos.
In the midst of tragic suffering, we all have fallen by death in one way or another, but because of His suffering, we are given hope and a gift of eternal life. I’m still hopeful for those who still remain in this wicked world, regardless of the unleashed hell that awaits us all.
The light draws dim, and Gabe and I are forced to set camp as the sun sets behind the horizon. We find a small spot beyond a brushy field where a clump of trees stands out in the middle of nowhere. The trees are packed fairly tightly, but there is very little underbrush where we can start a fire without burning everything in sight.
“How many more days you think?” Gabe asks as he clears the ground. I brush the sweat from my eyes and gaze wearily to the east. I’m afraid Carrington won’t be the same as we left it.
“Hard to say,” I simply answer. Fact is I haven’t the slightest clue. Nothing from this landscape looks familiar to home. I lay my pack on the cool soil and rest my swords peacefully against a gnarled tree trunk.
“You hungry?” I ask.
“Is the Pope Catholic?” he caustically answers. The sun quickly sets well behind the trees, leaving the horizon to glow.
“Why don’t you get a fire started and I’ll fetch us some-thing to eat.”
While Gabe dresses the ground with kindling, I venture west, anxious to hunt. Night hunting is not my forte. With-out ample light, there’s no telling what’s lurking in the high grass that surrounds us. Although the land here offers abundant species of game birds, I fear the coyotes and bobcats
will scare them away. I kneel down in the brush and wait for something appetizing to cross my path.
It’s been long since Gabe and I have had a decent meal we haven’t had to kill ourselves—not since before all this shit happened. Myra, our foster mom, was the chef of the household. Her roasted duck, a staple on special occasions, would have your taste buds hypnotized for days. And not many people know how to cook duck properly, but she sure did. Though she is dead along with my real mom, not a day goes by without some memory of her.
It’s been twenty minutes now and not a single creature has stirred. I’ve impatiently waited too long to stay here. I trek further out toward a small thicket of live oak trees about a half-mile to the west.
About halfway to the coppice a small hare hops past my boots. I lunge to grab it, but catch a handful of dirt instead. I can’t see a damn thing out here in this nest of weeds. My only hope is to nab something in that cluster of trees up ahead. I wade through the thick brush until the sound of heavy breathing halts my pace. I rest still and for a moment the labored wheezing stops. The sounds in the dark can be misleading, but this certainly doesn’t sound friendly. The tall grass suddenly rustles, but I can’t tell in what direction it’s coming from. Whatever it is, it seems to be scurrying frantically all around. I know it’s not a coyote, because he wouldn’t be moving this much; he would cowardly wait until I made the first move. A small tree limb snaps on the ground to my left about fifteen paces. I quickly bend down and hide within the scratchy underwood. I slowly draw one of my weathered arrows and carefully place it in the string of my bow, waiting for this animal to show itself. The rustling stops and the deep croaking sound of a bullfrog echoes in the distance. That is a pleasing sound, because I know there must be water nearby and I desperately could use a drink. No frog in its right mind would hop around in this barren land without water.
It’s been too long for whatever is hiding out there not to move. Just then, my stomach decides to harmonize with that old bullfrog, growling with starvation. I’m so hungry right now, I’d eat a hot dog from a gas station, but I’m not leaving this spot until I find out what’s hiding out there.
I slowly stand up and walk toward where the raspy panting first started. The rustling in the grass continues when two pheasants fly out in front of me, trying to flee. I must have stepped near their guarded nest. A devilish squeal pierces the air, and two glowing eyes stare at me. In an instant, the tall grass begins to move toward me like a wave in the ocean. I raise my bow and pull the string back, but the arrow nock splits and falls from my hands. I quickly turn and run, hoping I won’t be mauled by what-ever is chasing me. The grass gets thicker and thicker, slowing me down, and that monstrous squeal pierces my ears.
I dart through the weeds as they slash against my thighs like stinging whips. The persisting beast moans with a hellish roar, closing in on my pace, until I finally exit the brushy pasture into a small clearing. There’s not a safe enough distance between this creature and me to look back. It’s fast whatever it is.
I alter my course toward an old oak tree in hopes I will climb far enough up its gnarled limbs for safe harbor. My sides ache from the exhausted running, and the muscle in my lower left calf gives in as I stumble hard to the ground beneath the old tree.
I quickly roll over, pull my dagger from its sheath, and unexpectedly recognize the beast’s twisted tusks driving rapidly toward me. The moonlight shines through the clouded skies and reveals an infuriated feral hog ready to tear into my flesh with vengeance. If I falter, or lose my grip on my knife, I will be at the mercy of its sharp, bristling tusks. The savage pig bows back its hairy ears and leaps, its jowls open wide exposing its razor-sharp teeth. I swing my arm forward and thrust the end of my blade into the back-side of his thick, hairy-coated neck. The hog violently flops about, squealing, not going down without a fight. I stab him again and again until the shrieking finally stops.
I lie there on the ground panting, the two-hundred-pound dead, bloody boar resting on my legs. I’m too tired to move, but the stench emitting from this fowl beast persuades me to do otherwise. Not what I was expecting to find for food, but it’s all we have, and unless a nice pheasant or squirrel decides to pleasantly drop in my lap surrendering to be eaten, it’s pork for dinner.
I push the hairy hog off my legs and pull out my knife. Before I slice into its belly, a small wooden cross near the tree catches my eye. It leans to the side, sitting atop a pile of rocks. It reminds me too much of my uncle Finnegan’s burial that I can’t seem to peel my eyes from it.
Six months have passed since Gabe and I left Finnegan’s grave, and yet I still haven’t forgiven myself for his careless death. If he hadn’t shielded me from the soldier’s bullet at the training facility, I would be the one lying in that grave right now. But my raging hatred for General Iakov caused more pain and misery to our fellowship, and it got Finnegan killed. Though Iakov has fallen with his sol-diers in the facility, leaving a heavy stain on this new administration, it has broken a part of me I can’t get back.
I feel less convinced of the path God has led me on with every step I take in this dark depraved place. If it is my des-tiny to help wipe evil from this world, it’s tearing me apart, because I can feel the fragility in my faith growing now. While I wish I could go back and change things, my fate has brought me here. . . hunting in the dark for survival.
I quickly cut into the hog before the meat spoils and the blood taints our meal. There is just too much to carry back to camp, so I cut and skin what I can for the night and leave the stinky carcass for the vultures. The smell is just too repulsive to continue butchering this nasty beast, anyway. It’s beyond the depths of foul. I tie up what meat I can carry with me and wander toward the small coppice where that bullfrog was bellowing. I’m sure to find water somewhere nearby.
The exposed roots twisting along the ground like a snake suggest an underground spring feeding these lonely trees. There stands a soaring cypress tree hovering over the bank of a small running creek that effortlessly meanders with twists and turns. I follow the brook until I reach the end where it pours into a clear spring. My weary eyes widen, and my dry, parched mouth salivates over this aquatic nectar.
I dunk the canteens into the cold spring water in a less-stagnate area away from the growing moss and algae. I’m so thirsty, I couldn’t care less what’s floating in this sweet, quenching pool of goodness. As long as I don’t have to see what I’m drinking, I’m just fine. Bottoms up, I say.
The unbearable frigid temperatures of winter have finally subdued and surrendered to the fresh blooming beginnings of spring, just like this water. Unfortunately, summer has found a way to creep in, because these long hot days have been murderous. It’s nearing May, I think, but I can’t be for sure. I lost track of time long ago.
For six long miserable months, our weary legs have ambled through snowy drifts of white expanding as far as the eye can see. We have traveled through lifeless towns, abandoned farms, and fields of emptiness, but traveling by foot is our only way now. The roads are no longer safe. Our nation has changed into an ever-growing evil, and those who see it for what it really is have become a liability under harsh scrutiny.
The hundreds of miles we’ve traveled from the East Coast have worn us thin, but I feel our journey to reunite with our friends is not too far away. Texas is the only thing on my mind, and I won’t be discouraged by another day of swollen feet. We haven’t come this far just to give up.
There’s a glowing ember in the distance and I realize just how far away I am from Gabe’s warm fire. The air is starting to get a little chilly and I shiver. I make my way back to camp and find Gabe asleep on the ground in a fetal position. The egregious smell of pork smoking above the fire should wake his stomach up. Gabe has already built a spit-fire high enough above the flames to cook our meal. He’s a Boy Scout after my own heart.
I’m too hungry to wait for this meat slab to hang over the fire the next eight hours. I slice off small manageable pieces to cook, skewer them on a couple of sticks, and lay them on a rock next to the fire. I wrap the rest of meat around the long piece of hickory Gabe had used for a walking stick, and secure it with some left over wire from my pack. I carefully rest the meat above the fire to slow-cook overnight. Hell, maybe the stench will evaporate from the pores, leaving us with some nice tenderloin for breakfast.
I sit next to the crackling fire and dangle the small pieces on the wooden skewers right above the flames. The rendering fat drips from the pork causing the fire to flare up. The sizzling of the fat and crackling of the tissue begins to rouse Gabe, but I don’t think it’s the sound that has awakened him.
“Holy mother of God, what’s that smell, Arena?” Gabe says with his nosed pinched. It’s quite an uninviting smell, but I’ve been smelling and breathing it in for a while, so I guess I have gotten used to it.
“It’s our dinner,” I say.
“You’re kidding me. What are you feeding me, the inside of a pig’s ass?”
Not quite, but damn near close, I think, trying hard not to smile. Okay, I admit the smell is objectionable, but this is all I have to offer.
“Unless you have anything better to proposition, this is our meal. I suggest you take it and fill that empty stomach of yours.”
This salty meat may taste gamey, but when you are as hungry as we are, you’ll eat just about anything, and my stomach can’t wait until the morning to find something bet-ter. Sure I would like to have a nice juicy steak and baked potato, but this will just have to do. We both hold our noses from breathing in the smell of this wretched swine. I stomach what I can and try to dilute the taste with the fresh spring water.
Gabe eagerly falls back to sleep. I try to stay awake as long as I can to keep watch for any unwanted wild creature that may wander uninvited to our malodorous campsite. I’m pretty sure we have unintentionally attracted every wild beast for miles with the smoky scent of ass.
I watch Gabe sleep comfortably below the canvased trees while my stomach churns. The world seems so lonely. Gabe is all I have left right now, and I don’t think I could bear the thought of losing him too. There were times in my life when I detested my twin brother, but I never stopped loving him, and right now, I need him more than ever.
The harsh conditions we’ve experience in the last six months has forced us to both grow up, but none more than Gabe. He’s become a man before my eyes. His dirty blond hair drapes dingily below his ears and eyes. He’s still the same brother at heart, but he’s grown into something much different. Behind those skinny limbs and that frail body he used to carry, breathes courage now. We can never go back to what we were—time and history have changed, and so have we.
I want to believe there is purpose in all of this, but I’m not sure anymore what I’m supposed to do. I feel lost with-out Finnegan by my side. He was the only family Gabe and I had left, and now he too is gone. But his bravery will never be forgotten, and because it was his choice to follow my divine path, we’ve weakened a dying nation at its heart. My enemy may be dead, but my nightmares are still much alive.
I realize there is a reason for every event that happens to us, but I’m still having a difficult time accepting it. I may never fully understand my part in this world, but I will continue until I can no more. Many people left on this earth will accept their fate as meaningless acts of randomness. I believe now there is more to this world than just chaos and ruin. We were born with a plan, a purpose, and a choice. I choose to believe Finnegan saved my life to extend my fate, and I’m eternally grateful, but I wish not to endure any more hum-bling experiences through death.
Instead of sleeping on the padded dirt next to the fire, I nestle in between the roots of an old oak tree. I prop myself up against rough ridges of splitting bark and stretch out my legs. I grab Jacob’s necklace around my neck and stare down at the worn silver cross like I do every night. I rub the edges with my fingers as if it were a nervous tick. I’m afraid I will never let go. The only boy I truly loved is gone, but his death will remain very alive in my nightmares. I fight to stay awake, but my body isn’t willing to compromise. Sleep wins the battle.
About the Author

Jay Plemons’ life is nothing short of ordinary. From an aspiring chef, carpenter, educator, musician, husband, and father, nothing ever seems too busy when adding yet another hat into the mix as a fiction novelist. With a degree in music business, and a minor in English from Middle Tennessee State University, the aspirations to continue his journey in the arts, has followed Jay to write the Last Light Falling series, which has not only touched on some of his personal experiences, but has also helped him further explore the heightened convictions of faith.
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What the Owl Saw

Historical Fiction
Date Published: July 2014

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“What the Owl Saw,” the second volume in the Buenaventura Series and the sequel to “The Brujo’s Way,” opens in December 1705 with a terrifying nightmare that fills Don Carlos Buenaventura, a powerful brujo in his sixth life, with dread. Feeling the need to strengthen his brujo powers, always weakened by town life, he rides out into the wild mountain landscapes around Santa Fe in order to practice his sorcerer’s technique of transforming himself into hawks and owls. Transformations are exhilarating, but they do not dispel his sense of an impending menace. In addition, as he tells his friend Inez de Recalde, he is impatient to move forward in his quest for wisdom on what he calls the Unknown Way. 
Into this picture comes a trio of itinerant entertainers, a magician and two women dancers, who offer an ambiguous promise. Can they lead him to deeper realms of consciousness, or are they agents of his enemy, the evil sorcerer Don Malvolio? The magician and his alluring companions introduce Carlos to dances that transport him into ecstatic mind states, but he remains uncertain about what master they serve. Despite the risk of exposing his secret brujo identity and of being disloyal to his beloved Inez, Carlos allows himself to be drawn ever farther into their web of dark and dangerous enchantments.
Chapter One
Someone was shaking him and saying, “Alfonso! Alfonso! Wake up!” When he didn’t respond immediately, the voice came again more loudly, “Wake up!”
He opened his eyes to find Pedro Gallegos, his manservant and friend, leaning over him with a concerned look on his face. “What’s the matter?” Pedro asked. “You were shouting, ‘Go away! Leave me alone!’ What set that off?”
Still half-caught in the dream and half-muffled in sleep, he croaked, “A dream, a terrifying dream.”
“Alfonso, in all the time I’ve known you, you’ve reported many vivid dreams and never one that frightened you. What was so terrifying?”
“Wait a minute. I have to sit up.” He struggled to sit upright amid the tangle of bedclothes and restore his mind to his normal consciousness. He took a deep breath. “It started pleasantly enough,” he began. “I was in my mother’s womb. She was five months pregnant. I was enjoying myself.
Warmth, plenty of food, and relative quiet, except for my mother’s heart beating nearby. I was humming to myself and revisiting pleasant moments from previous lives when suddenly everything turned dark.”
“Alfonso. Of course it was dark; you were in your mother’s womb. No light was getting in there.”
“Not dark as an absence of light, but dark as in some lurking menace.” Pedro was grumpy about having been awakened from a sound sleep, and he was becoming impatient. “It’s the middle of the night. You’re safe
in your own bed in your own house, not in your mother’s womb being threatened by some unknown menace.”
“That’s just it. This wasn’t some unknown menace. It was the presence of Don Malvolio, my enemy through several lifetimes, who killed me in my last lifetime, aided by a treacherous woman named Violeta. He almost succeeded in using his sorcerer’s powers to destroy me, body and soul, forever. Only by drawing on my innermost resources as a brujo was I able to escape with my soul and consciousness intact. But he’s closing in on me again. It was his presence I felt, I’m sure of it, and I was shouting at him to go away.”
“Alfonso, Alfonso. It was a dream about something that happened more than twenty years ago, and in a place far from here. Today the sun will rise on the last day of 1705. You’re in Santa Fe in New Spain’s New Mexico province. You’re a well-respected government official who has served ably as the governor’s personal secretary. There’s no evidence that Malvolio is anywhere nearby. You’re confusing the imagined with the real.”
“Easy for you to say; you didn’t have that dream. Something bad is about to happen.”
“That’s possible,” Pedro agreed. “We know there are rumors that Governor Villela is going to resign and that his replacement, who supposedly will arrive in Santa Fe in the near future, may want to appoint someone besides you to be his personal secretary. But that’s all rumor, and if it happens, you’ll land on your feet as you always do. Quit worrying. Especially, quit worrying about Don Malvolio. Lie down and go back to sleep. If I don’t get back in bed with my wife soon, María is going to come looking for me, and we’d be forced to tell her that a dream has you shaking in your boots.”
Don Carlos—Carlos being the name he’d always used as a brujo, though Alfonso Cabeza de Vaca was the name by which he was known in Santa Fe— eased himself back down in the bed, pulled up the tousled covers, turned over and muttered, “I’m not wearing boots.” He quickly drifted off to sleep.
He soon started dreaming again and found himself on a trail in a desert region of northern New Spain. No one else was visible, but his sense that an invisible menace was lurking nearby returned stronger than ever. When he looked around in the dreamscape, as great brujos are able to do, no threatening animal or person came into view. No Don Malvolio; no Violeta; no one who might mean him harm, not even a future governor who would deprive him of his job. Nevertheless, he was filled with dread that grew in intensity until it woke him up.
When he awoke his heart was pounding and he was bathed in sweat. He breathed deeply until his body returned to normal and the feeling of dread dissipated. He closed his eyes and dozed off again, and this time there were no bad dreams, and in a little while he was awakened by soft kisses on his cheek and ear. Still half-asleep, he imagined that his beloved Inéz de Recalde had sneaked into his bedroom and was delivering sensual licks to his face.
Licks! He opened his eyes, and by the light of the moon that was streaming in one window he saw Gordo, the household’s guard dog and source of all-around comic relief, gazing at him with adoring eyes. Carlos burst out laughing.
Sensing that it was nearly four o’clock, the hour that he usually got out of bed, he arose and dressed. He loved the quiet of the early hours when his housemates—Pedro and María and Diego, the Pueblo Indian who cared for their horses—were still asleep. Often he used the time before breakfast to read in several manuscripts that his Jesuit tutor and spiritual mentor, Father Stefano Urbina, had given him. One manuscript contained excerpts from the writings of the Desert Fathers, early Christian monks who had sought solitude in the Sinai desert. Another was a selection of sayings by Hindu mystics, practitioners of Tantric meditation, a subject to which his recently deceased friend, Zoila Herrera, had introduced him. Regardless of whether or not he read anything, every morning without fail he sat silently for at least an hour and practiced the Tantric-style meditation that Zoila had taught him, focusing his attention on the seven energy centers she called chakras that were found along his spine from its base to the crown of his head.
Those were his usual before-breakfast activities. Today, however, he felt restless, as though he had unfinished business to do. With an effort he settled himself, tried to focus his mind, and practiced his chakra meditation.
When he finished, his mind was clearer but his body was still restless. He put on warm winter clothing—the room was chilly, and he knew it was very cold outside—and started for the bedroom door that connected to the kitchen. Gordo, all white except for a black spot around one eye, hopped off the bed and danced excitedly around the room—danced, that is, as best he could with his lame left rear leg.
“Come along,” Carlos called to Gordo as he left the bedroom, walked through the kitchen, and out the back door of his compact four-room house. He turned left, heading toward the town’s main plaza a hundred feet away. Gordo jogged along at his side, eager to see what adventure his master had in mind at this strange hour for an outing.
The air was still and cold, the temperature well below freezing. A gibbous moon in a clear, star-filled sky illuminated the landscape.
When they reached the plaza Gordo let out a whine, turned tail, and ran home. The sight that greeted Don Carlos’s eyes spooked even him. The Santa Fe of December 31, 1705, with its many buildings, was gone. Except for the Palace of the Governors across the plaza, everything lay in ruins, and even the Palace of the Governors showed signs of having been partly wrecked. But the plaza was full of hundreds of human figures, grayish and insubstantial in the moonlight, but recognizable as a crowd of Spanish and Pueblo men, women, and children.
The scene was silent, although it was obvious from the open mouths of many of the spectral figures that shouts, cries, and moans were being uttered.
Directly ahead, in front of the Palace of the Governors, was a line of Spanish soldiers in full battle dress. Between the soldiers and Carlos’s position on the south side of the plaza stood dozens of Pueblo men, their wrists and ankles bound. Off to the right were other Indians, similarly bound, their faces stricken. As Carlos watched, a Spanish officer commanded the soldiers to aim their harquebuses and fire a soundless volley at the captives, who fell grievously wounded or dead. Others were prodded forward to meet their fate as the soldiers went through the awkward process of reloading their weapons to fire them again.
Don Carlos recognized the formidable Spanish officer who had raised his arm in the command to fire, and he realized at that moment that what he was seeing was an event from an earlier time. The Spanish officer in the scene was his stepfather, General Rodrigo Alvarez, the commander of the soldiers who had accompanied Governor Diego de Vargas’s 1693 expedition to reestablish Spanish control of New Mexico after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 had driven the Spanish out. Carlos had killed enemies in battle, but executing captives in punitive cold blood was abhorrent to him. As he watched his stepfather’s face he saw no sign of regret at what the man was commanding his soldiers to do. Indeed, from what Carlos personally knew of General Alvarez, Carlos believed his stepfather took satisfaction from showing the
Pueblo rebels that defiance of Spanish authority would be crushed in the harshest way possible.
Don Carlos watched, repelled and horrified, remembering the events that had led up to this moment. The Pueblo rebels, having fortified themselves in the Palace of the Governors, had defied Vargas’s demands that they surrender and submit to Spanish rule. Vargas’s soldiers had besieged the Palace of the Governors, cut off the defenders’ water supply, and forced their surrender. The Spanish victory and the subsequent execution of seventy Pueblo rebels had taken place almost to the day twelve years ago, on December 30, 1693. Don Carlos’s brujo awareness had enabled him to see the torrents of negative energies that still swirled around the town and its plaza. It was possible, he assumed, that other Santa Fe residents also felt these dark reverberations but dismissed them as products of the icy winter weather and long, black nights.
Don Carlos turned away from the scene on the plaza and thoughtfully walked back to his house. Gordo was waiting for him at the back door with an anxious expression on his face. “It’s okay, my little friend,” Carlos said to him. “Everything’s going to be all right.” Then he tried to persuade himself that this was true. What he had seen at the plaza seemed to account for his bad dreams. The dreams had nothing, he told himself, to do with the prospect of losing his job, or with the threat of Don Malvolio being in pursuit of him. And yet he wasn’t entirely convinced. He had a nagging feeling that his dreams of dark portents had other sources than the horrors that had accompanied the Spanish reconquest of Santa Fe in 1693.
The following Sunday, as had been his custom for several months, Carlos escorted Inéz to Sunday Mass. He had declared his love to her, and she and Pedro were the only people in Santa Fe who knew his secret identity as a brujo. This morning he called for her at the home of Nicolas and Lucila Archuleta, friends with whom she’d been staying, and he and Inéz, the Archuletas, and their son Gerardo walked to the small chapel in the southeast corner of the Palace of the Governors.
Carlos was not a pious Catholic, as Inéz was well aware, having probed the issue some time earlier. “Why,” she had asked him, “do you attend Mass every Sunday when you don’t believe a word of the creeds or Catholic doctrine? Is it just out of habit that stems from the education you received from your Jesuit tutors?”
“Nothing of the sort,” he had replied. “I like being seen with you in public, and even if it weren’t for that, I enjoy being with you, any time, any place.”
“Don’t be evasive. There’s more to it than that.”
Echoing her, as though he didn’t know what she meant, he had said,
“Yes, ‘it.’ Why do you attend Mass, really?”
“By virtue of being the governor’s private secretary, I have a high social rank. Since Catholicism is the glue that holds Santa Fe society together, it would be cause for comment if a man of my status didn’t show up for Mass regularly. Our friends and neighbors among the town’s leaders would see it as not conforming to the behavior they expect from a member of their social circle. My attending Mass, therefore, isn’t simply expected, it’s an essential part of my social role as Don Alfonso Cabeza de Vaca. You wouldn’t want there to be any hint, would you, that I am not a conventional hidalgo but a brujo named Carlos Buenaventura?”
“That goes without saying! Your true identity must remain a secret.
However, social reasons don’t explain why you seem to enjoy Mass—and even look forward to it.”
Don Carlos had paused before answering. “The best efforts of my Jesuit tutors, including Father Stefano, of whom I was fond, didn’t manage to reduce my skepticism about Catholic creeds and dogmas. But on occasion I am deeply moved by the Mass itself—the total effect of the incense, the Latin chants, the choreography, if I may call it that, and, most of all, the moment when the priest elevates the Host, which to all appearances is a simple piece of bread—yet to me it’s much more.”
Inéz had been surprised. “You believe the Church’s teaching that the bread becomes the body of Christ?”
“No, not in a literal way,” Carlos had admitted. “That’s too narrow a description, and I’m a heretic—at least by the Church’s standards. When, as sometimes happens, I’m swept up by the solemnity, the beauty, and the drama of the Mass, at the moment that the priest raises the Host above his head, I feel the Church has managed, quite unknowingly, to point to something profound, a deep spiritual mystery.”
“Is this an expression of the mystical path to which Zoila introduced
“Yes,” he had said, and they had left it at that.
At the beginning of Mass, Carlos’s mind wasn’t on anything so elevated as the mysteries of the Divine. His thoughts kept drifting back to the anxiety-inducing dreams he’d had three nights earlier and other oppressive dreams he’d had subsequently. Ill at ease, Carlos kept shifting his weight in an unsuccessful effort to evade discomforting thoughts.
Inéz leaned over to him and whispered, “My! You’re twitchy this morning. What’s the matter? I’ve never known you to be so restless. I hope it’s not something I said or did.”
Carlos vigorously denied that possibility. “Not so! You’re perfection itself.”
“Are you still pining for your lost love Camila, even though it’s months now since she married Rafael and they moved to El Paso del Norte?”
“No, this has nothing to do with Camila and Rafael.” People were looking crossly at Carlos and Inéz for having a conversation during Mass. “I’ll tell you more later,” he whispered, and in so saying he had a sudden realization that there was more to tell, more than dreams or a vision of terrible events that had taken place in the plaza a dozen years earlier.
Since the vision, he’d talked with a member of Santa Fe’s army garrison who’d been present the day the seventy Pueblo rebels had been executed, and this veteran soldier had told him that during the twelve years the Pueblo rebels had occupied the Palace of the Governors, they had converted the old military chapel, the very room in which Carlos and Inéz were attending Mass, from a Catholic place of worship into a Native sacred site. They’d removed or defaced all the Christian symbols, including the crucifix on the wall, and had built a kiva, an underground ceremonial site, beneath the floor of the former
Spanish chapel. After the Spanish recaptured the Palace, Governor Vargas had the kiva destroyed, the pagan spirits who’d occupied the place exorcised, and the Catholic chapel restored. What Carlos had just realized was that he and Inéz were standing directly over the location of the kiva and that he was feeling the suffering of both Spanish and Indian victims of the Pueblo Revolt.
The feeling persisted during the Mass, so much so that the presences in the kiva of the past coexisted for him with the ritual being enacted at the altar. He found the mixture deeply disturbing. He wanted to tell Inéz about it, and at the conclusion of the Mass he followed her out of the dimness of the chapel into the pale winter sunlight with the intention of unburdening himself immediately. Putting his hand on her arm, he asked if she would go for a walk with him before she returned to the Archuletas’.
Inéz, however, also had things on her mind. She turned to him and said impatiently, “Don’t you remember that the Archuletas are having a dinner tonight for the Beltráns in honor of their daughter Elena’s eighteenth birthday? You should—you were invited! I’ve agreed to cook the whole meal. Lucila’s regular cook, Nina, will help, but I need every available minute to prepare the menu I’ve planned.”
“I didn’t know you were responsible for the cooking,” Carlos replied, taken aback. “Is that really necessary?”
Inéz sighed. “As I’ve repeatedly told you, since that horrible man whose name I will not speak spent all my money and left me without a peso,
I have to find a way to earn my living. I’ve been cooking on occasion for the
Archuletas as a way of thanking them for their hospitality in giving me a roof over my head these past months. Tonight’s dinner is different, something of an audition.”
“Audition?” Carlos asked. “Audition for what?” “For a paid position as cook for the Beltráns.”
It should not have been a surprise to Carlos to hear that Inéz, like himself, had anxieties about earning a living. Or that what for him was only the possibility that he would have to find a new source of livelihood was, for her, a pressing necessity. She had said as much before, and frequently. But Carlos had fallen into thinking that she had become comfortable as a member of the Archuletas’ household and that that situation could go on indefinitely.
“Oh,” he said, rather inadequately. “I thought…”
“Yes,” she replied. “You didn’t think my need for a job was serious. Well, it is, and I hope this dinner will get one for me. Now, if you’ll excuse me—. Oh, I see Joaquin is signaling to you. You’d better go and see what he wants.”
With that, Inéz turned and hurried off by herself, leaving the Archuletas to converse with other leading members of Santa Fe society, as was the post- Mass custom. After watching Inéz’s departing back for a moment, Carlos went to see what Joaquin had to say.
About the Author

A native Californian, Gerald W. McFarland received his B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley and his doctorate in U.S. history from Columbia University. He taught at the University of Massachusetts Amherst for forty-four years, specializing, among other things, in the History of the American West. During that time he published four books in his field, including “A Scattered People: An American Family Moves West,” cited by the Colonial Dames of America as one of the three best books in American history published in 1985. Since his retirement, he has written three novels in the Buenaventura Series. He and his wife life in rural Western Massachusetts.
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American Woman

Contemporary G/G Romance
Date Published: June 17, 2015

Rock chicks are more complicated than they look, especially when one is becoming her destiny, the other following a classical career, and the third wheel the steaming hot lead singer of the new big thing. Scarred hearts bleed pain when the pulse of love blurs to jealousy and rage. Between family, ex-lovers, and their own clashing issues, this complicated love triangle becomes a tangled mess, leaving the shy and the reckless reeling. The future is bleak, they’re isolated and misunderstood, and pride ruins passion.

Drunken mistakes haunt Molly and Justine; their spiral into misery riveting. Strumming emotions more than guitar strings, the dynamic Justine, Tessa, and Molly, will keep you on tenterhooks of suspense in this lady-on-lady romance.



Darkness and light tango across the ceiling when wind strip searches trees, blocking the streetlight’s glow when the bluster sways branches. The eerie shapes skittering overhead would be frightening if I was a child, or if I allowed my imagination to take hold.

Instead, lying in the darkness, they are soothing somehow. I shiver as the howling outside mimics the shadows stretching in front of me.

The snoring besides me escalates, and I sigh. I love Alex, in my own way. As much as I can love him. It isn’t his fault our relationship is mundane and our sex life so routine. It took both of us to destroy the foundation of our life together. He can’t read minds.

Joanne Sexton is an Australian romance writer and mother of two. She had always dreamed of writing novels and has been an avid reader most of her life. In between being a mum and writing, she runs a small bookkeeping business. She has recently become a qualified florist.


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Fairy Tales

Children’s Picture Book
Date Published: January 2015

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The Old West, Cowboy Boots, Sheriffs, Mayors, Horses….
Dogs, dogs, dogs and more dogs….
Fairy Tales is a children’s story about Western pooches Spike, Princess, Rocky, Wilbert, Black Jack, Chiquita, and of course the main man Mayor Tom. Set in an old west town, follow the dogs on their adventures, even being sworn in as deputies.
The author has used the names of his real life dogs for his story because he loves his dogs and wants the world to fall in love them too. All of Gonzalez’s dogs are rescues and he has promised them that they will have a good friend in him for the rest of their lives.
Once upon a time, in the town of Whasumatter, lived Rocky, the Labrador and his most trusted friend Wilbert, The Chihuahua.
The story goes that no one knew where Rocky and Wilbert came from, or what they did before they arrived in Whasumatter.
Rocky was dark and handsome, he always dressed in black and kept his hair very shinny; Wilbert always dressed in brown and black, he liked to wear bow ties.
Some say, they were gunslingers, others say they were drifters, nobody really knew.
In the town of Whasumatter, there had been some disturbance in recent days, by the bandit Mad Dog Spike.
Mayor Tom knew that the town of Whasumatter was in desperate need of a sheriff, since no sheriff had been able to stay around or last more than a week, it was time to get a new sheriff.
The Mayor knew that Rocky and Wilbert were in town, so he decided to talk go to Rocky, and offers him the job.
About the Author

Thomas Gonzalez is a Vietnam veteran. He served his country with distinction during those horrific days from the years of 1966-1967. Gonzalez started with a squad of marines and ended up with a platoon of marines. At the beginning of his tour, his squad of marines was known as the Santa-Ana’s raiders because the squad had a few Hispanics. The troop would confiscate anything that was not nailed down. Despite the many times they were engaged with the enemy and were fired upon with thousands of bullets, by the grace of God, they all managed to survive and come home alive. It is for this reason that Gonzalez christen the squad, the Invisible Squad. As the years went by, he started to realize that he was getting into the autumn years of his life.
Because of his love for children and animals, Mr. Gonzalez decided to write short stories because he wanted to share with the world his thoughts and ideas. He has written two books about his Vietnam experiences (Sarge and The Invisible Squad) and has also written three short children’s books (Fairy Tales).
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A Wicked Truth

Mystery / Romance
Date Published: September 7, 2015
The wedding date is set, and life is magical for Doyle Flanagan and Cady Delafield.  Honor bound to repay an old debt, Doyle agrees to help a friend find her sister. As he searches for the girl, painful memories surface, stunning Cady when she discovers facts about Doyle’s hidden past.
In spite of incredible odds, Cady and Doyle’s love has flourished. But in the midst of a life threatening accident, murder, and Doyle’s secrets, their wedding date and happiness are in jeopardy. Mired in tragedy, can they overcome the turmoil with a fateful decision that changes their future forever?
This is one of those novels that stays true to its genre. It is wonderfully Historical and takes you back to that time and feel. The author has that aspect of it nailed.

As far as the plot went, goodness there is a lot going on. These characters are going through a lot and its a lot to keep up with, but I managed it.

There are many shocks throughout this novel. Be prepared to be on the edge of your seat! The romance definitely takes a dive in this one at times as the couple is trying to deal with many issues that have come up, but the way they push through is very powerful.

Joyce grew up in the Midwest and attended college and grad school in Chicago. After working in mental
health, she retired to write full-time. Her first book, Eliza, was published in 2012. A Wicked Truth is the
third book in the Cady Delafield series. When she isn’t writing mysteries or historical romances, she
loves to swim, walk and is a crossword puzzle fanatic. She and her husband live in Florida and
Minnesota, in her very own little house on the prairie.
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Twitter: @jproell1
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An Irruption of Owls

Family Saga / Memoir
Date Published: 7/14/2015

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An odyssey, a homecoming, and six winters in Vermont.
A mysterious illness is the catalyst for this story about a daughter’s homecoming. Part of a family saga that takes place on three continents.
In picking up where OUR HOUSE IN ARUSHA (ISBN: 978-1456585440) left off, AN IRRUPTION OF OWLS views from the perspective of small-town New England the forces that shape the family’s lives.
The year is 2007, and the Texiers—Patrick, Sara, and nineteen-year-old Thomas—have left their home in Tanzania. They are biding their time in a New Jersey suburb, pondering their next move, when a family crisis spurs them to action. Idora Tucker, Sara’s mother, is suddenly unable to live alone. Something is very wrong, and nobody on her rapidly expanding medical team can figure it out. Within weeks, Sara has moved back into her childhood bedroom, Thomas has enrolled at a school in Prague, and Patrick has become the only French safari guide in recent memory to take up residence in Randolph, Vermont.
My mother, a cautious person, knew about the dangers of falling. She was a doctor’s wife, she had read the statistics, and she had buried one of the fallen—her father, who pitched headfirst off the back porch at the age of ninety-three, landing in a heap on the
asphalt drive. Grampa died in a coma a few weeks later, and my mother went on high alert for the next twenty-five years. At age eighty-six, she had ice grippers for her shoes, handrails in strategic places, and a necklace with a button that would send an SOS signal if worse came to worse. One of the handrails was in the spot where Grampa had taken his fatal plunge; another was on the stairs to the basement. Nothing short of an earthquake was going to disturb her equilibrium.
If, despite her precautions, she were to fall and break a hip, I was not to worry, because she had a plan for that, too: “Just put me in a nursing home,” she said. “Promise me. I’m telling you now, in case I lose my marbles.”
This advice—it was really more of an order—was drilled into me. My brothers and sisters heard it, too.
Nobody was very impressed. My mother was never going to lose her marbles.
On the other hand, Vermont does experience earthquakes from time to time. In 1962 there was one that rocked the State House, dislodging a support beam and cracking twenty windows. The State House is only twenty-three miles from my mother’s house.
“Maybe I’ll want to take care of you” was my standard response to the nursing-home prescription.
“Did you ever think of that?” Over and over, we had this conversation. Then my mother’s legs gave out, and we never had it again.
For the next five years, she lived at home. My husband and I lived with her, quitting our jobs and moving three hundred miles, doing odd jobs to make ends meet when we should have been chucking money into retirement accounts. At dinner, we sat on three sides of the kitchen table, my mother, my husband, and I. The middle seat was mine, a position that allowed me to surreptitiously kick whoever was misbehaving. Usually that person was my mother. “Try not to be so bossy,” she wrote in her final diary.
When I say that my mother’s legs “gave out,” I do not mean that she fell. She never fell, not once. As her legs deteriorated—muscles weakening, bones cracking—she kept herself upright through sheer willpower and a growing set of props. One of her canes had a metal tip with retractable teeth that would dig into the ice but not gouge the floors. Another was decorated with a butterfly motif. A third collapsed to fit into a handbag. She had a set of titanium trekking poles to use when the driveway was slippery. And she had me.
About the Author

Sara Tucker has written headlines for the Louisville Courier-Journal, reviewed theater for the Albuquerque Journal, and edited articles about dusting for Martha Stewart Living. Everything she knows about winching she learned from the editor of Four Wheeler Magazine. At Condé Nast Traveler, she once played a singing reindeer in an office skit. At Cosmopolitan, she ran the copy department under Helen Gurley Brown. She has a house in Vermont and an apartment in France and divides her time between them. You can follow her adventures at
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The Chosen

Male/Male Fantasy Romance
Date Published: June 2013

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The neighbouring kingdoms of Oscia and Arcathia have been at a tentative peace for three years after centuries of warfare. Prince Severin of Arcathia has been brought up to put duty before all else and as the only son of the King and Queen, it is his duty to marry and produce an heir. His parents want him to marry an Oscian princess to cement that tentative peace. Unfortunately Severin isn’t interested in princesses. Now, if he had his pick of princes that would be another matter.
Havyn has been a slave all his life. When his aptitude for wizardry is discovered, he finds himself purchased and freed by Prince Severin and apprenticed to the royal wizard, Ildar. His duty is to stay chaste to keep his powers strong, but his feelings for Severin sorely test his resolve.
With kingdoms at war, the throne hanging in the balance, magic in the air, and outside forces trying to keep them apart, can the two men find happiness together, or is duty more important than love?

Drunken revellers spilled out onto the street, a few of them leering at Havyn, who moved closer to Severin and held onto his cloak. “No one will harm you,” Severin promised, although looking at some of the toughs, he wondered if his own skill with a sword would be enough if they all decided to attack at once. One of the men vomited over the threshold of the inn, and then two of his friends dragged him off, all three of them singing off key as they staggered into the twilight.
The inn was crowded with people, some looked like smiths relaxing after their day’s work, others had the look of soldiers or adventurers, yet others were apparently groups of travellers who looked warily at the door when Severin and his companions stepped carefully over the puddle of vomit. The smell made him a little nauseous himself, and he hurried the three of them over to the bar and the woman behind it.
Her face was caked with makeup, and her large bosom seemed in danger of falling out of the tight bodice that encased it. Havyn blushed, looking down at his feet. Had he never been in a tavern before?
“We’d like a room for three for the night,” said Severin. “How much?”
“A gold piece for you and the wizard. The dog can sleep in the barn with the rest of the animals.”
“We don’t have a dog.”
The alewife jerked a finger at Havyn. “Him.”
“He’s not a dog. He’s a person!”
“He’s a slave, ain’t he? Slaves ain’t people. He’s an animal. I don’t want my rooms fouled up.”
“He will be staying with us. I insist,” said Severin. “How much?”
“Oh, it’s like that, is it?” the barmaid winked at him. “That’ll be four gold pieces then. Food and drinks are extra.”
“Do you have a bath house?”
She snorted. “A bath house? Oh of course, my lord.” The woman made a mock curtsey. “And we have gold plated chamber pots an’ all! Where do you think you are? In a palace? No, we ain’t got a bath house, but I can send you up some hot water. There’s a tub in the room. A fireplace too. Not every room has a fireplace, you know. That costs extra.”
“Of course,” said Severin, trying not to roll his eyes.
About the Author

Annette Gisby grew up in a small town in Northern Ireland, moving to London when she was seventeen. Being a very small town there were no bookshops and a small library. When she’d devoured every book she could get her hands on in the library, she started writing her own stories so she would always have something to read later.
When not writing she enjoys reading, cinema, theatre, walks along deserted beaches or wandering around ruined castles (great places for inspiration!) New Zealand is her favourite place and she hopes to travel back there one day. She’s a fan of Japanese Manga and Anime and one day hopes to learn Japanese.
She currently lives in Hampshire with her husband, a collection of porcelain dolls and stuffed penguins and enough books to fill a small library. It’s diminishing gradually since the discovery of ebooks but still has a long way to go.
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Falling on the Bright Side

General Fiction / Literary
Date Published: November 2014

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Larry works in an Albuquerque nursing home and like many of its residents he is not thrilled to be at this last-stop warehouse for old folks.  Trained as a counselor, he hardly notices the human spirit flowing around him until he meets Bill Foster.  Bill, a successful clinical psychologist, is lying comatose after a left hemisphere stroke, as Philip Cook, one of his oldest patients, leans over the hospital bed listening intently to his inarticulate attempts to speak.
Through Philip’s uncanny understanding of Bill’s incoherent mutterings, an unlikely collaboration begins, linking the unconfident Larry with the experienced but speech-damaged Dr. Bill.  That summer, with Larry’s wife and son out of town, Bill’s counseling practice helps renew Larry confidence as a therapist and–at the nursing home—he starts to see residents, families, and fellow staff as fellow human beings.
But old traumas (the drowning death of his brother and his misplaced blame of his father) run deep: each step seems to open the door for further falls from grace.
This is a novel about disability and the human depth that is left behind after the loss of physical and cognitive faculties.  It is also a book about the power of forgiveness.
Chapter 1
At eight-fifteen on a Monday morning, fifteen minutes late yet again, Larry Whitton pushed open the front doors of Rio Grande Manor nursing home and stepped inside. There wasn’t much good to say about his two years working at Rio Grande, but at least it got him out of the stifling New Mexico heat this first day of July. And today, anything that let him forget his own problems for a while was definitely a good thing.
Inside the two sets of double doors common to many Albuquerque nursing homes, he turned to the right around the reception counter and relaxed slightly when he saw that Rita Simpson’s door, at the end of the first short corridor, was closed. He then turned left and walked down the long hallway towards the Skilled Unit nurses’ station. He walked quickly, all too aware that he needed to drop his briefcase and lunch bag off in his tiny office before Rita could spot him. Aromas of urine and cleaning compounds mingled in the atmosphere that greeted him. Lately he had come to relive these smells in his dreams.
He moved to the left side of the hallway to get around Mrs. Raymond’s manual wheelchair―parked dead-center in the grey corridor― before she could reach out and grab his hand. He needed to avoid anything that would proclaim his tardiness to the world.
Seeing Larry, Mrs. Raymond delivered her constant lament, “Help me. Why doesn’t someone help me?” Blue housecoat and matching booties her one and only wardrobe choice, Mrs. Raymond was one of those residents who could absorb an hour of your time and not remember who you were five minutes later. Larry, wrinkling his nose, promised to be back, knowing that, whether he returned or not, she would not remember him.
As he passed the open doorway into Mrs. Tartaglia’s room, he noticed a green plastic-covered mattress leaning against the wall and Carmen, one of his favorite aides, standing beside it. He stopped, backed up, and tried not to jump to any conclusion. Maybe the old lady just moved down the hall, he told himself. He was about to step into the room and ask Carmen to clarify the situation when, from inside, Rita Simpson’s voice, barking as usual, halted him in his tracks.
“That’s not my concern, Carmen. Just have this room cleaned, aired, and made up by ten o’clock if you want to go on working here.”
He winced. Rita had been the administrator of this nursing home for less than a year, about half the time that Larry had worked here, but it felt like ten years in the Gulag to him. He had seen her fraternizing in resident rooms in only two opposing situations. One was showing the families of potential residents around the facility at which time, all smiles, she would talk about the excellent food, caring staff, and newly installed high-definition TV’s. The other was hurriedly removing all traces that a fellow human being had inconsiderately passed on, in order to prepare the vacated room for her next bout of affability. In between those two scenarios, Rita roved the halls finding fault with staff and residents alike. For reasons not entirely clear to Larry, he had somehow attracted her special contempt. Her presence in a resident room made it all too likely that Mrs. Tartaglia had just been launched onward and upward. Torn between anger and sadness, Larry knew that there had been a time when he would have walked boldly into that room, voicing his concern without hesitation.
But now Larry continued down the hall. As he passed the nurses’ station, he called out, in a voice that sounded superficial even to his own ears, “Good morning, ladies. Mrs. Raymond, dressed in matching blue this morning, needs a pit stop.” The nurse on duty nodded but didn’t look up from her clipboard. He went on into the large community room, where several residents were watching TV or staring into space, and saw that Mrs. Wagner was gesturing for him to come over. Frail and nervous, like a small-boned, elegant bird, Mrs. Wagner always had the same lament―the taxi driver had stopped to use a restroom and then had driven away without her. Six years ago, according to her chart.
He waved to Mrs. Wagner―feeling a twinge of sadness for the perverse tenacity of her long-term memory―and reached for his keys. But the door to his office was already open. Irritated, he flung his briefcase onto the chair. A sheet of paper, conspicuously placed on the desktop he had left clean Friday afternoon, announced that Rita wanted to see him immediately. What the hell did that excuse for a human being want now? Was he turning the cage too slowly at Wednesday afternoon bingo? Then another, more welcome, thought hit him. Maybe she had approved his application and wanted to tell him that she had chosen him to be the new director of Social Services.
On his way out of his hole-in-the-wall, he almost ran into Father Cook, whose ample frame leaned heavily on a walker. At six foot three, Larry towered over him by most of a foot, while the priest had thirty pounds on him. Larry muttered, “Give me ten minutes, Father,” and tried to get past him before a conversation could develop. He felt badly about putting off the gregarious Father Cook, but the issue of his promotion would prey on his mind until he talked to Rita. If he could go home tonight with some good news, perhaps everything else in his life could be revived also. But Larry cringed as he remembered snapping at his wife over breakfast that morning. All Julie had said was, “Danny and I would love to go out to a restaurant and bowling some evening.” He recognized now that Julie was not really complaining about his present salary, even though any entertainment was always at the expense of something else in their tight budget. The deeper problem was that he was sleep-walking through his days, a prisoner of circumstances that he no longer considered himself capable of changing.
“Larry. I’m glad I caught you,” Father Cook said, beginning the slow process of turning around in the hallway. Knowing that he could not avoid some kind of interaction, Larry remained in his office doorway while the disabled priest completed his slow pirouette.
“I’m worried about my roommate. Dennis hardly gets out of bed anymore,” the father said. “I was hoping you could visit him.”
“I’ll talk to Dennis later this morning,” Larry promised, getting a visual of the young man who had moved in six months before. Then, cutting the conversation short, he continued on toward Mrs. Tartaglia’s room in case Rita was still there eradicating all signs of prior human occupancy. He was passing the nurses’ station when Carmen came around the corner and grabbed his arm.
“Mr. Larry, did you hear? Señora Tartaglia died last night.”
A bare mattress is a bare mattress is a bare mattress.
“I want to go to her Mass this afternoon, but Señora Simpson says I’m too busy.”
Larry knew how close Carmen had been to Mrs. Tartaglia and his jaw hardened, but before he could respond Señora Simpson herself was suddenly on top of them, her pale eyes glowering up at him. “I see you finally made it in, Mr. Whitton,” she said. “I need to talk with you in my office immediately.”
“I need to speak with you too,” Larry managed, as Rita spun around and charged down the hall toward her office. With her close-cropped blond curls and compact body, she reminded Larry of a yappy in-bred poodle. The kind that draws blood when they snap at you. He continued in her wake, seething with resentment toward her but even more angry with himself for allowing her to get to him.
Rita was already seated at her desk when Larry caught up and entered her office. “We have a new staff member,” she told him, before he had a chance to close the door. “I’ll be announcing it tomorrow at the staff meeting, but it affects you in particular.”
“I’ve been meaning to ask you about my application for the director position,” he blurted out.
Rita looked at him blankly. “What are you talking about?”
Larry leaned forward and launched into his well-rehearsed speech. “I haven’t heard back about the Social Services director position I applied for last month, and I’d like to know if I’m still in the running.”
“You applied? Rita said, apparently caught off guard. Then, quickly returning to her snappy indifference, she continued. “You aren’t qualified. The new director I hired has an LMSW.”
“I’m a Licensed Master of Social Work!” He managed to get out, as it slowly sunk in that his dream of getting a decently paid job had died at the starting gate.
For a brief moment, Rita appeared genuinely amazed, and Larry, hardly able to breathe, stammered, “You mean I’ve been waiting for three weeks and you didn’t even know that I applied! And you’ve never known that I’m an LMSW?”
“You’ll be reporting to Ms. Hildie Gallegos, our new Social Services director,” Rita replied, as if she hadn’t heard a word of what Larry had said. Then, with an icy smile, she added, “Look on the bright side, Mr. Whitton. Now you’ll have two bosses to mock at staff meetings.”
Larry stood up shakily, walked to the door, and stepped out into the corridor. Taking each step deliberately, he made it back to his office. Once inside his own little space, he closed the door and switched off the light.
The memory that invaded Larry’s mind was not from a morning half a year ago, when–with incredibly poor timing–he had imitated a dog walking on two legs and talking in a shrill voice about staff time squandered on bingo for residents. The memory that lay there now, like undigested food, was of Julie crossing their front yard that morning. Her silence at breakfast had not boded well, and, as she approached the Honda, its engine already running, her deliberate steps told him that some long-suppressed message was about to be delivered.
“Our marriage isn’t working,” she had announced.
Then she had turned on her heel and run back into the house. Perhaps he should have returned to the house right then and talked it out a bit. Rubbed her shoulders, promised that things were about to turn around. But he had barely found the strength to back the car out of the driveway and get to work a mere fifteen minutes late.
A knock on his office door brought Larry back to the small, darkened room where he sat with his eyes closed. He stood up, switched on the light, and squinted in the sudden glare. He was about to open the door when another memory came back to him, of something Julie had said to him about a year ago. “You need to forgive your father. If you don’t, you’ll end up just like him.”
Really? How exactly did coming home every night after a miserable day at work resemble bailing from your son’s life when he’s seven years old–as his own father had?
Larry swung open the door and saw Father Cook–now seated in his wheelchair and no longer wearing the prosthetic limb on his left leg stump–blocking the way. “Have you visited Dennis yet?” the priest asked.
Larry was about to beg off when the words froze deep in his throat. Julie was right. He was turning into his father, always running away from intimacy and the pain that came with it.
“Let’s go look for Dennis,” he heard himself say.
Father Cook turned his chair around and wheeled off down the corridor in the direction of the room he and Dennis Simmons had shared for the past two months. His arms were strong and he could roll himself around the nursing home most days. Although in the wake of the massive heart attack that had sent him to Rio Grande years before Larry’s arrival, the priest’s amputated leg was monitored closely by the medical team. At least he’s not losing ground every day like Dennis, Larry realized.
Glancing back at the north nurses’ station, Larry saw Rita bent over a chart, her head jutted forward as if she was about to bite the folder and shake it side to side. A resolution formed in his mind. He would find a new job, become a better husband and father, and get his life back.
They found Dennis up and in his wheelchair. Or rather, they found him slumped over in his chair, looking uncomfortable and exhausted. Dennis struggled to sit up straighter as they entered the room, but his whole body trembled with the effort, and then he still looked off-balance. It passed through Larry’s mind that Dennis would not be able to use his lightweight manual chair much longer. Hadn’t he been using a walker when he arrived at Rio Grande Manor a few days into the New Year? Since then his multiple sclerosis had progressed with devastating speed.
“Larry’s here to see you,” Father Cook announced in an enthusiastic voice. Larry couldn’t help noticing that Dennis didn’t seem to share this enthusiasm. In fact, Dennis’s face remained averted, as if he had resolved to deny reality by ignoring it.
Larry felt a surge of empathy. Dennis was probably, like Larry, in his thirties, and here he was forced to end his days in a nursing home. He wondered if Dennis had a family from which his progressive MS–as was so often the case–had banished him. Voicing this thought, Larry turned to Dennis and said, “Where did you live before coming to Rio Grande Manor, Dennis?”
Even if Dennis had been willing to answer this question, he didn’t have the chance. Rita appeared in the doorway and, without so much as a glance toward Dennis or Father Cook, said, “I need you to write a job description for your new boss. And I need it on my desk before the end of the day!” Then she vanished into the hallway.
He was glaring at the empty doorway with loathing when, out of the corner of his eye, he caught a movement from Dennis’s chair. He turned just in time to see that Dennis had slid precipitously to one side and that the armrest was gouging him in the ribs. Larry quickly moved behind the wheelchair and pulled Dennis up.
Here it was scarcely mid-morning, and Dennis couldn’t stay upright in his chair. Father Cook must have been thinking the same thing because he said, “Dennis needs to lie down.”
Larry nodded, adjusted Dennis’s foot, which was ready to slip off the foot rest, and promised to visit later. On his way out, he pushed the call light beside Dennis’s bed, so that aides trained to transfer residents could come and put him in bed. Part of him felt like ignoring Rita’s request to write up a job description, but then he decided that it was probably one of the few things he could manage right now. He went back to his cubicle and typed out a couple of pages about the Activities Coordinator position for which two years of study and his LMSW had prepared him to be overqualified.
Around two that afternoon, he taped a note to his door that he was out sick, dropped his job description off at the front desk for Rita, and left the building. Tomorrow he would throw himself into the task of trying to help residents remain active and involved in their sad lives, which for many had turned south the moment they had walked, or been pushed, through the doors of Rio Grande Manor–lives that for some would include no further ventures into the world until the day they left with a sheet pulled over their faces. But that would be tomorrow. Today he needed to plot his escape from this Gulag and its Commandant.
In no hurry to tell Julie the bad news about the non-existent promotion for which they both had hoped, Larry stopped at Einstein Bagels, picked up a coffee and newspaper, and for the first time in over a year turned to the want ads. Thirty minutes later, his third cup of coffee turning sour in his stomach, he got up and stuffed the newspaper into a trash can. Nothing. Maybe he’d try Googling jobs that evening, if he could muster the energy.
He drove home and found Julie in the living room reading from a picture book to their five-year-old son. Danny seemed interested and focused, something that they hadn’t been able to count on in recent months.
Julie looked up, surprised to see him home so early. She still seemed beautiful to him after all these years, her light brown hair swept back from her strong, tanned face. Not knowing what else to do, he sat down on the armchair beside the couch and told her about his disastrous meeting with Rita. When he had finished, he had trouble keeping eye contact with her. It had taken Larry a year to find work after getting his social work degree, and they both knew that quitting Rio Grande Manor without a new job lined up was inviting disaster. Danny sat quietly, looking from one to the other.
Finally Julie spoke. “Maybe it’s time to look for a different job, Larry. Who was that guy who said you should be a counselor? You went to Highlands with him.”
“Sammy Sanchez. Why?”
“Isn’t he in private practice here in town? And didn’t he tell you that you had the capacity to be a great therapist?”
Larry sighed and shrugged. What did Sammy Sanchez have to do with them? So he had studied with a classmate whose life was dazzlingly successful. Was Julie trying to rub salt into his wounds? Why mention Sammy now, in this moment of deep humiliation?
Julie stood up, and said, “Call him.” Then, with Danny, already tall for his five years, two steps behind, she went outside.
Larry followed Julie and Danny as far as the back patio, and watched them pick weeds from among the tomato plants and patches of basil. A sudden gust of wind sent a cloud of sand from the neighbor’s yard over the cinder-block wall. Larry closed his eyes. It had been humiliating looking for work last time, but now something even worse had slithered into his life. His family wasn’t going to survive if he didn’t change something. Julie was right. Another summer at Rio Grande Manor nursing home, coming home every night angry and resentful, and he would turn into the kind of husband and father his own father had been. But how could he call Sammy? How could he consider, for a single instant, risking the life of someone who would come to him, in pain and confusion, looking for counsel and help? One innocent life down the drain, as had happened in his second year of graduate school, was already one too many. The memory of that loss was still too vivid.
He heard Danny ask Julie if something was a weed, but Larry kept his eyes closed and went back twenty-four years in time to the day his father had returned from a canoe trip, alone. Timmy, Larry’s older brother, only nine years old, had just drowned. A month later his dad had moved out, and from that day on his mother had never once hugged him. If she looked at him at all, her eyes said, “Why couldn’t Timmy have survived? He was the one I loved.”
Sometimes Julie acted as if she thought she needed to rescue Danny from Larry. Some evenings Larry would get a reflection of how deeply immersed he was in his own private depression when Julie would suddenly take Danny and leave the house. Larry worried about his black moods. Recently Danny had developed some distressing habits–staring into space and responding very slowly to questions. But surely Danny knew that both his parents loved him. It wasn’t like Danny’s dad had walked out on him and his mom couldn’t bear to look at him.
Meanwhile Julie’s parents–who made no attempt to hide their disapproval of Larry–were waiting in the wings, ready to rescue their daughter and their grandson. Not for the first time, Larry wondered if Danny might actually be better off without him.
He felt small hands tugging at his pants, and his son’s voice asking, “Why are you home so early today, Daddy?” Larry, his eyes stinging, bent down and lifted Danny into his arms.
After supper, while Julie was reading a bedtime story to Danny, Larry made the dreaded call. Relieved when Sammy’s answering machine picked up, he blurted out something about working as a counselor. But later that evening, when Julie asked him if he had said he was looking for work, Larry couldn’t remember if he had actually said so out loud.
About the Author

Before coming to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he now reside with his wife and two sons, Michael Gray lived in Montreal, Canada and published short stories and poetry in the Antigonish and Wascana Reviews.  He traveled in Europe for six months and South America for three months, but it was while working on farms, ranches, and an open-pit copper mine in Canada that he heard a door into the future creak open.
Michael’s memoir, The Flying Caterpillar (ABQ Press, 2012), as well as being a travel log of his life to-date,  gives an account of his two decades with Friends in Time and explores the teachings and encounters which have proved to be valuable for a lifetime.               In 2012, he also published Asleep at the Wheel of Time (ABQ Press), a SF novel about Whales, Aliens and humans.  Both these books express his concern about the state of planet Earth in light of our accumulating indifference to the plight of our only home.
Michael’s newest novel, Falling on the Bright Side draws directly on his experience working with the disabled (For more than five years he’s also been President and sometimes ED of Pathways Academy, a school for kids with Autism and other learning issues).  Falling tells the story of people who have been shelved in nursing home warehouses, or have otherwise lost their livelihood and value to society, and the narrative arc explores how the human dimension continues to shine in these human beings.   
In his own life Michael has discovered that people who are in the process of losing their identities, occupations, and old friends are able to help him recognize a deeper truth about the human predicaments they share.  This is a human truth which he also finds celebrated in Eastern spiritual teachings.  Encountering the core of humanity in people whose familiar lives have dissolved, he seeks to learn their secret while he still has time on my side.
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